Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is Bill Cowher Headed To The Redskins?

When Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder finally rid the franchise of Vinny Cerrato, he decided to stay with the umbrella of Redskins legacy without losing his seemed mission of building his own legacy.

He hired Bruce Allen as to become the seventh general manager in the teams 78 years of existence. Three of the previous seven general managers are members of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, which includes Allen's father George Allen.

Though Bruce Allen did not work in the front office for a NFL franchise until 1995, when he was nearly 40 years old, he had experience playing the game. He was drafted in the 12th round of the 1978 draft by the Baltimore Colts as a punter. The Colts head coach was Ted Marchibroda, who had served as an offensive coordinator under his father from 1972 to 1974 with the Redskins.

The Oakland Raiders had just returned to Oakland after a 13 year excursion in Los Angeles in 1995, and Allen was hired to work beside Hall Of Famer Al Davis. The pair oversaw a team that went to one Super Bowl, and won the AFC West three times in his eight years with the team.

Allen was named the winner of the George Young Executive of the Year Award in 2002, as the Raiders reached the Super Bowl. He left that Oakland to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 2003 season.

The move reunited him with head coach Jon Gruden, who had been the Raiders coach from 1998 to 2001. Gruden then joined the Buccaneers in 2002 and got revenge for being fired by the Raiders by defeating them in Super Bowl XXXVII. Both men stayed with the Buccaneers until they were fired at the conclusion of the 2008 season.

Now Snyder is asking Allen to follow a long line of success at the Redskins general manager position. The first one ever was Dick McCann, who has a memorial award named after him that is annually given to sportswriters for contributions to the game by the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. McCann was a former sportswriter himself, and the first executive director of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. It was his idea to have the media to select those enshrined.

Bill McPeak was the general manager and head coach from 1961 to 1965. Though his teams lost mostly, including a one win season in his first year, his era is most remembered for acquiring legendary Redskins like Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell, Chris Hanburger, Jerry Smith, Len Hauss, Pat Richter, Joe Rutgens, Ron Snidow, and Paul Krause.

He was replaced by Hall Of Famer Otto Graham, who lasted three years because of bad draft picks. His best pick was punter Mike Bragg, a fifth round selection in 1968. He was then replaced by Hall Of Famer Vince Lombardi. Lombardi's first draft year produced just three players, none higher than the sixth round. That choice, linebacker Harold McLinton, joined eighth round running back Larry Brown to become vital members of Redskins lore.

Lombardi's second draft year brought in Bill Brundige, Mack Alston, Manny Sistrunk, and Paul Laaveq, but he was unable to coach them because he died of cancer a few weeks before the 1970 season started. Washington then brought in George Allen the next year.

The George Allen Era was a time where many draft picks were traded off in order to procure the services of veterans that Allen was familiar with. It brought the team their first postseason play in 26 years and their first Super Bowl appearance. The Redskins won their division three times in his seven years, and went to the playoffs five times. He left the team after a contract dispute following the 1977 season.

He was replaced by Bobby Beathard, who had worked with McPeak on the 1973 Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins. Beathard stayed until 1989, leading the Redskins to three Super Bowls in the 1980's. It was the work of Beathard that laid down the groundwork for a team that went to four Super Bowls in ten years, winning three times.

He left the team in 1989 and joined the San Diego Chargers. He was replaced by Charley Casserly. He had worked for the team since 1977, starting as an unpaid intern under George Allen. Casserly moved his way up the organizational ladder, and helped Beathard put together the Redskins as a decade long dynasty in the NFL. He is well known for putting together the replacement team during the 1987 players strike. The replacements went undefeated in three games before the strike was over.

Casserly specialized in finding great players late in the draft, or signing undrafted players. Men like Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Brian Mitchell, Stephen Davis, Jimmie Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Brad Badger, Rich Owens, and Shawn Barber became big parts of several Redskins teams. Casserly also drafted Frank Wycheck and Keenan McCardell in late rounds, though they became Pro Bowl players with other teams.

Since Snyder fired Casserly after the 1999 season, the Redskins tradition seemed to be exiled as well. Suffering through a decade of the incompetent Vinny Cerrato, the team had just two playoff seasons and six head coaches. Now the onus is on Allen to bring a stability to the organization that they have not had since the day his dad was hired.

Washington has had seven Hall Of Famers coach their teams. It started with Ray Flaherty, the man who invented the screen pass. He led the team to four championship games in his seven years, winning twice. One of his players, Hall Of Fame tackle Turk Edwards, coached the team for three years.

Washington was able to lure legendary Hall Of Fame head coach Curly Lambeau to the team in 1952, but he was gone after two mediocre years that saw the team lose star players Gene Brito and Eddie LaBaron to the Canadian Football League because of his coaching methods.

Graham's three years were also unsuccessful, but they were exciting to watch on offense via the play of Jurgensen, Taylor, Mitchell, and Smith. Lombardi only lasted one season, but his impact had a lasting effect on men like Brown and Hauss. Brown was discovered to be deaf in one ear by Lombardi, thus saving his career and leading him to becoming the 1972 NFL MVP.

George Allen followed, and his influence helped cement the famed rivalry against the Cowboys that had been brewing since 1961. A rivalry that ranks amongst the greatest in all of sports history for many reasons through several stories.

Joe Gibbs came in to Washington in 1981, and quickly became one of the winningest coaches in NFL history. He led the team to three Super Bowl wins with three different quarterbacks. He returned to the team after a 11 year retirement that saw him get enshrined into Canton, and he led the team to their only two playoff appearances of the decade.

When Cerrato pushed for Jim Zorn to follow Gibbs, he hired a guy who has shown he would not make a good offensive coordinator right now. Zorn was given the duties of head coach, and has shown himself to be out of his league thus far. This is shown by his having been stripped of several coaching duties the past few weeks.. His West Coast offensive philosophy has proven to be flawed for NFC East football, and this philosophy has yet to produce one NFL champion out of the division.

Now that Zorn appears to be ready to leave, it is important that Allen blow up the entire coaching staff in Redskin Park. None should return next year, with the exception of offensive line coach Joe Bugel, running backs coach Stump Mitchell, and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.

The Redskins aggressively signed free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, before the 2009 season, with a contract that could end up costing $100 million. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who inherited an excellent defense in 2008, has run a bland defensive scheme that has failed to create many turnovers. Haynesworth was recently sent home from practice by the lame duck coach Zorn for bristling at what he perceives as a lack of positive usage by Blache.

Hiring Bill Cowher may be just what Allen needs. Cowher is considered a defensive oriented coach, which would help play into a team already stout in that area. He is also known for his toughness, which is an area many feel Washington has lacked in recent years.

The one thing Cowher has going for him over potential hire Mike Shanahan is a true understanding on how to play in the NFC East. Cowher played for the Philadelphia Eagles as a linebacker for three of his six years in the NFL. A Marty Schottenheimer disciple who has led teams that could run the ball well, his Pittsburgh Steelers teams went to postseason play in ten of his 15 years as their head coach.

He is one of just six head coaches in NFL history to have captured seven division crowns, and only the second to coach his team to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons.

One other potential candidate could be Gruden, due to the fact Allen was his general manager already with two teams. Gruden also has experience in the NFC East, having served as an offensive coordinator for the Eagles from 1995 to 1997. Philadelphia went to the playoffs twice while playing with three different quarterbacks during his tenure. Gruden is known for stockpiling rosters with quarterbacks, having success with some.

What separates Cowher from the rest of potential candidates is his track record. He was brought up as a potential hire for the Redskins last year, but he opted to remain a television personality instead of coaching. Perhaps the image of working with the dysfunction of Cerrato and Snyder repelled him, especially after working with a classy organization run by the Rooney's in Pittsburgh.

Now that Snyder has promised to stop meddling for now, even though he frequently admits to knowing little about football, there is the thought that Cowher can be enticed to come to Washington to work with Allen. He went to college at North Carolina State in a time where the Redskins were the favorite team of the area. Even after the Panthers were born, there are still many football fans in the area that cheers for Washington.

Cowher has been successful wherever he has gone, which shows by the fact he was a head coach just eight years after retiring as a player. He was a defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns for two years, and helped make Pro Bowl cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, along with free safety Felix Wright, better players. He coached for Cleveland over four years, and they made the playoffs each time.

As a defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs for three years, he helped Derrick Thomas, Deron Cherry, Albert Lewis, Bill Maas, Neil Smith, Kevin Ross, and Dan Saleaumua to two playoff appearances with defenses that finished in the top ten in each of his three years. Thomas, a Hall Of Famer, had his best seasons under the leadership of Cowher.

The one common theme the Hall Of Fame coaches of the Redskins has was a strong personality that had the players follow them to success. This is a leadership the team has lacked the past two seasons on the field, and ten of the past 11 years in the front office.

Now is the time for Allen to grab hold of the organizations reins and impose his will to win on every employee. Getting Bill Cowher to cajole every player on to greatness would be a start needed for a franchise that has been stuck in mediocrity for so long.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Brett Favre : Same Old Shit, Different Day

All the newborns recently crawled out from under their rocks to chastise Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress for wanting to upgrade his team's performance by benching the media deity Brett Favre in last weeks 26-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Favre, of course, butted heads with Childress and refused to come off the field. Business as usual for a guy who has always put himself before his team. A selfishness that has reared its ugly head on the Vikings sideline a few times, not once, this season.

Childress has reportedly wanted to lift Favre from a few games this season, because the quarterback chooses to play the game he desires and not within the framework of the entire team. A move that caused Mike Holmgren to go gray faster and get out of Green Bay away from the frustration that comes dealing with Brett Favre.

The same Favre who threw Javon Walker under the bus for wanting a pay raise, even though he was a few years fresh off a $100 million contract he signed.

The same Favre who cried that the Packers tired of his love for turnovers a few months after he threw away the Packers chances to win the NFC Championship with another of his trademark ill-advised passes, and wanted to start Aaron Rodgers instead. He retired in a hissy fit.

When he tried to return to Green Bay, they didn't want him so he went on a media blitz with his reporter buddies to disparage the Packers. Though it temporarily worked, it is clear now that Packers general manager Ted Thompson made the absolute 100 percent correct call by committing to Rodgers.

The same Favre who realized the New York Jets couldn't carry him to a Super Bowl, so he quit on them. It is just a few weeks away when we will see him throw away a game in the playoffs in Minnesota, then blame someone else and probably quit again.

The Vikings cannot be shocked that he is creating turmoil in their locker room. That is his Modus operandi. They knew they were hiring a self centered egomaniac who has generally been a clubhouse cancer throughout of his career.

His fans point to his consecutive starts streak, as well as his touchdowns and passing yards thrown. Never do they point to the fact he averages almost two turnovers a game for his career, and has won one Super Bowl that was from Desmond Howard and the defense carrying the Packers to victory.

The way he is talked about in abated breath by his followers, one would think he has won more Super Bowls than Terry Bradshaw or Joe Montana combined.

Through all his easily found faults, there is a respect that he has earned. Though he has played in a era where the league is geared to carrying the quarterback by adjusting the rules to ensure their success, he has achieved a level of play few others have come close to in his time. The records in his back pocket do not lie, and his one Super Bowl ring is more than several other legends of the game.

The one thing he does best is be a media whore. His name is mentioned every 15 minutes on ESPN, as if it were by contractual obligation. Every time he retires, the network runs a huge banner announcing it on a continuous loop as if the end of the world was commencing.

He has smartly used his media connections to bend at his will. When Childress tried to take a stand to get Favre to play within the framework of the team, he had his buddies vilify the coach fresh off a contract extension and bring into question his job security for having dared question their exalted leader.

So sit back and enjoy his perpetual circus. It is same old defecation, different day when it comes to Brett Favre.

Now on with this weeks picks.

Last weak I took a beating and went 5-10 . I am now 135-69.

San Diego Chargers @ Tennessee Titans

I think Chris Johnson will go nuts, but the Bolts will win because the Titans won't be able to stop Rivers from throwing to all his weapons.

Chargers 30 Titans 28

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints

Now that the Saints finally lost a game, they can relax and concentrate on getting to the Super Bowl only.

Saints 38 Buccaneers 17

Houston Texans @ Miami Dolphins

This is going to be a pretty good game. The Dolphins running game versus the Texans passing attack.

Dolphins 26 Texans 24

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers

The Pack is going to crush the Hawks.

Packers 37 Seahawks 20

Carolina Panthers @ New York Giants

I think if the Jints play like they did last Monday, Carolina is in for it.

Giants 27 Panthers 17

Oakland Raiders @ Cleveland Browns

I just never pick the Raiders right. They are bizarre.

Browns 26 Raiders 16

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots

Both teams need this, but the Pats got the experience.

Patriots 31 Jaguars 23

Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals

I think the Bengals better clinch the AFC North now.

Bengals 40 Chiefs 27

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Game Of The Week

The Ravens need to win to stay in control of their playoff destiny, but the Steelers have owned them recently and are still alive to defend their crown. Can you say all out battle? I can.

Ravens 27 Steelers 24

Buffalo Bills @ Atlanta Falcons

Neither team is playing after next week, so they should have little heart showing.

Falcons 27 Bills 19

Saint Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals

The only fun fact here is that the Cardinals used to play in St. Louis and the Rams used to play in nearby Los Angeles. That's it.

Cardinals 41 Rams 16

Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers

You gotta give Niners head coach Mike Singletary credit that his team went down swinging, even though they aren't getting consistent quarterback play.

49ers 28 Lions 17

Denver Broncos @ Philadelphia Eagles

Broncos safety Brian Dawkins has had this game circled on his calender all year. Philly, however, is on a mission for the late Jim Johnson.

Eagles 31 Broncos 23

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts

I keep thinking the Colts will lose, but they don't.

Colts 23 Jets 17

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins

The Redskins showed no heart last Monday. Dallas will win.

Cowboys 30 Redskins 17

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears

Expect the Vikings to handle the underachieving Bears so that they gain gain some momentum heading into the playoffs.

34 Bears 21

NFL Power Rankings

1. Indianapolis Colts

2. New Orleans Saints

3. San Diego Chargers

4. Minnesota Vikings

5. Philadelphia Eagles

6. Green Bay Packers

7. New England Patriots

8. Cincinnati Bengals

9. Dallas Cowboys

10. Denver Broncos

11. New York Giants

12. Baltimore Ravens

13. Arizona Cardinals

14. Pittsburgh Steelers

15. New York Jets

16. Miami Dolphins

17. Tennessee Titans

18. Jacksonville Jaguars

19. Atlanta Falcons

20. San Francisco 49ers

21. Houston Texans

22. Buffalo Bills

23. Carolina Panthers

24. Chicago Bears

25. Seattle Seahawks

26. Oakland Raiders

27. Cleveland Browns

28. Detroit Lions

29. Kansas City Chiefs

30. Cleveland Browns

31. Washington Redskins

32. Saint Louis Rams

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thank You George Michael, Rest In Peace

The Washington D.C. area lost one of their broadcasting giants today when sportscaster George Michael passed away from complications due to cancer.

Michael is known nationally for his Sports Machine, which broadcast every Sunday night from 1984 to 2007. It also could be heard in the movie "There's Something About Mary", where the character played by Cameron Diaz could be seen watching it.

His Sports Machine had tremendous influence on ESPN, and the network implemented many of his ideas for use on their own network. The show, as did his nightly newcasts on NBC WRC-TV, would cover all sports. Ranging from pro wrestling, hockey, most auto events, rodeo, and equestrian, Michael made sure his viewers were entertained and educated.

He started his career as a disk jockey, working in places like Philadelphia for years until moving on to New York City. He became very popular there, and even did color commentator work with Tim Ryan on New York Islanders telecasts.

Michael came to Washington D.C. in 1980, when the late Glenn Brenner was the most popular sports anchor in town. Brenner was likeable, and known for his humor. Michael worked hard to get his station, the last place network in town, to get more viewers. By the mid-80's, he was gaining as many, if not more, viewers than the legendary Brenner.

The Sports Machine was not the only reason he gained such notice. He also hosted shows that would cover local teams in the area on a weekly basis throughout the seasons. The broadcasting careers of John Riggins, Tony Kornheiser, David Dupree, Michael Wilbon, and many more started under Michael's wing. Sonny Jurgensen, the Washington Redskins Hall Of Fame quarterback, was always his main partner on all Redskins related telecasts, and their friendship made the show even better to watch.

George liked to tell it like he saw it, and he never held back. He toughened up Kornheiser and Wilbon, which enabled the pair to parlay that gained wisdom to hosting a popular television show on the ESPN network. Riggins, a local hero, also sharpened himself under the tutelage of Michael.

After winning a Sports Emmy in 1985, he was on his way to legendary status. Brenner passed away from brain cancer, so most of the locals all then tuned into Michael. Sports like NASCAR and hockey got a lot of publicity from him, which greatly helped each sport increase in popularity.

When WRC decided to have budget cuts in early 2007, they wanted cut much of his staff from the payroll. Michael opted to retire as a sports anchor, in hopes he could save people their jobs. He also stepped down from the Sports Machine, which was off the air within weeks of his departure. He kept doing the weekly shows on the Redskins and Wizards until they also were taken off the air because of budget cuts in December, 2008 in spite of their being amongst the networks most popular shows.

Watching George Michael work was like watching a master take his craft to another level few could reach. He was so respected that he could score the interviews that no one else could. He was the only sportscaster allowed to broadcast within the Redskins stadium for years as well.

His death on the day before Christmas is one of mixed emotions, in a way. Knowing death is part of life still does not make his departure any less sad, yet we were all treated to a gift of having him a part of our life that will be remembered and honored each time ESPN goes on the air to try to replicate his brilliance.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Can Chris Henry Inspire The Bengals To The Super Bowl?

Death is the only guarantee in life, and the game of football is not exempt from this reality.

There have been quite a few people associated with the game who passed away during a season. The impact of their deaths has varied throughout the history of the game, but most remember the teams that rallied in memory of their fallen comrade.

When the Washington Redskins lost safety Sean Taylor in 2007, because he was murdered, the team was struggling along at a 5-6 record. They dedicated the rest of the season in his memory and finished the year 9-7, which was good enough to make the playoffs. The Redskins clinched the berth by beating their arch rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, by 21 points. The same number which happened to be Taylor's jersey number.

Chuck Hughes is the only player who actually passed away on the gridiron during a game. The Detroit Lions were 4-1 and hosting the Chicago Bears in the 1972 season.

Hughes, a Lions wide receiver, had caught a 32 yard ball earlier in the game, but the Bears held a five point lead late into the fourth quarter. He died running a pass route, and the Bears ended up winning the game. Detroit never recovered from his death, and won just three more games the rest of the year.

The Minnesota Vikings reached the NFC Championship game in 2000, helped by offensive right tackle Korey Stringer's first Pro Bowl year. He passed away on the practice field before the next season began, and the Vikings won just five games that year.

This current season marks the first time the team has won 11 games since Stringer's final season, and just their third playoffs appearance. They had made the playoffs five straight years up until 2000.

When Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jerome Brown died before the 1992 season started, the Philadelphia Eagles had their best overall statistical season since their 1980 Super Bowl season. Though they lost in the second round of the playoffs, most Eagles fans remember it being the last time quarterback Randall Cunningham led them to a winning season before his career experienced a temporary rebirth with the 1998 Vikings.

The Eagles are currently going through the emotions of trying to deal with another death in their family this season. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson passed away just before the season began. He was considered one of the best coaching minds in the game, and had sent players to 26 Pro Bowls in his ten years with the team.

The Eagles are currently in first place in the NFC East with two games left to play. The team obviously misses Johnson, ranking 15th in points allowed, but is on a mission to finish this season strong in his honor.

There is no raw statistics to prove where a team has success or failure after death becomes a part of their locker room. Some teams crumble, while others have pulled together on a common bond of trying to make the season special so their friends are not forgotten.

Cincinnati went to San Diego this past Sunday with the burden of a heavy heart from the sudden and recent death of wide receiver Chris Henry. Needing the win to secure the AFC North crown, players could be seen visibly in tears during a pregame tribute for Henry. The Bengals wound up losing due to a last second field goal by the Chargers, their second straight defeat.

The Bengals have been a team that has relied on creating turnovers while holding onto the football themselves. Their +24 giveaway/ takeaway ratio is currently the best in the NFL. Running a well balanced team that is equally adept in the run and pass on both sides of the ball, the team is well built for a run deep into the playoffs. Their lack of postseason experience may be the one hindrance they will face.

But Chris Henry may provide them a focal point to assemble a unified front in their goal to get the Bengals the first Super Bowl trophy in the franchises history.

Teams need momentum going into the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see how Cincinnati handles the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets in the final two games of the year. The sadness on Henry's passing will still be there, but it is up to the entire Bengals roster to leave him a memorial that will last in the Queen City for years to come.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ten Of The Best Redskins This Decade

Chris Cooley, Tight End, 2004 to present

Chris was drafted in the third round of the 2004 draft by the Redskins and soon made an impact with the team. He started in nine of the 16 games he played as a rookie, catching 37 balls for six touchdowns.

Now firmly entrenched as the starting tight end, Cooley caught 128 passes and scored 13 times over the next two years. Not only had he quickly become the Redskins main weapon in the passing game, he was a fan favorite and an elite player in the NFL.

He made his first Pro Bowl in 2007 after scoring a career best eight times on 66 catches, and repeated that honor the next year after grabbing a career best 83 balls. After catching 29 passes in the 2009 season, he broke his ankle in the seventh game and was placed on injured reserve.

As things stand now, Cooley is just 81 receptions away from passing Redskins legend Jerry Smith as the all-time receptions leader by a tight end in team history. His 83 receptions in 2008 is the most by any tight end in team history, and ranks sixth overall by any Redskin ever. He is the only tight end in NFL history to have at least six touchdowns in each of his first four seasons.

But it isn't just what "Captain Chaos" does on the field that has him so beloved by Redskins Nation, it is what he does off the field as well. His work with children, as well as feeding the poor, has had him nominated as NFL Man of the Year. His countless charitable acts also includes an interactive blog that he runs to communicate with fans. A complex character of many interests, many fans hope Cooley finishes his career as a Redskin because he has already attained a lofty status only held by a few in the teams long history.

Chris Samuels, Offensive Tackle, 2000 to present

Chris was the second player drafted in the first round in 2000 by the Redskins. He was put into the starting line up at left tackle immediately, and held that job for the rest of his career.

He made the Pro Bowl in his second and third seasons, then returned in his sixth year. He then would make the Pro Bowl until the 2008 season, a four year run. He started in all 141 games he played in the NFL, and was very reliable week to week. He missed just eight games in his career before this year.

During the fifth game on the 2009, Samuels crumbled to the turf virtually untouched on a pass play. He was carted off the field, and it was found he had a narrowing of the spinal column which is termed a chronic spinal condition. Though he has yet to announce his retirement, most experts feel he has played his last game.

For the ten years he played for the Redskins, there was perhaps none better in the teams 78 years of existence. His six Pro Bowl appearances are the most by any offensive lineman in team history, and is the fifth most by and Redskins player ever.

Chris Samuels will always be remembered for being a well rounded player who always got the job done.

Clinton Portis, Running Back, 2004 to present

Clinton was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2002 draft. Though he did not earn the starting job until the fourth game of his rookie season, he exploded onto the NFL scene.

He gained 1,508 yards and scored a career high 17 touchdowns, ultimately being named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. He scored five touchdowns in one game, a feat that has not been matched since in the NFL.

Averaging 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie, he matched that again the next year. This is an NFL record. He also ran for a career best 1,591 yards that year, and scored 14 times despite missing three games.

The Redskins then made a blockbuster trade to acquire Portis. They traded Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and a second round draft choice for him. That picked turned out to be running back Tatum Bell, who ran for over 1,000 yards one season for Denver.

Portis became the definition of a workhorse for the Redskins. In his four full years with the team, he never carried the ball less than 325 times. He never ran for less than 1,262 yards in those four years either. He has, however, been injured to where he played in just eight games in both the 2006 and 2009 seasons.

The 2009 season saw him reach the end zone a career low two times. He had averaged just under nine touchdowns in the five previous years. Portis is also considered valuable off the field to the team. He often dresses up in costumes and acts in personalities he calls his alter egos. His ability to joke has often kept his fellow Redskins loose and happy.

He suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons this year, causing him to lose consciousness. The effects were so severe that he was shut down for the year, and has people questioning his football future. Portis has not retired, and recently said he plans on playing again. Whether it will be in a Redskins uniform remains to be seen.

Sean Taylor, Safety, 2004 - 2007

Sean was the Redskins first round draft pick in the 2004 draft. He quickly earned the starting job at free safety, and had four interceptions for 85 yards, a sack, and a career best 15 passes defended.

He had two interceptions and the last sack of his career the next year, but most fans will remember what he did in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had scooped up a fumble in the first quarter and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown, which ended up providing the winning margin. Later in the game, he spit in the face of an opposing player and was ejected.

His 2006 season saw him pile up a career best 114 tackles, yet also have a career low one interception. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Week in week 12 after leading the Redskins to a win over the Carolina Panthers.

One of his biggest moments that year was blocking a game winning field goal attempt by the arch rival Dallas Cowboys late in the fourth quarter. Taylor grabbed the ball, but was tackled via a facemask. The ensuing 15 yards from the penaly allowed Washington's Nick Novak to kick a game winning 47 yard field goal. Sean was named to the Pro Bowl that year, and would play in the only Pro Bowl game of his career.

His 2007 season started off in fine fashion. He had reported to camp in perhaps the best shape of his life and announced the birth of his child had made him a changed man. His famous quote, "You play a kid's game for a king's ransom. And if you don't take it serious enough, eventually one day you're going to say, 'Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.', still is remembered by many to this day as an example of his evolution as a man.

He picked off a career best five interceptions in just nine games, which led the NFL at the time. He then was injured, and missed two games. During this time, Taylor went home to spend time with his child. One of those nights saw intruders break into his home as he slept. Hearing noise in the other room, Taylor went to investigate. An intruder shot him in the leg, which caused him to bleed to death at the age of 24 years old.

The NFL named him to his second Pro Bowl honor as the season ended. He is the only player in NFL history to be given this honor posthumously.

His team was struggling along at a 5-6 record at the time of his death, then rallied to dedicate the season in his honor. Washington finished the year 9-7, and made the playoffs. They clinched the berth by beating the Cowboys by 21 points, which happened to be Taylor's jersey number.

Since he passed away, the Redskins have established a trust fund to benefit his child. Chris Cooley, Ethan Albright, and Chris Samuels were named to the Pro Bowl the year he died, and all wore Taylor's jersey number in his honor.

Redskins fans remember Sean Taylor as one of the hardest hitting players in the league during his career. He was a young man who was just beginning to scratch the surface of his unlimited potential, but his impact in such a short time will never be forgotten.

Joe Bugel, Coach, 2004 to present

The "Boss Hog" came back to the Redskins in 2004, off a a three year retirement, after leaving them after 1989 to be a head coach for the Phoenix Cardinals. Most football followers know of the great jobs he did with the offensive lines of the Redskins, Houston Oilers, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers in the past.

He has picked up right where he left off, though his guys this decade have had problems staying healthy. The 2009 season hasn't been much different, yet perhaps is encountering the worst case of injuries to the unit the team has seen in decades.

"Buges" has done a spectacular job this year, despite having to shuffle any warm body he can find week to week, even if the Redskins have lost more games than they won. He is certainly the best coach the team has on their staff, and once again has shown why he is one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history.

Jon Jansen, Offensive Tackle, 1999 - 2008

Jon was drafted in the second round of the 1999 draft by the Redskins. He was named a starter at right tackle immediately, and held that position for the next seven years, a span of 82 straight games, he got on the field for Washington.

He missed the entire 2004 season due to injury, then another game in 2006, and was only able to play one game in 2007. He then headed into the next year as a reserve, but ended up starting 11 of the 14 games he appeared in.

Washington and Jansen parted ways after the 2008 season, and he signed a contact with the Detroit Lions to be a reserve. Though he has appeared in just eight games so far, he has started in two of them.

Redskins fans remember Jon Jansen for being dependable and excellent. He was called "The Rock" by his teammates because of his stabilizing presence.. Though he never was named to the Pro Bowl, he was generally considered one of the best right tackles in the game for several years.

LaVar Arrington, Linebacker, 2000 - 2005

LaVar was the Redskins first pick in the 2000 draft, and earned a starting job after the fifth game of the year. He had four sacks and returned the only kickoff of his career for 39 yards.

Despite missing two games the following season, he had the only three interceptions of his career. Gaining 120 yards overall, he returned one 67 yards for a touchdown and had a career best 99 tackles. He was named to the Pro Bowl.

Washington needed help on their pass rush, so they changed Arrington's role. Using him as a defensive end on third downs, he racked up a career high 11 sacks and scored off a fumble recovery. He was named to the Pro Bowl again.

The 2003 season saw him return to a more traditional approach as a linebacker. While he had six sacks, he also had a career high 11 passes defended and a career high six forced fumbles. It was also the final year he would make the Pro Bowl.

Washington signed Arrington to a contact worth $68 million over eight years before the 2004 season, but it was soon found out Arrington's lawyer had failed to properly look over the final revision of the contact. It would end up costing $6.5 million in bonus money. To compund matters worse, Arrington was injured much of the season and started in two of the four games he played.

With the impending lawsuits in court, he was playing as if he was distracted. He was benched temporarily for playing outside of the teams defensive scheme, starting in eight of the 12 games he appeared in. It caused a rift in the locker room, so he paid the Redskins $4 million to buy his release from the team.

The New York Giants quickly signed him to a seven year contract worth $49 million. He appeared in six games, getting a sack and a safety. He then blew out his knee, was placed on injured reserve, and subsequently released.

Though he has not officially retired as a player, his career may be over. He suffered major injuries from a motorcycle accident in the summer of 2007, yet has hinted an attempted comeback over the last few years. In the mean time, he has opened a restaurant, a sports management firm, and hosts a radio and television show.

Many Redskins fans recall LaVar Arrington as an exceptional athlete who hit very hard. He is remembered as the man who ended Dallas Cowboys Hall Of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman's playing career in front of a packed Texas stadium. Many feel that Arrington's hit has caused Aikman severe and permanent brain damage, which can be seen and heard weekly on the television broadcasts he participates in.

Champ Bailey, Cornerback, 1999 - 2003

Champ was the Redskins first round draft pick in 1999, and he was put to use day one. Starting every game in his career with Washington, he also was used as a wide receiver, running back, and return specialist.

He was a shut down cornerback the moment he stepped onto an NFL gridiron. His rookie year saw him intercept five balls, which included a 59 yard return for a touchdown. He also had a sack, something he only has done one again in the 2008 season.

Bailey made his first Pro Bowl in 2000, after having five interceptions, three receptions for 78 yard, one punt return for 65 yards, and one rush for a seven yard touchdown. He would begin a string of Pro Bowl appearances that would last until the 2007 season.

His 2002 season has been one of the best of his career. He defended a career best 24 passes, returned the only kickoff of his career for 17 yards,and returned the last 24 punts of his career for 238 yards. It would be his last in a Redskins uniform.

He had just finished a contract that paid him under $2 million a season, so he wanted a pay raise. He and the Redskins could not agree to terms, so he was traded to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis. Denver quickly signed Bailey to a seven year contract for $63 million. Washington then signed Portis to an eight year contract worth $50.5 million.

What has transpired for Bailey since has been four Pro Bowl years that saw him named First Team All-Pro three times. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions for 162 yards in 2006, and with two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the 2005 season. He also set an NFL record for a non-scoring play. He intercepted a pass by New England's Tom Brady, and returned it 100 yards before being stopped. It set up the Broncos game winning touchdown, and ended the Patriots quest for a three-peat as NFL Champion.

Bailey became so feared that teams virtually stopped throwing in his direction. He also did not allow an opposing receiver to score on him in the 2006 season. To this day, his is one of the first names mentioned when the NFL elite cornerbacks are mentioned. The fact he has just five interceptions since 2007 shows how much teams avoid him.

Though the team has gotten wonderful years from Portis, Champ Bailey has left many Redskins fans wondering what could have happened if the team had just paid him his worth. Lock down cornerbacks are a rare species in the NFL. He learned the game from Hall Of Fame cornerbacks Darrell Green and Deion Sanders with Washington, and should one day be learning his way around Canton from them as well.

Ethan Albright, Long Snapper, 2001 to present

Ethan joined the Miami Dolphins in 1995 as an undrafted free agent rookie. He lasted ten games with the team before being cut and picked up by the Green Bay Packers as a member of their practice squad.

He joined the Buffalo Bills the nest year, staying with them for five years, and quickly established himself as one of the best long snappers in the game. The Redskins then signed him as a free agent before the 2001 season.

He remains a member of the team to this day, and is still considered one of the very best in the NFL at what he does. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2007. Though he plays a position the casual fan only notices when an error occurs, "Red Snapper" is held in high regard by the team. He has been re-signed each time his contract expires before he becomes a free agent for a reason.

Marcus Washington, Outside Linebacker, 2004 - 2008

Marcus was drafted in the second round of the 2000 draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He stayed with the Colts for four seasons before joining the Redskins as a free agent for the 2004 season.

He had the best year of his career that season, getting a career high 87 tackles and being named to his only Pro Bowl. The next two years saw him defend a career best 8 balls, as well as get ten sacks, despite missing two games. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate in both seasons.. After missing ten games over the following two years, the Redskins cut him at the conclusion of the 2008 season.

Fans remember Marcus Washington as being a complete linebacker who was equally adept at rushing the passer and defending the pass.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Show Must Go On

Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints

The Cowboys need this game to stay in the playoff hunt, and so the coaches have a better chance of keeping their jobs in 2010. The problem is that they are facing the undefeated Saints who are intent on reaching perfection.

Saints 41 Cowboys 30

Chicago Bears @ Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens now control their playoff destiny, thanks to the Jaguars losing Thursday to Indianapolis. Expect the Ravens veterans to cajole the team to victory this week.

Ravens 27 Bears 21

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

The Patriots have looked almost dull the last month, which does not bode well for a team trying to gain momentum into the playoffs. The Bills have played much better football after they changed coaches. If New England doesn't win thos game, especially in sound fashion, then no one will be looking for them to go far into the post season.

Patriots 27 Bills 17

Arizona Cardinals @ Detroit Lions

The Cardinals are very good on the road, and the Lions are fresh off a game they got blown out in. This is a match up of one team who as Super Bowl dreams against a team looking forward to 2010.

Cardinals 41 Lions 17

Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs

The only question here is who will play with pride and who wants the better draft pick.

Chiefs 27 Browns 24

Atlanta Falcons @ New York Jets

The Falcons season is over, but the Jets are still hanging onto playoff hopes by a thread. Expect the Jets to win the battle in the trenches, because they will want it more.

Jets 24 Falcons 20

Miami Dolphins @ Tennessee Titans

If you love smash mouth football, then tune into this game. Both teams rely on the run to win, but Miami has a slightly better defense. Tennessee needs Chris Johnson to explode and carry them to victory, something he has done a great deal of this year.

Dolphins 27 Titans 21

Houston Texans @ Saint Louis Rams

Both teams are making plans for next year. The Rams may play their rookie quarterback again, but Houston is the better squad.

Texans 34 Rams 13

San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles

The 49ers still have very slight playoff hopes, but the Eagles are looking to win the NFC East and gain momentum.

Eagles 26 49ers 17

Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos

The Raiders are like a yo-yo. You never know which team will show up. Denver needs this to keep up on the heels of the red hot Chargers.

Broncos 31 Raiders 17

Cincinnati Bengals @ San Diego Chargers

Game Of The Week

The Bengals come into this game with a heavy heart over the recent death of teammate Chris Henry. Though they have a hold on their division, they did not play well last week. A death in the family either inspires a team to rally or crumbles them completely. Facing the Chargers days after Henry dying makes the Bengals task even harder. San Diego has wn 16 straight games in December. A streak I think stops now in memory of Henry.

Bengals 34 Chargers 30

Green Bay Packers @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Packers have been playing good football lately, while the Steelers have not. The defending champions will not be easy to beat, because they are mad at their recent performances, but Green Bay can win if they have some semblance of a running game.

Packers 27 Steelers 24

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Seattle Seahawks

This is a battle of the two 1976 expansion teams. Much like then, neither team will go to the playoffs this year.

Seahawks 27 Buccaneers 14

Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers

Panther fans may be witnessing the end of the John Fox Era. The team has played poorly all year, and a change of head coaches may be eminent. The Vikings are coming off an impressive drubbing of a very good Cincinnati team, and look to keep the ball rolling forward into the playoffs.

Vikings 37 Panthers 20

New York Giants @ Washington Redskins

The Giants couldn't be facing their longest divisional rivals at the worst time. The Redskins finally rid themselves of the incompetent Vinny Cerrato, replacing him with Bruce Allen. Bruce is the son of Redskins legendary Hall Of Fame head coach George Allen. The Redskins players will be playing for their 2010 jobs, knowing Allen will be looking to get rid of more dead weight in the organization.

The one chink in Washington's sound defensive armor is they can give up long passes. New York's Eli Manning should look long often to his young receivers. The Giants really need this win to keep afloat in their division, but the NFC East has a long history of bottom dwellers ruining the playoff hopes of their known foes.

Redskins 24 Giants 20

Last week I went 12-3, and am 130-59 overall.

NFL Lucubrations

The NFL news this week, besides the unfortunate death of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry, is how the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints are both closing in on accomplishing undefeated regular season records. Both teams have stated they will attempt to close the deal at full force, though the Colts rested several key defensive players throughout the entire game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars this past Thursday.

Both teams have good defenses, and excellent quarterbacks. What separates the Saints from the Colts is the offensive line and running game. Indianapolis has not run the ball well often this year, and have relied on the arm and brain of quarterback Peyton Manning. New Orleans uses Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell as their primary runners, but lately the versatile Reggie Bush has provided them an extra excellent weapon in their deep offensive arsenal.

If these teams end up staying undefeated and meeting in the Super Bowl, the Saints would probably be slightly favored. Though Miami Dolphins great Mercury Morris is hoping this does not occur, so he can keep breaking out the champagne, this match up would help the NFL greatly. It has been a mostly mediocre season, thanks to all the rule changes and constant replays, so a Saints versus Colts battle would truly help wash out the stale taste of the 2009 season.

NFL Power Rankings

1. New Orleans Saints

2. Indianapolis Colts

3. Minnesota Vikings

4. San Diego Chargers

5. Philadelphia Eagles

6. Cincinnati Bengals

7. New England Patriots

8. Denver Broncos

9. Dallas Cowboys

10. Green Bay Packers

11. Baltimore Ravens

12. Arizona Cardinals

13. New York Giants

14. Miami Dolphins

15. New York Jets

16. Jacksonville Jaguars

17. Tennessee Titans

18. Pittsburgh Steelers

19. Atlanta Falcons

20. San Francisco 49ers

21. Houston Texans

22. Seattle Seahawks

23. Buffalo Bills

24. Chicago Bears

25. Carolina Panthers

26. Kansas City Chiefs

27. Washington Redskins

28. Detroit Lions

29. Oakland Raiders

30. Cleveland Browns

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

32. Saint Louis Rams

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ding Dong, The Bitch Is Dead

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder finally awoke from almost a decade slumber of hypnosis by firing executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato. A firing that has come a decade too late, as Cerrato has crumbled a once proud franchise with horrible draft picks, terrible free agent signings, moronic trades, and overall idiocy during his time with the team.

The Cerrato Era was so bad that even the most loyal of Redskins fans were questioning their own allegiance to the team. Snyder, who many thought was either having an affair with Cerrato or was being blackmailed to keep Vinny on the payroll, tried to tell the media Cerrato stepped down from his position to save face. No one is buying it.

No one is crying over Cerrato being gone, except perhaps his own family. His career in the NFL is virtually over, unless some owner was just born today and did not notice how the Redskins lived in the basement of the NFC East a great deal during his time calling the shots. A time where Snyder spent millions of dollars to try to get a championship team, only to be rebutted by an overall lack of talent on rosters built by Cerrato.

One only needs to look at the past two drafts for a taste of the Cerrato way of doing things to see how clueless Vinny was. Drafts that were depleted by his trading away for a 11 game rental of defensive end Jason Taylor, who contributed virtually nothing to the team in that time. Taylor is now back with the Miami Dolphins playing well, along with the draft picks wasted to get him that include quarterback Pat White.

In the 2008 draft, Cerrato neglected the Redskins defensive needs by drafting wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, along with tight end Fred Davis, in the second round. While the Davis pick has looked decent after All-Pro Chris Cooley went down with an ankle injury, the Kelly pick has looked totally wasted. Players like defensive end Jason Jones were still on the board. Jones has now given the Tennessee Titans nine sacks in just 20 games so far, while Kelly has has just 18 receptions and no touchdowns in his 18 games with the Redskins. Other players bypassed that year were Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett.

Things got no better in the 2009 draft, a year that saw the team missing two picks from Cerrato trades of the past that hurt the team. The team had no outside linebackers on the roster other than Rocky McIntosh. Even though the team had spent millions to get free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, they had no depth at defensive end. The Redskins were so desperate, they asked 13th year veteran Phillip Daniels to return to be the run stopping defensive end they have few of.

While Washington lucked into Brian Orakpo falling into their laps in the first round, they asked the defensive end to switch to linebacker due to the lack of depth. Cerrato then waited until the fifth round to address this issue again, picking a malcontent named Cody Glenn. Glenn was a fullback most of his time in college, and was quickly cut by the Redskins. They also drafted undersized linebacker Robert Henson in the sixth round.

While Henson has played in one game and contributed nothing to the Redskins, the list of players bypassed that are playing well for their respective teams is long. Players like Bernard Scott, James Davis, Will Davis, Aaron Brown, Al Afalava, Brandon Gibson, Sammie Stroughter, Julian Edelman, Moise Fokou, Kevin Ellison, and LaRod Stephens-Howling are just a few of those players ignored by Cerrato.

Snyder decided to get rid of Cerrato and the endless cycle of failure that came with him. With head coach Jim Zorn soon to be fired, Snyder realized he could not procure a good head coach to replace Zorn so as long as he had Cerrato at the helm of a sunken ship that had taken on way too much exhausted indigence.

Bruce Allen was hired to replace Cerrato, and instantly represents an upgrade. Allen won the George Young Executive of the Year award with the Oakland Raiders in 2002, and also worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four seasons. He was given the title of general manager by Snyder, and is only the eighth person ever to hold that title with the team. Three are members of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, including his father George Allen.

The one criticism of Snyder was his seemed disregard of the teams legacy, even though he claims to have grown up a fan of the team and their traditions. His wanting to establish his own mark has been seen throughout the Redskins stadium and headquarters. By hiring Allen, the team gets a hint of tradition through lineage without any real ties to the organizations front office past.

The next steps to trying to build a winner won't be seen for a few weeks, which should entail the firing of Zorn shortly after the season is completed. The rebuilding of the team will take time. Besides still having issues of linebacker depth, the team needs to get a running back to help their aging stars. One of the backs, Clinton Portis, appears to be near empty in his tank. The Redskins also need to get more offensive linemen, especially after All-Pro tackle Chris Samuels career ended earlier this season. Then there is the decision if they should retain quarterback Jason Campbell, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Campbell has shown tenacity and desire, yet he has taken a huge pounding behind a porous blocking scheme that has some questioning if his ceiling of promise has been lowered.

Maybe Snyder got sick of neglecting all of these areas finally, with the culmination of events jumping the shark recently after Cerrato took him to scout Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen in person. Cerrato, who was employed as a recruiter by Notre Dame from 1986 to 1990, then had Clausen as a guest on his radio show on one of the radio stations owned by Snyder. Seeing the direction of neglect continuing on the horizon, Snyder decided to send a clear message to all that he had woken up from the web spun by the dream weaver Vinny.

This is a message that will reverberate throughout the Redskins locker room, the league, prospective coaches and future free agents. No one had respect for Cerrato, and this had been stated by many talking heads in the media. Many of which have stated that Cerrato couldn't get the job he held with any team in professional football other than the Redskins because of Snyder's lack of football knowledge. This included members of ESPN, a network Cerrato worked for a year in 2001.

Cerrato left the Redskins offices with a statement thanking Snyder, the team, and coaches like Joe Gibbs, Greg Blache and Sherman Lewis. His leaving out Zorn may be a show of immature bitter spite, believing his hiring of Zorn cost him his job and NFL future. Cerrato also said he thought that he left the team a solid foundation and bright future.

Considering how he built a roster this year that included an offensive line without a single reserve having NFL experience, despite it being an oft-injured unit, and the fact that he has oversaw a franchise that won only one playoff game since 2000, the bright future of the Washington Redskins actually was born the moment Vinny Cerrato left them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 NFL Week 14 Picks

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons

This could be a trap game for the Saints, because the beat up Falcons are playing for their season. New Orleans knows this, and should try to control the clock with a balanced attack.

Saints 31 Falcons 17

Detroit Lions @ Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive, while Detroit is looking to determine who will be on the team next year.

Ravens 27 Lions 10

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

A very old rivalry full of greatness in the history books, but this season won't garner much ink. Expect the Pack to pass the ball often.

Packers 34 Bears 21

Seattle Seahawks @ Houston Texans

Both teams have nothing left to play for but pride. Not a game to watch, unless the cooking show on the other channel is a repeat.

Texans 27 Seahawks 21

Denver Broncos @ Indianapolis Colts

Game Of The Week

The strengths of the Broncos can work well on the weaknesses of the Colts. Denver has the defensive backs to cover the Indianapolis wide receivers, and their running game can take advantage of a suspect Colts front seven. The Colts might go to Dallas Clark a lot in this game, but their secondary could be key because Denver's passing attack isn't scary.

Denver 27 Colts 24

Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Jack Del Rio may quietly be having one of his best seasons ever as a coach, because few thought Jacksonville would be holding a playoff spot at this time of the year. The young team is inconsistent, but they are winning more than they lose. Miami will try to build on last weeks upset win over New England. This will be a battle in the sun worth watching.

Jaguars 24 Dolphins 16

Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs

Buffalo is playing better after a coaching change, and the Chiefs have been up and down all year. Die hard fans only need apply here as viewers, because both teams seasons were over weeks ago.

Bills 26 Chiefs 21

Cincinnati Bengals @ Minnesota Vikings

It is far from ridiculous to say this could be a Super Bowl preview. Both teams have pretty much wrapped up their division titles, but want to finish strong the gain that much needed momentum heading into the playoffs.

Both teams need to run the ball to win, but both defensive lines do not typically allow opponents much successes. Minnesota lost key MLB E.J. Henderson, so there is a chance that more holes will open for the Bengals. Cornerback Antoine Winfield has been missed in the Vikings secondary the past six weeks, but he may play Sunday. This will be a smash mouth game that may be decided on one big play.

Vikings 27 Bengals 24

Carolina Panthers @ New England Patriots

Carolina runs the ball well, and Miami showed last week that it is enough to beat New England. There was a little turmoil in the Patriots locker room this week, but they usually turn that to their advantage. This isn't quite a must win for the Pats, but they only hold a one game lead in their division and need to get the ball rolling.

Patriots 34 Panthers 17

New York Jets @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With all the injuries, ups and downs, and personnel moves the Jets have had so far this year, a win this week and a New England loss could have them in first place. Tampa Bay, as bad as they are, could defeat them with their rookie quarterback leading the way as the Jets rookie quarterback sits on the benched injured watching.

Jets 23 Buccaneers 21

Saint Louis Rams @ Tennessee Titans

This game features the top two running backs in the league with Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson. The Titans win steak was stopped by the Colts last week, so they look to begin a new one against the lowly Rams.

Titans 31 Rams 13

Washington Redskins @ Oakland Raiders

A battle of two of the worst teams in the NFL this decade, as well as the two most questioned owners. The Raiders have won two of their last three, and defeated the Redskins division rival Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the season. Washington relies on their defense to hold down scoring while waiting for the offense to attempt to cross the 50-yard line the few times they do each week. This is a good game to nap to.

Raiders 27 Redskins17

San Diego Chargers @ Dallas Cowboys

This game is full of stories. LaDainian Tomlinson returns to his hometown, and lamented earlier this week that it maybe the last time of his career this will happen. San Diego's defense has been erratic, especially against the pass. San Diego has also won 15 games in a row in the month of December. Dallas needs this win to stay in first place, which could be theirs alone if Philadelphia loses.

Cowboys 34 Chargers 30

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

This will have old NFC East fans smiling at yesteryear as these two teams battle for seasonal relevance. Neither team runs the ball particularly well, and rely on the quarterbacks to pull out wins. The Giants are hurting in the trenches now after underachieving so far all year. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has all his favorite weapons healthy, while Giants quarterback Eli Manning still appears to be struggling with a heel injury.

Eagles 31 Giants 23

Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

This is the Niners Super Bowl. They lose here, the season is over. Their already faint hopes face a Arizona team with one road loss on the year, as well the Cardinals coming off an impressive dismantling of the Vikings last week.

Cardinals 27 49ers 20

Last week I went 9-6, and am 118-56 overall.

NFL Lucubrations

The big new this week is that the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers lost their fifth straight game Thursday night after a defeat by the hands of the horrid Cleveland Browns. It was the first time in 13 straight games that the Browns defeated Pittsburgh, and they did it with a quarterback completing only six passes for 70 yards, a running back rambling for 73 yards, and a wide receiver running for 87 yards. If things couldn't get any worse for Pittsburgh, the Browns scored their first rushing touchdown of the season against them.

Now that the Steelers season is virtually over after their seventh loss, it proves once again how hard it is to repeat in the NFL. Pittsburgh also has come to realize a few weaknesses that need to be addressed. The main one is their offensive line, an area they did address somewhat in this years draft by getting Kraig Urbik in the third round. Urbik, however, has developed slowly thus far and was supplanted by undrafted free agent Ramon Foster. Foster has started a game this year, and Urbik was thought by many scouts to have a nice upside. The unit is relatively young, but it appears their right tackle Willie Colon needs to be replaced. There aren't many spots needing an overhaul on Pittsburgh, but you can't win without solid and consistent blocking.

The Browns are flying so high off their second win of the season that head coach Eric Mangini felt the need to tell reporters his team is finally understanding his system. Mangini mentioned that he was congratulated by Browns Hall Of Famer Jim Brown, Cleveland owner Randy Lerner, and Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid.

Mangina has always come across as a ego maniac, but he may have jumped the shark this time. He is convinced his system is taking hold, and said "I believe in what we do. I know it works. I know it's going to work here. I know we're going to win a lot of games here. I know we're going to have a team week in and week out the city is going to be proud of. These are good guys, working toward the same goal. That to me is the essence of winning. It's going to happen."

System? Does Mangina really think he can consistently win with a quarterback completing six passes in a game? Maybe he is on to something, because Cleveland quarterbacks have completed a total of eight passes in their two wins.

The real system that won the Pittsburgh game was that of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Browns confused the Steelers badly throughout the game, though Ryan hasn't had his best season as a coach himself. The Browns are ranked 26th in points allowed. Mangina's system has the Browns scoring proficiency ranked 30th out of the 32 teams in the league.

In honor of the Beeze, I'd like to offer Mangina :


NFL Power Rankings

1. New Orleans Saints

2. Indianapolis Colts

3. Minnesota Vikings

4. Cincinnati Bengals

5. San Diego Chargers

6. New England Patriots

7. Dallas Cowboys

8. Philadelphia Eagles

9. Denver Broncos

10. Green Bay Packers

11. Baltimore Ravens

12. Arizona Cardinals

13. New York Giants

14. Atlanta Falcons

15. Tennessee Titans

16. Pittsburgh Steelers

17. Jacksonville Jaguars

18. Miami Dolphins

19. New York Jets

20. San Francisco 49ers

21. Houston Texans

22. Seattle Seahawks

23. Oakland Raiders

24. Chicago Bears

25. Carolina Panthers

26. Kansas City Chiefs

27. Buffalo Bills

28. Detroit Lions

29. Washington Redskins

30. Cleveland Browns

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

32. Saint Louis Rams

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Year Of Hell : The Harry Newsome Story

When Harry Newsome was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the eighth round of the 1985 draft, he was being asked to replace the incumbent punter Craig Colquitt. It wasn't the first time that Newsome was facing an obstacle like this.

Newsome grew up in Cheraw, South Carolina, a town that held just 4,000 people. One of those people was Dale Hatcher, a man who would be drafted in the third round of the same draft by the Los Angeles Rams. The two friends would attend many of the NFL Punt, Pass, and Kick competitions together as children.

It was Hatcher, while growing up together, who was lauded for his punting ability. Newsome, however, was an exceptional athlete in his own right. He played quarterback, strong safety, and place kicker in high school. He was also an excellent baseball player who got scholarship offers from such powerhouse programs like Arizona State University and Stanford University.

When it was time to go to college, Hatcher became an All-American punter at Clemson University while Newsome also chose to stay close to home by choosing Wake Forest University so that he could also play football.

Newsome would be named All-ACC three times in college, yet his friend Hatcher was a member of the 1981 National Championship Tigers. Hatcher is a member of Clemson's Centennial Team after becoming the only Tiger to average over 40 yards a punt in four seasons and lead the team in punting for four straight years.

While Newsome set records himself, the Deamon Deacons never qualified for a bowl game in his time at the school. He ranks third in career punting average, and holds the record for punting average by a junior.

Colquitt, part of a long line of Colquitt's to play for the University of Tennessee and the first of three to play in the NFL, was drafted in the third round of the 1978 draft to replace Steelers legend Bobby Walden. He was a member of the 1978 Super Bowl winning team and had just come off one of the better seasons of his career.

Newsome beat him out for a roster spot, and he would not return to the NFL again until 1987. He played one game that year and attempted three punts, including having one blocked the only time in his career, before being cut. Craig Colquitt never played in the NFL again.

The 1985 year was successful for both Newsome and Hatcher. Newsome was given the Joe Greene Performance Award, which names the Steelers Rookie Of the Year. Hatcher made his only Pro Bowl squad that year, yet he would be cut by the Rams after the 1991 season despite leadng the NFL in punting yards in 1987 in just 15 games played.

Hatcher returned to the NFL in 1993 with the Miami Dolphins, but his career ended after the season was completed. He is perhaps known by some for participating in the first game in NFL history to be decided by a safety. The Rams were facing the Minnesota Vikings, and former Steeler Mike Merriweather blocked Hatcher's punt through the end zone in overtime. Both of the Cheraw natives would have a punt blocked in their rookie years as well.

Though he was the holder on place kicks for Pittsburgh, Newsome also served as the emergency quarterback. During a game against the Chicago Bears in 1986, the Steelers lined up for a field goal attempt. The snap was bad, so he threw the ball 12 yards to tight end Preston Gothard for the only touchdown of his career.

Blocked punts became a theme for Newsome during his time in Pittsburgh. He had an NFL leading three punts blocked in that 1986 season. After having another one blocked the following season, he would then face a season in 1988 that no punter would ever want to encounter.

Hall Of Fame head coach Chuck Knoll was known to many as one of the best coaches in NFL history, but special teams was one area that Knoll did not have much interest in. He did not have his teams practice on special teams until Saturdays. Pittsburgh went through several long snappers during this time, but could not find a consistent player at the position. Six players tried to long snap for Pittsburgh during Newsome's time with them. Knoll even used Hall Of Fame center Mike Webster, but Webster's bent up fingers from all of the games he had played prevented him to long snap well enough to help.

No season spotlighted the Steelers special teams problems more than 1988. They went through four long snappers that year, which caused major problems in the punting game. The "get away" time on punts were bad due to slow snaps to Newsome.

"A good total time of snapping the ball, handling the punt, then getting it away was 6.7 to 6.8 seconds.", recalled Newsome. "The handle time of the punter himself should be somewhere between 1.2 to 1.3 seconds. I spent my time in Pittsburgh always trying to hurry my punts because the ball took so long to get to me. I even went from a three step punter to two steps. It didn't help because the extra tenths of seconds on the snaps, along with protection problems, left us often exposed. It would amp up the opponents even more knowing this."

So exposed that Newsome had an NFL record six punts blocked that year. It wasn't like he wasn't punting well, despite all the constant pressure and blocks, because he was. He led the NFL with 45.4 yards per punts average on 65 attempts. What makes his accomplishment of leading the league in punting average more remarkable was because of the six punts that he had blocked.

Due to Knoll's disinterest in special teams, the only real attempts at trying to fix the problem that year was trying a variety of players at long snapper. This continued into the 1989 season when Newsome had a punt blocked again. It was the 12th time in five years in Pittsburgh that he had a punt blocked.

He became a Plan B Free Agent after that year, and he found himself highly sought after by many teams. Though teams like the San Diego Chargers offered him the most money, he chose the Minnesota Vikings. A big part of his reason for joining the Vikings was because former Steelers coaches Tony Dungy and Tom Moore, along with Merriweather, were part of the team. They held bible study meetings, and Newsome was a part of it.

He had a punt blocked in his first season in Minnesota, but his fortunes began to change when the Vikings signed long snapper Mike Morris in 1991. " He was the best I ever saw do it, and easily the best I ever had snap me the ball.", Newsome says. It was the first season in his career he did not have a punt blocked, and he averaged a career best 45.5 yards per punt on 68 attempts.

The 1992 season saw him punt a ball a career long 84 yards, which led the league. It is the 13th longest punt in NFL history, and his teammates gave him the game ball. He also had another punt blocked, the last of his career, when a blocker fell while engaged with a defender.

After punting the ball a career high 90 times for 3,862 yards the next season, he developed knee problems, due to tendinitis, and chose to retire from the game. He returned home to Cheraw, where he still resides to this day. Hatcher lives in Gaffney, SC and the two remain friends. Newsome ranks Mel J. Gray as the best punt returner he ever faced.

Newsome grew up idolizing Oakland Raiders legend Ray Guy. Though he thinks place kickers get more respect than punters, because they account for scoring, he hopes Guy will be soon inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.

"I don't think a punter will ever be inducted", he said, "If one ever does, it will be him."

He is currently ranked fourth on both the Steelers and Vikings in career punting yards, and his 45.5 punting average in 1991 ranks third best in Vikings history behind Chris Kluwe and Bobby Walden. His 45.4 average in 1988 ranks third in Steelers history by anyone with more than 11 attempts. He also is 50th in NFL history in punting attempts and yards.

The NFL records that Harry Newsome owns are what some fans may best remember him by in his nine year NFL career. His 14 blocked punts in his career is tied with Herman Weaver as the most ever. The other record is having those six punts blocked in 1988. That is a type season some punters may consider a year of hell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Canton Continues to Disregard the AFL

The Pro Football Hall Of Fame voters once again that they are a suspect allotment of people who either have no clue about the game of professional football, or that they are in the pocket of the National Football League.

On November 28th, 2009, the Pro Football Hall Of Fame announced their list of the 25 finalists for induction into their halls located in Canton, Ohio.

Look at the list below, and there is the common theme that none of these men are associated with the American Football League that ran their operations from 1960 to 1970 before the NFL begrudgingly begged them to merge leagues.

Cliff Branch, WR - 1972-1985 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Tim Brown, WR/KR - 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cris Carter, WR - 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins

Don Coryell, Coach - 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers

Roger Craig, RB - 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings

Terrell Davis, RB - 1995-2001 Denver Broncos

Dermontti Dawson, C - 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

Richard Dent, DE - 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles

Chris Doleman, DE/LB - 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers

Kevin Greene, LB/DE - 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers

Russ Grimm, G - 1981-1991 Washington Redskins

Ray Guy, P - 1973-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Charles Haley, DE/LB - 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys

Lester Hayes, CB - 1977-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders

Rickey Jackson, LB - 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers

Cortez Kennedy, DT - 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

Art Modell, Owner - 1961-1995 Cleveland Browns, 1996-2003 Baltimore Ravens

John Randle, DT - 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks

Andre Reed, WR - 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins

Jerry Rice, WR - 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004 Seattle Seahawks

Shannon Sharpe, TE - 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

Emmitt Smith, RB - 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals

Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner - 1989-2006 National Football League

Steve Tasker, Special Teams/WR - 1985-86 Houston Oilers, 1986-1997 Buffalo Bills

Aeneas Williams, CB/S - 1991-2000 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, 2001-04 St. Louis Rams

The AFL was referred to as a "mickey mouse league" for their years of existence. The players of the NFL were told by the league that AFL players were not on the same level in ability and skill. Many bought into this propaganda for years, even as the upstart league began to gain popularity and draw more fans as each year progressed.

The realization that the AFL was not inferior came upon the spotlight of national television on January 12th, 1969. The AFL champion New York Jets defeated the heavily favored NFL champion Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III. What made the story of the upset even more noteworthy was that Jets quarterback Joe Namath had famously predicted the win in the days that led up to the game.

This is the game that made the NFL panic and realize they had to merge with the AFL to keep their product on top. The AFL had already been a league that produced more excitement on offense than the NFL, and the critics who called the Jets win a fluke were dealt more reality when the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs dominated the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV the following year by the score of 23-7.

What has transpired since this merger has been a sort of payback by the NFL. Though the league is supposedly celebrating the AFL's 50th anniversary this season, the halls in Canton pays little tribute to the AFL to this day.

There are just 11 members of the American Football League's All-Time Team that are currently inducted, and it appears not many more will be given their respect as time passes on into the land of forgotten thought. This is what the NFL has striven for, and has seemingly accomplished.

Floyd Little, a member of the AFL Denver Broncos, is a running back who was with the team before, during, and after the merger. He retired in 1975 as the seventh leading rusher in pro football history. He had been a two-time AFL All-Star who led the league in all-purpose yards twice, and rushing yards per game once. He was also a three-time NFL Pro Bowl player who led the NFL in rushing attempts, yardage, rushing yards per game, and yards from scrimmage in the 1971 season.

Little is now an entry in the Seniors Committee alongside of current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. LeBeau retired as a player in 1972 with 62 interceptions, which was second most in NFL history at the time. It still ranks seventh best. The former cornerback, who is called "Coach Dad" by the players he coaches, is worthy of entry as a coach, but should have been inducted as a player years ago.

The Canton classes are generally small, with typically no more than six people inducted each year since 1990. The lone exceptions are in 1990 and 2001, where seven men joined the ranks. One of the major criticisms has been these small induction classes that are chosen by voters who have little idea of how the game is played or what positions the players happened to actually compete at.

This will make Little's chances of induction even more slight. Though worthy for decades, the fact that he has had to wait this long shows the ulterior motives of the NFL and their hired voters. Little biggest chance of getting his overdue respect might be because of the AFL anniversary that is going on now. If he does get in, hopefully he will call on the voters to open the doors of Canton wider for his AFL brethren, because they were professional football players. The sign on the building in Canton clearly says Pro Football Hall Of Fame, as it does on the stationary and gift bags inside, not the NFL Hall Of Fame.

The idea of players already enshrined being part of the voting process has been bandied about for years. This is an idea that would work, because they are the people who know best who truly belongs in Canton. This is a brotherhood that will not be swayed by cash or politics like the voters are. They also know what position the players actually played, unlike the voters.

Most of the players that are in the classification of senior played in an era where telecommunications were just starting out. Many players waiting to get in are subject to voters who most likely saw them play just a handful of times throughout their entire careers. It basically comes down to a voter selecting his favorite player over a better player who is more deserving of induction. How else could one explain the 2008 induction of Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett and his four Pro Bowl honors, while fellow linebackers Maxie Baughn and Chris Hanburger are still not inducted, or even nominated, despite going to the Pro Bowl nine times in their careers.

Time passes on, and the NFL wants their fans to be quiet myrmidons who fail to see that the Pro Football Hall Of Fame has become the NFL Hall Of Fame.

For those of you who are wondering who I would like to see inducted this year, my voters ballot that does not count follows. Thinking that eight is a lucky number, and that Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith are going in, I select these fine men. Please note that the last time eight men were inducted the same year was at the 1967 ceremonies.

Don Coryell : Every offense you see run in the NFL today is a wrinkle of his genius.

Ray Guy : He changed the game completely as a punter. There should be no questions to his worth.

John Randle
: 7 Pro Bowls, 6 First Team All-Pro Teams, 137.5 sacks as a defensive tackle. Easy choice.

Tim Brown
: 1,094 receptions, 9 Pro Bowls, great punt returner, led NFL in the one year he returned kickoffs.

Dick LeBeau : 62 interceptions and his contributions to the game make this a certain selection.

Floyd Little : A small player, but a giant on the gridiron. He's the reason the Broncos are still in Denver.