Leland Stein III

“Fantastic Four” continues Watkins Awards legacy of noteworthy scholar athletes

In sports column on March 18, 2018 at 12:10 am


Eagles demand first Super Bowl title

In sports column on February 14, 2018 at 12:21 am


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Tom Brady tries to avoid a Bradon Graham sack. – Gary Montgomery photo

By Leland Stein III

stein watkins profile

Leland Stein

MINNEAPOLIS, Mn. – No matter that the weather outside was hovering around zero, the over 67,612 fans in US Bank Stadium, and, the millions of television watchers world-wide were on fire as the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots got set to engage in American gridiron football action.

The Eagles and Patriots both felt the heat of the moment too, as the two teams combined for a shocking 673 yards in the first half, the second highest total in Super Bowl history.

Oh the crazy/awesome offensive heat did not stop in the second half either, as both teams combined for 1,151 yards – the most in any modern NFL game.

The exhilarating and breathtaking contest was hot throughout – if one loves offense – as Philly indeed did just enough to outlast 40-year-old G.O.A.T Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to become NFL champions for the first time since 1960. The 41-33 victory was one for the ages.

Overzealous Philadelphia fans lost their minds back home as their owner lifted the Lombardi Trophy signifying that the Philadelphia Eagles really had did the darn thing in its third Super Bowl appearance.

“I am so excited for our locker room,” Eagles second-year coach Doug Pederson exclaimed, “and Mr. (Jeffrey) Luri he gave me the opportunity to coach this team. A lot of people counted us out, but the locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me and together we found a way to get it done.”


Ron Gronkowski corrals touchdown over Ronald Darby – Gary Montgomery photo

Pederson did not approach this game with his tail between his legs and he went for the win at all times. In particular Mr. Guts and Glory with 38 seconds remaining in the first half (Patriots had just scored and brought the score to a respectable 15-12), and the Philadelphia Eagles facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, he went for a trick play – the “Philly Special.”

With a little bit more the one minute left running back Corey Clement pitched to tight end Trey Burton who flipped the ball to quarterback Nick Foles that engineered an important 22-12 halftime lead.

“Our coach has got some guts, huh?” Burton unleashed. “He’s got some big ones.”

When the Eagles needed a yard for a touchdown – when most coaches might have trusted their offensive line to just push their way forward – Pederson called a play on which his quarterback would ideally be the last of four people to touch the ball. It was a play the Eagles had practiced a total of six times.

“You never know what he’s thinking,” Burton said. “Here we are. Philly’s never won a Super Bowl. We’re fourth-and-1 on the goal line and he calls a trick-play pass to the quarterback? Come on, man.”

The play worked and Pederson did it again on fourth-and-one from Philly’s own 45 yard line with 5:39 left in the game. Again it worked as the Eagles keep the ball and eventually scored on the game winning touchdown on a 11-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz that was sent to the replay official for review, but eventually was acknowledges as a score and it was a game changer as Philadelphia took a 38-33 margin they never relinquished.

It worked, of course. Pretty much everything Pederson and his Eagles did Sunday night work which is the reason why it’s no longer true that Philadelphia has never won a Super Bowl.

“You don’t just roll in with any old game plan and expect Foles to win a 41-33 shootout with Brady,” Pederson noted. “You don’t play it safe and expect to out-coach Belichick.”

Pederson continued: “I trust my players, I trust my coaches and I trust my instincts. I trust everything I’m doing, and I wanted to maintain that aggressiveness. In games like this, against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions that will keep yourself or the team aggressive.”

Coach may indeed have trusted his players; however, the Eagles made the clutch plays as they did just enough to coral the Patriots in a very tight game.

Fact is Foles guided the drive of a lifetime as Ertz made a bobbling touchdown catch that had to survive replay review, and then an exhausted defense came up with two defensive stands in the final moments.

That game-clinching defensive stance was initiated with a Brandon Graham strip-sack against Brady with Derek Barnett recovering, setting up rookie Jake Elliot’s 46-yard field goal for an 8-point lead.

Graham, “We knew we were playing Brady and those coaches in the biggest game. I knew I had a one-on-one with the guard. We had been doing something that had been working, but I acted like I was pulling, then I snatched the ball right off Brady’s arm and it changed the game.”

The breathtaking effort of the game was that quarterback Foles had been something of a journeyman in his six pro seasons, but he was spectacular in four career playoff games. He finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three TDs in the title game

The 40-year-old Brady finished 28 of 48 and picked apart the Eagles until the final two series.

Graham and his squad held Brady in check to win in the final minutes.

Said Malcom Jenkins: “We knew that in the two minute situation that most likely they were going pass the ball so in the two minute situation our d-line could finally cut it loose. The whole game they had us on our heels, but we did what we needed to coral that awesome team.”

Journeyman Foles taking the place of Carson Wentz, did the impossible, guiding the Eagles to the title, earning Super Bowl MVP.

“I am speechless,” exclaimed Foles, “All glory to God first and foremost. To be here with confetti flying and the greatest group of men, such a great city to play for and I am proud to be a Philadelphia Eagle.”

Brady got his team to midfield, but his desperation pass fell to the ground in the end zone.

“For us,” Graham exclaimed, “it was all about one stop we had to make. We went out here and made that one stop.”

The underdog Eagles (16-3), earned its first Super Bowl title after going 7-9 last season.

“If there’s a word (it’s) called everything,” Eagles owner Lurie said. “That’s what it means to Eagles fans everywhere. And for Eagles fans everywhere, this is for them.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII



North Carolina gets Deliverance and a title

In sports column on April 10, 2017 at 2:45 am
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North Carolina celebrates its methodical victory over Gonzaga.

By Leland Stein III

GLENDALE, Az. – This was my 21st Final Four and I have to interject that this collection of college basketball teams assembled together in Phoenix were extremely unique.

In the 2017 Big Dance there were three rookies and one veteran. This Phoenix congregation of three teams – Gonzaga, South Carolina and Oregon – had one Final Four appearance among them. Oregon proudly claimed that lone one, which unproudly happened 78 years ago in the very first NCAA title game – when the NIT was a much more prestigious tournament.

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Leland Stein III

It all started in November with 351 teams, and now, five months later it was down to three Final Four rookies and one vet. Make no mistake about it however, as all four of these teams were deserving of being one of the Final Four contestants for the national title. Each team here implemented, followed unique, and in some cases unlikely, paths to Phoenix. But all four teams had a singular moment that cemented its Final Four status.

Finally, March Madness aficionados were left with two, after Gonzaga outlasted a scrappy South Carolina squad, and, North Carolina had squeezed by Oregon.

In the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship game before 76,168 we were left with one traditional powerhouse, North Carolina, and, Gonzaga in its 20th NCAA tournament appearance reaching its first Final Four in program history.

The three rookies getting to the final game weekend was an awesome story, but 2017 was not to be the year of Cinderella. With methodical precision the North Carolina Tar Heels (33-7) did just enough to win the national title overcoming Gonzaga 71-65.

The victory for the Tar Heels was sweet redemption, after they lost in 2016 on a last second shot from eventual champion Villanova.

“I put it (redemption) on the locker room up on the board,” coach Roy Williams exclaimed in the post-game euphoric interview. “They wanted redemption and my guys bought into it. They played tough, although neither team played their best, but both were competitive and battling through it all.”

Added Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks: “It hurt badly last year losing, so we dedicated ourselves to ensuring we produced a better result than last year. I told the fellas that we could get back and get a better result and we fought through all the fouls and adversity to get it done.”

Unfortunately each team did not only have to battle each other, the referees interjected themselves into the fray and turned the game into a stop-and-start ugly contest.

The referees called 27 fouls in the second half, completely shattering the flow of the game and sent North Carolina’s

Meeks, Gonzaga’s 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and, a horde of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game “featured” 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

“It sucks that I fouled out this important game,” Collins said. “Look I am going to put it on me. I had been having some foul issues all year, but I thought I had worked hard to get my defensive effort under control. The referees did not see it that way I guess.”

I will never understand why or how the NCAA allows the referees to dominate a national title game like they did. No one came to the game to see them blow whistles and run over to the scorer’s table to give a number of the supposed fouler.

No matter, Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

“When I think of Coach Smith, there’s no question,” Williams interjected with sincere enthusiasm. “I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I’ve got these guys with me and that’s all I care about right now – my guys.”

Added Joel Berry II, the 2017 NCAA Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player: “Sure it feels great to get Coach his third title. With all the ups and downs this win was awesome. It was a complete 180 degrees from last year that feeling of losing. I cannot describe how excited it is to be on the other end of this. Coach told us to remember how we all felt last year so we went out and gave it our all.”

In spite of the loss, Gonzaga has a lot to feel good about. It had made 20 tournament appearances and finally reached the Final Four for the first time — becoming the first West Coast Conference team to advance that far since San Francisco made its third straight trip in 1957. The Zags closed out their season with a lofty 37-2 record.

Also, Phoenix became the first far west city to host a Final Four since Seattle in 1995. That was a memorable one for me as I was there to watch the UCLA Bruins claimed their 11th national basketball championship.

In the end Zags coach Mark Few handled the referees with more class than I ever could. Taking the high road, calling the refs “three of the best officials in the entire country,” and insisting they did a fine job. Political correctness at its finest and probably the right call, because what else could he do? Nothing!!!!!

After all, his Bulldogs a small school in the equally small West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game, but on this day in the desert Cinderella could not crash into the champion’s realm.

“We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn’t break,” junior forward Johnathan Williams said. “We had a great season and gave ourselves a chance to win it all, but we just came up a little short.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter @LelandSteinIII