NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Ol’ Ball Coach Was A Player, Too!

21 Oct

It’s week 7 of the NFL season, and one of the matchups this week finds the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Indianapolis Colts. Our Throwback Thursday feature travels back to the 1969 season for a game between these 2 teams played on October 26th of that year. Coach Don Shula’s Colts were coming off the huge disappointing loss in the Super Bowl the previous season to the New York Jets. They were battling inconsistency as they started the year with 2 straight losses, then rebounded with a pair of wins. The 49ers were a team they hadn’t lost to since 1962, so a third consecutive win looked like a sure thing, especially with Baltimore being at home. San Francisco was enduring a down period in their history at this point. They were in the midst of a decade of mediocrity and coach Dick Nolan was struggling to make any headway in his quest to turn the franchise around, as the Niners entered this game winless at 0-4-1.

After a scoreless first quarter, Tommy Davis opened the scoring with a short field goal for San Francisco, but the Colts answered that with a drive that ended with Tom Matte hauling in an 11 yard touchdown pass from John Unitas to take a 7-3 lead. Quarterback Steve Spurrier, a career backup getting a rare chance to start, then guided a drive before the half with Ken Willard running in from 5 yards out, giving the 49ers the lead back at the half. San Francisco came out in the third quarter on fire. Spurrier led another drive in which he cashed in for a touchdown with an 18 yard scoring toss to Dick Witcher, then the defense took command by pilfering a Unitas throw, courtesy of John Woitt, which he ran back 57 yards for a touchdown to give San Francisco a shocking 24-7 lead. The proud Colts rallied as Unitas found his favorite target on the day, Jimmy Orr (8 catches for 146 yards), for a short touchdown pass, then closed the gap again with a one yard touchdown run by Matte. That was the end of the scoring, however, and Baltimore found themselves on the short end of a 24-21 score at the final gun.

Nolan’s 49ers won only 4 games in the ’69 season, and ironically half of those wins came against the Colts, as they upset them again later in the season. He was building something for the future, and the team won 3 straight Western Division titles to start the 1970s. The Colts were underachievers at 8-5-1 for the year, and Shula departed for Miami after the season, where he would find great success on the way to becoming the winningest coach in NFL history. Shula’s departure didn’t initially hurt the Colts, as they won the Super Bowl under Don McCafferty in 1970.


Steve Spurrier shined in a rare starting performance


Classic Team Logo of The Day

21 Oct

This is an old, outdated logo of a college football team that plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Syracuse Orangemen. Known as the “Saltine Warrior”, the Native American character was used beginning in 1968, but was jettisoned in 1979 when a group of Native students protested the cartoon-like depicture of their culture. The Orangemen won the national championship in 1959 and boasts one Heisman Trophy winner, the late Ernie Davis. The school has a long list of alumni who have gone on to pro careers, including 8 Hall of Famers – Jim Brown, Al Davis, John Mackey, Jim Ringo, Larry Csonka, Art Monk, Marvin Harrison and Floyd Little.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

21 Oct

1974 Topps football card of former pro football quarterback Steve Spurrier, who played 10 seasons in the NFL but is much better known for his college coaching prowess, where he earned the nickname of “The Ol’ Ball Coach”. He was a highly touted Heisman Trophy winner coming out of college, but didn’t meet expectations in the pros, although he did carve out a long career as a backup QB and punter, mainly with the San Francisco 49ers. Spurrier had a short, unsuccessful run as an NFL coach in Washington, but in college he was a seven time SEC Coach of  The Year and his teams won 6 SEC titles, and a national championship in 1996.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: More High-Flying AFL Action

14 Oct

The Denver Broncos face off with their AFC West rivals, the Las Vegas Raiders, this Sunday in a week 6 game on the NFL schedule. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll go back to the high-flying early days of the American Football League, to a game played between these clubs on December 15, 1963. The Raiders were based in Oakland at the time and this contest was played at Frank Youell Field, a glorified high school stadium that was Oakland’s home then. Prior to 1963 the Raiders were one of the AFL’s weakest franchises. They had finished the 1962 season with a 1-13 record, and Buffalo Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson had to loan the club $400,000 just to keep them afloat at one point. The Raiders’ fortunes turned around that season, however, when they hired a brash young assistant from the San Diego Chargers’ staff, Al Davis. Of course, Denver was the ultimate sad sack franchise of the AFL for the entire 10 year existence of the league. This game was the penultimate regular season contest of the ’63 season, with the Raiders enjoying an 8-4 record while the Broncos wallowed in last place of the Western Division at 2-9-1.

The game started out as expected with the Raiders scoring twice, on touchdown passes of 32 yards from Tom Flores to Bo Roberson and 18 yards from Flores to Art Powell, one of the AFL’s brightest stars in it’s formative years. Denver rounded out the first quarter scoring when rookie fullback Billy Joe rambled in from 9 yards out to cut Oakland’s lead to 14-7. Flores answered that by hitting his running back, Clem Daniels, with a 26 yard touchdown pass. The Broncos mustered up a field goal from Gene Mingo, and the clubs went into halftime with the Raiders holding a 21-10 edge.  When Flores threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, from 43 yards out to Daniels again, Oakland took a sizable 28-10 and it looked like the lowly Broncos were finished.

Denver quarterback Mickey Slaughter rallied the troops, however. He threw a 9 yard touchdown pass to Gene Prebola, and then led a drive that ended in a short scoring run by Hewritt Dixon, and suddenly Denver entered the final quarter down by only 28-24. The Broncos’ defense was their Achilles heel in 1963, as they allowed a total of 473 points overall for the season, by far the highest total in the AFL’s history. So it was easy pickings again for Flores, and he found Powell again for his fifth TD toss of the day. Slaughter didn’t give up easily. He engineered another drive and hit his All-AFL split end, Lionel Taylor, with a 29 yard scoring throw to pull his club to within 4 points again at 35-31. That would be all the scoring for the day, and Oakland held on to improve to 9-4. They finished the regular season the following week by outscoring the Houston Oilers in a 52-49 barnburner to end their season at 10-4, a miraculous climb from the previous year. It was only good enough for second place in the West as San Diego won their third division crown in 4 years. The Broncos put up a game effort on this day, and Taylor and Prebola both garnered over 100 receiving yards, but their reward for the “moral victory” was a date with the mighty Chargers in the regular season’s final week. The Chargers demolished them 58-20.


Al Davis transformed the Raiders’ franchise in 1963


Classic Team Logo of The Day

14 Oct

Used from 2002 until 2010, this is a logo of a historically black college football team from the Southwest Athletic Conference, the Prairie View A&M Panthers. The school played it’s first season in 1907, and has won 11 conference titles and 5 HBCU national championships, and has an .861 winning percentage all-time. Panther alumni who have enjoyed pro football careers include Otis Taylor, Jim Kearney, Sam Adams, Ken Houston, Jim Lee Hunt, Clem Daniels, Bo Farrington, Jim Mitchell, Charley Warner, Alvin Reed and Clarence Williams.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

14 Oct

1963 Fleer football card of former pro football end Art Powell, who had a 10 year career in the NFL and AFL for 5 different teams. His best years came in his four year stint in Oakland, where he was named an AFL All Star 4 times. He also led the AFL in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns twice each, and was a member of the AFL’s All Time team. Powell, who was a major voice in protesting segregation during his time as a player, passed away in 2015 at the age of 78.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Young Gun Takes On The Master

07 Oct

The New England Patriots meet the Houston Texans on this week’s NFL schedule, and for our Throwback Thursday post we’ll go back just a few years to find a contest between these 2 clubs that turned out to be a wild shootout between the G.O.A.T. and a fresh young upstart, those players being the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Houston rookie DeShaun Watson. It was early in the 2017 season, in week 3 on September 24, when the Texans invaded Gillette Stadium to take on the mighty Patriots. New England was a heavy favorite, having won the Super Bowl the previous season, while the Texans were AFC South Division champs in a mediocre year for the division in 2016. Watson hadn’t done much to this point, although he did scamper 49 yards for the only touchdown of the game the prior week to give his team a win over Cincinnati.

This turned out to be a breakout performance for the young rookie as he battled Brady for 4 quarters. New England opened the scoring with Brady hitting Rob Gronkowski with a 5 yard touchdown pass. Then Watson led his team on a pair of scoring drives that ended with a field goal and a 29 yard scoring toss from Watson to Bruce Ellington. Brady answered with a touchdown throw of 7 yards to Chris Hogan. Houston added another field goal, then suddenly took a 20-14 lead when Jadeveon Clowney scooped up a fumble and ran 22 yards for a defensive score. As he has done his whole career, Brady never flinched. He found Hogan again from 47 yards out to regain the lead for his club at 21-20 at the half. Brady increased the lead to 28-20 in the third quarter when he hooked up with Brandin Cooks, who ironically now plays for the Texans, on a 42 yard scoring throw.

Not to be outdone, Watson pulled his team to within a point by finding Ryan Griffin for a 12 yard TD, then engineered a pair of field goal drives to give Houston a 33-28 lead. Houston made the mistake of leaving time on the clock for Brady, and he took advantage. He led the Pats downfield and finished the drive with a controversial touchdown pass to Cooks. Replays seemed to show that Cooks bobbled the ball, and that it hit the ground, after he landed out of bounds. However, the catch was upheld, Brady hit Cooks for a 2 point conversion and New England hung on for a 36-33 win.


Brandin Cooks’ controversial touchdown catch


In all, Brady threw for 5 touchdowns on the day, and his team needed every one of them to squeeze out the victory over the young buck. Cooks and Hogan had great statistical days, with Cooks grabbing 5 passes for 131 yards and Hogan adding 4 receptions for 68 yards, with both receivers scoring twice each. Watson, a tremendous talent, threw for over 300 yards and 2 TDs and added 41 yards on the ground in the losing cause. It should have been the breakout game that launched him to All Pro status, but his career has taken a turn for the worse today due to off the field issues, and the Texans are actively trying to trade him in 2021, with no takers so far.


Brady, Watson shake hands after epic battle


Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 Oct

Logo of a small college football team that plays in the Big South Conference, the Monmouth Hawks. A fairly new program, the school began play in 1993 and has won 7 conference titles and has made 3 recent appearances in the FCS playoffs. Former Hawks who have gone on to play in the NFL include Miles Austin, Chris Hogan, Hakeem Valles and Neal Sterling.


Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Oct

2018 Score football card of a current pro football wide receiver, Chris Hogan, who has carved out an 11 year pro career in the NFL so far with 6 different teams. His most success came with the New England Patriots, where he helped win a pair of Super Bowl titles. Hogan also played lacrosse in college, and also played in the Premier Lacrosse League in 2021, signing with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, his current team, after the PLL season ended.


MLB – Cleveland Indians – The End of An Era

04 Oct

The Major League baseball regular season wound up this week and an event of historical proportions took place in Cleveland, Ohio as that city’s big league team ended the 100+ year era as the “Indians”. The franchise had been known as the Cleveland Naps, after star player Nap Lajoie, but when Lajoie left the club, owner Charles Somers asked baseball writers to pick a new name. They went with Indians to honor another player, Louis Sockalexis, a Native American. And so, the “Tribe” was born. Bowing to pressure from Native and other groups to change the name, Cleveland’s team, beginning in 2022, will be rebranded as the Guardians, named after iconic statues on a local bridge that “guard” the city.

Perhaps the rebranding will change the team’s luck. They have won only a pair of World Series titles, in 1920 and 1948, and the span of years from ’48 until today marks the longest non-title drought in major league baseball. The Indians have had some iconic players and moments over the years. Bob Feller was one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League shortly after Jackie Robinson did it in the NL with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Frank Robinson became the first African American manager in the majors when he took the reins as player/manager in 1975. The Indians were the opponent when Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak came to an end in 1941.

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller


There were tragic and comical moments also. In 1920, Tribe shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball and died the next day, becoming the only player in history to die from being hit. Pitcher Herb Score was struck in the face by a batted ball, breaking facial bones and effectively ending his career, although he became the iconic play-by-play voice of the team for many years after that. In spring training of 1993, 2 players, Ken Olin and Tim Crews, were killed in a boat crash, with Bob Ojeda seriously injured also. When Bill Veeck owned the team, he hired a clown known as “The Clown Prince Of Baseball”, Max Patkin, to coach third base as a promotional stunt.

Baseball clown Max Patkin


And, in one of baseball’s most forgettable evenings, the team hosted Ten Cent Beer Night at Municipal Stadium, with the game ending in a Tribe forfeit to the Texas Rangers as drunken fans stormed the field and caused a riot.

Riots on “Ten Cent Beer Night”


Cleveland has had a terrible reputation for trading away players who were stars or would become stars, with the dubious list including Roger Maris, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Tommy John, Tommy Agee, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Joe Carter, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and most recently Francisco Lindor. The franchise rebounded somewhat in the 1990s and fielded respectable teams, including a pair that reached the World Series, in 1995 and 1997, only to lose both times. Those clubs had star power, with names like Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser. Perhaps the most odious of seasons for the Tribe came in 2016, when they reached the Series only to blow a 3-1 edge in games to the formerly lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, and lose in 7 games.

Will the Guardians start a new chapter in 2022 and give the fans a team worth cheering for? Despite a not-so-special year in 2021, they do boast a promising core of players going forward. We’ll examine what the future looks like for them in an upcoming post. For now, it’s time to say a fond farewell to the Cleveland Indians, as they make their way to the Happy Hunting Grounds of baseball history. Also, GO GUARDIANS!