Insightful Biography of Pete Rozelle

51IPLozaTfL__SX346_BO1,204,203,200_Pete Rozelle as the Commissioner of the National Football League is an iconic figure and the epitome of what a sports commissioner should be.  He had multiple sides to his personality. He was a hard edged fighter with compassion.  He had a love for the game, compassion and empathy for owners and players, and managed to keep the billionaire club of NFL owners in check.

This biography of Pete Rozelle does an outstanding job of chronicling his life, with most of its focus on his traits that made him an outstanding NFL commissioner.  Despite being a compromise candidate for Commissioner, he seemed born for the job and was literally was the bridge to the modern NFL.

One of his biggest accomplishments was recognizing the importance of public relations and he used his skills in that area to lift the NFL from the shadow of college football and half empty stadiums to become America’s favorite sport.  He cleverly recognized the extreme importance that television would become not just for exposure for the game but revenue as well.  Even more important was developing the profit sharing model where all teams would get an equal share of the revenue to ensure some degree of competitive balance across teams.

He also faced many intricate controversies which he managed mostly well.  The NFL suffered a great deal of labor unrest and despite some difficulties in that area he laid the groundwork for what has been, until now, a long period of labor peace with the NFLPA.  He worked diligently in the merger of the NFL with the AFL which created a vibrant professional football league, but later staved off the upstart USFL.  His greatest nemesis was Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, who constantly sued the league, including winning the right to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles.  Layer on the drug scandals of the 1980’s one can argue he navigated the NFL through some of its toughest times.

Rozelle’s legacy ultimately is his successfully moving the NFL into the limelight eclipsing all other American sports in popularity, especially leveraging the exposure and revenue generated by television.

This biography is well written and organized and its brevity and economy of words is refreshing.  Anyone interested in the history of the NFL should certainly read this biography.

Rozelle: A Biography

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2012 NFL Season: Week One Observations

Before launching into the games I watched a few comments on some major themes at the start of the season.

Replacement Referees: Granted watching on television you can’t see everything that goes on on the field but so far I think the replacement refs are doing okay. Granted there are some glitches but that is to be expected with officials with no NFL experience and probably have not worked together before. The blown reversed holding call on Green Bay’s punt return for touchdown is a good example of where one official was probably looking at one set of players where there was no holding/block in the back but the call was actually on another set of players. Thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. And I’ve seen regular officials make the same mistakes. It’s just magnified in this situation.

RG III and Andrew Luck: Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck will be tied at the hip for the rest of their lives. Not just their NFL careers, but their lives. I continue to see stories about the bust Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning, much to Leaf’s deteriment. These two will share the same experience. So far so good but if one game is any indiacation RG III came out of the gate with a small grasp on Rookie of the Year after his performance against the New Orleans Saints. He was phenomenal. He reminds me of a MATURE version of Michael Vick as a rookie, which should be very scary for NFC East foes. I was stunningly impressed. Okay, it’s one game I am not putting him in the Hall of Fame yet but everything points to him being the real deal, including, shall I say it again? His maturity. I did not see Andrew Luck but the Redskins putting it to a discombobulated Saints team was kind of fun to watch.

Super Bowl XLVII: No comment.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Tennessee Titans, 34-13

Are we going to have some kind of defense this year? Please? After this game, despite some shakiness, the defense looked rather improved from the debacle of last year. We STUFFED the run but at times struggled in pass coverage. But that has been a league wide trend this week so I am not overly worried about that.

I was really pleased to see a running game develop with Stevan Ridley but I am a bit worried about our depth at that position. I am MORE WORRIED about Nate Solder’s ability at left tackle. He missed or was late on too many blocks and he let Cameron Wimbley get a shot on Brady from behind that bloodied him up. We will miss the reliable Matt Light at left tackle this year. I pray that Solder steps it up.

The offense seemed decent but a bit shakey. Brandon Lloyd really had extremely poor technique in missing an easy touchdown bomb from Brady and there were a few other uncharacteristic drops as well. But overall we moved the ball well and finally got a little running game going.

While this was a team win with now true standouts, my MVP has to go to Ridley for making believe we might be able to run sometimes this year.

MVP: Stevan Ridley, RB


Dallas Cowboys over New York Giants, 24-17

Dallas put on a surprise showing for most in this game although I really was not that surprised by the outcome. Dallas defense was much improved over its inconsistent performance from last year and wide receiver Kevin Ogletree kind of came out of nowhere to be a force on offense. Overall it was a very efficient game for the Cowboys with mostly decent offensive line play, although the Giants Jason Pierre-Paul still looks to be the best defensive lineman in the league, and a solid running game. But really the key to the game was Tony Romo’s mobility. He was harassed often but used his feet to extend plays.

The second major factor in the game was the Giants defense was clearly sucking wind late in the third quarter and really didn’t do much to stop Dallas’s offense.

It will be interesting to see how these teams progress as the season wears on. The Giants always seem to start slow then finish strong, and Dallas has a habit of collapsing.

MVP: Kevin Ogletree, WR

San Francisco 49’ers over Green Bay Packers, 30-22

Solid defense, a decent running game, and a few big plays still equals a win in today’s NFL. And that is what the 49’ers brought to the table I this game. I keep wondering when Frank Gore will suddenly get old but he looked solid today. And the much maligned Alex Smith was hitting on his passes and even the mecruial Randy Moss got himself a touchdown pass.

The defense for the 49’ers was very solid and impressive.

Green Bay suddenly doesn’t look like the hot team everyone favors for a Super Bowl run. And frankly their defense looked pretty ragged and their running game non-existent. If they hope to the big game again, they probably are going through San Francisco (or maybe Atlanta)?

MVP: Frank Gore, RB

Denver Bronco over Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19

Denver already had a solid defense. Now they have Payton Manning, who makes any offensive automatically better. They schooled the Steelers whose defense is growing ancient before our eyes and their offense was anemic at best. The Broncos defensive backs really shut down the Steelers recievers and I thought Tracy Porter was the best player on the field other than Manning.

The other thing that stood out to me in this game is Willis McGahee. I mean this guy is old and washed up right? I’ve never seen him play better.

After this performance the Broncos, so far, look like a force to be reckoned with. And despite the offense clicking, I thought the defense was even better!

MVP: Tracy Porter, CB

Baltimore Ravens over Cincinnati Bengals, 44-13

If you asked me right now who the best team in the NFL is it would have to be the Baltimore Ravens. Flacco played as good a game at quarterback as I have ever seen him play. He was poised, made great decisions and seemed much more calm in the pocket that is his norm. Ray Rice was running well, Torrey Smith had a few big plays, and Michael Oher at left tackle seemed to be getting off the ball faster and be more comfortable on that side of the line that he as been in the past.

And the never aging Ray Lewis? Are you kidding me? And Ed Reed (who keeps getting hurt but so what?). It’s week one but this team was clicking on all cylinders.

MVP: Joe Flacco, QB

San Diego Chargers over Oakland Raiders, 22-14

This was a very painful game to watch at times. The Raiders early on in the game constantly kept shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties. And then by now everyone probably knows of the fiascos in the punting game that occurred after the regular long snapper went down with an injury. I don’t think I have ever seen three botched punt attempts in one game. Two, yes. Three? Never that I can recall. And those were as good as turnovers. But the Raiders defense hung as tough as they could throughout the game. A big shout out to former Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour who had a great game in a losing cause.

I do have to say, without any vulgar references, what does Trent Dilfer have for Philip Rivers? For the past few years, hearing Dilfer talk, you’d think Rivers walks on water. Trent Dilfer is the most idiotic, worthless, know nothing announcer in the game today. I got sick of hearing him blather on senselessly throughout the game.

But back to the game! If San Diego barely escapes winning a game with a mistake prone Raiders, and Kansas City can’t do much more than they did against Atlanta, then those three teams are probably just conceding the division the Payton Manning lead Denver Broncos in the AFC West.

MVP: Antonie Cason, CB


Washington Redskins over New Orleans Saints, 40-32

Robert Griffin III had the best rookie quarterback debut I can ever remember. He really reminds me of a much, much, much more mature version of Michael Vick. He was poised in the pocket, has a rocket arm, and for the most part made good decisions. Across the board the Redskins looked better in this game than I have seen in a long, long time. The offensive line, a big question mark coming into the season, played mostly very well with a few glitches. Left tackle Trent Williams played well, of course against a rust Will Smith, and out of nowhere for most Alfred Morris, the sixth round draft pick from Florida Atlantic showed why he is the starting running back.

The Saints, meanwhile, looked as discombobulated, mistake prone, and had scads of penalties which fueled the should have been blowhout. While one can see how explosive this offense can be, this game would not have been nearly as close had it not been for a blocked punt and poor calls by the referees.

After bounty gate I am glad to see the Saints get there cumuppance. And while I am not, by far, any kind of fan of the Redskins, they suddenly look intriguting.

MVP: Robert Griffin III, QB

 

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Defensive Player: Tracy Porter, CB, Denver Broncos
Offensive Lineman: Manny Ramirez, G, Denver Broncos
Special Teams: David Akers, K, San Francisco 49’ers (Tie NFL record with 63 yard field goal)
Rookie of the Week: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

Review of Tales from the Patriots Sidelines

14681039Tales from the Patriots Sideline by Michael Felger
Review by C. Douglas Baker

Michael Felger provides a mini-history of the New England Patriots through a series of chapters, ordered mostly chronologically, that details many of the woes, and a few of the highlights, of this historically inept team. Being a Patriots fan, this was a very nostalgic book. Unfortunately, many of the memories are bad ones. While this is not an in-depth detailed team history, Felger hits all the key events. The book is organized into a series of very readable chapters that cover many of the laughable and the few laudable stories in the team’s history.

There is a very consistent theme that runs throughout the book. The New England Patriots have historically been a comically bad team, primarily because of four interrelated aspects —cash strapped or inept ownership, poor organizational structure, poor coaching, and poor quarterbacks. The recent success of the team, on the other hand, is a result of the opposite—excellent ownership, excellent organizational structure, excellent coaching, and a good quarterback.

The first couple of chapters in the book cover the team’s founding and early history as the Sullivans struggled to field competitive teams. It’s a wonder the team didn’t fold within the first few years of its existence. William Sullivan bought the Patriots franchise in 1959, joining the new American Football League, which competed, unevenly, with the well-established National Football League.

From its inception the organization was very cash strapped, which at times lead to tragi-comic episodes of penny pinching. One story related in the book is how the team was told not to get under the covers at a hotel where they were resting before a game because it would cost extra money. Moreover, they played in poor stadiums and eventually their home stadium was one of the more miserly in the league. Sullivan isn’t viewed as necessarily a terrible owner, he just never had the cash to compete evenly with other teams.

In fact, under the Sullivans, the team eventually became one of the better teams in the NFL. Unfortunately, Sullivan’s son Pat, through a terrible investment, ran the family’s business into the ground, forcing the family to sell the Patriots. The team went through some very lousy owners until it was eventually bought by current owner Robert Kraft, who has resurrected the franchise into a model sports organization.

The book moves quickly to what may have been the best Patriots team ever—even better than the Super Bowl winning teams—the 1976 New England Patriots. This team certainly featured some of the best individual players in team history, including Hall of Fame guard John Hannah, Sam “Bam” Cunningham at tailback, Leon Gray (T), Russ Francis (TE), Hall of Fame cornerback Michael Haynes, Steve Nelson (LB), Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton (DE), and of course QB Steve Grogan.

This is the team that should have won the Super Bowl but for an egregiously bad roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton in their first round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders during the 1977 playoffs. This game and that penalty will live in infamy for New England fans. We got our payback in 2001.

There are also a lot of players profiled in the book. Entire chapters are devoted to Darryl Stingley, who was tragically paralyzed in a preseason game on a hit by Jack Tatum in 1978, and John Hannah, considered by some to be the best offensive lineman in NFL history.

Of course throughout the book we meet numerous players from Gino Cappelletti in the 1960’s to Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots long-time quarterback now with the Buffalo Bills. A chapter toward the end of the book is devoted to the primary quarterbacks through New England’s history: Jim Plunkett, Steve Grogan, Tony Eason, and Drew Bledsoe.

Later chapters discuss the revitalized New England Patriots of the 1980’s. This is a team that underachieved when it had good talent and overachieved when it reached Super Bowl XX as a Wild Card team after the 1985 season. Unfortunately, they went on to be crushed by the Chicago Bears in that Super Bowl in a painful game to watch for Patriots fans.

The team eventually imploded—accusations of drug use tore apart the locker room and coach Raymond Berry soon departed, the Sullivan’s eventually sold the team and it went through a period of horrible owners, coaches, and mismanagement. On top of that, there were several incidents of poor behavior by the players, topped off by the sexual harassment of Lisa Olson, a Boston Herald sports reporter, in 1990. This is a period of time when I was embarrassed to be a New England Patriots fan.

And finally there is a chapter on the Kraft Era—which shows how Kraft bought the team and struggled a bit to learn how to be an owner. The first few years of ownership were a learning period that eventually led to the hiring of Bill Belichick and the establishment of a solid organization that gives the coaches and players the best chance to win.

It took some time for Kraft to find his legs, but he did it. And the reward: a two-time Super Bowl champion team as of this writing and a successful structure that should allow the Patriots to be a top-tier competitive team for years to come.

There are two drawbacks to this book. First, it basically stops after the 1996 season and treats the Super Bowl winning teams in a postscript. Felger could have taken more time to round out the story through at least the first Super Bowl winning team in 2002 (the 2001 season). Secondly, there really isn’t anything completely new here.

Most Patriots fans will be already aware of nearly all the stories and events described in this book. Nevertheless, there are personal touches with commentary and perspectives from players throughout the team’s history and it’s well organized and written.

Overall I would highly recommend this book for Patriots fans. Very avid football fans would probably find it interesting. It’s a fast read. Casual football fans I doubt would find anything compelling here.

Tales from the Patriots Sideline

Doug Baker’s 2008 NFL All Pro Team: Defense

The season is almost over and I am going to present my NFL All-Pro Team.

In this article I am presenting the starting defense, punter, kick returner, and the defensive player of the year.

The players are listed in order of selection. For example, Justin Tuck and John Abraham are first team all pro, while Jared Allen and Julius Peppers are second team.

Given that most teams run a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, I am picking four defensive linemen and four linebackers, so I have a 12 man team on defense. For linebackers I don’t pick inside and outside linebackers, I just pick the best linebackers in the league regardless where they play in their respective defensive schemes.

2008 ALL PRO TEAM DEFENSE

DE: Justin Tuck, New York Giants
DE: John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons
DE: Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
DE: Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers

I think Justin Tuck is the best defensive lineman in the league. He is definitely the toughest to block one-on-one. He can also play effectively at either end or tackle.

John Abraham has had a great year in Atlanta and lead the league in sacks for much of the season.

You have to love the motor Jared Allen has on defense. He is relentless whether he is rushing the passer or playing the run. Like Justin Tuck, Allen is a defensive lineman that can sometimes take the game over on defense.

The last spot came down to Julius Peppers and Mario Williams of the Houston Texans. I lean just slightly toward Peppers because he has come on late in the season to carry the Panthers defense along with linebacker Jon Beason.

Even though Mario Williams didn’t make the team, he is proving that the first pick in the draft Houston used on him wasn’t such a bad move after all.

DT: Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans
DT: Kris Jenkins, New York Jets
DT: Shaun Rogers, Cleveland Browns
DT: Jamal Williams, San Diego Chargers

Albert Haynesworth and Kris Jenkins are both defensive player of the year candidates and dominate the line of scrimmage from the tackle position. They are clearly the two best tackles in the league.

Kris Jenkins, in some ways, has had a more impressive year than Albert Haynesworth because he doesn’t have the same level of talent around him.

Shaun Rogers usually dominates the line of scrimmage in the first half of games. I have seen him completely manhandle centers in games and, despite his huge size, he may be the fastest defensive tackle off the ball in the NFL. His weakness is he gets tired and fades in the second half.

Jamal Williams has been one of the most consistent defense tackles in the league on a less than stellar defense. He should have made the Pro Bowl.

Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens deserves an honorable mention for a spot on this definitive All Pro team.

LB: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB: DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
LB: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
LB: Joey Porter, Miami Dolphins

LB: Antonio Pierce, New York Giants
LB: LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB: Lance Briggs, Chicago Bears
LB: Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers

James Harrison is the most dominate linebacker in the league this year. He is a one man wrecking crew and makes the entire defense better.

DeMarcus Ware has really come on late in the season to lead the league with 20 sacks. The past several weeks he has torn up opposing offensive lineman and catapulted himself into the discussion of defensive player of the year.

Ray Lewis has found the fountain of youth this year and is back to being the dominant middle linebacker we are used to seeing roam the field for the Ravens. He is the seminal middle linebacker of his generation, just like Mike Singletary was of his.

Joey Porter is a jerk and I blanch at having to put him on this list, but alas I must. He has had a great year in the reformulated Dolphins defense and is back to trash talking and backing it up by smacking around the opposing offensive players.

I am surprised Antonio Pierce did not make the Pro Bowl. While he benefits from having a great defensive line in front of him, he plays the run and the pass equally well and is vital to the success of the Giants defense, especially given their weak secondary.

LaMarr Woodley has been the Robin to James Harrison’s Batman in Pittsburgh. Woodley anchors the opposite side of the line and takes advantage of the attention the offense has to give to stopping Harrison and Troy Polamalu.

Lance Briggs, in many respects, has taken over the mantle of best defensive player on the Bears’ team. His outside pass rushing skills are superlative and he plays well against the run too.

Jon Beason is one of the best young linebackers in the league and I expect him to become a dominant one in the near future. He’s smart and tends to be in the right place at the right time on most plays.

Patrick Willis of San Francisco and DeMarco Ryans of Houston got jobbed out of spots on my team but deserve mentions for their outstanding play this year.

SS: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
SS: Adrian Wilson, Arizona Cardinals

Troy Polamalu is head and shoulders above any other strong safety in the league. He has an unbelievable nose for the ball and has made some of the most spectacular interceptions I’ve ever seen. He’s the complete package, playing the run and pass equally well. And he’s one of the smartest defensive players in the league. He has impeccable timing on blitzes and seems to always be in on every play.

Adrian Wilson has been a consistently good strong safety for the past several years. He also has a good nose for the football and is a tough tackler.

FS: Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
FS: Nick Collins, Green Bay Packers

What can you say about Ed Reed that hasn’t already been said? The guy is a ball hawk and is the best free safety I’ve seen since Ronnie Lott and Charles Woodson. He is a phenomenal, dynamic player.

Nick Collins has had a great year for the Packers playing both the pass and run. Given the weakness of the defensive line, the secondary was put in tough spots all year long and for most part came through.

CB: Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders
CB: Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
CB: Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans

Antoine Winfield is an underrated cornerback even though he made the Pro Bowl. He is the best cornerback in the league playing the run and making tackles, and as the season wore on was not thrown against too often. I’ve seen him take over a few games, particularly the wild shootout the Vikings had against the Saints this year. He is one of my defensive player of the year candidates.

Nnamdi Asomugha is probably the best cover corner in the league. It’s too bad he plays on the terrible team.

Charles Woodson is one of the anchors of a Packers secondary that showed a penchant for producing turnovers and keeping Green Bay in games that otherwise might have gotten out of hand. He is getting a little older for the cornerback position but is still one of the best in the league when healthy.

Cortland Finnegan is a fiery young corner that is brave against the run and somewhat of a ball hawk when he sees it coming his way. He could develop into a perennial pro bowler at this position.

P: Mike Scifres, San Diego Chargers

In the games I have seen, Scifres punts have made the most difference in his team’s chances of winning. The unusual spin he has on the ball makes the return game a bit hard for opposing teams and he has a great punting average.

KR: Leon Washington, New York Jets

I have seen Leon Washington singlehandedly turn games around with his kickoff and punt returns. He’s been a real difference maker this year as a kick returner and third down back.


DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:  James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Harrison is the best linebacker in the league and makes the whole corps of good linebackers in Pittsburgh even better. He’s been a beast this year and has blown up some excellent offenses.

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