Leland Stein III

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Déjà vu for Detroit Cass Tech

In sports column on November 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Detroit Public School League team best Detroit Catholic Central again for yet another State title.

By Leland Stein III

Detroit Cass Technical High Schoool celebrates second consecutive Div. 1 State title. – Andre Smith photo

Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher came into the post Division 1 State title press conference at Ford Field with a giant smile on his face. Good for him! He, his coaches and his players earned it.

In fact, the excellent turnout in Downtown Detroit showed up in respect for the Detroit Public School League (PSL). It mattered not where one graduated from, the Cass Tech 36-21victory over perennial power Detroit Catholic Central, was a victory for all that has prepped in the Michigan’s largest public school district.

In the post game press conference Wilcher exclaimed, while smiling like a Chester the cat, “Hey, you only live once. We may not make it back again.”

Leland Stein III

 

While his retort is very, very true, as evident by the fact only two PSL schools – Cass Tech (12-2) and Martin Luther King (2007 Div. 2) – have won Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) titles in football, he surely had his fingers crossed for the future.

Sure Wilcher will lose some of the top talent in the state, but with the closing of former PSL powers like Mackenzie, Redford and Murray Wright, just to name a few, the talent in the City has been condensed, and, with Cass Tech at the same time developing a solid overall program, they have been able to create an environment where good student athletes want to come. Couple the closing of historic PSL schools and the environment Wilcher has fostered at Cass Tech is why it has become an elite program in the state.

“This is happening because of the approach of our coaches’ teaching,” Wilcher told me. “They work our kids hard in practice, and, hold themselves accountable for our outcomes.”

Cass Tech’s Damon Webb runs by a DCC defender at Ford Field. – Andre Smith photo

Sounds like a very good formula for success to me.

That formula was tested in last year’s MHSAA Div. 1 Final, where Cass Tech socked the Michigan high school football world with a resounding 49-13 spanking of the Lordly Detroit Catholic Central. Sure that victory was great, but last year was last year.

No matter, Cass Tech came out strong, scoring on four big plays, forcing five turnovers. It all started when Jourdan Lewis scored on the first play from scrimmage. He beat double coverage and turned a 40-yard gain into an 89-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jayru Campbell.

“I just don’t think, I react,” Lewis said. “The safety was playing over the top. Jayru put it in the right spot.”

To show Campbell’s growth as a quarterback, he noted that the play was intended as a short pass, but the corner came up. “We both looked at each other and went with the go (pattern),” he said.

Five plays later 6-foot-2, 260 pound defensive lineman Kenton Gibbs scooped up a fumble and nimbly ran 58 yards for a touchdown and a 12-0 Cass Tech lead before I had finish eating my between game sandwich.

Another game-changing play happened in the fourth quarter as Cass Tech faced a fourth-and-9 and Campbell checked out of one play and into a draw that turned into a 26-yard gain.

“I think the strength of the quarterback,” Wilcher gladly noted, “like I told him on the telephone one night, ‘I don’t care about your arm right now, I just love the way you think on the football field.’ That’s what makes him so important to me right now.”

What had hurt the PSL in other years was the line play, but Cass Tech’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the game. Lead by seniors Gibbs, David Dawson and Dennis Finley the Technicians played the game in the trenches.

“”It feels great that all the hard work in practice and the off season has paid off,” Finley said. “This is what you play for, and, we did this as a team.”

Added Dawson: “I knew we had a chance to make history. We lost some tough games, but we did not lose confidence. We rebounded from that King loss in the City Playoffs and refocused as a team as we did last year.”

Campbell threw for 154 yards and Mike Weber, another sophomore, rushed for 186 yards on 20 carries. Weber did play in last season’s title game because of a knee injury. “I had to wait my turn,” he said. “I just ran with my blocks and had fun.”

The entire PSL and it alumni had fun, too.

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

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Miguel Cabrera Wins AL MVP

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 3:21 am

Cabrera Wins AL MVP

By Leland Stein III

MIGUEL CABRERA, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and former homerun king Hank Aaron. – Dan Graschuck photo

The awards just keep piling up for Detroit Tiger Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

He’s been named Sporting News player of the year, walked away as the Hank Aaron Award winner, given to the league’s best offensive performer, and, now he is officially the America League MVP.

The slugging Tigers third baseman, the first player to win baseball’s Triple Crown since 1967, became the second consecutive Tigers’ player to hoist the MVP trophy.

Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011, and no sooner had this year’s results been announced than Verlander congratulated Cabrera by tweeting, “Best player in baseball … THE MVP.”

Cabrera said he was “a little concerned” it would be close, but with many points to spare, he became the first position player on the Tigers to be MVP since Hank Greenberg in 1940.

Leland Stein III

Tigers Pitchers have won five MVPs since Greenberg’s: Hal Newhouser in 1944 and 1945, Denny McLain in 1968, Guillermo Hernandez in 1984 and Verlander last year.

The 28 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America made the final picks and their results were announced live on the MLB Network. Cabrera overcame Mike Trout of the Los Angles Angels in the voting.

Cabrera beat Trout, 362-281, in a weighted voting system. Cabrera received 22 of the 28 first-place votes, to Trout’s six first-place votes (Cabrera was second on each of those ballots). Tigers Verlander finished 8th in the voting and first baseman Prince Fielder finished 9th.

“Wow. Wow. I don’t believe it,” Cabrera said. “I’m very excited. I’m like, I don’t have any words to explain like how excited I’m right now. I never expected I’d end up winning because Mike Trout, he (had an) unbelievable season. Man, I’ve very surprised.”

“(I want to) share with all the fans in Detroit, all the fans in Venezuela,” Cabrera said. “It’s going to be exciting for my country Venezuela and my family and I’m very happy for getting this MVP. I’m sure they are going crazy in my country right now.”

Cabrera is the first player from Venezuela to win the MVP award.

Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland: “I think when you do something that hasn’t been done in 40-some years, with everything (Cabrera) did down the stretch when we needed him the most. I was a little nervous about it, but to be honest with you, I just felt like if this guy doesn’t get the MVP, then there should be no such thing as an MVP.”

Prior to the release of the MVP, baseball writers and analyst had predicted the Trout should win the award. He led the AL in runs scored with 129, and stolen bases with 49. Plus, it was noted his defense was exceptional in his rookie campaign, too.

No matter, Cabrera, who finished the season with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs en route to winning the majors’ first Triple Crown since 1967, did enough to win the voters. Add in his .606 slugging percentage and .999 OPS also led the majors, the MVP ended up being a slam dunk for this Tiger slugger.

After Cabrera had officially won the Triple Crown, MLB Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said: “It is an honor to congratulate Miguel Cabrera on earning the Triple Crown, a remarkable achievement that places him amongst an elite few in all of Baseball history. Miguel has long been one of the most accomplished hitters in the game, and this recognition is one that he will be able to cherish for the rest of his career.

Said MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds: “I just think the Triple Crown and getting a team into the playoffs really made a big difference for Miguel Cabrera. I believe, at the end of the day, the Triple Crown and getting into the playoffs was the difference-maker.”

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

International gathering sends Emanuel Steward Home

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 3:13 am

International gathering sends Emanuel Steward Home

Emanuel Steward and Leland Stein III at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Final bell rung for Detroit icon.

By Leland Stein III

Well, no more dog walks together or eating that great barbeque. The final 10-count bell has been rung at Greater Grace and my friend, and more importantly, a friend to thousands has been laid to rest.

Emanuel Steward a certified Detroit and international icon has gone home. The humble founder of Detroit Kronk Boxing Team, an HBO Boxing commentator and Hall of Fame trainer, probably would have blushed if he could have seen the spectacular celebration given to him by the multitudes of pugilist, media peers and admirers.

Men and women from all over the world found their way to Detroit to honor a man that only wanted to help others, the only way he knew how. Get them in the gym and in the process sneak some life lessons to them that more times than not stuck.

I understood the depth and breadth of Steward’s impact in the Sweet Science, but I was even surprised to see the overwhelming inclusion of individuals that he has cajoled

Aretha Franklin.

In all our dog walks and general conversations he never bragged about the company he kept and experienced.

He just would have been happy to know that Mayor Dave Bing, Aretha Franklin, Judge Mathis, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, Bob Arum and Jim Lampley were there to celebrate his noteworthy life.

But he would have been impressed with the pugilist that came to acknowledge how he turned good athletes into champions.

Some of those champions in attendance were Sugar Ray Leonard, Hilmer Kenty, Milton McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, Thomas Hearns, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, Iran Barkley, Jimmy Paul and Roy Jones, just to name a few, were all there and spoke of the legendary memories that Steward has left us all with.

Champions Lennox Lewis and Thomas Hearns.

Frank.lin, the Queen of Soul, stood in the church pew and blasted out a special ad-lib song that was generated just for Steward.

“Emanuel flew away,” Franklin sang, as she started to improvise and the applause grew and tears started to well in my eyes. “Emanuel Steward was a good man! Yes, he was. He was a champion . . . Oh, yes, he was. You have to be, you’ve got to be, a champion to train one . . . Oh, yes, you do.”

Representing Steward’s HBO family was Lampley. He talked about their special bond. “I can truly say that Emanuel was my best friend,” he exclaimed, “but I’m sure all of you here and many more across the world can say the same thing. If there was any man that lived up the Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s dictum it was Emanuel. He judged people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; he was truly color blind.”

Wladimir Klitschko

Breaking me down even further was Hearns, who Steward took off the streets and turn into a legendary multiple champion.

Soaking in tears, Hearns shared: “This is hard for me. I said this morning that I would be alright. I tried to make Emanuel proud of me. He was a very special man in my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without Emanuel Steward in my life. He was more than a trainer to me — he was like a dad. He taught me things, and I saw my life change.”

Wladimir, who flew in from Germany said: “We have lost a friend, but Manny Steward lives in the hearts of all of us. He had a great gift from God. I will carry on all my life what he taught me. He was a great mentor.”

“I had the opportunity to meet Emanuel about 40 years ago,” Bing said during an uplifting but heart-wrenching memorial service. “We had great respect for each other, and I have always looked upon him as a friend. He represented his family and the city of Detroit with dignity. He always made me very proud to know him.”

Emanuel Steward at his last interview at the Joe Lewis Arena in Detroit. Dan Graschuck photo

Leonard called Steward a trainer of life. “He saved the lives of kids out there by putting them in a sweaty gym,” he recalled.

Said Holyfield: “Nobody ever lost when they did what Emanuel Steward told them to do in the ring.”

Lewis echoed the sentiments of many: “Emanuel was there for my major fights — I wish I was there for his. He is the greatest trainer that ever lived. We can’t forget his contribution to the sport of boxing. I can only rejoice in his memory.”

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

Detroit Southeastern’s Hankins anchoring Ohio State defense

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 3:03 am

Southeastern’s Hankins anchoring Ohio State defense

Detroiter’s stock rising in NFL circles.

By Leland Stein III

COMMENTARY

Detroit Southeastern’s Hankins stops MSU”s All-Big-Ten back La”Veon Bell. – Dan Graschuck photo

EAST LANSING – With ESPN College GameDay crew creating the hype on Michigan State University’s campus and an ESPN national television audience looking on, former Detroit Public School League (PSL) star Johnathan Hankins and his Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted MSU at Spartan Stadium, 17-16 in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

As I headed to the post-game interview area, I ran across former Detroit Southeastern High coach Donshell English. He had arguably two of the best defensive linemen in PSL history on a team that finished 11-1. Both Hankins and MSU’s William Gholston made All-State and were on the Michigan Chronicle ALL-PSL team. The 6-foot-7, 278 pound Gholston left the PSL the No. 1 ranked player in the state and the 6-foot3, 322 pound Hankins was the 20th.

Now Hankins and Gholston, both juniors, are ranked as the best two defensive players in the Big Ten and both are pre-season All-America picks. Recently Big Ten Network NFL draft expert Russ Lande’s weekly Big Board, flip-flopped Gholston and Hankins, making the Ohio State defensive tackle Hankins the No. 1 player in the conference, with Gholston No. 2.

English said he is not surprised that both his star players at Southeastern have continued to grow as students and athletes.

Leland Stein III

About Hankins English recalled: “Against MSU he was a force from the very first play of the game controlling the middle. You can tell the way his coach (Urban Meyer) and his teammates respond to him, he is a team leader.

“He was the quiet storm in high school, but he always gave us extra effort. He never took plays off, so I knew he would excel wherever he decided to go to college.”

Meyer told me Hankins is a great young man and excellent teammate. “He is really coming into his own, but he can get even better. He is a hard worker and he gives his heart to Ohio State football. He is surly one of our team leaders.”

With Gholston being an early commit with the Spartans, and Archie Collins, Southeastern’s defensive coordinator during those seasons, a graduate assistant with Michigan State, it would seem Hankins and Gholston would have ended up together in East Lansing.

Hankins father told reporters shaking his head: “How he got away from Michigan and Michigan State, I can’t tell you why. I can’t see how they allowed him to leave the state of Michigan.”

Recalled Hankins: “Michigan State was one of my first choices and we always talked about playing together. But when I took my trip to Ohio State, the family atmosphere and the way Coach (Jim) Tressel treated me made me feel like this was the right place for me to grow as athlete and man.”

He said Meyer has a different style from Tressel, but he has bonded with him and the team is moving forward. “He (Meyer) is an intense coach, but he wants the best for us as people. On the field he expects us to play with energy and discipline.”

Hankins said that although the Buckeyes are on probation and will not be able to play for a Big Ten or national title, Meyer still has his team motivated and striving to be the best they can be.

“We are working to win every game,” Hankins said, “and we just want to have a positive season and send the seniors out with good memories.”

When Meyer arrived this season, Hankins quickly showed him he was the type of athletic defensive tackle that could be the anchor of his defense. He is fast becoming noted around the country for his running back feet, a big smile and a nose for the ball that proves he is more than just a big body.

“I think everyone knew from the start he’d be something special,” senior defensive lineman John Simon told reporters. “Hank can beat people with his speed and his power, and with his knowledge of the game, he knows what’s going on before the ball is even snapped.”

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

Sabol’s NFL Films changed sports’ viewership forever

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 2:50 am

Sabol’s NFL Films changed sports’ viewership forever

By Leland Stein III

, who just transitioned, was the president and one of the founders of NFL Films, along with his father Ed. Steve took his father’s vision to another level and by most accounts became the linchpin behind the ever present mega-cable and television sports genres.

“As one who actually grew up with NFL Films,” Victor Marsh recalled, “I am sadden by Mr. Steve Sabol Passing. Filmmakers of Steve’s caliber and attributes are rare in life. He served as the Master Storyteller of our generation;”

My early memories held baseball up as America’s Game and it was acknowledged as the preeminent American sport. The NFL was gaining ground, but baseball was king. So it took visionary filmmakers like Ed and Steve Sabol to expose my Marsh and me to the humane, intricate and exciting undertakings of professional football.

Ed’s first major contract was to film the 1962 NFL Championship Game between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium in New York. That was just the beginning as he and his equally visionary son, Steve, transformed how we view sports – especially football.

They took a sport, football, the modern day first cousin to the Roman Gladiators, who fought so gallantly against lions and each other in the now world famous Coliseum, and gave this violent sport a human face.

Ed was the main man behind NFL Film, but his son Steve learned the game from the bottom up, too. Steve served as a cameraman, editor and writer in the 1960s and 1970s, before becoming CEO. When ESPN was founded, they signed NFL Films as a production company and Steve became an on-air personality. He won 35 Emmy Awards and played a part in founding the NFL Network.

While baseball was resting on its laurels as America’s Pastime, football, Ed and Steve were revolutionizing how we see sports on television. They came up with the football follies and highlights.

More importantly, they filmed football not only on the playing field and the action shots; they filmed the sidelines, put microphones on coaches and players, and shot angles and action in a football game while not always following the football.

What was unique about Steve and Ed’s approach to the filming the NFL was they somehow turned this game of large men – and small – crashing into each other with mean intentions into ballet and poetry.

Steve famously authored the poem “The Autumn Wind”, which was put to music and shown with highlight, and, was later adopted by the Oakland Raiders as its unofficial anthem.

Steve eventually became the artistic vision behind the studio that revolutionized the way America watches football and all of sports.

No one thought that 24-hour news or sports would succeed – the idea was way over most heads. But men like Steve and Ted Turner saw the future and who can deny either of them? No one!!

Partnering with ESPN, Steve and his artistic presentation of football helped drive football into America’s Game. It is unquestionably the top rating draw in this country, and, the Super Bowl has posted 10 of the top 20 Nielson rated shows in American television history. No other American sports even has made the Neilsen top 46, but the NFL has 21 Super Bowls in that list.

Steve and his father may not be reason the NFL has ascended to such heights, but one could argue that they have been a linchpin behind the marketing and interest in the game.

Surly Steve and his amazing feel for presenting the most violent of games into a family friendly genre indeed is noteworthy. Baseball, basketball and hockey h no connecting organization like NFL Films. Now that the NFL Network has succeeded both baseball (MLB Channel) and NBA TV has cable stations that try to mirror what Steve and Ed did for the NFL.

Although both MLB and NBA TV do a credible job of highlighting games and even showcasing classic contest from the past, but they can match the magnificent marriage of music, poetry, voice overs and film artistry of NFL Films.

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