Friday, September 30, 2011

NFL Week 4 Games to Watch

This week’s games to watch feature the two remaining “Unexpected Undefeateds,” a revenge game ten years in the making, and a QB hoping toprotect his pretty face.

Buffalo Bills (3-0) @Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET on CBS): The start to the Buffalo Bills season is so incredible that their games will be included in the must-see list each week until they face their first loss. In addition to the curiosity of seeing how long Buffalo’s fairy tale can last, this week’s matchup also has some personality-driven drama since Buffalo’s QB-of-the-moment Ryan Fitzpatrick played for the Bengals in 2007 and 2008.

Detroit Lions (3-0) @Dallas Cowboys (2-1) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET on FOX): NH will also be profiling Detroit’s games as long as they can continue the perfect start to their season. However, this week’s game against the Cowboys merits a spot on this list anyway. The Lions are running on all cylinders right now and the Cowboys have managed to win their last two in spite of themselves. With leadership and gutsy play, Cowboys QB Tony Romo has (painfully) lifted his team above their mediocre play to victory, but can the rest of the offense do its part?

New England Patriots(2-1) @ Oakland Raiders (2-1) (Sunday, 4:15 PM ET on CBS): This is the first time these two teams havemet since the infamous “Tuck Rule” play in the 2001 Divisional Playoff (I’ll have to do a post on this at some time). Let’s just say that the Raiders are still smarting from the outcome of that game and would love to get some payback. If the Patriots weren’t the Patriots, I’d say that they are still reeling from their stunning loss to the Buffalo Bills last week and are vulnerable against a Raiders team that’s playing like they’re actually taking themselves seriously this year. However, this is the Patriots and no other team in the League shakes off defeat (or victory) faster. I mean, they start preparing for next week’s game during the postgame shower. Look for the Patriots to be cool and collected and for the Raiders to try and put some hurt on Patriots QB Tom Brady.

New York Jets (2-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (2-1) (Sunday, 8:20 PM ET on NBC): So, you’re an NFL quarterback and you break your nose in a losing effort against the Oakland Raiders, a pretty physical team. Who would you least like to face the following week? Most, if not all, QBs would run for the showers, yelling “Aaaaaah! The Baltimore Ravens!” over their shoulder.   Well, that’s what Jets QB Mark Sanchez has to look forward to this Sunday night. This should be a good one, although the Ravens have more going for them than the Jets right now.   Linebacker Ray Lewis and the rest of the Ravens brutal defense will not be taking it easy against Sanchez, especially since the Jets will be using a rookie center because the starter, Nick Mangold, is out with a sprained ankle. The Jets need to improve their run defense (ranked 31st out of 32 teams) if they can hope to contain Ravens running back Ray Rice, who’s having a decent season running and catching the ball.

Well, those are Naptime Huddle's must-see games for the week. Enjoy Week 4 everyone!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did You Catch That?

By now, you may have seen multiple plays, either live or in highlights, where the receiver seems to defy gravity and the laws of time and space to make an incredible catch.  Some of these plays may have even been challenged by opposing coaches, or by the receiver’s coach when the pass was ruled as not caught, or “incomplete.”  In case you weren’t paying close attention, or haven’t seen one of these circus performances in action, today’s lesson covers what a player must do to legally “catch” the ball.

Making a catch under NFL rules is not as easy as you might think.  Let’s start with the definition of “possession,” taken from the NFL Digest of Rules.  In the Digest, “possession” is defined as “[w]hen a player controls the ball throughout the act of clearly touching both feet, or any other part of his body other than his hand(s), to the ground inbounds.”

See what I mean?

Here is what it means to “catch” the ball, broken down into three simple parts:

1.       The player must have the ball in one or both hands;

2.       Once the ball is clearly controlled by the player, he must then have both feet* in bounds; and

3.       As he falls to the ground, or goes out of bounds, he must continue to firmly control the ball in his hands.

Point 1 seems obvious, but there are a couple more details.  First, needs to catch the ball before it hits the ground (i.e., no catching of a bounce).  Second, he needs to have the ball firmly in his control; it can’t be bouncing around in his hands or spinning against his shoulder, etc.

Point 2 is where you can see examples of tremendous athleticism.  When a pass is caught and the receiver clearly has control of the ball, the officials will then look to the receiver’s feet to make sure they are in bounds.  If the play is at or near the sideline and the receiver’s momentum is carrying him out of bounds, he will channel his inner ballet dancer and point his toes so that they tap down or drag the turf for the completion.  Here is one example of a great grab by Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson at the back of the end zone:

Point 3 emerges from the language “throughout the act …” from the definition of possession.  Basically, once the player has caught the ball, he needs to continue to possess it as he lands on the ground and his momentum stops.  Remember the post on fumbles?  You may recall the axiom that the “ground can’t cause a fumble.”  In this case, the ground can most certainly cause an incomplete pass.  This is a fairly recent development in the evolution of the catch rule, and can lead to some seemingly harsh calls.  A case in point is the following play when it appeared that Detroit Lions wide receiver caught the winning touchdown:

Who knew that something that seemed so simple could cause so much heartbreak?  Welcome to football!

*College and high school rules only require one foot to be in-bounds.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hail! To the Fight Song!

Over this past weekend, my husband, son and I traveled toAnn Arbor, Michigan to visit our house of football worship: Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. “The Big House.” Boasting the nation’s greatest seatingcapacity, you are part of the largest crowd watching a football game in America each and every time you see a game there. The attendance at our game, against San Diego State, was 110,707. After hearing the strains of the greatest fight song in the country, The Victors,* multiple times as Michigan beat San Diego State 28 to 7, I started wondering about the fight songs of NFL teams.

Most of us only think of fight songs as belonging to the collegiate world, where students and alumni yell/sing a common anthem to pump up their team, or as a not-so-secret handshake when crossing paths in the real world. But many NFL teams have fight songs, too. Some are very short and simple (see, e.g., New York Jets Keep Sailing Along), some are a bit longer (see, the 49ers' Football Polka), some reflect the local identity (see, Go Dallas Cowboys) and some use a familiar tune with shoehorned lyrics (see, the Buffalo Bills' Shout!). . .

. . . and some songs are older than dirt and have a history all their own. The Green Bay Packers own the oldest fight song, Go! You, Packers, Go!, first performed in 1931. It is just older than Hail to the Redskins, first performed for the Washington Redskins in 1938.** More than just a means to cheer on Washington’steam, though, Dallas Cowboys fans will be horrified to know Hail can be credited for the very existence of their beloved team.

In the late 1950’s, Texas oilman Clint Murchison was desperate to bring an NFL franchise to his state. His initial plan was to buy the Redskins from owner George Preston Marshall (the Dallas Redskins?!?), but Marshall changed the terms of the deal at the last minute and it didn’t happen. In revenge, Murchison bought the rights to Hail from Washington’s band leader, Barnee Breeskin, who wrote the music and had had a falling-out with Marshall. When Murchison later approached the League about expanding to Dallas, the only holdout owner was Marshall, who had been enjoying a large fan base as the only NFL team in the South. It turns out that the purchase of Hail was good for more than just needling the Redskins owner.  Murchison threatened to no longer allow the fight song to be played. Marshall loved the song so much (his wife had written the lyrics), that for the return of the song, he gave his approval for a team in Dallas.

So there you have it. That’s how a song that has carried the Redskins to literally hundreds of victories made it possible for the Dallas Cowboys to exist. Who knew?!? More details on this story and the sophomoric feud between Murchison and Marshall can be read by clicking here.

*You can feel free to argue that your college fight song of choice is better. It doesn't matter because you would be wrong. Period.
**Incidentally, Washington and the Baltimore Ravens have the only two existing marching bands in the NFL.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NFL Week 3 Thoughts

I know Naptime Huddle should reflect on the week’s games on Mondays, but the outcome of the Monday night Cowboys vs. Redskins game needed to be determined before I felt that a Week 3 wrap-up could be complete.  Therefore, let’s begin our bite-sized thoughts with that contest.

1.      Riveting Field Goal Battle!  Looks like my nephew, Eric, was right in picking this as a must–see game this week.  Especially if you like field goals.  There must be some nefarious allergen in Cowboys Stadium because both teams caught a severe red zone allergy.  Only the Redskins managed to score a touchdown from inside the 20-yard line.  The two teams combined for nine field goals; Dallas used six to hand the Redskins their first loss of the season.* 

2.      Topsy-Turvy Division Standings.  Glancing through the division standings after Week 3, there are few surprises:

a.       Coming off an incredible comeback win the second week in a row, the Buffalo Bills are in first place in the AFC East.  Anointed an “Unexpected Undefeated” by NH last week, the Bills earned that title by knocking off the heavily-favored New England Patriots 34-31 after being behind 21-0 to start the game.  Four interceptions of Tom Brady and a last second field goal got it done.  If they keep this up a clean record will no longer be unexpected.

b.      The Detroit Lions are only one game behind the NFC North leaders (the Green Bay Packers) and they show no signs of slowing down.  Incredible passing by QB Matthew Stafford and spectacular catches by wide receiver Calvin Johnson, capped by a clutch field goal by veteran kicker Jason Hanson, resulted in an electrifying win over the already weary Minnesota Vikings.

c.       The Indianapolis Colts are winless and at the bottom of the AFC South without Peyton Manning.  ‘Nuff said.

3.      Disappointment in Philadelphia:  The wheels aren’t quite coming off yet in Philadelphia, but the lug nuts are certainly getting loose.  The self-named “Dream Team” is having a nightmarish start after dropping to 1-2 with a loss to division rival New York Giants.  Giants QB Eli Manning made the much-touted Philly secondary look silly; Eagles QB Michael Vick left with a bruised right hand and it is unclear when he will return to the field. 

4.      Dead Team Walking?  The Tennessee Titans won their battle against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, but they may have lost the war, having lost Kenny Britt to a knee injury.  If Britt, the team’s star in the first two weeks, is done for the season, can veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck keep hope alive in Nashville?  Personally, I can’t imagine the Titans will roll over; Hasselbeck still managed to have a 300+ yard game without Britt.

5.      For Newton, Maybe Ugly is Beautiful:  I’m borrowing a phrase from my niece, Nicky’s Saturday post of our family’s chocolate cake recipe but it’s particularly apt for this week’s win by the Carolina Panthers.  Rookie QB Cam Newton’s first two games have been works of art from a statistical standpoint, throwing for over 400 yards in each game.  However, both games were losses.  On Sunday, Newton struggled to even hold onto the ball in a torrential downpour and had average numbers: he was 18 for 34 with only 158 yards.  All that matters is the final score, though, and Newton led his team on a flawless drive at the end to draw up a victory.

6.     Keeping the Bubbly on Ice:   And for the 1972 Dolphins, here are the remaining undefeated teams in the NFL: Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

*In case you were wondering, the record for most field goals made by a team in a single game is 8, which was accomplished by Tennessee Titan Rob Bironas on October 21, 2007 against the Houston Texans. I couldn’t find a definitive answer, but Monday night's game might actually tie a record for most field goals made in a single game by the teams playing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 3 Games to Watch

Good evening! It’s Saturday night which means that Naptime Huddle’s Friday series of NFL Games to Watch should have been posted yesterday. That’s my bad. I’m Kerri’s nephew Eric and I am absolutely thrilled to let you all know which NFL games you have to tune into this weekend. So enough with the introductions, let’s get down to business.

This weekend contains a bunch of games that are going to be fantastic. However, only two of them are really must see games and no, those two games do not include Green Bay traveling to Chicago because I can tell you how that one ends right now; Green Bay wins so don’t bother watching. Instead, do yourself a favor and check out two of the best rivalries in football from year in and year out the most competitive division in the league.

Just a forewarning though, I happen to be a bit of a Cowboy’s fan so if you’re expecting these previews to be bias you’re probably right.

New York Giants (1-1) @ Philadelphia (1-1)

1:00 PM on Fox

Week 3 of the NFL season kicks off with a huge early afternoon showdown between two NFC East rivals who absolutely hate one another. The injury riddled New York Giants travel to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the NFL’s self-anointed “Dream Team” (just to put that into perspective the nickname was given to the team by their third string quarterback Vince Young). The Giants host a record of 1-1 while the “Dream Team” has its own incredibly average record of 1-1.

There are two major storylines going into this game. The first is the health concern of Eagle’s quarterback (who you may have heard of before) Michael Vick. Vick suffered a concussion last week against Atlanta but it’s been announced that he will play this week which is strange considering the NFL has a new rule in place which prevents players from any action for 7 days after a concussion. I guess we are to assume that the rules do not apply to Mike Vick. Anyway, it should be interesting to see how Vick fairs against the merciless Giant’s defense. Personally I hope he fairs pretty bad but that’s probably just the Cowboy/puppy fan in me.

The second storyline of this game comes from one of last season’s biggest blunders. The Giant’s held the lead with just mere seconds left in the game and were forced to punt to the Eagles. For whatever reason punter Matt Dodge (who is ‘surprisingly’ no longer with the team ) chose to punt the ball to one of the league’s most explosive players, Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. A few missed tackles and some showboating into the endzone later because that’s the kind of person Jackson is and the Eagles had shocked the Giants. The Giants have lost their last 6 to the Eagles and hope Sunday they will be able to seize the opportunity and end that horrid draught.

Washington (2-0) @ Dallas (1-1)

8:30 PM Monday Night on ESPN

On Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys will become the last NFL team to have its home opener when they host the hated Washington Redskins. Last weekend the Cowboys rallied around a quarterback who came back late in the third quarter to lead the Boys to victory despite having suffered both a fractured rib AND a punctured lung. It was just the performance Tony Romo needed to make the world forget about him literally throwing away a game in week 1 to the league’s best Cornerback, Darrelle Revis.

The Cowboys are like the rest of the league right now in the fact that they are plagued with injuries. The Cowboys will play without number one receiver Miles Austin but are hopeful that receiver Dez Bryant and running back Felix Jones will be able to suit up. Starting cornerback Terrence Newman also suits up for the first time this season. It will be important for the young offensive line of Dallas to protect Romo from a Redskins defense that has not been shy about wanting to hit those ribs of his. If the Boy’s can’t keep University of Texas alum Brian Orakpo out of their backfield, Romo’s season may be over quicker than it was last year. The Cowboys are 1-1 right now and could move into a tie for first place in the NFC East if they can protect their house against the evil ‘Skins.

On the other side the Washington Redskins sport an impressive unbeaten record of 2-0 mainly due to the fact that they have somehow managed to make Quarterback Rex Grossman look like a competent football player. In week 1 the Redskins beat division rival New York decisively 28-14 and last week the Skins won a 1-point thriller at home against the Cardinals. 2008 2nd round draft pick Fred Davis leads all tight ends in receptions and Grossman will hope to dump the ball off to him often Monday night because well, that’s what Rex Grossman does. The Redskins are one of this year’s surprise unbeaten teams to this point and despite what I, or any other Cowboy’s fan may have to say they have certainly earned it this year and are a huge improvement over the 2010 version of the team that went 6-10. Head coach Mike Shanahan has the team turning the corner to success and a win in front of the whole country in Dallas would do nothing but accelerate this momentum big time. Expect this game will come down to which defense can make a big play late in the game.

So there you have it, week 3’s must see match ups. Do yourself a favor Sunday and relax by the TV and munch on some fried food that’s probably terrible for you while you enjoy the Eagles-Giants matchup. You might as well also tune into the Green Bay-Chicago game so that when Chicago wins you can all tell me how horrible I am at picking football games. Once you’re done with that do not forget to have your TVs on ESPN Monday night so you can watch the Cowboys move into first place in the NFC East. You also may have a chance to watch Tony Romo literally die on the field due to playing with a punctured lung. But let’s hope not because Dallas needs a super bowl pretty soon.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sometimes Ugly is Beautiful: The best cake recipe ever!

Gooey Chocolate Cake!

Now if you want a bit of decadence and don’t plan on worrying about calories for the next week or so, this is the absolute BEST cake you will ever have! You are NOT a chocoholic if you have not tasted this fudgy goodness.

This recipe has been in our family for about two hundred years. It is, simply put, an old-world style, fudge-soaked cake.

You CANNOT use skim milk, margarine, artificial sweeteners, or any other low-fat, low-calorie substitutes. This is NOT the cake for your dieting club meeting. This is the cake you make when your man leaves you, your dog runs away, your cat vomits on your favorite shoes, and your favorite sweater shrinks in the wash. This is the ultimate feel good dessert.

Please forgive the length of this recipe, but it’s old and technique is everything, thus the lengthy explanations and tips. It’s not hard, but you need to understand what’s going on to get it right. Just trust me, okay?

This cake is also the ugliest damn cake you will ever lay eyes on. Plus, if you mess up, you have just made fudge! How can you go wrong?

You know you want it.

Gooey Chocolate Cake:

You will need:

3 c Granulated Sugar

1/8 tsp (A pinch) of FRESH Baking Soda

2 squares of Baker’s Brand Unsweetened baking chocolate chopped roughly.

(Probably in the store near the Baking Soda and sprinkles.)

1 c Whole milk

(Do NOT even think about using skim or 2% or any other watered-down varieties.)

1 Stick (1/2 c) of Butter at room temperature

(Again, REAL, salted butter. No substitutes. If you’re impatient, try sticking it, wrapped, in the microwave for 10 seconds. No more, no less.)

½ c – 1 c Chopped Pecans

(These are getting candied in the fudge, so I always go with 1 cup, even though I don’t really like plain pecans.)

2, 9” Yellow Cakes.

We always use Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker boxed cakes, but you can use whatever your favorite yellow cake recipe is. The best are the ones that use vegetable oil instead of butter.

4-5 Clear glasses full of water. This is to test the doneness of the fudge. You’re looking for the softball stage. (See Wait? “Softball?” below.)

The Steps:

1. Make your cakes. I don’t care how. You need two 9” round yellow cakes. You will be making a 4-layer cake, so once your cakes are cool, cut the top off the ugly one (there’s always an ugly one) so your cake will lay flat. This round will become the bottom two layers. Save the piece you cut off so you can cover it in a bit of fudge and give it to your spouse/kids/neighbor who are hovering around you like vultures. My grandfather would always try and distract my grandmother when she made this so she’d overcook the fudge making it too thick to use for the cake, but still delicious. She would have to start over and he would get a batch of fudge to himself. My husband does the same. You have been warned. Now slice both cakes in half horizontally using a long, sharp knife to get your four layers. Put them aside.

2. The Fudge

a. Fill the sink about 1/3 of the way with cold water. You will need this to stop the cooking when the fudge is at the perfect consistency. Your pot is going to go in this, so don’t fill the sink so much that you get water in your fudge. Maybe test this ahead of time?

b. Start with a thick bottomed or enameled cast iron, medium sized pot.

i. The fudge is going to boil up like crazy, so you want something that can handle it (trust me on this, okay?). You can use a thin, cheap pot, but you’ll be stirring like mad to keep it from burning. Save yourself the hassle. For about $10-$20 there are stones you can buy that fit over your element to help distribute the heat. They’re a lifesaver if you don’t want to invest in nice cookware.

c. Put in your sugar, baking soda, baking chocolate, milk, butter, and pecans.

d. Turn on the heat.

i. You’ll note that I don’t say Medium or Medium high. This isn’t about temperature. This is about concentration. My Great-Great Grandma didn’t have “Medium High”. You’ll want to start around Medium low and slowly work your way up as needed. You are looking to melt the butter and chocolate and get the mixture to a boil, very slowly. Did I mention that you’d be stirring this thing for at least 20 minutes? If it’s humid outside, you could be looking at over an hour. Wear comfy shoes.

e. STIR CONSTANTLY! A whisk or a spatula works best. You want to keep the bottom moving.

i. Seriously, DO NOT walk away. DO NOT answer the phone. DO NOT go to the bathroom. DO NOT stop stirring. DO NOT listen to your husband. As soon as you do, you risk the mixture becoming… well… fudge, but not the fudge you want for the cake. But wait Nicky the Great! you say. I heard stirring fudge makes it grainy. Yes, yes it does. Cake, remember? Not fudge. You want those sugar crystals. You've gotten this far, why do you doubt me now?

ii. IF YOU OVERCOOK THE FUDGE, then grease a 9” Pyrex heavily with butter, line with parchment paper if you like, and pour the mixture in. Let it cool and give it to your husband so he leaves you alone this time. This is the best recipe ever.

f. Keep stirring and slowly increasing the heat until your mixture comes together (it stops looking like melted chocolate chip ice cream) and starts to boil. Boiling is okay, just be ready to pull the pot off and stick it in the water when the fudge reaches the softball stage. (Really. See Wait? “Softball?”) It will begin to really smell like chocolate. That’s the best indication that you are close. Start testing, keep stirring, and be patient. The amount of boil will vary. Sometimes it’s a little simmer; sometimes it’s a rolling, frothy mess. You’re trying to drive out moisture, which is an imperfect science. There’s a reason you need 4-5 glasses of water to test with. TEST OFTEN. As much as stir once, test, stir, test, stir, test. YOU CAN GET FALSE POSITIVES if you let your test drops air cool too long. Try to be quick about testing. You want to test the mixture while it's as hot as it is in the pot.

g. When you have reached the softball stage, remove the mixture from the heat and put the pot in the water to stop the cooking. Keep stirring, and let the mixture cool enough to stop the cooking but not so much it sets up; just a couple minutes. It will stop frothing and smooth out.

h. IF YOUR MIXTURE IS STILL TOO RUNNY, just put it back on the heat. Calm down. You can overcook it into delicious fudge, but not undercook it. Reheating is allowed. Just bring it back to a boil and keep testing.

3. Assemble your cake

a. Take a couple tablespoons of the fudge and pour it over the bit you saved from earlier and give it to your spouse/kids/neighbor to get them the hell away from your cake.

b. On a cake pan with a lip (This is messy) place your first layer.

c. Use a fork to perforate (really beat up) the center of the cake to about 1” from the side. You want the fudge to soak in and beating up the cake a bit helps. Don’t pulverize the poor thing, but feel free to take out some minor aggression. The fudge will hold it all together once it sets.

d. Pour on the fudge! Keep in mind you have 3 more layers to do. Budget accordingly. Try to keep the fudge away from the edge, but get as close as you can. The top layer will frost the sides.

e. Keep building up your cake, beating up the layers as you go, including the top. For the top layer, let the fudge drizzle over the sides.

f. Let it set up. This can take 10 minutes or over an hour depending on humidity.

Ugly as sin, isn’t it?

Serve it hot, cold, fresh, stale, with coffee, with tea, with milk, alone, or whatever. It is the most awesome cake. Enjoy!

Things to keep in mind:

Messing up just makes fudge. Don’t be scared of this recipe.

You can always bring the mixture back up to a boil if it is too runny, but there is no fix it if you overcook it (aside from making a pan of fudge). Pulling it off the heat too early is better than too late.

If it’s more humid the day after your make the cake than the day you made it, you might wake up to a bit of a puddle as the fudge has absorbed the extra moisture. It’s still fine. Just scoop that up and put it back on top. This is why you need a cake pan with a lip. Keeping it in the fridge next to the new box of Baking Soda you brought specifically for this recipe will help.

Again, overcooking the fudge is not the end of the world. If you’re worried, you might actually want to just make a batch of fudge to get a better idea of how long to cook it for the cake. For the cake, you want the state right before it becomes true fudge.

Wait? “Softball?”

It’s okay. Breathe. You can do this.

From the Candy Wiki article found at

“The final texture of candy depends on the sugar concentration. As the syrup is heated, it boils, water evaporates, the sugar concentration increases, and the boiling point rises. A given temperature corresponds to a particular sugar concentration. In general, higher temperatures and greater sugar concentrations result in hard, brittle candies, and lower temperatures result in softer candies.”

Fudge is achieved at the softball stage, or roughly 234-240 °F. You cannot go by just temperature alone though, because the physical concentration of the sugar needs to be around 85% and that is dependent on how much moisture is in the mix and the air. This is why a candy thermometer is useless to you right now. Sorry. Get over it. To make things worse, you want the consistency right BEFORE it becomes fudge but after it has stopped being syrup.

What is of use to you is your nose. The fudge begins to come together when those hydrocarbons start breaking off and flying though the air. When the mixture begins to SMELL like fudge, it’s starting to BECOME fudge. And that is just the most awesome thing ever.

This is where the water comes in. As you’re stirring your fudge, suddenly you will SMELL that fudgy goodness. At that point, start testing the mixture by using a small spoon to drop tiny drops of fudge into the water glasses. At first, the mixture will come apart and dissipate in the water. When the drops hold together in tiny little balls (which are soft, hence the term: softball) and sink to the bottom, then your fudge is ready! That’s it!

Feel better? It’s not that hard and imagine the impressed noises people will make when you tell them you know how to bring fudge to the softball stage like a pro. (You can skip the whole “just smell it” part of the explanation.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Penalty Enforcement Spots

When you’re watching a game and one team commits a penalty, you may scratch your head over where the ball ends up for the next play.  You know that if the offense committed the penalty, the ball is moved back toward the offense’s own end zone and if the defense committed the penalty, the ball is moved forward, toward the opposite end zone, where the offense is trying to go.  But, sometimes the penalty is marked off from where the previous play started, and sometimes it’s taken from where the new play should start.  Why?  Read below…

Under the rules of football, there are three possible places (“spots”) from which a penalty is enforced.  Which spot applies depends on the type of penalty.  Below are the four possible spots of enforcement and examples of the types of fouls that apply to each:

1.       The Spot of the Foul:  Basically, where the infraction took place.  One common example is offensive holding, although this usually ends up being the line of scrimmage since most holding is committed by the offensive line.  Another example is a block in the back, which will often occur on kick returns or long runs.

2.       Previous Spot:  The line of scrimmage for the last play.  Typical examples are the various procedural penalties such as: false start (offense), delay of game (offense or defense) and encroachment (defense).

3.       Succeeding Spot:  Where the next line of scrimmage would be if the foul hadn’t occurred.  A good example here is defensive pass interference, when the offensive player against whom the foul is committed catches the ball.  Personal foul penalties that occur after the completion of the play, such as a facemask penalty or late hit, will also be enforced from the next line of scrimmage.

As always, there are exceptions when applying these enforcement spots. Any penalty committed by the offense behind the line of scrimmage (usually holding or illegal forward pass) is assessed from the previous spot.  However, you’ll remember that if the foul occurs in the end zone, the result is a safety.  Finally, if the foul occurs after a touchdown and before the extra point attempt, the penalty will be assessed on the kickoff.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Down Measuring Mechanics

Have you watched the officials measure for a first down and wonder how they can be sure they got the measurement right?  Today’s lesson explains just how this is accomplished.
First, let’s start with how the chains are set up.  We have already learned about the chains, the apparatus handled by the chain crew, which is supervised by the head linesman.   When a team starts its drive, or gains a new first down, the head linesman has one end of the chains placed at the yard line where the ball is (the “spot”) and the other end stretched out the full ten yards, to the Line to Gain.  When I was an official for youth and high school, the head linesman would stand at the sideline with one foot planted at the spot.  A member of the chain crew would place his end of the chain (attached to a stick, or marker) at the head linesman’s heel and drag it back two feet, so the chain and its markers weren’t right at the sideline.
Once the chains are set, the head linesman takes a yard marker and attaches it to a link on the chain at one of the painted 5-yard lines on the field between the two markers (e.g., the 20, 25 or 30 yard line).  Here is a picture of what my yard marker looked like: 

As you can see, the marker has a clip that attaches it to the chain; the rest of it is a rotating dial and you turn the dial to the yard line where the marker is placed.
The yard marker serves two functions:  (1) to help the officials keep it in the right spot for a measurement (explained below); and (2) to let the head linesman know where to replace the chain in case the chain gang has to drop their markers to avoid being hit by a player coming out of bounds.
Now for the mechanics of making the measurement to see if the offense earned a first down… Please note that I'll be describing what I learned when training for youth and high school football.  The NFL officials might have a different procedure, such as who does what, but I can't imagine it would be that different.
OK, it’s third and two (see Fig. 1) and the offense is on its own 32-yard line (the blue line), so it needs to get the ball to the 34-yard line (the red line).  The markers (orange) are at the 24 and 34-yard lines and the yard marker (red oval) is at the 30-yard line.  (Remember that the down marker, which is not depicted, has a changeable board to indicate the current down and is positioned at the line of scrimmage.)  The quarterback hands the ball to the running back, who runs straight ahead.  He gets past the line of scrimmage, but two of the linebackers close in and he hits them like a brick wall before they drive him back.  The line judge, who is watching the running back from the sideline opposite the chains, runs in on the line where the running back gained forward progress before being driven back by the linebackers.  He looks up at the chains and sees that the ball is very close to the Line to Gain, the 34-yard line.  He lets the referee know it’s close.  The referee stops the game clock and calls for a measurement.
The umpire stands at the ball, on the yard line where the running back gained forward progress.  Meanwhile, the line judge walks onto the field, along the yard line where the yard marker has been placed and centers his foot on that line (see Fig. 2).  At this point, the head linesman goes to the yard marker and picks it up.  Along with the rest of the chain crew, he jogs out to the line judge and sets the yard marker down at the line judge’s toe.  The umpire takes the marker at his end of the chain and stretches it tight along the side of the ball, then stands the marker on the ground.  The referee then examines the marker and the ball to determine whether the nose of the football extends to the marker. 
If there is no chain visible between the nose of the football and the marker, the offense has a first down and the head linesman returns to the sideline with the chain crew and sets the chains at the new line of scrimmage and line to gain.  If, however, there is even a fraction of a chain link visible between the football and the marker, it is fourth down.  In that case, the head linesman picks the yard marker back up while the referee grabs the chain with his thumb and forefinger at the point where the nose of the football lines up with the chain.  The referee and head linesman, with the chain crew, return the chains to the sideline.  The head linesman then places the yard marker down exactly where it had been before the measurement (here, the 30-yard line).  The down marker is placed where the referee is holding the chain and its board is changed to “4” to denote fourth down.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Easy peasy, right?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Unexpected Undefeateds

Naptime Huddle regulars will recall that the 1972 Miami Dolphins is the only NFL team in history to have an undefeated season.  They will also remember that a core group of players from that team pop the cork on a bottle of champagne when the last undefeated team of the season suffers its first lost.  With the 2011 season only two weeks old, it isn’t surprising that certain teams still have a “0” in the loss column (i.e., New England, Green Bay, New York Jets).  However, there are a few teams whose so-far undefeated season is raising eyebrows.  Will any of these teams be the one that keeps the bubbly on ice the longest?

Buffalo Bills: The Bills haven’t faced the League’s toughest teams yet, but their opponents certainly aren’t doormats, either.  The Kansas City Chiefs won their division last year with a 10-6 record and the Oakland Raiders batted .500 last year.  More surprising than being undefeated, though, is how they have accomplished it.  Buffalo kept its spotless record against the Raiders yesterday with an amazing second half.  Down 21-3 at halftime, the Bills came out swinging in the second half, scoring touchdowns on all five of their possessions, coming back to win 38-35.  Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass to David Nelson with just 14 seconds left in the game.  The Bills host New England next week, so this fairy tale may not last.  But what if it does???

Detroit Lions:  There may be people that say that the start of the Lions’ season isn’t unexpected because of the talent the team possesses (i.e., QB Matthew Stafford, who was out most of last season due to injury and WR Calvin Johnson).  So, let’s just say that seeing the Detroit Lions at 2-0 is…unfamiliar.  The Lions haven’t had a winning season since 2000, and they started last season with four losses.  So far they’ve beaten Tampa Bay Buccaneers and struggling Kansas City; they face the winless Minnesota Vikings in Week 3.

Washington Redskins:  The surprise here is that the Redskins have managed to win games despite their best efforts to lose.  Yesterday, the Redskins dominated the Arizona Cardinals in yards gained and time of possession.  However, because of turnovers, penalties, a blocked field goal attempt and injuries, they found themselves losing 14-10 at the start of the fourth quarter. They had a solid win against the New York Giants in Week 1, including a touchdown by the defense, but they need to correct their mental mistakes before they face division rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 3.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stars and Legends: Tight Ends

Today we continue our series discussing the best to play each position (which I now call the “Stars and Legends” series) with a look at the game’s best tight ends.  As I noted in my post on the tight end position, this player has many jobs:  protecting the quarterback, blocking for the ball runner and catching passes.  By necessity, players at this position must possess strength, athleticism and intelligence.  They also provide peace of mind for their quarterback.  The players on the list below exemplify these qualities, and two of Yesterday’s Legends, Dave Casper and Kellen Winslow, are credited for pushing the tight end position beyond the traditional role of blocker to that of play maker.  As always, though, I don’t claim that this is the list of all lists; just a list of names you should know.


Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys, 2003-present):  Witten attended the University of Tennessee and was drafted by the Cowboys in 2003.  He is the definition of “safety valve” for his quarterback, Tony Romo, who relies on Witten as a clutch receiver in critical situations.  He has the most receptions for Cowboys tight ends and has a chance this season to move to second on the list of all-time receiving yards for the team.  Starting in his second year, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl each season.

Antonio Gates  (San Diego Charger, 2003-present):  Gates was signed by the Chargers in 2003 as an undrafted free agent, after having a nomadic  two-sport (football and basketball) college career, the last two years of which were spent at Kent State University.  He and then-Chargers quarterback were a match made in Heaven; in 2004, his second year, he broke the record for touchdown catches by a tight end.  He has continued to flourish under current QB Philip Rivers and has been selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.  Since 2004, only three players (Reggie Wayne, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens) have caught more touchdown passes than Gates.

Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs, 1997-2008; Atlanta Falcons, 2009-present):  Gonzalez attended the University of California Berkeley, where he played both football and basketball.  He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs 15th overall in 1997.  Starting in 1999, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl every year except one; in 2009, his first year with the Atlanta Falcons.  Gonzalez currently holds the following NFL records:   receptions in a single season for a tight end (102 in 2004); receiving yards for a tight end; receptions for a tight end; receiving touchdowns for a tight end; most seasons with 1,000+ yards for a tight end; and consecutive starts by a tight end (120).  As we know from yesterday’s post, Gonzalez has a chance in Week 2 to pass Terrell Owens as fifth on the NFL all-time receiving yards list.


Dave Casper (Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1974-1980 and 1984; Houston Oilers, 1980-1983; Minnesota Vikings, 1983):  Casper, nicknamed “The Ghost,” attended the University of Notre Dame and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1974.  He was a clutch receiver who helped the Raiders win key games, including Super Bowl XI and the 1977 playoff game against the Baltimore Colts in a famous play since called “Ghost to the Post,”  a 42-yard reception that set up a tying field goal.  He was also a critical participant in another famous play, “The Holy Roller.”  In the last ten seconds of the game, down by six to the San Diego Chargers, the Raiders QB, Ken Stabler, fumbled the ball, which rolled to the Chargers 11-yard line.  Running back Pete Banaszak batted it with his hand toward the goal line, and at the 5-yard line, Casper kicked it forward before finally falling on it in the end zone for the win.  It was after that season that the NFL passed a new rule making it illegal to advance the ball after a fumble on fourth down or in the last two minutes of the game.  Casper won two Super Bowls and was selected to five Pro Bowls.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Ozzie Newsome (Cleveland Browns, 1978-1990):  Newsome attended the University of Alabama and played under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and was drafted in the first round by the Browns in 1978.  He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was named an All Pro* seven times.  Nicknamed the “Wizard of Oz,” Newsome played 198 consecutive games and finished his career with 662 reception for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns.  These records held until broken by Shannon Sharpe.  Newsome was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 and is currently the General Manager of the Baltimore Ravens. 

Kellen Winslow** (San Diego Chargers, 1979-1987):  Winslow attended the University of Missouri and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers 13th overall in 1979.  His size and speed made him the prototype tight end, and he is credited with further advancing the tight end position from being just a traditional blocker.  He led the NFL in receptions in 1980 and 1981, the first tight end ever to do so.  He still holds the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, catching 1,290 yards in 1980.  Winslow’s defining game was a 1982 playoff game against the Miami Dolphins, which became known as “The Epic in Miami.”  Not only did he have stellar statistics, catching 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, he also blocked a field goal to send the game into overtime.  Winslow literally “left everything on the field”; he had to be helped off the field by teammates at the end of the game, having suffered a pinched nerve, severe cramps from dehydration and a split lip.  Winslow was selected to five Pro Bowls, was named an All-Pro three times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.

Shannon Sharpe (Denver Broncos, 1990-1999 and 2002-2003; Baltimore Ravens, 2000-2001):  Sharpe attended Savannah State College and was drafted by the Broncos in the seventh round in 1990.  While he was with the Broncos, he won two Super Bowls; he won another Super Bowl with the Ravens.  When Sharpe retired, he held the NFL records for most receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end, records that have since been broken by Tony Gonzalez.  Sharpe was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.  Always known for his smack talk and memorable one-liners, he is currently a NFL commentator for CBS.

*All-Pro is a designation of the best player in the NFL at each position each year by the Associated Press.

**Not to be confused with his son, Kellen Winslow II, who currently plays tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Friday, September 16, 2011

NFL Week 2 Games to Watch

It’s Week 2 of the NFL season, and we’ve selected three must-see games out of the 16 that take place this week. Although there are several good games this week, a few stood out because of their storylines: missing players possibly turning strengths to weaknesses; a stifling run defense versus a running back who needs to prove his worth; a likely AFC Championship preview; and a highly anticipated homecoming. We think we did pretty well in our selections last week, by the way…

Chicago Bears (1-0) @ New Orleans Saints (0-1) (Sunday, 1:00 PM on FOX):

Both teams are coming off great games, although New Orleans fought a losing effort against the Green Bay Packers last week. Both teams are also coming into this week with issues facing some of its key players. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, the heart and soul of their defense, and possibly the entire team, will be playing after losing his mother early this week. Her funeral is Saturday; will he be less of weapon or will he be playing with an extra spark? Meanwhile, the Packers will be missing Marques Colston, their most productive wide receiver last season, with a broken collar bone; his position-mate, receiver Lance Moore, might also miss the game because of a sore groin. Will the Packers be able to adapt without its key receivers?

Baltimore Ravens (1-0) @ Tennessee Titans (0-1) (Sunday, 1:00 PM on CBS):

The Ravens defense put on a clinic last week, crushing the Steelers 35 to 7. They need to avoid a letdown this week against running back Chris Johnson and the Titans. Johnson, who has played for the Titans for three years, didn’t return to the team until a couple of weeks ago because he was holding out for a better contract. After scoring a new 4-year, $53 million deal, he failed to prove his worth last week, only rushing for 24 yards in the Titans loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s got something to prove this week, though he may not get many chances against a stout Ravens defense and with receiver Kenny Britt stealing his spotlight; in Week 1 Britt had five receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns. After Sunday, will Britt be saying “Show Me The Money”?

San Diego Chargers (1-0) @ New England Patriots (1-0) (Sunday, 4:15 PM ET on CBS):

With both teams living up to expectations in Week 1, this matchup could be a preview of the AFC Championship game. Quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers have not done well against the Patriot in recent years, only winning once in the last five games against them. However, Rivers is considered one of the best QBs in the league right now and had over 300 yards passing and two touchdowns in the Chargers’ win over the Minnesota Vikings last week. As nice as those numbers are, however, they are overshadowed by Tom Brady’s stunning 517 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ win over the Miami Dolphins. Which QB will come out on top? Will this be an offensive shoot-out, or will either team’s defense make its presence known?

Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (0-1) (Sunday, 8:20 PM on NBC):

All eyes will be on the quarterbacks in this nationally-televised game. Michael Vick returns to Atlanta, where he was the star before being sent to federal prison for his role in a dogfighting operation. This is his second homecoming; he returned last year as the Eagles’ backup. He still had a significant role in the Eagles victory last year, running and throwing for two touchdowns; his effort drew cheers from the Atlanta crowd, still feeling sentimental about Vick’s time in their city. Though they may still have affection for Vick, they have also moved on, through their acceptance and adoration of Vick’s replacement, Matt Ryan (nicknamed “Matty Ice”). After just three years as the starting quarterback Ryan has already led the Falcons to the playoffs twice and is a big reason why the team should make the playoffs again this year. Not only is he looking for a win, but Ryan will also be happy to help out a certain teammate this week. Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez needs only four yards to pass Terrell Owens as fifth on the NFL all-time receiving yards list.

By the way, in addition to "Naptime Huddle," you can find more family-favorite recipes at the "Chef Mommy" blog. Here is a link to a recipe for a fun game-day treat:

Enjoy Week 2!