Sunday, October 31, 2010
12:59pm Some sax player from Kid Rock’s Band (I am not all that familiar with Mr. Rock’s work, sorry to say) plays the National Anthem and I can tell you this much: The Detroit Lions totally kicked Washington’s butt when it came to standing for the Anthem (surprising don’t you think, what with the ‘Skins hailing from DC and all) but it’s true. The Redskins stood around in what can best be described as haphazard “we-don’t really-give-much-of-a-damn fashion”, while the Lions stood at attention, perfectly still, each players toes flush against the spot where the out-of-bounds stripe meets the field. The line stretched from one 20 to the other. And to add to the effect, all sideline support personnel stood shoulder to shoulder in a line of their own a few feet behind the players. It was impressive, I can tell you that. I don’t know if this will translate into points, but something—perhaps my many, many years experience watching professional football—tells me that it will not.
1:13pm Washington’s had the ball twice and they’ve gone three-and-out twice and Donovan McNabb looks for all the world like, well, a Detroit Lions quarterback. Detroit was three-and-out themselves the first time they had the ball but they’ve got it now after a Washington punt at the Washington 47. Matt Stafford is back at QB for Detroit today for the first time since he was laid out in the season opener and that makes this is worthy of a note: upon seeing his throwing arm securely taped to his side after he got hurt in that season opener in Chicago, my doctor said, quite matter-of-factly, in fact: “Second-degree shoulder separation. He’ll be out ‘till Halloween.” Today is, for the record, October 31, Halloween.
1:19pm From the 47, the Lions move smartly to the Washington 21 whereupon young Stafford does what all Lions quarterbacks always do (and, while we’re on the subject, have always done, and we suspect always will do): he throws a drive-killing end zone interception. Stafford was trying to hit Calvin Johnson. As everyone knows, to do this all you have to do is throw the football so high the defensive back can’t reach it no matter how high he jumps because no matter how high that is, Johnson can leap even higher. In the worst case you throw it so high that Johnson can’t get to it and it winds up, incomplete, in the seats. But what Stafford tried to do was squeeze it in there and Washington defensive back DeAngelo Hall stepped in front of Johnson and caught the ball. And, so much for that Detroit drive.
1:40pm Washington goes three and out after the pick but so do the Lions after that and that’s pretty much how the quarter has gone. Or, we should say, went. It just ended. I am not sure if Washington even got a first down (I’ve become totally dependent upon the stats sheets they hand out throughout the game it’s sad to say) and they—Washington—will be punting the ball away to start the second quarter. The score at the end of one quarter, by the way: Detroit 0, Washington 0. (We got the stats sheet. Washington got 1—count ‘em—1 first down in the quarter.)
1:51pm Stefan Logan, who the last time we were here returned a kickoff 105 yards for a TD to tie the Lions record for Longest Play Ever in Detroit’s win over the Rams, just returned a punt 72 yards to the Washington 19. It looked like he was going to score, but in trying to tiptoe down the sideline he lost his balance and went out of bounds. We looked around for the flag which always seems to fly whenever the Lions have a big play—but none was to be seen, so Logan has another huge return and the Lions have a chance to take the lead with a Red Zone first down.
1:54pm Touchdown. It’s Stafford to Johnson from 13 yards on 3rd and 5 or 6, I can’t remember but it was one or the other. It’s a 3-play, 19-yard drive and it’s 7-0, Detroit.
2:00pm 1st and goal Redskins from the 6. Washington’s Brandon Banks returned the kickoff which ensued following the Detroit score about 50 yards and McNabb ran 36 yards to the Detroit 6. A McNabb to Ryan Torain TD pass ties it 7-7. It was just a little dump off and Torain scampered in. The Lions lead last for 1:19, or, if you prefer, 79 seconds.
2:15pm Ndamukong Suh—the man who guaranteed Detroit would not lose another home game this season after Detroit lost the home opener here (and they haven’t, having gone 1-0 since he spoke up)—has just sacked McNabb twice on the same set of downs. Suh now has 6.5 sacks this year to lead all NFL rookies. Who’s second on that rookie sack list? Why, it’s Koa Misi of Miami, of course. This is not a misprint. There’s a player in this league named Koa Misi.
2:22pm It’s the 2-Minute Warning and Ron Angel of the seat in the press box two down from me, says there have been 11 punts so far in today’s game. That cannot possibly be correct, but it probably is. We’ll check it once the halftime stats are distributed because, again, we are utterly at the mercy of the in-game stats when it comes to telling you what’s going on down there.
2:25pm The Redskins take the lead 10-7 on a 37-yard field goal by Graham Gano. It was a 60-yard drive and 50 of it came on a single play—McNabbs first completion of any consequence in the game so far. He hit Anthony Armstrong long over the middle.
2:34pm The Lions just couldn’t get to the half down only three. They punted the ball back to Washington with a whole 0:16 seconds left before the break and of course they let the Redskins get into field goal range and of course the Redskins converted. Gano’s 2nd field goal in 1:04 brings us to halftime: Washington 13, Detroit 7.
2:56pm The second half begins where the first left off: each team runs three plays and punts and now we have had 13 punts combined in this game. Detroit has the ball back at their 48. Let’s see what they do with this good field position.
3:01pm Well, now. The Lions, with a 20-yard Jahvid Best run the big play, move smartly into the Red Zone but stall on 3rd-and-1 from the 7 when Best can’t turn the corner and loses a yard. Jason Hanson comes on to kick the field goal which would cut the Redskins lead to 3, but the Redskins “encroach” (whatever that is) or otherwise violate “the neutral zone” (whatever that is) and the penalty is half the distance to the goal which makes it first and goal, Detroit. Brandon Pettigrew catches Stafford’s second touchdown pass of the day and the Lions do make good on the short field—the 4th down penalty against Washington was huge, obviously—and Detroit somehow leads this game 14-13 with 7:10 left in the 3rd quarter.
3:06pm It looked like the Lions would hold the lead for, oh, maybe 0:10 seconds or so this time as Brandon Banks returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a TD, but, as it turned out, it never happened. There was a block in the back against Washington, so they start from their own 8, instead of starting by kicking an extra point.
3:23pm Stafford completes his longest pass of the day, 31 yards, but largely owing to the fact that these are the Detroit Lions, the receiver on the play, Nate Burleson, fumbles the ball away and the Redskins have it at their own 24. And the third quarter is over: Detroit 14, Washington 13.
3:40pm Washington scores on a 5-yard run by Keiland Williams to go up 19-14 with 11:15 left. The ‘Skins got another solid punt return from Brandon Banks—he’s having a pretty good day—and Washington started at the Lions 46. It took them 3 plays to score. McNabb’s pass on the two-point conversion bid was incomplete, so there was that, at least.
3:47pm This time Detroit answers in a hurry. They get a good kickoff return by Jerome Felton—37 yards—and start in Washington territory. They go 47yards in 6 plays to retake the lead. Stafford hits Johnson for the score from 7 yards out, his third TD pass of the day and Johnson’s second TD catch. Detroit goes for 2 and fails, and its 20-19, Detroit with 8:21 to play.
3:53pm Now its Washington 25, Detroit 20 with 8:05 to play. How can this be? Brandon Banks (remember we mentioned he was "having a pretty good day"?) returned the kickoff which followed the Detroit touchdown 96 yards for a Washington touchdown, so the Detroit lead this time lasted a grand total of 0:16. The Redskins again go for 2 and again they fail, so Washington leads by 5 as we move to the last half of the last quarter.
4:01pm Donovan McNabb makes his first major mistake of the day, and what a time to make it. He has a pass intercepted by Detroit’s Alphonso Smith with 4 and a half to go and the Lions have it at the Washington 37, trailing by 5. Kevin Smith—having a fine afternoon in his own right—catches a 13-yard Stafford pass for a first down at the Washington 24. 4:13 is left on the clock. It’s Smith’s 4th interception of the year, we are told, which is the most by a Lion since Dre Bly had 6 in 2005. (There may be an apostrophe somewhere in Mr. Bly’s name, but we cannot remember and we do not have time right now to look it up what with the Lions driving and the game on the line, etc.) After an incomplete pass on second down, a flag flies and its defensive holding and an automatic first down for Detroit at the Washington 19. 4:08 left. Now it’s 4th and 1 at the Washington ten. What would you do with 3:20 to go? Detroit decides to go for it (Why not? You’re 1-5, right?) and it’s Stafford to Johnson again: 4 TD passes for Stafford and 3 TD catches for Johnson. 26-25, Detroit. Again the Lions go for 2, and this time they make it as Stafford finds another Johnson open in the end zone: Bryant. 3:12 remains and its Detroit 28. Washington 25.
4:13pm Washington has to go for it on 4th and ten with 2:20 to go from their own 28 and Cliff Averill sacks McNabb for an 8-yard loss. The Lions take over on downs. That’s 6 times McNabb has been sacked today, we think. The last time the Lions had 6 sacks in a games was…well, we’ll have to look that up.
4:16pm Two-Minute Warning (it comes with 1:59 left) and Detroit has 3rd and 5 at the Washington 15. The Redskins have 1 timeout left. If Hanson kicks a field goal the Detroit lead would be up 6 and at least Washington couldn’t tie the game with a field goal of their own. The Lions get a yard, the Redskins use their last timeout, and Hanson’s on to kick a 32 yard field goal and it’s 31-25, Detroit with 1:50 to play.
4:22pm Suh scores a touchdown(!) and the “Suhs” (not boos, it just rhymes with “boo”) rain down from the stands. Rex Grossman came on to relieve McNabb at quarterback—we don’t know why, exactly—and on the first play, Kyle Vanden Bosch hammered him and it would have been a sack (and maybe it is, I’ll have to check) and the ball came loose and Suh picked it up on one hop and ran it, I’m not sure they every said officially but it looked like 17 yards or so to me, into the end zone and bang, its 37-25, Detroit with 1:36 to go. And how about that? The 2-point gofer fails but who cares?
4:26pm The Lions are going to win this game. Washington has the ball but there’s only a minute-and-a-half left and the Redskins are out of timeouts. A quick check of the Official Washington Redskins Game Notes (good thing we downloaded them before we came because, did I mention it costs $30 to access the Internet at this place?) indicates that this is the most points the Lions have scored against Washington since 1947 when they beat them at Tiger Stadium 38-21. I text Al Rosenberg this information right away. He’s the Producer of the Detroit Lions Radio Network. Maybe they’ll use it on the air. Who knows? Anyway, it’s over: DETROIT 37, Washington 25.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I spent some of my valuable pre-game time tonight doing my prep work for the prep football game I'm calling tomorrow night: Birmingham Brother Rice at Farmington Harrison. The two coaches involved Al Fracassa of Brother Rice and John Harrington of Harrison have 788 wins between them. It's one of the biggest games of the night as the state High School football playoffs get underway and I'm very excited to be doing to play-by-play. There are 256 teams in the playoffs which sounds a little unwieldy, but if you break it down into 8 division as they do here in Michigan, what it amounts to is really 8 separate tournaments of 32 teams each--a bit more manageable.
7:42 Kindle is out of the box and there is no score, still. Phoenix was a huge surprise last season, picked by many to go bankrupt before the season was over. Instead, they surprised everyone and...back to that thought in a moment. It's 1-0 Phoenix. Radim Vrbata put the deke on Chris Osgood and scored on a breakaway and now, less than a minute later, #90 for Detroit, Mike Modano, goes off for hooking. The Vrbata goal came at 7:00, the Modano penalty less than a minute later. Osgood is the surprise starter in goal because Jimmy Howard complained of back spasms after the morning skate and was unable to go tonight. In fact, Detroit called Joey MacDonald up from the minors to back up Osgood tonight. MacDonald is going to find himself in this hockey game if things continue like this. Keith Yandle just scored on the power play (critics will say Ozzie went down to early on the shot from the low rim of the circle to his left and the critics may be correct) and now Phoenix leads 2-0.
8:00 Osgood is razzed as he makes an easy save. That's because he just gave up an easy goal. A 50-foot wrister by Lauri Korpkoski, shorthanded, the kind of shot that frankly I should have stopped and it's 3-0 Phoenix on the goal at 11:56. It's sad to hear the fans boo and ridicule Osgood. The guy has done a lot for this franchise, and just the season before last, he was one save away from winning the Stanley Cup for this town. You'd think that would be worth something, but he his is getting his rear end booed at home. It's awful.
8:14 The period, mercifully, is over. Phoenix 3, Detroit 0. You wonder if, maybe, Detroit will send you MacDonald out there to start the second period. Probably not, but if the Wings give up the next goal, probably yes.
8:36 The Wings pressure to begin the second, but Tomas Holmstrom takes an unnecessary crosschecking penalty (ALL crosschecking penalties are unnecessary) and Detroit's short 5 minutes into the period. If Phoenix scores here--if Phoenix scores the next goal in this game--we can all go home, except for the talking to the players afterward part of the job description.
8:43 Osgood just made a save on a breakaway and the fans love him again. There are a lot of empty seats here again tonight, and I mean a lot: at least a third of them and probably more are unoccupied. Still, its nothing like it was the first few years Detroit played in this building. We'd sit way up here (the Joe Louis Arena Press Box is located behind the last row of seats in the Uppers), and we'd wonder what the place would be like if there were ever more than a few hundred fans in the Upper Bowl. People don't believe me when I tell them that, but its true. On most night almost all of the Upper Bowl sections here were completely unoccupied.
8:51 Johan Franzen (6) tips in a shot from the point at 13:05 and the Wings sneak back into the game. A lot of heat but no fire for Detroit in the second until this point. Franzen now has 2 more goals this season than any other Red Wing.
8:54 Did I mention I am sneak-watching the World Series while all of this is going on? I am, don't tell anybody. I had to miss Game 1 last night (I know, right?) because I had to get up at 3:30 this morning because I was filling in for somebody on their morning-drive show. I did see all the highlights, so I was/am conversant in re the game. Interesting, for example that the Game 1 winner has won the Series 6 of the last 7 years, and 11 of the last 13. One of the teams that did not was SF in 2002 when they beat the Angels to open the Series but LA came back to beat 'em in 7. Another interesting note: Texas is now 0-10 all-time at ATT Park....
9:04 End of Period. Detroit out shot Phoenix 19-9 but have to settle for just the one goal. Ozzie stopped another breakaway and came up with another nice save in the final minutes of the period, so they are cheering him again, but just you wait, if another one goes in, those cheers are going away.
9:20 Edgar Renteria just homered to put SF ahead 1-0 in the 5th inning of Game 2. And here, the third period begins with a couple of brilliant (physically not intellectually) Ilya Bryzgalov saves and as I type his name is ask myself, "What is it with this Coyotes team and consonants, anyway? Bryzgalov, Vrbata?" Still 3-1 Phoenix and we've played almost 3 minutes of the third.
9:24 It takes 4 rebounds but the Wings get another goal. Really bad defensive zone coverage as Harry Neale used to say on Hockey Night in Canada. Neale is probably still saying it. The former Wings coach is still getting it done, he's the color commentator on Buffalo Sabres broadcasts. It's Holmstrom with the goal and now Detroit is within 1 with 15 minutes to go. Meanwhile, with this going on, word is breaking in the Press Box that MSU coach Mark Dantonio has re-instated Chris L. Rucker, the Spartan defensive back who was arrested for drunk driving the night MSU beat Michigan and who had to go straight to jail for 10 days because of it because he happened to still be on probation for last year's on-campus dormitory brawl. I went to MSU and I love my Spartans but I think this is an awful decision by Dantonio. Just awful.
9:38 Here's some of Dantonio's statement: "The poor decision he made had need for serious consequences which he has now met and resolved from a team and legal perspective. It does not; however, rise to a lifetime banishment. I have been asked about last year's statement regarding zero tolerance. Zero tolerance means exactly that. We have no tolerance for Chris L. Rucker's actions. I repeat, I have no tolerance for his actions. He was immediately suspended. He has served his civil punishment, and there are other internal disciplinary measures nobody will know about outside the program. Again, zero tolerance does not mean automatic dismissal." Huh. And, say what? Then what does "zero tolerance mean"? In this case it means what it says it means. The word "zero" means "nothing".
9:44 Back at the hockey game, still 3-2 visitors with 7:55 left. Detroit 41 shots on goal. Their season high is the 43 they had on opening night. You have to figure that with this much time left, while they may or may not tie the score, the will certainly set a new season high in shots on goal.
9:50 A big penalty against Detroit at 15:12. Holmstrom gets called for "Roughing the Goalie". There is, of course, no such penalty--it was interference, officially--but there should be. I like th sound of it, don't you?
9:55 Down to 1:16 to go. A couple more great chances for Detroit, a couple more great saves by Bryzgalov. The Wings are up to 45 shots, so they've got that new season high. Osgood is pulled at this point. It's that 50-foot wrister he gave up in the first that's going to beat him on this night. And it does. Phoenix gets the empty-netter with 0:57.7 left. The question for Osgood, and you hate to have to even ask it but somebody better, somebody has to, is how does it feel to get booed in your own building by your own fans after everything you've done for this team?
9:58 Game over. Final score: Phoenix 3, Detroit 1.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Injuries are affecting the Spartans early.
Darqueze Dennard, replacing Chris.L. Rucker at corner and the guy who made a huge play in the Illinois game last week by causing and then recovering an Illini fumble in the Red Zone, left the game briefly after a head to head collision, but he's back in there now. (Rucker, senior 3-year Letterman, is missing his second straight game today after being arrested for drunk driving after the Michigan game. I suspect he will never play another down of football for MSU.)
Tackle D.J. Young got hurt early and is out of the lineup, and Keshawn Martin, MSU's great return man, is also apparently hurt.
Northwestern kicks a field goal and the Spartans trail 10-0, on the road.
Twice failing on 3rd-and-1, MSU is 0-3 in third-down conversions overall (NU is 5-7) as Kirk Cousins hits Keith Nichol to convert 3rd and 7. A moment later the two cannot hook up on 3rd and 8 so its a 38-yard field goal try by Dan Conroy that's...wide right. Wide right? Conroy had been 14-for-14 in field goal attempts--one away from tying Brett Swenson's MSU record of 15 in a row. MSU is still down 10-0.
Northwestern continues to push the MSU defense all over the field. They've got it first and goal at the one, again. QB Dan Persa crashes over for his second one-yard TD run of the day and State is down 17-0 with 6:07 left in the half. MSU has been outgained in this one, 234-99.
With Martin out, Le'Veon Bell is returning kicks. So far, MSU has had to return quite a few.
MSU goes 68-yards in 8 plays to make it 17-7. Cousins to Mark Dell for 7 yards is the scoring play
with 2:49 left in a nearly disastrous first half for the Spartans.
That's how it ends, MSU down 10 at the break. Spartan Coach Mark Dantonio--back on the sidelines after missing two games due to a heart attack (he must be pretty tough to only miss 2 games after a heart attack) says to a reporter as he walks off: "We'll bounce back."
1:56 The second half is underway and MSU, after forcing a 3-and-out by NU to begin the half, has the ball and they go right down the field and they score! Bennie Fowler--I've never heard of him--runs it in on a 13-yard end-around. Fowler is the freshman playing in the slot today in place of Keshawn Martin. Like Martin, it's apparent he can run the ball. For MSU: a 3-play, 48-yard drive and it only took 1:20. The second half is barely 3 minutes old and the Spartans are back in it, trailing NU 14.
It's three-and-out again for the Wildcats as Jonathan Strayhorn sacks Persa. MSU starts at their own 42 with 10:01 left in the third. A well-deserved commercial break ensues.
There's a big wind blowing at Ryan Field today. MSU has it at their back in the 3rd, it will be tougher for State in the 4th. The Spartans get one first down on their second possession of the half but elect for some reason to run the ball out of a wildcat formation with Nichol--the MSU QB last year--picking up just a couple on 3rd-9. Hard to understand the play call, unless it had worked, of course. 8:10 left in the 3rd as NU takes over at their own 20.
Jerel Worthy, the defensive tackle is hurt and has to come out. NU promptly picks up their second first down of the drive and they out to their own 43. Worthy may be back soon. He got poked in the eye. Persa looked like he was going to be sacked, but he escapes and picks up 10 and a first. Then Mike Trumpy runs 18 to the MSU 28. Persa hits a couple of 9 yard passes and its goal-to-go for the Wildcats. This is MSU-killing NU drive into the wind. Persa finishes it with his third rushing TD of the day. He was flushed from the pocket and scrambled in from the 6. It was a 15-play, 80-yard drive. It was into the wind. It took 5:22 off the clock. It put MSU down 10, again. There's 2:50 left in the third and MSU trails 24-14.
2:27 The 3rd quarter ends with MSU driving, 1st-and-ten just on the NU side of midfield. They trail by ten, 24-14, and their entire season depends on whether they can come back or not in the final 15 minutes. Win, and they will be one of only 5 (or fewer) 8-0 teams in the country. Lose, and they are just another 1-loss team in the Big Ten. This is the whole season, right here.
2:31 This is the second straight game in which the Spartans haven't been able to run. Prior to the Illinois game, they were averaging 225 rush yards a game. They ran for 93 last week. They have 84 so far today. MSU's drive stalls and the Spartans have to go for it on 4th and 6 from the NU 35--because of the wind they can't try a 42-yard field goal. To make matters worse, State has to use a timeout with the play clock running down. Boy, you hate to do that when you are ten points down in the 4th quarter. You really might need it later, right? After the timeout, the Spartans decide to punt. If they'd have gone for it and not made it, NU would have had the ball near their own thirty so you have to wonder. IT'S A FAKE!!! IT WORKS AGAIN. It's a pass from Aaron Bates pass to that guy I never heard of, Bennie Fowler for 21 yards to the NU 15. On the very next play, Cousins hits Dell for the 13-yard TD that makes it a 3-point game again. You can say what you want, but MSU has to be the most dramatic team in college football. Dell has 2 TD catches today. It's 24-21, NU.
The Wildcats are unfazed. They drive all the way to the MSU 13, but Persa is sacked a couple of times and NU has to go for the field goal. Stefan Demos hits it from 41 and now its 27-21 with just a little less than 10 minutes to play.
2:50 All the Spartans have to do is drive 80-yards down the field and score a touchdown. They go three and out. 8:38 to go as the Spartans punt. If MSU ever needed a defensive stop, it would be now. The wind results in a 22-yard punt. NW starts from midfield. They go three-and-out. The Spartans got that stop. And still over 7 minutes to go. MSU starts at their own 12 after the punt.
Its Homecoming today at Northwestern and former coach Ara Parseghian, 80, is being honored. He went on to a legendary career at Notre Dame of course and was the coach of the Irish when they met MSU in the "Game of the Century" back in 1966. We mention this because that year, '66, was the last time MSU was 7-0 as they are this year. Ara went for the tie in that biggest of all games at Spartan Stadium when the Irish had the ball late in a 10-10 tie. He couldn't do that today, although he could have played for overtime. No ties in college football anymore.
3:00 Stare has driven from their own 12 to the NU 30 and its 4th and 1. Here's the game. Pass underneath to the tight end Charlie Gant--the guy who caught the pass on the fake field goal against the Irish. It's a 4th-down conversion and now Baker catches a pass for a dozen and its first-and-goal, MSU at the 9. Approaching 2 minutes to go AND MSU SCORES. IT'S A DEFELCTED PASS AND BJ CUNNINGHAM COMES DOWN WITH IT IN THE END ZONE. THE GAME IS TIED PENDING THE POINT. THE REVIEW SAYS ITS A TD!!! It was an 11-play, 88-yard drive in 5:18. MSU leads 28-27 with 2:00 left.
3:07 NU had the ball at the 33, but a personal foul on the 'Cats moves them back to the 18. MSU helps though by jumping offside. 1st and 20 for NU. The Wildcats call a timeout facing 3rd and 12 with 1:36 left. (Just between you and me, I cannot believe MSU is leading this football game.They trailed 17-0. On the road.) An incomplete pass by Persa makes it 4th and 12. Here's the ballgame. Incomplete again. The wind has hurt Persa--he overthrew three recievers in a row. MSU gets it back on downs with 1:26 left. NU has 2 timeouts. MSU at the NU 31. NU uses their last TO with 1:14 left. On third and short, Edwin Baker bulls through everybody for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 35-27 after Conway hits the point-after. What a run! The announcers say this may help NU because it is still a one-score game (State leading by 8 so a TD+2-point conversion ties it) with 1:07 to go but we'll see. NU starts at their own 32 with 1:02 to go and no timeouts. Now and Eric Gordon inteception with 0:44 on the clock and somehow, State is going to win this game. How about that. MSU, 8-0 overall! 4-0 in conference and still leading the Big Ten all by themselves. What a win. What a comeback. What a season.
Dantonio, interviewed on the field, said the fake punt that was the key play today is called "mousetrap". "Take the cheese," in his words. The Spartans did. Again. They outscored NU 21-3 in the 4th quarter to pull it out. Wow. Wow, and bring on the Iowa Hawkeyes next week.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
We've decided to live-blog tonight's game between the Wings and Flames here at the Joe Louis Arena. Here's my dirty, little secret: In all the excitement, they sort of started the hockey season without me. Sure I have my excuses, the Spartans are undefeated and we've been covering them, the baseball playoffs are going on (haven't they been great?), the Ryder Cup, broadcasting high school football etc., but at the end of the day (or the start of this night), this is the first time I've seen the local hockeyists play this season.
The last time I was in this building it was last May and the Red Wings were blowing a third-period lead in what turned out to be a crushing loss to the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs. I really think if Detroit had won that game--they led 3-1 with 15 minutes to go or something but wound up losing in overtime--the Wings would have won that second-round series and would have advanced to meet Chicago, the eventual Cup winners, in the Conference Final and I think Detroit could have beaten them. But they lost that night to San Jose and their margin for error was gone. Instead of being tied 2-2 heading to the Shark Tank for Game 5, they were down 3-1 and they lost that game and their season was over. So long ago, no?
Here's how well prepared for this I am. I thought the game started at 7. It's 7:30, thank you.
Anyway, I picked up a set of stats and because I did that, I can tell you Detroit is 3-1-1 which means they gotten points in 5 of the 6 games they played which is pretty good so its a bit of a surprise that they are 3rd in their division and 6th in the conference.
I think I can get caught up. 5 games is only 6% of the 82-game schedule, after all.
I've been selected to choose the 3 Stars tonight which means I'm going to have to try hard to pay attention tonight. I know it's not that big a deal, but I have some pride and I don't want to look foolish. So, I'm going to watch warm-ups now. We'll be back with the Opening Face-off as soon as they get around to it...
7:15pm I spent my time researching our friends from Calgary, which for some reason I insist on pronouncing CAL-gary. Can it really have been so long ago, 2004, that the Flames stunned Detroit in the first round of the playoffs--holding Detroit without a goal in the last 2 games of the series? Their Media Guide says "yes", and Media Guides, unlike the Internet, NEVER lie. The Flames made the Cup Final that year where they inexplicably lost to the Tampa Bay Lightening of all people. CAL-gary have (as Canadians say) not made it out of the first round of the playoffs since, and didn't make them at all last year.
7:32 They just announced the starters which is the least important announcement in sports. The starters, except for the goalies, will be off the ice before the game is a minute old. Mikka Kiprusoff is starting in goal for the Flames. He's the guy who stoned Detroit back in the series I still can't believe happened over 6 years ago. It was his first season with the Flames. They traded their second-round draft pick to San Jose to get him. The pick turned out to be Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Ever hear of him? Me neither.
7:38 We begin...
7:39 I was wrong. The starters lasted fort 0:27 before the first line change.
7:41 Things happen too fast in hockey to write as you go along, but what are you going to o? I think Mike Modano plays on Detroit's 4th line. Man, that's deep. Not as in a deep thought, but deep as in, "Hey there, that's quite a lineup you got there." You can say what you want about the Red Wings but they have depth up front. I'm guessing it's all going to come down to how good the Detroit defense is. The Wings just took a penalty so I guess we'll find out.
7:56 I should mention the score: there isn't one. We've played 12-and-a-half minutes. Both teams have had good chances, Detroit more maybe, but the Flames came oh-so-close scoring on that penalty which was handed out to Jakab (pronounced; YAH-coo) Kindle (pronounced like the newfangled electric book-reading thingy). I don't know what the penalty was for, but whatever it was Kindle did, it was w-r-o-n-g. (I saw a Sony Kindle on-line today at Circuit City because I bought a cable from them once and so now they send me e-mails hourly, and it was, like $250! My library card is, like, free so I think I'm going to be staying with that for a while.
8:05 Calgary scores. Mikael Backlund off a bad Wings giveaway in the defensive zone (like there's such a thing as a good giveaway in the defensive zone, right?)
8:08 The Wings tie it. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg got isolated 2-1 down low and Zetterberg finished for his 1st goal of the year. The time 17:30.
8:08-and-a-half Calgary goes up 2-1. The time 18:10. It's Backlund again, his second of the season. The game was tied for 0:40.
8:11 Period over, but not before Detroit just misses tying it up a couple of times. Some good saves by Kipper, but Detroit's been out-shot 16-11 which you don't like to see at home. The score after one: Calgary 2, Detroit 1.
8:25. This is bad. This is really bad. I've picked up NLCS Game 5 on the computer, which means it will compete for my attention the rest of the night--and as I mentioned earlier, I'm supposed to pick the 3 Stars tonight. The scoresheet is at variance with the announced time of the first Calgary goal which means the world as we know it is over. They announced 15:30. It turns out it was 15:29. Why even run a clock during these things, know what I mean?
8:36 For, like the millionth time in his career, Nicklas Lidstrom blasts one home from the blue line and the game is tied 2-2 at 3:51 of the second as Detroit cashes in on the power play. (I was making it up about the "one-millionth thing. It's actually the 238th goal of Lidstrom's career. But it does feel like we've seen it a million times, and that's a good thing.)
8:45 Still 2-2. I told you this wouldn't be good. I'm watching the wrong game. I just saw Aubry Huff boot a grounder a hundred feet--perhaps a record for a major league carom resulting from an error--and the Phillies scored two and lead Game 5 2-1. 3-1 now, they got another one as the Wings fail to generate on the power play here.
9:02 A minute to go in what has been a rather nondescript second period--nondescript perhaps because I spent too much time watching the baseball game. But I haven't exactly ignored the hockey, it's just not quite filling my senses the way it usually does. It's 2-2 after 2 and if I had to pick the 3 Stars right now it would be Backlund (2 goals), along with Lidstrom and Zetterberg because each scored their first goal of the season tonight. The Wings had 8 shots in the second period, the Flames 9. As I say, nondescript.
9:28 Three minutes into the third and no change. Still 2-2, but this is hockey and it can all change in a heartbeat. Both teams have had good chances, both goalies have been quite good and, even better for them, a little lucky. We've talked about Kiprusoff in goal for the Flames, we should take this opportunity to inform you, with 15:30 left in the game, that it's Jimmy Howard in goal for Detroit. I sort of assumed you knew.
9:36 Possible Detroit go-ahead goal. Under review. A really strange goal and I think its going to count. The puck wound up on Kiprusoff's back and Kiprusoff's back crossed the goal line with the puck hung up in his shoulder pad. It took the referee a good thirty seconds to point to the goal--signalling a good goal--and the goal light never came on. Now they announce the goal. 3-2, Detroit at 7:55 of the third. We'll have to wait for the announcement. Who knows who scored it? It's Franzen, his 4th.
9:44 At 11:12, the Wings find themselves 2 men short but for only 0:10 and they kill it off. The Flames remain on the power play, it was Ruslan Salei who knocked the net off on purpose when it looked like Calgary might tie the score off a giveaway of his from behind his own net. The Wings kill the penalty, and now they will go on the power play with 6:41 left in the game, still leading 3-2.
9:50 A scoreboard trivia question contest during a commercial break gets the biggest boo of the night, by far, when the final question is about Honda. Must be a lot of laid-off autoworkers in the audience this evening.
9:53 4:34 left in the game and they just came for my 3 Star picks. Here you go: #1 Lidstrom, #2 Zetterberg (they each scored their first goal of the season tonight) and #3 Backlund of Calgary (he has both their goals).
9:55 Todd Bertuzzi scores on a 2-on-1 with a nice high shot over Kipper's left shoulder unassisted at 16:43 and that should do it, Detroit leads 4-2. This will give the Wings points in five of their six games to date.
9:59 Game over, Red Wings win 4-2. Live-blogging hockey is hard.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Let’s begin by stating what should be obvious to regular readers: I love football. Maybe not quite as much as I love baseball and maybe not quite as much as I love hockey, but football is without a doubt a dear sports sister-wife of mine. I consume it on television and in the stadium in what can only be described as massive quantities.
To wit, I had the best time in East Lansing Saturday watching Michigan State come back to beat Illinois 26-6 after the Spartans had been held to a field goal and to 4(!) total rushing yards in the first half and, as a result, finding their undefeated selves trailing the quite badly mis-underestimated Illini 6-3 at the intermission (which I mention only because I told you so! I told you the Illinois game was going to be a tough one for State).
It was Homecoming at MSU. Michigan State University is my school, so I was one of those coming home. And what a perfect Homecoming it was: crisp and clear with the leaves turning to make the already-gorgeous campus even lovelier. And the home team had won the big game.
Once I was done doing whatever it is I do in the Spartan Stadium Press Box, I walked across my beautiful campus on my way to a Homecoming get-together. At that very moment, as I strolled toward my destination thinking about what a great day I was having, and as that fall scenery filled my senses, this—according to a live-blog written by Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star Ledger—was what was happening in another college football stadium a few hundred miles away:
4:46 p.m. -- A hush falls over the stadium as DT Eric LeGrand lies motionless on the field after a big hit on kickoff return. The entire Rutgers team takes a knee in prayer. Nearly a dozen medical personnel attend to LeGrand, who is strapped to a backboard and carted off the field after nearly 10 minutes. He was presumably taken to the hospital.
LeGrand, a junior (which means he’s 20 or so years old), broke his neck as you by now know, fracturing his c-3 and c-4 vertebrae. He has no sensation below his neck and cannot move any of his muscles from the shoulders down. He faces the possibility of permanent paralysis. He may need to be connected to a ventilator for rest of his life.
The woman pictured at the top of this article is his mom…
Less than 24 hours after LeGrand arrived by ambulance at the Hackensack University Medical Center, another football player was brought in, also by ambulance. He presented in the very same Emergency Room in the very same way as had LeGrand the afternoon before: his helmeted head immobilized and his body—still in full football uniform and gear—strapped to a backboard.
This time it was Zach Follett, a Detroit Lion.
This time, the news was not grim. Medical tests showed no fracture, no broken neck. There was no paralysis from the neck down or anywhere else.
If I’m Zach Follett I’m thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.” How could he not? What a lucky man!
I broadcast high school football. I cover collegiate football and the National Football League. Therefore, in so doing, I promote football.
But when I see stories like this, or when I hear about a great player like John Mackey, not yet 70 but with his brain so damaged because he took hit after hit after hit to the head during his Pro Bowl career that he no longer remembers ever even being a Baltimore Colt, I question what it is that I do.
And I wonder if there will be a price for me to pay because of it sometime in my future.
Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray/ The Star-Ledger
Saturday, October 16, 2010
2:35 NEWS FLASH: The Michigan State Spartans are going to be 7-0 for the first time since 1966. Larry Caper just ran it in from 15 to make it 26-6, meaning MSU has scored 23 unanswered points here in the second half. The Spartans--four rush yards in the first half, have 65 in the second. The total of 69 is still way below their average of 225 yards a game coming in, but on this day it is going to be enough. We can sit back and enjoy the view now, and we'd better. State doesn't play another home game until November 6, and the fall colors will be long gone by then.
7:41 Scheelhaase just threw interception #3, Trenton Robinson gets his second pick in as many weeks, and with the Spartans up 19-6 following Conroy's latest field goal (sorry, I was so overjoyed about not being wrong anymore I neglected to mention the score) this ballgame looks to be in the bag.
11:33 (4th) Ha. I wasn't wrong about Conroy, I was just early. He just kicked another field goal, his 4th of the day, and now he's 13-for-13 in field goal attempts to begin his MSU career. The previous record, because I know you want to know is....uh, I don't know. I can't find it in the MSU Football Media Guide or the MSU Game Notes or anywhere. I'll ask around if you want me to.
0:11 A correction. I got lost in Dan Conroy. They just announced he is 12-for-12 in field goals to start his career, not 13-for-13. It's still a team record, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. The 3rd quarter is over. MSU had 8 first downs in the 3rd quarter, Illini had 2. The tide is turning here in East Lansing. MSU scored all 13 of the points that were scored in the third, and so, the score after 3 quarters: Michigan State 16, Illinois 6.
3:20 After the fumble, the MSU offense asserts itself. They drive from their own 17 to the Illinois 16 running and passing (plus a facemask call against the Illini helped), and its Red Zone Time for the Spartans. Nichols is just barely out of bounds on a catch that would have made it 1st and goal--if his shoes were about a size smaller, that is, and after review the catch is ruled not a catch. Conroy comes in and does it again, his 3rd field goal of the day, 32 yards, and it completes the 10-play, 68-yard drive which puts MSU up 16-6. And yes, we will mention that Conroy is now 13-for-13 and that's a new MSU team record. The drive ate 4:35 of clock and we are under 2 minutes in the 3rd quarter.
6:32 Scheelhaase, whose long completion until now had been 12 yards, hits a long one, 39 yards to A.J. Jenkins to the MSU 20, but Jenkins fumbles when hit by Darqueze Dennard and Dennard recovers at his own 17. The play stands after further review and instead of being deep in MSU territory, the Illini are on defense. Another Illini turnover, their 3rd of the day and the kind that loses ballgames.
8:26 MSU (finally) hits a big play. It's Cousins throwing a deep ball over the middle and B.J. Cunningham is all kind of wide open and its a 48-yard TD pass to put MSU up 13-6. State goes 77 yards in 4 plays on the drive--exactly the number of yards the offense amassed in the entire first half in 23 plays.
13:30 (3rd) The Illini, having deferred, get the ball to start the second half. Did we mention MSU had a grand total of 4 rush yards in the first half. And 43 yards in penalties. It's amazing State is only down 3. And now Scheelhaase does it again. He throws his second interception of the afternoon and Johnny Adams returns 31 yards to the Illini 16. But State loses a yard rushing on first down (now they have 3 rush yards in the game) before a pair of incomplete passes makes it 4th and field goal time. It's Dan Conroy from 34-yards and it's good and Conroy is 12-for-12 to start his MSU career (again, a new team record) and the game is tied 6-6. MSU's scoring drive: 4 plays, -1 yard(s). We believe this to be the shortest scoring drive in the history of football.
Halftime Note to End All Halftime Notes: MSU, 3rd in the Big Ten and 14th Nationally with 225 rushing yards/game this season, had 4 (four) rushing yards in the first half against Illinois. F-O-U-R.
0:04 The Illini surprised us all by running from the 15 on 1st down, both losing a yard and running the clock down to 0:08 in the process. Dimke then came on to kick his second field goal of the half, this one from 33, and the Illini re-take the lead 6-3. The half ends on the ensuing kickoff. We said this would be a tough game for State, and halfway through, that is just what it is. Illinois 6, Michigan State 3 and it's time to enjoy the Spartan Marching Band!
1:33 The Illini have converted a couple 3rd downs and they have it just on the MSU side of the 50 when Leshoure comes up short on 3rd and 10, he gained only three, and things like just fine until Keshawn Martin--the hero of the Wisconsin game with his 74-yard punt return TD--fumbles the ball and Illinois is 1st and 10 at the MSU 15 with 0:37 left. It looked for sure that the Spartans would be no worse than tied at the half. Now...
8:00 Cousins hits Mark Dell (Farmington Hills Harrison) for 20 and then 21 yards, the first two "Chunk Plays" of the Day for MSU. "Chunk Play" is the new in-vogue term in college football. It refers to any play that gains at least 20 yards. MSU settles for a 37 yard Dan Conroy field goal to tie the game 3-3 with 6:47 left in the half. Conroy has hit his first 11 field goal attempts for MSU, breaking, er, extending his own team record.
10:31 Now the Illini take a dumb penalty. Late hit (on the offense? Really? How do you even do that?) and it's 4th and 29. State goes from their own 38 after the punt--still down only 3. Somehow.
14:06 Throw in the 40 yards MSU had in penalties in the 1st and the Illini outgained them 124-29, but Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase throws a pick! It's intercepted by Marcus Hyde and he returns it 30 yards and just like that, the Spartans, though dominated, still trail by only 3. On 4th and 1 from the Illini 35 MSU goes for it, but Cousins falls down and lost 4 and whatever momentum there may have been from the turnover disappears in 4 plays. The Illini start at their own 39.
1:10 The Illini drive from their own 1 to their own 31 and then the Spartans help them out again with their third foolish penalty of the quarter. It's a facemask on Anthony Rashad White and its 15 yards and the Illini are out to midfield. And now they are at the Spartan 38. Leshoure loses a couple and the quarter ends. Boy, I knew this was going to be a tough game. The Illini outplayed the Spartans in the first (and outgained them 84-29) and they lead 3-0.
3:52 The Spartans again can't sustain a drive longer than a single 1st down, but Aaron Bates gets a 60-yard punt away and the Illini start from their own 1. Bates currently ranks second in the Big Ten and No. 13 in the NCAA in punting with his 45.2-yard average.
7:59 On third and a lot, MSU is called for defensive holding AND a late hit and the ball--on what appeared to be an incomplete pass--goes from the MSU 43 to the MSU 18. Mikel Leshoure gets 10 on 1st down, but the Spartans bear down and the Illini settle for a Derek Dimke field goal from 21yards to lead 3-0 with 6:42 left in the first. Stopping Leshoure is the key to this game. In his last 11 games, only one Big Ten running back has more rush yards than Leshoure--the Big Ten Player of the Year last year--John Clay of Wisconsin.
12:30 During an Illini timeout, we have a moment to note that, once again, those East Upper stands are distressingly devoid of bodies. They can never seem to fill those seats. It used to drive Joe Falls crazy. He'd write about it every time on his annual visit to East Lansing. He'd come to town once a year to rip the Spartans and then not show up until the following year. An incomplete Illini pass is under review. State gets the ball if the call on the field stands. The call is reversed, and the Illini maintain possession: 1st and 10 at the Illinois 44.
15:00 (We will switch now from Time of Day to Time Left in the Quarter) On 3rd and 3, MSU goes empty backfield and with 5 in the pattern, MSU QB Kirk Cousins finds ex-MSU QB Keith Nichol for 9 and a first down but when Cousins is sacked the next time 3rd down comes around, the "drive" is over and the Spartans punt. The Illini start at their own 30.
11:56am: The Spartans come out of the tunnel. It used to be that they'd just come out of the tunnel, but now they have to play "Thunderstruck" by whoever it is that does "Thunderstruck" and fire off some sort of fog gun in the tunnel. If I were in the MSU Marching Band, I'd be steamed. Why do you need to pipe in music if you have your very own marching band?
I looked through the binoculars and did not see MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio on the sidelines. Illinois won the toss, deferred, and MSU will get the ball first and defend the North End Zone--the one to my right and the one to the right of anybody watching on TV--although why anybody would watch on TV when they can read this blog is lost on me.
11:25am: The scoreboard clock is at 35 minutes and counting down...
When I went to school here, I had 46,000 classmates. Forty-six thousand! I just walked around here on this Homecoming Saturday for over an hour and I didn't see a single one of them. Maybe they are all dead.
I miss being an MSU student, and not just because I miss being 19 (who doesn't, am I right?) Football was so easy back then. You'd wake up an hour or so before kick-off--it really didn't matter if the game was at noon or 3:30--put on your Spartan sweatshirt or your Spartan jersey or whatever Spartan-related thing it was that you were going to wear, grab your Spartan hat (we had these really neat MSU beanies and I don't care how it sounds now, they were cool!) and head for Spartan Stadium which was conveniently located less than ten minutes away. That, and Student football tickets were (and I am not making this up), like, $3. Three bucks, dudes. Like I say, you could not beat being an MSU student on so many levels.
9:05am: I told you last week at the Lions game that we like to arrive early—and we have certainly done that today. With a noon kick-off, getting here early on this day meant the sun was just coming up over Spartan Stadium when we arrived on campus. It could not have worked out better. Due to that on-time arrival, I was able to snag my favorite (free) parking space right over there by my old dorm, Mary Mayo Hall.
It’s a beautiful, sunny fall day here at MSU—chilly enough right now that one would do well to wear gloves—but by game time it’s going to be perfect football weather: It is, all in all, a great day to be a Spartan. And it’s Homecoming.
This won't sound football-related, but it is: I freaked the boys out at the Thursday Men’s breakfast my church puts one when I told them I had been involved in a True Miracle earlier in the week. I mean, people actually put down utensils and stopped eating when I said that. They naturally wanted details and I was happy to share. I told them that I had witnessed, with mine own eyes, the Detroit Lions win a football game. The groans were loud and the disappointment palpable. I don't know why. If that's not a miracle then I don't know what is. In a related note, we continue to hope (and pray) that God has a sense of humor. If not, I am some kind of screwed.
We’re in the Press Box now and your countdown to kickoff reads 2 hours, 47 minutes. The sun continues to rise over the Stadium was we face the east and there is not a soul in the stands save for a few ushers. In a couple of hours more than 70,000 will be in those seats. Right now they are all outside, drinking.
I mentioned earlier this week that I’m worried about this one. Here’s why (in no particular order):
• Illinois ruined Penn State’s Homecoming last Saturday 33-13 and, as mentioned, it’s Homecoming here today. I don’t like omens and this sure sounds like one to me.
• The Illini were down 17-13 to #1 Ohio State two weeks ago 17-13 with under 2 minutes to go before losing 24-13. Illinois held Ohio State to 77 passing yards in that one.
• Last week MSU took on what was, at the time, the 102nd-ranked defense in the FBS (Michigan). Today, the Spartans take on the 20th-ranked defense in the FBS. (No, I still have not determined what “FBS” stands for, but we continue to work on it. Just not very hard.
There’s more, but we’ll get to it a little later. I have some people who are outside drinking that I have to go and say hello to. Like I said, it’s Homecoming in East Lansing!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Let’s talk MSU-UM while we have a moment. The Spartans, as you know, DOMINATED Michigan 34-17 yesterday at Michigan Stadium. I was on the record with this before the game so it counts: I thought MSU would win for the simple reason that Michigan came into the game ranked 102nd out of 120 FBS* teams in Total Team Defense and it remains—as far as I know—axiomatic in football that you win with defense and if you are 102 out of 120 it means you don’t have a defense with which you can win. So it was not a surprise that the Spartans moved the ball as often and as far as they wanted to against the Wolverines: MSU gained more yards against Michigan (536) than they did against Northern Colorado (533). I had never heard of Northern Colorado prior to their game against MSU (really, it’s true) and it turns out they have a better defense than the University of Michigan.
* I still don’t know what an FBS team is, and, I know, I should do a little research. That won’t happen until I get home though. Ford Field wants $30 for internet access and there is nothing going on in the world so important that I’d be willing to spend that kind of money to connect to the net for 3 hours.
12:15pm: I look up and see the Lions have taken the field for pre-game warm-ups. The Rams have not as yet except for their long snapper and punter. There’s a catchy little number being played about something being “up in here, all up in here.” I like it.
12:17: Referee mic check. It works and that’s good. We want to be able to hear distinctly why yet another call is going against Detroit. The “Inactive” list has just been distributed. No Matthew Stafford again for the Lions. He’ll be lucky to be back by Halloween after having his shoulder separated in the first half of the first game in Chicago when the Lions staff decided—even though they were blocking 5 and the Bears were rushing 4—not to double-team Julius Peppers and Peppers came untouched from the blind-side to hit Stafford and knock him out which I am pretty sure is the reason Chicago signed him for 90 million in the off-season in the first place. You’d be surprised at how often Lions left tackle Jeff Backus gets help from a guard or a tight end or a running back these days in order to stop the other teams defensive end.
12:25 Back to the Wolverines. Who would have thought that the most irrelevant position in college football would be tailback at the University of Michigan? Do you know who had the second-most carries for UM behind Denard Robinson yesterday? Me either. I had to look it up: Vincent Smith—7 carries for 34 yards. MSU meanwhile had five plays of 40-plus yards in the game, more yards in a single play in other words than any pure UM running back had in the whole game. (Michigan had 1 play of more than 40 yards: the 49 yard pass to Martavious Odoms with 3 seconds left in the first half which resulted in a 42-yard field goal miss by Seth Broekhuizen.)
12:37 I have to use my watch for these time hacks. There is not, as near as I can tell, a single time-of-day clock in this place. The Stadium is a quarter full, if that. The biggest surprise of my week was learning that this game sold out. St. Louis is 2-2, Detroit 0-4. This is not what you might call a stellar match-up.
12:40 The most interesting thing I heard all week was Jim Miller, speaking at a luncheon with former MSU coach George Perles, saying that Perles’ famous Stack 4-3 defense had been designed specifically to stop O.J. Simpson. I’d asked Perles how, if he were still coaching MSU, he’d defense Robinson. He said he go with his Stack 4-3 to close down the gaps up the middle and force Robinson to the edges. Miller jumped in to add the note about Simpson being the inspiration for that great Steel Curtain defense in Pittsburgh when Perles was running the defense for Chuck Noll. The thing is, I checked it out and it turns out that while the Stack 4-3 may have been invented to stop Simpson, it pretty much didn’t. Simpson lit it up for 189 yards the first time he ever saw it in 1972 and rang up 227 yards—the 3rd highest single-game total in his career—in 1975. In fact, Simpson's per-carry average was higher versus Perles' Steelers than it was against any other team he faced in his NFL career. Now, Perles may have been thinking of the 1974 playoff game between the Steelers and Buffalo in which Simpson carried 15 times for only 49 yards, 3.3 yards per carry. Curiously, it was OJ's one-and-only NFL playoff game, ever.
12:48 A drum line is on the field percussioning (not a word, by the way) their little hearts out. We are getting close to kick-off so I think the thing to do is take a little break and prepare for the arduous task ahead…
12:57: I totally missed the coin toss. I know, right? What kind of reporting is THAT? I think Detroit will get the ball first—they introduced the Detroit offense in the usual over-the-top pre-game ceremony. They did however thoughtfully put the words to the National Anthem up on the scoreboard in case any of the fans here wishing to sing along forgot the words.
1:00 I didn’t miss the coin toss at all. They are having it now, with about 30 people out there in the middle of the field to make sure nothing goes wrong. Detroit won the toss and will receive, leading me to believe that the fix was, in fact, in. (I’m about 99% certain they hold the real coin toss half an hour or so before the game and then stage a re-enactment and it was that re-enactment that we just saw.)
1:02 Kickoff. Sort of, that is. The Rams tried an on-sides kick and the Lions were not fooled with Amari Spievey recovering. So, Detroit starts at the St. Louis 40! St. Louis jumps offside to make it 1st and 5 and then they are called for defensive holding and its 1st and ten from the Rams 31 before the Lions have even run a play. Jahvid Best runs for a dozen and the Lions are in the red zone at the 19 and the game isn’t even a minute old. Nate Burleson catches what would have been a 19-yard TD pass had he gotten both feet down in bounds but he didn’t. And now it’s 3rd and 3 from the Rams 12. Shaun Hill throws it out of the end zone again so Jason Hanson comes in to kick a 30-yard field goal and that’s how the Lions take advantage of the short field, they drive 29 yards in 5 plays and go up 3-0. It only took 1:16…so we have a LONG WAY to go.
1:08 13:44 remains in the 1st quarter as Hanson kicks off and now we get our first look at Sam Bradford. Three and out for the Rams as Bradford—the top pick in the NFL Draft last April as you know—misfires on a short third down pass. Bradford, the notes say, has thrown 6 touchdown passes already this season, including at least one in every St. Louis game so far. He had 2 last week when the Rams whipped Seattle 20-3.
1:16 The Lions have the ball back at their own 34. Only 3 minutes have run off the game clock. We are off to a slow start. Virtually all of the club seats on the other side of the field are empty. There are something like 21 Upper Level Luxury Boxes across the way and I think they are all empty. There are a couple of people sitting in one of them, but they may be Ford Field employees. All those boxes and all of them empty. It says something about the economy around here, don’t you think? There are a ton of empty seats at this sold-out game, by the way. And, by the way, the Lions just went three-and-out.
1:22 Time out. MSU’s win yesterday marked the first time MSU beat nationally-ranked teams on consecutive Saturday’s since 1974. The second of those games in ’74 remains the best game I’ve ever been at. I was a student at Michigan State that day when we beat #1 Ohio State—with 2-time Heisman winner Archie Griffith running for them and Woody Hayes coaching ‘em—16-13. Levi Jackson had an 88-yard TD run with 3:12 left in the game to put MSU ahead and then the Spartans put on a goal line stand as time ran out. It took 45 minutes or so after the game until the final score was announced as one of the officials had signaled an Ohio State TD on the last play of the game while another had waved the play off due to a penalty on the offense. I will never, ever see a better game.
1:27 The Rams are first and goal after a 30-yard Bradford pass which featured three—count ‘em—three missed tackles by the Lions who must think we are playing touch this afternoon.
1:30 It looks like the Lions have the ball back on a play in which there were two fumbles, both recovered by Detroit and run out to the 26, but the replay looks like the runner was down in which case it will be goal-to-goal for the Rams. The referee is under the hood and we await the decision…
1:34 The Lions have the fumble recovery and go first and ten from their own 27. There were 2 fumbles (one by a Ram and one by a Lion on the play) and two fumble recoveries both by Detroit. The Lions can’t take advantage. It’s three and out and Nick Harris punts.
1:39 Bradford’s 4/6 for 51 yards with 5:00 left in the 1st. Make it 5/7 for 69 yards as Bradford converts 3rd and 11 with an 18 yard completion. The Lions still can’t stop them. The Rams are 1st and ten from the Detroit 25. Steven Jackson picks up 13 on 1st down and it’s another 1st down for the Rams—now back deep in Detroit territory again, 1st and ten the Detroit 12. Bradford can’t connect on 3rd and 7, so Josh Brown kicks a 28-yard field goal and we are tied. Tie runs out in the quarter during the kick and it’s 3-3 after 1. St. Louis outgained and outplayed Detroit, but we are tied. We’ll have the official numbers with respect to who gained what in the quarter shortly.
1:47 St. Louis passed for 81 yards in the first quarter, Detroit for 11. Srsly: 11 yards in toto (not the dog, the Latin word) through the air! St. Louis rushed for 47 yards in the first quarter, Detroit for 20—all by Jahvid Best.
1:49 It’s a 105-yard kickoff return by Stefan Logan!!! Might be the longest return in Lions history! The Lions have taken the lead 10-3. When Logan took his first step, being that he was five yards deep in the end zone and all, I said, out loud, “What, are you kidding me.” I didn’t think he’d get back out to the 20, but Logan busted right up the middle and cut right at about the 30 and he was gone. The crowd is appropriately pumped. The return ties the all-time Lions record of 105 yards set by Terry Fair in 1998 versus Tampa Bay. That the Lions were so badly outgained in the first quarter doesn’t matter anymore.
1:56 I forgot. With their win yesterday, Michigan State improved to 6-0 and more importantly became one of 6 teams in the nation to be Bowl-Eligible. What a relief it is to know that the Spartans could lose out and still not miss out on the Meinicke Car Care Bowl!
2:12 While I was doing a live update with Ron Cameron on WDFN, the Lions complete a long drive (13 plays, 81 yards ) with a Hill to Calvin Johnson TD pass and the lead is 17-3. The momentum in this game, it is safe to say, has swung in Detroit’s favor. It’s Hill’s 6th TD pass of the season, 4 have them have been caught by Johnson who I think goes by the name “Megatron” or something. I can’t remember and I don’t really care anyway.
2:15 The Rams get a drive going and have it at the Detroit 33. The big play just happened, a 14 yard catch with a 15-yard personal foul tacked on. They get it down to the 15 and its 3rd and 4 at the two-minute warning. Pass interference on Jonathan Wade give St Louis a 1st at the Lions 12. Only a 2 yard penalty, but the automatic first down kills ‘ya. The Rams should have been forced to kick a field goal that would have made it 17-6, but now their drive remains alive. Julian Peterman all-most intercepts a pass at the goal line…and it’s 3rd down. C.C. Brown breaks up a pass in the end zone and Josh Brown kicks that field goal, a 28-yarder, and indeed it is Detroit, 17, St. 6. Still 1:37 left in the half and the Lions have all of their time-outs.
2:26 Stefan Logan just took a knee on a kick-off 6 yards deep in the end zone. What is he thinking?
2:30 The Lions are moving smartly, and have 1st down at the Rams 36. They call their first time-out with
2:31 Wow! Just wow. Hill laid it up into double coverage and Johnson caught it in the end zone for a 26 yard TD with 0:40 left in the half! An unbelievable throw and catch and it is under review. Did Calvin get the second foot down in bounds? A heck of a play either way, but it would be better if it’s a catch because otherwise it is in reality not a play; just an incomplete pass. The ruling: Incomplete Forward Pass. Soooo close.
2:34 Hill tries to hit Johnson again and this time the result is Pass Interference (they call it “Illegal Contact” which just doesn’t sound right to me) and it’s first down Detroit at the 21 as a result. Half a minute left in the half.
2:37 Somebody named Alphonso Smith catches a 17-yard pass from Hill and the Lions use timeout #2 with first and goal to go from the 3. On 2nd down, Hill hits Brandon Pettigrew for the 3-yard touchdown. Hill had no pressure and must have held the ball for 7 or 8 seconds—an eternity in football time—before finding Pettigrew open in the middle of the end zone. 0:10 left in the half and the Lions—who are going to win this game—just drove 80 yards in 12 plays in 1:27 to take a 24-6 lead. The Rams have it at the Detroit 49 after a pooch kickoff and may just try a Hail Mary instead of the Taking of the Knee with 0:07 left on the clock. Bradford completes a 27-yard pass but it doesn’t matter as time runs out and the Lions lead by 18 at the half. When was the last time that happened? We do not know.
2:53 Dick Lebeau, who played for the Lions when I was growing up, is being honored on the field after having been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year. Lebeau played here for 14 years and a few dozen old-time Lions—some of whom were Lions back in the 1950’s—are down there on the field with him. It was very well-done as ceremonies go.
2:58 Detroit kicks off to St. Louis. After being outgained 126 yards to 26 by the Rams in the first quarter, the Lions outgained the Rams 166 yards to 73 in the second quarter. Shaun Hill is out-passing Sam Bradford at the half: 155 yards to 136.
3:00 3-and-out for the Rams and they punt. Logan, who is having some kind of a day out there returning kicks and punts , returns this one, a 42-yard punt, 17 yards and the Lions start in St. Louis territory at the 41. When the Rams started the game with that ill-fated on-side kickoff, the Lions started at the Rams 41—just where they are for their first drive of the second half. The first time the Lions drove 29 yards and settled for a field goal. Can they do better than that now?
3:04 Yes. Yes they can. It’s a 26-yard TD pass from Hill to Nate Burleson who promptly breaks that rule about behaving like you’ve been there before when it comes to being in the end zone as he kicks the ball into the stands by way of celebration and they’ll walk the 15 yard penalty for Unsportsmanlike Conduct off prior to the kick-off which is sure to ensue. The Lions drove those 41 yards in a short field drive which took plays and 1:53. It’s 31-6 Lions with still a long way to go here: 10:54 left in the 3rd quarter.
3:07 If you like to beat the traffic now might be a good time to leave, just saying. This ballgame is out of reach with Detroit up by 25. Heck, I’d leave myself except I am contractually obligated to remain here in my seat.
3:21 The Rams are forced to go for it on 4th and ten with a little over 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter because they are so far behind and they can’t convert and the Lions take over. The job for Detroit right now is oh so simple: run clock. Hey! Kevin Smith gets in the game and tears off a 15-yard run for a first down. It’s only Smith’s 4th carry of the year, and his longest gain of the season. Smith led the Lions with 747 rush yards last year but missed the last three games due to injury. And with all his injuries 2009 must feel like a long time ago to him. Smith was the Lions 3rd pick in the 2008 Draft. Who’d Detroit take ahead of him? The answer in a moment….Okay, it was Tackle Gosder Cherilus in the first round and LB Jordan Dizon in the second. Dizon is not on the Lions Active Roster today.
3:42 Detroit’s victory—now 11:37 away, will snap a ten-game Lions losing streak and will be Detroit’s first win since they beat Cleveland 38-37 here last November 22. I remember being upset that Detroit won that game, as they came back from way behind (Detroit trailed 24-3 in the first quarter) to win on a Matthew Stafford TD pass on a penalty do-over on the last play of regulation because it was that play and that victory which cost the Lions the first pick in the draft.
3:48 Hanson just kicked a 48-yard field goal to make it 34-6, but, of greater importance they just announced here in the press box that Calvin Johnson—the Franchise, currently—has an injured shoulder. No further details and I’ll bet you a dollar all they say after the game is they’ll know more after tomorrow’s MRI.
3:53 Ndamukong Suh of all people intercepts a pass and returns it 20. Detroit came into the game 5th in the NFL in sacks. They have only 1 today, but that play by Suh is better than a sack anyway. It results in another Hanson FG—he has 3, now—(47 yards this time) and its 37-6, Detroit with less than 8 minutes left.
4:00 Still half a quarter to go (7:07) and the game is 3 hours old. The Lions may or may not have just recovered a Rams fumble; review procedures have once again been initiated. No turnover. They have decided the pass which preceded the fumble was incomplete.
4:03 Alphonso Smith intercepts Bradford and returns it 42 yards for a Touchdown and now its 44-6 Lions. Detroit hasn’t beaten anybody like this since Denver was here in 2007 and the Lions beat ‘em 44-7. That win left the Lions with a 6-2 record in ‘07. They went 1-7 in the second half, missed the playoffs and then went 0-16 in 2008 and 2-14 last year. They started 0-4 this season and so are 3-41 since that game against Denver in ’07. 3-41!!! Your percentage on that—for those of you who like and appreciate math is (.068). Or, to be even more precise, YIKES!
4:22 Drew Stanton mops up, takes a knee and the Lions have won a football game. This is definitely going t0 be in all the papers. 44-6, Detroit is the final score and now we have to go home to file.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
MSU wins the Battle of Field position early. The Spartans pinned Wisconsin back at their own 13 on the opening kick-off, got a 3-and-out from the defense and wound up with the ball near midfield (their own 48) and took advantage: A field goal—36 yards by Dan Conroy—for a 3-0 lead. They might have gotten more than just 3, but an offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone against Mark Dell (a good call, an easy call for the official to make) on first down from the Wisconsin 25 pushed MSU back to the 40. That was the drive killer.
It turns out—I did not know this—that this is one of only 3 games in the nation today to pit 4-0 teams against one another (Stanford at Oregon and Florida at Alabama).
MSU QB Kirk Cousins just threw an awful, needless interception after State had driven from their own 15 all the way to the Badger 23. It came on 3rd down, and it cost MSU points as they were in FG range. Remember the end zone pick he threw in the end zone against ND?
Wisconsin takes over at their own 26 and we are mid-way through the first quarter. State has been the better team. Except for John Clay, that is. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the year has busted a couple of long-ish runs (12 and 18 yards). The odd thing is, he hasn’t been in the backfield for many plays. Three or four at most.
Wisconsin still driving, they have moved to the MSU 42 as the 1st quarter ends with Badgers looking at 3rd and 4.
Small crowd here and that’s surprising. There are PLENTY of empty seats in the East Upper Stands across the way.
It takes 2 plays and 31 seconds after the start of the 2nd quarter for Bucky Badger to score and take a 7-3 lead. QB Scott Tolzien hits a 26-yard pass to Jacob Pederson on the first play of the quarter and James White runs it on from 16 yards out on the next play to put the Badgers ahead. Points off a turnover for Wisconsin.
States got the ball back and it’s 3rd-and-5. MSU—having rushed for 200+ yards in each game so fart this season—is is trying to run on the Badgers: good luck with that. Wisconsin has held 12 of their last 14 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground.
Couzins hits Keith Nichol for a 9-yard game which would have been a first down, but Nichol fumbles and Wisconsin gets the ball at the MSU 33. This results in a 49-yard field goal by Phillip Welch. Points off a turnover for Wisconsin, again. They lead 10-3.
Keshwan Martin tries to get MSU back into all by himself with a reversing-his-field 25 yard kickoff return and a 30-yard catch to the Badger 25. The drive, such as it is, stalls there and Conroy kicks another field goal, 36 yards again, and it’s Wisconsin 10, MSU 6.
Now Martin DOES put MSU back into it single-handedly. He returns a punt 74 yards right up the middle, and just like that, with 8:11 left in the 2nd, MSU leads Wisconsin 13-10. And how about that! It’s first punt return for a TD since 2002 for MSU and, obviously then, the first of Martin’s MSU career as his MSU career most assuredly does not date back 8 years.
Clay is in the Badger backfield on a more regular basis now but the Spartan defense, no slouches themselves against the run (3rd in the Big 10 at only just 85.2 rushing yards against per game), have held him to 43 yards on 10 carries.
MSU turns it over again. A tipped Couzins pass is picked by Devon Smith and Wisconsin, with 2 scores off turnovers so far, has a third take-away at the MSU 48. Wisconsin fumbles themselves and loses 22, but its under review as a Spartan, Jerel Worthy, had the ball first before himself fumbling. The question: did the ground cause Worthy to fumble? The review: No. Wisconsin ball at the Wisconsin 25.
They do nothing with it, though. (Finally, Wisconsin: no points off an MSU turn—the first time today that’s happened) and MSU has the ball back with the lead and 2:40 left before the half.
State goes for it on 4th and 1 from the Badger 48 and pick up 23 on a clever pitch and run by Le’Veon Bell around left end. The Spartans, looking for a big upset over #11 Wisconsin, or in business at the Wisconsin 25. 3 plays later its Couzins-to-Mark Dell and somewhere down the hall here in the press box George Blaha’s shouting, “Touchdown, MSU!” The point makes it 20-10 with all of :23 left in the half. MSU drove 69 yards in 9 plays 2:77 to double up Wisconsin on the scoreboard. The play before the TD was the turning point. Couzins almost threw an interception on an ill-advised lob into the right flat but the Badger DB ( I didn’t catch his name, sorry) actually leapt too soon and missed it. It would have been, in all likelihood, a TD the other way.
And it’s halftime. MSU 20, Wisconsin 10. A surprise to me. Back with the second half shortly!
I checked in the Men’s room at the half (you get your information where you can) and I like my sourcing on this as it was a fellow in Wisconsin togs who looked like he knew what he was talking about who told me the Badger who almost, who should have, intercepted the Couzins pass right before the half was # 2, Jay Valai. He comes up with that pick and I’ll tell you what, he goes about 90 yards the other way for sure it’s “touchdown Wisconsin” that Blaha is shouting and this is a 17-13 ballgame in favor of the Badgers, not 20-10 MSU.
MSU is running the ball more effectively than I thought they would against Wisconsin. Led by Bell’s 55, the Spartans have 79 rushing yards. Remember, Wisconsin has held 12 of their last 14 opponents to less than 100 rush yards.
Second half…MSU to receive.
They start at their own 18 after a holding penalty on the return.
Total yards in the first half: 230 for MSU, 118 for Wisconsin. Another surprise.
The Spartans get a first down on their drive, but a sack leaves them with 4th-and-27 and it’s time to punt. Wisconsin has decent field position at the Spartan 46. This is the 3rd time Wisconsin has begun a drive in plus territory. They have scored on one of them.
It takes ‘em 3 plays and all of :43 to make it 2 of 3 when it comes to scoring drives which started in MSU territory. James White went right while the whole MSU defense went left and he trots in from 34 yards. 3 plays, 47 yards to make it 20-17, MSU. White gained all 47 yards on 2 carries (The other play was an incomplete pass.)
Couzins to Mark Dell nets 26 yards on the first play after the Wisconsin score and MSU has it at the Badger 42—just like that.
Bell gives MSU a first-and-goal with a 13-yard gain. He’s got 69 rush yards on 11 carries here midway through the 3rd. They give it to Bell again and on 3rd-and-goal from the 3 and he gets only 2. 4th-and-goal and MSU, leading 20-17, calls timeout.
I wonder what Spartan coach Mark Dantonio would do. Right now it’s a moot point. The Spartan Coach—who was to have been coaching from the Press Box today—is instead in the hospital and he has been since Thursday due to a blood clot in his leg. Nobody (seriously, no body) here knew of it until we got to Spartan Stadium today and even then it came in the form of rumors which swept the press box. I found out on the elevator, myself. Those Spartans are good at keeping secrets, apparently.
They give it to Bell and they don’t make it. Wisconsin starts at their own 1. Remember this sequence…MSU disdains the field goal in a 3-point game with just over 5 to play in the third.
The Spartans get a 3-and-out. The Badgers kick from their own end zone and State starts from their own 49. Total yards now: MSU 297, Wisconsin 172. Total score now: MSU 20, Wisconsin 17.
Couzins hits Charlie Gant for 28 on first down on a play that recalled the fake field goal against Notre Dame. Gant broke off his block and got wide open downfield, just as he did against the Irish. State is inside the Badger 25. Baker runs for 13 and it’s first and goal against for State. Another pass to a tight end—Brian Linthicum this time-puts the ball at the one, but Bell is stopped again short of the goal line. On third down, Couzins goes back to the air, finds Gant up the middle in the end zone and the point restores the Spartans 10-point lead, 27-17. The drive is 6 plays for 51 yards in 3:06. Two seconds are all that are left in the 3rd quarter.
It looked like it might turn into Day 1 at the Ryder Cup here at halftime as it began to rain, but that’s gone away and it is overcast and cool. And a pretty good game is going on down there.
Tolzien throws incomplete to start the 4th. He’s now 5/13 for only 55 yards. MSU’s Couzins is 17/24 for 221.
Wisconsin drives inside the MSU 30. It’s apparent they haven’t exactly given up on this one.
This is the 3rd MSU home game I’ve been to this season, and the third different jersey worn by MSU. These are my favorites: the classic Green and White—just like they wore against ND in ‘66. At least judging by the pictures I’ve seem from that game they are. I was not quite old enough to go to that one in person. Although I am old enough, in general terms.
Tolzien to Jacob Pederson from 12 yards puts the Badgers back in the end zone and the pall is palpable here in the Spartan Stadium press box. It’s now 27-24, MSU after Wisconsin answers the Spartan scoring drive by going 70 yards in 11 plays in a scant 4:07. Still A LOT of time left; 10:53…
A clutch 3rd and 9 pass to Mark Dell gets a dozen and MSU keeps the ball and keeps the clock running. Still 9:18 to go and it feels up here like the clock has stopped running altogether. It hasn’t—it just feels as if it has. And now it’s third and long again. The Spartans need the full ten this time if they are to keep the ball. A little screen to Larry Caper gets it done. A little gain of 35. Biggest play of the game? It may have been, we will see. Baker picks up 18 down to the Badgers 12, but Dell—who made that big catch a moment ago—picks up a foolish personal foul 30 yards away from the play (after the gain, at least) and they put the ball back on the 27. Speaking of big plays, this one, the Dell penalty, might have been a turning point. Caper picks him up though converting a 3rd down with an 11-yard run up the gut and its first-and-goals again for MSU with the ball right there on the 10. And all of a sudden, we are under 5 minutes to play. A Spartan TD just about ought to do it…
It’s 3rd-and-goal from the 7 now. They give to Caper and he’s stopped a foot or so short of the goal. Time out, MSU. 4th and goal from the 1. 2:48 to go, State up 3. What would you do?
MSU goes for it. MSU throws for it.
Couzins hits BJ Cunningham (single-covered, he made a sweet outside-in move in the end zone) for a 1-yard TD pass and that should do it. This has to be the gutsiest (is that a word?) team in MSU history. The fake against Notre Dame two weeks ago and now this you-know-what-to-the-wall go-for-it play with 2:43 left in the game. And if State holds on—they deserve to win. MSU, with the game on the line, just drove 84 yards on a 15-play clock-killing drive, (it burned 7:57, almost 8 minutes), to turn their 3-point lead into a 10-point lead.
Wisconsin has moved to the MSU 41 but there’s only 1:17 left and the Badgers are down to one timeout. The crowd loves that—and they love the PA announcement that Michigan is tied in their game at Indiana. Wisconsin comes up short on 4th down and that, as Vin Scully says, is that. MSU can take a knee or two with 1:04 to go and Wisconsin down to a single TO. How about this? MSU, not Wisconsin, is the team which will remain undefeated. Wisconsin uses their final timeout and the Spartans are in Victory Formation. They stream onto the field. Bring on the Wolverines. It is 6:47 pm EDT and the Spartans have defeated Wisconsin 34-24.
They did what I did not think they could do. They ran on the Badger defense—not the 200 they’d picked up in every game so far this year—but 176 and that was enough. They outgained the Badgers 444-292. And they drove the ball in the clutch to win. This might be a pretty good football team. Way better, it appears, than the team which began the season unranked in the national polls. We will know more a week from today after that little game the Spartans have in Ann Arbor.