Monday, January 31, 2011

Sittin' in the Principal's Office

When I was in elementary, it was common to see my classmates wearing the jerseys of Montana, Bradshaw, McMahon, and Elway. My favorite team has been the Packers, and while I didn't wear the jersey of any of my favorite in green and gold, I did support my team with a sweater with a Packer patch that matched my stocking hat with a gold ball at the top. Aside from the fact that my parents didn't want to buy me an expensive jersey, there weren't many "marketable" players playing for Green Bay. But that changed once I was graduated from college. Finally the Packers had someone worthy of my buying that jersey - Brett Favre.
I didn't wear the jersey often, but I had the one of my favorite player on my favorite team. He played the game with the enthusiasm I expect my favorite Packer to play with, and he was the same age as me. How could it get any better? I endured the pain killer experience and supported him, and I took his side early in the Ted Thompson saga. But the one player I idolized finally ended up letting me down.

At the end of his career his left Green Bay for New York, which was just a way to get to division-rival Minnesota. Once he left the countryside of Wisconsin, the bright lights of the big city began to bring different changes to the small-town quarterback. Stories are coming forth now of lewd texts and pictures being sent to female employees of the teams. Not the image I want of the player I idolized for nearly twenty years.

Charles Barkley did a commercial for Nike in the 90s claiming he isn't a role model, but parents should be the role model. There was a bit of controversy surrounding this ad. How could a famous athlete claim he isn't a role model, or more likely, how can an athlete not take on this responsibility? But as time passes, Barkley is so right. Parents shouldn't let their son or daughter idolize their favorite athlete, actor, or other famous person.

In the sports world, there are few athletes who will not eventually disappoint in their career. That isn't a knock against the person, but  honestly pointing out that few are able to handle the power and arrogance that is created by fame. There is a sense of invulnerability and it takes a special person to do deal with it.

My son hasn't chosen he favorite team in sport, nor has he picked an athlete that his favorite for what he or she does on the field. I did buy him a Favre jersey when he was still playing with Green Bay, but that jersey is deep in the closet now. I want him to be a fan of a team, where the players will come and go, but I don't want him to idolize a player, because he will eventually be disappointed.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shoot Out In Cedar Rapids

There are exciting moments in sport. The minute and a half of the Kentucky Derby, the last lap at Daytona, bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of a championship series, or the final drive in a Super Bowl are all moments in sport that provide much drama. Tonight in Cedar Rapids the Cedar Rapids Roughriders needed extra time to take the victory as they outscored the Dubuque Saints, 3 - 2 in a shoot out to decide the game after a scoreless overtime. It wasn't game 7, but the Cedar Rapids crowd thoroughly enjoyed the win as if it was.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Super Bowl XLV

The Conference Championship games are over and the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Green Bay Packers for the title of World Champions for the 2010 NFL Season. It will be a match-up of two of the more storied franchises in professional football. The Steelers have six World Championships, all coming in the Super Bowl era. The majority of those titles were earned under Chuck Knoll in the 1970s. The "Steel Curtain" was the name for one of the toughest defenses in the history of the game. The most recent of championships came in 2005 and 2008, each with Ben Roethlisberger leading the team at quarterback.

The Green Bay Packers were in existence a year earlier than the NFL. The team is located in the smallest television market and is owned by the citizens of the city. In 1997 the team opened up the stocks to all of their fans for $200 a piece. It is the only major league franchise operated in this way. Green Bay has a record 12 World Championships including three Super Bowl victories. The Packers enter Super Bowl XLV after taking the NFC Conference Championship from long-time rival, the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

This year's title game will be played for the first time at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. A crowd of 105,000 is expected on February 6th.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bear Down, Chicago Bears

Pro Football has its own traditions, but nearly not as many as college. Found at every college game is the school's fight song. While the Green Bay Packers are known as the closest atmosphere to college football in the NFL, the green and gold lack a fight song. However their long time rival claims to have their own fight song known as "Bear Down, Chicago Bears." It is played following all scores, including safeties. Luckily I only had to hear it twice in the Bears' defeat.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NFC Championship National Anthem

Growing up a Cubs fan we had the pleasure to listen to longtime PA Announcer Wayne Messmer perform the National Anthem at Wrigley Field. His deep voice would resonate throughout the Friendly Confines, and at times would be joined by his wife. At the United Center, fans of the Chicago Blackhawks are able to listen to another deep voice, Jim Cornelison belt out the anthem in the midst of 18,000 cheering fans. For two playoff games the Chicago Bears were treated to the tradition created on Madison Avenue and had Cornelison perform his memorable rendition. At the NFC Championship game Cornelison had it followed by a U.S. Air Force flyover as seen above.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jay Cutler

I am one who has never been a fan of Chicago Bear quarterback, Jay Cutler. My dislike for him began as a fantasy owner. He was my starting qb, yet with great promise his point total was always disappointing. Then in his final year with the Denver Broncos, he led his team to an 8-4 start, needing only one win to secure a playoff spot. However they dropped their last four and remained out of the play off hunt allowing San Diego entrance into the NFL post-season exclusive club.

But the heat he has received from the fans since being benched for injury in the NFC Championship game has been unfair.

Many experts believed for the Bears to win, they needed to run the ball. But facing one of the most difficult defenses in the NFL, the Bears running back Matt Forte only had seventeen carries. This forced Cutler to make plays he wasn't comfortable doing. Having the advantage of being at the game, I'm not sure television was able to convey how uneasy Cutler was at the line and in the pocket. The Packers were changing their looks on defense at the line causing Cutler problems of trying to call the right audible at the line of scrimmage. Once in the pocket, Cutler was unable to avoid the pressure as his counterpart on the Green Bay side of the ball was doing. Before his injury and after, Cutler was never in a comfort zone.

Then following the game, the Twitter universe lit up the Chicago QB. Many other NFL players were questioning his heart and commitment to the Bears in the playoffs. Some players called him a "quitter" and criticized him for not playing through the pain. Worse yet, the Bears organization claimed him to be questionable, but after the game Bears head coach, Lovie Smith declared he was definitely out.

What I felt was unfortunate is how the fraternity of football players did not stick up for one of their own. Teammate Brian Urlacker stated his support for the tough QB as well as other teammates. But those around the league stepped up and questioned his attitude and wondered why a guy, who was labled as questionable, couldn't come back in the biggest game of the 2010 season. Lovie and the doctors had to make a decision on what is best for the Chicago Bears as well as Jay Cutler, and that was to keep him out. Cutler may not have exhibited the facial features that many were looking for or the involvement with the team that many expected, but that doesn't make him a team player. Honestly, have you seen any qb be that closely involved with the offensive guru, Mike Martz.

I'll continue to be one of Cutler's biggest critics, but I can't criticize him for this. His mobility was already poor, his effectiveness was lacking and the offense may have needed a little jolt from someone different to stay in the game with the Packers. The Bears need to concentrate on getting the offense some help while taking some of the pressure off Cutler to make plays.

NFC Championship Game

 Two teams who have met each other on the field 128 times played for the first time in the post-season since 1941. The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears have the longest running rivalry of any team in professional football, and the 129th meeting decided who would win the Halas Trophy (named after the one-time owner and coach of the Chicago Bears) and the right to play for the Lombardi Trophy (named for the head coach of the Green Bay Packers who won Super Bowls I & II). The road to Dallas and Super Bowl XLV went through Chicago's Soldier Field.
The weather in Chicago was typical for January. Lake effect snow greeted the early tailgaters, but the sun came out with clear skies and temperatures in the upper teens. Not only was the stadium's field prepared for the last game of the 2010 season, but sand and salt was sprinkled throughout the stands for fans. With this being the biggest game of the NFC schedule, the NFL on Fox crew took their show on the road. Personalities such as Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson went live from Chicago an hour prior to kick off.
Aside from the rivalry of these two teams and their fan bases, the game featured one of the hottest offenses in the league taking on one of the leagues toughest defenses. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers a week before in a rout of the #1 seed Atlanta Falcons. However that game was inside, on turf and under controlled conditions. This week the defense was better than Atlanta's and the field conditions were questionable. The opening kick off provided some slipping and sliding and perhaps a pre-cursor to how the game would be played. The Chicago defense stepped up in the first meeting of the year by creating a turnover leading the winning touchdown. The second meeting in Green Bay was a defensive battle with the Packers taking the win allowing them this play-off run. These two units were definitely their respective strengths.
After an opening drive which culminated in a Rodgers keeper for seven, the Packers were also able to score seven more prior to the halftime break. Chicago's offense was sputtering with poor field position and struggled moving the ball. Bears' starting QB Jay Cutler, hurt himself in the second quarter and tried to make a go of it, but had to sit on the sidelines. After Michigan alum Todd Collins failed miserably, Chicago head coach, Lovie Smith turned to Colorado State alum, Caleb Hanie. Hanie provided a spark absent from the Bears all day and drove them on their first scoring drive of the day. However Hanie turned the ball over on an interception to B.J. Raji in the fourth quarter resulting in a touchdown. But the Bears rallied around their third-year QB. With Packer fans beginning to feel the Super Bowl with a 14 point lead with under ten minutes to go in the 4th qtr, Hanie led them on another drive cutting the deficit to 7.
The Packers were unable to seal the victory and gave the ball back to Chicago for one last opportunity to tie the game. But on the final drive, Hanie threw the ball to a Packer with less than a minute to go, giving the Packers the win, the trip to Dallas, and most importantly the Halas trophy. Due to an agreement between both teams, the Packers departed the Soldier Field sod for the warm locker room and the presentation of the Halas Trophy.
Packer fans were not ready to leave. Many stuck around waiting for the players to return. But the patience of the Green Bay fans were waning and they began to head to downtown bars to celebrate their first time to the Super Bowl under GM Ted Thompson. The Packers sealed up the first slot of the Super Bowl pairing, and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the second. The game will be played at Cowboys Stadium on February 6th with the view to the Texas skies closed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


 For the past three days, coaches and their staffs have descended upon Dallas, Texas for the annual American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) convention.Six surrounding hotels to the Hilton Anatole were filled with coaches of all levels of football, and with the convention appearing in Texas, the largest amount of High School coaches make an appearance. Aside from the important networking opportunity for young, hard-working coaches, the four day gathering allows for all in the profession to learn more about the game from some of the nation's best as well as walk the vendor floor as companies stack up to promote their products.
Above is the reception room for the AMFCWA meant for wives of the coaches.  The American Football CoachesWomen's Association provides an opportunity for the better half of many head coaches the chance to mingles.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Form of College Football Playoff

These Buckeye fans were lost roaming the streets of Tempe last week
The Ohio State University Buckeyes hung on to finally beat the Arkansas Razorback in last night's Sugar Bowl. 2010 wasn't a proud year for the Big Ten in the post-season bowl picture. Only Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State were victorious as the other five conference schools went down in defeat.

For years many in the national media have asked for a play off. I prefer the current bowl structure. Grant it there may be too many bowls and the season lasts too long, but the bowl structure has much merit. For example, the Iowa Hawkeyes finished their regular season with three defeats, yet earned the opportunity to play #12 Missouri in the Insight Bowl. This extra game allowed the Iowa staff extra practices used to help prepare their non-starters. The extra game allowed players a chance to enjoy the benefits that come with a bowl game - a week in warm, sunny Arizona, treated like a King by the people of the Insight Bowl and given an extra benefit in gifts that the student-athlete isn't allowed due to NCAA rules. The extra bowl period gives fans of the schools a chance to escape their cold-weather home for a vacation that they may not otherwise budget for, which in turn provides the bowl-city economy a boost. Ask the staff of the Insight, who are also overseeing the Fiesta and National Championship, if this is a burden to them and I think they would highly disagree. In the end the Hawkeyes were able to end their season with a little redemption allowing them to feel good about themselves in the off-season.

But the current BCS system doesn't necessarily work either. There are merits, but the argument is that it places the best two teams together to play for the title while placing teams in bowls for good televised match-ups. But I believe there is a way to keep the current bowl system, yet institute a basic playoff to help determine the national champion. To do this the following needs to occur:
  1. Either revert back to an 11 game schedule or start the 12 game schedule a week earlier
  2. Play conference championships on Thanksgiving weekend allowing for the first week of playoffs to be the first Saturday of December.
This would be an eight-team format incorporating the BCS conference winners as well as two at-large. The at-large teams may be non-AQ / Independent teams if they finish in the top 8 or the highest ranked teams who aren't conference champs  Those who do not qualify for the playoff can be seeded into their conference sequence of bowls. Using the BCS standings the teams would be seeded:
  1. Oregon (Pac 10 Champion)
  2. Auburn (SEC Champion)
  3. TCU (non-AQ)
  4. Wisconsin (Big Ten Champion)
  5. Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
  6. Stanford (At-Large)
  7. Virginia Tech (ACC Champion)
  8. UConn (Big East Champion)
First-round played on the first Saturday of December would be Oregon-UConn / Wisconsin-Oklahoma / Auburn-Virginia Tech / Stanford-TCU. In this bracket the winners would play the following Saturday and the final played shortly after the first of the year. As teams fall they would then fall to their respective bowl game (example Wisconsin goes to Rose, Virginia Tech to Orange, etc.). The championship game would rotate as it does in the current system and the bowls would receive their respective conference representatives as they do now (second place Big Ten to Cap One, etc.)

I'm sure there are some flaws to this system. As we know there isn't anything perfect when it comes to college football, but our current set-up has its issues and can be improved.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ron Franklin Out at ESPN

Today ESPN's Ron Franklin was relieved of his duties with the network following some disparaging remarks directed towards his sideline reporter, Jeannine Edwards. The comments were made within a meeting with other ESPN personnel while waiting on Florida State Head Coach, Jimbo Fisher. This wasn't the first time Franklin expressed comments towards a female sideline reporter. In 2005, Franklin had also insulted sideline reporter Holly Rowe on air late in a Notre Dame blowout of Purdue.

In 2010 Franklin, along with his football analyst of four seasons, Ed Cunningham had the opportunity to broadcast two Iowa Football games for ABC. The first was Iowa State and then later in the season at Michigan. Cunningham had been a friend of the Iowa Football program for years. I believe his first broadcast of an Iowa Football game was at Nebraska in 2000, but we started to get to know him in 2001 when he and Sean McDonough traveled to Iowa City for the Hawkeye's game with Michigan. That was the beginning of many Hawkeye games, including the 2003 Orange Bowl. Ed has always been first class and supportive of Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and his program.

But 2010 was the first time I had the opportunity to meet Franklin. Knowing of his run-in with Rowe in 2005 I was anticipating the worst. Rowe has also covered the Hawkeyes many times, the first in 1998 with Iowa State. Rowe is always personable, fair, and enjoys being a part of college football as much as we do. But my first meeting with Franklin was not what I was expecting. A humble, appreciative announcer with no arrogance--kind and respective. I thought either this isn't the Franklin I remember or it was an isolated incident. The same respect was there upon our trip to Ann Arbor. I walked into the booth minutes before kick to say hi, and both Ron and Ed expressed their appreciation that I stopped by and wished us luck in the game with the Wolverines.

The news of this past weekend is disappointing and sad. Whether it is Brett Farve or Ron Franklin you want your lasting impression of someone to be good and to exit on their own terms, not being pushed out for the wrong reasons. Franklin apologized for his comments, but the damage had been done. The football season for Ron was basically over, with only a radio commitment for the Fiesta, which he was taken off of. The news came out and Ron is done immediately. The behavior is inexcusable, but along with this incident being remembered, so should his good memories he brought college football fans.