Sunday, September 14, 2014

Top NFL Jersey Sales to Begin Season

NFLshop periodically reports on jersey sales and below are the top 25 as of this summer.  It will be interesting to see how these change after the season runs it course and the stars on the field shine bright or dim.  People in Chicago loved Brian Urlacher and his jersey flew off the shelves here during his career, but right now no super-jersey-star for the Bears has surfaced.  

The top sellers:

    1. Johnny Manziel
    2. Russell Wilson
    3. Colin Kaepernick
    4. Peyton Manning
    5. Richard Sherman
    6. Michael Sam
    7. Tom Brady
    8. Drew Brees
    9. Aaron Rodgers
    10. 12th Fan
    11. Marshawn Lynch
    12. LeSean McCoy
    13. Teddy Bridgewater
    14. Adrian Peterson
    15. Dez Bryant
    16. Jadeveon Clowney
    17. Robert Griffin III
    18. Blake Bortles
    19. Ryan Tannehill
    20. Earl Thomas
    21. J.J. Watt
    22. Patrick Willis
    23. Cam Newton
    24. Calvin Johnson
    25. Andrew Luck

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Missing Urlacher

It seems unbelievable that  Brian Urlacher has been out of football for two seasons now.  He played his rookie season in 2000 and he fit in so well with the Chicago Bears that it is still hard to think of the Bears without him.  His time went so fast.  Unfortunately, the Bears did could not capture the national championship during his time.  

Urlacher's had been hurt in 2009 and played well when he came back. But in 2012, it just looked like he had lost a step or two.  His combined tackles dropped to 68 in his final year and it was a good time to end a career before the great Urlacher fell into mediocrity.  Of course, Urlacher expressed incredulity that the Bears were not prepared to pay him superstar pay if he stayed on, but it was time to look towards a new career.  It's almost impossible for an aging athlete to end his career well. 

How good was Urlacher?  He honored the great tradition of Chicago Bears football and exemplified the play of the middle linebacker.  He was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and the heart and soul of the Bears defense while he was here. Urlacher impressed fans for his power and speed--and he became an excellent defensive "quarterback" as well. Commentators often talked about how Urlacher could cover receivers who were considered too fast for linebackers. Urlacher’s best on the 40-YD Dash was said to be 4.5 or even lower by some accounts. Mismatch was not a term used to describe Urlacher covering an opposing receiver. 

For Bear fans, Urlacher was the new Dick Butkus, about the same size and a game changer.   Some would think of him as the new Mike Singletary, but Urlacher was much bigger.  He was his own man.

Urlacher did not seem to sport Singletary's intensity or Butkus's anger.  He always seemed in control and he seemed to be motivated solely to win and to compete.  He was a solid tackler, but he was not vindictive. I don't remember Urlacher ever look like he wanted to hurt someone.  He was a tough defender, but an excellent sport. I long for the days when teams had to deal with Urlacher and Julius Pepper, Lance Briggs, and Peanut Tilman all at their best. How good could the Bears have been with Urlacher in his prime and today's Bears' offense? Unlike Singletary, who played on a championship team, Brian Urlacher and Dick Butkus played their hearts out, but never got the ring.   

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of the popular new book, Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Won Three or More Championships.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hester Looking at Home in Atlanta

Devin Hester as Falcon, Creative Commons Wikipedia
Anyone who watches professional sports knows that there comes a time when a player needs a change of venue to regroup and start anew.  Certainly, the Chicago Bears are going to miss Devin Hester on kick and punt returns, but in my opinion, it was really time for the greatest return man to move on.  

Hester signed with the Atlanta Falcons in the off season.  He played a key role in Atlanta's victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday as a receiver, something that he lost out on the with Bears under Trestman.  For the Bears, Hester just never looked comfortable in the receiver role, but his new coach suggests that with Atlanta's large contingent of receivers that can be put on the field at the same time, Hester is not going to get the tight coverage (presumably that he got in Chicago) and there will be more opportunities--at least early on. 

Hester had made huge money with the Bears and last year his kick return numbers bounced back when he saw a lot more kickoffs with the Bears high-scoring offense.  Hester had about 1,700 all purpose yards in 2013.   But the Bears had gone out and paid a lot of money for free agents to fill in the gaps that  they needed in the every down category to compete for a championship.  

Unfortunately, thus far, the Bears have looked anemic on special teams, but it is very early in the season.   You never know what the season will bring in terms of any one player's contribution, but it looks like the Falcons picked up someone who can help.  Yet, it was time for Hester to go some place that would give him another shot at wide receiver.  If he had been very good at in Chicago at the position when he had a chance, he would still be wearing the navy and burnt orange.  But there comes a time to move on and a fresh start can often renew a professional athlete.  Hester may very well have improved his receiver skills as well with more work.  We wish Devin Hester a lot of success in Atlanta as long as he is not facing the Bears.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Review for Sporting Chance Press's The 10 Commandments of Baseball


At Sporting Chance Press, we were happy to hear this afternoon that we have another positive review for our baseball classic, The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) by J. D. Thorne.   The review comes from Gregg of Gregg's Baseball Bookcase. 

View Gregg's Review. 

Bill George, Chicago Bears First Great Middle Linebacker

Most football fans are too young to remember Bill George. His name doesn’t come up in a lot of conversations these days, but he was a one of the best and a trend-setter. George was born in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, a coal mining region about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. George came from Lebanese stock and was 6-foot-2 and a very solid 237 pounds.  He played his college ball at Wake Forest University as a defensive tackle.  George competed in the Southern Conference Wrestling Championships as a heavyweight and won the league title three consecutive years even though the school had no wrestling program. He was drafted in 1951 and played middle guard for the Bears in 1952. He was a ferocious competitor and feared throughout the league. George was known for his tenacity and strength. He played for the Bears from 1952 to 1965.  

In those days, the middle guard was usually positioned at the line. On a pass, he would make contact with the offensive center and then drop back and cover. George decided that the contact was slowing him down and so on a passing play, he would drop back before the play was underway. In this way he was able to fill the space better and disrupt the shortest of passes in the middle. George’s middle guard position morphed into what we call today the middle linebacker.

The middle linebacker quickly became a position that required all the defensive skills rolled into one: excellent sure handed tackling, pass rushing, pass defense, shedding blockers, quickness and speed---and extreme toughness to take a beating and dish one out. The unique central position on the field, several steps back of the line, also gave the middle linebacker a fine vision of the field. The middle linebacker became the field general that “quarterbacked” the defense.

Bill George was an eight-time Pro Bowler who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. He was key member of the Bears great 1963 Championship team. Sadly, Bill George died in a car crash in 1982. 

Bill George is a colorful Bears' great that fans should know and appreciate.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Won Three or More Championships and other fine books.  

Bulaga May Return to Action Soon

After suffering a knee sprain in the Green Bay -- Seattle game,  right tackle Bryan Bulaga returned to light duty at practice yesterday.  Coach Mike McCarthy suggested that "there’s a little bit of a gap between how Bryan feels and how the medical department feels about him."  In other words, Bulaga wants back out on the field playing, but the staff will be careful about managing his injury.  McCarthy will see how Bulaga works out in the next few days.

In 2012 Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury that kept him out of the last seven games.  Hard to imagine how difficult it was for Bulaga when he tore his ACL in the 2013 preseason and lost the entire year.


Sporting Chance Press's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships is Patrick McCaskey's new book.  The book examines the football lives of the greatest coaches in NFL history: Halas, Chamberlin, Lambeau, Brown, Ewbank, Lombardi, Noll, Walsh, Gibbs, and Belichick. 

Keeping the Faith in Football

Everyone is welcome in Marc Trestman’s Chicago Bears' locker room and he believes that a sense of duty and shared confidence leads to success.  He also wants his players to focus on the positive while they play as team members and focus on the present.  

I heard a sports analysts comment on JJ Watt's play for the Houston Texans against Washington last week.  Watt plays intense every minute of the game--like Trestman advocates, Watt never lets up in a game.  That kind of attitude spreads around the team and makes everyone play better. 

NFL coaches have known that players who work hard each down, positively impact their teammates play, and help move the team to the next level.  That next level team is one  that has a shared faith--a faith in its players and the power of teamwork.  You can see confidence build and build as players continue to gel as a team--to keep the faith in football.  A sense of community and trust has a lot of religious overtones as well, but in this post I want to focus on teammates faith in each other.

Ironically, it takes great individual effort sometimes to create a great team dynamic.  Chuck Noll drafted Joe Greene knowing that his play on the field and his insatiable desire to succeed would impact the other players.  Greene was a one-man change-maker on defense and a tremendous team grew around him.  Once, the Steelers players hit a high level of confidence in their team, they consistently displayed it individually as well.  

Trestman and most successful coaches also believe that the quarterback has a special role in team dynamics.  It's not easy, but the best quarterbacks insist on good play from their teammates while taking the heat for team failings.  Quarterbacks  also need to display confidence that others can build on.  When an offense works together and each member plays at a high level, it creates a trust and that trust is another key ingredient.  

Great receivers play consistently well and if they miss a pass, they get right back and catch the next.  If their quarterback is off the mark, they do everything they can to make the catch or knock the ball out of harms way.  In critical situations they are at their best--grabbing the ball and keeping their feet positioned inbounds for the catch or leaping high into the air in the midst of defenders.  Receivers lay it on the line many times a game and a good quarterback does not take that kind of sacrifice for granted.  When a quarterback is working with receivers he can trust, the team is strengthened exponentially.  

When Brandon Marshall was hurt last week in the Bears--Bills game, he went back to the sidelines to have his ankle taped and then ran right back in.  Cutler turned to Matt Forte quite a bit in last week's game and the consistent Forte did not disappoint.  The Bears were off just enough to lose last week, but every game that can build camaraderie and confidence is a positive.  That's why coaches and players who can keep the faith after a loss can see setbacks as lessons.  

Chris Conte was vilified for a miss-tackle towards the end of the game, but he was working against a powerful back who had all ready moved the ball into a winning field goal range.  Conte sacrificed himself trying to do the near impossible and steal the ball from a powerful back running full steam for the end zone.  Lance Briggs and others stood up for Conte.  The criticism came hard after the game.  Briggs explained that he had confidence that the sky was not falling and the Bears would be just fine.  

Teams that can retain faith in each other improve. Teammates need to keep the faith.  

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press 

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships and other fine books on sports.