Thinking Out Loud: Ray Rice Announces He Would Donate NFL Salary

Former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice announced today that he’d donate his entire NFL salary should a team sign him for the 2016 season. Rice admitted he deserved the criticism he received after well-publicized domestic violence charges. The charges, although later dismissed in court, forced Rice out of the National Football League.

Rice states his offer isn’t a ploy to earn the good graces of the NFL and convince a team to sign him based on goodwill. Rice claims that he recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence, and that he’s moved by a heartfelt conviction to assist domestic violence victims.

The outrageous number of scandals, arrests, and DUIs in today’s media landscape make it difficult to judge one’s true intentions. Many celebrities make transparent statements amounting to nothing more than a bully’s teacher-enforced apology during recess. Most athletes and other celebrities get to move on with their careers as if nothing happened. Rice wasn’t as fortunate. He finds himself faced with the possibility of never playing pro football again.

Adrian Peterson experienced a similar situation after facing child abuse charges. The league suspended him indefinitely, but he has been allowed to play football again. A plea bargain kept Peterson safe from a possible jail sentence, and he made public statements acknowledging regret and a desire to change.

Whether or not Rice is genuine in his words, the approach brings attention to not only Rice but the national problem of domestic violence. Moreover, it may inspire other athletes to donate a year’s salary or a game check to publicize a need. While there’s no way of knowing Rice’s true intentions, the proposition could have a very positive effect on professional sports.

What are your thoughts?

NOTE: USA Today originally reported Rice’s comments.

RayRice

An Appreciation: Bart Starr Part 1

(Painting by Robert Hurst)

Before I had the privilege of meeting Bart Starr, I repeatedly heard the same things from his teammates and others who had met him. “Oh, he’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.” “Bart’s the perfect man.” “Salt of the earth.”

Bart’s one of those rare people that all those good things you hear about him beforehand turn out to be true. I first met him at a Tri-Star autograph show in Houston, hoping to interview him for The Game before the Money. He didn’t have time that day to interview, but gave me a number to reach him at later. He did, however, have time to chat with everyone who wanted to meet him. He granted everyone who wanted to meet him a good amount of time, and was kind and respectful to all. He and I had a pleasant conversation about Wisconsin, the people and the weather there.

I could do a post on how great a quarterback Bart was, the record number of NFL championships, and the rest of his football accolades, and I will in a future post. Today, however, I think it’s important to appreciate Bart Starr the man. The day I met him in Houston I keep thinking, “You know what? He is the nicest guy.

Nice doesn’t always have the best reputation for a compliment, especially in football. More to the point, Bart’s respectful and considerate to all. So much so that you realize it immediately upon meeting him. Like the Dalia Lama of sports, he is present with every person he interacts with.

When Bart survived two strokes and a heart attack recently (how’s that for toughness?), the comments beneath the news articles often noted instances of Bart’s kindness, something he had done for a child or a neighbor. Indeed, he raffled off the Corvette he won as MVP of Super Bowl 1 to raise funds towards establishing a ranch for at-risk youth.

People talk a lot about character and leadership these days. The epitome of such things is Bart Starr. In an age where it’s easy to spot a football star or other celebrity getting in trouble and setting a bad example, Starr continues to be the man he always was and always will be. He looks for ways to assist, ways to lead, ways to give. He’s the classic example of prioritizing what you contribute over the recognition you receive for those contributions.

There’s a reason why Brett Favre postponed his number retirement ceremony in Green Bay so that Bart could attend. When you think about it, that’s pretty incredible. Here’s a man, one of the greatest quarterbacks and largest personalities of his generation, shelving his own party until the man he respects most can attend. That’s respect, and an excellent example how when a man like Starr is so respectful of others, the amount of reverence he himself garners is immense.

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A Brief History of… Goal Posts

We see them every game, cast in their photogenic stance. Fans love to tear them down. But what is the story behind those fabled goal posts? The information’s pretty tough to find, but I’ll put as much of it together here as I can.

EARLY YEARS

In football’s earliest days – and we’re talking Pudge Heffelfinger, pre-1900 days – a field goal was actually more valuable than a touchdown. Under those rules, Stephen Gostkowski’s field goals would notch 5 points, Marshawn Lynch’s TDs only 4. Soon both plays were worth 5 points, and gradually moved to modern-day scoring by 1912.

In the NFL’s earliest days — days before the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles existed — the league followed the NCAA rule book. Goal posts were on the goal line. When the NCAA moved them to the end zone’s backline in 1927, the NFL followed suit. In 1933, however, the NFL adopted its own rule book and placed the goal posts back on the goal line. NFL goal posts stayed there until 1974, when they were moved to the back of the end zone.

Not much happened in terms of design and placement for about 30 years. Perhaps the 30-year gap in development is why goal post history isn’t well documented. The goal posts were basically white, “H” style goal posts made of wood or metal.

MAKING HISTORY

The goal posts made NFL history at least a couple of times in those years. Goal posts determined the outcome of the 1945 NFL Championship Game, but not in the manner of a missed field goal. The game featured perennial contender Washington against the surprising Cleveland Rams. The Rams hosted the affair, played in sub-zero temperatures (-8 degrees). The quarterback matchup featured the great Sammy Baugh against a breakout rookie, Bob Waterfield.

Baugh threw from his own end zone early in the game. He had a wide-open receiver to his left, and that receiver had a blocker in front of him. Cleveland’s defense featured a 12th man, however. The goal posts knocked down Baugh’s pass. By 1945 rules, that counted a safety for the Rams.

Baugh suffered an injury after completing only 1 of 6 passes. Frank Filchock took over for the Redskins and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass early in the 2nd quarter to put Washington ahead 7-2. Waterfield countered with a 37-yard strike to give Cleveland a 9-7 halftime lead, the goal post’s safety being the difference.

Each team scored a TD in the second half, the Rams extra point failing in the frozen conditions. The Rams won by a 15-14 tally. The number of writers who voted the goal posts MVP is lost to history.

  Sammy Baugh’s “Safety” Valve is at the 14 second mark

The goal posts also factored in the result of the 1965 Western Division Playoff between the Colts and Packers at Lambeau Field. Vince Lombardi signed kicker Don Chandler away from the Giants, ensuring better accuracy than Paul Hornung and Jerry Kramer had provided. Lombardi may have smiled as Chandler lined up to take a last-second attempt to tie the score against the Colts.

The kick went well over the 10-foot upright. NFL rules to this day state that if the ball goes OVER the upright, it’s still good. The refs called the kick good, much to the dismay of the Colts. Chandler’s kick looked quite ugly, and had the goal posts been at the back of the end zone like today, the kick would have been at least 6-feet wide. The posts sat on the goal line in those days, and it’s impossible to tell from the film whether the ball crossed over the upright. The Colts were sure it didn’t. The Packers sided with the refs, who always have the final say. The game became the second-ever playoff to go into overtime (after the 1958 NFL Championship), and the Packers prevailed.

Packers - Packers - Bart Starr holds for Don Chandler in the Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Colts football game in 1965. Negative # 653794 PUBLISHED: 12-27-1965, Milwaukee Journal

Bart Starr holds for Don Chandler in the Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Colts football game in 1965. Negative # 653794 PUBLISHED: 12-27-1965, Milwaukee Journal

The disputed field goal caused enough controversy that the NFL extended the uprights to 20 feet starting in 1966, and offset them from the goal line a bit. The extention wasn’t much different than what the league did a couple years ago after a disputed Justin Tucker field goal topped the Patriots, and the league extended the uprights to 35 feet.

JOEL ROTTMAN’S CLAIM TO FAME

Ever broken the middle prongs out of a plastic fork? Joel Rottman did one day over lunch, and visualized a concept for goal post improvement.

Added inspiration came while Rottman drove along the highway and noticed curved street lamps. He designed the now famous “sling-shot” look with a curved base. Rottman, a Florida resident, sold the University of Miami on the idea. The goal posts debuted at the Orange Bowl in September, 1966.

Jim Trimble, a former Eagles coach who moved to the Canadian Football League, bought into the idea as a partner. He connected Rottman with NFL Commisioner Pete Rozelle. Rottman later told the story to the Sun Sentinel: “”There was a fellow in the lobby with these orange pylons, but Rozelle wanted to see the goal-post guy first,” Rottman laughed. “He said, ‘Oh, God, we’ve had a committee working on this thing for three years and want to put it back from the goal line to the end line. You show me a picture with 20-foot uprights instead of 10 and I’ll give you a list of all the owner’s names.’ ”

The goal posts made their NFL debut in 1967, with all teams bought in. Super Bowl 3 was the first Super Bowl to sport the new posts. Rottman sold his idea to the Rose Bowl for the 1971 Grandaddy of them All, but with one stipulation.

The Rose Bowl didn’t want to spend $1,775 on goal posts only to see them tore down at the end of the game. Rottman guaranteed his goal posts would endure. When jubilant fans spilled onto the field after Jim Plunkett led Stanford to a 27-17 victory over Ohio State, they were in for a big surprise.

Rottman coated the goal posts with STP motor oil. Not even the brilliant Stanford kids could figure out ways to topple the slippery goal posts.

SINCE THEN

In 1974, the NFL moved the goal posts from their offset position to the back of the end zone. Although player safety was a concern, much of it was to discourage long-range field goals. In 2015, the league experimented by narrowing the goal posts for the Pro Bowl. No word on whether the narrower goal posts will become standard.

EXTRA POINTS — FURTHER READING

1967 Canadian newspaper article on Trimble and Rottman

Rottman’s patent application for goal post padding

 

FOOTBALL HISTORY THROUGH THE EYES OF 40 NFL LEGENDS — THE GAME BEFORE THE MONEY: VOICES OF THE MEN WHO BUILT THE NFL 

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Thinking Out Loud: The 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class

SENIOR NOMINEES

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced two senior nominees for its 2016 induction class. The Seniors Committee, comprised of nine members on a rotating basis, selects the senior nominees. Nominees must be retired for at least 25 years.

We’ve discussed Ken Stabler’s Canton credentials. My recent post countered Peter King of Sports Illustrated, declaring Stabler as more than worthy. King, however, has an actual vote in the process, and it will be interesting to see whom the rest of the voters agree with.

Who else has three of the most iconic plays in history – the “Sea of Hands” game, the “Ghost to the Post,” and the “Holy Roller” – to his quarterbacking credit? Stabler also almost nearly won the “Immaculate Reception” game with a 30-yard scramble to put the Raiders ahead 7-6 in the fourth quarter. Most arguments against Stabler tend to be statistically based. Here’s a statistic to mull over: of the quarterbacks who rank in the Top 50 in all-time wins, only 6 top Stabler’s .661 winning percentage: Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning. Bear in mind that Stabler’s the only one in the bunch to play for the New Orleans Saints.

Dick Stanfel gets his third chance as the senior nominee, after denials in 1993 and 2012. He’s a difficult case to figure out. Why would he be nominated a third time if the Senior Committee didn’t fully believe he belonged? The flip side is he only played 7 years. He made All-Pro 5 of those seasons. He would have likely played longer, but it seems like he left the NFL for the same reasons Johnny Lujack early: he wanted to help his college coach (Joe Kuharich) as an assistant at Notre Dame. Stanfel had lagging injuries from WW2 and a terrible knee injury sustained in the 1951 College All-Star Game that required surgery and put him out his rookie season with the Lions.

He doesn’t have any statistics from the guard position. He was, however, named MVP of a Lions team that won the 1953 NFL Championship and featured Bobby Layne at quarterback and Doak Walker. That would be like J.R. Sweezy named Seahawks MVP in 2013. In addition, Walker and Andy Robustelli rate Stanfel as one of the greats. If I were a voter, I’d view their opinion, along with the Senior Committee’s, more valuable than my own personal guess and vote for Stanfel.

OTHER CANDIDATES

Unless the USFL makes a triumphant return with Donald Trump as commissioner, my biggest football surprise would be Brett Favre not making the Hall on his first ballot. His unquestionable worthiness as the only player to win 3 straight MVP awards and retiring as the QB wins leader, passing yards, passing touchdowns…we could go further if you’d like. Brett did some dumb things on and off the field – but he also was one of the most exciting and impactful players of the last 25 years.

Several finalists deserved entry last year, but the class was so strong that many deserving players have to wait. Kurt Warner is one guy that didn’t make it in 2015, but should make it in the next year or two. John Lynch was one of the top safeties of his era, and another one of last year’s finalists that should make it in a similar timeframe. I feel good adding Marvin Harrison and Orlando Pace to that same list.

Terrell Owens’ eligibility begins this year. Here’s a guy who put up legendary stats, and on paper looks like one of the greatest players of all-time. And yes, he had serious impact. But while a lot of people vote simply for statistics, I look for true contribution. What was Owens’ contribution to pro football and his teams? Often, he contributed chaos, distractions, and selfishness. His two biggest highlights might be his game-winning touchdown against Green Bay in the waning moments in the 1998 NFC playoffs, and the image of him dancing on the star at Texas Stadium. Or the Sharpie incident. Or dumping popcorn on his face. There’s a difference between celebrating the moment and disrespecting the game.

No question he was a tremendous player. His one shot at a Super Bowl, he had a great game for Philadelphia. Most advocates tout his second all-time receiving yards and other stats. I get that. But if Charlie Joiner and Don Maynard had to wait years to get in the Hall – after both retired as the NFL’s all –time leading receiver – Owens should have to wait also.

CharlieJoinerCharlie Joiner

A lot of internet buzz puts the Steelers Alan Faneca into the Hall next year, also his first year of eligibility. Again, to me there are the Hall of Famers. Then there are the first-ballot Hall of Famers. It’s a completely different class. Here is a list of first ballot guards: Larry Allen, Forrest Gregg, John Hannah, Bruce Matthews, Jim Parker, and Gene Upshaw. Is Faneca in that category? In terms of Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections, he’s actually quite comparable. Would I pick him over Parker, Allen, or Matthews? Certainly not, but he’s a borderline first-ballot Hall of Famer to me, and if he makes it in 2016, I’m okay with that.

SUMMARY

Last year’s robust Hall of Fame class left some very worthy players outside. At least one or two should get in this year. The Hall will likely also induct Brett Favre and Ken Stabler in my opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if the voters overlooked Dick Stanfel again.

Here is a look at who I voted for last year (as part of the fan vote), with a list of players I’d like to see get in eventually. What players would you like to see added to the Hall of Fame?

 

mick-tingelhoff-08252014

Click on Mick and Joe Kapp to see who I picked for the 2015 HOF Class

 

 

Thinking Out Loud: Ken Stabler and the Pro Football Hall of Fame

My first NFL memories involve Ken Stabler. My dad sat me down in front of the television during Super Bowl 11 and explained the meaning of the NFL’s biggest day while Stabler led the Raiders to ultimate victory. The Holy Roller play remains a cherished memory, and one of the first epic plays I witnessed live on television.

Stabler helped characterize the 1970s NFL. His bearded face symbolizes Raider football. The Hall of Fame has yet to induct “The Snake,” a position defended by Sports Illustrated writer and Hall of Fame voter Peter King.

Many fans, however, disagree. Count me in that group. King argues that statistics and career consistency don’t land in Stabler’s favor. I get that, and statistics play a huge part. Being great for 5 years is much different than being great for 10 or 15.

Yet we call it the “Hall of Fame.” The moniker implies the word “famous,” and nobody can deny #12’s fame throughout his career. Similar to the old E.F. Hutton commercials, when Stabler played, people watched. His exciting play energized fans of rival teams. He stood both a beloved favorite and a “love to hate” guy. Fan favorite isn’t a tallied in box scores, but in my humble opinion that should count for something on Hall of Fame ballots.

When I think of the top quarterbacks of the 1970s, three instantly come to mind: Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, and Ken Stabler. After a few seconds Fran Tarkenton and Bob Griese pop in, but Stabler comes beforehand. Not saying that he’s better than Tarkenton and Griese, but he’s certainly in that class. All those other quarterbacks made the Hall.

StablerPaper

He doesn’t fit in with Jim Hart, Joe Ferguson, Ken Anderson, Steve Bartkowski, Billy Kilmer, Ron Jaworski, and Steve Grogan, guys who had long careers but clearly aren’t Hall of Famers. Like Stabler, those quarterbacks were the faces of their teams. Stabler, however, was one of the most recognizable figures in the entire league.

For that, he’s clearly Hall of Fame material.

There was only one Ken  Stabler.

There was only one Ken Stabler.

 

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Letters To A 1950s NFL Prospect

Before the NFL Combine and NFL scouting departments, teams sent questionnaires to prospects to gather information before the draft. This continued at least through the late 1960s. 

 

In the summer of 1982, I attended a Milwaukee Brewers game against the Baltimore Orioles with my Little League teammate Chuck Hable and his dad. Three things stick out about that day: 1) Ben Oglivie hit a late double, spurring the Brewers to a 9-7 victory. 2) Retroactive research shows Cal Ripken was less than two weeks into his consecutive games streak. 3) Chuck brought along his dad’s binoculars. The case bore an emblem that said, “Rose Bowl Particpant.”

Chuck’s father, Burton Hable, played safety for the University of Wisconsin. His senior season, 1952, marked the Badgers first Rose Bowl appearance. Hable tied for the Big 10 lead in interceptions, making three in the regular season finale against Minnesota.

Several NFL teams sent Hable inquiries. I’ve always wanted to see a questionnaire after Bob Skoronski and Rocky Bleier both discussed them in The Game before the Money. Teams created their own forms, and it’s interesting to note the differences. All asked about potential military obligations.

CHICAGO CARDINALS
The Chicago Cardinals were only a few years removed from back-to-back championship game appearances when they contacted Hable. They sent a formal letter, requesting Hable’s marital status in the postscript. The letter addressed the popular notion that pro football was a step down from college by stating, “Professional football is a very fine game and the spirit on our Cardinal club is as good as there is on any college in the country.”

Chicago Cardinals letter

CLEVELAND BROWNS
The Cleveland Browns were among the league’s elite in the 1950s. Coach Paul Brown and quarterback Otto Graham led them to several championship games, three against the Detroit Lions. The Browns sent prospects like Hable postcard and a note from assistant coach Weeb Ewbank. The card, pre-addressed and stamped, asked if the player’s speed was “Fast, Average, or Slow,” and requested a 100-yard dash time. The Browns also put prospects to work as team scouts, asking for the names of outstanding teammates and opponents. We don’t see that on the other questionnaires we have here. Perhaps that was one factor in the Browns acquiring great talent in those days.

Cleveland postcard 1

Cleveland postcard 2

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers letter came directly from their head coach, Gene Ronzani. Note the color of the letterhead. The team colors are still the blue and gold Curly Lambeau chose when he founded the team, copying the colors Lambeau wore for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. (Vince Lombardi would later change the colors to the current green and yellow.) Ronzani spends an entire paragraph explaining the Packers policy to not recruit players with college eligibility remaining. Perhaps this dates back to the days when Lambeau faced stern penalties for using college players illegally, nearly causing him to lose the team. The Packers left space for player comments, and what a treat it would be to read what Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg or Jim Taylor might have written on theirs.

Green Bay Packers letterPackers questionnaire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Washington apparently used lower quality typewriter ribbons than other teams, as this form is quite faded. Whereas the Cardinals claim to have followed Hable closely, the Redskins simply say, “You have been recommended as a prospective professional football player,” and employ a cold “Dear Sir” salutation. The letter came from Herman Ball, a former Washington head coach turned head scout. The form seems to have little to do with football, asking more about marital and military status. The club only asks for age, size, and position played as relevant athletic information. One can conclude that the questionnaires provided much more pertinent information to the winning Cleveland franchise than the perennial lackluster Washington squad. This perhaps led to better drafts for the Browns.

Redskins letter

HABLE BECAME A HALL OF FAME HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH

Today’s NFL prospects envision huge dollar signs while the NFL draft approaches. Things were much different in The Game before the Money era. Prospects factored in many life circumstances when deciding on pursuing a pro football career.

Hable, like many college standouts, spurned pro football for a variety of reasons. He and his wife were expecting their first child, and Hable sought more than the unpredictable employment the NFL offered. The wages required getting a second job in the off-season, and traveling to road games would take time away from his family. Like many, he held the college game in higher stature than the pro game. Badger home games regularly attracted 50,000 fans to Camp Randall Stadium. Conversely, the Packers only drew about 20,000 to their games to City Stadium, and dressed in a high school locker room.

Hable didn’t respond to the NFL teams’ letters, and accepted a history teaching job at Madison West High School. Head football coach Fred Jacoby asked Hable to be an assistant during the first year of what would be a 40-year teaching career. Jacoby soon left for the college ranks, and later served as commissioner of the Southwest Conference. Hable assumed the head coaching duties at Madison West.

Hable commanded the team for 35 years, coaching many players to Division I scholarships and the National Football League. Stu Voigt, Jim Bakken, Tim Van Galder, and Tim Stracka all played high school ball for him. Hable also coached hockey in the 60s and 70s. His players included Olympic superstar Eric Heiden and best-selling author David Maraniss (When Pride Still Mattered). The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association inducted Coach Hable into their Hall of Fame in 1996.

SUMMARY
Hable was eligible for the 1953 NFL Draft. Four of his teammates were picked: guard Bob Kennedy by the Packers; tackle Charley Berndt by the Cardinals; halfback Harland Carl by the Bears; and guard Dave Suminski by Washington. Only Carl and Suminski saw regular season NFL action. Hable’s teammate Alan Ameche, a sophomore during the Rose Bowl season, proved to have the most successful NFL career. He scored the famous game-winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship for the Baltimore Colts.

Hall of Famers drafted in the 1953 NFL Draft include Doug Atkins (1st rd, Cle), running back John Henry Johnson (2nd rd, Pitt), tackle Bob St. Clair (3rd rd, SF), two-way lineman Stan Jones (5th rd, Bears), center Jim Ringo (7th rd, GB), linebacker Joe Schmidt (7th rd, Det), and tackle Rosey Brown (27th rd, Giants).

San Francisco drafted Georgia receiver Harry Babcock with the first-overall pick. Injuries unfortunately truncated his career. Wally Butts, Georgia’s legendary football coach, called him both the best receiver and best blocker he ever coached. The Steelers drafted Babcock in the 21st round of the 1952 draft, accidentally wasting the pick on the ineligible junior.

Special thanks to Coach Hable’s son Chuck for sharing these letters.

 

BadgerTeamPhotoThe 1952 Rose Bowl Bound Badgers. Burton Hable is #21, seated 3rd row, 4th from left.

Color footage of the 1953 Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and USC.

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Packer Legend Terdell Middleton Passes Away

The Green Bay Packers website announced that Terdell Middleton passed away. Middleton was a popular player for the Packers in the late 1970s. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in 1978. The effort landed him on the cover of the 1979 Packers yearbook.

MIDDLETON

Middleton starred at Memphis State in college and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals dealt him to the Packers during the preseason. An occasional return man, he returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown his rookie season. He became the franchise’s fourth 1,000-yard rusher in his second season, but never played a full 16-game slate afterward.

The Packers released him before the 1982 season, and he played two years for division rival Tampa Bay before returning to his hometown to play for the USFL’s Memphis Showboats. After leaving football, Middleton reportedly spent 15 years as a firefighter.

He passed away just a few days shy of his 60th birthday.

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