Category Archives: #NFL

HAVE SPORTS VENUES BECOME DISPOSABLE?

As the Atlanta Falcons were putting the finishing touches on their 44-21 route of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, it signaled an end of an “era.”  Yes it brought down the curtain on the Falcons tenure at the Georgia Dome, but can you really call the closing of a venue that opened in 1992 an era?

A few blocks away another so-called era ended at the end of the 2016 baseball season.  Barely 20 years old, Turner Field (f/k/a Atlanta Olympic Stadium) also closed its doors.

Image result for 1996 olympic stadium                                                          Turner Field as it opened for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Sun Trust Park, the Braves new home, will open this April at an estimated cost of $672 million.  It is located in suburban Cobb County.  The Falcons will open next season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.  The price tag for their new diggs, a whopping $1.6 billion!

What has happened to our sports venues?  I applaud the Red Sox for keeping up and modernizing 105 year old Fenway Park.  The same can be said for the Chicago Cubs and soon to be 103 year old Wrigley Field.  In eight years Chicago’s Soldier Field will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and is by far the oldest permanent venue in the NFL.

The recent trend in both baseball and football is to get rid of the old “cookie cutter” design.  The thinking in the 1960s and ’70s was to have baseball and football in the same house.  The result was that the sight lines for both sports were less than ideal.  I understand that the cost of putting on professional games have skyrocketed and competition is fierce, but what happened to venues standing the test of time?

The cookie cutters in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Atlanta all lasted roughly 30 years.  Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis lasted 40 years, New York’s Shea Stadium lasted the longest at 45.

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Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati.  One of three cookie cutter stadiums that opened in the early 1970s and closed 30 years later.

When ballparks were being replaced after thirty years, I thought, what a shame! Their predecessors stood for over 50 years and had so much history!  Why would you replace a venue after only thirty years and not renovate it for at least one sport?

This latest chapter really floors me!  The Georgia Dome and Turner Field are the first venues that replaced a cookie cutter stadium to close their doors.  The Georgia Dome was the first new venue that opened for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  It opened its doors to the Atlanta Falcons in 1992.  The main Olympic Stadium opened for the 1996 Games and became the Atlanta Braves home the following year.  Can someone tell me how facilities that opened in the 1990s have ended their usefulness?  Am I missing something?

How did we get from ballparks lasting 100 years, to them lasting 20?  The Turner Field scenario is just pure greed!  On top of closing a main stage for an Olympics, the city of Atlanta also let the Braves get away!  Honestly, I side with the city on this one.  How does an owner of a franchise have the audacity to come to a civic government after only 20 years and complain they need a new ballpark?  The Falcons are no better!  25 years? really?

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Los Angeles Coliseum, main stadium for both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics.

Let’s put this into perspective, Turner Field lasted 21 years including its Olympic life.  North America also has three other former Olympic Stadiums that are still in use.  The Los Angeles Coliseum, which is home to USC football, and temporarily, the Los Angeles Rams opened its doors in 1923.  The Olympic Stadium in Mexico City opened in 1952 and is still in use.  Olympic Stadium in Montreal which opened in 1976, although it doesn’t have a primary tenant at the moment, is still open.  How do you justify closing Atlanta’s stadium after only 20 years?

Judging by what has gone on in Atlanta, it makes me wonder if Wrigley and Fenway are the last of a dying breed.  How long will the relatively recently opened venues last?

Image result for oriole park at camden yardsOriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.  Home of the Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992 (same year as the Georgia Dome) and remains one of the gold standards in baseball.  Dodger Stadium opened before the cookie cutter age and is still going strong.

Does the closing of Turner Field and the Georgia Dome signal a new era of throw away stadiums?

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AMERICA’S ANNUAL SPORTS EVENT

The calendar has turned to the first Sunday in February.  In the United States of America this Sunday has become an event, a party day.  The National Football League will once again take center stage in America when its conference champions meet to decide an ultimate champion.

This spectacle holds so many memories for all of us.  So many critical moments that have decided a championship, so many memories made on what is perhaps America’s biggest one day stage.

Before unveiling my top five, let’s look back at some general moments.

The biggest moment here in South Florida had to be on January 14, 1973.  The Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to cap the NFL’s only fully undefeated season to date.

Prior to Super Bowl III, which was two years before the AFL-NFL merger, Joe Namath, quarterback of the AFL Champion New York Jets ran his mouth to the press.  Namath guaranteed a Jets victory over the heavily favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts.  Joe Willie put his money where his mouth was, the Jets won the game 16-7.  This win put the AFL on the map as an equal to the NFL.

Perhaps the best quarter of a Super Bowl belongs to the Washington Redskins. In Super Bowl XXII, down 10-0 after the first quarter, the Redskins offense, lead by MVP Doug Williams would put up 35 second quarter points.  The ironic thing about this game was it originally had the markings of a Denver blowout.  Williams took over the game at the start of the second frame with an 80 yard touchdown pass to Rickey Sanders.  Washington never looked back and won the game 42-10.

To me Super Bowl XIII may have been one of the greatest offensive shows by two teams.  Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers and Roger Staubach’s Cowboys went tit-for-tat.  Pittsburgh won the game 35-31, the Cowboys were knocking on the door when time ran out.

Those are my general memories.  Now I give you my top five moments.

Image result for lynn swann leaping catch Lynn Swann makes a leaping catch in Super Bowl X

#5 January 18, 1976  Super Bowl X:

In the second quarter of Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, Terry Bradshaw launched a 53 yard sideline bomb to Lynn Swann.  Swann would leap over the Cowboys defender who deflected the ball and reel it in.  Pittsburgh would win 21-17.

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New York Giants WR David Tyree catches a pass from Eli Manning against his helmet in Super Bowl XLII

#4 February 3, 2008  Super Bowl XLII:

With less than two minutes remaining in Super Bowl XLII and the New England Patriots leading the New York Giants 14-10 the Giants were driving.  On their way to a game winning touchdown, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was being pursued and almost sacked by Patriots defenders.  Manning launched a 32 yard pass that was caught by receiver David Tyree.  Tyree also had a defender on him.  He managed to clutch the football against his helmet and come down with it.  The Giants would go on to win 17-14.  The Super Bowl win ended an undefeated season for the Patriots.

Image result for super bowl 49 interception                        Patriots  Malcom Butler intercepts Seahawks Russell Wilson to seal a Patriots victory

#3 February 1, 2015  Super Bowl XLIX:

With 26 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIX the Seattle Seahawks had the ball on the New England Patriots 1 yard line. The millions of fans watching were expecting star running back Marshawn Lynch to run up the middle to score a go ahead touchdown.  That was everyone other than the Seahawks brain trust.  Quarterback Russell Wilson attempted a short pass that was picked off by undrafted rookie Malcom Butler, sealing a New England 28-24 win.

Image result for titans come up one yard shortTitans Kevin Dyson is tackled by Rams Mike Jones in Super Bowl XXXIV

#2 January 30, 2000  Super Bo:wl XXXIV

The St. Louis Rams were leading the Tennessee Titans 23-16 with time running out in Super Bowl XXXIV.  With six seconds remaining in the game, the Titans had the ball on the St. Louis 10 yard line.  Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair hit Kevin Dyson up the middle for what seemed to be a game tying touchdown.  Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Dyson just short of the goal line to seal a Rams win.

Image result for Scott Norwood wide rightBuffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood misses a potential game winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV

#1 January 27, 1991  Super Bowl XXV:

There have been three game winning field goals in Super Bowl history, but the one that got away ranks as number one.

The Giants were leading the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV when  Buffalo lined up for a possible game winning 47 yard field goal.  Placekicker Scott Norwood was “money” through most of Buffalo’s season.  Norwood’s kick would sail wide right making the New York Giants Super Bowl champions!  Norwood would never recover his form after missing that field goal.

So what’s in the cards tonight?  Another missed field goal?, another game winning field goal?, another crazy catch?  History will record what happens in Houston this evening.  Enjoy America’s unique sporting event!

 

THE ONCE MIGHTY WHO HAVE FALLEN

As this year’s National Football League playoff picture came into view, I couldn’t help but notice that a few old friends, if you will, were in the lineup.  I’m talking about teams that were once dominant and routinely in the post-season that disappeared from the radar for a long time.

As a football fan it felt so good to see the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Dallas Cowboys back in the playoffs.  Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins these  franchises were the constants in my childhood and teen years of the 1970’s.  The Steelers have been visible over the years, so the fact that they’re in the post-season is almost business as usual.

This got me to thinking.  Looking at the four major sports, what once dominant franchises of my youth have fallen into the abyss of irrelevancy?

Image result for Islanders win the Stanley Cup

The first one that comes to mind is the one that is closest to my heart.  Growing up on the southeastern reaches of Queens (on the Nassau County border) I was a fan of the New York Islanders from franchise’s inception up until recently.  The early stages of Islanders history was also the building blocks of a historic dynasty.  The Isles would make fourteen straight playoff appearances (from 1975-1988), win four straight Stanley Cups including 5 straight trips to the Finals from 1980-1984.  Their streak of 19 consecutive playoff series wins still remains a record in any sport.

After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1988 playoffs the downward spiral began.  With the exception of a surprise trip to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals (after they knocked off the reigning champion Penguins) this franchise has become one of the least relevant teams in all of sports.  They have made somewhat of a comeback recently, making the post-season three of the past four years.  They won their first Stanley Cup series since 1993 last year by defeating my Florida Panthers in the first round.  They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round.   They currently are in last place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and fired their longtime coach, Jack Capuano this week.

Image result for the big red machine

In the late 1960’s and into the mid 1970’s baseball’s best included  the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were also pretty relevant during that era as well.

Much has been documented about the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, however the Buccos have righted the ship since then.  They’ve been in the post-season three of the past four years.  The Athletics and Orioles have also managed to stay in the forefront over the years.

The  Cincinnati Reds were one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball in the first half of the seventies.  The “Big Red Machine”  included the likes of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez and Pete Rose.  The Reds won four National League pennants in the span of seven years.  Cincinnati won the NL Western Division title in five of those seven years.  The Reds won two consecutive World Series’ in 1975 (over the Red Sox) and 1976 (over the Yankees).  The Reds  would once again be World Champions in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in four straight games.

Since 1990 the Reds have been a floundering franchise that has had more losing seasons than winning ones.  They have been in the post-season three times since 2010 but haven’t made it out of the Division Series.  Currently this franchise is once again in rebuilding mode with hopes of another winning season years away.  Who knows when the Big Red Machine will be operating again.

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Prior to the 1976-77 season, the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association merged.  The surviving NBA absorbed four ABA franchises (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets).  While the Spurs have by far enjoyed the most NBA success, the other three franchises have never won an NBA title.  That being said, the Pacers have enjoyed moderate success in the NBA over the years.

The Nuggets were never really a dominant force in the old ABA and haven’t been a complete success story in the NBA either.  Denver however did play in the final ABA Championship Series (losing to the Nets in six games) and have had some winning seasons in the NBA.

The Nets made the ABA playoffs seven of the eight years the league was in existence.  They lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Pacers in six games.   New York won two of the three final American Basketball Association championships.

The NBA has not been kind to this franchise.  After spending only one year on Long Island, where they found so much success, owner Roy Bowe, citing poor attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, moved the team to New Jersey.  The state of New Jersey welcomed them with a brand new building built adjacent to Giants Stadium.  They had a very so-so existence in the years that followed.

They have spent most of their NBA existence in the shadow of the New York Knicks.  The Knicks have been one of the most popular franchises in the New York metropolitan area virtually since the beginning of the NBA. There really hasn’t been room for a second franchise.

The Nets won two consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003.  They lost both NBA Finals (to the Spurs and Lakers).

After 35 years in New Jersey, the Nets moved back to New York in 2012, this time to Brooklyn .  With a new identity and a sparkling new arena the Nets franchise was poised to take on the Knicks and be relevent again.  That never really materialized, as of this writing the Nets hold the NBA’s worst record at 9-34.

In welcoming back the Raiders and Dolphins to the NFL playoff stage, I can’t help but think of any football team that compares to the plight of the  Islanders, Reds, and Nets.  The Minnesota Vikings were dominant in the 1970’s, making four Super Bowl appearances between 1969 and 1976, they lost all four.  However the Vikings haven’t disappeared from the post-season stage since then.  The Browns, Lions, Eagles, and Cardinals haven’t seen a championship in years, (the Cardinals now own the longest drought in American sports) but none of these franchises have really ever been dominant.

Currently the most dominant franchise in the four major sports has to be the New England Patriots.  When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick part ways with the Patriots will the franchise go the way of the Islanders?  Will this dominant franchise also fall off the table for years to come?  Only time will tell, sports really does run in cycles, nobody stays on top forever.

 

BIG GAMES IN EXTREME CONDITIONS

Now that the holidays are completely behind us and snow has lost its magic, we are left with cold hard winter.  As we are fully engulfed in the month of January that also means we are in the heart of the NFL postseason.  This brings me to an annual oddity in the world of sports.  Yes, baseball’s big games are sometimes played in cool conditions as summer gives way to autumn, but nothing is more extreme weatherwise than football in the middle of the winter!

Last week I gave you my take on the top plays in the NFL playoffs.  Today I focus on old man winter and its influence on professional football’s big stage.  I give you my top five games played in less than ideal conditions.

Number 5, January 23, 1983:

Image result for mud bowl afc championship

When we think of playoff games played in extreme weather conditions, the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, the swirling lake winds in Buffalo and Cleveland, and the frigid outdoors of Minnesota all come to mind.  This game had none of that.  This game was played in that frozen playing field known as…the Miami Orange Bowl.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my home state of Florida. rainstorms aren’t limited to our wet summers.  When cool fronts sweep across the state of Florida lowering our temperature to the frigid 50’s and 60’s they are usually ushered in by rain.

A cool front was on its way to South Florida on this January Sunday when the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins met for the AFC championship.  The Jets would complain that the Dolphins didn’t cover the Orange Bowl field prior to the game when the rain was at its worst.  Rain continued throughout the game and the contest was marred by many turnovers.Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe would intercept Jets quarterback Richard Todd three times.  The third one was run back 35 yards to seal a Dolphins 14-0 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.  The controversy of the tarp (or lack of it) is still a sticking point in the rivalry between the Jets and Dolphins to this day.

Number 4. January 10, 2016:

Image result for blair walsh wide left gif

We have to look way back to last year for this one.  While the Minnesota Vikings new stadium was under construction on the footprints of their old digs, the Hubert H. Humphry Metrodome, the team played on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  This would mean for the first time since the mid 1980’s they would be playing in an outdoor venue in frigid Minneapolis.

Minnesota’s cold winter would be the theme of the NFC Wild Card Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Vikings.  Game time temperature at TCF Bank Stadium was -6 degrees Farenheit, with wind chills making it feel like -25.  This ranked as the coldest game in Minnesota Vikings history  which includes many frigid Sundays at the old Metropolitan Stadium in the franchises early days.  It also ranks as the third coldest game in NFL history.

It was a low scoring affair with very limited pass plays.  Vikings kicker Blair Walsh would kick field goals from 22, 43, and 47 yards to give them a 9-0 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks would finally score early in the fourth with a three yard touchdown pass from Russel Wilson to Doug Baldwin.  Seattle would take the lead on a 46 yard field goal three minutes later. Walsh would have a chance to be a hero on this frozen Minneapolis Sunday with 26 ticks left on the clock.  His 52 yard field goal attempt would sail wide left, sending the Seahawks to the divisional round and the Vikings home.

Number 3, January 19, 2002:

Image result for the tuck rule game

This AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots turned out to be the finale at Foxboro Stadium.  The Patriots would open the 2002 regular season in their current home, Gillette Stadium.

The game was played in a heavy snowstorm that didn’t let up from start to finish.

With the Raiders leading 13-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were driving.  Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady causing what appeared to be a fumble, which was recovered by Oakland.  This appeared to seal the game and send the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game.  The officials reviewed the play and ruled that Brady appeared to halt his passing motion before his arm went forward and attempted to tuck it into his body.  The play was ruled an incomplete pass.

New England would advance into field goal range, and Adam Vinatieri would tie the game with a 45 yard field goal.  The Patriots won the game in overtime and would eventually win the Super Bowl.

Like last week, we have a tie, two classics at the Frozen Tundra:

Number 2, January 20, 2008:

Image result for 2007 nfc championship game

The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field lived up to its nickname on this January Sunday.  The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers kicked off in frigid conditions.  Gametime temperature was -1 degree Farenheit (-23 with the windchill).  The temperature dropped during the game as they played from late afternoon into the evening.

In a back and forth game, the Giants would win the game in overtime to reach the Super Bowl.  Lawrence Tynes kicked the game winning field goal in a 23-20 victory.  This game featured two certain future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre (who threw a 90 yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver) and Eli Manning (who went through this frozen game without an interception).

Number 2, December 31, 1967:

Image result for the ice bowl 1967

The 1967 NFL Championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers was one for the ages.  The gametime temperature in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field was -15 degrees Farenheit.  Wind chills made it feel like -48.

With wind chills around -70, and the Cowboys leading 17-14, Packers quarterback Bart Starr lead them down the field.  The Packers would end up on the Dallas 2 foot line with 16 seconds remaining.  Everyone was expecting Starr to roll out on the 3rd and goal play.  What happened next is etched in NFL lore.  With blocking in front of him, Starr would take the ball himself and get into the end zone.  The Packers would advance to Super Bowl II, Dallas was sent home.  This game has gone down in history as the Ice Bowl due to the frigid conditions in which it was played.

Number 1, January 10, 1982:

Image result for freezer bowl

The game that ranks number one was purely because of the weather conditions. The 1981 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers was an otherwise uneventful 27-7 Bengals victory.

Gametime temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was -9 degrees with wind chills of -59.  In addition to the brutally cold air, the game was played in sustained winds of 27 mph.In NFL lore this game has been referred to as the Freezer Bowl.

This year’s NFC Championship Game is already destined to be an indoor affair.  With the Falcons victory over the Seahawks yesterday, they will either be home against the Packers (at the Georgia Dome), or at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas (which sports a retractable roof).

Conditions in AFC could lead to another memorable weather game.  Today’s AFC Divisional Game between the Steelers and Chiefs has been moved back from a 1:00 start to 8:20 due to an ice storm forecasted in Kansas City.  The forecast for tonight in Kansas City is for rain.  The winner heads for New England next week.

Will we have another ice bowl, snow bowl, freezer bowl or even a mud bowl?  Enjoy the games today and tonight!

THE NFL PLAYOFFS-THE ULTIMATE IN WIN OR GO HOME!

The holidays are behind us, the college boys are done with their bowl party, and Alabama and Clemson will battle tomorrow night to claim the National Championship.  That being said, it’s time to turn the focus from the kiddie table to the professionals.

The National Football League opened its Wild Card weekend yesterday with the Texans and Seahawks advancing by dispatching the Raiders and Lions.  The Dolphins, Steelers, Giants and Packers step up to the table today with the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Falcons waiting in the wings.

You gotta love the NFL playoffs.  You hear so much about how game 7 is the ultimate in struggle in baseball, basketball, and hockey.  In football it’s ALL a game 7, win or go home, one shot to move on.  This time of year makes me reflect on what has gone on in the playoffs over the years.

I give you my top five!  Now keep in mind that these are playoff moments only.  None of these occurred in the Super Bowl, that’s for another time.

Number 5, January 8, 2000:

Image result for music city miracle

The Buffalo Bills had taken a 16-15 lead with sixteen seconds remaining in their AFC Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans.  Having seemingly sewn up a trip to the divisional round they kicked off, what happened after that was a return for the ages.  The Titans put all of their “good hands people” on the field for the return.  Tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.  Dyson would run 75 yards for a winning touchdown sending the Titans to the next round and sending the Bills home.

Number 4, January 3, 1993:

This was also an AFC Wild Card matchup between the same two franchises in moment #5.  The Buffalo Bills vs. the then Houston Oilers.  The Oilers would eventually move to Nashville and become the current day Tennessee Titans.

Future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was out with an injury, and the powerful Bills offense was led by backup Frank Reich.  The Bills were two-time AFC Champions at the time.

Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, a future Hall of Famer himself led a dominant Oilers offense that took a 28-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.  Things didn’t get any better after the break for Buffalo.  Only 1:41 into the third quarter Reich would throw a pick six to give Houston a 35-3 lead.

Star running back Thurman Thomas was injured during the game, putting another hole in Buffalo’s woes. Then the wind shifted, literally.  The swirling winds at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium turned during the third quarter and so did the hometown team’s fortunes.  Reich would lead a comeback with 28 third quarter points to pull within a touchdown.  They would tie the game at 38 sending it into overtime where they won it with a field goal.  To date it’s the biggest comeback in NFL history.

Number 3, January 11, 1987

The Cleveland Browns were leading the AFC championship game 20-13 over the Denver Broncos with a little over five minutes left in the game.  John Elway and the Broncos offense began a drive on their own 2 yard line.  Elway would engineer a drive that would culminate with a five yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson.  With the extra point the game was tied at 20 with 37 seconds remaining.  Denver would go on to win in overtime sending them to the Super Bowl.

Number 2 is a tie!

December 28, 1975:

Roger Staubach throws a hail mary pass as time ran out and hits Drew Pearson in the end zone.  The touchdown defeats the Minnesota Vikings and sends the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.

January 10, 1982:

Image result for the catch dwight clark

This one also involves the Cowboys.  The Cowboys lead the San Francisco 49ers 27-20 in the NFC Championship Game.  Joe Montana would lead the Niners on one final drive.  The drive culminated with a touchdown pass to Dwight Clark that would become known as simply “The Catch.”  With the extra point, the 49ers go to the Super Bowl, the Cowboys go home.

Number 1:

Image result for the immaculate reception

December 23, 1972:

With the Oakland Raiders leading the Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, the Steelers had the ball with 22 seconds remaining.  With 4th and 10 on their own 40 yard line quarterback Terry Bradshaw would throw a pass toward running back Frenchie Fuqua. Fuqua caught the ball, but a jolting hit by Raiders safety Jack Tatum vaulted it high into the air.  Franco Harris was Johnny on the spot and scooped the ball up before it hit the ground! Harris ran the ball all the way to the end zone giving the Steelers a 13-7 victory.

What will happen this year?  Is there going to be another “drive?”  Perhaps we’ll have another miracle finish or comeback.  Will this year’s playoffs yield another hail mary or catch?.  With a team’s entire season on the line anything historic can happen.

Enjoy the games!

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW

As we continue to wind down the sports year of 2016 it is time to take a look back.  It was a year that saw Cleveland of all places take center stage twice.  We saw the city of Denver throw a retirement party for a football icon.  We witnessed a team owned by an iconic figure, led by a future Hall of Famer buzz-saw its way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.  We also witnessed baseball history that was over a century in the making.

Eleven days into the year Alabama defeated Clemson to win a national championship game for the ages.  It was a thrilling  45-40 offensive show in which the schools traded touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the game.  The University of Alabama has now won 16 National Championships.  2016 was the fourth under head coach Nick Saban.

The Carolina Panthers were the story throughout most of the 2015-16 NFL season.  Their 15-1 record made them the favorite to win Super Bowl 50.  The Denver Broncos endured six weeks without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning who was sidelined with a foot injury.  The Broncos finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark, good for first place in the AFC Western Division by one game over the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs.  Manning would return from his injury in time for the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.

Peyton Manning’s return and the Broncos relentless defense would develop into the story of the 2016 NFL Postseason.  Following a bye during the Wild Card Round the Broncos would knock off the Steelers (23-16) and win a nail biter for the ages in the AFC Championship Game.  Denver defeated the New England Patriots 20-18 to advance to the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl.  The Broncos defense would sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 4 times, knock him down 20 times and intercept him twice.

The 15-1 Panthers would win the NFC Championship by defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round (31-24), and dominating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Broncos defense lead by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller would be the story of the Super Bowl.  League MVP Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times.  The Denver defense would also force three turnovers.  Peyton Manning would finish his storied career on top.  Despite his injury ridden final season Manning would walk away wearing his second championship ring.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the only Panthers team making headlines in January.  The NHL Florida Panthers began 2016 riding a winning streak that began on December 15, 2015 with a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  They entered 2016 winning ten straight.  Victories in Ottawa on January 7, and in Edmonton on January 10th capped off the longest win streak in the NHL in 2015-16, and 2016-17 to date. Florida would finish the season with a team record 103 points on their way to an Atlantic Division Championship.  More importantly the long floundering franchise from South Florida has become relevant again.

Just days before the Florida Panthers became the talk of the NHL, an event happened in Pittsburgh that would have an impact on the rest of the season.

On December 12 the Penguins were out of the Metropolitan Division (and Eastern Conference Wild Card ) picture with a record of 15-10-3.  Owner Mario Lemieux felt their was a need for a leadership change.  Head coach Mike Johnston was let go and replaced by Mike Sullivan.  Sullivan was head coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.  Under Sullivan’s leadership Pittsburgh would go 33-16-5 the rest of the way.  They finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division behind the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.  The Pens would enter the postseason with the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh was dominant during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Victories over the New York Rangers (5 games), Washington (6 games) and Tampa Bay Lightning (7 games)  would send  them to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would defeat the San Jose Sharks in a 6 game series to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  It was Sidney Crosby’s second championship, he also skated away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The San Francisco Bay area was buzzing with playoff excitement this past spring.  While the San Jose Sharks were battling the aforementioned Penguins, there was an even bigger story grabbing local and national headlines.  The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA regular season with a record-breaking 73 wins.  Golden State would follow the regular season with dominant 5 game victories over the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers.

The Western Conference Championship Series turned out to be one for the ages.  The Warriors would hold on to win in seven games over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder was led by Kevin Durant, who would by the way, sign with Golden State as an unrestricted during the summer.

Like the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Capitals, the Golden State Warriors dominance would be challenged.  Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were leading a dominant charge of their own in the Eastern Conference.  Four game sweeps of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, followed by a six game victory over the Toronto Raptors sent the Cavs to the NBA Finals to take on Golden State.

A seven game epic would end with the Cavaliers winning their first ever NBA Championship.  While Sidney Crosby was hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup, Lebron James was hoisting the Finals MVP Trophy and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There is so much to cover in what has been an eventful year, too much for one blog.  This is the first of a two parter.  Next week we cover the Olympics, baseball and who was the best of the best.  Stay tuned and see you next week to wrap up a loaded sports year.

FOOD FAMILY AND LOTS OF FOOTBALL

As I write this the  American tradition that is Thanksgiving weekend is winding down.  I have to say I am very thankful for all I have been blessed with. I have a loving family, great friends and a love for sports.  The Good Lord blessed me with the ability to write about it too!  That being said, what a time to be a sports fan!

A tradition arose in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1934 when the hometown Lions took the field against the Chicago Bears.  It was a gimmick introduced by new Lions owner G.A. Richards to draw fans for the newly relocated franchise.  The Bears were the NFL defending champions that year and they won the game 19-16 in front of the largest crowd of the season.  26,000 fans showed up at University of Detroit Stadium, thousands more were turned away.  The contest determined the NFL’s Western Division Champion for 1934.  The Lions and Bears would face each other every Thanksgiving up until 1938.  Due to World War II there were no games between the teams from 1939-1944.  The Lions would pick up the tradition in 1945, but without the Bears.  Their first post war opponent was the then Cleveland Rams.  Football has been played in Detroit on Turkey Day ever since.

With the advent of television in the 1950’s the NFL has been a living room staple alongside the turkey and trimmings on the dining room table. The first football game to be televised was on November 22, 1956 when the Packers defeated the Lions 24-20.

This year we had three games on Thanksgiving all with playoff implications.  The aforementioned Lions would win on a game ending field goal to take sole possession of first place in the the NFC North.  The Minnesota Vikings strange season continued with a loss in Detroit. After a 5-0 start the Vikings have now slipped into second place with a record of 6-5.

The middle contest was a renewal of one of the NFL’s storied rivalries.  The Dallas Cowboys, who have hosted the second game on the Thanksgiving schedule since 1966 (except 1975 and 1977 when the late afternoon game was hosted by the then St. Louis football Cardinals) played their arch-rivals from our Nations Capital.  The Cowboys 31-26 victory over the Redskins was their 10th straight.

In 2006 the NFL added a third contest on Thanksgiving in conjunction with scheduling games on Thursday night throughout the season.  The Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Indianapolis Colts catapulted them into first place in the AFC North (at the time of this writing they were tied by the Baltimore Ravens with their win earlier today).

With the development of Black Friday, and the four-day holiday weekend the sports world would grow too.  Friday and Saturday has long been a staple of college football rivalries.  Over the years matchups such as Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech and Notre Dame vs. USC came about.

The oldest rivalry played annually on Saturday after Thanksgiving is Michigan vs. Ohio State.  This year’s game didn’t disappoint.  In an epic double overtime thriller Ohio State defeated Michigan 30-27.

Not to be outdone, the National Hockey League has made a tradition of holding afternoon games on Black Friday.  The tradition originated in Boston over the years with the Bruins hosting an afternoon game on the day after Thanksgiving.  This year the executives at NBC along with Gary Bettman’s wonderful scheduling committee broke with the New England tradition.  The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers played on national television to kick off a full NHL schedule on Friday.  By the way the Bruins played a night game and lost to the Calgary Flames 5-1.  I’m thinking the hockey gods weren’t smiling on the break with New England’s afternoon hockey tradition.

As this great American break winds down and we resume business in workplaces other than retail tomorrow there will be plenty to discuss around the water cooler.  Sports will always have a place alongside the food, family and the insane amount of holiday shopping that takes place in the United States on November’s final weekend.

 

WHO’S NEXT ON HISTORY’S RADAR?

After a three-week hiatus I’m back.  I spent the past two weekends having fun with good friends and family celebrating my birthday and my wife’s too.  That being said, what a time to take a vacation!

While I was gone, America elected an unlikely president.  Even more eventful, however, they will be raising the World Championship Flag above the iconic scoreboard at Wrigley Field next spring.

Anyone who is a sports fan, and a baseball fan in particular, has to be happy about the outcome of this year’s Series (unless you are from Cleveland and possibly St. Louis or the South Side of Chicago).  Even some of the White Sox faithful may have gotten swept in the “fly the flag” hysteria that swept the Windy City following the Cubs victory.  Congratulations goes out to the Cubs organization and their long-suffering fans.  To quote New York Rangers voice Sam Rosen “this is one to last a lifetime!”

Since 1994 we have seen three so-called curses broken.  The Rangers broke the National Hockey Leagues longest drought of 54 years by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in a gripping seven game final that year.

In 2004 we witnessed history on many levels, courtesy of the Boston Red Sox.  Trailing the Yankees 0-3 in the American League Championship Series it appeared to be another Boston nightmare.  The beloved Sox seeing the Curse of the Bambino advance to year number 87, while the hated Yankees head to yet another Series and possibly another MLB leading World Championship.  This self-proclaimed Cast of Idiots chipped away at that lead one game at a time and would win the series in seven dramatic games.  The World Series would result in a four game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, who, by the way own the second most titles behind the Yankees.

No other organization in professional sports has been associated with more curses than the loveable losers from the Near North Side.

Consider the following:

  • 1945  Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis is asked to leave Game 4 of the World Series by officials at Wrigley Field due to the odor of Murphy, his pet billy-goat.  Sianis was so incensed that he proclaimed “Them Cubs aint gonna win no more!”  The Cubs would lose the 1945 Fall Classic and not make another appearance until this year.  The loss would continue the famine that began following the Cubs 1908 World Championship.
  • 1969 The Cubs lead the National League Eastern Division by nine games over the New York Mets.  Chicago had a chance to put a nail in the Mets coffin during an August series at Shea Stadium.  During the series a black cat mysteriously ran on the field.  It passed behind Ron Santo in the Cubs on deck circle.  The Mets would win that game and go on to win all but five games the rest of the way.  The Cubs collapsed and saw the Mets win the division and go on to defeat the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles to win the 1969 World Championship
  • 2003 Six outs away from finally breaking the curses that followed them, fate would strike again.  Florida Marlins shortstop Luis Castillo launched a foul ball down the left field line at Wrigley.  Cubs left fielder Moises Alou had a beat on it and poised to catch it and record the first out of the eight inning of game six.  Cubs fan Steve Bartman snatched the ball from his seat overlooking the left field line.  Alou was incensed, Bartman was escorted out of Wrigley, like William Sianis, but this was for his own safety.  Castillo would hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, however it went between his legs.  Florida would go on to score eight runs to win game six.  They would come from behind the next night to end the Cubs season.  Oh, and by the way the Marlins defeated the Yankees in six games to win the World Championship.

In a hard-fought series this year, Cubs fans had to be wondering once again.  Holding a 6-3 lead over the Cleveland Indians, six outs away from breaking all of the curses, a gasp can be heard around Wrigley Field all the way from Cleveland.  Brandon Guyer’s RBI double drove in Jose Ramirez to bring the Indians within two runs.  Rajai Davis’ home run to left field brought a chill to Waveland Avenue as the Tribe tied the game at 6.  A rain delay and an extra inning later history was made!

Five million fans crowded downtown Chicago to celebrate baseball’s version of Sam Rosen’s iconic hockey call.

So where does history go from here?  The longest baseball drought now belongs to the reigning American League champions.  The Indians last won the World Series in 1948.  Can this team follow the Cubs and end their drought?  There aren’t any storied curses affiliated with this team, just years of bad baseball.  They did make World Series appearances in 1995, 1997 and this year losing to the Braves, Marlins, and Cubs respectively.

The longest drought in professional sports belongs to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals last won the NFL Championship (way before the AFL, AFC and Super Bowl)  in 1947 as the Chicago Cardinals  They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21.  Since then the Cardinals franchise have called St. Louis and Arizona home.  By the way the last time the Eagles won a championship was 1960, seven years before the advent of the Super Bowl and the same year as the birth of the American Football League.

So who’s next to make history and how long will it take?

I want to take this time to wish all of my readers a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!