Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winter Wildness

Brace yourselves because we have officially entered the best sports stretch of the calendar year, lasting from December 18 to February 5.  Some might give this award to the days of March Madness, but during that manic period we are only interested in one sport.  Winter Wildness encompasses three sports: College Football Bowl Season, NFL Every-Single-Game-Is-A-Playoff-Game excitement, and The Start of the Basketball Season (pre-Christmas games are usually the least exciting ones and non-predictive of a team’s eventual success even in non-abbreviated seasons). 

This might be the best Winter Wildness in recent memory. 

Convincing a casual college football fan to watch College Football’s (SEC) Championship game will be like convincing a casual movie fan to watch Citizen Kane; sure it’s going to be “great” but I’d much rather watch something more funny, bloody, or interesting.  Still, even with the anti-climactic, this-is-why-we-need-a-playoff-game Championship affair between LSU and Alabama, the entire bowl season is not tarnished.  There are a few intriguing games. 
Orson Welles would have been one of the biggest supporters of the BCS.
As usual, the best game of the bunch is in the Fiesta Bowl, where Andrew Luck and Stanford face off against OSU, who is the most logical title game replacement for Alabama.  Other high points include Oregon against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Houston and whatever remains of Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl, and FSU taking on Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.  However the game that I am most looking forward to has got to be 11-1 Boise State against 6-6 Arizona State. 

I cannot foresee a scenario where this is not the biggest beat-down of the Bowl Season.  Let me rephrase that, I cannot foresee a scenario where this is not the angriest demolition in college football history (slow down John Gruden).  Obviously, there should never be a bowl game between an eleven win team and a six win one.  It’s a joke that Boise needs to waste their time against the Sun Devils.  Boise State was a top 10 team all year and should have been in a major BCS Bowl.  Even the normally stoic head coach, Chris Peterson, bashed the BCS for taking away the opportunity for his players to compete against appropriately talented opposition.  Kellen Moore is in his last college football game.  Aside from this determination to clobber, the numbers signal a massacre too.  Arizona State is 64th in points against.  This would normally be a problem, but it is an execution sentence against Boise, who reps the number seven offense in the country.  This is going to be great T.V.
The San Diego Chargers have put themselves in a position where they
will need to win every game and get some added luck if they want to
make the postseason.  This was the plan all along.
The pro game’s contribution to Winter Wildness is at an all-time high.  At the start of the week 15 games, three teams already clinched playoff births.  An additional three AFC teams have 10 wins and are all on the verge of securing a postseason spot as well.  Two divisions (AFC West, NFC East) have third place teams (San Diego and Philadelphia) who are under .500 but within just 2 games of their divisional leaders.  If the season ended today, there would be five teams who missed the playoffs by just one game.  This number does not include San Diego, who is the only AFC West team that has scored more points than they have allowed, or the Eagles who have postseason hopefuls the next two weeks and the talent to play a major role on the playoff situation for both conferences.  Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts continue their pursuit of historic ineptitude.  Oh, and did I mention the Packers are chasing a 19-0 season?  In my preseason predictions, I said it would take until the end of week 15 for the Packers to clinch their conference.  This will be the case and I cannot imagine that the Packers would allow division rivals Chicago and/or Detroit to be the teams to ruin their quest for perfection.     

NFL Quotes of the Week:

1. “I sit at home, start watching TV and all I’m seeing is Tebow.  That’s kind of disturbing. We have a guy here [Rodgers] that’s breaking records every week and you have a guy in Tebow that’s saying ‘God’ every word and he gets coverage. Of course I love my faith and God but come on man.” – Jermichael Finley 

-If Tim Tebow gets a single first place MVP vote, I will lose all my respect for the Associated Press.  The award will be a total sham.  I will need to hunt down whoever is responsible for that Rodgers/Brees/Brady (but mostly Rodgers) injustice and write him a very, very lengthy letter. 

2. When asked about his playing status for his Week 15 game, Adrian Peterson said,  “It’s very important, especially for my fantasy team owners.” 

-Adrian Peterson is officially the number 1 overall fantasy pick until he retires.  Not only is he the best running back in the game, but he seems to be legitimately concerned with maintaining that position, unlike other previous running back elites like Brian Westbrook, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Arian Foster. 
There is no denying it; Adrian Peterson is the Vince Lombardi of
Fantasy Football.  
The NBA is going to be exciting for its usual reasons but the anticipation has been cranked up this year, at least for me, because I can’t wait to see the next, and then the next, and then the next managerial/Sternian/league-wide disaster.  Every week we have something new.  Since the lockout has been resolved, there’s no longer a fear of a canceled season, which means we get to just sit back and watch the countless catastrophes unfold.  My prediction for the month of January: Howard refuses to go to practice until he is traded, he gets sent to New Jersey, Mikhail Prokhorov is found to have  tampered with Howard, he loses his ownership of the team, and part-owner, Jay-Z, takes over the helm, telling reporters, “I got 99 problems but Prokhorov ain’t one.” 

This reminds me…   

Does something seem strange about this.  Battlefield 3 has chosen “99 Problems” by Jay-Z as the song for their commercial.  Great song, but why use one that has “bitch” in it’s chorus if you can’t say that in a television commercial?  The first time I saw the commercial I was wondering what word they chose to replace it.  But, alas, there was no replacement, just an awkward edit.  I guess they’re trying to appeal to a certain audience by using a Black Album “throwback”, but at what cost?  It sounds terrible!  Do you seriously mean to tell me that someone thought, “hey this is a good song choice,” and then, somehow, that final version of the commercial got passed up from executive to executive without anyone saying, “Hey, wait a minute here.”  Not to mention, what in the world does a racist cop and an attempt at an illegal drug bust have to do with war? 

I conclude this article with my picks for the weekend. 

Dallas (-7) over Tampa Bay.
Dallas cannot lose another game this season.

NY Giants (-6.5) over Washington
If they win their next two, the Giants will be one of the top NFC teams come playoffs.

Green Bay (-13.5) over Kansas City
The Jets covered this spread last week against KC.  Green Bay wins by double it.

New Orleans (-8) over Minnesota
Brees is on a tear and New Orleans must redeem themselves after a near loss to Jake Locker last week.

Seattle (+3.5) over Chicago.
Seattle will win this game outright.

Miami (+1) over Buffalo
Two team heading in the opposite direction. 

Houston (-6) over Carolina
Cam Newton will struggle against Houston’s number 3 pass defense and number 4 rush defense.

Indianapolis (+6.5) over Tennessee
Playing at home, Indianapolis will show what they’re made of and lose by 4. 

Cincinnati (-7) over St. Louis
Gruden and Jaws were legitimately angry watching The Rams on Monday Night.  They should be Alabama’s BCS game replacement.

Oakland (+1) over Detroit
Detroit should send a thank you note to injured Bears offensive leaders, Cutler and Forte, for allowing them to limp into the playoffs.  That is, unless they continue their losing ways…        

New England (-7.5) over Denver
This game ends one of two ways: (1) New England wins by 2+ touchdowns or (2) Denver wins by less than a field goal.  I’m going with option 1. 

Philadelphia (-3) over NY Jets
I still can’t get the mismanagement of mobile Tim Tebow out of my head.  The AFC playoff chase is about to get really, really interesting.   

Cleveland (+6.5) over Arizona
Upset!  Arizona’s three-game win streak has people thinking they’re significantly better than Cleveland.  They’re not.  Fitzgerald will be held in check on Haden Peninsula. – (that was the best line of this column) 

San Diego (+2.5) over Baltimore
I still have a difficult time believing in the Ravens.  They’ve looked very average several times this season, but their crazy, not-indicative-of-the-quality-of-the-team wins against Pittsburg hide this fact.  San Diego can officially not lose another game, which is just where they want to be. 

Pittsburg (+2.5) over San Francisco
Forget the Baltimore loses; Pittsburg is one of the NFL’s elite.  With or without Big Ben, the Steelers teach the upstart 49ers a thing or two about big time football. 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fandom à la Quentin Tarantino

If you ask ten movie buffs to tell you the greatest movie of all time, you’ll probably get ten different answers (mine: Pulp Fiction).  If you ask those same ten movie buffs to tell you the greatest movie since the greatest movie of all time, you’ll probably get ten different answers (mine: Inglorious Basterds).  If you ask ten movie buffs to tell you the greatest directors of all time, you should get only one answer (Quentin Tarantino).

Tarantino has no problem using curses (bastard), but needs to improve
his spelling of them (basterd)
One of the glorious bastard’s movie trademarks is the use of non-linear plots.  I say such methods of presentation are interesting because they present the viewer with different perspectives and the benefit of foresight.  Tarantino haters (and these people do exist) say such methods are annoying and are intentionally done so everyone knows just who directed the film.  If you fall into the latter category, you might want to copy and paste this article so it better follows your ideals of a standard story.

December 13, 2011; 3:15 PM

“What took so long?” asked my dad when I arrived back at the house.

“I had to go to four different stores, but I finally got it.”

“So what was this article you needed to read?”

“Well, it wasn’t really an article.  It was a quote.”

“A quote?  You spent five dollars on a quote?”

December 8, 2011; 4:00 PM

After being on winter break for two and a half weeks, I decided it was finally time for me to put an abrupt end to the developing Jew Fro on my head.  When I walked into the shop, my barber had her hands full with a mini 13 year old Guido, so, knowing from not just Jersey Shore but life experiences, I figured I had a few minutes to kill. I went to the magazine rack and grabbed the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine, the most important of my haircut rituals.  One more glance at Pauli D told me that I probably didn’t have enough time for a full article. 

I turned towards a page that posed different athletes the following question: “If 1 equals, ‘They need to read Football For Dummies’ and 10 equals, ‘They’re like extra coaches!’… How knowledgeable are fans of your sport?”  Being a fan myself, and someone who likes to think he is particularly knowledgeable, this question had particular significance. 

Adrian Wilson, a three time All Pro Strong Safety, who would be more frequently listed among the NFL’s elite defensive players were he not stranded in the desert of Arizona, responded with a ten.  To be honest, ten seems a bit high, but I liked where he was going.  He talked about how Twitter and fantasy football make everyone more knowledgeable.  On the complete other end of the spectrum was a linebacker whose name escaped me immediately after putting the magazine down.  He said something to the effect of fans now knowing anything.  He gave us fans a 1/10.  Ouch.

Around this time Nina informed me that she was ready for me.  I angrily slammed the magazine back into the shelf and proceeded to have a mini, silent conniption for the entirety of my hair cut.  Who the hell does he think he is?  One?  I know nothing about the sport of football?

December 12, 2011; 1:32 AM

I knew I wanted to write something in response, but I needed to find the actual quote first.  At the time of my haircut I had so many things to say, but without the word-for-word quotation an article would be grossly incomplete. 

December 13, 2011; 3:45 PM

I finally sat down to write this blog article, now that I obtained a hard copy of the sought-after quote:

“They’re fans for a reason.  They have no knowledge of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it” – Kevin Burnett, Dolphins linebacker.

December 8, 2011; 4:07 PM

As I sat in that barber chair with my hairs trickling down my neck and thinking about how nice my post-haircut shower was going to be, I continued to contemplate the absurd quote.  They’re fans for a reason?  Is Burnett suggesting that if I was more knowledgeable about football I’d be on a professional team?  I fail to see the correlation.  In 2008, the Eagles and Bengals played a game that ended in a tie after neither team could produce a point in overtime.  Donovan McNabb explained that he had no idea a NFL game could end in a tie (The best part of this video is the stammering reporter. “You… you seriously didn’t know that?  You thought there was another overtime?  Oh, wow.”)  What NFL fan doesn’t know ties exist in the NFL?  Every other season in Madden’s franchise mode has at least one simulated tie!  There was a tie game in 2002 while McNabb was in the NFL!  So, Burnett, why then is he still a professional quarterback?  (In this example I actually don’t know why Donovan McNabb is still a professional quarterback.)
Strong words from a... strong man
I think the more likely reason that I’m not a professional athlete is that I’m not talented enough.  At 5’ 9 ¾’’ (clinging to that ¾) I am the Shaq of the Weinberger family.  Unfortunately, most of the world’s population isn’t the offspring of generations upon generations of circus midgets.  Granted, there are small professional athletes, but they’re able to overcome the genetic disadvantage with lightning speed, years upon years of intense practice, other-worldly amounts of coordination and general athleticism, and a hostile parent or two.  I have none of these. 

December 13, 2011; 2:15 PM

When children go off to college, cruel parents do malicious things.  Bedrooms become gyms and libraries, annoying pets suddenly “die”, the box of baseball cards that said, “Do Not Touch!” is touched.  Thankfully, none of these things happened to me, although my parents did regrettably cancel our ESPN Magazine subscription.  After a quick search on Google and proved useless, I realized I needed to pick up the issue myself to find the desired quote.   

And so began the next hour of my life.  Wawa (NJ area, high-class 7-11) was a bust.  Rite Aid had five-thousand different Justin Bieber magazines but nothing on sports.  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was in Limited Too.  I tried a supermarket, but they only carried “Sports Magazine.”  I didn’t even know that was a thing.  Then, finally, seven dollars of gas later, I found it at Shop Rite. 

December 8, 2011; 4:10 PM

They have no knowledge of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it?  Enlighten me.  Do you mean to say I don’t understand the complex dynamics of being a professional football athlete?  I have to agree with you on this one.  I’ve long since wondered about the player dynamics and interactions that prompt a plethora of puzzling occurrences. 

Why do professional athletes leave their longtime homes and loyal ownership, coaches, and fan bases to get an extra three million dollars over the course of five years when they’re already bringing in 25 million over that same time span?  How can an athlete call himself a competitor after he gets together with other phonies and decides to partner-up and take the easy way out?  Why, after a athlete’s team makes a game-changing play, does he lose all control of his emotions and taunt, hit, and speak in a manner that he knows is illegal and, in doing so, shows no respect for the game so many wish they could get paid to play?  Since when are salsa dances and skits spontaneous demonstrations of the emotions associated with success?  What could possibly make athletes think that the pot they’re smoking won’t come up on the drug test they know they’re taking that week?  Why are some players so idiotic that they Tweet before they think?  I suppose it’s a mystery because I have no knowledge of what they’re doing or how they’re doing it.

December 12, 2011; 12:06 AM

As I listened to Chris Collinsworth lament about the weekly fourth quarter Dallas Cowboys meltdown, I wondered quietly to myself how and why the end-of-game breakdowns are basically the only constant in the entire organization.  Coaches, personal, opponents, and end-of-game situations all change but the one thing that doesn’t is the unequivocal fact that Dallas will painfully squander away a lead in a game that they should have wrapped up midway through the fourth quarter.  There isn’t a player on the roster that hasn’t been one of the two to five players who are largely responsible for each loss.  There isn’t a coach on the payroll that hasn’t been one of the two to five coaches responsible for each loss. 

Suddenly, the truth hit me like a locomotive.  Kevin Burnett was right

Fanatics don’t know.  We don’t know what it feels like to be a part of a team like the Cowboys.  Every move a player makes is analyzed, debated, and further analyzed by the public.  All we see is the final product, but we have no sense of the hundreds of steps and decisions that went into creating it, regardless of whether the final result is good or bad.  I know how something should be done, but not how to actually do it and you can only know if you’ve played at the professional level.  Statistics are the guiding voice behind much of sports writing and fan support, but numbers don’t actually mean anything, case and point being Tebow’s tremendous success.  Athletes are people and a number cannot measure our lives or theirs.  For every statistic there are countless exceptions.

When the Jets call a run play on third and five I lose control. What are they thinking?  That never works.  Really, it never works?  Do the coaches have a big spread sheet with the percent success for each play call in every possible situation?  Is a run on third and five a 0%?  Of course not.  Think of all the intricacies that go into each decision.  How did the team do with the play in practice this past week?  Did film studies reveal that the other team’s linebackers quickly drop into coverage on third and medium distance?  Does Sanchez need to take a breather?  Has Shonn Greene been barking for the ball?    

Marion Barber bamboozled NFL fans across the country last weekend when he ran out of bounds, thus setting the stage for Tebow’s most improbable Tebowing to date.  Everyone knows that if you stay in bounds the game is virtually over, but when you look through the eyes of a professional running back, Barber’s mental error was far from inexplicable.  If Barber stayed in the field of play Tebow would have had roughly 20-25 seconds to get Denver into field goal range, rather than the minute Barber gave him.  Who are we to say that Tebow wouldn’t have driven Denver down the field anyways?  A Chicago first down would have ended the game.  Marion Barber would have been the hero, not the goat.  
As much as he may not want to admit it, Barber’s become a second-rate running back.  He’s playing for his job every time he touches the pigskin, but, with the Forte injury, he has a chance to earn millions of dollars if he plays well in relief.  Imagine how that pressure would impact your job performance.  I wonder if you’d make a mistake.  A former pro-bowler who once scored 16 touchdowns in a season, Barber probably still believes he has the talent to be one of the league’s top backs and, for a split second, these factors contributed to a major mental lapse.    
Barber's disastrous Sunday probably cost him a million dollars
over the rest of his career
This type of confidence (some might call it arrogance) is the norm in professional sports and is the driving force behind the huge salaries, contract disputes, and controversial team departures.  Fans sit back and criticize athletes for these things and I include myself in this group.  But, is it not true that the same people who are harsh on “disloyal” athletes are the same ones who hate on LeBron James and similar figures because of a seeming lack of self-confidence?  Hot headed and/or high priced players are scorned for their arrogance while collaborators and gathering superstars are under siege for not having enough of it. 

I’ve always said professional athletes need to be blind to their public image.  After losing in the NBA Finals last season, LeBron James enraged fans across the country when he basically said, “You guys like to cheer for my defeat, but I get to be LeBron James and you don’t.  You wish you were me.”  Arrogant?  Yes.  Out of line? Yes.  But, he’s right.  Why should he care what a planet of inferior physical specimens think of him?  Of course, we don’t want to hear that.    

We don’t know everything.  Adrian Wilson, I appreciate you saying fans are a 10/10, but you are oh so wrong.  There is so much more fans do not and will not ever understand than what they can grasp.  This discrepancy is what being a fan is all about.  It’s not a conscious thought, but us super-fans are trying to cross the continuum.  We want to be a 10/10 and will absorb any statistic that helps us in this endeavor.  We watch 24/7 ESPN punditry because these guys are the “experts.”  I can break out that Steven A. Smith bombastic remark when someone questions my knowledge.  If I listen to Adam Schefter enough maybe I will move up half a point on the ten point scale.  After 50 online Madden Games I can understand the strengths and weaknesses of Cover 2, 3, and 4.  I know when to blitz and when to drop nine in coverage.  But life isn’t as simple as a video game. 

I don’t have a wide receiver breathing down my neck for the ball.  I’m not sore from taking a hit.  There isn’t going to be an article in the newspaper the next day ridiculing Sportfan99999 for attempting a two point conversion in the second quarter against xxLegendxx in their 11:30 PM Madden match.  My opponent hasn’t studied every play I’ve run over the last three weeks.  My livelihood doesn’t depend on the result.    

Why do talented college players bust?  They fail to perform because before they get paid to play, college players are very, very talented fans.  They don’t know what professional sports are like because they’ve never played them or been privy to the inner workings of the league.  Why are some promising assistant and college level coaches great successes while others cannot make the transition to head coach?  It’s the same problem.    

Still though, fans do know more now than they ever have before.  Within the next 20 years a professional sports team is going to have a head coach who’s previous experiences began with fantasy sports, religiously watching ESPN, and hours upon hours of a day devoted to sports video games rather than through playing or coaching at an early age.  We know the X’s and O’s, but nothing is as simple as the things that should work.  To be truly knowledgeable, someone must be a master of strategy as well as the intangible variability and before they are thrown into the locker rooms and game plans of their favorite teams, they cannot and will not ever surpass the midpoint on the knowledgeable scale. 

So what does all this mean?  Am I going to abandon my fandom since I don’t actually know much?  Does today mark the last time I will criticize an athlete or coach?  Don’t be absurd; that’s the best part of being a fan.  When you spend your time arguing could-haves and should-haves, you can never be wrong! 

Maybe I’ll just change my approach to skepticism.  I won’t say, “That was stupid.”  Instead, I will say, “I wonder what could have possibly made him think that would work.  Something must be driving the decision and given the disastrous results, I am truly in awe of how polarizing that factor must have been!”  I might never get to a 10/10, but I am certainly going to keep trying and I don’t care what my skeptics (professional athletes) say, just like they should do with us fans. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Week 14: Brees, Houston, Tebowmania, and Plenty of Head-Scratching

Just when you thought the NFL could not get any more popular, three things happened: (1) The NBA continues to prove it is miles behind the NFL through never-ending superstar drama, (2) Ryan Braun singlehandedly revives legitimacy questions in baseball, and (3) Week 14 happened. 

One of these days Drew Brees has to win the MVP award, the fact that he hasn’t done so already is shocking.  With Sunday’s most recent passing triumph, Marino’s single season passing record, which has been surprisingly resilient, is almost destined to fall.  Brees is on pace to hit just under 5,400 yards, which would be 300 more yards than Marino.  In additional to the New Orleans quarterback, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and even Eli Manning are all within striking range of the historic mark.  Brady will finish the season as the AFC’s best offensive player and Aaron Rodgers is already contemplating which color tie he’s going to wear for his MVP acceptance speech (green is in the lead).  Brees will need to wait at least one more year to break out his MVP suit.    

For the third consecutive year, Brees has thrown for both 4,000 yards+ and 30 touchdowns.  It will be the third time in four years that he’s gone over 4,600 and 30.  These are numbers that we have never seen before.  Brees blows away his peers, even in an age of passing.  Brady has gone for 4,000 and 30 in the same season only twice (one time being the current season) and eclipsed 4,600 yards only once (he will do it again this year).  Peyton Manning has hit the benchmark six times during his career, but gone for over 4,600 and 30 only once.  Marino went for over 4,600 and 30 twice.  Warner did it once.  Favre?  Never. 
Never mind his Super Bowl MVP award, something has to be done to get
Brees some personal accolades.  
If Brees records a modest 250 yards and two touchdowns per game for the duration of the season, his final totals will be 5,118 (still the record) and 38.  This would make his numbers since moving to New Orleans a gaudy 4,672 yards and 32 touchdowns per season.  Drew Brees will be averaging numbers that hall of famers and future hall of famers have touched only a few times during their illustrious careers.  I’ve considered Brees to be a borderline Hall of Famer, but with one or two more 4,000 yard seasons (that is to say, one or two more season) Brees will be joining the above names in Canton. 

Yet, in the MVP count, Brees is far behind the two best quarterbacks of the past decade.  That gap will probably never close, despite the fact that Brees has transformed a perennial loser into a postseason regular.  It took Kobe Bryant 12 years to win a MVP award.  Brees’ lack of personal recognition is the second most surprising one in recent memory. 

Of course, Brees will never draw attention to his play; it’s about the team. 

With yet another offensive Rembrandt, New Orleans is the no-doubt-about-it second best team in the conference.  I am still unwilling to hand that award to San Francisco.  Without a 100% Patrick Willis I am unsure as to whether or not the 49ers will win their first playoff game, regardless of who they face.  But, against Drew Brees and his 99999999 different weapons, I just can’t come to terms with an Alex Smith led attack coming out on top.  NFL fans were provided with a treat week one when the Saints and Pac faced off in what is still Green Bay’s most difficult win of the season.  Anticipate a rematch in the conference championship.  The Saints are absolutely on fire and only Aaron Rodgers can stop them.    

If the NFC is set, what do we make of the AFC?  For the first time since the preseason, I can foresee a scenario where the conference championship game is not a permutation of last year’s AFC Final Four.  For one, I am still unsure of the Jets’ true identity.  Defeating the Bills, Redskins, and Chiefs is simply not enough to give me any confidence moving forward.  They could easily lose their next three games against the dangerous Eagles, determined Giants, and hot-and-bothered Dolphins.  So who fills the void? 

If I asked you in the preseason to predict the first AFC team to clinch a playoff spot, who would you have said?  If you say the Texans, you are lying.  For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Texans are in the playoffs.  This is the biggest story of the past weekend.  It probably took until week 10 for me to give them any credit for this accomplishment, but their legitimacy is now without question.  Even a Peyton Manning Indianapolis team would be unable to take this division.  Injuries have been a factor for a cornucopia of teams around the league, but nobody has been hit as hard as Houston, who have been without their two best players for most of the season (Mario Williams, Andre Johnson) and, recently, Matt Schaub.  Not only have they survived, they’ve thrived.  How is this possible?
Baring another injury (which really wouldn't be surprising), T.J. Yates will
be the first quarterback to start a playoff game for the Houston Texans
Heading into their week 11 bye, the Houston Texans were 7-3, but only one of those wins (week 4 against the Steelers) was decided by a single score.  All their other victories were by more than a touchdown.  Houston demonstrated they have the fire power to blow away opponents.  But, since the bye, the Texans have proved they can win ugly, competitive football games too.  A combined 15 points have decided their last three wins and no game has been as impressive as this past Sunday against Cincinnati.  With two minutes left, 80 yards to go, and the Texans needing a touchdown to win, T.J. Yates harnessed his inner, well, inner T.J. Yates, the only Texans quarterback to go to the playoffs, and drove his team down the field for a game winning score with two ticks remaining.  Not bad for a third string rookie quarterback.   

The aforementioned Jets proved the last two years that a elite quarterback is not necessary to make a postseason run, so long as everything else is in place.  Houston is for real.  They rank in the top five in rushing yards, pass defense, and rush defense.  Forget their pathetic history; Houston is a legitimate Super Bowl contender and is the type of team that can defeat Green Bay.  In fact, Houston’s embarrassing past actually ameliorates their Super Bowl chances. 

Over the past two seasons, the Jets, Pats, Steelers, and Ravens have been in a constant battle for conference supremacy.  There have been 17 games played between these four teams, with each team player the others two or more times, with the exception of the Patriots and Ravens who played just once (although who can forget the beat down the Ravens handed them in the 2009 playoffs the previous year).  But, the Texans?  Over the same time span, the Jets and Steelers have played Houston once, Baltimore has gone against the Texans twice, and the Patriots are yet to face them.  And, really, the big four have remained pretty much the same for two years while Houston has completely changed their game and made drastic improvements over that period.  There is no established game plan for any of these four against Houston as there is when they face each other.  Enigmatic Houston is a wildcard in this upcoming postseason and nobody wants to play them.  I still like Pittsburg and New England to advance to the Super Bowl, but the Texans have the best chance of any AFC team to win it all.   

So, that set’s it, right?  My AFC playoff teams are New England, Houston, Pittsburg, Baltimore, New York, and… Who am I missing?  Oh, yeah, right, Denver.

I’ve been relatively quiet with regards to the surging Tebowmania that’s spreading across the country.  To be honest, up until this past weekend, I just didn’t have anything noteworthy to contribute.  I was opinion-less; before I could proclaim Tebow the God of all Gods, or, likewise, the most overrated and annoying storyline of the season, I needed to see more from him. 

Denver has faced a schedule of the most average teams in football, not to be confused with the worst teams in football.  If you take away the outlier of 2-11 Minnesota (which will be diluted with New England this week anyways), Denver’s opponents have a current record of 33-32.  The only thing more perfect that this definition of mediocrity is the record Denver has had over that same stretch.   

Football purists have been Tebow doubters from day one, and rightfully so.  An interesting poll would be to find out what quarterback trait better epitomizes ugly: Tebow’s throwing motion or Joe Flacco’s appearance?  There have been scrambling quarterbacks before, but guys like Vick and Young did it with speed, not brute strength and impact running.  Similarly, none of these uncommon specimens entirely altered their team’s offensive strategy and some argue, in the case of Tebow, retarded it. 
People seem to have forgotten just how responsible Tebow was for
Florida's success 
For essentially the history of the game, quarterback play has been an art form of sorts.  Brute strength, intensity, and unconventionality were not important components.  The best quarterbacks are the ones who coolly wait in the pocket and deliver a tight spiral with accuracy and the appropriate amount of velocity.  And that is why the option, single wing, and other college style offenses would never work in the NFL.  Defenders are apparently too fast and intelligent to be defeated by such “simplistic” tactics.  Yet, Tebow’s gritty, downhill running and wobbling, two mile-per-hour passes, paired with a “high school” style offense, have triumphed for six consecutive weeks.  People have been saying it’s unexplainable.  It is not.  

If you bring Pat White or Denard Robinson into this offense would you expect similar results?  Of course not.  This offensive game plan has worked because Tebow is just that good.  He is such an effective runner and scrambling passer that defenses have to respect him at all times.  Run plays, draw plays, play action, simple drop backs, and empty shotgun sets, regardless of the game situation, are all essentially the same in the way the defense must approach them defensively. 

I’ve never been a buyer into the “intangibles” and “game manager” characterizations.  If these are noteworthy parts of a quarterback’s game he probably isn’t very good.  Tebow has these in spades, but he has also made some tremendous plays this season.  His fourth quarter touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, rolling right and throwing across his body was a sensational pass.  His touchdown run against the Jets was as smart as it was physically unparalleled. 

Tebow’s success isn’t about the possibility for other option style quarterbacks to succeed in the pros.  Trent Dilfer and quarterback coaches across the country can still breathe easily.  Have people forgotten the success Tebow had in college while using the same approach? So what if it wasn’t against the pros and so what if tons of players and schools use it?  Florida ran their offense better than anyone then and now.  Tebow was as much responsible for Florida’s success as he is that of Denver.  He is a once in a generation player. 

There are certain athletes whose athleticism, size, coordination, and sports I.Q. would make them superstars at whatever sport they desire.  Think LeBron James, Albert Pujols, and Antonio Gates.  They are all as successful in their approach to their sport as they are unconventional.  Not too many small forwards play the point.  Before Gates, undersized power forwards would have never been thought of as football talents.  Pujols defies his power hitter label and seems as concerned with his average as his RBI count.  Add to that category Tim Tebow, someone who finds just as much success on the football field as he would on the court, the rink, or the diamond.  In any sport, when the score gets tight, the team with the best athlete will usually come out on top.  When looked at in this light, Tebow’s success is anything but unusual. 

If the Tebow talk is already ubiquitous, let’s just pretend, for a second, that the Denver Broncos somehow defeat the New England Patriots.  The mere thought of this is enough to explode Skip Bayless’ head and Chris Berman’s gut.  If they can pull off this upset, get ready for Bill Belichick’s most entertaining postgame comments possibly ever.  After a Denver victory, I will be ready to proclaim the Broncos as the new Super Bowl favorite of the AFC and that is not meant as hyperbole.
Listening to Chris Berman carry on about Tim Tebow is like hearing a
13 year old girl talk about Justin Bieber
This game has two possible directions it could go.  One possibility is that the Patriots and Tom Brady play with a this-has-got-to-be-a-joke-we-are-the-Patriots-and-are-going-to-humiliate-Tebow-so-badly-it-will-destroy-his-spirits anger.  We have seen this from them before.  It seems like every year a team on the verge of the AFC summit must first, and rightfully so, run the gauntlet with the New England Patriots.  History tells us that in these situations, the Patriots play with a tenacity that reflects the fact that they believe they are still the AFC elite.  We saw this last year when the 9-2 Patriots faced the upstart 9-2 Jets, humiliating them 45-3.  In 2007, the undefeated Patriots crushed the chatty, on-a-roll 9-3 Steelers by the score of 34-14.  There is a very distinct chance we see this again next Sunday at 4:15. 

Then again, what about the whole close-game-best-athlete-wins thing?  If the game is not over by the fourth quarter, how can anyone doubt the Broncos at this point?  I mean, honestly, how many times do we need to see Tebow’s end-of-game heroics before it becomes the expectation not the exception?  I don’t think it will get to this point, but I’m taking the Broncos if New England is up by 10 or less heading into the fourth. 

The Saints, Texans, and Broncos represent the weekend’s best.  But what about the worst?  I conclude with three separate occasions this past Sunday that caused me to say, “That is the most pathetic/dumb thing I have ever seen/heard,” (yes, I said the word “slash”) because I just can’t think of a better way to wrap up this article.    

Weekend’s Worst:

With the game basically over, Kansas City attempted an onside kick following a score against the New York Jets.  Everything seemed to be okay, that is, until the ball fell of the tee, was kicked by Ryan Succop, and traveled a total of 1 yard.  A related part of the weekend’s worst: having the last name “suck-up.”   

With just over two minutes to go in the Broncos – Bears game, I was stunned by two different events.  First, and perhaps most perplexing, after the Broncos scored to get within three, despite the fact that they had no timeouts remaining, the esteemed Fox Broadcast crew of Kenny Albert, Moose Johnston, and Tony Siragusa were all in agreement that the Broncos should kick the ball deep and not go for an onside kick.  Siragusa exclaimed, “The Bears aren’t movin’ it ya’ guys, so they just gotta dig in there and, duh, um, defense, defense, defense,” or something to that effect. 
Perhaps all the center and guard head-clubbings have impacted
Goose's football mind
Excuse me?  You do understand that one play would take the Bears to the warning, the second play, which you would estimate takes 5 seconds, would take the clock to 1:55, the 39 seconds between the first and second play would leave 1:16, another 5 second play takes it to 1:11, at which point there would be another 40 second runoff, bringing the time remaining to roughly 31 seconds.  Chicago would take the delay of game, kick the ball high on the ensuing punt, thus removing another 7 or so seconds, bringing the time remaining to about 24 seconds left, assuming there is no return. 

Now, if the onside kick failed to work (which was the case), Denver would be in the exact same situation as if they kicked it deep.  Chicago would never attempt a long field goal so, if they got stopped, they’d punt it anyways, meaning Denver would get the ball back with the same amount of time and, at worst, an extra 15 yards to travel.  Are these 15 yards not worth the risk of recovering the football (which they should have been able to do during the actual play)?  

Of course, once Denver failed to recover the onside attempt, the announcers swiftly commented, “Now all Chicago needs to do is run the ball three times to basically run out the clock.”  So why kick it deep?

Apparently, however, nobody explained how the whole clock-running, basic-math thing worked to Marion Barber.      

Just when I though such failure could not be surmounted, Tony Romo, as usual, came to my rescue.  Early in the Giants game, Romo was under pressure deep in his own territory.  Instead of throwing the ball away or stepping up into the sack, Romo did his best Natalie Portman imitation, pirouetting without control, as he secretly desired the coveted and evil Black Swan role.  Not dissimilar from the film, the performance ended with Romo killing himself, tumbling into the end zone for a safety.  


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Return of Nicknames

So, a funny thing happened yesterday.  I had been planning on publishing a new article on the disappearance of legitimate nicknames in sports.  It was all planned out and ready to go, and then a furry of multi-sport happenings bombarded my television set.  Pujols signs with the once tiny-market Angels, Chris Paul goes to L.A. in exchange for two of their three key big men who, in previous championship seasons, were the X-factor, providing The Lakers with length that the opposition could not match, and then, shockingly, David Stern rejects the trade, citing a new part of the CBA that prevents large market organizations from pressuring small ones.  In whole, it was a day of extremes for Los Angeles and a day of emergence for small market teams everywhere (likewise, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Miami must be concerned with their future ability to make NBA transactions). 
Suddenly, my cute little article was trumped by ­actual sports news.  How can I post something that has nothing to do with the two biggest stories, aside form the end of the NBA lockout, since the conclusion of the World Series?  I could have just written a new article on the above topics, but, really, how much is there to say about that other than what I did in the first paragraph?  Pujols went to the Angels.  He was a free agent.  It  was surprising.  And the NBA incident?  I am so over complaining about the league.  Check off this brewing catastrophe as just another run-of-the-mill only-in-the-NBA moment.  I just want to see some basketball.    
Tyrann Mathieu
Now that that’s been addressed, I can finally move on my original story. 

No college football player this season has garnered more national attention than cornerback/return man, Tyrann Mathieu, aside from Andrew Luck.  The 5’8’’ sophomore is a Heisman finalist and the best defensive player in the country.  More importantly, however, he has one of sport’s rare, brilliant, non-initial based nicknames.  Known as “The Honey Badger” for his small stature, yet fearless play on the field, Mathieu is bringing a glimmer of hope into an area of sports that has been dormant for too long. 

A-Rod, K-Rod, LT, MJD, AP, D-Wade, KG, TO.  Is that really the best we can do?  Honestly, the effortless creation of nicknames is tragic.  What happen to names like The Fridge or The Bus?  Even ex-Giants quarterback, Jared “The Hefty Lefty” Lorenzen, had some merit.  Babe Ruth has more good nicknames than all modern American athletes combined.  

There are a few gems out there right now, but, for the most part, decent nicknames are virtually extinct.  Before we get into some new ones, here are the vestiges of past greatness.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU cornerback – The Honey Badger

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills quarterback – The Amish Rifle

Shaun White, professional snowboarder – The Flying Tomato

Adam Jones, professional moron (also plays defensive back when he’s not occupied with being a moron, but this is far less common) – Pacman Jones

Glen Davis, Boston Celtics forward – Big Baby.
***Note, also a LSU originated nickname. 

John Conner, New York Jets fullback – The Terminator

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions wide receiver – Megatron

There are two distinct types of good nicknames: appearance nicknames and action nicknames.  Obviously, the first type comes about because of the way a person looks (The Bus, The Fridge, The Hefty Lefty).  Action nicknames are based on something the person has done or does (The Honey Badger, The Great One).  I’ve divided them as such.  These players will be referred to as their nicknames in future articles. 

Appearance Nicknames:

Chris “The Raptor” Bosh.  Bosh is the only player in NBA history to have played on a team (Toronto Raptors) whose nomenclature reflects the species of said player (Raptor).  

A spinoff of The Raptor is women’s college basketball star, Brittany “Chris ‘The Raptor’ Bosh” Griner. 

Joe “The Eyebrow” Flacco.  It’s pretty obvious

Tayshaun “Crazy Arms” Prince has a wingspan that seems to be twice the size of his height, which, when someone is 6’9’’, is one of the strangest sights you will ever see. 

Rajon “Benjamin Button” Rondo.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen a person have certain body features that make him look elderly at such a young age. 

Action Nicknames:

Jose “The Ghost of Ozzie’s Past” Reyes.  Obviously it’s unfair to make fun of someone’s ability to speak English when it’s not their first language since most Americans can only speak English.  It’s not so much that they can’t speak it, rather, what makes Reyes and Ozzie Guillén so comically difficult to understand is that they think they can.  Slowwwww dowwwn.  Did I mention I love Ozzie?

Nene “Madonna” Hilario.  Most people just now him as Nene.  If we’re running with a single name, why not make it one even more interesting.  Just to be clear, Madonna, is a stand alone nickname (not Nene “Madonna” Hilario). 

Mark “Takeru Kobayashi” Sanchez.  The New York Jets quarterback was once videoed eating a hotdog on his sidelines.  Kobayashi is six-time world champion in competitive hotdog eating.
Mark Sanchez
Peyton “Bill Gates” Manning.  Manning is wealthy, successful, a little nerdy, and designed a computerized head coach. 

John “Whoopsie Daisy” Lackey.  Named after an expression he said a MLB leading 114 times last season (one for each earned run). 

James “Taxed Man” Harrison.  Let me tell you how it will be.  There's one for you, nineteen for me. 

Ray “Dirty Jerz” Rice.  Dirty Jerz is probably the best athlete to come out of Rutgers… ever. 

Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch.  While “beast mode” is often associated with Lynch, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone call him it. 

Wes “The Common Cold” Welker.  It goes around everywhere, there’s no cure, but, at the same time, it probably will never kill you.  There are illnesses way, way more dangerous.  The common cold is more of an annoyance, but if you could get rid of it altogether you would. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011


There’s big news in the three major sports this week.  One of those issues is the pursuit of Albert Pujols, who I have said from the end of last season will stay in St. Louis.  That’s all I’m going to say on the baseball matter because, quite frankly, the news of his signing might happen before this article gets published. 

As for the NFL…

As we enter the awkward college football lull between the end of the regular season and the start of the bowl games, NFL scouts have already begun to examine this year’s crop of NFL products.  Andrew Luck, the second coming of Peyton Manning, seems destined, rather fittingly, for Indianapolis.  Luck’s credentials and talent have been highly touted by scouts, writers, and this blog. 

As I sat on the couch Monday Night watching the recap of the San Diego – Jacksonville game (game being in the loosest sense of the word), Steve Young, whom I consider to be by far the best of the ESPN football maidens, said that Rivers’ success and the subsequent disappointment of rookie quarterback Blain Gabbert should be a clue to NFL front offices that we are in the midst of a golden age for quarterbacks and, if you’re not 100% comfortable with who’s under center, it is imperative that you select a new one immediately.  Young argued that even though Gabbert has played just 11 games this season, he’s already seen enough for Jacksonville to try again.  The heart of the hall of famers argument is valid: You must have a good quarterback to succeed and with the new CBA, rookie wages are far lower and, therefore, coaches should throw their new players into the game, see what happens, and if they are left unsatisfied, just consider the pick a bust and move on. 
Young's sensational football career, intelligence, and, most importantly,
modesty make him the best member of ESPN's football crew.
When was the last time someone selected a quarterback in the first round and let him sit and wait a year? Not only has such strategy become virtually unheard of, but any coach who decides to do such a thing might as well be signing up for a media and fan-base crucifixion (see Tim Tebow).  Is this because the American population is a 4G-wi-fi-DVR-fast-and-now society that cannot tolerate a potentially talented player sitting on the sidelines during team failures or has “recent success” in quickly starting rookie quarterbacks brought about the end of quarterback patience?  The questions now is, can Luck and Manning coexist?  Why is this a question?  Not only can they, but they should.  In fact, if they do not coexist Indianapolis management will have successfully ended a decade of success, rather than just easily flow into another one.  Writers across the country are entertaining the idea of a sign Luck, trade Peyton scenario.  I find this idea to be totally Christopher Bridges.   

For all thus mumble-jumble about “the year of the quarterback” and increased premium on the pass attack, we seem to have either forgotten or failed to truly recognize the mediocrity of quarterbacks selected in the first round over the last 5 years.  More importantly, the starting-since-game-one quarterbacks seem to be unable to take the step from decent rookie year to Pro Bowl caliber. 

Excluding this past draft class, there have been 12 quarterbacks selected in the first round since 2006 and they are: Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, JaMarcus Russell (just had an automatic gag reflex), Brady Quinn (again), Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow.  While some of had immediate success their rookie season, either individually or by leading his team to the postseason (Young, Ryan, Flacco, Sanchez, Bradford), the continuing progression has just not been there.  Cutler was the only quarterback left with a starting job at the start of the 2011 season from the 2006 and 2007 draft classes.  As for Matt Ryan, whose outstanding rookie season essentially abolished the wait-to-play approach, actually has a career QB rating (86.5) lower than the one he posted in his rookie season (87.7).  Fellow 2008 draft-mate, Joe Flacco, had seen his passer rating improve with each season, that is, until the current one which has been the worst of his career.  Sanchez has improved his rating each year, but still commits over 15 turnovers each season and has never completed 60% of his passes for a season.  Josh Freeman had tremendous success in 2010, posting a quarterback rating of 95.9.  He’s currently 20 points below that mark.  Bradford, last season’s Rookie of the Year, might not even got to double digit touchdowns this year.  Cutler is the only first round quarterback since Aaron Rodgers to eclipse 4,000 yards passing in a single season.  Rodgers actually hit that mark in his first season replacing Favre (something none of these first-rounders even whiffed).  Additionally, Rodgers’ numbers have steadily improved each of his first four seasons, as have the total number of wins for his team.
Ryan's nickname, "Matty Ice" has nothing to do with the excuses he comes
 up with now that he's an adult.  Other college nicknames included
Matty-stone and Mil-Matty's Best.
The point I’m trying to make is that Steve Young and all those who think quarterbacks should get thrown into the action early are wrong.  There’s a reason the concept of resting young quarterbacks is a decades long approach; it makes them better in the long run. 

Still, all these young quarterbacks have plenty of time to cement themselves among the NFL elite, but the seeming three-year-plateau is a curious trend.  This season’s rookie quarterback class has been impressive, especially Cam Newton and especially especially Andy Dalton (not a first round pick).  Will these two be among the NFL’s elite in 2013 or will we still be seeing 3,500 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, which, by comparison to the established NFL quarterbacks, is perfectly average.  I hope not, but if we are trying to find the future star quarterback from the 2011 class, I think that role lays with Jake Locker, who has thrown just 21 professional passes (2 for touchdowns).  Bookmark this article; you heard it here first: Jake Locker for 2015 MVP.   

In other news, there is an NBA season.  Let me rephrase that.  By some incredibly surprising miracle, the largest collection of selfish, pompous, clueless, ill-advised individuals were able to accept something that, for months, had been easily within reach but, for the above personality traits, was previously seen as an unacceptable deal.  If the effects of the NFL lockout, which was nothing more than a mere annoyance by comparison, are any indication of what we can expect to see in basketball, get ready for an injury ridden, inconsistent, but, ridiculously exciting/heart-attack-inducing and competitive bite-sized season. 

If you still haven’t seen the LeBron James ESPN interview you absolutely must see this riveting, candid conversation.  But, if you’re the type of person who wants first-round quarterbacks to play immediately, I’ll just give you a summary.  LeBron basically said he (A) was stupid and selfish to announce his decision on national television and would absolutely do it differently this time around, (B) was responsible for Miami losing the NBA Finals because he tried to be a player is not, (C) has improved his attitude and post game, (D) is hungrier than ever before, and (E) is tired of being the villain and is just going to be himself. 

A. Yes, he was stupid.  The first time I heard about “The Decision” I knew LeBron was leaving Cleveland, the only question was to where.  When he said South Beach, I was shocked.  Miami was the one place I never expected; how could he join with a rival like Wade?  Miami is Wade’s team!  Wade has already won a championship, doesn’t LeBron need to surpass him?  But, this is how I would have approached the situation if I was 6’8 and 250 pounds of pure beast (I am, but for the sake of this argument let’s just pretend I’m not).  LeBron was a free agent and that means, free to play wherever he wants.  Real basketball fans understand this.  Real owners understand this.  Yeah, Miami was a cop-out, but that was LeBron’s prerogative.  My problem is how it was done, which, as LeBron now seems to fully grasp, was self-indulging and cold. 

B. Yes, he did.  LeBron really means he was as aggressive as Gandhi.  

C. If this is true, LeBron will earn his third MVP award through voter unanimity.  If this is true, the Heat will win the NBA Finals.  If this is true, Wade and Bosh are officially extraneous.  If this is true, get ready for the greatest single season of all time.  If this is true, get ready for those “will be better than MJ” comments to have the tiniest possible sliver of validity, but infinitely more than it has had before.  If this is true, can it be Christmas?

D. Good.
If LeBron has actually improved his play in the post, even Wade will be
nothing more than an extra bonus.   
E. Let’s get this straight; I will never root for The Heat.  Ever.  But, hate?  So what if they started a new wave of basketball and have forced the future creation of super powers, essentially eliminating team loyalty and legitimate competition.  Nobody would accuse the Marlins, Yankees, or Red Sox of destroying competition, granted the lack of salary cap makes it strategically necessary for teams to spend the money they have earned.  I will always root for true teams, like Dallas, OKC, and Chicago to come out on top because these organizations are counter-culture and represent old school basketball, but I still can’t wait for them to play Miami.  No matter how they got there, the best basketball will be in South Beach for now and for the immediate future.  Of course, you won’t see any lamenting from me if the Heat never win a championship.  Still, as much as I don’t want to say it, I’m over it. 

Let’s just see some good basketball.