Americans And The NFL

I had a stunning revelation last night.

It came to me while I watched the final five minutes of the terrific Rangers Senators game seven.  During the final 300 seconds of Ottawa’s season, the Senators gave one of the desperate, give-it-all-you-got type of efforts that leave fans proud, despite the loss and elimination from the playoffs. They largely controlled the puck, sending a frightening barrage of shots and tips at Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, all of which failed to net an equalizer.  The Rangers were in that desperation kill-the-clock mode, the type where fans start cheering every time the Rangers cleared the puck out of the zone.  Everyone in the building was standing. 

It was electric.  It was entertaining.  It was great television. 

While that was going on, I was doing what I always do during sporting events now: I was on Twitter.  I’ve made the case a 1,000 times already on this site, but if you’re not utilizing Twitter while simultaneously watching sporting events these days, your experience is suffering.  I would put it on par with the advent of HD television in terms of its importance towards watching sports at a premium level.  The knowledge, opinions, humor, and insight gleaned while following your feed during a game is unrivaled.  Back to the point though.

I don’t know if any of you heard, but the NFL draft happened last night too. It was during those last five minutes of Rangers Senators where I came to my epiphany.  We all agree that the NFL is the number one sport in this country.  That is without argument.  What I’m going to say next might shock you though, but it’s accurate.

The NFL offseason is America’s second favorite sport.

That might not make any sense.  Allow me to explain my reasoning.  The idea started when I realized that no one I follow on Twitter was watching hockey, save Grantland’s Katie Baker who covers the sport for the site.  Nearly 98% of the tweets that came in last night were in regard to the NFL draft, the rest being the few non-sports people I follow.  The NFL draft consumed American televisions last night.  Both ESPN and NFL Network covered it live. 

And it wasn’t just the number of people commenting, it was the volume with which they all contributed.  Consider that on a normal day my twitter feed produces about two or three tweets every minute.  Last night my feed exploded with about 20-30 tweets per minute, all in reference to that stupid draft.

This happened while one of the most entertaining games of the NHL playoffs was underway, which oh-by-the-way was being played in New York City, in Madison Square Garden.  Sadly though, the biggest sports gig in town wasn’t at MSG.  It was at Radio City Music Hall.

Barf.

America is now so consumed by the NFL that a discussion of Tim Tebow in the middle of the month of April trumps every other sports discussion in the country.  No matter that the NBA and NHL entered their stretch runs where teams start playing playoff-style games, let’s discuss how Tebow will make opposing special teams think twice on punt coverage! 

What? 

Deadspin recently began a great running series titled “Bristolmetrics” in which they track the number of mentions SportsCenter allots to certain sports during a given month as compared to useless NFL topics.  It’s staggering how little they discuss hockey while devoting frightening amounts of time to whether a certain player’s Wonderlic score will hurt his draft stock.

It doesn’t help that ESPN is now in bed with the NFL and both organizations seem intent on squeezing every single penny out of the business relationship.  That business success is detrimental to less popular games like hockey and soccer, both of which the World Wide Leader failed to secure television rights for in the past year.

ESPN became such a powerful entity that they can now influence the popularity of a certain sport in America, just by how much time they devote to covering it.  Do you remember how soccer picked up steam in the last five years or so, seemingly coming from no where to a sport with semi-relevance?  All Bristol.  The epitome of this was the last men’s World Cup which ESPN absolutely crushed thanks their tremendous coverage of the event. 

And just like that all the momentum of that sport will be gone, lost because Fox Sports decided to break the bank for the TV rights.  Wave farewell to Americans caring about soccer just like they did about hockey when ESPN dropped their rights following the infamous lockout.  In the coming years, ESPN will intentionally choose to not cover it on SportsCenter, all because it’s not in their business interest to do so.  And that’s a damn shame.  It was so evident this morning as Mike & Mike mentioned hockey for a brief five seconds, solely to give you the box scores, before devoting the rest of the morning to an NFL draft breakdown.  Ugh.

I’m writing this column as a plea to sports fans everywhere.  Stop caring about the NFL so much.  You are not a better football fan for knowing a potential draftee’s 40-yard dash time down to the hundredth of a second.  You are not learning anything about a potential player’s impact on your team next year by googling and caring about his Wonderlic score.  There is almost nothing to be gained about knowing who your team selected.  You don’t know how his personality will fit in a locker room full of guys you’ve never met.  You don’t know if some unknown positions coach you’ve never heard of will have a profound impact on a player’s development. 

There are way too many variables to account for in this process and I guarantee you that you’re not going to be the one to crack the code on finding success in the NFL draft.  Consider that Mel Kiper once told America that JaMarcus Russell was going to be the next John Elway.  This is a man who made his living the last 29 years scouting and evaluating talent and even he could not tell you that the number one pick in an NFL draft was instead going to be one of the five worst quarterbacks in NFL history.  Stop reading mock drafts too!

In the past two weeks you likely missed out on the following series, all of which were infinitely better than the ridiculous NFL debates between Skip “raycess” Bayless and Screaming A. Smith on ESPN: the brutal Penguins/Flyers series featuring at least fifteen fights, the Coyotes/Blackhawks series where all but one game went to overtime, and the Capitals/Bruins series where every game was decided by a single goal.   You also probably missed the end of an era in soccer with Barcelona finally losing to Real Madrid and then shockingly losing out in the semi-finals of the Champions League.  There is a player on Barca named Leo Messi whose only comparison in terms of greatness and dominance is Michael Jordan…and you’ve probably never watched him play a single game.

So I beg you, please please please please please please stop caring about the NFL so much.  It’s highly likely the fate of the NBA for the next five years is about to be decided in the upcoming playoffs and I fear that you’re going to miss out on it all.  Take some time this week and watch your first hockey game since the late 90s.  Go to a baseball game.  Want to get really crazy?  Watch the UEFA Champion’s League final (soccer) on May 19th and see just how supremely awesome that sports really is.  Expand your sporting horizons god dammit!

Thank me later.

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Saying Goodbye To The Tim Tebow Era In Denver

By now you know that Tim Tebow is the newest member of the New York Jets, shipped their this afternoon for a 4th rounder, a 6th rounder, a hope and a prayer.  The last couple of days have been extremely difficult for me as a fan of the Broncos, so much so that I refused to write a piece about the actual trade…until now.  After way too much reading and reflection, I’ve finally been able to isolate just what it was about Tim Tebow that converted me, the most skeptical, number-driven sports fan that I know.  It was the most improbable of relationships, and like 99% of all improbable relationships, it’s now over.

I wish that I could claim that my conversion to Tim happened the second Josh McDaniels traded up to take him three rounds early back in 2010.  That’s not the case though.  I defended Kyle Orton to the death and even wondered whether Brady Quinn might be a sneakily awesome possibility at starter.  The real person I was rooting for was Andrew Luck though and that my beloved franchise would intentionally tank the season last year for the right to draft him.  Six games and 46 minutes into the season last year, all was going as planned.  Then this happened:

I was watching that game live and I confess that I was livid. How dare this Tebow guy come in and ruin the Broncos chance at the greatest QB prospect since Elway himself!  I was begging for the Broncos to quit when Tebow of course delivered on one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL history.  Rather than celebrate it, I mostly pouted to my fiancee about how the Broncos were ruining their future and had no shot at Luck anymore.  A drubbing the following week at the hands of the Lions confirmed my suspicions.

And then a funny thing happened.  The Broncos spent the week between Detroit and Oakland, their next opponent, conducting the biggest experiment in the history of the NFL—they actually tailored the offense to Tebow’s strengths.  You’re never going to believe this….but it worked.

Of all the improbable comebacks, miraculous fourth quarters, and game-winning drives, the not-even-close biggest miracle that Tim Tebow accomplished last year was getting an actual NFL franchise led by a respected NFL head coach to dare to think outside the box.  It is quite possible you will never see anything like it again.  This was number one I fell in love with Tebow.  That, and beating the living piss out of the Raiders.

You know what else happened over the next few weeks.  Tebow and the Broncos went on an improbable win streak where nearly all the games were decided by the QB on the final drive of the game.  America was swept with Tebowmania.  ESPN started devoting entire hour-long episodes to Tebow-related material only.  Skip Bayless ran to his defense.  Colin Cowherd blasted him.  The fans were kind of just left shaking our heads wondering what in the hell happened.

These past couple days I was sad. What frustrated me though was that I was unable to pinpoint exactly what I was so emotional about.  I will certainly not miss defending Tim Tebow every week.  During the season I resigned myself to telling friends that you just simply couldn’t understand how pleasurable it was to have Tebow as your quarterback.  It was all exhausting because, well, look at him when he’s on the field at any point not in the final two minutes of the football game.  I will not miss the missed receivers, the looping throws that sail out of bounds, or every NFL defender taunting him in order to get their face on SportsCenter.  It got old.

There was something about it all that I really, really, really enjoyed though.

I have no idea how I connected these events, but it happened yesterday as I left work.  The first event was somehow remembering a random column I read during the NFL season last year.  I don’t remember the writer nor do I remember the site.  I think it was theclassical.org, but to be honest I’m really not sure and a quick search through their archives yielded no results.  More to the point though, that column was the collection of thoughts of a Patriots fan and what that team has done to him as fan.  On the outside, it appears awesome to be a Patriots fan, or so it seems.  The writer then launched into a story describing how ugly he feels as a fan now.  Because of the 2007 Patriots and their success leading up to that year, he said he is now never satisfied by the Patriots exploits on the field.  He explains that no win is ever satisfying enough, no Tom Brady performance is ever perfect enough.  In fact it had gotten so bad he actually yearned for the days of their first Super Bowl back in 2002.

The reason was simple.  The Patriots weren’t expected to win that year.  In fact, they were expected to be blown out by one of the greatest offenses ever assembled in the St Louis Rams’ “greatest show on turf.”  Instead Bill Belichick orchestrated one of the greatest upsets of all time and America was introduced to Tom Brady.  He’d go on to have an argument as the best quarterback ever to play the game.  The writer argued that 2002 was the pinnacle of being a Patriots fan and that nothing would ever compare.

—-

It all actually makes a ton of sense when you think about it.  The best things in sports are those that are unexpected.  Nobody really cares who the Patriots beat in their next two Super Bowl victories.  They’ll always remember them beating the Rams though.  They’ll also always remember when they lost to the Giants, perhaps the greatest upset in NFL history. 

It’s why we remember the United States upsetting the Soviets in the semi-finals, but can’t remember who we went on to defeat in the gold-medal game.  It’s why Villanova defeating Georgetown is a must-have in any March Madness compilation. 

It’s why I’m going to really, really, really miss Tim Tebow as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

Think about what the Denver Broncos accomplished last year under Tebow.  They went 7-4 down the stretch in the regular season.  They won the majority of those games on their last possession of the game.  They backdoored their way into the playoffs.  They upset the heavily favored Steelers in the first round.  They won that game against the Steelers on the first play of overtime.  It is literally impossible to write a worse script for a movie.  While this was going on, nearly every team had players taunting the Broncos, nearly every outlet had outspoken critics mocking the Broncos, and almost everyone in this country had an opinion about what was going on.

Despite all of that, the Broncos won anyway.

—-

Before this past MLB postseason began, I recall a number of Cardinals fans remarking that this year’s squad was by far their favorite team of all-time.  This was at a time when it was still uncertain whether they would make the playoffs or not.  They didn’t yet know that the Braves would complete an all-time historic collapse and lose their Wild Card slot to a St. Louis team playing with way too much pride.  They had yet to come within a single strike of losing the World Series…twice.  And how can you not agree with that assessment?

I found myself multiple times this year calling Tim Tebow and the Broncos the most fun I’d had as a sports fan ever.  I often compared it with the memorable Colorado Rockies run to the World Series back in 2007.  That year the Rockies famously won 14 of their last 15 games and went 20-8 in September to clinch a one-game playoff where they then defeated the San Diego Padres in extra innings.  It was only appropriate that the win came in the bottom of 13th off future HOFer Trevor Hoffman when the Rockies trailed by two to start the inning.  They then breezed through the playoffs before eventually losing to the far superior Boston Red Sox.

Those two seasons are my all-time favorite as a sports fan.  Neither ended with a championship.  Both left me absolutely grateful for sports and the emotions they are capable of producing in me.

—-

Now Broncos fans are left with Peyton Manning and to be quite honest, it’s depressing.  As they all mentioned in the press conference yesterday, it’s Super Bowl or bust now.  There is no learning curve or witnessing of player growth.  There will be no moments where Peyton endears himself to the fans of Denver.  He’ll always be a Colt, forever synonymous with the blue horseshoe.  We expect to win eleven games next year and if we miss the playoffs all hell is going to break loose. 

There will be nothing satisfying about having Peyton as our quarterback.  I’m going to get angry about not beating opponents by enough points.  I’m going to get mad when we inevitably lose two rounds too soon in the playoffs next year.  I’m going to be livid if Peyton’s neck decides to give out earlier than planned.

Guys, sports are rough.

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Reaction To The Peyton Manning News

I’m too broke up to devote a full piece to this issue at this time.  I loved Tebow.  Here’s every reason this was the wrong move:

-Teams that “win” free agency never win games during the season (see: Eagles, Philadelphia)

-It’s never a good idea to tie a lot of money to an aging quarterback whose previous team was willing to let him walk out the door without a fight (see: McNabb, Donovan)

-Bill Belichick is going to sweep in here and trade for Tebow as the heir apparent to Tom Brady (write it down, it’s happening)

-Make no mistake, Peyton chose the Broncos because they offered three things: 1) they’ll sign his buddies Jeff Saturday and Dallas Clark 2) they’ll give him a lot of guaranteed money long-term 3) they’ll let him control the offense.  The last reason is the big key.

-Does anyone remember what happened to the Colts last year when Peyton got hurt and nobody had a clue what to do on offense?  Are the Broncos at all concerned of giving Manning that much power again only to see the neck become an issue again three weeks into this upcoming season?

-Peyton played in a dome his whole career.  Is anyone really confident he’ll suddenly be able to make the same throws outside during cold Denver winters when his injury specifically targeted his arm strength?

-This might sound crazy, but am I the only person who thinks the decision to go with Manning is riskier than going with Tebow?  Hear me out on this.  At best, Peyton gives Denver three strong years (he turns 36 here soon) and one, maybe two, solid runs at a Super Bowl.  He then heads into to the front office to join Elway after grooming an heir apparent.  At BEST.  At worst, Manning gets hurt, never plays a down this season, and the Broncos have to turn over their team to someone like Curtis Painter or presumed rookie draft pick Brandon Weeden.  All the while they’ve gambled their entire salary cap in the first three years of this deal to Peyton, traded away a revenue machine in Tebow, and ended up exactly where they were two years ago with no franchise QB and another attempt at rebuilding. 

With Tebow they’d be committing very little salary so in the worst case event with him (he proves unable to be able to learn a pro-style offense), they’re only out about a million bucks and you can draft another QB without having committed significant resources anywhere.  The upside with Tebow is way greater though.  In his best case event he proves to be a franchise icon, the kind of athlete seen maybe five times a decade in all of pro sports (think: Jeter, Brady, or Kobe), and he wins multiple Super Bowls while becoming the true reincarnation of Elway.  Denver forgoes that chance by getting Manning which is a damn shame.  However improbable the odds, I think an overwhelming majority of Broncos fans would be willing to take that risk with Tebow.

-Tebow never had a full offseason with a head coach.

-Tebow never had a full offseason where he got to work with the first team offense.

-Tebow never had a full offseason where he had the chance to learn the head coach’s desired offense.

-What I’m trying to say is that Tebow really hasn’t been given a fair chance yet in his young career.

I’m going to go put on my Tebow jersey and cry myself to sleep now.

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Roger Goodell Is The Wizard Of Oz, Or: Thoughts On The Saints Bounty Hunting Scandal

Word broke late last Friday afternoon that the NFL was mounting a huge investigation into an alleged “bounty hunting” system employed by the New Orleans Saints under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.  The common perception right now is that Williams may have coached his last game in the NFL and that the Saints will face heavy penalties including and not limited to any of the following: fines, suspensions, and loss of draft picks.  It is suspected that the punishment will be far more severe than that of the New England Patriots when they were caught cheating in the infamous Spygate scandal.  It is believed that the Saints will likely not be the only organization penalized for the offense either.  More details continue to leak from around the league that several other teams carried out similar schemes.

What’s excellent about this situation, if there’s anything excellent that can be drawn from a situation of the rewarding the intentional, organized violence against individuals, is that it’s opened up a much-needed dialogue amongst fans and analysts of the NFL.  For years, the league did its best to avoid the issue of long-term football-related injuries, only choosing to get proactive in the last year or so after a series of devastsating pieces by newspapers and magazines across the country.  After finally facing the music on that issue, it seems that it’s now going to have to address the other big elephant in the room (way ahead of schedule, I might add): the fact that football is really, really, really violent.

When plowing through every column on this very issue, there are a couple of common themes that arise in decrying what the Saints did.  The first is that it takes away from the integrity of the game in the same way intentionally aiming a fastball at a batter’s head would do in baseball.  The second is that what Williams oversaw was actually a criminal offense, which could be prosecuted under the law.  The final is that the NFL has to do anything possible to salvage its image, given the future repercussions surrounding long-term football-related injuries— basically seizing control of the message now.

That last issue is probably the most important from the perspective of the public and it’s exactly the reason Roger Goodell is expected to absolutely hammer the Saints in the coming weeks.

What I think is great is that we’re being forced as a society to examine what exactly we’re willing to permit from a sport before it is deemed socially unacceptable.  There is a growing movement in this country that believes football could possibly go the way of boxing in the very near future. What I mean to say is that at some point society as a whole will deem football too violent to celebrate anymore and slowly but surely the popularity of the sport will wane until it becomes an afterthought in the American sporting conscience.  At the heart of the issue, this might be what Roger Goodell is most afraid of, although he’d never admit it publicly.

It’s a very fine line, when you think about. 

Somehow we’re willing to accept that a strong safety running at full speed, colliding with and breaking a wide reveiver’s leg is okay.  Somehow that same safety hitting a receiver at full speed, with the receiver’s natural reaction of curling up his body in anticipation of the imminent contact thus causing a helmet-to-helmet impact is completely outside the rules and punishable by fines though.  For some reason we celebrate a fullback blowing up a blitzing linebacker even though his quarterback has already thrown a pass, but decry that linebacker when he blows up a quarterback who has already thrown a pass.

A serious credibility question that the NFL has to address in the future will be how it can possibly legislate between what acts of violence are permissible and what aren’t.  I just don’t see any way out of the hypocrisies that become very apparent when you sit down and think it all the way through.

I brought up this very issue to one of the national columnists (Gregg Doyel of CBS) that criticized the Saints earlier this morning.  We had a quick back-and-forth with me pointing out that he is a huge fan of MMA, UFC-style fighting.  I wondered how he possibly reconciled the difference between the violence of that sport and the violence of the NFL.  His response was the following, “MMA is understood risk. NFL players being paid extra to try to KNOCK OUT an opponent? Not understood risk.”

I disagree though.  How do the players in the NFL not understand the risk they take every time they step out onto a football field?  How could anyone actually be naive enough to believe that?  Football is a sport played by men with (likely) the most finely-tuned bodies in the history of civilization.  They lift weights, alter diets, and take substances (both illicit and not) from their early teens on in preparation for the physical requirements of playing in the league.  Throw in the fact that the most-desired trait of any potential NFL employee is speed and you basically have a recipe for destruction.  These are gigantic men with gigantic muscles running at impossible speeds that result in violent collisions, many of which resulting in players getting “knocked out.”  I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that at some point in their lives every player considers that there is an understood risk to playing football, that any time you take the field it could be the last.

And again, I think that’s what is at stake here.

Roger Goodell wants to continue the illusion that the NFL actually has control of the violence that takes place on a football field.  Roger Goodell wants you to believe that there is some very definable line between the types of violence committed by these Saints players and the type of violence you witness every Sunday between “clean” players.  Roger Goodell wants you to believe that he is very much in charge of all of that.

Instead what you should find is that the NFL is trying to keep a veil over your eyes.  This is very much an institution coming to the realization that its great illusion is about to be discovered.  The public is about to find out how great a fallacy the NFL’s business model actually is.  This is the same league that seriously believes changing to an 18-game regular season schedule won’t have a direct correlation to player health and safety, after all.

What the Saints did was wrong.  They broke rules.  They tried to cover up the fact that they broke the rules.  They deserve to be punished.

But how long until we pull back the curtain and see that Roger Goodell is really just another Wizard of Oz trying to sustain a crumbling empire built on and profiting off the very same principles the Saints will be punished for? 

Violence is violence whether it comes from legal blocks, tackles, or even (gasp!) intentionally dirty plays.

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Super Bowls, Personal Computers, Tennis, And True Greatness

In the age of Twitter, it is almost unforgivable that I waited a week to finally address the issue of last week’s Super Bowl in a column.  I apologize up front for that.  Since the big game though I’ve been throwing a couple of ideas around that I’m going to try to make some sense of in this piece.  In my opinion, it was the most fascinating Super Bowl ever from a sports dork/debating/evaluation perspective.  The chief issues for this come about as a result of asking any one of the following questions: How were the legacies of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick affected by the outcome?  How does Eli Manning rate compared to the other elite quarterbacks in this league?  How can an athlete be considered the best ever at his profession but be so utterly out shined by a fellow athlete at that same task (also known as: the Federer/Nadal conundrum)?  Who is the better quarterback among the brothers Manning? Is it even worth the time and effort to try to debate all of this in the first place?

The idea for this essay was conceived as the result of reading a series of random pieces in the past couple of weeks.  So as to not come across as though I’m stealing their ideas, I’d like to credit those three pieces now and I’ll refer to them at the appropriate stages.  The first is Bomani Jones’ Super Bowl column which details the challenging dilemma of attempting to evaluate quarterbacks against one another.  The second is Malcolm Gladwell’s review of the Steve Jobs book in the wake of his untimely death which, among many things, contrasts Jobs to Bill Gates.  The last is Eric Freeman’s column on the aftermath of the classic Federer/Djokovic Australian Open final this year.  It is my suggestion that you read all three of those before proceeding.

The issue I want to examine is trying in some manner to describe greatness as it pertains to athletics.  More specifically, being the greatest.  To say it is a complex undertaking is a gross understatement and does no justice to the amount of thought various writers and thinkers have done tackling this subject.  I have no allusions about how difficult this is and how highly subjective the analysis will be.

*****

True confession: like many other sports dorks the Michael Lewis book Moneyball forever altered how I look at sports.  I don’t know how many other readers were led to explore the principles of advanced stats as they applied to other sports, but count me among those who took their bachelor’s in sports dorkdom from Moneyball and went to study for the full PhD by mining the darker corners of the internet for content.

One of my first questions was what organizations were utilizing the same philosophies in the other major sports?  I soon learned that the Houston Rockets pretty much pioneered it for the NBA.  I learned that European soccer clubs like Arsenal are investing in the use of advanced stats but that it’s increasingly difficult to come up with metrics in a sport like soccer that has infinitely more measurable events taking place in a game than say, baseball.  I then learned that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were way ahead of the curve for using it in the NFL and suddenly the dominance of that organization over the last decade  made sense.

And thus was born one of the more improbable man crushes in the history of sports.  Prior to this past season, I cannot tell you how much I loathed the city of Boston and, more specifically, Bill Belichick.  I found his press conferences insulting, I believed his success was fraudulent due to Spygate, and I thought the hoodie look was a disgrace to the game.  I felt a personal bitterness that resonated as a result of his Patriots so quickly grasping the dynasty title just a few seasons after my beloved John Elway retired with back-to-back Super Bowl wins.  I detested anyone who thought of Tom Brady as being in the same sentence with Elway.  The more you delve into the Belichick story though, the more it becomes clear that this man is not some short-tempered loser with the ego of a big program college football coach, but rather one of the greatest innovators and thinkers in the history of football. 

After some reading I learned the reasoning behind his press conference performances.  It wasn’t so much an arrogant display as it was a hilarious and ironic protest of the monotony of sports coverage. I eventually learned the story behind the hoodie, and instantly I saw a man with wit and charm rather than a bad taste in clothing.  Combine that with learning about his lifelong friendship with Ernie Adams–a man who can only be described as the football whisperer–and Bill Belichick might be the single most fascinating coach in the history of American professional sports.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about in any of those instances, please drop me a line in the comments and I’d be happy to elaborate.

What became increasingly clear though, in my mind, was that Bill Belichick was the greatest football coach ever.  When you combine the titles, the prolonged success, the innovation, the draft strategy, the players he’s coached, the embracing of advanced stats, the personality, the knowledge of the game, etc., I don’t think it’s even a contest.  Hands down Bill Belichick is the best football coach of all time.

Which is what makes it all the more confounding to me that Tom Coughlin (Tom Coughlin!) has his number when it comes to these Super Bowls.  No offense to any Giants fans or members of the Coughlin family, but at face value, Tom Coughlin might be the least interesting coach in the history of football.  For one, he’s really old.  Two, I can’t get past the way his cheeks turn all kinds of red when a) it gets cold and/or b) the Giants pull off one of their patented “what in the f— were they thinking there” plays.  And three, there’s nothing particularly innovative about the New York Giants roster except that they got extremely lucky with Victor Cruz and seem to have a penchant for collecting as many defensive linemen as possible.

And this brings me to my first comparison.  In that Malcolm Gladwell piece I mentioned, the author of the book talks about how Steve Jobs used to get infuriated with Bill Gates.  It is no secret at this point that Jobs thought of himself as the greatest innovator/inventor of our modern times and took great personal lengths to assure that anything associated with him and his company were “perfect” in his eyes.  While coming across on the surface as being completely arrogant, I don’t think anyone outside of the city of Seattle and the walls of the Microsoft office is going to disagree with his view.  Jobs was a genius.  People were attracted to that genius.  As a result Apple, to put it mildly, is a successful business.

Which is what makes it all the more fascinating that he would let Bill Gates get him so worked up.  As Gladwell recalled from the book:

In the nineteen-eighties, Jobs reacted the same way [as he did to the release of the Android phone in recent years] when Microsoft came out with Windows. It used the same graphical user interface—icons and mouse—as the Macintosh. Jobs was outraged and summoned Gates from Seattle to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “They met in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him,” Isaacson writes. “Jobs didn’t disappoint his troops. ‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ ”

Gates looked back at Jobs calmly. Everyone knew where the windows and the icons came from. “Well, Steve,” Gates responded. “I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Jobs was someone who took other people’s ideas and changed them. But he did not like it when the same thing was done to him. In his mind, what he did was special. Jobs persuaded the head of Pepsi-Cola, John Sculley, to join Apple as C.E.O., in 1983, by asking him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” When Jobs approached Isaacson to write his biography, Isaacson first thought (“half jokingly”) that Jobs had noticed that his two previous books were on Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, and that he “saw himself as the natural successor in that sequence.” The architecture of Apple software was always closed. Jobs did not want the iPhone and the iPod and the iPad to be opened up and fiddled with, because in his eyes they were perfect. The greatest tweaker of his generation did not care to be tweaked.

What the author is essentially saying is that Jobs found Gates’ success insulting even though they both seemingly committed the same act.  Neither of these men originally came up with the ideas that would revolutionize computers, but both saw the potential in Xerox’s original idea.  Doing a little more reasearch, one discovers that later on Jobs would vent to others about how Microsoft drove him crazy by intentionally omitting beauty and grace from the process of creating computers.  The way Windows could be used on thousands of different computers and laptop styles that were created only for the sake of being created seemed to offend Jobs’ very existance. He took great personal pride in the design of his products.

When I watch Bill Belichick lose to Tom Coughlin, I feel Steve Jobs’ pain described in that story.  How dare the Giants go ruin something as beautiful as the New England Patriots as designed by Bill Belichick!  They don’t understand the greatness that they are impeding upon!  Tom Coughlin should feel lucky to even share the field with the great Belichick!  And so forth.

To delve into the Belichick story is to become obssessed with a great man and a great coach.  I’m telling you, don’t do it unless you are prepared to fall absolutely head over heels in sports love with the man.  The way I feel about him is the way the legions of Apple fans feel about Jobs. 

And yet, how do I defend him as the greatest coach of all-time when Tom Coughlin has his number?

Ugh.

*****

One of the better developments in recent years in terms of journalism has been the trend towards what is known as “Long Form” journalism whereby the writer gets thousands of more words than she typically would to report her story.  It’s exactly what it sounds like.  It’s journalism, only longer.  I would argue it’s better as well.  It’s inspired a number of websites, among the more famous are Longreads.com and Bill Simmons’ new site Grantland.

It’s unfair to really attribute all of this form’s recent success to one person, but if you put a gun to my head I’d credit its  modern popularity to the late David Foster Wallace.  Wallace is considered perhaps the greatest novelist of modern times and what further endeared him to his fans was that he wrote several fantastic magazine pieces in addition to the great works of literature he published.  For some reason, Wallace made the conscious decision to make his magazine pieces far more readable than the complex issues of his books.  But while the magazine pieces might have been relatively more simple (especially when compared to a Wallace novel), they had a uniqueness about them that absolutely grabbed the reader and kept their attention throughout.  If you don’t believe me, read his take on travelling aboard a luxury cruisehis reporting from a regional lobster festival, or most importantly, his famous tribute to Roger Federer.

That last piece, I would argue, inspired a whole generation of sports dorks.  What Wallace accomplished in that piece redefined the expectations of what could be accomplished in sports writing.  I’ll make the claim that it’s partially responsible for the success of sites like Deadspin and Grantland, as well as writers like Bill Simmons, Tommy Craggs, and Will Leitch. 

Beyond the exceptional writing, the biggest miracle of the whole piece might be that it has actually turned tennis into a sort of cult sport for sports dorks.  You may not know it, but the who’s who of the sports blogosphere follows the tennis majors with religous intent, staying up all hours of the night to not miss the beautiful tennis that Wallace turned them on to so many years ago.

******

I bring all of that up because what’s peculiar about that unique group of writers/fans is that we (yes, I proudly include myself among these sports dorks) all universally agree that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time.  To watch Federer play is to view firsthand the limitations of man’s body being challenged and redefined.  His brilliance and knowledge of the game is unparalleled within the sport and the beauty and grace with which he plays is likewise unrivaled.  I’m also willing to admit that we’re all likely biased because of Wallace’s writing on the topic and what can only be described as a sort of contempt for Nadal and the gall with which he challenged something as beautiful as Federer.

The challenge though, as Eric Freeman notes in his piece about this latest Australian Open, is that it is now seemingly impossible to define greatness, or more specifically, who is the “greatest.”  We all agree that Roger Federer is the best of all time, but how can he be the best when he couldn’t defeat his chief rival during his prime?  And in the most fascinating twist of all, how can Nadal possibly be the best of all time when his reign was so utterly interrupted by Novak Djokovic’s recent brilliance?  Djokovic certainly hasn’t sustained his success long enough to enter the greatest of all-time conversation yet, but the way with which he does away with Nadal is shocking to witness just as Nadal’s dominance over Federer came as such a surprise a couple years ago.  To make things even more interesting, Djokovic was of course mostly dominated by Federer last year.  So just to sum it up, Federer is definitely the best ever except for that he could never defeat Nadal during their primes, while Nadal could have been the best ever except that he can’t defeat Novak Djokovic who just so happens to lose to Federer.  Tennis, everybody!

And in that description you pretty much described the entire scenario facing the current slate of elite NFL quarterbacks.  Tom Brady was definitely the best of the bunch, but he can’t defeat Eli Manning.  Peyton Manning was definitely the better of the brothers, but for some reason he has less Super Bowl rings than baby bro and was completely dominated by Tom Brady during their respective primes.  Aaron Rodgers and/or Drew Brees might be playing the Djokovic role because they’re breaking all the passing records, but neither of them has sustained their current success long enough to unseat Brady as the best quarterback of this generation.  And thus you enter the confusing circle of trying to define greatness.

Tom Brady has the most rings of any active quarterback (3), but he also has the most Super Bowl losses (2).  Peyton Manning has the most MVPs of any player in NFL history (4), but he’s about to be cut by his team and has less Super Bowls than his little brother (1 to Eli’s 2). Aaron Rodgers seems like he’s going to rewrite all the records, except that his backup (Matt Flynn) stepped into his shoes and had the greatest statistical game ever by a Green Bay quarterback leaving many to wonder if his success is due to the system and/or the receivers rather than the QB.  Drew Brees just broke the record for passing yards in a season, but he plays in a dome at least half the year and passes the ball more times per game than any player in the history of football.  And round and round it goes.

How do you possibly define greatness?  I’d still argue that Tom Brady is the best of the bunch.  However my buddy and co-founder of the site Eddie would no doubt make a great case that Brady’s legacy is forever impacted (negatively) by his losses to Eli in these Super Bowls.  I’d wager to say he’d even be willing to argue that Eli is better than Peyton as well.  And how could you not at least hear him out?  Eli carried the Giants sad sack of a roster this year and single-handedly led them to the title with the worst rushing attack in the league.  He’s probably the best third down QB in the league now and the control he exhibits over drives is remarkable to watch.  But again, this was all in a year in which Aaron Rodgers nearly went 16-0 in the regular season and in which Drew Brees rewrote the passing records.  Do you define greatness by titles only?  By awards and records?  By wins?  By some super secret formula combining all of those?

Good luck defending any one of those guys.

*****

I’d like to come to a conclusion that somehow none of this actually matters, but that’s impossible.  This stuff does matter to sports fans.  It fills our thoughts and conversations and one day it will eventually define each of the athletes mentioned in this piece. As long as sports continue to be played professionally in this country, the debate over who is the greatest of all-time will continue. 

And it should.

The reason this debate has importance is that sports affect fans, both positively and negatively.  Being able to debate things like greatness validates that somehow all the time and effort we devote to sports was somehow worth it.  Even better if we experienced that greatness firsthand by being a fan of a particular athlete.  As an example, I’m sure most Patriots fans out there would argue that Brady is the greatest QB of all time, but they’d be hard pressed to convince any Broncos fan that he was better than Elway.  Just as any Broncos fan could never convince a 49ers fan that Elway was better than Montana.  Older Cowboys fans would argue for Staubach.  Younger Cowboys fans would point to Aikman.

And in that endless debate over what man is actually the greatest of all, I think the answer reveals itself.

The purpose of greatness is not to define or limit it to a single individual, but rather to continue to experience it for yourself.

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Good Morning Generation

Quick thoughts on the upcoming Peyton Manning decision:

Count me among the few who feel that the Colts have to keep him around the organization.  The only way I could actually go along with letting him leave this franchise would be if he really cannot physically play in the 2012.  If that’s the case I actually think you’ll see Peyton retire rather than slum it with some inferior team like Washington while he hopes to get healthy.  A player of his caliber is unlikely to let the sports world see him that weak and helpless.  He’d much rather take the high road and go out while he’s on top.

Under any other circumstances though, I think the Colts have got to keep him.  Beyond the whole organizational loyalty standpoint, my view is based more in the decision to hire former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as the new head coach.  The goal moving forward is obviously to have Andrew Luck be the next great franchise quarterback and I totally get that.  With Pagano as head coach though, I think they’re setting Andrew Luck up for a difficult situation that they could completely avoid if Peyton is still in house next year.

Think about it.

Around the NFL there are a number of franchises and coaches who have become completely associated with being defensive-minded teams.  Teams like the Ravens and Jets come to mind in that regard.  What do those teams also have in common?  They tend to scapegoat their quarterbacks whenever things get tough.  Look no further than Mark Sanchez.

Do the Colts really want to set Luck up for a Sanchez situation whereby every time he loses in the next three years he gets blamed for the loss?  It’s obvious with this hire that they’re making a transition into being a team that has more of a focus on the defensive side of the ball.  Decisions like this often result in a ton of pride by said defense and a clear domination of the locker room by them as well. 

If the goal is to have Andrew Luck pan out as the next Peyton Manning, tell me how it makes any sense to send him into a situation where he’s always going to feel like he’s playing second fiddle to the guys on the other side of the ball?

The Rams may have forever ruined Sam Bradford because of a similar decision.  Sanchez will likely be unemployed after next year.  Joe Flacco…well, he’s Joe Flacco.  The only examples I can think of in NFL history where this ever worked out were for Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw, which isn’t exactly a great success rate.  And even those two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks can’t escape the criticism.

It’s for this reason that if Peyton Manning has any chance whatsoever of playing this upcoming season, the Colts have to bring him back, $28 million signing bonus be damned.  They can’t run the risk of having Andrew Luck fail because he was placed in the worst possible situation.

The one constant in winning Super Bowls in this era of football is having a great quarterback.  Great defenses often come close to winning titles but are almost always undone by superior QBs.  As convenient as it is to have a great defense, you still take the great quarterback every time.  If Andrew Luck doesn’t work out because his own organization failed to take care of him properly, the Colts are headed down a dark and lonely road that most people refer to as being a Cleveland fan.

That’s why you keep Peyton around to keep some equilibrium between the offense and the defense in these transition years and then turn it over to Luck in two or three years a la the Packers with Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

Generation Y, where a part of us dies every time Federer loses to Nadal.

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Good Morning Generation

Going to keep this short as I’ll have a Paterno column later today. My thoughts on each of yesterday’s games are as follows.

The New England Patriots cannot be confident going into the Super Bowl against the Giants. In my eyes, they played horribly yesterday, only winning because the Ravens just so happened to have two unforgivable brain farts of epic proportions on back-to-back plays. Their defense will likely get torched by the Giants’ dynamic trio of Cruz-Nicks-Manningham and I don’t expect Vincent Wilfork to have consecutive games of his life either.  Also: if Brady wets his pants like that against the G-Men’s defense, it ain’t gonna be pretty.  One positive note though: the Law Firm looked great at running back yesterday and could be a nice change of pace for an offense that all too often relies solely on the quarterback.

My only thoughts on the NFC title game are that the Giants special teams coach deserves a medal from the state of New York (New Jersey?) this morning.  I’m not sure how many of you noticed, but when the game was especially tight and it was clear one play was going to decide the football game, that Giants coach gave his return man Aaron Ross specific orders to fall down on every punt return before he was tackled, thus avoiding any contact.  I have no idea why the 49ers coach didn’t order the same from his guy, most especially after that idiot muffed his first punt that gave the Giants a score.  Both of those teams deserved to go to the Super Bowl and in a game that close, it’s all about mitigating risk as much as possible.  Hats off to the Giants for doing a much better job of it.

Generation Y, where we still have yet to watch a full college basketball game, and it will stay that way until March.

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Gen Y’s Obituary On The 2011-2012 Denver Broncos Season

At long last, the miraculous run of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos came to a disastrous and emphatic end this Sunday.  Tom Brady and the number one-seeded New England Patriots completed an all out destruction of the Donkeys, routing them 45-10 in a game that could have been a whole lot uglier.  The loss ended one of the most covered and hyped seasons by a franchise in NFL history. 

At various times the year it seemed as if every word, every play, every decision was under scrutiny from the national sports media, most especially the evil profiteers at Bristol HQ.  With round one of Tebow’s career now under his belt (and yes, I know it’s officially his second season), what do we make of everything that just happened?  Gen Y aims to look at how we got here, make sense of everything that happened, and then sort through the mess to figure out what’s going to happen in the future.

I’m definitely one to toot my own horn, and never show any shame when something I write proves to be correct.  With that in mind I’d like to recall a certain idea I wrote about all the way back in training camp, back when there was a minor QB controversy at the Denver Broncos training facilities in Greeley, back when I actually changed the name of my fantasy team from Tebowner to Neck Beard to support the starting QB of my favorite team (somebody had to).  And for the record, that fantasy team went on to a win the title.  But anyway, check out my evaluation of the Broncos situation during the preseason:

Let’s say you start Tebow though.  Almost every football analyst instantly agrees that he’ll be the most disastrous quarterback in NFL history and that the speed of NFL defenses throughout the grueling 16-game schedule will no doubt make Tebow pay for his poor decision-making and inaccurate throws.  So let’s say the Broncos, in a worst case scenario, go 1-15 next year with Tebow starting.  All that would do is give Denver the number one draft pick and the rights to this young fella, you may have heard of him, Andrew Luck.  Is that so bad?  The front office could then say “hey, we gave Tebow a chance, it’s obvious he’s not ready for that kind of responsibility,” and then wash their hands in the matter to turn over the reigns to Luck. 

But let’s say Tebow makes the most of his situation.  Let’s say the Broncos go a surprising 9-7 this year and steal the weak AFC West.  You will NEVER hear Mile Stadium any louder than if Tim Tebow has the Broncos on the brink of the playoffs late this season.  Can you imagine what that would be like?  The South Stands at Mile High won’t have shaken that loudly since Elway himself was leading his famous fourth quarter drives.  Additionally, starting Tebow will lead to major merchandise sales and most importantly it’s going to sell out the stadium in a year in which the Broncos have no business doing any of that.  Why abandon fan interest in the team?  Give them a reason to keep spending their money on the Broncos.  Tebow gives them the perfect excuse to hide the fact that they’re in rebuilding mode because he distracts the casual fan from asking the tough questions they’d normally demand management address.  And like I said, if all of this fails, the Broncos get Andrew Luck, a player who Elway has made no secret about the fact that he loves him.

That’s a win-win in my book.  If anyone can give me a more convincing reason why Tebow shouldn’t be starting, I’d love to hear it.

NAILED IT!

To say that Tim Tebow had the south stands at Mile High Stadium rocking again was the biggest understatement of the year.  I have never experienced anything like that overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, nor do I expect to ever again.  The range of emotions I experienced at the same time defy various laws of psychology and physics, probably.  I was delirious.  An attempt at describing it would probably go as follows: two parts mad laughter, four parts shock, ten parts complete innocent joy, three parts sports tears, and one part crazy person.  I ran laps around my apartment like a puppy dog with both hands above my heads while I screamed and jumped and laughed till my diaphragm spasmed.  I have no idea how I’m engaged to be married either.

But even I forgot how we got there for a second.  This squad was unquestionably Kyle Orton’s team just 13 or so weeks ago.  They vouched for him in the media and took silent shots at Tebow for weeks through various columnists (I’m looking at you Mike Silver!).  Not only were the players skepitcal that Tebow could be successful, they were actually embarrassed to take the field with him.  Look no further than the attitudes of his fellow Broncos if you still don’t believe in Tebow’s ability to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.  His biggest critics were in his own locker room.

The Broncos of course got off to a disastrous 1-4 start but in that fifth game against San Diego a funny thing happened.  Fed up with Kyle Orton’s mediocre play, John Fox decided to throw Tebow onto the field in one of the all-time biggest career hail mary moves ever.  All Tebow did was nearly lead the Broncos to a shocking comeback win against the division rival, having his 29-yard game winning pass attempt batted down with no time left.  No one was completely sold, but as a fan you couldn’t help but notice that there was something there on the field that wasn’t present before.

The game against the Miami Dolphins in week six was the tipping point.  I still don’t really know how it happened, but the gist of it is this.  The Broncos were down by 15 with less than three minutes and somehow won the game.  Up until that point they had been shut out but all of a sudden they made some plays and forced overtime before Matt Prater delivered the most powerful field goal I’ve ever seen (I’m convinced it would have been good from 78 yards).   The players credited it to Tebow’s attitude of never giving up and refusing to believe they couldn’t win.  I chalk it up as miracle number one.  Even a rough outing against the Lions the following week couldn’t stop what was coming.

The next six weeks saw the Broncos pull off one of the most statistically improbable runs in the history of sports.  It seemed like they won five of the six games either on the last drive of regulation or in overtime as the result of a game-tying drive at the end of regulation.  I still don’t know how it all happened.  I still can’t decide if it was merely the single luckiest run in the history of professional football aided by a never-before-seen series of coincidences, injuries, and chance or rather the dramatic start to the most enjoyable years of my sports fandom.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer that question either.

But this happened…

And this…

And this…

And this…

And of course just as quickly as all that momentum got built up, it came crashing down in an awful three-game losing streak to end the year.  Through miracle number, uhh, I lost count of all the miracles, but somehow because of another miracle the Broncos crawled through the back door into the playoffs.  Almost the exact same scenario took place two years ago during Josh McDaniels’ first season in Denver, only that time it was the Chargers who crawled through the back door with the Broncos having to tragically stay home.  The script was nearly identical in both instances down to the team having six game winning streaks and then choking down the home stretch.  For some reason beyond my explanation, this time the Broncos were on the lucky side.  For some reason Kyle Orton and Josh weren’t as fortunate.  Funny how these things work out.  Funny how they make or break careers and attitudes.

There was of course no shot that the Broncos would ever beat the Steelers.  They were eight and a half point dogs, despite playing at home.  The Steelers were the number one rated defense in the NFL.  The Broncos had struggled to move the ball in the last couple weeks against the Bills and Chiefs.  Roethlisberger is a two time Super Bowl MVP.  Tim Tebow isn’t.

And,  well…

After the loss to the Patriots I was quick to consume nearly everything written about Tebow and the Broncos.  Almost all of the columns and pieces had the same “I told you so” kind of ring to it.  There are obvious questions about his throwing mechanics going forward and I’m the first to preach that he needs to work on being able to hit a simple slant pattern.  But are people really being serious in their belief that he shouldn’t be the starting quarterback of this team next year?

He took what was a 5-11 team at best, helped them to overachieve, and eventually won the first Broncos playoff game in a half decade.  Along the way he reignited a fan base that was dangerously close to becoming apathetic to the franchise, made himself the most popular athlete in America, and had one of the single most memorable seasons by any athlete in any sport’s history.

To those who still question him, I ask you: what did you really expect from him?

In all seriousness though, does anyone really have an idea of what they really wanted to see from him this year?  He obviously doesn’t have the talent or ability of a Cam Newton, but Cam didn’t lead his mediocre team to the playoffs.  He also is no where in the league of a Brady or a Rodgers either.  I get that too.  Which is why it came as no surprise when the Patriots QB owned him this past weekend.  But for a second-year quarterback getting his first real opportunity to start in the NFL, can’t we just all agree that this season was a success?  That he fulfilled more expectations than anyone could have possibly had for him?  That he still has never had a full training camp under John Fox’s offense and where he had the full focus of the coaching staff to try to make him better?  That he accomplished all of this without a true offseason, which every expert just so happens to agree is light years more important to a young player such as himself?  Am I reaching here?  Is that too much?

It’s as if it was Super Bowl or bust.

In the upcoming season, here’s what I’d like to see:

-I want Pat Bowlen to come out and endorse Tebow publicly.  I’m tired of Elway waffling in the public eye as if it all comes down to him.  Bowlen should come out and say that Tebow is unquestionably his quarterback and the rest of the staff should go on with their jobs accordingly.

-I want Tebow to shorten up his throwing motion like he made sure to talk about so much before he got drafted.  I rewatched the ESPN documentary made about him from a couple of months ago and nearly thirty minutes of the show was dedicated to him practicing doing just that.  It’s as if he completely neglected all of that work as soon as he got named the starter.  I think even he would admit he could use some work on proper mechanics and if he wants to come out and publicly admit all of this, I wouldn’t disagree with doing so.

-The draft and any and all personnel moves this offseason need to be directed at the defense.  I know that Von Miller wasn’t at 100% but some serious flaws were exposed in these last couple of weeks, namely that the defensive line still cannot get consistent pressure on the quarterback and that the Broncos secondary is in need of a serious makeover.  They can’t continue to think they can be successful if they don’t build a better team on that side of the ball.

-And finally, hasn’t anyone thought to leak some footage of Elway working exclusively with Tebow one-on-one?  Is this not the easiest no-brainer organizational decision ever?  Somebody please do this a la LeBron James leaking the footage of him training with Hakeem this offseason.

RIP to the 2011-2012 Denver Broncos, one of my all-time favorite Denver sports teams.  I will never forget the emotions and thrills of following this team from a week-t0-week basis and the challenges of having to constantly defend both team and quarterback.  I loved every second of it and wouldn’t change anything about it.

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Good Morning Generation

It has been an extremely long time since I was this excited for a weekend of NFL action.  Normally the divisional round of the playoffs features one, if not three games where there is never a doubt about the outcome.  I think it’s pretty obvious by now that literally anything could happen in any one of the four games this weekend.  It’s exactly why it’s going to make for the highest rated weekend of football in NFL history, most especially if Timmy Tebow can keep the game close against the Patriots.  And let’s say he dares win that game on Saturday, well, let’s just say records are not only going to be broken, but obliterated.

I don’t pretend to have any secret knowledge about how all of this is going to play out, but what I can tell you is that history does tend to indicate that the only teams that have a shot at a championship are those with a future hall of famer at quarterback.  Consider that in the last twenty years, only three of the twenty different Super Bowl champions featured a QB that isn’t a sure thing hall of famer (the 1991-1992 Redskins had Mark Rypien, the 2000-2001 Ravens had Trent Dilfer, the 2002-2003 Buccaneers had Brad Johnson).  Obviously some people might have disagreements with two other winners in Kurt Warner and Eli Manning, but in my mind both are going to the Hall one day, just likely not on their first try.

Check out the rest of the list though, keeping in mind it’s for the last twenty years only: Aikman (x3), Young, Favre, Elway (x2), Brady (x3), Roethlisberger (x2), P. Manning, Brees, and Rodgers.  All of those guys are first ballot HOFers.  A pattern starts to emerge and it is not a mere coincidence that championship squads tend to have great quarterbacks.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the eight remaining QBs to see if we can’t get an idea of how this might play out in the coming weeks.  The QBs who are still alive this year are the following: Yates, Flacco, Tebow, Brady, E. Manning, Rodgers, Smith, and Brees.  Half those guys are former Super Bowl champions AND former Super Bowl MVPs (Brady, E. Manning, Rodgers, and Brees). 

The trait they all have in common though is that they largely didn’t turn the ball over this year.  Seven of the eight quarterbacks left finished in the top 11 of interception percentage (Yates doesn’t technically qualify because he didn’t start very long but his 2.2% ties him with Flacco for 11th), a stat which measures the number of interceptions thrown divided by the number of pass attempts a QB took.  Only Eli finished worse than that and he came in ranked 19th.  This makes it damn near impossible to distinguish anything between the remaining teams, and thus we’re left to merely speculate, with only the potential Super Bowl pedigree factor making a huge difference.  The problem is that three of those four QBs left are in the NFC. 

What this basically translates to is that this is going to be the most wide open weekend of playoff football we’ve ever seen.  The past does indicate that a team has never really outscored its way to a Lombardi trophy, meaning that defense will play some factor in all of this, and thus it makes me a bit nervous to go all in on the Saints, Packers, or Patriots.  At the same time though, do we really foresee a team led by Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, or TJ Yates winning a Super Bowl, just because they have a great defense?  I don’t think so. 

 There’s also the two wildcards in the Giants and Broncos, both of whom are just as liable to being blown out this week as they are to pull off the highly improbable road upset. 

Decision time.

My predictions, presented in order of my confidence, from highest to lowest:

Saints over 49ers

Drew Brees has the Saints playing at the highest level of any team in the NFL right now.  Do you remember last year how the Packers went on their playoff run because they started to actually run the football pretty effectively?  Remember how it then opened up the passing game for Rodgers?  The Saints are the only team running and passing incredibly well right now and they’re my pick for Super Bowl champions this year.  It was a great first year for Jim Harbaugh and this Niners squad, but they’re just not talented enough on offense to keep up with New Orleans, no matter how awesome that defense might be this year.

Texans over Ravens

I make this pick because I hate, hate, hate Joe Flacco and think he’s one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the NFL.  If I’m Wade Phillips, I’m putting eight guys in the box all day to stop Ray Rice and making Joe Flacco beat me through the air.  The Texans have one of the best, if not the best, secondary in the NFL.  The Ravens have a tendancy to panic when Rice can’t get it going and it usually leads to the inevitable “Flacco-throwing-50-passes-and-losing” game.  Also, I happen to think the Ravens defense isn’t as strong as you might think, most especially if Ray Lewis is on the field.  He’s lost a step or twelve this season.  I predict the Texans head to the AFC title game.

Giants over Packers

Of the four teams with elite quarterbacks, only the Giants can boast to having an elite defense as well.  They’re perfectly built to beat this Packers team, having one of the best defensive lines ever assembled.  There’s also no team in the NFL that plays with a bigger chip on its shoulder than the G-Men.  Tom Coughlin is anything but a “player’s coach.”  He’s notoriously very strict and very tough on his guys, but I happen to think he’s onto something.  While it might not translate into a trip to the postseason every year, when his team makes it they respond in a way no other squad in the NFL does, knowing that no one has put up with as much s— as they have to get there.  They’re basically the anti-Cowboys.  Look for them to come out inspired, cocky, and talking a ton of crap to Aaron Rodgers.  If the Packers don’t deflate their egos early in the first quarter with a couple of quick scores, watch out.  There’s no way the Giants are going to lose a close game, even if it is in Lambeau.

Broncos over Patriots

I’m the first to admit that I know the Broncos could very easily get blown out in this game just like what happened about a month ago when these teams first met up in Denver.  However, stay with me on this one.  In the first game, the Patriots defense was helpless to stop the Broncos offense when Tim Tebow didn’t turn the ball over.  In fact, Denver actually dominated the game until a bizarre series of fumbles led to New England having the ball for what felt like 30 consecutive minutes in the second and then third quarters.  If Tebow can hang onto the ball this time, the Broncos will score, and often.  Furthermore, if the Broncos defense sees Tebow out there playing his guts out, they’re going to come up big for him.  I heard a number of Broncos players admit they had an epiphany last week about how much this team means to the city of Denver.  Until then they were merely just players getting played to pay football in a city that just so happened to be Denver.  There’s an emotional tie existant between players and city now.  They’re going to come up with their biggest game of the season and they’re going against a team and a city that they no doubt feel is severely underestimating them.  We also know that Tebow comes up big in pressure situations as he’s demonstrated throughout his entire football life.  Finally, as Bill Simmons said last week, this is a total Disney sports movie script.  Disney movies don’t end in the divisional round.

And don’t bet against God and puppies.

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Good Morning Generation

With all apologies to my fiancee and future wife, I am in love with a man, and his name is Tim Tebow.

Just when you think the Broncos season couldn’t be any more improbable, just when you think he couldn’t possibly win in more dramatic fashion, that happens.  It was the single most enjoyable moment I think I’ve ever had as a sports fan, with only the Rockies improbable comeback in a one-game playoff against the Padres in 2007 possibly comparing to it.  I was literally jumping up and down and doing laps around my apartment yesterday.  I couldn’t stop laughing and making noise and I nearly made myself pass out from a lack of oxygen.  Wow.

It was made all the more enjoyable because I was so utterly convinced that Ben Roethlisberger was going to beat us on that final drive in regulation.  He’s done it too many times.  I am still in shock that he has now failed in his last two attempts at fourth quarter playoff drives to win football games, if you include last year’s interception against the Packers in the Super Bowl.  I thought it was all over yesterday when he completed that beautiful fade route to cross into Broncos territory.  I was so upset I left the room and buried my face in a pillow in my bed, closing the door and refusing to watch the Steelers quarterback do the thing he has become famous for over the years.  And somehow, the Broncos defense finally made a stand.  After a decade of suck and ineptitude and futility, the Broncos defense made a f—ing stand. I came back into the room to watch a failed hail mary attempt and then, well, obviously a celebration ensued in overtime.

But let’s get down to it.  A lot of people are going to say they have no explanation for what they witnessed.  It’s a common theme surrounding the Broncos quarterback this season, what with the loads of comebacks and overtime victories.  I think it’s a cop out and lazy.  There is an explanation for it all.  More to the point, I actually think it’s a slap in the face to what Tim Tebow is actually doing on the field.

The Denver Broncos won that game against the Steelers yesterday because their defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was arrogant.  He literally believed that Tebow was so atrocious at playing quarterback that he could stack nine and ten players in the box all game and get away with it.  This is precisely the type of scheme Tebow critics have been calling for all year and, well, you saw the results.  It won’t work.  He shredded the Steelers defense for a variety of big passing plays, just like you’d expect any NFL quarterback to do in that situation.  You take what the defense gives you, as they say.

I’m not going to sit here and say I believe Tebow is anywhere close to the Tom Bradys of the NFL.  But to show him that amount of disrespect on the football field yesterday was embarrassing and it’s exactly why the Steelers lost.  If they could have played a more conservative (or would it be liberal?) style of defense that dared the Broncos to beat their front seven with the run, the Steelers probably would have walked out with an easy win.  Instead they trusted Ike Taylor to lock up Demaryius Thomas all day.  In the biggest understatement of the year, Thomas won.

When are the Tebow haters going to realize that the Denver Broncos are replicating the Rex Ryan playoff model here?  The Broncos know they don’t have an all-pro at quarterback.  They know their strength lies with a great offensive line and a great pass rush on defense.  They’re playing to minimize risks on offense and leaning on their defense to go out and win them ball games.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  Sanchez used it to get to back-to-back AFC title games, upsetting a certain number one-seeded team from New England last year too, I might add (sound familiar?).  The San Francisco 49ers used it win the number two seed in a stacked NFC this season.  Why is it any different with the Denver Broncos?

I came into work this morning listening to Chris Carter explaining in detail to Mike and Mike why Tim Tebow is still an awful quarterback and making a laundry list of excuses for the Pittsburgh Steelers and how the Broncos got lucky.  It gets tiresome.  We know the Steelers had injuries.  We know their safety was out with a blood condition.  We know Big Ben was hobbled (at least in the first half, he clearly got a shot of the good stuff at halftime).  But every team deals with those kind of injuries.  It’s football.  Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Steelers, recognized this in his press conference yesterday when he humbly admitted they lost because they didn’t execute, not because they had injuries.  Why can’t anyone else do that?

I’m not a person who’s going trying to lionize Tebow into something that he’s not.  I can’t stand the people who take the God angle when trying to describe his success.  Anyone who takes anything deeper from the coincidence of the 316 passing yards and John 3:16 is an idiot, in my not so humble opinion.  I don’t like the ignorant people who associate his success with being a good person.  The truth about Tim Tebow is that he’s a flawed quarterback, a seemingly really passionate person, and a workaholic who loves trying to get better at the game of football.  And along the way he finds ways to win football games for his teammates and his fans, most usually in a dramatic and enjoyable fashion. 

It’s that last part that is most important to me as a fan of the Denver Broncos.  We’ve replicated our entire playoff success of the last decade or so in this one game. 

It’s been one hell of a ride and guess what, it’s not over yet.  And I guarantee you those players on the Patriots are nervous as all hell this week.

How does Tim Tebow in the AFC Championship sound to you?

Generation Y, where JoePa can go tell his story to his friends in the retirement home.  Nobody else cares.

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