’15 Midterm: Oakland Raiders

As the 2015 season has moved toward the midway point one thing has become evident. The Oakland Raiders are blossoming into an up and coming football team. Not only do they pass the eyeball test but you can see the game slowing down for a series of young players. Most notably 2nd year QB Derek Carr.

Carr looks like the real deal out in Oakland.

Carr looks like the real deal out in Oakland.

As you observe young quarterbacks in the NFL, many have the penchant for throwing rocket balls late relying on arm strength. They use this to compensate for reading the defense late thinking they can squeeze in passes, which leads to getting picked off by the underneath coverage. Carr has learned the touch to throw over linebackers into the space just before the secondary converges.

The only real late throw he had in a point of regression was the pick six against the Broncos in week 5. The Raiders lost 16-10 and easily could have won that game. However they sit at 4-3 and Carr is putting together a Pro Bowl year. Right now he is 150 of 229 (65.5%) for 1,793 yds 15 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.  He’s on pace to throw for 34 TDs to 7 ints. Hmmmm… with the season Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are having, show The Chancellor who should beat him out for a trip to Hawai’i if he continues playing at this pace. The growth he has shown just going back to last year is immense.

The Raiders are on pace to have a 1,000 yd rusher in Latavius Murray (534 yds / 3tds), 2 -1,000 yd receivers in rookie Amari Cooper (38 ec. / 553 yds / 3tds) & Michael Crrabtree (40 rec./ 483 yds / 3tds) & Carr passing for 4,000 himself. Add Marcell Reese’s 3 scores with the 2 to Andre Holmes last week, tell us where the focal point is to stop this attack. In short, this is giing to keep rolling.

Khalil Mack is the next Derrick Thomas.

Khalil Mack is the next Derrick Thomas.

As for the defense, the Raiders are 31st against the pass and 26th overall. Yet heady play by S Charles Woodson (5ints / 33 tackles) Khalil Mack (4 sacks ) and former Seahawk Malcolm Smith (3 sacks) have kept the defense above board. Going into the 2nd half of the season, if Aldon Smith can turn a corner and veteran Justin Tuck can step up their games, this unit can make it into the teens in terms of ranking. This will be enough to be a playoff contender this year.

When it comes to veteran leadership, Malcolm Smith, Justin Tuck, and Charles Woodson have Super Bowl rings won in the last 6 years. You don’t think what these vets can teach the young guys will go unheeded?

You better recognize what is happening in Oakland. This set of young bucks are learning their way up the ladder. Two of their three losses are to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and undefeated Denver Broncos. This team is just learning how to win. The Chancellor of Football  has a saying:  At some point you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. This team is growing week to week. With the Steelers losing LeVeon Bell, this team is going to grow and fly under the radar. They will be hell to deal with come playoff time. All you have to do is get there and take your shot….this team has enough leadership to teach the young pups what they need to know. Stay tuned….

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Is Cam Newton Having an MVP season??

One old adage that comes to mind when I’m watching football is: there comes a time where you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. There is a propensity to stay with preconceived teams and players you predicted would do well. All the while ignoring what is actually happening in front of you on a week to week basis. Enter Cam Newton.

camWhen the news came down wideout Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season, immediately most pundits wrote the Carolina Panthers off for 2015. Newton and the Panthers are 6-0 with the 22nd ranked offense and 9th ranked defense. What the stats won’t tell you is the physical will they are beating out of their opponents.

Newton has matured into Carolina’s undisputed leader  which was on full display last Sunday in Seattle. The confidence emanating from him filled the rest of the football team. Four 80 yard touchdown drives in the 2nd half in Seattle against the league’s most feared defense.

This had been the house of horrors dating back to last year’s 31-17 divisional playoff loss. Or if you’re keeping score at home, Carolina was 0-3 against Seattle in the last two years. So when a confident Cam rifled the winning touchdown to TE Greg Olsen with less than 2 minutes left, it marked a possible changing of the guard in the NFC. The preeminent power rushing defensive minded team that has been to the last two Super Bowls looked helpless as Carolina won a signature game.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2With Steve Smith having been in Baltimore for 2 seasons, DE Greg Hardy gone to Dallas, it’s Cam’s locker room and his team. The team has fed off his confidence and solid play. For the season he’s only completed 55.8% of his passes for 1,275 yards 9 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. However without Benjamin, who has done more with less?? With DeAngelo Williams gone he has pitched in with 245 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Thanks to wins over Tampa, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Seattle they have head to head tie breakers even if they slip to the wild card round.

However with a 6-0 record, Newton and the Panthers are eyeing a division title and would like to be home for the playoffs. There is a lot of football to be played but with a win tonight over Andrew Luck and the Colts, even Newton’s biggest detractors have to put him in the NFL MVP race.

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Chip Kelly Must Go!!

When chronicling the NFL there is always a new genius coach coming in to revolutionize the game of football. The game of pro football has been around and this is the 96th year. Everything the game is down to it’s essence has been done already. The only approach you can bring to the game at this point are gimmicks. In this league gimmicks are exposed for not being complete systems. Enter Chip Kelly.

Chip Kelly is even losing the battle for race relations.

Chip Kelly is even losing the battle for race relations.

Remember all that talk of “The Ole’ Ball Coach” when the Washington Redskins hired Steve Spurrier back in 2000?? Then just as now The Chancellor knew these would be hires that would backfire. This is a league for grown men and a coach has to be able to relate and motivate his charges. Autocrats coming from the collegiate ranks can lord over their players on scholarship with the threat of revoking it if they get out of line.

With the dismissal of WR DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Macklin, and RB LeSean McCoy, Kelly gutted the playmakers from his offense. Accusations flew that Kelly had moved on from all the outspoken black players in his locker room. When CB Cary Williams spoke out about the team playing on ‘tired legs’ from being warn out, he became a casualty when he was released in March. Even two of his coaches abandoned ship and maybe not for greener pastures. CB Coach Todd Lyght, who is black, left for the same position at Vanderbilt University. That is not a top program and his alma mater is Notre Dame… yet I digress

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Before we get into that side of things, lets remember this is an offensive genius. He traded away starting QB Nick Foles for the often injured Sam Bradford and released Pro Bowl G Evan Mathis. Why is this being brought up?? Did you know the Eagles are 29th in total offense after 4 weeks?? Did you know the Eagles are 27th passing the football?? After signing last year’s NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray, did you know the Eagles are 29th  rushing the football?? By the way… they are 31st in yards per rush also with a paltry 3.1 yards per attempt.

This is what happens when you become so arrogant you believe your system will be successful no matter who you have playing it. While running the uptempo style on offense he has overexposed his defense. They have been on the field for 290 plays in 4 games, 80 against the Redskins last week. Washington drove over 90 yards to score the go ahead touchdown on an exhausted defense. The Eagle defense is on pace to be on the field for 1160 plays. Almost 200 more than the what the league average is. What was that Cary Williams said about playing on tired legs.  Then you draft often injured LB Kiko Alonso into this??

Then you have the ultimate gaffe in signing CB Byron Maxwell to a huge contract and asking him to play man. Everyone knows the Seattle Seahawks are basically a Cover 3 football team. Another misguided decision. So now you leave this guy out long enough to get exposed, bring in Alonso who has missed time already, and your defense is on pace to play 19 games worth of plays in a 16 game season. Hmmmm??

Which should be fired first?? Chip Kelly the coach or Chip Kelly the GM?? He’s been so unsuccessful Owner Jeffrey Lurie should fire him twice. One week fire him as GM and the next week as coach. Folks its that bad in Philadelphia. Kelly shouldn’t last the season. There will be another mutiny and Kelly will go to jettison the player only to realize he has none left. Darren Sproles is all he has as DeMarco Murray doesn’t fit his system. The team needs to rebuild from the ground up. May as well start with the genius coach.

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2015 Lessons Through Week 3: AFC North

Every NFL season takes on its own unique shape. With so many moving parts between player movement, player maturation & coaching changes, the landscape doesn’t change every year..it changes every week. By the time we sprinkle injuries in this cauldron it’s nearly impossible to forecast. This is what makes NFL football great.

Bell and Williams will power the Steelers in 2015.

Bell and Williams will power the Steelers in 2015.

Take the Pittsburgh Steelers for instance. Coming into the season they had to figure how to get through the first few games while LeVeon Bell served a 2 game suspension. With a defense being rebuilt they would have to lean on one of the NFL’s best offenses for success in 2015. Insurance policies were signed in former Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams and former Falcon / Eagle QB in Michael Vick. Williams paid off handsomely with 206 yards rushing and 3 TDs, which is good enough for 6th in the league going into week 4. Now they have a 1-2 punch that is second to none with Bell’s return.

Yet Bell’s first game back against the Rams in week 3 saw Ben Roethlisberger go down with a knee sprain. Vick is the next man up and has to produce in the 4 weeks Big Ben is expected to be gone. Vick can’t just hold the fort down in Ben’s absence. The Steelers, with all their offensive weaponry, rank 5th offensively and 14th defensively. If this insurance policy doesn’t pay off and the Steelers find themselves punting more and come back to the pack, they will  expose their defense. Tomlin’s defense needs to grow up in a hurry. Michael Vick your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Time to play Manziel.

Time to play Manziel.

In Cleveland its as if Head Coach Mike Pettine is trying hard to look for work next year. The upside to Josh McCown is he is a journeyman quarterback that will minimize mistakes. The downside is he is not a playmaker that can win you games. Just as he did with his game ending interception to Charles Woodson in their 27-20 loss to Oakland last week.

However a closer look at the numbers and Johnny Manziel has a 99.7 passer rating to MCown’s 83.2. Did you know through 3 games of this season Manziel has 3 touchdown passes of 50 yards where the rest of the NFL has 6?? That is called playmaking and is the difference between the Browns being 1-2 v. 0-3. To bookend Manziel’s week 2 heroics you have the Woodson interception and before that, the fumble at the goal line when McCown got himself knocked out against the Jets. Come on son…

It’s time to play Manziel and see what you have. If the Browns can’t turn it around they could be looking for a new Head Coach and quarterback next season. Like it or not Mike Pettine, your job’s future lies in the success of this 2015 campaign. Especially in a down year for the division, better to tie it to a playmaker like Manziel than a losing game manager like McCown.

bengals tComing in with the NFL’s 2nd best offense and 12th ranked defense is the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals. The conversation for the Bengals is the same as the last few years. They beat the teams they should beat and come up empty against the best the AFC has to offer. The combined record of the Raiders, Chargers, and Ravens was 3-6 before Thursday Night’s game. We’ll talk about this team in 3 weeks when they host Seattle then go on the road to Buffalo. They come through that 2-0 we have something to talk about.

The Baltimore Ravens won last night to earn their first win of the season. However it isn’t a season saving victory as many of the t.v. pundits would have you believe. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost that game last night due to terrible kicking with Josh Scobee and even worse play calling late in the 4th quarter. Justin Forsett broke out with 150 yards rushing but the Steelers have given up 373 yards on the ground in the last 3 weeks. This team has middle of the road rankings offensively and defensively and new playmakers have to emerge on the defensive side of the ball.

Thanks goodness they get to play against Cleveland next week, especially if Pettine stays the course to get fired starting McCown. After that they go on the road to San Francisco and Arizona. The 49ers aren’t as strong as they once were for certain.  However neither were the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos as the Ravens started 0-2 on the road traveling west. These next few weeks will definitely tell the tale.

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2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

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1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys Perspective

Back on January 10, 1982, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship in what came to be known as “The Catch”. Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin were 12, 15, & 15 yrs of age respectively at the time. Over the next decade, a football generation came to know the 49ers as the dominant team in pro football. Yet here they were in January 1993, as men, having conquered the 49ers in the ’92 NFC Championship 30-20 in a true changing of the guard.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Joe Montana, an iconic symbol of the old guard, was shaking hands congratulating the young Cowboys. They had vanquished not only the team with the NFC’s best record, 14-2, they topped the team that epitomized conference excellence over the last decade. Now they were navigating uncharted waters and off to Super Bowl XXVII to take on the Buffalo Bills. By the time they made it to Pasadena to take on the Bills, they’re confidence was at an all time high.However beating Buffalo was anticlimactic to what had taken place in soggy San Francisco 2 weeks before.

 

Troy Aikman came of age in the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Troy Aikman fulfilled the promise of being drafted #1 overall with his 1992 NFC Championship Game performance.

They had come through the gauntlet which was the NFC at the time. A conference that had won the last 8 straight Super Bowls and would ultimately win 13 in a row. The physical nature of the conference was one thing, but they had to beat the mystique of the best organization in San Francisco.

Once the 49ers unseated the Cowboys back in the ’81 NFC Championship Game, they became the gold standard of NFL franchises. Every veteran wanted to play for Eddie Debartolo’s organization. Once Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, he traveled to San Francisco to study how the league’s model front office operated.

By the time Jimmy Johnson (the [[_]]) had rebuilt “America’s Team” in a few short years, they were ready to take on a 49er team that was prepared to rule the 1990’s just as they had the 80’s. They were built with a different breed of player. Fast, aggressive and an in your face bravado reminiscent of the Miami Hurricane teams Johnson coached in college. The most indelible image from that ’92 Championship was in the locker room when he boasted “How ’bout them Cowboys!??!” loud enough you could nearly hear it in the 49er locker room.

Terry Bradshaw once said “Once you win a Super Bowl the regular season is boring. All you care about is getting back to the playoffs where it can be fun again.”

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Well the boredom Dallas had to endure was losing Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt, Emmitt Smith’s holdout, and the advent of free agency. In time free agency would prove to be the bigger foe, but when the Cowboys started 0-2 without Smith’s services, it was clear what priority one was.

The reality set in these were the two best teams in football. Steve Young had won the last two passing titles but Aikman was thought of as the better quarterback. Troy entered ’93 as a Super Bowl winning QB, something Young had yet to do. Michael Irvin (78 rec. 1,396 yds 7 TDs) was beginning to challenge Jerry Rice (84 rec. 1,201 yds 10 TDs) as to who was the best receiver in the game.

In every way these two team were eyeing each other for another postseason date but first had to get through a regular season affair that offered some answers.

The 26-17 win over the 49ers gave the Cowboys the inside track to Super Bowl XXVIII. In fact when they won homefield advantage for the ’93 playoffs, the only question was the status of Emmitt Smith’s separated shoulder suffered in the clinching finale against the New York Giants. Smith was one of 11 Pro Bowlers that included QB Troy Aikman, FB Darryl Johnston, WR Michael Irvin, linemen Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton, and Eric Williams. By the time you include TE Jay Novacek, they were 3 starters away from sending every player to the Pro Bowl.

The defense, which ranked 10th in the league sent LB Ken Norton Jr, DT Russell Maryland, and FS Thomas Everett to Honolulu. A far cry from the year before when they ranked #1 defensively and sent 0 players to the Pro Bowl. We’ll talk about the importance of Everett later but this team was riding high after the emotional win vs. New York. They kept their eye out west on the 49ers as they blew out the wildcard Giants 44-3 in the divisional round. Dallas beat Green Bay 27-17 to set up the NFC Championship rematch in Texas Stadium.

As pundits lauded the 49ers lopsided win in Candlestick, it belied the fact they had actually struggled down the stretch losing 3 of their last 4. Sure their defense had put it together in taking down the 1 dimensional Giants, but that is after they had the huge battle in the season finale at Dallas and a hard fought wildcard against the Vikings.

After listening to the experts all week, Jimmy Johnson had had enough and called in to a Dallas Radio show on Friday night and declared “We will win the game! You can put it in 3 inch headline!” There was no easing into it now….this was a street fight in the school yard. They called the laced up shirt and tie corporate 49ers out and how would they respond.

They beat down the 49ers 38-21 and were actually ahead 28-7 in the 2nd quarter. Texas Stadium for the first time ever was raucous. Even in the Tom Landry days crowds in Dallas responded like they were at a play or something. They cheered when it was time to but this felt different. It was boisterous and the tempo of the team and the audience fed off Jimmy Johnson’s bravado and echoed in kind. Who knew it was  going to be Johnson’s last game ever at Texas Stadium??

After beating The Chancellor of Football’s Buffalo Bills for the Super Bowl XXVIII championship, we had Johnson’s departure in the offseason. On March 29th was the press conference where there was a mutual parting of the ways. The shock wave could be felt through the NFL. The youngest team in the league that won back to back Super Bowls was going on without their vocal leader?? Jerry Jones erroneously stated there were 50 coaches who could coach the Dallas Cowboys and hired Barry Switzer to succeed him.

The Cowboys were that talented and headed into 1994 as the best team in football on paper. Or so they thought… the 49ers had retooled and fashioned much of their team and personality based on the bravado that left them whipped in Dallas the preceding January. The Niners had signed away Ken Norton Jr. and 6 defenders to bolster their defense including future Hall of Famers Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, and Deion Sanders. All off the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl and San Francisco used this as a recruiting trip.

Free agency had robbed the Cowboys of Norton, DTs Tony Casillas & DT Jimmie Jones, and to the Chancellor the most valuable defender in FS Thomas Everett. Before Everett’s arrival in ’92, the 11-5 Cowboys struggled with Run & Shoot offenses especially, and at times was awful against the pass. Why do you think they drafted CB Kevin Smith, S Darren Woodson, and traded for Everett to start 1992??

Not Charles Haley...it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Not Charles Haley…it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Dallas had been 1-3 against Run & Shoot teams in 1991. They went 5-0 against those teams including the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII that finished as the top passing teams that year with Everett. It was this end zone interception in Super Bowl XXVII that started the 1990’s reign of the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise the Bills take a 17-14 lead and the Bills take control of the game. In big games he starred….in each NFC Championship Game against the 49ers he picked off Steve Young. You cannot underscore his importance in gluing a young secondary together and teaching them to be pros by example.

Yet 1994 saw this team try to move on without this defensive firepower and they did go 12-4. DE Charles Haley was healthy and made the Pro Bowl with 12.5 sacks, S Darren Woodson, and Leon Lett came into their own making their first Pro Bowl trips. The offense was as potent as ever with Smith’s 1,461 yards and 21 TDs. Although he battled leg injuries the 2nd half of the season. Did they have enough in the gas tank to get to win a 3rd straight Super Bowl and make it into NFL lore?? All they had to do was take a trip out to beat the 49ers for the right to go to Super Bowl XXIX.

So Dallas had to watch the 49ers go on to win Super Bowl XXIX 49-26 over San Diego. They did return the following year to beat Pittsburgh 27-17 to win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years yet the rivalry came to an end for this era. Both teams kept raising the bar on each other and pushed themselves to a height no other team could reach. In each of these seasons they were the best teams in football and won all 4 Super Bowls… yet lingering questions are still being debated to this day…

  • How many Super Bowls would Dallas have won if Johnson coaches the whole decade??
  • Would they have won 3 in a row if Johnson coached them in ’94??
  • Would the 49ers have won in 1994 if they hadn’t built a defense from the ’93 Pro Bowl roster??
  • How would the 1990’s play out for Dallas if there had not been free agency??
  • Why isn’t Jimmy Johnson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??
  • Would the Cowboys have won in 1994 if T Erik Williams doesn’t get in that car accident??

However one of the indelible moments from the 1994 NFC Championship Game was the near pass interference call in the 4th quarter between Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin. Instead of a 1st and goal where the 49er lead could have been trimmed to 3, an irate Barry Switzer bumps an official in protest incurring a 15 yard penalty. Dallas was forced to punt and never threatened again. In 1995, in a quiet Texas Stadium Courthouse the two Hall of Famers had a hearing to discuss a disputed play which altered the course of football history.d_sanders_950115_640

LMAO “Panicked state of mind!” Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Epilogue: When it came to Jimmy Johnson’s success in Dallas, it was bitter sweet being a Buffalo Bill fan. We lost those two Super Bowls but I was a fan of his back to Herschel Walker and when he first coached the Cowboys. Nope not Dallas…we’re talking the Oklahoma St Cowboys. I first read about Jimmy Johnson during the ’82 season when his running back Earnest “Sparkplug” Anderson became the 5th back to run for 1,000 yards in just the 5th game of the season.

Herschel walker won the Heisman but I kept screaming it was “Sparkplug” Anderson that led college football in rushing! Alas…no blog back in ’82. Yet remember following Johnson and as a tradition would watch the Bluebonnet Bowl played on New Year’s Eve and watched Oklahoma St win that game. When it was announced he was coming to my favorite college team at The [[_]] of Miami, talk about excited… I knew Schnellenberger’s replacement and the rest is history.

I did get to meet Johnson and the Dallas Cowboy coaching staff at Houlihan’s on St Patrick’s Day in 1993 just after the first Super Bowl with Buffalo. I remember having him sign my Golden Nugget /Mirage jacket from Vegas and talked a little football. If only cell phones with cameras, Instagram & Facebook existed then…

Dedicated to the memories of Mark Tuinei, Godfrey Myles, and Joe Avezzano

Next Up: 1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: 49ers Perspective