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Playoffs and Layoffs: Black Monday for the NFL

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.” Blaine Nye

After 17 weeks, 256 games and 11,985 points scored the NFL regular season ended last night when Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Kyle Orton was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.  That pass ended the Cowboys playoff hopes and season and sent the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs as champions of the NFC East.

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It was an exciting end to the season. The season went down to the wire for the Eagles, the Green Bay Packers who came from behind to stun the Chicago Bears to take the NFC Central and the San Diego Chargers who swiped the last AFC Wild Card when Baltimore and Miami lost.

The playoffs are now set. The Wild Card round will feature the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) play the number 5 Wild Card seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and the AFC Central Champion Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) face off against the number six seed San Diego Chargers (9-7). In the NFC the Eagles (10-6) will square off against the number six seed New Orleans Saints (11-5) while the NFC Central Champion Green Bay Packers (9-7) will face number five seed the San Francisco 49ers (12-4). The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (13-3)  AFC East Champion New England Patriots, NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers (12-4) NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks have first round byes.

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Among the teams left out of the playoff picture from last season are last year’s Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.

As good as some teams were some were very bad and with badness went pink slips. As legendary coach John McKay said of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers years ago: “We stunk. We blocked bad; we were terrible on defense and our kicking game made up for it by being absolutely horrible. I saw nothing that delighted me, we ran on the field fairly well.”

Kansas City Chiefs vs Washington Redskins

But the bigger news today are the firings of coaches. Since Sunday night five coaches had been fired. The pink slips started Sunday night with the Cleveland Browns (4-12) who fired first year head coach Rob Chudzinski, that moved surprised many observers. The firings began in earnest this morning when the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) fired Leslie Frazier, the 7-9 Detroit Lions fired 5th year coach Jim Schwartz after a late season collapse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) fired their Head Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominick. Lastly the controversy ridden Washington Redskins who finished a dismal season at 3-13 fired the highly paid Mike Shanahan despite still owing him another $7 million dollars. Washington owner Daniel Snyder will be looking for his 7th Head Coach since 1999.

Some player’s like Washington’s fullback Darrel Young blamed themselves for their coach’s demise. Young said “We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year.”

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Not counted among the Black Monday casualties was Houston Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak who was fired December 6th. The Texans who had made the playoffs last year finished the season 2-14, the worst record in the league. The Texans had lost 11 games in a row after winning their first two of the season and had been pre-season favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins and Texans were both so bad this year that John McKay’s statement on when the Buccaneers had lost their record setting 26th straight game: “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.”

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Other coaches could still be fired, rumors are swirling about a number of others but one who seems to be safe is Cowboy’s Head Coach Jason Garrett who still has the public backing of GM and Owner Jerry Jones. However it is expected that several assistants will be let go. Likewise Rex Ryan of the Jets has survived. Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen could be gone soon, he has not been offered any contract extensions and finished with a 4-14 record in 2013. Rumors also swirl about Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbon after a disappointing fish to the season.

So things will be interesting both on and off the field for the next month.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pinning on the Gold Bars: 28 Years Later

On June 19th 1983 I was sworn in as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army at the University of California Los Angeles.  I was a history major in college and had actually completed my degree the year prior and played around with Masters level classes as I took my last year of ROTC. I was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps and would report for active duty 22 days later at Fort Sam Houston Texas where I would complete the Army Medical Department Officer Basic Course for Medical Service Corps officers, go on to Fort Know Kentucky for the Junior Officer’s Maintenance Course and then in January 1984 head to Germany where I was assigned to the 557th Medical Company Ambulance in a little Kasserne on the Nahe River called Neubrücke.  The rest is history.

Looking back at what the world was like in 1983 is rather interesting. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and George Herbert Walker Bush his Vice President. Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was Speaker of the House.  The internet and the TCP/IP was beginning to take flight as a program of the Department of Defense, Sally Ride had just become the first female Astronaut and the United States sent the Marines into Lebanon as part as a peacekeeping force.  The Soviets were deeply embroiled in Afghanistan while Jedi returned, destroyed the new Death Star, killed the Emperor and Darth Vader while redeeming Anakin Skywalker.

The Cold War was reaching its zenith as the United States using its great economic power built up its military and developed technologies that the Soviets went broke trying to keep up with.

We still wore Olive Green fatigues; the BDUs were just being introduced and the Army still worn Greens sans jaunty Black Beret.

The Billboard Top Singles were led by Michael Jackson who released Billie Jean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBIfLxi5dLo, Culture Club with Karma Chameleon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmcA9LIIXWw, Irene Cara joined in with Flashdance What a Feeling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILWSp0m9G2U, David Bowie came out with Let’s Dance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyVjdQXNs9sand the Police had Every Breath You Take http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOGaugKpzs.

The Baltimore Orioles won the 1983 World Series taking down the Philadelphia Phillies in 5 games, Rick Dempsey was the MVP hitting .385 in the series and having a .923 slugging percentage. Dempsey who played across 4 decades as a catcher only hit .233 for his career.  Cal Ripken Jr. made the final putout of the series which was the last that the Orioles have won since then.  In the NFL the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. Larry Nelson edged out Tom Watson in the PGA U.S. Open while Jimmy Conners won the U.S Open Men’s Singles championship.

Terrorism, nuclear crises, political scandals and Tsunami in Japan were all part in the news.  AIDS was rearing its ugly head and by 1987 I was working with AIDS patients and dealing with personnel policy for HIV infected Soldiers.

Since that day I can only quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead that my life and career has been “a long strange trip.” I continue to serve in the military only having switched services to the Navy and going from being in the Medical Service Corps where I was a platoon leader, company XO and company commander as well as Brigade Adjutant to being a Chaplain.

Back in 1983 I had no intention of going into the ministry but somehow the Deity somehow worked that out much to my surprise.

Finally a mere six days after being commissioned I would marry the love of my life Judy Keiser and well somehow she has put up with me 28 years and hasn’t killed me yet, not that she didn’t want to a few times. Now we deal with a geographic separation due to my assignment after missing far more wedding anniversaries and birthdays than we have been together in our 28 year marriage.

Anyway, the future is still to be written and this long strange trip promises to go on. As Captain Kirk said in Star Trek VI “People think the future means the end of history, well, we haven’t run out of history just yet.” I don’t think that I have either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Favorite Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXIII Joe Montana and the Drive

Note: Though this is an essay about a great Super Bowl tonight the Saints took home the Lombardi Trophy as they defeated the Colts 31-17.  I have included a post script at the end of this article about the Saints’ historic win.

As anyone who knows me well or reads this site knows I am not a football person. God speaks to me through baseball, and despite its popularity football to me is somewhat interesting but not in the same league as the one true religion, the Church of Baseball of which I am a member of my local parish, Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia. Despite this disclaimer I will watch the game though not with the same level of attention to or interest as I will baseball.  Now does not mean that I am ignorant about the game for I have played it in High School and grew up in a family of fanatical Raiders and 49ers fans.  I am a 49er fan through thick and thin lately mainly thin but back in the day of Saint Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh they were the dominant team in football.  The had previously won two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XIX where they defeated Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins 38-16 and their first Super Bowl, Super Bowl XVI in which they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21.

Super Bowl XXIII played in Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium on January 22nd 1989 featured a classic rematch between the 49ers and the Bengals. The Bengals coached by the freewheeling and ever colorful Sam Wyche and quarterbacked by Boomer Esiason had won the AFC with a 14-5 record.  Esiason was the NFL Most Valuable Player throwing for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdown passes with only 14 interceptions.  He had a league leading passer rating of  97.4.  He also rushed for 248 yards.  The Bengals had a top notch team with six Pro-bowlers including future Hall of Fame Offensive Tackle Anthony Munoz.  Finishing the season at 12-4 the Bengals went on to defeat Seattle and Buffalo to advance to the Super Bowl.

The 49ers coached by Bill Walsh had already won 2 Super Bowls.  This would be Walsh’s last game as the coach of the 49ers and a year that they went 13-6 including the win in the Super Bowl. The 49ers had started the season slow going 6-5 before Montana led them to wins in 4 of their next 5 games to end the season at 10-6.  They then defeated both Minnesota and Chicago in very lopsided games to advance to Miami to meet the Bengals.  Montana completed 238 passes for 2981 yards and 18 touchdowns. He would be aided by future Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Defensive Back Ronnie Lott.

The game was one of the closest Super Bowl in Super Bowl history and bucked a trend of blowouts that had marked many of the Super Bowls of the 1980s.  With the game tied 6-6 with under a minute left in the 3rd Quarter following a 49er’s field goal Cincinnati kick-off returner took the ensuing kick 93 yards for a touchdown and a 13-6 lead.  The 49ers then came back to tie the game with a 4 play 85 yard drive featuring a 31 yard pass to Rice, a 40 yard completion to Craig and finished with a 14 yard touchdown strike to Rice to tie the game 13-13.  After an exchange of possessions which included a missed 49 yard field goal attempt by the 49ers the Bengals took possession at their 32 yard line.  In a 46 yard 10 play drive the Bengals kicker Jim Breech hit a 40 yard Field Goal with 3:20 left in the game.

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The 49ers were penalized on the ensuing kick-off for an illegal block in the back took possession at their own 8 yard line.  It was at this point that Montana, Rice and crew would launch a magical drive that would go down in the annals of NFL lore as simply “the Drive.” Like “the Catch” against the Dallas Cowboys that ended that 1970s dynasty it was a defining moment for the 49ers which would forever place Montana and Rice as well as an unlikely hero named John Taylor in the made Super Bowl history in a game that NFL.com in 2006 named as the number one of the top ten Super Bowls of all time.

Montana entered the huddle with much on his shoulders.  Apart from the scoring drive at the beginning of the quarter the Bengals defense had played the 49ers tough bending but not breaking.  With the crowd roaring Montana looked up from the huddle and pointing to the stands said to his offense “Hey isn’t that John Candy?” to calm his team. In the ensuing drive Montana befuddled the Bengals defense throwing inside routes to Craig, Rice and Tight End John Frank and mixing in solid rushes by Craig to reach the Bengals 35 yard line. Montana then threw an incompletion and the following play Center Randy Cross was flagged for an illegal man downfield penalty which put the 49ers with a second and twenty at the Bengal 45 with just 1:15 left.  Montana brought the 49ers back quickly hiting Rice for 27 yards before he was brought down at the Bengal 18. Montana then hit Craig for 8 years to the Bengal 10 with 39 seconds left. Montana capped the drive with a 10 yard strike to John Taylor in the end zone for the winning touchdown.

Rice who had 11 receptions for 215 yards and scored a touchdown was the Most Valuable Player. Montana passed for a Super Bowl Record 357 yards going 23 of 36 and two touchdowns. On the final drive “Joe Cool” went 8 for 9 for 97 yards.  It was an amazing performance. The following year Montana would lead the 49ers to their fourth Super Bowl victory in which the 49ers went 17 and 2 and destroyed the Denver Broncos by a score of 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV at the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans.

Drew Brees with Lombardi Trophy (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Post Script” Since I am ending this post with the 49ers victory in New Orleans tonight in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami where 21 years ago Joe Montana worked his magic.  In tonight’s game New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees led his team over the favored Indianapolis Colts by a score of 31-17.  Brees picked apart the Colt’s secondary and was ably assisted by a stingy defense that after allowing the Colts an early 10-0 lead dominated the Indianapolis offense.  The victory is especially sweet for the Saints and the city of New Orleans which until now had never won a major championship.  The Saints who for many years were the doormat of the NFL being so bad at times that they were knows as the “Aints” and their fans would wear paper bags over their heads at their home games.  With the devastation of the city in by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and suggestions that the team be moved to another city the Saints helped provide inspiration as the city recovered.  It is a great story and congratulations to the Saints.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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