I had been looking forward to this weekend since the day I “officially” put it on the calendar! Originally a single event in Cleveland, my flight arrangements made it possible for me to make a quick side trip to Columbus to meet up with PLAAY gamers there, too! My flight left Denver late, which put a bit of a squeeze on the timeline, but I did manage to arrive in Columbus just minutes before game time! Whew!
George Peete had also traveled long-distance for this event, taking the bus from Buffalo, and George and I met up with Bill Wentworth and David Butterman at the Columbus Airport Marriott Hotel for a re-PLAAY of college football’s national championship game, Ohio State vs. Oregon. David took the caching reins for OSU, Bill and George co-coached Oregon, with Bill calling the offense and George doing defense.
Using Brian Reising’s home-brewed team sheets, the game played out much like the real-thing did last January. QB JT Barrett connected with RB Jalin Marshall on a 14 yard pass in the first quarter, staking the Buckeyes to a 7-0 lead. Ezekiel Elliott added a four yard run in the second period, and Sean Nuernberger’s 37 yard FG made it 17-0. But the Ducks rallied with a desperation drive late in the first half, covering 68 yards in 1:45, Thomas Tyner taking a short pass from Marcus Mariota in from the four-yard line as the half expired to make it a game again, 17-7.
Oregon got the ball to start the second half, and Mariota quickly moved the Ducks to the OSU 34 yard line. Then a pivotal moment in the game: Mariota was hit hard by OSU LB Darron Lee and had to leave the game, replaced by untested Jeff Lockie. Facing a fourth and four, Lockie (rated 0 / pass) overthrew a wide open Dwayne Stanford, and Oregon turned the ball over on downs. The Buckeyes responded with a 76-yard scoring drive, Elliott crashing over from the one to make it 24-7. Mariota re-entered the game, and again had the Ducks on the move, getting to the Ohio State 26 before Tyner—in the lineup due to a game-ending injury to star RB Royce Freeman—fumbled, the Buckeyes Joey Bosa recovering, effectively ending any Oregon comeback chances.
Barrett earned our consensus MVP award, passing for 180 yards (16 of 19 passing), and rushing for 71. For the game, the Buckeyes out-gained the Ducks 435 yards to 163, including a 264-32 edge in rushing yards. For Orgeon, Mariota was 16 of 28 for 151 yards.
After the game, we adjourned to the Waffle House across the street and visited until about midnight before saying out goodbyes and wishing each other well! Then George and I headed back to the Marriott, where we grabbed some shut-eye before the next morning’s run up I-71 to the event in Cleveland.
We arrived just before Underhill’s opened at noon—hence the FB photo with the “CLOSED” sign! (I have to admit, I was a bit panicked myself when I walked up and saw that!) We got our tables set up, and welcomed everyone as they arrived. Photo at left, Greg McClelland, George Peete, Jerry Winchell, Paul Salzgeber and Mark Kroynovich. (Jerry Felice arrived after the games had begun.) We had a great time connecting and getting acquainted! Mark brought along some “vintage” PLAAY.com stuff, including copies of several of the old printed-and-mailed PLAAY.com newsletters. In fact, in one of the 2001 newsletters, there were articles from George Peete and Jerry Winchell right next to each other! And there they were STANDING next to each other, almost fifteen years later! Pretty cool!
Once the getting-to-know-each others were mostly done, we set down to play. The format was to have a “Greatest Decade of All-Time” tournament using the decade stars football teams, with a semi-final round at 1 PM. The GDOAT championship game would then coincide with the College All-Star Game (Patriots vs. All-Stars) at 3 PM.
The first round of Decade Teams featured the ‘70s (George Peete) vs. the ‘80s (Greg McClellan, Jerry Winchell) and the ‘60s (Mark Kroyanovich) vs. the ‘90s (Paul Salzgeber) and both games went down to the wire.
The ‘70s team took a 14-0 lead with Franco Harris’ short touchdown run and a 50-yard scoring pass from Roger Staubach to Paul Warfield, but the ‘80s came storming back on touchdown runs from Eric Dickerson and John Riggins making it 14-14 midway through the third quarter. Garo Yepremian kicked a 45 yard field goal to give the ‘70s the lead as the fourth quarter began. The ‘80s took its first lead of the game when Joe Montana connected with Steve Largent on a 24-yard pass, 21-17. With just over six minutes to play, the 70s went back in front 24-21, O. J. Simpson scoring from the 1 yard line. The ‘80s re-gained the lead, though, with 1:40 to play on Dickerson’s second touchdown run, from 2 yards out, 28-24. John Madden once said that if he needed a touchdown with two minutes to go, the man he would want behind center was Kenny Stabler. And, indeed, that’s who George put at the controls, as the ‘70s squad made its last-ditch drive. Stabler deftly moved his team downfield, until the ‘70s sat poised at the ‘80s 19 yard-line with four seconds to play. It ended with a completion to Cliff Branch—at the four yard-line, the ‘80s hanging on to wn, 28-24. Joe Montana was brilliant this game, completing 26 of 31 passes for 304 yards and a touchdown.
The other game was a similar story. Barry Sanders staked the ‘90s to a 7-0 first quarter lead, but Sonny Jurgensen led the ‘60s to 17 unanswered points, with two touchdown passes to Mike Ditka. An Eddie Murray field goal of 45 yards knotted the game at 17-17, and Sterling Sharpe’s 5-yard TD catch coupled with a short TD run from Thurman Thomas extended the ‘90s lead to 31-17 mid-way through the final period. Jurgensen rallied the ‘60s late, Jim Brown diving over from the 1 with under two minutes to play, but the ’60s were unable to recover the insides kick and the ’90s escaped with a 31-24 win.
That set up the championship game, ‘90s vs. ‘80s. George took over coaching the ‘80s team, facing Paul’s ‘90s squad. This one was no contest, with the ‘80s racing to a 23-0 lead on the strength of two touchdowns from Marcus Allen and three Murray field goals. Brett Favre connected with Jerry Rice on a 69-yard bomb to make it 23-7, but another Murray field goal and a safety—Rickey Jackson sacking Favre in the end zone for a safety—put the game out of reach. Final score, the Eighties 28, the Nineties 14.
While the Greatest Decade of All Time was being settled, Mark (at right) and I played the College All-Star Game, with Mark taking the college stars and me handling New England. In last year’s game, I also handled the pro champs (Seattle), and Chris Palermo humbled me by leading Blake Bortles and the college stars to a last-second upset win, 24-20. So, I had good incentive to bring my “A” game!
The game began as you would expect the first quarter of exhibition season play to begin—ragged, sloppy, penalty and mistake-filled. New England moved to the All-Star five yard line on the opening drive, only to see Tom Brady get served a bad snap, LB Vic Beasley recovering for the All-Stars to kill the threat. The shoe was put on the other foot in the second period, when the All-Stars got a 53-yard punt return by Bryan Jones to the New England 6, only to see Melvin Gordon fumble away the ball on the next play. By the end of the half, each team had managed only a field goal, and it was 3-3.
The Patriots got a huge break to start the second half, when the All-Stars’ RB Ameer Abdullah fumbled on the second play after the kickoff, recovered by New England’ LB Dont’a Hightower at the All-Star 16 yard line. Brady hit Brandon LaFell for the touchdown, and New England led 10-3. The next two New England drives resulted in Stephen Gostkowski field goals, extending the lead to 16-3. The college stars managed to drive deep into Patriot territory, sparked by Jameis Winston’s 26 yard run and a couple of pass completions. With a first and goal from the New England one yard-line, Winston was dragged down for a 3-yard loss by Rob Ninkovich, and then on the next play, a miscommunication between Winston and center Cam Erving resulted in the ball sailing over Winston’s head, Winston chasing it down for a 12-yard loss. Two incompletions followed, and that, as they say, was the ball game.
For the game, Winston played pretty well: 12 of 17 passing for 141 yards and an interception, sacked twice. Todd Gurley was the All-Stars leading rusher, with 39 yards before leaving the game with an injury in the second period. The game featured five turnovers and seventeen penalties for 144 yards.
Afterwards, we sat around and talked sports games, I answered some questions guys had about games, future plans, game ideas and so on, and then we began our series of farewells. Always hard to say goodbye after an event like this, the time just seems to fly by and just when you feel like you’ve really connected, it’s time to go! I will get back to Cleveland someday, though—I had hoped to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, but the airline schedule wouldn’t allow me to this time. So I have a GREAT excuse to return!!
A special thanks to Lee and his crew at Underhill's Games for being such great hosts for our event. It certainly lived up to its great reputation as the area's premiere game store!