Friday, July 29, 2011

Irish Linebacker Product Kerry Neal Agrees to Contract with Colts

Two weeks before Notre Dame's pro day in April it was unclear whether or not Kerry Neal would be able to put on a strong enough show to garner interest by pro scouts. Then, to compound matters, he suffered a severe calf strain that rendered his chances of piquing interest even more far-fetched.

Clearly below full health, he recorded 40-yard dash times of 5.17 and 5.15 - not exactly a bad time for defensive lineman but hardly acceptable for linebackers.

So Neal, who played in all 50 games of his career while recording 112 tackles (11 for loss) and three fumble recoveries, was forced to earn respect from scouts the old-fashioned way: relentless work in the weight room and on the field in the offseason.

On Wednesday, the hard work paid itself off as the 6'2" 245-pound linebacker signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Overall it isn't a terrible signing but it will be interesting to see how much the Colts can use his services. Perhaps he can work his way onto the field through special teams, as he started out his Notre Dame career, and work his way up the rotation at linebacker.

His career highlights are shown here and it must be noted that there is no sound on the footage. True football fans will love it, casual fans not so much.

Congratulations to Neal and his family!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Armando Allen, former Notre Dame Running Back, Signs with Buccaneers

Notre Dame running back Armando Allen, Jr. was amongst the several Irish players to sign NFL contracts yesterday as an undrafted free agent. With the lockout over, teams were free to start contacting players and it did not take long for contracts to be written up.

For Allen, he will join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and compete for a spot on their roster once camp opens Thursday, July 28. Changes are possible in the Buccaneers' backfield but not entirely likely, so at the very least Allen would provide depth or possibly return kicks, a specialty he shined in at times during his Notre Dame career.

Over his entire playing career, including high school, he was susceptible to injuries (he sat out his senior year in high school with a broken leg and missed the second half of his senior year in college with torn cartilage on both sides of his hip) so he probably would not be in position to compete for a full-time job. Splitting time is definitely the way to go with Allen. Another possibility includes lining up in the 'wildcat' position.

When healthy, he showed some flash and bursts of speed. He could wind up being a sleeper for the Bucs.

Lineman Extraordinaire Chris Stewart Signs with Jets

Last season the party line was that Chris Stewart moved from OL to 1L. Ever wonder what a day in the life of a college football player and full-time law student wrapped into one would entail? Here is your answer.

According to Notre Dame records, Stewart became the first football player in school history to be accepted into Notre Dame Law School. In fact, he was the only Division 1 collegiate football player to enroll in law school last season, but that's a different story.

Given his graduate level education a future profession in the courtroom awaits Stewart. But those plans will be put on hold as he strives to excel at another profession: an NFL offensive lineman.

Yesterday Stewart signed a deal with the Jets and will compete for a position on their roster once camp starts on Monday, August 1.

The 6'5", 351 pound Stewart played on both sides of the ball during his five years at Notre Dame but with such a large frame he projects as an offensive guard at the next level. Offensive guard is a position of need for the Jets so Stewart's presence will be more than welcome.

Even if his NFL career falters, he can always turn to law to earn a pretty penny in his professional career.

ND Cornerback Darrin Walls Inks Deal with Falcons

It was not an easy road but the one taken by Darrin Walls, no. 2 in the above photo, winds up at every football player's dream destination: the NFL.

Earlier today, Walls signed a deal with the Atlanta Falcons and will compete at the cornerback position. Although an original member of the class of '10, Walls left school entering his junior season in fall of '07 citing 'personal reasons.' By spring semester of '08 he was back on campus and returned for a successful remaining two years of play.

He never quite lived up to his hype as a high school all-american but he did show periods of brilliance, most of which are captured below.

Walls was heralded as one of the most underrated prospects of the 2011 NFL Draft namely due to his blazing speed (4.39 40-yard dash). All 32 teams passed on Walls during the draft though, resigning him to wait during the tumultuous lockout period over the past several months.

Best of luck to Walls as he fights to earn a spot on the permanent Falcons roster.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brotherly Love Pushes Hughes to NFL Dream: Signs with Bears

It's not the fact that former Notre Dame running back Robert Hughes signed with his hometown Chicago Bears - that is just icing on the cake in comparison to what Hughes has been through in his young life thus far.

A touching remembrance of Robert Hughes' journey to college and now fulfilling his NFL dream is shared by the Chicago Sun-Times. Paraphrasing would do a disservice as the entire article is worth the read but, in essence, Hughes was motivated by his late brother, Earl "Tony" Hughes.

On October 31, 2007 Tony was fatally shot in the head outside of his home after answering the door. To this day the killer is still at large and Hughes family remains shaken. Determined as ever, Robert returned to practice the following day, though he was certainly not his usual chipper self.

Charlie Weis, head coach at the time, arranged for all of Hughes' teammates to travel with him and be by his side at his brother's funeral the Friday of that same week. People give Weis a hard time for being a 'jerk' and 'arrogant', but deep down he really is a compassionate and good man. Here is an excerpt from the article linked above:
Weis has been one of the most supportive members of the staff since the murder. He drove Hughes to Chicago Thursday night to talk with the player's family and offer consolation. He also jumped through NCAA hoops to get two buses to take any players that wanted to go to Tony's funeral there.
Tragedy aside, Hughes returned to play that weekend as Notre Dame took on the Naval Academy. He remarkably scored the game's first touchdown and proceed to give the ball to his family. His efforts to honor his brother would continue from that day throughout the rest of his career (he was only a freshman at the time) by pointing to the sky in remembrance of Tony after scoring plays.

You can see his emotional touchdown from the Navy game around the 0:30 mark in the video below that captures his career highlights under the dome.

Hughes came on strong towards the end of the season in games against Army, USC, and Miami. He reminded many of former Irish tailback Jerome Bettis as he bruised his way over and through helpless defenders.

His contributions at the Coliseum helped the Irish end an eight-game losing streak against arch-rival USC. Watch his efforts during the final drive to put the Irish on top for good.

This certainly is another in a long list of 'feel good' stories in sports. Congratulations to Robert and his family!

Irish Linebacker Brian Smith Signs with Browns

Given that six months of offseason free agent signings are being condensed into a matter of weeks its no surprise that a plethora of deals went down today in the NFL.

You will have to pardon the numerous posts that will ensue, but there are several Irish players who were signed today and each deserves a separate shout out. Bear with me.

Brian Smith, an outside linebacker and three-year starter who eventually lost his post but earned his way back into the starting lineup, signed a deal with the Cleveland Browns today. His career was certainly one of ups and downs. He almost wound up playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes, but when an offer from his father's alma mater came he jumped at the chance to join the Irish in 2007.

Smith is the perfect embodiment of what it means to belong to the Notre Dame family. He eats, sleeps, and breathes Notre Dame. Oh, and he wears his heart on his sleeve while giving it his all on the field. While he may not be the most athletically gifted player on the field, he can make up for it with his determination and hard work.

Congratulations to Smith and his family! For some nostalgia, check out Smith's career highlights below.

My favorite Brian Smith moment was during the 2008 victory over Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium. Pay close attention to #58 around the 3:00 mark of the video below for his fumble recovery and subsequent celebration in the monsoon that struck just as the game resumed in the fourth quarter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Notre Dame Product Ian Williams Likely To Sign with 49ers

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Ian Williams wasted no time capitalizing on the recently ended NFL lockout. After going undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft, he's been in contact with a few teams and narrowed his list of suitors to three: Dallas, Miami, and San Francisco.

Reports indicate he's ready to ink a deal with the 49ers tomorrow morning.

The biggest knock on Williams is that at 6'1" he lacks prototypical height and, accordingly, arm length for an NFL lineman. Still, some prognosticators thought a team would pick him up in one of the late rounds.

After failing to hear his name called as the draft wore on and he ultimately was passed over, he became increasingly disappointed and frustrated.

He continued working hard during the lockout and, finally, now that the labor dispute is over it appears Williams will get a shot at his dream job in the NFL.

Williams will have ample opportunity to prove himself to with a new staff led by former Stanford head coach and first year 49ers head man Jim Harbaugh. Defensive tackle, Williams' position, was one of the biggest needs for the 49ers so he will certainly get a good, long look.

Best of luck to him as he pursues his career in the pros!

Warren Zevon: Part 2

It's been a little while since I touched on Warren Zevon, but after some time to simmer in the summer heat I've had a chance to gather some other more recent songs from Zevon, including some of the last recordings of his career.

"Keep Me In Your Heart" from his final album The Wind essentially serves as his musical epitaph with such lines as, "If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less/Keep me in your heart for a while," the song is like a goodbye to everyone.

"Disorder In The House," Is a bluesy little jam featuring guitar work and vocals from Bruce Springsteen. It's also featured on Zevon's final album The Wind.

These are both excellent tunes. Hopefully they get your week started on the positive.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Virginia Tech Takes NFL to Task on Helmet Safety

Virginia Tech's outstanding Engineering programs are world-renowned for cutting edge research in countless fields, so it makes sense when there's a Hokie breakthrough in football injuries.

For years, Tech footballers have been using the High Impact Telemetry System (HITS) to determine the severity of impacts suffered during football activities.

This ESPN article spells out the details and the video below from Discovery Science gives you a visual look.

Basically, engineers put sensors in the helmets to measure the force of impacts at several important spots on the head.

The ESPN story paints a frustrating picture about the NFL's stance on helmet regulations. Player safety concerns are at an all-time high as they should be. Increased money for retired players has been an important part of the NFL's new collective bargaining negotiations.

Hopefully new data can continue to fuel the football safety movement and help keep players at all levels of football healthy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Man Lives After Falling Without a Deployed Parachute from 15,000 Feet

If you're a frequent visitor of Stars and Slights you know that we like to have a good time. Sometimes, we're all for taking on the extreme. Other times, not so much. File this on into the latter category.

This past Sunday, National Geographic aired a documentary called "The Indestructibles," which was a compilation of miraculous survival stories.

What follows is a partial clip of one particular story aired in the segment - a group of skydiver's watched as their friend's parachute failed to open from 15,000 feet. As remarkable a story as this is, it is honestly quite frightening.

As reported by GrindTV, five years ago Michael Holmes plummeted to what surely seemed like it would be his death after both his main chute and backup chutes failed to properly deploy. The main chute failed entirely, while the backup only partially deployed.

It was too little, too late by the the time the backup deployed, though, as Holmes crashed on some plants. Since my lead in already spoiled the outcome you already know that he survived. What is most unbelievable to me is not that he survived with only minor injuries (contusions, two broken bones, and no damage to internal organs including his brain), but that he still continues to skydive after the horrible accident! Maybe his brain was injured after all?

I'm reminded of the saying, "There are only two things that fall from the sky - bird s*&! and fools."

Suffice it to say, Michael Holmes while certainly lucky is an enormous fool.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rory McIlroy's Back Yard is Cooler Than Yours

No, that photo is not of the 'road hole bunker' from the Old Course at St. Andrews - it's from an exact replica of the road hole bunker in Rory McIlroy's backyard.

Actually, according to Rory's interview with BBC he reveals it is slightly deeper than the infamous sand trap belonging to arguably the world's most famous course. For a complete look at the segment filmed at his backyard check out this page on the BBC Sport website.

He even shares some intriguing information regarding his preparation for tournaments. If he wants to stay home to practice for an event he will get in touch with tournament officials or greenskeepers from the participating course to find out the intended stimp meter level that will be used on the greens in competition. Brilliant!

Speaking of greenskeepers, Rory has a few to help maintain his back yard oasis. He literally does not have to leave his home to play championship level golf. 

What's next for Rory? Perhaps he'll build a replica of the iconic 18th hole from St. Andrews, like the below photo.

Game on.

Friday, July 8, 2011

2011 NHL Draft at Xcel Energy Center

On June 24, 2011 I had the privilege of attending the 2011 NHL Draft at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. By all accounts, it exceeded my expectations.

In such a passion-filled hockey state it was only fitting that this year's draft be held in Minnesota. It was the second time in the state's history hosting the event, the only previous time being at the former Metropolitan Sports Center in 1989. Fans representing each team were present, though there were certain franchises with considerably more support than others.

Without question, Minnesota Wild fans made up the vast majority. There were droves of Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and New York Rangers fans. Even a few extinct teams, such as the Quebec Nordiques, had a presence.

But the most overwhelming support for a team not named the Wild were the recently approved Winnipeg Jets. Before the official kick-off to the draft from commissioner Gary Bettman and his family, Jets fans chanted "Let's go Jets! Let's go Jets!" If I didn't know any better I would have thought there was a game being played.

Numerous games and activities were setup on the main concourse area. Puck shooting contests, hockey card traders, life sized replica player locker rooms with equipment and jerseys to try on and much more were on hand.

Throughout the course of the evening numerous coaches and players interacted with fans, signed autographs, and posed for pictures. I even met Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. He was very friendly and thanked me for congratulating him on winning the 2011 Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year.

Nothing compared to what proved as a major surprise and delight when I walked through the doors to the Xcel - the Stanley Cup was in the house! During the prescribed showing time I made my way to the location where it was to be unveiled.

While standing in the middle of the concourse area I noticed a strange silence come over the surrounding crowd. I looked around to see what was going, and lo and behold there it was. Lord Stanley's Cup was being wheeled around by the security guard from the MasterCard commercial.

After picking my jaw up off the ground and waiting in line for roughly 30-45 minutes I finally had my chance. Even though superstitions say you aren't supposed to touch the Cup until you win it, I figured it was a safe bet I would never have that opportunity.

It also helps that the superstition wound up proving false - or perhaps dormant - for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.

Aside from all of that fun stuff, there was actually a lot of business being conducted at the draft. Of course, teams were charged with putting faith in 17-19 year-old's to help fill various needs within their organizations.

Though not during the first round while I was present, three Notre Dame players (or players-to-be) were drafted by NHL clubs. Sophomore center T.J. Tynan, college hockey's national rookie of the year last season, was selected in the third round with the 66th pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Steven Fogarty, who won't embark on his Irish career until 2012-2013, was selected six picks later by the New York Rangers. Lastly, incoming freshman defensemen Robbie Russo was snatched up in the fourth round by the New York Islanders with the 95th pick.

Overall, the first night of the draft seemed to drag on as it took over four hours to complete 30 picks. Despite the longevity it was time well spent, though. I hope the Xcel plays host to a draft sometime again in the near future.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rider Protests New York Helmet Law; Dies In Motorcycle Accident

I've often heard that you can't legislate intelligence. That's why an idea that I enjoy like making people pass a basic test before being allowed to vote doesn't fly because people want the "right" to be ignorant.

Common sense it would seem is also not something that the government can force upon its citizens.

That concept was personified over the holiday weekend when upstate New Yorker Philip Contos, riding in a protest of New York's mandatory helmet law, died after he went over the handle bars of his 1983 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and hit his head on the pavement.

The attending physician stated Mr. Contos likely would have survived had he been wearing a helmet.

Contos was one of about 550 people riding in a protest of New York state's helmet law organized by the Onondaga chapter of American Bikers Aimed Towards Education (ABATE).

The statewide president of ABATE, Thomas Alton, said, "We are riding at an increased risk and accept that. ... This individual was a seasoned rider, not a newbie. He made an adult decision. A full decision to ride in the manner he rode in."

Any death is unfortunate, and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, Mr. Contos accomplished nothing but reinforcing the idea that it's really, really, dumb to operate a motorcycle helmetless.

Even if you're a safe and responsible motorcyclist, it's just not a smart decision to hop on a bike and ride with nothing protecting your brain—however poorly functioning it might be—but your cranium.

Worse yet, Alton is trying to turn Contos into some kind of martyr for their misguided cause.

ABATE of NY Inc. is organizing a memorial "to honor an individual who rode for freedom and risked his all for freedom," according to Alton.

Honoring the gentlemen for his life and accomplishments is certainly the right thing to do. But don't imply that this was a noble death that happened fighting for freedom, especially not on a weekend supposed to be spent honoring those who serve and have died in the United States military fighting for freedom, not from common sense laws, but from tyranny and unlawful persecution.

Ultimately, I just want to say be safe. Buckle your seat belt and wear your bicycle or motorcycle helmet.

Though I suppose if you don't use your brain to begin with, there's little sense in protecting it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Michael Bay Is A Horrible, Lazy Director/Producer

As a general rule, I don't like mindless action films. I define a mindless action film as something with a stupid or tenuous plot and at least a dozen explosions—or every Michael Bay film.

To be fair, I did enjoy the 1996 release The Rock starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. The plot is ridiculous, but everyone likes Sean Connery and Nick Cage is hilarious, albeit unintentionally.

But I digress. Bay is also known for such critic-cringing fare as Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, remakes of almost every scary movie you can think of and most recently the Transformers series.

Almost all of Bay's films have been wildly successful financially with the exception of 2005's The Island which wasn't really seen by anyone.

That's probably why Bay thought he could get away with reusing several scenes from The Island in his most recent release, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

The scenes in question are below and probably would have slipped by years ago, but this is 2011.

All Hail the Internet!


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