Sports Outside the Beltway

Danny White Loves Him Some Romo

Danny White was a terrific player for the Dallas Cowboys for years. Despite setting team records that stood for years, however, he was under-appreciated. That’s what happens when you follow Don Meredith and Roger Staubach and are followed by Troy Aikman.

His name’s being bandied about for something other than his legendary Arena League coaching career again, though, now that Tony Romo is shattering those old records. As always, number 11 is handling it with class.

Danny White 2007 Photo Danny White, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, is now head coach of the Utah Blaze in the Arena Football League. “At least they’re not being broken by some jerk,” White said.

Since 1983, White has held most single-season passing records for a franchise with guys named Meredith, Staubach and Aikman at the QB position. Sound impressive? Well, it is.

Or was.

That’s why it’s not easy for Danny White to get in touch with his feelings at a time like this. “When all is said and done, I think Romo will be one of the great quarterbacks in the history of the game. I’m happy for him,” said White. “But to be honest about it, I enjoyed holding those records. I hate to see them go.”

Romo, born the same year White became a Cowboys starter (1980), already has wrested away one White team record — touchdown passes: White, 29 in ’83; Romo, 35 TD passes.

Here are other White marks expected to fall:

White, 3,980 yards in ’83; Romo, 3,654, needs just 327 yards with three games left.

White, 334 completions in ’83; Romo, 287, needs to average 16 a game over the final three weeks.

When White set these club records, he barely missed out on becoming one of only six passers in NFL history to eclipse 4,000 yards in a season.

“Coach Landry took me out of our last regular-season game [at San Francisco] because we were either way ahead or way behind [actually, the Cowboys lost 42-17],” White recalled. “He had no idea. He had no clue. That was Coach Landry. He didn’t bother himself with stuff like records.” And so, White was pulled just 20 yards shy of 4,000.

Before ’83, only Joe Namath (Jets), Dan Fouts (Chargers) and Brian Sipe (Browns) had thrown for 4,000 yards or more. That season, Lynn Dickey (Packers) and Bill Kenney (Chiefs) became the fourth and fifth 4,000-yard passers in NFL history.

Since then, by comparison, 31 players have joined the NFL’s 4,000-yard club, including five last season alone.

“It’s still a pretty darned good season,” White said of his 3,980 yards. “So, I really thought that [would stand] for awhile. But 29 touchdown passes is a low number for a franchise record, so I knew it was just a matter of time before that one got broken.”

In ’83, Dallas finished 12-4 and made the playoffs as a wild card (Washington won the NFC East). The Los Angeles Rams, behind Vince Ferragamo and Eric Dickerson, bounced the Cowboys 24-17 in the first round.

For White, who is now head coach of the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League and lives in the Phoenix area, 1983 remains special in his memory bank. Ron Springs impressed Landry so much as a receiver out of the backfield that Springs ended up leading the ’83 team with 79 catches. “We spread the ball all around that year,” said White, who had six receivers with 40 or more catches (Springs 79, Tony Hill 49, Drew Pearson 47, Doug Cosbie 46, Butch Johnson 41 and Tony Dorsett 40).

By comparison, Romo will end up with four 40-plus catch receivers: Jason Witten, Terrell Owens, Patrick Crayton and Marion Barber.

“I’m looking forward to meeting Tony sometime,” White said. “I’ve heard great things about him. Everyone tells me he’s a genuine guy. I can see he plays the game with a lot of passion. I like that.”

White laughed when asked to compare Romo’s social life to his own in 1983. By then, Danny was married a dozen years. “I hope someday — aside from breaking my records — Tony can get as lucky as I did when it comes to finding a wife. I really got lucky,” said White, who celebrated his 36th wedding anniversary earlier this week.

One wish that White has for himself: To come back and play in the spread-out, wide-open NFL offenses of today. “The Cowboys have a great one,” White said. “Look at Brett Favre in Green Bay. He’s back for one more year just to play in an offense where you throw caution to the wind. That’s how the game is played today.”

On the Romo-Favre comparison, White can see it. But he also sees a subtle difference. “Romo is a little more conservative,” White said. “Favre throws a lot of bad passes and makes a lot of bad decisions … usually when pressured. That might happen to Tony someday. But right now, he’s getting great protection from that offensive line of his.”

Comparison across eras is fruitless because of the constant evolution of the game. White was one of the best of his era, although not quite on par with Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, and others who played in the 1980s. Romo has the potential, at least, to surpass White’s career if he can lead this team to a Super Bowl.

He’s got some doing, though, to catch up to White as a man. That’s not a knock on Romo, who seems like a genuinely good guy. But like White in taking over for Staubach, he’s got some mighty big shoes to fill.


NFC Conference Championship Preview

As I will be out of town tomorrow and unable to get to a computer until Monday morning, my pigskin prognosticating comes a day early. Beginning in the National Football Conference, the New Orleans Saints are in their first Conference Championship playing against the Chicago Bears. The Saints had the best offense in terms of gaining yards in the NFL this season. The Bears had one of the top defenses.

Drew Brees Advantage Saints Rex Grossman

Much has been made of the erratic play of Rex Grossman. And all of it has been earned. Rex looked lost going deep against the Patriots who just ate his lunch in November in Foxboro. He survived last weekend, an important test after his 0.0 quarterback rating in the regular season finale against Green Bay. Drew Brees on the other hand has been just what the Saints needed, steady, dependable and the architect of the best passing offense in the league. The Saints averaged 281.4 yards in the air as Brees exploited secondary after secondary. He split his catches among his wideouts and his backs, getting 30 or more catches to five different players. Four of them had more than six hundred yards in the air.

Deuce McAllister
Reggie Bush
Advantage Bears Thomas Jones
Cedric Benson

The Bears powerful two pronged ground game is keyed by veteran Thomas Jones, who recorded another 1000 yard season. His 4.1 yards per carry was equaled by Cedric Benson who got half the carries of Jones. Between them, they accounted for nearly 1900 yards this season. That rumbling noise you hear in Chicago is the Bears marching down the field. The Saitns are not slouches running the ball. Their tandem of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush dashed for almost 1600 yards. They present a good mix of speed and power.

Marques Colston
Devery Henderson
Joe Horn
Advantage Saints Mushin Muhammad
Bernard Berrian
Rashied Davis

The Saints offensive advantage is most pronounced in the receiving corps. Colston and Henderson did not even play in all sixteen games, and were good for a combined 1783 yards through the air. Joe Horn chipped in another 679 yards in only 10 games. The trick for the Saints has been keeping all their wideouts on the field at the same time, which is uncertain with Horn nursing a groin injury that leaves him questionable for the game. He’ll play. On the Bears side, Mushin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian lead the way. Former Arena Football player Rasheid Davis, who caught the key pass last week against Seattle rounds out the receivers.

Mark Campbell
Billy Miller
Advantage Bears Desmond Clark

This is a definite plus for the Bears. Desmond Clark is the Bears third leading receiver. Campbell and Miller are not featured in the Saints offense to any degree whatsoever. Clark is the short route that Rex Grossman sometimes overlooks.

Charles Grant
Scott Shanle
Mike McKenzie
Advantage Bears Alex Brown
Brian Urlacher
Charles Tillman

They swarm. They pile on. They gang tackle. The are ball hawks. They love playing defense. They are the Chicago Bears. Monsters of the Midway, maybe not? The Bears defense won’t make anyone forget the 46 Defense of the Super Bowl XX winning Bears. But they effectively kept their opponents out of the end zone weak after week. The Bears earned home field advantage with the best record in the NFC by shutting down teams, not by overpowering them. The Saints defense has been okay. Much like the Colts, they have trouble stopping the run but do quite well shutting down pass plays. Another advantage for Chicago.

John Carney
Steve Weatherford
Michael Lewis
Advantage Bears Robbie Gould
Brad Maynard
Rasheid Davis

Carney continues to hit field goals at a better than 90% clip (23 of 25), but missed one PAT. Robbie Gould, hero of last week, was perfect on PATs, but missed four field goal tries. He did have eleven more attempts than Carney. Brad Maynard handle punting duties for the Bears, doing a great job dropping thirty percent of his kicks inside the twenty. Weatherford was acceptable for the Saints. He did not hit as many punts inside the 20 or the 10 and had more touch backs than Maynard did. The Bears real strength has been in returns. The Bears have brought back 3 kickoffs and 2 punts for touchdowns. Only Reggie Bush has gotten into the End Zone for the Saints on a return.

Sean Payton Even Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith has wrestled with the most difficult job a coach can have. He has had his most talented quarterback, play foolishly. This has led to a reasonable desire from fans, and probably parts of the locker room as well, to try Brian Griese or Kyle Orton once or twice. His management of that situation could have cost the Bears the Divisional game against the Seahawks. Yes, the Bears got lucky. Sean Payton on the other hand is somewhat of an unknown quantity. The Saints could have put the Eagles away, but they stuck around and kept things a little too interesting. They both have never been to this stage of the game before. So to give an edge to either is unfair. We’ll learn more about who the better coach is by watching them against each other. The jobs they have done in turning around moribund franchise has been noteworthy. But turning a team around and winning a Super Bowl are very different things.

The Saints renaissance has come a year after the disaster in New Orleans. They have played with passion and determination. The Bears need to manage the clock, keep the ball away from the high powered Saints offense and play smart. They quarterback is underwhelming and probably costs them this game. Rex Grossman has a lot of talent. He seems like a decent enough guy. But he makes bad, very bad football decisions. The Bears have the two of the three most important factors to winning playoff football 1) a good defense and 2) a good running game. They lack that third crucial element a reliable, smart quarterback.

New Orleans 23 Indianapolis 14 – The Saints Go Marching to Miami


An All-Star Fiasco

I still love my hockey, even as I sit here and watch the NHL shoot itself repeatedly in the foot and wonder why they continue to decline as a sport in the US. Its only a matter of time until NASCAR, Arena Football, Competitive Gardening, Golf, Bowling and the WBNA all pass the NHL in popularity. It has already begun here in Los Angeles, where the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are broadcast on some station I’ve never heard of and the Kings were dropped from ESPN Radio 710 in favor of the Clippers, USC Football and USC Basketball. It seems like the only thing less popular than the Kings is the Air America programming they now preempt.

Then comes this year and the NHL All-Star Game, which for some reason the scheduled in January, when everyone is focused on the NFL Playoffs, beyond that as to not lose viewers they make the game on a Wednesday night just to ensure that either West Coast fans will miss the beginning of the game and East Coast fans will miss the end. Why no just wait until February, you know the dead month in sports between the Super Bowl and March Madness, and play the game on a Saturday night when more people are home.

Then comes the big news for the NHL the new uniform design, with the official unveiling coming at the All-Star Game no will be watching. As part of the roll out for next season they designers have been going from team to team for the players to try them out so they can work out the bugs. Unfortunately for the NHL, the reaction from teams like the San Jose Sharks early in the tryout rotation isn’t good:

At the end of the day, players were asked to leave their jerseys hanging in the stalls.
“I’ll hang it right in the garbage,” Smith said.”

One has to question the logic of the NHL rushing into this even more if the majority of players and fans prefer the current jersey style. My preference is for the current style of NHL Jerseys, they make the sport different and that isn’t always bad.

This season also marked the first year of the NHL’s big push for online voting for player selections to the All-Star Game. What it has gotten the NHL was a bunch of internet nerds leading a campaign to get a no-name journeyman in the starting line up and well, its working:

Rory Fitzpatrick is a journeyman National Hockey League defenceman currently playing for the Vancouver Canucks, who hasn’t picked up one point in 20 games this season. He has nine goals and 18 assists over parts of nine NHL seasons, and has never played more than 60 games in a single NHL season.

Despite the less than gaudy statistics, Mr. Fitzpatrick sits second in voting among defencemen in the NHL’s Western Conference for next month’s all-star game in Dallas.

For that, Mr. Fitzpatrick can thank both the NHL’s new voting system for the all-star game — which encourages hockey fans to vote as often as they like — and a Buffalo computer nerd who has persuaded Internet geeks to “Vote For Rory.”


ESPN Bets on Arena Football

Looks like ESPN had an ulterior motive for acquiring the rights to Monday Night Football from the NFL this year. They were just warming you up for the Arena Football season.

ESPN and the AFL announced today that they have entered into a partnership for the next five years. The deal includes “extensive multimedia rights”, which apparently includes a broadcast schedule with a minimum of 26 televised games for the 2007 AFL season.

It’s fairly obvious that ESPN is hoping to keep the momentum of Monday Night Football going, since the deal also includes an “exclusive window for weekly Monday Night games” on ESPN2.

The move has to be considered a gamble. Although attendance in AFL games has been increasingly strong the past few years, the television ratings have not followed suit. AFL fans and owners have been quick to blame NBC’s lackluster coverage and advertising for the most recent failure, but the AFL’s 20 year history contains a high rate of franchise turnover. However, the ESPN deal combined with the EA Sports announcement of a new version of the Arena Football game for 2007 are both strong wins in the league’s favor.

The grass roots fan base has been up in arms since the announcement of several rule changes for the 2007 season, including a “free substitution” rule that many fear will eliminate the “Iron Man” nature of the game; under the old rules, a number of players were forced to play both offense and defense. It seems to be the general consensus that the influx of NFL influence (John Elway, Ron Jaworski, Jerry Jones, etc.) is turning the game into “NFL Lite”.

It remains to be seen if the old fans will take to the new rules, or if the deals will bring in enough new fans to offset any ticket losses.

Speaking from my own experience as a Philadelphia Soul season ticket holder, the games have always been very exciting, but more fun live than on TV. But I have to believe that the bias in coverage ESPN gives sports that it broadcasts on SportsCenter and its endless parade of commentary shows (when was the last time you heard PTI talk about hockey?) will be enough to offset any loss of old-school fans.


Cowboys Plane Diverted, Coach Tony Ollison Possible Heart Attack

The Dallas Cowboys’ plane had to make an emergency landing last night after strength and conditioning coach Tony Ollison reported feeling sick.

A Cowboys assistant coach became ill on the team’s flight home, forcing the chartered jet to make an unscheduled landing in Nashville, Tenn., early Monday. Strength and conditioning coach Tony Ollison was taken to Southern Hills Medical Center and was in stable condition, the team said.

Dallas beat the Carolina Panthers 35-14 Sunday night, and the jet had just taken off from Charlotte, N.C., when Ollison complained that he was not well. Reporters on board said team doctors examined Ollison and found he had a low blood pressure and was sweating heavily. Ollison was given oxygen, and the jet landed in Nashville so Ollison could get to a hospital.

Airport spokeswoman Lynne Lowrance said the airport received an emergency call from the flight that there was a possible heart attack victim on board. Lowrance said Ollison was conscious when the flight landed.

The jet resumed its flight to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, landing about 5 a.m. Monday.

Ollison has been part of the Cowboys’ staff for six years and also works as a strength and conditioning coach for the Dallas Desperadoes of the Arena Football League. In college, he played defensive tackle for Arkansas in 1986-90.

I hope it’s nothing serious. In any case, getting him to a hospital quickly was a prudent move.


Kurt Warner May Retire after Season

Frustrated over continually being beat out for the starting job by young quarterbacks, Kurt Warner says he might hang it up after the season.

This might be the final season for Kurt Warner in the NFL. The 35-year-old Arizona Cardinals quarterback, who lost his starting job to rookie Matt Leinart last week, said Thursday he is considering retirement after this season. “Definitely I’m thinking about my next step and what’s best for me and all those things,” he said.

Warner, in one of the NFL’s great success stories, went from the Arena Football League and NFL Europe to lead St. Louis to two Super Bowls. He is in the first year of a three-year contract he signed with the Cardinals in February, but he realizes his future in Arizona would be as a backup.

Since his MVP days with the Rams, Warner has lost starting jobs to Marc Bulger in St. Louis, Eli Manning with the New York Giants and now Leinart.

Frankly, I’m not sure what he’d do the next two years that would pay him the kind of money the Cardinals have committed to. There are worse things than being a highly paid NFL backup quarterback.


Doug Flutie for Hall of Fame?

A handful of sportswriters and talk show hosts have floated the idea of recently retired quarterback Doug Flutie for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt the Heisman winner deserves to be in the college hall–and he is–but did he really have a HOF pro career? Mark Kreidler thinks so.

Flutie had one startling, statistics-grabbing, championship-winning, scramble-matic career in pro football. He just didn’t do the best of it in the NFL.


When Flutie’s retirement was announced Monday, the Hall of Fame question came up pretty quick. It’s a fair thing to ask, in the sense that Flutie passed for more than 58,000 yards in his career and wound up with 369 touchdown throws. He also was named the top player in his league six times, and he played on three championship teams.

Alas, the league was the Canadian Football League. And even if I could construct an argument that Flutie dominated the CFL at a time when it was in one of its more impressive periods in terms of overall talent, what does that matter to you, drinker of (insert liquid here), official beverage of the National Football League?

More to the point, what does that mean in Canton-ese?

Only Warren Moon has made the Hall of Fame with a significant CFL blot on his résumé, and you get the feeling the voters this year sort of agreed not to hold that against him rather than actually considering it in his favor. In Flutie’s case, though, the opposite effect is in play: Doug’s best years undoubtedly came in Canada, and he was truly, almost transcendently, excellent during those years. What’s that worth?


One of the counterarguments you get in a conversation like this is the dreaded draw-the-line theory, as in, “If they let Flutie in for being a good CFL quarterback, where does the madness stop? Is Mark Grieb next, with his shimmering Arena Football League numbers?” It’s low-grade mumbling, of course, since there isn’t another case remotely similar to Flutie’s (unless you know of a sizzling hot NFL Europe player I’ve somehow been missing in my weekly updates). Beyond that, it’s a given that all leagues are not created equal, that there is no sister to the NFL anywhere, and that, generally speaking, the best football players on Earth are toiling in the Tagliabue Division. I’m guessing the Canton voters know that.


All told, he had a great ride. He did win titles. He was the MVP (or the Most Outstanding Player, as the CFL dubs it). He was, for years, The Man in his league, the best at what he did. He had legions of fans. He had avid followers. He confounded coaches, stirred up teammates, had an ego, threw touchdowns, made money — the whole deal. He lived a bunch of professional lifetimes in a single career.

While I think Flutie deserves serious consideration, he falls short (no pun intended) in my book. Warren Moon was, to me, a no-brainer. He had an excellent NFL career plus five CFL championships. Yes, I think the CFL should count as “bonus points” if you will. But it’s simply not a comparable league. (By the way, there is a Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Flutie deserves to be in it. He almost certainly will be on the first ballot once he’s eligible.)

Flutie was, at best, an average NFL quarterback. That’s the highest level of the pro game. Just as we don’t give the Heisman for dominance in Division III or consider Eddie Robinson on the same level at Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, and Bobby Bowdon–or Pat Summit with Dean Smith–we shouldn’t consider dominance of a minor league as the major component for Hall enshrinement.

Would we put a real life Crash Davis into Cooperstown? I don’t think so.


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