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Woody's Winners: NFL Week 7

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NFL WEEK SEVEN:

Week 6 brought a bit of normality back to the NFL, with fewer head-scratchers than in weeks past. I won 9 of 14 picks, and three of my losses were upsets that didn’t quite happen (including 3-point losses for Washington and Dallas). Still, things are weird in the standings:

  • In the NFC, every team has lost at least twice, meaning a win could propel a team from third to first in their division in an instant.
  • In the NFC West, all four teams lost in Week 5, but won in Week 6. Over in the AFC South, every team is .500 or better.
  • And with the only five-win team (the Jets) on bye this week, no team will end this week with more than five wins.

On to Week 7, which we’ll start with an upset:

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Philadelphia (4-2) @ Tennessee (4-2)

Last week, Kevin Kolb opened the eyes of Vick-struck Philly fans by passing for 3 TD and near-80-percent completion rate. He’ll start again this week as the Eagles head to LP Field to tackle the Titans, where both teams hope to earn their third consecutive win. The status of injured Tennessee QB Vince Young is still up in the air, but their offense is played on the ground, where RB Chris Johnson gobbles yards like they were Pringles. Philadelphia has yet to lose on the road this season, and the Birds will be humming in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Philadelphia

FACT: The Eagles are the only team ranked in the NFL top-10 in both rushing and passing offense.

Please click "more" to see my picks for the rest of Week 7's games.

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Cincinnati (2-3) @ Atlanta (4-2)

With the Reds and Braves quickly punted from the NL playoffs, sports fans in both cities have shifted their focus to the gridiron. Cats are known for chasing birds, but in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons want to be the predator. Atlanta is 15-1 at home with Matt Ryan at the helm, so they may get their chance. These similar teams sport good QBs, stud RBs, and quality receivers, tempered with defenses that occasionally lose their way. The Felines better pick up some mice and fish to go, because Blackbird won’t appear on the Sunday menu.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: The Falcons’ pass defense leads the NFL with 11 interceptions.

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Cleveland (1-5) @ New Orleans (4-2)

In the 11 matchups between these teams since the 1970 NFL merger, none was decided by a double-digit margin. Still, the experts favor New Orleans by two touchdowns, and I see no reason to doubt them. The NFL has seen some crazy upsets this season, but the Brownies winning at the Superdome would top them all. Unlike last year, the Saints aren’t surprising anyone, but they shouldn’t have any trouble manhandling Cleveland, unless the game comes down to field goals. It won’t.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: The Saints lead the NFL in converting third downs, with a 50.7 percent success rate.

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Pittsburgh (4-1) @ Miami (3-2)

This interesting AFC contest pits the Dolphins’ pass-happy offense against those stingy Steelers defenders. Miami QB Chad Henne has proven he can perform well against tough pass defense, and increased use of their Wildcat offense may keep the Men in Black off their game. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger showed very little rust in his first regular-season appearance last week - call him the stainless Steeler - but that was at home against the Browns. Will he be sharp enough to filet the fish, or will overconfidence doom Big Ben in his second game back?

Woody’s Winner (in a close one): Pittsburgh

FACT: The Dolphins are averaging only 4.2 penalties per game, the lowest rate in the league.

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St. Louis (3-3) @ Tampa Bay (3-2)

The Rams have proven sheepish on the road, and that’s where they find themselves in Week 7. But Tampa has been blown out in back-to-back home games due to their inability to run the ball. Unless RB Cadillac Williams can find second gear, he’ll be kept in the garage yet again. The Buccaneers’ defense is exhausted (insert your favorite muffler joke here), having allowed 90 points over their past three games. St. Louis will take advantage of this by handing off to Ram-tough RB Steven Jackson, who’ll lower his horns and raise his statistics against the league’s worst rush defense.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): St. Louis

FACT: Rams WR Danny Amendola has caught 36 passes this season (tied for 3rd in the NFC) but none for TD.

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San Francisco (1-5) @ Carolina (0-5)

Pity the poor Panthers, who rank last in the NFL in both yards and points. How bad are things in Carolina? At the QB position, they’ve completed just 68 of 150 passes, with 9 interceptions, 17 sacks, and 4 fumbles. As my daddy would say, “That ain’t gettin’ it done, son.” Meanwhile, the 49ers finally broke into the win column by defeating Oakland in Week 6. San Francisco clearly fields a better team, and that proverbial monkey is now off their backs. Unless Carolina’s two-headed RB attack can find a whole lot of daylight, it’ll be dark early on the East Coast.

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: San Francisco RB Frank Gore leads all RB with 33 catches this season.

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Washington (3-3) @ Chicago (4-2)

The Redskins’ defense has allowed a league-most 420 yards per game this season, but their schedule thus far has included Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and Indianapolis. Although Chicago has finally figured out how to run the ball, their offense isn’t nearly that explosive. Bears QB Jay Cutler has publicly blamed his teammates for the offense's struggles, and it remains to be seen if his squad will rally behind him. The truth is, three of the Windy City’s four wins have come against Detroit (1-5), Dallas (1-4) and Carolina (0-5), so they may simply not be as good as their record would have you believe. This just in: Washington rides Bear-back in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner: Washington

FACT: The Bears have converted only 13 of 74 third-down attempts this season, for a league-worst 17.6 percent.

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Jacksonville (3-3) @ Kansas City (3-2)

The Jaguars’ defense has allowed 38, 28, 28, 26, and 30 points in its last five games, but the team won three of those five games thanks to a superb rushing offense. The Chiefs have themselves quite a ground attack as well, running for an NFL-best 164.6 yards per game thus far this season. Kansas City’s run defense has also excelled, so Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew may have a tough time fitting all three names into the small gaps available to him.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee is 11 of 11 for field goals this season, including a league-best 59-yarder. The Jaguars are the only team not to miss at least one FG attempt.

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Buffalo (0-5) @ Baltimore (4-2)

When you think of a buffalo, you think of a large, stocky creature big enough to block one’s path. Sadly, the Buffalo Bills are nothing like that. Their defense has allowed an incredible 182.4 rushing yards per game, 25 more than any other team. Ravens’ RB Ray Rice has been salivating over this opportunity, and he’ll use a few Bills jerseys to dab away the spittle as he saunters downfield. And Baltimore’s defense won’t break a sweat as they pull out a can of Bison-B-Gone and do some further damage to the ozone layer.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Bills’ defense has intercepted only one pass this season, fewest in the NFL.

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Arizona (3-2) @ Seattle (3-2)

Look in the dictionary under “fluke” and you’ll see Arizona’s most recent game, a Week 5 win against the Saints. The Cards have been blown out 41-7 and 41-10 in their last two road games, so they’re not looking forward to abandoning the Grand Canyon State for a wetter and greener spot. But travel to Seattle they must, to face a Seahawks team fresh off a rejuvenating upset victory in Chicago. Newly-acquired RB Marshawn Lynch scored a TD in his Aquabird debut, and should do even more damage this week. The winner of this game will sit alone atop the NFC West.

Woody’s Winner: Seattle

FACT: The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games against the Seahawks.

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Oakland (2-4) @ Denver (2-4)

It’s rare that a team enters Week 7 without at least one divisional game, but this will be the Broncos’ first time against a fellow member of the AFC West. The last four games in this series have been won by the road team, and the Raiders are just sneaky enough to leave the Rockies with a “W” in their pocket. Unfortunately for the Silver-and-Black, their top two quarterbacks are ailing, and Coach Cable has (as of this writing) not yet named a starter. Oakland has trouble stopping the run, and Denver RB Knowshon Moreno is back in action and ready to gallop. His fresh legs will spell the difference.

Woody’s Winner: Denver

FACT: Of the Broncos’ 151 rushes this season, none has gained more than 17 yards.

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New England (4-1) @ San Diego (2-4)

Thanks to two of the game’s most powerful offenses, this game has 42-38 written all over it. The Bolts prefer the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium, where they’ve earned both of this season’s victories. A third win at home would be sweet, and it should happen. With the Minutemen allowing opposing QBs a 70-percent completion rate, Philip Rivers can hardly contain himself, but that’s okay: the Pat defense won’t be able to contain him either.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: Philip Rivers has thrown for 2,008 yards through 6 games, putting him on a pace for a record-breaking 5,355 yards this season.

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Minnesota (2-3) @ Green Bay (3-3)

Last week’s loss to Miami leaves Green Bay with three defeats this season, each by only three points. The Packers hope to get back on track at the expense of the struggling Vikings, who stumble into Lambeau Field still unsteady on their feet. While fans of the Purple were excited at the reacquisition of Randy Moss, some forget that while he is a former Vike, he’s new to QB Brett Favre. These two should get on the same page when Moss begins to grow on the veteran QB, but until then, it’ll be a struggle in the NFC North. Behold, the power of Cheese!

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: Brett Favre has fumbled 5 times in his 5 games this season, losing 4 of them.

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N.Y. Giants (4-2) @ Dallas (1-4)

The Giants have impressed despite the despicable habit of giving the ball to their opponents. QB Eli Manning has thrown 8 interceptions, while Ahmad Bradshaw leads all NFL RBs with three lost fumbles. Where the G-Men excel is on defense, and they’ll have to perform well against the ball-moving machine known as the Dallas Cowboys. The pass-catching trio of Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten has combined for 1,062 yards and 8 TDs. Those type of numbers should begin to show up in the “win” column any week now… like this one.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Dallas leads the NFC in passing yards per game (305) and total yards per game (400).

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BYE: Detroit (1-5), Houston (4-2), Indianapolis (4-2), N.Y. Jets (5-1).

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Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!

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retro-wrestling, eBay
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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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retro-wrestling, eBay

For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Courtesy of Dave Drason Byrzynski

Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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