Monthly Archives: April 2012

Alabama football legend passes away Monday

Former Alabama football star Billy Neighbors passed away Monday afternoon in Huntsville days after suffering a heart attack, multiple news outlets reported. He was 72.

A member of the 1961 Crimson Tide national championship team, Neighbors was a big part of a defense that allowed just 25 points all season. He was a consensus All-American that season and was a sixth-round pick of the Boston Patriots in the NFL draft.

Neighbors played eight pro seasons and started 56 times with the Patriots and Dolphins. A two-time Pro Bowler, he retired following the 1969 season and was a successful stock broker in Huntsville.

Two more generations of Neighbors went on to play football at Alabama. Son Wes Neighbors played from 1983-86 and grandson Wesley followed from 2008-10.

While attending the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1961 championship team, Neighbors commented on how much the game changed since he played both offense and defense.

“It wasn’t as complicated as it is now, but you had to be more physical because you had to be out there so long,” Billy Neighbors said. “Can you imagine playing 60 minutes and covering every kickoff and every punt, every special team and never coming off the field? It was unreal.”

Neighbors was inducted to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Update: Alabama athletics director Mal Moore, a teammate of Neighbors’, released a statement a little bit ago.

“Hearing the news of the passing of Billy Neighbors is very difficult. Billy meant so much to Alabama football over the decades. He was one of our first great players under Coach Bryant, and he had become a tremendous friend to me and everyone in the Alabama family. Billy was easy to like. It was always easy to talk with Billy. We spoke three or four times a week for as far back as I can remember. I have lost a great friend and Alabama certainly lost a legend. It’s just a tremendous loss.”


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Relaxing in Miami hotel, former Tide starter gets call from Ravens

Seven more former Alabama football standouts joined the eight drafted in the NFL over the weekend. Here’s the story of offensive lineman Alfred McCullough’s path to the Baltimore Ravens …

TUSCALOOSA — Watching hour after hour of the NFL draft didn’t interest Alfred McCullough.

The Athens High graduate had his mind on basketball Saturday afternoon. He had driven to south Florida to take his cousin to a Miami Heat game when his phone rang.

“I was chilling in my room in Miami, and they asked how I felt about being a Raven,” McCullough said Sunday on a break from the 15-hour drive back to Limestone County. “We made the deal.”

McCullough, an offensive lineman, was one of seven former Alabama players who signed free-agent deals in the hours after eight teammates were taken in the NFL draft. He will reunite with linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, also home to ex-teammates Terrence Cody and Chavis Williams.

“It’s always been a dream to make the NFL,” said McCullough, a starter in six games as a senior including the BCS National Championship Game.

“It’s just surreal right now.”

A few other NFL teams called later on, but McCullough already had a deal. He plans on training in Athens for two more weeks before heading to the Baltimore mini-camp. The real test comes in August when McCullough, all the drafted players, and returning veterans compete for the team’s 53 roster spots.

Click here OR here for the full story.


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The list of Alabama players who signed NFL free-agent deals

The NFL draft isn’t quite the marathon it once was. Only seven rounds worth of players will hear their name called in Radio City Music Hall. For everyone else, there’s a mad rush for free-agent deals.

After eight Alabama players were drafted, six others will also get a shot at roster spots thanks to free agency. Here’s the list as known Sunday afternoon.

Read a little more about all of this in tomorrow’s newspaper.


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The brief history of Phillip Sims at Alabama

Update (Monday afternoon): Phillip Sims appears to have his new home near his old one. ESPN is confirming the speculation by reporting the former Alabama quarterback will land at Virginia. Click here for that report.

—–

Take a look back at the relatively brief Alabama career of top recruit Phillip Sims …

After months of rumor and speculation, Alabama officially lost its quarterback insurance policy Friday afternoon.

Former top recruit Phillip Sims announced his intention to transfer less than a year after losing the battle for the starting job. The redshirt freshman competed with AJ McCarron straight through the 2011 opener before settling into a backup role. His destination remains unclear.

Sims’ departure leaves Alabama with just one scholarship quarterback on campus. Phillip Ely redshirted his freshman year last fall while incoming newcomer Alec Morris will report this summer.

For Sims, the decision to leave was “very difficult,” but one that needed to be made.

“The reason for me leaving is nothing more than a personal matter,” Sims said in a statement released by Alabama.

“I just need to be closer to home to support my family at this time and that needs to be my priority right now. I would still like to continue my football career, and hopefully I can do that and also be there for my family.”

A Chesapeake, Va., native, Sims came to Alabama in 2010 as one of the top recruits in the nation. Both Rivals and Scout recruiting services rated him the second-best quarterback in the class. Sims enrolled early to get a head start on school and football.

Click here for the complete story.

Upshaw’s sleep-deprived night preceded draft pick

I’d never seen Courtney Upshaw as happy as he was last night at the NFL draft. Read all about it right here …

NEW YORK — Courtney Upshaw had trouble sleeping Thursday night.

Left at the NFL draft altar a few hours earlier, he tossed and turned in his Manhattan hotel room. His frustration was inescapable.

By Friday evening, the quarterback chasing linebacker couldn’t stop smiling. The Baltimore Ravens chose the former Alabama star with the third pick of the second round after seeing his first-round dreams vanish the night before. Upshaw hit for the emotional cycle in a 24-hour period, ending with pure joy and a touch of relief.

He hit the other end of that spectrum on a damp and breezy Thursday night in New York.

“Just frustration, that’s all it was,” Upshaw said. “Little disappointed, you know, because I had dreams and set a goal at the beginning of the season to be a first-round draft pick. I felt like I let myself down.”

He was the only Crimson Tide player taken Friday while UNA cornerback Janoris Jenkins went 39th overall to St. Louis.

Upshaw was one of six players invited to the first round who wasn’t drafted until the second night. LSU product Reuban Randle was the last of that group taken when the New York Giants selected him with the last pick of the second round.

Click here to read the full version free of charge.

LSU receiver Randle enjoyed time at draft with Alabama players

Rueben Randle was slightly outnumbered this week in New York. The former LSU receiver was the only one of two Tigers invited to the NFL draft held in Radio City Music Hall.

Across the green room was the five representatives from the Alabama team. Those five handed Randle and LSU a 21-0 beating in the Jan. 9 BCS title game in New Orleans.

They all played nice this week.

“Actually, those are the guys I spent a lot of time with throughout the whole week,” he said. “Those are some fun guys and we didn’t have any disputes about the (BCS national title) game.”

More draft coverage later on.


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Video of Courtney Upshaw being drafted, reacting

Take a look at a very relieved Courtney Upshaw after being taken with the third pick of the second round of this evening’s NFL draft. More video to come in a bit. Hang in there.

Bonus clip: Here’s more video of Upshaw discussing the events of the last two nights.

 


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Courtney Upshaw drafted 20 hours after planned

Upshaw does radio after pick (DBB exclusive pic)

The wait is over for former Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw. A night after being left at the NFL draft altar, Upshaw heard his name called.

He’s headed to the Baltimore Ravens with the third pick of the second round.

Much more to come from Upshaw tonight. Keep it here.


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Photo gallery from Alabama’s day at the NFL draft

Click to enlarge.

We’re back in Radio City Music Hall for the second and third rounds of the NFL draft. Courtney Upshaw, you’re on the clock.

But before the picking begins, take a look back at Thursday’s first round with a few photos snapped by this amateurish amateur of a photographer. Stay tuned for full coverage all evening.

NFL draft in Radio City Music Hall

 


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Greg McElroy: Tebow talks more about ’09 SEC title game than I do

There were Alabama faces spotted all over Radio City Music Hall last night at the NFL draft. One belonged to ex-Tide quarterback Greg McElroy, now a backup with the New York Jets.

A starter on the 2009 Alabama title team, McElroy said he’s all healed up after missing his rookie season with a thumb injury.

I couldn’t resist asking McElroy about his new quarterbacking teammate, Tim Tebow. So does he bust Tebow’s chops over the 2009 SEC title game duel won by McElroy’s Tide over Florida?

“He’s brought it up more than I have,” McElroy said with a smile. “No, actually, it’s really great to have Tebow up here. It’s been a lot of fun working together. Obviously, we were rivals on opposite sidelines for a number of years, but now that we’re removed from it, we respect the game a lot and we both like to prepare in similar ways.

“We both have a great passion, so I’m just really, really pleased to have him. He’s been a real pleasure to add to the quarterback room with myself and Mark (Sanchez). ”

McElroy said Jets quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh “treats us all like equals.”


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Tide quarterback Phillip Sims transferring

Rumors circulated for months. By Friday afternoon, they were confirmed. Alabama backup quarterback Phillip Sims won’t return a year after losing the starting job to AJ McCarron.

Alabama released a statement Friday afternoon announcing the decision that leaves the Tide without many options behind McCarron. In the statement, Sims called the decision “a personal matter,” and hoped to continue his college career closer to his Virginia home.

“This was a very difficult decision because I’ve had a great experience at the University of Alabama and I’m thankful for the opportunity this program provided me,” Sims said in a statement. “I want to thank Coach Saban and the coaching staff for being with me and my family at this time. I wouldn’t change anything about my decision to come to Alabama and this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

Sims was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation in the fall of 2009. He arrived in Tuscaloosa in January, 2010 as an early enrollee eager to compete for the starting job one day.

He did, but McCarron ultimately earned the job early last season. Sims completed 18 of 28 total passes as a redshirt freshman while throwing two interceptions in the season-opener against Kent State.

Redshirt freshman Phillip Ely is the only scholarship quarterback on campus behind McCarron. True freshman Alex Morris is due to arrive this summer.

Sims posted the following on his Twitter page this morning:


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Drive through Forest Lake a year after the tornado

And now, the final video look at Tuscaloosa one year after the tragic tornado killed 53 people. Here’s Forest Lake near the Alabama campus.


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Richardson motivated by Jim Brown’s disrespect

On an anniversary like this, any football talk seems inconsequential. But here’s the story from the NFL draft in today’s newspaper…

NEW YORK — A happy ending topped off Trent Richardson’s complicated day.

Disrespected by a legend in the morning, then drafted a spot ahead of projections at night, the always-smiling former Alabama running back lived his dream.

The Cleveland Browns traded up a spot to take Richardson third in Thursday night’s NFL Draft in Radio City Music Hall. Speculated maneuvering led the Browns to trade up from fourth to third, making Richardson the highest drafted running back since Reggie Bush went second in 2006.

He was one of four Alabama players drafted in the first round. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw was invited to New York, but never heard his name called in the Radio City green room.

Richardson was “very surprised” Cleveland made the preemptive trade to keep others from snatching him up.

“When they did that, I was like, they really want me,” Richardson said. “They weren’t letting me slip out of their hands.”

At least one former Cleveland alum didn’t love the Pensacola product. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown took a shot at Richardson on ESPN radio’s Scott Van Pelt Show. He called Richardson’s size, speed and moves “ordinary.”

Richardson heard all about the comments.

“Motivation,” he called it. “If he says I’m an ordinary running back, I’ve got a lot to prove. If he’s saying that, that’s big shoes to fill.”

Click here for the full story.

Full update on Tuscaloosa tornado recovery a year after 12 percent of city damaged/destroyed

 

Life blooms in Forest Lake (Daily Bama Blog photo)

We took a break from sports coverage to write an update on the city of Tuscaloosa’s recovery. On this first anniversary of the tornado, read what I wrote for the print editions …

TUSCALOOSA — The 15th Street corridor is under construction.

Landmarks such as the Taco Casa near the McFarland Boulevard intersection reopened months ago, and its neighbor McDonald’s is nearing completion.

Just blocks from the construction sites are large unoccupied fields. Meadows of tall grass sit where tree-lined neighborhoods such as Cedar Crest and portions of Forest Lake once stood.

Tuscaloosa continues to rebuild from a direct hit it took from an EF4 twister on April 27, 2011. About 12 percent of the city was leveled a year ago Friday when a tornado carved a straight line through the city, damaging or destroying 5,362 residential structures, along with 356 commercial buildings.

The buzz at City Hall is “the work never ends down here,” according to the staff of eight in the Incident Command Center.

“I think we’re further along than we ever expected to be at this point,” Incident Cmdr. John Brook said. “We’re starting to see the glimpses of what the future will be with the things that are happening.”

To date, 99 percent of the debris has been removed. Permits have been issued for 2,286 residential repairs and 206 new construction jobs. On the commercial side, 290 permits have been issued.

Click here to read entire story.


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Take before/after video driving tour of Tuscaloosa a year later

In the second part of our before/after series, here’s a video of a few Tuscaloosa main streets a year after the tornado. You’ll see McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street in this tour. More to come.


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