Michael Jordan. Brett Favre. Jerry Rice. Aaron Rodgers. If you know anything about sports, you probably know these four men are some of the top names in their respective sports. But did you know that they now have relatives trying to pick up where they left off?
The other day, I got an e-mail from someone named Emil Chepiga. The subject line was simply “Well well.”
Here is what the e-mail read:
Here is [NAME REMOVED] writing to you.
The name of the attached file was “grdokyux.htm.”
This is a story I wrote for a local online news site several months ago, but they never published it. So I thought I would share it here on my blog:
Packers have a rich history in Largo
By Greg Lindberg
The NFL’s Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers aren’t the only sports team with a large following. If you live in Largo, there is a popular Packers squad right in your backyard.
So where exactly did the Packer name come from? In its early days, the school was located near a large orange packing plant at the corner of Missouri and East Bay Avenues. Trains would come through to pick up the oranges for distribution to other areas. It was only fitting that the school took on the Packer name for its athletic teams.
Aside from the Packer name, the official mascot is a razorback hog. According to Largo athletic coordinator Jim Casey, a principal at the school in the late 1950s and early ‘60s was a graduate of the University of Arkansas and was a huge Razorbacks fan. The school adopted the pig as a result. Some also claim that the football team would practice near a pig farm in the area. Animal farms were once a common site to see in Pinellas County.
The pig mascot also represents the rural aspect in the history of the school and its longtime rivalry with the city-centered Clearwater High School.
“It was always the farmers against the city folks,” Casey said. “Every time [Largo] played Clearwater, kids would dress up in overalls and straw hats.”
Rick Rodriguez has been the head football coach at Largo since 2000. But he previously coached at Clearwater High for 16 years prior to joining the Packers. Rodriguez admitted it took some time getting used to coaching on the other side of the rivalry.
“But I’m all Largo blood now,” he said.
Rodriguez’s teams have dominated his former school. The Packers, who wear helmets that show a mean-looking hog with its teeth sticking out, are 12-1 against the Tornadoes in their last 13 meetings.
“We’re one of the best football programs in Pinellas in the past 10 years,” Rodriguez said.
Because of how popular Largo football is, students dress up in school colors – blue and gold – for pep rallies and football games. The pig mascot has appeared at football games as well. In the past, a senior would dress up in a razorback costume and attend games to cheer on the Packers. But because it was so hot to wear the heavy costume, nobody volunteered to do it last fall. It was also discovered that the mascot was missing from the team’s field house. It has not yet been replaced.
“I think somebody stole the thing,” Rodriguez said. He wonders if it was a Clearwater fan who took it.
Many sports pundits have debated for years about having a minimum age requirement for college basketball players to enter the NBA draft. The current rule states that players must be 19 years old the year of the draft in order to qualify for it.
So why not also have a maximum age limit for athletes to compete in college sports?
The Oklahoma State Cowboys are currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in college football. If they win the rest of their games, they will likely play in the BCS National Championship Game. Brandon Weeden, their starting quarterback, is 28 years old. He played five seasons of minor-league baseball before joining the Oklahoma State football team. Weeden is a decade older than many of the freshmen on the team. He got his driver’s license when many of his teammates were starting kindergarten. This must beg the question: why in the world is he allowed to play? It is not fair to other players to have to play against a guy who could be a fifth-year NFL quarterback. The NCAA must change the eligibility rules right here, right now.
College students between the ages of 18 and 22 have a reputation for being wild and crazy and doing stupid things. This stereotype might be accurate in some cases, and research has shown that humans’ brains are not fully developed until the mid-20s. That is why young adults often make poor and rash decisions. It also reflects the major differences in the abilities of college football players and NFL players. Yet Weeden, at age 28, must be fully matured and a step ahead of his teammates and players on opposing teams, right? It is obvious why his team is the second-best in the country. No other team has a QB at his maturity level. In fact, it would be embarrassing if he didn’t have his team in their current position.
Back in 1999, the Florida State Seminoles had Chris Weinke playing at quarterback. Weinke, also a former minor league baseball player, was 27 years old and won a national championship at FSU that season. He also won the Heisman Trophy the following year to become the oldest player to ever to win as a 28-year-old. At the time, people probably felt the same way about Weinke as they have to about Weeden.
It just does not seem right that athletes of a certain age who have professional experience under their belts are allowed to play at the college level. Perhaps the fact that these older players are quarterbacks – arguably the most important position to play – gives their teams even more of an advantage. Sure, people go back to school later in life to earn their degrees. But when competing in athletics, those with professional sports experience like Weeden had in minor-league baseball are obviously far superior both physically and mentally than everyone else on the field when they play. If Oklahoma State wins the national championship this year, there should be an asterisk next to the team’s name in the record books. I’d even vote to add one to the ’99 Seminoles.
The recent news out of Penn State University that former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly committed a slew of sex abuse crimes against children has taken the nation by storm. Any story with details of this nature is terribly disturbing, but this case is particularly polarizing because of who is involved – and who might have been involved. None other than legendary Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno is being questioned about what he did or did not report to both school officials and local authorities about what he apparently knew was going on.
Paterno, who has been a coach in some fashion at Penn State since 1950, has had a reputation as one of the most unique and beloved faces in sports, primarily because of his age and longevity at one school. In today’s era of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, it is rare to see a head coach remain at one job for a fraction of the time that Paterno has held his position in State College, Pa.
Many fans were probably wondering when Paterno would ultimately decide to hang it up. In 2011 at the age of 84, he was quoted as saying he would like to coach “another four or five years.” But because of the Sandusky scandal and obvious pressure from all directions, Paterno announced on Nov. 9 that this would be his final season as head coach. Only the school’s Board of Trustees will determine if he can finish the remainder of the season or if he will be forced out sooner.
Clearly, this entire situation is just awful from every angle. First and foremost, you certainly have to feel for the victims of the alleged crimes. But from a college football fan’s standpoint, isn’t it an absolute shame it had to end like this? Regardless of whether “JoePa” is sent out the door before the 2011 season is over or gets his wishes and finishes with an ounce of dignity, who would have ever thought such a celebrated career would end on a note like this? It pains me to think that the “grandfather of college football” has to take a bow on such ugly terms. I don’t even know how to view the man any longer. In all likelihood, that view won’t be shaped completely until the entire saga is unraveled. We will never see another Joe Paterno. And because of that, it makes you sick to your stomach.
The 1990s decade continues to fall further back in history with each passing day. But a ‘90s TV staple is now back – and hopefully here to stay.
This past Sunday, ESPN aired an outstanding in-depth piece on Outside the Lines about how high school football has helped heal some of the pain that will be forever felt in Joplin, Mo. This is the town that was devastated by an F5 tornado in May and lost over 160 of its residents.
Joplin High School was essentially wiped off the map by the storm. Students are now attending classes at a nearby mall. But the school’s football field, which was off-campus, remained mostly intact and allowed for players to practice and eventually play football there. The story was narrated by the Joplin Eagles’ head coach and members of the team. They all said that it was their goal to have football bring some stability back to their tattered community.
Over time, sporting events have been shown to be incredible emotional boosts for those who have endured a significant misfortune in their lives. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, playing football and baseball helped bring people together, especially when the New York Mets hosted the first baseball game in the state following that horrific day. When Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans upside-down in 2005, football fans rallied around the New Orleans Saints – a team that was experiencing success for the first time in years. Quarterback Drew Brees seemed to be someone everyone looked up to at the time, and Brees has gained a reputation for helping others in the New Orleans community.
The fact that sports can unite a group of people in need of some good news is an interesting concept. It just goes to show how fun and exciting athletics can be. Whether it’s the play on the field, the mascot dancing to a song blaring on the loudspeakers, the cheerleaders throwing each other in the air or any other entertaining element of a game, it is a time when everyone in a community can gather in one place and have a great time. It also gives people a place to go and temporarily forget about some of the stresses of life that we all experience. For those in Joplin, these stresses have reached terribly high levels over the last few months. That is why they are so glad to have something to cheer about now.
Mid-October means we are in the thick of the college football season. At this point, it is starting to become clear who the frontrunners in most conferences will be come December.
However, for the first time in a long time, the state of Florida may not be a factor in these races whatsoever.
On October 9, the Associated Press released its weekly poll of the top 25 teams in the nation. After a streak of 472 consecutive polls, there was no team from the Sunshine State included in this elite group. This marks the state’s first absence in such rankings since 1982. And there are a few more schools in Florida playing in the FBS (formerly Division I-A level) than there were back then.
There is one glaring reason that could explain why this streak came to an end. The BCS programs at FSU, UF, Miami and USF all have head coaches in either their first or second year. In the meantime, the programs at UCF, FAU and FIU certainly aren’t making much of a case to pick up their big brothers’ slack.
But as St. Petersburg Times columnist John Romano points out in a piece on this subject, Florida is a hotbed of high school football players, many of whom have starred on national championship teams at the college level and on Super Bowl teams in the NFL. In fact, the state has produced 10 national titles in college football. Clearly, even to this day, the athletes are there.
The challenge then becomes attracting top players to these schools. It is much easier for an athlete to pick a school that has a well-established, successful coaching staff in place. It is less tempting to play in a program surrounded by uncertainty due to the newness of its coaches.
So, as college football enthusiasts living in Florida, where do things go from here?
The answer is hurry up and wait. Fans will have to be patient for another two, three, maybe five years before they see the Sunshine State’s teams consistently ranked among the top programs nationally. In addition, these new coaches will either prove themselves by winning conference championships or will be forced out due to a lack of progress. Because of the pressure to succeed at these tradition-rich schools, time is not on the side of these coaches.
It was the night of Wednesday, September 28, 2011. It was an important night, at least in my eyes. That night, the Tampa Bay Rays were playing the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. It was the final game of the regular season for both teams. But it was far more important for the Rays as its result would determine the team’s future. If they won and Boston lost, the Rays would claim the American League wild card and a postseason berth. If they lost and Boston won, their season was over. A similar result in their game and Boston’s game meant a one-game playoff the following day to determine the wild card winner since the two teams had the same record.
Just a few innings into the game, the Rays trailed by what seemed like an insurmountable lead. It was 7-0 after Rays starter David Price struggled to one of the worst outings of his career. Meantime, the Red Sox had grabbed a 3-2 lead in Baltimore and were in the middle of a rain delay.
For some reason, I kept the Rays game on TV in the background. At the very least, I wanted to see how their season would end, thinking this would be the final day of it. At that point, I was glad I had turned down a friend’s offer to go since it was getting worse and worse.
Then something started happening in the eighth inning. The Rays started putting men on base. They started scoring some runs – just a few – to make the scoreboard operator do something. But when Evan Longoria stepped up to the plate and belted a pitch to left field, I knew the Rays were not done. You could just feel something special after listening to TV broadcaster Dewayne Staats call the three-run homer, which made it 7-6. Tampa Bay was a run away from tying the game after only collecting a pair of hits in the first seven innings.
Then came the ninth inning. Dan Johnson, who had struggled just to stay in the majors all season long, was at the plate for the Rays with two outs and no one on base. He was a strike away from ending what appeared to be an amazing comeback if he had swung and missed the next pitch. But he didn’t. He made solid contact and hit a ball that barely got over the right field wall to tie the game at seven. How in the world was this happening?
Fast-forward to extra innings when the Rays were batting in the 12th inning. The game was still knotted at seven. In Baltimore, the Orioles were threatening to tie the game against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon. Before I could flip over to ESPN from Sun Sports, the O’s had tied it at three. Then, somehow, some way, Robert Andino drove in the winning run with former Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford diving to make a play but coming up short.
Since Baltimore had taken care of business and knocked off the Red Sox, the Rays were on the verge of history. In mere minutes after the other game had ended, Evan Longoria launched a pitch to left field and, somehow, some way, it left the yard and landed in the blue outfield seats, sending the Rays to an improbable comeback in their game and a trip to the playoffs that nobody could have ever imagined. If only I had been there.
I may be young, but I can’t imagine ever witnessing such dramatics in sports for the rest of my life. I also got to share the moment with my brother on the phone. He had called me no more than 30 seconds before Longoria’s game-winning blast to find out if I was watching. Fortunately I was. He had taken a nap when it was 7-0 and later awakened to see a tied ballgame. We both screamed and laughed when it was all said and done, finding it hard to believe what we had seen occur. A team with one of the lowest payrolls was in the playoffs. A team with one of the highest was not.
Timing is everything in life, and it was totally proven on this night.
Finding character in current and former athletes and coaches can oftentimes be a tough task. With the frequent news of athletes getting arrested for a variety of crimes, it has to make you wonder why Americans support certain players with long rap sheets.