Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The 2006 NFL Season: Rex Grossman

Some sports seasons become, even years later, synonymous to me with one particular figure or storyline. In the NBA, 92-93 was the year of Barkley, 94-95 the year or Rodman, and 95-96 the year of the Bulls. In the NFL, I always see 1994 as the year of the 49ers (in particular, Steve Young and Deion Sanders), 1993 as the year of Emmitt Smith, and 1998 as the year of Randy Moss. It's not a matter of using hindsight and looking at the eventual champion: it's looking at a particular year and seeing a story line that was prominent from beginning to end.

And that's why 2006 will always be, for me, the year of Rex Grossman. And it doesn't matter what happens in the Super Bowl.

In September the Bears were mauling just about everybody, winning huge blowouts and shutting down opposing offenses. But Rex Grossman was also playing like the Bears had found their best QB since Sid Luckman. He was chucking the ball downfield and showing us a real offense to compliment the always formidable Bear defense.

Then he starting sucking--hard. He was utterly awful in many games--and most of them, the Bears still won. He had some truly atrocious, miserable, completely unproductive and obviously detrimental to his team games: against the Cardinals (Rex is partly responsible for "They are who we thought they were" and "If you want to crown them, then crown their ass," quotes which football fans will forever be thankful), against the Vikings (he had like 0 yards and a bunch of turnovers as the Bear defense and special teams wrapped up victory), and against the Packers (a complete dud of a game, which he blamed on New Year's Eve). He had many other truly terrifying performances, and managed to scatter in a few competent games.

As it became clear that the Bears were head and shoulders above the rest of the NFC, the talk centered on Rex. Could he have three straight competent games once the playoffs came? Should Lovie Smith replace Rex with Brian Griese? How far could the Bears really get with Rex's streaky play? How do the Bear players feel about Rex? What is the meaning of Rex's statistics? Will he personally and single-handedly destroy the Bears' season in January?

And then he played well in a narrow playoff victory over the Seahawks, then he played pretty lousy in a big playoff victory against the Saints, and now the Bears are in the Super Bowl. If he plays well and the Bears lose, he'll still be the story of the season. If he plays awfully and the Bears lose (or he gets benched), he'll still be the story of the season. If he plays great and leads the Bears to a victory over the Colts, he'll be the story of the season. And if he plays utterly awful but the Bears still somehow win, he'll be the story of the season.

For better or worse, the 2006 NFL season is the season of Sexy Rexy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Barbaro (or, I have contempt for you all)

I can't recall a moment of my life when I cared about horseracing. I can't recall a moment when I cared about a horse. But as resident animal rights guy among sports bloggers, allow me to comment a bit on the death of Barbaro--a story that, frankly, I would not even be aware of if it were not for bloggers talking about it (so bloggers, if you've got contempt for the story, go look at your own damn sites). I have no interest in the story itself; I have interest in the reaction to the story.

I am not offended in the least that people are laughing about Barbaro's death. It's not because, as many are saying, it's "just a horse," but because I find it acceptable to laugh at death. Earlier this week "What was that bang?" suggested re-animating the corpse of Reggie White. When I read it, I laughed. Make all the fun you want: Barbaro doesn't care. Laughing into the face of death is one way to deal with death.

I also think a lot of grieving and mourning over Barbaro is silly, but not, as many of you would say, because it's "just a horse." It's because Barbaro is no better (and no worse) than any other animal that is exploited, abused, or harmed for human amusement, pleasure, or profit. If you are sad over Barbaro's death but are enjoying a hamburger or steak today, I want you to tell me why exactly a particular horse is better than a particular cow. Certainly personal awareness makes a difference: we cry when a close friend or relative dies but not when hundreds or thousands die in a tragedy far from us, or we cry when our dogs die even though pigs--just as smart and lively as dogs--are killed and eaten all the time. But if you're sad about Barbaro, you might just want to stop eating those burgers, and you might just want to get rid of that leather, because Barbaro is just like a lot of the animals that are being used for human pleasure.

If you are into horse racing and you are sad about Barbaro's death, just think about how you are partly responsible for Barbaro's death because you support horse racing. As I noted yesterday, horse racing shouldn't exist because it is by its very nature abusive toward the animals. It's not sad that one particular horse died because of a horse racing injury; it's sad that all sorts of horses are being used and mistreated for the sport of horse racing.

Here are some of the posts and articles I've looked at about Barbaro (many of these posts and articles I found because they were linked from other of the posts and articles listed here). Some of these writers make good points; others make lousy, illogical points.

The Big Lead

T.J. Simers

Lion in Oil

Why Don't We Get Drunk and Blog?

Pat Forde

Leave the Man Alone

The Mighty MJD

I Dislike Your Favorite Team

We Are the Postmen

The Big Picture

(I don't go out of the way to talk about animal rights on my sports blog, but when a sports story inspires it, then I will. Blogs are all about unique takes that you can't get everywhere else).

UPDATE: If you are interested, PETA has commented on Barbaro's death.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Alternative Sports Perspectives

PETA on horse racing
According to Deadspin, horse Barbaro has been killed. Barbaro probably should have never existed--at least not in the form he did. PETA said as much when Barbaro was first injured. PETA has a strong stance against horse racing. Horse racing is a pretty rotten thing to do to these animals.

(Give me a break, it's not often a sports story gives me a legitimate opportunity to comment on animal rights!)

OutSports on the Super Bowl
Always a delightful column: Outsports does its Super Bowl preview from a gay perspective. A highlight:

HOMOEROTIC FOOTBALL TERMS: Tight end. Naked bootleg. Over the top. Line plunge. Going all the way. Getting penetration. Man in motion. Going deep. He scores.

I've always loved the "pound it up the middle" perspective on football.

PV's chronicle of worn-out metaphors: Peter King (4)

In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell's first rule of good English usage is “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” We now seek out writers who overuse such uncreative language.

In an October column, Peter King used two cliches in one sentence as he made fun of Andre Ware for overusing cliches: "I even survived Andre (I Never Met a Cliché I Didn't Like) Ware and made it through the ESPN2 telecast." This inspired a Pacifist Viking gimmick of chronicling these cliches.

It's an exercise I hope you appreciate: I actually read King's MMQB from beginning to end looking for cliches, worn-out metaphors, and overused phrases.

I don't like to do it. But after seeing the title of this week's MMQB, I had to do it again.

The title is "Prodigal sons: Teams turn to young coaches for new energy"

"Wow, a cliche right in the title. King continually tops himself." But it got better. You see, this title makes no sense whatsoever in the context of his column. "Prodigal" means wasteful--the biblical parable refers to the son squandering his inheritence. We now often use the prodigal son parable to refer to a figure who leaves on bad terms but returns.

King's column makes no reference whatsoever to either of these uses. As the subtitle shows, he begins by talking about the league trend of hiring young head coaches. There is nothing about wastefulness. There is nothing about a black sheep leaving and returning to make good (the only possible meaningful reference is Norv Turner interviewing with the Cowboys). It was a thoughtless title choice.

So, we've returned this gimmick to lambast King's use of worn-out metaphor once again. But we can't even bother to document every overused phrase he writes--he barely writes without overused phrases (phrases like "With all due respect to" and "the benefit of the doubt" occur all the time. King can't seem to write without them. But these are mere overused phrases, not actual metaphors). So we're going to limit the chronicle to clear cliched language.

"Everything's still up in the air"
"to pick his brain"
"it was a near-photo finish"
"stop the presses"
"Where there's smoke, there's fire,"
"the rich getting richer"
"a clean nose"
"chess match"

King may be a good reporter--he seems to have good connections in the league. But he is an AWFUL writer and deserves our constant scorn.

How the Vikings can go 14-2 in 2007

Over the weekend, I devised a way for the Vikings to make major improvements and compete for a Super Bowl championship next year.

Step One: Coax Dan Marino out of retirement

Marino almost signed with the Vikes in '00, but opted for retirement. I think he's still got some game left. Plus, he could throw more TD passes and hold off Brett Favre from breaking his TD record, which would of course please Vegan Viking to no end.

Step Two: Trade a fourth round pick for Randy Moss
Get perhaps the greatest playmaker in franchise history back on the franchise that he belongs on. Imagine Danny Boy hurling lasers out to Randy!

Step Three: Sign Dwight Freeney
The Vikings have a great interior defensive line (Pat Williams and Kevin Williams are both Pro Bowlers), but they have no pass rush off the edge. There's an easy way to get a pass rush--sign Dwight Freeney. He's a liability against the run, but so what? If that doesn't work, the Vikes could:

a. coax Bruce Smith out of retirement
b. resurrect the corpse of Reggie White and sign him to a one-year contract (you don't sign a resurrected corpse to a long-term deal--too many risks).

Step Four: Draft Adrian Peterson
Chester Taylor is fine and all that, but he's not really a big playmaker. On an offense devoid of playmakers, the Vikes need more, and Peterson would provide that. Of course, the Vikes WILL have playmakers once they get Marino and Moss, and Peterson would be great to keep the pressure off a QB nearing 50. It would be the first time Marino played with a competent RB, so that would be great.

If the Vikes are unable to draft Adrian Peterson out of Oklahoma, they should:

a. sign Adrian Peterson from the Bears and tell everybody they drafted Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma.
b. coax Emmitt Smith out of retirement.

Step Five: Hire Bud Grant as Defensive Coordinator
With Mike Tomlin gone, the Vikes have a need: why not go with the greatest Viking coach ever? If he doesn't want to come be the defensive coordinator, you could always make him the head coach and demote Brad Childress to defensive coordinator: after all, if there's anybody in the NFL that knows more about shutting down an offense than Childress, I'd like to see him. But I think Grant would happily be the defensive coordinator. If he won't do it, there are other guys we could ask:

a. Jimmy Johnson
b. Tom Landry
c. Chuck Noll
d. Buddy Ryan

That's it: my five-step plan to make the Vikings an winner in 2007.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Peyton Manning and the Patriots: Parallels

The Colt's victory over the Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl reminds me of a few historical parallels. I'm sure I'm not the first to think and write of these, but I'd like to discuss them anyway.

Steve Young and the Cowboys, 1994
Young and the 49ers had lost to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game for '92 and '93. They had also lost to the Cowboys in the regular season in '93. Furthermore, Young had never won a Super Bowl as the starting QB, as was living in the shadow of Joe Montana. In 1994, the 49ers passed the Cowboys and dominated the Super Bowl, as Young got the proverbial "monkey off his back."

Look at Steve Young's playoff numbers for 1994. In a 44-15 win over the Bears, Young threw just 22 passes, for 143 yards and 1 TD pass. Young could have thrown right-handed and the Niners would have beaten the Bears. In the NFC championship game, a 38-28 win over the Cowboys, Young actually coompleted less than 50% of his passes (13-29, for 155 yards and 2 TDs). The Niners were helped by a 21-3 lead that was mostly the result of Dallas turnovers. Young did, however, throw a devestating end of the half TD to Jerry Rice that seemed to bury the Cowboys' hopes. Then in the Super Bowl, Young dominated, throwing 6 TD passes. Young was good, but it was the great Niner teams that were able to help get him to the Super Bowl (it's always a great team that helps a QB get to the Super Bowl).

Peyton Manning didn't dominated the first two playoff games of '06. He was better than you think in the win over the Chiefs (despite the INTs, he was 30-38 and had something like 14 completions for first downs), but admittedly the defense came alive to win the Baltimore game (though Manning did help the team win). Manning did more to beat the Patriots in this AFC championship game than Steve Young did to beat the Cowboys in the '94 NFC Championship game.

Michael Jordan and the Pistons
Jordan and the Bulls lost to the Pistons in the playoffs in '88, '89, and '90. Like Manning, Jordan was recognized, through statistical brilliance and simple observation, to be the best in the league--with an asterisk. He hadn't brought his team to a championship. Like Manning, Jordan was a dominant offensive player who was often contained and frustrated by just one defensive-minded opponent. For Jordan it was the Pistons, for Manning the Colts. And finally, in '91, Jordan and the Bulls swept past the Pistons. There are even some similarities in how the opponent reacted--didn't Isiah Thomas and others leave the court early as the Bulls had it clinched? I didn't see it, but I've read on several blogs that Tom Brady left the field without congratulating Manning (or anybody), and Belichick sort of brushed him off.

Not only does Jordan now dominate the conversation of the greatest basketball player ever, but he is universally recognized as one of the greatest playoff performers in sports history. He's given us so many memorably clutch performances and moments, and he ended up winning 6 championships. But at the time, there was one team he supposedly couldn't handle, and it was only further playoff success that hindered the perception of his unparallelled brilliance.

The French in the Hundred Years War

The French lost virtually ever battle of the Hundred Years' War. Over and over again, they were dominated in battles by the English. Perhaps the most memorable British route was the Battle of Agincourt, dramatized by Shakespeare in Henry V. But the most famous person to emerge from the Hundred Years' War was Joan of Arc, and eventually the English failed to keep any of the holdings they had won in war.

Much like few people argue that Troy Aikman was the best QB of the '90s just because he won the most championships, it is possible that in ten or twenty years, nobody will argue that Tom Brady was the best QB of the '00s just because he won the most championships. Peyton Manning, like Joan of Arc, may end up being the most memorable player, and considered the best player, of this decade.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Quick Nuggets

Reggie Bush taunting the Bears
Having already expressed my ideas on "class," you can guess that Reggie Bush taunting the Bears or Brian Urlacher or anyone else means next to nothing to me.

And keep this in mind--do you think the Bear defenders are all angels who just smile silently all game long? Do you think none of them said anything to Bush at any point during the game? Reggie Bush's taunt was more visible, but it also wasn't terribly egregious. These are men playing a violent game in which they try to constantly crush each other. During this violent game, they taunt and talk. And when one of these men has a very successful play, such taunting might be expected. Let it go.

I also didn't mind when Terrell Owens stood on the Dallas star. The Cowboys had dominated everybody in the 90s, and they didn't usually do it silently either (Remember Emmitt Smith waving at a defender as he scored? Remember ANYTHING about Michael Irvin, Charles Haley, or Deion Sanders?). So when things were turned around, it was fine with me for them to get taunted a bit. I also didn't mind when Randy Moss wiped his ass on the Lambeau goal post--he just went into Lambeau and beat the Packer's ass. The last time Moss was in Lambeau, he was injured on the sidelines and the band had a sign saying "Where you at Moss?"

Humility is commendable. But it's commendable because it's commendable, not because it's the norm. Players can (and often do) go overboard in taunting and showing up opponents. But it's really not that big a deal.

Mike Tomlin
Tomlin is a great coach, and as several local pundits have said, he would have been a great guy to have around after 2007 if Childress struggles again.

But I think that Viking fans are so used to having lousy defenses that we've lost perspective. He's still a defensive coordinator. The Vikings should have all of the same defensive players that they want to keep, and they can add some pass rushers. The new coordinator will probably run the same type of Cover 2 defense.

The Viking defense was a revelation in '06 after years of watching great offense and absolutely atrocious defense. That's made us think Tomlin is more important than he is. He'll probably be a great head coach just as he was a great defensive coordinator, but we should not go into '07 expecting a great decline in the defense. And if the run defense next year is not as good as '06, that is not entirely because of Mike Tomlin--the '06 Vikes were so unbelievable against the run in a way that might be hard to sustain.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pearls of Wisdom

So I was watching "Cold Pizza" on ESPN in the afternoon and they talked about Bruce Pearl and his crazy decision to paint his body orange and put a silver letter on his chest with some of his basketball players in support of the Lady Vols who were going up against the #1 Duke Blue Devils. Skip Bayless ripped into Pearl basically saying it was not something a person in his role should do and then went on to proclaim that Pearl was only doing it to draw attention to himself. He topped it off by saying that Pearl's basketball players would lose respect for his authority because of this move. This was all said even with the knowledge that the people he was doing this with WERE his players.

Now I personally do not see anything wrong with what Pearl did and in fact I think it was a bold move to show support for the womens basketball team and an attempt to create a hectic environment for the Blue Devils to play in. Problem is I was suprised that Pearl left after five minutes because he didn't want to be a distraction. I think his leading of cheers and enthusiasm actually might have helped keep the crowd super engaged and loud and in the end could have helped the Lady Vols come out strong rather than start out the game falling down 19-0 to the Devils.

All this is to say that I think Skip Bayless is wrong in his opinion. First, who says what is in lines for a coach in terms of supporting other sporting teams at his school? Are there some kind of written rules about this? Second, while Pearl may have been drawing attention to himself his purpose for being there was to support the Lady Vols and Skip is just hypothesizing that Pearl is an egomaniac that really only cared about himself not supporting the women's team. Finally, does Skip have some inside track into the minds of the Tennessee mens players? To me it looked like they were proud to be out there with there coach and I don't know where Skip can come to the conclusion that his players will lose respect for his authority. I personally thnk Skip is just projecting his own feelings onto a group of players and in doing that really showing that he cannot understand these players because of the age gap between himself and them.

Oh and if you want to see a picture of Pearl donned in all the orange go over to and scroll on down it is there somewhere.

PV's approved links

In part because I have no mental inclination to write anything creative today, I'm instead providing links to articles I think you'll find interesting. However, don't take this as laziness. It seems to take me longer to find and link stories around the web than to write my own ideas. Furthermore, I am devoted to finding good writing and interesting takes. So if I'm linking to something, it's because I think it really is worth reading (with the exception of the Tom Powers link--that's there for you to lambast if you so choose). I think a lot of bloggers are really high-quality writers with unique takes, so I want to send you off in some of their directions. But there are some good mainstream writers linked here, too.

"Quick Reads: Peyton a winner all along" by Aaron Schatz
I've stressed my skepticism of relying too much on statistical systems in the past, but I absolutely love the Football Outsiders for the way they debunk conventional wisdom (though I think they've developed their own version of conventional wisdom which occasionally needs debunking, too--but at least their version of conventional wisdom is based on numbers).

"A career-making moment" Jonathan Comey
A "Cold, Hard Football Facts" article that gives some historical perspective on Rex Grossman and Super Bowl quarterbacks.

"Feeling defenseless Vikings lost best coach in Tomlin" Tom Powers
(I found this article via Kansas Viking).

If we get bored of critiquing Patrick Reusse, we'll go after Tom Powers next. As you can see in this column, he loves criticizing the Vikes and seems as intent as Reusse on annoying and antagonizing fans into reaction. That makes for a "good" columnist, I guess, but it doesn't make for real analysis.

There's one thing I would like the local media types to realize: It's not Brad Childress's job to keep you all appeased with quotes and access; it's his job to win football games (which he hasn't done well at yet, admittedly). He's not trying to entertain you. He's not a bad coach just because he doesn't give you the appeasement that Mike Tice does. He is as worthy of criticism as any 6-10 NFL coach, but some local hacks really seem to despise the man (too early, in my opinion).

By the way, I think the Viking defense will be fine without Tomlin. Though Tomlin is a special coach and I wish him the best, he installed a system and that system should remain in place. It's the talent on the field that wins games. If the Vikings can add a pass-rusher or three, they could even improve in '07.

"They're trying to whitewash those days" Bethlehem Shoals

This is an older post, but one I've found relevant in the last few weeks. With New Orleans not making the Super Bowl, we'll be saved a great deal of hyperbole and illusion.

"This Just in: Most Overrated Coach's 'Retirement' Being Covered in Overrated Fashion" Boiled Sports
(I found this article via The Big Lead).

I was in a hospital with ESPN, and I have two comments.
1. ESPN can still be great: after missing key parts of the games, it was delightful to hear Chris Berman and Tom Jackson recap what happened.
2. Does ESPN love former employee Parcells like FOX protects former employee Matt Millen? The "Bottom Line," supposed to be reserved for scores, news, and mild promotions, featured Parcells' record with each team he coached, followed by that team's coach and record the following year. What? Did they need to do this? Is this news? Do they have to remind everybody why this matters? Parcells isn't exactly Michael Jordan here: is this hype really necessary?

"Super Bowl Shuffled" Insomniac's Lounge
This post has so many good and amusing takes it will be well worth your time.

"This playoff win was Rod-diculous" Yelling Louder
This satire gives us some real insight into how game stories really can't be objective, and that everything that happens in a game is filtered and viewed from a slanted perspective (hello, Mr. Kant).

"Based on Sunday, Super Bowl looks easy to pick" Dr. Z
Looking back to Sunday and forward to the Super Bowl.

"My most confident contrarian opinion: the Bears will suck" Pacifist Viking
I'm not going to make crazy confident predictions, then go away and pretend it never happened when I'm wrong. So, here's a post I wrote in September. Ah, such a sweet kid.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Congrats Coach Dungy and Coach Smith

Exciting times. For the first time in history an African-American Head Coach has made it to the Super Bowl. In fact not only one has made it but two have made it. So in reality in two weeks we will see the first ever African-American Head Coach win the Super Bowl. Nothing against Lovie Smith (who is a great coach, what he has done with the Bears is amazing), but I really hope Dungy wins it. Dungy is my favorite coach in the NFL and finally he has reached the Super Bowl after constructing Tampa's Super Bowl winner only to be canned the before the season they won it in.

Now I must say that the Colts-Patriots games was one of the best I have seen this year. I didn't get to watch the first half, but the second half was amazing. I must give credit to Peyton Manning for keeping his cool and leading his team to victory. Congratulations Peyton, now I beg you please do not choke against Chicago.

Now everyone knows from my earlier post that I was cheering for the Patriots and Tom Brady. Deep down I wanted them to win, but I really wasn't emotionally tied to them winning the game like I would be to a Vikings game. There were some questions I had about the officiating in this game. Three plays come to mind (Now I am not saying that NE should have won this game because in every game there are questionable calls, but some of these baffled me to no end).

1. The Saturday fumble recovery for a touchdown. It was a correct call, don't get me wrong on that. What I found amusing was the line judge who came in. If you were watching the game closely he came running down the line as players were scuffling to recover the fumble. What went largely unnoticed was his initial actions as he was running down the line. The Line Judge was pointing to the ground with emphatic up and down motions which signifies the player was down, but once he got up to the pile around the recovery he looked down and then emphatically signaled Touchdown. Now he got the call right as the CBS review showed, but I really have to wonder if a NE guy would have recovered it if he would have called touchback?

2. How in the world was Hobbs flagged for pass interference on that Manning to Wayne in the end zone pass. Yes, he never looked back, but he also never touched Reggie Wayne. Now, I guess I can understand the officials call because that was a quick play (although I was sure without the slow motion instant replay that Hobbs never touched Wayne), but the emphatic approval of the call by Simms and Nantz drove me crazy. How can they say that is obvious pass interference, they had the benefit of seeing that Hobbs never touched Wayne. By Phil Simms account any defender should be called for pass interference if they have their back to the QB are close to a WR and the ball hits them. Seriously that was a crappy call, but an even crappier analysis of the call by the announcers.

3. Now the phantom interference call wouldn't have been that bad if Reche Caldwell hadn't of been mugged by the defender on the Patriots drive later in the end zone. It was obvious in real time that the defender got to Caldwell before the ball did and that the ball was catchable since Caldwell got a hand on it. What was Simms analysis on that one. The officials determined that the contact did not have an effect on the reception of the ball. What Phil? How in the world would the contact not have had an effect on the ability of Caldwell to catch the ball especially since he got a hand on it, and correct me if I am wrong, but isnt the new rule that hey aren't supposed to contact the WR and the only excusable contact would be incidental contact or contact where the defender was making a play to intercept the ball and had a play on the ball. The Indy defender had his back to the QB and clearly got to Caldwell before the ball did. Bad call.

Either way, I dont blame the officiating for the outcome of this game. The Colts just played better and deserved to win. However, as ProFootballTalk mentioned in their live blog, could Jim Nantz suck up to the Colts any more than he was that game. It was obvious through all of the second half that he was pulling for Manning and the Colts. Tom Brady has been demystified. Had he lead NE to victory with 54 seconds left I would have wrote this whole blog about reasons why the HOF should start to make his bust right now. I already think he is a HOF but that would have solidified it for sure.

2 Weeks until the Super Bowl. Go Colts and Tony Dungy!

Sunday Morning Excitement

It's always a long, long wait on conference championship Sunday for that 2:00 start time. Either sleep in or keep yourself busy. I'm here to help you get through this wait period.

Speaking of waiting, it is an underrated concept in life. Think about how much of your life is spent waiting? Standing in line, waiting for a show to start, for a meal to come, for a day to come, for a commute to end. A definition of humanity could be "the animal that waits." We spend a large portion of our lives waiting for a different portion of our lives. Twentieth-century writers like Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and John Fowles, among others, have picked up on this. So, learn to enjoy or at least tolerate waiting.

Circumstantial evidence against "Parity"
A lot of people talk about NFL "parity" without thought or analysis; they've heard about it so much they just assume it exists.

I'm not going to do a systematic statistical study to debunk parity here, but I would like to provide some circumstantial evidence against parity.

First, here are the top three regular season records of the last six years.
2001: 14-2, 13-3, 13-3
2002: 12-4, 12-4, 12-4
2003: 14-2, 13-3, 12-4
2004: 15-1, 14-2, 13-3
2005: 14-2, 13-3, 12-4
2006: 14-2, 13-3, 13-3
Do you see parity? I see dominant teams each year.

Second, here are the 2006 playoff teams, and the number of playoff appearances each has made since 1999 (I feel the Bronco titles were a transition from the dominant mode of the 90s into a new "era," so I like to start there). In those eight seasons, the 2006 playoff teams have made several playoff appearances.
Baltimore: 4
Chicago: 3
Dallas: 3
Indianapolis: 7
Kansas City: 2
New Orleans: 2
Giants: 4
New England: 5
Philadelphia: 6
Jets: 4
Seattle: 5

Like I said, this isn't irrefutable, but merely circumstantial evidence. Certainly the "any given Sunday" mentality is real.

A few other observations here: Philadelphia has made the playoffs 6 of 7 years, New England 5 of 6 (4 straight), and Indianapolis 7 of 8 (5 straight), and Seattle 4 straight times. Despite free agency and the salary cap, in today's NFL a team can still maintain success. And further, one reason that people have Peyton Manning's playoff failures to talk about is that he keeps getting his teams to the playoffs.

As always, is the best source to go to for historical data to give us perspective. I use the site all the time, including for gathering parts of this data.

Rooting in the playoffs

Bill Simmons thinks something is wrong with society because people don't like the Patriots. I can see why he would be vexed that the rest of the world isn't in love with his favorite teams, but I think the answer is much simpler. First of all, going into the season approximately 31 out of 32 fans wanted to see a different team come out champion. At this point, 28 out of 32 fans have already been disappointed. Of the teams left, approximately 3 fans for every 1 Patriot fan want a different team to win. Does this make sense?

And for those of us not rooting for our favorite team today, we at least want to see a good story, and a good story isn't the same champion winning again.

If other long-suffering fans are like me, we also want to see Fortune spread her fickle love around a bit more. If I can't ever see a Viking team win a championship, that doesn't mean I want to see another fanbase get to witness FOUR championships; it means I root for other long-suffering fans to finally see their teams winning a title.

The Colts have never won in Indy. The Saints have never won at all. The Bears haven't won in 21 years. And the Patriots won...two years ago. Frankly, the only non-Patriot fans who want the Patriots to win must either be bullies or front-runners, the kind of people who sympathize with the British royal family or enjoy watching the rich get richer. OF COURSE we want to see somebody else win. We know what it is to suffer as a sports fan. Why would we ROOT to see another fanbase monopolize the joy? I'd like to see you, long-time Saint, Bear, or Colt fan get to have some happiness that you've either never had or not had in a long time. I don't want to see you, Patriot fan, get the same joy you got two, three, and five years ago.

So I'm rooting for 1. Indianapolis 2. Chicago 3. New Orleans 4. New England. I suppose strict adherence to my sympathy for long-suffering fans should make me root for the Saints over the Bears, but for some reasons, it doesn't.

Enjoy the games today, people. You might not have this kind of fun again for months.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

BlueVikingDevil's Championship Wishes

That is right I am only going to write about what I wish to happen in Sunday's games not what I think will happen. The reason for this is simple. I give up on predicting games and I specifically blame Steve McNair and the Raven's offense for my despair in predicting games. Anyway back to the topic at hand.

Saints at Bears

Personally I don't care one bit who wins this game although for some reason I will be rooting for the Saints. There are a few reasons why I will be rooting for the Saints. First, Drew Brees. I like him as a quarterback and he is the only quarterback in the NFL that I have seen play live (that is right I have never been to an NFL game and I have only been to one college game Penn St. vs. Purdue during LaVar Arrington's last year at Penn State, it was a great game that ended with Purdue unable to capitalize on a 1st and Goal in the last seconds to win the game). Second, Reggie Bush. I like Reggie Bush. He is over-hyped but I think he is exciting and able at any moment to "wow" you with his athleticism. Third, I like Duece McAllister. Four years ago he was integral to my fantasy football championship, so I will always cheer for his success. Fourth, I cannot stand Rex Grossman. If Rex Grossman were to play in and possibly win a Super Bowl I will be distraught until at least the NFL Draft. I never understood Chicago taking Grossman. Grossman is a silver spoon in his mouth guy who just doesn't fit the whole Chicago gritty tough Bears sports scene and because of that silver spoon I might never like him.

However, the only reason I have reservations about the Saints winning is because I do not want 2 weeks of non-stop Saints love and how they epitomize the American spirit of "pulling up the boot straps" despite adversity to find success. Whoever wins this game I will not be cheering for in the Super Bowl.

Patriots at Colts

I am 100% rooting for the Patriots in this one. Here are my reasons. First, I like Tom Brady. He is a great playoff QB who could win his 4th Super Bowl joining the elite ranks of Bradshaw and Montana as 4 time winners of the big game. I want this for Tom Brady. Second, I dislike Peyton Manning. Nothing against Manning he is a great quarterback and he does do some funny commercials, but the fact is I don't want to see him to win the big game. Why? Because I dont want to spend the next 5-10 years of my life having to watch Colts games and hear the announcers talking about how he is the greatest QB ever and kissing his butt like they have Brett Favre. Fact is the only thing that keeps announcers from doing this currently is his inability to get to the big game and win it. Third, if I am going to listen to a story line for the next two weeks I want it to be a debate about whether the Patriots franchise is one of the best dynasty's ever and inevitably the discussion of Tom Brady as one of the greatest QB's of all time.

While I will be rooting for the Patriots if the Colts happen to win I will be rooting for them in the Super Bowl. There are two reasons for this. First, I like Tony Dungy. I don't think he gets enough credit for being the great coach that he is. If he wins the Super Bowl his job should be secure for life in Indy and I think he deserves that. Second, the order of teams I will cheer for who remain goes in this order: 1. Patriots 2. Colts 3. Saints 4. Bears. Basically I want the AFC to win another championship and continue their recent Super Bowl dominance.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Conference Championship Game Weekend

In the early 90s, the Cowboys and the 49ers were the two top teams in the league, and they played each other in three consecutive NFC Championship Games ('92, '93, '94). This was during a run in which the Cowboys played in four consecutive Conference Championship games and the Niners played in a whopping 10 Conference Championship games in 18 years. The NFL championship was basically determined when these teams played; all season long, nobody seemed to believe anybody could beat the Niners or Cowboys in the playoffs and it was assumed they woulc play each other to win the championship.

These teams were absolutely LOADED with talent. The peak year was in 1994, when the 49ers had ten Pro Bowlers (including HOF quality players like Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, and Ricky Watters). The Cowboys had eleven Pro Bowlers (including HOF quality players like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin). Both teams also had a lot of non-Pro Bowlers (that year) that are very good (and made Pro Bowls in other years); the 49ers stacked up on aging veterans looking for a title that year. I actually consider that 1994 49er team to be the best I've ever seen.

I don't know that any of the four teams remaining have that much talent (there were 28 teams at the time, and this was early in the free agency era). But it still feels like Indianapolis-New England is a huge game with great players and big names.

It's one of the best football weekends of the year. Only the great teams are left, the games have a lot at stake, but they're played in a home stadium and they don't have the crushing finality of the Super Bowl. It's going to be lots of fun.

If I must pick, I'll take the Colts 41-20 over the Patriots, and the Bears (somehow) 30-27 over the Saints.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rambling (and I'm afraid inarticulate) musings on the concept of "class" in sports

There's been a lot of talk in these NFL playoffs about "class." Well, what the hell is "class," and how does one handle oneself with "class," and what makes one "classless"?

Let's start by turning to the Oxford English Dictionary for answers, pretty much the greatest thing ever invented because it focuses on etymology. The OED has to tell us about the word "class" (this link may or may not be useful, as the OED is available by subscription; if you're on a campus reading this, it should work because your college probably has the subscription).

I suspect the concept of "class" as a form of ethical/respectable behavior seems to derive from the concept of class as social distinction. Class is generally associated with distinctions between and among like things ("classification"), as seen in definitions 1., 2., 3., 4., 5a., 6., and 7.

The second definition of "class" has to do with distinctions in terms of socio-economic groups:

2. a. A division or order of society according to status; a rank or grade of society.
Now common in the phrases higher (upper), middle, lower classes, working classes; which appear to be of modern introduction. Higher and lower orders were formerly used. This appears to be only partly derived from sense 1, and largely from the general sense 6.
b. The system of such divisions of society; rank (esp. high rank), caste. c. the classes: the classes of the community raised above or separated from ‘the masses’ or great body of the people.

Class is in this common sense a matter of economic distinctions and social group definitions.

I have no doubt that definition 5a. comes from the same concept of distinctions:

5. a. A division of things according to grade or quality, as high or low, first, second, etc.
Esp. used for the different grades of accommodation in travelling by railway or steamboat. The phrases high-class, low-class, first-class, second-class, and the like, are common in attrib. use, e.g. ‘high-class goods’,‘second-class passenger’. See HIGH, etc.

And finally definition 5b. gives us a notion of how "class" is used, I think, when Ladanian Tomlinson talks of the Patriots, when commentators talk about a t-shirt reading "Fuck the Eagles," etc.:

b. slang or colloq. Distinction, high quality; no class: of no worth; of low quality, inferior. Also attrib. or quasi-adj.

We can get further help by looking at the definition of "classy":

Of high or superior class, stylish, smart. can give us further help on the usage of of "class":

12. excellence; exceptional merit: She's a good performer, but she lacks class.

14. Informal. elegance, grace, or dignity, as in dress and behavior: He may be a slob, but his brother has real class. also gives us The American Heritage Dictionary definition. Interesting, the definition we're interested in comes up twice:

2. A division based on quality, rank, or grade, as:
e. Informal Elegance of style, taste, and manner: an actor with class.

3.c. Informal Elegance of style, taste, and manner: an actor with class.

So where are we at? "Class" generally refers to classification, particularly among socio-economic groups. The sense of "class" as ethical/respectable behavior (i.e., winning with class, behaving with class) is a sub-definition that I think is closely related to the socio-economic status. A person of "higher" class would never taunt an opponent after victory--indeed, if you read books like The Three Musketeers or other like books you'll see that those of higher class act according to the rules of chivalry. When an upper-class or aristocratic man is about to fight, he will treat his opponent respectfully, will only engage in a fair fight (a duel), and will likely act with dignity and respect after the duel. A lower-class person might not care about fairness (he might "fight dirty"), and he might be profane or coarse in his language before, during, and after the fight. Look at movies: lower-class characters are often literally dirty, they don't use proper grammar, and when they fight they get particularly emotional and crued (they swear and insult people), while upper-class characters are clean, use proper grammar, and usually fight calmly, coolly, with little coarse language. Michael Parenti explores these these class portrayals in film in his excellent essay "Class and Virtue":

"The squire and his associates dress in fine clothes, speak an educated diction, and drink brandy. Long John and his men dress slovenly, speak in guttural accents, and drink rum. From these indications alone, the viewer knows who are the good guys and who are the bad. Virtue is visually measured by one's approximation to proper class appearances."

Obviously upper-class behavior is perceived and presented as superior to lower-class behavior. Members of lower-classes are often obscene, dirty, and bawdy. An aristocrat will be humble in victory; a peasant will brag and boast.

Nobody believes America is a classless society, but we have at least done away with aristocratic titles and explicit distinctions of merit based on birth (don't even get me started on how much I hate the Queen of England and just about every other European aristocrat). But we are still obsessed with the idea of aristocracy (hence referring to the Kennedys as "Camelot" and arranging activities like a wedding or prom as a "court"). And we still hold many of the old associations about class and behavior: upper-class behavior equals good behavior, lower-class behavior equals bad (or even scary) behavior.

Now, on to sports.

This comes up in a lot of American sportswriting and fandom. Writers and fans like players and teams that win with "class" (i.e., act with the humility and dignity of the upper-class) and frown upon players who are too boastful, who celebrate too loudly or eccentricly, who "show up" opponents, who taunt opponents, or who ham it up over players they've just defeated. Race, of course, is an issue associated with class in this case--some writers and fans seem particularly disturbed by black athletes who boast and celebrate and lack humility in victory (subconsciously, a black athlete behaving this way may stick out to them more than a white athlete behaving this way--I thought it was "classless" for Mike Vrabel to flap his wings like T.O. in the Super Bowl, but I don't know that a lot of people cared). But I'm focusing on the concept of "class" in "class."

When players do celebrate and show up defeated opponents, they are said to be "classless" because they are acting like a lower-class commoner. If the victorious athlete or team were to win with "class," he/they would talk about what a great fight the opponent put up, would calmly and politely shake the opponent's hand, would refrain from excessive celebration, etc. They act like an aristocrat who just won a duel, in other words.

Does Ladanian Tomlinson think all these things when he calls the Patriots classless? Of course not. But Marx teaches us that a distinguishing feature of ideology is that it doesn't appear to be ideology--it becomes so infused and metastasized in a culture that people just accept it as a given (ideology is particularly pernicious in that it is not just the ruling class that accepts the features of the ideology as a given, but members of the oppressed classes accept it as a given as well). The class associations with the concept of class are dug in all over our society, and they are heavily present in sports as well.

A person is "classy" when he/she behaves as an aristocrat would; a person is "classless" when he/she behaves without the dignity of the upper class, and instead acts with the boastfulness of a member of the lower class.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Winter Break Nuggets of Wonderment

The Minnesota Timberwolves are 4 games over .500. If this keeps up, they'll be right back where they belong: losing in the first round of the playoffs.

If the Colts win the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning instantly goes into all discussion of the top 5 QBs of all-time, and by the end of his career he'll be widely discussed as the greatest of all-time.

For some complex and some simple reasons, I identify with Manning and the Colts (as I've expressed previously). Though a fair question remains, if the Colts do win a championship this year, do I have any reason whatsoever to identify with Manning? Once he wins that championship, he is then simply a great quarterback, and the aura of drama, tragedy, and epic failure recedes.

While I've openly rooted against the Bears all season long, and I still despise Brian Urlacher with growing intensity, and I rooted for the Seahawks on Sunday, and I enjoy watching Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, and Reggie Bush play football, and Chicago has already had the Jordan-Pippen dynasty and a White Sox championship since the Twin Cities had a pro champion, I'm inexplicably rooting for the Bears to go to the Super Bowl (where I would hope they lose to the Colts or beat the Patriots). But isn't that part of the fun of the playoffs? Of course you'd rather have your favorite team in the playoffs competing for a championship, but if it's not, then you sometimes get surprised watching a game to find out who you are rooting for. Of course, that happens in the regular season too--before the season, I did not know whether or not I would end up rooting for Daunte Culpepper on the Dolphins, and then, watching the first game, I found myself yelling and cheering when he got sacked or threw an interception. Again, I find this aspect of sports a microcosm of life: we are not always aware of what our subconscious desires might be, but in a moment of truth they may suddenly be revealed to us, and we may just be surprised at what those inner desires are.

I suppose you could give Tom Brady credit for another "clutch" performance against the Chargers. He did, after all, make plays in the fourth quarter to lead his team to victory. However, he and the rest of his team made mistake after mistake--and got bailed out by the Chargers' bigger mistakes. The Chargers could have won that game by 20, and the reason they didn't had less to do with the Patriots and their clutch play and more to do with their own foolish, foolish mistakes. Take away Parker's muffed punt (and decision to try pick it up), Florence's headbutt (I actually think he was just taunting and got pushed and it only looked like a headbutt), or McCree's fumble on Brady's THIRD interception and we probably have a different AFC Championship game. On McCree's play, you can give credit to a Patriot's good play (Troy Brown stripped the ball); on the other two mistakes, it was totally on the Chargers with little credit given to the Patriots for forcing the mistake. That's part of sports, too, of course (in tennis they're explicitly called "unforced errors") and if you're playing a team making such mistakes, you have to take advantage of those mistakes, which the Patriots did. But the Chargers just pissed that game away.

The Saints are tremendously fun to watch. Deuce McAllister has always been an amazing RB he's big and strong enough to maul defenders and drag them for extra yards, and he's got the speed and moves to break long runs), Reggie Bush is capable of several "wow" plays a game, and Drew Brees is a good quarterback. The Bear defense struggled against the Seahawk offense, and I think on offense the Saints are superior at every position to the Seahawks. They can easily go into Soldier Field and lay 30 on the Bears.

Three games left, and then comes February. I love football, but at the end of the season I feel like I've spent 5 months in Plato's cave, and somebody has set me free, and I'm crawling out of the cave squinting as I look out at the desert of the real.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dear Seattle Seahawks:

I know many of you are regular readers of this blog, and this open letter is not merely a trite convention of the blogosphere.

I also know you enjoy whining. You bitched that the referees cost you the Super Bowl (which they did), and you bitched that Viking linebacker E.J. Henderson semi-purposely injured Matt Hasselbeck (which he didn't).

But if you're going to come out with the disrespect card (talking about how nobody thinks you should even bother showing up, talking about how nobody is giving you a chance, nobody respects you, nobody is picking you to win the game) BEFORE the game, you just might want to go out and win the fucking game. Otherwise, all you've done is validate us.

Thanks, and we hope next year that once again you lose a playoff game you could easily have won with a few less dropped passes, a few more accurate throws, and a little better play-calling and clock management.

Have a nice day!

Four Games of Fun

Indy over Baltimore
If the Colts lost a playoff game 49-48, Manning would get blamed for it, so who cares if the Colts won with great defense?

Patriots over Chargers
In all games, sometimes the loser's mistakes are more important than the winner's successes. Here was a game the Chargers lost more than the Patriots won.

Saints over Eagles
A lot of good running back performances this weekend, but wasn't Deuce McAllister particularly fun to watch?

Bears over Seahawks
Who else was ready for a 13-7 game with 19 turnovers? That was fairly well-played and fun to watch. Hasselbeck was just a little off on too many passes.

All four games this weekend were fun to watch. Next week's should be the same. But I'll just be rooting for the defenses.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Is this the best football weekend all year?

I love the opening Sunday, and I love next week's conference championships. But the Divisional Round might be the most fun we have all year.

There are four games, all of them televised, all of them on their own.

They feature the eight best teams in the league, and that means seeing most of the league's best players in big meaningful games.

And this is the round that often gives us the supremely memorable games with fantastic, unique, memorable (or tragic) endings, at least in recent years (Patriots-Raiders and the tuck rule, Colts-Steelers and all the craziness at the end, Packers-Eagles and the 4th and 26). The drama is constant and the quality of football is spectacular (I seem to recall Sports Illustrated doing a feature on how and why the Divisional Round is the best weekend of football two or three years ago).

We're down to 6 real NFL games left until September, and 4 of them will be happening in the next two days. Enjoy the hell out of yourselves, people. You might be talking about what you see today for years to come.

Friday, January 12, 2007

BlueVikingDevil's Divisional Preview

I am excited about this weekend's games. Mostly just the AFC games, but I also look forward to seeing if Rex Grossman chokes or not. So without any more delay here they are.

Seattle at Chicago

Seattle has been anything but spectacular this year. Injuries have hit all three of their big offensive stars (Hasselbeck, Alexander, and D.Jackson) this year and Jackson is still hurting. I don't have much fail in Seattle, but I have even less faith in Rex Grossman. He is the exact opposite of Tom Brady. Brady rises to the occasion in a big game while Rex turns into a freshman high school quarterback. I have a feeling that Grossman throws 2 ints in the first half leading to a half time score of 20-6 with Seattle leading. Lovie benches Grossman and Griese comes in to lead Chicago to victory in the 2nd half with the help of a Hester punt return for a TD. Final Score 27-23 with Chicago coming out on top.

Philly at New Orleans

I call this the meeting of the feel good stories of the year in the NFL. The Saints are the story this year and everyone had written off Philly after McNabb went down. Vegan Viking stated it well that much of Philly's success is going to depend on Brian Westbrook. The Saints won this matchup earlier this year. Two major thing were different for Philly in that game. First, McNabb was the QB and Andy Reid was calling the plays and going pass-pass-pass-punt, etc. Second, Stallworth was injured. I don't have much faith in Jeff Garcia, but thanks to the more balanced play calling with him at QB I think Philly can pull off the upset. Final Score 20-13 with Philly winning.

Indy at Baltimore

First off I cannot stand Peyton Manning. Don't get me wrong he is a great QB and essentially is the offensive coordinator in Indy. However, my distaste for him often causes me to throw reason to the side and just pick against him. I think Indy is good, but I think Baltimore is better. The Baltimore defense was by far the best defense this year and I think they are going to give Manning all types of problems and this week Indy isn't going to be able to establish the run like they did against KC. I think Manning has 3 more ints but gets 2 tds also. McNair comes out to play and with the help of an Ed Reed int return for a TD the Ravens will win. Final Score 31-23 with Baltimore winning.

New England at San Diego

Tomlinson has been the best player in the NFL this year by a long shot. Can he carry the team on his shoulder with the help of the Shawn Merriman led defense? I personally don't think so. Here are my reasons. First, Rivers is a first year starter and about to start his first playoff game and really the first major pressure game he has had all year and I don't think that is a formula for success. Second, Shotty is a horrible playoff coach and Belicheck is one of the best if not the best playoff coach. Finally, Tom Brady. Luckily for New England I don't see this one coming down to needing a clutch kick because Gostowski (sp?) is no Vinateiri. New England wins this game 30-13.

National Friday League: Divisional Playoff Round

Avoiding cliches
It's hard to avoid using cliched phrases--as Orwell says, once you get into the habit of using them, it's much easier to write with them. So here's a tip on eliminating thoughtless, unoriginal expressions from your language:

When you use a cliche, replace one word with a different word.

That's why I make "wipe from the face of the earth" into "wipe from the crust of the earth." "Grab bag" becomes "Grab sack." "At the end of the day" becomes "at the end of the movie." "Thrown under the bus" can become "Tossed under the carriage." And on and on. But don't get caught using a new cliched phrase: use new words when you can. "When pigs fly" can become "when donkeys fly" or "when pigs dance the tango" and can be altered every time. Because if you're just going to use the same cliched phrases, why bother writing?

Previews from around the Web
Here are some previews for this weekend's games that you might enjoy reading.

Dr. Z

Pro Football Reference

The Ragnorak

Complete Sports

Kissing Suzy Kolber

Desktop QB

Cold, Hard Football Facts

Bill Simmons

Football Outsiders

L’ Etat, c’est moi

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

90s Cowboys; Kings of 00s Media

When you were watching the Cowboys dominate the league and the headlines in the mid-90s, did you think that they would be dominating the media a decade later?

Daryl Johnston and Troy Aikman are color commentators for FOX.

Jimmy Johnson is a commentator for FOX.

Michael Irvin is a commentator for FOX.

Deion Sanders is a commentator for the NFL Network.

James Washington is host of a FOX Sports radio show.

Emmitt Smith won "Dancing with the Stars" and is doing some commentator work.

And of course, Jerry Jones is still the owner and still won't let us forget he exists.

Are there more that I don't even know of?

This is all that I know of. Face it, Cowboy haters--you are never going to get away from these guys. They will be tormenting you forever. FOREEEEEVVVVER.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cliches that need to be wiped from the crust of the earth

Sports bloggers, unite! Let us vow never to use the following two cliches.

At the end of the day
I hear this phrase about 40 times a day. Let us resolve never to use it. Sometimes it even gets combined with other phrases that mean the same thing:

"What it comes down to, ultimately, at the end of the day is that the bottom line is you got thrown under the bus."

Which brings us to:

Throw/thrown/threw under the bus
Be creative. How about "Terrell Owens stuck a load of TNT up Donovan McNabb's ass." How about "Terrell Owens carried Jeff Garcia to the top of a roof and dangled him by the ankles before dropping him." Why is the only violent image of betrayal and blame used in sports today "threw under the bus"? It's replaced "stabbed in the back" as an overused cliche. I would even accept "Terrell Owens kicked Andy Reid in the crotch, stabbed his eyes out, and then led him into the road into oncoming traffic."

Which reminds me of my favorite joke:
Q: Why did the little girl get hit by a bus?
A: Because somebody sawed off her arms and legs and set her in the road.

So here at PV, we are replacing "thrown under the bus" with "got his arms and legs sawed off and set in the road."

And finally, here's a cliche that I welcome keeping:

It is what it is
I need this cliche. You need this cliche. We all need this cliche. I say "It is what it is" when my wife does something that upsets me and then asks if I'm mad. I don't have to say "It's OK," I don't have to say "Yes, I'm upset," I can just say "It is what it is." Such as:

PF: Honey, I signed us up for an all-day Saturday class on breastfeeding.
VV: (dead silence, staring out the window)
PF: Oh, are you upset about that?
VV: It is what it is.

So, at the end of the day, I don't want to throw "it is what it is" under the bus. But I don't want any sportswriter, blogger, coach or athlete so say "at the end of the day" or "thrown under the bus" ever again.

(By the way, why "the" bus? Is there a specific bus for throwing people under? How about "a" bus? Well, it will never matter for us again).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Divisional Round Preview

Sunday's football was, to me, rather boring, so rather than write about it I'll jump right ahead and write my divisional round preview. You can see my thoughts on Saturday's games if you're interested and you can see my Wild Card preview to decide if my predictions are worth the time.

On to next weekend's games, where all that's left is the eight division winners.

Colts at Ravens
The Ravens, a team built around a dominant, smothering defense that's capable of scoring TDs and led by a decent veteran QB, seem like a popular choice to win it all this year. I barely feel qualified to comment, as I've only seen very little of two Raven games this season. But I follow the league closely enought to know what they're about. The Ravens, as usual, have a great defense that is capable of winning some games on its own. Now they have a competent offense to compliment that defense (with a great defense, competent offense can be enough). But Jamal Lewis is not what he once was--he's averaging 3.6 yards per attempt. Does the Indianapolis defensive performance against Larry Johnson and the Chiefs signify a seismic shift in their defensive performance? I don't know, but it might not matter, because Jamal Lewis is not a dynamically skilled running back that can make the Colts pay. And I'm not sure Steve McNair is a great enough QB anymore to do so, either.

Special teams could play a factor. The Colts don't have very good special teams; the Ravens usually do. The game could be determined by starting field position or one or two great returns for the Ravens.

But we know where the real drama will lie: Peyton Manning and the Colt offense against Ray Lewis and the Raven defense. And I think Peyton Manning will win.

Manning will have to play a very good game against the Ravens. He'll have to avoid turnovers and sacks, read the defense and make the correct changes at the line of scrimmage, and complete a lot of passes down the field. He's going to have to be excellent on 3rd down.

And I think he'll do all of those things. I'm ready to see a stellar performance from Manning as the Colts go into Baltimore and control the game enough to win.

Colts 23, Ravens 17.

Eagles at Saints
This is a rematch of a regular season matchup: can we learn anything from their week six meeting, when the Saints won 27-24, holding the ball for the last 8:26 of the fourth quarter to set up a game winning FG? Maybe we can.

In the first matchup, Reggie Bush was contained and Joe Horn had 110 yards and 2 TDs. But Reggie Bush has improved in the second half of the season and can change this game, while Marques Colston and Devery Henderson are the WRs that are dangerous for the Saints.

Obviously Jeff Garcia replaces Donovan McNabb, but there shouldn't be a major change in QB productivity. Brian Westbrook had only 75 total yards in this game, and he's the real key. Westbrook had 152 total yards against the Giants Sunday, and he was key in the game-winning drive.

Let's be simplistic and say it's going to come down to how each defense is able to contain the opposing RBs. Can the Saints have another successful day holding Westbrook down? Can the Eagles handle covering Deuce McAllister AND Reggie Bush? I figure the Eagles will have more commitment to getting Westbrook the ball than they did in week 6, and if the Saints can contain him, they'll win. The Eagles are capable, but I don't think they'll contain both Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. And if it comes down to it, Drew Brees is going to be a far more difficult QB to stop than Eli Manning.

Saints 30, Eagles 24

Seahawks at Bears
It's a fascinating scenario: the Bears are 13-3, three games better than any other NFC team, yet nobody thinks they're going to the Super Bowl. But tell me this: did the Seahawks do anything against the Cowboys that tells you they can move the ball on the Bears? The Bears whipped the Seahawks in week 4, back when Shaun Alexander was out and Rex Grossman looked like a real NFL quarterback.

I don't think the Seahawks have what it takes to beat the Bears at Soldier Field. They let Miles Austin return a kick for a touchdown, and now they get to face Devin Hester. The field position will be enough to let the Bears keep control of the game, and the Seahawk offense will have to be sharper than it's shown capable of being in recent weeks to have a chance. I'm rooting for Seattle, but I'll take the Bears

Bears 20, Seahawks 9

Patriots at Chargers
Wow, this one will be fun. The Patriot defense seemed to be the hardest-hitting unit in Wild Card weekend--they were all over the place and really punishing the guy with the ball. And offensively, clearly Brady knows what he's doing and can move the ball against any defense.

But I think the Charger front seven can get to Brady. He'll face a strong pass rush all game and it will severely hinder the Patriot offense. And the Chargers have the highest scoring offense in the league--despite the absense of great wide receivers, Philip Rivers getting the ball to Ladanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates is next to unstoppable. In fact, I believe only one man can stop it: Marty Schottenheimer.

Let's assume the Chargers play as they have all season, and OC Cam Cameron controls the offensive gameplan. That might be a big assumption.

I can see the Patriots winning this game, and would love to see the Colts host the Patriots in the AFC championship game.

But the San Diego front seven is too strong, and their offense features the best RB and best TE in football. Tomlinson should continue his dominance.

San Diego 34, New England 24

Learning from the Leaderboard

There's a lot to be learned from looking over PFR's leaderboards. For example, we can see that Thurman Thomas absolutely should have been a first ballot HOFer, and he should absolutely make it in this year. He led the league in yards from scrimmage FOUR STRAIGHT YEARS (89, 90, 91, 92). For three of those years he was a contemporary of Emmitt Smith, for all four years he was a contemporary of Barry Sanders (each led the league in yards from scrimmage twice). Everybody looks at rushing yards and rushing titles, but yards from scrimmage tells us a lot about what a player is doing for his team. And Thurman Thomas, by this standard, was the most productive RB in the league for four consecutive years.

I also find it interesting to look at the year-by-year leaders in passing yardage and passing TDs. The game changes and the numbers from one era may look average compared to the numbers of another era; that's why it can be more useful to look at the year-by-year leaders. With such a list you get a sense of who was the best for his particular time. This is useful in other sports, too: in basketball, the game has changed and numbers themselves are difficult to compare, but we still can see that only four players have led the league in scoring four or more times (Chamberlain, Gervin, Jordan, Iverson).

I was looking these over because I think Tom Brady's stats often get overlooked. His reputation as a "winner" and "clutch performer" and his playoff record get the attention, but Brady has led the league in passing yardage (2005) and passing TDs (2002). He's not merely a "winner"--he's a very good NFL quarterback.

So for my own curiosity, I looked through PFR's leaderboards to see which QBs have led the league in both categories (not in the same year, but at all), and I have a blog to post just such study. So here's the list of players who have, at some point in their careers, led the league in both passing yardage and passing TDs in a season, since 1960. An * signifies a tie and an "a" signifies AFL leader.

Tom Brady (yards 05, TDs 02)
Peyton Manning (yards 00 and 03, TDs 00*, 04, 06)
Daunte Culpepper (yards 04, TDs 00*)
Kurt Warner (yards 01, TDs 99 and 01)
Brett Favre (yards 95 and 98, TDs 95, 96, 97, 03)
Dan Marino (yards 84, 85, 86, 88, 92, TDs 84, 85, 86)
Warren Moon (yards 90 and 91, TDs 90)
Lynn Dickey (yards 83, TDs 83)
Dan Fouts (yards 79, 80, 81, 82, TDs 81 and 82*)
Fran Tarkenton (yards 78, TDs 75)
Roman Gabriel (yards 73, TDs 69 and 73)
John Hadl (yards 65a and 71, TDs 68a and 71)
John Brodie (yards 65, 68, and 70, TDs 65 and 70)
Daryl Lamonica (yards 69a, TDs 67a)
Sonny Jurgenson (yards 61,62, 66, 67, 69, TDs 61 and 67)
Babe Parilli (yards 64a, TDs 64a)
John Unitas (yards 60, TDs 60)
George Blanda (yards 61a and 63 a, TDs 61a)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Wild Card Wonderment: Saturday

Tony Romo and the meaning of life

Hard to believe the year of Romo-erotic ends this way. This is a great example of how sports can act as a microcosm of life. Absurdity, chaos, luck, nerves, comedy, despair, pain, surprise, humility, humiliation, the wheel of fortune--ALL IN ONE PLAY. Possible Flurries laughed and laughed as the play was happening--then talked about how bad she felt for Mr. Romo. These are the moments sports provide us with (as all Viking fans can attest): completely unexpected, impossible to script moments that can change everything for a moment, for a game, for a day, for a week, for a year, for a career, for a lifetime. This is why we watch sports--the games can have the same resonance as art. Moments of human frailty that cause us to laugh as our hearts break. Cowboy fans must be in total and absolute despair right now. Well, while you're desparing go lick one of your five Lombardi Trophies, you whining pricks. Immediately after the game ended, Cowboy fans, you should have put in whatever commemorative tapes or home-recorded Super Bowl videos you own. Your team has won five of the damn things.

Identifying with Peyton Manning and the Colts
Not long ago, a friend and commenter noted it was curious how I was identifying so much with Peyton Manning. Frankly, I'm surprised it's surprising. I grew up rooting for Dan Marino, I've been a long-time Timberwolves fan with great admiration for Kevin Garnett, and I'm a devoted fan of a franchise with an 0-4 Super Bowl record and witness of the end of the 1998, 2000, and 2003 Viking seasons. I cling to a sense of drama, an aura of tragedy, figures with such obvious greatness covered with such glaring failure. Clear tragic flaws, larger-than-life figures, moments of tension and dramatic climax, moments of such inconceivable and unimaginable means of failure that all you can do is sit on the ground with your helmet on your head (like Tony Romo). The aura of greatness coming up short. It's no surprise I'm rooting for the Colts and Peyton Manning during these playoffs. And I've already conceived the possibility they will succeed.

Despite the obvious mistakes of three interceptions, Manning played a good game Saturday against the Colts. He completed 14 passes for first downs (I believe first downs should be kept as stats for individual offensive players. The number of first downs converted can tell you a lot about the performance of a receiver, back, or quarterback, as well as his importance to the team). Mainly through luck those three interceptions did not hurt his team, and in the second half he was masterful at maintaining drives. And none of us really thought the Colts could win a game like that--Manning threw 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions and Indianapolis still won relatively easily. They can beat Baltimore.

Marvin Harrison and the Playoffs
I'm glad NBC featured Marvin Harrison's playoff statistics. Peyton Manning gets the criticism, but compare Harrison's playoff stats to contemporary WRs like Randy Moss. Harrison has come up short in the playoffs as much as Manning, but a wide receiver disappearing from the game isn't as obvious as a quarterback struggling.

The Commercial Life
Of course I was ecstatic to see new Coors commercials featuring press conference footage. The sagging looks of those guys when Ditka said living in the past is for cowards was my favorite part. And when you saw Jim Mora, you knew what was coming...and it was still fun.

There's a new ad opens, "Here's to the men who want to spend more time having fun and less time in the bathroom." So it's a choice between having fun and being in the bathroom? Can't it be both? Bring in a book, or a magazine, or a crossword puzzle or something. As Larry David says, he can read an entire New York Times in a day of sitting on the toilet.

John Madden, like Tobias Fumke, should carry a tape recorder around and listen to what he says.

We learned that Tony Romo's balls look like they're going all over the place (perhaps like Kramer he feels like a naken innocent boy roaming the countryside?).

We learned that when Madden watches video, he's mesmerized by Walter Jones (so, ladies and gentlemen, what do you watch on video that mesmerizes you? That's a rhetorical question--don't answer it).

And when one player lines up against another, he might get inside of him, get a little penetration (we've all been there).

A note for Viking fans

If you're a Viking fan, you may be interested in checking out G.R. Anderson Jr's article "Eye of the Beholder" in The City Pages. It's a solid look at the Viking stadium issue. I don't talk about stadium issues much here, mostly out of avoidance (the idea of the Vikes relocating before winning a Super Bowl in Minnesota fills me with total despair--granted, as a Viking and T-wolves fan, I'm getting used to living with sports fan despair. The Vikings movement would just validate my feelings of retchedness). The article distracted me for much of the second half of the Seahawks-Cowboys game.

Miles Austin

Miles Austin ran a kick return for a touchdown almost entirely in a straight line (good blocking, good scheme, bad coverage), then smiled like a goober while running it in. Possible Flurries loved his shit-grin. We don't blame him--he's a special teams player who probably sees his NFL career as a day-to-day experience--he should be smiling like a goober on a playoff kick return touchdown.

Why Wild Card Weekend is Odd

When the playoffs start, you are ready for the league's best teams to start the big games. But each conference's two top teams has the week off, so while you expect "the best of the best," the very best teams are actually not around. It's an odd week.

But that was a fun day of football--I doubt Sunday will match it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The only All-Pro team I pay attention to

Is Dr. Z's. Check out his 2006 All-Pro team. I've gushed over Dr. Z before, but he's absolutely the best. He bases his points on close observation and technical knowledge of the football game, devises his own statistical system to measure players' performances, and writes openly about the process. I love statistical systems, but I'll take the hype-free "close reading" of Dr. Z any day. He's the model for a football writer and football analyst.

Viking DT Pat Williams makes the team for the second year in a row.

Around the NFL: quick coaching thoughts

For as long as I've paid close attention to football, Bill Cowher has been the coach of the Steelers. This is what I'd feel like if The Simpsons goes off the air (well, if I cared about the Steelers this is what I'd feel like).

This may put me in the minority, but I believe this strongly: Dennis Green deserved another year in Arizona. Nobody's made the Cardinals any good since they were the Chicago Cardinals. The team was moving in a good direction at the end of the year. I think a coach of Green's quality deserves a fourth year to try make them a winner.

If Viking defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin gets a head coaching job, I will say he's very deserving and I will wish him success with his new team. But I'd also be sad. 2006 gave us the best Viking defense since the early 90s. I'd like Tomlin to be with the Purple for another year or two.

It's hard to get too uptight about the shenanigans of Nick Saban. How many owners have acted like their current coach was the guy they wanted only to fire him immediately after the season? Much like Peter King criticizing players for holding out, etc., but defending a team's decision to cut players, it seems odd to expect some sort of loyalty from one party but accept total lack of loyalty from the other.

The Steelers, Raiders, and Dolphins have a combined 10 Super Bowl trophies (actually, from 1972-1984 they won 9 of them), and now they all have coaching openings. Those are no slouch franchises.

While I don't follow college football very closely and don't care about the U at all, for some reason I would LOVE it if Dennis Green or Mike Tice came to coach the Gophers.

And I'm still hoping Brad Childress is bullshitting us about a quarterback competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Free Agency Help

Okay so I currently live in North Carolina and this has meant that Viking games are a rarity for me. This also means that I really dont have the opportunity to watch their games to see what kind of needs they might have to address to improve the team. That means that Vegan Viking has been my source of assessing the needs of the team. The two biggest needs he tells me are pass-rushing defensive end(s) and Wide Receivers. So here goes my personal take on what the Vikings should do to fill those positions.

I see no help on the Free Agent market in terms of WR. Drew Bennett and Kevin Curtis appear to be the cream of the crop and maybe DJ Hackett has moved up on some charts. I honestly think that all three of these would be improvements for the team, but the DE crop in FA is far richer and we could get some major help. So here is my personal take on what the Vikings should do to address their needs.

(1) Use the #7 pick on Calvin Johnson if he is available. If he is not available then look at Dwayne Jarrett. (This assumes that they both declare for the draft). If neither are available then look at Offensive Lineman or take the best available player regardless of position. If this means Adrian Peterson at RB then take him. (I also wouldn't mind seeing the Vikings looking at WR with a 2nd or 3rd rounder on a guy like Steve Smith from USC who is a great route runner.
(2) Spend some of that cap money on a pass rushing DE. These are the guys available who could make the difference:

(a) Dwight Freeney: He is going to be very expensive and he somewhat scares me in terms of injuries and he tends to overattack opening up a vulnerability to the run. However, the Vikings have shown that they can cover the run with the tackles and linebackers so he might be a good fit, but I think the price tag will just be too high.
(b) Jared Allen: He is a restricted free agent so the price of draft picks might be too much, but he gets to the QB and is young. If he is tendered at the highest level by KC I just can't imagine the Vikings being willing to give up the picks.
(c) Justin Smith: He might be my favorite to be wearing the purple-and-gold next season. He is still pretty young and has shown to be a good rusher. I think his price tag wont be too high and that I think bodes well for the Vikes.
(d) Vonnie Holliday: I am not much for older vets, but if the price tag isnt too high he could be a nice help for the Vikes. I still would rather have Smith, but Holliday would help with a pass rush.

My dream is that the Vikes sign Justin Smith and draft Calvin Johnson, but I realize that I will more than likely just be disappointed and the Vikes will sign who knows and draft some offensive lineman (I wouldnt mind that, but it doesnt do much for me as a fan).

Who is the Viking QB?

Not long ago it seemed the Vikings had an all-pro QB in place for a decade. Now it's a position of question marks and suckitude. Where do we go from here?

Brad Childress says that 2007 will feature a QB competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger. I hope he's just bullshitting us. Jackson could use another year learning. Brooks Bollinger isn't enough to be excited about (I realize he came late to the team this season, but if he's good enough why wasn't he competing for taking Brad Johnson's job around midseason?). This defense is built strong and can win now with a functional QB and some decent WRs. The top priority in the off-season needs to be at WR (there's nobody on the current roster that combines the ability to get separation with the ability to consistently catch the ball) and DE (for all the good the defense did do, all season long the pass rush from the line was disgustingly bad). But getting a decent QB to play a year or two wouldn't be a bad idea, either. After 2006, I now see people like Jake Plummer and Byron Leftwich as upgrades to mediocrity that could help the Vikings compete.

During the season, I argued for either Bollinger or Jackson to replace Johnson. But that was looking at the options available. Going into an off-season, there are many more options available, and those should be looked at too. I hope Childress isn't stubbornly choosing to stick with the questionable QBs he has now; he might as well try find a different questionable but possibly better QB that's available. Hell, Joey Ha Ha might be an upgrade. OK, I'm now going to punch at my brain for suggesting that.

Tarvaris can still be the future. Is he ready to be the present, when other options might be available?

The Vikes have been doing a great job locking up good players for the long-term. Kevin Williams, Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, and E.J. Henderson are set to be wearing purple for several years. But the Vikes need to look at getting a QB that can perform at least averagely.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Devil Within

Okay, I promise that this will be my one and only post entirely about nothing but Duke Basketball. Well maybe not the only one. I still hope the stars align and somehow the McRoberts led Blue Devils get to dance last in April, then I will obviously have to post about Duke Basketball if this happens.
But now on to the post about the Duke Blue Devils. This whole post is basically a stream of conscience reaction to Seth Davis' article on Yahoo.Com. You can find it here. For the most part I agree with Davis. Anyone who has closely followed the Devils will admit they are not the 5th best team in the country. I am a very close follower and I can say that my Cameron experiences this year have been heart attack worthy at times. This is a Duke team searching for its heart and soul leader to rally around. McRoberts appears to be emerging, but I think Paulus will have to be the guy if they are going to be serious contenders. Right now they are not clicking on offense, but thankfully their defense has been spectacular.
Where Davis annoyed me was when he stated, "If last year's J.J. Redick-Shelden Williams-led group couldn't get past the Sweet 16, it's hard to imagine this one will." Why is it hard to imagine? It's not like Duke experienced great success during the Redick-Williams years. 2003, 2005, and 2006 they didn't advance past the Sweet 16 and 2004 they made it to the Final Four and collapsed against UConn. Side Note: I wish Luol Deng would have stayed around. The problem with last year's team was that it was far too dependent on JJ and then Shelden. LSU took JJ out of the game and that was it. This years team is different. While there is not JJ-type dominant player the multiple threats of offensive weapons allow different players to step up in each game and go to the hot hand. While I have no visions that Duke will be dancing in April, I think they could suprise alot of people come tourney time. I know I said earlier I was thinking a #3 seed, but now I am thinking a #4 or #5 and some shock. Sweet 16 for sure, hopefully more.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

College Hoops

The time has come in college hoops when conference battles begin to take their toll. Duke (where I attend grad school) starts its ACC schedule Saturday vs. Virginia Tech. With this in mind I am taking stock of which teams I think can pull through the tough conference battles and secure #1 seeds come March.

The Favorites

UCLA- I hate to admit this because Vegan Viking is an existential fan of this baby blue and gold team, but UCLA is good. Real Good. The way I see it there are 4 games that pose threats to UCLA: 2 games vs. Arizona and 2 games vs. Oregon. I personally think UCLA ends the year with 1 or 2 losses and winds up with the best #1 seed.

Ohio State- I hate Big Ten Basketball, but one thing is for certain when it comes to this type of basketball. You need a solid backcourt and a big man to survive the battles. Ohio State has "the" big man in college basketball in Greg Oden and their backcourt is pretty solid. I think they will finish the season with 5 losses, but they will be the Big Ten champs and will get the lowest #1 seed.

Florida- The defending champs scare me. They scare me because they can be wildly inconsistent. This team is good and I see them taking the SEC and ending the year with 4 losses and claiming the 3rd best #1 seed.

UNC- Go to hell Carolina! Go to hell! Okay now that I got that out of my system, this team is good. They are young, but Hansborough is a very mature Sophomore and Rashaun Terry brings veteran leadership. To tell the truth UNC's first 5 of the bench could keep up with almost anyone in the country. The ACC season is always a battle, but I think UNC will come out with only 2 losses and will wrap up the 2nd #1 seed.

Second Tier

Wisconsin- Wisconsin is an althletic team with a good inside presence. They could easily challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten championship, but I think they could be suprised by some lesser quality teams in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could end up a #1 but I see them as a #2 or #3 right now.

Arizona- They easily could make the Pac 10 the holder of two #1 seeds. Budinger is an exciting player to watch.

Kansas- I will say one thing. Come tourney time I do not want to see Kansas on Duke's side of the bracket. They may be inconsistent, but when this team gets hot they are killer. Their backcourt is amazing. I think they will end up with a #2 seed, but they easily could make it to a #1 seed.

So you might be wondering why I haven't listed Duke as a second tier team. Duke is a very young team, but they have experience. Their defense is amazing this year, but their offense has yet to click. Duke could suprise and end the year with only 4 or so losses and they always seem to walk away with the ACC tourney so they could be a threat, but the realist in me thinks Duke will end the year with 6 losses and will be a #3 seed.