Thursday, July 07, 2011

Farewell to a Gridiron Legend

Syracuse Football and NFL Legend John Mackey passed away yesterday at the age of 69. Mackey had suffered from dementia the past few years, the probable result of years of contact in football (ten in the NFL, four in college).

Mackey revolutionized the tight end position in the NFL by making the position a legitimate receiving threat. He was not only a possession receiver with the ability to catch the short pass over the middle, but with his size and speed, he was a deep threat. In Super Bowl V, Mackey caught a deflected pass from Johnny Unitas and then went 75 yards for a touchdown. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1992.

Mackey would later be the president of the NFL’s Player Association, and spearheaded changes that would occur after the NFL/AFL merger.

Mackey was a multi-sport star at Syracuse. Besides staring in football, Mackey was also a track and field star. He also spent one winter helping the Orangemen Basketball team. The football stars were always looking for activities in the off season that would help keep them in shape for football, and the 1960-1961 Syracuse basketball team was in need of help. A LOT of help.

That team would finish the season 4-19, but struggled to find scoring and rebounding, outside of senior star Pete Chudy. Ernie Davis, who was a star basketball player in high school joined the squad to help out down the stretch. Mackey decided to join Davis and fellow football star Don King in the endeavor.

Davis would quickly adapt, and showed promise with 10.2 points and 9.2 rebounds a game (including 18 rebounds versus Canisius). King provided some scoring off the bench with 5.9 ppg. And John Mackey provided some scoring and rebounding in his limited playing time (only 6 games) with 4.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.

From all accounts, John Mackey was a classy individual and well respected. He was a Syracuse Letterwinner of Disctinction in 1986. My condolences to his family and friends.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Bye Bye DaShonte

DaShonte Riley is not the first player to transfer from Syracuse University, nor will he be the last. There is a long list of transfers over the program’s history, long before Jim Boeheim was the head coach.

Players transfer for many reasons: academics, homesick, family issues, lack of playing time, conflicts with the coach, disciplinary reasons. I will not speculate on why a player left, though Riley states it is because of his ailing grandparents and homesickness, and being that his hometown is near Eastern Michigan, it makes sense. Obviously, having Rob Murphy as the new head coach there makes it more attractive to him.

I wish Riley the best of luck. He does resolve the scholarship issue Syracuse was going to have this upcoming season, but the lack of his 7’ frame off the bench will be missed. Having Fab Melo backed up by both Baye Keita and Riley would have been a luxury for the Orange, with the graduation of Rick Jackson. Syracuse could be fine with the development of just Melo and Keita, and having prized recruit Rakeem Christmas on the team this fall may completely hide the fact that Riley is gone.

Transfers follow many different paths upon leaving Syracuse. Some end up with very good collegiate careers for reputable Division I programs. This includes the likes of Rich Manning (who would get a taste of the NBA), Keith Hughes and Bobby Lazor. Others have success at smaller programs such as Tony Bland at San Diego State, Ramel Lloyd at Long Beach State, and Mike Sheehey at St. Bonaventure. Some fail to do any better at their new school, which includes the likes of Eric Williams (UMass), James Thues (Detroit-Mercy) and David Patrick. And some basically disappear upon the transfer: Billy Edelin and Mike Jones are recent examples.

I have a sense that Riley will do well at Eastern Michigan. He showed some promise his freshman year at Syracuse, and at 7’, he has the raw physical tools. Rob Murphy is an excellent assistant coach and a very good recruiter; if a decent team is built at EMU, Riley could have a solid college career. I do not see him being in the NBA, but that’s just statistical probability; it’s very tough getting there.