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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Unitas Rediscovers Moore

20 Sep

The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off an upset defeat at the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, try to rebound against the Indianapolis Colts this week on the NFL’s week 3 schedule. So we’ll highlight a game played between these 2 franchises for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was played on November 21, 1965 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium (the Colts wouldn’t move to Indianapolis for another 20 years or so). The Colts, under coach Don Shula, were having a great season, with a 9-1 record entering the game, while Philly was mired in a losing campaign at 3-7. Baltimore took command early, jumping out to a 14-0 lead as Colt quarterback John Unitas, arguably considered the best in the game at the time, hit Lenny Moore with a 52 yard scoring pass for the first touchdown, and safety Jerry Logan intercepting an Eagle pass and returning it 36 yard to paydirt. The Colts added a field goal but the Eagles showed some grit by netting a field goal of their own and adding a pair of touchdowns before the half, with Norm Snead throwing to his tight end, Pete Retzlaff, for one TD and future Hall of Famer Ollie Matson running for another, leaving the teams deadlocked at 17-17 at the midway point.

The third quarter belonged to Philadelphia as they jumped out to a 24-20 lead and looked poised to pull off the upset, but the Colts asserted their superiority in the final quarter, led by Unitas. He led a pair of late game scoring drives, which was his trademark back then. Jimmy Orr was a recipient of a 22 yard touchdown throw to give Baltimore the lead, while Moore scored again, this time on a 1 yard plunge, to seal the victory, 34-24. Unitas played his usual excellent game in the win, passing for over 300 yards and spreading the ball around to his favorite targets – Orr, Raymond Berry and tight end John Mackey. For this contest, however, he rediscovered the receiving talents of his halfback, Moore, who grabbed 7 of his throws for a whopping 163 yards and a TD. Moore added 54 yards on the ground to the attack, piling up 217 total yards. The NFL has always been a copycat league, and in an era where star halfbacks like Frank Gifford, Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell were transitioning into becoming “flankerbacks”, Shula realized that Moore, who had always been a receiving threat in his earlier years, was perfect for the role.

 

shula-gallery1Colt legends Unitas, Moore and Shula

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

20 Sep

maristredfoxes

Logo of a small college football team that plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, the Marist College Red Foxes. The school’s gridiron program has existed since 1978, and they currently play in the Pioneer Football League. The Red Foxes have claimed 4 conference titles in that time, the most recent in 2013. Despite their small college status, the school has had a couple of players move on to play in the NFL – Terrence Fede and a current  player, placekicker Jason Myers.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

20 Sep

58toppslennymoore

1958 Topps football card of Hall of Fame halfback Lenny Moore, who played his entire 12 year career with the Baltimore Colts. Sometimes an overlooked player when the discussion of the greatest backs of all time takes place, he certainly belongs in the mix. He was NFL Rookie of The Year in 1956, and helped the Colts win back-to-back championships in 1958 and ’59. Moore was a seven time Pro Bowler, the 1964 NFL Most Valuable Player, and was named to the NFL All Decade team for the 1950s. He is the only player in NFL history to record at least 40 rushing touchdowns and 40 receiving touchdowns. After his playing days ended, he worked for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services for 26 years, mentoring at-risk children.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Out Of The Bears’ Shadow

13 Sep

Week two of the NFL schedule includes a match between two nomadic franchises, the Rams and the Cardinals. The Rams began their existence in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles, relocated to St. Louis where they had a measure of success, then bolted back to the West Coast to L.A., although technically they are currently playing in Anaheim. The Cardinals started out in Chicago, moved to St. Louis where they stayed for a pretty long period, then ran off to the desert and became the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals in the late 1980s. So the contest this week between teams that both bolted the Gateway to The West city could be deemed The We Screwed St. Louis Bowl.

Anyway, the game we harken back to took place on September 23, 1960. It was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, on the opening day of the ’60 season. It’s significant in that it was the first game the Cards played as the St. Louis Cardinals. After toiling in the shadow of George Halas’ Bears in Chicago since the NFL’s inception in 1920, team owner Violet Bidwill Wolfner petitioned the league to relocate to St. Louis after the 1959 season. At the time, the American Football League was forming to begin play in 1960, so the league allowed the Cardinals to move, mostly to claim the St. Louis market before the fledgling AFL could. Minnesota and Dallas were added as expansion teams during this period also, in proactive moves by the NFL to shut out the new league.

 

ramscards1960Rams vs. Cardinals game program 9/23/1960

The Rams had been an offensive powerhouse in the 1950s, behind future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield. Van Brocklin was now quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles, while Waterfield was the Rams’ head coach. Billy Wade, now L.A.’s signal caller, opened the scoring with a touchdown pass to Clendon Thomas. In the second quarter, Wade threw another scoring pass, a 57 yarder to Red Phillips, while John David Crow scored the first 2 touchdowns for the newly anointed St. Louis club, the first on an 18 yard throw from King Hill, and the second on another passing play, this time a 52 yarder from John Roach, who replaced Hill at quarterback. A pair of Bobby Joe Conrad field goals and a safety put St. Louis ahead 22-14 and the Cardinals coasted from there, led by a spectacular performance from Roach. He connected with star split end Sonny Randle for touchdown throws of 37, 57 and 24 yards to break the game open. Amazingly, Roach only completed 6 passes on the day, and 4 went for touchdowns. The Rams could only muster one more score, as they replaced Hill with backup Frank Ryan. Ryan hit rookie Carroll Dale with a 54 yard TD pass, but in the end the Cardinals, in their inaugural game as the St. Louis Cards, prevailed 43-21. The win launched the Redbirds to a winning season, as they finished 6-5-1, a marked improvement over their 2-10 finish in their last season in Chicago in 1959. (The NFL season only consisted of 12 games back then).

Incidentally, both Wade and Ryan would be traded later on, and both went on to great success. Wade led his new team, the Chicago Bears, to the NFL title in 1963 while Ryan quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to a championship in 1964. Dale, who had a great statistical game in the loss for the Rams (5 catches for 106 yards and the late TD), would later be traded to Green Bay, where he helped the Packers win 3 titles, including the first 2 Super Bowls.

 

1960gridcardinals1960 St. Louis Cardinals

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

13 Sep

WSWfootball

Logo of a Western New York high school football team, the West Seneca West Indians, who won the New York State Class A championship in 2017, led by quarterback Matt Myers, who is now enrolled at the University of Buffalo. Notable WSW alumni include Olympic volleyball player Matt Anderson, former NFL players Jeremy Kelley and Matt Strzelczyk and famed video journalist Josh Pohlman. The 2018 Indians’ club also has high hopes, and their roster includes Juston Johnson, Liam Scheuer, John Speyer, Bryan Ball, Kyle Haettich, Jeb Braunscheidel and Connor Pohlman.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

13 Sep

64philasonnyrandle

1964 Philadelphia football card of former pro football receiver Sonny Randle, who played 10 seasons in the NFL with his most productive years spent with the Cardinals franchise in Chicago and St. Louis. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and was named All Pro in 1960 (when he led the NFL in touchdown receptions) and 1962. After retiring as a player, Randle enjoyed a 13 year career in college coaching at 4 different schools, including head coaching stops at Virginia and Marshall. He also dabbled in sports broadcasting, and even started his own talk radio network in his native Virginia. Randle died in 2017 at the age of 81.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Jim “Wrong Way” Marshall

06 Sep

Another new NFL season is upon us, which means Rayonsports kicks off it’s weekly Thursday Throwback post featuring a contest from yesteryear played between two franchises that are scheduled to meet on the week’s slate of games. The Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers match up on the opening week’s schedule, so we travel back to a meeting between these clubs that was played on October 25, 1964. This particular game between Western Division rivals lives on in NFL lore because of a play made by one of the greats of the game, Viking defensive end Jim Marshall, but Marshall would just as soon forget the game. In the fourth quarter of that game, he recovered a 49er fumble and returned it 66 yards, the wrong way, into his own end zone, resulting in a 2-point safety for San Francisco.

The game started out with 49er quarterback John Brodie taking early control, scoring on a 2 yard run and throwing an 80 yard touchdown pass to Dave Parks to give his club a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Tommy Mason ran for a Viking TD and Tommy Davis kicked a field goal to give San Fran a 17-10 lead at the half. The only third quarter scoring came on a Fred Cox field goal for Minnesota, but the Vikings took control in the fourth quarter, led by their Purple People Eater defense. QB Fran Tarkenton ran for a score, and defensive end Carl Eller scooped a fumble and ran 45 yards for another touchdown. Eller’s recovery, incidentally, was made possible by a Marshall sack/strip. Marshall’s infamous gaffe came later in the final stanza, but didn’t really affect the final outcome as the Vikings won the game 27-22.

It’s really a shame that the legendary Viking defender is mostly remembered for his wrong way run. He played 20 years in the league and was a dominant defender, and with this summer’s induction of Jerry Kramer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Marshall now stands as perhaps the biggest “snub” as far as Hall voting is concerned. He really deserves to be inducted, but doesn’t even draw minimal consideration now that his playing days are so far in the past.

Jim Marshall

A distraught Jim Marshall after realizing his mistake

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

06 Sep

brooklynboltsFEFL

Logo of the Brooklyn Bolts,  a football team that was a charter member of the Fall Experimental Football League, a defunct league that had hoped to be a developmental system for the NFL. The Bolts played from 2014 until 2016, and won the league championship in its’ first 2 seasons. Serving as consultants or coaches for the team were former NFL players and coaches like Rod Rust, Don Strock, Marvin Jones and Nate Poole. Their most recognizable player was quarterback Josh Freeman, who had a stint in the NFL.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

06 Sep

63toppsmarshall

1963 Topps football card of former NFL defensive end Jim Marshall, who enjoyed a long, storied career spanning 20 years in the league, most notably with the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately he is mostly remembered for a play in which he recovered an opponent’s fumble and returned it 66 yards, in the wrong direction, resulting in a safety. That play aside, Marshall was a stalwart on the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters defense for 19 seasons, and was an All Pro and Pro Bowler three times. He appeared in 4 Super Bowls for the Vikings in the 1970s. Marshall was an NFL iron man also, and held the league record for longevity with 282 consecutive starts until it was later surpassed by Brett Favre.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills 2018 Season Preview

04 Sep

The preseason schedule has been completed, and cuts have been made to trim the roster to the final 53 players, so it’s time for our annual Buffalo Bills season preview. The Bills, thanks to some late-game heroics from Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd, snuck into the playoffs as an AFC wild card last season, breaking a 17 year drought. Nonetheless, management continued their “process” and made major changes to the makeup of the club entering 2018. Here’s my position by position preview of Buffalo’s new and hopefully improved roster:

 

Front Office/Coaching

Sean McDermott’s initial season as head coach of the Bills has to be considered a success, just by the fact that the team qualified for a playoff spot. Now that this standard has been set, the challenge will be to not only maintain that level of success, but improve on it. With a roster that is not exactly loaded with top-tier talent, meeting the challenge will be difficult. McDermott enters the new season having made a major change to his staff, replacing Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator with Brian Daboll, who held the same position with national champion Alabama last year and has an extensive NFL coaching background also. General manager Brandon Beane continued to show that he’s not afraid to shake things up in a big way – he dealt tackle Cordy Glenn and starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor for draft picks that enabled the team to have what should be a successful draft. Although there wasn’t a big splash made in free agency, his signings there appear to have shored up some holes on the roster also.

 

Quarterbacks

2018joshallenPrize rookie QB Josh Allen

Tyrod Taylor was the starting QB on the Bills’ team that finally broke the playoff drought last year, but his in-season benching in favor of Nathan Peterman was the first indication that he wasn’t the club’s long term answer. Add to that the fact that a terrific defensive effort in the wild card playoff game against Jacksonville was wasted when Taylor could only muster 3 points with the offense, and his fate was sealed. With Taylor gone, the competition at quarterback was left to Peterman, free agent signee AJ McCarron and top draft choice Josh Allen. Coach McDermott declared an open competition for the starting job entering camp, and Peterman won the starting position with a clearly better performance in the preseason. McCarron failed to show anything until the final quarter of the final preseason game, and was eventually traded to Oakland. Allen may be the team’s long term answer, but the one year’s experience Peterman had in 2017 won him the job.

Running Backs

2018Marcus-MurphyVersatile back Marcus Murphy

The Bills’ offense will rely heavily on the talent of Pro Bowl back LeSean McCoy, who is without a doubt the team’s most valuable weapon. He is the stalwart contributor to the running game, and can be expected to see a lot more action in the passing attack also. Marcus Murphy has been a revelation in training camp as McCoy’s main backup, and looks like he’ll see a major role spelling McCoy and returning kicks. Free agent signee Chris Ivory is another new back in the team’s stable. He is a power runner who will provide a change of pace from McCoy. Both Murphy and Ivory are improvements over last year’s backup, Mike Tolbert. At fullback is Patrick DiMarco, whose main role is as a blocker and occasional receiver out of the backfield. Taiwan Jones also stuck on the final roster, strictly as a special teamer.

Receivers

 

WR Kelvin Benjamin

Buffalo’s receiving corps is full of question marks entering the 2018 season. Kelvin Benjamin, acquired in an in-season trade last year, is the only bonafide NFL star among the group, and he has struggled to stay healthy in his career so far. Jeremy Kerley is a veteran slot receiver whose experience should help stabilize the group, but after him there is a lot of mystery. Zay Jones enters his second year as a player who has a lot of potential and has shown flashes of ability, but he still needs to up his game. Andre Holmes won a spot on the roster because he is a special teams stalwart, but could also add a veteran’s touch to the receiving corps in a limited role. Rookie Ray-Ray McCloud adds some speed to the unit, and should help in the return game also. Rookie undrafted free agent Robert Foster is a wild card entering the regular season. He didn’t show much in the exhibition games but the coaching staff must have a plan for him. Charles Clay leads a tight end group that, like the wide receiving corps, has potential but is unproven. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme relies heavily on the tight ends, which explains why the team went heavily at the position on their final 53 man roster. Logan Thomas, Jason Croom and Khari Lee all provide different skill sets behind Clay.

Offensive Line

 

Left tackle Dion Dawkins

Stability was a word used to describe the Bills’ offensive line entering the 2017 season, but entering this season the unit is in a state of flux after the trade of Cordy Glenn, the retirement of center Eric Wood and the release of left guard Richie Incognito. Holdover Ryan Groy and free agent signee Russell Bodine battled all summer to become Wood’s replacement at center, with Groy ultimately winning the starting job. He also provides depth at guard. Vlad Ducasse was shifted over from right guard to Incognito’s spot on the left, with John Miller at right guard. Buffalo seems to have a pair of at least capable, though certainly not spectacular, players holding down the tackle spots in Dion Dawkins and veteran Jordan Mills. Besides Groy, depth at guard is provided by rookie Wyatt Teller, an aggressive blocker who flashed potential in camp but has a lot to learn. The backups at tackle are a major question mark. It can be argued that both Conor McDermott  and veteran Marshall Newhouse had failing grades in their preseason action. Coach McDermott stressed the urgency to eliminate penalties throughout training camp, and Newhouse was the biggest offender in that department.

Defensive Line

 

2018kylewilliamsVeteran DT Kyle Williams

The Bills were among the worst teams in the NFL at stopping the run in 2017, so some much-needed additions were made to the defensive line group in the off-season. Their main free agent signings were designed to shore up the line – run-stuffing tackle Star Lotulelei from Carolina and end Trent Murphy from Washington, a pass rush specialist. The former will be paired with Bills’ stalwart Kyle Williams at the starting tackle spots, while Murphy is penciled in opposite incumbent Jerry Hughes at end. Buffalo’s braintrust is hoping Murphy will mirror the success they had with the signing of safety Jordan Poyer last year – a veteran recovering from a major injury who is a question mark but rebounds to have a great season. Depth at tackle starts with a promising rookie draft pick, Harrison Phillips, a Kyle Williams clone who is the heir apparent to that starting tackle job. Vet Adolphus Washington is the other interior backup, while depth at the end positions is well manned with Shaq Lawson, who looks poised for a breakout year, and reliable Eddie Yarbrough.

Linebackers

 

2018lorenzoalexanderLB Lorenzo Alexander

The Bills made what they hope is a major investment in their defense of today, and in the future, when they traded up for the second time in the draft’s first round to corral Tremaine Edmunds, a top prospect who immediately fills a spot at middle linebacker vacated when Preston Brown left in free agency. Edmunds should be an upgrade over Brown in every area except experience. The other starting backers will be second year man Matt Milano and grisly vet Lorenzo Alexander, who still shows very few signs that his play is declining despite his advanced age. All three backups at linebacker – Deon Lacey, Julian Stanford and Ramon Humber, are on the roster strictly for their special teams skills. If any of the trio are forced into the starting lineup due to injury, the Bills’ defense will take a major hit, especially in the pass coverage area.

Defensive Backs

 

Safeties Jordan Poyer (21) and Micah Hyde (23)

The secondary turned into one of the team’s main strengths last season, and 3 of the 4 starters return there. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, both free agent signings for 2017, return to patrol the back end while last year’s rookie phenom, Tre’Davious White is back at one cornerback spot. One-time Pro Bowler Vontae Davis was signed to replace oft-injured EJ Gaines as the other starting CB. The Bills hope to get the Pro Bowl version of Davis, but he was targeted and burned often by opponents in the preseason. Rookie Taron Johnson and veteran free agent signee Phillip Gaines both won roster spots and it’s still uncertain entering the regular season which of them will be the slot cornerback. The other reserve corners are returnee Lafayette Pitts, another bomb squad mainstay, and Ryan Lewis, who was claimed off waivers at the final cutdown and is a complete unknown. The signing of Rafael Bush to be a veteran safety backup to Poyer and Hyde looks like a good one. The other reserve safety is rookie draft pick Siran Neal.

 

Special Teams

 

Kicker Steven Hauschka (Getty Images)

Another of the stellar 2017 free agent signings leads off the list of Buffalo’s specialists, placekicker Steven Hauschka. “Hausch Money” was automatic in 2017 and hopefully he can repeat his reliable campaign of a year ago. The Bills made a surprise move on cutdown day by waiving their incumbent punter, Colton Schmidt, and replacing him with a totally untested rookie, Corey Bojorquez. He was on New England’s preseason roster but never punted in a game. The left-footer had an impressive college career at New Mexico, however, and the Bills are obviously counting on him to replicate that in the NFL. Ryan Ferguson returns as the long snapper, while possible kick return candidates include Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy and Ray-Ray McCloud. Players like Holmes, Humber, Pitts, Lacey and even starter Lorenzo Alexander will be commonplace on the punt and kickoff squads.

For fans anxious to get hyped for the start of the season, here is the annual audio “Shout” song clip:

 
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