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Compiled with more than 40 hours of interviews with Coach Wooden, learn about the man behind the coach. The players tell their their stories in their own words. This is the book that UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan tried to ban.

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NFL 2010 Week One Commentary

by Tony Medley

This opening week saw the second dumbest play in the history of football. With four seconds left in the half of a 3-0 game, Dallas had the ball inside their 40. Not a chance in the world to score. But they call a pass. Washington is in a deep cover 2 defense, so what Dallas hopes to achieve is a mystery. Predictably, Romo can’t find a receiver so he starts rolling to his right and throws a little swing pass. The halfback catches it and, instead of falling down and ending the half, fights to stay up when hit. Washington pulls the ball loose and runs it in for a touchdown. But this shouldn’t be surprising. Wade Phillips coaches Dallas. He’s guy who at Buffalo had a charismatic quarterback, Doug Flutie, who led them to the playoffs. In the meaningless game before the playoffs, Phillips played Ron Johnson, a former USC quarterback. Johnson had a good game in the meaningless game, so Phillips benched Flutie, started Johnson against Tennessee and lost to Tennessee. How the guy continues to get coaching jobs is beyond comprehension. Dallas lost the game because their rookie right tackle was called for holding while Romo was throwing a game-winning TD pass. Whoever he was holding was lucky because the holding was so blatant and clumsy the guy could have had his neck broken. I blame the coach for stupid penalties like that.

In case you’re interested, the dumbest play occurred on November 19, 1978 when The Giants had the ball, and the Eagles had no timeouts left. Everyone watching expected the Giants to take the final snap and take a knee, running out the clock, to end the game winning 19-17. Alas, quarterback Joe Picarcik tried a handoff to fullback Larry Csonka. It was botched, there was a fumble, and Eagle defensive back Herm Edwards grabbed it and ran it 26 years to a touchdown to win the game for Philly.

The two best teams this first week were Houston and New England. As I said last year, I firmly believe in sports karma, which led to Indianapolis’ Super Bowl defeat. It’s still there. Either Indy has the worst offensive and defensive lines in football, or Houston has the best. Peyton Manning never had time, was rushed horribly the entire game and Houston ran against Indy’s porous defense at will. Houston has management that knows football. I liked it when they had the first pick in the 2006 draft, which featured Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his biggest rival for the trophy, Vince Young, who beat SC in the championship game. Houston eschewed each of these ballyhooed stars, realized that games are won on the line of scrimmage, and chose defensive end Mario Williams, who has been a perennial All Pro, something that is just a pipedream for the other two, at least Bush, anyway.

Houston running back Arian Foster got all the ink for running for 231 yards, but running backs generally get more credit than they deserve because most of their yards are due to holes opened by offensive linemen. My aunt Alice could have run for 200 yards in the holes the Houston offensive line was ripping in the Colts’ defense. Sometimes it looked as if Indy didn’t have anyone on the field the holes were so huge. Either Houston is a power or Indy is going to have trouble this year, or both.

New England reminds me of 1978 when a young Dallas team annihilated the favored Los Angeles Rams in the L.A. Coliseum, 28-0 in the Playoffs. New England has appeared to have fashioned a very strong team of new, young players. In a game that was ballyhooed to be even, since Cincinnati signed wide receiver Terrell Owens to go with Chad Ochocinko, the Patriots demolished Cincy. Woe to everyone in the East.

Another memorable play occurred on the second to last play of the Detroit-Chicago game. Lion wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught a pass to win the game. But when he came down he held it in one hand and fell to the ground. The ball hit the ground and Johnson left it there, although he had had possession of it and could have kept it in his hand. The referee signaled TD and I thought, “Boy, that’s a mistake; that should be incomplete.” Sure enough, it was ruled incomplete. Everyone criticized the rule, which is a stupid one, but shouldn’t players know the rules, the stupid ones as well as the good ones? Or should they just have to know the good rules? But to be frank, Johnson is no Rhodes Scholar when it comes to football, a game they pay him millions of dollars a year to play. On the play immediately preceding the offending play, with Detroit behind, out of timeouts, and less than a half minute to play, he caught a pass on the sideline and instead of stepping out of bounds to stop the clock, cut the other way to be tackled inbounds, keeping to clock running. Could he have made a dumber play? Well, yes. He did on the very next play.

Now to the Jets, which was my team last year. Oy vey! I said last year that their big weakness was their USC quarterback (there’s never been one in the Super Bowl, except for Willie Wood, who was a defensive back for Green Bay in the first two). I spent most of my time as a LA Rams season ticket holder rooting for the George Allen-coached Rams. Allen was another defensive coach (like Rex Ryan). Allen thought the offense was just something to pass the time without making a mistake so his defense could get on the field, so he employed the most inaccurate passing quarterback I’ve ever seen, Roman Gabriel. Allen liked Gabriel because he didn’t throw a lot of interceptions. But there was a reason for that, that nobody cared to explain. To throw an interception, you have to be accurate enough to get the ball somewhere near the intended receiver because that’s where the defenders are. Gabriel was rarely close enough to his receivers to be intercepted. To close on this, if you check out Gabriel, you will see that he had a completion ratio of 52.6%. That sounds fair, not great, but barely acceptable for an NFL quarterback. But I saw virtually every game Gabriel played for the Rams and most of his completions came on swing passes to backs coming out of the backfield, like Lester Josephson, a lumbering fullback who couldn’t beat me in the 100 yard dash if I were running backwards. Anybody can complete a swing pass (except UCLA’s present quarterback Kevin Prince and the aforementioned Mark Sanchez, who missed one in the opening game) because they generally only travel less than 5 yards.

So Sanchez gets his chance at a 2-minute drill. First there is an illegal procedure penalty by the right tackle for a five yard penalty, mainly due to the way Sanchez was barking the signals and probably changing the play. Then Sanchez takes forever to call a play as the clock is ticking down, then he muffs the pass from center (He allegedly has the best hands on the team). Then on 4th down and 10 with 40 seconds left, he throws a 9-1/2 yard pass to a guy named Keller who blithely runs out of bounds right in front of, and a half yard short of, the first down marker without even trying to put the ball over the first down line with his left hand, which he could have easily done.

I think Rex and the Jets spent too much of their training camp posturing for the NFL Films cameras as they starred on Hard Knocks when they should have been practicing not committing illegal procedure penalties, and maybe giving a little work to 2-minute drills and some basic pass plays. Speaking of Hard Knocks, watching it bothered me because it looked like the Jets were having far too much fun and doing far too little work during their training camp. Years ago I read Instant Replay and Paper Lion and one thing I came away with from those books is that an NFL training camp is no fun. So the Jets had a lot of fun in training and they weren’t ready for their opening game. There’s a lesson there.

In their opening game against Baltimore the offense got only 6 first downs, tied for worst in team history. Sanchez threw for only 60 yards, the worst since 2006. They had 125 penalty yards, their most since 1988. Worse, two of the penalties were silly defensive holding calls on defensive back Warren Cromartie on third down with Baltimore deep in their own territory (once on Baltimore’s own 3 yard line). They ran only 44 plays, the fewest since 2005. Sanchez was 10 for 21 for 74 yards; that’s a joke, folks, for an NFL quarterback.

I will still root for the Jets this year because I like their defense, but they need a quality quarterback and an offensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing, and maybe Rex Ryan needs to be a little tougher.

Off the first week’s game, I think the two teams to beat are New England and Houston. I don’t really see any team in the NFC that impressed me much, including Super Bowl Champ New Orleans.

September 13, 2010