John Ingoldsby is a writer for both the National Football League's (NFL) Football Operations and NFL Player Engagement departments, following his career-long coverage of the NFL for a variety of print and broadcast media, where he has had the unique distinction of covering two NFL dynasties, the current New England Patriots and the "Steel Curtain Era" Pittsburgh Steelers. He has also written articles on the NFL for Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Interviewed Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).
BOSTON – High school football and Thanksgiving have gone together like turkey and stuffing for more than a century in New England, but this year featured a new flavor with games in fabled Fenway Park.
With the baseball cathedral already transformed for the Boston College–Notre Dame game the weekend before Thanksgiving, eight Boston-area high schools spiced up their traditional rivalry games by playing four games in two days on the sacred sod.
More than 30,000 fans filled the stands from home plate to the right field foul pole for the first high school football games at Fenway since 1935.
The games kicked off on the day before Thanksgiving when Xaverian faced St. John's Prep and Boston College High squared off against Catholic Memorial.
"The experience was awesome, and will be a memory for the rest of my life," said Xaverian's Coby Tippett, the son of NFL Hall of Famer and former New England Patriot Andre Tippett. "It's not often we get to do something like this," said Tippett in summing up the experience of playing in the shadow of the Green Monster.
"To know the history here and then dress in the Red Sox locker room looking at David Ortiz's locker was unbelievable," stated Catholic Memorial's Frank Cosolito. "I'll never forget playing here for the rest of my life."
Nor will Isaiah Morinda, who said after his Boston College High School team beat CM, "It was life-changing event when put in the historic light, and I just embraced it, even though I had some butterflies."
Then the next morning under a bright Thanksgiving Day sun, Wellesley and Needham met in the oldest public high school rivalry in America, first played 127 years ago.
"It was an amazing experience, giving us memories forever and I won't ever forget it," said Wellesley Quarterback Jake Mohan following his team's 12-7 loss.
For Needham's Kevin Bruce it was equally meaningful.
"It's crazy because ever since I was a little kid I always dreamed of being able to play here, so I took a moment during the game and just checked out how many people were here, and it was just ridiculous. I'm so thankful for this opportunity."
Finally, Boston English and Boston Latin renewed the oldest continuous high school football rivalry in the country. The two schools have played every year since 1887.
After Latin's 28-6 win, players took pictures with teammates and family on the venerable field to preserve the historic moment. For some, it will be the last football game they will ever play.
Legendary Xaverian Coach Charlie Stevenson put in perspective after they beat St. John's Prep Wednesday night. "It was unbelievable to have the first high school victory on this field in 85 years."
November 2, 2014
As the NFL kicks off its annual Salute To Service campaign again this November, one of their most decorated veterans continues to carry on its mission of serving those who have served.
Which for Pittsburgh Steelers Legend Rocky Bleier means working tirelessly with military veterans' organizations to ensure that fellow former soldiers transition successfully into civilian life.
And although he has done this for decades, the biggest effort may now just be beginning for Bleier, the former Army infantryman who overcame war wounds from Vietnam to become a four-time Super Bowl champion with the iconic Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.
"With the downsizing of the military from current conflicts abroad, there are approximately 300,000 troops who will soon become civilians," said the famous author of "Fighting Back," which was later made into a movie.
But for many returning soldiers, there is no Hollywood ending, only physical and psychological scars. But that's where Bleier and the organizations he works with can help veterans be aware of how to access all the services available to them.
"I have a lot going on these days, working work with groups like "Warrior2Citizen" and "Unite Us," the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh, and being an Honorary Director of the Boulder Crest Retreat," noted the 1968 Notre Dame graduate.
"For Veterans Day, I will be meeting in Atlanta with Warrior2Citizen, which helps veterans handle the challenges of transitioning from the war front to the home front," said Bleier, who explained that the organization helps, for instance, married couples who may be dealing with the psychological and moral aspects of war.
"It started with the Georgia National Guard, where measurable results showed divorce rates cut in half and suicides drop to zero, and it is now open to all branches of the military," he exclaimed.
Bleier attributes the success of this program to technology, where 24-7 all veterans can go to a computer and within minutes be online with counselors, even face-to-face, to draw support and discuss issues they are facing.
"The soldiers of today are tied to technology," observed Bleier, who stressed that the ultimate aim of the Warrior2Citizen (www.warrior2citizen.org)" is to make veterans productive citizens.
Another association that the Pittsburgh resident is involved in is "Unite Us" (www.uniteus.com), which connects veterans, service members, and their families with valuable resources and supporters in their local communities.
"As an example, Western Pennsylvania has the second largest veteran population outside of a military base, so we just kicked off this effort which serves as a resource for our veterans," stated Bleier.
The Wisconsin native also mentioned that "Unite Us," is teamed up with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (www.vets.syr.edu), which focuses on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service.
But that's not all for the busy Bleier, who noted that on November 15 he will attend the Cannon Ball Gala at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh (www.soldiersandsailorshall.org), the nation's only military museum dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service, and in all capacities (Active, Reserve, Guard).
"The museum is a great tribute to military history, and I am proud to be associated with it," said Bleier.
An additional association he takes pride in is Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont, Virginia (www.bouldercrestretreat.org), a rural sanctuary where military warriors with combat-stress related injuries can bring their families and enjoy non-clinical, recreational therapeutic activities aimed at assisting with their physical, mental, financial and spiritual recovery.
"I was named to the Honorary Advisory Board last year, which was an honor for me since I support Ken Falke, who started by inviting soldiers from Walter Reed Hospital back to his house in Virginia, and later donated land to his foundation to have a retreat where soldiers and their family could have a place to go and enjoy an outdoor experience."
An experience like so many that Bleier believes will benefit veterans so they can find successful post-service careers, just like Bleier himself, who has two businesses.
"I own a construction company, where I sometimes work with the federal government and Veterans Administration, and I also have an insurance agency with my son, where I help people transitioning into retirement with areas like social security and 401Ks," he said.
But no matter what the age, Bleier believes a successful transition stems from utilizing available resources, and pointed out the current correlation that resonates with his famous life story.
"I am always struck by the similarities of NFL players and military veterans, since so often they both complete their first career in their twenties," the former Steelers players' representative observed. "But fortunately for them, they both have resources second to none available to them for a successful transition, so I would tell the players what I tell the veterans, which is to take advantage of all that the NFL, like the government, has to offer."
And although the NFL offers exponentially more resources off the field than when Bleier retired from the game, he made his mark on the field like no other, beginning 40 years ago when he fulfilled his football dream by becoming the starting halfback in the Steelers backfield.
"In 1974, there was a strike so there weren't as many players as usual in camp, and there were only four other running backs on the roster, so with injuries and other circumstances I began to get some playing time early in the season," recalled Bleier. "Through some mixing and matching, I had a couple of good games and then finally on a Monday night in Atlanta, Franco Harris and I started together and I became his blocking back."
But he ultimately became Franco's running mate as well when they won the first of their four Super Bowl together that year, and in 1976 they became only the second set of teammates to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
And as the dynasty unfolded, Bleier forever shed the label as just a blocking back by rushing for nearly 4,000 career yards, including a career-high 70-yard jaunt.
Then, he picked the biggest moment of them all to display his genuine athleticism in making the signature play of his career by jumping high to snare the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XIII.
That leaping catch was captured forever on the cover of Sports Illustrated, serving as a fitting tribute to a soldier wounded in the 1960s who still serves his fellow veterans nearly five decades later.
St. Francis Magazine
December 17, 2012
Armchair General Magazine
September 7, 2012
Armchair General Magazine
WEST POINT, NY, Sept. 7, 2012 – The National Football League and the U.S. Army have shared a storied history of working together, and now have formed perhaps their most important alliance ever in teaming up to tackle Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
The two iconic institutions chose the hallowed grounds of the United State Military Academy at West Point for the announcement, which included a panel discussion on this timely topic before an audience that included 200 Cadets.
The event was kicked off by Army Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odierno and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who both stressed the complete collaboration they envision to implement a culture change to reduce brain injuries, including most importantly concussions.
By emphasizing the importance of shared responsibility, self-regulation and peer pressure in battling this issue, the General and the Commissioner spearheaded a candid conversation by a star-studded panel that advocates players and soldiers seek help for a head injury to either themselves or those around them.
This call for healthy behaviors was echoed by the panel that included former players Troy Vincent and Bart Oates, Neurologist Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, a Co-Chair of the NFL's Head, Neck & Spine Committee, and Major Sarah Goldman, Major Christopher Molino, and Staff Sergeant Shawn Hibbard, all of whom contributed their perspective from the trenches.
In launching this initiative, both organizations created the websites www.NFL.com/military and www.army.mil/tbi, while also pledging to hold forums at NFL team facilities and Army bases, increasing awareness through PSAs and social media, pairing retired players with soldiers transitioning out of the Army, and sharing medical research and information.
John Ingoldsby, a leading writer on the intersection of sports and the military who attended this event, is president of IIR Sports, Inc. (www.IIRsports.com) in Boston, a media & public relations firm. As a former newspaper reporter covering Fort Devens, he was the first New England media representative ever chosen by the Pentagon to cover NATO war games in Europe. His father was a Lieutenant Colonel in General Patton's legendary Third Army during World War II.
As the NFL prepares to play its third regular season game in the UK, John Ingoldsby
reports on American football's moves to expand its fan base and revenues.
October 22, 2009
The Financial Times
At last week’s National Football League owners meeting in Boston, one of the regular gatherings of the high-powered executives who run the league and its 32 teams, the agenda included adding games to the schedule, whether to include sponsors’ logos on practice kit and plans for a new collective bargaining agreement with players.
But underlying all this, the mood was bullish. One of the biggest businesses in sport, announced Roger Goodell, league commissioner, was bucking the economic recession.
“We started the session this morning as we traditionally do with a report on the status of the season, and we had a very upbeat report, not only on the quality of the games but also with fan engagement,” he says.
Ratings for all four of the networks that televise NFL games – CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN – have increased from last year, and the viewership records have been set in three of this season’s first five weeks, with the most watched Sunday night game ever on September 20 between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys on NBC.
The league has also in the past few months showed it is surviving a weak sponsorship market by signing a new deal with Proctor & Gamble, while renewing long-standing agreements with Visa and IBM.
But as the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers get set to play each other at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday, the third regular season game to be played there in as many years, Mr Goodell appears convinced that the health of the sport will benefit from global expansion.
“The progress we are making internationally, in particular our efforts in the UK, show that the fans have really responded,” he says. “The fans in the UK look like they could have a second game, and we are looking as early as next year. It could be Wembley, or it could also be some place else in the UK, and we have talked about other spots in Europe also.”
Steve Tisch, owner of the New York Giants, a team that played in the inaugural London game two years ago, is an enthusiastic supporter of the commissioner’s strategy. “The way Roger has set it up with the London games is a great start, and the experiences over there have been terrific.”
For a domestic league with revenues of $8bn (€5.3bn, £4.8bn) that culminates in the Super Bowl, one of the marketing world’s marquee events – in the midst of the global recession, 30-second ads for last February’s game cost an average of $3m, up from $2.7m the year before – it is perhaps a surprising strategy.
What is more, previous efforts to expand the sport abroad have been unsuccessful. NFL Europa, a Europe-based branch of the league which included teams in Germany and the Netherlands, closed in 2007, and the NFL turned instead to the current strategy of playing regular season games outside the US.
Still, Mr Goodell points to the more than 140m NFL fans outside the US and 120 broadcasters from 230 countries and territories that will carry NFL programming in 2009 as evidence of its continuing global appeal.
But he also recognises that “we are not played as broadly as some other sports, particularly soccer and basketball, but when people have the opportunity to see our game and be engaged, they love it and want more of it”.
In this respect, the National Basketball Association, another North American league that has pursued an international strategy in recent years, has been more successful. The sport is well established in Europe and, perhaps more significantly for the long term, in China. Last year, the league formed NBA China, an organisation designed to conduct all its operations there and it claims that NBA.com/china, its local website, is the single most popular sports website in the country.
For the time being, the NFL remains focused on expanding the business in Europe, but for the fans set to turn the home of English football into a home for its American version, the only numbers that count will be on the scoreboard.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009.
BOSTON, Massachusetts – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has reached the mountaintop both literally and figuratively, and his view from the top is surely spectacular.
Professionally, after a 24-year career climbing the corporate ladder at the National Football League, Goodell reached the peak of his profession when he was elected Commissioner four years ago.
Personally, he trained rigorously to successfully scale the 14,411-foot summit of Mount Rainier 15 months ago as part of a group supporting United Way, an NFL partner for more than 35 years.
With the mountains behind him, the 51-year-old Commissioner is now crisscrossing the ocean with the “great American game of Football,” and London has become the league’s new world—one apparently worthy of further exploration.
In October, 2009, during the NFL’s Fall Meeting in Boston just two weeks before the NFL’s International Game in London, Boston-based writer John Ingoldsby sat down with Mark Waller, the National Football League’s new and first-ever Chief Marketing Officer, for an exclusive interview.
BOSTON, MA—The National Football League has already taken its game across the pond, and is now intending to “accelerate massively the education” aspect of American football worldwide.
This revelation, and many other components of the NFL’s commitment to growing its game globally, were put forth by NFL Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Mark Waller during the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston in March 2010.
June 1, 2010
LOWELL, Mass. – College graduates take note.
An internship can lead to arguably the greatest job in the world. Literally!
For it was an internship that was the first step undertaken by Roger Goodell nearly three decades ago that ultimately led to his current job as Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL).
BELMONT, MA – Bernhard Langer mastered the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Belmont Country Club, just like he did back in the day at Augusta.
The two-time Masters champion shot a stunning 19 under par to win this Champions Tour major for the second consecutive year, thereby sharing rare air with Arnold Palmer as the event's only back-to-back winners.
In taking the tournament by six strokes, the German native dominated both his competition and the course during the four-day mid-June event, and basically took a victory lap on Sunday when he began the day with an eight-stroke lead.
But that didn't dampen the positive vibe evident all week long as New Englanders flocked to the hilly suburban Boston track to mingle with some of the game's biggest names that many fans grew up watching.
In addition to Langer, this group included Colin Montgomerie Rocco Mediate, Hale Irwin, Larry Mize, Mark Calcavecchia, Jeff Sluman, Corey Pavin, Jeff Maggert, Lee Janzen, Hal Sutton, Fred Funk, Jesper Parnevik, Bob Gilder, Scott Verplank, Kenny Perry, Sandy Lyle, and Rhode Islanders Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon.
Best of all, they weren't just watching, they were truly mingling with the players since the relaxed atmosphere made it easy to mix with the players, where life begins at age 50 on this tour.
It was not uncommon to look up at any given moment and see one of the players listed above, along with scores of other well-known players from the field of 80, just walking along and more than willing to stop and chat.
This was never more evident than a personal encounter I had with Rocco Mediate, who had the legendary duel with Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which Woods won on the first sudden-death hole after they were tied in an 18-hole Monday playoff.
As I was walking along the 16th Fairway on Sunday, Mediate was standing at the ropes smoking a stogie and chatting with a policeman while waiting for his two playing partners to hit.
I approached and said I grew up in Altoona, PA, just an hour or so from Rocco's hometown of Greensburg, PA.
His face lit up as he immediately said, "Park Hills," the course in Altoona where Rocco said he "learned as a boy how to play tournament golf."
We chatted for a few more minutes about Western PA before the affable six-time PGA Tour winner had to hit, and l walked away with the unique memory of having had this exchange with a player between shots late in Sunday's final round.
There is no doubt that many others had similar encounters with players during the week, where even Colin Montgomerie, who New Englanders gave a hard time to during the 1999 Ryder Cup, was a huge hit with local fans with his gracious nature throughout the week.
He also showed his softer side at a news conference on Tuesday when he remembered that fabled Sunday at The Country Club.
In stating that it was his first time playing here since that day, he recalled how Payne Stewart conceded the 18th hole and match to him, just minutes after Justin Leonard had won the Ryder Cup with his iconic putt to complete the miracle American comeback.
Just a few months later, Stewart died in an airplane accident, but an emotional Montgomerie described how being back near Brookline resurrects that final memory of him "being a true gentleman with this act of sportsmanship."