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The Pro Game: Ridley, Sabol, Lombardi and Pink

Pro Football Weekly
Key matchup: Patriots running game vs. 49ers run defense

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Key matchup: Patriots running game vs. 49ers run defense

I’m not sure what to make of the Patriots' sudden running game, the third-rated beast that’s blowing it out at 165 yards per week. I see some lively new legs in Stephen Ridley and Brandon Bolden, and some new bullies in there on the offensive wall, but I’ve also seen some pretty crappy work by Buffalo and Denver, two defenses that have recently done much to pad up those gaudy New England stats.

I saw the Bills’ defensive front half-ass it a lot, dancing around with the New England blockers and letting Rob Gronkowski, the 6-foot-6 tight end who was lined up at fullback, spring things free with open shots on the defensive backs who were coming up for support. This was when it was a 21-7 game and a 21-14 game and the Bills still were in it, not during bloodbath stage, 52-28 deep in the fourth, when yards can spill out like a punctured bladder.  

And last week I saw the Pats toss it to Ridley at the Denver eight, no lead blocker in front, and run a basic student-body-left, and the only Bronco interested in getting dirty was Champ Bailey, the 34-year old cornerback, who got snapped in half by Nate Solder, the left tackle leading the charge outside.

I missed their game with the Cardinals back in September, but I read the stats sheet and it said New England — 28 rushes for 90 yards. I also saw them against the Ravens, a club that’s forever known how to mangle a running game, and the Pats came up 34 for 77 in the rushing department. That’s 2.3 per carry.

I also wrote a piece last week and in it casually mentioned something about the Pats not being able to pound it with any ferocity, and I got a fast call from my editor, saying, “Hey, they had two 100-yard runners last week (vs. Buffalo) out of two-TE sets. You sure you want to make that comment?”

Absolutely maybe.

                                                                            • • • •

The Steve Sabol tributes continue. Here’s a sweet story from Art Rooney Jr., the man who controlled the Steel Curtain Ministry of Personnel for years. Someone had recently reminded him about one of the NFL films, of the old Sabol classic “This is Pro Football.”

“When I started to run the Steelers scouting department” Rooney says, “I thought it would be a good idea to bring the rookies in to sell them on Pittsburgh and the team. We were in the midst of a seven-year losing streak. I told my brother Dan that we should avoid showing our highlights — I mean lowlights — to the new guys.

“So I dragged our big 16mm sound projector up to the LeMont restaurant on Mt. Washington. No way would we show them the Steeler film. Nope, instead I selected “This is Pro Football” with Dr. Doom narrating … 'It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun….'

“The Mt. Washington view and that film did us wonders.”

                                                                             • • • •

Time capsule item. Was poking through some ancient books and found this stinging jab at Lombardi, from one of the Redskins he coached in 1969, his lone season in Washington. The player was unnamed (self-preservation), and he wasn’t particularly happy with how Vincent was running things.

“It’s a terrible feeling to know you’re afraid of the man you work for. When I think personally of what I have gone through this year, the hell you go through making this team. And it was hell…

“The statements he makes when you’re hurt, like, ‘If you don’t play for me hurt, I’ll get rid of you.’ I’ve heard him tell that to people. Hell, he’s told it to me. When you’ve got a family, is that right to be told you’re fired because you’re hurt? You ask yourself, would he really do something like that? I think he would….”

“I was talking to some guys I knew on the Packers before training camp began, and they laughed at me and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get that dirty bastard,’ and ‘When he gets ahold of you guy he’s going to have your tongue hanging out.’ They were all laughing, you know? With glee!

“Yet you’d think they’d really want him back, would miss him, but they didn’t seem to…”

Oh, that Vinnie – hug him or hate him.

                                                                            • • • •

Final thought. The NFL needs to calm down with the whole pink awareness campaign. Enough. Please put it away. We get it already — the National Football League “cares.”

Can someone tell me who isn’t aware of the evils of breast cancer? Or any of the other cancers? Who watching these NFL games each Sunday doesn’t comprehend this affliction, nor lacks sympathy for its victims?

But to have these players run around in their bubblicious-flavored accessories for a month, looking like a gang of jacked-up Easter bunnies, is farcical. They look ridiculous.

We can pretend this campaign is effective, a powerful message from a powerful messenger. We can throw around feel-good words like “awareness” and wear the bright little ribbons around the sidelines, but in reality this month-long dress code achieves very little. Actually, it feels contrived and over-the-top, like some strange offspring of demographics and self-righteousness.

I wonder if, hidden in the depths of these league marketing meetings, there’s a belief that this campaign will … um … perhaps … you know, um … maybe attract more female viewers. That sensitivity sells?

Hey, we just lost Steve Sabol to brain cancer. Where’s his colored ribbon?

Instead of spending all that green on pink towels and shoes and caps and the wimpy-looking wristbands and gloves, how about the NFL just writing a fat pink check and sending it off to a hospice or a research center or care facility? Now that’s impact. That’s awareness in action.

In fact, mail a big one out every month, NFL, to show you care year-round. And let the players do their work in normal outfits, without all the cotton-candy decorations.

Insensitive? Callous? No, I’m just numb to it.  

I’m also aware of many women — both fans and non-fans — who look at this overkill crusade quite the same way.

I heard one say, “I watch football to get away from life a little bit. It’s my fun time, my entertainment, OK? I lost a sister to breast cancer. And I don’t care to be reminded of that on every single play.”

Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at You can contact Tom at

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