Earl Okine is a giant of a physical specimen clocking in at 6’8″, 290. He played defensive end and tackle for the Florida Gators from 2009-2012. Over that period he managed 27 tackles and a sack. He’d go undrafted in 2013- later signing with the Houston Texans, and then briefly joining the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. In 2014, Earl played for the Orlando Predators of the Arena leagues, where I saw him play against the San Antonio Talons that year. He notched 28 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 pass blocks, and a forced fumble. Later he hopped over to the FXFL to join the Brooklyn Bolts.
Earl finally found a home in the NFL with the Colts in 2015, spending nearly the entire season on and off the Colts regular season roster and practice squad. He then spent the next year on the Kansas City Chiefs on the bubble of the roster as well at OLB. After a short stay on the Lions, he’d spend the entire 2017 season on the practice squad of the Cardinals.
He’d join the Alliance of American Football in 2018- signing with the Orlando Apollos. The Apollos decided to put Earl’s strengths to best use at outside linebacker. Earl started 7 games for the 7-1 Apollos. He finished with 26 tackles, 5 sacks, and a critical tipped ball interception that he made to seal the win against the Memphis Express in Week 8.
Matt Leinart attended USC and played QB for the Trojans, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2004 and multiple awards during his college career. After taking over for Carson Palmer in 2003, Leinart won Associated Press National Championships in 2003 and 2004, and would’ve capped off his Senior year with another victory- if not for that pesky Texas Longhorns squad in the Rose Bowl. He’d finish as the Trojans all-time leading cumulative passer in many categories including completion percentage (64.8%) and TDs (99).
He’d be selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the 10th overall pick of the 2006 draft. Contentious negotiations caused a holdout, and as a result Kurt Warner stepped up as starter. Still Matt played well during his rookie season, setting a new benchmark for a rookie, in single-game passing yardage with 405 yards, against the Vikings. He’d start 11 games in the end, but sprain his shoulder to conclude his rookie year. The numbers weren’t bad for a rookie campaign, especially since it was the Cardinals. Matt had 2547 yards and 11 TDs to 12 interceptions. – This would actually represent a high mark statistically for his career.
Handed the starting QB job by new coach Ken Whisenhunt in 2007, Leinart broke his collarbone in early October- ending his season. He’d finish with 647 yards passing and 2 TDs in 5 starts. Warner took over as starter in 2008 as Matt rode the bench playing sporadically through 2009. He’d again regain the mantle as starter in 2010, but lose out in camp to Derek Anderson, and later be cut by the team.
The Houston Texans signed Matt as their backup to incumbent Matt Schaub, but he didn’t see any significant playing time. The Texans were having one of their finest seasons in 2011, but after Matt Schaub suffered a lins franc injury, Leinart stepped in as starter against the Jags. At first everybody waited with baited breath to see what Leinart would do, but he came out firing going 10 of 13 for 57 yards and a TD- before he broke his collarbone and yielding to the legend known as ‘TJ Yates’. Leinart again finished on IR for the season.
Cut by the Houston Texans in 2012, Matt played for the Raiders for one season- backing up former teammate Carson Palmer. He’d then be in camp briefly for the Bills in 2013, but after being cut, elected to retire.
I was not a great fan of Matt Leinart. After he played at USC, and then lost to the University of Texas in the Rose Bowl, he was I guess, caught off guard, and just said all the wrong things to the camera. It pretty much set up my dislike for him, as I felt he was trying to take something away from UT for beating the Trojans in the game.
It’s whatever. I think we’re the better football team. You know, they just made the plays in the end.
What I got out of it was, “The best team didn’t win today,” And unfortunately when you lose any game, you are not the best team on that given day- so I though the comment reeked of bad sportsmanship- especially when the best team is the one that always wins!
When he came to the Texans, I was initially not happy about the arrangement at all, but mellowed on him after listening to how he’d changed his life and abandoned his hard partying ways. He grew on me, and I was actually sad when the team cut him in 2012.
As of 2019, Matt does studio analysis for Fox Sports College Football. I had hoped to corral Matt at the Longhorns USC game in 2018, but he didn’t appear, so I went ahead and gave him a shot in the dark after getting some encouragement and tips from my friend Deadhorse. After 4 months or so I got quite a jolt out of getting both of these autographs back- that’s for sure!
Mike’s career continued after his release from the Cardinals. In 2018, he signed with the fledgling Alliance of American Football. (I recognized the name immediately when he was assigned to the Arizona Hotshots thanks in part to the league’s territorial allocation.) Later in the year- perhaps out of the fact that some teams were unfairly blessed with an abundance at quarterback, the AAF decided to hold a Pick or Protect draft, to balance out the rosters a bit.
Mike was taken at the top of Round 2 by the San Diego Fleet, where it was planned he’d grow under the tutelage of offensive mastermind Mike Martz, and behind overall #1 pick Josh Johnson. This didn’t happen because almost immediately after the draft, Josh signed with the NFL Washington Redskins. Moving ahead with Berco at starting quarterback allowed the Fleet to plan around him however and prepare him for the rigors of the AAF season.
I didn’t get Mike’s autograph before the first game in league history, even though they were practicing only a few feet from me. I didn’t realize how he’d be a poster boy for the league in the league’s brief highlight film.
“Hey, whatever this league needs to get people excited, if that’s what it takes, then I’ll take the bullet.”
-Mike Bercovici (on ‘the hit’)
The Commanders ended up beating the Fleet on opening night in San Antonio, punctuated by 6 sacks and 2 interceptions. One of those sacks, LB Shaan Washington came across the line and almost decapitated Mike Bercovici from his blindside. The crowd was dead silent fora brief second as we looked around, and then erupted into a gladiator-like rousing applause at the fact that there was no flag. I thought that perhaps he suffered a concussion, but at some point during that game, Berco was sat for Philip Nelson.
Mike regained the starting position a few games later after Nelson went down with an injury. He’d complete 22 or 43 passes (304 yards) with a TD, leading the Fleet to the game winning drive over the Stallions 27-25. In fact he’d throw for 300 yards in the next two games as well, against the Iron (311 yards) and the Hotshots (310 yards).
Despite Mike’s struggles, he was quite lovable as a quarterback. He finished with 5 TDs to 9 picks, on 51% completions with 1,311 yards. His numbers are actually all the more impressive because he only started 4 games. The league folded after Week 8, and Mike decided to hang up his cleats and go into coaching.
He currently works as a graduate assistant at Arizona State.
I really wanted Mike’s autograph on these cards of his, and after a bit of digging, missing on an address, and a little help from Mark’s Signing Bonus, I was able to track him down on these great cards of his. I liked Berco and I had high hopes that he’d make a great ambassador of the league as the AAF moved forward.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.