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Sports Then and Now



NFL Network’s A Football Life Has Jumped the Shark 0

Posted on September 30, 2018 by Dean Hybl
NFL Network's show A Football Life debuted in 2011.

NFL Network’s show A Football Life debuted in 2011.

In case you are not familiar with the term “Jumping the Shark”, it refers to the great 1970s TV Show Happy Days. Towards the end of its run on ABC, they had an episode when “The Fonz” somehow ended up on water skis and actually jumped a shark (or at least a mechanical shark). To fans, it signaled the moment when they knew the show was out of realistic plots and was on its way towards the end.

Given that the first three episodes of season eight of A Football Life have included a pair of shows about quarterbacks with a combined total of one conference championship appearance during their careers, I think it is clear that this once great show has passed its “Jump the Shark” moment.

When A Football Life first came on the air in 2011, it provided a fresh and innovative approach for telling about the football journeys for some of the great figures in recent NFL history. Most of those highlighted were living at the time they were featured, though that has not always been the case.

After starting with a two-part episode about New England Coach Bill Belichick, they followed up with a fresh look at a pair of former teammates whose lives ended early, Reggie White & Jerome Brown. Other tales from the opening season focused on the cinema worthy stories of Kurt Warner, Walter Payton, Ed Sabol, Mike Ditka, Tom Landry and Al Davis.

Though the second season began with a nod to the “flavor of the moment” by featuring Tim Tebow, the remainder of the season was excellent with every episode telling a unique, behind the curtain, story about an NFL Legend.

As a fan of NFL history, if there has been anything significant to criticize about the choices of former players to feature, it would be that they have almost totally ignored players from the pre-Super Bowl era and in reality, have focused disproportionately on players from the 1980s to today.

The term "Jumping the Shark" refers to an episode of Happy Days where "The Fonz" jumped a shark.

The term “Jumping the Shark” refers to an episode of Happy Days where “The Fonz” jumped a shark.

Not counting shows on former players who became coaches or broadcasters, through the first seven seasons there have only been four shows featuring players whose primary years in the league occurred prior to 1970 (Jim Brown, Joe Namath, the Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome and Chicago Bears greats Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus).

To me that is really a shame. I understand maybe not going back to the beginning of NFL history to feature former greats who have been gone for generations, but given that NFL Films originated in the 1960s, I cannot understand why they have basically ignored that great era of the NFL and AFL.

Off the top of my head, I can name 10-20 players who were active in the 1960s and either are still alive or were alive when the series started that would be great to feature. Players like Bart Starr and Willie Davis from the great Packer teams, the first Dallas Cowboy draft pick Bob Lilly, Sam Huff, Alex Karras, Y.A. Tittle, Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson, John Brodie, Lenny Moore, Hugh McElhenny, Fran Tarkenton and the recently deceased Tommy McDonald are just a few of the many players from that era that had amazing NFL journeys and would have been great to feature in the series.

Though the bias to the post-merger era has always been there, in the early years there was at least a balance with some shows featuring players from the 1970s and early 1980s.

However, in recent years, the show seems to have become more of a vehicle for current broadcasters and recently inducted Hall of Famers.

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Remembering Sports Greats Lost in 2014 11

Posted on December 31, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Earl Morrall spent 22 seasons in the NFL and helped lead the Miami Dolphins to a perfect record in 1972.

Earl Morrall spent 21 seasons in the NFL and helped lead the Miami Dolphins to a perfect record in 1972.

One inevitable component of the end of the year is reflecting on those who we lost during the previous year. As always, we said goodbye to many sports greats during 2014.

Below are brief remembrances of just a few of those who passed away in 2014. Click here to check out a more comprehensive list.

Jean Beliveau – Hockey Hall of Famer – 83 years old
A member of the Montreal Canadiens for 20 years and a member of the NHL Hall of Fame, Jean Beliveau helped lead his team to 10 Stanley Cup Championships and is considered by many as one of the 10 greatest players in NHL history.

Rob Bironas – NFL Kicker – 36 years old
After bouncing around the Arena Football League and several NFL tryouts, Rob Bironas finally got his shot with the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and was their kicker for nine seasons before being released prior to the 2014 season. He developed into a Pro Bowl kicker and scored 1,032 points while converting 85.7% of his field goal attempts.

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter – Professional Boxer – 76 years old
Best known by many for the feature film “The Hurricane” in which Denzel Washington chronicled his life as a professional boxer and 20 years in prison, Rubin Carter had a career record of 27-12-1 as a middleweight and lost to Joey Giardello in his only championship bought. He was twice convicted of a triple murder, but the conviction was eventually overturned and Carter became a champion for those wrongly accused of crimes. Read the rest of this entry →

Classic Rewind: 1968 Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Colts 6

Posted on September 24, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Classic-Rewind-3

Each week during the 2009 NFL season, Sports Then and Now will pick one NFL matchup and look through the history books to find an intriguing past meeting between the two teams. We will recap the game and hopefully help reintroduce (or introduce for you younger readers) you to some of the greats (and in some cases not so greats) from the history of professional football.

Thanks to the decision in 1995 by Art Modell to move the beloved Cleveland Browns to Baltimore a decade after the Colts left in the middle of the night for Indianapolis, Cleveland and Baltimore are forever linked and more than a decade later there is still resentment and anger among some long-time Cleveland fans.

This week as the Baltimore Ravens and current Cleveland Browns are preparing to do battle, we look at a game between the two predecessor franchises in those two cities. The Baltimore Colts and original Cleveland Browns had some classic confrontations during the 1950s and 1960s. But their regular season meeting during the 1968 season is one of the most noteworthy.

The Matchup: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Colts

Series Record: Between 1956 and 1983 the Browns and Colts met 15 times with Cleveland holding a 10-5 series advantage, including wins in their final five meetings. The two teams met in the playoffs three times, with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. However, Cleveland defeated the Colts 27-0 to win the 1964 NFL Championship. There were some other memorable moments in the series including a 38-31 Cleveland victory in 1959 in which Jim Brown rushed for five touchdowns and Johnny Unitas passed for four scores. In 1978, veteran running back Calvin Hill caught three touchdown passes to lift the Browns to a 45-24 victory. Two years later, Bert Jones led the Colts on a furious fourth quarter comeback that fell just short in a 28-27 Cleveland victory.

However, of all the meetings, the 1968 matchup is the most interesting and worthy of a Classic Rewind.
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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Billy Kilmer: Hard-Nosed Quarterback
      September 2, 2018 | 7:32 pm
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      Billy Kilmer

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month began his NFL career as an athletic running quarterback, but he endured a near fatal car accident to completely change his game during a career that spanned nearly two decades.

      Anyone who is familiar with former NFL quarterback Billy Kilmer probably remembers him as the portly, un-athletic, but very tough quarterback for the Washington Redskins in the 1970s. However, during his first two NFL seasons, Kilmer was primarily used as a running quarterback and running back for the San Francisco 49ers.

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