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NFL – Five Most Obscure Super Bowl Heroes

02 Feb

It’s officially Super Bowl week, and Super Bowl 50, the golden anniversary of the NFL’s championship game, will be played this Sunday between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. I usually post some Super Bowl stories or memories of past games during the week preceding the game, and for starters, this post will be a “list” post, which I’ve done many of. This is a list of the five most obscure Super Bowl heroes of the first 49 years:

 

jimobrien

  1. Jim O’Brien – he was a rookie kicker when he was placed in the pressure-packed position of having to kick the winning field goal in Super Bowl V, which was a game filled with errors that was dubbed “The Blunder Bowl”. O’Brien made the kick, a 32 yarder which is the extra point distance in today’s game, to give the Colts their first Super Bowl title.

 

timmysmith

2. Timmy Smith – he was the ultimate Super Bowl one hit wonder. In the Washington Redskins’ 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, Smith, a rookie, set an NFL record by rushing for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was the only significant accomplishment of his career, as he played only parts of 3 seasons in a career hampered by injuries and suspicions of drug use.

 

larrybrown

3. Larry Brown – in Super Bowl XXX, he intercepted a pair of Neil O’Donnell passes to help his Dallas Cowboys defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his efforts earned him the game’s MVP honors. He parlayed that accomplishment into a big free agent contract with Oakland, then quickly faded into oblivion after making the move.

 

helmet_catch

4. David Tyree – he made possibly the most famous catch in Super Bowl history – the “Helmet Catch” – in Super Bowl XLII, on a pass from Eli Manning to keep the New York Giants’ winning drive alive as they upset the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. He clutched the ball against his helmet as he and defender Rodney Harrison fell to the ground, making an improbable grab. He was mostly an obscure special teams player prior to the catch.

 

malcolmbutler

5. Malcom Butler – he was an obscure undrafted free agent on the fringes of the New England Patriots’ roster, but late in the game in Super Bowl XLIX, was sent out on the field as an extra defensive back as the Seattle Seahawks were driving toward the winning touchdown. He wound up making the play of the game, intercepting an ill-advised Russell Wilson pass at the goal line to preserve the win for his team. To his credit, Butler didn’t let himself become a flash-in-the-pan player. He has developed into a dependable, starting cornerback, even earning a Pro Bowl berth this season.

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

02 Feb

superbowl50

Not a team logo, but the logo commemorating the golden anniversary of the pro football championship game, Super Bowl 50. The game has grown into the biggest sporting event in the world, and is almost a national holiday. The league decided to drop the Roman numerals usually used for each game, and painted the 50 yard line in each NFL stadium in gold to commemorate the 50th also. The logo includes the gold number 50, and also the Vince Lombardi trophy that is awarded to each year’s winning team.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

02 Feb

54bowmanstautner

1954 Bowman football card of former NFL defensive lineman Ernie Stautner, who played 14 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1950s and early 1960s, before they became the proud franchise they are today. Despite being mostly a losing team in those years, the Steelers always fielded tough, hard-nosed defenses, and Stautner was a poster boy for that style of play. In 1964, he became the first Steeler player to have his jersey number (70) retired by the team, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1969. After retiring as a player, Stautner had a long career as an assistant coach with Dallas under Tom Landry, starting in 1966, serving as the team’s defensive coordinator from 1973 until 1998. The ten-time All Pro passed away in 2006.

 

NFL – Bills’ 2015 Season Review – Part 4

16 Jan

So, what exactly do the Buffalo Bills have to do in the off-season to finally end their long playoff drought in 2016? General manager Doug Whaley has already said the team won’t be active in free agency this year, instead focusing on re-signing their own players who are eligible for free agency. Here are my suggestions for the positions they need to upgrade to reach the promised land:

Quarterback

In my opinion, the Bills can go into 2016 without worrying about who their starting QB will be. Tyrod Taylor showed enough this past season to have earned the job. The problem is the gaping void at backup quarterback. EJ Manuel is clearly headed out of town after not developing at all in his three seasons here, and Josh Johnson, an in-season free agent signing, is a journeyman who isn’t the answer either. Zac Dysert is on their practice squad and will get an opportunity, but Whaley needs to upgrade this position for sure. The best free agent option is probably Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill’s backup in Miami. Since Whaley has stated he is unlikely to do any free agent shopping, however, the Bills may look for a backup option in the middle or late rounds of the draft. Possibilities there include Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Christian Hackenberg of Penn State and a late round prospect, Jake Coker, signal caller for national champion Alabama.

Receiver

Some experts suggest the Bills need to draft a complementary receiver to play opposite Sammy Watkins and draw coverage away from their budding superstar, but as long as he’s healthy, Robert Woods is capable of filling that role. If the team feels the need to add some speed to their receiving corps, they might look to drafting a prospect like Pitt’s Tyler Boyd, who also would be a great addition to their return game and should be available in the second or third round. Whaley may have already addressed this position, having signed a couple of street free agents, Greg Little and Jarrett Boykin, a college teammate of Tyrod Taylor at Virginia Tech.

Offensive Line

Whaley’s top priority to strengthen the Bills’ chances of ending their playoff drought is to try to keep the offensive line intact, specifically the left side of the line. He needs to get guard Richie Incognito and tackle Cordy Glenn re-signed. If the team feels the need to pick up line depth in the later rounds of the draft, a couple of intriguing players are Indiana guard Dan Feeney and tackle Willie Beavers of Western Michigan.

Linebacker

This is a position the Bills need to address with a high pick in the draft. They are sorely lacking in playmaking linebackers, which are essential in Rex Ryan’s defense. Alabama’s Reggie Ragland and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith are both projected first round picks. Ragland has been the pick many mock drafts have pegged as going to the Bills with their top choice, 19th overall. Smith suffered an injury in his season-ending bowl game and might be a risky pick, but he’s a top player. Second round possibilities include a pair of backers from Georgia, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. In free agency, there’s a player available who has excelled in Ryan’s scheme – Calvin Pace. He would have to come at a low price for Buffalo to have the means to sign him however. One thing about today’s game – there is a lot of shading as far as positions when it comes to what constitutes a linebacker or a defensive end these days. Jerry Hughes, for instance, describes his position as a “hybrid”, part end and part outside backer. Mario Williams never seemed comfortable playing that role. The Bills may go after a player high in the draft that would be considered one of these types, an “edge rusher” if you will. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen are possibilities if they go that route.

Safety

With Aaron Williams’ career in jeopardy due to a neck injury and Corey Graham’s declining play, this is also a position of need. If the Bills use their top pick on a safety, Clemson’s Jayron Kearse is the only top player at the position considered first round material who would be left at the 19th slot. In the second round, Ohio State’s Vonn Bell would be a good choice. San Diego safety Eric Weddle has seemingly worn out his welcome with the Chargers, and is a free agent. He is a very capable player who is also most likely out of the Bills’ price range, unless they decide to make some surprise roster cuts to free up more cap space.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

16 Jan

morganstate02now

Logo of the Morgan State Bears, a college football team that began play in 1898 and currently plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The school has a proud gridiron tradition despite their small school status, having four Pro Football Hall of Famers among their alumni – Len Ford, Leroy Kelly, Willie Lanier and Roosevelt Brown. Frenchy Fuqua, Raymond Chester and Cornell Gowdy are other former Bears who moved from the small black college to the pros.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

16 Jan

58toppscassady

Courtesy of www.CheckOutMyCards.com , a 1958 Tops football card of former NFL back Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1955 at Ohio State, then moved on to a pro career, playing eight seasons in the NFL, mostly for the Detroit Lions. He helped the Lions win their last NFL championship in 1957. His son Craig played briefly for the New Orleans Saints in the 1970s.

 

NFL – Bills’ 2015 Season Review – Part 3

13 Jan

Part 3 of my Buffalo Bills’ 2015 season review looks at the special teams and the unit that was, by far, the most disappointing facet of the team, the defense. Coach Rex Ryan, a supposed defensive guru, took a top ranked unit and turned it into a dumpster fire that struggled all year. Players openly complained about not understanding Ryan’s complicated scheme, and coordinator Dennis Thurman constantly was late sending in signals from the first game until the finale. Ryan hired his twin brother Rob as Assistant Head Coach/Defense to help clean up the mess in 2016. The special teams were anything but special also. Here’s the position-by-position look at the defense and special teams:

Defensive Line

 

For the past 2 years, this season review has been a carbon copy when it came to rating this unit. I’ve heaped praise on the front four starters especially, since they were the strength of the team. That wasn’t the case in 2015, as none of the four met expectations. Tackle Marcell Dareus and hybrid end Jerry Hughes had average seasons, but neither had the impact they did in previous years, under different coordinators. Kyle Williams, the other tackle, had his season shortened by injury, while end Mario Williams, a prize free agent when he was signed a few years ago, was a complete disappointment. He questioned coach Rex Ryan’s scheme and the way he was being used all season, and had teammates claiming he “totally checked out” and was a bad teammate. He will almost certainly not be back in 2016, due to his declining play and the fact that the team needs to lose his salary to get under the salary cap. It also makes no sense to keep four highly-paid linemen on the roster if Ryan’s base defense is going to use a three man line. Still, it’s a shame that Ryan did such a number, in a negative way, on a defense that was highly rated prior to his arrival. As for depth, a pair of veterans, Alex Carrington and Jarius Wynn, will be coming off injuries and will have to fight for their roster spots next year, against competition from some unproven newcomers who took their spots during the year – T.J. Barnes, Lavar Edwards and Jerel Worthy. Two other vets, Corbin Bryant and Stefan Charles, are solid backups. Bryant did a good job filling in for Kyle Williams while Charles was decent, although he didn’t make as many plays in limited playing time as he had in prior years.

Linebackers

 

This is going to be a position of great need for the Bills going into the off-season. Whereas the defensive line was the focal point of the club’s defense in previous seasons, Ryan’s scheme calls for playmaking linebackers to dominate play. The Bills currently have none of those on their roster. Inside backer Preston Brown, who relays the defensive signals from the coaches to the unit, was the closest thing the team had to a playmaker, but, like just about every other player on the defense, his play severely declined in 2015. Old reliable vet Manny Lawson was probably the most consistent of the backers (he is technically listed as an end on the roster) but he’s not the type of player you’re going to build a future dominating defense with. Nigel Bradham will be a free agent, and although he could develop into a solid starter, if he seeks a big payday I don’t feel he’s worth it. Sifting through the rest of the linebackers on the roster, there isn’t much to choose from. Of the three players who ended up on the injured reserve list, Ty Powell has the most promise, Tony Steward never got a chance to play much due to injury, and having had injury troubles coming out of college, he’ll need to show some semblance of durability to stick with the team. Randell Johnson wasn’t able to earn any playing time other than special teams despite the need for backers in 2015. Undrafted free agent A.J. Tarpley could have a future. He made some plays late in the year that will at least put him on the coaches’ radar going into 2016. Max Valles was a late signee who was brought in with an eye on next season, because he supposedly is a good fit for Ryan’s defense. The other remaining candidates are IK Enamkpali, who never showed much of anything, and Kevin Reddick.

Defensive Backs

 

Instead of the front four, cornerback now appears to be the strength of the Bills’ defense. Stephon Gilmore and second round draft steal Ronald Darby made up a terrific starting tandem. The Bills proved to have quite a bit of depth also, with veterans Ron Brooks, Nickell Robey, Mario Butler and Leodis McKelvin all contributing at points of the season. McKelvin’s contract situation points to his likely release, however, unless he agrees to take a pay cut. The club also has two players promoted from the practice squad late in the year who may get a shot next year – Bud Noel and Sammy Seamster. Safety is a position very much in flux going into the off-season. Aaron Williams has to show he can recover from a neck injury, no certain thing. Corey Graham played admirably but he may be hitting the veteran wall, as his play declined. (Or could he also be a victim of Ryan’s complicated scheme?) Bacarri Rambo got extensive playing time after Williams was hurt and showed playmaking ability, but needs to improve his consistency. Also, he’ll be a free agent. Two players drafted the same year, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, played OK but neither looks like a long term answer to be a starter. There was some talk of moving McKelvin to safety, but he probably lacks the size to make the transition.

Special Teams

 

Bomb squad coach Danny Crossman is a holdover from Doug Marrone’s staff, and his job security is iffy after his teams suffered a huge decline, almost as bad as the defense. The coverage teams weren’t terrible, but contributed little to any wins. In the past, the Bills always had multiple players who were threats on kick returns, now there’s virtually nobody. McKelvin has too many ball security issues, Marcus Thigpen was so below average that he was cut twice, and Marquise Goodwin can’t stay healthy. By season’s end, Walter Powell, a free agent signed off the street, was handling return duties, and not showing a whole lot of promise. Kicker Dan Carpenter’s season was a forgettable one. He struggled mightily with the new longer extra point distance, and with the team needing to carry an extra kicker (Jordan Gay) just to handle kickoffs, his days could be numbered in Buffalo. The only bright spot among special teamers was punter Colton Schmidt, who was mostly solid all year but did have a couple of late season lapses.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

13 Jan

illinois4756

Used from 1947 until 1956, this is a logo of a college football team that plays in the Big Ten Conference, the Illinois Fighting Illini. The school’s program, which began play in 1890, has claimed 5 national championships and 15 Big Ten titles over the years. Although not a football power in recent years, Illinois boasts 6 Pro Football Hall of Famers among their alumni – George Halas, Red Grange, Shorty Ray, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Bobby Mitchell. Other notable pro players include Doug Dieken, Bill Brown, Jeff George, Tony Eason, Ernie McMillan, Ed O’Bradovich, Preston Pearson and Simeon Rice.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

13 Jan

58toppslebaron

1958 Topps football card of former NFL quarterback Eddie LeBaron, who stood tall in his life despite his small stature. He began his pro career with the Washington Redskins in 1950, but had to leave the team to serve in the Marine Corps in the Korean War, where he earned the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. LeBaron returned to the Redskins and became their starting quarterback, earning the nickname “The Little General” because of his 5’7″ height and his military service. In 1960, LeBaron was acquired by Tom Landry to become the first quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He remained there until retiring as a player in 1963. An elusive scrambler, he was named to the Pro Bowl four times. He worked as a CBS football telecast broadcaster after retiring, and later served as general manager and vice president of the Atlanta Falcons from 1977 until 1985.

 

NFL – Bills’ 2015 Season Review – Part 2

12 Jan

Part 2 of the 2015 Buffalo Bills’ season review deals with the team’s offense. While the unit wasn’t explosive by any means, they were competent. Rex Ryan, although he failed the team miserably overall, did a couple of things that helped. He hired Greg Roman to coordinate the offense, and he lobbied to get Tyrod Taylor signed as a free agent to compete for the starting quarterback job, which he won. For the most part, Roman’s unit did enough that should have made a playoff spot possible, if the defense hadn’t totally crumbled. Here’s a position-by-position look at the Bills’ offensive players:

Quarterbacks

 

In Taylor, the Bills have found themselves a quarterback capable of leading them into the future. Critics pointed out that he wasn’t a “franchise” QB because he didn’t lead any fourth quarter comebacks, but he has the capability of developing that skill if given the chance. He did everything the team asked of him – sustain drives, don’t turn the ball over, rely on your running game and defense to win the game. He did all of the above, and it wasn’t his fault that the defense didn’t hold up its’ end of the bargain. Some critics argued that the standards should be set higher for Taylor, since he is a four year veteran , not a rookie. But look at his final stats – 64% completion percentage, 20 touchdown passes, 6 interceptions (the lowest total in franchise history). In Jim Kelly’s first year, he completed 59% for 22 TDs and 17 interceptions, and he wasn’t a rookie either, having played in the USFL. Add in Taylor’s 500+ yards rushing for the season, and you have a signal caller who can clearly lead your team. The problem is the backup QB spot. EJ Manuel is certainly no Frank Reich, and his days may be numbered in Buffalo. The only other quarterback on the roster is Josh Johnson, a stop-gap at best. Finding a backup QB should be a top priority for GM Doug Whaley in the offseason.

Running Backs

 

The Bills’ rushing attack underwent a complete makeover in 2015, with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson departing. They were replaced by Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy and rookie fifth round draft pick Karlos Williams, a real diamond in the rough. Then Whaley found another hidden gem, Mike Gillislee, late in the year, and the Bills’ backfield depth looks solid going into 2016. Also on the roster is Boobie Dixon, who didn’t contribute much to the rushing attack and didn’t make his usual positive contribution to the special teams. His place on the 2016 roster looks tenuous. Fullback Jerome Felton was used exclusively as a blocker.

Receivers

 

The leader of this unit is clearly Sammy Watkins, who emerged as one of the NFL’s top receiving weapons in 2015, and also as one of the Bills’ outspoken leaders in the locker room. Behind him, there’s a slew of players who had injury issues this year. Robert Woods, who played hurt and wound up on injured reserve at the end of the year and  Chris Hogan, who dropped some passes but had a nagging hand injury, are the best options. Marcus Easley has always been used mainly on special teams, while Marquise Goodwin has been nothing but fragile his entire time here. There’s little chance that oft-injured Percy Harvin will be back. Some players got chances to play due to the injuries, with former New York Jet Greg Salas making the most impact with some catches in the season finale. Leonard Hankerson is a veteran who could be given a shot in training camp next year, Dez Lewis did little after being promoted from the practice squad and Walter Powell did some kick return work but didn’t show much. The Bills did recently sign a couple of veteran free agents who’ll be given a chance to compete for jobs in 2016 – Greg Little, who had mild success with Cleveland, and Jarrett Boykin, a former Virginia Tech teammate of Tyrod Taylor. At tight end, the Bills have enough depth to stand pat going into training camp. Charles Clay ended the year on IR but is a major contributor. Holdover veterans Chris Gragg and MarQueis Gray will fight for roster spots with Nick O’Leary, a rookie promoted late in the year from the practice squad who showed some promise.

Offensive Line

 

The Bills revamped two-thirds of their offensive line in 2015, and as the season went on the unit developed into a decent line. The Bills had one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks, and the pass protection for Tyrod Taylor got better the more the line played together. GM Doug Whaley’s biggest priority in the off-season will be getting the left side of that line – guard Richie Incognito and tackle Cordy Glenn – signed to new contracts. Center Eric Wood is a solid starter and rookie John Miller looks like a keeper at right guard. At the right tackle spot, Seantrell Henderson battled an illness and lost valuable playing time to newcomer Jordan Mills, who may have locked down the starting spot there. Cyrus Kouandjio, who has been mostly a disappointment at tackle, got some playing time as an eligible receiver, basically an extra tackle, and made his biggest contribution so far in his career in that role. There isn’t much other depth with this group, with the backup guards being journeyman veterans Kraig Urbik and Ryan Groy.

 
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