Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hawks Make History with Last Second Win Over the Spartans

You know the feeling; your eyes open and you think, “Was it a dream?” Well, when I awoke late this morning at the Country Inn and Suites near the Cedar Rapids Airport, the Hawks were still 8 and 0. The team charter landed at about 1 AM last night, and a tired beat-up football team loaded the buses for the trip down to Iowa City. I headed to the hotel to try to get some sleep before heading back to Colorado.

Now that it is Sunday morning, I have finally settled down and I have a chance to examine the Hawks amazing come from behind victory. Coaches preach the importance of a team effort to produce a victory; this was the perfect example. A defensive effort that kept the game close when the offense couldn't gain any momentum, special teams play that produced three field goals and forced MSU to start drives from inside their 20 four times, three times in the second half, and the offense which drove 70 yards with 1:32 left to score six to win. This effort brought victory even though the defense couldn't produce a turnover or the offense couldn't produce a touchdown until the last drive. The Hawks won because of great effort, not great execution. That’s the trait of a winning team. Winning teams become great teams.

The hitting was fierce and both teams suffered player injuries. Greenwood and Sandeman appeared the most serious, as the lay motionless because of concussions. The reaction of the MSU fans to the helmet to helmet hit on Sandeman was unacceptable. I can understand the booing following the assessment of the 15 yard penalty, but the booing while Sandeman is being helped from the field was the most outrageous conduct I think I've ever witnessed in a college stadium.

But in the end, the Spartan fans would be the ones to suffer. The ending was surreal. With two seconds left and the Hawks with one play left, the noise was deafening. It would soon be so quiet that only the few thousand Hawkeye faithful could be heard. Marvin McNutt standing in the end zone holding the ball is frozen in my mind. It happened so quickly, and all I could scream was TOUCHHHDOWNNNN!!!! It took Gary Dolphin a few seconds to quiet me down so he could describe to the fans what happened. But it was really more than a touchdown; it was history being made, the Hawks have gone 8-0 for the first time.

A seven yard slant pass to Marvin McNutt from Rickie Stanzi was the winner. But why the slant pass and not the fade pattern? Most coaches will agree that those are the two best chances you have to score in one play from the seven. I remember Coach Fry and then offensive coordinator Bill Snyder discussing the benefits of each back in the 80's. Coach Fry favored the fade to your tallest receiver. Coach Snyder liked the slant. Coach Fry's position was that the slant pass could be knocked down and never reach the receiver. Coach Snyder argued that the slant was easier to throw and would not end up being a jump ball between the receiver and the defensive back. We'll never know what would have happened had the fade been called. Today we love the fact that Ken O’Keefe called the slant.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Playing a Round at Whistling Straights Golf Club

Well I've got to say it was a lot of fun hanging around Wisconsin this week rubbing it in. My Badger friends were forced to put up with me Sunday through Tuesday, as we traveled from Madison to Kohler to play golf. The weather was delightful and the Whistling Straights Golf Club was impressive. Most golf magazines have it rated as a Top 10 experience, and I'm now one of the believers. The Scottish links experience is so genuine that there are even sheep grazing on the course. I'm looking forward to my next trip back.

I'm also looking forward to this weekend's trip back to East Lansing. Last year's trip was a bummer, and each time I return to MSU, I can't help but remember what it was like to travel up here as a sophomore quarterback to play the number 1 ranked Spartans in 1966. Michigan State was undefeated and had destroyed all of their opponents. I was running as much as I was throwing the ball and that had placed me second in the Big Ten in total offense. As we walked through the East Lansing airport someone handed me a paper and the headline said "all 22 eyes are on you Podolak." The writer told the story of how it was obvious that the defense was going to key in on me. Two of the players quoted were Bubba Smith and George Webster, two All-Americans who after the season would be number 1 draft choices. Needless to say, it was a tough night to sleep.

Well the game started with us driving for a touchdown and getting a lead against Michigan State for the first time by any team that year. This ended up being a major mistake as it just pi***ed them off. The student section started their chant "kill-Bubba-kill" and the game got quickly out of hand. The final score was 56-7, and we even had some guys who refused to go back into the game.

It's a lot more fun to be on this trip. Even though it's going to be cold and wet down on the field, it will be warm and dry in the broadcast booth. And the Hawks match up really well against the Spartans, which should make the 7-0 Hawks the favorites, although the odds-makers don't see it that way. Being the underdog, should help motivate the guys even more.

Michigan State has found success throwing the ball this year, which is a different attack than they used last year to barely beat the Hawks up here. Their passing game is effective partially because they have tall rangey receivers. The Hawk cornerbacks are bigger than most corners so that should help them defend one on one. The Hawks need to shutdown the run and make the Spartans one dimensional.

The Michigan State defense loves to blitz. They lead the league in sacks. They will blitz defensive backs along with linebackers. That means they are covering the tight end with a linebacker. The Hawks would love to catch them trying to cover Tony Moeaki with a linebacker. Look for this match up to produce one of the big plays of the game.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hawks Go 7-0, Beating the Badgers 20-10

In the days of Hayden Fry, it would have been a "Hokie Pokie" locker room. The Hawkeyes carefully dissected the Wisconsin Badgers, 20-10, as Hayden Fry proteges directed each team and another looked on. Barry Alvarez, the athletic director at Wisconsin stopped by as Gary Dolphin and I we're having dinner Friday night at Ruth's Chris, and we had a good time reminiscing about his days as one of Hayden's assistants.

In a stadium of late-arriving, reserved Badger fans, the Hawkeyes got off to a very slow start and did not look anything like the team that had won 6 in a row. The Badgers controlled both lines of scrimmage and at the end of the first quarter the Hawks had only two first downs and a total of 30 yards. Wisconsin had 6 first downs and 74 yards.

The second quarter started in the same pattern as the first with Wisconsin in control. It wasn't until Ricky Stanzi hit Derrell Johnson Koulianos (DJK) for 34 yards and a first down deep into the second quarter, that the Hawks began to turn the tide. From my view point this was a game-changing play. If the Hawks had gone three-and-out for the 3rd consecutive series with Wisconsin leading 10-0, they may have never recovered. Having a healthy DJK in the lineup is critical to the Hawkeyes down the stretch. He has more experience than most of the other receivers and the talent to make big plays. With the field goal that followed this drive, the Hawkeyes started the scoring parade that led to the victory. A lot more big plays followed, but without this one, the rest may have been too late.

With the exception of the Stanzi fumble on an attempted screen pass and the sack in the last drive that added 5 yards to the final field goal, the Hawks played errorless football in the second half. The defense gave up only 58 yards and 3 first downs. Stanzi was 11-13 in the second half as the offensive halftime adjustments were as effective as the defense's adjustments. The plan to throw more square-out patterns to spread the defense worked, as it created more room to run on the inside. The Hawks rushed for only 23 yards in the first half, but 118 in the second half (if you don't count the negative sack yardage.) The Hawkeye coaching staff again proved that they are one of the best in the country at making halftime adjustments.

As for special teans, the kick coverage improved, with punt coverage being outstanding. Donahue punted 3 times for a 50-yard average with no return yardage. This kind of performance each week will take the Hawks a long way toward a Big Ten title. I also think that Colin Sandeman looks very comfortable back on punts. This job gets harder as the weather gets worse and the sun makes catching the ball very difficult when looking south during games with a 11am start. I also like Robinson and Wegher back on kick returns. I feel running backs spot the opening better and know how to protect the ball. I have a feeling one of these guys is going to break one.

This was a picture-perfect victory for the Hawks. They were down 10 points for the second time this year, found a way to fight back and beat a well-coached, talented Wisconsin team at their place. From the press box, the Hawks' domination became obvious as the 3rd quarter wore on and the offense was able to take advantage of the turnovers supplied by the defense. The second half was certainly the best 30 minutes played by the Hawks this year. As every coach loves to say, "It's something to build on."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Michigan Victory, Chiefs Alumni Game, Missouri Hall of Fame

What an experience. It never gets old, in fact it gets better. More than 70,000 thousand people packed into a special place called Kinnick Stadium to watch Iowa humble Michigan on homecoming weekend. Playing a game at night adds so much to the atmosphere. Especially if your sitting up high or one is lucky enough to be in the press box. The world is dark as you look around, but as you look down the football world is brightly lit for 140,000 eyes and the Saturday night national audience to see. The Hawks rewarded their fans with an evening to remember. An evening that had been declared by many, as far back as spring practice, as the "Night to be in Kinnick" during the 2009 season. When the 30-28 score stayed brightly shining and the Iowa students rushed the field, the memories of 28 seasons of doing Hawkeye games on radio rushed through my head. Where do I place this is the list of great days in Kinnick? At that moment it was number one.

So, Sunday morning it's off to Kansas City and the annual Chiefs players alumni game. I always look forward to this Sunday in October as it's a chance to see my teammates, who I share many memories with from 9 years with Chiefs. Each year, enjoying the weekend has become more challenging, because of physical problems due to football injuries that have taken their toll on my Chiefs buddies. There were 40 players on the active roster when we took the field against the Minnesota Vikings for our win in January of 1970. Seven are now deceased and many are walking with the help of a cane or walker. Some are bedridden and a good number are constantly facing another operation. The NFL and The NFL Players Association refuses to provide the assistance that I feel is needed and deserved. I feel so lucky that I'm not one of the many that so dearly needs this help. The Chiefs played well, but lost in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys. The Chiefs have now lost 14 in a row. Gosh it's great to be a Hawkeye. Tuesday is the induction ceremony for our Super Bowl team into the Missouri Hall of Fame for our Super Bowl team. The induction took place in Springfield and I enjoyed riding the 3 hours from Kansas City with my Chiefs teammate, Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson. "Lenny the Cool" was one of the great ones to ever strap on a helmet. He has the same job for the Chiefs, providing color for the team's radio broadcast, that I have for the Hawkeyes. Who do you think is having more fun?

The T and C Hunt Club ( south of Fort Scott Kansas is my next stop. My old friend Bud Walker has spent 10 years putting together the property and building the white pine lodge that is a sportsman's dream. I need a shooting lesson, as I have been practicing the "shoot and release" program over the past hunting season. I know missing shots on pheasants and ducks is good for their population, it is not good for the table or the ego. After an hour on the range I was back on my game and ready for pheasant season to open.

Thursday is here and it's time to head for Madison, Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes have work to do and so do I. The Michigan victory is history. I've been able to enjoy it for 5 days. I know the Hawk players have only been able to enjoy it for one day before their thoughts moved on to beating the Badgers. But, then that's the advantage of being a has-been football player and a color analyst.