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NFL Classics; Black Coaches Denied; Hall Hypocrisy

The NFL couldn't have scripted it any better.

Six great playoff games in a row. Last week's divisional games all decided on the final play. Yesterday's conference championship games both featuring big comebacks and both decided by a field goal, one in overtime,

If there was ever any question as to why people love pro football, it was answered by the classics of the last two weeks.

Burrow blossoms: Two years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals won only two games and had the worst team in the league. Now, led by quarterback Joe Burrow, they are going to the Super Bowl.

Burrow led his team back from a 21-3 deficit (which should've been 28-3) with the help of a stout Cincy second half defense and some uncharacteristically errant throws from Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Niners Collapse: The 49ers were ahead 17-7 in the fourth quarter and seemingly headed to their seventh straight win over the LA Rams and a berth in the Super Bowl. But in a collapse reminiscent of the 2020 Super Bowl, when the Niners blew a 10-point lead over Kansas City, they fell victim to a late Ram comeback, 20-17.

Much-maligned quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, of course, will be blamed for the loss, after throwing—or flipping—an interception on the final drive that bounced off JaMycal Hasty's hands. He's the media's favorite punching bag, and the guy the 49ers made a lame duck at the beginning of the season.

But lots of people share the blame for this one. The 49ers’ offensive line fell apart in the fourth quarter. Safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped a gift-wrapped interception that might’ve sealed it for SF. Coach Kyle Shanahan got conservative late in the game and punted on 4th and two. No one was able to cover Ram receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham, who combined for 20 receptions for 253 yards.

Garoppolo probably has played his last game for San Francisco. Several NFL teams, including Pittsburgh, Denver, Cleveland and Carolina, will likely be on the phone with the 49ers in the near future. Whoever gets him will be getting a damn good player.

Weddle Returns: Seventeen years ago we hosted Eric Weddle in the Emerald Bowl, when his Utah team upset heavily favored Georgia Tech. Great player, great guy. Weddle went on to a long and distinguished NFL career before retiring two years ago. Then, two and a half weeks ago, with the Rams’ secondary decimated by injuries, he received a phone call that changed his life.

Weddle filled in at safety in the Ram’s season finale, then started against Tampa Bay last week, then was his team's leading tackler against the 49ers yesterday.

“Two and a half weeks ago I was at home, the Weddle taxi service for all our kids’ sports, and a call from (defensive coordinator) Raheem Morris changed the fortune of my life,” Weddle said. “And now starting the NFC championship, and winning, and heading to the Super Bowl, I mean, I just feel like it’s just meant to be, man.”

Black Hole: What do Nathaniel Hackett, Matt Eberflus and Brian Daboll have in common?

All three of these rather obscure white assistant coaches were hired last week as NFL head coaches (by Denver, Chicago and the NY Giants) over more qualified black coaches. Like Brian Flores, who did a great job winning eight of his last nine games but then was unceremoniously canned by Miami. Or Jim Caldwell, who did a fine job in Detroit, going 36-28 and twice reaching the playoffs in four years; since then they’ve gone 17-46. Or two of the best offensive coordinators in football, Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich and Kansas City’s Eric Bienemy. Or David Culley, a longtime NFL assistant who was fired after just one year with Houston.

As of today, there is one black head coach out of 32 teams in the NFL, a league where over 60% of the players are black.

Back in 1992, when Stanford coach Denny Green was being pursued by the Minnesota Vikings, I tried to convince Denny, a good friend of mine, to stay at Stanford. My efforts proved futile because, as he told me ruefully, “You know, Gary, there are only 28 of those jobs, and if you have a chance to get one of them, especially if you’re a black man, you can’t pass it up. You’ve got to take it. It’s probably the only chance you’ll ever get.”

He was right.

I got an email recently from a former Stanford player who referred to the “BS social justice messages” on the back of players’ helmets.

Well, “End Racism” isn’t a BS message. Racism is alive and well in the NFL.

Hall Hypocrisy: Former San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds, one of the best baseball players of all time, was denied election to the Hall of Fame for the 10th time because of his reported steroid use. He now must hope that one of the Hall’s committees will vote him in.

Throughout his career Bonds was a very unpleasant guy, to teammates, team staff, and the media. I get that. He’s a bad guy. But it makes no sense for Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens to be singled out while several other suspected steroid users, including Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, have made it to Cooperstown.

To make matters worse, this year David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who was named as a user in the Mitchell Report, was elected on the first ballot while Bonds and Clemens fell short. And a few years ago Bud Selig, who as league commissioner turned a blind eye to steroid use, was inducted.

Fact is, Hall of Fame players have been using various means to get an edge long before steroids came into use. Mike Schmidt admitted he used amphetamines and he certainly wasn’t alone; greenies were used openly in the majors for decades. Pitchers Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford admitted to doctoring baseballs. Lots of hitters used pine tar and corked bats.

As for the “character clause,” the Hall is filled with alcoholics and at least a few players who were reportedly members of the Ku Klux Klan.

From this vantage point, it’s complete hypocrisy to deny induction to perhaps the most dominant player and pitcher of their generation.

Bonds, Clemens—and Pete Rose for that matter—all belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Otherwise, it's a farce.

Book Report: We've been shying away from politics for awhile, but must note that esteemed former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has just released a memoir, entitled "Here's the Deal."

Conway, of course, is best known for "alternative facts," the fictitious "Bowling Green Massacre" and responding to a question about the spread of Covid with, "What? You don't think the virus is contained?"

Needless to say, her book will be in the fiction section.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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