Overtime Rules, Officiating Blunders Taint Two Great Games; Turk Passes; Bama Defections; A-Rod Citi
Yesterday's NFC and AFC championship games were both games for the ages, with great play after great play, clutch third down conversions, game-changing interceptions, and edge of the seat intensity.
It’s a shame that one game was decided by a blown call and the other by a coin flip.
Yes, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady was brilliant, as usual. But it’s almost criminal that Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was unstoppable in the second half, never got to touch the ball in overtime.
The NFL—unlike the NCAA—doesn't guarantee both teams an offensive possession in overtime. The current rule, which requires a touchdown to win on the opening possession, is better than the old one, which allowed the receiving team to win with just a field goal, but it’s still unfair to deny both teams a chance.
The NCAA rule that gives both teams a shot from the 25-yard line is far from perfect, but at least it’s equitable. My suggestion: the NFL should give both teams one possession. If they’re still tied at that point, go to sudden death.
No Call: The officials blew the Saints-Rams’ game with an egregious no call with less than two minutes remaining. With New Orleans driving for the game-winning field goal, the officials failed to call an obvious pass interference penalty that would've given the Saints a first down inside the 10. That would’ve allowed them to run off all but a few seconds on the clock before kicking a chip shot field goal to win the game.
The no-call illustrated both the incompetence and the hypocrisy of NFL officiating. The official was standing just a few feet away and clearly saw the infraction, which was not only pass interference, but also an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit. If the league truly cares about safety, a personal foul should’ve also been called.
The league admitted later they’d blown the call, but that provides little solace to the Saints, who should be meeting the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Turk passes: Former Stanford and Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback Turk Schonert passed away last week from an apparent heart attack. I worked with Turk when he played at Stanford from '77-79. He was a good guy…a fun-loving free spirit, a great competitor, and a terrific teammate.
He paid his dues behind Guy Benjamin and Steve Dils before becoming the starter in his senior year. Problem was, Stanford had just recruited the top high school prospect of his generation, a guy who would go on to become one of the five greatest quarterbacks in football history, John Elway.
Rod Dowhower, in his first year as head coach after serving as offensive coordinator under Bill Walsh, struggled with a lot of head coaching responsibilities, but he handled the quarterback situation well. Dowhower started his experienced, highly-capable senior throughout the season, but also gave significant playing time to his out-of-this-world freshman.
All Schonert did was lead the nation in passing. He completed 148 of 221 passes for a 67% completion percentage (very rare in those days), 1931 yards, 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, for a 160.7 quarterback rating. His performance was all the more remarkable considering that, going into the '79 season, he had thrown just 9 passes in mop-up work.
It’s worth noting that Schonert was Stanford's third straight NCAA passing champion. Benjamin was the nation's top-rated QB in '77, and Dils followed suit in '78. (The three NCAA champs are pictured above, along with Elway and Jim Plunkett. Turk is second from the right).
He is perhaps best remembered for a 21-21 tie game against No. 1 ranked USC that cost the Trojans the national title. Stanford was a three-touchdown underdog and trailed 21-0 at the half. But Turk threw second-half TD passes to Mike Dotterer and Ken Margerum, before darting 10 yards for the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Schonert went on to play nine years in the NFL (1981-89), eight with Cincy and one with Atlanta. He was drafted in 1980 by the Chicago Bears but spent a year on the practice squad, before joining the Bengals in '81.
He was the prototypical backup QB—smart, capable, always prepared, ready to step in when needed and do a respectable job. He started 12 games during his career, winning seven. Overall, he completed 311 of 504 passes for 3788 yards, 11 TDS and 20 interceptions. He also rushed for 288 yards and 4 TDs.
Schonert played on two Super Bowl teams for the Bengals—1982 and 1989—losing both games to the 49ers and his former college coach Bill Walsh.
He later spent 13 years as an NFL assistant coach and two in the UFL (United Football League), including one as head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs, where he replaced former Stanford head coach Denny Green, who was in a contract dispute with the team. For the last four years, Turk worked in the Canadian Football League as an assistant coach for the Montreal Alouettes.
He will be missed.
A-Rod sighting: Baseball great Alex Rodriguez was in Palo Alto last week to teach a class at Stanford Business School and we happened to run into him at lunch on Thursday at Mayfield Bakery/Cafe in Town & Country Shopping Center. Three quick impressions of A-Rod from the brief encounter—1) looks to be in great shape, like he could step in and hit 40 homers; 2) seems very normal and down to earth; 3) a positive, upbeat, friendly guy.
Unfortunately, J-Lo wasn't with him.
More QB Transfers: The quarterback merry-go-round continues. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, who lost his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa, has transferred to Oklahoma, where he will be able to play next year due to the graduate transfer rule that we covered in a blog last month. And Justin Fields has left Georgia for Ohio State.
If recent history holds, Hurts will lead the Sooners to the playoffs and win the Heisman Trophy, like the last two quarterbacks who transferred to Oklahoma did—Kyler Murray (Texas A&M) this season and Baker Mayfield (Texas Tech) two years ago.
Bama Defections: Speaking of Alabama, in addition to Hurts, seven key players are out the door after declaring early for the NFL Draft. The list includes defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, linebacker Mack Wilson, Defensive back Saivion Smith, safety Deionte Thompson, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, tight end Irv Smith Jr. and running back Josh Jacobs.
All were starters except Jacobs, who alternated at RB senior Damien Harris and Bay Area product Najee Harris. This is good news for Najee who, with both Damien and Jacobs departing, looks like he will be the lead back next fall.
But it’s bad news for coach Nick Saban, who’s never lost this many non-seniors to the NFL before.
Saban must also replace most of his coaching staff, particularly on the offensive side. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley left to become head coach at Maryland. Saban wanted QB coach Dan Enos to replace Locksley, but Enos decided he'd be happier as the OC at Miami and reportedly departed without telling his boss. Offensive line coach Brent Key took a job at Georgia Tech, and receivers coach Josh Gattis left for the same job at Michigan.
On the defensive side, coordinator and Cal graduate Tosh Lupoi, regarded by many as the top recruiter in college football, jumped to the NFL to become defensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns.
As we've said many times, working for Saban is no picnic.