Category Archives: Personal

Rob’s Ramblings: Cleared to Engage

Greetings all

This past weekend was the first weekend of the XFL. For many years I have been hoping for a spring pro football league and the XFL has been my best hope for while.

I would like a spring league not only because it’s more football, although I always want more football. It could also serve as a developmental area, because NFL teams just don’t have time under the current CBA to really do a bunch of developmental work on down-roster players. This is especially true for quarterbacks and offensive linemen who need full-speed repetitions to improve.

It is also an area to develop other aspects. Referees and coaches can also get more experience. If done right, it could be an place for innovation and experimentation.

The XFL held this promise, despite the fact that the AAF, which was announced at about the same, failed like every other competitor to the NFL.

Why do I think this will succeed when none have before? Vince McMahon is no idiot, and he wouldn’t try this again if he didn’t think he could make it work. He also made it clear he wanted innovations, not gimmicks. Where the AAF rushed to get their product to market, the XFL took an extra year to devise new ideas, test them for effectiveness and player safety, and make sure all the financial foundations were in place.

Now, we finally got to see the product. One of the major innovations was a radically re-designed kickoff system. Those who have been watching the XFL come together have been very curious about this one change in particular.

It was a huge success. So much so that I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become the norm for kickoffs within the decade.

And it’s emblematic of the innovations in the league. They promised a faster pace and they got it. Two specific rule changes were made to achieve this. One, 25 seconds between plays instead of 40 in the NFL. Two, there’s an official whose sole job is to spot the ball between play. A little thing, one might think, but I watched the officials make ready for play with an efficiency the NFL currently can’t even dream of.

The extra point has been revised, with 1, 2, and 3 point options. This has a ton of potential, though it’s clear coaches don’t yet understand all the possibilities. Punts have to be inbounds, but coverage guys can’t leave as quickly. We also didn’t see the double forward pass play used yet, but I see a bright future for it.

The closest thing to gimmicky was the immersive coverage. Cameras can basically go anywhere. There was one play yesterday when Jordan Ta’amu had to avoid a cameraman on the field. Players who made a big play, either good or bad, were interviewed almost immediately. It’s rough on the player to have to look into a microphone after a big mistake, but it’s fantastic TV.

And the broadcasts can let us all listen to everything that’s being said by the coaches and the officials via their radios. We can hear play calls as they’re being called. Amazing. When there’s a replay, we can hear the officials talking through the play and see them looking at their screen.

This last thing is huge, by the way. Everything is reviewable in the XFL, but reviews are quick, quick, quick. And we can hear them doing it. Sure, they pause the game, but not for a commercial. Instead, we’re seeing them adjudicate the play in real time and that’s a game-changer. Replays stop being boring and become entertainment in themselves.

Plus, let’s mention that having replay officials inherent to each game means they’re on the ball. Again, quick, quick, quick.

If the NFL doesn’t adopt the XFL’s replay system, and soon, they’re missing the boat.

And that’s exactly what I always wanted from a spring league. Opportunities for players like Ta’amu to practice his craft for a while and add innovation to the stodgy hide-bound NFL that sometimes gets too high and mighty.

Of course, none of this matters if it’s not good football. Fortunately, it was. All of the players were 90-man roster types, practice squadders, or even tail end 53-man roster capable. The NFL, by the way, has 90-man rosters at the beginning of training camp. By the end of camp, they have a 53-man active roster and a 10-man practice squad, which leaves 27 players to fend for their careers. That’s more than enough to fill XFL rosters.

Also, the difference between the 90th player and the 30th player is a lot smaller than many might think. Oftentimes it’s a question of opportunity, especially if a player gets hurt.

I suspect that many players might choose the XFL over an NFL practice squad in years to come. A practice squad player gets few reps, few opportunities to improve. An XFL starter gets a bunch.

In any case, the football this weekend was NFL-fast, fast-paced in terms of plays per minute, and filled with quality play. Sure, there were mistakes, but week one of the NFL season is filled with similar mistakes. QBs threw dimes. RBs made moves. WRs made great catches. Defenders made great plays. The offensive lines struggled a bit, but that’s to be expected and is exactly what we see in the NFL in week one and their struggles were often miscommunications, not a lack of ability.

And I’m not the only one to be impressed by the XFL. All across Twitter, people were talking about in. The vast majority I saw were impressed, including every NFL player, current or former, who I saw comment.

I’m excited because this will make football at all levels better and safer.

It didn’t hurt that the St. Louis Battlehawks, predicted as a major underdog, went on the road and won.

In any case, I’m hooked. I’m so glad we got season tickets this year. Go Battlehawks! #ClearedToEngage.

Rob’s Update: Ahead of the Wheel

Week 6 of 2020

Greetings all

It’s been a good week. Last weekend was the final of several postrevels I hosted for the local barony. Weather severely impacted two of them, and the last one tends to be small and relaxed, so this year’s postrevel sequence wasn’t as epic as others have been. Still, in this one a bunch of people had a great conversation, we played Cards Against Humanity, I got a chance to talk late into the night with a baby laurel who I helped spring the surprise upon.

A good time.

Then, Sunday was the Super Bowl. I did a live FB post (which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/rhodri2112/posts/10158095267396085). I condensed that into my Ramblings post earlier in the week (which you can find here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1990). Overall, I had a good time, though I had to feel bad for the stepdaughter who’s a 49ers fan.

Then I got back to writing. I wrote about 5k on None Call Me Mother with finally connecting two large chunks together. Today, I started writing a new short story following up on The Feeding of Sorrows.

Speaking of which, my publisher informed me that The Feeding of Sorrows just surpassed a million page reads on Kindle Unlimited. How cool is that?

Side note: I actually just re-read The Feeding of Sorrows to make sure I had the voice right and to remember all the details. I hadn’t looked at it since July, and I discovered, to my amazement, it was pretty darn good. This is a bit of surprise. Normally, I look at my stuff from months ago and cringe a bit because I’ve gotten better in the intervening months. Either I haven’t gotten better, or it was pretty good to start with. I think it’s the first, though, because I know several specific things I worked on over the fall as part of editing When Valor Must Hold.

While that’s good news, it means I have to keep working at the craft so I can sustain pretty good.

Anyway, the short story I started today is going to the next 4HU anthology and ties up a loose end in The Feeding of Sorrows. I was not going to cover that lose end in its sequel, but it’s a good mystery and will allow me to add a twist I’ve been contemplating to that thread. Fun stuff.

This weekend I’ll be watching some football. Yes, the Super Bowl was last week, but this week is the XFL. I’m excited about this league. I think it has a chance to succeed because unlike the AAF and others, it has a good financial base, McMahon learned from the previous version, and it’s already injecting new ideas into football. I think some of these things will eventually filter into the NFL, once we see how they work in games. I’m excited about that because I think the NFL needs some shaking up.

With that, I’m going to go toss more words at the page. Have a great week.

What I’m Listening To

Far Cry by Rush. There will come a day when I stop listening to Rush nearly exclusively. Today is not that day.

Quote of the Week

Far Cry has a great message about life.

“One day I feel I’m on top of the world
And the next it’s falling in on me
I can get back on
I can get back on
One day I feel I’m ahead of the wheel
And the next it’s rolling over me
I can get back on
I can get back on”
– Rush, Far Cry

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (108,805)
  • CB (8,418)
  • NFS (1,034)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Quincy J. Allen, a fantastic writer with a great story in When Valor Must Hold that read something like Eddings’ Sparhawk as written by Raymond Chandler. You can find his interview here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1992.

Today’s Weight: 399.4

Updated Word Count: 27,649

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

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Rob’s Ramblings: Super Bowl LIV

Greetings all

Yesterday, I did a live thread on Facebook during the Super Bowl. Today, I’ll distill those comments and expand upon a few. If you want the original complete thread, you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/rhodri2112/posts/10158095267396085.

Before the game, I predicted the Chiefs to win 34-27, so I wasn’t far off. I kind of rooted for the Chiefs, in part because someone in my house had to and the stepdaughter is a huge 49ers fan, and in part because the petty Cowboys fan in me wanted Andy Reid to win for someone other than the Eagles.

Overall, I thought Patrick Mahomes was mediocre until the very end, Reid outcoached Shanahan by a lot, and Nick Bosa was the MVP.

The day started with some awkwardness. The Chiefs almost bungled the coin toss and Bill Vinovich, rightly in my opinion, saved them. He overrode a player who tried to say “We’re kicking” by saying, “You’re taking the ball” until the Chiefs finally agreed. The Chiefs lost the toss, the 49ers deferred which means they get the choice to start the 2nd half. Had the Chiefs chosen to kick there, the 49ers would have chosen to receive in the 2nd half, meaning they would have gotten it to start both halves.

After the Cowboys almost botched it earlier, the NFL either needs to streamline this process by asking if the team winning the coin toss wants to get it first or second half, or these special teams coaches need to brief their players better. I go with the first, because KC’s teams were really good and well-coached all year long. The reason, by the way, for the confusing option is to allow teams to take the wind, but with fewer and fewer games affected by weather, I think we should make that option one they actively have to choose.

One reason that didn’t turn into a hullaballoo, I think, was the great Jake from State Farm commercial with a new Jake which immediately followed. Great way to use all the old humor while adding more. My second favorite commercial for the night actually.

The opening kickoff gave us the first questionable decision, and that was Mecole Hardman choosing to return the ball from 5-6 yards into the endzone. Even for the best returners, this is an iffy decision. He got to the 26, so it turned out OK, but the risk/reward there between coverage, penalty, and fumble vs. long return just isn’t there.

Side note, the the 49ers teams played really well overall, and so did the Chiefs. Almost a great day for the Chiefs if Byron Pringle, who had a great game, could pull that ball out of the end zone on the punt with about 2 minutes remaining in the first half.

Patrick Mahomes made several mistakes right off the bat. He was clearly amped too much and I think that pretty much lasted until the 49ers gave him a coverage gift in the long throw to Tyreek Hill in the 4th. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Then we got to the first mistake, the fumble on the punt return. The 49ers got really lucky that the ball bounced their way, because Pringle fought through a double-team block to get there. Like I said, I thought he was great.

Then the 49ers took the ball down the field for a FG. This is how I thought the 49ers offense would look all day. Lots of great, intricate running plays with tons of misdirection and the occasional pass to take advantage of gaps in the zone provided by KC having to play zone.

Side note one here: We’re witnessing a revolution in the running game. Analytics is clear that passing is better than running. The average pass play, counting sacks, incompletions, and scrambles gets about twice as much as every called running play. The revolution has made running much more effective, but requires constant motion and misdirection.

I am unsure what defenses will need to do to adjust, but my guess is a dramatic change in actual kinds of defenders, moving to some sort of 2-4-3-2 kind of thing. The 2 are down linemen. The 4 are hybrid edge defenders. These will vary from a big ones to play a normal DE, to heavy safeties who will be faster than LBs but still can provide good run support. The 3 are CBs to defend the 3rd wide receiver (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR is the most common offensive formation now), and the remaining 2 are more safeties. I guess, now that I write it down, I think safety hybrids will become more and more valuable.

Anyway, back to the game. Whenever the 49ers offense ran first they controlled the Chiefs defense. I’m not surprised. The Chiefs defense is better than many prognosticators said, but so is the 49ers offense. 49ers 3-0.

At least, they are when their coach doesn’t play to lose.

I think it’s at this point we got the first Tide commercial. Man, I thought those were awful. Bland humor at best repeated ad nauseam. Overall, I thought the commercials were pretty weak. The ad creators tried too hard and rarely hit the mark. I’ll mention a few highlights along the way, though.

Then came another play not to lose decision by Shanahan. On the Chiefs’ second drive, they ran a 2nd and 2 play which was incomplete but the Chiefs also had an ineligible man downfield. Had the 49ers accepted the penalty, the Chiefs would have been 2nd and 12. They declined it to go to 3rd and 2. Amazingly, one of the best offenses there is managed to get 2 yards on the next play on the way to a TD. Amazingly.

Later on the drive came a real interesting play: (2:22 – 1st) P.Mahomes scrambles right end to SF 3 for 12 yards (J.Ward). FUMBLES (J.Ward) ball out of bounds at SF 5. SF-J.Ward was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.

Ward had a great and legal hit there. What’s fascinating with this play, though, is his hit turned it from a 12 yard gain and a 1st down into a 10 yard gain and a 4th down.

Andy Reid is a great coach, and he showed it time and again in this game. He went for it. Absolutely the right call, as I said before the Chiefs converted it.

And that doesn’t even touch upon the great play call on a play yoinked by Eric Bienemy from the 1942 Rose Bowl. True story. I’ve seen the replay of the 1942 play and it’s exactly the same. It’s a small misdirection to change the direct snap that gives the defense a small hesitation and on short-yardage plays, that’s all you need. They got 4 yards and a 1st and goal from the 1.

Side note: Eric Bienemy should be a head coach next year. Should have been one this year. He may not end up being a great one, but he’s definitely an offensive wizard.

Which showed on their scoring play. They scored on 2nd down with a brilliant play. I predicted a play-action pass. What I got might have been better. It was a play fake dive just like the play-action to create exactly the same crunch of defenders in the middle. However, Mahomes then went wide with an RB at his side for an option play. Two on one against the CB. The CB can’t win that, and he didn’t. Beautiful stuff. Chiefs, 7-0.

After that was the Tom Brady Hulu ad. That was cold and cruel. Patriots fans lost their souls for about ten seconds.

Bashaud Breeland was an early contender for MVP in my mind. He made a couple of great tackles on WR screens and he took advantage of Pennel’s great hit on Garoppolo to get an interception. It’s a real shame he got dinged in the 2nd quarter for a bit.

The Chiefs got a FG on the ensuing drive, though I thought Reid’s play calls were iffy in the red zone this time. His offense focuses on horizontal passes and yards after the catch, but sometimes you need to have at least one receiver going over the top. This has happened to him before and will again. It’s not a question of aggressiveness, just style. Anyway, 10-3 Chiefs.

Now the 49ers get the ball and have a chance to get back into the groove. One play they used on this drive was the push pass. This is essentially an end around/jet sweep from the shotgun. However, it’s technically a pass because the “handoff” is a forward toss. This is such a smart thing. First, it pushes the defense to be keeping to their jobs. Second, if there’s a problem with the exchange and the ball falls to the ground, it’s an incomplete pass, not a fumble. Great stuff, and Deebo Samuel is the perfect style of WR to use it.

Samuel, by the way, had a very good game and the 49ers could have used him more.

This drive ended with a 15 yard TD to Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk has been fantastic this year, and he was great in this game. 3 catches on 3 targets with a bunch of great blocks. He scored one of the 49ers TD and set up the other.

Now we get to a series of mediocre decisions.

First, Hardman took an end around on 2nd and 8 and lost 6 yards. At the end, he meekly went out of bounds. Awful. Even the Chiefs struggle to get a 1st on 3rd and 14. They didn’t. With less than two minutes left in the 1st half, if he stays in bounds, he forces the 49ers to think about a time out.

In any case, the 49ers should now expect to get the ball and expect to have a good chance to score. However, Shanahan didn’t think of it in those terms. He coached not to lose. The following play was a screen pass for only 1 yard, meaning at 1:53 left on the clock it was 4th and 13 for the Chiefs. You take a time out there if you’ve got 2 or 3 remaining. He had all 3.

But he didn’t take a time out.

This is astounding to me. If you take it there, you get the ball back with about 1:45 left and 2 time outs. Any competent NFL QB can look at that as an opportunity for points. Apparently Shanahan doesn’t think Garoppolo was competent. He basically rolled over and played dead.

Then, with 14 seconds left, the 49ers got to about their own 45. They could have been there with about 1:20 or so and still with 2 TOs even with the same play calls. At that point they’re really likely to score something. Instead, they are forced to try their only deep attempt to Kittle which he clearly pushes off to get a correct OPI call, but would have given them a chance at a FG.

So many opportunities for the 49ers to at least get 3 points. All squandered. And this ends up biting them in the ass.

We go to halftime. I’ve grown to dread halftime shows. They’re all boring and canned. This time had one highlight for me, a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir which then went into a Middle Eastern style dance song. Other than that, I thought Shakira and J-Lo looked great for a combined age of 93. And meh.

To be fair, meh is a step up for many halftime shows. Prince, who I’m not really a fan of, is clearly still the best one. He gave so much emotion and soul to that performance. Clearly not canned. Clearly a great musician doing his thing. Most of the time, they lack soul. As did this one.

Anyway, we get to the second half. The 49ers came out and ran the drive they should have at the end of the first half. Lots of easy passes to receivers schemed open. They get a FG and are back on top 13-10.

In this commercial break we get the best commercial of the evening in my opinion, the Sam Elliott dancing commercial. It started kind of dumb, at first, but then got really funny really fast. The horse shaking his head, declining to dance, was a great touch.

Mahomes was bad in the 3rd quarter. Not much you can do to suggest otherwise. He had a couple of moments to start this drive, but then Nick Bosa took over the game for a while. He ended up having 12 pressures which is a ton. On this drive he gets a strip sack which Mahomes was lucky to corral.

Whether that bothered Mahomes or not, the next play he threw an awful pass made worse by the coverage and got it picked off.

Then Garoppolo leads another drive, this time for a TD. The 49ers have now shown they can run and they can pass effectively. In these two drives, he’s 8-9, 97 yards. The Chiefs are out of whack at this point, but from now on, the 49ers will sustain almost no offense. One reason is better Chiefs defense, but another is that Shanahan didn’t take advantage of his run game enough.

Anyway, at this point Mahomes goes through a sequence of awful throws. Every one is off target, at least a little bit, even the ones that are completed. This drive concludes with an off-target pass not getting caught by the receiver, bouncing off his hands, and then a great catch by Moore to get the interception. Hill would say he should have caught it. Perhaps. However, the throw was well behind him and it should not have been that difficult of a catch. I remember thinking that there wasn’t a reason not to lead Watkins on the throw, no reason for Watkins to sit down on the route, no obvious miscommunication. Just a bad throw, and Moore makes Mahomes pay.

At this point, there’s 12 minutes left in the game and 49ers are up by 10. This high win probability territory. The 49ers could have slammed the door here.

I didn’t like the play calling here. They start well, getting a nice run to Mostert and a pass to Kittle. That’s when I thought they’d rely on the run for a bit (as did Aikman). Running is one of their strengths, after all.

Mostert got 1 on a run. I am not watching the replay, but I seem to recall this was a basic run. Either way, the next play is another pass. I don’t mind them throwing to Kittle here, but I would have preferred a good misdirection run, maybe even another Deebo sweep.

For that matter, early in the game, the use Deebo as a decoy on a play and never come back to him as the primary. This despite Deebo getting essentially free on the first play. This is the point of the game where you can put a stake in their heart and that’s exactly the time to take advantage of the plays that you highlighted from the first half. Why they didn’t, I’ll never know.

Anyway, so the Chiefs get the ball back at their 17 with 9 minutes and things are dicey. Mahomes is OK at the start of this drive, but not great. He makes the good decision to scramble. He throws an off-target pass that Hill catches. Then he throws an awful pass to Hill that gets overturned because Hill trapped it. Really bad throw to a wide open receiver.

Now is when the magic happens, and it’s all because the 49ers have a coverage breakdown. Mahomes connects with Hill for 44 yards. This was an awful throw, I thought. Hill had to wait for it and had Mahomes hit him in stride it’s a TD. I’d have to see the All-22 to confirm, but I think he was two beats too late on the throw and only an awful coverage scheme left Hill so wide open he could sit and wait on the throw.

Sometimes you just need a spark.

This was it, and Mahomes was much better after that. He throws a seam route that Moore (the defender who caught the tip interception) butchers on the coverage. It’s clear pass interference. He impedes the receiver and never gets his head around, so he wasn’t playing the ball. Obvious call.

First and goal at the 1 and the Chiefs score easily. 20-17 Chiefs and I said on Facebook: “Is the wind in the Chiefs’ sails?”

Spoiler Alert: It was.

First play of the ensuing 49ers drive is a 5yard run by Mostert. Derrick Nnadi makes a real good play to get off the block and I think it’s overlooked. Mostert had a huge gap after Nnadi and if he breaks through he’s going to get 15+. That makes a huge difference in the timing of the game here.

Anyway, the next play is a ball batted down by Chris Jones, who suddenly came alive. If he doesn’t, Kittle has 15 and again we’re talking about stake in the heart kind of time. Also, Deebo was wide open in the flat on that play. This play worked really well, in other words, but only a great defensive play stopped it.

The next play wasn’t as good. It was a pass, which isn’t bad on 3rd and 5, but I’d have been looking for one of my speed guys, Kittle, Deebo, Mostert, or Breida. The last one in particular was a mistake by Shanahan. Breida wasn’t targeted a single time in the game, and he’s a really nice player with great hands and a lot of speed. I am positive that Shanahan could have schemed one of them open instead of a contested throw to a backup TE.

This is a drive of wasted opportunities by the 49ers and just enough by the Chiefs to force a punt.

Here’s another subtle moment in the game. I criticized Hardman for taking the opening kickoff from deep out of the endzone. However, here he makes a great decision to fair catch the punt. As the punt was coming down, I thought he might have a lane, but the 49ers coverage closed the gap almost as the ball got there. Had Hardman been too aggressive and tries to run, I think only bad things happen for the Chiefs.

Anyway, this Mahomes finally on his game. His throws are on and 2:26 later Williams catches his pass for the TD. This is the questionable TD where we’re not sure if Williams breaks the plane or not. I *think* Williams broke the plane but it was close. A number of others said they thought he hadn’t, but it was close.

The referee called it a TD on the field. It was too close to criticize a ref for making a decision on the field. He called it a TD. No replay gave anything close to something that showed the actual result. Slow it down all you want, and it’s still “I think.”

And so, replay came back, rightfully, “Call Stands.” No matter what the ref on the field called, replay wasn’t going to overturn it. It’s a big thing, because otherwise it’s 4th and goal at the 2-inch line. I think Reid goes for it, so probably scores anyway. It’s irrelevant, though, and the Chiefs now up 24-20.

This is where the stupidity at the end of the first half really costs the 49ers. If it’s 24-23, then the 49ers have 2:44 with all 3 time outs to get into FG range. There’s no desperation. Also, they don’t *have* to succeed the first try. If they go three and out, with 3 TOs and the best defense in the NFL, they can reasonably expect to have another opportunity with something like 1:45 and 1 TO left.

In other words, the Chiefs would have had an advantage, but not a great one. Needing a TD changes that equation significantly, especially the time part at the end.

The 49ers get to midfield with 1:56 left to play. They then throw 3 incomplete passes. At this point, the still have 3 TOs. It’s 4th and 10. I believe it’s the right call to go for it here, but I didn’t like the play call.

I said in my notes before this drive the Chiefs should throw the house at Garoppolo. Even if the 49ers manage a long TD, the Chiefs offense would have had time with 3 TOs of their own to get into FG range. They didn’t, except on this play.

And I think Shanahan should have expected that. The throw he called took too much time. Again, I haven’t seen the All-22 to see the coverage, but I think he should have gone with a five steps and throw immediately sort of play. A fade to Deebo. A seam to Kittle. A wheel to Mostert. One of those sorts of things. They’re quick, take almost no time off the clock, and have a good chance if the defense is aggressive there.

Instead, Garoppolo is sacked and the Chiefs get it at the 42.

There’s an interesting sequence here. I don’t think I was completely correct on my math but I still think Williams makes a mistake here, albeit an understandable one.

Play 1, 1:25 on the clock: Williams runs for 4, 49ers take their first TO.

Play 2, 1:20 on the clock, Williams runs 38 yards for a TD.

Now, there is 1:12 left on the clock here. I think he should have downed himself at the 1 or 2 yard line.

By scoring, he gave the 49ers 1:12 with 2 TOs and a not inconsequential chance of a TD with a 2point conversion, an onsides kick, and a FG attempt. It’s not likely, but there’s a chance.

Also note how different that would have been with 3 points at the end of the first half.

Now consider if he goes down on the 1. This forces the 49ers to take a TO, so already you’ve depleted the 49ers chances. Let’s look at the following sequence.

Play 1: Chiefs kneel. 49ers take their last TO. There’s about 1:10 on the clock.

Play 2: Chiefs kneel. 49ers have no TOs. 40 seconds run off the clock, leaving about 30 seconds.

Play 3: Chiefs kneel, game over.

Yes, the Chiefs defense makes a great interception and they’re barely able to run out the clock, but even that was harder than it could have been because the 49ers had one more TO.

Williams going down at the 1 ends the game, period. By scoring, he extended it. Frankly, he ends the game by going down in bounds anywhere after getting the first down. The math is that simple.

Anyway, the Chiefs win and Andy Reid did a fantastic job. He pushed the action and depended upon Mahomes to be great. Mahomes wasn’t, for most of the game, but I think we all knew that he’d get on a streak at some point.

Shanahan was awful. He’s a great coach, but this game doesn’t show it. He consistently overthought things. He’ll do better next time, I have no doubt. I’d guess Reid’s experience from his previous Super Bowl appearance helped him a ton.

Williams was a good player in this game, but not great, I thought. I say that not even criticizing him too much for the last TD. Few players aren’t going to score there. Too much excitement.

He does end up with 2 TDs and over 100 yards on the ground, and there’s a case to be made for him to be MVP. This is especially true since Mahomes didn’t have a great game.

There’s been once in Super Bowl history where a losing player won the MVP. That happened in Super Bowl V with Dallas’s Chuck Howley. I think it should have happened here with Nick Bosa.

No other player dominated the game like him. He had those 12 pressures and a strip sack. However, he also dominated Eric Fisher time and again on running plays. He made the Chiefs work for everything start to finish.

The scary part is that he was a rookie this year and he’ll only get better. I’d be shocked at this point if he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career. The only thing that will stop it will be injuries, so knock on wood because he’s a joy to watch… playing against anyone other than your team.

Congratulations to the Chiefs. I said in the FB thread: “I’m really happy for Reid. I’m sad for my stepdaughter, a big 49ers fan. I’m sad for me, because this city is going to be insufferable all year.”

Well, go be insufferable, your team earned you the right.

OK, that’s way too many words on this. Time for me to go make dinner then start a short story in the 4HU.

 

 

Rob’s Ramblings: ChattaCon and Stuff

Greetings all

This week is ChattaCon. It’s one of my favorite cons because Lani Brooks always gives me plenty to do. This year is no different.

Here’s my schedule:

  • Friday at 5pm (Vision A Ballroom): Martin Koszta Using History Panel (This might be the last time for a while. I’ve done it quite a few times, so I’ll stop suggesting it until I miss doing it.)
  • Friday at 8pm (Vision B Ballroom): Iron-Storyteller. This looks like a lot of fun and I wonder if we may end up wanting to run long because we’ll come up with so much stuff. However…
  • Friday at 9pm (Wisdom Boardroom: Beyond G-Rating. How much violence and sex should we include in fantasy and SF.
  • Saturday at 1pm (Vision A Ballroom): Blurring the Lines. We’ll discuss how to interweave real events in spec fiction.
  • Saturday at 4pm (Ballroom Hall): I believe this will be my author signing period. Yes, I’ll have books with me.
  • Sunday at 10am (Vision A Ballroom): Culture, Mythology, and Spirituality. Studying how cultures help fill out speculative fiction and RPGs.
  • There is also a game creation panels that I might attend, given the Shijuren RPG. It’s Principles of RPG Design run at 3pm in Vision C.

It’s going to be a great time. I love it that she keeps me hopping.

One thing that might be weird is this will be the first con I attend after Neil’s passing. His death is still reverberating among Rush fans and I’m not the only one not really over it.

I always wear Rush T-shirts at con. There are always a bunch of Rush fans at SF/F cons, of course, and I’ve always enjoyed interacting with them.

This time will be different and I’m not sure how it’ll go.

Anyway, on to other things.

Congratulations to the Chiefs and the 49ers for reaching the Super Bowl. I’m in a hard place here as a Cowboys fan living in the KC area. On the one hand, it’s the 49ers, and I never like it when they win. On the other, it’s one of the stepdaughter’s teams and if the Chiefs win, KC fans are going to be insufferable until they next get knocked out of the playoffs. And that couldn’t be any earlier than December 2020.

I guess I’ll root for the Chiefs. Andy Reid is a guy to admire, and I’d be really happy for him to win a Super Bowl with a team other than the Eagles. Yes, I’m petty. But the Eagles fans deserve all that and more.

Anyway, we’ll have a Super Bowl party here. I generally have had one. Last year was the exception because of moving about. Hopefully, the stepdaughter can have the night off from work, but if not, we’ll make a mini version of her and sit her right in front of the TV.

Also exciting is the result of the Dragon 9/Crew Dragon test. It looks like we’re almost to the point of crewed missions for that platform.

I’ve long believed, and circumstances are proving me right, than private industry would be the real path to space. NASA has certain uses, but commercial ventures can do things NASA can’t, and do them at a much faster rate.

I would really like to see humanity have a solid and stable presence in space before I pass along the mortal coil. Dragon could make that happen.

Well, enough of all that. Back to writing in None Call Me Mother. Making progress.

Rob’s Ramblings: 40 Seconds to LOS

There are times and places we all remember. Where the impact is so powerful that we are irrevocably changed.

Friday afternoon, I had one of those moments. I was standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart idly flipping through Twitter while I waited. That’s where and when I found out Neil Peart had passed away.

I’ve tried to write this post ever since then. I’ve failed. What you’re reading isn’t correct. It doesn’t hold all that I need it to. I don’t know how to make it better, though I’m sure things will come to me.

However, I need to say something now, even if it’s not quite right.

****

I can’t remember a single earthshaking moment when Neil Peart became a shaping factor in my life, but I can credit the person who made it happen: Ted Shellhamer. We’d connected over sports and other shared things, but that year he got excited about a new record by Rush.

Moving Pictures had Tom Sawyer, which everyone remembers and which we loved too, but there was so much more. However, it was when Ted gave me stuff from A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, and Permanent Waves that I really started to love Rush almost as much as he did.

The title track to Hemispheres, with its blend of science fiction and Greek mythology combined with intricately woven lyrics that wrapped back around themselves blew me away. Natural Science did the same thing. And like so many others Closer to the Heart got to me.

It seeped into me, teaching me slowly and thoroughly. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve listened to a Rush album, I always seem to learn something new. It is comforting to know I still have lessons to learn from Neil even though he’s gone.

I bought all the cassettes. Exit… Stage Left was my favorite because I got to hear Tom Sawyer and the Trees and The Spirit of the Radio all on one tape! Plus 9 other great songs. What could be better?

I’ll tell you what could be better: Signals followed by Grace Under Pressure followed by Hold Your Fire followed by Presto and so on. Best yet are the three albums of Rush 2.0, Vapor Trails, Snakes and Arrows, and Clockwork Angels.

19 studio albums all told. 19 different styles. 19 different kinds of awesome. 19 wonderful collections we are lucky to have.

****

It’s hard to describe how awesome it was to me that this music was so incredibly powerful and talked about things that fascinated me. On the one hand I could bang my head to it as much as anything else out there, but on the other hand it always made me think. Not just about mythology and science fiction, but poetry and history and philosophy and all sorts of things that I kept getting told were so utterly uncool yet I still desperately craved.

And still do, for that matter, even more than ever.

School was an awful place for me, as it was for so many. I had some good and great teachers. I had some not.

One administrator dealt fairly with me, Roel Quintanilla. He was it.  Other than that, I was fair game to all the other students because they knew I was the one who’d get in trouble, even if I wasn’t the source of the problem. I was bigger than many, frustrated, angry, and too damn intelligent to fit in those round holes they tried to fit me into. I will never forgive Katie McHenry, by the way, for explicitly telling me it was OK for girls to punch me. That it was my fault for saying anything that prompted them to punch me.  It’s been nearly 40 years for some of these things, yet I am still shaking in rage at the things she and other administrators let happen to me.

I never snapped, though. Not completely, at least. I did go off a few times, which at least had the benefit of making other students a bit wary about me.

I didn’t snap because I have great parents.

I also had Neil’s lyrics telling me that it was OK to be different.

The easy song to point to is Subdivisions of course, with its line “conform or be cast out.” But Witch Hunt was there too, showing me I was merely the target of humanity’s mob mentality. The Trees told me that I could conform, but only if I wished to give up way too much. 2112 told me that those damned administrators didn’t really know anything.

I could be different and yet the magic of life could still be within my grasp!

****

My life hasn’t really gone to plan. I was a good IT pro, and in some ways I regret leaving that line of work. It’s certainly easier than writing and it pays better.  But I’ve always struggled within that round hole of a 40-hour work week.

I thought at one time that academia would be the place for me. I didn’t have the rigid schedule chafing at me year after year and I could push my brain into ever cooler things.

But the academic world is worse than high school ever was. “Conform or be cast out” isn’t just a society thing there, it’s the professional motto.

I’m so glad I didn’t get my Ph.D. I’m proud of my research and what would have been my dissertation. I’m pleased with the skills I learned. I clearly enjoyed the publish or perish part of it all. I am pleased that my academic career mined out the useful parts of that world while I remained Rob.

In 2012, the week my second wife left me and right about when I realized I’d also broken up with academia, Rush released Clockwork Angels.

It’s a tour-de-force album. It has all the energy and passion of Moving Pictures, 2112, and Permanent Waves, but with all the skill and growth of their entire career. It’s the best album ever made. Not just by Rush, but ever.

Thank goodness for that album.

Kate had seemed like a miracle to me. Beautiful and smart and many wonderful things, but we didn’t fit as much as we thought. We had a great wedding (I entered that day to Rush’s Malignant Narcissism), but the marriage… well… we had the best wedding ever.

The chorus of The Wreckers on Clockwork Angels is:

All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Because sometimes the target is you

And there it was, Rush saving me again. She was too good to be true, and that just happens. What’s important is where we go from here.

So I did what Neil had done. I hit the road. In my case, it wasn’t a motorcycle or a bike, it was the idiotic whimsy of walking the Offa’s Dyke trail in Wales. I packed up my phantoms, I shouldered my invisible load, and I haunted a wilderness road. I was a Ghost Walker.

I’m proud to be Kate’s friend now and I’m so glad we met. I listen to Malignant Narcissism happily remembering the joys of our time together and the lessons I’ve learned. The same is true of Holly, my first wife (Vapor Trails was there after she and I split, by the way). I never married Maerwynn, again because I screwed up, but I can’t imagine her not being in my life.

Headlong Flight on Clockwork Angels says what I feel about my marriages, my other sweeties along the way like Maerwynn, and all the other things which didn’t turn out like I expected:

All the treasures, the gold and glory
It didn’t always feel that way
I don’t regret it – I’ll never forget it
I wouldn’t trade tomorrow for today

Some days were dark
I wish that I could live it all again
Some nights were bright
I wish that I could live it all again

****

I wasn’t really salvaged after breaking up with Kate and academia until mom pushed me into writing, but it felt like a squarish hole when she suggested it. I’ve grown since then and I realized some time ago that’s partly because Neil’s lyrics made me think about writing all along.

My one regret of my writing career is that I started at 46. I wish I’d at least started writing on the side when Neil was first making me think about weaving words in intricate and lovely patterns.

I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents. I’ve had a lot of wonderful other people in my life along the way, including Holly, Kate, and Maerwynn. I never met Neil and yet, outside of my parents and my significant others, I would hard pressed to name another single person who mattered most in my life than Neil.

I don’t know where I would have been had Rush not been there for me. Neil’s lyrics have always held back the worst of whatever depresses me. Often enough I haven’t enjoyed my thoughts about myself, but Neil convinced me I had to look at them as honestly as I could. I had to learn to keep on riding North and East and circling South and West. Or, as I say when talking about writing, keep on plugging away.

I’m here and better than ever and that would never have happened if Neil hadn’t made me think.

****

How does one pay that back? I never had a great answer.

I always hoped one day I’d run into Neil at a random restaurant on the road. I wouldn’t have talked to him, but I would have slid my card over to the waitress in a heartbeat and bought dinner for him and all his guests, whatever the price. Giving out food and drink is my way of saying thanks, as many who’ve camped near me at SCA events have probably figured out.

It was the best compromise I could dream of. In my dream I wouldn’t say a word to him. I wouldn’t enter within his Limelight, so to speak, but I’d have said thanks in the truest way I know how. Especially since any words that ever said to him would have bothered and embarrassed him. Simply buying his dinner or lunch would have bothered him more than I’m really comfortable with, in all actuality, but it was the only compromise I could think of.

****

I sit here in the best time of my Headlong Flight. I have the right person in my life. I am doing the thing I should have been doing all along. I’m happier with myself as a person than I have ever been.

I know dark days will come, but I also know Neil will be there helping me push through them. Bright nights will also come and Neil will be there helping my celebrate them.

I tried to write this without using too many of Neil’s lyrics. It’s hard because it’s those lyrics that mattered the most to me. It’s also hard because his language patterns flow into my hands when I’m writing. Believe me, I could have written this entire thing with powerful lyrics in every paragraph.

But I needed this to be at least partially from me. It’s what Neil would expect.

I’m going to conclude this with words from a Rush song which he didn’t write. These are words exchanged between Ground Control and the Columbia during the first space shuttle launch, which Rush immortalized in Countdown.

“Columbia, Houston, we have 40 seconds to LOS
you’re looking good burning over the hill, we will see you in Madrid.”

“And we enjoyed the music, Bob, thank you.”

“We enjoyed it, just wanted to share some with you.”

Neil shared his music and writing with us and now we’ve lost his signal. We enjoyed it, Neil, and we thank you.

I don’t know if there’s a Madrid over the hill, but if there is, I’m going to buy Neil that dinner.

Rob’s Update: Trouble in the Wind

Week 49 of 2019

Greetings all

Trouble in the Wind is live! Sixteen stories of ground warfare that might have been. My story is “Here Must We Hold” about the Battle of Maldon.

You can find an excerpt of my story here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1899.

Trouble in the Wind
Trouble in the Wind

I’m quite pleased with the story. I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to contribute. I’m absolutely stoked I get to be in a book with David Weber, Kevin J. Anderson, and S.M. Stirling, among others.

I made some progress on None Call Me Mother. Much of it wasn’t in words written, but rather cleaning up. I’m at that stage where I need to go back through it all to firm up the earlier chapters, fill in some connections, and make sure I’m ready for the final chapters.

What I mostly did was write another short story. I’ll tell you all about it when it’s about to go out the door. I also made progress on another project. All in all, a good week, even if it doesn’t show up in the raw numbers.

I also spent a goodly amount of time cleaning house. This is Kris Kinder Weekend, which means I have a big sales event then host everyone after the event.

It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year, but I’ll be exhausted on Sunday. It’s a fair trade.

What I’m Listening To

La Villa Strangiato by Rush. Such a great song.

Quote of the Week

This week’s quote is the inspiration for my story’s title. Thanks to Rosalind Jehanne for granting me permission to use it.

Here must we hold     So hearken to my counsel
Felled is our lord     Slain by foemen on the field
Now we must honor     The oaths we made in mead-hall
Now we must shoulder     The burden of his shield
– Rosalind Jehanne

It’s one of my favorite songs. You can find the complete lyrics to her song here: http://www.calonsong.org/CalontirSongs/battleofmaldon.htm

News and Works in Progress

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Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on all of the great authors who participated in Trouble in the Wind. Again, you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082K73QPD. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Today’s Weight: 396.4

Updated Word Count: 216,398

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

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NFL All-Time Team (Running Backs)

In honor of the NFL’s 100th season, I’m talking about its best players. For more details and links to all the other positions, click here:  http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1833.

In this episode I’m talking about running backs. The NFL has chosen 24 finalists for 12 all-time running back spots. Here’s their list, including a small biography of each player: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001078454/article/running-back-finalists-announced-for-alltime-team

As mentioned in the main post on the topic, I’m breaking this down into 4 sections. My all-time team, which is organized actually as a team, then the remaining choices I think the NFL should make for their all-time team, then the finalists who don’t make the cut, and finally some interesting players at this position who weren’t finalists.

All-Time Team Roster Choices

Jim Brown is, clearly, the best running back the NFL has ever seen. He averaged more yards per game than anyone else (104.3). He played in an era of 12 or 14 games per season and he quit while he still had years to play. Had he played a few more years and/or played in 16 game seasons, he might still have more yards than anyone else. He led the NFL in rushing in 8 out of 9 years. He  *only* got 996 yards in the other year. In 1963 he *averaged* 133 yards per game, rushing for 6.4 yards per carry. This is ridiculous. He rushed for 5.2 yards per carry for his career. It’s ridiculous. He was also really good at catching passes. He’d be my RB1.

Barry Sanders, ironically, also retired before he had to. As a Cowboys fan it is no shame to say that Emmitt wasn’t as good as Barry. We’ll get to Emmitt soon enough, but Barry averaged more yards per carry and more yards per game. In fact, Barry is second to Brown in yards per game at 99.8. You might note that as good as that number is, it’s 4.5 yards per game less than Brown. Brown is just that far ahead of anyone, but Barry is a worthy next guy down. He’d be the speedy HB type RB2.

Lenny Moore: I’m putting him in the top 12 because of efficiency. He never once led the league in rushing. In fact, he never broke 1000 yards. However, he was the premier pass-catching RB of his time and maybe of all time. He led the league in yards per carry 4 times, 3 times getting 7 yards per carry or more. He led the league in yards per touch 6 times. *Six!* Also, he led the league in yards from scrimmage once. This guy was a huge weapon in the passing game in 50s and 60s, including getting over 70 yards per game in receiving yards for his career. This is my 3rd down back, because I don’t know there’s been a better receiving back ever.

Gale Sayers makes the team because he’s a home run hitter who could attack the other team as a runner, receiver, and returner. He led the NFL in his first 3 years in all-purpose yards. He led the NFL in rushing twice and in yards from scrimmage one of those years. It’s a true shame that he got hurt, because he averaged 5 yards a carry as a runner, 14.5 yards per punt return, and 30 yards per kickoff return, all stellar numbers in his short career. He gets on the team as my hybrid player and return specialist.

He doesn’t qualify as one of the top twelve RBs, but of the remaining players on this list, Bronko Nagurski would be the one I would add if I took a 5th RB on my 53-man roster. He’d be the lead fullback, backup OL, and play on coverage teams. I’ll talk about him more later.

Jim Thorpe would also get consideration here as RB and DB, but he’s tough case as I’ll talk about later. I also kind of think it would be fun to think of him as a gunner on the punt coverage team.

NFL All-Time Team

Eric Dickerson: Some critics thought he wouldn’t succeed because of his upright running style, but I remember how smoothly he glided through defenses. His career faded some at the end, but in his first six years he led the NFL in rushing 4 times, rushing 3 times for more than 1800 yards. I don’t think anyone else has more than that, though OJ Simpson did it twice.

Marshall Faulk: This man dominated as a receiver as well as a RB. Faulk never led the NFL in rushing, but he led the league in Total yards twice. He caught 767 passes, 2nd most among RBs, for 6875 yards, most among RBs. He was also extremely efficient as a RB, leading the league in yards per carry three times and  exceeding 1000 yards 7 times.

Harold “Red” Grange: This is a hard pick to justify because the most we know he rushed for in a year is 277 yards. However, we don’t know what he got in his first 5 years because the stats weren’t kept. However, his impact on the NFL was incredible. It’s not a stretch to say he might be the single most important player to the success of the NFL. It was Grange that turned pro football from a game that only the lower classes played into a game everyone could watch and play without scorn.

Walter Payton: For most of his career, he was the Bears offense. Those teams were bad, but he was consistently good to great, and he is 6th in yards per game at 88 yards per game. He did whatever the team needed. He was skilled at HB option passes at a time when few teams dared anything like that. He even punted once. He was really good catching out of the backfield. I’d take him on my team ahead of Emmitt because he’d have been an amazing special teams player and would adjust to whatever role the team needed. Oddly, though, he only led the league in rushing once, which surprised me when I saw that. Side note: The best offensive player in the NCAA FCS each season receives the Walter Payton Award.

OJ Simpson is a tragic/horrific figure now, but he was an incredibly good RB. In 1973 he rushed for 2003 yards in *14* games. That’s 143 yards per game. From 1972 to 1976 he led the NFL in rushing 4 out of the 5 years. He averaged 110 yards per game during that time. His early years and later years came nowhere close to that peak, but wow he was good during those years.

Emmitt Smith: He did everything well except he was not terribly fast. If he had had breakaway speed he would be up there with Brown, I think. He was, in my mind, the most consistent RB. Sanders got his yards in bigger chunks, with a much higher percentage of negative carries. Smith, on the other hand, relied on consistent positive yardage and 10-20 yard carries. Also, he was a good receiver, and played one of the greatest games I’ve seen a player have. In the final game of 1993, the Cowboys played the Giants where the winner won the division. Emmitt hurt his shoulder, but he kept playing. He owned that game, rushing 32 times for 168 yards with 10 catches for 61 more yards. All this and for most of the game he couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder. Incredible game.

Thurman Thomas never led the league in rushing yet he’s an easy choice for one of the top 12 because he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage 4 years in a row. He consistently rushed for over 1000 yards (8 years in a row) while also being a major threat as a pass-catcher.

LaDainian Tomlinson was another combination player, leading the league in rushing twice and all-purpose yards in another year. He was an efficient runner and a major threat out of the backfield. He was also efficient as a thrower, running the halfback option 12 times, completing 8 for 7 TDs. That’s really good, actually.

Finalists Who Didn’t Make The Top Team

Marcus Allen: Really good receiving RB, but only exceeding 1000 yards rushing 3 times and only had one great year.

Jerome Bettis: Consistent production, getting over 1000 yards 8 times. However, he only had 1 great year and was not efficient, finishing with a career 3.9 yards per carry.

Earl Campbell: This one surprises me. If you had asked me of the most dominant RBs, he would be right at the top. He led the league in rushing his first three years in the league. However, he’s also a symbol how RBs can get overused. He had over 1400 carries in his first 4 years. His career was never the same. His early years make him a deserving finalist, but I actually picked Thurman Thomas over him.

Earl “Dutch” Clark: It’s really hard to compare players from the early part of the NFL, but I don’t think he gets there. He led the NFL in TDs 3 times, but never led the league in rushing. Used as a passer quite often, but not particularly good at it, even for the era. He was also a tremendous defensive back, leading the NFL in interceptions twice. Hard to figure his place here.

Tony Dorsett: I really thought about him on the all-time roster above even though he never led the league in rushing. However, he was one of the greatest home run hitters in NFL history. I don’t know that he’s the only person to have both a run of over 90 yards and a catch of over 90 yards in his career. I also don’t know that he’s not. Tom Landry controlled his carries so he never got huge raw numbers, but that might have extended his career. Certainly, he remained efficient to later in his career.

Franco Harris: Like Bettis, he was really consistent, but rarely excellent. Led the league in TDs in 1976. That’s his only time leading the league. A deserved Hall of Famer, but because he was very good for a long time, not because he was dominant.

Hugh McElhenny: Here was an underrated player. Breakaway speed meant he was a threat as a receiver and returner as well as a rusher. His receiving stats in the 1950s were astounding, and he finished with 264 catches for 12.3 yards per catch. That’s really really good. However, he never led the NFL is rushing, though he did lead it in average in his rookie year.

Marion Motley: He’s a hard one to judge. He only led the league in rushing twice, never exceeding 1000 yards. However, he was a star for a Cleveland Browns team that won the title six times in a row. I think he’s a hell of a player, but I don’t think he makes the cut.

Bronko Nagurski: A great player and a versatile one. He’d actually be on my list of top players in NFL history, but not top RBs. He actually was a top-flight tackle for a while and a tough linebacker. I’d want him on my team, no doubt, but it’s hard to put him as one of the best RBs because the highest total he achieved in a year that we know of is 586. He might have gotten more, but we don’t have yardage totals for his first two years. Side note: The best defender in the NCAA each season receives the Bronko Nagurski Award.

Adrian Peterson: A great RB, and one who led the league in rushing three times. Yet I don’t think he quite matches up with the rest. He had some great years but injuries and inconsistency put him in this tier as opposed to the top tier. I suspect recency bias will make him one of the top 12 chosen, but I’d rather have those listed above over him.

Jim Taylor: A great player who was a part of some amazing Packer teams, winning the title 5 times. He led the league in rushing once, and had 5 years of over 1000 yards. He just doesn’t quite make the cut. However, he might very well be the 2nd best fullback of all-time behind Brown.

Steve Van Buren: I originally put him in the top section. He didn’t have a long career, but man was he good, especially for his era. He led the league in rushing 4 times in his first 6 years. He eclipsed 1000 yards twice at a time when the season was only 10 or 12 games. He led the league in yards per game 5 years in a row. A dominant player during his time. However, I bumped him in favor of Gale Sayers because of all-purpose yards.

Interesting Players to Remember

These include some players who aren’t necessarily the greatest, but have some intriguing qualities.

Larry Centers: A fantastic fullback who got more receptions as a RB than anyone else.

Jamaal Charles: Incredibly efficient as a rusher, getting 5.4 yards per carry for his career. Amazing.

Paddy Driscoll: We have almost no stats for the guy, but he was selected as 1st Team All-Pro 6 times in the 20s. Also the first All-Pro QB (yes, QB, it was a different time) in NFL history.

Frank Gifford: Not really close to being one of the finalists, but it’s fun to remember how good he was as an all-purpose back before becoming a great announcer.

Priest Holmes: Had a ridiculous 3 year stretch with over 2000 yards from scrimmage each year and 2 years of over 20 rushing TDs.

Bo Jackson: If he had stayed healthy and played only football, he might have been Jim Brown. Maybe even better. Averaged 5.4 yards per carry for his career.

Curtis Martin: one of the most consistent RBs ever. Never a big game-breaker, his only averaged 4.0 yards per carry. Only led the NFL in rushing once. However, he was over 1000 yards 10 straight years. In those 10 years he had at least 1456 total yards each year. What a player.

Ernie Nevers: We have no idea how many yards he got as records weren’t kept. Also, he only played 5 years. However, he was a scoring machine, in one case scoring all 40 points for the Chicago Cardinals.

Joe Perry: A dominant RB in the late 40s and 50s. Led the league in yards twice.

Darren Sproles: Whaaa? I can hear you all asking about this. However, this guy got a ton of all-purpose yards, including the most ever in a single year and 4 of the top 60 years all-time. A fantastic receiver, a slippery runner (4.9 yards per carry for his career), and a terrifying punt returner.

Jim Thorpe: What to do with him? He was clearly one of the greatest football players of all time and in the discussion for best athlete ever. However, none of his rushing stats were recorded and he was 33 the first year of the NFL. That meant his best years were long gone by the time we actually have an NFL. We have no good way to judge his career using statistics, meaning we have to used anecdotal evidence. He may not have been a great NFL player, given his age when the league starting, but it’s hard not to think he doesn’t have a place in the all-time team somewhere. We might see him appear in the DB list, but I doubt it. Side note: he was actually the NFL’s first president while actually playing. Side note two: The best DB in the NCAA each season receives the Jim Thorpe Award.

Doak Walker: Was a better college player than NFL RB, but he was a prolific kicker as well as a solid RB. Averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 16.7 yards per reception. He was also a very good returner and a solid defensive back. Side note: The best RB in the NCAA each season receives the Doak Walker Award.

NFL All-Time Team Main Post

This is the NFL’s 100th season and, rightfully, they’re doing a bunch of things to celebrate the past century. As part of this, they’re selecting an all-time team. I’m going to join in and, generally speaking, follow their format.

Below is how they’re constructing their team. If the position is a hyperlink, it will take you to my discussion on the position.

Offense

  • Quarterbacks: 10
  • Running Backs: 12
  • Wide Receivers: 10
  • Tight Ends: 5
  • Tackles: 7
  • Guards: 7
  • Centers: 4

Defense

  • Defensive Ends: 7
  • Defensive Tackles: 7
  • Linebackers: 12 (6 MLB/ILB; 6 OLB)
  • Cornerbacks: 7
  • Safeties: 6
  • Kickers: 2
  • Punters: 2
  • Kick Returners: 2

They have announced the 24 finalists for running back, so I’m guessing they’ll have twice the number serve as finalists for each position. I’m going to go through each position and make my choices out of their finalists.

I’ll organize each position in four sections. First, I’ll list the players who are I think should be on the all-time NFL who make my all-time team. Unlike the NFL, I’m actually going to build a roster, so I might choose lesser players at times who can do more for a team. Second, I’ll list the remaining players who I  think should make the NFL’s all-time team in alphabetical order. Then I’ll list the finalists who don’t make the cut. Finally, I’ll list a few players that might have been finalists or who are interesting for some reason.

Interview – Chaz Kemp

Greetings all

I’m starting a new semi-regular thing. As you probably know, I do a Spotlight on some artist, author, or vendor each week in my updates. This will be an expanded version of that, where I’ll interview some great independent and up-and-coming creators. I’ll ask hard-hitting questions like “What is their favorite Muppet?”

In truth, while I’ll be phrasing this in a light-hearted way, it is my hope that these interviews will have provide a little insight in their creative process. Remember, there’s one true creative process, and it’s the one that helps you create, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t learn what works for others.

I’m lucky to start off with Chaz Kemp. I met Chaz as part of Pandora Celtica when they came to house for a house with Sooj Tucker. It was an amazing show, and all of them gave me a bunch of CDs. I’ve listened to those over and over, and some are on the playlist that helps me write.

However, Chaz is not only a drummer and a singer, but also an excellent artist often focusing on Steampunk themes, such as this one:

You can find his work at:

The Interview

What is your quest?

To continue creating a multi-cultural steampunk/fantasy world called Ashelon by using my own Art Nouveau styled illustrations.  We’re also including novellas and short stories written by my wife, Carolyn Kay and other authors to help flesh out that world.

I want my dream and passion for Ashelon to be something amazing that fans can really groove on.

What is your favorite color?

I love creating my art digitally by using a vector-based program called CorelDraw.  It’s like Adobe Illustrator but I find it more versatile.  Through years of honing my technique, I can make my pieces feel more natural and the colors more vibrant while still embracing the illustrative quality I love so much. 

I also enjoy the way that I can make changes to my art on the fly by switching out colors, body positioning and even the backgrounds without having to take hours or even days repainting things just to try something new.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

As a freelance artist, one of my biggest hurdles involved gaining respect.  I went out of my way to treat my clients with respect and kindness, but they didn’t always feel the need to reciprocate early in my career.

It took time to learn that I had the power to say ‘no’ when faced with the prospect of working with someone who wasn’t going to treat me well.  I could also say ‘no’ when a potential client didn’t want to adequately compensate me for the work I was to do for them.  As I won more awards and gained more of a reputation for doing good work, I ran into fewer problems.

Another challenge came with the frustration of trying to get in with big name companies like many of the New Age companies or table top RPG leaders. They just wouldn’t write back to me.

After talking with a few industry ‘insiders’ I discovered that most of those art directors don’t actually care about the artist or their art, all they really care about is whether they think the artist can make them money.  As an example, photo-realism is the hot style right now, so that’s all they’re interested in and those are the only artists they’re willing to hire. If I were a photo-realistic artist, all I’d ever be to them is a thing that made them money. So truthfully, getting rejected by them was actually them doing me a favor.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I feel that while I am inspired by the Art Nouveau movement and by Alphonse Mucha in particular, I don’t directly copy him.  I take the style and make it my own.  I love that many people can see his inspiration in my work.

I’m also quite proud of the fact that several of my main characters are multi-cultural because there isn’t enough of that in the Steampunk genre.  In reality, the 1800s happened everywhere, not just in Victorian England. So why have art centered around one culture when I can explore the ideas of Steampunk in every culture? When you do that, the ideas are endless and ongoing. Not only that, but we get to have multiple cultures represented in a way that you don’t normally see them and that’s just too cool.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet?  Pepe the King Prawn – he’s quite hilarious.
  • Crunchy or Creamy?  Crunchy when it comes to peanut butter… Creamy when it comes to soup.
  • Favorite Sports Team?  Denver Nuggets all the way.
  • Cake or Pie?  Pie for sure… there are more varieties of pie and most of them are DELICIOUS!!
  • Lime or Lemon?  Lemon
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Bean dip FTW
  • Wet or Dry?  Wet when it comes to drinks like Moscow Mules – Dry when it comes to computers and socks.
  • Favorite Musical Performer we’ve Never Heard Of? Mark King of Level 42 – he’s a good song writer and singer, but an AMAZING bass player.
  • Whisky or Whiskey?  Whiskaaaaaaaay!!
  • Steak Temperature?   Medium Well (ed. note: Sigh, it could be worse I suppose)
  • Favorite 1970s TV show?  Wonder Woman
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?  Summer – perfect beach weather.
  • Favorite Pet?  Our cats Sif and Naira.
  • Coffee or Tea?  Coffee hands down!
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Fantasy every time.  The closest I get to Sci-Fi is either cyber punk (Which is cool) or Steampunk (Which is awesome)

What question would you like to ask me?

The fact that you have SO much information about your world of Shijuren is amazing.  I’d love to develop that level of detail for my world of Ashelon!  How long did it take you to create your world and what inspired you to do it?  

My Answer: It’s not really something I do all at once. I just use whatever inspiration comes to mind. If I run across something interesting, I toss that in.

One of my most useful tools is Wikipedia’s random article button. I will literally sit in front of a football game or something like that and just click it. Every time I see something interesting, I cut and paste into a Notes document. Then, when I am looking for something, a town, a new character, inspiration for an event, whatever, I glance at that. The randomness helps keep me from doing the things I always fall back upon.

I have also had help from people like Adam Hale, who does all the maps for me. I gave him license to add geographic details and names, based on certain parameters, and that helps shape strategic and tactical choices by my characters.

I love worldbuilding. I do a little bit here, a little bit there, and then suddenly there’s a thing.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

You should have asked, “What game are you currently grooving on?”  I would respond with Cards Against Humanity!!  We just had dinner at a friend’s house this past weekend where we played CaH and I laughed so hard, my face hurt the whole rest of the weekend.  So much fun!!

******

Speaking of fun, I enjoyed this quite a bit. I will start doing these on as many Tuesdays as I have one ready.

Thanks very much to Chaz for being the guinea pig and helping shape these questions. I know I’ll be seeing Chaz at ConQuest on Memorial Day. I suspect you’ll find us sharing a beverage at some point there.

If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Also, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Quick Thoughts on Pro Football

The NFL has proven itself time and time again that it’s blind to the wishes of the fans. It’s really frustrating how badly Goodell has mis-managed this league. In an ideal world I would replace him with Amy Trask, who has the experience, toughness, and common sense to vastly bring the league back in touch with its fans.

Side note: Follow Amy on Twitter, even if you’re not a football fan. She’s chock full of awesome.

Last night’s game between the Packers and the Lions was simply another example of the NFL’s short-sighted lack of care. There *is* a step they can make that would dramatically improve the quality of officiating, and that’s the creation of a sky judge.

It is no shame for NFL referees to admit that the speed of the modern NFL is too much for human beings to officiate. Unfortunately, it seems clear that NFL officials take it personally when a call is overturned. I get that feeling, but getting it right is more important than their ego.

I would also create full-time officials. Generally speaking, NFL referees are part-time employees. That’s ridiculous to me. The NFL said there’s no improvement from full-time officials, but as far as I know, they only tried it on a limited basis for *one* year. Not exactly a good sample size.

One point that I think might be valid is that frame-by-frame looks at plays might not be valid for many plays. They’re absolutely valid for things like whether a player gets his feet down on a catch and objective calls like that. I can see why on pass interference and such it might be less relevant. Contact 1/32nd of a second before the ball arrives isn’t worth a penalty, for example. However, you could easily stipulate that on such plays the slow motion goes at a particular speed, a balance between the challenge of officiating live at full speed and the ability to slow things down. Once that’s agreed on, the networks would be able to match it, providing us all with a standard level.

In any case, something has to be done when play after play are misjudged by officials. I understand why the two hands to the face penalties were called last night at real speed. A sky judge, with the ability to see a replay quickly, could have just as easily seen why they weren’t penalties. Taken maybe 5 seconds.

This idea of a sky judge is much closer to college football, and it is part of the XFL.

Ah, the XFL. Their draft started today, and I’m getting really excited about it. I think more than anyone else recently they’ve looked at what fans want. The rule changes look promising, including their method of handling officiating. Another promising thing is the way they’re looking at making special teams important again while still finding ways to keep players reasonably safe.

I like the XFL ideas so much, I’m actually getting two season tickets for the St. Louis Battlehawks. Ticket prices are very reasonable, actually, which is another factor of course.

Whether the XFL succeeds where the WFL, USFL, AAF, previous XFL, and all the other attempts failed remains to be seen, however, I’m pleased at the thought going into the league. I’m really hoping it’ll survive, in part, because I love football and want a successful spring league.