Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Disgraceful Exit

UM players Jason Fox and Richard Gordon walk off the field after UM's 48-0 loss to Virginia inthe final game at the Orange Bowl

In all the years I've been watching University of Miami football, last night's 48-0 loss to Virginia in the Orange Bowl's fairwell was the worst performance I've ever seen. This is truly rock bottom. This is worse than the 47-0 loss to FSU in 1997. Back then, the program was on probation and lost over 20 scholarships. It's clear the talent level has significantly dropped off during the Larry Coker years. Randy Shannon inherited a mess.

But Randy Shannon and his staff also have to take a lot of blame for what happened Saturday night. This team was not properly prepared. The fact that they played with zero emotion really has me puzzled. With all the tradition, nostalgia and the presence of all the great players from the past, you would think every player wearing the UM uniform would be motivated to play their best.

I was especially embarassed for the great former players who came back and witnessed this desecration. An ESPN sidelline reporter interviewed Bennie Blades during the game. You could see the painful expression on his face. He wasn't angry. But he looked very sad. For a moment, I thought Blades was going to cry. All those great players left their blood, sweat and tears on that field. And to see this year's UM team play, they're not worthy of wearing that uniform.

I know it sounds harsh, but Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman should turn in their scholarships. In fact, every player who participated in that abortion is not worthy of representing The U. The players and coaches should all be ashamed of themselves. They embarassed the university, the city and most importantly themselves. At the same time, I have to give Virginia credit for playing a flawless game. When you win 48-0, you are the better team. And there's no question the better team won last night. But you can't justify the margin of victory in this game. Can you believe the Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Canes as a slim favorite?

Randy Shannon has a lot of work to do. He must literally flush out the heartless and mediocre talent left behind by Coker. I like the recruiting class he's bringing in. Those kids and the next couple of recruiting classes will determine Shannon's legacy. But bringing in good talent is just part of the equation. Shannon's staff must do a better job of preparing that talent to play. I'm not impressed with Patrick Nix as an offensive coordinator. I didn't like him when he was at Georgia Tech and I certainly don't care for him right now. Tim Walton doesn't impress me as the defensive coordinator. The defense has clearly taken a few steps backwards under his watch.

As for Shannon himself, he needs to make sure these kids don't quit. I don't expect UM to win the next two games against Boston College and Virginia Tech. However, this team needs to at least put together better effort. Nobody associated with the current University of Miami team is blameless. We're going to find out what kind of heart--or lack there of--this team has. So far, the answer is the latter.

So along Orange Bowl. You deserved better.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Happy Birthday Larry Little

Happy 62nd birthday to former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Larry Little. From 1969 to 1980 Little starred for the Dolphins and was one of the NFL's most dominant guards of all time. He was arguably the best pulling guards ever and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Born Lawrence Chatmon Little in Groveland, Georgia, he moved to Miami as young boy and grew up in Overtown during segregation. He began playing football at Booker T. Washington High School and learned the game from legendary Booker T. coach James "Dean Blue" Everett. Little played fullback on offense and defensive tackle. Like a lot of young African-American kids growing up in segregated Miami, Little dreamed of playing for the Florida A&M Rattlers. As a youngster he attended Orange Blossom Classic games at the Orange Bowl when coach Jake Gaither would bring his FAMU Rattlers down to Miami every first week of December. At the time Gaither could recruit virtually every top black athlete in the state he wanted.

However, Gaither and his coaching staff chose not to recruit Little. Playing fullback in high school, Little was considered too slow and never got the scholarship he coveted. Because Florida schools were segregated, there weren't many opportunities for black athletes. Universities like Miami, Florida and Florida State had no black athletes at the time. But Little's talents did not go completely unnoticed. He received a scholarship to play football at Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach.

At Bethune Cookman, Little developed into All-Conference offensive and defensive lineman and a team captain. While he was considered too slow to play fullback, he was extremely quick for an offensive lineman. His quick feet and powerful size made him the prototype pulling guard. Despite his fine college career, Little was undrafted coming out of Bethune Cookman in 1967.

He began his NFL career as an unheralded free agent with the San Diego Chargers in 1967 and enjoyed only moderate success during his two years in San Diego. In 1969, Little was traded to the Dolphins in exchange for defensive Mack Lamb, who was Little's teammate at Miami's Booker T. Washington High School. It turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in football history. Little went on to become a perennial all-pro, while Lamb never played a down for the Chargers.

Little transformed from a project into a polished blocking machine under Dolphins offensive line coach Monte Clark. During the 1970s, when the Dolphins were a dominant team, Little became the epitome of the intimidating force of the vaunted Dolphins rushing attack. At 6-1 and 255 pounds, Little was also a superb pass blocker. Little was named all-pro and All-AFC seven consecutive years from 1971-77. He was selected to five Pro Bowls in his career and named the NFL Players Association AFC Lineman of the Year in 1970, 1971 and 1972. Along with fellow offensive linemen Jim Langer, Bob Kuechenberg, Norm Evans and Wayne Moore, the Dolphins won three consecutive AFC titles from 1971-73 and won Super Bowls VII and VIII. In 1972, Little and the Dolphins became the only NFL team to go undefeated.

Little displayed versatility, durability and dedication throughout his career. Dolphins coach Don Shula call him "a real inspiration, not just for the way he performs but also for his influence on our younger players."

Little wasn't the only talented football player in his family. His younger brother David Little was a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1981 to 1992 and was an All American at the University of Florida. David Little is still the all time leading tackler in Gators history and passed away from a heart attack in 2005.

Following his playing career, Larry Little returned to Bethune Cookman as the school's head football coach during the late 1980s. He also coached the Ohio Glory of the World League of American Football. In 1993 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and currently works as a specialist in the Miami-Dade County public school system.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy Birthday Ted Hendricks

Ted Hendricks shown chasing University of Florida QB Steve Spurrier in 1966

Happy 60th birthday to former University of Miami defensive end and NFL linebacker Ted Hendricks. Standing 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, Hendricks was a lean and mean player known as "The Mad Stork" and is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. He's the only 3-time All American in UM history and played 15 seasons in the NFL with the Colts, Packers and Raiders.

Born Theodore Paul Hendricks in Guatemala where his father was employed, he moved to South Florida as a young boy and grew up in Hialeah. He starred at Hialeah High School and was twice named All City by the Miami Herald as both an offensive and defensive end. Hendricks was also a gifted student. He graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and won the prestigious Silver Knight Award as Dade County's best student athlete.

Hendricks enrolled at the University of Miami as a freshman in 1965. After playing on the freshman team, he later became the first and only 3-time All American in Canes football history. Hendricks likely would have been a 4-time All American had freshmen been eligible during the 1960s. He made 327 career tackles and recovered 12 fumbles.--the most ever by a University of Miami defensive lineman. Hendricks was so dominant, he actually received Heisman votes as a junior and senior despite playing defensive end.

Despite his great college career, Hendricks slipped to the second round of the 1969 NFL Draft to the Baltimore Colts because scouts feared he was too thin to play defensive end in the NFL. But the Colts, who were then coached by Don Shula, switched Hendricks to outside linebacker where he could use his great speed to play in space and rush the quarterback. By his second season, he helped the Colts win Super Bowl V against the Cowboys at the Orange Bowl.

After an All-Pro career with the Colts, Hendricks was traded to the Packers in 1974 and then joined the Raiders the following year where he finished out his brilliant career. It was as a Raider where Hendricks had his best seasons. Henricks used his height to advantage in blocking kicks and in pass coverage. He intercepted 26 passes in his career and blocked 25 field goals and extra points--an NFL record. He also holds the NFL record with 4 safeties in his career. Hendricks helped the Raiders win three Super Bowls including his final game Super Bowl XVIII against the Redskins in January 1984.

He played in 215 consecutive regular season games, seven AFC championship games and won four Super Bowl rings. He was also selected eight times to the Pro Bowl. In 1990 Hendricks was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Four years later, he was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team. The Sporting News named him as one of the 100 greatest players in NFL history. He currently works on behalf of ex-players as part of the Hall of Fame Player's Association.

Time To Start John Beck

John Beck

Is it me or is Cam Cameron reaching for excuses not to play John Beck? The Dolphins are 0-8 and have now dropped their last 12 regular season games dating back to last year. Cleo Lemon has played okay. But he's coming off his worst start since taking over for the injured Trent Green. The Dolphins have lost their best running back Ronnie Brown for the season to injury. They've traded their best receiver Chris Chambers to San Diego. This season has spun so ridiculously out of control, there is a realistic chance the Dolphins could go 0-16.

It's time to take the training wheels off and give John Beck the keys to the car. The rookie quarterback from BYU has yet to play a down. But at this point, can the Dolphins play any worse than now? Beck was the team's 2nd round pick. The Dolphins bypassed Notre Dame star Brady Quinn who was unepectedly available with the fourth pick of the draft. But instead, the Dolphins chose receiver Ted Ginn with the hope of drafting Beck in the second. Beck was available and the Dolphins immediately grabbed him in the second round.

So why hasn't Cameron given Beck a chance to start? Back in 1994, Cameron was the quarterback's coach for the Washington Redskins. That year, the Redskins drafted University of Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler with its first round pick. Eight weeks into the 1994 season, the Redskins threw Shuler into the starting lineup and he was clearly not ready. Shuler struggled terribly and never developed into a quality NFL quarterback. Cameron believes Shuler was rushed too soon, destroying his confidence and essentially his NFL career.

But the example of Heath Shuler is a poor excuse. First of all, Shuler never proved he could play in the NFL. It didn't matter when Shuler was thown into the starting lineup. He was never going to be a good quarterback. Shuler's poor career wasn't because he lost confidence from his rookie year. He just wasn't any good. Don't believe me? There have been plenty of great quarterbacks who struggled miserably as rookies and went on to great careers. John Elway had a terrible rookie year in 1983. Troy Aikman went 1-15 with the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie in 1989. Peyton Manning led the NFL with 28 interceptions his rookie year and the Colts were a pathetic 3-13. But going through those growing pains made them into the great quarterbacks they would eventually become. Do you think Aikman, Elway and Manning lost confidence after rough rookies seasons? Of course not. A good quarterback should have enough confidence to know he can play in the league. Otherwise, he shouldn't be playing.

Listen, I'm not saying John Beck is going to be the next Elway, Aikman or Peyton Manning. But you need to crawl before you can walk. The best way for Beck to develop into a good quarterback is to play. You don't learn anything sitting on the bench. You can't simulate the speed of the game in practice. The only way you learn to play quarterback is getting out there on the field and face a real NFL defense.

Beck is 26 years old and the Dolphins don't have the luxury of having him wait for a year or two on the sidelines before throwing him into the fire. I don't expect Beck to light it up and start looking like the second coming of Dan Marino. He's probably going to struggle and perhaps very badly. But that's okay. This team is not going anywhere anytime soon. The Dolphins need to find out what Beck can do.

Cameron obviously feels Lemon gives the Dolphins the best chance to win because of experience. But he's not the future. The Dolphins have a lot invested in Beck. It's time to put that investment into good use.