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General Football Talk
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$.06 After Super Bowl XLVIAuthored by Jeff Risdon - 6th February, 2012 - 12:30 pm
$.01-- Congrats to the New York Giants for a great triumph in Super Bowl XLVI. It wasn't the greatest of games, but it was closely played and had its share of dramatic and memorable moments. My immediate thought after the game was that the definitively better team won the game, thanks to better play by its own star quarterback and better coaching. After sleeping on it and watching a few series again, what stood out was how well the New York defense controlled the game. From the forced safety to the batted down Hail Mary, the G-Men defense was the one unit that stood out in the Super Bowl.
New York's defensive front caused problems all day for Tom Brady and friends. The Pats run game was nonexistent; other than a nicely executed reverse to Wes Welker, the Patriots couldn't force the Giant safeties from deep coverage by gashing them with the run. And because the Giants don't need to blitz to get pressure, that meant Brady was always throwing into a crowded 7-man coverage scheme. With no lid-lifting wideout and his best weapon, Rob Gronkowski, obviously hindered with his ankle sprain, the throwing windows were small and the tackles after the catch almost always immediate. With the exceptional performance by the Giants special teams creating long fields all night, Brady stood little chance.
I thought the MVP should have been Justin Tuck. No offense to Eli Manning, but Tuck set the tone for the game by forcing that safety on New England's first play from scrimmage. That was a signal that the Giants defensive front was going to control what Tom Brady could do, and they never relented. His monstrous sack on the final drive was a perfect MVP moment. Eli had pretty solid numbers: 30-40, 296 yards and a touchdown, but the reason the Giants won is that they held New England to two touchdowns and a field goal. I won't begrudge Eli his sweet new Corvette though, as the game-winning drive he engineered proves he is an elite quarterback. The unsung hero is punter Steve Weatherford, who nailed three punts inside the ten yard line and just missed a fourth. It was a total team effort by the scrappiest, best-coached group of players in the league. I love how they win together with the feeling of a family that needs every person to pull his own weight.
$.02-- One of the conversations that will inevitably stem from this contest is the subject of legacy. Specifically, how does this Giants win and Patriots loss impact the lasting impressions of the coaches and quarterbacks involved?
It's easier to see how the world is going to view Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. Manning enters the pantheon of multiple Super Bowl winners and the smaller peak of multiple Super Bowl MVP winners. This win cements his Canton credentials. It also makes for an interesting argument about which Manning brother is the better quarterback. With so many prominent football people that consider Peyton Manning the best QB ever, that tells you how far Eli has risen. I think it goes beyond debate that Eli is a better winner than Peyton.
Coughlin matches his one-time mentor Bill Parcells as a Giants coach that won two Super Bowls. And Coughlin isn't done yet. His microscopic attention to detail and relative tunnel vision on his team is a perfect fit with the New York market and with the team GM Jerry Reese has crafted with his help. His players don't always appreciate his gruff nature, but they respect that he has a plan and knows what he's doing, and his unwavering personality is an excellent rudder for a team prone to alternating dramatic stretches of greatness and despair.
The long view on Tom Brady is probably unchanged. Brady did not have a good game, something that was more noticeable to my wife than me as we were watching the game. Several times she wondered why the throw wasn't right on target, and the opening safety is a bonehead play that smacked of an arrogant "no way they call that on Tom Brady" attitude. His interception was a terrible underthrow and a poor decision with the football. The play where so many are blaming Wes Welker for the drop was another throw where the ball was not where and when it needed to be. I've spent ample time the last couple of weeks breaking down college quarterbacks, and so many of the criticisms I have of the Ryan Tannehills and Brock Osweilers of the upcoming draft were very fitting of Brady. He wasn't especially good in the AFC Championship game either.
Yet Brady gets the benefit of context. Everyone knows by now that his receivers are relative garbage compared to what Eli gets to throw to, and New England's defense was historically awful this year. It's amazing Brady guided this group to the #1 seed and into the Super Bowl, and I think most people understand and respect that. He still wears three rings and he is still a perennial MVP candidate.
I think the big loser in the legacy war is Bill Belichick. Right or wrong, it seems so many still hold Spygate against him like he's Jeffrey Dahmer getting caught with the naked teenage boy running out of the house. Immediately after the game my Twitter and Facebook feeds were dominated by taunts proclaiming how "Belicheat" has not won a title since Spygate. Never mind that he got the team back to two other Super Bowls. Getting outcoached by Coughlin in this game (again) certainly doesn't help. Sadly, I think the Spygate BS obscures Belichick's biggest failure: his draft strategy. Considering the talent he's given himself, his teams have considerably overachieved. All those times where he has traded back in the draft and accumulated extra picks, Belichick has precious little to show for it. Instead of the impact players at wide receiver, corner, or pass rusher that the team so obviously and desperately needs, Belichick continues to shun going after those players in favor of burning those extra picks on project linemen, special teams players, and 3rd string quarterbacks.
$.03-- Much of the news of the week in Indianapolis had nothing to do with the Super Bowl but rather the most famous local player. Peyton Manning dominated the football news cycle with rampant speculation about his neck, his contract situation, and his future. Conflicting reports declared Manning was ready for practice but also not medically cleared. Conflicting reports stated the Colts were amenable to revising the poison pill date in Manning's contract, while others said neither Manning nor Colts owner Jim Irsay had any desire to do such a thing.
Such is the case when one of the game's most prominent personas is in such a state of flux. The truth is that nobody, not Irsay, not Manning, and certainly not any writer or radio yakker, knows what is going to happen with Peyton Manning. Speculate all you want, people...and you are.
My personal speculation remains what it was last August: I believe Peyton Manning has played his last down in the NFL. I don't see any way the Colts pay him his option bonus next month, and I don't see any way the NFLPA would allow Manning to renegotiate the terms. That seemingly outrageous option bonus is something that the players union loves because it ensures that the star players get their giant paychecks, be it with colleting the bonus or hitting the open market. Should Manning acquiesce on that point he'll have a lot of very angry peers, not to mention an agent that just lost $1.12 million dollars.
I think the long-term scenarios will convince Manning to call it a career. He just fathered twins. His endorsement dollars are unlikely to dry up anytime soon, certainly not in Indy. Three neck surgeries is serious business even for professional athletes, and Manning is not a careless kind of person. On the contrary, he's an analytical machine, a calculating surgeon. He knows the risks. He just saw the Colts finish 2-14 and almost everyone he's played with on offense or dealt with in the halls is gone. Going to another team means learning a new offense, learning new receivers, and dealing with all sorts of different drama. Can you honestly imagine Peyton Manning being coached by a defensive blowhard like Rex Ryan, or a micromanaging QB guru like Mike Shanahan? Really?
$.04-- The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced their Class of 2012 on Saturday. As always, the picks proved controversial and difficult to defend from top to bottom. I actually think the selection committee did a better job than most years.
Dermontti Dawson and Willie Roaf were no-brainer choices, both readily acknowledged as among the greatest ever at center and tackle, respectively. Dawson had some huge shoes to fill, following fellow HOFer Mike Webster in Pittsburgh and more than holding his own. Roaf stood out even in a relative golden era of left tackles, as dominant of a blind side protector as there has been in the Super Bowl era. For all the great Roaf plays, I still remember his very first preseason game as a Saints rookie and knowing right then he was going to be amazing. He gave up a sack to a Chicago Bear and reacted by...angrily crying on the sideline and apologizing to his quarterback. Anyone with that level of passion and his obvious physical gifts is destined for greatness, and Roaf lived up to it. For my money he is the second-best tackle of my football cognizance, after Anthony Munoz.
Two defenders primarily from the 1990s also made the cut. Cortez Kennedy and Chris Doleman are not the household names of some more prominent recent inductees, but these two were player's players and extraordinarily highly regarded by their peers and coaches of the era. Kennedy is the player every 4-3 defense wants their tackle to be, a disruptive bull that can collapse the pocket and snuff out the run while keeping blockers guessing which gap he is going to attack. His 1992 season is the gold standard for all defensive linemen, proven by his being named Defensive MVP while playing on a terrible Seahawks team that finished 2-14. Doleman led the league in sacks 6 times, finishing in double figures 8 times in a 10-season span. He was the Demarcus Ware of his generation, though he spent most of his career on non-contending, lower-profile teams in Minnesota and Atlanta.
The senior committee inductee is Jack Butler, a corner for the Steelers in the 1950s. He made the all-decade team and picked off 52 passes in 103 games in an era where QBs rarely threw more than 20 passes in a game. He mostly played before my father's time so I'll trust they got it right.
The one beef I have is with Curtis Martin. It's not that I don't think Martin was a great player; he was a remarkably consistent, durable chain mover for a very long time, with a late-career hiccup that remains one of the best seasons any RB has ever had. But much of his statistical accomplishment stems from volume and length of career, not truly outstanding results. His career yards per carry is just 4.0 and when you think of his career you think of Martin getting exactly four yards on each of his 22 carries every game of his long career. He's the anti-Barry Sanders. Had he played in Cleveland or Carolina, and not on the Bill Parcells teams in New England and the New York Jets, he would not have made the finalists group, certainly not in his second year of eligibility. I have a strong appreciation for the type of player Martin was and what he represents; dependable, smart, tough, maximum effort guys deserve their glory, and Martin was certainly all those for a very long time. I think Martin does belong, but I would have preferred he wait a few classes.
But he was a 60-watt long-lasting bulb. Charles Haley was at least a 90-watt spotlight that produced more for his teams. Haley proudly dons five Super Bowl rings and his outstanding play is directly responsible for at least four of those; Martin lost in his only Super Bowl trip and only won one other playoff game in his other 10 seasons. Martin only finished in the top-5 in rushing touchdowns twice. His career most closely resembles fellow finalist Jerome Bettis, who rightly did not make the final cut. Haley's career was all about impact at critical moments that made teams great. He was the focal point of every blocking scheme he faced, and he won a whole lot more battles than he lost despite that, especially in crunch time in big games.
Then there are the wide receivers. Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed continue to wear bridesmaid dresses despite all ranking among the most prolific at their positions in both productivity and award accolades. The rationale offered by selection committee member (and frequent critic of the process) Peter King is that the trio cancels one another out, that the selectors cannot separate one above the other two. I would humbly offer Carter as the most deserving, as any person under the age of 40 will tell you CC had the greatest hands and coordination of any wideout they've ever seen, including Jerry Rice. Six times in seven seasons he finished in the top-five in both receptions and touchdowns, and he sits 4th all-time in both. Brown wasn't quite as dynamic of a receiver but has the added plus of being a great return man for several years. Reed's numbers don't quite stack up so favorably, but with both Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas already in it only makes sense to enshrine the other member of one of the greatest triplet groupings of all time.
$.05-- Perhaps the best news of the weekend was a blurb about Roger Goodell being open to eliminating the sporting atrocity that is the Pro Bowl. After briefly watching a few plays and seeing the highlights of some others, the players involved clearly won't mind not playing. Other than the quarterbacks and wideouts (with Cam Newton an embarrassing exception), none of the guys in Hawaii gave a damn about the integrity of the game or the outcome. The linemen had less contact with one another than a tightly chaperoned Amish teen mixer. As I hadn't paid any mind to it in years--I think all All-Star games are horrible, with this one being the worst--I was stunned at just how egregious the Pro Bowl had truly become.
It seems the NFL is finally catching up to my line of thinking. After an abortive attempt at tying it in with the host Super Bowl city two years ago, the league moved it back to Hawaii where it belongs. The players and coaches love the free trip to Hawaii, and that is a tradition worth keeping. The good people of the islands deserve their annual professional sporting bone, so why not give them something actually worth watching? How about a punt, pass, & kick contest amongst the pros, with the winners of each teams' age group contests thrown in the mix? How about incorporating the Sports Science experience, letting Larry Fitzgerald demonstrate his catch radius or seeing from how far away Aaron Rodgers can hit a deck of cards like a trick shooter? Make it more like a fan experience akin to what the NCAA does around the Final Four, letting average fans hobnob with legends of the sport in all sorts of football-related activities. Even a flag football game on the beach isn't a bad idea, though the shadow of Robert Edwards looms long. The Pro Bowl game this year resembled a flag football game anyways, why not embrace the frivolity of the whole thing?
I have an unusual favorite ad, but it comes with a good explanation. My favorite was the GE/Budweiser ad that highlighted the engineers at the General Electric plant in Schenectady. That happens to be where my little brother (Hi Ryan!) spent most of the last two years working in the wind turbine division. I found it a great reminder that there are still important manufacturing and innovation jobs in this country. Didn't make me want to drink a Bud, however.
The Doritos "You didn't see nuthin" ad was a Risdon household favorite. My 3-year-old daughter loved the later Doritos ad with the baby being launched across the yard.
Samsung stole the 4th quarter with the awesome Galaxy ad. Aside from resurrecting The Darkness and their cheesy epic "I Believe in a Thing Called Love", one of my favorite songs of the millennium, the product looked great and they used it for situations I could see myself wanting something like it. Good to see Brian Urlacher getting some endorsement dollars too, though my wife did not recognize him out of uniform. Perhaps she was distracted by my rather vocal proclamation that I too want a pink striped spandex jumpsuit...
The ad I most want to see again: the Teleflora Valentine's Night ad. That woman is smoking hot! I will admit to wanting to check out a Fiat Abarth as well. Actually, check that; I went to the Houston Auto Show last weekend and tried unsuccessfully to sit in one. My knees had no prayer of fitting under the steering wheel. In fact, it's tiny enough inside that my 6-year-old son Layne could sit in the driver's seat and reach the pedals without scooting forward. He thought it was awesome, I thought "Are you kidding me?!"
Even though I will never drive one, I really liked the new Lexus GS sedan. Exactly what a car commercial should do--highlight the car, which is exactly the opposite of the Jerry Seinfeld Acura NSX ad. That car could be the sweetest set of wheels this side of Smokey and the Bandit but you'd never know it from the ad, entertaining as it might be.
Props to Budweiser for unearthing one of my all-time favorite songs, "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult. Once again, it does not make me want to drink a Bud, but I do feel better about the brand I guess. I also liked Kia using Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart", appropriately coopting one of my generation's favorite driving anthems.
The only movie trailer that raised eyebrows here was for "The Lorax", which got Layne's quiet and full attention. Looks like I'll be seeing that one. None of the other films seem more than mildly intriguing, as in "I probably won't change the channel if it comes on in the hotel room" level of interest. Honestly do we really need more tired, overplayed superhero movies?
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