I recently gave myself a concussion, so forceful were the repeated slaps to my forehead as I read the following column by Democrat-Gazette columnist Bradley Gitz.
On the surface, it seems Gitz would be someone who bases his arguments on, oh, actual reason. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Illinois and teaches at Lyon College, which has a fairly high academic reputation among mid South private colleges. But Gitz packed his column with so much sloppy thinking, overgeneralizing and sophomoric name-calling, I shudder at the prospect of him teaching our nation’s future leaders to think.
Below are the most egregious excerpts, with my own comments following:
Football’s risky—so what?
Published Feb 18, 2013
“The best thing about this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t how exciting the game was (although it was certainly that) but that there were so few of those ridiculous flags for breathing on the quarterbacks or accidentally touching the receivers that make fans groan and smack their foreheads.Maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the officials telling them to put the sissy stuff away and let the players actually play the game, for once.The powder-puff probably won’t stay put away for long though, as football at all levels is now squarely in the cross-hairs of our self-appointed pleasure police. They don’t much like football for the same reason they don’t like fast food, tobacco, fizzy soft drinks, SUVs, or guns—because the rest of us less-sensitive types in flyover country do.”
“Dedicated to a life of pestering their neighbors over their unhealthy habits and unenlightened attitudes, our hand-wringing “girly-men” have, in a moment of sudden revelation, noticed that football is violent and dangerous (imagine that!).”
The former co-owner, and current co-chairman, of the San Francisco 49ers is a Little Rock Catholic High graduate who grew up in Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood and learned statistics by playing the horses at Oakland Park. In 2010, former Arkansas Life editor Kane Webb flew to the Bay Area for the following profile of John York:
(click on the images to make them easier to read)
A recent Sports Illustrated profile of an athlete every bit as impressive as Bo Jackson
There’s a point near the start of “You Don’t Know Bo,” ESPN’s upcoming “30 for 30″ episode about one of the early 1990s’ most iconic ahtletes, where the Bo Jackson praises really start gushing. At one point, an interviewee suggests Jackson may be equal if not greater than Jim Thorpe in terms of all-around athletic excellence.
Bo Jackson: history’s greatest athlete?
As the movie walks through his long list of accomplishments, there is an argument to be made. Jackson, at 6-1 and 220 pounds, presented a combination of power, speed and ability nobody had ever seen before in baseball and football. At the NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.12 in the 40 yard dash; he starred in the NFL and MLB , becoming the the first person named an All-Star in two major American sports leagues.
Jackson’s versatility certainly makes him one of the greatest athletes of the modern sports era (and, in terms of team sports, of all time), but if size, strength, speed and versatility are main criteria for grading an athlete’s rank, then we should consider Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah as someone who has entered Jackson’s stratosphere.
Let’s get this out of the way: Ansah hasn’t achieved anything near the level of success in his chosen sports as Jackson. He grew up playing soccer in Ghana, but as a teenager dreamed of playing in the NBA with LeBron James. Five years ago, he arrived in the United States, and tried to parlay his 39-inch vertical jump into a spot on the Brigham Young University basketball team.
He was cut.
Instead, Ansah walked on to the BYU track team, and promptly ran a 200-meter dash in 21.9 seconds. Over the next couple years, Ansah used his 6-6, 250-pound frame to dominate at intramural baskeball. He was so impressive that football players told him he should give their a sport a spin. At last, he gave in.
At the start of BYU’s 2010 summer camp, Ansah told head coach Bronco Mendenhall he wanted to play the game for the first time in his life. He didn’t know the rules. He had never lifted weights before. But he was big, fast, smart and eager to learn, as Jeff Benedict writes in Sports Illustrated.
Amazingly, two and a half years later, Ansah is a dominating nose tackle on the nation’s third-ranked defense. Despite not starting until the fourth week, he has 48 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and is projects to be a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
This, from a neophyte who was shoving his thigh pad into his knee pad slot two years ago. This, from a guy who until recently ran around the field without the slightest clue of how to tackle. “He was not lowering down and gearing up to hit someone,” another BYU player told Benedict. “He was just running. That allowed him to hit opponents with a speed that they were not prepared for. But he also wasn’t naturally protecting himself the way football players do. So he was taking blows to his body that most guys would never be able to endure.”
Now that Ansah actually understands the game, and now that he’s up to 270 pounds, he is a major pro prospect. “The combination of his height, weight and speed is probably unmatched,” one NFL scout told Benedict. As is Ansah’s story.
Jackson will always be considered one of the greatest athletes because he played so well – and so spectacularly – in two pro leagues. Ansah won’t have that chance (unless LeBron hears about his story and takes him under his wing as a publicity stunt), but his multi-faceted sports background, ability to quickly adapt to a brand-new game and a height, weight and speed combo that’s off the charts make him the 21st century version of, well, Bo Jackson.
Without exception, there are and always will be exceptions.
We all (hopefully) learn this at some time or another, and my most recent lesson came via the expansive readership of the New York Times.
I wrote a piece for the paper’s college sports blog about how college football is the only major American team sport in which there hasn’t been a freshman/rookie to win that sport’s most prestigious individual award. In college football’s case, it’s the Heisman.
In pro sports, there has been a lot more opportunities for first-year player to win such honors because rookies have played on the same teams as veterans since the major leagues’ inceptions. In the college ranks, I knew freshmen played on their own teams, apart from upperclassmen, until 1972. I assumed that was the year the NCAA first allowed freshmen to play with upperclassman, and so naturally I assumed there could not have been a freshmen Heisman finalist before that year.
I was wrong, as ”Todd D” from Tampa Bay, Florida pointed out in my blog post’s comments.
Turns out that during World War II, Georgia Tech freshmen played because there was the shortage of able-bodied men who’d left to fight overseas. And in 1942, a scatback named Clint Castleberry injected life into a Yellow Jackets program which had had only two winning seasons since 1930:
Standing only five-foot-nine, a hundred and fifty-five pounds, Castleberry did not allow his diminutive stature to overshadow his talent and immense heart. Upon entering Tech, he had never played in a game in which his team had lost—and the string continued in the fall of 1942. In essence, Castleberry became Seabiscuit in football pads, revitalizing Tech with incredible touchdown runs—that inspired at least one sportswriter to marvel that he “ran like a crazed jackrabbit,” defensive gems, and a Chip Hilton too-good-to-be-true personality.
Before a late-season knee injury, Castleberry led Georgia Tech to a 9-0 record and into the national Top 5. He played only that one season before heading off to war himself, but impressed everyone and finished third in the Heisman voting. There wouldn’t be another freshman Heisman finalist until another Georgian – Herschel Walker – finished third in 1980. According to football historian Bill Chastain, Castleberry is the only Georgia Tech player with his number retired.
If the program decided to enshrine two jerseys, who would be a top candidate? How about a 19-year-old from Decatur who arrived on campus the next season and developed into a two-time All-SEC QB, as well as a star in baseball and football?
Frank Broyles wouldn’t be a bad choice at all.
In last week’s post about Norris Armstrong, I mentioned players from his NFL team competed in two games in Arkansas in the early 1920s.
I wrote this might have possibly been the only times NFL-associated games were played in Arkansas. Turns out, there have been at least three more such games. All three games were preseason exhibition games and featured teams which had lodged in Hot Springs before hopping on the train for Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium:
1. September 10, 1949 – The world champion Philadelphia Eagles trained in Hot Springs before playing the the Los Angeles Rams to a 24-24 tie in Little Rock.
2. September 1, 1951- The Eagles trained in Hot Springs before losing to the Los Angeles Rams* 31-26.
Twenty-seven thousand people attended this game; it’s fair to assume many were there to see the Eagles’ Clyde Scott, who’d earned All-American honors for the Arkansas Razorback in 1948 before being drafted by Philadelphia the next year. He only played five seasons in the NFL but 1951 would be his finest. He ran for 151 yards, caught for 212 yards and scored four touchdowns altogether.
3. August 23, 1952 – The Detroit Lions trained in Hot Springs, and beat the Eagles 7-3 at War Memorial in front of more than 22,000 spectators. Detroit’s Doak Walker scored the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter.
This time, fans had two former Arkansas Razorback standouts to cheer, as the Lions had drafted kicker Pat Summerall. This would be one of the only games Summerall played for the Lions as an injury cut his rookie season short. He played the rest of his career in Chicago and New York. Summerall ended up making 47% of the field goals he attempted in his career (with a high of 69% in 1959).
At first glance, these numbers look absolutely horrible.
Then I wondered whether field goal accuracy through the decades had improved (in part due to emergence of soccer style kicking and improving training methods). Sure enough, it has, based on these pro-football-reference.com numbers:
Before Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, and before Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in 2000, this Arkansan took Centre’s stage.
In the 21st century, Centre College’s national reputation has been staked to two events: the 2000 vice presidential debate and Thursday’s vice presidential debate/smirkfest pitting incumbent Joe Biden against Republican Paul Ryan.
For the 20th century, though, there is no debate on which event stands above the rest in the annals of this small, Presbyterian Kentucky school.
In 1921, Centre College’s football team snapped then powerhouse Harvard’s five-year winning streak, which the New York Times tabbed as arguably the century’s greatest upset. It might not have happened without Centre captain Norris Armstrong, a native of Fort Smith, Ark. Armstrong’s role in that 6-0 road victory wasn’t flashy; not that there was too much flash to go around in a game that ended 6-0 and was played in the 1920s. But the 5-10, 165-pound Armstrong did provide crucial blocking on teammate Bo McMillin’s a looping 32-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. So much acclaim came from this upset by a school of less than 300 students, that apparently McMillan later had a board game named after him.
“It’s the archetypal story of the underdog; Centre was so much smaller than Harvard,” the school’s director of communications told The Advocate-Messenger, a local newspaper, in 2006. “Also, there was prejudice against the South, and Centre was viewed as being in the South. And the fact these Southern boys went up there and give mighty Harvard a lesson in football captured the nation’s attention.”
Not surprisingly, the players got much ink in the following months and even met movie stars in Hollywood. Unfortunately, any articles written about Norris Armstrong, who went on to the NFL before a coaching career, haven’t yet been digitized for easy access online. Thankfully, I’ve had a few people help me fill this void.
Given Arkansas’ nosedive of a season, it’s probably a year later than he would have liked, but Tyler Wilson will eventually join the NFL. And when he does, as an expected early selection in the 2013 Draft, the quarterback will likely be the next of at least 205 Razorbacks to have entered the nation’s most lucrative sports league. He’ll join a world in which quarterbacks make an average annual salary of about $2 million, likely for a franchise worth more than $1 billion.
Nothing, it seems, can slow the NFL’s growth.
Ninety years ago, though, pro football was far less popular than the college variant. The NFL began in 1920 as an outgrowth of the Ohio League, a loose group of semi-pro and pro teams. With crowds rarely topping 6,000 people, it sputtered early on. Franchise entry fees as low as $100 allowed teams to constantly form and disband. In 1922, the Milwaukee Badgers formed, following Green Bay as Wisconsin’s second NFL team. Despite playing both sides of the ball, its players earned no more than $1,800 a season and had to work odd jobs to make ends meet. So did management: Milwaukee’s owner toiled in a Chicago stockyard during the season.
If New England quarterback Tom Brady were parachuted into this era, he would throw no more than a dozen times a contest. The pass, after all, was considered a desperation play. Constant punting, often used on third down for the sake of field position, greatly slowed the game. Safe to say, Brady would have trouble attracting a bob-haired Gisele to his side.
This is the world into which the Hogs’ first NFL player walked.
Fayetteville native Ben Winkelman was good, but no all-time great. His name appears only as a blip among the best Razorbacks around the 1917-21 stint he spent on campus. A UA yearbook lists his off-field exploits – engineering major, clarinet player, member of the Glee Club and Kappa Alpha fraternity – not on-field prowess. The sequence of events leading him from Fayetteville to Milwaukee isn’t known, although Arkansan Norris Armstrong might have had something to do with it. We do know the six-feet, 180-pound Winkelman’s brief but impressive NFL career began Dec. 4, 1922 at Milwaukee’s last game of the season.
They share more than Little Rock as a birthplace and Fayetteville as a college destination. They share more than playing for pro teams that use primarily black uniforms. Darren McFadden and Joe Johnson have both staked out turf on top of their respective leagues, not yet in the way they want to – with champagne, commemorative T-shirts and glittering gold – but by leading their leagues in key statistical categories.
To wit, ya’ll:
1) Over the NFL’s last three years, no running back churns out more butter per pass route than D-Mac. That is, McFadden has averaged the league’s most receiving yards per route he runs – whether the ball is thrown to him or not. Here’s the breakdown, per Pro Football Focus:
This surprising stat is partially explained by Levi Damien, writer for the Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride:
McFadden’s numbers depended on “having a quarterback who is more likely to throw to a running back running a route. The Raiders had Jason Campbell behind center for a season and a half and he was well known for his penchant for check downs. That is a strong reason why both McFadden and Bush were on the list for best YPRR. Over 500 of McFadden’s 906 receiving yards came in 2010 alone when Campbell was the starter.” The blog’s author, however, believes while new Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is more of a drop-back threat the Raiders will still employ plenty of running back routes to keep these players’ YPRR high.
In a couple months, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Jake Bequette and Joe Adams will join a long, prestigious list of former Razorbacks to play in the NFL. Indeed, more than 140 Hogs have logged time in the nation’s top football league.
When did this list begin?
Ninety years ago, with 23-year-old Ben Winkelman, a Fayetteville native who ended up playing for the now-defunct Milwaukee Badgers for three seasons. There’s not much readily accessible online about this team, but thanks to the good folks at ProFootballReasearcher.org, we know 1) Milwaukee was one of three NFL teams of the era (along with Green Bay & Racine) and 2) Winkelman, at 6’1” and 190 pounds, apparently was a crackerjack end. He earned third-team All-Pro honors in 1923. Granted, the newspaper responsible for dispensing these honors was based in Wisconsin, but still…
So, what happened to the Big Wink?
Again, online details are sketchy, but according to fanbase.com decades later Winky wound up coaching at Oregon and San Jose State, where he was by helped the famed youth football patriarch Pop Warner, then an SJSU athletics consultant. Apparently, Winkelman found a home in central California. He died near Sacramento in 1981, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
It’s doubtful many Arkansans are still around to recall Winkelman in his athletic heyday. Still, this Razorback’s place in the state’s athletic history shouldn’t be forgotten.
If you’ve played adult-league kickball or visited the state fair, you likely know this downtown Little Rock neighborhood. Picture the busy intersection of W. Roosevelt Road and Martin Luther King Drive. If you venture a few blocks south, you’ll find the home of Daisy Bates, which in the late ’50s was a headquarters for Arkansas’ African-American civil rights movement. There, Bates etched her name into world history by mentoring the nine African-American students who integrated Central High School in 1957. That is but one of many reasons her home at 1207 W. 28th Street became a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
Just north of Gates’ home is a 3-block radius which may have the most connections to great athletes per capita than anywhere else in the state. Gates helped pave the way for blacks to have the same access to state resources as whites, and the following student-athletes used integrated Little Rock high schools to launch careers that took them to top Division I college programs and beyond.
Less than a block from Gates’ home is the home of Leslie O’Neal’s mother, I was told by a childhood friend of O’Neal. O’Neal is a former Little Rock Hall football star who would become the best NFL defensive end from Arkansas until Kevin Williams. My neighborhood guide, Chris Porter, said as children he and O’Neal (also known as “Big Red”) worked during the summer for local businessman Robert “Say” McIntosh.
Across MLK (formerly called High Street), Porter pointed out an early childhood home of Keith Jackson, the former Parkview High star-turned-NFL All-Pro tight end. Just a block to the west lives the father of former All-SEC Razorback Joe Adams, who’s now starting his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers. His father Joseph Adams, a Little Rock fireman, told me that he grew up playing neighborhood football with Keith Jackson.
Finally, caddy-corner to Adams’ home, is the home of Darren McFadden’s mother Mini Muhammad. McFadden owns a few homes on that block, which helps when the fam throws block parties during his off-season.
If there is an Arkansas neighborhood with more star sports power in terms of family connections, I want to see it. Bates’ home may already be designated as a national landmark, but I think the surrounding area also deserves some recognition. Maybe a mention in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame or the black Arkansas sports hall of fame that former Razorback football player Muskie Harris is trying to start.