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November 08, 2012

By JANIE McCAULEY Associated Press

 

Frank Gore looks at his three 100-yard rushing performances, four touchdowns and overall stellar output in the season’s first half and is quick to praise an un­heralded offensive line that plays such an integral part in helping him do it.

Helping San Francisco’s en­tire offense shine, too. These big boys block all over the field, every which way — even if it means taking on a speedy, more athletic defensive back.

“It’s fun because they look at you like you’re not supposed to be down there,” right tackle Anthony Davis said Wednesday. “We’re a lot bigger than them.”

Gore appreciates every athletic block, every hustle play.

The three-time Pro Bowl running back insists he has never had such huge holes ahead of him to run, and that is the ultimate compliment to the 49ers’ talented, much-improved O-line. Gore is now gearing up for a strong stretch the rest of the way with the NFC West-leading Niners (6-2), as long as these guys keep doing the dirty work ahead of him to keep things clicking toward another playoff berth.

Gore has run for 656 yards on 119 carries, averaging a career-best 5.5 yards - topping his 5.4 average in 2006.

“My O-linemen are doing a (heckuva) job of springing me and giving me big lanes that I’ve never seen before,” Gore said. “So I have to give it to them, and to the receivers blocking down field.”

While Gore has only played alongside two Pro Bowl linemen during his eight NFL seasons with San Francisco — Larry Allen in 2006 and left tackle Joe Staley last season —recognition hardly means much to this tight-knit unit that truly enjoys going to work together each day during the grind of a 16-game season.

Early last year, the line faced criticism for a slow start, then took more heat after quarterback Alex Smith was sacked nine times in a Thanksgiving night loss at Baltimore. Staley, Jonathan Goodwin and Co. have done their best to ignore — and sometimes even call out — the skeptics and move forward by sticking together to stay the course.

“There’s a lot of talent in that room, on that line. The one thing I'll say about this line is it’s a hard-working line, it's a line that’s not satisfied with a little success,” Goodwin said. “I think everybody wants big success for themself and this team.”

And the Niners are getting more of a push from opposing defenses within the division this season, as every team has either upgraded or just plain improved on that side of the ball.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher realizes what a load his defense faces on Sunday in stopping Gore, slowing down Smith and his large cast of receivers — and doing all that against a physical, do-everything offensive line.

“I can’t remember having to prepare for an offense that was so well-coached and so diversified in the run game and so talented, the different types of run concepts,” Fisher said.

Smith connected with nine different wideouts in a 24-3 road rout of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football on Oct. 29, and like Gore the quarterback gives much of the credit to the line. Smith was also sacked four times that night and has been taken down 22 times this season for 128 lost yards — yet the 2005 No. 1 overall pick recently said he takes the blame and would rather be sacked than risk throwing an interception.

“They have a lot on their plate, week in and week out,” Smith said. “We ask them to do a lot, run and pass. Really, our balance starts with them, the ability in the run game and then protect in the pass game. They continue to execute, not just physically but mentally.”

That’s just part of the job, said left guard Mike Iupati. He and Davis were both first-round draft picks in 2010 and became instant starters. Now, they’re veterans.

“We’re all on the same page. We want to win. That’s the key to it,” Iupati said. “Just sticking together, camaraderie. We have each other’s back, and also the communication factor.”

Whatever makes them work, other teams are taking notice. There’s so much to deal with on San Francisco’s offense.

“They have a lot invested in the O-line and do a very good job. It just makes that play action a nightmare when you try to stop the run,” St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “And when you have an O-line like that, they have some weird running plays. They’ll run some running plays I don’t think I’ve seen since the Tecmo Super Bowl, playing that video game.”

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November 08, 2012

By Perry Green

Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody in the history of football with the combined skills and talents that RGIII has. He’s the total package!”

Those were the words legendary Howard University Sports Information Director Ed Hill Jr. used to describe the impact of Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

In fact, that’s how several folks have described what they’re witnessing from Griffin so far this NFL season. Whether it is hardcore ‘Skins fans, NFL reporters, national pundits or even the president of the United States: they all suggest that RGIII offers something that has never been witnessed in the league before.

Hill has served as Howard’s SID for 29 years and worked as a sports reporter for years before arriving at Howard, so he’s seen his fair share of talented football players. He’s covered athletes that went on to win Super Bowl titles in the NFL, yet none of them quite compare to what he’s seeing from Griffin, the former Heisman trophy winner.

“There are maybe only a handful of quarterbacks that come close to the skills that RGIII have shown us so far this season,” Hill told the AFRO. “Some of these names are commonly known like Warren Moon, Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Randall Cunningham or most recently Michael Vick. But some of the older quarterbacks like Marlon Briscoe, had the talent but never got a chance to show it because of the racial tension back then.”

Hill said all of those players were great in one category or another, whether it be running the ball or passing but weren’t equally effective doing both. Warren Moon and Doug Williams were great passers but weren’t very mobile; Vick and Cunningham could run and scramble but weren’t as accurate passing the ball.

Hill said Griffin can not only outrun any and every quarterback that has ever played football, but can pass the ball just well and accurately as he runs.

“His speed as a runner is unmatchable and his arm strength and accuracy is as good as any passer out there, but you know what, the most impressive thing about this kid is his confidence,” Hill told the AFRO. “He’s just so confident in his abilities and people attract to confidence. His teammates, his fans, and even his haters, they all can’t help but follow this kid because he’s just so confident that he can do anything he wants on the field.

“That confidence is what will eventually lead him to becoming probably the best quarterback in the NFL,” Hill continued. “And not just the best Black quarterback, but the perhaps the best of any race to play the game.”

One of the Black quarterbacks that Hill mentioned, Doug Williams, echoed that sentiment that RGIII can develop into the best to ever play, almost as if Griffin is setting the precedent for a new prototype of quarterback in the NFL: one that can be equally great as a runner and a passer, not just be good at one or the other.

“Cunningham and McNair were both pretty passers and we all know they both could run the ball very well, but I don’t think neither one of them passed the ball as pretty as Griffin does,” said Williams, the first and only African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl and win Super Bowl MVP as a starter for the Washington Redskins in 1987.

“Some may say that I threw a pretty pass, but I can tell you that I only wish that I had half as much talent as Griffin has. This kid throws the prettiest pass that I ever seen, and he’s only a rookie.”

Williams told the AFRO that the culture of the NFL was far different back when he was first drafted in 1978 compared to today’s league. Because of those differences, Griffin will get a chance to become not only the face of his franchise, but also the face of the entire NFL.

“When I was drafted in ’78, things were different. I was drafted to be a Black quarterback and Black quarterbacks had limitations. It’s a new league now and RGIII wasn’t drafted to be just a Black quarterback; he was drafted to be the quarterback. He was chosen to be the star of the city, and he’s been thriving in the role so far.”

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November 01, 2012

By KENNETH MILLER

Staff Writer

 

The sport of boxing has often been associated with the greed of promoters to the adversity that its combatants endure only to fall into the abyss of its slimy mitts.

However, there is one figure who personified everything that is good about the sport.  He is Emanuel Steward. Steward was born on July 7, 1944 in Bottom Creek, West Virginia, and at the age of 12, he moved with his mother to Detroit, Michigan. He attended the Brewster Recreation Center, where the famous boxers Joe Louis and Eddie Futch trained.

He began his amateur boxing career there. Steward’s amateur record included; 94 wins and 3 losses. He also won the 1963 national Golden Gloves tournament in the bantamweight division.

He wanted to become a trainer for amateur boxers, but he needed a steady income to support his family so he became an electrician. He went on to train several amateur boxers at the nearby Kronk Gym.  Steward was always most comfortable in a steamy Detroit recreation center, training Blacks, not to excel in the sport that ultimately brought them fame and fortune, but to merely keep them alive.

They were young men who had no options, so like the father figure he became to them, he nurtured them in a sport that engulfed his life until he died at the age of 68 near Chicago, a distance, from the now iconic Kronk Gym.

The cause of his death was not reported although it was learned during his final weeks that he was battling colon cancer.

His death came as a tremendous shock to the boxing community because most didn’t even know that he was ill.

He died on Oct. 25 and with so much going on in America with the heated presidential election and the Detroit baseball team contending for a World Series title, his death seemed an afterthought to most.

But when Emanuel Steward died so too did the heart, passion, voice of boxing’s best ambassador.

Some of you might just remember him from his analytical work on the HBO telecast, always the voice of reason and the one who could only speak from the perspective of both fighter and trainer.

Stewart produced 40 world champions from the Kronk Gym, most notably Thomas ‘Hit Man’ Hearns who won multiple championships during the 1980s and considered him as a father.

He also managed most of the fighters he developed much to the chagrin of money- grubbing promoters who ultimately gave Steward the utmost respect.

Several years ago, I remember being in Mexico City with Steward where a purse bid for his heavyweight Lennox Lewis was being conducted for a fight with Tony Tucker.

Steward spent most of his time cooking up some of the most delicious barbeque and delivered some to promoter Don King who could never refuse a good meal.

I am sure that King would have much rather have had Steward deliver Lewis to his promotional stable, but Stewart was much too loyal a man for that regardless of the temptations.

There are many trainers and managers in the sport who sell out their fighters to their own selfish benefit, but not the man who affectionately became known to his HBO family as Manny.

A member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer and a man of great integrity he was never really comfortable in the limelight and was humbled by all of the accolades bestowed upon him.

Only Manny could take an Oliver McCall and knockout Lewis in two rounds for the heavyweight title and then switch corners to train Lewis to destroy McCall in the rematch.

Emanuel Steward will return to Detroit this week for the final time. A memorial will be held in his honor on Nov. 13 at Greater Grace Temple.

Steward meant as much to Detroit as General Motors and its assembly lines, but in a sport that is as maligned as boxing, he meant everything. Almost too good to be true.

A sign on the recreation center that identified it as Kronk was removed when Stewart died, the owner(s) obviously realizing that without Emanuel Stewart there can be no Kronk Gym. For the sport of boxing, its chief who created the ingredients for greatness is gone…

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November 01, 2012

Associated Press

 

James Harden has agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract extension with the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets acquired the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in a stunning trade with Oklahoma City October 27.  Harden was in the starting lineup when Houston opened the regular season at Detroit on Wednesday night.

“We have him for this year and five more, so six years,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “Our goal is to do a good enough job as a staff that we win, make the playoffs, develop the young guys and that we never, ever, ever come to camp again with 13 new guys.”

Houston also picked up the options for forwards Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson for the 2013-14 season. The Rockets have undergone a bit of an overhaul this season, adding Harden and guard Jeremy Lin.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey called Harden a “foundational player” at his introductory news conference this week. He will become the featured player in Houston after three seasons in a supporting role behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.

Harden averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the Thunder last season. He started only seven games in three seasons with Oklahoma City but became an indispensable reserve.

Morey acknowledged he was “shocked” that Harden was available, and said the deal came together within a few days last week. The Rockets have been trying to land a first-tier star for years, failing in an aggressive bid to sign Dwight Howard over the summer.

The Rockets were close to getting Pau Gasol before last season in a proposed deal that also would have sent All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Lakers. But NBA Commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, vetoed the deal that would have brought Lamar Odom to the Hornets, along with Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.

McHale and Morey said before training camp began that the objective this season was making the playoffs. That remains the same, although with Harden on board, it seems much more reachable. 

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November 01, 2012

By GREG BEACHAM The Associated Press

 

Southern California's national championship dreams are dead, and Robert Woods believes it's partly because the Trojans care about each other too much.

Stick with him here: The All-American receiver says pride and team togetherness are why 18th-ranked USC leads the nation in penalties.

When the Trojans (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12) spend too much time sticking up for their teammates with late hits, taunts and other shenanigans, those emotions lead to more mistakes between the whistles, and it all adds up to a bumper crop of penalties - a jaw-dropping 82 of them, in fact.

''I feel like this team has too much pride,'' Woods said. ''It's a brotherhood here. Guys are looking out for each other, (but) you need to play within the rules. We've made dumb mistakes. I retaliated and got a penalty, too.''

It's only one man's theory, but few Trojans can come up with anything better to explain the surprising lack of discipline from a team that had no significant penalty predilections last year. The Trojans committed just 71 penalties last season while going 10-2, but they've already vaulted over that mark with five or six games left in this season.

With No. 2 Oregon coming to the Coliseum on Saturday, the Trojans have run out of time to fix their mistakes before the start of their toughest stretch of the season. They've still got a sizable shot at the Pac-12 title game, but it's getting smaller with each yellow flag.

''SC, we have a reputation of being a nasty bunch or whatever,'' linebacker Dion Bailey said. ''We go a step too far on some plays, and the referees aren't cutting us any break.''

USC has been pushed back 677 yards by its penalties - a bit of a contrast from FBS-leading Navy, which has just 28 penalties for 213 yards. The Trojans' 10.25 penalties per game are significantly more than 119th-place Florida International's 8.56 per game.

USC coach Lane Kiffin and his staff have received much of the fans' criticism for his players' lack of discipline, despite weekly sessions rehashing those lapses on film.

''It's not a street fight,'' Kiffin said. ''It's a game, and there's rules within that. A lot of them have the mentality where they're trained to protect their brother, and that's cost us in a lot of situations.''

A week after Kiffin said he hoped the Trojans had ''hit rock-bottom'' in the penalty department with 10 penalties for 90 yards in a blowout win over Colorado, USC committed 13 penalties for 117 yards last weekend in the 39-36 loss at Arizona that knocked them out of the national title race and endangered their chances of playing in the Pac-12 title game.

''I'm completely shocked that we would still be having these conversations at this point,'' Kiffin said. ''Sometimes you have them in the first couple of weeks with newer players or guys making mistakes, but to see the same ones over and over is really disappointing. It cost us the game (at Arizona), on top of all the plays we could have made.''

USC has been penalized for at least 65 yards in every game this season. The Trojans have never committed fewer than seven penalties in a game, and they've hit double digits in five of their eight games, including the last four.

''We've got to take within ourselves the fact that we're representing a lot of people out there on the field,'' hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald said. ''The players that came before us, all the people that are watching us. We don't want to display an undisciplined team.''

Even when the Trojans don't exactly make major mistakes, they're not getting many breaks. McDonald was whistled for a taunting penalty that extended a scoring drive by the Wildcats last weekend, but replays showed his facemask had actually become entangled in the helmet of the aggrieved Arizona player.

''I don't want to go back to it,'' McDonald said. ''I put the team in some bad positions, and I apologized for that. It's unfortunate, but I've just got to keep playing hard and being me.''

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