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Sports

December 31, 2011

Little Joe, Bum officially Gridiron Legends

PORT ARTHUR — My sports highlight of 2011 happened on the last day of the year. Being at the Saturday morning reception for the Texas Bowl Gridiron Legends, and getting a chance  to hear from and visit with some of the most revered names in the state’s football history, was as good as it gets. Bum Phillips and Little Joe Washington, of course, were front and center from a Southeast Texas standpoint, but it was a hoot to be in the same room with Dan Pastorini, Earl Campbell, John David Crow, Don Trull, Gerald McNeil, Ken Burrough, Johnny Roland, Mike Barber, Bill Bradley and many, many others I’ve watched and written about over the years. Kudos to Rob Lynch for doing such a terrific job heading up the Gridiron Legends program . . . Little Joe pretty much had the entire Washington clan in tow. Big Joe, who now lives in Fort Worth, was there with his wife, brother Ken, now living in Spring, was there with his wife and Meadowlark was there was Joe. Ken, who was a terrific quarterback at Lincoln and  later at North Texas, told me he’d watched three of Memorial’s playoff games and was impressed. As a former All-State QB, he said he liked the Titans Terrence Singleton a lot, and added he thought Singleton made the perfect college choice for him with Baylor . . . Another interesting tidbit came from former Katy coach Mike Johnson, who was one of the inductees. Johnson, an assistant coach at now defunct Forest Park High School in Beaumont in the mid 1970s, talked about his team derailing Todd Dodge’s Southlake Carroll juggernaut in a 16-15 5A state championship thriller in 2003.  Later, when I asked him if he remembered trying to defend Memorial’s Jamaal Charles earlier in the 2003 playoffs, he grinned and said, “I left that night with windburn on my face from that guy running past me so many times. He was one of the best we ever faced.” . . .

    If Lamar basketball coach Pat Knight and his best player, Mike James, can co-exist the next three months, it won’t be shocking to see the Cardinals win the Southland Conference and play in the NCAA tournament. James was absolutely dynamic in scoring 29 points against No. 3 Kentucky Wednesday night, while LU played the Wildcats so tough in an 86-64 loss that Kentucky coach John Calipari didn’t feel comfortable removing  his starters until 47 seconds remained. What was most impressive from a team standpoint about Lamar’s play was that it battled the SEC power to a 36-36 standoff on the boards, and got outscored only 36-32 in the paint by a taller, longer opponent. No. 2 Ohio State, you might remember, edged LU 38-36 on the boards. Those numbers really bode well for the Cardinals when they start going up against SLC teams their own size  . . . For what it’s worth, Lamar is No. 34 in the Ratings Percentage Index that’s one of the criteria used in seeding teams, as well as screwing over teams, in the NCAA Tournament. Among schools in Texas, only Baylor at No. 10, has a higher RPI than Lamar. UT is No. 71. Highest ranking Southland Conference team is UT-San Antonio at 154. A big part of LU having such a lofty RPI is the fact it’s played a schedule ranked No. 43 among 344 Division 1 schools. Even if the Cardinals keep winning, however, their RPI is soon headed into free fall because playing 16 games against Southland Conference opponents will send the strength of schedule rating tumbling.

    Next time we see Jerry Jones on TV, and I’m sure we’ll see him way too many times during the Cowboys game against the Giants Sunday night, expect his nose to have grown to the point where it’s dragging the ground. Jethro, who is under media siege for his sideline visit to Jason Garrett during the first quarter of the Philadelphia game, told the Dallas Morning News: “I’ve talked to every head coach during a ballgame, on the sideline, that we’ve ever had with the Dallas Cowboys.” I’m willing to bet my next 10 paychecks Jones NEVER pulled that stunt with Jimmy Johnson. As most readers will recall, Jimmy once went ballistic after Jethro suggested  the head coach  pretend, for the benefit of ESPN cameras, like he was conferring with the owner before making draft picks . . . For years and years, the NFC East was the beast of divisions in the NFL. For sure, it was that way when Bill Parcells was coaching the Giants, Joe Gibbs was calling the shots for the Redskins and Buddy Ryan was the resident ogre in Philadelphia. Now, all of a sudden, it’s become the league’s biggest collective pushover. Either the Cowboys or Giants are going to win it with a 9-7 record, which will be the first time since the 1970 merger — strike years excluded — that the NFC East champ posted fewer than 10 victories. Usually it took 11, 12 and on occasion 13. Slice through all the hype because of who’s involved tonight, and it’s a showdown between a team that’s so bad it’s lost five of the past seven games, and another so feeble it was 1-3 in December. Letting one of these teams into the postseason is like allowing a team that finishes fourth in its district into the Texas schoolboy playoffs.

    Texans fans are fired up about Wade Phillips returning as defensive coordinator on Sunday, and rightfully so, although he will be working from the upstairs coaches’  box.  Listening to Bum talk about Wade’s recent health issue, and seeing him briefly Saturday morning, left me convinced he’s really pushing himself to return so soon. According to Bum in remarks at the Gridiron Legends reception, Wade had “a tumor the size of a volleyball that encompassed his kidney and his gall bladder, so he had them all taken out. He’s got a scar about this long.” At that point, Bum held his hands about a foot apart. Bum also said the tumor was not malignant. In visiting with Wade, it was obvious he’s lost a lot of weight. He said he’d be restricted to working from the upstairs for as long as the Texans season goes . . .  One of the most important keys to success in any NFL season is avoiding key injuries, although Green Bay proved to be the exception to the rule last season. Pro Football Weekly, based on a formula that factors in injured starters, quantity and quality of players injured and games missed, publishes an annual ranking of the teams whose seasons were impacted the most. This year’s No. 1 is Buffalo. The Houston Texans, somewhat surprisingly considering the losses of Matt Schaub, Mario Williams, Andre Johnson, as well as backup QB Matt Leinart and others, were only No. 8. However, no other team that reached the playoffs was judged to have been hit as hard as the Texans. Pittsburgh was  No. 11 and New England No. 12. Least impacted playoff teams were No. 29 New Orleans, No. 30 Atlanta and No. 32 San Francisco. Dallas was 28th . . .

    Sources say former Nederland High School super teamer Dravannti Johnson has taken an on-campus visit with Lamar, and was impressed with the Cardinals facilities, but it’s probably no better than 50-50 he’ll wind up wearing a Cardinal uniform next season. Maybe less. Johnson,  though he already has an undergraduate degree from Texas, apparently intends to take classes toward is Masters in Austin this spring. That, of course, would keep him out of spring drills at Lamar, or wherever he transfers for his senior season . . . One good thing about the Cowboys-Giants game being “flexed” by the NFL from a late afternoon start on Fox to a 7:30 p.m. kick on NBC is that it bumps former Cowboy QB Troy Aikman off the telecast. Aikman is so protective of Dallas coach Jason Garrett he can’t be anywhere close to objective. A comment late in last week’s loss to the Eagles totally blew Aikman’s credibility. With Dallas trailing 20-0 and facing fourth down inside the Philly 20 near the two-minute warning, Garrett did what any NFL coach would do. He tried to score a touchdown. When Steven McGee’s pass went incomplete, Aikman said Garrett really deserved credit for not settling for a field goal to avoid a shutout. Later in the telecast, he said it again. Hey, Troy, you play to win in the NFL, not to avoid shutouts. How pitiful. How embarrassing ! ! ! Since Jerry Jones can’t seem to get enough exposure, here’s my recommendation to him for 2012. Because Jethro, more than any player or coach is the face of the Cowboys franchise, he should have the star removed from the helmets and replaced with his own likeness. Maybe he ought to have one more facelift first, but Cowboys fans should not be deprived of seeing their leader’s mug bobbing up and down all over the field every time the ball is snapped.

    Happy New Year, everybody.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net

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