There Were Once Great Men…

Wilson_Ralph_04_630We’ve heard all week about the saga involving Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and the Baltimore Ravens.  It seems to have put the game of football as a whole at a cross roads.  Goodell has dug in while many have called for his resignation.  He’s ordered an internal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller but to many it isn’t enough.  There has been talk of repercussions, sponsors dropping the league, maybe even a boycott.  Maybe we just need a reminder that there were great men that brought it this sport and maybe there could be more great men who can help lead it into the future.

This Sunday will mark the first game in Buffalo Bills history that it’s founder Ralph C. Wilson won’t be around for.  He died this past March 25th at the age of 95 after 54 years of owning one of the city of Buffalo’s two major sports franchise.  Wilson originally wanted to get into the AFL in the late 50’s with the new franchise in South Florida but when the Miami team went to someone else he told AFL founder Lamar Hunt to “count me in with Buffalo”.  Over 50 years later when someone mentions the city of Buffalo football is surely brought to mind.  The passion for their football team is ingrained as a way of life in Western New York.  Wilson birthed that way of life when he founded the Bills in late 1959.

For almost 20 years the vultures have been circling around the Buffalo Bills franchise.  As far back as the early 90’s, in the middle of the Bills’ heyday as 4-time AFC Champions, there were rumors that the team would be moved to Los Angeles.  By the end of the Bills’ 4-year Super Bowl run Wilson was already 75 years old and the line of succession had already been set – Ralph Wilson’s family would sell the team upon it’s death.  Big wigs from Los Angeles, Toronto and other large metropolises sniffed around the Bills for 20 years but Ralph stand firm on his plan to hold onto the team, in Buffalo, until his death.  After his death this past March his hand-picked trust set out to carry out his plan to sell off the Bills with one very specific instruction – that the franchise does not, under any circumstance, leave Western New York.  That’s how earlier this week it came to pass that Ralph C. Wilson’s $25,000 investment in 1959 turned into a $1.4 billion entity and it did so with the team’s long term security in Buffalo as strong as it’s ever been.

wilson-ralph-kelly-jimAnd so for the first time in two decades fans of the Buffalo Bills will be going to the stadium this Sunday with the knowledge that their children will be able to come to the games and watch their home town Bills when they are their age with kids of their own.  If that’s no reason to love this game than I don’t know what is.  It’s important to remember that for every Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and Jerry Jones there is a Bob Kalsu, a Pete Rozelle, a Ralph Wilson.  Guys like Wilson literally gave the NFL to us fans over his many years of service.  Hell, we don’t need to boycott the NFL.  We just need to take it back.

Erik Venskus

Super Bowl XLVII Preview And Prediction

Super Bowl XVLII - Ray Ray's last ride

Super Bowl XLVII – Ray Ray’s last ride

Super Bowl XLVII.  Brother vrs. Brother.  Ray Lewis’ last game.  The 49ers’ drive for 6.  There are plenty of sub-plots to this Super Bowl.  One thing you can most definitely expect between these two teams is a smash-mouth football game.  Both of these teams pride themselves on their physicality.  The Ravens defense might be a bit older and not as fast as they once were but they will still get their money’s worth when they lay a hit on their opponents.  The 49ers play a physical brand of football themselves, led by their All-World middle linebacker Patrick Willis.  The two quarterbacks matching up in this game, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, couldn’t be any more different.  Flacco is a traditional pocket passer.  Kaepernick represents the new generation of running QBs’, guys like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick.  Here is how the teams match up:

When the 49ers have the ball

Kaepernick has broken out for the 49ers in 2012

Kaepernick has broken out for the 49ers in 2012

The challenge that the 49ers offense brings is their three-pronged rushing attack with 3 different looks.  Frank Gore, at 217 pounds, is the bruiser of the bunch.  5’9″, 195 lb. rookie LaMichael James comes in as the speed guy.  Then there is Kaepernick, standing at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 230 lbs.  What makes things trickier is the effectiveness of the read-option.  Kaepernick can either hand the ball off to one of the running backs or keep it himself and the defense will need to be ready for either player.  Key in the defense of the read option is the play of the middle linebackers so Ray Lewis is going to have to be ready to defend that play.  Does he still have the speed to track down either the running back or quarterback out there?  We are going to see early and often tonight.  Kaepernick has a laser arm to go with his legs but the Ravens’ secondary, and Ed Reed in particular, have done a great job of keeping the passing plays in front of them all post-season long.  They held both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady without a completion in the air of more than 25 yards.  The 49ers have an awful lot of weapons to get down the field – Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss.  It is tough to defend all of those guys in the open field.  The 49ers love to use their tight ends down the middle of the field.  It will be up to the old men – Lewis and Reed – to try and keep Vernon Davis and Delaney Walker at bay.  There has been a lot of talk about Lewis in the weeks leading up to the game and be prepared for the spotlight to be on him when the game starts as well because he really will be one of the focal points of the Ravens’ defense.

When the Ravens have the ball

The oft-criticized Flacco will look to silence his critics with a Super Bowl victory

The oft-criticized Flacco will look to silence his critics with a Super Bowl victory

Ray Rice is going to get hit in this game and he is going to get hit hard.  The 49ers may have one of the most physical front sevens in the NFL.  Aldon Smith has been quiet in the post-season and seems poised for a break-out game but the Ravens offensive line has played exceptionally well since they inserted veteran Bryant McKinnie into the starting lineup.  Expect to see a lot of Bernard Pierce, a bigger and more physical back than Rice, in the lineup as the Ravens try to match strength for strength.  Fullback Vonta Leach will also play a big role.  In the passing game we all know that Joe Flacco likes to sling it.  The 49ers have a decent secondary with Carlos Rogers and DaShon Goldson but they are susceptible down the field.  Expect Flacco to target speedster Torrey Smith early and often and tight end Dennis Pitta might be a mis-match for the incredibly overrated strong safety Donte Whitner.  The Ravens love to use Ray Rice in the passing game as well but the 49ers linebackers are very fast.  When Flacco gains confidence he is very good so the key for the 49ers defense will be to pressure him early and make him miss on his throws.  Aldon Smith NEEDS to get involved for the 49ers to have early success against Flacco and the Ravens offense.

Prediction

This is a tough one to predict.  I think that there will be a lot of defense in this game but I still think both teams can hit on big plays.  The most interesting storyline to me is that Lewis will be so important to that Ravens defense but at the same time he could be a liability out there with the speed of the 49ers offense.  You always talk about destiny and what was meant to be and all that and Ray Lewis is going to leave it all on the field and his teammates will do the same for Ray Ray’s last game.  On the flip side the 49ers are the prototypical new-age NFL team.  Fast and physical.  Clearly, at least on paper, the 49ers are the better team.  The final score will come down to what trumps all – emotion or talent.  Today I have to go with the talent.  The Ravens defense will be just a step slow to keep up with the 49ers offense.  The Niners take their 6th Super Bowl in as many tries.

Final Score Prediction: San Fransisco 49ers 28, Baltimore Ravens 24

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The Super Bowl By The Numbers

Super Bowl XLVII is Sunday.  I did this last year and am updating again with some more facts from this year’s game:

  • CBS will broadcast their 18th Super Bowl this Sunday.  That is more than any other network.  NBC is in 2nd place with 17 Super Bowl broadcasts.
  • Today will be Super Bowl #8 at the Superdome

    Today will be Super Bowl #8 at the Superdome

    This year’s Super Bowl will be the 8th at the Louisiana Superdome.  The city of New Orleans has now hosted 11 Super Bowls, pulling one ahead of the city of Miami for the most all-time.  Miami has hosted 5 at the Orange Bowl and 5 at Sun Life Stadium.  New Orleans hosted 3 at Tulane Stadium in addition to the 8 at the Superdome.

  • Pat Summerall has announced the most Super Bowls with 11.  Al Michaels and Dick Enberg are tied for 2nd all-time 2nd all-time when he announces his 8th Super Bowl.  John Madden has the most appearances as colour-man with 11 games.
  • Sunday’s game will be the 3rd Super Bowl that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have called together.  This will be Simms’ 5th Super Bowl broadcast having previously called 2 with Greg Gumbel.
  • Jack Buck announced 16 Super Bowls on the radio, most all-time.
  • The Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers each have 8 Super Bowl appearances, tied for the most all-time.
  • The Steelers has 6 Super Bowl victories, which is the most all-time.  The 49ers look to match them this year.
  • There have been 6 re-matches in Super Bowl history.  The Cowboys and the Steelers are the only two teams to play each other in the Super Bowl 3 times.
  • Former Cowboy and 49er Charles Haley 5 Super Bowl rings - more than any other player

    Former Cowboy and 49er Charles Haley 5 Super Bowl rings – more than any other player

    Defensive End Charles Haley has the most Super Bowl victories with 5.  He won 2 with the San Fransisco 49ers and 3 with the Dallas Cowboys

  • One player has played in 6 Super Bowls.  Defensive lineman Mike Lodish played in 4 with the Buffalo Bills and 2 with the Denver Broncos.  Wide receiver Don Beebe played in 4 with the Buffalo Bills and 1 with the Green Bay Packers but was on injured reserve in 1997 when the Packers went to their 2nd straight Super Bowl.
  • The longest pass play in Super Bowl history was a 85 yard touchdown pass from Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme to WR Muhsin Muhammad in Super Bowl XXXVIII.  The longest running play was a 75 yard touchdown run by Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker in Super Bowl XL.
  • The longest interception return was a 100 yard TD return by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison in Super Bowl XLIII.  That was also the longest play in Super Bowl history.  The longest fumble return in Super Bowl history was Dallas Cowboys’ defensive tackle Leon Lett’s infamous 64 yard fumble return in Super Bowl XXVII.  Lett fumbled the ball back to the Bills right before he reached the end zone when wide receiver Don Beebe came from behind to knock the ball loose.
  • The longest field goal in Super Bowl history is a 54 yard field goal from Buffalo Bills kicker Steve Christie in Super Bowl XXVIII.  The longest punt in Super Bowl history was a 63 yarder by Cincinnati Bengals punter Lee Johnson in Super Bowl XXIII.
  • The longest kickoff return in Super Bowl history was a 99 yard TD return by Green Bay Packers receiver Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI.  The longest punt return in Super Bowl history was a 45 yard return by San Fransisco 49ers receiver John Taylor in Super Bowl XXIII.  No punt has ever been returned for a TD in the Super Bowl.
  • The highest scoring Super Bowl of all-time was Super Bowl XXIX in which the San Fransisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 49-26.  There were 75 total points scored in the game.
  • MIA K Garo Yepremian's botch lead to the Redskins' only TD in the 1972 game

    MIA K Garo Yepremian’s botch lead to the Redskins’ only TD in the 1972 game

    The lowest scoring Super Bowl in history was Super Bowl VII in which the Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 14-7.  21 total points were scored in that one.

  • The largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history was Super Bowl XXIV in which the San Fransisco 49ers defeated the Denver Broncos by a score of 55-10.
  • The smallest margin of victory in Super Bowl history was Super Bowl XXV in which the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills by a score of 20-19.
  • Don Shula has coached the most games in Super Bowl history with 6.  He coached 1 for the Baltimore Colts and 5 for the Miami Dolphins.  Chuck Noll has won the most Super Bowls as a head coach, winning 4 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • The oldest coach ever to win a Super Bowl was St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil in Super Bowl XXXIV.  He was 63 years and 92 days old when he won that game.  The youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl was Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in Super Bowl XLIII.  He was 36 years and 341 days when he won it.
  • No head coach has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams.
  • Obviously this year’s game will be the first time that the two head coaches in the Super Bowl – Jim Harbaugh of the San Fransisco 49ers and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens – are brothers
  • The Super Bowl has never gone into overtime.
  • The 49ers are 5-0 all-time in the Super Bowl.  They are looking for their 6th Super Bowl win which would tie them for the most all-time.  The Steelers are 6-2 in the Super Bowl all-time.
  • The Ravens are 1-0 in the Super Bowl.  Their only appearance came back after the 2000 season when they defeated the New York Giants 34-7.  Ray Lewis was the MVP of that Super Bowl.
  • Joe Montana has won Super Bowl MVP 3 times, more than anyone in Super Bowl history.  Colin Kaepernick will try to join Montana and Steve Young as a Super Bowl MVP starting quarterback for the 49ers.  In all but one of the 5 previous Super Bowl wins for the 49ers has the starting quarterback won the game’s MVP.

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Of concussions and bounties…the right ways and wrong ways to handle the problem

I hear it every single year.  No matter how many times you’ve seen someone carted off the field with what might appear to be a severe neck or head injury.  No matter how many times a former player commits suicide.  No matter how many studies that link brain damage and various other side effects to head trauma from playing football or other sports are made public.  No matter what has happened in this off-season, or any other, I can see it coming next September when the new football season begins.  Like clockwork a player will get flagged for a vicious helmet-to-helmet and fans of the team that committed the infraction will flock to their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, and any other way to let their voices be heard and enchant the old cliche: “Awww, what is this, the No Fun League?”

Seau was the highest profiled, but not the first, ex NFLer to take his own life after his playing days were over

In my opinion anyone who calls the NFL the “No Fun League” because they disallow violent helmet-to-helmet hits should be in the NSL…the “No Sanity League”.  Concussions shouldn’t be looked at as collateral damage to a violent sport.  Will concussions ever be completely eradicated from the game of football?  No, that would be impossible to do and one of the risks that you take when you put on the pads and pursue a career in football.  They’ll always try to find new ways to protect players like the state of the art helmets that continue to evolve that try to reduce the risk of concussions.  But that is only to protect a player from freak incident, not from a player voluntarily using their heads as a weapon against another man’s head.

That is why Bounty-Gate was so appalling from the outset.  In the age of concussions and the studies that show a direct link to problems after football and excessive head trauma here is this buffoon Gregg Williams who, in 2011, was still openly advocating the savage actions that have crippled the lives of many ex-NFL players.  I’m sure it’s gone on elsewhere but at this point in time, with all of the scientific information that’s been uncovered in recent years, Williams’ willingness to continue the stone aged practice seems almost criminal.  Unfortunately the Bountygate scandal has become just another prop in a story – NFLPA vrs. NFL, former players vrs. current players, former players vrs. the NFL, etc.  Early in the day on Wednesday after the suspensions for the Saints players were handed down I saw many former NFL players go on TV and on Twitter and complain about the punishments, feeling they were excessive.  They complained that bounties have been around forever and it shouldn’t be so much of a big deal now.  What they need to realize is 30, 20, even 10 years ago we didn’t have the knowledge that we do now.  We didn’t know the long term damage the head trauma that was inflicted on so many football players would cause.  That’s what makes it worse.  They knew and continued to do it anyway.

Vilma needs to realize that he is part of the problem and accept his role in the solution

When the sad news of Junior Seau’s suicide came out later in the day I thought to myself “Boy, these guys would have nerve to fight these suspensions at this point”.  Not several hours later was Saints linebacker and bounty ring leader Jonathan Vilma taking to Twitter to pronounce, in all capital letters, that he will fight this supposed injustice.  He claims that the NFL did not even talk to him prior to doling out the punishment however NFL.com’s Steve Wyche reported today that Vilma backed out of a meeting that he had set up with the NFL at the advice of his legal counsel (big surprise there).  The only player to cooperate with the NFL is former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove who acknowledged the bounty program, his role in it, and accepted his punishment.  Now, even in the light of Seau’s suicide, Vilma still tries to paint himself as the victim in the situation which to me is rather pathetic.

What may be even more pathetic and what is ironically sad about the whole thing is that the head traumas seem to affect the head hunters more so than the head huntees.  Many of the former players who have been the victims of these post-traumatic brain issues have been defensive backs and, like Vilma, linebackers.  Junior Seau, Andre Waters, Dave Duerson were all defensive players who took their lives too soon.  It’s something that can’t be ignored.  Running backs, wide receivers, even tight ends by and large haven’t had these problems after they’ve left the game, at least not at the same rate as DBs and LBs.  It’s likely due to the fact that those guys went out of their way to avoid head contact while the defensive players led with their head, even if they are not aiming for the other players’ head directly.  They’ll jump head-first into a pile or at a players’ knee or hip.  The sad death of Seau and the others along with the firm punishments of those involved in the Bounty scandal should serve as a warning to future generations.  Also fans who crow about the “No Fun League” and say the NFL is becoming like flag football should heed the same warning.  Smarten up.  Losing a life should never be collateral damage to a game.  Anyone who thinks otherwise, well, they need to have their heads checked.

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Random NFL Musings – Post Week 3 edition

A few random thoughts while the NFL starts preparations for the Week 4 match-ups.

  • One of the biggest stories so far this year, obviously, is the rise of the Detroit Lions.  Calvin Johnson may be the best player in the NFL right now.  Matthew Stafford is looking like the #1 overall pick, he just needs to stay healthy.  The sad part is they still may be the third best team in their division.  Green Bay looks to be on a mission to repeat and Chicago has had a brutal starting schedule (ATL, NO, GB) but always plays tough through the winter.
  • Just thinking out loud but doesn’t it make sense for Tony Sparano to return to Dallas after his inevitable firing and help out old pal Jason Garrett with that young and inexperienced offensive line?
  • Philadelphia needs to figure things out and figure things out quickly.  They received a break when they found out that Michael Vick didn’t break his hand but can he stay in the lineup?
  • What the hell is going on in Minnesota?  Three games, three blown leads.  Donovan McNabb looks spent.  Adrian Peterson is becoming Barry Sanders.  Not in the good way.
  • Wade Phillips got a lot of hype for going to Houston, and I acknowledge that he is a great Defensive Coordinator, but people still underrate the troubles moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4.  Things looked great the first two weeks but what must be discouraging about this week’s lose to the Saints is that their defense choked late, and with a lead, like they have so many times in the Schaub/Johnson era.
  • Darren McFadden has officially taken over the role of “Best player in the NFL who never gets mentioned in the conversation of best player in the NFL.”  The guy is averaging 6.4 yards a carry.  The Raiders are pretty good.
  • After the Bills broke the streak of 15 losses in a row against the Patriots in the regular season this past Sunday not only do they now hold the longest regular season winning streak against another team, but they put it on the line right away when they face the Bengals this weekend looking for win #11 in a row against them.
  • Kenny Britt is a rather big blow to the Titans who have surprised at 2-1.  Someone has got to step up and take that division though.  It will come down to Tennessee and Houston…who would have thought that at the beginning of the year?
  • Monday night’s game was as sloppy as you could get for an NFL game.  Are those two teams good, bad, or average?  At least Washington stayed true to their word that they would beat up on Tony Romo.

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