48 FA L L 2 0 0 8 ISSUE # 3
pre-game media room buzz on beer fantasy the game room
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first quarter HIGH SCHOOL COMBINE Jeâ€™RON STOKES & justin renfrow QB KING MATT BARKLEY THE BIG PAYBACK FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
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second quarter NEW GATOR will hill chase daniel michael crabtree
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halftime tHE G.O.A.T. TECMO BOWL FINE ART
philadelphia soul SAL PAOLANTONIO NFL GOES TO SCHOOL willie mcginest JARVIS GREEN nfl draft section toronto bills ovie mughelli brandon jacobs VERNON DAVIS asante samuel
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foUrth quarter jerry reese jared allen usfl randy moss
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QB Your iPod From the Couch ®
JIM MCCORMICK MALIK SPANN
EDITOR IN CHIEF
ART DIRECTOR GRAPHIC DESIGN
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY ASSOCIATE EDITOR COPY EDITOR SENIOR WRITERS
PUBLIC RELATIONS WEB DESIGN ADVERTISING & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT LEGAL CONSULTANT
NIKOLAS GREENBLATT [ 2 one 5 ] DE$IGN // www.2one5.com NIKOLAS GREENBLATT JEREMY SIMCHES DAVID DUROCHICK KRISTIAN DYER CHRISTOPHER DEMENTO MATT TUTHILL AJ DAULERIO TIM MCMANUS MICHAEL BRADLEY
Todd Mishler, Andy Benoit, Sean Quinn, Jeremy Treatman, Blake Genraich, Christopher Tuthill, Joe DeCamara, Arthur Rice, Christina Andreadis, Bobby Deren, lolajames ANTHONY SPAY JAMES BLAGDEN
Brian Smith, David Durochik, Dominic Episcopo, Joe D’Angelo, Michael N. Todaro, BIG C, Felix Natal Jr., Jasen Hudson, DJ COUTZ, Zuma Press, ISAAC SCHELL, Getty Images Sport : Rick Stewart, Paul Spinelli, Jonathan Daniel, Kevin C. Cox, Al Messerschmidt, Chris McGrath, Donald Miralle, Photos courtesy of - University of Missouri, Texas Tech University, Rutgers University, Mater Dei High School, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Philadelphia Soul, dom marsella, tommy leonardi, mike damergis AST ENTERPRISES, INC. o3 WORLD / www.o3world.com CRAIG RENFROW & RUSSELL SELBY Safiyah Spann
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On the web: www.chillsound.com
The next-step in iPod playback systems, GEORGE ™ is the unique synergy of power, functionallity and style. With the industry’s only remote control offering full iPod functionality, there is no better way to browse your music library from your place of comfort. Along with the most balanced and accurate sound quality of any table-top system, GEORGE includes AM/FM radio and advanced alarm clock features. Check out GEORGE, and he’ll change the way you think about iPod Playback systems.
Copyright © 2008 Full All-Out BLITZ, Spann and McCormick Publishing LLC. All rights reserved Chestnut Hill Sound Inc. 90 Oak St Newton Upper Falls, MA 02464 (617) 618-1800 iPod not included. iPod is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. “Chestnut Hill Sound”, “George” and their respective logo designs, are trademarks of Chestnut Hill Sound Inc. in the U.S. and other countries.
We’re up working on the mag. It’s 4 AM. That’s what it takes to make this thing happen. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not complaining. We’re actually in the midst of a marathon argument over Lynn Swann’s Canton worthiness and gubernatorial aspirations. Once we agree that he’s deserving of a bust but not a state, the convo quickly switches to how much bonus dough Westbrook deserves in light of his recent awesomeness. To keep it simple, we love football. Even more than sleep, apparently. You’ll soon see this pigskin obsession reflected throughout this issue. In the pregame section, we delve into some of the best football films and books, awesome beer technologies, Electronic Arts’ NCAA and Madden franchises and fantasy football. As the tagline explains, we cover the game from the prep to pro levels. The First Quarter focuses exclusively on youth football. You’ll read about the ever-changing climate of college recruiting and the teenage prospects that are ranked and dissected with a new brand of intensity. We feature the top high school player of the ’09 class in USC-bound Matt Barkley, as well as a verbose discussion with Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger about the potentially costly nature of youth athletics. For college fans, the Second Quarter features legit Heisman hopefuls in Chase Daniel and Michael Crabtree. Halftime provides a departure to the lighter side of the game with a retrospective on the game we all grew up on, Tecmo Super Bowl. Of course we have to mention the beautiful fashion spread that follows. The Third Quarter is all about pro football, filled with elite pros like Vernon Davis, Brandon Jacobs and Asante Samuel as well as industry players Sal Paolantonio, Ron Jaworksi and Bon Jovi. The pivotal Fourth Quarter features Super Bowl GM Jerry Reese, All-Pro defender Jared Allen, a look back to the glory days of the USFL and, of course, The Real Randy Moss.
As devoted fans, we desired a dedicated football publication. Stodgy, antiquated statistic manuals and fantasy and season preview annuals didn’t satiate our appetite for compelling gridiron content. As daunting as it seemed at the time, we committed to filling this glaring void on the newsstand. We provide the football fan a platform for the glut of untold stories that exist across the culture of this most popular American sport. Enjoy
Subscribe today through our website at www.blitzmagonline.com and recieve four quarterly issues of Full All Out Blitz for just
$19.99* BRIAN SMITH
Pulitzer Prize-winner Brian Smith has photographed the famous and infamous faces of our time. His photographs of celebrities, athletes, titans of industry both noteworthy and notorious appear in magazines, annual reports and advertising. Over the past 25 years, his assignments have taken him on location to six continents as his photographs have graced the covers and pages of hundreds of magazines. Brian shot our cover athlete, Randy Moss, in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Anthony Spay is a freelance illustrator out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Specializing in Comic books / Cartoons, his work has encompassed the full spectrum of illustration, including books, video game character design, CD covers, comic books, and storyboards.
Michael Bradley has contributed to numerous print, radio and TV outlets throughout the country, including The Sporting News, Sporting News Radio, Slam Magazine, Athlon.com and Comcast SportsNet. He is also the author of “Big Games: College Football’s Greatest Rivalries.” Michael delves deep into the legacy of the USFL and gets up close and personal with superstar Jared Allen.
Tim is an award-winning journalist and radio personality based in the Philly area. He hosts “This Week in Pro Football” with Pat Callahan and Sal Paolantonio Saturdays during the football season on ESPN 950 Philadelphia and is the Executive Producer of the Jody McDonald Show on 950 ESPN. For this issue, T-Mac went oneon-one with Michael Crabtree and talked with Jovi and Jaws about their Soul.
With his 21 years of experience Dominic has shot everything from high fashion, lifestyle, corporate, medical, and commercial photography. While traveling all over the world pursuing his craft, Dominic has become an award-winning photographer and has built an amazing portfolio in the advertising industry. With his unique eye, he has become one of Philadelphia’s most sought after photographers. For this issue, Dominic shot the lovely ladies of ________ as well as our product spreads.
Juiced up on cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and the smell of freedom, Nikolas can really launch a Nerf Turbo. Really. But since hurling squishy, whistling objects isn’t a career (yet), he also heads up [ 2 one 5 ], a Philadelphia branding and design studio. When not on the 9-5, Nikolas spends time with his wife Jody (who affectionately refers to him as “Sweetness”) and their terrible-twos son Benji, who recently discovered the power of the word “no.” *Please allow up to three weeks for your first issue to arrive.
> Rudy (1993)
> About Three Bricks Shy of a Load
// by: Roy Blount Jr. The 1973 Steelers are the subject of this best selling classic that offers rare intimacy to a franchise on the brink of a dynastic run. The title refers to how the team was at the time a few players, or “bricks,” shy of being a legit powerhouse. Soon enough, they had more than enough bricks, and rings for that matter.
> Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer:
A Road Trip into the Heart of Fan Mania // by: Warren St. John St. John details his season on the road with the fanatically obsessed traveling ‘Bama fan base. Chock full of hilarious and near-insane anecdotes, like the tale of how one Tide fan missed his daughter’s wedding because it conflicted with the team’s game against rival Tennessee, this is a must read for any college fan. The quote below provides further proof of just how funny this book is: “You certainly don’t know what it’s like to really hate Tennessee if you pull for them AT ALL,” a poster named Tiderollin’ responds. “I’d cheer for Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame, Russia, and the University of Hell before the words ‘rocky top’ would ever come out of my mouth.”
> The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation
// by: Sally Jenkins “The Game, like the country in which is was invented, was a rough, bastardized thing that jumped out of the mud.” This opening phrase captures the insightful nature of Jenkins’ chronicle of the 1903 Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team. Not merely a football story, the book covers the relative end of the Indian “era” and the development of the sport on the college level. A must read for football and historians alike.
> Instant Replay – The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer
Jerry Kramer and Dick Schapp The legendary Dick Schapp convinced Kramer, an offensive guard for the reigning champion Packers, to pen a diary during the 1967 season. Recently reprinted, the book is a witty and deeply honest tale of a season from the summer to the Super Bowl under the famously quotable icon Vince Lombardi. A prerequisite for any NFL fan.
ome ten years ago, when dial-up and AOL dominated the Internet, John Tayman and Tom Lacks regularly battled in an NFL themed chat room, “He’s a Cowboys fan and I’m a Redskins fan, so sometimes the conversation wasn’t so pleasant. But we both knew we had similar senses of humor,” Tayman says.
A prime example of a “watch it whenever it’s on” movie, this Notre Dame classic needs no introduction to “reel” football fans. Rudy himself, Dan Ruettiger, has a short cameo in this definitive feel-good tale as a fan behind Rudy’s dad when he jumps for joy after the climactic sack was recorded. To see the actual famous sack that highlights the conclusion of this inspirational tale, YouTube “The Real Rudy.”
A graphic and web designer based in the DC area, Tayman began making comedic NFL cartoon shorts around 2003 and tabbed his unlikely web pal Lacks, a sports radio producer and personality in Columbus, Ohio, to help make Bang! Cartoons a reality. “I made a cartoon about Dan Snyder raiding the chicken coop that was the Jets at the time and people liked it. Basically, I was a smart ass with a new toy.”
> Longest Yard (1974)
“You could have robbed banks, sold dope or stole your grandmother’s pension checks and none of us would have minded. But shaving points off of a football game, man, that’s un-American.” A sports comedy classic in the vein of Caddyshack and Slap Shot, the above quote typifies the comedic caliber of the original Longest Yard, not the insipid ’05 Adam Sandler vehicle. Look for a cameo role by NFL great Ray Nitschke and surprisingly realistic football scenes from director Robert Aldrich, the auteur of the spaghetti western opus The Dirty Dozen.
> Heaven Can Wait (1978)
With insanely funny lines like “The pain train is coming!” and “You kill the joe you make some mo!” Tate dominated the commercial scene for a few seasons and made for some ultimately memorable Super Bowl spots.
Back when Warren Beatty was the box office champ he starred in great movies like this Oscar-nominated epic about Joe Pendelton, a Rams QB who goes to heaven well before his time thanks to a panicked angel. We recommend you suspend disbelief for a minute to enjoy this disco era treasure.
> Horse Feathers (1932)
Collusion, grade-fixing and dirty recruiting. This hilarious Marx Brothers’ musical comedy shows that not much has changed in college football in the past 70 years. Forgive the lack of color and definition for a few hours and get lost in this all-time classic.
In 2003 Reebok aired a legendary Super Bowl ad featuring Terry Tate, the Office Linebacker, who tackles people in the office and helps increase productivity.
Lester Speight, who plays Tate, was an All–American linebacker for Morgan State. Speight even played with the Chicago Bears from ‘82 to ‘85 and later signed with the Baltimore Stars of the USFL but the league folded before he had a chance to play (read Michael Bradley’s brilliant USFL piece on page 98). Once football was over, Speight looked towards Hollywood.
“I auditioned for the character Terry Tate, a character created by Rawson Thurber (the director of Dodgeball),” Speight explains, “who after working in an office and seeing all the chaos, thought of the idea to bring in an office linebacker to straighten out the office BS. When Terry goes to work and tackles somebody, no one reacts because that is what Terry does. It’s his job to tackle folks that don’t do their job.” For those who missed out on the originally aired hilarity or if your looking for a refresher course, YouTube “Terry Tate” and you’ll be sure to replenish the coffee at the office.
“It’s completely immature, but at the same time we try and make a point about something that’s going on in the world of football that’s funny and fun,” says Tayman. Visit www.bangcartoon.com and you’ll find it difficult to leave the site within the hour given its hilarious topical comedy and South Park-esque edginess. A notable recent toon, “Pacman Does Dallas,” details Jerry Jones’ need for Pac to criminalize the Boys and return them to their glory days when Nate Newton and Michael Irvin were synonymous with Pro Bowls and probation. With regular cartoons, podcasts and an entertaining forum, you’ll soon be checking Bang! out on the regular.
Whether you want to go to a regular season game in Oakland (really?) and sit in the nosebleeds or attend Super Bowl XLIII with 50yardline tickets, the team at Roadtrips.com can make it happen. Watching the game at home on your sweet plasma with a cold beer (or 10) is no doubt a sacred weekly ritual, but once in a while you gotta get out there and actually attend a game. Nothing compares, as Sinead O’Connor reminds us, to live football. Sunday afternoon with your crew, a ticket to the famous Lambeau Field, Monday Night Football, tailgating in the lot, berating the opposing fans, beating the spread, Thanksgiving games ... football is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. The passion of the crowd, the smells, sights and sounds all blend to make for an incredible experience. That being said, round up your buddies and set up a trip on Roadtrips.com before you get too old and too cheap. SPORTS TRAVEL PACKAGES
The dudes at Gameday Customs grew tired of hosting the boring traditional tailgate party... packing their cars with coolers, ghetto mini grills, folding chairs, bulky tables and struggling to get reception on a small TV in a crowded parking lot. So like real men of genius they came up with a pretty sweet solution: a completely self-contained 5x8 trailer equipped with a 27” flat screen HDTV, satellite dish, jockey box (keg in a cooler!), DVD player, BBQ, and even a personal toilet. It’s got it all whether you want to sit back and enjoy the tailgate or stand out among the crowd. This bad boy will run you about 14K but it’s an investment worth making. Visit Gamedaycustoms.com for more details
express your inner football dork Compliment your football obsession with a customized grill and apron so you can show off just how big of a football nerd you are to your fellow tailgaters.
MicroFueler And you thought green beer was just for St. Drinky’s day. This amazing new fuel conversion system, invented by Floyd Butterfeid and Thomas Quinn, who patented the Wii’s motion sensor, turns sugar and stale beer into usable ethanol. Imagine that; turn Sunday’s leftover warm swill into Monday’s commuting juice. While the kinks are still being worked out and with a hefty 10K price tag for a single unit, the idea of $1/gallon fuel is novel enough to celebrate.
in Every issue the Blitz crew will provide you with the latest advances in beer technologies. Sure, these brilliant inventors could be working on curbing global warming, curing diseases and developing prosthetics and boring stuff like that, but thankfully they’ve turned their engineering talents over to the sacred realm of brewskies.
Heineken BeerTender A joint production between the famous import brew and the coffee gurus at Krups, the BeerTender will help you develop a newfound appreciation for beer...as if you didn’t possess one already. It’s got all the beauty and finesse of a high-end cappuccino machine, with a few enhancements, notably the sweet Dutch nectar that it houses. With a liquid crystal display, the digital gauge provides you with beer level status and a convenient freshness calendar. You can also pre-set your desired temperature at 36ºF, 39ºF or 42ºF, upping the cool factor even more. Starting at $279, visit BeerTender.com for more details
No more getting up for beer, just what every fat American football fan wants to hear. But seriously, you’ll never miss a single snap with this radio-controlled beer cooler (it automatically shuts off when water or soda are used). With a 30-foot range and gluttonous battery appetite you can be confident that you are maximizing your uselessness with this ingenious invention. Available at firebox.com
Sit N Sip Yet another Trojan Horse beer device for those football fans out there tired of waiting 13 minutes in line for a $8 light beer. The Sit N Sip appears to be a seat cushion to the geniuses that pat you down but once in the stadium it’s 96 ounces of your liquid (liquor) of choice. Just $24.99 at www.sitnsip.com
Home Pub Thanks to the anemic dollar, this European bad boy costs some serious coin. Then again, anybody who can even consider a stainless steel fridge with a built-in keg and convince their wife that it’s necessary probably isn’t too worried about dropping more than a G on a super fridge. This coveted beauty has a built in CO2 system, an electronic thermostat and most importantly, sweet cold beer that flows anytime you want. For pricing and shipping visit akso.se
USB Cooler Fear not fantasy freaks and computer geeks, a fellow computer nerd has saved the day. If you watch the games with your laptop running, tracking your six fantasy teams, just plug in this USB beer cooler and keep a twelve-pack crisp and cold without leaving the couch. www.drinkstuff.com
ROARS WHEN IT POURS In an attempt to make up for the ridiculous weak 1998 Hollywood effort, Godzilla is back to crack some brews. No joke, place a can in his clenches and this sweet opener roars and spews Sapporo, not fire. Check out www.TokyoMango.com for more info on this lush of a lizard.
The Madden video game franchise is kinda like the Foreman Grill. Just think about it; the ForeForeman Grill, better known in apartments across the country simply as the Foreman, is a household product that has become more omnipresent than its endorser. Ask any teenager who George
COMIC BY ANTHONY SPAY
Foreman is and what he’s famous for and they’ll likely tell you he makes awesome portable grills, not legendary Ali battles and Michael Moorer knockouts. Same goes for Madden. The game has become such an enduring presence in video game culture that it’s usurped the Turducken
Man himself in notoriety. Do most Madden gamers remember Madden from his glory days coaching in Oakland or his telestrator-heavy broadcast magic? He’s probably better known as the branded name of the most successful video game franchise ever.
In order to get the inside scoop on Madden ’09, we spoke with Madden Producer Ryan Ferwerda.
To be a good fantasy player you need to “not only able to see what has already happened with stats, but also project what will happen. You have to be committed to it and read and pay attention,” says Eric Karabell, a senior writer and fantasy analyst for ESPN. Before becoming a fantasy sports scribe, Karabell spent years covering the high school football beat for the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. On the strength of his newspaper work he landed a job at ESPN.com, and eventually became the lead NBA editor. The exponential growth of fantasy sports forced the major media players to recognize the growing demand for content, and thus a new animal was born - the fantasy writer. ESPN turned to
Karabell, already a veteran fantasy enthusiast, to create this new content vehicle. “I was the guy who was at ESPN for years before fantasy really took,” Karabell explains, “and I became the manager of the group. I played fantasy, I could manage and I could write so it was a perfect fit.” While there are many fantasy “experts” to choose from on the web, few, if any, possess Karabell’s experience and deft writing skills. “Having a writing background helps. I was a reporter once upon a time, I think that taught me well,” Karabell explains.“To be a good fantasy writer, a good baseball writer or even political writer, you need to have a strong writing background.” In the end, Karabell knows he has a cool and coveted job. “Fantasy football is simply fun, it’s a bonding experience. Family and friends, it’s a way to bring people together,” EK says. “It’s meant to be a fun excursion, a hobby. It’s a way to communicate and compete with your buddies.”
Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell met in Indonesia while studying abroad in college. Once they hit the “real world,” they quickly realized they couldn’t bear the monotony of office life. Collating and coffee breaks simply didn’t satisfy them, “We were stuck in these cubicles, playing fantasy football of course,” explains Weeks, “we just started thinking of things we could do other than a 9-to-5, so we started our production company Spinning Blue and quit our jobs.” They left the TPS reports and with no formal film background, connections or capital, these dudes embarked on a cross-country voyage on a Segway, documenting
Looking forward to 2008, Karabell believes (hopes) some balance will be restored in the fantasy realm, “It’s a passing league these days. While running backs have always been the lifeblood of fantasy football, it seems like the quarterbacks are putting up more points, the wide receivers came out of nowhere last season to have big numbers. I’d like to see it get back to a running back-heavy sport again. Some of the young running backs will help with the monster year from Adrian Peterson, Joseph Addai can do better than he did, I think Marshawn Lynch will be a star. It was a down year for running backs and I think we’ll see them come back up this year. The people who take the wide receiver with two of their first three picks are gonna be sorry.” “You still need to build a foundation with running backs. I always make sure that two of my first three picks are running backs, and I’m going to do it again this year.”
the trip with video cameras. The result was 10MPH, an endearing offbeat and humorous documentary about the long journey from Seattle to Boston. At its core, the film is about taking risks and pursuing your dreams. 10MPH went on to win several awards and garnered them credibility in the industry. For their sophomore effort, Weeks and Caldwell turn their attention to fantasy football and the unique subculture it has spawned. “We knew there was a reason that we love fantasy football and we figured there was something there. We actually started the idea back in 2003 when we filmed our (fantasy) league’s retirement party. Our commissioner basically retires every year at the end and we shot the party and soon
realized we had to make a movie about fantasy.” 10 Yards captures the world of fantasy football and follows the story of the eccentric and often hilarious commissioner j.fred and his INTERGALACTIC CHAMPIONSHIP League, where the annual top prize is a box of Twinkies®. As the season progresses, Josh and Hunter travel the country interviewing a variety of fantasy football nuts, NFL players, commentators, and even the Oakland guys who started it all in 1962. From women’s tackle football to Mexican mariachi bands, get ready for some of the best camaraderie ever in a 90-minute fantasyland. Visit www.10yardsmovie.com for more information and release details
BLITZ: How do you strike a balance between adding new wrinkles to the game each year without alienating your loyal players? Ryan Ferwerda: One of our bullet points throughout development is keep the core. Anytime we are looking to add new features or new tweaks it’s important to not forget what got us here, but at the same time constantly innovate with that in mind. One of the new things you’ll see this year is that this is the first Madden that adapts to you and your game play. The Virtual Trainer feature is a way to gauge your skill level and it makes the game playable for anyone. The game is constantly addressing you and updating your Madden IQ, a numeric value tied to your overall Madden game skill. When we add new features like this, we want to make it easy for a new player to adapt to while at the same time we add depth to the game for the hardcore gamer who’s been playing for 20 years. BLITZ: How do player rankings work? RF: We have an extensive football staff of former coaches and players. We work with a variety of scouting services to work with in-depth statistics and analysis. Some things can’t be quantified by mere numbers, like how a guy runs a route or adapts to a play, so we use these scouts and services to help grade out things like awareness. BLITZ: What feedback do you get from NFL players? RF: One thing we always get is that no one is fast enough. Everyone is faster than their rating. The only guy who I’d assume is satisfied is Devin Hester because he has a 100 speed rating. Everybody else can be faster is what they tell us. Edgerrin James used to call a couple of guys here and ask about getting his ratings improved. We try to talk to players and get their take but they are always asking for a bump in their ratings.
NCAA ‘09 While not nearly as popular in terms of sales, the NCAA franchise from EA has long been a cult classic among hardcore college fans and serous gamers alike. The development of an intricate recruiting system and the variety of 119 teams to choose from makes NCAA a distinctly different game than its older professional brother. For the inside word on the new college edition we spoke with NCAA ’09 Producer Ben Haumiller. BLITZ: Names like NCAA ’99 or ’06 are easy to say, but what happens next year with the 2010 edition? Ben Haumiller: We had it easy all these years and now were facing this change. I’m pretty sure we’re going with 2010 instead of ‘010, which just sounds ridiculous. BLITZ: What elements make NCAA different from Madden? BH: We try to make sure that the game feels different. There are certain things that are clearly going to be identical; a halfback toss is a halfback toss. So the question is what makes college unique? Is it the stadiums? The differences in players? Momentum? The atmosphere? Trying to make it as specific to college as possible the same way the Madden guys tailor it to the NFL experience. You have redshirting, conference schedules and rivalries, school bands, it all makes it unique.
NCAA “I used to play NCAA when I was at Marshall,” remembers Moss. “I would just line up on the right side and catch it and wait for everyone to come over and cut back across the field like 80 yards and make everyone miss. That was the first game I was ever in and I just abused it.”
“I stopped playing (Madden). When I play Madden I play real football, guys going in like my brother? He don’t run, just passes. He’ll make a playbook with five-wide receivers and what’s I’ll do is just sit in the prevent and wait for the pick. So I stopped playing because all of my friends are one-dimensional, they either run-only or pass-only, so I don’t play no more.” Check out the Moss feature on page 114
the northeast’s high school elite battle for scholarships
n the big money, high stakes world of recruiting, the futures of young men, barely old enough to shave, are determined on sweat-soaked fields across the country. When the pads come off and the helmets are hung up, prospects with dreams of playing on Saturdays will claw, scratch and race their way to national attention in countless combine events. Over the last few years, the Premier Showcase has grown into one of the top high school football camps in the country. Rivals.com sponsors the winter Showcase in conjunction with TEST Sports Clubs, held each year in late February.Some of the biggest stars of tomorrow are getting their chance to shine against the Northeast’s top competition during the one-day event. “The Premier Showcase marks the unofficial kick off to the recruiting season,” says John Otterstedt, one of the event’s organizers and publisher of two sites on the Rivals network, ScarletNation.com and NJVarsity.com. To accommodate the expanding numbers, the event was held inside the practice bubble at the training facility at Rutgers University. The day begins with a warm-up, then shifts to various individual skill sessions in which former NFL players offer tutorials. The afternoon wraps up with the ever popular one-onones where offensive and defensive players square off. While college coaches are not permitted to attend the combine, there are plenty of reports detailing which players stood out. Make no mistakes about it; a good showing at an event can lead to a scholarship offer. Otterstedt confirms this, noting that, entering the event, “only a handful of the kids held scholarship offers. As of today, 52 kids hold them.”
STORY BY Bobby Deren PHOTOS BY JOE D’ANGELO & MICHAEL TODARO
Caesar Rodney High product Duron Harmon made the trip up from Wyoming, Delaware without any scholarship offers to his credit. Following a strong showing Harmon’s phone began to ring. “My recruitment changed dramatically after the showcase,” says Harmon. “The next week, I got my first offer from Stanford. Then, I picked up three more from Maryland, Rutgers and Pitt. I knew there was going to be a lot of talent there and I wanted to measure my talent with the best.” Perhaps the biggest success story from this year’s event came all the way from the small town of Pawling, NY where little known defensive end Dillon Quinn thrust himself into the recruiting spotlight. Quinn was a last minute invite and, at the time, was receiving very little interest from D1 schools. Following a dominant performance, he quickly reeled in scholarship offers from Boston College, Virginia, and Maryland. “Dillon Quinn wasn’t even registering on the recruiting radar, yet now he is headed to Boston College,” says Otterstedt. “The Showcase is a coming out party for both known and unknown players.” When all was said and done, over 250 players had made their way through the Rutgers Bubble for the 2008 Premier Showcase. Since the Showcase features the best of the best, the event is strictly invite-only. Brian Martin, co-owner and head trainer at TEST Sports, explains the selection process that enables kids to participate in the event. “We have a committee that goes through which kids should be there,” explains Martin. “A lot of it is based on Rivals ratings. Not only is it an exposure opportunity, it’s a chance for kids to compete against the best in a multi-state area.”
the Mid-Atlantic, has attended the Showcase since its inception three years ago. “It has definitely grown in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years,” Pszonak says. “When this event started, we were just hoping to get the best local players possible. This year, we were able to attract players from as far away as Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.” Pszonak, who attends combines, camps and showcases all over the region, pointed out what makes the Premier Showcase stand out from other events. “It’s still relatively early in the recruiting process for most of the participants, so there is still that sense of excitement,” he notes. “Secondly, this allows players to hopefully realize a few things that they might need to work on in the coming months, in preparation for the summer camps and their senior season.” Plans for next year are already in the works to follow up the Showcase. “What we’re looking to do in ‘09 is to have another invite only event in a big venue again and also run an elite camp off of it in the summer,” said Martin. “Kids would qualify for that camp based on their performance at the Showcase.” One of New Jersey’s most sought after prospects, Nyshier Oliver, was among a very talented group of running backs. “It was very competitive this year. If you have already made a name for yourself, it’s a chance to see where you stand against the top players,” says Oliver, who will attend Tennessee next fall. “If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you have to go to an event like this.”
Mark Pszonak, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com and one of the foremost authorities on high school football in FALL .08
blitzmagonline.com 022 / 023
“I knew I always had the goods. When the opportunity came, I just took advantage of it.”
froze up and I had to get my storage space expanded. I visited the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech over my spring break. I was trying to get them to take a look at me. It was a good trip and it opened my eyes to this whole process even more.
In his junior year, Je’Ron transferred to Northeast to play with his younger brother Malik, a sophomore quarterback blessed with a rifle arm and the right instincts. Together, they had that kind of chemistry you see with the best quarterback/receiver duos. “We work together all the time. He definitely helps me,” Je’Ron says about playing with his brother. The explosive standout compiled 617 yards, averaged 22 yards per reception and tallied six TDs last season, all for a team that employs a run-first offense. Je’Ron is one of those special playmakers that can beat teams deep with his speed, or use his quickness and strength to take a short screen or slant to the house. The growing buzz turned into hysteria as the five-star prospect shot up recruiting charts this past season. “It got a little hectic, but I still liked everything about it,” Stokes says. “Seeing the college coaches, taking visits—sometimes it was overwhelming.” Programs from every major conference coveted the kid who felt underappreciated on his own team just over a year ago.
TOP PHILADELPHIA WIDEOUT HEADS TO TENNESSEE
What do you do when football season ends? You go to camp.
In this day and age, high school football recruits hit the combine and camp circuit all spring and all summer. It’s an opportunity to compete against the best players in your area and across the nation. You can learn new techniques, and more importantly, establish yourself and build your national profile. Take Je’Ron Stokes of Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Both Rivals.com and Scouts.com rank the 6’1’’, 185lb wideout in the top ten at his position for the ’09 class. In his sophomore season, he didn’t get the playing time he felt he deserved. A frustrated and confused Je’Ron could not understand the politics of seniority. He knew he could help his team win.
Je’Ron’s father felt his son’s pain. “I knew Ronnie had the talent to compete against the best. He just needed a platform to prove it,” explains Ron Stokes. Since the age of seven, Je’Ron has done nothing but excel. He was a Pop Warner standout and a force to be reckoned with on the Little Quakers of Philadelphia (a traveling All-Star team of 13 to 15-year-olds). The Stokes family is serious when it comes to football. When Je’Ron was eight years old, his dad would review game film with his budding Pee Wee superstar. Je’Ron recalls these early days, “My dad threw me into the game, I didn’t know what I was doing. I cried when I scored my first touchdown. I was out of breath. In my first year, we were 0 – 10.” If Je’Ron ever got out of line at home or in school, he wouldn’t get grounded. Instead, his punishment was laps around several Philadelphia city blocks and a steady diet of push-ups and sit-ups. This type
STORY BY ARTHUR RICE PHOTOS BY JASEN HUDSON
of discipline gave Ronnie focus. Ron and his wife Juanita have worked to keep that balance while raising Je’Ron and his younger brother and sister. As Je’Ron grew, training became a part of his lifestyle. “I like to work,” says the humble phenom. Je’Ron can be considered the prototype in the evolving national high school recruiting landscape. Mr. Stokes’ plan has always been to create opportunities for “Ronnie.” Together, they hit the camp and combine circuit traveling up and down the East Coast between Je’Ron’s sophomore and junior seasons. The goal was to get the young stud a fair look from college scouts and recruiting services while positioning Je’Ron to compete against the best talent. Je’Ron began to make a name for himself at the Nike, Scout.com, and Rivals.com camps. There was a legit groundswell building among scouts and college coaches. “I was beating junior and senior cornerbacks. That’s how the buzz started,” says the soft-spoken, modest blue chipper.
After winning the offensive MVP at the Premier Showcase at Rutgers in March, Je’Ron made a verbal commitment to the University of Tennessee. “I just felt that it was the place to propel me to the next level. They have a great football tradition. They produce NFL talent and I want to fulfill my goal of majoring in engineering. It’s the SEC and I’m excited about that,” Je’Ron explains. Bret Cooper, Northeast Regional Director of Football University, compares Je’Ron to a “young Donte Stallworth (a Tennessee alum), with better route running at this stage of his career.” Je’Ron is not an overnight success by any means. He’s logged long hours in the gym, on the field and in the classroom to reach this point. His parents have made the financial sacrifice to pay for Je’Ron to attend camps and combines. They drop a few hundred dollars a month for Je’Ron and his brother to train at Velocity Sports & Performance in New Jersey. The Pee Wee player who cried while out of breath when he scored his first touchdown will soon be lining up against Florida and LSU. What a difference a season makes.
I also have to keep my main focus on my academics. This recruiting process takes a lot of work, but my mom is relentless about keeping the focus on the academics. “Put your academics first. The football will take care of itself,” she says. Even though I live in Bucks County, I go to school at Penn Charter in Philadelphia. It’s a very demanding college prep school. My junior year has been my hardest year yet. I used to spend two to three hours a night on homework. Now, it’s more like three to four hours. I have one class that is just off the charts and is stressing me out. STORY BY JUSTIN RENFROW PHOTOS BY ISAAC SCHELL
Justin Renfrow lives in Bucks County Pennsylvania and attends the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. The 6’6’, 260 pound, DE/TE has been offered by Stanford University, West Virginia University, University of Connecticut, Temple University, Duke, University of North Carolina and University of Virginia. He verbally committed to the University of Virginia this summer. My recruiting process really started in October. That’s when I received an unexpected scholarship offer from Stanford University. My coach and academic advisor, Brian McCloskey, called me down to his office and when I walked in I saw my mom. At first, I was nervous and was wondering why she was there. I wondered if I had done something. My mom said, “Don’t worry. It’s good.” I found out that Stanford was calling to offer a scholarship. Coach McCloskey called the number and I was put on the phone with Coach David Shaw. He told me they had seen me on film and liked what they saw. He then put me on the phone with head coach Jim Harbaugh and he offered me the scholarship to come and play at Stanford. He said they had talked to my coaches. The offer came out of nowhere and I was shocked. My coach told me to be proactive about contacting schools. Surprisingly, most of the coaches have been responding to my emails. I started getting so much email that my account at school was full and
My parents decided it was time for me to go check out Stanford so that I could get a look at what that school has to offer. We saved to make the trip to Cali. I was blown away when I first saw the campus. It was beautiful! Palm trees lining the streets. I went to the Stanford Junior Day and the Nike Camp while I was in Palo Alto. I got to meet Coach Harbaugh. I liked him a lot. Everyone made sure to show me why Stanford is such a special place. I also got to meet my mom’s aunt and cousins who live just outside Oakland. We had a picnic at a park with a beautiful lake. My mom and dad decided we were going to generate more interest in me over the summer and not wait until my football season. After getting good workouts at the UConn and Temple camps, we hit North Carolina. We visited North Carolina State, UNC and Duke. I was able to return home with offers from Duke and North Carolina! The next camp was Virginia and that’s the school we were really targeting. I attended camp for one day. Coach Levern Belin put me through a really tough workout in the morning and afternoon sessions. It was hot, but I told myself, “I’m not tired.” I met with Coach Al Groh after the camp and he told me they really liked what they saw. I called a few days later and he offered me a full scholarship. I didn’t hesitate. I gave the coach a verbal commitment right away. I was so happy and relieved. I’ll be a Cavalier! Now I can focus on my senior season.
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CALIFORNIA QUARTERBACK KING KNOWS WHERE HE’S HEADED
eing the nation’s top prospect isn’t as easy as one might think. Especially when you’re a quarterback that every college program in the country covets. Jimmy Clausen went through the hectic recruiting process a couple of years ago before committing to Notre Dame and Terrelle Pryor took things well beyond Signing Day this past year before becoming an Ohio State Buckeye. For Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley, this year’s No. 1, the recruiting process was much simpler. Barkley, a 6-foot-3, 226-pounder who can make every throw with an accurate, machine-gun arm, committed to Southern Cal this past January despite being a junior in high school. That decision came months before Pryor, a senior, made his choice and more than a year before he could sign on the dotted line to play for his beloved Trojans. But in the world of no-brainers, this was at the top of the list. “USC had always been in my heart,” Barkley says of his early commitment. “After seeing some other places, I just kept hearing the roar of the Coliseum and I knew there was no point in holding back. I knew where I wanted to go, so why wait? It’s allowed me to help recruit some other top players to come to join me.” And Barkley has been a terrific recruiter. The signal-caller, who hails from the same prep program that produced Matt Leinart and Colt Brennan among others, has had a hand in six USC commitments since his announcement. And it’s no coincidence
that the three of them, Patrick Hall, De’Von Flournoy and Alshon Jeffrey, could all end up catching passes from Barkley. “I try to get to know all the recruits and if I can help lure them to USC, I’ll give it a shot,” he says. “Everyone chooses a school for their own reasons but it doesn’t hurt. I’m excited about the class the coaching staff is putting together for 2009. Some people are saying it could end up being the best ever on paper here, which would be amazing.” Since his junior season ended, a year in which he completed 62 percent of his passes and threw for 3,560 yards and 35 scores, Barkley has been busy. “I’m working hard every day,” he says. “We just finished up spring ball, I’ve been to some camps, I’ve worked with other quarterbacks and we have some passing leagues and tournaments coming up so I’m staying busy. I’m working the most on being consistent and I’m going to get to learn to read more defenses next year and work under center a bit more so I’m excited about that.” As a rare third-year starter at Mater Dei last season, Barkley got to audible a bit and was given some freedom if he saw something at the line of scrimmage. This upcoming year, again under head coach Bruce Rollinson, he’ll be doing even more at the line and relying less on shotgun formations. “Last year I was under center only for play-action and to hand the ball off, but this year I’ll be able to do a bit more,”
STORY BY MIKE FARRELL OF RIVALS.COM
he says. “And our audible system is a bit more involved because I’ve been starting for long enough so I’ll be required to do more recognition at the line. I think we’ll probably be about 65-percent shotgun and 35-percent under center which is closer to what Southern Cal does.” And speaking of his future home, Barkley went to numerous spring practices and has been to USC more times than he can imagine. Since his commitment in January, recruiting has slowed to a halt. “This May it was great because the only school that came in to see me was USC and they were my only phone call, it was so different from last year when there were a ton of schools coming in every day,” he explains. “Even though they couldn’t contact or call me last year, it still became crazy every day during the evaluation period. This year it was a breeze. I think the other schools know how sold I am to Southern Cal and that there’s no changing my mind.” With Mark Sanchez and Mitch Mustain battling things out at quarterback heading into the ‘08 season, Barkley looks forward to learning under Pete Carroll and getting his opportunity to compete in 2009. Until then, there’s more work to do at Mater Dei. “It doesn’t stop just because I committed,” he says. “I have so much work to do and so much to improve on that I’m just working hard and hoping we have a great senior season. College is still a ways away but the high school season is getting closer every day. That’s where my focus is.” FALL .08
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SAINT MIKE MCKENZIE GIVES BACK TO THE YOUTH OF HIS HOME TOWN
ost professional athletes have a checklist they follow when they get their first big check. Make a trip to a dealership and cop the shiny speedster and the big truck on ridiculously huge rims. Call the realtor and purchase momma a house in the burbs. Next, you have to get your bling right so you can shine at your “I made it” party at the local club.
compelled to find a way to give back. He takes pride in the foundation’s mission; reaching, teaching, educating youth for life. So far, 34 Ways has developed programs in Miami, New Orleans, and Memphis. McKenzie believes that athletes need to have an enduring presence in the community to reach the kids, not from afar by merely writing a check. He prides himself on being accessible and visible to the kids that look up to him.
For a select few though, giving back to the community that raised them trumps these material desires. New Orleans Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie embodies this ideology and has dedicated considerable time and money to his 34 Ways Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit that serves underprivileged youths and offers them opportunities for success in both athletics and academics.
In order to spread the foundation’s gospel, the 2007 New Orleans Saints Man of the Year created the Mike McKenzie Weekend three years ago. Held annually each spring in Miami, the weekend boasts a series of events designed to raise money and awareness for children and offer them real access to their NFL role models.
The theme of the weekend this year was to pay homage and respects to the brilliantly talented South Florida native Shawn Taylor, who’s life was tragically taken by teens not much older than the ones that McKenzie is trying to influence through 34ways. “The people who work for us are always trying to find creative ways to improve these kids’ lives.”
“We have so many athletes from the South Florida area willing to pitch in, give back and do something special,” says McKenzie.
The day after the basketball game, Mike went straight to the source with the kids on the football field during his 3rd Annual Football Camp and
Born and raised in South Florida, McKenzie felt
The packed weekend schedule included a fundraiser, a celebrity basketball game held at his alma mater, Norland High School, and an all day football clinic. The hoops game saw NFL superstars like TO, Willis McGahee, Ed Reed, Chad Johnson and Edgerrin James hooping it up and signing autographs. The emcee of the event was none other than NFL super agent Drew Rosenhaus.
STORY BY MALIK SPANN PHOTOS BY BIG C
Community day. The event was a reunion for South Florida’s football royalty; Ocho Cinco cracked the jokes under the tree, reminding his pro peers that they still can’t guard him. Other notable area alums like Antrel Rolle, Antwan Barnes and Roscoe Parrish helped guide the new crop of Sunshine State stars in various gridiron specific drills. Socially conscious and active programs like 34 Ways help forge the foundation of strong and prosperous communities, regardless of the economic landscape. “Being players, having that professional background, there’s an interest from the kids,” McKenzie says. “So we’re just maximizing that interest to have a positive impact on these young kids.” No car or diamond watch can do that.
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STORY BY MATT TUTHILL
wenty years ago, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger shed the shackles of suburban Philadelphia, uprooted his family and moved to Odessa, Texas, with the dream of spinning a spectacular narrative about the power of sports in our culture burning bright in his mind. He had envisioned a football story in the Hoosiers vein, about a team serving as a rallying point for a tight-knit community, and made the commitment to immerse himself in Permian High School fora full year. What he uncovered was a culture virtually obsessed not only with football, but with winning, and – to an extent – living vicariously through the young athletes that took to the field in Panther black and white. The town was similarly divided by the same colors, which became evident when the team’s star running back Boobie Miles, who was black, was injured and immediately met the scorn of a community that now deemed him worthless. When Friday Night Lights was published two years later, it wound up as a less-thanflattering look at America’s overemphasis on sport through the complex and heartbreaking prism of Odessa. Bissinger then faced the wrath of the same community that had turned on Boobie, and the book was dismissed by the
Permian faithful as a slam job. The rest of the country, however, couldn’t get enough of Bissinger’s critically acclaimed work, and it became a runaway best seller. Friday Night Lights is still in print today, and has sold nearly two million copies, spawning a major motion picture of the same name in 2004, and a drama series currently running on NBC. The movie, directed by Bissinger’s cousin Peter Berg, focused less on the racial divisions of Odessa and more on the athletes’ ability to rise above the astounding pressure the community placed on them. The TV series, meanwhile, bears little resemblance to Bissinger’s heartrending tale. Bissinger reflects on Permian’s 1988 season, the backlash he faced in Odessa, his complicated relationship with Boobie, and how the cottage industry that has been constructed around Friday Night Lights creeps further and further away from his central themes. He also talks about the cautionary message of Friday Night Lights, and how the heart of the book, and what he sees as one of America’s biggest problems, has been almost entirely ignored. In the end, Bissinger says, the future generations of the country will be made to pay the price for our misplaced priorities.
BLITZ: Now 20 years later, can you put your finger on any singular thing that made you pursue the book? Bissinger: I think there’s a point that comes when you’re in your mid-thirties. I had had a good career in journalism. I had won a Pulitzer Prize. I was working at a wonderful newspaper, but you reach a point where you’re either going to take a risk and do something completely different and try to fulfill a dream or you’re going to kind of continue on the same track – which can be a good track, but a very safe track. I had had this idea for a book for about a year. I had always dreamed of writing a book and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. And so once I found the town of Odessa and they gave me permission to be there, I just sort of said, ‘Let’s do this. Now is the time to do it.’ Because I knew if I continued at the Inquirer, I would just stay there. I was on the editing track. So the goal would’ve been to become editor of the paper. Whether or not I would’ve reached it, I don’t know. So it was kind of almost a do-or-die situation. Either I was going to do it then or never do it. I felt like my kids then, then five, were young enough that they could easily handle it and really see it as an adventure. The same for me: It was an adventure, and I’m a great believer in getting out of the routine of your life. BLITZ: At any point in your time down there did you start to realize, ‘Okay, this
really isn’t a story like Hoosiers anymore, and these people think it is?’ Did you ever feel like you were preying on their naiveté? Bissinger: No. I didn’t feel that. You know, I presented my credentials, they knew who I was. They knew I had won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. They knew that I worked for a good newspaper. This was a very media-savvy team because, at that point, they were the winningest team in Texas State history. They had a ton of media all over the state. A book had been written about them previously – it was really a history of the team – so they weren’t that naïve. They could’ve said, ‘No.’ There was no question that I thought this would be a Hoosierstype story, but the minute within the book when the black running back Boobie Miles got hurt, the whole dimension of the book changed. And I was there as reporter. I’m not there as a moralist. So I kept quiet, I kept my head down, and did the reporting I felt I had to do to tell a fair and accurate story. And I don’t think it’d necessarily an unflattering portrait. I think it’s an honest portrait. I think love comes through for the independent people of Odessa. Love comes through, certainly for the kids that play on the football team. But I wasn’t going to shy away from the issues of racism and misplaced academic priorities and things like that because it would’ve been a complete dereliction of my duty as
a journalist. Did I let on what I was coming up with? Absolutely not. Any journalist who would let on to that would be crazy, because people would no longer act themselves, and that’s why I was down there for a year. BLITZ: Were you expecting backlash from the town? Bissinger: Well, I wasn’t expecting the intensity where I would get threats of real bodily harm at bookstores and would have to cancel book signings. … I was supposed to go back down to Odessa when the book came out to do a series of book signings at bookstores. I called my publisher and they said, ‘We’re cancelling book signings. We’ve had a lot of calls from people who say we’re just going to beat the crap out of this guy.’ And I took those threats seriously, because commensurate with the book coming out, Permian had just been banned from the playoffs. They had been turned in by the rival high school in town [for holding early supervised practices in violation of rules] so the place was going crazy. And a lot of blame was directed at the book. But I wasn’t stupid. I knew that people who liked me, and I liked, would be very upset by the book. That certainly turned out to be the case with the head coach. It was not the case with the kids, who I made contact with and all of them defended the book as being true and accurate.
BLITZ: Is it hurtful to pour all your efforts into something like that and have it rejected by any of the people it was written about? Bissinger: Well, it’s an interesting question. It’s hurtful in the sense that it’s inevitable when you do this kind of immersion journalism you’re going to establish relationships with people. You’re going to like people and they’re going to like you. So it was hurtful when the head coach, Gary Gaines, just completely rejected me out of hand. Now I did go back 14 years later and make amends with him on my own. I went and visited him when he was then coaching at Abilene Christian [University]. I just showed up unannounced at his office. He saw me pass by his window and he looked like he had just seen a ghost. But I wanted to say to him, ‘Look Gary, I don’t take back a word of what I said, but there was no intent to hurt you and I tried very hard to portray you in a very positive light, which I think I did.’ And we had a very private, hour-long conversation that did not have a lot to do with the book – although he’s never read the book. He’s condemned it, but he’s never read it. He did tell me that, but it was a very wonderful conversation about our kids, our lives and our families. So it was of great meaning to me. And it also proved to me that, if I thought that book was a real slam job, I never, ever would have made that trip to Abilene.
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has gotten much worse. So Friday Night Lights was a cautionary tale, people love talking about it as a cautionary tale, coaches love talking about it as a cautionary tale, and so do educators, but they don’t seem to do anything about it. BLITZ: You’ve written about so many sports, what is your favorite to cover? Is it football? Bissinger: No. My favorite sport is actually baseball. I don’t watch football that much anymore. The thing about Friday Night Lights that made it interesting – that it was both wonderful and spectacular and an incredible spectacle when it came to those football games – and then it also had a very, very dark side to it. And that makes for great drama, and when you have great drama, you have the opportunity of writing a book that will resonate with people. You know, the games were fun to write because I sort of treated them almost like war. They weren’t just football games, they were sort of these gladiatorial spectacles that were beautiful and exciting and visceral, and a little bit nuts and a little bit crazy. They were the most exciting sporting events that I’ve ever seen.
In 2004, Sports Illustrated asked me to go down to Odessa to sort of go back and revisit. Now, I had been there before, but this is the first time I was down there publicly. I went back to all the people that had yelled and screamed the loudest – not all, but some of them – just to look them in the eye and say, ‘Look, I didn’t mean to harm you, but I don’t take back a word of what I said.’ That was important to me as a journalist and a man. BLITZ: In that piece for SI, you mentioned that Boobie Miles and you had kept in touch and that you had even sent him money a few times. Do you still keep in touch with him? Bissinger: Yeah, I do. I just saw him about a month ago. We did a speaking engagement together in Mansfield, Texas, which is a suburb of Fort Worth. I talk to Boobie a lot. I love Boobie. His life has been a train wreck. It’s been very up and down. Obviously, I didn’t give him a dime during the book, but after the book came out, I
felt a sense of responsibility to Boobie, particularly when his uncle died. He really had no father figure in his life. Not that I necessarily am, but he’s fallen on some very hard times from time-to-time. I just feel an obligation as a human being to try to get him through those times as well as try to get him to understand that he’s not a kid anymore, and he’s not a celebrity – although he’s bizarrely treated as one in Odessa. He needs to work, and get a career and take care of his family. … I had seen what he had been through. I had never seen a kid treated that way in my life and I hope I never will. The way he was treated by the school was horrifying, just absolutely horrifying. Like he was a nobody. More than a nobody – it was like he had done something horrible, terrible and all he had done was hurt his knee, which wasn’t his fault. But they turned on him with racism, and cruelty, and acted as if he no longer existed.
BLITZ: Was it at that point that your relationship with him evolved into something that much closer? Bissinger: It began to evolve. It really evolved [when] I went back to Odessa few years later and I saw Boobie and I could really tell that he was floundering and I was always very, very close to L.V. (Boobie’s uncle). He’s one of the kindest and loveliest men I’ve ever met. And I sort of instinctively knew that when L.V. died, Boobie was going to be a lost soul. He didn’t have someone to help him in his life. It’s difficult when you’re living about 2,000 miles away – there’s only so much I can do, and ultimately, the responsibility is up to Boobie. He’s a man of great heart. He’s great with kids. When we did these speaking engagements, they flocked to him. He’s very honest about his story, about the real need to get an education. He’s a wonderful guy in many respects, but he’s got to learn also to assume responsibility for himself. I do love him.
BLITZ: So there really is no better defense if so many of the main characters say you’re telling it like it is. Bissinger: Right. And then when I went back in 2004, people who had condemned the book – a lot of public officials, school board officials and school administrators – said, ‘Look, we hated the book when it came out, we hated you, but it was accurate. It was a look in the mirror that we really needed to take to see the way we really were. … This book actually did us a lot of good.’ … I give Odessa a lot of credit for making some changes. In the meantime, their football program went to hell. It was much better last year – and that will be the real test – if Mojo comes back to anywhere close to the degree that it was when I was there, will they revert back to kind of the insanity that was there once before? But I’ve also learned that what happens in Odessa now routinely happens in hundreds of places across the country. If anything, the emphasis on high school sports
“The whole phenomenon of Friday Night Lights has been remarkable to me, flattering, bizarre, almost hard to believe. But I’ll take it.” BLITZ: What is it about football that makes it so different than other sports – especially when you’re writing about it? Bissinger: Well, I think it’s particularly different at the high school level, because especially once you got to know them, I realized these are not kids that are playing for big Division I scholarships. The year that I wrote about, there was one kid that got a Division I scholarship – Ivory Christian. These were kids who were really playing for the pride and honor of their team and of their town. That made their sense of sacrifice all the more poignant, all the more beautiful and all the more devastating in a way. That’s what I think is cool about high school sports, so I think it’s a shame that it seems to be becoming increasingly professionalized. That’s what made those games so fantastic. Pro athletes – I don’t know what pro athletes are playing for. Sometimes they’re playing for their team. Sometimes they’re playing for their salaries. Sometimes they’re playing for who the hell knows what? As we know in professional sports, there’s not much team loyalty. There certainly is very little town loyalty. In high
school sports in Odessa, Texas, at that time, that’s all it was about. They really are carrying the hopes and dreams of the town on their shoulders. They really, really are. That’s not made up. That’s not the entire town – Odessa’s not a small town in terms of population – it’s 100,000. But it’s so isolated, it has the feel of a small town. And people had come to depend on the success of Permian High School to feel good about themselves. That’s really true of sports. We do that all the time. We do it on the professional level. We do it on the college level. We do it on the high school level. And these kids had such an incredible tradition to uphold. I think the worst season in the past 25 years when I got there had been 7-2 – they were expected, obviously, to get in the playoffs. If they got into the semifinals, that was considered a good year, not a great year. If they got into the state championship, that was considered a very good year, but still, it was really considered every year that they should win. And that’s a lot of pressure. BLITZ: The NFL was not the biggest sport in America when you wrote the book. It certainly is now. What factors do you think contributed to its rise? Bissinger: I just think the NFL has done a remarkably good job of marketing itself [using] television to sort of emphasize - in a tacit and subtle, but effective way – the inherent violence of the game. Then you have all the cheerleaders who look like they’re from the pages of Penthouse. You know, they’re just very effective at marketing themselves. And America’s a pretty violent country and America revels in violence. No western country has as many killings as we do, as many murders. We have no gun control. And I think football plays into this sort of mythic sense that we have of ourselves as being independent, tough and strong – and vicious in a sense. Sort of our last vestiges of the Wild West – boys and men getting on a football field and hitting the living snot out of each other. Which is why I don’t really watch it much anymore, because I find it really unremittingly violent – and not particularly beautiful. You know, I love the Super Bowl, but I don’t watch it routinely. I find the whole spectacle of it in college level to be the both fascinating and bizarre and the most wrong-headed thing I’ve ever seen in terms of what a university should be. There is so much energy poured into those football games that goes way beyond the number of people who fill the stands and way beyond the number of scholarships that are given. I don’t really understand it and I think there’s no western country in the world that gives out as many scholarships as we
give in the United States, because we give them all to sports. And then we shake our heads and wonder why we’re sinking as a country. Well, it’s pretty obvious: our priorities are wrong, and I don’t think they’ll be righted because sports occupy such a tremendous part of our lives. Although, we get out of thinking that by reverting to this kind of Grantland Rice, rose-colored view that it’s all about teamwork and discipline and manhood and girlhood and a lot of stuff that it can be, but it no longer is. It’s only about winning. And behind winning, it’s also about greed. BLITZ: Did you ever think that the book would become so popular or be so well received critically? Bissinger: I had absolutely no idea that this book would still be in print today or that it would sell close to two million copies or that the term “Friday Night Lights,” which I invented, would become part of the vernacular. I had no idea about any of that that – that it would inspire a generation of sportswriters – or at least it did until I criticized their blogs. But I’ve heard stories – a guy from Brooklyn read the book and moved down to Texas and became a high school football coach – people making pilgrimages in their cars from Massachusetts just to see the stadium. The whole phenomenon of Friday Night Lights has been remarkable to me, flattering, bizarre, almost hard to believe. But I’ll take it. BLITZ: The movie really got away from a central theme of the book, which was that Odessa had this sickness – it was down on its luck, it was racist in a lot of ways, the town lived vicariously through the team FALL .08
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and football was a symptom of that sickness. The movie touched on some of that, but was really more about how the kids succeeded in the face of all that pressure. How do you feel about the decision to go in that direction? Bissinger: I understood that, and I actually did like the movie. I actually liked the movie for the reason that you cited. There’s no question that it focused on the kids and their ability to sort of rise above this monumental pressure that was being placed on their shoulders. I’m different from other authors; you know, authors bitch and moan when they sell something to Hollywood and then they don’t like how it turns out. My response to that is, ‘Then don’t sell the rights. Come on, you’re not an idiot. You’re taking the money for a reason and you’re really taking the money to shut up. And if you’re really worried about it, then don’t sell the rights.’ I had a little bit of an advantage in that the director was my cousin. So we talked a lot and he said, ‘Look, I’m not making a documentary. I’m making a Hollywood
movie and there are certain themes that just don’t play well with audiences. And if I make a movie about racism, it’s just not going to sell. And I understood that. It was touched upon very, very lightly. But I felt he did get to one of the key hearts of the book, which was the monumental pressure being placed on these kids because football was at the center of life in this town,
“. . .unless we realize that the purpose of life in school is to focus academically, we’re going to be left behind in the dust, because we are a country that makes nothing, that produces nothing. We dependent on our consumerism, and that’s not a good place to be in.”
and the ability of these kids to rise above it. … There were changes that bothered me, particularly – they had Boobie coming back to the team at the end and that was obviously very different from the book. And they really terribly embellished the character of Tim McGraw, who was Don Billingsley’s father. Charlie had had his problems, but Charlie was not anywhere close to how he was portrayed and that bothered me greatly. I tried to call Charlie and he hung up on me, and he was right to do that. Not that I had anything to do with it, because I did not write the script. But I did admire the film. I thought it had a grittiness to it, and a texture to it that made it more than just your ordinary sports film. BLITZ: What do you think when you take into account where the TV series has gone with it, and we’re now even further away from what the book was all about? Bissinger: I’m not a real watcher of the TV series. It may be that I’m Friday Night Light-ed out. And also, the TV series is
vastly different rom the book. It shares similar thematic material, but as you know, it’s set in the present day, it’s not set in Odessa, the characters are very, very different. What I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed immensely. I think the acting is fantastic, and I think it’s really a quality show. I give NBC a lot of credit for trying to figure out a way to keep it on the air. I’m very, very proud of it, although I don’t routinely watch it. BLITZ: Friday Night Lights really brought to the public’s attention a lot of serious issues surrounding athletics such as the role of boosters and academics. When you pick up a newspaper or a sports magazine, what do you feel that the conversation is missing? Bissinger: What I think is missing in the conversation is that every now and then you’ll read some story somewhere condemning the overemphasis of sports in high school, college, or even in grade school. But for every one of those stories, there are about a thousand that endlessly
extol and prop up sports. I think sports has reached a crisis point in our society. It is vastly overemphasized. And I think too many kids, men and women are going to school simply so they can play a sport in the hopes of getting a scholarship. I think it’s ridiculously overemphasized at the college level. You know, I used the example of the University of Chicago. It dropped out of the Big 10 when really it was at its peak. Jay Berwanger had won a Heisman trophy three or four years earlier, and that school has more professors who have won the Nobel Prize than any school in the country. So they didn’t suffer from dropping football, and the reason football was dropped is because the president felt that it was simply not compatible with the academic experience. I mean we are just becoming drenched in sports. We’re forcing kids to specialize at the ages of five and six. Anyone who’s experienced a travel team knows the horror of that. You know the number of horrible incidents in Little League that stretch around the world, and we’re not paying attention to it.
And we better pay attention to it because life is different now. There’s China. There’s India. The world is global in the sense of countries that we never heard about when I was growing up – and made fun of – are not only catching up to us, they’re surpassing us. And unless we realize that the purpose of life in school is to focus academically, we’re going to be left behind in the dust, because we are a country that makes nothing, that produces nothing. We are dependent on our consumerism, and that’s not a good place to be in. BLITZ: How do you feel that the central theme of this overemphasis has only gotten much worse? Bissinger: Well, it’s a book that people read and it momentarily makes them think, and pause, and say, ‘Wow, maybe sports is overemphasized.’ Maybe they think that for 10 minutes, maybe they think that for an hour, or maybe think about it for a couple of weeks. But I think in the end they revert to continuing to simply overemphasize sports. FALL .08
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STORY BY KRISTIAN DYER PHOTOS BY JOE D’ANGELO
n the state that produced Bruce Springsteen, it is somehow fitting. Perhaps the top pure athlete in the class of 2008, Will Hill’s trip from Jersey City ’s St. Peter’s Prep to the University of Florida was by no means an accident. After all, Will Hill was “Born to Run.” “I don’t remember him ever crawling,” says Will’s father, Will Hill II. “He was born and he was off running. I remember saying that one day, he is going to be an athlete.”
top program in the nation. USC was after him hard and in-state Rutgers made a push, but it was Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators that eventually got his commitment. His verbal to the school was broadcast on ESPN live from Times Square and made waves throughout the country. The definitive dual-threat, when he wasn’t lined up in the secondary for St. Peter’s, Hill was on the field as a quarterback and even participated in special teams. He powered a team that, in his junior year, won the state championship. Hill always pointed to his teammates, praising the squad’s senior leadership and Head Coach Rich Hansen.
four years from Florida with a degree in business. His goal is someday to hang up the cleats and go into sports management, perhaps even broadcasting.
It is a cool spring morning in North Jersey and Will Hill is standing inconspicuously with his hands in his pocket. Baseball cap turned backwards and dreads poking out the back, he looks like a typical 18-year old. Tall for his age, Hill shuffles his feet as he scans the sky. The top safety in the country, Hill’s stellar career for a powerhouse Prep program is legendary. Widely regarded as one of the best athletes in the country, it is hard to imagine that Hill turns from a mild-mannered young man into a dominant force when he steps on the football field.
In a game that has exceedingly become about chest bumping and bravado, where a simple tackle leads to a swirl of arm-swinging celebrations, Will Hill simply gets up and does it all over again. Though he quarterbacked a high-octane offense, Hill delights in defense. His range and deceptive speed combine with his footwork to make him the best cover player in the land. Rivals laud him as a five-star athlete and ESPN touted him as their #3 player in the land. Will Hill simply cracks a smile.
“I really learned at Prep to speak a whole different language, how to communicate better,” Hill says of his maturation process in high school. “This means that I can now make decisions on the go – I can be more effective.”
And that is exactly the point. Will Hill doesn’t lead his life to please others. He’s never been influenced by the pervasive gang culture that traps so many blue-chip talents. No arrest record to his name, he’s squeaky clean. He is an honor student at Prep. When he’s not around, his mother calls him a “momma’s boy.” “In recent years, as far as excitement and pure contribution to the outcome of a game, the only top athletes in New Jersey to have a greater impact were Brian Toal, Brian Cushing, and Knowshon Moreno,” says John Otterstedt, a recruiting, insider publisher on Rivals.com, and founder of NJVarsity.com. “Will is right up there with those guys.” Hill’s high school recruitment was truly national, with offers from seemingly every
At St. Peter’s, Hill was under the watchful eye of one of the most prolific developers of talent in the nation in head coach Rich Hansen. Fiery and animated on the side line, Hansen has formed a “father-like” bond with the Hill. From moments on the practice field to dinner at his coach’s house, Hill speaks in loving terms about his coach. It is a sentiment that is mutual. “We have done basically everything together the last five years,” says Hansen about his relationship with Hill. “Not only is he a good student, a good player, and a role-model, he has become the face of our program.” He is, legally, Will Hill III. He may have been born to run, but his roots are close to home. He credits his mother and father and close family unit with keeping him humble and instilling in him a serious work ethic. He hopes to graduate in less than
There are times when talking to Hill that he becomes almost philosophical. For a young man who is known for for his hard hits on the field, he is a pretty hard thinker off it. Though he plays on both sides of the ball, Hill loves to hit. Defense is his passion and his driving force. He readily admits that he would rather make a big tackle than score a touchdown. It was his experience off the field at Prep that made a huge difference.
When asked about his experience at Prep, before he can even begin to talk about life on the field, his coach, or his teammates, Hill starts talking about the classroom. If there is one thing that Hill hits harder than the ball carrier, it is the books. But, Hill’s education at Prep went beyond just the classroom or even the locker room. “Growing up in a predominantly black community, I didn’t have much exposure to other people,” Hill explains in an almost hushed tone. “Different races, different people. It helps you a lot, and it will help you later on in life.” Those who have know him from the beginning are excited to see what the future holds for the third installment of Will Hill. He is described by his father as a clown, as someone who loves to laugh and crack a joke. His mother looks at him with love in her eyes, standing in the distance with a smile. It will be tough on her to have him out of the house and on his own in Gainesville, a point the Gator-to-be admits. She dotes over him a bit and shakes her head when the comical side comes out. The look of a mother watching FALL .08
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over her baby is still visible in her eyes, and, in many ways, she still is. The family supports his decision to move to Gainesville and is talking about what the experience of Saturdays in “The Swamp” will be like. Almost everyone in the family owns something that is blue and orange. They talk excitedly about trips to Tuscaloosa and the tailgate parties they will hold. The transition to college will be made easier as the Hills are moving to the Jacksonville area to be close to their son. “That is parenting,” says Hill’s father about raising his son. “We always kept him occupied with positive things. We never gave our kids an opportunity to do nothing.” “My father is really big on me being humble,” says Hill about his upbringing. “I haven’t really been groomed to do it, my father has helped me in perfecting my gift.” He talks about being pushed to excel, to broaden his horizons and
experiences. Hill refers to his mother as a coach, someone who taught him how to act, how to hold himself, how to look someone in the eye when he is talking with them. “I think he is special because of what he brings to the game physically…he is just a naturally big kid and I think he can use that with his athleticism to make an impact,” says friend Mike Kuhn. A senior at Immaculata in central Jersey, Kuhn met Hill at several combines and camps and they became fast friends. Both play offense, both play defense, and Kuhn is headed to the University of Maine this fall on a football scholarship. “There are plenty of talented kids out there, and then you’ve got the kids with size. Will has both, it is impressive.” Hill speaks modestly about showing no fear in college or else his game will be exploited. There is even talk in Gator-ville that the freshman from the Garden State will crack the two-deep sometime in the
fall. It can all be exciting, even overwhelming at times he says, but his father knows he is making the right choice. “People would probably think that this is a big, arrogant kid, a jock,” says the elder Hill. “He is not. He never ran with the wrong crowd. In high school, he had some friends that he had to leave behind because of their bad choices. He never changed who he is.” After a spring of hard work and dedication, Hill has been working on his speed, adjusting his backpedal, and tweaking his technique. The big move to Gainesville was on June 8th, which means leaving behind his comforts for the great unknown. He will turn over the maroon and grey of Prep for the blue and orange of Florida. “I think he has all the makings of a truly phenomenal athlete,” says Hansen. “The sky is the limit for Will.”
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HEISMAN HOPEFUL CHASE DANIEL
hase Daniel is a certified legend in Texas. He lived the real Varsity Blues, minus the losing. Now the Heisman candidate is trying to lead the Missouri Tigers to the promise land he reached twice in high school. He posted prolific prep numbers; 130 total touchdowns and over 11 thousand total yards in his two seasons at QB. The fact that he did it in the largest and toughest class in football-crazed Texas makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.
“... the most important thing is winning games because that’s what you’re remembered for.” Daniel continues to post gaudy numbers while resuscitating the University of Missouri’s program. With the team returning seven starters, the 6-foot, 225-pound senior will be directing a potent Tigers’ attack in the fall. Furthermore, after finishing fourth in balloting for the Heisman and being named a finalist for the O’Brien, Camp, and Manning awards, he wrapped up the year by leading Mizzou through a convincing victory over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, ranking them No. 5 in the nation with a 12-2 record. Along the way, the Tigers knocked off top 25 programs Illinois, Texas Tech and
STORY BY TODD MISHLER
Kansas during the regular season while winning the league’s North Division title. Two crucial losses to Oklahoma, 41-31 in Norman in October and 38-17 in the Big 12 championship, in which the Tigers were ranked No. 1, ended their national championship aspirations.
first as a starting wide receiver and backup quarterback and the final two as the team’s top signal caller. The magnificent run under Coach Todd Dodge included Class 5A state championships sandwiched around a runner-up finish in ’03.
“All of those awards are great in their own right and it was awesome being a Heisman finalist because it helped our program get exposure and more of a national audience,” Daniel says. “But really, the most important thing is winning games because that’s what you’re remembered for.”
“Chase was too good of an athlete not to have on the varsity as a sophomore, and he caught somewhere around 60 balls as our slot receiver,” says Dodge, who directed Carroll to an unbelievable 79-1 record, 48-game winning streak and four state titles in his final five seasons in charge before moving to the college ranks as head man at North Texas in 2007.
Under Head Coach Gary Pinkel, the Tigers have done just that - winning three consecutive winning campaigns for the first time since Mizzou turned in six straight under Warren Powers from 1978-83. The Southlake, Texas native has been a major reason for the team’s success, playing in 10 of 12 games as a true freshman in 2005 and taking the reins from Brad Smith the next year. He is easily on pace to surpass Smith’s school passing records. Daniel fielded scholarship offers from more than 30 top programs, but the finance major chose Missouri because the offense was similar to what he ran at Carroll High School, where he and the Demons compiled a silly 47-1 record during his three-year varsity career, the
“During spring practices that year, he also did most of the quarterback drills and worked on things afterward. So, when he took over (in 2003), he had 16 football games and a state championship contest under his belt.” Daniel’s numbers, electrifying production, and success resulted in EA Sports’ National Player of the Year honors after his senior season, and he was twice named the top player in ultra competitive Texas. “Playing wide receiver as a sophomore helped me tremendously as a quarterback because I got to see how much time and hard work they had to put in and I learned the passing game from that perspective,” Daniel explains. FALL .08
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“We didn’t run as many five- or six-receiver formations as we do here, but it was an exciting spread offense in which we threw 50 to 60 times a game and that helped with the transition to this level.” Dodge witnessed innumerous times as Daniel showed his poise and promise under adverse conditions to lead Carroll, located just five miles west of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, to crucial victories. Three choice instances stand out in what Dodge calls defining moments during a quarterback’s development. “His first game as our starter was against Irving High, which is where he had moved from before seventh grade,” Dodge says. “So, Chase was under a lot of pressure. He got off to a rough start, but I believe he finished with 27 completions and we won the game. It was one of those character things to build on. And then we beat them again in the postseason. “We didn’t have a lot of close games that year, but in the [playoff] quarterfinals against a team from Lubbock, we were trailing with about three minutes left,” Dodge remembers. “It was one of those situations where you look in a quarterback’s eyes. Either he has that deer-in-theheadlights look or he has ‘the look.’ And Chase had ‘the look.’ He led us down to score with about 30 seconds left.
“Chase loves to study and get better and absolutely has the intangibles that put him in that special class at quarterback,” Dodge adds. “I’m not sure if anybody in the state of Texas will ever put up the kinds of numbers that Chase did, not only passing, but with the rushing touchdowns and yardage.” Daniel has picked up the collegiate game just fine. He has completed 66.3 percent of his passes, sports a 62-22 touchdownto-interception ratio and has tossed five TD passes in a game three times. “I don’t think about the records and stuff,” Daniel said. “I mean, I throw for 4,500 yards, but I’m not the one who gained all of those yards after the catch. The offensive line and running backs block for me. It’s my job to distribute the ball to all of our weapons. It takes all of us working together and being on the same page and trusting in each other to win ball games.” Spoken like a true leader. As long as Daniel remains healthy, he’ll be among the most coveted QBs for the 2009 NFL Draft. A major question looms though, could the spread attack that Mizzou uses work against him as it translates to the pro game? Daniel isn’t overly concerned.
“In 2004, the expectations were understandably high because we were ranked No. 1 in the state and in the nation, but we went wire-to-wire. And Chase led us 60 yards down the field to kick a last-second, game-winning field goal in the championship game.” Those traits have served Daniel well in excelling as a high-profile collegian, something Dodge never doubted. “He uses success to build confidence, and sure, he has that little swagger to him, but the number one thing with Chase is his burning desire to improve from season to season,” Dodge says. “Everybody knew what he had accomplished, but there were a lot of people during the recruiting process that didn’t see his upside as being that high. I believe that the improvement he showed from his junior to senior seasons in high school parallels what he accomplished from his sophomore to junior years at Missouri.
“I make my reads and distribute the ball quickly and I have an above average arm and those are the most important things,” Daniel says. “I believe people label guys like [Hawaii’s] Colt Brennan or myself as system quarterbacks. The way I look at it is that every quarterback is a system quarterback, whether it’s the run-and-shoot or handing the ball off to a running back all of the time. Every [NFL] quarterback is paid to run that particular team’s system, so I’m not too worried about that.” He set a Big 12 record and fell just 17 attempts shy of the NCAA mark with 254 straight passes without an interception. Still, the conference’s offensive player of the year continues to fine-tune his craft.
Dave] Christensen, but Coach [David] Yost is my right-hand man. He really prepares me for every game. He comes in early and stays as late as I want to watch more film or do whatever I need to be ready. He’s a big X’s and O’s guy and knows his stuff. He’s given me a lot of freedom and showed trust in me that I can handle the load, and knowing they trust me and that I trust them is the biggest key for any quarterback.” Daniel and the Tigers made the cover of Sports Illustrated after knocking off previously unbeaten Kansas to claim the No. 1 spot in the polls. But a second loss to the Oklahoma Sooners ended any realistic shot of playing for the national championship last season. While Daniel says he and the Tigers haven’t forgotten the stinging defeat, they’re using something else as inspiration for the 2008 campaign. “We would have loved to have beaten the Sooners because we could have gone to the title game, but that’s not what we’re talking about or using as motivation. Instead, we remember the Cotton Bowl win and handling a pretty good Arkansas team.” Missouri will not sneak up on anybody this year and nobody knows this better than Daniel. “The Big 12 is an awesome conference and the South has gotten most of the attention with Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech,” Daniel says. “But the North, with us, what Kansas was able to do last year, and K-State, Colorado and Nebraska being better, is closing the gap. “We’ve got 10 starters back on defense, and this is our fourth year working together in this offense, so we’ve got an excellent opportunity to be better. We want to win the North, and everybody knows what the ultimate goal is. It’s all in front of us and I’m the one leading the ship.”
“My main focus is being ready and competing day in and day out, improving mentally, my footwork, all of the fundamentals,” Daniel says. “I talk with Coach Pinkel every day and have a good relationship with [Offensive Coordinator
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STORY BY TIM MCMANUS
here’s a growing hum behind the name Michael Crabtree.
Faint for the casual fan. Reverberating amongst Big 12 loyalists. Omnipresent in Red Raider nation. Turn on the radio station in Lubbock, Texas, in fact, and you’ll hear the tangible boom, a Soulja Boy remake called “Crank that Crabtree” that blares over the stadium loudspeakers as the student section tears out choreographed moves. Once a local treasure, the name must be shared nationally now after the Dallas native crushed freshman receiving records by snaring 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. You read that correctly.
Now a redshirt sophomore, the 20-yearold Crabtree must walk the Texas Tech campus accompanied by some muscle and wary of outsiders. Everyone that knows, knows he’s just shy of big time. According to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, Crabtree may be plucked off the board in ’09 before he and Mel Kiper Jr. are in full throat – that is, if he decides to forego two remaining years of eligibility. Unanimous First-Team All-American. Biletnikoff Award winner. Heisman hopeful. Former hoops phenom. Designer and rap mogul? A talent on the rise, for sure, fueled by doubters and a mindset that he can be the best in the game.
Crank that Crabtree.
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Blitz: Is there someone that you pattern yourself after? MC: I really watch four people. I watch Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, T.O., and Randy Moss. I just put all four together, and come up with one person. Rice is a hard worker, an overall good receiver. I can look at his overall game, take a little bit so that I can catch with him. I love T.O.’s strength, man. He makes plays that, without his strength, those plays wouldn’t have been made. You know what I’m saying? Sometimes he gets out of control, but I like him… Irvin is that big first down guy. Plus he talked a little bit.
“When I was young my dad told me stats are going to show for themselves. If you play hard, the stats will show themselves.” Blitz: You like to talk a little bit yourself? MC: A little bit, a little bit. It starts getting a little competitive, my mouth can take control of me … I think it’s all a little fun. Just telling a person what you can do, and then go out there and do it. There’s a line. If you’re talking and doing what you’re saying, I don’t think there’s a problem with that. But if you get to talking and not producing like you should or talking and it’s causing the team to lose games or the team to not like each other, that’s another story. Blitz: Is there one thing coming into college that people would say, ‘I don’t think he can do this,’ and you went out to prove them wrong? MC: Tell you the truth, there was a lot of people that was like that. That’s what makes me go so hard and do what I do. I like basketball, that’s my love and they kind of took that away from me, and I was like, ‘I’m going to make it in some way.’ Every game I go out and play I think about the coaches and people that told me that I can’t do this and I can’t do that, I’m not a receiver and all this. I just take that all in … that’s motivation for me. Blitz: When you say basketball was taken away from you, what do you mean? MC: I averaged about 23 points in high school; I had a lot of things going. In summer league I
had a lot of coaches who were trying to put out different players. In the summer, coaches have to work for their player…I wasn’t one of those dudes that he put out there. He kept telling me that he was going to do this and do this. Even my high school coach did me a little bit like that. It ain’t no big deal. It didn’t do nothing but make me stronger. Blitz: What made you decide on Texas Tech? MC: I like the scenery outside the school … where I lay my head. When I first came here, getting off the plane I was looking out the plane and there was nothing but dirt, and I was like ‘I don’t think I’m going to Tech.’ But I got here and everything was cool. They showed me around. My mom liked it; she told me my sophomore year that she could see me in Red and Black. It fit perfect. Blitz: You got there and you burst onto the scene, man. The stats you put up are unprecedented for a freshman. Did you come in thinking you’d have that kind of success, or did you surprise even yourself a little bit? MC: My goal was to have that level of success. The reason I play this game is to try and be the best. I was shocked that I did it, but at the same time those were my goals. Blitz: What was the goal this past season, 100 catches? MC: No, my goal was to catch every pass. That didn’t go well, I was getting mad out there when I’d miss a pass. But I didn’t have a set goal. When I was young my dad told me stats are going to show for themselves. If you play hard, the stats will show themselves. Blitz: You’re coming off that monster year. What’s it like for you on campus right now? MC: It’s crazy, man. I’m able to get away from it pretty good, not be around too many people. I stay at the house a lot. Blitz: You have to be out and about a little bit…what’s the scene like? MC: It’s cool but I’m never by myself. I always gotta have someone with me. I don’t like to be mean to people but my friends will, you know? Blitz: Do you get mobbed? MC: It’s pretty crazy. They seem to run after me a lot and they’ll be shocked to see me out; that’s the funny part.
I’ve been stopped by eight, nine 10 people … just run up to me, you know, want me to sign everything they have. I’ve signed a twenty-dollar bill, their shoes, their shirts, their pants, all at one time. Blitz: Is it hard to stay humble? MC: I choose not to worry about. If you don’t worry about it you tend not to get caught up in it. You just take it as something that’s funny and laugh it off. Blitz: You can’t go out as much as you like… what do you do when you’re not working out? MC: Design some clothes…I have all kinds of styles: casual style, urban wear. It’s pretty exclusive. I listen to some music. Listen to my best friends rap. I have three friends that have songs on the radio right now. They doin’ big things right now. They always shouting my name out. We hang out a lot. Blitz: Do you rap? MC: I can rap but I’m not a rapper, you know. I play around sometimes, but I like to listen to them. Blitz: How about toys…what kinds of toys do you like to play around on? MC: My toys would be cars. I have old schools old Chevys, old 74’s, you know. I have a bunch of them. I really can’t just name them. Blitz: What do you see as being the biggest obstacle for you as you try to get to this elite level? MC: Me just not handling my business. Putting stuff over what I’m supposed to do is probably the biggest obstacle that I can face. Blitz: You set the bar kind of high for yourself after one year, what do you see the rest of your college career being like? MC: Just getting better and better. I can’t settle for less. I’m just sitting here getting better and better every year, taking this thing and stepping up the levels. Blitz: Looking ahead to the pro level, what do you see for your career? MC: I expect to be the best at any level.
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TECMO BOWL WAS 8-BIT HEAVEN Kid: Mortal Kombat, on Sega Genesis, is the best video game ever. Billy Madison: I disagree, it’s a very good game, but I think Donkey Kong is the best game ever. Kid: Donkey Kong sucks. Billy Madison: You know something? YOU SUCK!
hile it’s a tad harsh to tell a first grader he sucks, Billy has a point. Mortal Kombat, while a great game and the definitive predecessor to today’s violent GTA-type titles, is in fact not the best game ever. Thing is, Billy sucks too, apparently. There’s no doubt among real gamers that Tecmo Super Bowl for the Nintendo Entertainment System, not that Italian plumber and his vexed barrel rolling ape, is the best video game of all time. The original Tecmo Bowl (sans Super), while no doubt a sweet attempt, lacked any semblance of football reality. No NFL players were present, just teams. Each squad had just 20 total players per roster, with nine per on offense and defense. While a fun and near-addictive game, Tecmo, released in ‘89, simply wasn’t ultimately satisfying football action.
“Still to this day we’ll pop it in the old NES and get on the old school sticks. One of the things that made it great was bringing in real players.” Eleven players were on the field for each team, consistent with NFL rules. In addition to using real teams and players, TSB incorporated the full 16-game 1991 NFL regular season schedule and the playoff format, including the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. The game added new features, such as statistics tracking that included All-Time NFL season records, expanded and editable playbooks, the ability to substitute players, varying conditions of players, fumbles, and player injuries. As it had previously, the game used cut scenes for important events like touchdowns and halftime shows. Tecmo Super Bowl also added cut scenes when injuries or big plays occurred. What makes TSB the Tiger of video games is how much fun it was. With just two running and passing plays (except for the Niners and Fins, who had three passing to one running), the game was less about strategy and more about your skills on the NES two button sticks. Don’t get it twisted though; even with the added realness, Tecmo Super Bowl retained the sweet arcade-style football game play of the original.
In 1991’s Tecmo Super Bowl some reality entered the football video game scene. TSB was the first NFLPA licensed game, lending the game the superstars like Bo Jackson and Joe Montana that made the game so ultimately (re)playable.
“The biggest factor that made the game such a success was the gameplay,” says Ryan Gilbo, game producer at Tecmo. “It was truly an arcade game to begin with and that game play really translated and resonated with the NES-era gamer.”
“Everyone here (at EA) grew up playing Tecmo Bowl, loves Tecmo Bowl,” says Ryan Ferwerda, Madden ‘09 Producer.
A gamer’s success in TSB is based on his ability to play to the vertical and horizontal angles. Basically, you had two options in
STORY BY JIM MCCORMICK ILLUSTRATION BY JAMES BLAGDEN
the classic game; go up/down or left/right. The ability to break tackles was a defining asset of your running back’s arsenal. A number of players had “94” and above hitting power ratings, giving them the ability break any non-sliding tackles. Bo “Tecmo Bo” Jackson and Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye were, of course, the most diesel of them all. Let us not forget the best Tecmo defender of all, the original LT, Lawrence Taylor. Somehow, LT was more destructive in 8-Bit than in real life. Derrick Thomas was another unstoppable defensive force to reckon with. “That was the one that always made me throw the controller, chasing Bo,” Gilbo remembers, “I was like, ‘this is a bunch of crap, I can’t catch him.’” Get back out there kids. Download an NES emulator (it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds) to your computer and play some Tecmo Super Bowl again. Even better, dust off your old NES and blow hard into your TSB cartridge (those were the days). Hunt on eBay and find an old NES. However you make it happen, plug in and remind yourself of why you love video games, football and life. Tecmo Tourneys Soon after its release, “Tecmo Tournaments” started to form in arcades and bars in the early 1990s. Eventually the tournaments would pop up in many dorm rooms across the country. The largest to date, held in 2006, had over 4,000 entries and a grand prize of $10,000. Similar tournaments continue to be held to this day. The nerds over at www.knobbe.org are keeping the Tecmo torch lit with a recent mega-tourney in the Midwest this past April. FALL .08
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TECMO GAME BREAKERS Here they are, the friends you love to play as, the enemies you hate to play against. Their status can make or break a single game, not to mention an entire season. Each of these players was bestowed with supernatural Tecmo abilities. So without delay, here they are, the TECMO SUPER BOWL GAME BREAKERS Joe Montana, Steve Grogan, QB Browns (Kosar), Richard Johnson, Jerry Rice, Warren Moon, QB Eagles (Cunningham), David Fulcher, Rod Woodson, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Barry Sanders, QB Bills (Kelly), Christian Okoye, Darrell Green, Ricky Sanders and Bo Jackson Tecmo Trivia and Glitches
and QB Browns were their TSB monikers, respectively. This was because the players were not members of the NFPLA’s marketing agreement. If you slide-tackle a running back during a play where the quarterback pitches the ball to the running back before he receives the ball, the ball will fall to the ground but the referee will blow the ball dead. However, if you just try to wrestle the running back down, the quarterback will still pitch the ball and it will be ruled a fumble. If no teams clinch their division until week 17, the playoff bracket will display every team to be the Buffalo Bills. If a defensive player intercepts a pass but later fumbles the football on the same play, the interception is not recorded as part of the player’s defensive statistics.
And if you don’t know, now you know . . . What do John Carney, Jeff Feagles, Morten Andersen and Junior Seau have in common? One of them is a long-feared intimidator and Canton-bound linebacker legend. The others are AARP-aged kickers. What they share, besides age, is that they are the only active players who appeared in the g.o.a.t.
If a player scores a touchdown but drops the ball after the “TOUCHDOWN!” message is flashed across the screen (e.g., he is hit by an opposing player as he crosses the goal line), the touchdown still counts, but it will not be counted in the player’s offensive statistics.
Much like how Michael Jordan was absent from NBA Live and Jam in the 90s, Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, and Bernie Kosar were represented by generic names in Tecmo Super Bowl. QB Bills, QB Eagles,
“I’ve been at Tecmo for two years now,” says Ryan Gilbo, game producer at Tecmo, “when I first got here we really did have hundreds of e-mails coming into our support team to bring it back and I was getting personal e-mails to bring back Tecmo Bowl. I’d go out and people in bars would always tell me their tales of Tecmo and ask when are we coming back out.”
The crew over at Tecmo Games has sadly been out of the football game for a minute. They’ve turned much of their expertise and energy to developing cool games for the Wii (Super Swing Golf Season) and resurrecting the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Thankfully though, through sheer demand, Tecmo Bowl is making a comeback.
The wait is over. Coming this fall for the Nintendo DS, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff blends new school technologies with classic Tecmo Bowl game play, “We wanted to make sure that the game was as reminiscent of Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES,” Gilbo says. “In designing this game we wanted to make sure we captured all of the elements that made that game so successful. We also added in features unique to the DS such as the touch screen control, customizable playbook and customize team attributes.”
Despite the lack of NFL licensing, Gilbo affirms, “you simply can’t discount great game play. People will recognize that Tecmo Bowl has stayed true to it’s roots with this DS version and that will ultimately help make it a success.” “The reason we went with the Nintendo DS is because this is the best platform for this type of game. You’d be really hard-pressed to bring a 2-D, side-to-side game to one of these next-gen consoles. The DS offers great experience playing against other people.” Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is slated to hit streets 9/15, A Wii version is set for 2009 For more info check out TecmoGames.com
JAWS AND JOVI BRINGING SOME SOUL BACK TO PHILLY
ou could hear it in Ron Jaworski’s voice. He’s boxed in the shadows. Played the showdown over in his head.
Size up the giant. Stand tippy-toed to try and reach knee-level. Wait for a morsel to fall from the beast’s mouth, and make a feast out of it.
““If I took an Arena football team and said to the New York Giants, ‘Let’s go play an Arena game right now, eight on offense, eight on defense,’ I think we’d win,” says Jaws.
Learn from its subtle movements. Imitate some, move counter to others. Bide time ‘til it slumbers, then maneuver to grab a little spotlight.
Really? He grew more animated. “Give them two weeks, have them come to Philadelphia and we’d beat them. Once Plaxico (Burress) sees that wall, I’m not sure he would catch many balls,” he finishes with a laugh. It’s impossible for Jaws and the rest the Arena Football League not to shadowbox with the NFL.
It’s not a dance in the vein of takeover, but of survival and prosperity. The NFL is the master, the precedent. The AFL is the offspring playing on the side stage, looking for a bigger gig. Take what it gives you, move when they offer an opening. It’s vital, then, that the league has people in charge that are both tied into the NFL, and at the same time respectful of its untouchable stature. To that end, the Philadelphia Soul is as well set up as anyone.
STORY BY TIM MCMANUS
The names Ron Jaworski and Jon Bon Jovi have power within themselves. The media scurries after them, eager to accept a little Soul talk so long as they can ask about Monday Night Football, Living on a Prayer or Spygate. “It’s great to have high profile personalities involved in ownership. I certainly believe that draws people to the game and attention to the game,” says Jaworski, team president and partial owner.
scenes and allow the game and players to be the draw. In order for that to happen, the product has to be stickier and the talent more dynamic. They have to win. Must find players whose natural abilities are equal to those in the NFL, but simply translate better to Arena ball. This is where the respective ties of both Bon Jovi and Jaworski become so important. Bon Jovi is a lifelong New York Giants fan, and forged a relationship with Bill Belichick back in the 1980s when Belichick was an assistant with the G-Men under Bill Parcells. He has a line into the best-run organization in the NFL.
“But ultimately the players and the game have to carry themselves. That’s the goal. The players have to perform and the players have to be the personalities. That’s when the league will become successful.”
“Jon is tight with Belichick,” says Soul star QB Tony Graziani. “They do talk periodically about football and how to run an organization.”
There is a very specific plan in place, in fact, to have Jaws and Bon Jovi -Majority Owner and Co-Chairman of the Board -- slip more and more behind the
Jaworski, meanwhile, is wired right into the NFL’s control panel. He is close with many of the GMs and head coaches throughout the league, giving him some privileged access.
The example Jaws cited was the acquisition of wideout Larry Brackins. Brackins was a fifth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2005. Friendly with coach Jon Gruden, Jaworski spent a good amount of time around the Bucs and was able to see Brackins’ talent up close. When the receiver was cut from the team, it’s no coincidence that the Soul were able to scoop him up. Morsel into a meal. And so the dance goes, with the two power brokers using their image and NFL connections to bolster their own club and league. Their efforts are paying off. The Soul are one of the premiere teams despite just entering the league in 2004, and are beginning to scratch into the consciousness of sports fans thanks to an aggressive, relentless and star-led public relations push. Those who do get turned onto the game tend to be avid supporters of it. Tickets are around $13, there are no lines for the concession stands, they cater to kids, have a ton of giveaways and the game itself is entertaining. There was a definite market left behind when the NFL went corporate, one that
the AFL is trying to cast a net over. “We took a chance building a brand here,” says Bon Jovi. “I think it brings back the family to the game and gives them a chance to come together.” As Graziani pointed out, Jaws and Bon Jovi have not failed many times in their professional lives. That, within itself, generates confidence. If they didn’t see the AFL as a potential player, why would they tie their names so closely to it? So how successful can this thing be? “The expectations are high but I don’t think they’re unreasonably high,” Graziani says. “We don’t think we can compete with the NFL. But it is realistic that we could become the fourth major sport. Our ratings are on par with hockey…taking them over is a realistic goal for the near future.” A steady climb. And who knows? Maybe they’ll get close enough to the beast’s ear one day that it will hear the challenge, and welcome the game of eight-on-eight that Jaworski envisions. In the meantime, shadowboxing.
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STORY BY TIM MCMANUS PHOTOS BY AL MESSERSCHMIDT / GETTY
kick returner’s survival set when the wedge gets pulverized. A coach’s crutch as he fights through the ranks.
Sal Paolantonio’s one-two to bust into daylight…amidst the fog. Paolantonio was covering New Jersey politics for the Philadelphia Inquirer in the winter of 1988. The day after Christmas he was in the office doing research on the upcoming Governor’s race, when he was asked to fly to the Chicago area to interview Mike Ditka for the Eagles’ upcoming divisional game with the Bears.
“The visibility was so bad that day, that it was impossible to see the players from the press box.” “I said, ‘You better get somebody else to do it. I’m not doing it’,” Paolantonio remembers, “but I reluctantly got on a plane.” His piece on Ditka caught the eye of editor Dave Tucker, who was in the process of kicking Jere Longman – now of the New York Times – off the Eagles beat (as the story goes, Tucker and Longman had a big blowout, with Longman calling Tucker a wire-service hack). He was asked to stay and cover the game that would later be dubbed “The Fog Bowl”. The visibility was so bad that day, that it was impossible to see the players from the press box. Breaking from the pack, he made his way through the stands, leapt a rail to gain field access, and crept up near the sidelines next to the Eagles’ brass. The next day, New Year’s 1989, his article appeared on the front of the paper alongside a big picture of Eagles coach Buddy Ryan staring into the fog.
The next window didn’t open for another four years when the paper’s new Eagles beat reporter, Mark Bowden, was sent to Somalia (leading to Bowden’s penning of Black Hawk Down). Paolantonio took Bowden’s place and covered the Eagles for the 1993 and ’94 campaigns. During that time he appeared on a show called “Inquirer News Tonight”, and got spotted by a producer at ESPN. Fourteen years later, he heads coverage of the country’s biggest sport on its largest sports network. Paolantonio entered the football business while it was in the midst of rapid change, at the dawn of free agency and in the early stages of becoming a mega beast. Just as he freely leapt a railing to get closer to the action back in Chicago, he oversaw the first post 9/11 Super Bowl that symbolized the beginning of the end to such adventures. He calls that Patriots Rams Super Bowl the biggest game he ever covered, the “Tuck Rule” game a couple weeks prior the most challenging. Ray Lewis’ murder case the most intense. “It was a confluence of football, race relations and the judicial system, one of the NFL’s biggest stars being accused of double murder,” says Paolantonio. “It was very challenging and very grueling to cover.” Such challenges aside, still a dream job. The top dog tracking the biggest bone. A ways away from Jersey politics. “I think you need two things, balls and breaks, to make it to this level,” Paolantonio says. “Everybody has ability…I don’t have much more ability than anybody else. You have to be willing to take chances, seize opportunities when opportunities present themselves.”
Sal’s work: Sixteen years of being intimate with the NFL has led to a pair of new books. The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches, and Moments in NFL History has sold very well since its release last summer. It has also generated small firestorms in pubs and through talk-show lines as well with deified names such as Brett Favre listed in the “Overrated” section. The latest work by Paolantonio is titled How Football Explains America, slated for release in September. “It’s a look at how American culture and geopolitics make football such an attractive sport,” says Paolantonio. “It shows how football was popular before television and after TV became a monster cultural phenomenon.” Quick facts on Sal Pal: > Hosts “State Farm NFL Matchup” on Sunday mornings on ESPN. For his reporting, he has been awarded six sports Emmys. > He has also contributed to World News Tonight and Good Morning America on ABC-TV. > Sal retired from the United States Navy as a full lieutenant in 1983, serving in the South Pacific. He was awarded the United Nations Meritorious Service Medal in 1981 for supervising the rescue of Vietnamese refugees in the South China Sea. > He resides in Moorestown, N.J. with his wife Lynn.
FOG BOWL DECEMBER 31, 1988 FALL .08
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committed to community service, this is a really amazing group of people.”
THE NFL’S BEST AND BRIGHTEST GO BACK TO SCHOOL
ingers pressed firmly on temples, brows furrowed and eyes sharpened as the projector paces the professor’s lecture. The intensity is palpable during this real estate seminar at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton Business School. The students are attentive and engaged knowing that the professor may pepper them with questions at any time. “How do you consider change in your career?” the professor asks, “When you’re asked to move from defensive end to outside linebacker, how do you evaluate that decision?” This question may seem odd to a group of MBA students. To the present students, though, a group of some 20 NFL players, it makes perfect sense. Patriot legend Troy Brown is sitting on the left of the screen, pen in hand, pensively reviewing the current power point slide. A few rows closer Kyle Brady takes notes and nods
The WSBI delivers a six-day program to select NFL athletes. The athletes submit applications through the NFL to participate in this program that focuses on their current financial issues as well as assisting them in transitioning out of the game and into the future. The topics presented include: investments vs. scams; reading financial documents; real estate investing; negotiation; and, leadership. The Wharton program has a particular focus on opportunities athletes might consider in the real estate industry. One session in particular evaluated an ex-NFL player’s current financial investments and saw the attendees dissect the player’s specific decisions and dealings. STORY BY JIM mccormick PHOTOS BY DON MARSELLA & TOMMY LEONARDI
in agreement with the sage advice being dolled out. Instead of relaxing at home or vacationing with friends and family, these NFL vets are in classrooms absorbing executive level financial guidance from some of the sharpest minds in the business world. The NFL-NFLPA Business Management and Entrepreneurship Program began in 2005 when Ken Shropshire, the director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, received a call from then NFPLA president Troy Vincent. “The dean here (Patrick Harker) believed that sports should be looked at as a serious business just like banking or real estate or anything else,” Shropshire explains. “Four years ago he provided seed funding for us to develop the Initiative. The first thing that came about was the NFL program thanks largely to Troy Vincent and the NFL as well. The NFL had been talking with Harvard about doing a program for the players.”
Those accepted to the program can attend sessions at the best business schools across the country - Stanford, Kellogg, Harvard or Wharton. Player enrollment criteria includes level of education, professional business experience, interest in starting, owning, or managing a business; and leadership and community involvement. Under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, players may be reimbursed for up to $15,000 a year for education expenses at an accredited institution of higher learning. “Most of these guys have college degrees,” explains Professor Mori Taheripour, a WSBI faculty member. “They’re well educated and excited to learn more. Usually all we hear about are the mishaps but we’ve seen over a hundred guys come through this program that I would hire or work with. I have the deepest respect for them, they have integrity, they’re passionate, they’re really intelligent and they want to leave something behind. A lot of them are
“You take a lot away from it,” says Atlanta Falcon linebacker Michael Boley during a refreshment break. “It broadens you in all business aspects whether it be real estate or investing. It helps you better yourself, prepares you for life after football. A lot of people look at athletes as just athletes and they don’t know what happens once your done. It proves that we have interests past football, that we have bright ideas for our life after football. I have a couple of different things in the works, from real estate to business ventures, things where I can provide my family down the road.” “We develop a long-term relationship with them and help them with business planning, strategies,” says Taheripour. “Given the longevity or lack there of their career, you need to make a lot of money in a short period of time. Our goal is to make them understand that while some of them are very lucky and play 13 or 14 years, the average career is much shorter. What other job would you get out at say 26 and make what money you made over those years last 50 years? That’s really unique to these players.”
STORY BY lolajames
TEAM Investments is a real estate firm that has created a unique niche in consulting pro athletes to attain financial wellness. Tanya Marchiol, the president and founder of TEAM Investments, was herself a professional athlete who has gained financial wholeness by rising to the top after her pro volleyball career was over. TEAM’s goal is to educate and create financial awareness among professional athletes. The firm focuses on ideals such as adding real estate to their portfolio, creating corporations for the protection of their assets, as well as understanding tax benefits and offering them assistance in making wise spending decisions. With the focus on education, TEAM Investments helps clients create “generational wealth,” a term Marchiol coined and believes is the foundation of her consulting expertise. Tanya started her business with just one client and has developed it into a multimillion dollar enterprise, creating lasting business relationships with stars like Donovan McNabb and JaMarcus Russell, just to name a few. A typical year for Tanya can be grouped into two segments. January through June is when she focuses on the housing needs of recently drafted NFL players and those traded to another team. Their personal family home is taken care of
specifically by her or someone from her staff and their business will never be referred out. The second phase of her year is consumed by consulting clients in regards to investments, creating cash flow, and analyzing portfolios to ensure assets are performing and are individualized to each client. Although she advises her clients to attain other financial advisors, she also implores her clients to lead their own wealth, do due diligence on every investment and be the final decision maker. The pro bono consulting she does for her clients is due to her deeply rooted passion in offering the knowledge she has gained through her 10-years in the business. She is very adamant in her clients being knowledgeable about where their money is going and why they are investing in certain opportunities. Alongside handling the business ventures of her clients, Tanya has built a trusting foundation with them, fostering enduring relationships. Tanya can be heard offering her knowledge on Street Soldiers with Lisa Evers on HOT97, a New York based radio show, every Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. She is also a Fox Financial Correspondent, the Real Estate Analyst for CBS46 in Atlanta, and hosts two TV shows “The Real Deal” in Atlanta and “Money Talks” for ProAthletesOnly.com. Look for Tanya’s regular contributions to Blitz Magazine and blitzmagonline.com. FALL .08
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STORY BY ANDY BENOIT PHOTOS BY david durochik
ou’ve seen the commercial. Willie McGinest, the sagacious outside linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, is speaking winsomely into a cell phone: “I know, I made a mistake.”
Electric strings from Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky whine behind him. The video jumps to McGinest facing the camera, as he explains “I listen to my mom but just not on the football field all the time.” That mom is Joyce McGinest, the woman who, as the commercial says, signed up the second of her three children – her only boy – for Pop Warner Football when he was seven years old. She viewed football as a means to keeping the boy from Long Beach busy and productive. Lo and behold, it did just that…. for thirty years. “Willie always said that he wanted to be a professional football player,” says Joyce. “So what is the best time to start? When you’re small, to give you the fundamentals.” You know the Cliff Notes to the rest of the Willie McGinest story: member of the 55 Club at USC, a pioneer at the now ubiquitous hybrid rush linebacker position early on with the Patriots, later a staple in New England’s three Super Bowl titles and now, a revered veteran leader for the burgeoning Browns. Perhaps a cut below Hall of Fame caliber, McGinest nevertheless epitomizes everything that is right about the game. And he’ll long be remembered because of that. Further cementing his legend as a Patriot, he holds the record for most postseason sacks with 16 and the single-game record with 4.5 sacks in a 2006 matchup with Jacksonville. Alas, he will go down as a rare rock-solid piece to a dynastic puzzle – much like a Robert Horry or a Jorge Posada. McGinest’s legacy will have a chance to fortify sooner than later. At 37, and playing in the renegotiated final year of his contract, the 2008 season is set to be his last.
“You have to know at some point that your body and your mind is telling you, ‘Hey I can go, but this is it,’” McGinest says. “I don’t want to be one of those guys that’s hanging on, not being productive. I don’t want to be a guy that’s just doing a lot of talking from the sidelines.” So 2008 will be the farewell tour (he, of course, just wants it to be a “winning tour”). But Number 55 for the Browns is not the only McGinest who will face a new reality come winter. The sweet woman he’s talking about in the commercial will, for the first time in three decades, watch football without seeing her own flesh and blood on the field. “I have so many memories,” says Joyce, showing a mother’s inability to pinpoint just one or two favorites. “Seeing (Willie) playing t-ball, baseball, football, basketball. Just being a mother, it’s been a fun time.” “My family has been there since Day One,” says Willie. “They’ve been there in the stands cheering. As well as me playing for my myself, I’ve played for my family.” The McGinest parents are among the select few who have been privileged enough to watch their kid play sports well into his adulthood. They make it to Willie’s home opener each year, as well as several of his road games. When they’re home in Long Beach, they follow their son – and all of the NFL action – on DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. “I just love football – I love football,” Joyce says. “It’s just like a ritual. When Willie’s playing on Sundays I watch him and then whoever else comes on after or before.” Growing up, Willie saw his father (Willie Sr.) work at Long Beach Bakery and later for Hostess Cake. His mother worked for Head Start before spending eight years with Ability First (a program that helps individuals
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who have physical and mental development disorders). She also spent part of the year working a second job, usually in retail. “Worked hard, inherited by my folks. Responsibility at a young age, had a lot of chores. Had to be accountable. Those values stayed with me all along,” Willie says. When Bill Parcells drafted him fourth overall in ’94, the McGinest parents saw the fruition of their efforts. “Our family, we are very blessed, and it’s just been really good,” Joyce says. “We’ve been able to do more things, see more things, it’s just been great. But it hasn’t changed our life, we’re still the same, as if Willie was still playing at (Long Beach) Poly Tech.” The more dramatic changes will occur next year. Joyce believes her son will miss the game but will ultimately still thrive, thanks to his far-reaching business and charitable work. As for her? “It’s going to be…” She sighs. “It’s going to be quite different for me. I’m going to miss it. Because on Sundays, that’s my dream, to see him play. On Sunday’s I can’t wait to see my son play. It’s going to be lonely for me. It’s going to be lonely. It will probably take me longer to get used to him not playing than it will him. “Willie probably feels that I’m going to miss it, but to what extent, I don’t think he knows. A mother’s feelings are sometimes different than the dad’s. Sometimes we can get a little emotional,” her voice in this moment provides compelling evidence. “It will probably be a little hard for me.” At least her son’s final season expects to be one marked by success. “I came back because I believe we have something special in Cleveland,” Willie says. Normally, such sentiments would be laughable. Up until last year, the Browns enjoyed just one winning season since ’94 (they were out of commission from ’96-’98). But head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Phil Savage have built a formidable foundation, which led to a 10-win campaign in ’07 and expectations
high enough in ’08 for the league and television networks to award the team five primetime games, the same number as the Colts and Patriots. “Everything is coming to fruition. We just have to go out and prove what type of team we are,” Willie says. “I came back because I’m excited about it.” Willie’s post-football life promises to be vibrant. A childhood friend of Snoop Dogg, he is the CEO of fifty five Entertainment, which has a production deal with A & M/ Interscope. He recently confirmed a franchise agreement with three Wingstop restaurants in Southern California, and he is also a partner in Signature Collectibles, a sports memorabilia company. “Willie had told me when he was playing Pop Warner that he would be a professional football player. And he was going to have his own business where he could be the boss, that he would tell people what to do” Joyce recalls, proudly smiling. “Those were the goals that he had set for himself. And he has accomplished that.” Willie’s business acumen has far reaching benefits. He has spearheaded the Willie McGinest Foundation, a children’s charity that has been so prominent in Long Beach that the city now celebrates Willie McGinest Day every May 2nd. “It’s something that I need to do because of how blessed I was and where I came from,” Willie says of his civic work. “What I’ve been blessed with enables me to always give back, and I think that’s important for us athletes, and entertainers or whoever. There’s always somebody out there who needs something or needs the help. You can make a difference just talking to a kid – its not always having to give money or give items. Just speaking to somebody or reaching out or reaching back can change somebody’s life.” Joyce McGinest knows this is one enthralling element of her son’s life that isn’t going away anytime soon. “Willie’s just a good person. I think that’s why he’s reached this point in his life. He’s a good person and he has a good heart.”
STORY BY CHRISTINA ANDREADIS PHOTOS BY FELIX NATAL JR.
born and bred Louisianan, Pats defensive end Jarvis Green is now a Northeast mainstay. With three Super Bowl appearances and an emerging role on Belichick’s dynamic defense, his under the radar days as a sack specialist may soon come to an end.
BLITZ: What’s your favorite personal highlight? JG: 2003 AFC Championship game, 2.5 sacks on Peyton Manning, led to my first Super Bowl.
Months removed from the famous 1, of 18-1 fame, Jarvis shares his take, “The fourth quarter came and the Giants scored those 14 points and that just change the entire game around,” he explains, “Eli made some good plays, he avoided some sacks and then Tyree made that huge catch and just watching that stuff happening and watching the offense, hey, that game just wasn’t our game. They say defense wins championships.” “Waking up the next morning with that feeling, knowing you can’t do anything about it. All we can do is pat them on the back say good job and get ready for next year,” Green humbly admits. On and off the field, Green is an opportunist. Last offseason he interned at the Providence Prime restaurant and Oyster Bar, learning the business from busboy to owner. He’s put that experience to good use. He is in the process of opening a restaurant called The Capitol in his hometown of Donaldsonville, Louisiana. The name of the restaurant refers to the days when Donaldsonville was originally set to be the capital of the Pelican State in the 1830’s. “Few people know that I’m an entrepreneur,” he says. His new venture The Capitol “turns into a lounge on Friday and Saturday nights. It will be a fun environment with a city appeal and a country taste.” His liquor store, Green’s Purple and Gold, is located just blocks from Tiger Stadium at LSU, his alma mater. The store is a favorite among Baton Rouge’s many collegiate party planners and tailgaters, “It’s a fun environment with jerseys on the wall, one side is purple and the other side is gold,” he explains. “There is music on and sports on the TV. It’s just a great place
BLITZ: What was your welcome to the NFL moment? JG: In the preseason, it had to be the first or second game. I got a sack, but had a bad injury. I hurt my ribs and got rushed to the hospital. I was hurting, in pain and even breathing was painful. I’m thinking I was going to be out for a week or so. I remember the next day practicing with full pads on. They said ‘Welcome to the NFL buddy.’
BLITZ: Do you think people sleep on you? JG: I don’t think so. At one time they did. Now people know #97 is on the field. So they can go ahead and sleep on me, that’s when I go out there and take advantage of it even more. BLITZ: What football fans are the most intense? JG: Raiders fans are very intense their pretty much throwing stuff at you calling you foul names and stuff like that and the Browns are kind of the same way.
for people to come and buy their party beverages from.” In addition to his many business pursuits, Green was awarded with the New England Patriots’ Ron Burton Community Service Award in ’06 for his commitment to the community and helping others. His non-profit organization to aid Hurricane Katrina victims is an integral part of his charitable efforts, “those are my people, my hometown. I am deeply committed to helping those people.” With all of these extracurriculars, Green still makes it a priority to be father figure and godfather to Ma’shy, son of close friend and teammate Marquise Hill, who met an untimely death in May 2007. “Football is temporary … we got a long life to live,” Green says, “and it’s my duty to be the father figure for him. Every game before we go out of the tunnel, I always make sure I rub his number on my helmet, just remembering he’s there. He’s watching us.”
BLITZ: If you could have any company sponsor you who would it be and why? JG: Microsoft, because they would back me up all the way. BLITZ: What’s in your driveway? JG: BMW Black Alpina. There are only 200 in the world, 500 horsepower and it will go with the best. BLITZ: So what do you listen to? JG: I listen to a lot of things like Lenny Kravitz, Dave Matthews, Jazz and down south rap. I do like Kayne West as well, from his production to him as an artist. He’s a different type of artist and because he just came on the scene about three or so years ago and is now on the top of the charts. Flashing Lights is my song. My daughter who is only five loves Frank Sinatra and my son listens to Chris Brown. BLITZ: Tupac or Biggy? JG: Biggy. BLITZ: Are you a day person or a night owl? JG: Night owl. I’ll be up watching Rugby at 4 am BLITZ: Words to Live By? JG: Stay humble.
Jarvis is yet another example of the articulate, charitable and entrepreneurial nature of the NFL athlete that you rarely get to hear about. FALL .08
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2008 draft coverage
he media frenzy that is the NFL Draft is arguably the greatest off-the-field event in any sport. It draws outstanding ratings on television while also being a tremendous building block for teams. Itâ€™s grown from a small business meeting at a hotel to a large entertaining event that draws millions of viewers on television; and it keeps getting bigger. As a young publication, Blitz Magazine was credentialed for the Draft this year for the first time. We were able to interview the top draftees â€“ Darren McFadden, Jake Long, Matt Ryan and the like in the pressroom. We even met the legendary Burt Sugar, cigar in tow, and were interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. What we learned, more than anything, is to not eat before you cover the draft.
Expecting the exclusive media access to entail a packed press row filled with NFL experts arguing over the intricacies of the Draft, we instead found that the real center of action is below the stage at Radio City Music Hall, in the bowels of the famous Manhattan theater; the buffet line. If you wanted the inside scoop on where Glenn Dorsey was going or who was moving in and out of the first you were better served hanging out by the deli platter than the NFL Network booth. We took the knowledge we acquired while eating turkey sandwiches with other NFL gurus and instilled it in our inaugural NFL Draft section.
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STORY BY KRISTIAN DYER PHOTOS BY JOE D’ANGELO & MICHAEL TODARO
t didn’t come easy. One thing that Ray Rice wants you to know about his journey from New Rochelle to Rutgers and now the NFL, is that it wasn’t easy.
The face of a once faceless program, it was on Rice’s broad shoulders that Rutgers rose to make three consecutive bowl games after tallying just one post-season appearance in more than a century of college football play. “Rutgers was definitely a great decision for me,” says Rice. “The best decision of my life. Now we have a program that we can be proud of, that is winning bowl games.” Head coach Greg Schiano likes to remind people that when Rice first stepped foot on campus in 2005, he was sixth on the depth chart for running backs. By season’s end, Rice was not only the starter for a bowl team, he had become the identity of the program. From proverbial zero to hero in a matter of months, the same tenacity that made Rice a collegiate star will fuel his motivation on the next level. “I wasn’t really thinking about the pros when I got there,” says Rice of his early days as a Scarlet Knight. “Then things
began to happen and the team started winning and then the personal accolades.” Coming off a stellar collegiate career, it might be easy for the soft-spoken and introspective Rice to rest on his laurels. Having re-written most of the rushing records during his three years at Rutgers, the Baltimore Ravens are hoping that the same brand of smash-mouth running that saw Rice run rampant over the Big East will translate to the NFL. Big things are expected of the 55th player taken in the draft. Standing a stout 5’9 and weighing in at nearly 200 pounds, Rice has the body to churn out tough yardage on Sundays. Many see Rice as a Thurman Thomas type of player, a comparison that draws a humble response from the Scarlet Knight. Highly recruited out of New Rochelle, New York, Rice ended up at Rutgers after a change in head coach at Syracuse led him to look elsewhere. He quickly accelerated up the depth chart at Rutgers, moving from an afterthought in August of his freshman year to eventually splitting the majority of carries with current St. Louis Rams’ tailback Brian Leonard. “He told me about the transition from college to the pros,” Rice says of Leonard.
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“Usually, they say yes. Not Ray. He said he wasn’t hungry, he said he was starving.” And now Rice is ready to do some home cooking of his own. After a draft day that he termed stressful – spent hoping to not fall out of the second round – he knows that the real work is still ahead of him. Slotted as Willis McGahee’s understudy in Baltimore, Rice believes that the Ravens’ brass envision him as an eventual starter. He understands that he has to learn a new system, but notes that everyone from management to the coaching staff is excited to have him in their kettle. For his part, Rice is ready to simmer.
STORY BY Joe DECAMARA PHOTOS BY DAVID DUROCHIK
“Everything I worked for, it is here now. There were a lot of tears,” Rice says about draft day. “It is a once in a lifetime feeling.” Rice concedes that the transition to the league can be overwhelming at times. For a man known to grind out the tough yards, he’s had a hard time keeping up with his demanding schedule. Perhaps then, it is no surprise that Rice has a public relations agent of his own, living under own very roof. “My mom keeps telling me how proud she is of me,” says Rice with a laugh. “She’s having a hard time controlling herself. She keeps telling everyone about me.” Rice remains humble, vowing to keep “chopping.” He is quick to point out that all he will do is work hard and earn the trust of his new coaching staff. One man in particular, thinks he can do it.
“I’m going to try and do what he did – go out there and work hard and play. He told me it is a lot more preparation, a lot more mental at this level.” With Rice responsible for nearly 40 percent of the Scarlet Knights’ total offense last season, he solidified himself as a Heisman candidate and was a finalist for the Maxwell Award for the nation’s top running back. Despite the accolades and a season that saw him eclipse the 2,000 yard mark en route to MVP honors at the International Bowl, Rice still had his doubters.
Rice could bounce off the line, find a hole and be a handful to take down, but many wondered if he could run past the second wave of tacklers. When he clocked a 4.42 in the 40 at the combine in Indianapolis, he silenced many a critic and crept up draft lists across the league.
In the NFL, speed rules.
His hard work and legendary weight room ethic in the months leading up to the critical combine workout paid dividends. Working closely with Martin Rooney of Parisi Sports Club in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Rice worked towards a leaner build in an effort to become faster. The combine showing was proof-positive of his hard work paying off.
Many felt that the junior running back did not have the requisite breakaway speed for the next level. There was no doubt that
“Ray was completely dedicated when he came in. We always ask the players we train if they are hungry,” says Rooney.
“The Baltimore Ravens are getting a tremendous player and person in Ray Rice,” says Schiano. “Ray proved at the college level that he was one of the elite players in the nation and I think he will have an outstanding NFL career as well. Now, that once in a lifetime feeling will soon give way to a grueling NFL season that is right around the corner. Knowing that there is a lot of work ahead of him, Rice is excited to be a part of an organization that has a winning tradition. In fact, he is thrilled about the core of players that are now his teammates, “Great leadership, and I have a great back ahead of me that I can learn from.” “For me, being humble is a characteristic of who I try to be,” says Rice. “I know that I didn’t get here, where I’m at now, by accident.”
“It’s like you have to start over again,” Antoine Cason says. “I have to work back to where I want to be again. I’m just going to show them the ability that I have and the work ethic I possess and get myself out there on the field.” For Cason, a career starter for Arizona and the 27th overall pick to San Diego this past April, the beginning of his pro career will ultimately be about biding time as a nickel back. He’ll spend training camp and likely his first few seasons looking to impress his coaches and wait for the opportunity to strike and emerge as a starter. It’s a balancing act that many young players struggle with, but knowing the talent Cason possesses and understanding the character he brings to the table, it’s a good bet we’ll see him as a starter in this league soon. Cason joins a Chargers team stocked with high-profile teammates who have already cemented their reps in the NFL. With superstars LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Shawne Merriman, it’s a starstudded cast likely to keep the Chargers in the hunt for the Super Bowl. As contenders must in this pass-happy era, the Bolts already boast two quality-starting cornerbacks in Quentin Jammer and Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie. The team’s rare depth at this most shallow of positions leaves Cason, a consensus AllAmerican and the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner (best college corner), in unfamiliar territory as a back up. Cason has faced greater challenges than earning a starting gig. The passing of his
grandfather in February of his junior year to cancer shook his foundation. It was only a month earlier that his grandfather had been elated with his decision to stay in school instead of opting for the pro ranks a year early. Cason endured his senior season without his biggest fan. “He had done everything for us. He was a role model to my family and me. So I just wanted to dedicate my senior year and do something for a greater cause.” That cause evolved into the “Cason Cares” campaign, a charity that Cason and his college friend Matt Brooks founded and ran together. The idea was simple; sell wristbands for $3 a piece and donate all the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. While a simple concept, it wasn’t the ordinary plan of action from a 21 yearold big-time college athlete. “It was a long process and it taught me a lot of what it takes to do something like that,” Cason says. Cason’s banner senior season at Arizona featured 5 interceptions, including 71 tackles and four total touchdowns. “Cason was a playmaker on defense,” says Tom Ward, host of Inside The Pac, a syndicated Pac 10 football show. “He was a guy that receivers didn’t relish having to face. He makes plays that win games.” Being an elite difference maker on the college level didn’t stamp Cason as a guaranteed 1st rounder according to Draft experts like Mel Kiper. It was his excellent combine performance that had Goodell saying his name at Radio City. Still, Cason wonders why his on-field play alone wasn’t impressive enough to land him in the first
round. “It’s very bizarre. Some of the stuff I really don’t understand. Mel Kiper has never played football; he’s never been in the position we’re in. You just can’t measure the heart of a man.” So what exactly was it that Cason thinks Kiper had wrong about him? “Everything. It was all wrong. He said I was slow, said I was a Cover 2 corner. If you look at the film, I played a lot of man. His analysis was pretty bad.” What Mel and many teams initially thought of Cason during the draft process and what they thought post-combine were two different things. As Kiper noted at the Draft, “The kid has moved up.” What happens from there is subject to his skill, injuries, luck, determination and the contract status of those around him in the secondary. Noted football expert Greg Cosell, the Executive Producer of State Farm NFL Matchup on ESPN, thinks Cason will indeed start in the league. “My sense is that Cason, if he develops the way the Chargers anticipate, will replace Jammer down the road.” But first there’s a season to play, a Super Bowl to try to capture and the need to just get there out on the field to try to make it all happen. He joins a team that has been one of the best teams in the NFL over the past few years, but have as many Super Bowl appearances as the Los Angeles NFL franchise to show for it. The lingering reality of that disappointment is the backdrop of the culture Cason has experienced in his first summer of professional football. “The mindset is Super Bowl around here,” Cason says. “It’s nothing less than that.”
NFL DRAFT STORY BY Bobby Deren
Brian Martin trains Xavier Omon
ollowing the college season, NFL hopefuls flock to training facilities all over the country. There, players spend the next six to eight weeks sharpening their skills, preparing for the scrutiny of the draft. TEST Sports in Martinsville, NJ specializes in specific draft training and is coming off an overwhelmingly successful draft season. First rounders Ryan Clady and Joe Flacco both trained there this past spring and at press time 22 of the 30 players who trained there have caught on with NFL teams. “When they get here, every player is assessed individually,” says Brian Martin, the founder and head trainer at TEST. “We time them in every event like the forty, the bench press, the shuttle and then we set them each up on an individual plan.” Then the training begins. Players endure a variety of daily workouts geared towards improving their combine numbers and help them recover from the attrition of college competition. “Some of the guys aren’t 100 percent healthy coming off bowl games or their championship game,” says Martin. “So we’ll get them in and do a functional movement screening where we
analyze their whole body. We can see current injuries and look to the future and try to predict any injuries based on this screening. We also have a full physical therapy staff and a physician come in and do a full medical analysis. We basically try to simulate the combine’s medical portion to find out where all the players are.” In addition to a focus on improving performance in combine-specific events, TEST employs former NFL players to work with the players. “We never lose sight of training these guys as football players,” Martin says. “We’re not just trying to create track athletes. With a 3-to-1 player to coach ratio they are able to get a lot of individualized attention. Former pros analyze them at their positional techniques and break down film to put together a game plan for each player.” Louisville wideout Mario Urrutia reaped the benefits of learning from an ex-pro. “They had me working with [former New York Giant] Odessa Turner,” says Urrutia, a seventh-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals. He really got me running my routes a lot crisper. And my forty time also improved. I came the running a 4.6 and I wound up running a 4.46 at my pro day.” Some players, like Xavier Omon of Northwest Missouri State, never have experi-
enced training at this level. “Xavier came here with a lot of talent, but he had nothing like this where he went to school,” explains Martin. “He needed to climb that ladder and acclimate to the intensity here each and every day.” It worked, and so did Omon. Described by Martin as one of the hardest working players at TEST this year, Omon rose from a virtual unknown to a standout at the Texas vs. The Nation game, earning MVP honors. It was his 4.46 time in the dash that made Omon the buzz of the combine in Indianapolis. “I wanted to go far away and focus on my training,” says Omon, a sixth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills. “They really helped get my forty time down. I think it really helped me get drafted. The little things they showed me changed my performance a lot.” The proof is definitely in the performance as players leave Martinsville, NJ much faster, quicker and stronger than they were upon their arrival. With two first round picks in this year’s draft – Ryan Clady and Joe Flacco – having trained at TEST and nearly their talent pool inked to deals, TEST’s approach is scoring points and some major NFL contracts.
According to Dunn, training to get 40 times down is not simply running faster. He outlines four major phases to focus on for the 40; the start, the acceleration phase, the transition phase and the absolute speed phase. During the start, Dunn says that it is important to combine the perfect foot placement, chin angle, and pre stretch to ensure that the cannon is not only loaded but also bio-mechanically “aimed” in the right direction. Mobility, stability, and explosive power then become extremely important factors in mastering the perfect start. Arm action is also critical to an explosive start. During the acceleration phase, the leg drive should be similar to a piston like action with full triple extension driving through the hip, knee and ankle with every step covering as much ground as possible. It is extremely important “that the hips provide enough stability to keep the knee in perfect alignment with the hip and the ankle,” Dunn explains. “The transition phase takes the body from the piston like acceleration action to the cyclical action during absolute speed.” Once the athlete reaches top speed, they have reached what Dunn terms as “the absolute speed phase.” Here, it is critical that the athlete keeps the arms at a 90-degree angle to ensure maximum speed and torque. This torque will drive through the legs and ultimately the running surface to propel him forward. Recoiling the legs, pumping the arms, and maintaining that cyclical pattern are all important factors in finishing the 40. Finally, Dunn recommends that the athlete run 45 yards straight through the finish line and never lean into the finish.
TEST Client, 2008 FIRST Round 18TH OVERALL SELECTION QB JOE FLACCO BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Premier Performance Facility on the East Coast 732-271-1000
STORY BY BLAKE GENRAICH
he Toronto Bills. Say it few hundred times. It will still sound as strange the 50th time as the first. What was once a far-fetched concept with barely any legs has now become a looming reality for fans on both sides of the border. The Bills have been an institution in Western New York since 1960 when they took shape as one of the AFL’s founding franchises. Their fans are loyal, passionate, sometimes a little belligerent and violent, and incredibly attached to the team that’s been the pride and joy of Buffalo since the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970. Ask any well-traveled NFL fan where the most righteous tailgates can be found, and Buffalo is certain to rank among the best. Check out the stadium’s walls and you’ll see all of the players listed in the team’s ring of honor: Joe DeLamielleure, Jim Kelly, James Lofton, Billy Shaw and yes, O.J. Simpson. Despite this healthy tradition, there is a layer of infamy that coats the franchise. The Bills have never won a Super Bowl and the fans endured a near-embarrassing run of four straight Super Bowl losses in the early ‘90s. If you want to take your life into your own hands, utter the name of one Scott Norwood to anyone within sniffing distance of the famous tailgates at Orchard Park. It’s the real life Finkel and Einhorn, “laces in!” For that matter,
you’re probably better off not mentioning the Music City Miracle, either. You get the idea. There’s a lot of emotional baggage here. In addition to a depressed sports climate, the economic hardships that have hit the region over the last 15 years have been especially rough on the esteem of the market. Downtown Buffalo has abandoned pockets. Longtime regional powerhouses like DuPont and Kodak have suffered tough stretches leading to mass layoffs, leaving the locals struggling to find the necessary coin to shell out for entertainment like professional sports. Current Rogers Sportsnet football reporter Jim Lang believes a move is imminent, “Western New York simply doesn’t have the corporate power base to hang onto the Bills. Take a drive through downtown Buffalo and it comes across like an economic wasteland. When compared with Toronto, I find it difficult to believe anyone in Buffalo has the financial muscle to save this franchise.” Owner Ralph Wilson has faced these economic realities for years. His stadium (his namesake, “the Ralph”), while certainly not small in terms of seating capacity at 74,000, offers the lowest average cost per ticket in the league ($46.45 compared to the NFL average of $62.00). This past year, the Bills sent out a press
release noting that “fans sitting in the lower level sideline ends season tickets would cost $54 per game, nearly $30.00 less than the NFL average.” On top of this, the Ralph has another unique problem: lack of seat license and luxury box revenue. Fans in Western New York are not the only ones negotiating the ups and many downs of the franchise. Bills fans in Southern Ontario, where it is estimated that up to 25 percent of their home-gate revenue is derived, have suffered alongside their NY counterparts. You can see their loyalty in action across sports bars in nearby border towns, especially in Toronto, where the Bills are considered the de facto home team. Buffalo TV has been included in Toronto’s basic cable now for the last few decades, supplanting Cleveland and Detroit in the 70s. Having an emerging and untapped market just hours away creates the perfect storm such that Wilson and the NFL are considering expanding their horizons. After Wilson announced he would not bequeath the team to his family upon his death, rumors started brewing about the Toronto scenario. On October 17th, 2007, Wilson and the Bills held a news conference where they announced their intent—with the NFL’s blessing—to play a total of eight games in the city of Toronto over a five-year stretch, which would include five
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NFL handed Toronto the Bills’ home game against the Fins you could hear primal screams of agony sounding across great Lake Ontario. Toronto had stolen one of their premier games against a cherished rival – Blame Canada! As a citizen of Toronto myself, I can confirm that there is an incredible local thirst for an NFL franchise and an appreciation for big-market action in general. The Blue Jays stuffed the Rogers Center (Skydome) with some four million fans per in the World Series runs in the early ‘90s. The Maple Leafs were at 110 percent capacity last year despite being a bottom-dwelling team. The Raptors were at 89 percent capacity with a borderline playoff squad. The only remaining question continues to be American Football.
regular season games. Notable attendees included Toronto corporate heavyweights Ted Rogers and Phil Lind of Rogers Communications, as well as Paul Godfrey, the Blue Jays’ president, who has been chasing an NFL franchise for decades.
“despite all of the hardships that [the] community has endured, the fans keep coming back . . .” This joint announcement set off a predictable frenzy in both markets. In Buffalo, the fans’ message boards were flooded with so many virulent anti-Toronto threads that the administrators had to create a whole Toronto-themed subsection. The assorted thread titles say it all: “Who wants to picket,” “I do not respect our owner because he doesn’t respect us,” as well as “Let’s All Hate Toronto.” The hosts of Buffalo’s all-sports radio WGR550 were inundated with calls from angry listeners ready to nuke their friends up north. In an interview with Penthouse about possibility of the city of Toronto getting an expansion franchise, former Bills running
back Willis McGahee held nothing back. “If they’re going to put a team there, they should just bring the Bills to Toronto. Case closed.”
To put it in perspective, Forbes Magazine reported that this windfall alone should exceed what the franchise made in total in all of 2006.
After McGahee was traded to Baltimore, he continued to disparage the area, “I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” he said. “Going to Buffalo, it was like hitting a brick wall. Like ‘damn!’ Can’t go out, can’t do nothing. There’s an Applebees, a TGI Fridays. And they’ve got a Dave & Busters. They got that, and I’m like, ‘What the?’ And you know, the women. No matter how you do, it’s the same. It’s no big city. You know what I did every day? I came home and played video games.”
The vibe on the message boards changed considerably after the numbers were released. Anger turned to acceptance, and notable threads read, “Why would the Bills stay in Buffalo?” and “Toronto – Sad But True.”
Buffalo News columnist Bob DiCesare had a parting shot of his own for the ex-Hurricane, explaining MgGahee’s departure as “purging the rot,” and added that McGahee was “embarrassing the franchise and the community at every turn.”
Ex-Buffalo Bills special teams ace and current CBS commentator Steve Tasker was quick to defend the deal. He told Bills fans that the deal “wasn’t a slap in the face. There were extenuating circumstances in Buffalo and that this represented a solution to stay long-term in Buffalo.” Tasker also added there was additional incentive. “Give one of the great cities in North America a little bit of the product that’s been in Buffalo for so many years and entice them to drive across the border every week.”
Just when the story began to fade, a fresh report released in April detailed how the Bills would make $78 million for the eight–game package. This figure doesn’t even take into account the ancillary merchandising profits the move will create.
Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold added, “The move to Toronto was nothing more than an addition to their regionalization process.” The Bills “had moved their summer training camp to Rochester, and that had proven to be highly successful.
Playing games in Toronto (would) expand their fan base within their NFL market area.” The Bills’ brass and the league at large are now realizing Toronto’s market potential. Tasker reminds us “Toronto is now the fifth largest metropolitan population base in both Canada and the U.S.” Bigger than Boston, Dallas and Philly, to name a few. Toronto hosts many of Canada’s top corporations: Nortel, RIM, Royal Bank, TD Canada Trust, and Canada’s main stock market, the TSX, further compelling the front office to consider a more permanent and enduring shift. Columnist Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto’s all-sports station Fan 590 connected the dots; “it was hard not to imagine that this eight game partnership wasn’t the start of something much bigger. The market is just too big, and the economics, the water flows downhill.” Ask any Bills fan which team they hate the most and many will say the Pats, because it’s in–vogue to dislike them these days,but deep down inside they still carry a special hate for the Miami Dolphins. When the
You should all know the CFL, the original home of Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, and tempora--ry host to Ricky Williams. The NFL has long steered clear of Toronto, mindful of the CFL, which they have treated as a farm league of sorts. Yet with Wilson and Rogers forging a formal relationship, those unwritten rules have been thrown out. Unfortunately for CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, he’s likely too small a pebble in a massive dam that’s primed to burst. There is nothing he can do to prevent Ted Rogers from buying the team from Wilson’s estate (upon his eventual death), especially with the Goodell-led NFL moving full steam ahead with an international growth strategy. Last year’s regular season game in London appears to be the beginning of an aggressive campaign. As a longtime fan of the (former) Houston Oilers, I watched helplessly as owner Bud Adams packed his team up and Fed-Exed them first to Memphis, then eventually Nashville. I stared at my old Earl Campbell and Warren Moon jerseys and wondered if it was appropriate for a grown man to cry. I feel for Buffalo fans. There is nothing worse than embracing a team that you literally adopt as a child of your own, only to watch that child scamper off to richer pastures. The harsh reality is that there is a long, ugly history of NFL teams moving to new markets. The Oilers to Nashville, the Colts to Indianapolis, the Browns to Baltimore, the Rams to St. Louis, the Raiders merrygo-round. It’s ugly every time it happens.
it felt when the team moved in the middle of the night. If you took a poll in Cleveland as to who is more hated, Bin Laden or Art Modell, Modell might actually be your winner. Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan believes that “despite all of the hardships that [the] community has endured, the fans keep coming back. The Bills are a tremendous source of civic pride that connects this once proud city with the rest of the country that has seemingly moved on to bigger and better things. The Bills give them that ‘big-time’ feel that they still cherish.” One has to hope that this situation comes to a happy ending for Western NY and the Buffalo fans that adulate their NFL franchise. As Sullivan explained, Bills fans deserve some kind of honorary recognition. He described them as a people “who have continued to support the team despite years of bumbling coaches, underachieving players and Ralph Wilson’s insistence on reminding us that Buffalo is an economic sinkhole.” Sullivan has grown weary and angry; both with the team and with the possibility of the team hurting its core fan base again, “take another shot at us. We’ve been there. We can take it. You can take our jobs and maybe our teams someday, but you cannot take our spirit.”I can attest to this spirit and passion. Two buddies and I ventured to Orchard Park for opening day 2005 against the Texans. We had a blast at the tailgate, which is probably a bigger attraction than the game itself. As kickoff approached, we entered the Ralph and took our seats near the end zone but with solid sightlines. The Bills had a terrific day against a listless Texans club, marching out to a 19–7 halftime lead. What we all noticed, however, was the endless parade of security personnel and roars from the nearby end zone seats. Fans kept getting escorted to the exits, and I looked at one of my buddies and said, ‘Man these fans are crazy!’ A nearby season-ticket holder heard me and looked back at us with a wry grin. “You should see this place when we’re losing.”
At least Wilson is giving his team a potential cushion and the opportunity to extend the team’s life in Western NY for at least five more years. It could be worse. Ask any fan of the old Baltimore Colts how FALL .08
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Get to know the NFL’s highest paid and most outspoken fullbacK
vie Mughelli’s highlight reel isn’t very long. Go ahead, look it up on YouTube. There are even a few sequences that repeat.
Not to knock the man, but there are only so many ways to splice together the big moments of his four-year NFL career when he has just 57 rushing yards, 281 receiving yards and three touchdowns to his name. In fairness to Mughelli, traditional highlight elements don’t really apply to the fullback position. He may live for such moments, but there are very few times when he’ll be asked to dive with the football extended to the pylon. A more appropriate reel of Mughelli’s greatest plays would only contain passing glimpses of the man himself a blur of muscle crashing in on a defensive end before the camera follows the more exciting bit, Jerious Norwood or Jamal Lewis hurdling a linebacker and flying upfield. This is, of course, what Mughelli is paid for, and handsomely at that. In March of 2007, he left the Baltimore Ravens to pursue free agency, and the Atlanta Falcons made him the highest paid fullback in the league with a six– year contract worth over $18 million, an NFL record for the position. But there are several good reasons that, unless you’re a Baltimore or Atlanta fan, you probably haven’t heard of him. The biggest reason is that there is scant statistical evidence that says Mughelli is worth his lofty price tag. The aforementioned numbers speak for themselves, and looking beyond them requires a trained eye, and a massive ream of coaches’ film.
The position of fullback is even more nuanced and harder to quantify than that of an offensive lineman, so much so that even Mughelli’s best attempts to summarize his duties in the backfield lasted a few minutes. “You have to have somebody with agility, with the quickness, the leg strength to be able to navigate through the line, over the line, be able to jump over legs that are down, make these blocks, hold up guys with one hand and chip in on the defensive end,” Mughelli says. “It’s a lot more than just brute strength.” And yet the concept of using players with brute strength is one that kept Lorenzo Neal, who is widely regarded as one of the best fullbacks of the last 10 years, wandering from city to city. A four-time Pro Bowler, Neal was released in February by the Chargers, his sixth team. The latest transaction may have more to do with Neal turning 37 than with anything else, but Neal’s journeyman status is indicative of a broader, league-wide view of the position: Throw the money at higher profile athletes, and use young studs fresh out of college if you need a blocking back. Mughelli’s contract with Atlanta represents a monumental shift in that traditional thinking, and it isn’t something that’s lost on the 27-year-old. “I’m kind of lucky that I got a long deal,” Mughelli says. “They started to figure that out … It’s not just about getting some big, muscle-bound, undersized lineman and saying, ‘Run in a straight line and knock this guy down.’ It’s a lot more complicated than that.”
STORY BY MATT TUTHILL PHOTOS BY FELIX NATAL JR.
After slipping in the 2003 draft from a projected second-round pick to the fourth round, the Wake Forrest product had a long road to travel in proving he was worth a big payday. Falling to the fourth round cost him a lucrative signing bonus, an ego-punishing blow after having been touted as the best fullback in his class. He then spent the next two years proving he even belonged in the NFL. Determined not to live out a career of special teams and garbage time, he absorbed the advice of veterans, trained, practiced and studied film until finally getting a chance to show that he was indeed an everyday player. Over three seasons his value exploded, culminating in a breakout season in 2006 when he paved the way for Jamal Lewis’ 1,132 rushing yards while collecting 182 receiving yards of his own. Upon arriving in Atlanta, Mughelli instantly developed a strong working relationship with Norwood, and the two have become fast friends off the field. The duo’s comfortable nature, Mughelli says, is actually one of the biggest keys to success. By understanding how his backfield partner thinks, he says he gains better insight into what cuts the halfback would want to make, therefore allowing Mughelli to seek not just the optimal path through the defense, but the path best suited to Norwood. “I have a better bond with him than just the chance to work with him,” Mughelli says, explaining how every now and then, Norwood will actually catch up to him during a play and direct traffic on the fly. “And the thing with Jerious, he’s so fast you have to get on your horse every time. Every play, you have to act like it’s a track
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meet. Jerious will get his hand on your back and be going, ‘Come on, Ovie! Come on, Ovie!’” But the record contract with Atlanta couldn’t have come at a worse time in franchise history. Beyond a few snaps together at minicamp, Mughelli never got to know Michael Vick before the quarterback was brought up on charges in the infamous dog fighting scandal, and without their star, the Falcons finished 4-12. First-year head coach Bobby Petrino abandoned the team with three games to go, pursuing a job at the University of Arkansas. Circumstances like these are difficult
“Every play, you have to act like it’s a track meet. Jerious will get his hand on your back and be going, ‘Come on, Ovie! Come on, Ovie!’” for any competitor to bear, but the nature of Atlanta’s losses – the Falcons often found themselves trailing early – conspired to keep Mughelli on the sidelines as the fullback position was usually swapped out for an extra receiver. “It was really frustrating because I had people coming up to me and telling me that I was a bad pick, that I was overpaid and overrated,” Mughelli says. “I can’t change that perception when I’m on the bench. As soon as I get warmed up, I’m taken out.” It’s understandable then, that Mughelli says Petrino’s departure served as a high point in the 2007 season. That
is, once Mughelli found out it was for real. “I thought it was a joke,” Mughelli says, recalling being interrupted midsentence with the news by one of the co-hosts on his once-a-week radio talk show in Atlanta. “I said, ‘There’s no way he quit as our coach.’ After the game, he said, ‘I’ll see you guys on Tuesday.’ And those were his last words.” In the bitterness that ensued, most Atlanta players decried the nature of Petrino’s leaving, and Mughelli said on ESPN that his former coach was a “coward.” According to the fullback, it’s a characterization that still fits. “He ended up showing us who he truly is,” Mughelli says. “And in the end, that’s better for us … It was a difficult year, but those last three games were actually fun. We had a chance to not be stuck up and to let go of the anger and frustration and to fight for each other.” In 2008, Mughelli has every intention of proving to Atlanta’s fans that he’s worth his record-setting contract. He began his latest off-season training program earlier than at any point in his career, hitting the gym five days a week for four hours a day. Mughelli says he doesn’t worry about burning out, only about making critics eat their words. Armed with new addition Michael Turner and the top-rated quarterback in the 2008 draft, Matt Ryan, Atlanta’s management seems focused on the same thing. “We need a good season, and the fans need it, too,” Mughelli says, “I’ll rest when I retire.”
Check out Ovie’s entertaining and insightful blog on YardBarker.com. Some choice excerpts from his YB work: Yesterday was the first day of team meetings, and it allowed me to witness the reshaping of our organization. It is definitely a lot more quiet with Crump, Wayne Gandy, Rod Coleman and especially “Mouth of the South” DeAngelo Hall no longer with us. To be honest, DeAngelo and I did not get along that well when I first arrived (to keep it really real we never got along). Near the end of the season D-Hall and I began to understand each other, though. That may have been due, in part, to the departure of cancer of a coach, Petrino. It definitely helped the feng shui of the team because we now had a common enemy. Back to our 1st day volumandatory (I made this word up.) Because it says “voluntary” on the schedule, but if you don’t show up to these workouts and meetings you might not want to show up at all. I had the chance to meet Michael Turner, the man for whom I am going to be blocking in the years to come. I believe the synergy there will lead to great things on the field. After reuniting with the Boys, meeting Turner and the new staff, all I can think of is Championship.
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STORY BY CHRISTINA ANDREADIS PHOTOS BY FELIX NATAL JR.
hile most running backs traditionally weigh in at no more than 230 pounds, the Giants’ Brandon Jacobs regularly punishes opponents with his imposing 6’4”, 260 pound frame. BLITZ hung with BJ at the Meadowlands to talk everything from the Super Bowl to Soap Operas . . . Back in ‘91, when MC Hammer and Rob Van Winkle embarrassingly ruled the radio (you know you loved it), the New York Football Giants won Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills by the smallest margin in the big show’s history, 20-19. Norwood infamously became Buffalo’s Buckner. Turn the pages ahead to 2008. In just his first season as the feature running back, Brandon Jacobs put the G-men on his sizable shoulders and helped lead the unprecedented, unparalleled and unpredicted Super Bowl XLII victory over the seemingly invincible Decepticons from New England. Ironically, it was the
Patriots’ architect Bill Belichick’s brilliant defensive scheme that helped the Giants win that 1991 title. Jacobs didn’t take the common path to NFL stardom. The 26-year-old was born and raised in the tiny town of Napoleonville, Louisiana, population 686. He was a prep standout at Assumption High but didn’t garner much attention from the big programs so he took his unique game to Coffeyville Community College, where he quickly became the top ranked J.U.C.O. prospect in the country in ’03. On the strength of his stellar CC play, Jacobs earned a ride to Auburn where playing time was limited behind two future top-five picks in Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. Even with sparse reps, his 72 carries for 446 yards and three touchdowns turned heads. Despite his success at Auburn, he was not content to play a backup role and transferred to play his senior season at Division D–IAA, Southern Illinois
University. The Giants’ savvy front office, led by then GM Ernie Accorsi, nabbed the Eddie George clone in the 4th round of the ’05 Draft despite his small sample size of legit D-I play. After ably backing up outspokensuperstar Tiki Barber for two seasons while serving as the team’s goal line force, Jacobs is now the feature back in North Jersey for the blue and red. Jacobs admits he’s eying a rushing title in 2008 but knows he must quiet the doubters who claim his size and running style compromise his durability, “Next season you can expect me to be healthy. If I would have been six games healthier last year, I would have been the NFL’s leading rusher.” With a world title to defend, he remains humble by reminding himself his team’s struggles last season, “To be honest with you, our regular season was terrible.” he says, “We lost a lot of games we shouldn’t have lost and I’m looking forward to having a better season.”
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BLITZ: How did it feel going up against the 18-0 patriots? Brandon Jacobs: We didn’t look at them as being 18-0. We just looked at it as another game that we needed to win, where everyone can go out there and lay it on the line. It’s the biggest game in sports so why not go out and win it while you’re there. BLITZ: Were you at all uneasy about the fact that they were one game away from perfection? BJ: If we start to think like that we won’t do what we got to do. We knew right off hand when we were in the playoffs that we were gonna win it and beat everybody. BLITZ: What was going through your head when David Tyree made that phenomenal helmet catch? BJ: I knew right then that we were going to win the game. BLITZ: When did it really sink in that you are champs? BJ: When we got back to Giants Stadium and the parade in the city. BLITZ: How has life changed since the big win? BJ: My life has always been rapid and crazy; it has just gotten a little faster. BLITZ: What lessons did Tiki impart with you as a mentor? BJ: To win with your mind and not try to always overpower and over-muscle every body. BLITZ: What was it like to see Coach Coughlin go from pariah to hero in just one season? BJ: He has continually overcome adversity and has done everything expected of him. I’m happy he got his contract extension and hope he will be around for a long time. BLITZ: When you enter a game do you go into game face mode? BJ: Most definitely. I can be mean, not dirty, but very mean. But off the field I am a very nice and gentle guy. BLITZ: Looking back on this season past season, which players around the NFL impressed you the most? BJ: Patrick Willis, Adrian Peterson and Trent Cole just to name a few. There are a lot of guys that have impressed me. You’ve got to have a lot of talent to play in this league.
BLITZ: Out of the three NFC East opponents which team in your opinion is the biggest rival? BJ: Dallas is the rival but Philly is the toughest. BLITZ: What’s the nastiest NFL stadium to play in terms of crowds? BJ: Philadelphia Eagles fans. BLITZ: What are your favorite arenas to play in? BJ: Dallas and Philadelphia. BLITZ: What’s your favorite sport outside of football? BJ: I love boxing. I boxed for a while from about 8th grade till I graduated high school. BLITZ: One word to describe yourself. BJ: Humble. BLITZ: So how was the adjustment going from a small town to the big apple? BJ: It’s a big change for a country boy like me, to be in the limelight of New York City. It was most definitely a tough adjustment. BLITZ: What company would be the ideal Brandon Jacobs sponsor? BJ: Cadillac BLITZ: What’s in your driveway? BJ: Three Cadillac Escalades; two blues and a silver. I also got a 1987 Chevy Capri classic. It’s got 26 inch rims and done up all in suede and leather on the inside and suede in the trunk. Cars are my hobby. BLITZ: What’s your favorite movie? BJ: Life. BLITZ: What’s your favorite food? BJ: Gumbo. BLITZ: What’s your favorite drink? BJ: Long Island Ice Tea. BLITZ: Best rappers ever? BJ: Tupac, Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne. BLITZ: What is your biggest fear? BJ: Other people’s dogs. BLITZ: Tell us something that would surprise people about Brandon Jacobs? BJ: I watch soap operas. BLITZ: Which one? BJ: One life to Live.
The guy isn’t only about cars, championships and cheesy soaps. Brandon is a true family man, married to his college sweetheart, Kim, together they have a 1-year-old son. When asked if they’ll be having more children, he simply quips, “Got to.” He’s also a thoughtful and conscious young man, further debunking the jock stigma. BLITZ delved into some more serious topics to see what Brandons thoughts were BLITZ: Who has been the most valuable mentor in your life? BJ: My aunt because she is such a strong woman and my mother because she is also a strong woman and a single parent of three kids. She did a great job raising all of us. BLITZ: You are the spokesperson for the team’s efforts with the Juvenile Diabetes Organization. What inspired you to take a leadership role with this cause? BJ: They are our future. After football I’d like to help kids and enable them to have the opportunities to make it and be something. BLITZ: Being a Louisiana boy how did Katrina affect you? BJ: I’m not far from New Orleans and we got a lot of wind damage from the hurricane but I am very thankful that no one close to me was harmed. BLITZ: What’s your take on the mismanagement of Katrina? BJ: The lack of government support and the failure to respond from the state to national government just wasn’t the best way. There are people in Iraq that have our food, lights and other stuff and people here in our own back yard, in a major city are still struggling right now because of Katrina. Not much effort is being made anymore to make things right. BLITZ: Death penalty, for or against? BJ: For it, if somebody has enough balls to take someone else’s life then they deserve to die. FALL .08
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STORY BY A.J. Daulerio
ers tight end Vernon Davis is most often praised for his potential. His superhero build and his running back speed make him a physical rarity at his position. It’s that “potential” that finds him popping up on lists as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, even if his stat lines read more like a very good part-time player. His 2007 was slowed by injuries and inconsistency from a 49ers offense which ranked near the bottom of every major offensive category. Davis was frustrated by his personal performance and his team’s rapid plummet from pre-season sleeper playoff pick to putridity. He went public with his frustrations and called 49ers coach Mike Nolan to respectfully request the damn ball more. Nolan took the call well, and even praised his tight end for his bluntness. But even that straight-to-the-top approach didn’t result in enough touches for Vernon. He wants more. Going into 2008, “The Duke” won’t back down from his comments or apologize for being brazen, but he is a little more diplomatic. “There is a process. I haven’t been utilized the right way, the best that I could be. I definitely feel like I can contribute more, but it’ll be a learning process,” Davis says. The “learning process” will be two-fold: First, it’d behoove Davis to hone his football I.Q., especially if there’s some truth to a Pro Football Weekly rumor where one of Davis’ teammates confessed
“he’d never seen a starter make so many mistakes.” Davis’ cluelessness can be corroborated by plenty of Niners’ fan blogs, which suggested The Duke’s lack of quality looks were because he lined up on the wrong side of the ball too many times and missed his spots on too many pass routes. But Davis is adamant that this will be the year he breaks out. “I feel like I’m one of the best tight ends in the league.” He doesn’t hesitate when he says this. There’s no lilt in his voice, no cautious laughter to suggest he’s being playfully boastful. No, it’s a declarative statement, the kind you make in front of the mirror while tearing a phone book into kindling. The kind you make when you see Kellen Winslow have a bust-out 2007 and the Cowboys’ Jason Witten become the NFC’s fair-haired tight-end, without half the physical gifts of a Vernon Davis. He’s politicking to be the face of his franchise and an ambassador of the league by popping up at charity events, red carpet affairs, and making a concerted effort to boost his image the right way. You won’t find Davis getting assaulted in Vegas at 5 a.m. or hit-and-running pedestrians as some of his NFL peers have done this offseason. So he hopes. “Most of the time [in those types of incidents], it’s not even our fault. There’s all types of stuff going on and, a lot of the times, it’s the fault of the people you surround yourself with.” No, Vernon Davis does not plan on making it rain at a strip club anytime soon. He will, however, make it rain on the canvas. Davis was an art studio major at University of Maryland and still paints original work that he sells and the proceeds go to his
many different charities. Given the struggles of Alex Smith and the Frank Gore’s chronic introversion, it shouldn’t be too hard for Vernon to be the most popular offensive player in the Bay Area. (However, destined-to-be-all-world linebacker Patrick Willis might be the one ‘Niner who’ll outshine everyone on the left coast year after year.) Davis’ on-field profile may finally get the kick-start it needs as well, thanks to the addition of bombs-away offensive genius Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Martz wasted no time in gushing about Davis, telling the Sacramento Bee, that he doesn’t know who “beats [Davis] in a footrace.” Couple that speed with his super-aggressive blocking skills and, according to Martz, he becomes such a “pleasant blend of power and speed.” But will the addition of Martz allow Davis to be in the end zone more often than the five times he found it last year? “This game is about opportunity and doing everything you can with that opportunity. I know my ability and the talent that I have. I know what I can do to put out,” Davis proclaims. We’ll see. His off-season workout regiment has him ready for more NFL wear and tear. His body, he says, will hold up this year. If he gets those blessed opportunities in a pass-happy offense – if he understands the nuances of the game better -- maybe he’ll finally fulfill the potential that he and the rest of the football world knows he possesses. And he may just end up being one of the best tight ends in the league as a player and not just in physical prowess and oil painting.
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STORY BY Jeremy Treatman PHOTOS BY CHRIS MCGRATH / GETTY
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sante Samuel took a different route to the league than most players, with different results. Instant stardom.
It wasn’t always this way. As a high school junior, he suited up as Boyd Anderson’s diminutive 5-foot-7, 160 pound quarterback. While he boasted a laser arm and fled the pocket with ease, patterning his game after Donovan McNabb’s, he elicited no D-1 interest. The Eagles’ prized free agent addition admits he and his high school teammates even considered transferring en masse to the cross town rival prior to his senior year because his new coach Perry Egelsky asked him to give up playing quarterback to concentrate on becoming a defensive back. “Everybody associated with the program was mad, including me,” remembers Samuel. “When Asante was going into senior year they pulled him from the quarterback spot,” explains Bennie Sapp, cornerback for the Vikings and Asante’s high school teammate and lifelong best friend. “I was hurt for him.” “I thought about leaving,” says Samuel. “But changing my position turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me in football.” Indeed. Samuel flourished as a senior DB, earning All-State honors with four interceptions and 75 tackles, garnering interest from major programs. Just minutes before the last game of his high school career, Egelsky informed Samuel he needed him to suit up at QB one last time since the starter was down with an injury. Samuel responded in champion form with two touchdown passes,
intercepting two himself, rushed for 80 yards and even returned kicks and punts. Thanks to the sage counsel of an embattled coach and his own tireless work to adapt to a new position, Samuel received an offer from Georgia. But when the Bulldogs told him they wanted him to redshirt, he followed Daunte Culpepper’s lead and accepted University of Central Florida’s offer to play immediately. Nearly a decade later, he’s grateful for the once controversial position change. “It was really hard at first [to give up playing quarterback],” says Samuel. “As a junior, I threw for 1800 yards. I had a real strong arm. But he was right. I was very small, and the truth is I was slow as dirt. I had to work to become a fast, effective player who could produce as a secondary player.” Produce is something Asante has done ably since the “switch”. After a stellar career at UCF, it was time to test the pro waters. One team that Samuel has permanently highlighted on the schedule is Cincinnati. The Bengals called him during the draft in 2003 and told them they were about to nab him in the third round. Instead, they took wide receiver Kelly Washington. He experienced the same scenario with Atlanta, who passed on him after calling him to get ready to be drafted by the team in the second and third rounds. And you wonder why the Bengals and Falcons are perennial bottom-feeders. “I just knew in my heart I was going to be an Atlanta Falcon,” he says. “They called me to tell me they were taking me and a few minutes later they took Bryan Scott from Penn State. But then the Patriots came calling. It was obviously a great place to go.”
Samuel credits veteran leaders like Ty Law, Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest for pushing him to become a great player. “They were always on me to get in the weight room and get stronger,” he says. “The veteran guys remembered from the first training camp when I showed them that I could be a playmaker. I had heard coach [Bill] Belichick was impressed with all the interceptions and passes defended in camp. But they also conveyed to me that I wasn’t the biggest or strongest guy. They got me to work out harder and to be a professional.” Most pundits consider the 27-year old Samuel among the top corners in professional football. In the past two seasons, Samuel leads the NFL with 18 interceptions, including playoffs. Since he entered the league in 2003, he is sixth in overall regular season interceptions with 22. He also leads all current NFL players with three interception returns for scores in the playoffs. Most importantly, he was a key player in winning two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots. Last season, he had six picks for the Pats and was named to the All-Pro team for the first time. The Eagles coveted his playmaking ability and signed the Broward County product to a 6-year, $57 million contract just minutes into free agency this past March. “We regarded Asante as the number one free agent in football,” says Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. “We were very fortunate to be able to sign him.” Samuel concedes that the interest was mutual. The Eagles didn’t just choose Samuel. He chose them, too. “You can say that,” Samuel affirms. “There weren’t that many teams coming after me because they thought I wanted so much money, in that 10-, 11-million dollar range.
ollege scouts came out in droves to see the 1999 Boyd Anderson High School football team. Why wouldn’t they? Future All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel was a key player on that squad as a senior. In reality, though, it wasn’t Samuel they coveted. It was his lifelong best friend, ferocious hitting cornerback Benny Sapp, who drew them to Fort Lauderdale. Sapp sifted through a plethora of offers and chose Iowa. After excelling as a Hawkeye
“Actually, my old defensive coordinator Eric Mangini really wanted me with the Jets. They actually offered me a lot more money than Philly. I was just really comfortable with the Eagles. Since I entered the NFL, I have always been a winner. So I knew I wanted to come to a place with a winning tradition and an established team. “I think it was a great decision on my part to become an Eagle.” One might wonder how Eagles fans and players feel. Samuel was a substantial reason why New England beat the Eagles in the 2005 Super Bowl. He also returned an interception for a touchdown and later came up with a game sealing interception against the Birds in a harrowing 31-28 Pats win last year, preserving the perfect regular season record. Furthermore, Samuel’s signing infers that incumbent corner Lito Sheppard, a popular two-time Pro Bowler, will move to the nickel back or possibly be traded. “Everything has a way of working out,” says Sheldon Brown, a starting corner for the Eagles. “No one on the team has any hard feelings with Asante. We know he is a great player and he is going to help us get better.” Much maligned head coach Andy Reid believes Samuel “is a great player. We take great pride in how we play defense here; the aggressive, reckless approach that we take. Jim Johnson does a heck of a job coordinating our defense and the more great defensive players that you add in the mix the better you’ll be. Asante is going to make great plays for us and that is something we need.” For Samuel, the transition has been smooth. He confirms it’s been “nothing but love from all my new teammates.” He expects to have the same type of success playing in Jim Johnson’s defense.
for two years playing with Bob Sanders in an explosive secondary, Sapp ran into legal problems and was dismissed. He reemerged at Northern Iowa and went undrafted to the Kansas City Chiefs, with limited playing time the past four seasons. He signed with Minnesota this offseason and is slated to play regularly in the nickel with an eye on grabbing a starting spot, “Every year is a big year.
“The only difference between playing here [and in New England] is the terminology. Once I get the terminology down, I’ll be fine. There’s no coverage here that I am learning that I haven’t seen before.”
Philadelphia agrees that his success isn’t the result of a system. Paired with future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins and the talented duo of Sheppard and Brown, Samuel believes “this could be the best secondary in all of football.”
Samuel has already wowed his new coaches and teammates in off-season workouts. “I didn’t know his burst on the ball was so good,” says Johnson. “He can really close on the ball. You can see why he has so many interceptions.” Perhaps the only negative that Samuel has experienced is his perceived slight by various experts and front office brass that purport his success has been made easier because he has played for arguably the best coach, team, and system in football for his first five seasons. While the Eagles and Jets clearly don’t share this view, he nevertheless cringes at the thought of being a “system player” and believes that he can change the mindset of doubters by playing at a high level with his new team. “Every team has its own system, no system can make you react to a play,” he says. “They never said Ty Law was a system cornerback.” “All that comes from how the NFL is. I was a fourth-rounder and I came up from the bottom. People in the NFL didn’t expect me to come this far. If I was a first-rounder they would be talking about me the way they talk about Pacman Jones, as a top cornerback in the league. I had 12 picks one year including the playoffs and seven the next. If you watch tape, how are we doubling the other side with Ellis Dobbs and I am by myself. What system is that, mano y mano? I like to read through the receiver to the QB, that way I can have the advantage when the receiver is breaking. I can see the quarterbacks arm getting ready to throw the ball and get a break on the ball. My breaks are crisp, I work at in day in and day out.”
I am looking for good things coming up this season,” Sapp says. Samuel is hoping that this is the year the friend he considers a brother makes an Asante-like impact. “I think he is finally in a good position to succeed,” Samuel says. “Asante is not my friend or cousin,” Sapp explains. “We are brothers. It’s been that way since junior high and Pop Warner football. Growing
up, we always knew we were going to be NFL players. I knew Asante would be a star. We always talked about it. The fact that stardom hasn’t happened for me yet is cool. It just hasn’t happened yet. But it has always been the dream. I expect to have an impact in the NFL.” Maybe one day they can finally realize their shared dream. “We’ve both had the same dream since we were little,”
Sapp says. “We don’t talk about it. It’s to play for the same team in the NFL in the secondary together.” “I hope that one day Benny and I will play in the secondary together for the same team,” Samuel explains, “I would be at left corner and he would be at right corner. That would be the icing on the cake.” FALL .08
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STORY BY sean quinn
ario Manningham subtly blends in at New York Giants rookie mini-camp. There is nothing particularly stunning about Manningham’s 6-foot frame, which is hunched over on the sidelines engulfed by the soaring shadow of fellow rookie André Woodson. There was nothing particularly stunning about the receiver’s first day of drills in a NFL uniform either, as undrafted rookie free agent D.J. Hall often outworked him. And there will be nothing particularly stunning expected from him, considering he reportedly scored a 6 on the Wonderlic test and had his share of off-the-field screw-ups while at Michigan. At this point in his infantile existence in the NFL – a whopping 13 days since he was drafted in the 3rd round – Manningham has more reason to question himself than to believe in his abilities. After all, his character had been compared to Lindsay Lohan’s after lying to the NFL about two failed drug tests. And then there’s the obvious concern about his ability to win; he failed to beat hated Ohio State during his tenure with the maize and blue. Manningham, though, has one fairly good reason to think he’s going to make it in the NFL. A reason not even No. 1 pick Jake Long’s $57.75 million contract can buy. “Jerry Reese believes in me. That’s all you need,” he declares. The stamp of approval from Reese could seal a player’s success for a career. That’s how powerful the Giants general manager has become in just 16 months on the job. That’s what a 17-14 Super Bowl XLII win over the previously undefeated New England Patriots will do for you.
But, those that are closest to Reese didn’t need to see him holding the Lombardi Trophy to know that he is something special. More than a year ago, Reese was as silent as his critics were noisy. After replacing longtime general manager Ernie Accorsi in December of ’06, Reese’s initial move was to stay still. He stood behind his head coach, the much-maligned Tom Coughlin, who was in make or break mode after two straight wild card game losses. And he stood by his quarterback, Eli Manning, who had not yet lived up to his billing as the top pick in the 2004 NFL draft. “We needed more out of Eli and I told him so,” Reese says. It was a lethargic team that failed to live up to expectations last season. The 8-8 Giants had some holes to fill, namely with a secondary that gave up nearly 230 yards per game in the air. Many thought free agency should have been the preferred course of action. So many, in fact, team owner John Mara saw an in flux of mail with concerns over his hire’s stance to stand his ground with the team he had. Reese never gave much concern over what fans wanted from him. Still doesn’t. “Obviously you love the fans,” says Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. “One of the first things you learn is they don’t necessarily know your job, know your team, know what you have to do. I think Jerry already knew how to deal with pressure that comes from fans – not to let it affect him.” After less than 14 months on the job, Reese brought the fans to their knees in praise.
He did so by making his initial imprint as GM in the 2007 NFL draft, instead of throwing gabs of cash at veterans. Although Reese never looked at the draft as “my draft,” rather as the “Giants’ draft,” the two general managers before him are forever linked with their signature draft days. Accorsi famously traded for Manning in ’04, while his predecessor George Young selected eventual Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms and future league MVP Lawrence Taylor. Once Reese found his pieces in the draft, his rookies’ performances silenced any murmurs of offseason disapproval. “It was just the right blend of guys, the right blend of talent and overall ability to want to win,” Coughlin said after the Super Bowl. “The cards were stacked up against me, against our team to start the season. We took on an us against the world mentality and we definitely had the right guys to play that role with.” First, the Giants drafted cornerback Aaron Ross with the 20th overall pick. Ross quickly impressed coach Tom Coughlin in training camp and became a starter for Big Blue. He had three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown and was one of the reasons Randy Moss caught just five balls in the Super Bowl. The Giants, though, would never have had Ross if they moved on Dre Bly before the draft. The Pro Bowl corner was traded from Detroit to Denver in March, but Reese never made much of push for him. Now, no one dispels what Bly could have brought to the Giants, but Reese was able to find an equal substitute without giving up other pieces. Denver eventually signed Bly to five-year, $33 million contract,
while New York inked the former Longhorn for $13 million over five years.
saved money and achieved the ultimate result.
Next, Reese addressed the next weakest position on his squad and selected USC’s Steve Smith at No. 51. Though he was injured for much of his rookie regular season, Smith emerged as a zone-busting threat and caught 14 passes in the playoffs. Again for Reese, the chance at a free-agent player was there before the draft, as Kevin Curtis was looking for a home after hauling in 40 passes as the Rams’ third wideout. And again, Reese
The other six picks by Reese – DT Jay Alford (No. 81), LB Zak DeOssie (No. 116), TE Kevin Boss (No. 153), OT Adam Koets (No. 189), S Michael Johnson (No. 224) and RB Ahmad Bradshaw (No. 250) – all made the roster and contributed to the improbable Super Bowl run. Most notably was Boss, who ably filled in for the injured Jeremy Shockey and broke out with a four-reception performance against New England in the regular-season finale.
Boss scored his second career touchdown that game, and the Patriots paid extra attention to him in the Super Bowl. All that did was open up a few other options for Manning, like David “Helmet Catch” Tyree. It was fun to watch for everyone, including fellow 2007 draftee and cross-town rival Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets. “Those guys were having fun, that’s why you want to play the game,” Revis says. It was hardly a smooth ride, though, iniFALL .08
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tially for Reese, who dealt with the wavering retirement plans of the single-season career sacks leader Michael Strahan. At 35, it was presumed Strahan missed 2007 training camp because he wanted a bigger contract. Reese was prepared to call his bluff and said the team had just as good of a shot at winning without him. Once Strahan’s folded his cards a week before the season began, he owed more than $514,000 in penalties for sitting out training camp. Now, nearly 18 months after taking over for Accorsi, he faces a future without the recently retired Strahan. Then there is the disgruntled Shockey, who the Giants tried to unload to the New Orleans Saints for a second-round pick and a player to be named in April’s draft. The ever-shrewd Reese has delicately walked the tightrope
with Strahan, leaving the door open for his return to the team while at the same time, keeping options open in free agency should the All-Pro not return. And he’s stated numerous times that he expected Shockey to be their tight end, end of story. Embattled superstars aside, Reese lost some key players this offseason via free agency. Safety Gibril Wilson is in Oakland after a massive contract signing and linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor bolted to Buffalo and Miami, respectively. “This league is what have you done for me lately?” Reese warned before the ’08 draft. “All we have to do is go out there and lose a couple of games and we will all be dumb and the coach will be dumb and I will be dumb and the quarterback will be a bust.” Luckily, no one has yet called out Reese and
Coughlin as Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas. Reese picked up a top-rated safety in Miami’s Kenny Phillips, a cornerback in USC’s Terrell Thomas to counteract an aging combination of Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters and a promising linebacker in BYU’s Bryan Kehl. Kentucky’s Andre Woodson was selected in the sixth round to push competition at quarterback, where 2002 No. 1 pick David Carr was also added to the mix this offseason. “You create competition and let the best guy win the position moving forward,” Reese says. “Nobody is safe. Everybody has a job to win.” Those words now echo in the mind of Manningham, at least by Reese’s calculations. The rookie will soon find out just how quick of a shot his new sheriff has in town. “Probably kind of like Ahmad (Bradshaw) last year, we will
bring him in and say, ‘Look, this is what it is going to be and we expect you to do that.’” Reese says referring to Bradshaw’s two arrests before entering the league last year. “And hopefully he will do that. If you are screwing up, we are not going to spend a lot of time on you. You are on a short leash.” Manningham is hardly the first or last troubled player Reese will take a chance on in his tenure in New York. The only difference now? They’re considered more of a steal than a risk with Reese standing behind them. “You don’t want to let him down,” Manningham says with a grin that apparently won Reese over. “It’s like how you don’t want to let your mom down. You just don’t want that on you.”
STORY BY MICHAEL BRADLEY PHOTOS BY DAVID DUROCHIK
ared Allen has bad luck, or so he thinks. Take fishing, for instance. Here’s a guy who loves the outdoors. Who when he was on vacation in Sydney, Australia, had to get out of the city and into the mountains because he couldn’t stand the crowded conditions. You would think he could wade into a cool stream and catch a trout with a piece of string and some chewing gum. Clean it with his bare hands. Cook it on a rock heated by the sun. Voila, restaurant quality. “I like to fish, but I don’t catch anything,” Allen admits. “Everybody could be using the same equipment and the same bait and fishing in the same spot, and I’m always wondering, ‘Why can’t I catch anything?’ I have bad luck.” If Allen were a park ranger or hosted a Saturday morning outdoors show on cable TV, his bad luck with fish would be something worth worrying about. Since he also likes to hunt and just wander among the critters, Allen isn’t too upset about his inability to land the big one. In fact, Allen has good luck and plenty of it. Because he works in a field that rewards talent and often looks past bad behavior in those who can perform, he is the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Better yet, he has a new employer, one that he believes will be easier to work for and more likely to win big. Compared to that, trouble with the rod and reel, even for an avowed outdoorsman, is nothing. In late April, Allen’s agent helped facilitate a deal that shipped the Pro Bowl defensive end from Kansas City to Minnesota. In addition to switching addresses, Allen also climbed into a new tax bracket, signing a six-year, $72.26 million contract that includes a $15 million signing bonus and $31 million in guaranteed money. Suddenly, all that talk about the bad fishing luck doesn’t seem so important.
What is vital is that Minnesota gave up three draft choices (and switched spots on a fourth) for a player who was arrested three times between 2002-06 for drunk driving. To his credit, Allen hides nothing about the incidents, two of which occurred in ’06 and led to a four-game suspension (later cut to two) last season. “I have righted my ways,” he says. “I did what I had to do so it won’t happen again. I took the necessary steps to grow up.” This September will mark two years since Allen’s last DUI, and sources within the NFL say commissioner Roger Goodell will wipe those prior transgressions from his record at that time, although future incidents could lead to further suspensions. That’s a chance Allen is willing to take. In his mind, all of that is in the past, like the Chiefs’ playoff hopes. For him, life is now about the Minnesota Vikings, who navigated a tricky set of negotiations and recruiting challenges to get Allen and send a sign they are serious about contending in the diluted NFC North this season. KC, meanwhile, protected itself against any future Allen heartbreak, while accumulating draft picks vital to its rebuilding project. Allen, of course, got rich. Win-win-win? You bet. “It was the best move for everybody,” Allen says. “The relationship had deteriorated. I got the trade I wanted. They got the draft picks they wanted.” Back in January, it looked as if the last place Allen would be getting his mail during the ’08 season would be Happy Town. He was set to become a free agent, and there were plenty of teams ready to make ridiculous offers for him to play end for them. Philadelphia would have definitely jumped in. Tampa Bay contacted him. The Jaguars would
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coach to see Dwight Freeney,” says Vikes’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “The pressure you can put on offenses with a four-man rush makes the secondary better.” Tackles Kevin and Pat Williams – the “Williams Wall” – can handle the ugly stuff inside, but the team’s end situation had been dire. End Kenechi Udeze tied for the team lead in sacks (5) with linebacker Ben Leber and DE Ray Edwards, but he was diagnosed with leukemia last winter. Even if Udeze were healthy, the Vikes would need some help. Allen’s worst sack year – 7.5 in ’06 – would have led Minnesota last year. And should he unfurl another season that approaches last year’s production, a defense which allowed a whopping 264 passing yards a game becomes much more formidable. “He puts so much pressure on opposing offensive tackles,” Frazier says. “When your best offensive lineman is not able to block his man one-on-one, because of his speed and effort, you have to keep your tight end or running back in to help. That should open up things for other people, and it changes what the offense can do. You can’t get your all-Pro tight end out into the pattern, because he has to stay in to block.” have written a big check. But KC had franchised Allen, meaning the Chiefs would pay him a one-year salary equal to the average of the top five players at his position, or a fat $8.8 million. Not bad for a fourth-round draft choice out of Idaho State, but not the golden ticket, either. For you and me, $8.8 mil is definitely doable. Give the tax man his cut, and there’s still plenty left over for big-screen TVs, top-shelf Vegas junkets and the electric bill. Allen didn’t want a one-year deal. In fact, he felt the Chiefs were purposely smacking him around by franchising him. He insists the Chiefs had promised him an extension after the ’06 season. When one didn’t materialize, he approached the ’07 campaign as if it were his last in beef town. Once the Chiefs were eliminated from playoff contention – about October – Allen instructed agent Ken Harris to start looking for future homes. He was gone. “There were too many empty promises,” Allen says. “That’s not the life I want to live or a place I want to be a part of. I
had a great relationship with the coaches and a ton of respect for the Hunt family [the Chiefs’ owners]. They gave me a chance to play in the NFL. A lot of people touched me along the way, but with the direction they chose to go, it was best move for everyone for me to go.” Allen wanted out, but he wasn’t exiting via free agency. Any team that signs a franchised player must cough up a pair of first-rounders. That’s too high a price, even for someone who led the league in sacks. If Allen was getting out, a trade had to be made. Because Allen had expressed some interest in the Vikings before he signed the Chiefs’ franchise offer, Minnesota believed it has a chance to close a deal for him. So, the dance began. Even then, there was no guarantee anything would happen. “[Harris] told me I probably wouldn’t get out [of Kansas City],” Allen says. In the end, Harris was wrong. It took a while for everything to be arranged, and the deal’s path went through both Tampa Bay and Philly, but in the end, Allen became a Viking, instantly fortifying his bank account and
the team’s staggering pass rush. The cost was doubly steep: Minnesota surrendered its first-round pick and two thirds and switched spots in the sixth with the Chiefs. Oh, and there was the little matter of the $15.5 million signing bonus. Since the team didn’t have that kind of cash lying around, owner Zygi Wilf had to ask for help from his other investors. It was a long, complicated process that took weeks, involved plenty of wrangling and substantial recruiting, as if Allen were a prized high school prospect. It was fun, but… “I’m so glad it’s over,” Allen says. “[The Vikings] were trying to sell me, but at the same time I was doing my own interview process. I never not like to be wined and dined, but I’m happy it’s over.” Allen liked the Vikings because of what he perceived as their commitment to winning. “I have a feeling the organization is heading in the right direction,” he says. The Vikings liked Allen because they needed someone to get after the QB from the edge. “I played with Richard Dent in Chicago and was with Indianapolis as a
Since there are (at least) two sides to every NFL story, it is instructive to understand that one of the main reasons the Chiefs dealt Allen – and perhaps the sole factor in the decision not to sign him in the first place was the drunk-driving situation. Yes, he has been clear for nearly two years. And when September comes, he’ll be able to leave the league’s substance-abuse program. He’ll be free and clear of counseling and the need for extra drug and alcohol testing. For Allen, that will be the end of the chapter. “To me, that other stuff is already gone,” he says. For law-and-order NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, that isn’t likely to be the case. Though he didn’t exactly conduct the most fastidious investigation of the Patriots’ Spygate shenanigans, he has been quite vigilant when it comes to the off-field misbehavior of the league’s players. Guns, drugs and rainmaking have brought suspensions, some of which have been pretty harsh. If Allen were to slip up again, even if it were months into the season, Goodell would likely hit him with another suspension. This time, there
wouldn’t be any clemency. In an interview with SI.com’s Peter King, Chiefs GM Carl Peterson said that possibility had been a significant factor in the decision to jettison Allen. He spoke of a “fiduciary responsibility” to the Hunt family to make sure he wouldn’t be risking millions on someone who could be in trouble again. Allen, of course, doesn’t view things that way. And, apparently, neither do the Vikings. Allen isn’t thinking at all about more trouble, insisting that his travails and subsequent punishment have taught him plenty. To his credit, he is forthright about the situation, refusing to hide behind no comments and menacing looks that some athletes use on those who have the temerity to question them. During the press conference introducing him as a Viking, Allen fielded some questions on the situation but spoke mostly about football. “They heard my answer and then moved on,” he says.
“The relationship had deteriorated. I got the trade I wanted. They got the draft picks they wanted.” Allen would prefer the rest of the NFL community do the same. He is eager to be known less as the crazy club-hopper with an aversion to taxis and limos and more as the league’s premier pass rusher. Putting him on the outside, with “Mount Williams” in the middle crashing toward the passer should give the Viking defense exactly what it needs most. The question is whether he’ll be able to keep up the pace. In recent years, some top sackers have fallen off the next season – and beyond. Not that Frazier thinks that will happen to Allen. “He does such a great job of anticipating the snap and catching the guy blocking him flat-footed,” Frazier says. “Then he’s relentless. If you stun him with a shot at the snap, he’ll keep coming – down after down.” Still, Allen is fighting history a bit. Michael Strahan led the NFL in sacks in ’03 with 18.5 but dropped to just 4.0 in ’04. Though he rebounded with 11.5 in 2005, Strahan managed a total of 12 sacks his next two seasons. Derrick Burgess, the 2005 sack leader with 16, has cooled considerably since, registering
11.0 in 2006 and 8.0 last year. Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman was second in the league with 15.5 sacks in 2006, and though he had 12 last year, he had only three in the Packers’ last seven games. Allen will have to fight double-teams and through extra attention this season to find the QB. He doesn’t seem to worry about that. “I expect a harder time,” he says. “But I play a team sport with 10 other great players. If they want to double me, then Kevin [Williams] is one-on-one. If they double us both, Pat [Williams] and Ray [Edwards] will be one-on-one. If I can draw extra attention, that’s great.” In addition to dealing with double teams and chipping backs and tight ends, Allen has to prove he is a strong run-stuffer. He has been criticized as someone more interested in piling up sack stats than being a complete defensive end. He scoffs at that rap and points out his production in ’06 as an argument in favor of his being able to handle the rough stuff. Though his sacks that year dropped to 7.5, he had a career-high 65 solo tackles. “I love to play the run,” he says. Frazier doesn’t have any questions, either. “Without question, he’s a complete defensive end,” he says. “When we were watching tape on him, we realized he’s not just a great pass-rusher. He takes a lot of pride in stopping the run.” Stopping runners. Smashing quarterbacks. Winning games. Allen loves it all. He says “strapping the helmet on is the coolest thing in the world.” Felt that way since he was eight. He’ll do it in Minnesota for the next several years, for a pile of money – and under a ton of scrutiny, not so much for his play but for his behavior. Allen wants to scream, “Enough!” and move on, but he understands people won’t believe in him until he can point to many incident free years. It’s the price he must pay for past problems, and it’s one he’s willing to handle. “If you want to see how I’m doing, I’ll be around,” he says. “Come watch me live. I’ve had to grow up. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way. “Eventually, people will stop asking.” And Allen can relax. Maybe go fishing.
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STORY BY Michael bradley PHOTOS BY mike damergis
here is no secret handshake or special membership card. No one publishes a monthly newsletter or asks for alumni dues. Unofficial tributes are scattered throughout the web and blogosphere, but you can’t go to one specific location and get the formal, sanctioned lowdown. In many ways, the USFL is dead, a victim of hubris, poor planning, bad luck and Donald Trump. And, in just as many ways, the league lives on. In the memories. In the players. In the pride. “I am proud of what the USFL alumni did in the NFL,” says Steve Young, who quarterbacked the Los Angeles Express in 1984 and ’85. “The USFL was a different situation and a different spirit. This was like summer camp.” For three seasons in the mid-1980s, football bloomed in the warm-weather months. Okay, except for some of those early games in Boston and Washington. At a time when the NFL had not yet become the gigantic sporting monster that it is today it faced a very real challenge from an upstart that was well funded and had a shrewd business plan – at least in the beginning. The USFL was born with a simple mission: To provide a spring / summer football alternative for fans, at a time when the NFL draft, free-agent period and mini-camps had yet to dominate the off-season landscape. The USFL brought pro football to cities like Birmingham, San Antonio and Jacksonville. The football was good, but the league’s ending was a sad courtroom drama forced by Trump and other egomaniacal team owners who
wanted to merge with the NFL, rather than continue to compete against it. Who knows whether the league would have lasted, had it stuck to its original gameplan, but while it was around, the USFL was an exciting, fun gridiron alternative. The list of USFL alumni that went on to NFL success is long and distinguished. Young, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, Sam Mills, Jim Kelly, Gary Zimmerman and Irv Eatman became stars. Doug Williams won a Super Bowl after a stint with the Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws. Dozens more USFL alums found spots on NFL rosters, putting to rest the jealous claims from the big boys that the league’s players were below par. “It was great football,” Young says. “I went to Tampa Bay [of the NFL] and played worse football than we did in the USFL.” Unlike the World Football League, which lasted a season-and-a-half in the mid 1970s, the USFL was not about robbing stars from its more established competitor. Yes, there were some veterans on the teams, but most were at the end of their NFL lines. The vast majority of the league’s talent came right out of college or from the backup ranks of the established league. The payrolls were designed to be modest, and the focus was on developing talent, rather than hoarding proven commodities. “The average age was about 23,” Young says. “There were some older guys, but for the most part, it was a rookie league. It was a bunch of young kids deciding to take a chance.” Young could have played for the Cincinnati Bengals when he finished his record FALL .08
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setting career at Brigham Young in 1983. But with Ken Anderson entrenched as the Stripes’ starting QB, Young knew he would be a backup. As negotiations progressed, Young was approached by the Express, coached by offensive savant Sid Gillman, with former NFL/AFL star John Hadl as the offensive coordinator. Young saw that players like Zimmerman, lineman Mark Addickes and wide receiver JoJo Townsell had signed up, and he decided to sign. It helped that he was offered a $40 million contract, to be paid in $1 million increments over 40 years. “I figured, ‘I’ll go play a lot and see what happens,’” Young says. That was the attitude of many players, because with few exceptions, the big money wasn’t there. The USFL offered the opportunity to play right away, often in cities that were football crazy. And don’t discount the rebel spirit that prevailed. Much like the AFL, which was formed in 1960 as a rival league and not a concern hoping for merger, the USFL wanted to stand on its own and fight. And it wanted players like Young, who had an adventurous spirit, along for the ride to help fill a very real void that existed for football fans. “We really believed the USFL could thrive,” Young says. “Look at the NFL now. They’ve created an event out of the draft. That’s how starved people are for football.” The USFL’s beginnings were rooted in, of all things, college football. Specifically, Tulane college football. David Dixon, the league’s founder, was a New Orleans gentleman and gridiron nut. He got the idea of creating a spring football league after years of watching the Green Wave scrimmage in March and April. In the Deep South, the time between bowl games and the next year’s kickoff is an interminable stretch of longing. Dixon aimed to bridge the stretch with a new league. So, on March 6, 1983, the USFL debuted. Its spring timetable was a key selling point, but so were its TV contracts with ESPN and ABC, which helped provide owners with the necessary operating capital to pay some big salaries, along with the more modest checks given to the rank-and-file. But this wasn’t about competing with the NFL, at least not directly. “There was a pioneering spirit,” says Carl Peterson, GM of the Philadelphia Stars and now of the Kansas City Chiefs. Things started quite well for the league. Opening-day attendances were robust, with 45,000 turning out in Arizona, 38,00 in Washington and 34,000 in L.A. Unlike
the WFL, which papered the house with freebies, these were paying customers. The Stars opened the season in Denver. “It snowed the whole night before the game, but 43,000 still came out to watch us play the Gold,” Peterson says. “I thought, ‘We might have something here.’” Of course, there were some missteps. The Boston Breakers, playing in Boston U’s antiquated Nickerson Field, drew poorly, even though they finished second in the Eastern Division. The Stars weren’t big attractions, either. When they played the Chicago Blitz in the ’83 playoffs, fewer than 20,000 people turned out at Veterans Stadium, also the Eagles’ home. Pity. They missed a stirring, 44-38 Philadelphia overtime win that featured a frantic 4th quarter comeback. The Stars then dropped the title game, 24-22, to the Michigan Panthers, which boasted the pitch and catch combination of Bobby Hebert -toAnthony Carter. The league’s first season had to be considered an unqualified success. But trouble started during the fall, when the league expanded from 12 to 18 teams. “That was a big mistake,” says Bill Kuharich, the Stars’ assistant GM and now Scouting Director of the Chiefs. “The league didn’t follow the five-year plan it had laid out. The owners got greedy.” Bringing on the new teams was the beginning of the end. Instead of following Dixon’s vision, which called for teams to add a marquee player every year and build the rest of the roster with lesser known rookies and NFL reserves, the USFL wanted more, and it wanted it faster. “The AFL teams hung together,” Kuharich says. “But as new owners came in, the USFL didn’t do that.” The second year wasn’t a bust by any stretch. Teams like the Houston Gamblers and Jacksonville Bulls did well at the box office. The Gamblers were particularly successful, winning 13 games and energizing the league with its run-andshoot offense, masterminded by Mouse Davis and operated to perfection by Jim Kelly. Trump took over the New Jersey Generals and made the most of running back Herschel Walker, turning the team into the league’s top draw. But the storm clouds were gathering. The Stars won the title, knocking off Arizona, 23-3, but the league had to contract to 14 teams for the ’85 campaign, the league’s last. It seemed like a new city was being considered for inclusion every week, thanks in large part to Tampa Bay owner John Bassett. “He was in charge of the expansion committee, and he went wild,” Peterson says. “He
must have had 37 cities for us to consider, including ones in Canada and Mexico.” As the USFL staggered forward, Trump began to assert more and more influence on the league. The billionaire Narcissus had been thwarted in his attempts to procure an NFL team, so he figured the best way into the league was through the back door. When the 1985 season ended, Trump went to work at gathering the necessary support for a move to the fall – and eventually a merger with the NFL. Trump put on the Big Sell, claiming he could prove the NFL was using unfair tactics to monopolize fall professional football by hoarding network TV monies so vital to competitors’ chances. At the seminal owners’ meeting, when the USFL decided to play in the fall of ’86, Trump was at his deal-making best. Chicago Blitz owner Eddie Einhorn, who had plenty of television contacts, rode shotgun with Trump, claiming he could get deals that would provide the necessary cash. “I was in the meeting with Trump when he convinced the owners to go against the NFL,” Kuharich says. “It was just a way to get his team into the NFL. It was selfish. “He can sell. He can put charts up and talk and publicize his point. He had them all enamored. Not me. I’m elbowing Carl Peterson, saying, ‘He has everybody enraptured.’” Rick Neuheisel remembers the night the lights went out in San Antonio – during a game. “It was payback,” Neuheisel remembers. “It turns out the team’s owner [Clint Manges] had screwed the head of the electric company out of a deal.” Ah, life with the San Antonio Gunslingers. While many of the USFL teams operated as full-fledged professional concerns, there were others, like San Antonio, which didn’t have that luxury. First of all, the ‘Slingers played in decrepit Alamo Stadium, which held about 18,000 people. That wasn’t enough for the league, which mandated teams had to play in stadiums that held at least 32,000. So, every time San Antonio hosted a game, it set up 14,000 folding chairs in the two end zones, in order to meet the minimum. “That was a big topic of conversation before games with opponents, because nobody sat in those chairs,” Neuheisel says. For Neuheisel, a former walk-on at UCLA who led the Bruins to the ’84 Rose Bowl title, the entire experience with the Gunslingers was a riot. “I still say it should be a movie,” he says. The NFL didn’t draft Neuheisel, now the head coach at his alma mater, but he was selected in the ’84
second round by San Antonio and became the expansion franchise’s starter immediately. The Gunslingers went 7-11 in their first season and showed a little life at the end, finishing 6-5. San Antonio went 5-13 the next year, as debts mounted for the team, and the players toiled under some interesting circumstances. One perpetual condition was whether paychecks would be issued, and if they came, whether they would bounce. Neuheisel says the players used to hold votes on whether they should practice on certain days, since they hadn’t been paid for such a long time. On one occasion, when Manges did pay up, the players were told the only bank that would cash them was in La Vernia, which was about 25 miles east of the city. “It was like the Gumball Rally, because everybody knew if they weren’t in the first group of people to the bank, they wouldn’t get the check cashed,” Neuheisel says. The Gunslingers persevered and even enjoyed themselves. “We were a close-knit bunch,” Neuheisel says. The rest of the league had some crazy stories, too. When
the Stars moved to Baltimore (in name only) for the ’85 season, they practiced in Philadelphia and played their games in College Park, MD, at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium, meaning each game was a road game. Alamo Stadium was a horrible facility. So was Nickerson Field. In Los Angeles, where NFL football can’t even maintain a toehold, fan interest waned quickly. “When things faded, they faded hard,” Young says. “We wondered who was going to cut the grass [on the practice field] and who had a football we could use. It was chaotic. “During games, I had to move the huddle back from the line of scrimmage, because it was so quiet in the stadium, the defense could hear the play.” The fun ended soon after the decision to move to the fall. The USFL never made it that far, and though it won its anti-trust suit against the NFL, the jury verdict amounted to $3.76, a bit short of the $3 billion the league was seeking. Instead of sticking with what appeared to be a strong
business plan, the USFL dream had been hijacked by ulterior motives and greed. Dozens of players, coaches and front-office types found work – and, for some, stardom – in the NFL, despite the big league’s insistence that it never took the USFL seriously and would have nothing to do with it. There was too much talent to ignore. People like Steve Spurrier, Steve Mariucci, John Fox, Dom Capers and Jim Fassel are USFL alumni. Peterson built a Super Bowl team in Philadelphia and two USFL champions with the Stars. Indy GM Bill Polian was in the USFL. The list goes on. “Everyone sensed we might be able to grow into something,” Young says. Instead, all that is left are the memories. “Guys from that league enjoy that they had the badge of playing in the USFL,” Neuheisel says. For a while there, it looked like that badge might carry some influence. Today, it’s just a tarnished relic.
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STORY BY: JIM MCCORMICK Portraits: BY Brian Smith
To know Randy is to know Rand . . . A dim yellow light cascades down the left side of his face. Shadows reveal his broad shoulders and muscular jaw. His right leg rests, bent, on the light pole above. Cars, mostly trucks really, jetty in and out as the man surveys the lot with a worn straw hanging out of his mouth. Heâ€™s just another student at 7-11 University.
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dim yellow light cascades down the left side of his face. Shadows reveal broad shoulders and a muscular jaw. His right leg rests, bent, on the light pole above. Cars, mostly trucks really, jetty in and out as the man surveys the lot with a worn straw hanging out of his mouth. He’s just another student at 7-11 University.
Here in sleepy Rand, West Virginia, just five miles down I-64 from the state capital of Charlestown, young men matriculate to the parking lot of this convenience store after leaving the glory of high school sports behind. ‘Round here, the guys look like they played ball in their day, likely since most of them did. It’s an endlessly repeated cycle. Many a talented athlete has come from here, most remain, few have left. Bordered by the heavily polluted Kanawha River and rusted railroad tracks, the 50-odd square blocks that make up Rand host some 2,000 working class people. It’s a milieu filled with rusted trailers, aged and isolated one-story homes, forgotten blight and a few businesses randomly mixed in. There’s little work in this area outside of mining, nearly none in Rand itself. The lucky few hold down jobs at the Dupont refinery down the road in Belle. There is, of course, a 7-11. In front of the town’s one convenience store sits the town’s lone pay phone. A loitering mecca if you would. The lure of the lot and its loyal inhabitants has earned it the moniker 7-11 University. Here in Rand, you
prove yourself on the playing field or on the street corner, often one and then the other.
The stories are endless. Sam Singleton, Jr., better known as Man, or Man Man in these parts, stands in front of Dupont Middle School with a black Randy Moss hoody drawn over his head. Man Man was the 180th pick of the 1995 MLB Draft to the Brewers. Favorably compared to Derek Jeter by scouts, Singleton’s place in Rand sporting lore was secured when he held an impromptu fielding combine for scouts inside a local basketball gym, snaring rogue pop-ups with ease. Thanks to injury and ill-decision, he’s now back in Rand, known as “Dodge City” due to the quick draw nature of its inhabitants, back at the 24-hour U. “The streets got to him,” Randy Moss says in a distinctly West Virginian twang, shaking his head, “The streets got him.” The one who the streets didn’t get, who made it out, who you won’t find in the lot, is guzzling a brown fluid in an unmarked water bottle. Around Rand, he’s better known as Otis, not Randy. “I’m not telling you what’s inside it, I’m not handing out free advertisements now,” he jokes. Hundreds of miles southeast of his hometown of Rand, Randy Gene Moss is training. It’s here in Pompano Beach, Florida, on this warm spring morning, that he’s further distancing himself from his brethren’s fate.
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Back in the day . . . Most would say it’s Moss’ out-of-this world athleticism that earned him his ticket out of Dodge. Even as far back as middle school, when Randy could dunk by seventh grade, “You could tell he was going to be something special because of the way he ran and the confidence he showed,” says Dick Whitman, Randy’s High School football coach at DuPont High. Born to Maxine Moss and Randy Pratt on February 13, 1977, Moss has lived a fishbowl existence since his athletic ability became apparent early on. He starred in football, basketball and track at DuPont High. He twice was named the state’s best basketball player, slamming 67 dunks his senior season, many via Jason Williams’ dimes. He won a national video dunk contest conducted by Whittle educational television. Each player sent in a tape of his top three dunks and Moss’ 360-degree masterpiece earned the top prize of $500, which he donated to the basketball team. He was chosen West Virginia’s top football player as a senior, returning three kickoffs more than 75 yards for scores. He won the 100- and 200-meter dashes in the state track meet as a sophomore. He even lettered as the center fielder on the baseball team. Moss proved Whitman’s early assessment correct, scoring 48 career touchdowns and leading Dupont to two consecutive Class AAA state championships. To save further hyperbole, he had one of the most electric schoolboy athletic careers ever in the state of West Virginia, with Jerry West as his only potential peer. “He was the best high school football player I have ever seen,” former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz says, who offered Moss a ride to South Bend. “He was unbelievable.” Moss’ high school experience was uniquely Iversonian; both he and AI were über-talented, multi-sport athletes from country backwater, crime-riddled enclaves. Both were swept into racially charged
fights in high school and subsequently served jail time, losing most of their college offers. Both were deemed thugs and criminals by reporters and commentators who had never met them. In the wake of the fight he was involved in during his senior year, Holtz’ Notre Dame rescinded their offer to Moss, who then red-shirted for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles. At FSU Moss posted the second best 40-time in school history (4.25) behind only Deion Sanders (4.23). While a freshman in Tallahassee, he roomed with Peter Warrick in what was primed to be the best receiving duo in college history. A positive marijuana test the summer before he’d suit up for Bowden ended this possibility, violating his probation and sending him back through the penal system, and ultimately back to Rand. He was close to enrolling at 7-11, but had one last shot, 40 miles away in Huntsville, WV, walking on to I-AA Marshall. His experience and impact at Marshall was, to say the least, profound. In his first season at Marshall, he tied the D-I AA record for TD receptions in a season (28) and won a national championship. In his sophomore season he was paired with quarterback Chad Pennington, who is remains a close friend, to take the dramatic leap to the D-I level with unparalleled success. After a spectacular second season, Moss received an invitation to the Heisman Award ceremony at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club, finishing fourth in the balloting, behind Ryan Leaf, Peyton Manning, and Charles Woodson, who won the award. With two impressive, relatively incidentfree seasons at Marshall, Randy entered the 1998 NFL Draft, inciting harsh scrutiny over his character. Pruett defended his star, “We haven’t had one problem,” he said before the draft. “I would think there’s someone up there in the NFL who can do as good a job with Randy as this redneck in West Virginia. All we got him to do was stay out of trouble, abide by team rules and score two touchdowns every game.”
After slipping to Minnesota at 21 in the draft, Randy exploded onto the pro scene immediately as a rookie, punishing those who passed on him. It’s not a stretch to call Randy the most imposing athlete ever to play receiver. He has sprinter’s speed and can jump with anyone in the NFL, not to mention the NBA. His production reflected this reality. After seven dually prolific and tumultuous seasons with the Vikings, Moss was shipped to Oakland and widely cast as a malcontent. His time in Oakland saw him put up anemic, un-Moss-like numbers. “I thought I’d just pick up where I left off,” Moss says, “It was easier said than done.” April 27th, 2007 Randy and his close friend and manager, Donnie Jones, better known as “Blue,” are in a nightclub in Houston, Texas. It’s the night before the NFL Draft. Trade winds have been circling around Randy for months. After two ultimately forgettable (and regrettable) seasons in Oakland, a change is (over)due. League insiders and bloggers alike believe Green Bay to be the likely destination. Just weeks before the draft, when discussing potential suitors, Randy felt the best QB to work with was, “Tom Brady. I’m a big Tom Brady fan. When Tom Brady came into the league, he was an underdog and I love underdogs. It wasn’t the Super Bowls that made me a believer in Brady, it was everything he had to overcome to get to the Super Bowl.” A little past midnight, Blue’s Blackberry rings. It’s underdog. Tom wants to talk to Randy about becoming a Pat. Randy assures Brady he can commit and conform to the Patriot way. Brady gets coach Belichick on-board. A series of calls are made to line up the deal. It’s late into the night, past 1 AM, one last hitch remains in making Moss a Pat. Brady says he needs to get team owner Robert Kraft to agree. Blue and Randy receive urgent instruction; Kraft is in, get on a plane and get to New England before the draft
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starts. They charter a private jet to Boston, stopping, ironically, in Charleston, West Virginia to gas up. Randy instructs Blue to get off the plane. He wants to go at this alone. The paramount question Moss faced heading to New England was whether he’d be able to conform to Belichick’s disciplined system. “I’m in there at one of the first meetings, chilling. See I don’t really say much off the field. I have my fun, but I don’t really say too much,” Moss explains. “I’m sitting there and Belichick says to the team, ‘Let let me tell ya’ll something,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t care what you’ve accomplished your career,’ looking right at me, ‘I don’t care where you come from, what you’ve done, what teams you’ve been on in the past, here we do it my way.’ So after the meeting bunch of guy ribbing my ‘Yeah Moss he’s talking to you” A few days later in practice, he knew he’d fit right in, “Coach will cut anyone up, he’ll cut Junior Seau. Man, when he cut Tom Brady up I knew it was cool. Tommy had a play where the DB had jumped the route, I ran an out route, but Tom hitched on the throw and threw it late. He tried to lead me a little bit further but I couldn’t catch it ‘cause I was already at the sidelines. So the next morning in practice, we knew something was coming. Coach says, ‘Hey, I’m supposed to have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and you’re sitting here trying to tell me you can’t throw a fucking five yard out? If I want to complete a five yard pass I will go down the street and get the local high school’s quarterback and see if he can do it.’ So I’m thinking if he gets at Tommy like that then I’m straight with it. He gets every single person. When he ripped Brady I was ready to get mine.” April 24th, 2008 Given rare access to a day of his offseason, we are here to find out just who the real Randy Moss is. He’s long been an enigma and a recluse to both the media and public.
It’s 9:34 in the morning. The faint sounds of traffic and the cyclic hum of a lawnmower play in the background to the sharp, steady tap of cleats on the pavement. Tim Martin, Moss’ best friend, former Marshall teammate and trainer of five years, keeps a hushed, steady count going. “Two, four, six, eight …” The taps stop. “Sheeeeit,” Randy says, enjoying a short break from the strenuous workout, while doing his best Clay Davis. Randy braces himself on the back of a set of bleachers, his feet back into the rubber tension bands. More counting and tapping ensues. On this non-descript field, in this nondescript county park just an hour north of Miami, a decade since being drafted and almost a year to the day since that fateful late-night call from the best quarterback in the world, stands the best receiver in the world. Sweating, cursing, preparing. He’s experienced 18 wins and 1 infamous loss since that midnight call from Brady, to go along with a record 23 touchdowns and a restored legend. “Not all NFL players work out like this,” Moss declares. “We had an NFL player, an offensive lineman come out this year, he done already quit, and it’s late April, ready to go into our first mini-camp and he’s done. That let’s you know that not every NFL player wants it, wants to be the best.” What keeps Randy from being another in the long, viscous cycle that grips his hometown isn’t merely his remarkable physical dexterity; rather it’s also his Jordan-esque dedication and sacrifice. Unlike the oft-compared Iverson, Moss is a fan of practice and preparation. Finishing up with the bands, it’s time for field length sprints and route running. After a set of sprints, hunched over, catching his breath, Randy is getting warmed up. “You know they in trouble,” he says, between deep breaths. “The NFL is in trouble, bro. They know what they’re in for. You done
put me on the right team, now all I gotta do is what I do every year.”
5.0 Mustang in South Florida traffic proves difficult.
“This training in the offseason is when I’m made,” says Moss. “I’m not made during the season. Those 23 touchdowns weren’t made during the regular season. Those touchdowns were made last April all the way through July. I broke the record out here not on the field. Best believe I’m coming back to break somebody’s record, maybe my own.”
Waitress: “One check or separate?”
Just minutes later, he explains how trying his regimen is, “it’s the offseason training that would make me retire before the season. When them workouts come it’s hard, that’s the one thing that retires me I think. The league won’t do it. Playing football? I could play football for ten more years if they let me. As long as I’m having fun, I’ll play till the damn wheels fall off.” He tempers this prediction just minutes later, “I was talking with Hardy Nickerson, I asked him, ‘Can you tell me what made you retire? At what point did you know?’ He said he was working out and got on the bench and picked the weight up, he did one rep and racked it. Got up and walked away. From hearing what guys have told me, I think it’s the offseason stuff that will make me give it up one day.” After sprints it’s on to the original football, one-on-one soccer. “The more I started playing soccer,” he says, “the more I’m starting to study it.” Martin believes incorporating soccer will help perfect Randy’s route running and cutting ability. After beating Martin soundly with some inventive dekes, it’s back to the Tao of Randy. “Football’s not that complicated. Football is as hard as you make it. I’ve been playing my whole life,” Moss explains. “Football’s not hard; they make it hard on themselves. There’s a lot of stuff that they put on your shoulders that they shouldn’t, like football is football, I mean damn, its just football.” After the workout, we head to Lester’s Diner, just minutes from the field. Following Randy’s Infiniti sedan and Tim’s
Jim: “One check” Randy: “Lester’s got it” Waitress: “Honey, Lester died a long, long time ago.” Randy: “Oh, okay.” What’s more human than an awkwardly failed attempt at humor? Not many things. With a large apple juice, a big glass of ice water, two pancakes and two eggs over-easy with melted cheese on top. Randy is ready to eat and expound on a variety of topics. When I ask him what he plans to when football is over, he quickly retorts, “not a damn thing, pick boogers and flick them,” he says with a wide grin, slicing his flapjacks. “But really, spend a little bit more time with my family. It’s kinda hard to be there and to be here in so many ways.” What Blue had told me the day before rang true; much of Moss’ negative reputation is fueled by the lack of access and intimacy the public is afforded. Sure he’s made his mistakes, but how can you vilify a guy who makes booger jokes over breakfast? You thought you knew the real Randy. In just a few hours with him you’ll find that he’s really just a country kid, a playful, imaginative personality that’s often tucked behind a glaze of introversion and aloofness. “I love to springboard, I love diving. What I’m working on now backwards one and a half.” Really? No really, the man loves diving and swimming. Always has. Chad Pennington said he once saw Randy do a full gainer at Marshall. That’s silly. Don’t get him started on fishing. “I wish I could get up in Bassmasters. I don’t have
my license, not sure I’m good enough. I think I can get my amateur’s, but for my professional? I don’t know about that. Every Bass fisherman has long, lying-ass stories. I’d rather just keep mine real, but if you want me to make up a few lies I can.” The conversation then becomes dominated by animals, of all types, “I love animals and I’m fascinated with exotic animals,” Randy says, “I saw an octopus eat a shark once on TV, honest to goodness. Octopus don’t play man.”
Pony Deal Randy signed a branding deal with Pony this past spring and plans to offer kids an alternative to the overpriced options. On his Moss Brand deal with Pony:
“Who do you think would win a fight between a croc and a hippo?” he asks. “A hippo,” I respond. “Those are some bad dudes them hippos.” I could explain in detail how funny Randy can be, how human and expressive. It’s more effective to simply let him be Randy. “I saw a silverback in the zoo and everywhere I walked its eyes followed me.” He’s at his storytelling best, his eyes tracing back and forth while his hands mime against the imaginary glass. “I wish I could have one but it would tear my head off. I would want to get me something like a big cat but I learned from Mike Tyson. I heard he was playing with his tiger, boxing with it and the tiger put its jaw over Mike’s head, almost killed him. So I’m cool on the tigers.” When asked what he does with all of his money, he quips, “I’m not into cars,” his modest early 2000’s black sedan parked just outside serving as proof. “I’m barely into fashion. I not really big on materialistic things. A vehicle in the end is still just a vehicle (pronounced vee-hick-el).” “All you gotta do is keep a clean mouth and clean drawls.” He knows that now. All he has to do is keep a clean mouth and clean drawls, and he’ll always be the one who made it out.
“Pony got what I was trying to do. A lot of these big market companies, the Nikes and Reeboks, wouldn’t want to do a deal that had these low cost shoes. I think before I bury myself I’ll make my fair share of money so the main thing is to try and give back in all shapes and forms. Coming out with a shoe and making it affordable for single parents and struggling households is important to me.” see randy’s pony collection on PAGE 122
Moss and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series owner David Dollar are 50/50 owners of Randy Moss Motorsports beginning with the July 19, 2008 race in Kentucky. Randy on building a name in racing: “You work you’re way up the ladder to get to where the big boys are at. Now if you want to, you can bring your ass on up there at the Nascar level and it’s gonna cause you seven or eight million. It wouldn’t be wise, you have to gradually work your way up there. Nascar’s philosophy isn’t as not as hard as people think. If you’ve got the money you can play. Now when you’re money runs out, and it will be running quick, no more playing.”
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STARTING FROM THE TOP LEFT : PONY RANDY MOSS COLLECTION, NEW BALANCE CLEATS, UNDER ARMOR RUNNING SHOES, UNDER ARMOR LOW-CLEATS, NEW BALANCE RUNNING SHOES, UNDER ARMOR HIGH-CLEATS
STARTING FROM THE TOP LEFT : UNDEFEATED FITTED, LRG SAILOR HOODIE, UNDEFEATED SWEATSHIRT, APPLE IPHONE, CUTTERS RECEIVER GLOVES, ANGELINA THE BULLDOG, PARISH DARK DENIM JEANS, PARISH LIGHT DENIM JEANS, VITAMIN WATER FORMULA 50, UNDER ARMOR RECEIVER GLOVES, WILSONS ALL PRO FOOTBALL
STARTING FROM THE TOP LEFT : PONY RANDY MOSS COLLECTION, NO MAS BAGHDAD OILERS TEE, NO MAS “THE CATCH” TEE, WESC STASH COLLECTION CARDIGAN TEE, NO MAS TECMO BO TEE, [ 2 ONE 5 ] NOT NY TEE
STARTING FROM THE TOP LEFT : FRANK 151 X NEW ERA CAP, [ 2 ONE 5 ] BANDIT HOODIE, WESC STASH COLLECTION SWEATER, SKINNY WATER RASPBERRY POMEGRANATE, LRG FADED DENIM, VERIZON BLACKBERRY CURVE
illustrations anthony spay
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