Thursday, December 5, 2013

SEC Championship Game XXII

The 22nd annual SEC Championship game features two very unlikely opponents in Atlanta: The East champion Missouri Tigers (11-1, 7-1) against the West champion Auburn Tigers (11-1, 7-1).

Both were coming off a poor season in 2012 particularly Auburn which posted a 3-9 record forcing former HC Gene Chizik out after four years on the job and just two years after winning the BCS National title game.

Missouri, in only its second season in the SEC, was not expected to win the division with established programs such as back-to-back East champion Georgia, defending co-East champ Florida and Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks in the way but Missouri managed to beat both Georgia and Florida and came close to beating South Carolina.

Meanwhile Auburn punched its ticket to Atlanta on what is probably the most unlikely play in football history on a missed field goal return against Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide dynasty.

Missouri HC Gary Pinkel has done a fine job since he arrived 14 years ago with nine bowl appearances, two Big-12 North titles and four bowl victories.

    Auburn will be making its fifth SEC title game appearance (1997, 2000, 2004, 2010, 2013) . The Tigers won in 2004 and 2010. The 2004 team went on to win the BCS Sugar Bowl and an undefeated season under Tommy Tuberville and the 2010 team went on to the BCS National Title game.

  Missouri will be making its third conference title game appearance (2007, 2008, 2013) but its first SEC title game.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

AFC and NFC South Updates

At the three quarter mark of the season one of the NFL's southern divisions are almost decided while the other is still up for grabs.

The Indianapolis Colts (8-4) led by QB Andrew Luck have a three-game lead over the Tennessee Titans with four games left. Any combination of an Indy win or Tennessee defeat will give the Colts the division. The Colts look to return to its domination of the AFC South after the 2011 transition year. Since 2012 Indianapolis is 19-9 overall and not dropped consecutive games since Andrew Luck was drafted two years ago.

The Titans (5-7) have an outside chance at a wild card but will travel to Denver to face the Broncos and Peyton Manning this sunday. Jacksonville (3-9) has won three straight games and will host the Houston Texans on Thursday night (2-9). After two straight AFC South titles (2011-2012) Houston is having their worst season since the arrival of HC Gary Kubiak eight years ago.

Meanwhile in the NFC South the co-leaders Carolina Panthers (9-3) and New Orleans Saints (9-3) face each other on sunday night in the Superdome in the first of two "mano to mano" games in the next three weeks.

Carolina has clinched its first winning season since 2008 while New Orleans hopes to make it back to the playoffs after a one year absence.

The unusual stat about the defending NFC South champion continues which is no defending NFC South champ has repeated since the division began in 2002. The Atlanta Falcons, the 2012 NFC South winner, is experiencing its worst season in the Mike Smith/ Matt Ryan era.

2002: Tampa Bay
2003: Carolina
2004:  Atlanta
2005: Tampa Bay/Carolina
2006: New Orleans
2007: Tampa Bay
2008: Carolina
2009: New Orleans
2010: Atlanta
2011: New Orleans
2012: Atlanta

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come off a 27-6 loss to Carolina after winning three straight games following an 0-8 start.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Arizona Clinches Eighth Arena Bowl Appearance

The Arizona Rattlers will defend their title next Saturday in Orlando against the Philadelphia Soul in a re-match of the 2012 Arena Bowl after a 65-57 victory over the Spokane Shock.

Arizona came from behind after trailing 21-7 to take a 58-28 lead and held on the rest of the way as Head Coach Kevin Guy continues his rebuilding job of a franchise that has come a long way since falling off the map before the 2009 hiatus.

Between 1993 and 2004 winning years, playoffs, Arena Bowls and championships were commonplace in Phoenix as the clubs' first skipper Danny White led the team to 12 straight postseason appearances, 10 semi-final/conference title games, five Arena Bowls including three straight (2002-2004) and two championships (1994, 1997).

White could not have done it without his players particularly his on the field extension QB Sherdrick Bonner. Bonner played under the former NFL great's tutelage for most of his career as the two were paired together for 12 years until White's departure from the Rattlers in 2004 after three straight defeats in the Arena Bowl.

Although Bonner stayed for three more years the franchise became a shadow of its former self in the post-White years between 2005 and 2008. In those four seasons Arizona failed to post a winning year and made the playoffs only twice (2006, 2008) going 8-8 both times. There wasn't much postseason success in those two years either however in 2006 the Rattlers beat their former mentor White in the first round when he coached the expansion Utah club.

The seeds of today's greatness were sown as Kevin Guy became the new sheriff in town as he led the team from a 4-12 record in 2007 to 8-8 and 2008. Guy, a former AFL player, had one year of coaching experience in 2000. In 2009 the AFL went on hiatus and its future was in question but in 2010 both the league and the Arizona franchise were reborn with the signing of current QB Nick Davila who had spent the previous two years with Spokane.

Davila led the Rattlers to their first winning record in 2010 (10-6) and first Arena Bowl appearance in 2011 since the ill fated 2004 season. The 2011 season was bittersweet as Arizona posted a 16-2 record and came within a minute of a third Arena Bowl title as they lost to Jacksonville.

2012 would be a different story as Guy and Davila made it back to the playoffs for a third straight year and that time there would be no late game drama as the Rattlers won Arena Bowl XXV 72-54 to show that the once great AFL franchise was back on the map.

This year Arizona rolled through the regular season at 15-3 and now seeks to become the third AFL franchise to win its fourth Arena Bowl title but what is more obvious now is how the franchise has re-established itself as an AFL power which means they could be a contender for years to come.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Texas Longhorns in 2014

It was the best of times it was the worst of times would be a fitting way to describe the first 15-years of Mack Brown's tenure as the skipper of the Texas Longhorns football program.

First, his regular season record at Texas is 149-48 which is a mark that at least 99% of all football coaches would love to have. Second, he's won a national title (2005) and appeared in another national title game (2009). Third he took a program that had been a mediocre underachiever for a over decade and put it back into the national spotlight.

Unfortunately, for Brown expectations in the Lone Star State are consistently sky high to the point of being unrealistic. No one besides Nick Saban (apparently) can win the national title every year. He has also had the misfortune of having to coach against one of the top coaches in college football, Bob Stoops. Brown is 5-9 vs. his Norman counterpart and 6-9 overall against the Sooners.

After the disappointing 2009 BCS National title game UT fell off the map in 2010 going 5-7 as Brown missed his first bowl game since he arrived in Austin 12 years earlier. The program entered 2011 at a crossroads with Brown given the chance to bring the program back to prominence amid the flurry of changes in the Big-12 as well as throughout the college football landscape.

Texas' creation of the Longhorn Network caused a rift between them and other charter Big-12 members as Colorado moved to the Pac-12, Nebraska went to the Big-10 and the Longhorns main in-state rival Texas A&M going to the SEC. Since then former SWC rival TCU and West Virginia have filled the void in the conference.

The big question for Texas is where do they go from here? Are they a program on the rise just like they were when Brown came to Austin in 1998 or are they going towards mediocrity the way they were between 1984 until Brown's arrival?

Based on sheer numbers Texas is on a steady climb upward. In 2010 they slumped at 5-7, then improved by two wins in 2011 going 7-5 and then improved again in 2012 with an 8-4 record. In both 2011 and 2012 UT won bowl games (Holiday and Alamo). But after a spending most of the 2000's in the top 10 the fans are expecting an encore performance from Mack Brown and wont be content with 8-4 seasons and minor bowl wins.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Classic NFL Game: 1982 Playoffs

Its hard to believe that its been two months since the last blog entry but I wanted to review a classic NFL game that I had never seen in its entirety and only a few minutes.

On youtube I found the 1982 St Louis Cardinals/ Green Bay Packers first round playoff game during the strike season when 16 teams made the postseason in a nine game regular season.

This was the first time that not all the playoff games were shown in each market because of the number of games in the first round that were being shown four at a time. Locally we received the Detroit Lions/Washington Redskins game but as that became a blowout CBS switched to the Cardinals/Packers Green Bay just scored to take a 21-3 lead forcing CBS to switch back to the other blowout.

Tim Ryan and Johnny Morris called the Cardinal/Packer game while Dick Stockton/Roger Staubach called the Lion/Redskin game. St Louis was in its first playoff game since 1976 while Green Bay was in its first since 1972. The Cards were led by Coach Jim Hanifan and quarterback Neil Lomax while the Pack was coached by Bart Starr and quarterbacked by Lynn Dickey.

This game represented the Golden Age of CBS Sports coverage of NFL as the graphics had improved and featured the early 1980's intro. No constant scores, no fantasy updates, no obnoxious graphics or sound effects. St Louis actually outgained Green Bay in total yardage while the Packers won big 41-16.

The Cards would not return to the postseason until 1998 while the Packers would not return until 1993.

There are over 2128 regular season games and 96 postseason games from the 1980's that the NFL Network needs to show instead of the same old news and top 10 lists.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Intradivision Major League Baseball in Texas

By Keith Antigiovanni

Two years ago baseball commissioner Bud Selig eliminated any chance of an all-Texas World Series when the he coerced the Astros into the American League. Sorry to my fellow Texans but there wont be a Lone Star version of the "Subway Series" or the "Freeway Series" or even the "Battle of I-70".

Because for the first time in major league baseball's long and storied history two clubs from the state of Texas will face each other as division rivals in the American League West when the Texas Rangers faces its neighbors to the southeast, the Houston Astros in Houston on Easter night to beging first a three game series.

On paper this looks like a mismatch as the Rangers come off a third straight postseason appearance and fourth straight winning season including two straight World Series in 2010-2011 while the Astros are currently in the franchises worst stretches since the expansion years of the 1960's and early 1970's even though Houston has also been to a World Series this past decade.

Although the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston will be division rivals for the first time this year the history of professional baseball in Texas tells us otherwise. For the record, before MLB expanded to a national game, the cities of Dallas,Fort Worth and Houston housed "minor league" clubs from the dawn of the 20th Century up until the early 1960's.

Dallas,Fort Worth, Houston, all members of the AA Texas League dominated on the field and established fierce rivalries with each other. Dallas and Fort Worth were both charters members of the second Texas League which began in 1902 while Houston was a charter member of the South Texas League. In 1907, the two leagues came together like peanut butter and chocolate to form, what else? The Texas League.

Dallas and Houston established itself early on as dominant clubs until 1919 when Fort Worth aka "Atz Cats" after their manager Jake Atz won 7 straight regular season pennants through 1925 and won five of six Dixie Series against the champion from the Southern Association.

Houston would become a powerhouse in the Post War years winning four pennants, five playoff titles and three Dixie Series until its move up to AAA in 1959 when it joined the American Association along with Dallas and Fort Worth.

The three clubs move to the American Association was in response to being named charter franchises in the proposed third major league, the Continental League, however it new league never got off the ground but Houston was awarded an expansion franchise in the National League (1962) along while Dallas and Fort Worth had to wait 10 more years until it the former expansion Washington Senators moved to North Texas after the 1971 season.

From 1972 through 2001 the two clubs rarely met and only co-existed in the nation's second biggest state until interleague play arrived in the late 1990's but didnt meet until 2001. Since then the Rangers lead the "Lone Star Series" 43-30.

Football is still king in Texas with the Cowboys neverending popularity and the Texans rise to relevance but these teams only meet every four years and now with Texas A&M in the SEC the state's greatest football rivalry is gone. Hopefully America's Pastime can fill the void as the Rangers seek to continue as one of baseball's elite while the Astros try to adjust to the AL.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Super Bowl IV Review

Its hard to believe that its been four months since the latest blog entry but this one reviews the broadcast of Super Bowl IV covered by CBS on January 11, 1970.

First of all it was interesting to hear the late great Jack Buck (play-by-play) teamed with future great Pat Summerall (analyst) for this game. Buck and Summerall were a broadcasting team on CBS in the late 1960's. The Buck/Summerall pairing reminded me a lot of FOX current No.1 broadcast team Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and made me think that if Summerall could make the transition to play-by-play why not Aikman?

Summerall and Aikman have low-key, no frill personalities and at times the Buck/Aikman team can be dull since both men sound alike the way Jack Buck and Summerall did. Of course it was CBS policy in the 1960's and 1970's that the play-by-play man was a professional announcer while the analyst was a former athlete.

This changed in 1974 when Summerall was teamed with another former player Tom Brookshier. This team lasted until 1981 when CBS broke them up and paired Summerall with former Oakland Raiders Head Coach John Madden and Brookshier was promoted to play-by-play.

Summerall would go to work two more Super Bowls as an analyst for CBS working with another late great announcer (Ray Scott) in Super Bowls VI and VIII.

As for the game itself, it was easy watching and easy listening. The Kansas City Chiefs took a 16-0 lead in the first half while the Minnesota Vikings tried to make a game ot it with a touchdown in the third quarter but the Chiefs sealed the game on a Len Dawson to Otis Taylor touchdown pass late in the third. The Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp tried but was harried by the KC pass rush and threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter.

This game is not very memorable except for the fact that it was the final game played before the NFL and AFL became one league and for the NFL Films version of it with a miked up Hank Stram saying "65 Toss Power Trap" or "matriculate the ball down the field."

Kansas City's 23-7 win was the high point for Hank Stram's coaching career with is very underrated in today's press. Stram was the first head coach for the Dallas Texans/ Chiefs franchise and was the closest thing the AFL had that could be compared to the NFL's Vince Lombardi.
The Chiefs had the best winning percentage in the AFL and the most titles with three (1962, 1966, 1969). They even faced Lombardi's Packers in Super Bowl I only to be dismissed, 35-10, in what was a close first half. Stram would leave the Chiefs after 1974.

The other team in this game, the Minnesota Vikings, made its first Super Bowl appearance but it would preview the fortunes of the franchise for the 1970's. The Vikings would go on to dominate the NFC Central the next decade winning 8 division titles and would make three more Super Bowl appearances only to lose them all in convincing fashion.

Ah, yes how I can I forget the Super Bowl commercials. First of all there werent that many, maybe 20 during the entire broadcast. You might ask how that can be? Easy answer. Most commercial breaks contained only one commercial and they were each about a minute long. The ads were mostly car, beer and insurance but the big difference between the ads from 1970 and todays are that the ones from 1970 dont insult you're intelligence and were not loud, violent or obnoxious.

If you get a chance, go to youtube and watch Super Bowl IV, it is not a great game but it is very easy on the ears.