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Vintage Sports Movies: Paper Lion 0

Posted on August 13, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Harvard educated writer George Plimpton braved the world of the NFL in the 1960s.

Harvard educated writer George Plimpton braved the world of the NFL in th e 1960s.

In today’s world where Hard Knocks and other similar programs have made it easy for football fans to gain access into the huddle and locker rooms of pro football, it is hard to imagine a time when such access was not the norm. In the 1960s, Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton went to great extremes to give fans a glimpse into life in the NFL.

When the book and movie Paper Lion came out in the 1960s, it was lauded for getting under the helmet of NFL players.

Plimpton, a Harvard educated writer who looked more like a math teacher than an athlete, was a master at experiential writing and combined his love of sports with a surprising fearlessness to create a number of great experiences and books.

He pitched to baseball All-Stars, got in the ring with boxing champions and in 1963 spent training camp as a quarterback with the Detroit Lions.

The ensuing articles and book gave readers a glimpse into the personalities of NFL players. Though the Detroit Lions were perhaps not one of the NFL’s “glamour” teams of the era, Plimpton brought to life the personalities of players including Milt Plum, Dick “Night Train” Lane (who had retired by 1967, but has a cameo appearance in the movie as a practice video operator), Wayne Walker and Joe Schmidt.

In 1968, the book was turned into a movie starring future M*A*S*H star Alan Alda as Plimpton.

The interesting thing about the movie is that instead of trying to stick exactly to the players and stories of the original book, it took the general concept, but used players and coaches available with the Lions in 1967.

By that time, future Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt had transitioned from an active player to head coach and defensive tackle Alex Karras, who as referenced in the book, but was suspended by the NFL in 1963 and therefore not at training camp, was back with the Lions and a prominent character in the movie. Read the rest of this entry →

Waiting for the Weekend: Is the NFL Really in Trouble This Time? 0

Posted on July 29, 2017 by Dean Hybl
A recent study of the brains of former NFL players showed almost all had some level of brain trauma.

A recent study of the brains of former NFL players showed almost all had some level of brain trauma.

For the last year or more, it seems every time there is a negative story about the NFL, it prompts the obligatory question of whether that particular issue will be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” and signal the start of the decline for the financial and popularity juggernaut.

Whether it be declining television ratings, continued off-the-field incidents by players, the perception by many that the game isn’t as physical as in past, the abandonment of long-time NFL cities in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland, the general unpopularity of Roger Goodell and the New England Patriots or a number of other “negative” stories or events, they all seem to just roll off the back of the NFL as overall revenues continue to increase to levels envied by most governments or for-profit businesses.

However, news that came out this week may over time be the one story that the NFL cannot easily shake.

A scientific study published this week in the medical journal JAMA looked at the brains of 202 deceased former high school, college and professional football players. Amongst those former players, 177, including 110 of the 111 former NFL players, were diagnosed as having CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

CTE is a degenerative brain disease most often found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. To create CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. Studies have found CTE in people as young as 17, but symptoms most typically don’t begin appearing until years after the initial head impacts.

Early symptoms of CTE affect a patient’s mood and behavior. Some common changes often include impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia.

As the disease progresses, it is typical for patients to experience problems with thinking and memory, including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and eventually progressive dementia. Cognitive symptoms tend to appear later than mood and behavioral symptoms, and often first appear when the patient is in their 40s or 50s. Patients may exhibit one or both symptom clusters and the symptoms may often worsen with time (even if the patient suffers no additional head impacts). In other cases, symptoms may be stable for years before worsening. Read the rest of this entry →

Waiting for the Weekend: O.J. Simpson – Trapped Between Two Worlds 1

Posted on July 21, 2017 by Dean Hybl
During the 1970s, O.J. Simpson was the best player in football, despite being relegated to Buffalo.

During the 1970s, O.J. Simpson was the best player in football, despite being relegated to Buffalo.

Typically, one of the great results of sports is in its ability to unite. Whether it be a team of players from different backgrounds coming together to create one cohesive unit or a group of fans with little more in common than their fondness for a team or player who come together to cheer, celebrate and agonize over the successes and failures of that chosen favorite.

As I join the rest of society in viewing the latest chapter in the nearly 50 year saga of former athlete O.J. Simpson, it seems clear that whether intended or not, instead of being someone that people unite around, O.J. has more often served as a divider.

Born and raised in the housing projects of the Potrero Hills section of San Francisco, Orenthal James Simpson joined a gang as a teenager and was incarcerated at least three times. His life could have very easily been one led quietly in jails and the neighborhoods of his hometown had he not possessed a number of characteristics that ultimately helped him rise above his potential path.

Regardless of whether it was a meeting with superstar Willie Mays or the encouragement he received around his own athletic ability, or a combination of factors, eventually Simpson moved off the path to destruction and became a standout high school athlete.

However, as this story from the 1973 book Power Football illustrates, even once Simpson moved onto a path with success as a potential end, he seemed to teeter on the edge.

A star athlete at Galileo High School, Simpson told writer Murray Chase about an incident that very nearly could have gotten him thrown off the junior varsity team.

Nor was it a bad beginning for a fellow who almost had his football career cut off before it started by coming within a lie of being thrown off the high school junior varsity football team.

On the day of a big game, Simpson and two teammates were spending some time shooting dice in the bathroom at school. They all crapped out, though, when Jack McBride, their coach, walked in and found them playing their little game. Many coaches in that situation would simply warn the players never to do that again and let them go. But McBride, in a move for which Simpson could later be thankful (even though he escaped punishment) took the boys to the dean’s office.

“When we went to the dean’s office,” Simpson recalled, “the other two guys, Joe Bell and Al Cowlings, walked in front of me. Coach McBride told the dean he caught us shooting dice in the rest room. He gave the dean the dice and left. When he did, the dean told me to close the door. So I started out and began to close the door from the outside, but the dean called, ‘Where are you going, O.J?’ So I said, “I wasn’t shooting craps. Coach just asked me to help him bring these guys down.’ Then the dean told me I could go and the other guys got suspended.”

The other two boys, one of whom (Cowlings) later became Simpson’s teammate at USC and Buffalo, couldn’t resent O.J.’s little ploy. “They thought it was pretty smart for me to think that quick,” Simpson said. “Al said there was nothing he could say about it. He said if I could get away with it, I deserved it.”

As we now very well know, Simpson has continued to live on that edge for his entire life.

After winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Southern California in 1968, Simpson was relegated to the NFL’s equivalent of Siberia in Upstate, New York as a member of the Buffalo Bills. However, even though he struggled over the first three years of his career and some thought he might end up being an NFL bust, he still managed to catch the eye of television and advertising executives. Read the rest of this entry →

Super Bowl LI: Brady Leads Patriots March Through Atlanta 0

Posted on February 05, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Tom Brady joins Charles Haley as the only players in NFL history to win five Super Bowls.

Tom Brady joins Charles Haley as the only players in NFL history to win five Super Bowls.

For the first 45 minutes of Super Bowl LI, it looked like the young gun Atlanta Falcons weren’t just going to win their first Super Bowl, but were going to embarrass the New England Patriots in a way that hadn’t happened since they lost Super Bowl XX to the Chicago Bears. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the Patriots dynasty.

Trailing 28-3 midway through the third quarter, the Patriots dug deep and showed their greatness on both offense and defense on their way to scoring 31 straight points to win 34-28 in the first Super Bowl ever decided in overtime.

With the victory, quarterback Tom Brady joins Bart Starr as the only quarterback to win five NFL Championships and the only one with five Super Bowl victories (he joins Charles Haley as the only players with five Super Bowl titles). Head coach Bill Belichick now joins Vince Lombardi and George Halas as coaches with five NFL Championships and is the only one with five Super Bowl wins as a head coach.

Much like when the Green Bay Packers needed a final memorable drive to overcome a deficit to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Ice Bowl to claim their fifth NFL title, the Patriots needed some late miracles to claim their fifth title.

However, while Starr needed just one late drive to win, Brady and the Patriots had to score on their final five possessions to claim their championship.

Though he struggled early, Brady proved in the second half that he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He finished the game completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns.

After the Falcons scored early in the third quarter to take a 28-3 lead, Brady led the Patriots on scoring drives of 75 yards, 72 yards (field goal), 25 yards and 91 yards to send the game to overtime. They then marched 75 yards in eight plays to win the game. Brady passed for all 91 yards in the tying job and 63 yards in the final winning drive. Read the rest of this entry →

Interesting Choices for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selectors 0

Posted on February 04, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Terrell Davis averaged more than 1,600 yards rushing per season during his four prime NFL campaigns.

Terrell Davis averaged more than 1,600 yards rushing per season during his four prime NFL campaigns.

With LaDainian Tomlinson as the only sure-fire pick for the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class, the selection committee could be in for a long day trying to differentiate the other choices.

In addition to Tomlinson, former defensive stars Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins are on the ballot for the first time. Though both players have a Hall of Fame caliber portfolio, it seems unlikely that they will get the call in their first year of eligibility.

Among the other modern era candidates, former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Joe Jacoby is the closest to falling off the modern era ballot, which would significantly reduce the likelihood that he will be inducted in the near future. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if the two-time first team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler will generate enough support to earn a gold jacket.

More likely to earn induction than Jacoby is a group of former stars who have been on the ballot for a handful of years while waiting for other deserving players to clear a HOF path.

Former “Greatest Show on Turf” teammates Isaac Bruce and Kurt Warner are both on the ballot for the third time. While there have been some to question whether Warner is deserving of the Hall of Fame, it seems likely that he will ultimately get the nod. It would be fitting for Warner and Bruce, who caught 1,024 passes for more than 15,000 yards during his career, to be selected in the same class.

Another receiver who will certainly eventually earn a gold jacket is the flamboyant Terrell Owens. With 1,078 career catches, 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns, Owens unquestionably has the numbers to earn a spot, however, given his toxic reputation, the voters may choose to leave him sitting for at least another year before putting him in the Hall.

For some reason, Hall of Fame voters historically tend to gravitate towards selecting offensive linemen while being tougher on skilled position players.

Joining Jacoby as offensive linemen on the ballot are three players who will all likely eventually earn a HOF spot. Perhaps the most controversial of these picks is Tony Boselli. The three-time first team All-Pro and five time Pro Bowler was unquestionably among the best players in the league during his career, but because injuries limited him to only six full seasons he could be waiting a while before heading to Canton. Read the rest of this entry →

Super Bowl LI: Can the Falcons Penetrate the Patriot Defense? 0

Posted on February 03, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Will Roger Goodell have to give the Super Bowl LI trophy to Tom Brady?

Will Roger Goodell have to give the Super Bowl LI trophy to Tom Brady?

While the media has focused much of their pre-Super Bowl conversation on how awkward it will be if Roger Goodell has to hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the real question is whether the highest scoring offense in the NFL can continue their magic against a New England defense that was ranked first in the NFL in scoring defense.

Considering that the Patriots allowed their opponents to score fewer than 20 points 13 times this season, including each of the last five games, while the Atlanta Falcons offense has scored at least 28 points for eight straight weeks (and 14 times this season), something has to give.

Dating back to their first of seven Super Bowl appearances in the Belichick-Brady era against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots have generally been successful in grounding a high-flying offense. Only the Carolina Panthers with 29 points and the Seattle Seahawks with 24 have been able to exceed 21 points. Ironically, the Patriots were able to win both of those games.

However, not since facing the “Greatest Show on Turf” have the Patriots faced a team with the offensive firepower of their upcoming opponent. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Atlanta offense have been a matchup nightmare all season.

Ryan is the likely NFL MVP after passing for 4,944 yards and 39 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Jones had a 300-yard receiving game against the Carolina Panthers and caught 83 passes for 1409 yards despite missing two games with injuries.

Since dropping a 29-28 contest to the Kansas City Chiefs on December 4th in a game that was decided on a defensive extra point return, the Falcons have stepped their offensive production up to an even higher level. They have averaged 39 points per game in winning their last six games and have exceeded 40 points three times. Read the rest of this entry →

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • George Musso: From Longshot to Hall of Famer
      August 5, 2017 | 4:52 pm
      George Musso

      George Musso

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month went from small college long shot to Pro Football Hall of Famer.

      When George Musso finished his college career at Millikin College in 1933, Chicago Bears coach George Halas offered the 6-foot-2, 265 pound lineman a tryout and eventually a $90 per game contract, but had serious doubts whether he could make the transition from small college football to the NFL.

      It took a year for Musso to adjust, but by 1935 he was an All-Pro tackle. Two years later, he moved to guard and again earned first team All-NFL honors. He became the first player in NFL history to earn first team All-League honors at two different positions.

      Read more »

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