Monday, February 20, 2017

Insights from a NFL official at the Bronco QB Club


At a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club meeting last week I had the privilege of meeting an active National Football League official.  Scott Novak is a side judge on Carl Cheffers crew during the regular season.  Cheffers worked Super Bowl 51.  Novak didn't have enough seniority to officiate in that game (we learned that NFL officials have to have at least 5 years experience to work the Super Bowl).  But Novak has worked many an NFL game (including this year's Atlanta/Seattle playoff game) and he had many interesting insights into the life of an NFL official.

As a side judge Novak gets to make those difficult pass interference calls.  He also manages the game clock.  He worked his way up the officiating ladder by first doing Little League football games, then high school, then major college conferences (the mountain west and the big 12) before finally getting his big break to work the NFL.  "The NFL game is a lot faster than the ncaa," Novak said, "the players hit a lot harder than you think."  The toughest level to officiate at?  "Little league - the parents drove me crazy!"

After giving us an overview of his job as an NFL official Novak responded to our many questions.  I paraphrase some of the answers he gave below:

Would officiating in the NFL improve if there were full time officials?

"I spend 40 to 50 hours a week on officiating during the season in addition to my regular job.  I don't think having full time officials would change much at all - the current officials put in a lot of work."

What was your most memorable game you worked?

"The Pittsburgh/Cincinnati playoff game last year was memorable.  There were strong emotions from both teams.  I have to be the calmest person on the field.  When a coach yells at me, I reply 'thanks coach, appreciate that.' 

The most memorable games for me are when I screw up - I want to get every call right.  I'll know on the plane home if I made a mistake.  We get a thumb drive of the game's plays before we leave the stadium (we get a police escort to the airport)"

How are you evaluated?

"I get graded on every play in every game.  I can get downgraded for not being in the right position.  Every play gets put into the NFL computers.  The best officials get to work the playoff games."

Would it be better to have the same crew work the playoffs instead of an all star crew?

"When Mike Periera (now with the Fox network) was the head of officials he liked to keep the crews together for the playoffs.  Now they pick officials from different crews to work the playoff games.  It doesn't make a big difference.  In the Atlanta/Seattle playoff game I worked with a guy I had never officiated with before but we adjusted."

How are the physical demands of the job?

"I run 5 to 8 miles during every game.  During extremely cold games you'll see the players go to heaters on the bench.  We can't - we're on the field for every play."

I got a new respect for officials in listening to Novak talk about his job.  He displayed his cool demeanor in answering our many questions.  "We're fans of the game - we love the game," he said.  When he makes a mistake he says "I have to forget about the last play and focus totally on the next play."

Novak showing us his #1 side judge jersey



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Welcome Vance Joseph!

While my first choice was Kyle Shanahan, I like the Vance Joseph hire as the new coach of the Denver Broncos. The more I read about Joseph the more I like him.  Players and coaches around the league have good things to say about Vance.  He's good with the x's and o's and good with relating to players.  He's a good talent evaluator.  One faulty assumption I made was that if the Broncos hired Kyle they'd be more likely to keep Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator.  That's not necessarily true (it sounds like Wade could be gone regardless of who the new head coach was to be).  I like the offensive coordinator possibilities.  If it's Mike McCoy I liked how McCoy was flexible and tailored his offense around the players he had (like in the Tebow year) rather than trying to fit the players to his system.

People may point to Joseph's 28th ranked Miami defense this season, but the Dolphins D played pretty well at the start of the season before injuries struck (holding the Seahawks to 12 points in Seattle in the season opener, and holding the Steelers to 15 points in an October win)

I still think Kyle Shanahan has a lot of potential, too, and I hope Shanahan ends up in the NFC (not within the division to the Chargers)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Thanks Gary Kubiak, a trip down memory lane with past bronco coaches

With the retirement of Gary Kubiak I came across this list of all the past Denver Bronco coaches (not counting interim coaches like Eric Studesville).  More on Kubiak in a bit.  I've followed this team since I was a kid in the 60's - here's my opinion on each past Bronco coach:

1. Frank Filchock 1960-61 - before my time
2. Jack Faulkner 1962-1964 - ditto but he did lead the hapless Broncos to a 6-1 record his first year including a sweep of the Raiders before the team ran out of gas (finishing 7-7)
3. Mac Speedie 1964-1966 - made the infamous Jackie Lee trade. From an old LA times article:
"The Broncos traded the Oilers a first round draft pick and Bud McFadin, one of the top defensive tackles in the AFL and in exchange, the Oilers would give the Broncos Jacky Lee...for two seasons. At which point, Lee would then return to Houston!" Yikes!  Worst trade in Bronco history.
4. Ray Malavasi 1966 - didn't do much here but later had success with the Rams. leading them to the Super Bowl
5. Lou Saban 1967-1971 (pictured above) - a better coach than most Bronco fans would admit. Improved the Bronco infrastructure. Featured Floyd Little in his offenses, as he would later do for the Bills with OJ Simpson.  Trading two #1's for Steve Tensi was Lou's big mistake.  Saban's overall record was a disappointment here.
6. John Ralston 1972-1976 - great talent evaluator, some of the best Bronco drafts were under Ralston.  Not so great of a team leader, as vets did not buy into to his college "rah rah" style, which led to his ouster in a player revolt.
7. Red Miller 1977-1980 - the opposite of Ralston - a great motivator, suspect talent evaluator.  Will always have a place in Broncos lore in leading the 77 team to the Super Bowl.  Betting on Matt Robinson to be his franchise qb did him in.
8. Dan Reeves 1981-1992 - led the Broncos to 3 super bowls, recruited Mike Shanahan as an assistant.  A lot of his success could be attributed to Elway, who Dan did not have a role in acquiring (that was the then owner Edgar Kaiser's doing)  Still a good coach overall.
9. Wade Phillips 1993-1994 - questionable time management in games, but under Wade Shannon Sharpe emerged after not having much of a role in the Reeves offense.  A much better d-coordinator than head coach.
10. Mike Shanahan 1995-2008 - brilliant offensive strategist, good motivator, questionable in player personnel decisions (draft & free agency). Still the best coach the Broncos have ever had.  Thanks for the 2 World Championships, Mike.
11. Josh McDaniels 2009-2010 - disaster. enough said.
12. John Fox 2011-2014 - too conservative (taking a knee at the end of regulation in baltimore playoff loss) A decent manager of player egos though and he did bring on Adam Gase, now with the Dolphins and a rising young star in the NFL coaching ranks. Peyton Manning had a lot to do with Fox's success.
13. Gary Kubiak 2015-2016 - like Fox conservative but a good people manager.  Bringing in Wade as d-coordinator was brilliant (though that and the player personnel decisions on defense were more GM Elway's doing)  Kubiak will always have a place in Broncos history for leading the team to the SB 50 win.

And owner Pat Bowlen had a huge role in the Broncos successful years under coaches 8-13, never going cheap when it came to player acquisitions.  The current Rockies and Avalanche/Nuggets owners could learn a lot from Bowlen's deep pockets and hands off ownership style.

As for who the next coach should be, I like Kyle Shanahan because:

1. His offensive game plan for the Falcons/Broncos game this year was the best I've seen against the tough Denver defense. Not just one or two big plays but the Falcons consistently took advantage of mismatches.

2. His youth doesn't concern me. This isn't the 2nd coming of Josh McDaniels. Kyle's been coaching with more than one NFL team (not just the Patriots like Josh) - he's been an offensive coordinator in the league since 2008. Being the son of Mike Shanahan Kyle has to know about the Broncos culture, too - he's not going to do a complete overhaul like Josh tried to do.

3. Speaking of Mike Shanahan, Mike is one of the best offensive game planners I've ever seen. If Kyle comes it would be great to get Mike, too, in some capacity. Let Mike study opponents in his Denver castle and feed ideas to Kyle. Just keep Mike out of the draft room.

4. Kyle would likely keep the defensive staff intact and let Wade handle the defense, while he applies his new ideas to the Broncos offense. I like the idea of hiring an innovative, young offensive minded coach given the Broncos strength on defense and weakness on offense. 
 
While I am sad to see Gary Kubiak go, I think the Broncos have the opportunity to be better next year if they hire the right head coach.  I'm hoping it's Kyle Shanahan.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Top 10 Denver Sports Moments of 2016


2016 was a good year for me as a Denver sports fan.  Here are my top 10 sports moments:


10. Colorado Avalanche 5 Detroit Red Wings 2, Alumni Game 2/26  

The old timers got together for an alumni game in an outdoor venue - Coors Field!  The NHL/Rockies/Avs did a good job of setting up Coors Field for hockey.  I watched this game from a luxury box thanks to an invitation from the Las Vegas visitors bureau.  It was fun to see the Avs alumni from their great teams in the 90's, early 2000's beat the hated Wings this night.  Patrick Roy was fantastic in making several great saves.  The next night was disappointing as the NHL Avs lost to the Wings, but I did get to meet Adam Foote in the club level of Coors Field.

9.  Denver Nuggets hand Golden State Warriors 3rd loss in 40 games 1/13 

The Nuggets were one of the few teams to beat the Warriors in the NBA regular season.  Read more about the game here.

8.  Colorado Avalanche beat Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in OT in season’s 2nd game 10/17

After a thrilling 6-5 win in the opener against the Dallas Stars at home, the Avs win their second game on against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins at Pittsburgh.  At year's end the Avs had the worst record in the NHL, but the 2-0 start gave their fans some thrills early.
7. Colorado Buffaloes 27 Utah Utes 22 11/26

The Buffs success in football was one of the best stories of 2016, capped by this win over Utah to win the Pac 12 South division and earn a berth in the pac 12 championship game.

6.  Colorado Rockies beat Arizona Diamondbacks 10-5 in season opener 4/4

Trevor Story hits two home runs in his major league debut.  Story was the "story" of the major league season in April as the rookie surprised us all with an early season power surge.  Story had a good chance to be the Rockies first rookie of the year before a thumb injury prematurely ended his season in early August.

5.  Denver Broncos 21 Carolina Panthers 20 9/8

The Broncos win the Super Bowl rematch in the NFL's season opener on a Thursday night before a national TV audience.  The Broncos came back from a 17-3 deficit in the 4th quarter in an exciting game that was decided by a missed Panther field goal as time ran out.

4.  Colorado Buffaloes 41 Oregon Ducks 38 9/24

The Buffs surprise the perennial power Oregon Ducks in Oregon in a high scoring game decided in the last minute.  This was a program defining win for the CU program, and spurred the team to go on to a 10 win season.

3.  Denver Broncos 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 in division round 1/17 

The Broncos come from behind to beat the Steelers in a first round NFL playoff game.  This game turned out to be the toughest of the 3 Bronco playoff games.  Brandon Mcmanus 5 field goals on a windy day proved to be the difference.

2.  Denver Broncos 20 New England Patriots 18 AFC championship 1/24 

The 5th time I've seen the Broncos win the AFC Championship at home to earn a berth in the Super Bowl, and this AFC title was one of the best. The last 6 minutes was the most intense for me ever at a bronco home game as the patriots threatened to tie the score to force overtime, but the Broncos held on.  The final failed 2 point attempt by the Patriots was right below my seats in the North end zone.

1.  Denver Broncos 24 Carolina Panthers 10  Super Bowl Win !!! 2/7

The hope for any NFL fan is to see their team win a Super Bowl in person.  I was privileged to have that experience as my Broncos beat Carolina in Super Bowl 50!  It was a memorable weekend in San Francisco that I wrote about on this blog here.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Touring Broncos Headquarters with the QB Club

Last night I was fortunate to be one of 50 members of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club to sit in on a taping of the Broncos Huddle TV show and later tour the Broncos facility.  The Kansas City game was "a tough loss.  We have to bounce back," said player co-host Emmanuel Sanders during the show, reflecting on the Broncos disappointing overtime loss to the Chiefs on Sunday night.

The player guest this night was Broncos receiver Bennie Fowler, who caught a 76 yard touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian with 2 1/2 minutes to go in regulation to give the Broncos an 8 point lead.  "I thought the game was in the bag after my TD," Fowler said.

The Broncos Huddle was recorded at one end of the Broncos massive indoor practice facility.  It was interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how this TV show is produced.

I marveled at how far the Broncos have come in their training facilities.  I remember as a kid watching preseason practice at the team's 5700 Logan address (north on I-25).  Today's Bronco headquarters dwarfs the old place.



After the Broncos Huddle show was complete our group was taken on a tour of the Broncos facility - seeing places the general public is not allowed to access.

At dusk we saw the Broncos outdoor practice fields, with the huge indoor facility looming in the distance.  "It's a lot colder than last time I was here," I remarked as the 20 degree temperatures sent a chill through our group.  Many of us had watched a Broncos training camp practice here in the August heat, though on this tour we saw the fields from a different angle. 




Next we saw the Broncos weight room, with motivational signs above.

Then it was on to the room where the weekly press conference is held.  Here I am standing where just a few hours earlier Trevor Siemian was interviewed on NFL Network.



The press conference room was smaller than I expected, with beat writers who cover the team each with a little desk to file their stories.  We saw Channel 7's Troy Renck and ESPN's Jeff Legwold, past QB Club guest speakers, working late to meet their deadlines.


Then we were escorted to the main lobby of the Broncos headquarters, where all of the team's past trophies are prominently displayed.  I especially liked the looks of those three Lombardi trophies in the middle!

Here I am with my wife Anne at the Broncos Huddle set.  Thanks to Channel 9 and the Broncos for giving our group an insiders view of the Broncos headquarters!









Friday, November 11, 2016

Simon Fletcher at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club


Sunday night's Bronco loss to the Raiders put the members of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club in a down mood.  That feeling was quickly changed by an appearance by Ring-of-Famer Simon Fletcher.  On this night Fletcher reminded us of great Bronco teams of the past and the strengths of this franchise that we all have supported for so long.  Here is a summary of Simon's comments:

On entering the Broncos Ring of Fame 21 years after his playing career was over:

You guys got as tired of waiting as I did! (joking)  The first person I called was my mother.  She was excited that I finally got recognized.  Mom always told me "Look at where you are going, not where you've been" so I wasn't bothered by the Ring of Fame delay.  When you are on the field you don't think of records, rather you think of supporting your teammates and the great Bronco fans.

What the Bronco fans mean to him:

I was more excited about meeting with you, the Bronco QB Club, than the Ring of Fame ceremony.  What never changed over the years was the support of the Bronco fans - we appreciate so much what you do.  When I came to Denver I was a single dad supporting my 17 month daughter Ashley.  You bronco fans gave to little Ashley - she was given so many stuffed animals as gifts!  Here I was 1000 miles away from where I grew up (Texas) and fans volunteered to watch my daughter - thank you!  I could not have been more fortunate than to be drafted by Denver because of the great Bronco fans.  I'm going to live in Colorado until I die.

On being the Broncos all time sack leader:

To hell with sacks!  I came out for 172 games.  I earned my paycheck - every dollar.  When I watched the Broncos against the Raiders I thought "you guys need more pride in what you are doing. Bronco fans deserve better than this."  I thought the team came out flat.

On the Broncos prospects the rest of the season:

New England will lose three more games so the Broncos still have a shot at the best record in the AFC.  But the offensive line has to get better.  If they know John Elway like I do there will be changes if they don't perform.  The team seems to be resting on last year's laurels.

On playing for Wade Phillips as defensive coordinater:

The 1991 season AFC Championship game was one of our best performances (a 10-7 loss to the Bills where Buffalo did not have an offensive touchdown)  Wade told us before the game that the offense had holes in the offensive line and we had to play our best.  We held Thurman Thomas in check that day.  This season I think Wade has been hampered by the head coach the last couple of games - his defensive game plans have not been as aggressive.

On his worst game as a Bronco:

The 1987 AFC Championship game ("the fumble")  My wife was overdue with child and it was hard to keep my mind on the game.  I was thankful for Jeremiah Castille causing that fumble giving us the win!

On his best game as a Bronco:

The AFC Divisional playoff win vs the Houston Oilers.  I was asked by a reporter before the game, "since you grew up in Houston, doesn't a small part of you want to see the Oilers win?"  I said "from the opening whistle to the closing gun I'm playing 100% for the Broncos.  I've got orange blood in my veins and when I go #1 it's blue!"

On losing to the Giants in Super Bowl 21:

Some of our starters that game were not A grade, and some of our backups shouldn't have been in the league.  We didn't have the team speed to keep up with the Giants.  We were overmatched.  On last year's Broncos Super Bowl team there wasn't as much difference between the 1st and 2nd team.

On retiring after 10 years and missing out on the Broncos Super Bowl wins:

I told Dan Reeves I was going to play 10 years and that's it (3 contracts). My little girl Ashley meant more to me than playing more years.  It was the right decision.

On Pat Bowlen:

The year we drafted Mike Croel Mike was leading the AFC in sacks where I had zero at one point of the season.  We were getting ready to play in a bitter cold game and Pat Bowlen came out of his owner box and down to the field before the game.  Pat put his arm around me, and said "from where I am sitting I see how well you are playing.  Mike is getting those sacks because of you."  Pat was a player's owner.  I am so grateful I got to play for him.

===========

True to his word, Simon Fletcher never did leave Colorado and today runs a catering business out of Fort Morgan.  It was great to meet this new Ring of Famer in person and hear of his passion for playing for the Broncos and his love of the Denver fans.

Me and Simon at the Bronco QB Club



Thursday, September 8, 2016

My 2016 Broncos prediction

As is my tradition in this blog I am posting my prediction of the Broncos season before the first game.

Sep. 8      Panthers      Carolina Panthers  WIN 1-0
A tough opening matchup, and a difficult Carolina defense for Trevor Siemian to play against in his first NFL start.  Still I always say ‘never bet against the Broncos at home”.  I think the Denver defense gives the Broncos the turnover edge and the Broncos win in a close game.

Sep. 18      Colts      Indianapolis Colts WIN 2-0
See Sept 8th.  Tough opponent but don’t bet against the Broncos at home.  The Colts have offensive line problems, too, which will allow the Denver defense to neutralize Andrew Luck.
Sep. 25      Bengals      at Cincinnati Bengals LOSS 2-1
The Bengals get revenge for the late season overtime loss in Denver last season, where they almost beat the Broncos with their backup quarterback.  Andy Dalton and the Bengals win it this time.
Oct. 2      Buccaneers      at Tampa Bay Buccaneers WIN 3-1
A possible trap game against the improving Bucs but the Broncos D takes advantage of a young Jameis Winston to win.
Oct. 9      Falcons      Atlanta Falcons WIN 4-1
easy home win
Oct. 13      Chargers      at San Diego Chargers WIN 5-1
the broncos have had good success in San Diego in recent years
Oct. 24      Texans      Houston Texans WIN 6-1
Brock’s return to Denver is not a happy one for him
Oct. 30      Chargers      San Diego Chargers WIN 7-1
Chargers play the Broncos tough in Denver but the Broncos come out with a win
Nov. 6      Raiders      at Oakland Raiders LOSS 7-2
The improving Raiders repeat their late season 2015 victory against the Broncos
Nov. 13      Saints      at New Orleans Saints LOSS 7-3
Drew Brees has a big day as the Broncos lose in the Dome         
Nov. 27      Chiefs      Kansas City Chiefs LOSS 7-4
The Broncos first home loss vs a team that blew them out at Mile High last year
Dec. 4      Jaguars      at Jacksonville Jaguars LOSS 7-5
The late season decline continues against the improved Jaguars
Dec. 11      Titans      at Tennessee Titans WIN 8-5
The Broncos end their losing streak with a late season resurgence vs the Titans.
Dec. 18      Patriots      New England Patriots WIN 9-5
Tom Brady never seems to play that well in games in Denver.  If this one were in New England it would be a different story.
Dec.25      Chiefs      at Kansas City Chiefs LOSS 9-6
The Chiefs complete a sweep of the defending champs.
Jan. 1      Raiders      Oakland Raiders WIN 10-6
The Broncos close out the regular season with a win and clinch a wild card berth

I pick Kansas City to win the division.  The Chiefs finished the regular season strong last year and have most of their team coming back intact, while the Broncos have had major changes.
The Broncos lose in the wildcard round.  2016 will be a decent transition season, making the playoffs is a plus, and look for better results in 2017.