The Chancellor’s Take on Tributes At NFL Games

The NFL is built on the backs of great players who have made this game into an American institution. Great players have come and gone and their exploits were usually passed down generation to generation by fathers to sons, uncles to nephews, and every combination of sons and daughters you can think of.  Newspapers and word of mouth were how legends were built as the NFL emerged from the 1940’s on. That’s until television began to take over as the major story teller of the modern game. However in the last decade even television lost it’s soul for passing down stories that newspaper and families failed to miss.

Raven GM Ozzie Newsome addressing Ray Lewis during his "ring of honor" ceremony earlier this year.

Raven GM Ozzie Newsome addressing Ray Lewis during his “ring of honor” ceremony earlier this year.

Yet if you make it to an NFL game during the early portion of the season, you may run into an onfield tribute to a player or championship team from years gone by. However television execs don’t think the television audience should see it. That has to be the attitude taken as we didn’t get to see any of Ray Lewis’ tribute a month ago. Instead, we had to hear talking heads at the half talk about a game we had already spent an hour and a half watching. Seriously??

To not watch Ray Lewis tribute was glaring but wasn’t the worst example of this. That happened on Thursday Night to start week 4. The St. Louis Rams were playing the San Francisco 49ers and hosting alumni of over 5 decades of excellence. Including former players who played their careers back in Los Angeles. Men like “Jaguar” Jon Arnett.

The legendary Jon Arnett along with current Ram coach Jeff Fisher, former players Les Josephson, and Roger Brown.

The legendary Jon Arnett along with current Ram coach Jeff Fisher, former players Les Josephson, and Roger Brown.

If you asked who is  Jon Arnett, you’re exactly who would have benefited from the game broadcast including the tribute to all the former Ram players. What made this painful is this was NFL Network that was broadcasting the game and not Fox, CBS, or ESPN. The NFL Network commentators would make mention when the camera would catch a former Ram on the sideline.  But only when it was an Eric Dickerson, or a Greatest Show on Turf player from the early 2000s. I can’t believe the NFL’s own network would miss that opportunity to be the catalyst to start some of those father /son stories of the men that shaped the league.

Some of the Ram alumni on the sideline during the Rams v. 49ers in week 4.

Some of the Ram alumni on the sideline during the Rams v. 49ers in week 4.

As the NFL has gone more corporate, it hasn’t cared about the players who built the league and fight for their benefits later in life. Yet these are proud men whose accomplishments and contributions shouldn’t be swept into the dustbin of history. How do we know this??

Well let’s take you back to the turn of the century. No, not 1900, I’m talking about 2000. Twice on Monday Night Football we were offered retirement ceremonies for both Dan Marino, and John Elway. ABC allowed the viewer to enjoy what fans in Joe Robbie, and Mile High Stadium were able to witness. How many stories were told those nights to young football players around the country?? How many of today’s NFL players had fathers, uncles, or grandparents, share stories of Elway and Marino on those nights??

An all purpose threat for the Los Angeles Rams and later the Chicago Bears, Arnett was a 5 time Pro Bowler. Worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Arnett has been a friend to Taylor Blitz Times since it's inception. I call him "Captain Cutback" and he was right behind Frank Gifford in the lineage of great USC tailbacks.

An all purpose threat for the Los Angeles Rams and later the Chicago Bears, Arnett was a 5 time Pro Bowler. Worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Arnett has been a friend to Taylor Blitz Times since it’s inception. I call him “Captain Cutback” and he was right behind Frank Gifford in the lineage of great USC tailbacks.

ABC did this again before the 2001 season when Terrell Davis had his retirement ceremony live before a televised audience. Before that we had Phil Simms throw a pass to Lawrence Taylor during his retirement ceremony in 1995. Also on Monday Night. it was understood what it meant to share the games history and aid in story telling that inspired the next generation of football players. Now even the NFL’s own network doesn’t even recognize this.

They robbed some little boy or girl of watching the pregame / halftime ceremony of former Ram players and ask: “Dad, who is that guy in the white jersey?? You know #26 right there??”  just before his father could answer, his uncle or grandfather would walk in with a beer and a bowl of chips and respond “That’s Jaguar John Arnett…and you should have seen him play. He was the most elusive….

If the networks won’t stop and offer something more rewarding than studio analysis of a game we have watched for nearly 2 hours. To hell with it, Taylor Blitz Times will do it.  Shut up and let us see the ceremonies in the stadium…please.

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Hell Hath No Empathy Like An NFL City Scorned

Alright NFL fans, answer this question:  Who was the first NFL team to play in Chicago?? The city where George Halas, long thought of as the NFL’s founder had his team?? Yup that’s right The Arizona Cardinals when they were the Chicago Cardinals and the Bears were in Decatur Illinois. You missed that?? Well the Bears were the Decatur Staleys back then. What made us think of it was joining the Facebook group Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams and it made our CEO ponder: Why isn’t there a group asking to bring back the Cleveland Rams?? or the St Louis “football” Cardinals??

Bring Back The Rams. Booster Clubs still exist.

Bring Back The Rams. Booster Clubs still exist.

Its crazy when you find out you’re the rebound boyfriend or girlfriend, but that’s the scorn left in the wake. You weren’t the original love nor were you the person once love blossomed anew. You’re just the one without. Its happened to NFL cities and it’s ironic that St Louis and Los Angeles both sat in this cauldron of long forgotten feelings.

For once upon a time, the Chicago Cardinals battled with the Bears, who moved in from Decatur in 1920 for the hearts of the city of broad shoulders. George Halas and the Bears won that particular battle and the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960. Then the Bidwell’s moved the franchise again in 1987 to the city of Phoenix.

Before the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis there were fans there that missed their football team. Yet the internet wasn’t in full bloom nor was there a mass media outlet to show this missing sign of support, but it existed. Otherwise why would Georgia Frontiere move the Rams there before the 1995 season??

Then you had the Cleveland Rams who never dominated the landscape of the NFL, have a powerhouse of a team in the Cleveland Browns playing in the rival All American Football Conference. A precursor to the American Football League. This was the late 1940’s when America had just returned home triumphant in the second world war and began to enjoy pro football as entertainment that would soon rival baseball. How do we know this?? The ink hadn’t dried on the Potsdam Declaration ending WWII when the AAFC was formed in 1946. In four short years the Browns dominated and won all four championships before the league folded and were absorbed into the NFL along with the 49ers and Baltimore Colts in 1950.

Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham tries to avoid a Ram defende in the 1950 NFL Title Game.

Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham tries to avoid a Ram defende in the 1950 NFL Title Game.

In another round of “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” the Rams decided to move to Los Angeles knowing they couldn’t compete with the champion Browns for the hearts of Cleveland. The only time a team left Cleveland and Art Modell wasn’t to blame…yet we digress. Ironically in that first season of both teams playing in the NFL, they played each other for the NFL Championship in 1950. One of the greatest games in NFL history.  It would be assumed that old Ram fans became Browns fans in Cleveland

The forgotten aspect of both situations in St Louis and Los Angeles is they were not the first city these teams played in. They were the rebound fling and Angelinos are pining for the Rams to come back west. Yet where was all this support when the Rams were in Anaheim?? In 1994 the Rams hosted the Los Angeles Raiders, in the last year both teams were in Southern California, their game drew 60 K but 2 weeks later drew a home crowd of only 34,000. Yet like a scorned love those fans wish for their lost team to come back to them and forget how little support was shown when the relationship existed.

Art Modell being presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXV.

Art Modell being presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXV.

St Louis had their pining for the departed Cardinals filled after just 8 years when the Rams moved east for the 1995 season. In 44 years in Los Angeles, the Rams won only 1 NFL championship in 1951, yet only made St Louis fans wait just 4 years before The Greatest Show on Turf took the title in 1999. Those fans in Los Angeles were the first to watch their former team win a Super Bowl championship in a new city. The following year it was Cleveland’s turn as they watched the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. Former Browns fans watched with horror as the late Art Modell hoisted the Lombardi Trophy just 5 years after moving to Baltimore.

Here is the real issue… The NFL thrives as an entity because of the revenue generated from television more than it does from the gate. The gate is important but a team is nothing more than a company and if the gate isn’t there, it will seek greener pastures. The teams split that gate 65/35 for the home and away teams. The personal seat licenses (PSL) and luxury boxes are the revenues that a team can keep to themselves. Hence we saw the boom in new stadiums from the mid 1990’s on. The other revenue streams a team can keep to themselves are the stadium naming rights, parking, and concessions. If the team can’t draw fans to the stadium, they will fall behind their competition when it comes to financial competitive balance. You do want your team to sign that free agent tackle next year…right??

At one time it was thought the NFL needed Los Angeles, with the nation’s #2 television market, to have a team. Our CEO contended then as he does now that it doesn’t. We just kicked off our 18th NFL season without a team in Los Angeles and it doesn’t seem to bother Vance Lockett who is watching games on NFL Sunday Ticket in Columbus, Ohio. Yet to the attending fan cheering for their team living where they have the chance to go to the actual games. Go when you can. The rules are set up to get you to the stadium in the first place.  In a direct television market, NFL city with a team, you are only guaranteed to be able to watch the road games in a particular season. Any concurrent broadcast of another game on the other network, Fox or CBS, will not be shown because you belong to that team. Hence a week ago The Chancellor of Football was stuck watching the Cardinals face the Lions instead of the Manning Bowl in New York… So instead of the 3 free broadcast games you only get 2 before the Sunday night game.

You only get to see the home games in those NFL cities if the game is sold out. This is when you hear of the “blackout being lifted” in television jargon. They’re figuring is: Why watch it on television when you can go down and pay your way to see the game?” So while our CEO (in Columbus, Ohio at the time) was able to watch and record the 1992 Wild Card Game, where Buffalo came from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in the greatest comeback in NFL history, people that lived 3 blocks from Ralph Wilson Stadium did not. The game wasn’t a sell out.

Just like those forlorn fans that pine for teams that once were in Cleveland, Los Angeles, St Louis, Houston, and especially Jacksonville for that matter: Get to the stadium and go watch a game! If that team gets down financially and decides to leave, it’s gone and it’s gone forever. Ask those Houston Oiler fans or even the Rams fans pictured about the despair that replaces the cheers once the team plays elsewhere. Los Angeles is nothing more than a bargaining chip for NFL teams to leverage their present cities and our CEO doubts the NFL ever returns there. Los Angeles is an overpopulated aging decaying city that is destined to feel old.

Along with the fact there is no space and it would be cost prohibitive to build a new stadium, people in Los Angeles are front runner fans that won’t support a non winner. After the 1994 game when BOTH Los Angeles teams played and drew 65 K, the Rams attracted less than 60 K in the 2 remaining games combined. This is before we even talk about the travel restraints thanks to overcrowded freeways. Corporations know better than to take those risks and that’s what NFL teams are…corporations.

Even the Chancellor of Football moved the Taylor Blitz Times headquarters out of congested Southern California to the beautiful clean open area of Glendale, Arizona. Why take the financial risk of moving to Los Angeles, when you can get between 10-15 million in the nation’s #2 television market to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket anyway?? You’d have more of a chance moving the Los Angeles Dodgers back to Brooklyn…oops we forgot those first reasons are exactly why the Dodgers left Brooklyn 56 years ago. See?? We’ve been here before.

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The Soul of The Game: Dick “Night Train” Lane

When you talk about the soul of the NFL game, you can’t tell the story of hitting and defensive might without “Night Train” Lane. A Hall of Fame member. In fact one thing you’ll note as we go through this series is the fact that most of these players were bigger than what was customary for playing their respective positions. Standing 6’1 and 195lbs in 1952, Lane was the size of your average linebacker but was platooned at cornerback. In fact he was trying out at receiver and projected to be a tight end hence his wearing the number 81. Yet he was moved to the defensive side of the ball where he went to work.

Lane was one of the hardest hitters of the 1950’s and early 60s where he manhandled smaller receivers and runners. Many of which he tackled around the head using the facemask. Of course these tactics are outlawed today but Lane was the reason for these new rulings. As you will see in this NFL Films short he was savage when he brought down an opponent. He had complete disregard for his body with his reckless play so naturally he didn’t care for his opponent’s.

However one of the differences between Lane and other hard hitting defensive backs in history, he still made plays on the ball. Think about it for a second… When I say envision Jack Tatum you can’t conjure up a single image of his intercepting a pass. In fact Lane’s rookie record of 14 interceptions in a 12 game season is an NFL record that still stands and will never be broken. It has stood for over 60 years and the closest anyone has come to it was Lester Hayes in 1980 with 13, then Everson Walls with 11 in 1981. Those were achieved during the modern 16 game season format.

Lane was the prototype to the modern NFL cornerback in baiting quarterbacks to throw in his area by allowing the receiver to look as though they were open. Then he’d swoop in for the interception. If he was late getting there…well…this is what happened

Dick “Night Train” Lane left us in 2002, yet his spirit of hard hitting football lives on every time you see a defensive back clock a receiver. Yet a clean shot can be delivered with a forearm or a shoulder and not lead with the head. This Hall of Fame talent played 14 seasons, made 7 pro bowls and has his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Kevin Greene Belongs In The Hall of Fame: War Damn Eagle – HOF Edition

Kevin in 1994 during his Blitzburgh days.

Originally Published 3, March 2011 w/ Postscript 10, August 2016 

There are players that come along and break the mold and there are those that totally destroy it.  Enter Kevin Greene, one of my personal favorite players and one of the reason I love football (all sports) in the first place.  He broke molds, stereotypes, changed perceptions as much as any player over the last 25 years.  What am I talking about? Do you realize that of all the outside linebackers, the player with the most sacks in a career is Kevin Greene?  Do you realize that Kevin Greene had double digit sacks for FOUR different pro football teams? Yet I digress…

As the 1980s beckoned, the 3-4 defense became the choice of many teams as the best way to attack NFL offenses.  All that changed with the 1985 Chicago Bears march to the Super Bowl. As teams started to revert back to the 4-3 defense as a staple, a lessor known talent started to lay his foundation out west with the Los Angeles Rams in 1986.

Kevin Greene started to rush as an outside linebacker in 1986 and recorded 7 sacks that year. Yet he didn’t gain notoriety until 1988 when he bested Lawrence Taylor with 16 1/2 sacks to 15 1/2 for the NFC lead at linebacker.  Whereas the majority of the modern age athletic linebackers were black, Kevin Greene was a white defensive player who broke that mold and with his crazy “War Eagle” Auburn attitude he was a great pass rusher from that season on.  A player that other Rams looked to on game day to lead them on and off the field.

In his single season in San Fran, Greene helped the ‘Niners to the 1997 NFC Championship against Green Bay.

However by the time we move to 1993, very few teams employed the 3-4 defense. Then the Steelers went looking for a linebacker to match Greg Lloyd that would be more effective than Jerrol Williams.  Kevin Greene signed, and Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh.

The Steelers had two outstanding linebackers to crash the pocket.    The last bastion of 3-4 defense at the time and Greene was the impetus of a chaotic defense.  Who should blitz? Who should drop? Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers, and Bill Cowher tinkered with different zone blitzing schemes that became the scourge of the league.  He helped the ’94 and ’95 teams to the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XXX respectively.  During his 3 years in Pittsburgh he recorded 12.5 sacks in ’93,  14 sacks in ’94, and 9 sacks in ’95.  It was Kevin Greene’s arrival that made the Steelers defense lethal.

Even after outplaying the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX and poised to return to the title game from a personnel standpoint, the Steelers let Greene go for a younger Jason Gildon. He rejoined Dom Capers who moved on to become head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers. There he tag teamed with Lamar Lathon, formerly of the Houston Oilers, to form a 1-2 linebacker punch equal to that of Blitzbugh.

He recorded his second highest career sack total, at the time, with 14.5 in Carolina. He led the league with Lathon coming in second in sacks with 13.5.  Again he was the impetus of a veteran laden defense that dethroned the champion Dallas Cowboys in a divisional playoff and made it to the 1996 NFC Championship Game where they lost to Green Bay.  The Carolina Panthers made it to the NFC Championship Game in only their second season.  Wow.

After a falling out with Carolina brass following that 1996 season, for which owner Jerry Richardson later apologized, he signed a 1 year deal in San Francisco where he was a pass rushing specialist and only started four games.  Yet amazingly he still compiled 10.5 sacks and helped the 49ers to the 1997 NFC Championship game where they fell to the Packers 23-10.  See a pattern here?  After the apology from Richardson, Greene re-signed with Carolina and played on for two more years for them recording 15 sacks in 1998 and 12 in 1999.

 

Kevin Greene was a street fighter tough player who brought that attitude to any team he played for.  He was a blood and guts player that teamed with Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon, each had their best years across from Greene.

What was the most puzzling aspect of Kevin Greene’s career was how teams kept thinking they’d replace him even though he was super productive and I wonder would he have moved around so much had he been a black outside linebacker.  I don’t think he would have.  You can’t tell me race had nothing to do with it either.  He was athletic, strong, tenacious and for the life of me can’t figure why teams  thought they’d replace him.  Do you realize that for 4 straight years, Kevin Greene was a defensive stalwart on 3 different teams that made it to the conference championship game?  Twice is a coincidence, four is a pattern.  He was a winner.

Greene, making his presence felt early in the 1994 AFC Championship Game.

How do you gauge impact?  The most sacks in NFL history for a linebacker with 160 and third all time behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith.  He was a 5 time Pro Bowl participant and made the All Pro team twice. He led the league in sacks twice during his career. If that’s not enough… Add the fact Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon’s best sack totals of their careers came when they teamed with Greene.  Lloyd had 10 sacks in 1994 and the aforementioned Lathon’s 1996 total of 13.5 in Carolina.

Each team he left had a defensive dropoff in production and wins.  The ’96 Steelers barely made the playoffs and were run out of town in New England when they got there, thanks to Curtis Martin’s 166 yards rushing, losing 28-3.  The 97 & 2000 Panthers didn’t make the playoffs. The 98 49ers were scored upon heavily even though they made it to the divisional round.  Even then they needed Steve Young’s miracle throw to T.O. to beat the Packers in the Wildcard Game to get there.

So if the greatest defensive player in NFL history is Lawrence Taylor, rightfully so, who finished with 132 sacks in his career, where does that put Kevin Greene and his 160?? Happened in the same era, so that can’t be argued.  Quite simply he belongs.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Kevin Greene.

 

EPILOGUE:  I am getting the greatest kick out of watching the growth of Clay Matthews III.  Its like watching some weird Frankenstein thats part Clay Matthews the father (Browns) and Kevin Greene.  The style of play and to watch them interact.  I was fortunate enough to be on the Ravens sideline pregame and front row seats behind the Baltimore Ravens bench when they played the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

I watched how Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis interacted and see much the same in Greene and Matthews.  When the television mic caught Greene conveying to Matthews during the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XLV that it was time for him to put his imprint on the game.  Then to watch him force the Mendenhall fumble two plays later gave me goosebumps.  To watch him so in tune with his protege’ is cool and can’t wait to watch their encore.

Greene and protege’ Clay Matthews III

Postscript August 10, 2016: Fast forward 5 years and here we are a couple days removed from Kevin’s enshrinement into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the great opportunity to be there at both the Gold Jacket Ceremony and The Enshrinement as his guest. For the small role I had in advocating his candidacy may have been the sole reason for Taylor Blitz Times in the first place. It was an honor to do it and I am grateful to Kevin and his wife Tara for inviting me.

kev.ticketHowever they set a football fanatic loose on the unsuspecting city of Canton. I had the chance to meet with former teammates and coaches that have known him over his football life. His coaches from high school all the way through to the NFL. I jumped in and made sure to get down into where the fans were and wound up becoming the 1st person to pay for his authenticated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame autograph.

chancellor.kevTo watch him receive his Gold Jacket was an emotional moment as a big time fan. To hear his impassioned speech gave credence to all that I knew and heard over the last few days from his Auburn, Rams, and Steelers’ teammates, his father at the airport with Coach Vermeil, his high school freshman coach Nick Petrillo, to meeting Lamar Lathon at the after party who was recalling this very article with Thurman Thomas.

It was great to see Kevin take his rightful place and become one of the giants of the game and one of it’s great ambassadors. It’s been an unbelievable 5 year ride as you’ve taken your place as one of pro football’s immortals. Congratulations Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene!!

kev.bust.pngAs for that ticket… he signed a white Steelers #91 Greene jersey. The whereabouts of the ticket?? I gave it to Kevin who put it in his Hall of Fame Gold Jacket interior pocket… Mission accomplished.

 

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