Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Most Ghoulish Injuries in NFL History

Today’s post was inspired by three events:

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

2.     Halloween

3.     Being trapped indoors by Hurricane Sandy


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


THE DIAGNOSIS:  Broken left tibia and fibula

THE AFTERMATH:  Played for six more years

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


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



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

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

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


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




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


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



THE DIAGNOSIS:  Injured vertebrae (no paralysis)

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


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



THE DIAGNOSIS:  Broken left femur

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


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




THE DIAGNOSIS:  Fractured right tibia and fibula

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


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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Respecting Boundaries

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


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



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

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




Illegal First Touching

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

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

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

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


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


Sideline Catches

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Easy, right?



Illegal First Touching on Kicks

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Billy Sims: Bankruptcy, Bouncing Back . . . and BBQ

When we left off yesterday, Billy Sims was running roughshod over NFL defenses, earning three straight Pro Bowl selections to start what was sure to be a long and successful career.  Take it away, Gary…


Sims was on track for another outstanding season in 1984, averaging a career-best 5.3 yards per carry in the Lions' first eight games. But Sims suffered a devastating knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings and never played again.

The former Sooner had earned several million dollars as an NFL running back, and an insurance policy from Lloyds of London paid him $1.9 million when he was injured. "I'm not leaving the game broke," he said at his farewell press conference in Detroit.

Famous last words. In 1990, Sims and his wife filed for bankruptcy. Their bankruptcy filing listed their assets as their home in Hooks, Texas, a van, a pickup truck, a tractor, four horses, and $150 in a checking account. Their debts totaled $2.263 million.

According to a USA Today story, Sims' unsuccessful business ventures included a dinette manufacturer, a mini-supermarket, a nightclub, a chain of eyeglass stores, an apartment complex, a car parts manufacturer, a chain of catfish restaurants, a radio station, a dry cleaner, and a water-purification business.

Sims and his wife (who had four children) got a divorce after the financial problems reared their ugly head. In 1998, Sims spent a month in jail for failing to pay child support. Later that year, he was charged with domestic abuse after allegedly shoving his second wife to the floor during an argument about car keys.

In 1999, he was convicted of assault for choking wife number two. He was placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to undergo family violence counseling.

At the time of his conviction, Sims didn't have a real job. He picked up some money by appearing at autograph shows. And he appeared on a cable TV show called Tough Bowl, which featured boxing matches between former NFL stars. (Sims was knocked out in his first-round bout with former Bengals’ running back, Ickey Woods, who is remembered today mainly for his “Ickey Shuffle” end zone dance.)

In December 2000, word got out that Sims's Heisman Trophy was being auctioned off.* (Sims had previously sold a number of his trophies to a Hooks businessman whose son had been a childhood friend of Sims, and who became a father figure to the ex-gridiron star.)


The news got an Oklahoma assistant U.S. attorney all hot and bothered because Sims owed back child support to a daughter born out of wedlock when he was still in college.

(Some days, you wish you had just stayed in bed . . .)

[Editor's Note:  Sims must have hit hard times if he was willing to part with his Heisman.  The pride he has in being a Sooner and a Heisman winner was evident in 2008 when he, rather infamously, yelled "Boomer" (as in "Boomer Sooner") several times when OU quarterback Sam Bradford was announced as the winner of the Heisman Trophy.  He was on the stage with several other past winners and many criticized his display of school pride as Bradford took his place on stage.]
Today Billy Sims is doing much better. He looks very happy in this recent picture, which was taken in front of a bronze statue depicting him in his playing days that stands outside Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium.



Sims works with a sports marketing company, gives motivational speeches, does personal appearances, and works with a nonprofit educational organization called America Can! And he has lent his name to the Billy Sims BBQ franchise chain.

Billy Sims BBQ currently has 23 locations -- ten in the Tulsa area, six in greater Oklahoma City, four elsewhere in Oklahoma, two in Missouri, and one in suburban Detroit, where loyal Lions fans still remember him fondly.

Billy Sims restaurants aren't fancy. You order at a counter and take your food to your table yourself. They don't sell beer or wine -- soft drinks only. Click here if you'd like to check out the menu. (Prices valid at participating restaurants only!)

But all the meats are smoked on the premises and sliced to order, and most of the customers who have posted online reviews agree with my mother and say it's pretty good eatin'.

Not surprisingly, the restaurants are awash in Sims and Sooner-related memorabilia. Here's the big-ass Billy Sims bobblehead doll that stands next to the cash register in the Joplin store:

Here's a framed and autographed jersey that belonged to Steve Owens, another Oklahoma running back who won the Heisman Trophy (in 1969), was drafted by the Detroit Lions, and had a good NFL career cut short by knee injuries. (Owens appeared with Sims last month to shake hands and sign autographs at the grand opening of the Detroit Billy Sims BBQ restaurant, so I'm guessing the two are good friends.)


I had a smoked Polish sausage sandwich when I visited to Billy Sims store in Joplin with my parents. It was quite tasty, but you have to work pretty hard to make smoked Polish sausage anything but delicious. My mother gives high marks to the chicken, but I didn’t try it.

If I ever go back, I'll give the ribs a chance. But I doubt that I ever will go back. I don't care how good the smoked Polish sausage and ribs are. There's WAY too much Oklahoma crap there to make eating at a Billy Sims restaurant a pleasant experience for me.

It could be worse -- Sims could have been an Arkansas Razorback. If he had, there's no chance I go in his restaurant. (Sorry, mom. You and dad go ahead without me.)


*Sims wasn’t the first Heisman winner to make the call to sell his trophy, nor will he be the last.  At least six Heisman Trophies are known to have been sold, and for various reasons (not all bad):  most famously, former USC running back O.J. Simpson sold his trophy in 1999 for $230,000 to help pay the $33.5 million wrongful death judgment entered against him for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.  Other former winners who have sold the bronze statue include Larry Kelley (Yale, 1936); Bruce Smith (Minnesota, 1941—its $395,240 price tag is the highest so far); Paul Hornung (Notre Dame, 1956); and Charles White (USC, 1979—his trophy has actually been sold more than once).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Billy Sims: the Man, the 'Fro, the BBQ

Today, Naptime Huddle welcomes back guest writer Gary Hailey, creator of the wildly popular "2 or 3 lines" music blog. Gary grew up in Joplin, Missouri, which was devastated by a tornado in May 2011.  Since the tornado, Gary (who, like me, resides in the Washington, D.C. area) has made many trips to Joplin and his hometown has inspired several “2 or 3 lines” posts including, most recently, Edwin Starr – “25 Miles” and Quicksilver Messenger Service – “Prideof Man.”  
During his latest trip to visit his parents and see how rebuilding efforts were coming along, he got dragged to a local barbecue restaurant named after the famed University of Oklahoma and Detroit Lions running back, Billy Sims. Gary grew up loyal to the University of Missouri and St. Louis Cardinals football teams, and while his interest in both teams has waned over the years -- largely because the Cardinals moved to Arizona and Missouri moved to the SEC -- he maintains his loathing of their traditional rivals . . . especially the Oklahoma Sooners.


You can’t miss the Billy Sims BBQ restaurant in Joplin, Missouri. It’s painted a particular shade of red that exactly matches the color of the jerseys worn by University of Oklahoma football players.


That’s not surprising given that Billy Sims was a star running back for the Sooners. In fact, he may have been the best of the many great Oklahoma tailbacks over the years. (He still holds the career OU rushing record.)

Ordinarily, I never would have set foot inside such an Oklahoma-glorifying place. (I hope my sister doesn't read this post -- she would be so disappointed in me. Like me, she is a Mizzou fan.) But my mother ate at Billy Sims BBQ once and loved it, so she suggested we have lunch there during my recent visit to Joplin.

Billy Sims grew up in the projects in St. Louis, but was sent to Hooks, Texas (population 2973) when he was an 8th-grader to live with his grandmother. In high school, he gained a remarkable 7738 yards in three years as a running back for the Hooks Hornets, which got the attention of Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer.

Sims missed much of his first two seasons at the University of Oklahoma due to injuries, but scored 22 touchdowns and rushed for 1896 yards on 256 carries as a junior (a spectacular average of 7.4 yards per carry) and won the Heisman Trophy, given every year to the most outstanding player in college football.
Here are a few highlights from Sims's college career:


He did almost as well his senior year, finishing second in the Heisman voting to USC running back Charles White.* But the Detroit Lions showed who they thought was the better player by drafting Sims with the very first pick of the 1980 NFL draft.

Sims put up much better numbers in the NFL than White did. And he certainly had a better Afro:

The only professional athlete I remember who had a clearly superior 'fro to Sims was baseball player Oscar Gamble:


The Lions had the #1 overall pick in 1980 because they had finished a woeful 2-14 in the previous season. But with Sims rushing for over 1300 yards, catching 51 passes, and scoring a league-leading 16 TDs, the Lions tied for first place in the NFC’s Central Division with a 9-7 record. Sims was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and went to the Pro Bowl.



Sims' 1981 numbers were about the same, and he was selected to go to the Pro Bowl again. He was voted to the NFC Pro Bowl squad a third time based on his performance in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Jerry Argovitz, who was Sims's agent, demanded that the Lions give his client a new contract in 1983. Argovitz, who was a dentist before he was a sports agent, later wrote a book. (That's Argovitz with Herschel Walker, Marcus Allen, and Sims on the cover.)**



When Detroit dragged its feet, Sims signed with the Houston Gamblers of the fledgling United States Football League. But it was later revealed that Argovitz owned 29% of the Houston franchise, and that he had failed to give the Lions a chance to match Houston's offer to Sims.


Sims then sued Argovitz in federal court for breach of fiduciary duty and won. The court rescinded the star running back's contract with the Houston team and Sims returned to the Lions for the 1983 season. Click here if you'd like to read the Sixth Circuit's decision in that case.


The ex-Sooner star led the Lions to a division title that year. When they faced off against the mighty Joe Montana-Roger Craig-Dwight Clark-Ronnie Lott 49ers in the playoffs, Sims rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries. He scored two fourth-quarter TDs, turning a 17-9 deficit into a 23-17 lead. But the Niners scored a late TD and the Lions’ placekicker missed a field goal attempt on the last play of the game.
This is the 1983 play that earned Sims the nickname "Kung Fu Billy Sims" from ESPN's Chris Berman:


Well ain't that a kick in the head?  Tune in tomorrow to learn how the career of Billy Sims ended, what he did with himself after he hung up his cleats, and how it came to be that a music writer would nosh on ribs at a Sims-inspired BBQ joint.
*Charles White played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams.

**You can pre-order this book by clicking on the link at the top of the left sidebar.