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Of QBs, comebacks and hope

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 2, 2011 – 7:33 am

Andy Dalton

The Bills are here to play the Bengals today and that conjures up the concepts of comebacks and grace under pressure and all the things that make quarterbacks, fans and the endless crusade of hope.

As head coach Marvin Lewis would say, today is a good teaching point for one A. Dalton, the promising Bengals rookie quarterback who two weeks ago came within a yard of pulling off a road fourth-quarter comeback in his first NFL complete game.

But, of course, one team’s comeback is another team’s collapse.

This past week saw all-timers on both fronts when the Red Sox turned baseball into Shakespeare and alternated tragedy with comedy while blowing the biggest lead in the history of their sport to somehow miss the postseason. That was a few days after these Bills, naturally, did in the Patriots to become the first team in NFL history to win two straight weeks after being down 21-0.

If you grew up on the outskirts of Boston in the late 1960s and fell in love with sports because of The Impossible Dream Red Sox and their 1967 season, then watching the biggest collapse of all-time is saying something. While those Sox made comebacks an almost daily occurrence, their unfortunate ancestors never held any kind of a lead that mattered until the new century.

The Septembers of 1974 and 1978 scarred a generation, and a 1986 World Series that featured evaporated leads of 3-2 in games, 5-3 in the 10th inning of Game 6 and 3-0 in the sixth inning of Game 7 altered the brain chemistry forever.

Enough so that on the final day of this season decades and championships removed, when the Red Sox had a one-run lead in a rain delay and the Rays begun to rustle in Tampa, true Sox fans already knew.

“I went to bed during the delay,” admitted Frank Champi from his New England home last week. “You could tell. Maybe because I experienced it myself. They say it’s not over until it’s over, but at some point you know how it’s going to turn out.”

If you grew up on the outskirts of Boston in the late 1960s and were watching TV on the afternoon of Nov. 23, 1968, you fell in love with football because of Frank Champi. Summoned from the bench with unbeaten Harvard down 22-0 to unbeaten Yale late in the first half, Champi, an unknown junior who had completed five passes all season and was best known for throwing the ball 85 yards with his right arm and 50 with his left, threw two touchdown passes in the final 42 seconds and a two-point conversion with no time left to turn a 29-13 deficit into a historic 29-29 finish.

Not as incredible, but just as amazing, Champi has never met Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills quarterback and architect of Buffalo’s last two historic finishes. If Fitzpatrick is the greatest quarterback in Harvard history, then Champi quarterbacked the school’s greatest football moment.

Never mind. Champi is a big fan. They’ll meet some day.

“I agree, I thought he was the greatest quarterback in Harvard history when he was there,” Champi said. “He had all the intangibles, he led by example, he was very well-respected. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for (NFL) teams to realize it. I saw him play a little bit and I thought he was special. I’ve been following his career since he’s been in the pros and he’s been outstanding. I thought all he needed was a chance.”

Champi didn’t do much else on the field after The Tie in The Game, but what else was there? He’s as humble now as he was then when he told Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated in the locker room, “I was so tired I wasn’t even nervous.”

A product of Everett, Mass., Champi has stayed close to his roots and out of the limelight, but is a pleasant and engaging ambassador for the game and the moment. He had to admit, he was torn last Sunday watching Fitzpatrick come back on his Pats.

“I want to see him do well, no question about that. There’s an obvious connection,” said Champi, surprised that no Harvard quarterback completed an NFL pass until Fitzpatrick did six years ago. “But at some point you’re just enjoying the game and want to see the best team that day win. I’m pulling for Fitz, though. I’d love to see him take the Bills to the playoffs.”

Bengals fans aren’t immune to comebacks and collapses. Their own tortured history began on the edge of the ‘90s in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII and a 16-13 lead that didn’t hold up in the final three minutes. The kids have experienced it, too.

In 2006, leads as small as 13-7 and as big as 28-7 were blown to knock them out of the playoffs. In 2009, their AFC North champs were nicknamed “The Cardiac Cats,” when they won two division games in the final 22 seconds and another on the final play of overtime in one draining three-week stretch.

And last year Fitzpatrick, the former Bengal, came to Paul Brown Stadium to lead the NFL’s biggest halftime comeback ever when he brought the Bills back from 17 down to win by 18.

Dalton fired a shot for the New Era when he generated 19 second-half points in Denver two weeks ago with two touchdown passes in a rally that fell short with three minutes left at the Broncos 36 on fourth-and-one in a 24-22 loss. Yet he showed all the attributes to be able to pull it off.

Except maybe experience, as evidenced by last week’s two interceptions in the final 4:54 of a one-touchdown game at home against the 49ers.

Champi and Fitzpatrick can help him there.

“I’m enjoying this so much because I’ve been on the other side. I know how quickly it can change in this league,” Fitzpatrick said last week. “I’m a lot more experienced. I feel like those 12 games in Cincinnati were my biggest learning experience and I’ve drawn a lot on them. I’ve improved mentally and physically.”

Champi is a bit uncomfortable talking about comebacks with Fitzpatrick around. “I only had one. Fitzy’s had several.”

But Champi had the greatest. He thinks back to the two-point fast ball over the middle to future White Sox catcher Pete Varney nearly 43 years ago after they cleared the field of marauding fans and the clock of any time.

“It was like it was anti-climactic. It was inevitable. That’s how it felt,” Champi said. “You can tell a lot by body language. People intellectualize sports too much. You can’t define emotion. There are undertones and currents and it’s like you’re riding a wave.”

Not bad advice for one A. Dalton after a historical (or is it hysterical?) week of comebacks.


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Posted in Hobson's Choice | 13 Comments »


13 Responses to “Of QBs, comebacks and hope”

  1. By bengalpirate on Oct 2, 2011 | Reply

    An excellent article Geoff and I love the way you have intertwined the Boston sports with Cincinnati sports and all the heartbreaks and near misses in both places. Boston and Cincinnati will always share one of the greatest World Series stories with the drama of the 75 World Series, but I love the story of the Harvard Yale game and Frank Champi, Ryan Fitzpatrick links. I can only hope that the great sports traditions of Boston and Cincinnati grow and that somehow Andy Dalton and gang can add to the tradition. Who knows, maybe someday the Red Sox and Reds will meet in another great World Series, but for now, WHO DEY!!!

  2. By mwindle1973 on Oct 2, 2011 | Reply

    Great article Hobs! I’m a surrogate fan of Boston sports as I’ve told you before. Doesn’t seem fair does it. Being tied to two “cursed” franchises. At least the Bruins gave me relief this past season.

  3. By mwindle1973 on Oct 2, 2011 | Reply

    @ Hobson: You called it, Nuggent at the gun…Nice one!

  4. By mwindle1973 on Oct 3, 2011 | Reply

    If anyone is having trouble accessing the game on NFL.com’s Game Rewind service, this link worked for me. For some reason a lot of people have trouble getting the blackout games free on there. It directs you to pay the subcription. Luckily I found this link someone had posted on another site that allows you to get the access the NFL promises but seems to not care if people actually get. http://gamerewind.nfl.com/nflgr/servlets/inmarket?id=CIN&icampaign=CIN_Blackout_w3_ROS

  5. By mwindle1973 on Oct 3, 2011 | Reply

    Last week in an early week PC Marvin Lewis said, “when we are 2-2 next week….” NFL.com the next runs this headline: “Another Bungle? Marvin Lewis guarantees Bengals win against Bills.” Actually what he said wasn’t a guarantee. But that’s besides the point. I went over and over yesterday, last night, this morning, and surprise, surprise, there was never an article on their front page about us beating the Bills. Nothing about Lewis’ supposed gauarantee becoming a reality. Now there were at least 10 articles in the past week, about how the Bills are for real, there the next big thing, etc, etc. And articles about how our #3 D wouldn’t be ranked #3 after this week, etc, etc. Well they were right…we are now the #1 D. In terms of total yards allowed, and avg yards allowed per play. But there’s no articles saying how they were wrong about this Cincy D and it is for real. So Lewis can still play the no respect card for awhile. You know I still don’t know what this season will bring, and how the offense will do from week to week. But this D, I have full confidence in them. They are a legit top 5 D. And we still have guys like Moch, Adam Jones, Rivers & Mays that could add contributions as they begin to return to form from injuries.

  6. By logan2933 on Oct 3, 2011 | Reply

    Fantastic article, I find Dalton and Fitzpatrick to have similar styles of play and am extremely happy that they are having success in this league. Also thanks for mentioning the 2006 playoff team, it still hurts me to think of what could have been if Palmers knee did not get messed up in that Steelers game!

  7. By mwindle1973 on Oct 4, 2011 | Reply

    @logan2933: I agree, there are a lot similarities between Dalton & Fitzpatrick. Fitzy is a more mobile. And Dalton has better footwork in the pocket. But they both have a similar command of the game, and I had the same thought when I watched the game. That they just reminded me of each other while I was watching. That said, I think Dalton is going to be way better than Fitzy in the long run. And I really don’t see anything about Dalton’s game that is weak. People say his arm strength is not elite. But it’s sufficient to be an elite passer. His biggest weakness at this point is overthrowing the ball. It’s due to the transition from a primarily shotgun QB at TCU to being a under center QB in the NFL. He’s basically not transferring enough weight to his back foot when throwing. Causing his release point to be to high. But he only does it in spells, otherwise he’s pin-point accurate. But other than that, I’m oustounded by him. I’ve never seen a rookie with such a developed mental command of the game so early. He’s already a better field general than some vets starting in the league. And I think the biggest overlooked talent is his footwork in the pocket. He has that Peyton Manning like bounce, he kind of bounces around real lightly back there and he can shift his body very quickly to one side of the field and back. It’s part of why he makes such quick reads and releases.

  8. By mwindle1973 on Oct 4, 2011 | Reply

    Is it just me or has Caldwell been performing like the Caldwell of ’09 instead of the Caldwell of late ’10. I thought that with him getting a lot of Simpson’s stats that he would fill the role pretty good. But so far after having a decent 1st half week 3 he stunk it up for the net 6 qtrs. He disappeared in the 2nd half of the 49ers game. he obviously caused the int when he dropped the pass and the defender scooped it off his foot. And the other int appeared to be Caldwell making the wrong adjustment on the route. Then he dropped a crucial 3rd down pass that would have been a 1st down. If he plays well, he’s pretty solid, but making these mistakes, he can be a liability sometimes.

  9. By mwindle1973 on Oct 5, 2011 | Reply

    I’m pretty pumped to hear the Bobbie Williams is reporting from his suspension at 335 lbs. He’s been playing at about 350 lbs for about 3 years now. He’s always beena road-grader, but the last 3 or so seasons his pass blocking has suffered some due to loss of mobility. This should really help. Both him and Smith are in the best shape they’ve been with this team. Cook is playing as well or better than he ever has. And I think you will see Cook and especially Smith, will play even better when Williams is in there. Because Williams leads the line. And Gresham really returned to form in the run blocking last week. This has been a formidable run blocking line, but Ds have been attacking the weak spot (RG) all season. TO the point we have mostly run left. I can’t wait for Williams to get back so we can go back to our bread and butter runs. Like the one Smash play, where we pull the LG and send him through the B gap behind the FB. That was always a BRat bread and butter play. And we abused it in this preseason. But you’ve only seen it a few times with Williams out.

  10. By mwindle1973 on Oct 5, 2011 | Reply

    One potential looming problem is the situation at WR. Right now Simpsongate is on hold, and couldn’t it remain that way for the rest of the season or longer? Even if he’s charged with something, he could plead not guilty, and things could drag out for a year or more. Yet we are kinding playing this down the middle. We haven’t benched him or demoted him, and we haven’t just left things like they were either. Even with him starting, Caldwell was still targeted more. Perhaps Simpson is distracted and that is why he has a reduced roll. But to me, we really need to make a decision here, and should’ve already made it. Either keep things like they were, and go with SImpson, until he’s not available anymore. Or if he is deemed too distracted then replace him with Caldwell, and let work out his obvious issues he’s having this season. I personally think if SImpson can prepare and focus on the game, then he should start and be hevily targeted like he was being. If not then let Caldwell start and start targeting that spot less and go to the slot WRs, RBs more. In the end we don’t have to replace SImpson, just his production. We could just target that position less, and replace it with targets to guys like Andrew Hawkins, Donald Lee, Brian Leonard & Bernard Scott. And give Caldwell time to adjust. We’ve asked him to learn all the WR spots, and I think he’s just slower to learn the offense because of it.

  11. By mwindle1973 on Oct 6, 2011 | Reply

    Glad Williams is back…hopefully Hudson makes it to the practice squad.

  12. By mwindle1973 on Oct 8, 2011 | Reply

    RIP Al Davis. He had kind of become a caricature of himself to the media over the last 10 years. But he is one of the most important figures in the history of professional football. And appeared after last season and this season so far, to have the team going in the right direction again.

  13. By mwindle1973 on Oct 8, 2011 | Reply

    This should be a good one tomorrow. We will find out more this week about how far along our young team, in it’s young scheme, is at than we ever did last week. Last week we proved we are good enough to win home games against quality teams. Which is one thing you have to do to make the playoffs. Another thing you have to do is win road games against lesser teams. And we’ll find out if we are to that point. This is a game where the matchups dictate if we play well and execute on 3rd down, we should be able to win this one without much drama. It’s never easy to win on the road, especially in bad weather. But if we play to our ability on D and special teams, establish a running game, sustain drives, and don’t turn the ball over, we should win a low scoring game. I don’t know what to expect here, except I think the Jags have a real hard time putting up more than 14 pts on us. Unless we turn the ball over. And a gut feeling if we play like we did last week int he 2nd half, we should be route them. These next 2 games are big. Because then we have a bye, then start a stretch that starts @Seattle, then @Titans, then 4 straight division games that include road game @Pitt & Baltimore, then home against the Texans.

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