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Sports Then and Now



Vintage Sports Movies: Paper Lion 8

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 →

Vintage Video: Happy Birthday Barry Sanders 5

Posted on July 16, 2016 by Dean Hybl
Happy 48th Birthday Barry Sanders!

Happy 48th Birthday Barry Sanders!

It is hard to believe that Barry Sanders turns 48 years old today and that it has been 18 years since he ran wild through the NFL.

Seems like just yesterday that Sanders was winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State and then dazzling the NFL with his elusiveness.

After serving as the under-study to Thurman Thomas for two years at Oklahoma State, Sanders exploded onto the scene in 1988 with a mind-blowing 2,628 yards rushing in just 11 games. He also scored 37 rushing touchdowns and also scored returning both a punt and kickoff.

Part of the star-studded 1989 draft in which four of the top five picks eventually earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Sanders was chosen third by the Detroit Lions. He finished second in the NFL in rushing as a rookie and won the first of his four rushing titles the next year.

By 1991, Sanders had the Lions in the playoffs as they defeated the Dallas Cowboys in their playoff opener before losing the NFC Championship Game to the Washington Redskins. Though the Lions would make four additional playoff appearances during his career, they were eliminated in their first playoff game each time.

Sanders reached his zenith in 1997 as he eclipsed the prestigious 2,000 yard mark with 2,053 yards. After gaining 1,491 yards as the Lions went 5-11 in 1998, Sanders surprised the sports world by retiring prior to the 1999 season. He was less than 1,500 yards from passing Walter Payton for what was at the time the top spot on the NFL all-time rushing list.

Because he had just turned 31 years old and had showed no signs of slowing down, his retirement was quite a surprise. In some ways, it mirrors the recent retirement of the best Detroit Lions player since Sanders as Calvin Johnson seems to also be done with the NFL at the age of 30.

In honor of Sanders amazing NFL career, here are some vintage clips of his once-in-a-lifetime moves.
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NFL Playoffs Include Many Familiar Faces 6

Posted on December 29, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Led by quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray the Dallas Cowboys seem to have their best chance at making a playoff run since the days of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

Led by quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray the Dallas Cowboys seem to have their best chance at making a playoff run since the days of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

Technically the NFL trend of having at least five teams earn postseason bids after missing the playoffs the previous season held to form with the 2014 season, but there is something extremely familiar about all the teams vying to reach Super Bowl 49 (if the NFL isn’t going to use Roman Numerals for 50, I feel no obligation to use them for the upcoming game).

Six of the eight division champions for 2014 also won their division a year ago with Cincinnati yielding to Pittsburgh (though both teams are in the playoffs) and the Dallas Cowboys soaring past the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.

Surprisingly, the longest playoff droughts to end this season belong to the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals, who both last reached the playoffs in 2009. The Steelers and the Detroit Lions last reached the playoffs following the 2011 season.

After winning the Super Bowl following the 2012 campaign, the Baltimore Ravens missed the postseason in 2013, but are now in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

The four teams receiving a bye should be of little surprise, though in our “what have you done for me lately” society all four were written off at some point during the season.

Both the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots were sold down the river before the season had reached October, only to both rebound for 12 win seasons.

The defending champion Seattle Seahawks looked vulnerable after three early season losses and some less than inspiring offensive performances, but recovered to again win the NFC West and earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos looked powerful early, but seemed to lose some of their offensive compulsion in the final six weeks of the campaign and “limped” to a 12 win season, though that does represent the lowest victory total in Manning’s three seasons with the team.

The first weekend of playoff games should be quite interesting as each game has an interesting storyline.

The first game of the weekend will feature a team on their third quarterback traveling to face a team that finished the season with a losing record and actually had to win their last four games just to reach the postseason. The Carolina Panthers won five fewer games than in 2013, but surprisingly became the first team to repeat as NFC South champions since the division formed in 2002. Their opponents, the Arizona Cardinals, looked like a Super Bowl contender before losing their top two quarterbacks and leading rusher. Even with their third quarterback they seem to be a superior squad to the Panthers, but this will likely be a hard fought game where the home field could be enough to help Carolina pull out a win.
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Broncos Outlast Cowboys, Patriots and Seahawks Fall From Perfection: Week 5 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on October 08, 2013 by Andy Larmand

As we took off into the second quarter of the season (for most teams), the fascinating phenomena kept rolling in. Included in this week’s list is something that hasn’t happened to the New England offense in seven years, a first for any quarterback since the merger, the continuation of home dominance for one NFC North team, a record-tying day for one tight end and an offensive outburst in Dallas. Here are your Week 5 NFL headlines.

Travis Benjamin had a career night in the return game for the red-hot Browns.

Travis Benjamin had a career night in the return game for the red-hot Browns.

The Browns scored their first rushing touchdown of the season (and it wasn’t Trent Richardson) in their fifth game and stayed perfect when starting quarterback Brian Hoyer as they beat the Bills, 37-24, on Thursday night. They did, however, lose Hoyer for the season with a partially torn ACL suffered early in the game. Cleveland punt returner, Travis Benjamin, tied a franchise record with 166 punt return yards in the win for the first-place Browns. Their 37 points were the most they have scored in a game since putting up 41 back in 2009. Since Week 3, they are averaging 28.3 points per game after averaging eight points per game in the first two weeks.

The Patriots fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and the Bengals improved to 6-22 against the AFC East since 1998 as New England managed only six points in the 13-6 loss. The six points were the fewest for the high-powered New England offense since being shut out on Dec. 10, 2006, 21-0, in Week 14 against Miami. The Bengals’ 5-22 record had been the third-worst against one division in that span. Andy Dalton’s first-quarter interception in the red zone was the first red-zone pick of his career. Tom Brady fell two short of the all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass as he failed to record one in game No. 53. The Pats had won 63 straight games when allowing 13 points or less with their last such loss coming in 2001. Read the rest of this entry →

Chiefs, Giants Among Surprises, Luck Ties Impressive Mark: Week 4 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on October 01, 2013 by Andy Larmand
The Saints' offense, led by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, has them off to a 4-0 start.

The Saints’ offense, led by Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles (43), has them off to a 4-0 start.

For the first time in 2013, the NFL traveled across the pond to Wembley Stadium in Week 4 for a matchup of a couple of surprise 0-3 teams and did not disappoint the locals. Also featured is Andrew Luck matching an impressive quarterback mark, a double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback in Houston, Denver scoring and then scoring some more and the Chiefs improving to 4-0. Perhaps more notably, the blue team in New York is now 0-4.

The 49ers and Rams began the week in an NFC West showdown on Thursday night and after two straight losses in Weeks 2 and 3, the Niners kept a three-game losing streak off of Jim Harbaugh’s resume with a 35-11 rout of St. Louis. Harbaugh has still never lost three in a row as 49ers head coach. The Rams finished the night with 18 total rushing yards on 19 attempts. They have now recorded less than 100 yards on the ground in nine straight games. Also, they were the first team since 2008 with 19-plus rush attempts and 18 or fewer yards. They were also the last team to do that. San Fran improved to 5-0 all-time when Colin Kaepernick throws two or more touchdown passes.

The Vikings scored a first-quarter touchdown for the eighth straight game as Christian Ponder connected with Greg Jennings from 70 yards out to help them get up, 10-0, on the Steelers in London. The eight straight with a touchdown in the first quarter is a team record for them. Pittsburgh is 0-4 for the first time since 1968. Jennings needs just two more 70-yard touchdown receptions to tie the all-time record of nine held by Jerry Rice.

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Panthers Embarrass Giants, Body Parts Lost: Week 3 NFL Headlines 1

Posted on September 24, 2013 by Andy Larmand

As September continues to move toward October, this NFL season is providing us with some truths that stand the test of time and some that have and will continue to shock us all. And then, there are the teams or players who break the norm – finally. Week 3 saw the end of an almost-century-long losing streak, the worst loss ever for one head coach, a potential Cinderella story getting to 3-0, a first for the 49ers since 1958, and the Jaguars, well, being the Jaguars. Here are your Week 3 NFL headlines.

Alex Smith in Kansas City is working out all right so far as KC is 3-0.

Alex Smith in Kansas City is working out all right so far as KC is 3-0.

The Eagles lost their eighth straight game at home and the Chiefs, led by former Eagles coach, Andy Reid, improved to 3-0 with a 26-16 win to open the week on Thursday night. It is just the second time Philly has ever lost eight in a row at home and first time since 1936-37. Lesean McCoy managed his third-highest rushing total in the loss, but only second-highest of the season with 158 yards and Michael Vick posted a career-high 61-yard run. The Chiefs joined the 2002 Panthers as the last team to start a season 3-0 after winning two or fewer games the year before. Alex Smith became the first Kansas City signal caller to win his first three starts with the team since Joe Montana in 1993.

Calvin Johnson tied Torry Holt as the fourth-fastest player to accumulate 8,000 career receiving yards as he did so in his 95th career game and Detroit beat the Redskins, 27-20. The win was the first ever for the Lions in the city of Washington (1-21) as they had not beaten the Redskins on the road since they were in Boston in 1935. The Skins fell to 0-3, but Robert Griffin III’s 975 yards through three games are the second-most all-time by a quarterback who started out 0-3. Matthew Stafford became just the second quarterback since 2001 to throw for 200-plus yards in the first half of each of his first three games of a season. Read the rest of this entry →

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Joe Cronin: Player-Manager
      October 1, 2017 | 8:21 am
      Joe Cronin

      Joe Cronin

      In recognition of the start of the baseball playoffs, we recognize as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month a man who managed pennant winning teams in Washington and Boston and spent more than decade as a player-manager.

      When the Boston Red Sox acquired Joe Cronin following the 1934 season they didn’t just get an All-Star player, they also got a new manager.

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