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The Sheriff and Megatron retire after setting new standards in the game

This week has seen the retirement of 2 quality football players, in Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson. These 2 have been considered one of the best at their position for a long time now, with their effect on the game plain to see.

Peyton Manning has been an elite QB (serious dislike of that phrase) in the NFL since I have followed the game. Never the strongest arm, but with accuracy and timing, he has torn many a defence to pieces. As a young fan I never really liked Peyton. It might have been because he beat my Bears in the first ever Super Bowl I got to watch, but really it was because of the way he played the game.

He was/is the ultimate pocket passer. Everything seemed so easy for him. Dropping back, putting the ball on a dime. There was no effort in the way he played the game sometimes. I remember watching games where it was just Peyton playing catch with Dallas Clarke down the seams of the defence. It frustrated me, how can you get beaten someone the same way over and over again and not adjust as a Defence. As I grew in the game I realised, they were adjusting, but Manning was also adjusting to them. Manning’s knowledge of the game and his offence was just outstanding. This is where he has made his mark on the game. QB’s that are to be considered great now need to exhibit that ability to know the game. To not just see the Defence but diagnose it, know the coverage, feel the blitz etc. Then make audibles to get out of a bad play into a good play. This how we will remember him in 5, 10, 15 years. Not a Gunslinger, not a runner but a Professor of Offensive Football.

Being a fan of a NFC North team, I saw plenty of “Megatron” over the years. Massive catch radius, speed to get over the top of a Defence and hungry for the football. Johnson was the bane of many a cornerbacks Sunday evening. His name will forever be linked to the new Catch rules after a ‘drop’ was ruled on one of his catches to open a season against my Chicago Bears. But for me, it’s his size and how the passing game changed to take advantage of it is more important. He is why we see the ‘back shoulder’ throws on fade routes. His success led the way for receivers like Alshon Jeffery to get drafted in the 2nd round and then get monster contracts. It’s why teams now have to look for Corners that are 6’+ to even compete on some of the ‘new’ throws that have made their way into the NFL. Double coverage was no good unless you had someone tall enough to challenge him, otherwise it was a waste of time. He was the ultimate ‘Go up and Get it’ Receiver. The Lions and Matt Stafford caught onto this, and now the rest of the league is clamouring for that 6’4”+ WR that runs a 4.5 40 and a huge vertical leap. This is Johnson true legacy on the NFL.

Between the two of them, they have shone the light to how the game can be played. And how, under the modern rules, a passing offence can be almost un-defendable.

  Countdown to the Draft - Senior Bowl

Every year, the best seniors in college football are invited to take part in an All-star game. That game in the Senior Bowl. Split in to a North and a South team. They have one week to train together before playing on the Saturday. This is probably the most fun part of the draft process. It’s the last time you’ll see some of the best prospects in the Draft in pads playing a game of football. From here on out its all Gym shorts and interviews. So everyone makes the most of it.

Just like previous East-West Shrine game, it’s played with NFL rules with a few adjustments so scouts can have a good look at the players. Things like No Blitzing, only 4-3 Fronts, 2 min warning at the end of every quarter etc. All to protect players and let them play fast.

Unlike last week, some of these players aren’t looking to jump from a late round pick to a mid-round pick. They are looking to jump into the 1st round, and the better players that already have a 1st round grade are looking to improve to a top 5/10 pick.

As always there are important players missing from this game, either because of injury or Draft status etc., but there is always talent on display. Always a gem to find.

It’s harder to stand out from the crowd in this game as the talent level is higher than the East-West game. That being said, 24 players earnt themselves some money, or at least a good hard look from the scouts. These 6 made the shortlist of surprise/standout players in this game:

Sheldon Day, DL, Notre Dame – Played inside and outside for the North squad but size will limit his options at the NFL level. A Natural 1 Gap penetrator, showing versatility will help him stand out in a very deep DL class.

Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple – Was a tackling machine in this game, though showed a lack of pace and agility in both coverage and outside runs. Good tape and Measurable could drive this player up draft boards.

Aaron Green, RB, TCU – Electric runner. Showed speed, agility and feel on his TD run. Slowing down enough to let blocks develop and good cuts to make guys miss.

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky – Unblockable for portions of this game. Spence clearly has the talent to be a top round pick. Off the field issues look to be the only sticking point.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi St – Everything you want physically in a QB. Can make all the throws. Might not have his name mentioned with the top QBs in the Draft, but could be a surprise pick in the 2nd round.

Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina St – Played the best of all the QBs in my opinion. Looked after the Football, completed passes. A solid outing that might have boosted him to the top of the list of mid-level QBs. Of which there are quite a few.   

 

Countdown to the Draft - East-West Shrine Game

We are officially on the way to the draft with the first of the 2 College All-star game having taken place last Saturday. The East-West Shrine game has been running since the 1920’s and has become the game to attend for mid-level draft picks who were not invited or ineligible to play in the Senior Bowl that takes place Saturday in Mobile, Alabama. You might not think that this game is that important if the best college players aren’t playing, we’ll you would be wrong. This is where you tend to see the smaller school prospects play for the 1st time against talent from more notable schools. It’s also the only time you’ll see any Canadian prospects play under ‘American’ rules (Canadian Colleges play Canadian Football Rules).

Players have the opportunity here to ‘make money’ and improve their draft stock by doing well in drills through a week of practice, and then playing well in the game itself. The Result isn’t really important. It’s how well everyone plays.

Going into the game Saturday, there was a notable exclusion from the Gameday Roster. Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, who was due to play as a Running back, was held out with a back injury. This was a major blow to his draft season as the College Standout will almost certainly have to change positions to make it on an NFL roster, after playing 4 years at QB in a Veer Offence.

There were 26 Players that jumped out at me over the course of the game. Showing flashes or in some cases, blowing the scouts away. The following shortlist of 12 are players that made me want to find more of their tape, so keep an eye out for them during the rest of the Draft Process:

Daniel Lasco, RB, Cal – Showed good feel for running lanes and a change of pace.


Brain Pool, CB, Florida – 90+ Yard INT return for a touchdown. He took off for the end zone and got there in a flash. I expect him to run well at his pro-day.

Veron Adams Jnr, QB, Oregon – Star of the show on Saturday. Undersized but plenty of arm-talent and very mobile. Reminds you of Russel Wilson.

Victor Ochi, DE, Stony brook – One of the small school standouts. Constant pressure every snap.

Jake Brendel, C, UCLA – Played OG in this game. Nothing special, but got the job done and played as clean as you can expect from an interior lineman.

David Onyemata, DE, Manitoba – One of the Canadian invitees. Showed that he could play with NCAA talent. Has not been invited to the Combine, but made the most of his snaps in this game.

Javon Hardgrave, DT, South Carolina State – Unblockable at times, will have caught the eye of many scouts. Plenty of teams will be running his tape more than they might have planned.

Parker Ehinger, OG, Cincinnati – Stout blocker who played well. Not flashy but will have earnt another look by some teams.

Clayton Fejedeln, S, Illinois – There were a few Illini playing in this game, but this Safety stood out for a great pick.

Chris Brown, WR, Norte Dame – Had plenty of snaps to show his talents. Played a good game with few mistakes.

Brandon Ross, RB, Maryland – Late invite, Ross made the most of it. You could argue that he was the best RB on the field.

Cre’von LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlanic – Small school player showed he could go out and play against big school QBs and WRs. Showed flashes that NFL scouts will be hoping to see more of on tape.

Hall of Fame - Who's a Lock?

It’s every football lovers dream, to be stood on that stage making a legacy defining speech as you’re imprint on the game is forever enshrined in Canton, Ohio. But for some players in the league right now that dream will become a reality. Adrian Peterson said recently I feel like if I didn't play another snap in my life, I got the opportunity to go in the Hall of Fame right now." Peterson is probably right given his talent and consistency, over 10,000 yards in the league and a 2000-yard season in 2012 don’t just come to anyone. The real question though, who else is a lock for the hall of fame? If they all stopped playing today and could never play another snap in the NFL, who’s a guaranteed hall of famer?

 

The Obvious: Tom Brady, Payton Manning, Drew Brees, Julius Peppers, Antonio Gates, Jared Allen.

 

To me the above list are the current players in the NFL who needn’t warrant discussion when it comes to their induction into Canton. Brady, Manning and Brees are three of the games all time greats at the most important position and should be first ballot. Julius Peppers at age 35 has played over 200 games in the NFL and had over 130 sacks and more than 45 forced fumbles, that kind of production can’t be ignored. Jared Allen also has over 130 sacks in just 176 games and his most prolific seasons such as his 2011 season with the Vikings warrant HOF honors. Lastly Antonio Gates, despite his suspension to start the season, has now caught 100 Touchdown passes in his 12 seasons which leaves him 7th on the all time TD reception list, an obvious Gold Jacket.

 

The interesting question is looking at those borderline guys, the players we could argue about being in the Hall. So lets look at a few active players that have a chance and play a game I like to call, Lock or not?

 

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants.

 

The real question with Eli is what warrants a Hall of Fame career? Consistent success? Being one of the most talented players at your position? Super Bowls? Eli has 2 SuperBowl rings and 2 SuperBowl MVP awards, 1 more than his brother and holds the Giants franchise records for passing yards, Touchdown passes and completed passes. On paper then he seems like he should be in the obvious category. The problem with Eli is all the uninspiring down seasons, the lack of a spark in the seasons the Giants didn’t make a playoff run. Despite his Super Bowl success many still question his talent and in many ways he lives in the shadow of his brother. Truly worthy or not however Super Bowl success really speaks to the Hall of Fame voters and his induction ultimately looks very likely.

 

Lock or Not: LOCK!

 

 

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Another QB with 2 Super Bowl rings, Ben Roethlisberger has developed over his career into one of the best and most consistent signal callers in the league. The Pittsburgh QB has become perhaps the best down the field passer in the NFL and consistently racks up some of the highest yardage in the league as we saw in 2014 when he and Drew Brees led the league, both hitting 4952 yards in the regular season. ‘Big Ben’ also ranks joint 6th on the all-time yards per attempt leaderboard with 7.9 yards. Only Aaron Rodgers is higher amongst active QB’s. One potential issue with Ben is his early career off the field issues being involved in a motorcycle accident without a license and sexual assault claims that led to him missing time under the NFL’s personal conduct policy threated to tarnish his career. His play speaks for itself however and since then Ben seems to have become a mature and respected veteran in the NFL. For me it’s a no brainer.

 

Lock or Not: LOCK!

 

Steve Smith Sr, WR, Carolina Panthers & Baltimore Ravens.

 

Steve Smith fell in the 2001 draft, scouts believed he was too small to be a top receiver in the NFL and he’s been playing with a chip on his shoulder ever since. Now in his 15th season Smith is still playing with the grit and tenacity that helped him rise to the very top of his profession. With over 950 receptions and over 13,700 yards Steve Smith is truly one of the greats.

 

Lock or Not: LOCK!

 

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo Bills & Seattle Seahawks.

 

‘I’m just here so I don’t get fined.’

 

The explosive back, Marshawn Lynch, is as well known for his individuality and disputes with the league as he is for his play, but make no mistake, despite having his own special was of going about things ‘Beast Mode’ is one of the strongest and most impressive runners in the league. Since his move to Seattle in 2010 Lynch has become an integral part of this impressive Seahawks team and has played in 2 Super Bowls for his troubles. The question is if he stopped today (and with lynch that’s always a possibility) could he make the Hall? Well he could, his highlight real is probably filled with some of the best plays in a decade right now but his abrasive nature and limited years of top level production could leave him just short if he retired today, let’s hope he keeps going!

 

Lock or Not: NOT!

 

 

 

 

Adam Vinatieri, K, New England Patriots & Indianapolis Colts.

 

20 years. What were you doing 20 years ago? Well Adam Vinatieri was the Kicker for the Patriots and somehow he’s still kicking today at age 42. Few players, let alone kickers, have had as much impact on the history of the game as Vinatieri, he kicked game winning field goals in the dying seconds twice for the Patriots, and he’s played in 6 Super Bowls and has 4 rings to show for it. He’s scored the 4th most amount of points of any player in history yet ranks 17th in all time field goal percentage. That said Vinatieri will likely make it to Canton thanks to the longevity of his career and the effect he’s had on Super Bowl teams.

 

Lock or Not: LOCK!

 

Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns.

 

Joe Thomas has proven himself time and time again as one of, if not the best offensive tackle in football, It’s almost a shame that he hasn’t had anyone better to protect whilst playing for the Browns. Thomas is an 8x Pro Bowler in all 8 of his seasons and has not missed a single snap for the Browns in all 8 of those seasons. At the end of the 2014 season he was even voted the 18th best player in the league by his peers in the NFL’s ‘Top 100’ feature, quite the honor for an offensive lineman. All this aside it can be a struggle for O-Lineman to make the Hall of Fame as other top names have missed out. So perhaps if Thomas wants to secure his place in Canton and get past the under-appreciation of O-Lineman then he may need to provide the Browns with a few more top seasons.

 

Lock or Not: NOT!

 

Of course that’s not every player in the NFL with a good shot at making it to Canton but I could keep writing all day if I wanted to go through them all, so I’ve left an honorable mention list here.

 

More Locks: Phillip Rivers, Charles Woodson, Demarcus Ware, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Jason Witten,

 

Coming mighty close: Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Antonio Brown, Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Tony Romo,

NFL Quarter Season Awards

4 games in and the regular season is already a quarter done! Depressing right? Soon we’ll be sat on our couches in the middle of the night eagerly waiting for the bright lights of Santa Clara to elevate the Super Bowl 50 champions into superstardom. But shortly before all that excitement the NFL will produce its annual awards show so that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t remain too upset that his team bottled it in the NFC championship game. With that in mind I thought I’d take a look at the first 4 weeks and which players have made early strides towards one of those coveted trophies.

 

Comeback Player of the Year

 

Contenders: Adrian Peterson, Jadeveon Clowney, Carson Palmer & Colin Kaepernick(?!?!) 

 

Winner: Andy Dalton

 

The early favorite Adrian Peterson is still in with a good shot of this one but I can’t help feeling the NFL would rather keep the Vikings running back out of the spotlight than be seen to award a player they banned for child endangerment, with that in mind Peterson would need to produce a record braking season to be in with a shout.

 

One of the biggest problems with this award is that nobody really understands what constitutes a ‘comeback’ is it just poor play or must they come back from an obscure injury or legal battle in order to win? Jadeveon Clowney and Carson Palmer both suffered season ending injuries last season and in that sense are prime contenders Jadeveon has shown flashes of why he was the No.1 overall pick in his first few games but will have to get back to 100% fast to be in with a chance. Palmer on the other hand has played lights out this year (I should know he’s my fantasy QB) the Cardinals offence blew out everyone they faced for the first 3 weeks before facing a stout Rams defense in Week 4.

 

My controversial choice here is Colin Kaepernick, to win this award something has to go wrong, and not much more could go wrong for the 49ers QB than already has. Loosing his coach and half his team in the offseason, one of the worst performances from a starting QB we’ve ever seen and the fastest fall from grace possible going from a Super Bowl to seemingly having no skill in 3 years. That said the 49ers face the long trip east this week to face the Giants a game that could cement a loosing season, but what if good ol’ Kap came back in all of his play extending, Ian Duncan Smith quoting glory! Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Probably still yes and its much more likely he’ll be going the way of RGIII before Week 6 but I can hope, and if he does pull it back from the brink then who could deny him this award?

 

Lastly it’s the great Ginger Rifle. Yes that’s right my pick for comeback player of the year is Andy Dalton. Admittedly the irony of this pick is that there is actually very little for him to come back from. Since entering the league in 2011 as the 35th pick by the Bengals Dalton has led his team to the playoffs consistently every year and passed for over 15,000 yards, not bad for a 2nd round QB, we’ve seen if Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel do much worse coming from the 1st round. Rightly or wrongly however Dalton has become somewhat of a joke to the media and fans alike, his struggles in the post season and primetime have led to many writing him off as an NFL QB. Until this year, 4 games in and Andy Dalton is playing like a man possessed. 9 touchdowns, 1 interception and a 123 passer rating on a 4-0 Bengals team prime to win the AFC North leaves Dalton as much in the MVP race as the comeback player one. If he can keep up this level of play and manage to go on a run in the playoffs then Dalton is set to emerge from the NFL garbage heap and finally make people recognize him as a top 10 NFL QB akin to the way Tony Romo managed to shake the dissenters.

 

That’s it for today but check back soon for the rest of my award predictions! 

 

Football is Back! (thank goodness for that)

The biggest negative of the NFL season surely has to be how short it is, especially if like me you follow a team that has not been making the playoffs recently. The second week in September until first week in January is just not enough, and that is why post season football is a must, and as a follower of the New York Giants I am quietly and maybe daftly optimistic about that actually happening this time around.

Of course I understand the reasons why the regular season is so short, the equivalent of being hit by a truck for 16 weeks out of 17 is not something many players may want to prolong, however having extra bye weeks could stretch the schedule to another month.  One year when the season finished I even bought the Madden game to try to plug the gap but to no real avail. The return this week is warmly welcomed, and while my local team the Merseyside Nighthawks have helped fill the off season void as they push for promotion following a second unbeaten regular season, there is nothing quite like the Sunday Night with the likes of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman guiding us through the game of choice.

Having been to many of the Wembley games in the past 7 or 8 years, last December I managed to get over to NYC to see the Giants edge out the Redskins in a meaningless but entertaining encounter, made worthwhile by the incredible Gameday experience, including the humour of the group of teenage Washington fans sitting behind, whose high hopes for RG3 had clearly evaporated many weeks earlier and drew their entertainment making comments on other games on the big screens during time-outs - "how can the Panthers be winning? Cam Newton is like dead...."

Once again this year the upcoming Wembley fixtures don't really inspire a great deal of excitement, but at least the Jets / Dolphins game being so early in the season means they will both likely will retain a degree of optimism for the season, unlike the Jags who have flown over here the past couple of years with depressing 0-7 and 1-8 records. The continuation of the afternoon kick-offs for the USA breakfast game trials is most welcome for travel arrangements even if some of the night time Wembley atmosphere is sacrificed.

So welcome back NFL, I am sure Pete Carroll is itching to call another play to try to erase the memory of the last one, that Jameis Winston will realize quickly that he is going to have to earn every yard of his rush option, and that the younger QB's step up their game to pick up the mantle over the next year or so from the Golden Age of Tom, Peyton, Eli, Ben, Tony and Drew

Finally, Football Arrives!

After long tough months without football, causing many fans such as myself, to suffer withdrawal-like symptoms, the football season is upon us once again. Week 1 officially kicks officially kicks off on Thursday 10th September 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots, 8:30 PM (ET). Fans up and down the country will be tuning in to get a fix of their most treasured drug. But football season starting can only mean one thing; Fantasy Football. More specifically, setting your lineups.

Fantasy Football is played globally in huge numbers, and the United Kingdom is no exception. As a consequence, it has changed the way fans now view the game. In the United Kingdom the Giants’ fan base opened up their fantasy league on their Facebook page, welcoming its members to get in on the action from the comfort of their computer. I joined the league to display my fantasy skills, and would like to share what I was advised from someone who had been doing it for a longer time, to those that are looking for advice on how to handle the opening games. Especially where lineups for Week 1 are concerned.

Believe it or not, it’s not about winning in the opening week. It’s about learning how you choose your starting players, and whom to bench. It’s about learning where you went right, and wrong. So for the first week I suggest that you look at all the information available (most sites update you regularly) on your players and making decisions about who to start. However, after reading all this information, you should go with what your gut says; for the most part. After the week is over, you’ll then be able to see where how much research is able to help you, in terms of how much it affects the decisions you make. It will also help you see how strong your players are, and how they played, in terms of who to start/bench, and who to drop.

In addition, it is important to remember that the first week is also about getting back into the rhythm of competing, against other fans, friends, or family. It’s about enjoying the rush of the game; trash talking your opponent, and opening both arms to the season, welcoming it to take over your life for the next four to six months. Enjoy it!

2015: A Prediction of Sorts

There is an old saying that suggests that we look to the past to predict what the future might hold, so with that in mind can I use this technique to predict who might be lining up in Super Bowl 50 come next February.

 

Lets look for a moment at the last big anniversary Super Bowl, Super Bowl 25 which was of course New York Giants over the Buffalo Bills in the Wide Right game, any chance that the Giants could double up and take Super Bowl 50 as well?  Well, some more recent history is also on the side of Big Blue.  8 seasons ago was the year the New England Patriots were denied their undefeated season, 4 seasons later it was a repeat Super Bowl and of course a repeat victory for New York.  Now 4 seasons later, could the emergence of Odell Beckham Junior help the Giants back to another Super Bowl.

 

Another theme from these games is that in each case the Super Bowl matchup was the Giants against an AFC East opponent.  Good news for the AFC East then, in a year where New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins all seem to have significantly strengthened.  The Patriots of course are the defending World Champions so write them off at your peril, so maybe we are set for New York Giants v AFC East once more.  Given that the NFC East and AFC East are on each other’s schedule this year, we might be looking at a Super Bowl preview in the coming regular season.

 

Although the emergence of Beckham gives the Giants something every team has to fear, there are not going to many suggesting a Super Bowl berth is in the immediate future for the blue half of Met Life Stadium.  So what else can history show us?

The most successful teams from each conference the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys / San Francisco 49ers, on paper this sort of matchup would be ratings gold and on last season’s form a Steelers / Cowboys game is a possibility.  That would be at the extent of the Seattle Seahawks of course, two time defending NFC Champions, just about everyone’s favourites to be back there in February and if they can clinch Home Field advantage throughout the playoffs just about unbeatable at home with the volume cranked up by the 12th man.

 

Despite anything history suggests the NFL does stand as Jerry Glanville famously said for Not For Long, so maybe history doesn’t have a voice in this discussion.  We need to look at the schedules of each competitor, who has the deepest roster, can cover injuries and cope with the loss of former stars to Free Agency / retirements the best.

 

If you assume the players left on the Roster are fit and healthy and able to go as we know that they can, then in the AFC it is very difficult to look past the Denver Broncos.  Peyton Manning for once may just be the biggest question mark hanging over this team, but if healthy this could be one last glorious ride for Manning and Denver, reminiscent of Ray Lewis and Baltimore a few years ago, and not many would begrudge him that.  The biggest obstacle to overcome ironically enough is likely to be the Colts.  Andrew Luck will be leading an offence that can go point for point with anyone, but the defence may not yet be ready, of all the main AFC Contenders the Broncos may just have the best defence which is why I give Denver the nod at this point, but if Houston Texans can upset the cart a little in the AFC South and JJ Watt can get near the playoffs, anything is possible.

The NFC should come down to Seattle and Green Bay as it should have each of the last few seasons.  We all know about Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, and Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom, so will it be duked out between these two.  I believe not, but both should be in the playoff places.  Last year Seattle only confirmed the NFC West when Arizona lost two quarterbacks.  Carson Palmer will be fit behind a beefed up OL and the Cardinals will be a big voice in this ensemble.

 

Chip Kelly or the genius as many refer to him will want to see more from his Philadelphia Eagles team that missed out last year, and with Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray signing up this team will be running and running and running the rock, but with QB options of Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, I am not sure even the genius can pull that feat off.  In the South expect a bounce back year from most teams, Cam Newton the new $100million man will be out to prove himself and with a favourable schedule the Panthers should be in the mix for 3 divisions in a row, but expect much better showings from the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.

 

Meanwhile questions remain about will the Cowboys be able to run the ball and the Giants could yet sweep in if Beckham is anywhere near as effective as he believes he will be, and nobody could stop him last year.  If Eli can get to the playoffs then anything could happen he can be Mr Clutch.  A Manning brothers Super Bowl, how much would Roger Goodell like that prospect after all the recent negative news stories.

 

Hand on heart if I had to predict the matchup of Super Bowl 50 I would plump for another Super Bowl repeat, Denver and Seattle.  Now that I have said that in writing of course it won’t be, just as likely to be Houston and St Louis Rams, who then take the Lombardi and run back to LA.  It will be one hell of a ride though, bring it on!

Wembley's forgotten football - Part 2

Here is yet another instalment of Wembley’s forgotten football. After writing the first article I began to think about the next era of football at the stadium, the first and only true World league of American Football. Again many new fans may not know much about this era of British football, but in my opinion it was the greatest part of our gridiron history (1991 anyway).

The first surprise of the World league (even to fans that are familiar and even went to games) was the idea actually was first conceived in 1972 by the NFL itself.  It took until 1974 at a press conference at the NFL headquarters in New York for the unveiling of the IFL (Intercontinental Football League).

Surprisingly after the success of the Wembley games of the 50’s alongside its strong military presence Wembley’s team was to be an expansion team for year two of the IFL. The first teams to play in the inaugural 1975 season were meant to be: Barcelona Almogovares, Istanbul Conquerors, Munich Lions, Rome Gladiators, Vienna Lipizzaners and the West Berlin Bears. Wembley was to host the London Big Bens in the league’s second season alongside the Amsterdam Clippers, Copenhagen Vikings, Madrid Toreros, Milan Centurions, Monaco Bears, Paris Lafayettes and the Rotterdam Flying Dutchmen.

Put simply the idea was unfeasible and exposure and finances died almost straight away. There was not the appetite in Europe at that time.

The IFL however had a massive influence 15 years later. When the World League was operating from 1991 it was under the IFL blue print conceived by Bob Kap (Sadly his influence on Professional football on both sides of the Atlantic is now for the most part forgotten.). One key idea Kap had was importing NFL players into the IFL for the spring league. This plan was another part of his blue print used by the WLAF and NFL Europe. Put simply without his ideas in the 70’s players such as Super bowl winning quarterback Kurt Warner (among others) may never have got their chance and the history of the NFL would be different.

Wembley’s next era of football (outside the American bowls) was the WLAF (World League of American Football). In1989 an NFL vote for owners was implemented by one of the league’s biggest endorsers, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The vote was to commence a new spring development league known as the WLAF; the vote was a YES from all. Soon after Tex Schramm was appointed Commissioner

From the word go there were problems. There was criticism from both fans and media in the United States. An example of this was in 1989 by NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol. He stated to the LA Times that “his network would not be interested in a 1990 start for the spring league, and football officials indicated that 1991 is looking more and more likely for the first season”. The NFL in the same article seemed to agree (possibly out of politics).Yet Schramm did not. While in London viewing the Wembley stadium as a venue an unconfirmed source told British newspapers “plans for postponing were wrong”. Most believe this was Schramm himself who commented and a year later he was fired by the NFL. NFL committee chairman Dan Rooney simply said "We've had differences (with Schramm) from the start". After this turbulent episode ABC ended up with TV rights in 1991 (after it was postponed) over NBC.

Unlike the IFL this time London was a first choice destination and this was confirmed on the 3rd August 1990 when London was officially awarded a franchise and the Monarchs were borne. They were to be joined in the European division by the Barcelona Dragons and Frankfurt Galaxy. The North American west division was to consist of the Birmingham Fire, Sacramento Surge and San Antonio Riders while the North American East consisted of Montreal Machine, New York-New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder and Raleigh-Durham Sky hawks.

So on March 21st 1991 the World league kicked off with Wembley’s team traveling to Frankfurt to face the Galaxy. A 24-7 win set the tone for the season to come. One week later it was Wembley’s turn. On the 31st March 1991 Wembley played host the NY/NJ Knights. 46,952 turned out at Wembley to watch the Monarchs beat the Knights 22-18. By the end of the season the Monarchs had lost just one game to Barcelona, Led the league in almost every category including points for (310). After the playoff win over the Knights by 42-26 it was world bowl time. The Monarchs would face the Barcelona Dragons at England’s national stadium.

 

61,108 showed up at Wembley to watch the Monarchs fight for the first ever World Bowl on June 9th 1991. Highlights of the game included Stan Gelbaugh 69 yard touchdown pass to Jon Horton and (in many peoples opinion) Britain’s best ever player running back Victor Ebubedike playing in the 4th quarter. 

The next season started brightly with a 26-20 win over old foes the Knights. From that point the Monarchs only other win a 43-13 wins over the Montreal Machine however they were competitive in all bar one game. By now interest dwindled and alongside substantial financial losses play was suspended pending a review of the league structure and operations.

Wembley’s association from that point was over. When the league returned in 1995 finances lead to the team re locating to White Hart lane this was soon followed by a move to Stamford Bridge. The club was then rebranded to the England Monarchs playing in Bristol, Birmingham and London. With attendances of around 5,000 the Monarchs were dispanded.

 

I won’t go into the future but I will put this to readers. In the United States www.sportslogos.net put forward the idea of re naming the Jaguars the Monarchs should they move house. I’m not sold on the logo they came up with but it does make a little debate. Tweet what you think?

www.latimes.com

www.dallasnews.com/sports/dallas-cowboys/headlines/20100302-Bob-Kap-innovator-in-kicking-4584.ece

www.footballgeography.com/1974-nfl-announces-plans-for-a-six-team-european-league/

www.footballdiner.com

www.ukprogressive.co.uk


Wembley's forgotten football

WEMBLEY’S FORGOTTEN FOOTBALL

This week I was intending to write a preview of the up and coming German bowl but thanks to my partners parents sofa, beer and TV in Dorset I had a change of heart. While watching the big game the commentator described the first game of football to be played at Wembley to be the American Bowl’s in the 1980’s. Most fans and players new to the game will automatically assume this to be true. Yet football and Wembley goes far deeper than this.

Wembley’s first football game took place on the 13th December 1952 between Fuerstenfeldbruck Eagles (Germany) and the Burtonwood Bullets (from Warrington). The Eagles won the game 27-6. The clubs involved in the game were from American bases stationed in Europe during the cold war, these bases played in their own pan European league (USAFE) and were largely responsible for the growth of the game in Germany.

Wembley was to play host to a further two finals. The first of these was played on the 28th November 1953 when the Landstuhl Raiders defeated the London Rockets 27-21. However the most incredible game at Wembley happened two years later. The only known footage of all three games can be found at www.itnsource.com/en/compilations/sport,-lifestyle-quirky/sports/lr/S05030701/American-Football-Footage/

The story begins in 1682 and the construction of the St Clement Danes church by Sir Christopher Wren. This is probably the only church in the world with a connection to both Rugby and football; William Webb Ellis (who is reportedly the inventor of Rugby in 1823) was once the rector of the church.

Fast forward to the 10th May 1941 and the church is completely destroyed during the blitz. After world war two the Royal air force became critical in the complete restoration and reconstruction of the church using appeals for funds. On the 19th October 1958 the church was named as the central church of the RAF and this title remains to this day. During fund raising the United States air force in Britain also got involved in raising funds to replace the church organ.

So how does this relate to football? In 1956 at a cocktail party in London Jim Martin (head coach of the London Rockets who were based at RAF South Ruislip) became aware of the RAF’s fund raising. During the party Martin and assistant coach Joe Penny met with American actor Dana Andrews. During the conversation the idea was conceived of using Andrews’s fame to promote the up and coming Wembley game and use funds raised to replace the St Clement organ.

On the 1st of December 1956 the London Rockets kicked off for the European title with the Wiesbaden Flyers from Germany. The game itself drew an incredible 40,000 spectators (some of whom were from bases across Europe). Dana Andrews alongside other stars of the time including “Downtown” singer Patula Clark performed during half time. The half time show also included various prize draws including an Austin Healy sports car. The game itself ended with a 32-6 win for the London Rockets.

It’s unclear how much money was raised during the game (the estimate is around £25,000), but at the church in 1958 a brand new organ was installed…. A gift from the US air force.  

Football then disappeared from the British isles (with the exception of American bases) until 1983. In 1983 entrepreneur John Marshall hired Wembley stadium to showcase the first ever NFL game outside North America. In the game 30,000 fans watched the Minnesota Vikings beat the St Louis Cardinals 28-10.

The only other NFL action outside the US prior to this was in the 1950’s and early 60’s when the NFL and CFL (Canadian Football League) played “hybrid football” (because rules between the leagues are different). The games included the Bills, Giants and Bears. At the time there was quiet speculation that a merger between the two leagues could happen, this was never confirmed or denied by ether leagues!

Jim Marshall’s influence continued a year later with his next idea, this time with the USFL. The USFL was set up as a direct competitor to the NFL. The league ran between 1982 and 1987 and it is due to resume play in the near future (apparently). Marshall wanted to bring a “different football product to Britain”.

So on the 21st July 1984 Wembley hosted its first and only USFL game. 21,000 “fans” turned up to watch the new champions (the Philadelphia Stars) take on the quarterfinalist Tampa bay Bandits. The USFL’s idea was that by bringing two of their top teams over they would provide a better showcase. The problem was that British football coverage was dominated by channel 4 and the NFL, the lesser known USFL was more of a side show. The other problem was that by the end of the season many of the big name starters were side lined. This included future Redskins running back Kelvin Bryant who was the USFL’s second all-time leading running back.

What the fans did get was Tim Riodan. The Stars QB completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and 3 touchdowns with one interception; sadly he was never able to emulate this in the NFL. He played for New Orleans Saints during the 1987 season playing in one game with one attempted pass. The game also ended with the most exciting finally in Wembley’s pro football history (arguably). The Bandits QB Jimmy Jordan was intercepted in the end zone by Scott Woemer with 12 seconds left to preserve the stars 24-21 win.  

So there you have it. The US air force (mostly) left the UK. The USFL died a death (probably) and for the most part their roles in Wembley’s gridiron history have all but been forgotten. So next time you are on the sofa with a beer watching the game, or cheering in the stands at the national stadium remember there is more to Wembley gridiron than just the NFL

With thanks to and sourced from:

www.britballnow.co.uk

www.390th.org

www.stripes.com

www.usafefootball.com

www.theusfl.com

www.nfl.com

www.oursportscentral.com

www.itnsource.com

 

Is there a curse of Thursday Night?

The National Football League has been pushing the Thursday Night Football product at fans for a few years now and the 2014 season is the first time that a full slate of competitive game s has been on offer. Up until this season, the NFL Network presenters have been forced to be enthusiastic about something that they must have know, deep down, was subpar compared to the Sunday and Monday games.

The difficulty for TNF, so far, is that every game in the 2014 campaign has been a mismatch in terms of a final score. In week 1, the Baltimore Ravens rolled over the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-6. Fans that followed the Steelers through the previous season might have guessed that the Ravens would have the edge but most would have expected the Steelers to bounce back from their disappointing 8-8 record.

Week 2 saw the Falcons annihilate one of the 2014 NFL’s most troubled franchises. The Buccaneers looked to be a contender for the number 1 draft pick in 2015, until their late victory against the Steelers in week 4, but now that prize looks as though it may go Jacksonville’s way. The Bucs were easily handled by the Falcons on Thursday Night Football, a second blowout in as many weeks.

Week 3 promised fans so much. The New York Giants had come off a much needed win against the Texans, in week 2, and the Washington Redskins had come off a two game run where they had scored 75 points. Fans expected a competitive, high scoring game, that would have kept regular and fantasy fans on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately, the game was never a contest as the Giants massacred the Redskins 45-14.

October 2nd always looked to be a bad date for the Vikings after all of the turmoil in Minnesota. They went into the game against the Green Bay Packers without key players. Adrian Peterson has been suspended indefinitely and Christian Ponder was thrown into the fray due to the injury to Teddy Bridgewater. Add to that the hot play from the Packers and the result was never going to be in question. By the end of the game the Packers looked to have found their form because they had racked up 66 unanswered points against the Bears and Vikings through weeks 3 and 4. Good for the Cheese Heads but not good for TNF.

Going forward, week 5 could see a competitive game as the red-hot Colts face off against the Houston Texans. The Colts have scored 136 points on their way to a 2-2 record but the Texans have only allowed 67. The Texans are at the top of the AFC South and the game is a divisional battle. That means that anything can happen, so don’t be surprised if one of these teams blows the other one out in true Thursday Night Football fashion.

As the season goes on, the games look as though they’ll be more fun to watch. Only Kansas City vs. Oakland, Cincinnati vs. Cleveland, and the Arizona vs. St. Louis games look to be mismatches at this point. Highlights of the schedule could include San Diego vs. Denver, New Orleans vs. Carolina, Dallas vs. Chicago, and San Diego vs. San Francisco. All of those teams have ability so the curse of Thursday Night Football could be broken.

Thankfully, Flex-Scheduling can’t touch Thursday, Saturday, or Monday Night games, so any potentially good match-up for Thursdays will be left as it is. If your team is playing in a Thursday night game this season, add your feelings about their chances. Do you believe in the TNF curse?

 

FXFL - Another Flop?

Remember the USFL, the World League, NFL Europe or more recently the doomed XFL? Well next to challenge the NFL dominance is the FXFL, sort of!

In just under two weeks this new professional league kicks off its six week regular season. Its plan and business model are aimed at complimenting the NFL as opposed to challenging it. The FXFL’s plan is to provide a “platform for players, coaches’ and referees” to develop. They aim to provide professional sports to a more local market in smaller venues (how many pro sports leagues can you name looking to play in small scale stadiums?). In fact the largest venue (Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park) has just 35,000 seats.

But what this league has figured out is timing. FXFL football is going to be played and televised on week nights when there is no NFL or college football. So in effect it is competing by not competing (if you get my drift)!

Cool so pro football in LA right? NOPE! In fact you will have to travel across 5 states to Omaha if you live in the city of Angels and want to watch your nearest team. For that matter there are only four teams to choose from!

So the four teams, the first team are the Blacktips. Now the logo implies a fish and that’s fine, I’m no fisherman so won’t comment on the relevance. Sadly these fish are homeless however they will be playing in Florida (apparently Miami).

In New York are the Brooklyn Bolts, a big mistake! Even with the smart scheduling this club and a lot of serious pro sports teams to contend with from both New York and New Jersey! But their logo is very cool!

In Boston are the Brawlers who will play in Harvard. Not sure what to say about them but they look a touch dull. Former Chicago Bear’s offensive coordinator Terry Shea is at the helm here.  

 Finally are LA’s local team Omaha Mammoths. This is the only franchise I get. There is little in the way of pro sports, a good stadium and fan base. They also have credible talent including former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson.

I normally cover Europe so I’ll put my Euro cap on. This league will flop within one season in the US. But this kind of league has similarities of the NFL Europe. Imagine this league in Europe featuring the London Mammoths and star LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the Berlin Bolts, Paris Brawlers and Amsterdam Blacktips. I love the idea of an NFL team in the UK I really do. But I prefer the idea of NFL Europe even more!  

 Source: www.fxfl.com