Georgia Southern flies into town

Georgia Southern has tradition.  Six national titles.  Erk Russell.  Tracy Ham.  Adrian Peterson.   Paul Johnson.  Brian VanGorder.  Uh, wait…

Tradition gives rise to expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, sometimes a foolish decision or two gets made.  Such was the case when Georgia Southern fired Mike Sewak after consecutive years in which GSU lost in the first round of the playoffs.  Sewak won 35 games in four seasons in Statesboro, but he had followed Paul Johnson, who in five years had won 62 games and two national titles.  Georgia Southern expected more.

Sewak was replaced by Brian VanGorder, which in retrospect certainly qualifies as a foolish decision.  VanGorder apparently decided that if there was a GSU tradition he could break, he would break it.  He did everything but drain “Beautiful Eagle Creek” (although I bet he would have if he had thought of it).  The program still hasn’t quite recovered from the VanGorder Era, even though he was only there for one season.  He finished with a 3-8 record, mostly because he scrapped Georgia Southern’s option attack and in the process made the Southern Conference’s best player, quarterback Jayson Foster, a wide receiver.  It is hard to imagine a coach doing less with more than VanGorder did in Statesboro, as Foster was just one of several very talented players on the roster.  After that season, the embattled VanGorder left to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons, and was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

This is Hatcher’s second year in Statesboro.  In his first year, he did what any intelligent human being would do, and put Jayson Foster back in charge of the offense.  The result was a 7-4 record and the Walter Payton Award for Foster as the nation’s top FCS player.

This season Hatcher’s Eagles are 4-4, which doesn’t begin to tell the story of how crazy a year they’ve had.  Georgia Southern has had a tendency to play up to or down to the level of its opponents, which has led to the following:  an overtime win over 2-6 Northeastern, a fourth-quarter comeback victory over 1-7 Austin Peay, an overtime one-point loss to third-ranked Wofford (where Hatcher elected to go for two and the victory in the first overtime period, but the play call got horribly botched), a two-point setback at home to #10 Elon, a one-point loss at home to second-ranked (and three-time national champion) Appalachian State, and a wild road victory over a terrible Western Carolina team where GSU trailed 31-3 in the fourth quarter.

That WCU game happened last week, so you would expect Georgia Southern to be on a major high when it arrives to take on the Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday.   Maybe that will still be the case, but Hatcher’s dismissal of three freshmen (all contributors) from the team just this past Tuesday might put a damper on things.

Georgia Southern will be favored to beat The Citadel, given that the Bulldogs have lost four in a row and can’t run the ball on offense.  Georgia Southern has had problems stopping the run, but it’s hard to see The Citadel taking advantage of that on Saturday.  The offensive line will be facing a 330-lb. nosetackle and two quality defensive ends, including South Carolina transfer Dakota Walker.

The Citadel has also struggled on defense.  That probably will continue on Saturday, as the undersized front seven for the Bulldogs face a GSU offensive line that averages 294 lbs.  What the Eagles are not good at is holding on to the ball.  GSU has committed 25 turnovers this season (13 picks, 12 lost fumbles), and has a turnover margin of -13.  Last week the Eagles won despite a seven-turnover performance that included three giveaways in the fourth quarter (two of which actually occurred during the wild comeback).  The problem for The Citadel is that the Bulldogs haven’t been inclined to force turnovers (only 10 so far this season).  Georgia Southern also had 11 penalties (for 137 yards) against Western Carolina.  The Eagles are averaging 8 penalties per game.

Georgia Southern still has hopes of a playoff bid if it can win its last three games, but I doubt that 7-4 is going to get it done.   Running the table would include a win over Furman, which would vault the Eagles over the Paladins, but I don’t think the SoCon will get more than three postseason bids unless the fourth-place team beats one of the top three, and GSU has already lost to all three of the top teams in the league.  If Furman could beat Georgia Southern and Wofford, the Paladins would likely get a fourth bid for the SoCon, but I think the Eagles’ chances of postseason play are extremely slim.

As for Saturday’s game, I think the Bulldogs will have a much better outing than they did against Samford.  Bart Blanchard will start at QB, but I would expect Cam Turner to get some snaps as well.  The best chance The Citadel has for victory is for Georgia Southern to continue its season-long habit of playing to the level of its competition.

One good thing for The Citadel is that another horrendous second quarter, such as those against Furman and Samford, appears unlikely.  GSU has been outscored 99-45 in that period this season.   On the other hand, the Eagles have dominated the scoring in the fourth quarter (95-40).

We’ll see what happens.

Michigan State’s “brutal” hoops schedule is not really that brutal after all

Yesterday’s USA Today included a story titled “Spartans hope brutal schedule gets them ready for primetime,” which began:

One of the hallmarks of Tom Izzo’s coaching career at Michigan State has been to embrace a rugged non-conference schedule…

Izzo is at it again this season. Michigan State will play 10 games against teams that reached last year’s tournament, including defending national champion Kansas and this season’s probable No. 1, North Carolina. The Spartans will also play Texas and could meet Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga.

“I just never want to be on Dick Vitale’s ‘cream puff’ scheduling list,” Izzo joked. “But many years ago we took on the ‘any time, any where’ theory of playing people and it’s kind of stayed with me.”

Izzo is not a masochist. He believes MSU can not only survive this schedule, but flourish against it.

Now, I like Tom Izzo.  He seems to be one of the very few bigtime college basketball coaches who may actually be a nice guy.  And Michigan State’s non-conference schedule does have some tough teams on it, as mentioned in the article.  However, when I saw that headline, I immediately did a double-take, because I was well aware that on that same non-conference schedule is a game in East Lansing against one of the toughest teams of all…The Citadel.

For the uninformed, The Citadel did not make the NCAA tournament last season.  No, the Bulldogs did not win the Southern Conference tournament, and were not deemed worthy of an at-large bid, possibly because of a 6-24 record that included just two wins over Division I opponents.  I quickly checked to see if a McDonald’s All-American had accidentally signed a letter of intent to play for The Citadel this season.  Nope.

Of course, you can have a cupcake or two (The Citadel had an RPI of 334 last season; there were 341 Division I teams) and still have a very difficult schedule.  However, the Spartans are also playing Idaho (last season’s RPI:  299), and Alcorn State (336, an RPI worse than The Citadel’s!), both at home, and have a road game against IPFW (RPI of 218).  The Spartans also have a game at Oakland (which I suspect might be a “home away from home” situation) and a home game against Bradley, which should be decent but not that big a test for MSU.

The rest of the non-conference schedule, admittedly, is impressive.  Michigan State plays Maryland in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, a tournament that features several other teams that should be good this season, including Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Georgetown.  However, the article suggests Michigan State “could meet Georgetown, Tennessee and Gonzaga” when that’s not the case; the Spartans could only face two of them at most.  Michigan State plays Texas in Houston, and the Spartans also drew North Carolina in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge (a game that will be played in Detroit) .  MSU concludes its non-conference slate with a home game against defending national champion Kansas.

Michigan State will play twelve non-conference games.  Five are against teams it should defeat easily, and a sixth (Bradley) is a home game against a middle-of-the-pack mid-major.  The other six games include only one matchup (Texas) in which Michigan State will be the road team, and even that game is not on the opponent’s home court.  Michigan State will play three games on a neutral site in Orlando, with the first of those coming against Maryland, a team that is projected to finish seventh in the ACC.  North Carolina is favored by many to win the national title, but last year’s champs, Kansas, lost seven of the nine players that made up its rotation.  I’m sure the Jayhawks will have plenty of talent replacing those players, but the Spartans will have the opportunity of playing them at home and in early January, before those players have had a chance to mesh with each other.  Considering Michigan State won 27 games last season and has three starters returning (along with most of its regular rotation), I think the advantage lies with the Spartans.

That’s a fair schedule, and not one deserving of any criticism.  It strikes me as balanced.  I like the fact that Izzo is going on the road (at least the Ft. Wayne trip is a true road game; as I said, I’m not sure about that game in Oakland) against smaller schools.  The UNC, Texas, and Kansas games should be a lot of fun, and the tournament in Orlando should be excellent — I’m looking forward to watching it.  The Spartans will be well-prepared by the time the Big 10 season rolls around.

It’s not a brutal non-conference schedule, though.

You want to see a brutal non-conference schedule?  Just take a gander at what Fang Mitchell has put together for his squad this season (and seemingly every season).  Coppin State’s coach has set up a slate with nine road games and three neutral-site games in Hawaii:  at Purdue, at Kansas, at Richmond, at Loyola (MD), at Dayton, at Wisconsin, at Syracuse, the Rainbow Classic (Colorado is the first-round opponent), at Oklahoma, and at Missouri.  Coppin State actually mixes in a road conference game in there, so the Eagles will play thirteen games before their first home contest on January 10.

Now, that’s a brutal non-conference schedule.

The decisive game in the World Series that was almost shortened by rain…no, not the one between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay

Bud Selig is getting praised or pilloried for his decision to suspend Game 5 of the World Series last night.  I think most rational observers agree that it was ultimately the right decision; it’s just a question of when the decision should have been made in the first place.  Selig isn’t the first commissioner to be in a position to make a decision about whether or not to end a World Series-clinching game due to weather conditions, though…

In 1925, the Washington Senators (officially the Nationals, but almost everyone called them the Senators) repeated as AL champs and played the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.  Washington was looking to repeat its Series victory of the year before, when it beat the New York Giants in seven games, the seventh game being a dramatic 12-inning affair.  The Senators would take a three-games-to-one lead in the Series, but the Pirates rallied to take the next two contests and force a deciding game 7 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

Game 7 was scheduled for October 14, but it got rained out.  The commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had no desire for Game 7 to be rained out two days in a row, and ordered the game to be played the following day (and without any pressure from Fox TV!), even though the field was already a mess from the rains of the day before.  On the 15th it continued to rain, but they played on anyway, following a pregame pep talk to both teams from Landis, telling the squads that he didn’t want to disappoint the capacity crowd already there and that the game would be finished if “humanly possible.”

It didn’t begin well for the Pirates.  Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher, Vic Aldridge, had a nightmarish performance in the top of the first.  Sam Rice led off with a single, and after a flyout, Aldridge threw a wild pitch advancing Rice to second.  Aldridge was struggling to gain footing on the muddy pitching mound, and proceeded to walk the next three batters, throwing another wild pitch in the process.  After another single, he was replaced by Johnny Morrison, but eventually four runs would score in the inning.

The great Walter Johnson started for Washington, but he was battling a leg problem and the same muddy conditions that had affected Aldridge.  The Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the third to close within one run, but the Senators answered with two runs in the top of the fourth, the runs scoring on a two-out double by Joe “Moon” Harris.  The Pirates answered back with a run in the fifth on consecutive doubles by Max Carey and Kiki Cuyler.  (Carey had four hits in the game, but more impressively for Joe Buck, he also stole a base, despite the rain and muddy conditions.)

It had been drizzling when the game started, but began to rain harder in the third inning and by the fifth it was a torrential downpour.  By the end of the sixth inning, the outfield was enveloped in fog, and the field was such a disaster Ring Lardner would refer to it in his column the following day as resembling “nothing so much as chicken a La King.”

It was at this point that Landis almost made a disastrous decision.  He decided to call the game, with the victory (and world title) going to Washington.  However, he was talked out of calling the game by an old baseball man, someone who knew better than to have a game deciding the World Series ended in such a manner, someone who understood the game had to be completed in its entirety, someone who told the commissioner that “you can’t do it — once you’ve started in the rain, you’ve got to finish it.”

Landis was talked out of ending the game early by Clark Griffth.  Clark Griffith, the owner of…the Washington Senators.

The first batter in the bottom of the seventh, Eddie Moore, lifted a short pop fly to left field.  Washington shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh (who had been named the American League MVP before the start of the series) slipped on the wet grass while going after the ball, lost his bearings, and dropped it.  Carey then blooped a double down the left field line, scoring Moore.  At least, umpire Brick Owens ruled it a double.  Nobody in a Senators uniform agreed with him, but the conditions weren’t exactly favorable for the umpires either.  Pie Traynor then tripled in Carey (but was thrown out trying for an inside-the-park homer).  The score was tied at 6.

Peckinpaugh homered in the eighth to put Washington back in the lead, 7-6.  In the bottom of the inning, there were two outs and a man on second when pinch-hitter Carson Bigbee hit a fly ball to right field.  In the rain, gloom, and fog, though, Rice never saw it, and it dropped for another double, tying the score.  After a walk (Johnson, incredibly, was still pitching, bad leg, atrocious conditions and all), Peckinpaugh made yet another error (his eighth of the Series; the rest of his teammates combined made one).

With the bases now loaded, Cuyler and Johnson engaged in a tremendous battle.  With a 2-2 count, Cuyler took a pitch that Johnson and catcher Muddy Ruel both thought was strike three.  Home plate umpire Bill “Moon” McCormick thought differently, though.  (I believe this was the first World Series to feature both an umpire and a player nicknamed “Moon”.)   With a full count Cuyler hit an opposite-field liner over first base that landed near the line and disappeared into the fog (and possibly under a tarpaulin).  It was eventually ruled a ground-rule double, scoring two runs.  Washington outfielder Goose Goslin claimed that the ball had actually been foul by two feet, but that none of the umpires could actually see the flight of the ball.

The Pirates held on to win the game 9-7, becoming the first team to win a World Series after trailing three games to one.

Books that discuss this game (and that I used as references) include Baseball’s Big Train, a biography of Walter Johnson by Henry Thomas, and Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders.

The Big XII really needs a better TV deal

A few observations as I look over my TV listings chart for the upcoming college football weekend:

— The Ivy League will have one conference game not televised this week (Princeton-Cornell).  The Big XII will have two games not televised this week.  One of those games, MIssouri-Baylor, features the 14th-ranked team in the BCS facing a team led by an outstanding young quarterback (Robert Griffin).  It’s sure to be a wild shootout, like almost every other Big XII game this season, but it won’t be on TV.  The other game, Colorado-Texas A&M, isn’t much of a game, but in this day and age a major conference should have every one of its conference games on TV.  The Big XII’s current contract with Fox runs through 2011 and its ABC deal lasts through 2015, so I’m not sure things are going to change much for the next couple of years.

— I just realized the Southern Conference will also have two games not televised this week.  Clearly, the SoCon needs a better TV deal.  Having a deal comparable to the Big XII’s won’t cut it…

— The Pac-10 doesn’t have the greatest TV deal in the world either, but this week, it’s just as well.  Stanford-Washington State is not on TV, to the relief of Cougar fans everywhere.  Winless and soon to be Willingham-less Washington isn’t so lucky, having to travel to L.A. to play Southern Cal in FSN’s game of the week.  ABC snagged the solid Oregon-Cal matchup, so the only other game Fox had available was Arizona State-Oregon State, which will be its late-night game, so as not to offend east coast viewers.

— ESPN made Andre Ware’s travel plans much easier by assigning him Northwestern-Minnesota (with Dave Pasch).  Ware is also the radio analyst for the NFL’s Houston Texans, which are playing the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.  If he wanted, he could sleep in the MetroDome, since both games will be played there.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but during last week’s Texas Tech demolition of Kansas, Ware said something to the effect that his coaches at Houston, Jack Pardee and John Jenkins, didn’t try to run up the score when he was in the game.  I remember Houston beating SMU 95-21 the year Ware won the Heisman (admittedly, he didn’t play in the second half).  Jenkins, of course, was the coach when David Klingler threw 11 TDs in a game (against I-AA Eastern Washington).  Maybe they didn’t let Andre run up the score, but to be honest, that’s probably a subject he should avoid.

— I am assuming we are in for another fabulous “Interactive Tuesday” broadcast for South Florida-Cincinnati on Tuesday night.  Rece Davis and Lou Holtz (but not Mark May for some reason) call that one, with the current king of blowout fodder, Rob Stone, roaming the sidelines.  Personally, I don’t think Interactive Tuesday is the same without having Todd Harris doing play-by-play.  It’s much better when it’s a complete train wreck, as opposed to just a minor derailment.

— The best pre-Saturday game is without question an FCS game, the matchup between #2 Appalachian State and #3 Wofford, on ESPN2 Friday night.

— Florida vs. Georgia.  Florida State vs. Georgia Tech.  Big games in their respective conferences, a state of Florida vs. state of Georgia matchup in both cases, and naturally taking place at the same time.

— Pam Ward will be calling a Michigan State game for the fourth time this season.  Ray Bentley has actually called five Michigan State games, as Pam had WNBA duty for one game (Clay Matvick filled in for that one).  My sympathies to fans of the Spartans.  Hey, at least you’re on national TV every week.

— The most intriguing thing about Michigan-Purdue this week is what hair color Charissa “Not the porn actress” Thompson will be sporting.

Retention means aggression, attrition means regression

Well, that was ugly.  I’m not shocked Samford won the game, but it wasn’t close.  Kevin Higgins made a somewhat surprising decision to start Cam Turner at quarterback, and it didn’t come close to working out.  Turner was put in the game because Higgins felt the QB position needed a better runner.  Left unsaid, in my opinion, was that Higgins’ decision was more an indictment of the play of the offensive line than Bart Blanchard’s abilities.  The fact that the team doesn’t have an established running back hasn’t helped either.

The Citadel again had a forgettable second quarter, essentially an exact copy of the Furman game, and after the first half trailed in time of possession by almost exactly 10 minutes.  That’s what happens when you get dominated on the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively.

It doesn’t look good for the rest of the season.  The Citadel will be favored against UT-Chattanooga but will be underdogs against an erratic Georgia Southern team (which beat Western Carolina yesterday in overtime after trailing 31-3 in the fourth quarter), Wofford (which hammered Elon and may be on the same level with Appalachian State right now) and, of course, Florida.  Considering The Citadel went 7-4 last season, including a winning record in SoCon play, and there were high hopes for at least a similar season this year, it’s hard to argue that the program has regressed a bit.  Particularly disconcerting, from my point of view, are the losses to “young” teams like Elon and (especially) Samford.

I wish Higgins would redshirt every freshman who has yet to see action this season, just to build up depth for the future, but he may elect to play more of them to see what he’s got.  What Higgins definitely needs to do is pay close attention to the lessons of attrition, something I am sure he is, but just to make it clearer, let’s look at some numbers.

This year’s freshman class is Higgins’ third at The Citadel.  The class that preceded his arrival had a brutal attrition rate (there are only six players from it still on the team).  His first two years of recruiting, per Jeff Hartsell’s research, look like this:

2006 — 20 still on the team, 8 gone

2007 — 21 still on the team, 11 gone

I don’t know how many of those players were scholarship recruits, but regardless, that’s not a good percentage either year.  One thing that the two classes have in common is the large number of recruits in general.  I am not a fan of the “bring in 30, maybe half will pan out” approach to recruiting.  Ellis Johnson did this too, and it doesn’t work.  I think it’s better to identify about 12-18 players who you think can help you and can stay in school, and recruit accordingly.  This seems to be something that takes coaches at The Citadel in all sports two or three years to understand.  Some of them never seem to understand…

This year, things look pretty good — so far.  He brought in 26 guys, which again is too many, but so far only one has left school.  I hope that the other 25 hang in there.

Just as a comparison, I looked at Charlie Taaffe’s first recruiting classes.  I don’t have information from his first year, and only partial information from his second class.  The second class must have been excellent, though, not just in terms of quantity but in quality, because there were nine 5th-year seniors on the ’92 SoCon title team, including Jack Douglas, Lester Smith, and Carey Cash.

Taaffe’s third through fifth years of recruiting break down like this:

1989 — 16 recruits; all 16 were on the team at least two years, and 15 of them completed four years of play for The Citadel.  This class was the backbone of the ’92 title team, with 14 of them on the two-deep (one missed the year with an injury).  In addition, 3 walk-ons from that year also made the ’92 two-deep (I looked at the two-deep from the playoff game against North Carolina A&T as a baseline).  When you recruit 16 players and you wind up having 18 players from that class make a contribution, I guess you can say you had a good year recruiting.

1990 — 17 recruits, 13 of whom eventually lettered.  10 of them were on the ’92 team’s two-deep.  That’s not a bad class.  Not great, but okay.

1991 — 18 recruits, only 8 of whom eventually lettered, and it may be worse than that, because I think two of the eight eventual letter-winners were actually walk-ons who weren’t among the original 18 recruits.  That’s a horrendous recruiting class, even if four of the players had significant careers at The Citadel (Travis Jervey, Micah Young, Ahren Self, Jeff Trinh).  The lack of depth created by that class surely contributed to the gradual decline in on-field success.  The win totals, starting in 1990, when that ’89 recruiting class were sophomores, were 7 wins, 7 wins, 11 wins, 5 wins, 6 wins, and 2 wins (the two -win campaign was Taaffe’s last at The Citadel).  That decline in recruiting and wins are obviously not coincidental.

It’s Samford, not Stanford

Samford (not Stanford) is the opposition for The Citadel on Saturday.  What do we know about Samford?

Well, we know that Samford is located in a Birmingham suburb.  We know the sports teams at Samford are called the Bulldogs, just like The Citadel’s.  We know that the football team plays its games at Seibert Stadium, and that it is coached by Pat Sullivan, who once won the Heisman Trophy.  We know that a long time ago, Bobby Bowden coached there, winning 31 games that count toward his career wins total, which makes a lot of Penn State fans angry.

We also know that Samford was once called Howard, but when it became a university, it changed its name in part to avoid confusion with Howard University in Washington, DC, and now everyone just gets it confused with Stanford instead.

The Citadel and Samford have met once before in football, in 1989, and apparently neither sports media relations department is sure what the score was.  The Citadel’s game notes list scores of 35-16 and 35-17 in different parts of the first page of the release, while Samford’s notes mention the score twice as well — 35-16 in one instance, and 36-16 in the other.

The score was 35-16.  Trust me, I was there…

It was the first game played in Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo damaged the stadium, and decimated much of the surrounding area, in September of 1989.  A crowd of 15,214 (!) watched a reasonably entertaining game that saw The Citadel take control in the second half, outscoring Samford 14-0 in the third and fourth quarters.  The Citadel, in full wishbone mode, only attempted two passes, completing one of them for 16 yards.  The military Bulldogs rushed 69 times for 402 yards, with both Jack Douglas and Tom Frooman (three touchdowns on the day) rushing for over 100 yards.  Raymond Mazyck added 92 yards, and Kingstree legend Alfred Williams chipped in with 55 of his own.  Samford had a much more balanced attack, with 148 yards passing and 141 yards rushing, but lost the time of possession battle by almost 10 minutes and also committed both of the game’s turnovers.  Samford would go on to finish the season with a 4-7 record.

It would be the last victory of a surreal season for The Citadel.  The campaign included two games played at Williams-Brice Stadium following the hurricane.  The first one of those, against South Carolina State, was shaping up to be much-hyped contest, but wound up as almost an afterthought.  However, I believe it’s still the only football game The Citadel has ever played to have been featured in The Nation.  The other game at Williams-Brice, against Western Carolina, resulted in the final tie in the school’s football history.  The Citadel started the season 4-0, including a win at Navy in which the winning score was set up by a Middie punt that went for -5 yards (the winds from the remnants of the hurricane had something to do with that).  However, the almost inevitable slide after Hugo blew through left the Bulldogs with a final record of 5-5-1.

Back to this year’s game.  When the season began, I suspect most supporters of The Citadel were penciling in Samford as a probable win.  It’s now anything but, as the Bulldogs (Charleston version) have struggled to run the ball on offense and have struggled stopping the run or pass on defense, particularly on the road.  In three road games The Citadel has allowed an average of 42 points and 477 yards of total offense.

Samford has been surprisingly competitive in the conference so far, winning at Western Carolina easily while giving Elon (at Elon) all it wanted and acquitting itself well in an 11-point loss to Appalachian State.  Samford running back Chris Evans has rushed for over 100 yards in all three conference games, including 166 yards against Western Carolina.  He’s averaging a shade over 120 yards rushing per game.  Evans transferred to Samford from UAB.

Samford has an odd turnover statistic.  In its three wins Samford has turned the ball over eight times.  In its three losses Samford has turned the ball over only twice.

Defensively, Samford has been pretty good against the run, but has allowed significant passing yardage, including 307 yards to Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State (3 TDs) and 291 to Scott Riddle of Elon (2 TDs, one of which went for 91 yards).  Edwards had a 76% completion percentage as well.  Division II West Georgia also had success throwing the ball against Samford.

If The Citadel is to win this game, it must contain Evans.  The best way to do this is control the ball, which won’t be easy (Samford leads the SoCon in time of possession).  Bart Blanchard needs to play with confidence and authority (which he didn’t do against Furman), Andre Roberts needs to break off at least two big plays, and one of the running backs must step forward.  The defense has to get some takeaways, too.  In seven games so far, The Citadel has only forced nine turnovers (two interceptions, seven fumbles).

It’s going to be tough.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow afternoon.

Kurt Warner and the Curse of the Cardinals (Part 2)

The Cardinals are the oldest NFL franchise, as the club’s origins can be traced back to 1898 and the Morgan Athletic Club of Chicago. The franchise nickname came about when founder Chris O’Brien bought used jerseys for his team from the University of Chicago. The jerseys, a maroon color when new, were faded to what O’Brien called “Cardinal red”. In 1906, the club disbanded; it would re-form in 1913. It would briefly suspend operations due to World War I (and the great flu epidemic of 1918), but by 1919 it was back and in 1920, O’Brien paid the $100 entrance fee to join what would eventually become the National Football League. Initially, the team was known as the Racine Cardinals, after the street where the club was based, Racine Avenue (the club had also been known as the Normals, for Normal Park in Chicago). However, a franchise in Racine, Wisconsin, joined the NFL as well, so the team became the Chicago Cardinals. The Cardinals and the Chicago Bears are the NFL’s two “original” franchises (the Green Bay Packers joined the league in 1921).

In 1921, O’Brien signed the great John “Paddy” Driscoll to the team for $300 per game, three times what he paid to enter the league. Driscoll was a do-everything sort of player (who also coached the team). The club played its home games at Comiskey Park throughout its time in Chicago, except for a brief three-year period in the mid-1920s.

In 1925, the Cardinals were fighting for the NFL championship. At that time, there was no playoff; the team with the best record in the regular season was acknowledged as the champion. The Cardinals were 9-1-1 when they played the Pottsville Maroons on December 6. The Maroons were 8-2 and the game would almost certainly decide the champion. Pottsville upset the Cardinals at Comiskey, 21-7.

The Cardinals had completed their regularly scheduled games, but in those days schedules were, shall we say, flexible, and the team quickly scheduled two extra games. The Cardinals weren’t as much interested in winning the league just for its own sake as they were getting a guaranteed game against Red Grange and the Chicago Bears (which would have been an option for them based on existing contracts and would have been a financial bonanza). O’Brien had trouble finding teams that had not already disbanded for the season, but he managed to get a game with the Hammond Pros, which fielded a decent team, losing to the Cardinals 13-0.

It would be the game against the Milwaukee Badgers that would cause the Cardinals no end of grief. Milwaukee didn’t have nearly enough players available to field a team, so one of the Cardinal players, Art Folz, recruited some kids from a local Chicago high school to join the Badgers for the game, telling them it was a ‘practice game’ and wouldn’t affect their amateur status. The Cardinals won 59-0 in a game so farcical that O’Brien decided not to charge admission. According to a local newspaper, “Touch football would have seemed rough compared to the exhibition staged.”

NFL president Joe Carr would force the Badgers out of the league and also fined the Cardinals $1000, putting O’Brien on probation for a year. He ordered the game stricken from league records, and Folz was banned for life from the league.

Meanwhile, Pottsville had taken advantage of consecutive wins over the Frankford Yellowjackets and Cardinals to lay claim to the NFL title, setting up a big-money game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia with a team of Notre Dame All-Stars. This was a game originally set up by the Frankford owner, who at the time had anticipated his own squad playing in the game. In an effort to stop Pottsville from playing in the game, he asserted that territorial rights gave his club and only his club the right to play at Shibe. Pottsville played the game anyway (winning 9-7), noting that the territorial rights were not in writing. It didn’t matter. Carr suspended Pottsville, voiding its title. However, O’Brien apparently agreed not to claim the championship for his own club, based on its own irregularities, and in return for this the Cardinals did not have to pay the $1000 fine handed down by Carr. Basically, there was no 1925 NFL champion. If there had been, it realistically would have had to have been Pottsville, which won fair and square on the field.

O’Brien would sell the team in 1929 to a doctor named David Jones. In 1932, Jones sold the team to Charles Bidwill Sr., for $50,000, and the franchise has been in the Bidwill family ever since.

Charles Bidwill was, according to author Dan Moldea, “a bootlegger, gambler, racetrack owner, and associate of the Capone mob.” Nice. Of course, lots of NFL owners back then had connections to gambling, including Tim Mara, Art Rooney Sr., and Bert Bell (who was also an NFL commissioner). The Rooney family still does (as do the Bidwills). Bidwill had been a minority owner of the Bears before buying the Cardinals. He owned the team for 15 years, until his death in 1947, and the team was, for almost all of those years, terrible, with records of 2-6-2, 1-9-1, 5-6, 6-4-2, 3-8-1, 5-5-1, 2-9, 1-10, 2-7-2, 3-7-1, 3-8, 0-10, 0-10, 1-9, and 6-5.

(That second 0-10 season actually came as part of a ‘combo’ team, as the Steelers and Cardinals played as one team that year due to travel restrictions brought about by World War II. It was called Card-Pitt — or, more sarcastically, “Car-Pet”.)

Just before he died, though, Bidwill had signed collegiate star Charley Trippi for $100,000. Led by Trippi, the Cardinals would go 9-3 during the 1947 regular season and then beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21, at Comiskey Park to win the NFL championship. That game is the only home postseason contest in Cardinals history. The Cardinals would lose to the Eagles the following season in a title-game rematch. The franchise has not managed to reach even a conference championship final since. Following those great years, however, the Cardinals would soon resume their losing ways, all under Charles Bidwill’s widow, Violet, having losing records in nine of ten seasons before eventually relocating.

Violet Bidwill Wolfner (she had remarried) moved the Cardinals to St. Louis in time for the 1960 season. Even though there was already a baseball team in St. Louis called the Cardinals, the NFL Cardinals elected to retain the franchise nickname, thus leading to the team being known as the “Football Cardinals” around town. (That’s also how receptionists for the NFL club answered the telephone.) After the 1961 season, Mrs. Wolfner died, and the club was left to Charles “Stormy” Bidwill Jr. and William “Bill” Bidwill. I have not been able to get confirmation, but apparently her will was contested by her second husband. During the fight over the family fortune, the Bidwill brothers found out for the first time that they had been adopted.

The Cardinals actually were competitive for a few years in the 1960s, just missing out of the playoffs on a couple of occasions. During this time, however, the two brothers could not agree on how to divide authority. Stormy Bidwill elected to take control of the family’s gambling interests, and ceded control of the Cardinals to his brother Bill. Some observers have suggested that the wrong brother wound up with the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have been almost uniformly bad ever since Bill Bidwill ascended to the top, other than a period in the mid-1970s when Don Coryell coached the team. Even then, the Cardinals were unable to win a playoff game in two postseason appearances. In 1982 the Cardinals made a 16-team playoff “tournament” following a players’ strike that reduced the regular season to nine games, but lost in the first round. In 1984 the Cardinals had one of the all-time great offenses, featuring Neil Lomax, Ottis Anderson, Roy Green, and Stump Mitchell, but somehow managed to miss the playoffs, going 9-7 and losing the last game of the season to the Redskins when a last-second field goal attempt went awry. The Cardinals would finally make the playoffs again in 1998, actually winning a game at Dallas, before losing to Minnesota. Since then the Cardinals have not had a winning season. In fact, that 1998 season (in which the Cardinals were 9-7) is the only winning season the franchise has had since 1984.

Oh yes, about the curse: remember all the controversy and goings-on in 1925? Well, soon after Charles Bidwill Sr. bought the club, the Cardinals began claiming that NFL title for that year as their own (although the official NFL record book would state the Cardinals had been “proclaimed” the ’25 champs until the 1985 edition, when it began listing them as official champions). Pottsville and its supporters have fought for their claim to the crown for decades, but the NFL owners have twice by vote refused to acknowledge the merits of their claim, first in 1963 and again in 2003. This was due to the influence of Bill Bidwill, who has zealously guarded the title designation for his club, basically because other than 1947, it’s all the Cardinals have – and, say those who believe in the curse, it’s all the Cardinals will ever have. It’s not like the Cardinals have come close since winning the ’47 title, either, with only five playoff appearances in the last 60 years, and that one solitary playoff victory.

Myself, I doubt the Cardinals are cursed. I think it’s more a case of the Bidwills being cheap (as opposed to thrifty) and not really caring much about winning, not as long as the cash cow known as the NFL keeps pumping out milk.

That’s the franchise for which Kurt Warner plays. It’s a tough burden. The Cardinals’ entire history is rotten, but one winning season in the last 23 years? It’s not impossible to lead the Cardinals to the playoffs – after all, Jake Plummer did it – but it’s not quite the same thing as stepping behind center for the Cowboys, either. Not by a long shot.

I think having success with the Cardinals could push Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame candidacy over the top, even with his relatively short run of greatness, because it would be an almost unique chip to have. He would be a Super Bowl MVP and a two-time league MVP with a great story (from the Arena Football League to the National Football League, from stockboy to Super Bowl champ) AND he would have topped it off by leading the hapless Cardinals to glory.

Since it’s the Cardinals, though, good chance it never happens…

A good portion of the information about the 1925 NFL season comes from David Fleming’s book about the Pottsville Maroons, Breaker Boys.