Army vs. Navy: America’s Game

For the 120th time, Army will face off against storied rivals from the Naval Academy at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in America’s Game December 14th. The last game of the college football regular season will pit two of the best running football teams in the country. We’re reminded every year what a privilege this game is as most of these kids will not play football after they graduate from their academy.

This is the only game in where the players fight on the field for 60 minutes then after, go fight oversea’s to protect our freedom. This is truly a special game not just for me, but for all the soldiers and sailors serving and the ones that have passed; those players represent our country’s best young people and future leaders.

With such a special game brings a special occasion for the highest-ranking officials in the country. Ten sitting presidents have attended the game starting with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

This is also a game where both teams are brothers in arms for 364 days of the year, but for the second Saturday in December, you hate the other side. But after punishing each other for 60 straight minutes they shake hands and go over to their traveling classmates to sing each Alma Mater. The goal is to “SING SECOND”

The Squids from 2002 to 2015 won 14 straight games and for a long time, it didn’t look like Army would ever win again. The Squids dominated every match-up, until the last two games of their winning streak, where the only won by a TD or fewer.

But Army found a new sign of life when Saint Jeff Monken came to West Point and became the head coach of the football team. Monken has a record of 40-35, 3-0 in bowl games but most importantly, 3-2 against Navy, winning three straight against the squids and 2 Commander and Chiefs trophies.

But this is a football game, it is bragging rights for 364 days of the year for whoever wins. There’s a win on the line but there is also a trophy to be added to the cases on both campuses. They play for the Commander and Chiefs trophy which is played between Army, Air Force, and the Naval academies.

The trophy itself stands 2.5 feet high and weighs 170 lb, so when you win it the three captains of the winning team receive it and raise it as one. The trophy is named for the U.S. President, who is the Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military services under the U.S. Constitution. The President has awarded the trophy on a number of occasions.

This year’s game is even more special, as this is the 120th time that both teams will face off. Both teams will again wear custom jerseys for the game. With the Squids being Under Armour and Army being Nike, this has become the game before the game, who has the best uniform.

For Army, the 2019 Army-Navy Uniform tells the story of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division and the birth of air mobility during the Vietnam War. The division is unique in that throughout its existence; the Division has served as a Cavalry Division, an Infantry Division, an Air Assault Division, and an Armored Division. They will honor the past by re-telling the story of the “First Team!” A story of valor, courage, and sacrifice. Inspired, humbled, and motivated by the soldiers that came before us, we don their patches, adopt their mottos, and hold their deeds close to our hearts.

The Squids, have produced two Heisman Trophy winners in their history, with Joe Bellino winning the award in 1960 and Roger Staubach in 1963. The uniforms they wore featured a traditional squid blue contrasted with brilliant gold accents, a brilliant look for some of the best teams in the nation during their respective seasons. This era provided the inspiration needed to outfit the current Squids squad for Saturday’s rivalry game.

But this game will be just like others in recent memory. You can throw out the record when Army (5-7) and Squids (9-2) meet as seven of the last eight meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.

It’s been a massively disappointing season for an Army team that won 29 games over three years, however, an ugly five-game losing streak has turned their season upside down. It is unclear who will line up under center for the Black Knights on Saturday as Kelvin Hopkins Jr. was knocked out of the Hawaii game and with the second and third-string QB’s both injured it may leave them with freshman Jemel Jones at the helm. But expect whoever under center, will have to have the game of their lives if Army wants to come out with a win.

The squids running game is back and the triple option is working the way it’s supposed to, leading the nation with 361 rushing yards per game. The Midshipmen have Senior QB Malcolm Perry leading the charge in the running and passing department with 1,500 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns, adding 1,027 yards and six TDs through the air to earn Offensive Player of the Year honors in the American Athletic Conference

Army will win this game because the class of 2020 is undefeated against Navy (3-0). They will run the option to its fullest extent. Then they’ll be able to hit the play-action pass that has worked all year. This will be a low-scoring game, as the Army defense will take away Malcolm Perry as a runner and will force the squids into uncomfortable situations.

I’m predicting a 24-14 Army win, upping their current win streak over the Squids to four. It won’t be an easy task for the cadets, who are 10.5 point underdogs. But in the typical Army way, we will grind our way to success and we will come out victorious. GO ARMY! BEAT NAVY!

Black quarterbacks in the NFL are changing the dreams of middle-school boys

Daylight was breaking over a rain-soaked football field at a sprawling park in this Atlanta suburb, as car after car pulled up to drop off boys eager to turn their athletic dreams into reality.

The two dozen young athletes were all quarterbacks, and, significantly, about half of them were black. They were here to work with a personal coach, the kind of private training that has become a prerequisite for high-level signal-callers, and was once mainly the purview of white boys who aspired to future quarterback glory.

In recent years, an increasing number of young black quarterbacks have become convinced they, too, can make it to the NFL. They are among the leading college performers, more visible atop the recruitment lists put together by high school scouting services, and a growing presence at quarterback training sessions that groom future stars, like this one in Alpharetta.

As some parents sheltered from the rain under a tent with a marketing executive selling a high-tech helmet, the young athletes warmed up at the start of a group class led by Quincy Avery, one of the nation’s hottest quarterback gurus. His sessions are aimed at honing footwork, throwing mechanics, and other basic skills that must be mastered by every big-time quarterback.

“The success of black quarterbacks in the league is changing the perception of young black quarterbacks and what they think they are capable of,” Avery said. “They now know if they are good enough, they will get the opportunity to play quarterback.”

That reality is altering not just the NFL but also the makeup of the quarterback pipeline that winds its way from practice fields to youth travel leagues, through high school and college — and for the few — to the pros. Young black signal-callers like the ones zipping tight spirals across the artificial turf here look at the growing prominence of black quarterbacks in the NFL and they can more readily imagine one day being there themselves.

When Avery started his quarterback training business seven years ago, most of his clients were white. But now that has changed.

“Oh, definitely, my business is seeing many more black clients,” Avery said. “The success of black quarterbacks in the NFL and in college is changing the way we evaluate quarterbacks and how we think about the things they need to be able to do. They need to be able to move and be dynamic with their legs and extend plays. I think that is more important to many evaluators these days.”

Avery’s classes are not cheap — a total of two dozen on-field and classroom sessions can run $1,000 — but parents see it as a small price to pay for stardom. And, make no mistake, nearly every one of the young men here is planning for a shining future in football. The middle-schoolers are eyeing starting spots in high school. Those already in high school are hoping to attract the attention of major college programs. Eventually, just about every one of them, odds be damned, want to go pro.

That is why Celeste Miller, a federal contracts manager, was standing here under an umbrella in the pouring rain watching her 11-year-old son, Christopher, work through the drills. Times have changed, she said, and she thinks her son is in a position to capitalize.

“He is inspired by what black quarterbacks are doing. He roots for them,” she said. “They used to say that black quarterbacks did not have the intelligence or the ability to lead others. But the success they are having in the NFL proves otherwise. Everyone can see that they are more than just good athletes.”

She is putting her money and time behind her convictions. Between the cost of quarterback tutoring, youth leagues and equipment, she said, she spends upward of $5,000 a year and countless hours of her time to help her son become the best quarterback possible. A former Division I point guard, Miller also has volunteered in the past as a wide receivers coach for her son’s teams.

“The skills are similar,” she said with a chuckle. “Creating passing angles, and things like that. They transfer. I enjoyed it.”

Christopher, a sixth grader who stands 5-feet-6 and weighs 128 pounds, has had private coaching from Avery for more than a year. Although he’s young, he already has some of the moves of a star. On the field, he always hangs a small towel from the back of his waistband. His mother carries his business card, which has his picture staring clear-eyed into the camera. It reads: “Christopher Miller aka ‘Smoove.’ ” His social media feeds mention his devotion to church and his excellent grades in school, but they are filled mostly with images of his workouts and game exploits.

He seems to have talent to go with the swagger. He was recently invited to play in the 2019 Football University National Championship, which showcases “the very top of the middle-school talent pool.” The tournament culminates in a mid-December championship game in Naples, Florida. The coach at McEachern High School, an Atlanta-area powerhouse, spotted Christopher playing for the school’s sixth-grade feeder team, and he liked the young man’s arm strength and decision-making, even as Christopher works to improve his speed and quickness.

The coach follows Christopher on social media, as well as other middle-school prospects who catch his eye. Miller hopes that the quarterback training her son is getting now will give him a leg up for the starting job by the time he gets to high school.

“What he is working on now, is making good decisions when the pocket collapses and the play is disrupted,” she said.

Working with Avery has also given Christopher exposure to some of the top black quarterbacks in college. During an offseason minicamp that Avery calls QB Flight School, Christopher was on the same practice field as Justin Fields, the Ohio State star, and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, both of whom are leading Heisman Trophy candidates.

“It feels good to see young black quarterbacks who are starting for their college teams,” Christopher said. “I feel inspired by it. It means a lot because they look like me.”

Even as black quarterbacks are reaching unprecedented heights, it remains clear that those who want to join them are entering a competition unlike any other. Beyond a strong arm, quick feet, and proven results on the field, the requisite skills for a quarterback are often subtle, and measured subjectively. What does leadership look like? What makes for a good teammate? What does it really mean to be coachable? Or to have a high football IQ?

So far, not many black quarterbacks seem to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to those intangibles. Unusual talents such as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have found success in the NFL. But who is the black equivalent to Colt McCoy, the Washington Redskins third-string quarterback? McCoy, a star in college, has carved out a nine-year pro career despite having, at best, mixed NFL success. Not many black quarterbacks get second and third chances, or the opportunity to have long careers with only middling talent, Avery noted.

“Things are slowly shifting, but it is still hard when so many of the decision-makers are not black,” Avery said. “You just don’t have as many people in your corner who look like you.”

About one of every 1,000 high school students who plays football is drafted by the NFL, a statistic that is likely even more daunting for would-be quarterbacks. Until recently, making the pros was even more improbable for black quarterbacks, who had to battle not just long odds but also layers of stigma and stereotype to reach the game’s highest level.

“Things are slowly shifting, but it is still hard when so many of the decision-makers are not black. You just don’t have as many people in your corner who look like you.” — Quincy Avery on black quarterbacks

For most of the NFL’s century-long history, black quarterbacks were seen as not bright enough, or lacking the leadership qualities to play a position often called the most difficult in sports. If they were quick and fast, they were labeled “dual-threats,” which, in the coded language of football evaluators, was not necessarily a good thing. It often meant that they were seen as excellent runners but erratic throwers and, consequently, not the best fit for the NFL.

But many those old perceptions and strictures are fading as black quarterbacks prove they can both run and throw well. If to be a dual-threat quarterback rather than strictly a pocket passer is to “play black,” then even white quarterbacks want to play black these days.

“You almost can’t get on the field anymore if you can’t extend plays,” Avery said.

It is something that T.C. Lewis, 43, understands well. He was an all-state offensive lineman in high school before going on to play at the University of Connecticut. During his day, there were a few black quarterbacks — Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb — but they were viewed largely as outliers.

His 12-year-old son, Julian, is growing up in a different world, one in which black quarterbacks shine brightly in the center of the NFL galaxy. JuJu, as he is called, hopes to one day join them.

He is off to a good start. He caught the eye of Alabama coach Nick Saban at the Crimson Tide’s camp last summer. After watching JuJu go through a series of drills flawlessly, Saban told him he wants him back “every summer,” his father recounted.

JuJu started working with a private coach when he was 8. Before working with Avery, he trained with Ron Veal, another noted quarterback trainer whose pupils include Clemson star Trevor Lawrence.

For now, JuJu’s goal is to be a Division I quarterback, Lewis said. “Really, his goal is to go all the way, but I try to temper that.” Regardless, he said, the success of black quarterbacks in the NFL “has taken my son’s aspiration from a dream to a real possibility. If he made it, it would not be like he had done something that hasn’t been done before.”

Born to coach

The rise of black quarterbacks has helped Avery build his business, Quarterback Takeover, into one of the nation’s top quarterback training outfits in just seven years.

Avery was born into a football family. His father, Wendell Avery, is a former college quarterback who coached both in college and the pros, including a stint as a head coach at Savannah State University, and assistant jobs on teams including Fort Valley State and Alabama A&M University. He spent a year on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and most recently he has been coaching in the Canadian Football League.

All along, Avery was soaking in the game. “I get it honestly. I grew up the son of a football coach,” he said.

The younger Avery played quarterback throughout most of his youth and high school football career, but he was never viewed as top-tier. At 5-feet-10, he was considered too short to be a Division I quarterback. He ended going to Morehouse College, a historically black college that plays in Division II. But after two years as a quarterback, Morehouse moved him to wide receiver. Still, he always believed he had a keen understanding of what it took to play quarterback.

After graduating from Morehouse in 2009, he essentially forced his way into coaching. His dad knew someone who had previously worked at UCLA and Avery drove to Los Angeles from Atlanta and presented himself at the football office for three straight days. Finally, then-head coach Rick Neuheisel gave him a shot as a volunteer, which grew into a graduate assistant position after Avery proved his mettle breaking down film of the team’s quarterbacks.

“You could watch these guys on film and see where they need improvement,” Avery said.

After two years at UCLA, Avery decided to go into private quarterback training. He moved back to Atlanta and started going to local parks and charging people $20 for a lesson. He promoted himself on social media and by word of mouth. For a while, things were slow, forcing him to live out of his car and take showers at a local gym, he said.

His big break came when one of his early clients, Joshua Dobbs, an Atlanta-area high school quarterback whom he met in 2011, developed into a star. Dobbs went on to play quarterback at the University of Tennessee, and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017. He is now a backup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“The business ended up taking off from there,” Avery said.

Among Avery’s star pupils is Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson, who is among the early contenders to be this year’s NFL MVP. They met in 2013, while Watson was establishing himself as a record-setting high school quarterback in Gainesville, Georgia. The two have been close since.

Watson worked with Avery and other coaches regularly during his All-America career at Clemson. Even now, they often train and travel together. After a rare poor performance by Watson earlier this season, Avery met his pupil on the field of Houston’s NRG Stadium. They broke down Watson’s mechanics, going over details about footwork, gripping the ball and even taking a snap. Avery also provided some confidence-boosting advice.

“He’s like a big brother. I don’t even call him coach, I just call him big bro,” Watson told reporters afterward. “He’s a guy that’s from football to life experiences to business to family, he’s like a big brother to me.”

Through the years, Avery has worked with other black pros and well-known college stars. Hurts. Fields. Oakland Raiders backup DeShone Kizer and Los Angeles Chargers veteran Tyrod Taylor are among them.

“Once you build your core group of guys, it kind of goes from there,” he said.

A mother lost a Saints jersey in the Superdome; it was a memento of a dead son

It’s an extra-large souvenir Saints jersey, black with a gold collar and No. 9 on the back, just like many, many others. Jennifer Harper, a Saints fan from Mobile, Alabama, said she recalls packing it away before she left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s Section 121, Row 13 after Sunday’s game, which ended with a lip-biting loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

But by the time she reached the parking garage it was gone.

The jersey belonged to Jennifer’s son Bobby Harper, Jr. who died in an automobile accident in January. Jennifer and her family have taken the jersey to every game they’ve attended since then. They drape it over Bobby’s former seat. It’s a way to keep Bobby in their thoughts. Now it’s lost.

But Jennifer hopes that somebody may have found it and will be willing to return it.

Bobby would have been 31 years old on Monday, Dec. 9, the day after the 49ers game. At 6 feet, 7 inches tall, with red hair and a full beard, he was a striking figure.

Bobby and his brother Michael, 27, regularly attended Saints home games with their mom and dad, Jennifer said. He was one of those focused fans who could explain the implications of a penalty before the officials announced it.

Bobby was at his parents’ house the evening before he died. The family had eaten king cake. The next morning, Bobby, who was an emergency room nurse, received a call from a friend whose car had broken down.

He volunteered to give her a ride home. As he sped to his friend’s aid, his Toyota Avalon inexplicably veered off of highway I-10, rolled and crashed into a tree.

Jennifer, a retired special education teacher, and her husband, Bobby Sr., an insurance agent, have been Saints season ticket holders for 35 years.

“I bleed black and gold,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer said that, despite the family’s grief, she and her husband encouraged Michael, a chef at Couvant restaurant in New Orleans, to attend the Saints’ NFC championship game two days later — which ended with the notorious “no call.”

Attending the important game in defiance of their grief seemed like the sort of gesture Bobby would have appreciated, Jennifer said. She recalls telling Michael and his girlfriend Chelsea Hale: “You need to go, you need to go.”

“Something just told me to come down here to New Orleans and and go to the game,” Michael said. “It’s like he wanted it.”

Michael and Chelsea took one of Bobby’s Saints jerseys with them to the game, displaying it on his seat like a flag, and a family custom was born.

“That jersey makes you feel like he’s still there in the Dome with you every Sunday,” Michael said.

The Who Dats who share their section understand the symbol, Jennifer said. Sometimes someone “dances” Bobby’s jersey around when the song “Stand Up and Get Crunk” booms through the dome, she said. At Bobby’s memorial, the family collected donations for Steve Gleason’s Team Gleason Foundation, which aids people with ALS.

“Bobby adored Steve Gleason,” she said.

A fellow fan was waving Bobby’s jersey wildly in the last seconds of Sunday’s game, confident that the Saints would win – though that’s not how things turned out. Jennifer remembers folding up the jersey, which was the last one Bobby wore to a game before he was killed, and placing it in the clear vinyl purse the NFL requires.

But when she got to the car, it had disappeared.

“My gosh, where’s Bobby’s jersey?” she recalled asking. “Did you see it?”

According to Hale, Jennifer was wistfully philosophical about the loss.

“She said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to buy him another one for his birthday,’” Hale recalled.

But Hale, who is a server at Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, had other strategies in mind. First, she contacted the Superdome in the hopes the jersey might have been turned over to the lost and found. But, she said, she hasn’t heard back yet.

In the meantime, she posted an appeal on Facebook.

“Hello everyone,” she wrote. “I am aware of the power that social media platforms can have and I would like to ask for your help. There were a lot of people in attendance and I just wanted to reach out and ask for shares so that maybe just MAYBE someone sees this post and can get the jersey returned to his family. I understand it is a material item and can be replaced but for them it has significant value/meaning … they hold it tight at games and it’s our way of feeling close to him. I thank you all in advance.”

Seen & Heard: Donate your soccer jerseys today!

The Downtown Soccer League is collecting jerseys and soccer shoes as part of its annual effort with the US African Children’s Fellowship to send gear to several African countries. The last chance to drop off is today at PS 234 before 3 in the lobby. The big sorting operation will take place there today from 3 to 5. (Check out the jersey of the kid above, who won a bike as part of a soccer tournament.)

The New York Theatre Ballet will perform a one-hour Nutcracker choreographed by Keith Michael to Tchaikovsky’s classic score in the Winter Garden this weekend:
Friday, Dec. 6 | 7p
Saturday, Dec. 7 | 1p and 7p
Sunday, Dec. 8 | 1p

Now through March 22, the Museum of Chinese in America will show two comprehensive exhibitions highlighting the critical pillars of research and work conducted across the U.S. to preserve Chinese immigrant contributions and communities to the American narrative. “Gathering: Collecting and Documenting Chinese American History” brings together, for the first time ever, historical artifacts from 28 Chinese American museums, historical societies and institutions across the U.S.

“The Chinese Helped Build The Railroad – The Railroad Helped Build America” presents the collective journeys of over 12,000 Chinese laborers who were instrumental in building and connecting the Transcontinental Railroad and the resulting backlash against them once their contribution was completed in 1869. “This year marks the 150th anniversary of an ill-recognized milestone in U.S. history: the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the associated omission of that accomplishment in U.S. history, and the neglected acknowledgment of early Chinese immigrants who worked, sacrificed, and died to make it happen,” said Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the museum. “By creating a collective voice and bringing together historical museums, societies, and projects from all points in America, MOCA quickens the pace to help redefine Americans’ understanding of U.S. history.” The museum is at 215 Centre St.

The photographs of Jefferson Hayman will be on view at Steven Amedee Gallery through Jan. 4. Each photograph is handcrafted as a silver gelatin, platinum or pigment print, capturing a refined interplay of light and shadow. Titled New Amsterdam, the exhibit will focus in part on Dutch-inspired still lives as well as images of the once Dutch colony of New York City. Finished prints are paired with antique or artist-made frames or custom designed Dutch ripple frames hand-made by Jerry Kurian in collaboration with the artist. The gallery is at 41 N. Moore.

ANTHRAX Joins Forces With PUCK HCKY For Hockey-Inspired Clothing Line

ANTHRAX has announced a new alliance with Puck Hcky, the Michigan-based, premium hockey apparel brand. Beginning immediately, Puck Hcky is making available a series of high-quality, small batch hockey jerseys and streetwear that pull visual inspiration from the band’s rich catalog of album, EP, single, and t-shirt artwork, including ANTHRAX’s instantly-recognizable logo and its longtime mascot, “Not-Man.” You can check it all out on the Puck Hcky web site.

“We’re huge fans of ANTHRAX so we reached out to their manager to propose a collaboration celebrating this iconic group that reflects our other passion, hockey,” said Matt Marini, Puck Hcky’s CEO. “We worked closely with the band’s Scott Ian, as well as Charlie Benante, who is personally involved with all of ANTHRAX’s visual imaging, to fashion five-star, hockey-themed merchandise for its fans. One of our collaborating artists, Jon Gregory (of Garbage Pail Kids artwork fame), created a sick goalie mask design incorporating instantly recognizable ANTHRAX visuals.”

For this series of ANTHRAX jerseys, Puck Hcky started with its pro-weight hockey jerseys, incorporating four different ANTHRAX designs, and finished them with customized detailing, such as embroidered patches and custom-made logo hem tags. Currently, there are hockey jerseys, hoodies, flannels, 3/4 sleeve raglan baseball shirts, and t-shirts featuring four different ANTHRAX designs available on Puck Hcky’s web site, with plans to introduce additional designs and apparel.

“On behalf of ANTHRAX,” said Benante, “I can honestly say that we are so excited to be joining forces with Puck Hcky. The clothing is next level, and the designs are a sports and music fans’ dream.”

ANTHRAX is continuing to tour in support of its latest album, “For All Kings”, which was released in February 2016. A follow-up effort is expected in 2020.

Joe Burrow has incredible custom Senior Day uniform that LSU fans will love

LSU QB Joe Burrow has quickly become an all-time fan favorite among the Tigers faithful. He was honored before the Texas A&M game on Senior Day.

Burrow was introduced as MVP of the Fiesta Bowl who will graduate in December with a masters degree, “top player in college football in 2019, Joe Burrow!”

One key detail was Burrow wore a special jersey with his named spelled as “Burreaux” on the No. 9 jersey, a nod to Cajun country.

ESPN’s Marty Smith reported that “Burrow showed his deep gratitude to the LSU football faithful by wearing a “Burreaux” jersey for his senior night introduction in Death Valley tonight. The idea was Burrow’s alone. He approached the LSU equipment staff with the idea earlier this week.”

Since he transferred from Ohio State, Burrow not only won the starting job at LSU, but this season has matched or surpassed several all-time records with the Tigers. He’s a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, and the Texas A&M game is his last in Tiger Stadium.

“This place means so much to me,” Burrow said, according to the Associated Press. “Everyone has been so great. I never could have dreamed that this was going to happen, the reception from the people in Louisiana to an Ohio kid who transferred here. It’s been such a great two years and I hope I can show some appreciation to the fans.”

Utica Comets honor seven seasons with Copper 7 Series

The AHL’s Utica Comets will pay homage to their hometown, their seventh season, and the 50th season of their parent club, the Vancouver Canucks, with specialty uniforms that they’ll wear twice in 2020. The uniforms and a commemorative logo designed by Comets VP of Creative Services Eric Kowiatek highlight the team’s Copper 7 series.

“The meaning behind it [is] that copper is the traditional 7th year anniversary gift,” Kowiatek said, “so everything would be based around the warm colors of the metal.”

The design of the uniforms evokes the Canucks famous “flying skate” jerseys, which they last wore during the 1990s, and which will reappear as throwback uniforms for three games in Vancouver this year.

“With the idea of the Copper 7 Series established, all it took was Vancouver to release their anniversary jerseys and it didn’t take much after that to see how perfect the color scheme of that jersey fit with our theme of the Copper 7 Series,” Kowiatek said. “So we reached out to Vancouver with some design ideas for their blessing.”

While the design is familiar to Canucks fans, Kowiatek worked to make it unique to Utica.

“My goal was to honor their mark but modify in a way that made it something our own,” he said. “It was a very fun project for me to work on, trying to dissect Vancouver’s Flying Skate and see what about it I could keep true to form while respectfully modifying it to modernize it and incorporate our own unique twist on it.“

The uniform set includes one element completely unique to Utica and the Comets, a logo that will serve as a sleeve patch and that will appear on merchandise.

“This was a completely custom logo showing a comet with 7 lines in the tail for the 7 years of Comets hockey flying over the Adirondack Bank Center (home of the Utica Comets) encompassed in the shape of our primary shield logo,” Kowiatek said.

The Comets will take to the ice in the Comet 7 Series uniforms February 29 and March 11.

What PSG! Rihanna Is A Huge Juventus Fan And Got The Custom Jersey Too

Rihanna is a “Gobbo” and Juventus just gained a million more fans because of her.

Just when we thought that Rihanna is a PSG fan, she came out strong for Italian giants Juventus. It’s safe to say that she is a “I gobbi” which is the Italian term given to supporters of the Juventus football club, of which Rihanna is a big fan. Founded in 1897 in the Italian town of Turin, the club has won almost every European league title imaginable and holds 35 official league titles, 13 Coppa Italia titles, and 8 Supercoppa Italiana titles in its trophy cabinet.

The team is currently taking part in the Champions League, and “the only girl in the world” was present at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. The boys in black and white stripes took on Atletico Madrid in the home game, which ended 1-0 to the Italians. This is what she came for!

Proving what a massive fan she is, the “Love on the Brain” singer was gifted her very own football jersey, making her one of the boys. Emblazoned on the back of the signature striped top was her nickname Riri and the number 20 to reflect her date of birth in February.

“Enjoy the game, @rihanna!” the club’s official Twitter account wrote alongside pictures of the star. It also included a video of the 31-year-old arriving at the home stadium with her brother in tow. He was not left out as he was given his own jersey that included the pair’s last name, Fenty.

‘They mean everything’: Meet some of the Tucson Roadrunners’ biggest fans

Bob Hoffman has a ritual for the first Saturday in February.

The Tucson Roadrunners president starts his night in front of the Tucson Arena box office, waiting to greet some international visitors in town for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. For the past three years, several groups of businessmen from far-flung places like New Zealand and Japan have made the Roadrunners game a part of their annual visit.

Hoffman said it’s fan experiences like this one that make Tucson unlike any of the six other hockey markets in which he has lived and worked. And the Roadrunners’ biggest fans, their season ticket holders, have exceeded his expectations in more ways than one.

The Roadrunners had 1,082 season ticket holders for the 2016-17 season, their first in Tucson. That number has grown steadily each year and now sits at 1,519, Hoffman said, a 50% increase from Year 1.

Hoffman and the Roadrunners have a marketing and sales staff, but it’s the season ticket holders, he said, who deserve the credit for growing the Roadrunners audience.

“They come to the games, they come each and every night and are passionate about it. They live and die with our players and our team and they want to see us succeed,” Hoffman said. “They’re talking about us, whether it’s at work or in the neighborhood or to friends, and they’re our best advocates because they bring people to games — and many people for the first time.”

During the Roadrunners’ first season, Hoffman conducted a 90-day review to determine who the team’s fans were. Hoffman and his staff targeted everyone with promotions and marketing, and soon learned that the largest group was families. The team responded accordingly, keeping the games affordable for families in terms of ticket and food pricing, offering giveaway and promotional events geared at kids and teens and providing in-game entertainment that’s family friendly.

Attendance on promotional nights is always strong, Hoffman said, but it kicks up to another level on the team’s annual youth jersey giveaway. Hoffman said that for that game, a line starts to form outside the box office 30 minutes before the doors open and by the time people are allowed in, it’s typically 100 fans deep.

“That loyalty and that affinity to us, you can’t gauge it when you come to town and you can’t beg for it,” Hoffman said. “It’s amazing, and we’re certainly grateful that it happened.”

Hoffman said that when he meets people who have never been to a Roadrunners game, he issues them a challenge: Come to a game (sometimes on the house) and try not to love it.

“I truly believe if you’ve never seen it before and you come and try it once you’re going to love it, and if you come back a second time, you’re addicted,” Hoffman said. “That’s what we’re trying to do: Come back that second time.”

Some of the Roadrunners’ season ticket holders were all-in on the team before it even arrived. Others needed a game — or maybe two — to fall in love. Here’s a look at the Roadrunners’ loudest and most loyal fans:
“It’s unlike any other game that you’ll watch in person”

Katie and Steve Ferencik purchased season tickets on a whim at a June 2016 event announcing the name of Tucson’s soon-to-arrive AHL team. The couple was attending a home show at the Tucson Convention Center and accidentally stumbled upon the event.

“It was a little like fate,” Steve said. The couple had heard Tucson was getting a team, but didn’t know much more at the time. “We got our seats and never looked back.”

Steve, 51, grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota, where, he says, “they start you on skates when you’re a toddler.”

He says he was never really dedicated to a professional team growing up, but adopted the Colorado Avalanche as an adult.

Katie, 36, lived in Michigan for six years, and was a Red Wings fan by default.

“There was a rivalry when we first met,” Steve said.

“But now, we’ve united over the Coyotes,” Katie chimed in, laughing.

“Since we started going to the Roadrunners game, you watch the players go from the Roadrunners and up to the Coyotes, and you kind of naturally become a Coyotes fan,” Steve said. “It’s so much fun because you remember watching them down here in Tucson and they’re so accessible at the (Roadrunners) games.”

Katie also played ice hockey growing up, but hasn’t been on the ice since she returned from a deployment in Afghanistan about eight years ago. A tech scout in the Army, Katie is in her 18th year of service. Steve retired from the Army a few years ago following 28 years of service.

The couple lived in Las Vegas during Steve’s last tour of duty. They made the decision to move back to Tucson after he retired, shortly after which it was announced that Las Vegas would be getting an NHL team, the Golden Knights.

“All of our friends are buying season tickets and we were just completely devastated because we were leaving,” Katie said. “But, when we got here, the next year they announced that they were getting a professional team and we were so excited.”

The Ferenciks initially went to the games by themselves. Last season, they added two more seats and started taking Steve’s granddaughters to the games. The couple formally adopted 4-year-old Dani and 7-year-old Olivia in September. Steve says the girls are now hockey lovers.

“The little one is crazy about it,” Katie said. “She wears her hockey gloves to the games. It’s so cute.”

The Ferenciks took their places behind the visiting team’s bench Friday night, both girls wearing bulky ear protection and Dani (as promised) sporting her hockey gloves. The family’s enthusiasm did not waver, with Kate and Steve lifting the girls on their shoulders to celebrate the first goal of the game.

Steve says it’s been great to be in with the team from the very beginning.

“It’s really fun to see our friends or strangers who have never been to a game before come and discover hockey,” Katie said. “Tucson is a super-small town … and I think that’s one good thing we have, is a really strong community. I think (the Roadrunners) have positioned themselves really well as community partners and it’s just going to grow from there.”

Steve and Katie agree that it’s better to be a hockey fan in Tucson than in Phoenix because of cheaper parking, easier access to the arena and better seats.

“Everywhere you sit (at Tucson Arena) is close to the ice,” he said.

The perks for Roadrunners’ season ticket holders, which include player signings, blankets, jerseys and more, are icing on the cake for the Ferenciks.

“I love sitting at the bench and watching the changes, watching the coaches and players get heated,” Katie said. “I just love the intensity and fire in these young guys who are just really going for it.”
Tickets “work wonders all over the place”

Daniel Butler was raised on the Chicago Blackhawks, but is quick to say that Roadrunners games are hockey at its best.

“The first year, I went to maybe seven games. I was buying them through Ticketmaster and I was buying two tickets at a time and it was costing me so much money that the next year, I just bought season tickets,” Butler said. “I’ve bought them for the last three years.”

Butler is a member of Dusty’s Force, a season ticket membership group that’s 175 fans strong, and he says, the perks from the club pay off. Members of Dusty’s Force get Coyotes tickets and extra giveaways.

“My favorite part about the Roadrunners is that they’re a bunch of young kids trying to make their dreams come true,” Butler said. “They always have a great team, they’re always a bunch of great guys. They’re right on the cutting edge and it’s great hockey to watch.”

Butler goes to most of the season’s 34 home games, taking hockey-fan family members and friends. On occasion, he’s even given his tickets to clients of his home repair business, saying, “they work wonders all over the place.”

“Even when I give them away, I still just buy myself tickets and go,” Butler said. Like many Roadrunners fans, Butler is still a fan of former Roadrunners forward Conor Garland, who was called up to the Coyotes last December. Garland returned to the Roadrunners at the end of last season to help the team in an unsuccessful bid to make the playoffs. Now that Garland’s gone, Butler says his favorite player is right wing Nick Merkley.

“I like his enthusiasm. He’s young, he’s a good guy,” Butler said.

At Friday night’s game, Butler sat in the stands with his niece, daughter and his daughter’s friend. Wearing a throwback “Roadrunners Fight Cancer” T-shirt from a previous season, Butler served as an informal concierge for his guests, making the trip up the steps to buy snacks and stopping to chat and exchange high-fives with other season ticket holders seated in his section.

Butler’s advice to Tucsonans who’ve never been to a Roadrunners game?

“You’ve got to go: it’s hockey at it’s best,” Butler said. “The NHL has calmed down a lot and it’s more of a skills game, so for the folks that like to see full-style hockey, the AHL is where it’s at. They still bring all the flair, and these players are on the cusp of making their dreams come true.”
“You get to know them on a personal level”

It’s easy to spot Jana Salcito at Roadrunners games. She sits right on the ice, next to the penalty box, and always holds a posterboard sign with Tucson’s kachina logo and all the players’ names. Last year, she got 95% of the team to autograph the sign. This year, she’s hoping to get everybody.

Jana, 47, says her love of sports started when she was a 3-year-old child living in Maine. She played floor hockey in elementary school; it was decades before she attended a professional game.

In 1997, Jana met her husband Dwayne in New Hampshire. After they got married, they began following the AHL affiliate in their town, the Manchester Monarchs.

Dwayne, 55, had also been a lifelong hockey fan, having been born in Connecticut.

The Salcitos moved to Tucson in 2007. They said they were “thrilled” when the Roadrunners came to town.

Despite their love for hockey, the couple admits it took them a little while to get to their first game. They’ve made up for their tardiness with nearly two years of loyalty as season ticket holders and unofficial ambassadors for the team.

“I remember seeing people wearing the jerseys the first season and I thought, ‘that’s cool, we need to go to a game,’” Jana said. “Well, we never got out to a game that season.”

The next season, the Salcitos’ church held a hockey night — and they went.

“That got us hooked,” Jana said. They went to another game, then a third and then the playoffs.

“We started talking to the reps at the Roadrunners. Our son was still living at home at the time and he wanted to enjoy it with us, so we decided to do it and we haven’t looked back,” Jana said. “It’s been the best thing.”

Jana hasn’t missed a home game since they signed up for season tickets and Dwayne says he’s only missed one.

Jana paused to show off her customized jersey autographed by center Lane Pederson, her favorite player.

“He’s a fan player, he loves his fans. He’s always approachable,” Jana said. “But they’re all like that. They’re so humble, they love their fans and they appreciate their fans coming out.”

Between the two of them, Jana and Dwayne own nine jerseys. Jana wears a Roadrunners hat to work every day and has enough team T-shirts to wear every day for two weeks straight.

Jana and Dwayne are planning a hockey room in their new house for all their Roadrunners memorabilia. They’re collecting more than just gear: A person who was sitting several rows back two seasons ago moved next to the Salcitos this year, as did another couple. Jana has also made some friends that she lovingly refers to as her “hockey sisters.”

At Friday night’s game, Jana and Anna Jones, one of the hockey sisters, exchanged impromptu gifts: a jersey for Anna and a custom-made eyeglass holder adorned with Dusty the Roadrunner for Jana. The two talked excitedly about plans to attend a Coyotes game in Phoenix later in the weekend, a perk of their Dusty’s Force membership.

Their son is away at college this year, meaning it’s Jana and Dwayne at the games. It was clear Friday night that Roadrunners games still feel like a family affair.

“It’s our second home,” Dwayne said.
“Part of the community”

Cathy Soltero has her very own wall of fame inside her Chandler home. Two walls, actually. The right side of her hallway is reserved for photos and jerseys associated with Roadrunners players. Once a player is called up to the NHL, Soltero moves their stuff to the opposite wall.

“I’ve spent more money on jerseys than anyone,” Soltero, 66, said, adding that her most expensive purchase was a $3,100 Conor Garland jersey that she bought at a charity auction. The purchase price set an AHL record, but for Soltero, the purchase was worth it: Garland addressed his signature to his “#1 Fan.”

“The AHL is special because of the interaction with players,” Soltero said. “They’re people, and you’re people to them.”

Soltero said she’s always loved hockey, but had a minimal understanding of the sport until 2015, when she attended a Coyotes prospect camp in Chandler. That’s where she saw Garland, who she calls “The Conor.” Soltero bought her season tickets after a Roadrunners representative assured her that Garland would be with the team.

“The Conor is what turned me into a total fanatic and student of the game,” Soltero said.

While Garland has since moved on, Soltero’s allegiance to the team has not.

Soltero is a former juvenile probation officer. Never having children of her own, Soltero said that her probationers used to be her kids.

The Roadrunners “have replaced my caseload,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t have pictures of my kids to put on the wall, but I have jerseys.”

She and her husband made the 210-mile round trip from Chandler to the Tucson for games for awhile, then purchased a time share in Tucson so that they could stay in town on weekends with back-to-back games.

During the break between first and second periods at Friday night’s game, Soltero took photos and chatted next to the food vendors with a group of men decked out in Roadrunners jerseys. During breaks in the game, she talked to season ticket holders seated nearby. While the puck was in play, Soltero’s eyes were glued to the ice.

“I love the culture of hockey, it’s unlike any other sport,” Soltero said. “When someone scores a goal, they give accolades all the way down. In hockey, the individual is never as important as the team.”

Soltero said she treasures her relationships with the players. Last year, she had to thin out her jersey collection after it became too large, and decided to send jerseys back to players who had since left the Roadrunners. She could’ve made some money by selling her prized possessions, but opted to give them away.

“The Roadrunners players live in Tucson’s neighborhoods and they’re part of the community,” Soltero said. “With the Coyotes, the likelihood of living next door to a player is slim to none.”
“They mean everything”

The love coming from Roadrunners’ die-hards is felt — and often reciprocated.

“The fans here have been great. I’ve been here for four years now and every year they seem to be getting better and better with more people in the stands,” defenseman Dysin Mayo said. “They’re really invested in us, you can tell. They’re always standing out here after games and talking to us. It’s nice to have that kind of support.”

Left wing Michael Bunting, who is in his fourth year with the Roadrunners, said that he appreciates the dedication of the team’s biggest fans, and that it’s nice to continue to see the same people that were coming to games during his first year.

“They mean everything. They’re like the seventh man out there when we play,” Bunting said. “When they’re going, it kind of gives us a little energy, and it’s good to see familiar faces come back every weekend.”

Utica Comets to wear Canucks Flying Skate inspired jerseys

The marketing geniuses behind the Utica Comets have come up with another gem, as the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team unveiled a new specialty jersey today.

The Comets will wear Canucks Flying Skate inspired uniforms twice this season, on February 29 and March 11, with the jerseys auctioned off on March 11.

Utica’s version of the classic 1990s logo replaces the boot with a streaking comet, while the word “Comets” replaces “Canucks” on the skate blade.

Vancouver’s farm team is following in the footsteps of its parent club, as the Canucks wore the black version of their Flying Skate uniform on November 16. They’ll wear black, red, and yellow twice more this season at Rogers Arena — on January 4 against the New York Rangers and for Legends Night during Sedin Week against the Nashville Predators on February 10.

The Comets are incorporating their version of the black, red, and yellow uniforms look into the “Copper 7 Series,” paying homage to the city of Utica, and for some reason, their seventh anniversary.

This isn’t the first time the Comets, who usually wear Canucks colours, have introduced a popular alternate jersey. Utica debuted a green third jersey in 2015, which has been the envy of some Canucks fans ever since.