PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

April 20, 2013

West column: Southeast Texas talent stands tall atop NFL drafts

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —     With the always overhyped NFL draft about to dominate the sports scene, it’s a good time to again raise the question whether any area of comparable size has produced as many first-round picks as the Golden Triangle. There have been seven overall, topped by Beaumonter Bubba Smith being the very first selection by then Baltimore Colts in 1967. Three schools — PA Lincoln, Beaumont’s Charlton-Pollard and West Orange-Stark — accounted for six of the seven first-round choices. Lincoln’s No. 1s were Joe Washington, taken fourth in 1976 by San Diego, and Aaron Brown, sixth off the board to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1966. Charlton Pollard’s No. 1 duo was Bubba Smith and brother, Tody, who went 25th to the Dallas Cowboys in 1971. West Orange-Stark’s first rounders were Kevin Smith, No. 17 to the Cowboys in 1992, and Earl Thomas, No. 14 to Seattle in 2010. Last but certainly not least was Beaumont Hebert’s Mel Farr, who was taken seventh by the Detroit Lions in 1967. Two other area players — Lincoln’s Tom Smiley and Beaumont French’s Louie Kelcher — would have been No. 1s in today’s 32 team NFL. Smiley went 28th to Cincinnati in 1968 and Kelcher 30th to San Diego in 1975. Also taken in the second round were PA Jefferson’s Cotton Speyrer, 38th to Washington in 1971, Hebert’s Jerry LeVias, 40th to Houston in 1969, and Lincoln’s Jonathan Babineaux, 59th to Atlanta in 2005. Bottom line, that’s 12 first and second rounders from an area with an average population of maybe 250,000. And that’s not counting Jamaal Charles, who wasn’t a first rounder only because NFL scouts didn’t trust what they saw and probably put too much stock in what coaches at Texas told them.

    Next big draft mistake involving a player from Southeast Texas is going to be made on West Brook’s Christine Michael. Word on the NFL grapevine continues to be that Michael’s a great talent, but he’s a character risk. From what I’m told, even the Houston Texans, who could use a quality back behind Arian Foster, aren’t interested. You can’t always believe what you hear leading into an NFL draft, but it sounds like Michael won’t go until the third or fourth round. If that happens, teams with running back needs who passed on him are going to wind up having the same regrets as those who kept passing on Charles. I’m convinced this kid is going to wind up being a star in the NFL. Listen to what the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock says: “The reality with Christine Michael is there’s not a more talented running back in this draft.” . . . Couldn’t believe it when I picked up Friday’s Houston Chronicle and saw where that newspaper’s long-time NFL writer John McClain went game by game through the Texans’ 2013 NFL schedule and penned them in for a 13-3 record. McClain, who knows his stuff as well as anybody who covers the NFL on a regular basis, had the Texans’ only losses being at Baltimore in week 3, at San Francisco in week 5 and at Indianapolis in week 15. He predicted they will beat Seattle, New England and Denver. Best I can see for Houston is 11-5. And it won’t be that good, if they don’t get a lot better at wide receiver.

    An author named Jim Lefebvre is working on a book about legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne that will be titled “ Coach for a Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne.” Why that’s relevant here is that Lefebvre wants to make sure he does right by Port Arthur’s original football great, Christie Flanagan. Flanagan, some readers will remember, eased Rockne’s worries in 1925 with the eye-opening way he replaced one of Notre Dame’s famed “Four Horsemen” — Jim Crowley. Lefebvre is especially interested in getting his hands on a piece I wrote on Christie in 1988, which I haven’t been able to find. He’d also like to talk with Flanagan’s closest living relatives. Anybody who can help, please call me at 409 721-2432 or e-mail me at rdwest@usa.net . . . Mostly because he’s taken a school that was forever an afterthought in college football and made it relevant, I’ve been an admirer of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. Over the years Snyder has earned bonus points with the way he’s taken players Mack Brown wouldn’t dream of recruiting at Texas and embarrassed the Longhorns on a regular basis. Snyder’s latest home run was telling a Kansas City radio station his departure from coaching may not be far away because of how money-driven the culture has become. Then he added, “I can only speak personally, but I’m grossly overpaid for what I do. That’s part of what creates the issue.” Snyder, by the way, makes nowhere close to what the likes of Brown, Bob Stoops and Nick Saban do. But he’s a better coach. And apparently a lot more honest.

    Another guy who gets two thumbs up from me for what he said last week is former Astros slugger Lance Berkman. With the Texas Rangers headed to Chicago to play the Cubs, Berkman more or less echoed my thoughts on what an over-romanticized dump Wrigley Field is. One trip to Wrigley was all it took to convince me the thing it needed most was a wrecking ball. In part, here’s what Berkman said to Jeff Wilson of the  Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  “If they’re looking for a guy to push the button when they blow the place up, I’ll do it. It’s one of the worst places in baseball for, well, just about anything. I really don’t like it.” I’m guessing Lance probably didn’t get a real warm welcome from Cubs fans . . . Looks like the St. Louis Cardinals’ loss has become the Oakland A’s gain. The Cardinals squeezed into the playoffs as a wild card the past two seasons by beating up on the Astros, going 11-4 last year and 10-5 in 2011. Oakland, meanwhile, is being called an early surprise in the American League, probably because those applying that label have not looked at their schedule close enough. Entering weekend play the A’s were 12-4. Broken down, however, they were 6-0 against Houston and 6-4 against their other opponents . . . In case you haven’t heard about it, Astros owner Jim Crane’s master plan calls for relocating the team’s AAA farm team to The Woodlands. Among things necessary to make that happen would be the building of a first-rate stadium in The Woodlands area. Crane says he’s not worried about impacting the Astros attendance, but you wonder if there’s enough baseball interest in greater Houston to support an MLB team, a AAA team and the Independent League Sugarland Skeeeters.

    Absolutely no surprise here that the No. 1 box office movie last week was “42”, the biopic about Jackie Robinson’s struggle to break the color barrier in major league baseball. What would be really interesting to know is how many people who saw the movie had any clue about as to how intolerant and bigoted so many Americans were in those days. History books don’t drive home the point as graphically as the movie scenes do. How many people could or would put up with what Robinson did? I don’t remember much about it, but I’m so glad my dad took me to see Robinson play in St. Louis in the early 1950s . . . Next big sports movie in the pipeline is apparently one about legendary Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas. Unitas didn’t have to overcome the kind of stuff Robinson did, but his road to become one of the NFL’s all-time greats was hardly an easy one. He was a ninth round draft choice of the Steelers, got cut in training camp and wound up playing in a semi-pro league before getting the attention of the Colts. The movie is titled “Unitas We Stand”, with the screenplay written by Unitas’ son Joe. During football-action scenes in the movie, Johnny U will be played by Baltimore Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco. Producers are hoping to have it out around the time of the 2014 Super Bowl.

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