Tuesday, December 7, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: The Battle for Chicago

By TJ Troup 
Another exciting weekend of the struggles for NFL teams to earn the right to advance to the play-offs, and each week there are new twists and turns. Which team gets upset? Which team gets "hot" at the right time, etc! Though there are many games of this past weekend that would merit discussion; gonna go to Chicago for the most ancient rivalry in the league. Those of you looking for a book that details early league history, you might want to check out When Football Was Football. Joe Ziemba's well-written and insightful narrative has been a source for me and is also very enjoyable to read. 

During the 1920 season the Racine Cardinals (street in Chicago) changed their name to the Chicago Cardinals and on November 28th they beat the Decatur Staley's to begin the rivalry. The rematch came a week later at Normal Park in Chicago with the Staley's coming out on top 10-0. 

Contemplate the date for a moment...two teams play back-to-back weeks and over 100 years later face off at Soldier Field. The December 5th, 1937 clash is the highest-scoring game in league history to that point in time as the Bears win 42-28. The Cardinals opened the year with eight consecutive road games, then ended with three home games which included this game. The two teams combined to complete 30 of 64 passes for 501 yards! This was unheard of in this era. 
Gaynell Tinsley
The Cardinals outstanding receiver Gaynell Tinsley was in a battle all season with Don Hutson for supremacy as the top pass catcher in the league. Tinsley scores on a shovel pass very late in the afternoon and dashes up the sideline. Since the skies had darkened the Bear defenders could not find Tinsley until it was too late, and he had set a league record with a 95-yard scoring play (later adjusted to 97 yards), and the officials "awarded" the Cardinals the extra point. 

During the '54 season, the Bears forged a strong team that battled their way to a second-place finish after two losing seasons. Watching the film of the Bear victory on December 5th is extremely valuable in evaluating the Clark Shaughnessy defense. When researching the history of the 4-3 middle linebacker for my second book spent hours watching Bill George of the Bears. 
Bill George
Once read that he was the first 4-3 middle linebacker, yet this is just a lazy writer who never watched film making a bullshit statement. Bill George began 1954 as the middle guard with his knuckles in the dirt, and yes once in awhile he would stand up and drop into coverage. 

There were games where John Kreamcheck and Bill Bishop adjusted their alignments and moved from defensive tackle to middle guard. Bill George was very versatile as Shaughnessy moved him to left linebacker for the games against the Browns, and Rams (he even played some at right linebacker). The left linebacker position for the Bears in '54 was shared by Gerald Weatherley, Wayne Hansen, and Bill George. 

When Shaughnessy aligned the Bears in one of his "mystical" 6-2 defenses George was in the gap between the left defensive end and left defensive tackle and rushed the passer. The last three games of the year the middle guard for the Bears was Herman Clark—and yes big ol' Herman also stood up and attempted to drop into coverage as a linebacker. 

Cardinal quarterback Lamar McHan finished the December 5th game with a passer rating of 24.2 as he threw six interceptions. Weatherley playing left linebacker nabbed a pair, as did rookie safety Stan Wallace, and when Bill George substituted for Clark he also recorded the first two-interception game of his career. 

The Bears returned the seven pilfered passes 116 yards. When a team returns interceptions over 100 yards that team wins 90% of the time. Rookie quarterbacks Zeke Bratkowski and Ed Brown shredded the Cardinal secondary for 368 yards as Jim Dooley and Harlon Hill combined for 11 catches for 261 yards in the 29-7 win. 

Since the merger, these two ancient rivals don't see each other very often, yet last Sunday they met in a key game for the Cardinals. Andy Dalton threw four interceptions, which the Cardinals returned over 100 yards...so as I watched and added up the yardage on each return waited for the announcers to state that the Cardinals had a 90% chance of winning. What? The announcers did not tell us that during the broadcast? Does Fox actually have someone doing research during the game? 
Andy Dalton
Will close today's saga with a remembrance for me, so folks please bear with me(no pun intended) as we head to Riverside, California on the first saturday of December in 1986. Coached high school football for over a decade, and there were a couple losing seasons mixed in with years of success helping to take teams to the C.I.F. playoffs at both Mater Dei and Anaheim High school. 

Over the years learned from head coaches Wayne Cochrun and Roger Stahlhut that putting a quality staff together is a difficult task. There were some "so-called coaches" on those staffs that should never ever spent a moment on the practice field or sideline. Was so very fortunate to coach with two superb linebacker coaches at Mater Dei in Chuck Ball and Rick Amadio. 

My interview at Riverside City College went very well, and during the conversation with head coach Barry Meier he stated emphatically that the three-receiver coaches he had during the previous five years were just not college caliber coaches. Heard stories from players about those men, yet no matter how bad they were—my job was two fold: teach tight ends and receivers how to block, and make sure when we actually did attempt a pass that my players would catch the damn ball. 

Barry Meier wanted someone who understood pass defense to coach the receivers. My response to him was I'll take the job, but you must promise me to teach me all you know about coaching at the Community College level, and the specifically the defenses we would face. 

Game night was on the sideline sending in either a running back or wide receiver with the play Barry called. Again, this was uncharted territory for me. Spent an afternoon at spring practice and was amazed at the talent we had at RCC. I asked Meier ...."are we any good", and his response "we will be ok". Days turned into weeks, and by the time double days were completed was so optimistic for the coming season since this was by far the best coaching staff had ever been on. 

Though will not detail all of the defensive coaches, two of those men must be mentioned. Defensive line coach John Bradshaw is simply the best defensive line coach I ever had the chance to work with. His drills, his ability to communicate, his sense of humor, and finally his ability to get the most out of his lineman in our slant 3-4 defense was just so damn impressive. 

Al Feola of Fullerton Junior College had become a legend as a defensive backfield coach, and for years watched his db's earn scholarships. No one was quite like Al.... he was just "greeeaaattt". The secondary coach at RCC was Bob Dohr, and during the week there was always a session of "one on one" between his db's and my receivers. When future NFL corner Alonso Hampton lined up against split end David Kelley...well just did not get any better than that. Coach Dohr was not only a master technician at teaching young men how to play defensive back, he also was in charge of special teams, and he is the best I ever worked with. 

No stone unturned, very precise, and a task master when he needed to be. Was so fortunate that he let me help him with my speciality kick-off return. The outside veer offense at RCC begins and ends with the offensive line, and Ron Smith became a valued friend. His sarcastic humor, cryptic remarks about other teams, his sideline rants and raves on game night will long be remembered, but most important his ability to teach the "junk yard dogs" to block every defense we faced with our famed massive line splits. 

Ron had some dandy stories about Dallas Cowboy training camp when he was an undrafted free agent in the late '60's were poignant, and very funny. Was not the only new kid on the block, as Barry Meier hired Bob Dohr's son Mike to coach the running backs. 

The former Ivy league tight end was also learning to coach in a new area, and he was remarkable in what he achieved with that group—especially All-American Michael Moore. Mike was upstairs on game night in did a superb job in communicating with coach Meier what he saw in the defensive front seven, and that coupled with what I saw in the defensive secondary...we became a battle-tested machine that took no prisoners. No, am not going to detail every game, yet as you read the following, you just might think the stats are a misprint, and THEY ARE NOT. No team comes close to the ground power of the '86 Tigers as we gained 2,548 yards rushing in ten games. 

Led by Moore with 1,425. The key play in the outside veer offense is the off tackle veer where the tight end and offensive tackle double team. My tight end Shawn Sowder who earned a full ride to University of Mississippi was powerful, quick, and athletic. 

The back has to get to the point of attack lightning quick on the proper angle, and Mike Dohr did a masterful job in teaching that aspect. Our offense had a number of other running plays, and we were just damn good at all of them, yet it starts with outside veer. 

Shawn caught 14 passes for 305 yards! Before I entertain you with stories about my wide receivers, time to pay tribute to the finest leader have ever worked with. Truly believe that a college receiver coach must build a relationship with the quarterback, and boy oh boy was that relationship accomplished. Heard that Keith Widener struggled as a freshmen, but this was a new year, and the young man had a powerful throwing arm, and quick feet to master the outside veer. Seven on seven on the practice field belonged to Keith and myself. 

The receivers were gonna run the routes as drawn up by Coach Meier, and those young men were gonna catch the ball, and be exactly where Keith needed them to be. Keith Widener completed only 71 passes in ten games, and though many would state well he just did not have a very good year, they would be sadly mistaken. Widener attempted only 137 passes, and his 71 completions gained 1,453 yards....yes you read that correctly 1,453 yards. He threw 17 guided missile touchdowns, and just two interceptions(both in our one loss). 

We may have been a running team and were only adequate as a drop-back passing team, but when coach Meier called for a play-action pass.....it was the dagger as Keith Widener put the ball right on the money time and time again deep for six. Counter option throwback was a back breaker for opposing defenses as Tony Evans ran his post route. 

Since I mentioned him...Tony Evans caught 7 passes for 253 yards and five touchdowns. He had size, athleticism and blazing speed. Most importantly he got better as the year went on, and was taught to make the crackback block on inside linebackers. Let me know next time you see an NFL wide receiver "decleat" an inside linebacker. Evans was a young man of deep faith, a quality teammate, and was able to see him at Rams training camp years later. Sometimes young coaches are just damn lucky and was damn lucky to work with Tony Evans. 

The backup receivers played very little, as the two starters were on the field as often as possible. Who was the starting split end you ask? Why none other than David Kelley. Though a long story about how my recruitment of him got him to RCC....a Pac-10 wideout that had to play JC ball, Mr. David Kelley to this day ran the best slant route ever. Kelley had size, adequate speed, very athletic, and hungered for the ball. When we threw and Kelley ran a slant it was money in the bank. 

David caught 25 passes for 394 yards, and a school record 8 touchdowns! He was not the most motivated young man on the practice field when it came to blocking, but he was smart enough to know that I was relentless in teaching that aspect, and on game night David Kelley was one motivated All-American receiver. 

Regular season we finished 9-1 as Mission Conference Champions, and the victory that stands out you ask? Saddleback had won 49 consecutive home games until the Tigers rallied to win 21-16. Our reward was to face the #1 team in America in Glendale College. Still have the complete game on DVD, and it is eye-popping to watch how well the Tigers played that afternoon. Glendale scored first and the final score of 28-10 tells it all. Widener completed just five passes in a game with adverse weather conditions, but three of the five were for touchdowns....one each to my starters. Just does not get any better than a bowl game victory your first year as a college coach. 

Thanks for bearing with me.

3 comments:

  1. Great post Coach ... the last NFL receiver I saw decleating an inside linebacker or anyone on a block was Hines Ward, who many people feel was too slow to make the HOF, though Cris Carter made it ...

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  2. RIP Demaryius Thomas and Michael Nesmith

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