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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Philly Blizzard Game

23 Oct

There is a contest slated this week on the NFL schedule between two of the league’s high-flying “bird” teams in the first half of this season – the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. For this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday, we travel back a long way in time, further back than any Throwback Thursday post ever – to the 1948 NFL Championship game played between these two franchises. The Cardinals were two cities removed from their current  Glendale, Arizona location. They hadn’t even moved to their St. Louis home yet (they did that in 1960). These Cardinals played in Chicago, while the Eagles, although belonging to the city of Brotherly Love as they do today, played at old Shibe Park. The title game, a rematch of the previous year’s championship matchup, was played on December 19, 1948. There were no “extended” playoffs back then, with wild cards and divisional rounds, just a title game between the Eastern and Western Division champions, and the game was actually played in the same year as the regular season, prior to Christmas even. The Eagles were the home team, and on the morning of the game Philadelphia was hit with a massive snowstorm of blizzard proportions that continued throughout the game. The stadium grounds crew needed help from players from both teams to remove the tarp, buried under the heavy snow, from the field prior to the game. This title game was significant for another reason – it was to be the first NFL Championship game to be televised. ABC Network would broadcast the game, and the broadcasters themselves were important NFL figures – Harry Wismer, who would go on to found and own the New York Titans (later to become the Jets) in the American Football League, and former Chicago Bear standout Red Grange. In those days, “snow” was a problem with all TV broadcasts, but in this case the problem would be real snow threatening to postpone the contest. In fact, league commissioner Bert Bell considered a postponement, but decided to allow the game to go on because both clubs wanted to play it.  A few minutes into the contest, the yard markings on the field disappeared under the heavy cover of snow, and Bell ordered the head referee to make all first down and touchdown calls by his own observation. The Eagles’ star player, halfback Steve Van Buren, almost missed the game. He stayed home thinking it surely would be canceled, and Eagle coach Greasy Neale called him to let him know it was still on. Van Buren had to catch 3 trolleys and walk 6 blocks to reach the stadium in time, and it’s lucky he did, as he scored the game’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter on a five yard run. The blizzard conditions made for a sloppy, scoreless contest through three quarters, and when Chicago fumbled in their own territory in the final stanza, it set up Van Buren for what turned out to be the winning points.  The 7-0 win by the Eagles avenged a 28-21 Cardinal victory in 1947’s title game, and Philly went on to win again in 1949, shutting out the Los Angeles Rams 14-0.

 

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Players help remove tarp during the “Philly Blizzard” 1948 NFL title game

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

23 Oct

OccidentalTigers2

Logo of a Division III college football program, the Occidental Tigers, who compete in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC). The Tigers have won a pair of Division III national titles, in 2006 and 2008. Former NFL coach Jim Mora is an Occidental graduate, along with former pro football players Vance Mueller and Jack Kemp, who was a long-time Congressman and former candidate for Vice President for the Republican Party.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

23 Oct

52bowmanvanburen

1952 Bowman football card of a National Football League Hall of Fame legend, former Philadelphia Eagle back Steve Van Buren. One of the All Time Eagle players, he was a five-time all pro during his eight year career, was named to the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1940s, and helped Philly win two NFL titles, in 1948 and ’49. Van Buren also led the league in rushing four times in his career. Knee injuries forced him to retire in 1952, and he was elected to Canton in 1965. Van Buren died of pneumonia in 2012.

 

NFL – Bills’ Game Review

19 Oct

At Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills stole a victory over the visiting Minnesota Vikings in a game they had no business winning. For most of the game, Buffalo continued their maddening habit of shooting themselves in the foot with mistakes, turnovers and penalties – a habit they haven’t been able to break for 14 non-playoff seasons under five different coaches. Bills’ fans have seen this act so often over the years that they show little patience for the current team when they start to exhibit their same story, different day behavior. So for the third time in four home games, the Bills were booed off the field at halftime, this time trailing a very beatable Viking team, 13-10. Neither club did anything in a listless third quarter, and when Orton threw a bad interception in the early portion of the final quarter to set up a Minnesota field goal, the Bills found themselves down 16-10 in a game that they were favored to win. Kyle Orton, the Bills’ QB who had a tough afternoon with six sacks against and another pair of turnovers, pulled his offensive unit together and engineered an 80 yard drive that culminated with a 2  yard touchdown strike to Sammy Watson with one second left on the clock to steal a 17-16 win. Here are some thoughts about things that happened during the game and what they might mean going forward:

* Orton’s performance was typical of his career – he was brutally awful at times, but brilliant on the final drive, which actually was much longer than 80 yards, as the Bills needed to overcome penalties and sacks that caused third and fourth and long situations. Orton hit Scott Chandler and Chris Hogan on key completions before connecting with Watkins for the winning score.

* Watkins had his best game of what has been an uneven rookie year. He’s had some average games also, mostly when he didn’t seem completely recovered from an early season rib injury, but he is without a doubt going to grow into a major weapon for his team’s offense for the remainder of this year and beyond. He is slowly developing some chemistry with Orton and will be scary good when he’s completely on the same page with his veteran signal-caller.

* The Bills’ running game took a major hit looking ahead to the immediate future. Fred Jackson suffered a groin injury and left the game. That meant that C.J. Spiller, who’s struggled all year, was going to get his chance to get multiple carries. Unfortunately, on his first attempt, he went down with a collarbone injury, which happened after he was tackled on a stirring 53 yard scamper. Anthony Dixon did an admirable job finishing the game as the lone back, and in the coming weeks, depending on how long Jackson and Spiller are sidelined, off-season trade acquisition Bryce Brown will get his first chance to contribute after being an inactive healthy scratch all year.

* There were some unsung heroes in the game Sunday, including Leodis McKelvin, who nabbed a pair of interceptions, Dixon with some key runs, the defensive line with four sacks, and linebacker Preston Brown with some impressive tackling.

* The Bills’ offensive line has looked overwhelmed the last 2 weeks, especially the guards, Erik Pears and rookie Cyril Richardson. Why wouldn’t the coaching staff want to take a look at the backups, Chris Hairston and Kraig Urbik, at some point? Urbik was a starter on last year’s line that led the rushing attack to a second-best in the NFL ranking, but supposedly lost his job to Pears, who hasn’t impressed.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

19 Oct

FAMURattlers

Logo of a small college football program, the Florida A&M University Rattlers. One of the top historically black college programs, the Rattlers have existed since 1907 and won 12 Black College national championships over the years. They have been a great provider of talent to pro football, with their alumni including the late Willie Galimore, Billy Joe, Bob Hayes, Ken Riley and Nate Newton.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

19 Oct

72toppsdennisshaw

1972 Topps football card of former NFL quarterback Dennis Shaw, who played 9 seasons in the league for 4 different teams. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1970, Shaw took over the team’s starting job in his rookie year and won the NFL Offensive Rookie of The Year award, making him one of only seven signal callers to win the award. In 1974, following 3 years with the Bills, Shaw was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a receiver named Bobby Moore, who changed his name to Ahmad Rashad and went on to have a terrific career with the Bills and Minnesota Vikings. Shaw never repeated the success he had in Buffalo, and wound up retiring after the 1978 season.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Dempsey’s Record Breaking Day

16 Oct

With the Detroit Lions facing the New Orleans Saints on this week’s NFL schedule, the “Throwback Thursday” feature harkens back to November 8, 1970, to a game played between these 2 franchises in which Saints’ kicker Tom Dempsey booted a record-breaking 63 yard field goal in the dying seconds to give his team a 19-17 win. Dempsey wasn’t your average run-of-the mill NFL placekicker. He not only was a straight-ahead style kicker in a era when soccer-style kickers were becoming more prevalent, he also was born with no toes on his right foot and no fingers on his right hand, and wore a quirky flat-surfaced shoe on his right kicking foot. In the early 1970s, the Lions were an elite team in the NFC, while the Saints were only four years removed from being an expansion franchise, so Detroit was a heavy favorite in the game. The Lions got touchdowns from Charlie Sanders, their All Pro tight end, on a throw from Bill Munson, and on a ten yard run by Mel Farr, while the Saints attack settled for Dempsey field goals. He kicked a total of four in the game, including the record-breaking game winner. As the fourth quarter was winding down, Dempsey kicked his third three-pointer to put New Orleans ahead and looking to be on their way to the huge upset. Then Munson led the Lions downfield and set up Erroll Mann for a short field goal to put his club ahead. It may have been total desperation that caused the Saints to even attempt the winning try. The team had fired their original coach, Tom Fears, and this matchup was the replacement coach J.D. Roberts’ first game at the helm. With pretty much nothing to lose, Roberts sent Dempsey out for the unimaginable record attempt, and Dempsey came through. On the kick, holder Joe Scarpati handled a perfect snap from the long snapper, Jackie Burkett. Amazingly, and in stark contrast to today’s era of specialization, Scarpati and Burkett also made huge contributions that day to New Orleans’ defensive effort, with Scarpati snagging an interception and Burkett contributing a pair of picks. The win, which was one of only two games the Saints would win that year, cost the team the top college draft pick in 1971, but they did alright with the second pick, selecting quarterback Archie Manning, who would be a lone bright spot of their losing franchise in the coming years. Dempsey’s record broke the old mark, held by Baltimore’s Bert Rechichar, by seven yards, and the record would stand until the Broncos’ Matt Prater, kicking in the high altitude of Denver, hit a 64 yarder in 2013.

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Tom Dempsey boots record 63 yard field goal

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

16 Oct

BCEagles

This is a logo of a major Eastern college football team, the Boston College Eagles, who have been playing the sport since 1893 and are currently the second-most popular Catholic university gridiron program, behind only Notre Dame. There are many B.C. alumni who have gone on to play in the NFL, including Art Donovan, Bill Romanowski, Fred Smerlas, Doug Flutie, Chris Snee and current players Matt Ryan, B.J. Raji and Luke Kuechly.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

16 Oct

70toppsmelfarr

1970 Topps football card of former NFL running back Mel Farr, who played seven seasons in the league for the Detroit Lions. He was a two-time Pro Bowler, and during his playing career, he and teammate Lem Barney, the Hall of Fame cornerback, sang background vocals on Marvin Gaye’s hit song “What’s Going On”. After retiring as a player, Farr opened Mel Farr Ford, a dealership in suburban Detroit that by 1998 grossed almost $600 million , making it the top-ranked African American-owned business in the U.S.

 

NFL – Bills’ Game Review

12 Oct

Sunday’s contest between the Buffalo Bills and division rival New England Patriots was highlighted by a stirring pre-game ceremony that saw the new owners of the Bills, Terry and Kim Pegula introduced to the fans. The excitement surrounding the new era of Bills’ football certainly fired up both the fans and players, but unfortunately the opponent was the Patriots, who have routinely come into Ralph Wilson Stadium over the past decade or so and rained on Western New York parades. After their rushing attack ran roughshod over the Bills’ defense to secure two wins last year, you figured Bill Belichick’s crew would come out pounding the ball again in this year’s meeting. Instead, they rarely ran the ball, and Tom Brady picked apart the Buffalo secondary all day long and had one of his usual signature days against the Bills, throwing for over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns as New England won, 37-22. They never trailed in the game, as Brady ran his overall record against the Bills to 23-2.  They didn’t turn the ball over, and created 3 turnovers. They overwhelmed Buffalo’s offensive line, sacking Kyle Orton 5 times and basically stuffing the run game. Brady burned Jim Schwartz’s defense, which is designed to limit big plays, for 43 and 56 yard touchdown passes. Buffalo’s vaunted pass rush sacked Brady twice, but for the most part he stood comfortably in the pocket and delivered pinpoint throws to various receivers to either keep drives alive or score quick-strike touchdowns. And yes, there were the customary questionable calls by the officials against the Bills, which gave Belichick and Brady help they didn’t need. Belichick, love him or hate him, is one of the NFL’s best at devising strategy to neutralize his opponents’ strengths, and capitalize on their weaknesses, and now has run his record against Buffalo’s Doug Marrone to 3-0. The Bills’ coaches were pretty much schooled at every turn in this game, and even seemed intimidated by the New England “mystique” (hype?). One example – the Pats were stacking the line of scrimmage  all day determined to stop the Bills’ running game, leaving Darrelle Revis single-covering star rookie receiver Sammy Watkins on the outside, but Orton never even looked Watkins’ way until late in the second half. Revis is a terrific player, but completely staying away from him for almost the entire game, when he’s covering your star receiver, is ridiculous.

So the Bills proved once again they’re nowhere near the class of team that New England is, but even with the crushing defeat, all is not lost. Miami and the New York Jets, the other AFC East rivals, both lost, leaving the Bills in second place at 3-3. They don’t have to worry about trying to at least compete with the Pats until the season’s final week, so they need to concentrate on improving enough to beat the teams they have on their upcoming schedule, very beatable teams in Minnesota and the Jets. The focus should be on getting Orton more comfortable with his offensive teammates, getting the offensive line stabilized and improved, figuring out what’s wrong with C.J. Spiller and tightening things up on defense, which will involve getting the players on that unit playing together again, as they did in the season’s first quarter.

 
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