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Legendary Packers HOF QB Starr dies at 85

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Bart Starr, a Hall of Fame quarterback who helped build the Green Bay Packers dynasty in the 1960s and was named the Most Valuable Player of the first two Super Bowls, died Sunday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 85.

Starr won an unprecedented five NFL championships as the Packers starting quarterback, leading the club to titles in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967. No other starting quarterback has won more than four championships.

Starr battled a series of health setbacks recently. In September 2014, he suffered two strokes, a heart attack and several seizures. His condition improved after undergoing experimental stem cell treatments. He then overcame a life-threatening bronchial infection in August 2015 and broke his hip in December.

He made one of his final public appearances on Nov. 25 of last year, attending the jersey retirement ceremony for quarterback Brett Favre at Lambeau Field.

“We are saddened to note the passing of our husband, father, grandfather, and friend, Bart Starr,” read a statement from Starr’s family. “He battled with courage and determination to transcend the serious stroke he suffered in September 2014, but his most recent illness was too much to overcome.

“While he may always be best known for his success as the Packers quarterback for 16 years, his true legacy will always be the respectful manner in which he treated every person he met, his humble demeanor, and his generous spirit.”

After losing to the Eagles in the 1960 NFL Championship Game, the Packers never lost another postseason contest with Starr at the helm.

That was certainly true at Lambeau Field on December 31, 1967, the date of the NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl.” The game would provide the signature moment of Starr’s career. Fighting a wind chill of 48 degrees below zero, the Packers trailed the Dallas Cowboys 17-14 late in the fourth quarter. After advancing the ball to the one-yard line with 16 seconds left on the clock, Starr called “31 Wedge,” a running play designed for fullback Chuck Mercein. Telling none of his teammates, he decided to keep the ball himself. Following a block by guard Jerry Kramer, Starr plowed into the end zone, giving the Packers a 21-14 victory and a date with the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

Starr was credited for using his mind as much as his arm. Still, he led the NFL in passing three times and was named the league’s MVP in 1966. He played his entire 16-year career with the Packers, finishing with 24,718 passing yards and 152 touchdown passes. His No. 15 jersey number was retired by the Packers in 1973. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

After being the University of Alabama’s starting quarterback, safety and punter as a sophomore in 1953, Starr suffered a back injury in a hazing incident in the summer of 1954 and scarcely saw the field his final two seasons with the Crimson Tide. The Packers used a 17th-round draft selection on Starr in 1956 after Alabama basketball coach, Johnny Dee, recommended him to Packers personnel director, Jack Vainisi, a personal friend.

Starr did not make much of an impact in Green Bay his first three seasons, winning seven of 23 starts while throwing 19 touchdown passes with 32 interceptions. The course of Starr’s life began to change in 1959 with the arrival of head coach Vince Lombardi. The even-mannered Starr was the perfect complement for the fiery Lombardi. From 1961-67, Starr went 69-18-4 as a starter in the regular season and was a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs.

Lombardi allowed Starr to call his own plays and rarely found reason to second guess his quarterback.

“There’s nobody who could put a team in a better position with what Vince wanted to do,” Hall of Fame back Paul Hornung, a teammate of Starr’s for 10 seasons, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2013. “He gave him control of the team. He gave him authority to do whatever he wanted to do. And that’s pretty strong.”

Starr retired in July 1972 and was hired as the Packers quarterbacks coach, holding the job for one season. He then spent two years as a broadcaster with CBS before being named Green Bay’s head coach and general manager on Christmas Eve 1974. In nine disappointing seasons as the club’s head coach, the Packers posted a record of 52-76-3 and made just one playoff appearance.

He was born Bryan Bartlett Starr on January 9, 1934, in Montgomery, Alabama. Football stardom could not shield Starr from personal tragedy. One of his two sons, Bret, died from a drug overdose at the age of 24 in 1988. He is survived by his wife, Cherry, who he married in 1954, and another son, Bart Jr.

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Source — Pats acquire TE Roberts from Lions

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are acquiring third-year tight end Michael Roberts from the Detroit Lions for a conditional 7th-round pick in 2020, a league source confirmed to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Patriots are thin at tight end as they transition without Rob Gronkowski, who announced his retirement in March.

Four-year veteran Matt LaCosse was taking No. 1 reps in mandatory minicamp. He had a career high 24 receptions with the Broncos last season.

Meanwhile, veteran Benjamin Watson figures to be part of the mix, but he will miss the first four games of the season due to NFL suspension. Stephen Anderson, who spent the 2018 season on New England’s practice squad, rounds out the top of the depth chart along with 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo.

The Patriots inherit Roberts’ contract, which has two years remaining. Roberts is due to earn a base salary of $645,000 in 2019 and $735,000 in 2020. The Lions had drafted Roberts in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft out of Toledo. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Roberts has played in 23 regular-season games over the last two years, totaling 13 catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns.

After Roberts struggled with injuries last season while appearing on the cusp of a breakout multiple times, Detroit worked to revamp the tight end room over the last six months. That included drafting T.J. Hockenson in the first round and Isaac Nauta in the seventh and signing free agents Jesse James and Logan Thomas. The quartet of new faces left Roberts in a tough spot in order to make the roster.

This is the latest in a litany of trades made between the Lions and Patriots since former New England staffer Bob Quinn took over as Detroit’s general manager in 2016 – including trading linebacker Kyle Van Noy to New England and making moves during various NFL drafts.

The Detroit News first reported the trade.

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More confident Mitchell Trubisky showing ‘drastic’ improvement – Chicago Bears Blog

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears haven’t been shy about talking up third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throughout their offseason program.

Bears receiver Taylor Gabriel took it a step further on Wednesday, calling Trubisky’s offseason transformation “drastic” as compared to this time last year, when the 24-year-old signal-caller was admittedly in the learning phases of head coach Matt Nagy’s offense.

“Mitch is confident back there,” Gabriel said. “He’s confident in switching the playcalls. He’s confident in, I mean, giving us a double move. We’ve got a lot of double moves out there. He’s confident in what he’s looking at. He’s not just trying to figure out what the play is. Now, he gets to look up and look at the coverage. So I feel like, like I said, it’s just a drastic change from last year.”

Trubisky thrived last year under Nagy, who rescued the team from the predictable and mundane offense that the Bears ran in Trubisky’s rookie season.

Nagy brought the Andy Reid system from the Kansas City Chiefs to Chicago, but he sprinkled in enough wrinkles in the weekly game plan to keep defenses off balance. The creative nature of Nagy’s playbook also afforded the opportunity to sometimes cover up for Trubisky, who started just one full season in college.

The Bears also added offensive firepower that did not exist under the previous regime, signing wide receivers Allen Robinson and Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton in free agency. Chicago later drafted promising Memphis wideout Anthony Miller in the second round, and it further expanded all-purpose threat Tarik Cohen’s role on offense.

Trubisky passed for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and posted a 95.4 passer rating (he also rushed for 421 yards and three touchdowns) during Chicago’s ascension from worst to first in the NFC North to finish 12-4. The Bears lost a first-round home playoff game to the Philadelphia Eagles, but Trubisky’s overall sophomore campaign was a success.

The expectations for Trubisky will be even higher in Year 3, a reality he understands and embraces.

“I got a lot better grasp of the offense,” Trubisky said on Wednesday. “We’re way ahead as far as timing, operation, getting to the line of scrimmage, getting in and out, adjustment on all of our plays and just knowing where to go with the football, especially against all of these different looks that we’re seeing that the defense is throwing at us. So I feel like we’ve done really well. I feel like I have improved my game. We just have to keep getting better.

“But I think just knowing the offense a lot better, knowing the plays that we are already installing and just going back through them and becoming even more detailed with them, I think that gives you confidence as a player — because when you know where to go with the football, you can kind of control the defense more with your eyes and rhythm and anticipate throws as opposed to reacting to throws. That is something I have been working on. It’s given me a lot of confidence, and just my guys believing in me gives me the most confidence.”

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Can XFL 2.0 succeed where the AAF couldn’t? Why it already has a jump start

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The USFL. The World League. The United Football League. The XFL 1.0. And now the Alliance of American Football.

Since the 1970 merger between the AFL and NFL, every attempt at building a large-scale alternative football league has failed. No one has figured it out — and yet they never stop trying.

Next up is XFL 2.0, set to begin play in February 2020. It’s backed by a $500 million investment from owner Vince McMahon, led by an experienced commissioner in Oliver Luck and built on a McKinsey Global Institute research study that found up to 40 million avid fans who crave more football after the NFL season ends.

Industry analysts agree those credentials give the XFL a chance, but the long and one-way history of similar endeavors imposes powerful inertia nonetheless.

“Anybody that thinks that there’s an unquestionable market for spring football is delusional,” said David M. Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group and an associate professor of sports business at USC. “There have been some credible people throwing time and resources at it without the result they anticipated. While you can step back and say that XFL 2.0 — with all of its changes, all of the learnings and the takeaways from over the years to include their own missteps — is positioned far more favorably than anyone else, it’s certainly not a guarantee.”

At the moment, the most prominent alternative football league operating in the United States is The Spring League, a developmental enterprise that has spent the past two years in Austin, Texas. Founder and owner Brian Woods said the league projects $1 million in revenues in 2019, largely because of a “disciplined business model” that requires players to pay a $2,000 fee per season. They do not receive salaries. In return, The Spring League offers a platform for players to be scouted by NFL and CFL personnel.

The XFL, of course, does not consider itself a developmental league in a financial sense and will have much more overhead. Luck, the father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, said it will employ about 1,000 people among its league office and eight franchises, including players and coaches. It will have a salary cap “in the ballpark,” Luck said, of $4 million per team. That averages out to about $88,000 per player, based on 45-man rosters, but Luck said they will be paid in tiers that start lower and range up to “significant six figures.”

And initially, the XFL will allow its games to be televised for free. Broadcast rights fees are the largest revenue drivers for the NFL, NBA, NHL, CFL and Major League Baseball. For the NFL, that means $7 billion per year. In 2020, Fox, FS1, ABC and ESPN will broadcast every XFL game. The networks will cover production costs but won’t pay rights fees, a source confirmed. (The AAF, by comparison, actually paid CBS to televise its games this spring. It shuttered in April after a series of events left it without financing.)

McMahon’s investment means the XFL can operate in the short term without television money. But despite the emergence of new revenue sources, most notably in the area of gambling technology, Luck acknowledged it’s “hard to say” if the league can survive long term without a lucrative television deal.

“I sense that Vince [McMahon] will have patience with this league,” Luck said. “I’m not sure he has unlimited patience. Nobody does. He probably realizes you can’t snap your fingers overnight and have a brand. But I certainly think we need to have a sense of urgency, and need to come out of the gate playing good football and not waste any opportunities to build that brand in a positive manner.”

“I certainly think we need to have a sense of urgency, and need to come out of the gate playing good football and not waste any opportunities to build that brand in a positive manner.”

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck on the league’s relaunch

Luck has worked hard to distance the XFL 2.0 from its loud predecessor, which shuttered after one season in 2001. He envisions a league based on quicker-paced games, courtesy of about a dozen innovations he will finalize by the end of August, and a high level of fan engagement. Luck has rejected, for now, some of the more radical on-field adjustments he has been pitched — from outlawing the three-point stance to forcing defensive linemen to line up one yard off the ball — but is prepared to move forward with enough to create a unique style of play.

The possibilities include but are not limited to:

  • A 25-second play clock, to keep the game moving more quickly

  • Speakers in the helmet of each player to minimize the need for huddles

  • Tipping referees to the play call, so they can avoid flags for penalties that don’t affect the play

  • A radical kickoff alignment that moves the kicker back to avoid touchbacks

  • Two-point conversion shootouts in overtime

  • Options for one-, two- and three-point plays after touchdowns

The XFL has partnered with The Spring League to test these suggestions, with at least two more collaborative practice sessions planned for this summer. Luck’s largely traditional hires for head coaching positions — a mix of NFL veterans such as Jim Zorn (Seattle), Winston Moss (Los Angeles) and Pep Hamilton (Washington), along with former college superstar Bob Stoops (Dallas) — will provide a guard rail against gimmicks.

Perhaps the most unique possibility is a rule that would allow two forward passes on one play, provided the first is caught short of the line of scrimmage. That type of modified innovation is a must for any new football league, said Andrew Kline, founder of the investment bank Park Lane, which specializes in sports investments.

“Attention spans in sports have changed,” said Kline, who played college football at San Diego State and was a 2000 draft choice of the St. Louis Rams. “If the XFL is going to work, they’re going to need to modernize the sport in a way that the NFL doesn’t really have to. The NFL is incredibly successful because it’s more than entertainment. It’s more like religion or tribalism. It pulls people in much deeper around whatever the shield is of the team in your local market. There’s a following because of that. They have a tribal selling point, where the XFL is going to need a true entertainment and engagement selling point.”

One innovation that could truly make a splash is a raid of college football, whose players aren’t eligible for the NFL draft until three years after leaving high school. Signing a player like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (NFL draft-eligible in 2021) would create a buzz, The Spring League’s Woods said, but would also add to the talent level of a league that is going to need it.

“If you really wanted to do something disruptive,” Woods said, “and you really wanted to try to do a standalone bigger venture, my thing would be you would go after younger talent. You would get them for cheaper. You would build the league that way. It would be a very disruptive mechanism for talent procurement that could give a league what they need. You wouldn’t have to necessarily compete with the NFL, or go at those players with NFL-type dollars. You could sign those players for lower dollar figures, guys that have a huge fan base.”

In an interview, Luck acknowledged the possibility but downplayed its scope, estimating there would be between five and 15 such players on XFL rosters in 2020. Rather than antagonize the NCAA, for whom he once held the position of executive vice president for regulatory affairs, Luck said the effort would actually help bolster the organization’s position when challenged on antitrust violations.

“The NCAA would have a pretty good argument,” Luck said, “to be able to say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to go to college to play professional football in the NFL.’ You could spend a year in college and then go to the XFL, and then in a couple of years you could be in the NFL that way.”

Ultimately, Luck said, the XFL will place bets on both its on-field product and engagement with fans. Tentative plans call for providing unique public access to parts of the game that are traditionally sequestered, including pregame talks in the locker room, while also giving fans a role in deciding uniform combinations and halftime entertainment.

Ticket prices aren’t set yet. But Jeffrey Pollack, the XFL’s president and chief operating officer, said “I wouldn’t be surprised” if a family of four could attend for less than $100.

Luck, who lived in Germany for 10 years while working for NFL Europe, used the German word gesamtkunstwerk to describe the all-phases product he hopes to build.

“We’re confident that our brand of football can be unique,” he said. “And so can our entire event, with the access we’re providing, the voice we’re providing to fans, the pricing, all of it. I tell my staff all the time that it’s got to be like a Wagnerian opera — just a complete sensory experience. Football is a critical component, and probably the sine qua non so to speak, but the gesamtkunstwerk has to work for us, too. We want the experience to touch all the senses. That’s ambitious, no doubt about it, but it’s what we want to do.”

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