Monday, August 27, 2012

Zebras - part 1 1/2

Blogger's note:  Every day about twenty-five of you visit the blog.  I hope you visit because you've enjoyed past posts and hope to find some new entertaining or informative stuff.  I feel I've let you down if there is nothing new for you to enjoy.  I love doing this blog.  My aim has been to post at least twice each week and normally thrice.  But other things in life have been getting in the way.  My current pace is one post per week, normally on Monday or Tuesday.  I'm planning to stick with one serious or silly post early in the week.  And later in the week a picture post, a fun photo or two from hundreds in my files.  You may have noticed I've been announcing blog projects.  Today was supposed to be about Calvin, one of my favorite officials.  And next the Capers-Cristobal sisters.  I'm going to stop doing that.  Those posts require visiting with Calvin and Malia and Maile and I just haven't had the time.  So today's post is a fun continuation of last Tuesday - fun photos and some comments about the zebras.  

Best seat in the house?  I read a book by a baseball umpire titled "Best Seat in the House But You Have to Stand Up."  I don't think football officials have that same best-seat fringe benefit.  Football officials have to run all over the place to see what is happening. 

Actually, two camera guys, plus me, seem to have a better
view of this play than the official.  He has had to run to
keep up while we were already in position.  For you
who are interested in sports photography, I have often
tried to get a different angle on things, different from
other photographers.  In this case I was in the end
zone, which gave me a cool angle for the shot.

Unlike baseball umpires, football officials have to run with
the action.  Often trying to keep up with fleet running backs
or receivers.  Aside:  Nice Socks!  (If you've been following
this blog for awhile, you'll recall some posts where I comment
on socks our players wear.)

Sometimes the players get in the way, blocking
the officials view of the action.
And sometimes it is difficult to see what is happening because there are so many players on the field.  Or the action is spread out so it is difficult to see everything.

The ball carrier is to the extreme left.  There's some action
in the middle of the photo.  There's an Outlaw coming up
behind the official.  How does he "see" everything?

Still they manage to do a great job.  I've been watching Outlaws games for several years and I have yet to hear complaints about the officiating.  They are professional in their approach to their job.

I like this photo because the official is on top of the action.
I also like it because the Outlaw tackler is driving for the
runner's legs.  That's the way it should be done.

I've noticed something else in the officiating.  They seem to have a genuine appreciation, respect, fondness(?) for the players.  In my previous post I quoted Calvin saying the referee's job is make certain the quarterback doesn't get killed.  The officials not only carry out their responsibilities of overseeing the play, they genuinely like the ladies who play this game with such energy and dedication. 

I don't know if you can see it.  Maybe I'm imagining
it.  But it looks to me like the official is feeling the pain
of the lone Outlaw surrounded by four Dallas Diamonds.

The referee's job is to protect the quarterback.  Cookie is in trouble.  When should he
blow the whistle?  He isn't allowed to step in and make a block.

I had to study this photo awhile before I realized what was happening.  Between plays the officials are bantering with the players.  The zebras are nice guys.  Who would have thought?

I have one more post coming about officials at Outlaws games.  Maybe next Monday.  Or who knows what my next post will be?  I don't.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


You’ve heard of  Brahms’ Lullaby but did you know it took Brahms twenty years to write it?  He kept falling to sleep at the keyboard.
Zebras keep getting between my camera
and the action.  Growl!
A couple years ago I noticed officials in my photos.  Often spoiling the picture.  I even did a post, “Kill him, kill the umpire,” complaining about the way the zebras  get between my camera and the action. 
I’ve been a football fan for over sixty years, been attending Outlaws games for eight years, and I’ve never paid attention to the officials.  In my next post I’ll tell you about Calvin Towns, a regular official at Outlaws games, and how he got me noticing officials in my pictures. It was a remarkable photo of him that inspired this post.
I never intentionally photographed an official but still have a lot of good shots.  Viewing them raised some questions.  Why do some have black hats, some white.  Why do some have letters on their backs?  How do they decide where to line up on the field?  (I should know this.  A sports photographer told us wannabes to be aware of where officials set and  position ourselves accordingly to keep the official out of our pictures.)

Outlaws games have five officials plus  a time keeper. 
Only one wears a white hat.  Wonder why?

Then I thought this might make a good blog post.  If I wonder about the zebras, maybe you do too.

A little research uncovered a lot of information.  TMI – too much information.  The Brahms effect set in.  I kept falling asleep at my computer.  Bored.  I didn’t want to know that much about the zebras.  If  this bored me it might bore you, too.  Blog posts shouldn’t be boring. 

Still, some of what I learned is interesting.  Some of the photos cool.  So how can I share the interesting stuff without boring you? 

Simple.  I should have thought of this right away.  I’m going to leave out the boring stuff.  These two posts aren’t going to tell you everything about football officials.  (If you want to know more, just Google “NFL Football Officials.”)  I’m just posting the fun stuff.  Enough information so you’ll be adequately informed.  Some of my favorite photos so you’ll be entertained. 

At Outlaws games there are five officials, plus a timekeeper.  They are:

Referee: Calvin said the referee’s main job is to make certain the “quarterback doesn’t get killed.”  He’s the one with the white hat. He lines up behind the quarterback.  He gets the glory announcing penalties and stuff on television.  Sometimes he has a big “R” on his back. 

The referee lines up behind the quarterback.  Part of his job is to protect the quarterback.
In this shot, Cookie looks like she needs some protection.  She has just thrown a pass
which is caught by her receiver.  Now she has to deal with some Dallas Diamonds.
Umpire:  Lines up five yards off the defensive side of the ball.  Sometimes wears the letter “U” on his shirt.  He’s the one who wipes the ball dry on a rainy day in the NFL.

I've posted this photo before.  It is a good shot of the umpire who lines up in the defensive
backfield.  It also shows (and this is why I like it) that it is impossible for the official
to see everything.  The umpire doesn't see the extra-curricular stuff going on at the right
where an Outlaw is explaining to a blocker that holding is illegal and holding this
Outlaw has severe consequences.

I like this photo because is shows both the referee and
umpire.  It also shows how much goes on when twenty-two
players are doing battle.  It takes several zebras to keep order.

I think he's the back judge because he lines up deep
in the defensive backfield and is in the best position to
cover a long scoring play.
Back Judge:  Lines up twenty yards deep in the defensive backfield. I'm not certain if I have a photo of the back judge but I suspect this is one.  If he lines up deep on the defensive side of the field, he is probably the one who is in the best position to determine when the offensive back crosses the goal line. 

Head Linesman and Line Judge:  These two line up on opposite sides of the field, along the sideline.  The head linesman keeps tabs on the chain crew.  I wonder if the head linesman gets paid more? 

I don't know if this official is the head linesman or just a plain old linesman.  I can tell
you that Outlaw Fuller does make the tackle. 

Line judge, or is he the head linesman, running along with
the play.  He needs to watch the runner's feet to see if
she steps out of bounds before crossing the goal line.
I don't think I'd want to be a line judge.  They seem to be the ones who have to run up and down the field with the play.  It is impressive to see them keep up with speedy runners.  I don't like running. 

I like this photo because of the official's concentration.  These men take their job seriously.

I just like this shot.  He is either a line judge or head
linesman.  He takes his job seriously.

The next post will be part two about the zebras.  In particular, we'll focus on Calvin Towns.  After that, I should be ready with a couple more player profiles, Maile and Malia Capers-Cristobal. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stuff, Coming Posts, Follow-up on August 6 post

Summertime blues.  Not even watching pre-season football.  Normally this time of the year is exciting after a long lack of football on TV.  Other sports just don't make it, do they? 

We do have a few projects going on for this blog.  I'm just a little slow getting them ready to post.  One project is a profile of Maile Capers-Cristobal.  To be followed soon after by a profile of Malia Capers-Cristobal.  I've done all the preliminary interviewing and drafting with Maile.  Just a few fine points to complete.  She's an iinteresting young lady. 

Not quite as far along with Malia but it shouldn't take long now.

Maile and Malia are sisters from Hawaii.  Their profiles are interesting in many ways.  In fact, after the individual profiles I'm planning a discussion of the Hawaiian culture. 

I'm also working on a one or two part series about the officials in Outlaws football games.  Funny, I've been a football fan for sixty years and never bothered to check out officiating.  When I do the post on the officials, I'll answer questions I know you've been asking.  Like how many officials are there?   Why do some wear white hats and other black? 

My aim is two posts per week.  I'm missing that this week - well, unless you want to be very generous counting.  My last post was the 8th.  Technically, this is within a week of that one but only by a few hours.  I will make it a mission to post at least once each week and I'll try to do two.

Not that I'm lacking topics.  Did you notice that, dull as preseason NFL can be, the Colts beat the Rams 38-3?  Beating the Rams isn't remarkable, everybody does it.  But the Colts no longer have Peyton Manning.  Rookie QB Andrew Luck completed 10 of 16 passes for 188 yards and scored on three of his four drives. 

And RG3 (Robert Griffin III), our Baylor Heisman winner,  looked good with the Redskins completing  4 of 6 for 77 yards and one score.

Another topic - how do some teams get soooo good?

In an earlier post (August 6) I wondered about how those playoff teams got so good.  If you watched the WFA (Women's Football Alliance) championship game, you saw some really good football in an exciting and competitive game.  I wondered in my post how some teams get so much better than others.  The top five scored over 45 points per game and allowed opponents 10.  The bottom 16 teams scored under 10 points per game. 

So how did the Diamonds, the San Diego Surge, the Chicago Force, the Boston Militia, and the Kansas City Tribe get so good?  I posed the question in my posting and solicited reader input. 

One reader, Kara commented:
San Diego got pretty good because they cannibalized players from a few teams around Southern California. You might notice how a few teams have basically dropped off the map (Quake, Amazons, Breakers) from either being a good team or simply having a team, to no longer competing or even having a team.

My first reaction to Kara was to ask if this is bad.  What is more important, giving lots of players the opportunity to play?  Or filtering the competition until the best players are the only ones playing?  Should the league have tiers with teams of similar talent levels facing each other?  And if we like that idea, how on earth would be manage it? 

I'm thinking the disparity in talent levels is an obstacle to women's pro ball becoming a financial success.  If all the games were as competitive as the quarter-final, semi-final, and championship games, the league just might draw a larger audience.  Maybe many games could be televised on ESPN-3. 

What do you think? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Profile - Ereka Howard

Interviewing Ereka wore me out.  She is so full of energy, animated, expressive, excited.

We’d been planning to profile her but the season ended. I emailed:  “The season is over, you’ll never come to Round Rock again and I’ll never go to San Marcos and we’ll never meet again and I’ll never get to make you famous by being included as a profiled player in my blog. Sorry.”  

She immediately replied:  “That's a NEGATIVE!!! Tell me when and where I need to be Dennis! Never say NEVER!!!!!”
Ereka Shoneta Howard - energetic and animated as always.
We met at McDonald's by the Outlaws Pflugerville practice field. In the interview I couldn’t keep up.  She talked excitedly, rapid fire.  Sentences came out as one word, like “Ohmygoodnessyes.”

She caught lots of passes
in practice.
She wanted to be positive, answering “yes” before hearing the question.  I asked if she caught any passes this season.  “Ohmygoodnessyes” she replied.  Then she couldn’t think of any receptions. She caught hundreds in practice but none in games.  It wasn’t a great season for the passing game. 

I asked if she made any tackles. “Ohmygoodnessyes.”  She describes a memorable tackle.  A “Mustang girl with ball, some of our girls trying to tackle her, “I hit her in middle, knocked the whole pile down.” 

Here's photographic evidence of the memorable
tackle Ereka told me about.  Photo is blurry
because lighting wasn't good but that's Ereka
on top.

Making a solo tackle. 
Photo by MaryLou Spence

This was Ereka’s rookie season.  She captured my attention and affection early, during practice, because of her wonderful facial expressions, reflecting total concentration, all-out effort.
Before I met Ereka I loved her facial expressions.

She is a positive person, a cheerleader.  Well, not exactly a cheerleader.  She says “I was Mascot at Texas State University.  I wore the Bobcat costume.”  She tells about crowd-surfing at football games.  After every score she, dressed as the mascot, went to the bottom of the stands where fans hoisted her over their heads and passed her hand-over-hand all the way to the top.  She was a great mascot because of her creativity and exuberant personality.  And she didn't weigh a whole lot.

That's our Ereka inside that mascot costume, getting
handed up the stands by adoring fans.

When she wasn’t being a mascot she was coaching other high school mascots in Central Texas. She participated when Texas State hosted an NCAA United Cheerleaders Association camp at San Marcos. She has worked with cheerleaders and NCAA mascots from “UT, OU, Baylor, all over.”

Ereka Grew up in Midland, Texas, home of “Friday Night Lights,” Oil Rigs, Tumble Weeds. And childhood home of President George W. Bush.  She has a brother named Donet’a who is four years older. She tells about conversing with him and her cousin Jay Walton about her decision to play football: “Out of humor and concern for my safety they said ‘why don’t you participate in ballet, fencing, heck try GOLF…?’   Then they said  have fun, “we know “how tough and smart you are and we wish you the absolute best as always.” 

She always enjoyed sports.  Basketball is her favorite next to football.  She played basketball in high school.  She’s not very tall, 5’ 3”, but she’s quick. She played softball and track (relays, triple jump, 100 meter, long jump, shot-put, discus, long distance run).

Growing up she played neighborhood football with the boys. I remember the first time getting tackled  -  got wind knocked out of me.” But she picked herself up, dusted herself off,  and went back into the game. At Texas State University she played on the Blazers woman intramural flag football team, winners of the 2012 Texas State championship.

Asked why football, she replies “I love challenges.”  Football is out of ordinary.  Society doesn’t approve.  It gives them something to talk about. 

Ereka running the ball.
 Of her family Ereka says “I have the best family and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” Her love of family is magnified by the fact she was two years old when they adopted her.  They loved their adopted daughter just as much, maybe more, than if she had been born to them.  Her mother is an “inspiration a super woman.” Now retired she is active in community service and is a spokesperson for our education systems internationally and locally.

Mom wasn’t sure about Ereka’s playing football because she worried about her daughter’s safety.  But she always supported and encouraged Ereka in everything.  She believes in her daughter, believes in her determination and ability to accomplish whatever she sets out to do.

Dad loves her playing football.  She is “daddy’s girl” and he says she is tougher than many boys.  Before her first game he gave her a pep-talk:  Keep your eyes on the prize, catch every pass, don’t look back.  He has never been a football coach, he works in the Midland Independent School District, but he knows about the game. And he knows Ereka.

 Ereka graduated from Midland Lee High School and then Texas State University, finishing in December, 2011 with a major in Exercise Sports Science-All Level Physical Education.  She is Training to be health and wellness coach. 

Ereka with the Austin Community College
mascot "Riverbat" during a community outreach
event helping kids gain experience about
college.  Ereka's has a passion for kids.
She has a passion for kids.  In March of 2012 she was sworn in as an advocate in CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) of Central Texas.  She has worked with “at risk” youth who need a little extra help.  She worked with ACC in programs to benefit youngsters. She also worked in a residential treatment facility for adolescent youth.  I asked if residential service with troubled kids put her in physical danger.  “Sometimes little altercations but I’m a de-escalator and a good listener so I hardly ever had issues.” 

She is a devout Christian, active in a Pentecostal church where she attends every Sunday and Wednesday and sings in the choir.  One Sunday after church she took out her football and threw passes to some of the church youth.  She told them about playing for the Outlaws.  They replied, “Sister Ereka, You play tackle football? Wow!

I asked what she wants me to know about her. She then said, “I’m very positive, energetic, outgoing, determined.” 

And about the Outlaws she says “All of these women have awesome personalities that drive them to do the same thing I want to do – play football, play football, play football,  Nothing can stop them.” 

Monday, August 6, 2012

How Did They Get So Good?

Saturday the San Diego Surge defeated the Chicago Force 40-36 to win the Women's Professional Football Alliance 2012 championship.  The game was "televised" on ESPN-3 which I watched on my computer as a live feed because I couldn't find it on televsion.  

It was one great football game.  San Diego led early, then trailed going into the closing three minutes.  They scored twice to take a four point lead.  Chicago took over at their own five yard line with a minute-and-a-half left on the clock.  Three long pass completions and it was Chicago ball around the San Diego twenty-five with about thirty seconds left.  It looked like the Force would pull it out but a San Diego interception stopped the drive and sealed the victory for the Surge.

As I watched in some awe, I kept asking myself  how did they get so good? 

Let me quickly qualify my comments.  I've been following the Outlaws for several years and I am a fan and friend.  Lily Messina, one of the team founders, is high on a pedestal in my eyes.  It is amazing what she and her team have accomplished. 

It is incredibly difficult to field a competitive football team of volunteer players with annual turnover of forty percent or more replaced by rookies who may have never played tackle football in their lives, coached by volunteer coaches who are given limited time to coach because everyone has to go to work every day at a regular job. Season after season I've seen Lily produce teams with new faces on players and coaches and still ranking from good to very good.  The Outlaws always put on a good game. 

Nothing I say about the Surge and the Force and the Diamonds should be interpreted to diminish my respect for the Outlaws.  Rather, I am awed that these top tier teams manage to achieve such excellence while living with the same obstacles as the Outlaws.

How did they get so good?

I don't know.  Someday maybe I'll travel to Dallas and Chicago and San Diego and Boston and interview team owners. 

I suspect one factor is size of market.  The Chicago Force comes from the third largest city in the US.  San Diego from the eighth.  Dallas from the ninth - but if you include Fort Worth the combined population of the metroplex would rank them the fifth largest city.  Austin comes in at thirteenth. 

Having a large population suggests you have a larger number of prospective players and greater chance of recruiting serious talent.

Aside:  Outlaws will soon be recruiting for the 2013 season.  Now is time to start looking around you for women who are athletic, who are big, who are strong, who might enjoy being a part of this football experience.  In spite of best efforts to spread the word, there is still a majority of people in the Austin area who don't even know we have a women's professional football team.  Please spread the word.

My first observation Saturday was just how good these teams were.  A few more observations.

At this championship level of play, I saw fundamentals at work.  A fundamental of football is the player who gets lower has the edge.  If you can drive your shoulder into the mid-section of an opponent, you're going to control the opponent.  If you tackle around the legs you're going to be more effective than standing upright and trying to wrestle the runner to the ground.  This is fundamental football.  It is also (apparently) difficult to learn, difficult to coach.  In both teams Saturday, I saw tacklers meet the runner by dropping a shoulder and aiming for the belt buckle.  I saw blockers lining up lower. 

Another fascinating observation for me was the kicking game.  Or lack thereof.  Even at this championship level, kicking was a weakness.  I saw teams try to go for it on fourth and long because they didn't trust their punting.  I saw one team, don't remember which, try quick kicks in punting situations.  Rather than have the punter drop back and take the traditional two-and-one-half steps, they lined up in normal play formation.  The ball was snapped to the quarterback who quickly kicked it over the heads of the line aiming for an open spot in the defense backfield. 

Is kicking that difficult?  Yes. 

I've tried kicking and I can tell you it isn't easy.  Watching NFL and college kickers amazes me.  How do they do it?  In women's football kicking is a weakness.  Makes me want to go sexist and say women just aren't built for kicking.  But I've already admitted I can't kick a football and I'm a man.

My final observation was the passing game.  Both teams completed some long passes.  I was impressed at how far the quarterbacks could throw.  And at how well they were able to hit an open receiver.  But more than that, I thought about how difficult it is to defend against a good passing attack.  I suspect the defensive backs have the most difficult job in football.  They have to cover a prospective receiver and, ideally, stay between the receiver and the goal line.  Which is difficult because the receiver knows what route she's going to take.  If you're the defender, you are trying to be closer to the goal than the receiver, which means the receiver is behind you.  So you have to watch over your shoulder or maybe have a rear view mirror attached to your helmet.

Several times in the game Saturday the receiver had a step or two on the defender and the quarterback lofted the ball so only the receiver could catch it.  Who then romped to the end zone.

I didn't see either team practice the technique common in the NFL, of hitting the receiver before she gets started on her route.  Within five yards of the line of scrimmage, the receiver is just another player and the defender can "block" her, hit her at will.  If the defensive back can lay a good hit on the receiver before the receiver moves five yards, that can spoil her route, spoil the timing between quarterback and receiver, and give the defensive line time to rush the quarterback.  I didn't see defenders greeting receivers at the line of scrimmage. 

Note that after five yards it is a penalty for the defensive back to touch the receiver. 

It was a great football game.  Really fun to watch.  If we can get this level of play in all the WFA games, the sport of women's professional football could gain stature among sports fans everywhere.  If we could all be as good as the Diamonds, the Surge, the Force.  But how? 

How did they get so good?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Megan Riley and the Texas Chili Parlor

Caroline Hailson, daughter of Megan's friend and former
co-worker, Olivia Hailson.  What time is it?
Shot time!
Our last post included a photo and a question.  This is the photo, a young lady holding a sign.  The sign asks "What Time is it?"  and has a picture of some beverage.  I couldn't figure out the answer to the sign question so I asked blog visitors for help.

Outlaws wide receiver Megan "Red" Riley replied.   "The answer to this sign  is 'Shot time' lol."  She went on to comment:  "After the game, ladies, after the game."

As with many answers, hers raised more questions for me.  Like why would Megan's fans associate a shot of anything with football?  And that gave me a topic for today's post.

Megan's nick name is "Red" because, well look at a couple photos from Outlaw's practices. 

Not clear in this picture but I wanted to get
context - Megan is a receiver and this is a shot
of her practicing receiving.  In the next photo
she has received and is starting to practice running.

In this one you can see the red hair.

Right.  She's a red-head.  Natural nickname, "Red."

But that's not the reason for the sign.  The sign relates to her work.  Megan is a bartender at the famous Texas Chili Parlor located at 1409 Lavaca in downtown Austin.  The TCP website promises "A visit to TCP will do your spirit good—great food, full bar, lively staff, and funky atmosphere..." (emphasis mine)

Megan became an instant celebrity for me when I learned she is part of the lively staff at TCP.  I have a fond memory of taking some corporate guests to the Texas Chili Parlor.  I worked at the local office of a large corporation based in Bloomington, Illinois.  (Illinois.  North.)  A couple corporate associates visited me so I could show them the right way to run a top quality department.  As a special treat I took them to Texas Chili Parlor.  

My friend Ron ordered Chili - what else would you order at a Chili Parlor?  The waitress asked what grade, one-X, two-X, or three-X.  Ron timidly said one-X but quickly upgraded to two-X when he saw a look of derision cloud the server's face.  A little later and about half-way through lunch we noticed Ron had become quiet, his face bright red,  beads of sweat dripping down.  We asked how he was enjoying his Chili.  "Great," he lied, "but I don't think I could have handled the three-X." 

(By way of full disclosure, I'm a Yankee, too.  I didn't order Chili at all because even one-X scares me.  Give me mild food...)

So Megan, who are these fans of yours?  The one holding the "What Time is it" sign is Caroline Hailson.  Caroline's mother is Olivia Hailson who, five years ago, worked at "said Chili Parlor" and became friends with Megan.  The whole family came to the game loaded with signs and good cheer to encourage Megan. 

Left to right, Louie Hailson, Olivia, daughter Mary (red hair), niece Rachel (who currently
works with Megan at the Chili Parlor), and "baby" Hailson Caroline who lives in Denton.

Being a photographer at Outlaws games has enabled me to meet many fascinating and fun and nice people.  Even some celebrities, like a bartender at a Texas landmark establishment.  I have great admiration for bartenders even though my alcohol consumption is limited to a glass of wine from time to time. 

On the chance some of Megan's friends and co-workers will see this blog post, I browsed my photos looking for shots of Megan in action.  Found a couple.  I think they capture the essence, if not the fun, of the game.

Sometimes wide receivers get to carry the
ball from scrimmage. 

The ground is hard.  Can you see Megan's eyes?  Is she wincing?  Or did I just catch her
in mid-blink.  Sure looks like fun, doesn't it?

Megan, one of these days I'm going to revisit the Chili parlor and let  you pour me a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.  And maybe a little Chili - do you have zero-X Chili?

Can I have your autograph?