SSN Best of the Decade Awards

Sidelines Sports Network was only founded in 2018 (as Grid Lines Blog – thanks to those who have supported us since then), but all throughout this decade we’ve been watching some incredible College Football. In this article, we highlight the moments, players and teams that we believe were the most outstanding and will truly stand the test of time. Without further ado…

Play of the Decade:

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The Kick Six – Auburn vs. Alabama 2013

Sorry, you just can’t beat this. BCS championship bid on the line, rivalry game, last minute chaos and a radio call heard round the world. “AUBURNS GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME” still rings in our ears. This play encapsulates the beautiful madness that is college football.

Honorable mentions: 2nd and 26, Watson to Renfrow

Coach of the Decade:

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Nick Saban – Alabama

Sorry, rest of College Football. We’ve been bullied by one guy throughout these ten years and he sits on a throne in Tuscaloosa. While coaches like Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley and more recently Ed Orgeron have pulled teams to new levels of achievement, Saban has brought the Tide to a whopping 4 national championship games this decade (and made it to almost all the others). Saban owns this decade – we’ll see how far he can go.

Honorable mentions: Dabo Swinney, Bob Stoops, Lincoln Riley

Player of the Decade:

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Deshaun Watson

While we’re on the subject of lifting teams to new heights, Deshaun Watson has to come to your mind. While he had the benefit of Swinney’s coaching and a loaded roster to surround him, Watson still went toe to toe with Saban’s seemingly unstoppable Bama and won. His victory also marked the beginning of a new powerhouse at Clemson, and the momentum hasn’t stopped since. Though he never actually won the Heisman (but was a finalist twice), Clemson graduate Deshaun Watson is our most outstanding player of the decade.

Honorable Mentions: Cam Newton, Ezekiel Elliott, Johnny Manziel

Team of the Decade:

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2018-19 Clemson (15-0, National Champions)

Yes, two Clemson winners on the list – but it’s deserved. First of all, the 2018 Clemson team was the first team to go undefeated in the playoff era at 15-0. That alone merits legend status, but how they got there is equally as impressive. Clemson cruised through their ACC schedule with nothing more than a close game here and there, then crushed undefeated Notre Dame in the semifinal 30-3. In a championship game of undefeated teams that everyone expected to be fairly close, Clemson absolutely demolished Alabama 44-16. Dabo outcoached Saban at every level and Trevor Lawrence was nothing but a gunslinger. The Clemson Defense also lived up to their reputation and put Alabama in a chokehold. It’s worth noting that whichever team wins this year will also go 15-0, and both Clemson and LSU could have a strong case to finish as team of the decade – but for now, no one tops the 2018 Clemson Tigers.

Honorable mentions: 2011 Alabama, 2013 Florida State, 2014 Ohio State

Fans of the Decade: YOU!

And that’s a wrap! This was the first year of Sidelines Sports Network, and we have no one but our fans to thank for our success. It’s been an incredible ride, and we have massive plans for growth. Keep engaging with us on our Twitter (@Sidelines_SN and affiliate accounts) and reading our articles – the best is yet to come!

 

Eulogy for the AAF

March 20, 2018, the AAF was announced by Charlie Ebersol. Football fans around the nation (and some around the globe) lit up with excitement; spring football once again! A new generation of sports fanatics had grown up since the last attempt at a secondary professional league (the last being the infamous XFL failure in the early 2000’s) and with time, a sense of optimism had grown. Many believed that enough had changed between streaming options, technology, and simply learning from past mistakes that another football league was viable.

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Image Courtesy of USA Today

In short, people believed in the vision of the AAF.

It wasn’t just unfounded optimism though. Ebersol and his co-founder, Bill Polian, seemed to have a clear plan. TV deals were made. Advanced technology, integrated into a live tracking app, marketed the league as not just football, but a true tech startup. Teams were to be managed by the central office rather than individual owners.

As with all startups, however, there were concerns. The AAF didn’t have quite the budget Vince McMahon and the other spring league launching the following year, the renewed XFL. The app had a rocky roll out and was barely ready by the time the season began. Even when it was released, it was clear it was not everything it was hyped to be.

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Image Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times

Still, fans got what they wanted. Eight teams were announced complete with fairly nice looking uniforms from Starter and intriguing brands, all tied in with their respective local cultures. People took to social media to claim a team, some choosing based on location, others on NFL or college football affiliation, and others even on something so simple as thinking the Stallions had cool helmets.

Play began on February 9, 2019. It was no NFL, but it was football. Trent Richardson immediately became infamous for his consistent less-than-3-yards-per-carry. Bercovici became the face of the league my taking a monster, helmet-removing hit. And of course, everyone was just happy to see Coach Spurrier take to the sideline once again.

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Image Courtesy of Black Sports Online

All those story lines began in just week one. In the weeks that followed, the Apollos would go on a dominant run (finishing the season with the best record, 6-1), the Express, Legends and Stallions would become the butt of most jokes but still claim an upset every now and again, and the Iron would continue to be a monster on defense – although, often struggling on the other side of the ball.

And of course – Money Manziel. Johnny Manziel’s arrival to the league came with much more excitement than his actual play ever would. Still, his exit from the CFL back into American professional football was talked about everywhere. Manziel, in his short time as unofficial league spokesmen, kept his cool and did seem to be more mature than prior years – even if his main moment of fame was eating nachos on the sideline.

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Image Courtesy of USA Today

The main point of these recollections is that, although an upstart league that so desperately wanted to become a feeder for the NFL, the AAF really was capable of carrying its story lines. It delivered a product that fans, although often not enough in person save for the packed Alamodome, wanted to see. It really seemed that the league had a chance.

Financial struggles were the first nail in the coffin. Rumors began swirling, and news broke that another investor was desperately needed to save the league. Tom Dundon emerged as the leagues savior, offering 250 million dollars and easing the minds of anxious fans, so afraid to lose what they had gained. Dundon had big plans, and sentiments of praise were seen on all corners of the internet, from tweets to memes on Reddit.

But then Dundon’s plans got a little too big.

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Image Courtesy of Deadspin

Fans who closely followed the ensuing drama remember that no one really knew what was going on – reports that Dundon was playing hardball to get a deal with the NFLPA to formalize the AAF as a development league began to come out. This had been the plan from the beginning, as most were aware, but it was believed Ebersol and Polian were going to wait until the NFLPA contract was renegotiated in 2020. Whether Dundon had information that the fans (and, for that matter, Ebersol and Polian) did not, or if he was just desperate to see a return on his massive investment, it’s not really certain. What we do know is what followed – after seven entertaining weeks of football, Dundon began threatening to fold the league if an agreement with the NFLPA did not come to fruition.

The agreement was never made.

On April 2, 2019, it was announced the league was suspending operations. Shortly afterward, notices of termination were released to league staff and, crossing the point of no return, all players released from their contracts effective immediately. In just a few short weeks the league went from riding the high of success to nothing but assets, waiting to be sold off.

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Image Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Fans, understandably, were outraged. People began crying for Dundon’s head, since he seemed to be at fault for this. Some postured that he simply wanted the league’s valuable technology and IP, and simply left it for dead when he had secured what he wanted. Other saw Dundon as just a reasonable businessman, realizing a profit wasn’t going to happen and then folding to stop the bleeding. After all, he had lost 70 million dollars in just a few weeks.

When the dust settles, it will probably come out exactly what happened. Some compensation packages will surely be arranged. Remaining assets will be sold; the XFL may even snatch some up. But when all is done and the AAF is but a footnote on the tragic history of startup football leagues, there will be something left behind. Fans will hold onto their T-shirts – some may have not even delivered yet. Hundreds of abandoned Twitter accounts dedicated to the league will go inactive. Future articles on Trent Richardson and Johnny Manziel will always reference the few weeks we had together. But there’s not just these archives. Fans will have the memories. Those who sat in Legion field, baking in the Birmingham heat to catch a glimpse of football in the spring. Those in San Diego, so excited to finally have professional football return to their city. Apollos fans, happy to see a Florida pro team find success again.

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Image Courtesy of Pewter Report

Every team had their stories, and every fan will have their memories. It’s soul-crushing that this is all we have now, especially when we all hoped – all believed – that this league could be different. Reality hits hard. People want someone to blame. But in this eulogy for the AAF, I just ask we all remember the good times we had. Short-lived as it was, the AAF was something special – and I don’t want it to only be remembered for it’s demise.

 

Grid Lines Sports Blog has covered the AAF since prior to its inception. We assembled and published weekly power rankings. We will continue to cover College Football and other professional sports leagues, and hope fans that found us through the AAF stay with us for this other coverage.

Grid Lines Blog #UniformOfTheYear

The votes are in, and your Grid Lines Blog #UniformOfTheYear for 2018 is the Iowa State Cyclones All Black uniforms.

These uniforms were announced on July 10, 2018, along with two other base uniforms. These new combos removed the stripes from previous uniforms, instituted a new number style with cyclone-esque curls, and added the words “Loyal, Forever, True” onto the collar.

These uniforms were worn in a Week 7 upset of the #6 West Virginia Mountaineers and a 42-38 victory over Kansas State. Both games were at night, which was likely the motivation for bringing out these blackout uniforms.

This also fit within Iowa State’s season mantra, “Win In The Dark.” The inspiration for this motto was that the best victories sometimes happen when no one is looking – hence, the Cyclone’s would “Win In The Dark.” In fact, this mantra itself may have been the motivation for these all black uniforms being added to the rotation.

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What makes these uniforms so special is their simplicity. Rather than an over the top look, Iowa State implemented crisp lettering, matte helmets, and subtle gray accents rather than color. The dark colors resemble a powerful and foreboding storm, matching the Cyclone’s brand. The West Virginia upset certainly emphasized the impact of this look.

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The new numbering really shines on these uniforms as well. The curves in the numbers introduce more tornado imagery without over-complicating the design.

After going undefeated in these uniforms and receiving near universal acclaim for them, I’m sure Iowa State will keep them in the equipment room. A well-deserved #UniformOfTheYear title.

To participate in our future polls, subscribe to our blog and be sure to follow us on twitter!

Super Bowl 53 Uniform Preview

It’s that time of year: College Football has wrapped up, and thus fans turn their eyes to the NFL Playoffs. This year’s games were packed with both action and controversy, but the biggest game is still left to play. The New England Patriots, perennial contender and league super villain, will be facing the surging Los Angeles Rams. Who do we think will win? That’s for another post. Let’s dive into these uniforms.

New England Patriots – Silver/White/Blues

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The Silver/White/Blue combo was introduced with the new uniform set in the late 90’s, although you could argue it was an entirely different uniform by design. The Patriots have worn this look in quite a few Super Bowls before – XXXIX, XLIX, LI, and LII – and had won every time they wore them until last year. Still, that’s a 75% winning pct. The Pats will keep the look.

Thoughts: Even with the loss, Pats have a legacy of winning in these, and there a good, crisp look (especially the dark blue, red outlined numbers against the white background). These will be just fine.

Los Angeles Rams – Dark Blue/Royal Blue/Gold

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No doubt about it – this has to be the best uniform combination in the NFL. I was so glad to see this brought back when the Rams moved to LA, and I’m glad it wasn’t just a one off appearance. Rams wearing it in the Super Bowl is a great homage to both the classic history and new traditions of the franchise in LA.

The Rams first introduced the classic blue and gold in their second season (they had first adopted the colors of the nearby Fordham Rams, when they were still in Cleveland). However, they did not add the gold horns to the helmet until 1948. Half Back and art graduate Fred Gehrke painted the horns on his helmet with permission from Coach Bob Snyder and owner Dan Reeves. People liked it so much, he painted the horns on the rest of the team’s helmets.

You may notice the current helmets are a darker color than the jerseys. This isn’t a mistake: this uniform combination is technically a throwback (even though it has been in the Rams regular rotation), and the old Rams jerseys did have a darker helmet.

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Thoughts: This bold combination is not only my favorite in the NFL, but will look fantastic against the Patriot’s white background. The uniform not only looks great, but means a lot, with this being the Rams first Super Bowl appearance since the return to LA. If only the Eagle’s had worn throwback Kelly Green’s in the Super Bowl last year.

Overall, this is a great looking Super Bowl, with a crisp silver/white top for the Patriot’s complimenting the beautiful design of the LA Rams throwbacks.

As far as a game prediction? Who knows. Hopefully it’s as good of a show as the uniforms.

Looking for another championship game uniform breakdown? Check out our guide on Villanova vs. Michigan, here:

Best Helmets of the CFB Season So Far:

Football is about a lot of things. Teamwork. Strength. Strategy. But one thing is more important than all: cool helmets. That’s right. It’s great when we see a flashy one handed catch, or a 99-yard kick return, but we all know the reason we tune in every Saturday is to see some dope domes, right?

Okay, maybe not, but we’re still going to make a list of our favorites anyway.

4. Florida State

Image Courtesy of @safid_deen on Twitter

Although the teams performance may not have been as spectacular, these helmets shone during the Seminole’s Monday night match up against Virginia Tech. Or, didn’t shine, because they were matte black. Huge props to the equipment crew; the garnet/black gradient on the helmet was just perfect. These lids capped off a slick black uniform that I was a huge fan of, although many FSU fans believed it cursed the team.

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3. Duke

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Image Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

Duke brought back the script helmets that have been featured against UNC and against NIU in the Quick Lane bowl. I can’t get enough of them – in fact I’d be happy if Duke switched to this look full time. After all, Duke used this look from 1978-2003. The chrome lettering looked especially great against the all blue base of the uniform.

2. Hawaii

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Image Courtesy of sbnation.com

Hurricane Lane devastated the Hawaiian islands prior to their first match up against Colorado State, leaving many without power or worse. Hawaii turned this into a rallying cry and paid homage with these beautiful island decals on a black base helmet. Not only did these lids carry significant meaning for the players and their people, but they looked incredible. Even better, Hawaii won the game in a major upset – and haven’t lost since.

1. Tulane

Image Courtesy of @uniswag on Twitter

No other equipment team stood a chance when these bad boys were released. C’mon, what’s not to love about Angry Wave? Tulane has sported similar helmets before, but this was the first with the light blue face mask which really makes the accents on Angry Wave pop. Plus, these domes went with a beautiful blue uniform for the Green Wave.

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Image Courtesy of AmericanAthleticConf on YouTube

Will anyone be able to beat Tulane’s helmet this season? Is there another team that should’ve made this list? Let us know in the comments below!

The Elephant in the Room: How Alabama got ‘Big Al’

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Image Courtesy of etsy.com

Anyone familiar with Alabama football knows that although their athletics nickname is the “Crimson Tide,” their mascot is an elephant. There’s no clear connection between crimson and elephants, nor the “Roll Tide” shout, so how did this come to be?

History

The story starts with Wallace Wade, legendary Alabama coach (as well as a legendary Duke coach, and the namesake of their football stadium). Wade’s 1930 Alabama team was like many others he had coached; menacing and tough. They were known for their strength and blocking abilities.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Following a hard-fought victory over Ole Miss, Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal used very imaginative language to describe the sheer power of the Alabama football team:

“Coach Wade started his second team that was plenty big and they went right to their knitting scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against one of the best fighting small lines that I have seen. For Ole Miss was truly battling the big boys for every inch of ground.

At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.

It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”

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Image Courtesy of bsnscb.com

“Elephants” wasn’t a team nickname at the time, but it soon became one. Sports writers would refer to the Alabama linemen as the “Red Elephants.” That 1930 team would go on to have an undefeated season, one of Alabama’s claimed national championships.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Alabama informally accepted the moniker. In the 1940’s the University actually kept a live elephant. This elephant would carry the homecoming queen every year. When keeping a live elephant became too expensive, Alabama began renting elephants for homecoming weekend.

Big Al

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Image Courtesy of rolltide.com

The first use of an elephant mascot suit was in 1960, when student Melford Espey Jr. began wearing elephant costume head to games. Espey would go on to become an administrator at the University of Alabama, and Coach Bear Bryant would ask him to don the elephant head for games.

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Image Courtesy of ncaa.com

In 1979, Alabama’s homecoming committee decided they wanted an official mascot suit. They met with Coach Bryant, who approved the idea, and then purchased the first Big Al suit from Disney with athletic department funds. Big Al debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, in which Alabama defeated Arkansas. The actual name “Big Al’ came from a student vote. Al Brown was a popular DJ on campus at the time, and thus was voted in.

Since his formal adoption, Big Al has appeared in many forms as an alternate logo for Alabama. Many incarnations of this are shown throughout this article, with the most recent form below and at the start of this article:

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Image Courtesy of tirecovers.com

Love Big Al? Hate him? Think Aubie is better? Leave your comments below, and check out our last historical branding spotlight here!

Must-Watch Spring Games

While the basketball world is in the depths of March Madness, College Football fans are gearing up for spring games; the slight whiff of fall ball that gets us through the off season (besides of course, frequent and rampant speculation).

Here’s our list of must-watch spring games with details.

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Thoughts on the games? Think we should have included others? Let us know in the comments below.