Monday, October 31, 2011

Football - Why to Love it

Eight weeks into the season, reading NFL standings is like reading a sci-fi novel.  Those must be misprints. For a minute you might think this is April Fools Day and these are all jokes.  But no, it is Halloween.  So someone is going for eerie.  Consider:  

* St. Louis Rams beat the New Orleans Saints 31-21!? 

* Forty Niners 6 and 1!?

* Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills 6 and 2!?

* Colts 0 and 8!?

Every weekend is just great fun watching former losers win and former winners lose.  Did you see the "game of the week" with Cowboys vs Eagles.  Previews expected this to be THE game of the day.  Two powerful but inconsistent teams going head-to-head to determine who's who in the NFC East.  Yikes!  I hope you're not a Cowboys fan.  This is the year to be a Houston Texans fan.  The game wasn't even close, not even interesting.  Eagles 34-7.  And it wasn't that close.

What about college ball?  Wisconsin (sorry Vero) looked like the class in the Big Ten - and lose two consecutive weeks in the closing seconds of the game.  Lose to Michigan State in a hail Mary pass with four seconds on the clock.  Lose to Ohio State with a hail Mary style pass with 30 seconds left. 

Then there was the Stanford-USC game settled in triple overtime.  I'm not a west coast fan but tuned in to see the Stanford QB I've been hearing so much about, Andrew Luck.  He lived up to his billing - the kid is good!  And the game was one of the best this season. 

Next week LSU and Alabama, ranked #1 and #2, go head-to-head in what should be a great game.  I'm not an SEC conference fan but maybe should be.  Isn't the University of Texas joining that conference?  Oh, that's Texas A&M.  My Aggie friend says A&M "is THE University of Texas.

What about the Longhorns? 

I heard they played a game Saturday.  Heard but didn't see.  They're narrow-casting some of their games on the invisible Longhorn Network.  I think that's their way of punishing fans for... for what?  You're not buying enough Longhorn shirts and caps?  Not flying the Longhorn flag prominently enough on weekends? 

So they keep some games off the major networks.  So we don't get to see a couple nail-biters, UT over Rice 34-9, UT over Kansas 43-0.  Somehow I don't feel particularly deprived.  There were a lot more entertaining games this weekend.  A lot more.

Will University of Texas BROAD-cast this weekend?  So the rest of us can see what only the elite club of Longhorn Network members saw Saturday?  I don't really care.  I'm going to be watching LSU-Alabama. And maybe there will be another Wisconsin game - I still think they're the best in the Big Ten (did you know there are eleven teams in the Big Ten?  College people aren't very smart sometimes.  Especially Harvard people - but don't get me started...)

Outlaw tryouts continue November 19, 9:30 a.m., at Kealing Middle School.  Hope we get lots of veterans returning, lots of talented rookies joining the team.

When the NFL shuts down after the Superbowl, the Outlaws give us football fans four more opportunities to enjoy the game here in Austin.  Eight chances if we're willing to travel.  Actually more if we attend practices.  And if they do the scrimmage in Waco again this year, that's one more opportunity. 

This is a photo blog. 

So today we'll post just a few shots to try to show some of the allure of Austin Outlaws Football.

Shadana and Monica leading the team onto the field.
You've seen these ladies carry the ball?   Next season
maybe they'll come on to the field with a bit more energy?

Here's a shot from that field at 15th and Lamar.  This one actually catches the skyline - in an earlier post
I admitted trying and failing to get a skyline shot.  Probably not good to take pictures during the
playing of the National Anthem but that opening tradition gives me a thrill and I had to attempt to
capture it for you.

Another thrill - the opening kickoff of any football game.  Score 0-0, 60 minutes of football ahead.
I think that's my friend, Griff, kicking off left-footed.  I hope you appreciate that this photographer
climbed all the way to the top of the stands to give you this perspective on the game.  Whew.  Puff, pant.

Lots of exciting plays when the Outlaws are on the field. 

We still have two months of college football, three of NFL - but I'm already anticipating another Outlaws season.  They fill the void left by the end of the NFL season.  And Outlaws games are just plain fun.  Some serious football played by some serious athletes. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grand Entry

Julie Wilke, #1 leading the team onto the field.  Look real close
and you may see the Frost Bank Tower in the background.
A few years ago the Outlaws played at a field at 15th and Lamar.  There was a cool skyline view behind the scoreboard.  I thought it was a great photo-op and I spent considerable time setting up for the team's grand entry.  Camera low and looking up, scoreboard and flags near, fancy bank building beyond that.

Total flop.

The lighting came out all wrong. Background washed out. You can't see the bank in the background unless you really strain your eye.  The focus isn't quite right.  You can see #1 Julie Wilke leading the team onto the field - was that intentional, to have #1 first in line?  Right behind her is #4, Mary Nguyen.  What happened to #2 and #3?

Marisa Rivas heading the line.  Boring.
This grand entry is a team tradition.  The lead photo to this blog is part of the grand entry.  Honestly, it isn't much of a photo.  I used it because I wanted to get lots of Outlaws pictured on the blog and it seemed to do that.  You can make out six or seven faces.  But overall it is a boring shot.  Just a bunch of ladies in football uniforms jogging past the camera. 

In no particular order.  In one shot #2, Marisa Rivas, leads in my photo but to make that happen I had to crop the players in front of her and there was no #1.  Do you find this photo boring?  Compared to the action photos in my other blog postings?

#78 has the idea.  Lets add some interest to the
grand entry.  Even if it just raising a fist.
Sometimes players try to help me out with the "boring" part by doing something, anything, that is interesting as they make their way to the bench.  I seriously appreciate their help salvaging otherwise dull in-action shots.

I think Lily is sticking her tongue out at me.  She really likes me.
This is a gesture of affection, helping make a boring photograph interesting.

I know CPR is sticking her tongue out at me.  I don't know if she
likes me.  We've exchanged friendly emails from time to time.

Actually this came right after the procession line.  Lily
is my friend.  She knows I want interesting photos and
she made this one interesting for me.  (Photo used
with her permission.)

I have tried to add interest.  When the Outlaws played at the Texas School for the Blind, I tried another shot with the skyline as a backdrop.  I like a low angle because it helps portray these ladies as bigger than life - which they are in my mind. 

I really like this one.  The Outlaws are bigger than life in my mind and this angle helps make that statement.
Having the team in the foreground makes them appear larger than the officials.  I like that.  I only
regret I didn't do better placing the skyline in the photo.

Another bigger-than-life shot.  I like it.

I like these photos a little more than those straight line shots.  But you may have already noticed these aren't grand entry photos.  These are the ladies coming on the field for pre-game warm-ups. 

A few years ago I read about a college coach who orchestrated the grand entries.  Now I've never seen a college team trot out on the field single file.  They kind of swarm out there in a bunch.  This coach always kept his team back in the tunnel under the stands until the other team was at their bench.  Then coach would race his team onto the field with the 100,000 fans roaring their approval.  Theory was it intimidated the other team.  I don't know if it worked.  But it was more interesting than single file...

In one game a couple years ago someone at the Outlaws came up with an idea. 

Cool sign.  Made of paper.  Wonder what is behind it?

They created a huge paper sign and they positioned it between the locker room and the field.  You know what happened next, don't you? 

Looks like they're having fun, doesn't it.  Tore through that sign just as if it were made of paper.

Compare the energy of this grand entry photo with those
single file shots above. 
Much more interesting than the single file, don't you think?  Expressions on players' faces suggest they're energized by the action, breaking through the barrier to the delight of fans.

It was certainly more fun for the photographer.  At least there was some action. 

I'm pretty sure the Outlaws won that game.  Can't say for certain but they must have won with that kind of dramatic entry.  That kind of attitude setter.

I've said before that I couldn't coach if my life depended on it.  I have total respect for anyone who can take a group of ladies, some who have never played the game in their lives, and make a football team.  With that disclaimer, I would like to suggest we abandon the single-file-orderly-entry. 

Lets go for disorderly!

Gather the team near the gate and then let them charge out onto the field a disorganized gang, screaming and yelling at terrified opponents, inspiring the fans, getting the adrenaline pumping.  The other team might just pack up and go home in fear.   Or they'll be so shaken by the spectacle they won't be able to focus on the game until well into the third quarter and by then they'll be way behind.

And I might get some interesting photos.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Fan Photo

This goes back a few years.  I always enjoyed the ritual of team
high-fiving fans after the game.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Punt

Your arms are shorter than your legs.  If you hold an arm extended straight out from your body and then hold a leg extended straight out, your foot will be farther out there than your hand.  Simple anatomy. 

Striding, extending the ball -
Punting looks awkward.  Anatomically impractical.  Extend arms straight out with ball in hands. Three steps forward.  Drop the ball.  Swing kicking foot up to meet the falling ball - there!  If arms are shorter how do they extend the hand far enough out to drop the ball where the leg/foot can connect with it? 

She's going to kick with right foot.  Doesn't it look like
the ball will more likely meet her right knee?

I don't know.  I used to punt the ball in practice, never in a game.  And somehow managed to get foot to ball.  But looking back, I don't know how.  It is inertia?  You're walking forward.  When you drop the ball it keeps moving forward while you're planting your left foot and that little inertia is just enough?

I don't know. 

But somehow punters manage. 

Clearly possible.  This is from a different time but I included
it because, in spite of my suggesting punting is awkward,
there is nothing awkward in this performance.  How does she do it?

I don't have many game shots of punters punting.  One of my favorite Outlaws is Melissa Griffith Griff - #6.  She's a defensive back and kicker.  I've admired her for her work ethic, for her resolve to master all aspects of the game including the lonely tedious exercise of kicking.  In this three-photo sequence, she seems to handle the anatomical challenge by leaning back just a little.  Looks a little awkward to me but she got the kick away and it sails a long way -

Griff with the ball from center, starting her motion forward.
See how she's extending it so it will be far enough out to meet
her foot?

Left footed!  She seems to be leaning back just a bit so her foot
meets the ball before it reaches the ground.

Sorry I don't have the ball in the photo.  I considered doctoring
this picture in Photoshop but that wouldn't be honest.
I can say she's made solid contact and the ball is accomplishing
the objective of getting out from the shadow of her goal posts.

Number 87 is Rowland (don't know her first name) a tall punter who also plays end - in a separate posting I'll show a wonderful sequence of her making a catch and hanging on to the ball in spite of three Dallas tacklers swarming all over her.  But this post is about punting.  She too manages to kick the ball in spite of the arm/leg length ratio conundrum. 

This is Rowland, #87, beginning her punting motion. 

She's dropped the ball, bringing her right foot forward to
make the kick.  Notice she's close to her end zone
so needs to make solid contact.

Once again, contact made, ball sails far and rescues the
Outlaws field position.

Punters have the same problem as quarterbacks and place kickers: time.  From when they receive the snap from center until they have to launch the ball is about three seconds.  At least that's the theory.  I don't have many photos to support that idea but I do have a couple that belie it.  These were taken from the end zone a few years ago.  Griff has the ball and apparently has all day to kick it.  Sometimes the line does a really great job and, as a former line player, I always want to post pics of the line doing good.

Sometimes the punter has to first solve the problem of catching the snap from the center.  Griff is
handling a less that perfect snap.  Someday I'd like to do a series on centers - they have an
amazingly difficult job.  Trouble is I don't have many good photos of centers. 
In this photo I really want you to notice the great blocking.

Griff striding into her kick.  She has all day to make the kick thanks to good blocking.  To add some drama
to my blog, I'm not going to post the actual kick, the actual foot-meets-ball instant.  I'll leave you with this
photo of anticipation, of will she kick it away or won't she?  I'm doing that for dramatic impact, for theater,
to make my blog a little more exciting.  And because I somehow didn't get that shot.  Someday maybe
we'll do more about photographing sports and getting the most important element of the action.

Ordinarily the punter is facing a charging defense and has to get the quick off fast.  Punters want to sail the ball high, to clear the heads of the line in front of her.  And high to give "hang time" - while the ball is in the air the kicking team is racing down field trying to get to the kick returner at the same time as the ball.  The longer the ball is hanging out up in the sky, the more time the tacklers have to get to the the returner.

In an earlier post I asked why we call it "foot"ball when there is so little foot-to-ball action.  Well, when kicking is involved, it is important.  Kicking off to pin the opponent deep in their own territory, kicking field goals or PATs for points, punting to win the field-position battle. 

Kickers have a lonely job.  Kickers have an important job.  Let's hear it for Outlaws kickers. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Place Kicking

A couple Outlaw kickers brought a large measuring tape to help practice place kicking.  This was at the old junior high school off of William Cannon.  The practice field was spartan - it had a goal post but the chalk yard line markers were gone.  The kickers used the tape to estimate where to place the ball for a typical field goal attempt.  They were incredulous at just how far and how high the ball would have to carry to split the uprights and score points. 

Something as simple as a PAT (point after touchdown) kick has to sail over twenty yards and clear the crossbar, ten feet above the ground.  The PAT is just a chip-shot among place kicks.  The ball is placed on the two yard line, the kick from around the fifteen yard line.  Field goals are much longer.  In the NFL field goals are routine at forty yards, and have been made at over fifty.  The record is 63 yards set originally by Tom Dempsey (against my Lions - I'll never forget that game) and later matched by two others (Jason Elam and Sebastion Janikowski). 

Field goal practice - Monica is the holder.  She has received the ball
from the center and is placing it on it's point for the kicker.
In my October 17 posting, "Why do we call it football" I discussed the difficulty of kicking the ball any distance at all.  I praised kickers for their tenacity in practicing kickoffs, often alone at the edge of the field, using a kicking tee and net, getting a running start of ten yards or more.  Practicing field goals is a whole different proposition.

Photographing  field goal practice gave me one of my favorite funny pictures. 

Field goals require a teammate to hold the ball for the kick.  The center snaps the ball to the holder who places it vertically on the ground for the kicker.  In my funny sequence, holder Monica has the ball in what appears to be an acceptable position.  Kicker - I don't know who was the kicker in this sequence - looks like she's zeroed in on the target. 

She missed it!  Note I'm trying to expand my mastery
of Photoshop by drawing arrows.  Not a very good
arrow, I admit, but give me time.  I'm an old dog
learning new tricks.  I'll get better.  The arrow points
to the ball still in the holders custody.
The next, the funny picture, has the kicker in her after-kick finish, form perfect,  proper follow through actually lifting her plant foot off the ground.  Just one problem.  She has missed the ball.

Whenever I view this photo I wonder if it was an intentional "dry run," or if it really was a miss.  If you see Monica, ask her about it for me.  She may remember. 

Field goal kicking has a dimension that adds to the difficulty of launching the ball high and far.  In field goal kicking you're dealing with a defensive line charge.  In another prior posting, "Quick," dated October 17, I commented on how fast things have to happen in the backfield - about three seconds.  In a field goal, the holder and kicker have about three seconds - holder to catch and place the ball, kicker to take three steps and nail it.  It is difficult enough to launch a ball with authority under any circumstance -but to do it that quickly?  No wonder sometimes the field goals miss the target, or the kickers don't make the kick at all.

When I first started visiting Outlaw games I noticed that often we'd run the ball in obvious kicking situations.  Fourth and eight at the 45 yard line.  Why not kick it?  Then I realized that it was difficult to find and recruit players with the requisite skills to kick the ball.  Often the run was chosen because of a lack of trust in the kicker.

More recently Amber Lyons has joined the team.  She can kick!   

Following are a couple kicking sequence photo sets.  The first... well, check 'em out:

Dallas #4 and #13 are closing in.  Amber's three seconds are
about up.  Looks like her foot is just making contact
with the ball.  Can she get it off in time? 

Nope.  Another chance to use my newly acquired Photoshop skills -
See the arrow pointing to where the ball landed - a blocked
field goal attempt.  

Kicking field goals is hard.  Sometimes the defense breaks through and makes the block.  But Amber doesn't get blocked all that often.  Check out the sequence below.

Monica has received the snap, placed the ball with point down, laces forward, just like in the NFL.  Amber
started toward the ball even before Monica had it set.  She has to be quick.  Note good blocking by the
Outlaw's line.

Soccer style kick.  Kind of sideways.  See right foot just in front of left leg and ball just leaving,
sailing up over the line.   When I first started watching football a hundred years ago, the kickers came straight at the ball.  Now they come at an angle.  Learning a lesson from soccer players who have a lot more kicking experience.

And it sails through the uprights just the way she planned.

I've never talked with Amber but have lots of photos of her kicking and making tackles on defense.  One of these days I need to resurrect my player profiles.  Maybe an interview with Amber will help us understand what it takes to master the art of kicking a football.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Do We Call it Football? - Kicking, Part 1

The Kickoff
I Googled "How Many Kicks in a Football Game?"  No one answered me.  So I'll make up my own answer:

Not Many.

There are four situations in a football game where the foot connects with the ball:  kickoffs, field goals, PATs (points-after-touchdown), and punts.  In a typical game, there are not many kicks.  

Unlike soccer. 

In soccer kicking is the game.   I Googled "How Many Kicks in a Soccer Game?" and didn't get an answer.  So I'll make up my own answer:  A lot.

We could spend this blog considering why football is football and soccer isn't.  Instead, let's talk about kicking a football.  I'm going to do this in three posts, one for kickoffs, one for punting, and one for place kicking (field goals and PATs). 

This year the NFL moved the kickoff from the 30 to 35 yard line.  The thinking was that kickoff returns invite injury.  By moving the kickoff five yards closer to the opposite end zone, more kickoffs will result in touch backs - that is, more kickoffs will reach and even go through the opposite end zone and so kickoff receivers will elect to just down the ball in the end zone and have it put in play at the twenty yard line.  This will result in fewer kickoffs will being returned, fewer times the kickoff receiver will risk running the ball up field and attempting to get it further than the twenty.  And fewer returns means fewer injuries from open field tackles.

For our discussion here the significance of this rule is how far NFL kickers kick the ball.  When the ball is placed at the kicker's 35 yard line, the opposing end zone is 65 yards away.  The end zone is 10 yards deep so a kick that goes through the end zone travels 75 yards!

If you're feeling pretty good about yourself, if you're pretty self-satisfied and you need a little humiliation, go to the football field and kick the ball.  Set it on a tee and take as much of a running start as you want.  And you'll be shocked at how feeble your effort will be.  It will feel like kicking a sandbag.  I've confessed to not being an athlete, a reality I discovered by competing in many sports.  I know from personal experience how difficult it is to kick a football for any distance at all.  65 yards?!  How about 35? 

How do you get so you can kick a football far?  Practice.  Practice.  Practice. 

At Outlaws team practices, I normally shoot the scrimmage or pass receiving drills or blocking drills.  Once in awhile, I look over at the loneliest Outlaw, the kicker, off by herself, kicking, kicking, kicking. 

There is something wrong with picture.  Do you see it?

Now you see it don't you!  It looks like a good kick but 
she's using the wrong foot!  Kickers aren't left footed. 
(Hope you're impressed that I got the ball in the photo.)

Kicking with the right, right foot.  I'm certain it will go farther.

Can't tell from this photo but that ball is going places.  Not
65 yards.  More like 35 yards - which is farther than I could kick it

The photos above were early in the Outlaws history.  Kickers
would have to run to retrieve the balls.  Secretly they may have
tried not to kick too far to reduce chasing time and distance.
More recently the kicker is provided a fancy net.  Kick into the net and
you don't have to chase the ball 35 yards down the field. 

I couldn't resist attempting photos through the net.  Not as cool as I had hoped but still an interesting
perspective on the kicker kicking.

Watching kickers practice inspires my respect in these remarkable women.  I've rarely seen a coach working with the kicker.  Having a separate kicking coach is a luxury not available to many women's professional teams.  There aren't may kicks in a game so the coaching is focused on where most of the action is.  So kickers don't get much coaching.

Kickers motivate themselves, coach themselves, practice by themselves.  It is hard work kicking, retrieving, teeing up, kicking again.  Time after time after time. 

When you watch the opening kickoff or kickoff after a score, cheer for the kicker.  She worked hard to master a really difficult skill.  Looks easy on television or at an NFL game.  It isn't.

Random Fan Photo

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bridgette Brown - Part 2

A couple years ago I met Bridgette Brown at Starbucks for an interview in anticipation of doing a featured player article about her for the Outlaws website.  Lots of things changed after the interview so the profile never got written, much less published.   She impressed me by her unassuming quiet manner.  Even at the young age of twenty-five she had experienced more than her fair share of difficult times in her life.  Her dealing with personal challenges reveal an internal strength and character that won both my admiration and respect.

Her mild manner in the coffee shop belied her ferocity on the football field.  I had first noticed her when I saw opponent runners suddenly stopped and dropped when they had the misfortune of encountering Bridgette. 

This is becoming a photo blog.  I want to write a profile on Bridgette but a whole lot of her story comes through in photographs.  I posted some shots Friday.  Today some more.

If you have the football, chances are you'll be meeting Bridgette.
She ranges all over the field, making open field tackles...

It takes something special for a large (210 pound) tackler like
Bridgette to run down and grab a smaller, presumably quicker
ball carrier.  But she does it over and over and over.

And when she catches the runner, the runner is going to go down.

If Bridgette gets to the runner first, she probably won't need help.

But if it a gang tackle, she's more than willing to be in the center
of things, sometimes sacrificing herself by pulling the runner
down on top of her.

Blocker in the way?  No problem.  Just run over her.

And another runner hits the earth.

In still photos it is difficult to portray just how much strength
is being employed in making tackles on the field...  But let's
try.  This photo is the first of two.  Check out the second...

Bridgette's tackle lifts the runner off the ground (before putting her on the ground). 
Note both of the runner's feet are in the air.

This is a different runner, a different tackle.  Notice again, even more clearly, the runner is airborne -
briefly.  She's about to collide with the ground.  Once Bridgette gets hold of  you, you are going down.

Is this the quiet shy young woman I interviewed in Starbucks that day?

So quiet in the coffee shop, so fierce on the football field.  Such a devastating tackler.  In the earlier posting about Bridgette, the final photo is her helping another runner go airborne before going down.  Bridgette is powerful.  Bridgette works hard, covering the entire field, the open areas and the trenches. 

If I started a football team Bridgette would be in my starting lineup.