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Classic Sports Card of The Day

19 Jan

52parkhurstBernie_Custis

In honor of the recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, here is a 1952 Parkhurst football card of the very first African American to play quarterback in pro football, Bernie Custis. Although Willie Thrower (Chicago Bears, 1953) is the first black to play QB in the NFL, Custis played the position in the Canadian League beginning in 1951 with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. His career totaled 6 seasons, split between Hamilton and Ottawa. After his playing days ended, he had a long, distinguished career as a coach at various Canadian colleges. While playing college ball at Syracuse, his roommate was future Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

17 Jan

Part 2 of our Bills’ season review deals with the offense, a major weakness in the 2017 season. The unit regressed under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, leading to Dennison’s departure after only a single season. Both the rushing and passing attacks had sub-par results, and there are major questions about what direction the offense will take next season, starting with what is the philosophy of newly hired OC Brian Daboll. Here is a position-by-position look at the Bills’ offense in 2017:

Quarterbacks

 

Tyrod Taylor’s days as Buffalo’s starting quarterback are surely numbered. Coach Sean McDermott hinted at his displeasure with the veteran’s play when he benched him for rookie Nathan Peterman during the season. Although Peterman wasn’t the answer at that point and the return to Taylor to finish the season was inevitable, there’s no question the Bills’ organization will look for other options during the off-season. Peterman is still an option, if only as a backup, but he needs more seasoning before he’s ready. Veteran Joe Webb III made some positive contributions when he was thrust into action, but he is mostly a special teams contributor and also an impending free agent. The QB roster will undoubtedly look a lot different in Buffalo entering the 2018 season, and Daboll will be challenged to try and construct a workable offense around whoever winds up behind center.

Running Backs

 

It’s safe to say the Bills would be nowhere without LeSean McCoy, their elusive running back. He put up amazing numbers despite being the only credible threat on the offensive unit most of the season. The Bills clearly need to upgrade the depth behind him. Veteran Mike Tolbert played that role in 2017, but he is a fullback by trade. So is Patrick DiMarco, who was signed as a free agent mostly to be a blocker and receiver out of the backfield. He lived up to his reputation as a blocker but underachieved as a receiver. Two street free agents, Travaris Cadet and Marcus Murphy, provided some spark in limited opportunities to spell McCoy, and both are worth a look in training camp next season. Taiwan Jones is another runner on the roster but is almost exclusively a special teamer. As a team that empathizes the running game, Buffalo needs to find McCoy more help in carrying the load entering the 2018 season.

Receivers

 

In scouring the Bills’ wide receiver/tight end roster as of now, there are only 3 names that seem to be certainties to be with the team in 2018 – wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones, and tight end Nick O’Leary. Tight end Charles Clay may possibly be on this list also, but his inconsistent play and high salary could make him a target for trade or release. Otherwise, the list includes mostly mediocrities who made little or no contributions this past season, or are at least no sure things to return if management decides a major overhaul of the receiving corps is in order. Some street free agents – Andre Holmes, Deonte Thompson, Brandon Tate and tight ends Logan Thomas and Khari Lee, are no locks to return next year. Thompson, signed during the season, contributed the most after seemingly developing some chemistry with Taylor. Tate was mostly used as a kick returner and his play in that role declined significantly. A couple of practice squad receivers, Brandon Reilly and Malachi Dupre, were promoted to the active roster as the season wound down, indicating the Bills’ desire to give them a shot at making the club next year.

Offensive Line

 

This is as stable of a unit as the Bills have going into 2018, but the management team of GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott don’t appear to be too keen on standing pat in any area. The starting five at season’s end should return – center Erik Wood (played every snap in 2017), guards Vlad Ducasse and Richie Incognito, and tackles Dion Dawkins and Jordan Mills. However, Wood and Incognito are both in their 30s, and the team has been attempting to upgrade from Mills for a couple of years now, so nothing is written in stone. Veteran Ryan Groy provides much needed depth and experience. In fact, he was probably under-utilized this past season. Two former starters – guard John Miller and tackle Cordy Glenn, have fallen out of favor with the current management team, and could be prime trade bait. It’s highly unlikely Seantrel Henderson and his medical issues will be back, while another practice squad member who earned a promotion to the active roster but never got a chance to play, tackle Conor McDermott, should be back to battle for a spot next year.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

17 Jan

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Logo of the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, a college football team that plays in the Eastern Division of Conference USA. The program has been in existence since 1911 and has sent numerous players on to careers in pro football, including Erik Walden, Kelly Holcomb, Dwight Stone, Ray Oldham, Mike Caldwell and Don Griffin. Current Tennessee Titan safety Kevin Byard is also a Blue Raider alumnus.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

17 Jan

60fleerkinard

1960 Fleer football card of an original member of the American Football League’s Buffalo Bills, defensive back Billy Kinard. He played 3 seasons in the NFL for Cleveland and Green Bay in the late 1950s before joining the Bills for their inaugural AFL season in 1960. Kinard was a mainstay in the defensive secondary for that season, playing all 14 games, but he retired after just the one year. He held various coaching positions in college and the NFL for years after retiring, stretching into the 1980s.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

14 Jan

This is Part 1, 2017 edition, of our annual four part series reviewing the Buffalo Bills’ season.  This first section deals with the management and coaching side of the franchise:

All this team needs is a real leader who will demand accountability from his players and who has some semblance of organizational skills.”

That was the final sentence of the management/coaching section of the 2016 season review, describing what owners Terry and Kim Pegula needed to find in their search for a new head coach.  In hiring Sean McDermott to lead the franchise, they accomplished this, judging by the first year results the new coached provided. Using catch phrases like “trust the process” and “playoff caliber”, McDermott drove home a consistent message to his players that a new standard was being set for the team. Thanks to a miraculous fourth down touchdown engineered by Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd, the Bills qualified for the playoffs on the season’s final day. Also brought in by the owners was a new general manager, Brandon Beane, who had worked with McDermott in Carolina. Unlike previous regimes, Beane and McDermott seem to be on the same page when it comes to the overall vision for the franchise. Beane showed guts by being unafraid to unburden the team from players who didn’t fit his and the coach’s type of character people they want to go forward with. Gone in trades were Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Marcell Dareus, Cardale Jones and Reggie Ragland. Beane hit home runs in his free agency signings, landing a pair of standout safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, a starting guard in Vlad Ducasse, fullback Patrick DiMarco, as well as kicker Stephen Hauschka. He also added possible pieces for the future by acquiring receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews,and cornerback E.J. Gaines in trades. In all, McDermott got amazing results from a roster that had few playmakers and was loaded with marginal players plucked from the waiver wire or signed off the street. Offensively, the team regressed from a mediocre 2016 season, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison paid the price for that, being fired shortly after the season. Western New York native Brian Daboll was just hired as his replacement. Daboll has an impressive resume, having had OC experience with 3 different NFL teams as well as serving in that role for Alabama’s national champion team this year. He also has multiple Super Bowl rings from his days as a New England assistant. Beane acquired a number of high picks for the 2018 draft, and the Bills will have to hit on those picks, as well as have another successful free agency period, to take the next step toward their ultimate goal of establishing themselves as a consistent winning franchise.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

14 Jan

vegasoutlawsXFL01

Logo of a football team that played in the now-defunct XFL, the Las Vegas Outlaws. The team had a ferocious defense that was nicknamed “The Dealers of Doom”. The league lasted only a single season, in 2001, and some notable Outlaw players included future NFLers Mike Furrey, Kelly Herndon and Rod Smart, who became famous for wearing the name “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

14 Jan

65toppsbuncom

1965 Topps football card of former pro football linebacker Frank Buncom, who played 7 seasons, all in the American Football League. He was a three-time AFL All Star with the San Diego Chargers, and played on the team’s 1963 AFL championship team. He was chosen by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1968 expansion draft, and played one year for them. However, on the morning of opening day of the 1969 season, Buncom died of a pulmonary embolism. His grandson, Frank Buncom IV is a safety on the Stanford University football team.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Saturday Night Surprise

28 Dec

The final week of the NFL’s regular season will be played this weekend, and one of the matchups is between 2 old rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Steelers are headed to the playoffs with a first round bye secured, while the Browns are winless and are the league’s ultimate bottom-feeders, having won only one game in the past two seasons. Our final Throwback Thursday feature for 2017 harkens back to October 10, 1964 to a meeting between these 2 franchises back when their fortunes were reversed. The Browns were a powerhouse in the league and were on their way to claiming the NFL Championship that season, while the Steelers were half a decade away from hiring Chuck Noll as head coach and turning the team’s fortunes around. Pittsburgh was a rough team that played hard-nosed, and sometimes dirty, defense, while routinely losing games.

In what was an annual tradition at that time, the game was played on a Saturday night rather than the usual Sunday afternoon, and on this night, the Steelers pulled off a Saturday Night Surprise, as they dominated the Browns on their own home field, the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Using a power running game that featured future Hall of Fame fullback John Henry Johnson,  Pittsburgh threw the ball only 11 times all night, and wound up gaining 354 yards on the ground on 64 attempts. Johnson carried 30 times for an even 200 yards and scored all 3 of his team’s touchdowns, while Clarence Peaks added another 96 yards on 21 tries. Meanwhile, the rugged Steeler defense neutralized Cleveland’s star fullback, Jim Brown, holding him to only 59 yards for the night. They also harassed quarterback Frank Ryan, sacking him 4 times (although sacks were not an official statistic at the time). In all, the Steelers outgained the Browns in the game, 477 total yards to 217 in securing a 23-7 victory. It was Cleveland’s first loss of the year, dropping their record to 3-1-1, while the win lifted Pittsburgh to 3-2 and within a half game of overtaking the Browns.

Pittsburgh reverted to their losing ways, however, finishing the season at 5-9 while the Browns, as stated earlier, went on to capture the league championship. Coach Blanton Collier’s Browns also got revenge on the Steelers later that year, going into Pitt Stadium and pulling out a 30-17 win in November.

 

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John Henry Johnson grinds out yardage vs. Browns (Getty Images)

 

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

28 Dec

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Used from 1995 until 2004, this is the logo of a former football team that played in the World League of American Football, the Scottish Claymores. The Claymores won their only “World Bowl”, signifying the WLAF championship, in 1996. Over the years, their roster included Joe Andruzzi, Jim Ballard, Siran Stacy, Yo Murphy, Dante Hall and Barry Stokes.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

28 Dec

61fleerjhjohnson

1961 Fleer football card of former pro football fullback John Henry Johnson, who played 13 seasons of pro ball, including a one year stint in the Canadian League. He also played 11 years in the NFL for 3 different teams, and closed out his playing days with a year in the AFL. He was a member of the San Francisco 49ers’ “Million Dollar Backfield” in the mid-1950s, and helped the Detroit Lions win the NFL championship in 1957. Johnson was a four-time Pro Bowler, 3 of those honors earned while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1960s, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.