Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Screen Plays: Classic Football Movies (Take 2)

Today we continue our look at classic football movies through the decades with pictures from the ‘70s, ‘80s, 90s and 2000s.  Unlike Take 1 of this article, I had a harder time narrowing down the films to just one per decade.  Maybe because they came out in my lifetime, or because there’s just been more pigskin-related output from Hollywood with football’s rise in popularity.  Either way, I hope you’ll agree with my selections and that they will spark some good memories.

Classics from the 1970s:  Brian’s Song (1971), The Longest Yard (1974)

Brian’s Song is a notable item on this list because it actually was a made-for-TV movie, or telefilm.  Inspired by the memoir of Bears legend Gale Sayers, I Am Third, this poignant tale recounts the true story of Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo.  Making the team as an undrafted free agent in 1965, he worked his way from the practice squad to earning the role of starting fullback in 1969.  Bears legend Gale Sayers was the starting tailback and the two became fast friends.  In that season, Piccolo was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma.  The disease spread quickly and he died on June 16, 1970, at age 26.  Brian’s Song was an ABC Movie of the Week the next year and was told through the experience of Sayers, who was played by Billy Dee Williams; James Caan was cast in the role of Brian Piccolo.  The movie was so critically acclaimed that it was briefly shown in theaters.  The movie won three Emmys—for Best Dramatic Program, Best Teleplay and Best Supporting Actor—and Williams and Caan both earned nominations for their performances.

In stark contrast is the other seminal football flick from this decade, The Longest Yard.  This comedy stars Burt Reynolds as a former NFL QB Paul “Wrecking” Crewe sentenced to a short prison term for stealing his girlfriend’s car.  He’s cajoled by the overbearing prison warden into coaching in a game pitting a team of the athletic and sociological underdogs—a reluctant team of prison inmates who Crewe must coach—against a team of prison guards who form a semi-pro team managed by the warden.  Hilarity ensues as Crewe tries to mold the overmatched inmates (several played by actual former NFL players) into a cohesive team unit.  I won’t tell you how it ends, but you can probably guess.  The Longest Yard, which won a Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), inspired a remake in 2005, starring Adam Sandler as the former QB and Burt Reynolds as a fellow prisoner who volunteers to coach the inmates.

Classic from the 1980s:  All the Right Moves (1983), Wildcats (1986)

These ‘80s films are noteworthy more for their stars than their subject matter, but are respectable football films nonetheless.  All the Right Moves features a young Tom Cruise playing a frustrated high school defensive back.  This was Cruise’s third movie released in 1983; the first was his first leading role in Losin’ It and the second was his breakout film, Risky Business.  Cruise’s character, Stefen Djordjevic, lives in an economically depressed town in Pennsylvania and is desperate to earn a football scholarship to escape.  His goals pit him against his head coach, played by Craig T. Nelson.

Wildcats features comedy icon Goldie Hawn as Molly McGrath, the daughter of a famous football coach who dreams of coaching a team herself.  She finds her “dream” job at an inner-city high school where she has to battle both racism and sexism—not to mention a scheming ex-husband—to earn the respect of her players and community.  Though not met with critical acclaim, the film is a good example of campy comedy used to address sensitive social issues.  It also happened to be the film debuts of Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.

Classic from the 1990s:  Rudy (1993), Any Given Sunday (1999)

No list of football movies would be complete without Rudy, a sentimental, but powerful, look at the real-life story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, played by Sean Astin.  Rudy is the ultimate underdog—he’s small, not terribly talented and comes from an economically disadvantaged family.  Despite all his shortcomings, Rudy’s undying dream is to play football for the University of Notre Dame.  Unable to gain admittance to the prestigious school, he manages to be admitted to a small junior college close to the university and gets a part-time job on Notre Dame’s groundskeeping staff.  Being a Hollywood movie, it shouldn’t be a surprise that his dreams are realized…in a way.  The plot may sound like a cliché, but believe me—this is a movie even guys will admit to crying over.

I’m including Any Given Sunday in this decade’s list to provide a stark contrast to Rudy.  Whereas the latter is a sentimental look at the relative purity of the college game, Any Given Sunday is a gritty attempt to look inside the business of professional football, which can be ruthless at times.  Directed by Oliver Stone, the movie features an ensemble cast, including Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods and LL Cool J.  Several NFL players also appear, including Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus (who also appeared in The Longest Yard and Brian's Song), Emmitt Smith and Johnny Unitas.  The plot pits a struggling team of aging, ailing players (and head coach, played by Pacino) against team ownership, personified by an aggressive woman (Diaz) who has inherited the team from her father.

Classic from the 2000s:  Remember the Titans (2000), Friday Night Lights (2004), The Blind Side (2009)

Our classics from the last decade are all based on true stories.  Remember the Titans took place in Alexandria, Virginia, which was still struggling with integration in the early ‘70s.  Denzel Washington plays a man hired to be the new head coach at T.C. Williams High School; the current coach, who is white, will be moving on.  However, he reluctantly decides to stay on as an assistant coach to help Washington navigate the racial tension that is still rife on the team and in the community.  Fighting through continuing resentment, and competing personal agendas, the two ultimately find ways to unite the players as teammates.

Friday Night Lights was based on the book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, written by H.G. Bissinger.  Bissinger chronicled the story of the 1988 Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas, a town absolutely devoted to the game of football.  The movie spawned the wildly popular NBC television series of the same name.  Themes of socioeconomic strife and racism run in the background of both the book and the movie.  Actor Billy Bob Thornton plays coach Gary Gaines who has to balance the health and maturity of his players with the enormous pressure to win brought upon him by school administrators and the community.

Oher with his adoptive parents at Ole Miss
The Blind Side is based on the book of the same name, which is a semi-biographical story of Baltimore Raven offensive lineman Michael Oher.  An African American growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Oher spent most of his childhood moving from foster family to foster family.  He is eventually admitted to a private Christian school because the school’s coach is impressed by Oher.  Once in school, he is befriended by a white boy and his mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock.  Over time, Oher is treated like a member of the family and, eventually, Leigh Anne becomes his legal guardian.  With the help of a tutor, other teachers at the school and his new family, Oher becomes academically eligible for the school football team.  Under the guidance of his coach, and encouragement from Leigh Anne, Oher becomes a top college prospect, and eventual first round draft pick.  Sandra Bullock won several awards for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, including an Oscar and a Golden Globe; the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

I hope you enjoyed our look at classic football movies—and that your Netflix account is current!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Screen Plays: Classic Football Movies (Take 1)

In honor of last night’s Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some cinematic classics that featured football.  I selected just one or two films per decade that any good fan should at least be aware of.  Today, we look at films from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.  Check back to this space for another post featuring classics from the ‘70s through the 2000s.

Classic from the 1920s: 

The Freshman (1925):  Not to be confused with the 1990 Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick film of the same name, The Freshman is the only silent movie on our list.  This comedy features an awkward college freshman, played by Harold Lloyd, who is determined to attain notoriety on campus.  He finally tries out for the football team.  In the tryouts, Harold only succeeds in breaking the tackling dummy and willingly takes its place for the remainder of the practice.  Impressed by his enthusiasm, but not his physical talents, lets him be the team’s water boy.  Naturally, he is given a chance to play in the school’s big game at the end of the movie—because so many of the team’s players get injured—and feats of heroism ensue.  In 2000, The Freshman was included in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Laughs” list.

Classic from the 1930s: 

Pigskin Parade (1936):  This Academy Award-nominated film (for best Supporting Actor) is a jovial look at the college game, but it is also worth noting as Judy Garland’s first feature film role.  At age fourteen, Garland plays the younger sister of an Arkansas hillbilly with a monster throwing arm developed by throwing watermelons.  He is recruited by a married couple who coaches football at a small Texas school that was mistakenly invited to play against Yale University (a football powerhouse at the time) in big bowl game.  The challenge for the coaches is to get the school to admit their new star, who they need to fill the shoes of their injured quarterback.

Classic from the 1940s: 

Knute Rockne, All American (1940):  This biopic about Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (played by Pat O’Brien) is the origin of the classic quote  “Win one for the Gipper.”  A young Ronald Reagan played the role of George “The Gipper” Gipp, thus earning him the nickname that would follow him into politics 40 years later.

O'Brien and Reagan

Classics from the 1950s: 

Crazylegs (1953) and  Jim Thorpe: All-American (1951):  In the first biopic, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch played himself in a film that focused on his collegiate career, which began at the University of Wisconsin.  He played running back at Wisconsin in 1942, but had to transfer to the University of Michigan because of a commitment to the Navy.  In his 1943-44 school year, he became the only athlete at Michigan to letter in four sports in a single year:  football, basketball, track and football).  In the second film, the great Jim Thorpe was played by Burt Lancaster and chronicles his athletic development starting from young child on an Indian reservation to his celebrated collegiate football career, his medal-winning performances in the 1912 Olympics and his professional athletic career.
The real Jim Thorpe

Classic from the 1960s: 

Alan Alda as George Plimpton
Paper Lion (1968):  This comedy was based on the book of the same name written by George Plimpton.  In 1963, Plimpton wanted to see how the “average” man would fare in the NFL.  With the coaches in on his plans, he joined the Detroit Lions training camp under the pretext of trying out to be the Lions’ third-string quarterback.  The book discussed several of the Lions players, many of whom played themselves in the film, including Alex Karras and Joe Schmidt.  Alan Alda played the role of Plimpton and several other football greats were featured in the film, like Vince Lombardi and Frank Gifford.
The real George Plimpton

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Football Zodiac: Year of the Quarterback

Early last year, ESPN announced its programming initiative, “Year of the Quarterback,” with the intent to focus on this high-profile position throughout 2011.  Anointing the year in that way turned out to be quite prophetic, given all of the drama surrounding the league’s quarterbacks last season.  With the NFL Scouting Combine now in full swing, all 32 teams in the NFL are already looking ahead to April’s draft and next season.  Some will be looking especially close at the new crop of quarterbacks coming out of college. 

To get you ready for what should be a dizzying offseason, I tried to place all of the teams into three categories when it came to their quarterback situations during the 2011 season—Calm Seas (i.e., the quarterback situation is steady and stable), Stormy Seas (i.e., there are issues at QB, due to either injury or performance) and Completely Rudderless (i.e., the QB situation was a complete disaster)—and how they performed in 2011.  Are the two connected?  You be the judge:

Calm Seas:

Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan:  Finished at a respectable 10-6, losing in the Wildcard Round of the playoff to the New York Giants

Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco:  12-4 record, losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Conference Championship

Buffalo Bills, Ryan Fitzpatrick:  Despite an incredible start to their season, Fitzpatrick’s performance dropped way off after a big hit he suffered against the Redskins on October 30th, and the Bills finished with a dismal 6-10 record.  It is widely believed that Fitzpatrick played with broken ribs.

Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton (right):  Had a 6-10 record, a decent record considering they had a rookie at quarterback

Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler:  Finishing 8-8, the Bears were on a roll until Cutler injured his thumb and missed the last five games of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton:  9-7, behind a rookie QB who wowed fans and critics with his veteran-like performances; they lost to the Houston Texans in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs

Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo:  Always a focus for criticism, especially late in the season, Romo led his team to an 8-8 season, missing the playoffs by losing to the Giants in the last game of season.

Detroit Lions, Matthew Stafford:  Finished with a brilliant 10-6 record, with a finally-healthy Stafford able to find a rhythm with future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson; they lost to New Orleans in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers:  Almost achieving perfection, the Packers finished 15-1, and lost to the Giants in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

New England Patriots, Tom Brady:  Firmly planted in the captain’s chair, Brady once again took his team to the championship after a 13-3 season, only to see his receivers drop pass after pass in a loss in Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants despite his stellar performance.

New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees (left):  A perennial powerhouse behind their fearless leader, the Saints finished 13-3, losing to the upstart San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round.

New York Giants, Eli Manning:  Fighting through early-season criticism, Manning proved once again why he deserves to be ranked among the brightest stars at the position, helping his team claw its way to a 9-7 record, through the playoffs and finally beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

New York Jets, Mark Sanchez:  Only in this category because it applies to last season, the Jets finished a disappointing 8-8, leaving the press to speculate on the level of the team’s commitment to its “Sanchise”.

Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick:  Like the Jets, the Eagles could not live up to their preseason hype, finishing at .500 with an 8-8 record.  However, it was their backup QB, Vince Young, who didn’t help matters, proclaiming them the “Dream Team” in the preseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger:  The model of consistency, Big Ben led the Steelers to another great record, 12-4, losing in an upset to the Denver Broncos in the Wildcard Round.

San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith:  Rejuvenated by a fiery head coach with a winning mentality, Smith boldly led his team to a 13-3 record, losing in the NFC Championship Game to the Giants.

San Diego Chargers, Philip Rivers:  Even if he weren’t a talented athlete, Rivers and his head coach Norv Turner, appear to be entrenched in their positions by sheer inertia; they led the team to an average 8-8 record.

Maybe he should focus more on throwing the ball...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Josh Freeman:  The Bucs seem to be firmly behind Freeman, despite his poor numbers in 2011, which resulted in a 4-12 season.  Things could get interesting, though, if they find an accomplished free agent willing to sign on as a backup and Freeman continues to struggle in 2012.

Tennessee Titans, Matt Hasselbeck:  A seasoned veteran signed by the Titans in 2011, Hasselbeck quietly took the Titans to a winning 9-7 record.  However, with Peyton Manning possibly on the free agent market, Hasselbeck may need to make some noise early in 2012 to justify his job.

è Note that only three of these teams had losing records in 2011, and one of those was with a rookie QB at the helm.

Stormy Seas:

Arizona Cardinals, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton:  As with the 2011 preseason, it looks like there will continue to be a competition between Kolb and Skelton; Skelton took over the last half of 2011 due to injuries to Kolb, and the tandem led the Cardinals to an average 8-8 finish.

Cleveland Browns, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace:  The Browns have hung their hopes on the young McCoy, who missed the last three games of the season with a concussion.  Wallace did not impress as a backup, and the Browns finished 4-12.

Denver Broncos, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow:  The Tebow phenomenon has been well document this year, with Tebow’s genuine leadership and miraculous finishes taking the Broncos to an 8-8 record, an upset victory in the Wildcard Round and loss to the Patriots in the Divisional Round.  However, the Broncos still belonged in this category, and may still be there in 2012, because Tebow never has gotten an unequivocal endorsement from the Broncos administration.   

Houston Texans, Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart:  I’m not sure I’d want to be Houston’s QB after last season.  Schaub was injured in Week 10 and then Leinart broke his collarbone the next week.  Yates performed admirable stepping into fracas, ultimately leading the team to a 10-6 record, eventually losing to Baltimore in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.  The Texans belong in this category only for last season; Schaub should be ready to start the 2012 season, but look for a battle between Yates and Leinart for the #2 position.
Schaub and Yates

Miami Dolphins, Matt Moore, Chad Henne:  Taking over after Henne was injured in Week 4, Matt Moore led the Dolphins to a disappointing 6-10 record.  The Henne Era seems to be over in Miami, so whether the Dolphins will remain in the Stormy Seas category in 2012 remains to be seen.  Keep an eye on this situation, however, as free agent QB Matt Flynn (currently with Green Bay) has previous experience with the new coach in Miami, Joe Philbin. 

Minnesota Vikings, Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder:  The failure of the McNabb Experiment in Minnesota put rookie QB in the unenviable position of having his first NFL start against the dominant Green Bay Packers.  With star running back Adrian Peterson hobbled with injury, Ponder was never able to get much traction and the Vikes finished with a forgettable 3-13 record.

Oakland Raiders, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer:  Injuries created a QB carousel in Oakland, requiring the Silver and Black to pull Carson Palmer from the brink of retirement so he could turn in multiple multiple-interception performances.  Despite this and being the most penalized team in the league, the Raiders still managed to scratch out an 8-8 record.

St. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens:  Again, this team will probably change categories with the return of a (hopefully) healthy Sam Bradford in 2012.  But, with Bradford plagued by injuries all season, the Rams were clearly a house of cards unable to support him, finishing 2-14.

Seattle Seahawks, Tavaris Jackson:  Jackson doesn’t exactly have a stellar history in the league to date, so don’t be surprised to see the ‘Hawks make a change before the 2012 season, after finishing 7-9 in 2011.

A familiar sight this past season.
Washington Redskins, Rex Grossman (right), Josh Beck:  It’s been ages since the Redskins have had stability at quarterback and this year, like so many others, the inconsistency showed, as the ‘Skins finished with a dismal 5-11 record.

Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton:  After being replaced by Tim Tebow in Denver, Kyle Orton moved to Kansas City after starter Matt Cassel was knocked out with a hand injury.  The team finished 7-9 and the offseason will, at a minimum, bring competition for Cassel.

è Note that only one of these teams, Houston, had a record better than .500.

Completely Rudderless:

Indianapolis Colts, Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky:  There’s not much left to say about the situation in Indy that hasn’t already been said.  Repeatedly.  Over and over.  For months.  Simply put:  2-14 without Peyton Manning.

Jacksonville Jaguars, Luke McCown, Blaine Gabbert:  The Jags cut veteran QB David Garrard less than a week before the 2011 season began, and the second-guessing began almost immediately.  McCown was ineffective in his two starts and rookie Gabbert failed to impress; the result was a 5-11 record.  To say that this QB situation is up in the air would be an understatement.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Football's "American Idol": The NFL Combine

In addition to being the site of Super Bowl XLVI earlier this month, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana is also the host site of the first big event of the NFL offseason:  the Scouting Combine (or, simply the “Combine”).

With literally hundreds of college players hoping to start a career in the NFL, the teams need one last opportunity to observe the elite players before the NFL Draft, which will take place in late April.  The Combine provides that opportunity, with over 300 college stars receiving invitations to show their stuff before the scrutinizing eyes of scouts, coaches and GMs from all thirty-two teams assembled in one place.  I should note, however, that this isn’t the only chance the teams have to evaluate draft prospects.  Each year, each university holds a “Pro Day,” where NFL scouts are invited to watch that school’s stars work through drills similar to what they would have at the Combine.  These are crucial opportunities for the players, as it is generally expected that they will perform better on their home turf than in the foreign confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Mental and Physical Tests

So, what goes on at this athletic version of American Idol?  Before I answer that, it’s important to understand that the Combine is not a cattle-call audition for the pros.  Athletes may attend the Combine by invitation only. 

Now for the answer...There are certain mental and physical tests that all players take part in, or are expected to take part in, and other physical drills that are specific to a player’s position.  As a starting point, all players go through a series of test to evaluate body composition:  physical measurements, joint movement and range (see below), evaluation of a player’s injury history, and a drug screening. 

Players are also subjected to the football’s IQ test, the Wonderlic Test (named for its creator).  The Wonderlic is a 50-question test that must be completed within twelve minutes.  Though used for evaluating players at all positions, Wonderlic results are especially critical for quarterbacks, with a score of 21 out of 50 preferred for those prospects. 

A final off-field test for some of the athletes is a 15-minute interview with the team representatives.  Though this may seem like a formality to an outsider, teams actually seem to place a great deal of emphasis on these sit-downs in evaluating a players’ fit with their organizations.  While you might expect this for quarterbacks, teams will also be interested in having discussions with players that may have had off-the-field issues in college, or with players who may have weaknesses in certain performance areas.

Players can choose in which of the physical drills to participate, depending on which ones they believe will best showcase their talents; they may also want to avoid those drills that highlight particular weaknesses.  Of course, there are certain drills that scouts will expect players at certain positions to perform, and a player’s choice to opt out of one may raise a red flag. 

So, if you have time to watch NFL Network’s coverage of the Combine, what should you put on your calendar?  Generally speaking, the 40-yard dash and the bench press are the most popular for fans, and the most talked about by commentators and draft experts.  Each participant in the bench press must lift 225 pounds as many times as they can—a test more of endurance than strength.  Every year, people speculate (and players trash talk) about who will have the most reps in the bench press and who will have the fastest 40 time.  University of Michigan defensive tackle has already set his bench press goal—50 reps—and the school has posted this YouTube video of him lifting 500 pounds once:

Last year, Oregon State’s Stephen Paea set the record for 49 reps:

Plenty more screaming and chest-bumps in store this week…

Other drills include:  the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 20-yard shuttle, and the 3-cone drill, an agility test in which players are timed weaving in and out of three cones arranged in a right triangle. Television coverage begins on February 25th on NFL Network.  Check your local listings for channel and times, or visit for the broadcast schedule.

QB Tim Tebow reaching great heights...

Position Drills

From the time a player begins his football training in a youth league, he is taught a variety of techniques to develop his skills in his position of choice.  The drills designed for each position at the Combine are intended to test a player’s proficiency at those techniques.  However, scouts will also get a good feel for each player’s natural talent as well.  Here’s a quick look at the position-specific drills you’ll see at the Combine:

Quarterback:  As you would expect, QBs will be put through passing drills.  Even though they are throwing to receivers they’ve never played with before, scouts are more concerned with the quarterbacks’ mechanics—e.g., footwork, ball control and arm strength—than whether the passes are caught.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:  Again, pretty obvious—receivers and tight ends are put through catching drills.  One example is The Gauntlet.  The receiver starts at one sideline and, running across the width of the field down a yard line, the receiver catches ball from quarterbacks throwing from either side of him.  So, as he’s running across the field, he looks to his left and catches a ball.  He drops it immediately so he can look to his right and catch the next one, and so on.

Running Backs:  Running back drills aren’t as obvious.  A critical one for this position, as you would expect, is the 40-yard dash because one thing a running back must have is the ability to accelerate through openings.  Other drills running backs go through test their agility, down-field vision and reaction time.

No. 1 overall pick OL Jake Long in cone drill in 2008
Offensive Linemen:  The big guys in the trenches are put through tests designed to evaluate their agility and strength, especially in situations where they need to protect their quarterback—passing plays.  The “Kick Slide” drill is one such exercise.  Off the field, the bench press is critical for these guys, too.

Defensive Linemen:  Scouts want to see the techniques defensive linemen use to break through offensive linemen to rush toward the QB on pass plays—in particular, the “rip” and “swim” techniques.  It may seem just like brute strength is all you need, but there are specific techniques these players are taught that need to be executed well. 

Linebackers:  Linebackers need to be big and strong, but they also need to be quick, agile and resilient.  The drills these players are put through are intended to test all of these attributes.  In one particular drill, a coach acts stands in for a quarterback with a ball in his hand.  At the snap, the linebacker—with his eyes on the coach the entire time—moves backward, forward, left and right depending on where the coach holds the ball—to one side or the other, up or down.

Defensive Backs:  Like with linebackers, scouts want to see how well defensive backs can react to the quarterback and, more specifically, how well they can locate and catch the football.  Speed may not be as critical here, but agility and situational awareness are.  

For more detail on drills at the Combine, I highly recommend visiting the following link to the NFL’s website, where NFL Network’s scouting expert, Mike Mayock, walks you through his favorites:

The NFL’s home page for the Combine is at this link:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recipe Time Out: Gary's Gazpacho

As promised in his guest post, "Rapping Up:  Football and Hip-Hop," I present Gary's recipe!  It's for a healthy and tasty dish called "Gazpacho a la 2 or 3 Lines" (a reference, you'll recall, to his wildly popular and pithy blog that can be found at


One cucumber

One green pepper

One yellow onion

28-oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes

46-oz. can V8 or tomato juice

16-oz. jar Pace Picante salsa (mild, medium, or hot)

Lemon or orange juice

Chopped, crushed or minced garlic

Salt and pepper

One avocado (optional)


Peel cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and slice. Peel and cut onion into large pieces. Cut green pepper into quarters and remove seeds and pith.

Put the cucumber, onion, green pepper, and the diced or crushed tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Add as much salsa as you want -- the more you add, the spicier the gazpacho will be. (Doh!) Add a few squirts of lemon juice or a splash of orange juice, a spoonful or two of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add about half of the V8 or tomato juice and blend to the desired degree of smoothness. Add more juice if the gazpacho is too thick.

Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. You want the gazpacho to be cool enough to be refreshing, but not too cold. Topping the gazpacho with a slice or two of avocado is a nice finishing touch.

This is a summertime favorite of mine -- a delicious and healthy way to add a couple of servings of vegetables to your diet. (It is 100% fat-free. If sodium is an issue for you, use low-sodium V8 or tomato juice and don't add any salt.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rapping Up: Football and Hip-Hop

[Editor's Note:  Today, Naptime Huddle features a post by my friend and fellow blogger, Gary Hailey.]

Like Kerri, I'm the creator of a wildly popular blog -- 2 or 3 Lines (and So Much More), which you can find at  I'm always trying to find guest writers who will contribute to my blog -- hey, what's not to like about free content? -- so how could I turn Kerri down when she asked me to contribute a post to Naptime Huddle?

The primary focus of Naptime Huddle, of course, is football.  But it's also widely known for its recipes.  I'm going to share a recipe with you a little later, but let's "tackle" (tee-hee!) our main topic first: football and rap music.   

Country-western music seems to be the preferred genre of football fans -- Faith Hill does the NBC Sunday Night Football theme song, a Big & Rich track is featured on ESPN's College Gameday, and Monday Night Football kicked off for years with a Hank Williams Jr., song.  (Last fall, ESPN dropped the Williams song after Hank Jr. referred to Hitler while talking about President Obama and House Speaker Boehner playing golf together.)

Basketball is the sport that associated most with rap, but there are a lot of football references in hip-hop songs.

Lil Wayne, one of the greatest hip-hop artists of our era, got a lot of attention with his song "Green and Yellow," which was released just before last year's Packers-Steelers Super Bowl.  "Green and Yellow" is a spoof of Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa's huge hit, "Black and Yellow," which pays tribute to the sports teams of his hometown.  (Black and gold are the colors of the Steelers, the Pirates, and the Penguins, which was a pretty smart thing to do.)

Lil Wayne at Super Bowl XLV

Lil Wayne is a New Orleans native, but is proud to be a cheesehead:

Yeah, uh-huh, you know what it is
I'm a cheesehead, y'all n*ggas Cheez Whiz
Pittsburgh Steelers, that's nothin'
That Super Bowl ring, that's stuntin'

Next Weezy takes on the beloved Steeler "Terrible Towel" -- a rally towel created in 1975 by the late Myron Cope, who was the radio voice of the Steelers for 35 years

This is Green Bay -- b*tch, we go hard
This is Packer Country, where's your green card?
Terrible towels, that sh*t's borin'
We got the ball, you know we scorin'

The "Terrible Towel"

In the next verse, Lil Wayne disses Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and defensive back Ike Taylor, while praising Green Bay's long-haired linebacker, Clay Matthews:

Got a call from my homie, this just in
The Packers in the Super Bowl and they better win
They call him Big Ben, but he weak though
We in Dallas, but we Lambeau Leap, ho
Long hair, don't care, Clay Matthews
We sh*ttin' on these fools, no bathroom
Yeah, got a pocket full of big faces
Throw it up, touchdown on Ike Taylor

[Note: Super Bowl XLV was played in Dallas.  "Big faces" refers to paper money, which Lil Wayne freely throws up in the air when he "makes it rain" at a strip club -- he suggests that the Packers simply throw the ball up against Ike Taylor and make it rain Packer touchdowns.]

Lil Wayne continues to hammer on the Steelers in the last verse of "Green and Yellow," even belittling their famous "Steel Curtain" front four, which helped Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls in six seasons in the late 1970s.  He plans to smoke a big cigar, but his cigar will be filled with "Amsterdam" -- a euphemism for marijuana.  

Big Gs on the helmet
Steel Curtain? What is that, velvet?
And if we win, I'ma throw a Super Bowl party
And blow a cigar like Vince Lombardi
I'm in Wisconsin, smoking Amsterdam
Yeah I'm from New Orleans, but I been a Packers fan
We knocked the Eagles and the Falcons and the Bears off
Now we 'bout to cut Troy Polamalu's hair off

Here's "Green and Yellow":

No one team appears to be the clear favorite of the hip-hop community -- a lot of NFL teams have rappers as loyal fans.  For example, Ice Cube is a Raiders loyalist, while Brooklyn native Jay-Z roots for the Jets and Snoop Dogg (a Los Angeles native) is a Steelers fan.  

But rappers do appear to have a favorite NFL player -- Randy Moss, a phenomenally talented but badly behaved wide receiver who retired from the NFL before the 2011 season.  (Since no NFL team wanted to touch him with a ten-foot pole at that point in his career, it was a good time to retire.)  

When I searched the indispensable hip-hop website, Rap Genius, for "Randy Moss" references, I got 23 hits.  By contrast, "Chad Ochocinco" generated only three hits.  (Surprisingly, Tim Tebow is mentioned in a lot of hip-hop songs, although many of those references go back to his college days at the University of Florida.)

My personal favorite Randy Moss rap song is Outkast's Grammy-winning "The Whole World" (2002).  These lines are from the verse contributed by Outkast collaborator, Killer Mike, who compares his ability to catch a musical beat to Randy Moss's ability to catch a football without breaking stride:

Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss
I catch a beat running like Randy Moss

Here's the official video for "The Whole World," which is a very catchy little tune:

Veteran rapper Masta Ace contributed a very clever and football-filled verse to the 2009 song, "Ei8ht is Enuff":

When it's time to get wild on the stage
I can spit eights like Lynn Swann, Alan Page,
Or maybe Randy Moss is his college days
When he was goin' through that childish phase

Masta Ace can certainly "spit eights" (i.e., he has a gift for rapping in eight-measure or eight-line verses).  But what is the significance of his mentioning NFL stars Lynn Swann (the Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Steelers who ran for governor in Pennsylvania in 2006 but lost), Alan Page (a Hall of Fame defensive lineman for the Vikings who is now an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court), and Randy Moss (who should be in the Hall of Fame someday, but whose checkered legal history and infamous pseudo-"mooning" of the crowd in a 2005 NFL playoff game will probably prevent him from pursuing a career in politics or on the bench)?  

It's really quite simple.  All three wore "eights" as football players.  Swann and Page both wore jersey number 88 in the NFL, while Moss wore number 88 when he played college football at Marshall University.

Randy Moss pretends to moon Green Bay fans

Here's a video of Masta Ace (in the Yankee hat -- probably a Giants fan) and his collaborator Ed O.G. (in the Red Sox cap -- meaning he likely roots for the Patriots) doing "Ei8ht Is Enuff":

But the ultimate football-related rap song is "Queen's Gambit" (2005) by the rapper GZA, who was one of the founders of the legendary hip-hop collective, the Wu-Tang Clan.

"Queen's Gambit" refers to 31 of the 32 current NFL football teams.  Here it is:

Here are the lyrics to "Queen's Gambit," which should help you figure out which NFL team is not mentioned:

She dated jolly green giants that flew on jets
An A-list actress, who was never walked off sets
She loved stuffed animals, especially bears
Was a role model, like a cardinal to our peers
A patriotic tomboy, like Mary Ellen from The Waltons
A former lifeguard, who had the skills of a dolphin
When I met her, she was in drama school and wore bengals
Drove a Bronco, and she was far from star-spangled
Had basic skills, and worked part time in mills
Raised buffalos, cause she was behind them bills
Had a man who always roared like lion
A domestic violent cat, tackled the girl and kept her crying
Couldn't care, she was losing her hair, from depression
She was in the air, and there was some room for interceptions
I told her to stay strong, not to be ashamed
You're a ten, I see, you just need to titan your game
Her ancestors were chiefs, who ran with running deer
On the sail with the seahawks, who battled the buccaneers
The redskin garments was suede coatliners
Held rare coins frequently sought from gold miners
They were hard-working warriors, we call overtimers
Shot plenty arrows at cowboys and 49ers
Her interesting background but quite unusual
Great for a script but out of bounds for a musical
She told me to call her if I came to town
I started textin' her soon as my plane had touchdown
Holding my luggage in the hand that revealed the bad scars
She pulled up at arrivals, driving the Jaguar
Her brown skin was soft, her legs beautifully shaven
Her house was fly, sitting on the roof was a raven
As we entered, I heard laughter
She walked into a large living room, I went after her
There was two of her girlfriends playing chess like they were Vikings
Militant as panthers, their resemblance was striking
Had on thongs, high heels, and belts that was garter
Energized like phones that just came off the charger
I introduced myself to gain yardage
'Cause anything less than smooth would have been straight-up garbage
The shorter one met me when I had a SkyPager
Thought I rolled with robbers, stealers and panty raiders
She took fruit from the orange bowl, it was in season
One of them said she loved the juice and kept squeezing
I knew that I was gonna get wined and dined
It would have been a penalty not to pass the scrimmage line
Now I laid back and relaxed, waiting for the kick-off
One removed the lip gloss like she was bout to lick all
She caressed me with fingertips soft as velvet
Dying for me to pack her as she stroked my helmet
And I was thinking these girls was saints
But it was first and ten, and there was extra walls to paint
Before you know it, I had all three in a huddle
Buckin' like a colt before I released them puddles
They spread eagles like wide receivers
As I ram them in the endzone, and they became true believers!

Hmmm . . . I don't think "Queen's Gambit" will end up as the Monday Night Football theme song.

Enough about music -- I'm hungry.  I hope you enjoy my recipe for "2 or 3 Lines Gazpacho," which will be featured on Naptime Huddle soon.