Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Evening with Brooks Robinson

On Monday night, I met the idols of my baseball childhood: Jim Palmer, Paul Blair, Earl Weaver and Brooks Robinson. The story is here:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blood, Guts, and Orange Crush

With the game slipping away in the middle of the third quarter, Jameel Sewell dropped back to pass.

Maryland had efficiently marched down the field for what could have been a game-sealing touchdown a few minutes before, but the Virginia defense stiffened in the red zone—and the Terps settled for three to take a 9-3 advantage.

Sewell had already been sacked five times and the Maryland defensive line bore down on him again. Instead of bailing out, Jameel hung in and was hit just after he threw the ball down the Maryland sideline.

The ball was clearly under thrown, and you could see a defensive back camped under it in the vicinity of the Maryland 40 yard line. As I watched it come down, I thought if it was going to be intercepted then it would essentially serve as a punt. But somehow the ball squirted through the defender’s hands and landed in Kris Burd's for the reception--he was on the ground.

After a relatively quiet afternoon, the Virginia bench came to life.

Rashawn Jackson ripped off gains of seven and eight yards, smash-mouth style, to get us into field goal range. On a second and two, Sewell ploughed into the line pushing for every inch. At the end of the play, Sewell got hammered and his body twisted at an odd angle before going under the crush of defenders.

This was the second time during the game that a Virginia player received an injury at the end of a play. At the end of the first-half, on a kneel-down play, it looked like Conrath was thrown to the ground--and he was helped off with a serious injury.

Whatever happened on those two plays incensed the Virginia team – they became wild and enraged. They rose up on the sideline. Vic Hall punched the air and screamed with rage. They caught fire.

Nose tackle Nick Jenkins bounded toward us down the sideline. “They don’t want to play,” he screamed. “They’re a bunch of bitches. They don’t want to play,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear it. He directed his remarks into the crowd and Terp fans shouted back at him. He patted the helmets of every player on the bench—pumping them up. Sewell and Conrath became a rallying cry.

Nick Jenkins is a wild man.

From that point on, Virginia focused its intensity on steamrolling the Terrapin like you’ve seen the prehistoric creatures flattened on Route 64 trying to cross the road--not with cheap shots but with smash mouth football.

The next play went to Jackson again and I’m convinced if they had stayed with him, we would have gotten into the end zone—the line started blowing them off the ball—punching them in the mouth. Verica’s two passes fell incomplete and we settled for three.

But the defense wasn’t finished. Coach Groh and Poindexter energized their charges. The players began jumping up and down to stay loose. Turner’s sideline pass on first down went high. In the shotgun, he threw a pass that Darnell Childs tipped and it fell into the arms of Nate Collins—and all I could think of as he rumbled toward the end zone was “please, just let him get there," and it happened.

It began to rain harder and the Terrapin found some seams and running room—but the defense stood up like a “stone wall” army in the rear flanks of the Civil War, and Maryland suddenly couldn’t hit a field goal.

Sewell and Conrath emerged on crutches.

Rashawn Jackson started reeling off yardage and we were able to eat some clock. His touch down run, as he turned the corner, was a thing of beauty—but it was called back.

Maryland still had life, that is until Collins picked up Turner and slammed him into the end zone—reminiscent of the Chris Long pancake two years ago.

It was an amazing victory—our seats in the first row behind the UVA bench made it feel like it was a high school game. You could hear the voices of the coaches and you are on top of the field. The metal bench is dented—it was old school—seeing the gray and rose-smeared Cavalier whites of Jackson, Collins, Burrell, Johnson and Childs. It was like the early days of the NFL.

They overcame a ton of adversity—injuries, phantom calls, and a driving rain. This game was about resilience and resolve—and they battled for every inch of it. Coach Groh’s instructions to the defense in the first half led to successive stops. “Short passes,” he screamed. “That’s all they are going to do.”

Groh’s defense reminds me of those Giant teams he helped coach—they bend but they don’t break. Cam Johnson’s arm dangled lifelessly in the third quarter but he stayed in there until the stinger went away. Ras-I, Chris Cook and the rest of the secondary defended well and levied some wood on whoever was unlucky enough to catch the ball.

They rose up—and they have a reservoir of heart—this team. They will find a way.
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