Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jets Slay the Big Cheating Dragon; Nat Lofthouse, 1925-2011

Hey, Bill Belichick! Yogi Berra called! He said, "It's over!"

Jets 28, Cheatriots 21. Gang Green have slain the big cheating New England dragon.

And they did it my way, as suggested in my previous post. Which includes the 2007-08 Giants' way: They got in the smug face of Tom Brady. And the kicking game did make a difference, but not in the way I expected: The Pats tried 2 onside kicks late, but they both failed. The first one, it was really sweet that it was Antonio Cromartie who recovered it to set up the last Jet score. Cromartie being the one who called Brady an asshole. Which... he is.

Big step up for Mark Sanchez. Pinocchio, you're a real life Playoff quarterback now.

Big step up for Rex Ryan. He can say whatever he wants now. So can any of his players.

Biggest Jet win since... oh, January 12, 1969. They are now 1 win away from the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl XLV.

True, it's in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have won 2 of the last 5 Super Bowls. But, in the last 2 seasons, the Jets have won road Playoff games in Cincinnati, San Diego, Indianapolis and Greater Boston. Who's to say they can't win one in Pittsburgh? (Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, that's who, but they may not have as much say over this as they might think!)

Sometime this week, I want to do a post on "biggest moments in the New York vs. New England sports rivalry." This was, easily, the biggest in football, even bigger than Super Bowl XLII -- for the simple reason that the Jets are in the same Division as the Pats and play them twice a season (3 times this season), while that is not true of the Giants. The Giants cared less about messing up New England, and more about winning for New York. They would have been just as happy to beat the San Diego Chargers, the team the Pats beat in that season's AFC Championship Game.

Is this the end of the line for the Belichick-Brady Patriots? Hardly. Aside from Brady, they're really a young team, and they did win the Division. Lest we forget, Brady is 33 years old. That's not old for a quarterback. Right, Brett Favre?

But if the Jets had shed some of their reasons to be afraid of the Pats before, they've shredded the rest tonight.

*

The Jets move on to their 4th AFC Championship Game -- their 5th if you count the 1960s AFL as the direct ancestor of the AFC. (There were previous American Football Leagues in 1926, 1936-37 and 1940-41.)

This will be the 15th AFC Championship Game appearance for the Steelers, breaking the record for AFL/AFC Championship Game appearances they jointly held with the Oakland (Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994) Raiders. The Steelers were in the "old NFL" from 1933 to 1969, but never appeared in an NFL Championship Game until they started to be called "Super Bowls." The Chargers have been in 9. The Patriots, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise have been in 8. The Miami Dolphins have been in 7. The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts have been in 6 -- although that number rises to 10 if you count NFL Championship Games prior to the 1970 merger. The Jets, as I said, are entering their 5th. The Kansas City Chiefs have been in 4 (including 1 as the Dallas Texans). The Cleveland Browns have been in 3 -- although that number rises to 14 if you count NFL Championship Game appearances (1950-69) and a whopping 18 if you count All-America Football Conference Game appearances (1946-49). The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have been in 2. The Seattle Seahawks have been in 1 AFC and 1 NFC Title Game. The Houston Texans, in 9 full seasons now, have not yet made the Playoffs.

Records in Conference Championship Games

Counting only NFL (1933-69), AFL (1960-69) or AFC (1970/71-2009/10).

TEAM W-L PCT. SUPER BOWL RECORD
1. Cincinnati Bengals 2-0 1.000 0-2
2. New England Patriots 6-2 .750 3-3
3. Kansas City Chiefs 3-1 .750 1-1
4. Denver Broncos 6-2 .750 2-4
5. Buffalo Bills 6-2 .750 0-4
6. Miami Dolphins 5-2 .714 2-3
-. Baltimore Colts 4-2 .667 1-1
7. Baltimore Ravens 1-1 .500 1-0
8. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-7 .500 6-1
9. Indianapolis Colts 2-2 .500 1-1
10. Tennessee Titans 1-1 .500 0-1
11. Oakland Raiders 5-9 .357 3-2
--. Houston Oilers 2-4 .333 0-0
12. Cleveland Browns 4-10 .286 0-0
13. New York Jets 1-3 .250 1-0
14. San Diego Chargers 2-7 .222 0-1
--. Seattle Seahawks 0-1 .000 0-0
15. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-2 .000 0-0
16. Houston Texans 0-0 .--- 0-0

Notice that stat? While the Steelers are 6-1 in Super Bowls, they're only 7-7 in AFC Championship Games. What's more, since the end of the Terry Bradshaw years, they're 3-5 in said games. How scary does that Steeler mystique look now?

Maybe the Jets really can go all the way.

*

Nat Lofthouse died yesterday. He was an all-time legend in his sport. He was even one of the legends of Yankee Stadium. And yet, most Americans have never heard of him.

Nathaniel Lofthouse (no middle name) was born on August 27, 1925 in Bolton, then in Lancashire, now in Greater Manchester, England. He was signed by his hometown soccer club Bolton Wanderers as a teenager, and made his debut as a centre forward on their youth team on September 4, 1939 -- the day after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany.

He played for Wanderers until 1943, until, turning 18 years old, he was drafted as a "Bevin Boy." These were 48,000 men, aged 18 to 25, most drafted, some volunteered, to work in England's coal mines to produce for the war effort.

They were named for Ernest Bevin, a former trade union official and a key figure in Britain's Labour Party, brought into the coalition government by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (himself the Leader of the Conservative Party) as Minister of Labour and National Service. The War over, Labour won the ensuing election, and Prime Minister Clement Attlee named Bevin his Foreign Secretary (equivalent in our government to Secretary of State). The native of Somerset in the West Country should not be confused with Aneurin Bevan, the Welshman who served as postwar Minister of Health and created the country's National Health Service.

When the Football League resumed after The War, on August 31, 1946, Nat finally made his League debut for Bolton, just after his 21st birthday. Although they lost 4-3 to West London club Chelsea, he scored twice as Bolton's Number 9, proving he was ready. Over the next 14 seasons, he would make 452 appearances, scoring 225 goals.

In one of their occasional bouts with myopia, the England national team didn't select him for a senior international match until 1950, by which point he was already 25 years old. (He did not play in the famous 1950 World Cup defeat of England by the U.S. in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.) It was a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia, and Nat scored both goals.

On May 25, 1952, England played Austria in Vienna. Nat scored England's 2nd goal, but was elbowed in the face and tackled from behind. Had he not scored, it would surely have been a penalty. England went on to win 3-2, and the English newspapers nicknamed him The Lion of Vienna.

In 1953, he was named England's Footballer of the Year, and got Bolton into the FA Cup Final, scoring in only the 2nd minute of the game. But destiny was on the other side, as the sun finally shone on Blackpool and their 38-year-old legend Stanley Matthews. Two months later, on June 8, 1953, Nat scored 2 goals as England beat the U.S. team 6-3 at Yankee Stadium. He scored 3 goals for England in the 1954 World Cup.

In 1958, age 32, he got Bolton back into the FA Cup Final, against Manchester United, who were lucky to get there, as they had suffered the Munich Air Disaster 3 months earlier, losing 8 players to death and 2 others to career-ending injuries. This time, it was Bolton's moment in the sun, as Nat scored early in each half to give them a 2-0 win. It remains the club's last major trophy, 53 years later.
With the FA Cup

Despite 7 of the 8 United players lost at Munich having played for England, and thus not available (the other, Billy Whelan, was from Ireland), Nat was not selected for the 1958 World Cup, and made his last appearance for England later that year. He retired in 1960 due to an ankle injury. He became their assistant trainer, chief coach, and manager for most of the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons. He was also briefly their manager in 1971 and 1985, and was named club president thereafter.

In 1947, he married Alma Foster, and were together until her death in 1985. They had a son named Jeff and a daughter named Vivien. In 1994, he was awarded an OBE, the Order of the British Empire. In 1997, Bolton left their longtime home, Burnden Park, and a stand at their new Reebok Stadium was named the Nat Lofthouse Stand.
With his OBE medal

He died yesterday, at a nursing home in Bolton. He was 85 years old.

UPDATE: A statue of Nat Lofthouse was dedicated outside the Reebok Stadium on August 24, 2013, 3 days before what would have been his 87th birthday, moved up to coincide with a Bolton home game.
He remains one of the most honored (or, should I say, "honoured") players in English "football" history.

1 comment:

nutballgazette said...

Good breakdown.
I had several Pat fans who would normally ridicule me but did not as they all brought up the Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
I ahve great radio on right now on the CPU--WEEI Boston, Classic, I some are saying Belechek needs to go and maybe the Pats should get Kolb or McNabb and dump Brady