Hispanic pioneer Tom Flores still waiting for spot in Canton – Oakland Raiders Blog

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The family story is nearing its 100th birthday now, but to Tom Flores, the Oakland Raiders’ two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, it never gets old.

Not when it’s such a point of pride for Flores and his familia.

Flores’ father, Tom Sr., was 12 years old in 1919, one of seven children whose family worked in the hills of the pueblo of Dynamite in the Mexican state of Durango. There, they mined for materials to make explosives — when they were not ducking for cover with marauders claiming loyalty to Pancho Villa ransacking the village.

“They didn’t fight them off, but they had to avoid them,” Flores said of his forebears. “My dad and his brothers had to lay on the floor as the bullets came flying through the windows. My grandma and my dad’s two sisters went down the hill and hid because they were afraid of the bandits.”

Nearly a century later, many think Flores has been robbed of his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Flores, known as “The Iceman” as a player for his cool demeanor, was the first Latino quarterback in pro football history, the first QB in Raiders franchise history when the AFL began in 1960.

And until 2007, when Tom Brady tied him, Flores held the record for most touchdown passes in consecutive games with 11 in 1963 (Ben Roethlisberger passed them with 12 TDs in 2014).

“I wasn’t a great quarterback, but I was one of the better ones,” said Flores, the fifth-leading passer in AFL history with 11,959 yards, despite missing all of the 1962 season with tuberculosis. “I was one of the few to play all 10 years in the AFL.”

Traded to the Buffalo Bills with Art Powell in 1967 for Daryle Lamonica and Glenn Bass, Flores ended up with the Kansas City Chiefs as Len Dawson’s backup for the Super Bowl IV champs in 1969. That’s when Flores won his first Super Bowl ring.

But Flores truly made his bones as a coach. He was the Raiders’ receivers coach in the press box when he noticed the Baltimore Colts showing a certain defensive tendency in a 1977 playoff game and called down to John Madden what would become the “Ghost to the Post” play. Flores added a second ring on Madden’s Super Bowl XI-winning staff.

Promoted by Al Davis to replace Madden in 1979, Flores coached the Raiders to Super Bowl victories after the 1980 and 1983 seasons, the former making him the first minority coach to win a title — 26 years before Tony Dungy, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Rings Nos. 3 and 4 made Flores the first person in NFL history to win Super Bowl championships as a player, an assistant and head coach (Mike Ditka would join him later).

“People are always giving guys credit for their X’s and O’s,” Marcus Allen told NFL Network in 2006. “But being a head coach is just much more than that; it’s managing people. The thing that really created closeness was that he trusted us — ‘I taught you all you need to know, now go out there and play.’ ”

“How could that not endear you to a head coach?” the late Todd Christensen added in the same show. “As opposed to the usual, ‘Get out of here, I’m in charge.’ It was never anything like that. I can’t emphasize this enough — I think that what he contributed as a head coach is understated.”

And this from Howie Long: “Tom was the perfect fit.”

Flores was a combined 69-31 (.690) from 1980 to 1985, including the postseason, and was the 1982 NFL Coach of the Year.

“Tom Flores isn’t just a great coach in our league,” Davis said after the Raiders thumped defending champion Washington 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII, “he’s one of the great coaches of all time.”

Flores’ record against Don Coryell, the architect of the “Air Coryell” passing game, was 11-5. With the Raiders, Flores went 6-0 against Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history.

Perhaps the way Flores’ coaching career ended, rather than the pioneering manner in which he broke so many barriers, is what has kept him from sporting a gold jacket.

The Raiders went a combined 13-18 in 1986 and strike-shortened 1987 and, fearing burnout, Flores resigned. He did resurface as the first Latino president and general manager in league history with the Seahawks in 1989 and returned to the sidelines in Seattle three years later. After going 14-34 in three seasons, he was fired.

Or maybe the domineering personality of Davis turns off voters who believe the former iconoclast owner was the Raiders’ true coach, even if Madden dealt with the same perception, and was inducted in 2006.

Flores spoke of his relationship with Davis and the game plan with Sports Illustrated in 1984.

“Sometimes he doesn’t even want to see it,” Flores said. “He says, ‘I want to be surprised.’ But we do discuss general concepts — this tackle doesn’t match up well, we can work on this cornerback. And the overall Raiders’ concept is his. He just wants me to coach the hell out of it. I always have the last word on game-to-game strategy. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to be a household name, like Al is. But I figure if I keep winning, sooner or later someone’s gonna say, ‘Hey, Flores must be doing a hell of a job.’ ”

That Flores is, for the ninth time, among the now-102 Modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019 is commendable, though he has yet to make it to the semifinal list, which is 25 deep. A momentum seems to be growing; the Raiders honored the 81-year-old Flores with a Hispanic Heritage Game halftime ceremony that included an artist painting a portrait and video tribute on Sept. 30. He, Jimmy Johnson and George Seifert are the only eligible coaches with two Super Bowl titles not in the HOF.

“I’m trying to keep my emotions low-key because that’s the kind of person I am,” Flores said. “But down deep inside, it grinds on me because I haven’t even made the first cut yet in all the nine times. I see some of the people that have and gone further and, you know, I’m envious of them. I don’t degrade their situation; I’m just envious that they’ve gone that far. And I think I’ve done as much, if not more, than some of them, but I’m looking at it through my eyes.”

Indeed, can you write the definitive book on the NFL without mentioning Flores?

Dick Enberg waxed poetic as the cameras zoomed in on Flores in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XV on Jan. 25, 1981.

“You have to be happy for that man,” Enberg said on the NBC broadcast. “Talk about Cinderella stories — Chicano, worked at 6, 7 years old in the fields, became a fine athlete, on to Pacific, had a fine pro career and now, maybe the most important moment in his life.”

Flores’ father came to central California to work in the fields and met Nellie Padilla, who was born near Fresno, though her family was from Jalisco, Mexico. They would marry and have two boys. Tom Jr. was the baby, born on March 21, 1937, as the family lived on the “Courtney” family ranch for which they worked in the Fresno county town of Del Rey.

“The house was almost a shack, which wasn’t much housing, but still it was a place to sleep and live and work,” Flores said. “My dad followed the crops when the season was over there.”

But when World War II began, the Flores family moved into a “real” house outside of Sanger, “with real floors, indoor plumbing, mainly because [my father] and my grandfather sharecropped the farm.

“The people that lived there before were Japanese and they were put in internment camps. So [we] were able to take over and live there throughout the war and did well farming. Everything was cash in those days. And then when the war was over, they had to move out because the owner had promised the Japanese, ‘When this is over, you can come back.’

“And he honored his commitment. What an honorable thing.”

Flores, who was 4 years old when his family moved into the “real house,” was in the fourth grade when they moved to Sanger and he was already, as Enberg noted, doing his part.

“I remember growing up working, playing and sleeping in the fields,” Flores said. “Because that’s what you did when you’re 1, and 2 and 3 years old — you go with your parents while they work, and you pretend to work, and then you eat and you run around the fields and then you take a nap under the vines and then you get up and you pretend to work again and you pick maybe a half a tray of grapes and then you go home at night and do it all again the next day.”

When he was older, though, it was all work and some play. The work ethic he got from his parents, who also operated a tienda, a family store, seemingly all hours of the day, seven days a week, all while Tom Sr. became a U.S. citizen. The athletic skill came naturally and surprisingly. Flores and his older brother, Bob, did not discover football until junior high school — the family knew next to nothing of the game, as they did not have a television — and then starred at Sanger High (the football stadium there is named after him) before playing his college ball at Pacific.

Both Tom Sr. and Nellie lived into the 21st century, “So they were able to go on this journey with me,” Flores said. “They were fans, but they were quiet fans.”

In 2017, the League of United Latin American Citizens honored Flores with the National Trailblazer Award for his “advocacy for Latino representation” in the NFL and a Lifetime Service Award for his “support for comprehensive immigration reform and work for inclusion and diversity in government,” while Flores, along with Plunkett, is seen as having made the Raiders popular in Mexico.. There, they’re known as Los Malosos , the Bad Boys.

“Anytime a Hispanic is doing well, I feel like we always pull for each other,” said Eddy Piñeiro, the Raiders’ Nicaraguan/Cuban kicker, who is on injured reserve. “I always pull for any Latino — Mexican, Nicaragüense, Cuban, Puerto Rican — I always pull for anybody. It’s hard. It’s hard to make it when you’re Hispanic.”

It was at the LULAC awards where Flores told the story of Pancho Villa’s raiders having a lasting effect on an Oakland Raiders icon, and the sense of orgullo, pride or self-worth, that enveloped him from generations ago.

“It gives me a feeling of pride, in a way, because they survived,” said Flores, whose family story has been passed down from him and his wife of 57 years, Barbara, to their children, Mark, Scott and Kim, all of whom are in their 50s. Five grandchildren can also expect to hear the tales of the Flores familia surviving Pancho Villa’s bandits. “Gives me a feeling of gratitude because they came to California.”

Now if only Flores can get to Canton.

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Gareon Conley, Oakland Raiders cornerback, may lose spot to Daryl Worley

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Much was expected out of cornerback Gareon Conley by Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders this season, a year after a shin injury limited the 2017 first-round draft pick from Ohio State to two games.

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Why Falcons are in tough spot with Julio Jones, contract situation – Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones plans to miss the start of training camp this week because he wants his contract to be reworked, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

Here are some answers to lingering questions regarding Jones’ status with the team:

What is Jones’ big issue with his contract?

One could say Jones is arguably the best receiver in the league. Although he hasn’t stated so publicly, no doubt Jones is upset about not being at the top of the list of highest paid receivers in terms of average per year and guaranteed money. Jones signed a five-year, $71.25 million extension in August 2015 that included $47 million guaranteed. The $14.25 million average of his contract sits below eight other receivers, topped by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown ($17 million per year). And the $47 million guaranteed is equal to what Jarvis Landry got from Cleveland and below Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans ($55.008 million) and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins ($49 million). Brandin Cooks of the Los Angeles Rams just received a five-year, $80 million extension, which Jones might take as a slap in the face as he seeks to have his contract reworked with three years left. Jones is to make $10.5 million this season, fourth most on his own team for 2018.

So what is the team’s immediate response?

The Falcons would argue Jones was already paid handsomely in the front-loaded deal and that addressing a contract with three years remaining would establish a bad precedent. The team is willing to address Jones’ contract going into the 2019 season, but wants to prioritize extensions for left tackle Jake Matthews, nose tackle Grady Jarrett and free safety Ricardo Allen.

Is there anything that can be done in the short term to get Jones on the field?

It’s unclear how long Jones will hold out and whether that will include regular-season games. However, the Falcons could add incentives to modify Jones’ deal. There is no limit to the number of incentives the Falcons could tie to Jones’ deal, but adding not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (NLTBE) is the typical goal in this type of situation.

How much could a holdout cost Jones?

Jones is subject to a $40,000 fine for each day of training camp missed. He already was subject to a $84,435 fine for missing the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp this offseason. For each preseason game missed, Jones would be out the equivalent of one-week’s regular-season salary ($617,647).

Just how valuable is Jones?

The five-time Pro Bowler has the highest yards-per-game average of all-time (minimum 500 catches) at 95.3 yards per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Jones would enter 2018 looking for his fifth consecutive season with 80-plus catches and 1,400-plus receiving yards, which would set a NFL record. Jones’ 2,853 receiving yards are the most in the NFL over the past two seasons. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have only been four players to have 2,500 receiving yards over a two-year span with fewer than 10 total touchdowns. But Jones’ nine touchdowns over the past two seasons do not reflect the defensive attention he draws and one-on-one opportunities he opens up for his fellow receivers. Still, he needs to score more, and the Falcons have to look for him more in scoring situations.

What does the Falcons’ depth chart at wide receiver look like without Jones?

Well, the immediate replacement would be first-round draft pick Calvin Ridley out of Alabama. He lined up outside without Jones for most of the offseason and should continue to do the same during training camp. Ridley is known for creating separation, which is key as quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons try to connect on more plays down the field. Mohamed Sanu started 15 games alongside Jones last season. Justin Hardy was listed behind Jones at the end of last season, while Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis are two young receivers with speed who coach Dan Quinn is excited about.

How might the locker room be affected by a possible extended Jones’ holdout?

The reaction could be mixed. Sure, the Falcons as a whole seem to have tremendous respect for Jones. And everyone knows how valuable he is to the team’s overall success. But that doesn’t mean his absence will go over well with everyone, with the team focused on a Super Bowl return. Jones recently worked out with Ryan and a host of other offensive players in California, so the Falcons obviously aren’t turning their backs on him. And Quinn will continue to emphasize the “brotherhood” theme with or without Jones. Ryan’s leadership will be key through it all.

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Mike Gillislee fighting for roster spot in second Patriots season – New England Patriots Blog

Exploring New England Patriots hot topics in a weekly mailbag:

Gary, the biggest takeaway for me is that Mike Gillislee, barring an injury to others, is fighting for a roster spot after opening last season as the team’s No. 1 running back. First-round draft pick Sony Michel, six-year veteran Rex Burkhead and “passing back” James White are locks, which leaves Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden and undrafted free agent Ralph Webb as the next layer on the depth chart vying for one or two spots. That’s an unexpected turn for Gillislee, who signed a two-year, $6.4 million contract as a restricted free agent last offseason, costing the Patriots a fifth-round draft choice when Buffalo didn’t match the offer (the Bills selected linebacker Matt Milano with the pick). Part of the reason Gillislee’s spot on the roster isn’t a guarantee is that the Patriots could cut him with no dead money on the salary cap, which is another important layer to consider. So Gillislee, who totaled 383 yards and five touchdowns on 104 carries last season and lost the top spot on the depth chart to Dion Lewis in Week 6, is one of the fascinating personnel storylines heading into 2018.

Lefty, part of what makes 2017 third-round pick Derek Rivers and 2017 undrafted free agent Harvey Langi an interesting topic is that they could be included in this year’s draft class because they missed last year with injuries. Rivers, who tore his ACL during a mid-August joint practice, has had no setbacks and should be on the field at the start of training camp. The Patriots are hoping he can help their pass rush, as he had set the Youngstown State record for most sacks in a career (41). Langi, an outside linebacker, played sparingly in one game last season before being involved in a car accident that ultimately landed him on injured reserve. He has made progress from back, neck and knee injuries suffered in the accident. Those close to him relay that he’s doing great and is ready to go.

Alonso, my belief is that the Patriots plan to play first-round pick Isaiah Wynn at left tackle initially and see how the competition unfolds. If he’s beaten out there, he could then kick inside to guard, possibly pushing Joe Thuney on the left side. Either way, Wynn should be out there because the Patriots will play their best five linemen, and he projects as a top-five player based on his traits and performance in college against high-level competition. From a big-picture standpoint, if the Patriots didn’t think Wynn had a chance to be in the tackle mix, I don’t believe they would have picked him at No. 23. It comes down to positional value and there are few positions more important than left tackle.

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Johnny Manziel plays in final Spring League game, has time to mull CFL offer while awaiting NFL spot

AUSTIN, Texas — Quarterback Johnny Manziel played in his second and final game of the Spring League on Thursday night in Austin and has a little over a month before he has to make a decision about his future in football.

Manziel has a standing offer from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a CFL team. If he elects to sign with the Tiger-Cats, he will be making a two-year commitment to playing for the team. CFL training camps begin May 16 for rookies, so Manziel has about a month to sign with the Tiger-Cats or decide to wait for an offer from an NFL team.

“I’m straight back to working out and doing what I did when I came here,” Manziel said of his future after the Spring League. “Everything else will sort itself out. I’m trying to do what I can do to come back to playing football whatever capacity that is.

“We know when deadlines are. We have another month or so to work out and not worry about anything.”

The Spring League is a developmental league with a two-game season that provides opportunities for players, who pay a fee to be there, hoping to showcase their play for a chance to land on an NFL roster.

“[Being back on the football field has] been great,” Manziel said. “It’s been beyond my wildest dreams. There was a time there I didn’t know if I would actually do it. … I’m extremely happy just to be healthy, just to get to throw the ball around. I’ve missed this.”

Manziel said he felt better on Thursday night than he did in the first game on Saturday. Manziel was 10-of-16 for 188 yards and an interception including 8-of-10 for 145 yards in the first half. Manziel added 27 rushing yards on six attempts and two touchdowns.

One of Manziel’s best passes came in the first quarter when he threw a 50-yard pass to Antwan Gooley down the right sideline. On the next play, the quarterback ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Manziel acknowledged that his throwing is still rusty, but he felt he “showed [he] can still throw the ball around.” Manziel emphasized that he can’t control whether an NFL team wants to sign him but that he’s “just happy to be back on the field.”

“I got to do exactly what I want to do and what I’ve been missing for the last two years,” Manziel said.

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Steelers’ Antonio Brown aims to protect ‘my spot’ in receiver pantheon – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — No NFL player works a Pro Bowl scene quite like Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who took endless selfies, signed hundreds of autographs and greeted fellow Pro Bowlers for hugs at every turn this week in Orlando.

Brown might be the game’s most marketable receiver — his jersey sales consistently rank among the NFL’s top 10 — but that popularity aligns with production that might have widened the gulf in the competition to be the game’s best receiver.

In 2015-16, Julio Jones and Brown pushed each other for that crown, with Odell Beckham Jr. and others steadily climbing. Some evaluators might still pick Jones over Brown when building a team because of the Atlanta Falcons playmaker’s combination of strength and speed.

But the 5-foot-11 Brown has achieved a consistency never before seen in the NFL. His fifth straight 100-catch season, now an NFL record, might have been his best. Brown was a legitimate MVP candidate with 101 catches, 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns before a Week 15 calf injury, which didn’t stop him from scoring two touchdowns in the divisional round against the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ potent cornerback tandem.

Asked about his place in the game after a Pro Bowl practice, Brown’s reflection was brief, thanks to the work ahead.

“They are all coming. Everyone wants my spot,” Brown told ESPN. “That’s the pressure of being at the top. Everybody wants to be where you’re at. That’s why I have to continue to work, continue to get better to keep that level up.”

Brown was one of nine Steelers at the Pro Bowl, and though he didn’t connect much with Ben Roethlisberger during Sunday’s game (one catch, 3 yards), he wasn’t going half-speed as is customary for this all-star game — at least behind the scenes. Brown said he already has resumed training as if last year never happened.

There’s too much at stake, said Brown, who acknowledged his past accomplishments mean little for 2018. “Every year we start new. Obviously, I’ve built a good résumé for myself. But every year we have to build it back up. What I’ve done behind me doesn’t matter. I’ve got to always get better.”

Brown experienced a wild 2017 that included a Facebook Live broadcast from a playoff locker room that drew Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s ire, a Week 4 Gatorade cooler flip and tons of production on the field.

He is hesitant to revisit any of it. Year 9 is upon him.

“I’ve already bottled [last year] up,” Brown said.

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