Monday, 26 September 2016

The Yucks

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Jason Vuic is a lifelong Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, and he brings his critical journalistic eye to the creation and formation of the NFL franchise known as the Bucs that were born in the Tampa Bay area of Florida in 1976 and in became the losingest team in NFL history when they lost 26 consecutive games ending in 1977.

The book is a pleasant sprightly read through the early history of a franchise that would ultimately reach the pinnacle by winning the Super Bowl in 2003. Yet it was a very long road, and continues to be so; they have endured more losing seasons than winning seasons in their 40 year history. Although following the draft of Jameis Winston last year, perhaps the cementing of a stronger team is coming to fruition.

The story began with promoter Bill Marcum who wanted to bring a NFL team to his hometown, and the owner Hugh Culverhouse, who was a miserly figure such as charging players for soda in the locker room. Yet the best stories and tidbits of the novel come from the ever quotable head coach John McKay, who would drill his players in an attempt to replicate the success he had at the University of Southern California (USC).

The images that stick with you are a college great in McKay who won National Championships being unable to replicate the success at a professional level, doing two-a-days in 100 degree heat for a whole month running his pros into the ground and instilling a negativity from the outset.

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John McKay - coach of the worst team in NFL history

This failure to build a cohesion and team spirit because they were too fatigued meant that they were always facing an uphill battle, and the losing began leading to them becoming a national punchline led by Johnny Carson on 'The Tonight Show'.

Yet the Bucs had good players in quarterback Steve Spurrier (who would go on to become a college great himself in the coaching ranks), defensive end Pat Toomay who was ultimately banished after writing a tell-all book.

However bad they were, the Yucks became something more than if they were a .500 team. They became prominent in the public consciousness and everyone knew who the Bucs were, even if they were not winning. Fans came to the games to cheer on their endeavours no matter how poor they were, McKay would offer a fight with fans who questioned his integrity yet it all culminated with a victory over New Orleans in the Superdome over the Saints led by Archie Manning (the father of Peyton and Eli), the account of their plane ride home is worth the read alone. A first victory turned into the greatest victory.

The Yucks is out now from Simon & Schuster in Hardback

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


'An ark is a mysterious vessel full of wonder and untold magic. In effect, if you were to take a chance on this Arq you would be pleasantly surprised.'

Tony Elliott - writer for Orphan Black - in his directorial debut has written a time loop film in the same vein as Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow, where our hero,  in this case Renton (Robbie Amell) keeps waking up each morning after a nasty end to the previous day.

Renton wakes up in the same bed with Hannah (Rachael Taylor) next to him and is then attacked by three masked men who after his scripts (digital money) in this dystopic future world where there are two sides to the civil war in America; the rebel Bloc and the corporation known as Torus.

Renton used to work for Torus but left after he built an energy generator which is actually a time machine. While that is an implausibility there is nothing wrong with the execution of the screenplay, Elliott uses his minimalist production values - same set throughout and small cast - to his advantage.

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Other reviews have dropped derision on the film for its shortcomings, which they put at the feet of its on paper limitations. Whereas this reviewer feels it handles the problem of time travel cleverly and ends with a nice message from Renton's character, Elliott's script helps by placing as much emphasis on character development as the narrative functionality and gimmick of time looping.

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Robbie Amell is having a bad day
Arq is a taut gripping thriller that slowly gives you different nuggets and changes of direction that are both surprising and thrilling. Featuring good performances by Amell and Taylor (from Netflix's Jessica Jones) and a superb electronic score by Keegan Jessamy and Bryce Mitchell which is reminiscent of the best works of John Carpenter. Arq has enough charm

Arq is available on Netflix around the world now.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Perfect Pass

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This new book by respected author S. C. Gwynnne, tells the story of how one high school coach with an innate ability to adapt was able to have possibly the greatest influence on American football in the history of the game.

Gwynne tells the story of Hal Munne, a still unheralded coach who took his game changing system of pass pass and then pass again from high school football to Division III to the echelons of the SEC conference.

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Yet this is not just a story or book to celebrate the theory that Munne has done his work, Gwynne takes us back to the beginning of football in America; how it was a ground and pound game that was violent beyond belief yet was instilled with the American values that you play through pain and broken bones and do not show signs of injury.  In stark contrast now, where any physical sort of play is deemed as unsafe to both the perpetrator and the target.

Football was and in some quarters does remain a stubborn beast, chapters show us how slow the club of football coaches was to change in the idea of schemes and afraid to embrace these new ideas which could bring a freshness to campuses and organisations. In the history of college football, the norm was to have a three down back who would run, run and run some more, these workhorses would carry programs to National championships.

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Hal Munne - inventor of the Air Raid
Slowly though the tide has changed but it has been a gradual change to implement Munne's now famous Air Raid system, yet the author is at pains to make you aware that a high octane passing offence has always been around just not paramount. Be it the Air Coryell at the San Diego Chargers up to the world famous West Coast offense by Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice becoming legends.

Now what is the difference between Walsh and Munne is the complexity of the two systems. One has a playbook of 500 plays and is a labyrinth of out-thinking the opposition in the tradition of strategic combat that the NFL is, whilst Munne's system is a simplistic model based on read options for the quarterback embracing accuracy and efficiency beyond anything else. The quarterback will have his options from one to five, he starts at one and if he is open he passes to him. If he is not open, he goes to two and so on. A receiver, one of three wide receivers and then a running back catching in the screen and another half back.

The assignments for each player on offense is simple, following the ethos of Bill Belichick ('Do your job'), the lineman give time to the quarterback to pass with accuracy. The receivers get open, the backs block on rising linebackers, the quarterback releases the ball quickly. That is another facet of the Air Raid, the quarterback plays fast and because he has a smaller playbook to memorise he has less things to remember meaning there is no huddle, therefore the offense is always ready to play. Sometimes they call the same play on consecutive occasions, but because the ball is going to perhaps alternative receivers the defence cannot keep up nor anticipate what is coming next. The defence also become gassed and exhausted because the offence is not allowing substitutions of personnel on the defence.

Another often misleading accusation of the Air Raid is that running backs do not get great numbers, on the contrary, Munne's running backs at the college level would easily surpass the 1000 yard milestone with ease and on lesser carries than traditional three-down workhorses.

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Now Munne's influence is rampant in the NFL but was started by Chip Kelly who high octane no huddle offence at Oregon brought him to national prominence and his eventual employment by Philadelphia Eagles and now the 49ers. Quarterbacks are getting better at releasing the ball quickly, allowing them to extend careers as they take less hits as you see from Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Brady was never thought of as a big number passer yet he is consistently throwing over 4500 yards as does Brees.

Yet Munne never got the acclaim he deserved, his assistant Mike Leach is more well known and it was his conversation and discussion with Gwynne that led to this book being written. Munne has suffered divorce, cancer, and is now coaching back in Division III yet still getting results and numbers unheard of.

While he might live in relevant obscurity, hopefully Gwynne's fascinating book will bring Hal Munne the recognition he deserves.

The Perfect Pass is published by Scribner Press part of the Simon & Schuster family.