In the NFL, being No. 2 ain’t easy to do

When Kansas City backup quarterback Chad Henne came into Sunday’s NFL Divisional Round game to replace injured Patrick Mahomes, named Wednesday NFL MVP by the Professional Football Writers Association, I thought the same thing as you.

“Chad Henne’s still in the league?”

Luke McCown, who started 10 games at quarterback during his 13-year NFL career from 2004-2016, those last four seasons backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans, was watching too. His thoughts were more along the lines of, “Lord, have mercy.”

The Chiefs led Jacksonville, 10-7, at the time. But Mahomes was headed to the locker room to get an X-ray of his ankle and Henne was taking a first-down snap from his own end zone.

On first down, Henne threw his first completion. Of the season.

Nice start.

The 37-year-old Henne and the Chiefs put together the longest touchdown drive in the team’s postseason history — 98 yards — increased the lead to 17-7 with 3:54 to go in the half, and ultimately won the game, 27-20.

Mahomes played the second half, hobbling a bit, and is expected to play when the Chiefs host Cincinnati Sunday night at 5:30; the winner plays the winner of Sunday’s 2 p.m. San Francisco at Philadelphia game in Glendale, Arizona in Super Bowl LVII Feb. 12.

Mahomes finished 22-of-30 for 195 yards and two TDs. Henne, who starred for Michigan in 2007 (seems like 1987, I swear) and has four starts in the past seven seasons, was 5-of-7 for 23 yards and a touchdown.

But it’s timing, man. If you ain’t got timing — and a really good tight end like Travis Kelce — you ain’t got nothing.

Henne, in a pinch, was gold when it counted under circumstances only guys like McCown and others in the fraternity can fully appreciate.

“You ARE the insurance in case something happens,” McCown said about the backup’s role. “You understand that. Now, can you handle the horse when it’s time to climb on?”

McCown never had to finish a game “at a moment’s notice” when the starter went down, but with Tampa Bay he did have to sub for the injured Jeff Garcia in 2007 in New Orleans and, in a game that decided the division title, threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, the last one in the final minute, in a 27-23 win.

“That was early in my career,” he said, “so I was dumb enough not to know how much pressure I was under. Like they say, ignorance is bliss.”

And in 2015 he found out on a Friday he’d start for an injured Brees Sunday against Carolina, the league’s best defense that year, when the Saints were already 0-2. McCown finished an efficient 31-of-38 for 310 yards, but it was in a 27-22 loss; too much Cam Newton and Greg Olsen that day, if memory serves.

So McCown knows about being No. 1 and about being No. 2.

“What (Henne) did is extraordinarily hard for a couple of reasons,” he said Wednesday afternoon while picking up kids after school in his hometown of Jacksonville, Tex., where he and wife Katy, former Shreveporter and Louisiana Tech cheerleader, are raising six children. It takes a minute to round all those young ones up, so the Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2017 inductee had plenty of time to talk — and about one of his favorite subjects.

“First, you’re not getting any reps,” he said of backups. “Henne might have gotten a series with the starters Friday. But mostly you’re running scout team, so you’re running the other team’s plays, not even your own. And if they’re developing a guy — if you’re the old guy like Chad or like I was in New Orleans — that young guy might get the extra practice series with the starters.

“The second thing’s not the reads: you know that. You’ve played for years, you’ve watched film, you’ve done all that,” he said. “It’s the unknown, the emotion of the game at that moment. You can’t be shaken when they say, ‘OK, go get your helmet.’ The crowd is coming to see Mahomes or Joe Burrow, not the backup. So you want to live up to that standard. And to the standard you’ve set for yourself.”

Sunday, McCown was rooting for Henne and for backup QBs everywhere, for guys who McCown says are “worth every penny” when the football gods and fate conspire and suddenly … It’s Time.

“Maybe I’m saying it because now I’m an old backup, but the disparity in pay between the starters and backups in football, or the starting pitchers and the bullpen in baseball, it’s hard to believe,” he said. “You’ve got to have those guys. In moments like Sunday’s, what Henne did proves why you should pay to keep a good, experienced backup.”

Because once the moment is gone, you can’t get it back. You’ve got to make it happen. Right then. Henne, the latest Banner Waver and bellcow for the Backup QB Fraternity, did.

“It’s fun to see him get his due, to see anytime a backup gets his due,” McCown said. “Take any backup playing today: any one of them can out-throw any guy in college. There are what, four billion guys in the world?, and only about 64 of them can throw a goofy brown oblong ball like those guys. You’ve got to remember that these are the best football players in the world.”

The Chiefs had the right one at the right time against the hot Jags. And while he doesn’t have the paychecks Mahomes does, Henne was money Sunday. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu or on Twitter @MamaLuvsManning.


It was the oddest thing … 

Monday morning before his team trounced Tampa Bay, 31-14, in the NFL wild-card playoff game, Dallas kicker Brett Maher heard his alarm clock go off two hours late, hit his non-kicking toe on a Tampa Bay Hilton Garden Inn chair, got a past-due bill notice in his email, then spilled all the coffee when he opened the door on his knee.

But he really started living a sad country song once he got to the stadium. Once his team scored a touchdown.

Yay!

And once he missed the extra point.

Booo!!!

Then his team scored another touchdown.

And he missed the extra point.

Then his team scored another touchdown.

And he missed the extra point.

Then his team scored another touchdown.

And he missed the extra point.

Four in a row. For a professional kicker.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter — although don’t try to tell that to a guy who bet the over. (More on that in a minute.) But it mattered to Maher, who finally made one on his fifth try after the Cowboys’ final TD.

It mattered to everyone watching, because you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. If anyone ever needed a hug …

And it mattered to kickers, who are people too, at least sort of.

“It was tough to watch,” said Jonathan Barnes, a former All-Louisiana place kicker for Louisiana Tech from 2014-17, now living and working in Ruston, where he and his wife are expecting a little kicker or cheerleader come summertime. He was almost as nervous watching Maher try to kick Monday night as he will be when wife Lauren goes into labor.

It’s a kicking brotherhood kind of thing. They really can’t help it.

“You know when he’s going out there the second time, he’s still thinking about the first time,” said Barnes, who came to Tech from Baton Rouge and is pursuing a graduate degree while he works as a realtor. “And when he’s going out there the third time, he’s still thinking about the second time …”

Since the ball was moved from the two-yard-line to the 15 in 2015, an NFL extra point has been from 33 yards: 15 yards plus 10 yards of end zone plus eight yards to hike, place and kick.

In college, it’s hiked from the two (old NFL rules), making the kick about 20 yards. Barnes was 43-of-46 as a senior, and missed just once in 137 times as a sophomore and junior.

“We do miss a kick,” Barnes said, laughing, “every now and then.”

It’s hard. And tricky.

Consider that Maher has kicked a pair of 62-yard field goals. He has the franchise record with a 63-yarder. But four times Monday, dead on, he missed four straight kicks that NFL kickers make more than 94 percent of the time.

“Ninety percent of kicking is those few inches between your ears,” Barnes said. “It’s not an ability thing with this guy; he’s got all the ability in the world. Just all of a sudden, he got out of that groove — and trying to find it again, right then, can be tough.”

The Cowboys signed another kicker this week and might activate him for the division round when Dallas (13-5) plays at San Francisco (14-4) Sunday at 5:30.

Wish I could activate somebody to cover for me. I am in a harmless but meaningful 28-person family football league. We pick against the spread and no money changes hands but feelings are often hurt. Like mine, when I went 0-for-6 last weekend.

0-for-6. Two misses worse than Maher’s historic all-time league-worst four whiffs.

You can try hard for a long time and not go 0-for-6. I’ll tell you about it sometime, in hopes maybe I can help some poor, misguided soul.

Oh, and just because favored Dallas won and easily covered the 2.5-points spread, don’t think Maher’s missed kicks “didn’t matter.” The “total,” or the over-under, the number of points both teams were predicted to score, was 45.5. They scored 31 + 14, so 45 total. That means if you bet the “under,” you were the winner because the Cowboys professional kicker missed four extra points. FOUR! If he makes just one, the “over” wins.

Except he didn’t. So if you bet the over, what you wanted to kick … was Maher. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


‘Two bits, four bits, six bits a lot of dollars . . .’

(Editor’s note: The annual National Cheerleaders Association’s High School National Championships are January 21-22 in the Dallas Convention Center, and some of you parents are going — and leaving behind a substantial amount of money. By substantial I mean “most every dollar you’ve ever earned.” If you’re a rookie, today’s throwback to January of 2011 is what you can expect. It’s dedicated to Lawrence Herkimer, a wonderful sort you’ll read about here who has since passed away — in 2015 at 89. And it’s dedicated, most definitely, to you. Go forth, make memories, and bring us victories.)

Logically, you’d think competitive sports would have been invented first. But cheerleading, in its most primitive form, was here long, long before the football, the game clock, or even Lou Holtz.

I imagine a little boy in animal hide shorts surveying the prehistoric prairie and yelling desperately, with a slight Jurassic lisp, “Run, Uncle Ugh! RUN!!!”

Final score? Saber-Toothed Tigers 1, Cavemen 0. (A good cheer can do only so much.)

Or maybe the cavemen played a game of Hides vs. Skins while cavewomen encouraged them with “a tisket, a tasket, put the rock in the basket,” back when “the rock” really was one.

Did you know that near Sydney, Australia, they’ve found fossils of pompoms made out of Wooly Mammoth hair? They haven’t, but maybe one day…Just sayin…

We do know that cheerleading was re-invented, big-time, with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, who in 1972 eschewed the Eleanor Roosevelt quality of cheer for something a little racier. Like skin. And white go-go boots. And no “two bits, four bits” cheering.

For all practical purposes, cheer as our grandparents knew it died that fall years and years ago, thanks to white patent leather, mid-drifts, and the kinds of cowgirls Roy and Ritter and the Durango Kid sang about wistfully on those long, lonely nights on the prairie, down 10 late to the Redskins and facing third-and-long.

But that’s not the only kind of cheerleading done in Dallas today. Last weekend I was exposed to non-exposed cheerleaders, ages junior high to high school, in something called competitive cheering. This sort of thing has been going on since the 1950s or so but, like the World Football League and disc golf and the Raiders’ move out of and then back to Oakland, I missed the whole entire thing.

What I saw at the Dallas Convention Center over three days were more than 3,000 cheerleaders — 225 teams, give or take a ponytail — competing at the National Cheerleaders Association’s 30th annual championships. That’s substantial rah-rah.

My first impressions are that this is much harder than it looks, that toe-touching, basket-tossing and pike-kicking “as one” takes a lot of practice, and that estrogen as a force grows exponentially. If you are ever in the way, move, or there will not be enough of you left to scrape up and put in a shoebox.

The Ruston High team I supported (by watching, not by actually lifting anybody) won a national title and a third place. I suspect more North Louisiana schools will get in on the action; the “problem” is that it really is hard. But as with any challenge, if you give a child enough love, give them some hope and some instruction in something they really care about, kids will surprise you with what they can make happen.

Speaking of, let me offer props to the man who invented the whole competitive cheer concept. He is Lawrence Herkimer, inventor of the “Herkie” jump who, as an SMU cheerleader, organized and led a cheer camp in 1948, drawing 52 girls and one boy. The camp grew by seven times in one year. In 1986, he sold the NCA and his cheer supply company for $20 million.

With a patent on the pompom, Herkie is the man, the guy on top of the cheer pyramid.

Sunday, I saw people lined up 45-deep to buy T-shirts. Impressive.

If I were “Herkie,” I would “Rah!” my ownself. I would cheer me. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu or on Twitter @MamaLuvsManning.


The Buck-ee’s stops here 

There is still a “t” or two to cross, but if Buc-ee’s comes to Ruston and Tarbutton Road as most hope, the next generation of Lincoln Parish children will be more spoiled than the generation who were on the good end of the transition from outhouses and Sears and Roebuck catalogs to indoor plumbing and toilet paper.  

I can hear a kid 10 years from now: “Paris? Rome? Waikiki? Man, that don’t impress me much. My momma used to change my diaper in Buc-ee’s. BUC-EE’S, bro! I grew up there. I grew up in there.” 

No way can you adequately convey what a Buc-ee’s is and isn’t. But one trip and you will never forget it. 

The more I’ve heard about this newest enterprise, the more I’ve imagined the famous monologue by James Earl Jones in W.P. Kinsella’s brilliantly conceived Field of Dreams in 1989, the scene that shows his character convincing Ray, the owner of the baseball and corn fields and Kevin Costner’s character, not to sell his land, even though the bank plans to foreclose the next morning. In the Ruston re-make, the setting is Tarbutton Road’s northwest corner by I-20, Ray is Ruston and Jones is Jones and Mark is the brother-in-law representing the bank, in this case a Buc-ee’s non-believer. 

JAMES EARL JONES: “Ray, people will come, Ray. They’ll come to Buc-ee’s in Ruston for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up into the store, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive to get a selfie made with the giant wooden buck-tooth beaver, innocent as children, longing for the past —  and maybe for some Buc-ee’s Barbecue Rub or Steak Seasoning, gluten-free if needed.  

“‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,’ you’ll say. ‘You just need to buy some gas, or maybe a smoker or a onesie pajama bear suit or a dozen shoe charms or icebox magnets.’ They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have, and peace they lack. Peace, and some Buc-ee’s Fruit Sours.”  

MARK: “Ray, this is going to hurt the town more than help. We can’t waste this land. It’s obvious that … “ 

JONES: “And they’ll walk out to the Nut Wall, just gaze as they did when they were children when they cheered their heroes, which were either Planters salted or unsalted, except here they are overwhelmed by Beaver Nugget Sweet Corn Puff and Butter Toffee and Honey Toasted and Pina Colada Pecans and that’s only the tip of the nutberg — and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces …”  

MARK: “Ray what Ruston needs is another Mexican restaurant. It’s as plain as that cup of Dippin’ Dots you’re holding … “  

JONES: “People will come, Ray.” 

MARK: “We need money, we have this tremendous asset of location and land, and we’re putting it on a joint that sells tie dye drink glasses and T-shirts that say stuff like ‘I Paused My Game to Be Here’ and ‘I’m Into Fitness. Fit’ness Taco In My Mouth’?” 

JONES: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. Well, that and consumerism. And free enterprise. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a brisket at a tailgate barbecue, rebuilt, and erased again. But it’s jerky that has marked the time — the Bohemian garlic flavor, mesquite, lemon pepper, Teriyaki … it’s salt water taffy in a resealable bag and a pink imitation leather cosmetic case that reads, ‘Just a Girl Who Loves Beavers,’ and mostly it’s that Buc-ee’s sign taller than Wyly Tower or Mount Driskill and that Giant Magnetic Beaver, whose Siren Song draws tourists to these clean bathrooms like tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches draw Protestant country folk. It’s consumerism that has marked the time, Ray. The hope of this store, this sort of Giant Jerky Wall joint, this heaven of dessert-in-a-plastic-case-to-go, this wellspring of emotion overload, this ‘game’ — it’s part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. 

“Ohhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”  

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu 


Amen to ESPN

We’re a lot more liable to hear cursing instead of a prayer during a televised sporting event these days.

But ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky surprised viewers and maybe himself during Tuesday’s edition of NFL Live on the sports network.

Orlovsky’s short prayer, 50 seconds and unrehearsed and sincere, was for Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, who went into cardiac arrest on Monday Night Football early in the Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game, which was postponed after Hamlin was taken to the hospital in Cincinnati.

A family member said Wednesday that Hamlin, 24, was still in critical condition but stable and improving.

He was injured while making a tackle, one that was not overly violent. Doctors have so far agreed that it seemed to be a perfect storm of where and when and how the collision occurred that caused the injury.

Players were crying. Coaches and announcers all shaken. And the phrase “thoughts and prayers” was used more than once.

Orlovsky, who quarterbacked at the University of Connecticut and was a backup for 12 NFL seasons and five teams from 2005-2015, took it a step farther. With host Laura Rutledge and former LSU All-American and Dallas Cowboy Marcus Spears joining him on the desk, Orlovsky offered what seemed like a humble, quiet explanation before praying as the three discussed the outpouring around the football world of well-wishes for Hamlin.

“Maybe this is not the right thing to do but it’s just on my heart that I want to pray for Damar Hamlin right now. I’m gonna do it out loud. I’m gonna close my eyes, I’m gonna bow my head and I’m just gonna pray for him.”

Spears said something, maybe “Amen” or “Go ahead,” and Orlovsky did.

“God, we come to you in these moments that we don’t understand, that are hard, because we believe that you’re God, and coming to you and praying to you has impact,” Orlovsky said.  

“We’re sad, we’re angry, and we want answers, but some things are unanswerable. We just want to pray, truly come to you and pray for strength for Damar, for healing for Damar, for comfort for Damar, to be with his family, to give them peace. If we didn’t believe that prayer didn’t work, we wouldn’t ask this of you, God. I believe in prayer, we believe in prayer. We lift up Damar Hamlin’s name in your name. Amen.”

Often in the locker room or on the field after practice, teams will kneel in a circle and recite the Lord’s Prayer. And often there are prayers over the PA before games. But that was a first for me, seeing the replay of Orlovsky’s straightforward, precise prayer on a news show about sports.

That moment was refreshing in its sincerity and spontaneity, and because of the very exact reason for it. We say “thoughts and prayers,” but Orlovsky actually did it, right then, for one person in one particular situation, and maybe partly for some viewers who wanted to pray for the young player but didn’t quite know how.

It reminds you of when presidents used to pray and encourage prayer (think Washington and Lincoln) and generals used to pray (Patton and Eisenhower), when Martin Luther King prayed aloud and often and for us all, and when school kids used to pray or be led in prayer.

Hopefully, Hamlin will regain his health. And hopefully we’ll all keep praying, for Hamlin and his teammates and family, for Orlovsky, for each other. Not just when one of us is hurt. But all the time. We all need the prayers, and we all need the practice.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu or on Twitter @MamaLuvsManning.


What we’d like to see in ’23

JOURNAL STAFF

After sharing what we expect to see in ’23 in Wednesday’s edition, your Shreveport-Bossier Journal team is back today with what we’d like to see this year. Before Christmas, ideally. 

LOCALLY, ladies tees at Querbes, please. It would be easy – just get the red balls out of the equipment shack and put them back out on the golf course. Just think, the ladies’ leagues may start playing there again.

In PREP sportsNO high school football games affected by bad weather (as in delayed, postponed or cancelled). Oh, and I’d love to see them start at 6:30.

In COLLEGE sports, a full stadium at the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. The staff does such an amazing job putting on a great event year-in and year-out that the stands should be full (and I’d like to see more stadiums full during all college bowl games).

In the PROS, see the NFL change its overtime rules (it’s ridiculous that a team can win the game in OT without the other team having a possession) and NO games end in a tie (this is football, not futbol).

  • Harriet Prothro Penrod

In HIGH SCHOOLSfootball players wearing regular pants not cut off above the knee.

In COLLEGES, Bossier Parish Community College’s softball team make it to the NJCAA national tournament and win.

In the PROS, MLB batters that don’t step out of the box after EVERY pitch.

  • Lee Hiller

In PREPS, the football hydration rule during games adjusted to go by temperature, not time. If it’s a rare cool September night, keep playing; no break.

In COLLEGE, baseball teams stop using walk-up music. Please please please make it stop. Think about what homeboy is about to throw you and not about whether or not fans like your song. Walk-up music is embarrassing for everybody. Hit a home run? Drive in a run? Stand-up triple? Take an extra base? OK — NOW you can have music. But not just for making it from the dugout to the plate.

In PROS, every team in the NFL to finish the regular season 8-8-1. Yay for parity! So awesome. (Yawn … )

  • Teddy Allen

In COLLEGES, Northwestern State football returning to its winning ways — which hasn’t happened since 2008. Good, hard-working people who deserve success.

LOCALLY, Shreveport hosting more mainstream sporting events to enhance our quality of life. Cornhole and dart-throwing tournaments don’t do it for me.

In the PROS, Louisiana Downs promote more horse racing and less bounce houses and outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat.

  • Tony Taglavore

In PREPS, an All-District team that actually has some merit to it.

In COLLEGE, coaches to stop putting up the stupid screens on the sidelines so they can act like the second coming of Bear Bryant who, by the way, never put up a screen and hardly ever wore a headset.

LOCALLY, something actually comes from the bizarre minor league baseball stadium announcement that was made in October. Just throw us a bone.

In the PROS, the Saints hire Sean Payton back and bring Tom Brady with him.

  • John James Marshall

I covered many wishes in my Tuesday Journal column, but let’s get greedy and ask for more.

In PREPS, recognizing the big-time calls for a big box. Northwood provides one of the best game-day atmospheres in the area and the Falcons are dang good, too – they had one of the best post-season runs of any team. The press box screams Class 1A, and it’s not the school’s fault. It’s time for Caddo Parish to give the school and that program a press box it deserves.

In PROS, “Musky” to get Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame love. Scott Muscutt was the first player the Shreveport Mudbugs signed 25 years ago. He’s since won multiple championships as a player, a coach and a general manager. He’s a major reason why hockey has thrived in Northwest Louisiana — the Mudbugs perennially lead their league in attendance — and no job is too small. You are as likely to see a unicorn as to spot “Musky” somewhere other than George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum.

He cuts the ice, replaces glass, cleans the aisles – and does whatever it takes to make this community a better place. He’s also helped establish healthy youth hockey and high school hockey programs.

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame honors the best of the best. It’s time to bring this man into the discussion for future, but hopefully not way-down-the-road enshrinement. Hockey in Louisiana’s Hall may sound strange, but this is a no-brainer.

  • Roy Lang III 

In PREPS, more high school coaches organizing clinics on their own — like Green Oaks’ Chad Lewis, with the help of his friend, North DeSoto’s Christopher Wilson, did over the holidays. It started with a post on Facebook and ended up with a full-fledged clinic at the Hamilton Branch of the Shreve Memorial Library. Kudos to Lewis and Wilson for spearheading that effort.

I’d like to see our school districts in Northwest Louisiana catch up to school systems in Northeast Louisiana. Strength and conditioning coaches working at every school, tasked with the athletic development of all teams. It’s overdue to see certified athletic trainers on each campus, who teach in the classroom and look for young people who want to go into that vital field.

I’d like to see us identify high school athletes who demonstrate an ambition of going into the coaching profession. Lewis and Wilson were once student-athletes at Byrd High School. Why can’t we “grow our own” next generation of outstanding coaches in this area? Let’s give them a head start by mentoring them right now.

  • Jerry Byrd Jr.

In PREPS, at the coin flip before kickoff, along with the team captains, bring out a couple seniors from the band, cheerleaders, dance line, and National Honor Society, and a teacher. Efficiently and sufficiently recognize all of them on the PA system, not as an afterthought at halftime, but when the energy level in the stadium is peaking. Celebrate their efforts and realize they are representative of their peers.

In COLLEGES, home-and-home competition in every sport between our four nearby Division I schools. I’ll grant that Tech and ULM aren’t playing football at Grambling or NSU, or against them at the I-Bowl. It’s absurd the Bulldogs and Warhawks don’t square off annually, and also host the Tigers or Demons. Common sense. Uncommon gate receipts.

LOCALLY, more neighborhood pick-up games. Less travel ball. Didn’t we find ways to play, no charge, instead of adults organizing everything – and then soiling too much of it with egos and selfishness? The best homefield is at home, somebody’s home, in a yard or driveway or even the street. Somebody’s mom will make lemonade after the game.

  • Doug Ireland

What we expect to see in ’23

Your Shreveport-Bossier Journal crew humbly offers our predictions for the 2023 sports year. Ladies first.

In PREPS, the Calvary Lady Cavs softball team goes BACK2BACK2BACK (winning a third straight Division IV state championship).

In COLLEGES, the Louisiana Tech baseball team makes the College World Series.

In the PROS, Sam Burns wins his first major (after his 2022 season, this is bound to happen sooner than later).

  • Harriet Prothro Penrod

In PREPS, improvements to continue at Lee Hedges Stadium with the construction of new locker rooms and training rooms along with a new press box.

In COLLEGESanother successful year for LSU and Tulane in football.

In the PROS, new rules making a difference in how we watch MLB games. 

  • Lee Hiller

In PREPS, a student-athlete makes more than his working parents off an NIL deal.

In COLLEGE, I’ll be keeping up with Centenary Football and caring about recruiting news for the first and only time in my feeble life. In the autumn of 2024, Centenary takes the football field for the first time since 1941. Ninety years ago this past fall, Centenary was 8-0-1. 1932. You could look it up. Nationally, the Gents were in the top 25 in per-game scoring average at 20 a game and had the fifth-stingiest defense in ’Murica; Centenary gave up just 26 points all season. Centenary was 8-0-4 in 1933, when playing for the tie must have been an “in” thing. In 1934, which will be 90 years removed from Centenary’s 2024 re-boot, Centenary was a salty 10-2.

In the PROS, Jake from State Farm will be on every commercial of every NFL, NBA, and MLB game. (Thankfully, I like Jake from State Farm.)

  • Teddy Allen

In COLLEGES, LSU once again will contend for the SEC Championship — and will knock on the door of the College Football Playoff. They will do so without QB Garrett Nussmeier, who surely will transfer.

In the PROS, the Saints and Cowboys replace their head coaches. Dennis Allen is in over his head, and Mike McCarthy has the talent to get to the NFC Championship Game — but won’t.

LOCALLY, Louisiana Downs will continue to promote less horse racing and more bounce houses and outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat.

  • Tony Taglavore

In PREPS, sadly, the quality of high school athletics continues to drop. Football coaches almost have to beg kids to play and if you watch any other sport, you quickly realize that the talent level simply isn’t as good as it was 5 or 10 years ago.

In COLLEGES, we’ll see a slight move toward normalcy in NIL. It’s not going away, but it’s also a two-way street. Somebody has to finance that and these people aren’t in it to watch Jimmy SuperStud (a.) think about transferring, because he can (b.) complain that his deal isn’t as good as the guy playing next to him (c.) start mailing it in around if he’s not getting the ball enough.

In PROS/LOCAL, what’s left of Fair Grounds Field will still be standing. The Independence Bowl will be played on a sunny, 55-degree day. The laws of probability HAVE to even out at some point.

  • John James Marshall 

In PREPS, some local high school football offenses will “struggle” early. The 2022 season offered ridiculous offensive numbers, or bad defense depending on your view. Expect the defenses to fight back – at least early — in the 2023 campaign.

No fewer than five 1-5A teams will have new quarterbacks, not to mention the expected changes at other local schools. In theory this would lead to gray hair on the top of some OC’s heads, at least while the new signal-callers get their feet wet.

Also in PREPS, here’s a “stat nerd” alert. A change could be coming to one of the dumbest rules in high school football. Unlike the NFL and college football, a holding penalty behind the line of scrimmage in high school is marked from the spot of the foul. Currently a first-and-10 could turn into first-and-28 simply with a holding call.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has surveyed coaches regarding a change to move in line with the next levels of football. Bravo.

  • Roy Lang III

In PREPSI expect to see more high-scoring games. The passing offenses were ahead of the passing defenses in 2022, and it wasn’t even close. Northwest Louisiana has had a good run of defensive backs who have made their way to the league. See Tre’Davious White, Morris Claiborne, “Greedy” Williams, and Israel Mukuamu. But there were simply too many great quarterbacks … and too few defensive backs.

While 2022 seemed to be the year of the quarterback, I expect to see 2023 to be the year of the kicker with Byrd’s Abram Murray, who committed last summer to the University of Miami, and Parkway’s Aeron Burrell being two of the best locals to ever put toe to leather.

In COLLEGE, unfortunately, I see local colleges and universities continuing to struggle in the transfer portal/NIL era. I think Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Cumbie and Grambling’s Hue Jackson are the men for the job and great coaches, I just think it’s the most difficult time in history to be a college football coach. There is one exception to this. I expect to see Centenary College — under the direction of former Evangel and LSU standout defensive lineman Byron Dawson — thrive locally, with home-grown talent familiar to local football fans.

In the PROS, in light of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on Monday Night Football, I expect to see all professional contact sports double down on player safety. For all of those attracted to the violence and entertainment football provides, I expect them to be in for a rude awakening.

  • Jerry Byrd Jr.

In PREPS, scheduling tough intersectional games pays off for the Parkway Lady Panthers, who leave no doubt as they win the girls basketball state championship. Mikaylah Williams IMMEDIATELY joins the LSU roster for March Madness and starts for Kim Mulkey.

In COLLEGES, the men’s basketball rules committee shifts from playing 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters, mirroring the women and the pros. Mostly, providing more TV commercial breaks for Teddy’s pal Jake, that guy from State Farm.

LOCALLY, Shreveport’s Tim Brando adds another sport to his vast broadcast resume when he becomes the lead announcer for USA Pickleball on FOX.

  • Doug Ireland

Coming Thursday: What we’d LIKE to see in ’23.


SBJ Story of the Year: Whole Lotta Scorin’ Goin’ On

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports 

Prep football in Shreveport-Bossier this fall was the kind of season where you could score 42 and 71 points in consecutive games — and lose both.

It happened to Haughton, who made it the playoffs’ second round, in back-to-back October losses to Airline and Benton. But true to 2022 prep football form around here, the Bucs bounced back the next week to score 56, plenty enough to beat Natchitoches-Central.

Benton was the Top Dog when it came to scoring; the Tigers averaged 46 points a game this fall. Airline averaged “only” 41 but beat Benton, 75-59, in the District 1-5A lid-lifter September 23. In its 7-0 sweep of district, the Vikings averaged a robust 56 points a game. Once they got warmed up …

And so it went this autumn, a head-spinner for those of us who remember when a 35-28 game was a real barnburner.  The all-fall tale of these record offensive eruptions makes it the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Story of the Year.

It outscored some memorable contenders:

Benton’s the fall guy in a last-partial-second loss to Denham Springs;

Kason Muscutt becomes first homegrown Mudbug; 

Louisiana Downs cancels Super Derby that was never scheduled;

Mobile sports betting launches in Louisiana;

Huntington hoops advances to the Top 28 a day after the fatal shooting of a team member, led by coach Mack Jones, who won No. 700 last month;

Mikaylah Williams shines at Parkway and for Team USA, and signs with LSU;

Byrd golfer Sydney Moss wins the state Junior Amateur and Women’s Amateur titles;

Benton golfer Noah McWilliams repeats as Louisiana Player of the Year;

Calvary sweeps softball, baseball state titles;

Loyola girls’ soccer nets a state crown;

Louisiana Tech baseball makes its second consecutive NCAA regional led by a pair of Byrd High scholar-athletes, Steele Netterville and Jonathan Fincher;

LSU football wins nine games, about five more than most people thought in preseason, in large part due to Evangel products and defensive starters Micah Baskerville and Jarrick Bernard-Converse;

Dak Prescott leads Cowboys back to Super Bowl contention;

LSUS baseball rallies to reach World Series, finishes third;

Mike McConathy’s coaching career ends, then he enters politics; and most recently,

Ice-cold Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl provides last-minute drama as Houston edges ULL.

As usual, a quality year. Including the breakout campaign for Calvary’s and LSU’s Sam Burns, who scored three victories and more than $7 million in earnings on the 2021-22 PGA Tour and earned the inaugural Shreveport-Bossier Journal Sportsperson of the Year crown.

But it’s prep football on greenies that made the most noise, a kind of pinball pigskin game that has been lurking since the birth of summertime 7-on-7, the spread offense, the run-pass option, and year-around conditioning, to name a few factors.

A story by SBJ’s John James Marshall ran October 5 and began like this:

“If you took just their best single game in the last two weeks, the combination of Airline’s Ben Taylor, Huntington’s Kam Evans and Benton’s Gray Walters has thrown for 22 touchdowns and 1,429 yards. 

“What’s crazier, no one seemed all that surprised by it.”

To explain the haughty numbers, the seven coaches he talked with (none were named) offered the factors above, plus some others, like continuing to score in lop-sided games, putting the best players on offense, and the improvement in top-to-bottom coaching and ramped-up sophistication of the game, to name a few.

In our case locally, there is also the Experienced Quarterback Factor. Benton, Byrd, Evangel, Haughton and Northwood each had a third-year starter at QB. Huntington, Parkway and Shreve had a returning starter. “It’s almost cheating when you can put a quarterback on the field who can think like you do as a coach,” one of the SBJ panelists of coaches said.

Lots of skill players and an up-tempo system help too. Witness the outlier that is Airline’s Ben Taylor, who won the starting job late in summer practice and passed for 2,730 yards and 34 touchdowns; he’s a sophomore.

It was definitely The Year of the War-and-Peace Scoring Summary. Calvary averaged 44 points a game and scored 50-plus seven times. Evangel averaged 34 points a game. Haughton, Byrd and Huntington each averaged 32 points a game. Loyola averaged 38 a game in five of its six wins. Northwood scored 35 three times and 48 twice.

The most perfect example of this year’s offensive wizardry was on full display at Haughton’s Harold E. Harlan Stadium on October 21, a perfect night for football. Benton and the homestanding Bucs combined for 21 touchdowns. Every single conversion try was successful. Fifty-one points were scored in the fourth quarter.

Benton was the survivor, 78-71.

Keith Burton was the arm-weary referee. “After a while,” he said, “we just tried to stay out of the way.”

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu or Twitter @MamaLuvsManning


Cajuns, Cougars hope to get hot today in I(ce)-Bowl

GETTING THEIR KICKS: The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns tuned up for today’s Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl while honing special teams play earlier this week at Independence Stadium. (Photo courtesy Ragin’ Cajun Athletics)

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Today’s 46th Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl at 2 p.m. in Independence Stadium matches teams whose records would be a lot better this fall had they been playing horseshoes or hand grenades.

Instead, 6-6 Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference and 7-5 Houston of the American Athletic Conference played football, where close doesn’t count.

The Ragin’ Cajuns lost games to the 1-2 finishers in the Sun Belt, Troy and South Alabama, on last-second field goals. Houston played three overtime games and lost two.

The math says that a bounce this way or that and each team could have 9 wins each.

Instead, besides playing for each other and for their friends and families and for the simple joy of the game, one team is playing to end the season a game over .500, the other team is playing to avoid the same thing.

“It’s the last opportunity for this team to put it on display,” said ULL first-year head coach Michael Desormeaux. “So, we’ll be ready to go and see what we can do on Friday.”

“We drove five hours in pouring rain to come to Shreveport,” said Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, “and we’re ready to roll.”

Speaking of weather, while the chance of any precipitation is practically zero Friday, the chance of chilly is a stone-cold certainty. The most generous forecast calls for 24 degrees, winds at 16 miles per hour gusting to 25, and a wind chill of 13. (A representative of one of the schools’ bands marched into Bass Pro in Bossier City Thursday and asked for 600 hand warmer packets, one local photographer witnessed.)

Bowl officials advise fans to dress warm and warmer — and bring blankets.

During Thursday’s media interviews, players and coaches from both teams described their coldest games.

ULL lineman and sack star Zi’Yon Hill-Green: “We played Appalachian State in 2020, and I would say it was 20-something degrees and the wind was 30 miles per hour and the rain was sideways.”

ULL running back and leading rusher Chris Smith: “(App State) would definitely be the worst. Where I’m from (Louisville, Miss.), we hunt. Once your feet get wet, and your hands and ears get cold, you are done. There is nothing you can do. … (But App State) was a great experience and we learned from playing in those conditions.”

Houston quarterback Clayton Tune: “We played in Connecticut late (last) season, and luckily, we had a noon kickoff. (But) once the sun dropped below the stadium it was pretty cold.”

A native of Iowa, Holgorsen said in a college game he played in for Iowa Wesleyan in Moorhead, Minn., “the temperature was like minus five with a wind chill of like minus 50,” so Friday’s matchup “ain’t close.”

“It’s the sleeting rain (and wind) is where it kinda gets you,” he said. “So it’s not going to be that; it’s going to be tolerable.”

Note that all this was said in a room-temp media interview room beneath the stadium, not outside where the temperature dropped 20 degrees, from 51 to 31, in two mid-afternoon hours Thursday.

Temperature has been a problem for both teams all season.

The Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging 27 points a game but give up an average of 23. If they outscore the Cougars, they’ll have to do it without leading receiver Michael Jefferson, who opted out of the bowl and whose 51 catches and 16 yards-per-catch averages are far and away the best on the team.

But …

Defensively, the Cougars have been particularly cold. Houston averages 37 points a game — 13th best in the nation — but surrenders an average of 34. Their season in a nutshell: they scored 63 at SMU — and lost by two touchdowns.

On a warm note, each team comes into the game at least semi-hot. ULL won two of its final three games, including the regular-season finale, to become bowl eligible. Houston was 5-2 down the stretch, but stumbled in a jarring home defeat to a struggling Tulsa team to cap the regular season.

The Cougars are a 7-point favorite. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu or Twitter @MamaLuvsManning


Behind every good Metro Coach of the Year …

Like they say, behind every good Shreveport Bossier Journal All-Metro Coach of the Year is a good woman.

Sometimes, that woman is eight months pregnant.

Meet Bonnie Matak Scogin, former Centenary softball standout, former Parkway High softball coach, and bride to Airline head football coach Justin Scogin, that SBJ Coach of the Year we were gabbing about.

The Scogins are also parents to son Brady, four-and-a-half years old. His little brother is due in five weeks, and yes, since both parents have playing and coaching experience, there was strategy involved concerning the preferred kickoff date.

“We wanted that three-year or four-year gap before I would have more kids,” Bonnie said. “Two kids in diapers, I mean …”

We parents know exactly what she means.

“And we definitely planned not to have another one during football season,” she said.

Sounds like Barry might have been born in …

“August,” she said. “Born in August.” She said it with a tone of relief and laughter, with the voice of someone who’d decided to take a beach vacation during monsoon season but lived to tell the story.

So, the new baby is thrilling offseason news. The football season news was thrilling too, but a different kind of birth. More accurately, a re-birth.

Scogin was hired in March to coach Airline, 1-9 last fall, and all he and his staff and their players did this fall was produce a perfect 7-0 run through District 1-5A to win the title.

That was after an 0-3 start, back when a district title was hardly expected, even from someone expecting.

“I always had faith, but I knew these things just take time,” Bonnie said. “I reminded him that someone had posted somewhere about the new ‘Scogin Era.’ Not the ‘Scogin Day’ or ‘Scogin Month.’ It’s not all going to happen in a day.”

But when it did start happening …

“Absolutely, it started to get really fun,” she said. “He tries to keep the coaching at school with the other coaches; he doesn’t talk to me much about it. But I could tell he had a lot more confidence after they started winning. Once you realize it can happen, you start thinking, ‘Hey, we can continue this.’ It just took that first time for it to happen.

“I thought it was awesome,” she said of the Coach of the Year honor, “especially for a first-year head coaching job to do what he and the staff were able to do with the program.”

It’s an honor that hasn’t gone to his head. “Most humble person you’d ever want to meet,” Bonnie said. “He always goes the extra mile for us. He’ll take Brady and go to a basketball game or baseball game (when Scogin was coaching at Leesville) and say, ‘You stay here and relax and we’ll go watch our players.’ He’s going to be there when he can to show support, but he’s still working to find ways to do it with family.”

He even spent his first day as All-Metro Coach performing the unassuming task of cleaning out closets — but not to get re-organized or tidy up.

“This is just still trying to get ready from when we moved in (during the spring),” Justin said. “We’ve never really gotten it done.”

Understandable. Team Scogin has been … well, a little busy.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu or on Twitter @MamaLuvsManning


Get your Radiance Technologies I-Bowl goodies here!

Opinion/By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Let’s sweep up some holiday table scraps focused solely on the 46th Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl at 2 p.m. at Independence Stadium Friday, December 23, one of the most wonderful days of the year during the most wonderful time of the year.

That game date, by the way, is only a week from tomorrow if you’re keeping score at home, and we hope you are.

+ Firstly in the first place, as an old preacher friend of mine used to say to kick off his sermons, the most important note is a reminder that I-Bowl tickets make superb early Christmas gifts. Don’t wait on Santa — the game will be over. Instead, visit the bowl’s website (Google “Independence Bowl”) or call 318.221.0712.

+ The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (6-6) of the Sun Belt Conference will play the Houston Cougars (7-5) of the American Athletic Conference. Regionally and because of the afternoon time and the Christmas Eve Eve date, it’s a doosey of a matchup, and as you know, we don’t throw around important words like “doosey” very often unless something is wham-bam on the money.

+  Houston won five of its last seven games to get to Shreveport, but let’s talk about those home-state Cajuns, who were a few plays away from a 9-3 record instead .500. The Ragin’ Cajuns lost to Sun Belt champ Troy and runner-up South Alabama on the final play of each of those games and lost to UL-Monroe when the Warhawks scored with six minutes left to play and then held ULL on its final drive.

This is a program going to its 10th bowl in the past 12 years. The Ragin’ Cajuns came into this season with a 34-5 record in the past three seasons. Despite their team not meeting the performance of teams of recent seasons, hopefully the Cajun fans will take the opportunity to come to another bowl and to Shreveport-Bossier and enjoy the program’s first I-Bowl.

+ There have been three I-Bowls played on the 15th of December, today’s day of the month.

1979: Syracuse 31, McNeese State 7.

1984: Air Force 23, Virginia Tech 7.

1990, and a game many of you will remember: Louisiana Tech 34, Maryland 34. Maryland, which missed what turned out to be a crucial extra point after the Terps’ third touchdown, scored on a 15-yard pass with 52 seconds left in regulation to take a 34-31 lead. But Tech returned a squib kick 41 yards and freshman Chris Boniol kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired. It was a fitting and thrilling end for the 48,325 at the game. During a particularly crazy stretch in the third quarter, the teams combined for three touchdowns in less than four minutes of game time to turn a 14-14 at-the-half game into a barnburner.

Tech finished 8-3-1, Maryland 6-5-1.

After 1990, the bowl’s date moved to post-Christmas dates, most of them closer to New Year’s than Christmas. Last year, the early time returned: UAB defeated BYU, 31-28, on December 18.

+ There has been only one other I-Bowl played on December 23, the day of the month of this year’s game. That was in 1988, Southern Miss 38, UTEP 18. (I had time on my hands so … thought you’d want to know.)

See you at the ballgame. We’ll be there.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


Hey loud and naughty football fan! Santa’s watching you . . .

Semi-bad news for some of our more wound-up football fan friends. I’d rather you hear it from me than off the streets.

A standard TV set you and I have turns the video signal it receives into beams of tiny particles called electrons. It shoots these beams of electrons at the back of the screen through a picture tube. (No idea how, but it does. It’s science.)

Then, the beams “paint” the pixels on the screen in a series of rows to form the picture. And that’s what we see.

So when we watch something — say football, for instance — we are not really seeing the actual cornerback for Dallas or the center for the Saints or the LSU wide receiver. We are seeing rows of electrons painted pretty colors that look exactly like the players or fans or officials or the insurance duck or Flo from Progressive.

So really and truly, when we holler at the TV set, when we tell the wide receiver how stupid he is for dropping the pass or the linebacker what a dimwit he is for not “wrapping up” and making the tackle, when we’re screaming for the Grim-Faced Owner shown in his luxury suite to fire the coach already and hire anything smarter, like maybe a cantaloupe, none of those people can hear us.

We are yelling at colored dots that can’t hear. They are pretty dots, way better than the dots we used to see on the Philco back before we knew how much it costs to get a new radiator or a vacuum cleaner, but they are still just high-quality dots.

Lipstick on a pig.

Deaf dots, is what they are. Stone deaf dots.

As Vince Vaughn’s character says while playing Madden in The Break-Up, what we’re seeing are “little digital guys with the big hearts.”

And I do love them so.

This doesn’t stop me from hollering at one every now and then. Or at the announcer or the official or the coach. After all, we fans are all just trying to help, right? We’re all for peace on earth — right up until the white hat whistles us for holding on consecutive plays. (Insert scream here.)

We are heading at a furious pace into Prime Hollering Season, and here’s why: there are 43 college football bowl games during the next three weeks. I know: joy and all that.

The first one is the Bahamas Bowl Friday, Dec. 16, just a week from tomorrow night. The finale is Monday, Jan. 9, when a national champ will be crowned at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Because of personal mental sickness and a lack of discipline, I will watch as much of every bowl game as is reasonably possible.

Sometimes if things get boring, I will holler at the TV dots to make myself laugh, knowing the TV dots can’t hear. Or holler back.

BowlFest is one of my favorite times of year. People who say there are “too many bowl games” make me want to say there are “too many people.” Those same people never say there are too many soap operas or too many Mannix re-runs; they just don’t watch them. Just don’t watch the games, dude. But let kids who want to play have fun, let the retired guy who volunteers to take up tickets or work parking at the game have fun, and let student-athletes enjoy a few free days in Honolulu or San Diego or Shreveport or Mobile, places they might never go to again.

Instead of hollering at our TV sets and the colored electrons that somehow look like Joe Burrow or Deion Sanders, we should be hollering at you.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


Mis-numbered, misspelled, and now just missed

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Father Time and The Grim Reaper, that old haunting shadow voted by his classmates as Least Likely To Bargain in that inaugural old-school Class of 0001, is slowly and sickeningly chipping away at the idols of my boyhood.

Former All-Pro quarterback John Hadl, 82 at his passing Wednesday but 32-ish in my 11-year-old boy brain, is the most recent to disappear.

Who is John Hadl? Guys and girls of a certain age and athletic persuasion will raise a hand and testify that he had a special place in our hearts as we came of football-loving age in the late 1960s. We loved him not because we knew how good he was — we sort of didn’t understand that part, not yet — but we loved him because of how bad a couple of things seemed, how wrong.

For one thing, Hadl was missing a vowel. Who took the man’s vowel? How do you say a two-syllable name that has only one vowel? The nameplate on the back of his jersey looked like a misprint.

And then there was that jersey, and that was the main thing. He wore jersey No. 21. But he played quarterback. And quarterbacks wear anything from 1 to 19. A 21 is a cornerback, a flanker, a kick returner.

Plus he was balding. Like, badly. Right there in the middle of his head. I mean, we as kid fans knew the man was old — 30 and not getting any younger — but Lance “Bambi” Alworth, who with Hadl in San Diego in the old American Football League formed one of pro football’s best all-time pass-catch tandems, had hair for days, long, pretty hair, and he was the same age as Hadl, who, we figured, must have “had something wrong” with him.

But there he was, running around for the pass-happy Chargers, making All-Pro with not enough hair and not enough vowels and a number too big.

So you know what? We grew to love him. Even though we never met him. He was sub-standard to us, a semi-novelty, and that made us love him more. Good ol’ 21. The bald guy with the heavy number playing quarterback.

And that’s the thing. I became a writer and met some guys from the next generation of NFL quarterbacks, a Bert or a Bradshaw, an Archie or a Ferguson. But those guys 20 years older, the “old” guys when we were kids, maybe you bumped into a couple, a Namath or a Starr, along the way. But most of them have always been colors on the grainy Sylvania of memory, and sometimes not even colors.

Kilmer and Unitas, Tarkenton and Lamonica, Gabriel and Dawson and the captivating pot-bellied Sonny Jurgensen, who I never met outside of my parents’ TV and on a poster in my room.

And John Hadl.

These guys were, to us, to me, a time. A golden time.

Not 10 feet from where I write are two plastic goalposts and 13 plastic helmets I ordered from the back advertisements of The Sporting News, probably for less than $3, not including shipping. You got to put the decals onto the correct helmet then mount the helmets on the posts. Mine are only NFL helmets; most likely, it was not until I knew who John Hadl was that I knew there was an AFL, a San Diego, or even a West Coast.

Behind me are a stack of felt pennants, each representing a pro football team, this time AFL-inclusive, each not quite eight inches long, and each ordered most likely from the back of Frosted Flakes boxes. It must have been painstaking, waiting for the Boston Patriots and St. Louis Cardinals to come in the mail so they could be thumbtacked to my bedroom wall.

Hadl, we came to understand, was an All-American on offense and on defense at Kansas. He averaged better than 45 yards per punt, and he returned punts and kicks and interceptions twice that far. He must have been the best going-bald athlete in the Midwest. When he retired, only two pro QBs had thrown for more yardage. And by all accounts, he was a gentleman and a loyal Jayhawk, voted the Jayhawk of the 20th century. (I’ll remind you here that Kansas hoops won two national titles and went to 10 Final Fours last century. And that Gale Sayers went to Kansas. So … there.)

He was much, much more than “a time” to those who knew him. I wish I had — though like a lot of my friends, we felt we did.

As much as any other player of a game we were just beginning to understand and love, John Hadl represented, as we grew, a special time for us, a time born of imperfect men with faulty names and defective numbers and flawed hairlines. Guys like we grew up to be.  

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


What will you read in 2023? 

Time for our annual Best Books of the Year list. Read a lot of good books but failed to score a five-star read, unlike last year when I couldn’t turn around without running into something that hit me just right. 

So it goes in the Reading World. You win some, you lose some, but you show up and read and if a book’s no good, chunk it and, guilt-free, pick up another one. 

Still, much enjoyment this year from reading, and hopefully you will get a charge out of at least one or two of the titles below, or something will jog your memory and help you pick out a just-right Christmas gift for someone.  

If nothing else, we can be grateful we are past all the pandemic-related bestsellers like LOCKDOWN!: Your Place or Mine?, or everyone’s least-favorite companion reads, Why Masks Work and the sequel, Why Masks Haven’t Even Ever THOUGHT About Working, Ever Ever Never. 

Mercy on all that … And now on to the bookmobile. 

Batting leadoff is All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business, by Mel Brooks, my favorite of a lot of biographies. Others that were really good, if you’re interested in these people, are The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman, A Life in Parts by actor Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Home Work by Julie Andrews (had a crush on her since Mary Poppins as I was an impressionable youngster), Miracle and Wonder by Malcolm Gladwell about singer-songwriter-stud Paul Simon (you have to listen to this one for the conversations with Simon and his occasional singing), My House of Memories by Merle Haggard because, well, Merle Haggard, and finally, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg. 

A quick aside about Jerry Lee Lewis: he was nothing short of a keyboard genius. Any piano player from Elton John to Ray Stevens will tell you that nobody should be able to play that fast and that well and sing at the same time. A prodigy and bona-fide genius. 

More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell was released in 1987 and reads as a short (128 pages) research document about the historical Jesus and is much worth your time if, like me, you’d missed it all these years. 

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli by Mark Seal is about the “tumultuous” making of The Godfather and was my second-favorite book of the year. If you like the movie, you’ll enjoy it. How the picture got made is semi-miraculous.  

Speaking of movies, The Church of Baseball by Ron Shelton is about the making of Bull Durham, which he wrote and directed; it’s a baseball thing. 

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen is funny and good, as you’d expect from Carl Hiaasen. Speaking of fiction, if you’ve never read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson or The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, as I hadn’t until this year, you could probably skip those. Didn’t happen for me. But … it’s always wise to consider the similar themes of those two books, which is how the bad part of our nature, which is the main part, runs wild if unchecked, even if that wasn’t our intention. 

Churchill’s Band of Brothers by Damien Lewis was good but a better suggestion would be Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, which I’ve read three times, about E Company with the 101st in World War II. The British equivalent is interesting but not nearly as rich. 

Also, you will feel a lot better after reading either Everybody Always or Love Does by Bob Goff, or both. Check him out if you haven’t already. 

Books in my on-deck circle for 2023 include You Are Looking Live! How the NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting, by Rich Podolsky, When the Garden was Eden by Harvey Araton, about the glory days of the New York Knicks (they were good and fun when I was a boy, believe it or not), Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley because I haven’t read him and have meant to, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and Prayer by Tim Keller because I really like Tim Keller and because you need the prayers and Lord knows I need the practice. 

Let me know if you come across anything good. Read on! 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu 


Byrd, Ford hope to rev up the thrills against John Curtis

GOOD LORD MR. FORD: At 6-4, 200, senior end Isaiah Ford (90) leads an all-senior defensive line that will face John Curtis and its split-back veer tonight in the quarterfinals tonight in New Orleans. (Photo by APRIL NIX JOHNSON, Journal Sports)

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

C.E. Byrd senior defensive end Isaiah Ford is thankful for football.

“Football gives me a feeling like nothing else I’ve ever tried,” said Ford after a Thanksgiving early morning walk-thru in the Byrd High gym, final preparations for tonight’s playoff against John Curtis. “It’s a different kind of joy from any other thing I know. Just the thrill of it.”

Ford and his friends get the chance to keep the thrills going tonight when the No. 6-seed Yellow Jackets, 8-3, meet the No.3-seed John Curtis Christian Patriots, 9-2, in the Select Division I quarterfinals at 7 at Joe Yenni Stadium, located at East Jefferson High School in New Orleans.

Ford played on an undefeated Byrd team of freshmen three autumns ago, didn’t play because of the pandemic in 2020, but returned last year and, as a junior, earned 45 tackles, seven for loss, two sacks, a pass breakup and an interception to make First-Team All-District 1-5A.

This year as one of four seniors to start along the Purple Swarm D-Line, the 6-4, 200-pounder has 59 total tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks and a pass-breakup. He had seven tackles in last week’s 49-10 regional round thumping of Alexandria.

No wonder football feels so good.

“Being out there with your friends, it just feels more joyful than anything,” Ford said. “I don’t really know how to explain it with words, but anybody who’s ever played in a football game knows what I’m talking about.”

To keep having all the thrills and feels, Ford and his buddies will have to stop a Patriots team that put together a start-to-finish whupping of Catholic League rival Jesuit, 35-7, last Friday with their rarely seen split-back veer attack. The last time Byrd faced that type offense was in the 2020 playoffs when the Yellow Jackets earned a sticky, stingy 14-13 semifinal playoff win — against John Curtis.

“One of those things where you have to account for everybody,” said Byrd defensive line coach Jalen Bowers, who finished high school football at Byrd in 2013 and then at McNeese in 2017. “Somebody on the quarterback, always looking for the dive, somebody on the pitch man. These guys (starting on the D-line now) were scout team in 2020, but they learned then. They know that all it takes is one person out of position, especially against an offense like this, and it’s a big gain or a touchdown.”

Wyatt Watkins, 6-3, 205, moved during offseason from linebacker/safety to the end opposite Ford. The two tackles are Ben Martinson, 6-1, 206, and Brennan Belanger, 5-10, 223, who moved from end last year to tackle now to make room for Watkins.

“We didn’t have the chemistry last year that we have this year,” Ford said. “But we’ve been playing together since we were freshmen; we’re all good friends. Since Brennan moved inside and Wyatt got on the edge, we’ve all fed off each other’s energy. If one guy makes a good play, then another makes a good play.

“A big reason I think we’re so good is (current defensive coordinator) Coach (Jason) Pope was our coach when we were freshmen,” he said. “He knows what our strong suit is and gets us in the best situations to be successful.”

Although Ford missed the pandemic season in 2020, Bowers said he was able to step into a starting role last year on “pure athleticism.”

“We talked during the off-season about technique and getting down to basics, things that would elevate his game,” Bowers said. “He’s done the work. Last week, he played everything perfectly, made a lot of plays for us on the backside. Our guys know that we might not be the fastest or the biggest, but if they play technique and execute, they’re going to be awfully hard to beat.

“These guys know what it takes,” he said. “They know that each time out, they’ve got to go 1-0 to advance. We’ve had a great week of practice. Leaving the field Tuesday and Wednesday, I felt they were ready. Every day, how they’ve prepared and battled all year long, how they’ve showed up the next day ready to go and get better after being in some battle-tested games, I think they’re ready.”

Since losing to district champ Airline, 48-28, October 20, the Yellow Jackets are 3-0 and have outscored their opponents, 141-13. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu

Division I – Select Quarterfinal

6-Byrd (8-3) at 3-John Curtis (9-2) 

Where: Joe Yenni Stadium, Metairie 

Series: Byrd 1-0 

Last week: Byrd beat Alexandria 49-10; Curtis beat Jesuit 35-7 

Rankings: Curtis #7 in LSWA 5A poll 

All-time playoff record: Byrd 34-31-2; Curtis 176-22 

Last semifinal appearance: Byrd 2020; Curtis 2020 

Radio: Byrd (The Tiger 1130AM, 103.3 FM) 

Notables: Like the last time these two heavyweights met, this meeting comes in the middle of the LHSAA state playoffs. The Yellow Jackets and Patriots last met in the 2020 LHSAA semifinals at Lee Hedges Stadium. Byrd won 14-13 … Last week, Byrd dominated Alexandria Senior High 49-10 as quarterback Lake Lambert — with the help from his offensive line and downfield blocking by wingbacks — put on the most prolific rushing performance by a Byrd quarterback in school history. Lambert rushed for 267 yards including five touchdowns. Meanwhile, John Curtis, led by quarterback Dagan Bruno’s two rushing and two passing touchdowns, defeated Jesuit 35-7 for the second time this season. While Lambert’s 267 yards rushing was the most ever by a Byrd quarterback, it ranked No. 6 overall on the school’s single-game rushing performances … Did someone say Bruno? The most iconic play of Byrd’s 14-13 win over John Curtis in 2020 was an interception by defensive lineman Carson Bruno. Byrd had taken a one-point lead after a nine-play 69-yard drive. There was just under two minutes left in the game when Patriot quarterback Tyren Taylor went back to pass on a screen and tried to throw the ball over Bruno, who jumped up and pulled the football down like he was grabbing a rebound. After intercepting the pass, Bruno added insult to injury by bowling over the Curtis quarterback. Bruno also gave the Yellow Jackets excellent field position in order to run out the clock against the Patriots. The day after Byrd’s playoff game against John Curtis, Bruno will close out his redshirt freshman season as a starting right tackle for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs … Last week’s playoff win against ASH was the first playoff W for Byrd head coach Stacy Ballew, who is in his second year at the helm. Last season, Ballew’s Jackets went 9-1 during the regular season before losing to Brother Martin 45-14.  “After bowing out last year in the first (playoff) game, I’m glad we got this one,” Ballew said after the win against ASH. “I’m happy for our kids, our coaches, our school” … Ballew and his staff will stand across the field from the winningest high school coach in Louisiana history Friday night. J.T. Curtis Jr., who is in his 54th season as the Patriot’s head coach, has a record of 612-77-6 record for a winning percentage of .884. Curtis was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2010, and inducted into the National High School Fame in 2015. He is the winningest active head coach in the United Sports. All time, only Summerville, South Carolina’s John McKissick, with 621 wins, has more victories than Curtis.


Independence Bowl Ghosts of Christmases Past

In my personal Tedders brain, Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl memories are a wild wintertime blend of a lost cell phone, a bad dude named Zack Valentine, a giant Sharpie, John Wayne, a hypnotist, a wrist watch, snow, and grinning Iowa State fans walking around filled with joy and dressed as giant ears of corn.

Good times.

I-Bowl teams will tee it up for the 46th time — only 10 bowls are older — on Friday, Dec. 23 at 2 p.m. at cleverly named Independence Stadium. The afternoon (or make it an all-day) experience would be a thoughtful and fun early Christmas gift, which you can make happen by visiting the bowl’s website (Google “Independence Bowl”) or by calling 318.221.0712.

We hope to see you there. But first … let’s review. 

McNeese State 20, Tulsa 16, 1976: This bowl started it all in America’s bicentennial year, thus the name of the “Independence” Bowl. Tedroe missed the game. Was in high school in West Monroe and probably could not have told you where the stadium was or, if I had known, could not have even imagined any way to get to the game. 

Louisiana Tech 24, Louisville 14, 1977: Saw the highlights on the late news and said, “Wait. What? Bowl game? Shreveport?” 

East Carolina 35, Tech 13, 1978: Was on the sidelines and fairly occupied, through a strange turn of events only the Creator could have devised, as the Tech equipment manager. John Wayne was there and Omar Bradley and, unfortunately, the aforementioned Zack Valentine, who hit our QB near our sideline and literally knocked the snot out of him. This was when a cliché actually happened; I witnessed it. Our friend the late Keith Thibodeaux, still the best all-around athlete I’ve ever seen at Tech, was knocked out of the game early on that play and I was sort of glad he didn’t have to endure the rest of it like we did. Tech had just won two Southland Conference titles in a row, but the other team was better, at least on that cold and sunny afternoon. That was the end of an era, the final game for Hall of Fame coach Maxie Lambright. (They gave us watches at the team banquet and we were thrilled; now team gifts are … well, let’s just say, speaking of eras, a new day has dawned in the Bowl Gifting World.) 

Elderly Miss 35, Texas Tech 18, 1998: Sanford writing products was the bowl sponsor and the beautiful mother of maybe my favorite I-Bowl Memory: the giant blow-up Sharpie in the parking lot. A thing of undisputed beauty. Think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. God I miss it still. 

Mississippi State 43, Texas A&M 41, 2000: The glorious, unmatched, never-to- be-forgotten Snow Game/Snow Bowl. Watched it on TV because me and 10-year-olds were playing football in the front yard, in the snow, and they didn’t want to stop. We’d run inside to warm up and watch and go back outside. (Ours is the not-as-memorable Snow Bowl — except to us.)

Elderly Miss 27, Nebraska 25, 2002: At the banquet for both teams, a hypnotist — he was nothing short of spectacular, had guys walking around like chickens and such — brought maybe five players from each team up and sat them in chairs and attempted to hypnotize them. It “took” on most, but not on all. Eli Manning was one who tried, but you could tell it was not working on him; not sure any of the Football Manning Family have a brain that can un-think long enough to be hypnotized. So Eli was one of the guys fired. Fortunately for the Rebels, he didn’t fall asleep at the game, either: 25-of 44 for 313 yards and a touchdown. (Programming note: Eli is one of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023 inductees; the star-studded bunch will be inducted in July. LaSportsHall.com for more info; hope to see you there, too.)

Missouri 38, South Carolina 31, 2005: Our friend Patrick Meehan was on an elevator a couple days before the game and dropped his cell phone through the slot where the doors close. You could hear it bumping metal and breaking on the way down. Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looked down the narrow opening and said, to no one, “That’s unfortunate.” He had the best post-game quote too: his team led 28-14 at half and when we asked him about losing the second-half lead, he pointed to a couple of his defensive coaches and said, “Go ask those guys.”

Not a third of the way down my list and … we could go on and on. We will, next year. Good grief we love us some Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl.

But now it’s time to look forward, not back. So see you at the game. Wonder what will happen? Come getcha some!

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


Brossette, Byrd tackle Alexandria in playoffs, Round 2

BYRD BRAINS:  Dynamic senior linebacker Brooks Brossette confers with Yellow Jackets coach Stacy Ballew in the season opener. (Photo by APRIL JOHNSON, Journal Sports)

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports 

Most football folk will tell you it’s a simple game, really: block and tackle.

Brooks Brossette, a senior linebacker who’ll finish his career in the Top 4 on the all-time career tackles list at C.E. Byrd, talks as if he believes that.

The secret to tackling people?

“Hit ’em hard as you can,” he said. “Wrap up.”

And there you go. Not rocket science. Just basic football science.

Brossette and his buddies will have plenty of chances to practice tackling tonight at 7 at Lee Hedges Stadium when the No. 6-seed Yellow Jackets, 7-3, face No.22-seed Alexandria Senior High, 5-6, in the regional round of LHSAA’s Select Division I Playoffs.

“They’ll try to run off-tackle against us, gut plays, try to establish that early,” Brossette said. “If we can shut that down and get our offense on the field, we’ll be good.”

Brossette knows something about good, as his 204 career tackles illustrate. This season, he leads Byrd with 16 tackles for loss, six more than he got last year when the Yellow Jackets went 9-2 and he became not only a starter, but an All City and All District selection.

“Salt-of-the-earth kid,” Jerry Byrd, former Byrd and Louisiana Tech lineman and current Byrd High assistant principal, said. “A leader. All his teammates love him. And not just in football, but baseball too.”

Byrd’s football linebacker is also Byrd’s baseball centerfielder.

“He makes plays that coming off the bat you think, ‘That’s in the gap and will be extra bases,’” said “Voice of the Yellow Jackets” Charlie Cavell. “Then the next thing you know, there’s Brooks, running it down and making some spectacular diving catch and you just shake your head, smile and say, ‘I’m sure glad he’s on our team.’”

And that’s the secret, besides hitting hard and wrapping up: speed. Brossette has it.

“Speed, his instincts and the intense competitive edge he plays with,” Cavell said. “That’s what separates him from being a good high school player to being a great one. He has that intangible drive that all great linebackers have.”

While on the subject of intangibles, don’t let the 5-6 ASH record deceive: three of ASH’s six losses came to two No. 1 seeds (Ruston and St. Thomas More) and a No. 8 seed (Carencro). ASH’s playoff win against No. 11-seed McKinley was a taking-candy-from-a-baby 42-0.

Tonight’s challenge for Byrd includes being successful running against a stout Trojan defensive front and containing an ASH team that has a formidable passing game led by quarterback Joe Bordelon. Byrd faltered against high-powered passing attacks in the regular season. See losses to Benton (68-28) and Airline (48-28).

And keep in mind that ASH’s head coach is Thomas Bachman, who coached pass-happy Evangel to a state championship. Brossette and his teammates would do well to keep Bordelon uncomfortable if Byrd head coach and Yellow Jacket lifer Stacy Ballew, in his second year as head coach and his 26th at the school, is to get his first playoff win as head man.

If things get really dicey, Ballew could always put his All-City linebacker in at the only other position Brossette would like to play.

“Running back, scoring touchdowns,” Brossette said. “I should have asked (Ballew) a couple of games ago. But he wouldn’t let me now. I think he likes me at linebacker too much.” 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu

22-Alexandria (5-6) at 6-Byrd (7-3) 

Where: Lee Hedges Stadium

Series: First meeting 

Last week: Alexandria beat McKinley 42-0; Byrd had a bye 

Rankings: none 

All-time playoff record: Alexandria 13-30; Byrd 33-31-2 

Radio: Byrd (The Tiger 1130 AM, 103.3 FM) 

Notables: This is the first-ever meeting between C.E. Byrd and ASH … Both Byrd and ASH played in the 2020 LHSAA State Championships in Natchitoches. Byrd lost to Catholic before the Jackets ended up with the trophy when the Bears were forced to forfeit several games including their 35-12 win against the Jackets. Acadiana beat ASH 35-34 in an overtime thriller … After losing 45-14 in their second-round playoff game to Brother Martin in 2021, Byrd head coach Stacy Ballew is looking for his first playoff win since taking over the program. 


What’s over’s a new start for Vikings

After going 1-9 last season, Airline went 7-4 this fall and made a clean 7-0 sweep of District 1-5A, a success by any measuring stick, but especially by measuring one win against seven — an improvement of 700 percent.

Or maybe 600 percent. You do the math. (Seriously, you do it because I don’t know how and am not going to. I know 7 > 1, though, and in Airline’s case, a whole lot greater.)

After last season’s disaster and a 3-4 record during the football-forgettable COVID Autumn of 2020, the Vikings were basically grounded, spear-less and sword-less and plunder poor.

“Football’s always been fun,” said Viking senior linebacker Tyler Bullard, who started playing organized football around kindergarten on a team called the Dragons when, he said, his pads were bigger than he was. “Since I can remember, it’s been fun. Well, maybe it wasn’t last year. Or the year before, everything going on those two years.  Plus, I was out with an MCL all last year. On my freshman team our offense wasn’t very good so … it was fun, but let’s just say we weren’t the best.”

This year, in the regular season, the Vikings were. Started 0-3, then ran the demanding 1-5A table.

“100 percent fun and we all knew, even at the first, it was a big improvement over last year,” said Bullard, who might well be the “H” and the “S” in High School football. Good grades, good high school player, leader on the field. Not going to be a college player, but was going to be every bit of a high school player.

“We were in all the games,” he said. “Even in the first game (a 46-21 loss to North DeSoto), we scored 21 points with eight turnovers. We knew we could win; we just had to finish. Then after the Byrd game (a 48-28 win that pushed Airline’s district record to 5-0), things got real. ‘Wow,’ we thought, ‘we can do something here.”’

They did. Airline averaged nearly 50 points a game in district, never scored less than 41 and scored 75 against Benton. The Vikings were back in the plundering business.

Then another kind of pirate, the Haughton Bucs, ended it all with a 36-26 win at Airline in the first round of the playoffs last week; Airline won the regular season game, 55-42, the closest 1-5A game Airline played. But then there was the rain last Friday and the wind, and there was also the hurricane called Haughton, a tough team that plays in Round 2 this Friday.

“I told the team it was my fault that it ended,” said Airline first-year head coach Justin Scogin, who orchestrated the turnaround since his arrival in April. “All year long, some problem would happen and we’d fix it. I didn’t get that (factoring in the weather) fixed in time. But the team, they didn’t do anything wrong. What a good group. These seniors laid the foundation for what we’re trying to do, and what they accomplished is important and impressive.”

“That playoff loss put a bad taste in the mouths of the kids we have coming back,” said defensive coordinator Zack Pourciau who, like Scogin, came to the school in the spring. “They want to be better next year, to take the next step.  We’re pleased with where we went, but these seniors, after coming off a 1-9 season to winning district, to being district champs, they’ve told the team that now we know that next year, they can take it to the next level. Again, that’s the seniors talking; that’s the vibe of the locker room.

“Even though they’ve turned it around, the kids coming back have something to prove,” he said. “They’re itching and ready to go. We’ve hit the ground running with off-season.”

Bullard is one of those seniors who’ll be watching next year. And remembering. He’s played his last game, except in his memory, except in how he’ll “play” through what his teammates do next season.

“Being in the off-season competing every day and working out,” he said of what he’ll likely most remember. “Calling a guy slow when you beat him outside in a rep. Max Day and seeing who could out-squat or out-power clean the other guy. Just the competition and the fun …

“Playing with the boys, having fun with them, having a great senior year with them, seeing some of the crazy things we did on offense, things I’ve always wanted to see … Just having fun. Just watching all these guys succeed, and being a part of it.” 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


Haughton at Airline, Round 2: Winner-Take-All

SPECIAL VIKINGS:  Overlooked in Airline’s seven-game win streak has been special teams play, like the punt return team.  (File photo courtesy of JENNIFER ENGLEKE)

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Haven’t we seen this before?

Well, yes — and probably no.

District 1-5A cousins Haughton (5-5, 3-4) and Airline (7-3, 7-0) go at it again tonight at 7, a first-round Non-Select Division I playoff game at M.D. Ray Field at Airline High Stadium. Some people are old enough to remember when these two teams played before — a whole 29 days ago.

Airline won it, 55-42, the closest winning margin in the Vikings’ 7-0 district sweep and turnaround from last year’s 1-9 season. That first meeting on Oct. 13, a Thursday night, was closer than the final 13-point gap: Airline led 27-21 at the half and also by just six early in the fourth quarter.

But in reality, and in metaphor, this is a whole new ballgame.

The Vikings eventually overwhelmed the Bucs in mid-October with speed and were “a little faster getting to the edge than we were prepared for,” Haughton head coach Jason Brotherton said.

“We’re going to try some different things (tonight), some different personnel: you’d be crazy to give up 55 points to a team and play them a second time the exact way.

“Will that be a magic formula?” he said. “I doubt it. But hopefully we can get enough stops to give ourselves a chance to outscore them, because I don’t think you can shut them down; they’re too talented on offense. But if we can get a couple of turnovers and make them punt a couple of times, I think we’ll be right there.”

Like Airline, Haughton can play offense too, but in a much different way. Senior backfield mates Colin Rains and Tyler Rhodes are a bruising 1-2 punch: among SBJ-area teams, quarterback Rains is seventh in passing yardage and in the top 20 in rushing yardage, while Rhodes is second in rushing yardage.

“The biggest thing with Haughton is that duo; they’re really good,” Airline defensive coordinator Zack Pourciau said. “And they’re able to do just enough in the passing game to hurt you.”

In the first meeting, the Bucs had a pair of wideouts with more than 100 yards each receiving in Jalen Lewis (6-158) and Rashard Douglas (3-101).

Airline likes to play fast and, with all that talent in all the skill positions, there’s little reason not to.

“We knew we’d be solid at the skill spots on offense,” Pourciau said of preseason expectations. “I think the surprise has been on the offensive and defensive lines, defense for sure because we’re so undersized compared to who we play against. We’ve got to use our speed to slant and move and that’s what we’ve done; we haven’t gotten pushed around like I thought we might.”

After an 0-3 start, the Vikings are the ones doing the pushing. Pourciau, in his first year at Airline, and head coach Justin Scogin, the Vikes’ rookie head coach, figured in preseason that 7-3 would be about right.

“Felt we’d start slow and then get better,” Pourciau said. “We might have gotten here in a little different way than we thought. Justin said at the beginning to give him three games to get the offensive going; he definitely didn’t lie about that.

“We’re still battling with some guys, still getting things figured out. But they’re steadily learning and we’ve been winning and it’s been fun for sure.”

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu

27-Haughton (5-5) at 6-Airline (7-3) 

Where: M.D. Ray Field at Airline Stadium 

Series: Airline 27-12 

Last week: Haughton lost to Captain Shreve 42-7; Airline beat Southwood 42-14 

Rankings: Haughton is 10th in Shreveport-Bossier Journal Top 10 poll; Airline is No. 1 in Journal Top 10, and 10th in the LSWA’s Class 5A Top 10 statewide poll 

Radio: Airline (Miracle, 89.1 FM, http://69.64.65.171:8192/kflo) 

Notables: Fighting through some defensive injuries, the Bucs have lost three of their last four games, all in bruising District 1-5A … LB Conner Blank is second among SBJ-area teams in tackles with 113 … Senior RB Tyler Rhodes is second in rushing yardage with 1,079 and 15 TDs on 169 carries … Senior QB Colin Rains is seventh in passing yardage with 1,639 (104-171-5, 16 TDs) and is in the Top 20 among area rushers … The mid-October loss to Airline wasn’t decided until late: midway through the final quarter with Haughton trailing 48-35, Bucs senior receiver John Ecot slipped a yard short of a first down on a fourth-down play; Airline then scored and Haughton went on a 9-play, 80-yard drive to close out the scoring.

Vikes’ sophomore QB Ben Taylor leads SBJ-area teams in passing yardage with 2,730 … He’s also thrown 34 TDs … Senior receiver Daxton Chavez is first in TDs caught with 18, third in receiving yardage with 1,044, and fourth in number of receptions (50) … Cam Jefferson is third in number of receptions (53 for 627 yards and 5 TDs) … Junior RB Tre Jackson is seventh in total catches (41 for 442 yards and 6 TDs), and he’s also eighth in rushing yards (670 and 13 TDs on 104 carries) … In Airline’s 55-42 win over Haughton Oct. 13 at Airline, Jackson scored six TDs, five rushing — the longest was from 8 yards out — and one on a 28-yard pass play … Taylor was an efficient 24-31-1 for 314 yards and 3 TDs.


A loss that pierces

Every note Jerry Pierce wrote me I kept because he was Jerry Pierce and I was just me and I always loved his company, even if it was just through words on a page. It wasn’t like being with him — nothing was quite like being with the man most guys called “Pierce” — but it was like being within his gravitational pull, and that was enough.

An idol of mine, Jerry Pierce became ill last week and passed away Tuesday. That hurts me.

Hurts a lot of people. Our world is less when laughter leaves it.

If you didn’t know him, you’re either not involved with Northwestern State in Natchitoches, where he’s “worked” since 1965 as an administrator and bona fide goodwill ambassador, or you’re not deeply involved in Louisiana sports — and if you’re not that is definitely OK because while there’s a lot of good in athletics there’s some bad too, but the bad is worth putting up with because of guys like Pierce, let me please tell you.

In brief, I was crazy about him. Met him when I was a young sportswriter and loved the guy. He was at heart an old-school newspaper wretch at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans who moved into sports information at NSU and then into administration, all the while a Johnny Appleseed of encouragement and wit, and a guy who, in our sports-rich state, began the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame from scratch 50 years ago, something that’s grown into sort of a big deal, as the museum on Front Street in Natchitoches suggests.

He was supposed to host a 50th Anniversary at the Hall last Thursday night, an informal get-together for whoever wanted to come, a casual history lesson that would have turned into a Q&A and a standup routine, all unrehearsed, Pierce at the wheel. That’s the safe bet, though we’ll never know because instead, on that Thursday evening, he was in the hospital, given no chance at that point to make it much longer, and still he was telling a friend how much fun it had all been.

When we heard he’d been feeling suddenly a little down with flu symptoms and Thursday’s event would have to be delayed until spring, I was disappointed one minute and happy the next because, hey, it was another fun thing to look forward to in the spring. I’ll laugh in the spring.

Then the bad parts came and it was all so sudden and totally unexpected and messed up. Just all messed up, if you ask me.

But … none of us are promised spring. Just like ball, life has rules, and that’s one of them.

Pierce knew that, so he lived in the springtime most every day.

He was the best emcee I’ve ever seen or heard, and no telling how many times — literally hundreds — he was called on for that slippery chore.

Once an inductee went long on an acceptance speech at a Hall of Fame Saturday night induction ceremony, so from the lectern he looked at me with a straight face and said, to everyone, “Teddy, it’s a good thing we didn’t give him the Pulitzer or we’d have been here ’til Tuesday.”

The room exploded. Crisis averted. On with the show.

I once sent him a disastrously long email to answer in great detail a question he had and he wrote back, “Many thanks. I have a vacation coming up in July and will try to respond then to your very thorough email.”

He followed that up a week later with, “Haven’t gotten to that information you were kind enough to send but I plan to read it right after I finish my Briggs and Stratton maintenance manual.”

He once left the Louisiana Tech president comp tickets for a Northwestern State basketball game; they were on the top row of Prather Coliseum, as far away from the court as you could get and still be inside.

The most recent note he wrote to me was in August and ended with “Love you.” I knew he did, but he’d never written it. Through the years I got bushels of encouraging notes from him. Funny that he would have closed as he did, the final note from him I’ll ever get.

He was a tremendous writer. One of my favorite columns was about his little granddaughters and the tests he would give them during car rides and bike rides and on school breaks. Almost every visit, one of them would say, “Ask us some questions.”

“What’s the name of the river where Jesus was baptized?” Brief silence. Then Charlee, only 5, says, “The Holy Nightwater.” (“She makes up some of her answers,” Jerry wrote about this girl comedian who is no doubt the granddaughter of the grandfather.)

More from Pierce. “What country is most identified with kangaroos?” One of the girls blurted, “Georgia!”

“Who invented the airplane?” Big sis Allie was excited. “I read about it in school! It’s Chris Walker,” she said.

Granddaddy Jerry had to tell her it was the Wright Brothers. “Right,” she said. “Chris Walker Wright. He was their cousin.”

Must be something in the water this family is drinking …

Here’s another question for you, Allie and Charlee: Who’s a guy who could totally command a room, who could calmly or not-so-calmly defuse the most heated situation, who could encourage you on your worst day, a guy who, right after you saw him, you always felt better than you did before?

Answer: your granddaddy. He was tried and true, and like you, we miss him, desperately, already.

Love you.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


Shreve tortures, torches Haughton

STARTING THE PARTY:  Jamarlon Otis breaks loose for Captain Shreve’s first touchdown Friday night in a surprising domination of Haughton.  (Photo by KEVIN PICKENS, Journal Sports)

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Captain Shreve’s 42-7 undressing of Haughton Friday night wasn’t like watching a TKO as much as it was like watching the winners stretch the losers out on a primitive torture rack and gradually turn the wheel.

Death, slowly but surely.

Haughton could never get up and resurgent Shreve, high as the threatening clouds that moved in over Lee Hedges Stadium in the second half of a game that started at 5:30 to dodge weather, would never come down.

The Gators, who’ll see where they’ve landed in the playoff picture when the brackets are released Sunday morning at 10, have now won two of their last three, the loss a 22-21 setback against high-flying Benton last week. The Tigers came into the game averaging 55 points and had been held to less than 400 yards in only one contest; Shreve, 5-5 overall and 2-5 in District 1-5A after Friday’s regular-season finale, held them to three touchdowns and 250 yards.

Against Haughton, the Gators defense seemed never to be out of position, stacking the box, playing tight coverage, hardly allowing the Bucs to breathe. Haughton could manage just 217 yards, 67 passing and a bruising 150 on the ground.

The Bucs, 5-5, 3-4, will find out Sunday if their 25-years playoff streak is either extended, or ended.

“They whipped us up front, on both sides of the ball,” Haughton coach Jason Brotherton said. “I didn’t think it’d be like that. We’ve been able to hold our own up front every game other than Many (a 35-3 loss). We knew they were talented and thought before the season they could win district. We knew they were getting back to full strength (after some midseason injuries). But I still didn’t think it would be that big of a mismatch up front.”

Shreve coach Adam Kirby said it was as physical as his team has played all year—and just in the nick of time.

“I told our team the challenge tonight would be, ‘Can we be the more physical team?’” the rookie head coach said. “I wanted to make sure we set the tempo early and got it going. To the kids’ credit, they took it personal. They wanted to send a statement heading into the playoffs; that’s just what they did.”

The Gators won the toss and elected to receive, a wise call since sophomore running back Jamarlon Otis ran off right tackle and was never touched on his way down the west sideline and into the south end zone for a 76-yard touchdown. The kick from senior John Chance was good; he was a perfect 5-for-5 on PAT’s, and sophomore Zane Wyss nailed the final one when Shreve scored its sixth touchdown with substitutes and 1:07 left to play.

In between, the two teams played a first half that settled little. What probably determined the game was what happened between 3:02 left in the second quarter and 4:02 left in the third.

Following a Haughton punt and one of Shreve’s 11 penalties (for 110 yards), the Gators rallied for a first down from an unfavorable first-and-26 from its own 16. Shreve got a rush from Jayden Edwards for four yards, a scramble from quarterback Kenyon Terrell for 13, then Terrell hit Edwards in the flat for a first-and-10 near midfield.

Next came the killer, a Terrell pass to Keaton Flowers on a crossing route for 49 yards to the Haughton 4. On first-and-goal, Terrell found Flowers all alone for the score and a 14-0 lead.

With 1:28 left in the half, Haughton drove from its own 20 to a fourth-and-9 at the Gator 29 but couldn’t convert. 14-0 Shreve at the half.

Haughton started the second half with the ball at midfield after a pooch kick and Shreve penalty, but the Gators forced a three-and-out and the offense put together an 80-yard, 14-play drive that ended with junior wideout Jordan Wiggins rushing from 16 yards out and spinning into the end zone for a 21-0 lead that seemed to break the Bucs with 4:02 left in the third.

That final Haughton first-half drive that ended on a fourth-down stop by Shreve was one of three fourth-down chances the Bucs couldn’t make good on; one was a fourth-and-one that turned into a fourth-and-six and punt attempt after a procedure penalty. A bad snap then gave Shreve a first down on the Buc 21 and led to the fifth TD of the night, a Terrell keeper from 8 yards out, to make it 35-0 early in the final quarter.

Too many little things added up to too many big things for the Bucs to overcome on a night that belonged to the Gators.

“We were in the game in the first half,” Brotherton said. “We had some misreads and we dropped a crossing route we maybe score on to make it 7-7. We had our chances. If we get any of those plays early, the whole game might be different.”

Instead, the Gators racked up 463 yards — 98 passing, 365 rushing — then crowd-surfed their first-year head coach above the home field turf only a few minutes after the final horn.

“Meant the world to me,” Kirby said. “Been a long year for all of us. But these kids, they’re still fighting.” 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu

Captain Shreve 42, Haughton 7

Score by quarters

Haughton | 0 | 0 | 0 | 7 | – 7

Shreve | 7 | 7 | 14 | 14 | – 42

Scoring summary

CS – Jamarlon Otis 76 run (John Chance kick)

CS – Keaton Flowers 4 pass from Kenyon Terrell (Chance kick)

CS – Jordan Wiggins 16 run (Chance kick)

CS – Jayden Edwards 21 run (Chance kick)

CS – Terrell 8 run (Chance kick)

H – Rashard Douglas 17 pass from Colin Rains (Carter Ebarb kick)

CS – Javen Thomas 2 run (Zane Wyss kick)

Individual leaders

Rushing 

Haughton – Tyler Rhodes 18-66, Colin Rains 8-25, Davontay Moss 4-23, Jamarion Montgomery 1-22, John Ecot 3-7, Rashard Douglas 1-5, Marlon Montgomery 1-2. 

Captain Shreve – Otis 10-115, Edwards 15-96, Terrell 9-80, Thomas 2-34, Wiggins 1-16, Scotty Simo 3-14, Brodie Savage 1-8, Flowers 1-2. 

Passing 

Haughton – Rains 7-19-0-67. 

Captain Shreve – Terrell 7-8-0-98.

Receiving

Haughton – Jalen Lewis 2-24, Douglas 1-17, Jam. Montgomery 2-15, Ecot 2-11. 

Captain Shreve – Flowers 4-68, Edwards 1-14, cam Wilson 1-9, JT Hester 1-6.


LA Tech’s Bruno cookin’ up a ‘dream come true’

LET THE BIG DOG EAT: Redshirt freshman and C.E. Byrd grad Carson Bruno is chomping up this college football stuff, starting at right tackle for LA Tech, loving the student-athlete life and learning the game. (Photo by JOSH MCDANIEL)

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

RUSTON — In the new apartment he shares with one current and one ex-teammate, Louisiana Tech’s right offensive tackle is making some pasta, which is to say he’s boiling water and putting noodles in it.

“See, the thing is, I don’t cook,” said Carson Bruno, who, at 6-5, 300, does eat.

Has to. A lot. So it’s handy to know how to boil pasta and heat up some red sauce and sprinkle the mozzarella.

You’re an offensive lineman. You figure things out.

Which is what he’s doing and why he’s starting as a redshirt freshman. He’s trying hard to figure it out.

“I’m extremely proud of him,” said senior guard Joshua Mote, the O-Line’s veteran from Oak Grove. “He’s definitely put in the work.”

Bruno graduated from Shreveport’s C.E. Byrd early and showed up at Tech for spring practice, his 290 pounds and athletic genes good enough to make All-State but not ready for Division I football. One look and you can see he was never really a “little” kid — “According to my mom, definitely not,” he said — and just a glance at those grins and that lumbering walk and you maybe mark him off as half-goofball.

Mistake. He’s already been on the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, and he’s starting as a freshman in a position that won’t tolerate dummies.

“Everybody who knows Carson knows he’s just a big, young, funny dude,” Mote said. “He changed his body during the offseason. Learned the playbook. You’ve got to be sharp out there at right tackle. Think about two of our first three games: we start at Missouri and the stadium’s packed and then in Game 3 it’s another sellout on the road and he’s going against a first-round pick at Clemson, and he held his own.

“He’s had some moments in some games where he had a freshman slump,” Mote said, “but he’s overcome it. And he practices and works hard.”

It helps that he won the Gene Pool Lottery too. Dad Lindsey was a two-way lineman at Nicholls State, and mom Amy played college hoops; each of his granddads played college football.

“Best athlete in the family?” Bruno said. “I’d like to think I’m up there. My dad recently told me I’m better than he was. Now mom, she’s a competitor. But I think I was better than she was at basketball.”

But not at cooking.

“No way,” he said.

The other dogs who eat alongside Bruno are a group of big boys who got a new coach in the spring in Nathan Young, a two-time first-team NCAA Division II All-American as a player at Abilene Christian (2006-07) who coached at Stephen F. Austin last year.

“Coach Young simplified things for us (since last season),” said Bruno, a star defensive tackle in high school who knew his future was on the offensive line.

“Really helped me. Defensive line in high school is just reacting; react and make a play. Offensive line is about being able to work with the people around you. You’ve gotta know where you’re going and what everyone’s doing to execute what the play is.”

“Everyone” he’s talking about are the other linemen who are the most likely to know, right when a play ends, why it did or didn’t work. Lots of thinking, and lots of hitting.

“That’s a hard job, knowing someone is trying to run through your face every play,” said Tech junior receiver Tahj Magee, a quarterback in high school in Franklinton. “They have every bit of my respect. Carson, he’s doing an amazing job. I’ve been watching him over the season, seeing how he’s developing and how he’s gotten better, how he’s learned from his mistakes.

“The biggest thing to me was in the opener against Missouri, he wasn’t afraid at all. He attacked then and he’s attacked every game since. That’s one of those things that you either have it or you don’t; he has it.”  

His fellow starters include Mote, a Tech prodigy who moved to center in midseason when Abe Delphin suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. “Really smart and competitive,” Bruno said when asked to offer a brief description. “And that good set of hair. Really great hair. I tell him that all the time. I do. I tell him.”

The guards are Isaac Ellis (“Great communicator,” Bruno said) and Bert Hale who, like Mote, is from Oak Grove (“He’s football nasty”), football nasty meaning he’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done and doesn’t much care what it looks like.

And Bruno’s bookend tackle? Dakota White, 6-4, 313. “Athletic,” Bruno said. “And also nasty. Very.”

What those ’Dogs need to cook up now are some wins. Tech is 2-6 this season and 5-15 in its last 20 games after a streak of seven straight bowl appearances. The last two games have been an unsettling different kind of “nasty” — a loss to Rice in overtime at home, a loss to FIU in double OT in Miami.

The wins will come, Bruno said. “It’s just gonna take us jelling together with the new staff, and I think we’re doing that. They’ll get some more people in here they need. We’re gonna be fine.”

He said he’s known it since he signed at Tech because of the “family atmosphere,” because of “how bad they really wanted me.” He’s known it since the first time as a college player he ran onto the field on special teams in the opener at Mississippi State, “a dream come true, everything I’ve dreamed of.”

“There’s nothing like playing this game with your friends,” Bruno said. “These last two games, we were so emotional on the sideline, we wanted to win so bad, we were so close and everybody was coming together … we’re making plays, the defense was making plays … for us to win, everybody — no matter what’s happened — we have to all be in this together at that moment, just us and now and nothing else.

“Our junior year at Byrd, we were pretty bad. The next year we played for the state championship. I’ve been there. That’s why I have a positive mindset. I’ve seen it turn around. So I’m looking forward to playing the rest of this season and having some great years here and winning games and making bowls. That’s ahead. We’ll get there.” 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


Giddy for Lyddy? Tap the brakes

Fair doesn’t figure into life a lot of the time, and you sure can’t figure fair into football.

So when Louisiana Tech’s season began a slow spiral this fall — the Bulldogs were 3-9 last year and 2-6 now, a meager 5-15 in their last 20 games — it stood to reason that the more vocal parts of the fan base figured it was Lyddy Time.

“Free Lyddy!”

Lyddy is Landry Lyddy, a true freshman quarterback for the Bulldogs who won’t be 19 until next Sunday. Last year in more carefree times, the 6-0, almost-190-pounder was named Louisiana Mr. Football and the Gatorade Louisiana Football Player of the Year for what he and his teammates did on an 11-2 state semifinalist Calvary Baptist team.

So a couple weeks ago in Aillet Stadium, it hardly seemed fair that, when the two QBs in front of him left the game with injuries, Lyddy was called on with 43 seconds left and Tech down by 8 on the Rice 19.

Up until that point in his college career, he was exactly two passes old, both completions in a September blowout of SFA.

This was a different ballgame, both in reality and metaphorically. And what did he do? Apparently with no heartbeat, he trotted onto the field, tapping this player and that one on the helmet, then immediately took the snap and threw a touchdown pass. Then he completed a two-point conversion. Both great catches to Cyrus Allen and Tre Harris, but both thrown under pressure and where no one but the receiver had a chance at the ball.

Tie game and overtime.

“Cool as a cucumber,” starting center Joshua Mote said.

So the guy threw another TD in overtime, and when his pass for the winning two-point conversion try was thrown where only Superman could have caught it — could even Superman have gotten a foot down in bounds? — and Rice won 42-41, it didn’t much matter. Tech was 2-5 but a semi-star seemed to have been born.

Last week in Miami, Lyddy pretty much had to start since backup Matthew Downing was lost for the season against Rice and starter Parker McNeil, the LSWA Offensive Player of the Week just two weeks earlier in a four-touchdown-passes 41-31 win over UTEP, was dressed out but nursing sore ribs. A freshman can play in four games and still redshirt so … this was house money for Lyddy and head coach Sonny Cumbie.

Lyddy was 28-of-40 for 256 yards, rushed for a short TD and didn’t throw a touchdown or interception. Tech lost in double OT this time, 42-34. Two of Lyddy’s final two passes, including the game-ender, were high and away. If they were baseball pitches, each would have been easy-call ball fours.

Understandable. It’s a hard position to play. And now, maybe he won’t have to — although he could play one more game and still redshirt. What any clear-thinking football fan would hope for is that he has to serve only as an emergency backup, play a lot in the season’s final game at home against UAB Nov. 26 — unless Tech wins its final four November games to become bowl eligible.

Lyddy was fine against FIU in his first start. Extended some plays, including a big one that led to a completion and a first down in the second overtime. Gave his team a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Didn’t throw an interception although … he started the game 10-of-10 and would have been “11-of-11” had the FIU linebacker between the hashes not dropped what would have been a pick six. After that, Tech didn’t throw to the middle of the field.

He did good. We can’t ask him how he thought he did because Bulldog freshmen can’t speak with the media, but if you watched the game, you were encouraged for him.

But right now, Lyddy is not the answer. He’s going to get the chance to be part of the answer, for sure. But now, he’s not even part of the real question.

The question is whether or not a Bulldog can make a play with the game on the line. When you get in a 5-15 slump, when so many of those 15 losses and 12 straight on the road are down-to-the-last-possession games, one guy can make a difference. On one play.

Tech dropped three should-have-been interceptions in Miami. Made three special team snafus, the biggest being an uncovered pooch kick that led directly to a Panther touchdown.

Lyddy wasn’t on the field for any of that.

And while he’s on the field for running plays, neither he nor any other Tech QB run blocks or is a running back in a run game that has been statistically one of the NCAA’s least productive. Tech ran it much better in Miami, but with two minutes left and FIU with no timeouts, when one more first down would have iced the game in regulation, the Dogs couldn’t grind one out so …

Punt. Drive. Game-typing field goal with :24 left. Overtime. Loss.

“We’ve been losing, and people just want to see us win, so I understand,” said wide receiver Tahj Magee, who threw for 50 touchdowns at Franklinton High, rushed for 37 more and knows how demanding the position is. “People think this guy or that guy should play (QB) and really, it just comes down to everyone doing their job. We can win with anyone, but at the end of the day, Parker’s the starter. But whoever is playing, if the quarterback performs well, it’s because everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do.”

“Landry’s a great option,” said starting right tackle Carson Bruno, himself just two autumns removed from high school football. “But it’s Parker’s senior year and he’s got these few games left and Landry’s got a redshirt year to play with. Whoever’s back there, we’ve (as an offensive line) got to do what we’re supposed to do.”

“The advantage of him redshirting at this point far outweighs him coming in, even if he were to kill it the rest of the year,” Mote said. “He’s gonna be a great player. He came in (against Rice) and didn’t flinch, and last week he put us in a position to win. He’s learning a lot from Parker; that’s what’s gonna be better for his career.

“In ’19, I played a lot but didn’t start,” he said. “I got to learn a lot from Ethan Reed and Drew Kirkpatrick and Kody (Russey) and those guys, got to watch them and have them coach me up instead of me just being thrown out there. In that way, I can relate to what Landry’s going through right now. I learned a ton; it did me so much good to get that experience and learn. Seems like Landry’s going good too and learning a lot. Hey, it’s one block here, one block there, or one play here, one more play there; the reason we’re not winning isn’t because of one position.”

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu


The greatest Tiger’s greatest return of all

(This time of year every year around here, everyone remembers Billy Cannon running his way into the Instant Legend Stratosphere on Halloween Night, 1959 in Tiger Stadium. Second-best return of his memorable life. This is about his best one. First appeared in print May 27, 2018, a week after his passing at age 80.)

He had on scruffy pointy-toed cowboy boots, his western shirt was tucked into his jeans, and he smiled when he got up and came around his desk and opened up a calloused, catcher’s mitt-sized hand:

“Billy Cannon.”

I wasn’t intimidated because he wouldn’t allow that, but it was easy to see how people could be. Now nearing 50 years old on this late-summer day in 1988, his build was still athletic. You could still see plenty of football player. Powerful, his legs and chest and arms thick and solid.

Plus there was the Being a Legend and all. Time was about the only thing that could run him down, and it finally did when Dr. Cannon passed away last Sunday morning in his sleep. But the Legend part is both deserved and well preserved.

We were in his stark dentist’s office that mid-morning, alone. He was trying to reboot his dentistry practice and I’d been a sportswriter at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans for only a few months, covering mostly LSU. He knew who I was only because he loved LSU and read all things LSU and so when I called to see if I could meet him, he said sure. He wasn’t very busy: less than two years before, the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner had gotten out of federal prison in Texas after serving almost three years for making counterfeit $100 bills.

The building didn’t really look like a dentist’s office either inside or out. No receptionist. No aide. No waiting room TV set. Just Dr. Cannon. Turns out his private practice wouldn’t make it but something better came along, something we couldn’t have guessed that morning while we drank coffee from his dark green Thermos with a silver coned cup on top.

We talked LSU football and people we both knew. A little girl came by to have her braces checked; he called her beautiful as she sat in the dentist chair and the dad and Dr. Cannon lined up the next appointment; moms usually bring little girls to the dentist in the middle of the day, but this was Billy Cannon so…

Yet those were the only patients who ever came by during what were probably a dozen visits by me to his office.

After maybe 40 minutes he said, “I’m just an old washed-up counterfeiter with not much to say about all that.” He paused, then smiled and looked me right in the eyes. “But come on back next week.”

And I did, for lots of weeks. And brought coffee. He’d teach me some football, talk about that week’s game, tell stories. I lined up an ESPN crew to visit him when the movie Everybody’s All-American came out that year, but I never wrote about him or attributed in the paper anything he’d say about LSU or anyone or anything. I was just a young sportswriter guy he was taking time to talk to and to help. How many Heisman winners let a guy just hang around?

I knew one day he’d talk about it, about the Heisman and prison and what happened next, and he did. Billy Cannon: A Long, Long Run was published in 2015 and written by Cannon and his friend Charles N. deGravelles, who spent more than a quarter-century ministering to inmates at Angola’s state pen where Cannon, who’d been on both sides of the razor wire and who’d answer phone calls there with, ‘Who is this? I don’t have time to mess with you!,” ran the dentistry department and counseled inmate after inmate. Considering his multi-dimensional athletic skill set, it should not be surprising that, at Angola, he was like a pastor who could fill a cavity or a counselor who could either clean your teeth or help you clear your conscience.

But he wasn’t ready to talk about It in 1988. At that point, a lot had happened — a lifetime for most of us — but not much had happened Next. But plenty would, and what a remarkable and glorious closing act it would be.

The 30th anniversary of the 1958 LSU national champions was that fall in 1988, so it was a perfect timing sort of deal when his dear friend Boots Garland, who’d been the proctor of the athletic dorm during their college days, talked him into coming to a luncheon reunion of the team and a few friends. They let me ride with them in a solid Buick the size of a Humvee. The luncheon was in a Holiday Inn meeting room or something like that, very cozy, and no one asked about the counterfeiting or prison, they just acted as if they’d played Clemson the week before, and laughed and told stories, and honestly beamed just looking at each other, and remembering.

Finally Dr. Cannon agreed to stand up and talk about that season and the next, mostly The Punt Return on Halloween night of 1959, and he pointed to guys and thanked them for this block or that one, and for the first time in a long time he was re-living that wonderful moment with his friends, his football family, that October new moon night when he ran to colors and away from colors, and right into LSU and college football legendhood…

And as he talked, there in the open again, surrounded by his football brothers, I think he might have been comfortable once more, or even if he wasn’t he was going to run until he was, run with honesty and a poke-fun-at-himself laughter, run right back into the arms of the LSU faithful and into the hearts of anyone who’d ever fumbled. It’s where fans wanted him, where they needed him, where the program needed him, and where he’s served in a humble and compassionate and graceful way for the past 30 years.

The Punt Return against Ole Miss is legendary. But Cannon’s willingness to return in 1988, to put All That behind, to move along as a very human hero, wasn’t that just as big? I love that he stopped running and started being.

Here he was, world, a Tiger flawed but a Tiger who could laugh at himself, a Tiger who stopped running and started sharing, a Tiger who they all wanted to be like after all, still the greatest Tiger of them all. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu