In this week’s SI, senior writer Tim Layden takes a look at how today’s best freestyling QBs, including Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford, are blowing the lids off defenses with an old-school weapon: the back-shoulder pass. Layden writes, “It simultaneously exploits defensive backs’ fear of giving up long touchdown passes and rules changes that have steadily eroded defenders’ ability to control receivers with their hands without being penalized.” (PAGE 52)
Layden notes that the technique has been around for a long time but has exploded in popularity over the last five years, matching increasingly sophisticated throwers with powerful, athletic receivers. “It’s an amazing weapon,” says Colts backup quarterback and 15-year NFL veteran Matt Hasselbeck. “If it’s properly executed, the defender can’t be right.” (PAGE 53)
The back-shoulder pass is used almost exclusively against single coverage, and offenses use it to take advantage of defensive backs who do not want to give up a deep ball. Saints quarterback Drew Brees says, “If my guy is obviously not getting over the top, then there’s going to be a lane for the back-shoulder throw.” A receiver’s perspective: “If the corner stays over the top of me,” says the Ravens’ Torrey Smith, “we’re going to throw it back shoulder, where I can see the ball and he can’t.” (PAGE 53)
The play is rarely called in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage. “It’s something you read,” says Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, “and then react to.” When asked about the back-shoulder throw, veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins nods his head. “That’s a play where if they do it right,” he says, “it’s tough to stop.” (PAGE 53)
Layden also looks at the evolution of the back-shoulder pass and who in the NFL does it best today. “Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees,” says Jon Gruden, “and Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson.” (PAGE 59) Layden says that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning throw it less frequently, though that could change. Who are the best receivers? Layden lists Anquan Boldin (49ers), Hakeem Nicks (Giants) and Calvin Johnson (Lions) as some of the best back-shoulder pass-catchers. Says Flacco, “The back-shoulder throw has really redefined what open and covered mean.” (PAGE 59)
Also appearing on a regional cover of this week’s SI is University of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a 6’6”, 273-pound All-America standout who many consider to be the first-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. This is just the second time a South Carolina player has even been featured on an SI cover.
In “The Hit”, senior writer Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) takes a deeper look at Clowney’s bone crushing tackle of Michigan tailback Vincent Smith at this year’s Outback Bowl that shook the football world and made his name even more of a household name.
Down 22-21 to the Wolverines in the 4th quarter on New Year’s Day, Gamecocks senior linebacker Damario Jeffery turned to Clowney after a tough call gave their opponent a controversial first down and said: “Just make a play.” Clowney responded: “I’m with you.” (PAGE 36)
On the next play, Clowney exploded untouched into the backfield, launching Smith’s helmet into the air and the ball onto the ground (Clowney recovered the football and South Carolina went on to score on the next play and eventually won the game). The hit played on a constant loop on TV and clips online have topped well over four million aggregate views. Layden writes: “The hit was a last breath of football sanity for Clowney.” (PAGE 40)
The assumption is Clowney will leave for the NFL after one more season and has some in the media speculating he may consider sitting out his junior year to avoid injury. Clowney told Layden he plans to play next season and work hard to improve. Jon Gruden says:
“He runs gassers with the defensive backs. That’s the kind of speed he has He’s the perfect player against today’s offenses. You want to run that read option? Clowney will tackle the back, and if he doesn’t have the ball, he’ll go get the quarterback. He’s the number 1 pick whenever he comes out.” (PAGE 40)
How do I get a franchise quarterback? This is the nonstop question every NFL team must ask if they don’t believe their signal caller can win it all. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) examines the most prized currency in the league and explores… “When do you cut loose a quarterback and start over?” (PAGE 47)
Bill Polian, former Vice Chairman and General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts says,
“You never forget what it feels like to not have a quarterback…It’s an ongoing thing. Every single minute you don’t have that guy, you think about it” (PAGE 46)
The pressure intensified for General Manager’s in 2013 because of the immediate success of rookie QB’s Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and second –year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl this season. Because of their instant success this season, front offices and fan bases hope the draft can now help them find the next great quarterback who can succeed right away.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) complements the article by listing five current quarterbacks in which he feel’s won enough to tease and lost enough to have their G.M.’s consider change: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bills), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Matt Cassel (Chiefs), Josh Freeman (Buccaneers), and Mark Sanchez (Jets).
This Year’s BCS Title Matchup Embodies the Essence of College Football
Crimson vs. Gold. Roll Tide vs. Shake Down the Thunder. Southern passion vs. Catholic pride. Notre Dame vs. Alabama is more than a battle for the national title. It’s a history-drenched showdown that embodies the essence of the game. For all their history, both of these storied programs had to climb back to this moment, and senior writer Tim Layden looks into the storied 1973 Sugar Bowl that pitted the Irish and Tide to reflect on how college football has evolved since that historic game.
Fans know this matchup embodies the passion and tradition of the sport. Mused Archie Manning, who worked the Alabama-Georgia SEC title game last weekend for CBS: “Alabama and Notre Dame. That’s college football right there” (page 98).
Tim Layden explores the myth of the man who had once borne his blood on big league diamonds
Senior writer Tim Layden had been name-dropping his great uncle for years: Johnny Evers was a Hall of Fame second baseman and part of the Cubs’ famous Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double play crew in the early 1900s. But it was less than a year ago that Layden decided to write a story about Evers, and he details the process that led him to understand his Uncle Johnny’s life, marked by success on the field but personal tragedy and financial ruin off it.
Layden took special care to learn about one of the most notable events in Evers’ career: A controversial game-ending double play in 1908, in which Evers forced out New York Giants first baseman Fred Merkle to prevent the Giants from winning a crucial pennant race game. Layden found he wasn’t the only one fascinated by the mysterious play: TV commentator Keith Olbermann bought the ball used in the play at auction in 2010, and has made an avocation of vigorously defending Merkle’s actions. Olbermann bought the ball at auction in 2010 not only because he is an avid memorabilia collector but also because the Merkle ball holds particular significance, saying: “It’s the Rosetta Stone. This is the time-travel node that puts you on the middle of this swirling dust storm with 10,000 fans on a Wednesday afternoon at the Polo Grounds 104 years ago” (page 60).
In the 42 years since Tom Dempsey kicked the longest field goal in NFL history, his mark has been matched three times but never surpassed. Now the most mysteriously enduring record in sports may finally be ripe to fall. Sixty-three should have fallen years ago, as kickers became more deadeye snipers – more explosive, more accurate and better schooled from a younger age-but the record remains intact, shared by a logjam of four kickers across 42 years of football. It has been protected by circumstance, strategy, worship at the altar of field position and, in no small part, the inherent challenge of guiding a football 63 yards through an opening 10 feet off the ground and 18 feet, 6 inches wide.
In this week’s SI: NBA Playoffs, Rockies on the Rise, Red Wings’s Datsyuk, Austin Collie and a Tribute to Beryl ShipleyPosted: April 27, 2011
The NBA Playoffs: The Most Exciting First Round in Ages
A Young, Humble Trio of Stars Has the Rockies on the Rise
Can the Dazzling Datsyuk Lead the Red Wings to Another Stanley Cup?
How the Twice-Concussed Austin Collie Has Cleared His Head
Beryl Shipley: A Tribute to a Coach Who Helped Integrate College Hoops in the Deep South
The transcendent performances of Paul and others have made the first round of the NBA playoffs—for the first time in ages—a must-see spectacle. Many fans continue to hold up the 1980s as the halcyon days of the NBA, but even players from back then are blown away by the current caliber of play (page 30):
• Hall of Famer Bill Walton: “TV pays the bills in the NBA, but it doesn’t do the game justice. I wish anyone who doubts the effort level could sit courtside one time, because they would be blown away by the ferocity. The players are just so good, so fluid, it looks effortless on TV.”
• Former Bulls center Will Perdue: “The perimeter talent in the NBA is the best it’s ever been. These guys are acrobats as much as athletes.”
And yet a Harris Poll released in January revealed that professional basketball was only the fifth most popular sport in the U.S. in 2010, behind professional football, baseball, college football and auto racing. Only 6% of those polled listed pro basketball as their favorite sport, compared with 13% in 1998. In light of the acrobatics displayed during the first round of this year’s playoffs, the poll’s results raise the question: Why aren’t more people watching?
To read the full online version of Perfect Storm, click here.
On the Tablet: Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) discusses the latest playoff news in the Sports Illustrated Audio Podcast, plus a gallery of the best shots from a high-flying first round.
COLORADO ROCKIES: Oh, the Places They’ll Go – Phil Taylor (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Once a franchise known for spending big money in the wrong places, the Colorado Rockies now restrict their big financial commitments to players with as much character as talent—starting with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez. Led by the young trio, the Rockies are off to a hot start and appear set to contend for years to come. Describing the team’s new spending philosophy, general manager Dan O’Dowd says (page 44): “We found that talent that isn’t also accompanied by other qualities, such as humility, accountability and integrity, really didn’t work for us. We’ve tried to build this team not just with a certain kind of player but a certain quality of person.”
To read the full online version of Oh, The Places They’ll Go, click here.
On the Tablet: A humorous video “profile” of the Coors Field humidor as well as a gallery of five pitchers who have tamed Coors.
PAVEL DATSYUK: Disgusting, But in a Good Way – Brian Cazeneuve
In 1998, when he was 19, Pavel Datsyuk was certain his Dynamo Moscow teammates were kidding when they told him he’d been drafted into the NHL. He recalls, “They showed me the newspaper two days later. And I thought, ‘O.K., printing mistake.’ ” Thirteen years later Datsyuk’s dazzling all-around game is the key to the Red Wings’ quest for another Stanley Cup. Says Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill, who was often assigned to cover Datsyuk during the finals in 2008 and ’09, when Gill played for the Penguins (page 50): “It seems like you’re never really playing against him; you’re playing against his shadow. You try to keep him from the net, and the next thing you know he pops out the other side.”
To read the full online version of Disgusting, But in a Good Way, click here.
On the Tablet: Video of Datsyuk’s between-the-legs assist in Game 2 vs. Phoenix and hotspots of five other contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
AUSTIN COLLIE CLEARS HIS HEAD – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
Two brutal concussions last fall put Colts receiver Austin Collie at the forefront of the NFL’s head-injury crisis. Even as experts remain unsure of how much danger he’s in, Collie is eager to get back on the field. He says (page 56): “My body feels great, my head feels great. I don’t want the label…. I don’t want to be the poster boy for concussions.”
Collie adds: “People are entitled to their opinions about me, but they’re not the ones who’ve had the concussions. They’re not the ones who know how I’m feeling. I’ve got a family and a kid. I know there are more important things than football. If I get another [concussion], I’ll take into consideration what’s happened in the past. But every person is different, every body reacts differently. I’m ready to continue what I started in those first six weeks last year.”
To read the full online version of Austin Collie Clears His Head, click here.
On the Tablet: Video of both of Collie’s concussions in 2010.
BERYL SHIPLEY, 1926–2011: AN ACCIDENTAL HERO – JOHN ED BRADLEY
The onetime coach at Southwestern Louisiana (now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Beryl Shipley was vilified for violating NCAA rules. But special contributor John Ed Bradley, who grew up in nearby Opelousas, remembers him for helping to integrate college basketball in the Deep South. Says Marvin Winkler, one of the first black players on USL’s varsity team (page 60): “Coach Shipley gave up his life for us. They went after him because he was the forefather—the first to walk through the door. He did it even though they kept telling him, ‘No, we’re not going to integrate yet,’ and he said, ‘Yes, we are. I don’t care what you say. I’m going to get them, I’m going to sign them, and I’m going to see to it that they come to school here.’ ”
To read the full online version of An Accidental Hero, click here.
POINT AFTER: BUD IN FULL BLOOM – JOE POSNANSKI (@JPosnanski)
Bud Selig may come across as “the guy with a hot dog in his hand and mustard on his face” (in the words of one baseball executive), yet no commissioner has changed his sport more over the last 20 years. And he gets little credit for pushing his agenda and doing whatever he thinks should be done—MLB’s takeover of the Dodgers being the latest example. Selig says (page 70): “Yes, I know what people say about me. I try not to be sensitive about it, but I am human. I know people say that I’m indecisive or that I move slowly. But I learned a long time ago, that doesn’t matter. Getting things done is what matters. You have to know how to get things done.”
To read the full online version of Bud in Full Bloom, click here.
Scorecard Essay: A Love That Will Never Die – L. Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim)
After the death of Yeardley Love last May, Love’s mother, Sharon, and sister, Lexie, established the One Love Foundation. The support has been staggering, ranging from a lacrosse association in Thailand that volunteered to be international ambassadors for the foundation to a road-racing trio in Virginia who raised $65,000 after initially hoping to raise $5,000—this in addition to countless letters and e-mails. Senior writer L. Jon Wertheim, who last year covered the events surrounding Yeardley Love’s death, spoke with Sharon and Lexie Love in their first wide-ranging interview since the tragedy (page 12).
To read the full online version of A Love That Will Never Die, click here.
WEIGH IN ON THE BCS LAWSUIT AT SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’S FACEBOOK PAGE
Long a loser in the court of public opinion, the Bowl Championship Series may now have its day in a different, more formal court. With Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff intending to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS, Sports Illustrated wants to know how readers feel. Anyone can share their thoughts on the impending lawsuit at facebook.com/SportsIllustrated.
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD(page 21)
Andrew Moore (Eugene, Ore.) – Baseball Lauren Dykstra (Mendham, N.J.) – Lacrosse
Amber Freeman (Lakewood, Calif.) – Softball O’Neal Wanliss (Berkeley Lake, Ga.) – Track and Field
Neil Weygandt (Upper Darby, Pa.) – Marathon Cassandra Tate (Hammond, La.) – Track and Field
Follow Faces in the Crowd on Twitter @SI_Faces.
THIS WEEK ON THE TABLET
SI Digital Bonus: Girl Power – Thirty-one years ago, William Nack chronicled Genuine Risk’s victory at the Kentucky Derby—the first filly since Regret in 1915 to win the Run for the Roses.
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