Sunday, November 27, 2011

Packers have a rich history in Largo

This is a story I wrote for a local online news site several months ago, but they never published it. So I thought I would share it here on my blog:

Packers have a rich history in Largo

By Greg Lindberg

April 2011

The NFL’s Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers aren’t the only sports team with a large following. If you live in Largo, there is a popular Packers squad right in your backyard.

The Largo High School Packers have a rich history when it comes to athletics. The school is known for its successful football and basketball teams, in addition to its storied cross country program, which captured 10 state championships in the 1970s and ‘80s.

So where exactly did the Packer name come from? In its early days, the school was located near a large orange packing plant at the corner of Missouri and East Bay Avenues. Trains would come through to pick up the oranges for distribution to other areas. It was only fitting that the school took on the Packer name for its athletic teams.

Aside from the Packer name, the official mascot is a razorback hog. According to Largo athletic coordinator Jim Casey, a principal at the school in the late 1950s and early ‘60s was a graduate of the University of Arkansas and was a huge Razorbacks fan. The school adopted the pig as a result. Some also claim that the football team would practice near a pig farm in the area. Animal farms were once a common site to see in Pinellas County.

The pig mascot also represents the rural aspect in the history of the school and its longtime rivalry with the city-centered Clearwater High School.

“It was always the farmers against the city folks,” Casey said. “Every time [Largo] played Clearwater, kids would dress up in overalls and straw hats.”

Rick Rodriguez has been the head football coach at Largo since 2000. But he previously coached at Clearwater High for 16 years prior to joining the Packers. Rodriguez admitted it took some time getting used to coaching on the other side of the rivalry.

“But I’m all Largo blood now,” he said.

Rodriguez’s teams have dominated his former school. The Packers, who wear helmets that show a mean-looking hog with its teeth sticking out, are 12-1 against the Tornadoes in their last 13 meetings.

“We’re one of the best football programs in Pinellas in the past 10 years,” Rodriguez said.

Because of how popular Largo football is, students dress up in school colors – blue and gold – for pep rallies and football games. The pig mascot has appeared at football games as well. In the past, a senior would dress up in a razorback costume and attend games to cheer on the Packers. But because it was so hot to wear the heavy costume, nobody volunteered to do it last fall. It was also discovered that the mascot was missing from the team’s field house. It has not yet been replaced.

“I think somebody stole the thing,” Rodriguez said. He wonders if it was a Clearwater fan who took it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's just not fair

Many sports pundits have debated for years about having a minimum age requirement for college basketball players to enter the NBA draft. The current rule states that players must be 19 years old the year of the draft in order to qualify for it.

So why not also have a maximum age limit for athletes to compete in college sports?

The Oklahoma State Cowboys are currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in college football. If they win the rest of their games, they will likely play in the BCS National Championship Game. Brandon Weeden, their starting quarterback, is 28 years old. He played five seasons of minor-league baseball before joining the Oklahoma State football team. Weeden is a decade older than many of the freshmen on the team. He got his driver’s license when many of his teammates were starting kindergarten. This must beg the question: why in the world is he allowed to play? It is not fair to other players to have to play against a guy who could be a fifth-year NFL quarterback. The NCAA must change the eligibility rules right here, right now.

College students between the ages of 18 and 22 have a reputation for being wild and crazy and doing stupid things. This stereotype might be accurate in some cases, and research has shown that humans’ brains are not fully developed until the mid-20s. That is why young adults often make poor and rash decisions. It also reflects the major differences in the abilities of college football players and NFL players. Yet Weeden, at age 28, must be fully matured and a step ahead of his teammates and players on opposing teams, right? It is obvious why his team is the second-best in the country. No other team has a QB at his maturity level. In fact, it would be embarrassing if he didn’t have his team in their current position.

Back in 1999, the Florida State Seminoles had Chris Weinke playing at quarterback. Weinke, also a former minor league baseball player, was 27 years old and won a national championship at FSU that season. He also won the Heisman Trophy the following year to become the oldest player to ever to win as a 28-year-old. At the time, people probably felt the same way about Weinke as they have to about Weeden.

It just does not seem right that athletes of a certain age who have professional experience under their belts are allowed to play at the college level. Perhaps the fact that these older players are quarterbacks – arguably the most important position to play – gives their teams even more of an advantage. Sure, people go back to school later in life to earn their degrees. But when competing in athletics, those with professional sports experience like Weeden had in minor-league baseball are obviously far superior both physically and mentally than everyone else on the field when they play. If Oklahoma State wins the national championship this year, there should be an asterisk next to the team’s name in the record books. I’d even vote to add one to the ’99 Seminoles.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A tumultuous end to an unprecedented run

The recent news out of Penn State University that former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly committed a slew of sex abuse crimes against children has taken the nation by storm. Any story with details of this nature is terribly disturbing, but this case is particularly polarizing because of who is involved – and who might have been involved. None other than legendary Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno is being questioned about what he did or did not report to both school officials and local authorities about what he apparently knew was going on.

Paterno, who has been a coach in some fashion at Penn State since 1950, has had a reputation as one of the most unique and beloved faces in sports, primarily because of his age and longevity at one school. In today’s era of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, it is rare to see a head coach remain at one job for a fraction of the time that Paterno has held his position in State College, Pa.

Many fans were probably wondering when Paterno would ultimately decide to hang it up. In 2011 at the age of 84, he was quoted as saying he would like to coach “another four or five years.” But because of the Sandusky scandal and obvious pressure from all directions, Paterno announced on Nov. 9 that this would be his final season as head coach. Only the school’s Board of Trustees will determine if he can finish the remainder of the season or if he will be forced out sooner.

Clearly, this entire situation is just awful from every angle. First and foremost, you certainly have to feel for the victims of the alleged crimes. But from a college football fan’s standpoint, isn’t it an absolute shame it had to end like this? Regardless of whether “JoePa” is sent out the door before the 2011 season is over or gets his wishes and finishes with an ounce of dignity, who would have ever thought such a celebrated career would end on a note like this? It pains me to think that the “grandfather of college football” has to take a bow on such ugly terms. I don’t even know how to view the man any longer. In all likelihood, that view won’t be shaped completely until the entire saga is unraveled. We will never see another Joe Paterno. And because of that, it makes you sick to your stomach.