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Archive for November 2008

The NHL 91 Years Old and on the Rise


It was on November 26, 1917 that the National Hockey League was founded in Montreal. Teams included the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Arenas, and Quebec Bulldogs. And the first NHL games were played on December 19, 1917. The Montreal Wanderers defeated the Toronto Arenas, 10-9, and the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-4.

Six teams played from 1917 to 1967 and this period is the pre-expansion era or the original six era. Those six teams in 1967 formed the East Division while six more teams were added the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues—and they formed the West Division.

Clint Benedict was the first goalie to ever wear a mask, after a shot by Howie Mornez knocked him unconscious back in 1927. The mask was made out of leather, but when wearing it he could not see low shots, so it didn't last.
It wasn't until November 1, 1959, when Jaques Plante of the Montreal Canadians became the second goalie to put on a mask. Plante had been using his self-made creations during practice but knew it wasn't an accepted idea to use one in a real game. However, when Andy Bathgate's shot clipped him in the head, Plante refused to go back on the ice without a mask. After a long fight Toe Blake, the Canadians' coach, let him wear it and the rest is history.

Today the NHL is composed of 30 teams, 24 based in the United States and six based in Canada. In Canada, the sport remains as popular as ever with most Canadians tuning in to telecasts in wide numbers. It is their most popular major team sport and fan loyalty is intense.

After losing a season to a labor dispute in 2005, attendance figures for League teams have returned to a firm footing; but the League's TV audience has not because of ESPN's decision to drop the sport from its schedule at that time. That is when Versus Network stepped in and offered a two-year 130 million dollar deal to Commissioner Gary Bettman. In 2007 the NHL signed an extension to the Verus deal to air games on the network through the 2010-2011 season. 2007–08 NHL audiences on Versus in the United States remain small, but have increased over the previous two seasons. Versus is averaging 246,154 viewers a game, up 24 percent from last year at this time.

The NHL also has a current agreement with NBC gives the sport a share of revenue from each game's advertising sales, rather than the usual lump sum paid up front for game rights. NBC frequently select Northeastern teams for telecast based on the popularity in markets such as Buffalo, Detroit and Pittsburgh and usually not on the team’s record.

Although hockey in the United States will most likely never surpass the NFL, the sport remains healthy and seemingly on the rise once again. According to the Sporting News NHL set an attendance record for the month of October 2008 with an average crowd of 17,348. And the league is reporting that they were at 94.1 percent capacity for all games in October.
Wednesday
Posted by Robert Child
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Thanksgiving NFL schedule – For the Birds

This year’s Turkey Day 2008 (Thanksgiving) truly is one if you want to invest quality time into watching horrible NFL games. One word, which politely describes the three scheduled matchups, is “one-sided”.

First off at 12:30P (EST) is Tennessee (10-1) at Detroit (0-11). Could there possibly be a bigger line spread in NFL history? This is the one loss powerhouse with dreams of the Superbowl against the Motown Misfits with dreams of first draft choice. The only entertaining aspect of the game will be to see how the pair in the broadcast booth try to portray this as a really exciting way to spend three hours. Scheduled, short-straw drawing, CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms must be mining the archives right now to have a endless supply of interesting football facts on hand to keep their viewers awake.

Next on the dance card at 4:15 (EST) is the Seattle Seahawks (2-9) at the Dallas Cowboys (7-4). The Seahawks are coming off their fourth loss in a row last week against Washington and have lost seven out of the last eight games and are tied for last place in the NFC West with pitiful St. Louis. If lame-duck coach Mike Holmgren isn’t careful he may repeat or exceed Seattle’s loss margin of 55-7 in their first turkey day appearance with Dallas in 1980. I watched the Seahawks play on November 2, in their 26-7 loss to the Eagles. Since the Seahawks uniforms are so similar to the “Birds”, watching that game and their mediocre play, I mistakenly thought I was watching the Eagles half the time.

Which brings us to the biggest turkey of them all at 8:15P (EST) the Arizona Cardinals (7-4) at Philadelphia (5-5-1) which is certain to be a route. Arizona needs only one more victory (this one) to take home their first division title since 1975. 33 years is long time between titles and you can just bet the Cardinals will have fire in their eyes. It may be more painful to watch than Philadelphia’s last two games if that is even imaginable. Thankfully many people won’t see the embarrassing spectacle as it is on NFL network, which is only in about 30 million homes.

So there is no escape from having to converse with your relatives until the college game comes on at 8:10P (EST) Texas A&M at Texas. After a day of turkeys this will seem like the only pro game on television.

Fast Facts:
Pro football games on Thanksgiving started in 1920
The Lions and the Cowboys host games on Thanksgiving every year
Dallas has played every Thanksgiving since 1966
As of 2008 only six teams have never played on Thanksgiving including; The Saints, Bengals and the Panthers.
Tuesday
Posted by Robert Child
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Still the best college football game I ever saw Boston College vs. Miami November 23, 1984

It is around this time of the year in late November that I recall the game, which cemented my devotion to college football. I was a 21-year-old kid home from college and sat down to witness a duel that demanded your undivided attention - Boston College vs. Miami November 23, 1984. To an outsider who knew very little about the two teams or the two quarterbacks Doug Flutie and Bernie Kosar I began watching with no expectations of who would win the match up but what was immediately clear was I was witnessing history in the making.

It could not have been scripted more perfectly for television with Brent Musburgur on play by play. It was a classic David and Goliath showdown. Kosar seemed the epitome of the tall athletic quarterback while Flutie looked like the kid who everyone knew was too short to play but you let him on your team anyway.

On this rain swept November night in Miami it seemed as if on every play Flutie scrambled because basically he could not see around his much taller linemen, while Kosar sat back in the pocket and just rifled perfect pass after perfect pass. But Flutie, as we all know now, was special. He came out firing and connected on his first 11 passes driving into the end zone on each of BC’s first two possessions. But Miami under coach Jimmy Johnson had a top-notch offense. Kosar, confidently drove his team down the field and Melvin Bratton scored from the two ending the period with BC up 14 – 7.

Entering the second quarter Miami scored early with a 10-yard pass to Willie Smith tying it up and setting the tone for the remainder of the contest. It was going to be a shootout and everyone knew it. The producers of the telecast smartly went to close-ups of each quarterback on the sidelines as the other team scored. To their credit not once did Kosar or Flutie betray a look of hesitation or doubt in their eyes. These were two confident guys with each expecting that they could not only match but also exceed the other team’s score. Boston College receiver, Gerard Phalen, recalled that the feeling was “we couldn’t stop them but they couldn’t stop us”.

During this second period BC regained the lead 21 -14 with a nine yard scramble from Flutie but Miami tied it up again with a Kosar to Williams pass mid quarter. In the remaining minutes of the half Flutie connected with Phalen from 19 yards out to put BC up 28-21 at the break.

After the half Miami tied it for the third time at 28-28 capping a 96 yard drive taking some wind out of BC’s sails as Miami took their first lead only minutes later after BC made a stand inside the five. Miami came away with the field goal making it 31-28. But BC would not be kept down was Kosar was picked off and Kevin Snow tied the game up at 31-31 with his boot for BC.

Still tied entering the fourth quarter BC picked off Kosar again but could only add three points to their total. The game’s momentum, which had been ever changing, seemed to turn Miami’s way solidly with a 52 sprint by Miami’s Melvin Bratton from the line of scrimmage to the end zone putting the Hurricanes up 38-34 with 9:03 left on the clock.
The sideline television cameras followed Flutie confidently back to the field and he drove his team methodically down from the 18 to the one-yard line. From there Steve Strachen pounded it home from there making it 41-38 with 3:50 remaining in the game.

Again the opposite side cameras zeroed in on Kosar on the sidelines. Myself and the rest of the world, which I assumed had to be watching this game by now saw a quarterback who knew he still had lots of time and had no doubt he was going to lead his team to victory. These were the Miami Hurricanes after all under one of the best coaches in the nation Jimmy Johnson.

Kosar carried that confident expectation on the field when BC had Miami pinned at the ten with a third and twenty-one and Kosar scrambled away from a sure sack and connected with Darryl Oliver for twenty yards. Of course Jimmy Johnson was going to go for it at fourth and one. And this was the moment the game seemed to elevate itself beyond football. This was a test of will. The moment for you as a viewer no matter where you were in the country – that time stopped. You were not going to move a muscle. If you had to be somewhere – you were going to be late. Nothing at that moment became more important then seeing this game and seeing which team would emerge from this almost Roman gladiator-like contest.

Again all eyes were on that field as Kosar indeed converted on fourth and one. And as Miami pushed through to gain another four downs the television close-up returned to Flutie. He was unmoved. The drive began and Kosar completed five passes for 80 yards almost the length of the entire field. The momentum and the rain swept wind was literally at their backs as Miami’s Bratton scored his fourth touchdown from the one putting the ‘Cains up, most thought for good at 45-41.

As the touchdown was recorded the television cameras returned to Flutie with most viewers expecting deflation, a head hung low, any hint that he knew it was over. He showed none of this. In fact he shook his head in affirmation, as if to say “OK, I know now what I have to do”. He was standing alone. No one was beside him. The players on the BC sidelines however were in shock. Miami was already beginning the celebration on their sidelines. There were only 28 seconds to go and later BC coach Bicknell admitted that he was already thinking of the speech he would give to console his team on the loss.

The kickoff resulted in a touch back. There were 80 long yards to an unlikely BC victory; it was an almost insurmountable distance. It might as well have been 80 miles. Flutie after the game said he felt they had time for at least four plays but getting the ball to midfield was critical to put one of those plays in the end zone.

Flutie hit Stratford out of the backfield for 19 yards, then Scott Geiselman for 13. A third pass fell incomplete. Flutie had chewed up 22 of the remaining 28 seconds, it was over. They were at the Miami 48. There was no mystery in the play that had to be called as the announcers began to comment on how valiantly BC had played against the Miami juggernaut. Flutie, who had scrambled on almost every pass the entire game, was out of options. Six seconds was barely enough time to get out of the pocket let alone look down field, identify a receiver and heave a desperate Hail Mary. But as a viewer you just had to watch the last six seconds out of respect for what had been accomplished. For what he, Doug Flutie, had represented -every underdog who hung tough. No, no one was going to turn away from the end of this game.

With a twenty to thirty mile head wind in Flutie’s face the play selected was called the “55 Flood Tip” which would send everyone into the end zone to try to tip the ball to a fellow Boston College teammate. As Flutie exited from the pocket the BC receivers headed downfield. Phalen ran right into the end zone as he said there was no sense stopping at the five. But that is exactly what Miami’s free safety did leaving Phalen behind Miami’s defensive linemen. As Flutie dropped back to the 38-yard line eluding a defender and almost falling to the ground himself he let it fly. At that moment Miami’s players at the goal line jumped blocking view of the ball from Phalen. The ball sailed sixty-five yards straight down into Phalen’s grasp. Phalen brought his elbows together and fell down clutching the reception.

Brent Musburgur, “Caught by Boston College I don’t believe it! It’s a touchdown, the Eagles win it! Unbelievable, I don’t believe it!



Still to many, myself included who witnessed it, the most exciting college football game and the most exciting college football moment of all time. Four years later in 1988 I had the pleasure of cheering Flutie on from the stands when he briefly wore a New England Patriots uniform. Not only was he one of the most exciting players to watch but also he has the numbers to back it up. Today he ranks fifth among the all-time professional football passing leaders combining CFL/NFL/USFL seasons trailing only Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Damon Allen, and Dan Marino in attempts, completions, and touchdowns.
Monday
Posted by Robert Child
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