Tag Archives: Football

What Are We Rooting For?

Two thousand years ago in Rome it was fashionable to watch men fight each other and animals to the death. The Coliseum in Rome sat about 50,000 people, a bit more than modern Yankee Stadium, but presumably without all of the luxury boxes. I bring this up because I am wondering exactly what we are watching today when we flip on or attend a football game? I don’t believe anyone has ever died playing in a football game, but as the news today of Junior Seau’s brain study reminds us, there is an awful toll on some of the players in them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love football. I played it for a few years and I have watched countless hours of it on TV and in the stands. I am as guilty as anyone for the glorification of the sport. But these continuing stories of severe brain damage in former players are making me question my devotion. No, I don’t expect to stop watching the Giants next year, but I am not feeling as enthusiastic as I once did.

The scary thing to me is how much is unknown. Seau became a star in the NFL and went through thousands of practices and games. He played linebacker, one of the most violent positions in the game. Was that the trigger for his CTE, or did it happen much sooner?  Simply put, how many hits are too many?  Nobody knows that, but it seems to me that until we do, we need to rethink the toll this game is exacting on those who play it.

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There Will Be Puck

At 5 AM this morning the NHL and NHLPA reached a deal to end the lockout.

First off, what in the world took them so long?  Why did they wait until September to even negotiate and why did they not negotiate in earnest until December?

I don’t have a good answer for those questions, but I hope the owners realize that Gary Bettman deserves to be fired.  Under his watch, hockey has given away its opportunity to become a mainstream sport and it has suffered three HUGE work stoppages. Bettman reportedly earns over $6-million a year, I can’t begin to understand why. On the plus side, Bettman is 60 and since the new deal lasts at least eight years, this is probably his last chance to destroy hockey.

What will happen with the “Just Drop It” movement?  Assuming hockey starts around January 15th, the Rangers will have missed around 10 games after their deadline. Will the fans who signed up for their pledge follow through? (I didn’t sign.)

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As for football, I went 1-1 last night.  Today I am picking the Colts +7 and Washington +3. Indy has been one of the hottest teams in football and I think Baltimore is vulnerable. Washington represents a very rare thing- a home underdog in the playoffs. When you see that you take the points.

Eliminate Kickoffs?

According to this synopsis of a Time Magazine profile of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, there are discussions within the league about eliminating kickoffs. It discusses the craziest rule change I think I have ever heard.  Apparently, Greg Schiano, coach of Tampa and not a fan of the kneel down, wants the team that scores to get the ball on their own 30 with a 4th-and-15 facing them.  They could then either punt, or go for it with the obvious risks of not making it.

If player safety is the ultimate concern, I am not sure this rule change would help that much.  While punts are safer than kickoffs, there are still plenty of violent collisions with them.  And, by placing the ball on the 30, you almost guarantee that the punt will be in the field of play since the punter would have to really boom it to make the end zone.  But, I do get the idea behind it.  The biggest problem you incur if you eliminate kickoffs is that you prevent a team that is trying to mount a comeback from having the ability to recover an onsides kick.

I think there are two solutions the NFL could look at to make kickoffs less dangerous for most players.  First, move the ball up to the 40 and you would create a ton of touchbacks. And since kickoffs took place at the 40 up until 1974, this wouldn’t be a hugely radical idea.

But, that only solves part of the problem because even on touchbacks players are blocking each other and colliding with great speed.  So, how about forcing the receiving team to put at least nine players 10-yards away from the kick?  That way you wouldn’t have the collisions down field for the blocking, you would have them right off the line of scrimmage, before players worked up a head of steam.  Now, you would almost destroy the return game as this would probably result in the returner being swarmed by eight guys, but it would be safer.  If you coupled that move with a move to put the kickoffs at the 40, you would preserve the onside kick, but also severely limit the amount of times kickoffs were returned.

An Interesting Night of Football Moves

Two moves caught me be surprise last night and they are both indirectly related to Peyton Manning.

The first was the trade between Washington and St. Louis. Washington gave up their first round pick this year (6th overall), their second round pick this year and first rounders in 2013 and 2014.  They have surrendered all of this apparently to draft Robert Griffin III a QB out of Baylor. With Indianapolis almost certainly to pick Andrew Luck, we should see QB’s go 1-2 in the draft for the first time since the 1999 draft when we saw three (Couch, McNabb and Akili Smith)

And that’s the thing, Washington is betting against history here.  Since the NFL-AFL merger, QB’s have been taken with the first two (or more) picks four times.  You have 1971 where Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning (how about that?) and Dan Pastorini went 1-2-3.  You have 1993 when Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer went 1-2. You had 1998 when Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf went 1-2 and you have the aforementioned 1999 draft.

Let’s throw out the 1971 draft because Archie Manning and Plunkett both had decent careers considering they had very little protection. (Both are in the top-15 career “leaders” in times sacked.) In every other draft one team made a good choice and the other(s) made a terrible one. Bledsoe turned out to be a very good QB while Mirer was a failure.  Peyton is a superstar while Leaf washed out of the league quickly. The 1999 draft is the only one where the #1 QB turned out to be a mistake as McNabb had a very good career and Couch did not. (Akili Smith made a total of 17 NFL starts.) So, history says either Washington or Indy will be a loser with their pick, but Indy didn’t give up on anything to earn theirs while Washington paid a huge price, apparently because they couldn’t get Peyton Manning to consider them. The pressure will be on RGIII from day 1.

And speaking of Peyton Manning, it appears the Jets were spurned by the Manning camp as well and decided to hand Mark Sanchez a contract extension. Talk about a 180!  If they had signed Manning, they would have had to have cut Sanchez. But, since Manning didn’t want to come to NY (shocker) they give Sanchez a contract extension when he had two years remaining on his existing deal!? I guess this is the way the Jets try and soothe Mark’s feelings, but if you really cared about that would you have pursued Peyton in the first place?

Forget It Jets Fans

I don’t think a lot of fans are surprised that the Colts have decided to cut Peyton Manning.  Peyton’s contract included a $28-million bonus that would have been triggered if he had remained on the roster. Considering that fact that he had multiple neck surgeries over the past 12 months and hasn’t played a down of football, Indianapolis did the responsible thing. But, now we have Jets fans everywhere clamoring for Peyton Manning and expecting him to be wearing green next year. If you are one of those, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Let’s start with the obvious, the Jets put a lot of faith and money into Mark Sanchez. Sure, “The Sanchize” has his faults, but his completion percentage, number of touchdowns and QB rating have increased every year he has been in the league. I recognize that the Jets would throw him over in an instant for an established superstar at QB, but is Peyton that guy right now?  Until he puts on the pads and shows he can throw like he did against NFL-caliber competition the guy is a huge question mark.  And, even if he can compete in this league, the Jets need to make sure he will take them to the Super Bowl and nothing less if they are going to sign him.  After all, Peyton has maybe five years left in his career, Sanchez could have fifteen.

But the real reason that Peyton Manning won’t become a Jet doesn’t have anything to do with the team.  It has to do with his brother. Put yourself in Peyton’s shoes for a second. You are one of the greatest QB’s in the game, but questions linger over your destiny. Start with the questions about whether or not you are a pressure player because you haven’t won a lot of playoff games. Follow those up with the idea popular in a lot of circles recently that your YOUNGER brother, Eli, is the better QB because he has two Super Bowl rings.*  Considering that, would you sign a contract with a team that forces you to face those questions every single day?

And that’s the harsh reality for the idea of Peyton as a Jet- every day he would be compared to Eli and until he won the Super Bowl it wouldn’t end. And don’t forget, the Jets’ biggest rival is New England.  Every time the Jets lost to New England, Peyton would hear about how his brother owns the Patriots and he can’t beat them. Do you think he is going to sign up for that when he could go to Miami or some other place out of the searing spotlight and rebuild his career?

I spent a long time trying to think of an historical precedent for the Peyton situation.  A-Rod to the Yankees doesn’t work because Manning has a title. Ditto that for LeBron to the Heat. Gretzky and Montana were already considered the best at their positions and had multiple titles when they moved on. From an accomplishment standpoint, Brett Favre is probably the best fit, but Favre actually retired and then started team hopping. So this is uncharted territory here and Peyton now has a chance to change the way history judges him.  Pick the right place and he wins another title which puts him in the conversation of the greatest QB’s ever  Maybe I am judging him unfairly, but I can’t imagine he will try and accomplish that with the added distraction of competing with his brother.

 

*So here’s my two cents on this whole issue of where Eli rates as a QB.  If you ask me who is the better QB, I will tell you Peyton.  If you ask me who is the guy I want with the ball in his hands and the game on the line, I say Eli. And of all the QB’s in the NFL history, Eli has to be close to the top of the list of guys you want in that situation. Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, Eli, maybe Roger Staubach, I can’t think of a lot of other guys in that conversation. Don’t get me wrong Pats fans, Tom Brady is amazing, but I think we can all agree that Eli is the guy you want with the ball when the pressure is on.

Kooky Talk

Lot’s of interesting quotes and slants out there after the Super Bowl.  Let’s take a look at some of the insanity.

Start with Giselle who decided to make some very stupid comments about the Patriots receivers.  I’m sure Tom Brady is not thrilled with that video.  It’s also a tough critique.  Sure, the receivers dropped a few, but you could argue that the two biggest drops were more Brady’s fault than his receivers.  Welker was open, but the pass was thrown over his head and he had to try and twist and catch it.  Not so easy to do.  The pass to Branch with 57 seconds left was thrown behind him.  In addition, Kenny Phillips jumped up and blocked Branch’s view of the ball.

I also don’t get this idea that Belichick and Tom Brady’s legacies are tarnished by this loss.  Start with Bill.  The guy has been a coach in seven Super Bowls and he has five rings.  That’s immortal by any standard and the fact that he lost two of the games doesn’t change that.  As for Brady, he is now 3-2 in the Super Bowl.  Brady is tied with John Elway for the most Super Bowl starts. The problem for Brady is he won the first three and lost the last two unlike Elway who lost the first three and won the last two.  Still, five Super Bowls is a pretty amazing accomplishment and while Brady will be 35 this offseason he certainly could win a fourth ring before his career ends.

I mentioned this one last night, but it keeps coming up so I will mention it again.  You can’t go crazy about Bradshaw scoring that touchdown.  If he falls down at the 1, the Patriots call time out.  The Giants then run one more play and assuming they don’t get in, they kick a field goal with approximately 25 seconds left.   Can you assume the field goal is made?  It’s certainly a high percentage kick, but remember this?  But, the field goal also only puts the Giants up by 1.  New England gets the ball back with 20 seconds or so and no timeouts, but they are in a dome and you figure they probably can attempt a kick from anywhere inside the Giants 40.  We all remember “Wide Right” but I will take my chances with the 4-point lead.

Some have criticized the Giants decision to go for two, but that was absolutely the right play.  They had a four point lead and there was a minute left in the game.  If you make the two-point conversion, you give yourself a chance for overtime if the Patriots score a touchdown and you can block the extra point.  It’s not a very likely outcome, but it is a higher percentage bet than the idea that in the final minute of the game the Patriots would score a touchdown and leave the Giants enough time to kick a field goal.

Finally, here’s a story about a guy who won $50,000 on a bet in Vegas that the first score of the Super Bowl would be a safety.  I don’t know which part of the story surprises me more.  The fact that a guy put $1,000 on that bet or the fact that it only pays 50-1?  I know it has happened before in the Super Bowl, but a safety as the first score seems worthy of much higher odds to me.

 

Bring On The Dancing Bears!

I love the Super Bowl.  No matter what the matchup, I always watch it from start to end. Obviously, this year’s edition has an even greater hold on my interest as my beloved Giants are making their fifth trip to the big game.  Sunday can’t get here soon enough, especially because I am bored to tears by the wall-to-wall coverage of all things related to the game.

Part of it is our internet-era media. Everyone has to try and come up with a story to write or relate and that dilutes the end product.  But it’s not just that, the two weeks between the NFC and AFC Championships and the Super Bowl leaves plenty of time for small stories like Mrs. Brady’s emails to become a big deal.  Thankfully, the players have now given their last interviews before the game.  All that remains are coach press conferences tomorrow and then a game on Sunday.  Hopefully, silence and football will once again return.

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Personally, I am against the idea of an 18-game NFL schedule, but there is one part of the idea that I like.  Looking at the calendar, if the NFL had played 18 games over 19 weeks this past season, we would be looking forward to the AFC and NFC Championships this weekend.  That means that the Super Bowl would occur on February 19th, or the day before Presidents’ Day.  Since that is a holiday, the majority of fans would get the day following the Super Bowl off.

But, the NFL doesn’t have to expand the schedule in order to put the Super Bowl on Presidents’ Day, they could simply start the season later.  As it is now, the season starts the weekend after Labor Day.  Why is that?  By starting the season two weeks later, or one week later and adding an extra bye, the NFL could give fans something they have longed for- a day off after the Super Bowl.

Just a thought.

Rematch Time

Apologies for not posting sooner, but a nice virus came and knocked me out for about 48 hours.  Luckily, I still got to see the Giants handle San Francisco and advance to the Super Bowl.  We knew before last weekend that a Giants win would send them to a rematch of one of their previous Super Bowls and the competitor in me wanted to to be Baltimore. After all, we owe them one.  But, I am not sure that would have been the best matchup for New York as San Francisco came very close to KO’ing Eli Manning.  Anyway, we can save those thoughts for another day.  As for the game, I came away with four quick impressions.

Everything you need to know about the Giants’ rushing game is captured in the fact that they went out on a wet field and attempted passes at more than a 2:1 rate than runs. And call me crazy, but I think the Giants are a much better offensive line when Boothe is at center and Petrus is at guard with Baas on the bench.

It is disgusting to read that Kyle Williams is receiving death threats over his mistakes in the game.  Nobody should ever have to worry about their life based on something they did on the football field.  Please do not confuse the following as condoning that in any way. How could Williams get anywhere near that punt that bounced off his knee? It’s football 101 as a punt returner that in a close and late game you stay far away from the ball if you can’t catch it.  I understand he is not the starting punt returner, but he should have known that and his coaches certainly should have reminded him.  And I don’t think you can kill him for the fumble in OT.  While it didn’t look like a particularly hard hit, Joacquin Williams got his hand right on the ball and remember that ball was wet.

I think you have to give Eli tremendous credit for his performance in that game.  He showed toughness but I wasn’t in love with some of his judgements.  When I think of “bad” Eli, I always think of the same throw.  He launches it off his back foot and spins away from the pressure coming right at him.  I hadn’t really seen that throw this season, but I saw it more than once in this game.  (Including the play where the interception wasn’t made because the two 49ers defenders launched into each other.)  I just hope that is a habit Eli buries for a second time.

Finally, Devin Thomas is the best special teams player the Giants have had since…David Tyree.  Yup, I said it.

Back tomorrow.