Thursday, March 29, 2012

NFL Annual Meeting: Rules Changes and Redux

The NFL’s annual meeting wrapped up yesterday and I wanted to fill you in on a few rules changes that were approved by the owners:

Overtime Scoring Changes

The rules regarding scoring in overtime for playoff games will now be applied to regular season games.  You may recall from a previous post that these rules were revised in 2010 to avoid the seemingly unjust result of the team winning the coin toss only having to get within field goal range to win a playoff game.  Now that the teams have had time to see how the new rules in action, they’ve decided that it’s time to apply the new system to regular season games.

For our post explaining the overtime procedures, “Overtime Gone Overboard,” click here.

Replay Revisions

Longtime NH readers may also remember the post on coaches’ challenges.  If you do, you know that, starting with the 2011 season, all touchdowns are first reviewed by a replay official off the field who determines whether a score needs a second look from the referee.  Therefore, coaches can no longer use their allotted challenges for touchdown plays.  During this week’s meetings, the team decided to expand this procedure to turnovers:  fumbles, interceptions, backward passes behind the line of scrimmage recovered by the opposing team, and muffed kicks recovered by the opponent.

For a review on the challenges procedure (including my opinions on the 2011 changes, which, incidentally, apply to this change as well) click here.

Too Many Players on the Field:  This is now considered a “dead ball” foul (i.e., a foul that occurs between plays).  This means that the penalty for the infraction will be assessed from the succeeding spot (i.e., where the offense would have the ball after the next play).  Also, when there are multiple fouls on the same play, if any are “dead ball” fouls, the procedure for enforcing the penalties is affected. 

For an explanation of multiple foul procedures, the post “Two Wrongs Make … Nothing?!?”, click here.

For a reminder on the basic “too many players” penalty, click here.

Definition of a “Defenseless Player”:  If a player commits an illegal “crackback” block, his victim will now be considered a “defenseless player,” meaning that he is protected from taking shots to the head or neck.  Therefore, if another player hits the victim of a crackback block in the head or neck, the offense will be subjected to the heightened penalties associated with this type of hit (and the league might impose a fine and/or other penalty on the offending player).

For a recap on the consequences of hitting a defenseless player, click here.

For the definition of a "crackback" block, click here.

Well, those are the highlights of the changes that came out of this week’s NFL meeting.  There will be another series of meetings later this spring, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Football History 101: Pro Football's Infancy

Welcome to Naptime Huddle’s second lesson in its Football History 101 course.  Our first post took us into the 1890’s when the brutality of the college football game was threatening to bring it to an end…

As college football was working through its teenage angst, outside of the collegiate ranks it was taking its first hesitant baby steps.  If you were too old for college, not interested in college, or just graduated college, you could get your football fix playing for a local athletic club.  These clubs weren’t just for athletics and keeping in shape, though:  they were also for networking, particularly for young men just starting who wanted to get connected with the older businessmen already established in the community. 

Football team of the Greensburg (PA) Athletic Association, 1894

This healthy, innate ambition was channeled quite effectively through athletic competition of all kinds between clubs of neighboring cities.  Not all athletic clubs fielded a football team, however; its brutality was not to the liking of all establishments, as its older, slower members could suffer injury, and that wouldn’t be good for member recruitment.  However, for those clubs that had football programs, and took them seriously, a recent college grad who had been a star player could be the difference between success and embarrassment.  Therefore, as with your company softball team, it wasn’t unusual for a club to seek out a “ringer.”  Believe it or not, many communities, particularly working class towns in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, took great pride in their local teams, attending games in great numbers and providing financial support.  Since the clubs profited from this support, through greater membership rolls, they were motivated to find the best players they could and convince them to join their teams.

What made ringer recruitment difficult, however, was the inability to compensate players for their efforts (and risk of injury).  The athletic clubs were members of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which prohibited the paying of players.  The business leaders and pillars of the community who were members of these clubs could not be deterred, however, and compensation schemes were developed that skirted the letter of the law, though not its spirit.  For example, after a game, a player would receive a “trophy,” in the form of a gold watch or similar trinket.  The player would then take his prize to a pawn shop for a certain amount, maybe $10, and he would turn around and sell his pawn ticket to a club member for that same amount, thus pocketing $20.  The club member would go to the pawn shop, buy the trophy back, and return it to the club for the next game. 

Pudge Heffelfinger
In 1892, the amateur system took its first big hit when the Allegheny Athletic Association (AAA), in preparation for its game against arch rival Pittsburgh Athletic Club, hired a recent college star named William "Pudge" Heffelfinger.  Pudge was a large man for his time, standing at over six feet and weighing over 200 pounds, and was known throughout the country because of his playing career at Yale.  In the game against Pittsburgh, Heffelfinger led AAA to victory when he caused and recovered a fumble in the closing minutes of the game and ran it back for a touchdown.  He received double compensation for his expenses, another common practice at the time, but he also received an extra $500 for his efforts, making Heffelfinger the first professional football player.

Over the next few years, other teams in Pennsylvania began to recruit and pay top players as well.  Would the AAU crack down on this practice?  If so, what would become of non-collegiate football?  Like the college game, would the municipal football experiment be over before it had a chance?  Tune in next time for your next lesson in Football History 101 to find out!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Numbers Game: Manning, The Trip and #18

With all the media frenzy surrounding Peyton Manning’s decision to join the Denver Broncos, you may have missed the intrigue involving a critical element of the deal:  what number Peyton will wear when he trots onto the field for the first time this fall (though the issue almost got as much press as the actual deal).  Of course, he will be wearing the same orange-and-blue uniform his teammates will have.  The issue is what number his jersey will have on it.

When a player joins a new team, his first personal priority, after finding a good realtor, is keeping his jersey number.  This is especially true for a marquee player like Peyton Manning, who has worn Number 18 for his entire professional career (he wore #16 at the University of Tennessee).  Why?  It depends on the player, but there are several reasons for hanging on to your numeral:  superstition, emotional attachment, or the Benjamins.  For the big-money players, their number is part of their brand and appears on apparel, is emblazoned on merchandise and identifies them in video games.  Oh, and let's not forget the case of Chad Ochocinco (nee Johnson), who legally changed his last name as a (linguistically incorrect) homage to his numero...

However, as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want.  It is fairly common for the new player to discover that his number is already being worn by one of his new teammates.  This isn’t usually a problem, though, as the new co-workers can often work out a deal.  For an interesting article about the deals made between colleagues for jersey numbers, click here. 

In Peyton’s case, however, there was an unusual wrinkle:  the #18 jersey had been retired by the Broncos.  A jersey number is retired to honor a former player who was significant to the team’s history, and it means that no future player for that team can wear it.  Having one’s jersey retired is a tremendous honor, the equivalent to being named to that team’s Hall of Fame (and some players so honored might not have a shot of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame).  It is even more special because it is a rare honor to bestow:  the only other two numbers the Broncos have retired are Number 7 (worn by Hall of Fame QB John Elway) and No. 44 (worn by Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little).

So, who is the man who was the recipient of this tribute in Denver?  His name is Frank "The Trip" Tripucka, who was the first quarterback of the Denver Broncos.  Tripucka had a journeyman career before joining the Broncos when the team was formed in 1960 as one of the original teams in the American Football League (AFL).*  After graduating from Notre Dame in 1949, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.  He never played for the Eagles, being traded to the Detroit Lions before the season began.  After the 1949 season, he joined the Chicago Cardinals, where he played for three seasons.  In 1953, he began a seven-season career with two different teams in the Canadian Football League.

Tripucka was hired by the newly formed Denver Broncos in 1960 to be an assistant coach.  However, the Broncos’ offense had its issues and a change was soon needed.  The Trip's number was called, as it were, and he became the team’s starting quarterback.  He would keep that job for four seasons.  His statistics during this period were not stellar, but in that 1960 season, he threw the first touchdown pass in the AFL and became the first professional QB in the United States to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season.

So, why was Manning seen holding up a Number 18 jersey when he was introduced as the new quarterback of the Broncos?  Tripucka gave his blessing to bringing it out of retirement, even before the team signed Manning.  In fact, the 84-year-old, who is battling Alzheimer’s, said that he would be honored if Peyton Manning, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, wore his number.  In a phone conversation with Manning Tuesday morning, he all but insisted on it.  So, should we feel sorry for The Trip?  Nah.  It’s likely that passing his old jersey number to Manning, and knowing that a new generation of football fans will know his name, have brought a little more joy to his golden years.

Tripucka (left) in 2009, making a $10k donation to help rehab his high school field.

Just out of curiosity, I looked to see what other Number 18 jerseys have been retired.  The only other retired Number 18 you’ll find in the NFL is in Kansas City, where it was worn by cornerback Emmitt Thomas from 1966 to 1978. 

*The particulars of the AFL’s history will be explained further as Naptime Huddle continues its review of football’s history in a future post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reading Huddle: Paper Lion

Reading Huddle’s next book selection comes from last month’s series on football movie classics (don’t be surprised if you see more selections inspired by that series). The book is Paper Lion, which was made into a movie just a few years after it was published.

Paper Lion was written by George Plimpton, a journalist, writer and actor who happened to bean ardent sports fan. It describes his experience at the Detroit Lions summer training camp in 1963 to which he went,undercover, as their “last-string” quarterback. This escapade was the second phase in what would become a career-long experiment for Plimpton in seeing how an average person would fare in the world of professional sports. His first foray into the world of professional sports was as a baseball pitcher in a Major League All-Star Game; that adventure resulted in the book Out of My League. He would go on to train as a goalie for the Boston Bruins and play on the PGA Tour—writing books about each experience. While on assignment for Sports Illustrated, he even sparred with boxing legends Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson.

Other than his toe-dips in the sporting ocean, Plimpton led a very full and interesting life. Raised by educated and accomplished parents with colorful family histories, George had a rich primary education and attended Harvard University, where he wrote for the Harvard Lampoon. His college education was interrupted by service in the U.S. Army, but he graduated from Harvard in 1950 and went on to earn a master’s from King’s College at Cambridge University in England. He was the first editor-in-chief of the The Paris Review, a highly regarded literary journal. Plimpton’s literary c.v.included works on a wide variety of topics and his works chronicling his sporting exploits are credited with advancing “participatory journalism.” George Plimpton passed away in 2003 at the age of 76, the victim of an apparent heart attack.

A cartoon from The New Yorker with the caption: "Wait a minute! How do I know you're not George Plimpton?"

There is an interesting historical footnote to George’s life: while at Harvard, he was a classmate of Robert Kennedy, and the two became very good friends (there is a scene in Paper Lion when Plimpton recounts his attendance at a Kennedy party). When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 after his victory in the California Democratic primary, it was Plimpton, with former decathlete Rafer Johnson, who helped apprehend Sirhan Sirhan as he attempted to flee the scene.

But back to Paper Lion

Plimpton, center, making his way through the rope grid
Though he intended to be completely incognito to the Detroit players(the coaches were aware of his status as an undercover journalist), George’scover was blown shortly into camp when he was called in for a play and had no idea how to take the ball from the center. His outing as a member of media did not keep the players from welcoming him into their fold, however. They shared their thoughts and insights about football with him, and did their best to help him on the field. A particularly touching moment for Plimpton was when he was first sent onto the field for full-contact play. The veterans decided that George would need a little extra protection, so they followed him onto the field and shooed away the rookies who were already in the huddle.

In addition to providing an insider’s look into the game as it was played back then,* Paper Lion also gives the reader occasional glimpses on what it was like to live in the U.S. in the 1960s. One amusing anecdote for me was in Plimpton’s discussion of how rookies would find ways to pass the time when the nerve-wracking periods of team cuts came around. Camp was held at a boys’ boarding school, and one diversion was to read the announcements that had been left behind on bulletin boards scattered throughout the hallways. One was a list of boys with parental permission to smoke.

I’ve chosen Paper Lionto read for its insider’s perspective on football, and its entertainment value;there weren’t too many deep literary or philosophical questions that came to mind as I read it. Therefore, I’vedecided not to post discussion questions about the book, so there is no real “deadline”to read it by. But I hope you will still choose to read it as a nice diversion. As you read it, though, I’d like you to consider how Plimpton’s experience might be different now, nearly 50 years later. Would his experiment even be possible? How would it differ? How would his story be told, and how would it be received--by player and the public?

I hope you enjoy Paper Lion. If you’d like to purchase the book, check the sidebar for a link to’s listing.

*I need to add one explanatory note here: While Plimpton was at the Lions camp, their star defensive tackle Alex Karras (you may remember him as George Papadapolis on the 80's TV show Webster) was serving a one-year suspension for gambling violations. You’ll notice several references to Karras’ absence from camp in the book.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Recipe Time Out: Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas

Today’s recipe is one I got from the August 2009 issue of Southern Living Magazine.  It’s relatively quick and easy, and, if you don't want to make all eight enchiladas, you can freeze the filling and make them later (though you will need to get a little bit more enchilada sauce--one small can--at that time).

This recipe has two stages: first, the Onion and Garlic Mixture; second, the enchiladas.



2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped


Saute onion in hot oil in saucepan over medium heat 8 minutes or until tender.  Add garlic and sauté for another two minutes.  Unused mixture can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to five days.



3 ½ cups chopped cooked chicken
2/3 cup Onion and Garlic Mixture
2 (4-oz) cans chopped green chiles
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
30 oz. canned enchilada sauce, divided (I have tried this with both green and red enchilada sauce, and I prefer the red sauce.)
2 cups shredded Mexican four-cheese blend, divided
8 (9-in/burrito size) flour tortillas


Preheat oven to 425°.

Stir together first four ingredients, 1 ½ cups enchilada sauce and one cup cheese.

Spoon about ½ cup of the mixture down the center of the tortilla.  Roll tortillas up and place them, seam side down, in a lightly greased 9” x 13” casserole dish. 

Pour remaining enchilada sauce over tortillas.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake covered for 20 minutes; uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden brown. 

Buen provecho!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cleats On, Cleats Off: NFL Retiree Update

A little over a month ago, Naptime Huddle played tribute to some high-profile players who had announced their retirement, and advised you of additional players we might see on the golf course come September.  Today, I thought I’d update you on a few more stars who have decided to hang up their cleats, and one more who has decided to take his off the peg.

New Retirements:

Kris Dielman (Guard, San Diego Chargers, 2003-2011):  Kris Dielman, who played guard for the San Diego Chargers for nine years, announced his retirement on March 1st.  Dielman was an undrafted free agent out of Indiana University, where he played as a defensive lineman and tight end.  He drove to San Diego’s training camp on a wing and a prayer, with a career in concrete laboring as a fallback.  However, he impressed the Chargers coaching staff and then-head coach Marty Schottenheimer handed him the team’s book for offensive linemen and told him, “You’re a guard now.”  Kris learned his new position while on the team’s practice squad and then on the kickoff unit.  He became starting left guard early in 2005 when he replaced an injured Toniu Fonoti.  As you might remember from my profile on him in our “Stars and Legends” installment on offensive linemen, Dielman was selected to four Pro Bowls, twice as a starter, and was part of the offensive line that led running back LaDainian Tomlinson to set a new single-season rushing record.
Dielman (center) chillin' on game day with center Scott Mruczkowski (#63) and tackle Marcus McNeill (#73)

Chris Hoke (Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2001-2011):  Hoke, who attended Brigham Young University, announced his retirement on January 25th.  His retirement comes after undergoing season-ending neck surgery after only playing six games in 2011.  Joining Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2001, Hoke was a career backup and didn’t get much playing time until 2004 when he took over for injured nose guard Casey Hampton (who had been drafted by the Steelers in 2001).  He had his best stats that year, recording 27 tackles and one sack.  Spending his entire career with the Steelers, Hoke was part of two championship teams (playing in three Super Bowls).

New Un-Retirement:  Randy Moss

To say that Randy Moss has had a turbulent career would be an understatement.  He burst onto the professional scene in 1998 when he first took the field for the Minnesota Vikings.  In his first game, Moss caught four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.  This dazzling performance confirmed the Vikings’ drafting of Moss with the 21st overall pick of the 1998 draft, despite the baggage he brought with him in the form of some well-known legal troubles.  At the end of the season, Moss was named to the Pro Bowl and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. 

He continued to post impressive numbers in Minnesota for seven years, though his tenure as a Viking was not without controversy.  There were accusations by teammates that Randy was known to “take off” certain plays when he knew he wasn’t intended to be the primary receiver.  In a working-class, blue-collar community like Minneapolis, that didn’t resonate well with fans.  The criticism reached a high point when he walked off the field with two seconds remaining in the last game of the ’04 season against the Washington Redskins; the Vikings were trailing by three points and he didn’t think they would recover the onside kick.  Randy ruffled more feathers by pretending to moon Green Bay Packer fans after catching his second touchdown pass in the NFC Wildcard Game in January 2005.* 

After being hampered by injury during the 2004 season, Moss was traded to the Oakland Raiders.  He only spent one season in Oakland, where accusations regarding his work ethic continued to dog him, before being traded to the New England Patriots through a series of 11th-hour draft-eve negotiations and contract acrobatics.  The move to Boston seemed to breathe new life into Randy, who broke the Patriots’ single-season receiving record with 1,493 yards.  His performance helped the Patriots achieve a perfect 16-0 regular season and helped Tom Brady break the record for single-season touchdown passes. 

The pairing with Brady seemed a match made in New England heaven until the week leading up to the 2010 season, when Moss declared that he didn’t feel wanted in New England since he hadn’t received a contract extension offer.  After Week 4, he was traded back to his first team, the Vikings.  Unfortunately, Randy didn’t have enough political capital to get away with some derisive comments he made about his new coaches, teammates, and a local caterer.  He managed to land in Nashville, playing out the season with the Tennessee Titans.  After such a turbulent and colorful career, is it any wonder that Randy Moss is a favorite subject of rap artists (as noted in my friend Gary’s guest post on football and hip-hop)?

 Here's a nice look at Randy's career put together by DJ Steve Porter:

Moss, through his agent, announced his retirement in August of 2011.  However, on February 13, 2012, he announced that he was making a return to football; he said that his retirement decision had been made for “personal reasons outside of football.”  There was no lack of interest in Moss; the New Orleans Saints gave him an opportunity to work out for their scouts and coaching staff.  Witnesses said he looked like “the old Randy,” running the 40-yard dash in between 4.39 and 4.44 seconds, an impressive time at any age, much less thirty-five.

In his workout with the San Francisco 49ers, Moss fielded passes from Niners head coach, and former quarterback, Jim Harbaugh (who had picked Moss up at the airport!).  Both sides seem downright giddy over the one-year deal, the terms of which have not been disclosed.  How long will the Harbaugh-Moss honeymoon last?  Has Randy put the days of “mooning” opposing fans, er, behind him?  Only time will tell… 

*Even though this was a classless act, it would be unfair not to point out that the Packers fans are known for mooning losing opponents as they leave Lambeau Field, and it is this "tradition" that Moss was mimicing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Football History 101: The Gridiron’s Genesis

Today we begin our journey through the winding, often precarious, path of the evolution of football that I am calling "Football History 101."  As you will see, the sports and media behemoth we know today began as a bastardized version of English soccer and rugby.  You’ll also learn that the game’s rise in popularity, to the dominant feature on the American sporting landscape it is today, was not predetermined; it came with many stops and starts.  Finally, what I hope you’ll find during our journey is an even greater appreciation and understanding of the game.

The Birth of American Football

Aww, wook at the wittle baby football...

As you know, I have focused Naptime Huddle on the history and structure of football at the professional level—in the form of the National Football League.  However, to get a firm grasp of football’s evolution, we have to begin at the collegiate level.*

Beginnings of the game we now know as “football” can be traced to the English game of rugby, which came to U.S. colleges as an intramural sport in the early 19th century.  The game was popular primarily at the Ivy League schools:  the Big Three being Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.  A hybrid of rugby and soccer began to take shape in the 1860s, when schools started having intercollegiate contests.  Each school would have their own twists on the sport’s rules and strategy, and opposing clubs might take certain aspects of those versions back home.

Walter Camp...very dapper!
The game took a giant leap forward in the 1880s, when certain developments made the game look more like the football we know today.  One of the more influential figures during this time was Walter Camp, a Yale student, who petitioned the still-young Intercollegiate Football Association (“IFA”) for many of these important changes.

One change was in determining possession of the ball as the game continued after the kickoff.  To this point, football was still using rugby’s “scrummage" method, whereby you started a new play by throwing it into a scrum of players from both teams.  The major step forward was to adopt a “scrimmage” system, where the team with the ball gets it back after its player is tackled.

Another significant step forward, encouraged by Walter Camp, was the “downs” system.  At this time, many sports had the same process for determining ties at the end of regulation:  whichever team had won the contest the previous year would be declared the winner.  As a result, football became very boring:  last year’s winner wouldn’t try to advance the ball when it had possession, it only protected the ball.  The solution was to require the team with possession to advance the ball five yards after three plays or give up the ball (click here for a discussion of the modern downs system).

Among other developments during this time were:

·   Evolution of the running game:  Several of the offensive players stood along a forward line, facing the defense. A center would hike the ball (with his foot!) to one of three “halfbacks,” who would advance the ball.  Since it was illegal to advance the ball with a pass, they experimented with laterals and pitch-outs;

·   Simplifying the scoring system from rugby’s confusing model (though the modern points system wouldn’t be in place for a few more decades); and

·   Fading of rugby’s offside rule, whereby teammates couldn’t be downfield from their ball carrier, and the development of down-field blocking (called “guarding”).

An 1894 Parker Brothers board game inspired by one of the greatest rivalries, then and now.

Football’s Decline in 1890s

Almost as soon as it started to gather steam, football’s presence in collegiate sports began to wane.  Its decline in popularity was attributed to its increasing brutality, which can be blamed on two new rules that were instituted in 1888:

1.  Offensive blockers couldn’t extend their arms and shove or grab defenders; and

2.  Defensive players were allowed to hit below the waist.

An example of an early uniform
The result?  Football became much more brutal and its pace slowed down considerably.  Offensive linemen, who had been standing upright and spreading themselves along the entire width of the field, began to crouch and stand much closer together.  Large blocking “wedges” became vogue in an attempt to help runners advance, but were very dangerous as players often got trampled.  Injuries escalated at an alarming rate.  Keep in mind, too, that players were protected by no more than thick wool uniforms; helmets were just leather caps and pads were virtually nonexistent at this time.

One notorious formation was one known as the “Flying Wedge,” which caused an alarming number of injuries and even compelled Army and Navy to cancel their 1894 game for fear of casualties.  With limits on how you can use your hands, offensive blockers would also take running starts to barrel through their opponents’ defensive lines.
The vicious Flying Wedge in action

Amos Alonzo Stagg
A positive result of the game’s new rules, however, was an explosion of brainstorming over tactics and strategy.  Among the game’s leading strategists at the time was Amos Alonzo Stagg, another Yale grad.  He developed plays to spring runners to the outside, as well as reverses and double reverses.  He also invented the “Turtleback” play, a more kinetic variation on the wedge formation in which the offense formed a tight oval around its ball carrier and rotated to the left or right, with one player acting as its pivot point.  As it moved around the edge of the defense, the formation would unravel as each player began blocking individual defenders until the player with the ball was free to run on his own.

At the end of 1893 season, the IFA attempted to diminish the game’s brutality with some more new rules: 

1.  Wedges and plays that sent several blockers ahead of the ball carrier were outlawed;

2.  Game length was shortened from 90 to 70 minutes;

3.  It became illegal to tackle anyone who wasn’t the ball carrier; and

4.  The receiving team was given a chance to receive the ball on kickoffs (previously, the ball was live on kickoffs, and recoverable by either team).

However, crafty coaches found ways around the new rules.  For example, Walter Camp (there he is again) invented the “trap play,” which is still in use today.  The offense would let a defender rush, full steam ahead, through its line only to have its linemen violently “bump” him in another direction to create a hole for runner.

With so much brutality, and institutions of higher learning remembering that their purpose was to create well-rounded, civilized leaders of tomorrow, many colleges shut down their football programs between 1894 and 1905.  In fact, the Georgia legislature voted to ban football in the state after the death of University of Georgia quarterback Richard Von Gammon in 1897, who suffered a severe concussion in UGA's game against the University of Virginia.  The governor vetoed the bill after a heartfelt note from Von Gammon's mother asking that the sport her son loved be spared.  Despite this example of maternal heroics, however, it seemed that football might vanish from the American landscape as quickly as it appeared.

How would football bounce back from this implosion and what form would it take?  Tune in next time for another installment of Football History 101!

*In the early offerings of this history course, my primary source for facts and information is the book Football:  A History of the Gridiron Game, written by Mark Stewart, published by Franklin Watts in 1998.  It is a thoroughly entertaining and readable history of the game.  As our lessons progress, I will go back to focusing on the NFL’s history.  However, if you want to learn more about the history of the college game, I highly recommend Stewart’s book.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reading Huddle: Tony Dungy's "Quiet Strength"

Well, here we are.  Time for the discussion of our first selection for “Reading Huddle,” Naptime Huddle’s book club:  Quiet Strength:  The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life, by Tony Dungy, with Nathan Whitaker.  If you read the book, I’d like to say thank you for embarking on this experiment with me.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

I hope you enjoy Reading Huddle, but don't let it come to this...

If you’re new to Naptime Huddle, click here for the post introducing Quiet Strength for some background.  If you want to read it, bookmark this page and read no further—there are spoilers ahead!   Check back in when you’ve read it and would like to thoughts of me and (hopefully) others on the book.  One more thing:  I haven't mentioned this in a while, but Naptime Huddle  is on Facebook.  When you have a moment, check us out, or hit "Like" in the right side bar of this page.  Other than links to posts, there are also links to other interesting things online, and news updates.

Below are some questions that occurred to me as I was reading Quiet Strength, along with my “two cents” on some of them (frankly, for others I only had one cent-worth of thought).  If you’d like, feel free to post any of your thoughts, or reactions to mine, in the “Comments” section below the post.

1.  Dungy says that the occasion that made him decide to devote himself to God was in high school, when his bout with mononucleosis that kept him out of football for a time.  Is this a surprising attitude to hear from a teenager?  Or, would you just be surprised to hear it from a high school student today?


2.  Dungy credits his parents with his work ethic and devotion to learning.  In what ways do you think this translated to his approach to coaching?

3.  Even though the intersection between religion and sports has gotten a great deal of attention this past year with the presence of Tim Tebow, it appears from Quiet Strength that its presence in the locker room isn’t new.  From team Bible study groups to team chaplains, it seems that religion has a significant presence in football, at least behind the scenes.  Do you think this is the case in other sports as well?  Why is religion so much more accepted in sports, or at least football, than in other work environments?  Imagine all of the jobs you have had.  What would have been the reaction if you wanted to start a Bible study group or suggested hiring a chaplain?

My Two Cents:  Part of the reason I wanted to read Quiet Strength was to get a perspective of football as a “job,” not just a sport, and it seemed that seeing it through the eyes of a coach was a good way of doing that.  However, I started thinking of this issue from an owner’s perspective.  For the most part, NFL owners have had careers outside of team ownership, primarily in the business world.  I wonder whether some owners look at owning a football team as an opportunity to put their personal stamps on work environments of their own creation.  A religious presence may be one of those areas that are taboo in the business world.  However, in the position as an owner, one can have the freedom to openly practice that part of life.   Perhaps this was what the early NFL owners wanted and, therefore, religion became a firm fixture in team cultures.  Of course, I could be way off.

4.  Tony said his favorite “pure coaching” job was as defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs because he only had to focus on eight players.  This gave him the ability to “focus [his] attention on details that would make them better players.”  He was also able to get to know them personally.  Which of his jobs would have been your favorite?

5.  It’s clear early in the book that Dungy greatly appreciated a good balance between work and family.  Too often we see this as a female desire.  Did having a “macho” job as a football coach give Dungy the luxury of creating this balance?  Clearly, as a head coach he would have the power to make this a work-life balance a priority for his team and staff.  Do you think players have any such control over how much time they can spend with their families?

6.  In high school, Tony quit the football team because he believed that the team’s vote for the captains was influenced by race.  He took a hard view of race then, but he was puzzled when the Green Bay Packers interviewed him for the head coach position when he was clearly not the kind of coach they wanted.  The Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for coaching and senior administration positions, was established 16 years after his interview.  Was Dungy naïve in not considering the possibility that he was probably interviewed because he was African American?  What do you think of the Rooney Rule? 

My Two Cents:  It may have been Dungy’s firing from Tampa Bay that led to the final push for the Rooney Rule.  (Hmm, I smell a future post here.)  However, in the 1980’s, the league already had a minority internship program designed to encourage growth in the hiring of minority coaches.  Clearly, the issue was starting to gain traction even then.  I hate to accuse Dungy of naïveté in any context, but some bell probably should have rung in his mind.  Maybe it did, though, and he judiciously kept it out of his recollection of the incident.

7.  As a coach, Dungy’s signature motivating phrase was “Let’s do what we do.”  However, many times that can be a defeatist statement—i.e., “You can only do what you can.  Nothing more.”  Is Dungy’s version only motivational in a sporting context?

8.  If you want to take a simple view of leadership, you can say that there are two types of leaders:  Screamers and Teachers.  Tony Dungy clearly chose to take the teaching approach to leadership.  Which do you think is better?  Which motivates better?  Have you had one or both of these types of bosses?  To which did you respond better?  Why?

My Two Cents:   To me, one aspect of motivating those you lead should be to make them want to help you succeed (or at least look good).  When you are led by a Screamer, your primary motivation is to do what you need to avoid being the target of screaming.  No more, no less.  You certainly aren’t motivated to help the Screamer look good.   However, since a Teacher is making you better by giving you knowledge and instruction, it is only human nature to want to return the favor.

9.  When he got to Tampa Bay, Dungy started his practice of “checking the corners”—i.e., looking at the upper reaches of the stadium on game days to see if they were filled with fans.  Given what we’ve learned about him, are you surprised that he did this?  Do you think that he used it as a measure of success?  Would you?

10. A pivotal moment for Dungy, understandably, was his son’s suicide.  Though he wrote a great deal about the support he received from the community and how he was able to process and recover from the death of his son to continue his life, he provides very few details surrounding his son’s death.  For example, there was no discussion of a suicide note or speculation on why he may have taken his own life.  When writing a memoir, does the author have an obligation to the readers to provide all factual details?  Do you feel shortchanged when an author omits facts that would satisfy your curiosity, for lack of a better word?  For the purposes of Dungy’s memoir, did it matter why Jamie took his own life?

My Two Cents:  This is a difficult one to answer.  As a reader, and perhaps as a parent, I desperately wanted to know why.  Though I understand what a terribly personal tragedy Jamie’s death was, I wanted to see the suicide note, or get an answer from a psychiatrist.  Maybe it was a need to make sense of such a tragic event, or maybe it was just curiosity.  Personally, I don’t believe that writing a memoir makes your life an “open book”—literally or figuratively.  Just with works of fiction, the author has creative license in deciding what to include in the story.  I hope that, in not focusing on the whys, that Dungy is telling us that he has comes to terms with those questions and believes he did all that he could for his son.   We are certainly not in any position to make that judgment for him.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for football literature.  If so, tune in next week to find out the next selection for “Reading Huddle”!