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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tragedy In Detroit

25 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving week, and the NFL celebrates the holiday with a trio of games. However, this week’s Throwback Thursday feature is a somber one. It involves an event that happened on October 24, 1971 in a game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, who clash this week on the 2021 NFL schedule. The game was basically just your average NFL contest of the era, although both clubs were off to good starts for the season, with the Lions a game ahead of Chicago in the standings after 5 weeks of play. Don Shy’s 21 yard touchdown run for the Bears was sandwiched between a pair of Errol Mann field goals in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-6 lead. In the second stanza Bobby Douglass completed a 54 yard scoring pass to George Farmer to add to Chicago’s lead, but when Ron Jessie returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, the momentum swung back to Detroit. Greg Landry then led the Lions on another scoring drive that he completed with a 16 yard TD throw to Larry Walton, giving the Motor City club the lead for the first time at 20-14. Douglass hit Bob Wallace from 15 yards out to finish the first half scoring, and Chicago went into halftime back in the lead at 21-20.

Both defenses stiffened in the third quarter, with the only scoring coming on another Mann field goal for Detroit, giving the Lions the lead back. Douglass, a swashbuckler of a signal caller, rallied his team to another score and did the honors himself by plunging in for the touchdown to put the Bears back ahead 28-23. Landry and the Lions didn’t give up the fight. With under 2 minutes to play, Detroit began a drive to retake the lead. The Lions’ QB found receiver Chuck Hughes for a 32 yard gain. Hughes jumped up and raced back to the huddle, knowing time was working against his club. That reception was the 15th and final catch for Hughes. A couple of plays later, both of which were incompletions, Hughes grabbed his chest and fell to the ground. In the confusion, the Bears’ bench thought he was faking an injury to get the clock stopped, and the Lions thought Bears’ linebacker Dick Butkus had leveled Hughes with a dirty hit. But when Butkus, who noticed the fallen player was convulsing, began frantically waving to the Lions’ bench for the trainers to come out, it became obvious there was a problem. Detroit’s team doctors worked to try to revive the Lions’ player, and an ambulance was brought out, transporting him to the hospital. It wasn’t known to anyone in the stadium at the time, but Hughes was already dead from a heart attack. The last minute of the game was played in a hushed silence as the stunned crowd looked on. Chicago hung on to win but almost nobody cared. The tragedy of this day remains the only time a player has died on the field in an NFL game, and Hughes left behind a wife and a not-quite 2 year old son. Ironically, earlier in the season Hughes had complained of chest pains, and was checked out by doctors and eventually cleared to play. The Detroit franchise to this day does not issue Hughes’ number 85 jersey to any player unless permission is given by the Hughes family.

 

 

Lions’ Chuck Hughes lies prone on the field

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

25 Nov

This is a logo used in 2014 commemorating the anniversary of the 75th game of NFL football being played in the city of Detroit on Thanksgiving. The Lions franchise began the tradition in 1934 and the league has allowed them to continue the tradition with a game scheduled on the holiday every year. The Lions have unfortunately fielded a lot of bad teams to play in the game, but in 1962 they routed the Green Bay Packers 26-14, harassing Bart Starr all day to hand the Packers their only loss of the season as they went on to win their second straight NFL title.

 
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Classic Sports Card of The Day

25 Nov

1974 Topps football card of former pro football wide receiver Ron Jessie, who played for 3 different teams in an 11-year career in the NFL. In addition to football, he was a long jump champion in college. Jessie made the Pro Bowl in 1976 while playing for the Los Angeles Rams, and after retiring as a player served as a scout for them. He died of a heart attack at home in 2006.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Snow Globe Game

18 Nov

It’s time for another Throwback Thursday feature, and this week we’ll look back on a game from just a few years ago, played in a blizzard in Orchard Park, NY between 2 teams that meet this week on the NFL schedule, the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. It was December 10, 2017 when this contest for the ages took place, and the weather conditions were indeed blizzard-like, leading it to be dubbed “The Snow Globe Game”. In all, 17 inches of lake effect snow fell during the day, including 8 inches while the game was played. The Colts were dressed in their all-white uniforms and were barely visible on the field or on television, while the Bills stood out in their all-red alternate “color rush” uniforms.

 

Hearty Bills Mafia fans enjoying the weather

 

Obviously, the conditions were not conducive to either offense, and the first quarter went scoreless as both teams tried to establish some sort of footing on the snow covered field. Bills’ quarterback Nathan Peterman finally was able to steer his club to the end zone in the second stanza, finding Kelvin Benjamin on an 8 yard scoring toss to put his team ahead. The third quarter was scoreless also. Despite rushing attacks dominating the day for both teams due to the weather and lack of visibility, the Colts managed to tie the game in the final quarter just as the Bills had scored the game’s first TD, on a short pass. Jacoby Brissett found his tight end, Jack Doyle, from 3 yards out and kicker Adam Vinatieri booted the extra point. In the third quarter, Peterman had left the game with a concussion, leaving the Bills’ fate in the hands of little-used backup Joe Webb III, who was on the roster mainly as a special teams contributor. Buffalo struggled to mount any attack with Webb as their signal caller, and late in the final period the Colts intercepted him to set up a potential game winning field goal from Vinatieri. He missed the kick in the swirling winds, however, and the Bills had life as the contest went into overtime.

In the extra session neither team could find any footing, and they traded punts until Webb suddenly completed an improbable pass of 34 yards to Deonte Thompson, setting up a 25 yard scamper to the end zone by LeSean McCoy to win the game for Buffalo 13-7. McCoy, a notorious bad weather runner who had excelled in similar conditions while playing for Philadelphia, wound up with an incredible 156 yards on 32 carries for the day. Similarly, the Colts’ offense was almost exclusively rushing yards from their workhorse back, Frank Gore. He dashed his way through the snow for 130 yards on 36 carries. It turned out to be an important win for Buffalo, as they snuck into the playoffs a few weeks later on the season’s final day, ending a 17 year postseason drought. The feat would not have happened without this hard-fought winter battle victory.

 

LeSean McCoy rambles to the winning TD in overtime

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

18 Nov

This is a logo from a long ago past of a college football team that disbanded it’s gridiron program in 1951, the St. Bonaventure Brown Indians. The school has since rebranded it’s sports teams as the “Bonnies”, bowing to political pressure. As for the football program, they competed from 1895 until ’51, and resurrected a club football team for 3 seasons in the late 1960s. Despite it’s humble gridiron history, the school produced a couple of notable pro football players – Hall of Famer Jack Butler and former quarterback and coach Ted Marchibroda.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

18 Nov

2011 Topps football card of former pro football quarterback Joe Webb III, who was the greatest NFL player of all time. OK, that’s not exactly true, but he did carve out a nice 10 year career in the league as a reliable backup QB by enhancing his value to each team he played for by being a special teams contributor, kick returner and trick play specialist. Webb was the Conference USA Offensive Player of The Year in college in 2009 at Alabama-Birmingham.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Battle Of The Bills

11 Nov

Week 10 of the NFL season is upon us, and an intriguing matchup on this week’s slate of games has the Cleveland Browns visiting Foxborough to meet the New England Patriots. For Throwback Thursday this week, we’ll feature a playoff game between these 2 clubs played on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 1995. The game matched mentor against student in the head coaching ranks, as New England’s Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winning coach with the New York Giants earlier in his career, faced off against his former New York defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, now the head man with the Browns.

 

Parcells and a young Belichick meet before the game

 

The Browns entered the game with a better record and were favored at home in venerable old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The only first quarter scoring came on a 30 yard Matt Stover field goal for the Browns, as the defenses of both clubs stymied the offenses. In the second quarter, New England’s young second year quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, put his team in the lead with a 13 yard touchdown pass to LeRoy Thompson. Cleveland matched that as their signal caller, Vinny Testaverde, tossed a short scoring pass to Mark Carrier to put the Browns ahead 10-7. A Matt Bahr field goal for the Patriots tied the score at halftime, and it was sure to continue to be a defensive struggle for the final 30 minutes. When all was said and done, the Cleveland defense did more damage than Parcells’ squad. They harassed Bledsoe all day and forced him into throwing 3 interceptions. One of the Browns’ biggest defensive contributors on the day was backup safety Louis Riddick, starting due to injury. The future Monday Night Football analyst had an interception and led his team in tackles. Testaverde, the journeyman QB who was expected to be outplayed by Bledsoe, had perhaps the game of his career. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 268 yards, and engineered a third quarter drive that ended with LeRoy Hoard scoring on a 10 yard run to put Cleveland up 17-10. It was all the scoring the Browns would need. The teams traded field goals in the final quarter, and the Browns earned a 20-13 victory. Testaverde’s favorite target on the day was wide receiver Michael Jackson, who moonwalked his way to 7 catches for 122 yards.

Cleveland’s win propelled them into a showdown with their bitter division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the following week. The success would end there, as Pittsburgh soundly defeated them 29-9. Things got worse from there. Browns’ owner Art Modell announced during the 1995 season that he was moving the franchise to Baltimore, becoming the most hated man in the city.

 

 

Browns’ QB Vinny Testaverde

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

11 Nov

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Big 10 Conference, the Indiana Hoosiers. The school has a reputation for being more of a basketball school, but it’s football program, which began play in 1887, is also formidable despite a losing history. They’ve won 2 conference titles and appeared in 13 bowl games. Former Hoosiers who have gone on to play pro football include Hall of Famer Pete Pihos, Tevin Coleman, Rodger Saffold, Cody Lattimer, Jordan Howard, Nate Sudfeld, Trent Green, Antwaan Randle-El, Pete Stoyanovich, Tom Nowatzke, Marv Woodson, Earl Faison, Dave Whitsell, Bob Skoronski, Nick Sebek and Frankie Filchock.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

11 Nov

1993 Topps football card of former pro football wide receiver Michael Jackson, who played 8 seasons in the NFL, 5 with the Cleveland Browns and 3 with the Baltimore Ravens after the franchise moved there. He was a college teammate of Brett Favre’s, and an immediate contributor to the Browns’ passing game when he arrived in 1991. Jackson led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 1996. After retiring as a player, he entered politics and was elected mayor of his hometown of Tangipahoa, Louisiana, serving in that role from 2009 until 2013. Jackson died in a motorcycle accident in 2017.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A New Era Begins

04 Nov

Last week’s Throwback Thursday post featured a very historic Super Bowl game, and with the Green Bay Packers meeting the Kansas City Chiefs on this week’s slate of games, we’ll revisit another title game of historic proportions, the first Super Bowl. It was played between the Packers and Chiefs, and technically wasn’t a Super Bowl because the annual championship contest hadn’t been given that name yet. The established National Football League, with commissioner Pete Rozelle leading the way, engineered a merger with the newer American Football League, led by Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. Under the 1966 merger agreement, the 2 leagues would henceforth hold a common draft of college players, ending the wild bidding war between the rival leagues, merge into one league beginning with the 1970 season, and immediately following that ’66 season, hold an annual championship contest between each league’s best to be played at a neutral site. The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFL title, while the Chiefs steamrolled the Buffalo Bills to emerge as the AFL champ.

The title game was dubbed the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” for the first couple of years, and this first one was carried by both networks that televised each league’s games. The Los Angeles Coliseum was chosen as the venue for the game, and it was treated more as a curiosity than anything. It didn’t sell out, and the NFL clubs basically ridiculed the junior league, dubbing it a “Mickey Mouse” league made up of NFL rejects. For anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the match (like me), however, the sight was incredible. Seeing these 2 teams from different leagues on the same field was unheard of, and the pre-game handshake between the coaches, Vince Lombardi of Green Bay and the Chiefs’ Hank Stram, was like nothing ever seen before. It was new and fresh and exhilarating, even if it wasn’t given a lot of credibility by the established NFL.

 

Hank Stram, Vince Lombardi pre-game handshake

 

Lombardi entered the game under tremendous pressure to win the game and show the NFL’s dominance. He was a smart football man and realized that this young K.C. club was talented and wouldn’t be a pushover. He also had confidence in his players, who had won 2 consecutive NFL titles and been champs 4 times in the previous 6 years. The Packers were dealt an early blow when their starting flanker, Boyd Dowler, went down with a shoulder injury. An unlikely hero then emerged to start off the scoring in the game. That would be Dowler’s backup, old veteran Max McGee. Rumor had it that McGee, not expecting to play on Sunday, had defied Lombardi’s curfew on Saturday night and was hung over when he entered the fray. McGee snagged a Bart Starr pass over his shoulder and rambled 37 yards into the end zone. It was the first of many big plays the old receiver would make in the game. Kansas City stayed competitive, and Len Dawson led a drive that culminated in a 7 yard scoring toss from him to his fullback, Curtis McClinton, to tie the score. Green Bay’s fullback, Jim Taylor, put his club back in front with a 14 yard touchdown run, and when a Chief drive near the end of the half stalled, Mike Mercer booted a 31 yard field goal to shorten the Packer lead at the break to 14-10.

Rozelle, whose background was in public relations, attempted to boost the game’s overall look from just another gridiron clash to an event. The halftime show included doves being released, singer Carol Channing and a couple of guys in football uniforms flying around the stadium with jet packs. It was a far cry from today’s lavish halftime shows, but it was a modest beginning to what was to become practically a national holiday in the future.

 

 

Halftime show included release of doves, Carol Channing and flying rocket men

 

The Chiefs put up a competitive fight in the first half, but the Packers’ experience and power took over in the second half. Elijah Pitts scored on a 5 yard run and Starr targeted McGee again on a 13 yard score to open up a 28-10 lead after 3 quarters. The lead allowed Lombardi’s forces to tee off on Dawson in the final quarter, and when a heavy pass rush forced an errant throw, Willie Wood intercepted and returned it 50 yards to set up the game’s final score, a 1 yard plunge by Pitts to secure Green Bay’s victory at 35-10. Starr was deservedly named the game’s MVP, although he got a lot of help from McGee, who staggered his way to a game-high 7 catches for 138 yards and the 2 TDs. The Chiefs never mounted much of a rushing attack, but Dawson and his receivers, Chris Burford, Otis Taylor and tight end Fred Arbanas, all put forth a good effort. Lombardi, who pleased his NFL counterparts by winning the game handily, praised the Chiefs as a very good squad but also threw a dig at the AFL, saying he felt there were numerous teams in the older league that were better than Stram’s club.

 

Green Bay QB Bart Starr, the obvious MVP