Archive | Baltimore Colts RSS feed for this section

Finding Success When One Door Closes and Another One Opens

22 May

Can Dennis Dixon Join a List of Players Who Found the Right Situation to Display Their Talents?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

Eagles quarterback Dennis Dixon believes he can be the Eagles starting quarterback.

PHILADELPHIA—I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that successful athletes not only have the raw ability and the determination to work at bettering themselves in their sport, being in the right place at the right time or having the right people around you—i.e. teammates or coaches-is also a determining factor.

Covering the Eagles organized team activities for the last couple of weeks, the one player that I see that could be an interesting case of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph is Dennis Dixon, who is competing for the Eagles starting quarterback spot.

So far, he is the one quarterback in Eagles camp that seems to have a firm grasp of head coach Chip Kelly’s. After playing in both Pittsburgh and Baltimore as a backup, Dixon is hoping that he can take that experience in addition to what he learned playing for Kelly at Oregon and be the Eagles starting quarterback in 2013.

“I thought that one thing I’ve learned is leadership and you got to make sure that the other 10 guys are all ready to go,” Dixon said after practice on Monday. “At the end of the day, you got to be able to know your plays.”

Dixon is one of those interesting studies in what if his circumstances were different? During his senior year in 2007 with the Ducks, there was a strong possibility that Dixon would win the Heisman Trophy and be high draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

In the last 10 games of his collegiate career, Dixon had thrown 20 touchdown passes and threw for 2,136 yards before the injury to his anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee ended his season.  His Heisman hopes died and his draft stock plummeted dramatically.

Pittsburgh drafted Dixon in the fifth round to be a backup to Ben Rothlisberger. Oddly enough, Dixon actually started three games during his tenure with the Steelers and had a 2-1 record.

He left Pittsburgh after the 2011 season and served as a scout team quarterback as a member of the Baltimore Ravens taxi squad.

I think Dixon’s chances are his good of being the Eagles are as good as anybody else’s considering that he knows the offense better than any of the quarterbacks competing for the job. That certainly bodes well for him.

Maybe this is the point where Dixon’s takes off. To be honest, I don’t know if he’s going to win that job or not. But if he does and he performs well, it will be another story of a guy finding the right situation to elevate his career.

That is always the beauty of sports is when players can find the right venue to display their talents.  Of course, there are plenty of instances in sports where talented guys have found themselves in the right situation after being cast aside in another circumstance.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

John Unitas was cut by the Steelers in 1955 and playing semi-pro before getting his opportunity in Baltimore.

Perhaps the most famous story in sports of an athlete finding the right place to achieve success in his career was that of one John Constantine Unitas.  He is one of the all-time great quarterbacks in NFL history.

But when Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955, he was the fourth quarterback on a team that wanted to keep three quarterbacks. Even though he had one of the strongest arms in the Steelers camp that year, Pittsburgh head coach Walt Kiesling thought Unitas was not smart enough to be an NFL quarterback and didn’t allow him to take a snap in a game.

When the Baltimore Colts called Unitas in for tryout in 1956, he was living in Pittsburgh and working as a construction worker while playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams at six bucks per game.

Of course, you know the rest of the story, Unitas, who called his own plays, became the quarterback who elevated the two-minute drill into an art-form, re-wrote the NFL passing records and led the Colts to two NFL Championships and one Super Bowl title.

Eagles fans know the story of Randall Cunningham, who actually had a human highlights film of a career with the Birds. Unfortunately, he didn’t win enough playoff games-one to be exact-and was maligned for being just a running quarterback.

During Cunningham’s time in Philadelphia, he never had a good offensive line, a running game, or a good offensive coordinator. Cunningham was ultimately let go a year into then Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes regime.

After a one-year retirement, Cunningham was back up quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997 and came off the bench to lead the Vikings to a comeback win over the New York Giants in the NFC Wildcard game.

In 1998, Cunningham became the starter of the Vikings after Brad Johnson went down with an injury. Working with offensive coordinator Brian Billick and armed with receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss, he threw 34 touchdowns and passed for 3,704 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes.

It was the best statistical year of his career. You have to wonder what would have happened if Cunningham had good offensive assistant coaches like Billick who could have really tutored him in perfecting his passing skills earlier in his career.

Equally as important, if Cunningham in his Eagles days would have had a running back like Robert Smith, a more mature Carter (who played with Cunningham in Philadelphia earlier in his career) and a superstar like Moss playing wide receiver, I think could have been an even better quarterback for the Birds.

For the first three years of O.J Simpson’s career in Buffalo, he was considered a bust with a propensity to fumble and could not catch a pass out of the backfield. It looked as if he was going to become another Heisman Trophy winner who couldn’t make it in the pros.

In 1972, the Bills brought in Lou Saban to coach the team. Thanks to a couple of offensive linemen, Saban built Buffalo’s offense around Simpson. He was arguably the best running back in the NFL from 1972 to 1976.

Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to gain over 2,000 yards in one season. Saban recognized Simpson’s talent as a ball carrier and transformed him from a guy who was going nowhere fast to a player who ran his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs gave up on Lou Brock, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis.

In the middle of the 1964 season, the Chicago Cubs were unhappy with rightfielder Lou Brock, who had trouble fielding his position (especially in Wrigley Field) and wasn’t the home run hitter the team had projected him to be.

So the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio, who had 18 wins the previous season. At the time, people covering baseball felt that the Cubs got the best of the deal.

When Brock arrived in St. Louis, Cards manager Johnny Keane moved Brock to left field and told him to focus on using his speed instead of trying to knock the ball out of the park. Brock took Keane’s advice and was the catalyst to the Cardinals run to the 1964 World Series.

Needless to say, Brock finished his career as the all-time leader in stolen bases. He has also had over 3,000 hits with a career batting average of .293. Meanwhile, Broglio won just seven more games for the Cubs before retiring in 1966.

Brock has a statue and plaque highlighting his accomplishments in Cooperstown. One team’s bust becomes another team’s success story.

 

Nevermore: For an old Baltimore Colts Fan, Ravens Dramatic Win Exorcises Demons of Ghost to the Post

18 Jan

By Chris Murray

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker jumps for joy after booting the game-winning field goal to beat Denver in overtime in the AFC Divisional  Playoff.

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker jumps for joy after booting the game-winning field goal to beat Denver in double overtime in last Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff.

For the Chris Murray Report

As I watched Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field  goal that put the Baltimore Ravens into this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, there were plenty of reasons for me as a native Baltimorean to be overjoyed.

Growing up as a fan of Baltimore’s storied sports franchises—the Colts and the Orioles—and now the Ravens, I have a special reverence for the lore and history of those franchises and certainly last Saturday’s thrilling win by the Ravens will be an indelible part of that history when it’s said and done.

For me, the Ravens double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos was eerily similar to the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff between the Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders. That game, played on Dec. 24,  1977, went into double-overtime with the same plot turns and twists as Saturday’s game.  Unfortunately, the Baltimore squad was on the short end of a heart-breaking loss.

Raiders wide receiver Dave Casper get congrats from teammates and head coach John Madde n after catching winning pass to beat the Baltimore Colts in overtime in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Raiders wide receiver Dave Casper get congrats from teammates and head coach John Madden after catching winning pass to beat the Baltimore Colts in overtime in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs.

At 15-years-old, I was among those fans in Memorial Stadium that watched in stunned silence as Oakland’s Kenny Stabler hit Dave Casper for the winning TD pass in the north endzone facing 36th Street as the evening shadows descended upon a disappointed crowd;

As filled up with joy as I was this past Saturday, I remember the disappointment of seeing the Raiders celebrate on the turf of Memorial Stadium to end a game what was a playoff classic. The Ravens win last Saturday, for me personally, forever exorcised the demons of Christmas Eve 1977.

Both games went back and forth like a Russian novel. The Raiders would jump out to a lead only to have the Colts move back out in front.  The Ravens-Broncos this past Saturday was just as hairy, full of big plays, kick returns, and pick sixes. The game was tied five times with four lead changes.

In the game against the Raiders, the Colts got points on a pick-six by Bruce Laird and an 87-yard kickoff return by Marshall Johnson. They also got a pair of touchdowns from a backup running back named Ronnie Lee.

With about four minutes left in the game, Baltimore had a 31-28 lead and appeared ready to put the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders away. But for some reason, Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda got conservative and tried to run the clock out, but it didn’t work. That would be something that Colts running back Lydell Mitchell would question in the years after the game.

Dave Casper 44-yard heave from Ken Stabler that put the Raiders in position to kick game-tying field to send their AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Colts into overtime.

Dave Casper’s catches a  44-yard heave from Ken Stabler that put the Raiders in position to kick game-tying field to send their 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Colts into overtime.

The Raiders got the ball back with a little over three minutes left.  The big play that put Oakland in position to tie the game was the famed “Ghost to the Post,” play in which Stabler hit Casper for a 44-yard gain to the Baltimore 14 with two minutes left.  The Raiders would tie the game on an Erroll Mann field goal and send it into overtime.

Flashing forward to last Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens were down 35-28 with no timeouts and had the ball at their own 30 yard line with under a minute left.

The odds of scoring the game-tying touchdown seemed to be somewhere between slim and none. But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, facing a fierce rush from the Broncos defense , stepped up and launched a long pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who somehow got behind two Denver defenders, and raced to a 70-yard touchdown that tied the game.In the same way the Ghost to the Post took the air out of Baltimore fans and led to overtime in 1977, Flacco’s miracle fling to Jones deflated Broncos fans while Baltimore fans in bars and taverns throughout central Maryland were no doubt in the throes of euphoria as the game headed to overtime—I wonder how many of those fans were at Memorial Stadium Christmas Eve 1977.

After a defensive stalemate dominated play for much of the first overtime, Baltimore finally got its big break late in the period when Corey Graham intercepted a Peyton Manning pass. It took the Ravens five plays to move within field goal range for Tucker’s game-winning kick.

Jacoby Jones catches game-tying TD pass from Joe Flacco that sent last weekend's divisional playoff game against Denver into overtime.

Jacoby Jones catches the game-tying TD pass from Joe Flacco that sent last weekend’s divisional playoff game against Denver into overtime.

When the ball sailed through the uprights, I could hear that same deafening, stunned silence from Denver fans that we experienced in Memorial Stadium back in 1977. But this time it was the Baltimore players celebrating a classic playoff victory on enemy turf and even though I was thousands of miles away, I was celebrating the way we were hoping to against the Raiders.

I watched the game at Champs Restaurant in South Philadelphia. I leaped from my seat with my fists pumped in the air when Tucker’s kick was ruled good. I blurted out an old Baltimore battle cry made famous by Colts and Orioles play-by-play announcer Chuck Thompson, “Go to War, Ms Agnes!” “Ain’t the Beer Cold!”

In the storied history of the Baltimore experience in the NFL, the Ravens double overtime win over the Denver Broncos will go down as an all-time great like the Colts famous overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game  that was dubbed, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Some in Baltimore are calling the Ravens win over the Broncos, “The Second Greatest Game Ever Played.”

As for Christmas Eve 1977 and the Ghost to the Post, all I need to say is over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, quoth the Ravens, “Nevermore.”