July 31, 2014

The Silent Twilight

It has been more than 20 years since Jim McMahon has graced the cover of “Sports Illustrated” and his return this past week was a solemn homecoming for a man who was once of football’s most picaresque and divisive characters.

McMahon is cover-worthy again not for his “outrageousness” but, sadly, his illness, as old number 9, at the inconceivable age of 53, has stepped deeply into the early stages of dementia from all the hits he took during his playing days with the Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers and, do you remember?  The Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers.

To Chicagoans, McMahon will always be a Bear and it was with Chicago that he enjoyed his greatest success, going to his lone Pro Bowl and winning the Super Bowl after the 1985 season.  But it’s worth mentioning that Jimmy Mac continued to play in the NFL nearly a decade after the Bears traded him, bouncing from team to team, because it shows that McMahon wasn’t just a loud-mouth with a good arm.  He was a football player.  He was a single-digit jersey with a lineman’s mentality who, if you remember “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” would throw his body “…all over the field.”

McMahon isn’t a Hall-of-Famer because he suffered far too many injuries.  Perhaps if he had played it safe and stayed healthy the Bears, and the rest of his teams (would there have been other teams?) would have won a lot more.  The cruel twist is if McMahon had been less McMahon he wouldn’t have been so loved, hated, remembered and now, pitied.

SI’s article chronicles how this man who played with reckless joy now often forgets where he is, what he’s doing, where he’s going and where he’s been.  The QB whose sunglasses were as constant as his irreverence during the 80s and 90s now stares into the encroaching twilight, vaguely able to understand what lies before him while all which appears over his shoulder is draped in shadow.  And distance.

The focus of the “Sports Illustrated” story is also that McMahon’s girlfriend, Laurie Navon, is now charged with taking care of him, a task more suited to an expert in geriatrics or pediatrics.  Not a layperson who’s dating a 53-year-old man.

Navon’s task is mirrored by that of two other women featured in the piece, Mary Lee Kocourek, whose husband, Dave, played for the Chargers, Dolphins and Raiders, and Mary Ann Easterling whose husband, Ray, was a defensive back for the Falcons.  These brave, caring women provide a face to all the families and friends of football players who once cheered their heroes and depended upon them but now must take care of them.  Or mourn them.

All these players made a lot of money.  Even the guys who played before the big contracts of the 1980s and beyond made more than your average person and anyone who has ever put on a football helmet knows the risks.  So how much responsibility does the NFL have for this?  What should the fans and media be saying when we know that thousands of men who entertained us on Sundays are now permanently disabled and their families are struggling?

How much does football have to change?

Jim McMahon sat on the sideline for his first NFL regular season game 30 years ago today.  A week later he saw his first action.  Five rookie quarterbacks started for their teams in their season openers this past weekend.  Hopefully, 30 years from now, they and their families will be looking back on the glory days with sound mind, body and happiness.

Perhaps nothing can ensure that.  But making football safer and making teams, doctors, the NFL, fans, reporters, bloggers and, yes, the players, more accountable, is a step toward a world of better football and a life of less anguish.

 

Remembering Mike’s Mistake

As we all know by now, the Green Bay Packers are spending the rest of January ice fishing and curling instead of playing football after getting dinged by the New York Giants last weekend.  The surprising and ignominious early playoff exit by the 15-1 defending Super Bowl champs spoils Green Bay’s opportunity to be considered one of the greatest teams in NFL history and also frees up Lambeau Field for arctic cheese rolling through Valentine’s Day.

If the Packers had figured out how to rush Eli Manning and catch the ball – things they normally excel at – they would likely be headed for a second straight Super Bowl crown, putting them in the same historic huddle with the New England Patriots of 2003 and 2004, the Denver Broncos of 1997 and 1998, the Dallas Cowboys of 1992 and 1993, the San Francisco 49ers of 1988 and 1989, the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1978 and 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1974 and 1975, the Miami Dolphins of 1972 and 1973 and the Green Bay Packers of 1966 and 1967 as the only NFL teams to repeat as Super Bowl champs.  Come to think of it, it’s a rather crowded huddle but still a very impressive one.

This season’s Packers have been compared to many of those great teams and others of yesteryear. If the Pack had won it all this year, they would have been in place to do something no NFL team has ever done which is win the league’s final game three straight times.  Between the first NFL title game in 1933 to the final one before the Super Bowl era in 1965, the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts all enjoyed back-to-back title runs but no team ever reached the threepeat.

Right now a 102-year-old man in Green Bay is pushing the biker girl off his lap and yelling “Wait a second there, fella!”  OK, OK, Grandpa, I’m gettin’ there.  Before the NFL started playing championship games, teams were voted league champions and Boise State didn’t have a chance back then either.  The Akron Pros (Lebron James’ high school team) were the first people’s choice as NFL champs in 1920. The league’s first dynasty was the Canton Bulldogs who won it all in 1922 and 1923 and then moved to Cleveland and won it all in 1924, but the NFL doesn’t officially recognize that 1924 team as the same franchise as the ’22 and ’23 teams.  But a few years later an indisputable back-to-back-to-back occurred when the Packers won it all, by vote, in 1929, 1930 and 1931.

There you go, old guy!  Now chow down a Werther’s and give your gal a kiss.

It will likely be a long time before any team ever wins three straight Super Bowls as it’s just too dang tough.  But every December or January that a defending champion gets knocked out of its repeat quest about ten million of us sad souls in NFL land of a certain age think back to the team that, we believe more than any other one-and-done, really should have been the list of repeat winners – the 1985 and 1986 Chicago Bears.

There is little dissension among NFL historians that the 1985 Bears team that throat-crunched the rest of the NFL en route to winning Super Bowl XX was one of the greatest teams of any single season.  The Bears had maybe the best defense ever seen that year, had Walter Payton and Jim McMahon on offense and had one of the most colorful coaches of all time, Mike Ditka, on the sidelines.  Those Bears were great, they were fun and they were also eternally infuriating.

With all that talent – Payton, McMahon, Jimbo Covert, Jay Hilgenberg, Willie Gault, Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson, Dave Duerson, Gary Fencik and on and on – the Bears were expected to win three Super Bowls, maybe four.  Maybe more?  That’s a tough call but they should have won at least two.  So why didn’t they?  We’ve heard a million explanations: they got too complacent, Ditka got too cool, McMahon couldn’t stay healthy, the ionosphere was acting oddly.  And all of those might be true.  But, like Green Bay’s disappointment this year, the Bears’ blunder might come down to simply this: they had a bad afternoon.

Twenty-five years ago this month the ’86 Bears opened the playoffs in defense of their Super Bowl title having polished off a 14-2 regular season (and are still the only team to ever win 29 regular season games in back-to-back years) by welcoming the Washington Redskins to town for a divisional playoff game.  McMahon, the starting quarterback, was hurt but the Bears had his capable backup, Steve Fuller, ready to go.  Fuller was a good player, knew the system, and actually started in a playoff game two years earlier when the Bears beat the Redskins in Washington.

But then came Mike’s Mistake.

Mike Ditka was not the greatest coach in NFL history.  He was probably not even one of the greatest.  He was good though, and likely the most famous, colorful and recognizable man to ever prowl a sideline.  Late in the 1986 season the Bears had signed quarterback Doug Flutie, the former Heisman Trophy winner who had become a refugee of the defunct USFL.  Flutie saw action in a few games and Ditka (gulp) chose to go with him against the Redskins in the playoffs.  Washington countered by putting five guys on the defensive line to stop Payton and dared Flutie to throw.  He couldn’t.  The 5-8 Flutie finished 11/31 for 134 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions as the Bears lost, 27-13.

No repeat.  No dynasty.

No one knows what would have happened if Ditka had gone with Fuller at quarterback instead of Flutie.  No one, that is, except me.  Fuller was no Roger Staubach but he knew the offense, had the support of his teammates and was a solid passer.  If Fuller had started that game the Bears would have won, then would have beaten the Giants the next weekend in New York and steamrolled the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.  There’s no guarantee they would have won three or four Super Bowls but they would have, should have, won two.

Analyze, reanalyze, overanalyze, drive yourself crazy.  Go ahead, it’s January.  Have a drink and a Werther’s while you’re at it.  There are a million reasons the 1980s Bears didn’t become a dynasty but the biggest reason, most obvious reason, is a very specific one: It should have been Fuller, not Flutie.  If so, the Bears would have repeated and would be on the earlier list that this year’s Packers wanted so badly to be included upon.

The 1985 Chicago Bears were so fun, colorful and damn good that maybe one Lombardi Trophy was enough.  But two would have been nice.

Get over it, right?

Nope.  Not yet.

 

 

Book Review: The ’85 Bears: We Were the Greatest

When word broke last week about a new book that cast Walter Payton unfavorably, Mike Ditka didn’t mince words about the author. “I’d spit on him. I have no respect for him. Pathetic. Despicable. It serves no purpose,” the former Chicago Bears coach said.

No wonder. Ditka called Payton the best ever. “He was a complete football player. He knew everything… You could do things with him that you couldn’t with other backs,” Ditka said in “The ’85 Bears: We Were the Greatest.” Ditka has plenty more to say with Rick Telander, starting with the Bears’ Super Bowl celebration. Then he takes you back to training camp where the journey began. It’s Ditka, so you know it can’t be dull.

Read this book because:

1. Whether the game was a romp or seized from the jaws of defeat, you’ll feel like you are re-living the ’85 season from preseason through the big game.

Two weeks after a close call in the season opener against Tampa Bay, the Bears again were desperate for help against Minnesota. Jim McMahon had just spent two nights in traction and was fighting a leg infection, but he would not let up on the sideline. “He was driving me crazy!” Ditka said. “Get away from me! I’m thinking. But he’s right there like a mosquito, just pestering me to death,” Ditka said. (82, ’85) McMahon got in and threw three touchdowns to rally the Bears and win an important game against a division rival.

Week 6 was what the Bears had been waiting for. San Francisco humiliated Chicago 23-0 in the 1984 NFC Championship Game. We’ll be back, they said. Sure enough, they returned to sack Joe Montana seven times, and the Fridge went on the offensive for the first of several times that season. In fact, it was the Fridge and not Payton who scored in the Super Bowl. Payton’s scoreless game was one of the coach’s few regrets.

2. Players share their memories of the championship campaign.

“It amazes me that we didn’t win four [Super Bowls.] We lost 11 games in four years and only won one Super Bowl,” McMahon said. (24)

Steve McMichael was a Texan with a lot of heart, Ditka said. The future wrestler hunted rattlesnakes and said of the team’s ’85 season, “Listen, baby, we were vicious.” (156)

Kevin Butler’s future wife worried he was vicious in more than one way. Butler recalled, “The first mini-camp, I go up there after I’m drafted. I’m engaged to be married January 25. I walk out of that meeting, I get on the phone to Cathy, and I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to change our wedding.’ She’s like, ‘My God, you’ve been up there four hours and you’ve already met somebody.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to make the team and we’re going to the Super Bowl.’” (236)

You can’t forget the Fridge: I let them talk about [my weight]. I was happy then. I’m happy now. (100)

3. And then there’s ‘Da Coach to keep you reading from cover to cover.

“I was in a coat and tie and shades, and it was colder than frozen snot,” Ditka recalled about the championship parade. “All those people, and it was really, really cold. It would have been impressive if it was 80 degrees out, but 25 below? It showed what our team meant to the city of Chicago. To all the Grabowskis.

“See, Grabowski is the name I came up with for the players on our team, and it fit Chicago. It just symbolized that we were hard-hat guys. The other guys ride in limos. We ride in trucks.” (18)

By the end of the book, you’ll be doing the “Super Bowl Shuffle!”

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. At the University of Illinois, Miller regularly wrote feature stories about the football team. He has also served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

Tires, Tail Pipes, and American Football

It was 1985. Down in the stock room at Sears Automotive, the boy in the black shirt and blue jeans assessed the situation. It was more fun than anything he had studied in four years of high school. Lost in a concrete jungle of tires, mufflers, and tail pipes, he still had the radio and his football magazines.

On this early summer Saturday morning, the phone rang. It was Mr. Robertson: “What are you doing here this early?”

“I was scheduled for this morning, Mr. Robertson. From 9 to 4.”

“I’ve got you down for closing.”

“Uh…no sir. Sammy scheduled me from 9 to 4. Jim comes in at 4.”

There was a silence. Then came Robertson’s voice: “If Jim doesn’t show, you’re staying.” And click. 

If he had to stay, then he had to stay. The boy was equipped and ready. He had the radio, the Beatles, Jeff Beck, and his football magazines.

Throughout the course of the day, he agonized over who would be NFL champs. He knew the Chicago Bears were going to be good. He also knew they were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell. Super Bowl Champions? He had to go with the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

Summer 1985: State of the Bears

He continued to ponder the issue throughout that summer: Who’s going to be the NFL Champion? The Cardinals or the Bears?

He knew the Bears were going to be good, but all was not well in the Windy City. Buddy Ryan was calling first round defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry “a wasted draft pick.” On the offensive side of the ball, Jim McMahon was returning from a lacerated kidney that ended his season the previous November. The stocker had some uncertainty about McMahon’s ability to play at full speed. 

Above all, the Bears were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell.

Bell was their All-Pro strong safety, and in his fifth season, he was sure to be entering his prime. Al Harris was one of Buddy Ryan’s holdovers from the pre-Mike Ditka days. He was a reliable linebacker and defensive end, playing wherever he was needed. Harris proved to be handy on special teams as well. He once scored a touchdown on a fake field goal.

Granted, Harris had a replacement. His spot would go to Wilber Marshall, the previous year’s number one draft pick and rated by some as the top linebacker in the ‘84 draft. Bell’s absence, however, was sure to be felt. His spot at strong safety was being taken over by an unknown named Dave Duerson.  Even Marshall was no sure thing, at least not yet. He missed much of his rookie training camp in ‘84, and as a result, didn’t see much action during the season.

 

Summer 1985: State of the Cardinals

The Cardinals, on the other hand, made the stock boy nervous. Roy Green scared the daylights out of him. There was considerable debate over who was the best wide receiver in football. He rated his beloved Redskin receivers as the best: Art Monk, followed by Charlie Brown. He put Roy Green right there with them. 

The stocker considered John Stallworth the best receiver on those great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the ‘70′s. He also liked the San Diego Chargers’ speedy Wes Chandler, who was a 1,000 yard receiver in 1982 while playing only eight games. He was a big fan of the man Chandler replaced on the Chargers: the Green Bay Packers’ John Jefferson, an acrobatic receiver whose career had inexplicably nosedived. There was also, of course, the Packers’ James Lofton, who had both size and vertical speed.

The stocker’s thoughts returned to Roy Green. Green scared him. Every year, he terrorized the Redskins. Every year, the Redskins had to face him–twice. Neil Lomax-to-Roy Green was a lethal combination. A combo that was surely headed for the Hall of Fame.

He considered the other weapons on that Big Red offense. Ottis Anderson was a power running back with the speed to go the distance from anywhere on the field. Pat Tilley was a fine possession receiver. Stump Mitchell was an exciting return man who provided an extra threat out of the backfield. 

The Cardinals had the best offense in football, and they scared the stocker. Yes, the Bears had a better defense–but they were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell. On top of that, Buddy Ryan called William “The Refrigerator” Perry a wasted draft pick. There was dissension in the ranks, and the stocker couldn’t pick Chicago.

 

Flashback: December 16, 1984

Sitting in the stock room at Sears Automotive, the boy remembered the last game of the 1984 regular season at RFK Stadium against the Cardinals. He was there. On that overcast December afternoon, the NFC East crown was at stake. The Redskins took a 13-0 lead on two touchdown passes from Joe Theismann to future Hall of Fame wide receiver Art Monk. Theismann also connected with the 6’3’’ receiver for his 100th catch of the season. Art Monk caught 100 passes in an era when players didn’t catch 100 passes.

The Cardinals woke up when cornerback Wayne Smith intercepted a Theismann pass and ran it back to the 1-yard line. On the next play, Lomax scored on a quarterback keeper. The Redskins countered with a 5-yard touchdown run by future Hall of Fame running back John Riggins. At the half, the Redskins led, 23-7.

The Cardinals flew back with a vengeance. Lomax-to-Roy Green struck not once, but twice. The first touchdown went for 75 yards, and the second one went for 18. The Redskins had enough offense left to produce two Mark Moseley field goals. 

On the last play of the game, the ‘Skins were up, 29-27. The Cardinals’ Neil O’Donohue lined up to attempt a desperation field goal: 53 yards away and the clock ticking downward, with no way to stop. The kick was up, up, and…not up enough.   

The Redskins won, 29-27, and walked away with the division title. The stocker walked out of the stadium with 55,000 other elated fans with hopes of a third straight Super Bowl.  

The Cardinals had nowhere to walk but home.

 

September 1985: The D.C. Football Fiasco

Six months later in the heart of the summer, in a mausoleum of tires, mufflers, and tail pipes, the stock boy believed. The stock boy believed the Cardinals were ready to soar. They scared him–and the Bears were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell.

In September, with the stocker now in college, the 1985 season began. His beloved Redskins were a team to be laughed at early in the season. On September 9th, on Monday Night in Dallas, they were slaughtered, 44-14.

They returned home on September 15th and won a 16-13 squeaker against Houston. The ‘Skins’ performance was so unimpressive that the Oilers deserved to win. In the upper deck, the stock boy and his father stood and yelled for their Mack truck of a running back: “Go Riggo!!!” The people around them cheered, and a man sitting behind the father and son said, “Go somebody.”

After the game, the dad drove through D.C. as the stock boy shouted out the window. He yelled to some people in their front yard, “Red-Skins!!” One guy yelled back, “Deadskins!” The father and son laughed, because the man was right.

On September 22nd, the Redskins faced the Philadelphia Eagles. The offense was more lifeless than ever, and the Eagles won, 19-6. In that game, the Eagles seemed to have found their quarterback of the future. A second-round rookie named Randall Cunningham raised some eyebrows. 

On September 29th, the ‘Skins went to Chicago. In 1937, their first trip to the Windy City resulted in the Redskins’ first World Championship. The stock boy’s grandfather took the train to Chicago to see Sammy Baugh and the ‘Skins beat the Bears, 28-21, for the NFL Championship. Now, in their 32nd meeting, the Skins were carrying a 1-2 record and something to prove.

The Bears had eight NFL Championships between 1921 and 1963. Now, after a twenty-two year famine and a taste of the playoffs again in ‘84, the city was hungry. The Bears were off to a 3-0 start and coming off a dramatic come from behind win over the Vikings.

The ‘Skins marched up the field on their first two possessions for a John Riggins touchdown and a Mark Moseley field goal. They were looking like the Redskins of old, the Redskins of 1981 to 1983, a Redskins team that for one stretch won 36 of 42 games–one of those wins being Super Bowl XVII. 

With the ‘Skins having gone up, 10-0, Jeff Hayes kicked off. The Bears’ world-class speedster Willie Gault received the kick and sprinted 99 yards for the touchdown. The crowd erupted, and so did the team they cheered for. The Bears scored one touchdown after another. At the half, Chicago led, 31-10. In the third quarter, quarterback Jim McMahon scored on a 33-yard touchdown pass from future Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.

On defense, Wilber Marshall, Steve McMichael, Tyrone Keys, and future Hall of Famer Richard Dent each sacked Joe Theismann. The day was one of those occasions when The Hogs, the Redskins’ famed offensive line, fell short of excellence. The Bears also intercepted Theismann twice, with Ken Taylor and “L.A. Mike” Richardson doing the honors.   

The most noteworthy play wasn’t a touchdown, a sack, or a turnover. Jeff Hayes, the Redskins’ kickoff specialist and punter, was injured on the Gault runback. He was hurt so severely that he wouldn’t play again that season. His immediate replacement was the QB. Theismann punted once, and it became perhaps the most celebrated punt in NFL history. Theismann’s punt traveled one yard.  

Final Score: Bears 45, Redskins 10.

That game sent a message to the football-watching nation: The Monsters of the Midway were on the prowl, even without Al Harris and Todd Bell. As for the Redskins, it was looking like 2-14. To make matters worse, the St. Louis Cardinals were coming to town.   

 

‘Twas the Night of October 7th

The stock boy’s Super Bowl pick was looking good so far. The Cardinals were 3-1, and were second in the league in scoring with 124 points. The Bears were 4-0 and first in scoring with 136, but the stocker wasn’t ready to concede just yet. 

The Cards were coming to town, and the consensus was as unanimous as could be: the ‘Skins were in trouble.  Surely, the Cardinals would raise their record to 4-1 and score some points in the process. Since it was Monday Night Football, the Big Red Birds would be embarrassing the Redskins before an entire nation. 

The stock boy had a paper due the next day, but that wasn’t about to stop him from going. It would be his first Monday Night game in person. He and his father expected the worst, but they still looked forward to being there–something only a diehard can understand. 

On that night of October 7th, the Redskins surprised a nation. They came to play football. Joe Theismann ran for a touchdown in the first quarter, and he later threw touchdowns to rookie wide receiver Gary Clark and veteran tight end Clint Didier. Clark’s touchdown was his first in the NFL. Roy Green caught 4 passes for 65 yards. It was a solid effort, but on this night, the Cardinals needed more.

John Riggins and George Rogers rushed for 100 yards each, and the Redskins dominated from start to finish. The stocker told his roommate the next day: “It was incredible.” 

Final score: Redskins 27, Cardinals 10.

 

1985: The Aftermath

The Redskins turned what looked like a two-win season into a pretty good campaign. They finished 10-6. The Redskins proved to be a turning point for both the Bears and the Cardinals. With their 45-10 demolition of the ‘Skins on September 29th, the Bears established themselves as a team to be feared. The rest of the league had a reason to be afraid. The Bears went on to have one of the greatest seasons in football history.          

After being stunned by the Redskins on October 7th, the Cardinals never recovered. They won just two games the rest of the season.

The Bears went 18-1 and won the Super Bowl–without Al Harris and Todd Bell. The Cardinals finished 5-11.

 

Author’s note: Yes, I was the stock boy. Yes, my Grandfather Haddad took the train to Chicago in 1937 to watch the Redskins beat the Bears for the NFL Championship.

The President, the Packers, the Pain

President Obama had a good time yucking it up with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers at the White House on Friday, yet didn’t hesitate to confess that it was all a little painful because the Commander-in-Chief, like most good and kind folks, is a Chicago Bears fan.

The Packers were good sports when the President joked that the next stop for Aaron Rodgers and his friends would be “Ditka’s house” which is either the residence of the former Bears coach or the afterlife destination for Chicagoans.  Maybe it’s both.

Green Bay’s trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was the little burg that could’s first since winning the Super Bowl after the 1996 season, back when Brett Favre hadn’t retired even once and Bill Clinton held the keys to the Oval Office.  What do you think Bill and Brett talked about?

Jim McMahon was a backup quarterback on that ’96 Packers team and he put mold on the cheese by actually wearing his old Bears jersey to the White House that day.  McMahon’s rebellion wasn’t meant as an insult to the Packers but rather as a tribute to his teammates from the 1985 Bears who never got a trip to the White House after the Bears swallowed the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.  That’s because two days after that game, January 28, 1986, the Shuttle Challenger crashed.  And, properly, it was decided that it was not a good time for a President – even the genial Ronald Reagan – to be talking football.

Having a championship football team visit the White House may seem like executive silliness but perhaps it should be viewed as Presidential duty.  A century ago football was on the same path that boxing is on now, barreling towards irrelevance if not extinction.  In 1905 alone, 18 football players died across the country and the game was pilloried as brutal, vile and unnecessary.  So, because there was nothing else for him to do, President Theodore Roosevelt summoned representatives from Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House for a naked game of “mall ball” on the South Lawn.  Just kidding.  Roosevelt called in the football royalty to urge them to tone things down and, a year later, the American Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee introduced modifications including the forward pass and the elimination of mass formations and gang tackling.  And football is still around.

If there were an 11-dollar bill Theodore Roosevelt would be on it.

What NFL team will visit the White House in 2012?  President Obama doesn’t have it in him to endure another visit by the Pack so, if you’re a Democrat, you’ll root for anyone but Green Bay.  Does that mean Republicans are Packer-backers?

What about the years beyond?  Can you picture Ron Paul taking a handoff from Cam Newton?  Michelle Bachmann presented with a Cleveland Browns jersey?  Mitt Romney congratulating the Los Angeles Jaguars?

The future is as fascinating as a run to daylight.

It’s an open field.