Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ugly; Nice

A chess board.  Two players sit at opposite sides each with sixteen pieces, each taking one move at a time, everything out in the open for anyone to see.  Gradually, like magic, one player gains control.  I'm a pretty good chess player. Not master's level;  I don't see the entire game the way real experts do.  I win the game by winning on single moves.  Each move I make is just a little better than my opponent's move.  The accumulation of many little wins eventually gives me total control. 

Every play in a football game starts with two teams of eleven players each, lined up face to face, ostensibly equal.  Each play is eleven different contests.  Eleven offensive players trying to control eleven defensive players.  Eleven defenders determined to escape the blocks and get to the ball carrier. 

In football it all happens quickly.  They start lined up eleven versus eleven, then two or three seconds later... 

... one ball carrier is surrounded by three defenders.   

So how does that happen? 

With my 300mm lens and my Nikon camera recording the action at 2.5 frames per second, my fancy photo-editing software allowing me to zoom in and analyze things, I often see what happened. 

In the photo above, how did Cookie get into that predicament?   Well let's take a look.

The play started innocently enough.  I count three Outlaw blockers on the left side of the line and three defenders.  But there's another defender we can't see in this frame.

She is coming from the left and the Outlaw's left tackle is moving to meet her, as you seen in the photo below.  The trouble is, that leaves three attackers to be handled by the remaining two Austin blockers (you can see the number 5, our left guard, and the white towel tucked into the togs of our center).  Three tacklers, two blockers.  Not good.

In this photo, our left tackle is engaging the Mustang's defensive end, #58.  The left guard is hidden from view but is engaging one of the other three tacklers.  That leaves our center, #62, to take on the two remaining attackers.

The center has a difficult job.  She has to snap the ball to the Quarterback so she isn't able to establish a strong three-point stance.  Then, if her blocking assignment is not directly in front of her, she has to move laterally to get in front of a would-be tackler.  You can see in the above shot the defender has an advantage; our center will have a difficult time getting in front of her for an effective block.

Things get really ugly really fast.

The center doesn't get the block and the left tackle loses control of her opponent.  Suddenly two defenders, #58 and one other are converging on the quarterback.  A third defender is getting loose from blockers on the right.  The next photo in the sequence is the one I put at the top of this post where Cookie is fighting off three defenders.   

The end has #58 closing the deal, giving Cookie a big unfriendly hug.  One way things turn against the offense is the defense having more attackers than we have blockers.  It is  complicated when the blockers can't get a good line on the tackler or can't hold the block long enough (this sequence took only 2 seconds).

Let's take a look at another little sequence.  This time Outlaws win the play.  I like this one because it shows tenacity.  Football is messy.  You rarely get a clean shot on your opponent.  You have to fight off blockers,  climb over bodies.  

This sequence has the Outlaws on defense. 

There is an Outlaw on the ground.  She was slammed by a huge blocker.  I don't have a good shot of that block but it was effective.  So we have the runner at the left and the Outlaw's #1, Fuller, fighting off a block.  If the runner can cut to her left, keeping the blocker between herself and Fuller, she could make a good gain.

But Fuller is quick and slick.  She discards the blocker and grabs the runner.  A couple things to note.  Fuller has been fighting the blocker so she is a little off balance when she reaches the runner.  Second, another potential Outlaws tackler is being held.  Isn't that illegal?  It is if the official sees it. 

I hope you can make out what is happening here.  Because Fuller couldn't get a good solid hit, she is just hanging on to the runner.  She is on the ground hanging on to a leg or two.  Coming to assist is Tiffany James, wearing the red-sleeved shirt.  So Fuller is slowing the runner down, James is coming in to complete the tackle.

If you look closely you'll see a red glove reaching over the runner's back, grasping her right arm.  That glove belongs to Tiffany.  You can also see her left arm (red sleeve) reaching the ground with the runner's left arm.  You can also just make out Fuller's right arm still hanging on.  All that remains is the runner hitting the turf.

I've included the final picture even though it is superfluous, because I want to point out for all to see that Crash (Tiffany Jame's nickname) has learned to land on top.  In many of my earlier Tiffany photos, she is pulling the runner down on top of her, which is part of how she earned her nickname, Crash. 

Slowly in chess, quickly in football, the game turns on individual contests.  A tackler escapes a block and the defense wins the down.  A blocker holds and the offense wins the down. 

In earlier posts I featured blocking.  It is important.  And difficult.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

I haven't been posting over this Memorial Day weekend because most Outlaw fans are busy with other things than my little blog.

Being retired, I get to spend lots of time doing whatever is most interesting.  I'm a news junkie, watching cable news shows and listening to talk radio for hours every day.  I've become a libertarian in my political views - if you're an adult and what you want to do doesn't harm me or my family, then it is none of my business.

I'm alarmed at the way government is eroding our liberty, expanding control over our lives.  At best, it is annoying and inconvenient.  At worst... worst it costs lives. 

We send young volunteers to far away places where their lives are at risk.  We, or our elected leaders, establish rules of engagement, making certain our soldiers, the good guys, play fair even if the enemies don't.  Career politicians in fancy offices with great security send our military into hostile territory.  And many return maimed.  Or don't return at all.

It isn't just on Memorial Day that I think about this.  But moreso today. 

Life is precious.  Sometimes a cause is big enough that prevailing is more important that life itself.  I think of Pearl Harbor.  I think of 9-11.  Events where a vigorous response was warranted, where the cause  great enough to justify putting lives at risk.

Which events are that important?  I wonder about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq - are they worth the price?  Iran - are we doing enough?  I don't know. 

Some families are losing sons, daughters, fathers, mothers... because of decisions made inside the beltway, where the motives are suspect, where getting reelected is more important than soundness of policy.  Decisions about which causes are worth putting young lives at risk.

On Memorial Day I'm reminded of just how ugly it all is. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Favorite Photos - From Mustang Game

Sometimes through no fault of my own I get good photos.  At a typical Outlaws game I'll shoot 700 images.  When I view them on my computer I'll delete the really bad shots.  Then I'll use Photoshop Elements, my photography editing software, and examine the remaining photos.  Most will be "ok."  Not great, not terrible.  Adequate. 

Then there will be a few that I really like.  That make me think maybe I do have the makings of a photographer somewhere inside of me. 

Sotonye Dikibo, out of action
today so I got this candid
portrait.  I just like this photo.
Today I'll post a few of my favorite photos from the Mustangs game last Saturday.  I'll tell you why I like certain photos.  See if you like them, too.

This shot of Sotonye Dikibo for example.  In my initial scanning, this grabbed me.  Maybe the reds - red shirt, red tones in her hair, red track.  Maybe the depth of field - you can see Outlaw Annie in the background but out of focus.  Maybe just the expression on Sotonye's face, the position of her hands.  Maybe just the contrast from all my action photos.  And maybe it is seeing her so calm and peaceful when I know on the field she is one of the best, most aggressive tacklers on the team.  I don't know exactly why but I love this shot. 

The next one that caught my interest is a one-on-one of QT Preston blocking.  I think QT is nearly 6 feet tall but she appears smaller than her Mustang opponent.  I like this shot because of the eyes of the Mustang player and the slight backward slant.  Clearly QT is winning this contest. 

QT Preston battling a would-be tackler.  The Mustang is
bigger but QT is winning.

Lucinda Benitez fighting a blocker, while the runner
adjusts her route.  CPR doesn't make the tackle but
does make the tackle possible by forcing the play
inside where the rest of the defense is waiting.
The next shot is Lucinda "CPR" Benitez fighting off a Mustang blocker.  CPR is one of my favorite players because she's always in the area of the ball.  She isn't very big but she has a lot of talent and a lot of fight.  I think #22 has the ball and she is definitely having to change her route toward the center.  Where the rest of the defensive players are.  Benitez isn't going to make the tackle but she is forcing the play to the inside where a lot of other Outlaws will be able to stop the runner.

I like the clarity, the eyes of the players, and the
suspense - will the tackler catch the runner?
I like this next photo because of pretty good clarity.  Technically it is almost perfect.  I like the depth of field, runner with ball and tackler in close pursuit right behind.  I like being able to see the eyes of the players, the focus.  The only thing I don't like is the Mustang is gaining yards.  I'm an Outlaws fan and I prefer photos where the Outlaw is winning.
The next three are photos where the Outlaws are winning.  They feature one of my favorite players, Tiffany "Crash" James.  Making tackles.  You need to understand that football is a whole lot more difficult than it appears when you're watching on TV.  These photos help you "see" just how hard it is to stop a strong runner. 

Tiffany tenaciously grabbing the runner and dragging
her down - on top of Tiffany.  Ouch.
Tiffany got her nickname, "crash," from her giving herself up for the good of the team, the way crash test dummies sacrifice themselves for science.  One habit Tiffany had, one she hasn't completely unlearned, was grabbing the runner and pulling her down, on top of Tiffany.  It is much better to be the one landing on top.  But often you just can't get a clean shot at an opponent so you grab hold and drag her down.  Even if she does land on top of you.  (Ouch.)

The next two photos are really just one.  The first is a wide view of Tiffany grabbing the runner and holding on until teammates can arrive to complete the tackle.  The second is a closer view, cropping to let you see just how tenacious my friend Tiffany is. 

Tiffany "Crash" James grabbing the runner by the foot and holding on.

If you can't get a clean tackle, grab on to the runner any way you can and hang on until help arrives.  Runners aren't going to gain much ground dragging a 140 pound tackler.  In the past I've posted a few other shots of tacklers grabbing a runner's foot.  I think of this as blue-collar football. 

Annie the Outlaw.  The gun isn't real. 
One more favorite photo from the Mustangs game.  This is Alex... er, Annie Outlaw, the team mascot, hamming it up for Dennis the wannabe photographer.  Shooting a gun, shooting a picture, you need to aim, keep a steady hand, and fire.  And sometimes, as in the pictures in this post, you even hit the target.

I have more favorite photos I'll publish in future posts.  And if it doesn't bore you, I'll do a post of un-favorites.  You've heard the expression, even a blind hog finds an occasional acorn?  Well, the same concept applies here, even an amateur photographer gets an occasional good picture.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Toni Fuller, #1

I'm intrigued by jersey numbers.  Kurt Warner, quarterback for the Cardinals and Rams, wore #13.  He's a Christian and I suspect selected that number to express confidence that God is stronger than luck.  As proof of the point he played in two Superbowl's. 

Jim Otto wore "00".  He played center for the Raiders from 1960-71 and played in six AFL title games and one Superbowl. 

Writer George Plimpton wore #0 when he did his book, Paper Lion.  Plimpton was more intellectual than athlete.  He wrote several books where he, as a layman, tried out professional sports.  I've read most of his books - Bogey Man, about golf, Open Net, about hockey, Shadow Box, about boxing.  He never played in real Lions game, but did run a few plays in a pre-season game.  Still, he probably doesn't belong in this discussion of jersey numbers.

In fact, this isn't really about jersey numbers in general. I'll save that for another post. 

This post is about number one. 

What kind of player wears number one?  Number one seems to have a special meaning.  If you're number one you're the best.  I Googled number one.  Warren Moon wore number one playing for the Oilers.  There were a few others but not as many as I expected. 

Toni Fuller, number one, carrying the ball.
For the Outlaws Toni Fuller wears number one.  This is her second year with the team.  Last year she wore number twenty-three because number one was taken. 

I noticed Toni's number because I kept seeing it in my photos from Saturday's game against the Mustangs.   I saw her on offense.  I saw her on defense.  She's listed on the roster as defensive back and running back. 

I have a few photos of her carrying the ball but I'm not sure whether these were from the line of scrimmage or kick returns. 

When you have the ball you attract hostile attention.

This is first of three photos where number one
has the ball...

...encounters some opposition...

...and goes to the turf stretching for another yard.

Her defensive play impressed me more.  She is tied for the Outlaws lead in number of tackles with twenty-six.  Now to be honest, that's not really good.  It is good to have lots of tackles but I'd rather not have the defensive backfield leading the team in tackles.  Better the line and linebackers - stop the opponent before she gets into your defensive backfield. 

But Toni's performance is impressive. 

A key to effective tackling is to hit the runner low. 
Grab the legs and hang on.  It is difficult to run the
ball when someone is hanging on to your legs.

A flying tackle. 

First of three photos.  I wonder if you see this as I do.  I'm posting large because I want
you to see the expression on the runner's face, the concern in her eyes.

Open field tackling is difficult.  Try it sometime.  Toni
doesn't get a clean hit but she does get a hold on the

And brings her to the turf, hanging on to a foot just to be sure.

Possibly the biggest defensive play wasn't a tackle.  Some of our opponents have improved their passing game.  Long complete passes can do lots of damage - as witness the game against the Diamonds.  The Mustangs have a decent passing game, too.  One of Toni's big plays Saturday was batting down a pass.  It was on target and the receiver had a clear path to the end zone.  But Toni had a better idea and leaped high to knock the ball down.

Are you interested in sports photography?  Someday I'll do a post just about managing the
camera to get sharp photos.  Of which this is not an example.  My eyes water when I look
as this photo for very long.  I think my camera is focused on #29.  Or maybe on the
official to the left.  Certainly not on Toni.  The camera has auto focus which is far
better than my own manual focusing.  But sometimes the camera doesn't know where
I want the focus to be. 
Enough on the photography.  Toni saves a score by leaping high and deflecting the
pass away from the receiver.  Great play.  Pass defense is difficult, too.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Nice People - Former Outlaws

Last Saturday was alumnae day at the Outlaws game.  A couple of my favorite alums were there, Laura Eddy and Mary Nguyen.  I had profiled both of them for the Outlaws website.  At that time Laura was the biggest Outlaw and Mary the smallest so I made certain to include photos of the two of them together.  They were good sports and did  some silly poses for me. 

At my request Mary and Laura agreed to clown around a little
to emphasize the biggest/smallest player theme.

Laura Eddy and Mary Nguyen
Both are high on my list of nice people.  They sat together at the game and I managed to get a photo of them I really like.  What is remarkable is Laura's weight loss.  Since leaving the Outlaws she has been doing things I need to do - watching her diet and working out - and she is substantially smaller than when she played.  And she's really looking good.

Another former Outlaw and one of my favorite people is KJ Scheib.  There's a profile of her somewhere in this blog - check the profile label to find it.  KJ was the first Outlaw I profiled on the website.  She was a student of the game and worked harder than just about anyone at building strength and learning the skills.  She has a masters degree and made our interview interesting with profound insights into football and life. 

At the game she was seated with a couple other folks - one is a long time Outlaws fan who has shown up in this blog several times.  I don't know the other.  But I love the candid photo.  KJ's expression tells me she has just used her I-Phone to prove a point.  Reminds me of our interview...

KJ Scheib in the center. 

Lorin Smith
Lorin Smith was at the game. She's one of the original Outlaws. I've profiled her in this blog. Just check the "Labels" section to read her story. It appears she was put to work for the team. Not sure why extra chairs were needed

Another former Outlaw came not to spectate but to participate.  You maybe didn't even recognize her.  Alex Allen is the new Annie Outlaw.  I love her enthusiasm and energy and I'm posting several photos of her in costume. 

Alex Allen as Annie the Outlaw

Annie/Alex heading out on the field for the half-time Pinata party.

Handing out bags so the youngsters will have a way to carry away
the goodies that fall from the pinata.  I didn't stay to photograph
the pinata demise.  Sorry.

A part of Annie's responsibility is to engage the younger members of the Outlaws audience.  At half time she hosts a pinata party.  In a future post we'll feature more kid photos.

Outlaw players and fans are some of the nicest people I know. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Marisa and Rubi, a Tale of two Quarterbacks

Marisa "Cookie" Rivas
A recent posting to this blog profiled Marisa "Cookie" Rivas.  It was one of the most visited blog posts because  you like Marisa you like profiles.  

Let me know if I should do whatever it takes to profile more players and if so whom would you like me to feature.  Especially players who live near me in the Round Rock ares so it should be easy to schedule interviews.

Profiles give me one way to gain enormous respect for individuals who step outside of social norms, for women who play football.  Another way I gain respect is just watching them play. 

Rubi "Rae" Reyna
In a recent post I noticed stats that showed Rubi "Rae" Reyna is effective at quarterback and had some statistics to prove it.  Rubi has intrigued me because she strikes me as quiet, almost shy?, and petite.  She doesn't look like a football player.  Or she didn't until I started paying attention.  I have photos of her throwing the ball with authority.  I have photos of her running a pass route and receiving the ball. 

At Saturday's game with the Dallas Diamonds, I made a point of watching Rubi and Cookie.  And I came away impressed.  These are two quality athletes. 

TIn a separate post I'll talk a little about how difficult it is to get your offense in gear.   Offense requires coordination, timing, blocking, controlling opponents.  With a largley rookie team, offense is going to take time to develop. 

When the offense isn't scoring there are lots of reasons.  You try lots of things to see if you can fix it.  One thibng to try is switching quarterbacks.  Especially if you have the luxury of two good quarterbacks.  Especially if the one not playing quarterback can contribute at some other position.

In Saturday's game, Cookie got the nod and worked at quarterback.  Rae lined up in the backfield as running back.  How did that work?  Well, that's the point of this post.

Quarterback Cookie to quarterback Rae. 

First I was impressed by Rubi's play. She may seem to me physically petite but she plays big. As running back she took some abuse - that Dallas team was something else!  But she just kept on playing.

Having the football in your arm attracts attention.  Not
the kind of attention you want.  Rubi made a run for it
but it is hard to go fast with #47 hanging on to you.

This is the end of the above run.   Running backs take a lot of abuse in football games.
I was impressed at the way Rubi kept on jumping up and taking the game to the Diamonds.

I have a few shots like this one, Rubi making
certain the defense doesn't get to the punter.
She is close to a hold here but she has already
contained the defender long enough that the
kick is about in the air.
Rubi didn't back down, not once.  I was especially impressed by her punt blocking.  She lined up in the backfield to the punter's right and she wasn't about to let a defender get through.

She played some defense, too, and didn't hesitate to take on a much larger blocker.  Sometimes you aren't going to make the tackle but you can help your team by taking out the blocker.  I admired her grit when she threw herself into the blocker when it was obvious she couldn't get to the ball carrier. 

Rae takes on a much larger blocker.  Another Outlaw
tackler is coming up behind her.  If she can occupy the
blocker, her teammate may be able to make the tackle.

Meanwhile, Cookie was doing a pretty good job at Quarterback.  Against a really tough opponent.  Sometimes handing off is a whole lot better than keeping the ball.  And better to be hander than handee.  In spite of the best efforts of the line, sometimes tacklers get through. 

Handing off to  #34 Adriene Futrell.  Futrell had a pretty
good game.  But on this play?  Not so much.

Marisa passes left handed.  The key is to get rid of the ball quickly.  And appreciate  your blockers.  I've never fully understood how quarterbacks are able to find receivers when there is a wall of large lineladies in the way.

Cookie in the pocket looking for a receiver. 

Throwing the ball usually ends the quarterback's work on the play.  But sometimes a tackler
catches up just as you let the ball go.  That is a solid hit on Cookie. 
Lifted her right up off the ground. 

Cookie suffered a shoulder injury late in the game.  It wasn't on the play pictured here. 

Both Cookie and Rae are good athletes.  Both play hard with skill. 

The Outlaws' season is off to a rough start but don't worry.  This is a team of mostly rookies.  It takes time to get all the elements together.  With athletes like these two quarterbacks, the Outlaws will come together.  They will win some games. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nice People

It was alumnae day.  I don't know everyone's name in
this photo so I won't list the ones I do know.  I will just
observe these are nice people. 
There are lots of really nice people associated with the Outlaws.  Players, fans, volunteers.  Even opponents.   

This post is inspired by something the Dallas Diamonds did at the end of the game Saturday.  It showed  they're not only talented, they're really nice people.  I'll report on that at the bottom of this post. 

This got me thinking about the nice people I've met since I've been shooting Outlaws with my camera.   I'm not certain exactly how but I'm going to introduce a "Nice People" theme with this blog featuring photos of some of the nice folks who are part of the Outlaws story.   At first I thought I would devote one post to the topic but I quickly realized I have far too many nice-people photos for just one post.  So I'm going to make this a theme, kind of like the "Random Fan Photo" thing I did in the early months of the blog. 

Today's posting is just a beginning.  Today I'm posting a few shots of fans,  volunteers, and former players.  And of course opponents, the Dallas Diamonds who so impressed me at the conclusion of Saturday's game. 

I'll start with few fan photos.  Sadly I don't know names.  If you'd like to give me names I can always edit them into the blog posting.  But these are photos of people who just strike me as nice folks.

Showing her Outlaws shirt is a fan who used to be part of the
tie-dye club, a group who wore tie-dye shirts at every game in support
of KJ Scheib.  KJ is here, I just somehow managed to leave
her out of the photo.  I'll make up for it one of these days.
I don't know the names but the wife and husband have been
to just about every Outlaw game.  Someday maybe I'll get
and interview and tell you more about them.

I don't know names, never met him or his daughter.
But I love family shots like this.  I think daughter and
dad photos fit my nice-people category.

They don't know me but quickly respond when I point my
camera their way.  I get a good feeling when people respond
with a smile when I, a stranger, aim my camera at them.
Nice people. 

That's a Nikon camera she has in her hand.  When she saw me ready to take her picture
she decided turn-about is fair play and we each got a picture of someone taking
our picture.  Only my picture of her gets published in a blog.
Of course I use a Nikon camera, too.  We Nikon people are all very nice.

This is MaryLou Spence.  One day I'll
do a posting just featuring her.  I
take photos at some Outlaws games.
MaryLou takes photos at all the games.
And at fund raisers and other events.

As I'm picking photos to publish I'm thinking I should do a featured fan series, or maybe featured nice-person series.  MaryLou Spence, for example, is the team photographer.  She attends every game, including the road games, and publishes hundreds of Outlaws photos.  She has been doing some interesting things in her spare time - seems to me she took part in a bicycle marathon?  I'll have to interview her and give you her story.

Now for the  classy thing the Dallas Diamonds did, that inspired the "Nice People" theme for this post.  At the end of every game it is a tradition for the teams shake hands.  Each team forms a line that files past the other team line in single file.  Players shake hands and offer some friendly comment as the pass opponents. 

It is a cool display of sportsmanship. 

Saturday one of the Outlaws, #31 Stephanie Marshall, was sidelined with a leg injury.  She watched the game from the bench with her leg elevated (on a trash can!).  The Dallas team, seeing Marshall's situation, kept their greeting line going.  All the way  to the sideline where Stephanie was sitting.  They came and gave her the same friendly greeting they had just extended to the Outlaws on the field.  

The Dallas Diamonds extending the post-game greeting line to include injured Outlaw
Stephanie Marshall, sidelined with damage to her leg.

The Diamonds even extended the greeting to include a young Outlaw fan.  The little girl
with the striped shirt sitting next to Marshall - I'm going to have to find out her name. 

I don't recall ever seeing anything quite like this.  I decided the Dallas team is not only extremely talented, they're good people, too. 

But I still want to whip 'em when we travel to Dallas June 9.