Black History Month Podcast – Third and a Mile

In a special Taking It to the House Black History Month piece , we take a look back at the release of the historic ESPN Book Third and a Mile, which documented the journey of the African American Quarterback.  In this former BIGPLAY Radio Podcast, host David Kindervater interviews book contributors Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams and Historian Lloyd Vance

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NFL Downtime’s Cure…. Reading

The best way to spend NFL Downtime before training camps is to read a book like Michael MacCambridge’s America’s Game

With the NFL in “Downtime” until training camps start in late July, many league followers only news at this time seems to be mostly negative.  Yes, there are still positive stories like “The New York Jets won the NFL’s Offseason”, “Donovan McNabb Returns to Philly to hold his annual camp” and “Carolina receiver Dwayne Jarrett has finally turned the corner” that briefly dot league news sources. 

However…Thanks to recent events involving Philadelphia Eagles backup QB Michael Vick (shooting at his 30th B-Day Party), Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (Bar hopping gone array in Milledgeville, GA), Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (misdemeanor assault citation after allegedly punching a guy for an upside down hook’em Horns sign), Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson (just charged for a bar fight with a bouncer) and the ever present NFL Personal Conduct Policy – just celebrated its 3rd birthday — the league’s negative news “Blotter” has been working overtime.

But I for one usually like to accentuate the “real” stories of the NFL and the 1500 or so other players that are “Doing the Right Thing” – So I have one suggestion for everyone during “NFL Downtime”….PICK UP A BOOK.

Right now I am reading the heartwarming book, The Marrow in Me, which tells the stories of the many people who are battling leukemia daily and how each of us can do our part in helping them continue their fight.  Author Kevin Walsh, an anchor for Comcast Sportsnet in Boston and my junior high’s former quarterback, does a great job of showing just “how” important one person can be far beyond their wildest dreams.  I highly recommend the book, even if it is not “football” related :)

For those looking to cure their football fix, I have listed my Top 5 Pro Football related books

  1. Three Bricks Shy of a Load by Roy Blount Jr – A great book that brings the NFL’s premier team from the 1970’s, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to life.  Blount was practically a member of the Steelers as he gave the best insight that I have ever read on the building of a championship level team from training camp to the playoffs.  And to say the least this book is filled with colorful real-life “characters”.
  2. Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback by William Rhoden – Alright, I will start with the disclaimer that I was a key contributor to this book.  But this masterpiece truly is special.  This yarn not only tells the sociological aspects of the African American Quarterback’s journey, it also has more “first hand” knowledge and stories — from the people that lived it — than any book that I have ever read.  From early pioneers like Fritz Pollard to Doug Williams to Donovan McNabb it is all there in graphic oratory form.
  3. America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge – This book is living and breathing history.  MacCambridge starts by talking about the “Greatest Game Ever Played”, the 1958 NFL Championship, and then fills in the gaps in every way imaginable from Bert Bell and the league’s early innovators to the monumental AFL/NFL merger to today’s megawatt billion-dollar version.
  4. Tailgating, Sacks, And Salary Caps by Mark Yost – Some may think this book is too money driven, but if you want to learn the business, economics, history, and collective bargaining aspects of the NFL, this is the book for you — And let’s face it, we all know that the NFL is all about big bucks.  Yost lives up to his Wall Street Journal pedigree by telling the story of the NFL from the perspective of the league’s front office, television execs, merchandisers, new stadium constructors, fantasy football geeks and much more.
  5. Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback by Peter King – Some may not enjoy Peter King’s weekly NFL news and notes column, but I am a big fan.  King, a veteran pro football scribe and coffee aficionado, gives great information and facts in his light hearted stories that come from his many years working the league’s beat.  The stories are genuine plus this SI vet is probably the most plugged guy in the NFL.  The book is filled with quirky league history and notes…of course wrapped around some talk about family and traveling in the NFL’s ever-moving caravan.

 Other books to consider:  The Philadelphia Eagles Encyclopedia by Ray Didinger and Bob Lyons; Outside the Lines: African Americans and the integration of the National Football League by Charles Ross; Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football by Robert W. Peterson; and The Thinking Man’s Guide to Football by Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

To Convert or Not Convert

As the NFL Draft approaches many recognizable and successful college quarterbacks are confronted with the decision to stick with the quarterback position or convert to another position to have a chance to play in the NFL. “Are you willing to play another position to make our team?” is the question evaluators ask conversion candidates at the combine and Senior Bowl. For many quarterbacks this is a hard decision, because many have played the position since Pop Warner and they are used to being under center.

The quarterback position in my opinion is the most scrutinized position in sports in terms of measurables (fairly and unfairly). NFL personnel staffs tend to believe quarterbacks must be over 6’2, weigh at least 200 Pounds to take the constant pounding, be able to throw a minimum of 70 yards, score high on the Wonderlic test, run a 4.8 or better to avoid the rush and be a 60% accurate passer. That is a lot for an individual to have in one package, especially for a quarterback making the jump from college to the “fast” NFL game. The quarterbacks that do not fall into the classic categories tend to be called non-traditional quarterbacks, running quarterbacks, and “athletes”. I call it the “Antwaan Randle El” effect. Randle El was considered too small and lacking the arm strength needed to be an every down quarterback at the NFL level coming out of Indiana in 2002. Scouts said of him and other past non-traditional quarterbacks “He tends to float deep passes and lacks the pinpoint accuracy needed for the NFL game”. He however possessed tremendous speed and agility that equated to electrifying moves. As displayed at the combine and in Senior Bowl practices his ability to run the forty in 4.5 seconds and maneuver the cone drills with ease caused everyone to want to find a place for him on their roster as a 3rd down receiver, return man, and emergency quarterback. The Steelers picked him in the 2nd round as a wide receiver and his quarterback experience allowed the Steelers to use him as a passer in a variety of trick plays, most notably a game-clinching 43-yard fake reverse touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.

The conversion question has been asked of draft prospects for a long time. It does not matter if you are a Heisman Trophy winner (Eric Crouch) or an undrafted free agent type (Woodrow Dantzler) if your measurables are not deemed NFL caliber, decisions must be made. There are three approaches college quarterbacks tend to take when asked to convert positions in the NFL Draft:

(Quarterback Only) – “I am a quarterback and that is the only position that I have ever played and I am not converting”. These individuals want to show the NFL evaluators that they are wrong about their abilities. Each quarterback in this category has their own reasons why they believe they can play quarterback in the NFL and scouts will not change their mind. Sometimes this mentality works to a quarterback’s advantage (Rich Gannon – Developed into a MVP QB) or backfires (Major Harris – Drafted in 11th Round in 1989 and went to CFL for a short stint). This quarterback typically will go late in the draft (5th Rd or later) or go undrafted. If they are undrafted a long road awaits proving themselves in an NFL training camp, NFL Europe or in another league (CFL or AFL). 

(Give me a chance) – “Give me a chance to try quarterback first and if it doesn’t workout then I will try to help the team in other ways”. This is the route that I believe coaches love, because they see that the player wants to compete, but has the “Team First” attitude if quarterback does not work out. Brad Smith was my #1 dual threat quarterback from the 2006 NFL Draft with over 3,000 yards rushing and passing in his career at Missouri. Selected by the New York Jets in the 4th round, head coach Eric Mangini dreamed up a variety of ways to use Smith including quarterback. In preseason Smith led the third stringers as quarterback, but he also took turns on special teams and as a backup WR. He became the ultimate “wildcard” for the Jets during the 2006 season showing up on trick plays, kickoffs, and WR where he showed good hands and a penchant for blocking. Currently listed as the Jets 3rd string quarterback, Smith will continue to help his team where asked, but still will receive the opportunity to try quarterback  

(I know my “Role” and it is not at QB) – Quarterbacks who know immediately that they will not be a NFL quarterback and prepare to move to another position as soon as their college career ends or during their senior year. Usually these are quarterbacks, who are runners first and passers a distant second (Scott Frost). They may come from an option-oriented attack that did not emphasis the pass. With more pro-style offenses in college you are seeing less of these “3rd Running Back” type quarterbacks. In Frost’s case he was a rare 1,000-yard passing and rushing quarterback in the same season. He however completed only about 40% of his passes and was more effective as a bruising runner than as a passer. By the scouting combine, Frost swallowed his pride as a National Champion quarterback and worked out exclusively at defensive back and running back. He showed at the combine that he understood his role and his athleticism was right with the rest of the competitors at those positions. When the Jets drafted him late in draft, he and the team knew he would be a solid defensive back due to his physical nature, positive mental outlook, and speed/agility that he showed at the combine.

This year’s draft class features some players who played quarterback at one time in college and may need to think about playing another position to make it in the NFL. They include Reggie Ball (Georgia Tech), Paul Thompson (Oklahoma), Syvelle Newton (South Carolina), CJ Gaddis (Clemson), Isiah Stanback (Washington), Chansi Stuckey (Clemson), Omarr Conner (Mississippi State), and my number 1 conversion candidate Legedu Naanee (Boise State). Naanee (6’2, 225) was a little used backup quarterback at Boise State, who knew he wanted to go to the next level. He volunteered in 2006 to be the blocking WR and “Ace” on special teams for the Fiesta Bowl champs. With his strong showing at the combine (40 inch vertical and 4.41 in the forty) and his “can do attitude” I am sure there will be a place in the NFL for him.

Historical Note: Many former outstanding African American college quarterbacks were not given an opportunity to play the quarterback position in the NFL. Unfortunately there was a time when black quarterbacks were automatically converted to another position based solely on stereotypes regarding the leadership and intelligence capabilities of black quarterbacks (Definitely read the book “3rd and Mile” for more). I hope that in today’s NFL this is a “non-issue” and that a quarterback is asked to convert based only on their ability. Michael Vick is a prime example he could easily play wide receiver or defensive back with his speed, however he is now given the opportunity to develop at quarterback position. He and others like Donovan McNabb and Vince Young have proven that their abilities equate to wins on the field.

See BIGPLAY Football Writer Lloyd Vance in ESPN “Third and a Mile” Documentary

I wanted to send a program alert that I will be featured in the ESPN Documentary “3rd and a Mile” chronicling the history and journey of the African American QB.  The program will air Sunday February 11th at Noon on ESPN 2 and throughout the month of February on ESPN Classic.

Along with myself, other featured speakers on the show will be Bill Rhoden (NY Times), Warren Moon, Doug Williams, James Harris, Marlin Briscoe, Joe Gilliam Sr, Vince Young, and others. The program is an hour long and tells the story from Fritz Pollard to Vince Young.  It will definitely give everyone a sense of the history, journey, obstacles, and triumphs of the African American Quarterback in the NFL.

Historical Book “Third and a Mile” Released by ESPN

I recently returned from Miami where I was part of the celebration and events surrounding the release of the book “3rd and a Mile” by Bill Rhoden (NY Times).  The book, which I contributed to (See Page 216 and Acknowledgments) chronicles the history of the African American QB through first hand stories from The Field Generals (Warren Moon, Doug Williams, Marlin Briscoe, and James Harris) and others. 

We have been working with ESPN on this book for about 2 years and now it is in print !!.  It truly has been a rewarding experience. 

Please pick the book up at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Third-Mile-History/dp/1933060115/sr=8-1/qid=1156961584/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-9592369-9096041?ie=UTF8) or at your local book store.