Monday, November 28, 2011

All Thumbs With Football; Gary Speed, 1969-2011

Thumbs down to East Brunswick. I knew my Dear Old Alma Mater was going to lose the Thanksgiving game to the Purple Scum, probably badly... but 40-7 after 3 quarters? No, the final score of 40-20 does us no favors. Come on, have some pride.

Thumbs down to Rutgers. All the Scarlet Knights had to do was beat Connecticut, hardly a great team, to claim at least a share of the Big East title and have a shot at a Bowl Championship Series berth. It was almost identical to the EB-Old Bridge game: 40-10 after 3 quarters, before closing to 40-22.

A few years ago, Greg Schiano told us, "It's time." But, as Keith Sargent said in the Home News Tribune, the future never comes. Schiano has had more time to build a champion than Rex Ryan has had, so when does he start to get questioned? The fact that RU had the chance this season, after a losing season last year, speaks well of Schiano. The fact that this seems to be the furthest he can take the program does not.

Thumbs up to the Jets. They beat the Buffalo Bills 28-24. This was a character-testing game, and they came through, especially Mark Sanchez. Whatever his problems are, they do not include a lack of guts. I can question his intelligence, his judgment, and his execution; but not his poise or his courage. (UPDATE: The Jets ended up losing their last 3 games to finish 8-8 and miss the Playoffs.)

Thumbs up to the Green Bay Packers. They beat the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, 27-15, to advance to 11-0. If Sports Illustrated doesn't name Aaron Rodgers their 2011 Sportsman of the Year, they're going to have a lot of explaining to do.

(UPDATE: They split it between the coaches of college basketball's National Champions, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Pat Summitt of Tennessee. Understandable. The defending champion Packers finished 15-1, but were knocked out of the Playoffs by the Giants.)

Thumbs up to the Detroit Lions. Yes, the Packers beat them pretty badly, but they're moving in the right direction. They even acted quickly to punish Ndamukong Suh, which is a good sign: They not only want to win, but also to win in the right way. Some teams (the Pats of the last few years, the Raiders of the 1970s and '80s) wanted to win in the worst way; the Lions want to win in the best way. (UPDATE: They finished 10-6 and made the Playoffs.)

Thumbs down to Ndamukong Suh. You're a great talent, and you're ruining it. You could become the new Mean Joe Greene. Instead, you're becoming the new Albert Haynesworth -- and as Dick Smothers would say, "That was not a compliment!"

Thumbs down to the people behind the BCS. Regardless of whether Louisiana State wins or loses the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, you're going to have Alabama in your BCS National Championship Game -- and they didn't even win their Division of the SEC!

Thumbs up to the University of Kentucky. The Wildcats beat Tennessee and claimed the Old Bourbon Barrel for the first time in 26 years.

Thumbs up to the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers beat Penn State 45-7, and advanced to the 1st-ever Big 10 Championship Game. Any time Paterno State loses, it's good. This time, they got their asses kicked. Of course, as they now know, there are worse things that can happen to a young male's rear end at Penn State.

Thumbs down to all this conference realignment. Although it's making rivalries that always could, and perhaps should, have been, like Nebraska vs. Iowa (the States do border each other), it's also breaking up good ones, like Nebraska vs. Oklahoma and the "Backyard Brawl" between Pittsburgh and West Virginia. But if Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, South Carolina vs. Clemson, and Oklahoma vs. Texas can survive realignments, maybe others can as well.

Finally, thumbs up to the British Columbia Lions, who won the Grey Cup, Canada's "Super Bowl," on their home field in Vancouver, BC Place, beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This was their 6th Canadian Football League Championship.

And, unlike when the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this year, the locals did not riot. So that's 6 titles for the BC Lions, while Vancouver has not won a Stanley Cup since 1915.

*

Two days ago, soccer figure Gary Speed appeared on the BBC One TV show Football Focus, and joined his former Newcastle United teammate Alan Shearer to watch that team play Manchester United at Man U's Old Trafford. No one seemed to think anything was wrong.

Yesterday, his wife Louise found him dead in the garage at their home in Huntington, Cheshire, England. He had hanged himself.

Gary Andrew Speed was born on September 8, 1969 -- making him 3 months older than I am -- Mancot, Flintshire, Wales. He grew up on the street where Kevin Ratcliffe, then captain of Liverpool side Everton, lived. As Liverpool is near Wales, many people in the Principality support Everton, and many others support Liverpool FC. Also from Wales, and on the great Everton teams of the 1980s, were goalkeeper Neville Southall and left back Pat Van Den Hauwe. So was midfielder Barry Horne, a star (along with Southall) of their 1995 FA Cup winners.

A midfielder, with pace to match his name, Speed was signed by Yorkshire club Leeds United, and helped them win the Football League Division One title in 1992 -- the last title under the old banner, before the English top flight became known as the Premier League.
In 1996, he was sold to the club he loved growing up, Everton. A year later, Howard Wilkinson, his manager at Leeds, became his manager again, but their relationship soured. In 1998, he was sold to Newcastle, and helped them reach the FA Cup Final that year (although they lost to North London team Arsenal) and the next (losing to Man United). In 2002, he helped Newcastle qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

He was old to Lancashire team Bolton Wanderers in 2004, and stayed with them until 2008. They sold him to Yorkshire team Sheffield United, and he played the last 2 seasons of his career with them. He scored 104 goals in his career, and was known for shooting with headers.

He appeared 85 times for the Wales national team between 1990 and 2004, eventually serving as their Captain 44 times. Only his Everton teammate Southall has made more appearances for Wales.

He retired as a player when Sheffield United named him manager, but only 4 months later, on December 11, 2010, he was named manager of his national team. As usual, Wales struggled, and by August 2011, they were ranked 117th in the world (out of 211 "nations" recognized by FIFA, the world's governing body for soccer). But 2 wins in the Autumn got them up to 45th.
Speed as Wales manager,
with one of his successors as team Captain,
Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal.

He married Louise in 1996, and had sons Tommy and Eddie. In 2010, he was awarded an MBE: Member of the Order of the British Empire. He was still manager of Wales at the time of his death. He was 45 years old.

No one has been able to explain why a man who seemed to have so much to look forward to, and so much respect among his peers, and so many friends, would take his own life.

UPDATE: He didn't leave a suicide note, so no one really knows why he did it. It has been suggested that he was depressed. It is also possible that, with his reputation for heading the ball, he may have sustained brain damage, similar to American football players, and a few other British soccer stars.

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