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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On the Road Again. . . and Again and Again

Coach Jim Haslett was understandably unhappy about that "home game" his New Orleans Saints lost at Giants Stadium (in New Jersey, of all places).
The Saints are based in San Antonio, Texas, at least for the rest of this season. But they'll play only three games there. They'll also play four so-called home games at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. But, since they'll practice all week in San Antonio and then fly to Baton Rouge, those won't feel like home games.
"I don’t think anybody has ever traveled to 13 games," Haslett commented. But he was wrong about that.
The 1926 Duluth Eskimos played 13 NFL games on the road. While they were at it, they also played 16 exhibition games, 14 of them on the road.
The Eskimos squeezed those 29 games into a 117-day period. That's a game every four days, on average. During one eight-day stretch, they played five games in five different cities, from St. Louis to New York.
How'd they do? Respectably. They finished over .500 in the NFL with a 6-5-2 record and, overall, they were 17-9-3.
You can read a much more detailed account of that long road trip here, on my website.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Terry Fox's Never-Ending Marathon

The 25th anniversary Terry Fox Run takes place today.
Chances are that you"ve never heard of it, unless you're a Canadian.
It's not really a sports event. It's not like the New York Marathon or the Iron Man Triathlon.
There are no gold medals, no big cash prizes. Yet there are so many winners that they can't be counted.
Terry Fox was by no means a great athlete, yet he performed one of the greatest athletic feats in history. He ran a marathon a day, for 143 consecutive days, on one leg.
I won't try to tell you the whole Terry Fox story. You can read much more here, at the official site of the Terry Fox Run. But here's a much-condensed version.
A native of Manitoba, Fox grew up in Coquitlam, British Columbia. He played basketball in high school, evidently with more determination than skill, and decided he wanted to become a phys ed teacher.
But, in his first year at Simon Fraser College, Fox learned that he had developed bone cancer. His right leg had to be amputated above the knee.
While in the hospital, he was moved by the number of children suffering with cancer, and he became determined to do something to raise Canada's awareness of their plight and, not so incidentally, to raise money for research.
Specifically, he decided that he would run across Canada. After being outfitted with an artificial leg and leaving the hospital, he spent 18 months training for the run.
Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope began on April 12, 1980, at St. John's, Newfoundland. It didn't get much attention at first, but momentum built as he ran a marathon a day through Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Quebec. In Ottawa, he kicked the opening ball for a Canadian Football League exhibition game. In Toronto, he was greeted by Darryl Sittler, who gave Fox his 1980 NHL All-Star Game sweater. Sittler commented, "I've been around athletes a long time and I've never seen any with his courage and stamina."
When Fox celebrated his 22nd birthday in Gravenhurst, Ontario, on July 28, he was presented with $14,000 that had been raised by that community of 8,000 people.
On August 4, Fox reached the halfway point, near Sudbury, Ontario. A television crew filmed his arrival in Thunder Bay on September 1.
That was the end of his run. Fox was suffering chest pain and difficulty in breathing. The cancer had spread to his lungs. He was flown to British Columbia for further treatment.
Others were ready to carry the torch. On September 2, Isadore Sharp of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts announced that he would hold an annual fund-raising run named for Terry Fox. A week later, the CTV network staged a five-hour telethon that raised $10 million for cancer research.
Despite chemotherapy, Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981, a month before his 23rd birthday.
The first annual Terry Fox run was held on September 1 at nearly 800 sites. The 300,000 runners raised $3.5 million. The total amount raised in Terry Fox's name for cancer research has since surpassed $360 million.
Twenty-five years ago, his run seemed to have ended. But it's still going on. There are now more than a thousand Terry Fox runs held in more than 50 countries. In Canada alone, more than 4 million people are expected to take part today.

Friday, September 09, 2005

3-4, 4-3: Whatever Works for the Patriots

A lot has been written about the return of 3-4 defense to the NFL this season. The success of the New England Patriots has had a lot to do with it.
So it's ironic that the Patriots switched from the 3-4 to the 4-3 very early in last night's 30-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
On the game's first possession, Oakland embarked on a fairly easy 72-yard touchdown drive. Kerry Collins completed all four of his pass attempts, accounting for 63 yards. The Patriots had gone 36 consecutive games, including the post-season, without giving up a touchdown on the opposition's first drive.
The Patriots came right back with a field goal. Then they switched to the 4-3 and stuck with it for most of the game from then on.
Collins completed only 14 of 36 passes the rest of the way. He did throw for three touchdowns, but the 4-3 allowed the Pats to get a push up the middle that consistently bothered the Oakland quarterback and created the turnover that was really the game's turning point.
New England was clinging to a 17-14 lead with about six minutes left in the third quarter. The Raiders had a second-and-8 at their own 33. As Collins retreated to pass, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green, the fourth down lineman, pressured him. Green hit Collins from the blind side just as he was about to throw the ball. It popped into the air and into the arms of another defensive lineman, Vince Wilfork, at the Oakland 20.
From there, it took the Patriots just three plays to score the touchdown that put them comfortably ahead to stay. They extended the lead to 30-14 in the fourth quarter before Oakland scored again.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots play it the rest of the season. I doubt that the tactical change from the 3-4 to the 4-3 against Oakland represents a total strategic change. Like any team that uses the base 3-4, the Patriots have always had the 4-3 in their defensive mix and they've used it frequently in passing situations to get more pressure on the quarterback.
Bearing in mind that they've lost both of last year's inside linebackers, Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson, it well may be that they'll usie the 4-3 much more this season than they have in the past.
Coaching is a pragmatic profession and Bill Belichick is the most pragmatic of coaches. One big reason for the Patriots' remarkable success over the last three seasons is that Belichick, his staff, and his players have been able to figure out what will work for them in the course of a game.
Al Davis's slogan, "Just win, baby," has been transformed by Belichick into "Just make whatever adjustments it takes to win, baby."
Not quite as catchy, but it's proven pretty effective.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Few NFL Roster Notes

The final NFL cuts always produce a few items of interest. Here are some tidbits that caught my eye:
At the moment, Doug Flutie is the last player left from the U. S. Football League. Punter Sean Landeta, who also played in the USFL, was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, while Flutie is Tom Brady's backup at quarterback with the New England Patriots. I say at the moment because there's always the chance that some team, desperate for a punter, will sign Landeta in the course of the season.
New England's third quarterback, incidentally, is Matt Cassel, who threw only 33 passes in his college career. At Southern Cal, he backed up two Heisman Trophy winners, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Cassel had 54 pass attempts in the pre-season, more than he threw in his four years of college. I wonder if his arm is sore.
Another rookie quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, stuck with the St. Louis Rams. The interesting tidbit here is that Fitzpatrick is from Harvard. A few Harvard guys have played in the NFL, including Minnesota center Matt Birk, but I'm pretty sure that Fitzpatrick is the only T-formation quarterback from Harvard ever to be on an NFL regular-season roster.
Okay, one further quarterback note: The New York Giants cut Jesse Palmer and kept rookie Jared Lorenzen. Palmer is probably better known for starring in the fifth installment of ABC's The Bachelor, while Lorenzen is known (if he's known at all) as football's first 300-pound quarterback, when he was at the University of Kentucky.
Graced by such nicknames as "J-Load," the "Hefty Lefty," the "Pillsbury Throw Boy," and the "Round Mound of Touchdown," Lorenzen passed for 10,354 yards and 78 touchdowns in 41 games at Kentucky. He signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2004 but never showed up at training camp. This year he did, though, and was immediately told to lose weight. Evidently he has; the Giants list him at 275 pounds, though other sources say he's 288.
Just for the record, starter Eli Manning weighs 218 pounds and backup Tim Hasselbeck weighs 211. Before Lorenzen, the NFL's biggest QB was Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings, at 260 pounds.
Finally, running back Jarrett Payton, Walter's son, was cut by the Titans. However, he's been signed to the team's practice squad, so he may not be done yet.

And now for something completely different

Red Sox fans will love this. Yankee fans will hate it.
The link will take to Google image search results for "universal choke sign."