Friday, September 30, 2011

A Day of Firsts - The Football and Soccer Extravaganza

A beautiful sunny day awaited us as we all rose on Saturday morning.  The JMR household on Saturdays and Sundays – once reserved for donuts, chocolate milk and SpongeBob Squarepants – are now all about two things, Football and Soccer.  More importantly, today was going to be a day of firsts.  C’s first game as the primary pass-catcher for his 4th grade Pop Warner football team, G’s first football game as a starter and DLG’s first soccer game, ever.  Honestly, the parents in this house were more excited than the children and we had to hold back our excitement and nervousness so as not frighten the impressionable children.

9am.  G’s First Game.  After a humbling loss in our first varsity game the weekend before, the junior varsity team was finally playing its first game.  Yours truly was a co-head coach of the junior varsity team, an honor only if you enjoy 25 2nd graders asking you to play a certain position and generally complaining about being thirsty.  But my hard work was going to pay off in this game.  And G was starting left tackle.  Michael Oher might have been proud (if we threw the ball, of course). 

The game got underway with a quick touchdown from the opposing team followed shortly by a touchdown of our own led by some superb blocking from the left side of the line.  This was going to be a much different game than last week, I could just tell.  G was excited too, blocking everyone near him and getting tossed around like a rag doll sometimes.  It didn’t matter, he was having fun.  And on a kickoff by the opposing team, G’s excitement on the front line of the kickoff return team came bounding through.  Catching the ball on the fly, he started to run.  He had dreams of touchdowns in his mind.  Unfortunately, he was stopped about two steps after moving forward by the opposing team.  It didn’t matter, he was excited (and so was I). 

Although we ended up losing 26-14, I saw a lot of good things from everyone, and G was as proud as a seven year old could be.

10:30am.  DLG’s First Game.  We’ve been through this same soccer program before with her two older brothers.  Strutting as a peacock didn’t begin to describe her emotions when I told her all four of us were going to watch HER play soccer.  Usually it was the other way around.  At 10:50, G and I arrive to the soccer pitch to find the mad scramble of children learning the game.  I call it a pitch but it’s the outfield of a school’s baseball field.  Just in time though to catch DLG’s eye as she was practicing.  She was bounding up and down the practice field and when she saw us, she waved and started strutting around, hoping we all saw her Freddy Adu-like skills.

When the game started, however she was starting goaltender.  That’s ok I thought, I taught her how to stop the ball and scoop it up.  Besides, I can position myself right behind the goal to give her some “friendly advice.”

"Stop coaching and let her play!”  MM scolds.  I back away, just as she is replaced in goal, only to start playing defense.  A lot of running in bunches ensued and despite her valiant effort, her team – the Purple Sharks – go down in defeat 3-0.  That doesn’t matter though, because after the game DLG comes up to me and asks me if I saw her play.  Well, yes sweetheart, didn’t you see me coaching you from behind the goal?

10:00am Sunday.  Nine year old C has been working hard all year to get to this game.  He’s starting right end for the game, and for all you Pop Warner coaches, you know what that means.  He’s the one player who will be thrown the ball.  It might be quick outs, quick post patterns or halfback options, but the one constant at this level is that if you throw the ball, you throw it to one position – the Right End.

When I saw C inserted at Right End, I knew that there was going to be a pass play.  And lo and behold, five plays in, the Right End goes on a post pattern.  The Quarterback, C’s best friend and next door neighbor, heaves the ball up…and he catches the ball over the defender for a 25 yard gain!  The first executed pass play for this team…ever.  Watching from the far end zone, I start running down the sideline screaming “Nice catch 57!!” while a bunch of parents look at me like I’m about to eat their children.  As I run to the bleachers, I then see a penalty flag – ineligible man down field – are you kidding me?  They call that in fourth grade football?  And just like that the play is returned.  Two more passes that day ended in an interception and an incomplete pass (albeit as a result of interference).  Still the team won 20-8, and no one can take away that first catch. 

Two days and three proud moments for Dad.  Not bad.  And I can’t wait to become one of “those” parents.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Football Life by Bill Belichick - Teddy Bears and Costumes

Last week made for some pretty compelling television courtesy of NFL Films and Bill Belichick.  Following Belichick and the New England Patriots around for the 2009 season, last week we finally got a glimpse into the football mind of a Hall of Fame football coach.  What makes Part 2 of the documentary (and with Belichick dry sense of humor and sarcasm, it borders on mockumentary) so interesting is that we Patriots fans know how the season ended.  Fourth and two; Wes Welker's injury, the drubbing by the New Orleans Saints.  The beginning of the end started with Ray Rice's 83 yard touchdown run and ended with an embarrassing 33-14 loss in the Divisional playoffs.  I can't wait to see how this ends.

And does Derrick Mason get into Belichick's grill during that game?

Definitely not the Result of This Season.
Part 2 starts with us explaining to the kids Coach Belichick's costume for the Patriots' players' Halloween party.  Randy Moss just wants a DJ and go out like when he was younger!  And he seemed genuinely surprised that the Coaches were so interested in going to the party.

Next scene.  And in the ultimate foreshadowing moment, we see the Patriots convert a Fourth and one on their own 25 yard line against the Atlanta Falcons.  And in the next scene we are treated to a brutal stretch in the Colts game.  We all remember how this one turns out.

"Billy get ready on the fourth down I don't want to give them the ball back."  Belichick tells his OC as the Patriots line up on Third Down.  What a great scene with Brady.  "If it's a shitty look, Delay of Game."  Belichick tells Brady as they talk about the Fourth Down play.  A great perspective on perhaps the turning point of the Patriots 2009 season.  Was Belichick leaving the play call up to Brady so if the play failed to convert it was Brady's fault?

Anyway, it didn't matter.  Cut to the next scene against the Saints as Belichick reminisces about Super Bowl XXXVI.  Adam Vinatieri was the best player on that 2011 team?  Winning that game was a miracle?  And all of those great memories ended after the Saints handed our lunch back to us.  That scene was closely followed by a lighter moment.  In a scene with Greg Gumbel, Belichick goes on about his co-star the Chevy Impala and his inability to fix the clock for Daylight savings time.  It's never easy.

In an attempt to get so much fit in to an hour program, the scene then cuts quickly to the Jaguars clinching game.  After we see all of the defensive players dancing on defense, and then giving up a touchdown, Belichick goes absolutely bonkers and proceeds to yell at the "punks" who didn't play defense for 60 minutes. 

And then Welker goes down in the Texans game.  Really depressing stretch for the team, but honestly, this season was not a good season no matter how you cut it and we knew that from the get-go. And of course, the Playoff game went off like I thought it would - although we didn't see Derrick Mason come back over to the sideline for another jab at Belichick, Thank God.

And just like that, the show ends as it started, Belichick in Nantucket on his boat, V Rings.  I really hope they change the name of the boat this year. 


1.  Belichick really relied on Brady as an extra coach out there.  The exchange between them at the Saints' game was extraordinary television.

2.  Belichick hates - I mean hates - fourth down punts.  Going for it on fourth down seems to be a mental block for him, at times as he justifies by explaining that he believes in his players to make those yards.  Sometimes, as in the Colts game, it backfires.

3.  I really like the family barbecue outside of the Stadium idea.  Maybe we'll hang around after the games from now on.  Maybe Wes Welker or Albert Haynesworth will have burgers cooking outside after one of the games.

Until we see VI Rings.  Thank you Bill Belichick and NFL Films.  That was fantastic television.

photo courtesy of

Monday, September 19, 2011

Drew Bledsoe and his Hall of Fame Return to Foxboro

Is Drew Bledsoe Hall of Fame material?  Does Akron need the gunslinger from Walla Walla, Washington?  He passed for over 44,000 yards, including three 4,000 yard passing seasons and his similar players on Pro Football Reference includes Bart Starr and Kenny Stabler.  But he also had three seasons where his interception total exceeded his touchdown total.  And in New England, he was seen as an underperforming stud quarterback who could never get the Patriots the Lombardi Trophy until Tom Brady was the starting Quarterback.  Whether he gets the call from Roger Goodell this year or not, Bledsoe has been bestowed the honor from Robert Kraft and the Patriots Hall of Fame this year.  Drew Bledsoe was one of my favorite players and with the opportunity to see Scott Zolak in action - well this was cause for a family roadtrip back down to Patriot Place.

5pm.  Foxboro, MA.  The four of us arrive early (LC decides to join us later that evening), not so much to get a good parking spot (we didn't) or to see Lion King 3D (No one wanted to).  We just wanted to go through Hall of Fame, maybe toss the football around for a while and generally enjoy a celebratory atmosphere.  The New England Patriots home opener was happening tomorrow and a palpable buzz was in the air.

After catching some confetti and kicking some field goals at the Hall of Fame - and after unsuccessfully trying to buy the lego set for the Patriots helmet in the lobby of the Hall of Fame - we join a thousand others in the concourse for the ceremony.  Bledsoe is joined in the Hall of Fame by Jon Morris, a Center for the Patriots in the 1960's and 1970's.  A very nice gentleman who stirred the crowd by declaring this ceremony as the Crowning Achievement of his Football Life; unfortunately, none of us were there to see Jon Morris.  Both boys - who mind you were not alive the last time Bledsoe was in New England - started grumbling about all of the "old guys."  I have to admit, I was more interested in Bledsoe myself.  At least Morris recognized this as well.  "I'll start wrapping things up as most of you came here to hear the next guy."

"Yeah, no kidding" some guy next to me whispers to his girlfriend.  Tough crowd. 

But not to be deterred, the induction speech was followed by a round table with Morris' old teammates from the old Boston Patriots.  I think Gino was there and a couple of other guys I didn't recognize.

I didn't have much time to find out who they were either, since the kids started to wrestle with one another and DLG started to get really tired (and when I say tired, I mean she started crying).  So we climb the stairs up to CBS Scene to watch the ceremony on the big screen.  Finally, Bledsoe comes out to talk.  The memories start flooding back.  The nightclub incident with Max Lane, the Super Bowl, the Jets' hit, the AFC Championship game in 2002.  It was all there.  And I find it ironic, after Bill Belichick's discussion with Wes Welker about Wally Pipp in A Football Life, that Drew Bledsoe was the true Wally Pipp.  And on behalf of Patriots Fans everywhere, thanks Mr. Pipp.

Bledsoe goes on to talk about the little dude, Troy Brown and Scott Zolak.  He thanks his offensive line for all of their hard work.  And he goes on to thank Bob and Myra Kraft.  His Mom and famous Dad in the 10 gallon hat seemed proud of his son's accomplishments.  And we were too.  Hey, so what if he underperformed in his nine years here, his last game for the Patriots was a Super Bowl win. 

Midway through his speech, G asks me an interesting question.  "Is Drew Bledsoe the best Quarterback ever?"  He was wondering why he was going to the Hall of Fame and Tom Brady wasn't.

"No, stupidhead. Tom Brady is." C responds not giving me a chance to answer.

And so we see Drew Bledsoe's true legacy in New England.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bill Belichick's Football Life in 6 Easy Steps

Is Bill Belichick the greatest football coach in NFL history?  He's won three Super Bowls out of four appearances as Head Coach, and he has won two with the New York Giants as Assistant Coach under Bill Parcells.  Not bad.  But he's been blessed with great players (Tom Brady, Lawrence Taylor, etc.) during his career, and when saddled with a mediocre football team, his tenure went nowhere (Hello, Cleveland!).  I happen to think he is the greatest Football Coach in NFL history.  He's served longer than Vince Lombardi, but yet done more in less time than Tom Landry.  Chuck Noll and Tom Shula may have been more accomplished, but they were also blessed with great players on both sides of the ball for longer periods of time.

A Football Life, produced by NFL Network, follows Belichick around during the 2009 season.  This will be our collective chance to see a human Bill Belichick and perhaps decide once and for all whether he is the greatest coach in history.  I watched Part one of the series with six things in mind.

1.  Not Surprised by:  Notoriously private and paranoid, the first thing I found interesting was that this was a showcase of Belichick from the 2009 season.  I found this to be very telling.  I can see Belichick begrudgingly agreeing to do this, but only under the condition that it not be from a recent year.  What I'm surprised about is that he agreed to this for the 2009 season rather than say 2006.  Don't underestimate Bob Kraft in getting this thing produced.  One note:  I love that Belichick's boat's name is "V Rings."

2.  Greatest Moments (Humor):  Jon Bon Jovi looks ridiculous in the Pat Patriot T-Shirt - he's from Jersey!  Tom Brady's hair growing from a respectable length to Gisele length by Week Four.  Sebastian Vollmer's catch during Training Camp with no meetings and no curfew on the line (Belichick: "I never thought he'd catch that!  I wasn't counting on him catching that." Minutes after a shaky Vollmer settles under a 50 yard punt.  Belichick talking to Tom Brady about missing passes.  "What about Maroney?" "It went right through his hands." "It was over his head!" "Oh that one."

The moment that made me laugh the most, though was the exchange between Wes Welker and Belichick after Julian Edelman returns a punt for a touchdown in the final preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Belichick to Welker:  "Do you know who Wally Pipp is?"

Welker: "No"

Belichick:  "He's the player who played before Lou Gehrig when Gehrig played 20,000 games in a row.  That's the story on punt return."

Welker:  "He can have it, man."

Belichick: "Way to compete.  Way to compete."

3.  Greatest Moment (Drama):  Robert Kraft talking to Seymour about the team approximately 17 minutes before Seymour is traded to the Oakland Raiders.

There is also a scene where Belichick is walking through the Meadowlands locker rooms reminiscing - talking about the coaches' locker room and the old racquetball court.  The disappointment and anger he has toward Bill Parcells is palpable; a book should be written about that last year between Belichick and Parcells for the New York Jets.  What a great scene.

4.  Most Surprising Moments:  Belichick drives a Chevy Impala.  Really?!?  Sankaty Head Golf Club allows its players to wear jeans and sneakers on the course?  Another great scene occurs when Belichick kisses Ed Reed's ass and then throws into his missing coverage.

5.  Things I Learned:  Tom Brady is a big whiny bitch!  Seriously, when Belichick asks him to take it easy.  Brady starts to give him the Gisele treatment by whining in a high pitched voice that he got drilled on one pass to Kevin Faulk and that one screen went through Lawrence Maroney's hands (it didn't, it went over his head).  Although I originally thought it was for salary cap relief, Richard Seymour was traded to the Raiders so the Patriots could sign Vince Wilfork.

6.  One Thing I'm Concerned About:  Derrick Mason's I'm sure going to remember Belichick yelling at him later on in the playoffs when the Ravens absolutely spank the Patriots in the Playoffs.  That will be one interesting conversation - if it happens.

We'll see you next week for the conclusion of "A Football Life."  I can't wait.

photo courtesy of

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Watching The Blind Side - In Training Part One

I had forgotten how gruesome the beginning of The Blind Side was.  No, I'm not talking about Sandra Bullock's awful Southern Drawl.  I'm talking about the opening sequence about how and when the Left Tackle in football became so important.  C and G didn't know what we were watching when Lawrence Taylor hit Joe Theisman on his blind side and nearly broke his leg off.  Not a good way to start the movie.  Even the normally unaffected G pleaded - when C said he couldn't see the hit - "I don't want to rewind this again, Dad."  No kidding, I'm done too little man.

Based on the Michael Lewis novel of the same name, the story revolves around an African American from the mean streets of Memphis, named Michael Oher, who is adopted by a white family and starts playing on the offensive line for the local High School football team.  The movie glosses over the more technical aspects of the Left Tackle position, affectionately called protecting the Quarterback's "blind side" like no one else is responsible for blocking the left side of the offensive line.  But this was going to be a good movie for the boys to watch since they are both now playing Pop Warner football and needed to work on the more courageous aspects of the offensive line.  So, with Mom's approval, we hunker down in the basement and start the film.  Hopefully this goes better than when we watched Secretariat.

Our first glimpse of "Big Mike," as he is called by his surrogate Father, was playing basketball and "Dunking" the basket ball.  I use the term "dunking" lightly as it was clear he was dunking on a 7 foot hoop or was jumping from a three foot ladder.  The boys both cracked that he was playing basketball instead of playing football.  The first lesson I teach is patience.

"When are they adopting him, he's living with them?"  G asks me as the movie continues with the Tuohey family invites Oher to sleep in their living room.  He doesn't quite understand what was going on.  I guess when we had that dog for a couple of weeks, G would have started asking when we were going to adopt him.

"Stop with the rugby shirts you look like a bumble bee."  They are obviously itching for the football scenes to start as we watch Michael stop by his old neighborhood and then shop for some clothes. 

As the football scenes actually start, the boys really get into Michael's first practice with bad stances, and picking up the blocker instead of pushing him out of the way.  I try to explain to him that even he had to learn football fundamentals before he could start experiencing success.  And coaches were going to be stern when they were trying to teach him.

Fast forward half an hour.  Watching his first game against the Rednecks they were psyched to see Michael when blocked Number 66 into the stands after being mercilessly mocked and ridiculed.  They were even more impressed when all of the college coaches started calling on their phones to their offices when they saw the tapes of that game and the one on one drills the next day.

So I really stress how all of the repetitions he did really improved his skills and how being aggressive will reduce the chance of injury.  I'm not sure they were listening to me, but I like to hear the sound of my own voice, so it's okay.

Then my favorite part.  One of Oher's assignments in order to graduate High School with a high enough GPA to play college football next year at Ole Miss, Oher had to give a report about the famous wartime poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.  I even get the boys to listen to me stop the movie and read Tennyson's poem.   The boys asked me questions after I got done with the poem that I would expect older kids to ask.  Questions such why the 600 went into battle knowing they would die came out of their mouths.  Were they actually listening to me?

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