Friday, January 31, 2020

#ThrowbackThursday: Top 10 wrestlers who played in NFL; Top 10 NFL stars who were wrestlers


Wrestling and football have been linked, going way back in time. On the high school and youth levels, many football players also wrestled. In some instances, there are college athletes who competed in both football and wrestling, much more in the earlier years, but it is still going on. Just in 2019, Fresno State football running back Josh Hokit became a Div. I All-American in wrestling. It can be done.

During the 2013 year when it was recommended that wrestling no longer be on the Olympic program, USA Wrestling did extensive research on wrestlers who competed in the NFL. We compiled a huge list, something that helped us bring more attention to wrestling in the USA as we battled our way back into the Olympic Games.

There are two ways to look at this thing. Who was the best wrestler, who also competed in the NFL? Who was the best football player, who also wrestled? For fun, we will provide a top 10 list for both questions. (Please remember that this is just one man’s opinion).

Best Wrestlers who played in the NFL

We have a lot to choose from, including a World champion, an Olympian, and a few NCAA wrestling champions and some multiple NCAA All-Americans.

Clearly, the top choice is 1999 World champion and two-time NCAA champion Stephen Neal, who won three Super Bowl rings as an offensive lineman for the New England Patriots. Neal won his NCAA titles for Cal-Bakersfield.

Right there at No. 2 is three-time NCAA Div. I champion and three-time NCAA Div. II champion Carlton Haselrig, who played on the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Haselrig wrestled for Pitt-Johnstown.

Both Neal and Haselrig are Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and neither of them played college football.

1964 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler Bob Pickens, who played on the offensive line for the Chicago Bears, gets in at No. 3. Next is two-time NCAA wrestling champion Jim Nance of Syracuse, a running back for the New England Patriots. Add in NCAA champions Curly Culp of Arizona State (who is also in the NFL Hall of Fame) and Art Baker of Syracuse.

We included two-time NCAA wrestling All-Americans Bob Golic (Notre Dame), Charlie Getty (Penn State) and Steve Sefter (Penn State), and Oklahoma State wrestler John Ward, who reached third at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. We also have a few Honorable Mention wrestlers in the NFL who were NCAA Div. I All-Americans.

I know many great wrestlers on the high school level may have only played football in college, but we have to give props to those guys who were All-American college wrestlers, regardless of how good some of the others were in high school.

1. Stephen Neal, New England Patriots OL** – 1999 World freestyle champion, 2x NCAA wrestling champion (Cal-Bakersfield) 4th 1966, 2nd 1997, 1st 1998, 1st 1999

2. Carlton Haselrig, Pittsburgh Steelers OL** – 3x NCAA Div. I champion, 3x NCAA Div. II champion (Pitt-Johnstown), Div. I champion (1987-1989), Div. II champion (1987-1989), 3rd 1986 Div. II
3. Bob Pickens, Chicago Bears, OL – 1964 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team member
4. Jim Nance, New England Patriots, RB – 2x NCAA wrestling champion (Syracuse), 1963 and 1965 champion
5. Curly Culp, Kansas City Chiefs, DL – NCAA wrestling champion (Arizona State), 1967 champion
6. Art Baker, Buffalo Bills, RB – NCAA wrestling champion (Syracuse), 1959 champion
7. Bob Golic, Cleveland Browns, DL – 2x NCAA wrestling All-American (Notre Dame), 3rd 1978, 4th 1977
8. Charlie Getty, Kansas City Chiefs, OL – 2x NCAA wrestling All-American (Penn State), 3rd 1974, 5th 1973
9. Steve Sefter, Philadelphia Eagles, DL – 2x NCAA wrestling All-American (Penn State), 4th 1985, 6th 1981
10. John Ward, 3 NFL teams, OL – NCAA All-American wrestler (Oklahoma State), 3rd 1969
Honorable Mention (also NCAA All-Americans)
Ralph Cindrich, LB, Houston/Denver/New England– NCAA All-American wrestler (Pitt), 4th 1969
Antonio Garay, DT, San Diego/Chicago/Cleveland – NCAA All-American wrestler (Boston College), 4th 2000
Lorenzo Neal, 7 NFL teams, RB – NCAA All-American wrestler (Fresno State), 7th 1992
** Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Best football players/coaches who have wrestled

Being a big-time NFL football fan, but not an expert on professional football by any means, we will refer to the experts when it comes down to this list. Pretty much, we started out by figuring out the wrestlers who have been elected to the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. These guys are the elite of their sport, and to make this list, you pretty much have to be in the NFL Hall of Fame, or are expected to be there in short order.

The next reference we used was the recently published NFL 100 All-Time Team, which was published by the NFL this year in celebration of its 100th anniversary as a league. If you are in both the Hall of Fame, and also recognized in the Top 100 pro football stars of all time, that is some high-level football.

So, all of our top 10 are both Hall of Famers and Top 100 of all time, except for two. Multi-sport super star Jim Thorpe is in the Hall of Fame but didn’t make the Top 100 list of the NFL. Thorpe is on some of the media lists of the top 100 football stars. The other we included was a current player, kicker Adam Vinitieri, who is not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame, but is on that Top 100 NFL list (there are only two kickers).

We also added a coach, Hall of Famer and NFL Top 100 coach Chuck Noll, who did play in the NFL but is in Canton because of his coaching record.

From there, it all comes down to opinion. My top three are people I think may have been the best (or very close to best) in their position group, linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive back Ronnie Lott and defensive lineman Bruce Smith. As a fan, I saw these guys play often on television. From there, it gets a bit subjective, but I did refer to a number of lists from football journalists.

Getting really close to being on both top 10 lists was Curly Culp, who just missed the top 10 football heroes, and sits at No. 5 on best wrestlers who played in the NFL. He ended up Honorable Mention, based on his NFL Hall of Fame spot. He deserves special recognition for being in both conversations..

(Note: All are enshrined in National Football Hall of Fame, except Vinatieri)
1. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2018)***
2. Ronnie Lott, DB, San Francisco 49ers, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2000)***
3. Bruce Smith, DE, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2009)***
4. Jonathan Ogden, OT, Baltimore Ravens, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2013)***
5. John Hannah, OG New England Patriots, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1991)***
6. Mike Webster, C, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1997)***
7. Randall McDaniel, OG, Minnesota Vikings, Pro Football Hall of Fame (2009)***
8. Jim Thorpe, RB, New York Giants, Canton, Cleveland, Oorang, Rock Island, Chicago, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963)
9. Adam Vinatieri, K, Baltimore Colts, NE Patriots, (still active player)***
10. Chuck Noll, Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1993)***
Honorable Mention, also enshrined in NFL Hall of Fame
Curley Culp, DT, Kansas City Chiefs –Pro Football Hall of Fame (2013), NCAA wrestling champion
Larry Csonka, RB, Miami Dolphins, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1987)
Dan Dierdorf, OT, St. Louis Cardinals, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1996)
Henry Jordan, DT, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1995)
Leo Nomellini, DT, San Francisco 49ers, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1969)

What do you think? Feel free to comment below, or post something on USA Wrestling’s Message Boards. I am sure I missed a few, and would appreciate hearing from you if somebody deserving did not make these lists. You can email me at

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Bengals’ special teams ranked No. 1 by Football Outsiders DVOA

This is.... what we like to hear.
By NathanBeighle  Jan 23, 2020, 10:30am EST

Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals did not have a good season.
If we’re honest, the Bengals were borderline unwatchable at times early on. Finishing 2-14, there weren’t many bright spots for a team that finished with the league’s worst record.
However, there were a few.
The Bengals’ special teams was one of them. The oftentimes forgotten side of the ball was led by punter Kevin Huber and kicker Randy Bullock to go along with solid long snappers, returners and projection units.
Coached by Darrin Simmons, that unit in particular is worthy of some praise. “Simmons has spent his entire Bengals term leading the special teams units, and for the last seven years has held the title of special teams coordinator,” has under Simmons bio.
Here’s the breakdown of many different special teams’ rankings


    The Bengals were actually percentage-wise led by strong safety Clayton Fejedelem who played over 80% of the special teams’ snaps in 14 of the team’s 16     games.
In the return game, they were led by Brandon Wilson. He totaled 625 yards on 20 kick returns with one touchdown as well. It was Alec Erickson who did the team’s punt returns.
Averaging 45.3 per punt, it may have been Kevin Huber who was the most impressive special teams’ member though. He was just six yards shy of 3,400 on the season, including a 63-yard long.
Huber has played his entire career in Cincinnati, earning one Pro Bowl appearance in 11 seasons. He’s become a fan favorite and should continue to be for quite a while.
As for Bullock, he finished the season 87% on field goals and 96% on PATs, both solid percentages in a modern-day NFL that struggles for consistency from the kicker.

All signs point to Bo Pelini being next LSU defensive coordinator

Bo Pelini (remember him?) is set to be the next LSU defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports on Monday, though FootballScoop was the first to report on the possibility a full week ago.
Pelini will return to a job he held from 2005-07, when he served as Les Miles first defensive coordinator in Baton Rouge and helped LSU win the 2007 national championship. From there, he became the head coach at Nebraska, where he went 66-27 in seven seasons.
Though he never brought a Big 12 or Big Ten title to Lincoln, Pelini’s Huskers teams joined only Alabama and Oregon in winning at least nine games each year from 2008-14. After being pushed out following the 2014 campaign, Pelini has spent the past five seasons as the head coach at Youngstown State, where he is 33-28.
The volcanic Pelini represents a stark departure from the stoic Dave Aranda, who left earlier this month to become the head coach at Baylor.
According to Sports Illustrateds Ross Dellenger, Pelini will make around $2 million a year, which represents a massive raise from his salary as an FCS head coach but a major savings for LSU, who paid Aranda a best-in-the-nation salary of $2.5 million. (Update: CFT has learned Pelini’s salary is likely to be closer to Aranda’s deal than previously reported.)
Though he’s spent the past 30 seasons in coaching, Pelini does not have a ton of experience as a coordinator. Aside from the three seasons in his first stint at LSU, Pelini spent just one season as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska (2003) and one as a co-coordinator at Oklahoma (2004).
Nevertheless, he takes over a defense that’s fresh off a national championship that both loses and returns a ton of talent. The Tigers will look to replace all four starting linebackers plus defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko, safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton, but the 2020 defense will be led by perhaps college football’s best defender in sophomore corner Derek Stingley plus safeties JaCoby Stevens and Kary Vincent, Jr.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

'I can't believe I'm going to the Super Bowl,' Niemanns bask in Chiefs' run

Niemann family basks in Chiefs’ run

5:48 am

When Sycamore graduate Ben Niemann was a youngster in a football family, his mother, Lou Ann, would inquire about his future.
His father, Jay, chuckles at the vivid memory from over a decade ago.
“She’d ask him what he wanted to do when you grow up, and he said, ‘Mom, I’m going to play in the league.’ Of course you always had to laugh, not knowing if it would actually become reality,” Jay Niemann said. “I don’t know that we ever knew it was going to happen until he went in there and made that final 53-man roster his first year.”
Now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Ben Niemann prepares for the Super Bowl with throngs of DeKalb County locals voicing their support.
Jay Niemann, now the defensive line coach for his home-state Iowa Hawkeyes, was NIU’s defensive coordinator from 2011 to ’15 and was part of five straight Mid-American Conference Championship Game appearances with the Huskies. His children, Ben and Nick, went through their high school years as Spartans.
“Sycamore schools are a great school system, and the coaches that dealt with our boys in all of the sports were good solid leaders and good people,” Jay Niemann said. “And a lot of the community members that we got to know and parents of some of the sons that played with our boys we got to know very well and still have relationships and friendships established with a lot of them.”
Nick, who followed in his brother’s footsteps to become an Iowa Hawkeye, was in the summer before his eighth-grade year when his family moved to Sycamore for his father’s job. He quickly made friends playing in the Sycamore Youth Baseball league and seamlessly transitioned to summer football practice. Ben was able to leap right into football as well.
“Coach Ryan’s definitely one of the best in the business in high school football,” said Nick Niemann, who’s about to become a senior for the Hawkeyes next year. “A lot of players, coaches and people I know have a lot of respect for him. It was definitely awesome to be able to play for him the way Sycamore does things.”
After following his brother to Iowa City, Nick felt comfortable with his brother taking him under his wing as a linebacker for the Hawkeyes, before making a jump to the AFC Champion Chiefs.
“Last year he was pretty much only on special teams but now he’s playing a lot more on defense,” Nick Niemann said. “Everyone knew what he was capable of, but obviously, coming in as an undrafted free agent, compared to some other guys, there might be some questions, but he’s proved himself. I know that he loves it there, and I think they have a good relationship with him.”
Not that it was an easy path for Ben Niemann to the Chiefs’ roster. Numerous dominoes had to fall. Timely production from the linebacker in 2018 preseason games cemented his spot.
Jay Niemann remembers the anxiety-filled chats with his eldest son as the Chiefs cut more players from the roster in the summer leading up to his rookie season before Ben made the 53-man roster.
“Every cut that you go through, you just hope that he’s not on that list,” Jay Niemann said. “And he was surviving those cuts one at a time and fortunately had some really good preseason games prior to his rookie season, and that got him to a position where they kept him on the roster, and it began with a lot of special teams opportunities and slowly evolved to what it is now.”
Jay Niemann had the chance to watch his sons’ games more closely than ever as NIU’s defensive coordinator, but missed time watching Ben and Nick during three years as the defensive coordinator at Rutgers (2016-18).
“In this profession, you miss out on a lot of opportunities to be involved in activities and events and competitions or games that your kids are a part of,” Jay Niemann said. “I certainly missed my fair share, although at NIU I was able to see a lot of the Sycamore games, which was really nice.”
The eldest Niemann, an Iowa State graduate, had a tumultuous offseason following the 2018 college football season, in which he went from Rutgers to Kansas to Wyoming before the final opportunity presented itself that he couldn’t pass up to coach his son, Nick.
After a cherished season that has allowed the family to be closer together than they’ve been in years, they’ve banded together to make trips to two playoff games. Lou Ann, Jay and Nick were there watching in the AFC Division Round when the Chiefs overcame a 24-point deficit to the Houston Texans.
“That was the weird thing about being at the game,” Nick Niemann said. “They got down so quick it didn’t even feel like they were in that bad of shape. It was so early, and you knew their big playmaking ability. I don’t think anybody worried.”
The whole crew was there for an AFC Championship Game victory in Kansas City as well.
“After the AFC championship, we were down on the field, and [Ben] just had a huge smile on his face,” Nick Niemann said. “He just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to the Super Bowl.’ ”

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Marshal Yanda to take the next month to decide on playing in 2020

Posted by Josh Alper on January 27, 2020, 12:24 PM EST

Getty Images

When Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda arrived in Orlando for the Pro Bowl last week, he said he wasn’t ready to talk about his plans for the 2020 season.

Yanda has talked about contemplating retirement in the past, but getting through the Pro Bowl isn’t enough to get him to share his plans for the coming year. According to Yanda, that’s because he won’t be making any plans for several weeks.

“I’m going to take my time now that I’m officially done playing for the year, just take some time over the next month and basically go with my heart,” Yanda said, via the team’s Twitter account.

Yanda also responded to a question about whether Sunday’s Pro Bowl had any special meaning because it might be his final time on an NFL field.

“Not necessarily,” Yanda said. “You’re not in that frame of mind. I definitely didn’t think about it too much today because it’s the Pro Bowl. It’s more of a relaxed game than an intense game so I didn’t have those feelings as much as I did as the Tennessee game.”

This was Yanda’s eighth Pro Bowl selection since the Ravens made him a 2007 third-round pick and he’s also made first- or second-team All-Pro in seven of the last nine seasons.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Peter King's Football Morning in America: The Profile

Dean Pees • Retired Tennessee defensive coordinator • Photographed in Nashville, Tenn.

Pees, 70, retired last week after finishing his 47th year of coaching at the high school, college and NFL level. It’s one of the most interesting careers in coaching history. Not only because he got to coach under two legends, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, but he also got to coach under two coaches he coached as players—John Harbaugh (Miami of Ohio, then the Ravens) and Mike Vrabel (the Patriots, then the Titans). Thirteen jobs in 47 years, and . . .
“I’ve never applied for a job. I never got fired from a job. I never really sought another job. I never said, ‘I’m going to climb the ladder.’ I just did the job I had at the time, did the best I could. And I was lucky: I loved every job I had.”

Starting in Bloomingdale, Ohio (pop: 754), at little Elmwood High School.

“I played in a winter basketball league in [northwest] Ohio after college, when I met the principal at Elmwood High School. I was running a men’s clothing store in Bowling Green, Ohio. They had some openings on the football staff at Elmwood and he asked me if I wanted to coach. I said sure. I was hired to coach the secondary and be the track coach. But at our first meeting, the head coach made me the defensive coordinator. I did that two years, then became the head coach for four. Then I went to Findlay College as defensive coordinator and head track coach in 1979. After my first year, I went to Miami of Ohio to learn about their defense—which was the same defense we ran—from their coordinator, Tim Rose. In 1983, he got the head job there and hired me to be his defensive coordinator. Stayed there four years, and then Elliott Uzelac, the coach at Navy, called and hired me to coach the secondary. He got my name from Lloyd Carr, who I’d done some clinics with.

“After the ’89 season, Nick Saban called me. He was the secondary coach with the Oilers then, but he’d just been hired as the Toledo coach. He asked me to fly down to Houston, just to talk. He got my name from [longtime Navy assistant] Steve Belichick. So I flew down, and he offered me the defensive coordinator job at Toledo. Loved working with Nick—so good to me and my family. He left to coach with Bill [Belichick] and the Browns after one year, but Gary Pinkell was hired by Toledo and he kept the staff. I stayed three more years. After signing day [in 1994], Gary said to me one day, ‘[Notre Dame coach] Lou Holtz is on the phone. He’s gonna offer you a job.’ I picked up the phone, and Lou offered me the linebacker job. Then he said, ‘I hate to ask you this, but can you be here this afternoon?’ I said sure, I’ll call my wife on the way. So I was at Notre Dame one year. Then Nick takes the Michigan State job, and he hires me as his defensive coordinator. I was there from ‘95 to ’97. Kent State fires their coach after the ’97 season, and their AD flies up to meet me. We have breakfast, and I guess you could call that an interview, but it basically was a conversation—he just wanted to get to know me. He offered me the job over the phone.

“I’m at Kent six years. One day I had a question about defense for Bill Belichick, and I called him. He called me back and said, ‘I’m losing a linebacker coach. Ever thought about leaving college?’ We met at the scouting combine. He offered me the linebacker job. Great experience, with [Tedy] Bruschi, [Willie] McGinest, [Mike] Vrabel. In 2006, he made me the coordinator. Just a great experience, to see how the very best do it. But after four years as the coordinator, I needed a break. I made a smooth exit from New England. Then John Harbaugh offered me the linebacker job in Baltimore, which is what I needed at the time. How great that was, coaching Ray Lewis. Then John named me the coordinator in 2012. After ’16, I’m thinking of retiring. John said, ‘How about one more year?’ But after the ’17 season, that was it. I retired.

“So we [Pees and wife Melody] went up to our lake house in Michigan. It’s a Thursday night in January. We went out to dinner with our financial adviser, and we’re figuring out the NFL pension and how we’re going to live. Melody was planning this river cruise in Europe. The next morning, the phone rang. I said, ‘Hi Mike,’ and she knew. Mike Vrabel. He’d just gotten the Tennessee head-coaching job. He needed someone with experience to run the defense. He wanted me to be the coordinator.”

Pees’ only son, Matt Pees, was a high school coach in Denver. Dean Pees might have taken the Titans job anyway, but he asked Vrabel if he could bring Matt as defensive quality control coach. Vrabel checked, called the next day to say Matt was welcome on the staff, and the deal got done. Father and son coached together in 2018 and 2019.

“Of course losing at Kansas City was disappointing. But winning at New England and winning at Baltimore in the playoffs, against two coaches I have so much respect for, was an incredible way to go out. That goal-line stand in the second quarter at New England is a career highlight. But this time, I’m done coaching. Forty-seven years is enough. Not saying I’d never do some other job in football, but not coaching.

“It’s been a great career. Very, very blessed. My wife’s been fantastic. My kids have been fantastic—their whole lives, they just take off one jersey and put on another. I’m looking at my grandson right now—he’s 8, and he’s wearing a Titans cap.

“People ask me, ‘What’s your favorite place you coached?’ All of ‘em. They ask, ‘Who’s your favorite player?’ All of ‘em.

“In this football business, who can say they never got fired? Who can say they loved every job they had? For 47 years!”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Bengals announce hiring of linebackers, secondary coach and give Simmons title

Monday, January 20th 2020

Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons (WKRC)<p>{/p}

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The Bengals on Monday announced the hiring of two assistant coaches — Al Golden (linebackers) and Steve Jackson (secondary/cornerbacks) — and that special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons will add assistant head coach to his job title.
The hiring of Golden had been reported last week.
Golden, 50, spent the last four seasons on the Detroit Lions’ staff, coaching tight ends from 2016-17 and linebackers from ’18-19. Prior to his time with Detroit, he served as the head coach at the University of Miami (Fla.) from 2011-15, and at Temple University from ’06-10. He also served as defensive coordinator at the University of Virginia from 2001-05, and coached linebackers at both Penn State University (’00) and Boston College (1997-99).
Jackson, 50, joins the Bengals after spending the last two seasons (2018-19) as assistant defensive backs coach with the N.Y. Jets. Prior to his time with the Jets, he coached defensive backs with the Tennessee Titans (2016-17), Detroit Lions (’13), Washington Redskins (’04-11) and Buffalo Bills (’01-03). Prior to his coaching career, Jackson played nine seasons (1991-99) as a defensive back for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, and helped the team to a berth in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Simmons, 46, will be in his 18th season on the Bengals’ staff in 2020, and is the team’s longest-tenured coach. He has spent his entire Bengals term leading the team’s special teams units, and for the last eight seasons has held the title of special teams coordinator.
“We are excited to add Al and Steve to our staff,” said head coach Zac Taylor. “They are both impressive coaches and will bring great experience to our team.
“In addition, Darrin has done an excellent job with the special teams unit for a long time, and he is an integral part of this organization. I look forward to his continued help going forward.”

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