Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tarvaris Jackson = Dynasty

Actually, I have no idea what this is all about. Since I know almost as little about Jackson as I do about Croyle (or any other QB here), I'll have to trust Childress and company.

Vikes needed a QB for the future; they got a QB for the future.

Ryan Cook = Three straight Super Bowls

Picking up another OL is a decent idea; getting a center when Birk has been dealing with serious injuries for a few years is a decent idea, too.

As my wife just said, "It was really rough when Birk was out."

The Vikes can still get a QB in the 3rd round.

Cedric Griffin = Two straight Super Bowls

The Vikings needed a nickel CB, and the second round is a good place to get that.

Chad Greenway = Super Bowl

Playmaking linebacker: just what the Vikes need.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Vikings, Rubes, and Jerseys

Welcome to the Viking Pep Rally
The Viking Jersey Unveiling was just like a high school pep rally. The cheerleaders were on hand for no apparent reason. The alumni were trotted out for their applause (alumni consisted of Tommy Mason, Jim Marshall, Paul Krause, Joey Browner, and Randall McDaniel). The head coach came out to say a few random but uncharismatic words to the fans. Then the current players came out in the new outfits (players on hand: Mewelde Moore, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Matt Birk, Jermaine Wiggins, Jim Kleinsasser, and Troy Williamson). All in all, just what the rubes need to get through the offseason.

Why the rubes come out to play
The NFL season is very short, with only a few real events to attend. So in the offseason, fans will take any excuse whatsoever to attend an event featuring their team. The rubes were out in full force at the MOA last night. I've twice been to River Falls, WI when the Vikes scrimmaged the Chiefs--it was an absolute madhouse covering several practice fields. I've attended preseason games, and there are barely less people in attendance than for a real game. It's been years since I've been to Mankato for training camp, and I've never been to the draft party, but from my understanding it's just as crazy.

We're rubes. We love our team. We'll do just about anything to feel any connection with the team.

My fandom is put to shame
I always feel guilty when I see the fans walking around with facepaint and horned helmets (yes, plenty of fans painted their faces purple and gold to attend a freaking jersey unveiling). I always think, "Could I be doing more as a fan?"

Modernization without abandoning tradition
There's always a fair amount of anxiety when a team changes jersey styles. Too many teams have made terrible changes, even altering the color scheme and overall concept. And there will always be some people resistant to any changes.

But I like the new Viking uniforms. They've maintained the color scheme without change. The helmet is slightly revised (which has happened before too), but the concept of the horn on the side of the helmet remains. The changes really make a huge difference in the overall look of the uniform; however, the uniforms are really the same (with a few swishing stripes on the side and shoulder pads).

I think the changes are positive. The purple pants are slick. On the football field, they will look classy and pretty similar to the way they've always looked.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Football mini-posts

Ricky Manning, Jr. = Bloggers' Sworn Enemy
I once had a student in class who was poking fun at those who would dress up as characters to stand in line for Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, who memorize and know the minute details of the sagas, who talk about them all the time. When I asked him how that is different from people who paint their faces and dress up and tailgate before football games, or memorize statistics, or talk about sports all the time, he muttered, "That's different. It just is."

Of course, it's not. To each his own. Die-hard sports fans are geeks, and should embrace that. And most sports bloggers are the biggest geeks of them all: we know excruciating minutiae about our favorite teams, and we devote hours to talking about sports online. Furthermore, many of us may have been geeks in high school.

And isn't the case of Ricky Manning and his posse beating up a guy in a Denny's for using a laptop computer just a hyper-exaggerated version of jocks picking on nerds?

And so, Ricky Manning, Jr. comes to stand for all we hate. And now he's on the Bears.

Draft Exhaustion
It's NFL Draft Week; I should post about what the Vikings might do. Of course, I've been doing that for weeks. So has everybody else. I can't possibly come up with something new right now. Draft hype might be worse than Super Bowl hype because of the longevity and scope of it. For two weeks, we get way too much Super Bowl hype, and then to watch actual football being played seems like a pure, real experience. But the hype for the draft lasts months, involves every team, involves hundreds of players, AND HAS NO PAYOFF. The experience of watching the draft is a lot like draft hype: all speculation and potential, no real performance.

Viking Fashion Show
Thursday at the Mall of America, some prominent Viking players will be modeling the new uniforms. There's something surreal about such an event: bulked up tough guys marching around a stage to be voyeuristically ogled by ridiculous fans for nothing other than their presence and their attire. I can't wait to see it. One of the benefits of living in the Twin Cities is that I'm close to all these things that happen. It takes me about 20 minutes to get to the MOA; I simply can't justify NOT going to this show.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Friday, April 21, 2006

Writing Quality: Skip Bayless

One of my least favorite expressions: "X and Y don't even belong in the same sentence together."

Why do I dislike this? Because anything can go in the same sentence together. "X is way better than Y." "Y shouldn't even be compared to X." Any two subjects can appear in the same sentence, in part because words like "not" exist. Saying things don't belong in the same sentence together doesn't really illustrate their difference in quality. It does--but not really. Only in the way we recognize what cliches mean even if we don't know their original meaning. That's why developing writers are taught to avoid cliches. They are unoriginal and meaningless. Cliches are generally a sign of poor writing.

But there's a more important reason I don't like this cliche. By saying "X and Y don't belong in the same sentence," you are putting X and Y in the same sentence! It's a paradoxical sentence, sort of like the sentence, "I am lying."

Skip Bayless pulls this poor writing cliche thrice in his column on Vince Young.

He writes,

"Then again, comparing Vince Young with Aaron Rodgers is like putting Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in the same sentence."

Very good, Skip. Evidently, only a moron would put Manning and Leaf in the same sentence.

Later, he writes a sentence that stands as its own paragraph:

"Mario Williams doesn't belong in the same paragraph with Vince Young."

Skip, not only have you placed them in the same paragraph, but your paragraph is only one sentence! Evidently Williams and Vince do occasionally belong in the same paragraph.

But Skip Bayless likes this cliche, and he keeps expanding it outward:

"Otherwise, Williams doesn't belong in the same zip code with Peppers."

Bayless likes the "X doesn't belong (insert some level of distance) within Y" cliche when saying that X isn't nearly as good as Y. At least he's consistent in using this well-worn cliche and he seems to be developing a pattern of expansion throughout the column.

But it's a poor, stupid, inherently contradictory cliche that only means something at this point because we all know what it means. It's a cliche that is not only counter-intuitive, but illuminates nothing.

Construction of Identity: Dick Vitale

ESPN Classic is showing old NBA playoff broadcasts. During a showing of a 1984 game, I thought I recognized the commentator's voice. It was a simple, professional broadcast, featuring solid commentary and analysis on the game, and was fairly critical. Where had I heard the voice before?

And way...I realized...IT'S DICK VITALE!

It was a calm, clear, professional broadcast.

There was no screaming, shouting, or yelling. No catchphrases. No exaggerated praise for players, coaches, or programs.

It was just regular commentary and analysis on a basketball game.

So when did Dick Vitale construct the Identity he is known for now?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Vikings and Me

Four Super Bowl appearances. Legendary Hall of Famers such as Fran Tarkenton and Alan Page (the two Vikings to win MVPs). Wonderful stories. Consistent success.

Nearly there so often.

And so often thwarted with heartbreak and misery.

Old Viking fans can talk about Drew Pearson's pushoff in 1975, and the miserable experiences they had watching their team stink in four Super Bowls. Younger Viking fans can tell you where they were when Gary Anderson missed the kick against the Falcons, when they lost 41-0 to the Giants, when Nate Poole made Paul Allen shout "NOOOO! NOOOO!"

Scars? We've got a few.

What we don't have is a championship trophy. The Vikings are by far the most successful NFL franchise to never have won a championship (not a pleasant honor by any means). The Vikes have a rich, successful history featuring playoff wins and gladiators decked in purple breathing misty cold air.

And that one championship trophy could redeem the suffering of an entire fanbase. That one championship could justify the entire beautiful history of the franchise. That one championship could bring meaning and closure to a team that has had brilliant success, but is left with the emptiness.

Emptiness. That's what it is to be a Viking fan. Glory and tradition that is, ultimately, empty. A great deal of suffering and time and all for nothing.

If the Vikings can win a single championship, nothing else would matter. Future failure (even the much feared relocation) could be soothed with the simple memory. Any time the Vikings lose a devestating playoff game, I could say, "At least they won a championship." I could look at pictures, read statistics, put in video tape. I would comfort myself with the memory of past triumph. Now, when the Vikings season ends, I have nothing. Just that empty, pitiful feeling. I feel like A. E. Housman; every year that passes without a Viking championship is one less chance to see the cherry tree in bloom.

Because every day, yes EVERY DAY, I consider the prospect that I will die without seeing the Vikings win a Super Bowl.

Which means every day I consider dying without fulfillment, without purpose, without meaning.

And that's my life as a Viking fan.

More on 1st round QBs

Using,, and (just to check if Tony Eason started Super Bowl XX), I have been examining the success rate of 1st round QBs.

I have used a very modest measure of success. I have considered it a successful pick if he

a. made at least one Pro Bowl with the team that drafted him, or
b. started at least one Super Bowl with the team that drafted him.

This shows at least some positive outcome from drafting the QB. One could argue persuasively of course that drafting a QB just to have him make one Pro Bowl and never lead your team to the Super Bowl is probably a lousy use of a pick. But I'm just trying to measure some level of success achieved by drafting a QB in the first round.

I have excluded supplemental picks from this percentage. Listed below are the number of first round QBs who achieved either a. or b. out of the total number of QBs selected in the first round. I decided to check from the merger on.

1983 (Elway) and 1986 (Everett) feature QBs who did not achieve a. or b. with the team that drafted each, but was acquired by a team prior to their rookie seasons.

1970: 1/2
1971: 2/3
1972: 0/2
1973: 1/1
1975: 1/1
1976: 0/1
1977: 1/2
1978: 0/1
1979: 1/3
1980: 0/2
1981: 0/1
1982: 1/2
1983: 4/6*
1986: 0/2*
1987: 1/4
1989: 1/1
1990: 0/2
1991: 0/2
1992: 0/2
1993: 1/2
1994: 1/2
1995: 2/2
1997: 0/1
1998: 1/2
1999: 2/5
2000: 0/1
2001: 1/1
2002: 0/3
2003: 1/4
2004: 1/4
2005: 0/3

This measures only a very small level of success. A few other factors that might be better for measuring success:
a. QBs who made multiple Pro Bowls with the teams that drafted them
b. QBs who started and won at least one playoff game with the teams that drafted them.

The numbers show little other than that is is a crapshoot whether or not a 1st round QB will have even a minimal, short-term level of success.

I could compare this to the relative success to other positions taken in the first round. I'm not sure that would be accurate, however, for two reasons:
1. QB busts make a bigger difference than busts at other positions
2. Successful QBs have a greater impact on their team than other positions.

Anyway, this is a bunch of gibberish right now.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Drafting QBs

Let's go backward through the past 10 Super Bowls to find starting Super Bowl QBs who were 1st round draft picks.

I'm going mostly off the top of my head here (the only guy I looked up was Chris Chandler), and I'm signifying the season, not the year.

2005: Ben Roethlisberger
2004: Donovan McNabb
2000: Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins
1999: Steve McNair
1998: John Elway
1997: John Elway
1996: Drew Bledsoe

So, of the 20 opportunities to start a Super Bowl in the past 10 years, only 8 starters have been 1st round draft picks. In the last 5 years, only 2 of 10 Super Bowl starters were 1st round picks.

There are many ways to explain this, and I won't get into them now. But the question certainly presents itself: is it worth it to draft a QB in the first round?

Actually, another issue is also presented. In the past 10 seasons, how many of the Super Bowl starting QBs were drafted by the team they led to the Super Bowl?

2005: Ben Roethlisberger
2004: Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady
2003: Tom Brady
2001: Tom Brady
1999: Steve McNair
1998: John Elway
1997: John Elway
1996: Drew Bledsoe

Only 9 of the 20 Super Bowl starters were drafted by their Super Bowl team at all (and that includes only 6 different players).

Again, there are numerous ways to interpret this. But again, a question is presented: is it any better to draft a QB than to acquire a QB another way?

(update: just realized Elway wasn't drafted by the Broncos. However, since he was a rookie with the Broncos, it might be OK to count this with an asterisk)

A good Saturday wasted

The NFL draft approaches. I've already created many of the rookies on Madden 06; I just await April 29th to add them to the right team (I've already adjusted most rosters for Free Agency). I'll need to stock up on pop, pizza, booze, and Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.

The Vikings' choices with the #17 pick actually seem fairly limited to me. I'll be surprised if they don't do one of the following:

A. Trade the pick for Matt Schaub.

B. Trade into the Top Ten and draft a QB.

C. Stay put and draft one of the top RB prospects.

D. Stay put and draft a linebacker.

I just don't see a lot of other options. First, look at the defense.

They won't draft somebody in the secondary. In the last few years they've built a starting secondary entirely through Free Agency (Winfield, Smoot, Sharper, Williams). Anybody they draft would be a nickel back. Any team that didn't make the playoffs the year before must have greater needs than a nickel back.

I don't see them drafting a defensive lineman. Not only do they have 03, 04, and 05 first round picks on the defensive line, they have dominant NT Pat Williams, and guys like Darrion Scott, DeQuincy Scott, and C.J. Moseley providing depth. It's just not a pressing need.

On defense, they could draft outside or inside linebackers.

On offense, the team certainly doesn't need to draft a WR. It's a deep position mixed with youth and veterans. I have trouble seeing them taking an offensive lineman, as the left side is set with very good players, and there are a lot of linemen on roster to fight for the positions on the right side. That leaves RBs, QBs, and TEs. I guess a TE wouldn't shock me, but it doesn't seem a pressing immediate need with Jermaine Wiggins on the team (certainly the Vikes could use another pass catching TE). It's debatable whether the team needs a RB--there are arguments for or against. There is no debate that they need a good young QB to either learn under 38 year old Brad Johnson or fight for his job.

Now, with the two 2nd rounders and two 3rd rounders, the Vikings could do anything. In those spots, getting good backups or future starters makes sense. I just don't see any other options for the 1st round pick.

Can you see any reasonable choice for the #17 pick other than those I listed above? Or are any of those I listed above completely unreasonable?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Seahawks: shut up.

Are the Seattle Seahawks a franchise of whiners? First they lost the Super Bowl because the refs sided with the Steelers. Now, there's still upset that Steve Hutchinson is a Viking.

This needs to stop.

This article by Art Thiel in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (via PFT, the best source for all things NFL) reveals a few things about why I'm sick of the Seahawks complaining about the Vikings getting Steve Hutchinson.

Mike Holmgren is rightly annoyed at the Seahawk front office for botching the Hutchinson situation. They could have franchised him. They chose to give him a transition designation. THE SEAHAWKS WILLINGLY MADE HIM AVAILABLE TO OTHER TEAMS.

When you screw up, deal with it. Don't bitch about how others were able to take advantage of your screwup.

Thiel called the Vikings contract "diabolical." Holmgren says that "No one in their wildest dreams... thought that Minnesota would do something that no team had done in 12 years (under the collective bargaining agreement) because it's kind of unfair."

Did the Vikings break a single rule of the Collective Bargaining Agreement? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It could not be found that the Vikes broke any rule. It's not about being "unfair": when groups agree to a Collective Bargaining Agreement, they are putting aside subjective concepts of fairness and CREATING RULES. These rules are negotiated, compromised, and agreed upon. If one side or the other is concerned that something is unfair, there is a chance to negotiate. If it is deemed too unfair, no agreement will be reached. It's not about morality, it's about law: AN AGREEMENT IS MADE REGARDING RULES THAT WILL BE FOLLOWED.

Is it "fair" that players get drafted and don't get a choice about where they play? Probably not. But it's been agreed that those are the rules by which the system will work.

Quit bitching about fairness, Seahawks. You knew the rules. You made a tactical error within the rules. Another team took advantage of your tactical error and played within the rules to its advantage.

There is nothing else to whine about.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A few football notes

The meaning of the draft
I've been putting off writing an essay-length post on the metaphysical, existential meaning of the Minnesota Vikings. In the meantime, I'm wondering: what is the meaning of the NFL Draft to a football fan?

Back in February at Free Darko, there was a discussion on the nature of "potential" and NBA fandom. I suggested that the in the NFL, the season is devoted to pure actualization with little talk about potential, and the offseason is devoted to pure potential.

Why is the NFL draft so popular? The fact is, on draft day nobody wins a game and nobody loses a game, but the draft provides us with the perception, the potential, of winning games. It's all about hope. The season may disappoint, but we get to dream. It is tremendously meaningful to NFL fans because it is the only day of substance devoted to hope. During the season, what matters is the season. There's no rebuilding during the season: your team is what it is, be it good, bad, or mediocre. Certainly we are free to hope and dream about the future of our favorite teams at any point, but most of our time as spectators of NFL events is devoted to the now. For one day, we get substance of the future.

The Vikes scored big in the Daunte trade is suggesting that Daunte Culpepper may miss most or all of 2006.
So let's get this straight. The Vikings had a 29 year old QB who had won 2 playoff games. He is recovering from a serious injury that may prevent him from ever being as good again. He may not be able to contribute at all for a full season.

And the Vikings got something for him?

It is possible that the Dolphins gave up a second-round pick for the right to a 30 year old player available in 2007 who has recovered from a career-changing injury and has never been a proven winner.

Adulthood and Responsibility make Pacifist Viking a Sad Fan
I try to use this blog to write about sports, not myself, but occasionally the intersection of sports and my life gives me reason.

I'm an 2nd year adjunct college professor, which means I have no tenure, no seniority, and I get paid per credit I teach each semester. Because I'm in the process of buying a house (a purchase that will soon limit my cable access, cancel my home internet access, and severely limit my football and basketball card collecting), I need to make money. And the good news is that I got my tentative fall schedule, and I'm tentatively scheduled for four classes.

Why mention it here? Because indeed, I am scheduled to teach a class 5:00-8:00 central time on Mondays. I will miss most of the Vikings' season opener (hello, VCR). I will miss parts of the Vikings' Monday Night game vs. the Patriots (unless I can score me some tickets; you better believe I'd give some happy students the night off for that). I guess that might be all the Monday Night Football I miss because of class, since I probably won't have ESPN at all.

So indeed, adulthood and responsibility will seriously limit my fandom in 2006. Life responsibilities have always in some way limited my fandom; the proof that I am an adult is that I'm more than willing to let them.

The precious record
Dan Marino currently has 420 TD passes. Brett Favre has 396. It seemed like when Marino approached Tarkenton's previous record, it was talked about a great deal. So too when Emmitt Smith approached and broke Walter Payton's rushing record.

Why isn't this mentioned in the articles about Favre deciding whether to retire or not? Is Favre being treated like he is above such statistical concerns? I just don't know why nobody even talks about it as potential motivation for returning. It's one of the most hallowed NFL records. If Favre returns, he has a fair chance to break it (he also has a fair chance to break a different record).

I'm just a little curious why this is being ignored, especially since so many writers and broadcasters love to heap praises on Favre.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Do the Vikings need to draft a RB?

There's some debate regarding the Vikings' potential need of a running back which they could address through the draft.

Some people say the Vikings need to draft a star-quality running back, and that after years of messing around with Running Back By Committee, the team needs to get a young workhorse.

Others say that RB is actually one of the Vikings' deeper positions, and that there are more prominent team needs than this position.

Let's take a look at the meaningful RBs currently on the roster (I know that other RBs may be on the roster, but these are really the only ones I expect to be capably of a real contribution from in 2006).

Chester Taylor
As a backup in Baltimore, he played well. He had good yards per carry, and showed the ability to be part of a passing game. The Vikes wouldn't have signed him as a FA if they didn't expect good things from him. I figure at worst, he'll be an average running back. I don't know what his ceiling is.

Tony Richardson
On KFAN yesterday, Richardson talked about considering himself a 6th offensive lineman. I don't think we should expect a lot of carries from him.

Mewelde Moore
Moore has shown flashes of brilliance. But there's a reason he's only shown flashes; he has a tendency to get minor injuries, and to allow these minor injuries to sideline him for extended periods of time (either that, or Mike Tice didn't like him). You should be able to count on him to give a solid contribution at the position, but you cannot count on him to give you 20+ touches with any regularity, and I doubt you should expect 16 games.

Onterrio Smith
At this point, I think you have to consider Onterrio a Zero-Plus. You shouldn't count on him for anything, and anything he gives you will be a plus. Having him back means good depth, but I don't know if he'll ever be an every-down back.

Ciatrick Fason
In my humble opinion, Fason sucks.

So, in my estimation, whether you think the Vikes should draft a RB or not depends entirely on your opinion of Chester Taylor. If you think he can be a good to very good running back if given the opportunity to be a feature back, then the Vikes don't need a RB. If you think that he is merely average, and that the Vikings still need a workhorse feature back, then they should draft a RB.

I have no strong feeling right now. Chester Taylor might end up being a very good back, and Moore provides some definite depth and talent to strengthen the position. But I don' know that Taylor can be a star RB, so if the Vikings brass thinks they could do better, I'd support them doing something about it in the draft.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A rambling April look at the club

I'm a Viking diehard. I enjoy taking meandering looks at the squad periodically during the offseason. These ramblings lack coherence, direction, and order; it's D- quality writing. But a blog is a good dumping ground for an obsessive-compulsive fan (I don't get the reviews of Hornby's Fever Pitch that talk about how funny it is; I haven't laughed once).

Be warned; this isn't quality writing and you should only read it if you have a deep abiding passion for the Purple.

Despite being converted to a "Defense and Special Teams wins championships" ideology, I still care about the Viking offense. Some ramblings about the Viking offense.

Interesting article here at the Pioneer Press (via PFT) on the Viking WRs.

Koren Robinson is the #1 WR, and Troy Williamson has the best chance to be #2.

I see a lot of of the dreaded word "potential" here. It's not exactly Cris Carter and Randy Moss, but Robinson and Williamson seem suited to play well in a West Coast variant (nobody can really be sure what Childress is going to be running). Robinson has size, speed, and playmaking ability. Williamson has incredible after-the-catch speed (though in 2005 he had real trouble adjusting to deep passes in the air).

There's no proven skill position star on the Vikes...but there are no slouches, either.

It's a little scary that the Vikings could be starting two former Raven skill position players on offense, when the Ravens have had one of the legendarily bad offenses of the past few years.

Brad Johnson won't be spectacular, but that's fine. The Vikes have had plenty of spectacular offense, while BJ has earned the hardware. He wins games, and he's done it with three different franchises. I just hope his 38 year old arm holds up one more season before they turn the squad over to a youngster.

If that youngster is Mike McMahon, perhaps you would like to join me in the purchase of a vomit bucket.

One big question: will Matt Birk be as good at pulling as he was before his injury? And in Childress's offense, will he need to be?

Now, some thoughts on the defense, the stuff that really matters. Don't worry, this is getting somewhere, I think.

Here's what I see when I think about the Viking defense.

On defensive line, I see limitless talent and youth. Pat Williams was the Vikes' best player last season (Dr. Z wrote that he hadn't seen a nose tackle have a year like PW had last season). He is surrounded by three young recent first-round picks: Kevin Williams, Erasmus James, Keneche Udeze. These four (probably the starting lineup) are supported by all sorts of solid role players to add the required depth.

In the secondary, I see Antoine Winfield, the best tackling CB in the league (after watching Winfield for two years, I know that sometimes WRs catch passes against him, but they almost always get tackled immediately where they catch it). On the other side, there's Fred Smoot: not great in 2005, but he's been a very good cover corner, and he's bulked up. The safeties are gems: Darren Sharper is a playmaking veteral who seems to have a knack for intercepting passes, and Tank Williams is a 25 year old 4 year starter.

The defensive line and the secondary make me feel good. The rest of the D? Color me concerned.

Who is a nickel back? Fox and Edwards get mentioned, but they haven't done enough to make me confident. The Vikes could use a CB in the draft (though not in the first round--no reason to pay a nickel CB that much).

And the Vikings simply must draft linebackers. Maybe some of the young LBs come around in 2006. But I was thinking the same thing in 2005, and 2004, and... The Vikes have some young LBs on the roster, but it's anybody's guess what the actual starting lineup will look like in September. We don't even know if any of the current LBs are at all suited to play MLB.

I sat down to write a few things about the Viking wide receivers, and ended up coming back and taking a tour of the Vikings roster. And where'd it get me? It's a half hour later and I've got no greater insights.

Sports Hate: the NFC North

The Green Bay Packers
I hate the Packers with a passion that cannot be described. I hate everything about the team. I hate the holier than thou attitude of Packer fans (the obnoxious attitude that they are more special and unique than fans of any other football team).

I watch the Packers just to root for the other team. I want them to go 0-16 every year. I hate every stinking win they get.

Will this hatred last past Brett Favre's retirement? I honestly don't know. But since my passionate dislike of the Packers is based partly on the fanbase and my location, it probably will.

The Chicago Bears
I don't hate the Bears, but I hate the Vikings playing the Bears. One of my most miserable sports days of the year comes when the Vikings visit Soldier Field in order to get their asses handed to them as they struggle to put up double-figures. I don't really root against the Bears when they're playing other teams (unless they are in contention with the Vikes for the division title). I hate them a few weeks a year. I was amused when Steve Walsh was their QB (well, until he came into the Dome and beat the Vikes in the playoffs).

The Detroit Lions
Hating the Lions right now would be like hating a bug that I step on. I pity their fans. Since the Vikes haven't lost to the Lions since '01, I'm never terribly concerned about them. They suck. I have difficulty forseeing a time when they won't suck. That day might come, but in the words of Bill Bellamy in How to be a Player, "That day just ain't today."

Request for Moratorium

I would like to issue two requests.

1. Can we stop using all the easy boat jokes in any reference to the Vikings? Sure, talk about the Minnetonka boat scandal all you want. But do we really need paid sportswriters to be slipping these stupid, easy, pointless jokes into columns about the Vikings? Bloggers, I'm judging you too, but since most of us do this for free, my judgment will be muted.

2. Can we stop making jokes about the Vikings getting their draft pick in on time? It's another easy one. Sportwriters like to think they're clever, but making jokes about not getting the pick in on time is really, really easy, and really, really lame.

These are the two joke topics I would like to avoid. By all means, write articles about these topics, but try avoid the dumb jokes in columns that aren't about these topics at all. I know you think you're funny, but you're not. We all know why the chicken crossed the road. Most of us know that the horse has a long face, and that breakfast items and strings don't get served in bars. But we don't keep repeating these jokes every time we talk about chickens, roads, or bars.

Two Football Comments

The Phantom Menace
Disturbing news about the Vikings from the Trib's Kevin Seifert (via PFT): the Vikings lost $10 million in 2005. Zygi has stated emphatically he has no intent to move the Vikes regardless of when he gets a stadium, but for a fanbase that was constantly threatened with relocation under Red McCombs, this is disturbing. However, I'm hopeful that the expenses that led to loss are not regular expenses, and that losses in 2005 and probably 2006 stem from necessary, unrepeated expenses to correct problems from the McCombs era. Zygi had to upgrade the Winter Park facilities and upgrade the staff. That's a big expense. In 2005 and now 2006, Zygi has had to pay for big signing bonuses to big free agents. Under McCombs the Vikes were so far under the salary cap this was possible; however, in the future, it is unlikely this much bonus money will be paid out in a two year span. I hope the Vikes get a new stadium, but I also think they can get back to profitability while remaining competitive.

A literary comparison to Favre
A few days ago I compared Brett Favre's indecisiveness to Hamlet's. That's not fair to Hamlet; after all, Hamlet was gripped with the difficult decision whether to murder his uncle or not. A better literary comparison would be Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," which Frost wrote to make fun of a friend's indecisiveness (the point is, who gives a shit which road you take? The narrator, by saying things like

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence

is making way too big a deal out of his decision). Obviously an individual's choice to retire is significant. But I'd rather give Favre's indecisiveness not the tragic grandiosity of Hamlet, but the fickle exaggeration of the Frost poem.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

From an obsessive-compulsive Viking fan

The Vikings just upgraded the quality of their team web page.

I'm still exploring, but the change looks mainly aesthetic. I'm not noticing any great new features, though coverage of the team through the web page has been improving over the years (there's currently a solid article on the team's second-year players and minicamp observations).

But look at the logo in the upper left corner. That Viking horn is slightly different than the current Viking horn on the sides of the helmet. It seems slightly pointier, and has some small black lines included to give it a greater 3d horn effect (from here you should be able to contrast it to the current helmet). It's a subtle change; I think you'd probably have to be a Viking fan to even notice it. But I'm willing to bet the new helmets will feature horns with this slightly revamped look.

For some reason, I'm more worried about the uniform changes than I am about free agent signings.

But bring on the purple pants!

(picture removed)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Don Cheadle speaks to me.

One of my favorite commercials ever:

Why Dr. Z is the best

All over the internet, most bloggers love nothing more than to criticize sportswriters. I don't blame them. Most sportswriters simply recycle received wisdom through inelegant prose. But I think it's worthwhile to take the time to praise those sportswriters we admire and respect.

Which brings us to my man-crush on Dr. Z. The received wisdom means nothing to him. He poses real questions to real football minds, and in his commentary he relies on two things that make him unique among sportswriters.

1. Immense knowledge of football history.
Dr. Z is untouchable here. He loves the history, he knows it, and he tries to learn more. He always brings an historical context to contemporary football discussions. How many sportwriters could give us the following bit of wisdom, from his most recent mailbag?

Red Hickey did NOT invent the shotgun in the 1950s. He just gave it a catchy name, the newspapers picked it up, and lo, an invention. In the same decade that the T became popular, the '40s, teams went into the same formation on long yardage. It was called The Spread and it was no big deal. In the '20s and '30s it was called the Pop Warner Double Wing. Same thing. But Red used it more or less as a regular formation, you say. Well, I once saw one of Weeb Ewbank's 1930 playbooks from Oxford-McGuffey High in Ohio and he had a series called the 30, which sent five receivers downfield, with the tailback throwing from a deep set.

You want to learn about the history of pro football? Dr. Z should be on your regular reading list.

2. Rigorous Technical Analysis

If you read Dr. Z, you know he frequently writes about his tapes and his charts. He doesn't rely on the conventional ideas; he goes to tapes and does thorough analysis of the games and players. He knows the technical details of the correct form for different positions and moves. In short, he knows football. When he writes about a player's performance, he's not guessing or looking strictly at numbers or making assumptions based on reputation. He watched the tapes, play by play, and makes comments on what he sees.

These are the two factors that make Dr. Z required reading for any intelligent NFL enthusiast (yes, I feel like a tool for writing "intelligent NFL enthusiast," but I'm leaving it there). Another of Dr. Z's qualities: respect for his readers. So many sportswriters have a "mailbag" in which they demean and dismiss their readers. Dr. Z really engages readers in his mailbag in a manner which shows he respects our intelligence.

Dr. Z is a model sportswriter, and one of my legitimate heroes.

Why is this enough to get me excited?

Video of minicamp.

Attendance and the Fan

In Nick Hornby's memoir Fever Pitch, an eloquent and accurate description of the obsession of fandom, Hornby makes clear the importance of attending Arsenal soccer matches. He documents the sacrifice and suffering that is sometimes required to attend games.

In my entire life, I've been to 7 regular season Viking games. My relationship to the team exists mainly through television.

Am I a lesser fan for being unwilling or unable to purchase season tickets? Is attendance at games a requirement for the die-hard fan? In an argument of devotion to the team, would any season ticket holder have the clear edge over me?

I don't think so. I've known Packer fans who never attended a game, but I don't question the serious emotional attachment they have to their squad. I can be a dedicated, obsessed, emotionally tormented fan without ever purchasing a ticket to a game.

(by the way, I'll never see the American film Fever Pitch, but the British film starring Colin Firth connected to me in ways few films can. In that movie, I saw myself and fandom, and it allowed me to dream of one day watching the Vikings hoist the Lombardi trophy).

We've called you here to announce that you're all suckers.

There's nothing like scheduling a press conference, then making fun of people for attending your press conference.

Friday, April 07, 2006

"It begins..."

Brad Childress had his first day of minicamp. Judd Zulgad and Kevin Seifert at the Star Tribune have some interesting observations. Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris took shots at MLB. Linebacker is one of the big concerns for the Vikes going into 2006. But linebacker has been one of the big concerns for the Vikes going into ever year for the last 6 years...or 7 years...or as long as I can remember. When was the last time Ed McDaniel was playing solid football?

Yes, we care about minicamps. We care about everything.

Football in April is like non-alcoholic champagne. Obviously it shouldn't affect you...but as Barney Gumble knows, the real addict can be taken in by just about anything.

Oddly enough, though, I can't stand to watch pre-season football. I have watched many NFL practices. I have watched teams run drills (I used to live in River Falls, WI, where the Kansas City Chiefs have training camp. I am basically indifferent to the Chiefs in particular...but I frequented practice just to watch NFL practice). But I can't stand watching preseason games.

Minicamps, though...that's good stuff.

Beyond Metrodome

SI ranks the Metrodome as the #10 toughest NFL stadium to play in (not sure if it's good to be ranked #10 when there are only 32 teams, or if it's good to be recognized in the top 10).

It's fun for the Vikes to have home games at the Dome; it is an advantange. The problem, I think, is that the Dome has helped foster the team's pitiful outdoor record in the past few years. This is partly practical: the Vikes have been built for speed and offense to play on turf, and don't get to fully exploit what they were built for when outdoors. Part of it is psychological: the team seems to lack intensity and confidence when made to play in the cold outdoors (the exception, for some reason, is Lambeau).

The Vikes went to 4 Super Bowls playing in the old Met; since moving to the Dome, the Vikes haven't been to a Super Bowl.

I hope Zygi really gets his way and the new stadium allows the Vikings to play outdoors on grass. We know what it's like in Minnesota in December; now lets make other teams know that too.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Real sports stories: a nation turns its hungry eyes to you

Big news today! The NFL released its 2006 schedule. Talking heads are atwitter; there's plenty of online discussion. People are excited.

Of course, each team has known the opponents for 14 of its 16 games in 2006 for several years. The other two games were determined immediately after last season. The only thing we learned today is when those games will be played.

Let's face it; we're addicted to football, and will take any chance to discuss football we can. But this isn't news.

Last night on ESPN News, the "Breaking News" box in the corner informed us that Barry Bonds went 0 for 1. That was there "breaking news"; that was apparently the most important thing going on in sports last night. A baseball player went 0 for 1.

And finally, we have rape allegations and all sorts of other sordid things going on with the Duke Lacrosse team. How many people have watched a Lacrosse game or know much about it or care about it at all? How many of you follow college Lacrosse? The only thing I know about Lacrosse is that "you don't score until you score." I'm not even sure I know how to spell Lacrosse. I'm not saying rape allegations aren't serious business, but this story seems tangental to the sporting world. There are ramifications about gender, race, class, and privilege--but would these ramifications be terribly different if a random fraternity was going through the same allegations? I don't know.

But this is the news we get.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Taking Favre's name in vain

I hate Brett Favre. It is the irrational hatred shared by most Viking, Lion, and Bear fans (and probably also the Bucs of the old NFC Central. I don't know--do Niner fans hate him too?). I admit that this hatred is irrational, and that if he played in the AFC, I would either like him or be indifferent to him.

What is not irrational, I think, is my hatred of broadcasters who salivate for Favre. I simply despise the TV broadcasters who blame his interceptions on WRs, or who credit his mistakes to his "gunslinger" attitude, or who talk about how much fun he has, who basically elevate him to the status of some sort of football holy man (Theismann once said he wished everybody in America could sit down and have a conversation with Brett Favre, as if contact with this angel of purity would have a lasting impact on us mere mortals).

In the last few seasons (particularly last season, when Favre threw 29 interceptions on a 4-12 team), broadcasters have remained true to their pattern of defending everything Favre does. In the Packers' playoff loss to the Vikings at Lambeau after the '04 season, Favre threw an underhanded pass well past the line of scrimmage that might have cost his team a TD. The announcers laughed. Peter King continues to flirt with Favre through his columns, even when he seems not to be talking about Favre.

But in the last few years, more people have been willing to lay blame on Favre for his interceptions and team record. Not broadcasters, of course, but plenty of writers (especially on the internet) were able to recognize that Favre's interceptions may not show a gunslinger's attitude, but simple recklessness. Writers have been willing to admit that the fault for his picks lies with him, not his WRs, and that his wild passes actually cost the Packers some wins in 2005.

In the past few seasons, some have been willing to criticize Favre the man too, for his handling of Javon Walker's holdout and his Hamlet-like indecision regarding retirement. These things don't concern me much--"The play's the thing," of course--but it's notable that people are willing to share criticism. But through a link via PFT comes this article by Vic Carucci. Carucci begins,

The problem with Brett Favre taking his time to divulge whether he will retire or return for one more season with the Green Bay Packers is that it has made him more of a target of criticism than the object of affection and admiration he has been for the better part of 15 years.

Carucci shows his concern that Favre might actually be a target of criticism! Hm, an NFL Qb a target of criticism? That's unconscionable! He's been the "object of affection and admiration" for years--he simply must avoid doing anything that would make him the object of criticism!

Does Carucci think that Favre's overtime interception lob in the '03 playoffs, or his 4 INTs against the Vikings in the '04 playoffs, or his 29 INTs in 2005 are enough to make him a "target of criticism"? I do, but apparently it's only himming and hawing on retirement that can do so for the great Favre.

Carucci ends by giving Favre his advice:

Here's some additional sound advice, Brett. Let's not stretch this out too much longer. You should not be more of a target of criticism than the object of affection and admiration.

Yes, Carucci wants Favre to be an object of affection and admiration. He doesn't want him to be a target of criticism. Note, Carucci is not saying that Favre is doing anything worthy of criticism, but that he will be the "target" of criticism that Carucci implies is unfair:

But the more days and weeks that pass without a decision from Favre, the less fairness there will be in every assessment. Perception has taken charge of this story.

Carucci just wants to preserve Favre's sterling reputation--that's the reason he's written this column.

Frankly, I don't think it's that big a deal what Favre is doing (though it may be hamstringing the Packers' plans, and there's definitely some hypocrisy after the way he criticized Walker for putting self above team). I'd rather see Favre criticized for all the crazy interceptions and erratic playoff performances. But I welcome any criticism of Favre, after years and years of listening to how perfect and wonderful and flawless he is as a man and a player.

Monday, April 03, 2006

(sad photo removed)

PV's Players that Time Forgot: Bob McAdoo and Jamaal Wilkes

(Periodically I will briefly educate the rubes on the great basketball and football players of yore that I feel are too quickly forgotten today).

Bob McAdoo
McAdoo was the only NBA MVP not elected to the NBA 50 Greatest Players list in 1996. He won three straight scoring titles in 1974, 1975, and 1976, averaging over 30 ppg each season. His MVP came in '75, when he averaged 34.5 ppg and led the league in total rebounds with 1155. In short, he was a dominant player in the mid-1970s. In the latter part of his career, he was a very positive contributor for two championship teams with the L.A. Lakers, '82 and '85.

Jamaal Wilkes
After winning two championships at UCLA, Wilkes made an immediate impact in the NBA. He averaged 14.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg for the 1975 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, winning Rookie of the Year. He moved on to the Lakers, and was a 20 ppg scorer (in regular season and playoffs) for two Laker championship teams, '80 and '82. A proven winner, Wilkes ended up a key player for 2 NCAA champions and 3 NBA champions.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bruins are back where they belong.

UCLA has the consistent ability to make its opponent play like 8th graders. Little comment on the utter domination of LSU tonight. LSU was supposed to be athletic and dominant in the post, but the Bruins were by far the most athletic team on the court. They intercepted passes, contested every shot, got fast breaks, layups, dunks, and open jumpers.

I think UCLA might have an advantage in Final Four games. In today's world of college basketball, just getting to the Final Four is considered a great accomplishment for a lot of these schools and players. But as Jordan Farmar said, they only hang one type of banner in Westwood. UCLA seemed to play with greater intensity and urgency tonight.