Chris Culliver meets the press Thursday morning at the Niners’ team hotel in New Orleans.
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NEW ORLEANS – Brendon Ayanbadejo had said he wanted to use the Super Bowl to shed light on his pet cause: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
The former CFL star – now the Baltimore Ravens’ backup linebacker and special-teams specialist – got that chance on Thursday.
And, boy, did he ever use it to full, loud effect.
Ayanbadejo cut to the heart of the matter with frank, incisive comments that surely will challenge both NFL leaders and players alike, and for a long time to come.
First the catalyst.
In another huge off-field controversy here at Super Bowl XLVII, backup San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told a radio host he would not stand for having a gay teammate. The interview aired Wednesday.
“I don’t do the gay guys, man,” Culliver told Artie Lange, a former sidekick to Howard Stern, on his radio show. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do … Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room, man. Nah.”
Of course, those vile comments blew up through the Interwebs by Wednesday night.
The Niners issued a distancing news release almost immediately.
On Thursday morning, at the Niners’ scheduled all-player media interview session with hundreds of accredited media, Culliver was swarmed at his roundtable.
A 24-year-old second-year man from Philadelphia, Culliver apologized repeatedly, citing the same explanation almost word-for-word each time:
“I was just joking about it, but it’s nothing that I feel in my heart,” the sullen, tuque-wearing Culliver said.
An hour later, at the Ravens’ hotel, Ayanbadejo left no grey area as to where he stands on the whole issue, when similarly swamped by the football press.
The 36-year-old father of two has been a vocal, fearless supporter of the LGBT communities for years. He grew up in the Bay Area, where his step-father was director of an LGBT-supportive residence.
Is he angry at Culliver?
“I couldn’t really even say anything negative to the young man,” said Ayanbadejo, who more than a decade ago played in the CFL for Winnipeg, Toronto and B.C.
“It’s just one of those things where you have to live, and you have to learn … In the words of Martin Luther King, you can’t fight hate with hate. You have to fight hate with love.”
The longer Ayanbadejo spoke, the more he got worked up.
The reason? He said Culliver is far from the only NFL player who agrees with Culliver’s words – the ones he said in the radio interview, not in the apology session.
“I’ve preached since Day 1 to my teammates that there are certain words you can’t say, and when they’re around me they know – you can’t say gay in a derogatory manner,” Ayanbadejo said. “You can’t say the three-letter F-word.
“And I tell them, ‘You can’t say those things (anywhere). And if people hear you say those things, regardless of whether you mean them or not, they’re going to fry you. And if it’s in a public arena, your whole reputation is going to be roasted for it.’”
Ayanbadejo sounded frustrated that his stance “hasn’t swayed anybody” to his point of view.
And comments such as Culliver’s?
“I hear it all the time, I hear it every day,” he said. “And it’s not just in the locker room, it’s on my Twitter (account), it’s on my Facebook. So I hear it all the time, I hear it every day. I’m not surprised, but that’s why I speak so loudly about this.”
What percentage of Americans oppose LGBT rights?
“I’d say 50% of the people think like Culliver,” Ayanbadejo said. “I’d say 25% of the people think like me, and then 25% of the people are religious. They don’t necessarily agree with all of the things I agree with, but they’re accepting.
“It’s a fight. It’s an uphill battle.”
Ayanbadejo is making it less so. In one corner of the world, he just helped the LGBT cause take a big step – in the right direction.
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THESE NINERS, RAVENS ARE OPEN TO A GAY TEAMMATE:
NEW ORLEANS – We asked various players on the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens on Thursday if they think NFL players would be accepting if a teammate announced he was gay.
“I don’t know if anyone has, or whatever, but I’m sure he can,” 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said.
Added 49ers running back Frank Gore: “It wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t have a problem with it. That’s his (issue). As long as he can help us win games, and he’s a great football player – hey, come on.”
Ravens tight end Ed Dickson agreed, to a point.
“I have some mixed emotions, but I’m fine with that,” Dickson said. “It’s a free country to be who you are – let your personality shine. If a player comes out, that’s fine. We’d support him, if he’s been through it all and stuff like that.
“Society sees football being the manliest of the manly sports. But I think holding that stuff in is (wrong).”
Jewel Hampton, a backup running back on the 49ers, offered this passionate, eloquent take:
“I definitely think it’s a new day and age, where people should be able to be themselves,” Hampton said. “I strongly believe in that. I think people are ready for it.
“There have been so many stages that gay and lesbian people have gone through to get to this point. So I definitely think that America has opened up the door for it, and they should be comfortable enough to come out and say it.”
Asked if a family member or close friend is a member of the LGBT community, Hampton said no.
“Not at all. This is just how I feel. This is the first time I’ve ever been asked my opinion on it. I’m glad to say it.”
NEW ORLEANS – The Bills in Toronto series has indeed been extended for five more years.
As we reported exclusively eight months ago, the Buffalo Bills and Rogers Media are expected to announce on Tuesday that the NFL team will continue to play one regular-season home game per year in Toronto for the next five seasons, and one exhibition game only in that span.
The news is expected to be announced Tuesday at a mid-day news conference in Toronto. New Bills head coach Doug Marrone is expected to attend.
The long delay was caused by the club’s slow, complicated negotiations with various levels of government to extend its lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. That process finally was completed last month when it was announced the club had agreed to a 10-year extension, on the promise of various stadium upgrades.
For obvious reasons, the club did not want to announce an extension of its Toronto series while the future of its local homefield lease remained unresolved.
So, as in the past five years, the Bills will relocate one of their eight regular-season home games to Toronto’s lake-front domed stadium, where the Bills have won only once so far – in 2011 against the Washington Redskins.
Last month, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Bills, 50-17 (Toronto Sun photo, above.). Two weeks later, the Bills fired head coach Chan Gailey and all of his assistant coaches.
The Bills made a killing from the original five-year deal. Rogers paid the club $78 million for five regular-season and two pre-season games – a shot into the Bills’ coffers of $11.14 million per game, more than double what the team clears from each home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, according to a Buffalo News report.
Neither side is expected to reveal on Tuesday how much Rogers is paying the Bills for the five-year extension, but a source in May said the amount would be “significantly” less than $78 million.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last year said the Bills-in-Toronto extension would be “a great thing” for both the franchise and NFL fans in New York and Ontario.
Many Bills players last month, however, did not share that view – as the games in Toronto, for them, play more like a neutral-site game than a home game.
Indeed, hundreds if not thousands of fans last month cheered on the Seahawks. That predicament likely would end if the Bills would start making the playoffs again – which the club hasn’t done since the 1990s.
(Above: Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh
and theirfather, Jack Harbaugh. REUTERS)
NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the accompanying photos, below, are courtesy of Greg Kinney at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan…
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Two old football coaches, by chance, sometimes meet up at Baltimore Ravens training camp.
Jack Harbaugh and Gary Moeller.
Brothers-in-arms of gridiron battles past, now retired. Hair, greyer. Legs, gimpier. Voices, a tinge raspier. But still possessing the same fire for life, the same passion for a kid’s game.
“I really enjoy it when I go down to training camp and Jack’s there, and we can kick back and tell stories,” Moellersaid this week over the phone while visiting Lima, Ohio. “Jack’s a great storyteller. And he can go on and on and on. We have a great time, reminiscing.”
About their careers. And, especially, about their boys.
John and Jim Harbaugh, and Andy Moeller.
Jack Harbaugh’s and Gary Moeller’s careers crossed paths for only four years, in the mid-1970s at the University of Michigan, as assistants under Bo Schembechler. That’s when their boys met. (And that’s Gary, left, and Jack, circa mid-’70s, at right.)
The trio became instant friends, and it was then – as children – that each began dreaming of a life in football, just like their dads.
Ever since, the sons’ paths have been crossing and criss-crossing far more frequently than their dads’ ever did, both on the field and off.
But never more significantly, or serendipitously, than next Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.
John Harbaugh – Jack and Jackie Harbaugh’s oldest of three children – is the 50-year-old head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Jim Harbaugh – the middle child – is the 49-year-old head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Andy Moeller – Gary and Ann Moeller’s one son out of four children – is the 48-year-old offensive line coach of the Ravens, under John.
In a moment that has fate blushing and coincidence shaking its head, the Ravens – with John and Andy – will square off against Jim’s 49ers next Sunday in North America’s No.1 annual sporting spectacle.
Three boyhood, sports-loving friends – reunited four decades later on a football field in front of 72,000 in New Orleans and an expected North American TV audience of 120 million.
What are the odds?
In the mid-’70s as kids, the trio goofed off together, played backyard sports together, competed against one another in organized league sports, and got in trouble together – such as on one famous occasion when the Harbaugh boys unintentionally interrupted the high holy proceedings of a precisely scheduled Bo Schembechler Wolverine football practice, which aroused the hair-trigger wrath of the larger-than-life man they all worshipped then, and, in more than a few ways, still emulate now as coaches themselves.
While Schembechler (right, circa 1976) retired from the profession in 1990 and died in 2006, his coaching tree yet grows – a soaring, solid Savannah oak with gravity-defying branches snaking every which way.
It boasts four national-champion college head coaches: Jack Harbaugh himself (Western Kentucky, Division I-AA, 2002), Bill McCartney (Colorado, 1990), Lloyd Carr (Michigan, 1997) and Les Miles (LSU, 2007).
A week from now the Bo tree adds a Super Bowl champion head coach from the pro ranks, whose last name is Harbaugh.
Many good yarns have been, and will be, spun about the Harbaugh brothers and this ‘Harbowl.’ This story chronicles the Harbaugh and Moeller offshoots on that tree, and how they began intertwining right from the get-go in Ann Arbor, Mich., starting in 1973.
Having grown up at about the same time, nearby, as a huge Michigan fan in Windsor, Ont. – just across the river from Detroit – I’m probably more familiar with this story than most. If there ever was a time to share it, it’s now.
* * *
John and Jim Harbaugh met Andy Moeller soon after their dad, Jack, left the University of Iowa football staff to join Schembechler’s at Michigan in ’73.
John was age 10, Jim 9, Andy almost 9.
Jack became the Wolverine defensive backs coach and served directly under Gary Moeller, then defensive coordinator.
So it all started with a Harbaugh working under a Moeller.
It was an enormous step up the coaching ladder for the elder Harbaugh, who had been relocating his family about every two years for a decade while moving up the ranks. Just six years earlier he’d been an assistant at Morehead State.
Now he was assisting one of the brightest, fieriest, exacting head coaches in all of college football – in the big-time. Schembechler’s ’70s teams were outstanding: 96-16-3 (.848).
This was the zenith of his 21-year career at Michigan, an era now principally remembered for the “Ten Year War” – when Schembechler’s Wolverines and Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes annually fought tooth-and-nail for the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth in their monumental, season-ending clash.
“Jack really fit in well with the Michigan coaches,” Gary said. “He’s very fundamental, just like his sons. You know, technique and all those things were important to him. And he could really communicate with the players, as well.”
Off the field, away from all that intensity, the Harbaugh and Moeller families became close.
Especially the kids.
“They’d hang out while going to practice, and watching practice,” Gary said. “John and Jim showed up with Jack, and Andy would come with me at times.
“We all really got to know one another better at the bowl games. They would spend lots of time together – all the kids did. We had a large staff of kids, really. On occasion, the families would get together in Ann Arbor too.”
The Harbaughs and Moellers lived in different areas of town. The youth football league fielded teams by district. John and Jim played on the Packers, Andy on the Wolverines.
So 1973 was the first time Jim competed against Andy in organized football.
As is always the case in youth football, many youngsters didn’t have a clue what to do. These three boys sure did, though.
“You’d see some kids with the facemask turned the wrong way,” Gary says, laughing. “They were just little kids. But our boys knew how to play the game, because they’d watched it so closely.
“They had fun playing against one another. I think they did in basketball, too. I know they were on opposite teams in that too.”
Over the next four years, John, Jim and Andy grew closer.
“They had the same group of friends as younger kids,” Gary said. “They saw one another quite a bit.”
By January 1977 the boys had entered their early teens. But that’s when the Moellers left Ann Arbor, for the University of Illinois hired Gary to be its head football coach.
The Harbaughs remained in “A-squared” until 1980, for seven years in all – by far the longest time the boys spent anywhere.
“We look back, and growing up mainly at the University of Michigan when they were in elementary school and junior high school, they loved sports, had a passion for sports,” Jack said in a teleconference call on Thursday with wife Jackie and daughter Joani. “They enjoyed being around the game.”
The famous story in Michigan circles is the day the Harbaugh boys lived to tell about interrupting a Schembechler practice.
Here they were playing catch off to the side of the field, as the Wolverines practised before some big game. But, as inevitably happens, the ball bounded the wrong way – onto the practice field, stopping proceedings.
Jim went out to fetch it. Schembechler went nuts, barking at Jack to get that something-damn kid off his something-damn field.
At Ravens’ training camp this past August, I asked John in an interview if that story were true.
“Absolutely! But who do you think was the one who sent Jim out there to get the ball?!” John said, laughing. “And Bo threw Jim off. I was the older brother. It was my prerogative.”
Gary Moeller laughs, too, at his boss’s reaction.
“Bo loved to holler at those young kids, because he liked to see them take off. They probably enjoyed it as much as they were scared about him getting on them.”
The way John set up Jim to get reamed by Bo speaks to their sibling rivalry.
It was intense. Not that you wouldn’t expect that from two highly athletic-minded brothers, born only 15 months apart.
Jim had a burning desire to not only compete in everything, but be the best in everything – and win at everything. As Jack said a couple of years ago in an NFL Films documentary about the family, a teacher once complained to him that little Jim competed too hard. Jack was appalled that an educator would actually want to drive that spirit out of his hyper-motivated son.
John, meantime, discovered at an early age that his younger brother possessed far more natural athletic ability that he did – which probably only further stoked his own competitive fires. No damn little brother of his was ever going to outdo him in anything, if he could help it.
Even if, as athletes, he couldn’t.
* * *
Both John and Jim played football in high school – John for four years at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High, Jim for two years there before playing two more in Palo Alto, Calif., after dad Jack had left Michigan to work for Jack Elway (yes, John Elway’s dad) at Stanford.
John, a 6-foot defensive back, played college ball at Miami of Ohio – where Schembechler and Moeller had coached in the 1960s. Injuries kept him from playing much.
Jim, a 6-foot-3 quarterback, was an all-region player at Palo Alto High in his senior year, 1981. After having idolized Michigan’s option-wizard quarterback Rick Leach from 1975-78 (see video, above, of Jim congratulating Leach on a TD against Duke in 1977), Harbaugh as a high-schooler came to similarly admire Stanford’s starting quarterback at the time – one John Elway.
Just last week, Harbaugh was saying how he was still miffed he hadn’t been heavily recruited by the big colleges. Yet Michigan’s scholarship offer was no legacy gift, Gary Moeller said: “He was somebody that we definitely recruited.”
So back to Ann Arbor went Jim, as a freshman football recruit. Who joined him in that incoming class?
Andy Moeller, a star linebacker at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High.
The Moellers had moved back to town in 1980, after Illinois fired Gary for going 6-24-3 (.227) in three years; Schembechler welcomed him back on his staff.
Reunited, old buds Jim and Andy both redshirted at Michigan in 1982, then saw spot action at their positions in 1983. Andy played quite a bit at inside linebacker in 1984, then started his final two years.
Jim started five games at QB in 1984 before breaking his arm, then broke out as one of college football’s most efficient, big-play quarterbacks in 1985 and ’86.
“Their junior and senior years, I think, they roomed together in a house – a bunch of guys lived in that house,” said Gary, who coached his son as Michigan’s defensive coordinator (see right). “When they both came back for a fifth year, they each went to separate apartments. They still got along well.”
In 1986, Harbaugh was everybody’s second-team all-American (behind Miami’s Vinny Testaverde) and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Perhaps most importantly to Harbaugh, he became the 1980s version of his idol, Leach: A Michigan quarterback who dazzled with his arm and his feet, and who usually won the big games. Harbaugh even ran some option plays, out of both the I-formation and wishbone.
And, as Leach had done twice in the late ’70s, and as no Michigan quarterback has done since, in his senior season Harbaugh led the Wolverines to Pasadena by defeating Ohio State at Ohio State in a game for all the marbles. No small feat.
That day in 1986 says as much about Jim Harbaugh, the competitor, as anything ever could.
A week earlier, the Wolverines had been 9-0 and ranked No. 3 until a gutting, last-minute loss in their home finale to Minnesota.
Instinctively, Harbaugh surmised that his devastated teammates needed something to rally behind, with a trip to Columbus only days away and a Rose Bowl berth still there for the taking.
So Harbaugh shocked his teammates and – you better believe it – his coaches when he told the Detroit-area press corps on the Monday before that Michigan would beat Ohio State – guaranteed.
What did he just say?!! Yup.
No Michigan player under Schembechler had ever done anything remotely as bold. Yet the old man did not rebuke him. He, too, must have sensed the need.
Down in Columbus, Harbaugh’s guarantee was akin to spray-painting the entire city blue. Ohioans like Wolverines as much as Hugo Stiglitz liked Nazis in Inglorious Basterds. They now liked Harbaugh even less.
And he reveled in it.
The Buckeyes came out stoked, dominating the first half to take a 14-6 lead at the break. But in the second half, with tens of thousands of Buckeye fans either chanting his name in derision, or screaming their lungs out to try to drown out his offensive signals, Harbaugh didn’t flinch an inch.
In fact he was so poised, confident and self-assured in that second half, he continually made it appear as though he were struggling to yell out audibles to his teammates above the catcalls, which egged on the Ohio Stadium crowd to yell all the louder – which is exactly what he wanted.
Jim Harbaugh wasn’t audibling into anything. He intended to send those taunting Ohioans home not only with broken hearts, but hoarse throats.
Meantime, Andy Moeller helped to settle down a defence that had been shredded in the first 30 minutes both on the ground and, especially, through the air by quarterback Jim Karsatos and his favourite pass target, Cris Carter, the future Minnesota Vikings star.
In the end, Harbaugh had the third best passing day in series history (261 yards), Moeller and the defence stiffened, and Michigan won 26-24.
The Wolverines – led by their two co-captains, Jim Harbaugh and Andy Moeller – thus earned their first trip to the Rose Bowl in four years.
“Jim and Andy (Nos. 49 and 4, at right) provided excellent leadership that year,” Gary said. “They did that because they were hard-working kids. They saw that in other people all the way while growing up. They both worked hard. That’s the leadership you sometimes provide.”
* * *
Unsurprisingly, John, Jim and Andy all wound up pursuing careers in football.
Jim, of course, went on to have a solid 15-year turn as quarterback in the NFL – mainly with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts.
It was with the Colts that he earned the nickname “Captain Comeback,” for rallying the team to so many come-from-behind victories and taking it, in 1995, to within a whisker of reaching the Super Bowl.
Neither John nor Andy played football after college. Both went into coaching. Even before his NFL playing career ended, Jim started to coach, as a volunteer assistant for his dad at Western Kentucky.
While John and Andy got jobs more than once along the way thanks to dear old dad, or dear old dad’s connections, and while Jim’s fame as a player undoubtedly helped him when he launched his coaching career in earnest in 2001, the following must also be said.
Each paid his dues – starting out by working insane hours, doing the joe-est of jobs, for peanuts, at the lowliest levels.
They’ve earned this.
John has been head coach of the Ravens since 2008. Jim has been head coach of the Niners since 2011. Andy joined John’s first Ravens staff as assistant offensive line coach, then two years ago ascended to primary offensive line coach:
Jack reiterated this week that he is elated his sons chose to become coaches.
But wouldn’t a coach know better than anyone the life-sucking hours the profession demands, and thus want his sons to pursue something else?
Answered Gary Moeller about Andy:
“It’s what he wanted to do … I think you’re always happy when your kid is happy in his career. Yeah, we know the bad parts of the job, so you always worry about those, like you said – the long hours. But that’s part of it. And if you enjoy your work, it goes fast.
“It’s worked out well for Andy, obviously being part of the Super Bowl. It’s something that’s hard to get to. You can’t believe how many great players or coaches who have long careers who never even get into Super Bowls.”
John reportedly earned $4 million in 2012, Jim $5 million, and Andy probably about $200,000.
Asked what Schembechler would make of the trio’s coaching successes, Gary said:
“He would like how these guys have made it … He had great success himself, and to see that happen for these kids, it’s the same type of thing. He’d be very proud.”
* * *
Every now and then, I read a quote from John or Jim Harbaugh and chuckle.
Few besides a balding Michigan football historian like me probably ever suspects that some of their sayings, and actions, descend straight from one Bo Schembechler all those years ago.
Such as last year, when one of the Harbaughs – or maybe it was both – inspired his NFL players by telling them their one and only overriding concern had to be “the team, the team, the team.” That was a classic Schembechler creed; look it up on YouTube.
Or when Jim gets gruff with reporters in news conferences. Sometimes it sounds as though he’s actually impersonating Schembechler’s legendary snippiness.
Am I right about all these references, I asked John in that training-camp interview last summer?
“Yeah, you’re right. That’s exactly what it is, absolutely,” he said. “It’s Bo. And for us, too, it’s Jack. It’s our Dad. And our Dad was a part of that. We’ve heard Bo-isms since I was in fifth grade and Jim was in third grade, when we were at Michigan.”
Mantras don’t get your team to the Super Bowl, however. Good coaching does.
And one of the chief reasons the Harbaugh boys are winning, and winning big, at the NFL level – together they’ve been to five conference championship games in seven years, for goodness sake – is because they’ve also tapped into the bedrock Schembechler formula for winning football games.
Not his passé option-I offence, or his now archaic 5-2 slant defence. It’s something much more rudimentary, underneath all those X’s and O’s.
“I think we know what good football looks like,” John told me of his and Jim’s successes. “It’s irrespective of how you move the ball. It pertains to good football. Good, solid, field-position football.
“You don’t make mistakes. You play solid defence. You don’t turn the ball over. You get first downs, and you control the clock. And you can do that any way you want. You can do it throwing, you can do it running; you can do it blitzing, you can do it playing (zone) coverage.”
Thus, John said, his and Jim’s NFL success is “really founded on those principles … And for us, the principles remain the same – they’re written in stone. Methods can change, but the principles are in stone.”
Jack Harbaugh and Gary Moeller should have plenty more pride-swelling stories to regale each other with for years to come.
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PLAYED: Bowling Green St U, 1957-60; New York Titans (AFL), 1961
ASS’T COACH JOBS:
1964-65 Eaton High
1966 Xenia High
1967 Morehead St U
1968-70 Bowling Green St U
1971-73 U of Iowa
1973-79 U of Michigan
1980-81 Stanford U
1987-88 U of Pittsburgh
2004-06 U of San Diego
2009 U of Stanford
HEAD COACH JOBS:
1982-86 Western Michigan U
1989-2002Western Kentucky U
RECORD: 117-94-3 (.554)
PLAYED: Ohio State U, 1961-63
ASS’T COACH JOBS:
1967-68 Miami of Ohio U
1969-76 U of Michigan
1980-89 U of Michigan
1995-96 Cincinnati Bengals (NFL)
1997-2000 Detroit Lions (NFL)
2001 Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)
2002-03 Chicago Bears (NFL)
HEAD COACH JOBS:
1977-79 U of Illinois
1990-94 U of Michigan
2000 Detroit Lions (NFL)
RECORD: 4-3 (.571); college 50-37-6 (.554)
PLAYED: Miami of Ohio U, 1980-83
ASS’T COACH JOBS:
1984-87 Western Michigan U
1987 U of Pittsburgh
1988 Morehead State U
1989-1996 U of Cincinnati
1997 Indiana U
1998-2007 Philadelphia Eagles (NFL)
HEAD COACH JOBS:
2008-present Baltimore Ravens (NFL)
RECORD: 54-26 (.675), post-season 8-4 (.667)
PLAYED: Michigan, 1983-86; Chicago Bears, 1987-93; Indianapolis Colts, 1994-97; Baltimore Ravens, 1998; San Diego Chargers, 1998-2000; Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, 2001.
ASS’T COACH JOBS:
1994-2001 Western Kentucky U
2002-03 Oakland Raiders (NFL)
HEAD COACH JOBS:
2004-06 U of San Diego
2007-10 Stanford U
2011-present San Francisco 49ers (NFL)
RECORD: 24-7-1 (.766), post-season 3-1 (.750); college 58-27 (.611)
MOBILE, Ala. – A few random observations, on the field and off, after two days of Senior Bowl practices:
– Of the six quarterbacks participating here, the South’s so far have looked better, with all the understandable and valid small-window caveats. Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Landry Jones (Oklahoma) and E.J. Manuel (Florida State) have thrown much more accurate and snappier passes than their North team counterparts. Wilson might wind up ahead of the bunch. Manuel has plenty of arm strength, but he doesn’t seem to get much of his body into his throws; he’s all arm. That leads to inaccuracy, and he told me on Monday the thing he has to work on most is his consistency.
– Of the North team QBs, Mike Glennon of North Carolina State throws the best pro-ready ball. Glennon truly is a string bean (nearly 6-foot 7, 220 pounds), but his footwork is better than you’d expect. The knock on Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib has been that he throws only one speed and at one trajectory – hard and low. While his throws are low, in simple drills he skipped more than a couple of medium-range, cross-field outs, and even skipped one standard deep slant. He appears to lack the requisite NFL arm strength to make such passes effortlessly and consistently; perhaps his arm was sore. Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert really struggled on Tuesday in some passing drills, but – like Nassib – made better throws in live-action 11-on-11 drills.
– Heads of dozens of NFL coaches and scouts all turned in the east end-zone stands on Tuesday morning when Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano walked by. Many probably wanted to run down the aisles and shake Pagano’s arm off, but refrained. One who did offer regards merely asked about the family. Pagano, who missed most of his first season in Indy while successfully battling a rare form of leukemia, no doubt appreciated everyone’s restraint.
– New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan appears even more svelte than he did after shedding 103 pounds last off-season. Maybe his wife will get a tattoo of him some day soon.
– Michigan’s Denard Robinson is here as a wide-receiver and kick-return prospect, despite having been one of the top rushing quarterbacks in NCAA history. The speedy Robinson is clearly a fantastic athlete, but he’s as raw as raw gets in both of his new vocations. He looks lost in both, frankly. He catches too many simple passes against his body, rather than with his hands, and is pretty much lost trying to judge punts. Robinson was held out of drills against defensive backs, as the nerve damage in his right (throwing) arm still has not healed in the three months since he first suffered the injury. He tried to throw a ball back to the quarterbacks at one point in Tuesday’s North-team practice, but it wobbled badly and didn’t make it, going only 15 or 20 yards in the air.
– Among defenders, defensive end Alex Okafor (Texas) is raising eyebrows. He has a powerful, fast burst around end as a pass rusher, and is nasty to boot.
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JAY GRUDEN ‘GLAD’ TO HAVE INTERVIEWED FOR 4 NFL TOP JOBS:
MOBILE, Ala. – Maybe Jay Gruden’s name will now surface as often as his older brother Jon’s does when NFL head-coaching vacancies arise.
As it was, four of the eight NFL teams that fired their head coaches at the conclusion of the 2012 season interviewed the younger Gruden, offensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It was a great experience for me, and I’m glad I did it,” Gruden told me on Tuesday, as the North team practised for Saturday’s Senior Bowl college all-star game.
The Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars all interviewed Gruden, but each wound up hiring someone else as head coach.
“I was probably a longshot in some of the cities,” Gruden said. “But, still, I’m glad I did it. It was a great process. The owners are passionate about winning. The GMs are all excited – young guys trying to put together a winner. It was neat to go through the process.”
At age 45, Jay is four years younger than Jon, the current Monday Night Football colour analyst for ESPN and former NFL head coach with Tampa Bay and Oakland. He led the 2002 Bucs to a Super Bowl championship.
Jon’s name annually gets thrown out as a candidate once head-coaching jobs become available.
Jay’s probably will now too. He said he didn’t feel pressure in the interviews, and wasn’t upset about going 0-for-4.
“There’s really not a lot of pressure on you when you have a job already that you really like and enjoy, and your family likes the area,” Gruden said of remaining in Cincinnati. “When you go out and interview somewhere else, if you get the job, great. If not, you’re still happy where you’re at.”
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CHIP KELLY’s IDEAL GAME: A BILLION TO NOTHING:
MOBILE, Ala. – New Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s renowned creativity and boundary-pushing apparently knows no bounds.
He dreams up new words on the spot, and takes hypotheticals to their extreme.
At least he did after the North team’s Senior Bowl practice on Monday, in answering questions about what he’s looking for in the offensive and defensive coordinators he has yet to hire.
“We’re all in a society where you want one word to describe everything,” said Kelly, whom the Eagles hired last week from the University of Oregon.
“I don’t think I can describe a defensive co-ordinator with one word. There are so many different things you’re looking at. How detail-oriented is he? What type of teacher is he? …”
Then the light bulb went off.
“I’ll give you a new word: shutout-ability,” Kelly said. “That would be the one overriding quality, and I have no idea how you would define that – but that’s actually a pretty good word. I’m gonna tell everybody. If you have shutout-ability, then I want to talk to you.”
Asked hypothetically what he wants in an offensive coordinator, Kelly kept rolling, linguistically.
“I’m not being gruff, but I’m not a hypothetical guy. Hypothetically, I want a guy who can score a billion points a game. When people ask me hypothetical questions, fine, then I’d like to score 25,000 points in a game, hypothetically.”
Betcha Kelly dreams of 25,000 to 0 boxscores, though.
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TE’O TEAMMATE: I DIDN’T KNOW DEAD-GIRLFRIEND STORY WAS BOGUS
MOBILE, Ala. – A four-year teammate of Manti Te’o’s on the University of Notre Dame football team on Monday said he was unaware if other teammates were suspicious the star linebacker’s dead-girlfriend story was a fabrication.
“I don’t know. All I knew is that he had a girlfriend, and that was the extent of it,” centre Braxston Cave told me, after his North team’s first practice before Saturday’s Senior Bowl college all-star game.
“I try to stay out of people’s personal business.”
From last September until this month, Te’o had given many interviews in which he claimed his close girlfriend, Lennay Kekua*, had died of leukemia on the same day his grandmother did back in September.
Te’o – college football’s top linebacker – rode the wave of resultant sympathy all season long. He finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Last week, however, it was revealed that Kekua never existed.
In an off-camera interview Friday night with ESPN, Te’o claimed he was the victim of a cruel hoax – that the woman he met online deceived him, making up the name and duping him into believing she loved him.
Despite rampant speculation he was in on the deception, Te’o steadfastly denied it – as did the university in an earlier news conference.
But Te’o admitted he “tailored” stories in interviews about aspects of that relationship, even after he said he was informed in early December the romance was a sham.
One report late last week suggested that some members of the Notre Dame football team knew the relationship was bogus.
“Not that I know of,” said Cave, one of a group of strong senior leaders that helped the Fighting Irish finish the regular season undefeated, before getting slaughtered by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS national-championship game on Jan. 7.
Has all the speculation hurt Te’o?
“Absolutely,” Cave said. “This is a huge time in his life, and to have all these outside distractions, you never want to see that for such a great teammate. and such a great football player.
“He’s a tough kid. He’ll get through it.”
Asked if Te’o is, well, more gullible than most young men of his age, Cave said:
“People make mistakes. He thought he had someone that he loved, and he went with it.
“The social media aspect is bigger than it’s ever been. Guys make mistakes, and you live and learn. He’ll be fine – he’ll be fine.”
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* – Should I have boldfaced the name of someone who does not exist? Hmmmm.
ATLANTA, Ga. – After surrendering 445 total yards and four touchdowns to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson last Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons defence catches a break this weekend.
Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers come to town. He totalled only 444 total yards and four touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers last week. One yard less than Wilson.
So yeah. Bah. Piece of cake …
“He’s a game-wrecker,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said of Kaepernick this week.
The Niners and host Falcons kick it off Sunday at 3 p.m. EST at the Georgia Dome (CTV/FOX) in the NFC championship game. The winner faces the AFC champion, New England or Baltimore, in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
In the Niners’ 45-31 skewering of the Packers, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards – a single-game NFL record for quarterbacks, regular season or playoffs – and threw for 263.
It was an omnipotent dual-threat performance, which landed Kaepernick on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. And it has everyone in the NFL wondering how in the hell the middling Falcons defence can possibly cap Kap’s output.
Our five suggestions:
1) PLAY ZONE DEFENCE.
Except, perhaps, in obvious long-yardage passing situations, the Falcons should stick to a zone defence. It is the best way to eliminate easy long runs for Kaepernick.
In zone pass coverage, pass defenders face the quarterback. In man coverage, they turn their backs to the line of scrimmage and follow the receiver they’re covering wherever he runs.
When Kaepernick keeps around the edge on those killer read-option plays from the pistol, if your DBs have no idea Kap is even running it, because they’re in man coverage, you’re dead.
As retired Oklahoma wishbone practitioner Barry Switzertold me last month, “If you’re running like hell with the wide receiver, then before you know it you’re chasing the (quarterback’s) ass down the field.”
Kaepernick gouged the Packers on option-read keepers time and again for this very reason; the Packers insisted on defending the Niners with a lot of man coverage.
The Falcons already have publicly acknowledged the folly in that.
“You’ve got to have vision on defence,” head coach Mike Smith said, “and you can’t match up and play man coverage or man-to-man, because when he gets into the secondary he’s a guy that can go the distance.”
And that’s because Kaepernick is blazing fast.
“When he starts to stride it out,” Smith said, “I think you can see he can run away from defenders – and when I say defenders, you can see he runs away from defensive backs as well, as he did on Saturday night.”
Kaepernick’s only previous long touchdown run since taking over as Frisco’s starter in mid-November was the game-clinching score in early December against Miami.
It was a 3rd-and-five from midfield, and the Dolphins employed man-coverage on the one Niners wide receiver. Kap kept it on the pistol option-read to that cornerback’s side, who wound up about 15 yards up field, with his back to the play, by the time he realized Kaepernick already was running by him.
Forget it, touchdown.
Zone defence is the best antidote. That might open up more plays in the passing game, but Kaepernick has passed for more than 250 yards only twice in his eight starts.
2) DISCIPLINED ASSIGNMENT DEFENCE.
This is another age-old formula for containing an option offence. It works, but demands strict discipline from defenders.
That is, whenever the Falcons see the 49ers come out in one of their read-option formations, each defender has a specific assignment for ‘containing’ the possible options.
Each defender must execute his with precision, unfailingly, or big plays can be bled.
“I think if we can stay gap sound with our D-line,” Pro Bowl Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud explained to me this week, “and make sure that we’ve got a person accounting for the dive, the pitch, the quarterback whenever they bust out that read-option – then we should be fine.”
The reason so many NFL teams with young, fleet quarterbacks have turned to read-option plays this year – especially from pistol formations – is because they know they can exploit defences used to flying to the ball as soon as possible.
Assignment defence requires poise, not frenzy.
The most lethal blown assignment usually is when the defensive end on the side the quarterback might run to recklessly “crashes down” inside, either because he’s convinced the quarterback has handed off to the running back up the middle, or because he never bothered to even check.
The quarterback is reading for that very thing, and if he correctly identifies a crashing end and pulls the ball, a huge running lane around that vacated end opens up.
“You have to be very disciplined in what you do,” Nolan said.
“(Option football) adds a player to the scheme you’re trying to stop. Usually when a quarterback just takes the ball and gives it to somebody, that’s a guy you don’t account for – the quarterback doesn’t count. He’s just going to give the ball to someone. (Now) all of a sudden he’s an option to keep the ball.”
The Falcons actually did a good job in this regard against Wilson last week. He gained most of his 60 rushing yards on ad-lib scrambles, not designed read-options, on which Wilson had punctured defences late in the season.
3) CONFUSE HIM.
Use Kaepernick’s inexperience against him.
He’s starting for only the ninth time in the NFL. He will make mistakes, and he has much yet to learn about identifying coverages and pass-blocking assignments.
So confuse him.
Bait him into making a mistake, a la his awful pick-six last week against the Packers. Fake a blitz. Disguise a blitz. Switch coverage schemes at the last moment.
“We (will) change the looks up on him,” Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said.
“He’s a great quarterback, and done a lot of great things for his team. But the common denominator is he’s still a young quarterback. He can’t run from that one.”
4) SPY HIM ON PASSING DOWNS.
It’s not just on designed read-option plays that Kaepernick can kill you with his feet.
So, spy him on passing downs.
“Yeah, most definitely,” DeCoud said. “With a quarterback of his calibre and being able to tote the rock like he can, you always have to have somebody account for him in the rush, or in the back end. Somebody has to have eyes on him, to keep him in the pocket. That’s definitely going to be a part of what we need to do, and how we need to get this W.”
5) HIT HIM – EARLY AND OFTEN.
This is another old chestnut for defending option quarterbacks. If you smack the hell out of him when he opts to run it, you find he opts to run it less and less as the game wears on.
He gets tired of getting hit.
“You definitely want to set the tone and send the message,” DeCoud said. “If he’s a guy who likes to run the ball, we’ve got to let him know that we’re going to be here, ya know, putting the pads on him.”
* * *
Of course, the danger for the Falcons is if, in attempting to shut down Kaepernick on the ground, they open up more holes inside for running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James.
Or if they allow Niner wide receivers Tim Crabtree and Randy Moss and tight end Vernon Davis to repeatedly break free in their secondary.
Ya pick’s yer poison.
One thing’s for sure. The Falcons can’t use the same potion the Packers concocted last week.
It. Did. Not. Work.
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WAS KAP’S PERFORMANCE AGAINST THE PACK A FLUKE?
ATLANTA, Ga. – Has Colin Kaepernick been effective since taking over as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback on Nov. 19?
Has he been doing to every defence what he did last Saturday night to Green Bay’s?
No. Not even close.
Whereas Kaepernick racked up 444 total yards against the Pack, his previous single-game high was 281, in the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals.
In his last three regular-season games, Kaepernick had 64 yards rushing – combined. In fact only twice in his seven regular-season starts did he rush for more than 31 yards: Dec. 2 in St. Louis (84) and Dec. 9 against Miami (53).
What’s more, Kaepernick averaged only 229 yards passing in his seven regular-season starts.
If you believe in statistical outliers, Kaepernick’s performance last weekend might well qualify as one.
As a “fun thing” to do, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh this week arranged for plaques to be hung above each player’s locker.
Each plaque contained a photo and bio of the player from during his high school recruitment.
What about one for Harbaugh?
“They didn’t have the internet back in 1982 that I’m aware of,” Harbaugh said.
Fortunately, however, the John Kryk Football Archives go that far back.
As an unofficial college and Michigan football historian of sorts, I possess far too many musty boxes in my basement, to my wife’s chagrin. One produced the accompanying goods.
At his Wednesday news conference, Harbaugh sold short the modest buzz that actually did surround his own high school recruitment.
“I think in my day I was a fantastic player,” Harbaugh said. “But, for some reason, people just couldn’t see it. The college scouts and the scribes and the pundits just for some reason did not see it.”
Maybe so, but Harbaugh was named to several all-region and all-league teams in Palo Alto, Calif. – and also was an all-league basketball and baseball player. (see right)
Harbaugh chose to accept an athletic scholarship from the University of Michigan, whose practices he’d attended as a kid along with older brother John, as dad Jack Harbaugh coached defensive backs for Bo Schembechler from 1974-79.
Jim became a three-year starter and, as a senior in 1986, was named Big Ten MVP, a second-team All-American and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
The accompanying photo (above, from a 1982 Michigan football game program) was taken of Harbaugh when he was an 18-year-old true freshman, in ’82.
“To me, as I look through every single picture of every single guy,” Harbaugh said of his players’ high school photos, “I was moved by the eyes. It’s always in the eyes. They’re cheerful and undefeated. And it was nice to put those photos up.”
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The Freshman bio, inset above, was taken from the inaugural issue of the now defunct aMaize’nBlue magazine on University of Michigan athletics, September 1982 issue, Volume 1, Number 1. >>
Half a day before I fly down to Atlanta to cover Sunday’s Seahawks-Falcons divisional playoff game, here’s the feature on Tony Gonzalez I just filed, plus a few shorties on the Seattle Seahawks — including why Pete Carroll’s choice of playing James Brown songs in practice this week might have been a bad choice …..
END IS NEAR FOR NFL’S MOST PROLIFIC TIGHT END … BUT IT’S NOT A SLAM DUNK!
The NFL’s best slam-dunking tight end realizes his next game could be his last.
But it’s not quite a slam dunk.
Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons, the most prolific tight end in NFL history, has vowed all season long he’s “95% sure” he’s on his last lap as a pro football player.
To which everyone else in the league – well, except defensive coordinators and defenders that have to cover him – are saying, “What??! Are you crazy? Come back!”
Gonzalez just had one of the best seasons of his illustrious 16-year career – the fifth most TD catches (8), fifth most receiving yards (930) and fourth most catches (93).
The latter placed Gonzalez ninth among all NFL receivers in 2012.
But he hasn’t wavered from his intention to spend more time with his wife and three children.
Well rested after a bye, the top-seeded Falcons play their first playoff game on Sunday in the divisional round, in the Georgia Dome against the Seattle Seahawks (1 p.m. EST, CTV/FOX).
“Obviously, this could be it for me,” Gonzalez said on Thursday. “There is no tomorrow for me, and there is no saying, ‘We’ll get them next year.’ It’s about going out there and finishing on the right note. For me, that means I don’t care what happens in that game (individually). I just want to be up by one point at the end.”
Gonzalez has been an NFLer for so long, the team the drafted him – the Kansas City Chiefs – moved up to 13th overall to select him, in a trade with Houston.
The Houston Oilers.
That was in 1997. When Robert Griffin III was seven years old, and Peyton Manning was still playing his football at the University of Tennessee.
In 12 seasons in Kansas City, Gonzalez became one of the league’s top pass-catching tight ends practically from the get-go. Three times he had 1,000+ yards receiving. Once he even had 100+ receptions (102 in 2004).
He was traded to the Falcons before the 2009 season. Some thought he might be done. No chance.
In four seasons in Atlanta, the native of Torrance, Calif., has continued producing at an all-pro rate.
In fact, Gonzalez has been named to the Pro Bowl in 13 of the past 14 seasons – the only miss being his first year in Atlanta, when the Falcons were primarily a running team and people kind of forgot he was there.
Gonzalez’s career numbers are certain to punch his ticket to Canton the first year he’s eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To wit:
He has more receptions (1,242), yards (14,268), touchdown catches (103), Pro Bowl appearances (13), 100-yard receiving games (30) and 1,000-yard receiving seasons (3) than any tight end in NFL history.
Individually, there’s nothing else left for him accomplish. He has publicly stated on many occasions his desire to spend more time with wife, October, and their two children – a son, 11, and a daughter, 4. (He has an older son from a previous relationship.)
But to see him play, or be interviewed, you’d never know he’s age 36. Gonzalez seems as fit, as fleet and as athletic now at 6-foot-5, 247 pounds as he was in the ’90s with the Chiefs.
That’s where the 5% must come in.
He surely realizes he’s not washed up. It’s not like he’s had an injury-riddled career, either. Incredibly, he has missed two starts in 16 years – one in 1999, the other in 2006.
All of which is why Gonzalez wants to win Sunday’s game. He’s never won a playoff game.
“It’s huge, I’m not going to lie to you,” Gonzalez said. “I really want to win this game. Not just for me, honestly, it’s for the guys on this team (for) how hard we’ve worked. Like I’ve said, this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Will Gonzalez be more nervous than usual, since it could be his last game?
“Maybe a little bit … Maybe on that first play, it might be a little bit more. Once we get going, I’ll get into the swing of things.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. About 25 years now, so I’ll make sure I’ll go out there and just play ball.”
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GONZALEZ DOESN’T WANT TO PULL EVEN ONE FAVRE:
How will Tony Gonzalez decide, for sure, that he’s done as an NFLer?
The Atlanta Falcons tight end has said he’s 95% sure he’ll hang ’em up, after either a playoff loss or the Super Bowl.
“I’m going to go back and talk to my family, and my inner circle, my son,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not going to change it.”
And the family?
“They’re 95%, too.”
When will he decide?
“It’ll be well into the off-season. I want to make sure that I make the right decision … We’ll see. Like I said, I’m not going to play that game with the media or, really, I’m not going to play that game with my team. We’ll see.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to pull a Brett Favre. And good on him for that.
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IT’S A CRAZY (AND SMALL) WORLD AFTER ALL FOR LONGWELL:
Ryan Longwell hadn’t kicked a football since the Minnesota Vikings cut him in training camp.
At age 38 he must have figured his long NFL career was over.
Indeed, until this week he’d been training to run a marathon this coming Sunday, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King – a marathon that winds through the four Disney theme parks near Longwell’s Orlando, Fla., home.
But Longwell won’t be running in that marathon. Instead, he’ll be the starting placekicker for the Seattle Seahawks in their NFL divisional playoff game in Atlanta, against the top-seeded Falcons.
Crazy how one phone call can change your life, huh?
And one injury.
The Seahawks’ regular placekicker, Steven Hauschka, suffered a calf injury last Sunday on the Washington Redskins’ awful playing surface, loosely termed grass, at FedEx Field. Hauschka booted three field goals in Seattle’s 24-14 victory, but could not go this week.
He has been placed on injured reserve.
“We brought four guys in to kick,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said the other day. “We knew we had to do something, and when you look at Ryan’s background – the great experience he’s had, the time he’s had in playoff situations and all of that … I think he can handle it.”
Longwell won the job.
It’s not like he’d been out of the game long. He successfully booted 361 field goals in a stellar NFL career over the previous 15 seasons, with the Green Bay Packers and Vikings (above, Reuters photo).
Longwell lost his job in Minnesota to rookie Blair Walsh, who wound up making 92% of his field goals (35-of-38).
Longwell impressed Carroll and his coaches at the tryout.
“He banged a nice 50-yarder and did fine,” Carroll said. “He hit everything, and kicked the ball well on kickoff.
“A few of our coaches have been with him before and knew him really well. Very even-keeled, a true professional and all of that.”
Because he’d been training for a marathon, Longwell of course is in outstanding shape, too.
“I think it’s a cool story,” Carroll said. “Imagine sitting home, working out, and the phone rings, and you’re going to the playoffs.”
The topper? Longwell was born in Seattle.
It’s a small world, after all.
Speaking of which, Longwell can run around Disney World all he wants in a few weeks, if he still wants to.
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RUSSELL WILSON CAN BLOCK, TOO:
Russell Wilson, the last rookie quarterback still playing this season, can throw. And run.
A couple of times in last Sunday’s 24-14 win in Washington, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback got downfield to block ahead of running back Marshawn Lynch.
One was effective enough to add a few more yards to Lynch’s gain. Another helped Lynch to score the go-ahead touchdown.
“It’s not like it’s any bone-crushing ones, although he did knock someone down on one,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
“Every play for him, he plays it to the end. He’s a competitor and you’ve seen it. He’ll throw his body around.”
For his part, Wilson knows his limitations.
“I don’t try to take on linebackers or defensive linemen or anything crazy like that,” Wilson said. “Hopefully it’s somebody my size, otherwise I’ll be pretty smart about it.”
A defender his size? Good luck there. With ruffled hair, Wilson stands 5-foot-11, tops. And he’s a shade over 200 pounds.
Only cornerbacks are that size or smaller.
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SEAHAWKS FEEEEEL GOOD:
Pete Carroll usually feels good. You knew that he would.
Yes, that’s a groaner James Brown reference. But there’s a point.
It’s apropos because songs from the Godfather of Soul comprised the “Song of the Day” playlist at Seattle Seahawks practices this week. Carroll’s practices are anything but serious affairs.
According to Carroll’s own tweets, these are the “SOTD” James Brown songs:
Monday, Make It Funky.
Tuesday, Lickin Stick.
Wednesday, I Feel Alright from Live at the Apollo Vol. 2.
Thursday, Living in America.
Friday, There Was a Time.
Perhaps Carroll is unaware that Brown died in Atlanta – in 2006.
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LYNCH RETURNS TO PRACTICE, IS ‘FINE’:
The Seattle Seahawks’ Beast-Mode running back returned to practice on Friday, before the team boarded a jet to fly 3,500 km to Atlanta.
Marshawn Lynch sat out Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices in Renton, Wash., with a sprained foot.
But Lynch, who rushed for 132 yards in Sunday’s 24-14 defeat of the Redskins in Washington, returned to practice on Friday on a limited basis.
He is officially listed as probable for Sunday’s divisional-round game against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, but head coach Pete Carroll said Lynch is “fine. He’ll be all right.”
Rookie Robert Turbin might get more carries against the Falcons, but he has looked good if in limited opportunities this season. Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said he has been “impressed” with Turbin, too.
Sidney Rice, Seattle’s top wide receiver, sat out practice again with a knee injury. He, like Lynch, is listed as probable. Backup cornerback Byron Maxwell is doubtful and safety Jeron Johnson questionable, both with hamstring injuries.
LANDOVER, Md. – Washington-area talk radio was still abuzz Monday morning about RG3.
That is, whether Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan was wrong for allowing his prized rookie quarterback to continue playing, long after he’d aggravated his serious right-knee injury.
Robert Griffin III had an MRI after the game. On Monday Shanahan said the full extent of Griffin’s knee injury was “unknown.”
Old ACL and LCL injuries can distort MRI results, Shanahan said, so Griffin will see Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday for an in-depth evaluation. He’s arguably North America’s foremost sports-injury surgeon.
If Griffin suffered a much more serious injury – an ACL tear, for instance – this issue won’t go away soon.
“When I do know the extent of the injury, I’ll let you know,” Shanahan said.
At his post-game news conference on Sunday, I asked Shanahan whether by the time his star QB had grotesquely bent his weak knee sideways in the fourth quarter, and collapsed to the FedEx Field grass, there was any need at that point for anybody to make a call on pulling him.
“If you didn’t pull him out then, then yeah, you should get fired,” Shanahan said.
Of course, Shanahan answered many more questions at Monday’s season-closing news conference about his reasoning for keeping Griffin in.
“Robert’s our franchise quarterback,” Shanahan said. “I’m not going to take a chance on his career to win a game. But I also know that when you’ve got belief in a guy, and you feel that he can play at a certain level, and the doctor’s tellin’ ya that he’s OK to go in, then you’ve got to do what you think is right.
“If I didn’t think it was right, he wouldn’t have been in there.”
The debate rages as to whether that moment ought to have occurred earlier in the game – and if so, when?
After RG3 first came up hobbling late in the first quarter?
Or in the third quarter when Griffin ran – well, hobble-jogged – for a nine-yard gain that was almost as painful to watch as it must have been for Griffin to execute.
LANDOVER, Md. – Seattle Seahawks defenders weren’t afraid of the running threat posed by a gimpy Robert Griffin III.
They actually wanted him to run it; were even daring him to do so.
And that was before Griffin aggravated his injured right knee!
“We knew from watching film of Washington-Dallas that this guy wasn’t 100%,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright told me after Seattle’s 24-14 defeat of the Washington Redskins on Sunday night.
“So our plan was, especially on the option, to take the running back away – to make sure RG3 pulls it (and runs it himself).
“We practised that all week. Mm-hmmm. We knew it.”
Griffin, Washington’s phenom rookie quarterback, entered the game with a month-old sprain of the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, which caused him to miss part of one game and all of another. Griffin aggravated the injury on the drive that gave the Redskins a 14-0 first-quarter lead, and he was never the same player thereafter.
Late in the game, Griffin’s knee bent sideways – horrifically sideways – after an errant snap and, finally – mercifully – he was done for the day.
Seattle’s bold defensive plan sure wasn’t working early on.
It wasn’t because Griffin was burning them on the ground. Rather, the Seahawks couldn’t stop powerful rookie Redskins running back Alfred Morris, and that set up successful passes off run fakes.
“It was very simple – they just ran right at us, and ran right over us for a while,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said.
Added Wright: “I admit, the first series we were out of whack – that whole quarter, actually. We calmed guys down and we just said, ‘Let’s do what we do.’”
Rookie Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner elaborated.
“Sometimes, you get too hyped and you have to settle yourself down,” Wagner said. “I feel like that’s kind of what happened in the first quarter. Everybody came out excited – a little bit too excited. Everybody wanted to make a play in this big-time game. Once we got settled down, we started dominating.”
After gaining 134 yards on their opening TD drives, the Redskins offence became like Griffin himself – it could barely move. The Skins gained only 69 more yards, on 34 plays, and never once threatened to score again.
“(That) is ridiculously good defence,” a euphoric Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said.
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SEAHAWKS LOSE STAR PASS RUSHER:
LANDOVER, Md. – It wasn’t all euphoria in the Seattle Seahawks locker room on Sunday night.
The team’s top pass rusher, defensive end Chris Clemons, went down with a knee injury in Seattle’s 24-14 wild-card playoff defeat of the Washington Redskins.
After the game, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Clemons’ status was unknown.
“Chris hurt his knee and we’ll have to figure it out and get MRI stuff done when we get back home,” Carroll said. “I am concerned about it.”
But reports overnight said the team fears Clemons tore an ACL, as that’s what a preliminary stability test revealed.
Clemons finished ninth in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, and had 22 QB hits. Sub-package pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin, a rookie,will take his place in the starting lineup Sunday in Atlanta against the Falcons.
“Bruce Irvin did well coming in for him,” Carroll said.
LANDOVER, Md. – The man who gave new Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone his first NFL job applauds the hire.
Herm Edwards was head coach of the New York Jets in 2002 when he hired Marrone as his new offensive line.
“He was at (the University of) Tennessee,” Edwards said Sunday afternoon in a phone interview. “When our college scouts went out on the road to scout players, I always asked them about position coaches, too. So Doug was on my radar screen as an offensive line coach.
“His name came up, I brought him up, interviewed him and hired him.”
New Bills president Russ Brandon on Sunday morning confirmed overnight reports that Marrone (pronounced Ma-RONE) had reached an agreement in principle with the NFL club to become its new head coach.
A contract and other details had yet to be hammered out.
Marrone, 48, had been head coach at Syracuse University since 2009. In four years there he turned around a dumpster-fire of a program, which hadn’t had a winning season since 2001.
“He’s a very hands-on coach, and good with the fundamentals and techniques,” said Edwards, 58, who coached the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006-08 after the Jets. “He’s disciplined. And he’s very competitive. Now, sometimes on the sidelines he doesn’t look like it. He’s not going to get overly dramatic. But his teams will be well-prepared.
“If you look at what he’s done at Syracuse, obviously he’s taken that team and turned it around. They’ve become very competitive again.”
Indeed, Marrone led his Alma Mater to a pair of 8-5 seasons, both capped by bowl victories. His record was 25-25, whereas the Orange had gone 26-57 in the seven seasons before Marrone’s arrival.
Marrone was one of five candidates the Bills interviewed after dumping previous head coach Chan Gailey last Monday. The others: fired Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, fired Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton, fired Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and the hottest head-coach candidate from the college ranks, Oregon’s Chip Kelly.
The Bills interviewed Marrone on Friday. Cleveland had interviewed him, twice, and Philadelphia was in line to do likewise.
Was Marrone wise to take an NFL job while his popularity iron was hot? Edwards said yes.
“You do,” he said.
“People don’t realize that along with those seven head-coach vacancies come at least 15 to 18 assistant-coach vacancies at each place. Well, there are guys looking for work. So now, when you have a guy other teams also wanted, you the opportunity to hire good assistant coaches, too.”
Edwards chuckled when asked how candidates suddenly become so popular.
“That’s the old NFL deal, which is interesting. You become the main guy. It’s kind of like, he wasn’t on Philadelphia’s radar screen, but obviously teams take note. ‘Who are they bringing in to interview? Doug Marrone? Well we need to bring him in, too.’”
Marrone began his coaching career in 1992. He spent the first 10 years in the college ranks, working up to Georgia Tech, Georgia and Tennessee. He was tight ends coach with the Volunteers and mentored current Dallas Cowboys star Jason Witten.
After spending four seasons under Edwards on the Jets from 2002-05, Marrone became Sean Payton’s offensive coordinator on the New Orleans Saints – although Payton called plays for Drew Brees and Co.
Marrone himself played his college football at Syracuse. He started as an offensive lineman from 1983-85, then played two seasons in the NFL – a peripheral player with the Miami Dolphins in 1987 and the Saints in 1989.
While Marrone might not have ever made it in the NFL on the field, he’ll now has his first chance to run things from the sideline.
“The thing is, he coached the offensive line,” Edwards said. “Andy Reid spent years as an offensive line coach and then worked his way up. Those guys – they do the brunt of the work. They don’t get a lot of notoriety, like offensive coordinators do. They kind of get lost in the mix.”
Not anymore for Marrone.
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MARRONE GOT MORE OUT OF MOORE:
LANDOVER, Md. – Former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards said he likes to cite this story when discussing the merits of Doug Marrone, the new Buffalo Bills head coach.
“He believes in this – he’ll use a player’s skills to put them into position to have success,” Edwards said Sunday in a telephone interview. “He believes in developing players.
“Brandon Moore still plays guard for the Jets. When we got Brandon, he was a defensive tackle. I told Brandon, ‘You’re going to start being trained to be an offensive guard. And it might take a year, but Doug Marrone can you make you a guard.’
“Brandon went over to the World League, as well as remaining with us. And the next year he was our starting guard.”
Ten seasons later, Moore still is.
“Doug knows how to develop players,” Edwards said.
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The coaching history of new Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone:
2009-12 Head coach, Syracuse University
2006-08 Offensive coordinator, New Orleans Saints
2002-05 Offensive line, New York Jets
2001 Tight ends/tackles, University of Tennessee
2000 Offensive line, University of Georgia
1997-99 Offensive line, Georgia Tech
1996 Tight ends, Georgia Tech
1995 Director of football operations, Georgia Tech