Should the Cleveland Browns focus on inventing time travel?

Should the Cleveland Browns focus on inventing time travel?

For those of you who don’t follow American Football, the Cleveland Browns are very bad. They haven’t had a winning season since 2007 and they haven’t reached the post-season playoffs since 2002. The Browns are so bad that telling your child “you’ll end up playing for the Browns if you don’t eat your vegetables” is probably precedent for a visit from child protective services.

They have suffered nearly decades of mismanagement- whether it was moving the team to Baltimore in the middle of the night; an inability to actually make a first round draft pick who turns out well or the string of injuries, bad trades and just generally cellar dwelling the team seems so fond of.

2016 marked the worst season for Cleveland since 1999. They finished 1-15 (which is the worst finish for any NFL team since 2008). Granted, a promising 2017 draft has given hope to a rebuilding of the team but for now, they are still the laughing-stock of the NFL.

So this got me thinking. What could actually help the Browns? And being a sci-fi nerd, the answer was clear- time travel. Could the Browns actually improve their standing if they used time travel to kidnap some of history’s best NFL players during the best seasons of their career? Well, I ran the maths and here’s what I found out.

1. Who do the Browns use time travel to bring to the team?

Using data from a number of different sources, I came to the conclusion (using an aggregated scoring system) that the three best quarterbacks of all time were Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning; the three best running backs were Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Jim Brown and that the three best wide receivers were Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

2. How do the Browns utilize these new players?

So the rule I went with is that the player gains the same stats with the Browns in 2016 as they did in their best career season (with at least 8 game played). Essentially, they played their best season but with the 2016 Browns. Each football legend replaced the best player on the Cleveland roster in their respective position and their stats added to Brown’s stats. Touchdowns scored by the new additions to the team were distributed evenly across Cleveland’s 16 regular season games and any remaining touchdowns were assigned to games by a random number generator.

3. Anything else we need to know about your method?

Any tied games at the end of regulation were left as ties as I have no way of predicting how overtime would go. If a player managed to get Cleveland into playoff contention, Cleveland would replace the appropriate seed and then play their respective playoff matches using the specific player’s postseason stats for their best season.

4. So, what did you find?

Joe Montana (Best season: 1989)

JM89

Despite winning four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and amassing 29 touchdowns during his best season, Montana was let down by the failings in the rushing and receiving cores of the Browns. Most games in 2016 were lost by more than 14 points, meaning that Montana’s two extra touchdowns per game only made the games a little closer, and flipped two losses to ties.

Result: 7-7-2, 3rd in the AFC North

Certainly better than the 1-15 actual season and they do rise above Cincinnati, who finished on 6-9-1. With Montana at the helm, the Browns would record their best season since 2007 and technically finish with a winning season (.500). However, it is nothing particularly special.

Tom Brady (Best season: 2007)

TB07

The Patriots went 18-0 in the 2007 season before losing the Super Bowl and in large part, the success of the regular season is due to the sheer cyborg-like nature of quarterback Tom Brady. He threw 50 touchdowns and was just generally a beast.

Result: 14-1-1, 1st in the AFC North, #1 seed in the AFC, loses to Houston in the division playoff

Brady gives the Browns three extra touchdowns a game, plus a fourth in four of the  games. The only loss comes from the inability to overcome the 10-35 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in week 9, which became a 31-35 game. However, Brady’s numbers plummeted during the ’07 postseason, meaning at the was only able to put two touchdowns a game and so the Browns go out to the Texans 14-16. Still, best season since 1994 for the Browns and a number #1 playoff seeding is nothing to turn your nose up at.

Peyton Manning (Best season: 2013)

PM13

And here comes Peyton Manning, giving the Browns an even four extra touchdowns per game. Say what you will about Manning, when he was good, he was good.

Result: 16-0, 1st in the AFC North, #1 seed in the AFC, loses to Houston in the division playoff

Unsurprisingly, with Manning at the helm, the Browns are unstoppable and record the second ever perfect season in the NFL. Four extra touchdowns a game is enough to wipe out any real life deficit and turns the Browns into an unstoppable force of nature. Their undoing is once again Manning’s post-season performance. He recorded less TDs in the playoffs than Brady and this time can only manage to take the Browns to 7-16 against the Texans.

Barry Sanders (Best season: 1991) and Randy Moss (Best season: 2003)

1991 NFC Divisional Playoff Game - Dallas Cowboys vs Detroit Lions - January 5, 1992        RM03

The big problem that comes with using the Browns patented time travel to collected running backs and wide receivers is that you quarterbacks are still bad, as are the rest of your running backs and wide receivers. Just because you have a legend like Randy Moss doesn’t mean you are going to do any better. The other problem is that these players can’t be solely relied on to put points on the scoreboard. Not every play can be planned to have them take the ball as soon enough, your opponents with just smother them in coverage.

Result: 7-9, 3rd in the AFC North

Both Sanders and Moss give the Browns six victories more than the 2016 but due to the low numbers across the team, even their best seasons aren’t good enough to push the Browns to lower-middle wild card standings.

Walter Payton (Best season: 1977), Jerry Rice (Best season: 1993) and Jim Brown (Best season: 1963)

WALTER PAYTON   JR93        JB63

As I said with Sanders and Moss, even a legendary player’s best season may not be good enough to help the Browns do anymore than post a half-decent season. Most of the receivers for the Browns in 2016 scored 1 or 2 touchdowns apiece and the rushing core was not much better.

Result: 6-10, 4th in the AFC North

5 wins above the actual 2016 season. Here, have a tiny firework.

Party popper

and finally…

Terrell Owens (Best season: 2000)

TO00

Owens was a good, if controversial, player. However, he is largely remembered for his career records and so in his best season, he only recorded 13 receiving touchdowns. This means that for the Browns, he only added an extra touchdown for 13 of 16 games. At this point I should also note that of the three categories, wide receivers was the hardest to aggregate as almost every site had a different list or opinion.

Result: 4-12, 4th in the AFC North

Well, that’s three more wins than they actually got and one more than the got in 2015. Still, I don’t Terrell Owens circa. 2000 is particularly high on the Browns list of time-travel transfer targets.

—-

So in conclusion, taking on the more legendary quarterbacks is probably the best way to go for the Browns, maybe add in a running back or two. However, in all seriousness, the Browns surprised everyone at the 2017 draft with a well-rounded and well-structured draft selection so maybe 2017 will truly see the start of the Cleveland rebuilding effort.

Johnny Bright

Johnny Bright

JB

Let me tell you about Johnny Bright.

Bright grew up in an African-American neighbourhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana with his mom, step-dad and a few siblings. He was a talented sportsman; playing football, basketball and track for his high school and leading the school teams to either local championships or state finals in football and basketball.

When Johnny graduated in 1947, he accepted a scholarship at Michigan State to play football, who were one of the giants of college football at the time. However, unhappy with the direction of the program, he transferred to Drake University, a small private college in Des Moines Iowa. After being redshirted during his freshman, Bright began his college football career as a quarterback/halfback in 1949. He passed for 975 yards and rushed for a further 975, leading Drake to a 6-2-1 season. To put this in perspective, his passing yardage is about a quarter of an NFL quarterback’s season passing yards while his rushing yards, thanks to his experience at halfback, are better than the first NFL season of all 32 current starting NFL quarterbacks (there are maybe 3 quarterbacks who even come close to Bright’s stat). He only got better in the 1950 season, setting an NCAA record for total offensive yards and again leading Drake to a 6-2-1 season. Johnny Bright was a legend in the making.

Then came the 1951 season. Things started well- Bright was considered a surefire candidate for the Heisman Trophy during the pre-season and cemented these feelings by leading Drake on an unbeaten streak in the first five weeks of the season. Saturday, October 20th rolled around and the Drake team travelled the 513 miles from Des Moines to Stillwater, Oklahoma for their match against Oklahoma A&M (Now Oklahoma State). A&M were 1-3 going into the game and would go on to finish the season 3-7. Bright had become the first African–American player to play at A&M’s stadium, Lewis Field, during the 1949 match between the teams. But things were different this time, A&M’s The Daily O’Collegian and Stillwater’s The News Press both described Bright as being a marked man and many A&M students were openly claiming that Bright “would not be around at the end of the game” while students interviewed after the game said they had overheard coaches yelling “get that nigger” when the A&M practice squad ran Drake plays in the week before the game.

The game was horrific- Oklahoma DT Wilbanks Smith knocked Bright unconscious three times in the opening seven minutes, breaking the QB’s jaw on the third occasion. Bright still managed to complete a 61-yard touchdown pass a few plays later before he had to leave the field due to the injury. The final score? Oklahoma 24, Drake 17.

JB handoff
Johnny Bright (circled) hands the ball to FB Gene Macomber
JB Tackle
Johnny Bright is tackled by Smith. Macomber can clearly be seen with the ball towards the bottom of the photo

This story of how racism fuelled a shocking display of football may never have come to light, however, if it wasn’t for Bob Spiegel and Don Ultang. They worked as cameramen for the Des Moines Register and had a camera focused on Bright once the threats of him being a marked man became too large to ignore. The two photos you can see above are part of a sequence published 10 days after the incident. The article also included the “get that nigger” story from A&M students as well as a member of the practice squad showing a local businessman, sat in front of Spiegel, a facial injury he claimed was from Smith practicing his jaw-breaking tackle. The photographic sequence would go on to win the 1952 Pulitzer Prize.

Oklahoma A&M adopted a total denial attitude about the incident and continued to suppress the story, from their end at least, for the next 50 years. Drake University would later pull out of the Missouri Valley Conference in protest of the lack of reprimand for Smith and would not return to the Conference until 1971, Bradley University, who quit in solidarity, would never return to football in the conference. But this isn’t about Oklahoma A&M, this is about Johnny Bright. Despite having his jaw broken, Bright earned 70% of Drake’s yardage for the season and scored 70% of their points. He came fifth in the Heisman ballots.

At the 1952 NFL Draft, Bright was picked as the 5th overall pick of the draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Due to the influx of southern educated players to the NFL and worries about how he would be treated, Bright declined and instead went to Calgary to play in the precursor to the CFL. However, it would be at the Edmonton Eskimos that Bright enjoyed the most success, joining midway through the 1954 season, he would go on to win three consecutive Grey Cups. He also worked as a teacher in Edmonton to provide for his family, as CFL salaries are not what they are today. Bright played 13 seasons of professional football, retiring in 1964 with a heap of records under his belt. After football, Bright continued to teach and was eventually principal of two junior highs in Edmonton.

Johnny Bright died in December 1983 and was buried in Edmonton, survived by his wife and four children.

Epilogue

-Oklahoma State University formally apologised for the Johnny Bright incident in September 2005, fifty-four years after the incident and twenty-two years after Bright’s death.

-The football field at Drake Stadium was named after Bright following renovations in 2006.

-During a 2006 interview, Wilbanks Smith, the DT who made the infamous tackles, maintained that he didn’t see the targeting of Bright as racially motivated.

-Canadian sports network, TSN, ranked Bright as the 19th best CFL player of the modern era in a November 2006 poll.

Ben talks films: 5 athletes who found success in acting

Ben talks films: 5 athletes who found success in acting

In today’s world, people don’t tend to stick to one profession- athletes and musicians dabble in acting; actors dabble in music. However, while this leads to many many cringe-worthy attempts at crossing the professional boundaries. Some do manage to find success. Today, I am talking about five athletes who found success in acting. Criteria for this is that the athlete must have appeared in at least 3 films or at least ten episodes of a television series and at least one of these must have accrued a Rotten Tomatoes score of at least 60%

  1. OJ Simpson (NFL): The now infamous Orenthal James Simpson was born and raised in San Francisco. After a rough childhood and teenage years, including time in prison for association for a gang called the Persian Warriors, he found his drive in American Football. Awarded a scholarship to Southern California, joining in his junior year after two years at a community college. As a running back, he scored 13 touchdowns in his first season and was nominated for Heisman Trophy, the highest accolade for a player at the college level. This athletic excellence led him to be No. 1 NFL draft pick of 1969, picked up by the Buffalo Bills. Over the next eight years, OJ made 5 Pro Bowl appearances and is widely considered to have been one of the main reasons behind Buffalo’s moderate success in the 1970s. After he retired from football in 1978, OJ began to star in more and more bit roles in films and television. His big break came in 1988’s The Naked Gun: Files from the Police Squadalongside Leslie Nielsen. That would spawn two sequels, between which OJ would also star in the football drama First & Ten: The Championship. For some unknown reason, OJ’s last major acting role was in a TV movie called Frogmenin 1994, almost as if something would reshape the way people saw OJ the following year…After the Brown-Goldman murder trial, OJ largely retired from the public eye, again appearing in a few bit parts until his arrest and impris0nment for armed robbery and false imprisonment in 2008. Fun fact- OJ was turned down as a candidate for the lead role in The Terminator because he was considered to be “too nice”.
  2. Terry Crews (NFL): Terry Crews was born in Flint, Michigan and was considered a talented artist. After high school and a stint at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts (as well as working as a court room sketch artist for a Flint based media group), he was given an athletic scholarship to Western Michigan University (WMU). With the WMU Broncos, Crews won a division championship and would go on to be drafted by the LA Rams in the 11th round of the 1991 NFL draft. After playing 6 seasons of football across five different teams, Crews retired and began to pursue acting. His first major role was a ‘T-Money’ in the pilot of the failed Gladiatorsrip-off, Battle Dome. After years of bit roles, including the President of the United States inIdiocracy, Crews’ big break came as Julius, father of the main character on Everybody Hates Chris. This led to a few more TV spots before his next major success as Herbert Love on cult series Arrested Development. He lent his voice to video game Saints Row IV in 2013 as former Third Row Saints leader and current Presidential Chief of Staff Benjamin King before taking on a number of smaller roles once more. He can currently be seen as not-so-tough guy and former football player Sgt. Terry Jeffords on police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
  3. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (NCAA, CFL, WWE): Dwayne ‘The Rock’ ‘Franchise Viagra’ Johnson started his athletic career as a Defensive Tackle for the University of Miami Hurricanes, with whom he won a collegiate national championship with in 1991. After graduating in 1995, he joined CFL team, the Calgary Stampeders, but was cut soon after the start of the season. This led him to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and join the world of wrestling. The Rock has been active as a wrestler in three stints since 1995. He was a popular figure in the wrestling world and garnered a large following. In the acting world, Johnson would follow a number of small roles, including roles in The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King and Doombefore beginning to garner the title of ‘Franchise Viagra’ for his ability to breathe life into dying franchises. This is seen in GI Joe, the Fast & Furious films. He has a lot on his plate according to IMDB, with two sequels to Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a sequel to San Andreas, another Fast & Furious movie, and the lead in the Baywatchreboot as well as the lead villain role in DC’s Shazam! Safe to say that we’ll be seeing Johnson for a long time to come.
  4. Andre the Giant (WWF): Starting out as a French wrestler, Andre is best known for his undefeated wrestling streak between 1973 and 1987 as well as a feud with Hulk Hogan. As an actor, his time was sadly cut short due to his death at the age 0f 46 but it he is well remained for an uncredited role in Conan the Destroyer, his hilarious performance in The Princess Brideas well as a cameo performance in Micki & Maude. His speciality was big lumbering, passive giants. His characters were often portrayed as being misunderstood and actually good people at heart.
  5. Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Austrian bodybuilder and former Governor of California is probably one of the most famous examples on an athlete finding success in acting. His first role was as Hercules in the 1969 film Hercules in New Yorkand he would continue in bit parts for the next decade, winning serval Mr Olympia titles in the interlude (consecutive wins between 1970 and 1975) before landing his first major lead as Conan in Conan the Barbarian and its sequel, Conan the Destroyer. You might not remember the 1984 sequel, Conan the Destroyer, as a little film starring Arnie called The Terminatorcame out, showcasing his signature wooden acting in a whole 16 lines of dialogue. The late 80s then became Arnie’s golden era with the release of Commando, Predator, The Running Man and Twins. His success followed into the 90s with Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, Terminator 2 and Last Action Hero before the late 90s gave way to less acclaimed Arnie films such as Jingle all the way, Batman & Robin and End of Days. The 2000s are largely known for Arnie’s surprise political career, where he served as California’s Governor between 2003 and 2011 (the second actor to do so after Ronald Reagan), but it is also known for the two terrible Terminator films and appearances in the first two Expendables movies. The 2010s followed a similar path with a few Arnie roles, the standout performance being his lead in 2015’s independent film Maggie, which Arnie did for free and gives a very good performance in.

What are some of your favourite athletes turned actors? Let me know!

 

Ben talks TV: Friday Night Lights

Ben talks TV: Friday Night Lights

Warning: Some plot spoilers ahead

The late Tom Landry one said “Football is to Texas what religion is to a priest.” If you venture into the Lone Star State, you will find a sports culture unlike any other. Whole towns come to a standstill when the high school team plays on Friday night; Texas has twelve teams playing in the highest tier of collegiate football and the Dallas Cowboys once spent over two decades being considered the greatest football team in America.

Friday Night LightsA town, A team and a dream is a 1990 non-fiction work that follows the 1988 season for the Permian Panthers, a high school football team from Odessa, Texas. The book is not only a fascinating insight into high school football and its effect on the town around it, but also the journey of the author, HG Bassinger, who goes from looking to write an uplifting piece about high school football unifying a town to writing a much more cynical piece as he uncovers the darker truth about how much Texans love their football. Bassinger’s work was the basis for the 2004 film Friday Night Lights, which is a largely faithful adaptation of the book with Billy Bob Thornton taking on the role of Coach Gary Gaines. The film then served as an inspiration for an NBC drama of the same name, which is what I’m here to talk about today.

Before you stop reading, let me tell you that Friday Night Lights isn’t just a high school sports drama with a ‘game of the week’ format. It is a heartfelt series which really personifies the title of Bassinger’s work- a town, a team, a dream. The show follows the fictional Dillon Panthers, who must work to meet the high expectation placed upon them.

The cast of characters is diverse and likeable (or deliberately unlikeable). The show’s characters are split into three overarching categories- the Taylors, the team and the town. The show’s lead characters are Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife, Tami, and daughter, Julie, as they return to Dillon in the pilot episode after a number of years elsewhere. The struggles faced by Coach Taylor that is the main basis for the show. As you would expect from a show about high school football, the team roster changes as classes come and go. For the first two seasons, we follow the on and off field lives of star quarterback Jason Street (who is paralysed in the pilot episode); his replacement Matt Saracen, a sweet and sensitive boy who defies, and struggles with, the jock lifestyle; the arrogant and verbose running back Brian ‘Smash’ Williams, who has to learn to cope as one of the few black members of a largely white team as well as how to play nice with his teammates; and the sullen, often drunk fullback Tim Riggins, who is the show’s anti-hero character. After season 2, there are few squad changes, except for the departure of Smash and the introduction of the socially awkward Landry Clark, who had previously been a secondary character and a close friend of Matt Saracen. The other big change is the introduction of JD McCoy, a talented quarterback and Matt’s rival for first string quarterback. The biggest changes come in the last two seasons of the show, when Coach Taylor is transferred to the newly re-opened East Dillon High School. The major players that are introduced are Micheal B. Jordan’s Vince Howard, a boy from the rough part of town trying to make good, and Luke Cafferty, a nervous yet talented running back. Completing the cast is the rest of Dillon, showcasing the mentality of a football obsessed Texas town. Many of the characters are romantically or linked to players or are their family, such as Tim’s on and off girlfriend Tyra and Jason’s loving yet ultimately fickle girlfriend Lyla. We also meet Matt’s grandmother, who is slowly losing a fight to dementia, and Tim’s deadbeat brother Billy. The show also focuses on the relationship between Coach Taylor and the Boosters, the primary source of the funding for the football team. We especially see his relationship with former player and influential booster Buddy Garrity, who often comes as single-minded and rude but deep down, he’s just trying to do everything he can for the team.

As I said before, the show isn’t just about football and its in-season arcs do cover a wide range of issues. We get an insight into how football players are treated in Texas, with one story following a Hispanic player who assaults a fellow student but lies and says that he was racially provoked. Coach Taylor is torn between standing up for the victim and protecting his player. As you would expect from a Texan set drama, race is explored thoroughly. Most of the core cast get a few storylines thrown their way. The show deals with abortion and sex, both near taboo topics in Texas. Essentially, the show goes out of its way to create a snapshot of rural Texas and the issues that high school students and their town as a whole may face.

If you are looking for a good drama to watch, and you don’t mind a little football thrown into the mix, I’d definitely recommend Friday Night Lights, which you can find on Netflix.

Have you seen the show? What do you think of it? Let me know!

 

Ben talks sport: Super Bowl 50

Ben talks sport: Super Bowl 50

The time has come. Thirty-two teams began the 2015-16 NFL season and now only two remain. From Charlotte come the Panthers, riding proud on a record of 15-1 in the regular season. To reach their second Super bowl, they routed Seattle and crushed Arizona. The only thing that stands between them and the Vince Lombardi trophy are the Broncos, the untamed powerhouse riding down from their throne a mile in the sky. They proved stronger than the Steelers and toppled the Patriots to step onto the field at Super Bowl for the eighth time.

Before we get into predictions. Let’s look at the teams, their Super Bowl histories and their records against one another.

The Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers joined the NFL in 1995 as the league’s 29th franchise. They finished their first season with a 7-9 record, the best of any expansion team in their respective first seasons. They then proceeded to go 12-4 in their second season, before losing to eventual Super Bowl champions Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. Since their first season in ’95, they have racked up six division titles, two NFC Championships, seven playoff appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.

At the start of the 2015 season, they used their five draft picks to mainly shore up a number of offensive gaps and posted a 3-1 record in the pre-season. Then the magic began. Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Tennessee, Washington and Dallas all fell to the might of the Panthers. An 11-0 season was extended to 14-0 with victories against New Orleans once more, Atlanta and New York (Giants). The Panthers only stumbled when in week 16, when they were tripped up by Atlanta in a heated divisional match-up. However, thrashing Tampa Bay the following week put the Panthers at a regular season of 15-1. In a repeat of last season’s divisional playoff, Carolina faced Seattle and routed the Seahawks, even going 31-0 at half time. Similarly, they held off Arizona with ease in the NFC Championship Game, earning a place in Super Bowl 50.

What was this due to? Carolina has very few weaknesses, able to execute a number of play styles with ease. Defences are strained and over-worked as the Panthers display excellent short and medium passing, great inside runs and a near unstoppable goal-line offense. They are also expertly commanded by energetic quarterback, Cam Newton, who is a calm and commanding presence on the field. Carolina is also incredibly versatile. When Newton’s favoured passing target, Kevin Benjamin, was side-lined due to a torn ACL, Newton quickly developed on-field chemistry with rookie Devin Funchess. That versatility has proved crucial to the Panthers success this season.

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are an NFL staple, joining the American Football League in 1960 and becoming an NFL team in the AFL-NFL merger of 1970. In their 46 year NFL history, they have racked up twenty-two playoff appearances; fifteen division titles, eight conference championships, eight Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles.

The Broncos had a strong start to the season, going 7-0 before dropping two games and going onto rack up another five wins and two losses. Crucially, they only lost twice to division rivals and so managed to take the AFC West with relative ease. After a Wild Card bye, Denver saw off the Pittsburgh Steelers before coming face to face with their old AFC rivals, the mighty New England Patriots. Due to a string of poor performances, Denver had actually finished with a better seeding than the Patriots and on Sunday, they showed them who was boss with a tight two-point win on their home turf.

And what do they have to thank for this? Second-string quarterback Brock Osweiler. It must be hard to be the back-up for a legend like Peyton Manning but Osweiler did it with style. According to reports from inside the Broncos, Osweiler turned up to every training session, attended every strategy and quarterback’s meeting and essentially clung to Manning like a shadow. And it paid off as when Manning got injured nine games into the season, it was Osweiler who took up the mantle of leading the offence. Even Manning is saying that the Broncos should begin to field Osweiler as their starting quarterback. The Broncos also boast a great running defence and specialise in digging in and slowly working their way up the field, always careful and always cautious.

Carolina vs Denver

Being in different conferences and with a 24 year gap in their NFL runs, it isn’t surprising that the two teams have only met four times prior to Super Bowl 50. Denver currently leads the series 3-1 and in fact caused to Carolina to be shut out of their first meeting, which Denver won 31-0.

Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl 50 will certainly be an interesting matchup. The two sides don’t exactly meet each other’s weaknesses with their personal strengths. Denver may struggle to hold back the unstoppable tide of the Cam Newton offence but could capitalise on Carolina’s biggest weakness, which is deep passing plays. While Denver does lead Carolina in terms of previous match ups, the teams haven’t met since 2012 and both are very different sides.

My prediction: This could go either way. Denver is Denver but their last Super Bowl was an utter disaster and Carolina truly is the team to beat this year.

 

Ben talks sports history: Women and American Football

Ben talks sports history: Women and American Football

Earlier this week, the Buffalo Bills made history by becoming the first NFL team to hire a full-time female coach. Kathryn Smith will take on the role of the special teams quality control coach, which involves analysing the special teams (the various kicker positions) of the Bill’s opponents. Following this fantastic moment for the sport, today, I decided to look back at the varied history of women within the sport of American Football.

For a long time, as with many other sports, American Football was considered a ‘man’s game’, with the sport seen to be too tough for women. In fact, even the cheerleaders- a female dominated section of the game today- started out as an all-male hobby, with colleges only admitting women into their cheer squads on a mainstream level from the 1940s onwards. Prior to that, women were either turned away if they tried to join the sport or, in the case of the 1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets (now the Philadelphia Eagles), used as a half-time spectacle.

However, as the 20th Century continued, women did begin to find a way into American Football, especially at the high school and college level. In 1972, Theresa Dion became the first woman to play on a high school varsity team when she came on as a placekicker for Immaculate High School in Key West. Despite this, it would be a slow, uphill battle for women, with many players happy with becoming the first female players in their particular state.

Similarly, things were equally slow for women looking to play football at the collegiate level. It wouldn’t be until 1993 before Tonya Butler became the first female recipient of a football scholarship when she went to play for Middle Georgia College. Four years later, Liz Heaton would become the first woman to school in a college football game when she converted two extra points during a 27-0 victory for her college, Willamette University. Following that, Ashley Martin would become the woman to score in a NCAA game, when she converted an extra point for Jacksonville State in 2001. There is a potential addition to this list- Shelley Osborne of Campbellsville University stands to become the first female player in a non-kicking position on a college team.

The story is very similar when it comes to coaches, with women only very recently being considered for coaching staff positions. Jennifer Welter was a pre-season Inside Line-backer coach for the Arizona Cardinals and also sports a long playing career. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Kathryn Smith has had a long career within the NFL, initially starting out as a game day intern for the New York Jets in 2003.

However, these positions are highly unprotected- in 1996, current Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, at this point the quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers college team, allegedly pulled down his shorts and sat on the face of a female trainer while she checked his foot after he had complained of pain in his Achilles heel. After reaching a settlement with the university, the trainer left. End of story, right? Wrong. When Manning wrote a biography in 2002, in which he claimed that he was mooning a prominent track athlete and while he didn’t think the trainer had seen him do it, she was known to be ‘vulgar’ and so would have found it funny. Unfortunately for the trainer, who was now a director of an athletics program in Florida, she lost her job over the ‘vulgar’ label.

For every attempt women make to enter the world of American Football, the sport still appears to stand as a “bastion of masculinity” (BBC) but it is certainly refreshing to see that women are able to forge a path within the proud American past time.

 

Ben talks sport: Post divisonal playoffs (NFL)

Ben talks sport: Post divisonal playoffs (NFL)

Before I get into the meat of today’s blog, I just want to say that in my last NFL blog, which was written prior to Wild Card Weekend, I accurately predicted everything that was going to happen so go me!

It’s Tuesday and the smoke has cleared. Four teams remain in the running for a place in Super Bowl 50 and next weekend, our Super bowl contestants will be revealed. Seattle, Green Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh all fell at the weekend and now we see the Arizona Cardinals travel to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers while New England are going up to a showdown against Denver at Mile High. Let’s delve into these matches.

NFC- Cardinals @ Panthers

The Cardinals only just managed to fend off a marauding Green Bay on Sunday. In something of a trademark for the Packers this season, an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary pass in the dying seconds of the game forced overtime but it was eventually the Cardinals who came out on top. Meanwhile the Panthers held off the Seahawks with ease, going 31-0 at half time and shutting down a second half rally to win 31-24.

These teams last met in early 2015 at the 2014-15 Wild Card round, where Carolina came out victorious. However, that was a fourth seed Carolina with a 7-8-1 record shocking a fifth seed 11-5 Arizona. In this match-up, Arizona needs to accept they are facing a 16-1 top seed Carolina.

The Cardinals biggest strength is a short and medium passing offensive, led by Carson Palmer. The Cardinals like to take their time, working their way up the field with short to medium passes combined with fierce short gain running plays. This may prove useful as Carolina focuses its defence on limiting rushing gains. However, the Carolina offence, helmed by Cam Newton, is nigh on unstoppable, especially against a relatively lacklustre defence. The Panthers are relatively unpredictable on the offence, boosting a good range of short to medium gain running plays and medium gain passing plays.

Sunday proves to be an interesting day and all eyes will be on Charlotte, North Carolina.

My prediction: Carolina. I’d be surprised if Arizona won this but I would also be surprised if Carolina was held to a victory of anything more substantial than a touchdown or two..

AFC- New England @ Denver

New England managed to hold off the destructive pass rush of the Kansas City Chiefs to secure a showdown between them and Denver. Meanwhile, Big Ben and Pittsburgh were seen off by Denver, despite leading for most of the game. After a shaky season, Peyton Manning was back in the pocket and led Denver to host New England.

We are not looking at on-form Patriots. While they are winning matches they are not they destructive side they were earlier in the season. Meanwhile, the Broncos have Manning back and look determined to go all the way to the Super Bowl. The best bet for the Patriots is to keep Brady safe in the pocket and stretch Denver’s defence while moving the ball up the field in substantial chunks. Any attempt to stop-start play will just leave them caught up in a bitter battle with the Broncos defence. The Broncos should respond to this with concentrated blitzing and force Brady back or to panic throw.

The last time these titans of the AFC was earlier this season and the Broncos won in overtime and that was the first of the Patriots four defeats in the last six games of the season. The Patriots will certainly be wary of the Broncos

My Prediction: Too close to call. This game will be intense and bitter. It could go either way.