Tag Archive | Football

Aaron Hernandez: Tragically Wasted Talent

On October 21, 2012, I went to Gillette Stadium for my first ever Patriots game, and first ever NFL game. It was awesome! The tailgating scene was impressive, the crowd was excellent, and the game was outstanding. The Pats played the Jets. They trailed their long time rivals by three late in the game before Tom Brady drove the team into field goal range, Gostowski kicked the equalizer, and the Patriots won in overtime on another Gostowski field goal and Rob Ninkovich sacking Mark Sanchez, forcing a fumble, and recovering it in the same play. I enjoyed the day. Today though, I’m not thinking of that excellent game. 

Before the game, I bought my first Patriots shirt. I wanted a little different name on my shirt and I wanted to show a little Connecticut love. So I bought an Aaron Hernandez shirt. He is from Bristol, CT. Then June 26 of the following year arrived and I regretted my decision. He was arrested that day for the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. When that happened, I watched in shock as one of the best players in football was taken away in handcuffs. I didn’t think he would’ve done it. I then looked into Hernandez’s history and the case itself; I found plenty of reason to be skeptical of Hernandez’s claim of innocence. I also was saddened watching this talent get completely wasted. 

He grew up in Bristol, CT, and was one of the best high school tight ends in the country. He originally committed to the University of Connecticut to play with his brother, DJ. He changed his mind and went to the University of Florida instead. Under coach Urban Meyer, Hernandez developed into one of the best collegiate tight ends of the decade. He starred on one of the best college teams ever assembled. He caught passes from Tim Tebow, blocked alongside Mike and Maurkice Pouncy, was flanked by Percy Hardin and Riley Cooper for receiving work, and was backed up by Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins on the defensive side. Yet his time in Gainesville is known more for his legal issues. 

Hernandez failed multiple drug tests and gained the reputation for being a guy who’d skirt the rules for a little enjoyment. However, there were two other major episodes that color him poorly. In April of 2007, Hernandez was in Gainesville and went out to a bar. He was 17 years old, consumed two alcoholic drinks, and refused to pay the bill. He was escorted up out by an employee, and Hernandez punched him so hard he ruptured the employee’s eardrum. He was arrested and charged with a felony battery charge. The matter was settled out of court with a differed prosecution agreement. Later that year, in September, Justin Glass and Corey Smith were injured when they were shot at on a street corner after just leaving a night club. Their friend Randall Carson, who was in the car and not injured, claimed that the shooter was a Hawaiian or Hispanic man with a large build and many tattoos. Hernandez invoked his right for counsel on the issue and was never charged. 

While he wasn’t hit for either of these incidents, Hernandez gained a reputation as a supremely gifted player but with a checkered past. If any organization could handle him, it probably would be a well run one like the Patriots. New England drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, two rounds after the team picked Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. The team had the best tight end tandem in the league and rode their two acquisitions to a 39-9 record over the next three seasons and a trip to Super Bowl 46. Hernandez became the most dependable receiver on the Patriots roster with Gronk’s injuries and Wes Welker’s ability to drop major passes. 

Unfortunately for him, the Patriots, and many others, things took a horrible turn for the worst. In July 2012, Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado were killed in the South End of Boston. Hernandez was indicted on these murders in 2014. He was acquitted of these on April 14th of this year. But even that is not the most damning story against Hernandez. 

On June 17th, 2013, Boston Bandit’s semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd was out at a night club and crossed Hernandez. Lloyd was dating Shaneah Jenkins, sister of Hernandez’s fiancee at the time. Whatever he said or did, it meant the end for him. Hernandez unloaded ten bullets into Lloyd, killing him. His body was discovered the next day and an investigation began. On June 26th, Hernandez was arrested on a count of first degree murder, one count of carrying a firearm without a license, two counts of possessing a large-capacity firearm and two counts of possessing a firearm without a firearm identification card. 

The Patriots released him from his contract with the team and owner Robert Kraft was stunned. He admitted that Hernandez had been a model Patriot, arriving early for work, practicing long and hard, building a strong repor with Tom Brady, and getting on Bil Belichek’s good side. Hernandez could diagram plays on a whiteboard as well as anyone and was a phenomenal football player and mind. He seemed to be exactly the perfect Patriot. But when he left the building, Hernandez refused to give up the dangerous life of the streets. He found some pleasure in the drugs, gang life, and was able to hide that under the veneer of playing for the most succesful NFL organization of the day. I went from a fan of his and owning his shirt to getting rid of it and turning the Patriots logo on the front of it into a part of a quilt I still own. I wasn’t alone in my removal of Hernandez kit. All Patriots fans did similarly to me. 

After a long trial, Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder on April 15, 2015. Massachusetts has removed the death penalty from its potential sentences, so Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He was acquitted of the double murder charges in South Boston only five days ago. But apparently Hernandez did not believe it worthwhile to continue his life. In the early hours of this morning, April 19th, Hernandez was found in his prison cell, dead. He had hung himself using his cell’s window and his bedsheets. How depressingly appropriate that the Patriots visited the White House today in honor of their Super Bowl win this year. 

Everything about the story of Aaron Hernandez is sad. He came from a rough background, showed remarkable athletic talent, stayed on the streets in his mind, and lost his position as a reliable pass catcher for the best quarterback in the history of football because he was accustomed to gangster life. Hernandez is the most tragically wasted athletic talent of my lifetime. We saw what he could do and how he could contribute to a high level football team. We also saw how far into depravity a human being can fall. Lloyd was brutally killed over a meaningless dispute that stil remains murky to passersby. The brutal murder was capped with the most depressing way for someone to die: suicide. No one can condone or protect Hernandez for his actions. But any jokes about him committing suicide are unnecessary and crude. No one deserves that fate. 

It is a depressingly appropriate ending to the most tragic sports story of my lifetime. I can only pray that some good comes of it for someone who knows the story and decides that the street life is not worth it. 

Welcome to the Recording World! 

I’ve been writing and broadcasting sports for going on 3 years now. I’ve gotten to cover a huge variety of games in many different sports and levels of play. It’s a fun profession and a busy career to have, but I greatly enjoy it. Today, I expanded my repertoire of sports content. 

I have a friend named Tomas, a graduate student at BU that I met in my Junior Year. He has a wide taste in sports. He watches rugby, soccer, and a number of sports that I’ve never even heard of before. We’ve known each other for years, gone to sporting events together, and analyzed everything from movies to politics together. Earlier this year, we decided to buy sound and recording equipment to make a podcast and express opinions on various games. We worked out the details and put in money for real equipment. 

When our mics and mixer arrived, and we started fiddling with the equipment. We got things running, got our opinions ready, and recorded a few segments. The next week, we got together to record our first podcast. It was successful! We recorded it, and tried to publish it. It was only after attempting to publish it that we discovered that Audacity, the recording software we used, had glitches out and lost our whole podcast. After that minor frustration major annoyance, we had Thanksgiving Break, and we had time to sort out what went wrong. We went through the week, got together this morning, and finally recorded a podcast. When we finished it, we tested it out, published it, and posted it to YouTube, where it lives now. If you want to hear opinions on the MLB end of season awards, predictions for various NBA, NHL, and NFL games, and jokes and references, then click the link below to listen. I promise you’ll like it! 

Wild Card Mess

Last night, I came home from skiing with my dad, sat down with him and watched the Wild Card playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. I was hoping to watch a quality football game, and get some enjoyment out of a game I didn’t have much rooting interest in. As it turns out, I got that. I also got a terrible taste in my mouth after the end of the game. 

Early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were down 15-0. They traded punches throughout the game, hit Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger hard all day, and ultimately forced him out of the game with a shoulder injury when linebacker Vontaze Burfict hit him hard and sent him down onto his shoulder. He left and was replaced by Landry Jones, and the Bengals promptly capitalized on Roethlisberger’s absence by stuffing the Steelers offense and scoring 16 points to take a 16-15 lead with just under two minutes left to go in the game. When the Steelers got the ball back, Jones threw a pass that was intercepted by Burfict. The Bengals had the lead, the football, and the game in hand as long as they held onto the ball. They were on the doorstep of getting their first playoff victory since 1990. 

And then, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the football, giving Pittsburgh another chance. Better yet, Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury. He led the Steelers down the field to try a game winning field goal. They converted a fourth down to keep the drive alive with only a few seconds left in the game. Roethlisberger then threw deep to Antonio Brown to try and get into field goal range. The pass sailed high, and as Brown came down, Vontaze Burfict let his emotions get away from him, and hit Brown square in the head, sending him to the ground and likely giving him a concussion. Cincinnati was hit with a 15 yard penalty. When the players were trying to plead their case, the officials called another penalty when the officials were pushed and shoved by Bengals defensive back Adam Jones. The Steelers got 30 yards out of those penalties, kicked a field goal, and won 18-16. 

I didn’t have a rooting interest in the game, but I am happy that the Steelers won. The Bengals lost control of their emotions, committed stupid penalties, and went out of their way to hurt the opposition. I’ve written here before on my experience with the NFL being a bit soured with a rash of unnecessary injuries and poor mentality by players. The Bengals summed that up very nicely with their behavior last night. They played like thugs and deserved to lose. To make it look worse, when Roethlisberger got hurt, the Bengals fans cheered his injury and threw debris on the field. The behavior of many Bengals fans matched the play on the field. 

I went to bed with a bad taste in my mouth, and actually happy to not fully call myself an NFL fan after last night’s game. The team was disgraceful, the fans were jerks, and the players were fools. To be fair, Steelers assistant coach and former linebacker Joey Porter did not help matters when he went on to the field, and the Steelers contributed to the hostile atmosphere of the game. But the more egregious actions were committed by the Bengals. 

Head coach Marvin Lewis deserves to be fired after that game. He has been the head coach of the team since 2003, has not won a playoff game, and lost control of his team at the most crucial point. The Bengals would do well to hire Hue Jackson as the new coach if a change is made. Burfict should be suspended and fined by the league, and so should Jones. I just wanted to watch a good football game. Instead, I watched the dark side of sports rear its ugly head. Hopefully the Sunday NFL games wash that taste out of my mouth! 

Lost NFL Fandom

You’ll find few people who is a more hard-line Boston sports fan than me. You’ll find maybe even fewer who are more passionate Tom Brady fans than I am. However, this year has worn my NFL fandom. There was a stretch when football was easily my favorite sport and the Patriots were the team I followed the most closely. That probably lasted from 2005-2011. It started with the Super Bowl victory over the Eagles in Jacksonville, and ended around the Super Bowl defeat to the New York Giants in Indianapolis. I still follow and support the team, setting aside some time on Sunday to watch their games, and still enjoy watching Tom Brady school his opponents on a now weekly basis. I had maybe my most passionate reaction to any game on February 1 of this year with the Patriots’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl. See that in the following post.

https://cclcorner.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/we-are-the-champions-take-that-patriot-haters/

However, after a summer of Deflategate drama, and a number of NFL scandals and general idiocy, my appreciation for the sport has waned considerably. The ways in which the National Football League has embarrassed itself seems endless. Be it the mishandling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals, the Bountygate scandal, the on-going issues involving concussions, or the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin disaster, the NFL has lost me with both the frequent misconduct of its players, the frequent demonstrations of moronic lows in the commissioner’s office, and the general sense of not caring about the safety of the players.

I spent some time thinking of reasons beyond the ineptitude of the leagues in question for my fandom changes, and here’s what I noticed. I’ve moved to being more of a basketball fan, and my love of baseball has re-established itself fully over football. Baseball has always been my top sport, except for stretches where the Patriots supplanted the Red Sox. And basketball has slowly won me over after the job I have with WTBU covering the BU Men’s Basketball team, and with other important factors sprinkled in. I find the other sports more entertaining and more fan friendly than football. They’re much easier to watch in person and have plenty of style and flair to make them fun. Football might have spectacle, but it can be remarkably difficult to watch in person and a bit hard to follow the play unless you have been initiated as a fan. It’s even gotten harder watching on TV due to all the commercials interrupting the flow of the broadcast. Granted, that’s an issue across all sports now, but I can’t help but feel this effect at its worst when watching an NFL game.

There’s one piece above all else that has lost my appreciation for the sport: Player safety. I know that I’ve written on here before about being ok with violent moments in sports that can result in the injury of players. But in baseball for example, the injuries that take place are few and far between, and with the sport going by most times with no injury at all. Basketball is similar, with the sport having some physical moments that can result in some bad injuries. Most of the time, however, the nature of the sport does not result in any significant injuries. The physical nature of football results in multiple injuries in every week. All you have to do is look down the injury list each week of this season to understand that. However, there is one player’s case in particular that opens up my eyes about it all: Wes Welker.

From 2007 to 2012, Welker was the most dependable slot receiver in the NFL for any team, collecting over 100 catches in every season except in 2010, and helped the Patriots to two Super Bowl appearances. When he jumped to the Denver Broncos, he was a staple piece of the most prolific offense in NFL history when Peyton Manning threw a record 55 touchdown passes in 2013. Welker played in, and lost, his third Super Bowl since 2007, but he was still effective and one of the best. He also was badly injured.  He tore his ACL in the last game of the 2009 season, and has three documented concussions as a result of playing in the NFL. Its likely that he has even more due to his playing style. He is a small slot receiver who catches alot of passes on short routes that lead to frequent huge hits. I’ve watched tape of him recently, and he looks absolutely horrendous. He looks like he has been hit too many times in the head, because he has, and will struggle after his career is done. He was recently interviewed and expressed confusion as to why he isn’t employed by an NFL team. I have a good reason why: He looks bad with his NFL career to this point and it will only get worse with the more hits he will take after signing a free agent deal with the St. Louis Rams. I fear what his life will be after playing football.

That thought has me questioning my fandom of this sport. I’m watching players hit each other and hurt themselves on a regular basis. Not to mention that players I follow and like will be negatively effected by their choice to play a game that only caught on because people enjoy the game. I still appreciate the strategy and beauty inherent in the sport, but have a hard time rationalizing the injury rash in the NFL. I also have a difficult time trying to give the NFL the benefit of the doubt when they frequently deny the impact of concussions on their former players. I’ll probably still watch Tom Brady and a few other players, but my football fandom is waning severely.

Ken Stabler: An Underappreciated Legend

Ken Stabler passed away on Wednesday. He died at 69 years old from complications from colon cancer. If you don’t know who he is, you’re likely not alone. You really have to be an NFL fan to know who he is. If you do though, you know that there is quite a fascinating story to be learned in Ken Stabler. I didn’t learn too much about Stabler until I got to deepen my football fandom. Yes, while I am a big time Patriots fan, and an even bigger Tom Brady fan, I still know stuff about other teams and general NFL history. This is one of those things I know a little something about. Anyway, I’m rambling. 

Ken Stabler was an Alabama kid who became legendary in the south as a great left handed quarterback. As the starting quarterback for Foley High School, he earned his nickname, “The Snake”, after a long and winding touchdown run. He was recruited by Bear Bryant to succeed Joe Namath at Alabama.  

 When he became the starter, he stepped right in and played well. He started for 2 seasons at Alabama, and finished with a 28-3-2 record as a starter, despite being kicked off the team for a time after he cut classes and partied a bit too much for Bear Bryant’s liking. Stabler got back on the team in time for the annual Iron Bowl against Auburn, and authored his most legendary college moment: “The Run in the Mud”. Down 3-0 late in the game on a rain-soaked field, Stabler ran 53 yards through a quagmire to score the go-ahead touchdown. He is still remembered fondly at Tuscaloosa, and rightly so. 

After his 4 years, he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 2nd round of the 1968 draft. He didn’t join the Raiders until 1970 season; he played 2 seasons with the Spokeane Shockers of the Continental Football League. When he joined the Raiders, he became the starter in 1971. He first earned NFL notoriety in a playoff game in Pittsburgh. Stabler scrambled into the endzone to put the Raiders up 7-3. The game would come to be known for this other play by Franco Harris, called “The Immaculate Reception”. But the Snake sealed his starting job. 

He went on to lead the Raiders to the AFC Championship game every year from 1973-1977. He quarterbacked a team legendary for being renegades, crazy personalities, and brutally good play. He had many great performances, especially in late game situations. His most famous games included the “Sea of Hands” game against the Dolphins in 1974,  

 the “Ghost to the Post” game in Baltimore in 1977,  

 and the “Holy Roller” game against the Chargers in 1978.  

 All of these games were huge comeback wins, but no games meant more than the playoff run in 1976. Oakland entered the playoffs that year as the league’s top team and had lost only 1 game that season. However, they were the team that couldn’t win the big game. They had been to the AFC Title game 6 times before 1976 and hadn’t gotten to the Super Bowl yet. They had to win in 1976 to wipe the reputation of “Big Game Losers” away. 

They opened the run against the only team to beat them all season, the New England Patriots. The Raiders came back from down 21-10, with a little help from a controversial penalty on Sugar Bear Hamilton, to win 24-21. 

They then hosted the team of the 70’s, the Steelers. They beat up and beat down the Steelers 24-7, and finally went to the Super Bowl. 

In the Super Bowl against Minnesota, the Raiders were unbeatable. They walked over the Vikings 32-14. The Raiders validated everything they had done as the renegade organization who ticked off the league for years with a dominant win in the Super Bowl.

Stabler played with Oakland until 1979. He played 2 seasons with the Houston Oilers, then 2 1/2 seasons with the New Orleans Saints, retiring in the middle of the 1984 season. He became a broadcaster after retiring. He also became the only QB on the All-NFL 70’s team to not make the Hall of Fame. In fact, he is often considered one of the best players not in enshrined in Canton. 

Maybe he’s not in the Hall because he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, like Joe Namath or Bobby Layne. Maybe because he was surrounded by other legendary players, the same way Terry Bradshaw and Bart Start were. Or maybe because of many off the field issues, similar to Paul Hornung or, again, Joe Namath. 

Stabler deserves a spot in the hall of fame, and it’s a shame that he passed away before he got that chance. He’s the 2nd greatest left handed quarterback, after Steve Young, and the quarterback of one of the greatest teams ever assembled. But this isn’t the time to debate that. This is the time to honor a hero for the city of Oakland, a legendary quarterback and partier, and a colorful character that deserves to be discussed and recognized as an NFL legend. 

Rest in peace Ken “Snake” Stabler.  

 

Ed Sabol: Origin of Sports Dreams

As I was falling asleep on Monday, I saw the news that Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films passed away. I was very sad to see that an important pioneer in film and in sports passed away. In a way I can’t be too sad. He lived a very long and healthy life, dying at the age of 98 years old. He lived a complete life.

The story of his greatest professional accomplishment is fascinating, as is his whole life’s story. He was born in Atlantic City, NJ in 1916, was a successful athlete in high school and college, even being selected to compete in the 1936 Olympics, which he declined to participate in due to Nazi Germany hosting the games. He served in World War II, had some success doing plays on Broadway, then settled down and had a family. For income, he worked in his father-in-law’s coat business, which Sabol hated. He was bored, unfulfilled, and itching to move on with his life. He wanted to find a profession he would love, and he found inspiration in a Christmas gift. He received a simple 16 millimeter movie camera, and he filmed everything, especially the adventures of his son, Steve. Ed filmed Steve’s first haircut, pony ride, and all of his football games from 4th grade to senior year in high school. Eventually, when he had enough money saved, he sold the coat business. With the money now in hand, Sabol created a film company: Blair Motion Pictures, named for Ed’s daughter, Blair. However, he now needed something to film. He looked back at what he already filmed and saw that most of it was his son Steve‘s football games. And he saw some early pro football talk shows and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could see pro football as if it were a movie?” So that’s what he aimed to do. He found that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was trying to get someone to film the 1962 NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. Sabol outbid every other film group to get the rights to film the game. After the film was released, Pete Rozelle liked it enough to give Sabol the job of next year’s championship game. After the 1963 NFL season, the NFL liked Blair Motion Pictures’ work so much that they gave an exclusive contract to Blair to be the only company filming NFL games. After receiving that contract, Blair Motion Pictures became NFL Films, and since then, they have been filming NFL games, and entertaining homes for decades. Just listen to some of the music from NFL Films.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9QNCnQh9c0

NFL Films is far and away the best sports media company in the world. Their films are always top notch in visual quality, the narration is excellent, the music is perfectly written, and there are very rarely mistakes made in editing the clips. It shows a brutal, yet beautiful game in a way that other mediums can’t, and shows the amazing ability and work of the men playing football.

Perhaps that is the greatest success of Ed Sabol’s career, he showed greatness. Do we care too much about sports? I’m sure I do. Sports doesn’t determine the best political situations, or dictate morals, or help solve economic troubles in and of itself. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the fans of the game, yet we revere athletes like they are true heroes, we set our schedules so we can watch their exploits in games that will not directly change our lives. Why? Because we seek greatness. We want to see the extraordinary exploits, talents, and accomplishments of others. We look for entertainment, encouragement, a distraction from the world around us, or some reason to smile. Watching others be so great in the arena accomplishes all of these things. But beyond that, they allow us to dream. They fill our heads with the possibilities of what we could do. We watch Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and are amazed. We watch Ernie Banks live so happily and play so joyfully, and want that for ourselves. We watch people closer to us, like BU Basketball Coach Jones, and we admire their intensity and passion. Sports is a way of learning lessons that few other avenues can. And in the sports world, very few groups showed us all of sport’s lessons the way NFL Films did, and will continue to do.

Thank you Ed and Steve Sabol. Steve, you passed away in 2012 of cancer. Now I hope you and your dad are enjoying peace and eternity with God. You certainly deserve it.

We Are The Champions! Take that Patriot Haters!

What a football game last night. If you’re it a sports fan or if you don’t care about football, then you know that last night, Super Bowl XLIX, or 49 if you don’t know Roman numerals, was played last night between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. This was billed as a great matchup between two heavy weights. One team was the defending Super Bowl champion with the greatest defense in the world and an offense that won’t beat you with skill but will physically wear you down behind Marshawn Lynch, aka my cousin, aka beast mode. The other team was an embattled organization trying to redeem themselves after two disappointing losses in prior Super Bowls. With a win, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would seal their legacies as the greatest of their professions.

The game lived up to the billing. It was a fantastic football game that ran the gamut of feelings for fans of both sides, and I assume for both teams. I was happy, stressed, annoyed, defeated, and elated. If you’d like any evidence for this, take a look at my live reaction videos to the events of the 4th quarter, which was the most exciting 4th quarter of football I’ve ever seen. This first video is from when the Pats took the lead on a Tom Brady to Julian Edleman.

This second video is from just before a Seattle time out.

This third and last one covers the final seconds of the game and shows the full range of emotion.

Do I care too much about games that do not have a direct impact on me? Probably. Do I care still? Absolutely I do! After the game, I went out into Kenmore Square, as much as was possible since the BPD cordoned off the square. I went back to Central Campus, where I live and ran into one of my friends who is a bigger Pats fan than me. We had a brief discussion about the game and a victory hug. That was satisfying and fun.

And yes, I’m completely spoiled as a sports fan. The Red Sox won a World Series recently, the Bruins are competitive every year, and the Celtics have won more championships than any other NBA team. Even UConn has been in it recently. I’m lucky as a sports fan, being a Boston sports fan. I love getting to watch my teams win. I’ve never been as into watching a game on TV as I was for this game. I loved it. I now hope that Patriot haters like Brandon Perna let us celebrate. Not trying to be a jerk, just a respectful request Brandon! And one to all Patriot haters who doubted this team and called us liars and cheats for a living. Thanks for fueling our team to a win!

Here are some pictures of the game and celebration courtesy of the Boston Globe.

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