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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Shootout At The Vet

19 Sep

With the Philadelphia Eagles taking on the Detroit Lions on this week’s NFL schedule, Throwback Thursday will travel back to a wild card playoff game between these 2 teams played on December 30, 1995 at Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. The game was a shootout for the ages, but not in the usual way. There wasn’t the usual back-and-forth excitement that comes along with high scoring affairs, and with the hometown Eagles winning by a 3 touchdown margin 58-37, you could classify this game as a blowout shootout. The 1995 season marked the end of quarterback Randall Cunningham’s tenure with the Eagles, and for this game he was relegated to the bench as Rodney Peete, a former Lion, took the reins. Detroit’s starting QB, Scott Mitchell, was benched during the game after an ineffective start, and was replaced by Don Majkowski, a veteran who had earned the nickname “The Majik Man” for his exploits early in his career with the Green Bay Packers. The Eagles had extra motivation going into the game as Detroit offensive tackle Lomas Brown had guaranteed that his club would win. And for the first two and a half quarters, Philly took no prisoners. Peete fired 3 touchdown passes, Rickey Watters scored a pair of touchdowns, Fred Barnett hauled in 8 passes for 109 yards and a TD and the Eagle defense intercepted Mitchell 4 times to open up a resounding 51-7 lead. The Lions stubbornly single-covered Barnett and Peete repeatedly made them pay.

 

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QB Rodney Peete barks out signals

At that point the Lions turned to the Majik Man, and he definitely gave them a spark. He led four touchdown drives, finishing 3 of them with TD passes. He re-discovered a sleeping weapon, wide receiver Herman Moore, with one of those scoring throws covering 68 yards to the big Lion wideout. Moore wound up with 7 catches for 133 yards in the game. Majkowski pulled his team to within 51-21. Unfortunately, Detroit could never get their most potent weapon, running back Barry Sanders, going at all in this game. The huge deficit and a swarming Eagle defense pretty much negated any rushing attack. The score also forced Majkowski into exclusively passing, and eventually the one-dimensional attack caught up with him. He added 2 more interceptions late in the game, including a 30 yard pick six by Eagle safety  William Thomas that sealed the win. The Lions didn’t pack it in, however. Majkowski engineered 2 more scoring drives after which the Lions had successful two point conversions to bring the final score to 58-37. It stood as the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history until 2009, when Arizona defeated Green Bay 51-45 in overtime.

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

19 Sep

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Logo used by the Detroit Lions of the National Football League after they won the league’s championship in 1953. The team was a dynasty in the 1950s, winning 3 titles – in 1952, ’53 and ’57. Unfortunately, the championship they captured in 1957 was their last one to this day. Some notable Lion players from this era are Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Joe Schmidt, Jack Christiansen, Lou Creekmur, Frank Gatski, Yale Lary, John Henry Johnson and Dick Stanfel.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

19 Sep

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1989 Score football card of former pro football quarterback Don Majkowski, who played 10 seasons in the NFL, most notably with the Green Bay Packers. A native of Depew, NY, he earned the nickname “The Majik Man” for his exploits in Green Bay, and the best of his 6 seasons with the Packers was in 1989, when he led the NFL in passing yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. Injuries hampered him in his playing days, and when he suffered a torn ligament in his ankle in a 1992 game, he was replaced by a young upstart named Brett Favre and was forced to move on to another team. Majkowski was a fan favorite while playing for the Packers, and is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame.

 

NFL 100 – The Safety Blitz

18 Sep

Just as important as players, coaches, contributors and others are to the 100 years of NFL football, strategies developed over the years are key to the development of the modern game. The T-formation, forward pass, the 4-3 defensive alignment and the shotgun formation have all been a part of the game’s evolving history. Another tactic that came to be in the 1960s and is still used to this day is the safety blitz. “Blitzing” had been a term used to identify when a defense rushed more than the usual four defensive line players on a passing play. Mainly, the extra player sent was a linebacker and the tactic was called a “red dog”. That tactic was used in the late 1950s in the NFL. In 1960, a little known defensive assistant with the St. Louis Cardinals, Chuck Drulis,  devised the safety blitz, with one of the safeties being sent on the rush instead of, or along with, a linebacker. The design didn’t work very well at first, since the Cardinals didn’t have a defensive back athletic enough to make it successful. But in 1961 the Cardinals drafted a cornerback from Utah named Larry Wilson, who was a great athlete. Drulis convinced the head coach, Pop Ivy, to convert Wilson to safety and the safety blitz was born to become a standard part of NFL defenses. The Cardinals called their version of the new blitz the “Wildcat”, and that became Wilson’s nickname. (The “Wildcat” is nowadays widely known as an offensive formation.) Wilson went on to use the safety blitz, among his other skills, to turn his NFL career into a Hall of Fame one. He is regarded in many circles as the greatest Cardinal player of all time, or at least the greatest of their St. Louis era.

 

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Hall of Fame safety Larry “Wildcat” Wilson

Meanwhile, over in the fledgling American Football League, the offenses were entertaining fans with a wide open style of play, as Houston’s George Blanda, San Diego’s John Hadl and the Chiefs’ Len Dawson were filling the air with bombs and piling up the points. In Buffalo, the head coach was a former defensive player, Lou Saban, and the Bills went against the grain, building a top-notch defense. Saban’s top defensive assistant was a mild mannered, bespectacled and cerebral man named Joel Collier. He incorporated the Cardinals’ safety blitzing into the Bills’ defense and his safety, George Saimes, became known as the AFL’s master of the tactic. It didn’t hurt that he was one of the league’s ablest open field tacklers. Collier, by the way, went on to become a major innovator in the NFL. In later years in Denver he is widely accepted as the inventor of the 3-4 defensive alignment. In today’s game, the safety blitz is just another part of every team’s defensive strategy. Teams nowadays send players from everywhere. Linebackers still are the main blitzers, but the safety blitz and cornerback blitz are a standard part of the game, as dropping huge defensive linemen into pass coverage has also become commonplace. The athleticism of today’s players has evolved to the point where defensive coordinators can devise strategies that make quarterbacks and offensive coaches shudder.

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George Saimes(26) blitzes Joe Namath

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

18 Sep

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Logo of a football team that played in the original XFL, the Chicago Enforcers. The team, like the league they played in, lasted only a single season before folding. They originally lined up Chicago Bear legend Dick Butkus to be their head coach, but when he took a job in the XFL front office just prior to the season, former NFL coach Ron Meyer took the job. Some of their players included Bennie Anderson, Tyji Armstrong, Aaron Bailey and running backs LeShon Johnson and John Avery, who was the league’s leading rusher.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

18 Sep

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1963 Topps football card of former pro football safety Larry Wilson, who enjoyed a 13 year career in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was an eight time Pro Bowler, was named to the All Decade teams for both the 1960s and ’70s, was named NFL Defensive Player of The Year in 1966 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1978. He was the first NFL player to employ the safety blitz as a tactic to rush the opposing quarterback. He stayed loyal to the Cardinal organization after his playing days ended, serving at various times as defensive backs coach, interim head coach, scouting director, vice president and general manager. In all, he worked for the Cardinal organization for 43 years before retiring in 2002.

 

NFL 100 – Alex Karras

17 Sep

Over the 100 years of the National Football League’s existence there have been many memorable characters who have graced the playing fields across the league, and also have had an impact on society after their playing days. Some have done heroic things on the battlefields of war, some have gone on to become Supreme Court justices or Congressional representatives or vice presidential candidates. Then there are those who simply used their post-football lives to entertain us. Alex Karras is one of those. His football career was a stellar one. He played 12 seasons for the Detroit Lions and was a six time All Pro and a member of the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1960s. He is one of those players who is inexplicably absent from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His credentials say he should be in the Hall, but it’s possible that a one year suspension he received in 1963 for “gambling and associating with known gamblers and hoodlums” may be what has kept him out. That argument loses weight, hwever, when you consider that Green Bay’s Paul Hornung, who was suspended along with Karras, is a Hall of Famer. Before his football career, Karras had been a pro wrestler, and during his suspension he returned to wrestling to make a living for the year.

 

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Alex Karras harasses Redskins’ Sonny Jurgensen

When he returned to the Lions in 1964, Karras was one of the team captains and when an official once asked him to call the pregame coin toss, he replied, “I’m sorry, sir, I’m not permitted to gamble.” During his playing days, he was not only a great player but a source of entertainment for his teammates with his outlandish storytelling. The NFL and the upstart American Football League had just agreed to a merger in 1966, and the Packers defeated Kansas City in the first Super Bowl, so the NFL was feeling pretty superior at the time. The Lions were scheduled to meet the AFL’s Denver Broncos in the 1967 preseason, and a cocky Karras proclaimed that if his team lost to the Broncos, one of the upstart league’s worst franchises, he would walk home from Denver. The Broncos surprisingly won the game, and Karras backtracked and flew home with the team. His oddball personality was on display again when the Lions were featured in the movie Paper Lion starring Alan Alda as writer George Plimpton, with Karras and other Lions playing themselves. He parlayed his zany personality into a successful acting career after his playing days ended in 1970. He made several appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and had numerous guest parts on television shows. He went on to enjoy a career in movies, with his most memorable role being the character Mongo in the Mel Brooks Western comedy Blazing Saddles where he knocked out a horse with one punch.

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Mongo knocks out a horse

He also appeared in Blake Edwards’ Victor Victoria, Porky’s and the TV movie Babe where he played the husband of famous female athlete Babe Didrickson Zaharias. In 1974 he joined Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell as an analyst on Monday Night Football, and held that role for 3 seasons. He also starred with his wife, Susan Clark, in the television series Webster, playing the adoptive parents of Emmanuel Lewis’ character. In his later years, Karras was out of the spotlight, suffering from serious health issues including dementia, heart disease and cancer. He was one of 3,500 former NFL players who filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the NFL over physical damage caused by untreated concussions and repeated blows to the head. He died of kidney failure on October 10, 2012. Although he is one of many NFL players of bygone eras who sacrificed a lot to grow the game into what it is today, he is also one who will not soon be forgotten.

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Karras with the Monday Night Football crew

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

17 Sep

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Logo of a college football team that plays in the Mid-American Conference, the Central Michigan Chippewas. A historic program that began play in 1896, they have won 16 conference titles and a Division II national championship in 1974. Chippewa alumni who have gone on to play pro football include Walter Beach, Ray Bentley, Joe Staley, Antonio Brown, Eric Fisher, Gary Hogeboom, Frank Zombo and Cullen Jenkins.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

17 Sep

61toppsschmidt

1961 Topps football card of former Detroit Lions’ linebacker Joe Schmidt, a dedicated Lion who played 13 seasons with the team and also served as their head coach for 6 years. As a player, he was a 10-time Pro Bowler, 2-time NFL Defensive MVP, member of the NFL All Decade team of the 1950s, and a major part of Detroit championship teams in 1953 and 1957. He served 6 months in the U.S. Army after the ’57 season. Some perspective relating to players of the 1960s compared to today: Schmidt was the Lions’ highest paid defensive player in 1963, making $22,000 for the year. As a coach, he compiled a winning record but only got the Lions to the playoffs once. Schmidt had his jersey number 56 retired by the franchise, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Joe Cool Burns The Bengals

12 Sep

It’s week 2 of the 2019 NFL regular season, and one of the games on the slate for the weekend is a matchup of the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll go back to a game played between these 2 teams on January 22, 1989 at what was then Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium. It wasn’t just any other game, it was Super Bowl XXIII, and it was the second matchup of these teams in the big game in the decade. In an era when the Super Bowls were becoming one-sided affairs, this one bucked the trend. It took awhile for any drama to find it’s way into the game, however, as the teams spent the first two and a half quarters trading field goals, with the Bengals’ Jim Breech and the Niners’ Mike Cofer each kicking a pair of three pointers. However, after Cofer’s second one tied the game at 6-6, the logjam was broken in a hurry when Cinci’s Stanford Jennings returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. The fourth quarter, as usual, belonged to San Francisco QB Joe Montana. He tied the game by leading a drive that culminated in a 14 yard scoring pass to the game’s eventual MVP, Jerry Rice. Rice earned that honor by hauling in 11 of Montana’s passes for 215 yards and the TD.

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Jerry Rice torches the Bengals’ secondary

After Breech kicked another field goal to put the Bengals back in front 16-13, Montana led a game-winning drive that is legendary for how it began. There were only 3 minutes left in the game, a penalty pushed his team back to the 8 yard line to start the drive, and this is how his center, Randy Cross, described what happened next. As the 49er players stood in their huddle waiting for play to resume during a commercial, did their quarterback look nervous or did he ponder what plays would need to be called to drive down the field and at least tie the game? No, instead, “Joe Cool”, as he was known to his teammates, surveyed the crowd and said “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?” Sure enough, the Canadian comedian was in the crowd, but that reaction assured Cross and the rest of the offense that Montana was in control and surely was poised to do something special. Of course, he did. He didn’t just tie the game, he led another long drive featuring a lot of throws to Rice,  then ended it with a 10 yard touchdown pass to the team’s other wide receiver, John Taylor, with just 34 seconds left on the clock. It was Taylor’s only reception of the game, giving the Niners a 20-16 victory. It was San Francisco’s third Super Bowl title of the four Montana would win.

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John Candy