Friday, December 28, 2012

Gridiron Giving: The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund

With a dismal record of 5 wins and 10 losses, the Arizona Cardinals haven’t been in the playoff picture for quite some time.  For the Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, though, the early start to the off-season means that he can devote even more time and energy to his personal charity, the First Down Fund.


A perennial all-star receiver, Larry Fitzgerald is known for his reliable hands and has already made his mark on the football field.  So far over his nine-year career, he has been selected to six Pro Bowls, has set several NFL and Cardinals records and is a Super Bowl Champion.  He's also got a great on-screen presence; check out this ESPN SportsCenter commercial, one of my favorites:
Less known, though, are his achievements off the field in bettering local communities.  Through his First Down Fund, Larry has supported many causes both at home and abroad. 


Earlier this year, Fitzgerald traveled to Ethiopia with another organization, Oxfam America, to visit a farm training center and an irrigation project, where he worked on the construction site for retaining walls that will capture rainwater and prevent erosion.  He has also made several trips to Asia and Africa with Starkey Hearing Foundation to fit children with hearing aids.


Here in America, the First Down Fund supports a wide variety of causes aimed at fighting cancer, building strong families and promoting good health.  Fitzgerald, whose mother, Carol, died in 2003 while being treated for breast cancer, was a spokesman for the American Cancer Society’s “Crucial Catch” campaign during October, which was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The Fund also made significant donations, based on the number of his touchdowns and receptions during October, to several breast cancer organizations. 


To promote the cause of building stronger families, the First Down Fund was a sponsor of “Tying the Knot,” an event in his home state of Minnesota that combined song, storytelling and dance to celebrate fatherhood.  Larry is also a long-standing supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, several Boys and Girls Clubs and Plano Child Development Center, which is devoted to providing vision care to Chicago-area children (Fitzgerald had to deal with vision problems as a child). 

This season and last, the Fund made a $1,000 donation each week to a fan-nominated charity.  Funds this year have gone to: TyREDD, which raises awareness about the dangers of driving while tired; the Arthritis Foundation; the Weekend Backpack Program of FeedMore in Richmond, Virginia, which provides kids who depend on public school lunch programs with meals to get them through the weekend; and a Tucson, Arizona elementary school, which is getting $1,000 for their playground and another $1,000 for school supplies. Recipients from last year included the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Parenting with a Purpose and the Special Olympics of both Minnesota and Arizona.


To learn more about the wide reach of First Down Fund, and to keep track of what is sure to be a busy 2013 for Larry Fitzgerald and the Fund, visit their site at

Click here to find out more about Larry’s world travels.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gridiron Giving: Aaron Rodgers and the MACC Fund

Last year during the holidays, Naptime Huddle launched its “Gridiron Giving” series, which profiled several charities that reflect the personal missions of NFL players to serve their communities or causes that they are passionate about.  This year we continue the series with an organization supported by numerous athletes who play a variety of sports.  But it happens to be the favorite charity of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.


The mission of Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc.—or “MACC Fund”—is to provide funding for research to cure childhood cancer and related blood disorders.  The funds it raises are given to a variety of research institutions, primarily the Medical College of Wisconsin, which researches childhood cancer through various facilities, including the MACC Fund Research Center.  Since its founding in 1976, the MACC Fund has contributed $42 million to childhood cancer research.


The MACC Fund was founded by former Milwaukee Bucks star Jon McGlockin (left), who played in the NBA for eleven years.  The roster of the Honorary Athletic Board boasts many current and former star athletes and sports figure, including Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair, baseball fixture Bob “Mr. Baseball” Uecker and former University of Wisconsin football coach (and current Athletic Director) Barry Alvarez.  However, the organization’s most fervent, and visible, celebrity supporter is Aaron Rodgers.


Rodgers’ popularity, especially in Wisconsin, makes him an invaluable asset for the MACC fund, not only in fundraising but in raising awareness of the plight of childhood cancer, which is the leading disease-related cause of childhood death after the newborn period.  Rodgers devotes a great deal of time to the MACC Fund, making himself the focus of numerous fundraising events for the organization throughout the year, like An Evening with Aaron Rodgers and Pack Lunch with Aaron Rodgers. 


Despite the rigors of quarterbacking the Packers, including making a push to the playoffs, fall has been a busy season for Aaron Rodgers and the MACC Fund:


·  Currently, the charity is in the midst of the Aaron Rodgers 12 Days of Christmas program.  From December 1st through the 12th, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is running a full-page ad featuring the story of a child battling cancer or a blood disorder.  Kohl’s department stores in Milwaukee are also involved in the effort, donating 5% of net sales of all toy purchases from December 1-12 to the MACC Fund. 

·  Last month, the quarterback made personal visits to three children living with cancer.  Videos of their memorable experiences are online at, a site established by a local law firm to raise awareness for the MACC Fund. 

·  December 12, 2012 has even been declared Aaron Rodger’s Day by the Wisconsin legislature, the result of one fan’s drive to establish the “holiday” to both honor Rodgers and bring awareness and contributions to the cause that is so near to his heart (click here to visit the Facebook page of the Aaron Rodger’s Day movement and here for its fundraising page).


The organization’s largest event is its annual Trek 100: A Ride For Hope, which is a bicycle race that offers riders loops of various distances (from 19 to 100 miles) through rural Southern Wisconsin, with post-ride festivities that include music and food.  This year’s event was projected to bring in more than $800,000.  Some schools have supported MACC by conducting “Buzz Cuts for Cancer” events:  students and teachers volunteer to have their heads shaved in return for pledges; they also sell T-shirts for the event.  Over seven years, two school that have hosted the event have raised a total of over $90,000!


I think it’s fitting to start this year’s Gridiron Giving series with this charity because, as we tend to focus at this time of year on the material gifts we buy and receive, most of us take for granted the most precious gift of all:  the gift of good health.  So, especially if you are blessed with healthy children, please take the time this holiday season to remember the families with loved one who battle every day to beat cancer or another serious illness.  For these families and victims of disease, every new day is a gift.  


To learn more about the MACC Fund, and to find out how you can make a contribution or volunteer for this worthwhile organization, visit its website at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Recipe Timeout: Sweet Potato Muffins

If you have leftover sweet potatoes from Thanksgiving, or just love the flavors of fall, then this recipe is for you.  I highly recommend making mini muffins with this recipe--they are perfect for toddler hands, and they take out all of the guilt from your mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.

I got this recipe from, which has lots of family-friendly recipes, as well as craft ideas and the like (visit


1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups mashed baked sweet potato (from 2 medium potatoes or 1.5 large ones)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

7 tablespoons cinnamon sugar (one Tbsp. cinnamon mixed with 6 Tbsp. granulated sugar)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon until creamy.  Beat in sugars (I use an electric hand mixer) until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in milk, vanilla and sweet potatoes (it won't be completely smooth and creamy).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  Beat together the wet and dry mixtures until just combined.

Grease your muffin tin and fill the cups half full with batter.  If desired, sprinkle tops with the cinnamon sugar.

Bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean:  approximately 18 minutes for full-size muffins and 14 minutes for mini muffins.


12-18 full-size muffins
3-4 dozen mini muffins

Friday, November 16, 2012

Overtime Overload

By now you’re probably aware that we witnessed a supreme rarity over the weekend:  a tie game.  This one was between the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers—deadlocked with 24 points each at the end of regulation, the game proceeded into overtime.  Neither team scored again, making this an even more unusual result, as it was marked by a touchdown negated because of a penalty, a missed 41-yard field goal attempt, a 53-yard field goal negated by a penalty that resulted in a missed 58-yard try.  So, for both teams, that’s two scoring plays called back for penalties and two missed field goals each.  Not a performance coaches Jeff Fisher (above left) and Jim Harbaugh (above right) want to remember.

Although tie results don’t happen often in the NFL (there have been just 18 ties since 1974 with only five in the last 23 years), I thought it would be a good time to review the rules regarding overtime, and exactly when a game is deemed winner-less.*


The Way It Was

Back in the day (2010), games deadlocked at the end of regulation went to a SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME period.  That meant that the first team to score won.  Which team would receive the ball first was determined by a coin toss, just as it is before the start of the game.  Many times you would see that, if the team with the ball first had a reliable kicker (which is nearly every team), it would just attempt a field goal as soon as its offense got within a reasonable distance of the end zone, even before fourth down. 

These outcomes led to whining about how unfair it seemed to end games, especially ones so hard-fought, by a field goal—as if this was somehow a dishonorable or cowardly way to end a game (much like the way coaches felt about having the quarterback kneel with the ball to run out the clock and seal the victory).  Since the winner of overtime coin toss would always choose to receive the ball first, the chief complaint was that the outcomes of these games were largely a matter of luck.  This seemed especially egregious in playoff games, where the outcomes are that much more significant.


The Way It Is


The whining came to a head in the postseason of the 2009 season when the Minnesota Vikings faced the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game.  The Saints got the ball first in overtime and kicked a field goal on their opening possession; they went on to win the Super Bowl.   Such was the outcry for justice that in the spring of 2010, all but four of the NFL owners voted to change the rules for overtime in playoff games.  Ironically, the Vikings were one of the four teams that voted against the change. 


Upon closer examination, it turns out that the whiners had some basis for complaint.  At the time, the statistics had shown that over the previous 15 years the winner of the coin toss won in overtime 59.8% of the time; 34.4% of the time on the first possession. 


In 2011, the new rules adopted by the owners only applied to playoff games.  This year, they became applicable to all games.  Those rules are as follows:  

·  If the first team with the ball scores a touchdown, the game is over;

·  If the team kicking off at the start of overtime scores a safety on the receiving team’s possession, the game is over;

·  If the first team with the ball scores a field goal, it then kicks off to the other team, who will try to tie the game with a field goal or win with a touchdown ;

·  If the game is still tied after each team has possessed the ball, the next team to score, no matter how they score, wins.


The McNabb Affair (Or, "What Am I, a Lawyer?!?")


In the regular season, a game that is still deadlocked after one overtime period goes into the books as a tie—even if the team that kicked off to start overtime never possesses the ball (which is highly unlikely).  So, you only have that one extra period to win the game.  Since the tie game is so rare, this rule isn’t widely known, even among players.  Or, at least it wasn’t before 2008, the last time there was a tie.  That game was between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals.  After the game, 10-year veteran QB Donovan McNabb admitted his ignorance of the possibility that a game could end in a tie.  He got a lot of flak for his mistake, with some wondering if his on-field strategy in the waning moments of overtime was impacted by it.  Overall, this was not a good day for McNabb, as he fumbled once and threw three interceptions in the game. 


Not helping himself, he stated after the game “I guess we’re aware of [the rule] now…I hate to see what would happen in the Super Bowl and in the playoffs.”  Of course, in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, the battles are fought until a winner is determined—if the game is still deadlocked at the end of the first overtime period, we move to a second overtime period.


But Wait… There’s More!


So, here is a summary of the rest of the overtime rules, as found in Article 16 of the NFL Rule Book:

·   For both regular season and postseason games:

o There are no coaches’ challenges, and all reviews are initiated by the replay official.

o There is a three minute break between the end of regulation and overtime, and the overtime period(s) each last 15 minutes, just like any regular quarter.

·   For regular season games:

o Each team is allotted two timeouts in overtime.

o The overtime period is treated like the fourth quarter (e.g., there is a two-minute warning).

o A tied score at the end of the single overtime period results in a tie game.

·   For postseason games:

o A new overtime period will commence if the score is still tied at the end of the preceding period.

o There will be a two-minute intermission between each additional overtime period.

o The second and fourth overtime periods are timed as if they were the second and fourth quarters in a game (e.g., with a two-minute warning).

o Each team gets three timeouts for every two overtime periods.


There’s a lot to remember, but at least now you won’t “McNabb” it when asked about overtime in the NFL!


*For loyal Naptime Huddle readers, this all may seem familiar.  Last December I wrote about how overtime works, and since those rules changed in the last offseason, I also published a post this past September covering those changes.  Now you have all of that information combined in one post!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Most Ghoulish Injuries in NFL History

Today’s post was inspired by three events:

1.     The horrific knee injury suffered by South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore when he was tackled in the Gamecocks’ game against the Tennessee Volunteers over the weekend.

2.     Halloween

3.     Being trapped indoors by Hurricane Sandy


In honor of these three things (the third just making me morose and antsy), I decided to present some of the most gruesome injuries to ever be suffered in professional football.  So, a word of warning:  VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED.  IF YOU HAVE A WEAK CONSTITUTION AND DON’T RESPOND WELL TO SEEING BODY PARTS BENT IN UNNATURAL WAYS, DO NOT WATCH THE VIDEOS IN THIS POST! 


Also, a personal caveat:  I don’t believe that we should glorify violence in football and I don’t intend to do that here.  Please consider these to be cautionary tales (and inspiration in those cases where the player bounced back to continue his career). In fact, you’ll notice that several of the injuries occurred with hits that were not terribly violent--just a stuck foot or poorly angled foot plant.  These injuries also serve as a nice contrast to the staged nature of Halloween, to illustrate examples of true horror.


For those of you still with me, here we go.  For each injury, we have a video, the diagnosis of the injury and the aftermath for the injured player.*


The rest of the injuries in this post occurred in the NFL, but I first wanted to show you the injury to running back Marcus Lattimore (#21) in case you missed it:


THE DIAGNOSIS:   Broken right femur and patella, all ligaments in knee torn

THE AFTERMATH:  Unknown at this point, but as a junior, he may be able to return to the college game.  Marcus was considered a potential draft pick if he chose to leave school after this season, so hopefully he can still pursue the dream of a career in the pros.


TIM KRUMRIE (Bengals #69, trying to tackle Niners back Roger Craig in Super Bowl XXIII, January 22, 1989)


THE DIAGNOSIS:  Broken left tibia and fibula

THE AFTERMATH:  Played for six more years

(By the way, did you notice that Merlin Olsen was once of the announcers?)


NAPOLEON MCCALLUM (Raiders #41, tackled in a Monday Night Football game against the Niners on September 5, 1994)



THE DIAGNOSIS:  Hyperextended left knee, ruptured artery, three torn ligaments, torn calf and hamstring and nerve damage.

THE AFTERMATH:  Career-ending injury; McCallum started a computer graphics business in 1996.

I feel horrible for San Francisco’s Ken Norton Jr., who was trapped under McCallum for over a minute.


LEONARD WEAVER (Eagles #47, tackled in game against Green Bay on September 12, 2010)




THE AFTERMATH:  Career-ending injury; Weaver reportedly attended the league’s NFL Broadcast Bootcamp this past summer.


JOHNNY KNOX (Bears #11, tackled in game against Seattle on December 18, 2011)



THE DIAGNOSIS:  Injured vertebrae (no paralysis)

THE AFTERMATH:  Has yet to return from the injury and is currently on the Bears’ “physically unable to perform” list.


E.J. HENDERSON (Vikings #56, suffered attempting to make a tackle against Arizona on December 6, 2009)



THE DIAGNOSIS:  Broken left femur

THE AFTERMATH:  Returned for the 2010 season, even making the Pro Bowl; currently a free agent


JOE THEISMANN (Redskins, #7, tackled in a game against the New York Giants on November 18, 1985)




THE DIAGNOSIS:  Fractured right tibia and fibula

THE AFTERMATH:  Certainly the most famous injury in this post, this was also a career-ending one.  Theismann would go on to become an NFL broadcaster and opened a restaurant bearing his name in Alexandria, Virginia.  Lawrence Taylor has said that he has never seen the video of his tackle of Theismann, and doesn’t intend to.


*There, of course, have been many other horrific injuries to NFL players over the years, but I couldn’t find videos, at least useful ones, for some.  These honorable mentions include:  Musa Smith of the Baltimore Ravens, who was injured in a game against the Cowboys; Chris Kuper of the Broncos, injured in a game against the Chiefs; Jets Leon Washington, injured playing against the Raiders; and Redskins kicker Bryan Barker, who was injured playing a Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys (I actually remember seeing this one. He took a knee to the face and his nose resembled a pig’s nose because it was jammed upwards).  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Respecting Boundaries

If you watched the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game last weekend, you saw a wild finish.  On their last drive of the game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were down by a touchdown and out of time outs.  Starting from their own nineteen-yard line, they managed to work their way down to the New Orleans nine-yard line in the last two minutes of the game. 
The game came down to the final play:  quarterback Josh Freeman tossed a pass to receiver Mike Williams in the back corner of the end zone.  Touchdown, right?  Nope.  To understand why this score was negated, you have to look at the NFL’s rules regarding receivers who make a catch after going out of bounds, which are explained below. 


This disappointing (and rare) finish inspired me to review the NFL rules that relate to action taking place at the boundaries of the field—i.e., the sidelines and the end line.*



First, though, let’s start with Rule 3, Section 21, which defines what it means to be “out of bounds.”  Under that rule, a player is “out of bounds” when he touches a boundary line (i.e., a sideline or the end line), or when he touches anything on or outside a boundary line that isn’t another player, an official, or a pylon.  In other words, if a player is standing on the sideline, or brushes against, say, his coach or the down marker, he is out of bounds.

Rule 3 also explains how the ball is considered “out of bounds.”  Of course, the ball is out of bounds if the runner (i.e., the player with the ball) is out of bounds; the ball is also out of bounds if it (and not the player) touches a boundary line or anything other than a player or an official on or outside that line.  
If the ball is loose (i.e., not in the possession of any one player), it is out of bounds when it touches a boundary line or anything on or outside a boundary line. 




Illegal First Touching

So, what about the touchdown at the end of the Saints-Bucs game that didn’t count?

In that situation we look to Rule 8, Section 1, Article 6(d).  This provision declares that a player is ineligible to catch a pass if he “has been out of bounds prior to or during the pass, even if he has re-established himself inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands” (emphasis mine).  Naturally, the pass would be incomplete if the receiver caught it out of bounds.  This rule goes further than that, though, by not allowing a receiver to catch a ball once he’s been out, even if he comes back into the field of play.  Moreover, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 8 provides that it is a foul if a forward pass is first touched by a receiver who has gone out of bounds and has re-established himself inbounds.  The penalty is the loss of five yards.

MECHANICS NOTE:  An official will typically throw his hat to the ground to signify that a receiver has gone out of bounds and become ineligible to catch the pass.

There is one exception to this rule:  if the receiver is forced out of bounds by a foul committed by a defender (e.g., pass interference or defensive holding), he is allowed to catch a pass as soon as he “re-establishes himself inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands.”   Unfortunately for Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams, that’s not what happened at the end of Sunday’s game and he was flagged for illegal touching.**


(Note, though, that the announcer is wrong when he says that you become eligible once you’ve reestablished your position inbounds.)


Sideline Catches

We’ve talked before about what a player needs to do to catch a pass under the rules.  What we didn’t discuss were the rule provisions that specifically address catches made at the sidelines.  Two provisions apply here.  First, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Items 2 states:

If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an opponent) in the process of making a catch at the sideline, he must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, or the pass is incomplete.

Really, this is just another way of stating the requirement for a catch, just making it specifically apply to players going out of bounds as they catch the pass.  More interesting to me, though, is Item 6:

If a player, who is in possession of the ball, is held up and carried out of bounds by an opponent before both feet or any part of his body other than his hands touches the ground inbounds, it is a completed or [if the player is a defender] intercepted pass.

So, if a player is at the sidelines, leaps up and catches the ball, it is a complete pass if he is “carried” out of bounds by an opponent before he can touch the ground in the field of play.  It sounds like this would require Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics, but it is possible.


The NFL’s rules also address the situation when a fumbled ball goes out of bounds.  There are two different provisions, depending on whether the ball goes out of bounds between the goal lines or in the end zone.  The applicable rule is Rule 8, Section 7, Articles 3, Items 3 and 4.  These parts of the rule might seem complicated when you read them, but they can be summarized fairly easily.

Basically, when a team fumbles between the goal lines, it can lose yards, but it can’t gain extra yards.  Here’s the rule:

·  If the fumble went backwards, the ball is returned to the team that last had it at the spot where it went out of bounds (so, the team loses yards);

·  If the fumble goes forward, the ball is returned to the team that had it at the spot of the fumble (in other words, you don’t get the extra yards the ball traveled before it went out);

·  If the ball was fumbled in the team’s own end zone and entered the field of play before going out, the result is a safety if it was that team’s action that put the ball in its own end zone*** (if not, it’s a touchback for the opposing team).


Here’s the rule when the fumble goes out of bounds from the end zone:  

·  If the fumble starts outside the goal line but enters the opponent’s end zone before going out of bounds, it is a touchback for the opposing team (e.g., the offense is on the defense’s two yard line and the running back fumbles as he approaches the end zone);

·  If the fumble is in the team’s own end zone, the rule is the same as the third bullet point above.

Easy, right?



Illegal First Touching on Kicks

Rules similar to the one applied in the Saints-Bucs game also exist regarding players who go out of bounds on kicking plays.  For free kicks (kicks that don’t begin from a line of scrimmage, like kickoffs and fair catch kicks) Rule 6 applies.  Section 2, Article 4 prohibits a member of the kicking team from being the first player to touch or recover the ball if he has gone out of bounds.  However, once a player on the receiving team touches the ball, it’s up for grabs and anyone, even the player who was out, can recover it.  The penalty for the illegal touching of a free kick is the loss of five yards.


Similarly, Rule 9, Section 2, Article 3 prohibits “illegal first touching” in scrimmage kicks—i.e., punts and field goal attempts.  The penalty is five yards again, but if the illegal touch occurred within the receiving team’s five-yard line, the receiving team can elect to take a touchback, thereby getting the ball on its own 20-yard line.


Aside from the issue of who touches the ball on a kick, the rules don’t even like it when players go out of bounds in the first place and, in some instances, if the ball goes out of bounds.  Rule 9, Section 1, Article 5 provides that, on a scrimmage kick, it is illegal for a player on the kicking team to go out of bounds voluntarily (i.e., without being contacted) before the opposing team gets possession of the ball.  The penalty?  You guessed it:  five yards.


Section 3 of Rule 12 lists the many unfair acts that fall under the “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” category. Included in this list is Article 1(t), when a member of kicking team that has been forced out of bounds or goes out voluntarily does not attempt to return inbounds “in a reasonable amount of time.”  For this infraction, the kicking team is hit with a 15 yard penalty.


Finally, Rule 6, Section 2, Article 3 states that it is illegal for a free kick to go out of bounds untouched.   Enforcement of this penalty is nice and complicated:  on a kickoff, the receiving team can elect to take possession either 25 yards from the spot of the kick or where the ball went out of bounds; on a kick after a safety, the receiving team can take possession either 30 yards from where the ball was kicked or where the ball went out of bounds.

So now if some crazy play happens like it did last weekend, you’ll probably be the only one in the room who isn’t confused!  You’re welcome.


* The end lines are the lines at the backs of the end zones.
**By the way, the New Orleans defender who pushed Williams out of bounds was not flagged for the push because when the quarterback leaves the pocket, the defense can’t be called for illegal contact. See Rule 8, Section 4.
***Click here for a review of what is required for a safety to occur.