NFLPA Premiere League Flag Football Game: An NFL Experience In Dallas
In conjunction with Super Bowl XLV, the NFL Experience came to the Dallas Convention Center in downtown Dallas.
After a week of freakishly cold, icy weather, the sun popped through on Saturday, melting away most of the ice and much of the anxiety of NFL fans.
Saturday night, they came in droves to experience the wonder that is NFL football.
The highlight of the evening was the Premiere League flag football game put on by the NFL Players Association.
The game featured former NFL players and celebrities.
Among the stars on a star-studded field were former Super Bowl champions like Derrick Brooks, Roger Craig and Brad Johnson; former Pro Bowlers like Jamal Anderson, Jeff Blake and Lorenzo Neal; and celebrities like Morris Chestnut, Josh Henderson, Vivica A. Fox and Jermaine Dupri.
Kenny Mayne of ESPN SportsCenter fame even played backup quarterback to Brad Johnson. Mayne connected on some nice passes and didn't look at all like an AARP card holder.
Thanks to the good work of the NFLPA crew, this Bleacher Reporter was given sideline access and scored a number of exclusive interviews.
Roger Craig: The Life He Saved Was My Own
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Roger Craig, the great running back for the San Francisco 49ers and three-time Super Bowl champion earned four Pro Bowl trips in his stellar career. He made plenty of memorable plays on the game's biggest stage.
But the biggest play of his life came during our interview.
I was standing on the sideline with him, my back to the action (a mistake I did not repeat), when one of the quarterbacks launched a 40-yard bullet right at the back of my head. Just as I was getting out my first question, Craig leaped past me to bat the ball away a split second before it sent me to dreamland.
I felt bad when I asked him for an apology. You see, I was a displaced Dallas Cowboys fan living 90 miles from Candlestick Park in the 1980s. While Craig's 49ers were winning multiple Super Bowls, my Cowboys were spiraling out of control bringing an end to the hall of fame career of legendary coach, Tom Landry.
"Any way I can get an apology for making my life so miserable when I was living smack-dab in the middle of 49ers country?"
"No," Says Craig. "That was a great rivalry. We had our time in the '80s and then the Cowboys came back in the '90s and won three Super Bowls. Those dynasties come and go, except for the Steelers. They keep theirs going."
"What about the Steelers?" I asked. "How do they manage to stay on top like that?"
"It's that blue-collar mentality. It's the team management."
Craig said he liked Green Bay to win the Super Bowl because of the Steelers' injuries on the offensive line, particularly at center.
Brad Johnson and His Biblical Solution To The NFL's Labor Problem
Brad Johnson put together a fine 15-year career in the NFL, playing quarterback for four different teams. He won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Following is part of my conversation with Brad:
B/R: Which game is bigger to you right now: This one or the game tomorrow?
Johnson: It's all about the moment. Right now, this is the moment.
B/R: You are killing those guys, 20 to nothing. What kind of coverages are they throwing at you?
Johnson: Zero coverage. It's just pitch and catch. Easy playing right now.
I just love trash-talk in flag football.
B/R: Tomorrow, who do you like?
Johnson: I have been a fan of Green Bay all season long. Even last year, the way they finished the season. But Pittsburgh wins too many close games, and until some body beats them, I will have to say Pittsburgh.
B/R: The Cowboys, now that you are gone, they go 6 and 10. Any correlation there?
Johnson: There needs to be an investigation. No, I have been a part of four different organizations, won a Super Bowl in Tampa. But the guys in Dallas are probably the hardest working guys I have ever been associated with. They have great respect for the game. The way they finished the season, it will carry over to next year.
B/R: What is your take on Jason Garrett being named head coach?
Johnson: Awesome. He has been preparing for this his whole life. He loves football. He loves coaching. He deserves his chance.
B/R: Tony Romo has been a lightning rod among Cowboys fans, as you know. There is a big debate as to whether he can get them where they want to go. What do you think?
Johnson: There is a lightning rod on every quarterback in the league until you actually win it. Tony's got a great work ethic. He's a tremendous leader. It's just a matter of time. He just has to get it done when it counts. All the players on the team respect him and believe in him.
B/R: What are your thoughts on the looming lockout?
Johnson: They just have to get together. For the fans, for the players, it needs to take place now. Iron sharpens iron. That's what it is.
That "iron sharpens iron" statement is a biblical reference.
Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."
Vivica A. Fox: NFL Premiere League's Foxiest Center
TV and movie beauty Vivica A. Fox was the snapper for the team in the black jerseys. Her team lost the game, despite roaring back from a 20-point deficit to make it close. I have to think, however, that her teammates felt like winners with her at center.
I did not actually interview Ms. Fox, but I did snap a couple of nice photos.
What else do you want?
Dorsey Levens Is Not Picking The Steelers To Win The Super Bowl
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Dorsey Levens, a favorite among Green Bay Packers fans, participated in three Super Bowls, two with the Packers and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. His Packers won Super Bowl XXXI over the New England Patriots.
I caught up to Dorsey between the first and second quarter. He was sitting on the field and too tired to get up. So, I sat with him and chatted.
B/R: You guys are killing them out there. What is going wrong for them, or what are you guys doing right?
Levens: We just got more athletes. They've got a couple of cornerbacks: Roger Craig and Morris Chestnut is OK. We're deep over here, man. We're just too deep for them. Too talented. Way too talented.
Ah. More trash-talk.
B/R: I heard you are picking the Pittsburgh Steelers for tomorrow's game. Is there any truth to that?
Levens: Absolutely not.
B/R: How are the Packers going to beat them? What's the strategy?
Levens: Defensively, they have to stop Ben (Roethlisberger), when he breaks the box. Offensively, they have to pass the ball. They have to throw it effectively. I don't think they are going to be able to run the ball against the defense. James Starks is having a great postseason, but stopping the run is Pittsburgh's strength? We have to spread them out with four and five wide receivers and create some mismatches with their nickel and dime packages.
B/R: Traditionally, they say run the ball to set up the pass. So, you think the Packers will need to pass in order to set up the run?
Levens: That's right. I think they need to do what the Patriots did and come throwing the ball down the field. Loosen them up. You have to run the ball to keep them honest, but running against that defense is tough.
B/R: You have to like the advantage of Clay Matthews as a speed rusher on Flozell Adams. Adams is not the youngest guy in the league.
Levens: Yeah, Yeah. I do like it. But Adams is a wise veteran. I wouldn't be surprised if he's got a couple of tricks up his sleeve. Clay Matthews won't be the first speed rusher he has gone against.
Pretty good pre-game analysis from Mr. Dorsey, no?
Jermichael Finley: Will The Packers Miss Him In Super Bowl XLV?
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Few teams have made the Super Bowl while dealing with as many injury problems as the Green Bay Packers have suffered in 2010.
Jermichael Finley was a prime target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the 6'4". 240 pound tight end suffered a season-ending injury in week five. He had already amassed 301 yards receiving at the time of his injury.
I asked Finley, who was coaching the winning red team in the Premiere League matchup, how his rehab was coming and he said it was going well and that he sure wished he could be on the field on Sunday for Super Bowl XLV.
When I asked how much his team missed him, he very demurely answered, "Not too much. We are in the Super Bowl."
Then, I got to more important matters.
B/R: What is wrong with the Texas Longhorns?
Finley: Man, I don't know. It was a freak year.
B/R: Do you think it was a one-year aberration? Will they be back next year?
Finley: For sure. Without a doubt.
So, just relax, you Orangebloods. All is well.
Jay Feely Is Feeling Good About Being a Kicker In The NFL
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Jay Feely, an 11-year NFL veteran kicker, has been a career accuracy mark of 82.3% on field goal attempts. Feely plays for the Arizona Cardinals, his fifth NFL team.
I asked Feely about the lonely life of a kicker in the NFL. He said that he felt that was a stereotype that was more true in the past than it is now. Kickers today, he said, are generally more athletic and better conditioned. He said he has always felt like an integral part of the team. He did not feel isolated from the other players.
I asked Feely about the most clutch kick of his career. He surprised me when he told me it was in high school.
"I was a junior and we were playing for the Florida state championship. The team we were playing was a powerhouse and heavily favored to beat us.
"I feel that if I had not made that game-winning field goal then I would not have gotten the football scholarship offers, would not have played at the University of Michigan, and consequently, would never have kicked in the NFL. That kick was what started me thinking I had a future doing that."
And that just goes to show, kids, that you give your all at every opportunity, because you never know which of those chances to excel will be the one to take you places you want to go.
Super Bowl XLV: The Premiere League Steps Aside For The Premiere Showdown
And so it has come down to this. All of the pre-game shenanigans are done.
No more asking, "Who do you like to win the Super Bowl?"
No more flag football.
Sunday, the real NFL experience begins at Cowboys Stadium.
The Steelers are ready. The Packers are ready. Mother Nature seems to be all done with her antics, and is now ready.
Are you ready for some football?