Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
What can I say about the buildup to the Detroit Lions’ first Monday Night Football game at Ford Field and its first appearance on MNF after a 10-year hiatus.
And why would the NFL hierarchy want the inept Lions of the past on their topmost weekly program? They would not, did not.
Times are changing, no matter that it has taken ten years. The Lions are roaring back to NFL respectability and football watchers around the country are again interested in our team.
So in comes a Black and Blue Division opponent (the Chicago Bears), and the Lions sent them back to the Windy City with a 24-13 loss – dropping the Bears’ record to 2-3.
With a national audience and a chance to make a statement to the world that Detroit is indeed relevant again as an entertaining and competitive NFL franchise, the Lions long-suffering, but faithful fans took this opportunity to party.
The downtown area was abuzz, electric and festive.
“Detroit has been through tough times before,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said, “and tough times don’t last, but tough people do. There are tough people in the city of Detroit. It’s a blue-collar town and blue-collar towns are the best sports towns.
“When cities are going through tough economic times, and states are going through tough economic times, people look to sports as an escape. I think we have a responsibility to give people something to smile about, something to cheer about. We feel a very strong bond to this city. I think our work ethic reflects the city of Detroit’s work ethic.”
Linebacker DeAndre Levy was in agreement: “Monday Night Football was a big opportunity to show people and validate what kind of team we are.” Said quarterback Matthew Stafford: “We have a great group of fans here, they showed up tonight and it was unbelievable. It’s our job and our joy to go out there and give them something to cheer about and it’s been a bunch of fun and hopefully we can keep it going.”
With so much hype surrounding this game and a Lions record crowd of 67,861 packed into the cozy indoor stadium, the Motor City Cats came out in the first half and played like the bright lights had them over-anxious and on edge, as evidenced by the rash of penalties and over and under throws by Stafford.
The resourceful Bears took advantage and took a 10-7 lead into halftime. The Lions’ only semblance of offense was a second quarter Stafford to Calvin Johnson’s 73-yard catch and run making him the only player in NFL history to latch onto nine touchdown receptions through the first five games of the season.
The Lions earned their first 5-0 start since 1956 after yet another come-from-behind victory. Leading the way, of course, was Johnson, who caught five passes for 130 yards with one touchdown.
Next, it was back Jahvid Best’s 88-yard touchdown run that gave the Lions a 21-10 lead in the third quarter. His touchdown was the second-longest run in team history, and he finished the game with a career high 163 yards on only 12 carries.
Finally, the Lions’ defensive line and the deafening crowd put so much pressure on the Bears offensive line it false started nine times.
“Our hats are off to the city of Detroit,” Schwartz said. “The fans did their part tonight and we took the cue from them. But nine false starts is an awful lot and all the credit goes to our crowd.”
Added Best: “It was crazy out there. The fans, I think, caused them at least six or seven false starts. The place was rocking, there was a lot of electricity in the air. We were definitely feeling it.”
Detroit has not always been an afterthought for Monday Night Football. In fact, the Lions have appeared in a total of 25 Monday Night games. If all this is real, I am pretty sure the Lions will be back in the MNF rotation.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 16:57
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Jerome “The Bus” Bettis has one of the best and most recognizable nicknames. “The Bus” can hold up to other football greats like “Night Train,” “Hacksaw,” “Pepper,” “Hammer” and “Crazy Legs.”
In baseball we have had “Say Hey,” “Babe,” “A-Rod,” “Iron Horse” and “Joltin’ Joe.” Basketball has had monikers like “The Stilt,” “Magic,” “Iceman,” “The Dream,” “Clyde,” “Air,” “Pearl” and “Dr. J.” Sure, nicknames are colorful and gave each a certain aura, but the most important thing “The Bus” had in common with most of the above mentioned sports icons is that he is a superior athlete as evidenced by his selection to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (MSHOF).
“It is amazing to think of all the great athletes to come out of Detroit and Michigan,” Bettis said. “This is an incredible honor. Of course I knew about the Michigan Sports Hall, but I never aspired or planned on it. It kind of blindsided me.”
“I was sitting in my office and this polite young man came in and said he wants to play football,” former Mackenzie coach Bob Dozier recalled. “After he left I said, ‘Wow!’ He looked like a young Superman and he’s a honor student. His sophomore year I put him at middle guard and he was so physical and tough off the ball. The thing I like most about him was when his skill became evident, he remained patient. We had Walter Smith and he was getting it done.”
By his senior year, Bettis had gained recognition as a feature running back and linebacker. When it was time to select a college he chose Lou Holtz and Notre Dame.
Recalled former Mackenzie star linebacker Pepper Johnson, who went on to earn two Super Bowls rings with the New York Giants and three more as a coach with the New England Patriots: “I had heard Mackenzie had a running back that was special. Then I go to Reggie Mackenzie’s Camp and I’m coaching the linebackers and there was Jerome. I wanted him to stay at linebacker, because he could have been a great one. He might have had a different nickname, maybe ‘Ali’ because he would have knocked people out. I guess it all worked out with all he has accomplished.”
Dozier said Holtz first told Bettis that he wanted to use him on offense, but he had to lose weight. “But after he ran a 4.5, Holtz said, ‘He’s fine like he is,’” Dozier recalled. Indeed, Bettis was fine like he was. After a stellar career at Notre Dame he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams on the first round (10th overall) of the 1993 NFL Draft. His rookie year he rushed for 1,429 yards, and was named All-Pro and Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Bettis’ rookie campaign jump started a 13-year career in which he toted the pigskin for the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is generally acknowledged by football aficionados as one of the most elusive, powerful, big backs ever. He is fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 13,662 yards.
Said former Mackenzie teammate Gilbert Brown, who won a Super Bowl ring with Green Bay (1997): “When I first saw JB at Mackenzie he was kind of shy. But when he got out on the field there was ferociousness to him. I had the pleasure of blocking for him. Everyone in the PSL knew where we were going to run the ball. If I lined up right or left JB would be coming right over my side. It was amazing to see a back with his power and speed.
“I loved when we played against each other in the NFL. I’m with the Packers and he was with the Steelers and we were playing a Monday night game. I called him and told him I was going to knock his helmet off. During the game we met in the center of the hole and I was thinking he was coming with his power, but then he shook me.”
Lions Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders said, “When I think of JB I think of a great competitor you would love to do battle with. He was not a guy defenses wanted to see. He was a wrecking ball, powerful, but agile. I enjoyed watching JB play and the way he carried himself."
Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 October 2011 16:16
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
ANN ARBOR — Following the euphoric University of Michigan comeback from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit against rival Notre Dame, which produced a rousing, improbable 35-31 victory under the lights at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines looked like they were still celebrating that victory.
No matter. When the clock read zero, U-M had recovered enough to rush away with a 31-3 victory over Eastern Michigan University. However, give the EMU Eagles credit as they came to the Big House last Saturday afternoon ready to play. Either the Wolverines were indeed still in the afterglow of last week’s victory or they took EMU lightly.
Former U-M assistant coach and now EMU’s head man, Ron English, had his 2-0 team ready to play. The Eagles dominated the first quarter, with two scoring chances inside the U-M 10-yardline. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they only managed one field goal for their superior effort and took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter.
“Maybe we hadn’t gotten over last week,” U-M safety Jordan Kovacs said. “I think we came out a little flat and got off to a rough start. We need to come out with intensity every game.”
EMU had another drive percolating early in the second quarter, when it ran a trick play where their quarterback Alex Gillett threw behind the line to their second string quarterback Tyler Benz, who from the Michigan 41 yard line threw deep to his receiver, but sophomore safety Thomas Gordon (Cass Tech High) implemented a spectacular one-handed, over-the-shoulder interception that seemed to light a fire under the sluggish Wolverines. This interception was the first of his career and he also added his first career fumble recovery.
Gordon’s stellar play gave Michigan the ball on its own three yard line. From there, junior quarterback Denard Robinson busted loose on a 52-yard run that eventually concluded in a seven play, 97 yard drive, with tight end Kevin Koger’s nine yard pass from Robinson latching onto a nine yard pass from Robinson giving U-M its first score of the game and a 7-3 lead.
After U-M’s wake-up interception by Gordon and subsequent 97-yard touchdown drive, the Wolverines produced another long six-play, 87-yard touchdown drive. With only 39 seconds left in the first half, Robinson concluded that march with an 11-yard touchdown run right up the middle of Eastern’s defense.
In the end it was Robinson again, this time producing his third most rushing yards in a game with a noteworthy 198 yards on a near career high 26 carries. Junior running back Vincent Smith also ran for 118 yards on nine carries.
Many feel that last year when Robinson ran the ball too much in the early season, he wore down toward the end, and here we are only three games into the season and he is again running the ball more than a featured running back.
“We just go with the flow of the game and what happens happens,” Robinson said.
Said U-M coach Brady Hoke: “We don’t want to beat him up. We’re going into a pretty physical league, so we have to find other ways. Running the ball takes a toll on your body.”
I have a suggestion. U-M should start Devin Gardner at quarterback and use Robinson for what he is — a runner. They could run slots, traps and direct handoffs. There are backs in the NFL that are smaller than Robinson. With that change they would upgrade their passing, something that is needed if they want to compete against the best teams in the Big Ten.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 19:54
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
“Sports have always been a vehicle for economically disadvantage youth to come away from their problems,” former Georgetown coach John Thompson Sr. told me. “I’m not saying it’s the only way out, but it is a vehicle, so why ignore it?”
Legendary Detroit baseball and football coach, Ron “Thomp” Thompson, who passed in October of 1994, lived John’s words for four decades as a youth leagues and high school coach and mentor.
If “Thomp” was still alive when the call finally came from the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame confirming his ascension into this remarkable collective, he would have more than likely just shrugged his giant shoulders and said in that unusual, high screeching voice that did not fit his 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame, “Who me?”
Thomp’s interrogative, “Who me?” would have been delivered with humility and sincerity. The former Northwestern High football star only did the things he did because there was a need. Sure he loved coaching, but that wasn’t the only motivation for men in his era, especially at the youth level. Absolutely there was no money in coaching young men. However, in a perversely and defiantly segregated America, men like Thomp understood that they could use athletics as a vehicle to cajole, instruct, discipline and uplift young men.
“Mr. Thompson’s life did not start at DePorres,” Tigers’ great Willie Horton reminded me. “It was at the projects where he put his arms around us. He put all our bats and balls in a pile and said, ‘You have to love each other first and that’s the start of teamwork.’ When I see that statue of myself in Comerica Park, I often think of Thompson and my humble roots.”
Said Oak Park coach Greg Carter, who played baseball and football (at Mackenzie) and coached under Thomp, before he took over DePorres following Thomp’s passing: “He gave us a vehicle to do something positive. He spent his whole life working for the youth of Detroit.”
Without a doubt Thompson’s inclusion in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame’s 55th induction class is a direct result of his efforts as head football coach at Detroit St. Martin DePorres. At the time of his passing, he was second all-time in the state of Michigan having won eight state titles But for all his football success at DePorres High, in the Detroit sporting community his legend was solidified because of his tireless work coaching youth football and baseball for the only African-American or integrated team (Westside Cubs) allowed in the Detroit Junior Leagues.
His legend was etched in concrete in the early 1960s when he won a national title with a youth baseball team that had Horton, Alex Johnson, Benny Carbo, Teddy Sizemore and Rufus Hayes. In that same decade before his high school coaching days he mentored many others.
Because segregation was entrenched in Detroit’s youth leagues, the Westside Cubs were cutting too many people. So, Thompson, Leland Stein Jr., Jocko Hughes and Sam Washington Sr. founded the Saint Cecilia Beacons expecting to join the Detroit Junior Football League, but the league held to its policy of one African-American team. Undeterred, Thompson and friends entered the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Leaving his beloved Cubs clearly denotes that Thompson’s focus for the youth was always more than just about athletics. Seeing a chance to get more kids off the streets and involved was the reason the now legendary Saint Cecilia was founded.
Before Thompson started his DePorres legend he settled over at Mackenzie High, where he led the Stags to the 1971 and 1975 Detroit Public School League baseball title game and helped coach the football team to two divisional titles. He was and is Detroit’s most influential mentor and coach.
Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@ aol.com and Twitter @Leland- SteinIII.
Last Updated on Monday, 03 October 2011 17:02
Category: Sports Written by Leland Stein III
Sports aficionados who enjoy the seasonal changes that athletics usher in have just endured a long and protracted NFL lockout, and now it’s the NBA’s turn.
Its 66th NBA season is contingent upon the adoption of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the owners of all 30 NBA teams and the NBA’s players. The previous CBA expired in July, and lockout is assured.
I hope the NBA owners and the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) were watching what happened with the NFL’s CBA. But I think the issues are even bigger with the NBA players.
There are some truths that exist and do not exist in the NFL. First, NFL players wear helmets, are far away from the crowd and have 22 players on the field at the same time. I feel that even though the NFL, like the NBA, has a majority of African-American players, most NFL fans have gotten to the point where the jersey is the main rooting point.
Sure, there are the exceptions like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ray Lewis who are recognized by most NFL fans. But I cannot tell who most of the players are without a number on their back.
Now in the NBA, the games are contested in intimate arenas where the players do not wear helmets (maybe face masks to protect broken noses or jaws) and there are only ten athletes on the court. That means the fans can really see and know the players’ faces.
Also the NBA is more about the players and not the number on their back. Unfortunately, I believe many in the media and talk radio will not have any sympathy for tall, African-American millionaires. A protracted debate will lead to retorts like, “They make enough money and they are greedy.” Driven by the media, the public will be less tolerant of the NBA players.That is why the NBA does not need a mean-spirited, public spat.
“It’s unfortunate because we have great momentum right now,” said Kevin Garnett. “I think the league is, as far as anticipation and the leading stories and the careers that you can follow, you know, Dirk (Nowitzki) finally winning, I mean there’s multiple stories that are intriguing right now. It’s just unfortunate that we’re all going through this right now to sort of slow that down.”
It appears from the outside looking in that both sides are entrenched. In a recent showing of solidarity, over 60 players gathered at a press conference, where NBPA union president and Laker Derek Fisher said tplayers won’t accept a bad deal to avert a work stoppage. “We’d love to avoid a lockout,” he told reporters, “but we’re unified in the sense of not afraid if that’s what we’re faced with.”
The owners want a “flex” salary cap, but the players still consider their proposal a hard cap. It’s similar to the NHL’s salary cap system, which NBPA executive director Billy Hunter called “the worst deal in all of professional sports.”
Hunter said the NBA owners want to break the union like the NHL owners did. “The owners want to impose the same kind of damage on us, break the spirit, will and resolve of the NBA players in order to achieve what they want.”
The players say their proposal called for them to give back $500 million in salary over five years by reducing their share of guaranteed revenues from 57 percent to 54.3 percent.
The owners have projected $300 million in losses this season and claim 22 of its 30 teams will lose money. Players point to record TV ratings and increases in merchandise and ticket sales and wonder where all the money has gone.
Will the NBA season start on time on Nov. 1? I sure hope so.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 18:10
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