RIGHT END – FranJo Haydn, “FJ” to the media. Long with deceptive strength, this 6’6”, 294 lb. former All-Pro bench presses 104 reps of four movements. In college, FJ also lettered in basketball and track & field, not so much by his native talent, but by relentless storm and stress, perfecting his skills, until, to the surprise of everyone but him, he broke the school record in shot put. Innovative, has been moved all over defensive line in both odd and even fronts. A bear of a pass rusher, meaning he doesn’t gain much ground with his first steps, gets hands in passing lanes when rush stalls, and relies on hustle sacks. Team-first attitude.
LEFT END – Gorgeous George G. Coming out of college, Gorgeous George heard from scouts, coaches and sportswriters alike that he got plenty of nuttin’ as an interior lineman. A run-around athlete still learning the game, Gershwin was sent down to play in Tin Pan Alley in an attempt to remake him as a cornerback. His response: “Why should I be a second-rate Deion Sanders when I could be a first-rate pass rusher?” With his nimble base end, broad padded shoulders, syncopated initial foot quickness, and jazzy twists and stunts, Gorgeous George not only became a starting end with the Classicals, but helped re-define what a three-down rusher could do coming out of the blue.
RIGHT TACKLE – Georgie F. Handel. In the mode of Alex Karas (though less Mad Duck than Mad Cuckoo), Handel feasts on space. Thick frame and the powerful upper body of a blacksmith, he bends well for a big man, and plays with Solomon-like leverage, yet despite girth and leverage the grosso 395-pound Pro Bowler can be inconsistent at getting push off snap, often largo, sometimes grave. Surprising ability to swat cut blocks (like splashing water in a wading pool), as he showed in the Classicals’ Wild Card Weekend win over the Italian Baroques. He sacked QB D. Scarlatti thrice. Has the strength to dominate in the running game. Lit up scoreboards like fireworks with stats for tackles and sacks. Received the 1741 “Hallelujah” Award for defensive linemen, cited for his “endurance and consistency.”
LEFT TACKLE – Bob Manshu. Passionate tackler when he’s squared up one-on-one, but sometimes gets lost in a crowd. Good play speed, generally under control, but will make mental errors. Below average take-on skills, hand usage limited by injury, needs to improve arm extension to keep snob-blockers off him. Competes through whistle and is not only physical against skill-position players but mimics them after a tackle. In mid-season, was demoted to suicide squad special teams. Teammates have asked publically, “Who will show up come game day, Florestan or Eusebius?” If Florestan, look for an effective blitzer who has speed to chase Philistines to the sidelines and finish the play.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER – Rich Strauss. More disruptive on quarterbacks than his career numbers indicate. Routinely pulls merry pranks on QBs and running backs while sticking them into the turf hard. Gets physical with blockers, and a violent hitter; knocked the head off Damascus guard Jon Baptist. Fast off the edge. Makes tackles look like falling appoggiatura semiquavers, beating them around the corner and darts back to the inside or uses a minuet spin move reminiscent of L.T. in his prime. Plenty of shock in his hands, which he uses to shed blocks and bull rush now and then. Led league in holding and face mask calls. Vulnerable when runs come downhill straight at him. Experienced a metamorphosen late in his career and in 2015 put together one of his best seasons. Announced his retirement following Sunday’s game, calling the playoffs his four last songs. Sports Illustrated says Strauss’s professional career represents Ein Heldneleben. Conversely, ESPN assessed the former Rutgers Scarlett Knight this way: “To Strauss the linebacker we take off our helmets; to Strauss the man we put them back on again.”
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER – John Green. Already among the league leaders in takeaways, also became a double-digit sack artist this season, with memorable hits on QBs Otello and Falstaff. In the final regular season game, which put the Classicals in the playoffs, Green beat Rossini off the edge with speed, putting the La Scala star tackle on roller skates. Green’s romantic athleticism is evident when he switches to deep coverage, can stay stride-for-stride with bel canto tight ends. Constantly around the ball, operatically opportunistic. Has a history of talking provocative smack. “The force of destiny shall lead us to the victory this Sunday,” says the Troubadour of Turnovers.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER – Joe “Busta” Brahms. Burly, stout, old-school linebacker. A badass thumper and uncompromising D-back who can defend sideline-to-sideline, covers a lot of ground thoroughly, and smothers receivers who come into his zone with countpoint. Not a twitchy athlete. Takes time to gear up after changing directions and can struggle to tackle jitterbug runners like Offenbach, Gottschalk and, his charge Sunday, Paganini. The rigorous, intensely constructed nature of Brahms’s play translates well to the practice field and the locker room. “He’s the type of guy you want on your team because he brings toughness to practice,” observed Coach Bartel. In college, Busta was named winner of the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker) but backed out of the awards ceremony, rubbing some the wrong way by the way he handled it, with sarcasm.
CORNERBACK – Freddy Chopin. An undersized bump-and-run intuitive cornerback with deep speed and improvisatory confidence to compete downfield against elite wideouts. Outstanding recovery speed makes up for separation. Acceleration and quickness enough to contest any throw on the field. “Everything is a matter of knowing good fingering,” Chopin said in an interview with Fox Sports, “you need good fingering to tackle, no less than the rest of the hand, the wrist, the forearm, and the upper arm.” His hands-on cover style has not played well with NFL zebras, resulting in 24 flags in two years. (Something to study.) Thrives in 3-4 formation. Against the run, Chopin is a wrap-up tackler who understands his role goes beyond that of pass defender.
CORNERBACK – “Heck No” Berlioz. Playing in place of the injured and only slightly less erratic Franky Liszt (hamstring), Berlioz is viewed by scouts as the weak link in the Classicals’ chain of armor. Transitions only adequately from backpedal to breaking on a route. Sometimes plays through a straw (or a spoon or a blunt or a needle) and slow to recognize run plays headed his way because he’s locked in on (obsessed with?) receiver. No more than a will-o-the-wisp tackler. Fantastique top-end speed. Excels as a punt returner, with Celliniesque grace and suddenness to avoid traffic, and instant acceleration to escape from side door. As with most special teams players, Berlioz has relinquished his soul to the devil.
STRONG SAFETY – Igor Strava. Back from a two-game suspension following the riot he ignited in the Classicals’ win over Paris, Strava is endlessly adaptable to defensive schemes: 4-4 stack, 6-2 run defense, 12-tone, nickel, neo-classic, 46 defense (in which Strava is one of eight in the box), prevent defense, goal line, and more. The complete package. Vertical jump: 36 inches; broad jump 19’ 13”. Attacks ball at high-point in a ritual action. Has secondary motor like a firebird for extended pursuit. Team co-captain, with Bach, and defensive leader, Strava is a veteran soldier of the secondary with tales to tell of picking golden fruit.
FREE SAFETY – Wolfy Moz. A playmaker, a chance-taker, a mover & shaker, perhaps the difference for the Classicals between mediocrity and playoff partakers. Freemason no less than free safety, Moz roams the secondary with enlightened football instincts, and ball-hawks like the legendary Don Giovanni, with a Rondo a la Turk closing spurt. Energizes the defense with his balanced, transparent style. At his best when he attacks spontaneously and ferociously rather than sit back in coverage and process. One expert who has thoroughly processed Moz’s Hall of Fame career, Charles Rosen, wrote, “It is only through recognizing the violence at the center of Moz’s athleticism that we can make a start towards a comprehension of his perfect pursuit angles and awe-inspiring tackles.” He can set the tempo of the game, and at times that tempo gets demonic, but when the Classicals follow Moz’s tempo they win.