WEATHER AND SOLDIER FIELD GO TOGETHER

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Chile and Colombia met in a semifinal match of the Copa America Tournament last night. The Chileans scored two quick goals in the first 12 minutes and saw out the remainder of the match for a 2-0 win, aided when a Colombian player received a red card in the second half.

Colombia now plays the United States for third place, a rematch of a 1994 World Cup fixture.

That is enough for the tetherball discussion. Weather took center stage in Chicago during an extended two and a half hour halftime and took more shots on goal than the two teams combined.

Weather and Soldier Field continue to have quite a history.

  • A rare late-fall severe weather event delayed the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens in a regular season NFL game on Nov. 17, 2013.
  • No lightning involved, but a Halloween night game between the Bears and Green Bay Packers took place in a virtual car wash in 1994. The Bears were blown out by the opposition and the driving rain, and many fans departed even before a halftime ceremony to retire the numbers of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.
  • The Bears and Kansas City Chiefs closed the 1996 exhibition season in a nationally televised game and tried to play through the third quarter through frequent ground zero lightning strikes and an inundated field. With 4:20 remaining in the third quarter, referee Red Cashion turned on the field mic and announced that the weather would continue to be monitored. Before he was finished, the loudest boom yet sent both teams home for the night. Kansas City team president Carl Peterson pleaded ‘let’s not get anyone killed’ to league officials before common sense prevailed. That was the night the NFL realized discretion is the better part of valor with severe weather.

We also approach the 40th anniversary of the infamous ‘Chicago All-Star Game’. For decades the defending NFL champion played a team of ‘college All-Stars’. By the mid-1970s the idea had run its course. NFL teams no longer wanted highly invested rookies with the ‘All-Star’ team and not their teams during  training camp. The 1974 game was scrapped during a league labor dispute and no one missed the game’s cancellation.

The final ‘All-Star’ game was played on July 27, 1976, the first of SEVEN exhibition games for the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by 14 regular season games. Crazier yet, the starters played into the second half and built a 24-0 lead. And everyone thinks starters play in the pre-season too much now.

Then the storm hit. The game was televised on ABC, usually with the normal Monday Night Football crew. But since the Summer Olympics was in progress, Howard Cosell was in Montreal coving boxing, leaving Frank Gifford to call the game alongside college football analysts Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma Sooners and later St. Louis Cardinals) and Lee Grosscup.

Second-string QB Terry Hanratty entered the game as rain, wind and lightning began. A commentator made reference to golfer Lee Trevino at the Western Open (another classic Chicago sports/weather event). The Steelers ran two running plays before a wobbly Hanratty pass was picked off by Shafer Suggs (nice career with New York Jets).

The All-Stars offense then took over with a 50 MPH wind in their faces, with the Steelers employed all 11 defenders at the line of scrimmage.

The field became unrecognizable as Archie Griffin was buried for a five yard loss and nearly drowned. “It looks like a snowstorm, Michigan against Ohio State”, a commentator said. On the final play, the All-Stars quarterback botched the snap and simply fell on the ball.

In this era, games continued through hell and high water. So Chicago fans came to the rescue. One spectator ran onto the field followed by others, demonstrating slip and slide routine as Wilkinson reminisced about his Southern Plains severe weather experiences.

Hundreds of fans soon took to the artificial turf as the playing surface resembled a water park wave pool. ABC caught closeups of companions in full embrace, WasserTanzen actually occurred on the 35-yard line. Players took matters into their own hands and headed for the locker room.

Within moments, one goal post was torn down – giving officials no choice but to call the game. Gifford hastily ran through some credits as the second goal post came down and said ‘Good Night…’

The night the Chicago All-Star Game died, but thankfully no one else.

2009 NFL SIMULATION – TYRANNOSAURUS REX

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To imagine a place where in just one year Rex Ryan can trump Bill Belichick..

The 2009 NFL simulation completes a decade where neither the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts did as much as even win a conference championship. Prior to the ’09 sim – the AFC crowns were won by the Ravens, Steelers (twice), Dolphins, Broncos (twice), Bills, Jaguars and Titans.

Well at least Pittsburgh and Denver made some sense along with the 2000 Ravens, the rest of the results prove much more goes into the making of a championship team than data fed into software programs.

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There would be no Vikings v. Saints reprise, as both teams missed the NFC playoffs. The Patriots also missed the postseason with a 9-7 record while the Colts had one of their best simulation campaigns, easily winning the AFC South at 12-4.

The Favre/Brad Childress marriage began well enough with a 42-0 win in Cleveland and a 5-0 start, before losses in eight of the final 11 games.

The Detroit Lions picked up where they left off in 2008 with losses in their first 13 games before defeating the eventual NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals 44-28. All told, the Lions lost 30 straight in simulation – besting a 29-game losing streak the Cardinals franchise was involved in during World War II (merged with the Steelers for one year).

Then there was Chris Johnson, who rushed for 293 yards in an early season game v. the New York Jets and closed the season with a 307 yard rushing performance in Seattle. Johnson finished the year with a ridiculous 2,568 yards on the ground.

The Jets shored their run defense soon enough.

The postseason began with a Marvin Lewis playoff victory, as the Bengals beat the 8-8 Denver Broncos, who won the AFC West because the San Diego Chargers went 7-9 in sim opposed to their actual 13-3 record.

The Steelers and Ravens also met in the Wild Card round, as Pittsburgh secured a 23-0 shutout. As in real life, the Colts faced the Jets for the AFC Championship, but in New York as the Jets won 41-13 for the franchises fourth Super Bowl appearance.

The Giants got the NFC’s top seed, marking the second time in sim in which both New York teams were top seeds. The Packers received the NFC’s other first round bye, but suffered the latest in a string of home playoff string defeats as Aaron Rodgers threw a fatal pick-six in a 32-22 loss to Philadelphia in the divisional round. The sixth-seeded Cowboys would then defeat the fifth-seeded Eagles in the NFC Championship to give Dallas just their third Super Bowl appearance.

The Jets and Cowboys represent just the second sim Super Bowl where two teams played each other twice, the Cowboys won a faux Super Bowl III while Super Bowls VII and XIV featured the Steelers and Rams.

It appeared Dallas would win that first championship in 41 years with a 10-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, but Tony Romo threw an interception returned 74 yards for a score by Eric Smith and the Jets rode the momentum to a 20-10 win, making Mark Sanchez the parallel universe’s version of Joe Willie Namath.

2008 NFL SIMULATION – MCNABB MUTES CRITICS

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Throughout his 11-year tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, Donovan McNabb went through his share of criticism despite six Pro Bowl appearances and leading his team to a Super Bowl and five conference championship appearances. It came with the territory of playing in a vocal East Coast market.

In the simulation the Eagles appeared in Super Bowls following the 2000 and 2001 seasons, but came up short in the big game both times – so McNabb underwent the same criticism in this alternate reality as in real life.

But in the 2008 simulation, the stars aligned for McNabb and the Eagles despite playing in the NFC East Group of Death.

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The story of the season regarded disparity of records between divisions. The AFC South  and NFC South dominated the NFC North while the AFC East and NFC East destroyed the NFC West.

All four AFC East teams won at least 10 games, but only two made the playoffs, with Brett Favre’s Jets and Matt Cassel’s Patriots missing out. Three teams in the AFC South finished 8-8, but far behind the 15-1 Tennessee Titans. The Chargers easily won the AFC West as the rest of the division had down years. The Chicago Bears and New York Giants likewise both missed the postseason despite 10-6 campaigns.

Then there was the amusing NFC West, won by the 6-10 Seattle Seahawks via tie-breaker over the Cardinals and 49ers. The Seahawks went 4-2 in the division, their only other wins came at Buffalo and at Green Bay.

Adrian Peterson, Larry Johnson and Tennessee rookie Chris Johnson were among those who produced monster numbers on the ground. LaDainian Tomlinson also found pay dirt seven times in a two-game span.

And yes, the Detroit Lions successfully reprised their 0-16 real-life record. The Lions best chance came in the season finale at Green Bay, only for Dan Orlovsky to throw a pick six in the waning minutes. The Packers finished 4-12 in Aaron Rodgers first season behind center, only winning two games outside their wins against Detroit.

The Titans took advantage of their number one seed, dispatching San Diego and Miami en route to the franchises first ever conference championship, leaving Houston and Tampa Bay as the lone teams not to appear in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers appeared in three faux-NFC Championships in the simulation during the 2000s and lost a back and forth 36-33 decision to New Orleans in the 2008 Wild Card round.

As for the Texans, they have a chance if they get a decent QB and if they scout and draft a certain defensive end with a high motor at the University of Wisconsin.

After claiming the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings appeared in danger of winning a seventh faux-Super Bowl before being blown out 37-7 in the NFC Championship game. The Eagles then proceeded to rout the Titans 29-3 in the Super Bowl, the franchises third championship in five appearances.

In real life the Eagles also finished strong, advancing to the conference championship before falling to the Arizona Cardinals. Per Wikipedia, Football Outsiders also ranked the Eagles as the NFL’s best team on a ‘play-by-play’ basis.

EMOTIONS PROVED TOO MUCH FOR VANDERBILT BASEBALL

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After a 2014 National Championship and runner-up finish at the 2015 College World Series, Vanderbilt University baseball planned on another deep run in the NCAA baseball tournament.

None of that mattered after freshman pitcher Donny Everett drowned on a fishing outing with two teammates and two others on Thursday afternoon, 24 hours before Vanderbilt was slated to open tournament play against Xavier University.

Last year Everett was named Tennessee prep player of the year in 2015 after he amassed 118 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings pitched, along with a 0.92 ERA. At the plate Everett hit .412 with 34 RBI. Baseball America ranked him as the 21st highest prospect and would had been a likely first round pick in the MLB draft if not committed to Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt’s original Friday game was rained out, and they took the field against Xavier early Saturday. The Commodores found themselves in a battle losing 2-1 after sixth innings. Vanderbilt gave up 13 runs in the seventh and committed four errors in the 15-1 loss.

That evening Vanderbilt played an elimination game against the University of Washington and led 8-2 in the sixth inning. Maybe this would get the Commodores on track, they could get through this game, continue to compete in the elimination bracket and some semblance of ‘normalcy’ could return.

It didn’t happen, Washington rallied for a 9-8 victory as rain fittingly fell. After the final out Vanderbilt did not even have its own home clubhouse to escape to. As is common practice for tournament games, Vanderbilt was designated as the visiting team and sat in the visitors dugout. Head Coach Tim Corbin answered questions from the media while team members gazed blankly towards the field as television cameras rolled.

The team showed up physically but understandably short on focus. In normal times players spend time between innings lined up in football formations or propped as bowling pins. That carefree atmosphere was gone. Corbin looked anguished arguing calls and players had little in the tank emotionally on the field with little sleep and thoughts elsewhere.

The only possible comparison to what Vanderbilt went through was when Hank Gathers died before Loyola Marymount’s run to the Elite Eight in the 1990 NCAA basketball tournament. At least LMU has 11 days following Gathers death to recompose themselves and begin to return to the athletic tasks at hand.

Vanderbilt baseball will be back on the national stage in future years. Saturday was a time to reflect on Donny Everett.

 

ALI’S GREATEST BOUTS OUTSIDE THE RING

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Throughout the 1970s, I grew up on Muhammad Ali. I enjoyed the entertainment value and banter with equally outspoken broadcaster Howard Cosell. He was also the biggest name in sports of his era, a list that included Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan and fellow Muslim convert Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

As news Friday night transitioned in a matter of hours from Ali’s admission to a Phoenix hospital to Ali’s condition deteriorating to the news of Ali’s death, thoughts turned towards Ali’s two biggest bouts that far exceeded 15 rounds.

On April 28, 1967, Ali refused induction into the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Along with his Muslim faith, Ali cited that he did not want to battle opposition that had not personally done anything against him, unlike many of his neighbors back home growing up.

Ali paid the price. Until he won his case three and a half years later by a 8-0 decision by the United States Supreme Court, Ali lost his boxing license in all 50 states at the peak of his athletic career while declassified material later revealed his phone records were tapped, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and other figures by NSA surveillance.

To this day, a segment of the population vilifies Ali. In 2004 Ali received recognition during the Major League Baseball All-Star game in Houston. Days later Ali was harshly criticized by baseball legend Bob Feller, who was among the first in line at the enlistment office on December 8, 1941 – and soon followed by hundreds of other pro baseball players and other athletes and tens of thousands of others in other endeavors.

Feller’s stance remains strong past his own death, in the post 9/11 era the list of pro athletes to drop everything to serve America includes Pat Tillman and very few others.

The final 25 years of Ali’s life was a tragedy in itself, his voice was silenced from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Boxing itself has others who make their social agendas known, Manny Pacquiao has ruffled feathers in the political arena.

The commentary of Ali had the potential to do wonders over the past 15 years as the United States continues to spar with factions of the Muslim faith.

Ali was the right athlete at the right time as the Civil Rights movement peaked. But Ali’s voice from a past generation should be remembered now as well. Whether you agreed with him or not, his courage should always be respected.

2007 NFL SIMULATION – VI SEED, VI-TIME KINGS

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The 2007 NFL season provided many talking points and storylines. Tom Brady broke the single-season touchdown record as the Patriots eyed a historic mark, on the other end of the spectrum, the Miami Dolphins chased 0-16. Terrell Owens made a spectacle of himself as the Dallas Cowboys earned the NFC’s number one seed. Adrian Peterson broke the single-game rushing record as part as his rookie season and Brett Favre led the Packers back into contention in what appeared to be his NFL swan song.

In November the league was rocked by the death of Washington safety Sean Taylor at age 24, a number five overall pick who became a two-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the league’s most feared players in his all-too brief time win the league.

In real-life the New York Giants parlayed their spot at the playoff table into a Super Bowl championship. In the simulation the Green Bay Packers suffer an even worse gut punch as an even more hated rival won the championship – again.

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In Week 1 the Patriots lost, and the Dolphins won. As late as Week 6 the Patriots and Dolphins tied for the division lead at 4-2. Miami remained in playoff contention for the entire season and finished 8-8 compared to their actual 1-15 mark.

2007 marked a rare year where the Cleveland Browns contended. In real life they missed the playoffs at 10-6 but made the postseason here at 9-7.

The Patriots, Steelers and Jaguars all finished the regular season at 13-3, but a late-season home loss to the Steelers dropped New England to the number three seed. The San Diego Chargers also easily won their division with an 11-5 mark.

The Cowboys won a competitive NFC East, but the worst amongst NFC division leaders. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came away with the top seed at 14-2, followed by the Cardinals whose 13-3 record bested the Packers via tiebreaker.

Being forced to play on Wild Card weekend proved to be Green Bay’s worst nightmare as the Vikings snuck in with the number six seed. The Packers easily swept the regular season series in both real life and simulation. Did not matter, the Vikes won easily at Lambeau 31-21 and Brett Favre would next be seen in purple two years later. Terrell Owens and the Cowboys also went home crying early, losing to Carolina 23-17.

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The Browns playoff appearance was short-lived, and am not even sure they got the memo that they made the postseason, falling to New England 31-0. The Chargers advanced behind a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run in the closing seconds to defeat Indianapolis 24-20. The Chargers also won a regular season meeting between the two teams by scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter.

As in real life, the Patriots and Jaguars met in the divisional round, this time in Jacksonville where the Jaguars prevailed 34-24. The Jags bid for a second consecutive faux-AFC Championship ended the following week with a 24-17 loss to the Steelers.

On the NFC side, the Vikings were just warming up as they traveled to Tampa and defeated the Buccaneers 17-13. In the NFC Championship at Carolina the Vikings jumped off to a quick start, Adrian Peterson rushed for 144 yards and scored twice, and the Purple Express was headed to Arizona with a 37-27 win.

Super Bowl XLII featured teams with faux Super Bowl records of 5-0 and 4-0 respectively. Fast Willie Parker scored his fifth touchdown of the playoffs with a late fourth quarter score, but proved as just a consolation tally as Minnesota won 26-13 with Adrian Peterson taking MVP honors.