NFL – Throwback Thursday: Double Doldrums

24 Sep

The NFL is on to week 3 of their schedule, and a matchup on the slate of games has the Detroit Lions taking on the Arizona Cardinals. Our Throwback Thursday feature is a game between these 2 franchises that was played on December 6, 1959, as both teams were winding down on seasons they couldn’t wait to get to the end of. Both were once proud NFL powerhouses that had fallen on hard times lately. Detroit, a club that won 3 titles in the 1950s and could be realistically put on a pedestal as the team of the decade, entered this contest with a lowly 2-7-1 record. The Cardinals were in even worse shape. Based in Chicago at the time, they were finishing off a dismal final season in the Windy City. Unable to compete with their neighboring team, the Bears, the Cards were slated to move to St. Louis for the 1960 season. Their 2-8 record entering the game was indicative of a franchise that was going nowhere. So basically this week’s TBT featured game is a contest with little historic significance between a couple of late ’50s bottom feeders.

The Lions, whose championship pedigree was much more recent than the Cardinals, reached back into that winning history to club their soon-to-be-leaving Chicago opponents, 45-21. Lion quarterback Tobin Rote, who had led his team to an NFL title just 2 years prior in 1957 and would later guide the San Diego Chargers to an AFL title in 1963, opened the scoring with a 9 yard touchdown run. They added a field goal, and in the second quarter the defense pitched in when Yale Lary scooped up a fumble and rambled 28 yards to paydirt to widen Detroit’s lead to 17-0. One Cardinal who refused to be disheartened was halfback John David Crow. He scored from a yard out to get his team on the board, but Rote got the points back with a 13 yard TD pass to Dave Middleton, giving the Lions a 24-7 lead going into the half. The Lions went to backup QB Earl Morrall in the second half, and he responded by hitting Jim Gibbons for a 33 yard score. When Terry Barr scampered 32 yards for a touchdown early in the final quarter, the game was all but over as Detroit took a commanding 38-7 lead. With John Roach being ineffective most of the day, Chicago turned to M.C. Reynolds to try to salvage some dignity. Reynolds hit Crow for a 36 yard touchdown and Woodley Lewis for another score from 20 yards out, but it was too little too late. Jim Doran recovered a fumble in the end zone for Detroit between the 2 Cardinal TDs, and the 45-21 final score was cemented. Crow’s 103 yards of total offense was tops for both teams, and Reynolds completing 8 of 10 throws for 170 yards and the 2 touchdowns in a relief role was impressive, but the Lions dug into their winning past to claim the victory, giving them a temporary respite from the doldrums they were mired in all year. Both teams lost the following week, which back then was the final week of a 12 game regular season. Little did either franchise know that their doldrums would continue to this day. The 1957 championship was Detroit’s last, and the Cardinals haven’t won one since 1947.



Detroit QB Tobin Rote (18) dodges Cardinal defenders


Classic Team Logo of The Day

24 Sep

Logo of a charter member of the American Professional Football Association, the Akron Pros. They were not only a founding member of the league that would eventually become the NFL, they were also the league’s inaugural world champions, having secured the title in 1920. The team originated as the semi-pro Akron Indians in 1908 and changed their name when they joined the APFA. Fritz Pollard, pro football’s first black coach, led the Pros as a player/coach in 1921 and Paul Robeson, another African American, played for the team that year as well, before the NFL segregated the game between 1934 and 1946. The Pros disbanded as a franchise in 1927 due to financial troubles.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

24 Sep

1960 Topps football card of former pro football running back John David Crow, who enjoyed an 11 year career in the NFL, with his playing days split between the Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. The 1957 Heisman Trophy winner, once he reached the pros, was twice named an All Pro, played in 4 Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1960s. He remained involved in football long after his playing career ended, serving in coaching and administrative positions at both the college and pro level. He died in 2015 at the age of 79.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tebow Mania!

17 Sep

As the NFL season enters week 2, we’ve picked out one of this week’s matchups, between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, as our Throwback Thursday feature for the week. We harken back to an AFC Wild Card game played on January 8, 2012 between these 2 franchises that was the apex of a phenomenon, at least at the NFL level, known as Tebow Mania. The Broncos had used a first round draft pick on the quarterback from the University of Florida, Tim Tebow, whose skills weren’t really on par with a top NFL signal caller, but who definitely had one distinct quality- he was a winner. The game was arguably the crowning moment of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s mostly forgettable NFL career. It was Denver’s first appearance in the postseason since 2005, and with home field advantage at Mile High Stadium the excitement level among Bronco fans was high. The Steelers did all the scoring in the first quarter with a pair of field goals as Tebow struggled to get his team’s attack off the ground, but the controversial quarterback came alive in the second stanza by leading Denver to 20 unanswered points, firing a 30 yard scoring pass to Eddie Royal and then finishing a drive with an 8 yard rushing TD. He guided the Broncos to two more field goals to lift Denver to a 20-6 halftime lead. The Steelers, a proud franchise with a rich winning tradition, rallied back in the second half. Wide receiver Mike Wallace cut the lead to 20-13 with a one yard end around run for a touchdown, and after both clubs traded field goals, the Steelers capitalized on a Willis McGahee fumble to drive to a tying touchdown on a 31 yard Ben Roethlisberger to Jericho Cotchery pass. Both defenses stiffened from there and the game went into sudden death overtime.

After winning the OT coin toss, Tebow and the Broncos wasted no time. Tebow, who had guided his team to an 8-8 record and an AFC West title after being named the team’s starter following a 1-4 start to the season, connected with his favorite target, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, on an 80 yard throw-and-catch touchdown pass that gave Denver a 29-23 victory and sent the Mile High crowd into a frenzy. For Thomas, the play capped a record breaking afternoon, as he finished with 4 catches for an incredible 204 yards receiving. The excitement only lasted a week for the Broncos and their fans. They were brought back down to earth the following week in the divisional round when Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots handed them a resounding 45-10 defeat.


Denver’s Tim Tebow in action vs. Steelers


Classic Team Logo of The Day

17 Sep

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Mountain West Conference, the Colorado State Rams. Their football program has existed since 1893 and they’ve won 15 conference titles over the years. Ram alumni who have gone on to play pro football include Hall of Famer Jack Christiansen, and also Al Baker, Mike Bell, Brady Smith, Tom Rouen, Oscar Reed, Joey Porter, Lawrence McCutcheon, Clark Haggans, Gary Glick, Dale Dodrill, Jim David, Kevin Call and current players Shaq Barrett and Michael Gallup.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

17 Sep

2015 Topps football card of former NFL wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who played 10 seasons in the NFL, mostly for the Denver Broncos. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl title with Denver in 2015. He holds many Bronco receiving records, and last played in 2019 for the New York Jets. He is currently a free agent.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Freezer Bowl

10 Sep

The 2020 NFL season, in all it’s Covid-19 weirdness, is finally here beginning this week. Rayonsports is back with our weekly Throwback Thursday feature. To start the year, we’re looking at a week one matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals. For the opening TBT post of the season, we’ll travel back to January 10, 1982 for the AFC Championship game of the 1981 season played between these 2 teams. The contest went down in NFL lore as the “Freezer Bowl”. Played at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, is was the coldest game in NFL history as the temperature was -9 degrees Fahrenheit which, combined with the day’s wind chill factor, made it feel like -37 degrees. For the Chargers, based in San Diego, it was a rude awakening. Besides making their home in sunny southern California, they were coming off of a grueling overtime duel in Miami that was played in polar opposite conditions – 88 degrees with high humidity. The weather affected the coin toss as the Bengals won the opening toss and elected to take the wind at their backs instead of the ball. So when San Diego took the ball to start the second half, the Bengals wound up kicking off to start both halves.

Bengal coach Forrest Gregg used the unusual strategy figuring the howling winds would affect the Chargers’ high-powered passing attack, and it worked as Cincinnati jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a Jim Breech field goal and an 8 yard scoring pass from Ken Anderson to M.L. Harris. San Diego put together a drive against the wind that stalled, and their first attempt to get on the board was thwarted when kicker Rolf Benirschke missed a 37 yard field goal attempt into the harsh wind.  The Chargers got on the board in the second quarter, with the wind at their backs, as Dan Fouts found his All Pro tight end, Kellen Winslow, for a 33 yard touchdown. But that’s all they could muster, and the Bengals drove downfield against the wind, thanks to a long kickoff return from David Verser, to beat the wind and add a score on a one yard plunge by fullback Pete Johnson, upping their lead to 17-7. Johnson was the unsung hero for the Bengal offense on the day as he ground out 80 hard-earned yards. The Chargers were stymied the rest of the way by the weather and a tough Bengal defense. They drove into Cinci territory 5 more times but came up empty on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Bengals added another Breech field goal, and when Anderson found Don Bass on a 3 yard TD pass to put his team up 27-7, the game was all but over. That wound up being the final score as the Bengals advanced to their first Super Bowl, where they would become the victims of Joe Montana’s magic in a 26-21 loss.

Ironically, Cincinnati’s coach Gregg had also been part of the other iconic cold weather game in NFL history as a guard for Green Bay in the 1967 “Ice Bowl”. For the Chargers, it was an especially long and sad trip home from the loss, as their return flight to San Diego was delayed for over 3 hours due to ice buildup on the plane.


Bengals, Chargers battle in the Freezer Bowl



Classic Team Logo of The Day

10 Sep

Brand new logo of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, who enter the 2020 season in their new stadium, donning new uniforms and of course, this new logo. It’s a tip of the cap to the team’s history of wearing powder blue. The franchise actually began it’s existence in L.A. and played their for a season in the old American Football League before moving to San Diego. Ownership, unable to get a new stadium deal, moved the team back to the City of Angels, where they will now share the new stadium with the Rams.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

10 Sep

1982 Topps football card of former NFL running back Pete Johnson, who played 8 seasons in the league, primarily for the Cincinnati Bengals. The bruising fullback was the Bengals’ leading rusher in all 7 seasons he played for them, and was a Pro Bowler and named All Pro in 1981. Johnson had issues with drugs at the end of his career, but today is retired and runs camps for autistic children throughout the country.


Buffalo Bills’ 2020 Season Preview

08 Sep

The 2020 NFL season is sure to be like no other, with the Coronavirus threat changing all the rules as far as having fans attend games and keeping the players and coaches safe. The teams will have 53 man rosters as in previous years, but practice squads have been increased to 16. As the Buffalo Bills work to finalize their roster, we’re ready to preview the upcoming season, which starts this week. Here’s our position-by-position evaluation:


Front Office / Coaching


The Bills recently locked up head coach Sean McDermott with a long term contract extension, and hopefully plan on doing the same for general manager Brandon Beane. Continuity is now a major plus for the team with McDermott returning for his fourth season, and coordinators Leslie Frazier, Brian Daboll and Heath Farwell also back. The team brought in a new position coach who they think will be an upgrade in Eric Washington, the new defensive line coach. Beane has done an excellent job replenishing the team’s talent in his tenure, and this year he went out of his way to add a huge weapon in the passing game for QB Josh Allen by pulling the trigger on a trade with Minnesota for a top-flight receiver in Stefon Diggs. Despite surrendering his first round draft choice in the trade, Beane was still able to pluck some players in the draft who appear poised to contribute to the club right away. There is one fly in the ointment for the coaches. There are expectations that the team is ready to take over the AFC East crown, but the fact still remains they are 0-6 against Bill Belichick’s Patriots in the McDermott era.




QB Josh Allen is the undisputed leader entering his 3rd year


Josh Allen, entering his third season, is the undisputed leader of the offense now, and although he still showed a few rough edges in 2019, he has steadily progressed to the point where the team is comfortable with him as their “franchise” quarterback. He should continue to improve under the guidance of offensive coordinator Daboll and QB coach Ken Dorsey. Veteran Matt Barkley returns as the main backup, although Beane hedged his bets here somewhat by drafting Jake Fromm to compete for the position. The Bills, mostly because of Covid concerns, will carry 3 signal callers on the roster this year.


Running Backs


T.J. Yeldon is a multi-skilled RB who needs to find playing time


The Bills will carry 4 running backs on the roster this season and for the first time ever that RB room will not include a fullback. Two young bucks – Devin Singletary and rookie Zach Moss – figure to carry the bulk of the load. Singletary showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign last season and looks to build on that this year. Moss is a pounder who should be the team’s short yardage option, while also possessing decent receiving skills. T.J. Yeldon rarely saw the field last season but with Frank Gore gone he could play more often in 2020. The fourth back, Taiwan Jones, is strictly a special teamer but an important one as one of the gunners on kick coverage units.




Newly-acquired WR Stefon Diggs (Liz Flores photo)


The shiny new toy in the Bills’ offensive arsenal is wideout Stefon Diggs, a top veteran obtained from the Vikings in the off-season. He joins John Brown and Cole Beasley, both brought in last season as free agents, as the team’s top 3 receiving options for Josh Allen. Rookie Gabriel Davis appears to have earned the fourth spot with an impressive showing in the shortened training camp. Isiah McKenzie is back as another reserve option. He was utilized extensively in gadget and “jet sweep” plays last year so OC Bran Daboll retains that weapon in his deck of cards for 2020. Andre Roberts made the team mostly as the team’s primary punt and kickoff returner, but can also be a reliable player when needed at the receiver position. Tight end is obviously a high priority position in Daboll’s offense, as the Bills kept 4 of them on the active roster. The starter is Dawson Knox, a possible emerging star if he can improve his ability to hang on to the ball. Tyler Kroft is the main backup, while veteran Lee Smith, a sometimes penalty liability, returns to provide blocking for the run game and leadership in the locker room. The fourth TE is a bit of a Swiss Army knife – rookie undrafted free agent Reggie Gilliam. Being that he played both fullback and tight end in college, he looks to be more of an “H-back” type of player who can fill multiple roles, including on special teams.  At some point during the season the Bills will have to make a decision on another 2019 draft pick, Tommy Sweeney, who starts the year on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.


Offensive Line


Tackle Dion Dawkins enters 2020 armed with a new contract


Buffalo’s offensive line stays mostly intact from 2019, except for the temporary loss of starting right guard Jon Feliciano. Anchoring the unit is center Mitch Morse, the big-ticket free agent signee from 2019. The left side, with underrated Quinton Spain at guard and newly re-signed Dion Dawkins at tackle, returns intact. The right side is still not completely set, but second year man Cody Ford will certainly start, either at guard or the spot he manned last season, tackle. If Ford moves inside, veteran Ty Nsekhe will likely be at tackle. Due to the possibility of Covid infections being high among linemen since they are engaged in close proximity battles on every play, the NFL recommended that teams stack their rosters with extra players at those positions. The Bills kept 10 O-linemen on their initial 53 man roster before temporarily placing Feliciano on IR. Among the reserves, Darryl Williams and Ryan Bates can play multiple positions. Brian Winters and Ike Boettger have mainly manned the guard spots. Also, there are 4 extra offensive linemen on the practice squad ready for action under the new league rules allowing more liberal activation from there to the regular roster each week.


Defensive Line

Ed Oliver, 2019 top draftee, starts at one DT spot


The Bills allowed a couple of their top 2019 contributors along the defensive front, Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, to leave via free agency, and starting tackle Star Lotulelei opted out of the season. Still, GM Beane managed to replenish the troops along the line in the off-season. Three of the four starters on the line are set – top prospect Ed Oliver at one tackle spot and veterans Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy at end. Among the candidates to fill Lotulelei’s position are Harrison Phillips, returning from a season-ending injury, and newcomers Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, both free agent signees. Jefferson provides position flexibility that the Bills’ coaches desire since he can play both inside and outside. Another new free agent, Mario Addison, figures to fill the pass rush specialist role that Lawson played in recent years, while the remaining backups, who will certainly see plenty of action in the team’s D-line rotation, are a pair of prospects teeming with potential – Darryl Johnson and rookie A.J. Epenesa. Again, the Bills covered their bases depth-wise by keeping 3 extra front line defenders on the practice squad.




Young LB Tremaine Edmunds (Konezny USA Today photo)


The retirement of Lorenzo Alexander leaves a hole in the Bills’ linebacking corps since he was a heady, versatile leader on the defense. However, young middle backer Tremaine Edmunds has taken over the defensive signal calling role and has steadily improved so far each year. He is a budding star. Matt Milano, who arguably is another rising stud on the Bills’ D-unit, mans one of the outside slots. To replace Alexander, Buffalo signed veteran A.J. Klein, who will see the field only when the team isn’t in their nickel formation, which is a majority of the time in the modern NFL. The Bills changed up the depth spots at linebacker as all 3 backups are new. Tyler Matakevich was signed away from Pittsburgh, mostly for his special teams ability. Tyrel Dodson, a PS member for most of 2019, made the final roster this year. The biggest surprise to make the active 53-man list has to be the other reserve LB, Del’Shawn Phillips. Also, Andre Smith, acquired in a training camp trade from Carolina, is available on the practice squad.


Defensive Backs


NFL’s top paid CB Tre White (Adrian Kraus AP photo)


The shining star in Buffalo’s talented secondary is All Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, who recently signed an extension that makes him the highest paid CB in the NFL. He’s earned that distinction with stellar play so far in his career. At the other corner spot, a grizzled vet, Josh Norman, was brought in to compete with Levi Wallace to start, but injuries in camp kept him from doing that to a degree. It’s uncertain how the Bills will line up at that position on opening day. The Bills are secure on the back end of the secondary with a pair of highly underrated safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Backing them up are steady Dean Marlowe and an up-and-coming 2019 rookie, Jaquan Johnson. The important slot or nickel cornerback spot, which is almost a starting position these days, is manned by Taron Johnson. He has excelled at the job since he’s been in Buffalo but has had injury concerns. Maybe the most important member of the secondary is Siran Neal. He can play both safety spots and also the nickel corner, in addition to being a gunner, and one of the main players, on special teams. There are also a number of reinforcements ready on the practice squad should the injury bug bite this position.


Special Teams


Rookie placekicker Tyler Bass


The Bills invested heavily on improving their bomb squads for the upcoming season, re-signing Taiwan Jones to be a gunner on kick return coverage to go with their other gunner, Siran Neal. Tyler Matakevich was signed after being a ST star in Pittsburgh. Also, undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam perfected the art of blocking kicks (he got 6 of them in his college career at Toledo). The Bills haven’t had a threat to do that since Steve Tasker. Andre Roberts, signed last year to put a charge into the team’s return game, is back to fill that role. Two thirds of the Bills’ kicking game return in long snapper Reid Ferguson and punter Corey Bojorquez.  Bojorquez beat out a couple of rivals to retain his job so the Bills must trust him. Buffalo is rolling the dice a bit in going with a rookie kicker, 6th round draft pick Tyler Bass, over veteran Stephen Hauschka. Hausch Money’s consistency and leg strength had diminished in the last couple of years, but it’s still a gamble.


Here’s your annual song to get psyched up for the upcoming season, the Bills’ Shout song:






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