#NFL

  • Football Returns To Washington!

    FOOTBALL RETURNS TO WASHINGTON (for now?)

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    (chuckwrites@yahoo.com)

          There is a football team again in Washington! 

         Yeah, it does not have a nickname or an official mascot. 

         Yeah, it seems to be an underdog no matter where or when it plays. 

         Yeah, the franchise management’s reputation has recently been soiled by accusations of various unacceptable activities. 

         Yeah, the team's record from 2013-2020 was a dismal 48-79-1.

         Yeah, the team "won" its division in 2020 with a record of 7 wins and 9 losses (thanks to the absurdly weak Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles!) and had a four-game winning streak after losing 7 of its first 9 games.

         And, yeah, this could all turn around and go down the slide by the time you read this. 

         But let's put all of that aside for a couple of minutes and go back to that first statement: There is a football team again in Washington! 

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    Logo by SportsLogos.Net 

         Four wins in a row, winning against some teams that most fans thought would solidify Washington in the loss column and guarantee another season of frustration, weakness, and just plain poor play. Instead, the Washington Football Team seems to have found something. 

         Call it determination--they never seem to quit anymore. 

         Call it physicality--they hit hard, run fast, jump high, and treat each play as a personal challenge. 

         Call it coaching--Ron Rivera and his assistants have clearly studied opponents deeply, identified opponents' weaknesses, and conveyed to their players how to capitalize on them. 

         Call it execution--the offense runs its plays with confidence, maintaining possession of the ball long enough to frustrate opponents into making errors; the defense reads opponents' plays with a mixture of intelligence and brutality; and the special teams know what they are expected to do and how to do it...such as, yeah, making extra points and field goals again! 

         Yeah, they have still given up 51 points more than they have scored and 80 more yards than gained versus opponents, but those deficits are largely rooted in games earlier in the season. 

         Progress is progress, so look at quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who was released by four other teams before signing with Washington in what was supposed to be a backup position to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Heinicke now has more than 2,800 yards passing, shows guts when running, and displays increasing smarts when having to throw the ball away. 

         Look at running back Antonio Gibson, who has 800 rushing yards and over 200 more receiving.

         Look at receiver Terry McLaurin with over 800 yards receiving. 

         Look at a defense that is improving in rushing opposing quarterbacks, racking up key tackles, and mixing up coverage enough to consistently confuse opponents. 

         All of this with some key players--Landon Collins, Brandon Scherff, Chase Roulier, Jonathan Bostic, and others--dealing with injuries. 

         Room for improvement? Always.

         Is the WFT the best team in the NFL? Probably not. 

         Will they go to the Super Bowl? Not likely. 

         But the point is the quality of play is noticeably improving almost every week. The players are supporting one another during on-field action and on the sidelines. And, yeah, the team is fun to watch again! 

         So, let the future of the WFT bring what it will bring! 

         Maybe some frustrating losses? 

         Maybe a new, appropriate nickname? 

         Maybe an intelligent culture within the management ranks? 

         And maybe, just maybe...even more of that on-field determination, more of the positive team attitude, and, YEAH, more of those wins! 

         And, yeah, all of that makes WFT=Washington's Fun Team (again)!

    Readers’ thoughts always welcome: Write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

  • In Memory of Brig Owens: Football Legend and So Much More

    IN MEMORY OF BRIG OWENS—

    An Outstanding Football Player and So Much More

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         Fifty years ago, a 25-year-old freelance writer and would-be-author heard of a summer camp that was being sponsored and run by some members of the then-called Washington Redskins football team. The camp was designed to help needy kids, mainly from inner-city areas, have a brief but significant experience outside of their city in a semi-rural setting. The youths would spend several days and nights together under the supervision of a few dedicated members of the Washington football team. The purpose of the camp was not just to teach football—though informal instruction was part of each day—but also to give the kids the chance to experience and enjoy a different taste of life, something far removed from the heated sidewalks of the city. 

          Brig Owens was the player who most aggressively recruited kids to attend the camp and he was determined to make the camp meaningful in many ways to all of them. And I was the aspiring, nobody freelancer who wrote the story thanks to Brig accepting my request to spend a day at the camp.

         Brig’s death on June 21, 2022 at the age of 79 hit me hard, but much more important is the fact that his passing serves as reminder of all the good that can be done by one person who commits his life to helping others. 

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         For Brig, my feature story provided publicity and possible additional funding for a camp that helped thousands of kids over the years. For me, it was a step toward recognition as a young reporter. For us both, it was the start of a friendship that led to a book entitled Over the Hill to the Super Bowl that we co-wrote based on Brig’s diary of the 1972 Washington football season, the first year the Washington team ever went to the Super Bowl. That friendship lasted throughout the 50 years that have passed, and it also led to a book that will be released this fall by Temple University Press. The book, written by the late Ed Garvey who served as executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) from 1971-1983, details how Brig, who earned his law degree after retiring from football in 1977, and other players committed themselves to developing the strength of the NFLPA. Brig used his experience and expertise to raise the level of pay, benefits, and ultimately respect for athletes who too often in the 1970s and ’80s and were taken for granted and treated unfairly.

         Brig’s name and his jersey number, 23, are featured on a wall of Fedex Field, the now Washington Commanders home turf, and Brig was inducted into the Washington Ring of Fame for his outstanding career as strong safety with 36 career interceptions and countless key plays. Sure, I will remember him for his on-field intelligence, speed, toughness and game-changing plays. But I will also remember him for his willingness to work with me over the years, and for his determination to improve his own life, the lives of his wife and two daughters, the lives of fellow athletes, and the lives of countless others.

         Brig Owens remains an example of the value of positive commitment. He was an outstanding quarterback, punter, and placekicker for the University of Cincinnati, where he was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. But at a time when Black players were not viewed as prospective professional quarterback prospects regardless of their outstanding collegiate accomplishments, Brig was moved to the position of safety in 1965 when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, who placed him on the taxi squad and then traded him to Washington. Not one of the greatest moves by the Cowboys, to say the least!

         When writing our book Over the Hill to the Super Bowl in 1972, Brig would occasionally stop by my home to drop off the secretly-recorded audiotapes he was making on which he detailed the team’s practices and preparations for games. He always played with my two-year-old son, Marc, who knew he was in the midst of a guy who actually played pro football on TV! My younger son, Ross, came to know of Brig a couple of years later as Brig's accomplishments continued to accumulate.

         At other times, I would drive to Redskins Park, located at the time in Herndon, VA, and park at the far end of the lot so Brig could drop his audiotapes off to me without anyone noticing. When the book was published after the season following the close Super Bowl loss to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, Brig did not back away from interviews. There was concern among some in the press and some players that Washington coach George Allen would be upset over the secretly published content. However, Brig viewed it as his personal right to have the book published and given Brig’s character and, of course, his on-field skills, Allen never openly challenged the book’s publication.

         Brig’s belief in players’ personal rights was evident in his involvement as a player representative to the NFLPA and then as assistant executive director of that organization. He was a leader in the fight for players’ salaries, pensions, and other benefits. For football players, there will always be a debt owed to Brig and to others who believe in equal rights on and off the field. 

         Brig was not a man driven by a quest for personal recognition. First and foremost, Brig was a man who saw that through his position, intellect, and personal drive, he could contribute to the benefit of others. So that is what he did. And that will be Brig Owens’ lasting legacy.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

    Reach me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com; @ChuckCascio on Twitter; Chuck Cascio on Facebook.

     

     
  • NEVER ASK "WHY"

    HOW ED GARVEY AND THE NFLPA

    CHANGED THE PRO SPORTS LANDSCAPE

     

    (I am honored to have been interviewed for this piece that runs on the National Football League Players Association website and is reprinted here with NFLPA permission)--

    Chuck Cascio, editor of the book

     Never Ask “Why”—Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL by Ed Garvey

    PREORDERS AVAILABLE NOW AT--

     
    http://chuckcascioauthor.com/index.php/football-players-fight-for-freedom

     When Ed Garvey, then a 31-year-old attorney from Wisconsin with no football background, took over as the first executive director of the NFL Players Association in 1971, his credentials didn’t exactly fit the job description. But over the course of a 12-year tenure built on the premise that athletes should be treated for who they are – workers in the labor force – Garvey helped generate the spark needed for the union to earn big wins, including true free agency, larger revenue for the players and, perhaps most importantly, dignity on the job.

     

    In the latter years of his life, Garvey began putting together notes for a book about his time leading the NFLPA. When Garvey’s 2017 death at the age of 76 prematurely halted this endeavor, award-winning journalist Chuck Cascio was asked by Garvey’s family to take the baton in finishing the job. 

     

    Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight For Freedom poignantly presents the story behind how the athletes who made up the game of football fought to make sure the league’s owners played fair – all through the words and lens of Garvey.

     

    In anticipation of its December 23 release, Cascio recently discussed the book’s origins and message.

     

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     How did it come about that you would be the one who finished what Ed Garvey started in writing this book?

     

    When Ed died in 2017, his family knew he was trying to put together a book to tell the story of establishing the NFLPA and the fight for player rights. Through a mutual friend in [former NFL player and NFLPA assistant executive director] Brig Owens, he put me in touch with the family. I wrote my first book with Brig in 1972, and the Garvey family graciously asked if I could put together Ed’s notes into a manuscript for his book. So I got in touch with an agent and we were able to secure a publishing company in Temple University Press. This all was about a three-to-four-year process.

     

    What was that process like in pulling together a book for someone who you didn’t have the luxury of speaking with along the way and yet still maintaining his vision?

     

    What kept me going was, absolutely, the importance of this book in the world today. There’s this assumption that athletes have it made, so they should just be quiet. That’s a direct reflection of what Ed and the players had to deal with, and it’s still going on today. The title is “Never Ask ‘Why.’” Ed wanted that title because that’s what players were told when they asked about contracts or certain benefits that, really, they were entitled to. Owners said don’t ask why; just do what you’re supposed to do on the football field. And of course, Ed and the players mightily pushed back against that.

     

    There’s so much unique content, and it’s all in Ed’s own words. The book is very conversational with both personal and scholastic appeal. The Garvey family graciously provided me with tons of information – some that was roughed out in manuscript form and some where you could see notes of his thought process. I did as best I could to honor his words and content. It’s not an autobiography of his life, though. It’s a reflective, honest piece about his tenure with the NFLPA and the 12 or so years when he was really in charge of things.

     

    What are some of your biggest takeaways from the book?

    When most people look at pro athletes, they think “Oh, they’ve made it with the money and fame.” But that’s not entirely true. Yes, they are a lot better off today than they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which is when Ed was running the NFLPA. But it took a lot of work and sacrifice to build that progress, and that work is far from finished in holding the league accountable in treating players fairly as workers and people.

     

    One thing that we really see in the book is the fight to get rid of the Rozelle Rule and the limitations that were in the standard player contract, which was based on a system built in the 1870s. There was no right to go play for another team, and I wasn’t fully aware of how much power that gave owners over players, who were basically giving up their bodies every day for their sport and profession. Ed said, they were not being treated as professionals; they were being treated like chattel.

    To me, while I had some awareness, I was guilty as any other fan who says, “Oh man, why are athletes complaining? They have it made.” You really start to understand the roots and what they had to go through to earn what they have today.

     

    Are there any anecdotes that you especially enjoyed or feel like truly capture who Ed was during his time leading the players?

     

    Ed always had a quick wit and humor about him as well as a deep intelligence -- and that comes through often in his writing. He also made a great comparison with the singer Barry Manilow about how he gets 90 percent of the ticket revenue that comes in but football players don’t get anything close to that for doing their job in much the same way. I found it fascinating to get a glimpse into how Ed discovered the wage scale among owners, which was a confidential agreement to limit and determine how much players should be paid. That’s where the “No Freedom, No Football” slogan came from during the 1974 strike.

     

    There are also times where Ed admits he and the group of players were naïve and made mistakes. They were guilty of believing the owners were going to change after the Rozelle Rule was struck down in court, and then two days later, they see nothing changed. Instead, the owners were using their influence over the media to push a narrative against the players. That type of transparency makes the book even more compelling.

     

    What is the one message that you want readers to get from reading this book?

     

    Something that comes through in the book and Ed re-emphasizes in the end is that, while writers focused on the players’ concerns with the reserve system in economic terms, players were subject to a lot of non-economic factors as well. For instance, Black players were not able to play certain positions like center and quarterback. And listen, we’re not talking about 150 years ago. We’re talking about the 1980s. This was real, this was going on and it still is going on today in many different ways. That’s what I want people to take away, and Ed hits on this in an excerpt at the end of the book:

     

    “So, the battle is joined. Management, with weapons from all other sports leagues, the union with help from the AFL-CIO. Looming on the horizon are billions of dollars to be generated by pay cable television. When the fight comes, NFL players will understand that the “performers” deserve most of these revenues and they will understand that, if successful, the reserve system and all of its dehumanizing aspects will have died in the NFL. It will be a battle worth watching, worth participating in.”

     

     Copyright: NFLPA and Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

    Questions? Comments? Write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

  • SEPTEMBER FOOTBALL SALE!

    September = Football!!!

    This month save 50% off the $2.99 price of OVER THE HILL TO THE SUPER BOWL, Washington Redskins Hall of Famer Brig Owens' diary of the historic 1972 season...when the "over the hill gang" shocked all of football and went to the Super Bowl!!!

    Go to http://my.bookbaby.com/book/over-the-hill-to-the-super-bowl and use Coupon Code GoSkins at checkout.