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Archive for the ‘NFL’ Category

From the Vault: Michael Sam Is A Big Deal (2014)

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Editor’s Note: With today’s news that Michael Sam has signed with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, it seemed like a good time to run this previously unpublished column I wrote for The Good Point back in 2014! It never ran, maybe my take was too hot? I can’t remember why it was rejected. 

On Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins to a ten-day contract. This is the time of year for those: the post-trade deadline, as teams make a push to get into the playoffs. On that level, Collins’ signing isn’t any bigger than, say, Glen Davis signing with the Clippers.

 

But, for reasons I’m sure you already know, Collins’ signing is much bigger news.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by M.

May 22, 2015 at 11:32 am

Things We’re Not Interested In: The NFL Draft

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With the NFL Draft plastered across the TSN networks for three nights this week, it’s a busy weekend for Stuff I Don’t Care About. It’s a fun time, folks!

See, the NFL Draft is an exercise in hype and hyperbole, the kind of thing they could bang out in an afternoon if they so wished, but it stretched out to Pantagruelian proportions and covers a few nights of TV. And really, what for? To watch a bunch of young adults put on a jersey?

While I won’t begrudge them a moment in the spotlight, it’s worth pointing out the only interesting story to come out of the draft in recent years is when Michael Sam was drafted –  in the seventh round, no less – and planted a kiss on his boyfriend.

Last year, I wrote a column about Sam – I don’t think it ever ran, either –  and how he was a big deal. From my unpublished notes:

When Sam plays, LGBTQ people will be watching. Some, I’m sure, will be inspired to keep playing their sports without keeping an important part of their life hidden; others will start paying attention because of Sam. When Cuban said he a player’s sexuality shouldn’t matter, he was right: it shouldn’t. But in this environment, where Arizona is flirting with allowing businesses to openly discriminate, it does.

In the year-and-a-bit since I wrote that, things have gotten messier, but maybe clearer, too. Sam spent part of the NFL season on Dallas’ practice squad and never played in a game, while Indiana recently passed a law that allows businesses to discriminate under the guise of religious objections. One business managed to parlay that law, and it’s resulting backlash, into gobs of capital. (I’m sure you know Mencken’s line)

At the same time, there has been pushing the other way, too. Sam hasn’t faded away like most practice squad players: he was recently on Dancing With the Stars and there’s still talk he may play in the CFL, if not in the NFL. And there’s Bruce Jenner’s coming out as trans a little while back, important in it’s own way but also relevant to this discussion. Remember, Jenner was a hell of an athlete back in the day.

But back to the draft: last night, Shane Ray was taken by Denver late in the first round. And as Outsports noted, there’s a lot of similarities between Ray and Sam. Funny how that works, eh?

Which sort of gets me to the second-biggest problem I have with pro football: it’s hypocrisy. This is a sport that lets people get away with being awful human beings. They can beat their kids until the police get involved and still have careers; be a big enough star and they’ll even try to sweep your abuse under the rug. Players get arrested, players sometimes even go to jail. But when Sam comes out, it’s a distraction. It’s also a load of horseshit.

But so is the draft, which is literally three hours of talking, handshakes and posing. It’s unbelievably dull. And, frankly, it’s annoying that TSN is airing it over playoff basketball.

Written by M.

May 1, 2015 at 11:12 am

The Good Point: The Passion Player

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Tim Tebow is polarizing like nobody else in sports. He simultaneously represents everything overwrought about pro sports – the moralizing, the forced storylines, the hype and hyperbole – while at the same time, representing everything to love: the come-from-behind victory, the modest victor, the genuine person.


The cliche is Love Him or Hate Him, but with Tebow there’s preciously little room between the two extremes: it’s hard to find anyone in the middle ground. We all know the person who’s drinking the flavor-aid on him and we all know the person who loathes him. But are these two opinions based solely on Tebow – or on preconceived notions from somewhere else entirely?

There’s nobody in sports right now as polarizing, decisive or cool as Tim Tebow. It’s not just a question of religion, politics or even quarterbacking. The divide he creates is more than that; it’s more personal.
I have a friend who, in most other cases, is a rational person. She is not the kind who jumps headfirst into anything or considers alternative viewpoints and has worked as an insurance adjuster. But she hates Tebow. She thinks he’s arrogant, overrated and a fluke. She uses the phrase “Sheblow” to refer to the quarterback. She is not alone, but we disagree.
Continue reading at The Good Point

Written by M.

January 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Karma and Fate in the Motor City

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I don’t really know if I believe in stuff like karma or fate. If you want to throw all caution to the wind and say this will happen because it is supposed to, like you have no sense of free will, feel free.

But I wonder sometimes since things can even themselves out over time and twists can sort out if you let them. And when I think about the Detroit Lions, I think about if karma and fate are really a thing.
The Lions have long been a pretty awful team. I can remember watching a Thanksgiving game played in Detroit a few years ago where the most interesting thing was when security chased a guy with a “FIRE MILLEN” sign around the stadium. I remember that fan popping up two, maybe three different times in different places at Ford Field.
Meanwhile, what was happening on the field became secondary. I don’t suspect this is an unusual circumstance in Detroit.
A lot has been written this year about a renaissance of sorts in Detroit recently. One-time resident and author Jeffrey Eugenides recently praised the city and said he’s trying to convince his wife to move back to the city with him. There’s that Chrysler ad you’ve probably seen, too.
More recently there’s a story in Sportsnet Magazine about the success of the Lions and Tigers this fall; one of whiom got off to a hot start and the other finished the season strong. Justin Verlander’s not only a likely Cy Young winner, but is getting serious MVP talk, too. And the Lions won their first five games in row too, their best start since 1956.
Things have not gone quite as good in the interim, though.
The Tigers fell apart in the championship series, losing in six games. They dropped three of the first four and lost game six 15 to five. In four postseason appearances, Verlander’s ERA jumped to 5.31 and his WHIP to 1.45, both much worse than his regular season numbers. His first start now seems like an omen: a game in the pouring rain, delayed after an inning until the next day.
In so many words, the Tigers ran aground against one of, and maybe the, best teams in baseball. This isn’t meant to disparage what they did. It’s more of a “hey, things even out sometimes.”
The Lions are doing their own evening out, too. Since a 5-0 start, they’ve dropped two games in a row: a surprising loss to San Francisco and a more maddening one to Atlanta.
Granted, the Niners are their own good story. It used to be a given that whatever NFL preview magazine I picked up would always ask “IS THIS THE YEAR THE NINERS PUT IT ALL TOGETHER” in breathless hyperbole and big, bold letters and every year the answer was usually no, it wasn’t. They haven’t had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2002. Remember, Seattle won the NFC West last year with just seven wins.
So it was inevitable that when two good stories met, one would stop being so good. That’s fine; the Niners were the better team that day. Sunday, it was a more traditional loss: the Falcons got to Matthew Stafford, sacking him three times, picking him off once and generally banging him up.
That Falcons defence shut down the Lions. Atlanta held the ball for nearly 10 minutes more and picked up nearly twice as many first downs. No Detroit running back picked up more than 50 yards or scored. Indeed, Detroit was one-for-12 when it came to third downs. Later, Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh is said to have taunted and mocked Matt Ryan after the Falcons quarterback went down hard, kicking his feet and saying stuff like “get the cart.”
Admittedly, it’s pretty tame stuff (I’d be surprised if this wasn’t said all the time, really). But Yahoo Sports’ Mike Silver put it best: “If you believe in karma, you are cringing as you read this.”

Any football fan will remember that Stafford is pretty fragile, as far as athletes go. He’s never played more than 10 games in a season. He’s hurt his knee and both shoulders in his three-season career. And he’s got hurt against Atlanta, too, limping off the field as the game ended. A MRI was negative, but still, this is someone with a history.
Ultimately, the two losses make me wonder about the Lions’ hot start. Stats like Simple Rating System or Point Differential suggest they’re one of the better teams in the NFL, not just the NFC. They’re there largely from a great passing game (Calvin Johnson’s season is an underreported story, I’d argue) and a good passing defence (10 picks, 17 sacks and about 204 passing yards allowed per game).
But last year, I thought they looked like a good team. And after injuries to key players they finished with six wins. It could easily happen again this year. It could happen any year, really.
I don’t know if I believe in karma. I don’t know if ALCS was more about the Tigers settling down than it was about powerful hitting by the Rangers. I don’t know if a few taunts led to a MRI on Monday. I don’t think they did and they probably didn’t. I just know that if I was a Detroit fan, I wouldn’t want to chance fate

Written by M.

October 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm

There’ll never be another like Al Davis

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The Raiders press release called Al Davis a maverick. If there ever was an understatement, this was it. Davis was a maverick of the old school, from when the word wasn’t a political cliché or a fighter pilot. He was unpredictable, cunning and a hell of a lot of fun to have around.

Al Davis was a lot of things, including a progressive. He hired the first black coach in the modern era, the first Hispanic coach and quarterback and hired the NFL’s first woman CEO. He gave many of his players a chance to play pro football when nobody else would – just think of how many people he picked up off the scrap heap.

He was a champion of the rights of owners, challenging the NFL’s monopoly and asserting the right to move his team as he saw fit. He was the person whom so many clichés originally described: a maverick that did things his own way and just won, baby.

There are less fun details. He shuttled his team up and down the California coast, twice leaving behind a vibrant community of fans. He gave off the sense of a paranoiac, especially in dealings with coaches and the media. And he was a constant thorn in the side of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle; one biography of Rozelle all but blames Davis for the commissioner’s health problems and early retirement.

Everybody sees the Raiders are Davis’ team. But his contributions to pro football far outweigh just one team. As commissioner of the AFL, Davis led a drive to sign away NFL talent, a move that all but pushed the competing leagues together and ushered in the modern era of pro football.

But by 1970, when the two leagues merged, Davis had long since returned to the Raiders as part owner and head of football operations. The teams he built in that decade are some of the NFL’s most infamous and talented, with players like John Matuszak, Kenny Stabler and Fred Biletnikoff. In the golden years of the Raiders, they were good on the field and wild off of it.

When Stabler’s biography details on training camp with the Raiders, it reads like a Hunter Thompson story: all-day practices and all-night parties, fuelled by pills and booze (Matuszak was partial to Crown Royal and Quaaludes). Indeed, Hunter Thompson once described the Raiders as the flakiest team in pro football and compared Davis to Sonny Barger.

In his seminal book on football, Paul Zimmerman was more blunt: he called Davis a “master spy, master trader wheeler-dealer and rogue.” He detailed the tricks Davis used to pull: changing visiting team’s practice spots at the last minute, have his grounds crew unroll tarps while the visiting team is still practicing and the time he snuck workers into Shea Stadium on the eve of an AFL championship game to build an illegal heating tent on the Raiders bench. Davis cultivated an aura of pushing things to their breaking point, doing everything he could to give his team the advantage.

Every obituary on Davis makes one point crystal clear: Davis personified the Raiders like no other owner, coach or manager ever has or will. The Raiders were his baby, right from the get-go. Everything, from team colours to management went through Davis. As the recent years have shown, he was a control freak. He’d fire coaches with little warning and even less pretext, once burning through three in five years. When the move to Los Angeles gave the Raiders ownership of luxury suites, the Raiders started charging rent to the stadium’s other users.

And culturally, it’s hard to think of another football team that mattered more than the Raiders. When asked why NWA wore Raiders colours, Ice Cube said “it’s a thing where you looked right, it felt right.”

One is tempted to define him on the above, with a glance to his long-term successes: the Raiders once went from 1968 through 1978 without a losing season. They won three Super Bowls with Davis around and went to another in the 2002 season. Doing this misses the point.

I didn’t know Davis, but it’s pretty easy to say he was complex man. A story that paints him as a colorful rogue (“His clothes seemed to matter more than half the players he ever drafted”) looks past how he helped former players. Another that suggests maybe he overdid it (he “often pushed the boundaries of what some people thought was acceptable”), never mentions how often he won when challenging the NFL.

It’s foolish to think about Davis and the Raiders without addressing everything the man did for pro football. What he did with the team almost never happens in culture, especially in so short a time. The Raiders almost exist outside of pro football. Their black and silver are iconic, representing not just a team, but also an attitude.

It cannot be said enough: no owner will ever mean as much and make the same impact on professional sports as Davis did with the Raiders. And that’s a shame.

Written by M.

October 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm

There’ll never be another like Al Davis

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The Raiders press release called Al Davis a maverick. If there ever was an understatement, this was it. Davis was a maverick of the old school, from when the word wasn’t a political cliché or a fighter pilot. He was unpredictable, cunning and a hell of a lot of fun to have around.

Al Davis was a lot of things, including a progressive. He hired the first black coach in the modern era, the first Hispanic coach and quarterback and hired the NFL’s first woman CEO. He gave many of his players a chance to play pro football when nobody else would – just think of how many people he picked up off the scrap heap.

He was a champion of the rights of owners, challenging the NFL’s monopoly and asserting the right to move his team as he saw fit. He was the person whom so many clichés originally described: a maverick that did things his own way and just won, baby.

There are less fun details. He shuttled his team up and down the California coast, twice leaving behind a vibrant community of fans. He gave off the sense of a paranoiac, especially in dealings with coaches and the media. And he was a constant thorn in the side of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle; one biography of Rozelle all but blames Davis for the commissioner’s health problems and early retirement.

Everybody sees the Raiders are Davis’ team. But his contributions to pro football far outweigh just one team. As commissioner of the AFL, Davis led a drive to sign away NFL talent, a move that all but pushed the competing leagues together and ushered in the modern era of pro football.

But by 1970, when the two leagues merged, Davis had long since returned to the Raiders as part owner and head of football operations. The teams he built in that decade are some of the NFL’s most infamous and talented, with players like John Matuszak, Kenny Stabler and Fred Biletnikoff. In the golden years of the Raiders, they were good on the field and wild off of it.

When Stabler’s biography details on training camp with the Raiders, it reads like a Hunter Thompson story: all-day practices and all-night parties, fuelled by pills and booze (Matuszak was partial to Crown Royal and Quaaludes). Indeed, Hunter Thompson once described the Raiders as the flakiest team in pro football and compared Davis to Sonny Barger.

In his seminal book on football, Paul Zimmerman was more blunt: he called Davis a “master spy, master trader wheeler-dealer and rogue.” He detailed the tricks Davis used to pull: changing visiting team’s practice spots at the last minute, have his grounds crew unroll tarps while the visiting team is still practicing and the time he snuck workers into Shea Stadium on the eve of an AFL championship game to build an illegal heating tent on the Raiders bench. Davis cultivated an aura of pushing things to their breaking point, doing everything he could to give his team the advantage.

Every obituary on Davis makes one point crystal clear: Davis personified the Raiders like no other owner, coach or manager ever has or will. The Raiders were his baby, right from the get-go. Everything, from team colours to management went through Davis. As the recent years have shown, he was a control freak. He’d fire coaches with little warning and even less pretext, once burning through three in five years. When the move to Los Angeles gave the Raiders ownership of luxury suites, the Raiders started charging rent to the stadium’s other users.

And culturally, it’s hard to think of another football team that mattered more than the Raiders. When asked why NWA wore Raiders colours, Ice Cube said “it’s a thing where you looked right, it felt right.”

One is tempted to define him on the above, with a glance to his long-term successes: the Raiders once went from 1968 through 1978 without a losing season. They won three Super Bowls with Davis around and went to another in the 2002 season. Doing this misses the point.

I didn’t know Davis, but it’s pretty easy to say he was complex man. A story that paints him as a colorful rogue(“His clothes seemed to matter more than half the players he ever drafted”) looks past how he helped former players. Another that suggests maybe he overdid it (he “often pushed the boundaries of what some people thought was acceptable”), never mentions how often he won when challenging the NFL.

It’s foolish to think about Davis and the Raiders without addressing everything the man did for pro football. What he did with the team almost never happens in culture, especially in so short a time. The Raiders almost exist outside of pro football. Their black and silver are iconic, representing not just a team, but also an attitude.

It cannot be said enough: no owner will ever mean as much and make the same impact on professional sports as Davis did with the Raiders. And that’s a shame.

Written by M.

October 9, 2011 at 12:00 am

Feet Puns of the World Unite – Divisional Playoff Weekend

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Some loose, disconnected thoughts on each of the weekend’s NFL playoff games.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Baltimore Ravens

I’m glad I got home late on Saturday and missed the first half of this one, since it looked ugly. The main clip I saw of the first half was this bizzare fumble where everybody thought the ball was dead until somebody picked it up and ran it into the end zone. Shades of that Monday night game from a few years ago, where somebody (A Packer, I think) made a similar play – he was down, but nobody touched him, so he got up and ran the ball for a score or something and now, in every practice, coaches drill touching into players head with a variety of hot irons, backwards messages and a lot of screaming.

And when I tuned in, the Steelers were down big. It wasn’t a total surprise (thank god for The Score’s mobile phone app, which kept me somewhat in touch with the game). On the whole, it seemed like the Steelers brought both sides of their game to the table: their offensive line was not good early on, and while they did improve later, I still feel iffy about them and especially in their protection of Roethlisberger, who was getting nailed harder than even he’d find appropriate on a first date.

It wasn’t an especially convincing win, I thought, but the Steelers came out in the end. Yes, there was a tremendous comeback by the Steelers, but there was a big collapse by the Ravens offence. Their lead was built on turnovers and making the most of what they were given and they blew it by playing  just okay. Flacco is taking, and will continue to take, a lot of grief, but I’m not completely holding him to blame – he was under a lot of defensive pressure on  Saturday and did deliver some tight passes: one to TJ Houshmandzadeh and another to Anquan Boldin, both of which were dropped – Boldin’s cost them a touchdown and Housh’s killed a fourth-quarter rally. There was a punt-return touchdown, called back on a penalty and eventually turned into a field goal.

You know how in Techmo Bowl, turnovers seem to even out? If you get a fumble early, it’s almost certain you’ll fumble or get picked off later? I know it sounds Simmons-y, but that’s what I was thinking when Flacco fumbled in the third. I think that example held up throughout the game. The Steelers played odd in the first half and the Ravens looked odder in the second. Part of me wonders if it was the ball – the Ravens had a hard time hanging onto it – or if it had something to do with a blood-thirsty crowd, but I can’t find any real answers so I want to fall back on cliche: Pittsburgh wanted it more or something. I guess it comes down to something like this: Baltimore played better than they were in the first, worse than they are in the second and, combined, finished as the team everybody thought they were – defensively talented but with question marks on offence. The Steelers were the same; the first half went all wrong, the second all right and they look great for the comeback win, even if it wasn’t really all their fault.

Green Bay Packers over Atlanta Falcons

The must crushing thing about this game came right before halftime, when Tramon Williams ran an interception all the way for a score as the clock expired – and, most interestingly to me, right before the Packers would get the ball back on a kickoff. When that happens to me in Madden or Techmo or whatever, it’s always a huge boost – it’s all the psychological gain of a safety and more points on the board, too. I don’t think I called the game right then and there, but I started seeing it on Twitter and, looking back, they were right.

I’m not sure what this loss means to Matt “Ice” Ryan. In two playoff games, he’s underwhelmed, but that’s way too small a sample size to judge him as a heir apparent to Dan Marino or whatever. Marino was a singular talent who was saddled on some poor teams (and had the misfortune to play at the same time as Joe Montana, who had much better teams around him) for the bulk of his career; Ryan seems like an above-average QB who’s still young enough to make mistakes. It’s fun and it’s easy to draw a line connecting him to other QBs throughout history who never won much, but it’s disingenuous: he’s barely been in the league long enough to make playoff appearances.

As for the Packers, they looked amazing. Both their offence and defence were clicking as they rolled through the Falcons. I’ve been saying for a while they’re a lot better than people give them credit for – they lead the NFC in SRS, as I recall. I was thinking about that this morning when listening to a Simmons podcast, where him and noted NFL expert Adam Carolla used how close the Packers/Eagles game was to boost the Falcons – their logic was something like “Well, Green Bay nearly lost to Philadelphia and the Eagles are out of the playoffs, so that means the Packers are nearly out of the playoffs also,” which is fine except for the parts which don’t make sense (most of it). Green Bay is good, Philadelphia was nearly as good and both, I’d wager, were better than the Falcons.

Chicago Bears over Seattle Seahawks

A long while ago, I wrote a really long story on the Arizona Cardinals and the dangerous effects of hype. It was right before that Super Bowl where they came out of nowhere and put together a great run to the Super Bowl, mostly thanks to Kurt Warner lobbing touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald (which indirectly led to my favorite Slate article of all time).Essentially, it was about how everybody was buying into the team because it was a feel-good story and they possessed that rare sports element – momentum. They demolished teams in the playoffs, especially Carolina, and then tested the Steelers in the Super Bowl, but fell short of actually winning.

Anyway, the Seahawks began reminding me of them on Friday, when hype surrounding them began to hit critical mass – I think it was when Ron Jaworski said the Bears lead the NFL in negative-yardage-plays – and I started feeling iffy about picking them. It’s nice to call an upset, sure, but to ride that bandwagon? Yeah, I got ahead of myself.

The Seahawks played like they have all season on Sunday, which is to say not especially good. Their defence was lackluster, their offence sputtered like my first car and I don’t think anybody should have been surprised a 7-9 team lost to a team good enough to get a bye week. Chicago did look impressive, but I still don’t trust them – they’ve improved throughout the season, but I still feel like they haven’t been tested by a really good team yet. The Packers will be that test, but I’ll save that breakdown for another day…


NY Jets over New England Patriots

Forget Seattle over New Orleans, this is the upset of the playoffs. The Patriots were good this year and, if I’m remembering my advanced stats right, went into the postseason more highly rated than any of their previous seasons – including that one which finished 16-0. Brady was lights out, throwing everywhere to everybody (especially Branch, but also Welker) and they steamrolled teams.

But their defence? Well, it had problems. Third-most passing yards allowed, for one. It’s let teams hang in this season – Buffalo stands out in my mind – but was just good enough for their offence to make a few big plays here and there and push the game out of reach. So, on one side of the ball – Jets offence/Pats defence – I can’t profess to be totally surprised. But the other end – where the Jets stymied the Patriots offence – that was really cool.

Brady finished with a decent game – two scored and nearly 300 yards – but he had to throw the ball 45 times to get those numbers. Their running game was held to about 100 yards and neither running back really stood out, I thought. The Jets kept pressure on Brady and while he threw a lot, and had time to throw, just the idea of throwing that many passes makes me nervous. Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Roethlisberger all threw less times, but threw more efficiently: more yards, more scores and wins in all the games. Hasselbeck threw as much as Brady in his loss, too.

I don’t know if there’s an exact number I can point to, but I think there’s gotta be some kind of margin where it’s dangerous. First off, there’s the whole incomplete-passes-stop-the-clock angle, but there’s also the idea that it’s taxing on the entire team to run routes all day. For each of those passes Brady threw, he had two (at least) recievers running full tilt into the backfield. That’s gotta add up over time, doesn’t it?

Anyway, based on how well the Jets looked, they’ve gotta be seriously looked at to get past the Steelers. They’ve shown they can shut down explosive offenses (two thus far), but haven’t done much against a tremendous defence – but the Steelers defence looked shaky, too.  I’ll probably address this in further detail when I do my picks in a couple days.

One final thought: Enough with the Rex Ryan feet jokes already. They’re played out and really, isn’t it kind of cute that he likes his wife that much? I’d much rather have to deal with him than a player who sexually assaults women.