Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Matters Most: Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning - The Brotherhood of the Slighted

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the time in between now and then looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning.

It strikes me that for most people, the Super Bowl that rapidly approaches is the least interesting quarterback matchup of any of the possibilities. Brady-Favre was the obvious big ticket, Manning-Rivers was one by which I was personally intrigued, and Favre-Rivers would at least have had Favre on the ticket for one last go around. Brady-Manning, on the other hand, lacks an obvious draw, or even easily accessible storylines. Yes, we all know that Eli is Peyton’s younger brother, and that Peyton and Brady are archrivals. Nobody cares; if you let me trace it far enough, I’m sure that Tom Brady is MY archrival, and trying to turn this into some quest for brotherly vengeance is more manufactured than the constant portrayal of Tiki Barber as everything that was wrong with last year’s Giants.

Perhaps what makes this matchup so uninteresting at a glance is the fact that this feels like more of a mismatch than any of the other matchups. After all, it’s obvious by this point that Brady is going to be involved in the debate for G.O.A.T signal caller. Eli, by contrast, is certainly developing, but it has become obvious that his team’s success this year is linked to his NOT being asked to take over his team like Brady or his brother or any of the quarterbacks he’s beaten to get to this point. Brady is the face of his franchise and of the modern conception of the quarterback; Eli looks like he might have a birth defect. The point is that this isn’t even apples and oranges; on paper, it’s like apples and that funk that builds up in your drain when the garbage disposal is broken (read: I need to fix my sink)

Yet there is a common thread between these two, one that has become more obvious this year than in year’s past: Chips on their shoulders.

For Eli, that chip has been growing quietly since he first arrived in the League, built from the deepest kinds of stereotypical pressures. The overbearing father’s legacy, the hyper-successful older brother with a shadow, the multimedia empire of a city, all are parts of the mass that has been growing on Eli’s shoulder, weighing more and more heavily each year. Now, having finally overcome the hurdles that the media, his coaches, and even some of his teammates suggested he couldn’t, these playoffs finally have him primed to turn around and unleash the quiet fury that revealed itself before this season, when he lashed out at Tiki in an interview. If he can win the big one, putting him on a level equal to that of his brother years ahead of schedule, New York will be Eli’s city for the stomping; nothing short of a full page NY Post apology would be sufficient to make up for his mistreatment.

For Brady, it’s a case of the chip that won’t quit, the grudge that won’t budge. He’s more schoolyard bully than Eli-style serial killer. Falling to the sixth round of the draft, shelved behind two other quarterbacks on the bench of a perennial loser, and yet knowing the whole time that he’s been this good, one can only imagine how Brady’s own sense of being slighted festered. In the end, it leaves him the only Patriot justified in constantly playing the “they don’t respect me” card; he’s the one who’s overcome the most egregious disrespect. Success, rather than calming this anger, has only stoked its sense of righteous indignation, justifying his conquests. Fuck a magazine image; Tom Brady would rather be remembered as a destroyer than a pretty boy. He said as much this year, announcing his team’s desire to not only win, but also leave scorched earth in their wake.

In essence, these two are more similar than any tale of the tape would ever reveal. Despite coming from completely different pedigrees, and following completely different paths, I’d venture to say that if these two sat down to talk before they played on Sunday, Eli would find he had more in common with his brother’s professional nemesis than with his flesh and blood. This season has been a revealing one for both of these quarterbacks, highlighting a shared vindictive side that doesn’t play well with the images of either quiet, soft spoken Eli or GQB, and it is this side that will undoubtedly be driving both men n Sunday. And whether it is Brady’s ultimate conquest or Eli’s delivering sweet comeuppance, we can rest assured that someone will leave that field finally satisfied, a feeling which, for both of these particular characters, is the chief prize.

Link: Hey, retired players griping for money, get a clue...

(Nobody in Kansas City even knows what this gesture means.)

From the Sporting Blog, a great discussion with Larry Johnson regarding a player's potential salary earnings.

ME: Seriously, man, how much was that watch?
LJ: About 300?
ME: Dollars?
LJ: Thousand. They only made three of them in the world.

ME: $300,000? I’d have to spend 10 years worth of pay to buy that.

LJ: Or you could deal crack and get it in three weeks.

Somewhere, The Commish is getting out his sniper rifle and looking for the Roc's favorite running back. When we put together our "least likeable players" list, you'd better believe he'll be on it.

Quickie: Scapegoating is so much easier.

(Tiki, why do you make it so hard for me to defend you?)

Courtesy of The Fanhouse, it seems that an unidentified Giants player has come out and said what everyone has thought regarding the G-Men and their locker room situation all year, as the unidentified player stated...

"Tiki was all about Tiki," said a key Giants player, who asked not to be identified, speaking recently about the former Giants runner.

"I don't get why people make this so complicated. If he was still on the team, we wouldn't be here (in the Super Bowl). Trust me on that. It would be a different locker room."

By different the player means more splintered, more finger pointing, less unified.
By different, he means worse.

"It's not a coincidence that he's gone and we're here," the player said. "You're a fool if you think it is."

Now I'm not a huge Tiki Barber fan. I think he's clearly been more intent on being a great celebrity figure than on being a great player; however, that doesn't mean that he wasn't still the latter, it just means it wasn't something he placed the greatest emphasis on. The fact of the matter is that Tiki Barber was a VERY good player on the field, regardless of his locker room presence. Furthermore, this team has had a lot of other things change besides Tiki; Plaximum Power (T-SHIRT PLUG) has stepped up in a way that he never did when Tiki was around, Eli is maturing, the defensive coordinator was changed, and Shockey (an equally divisive presence) is injured.

I'm not saying that Tiki being off of the team is a terrible thing on the field (although I think he's a better complete back than Jacobs or Bradshaw, I think the current platoon is better than last year's Tiki-focused rush game), but I think that using him as a focal point of hatred is unfair, considering how much he gave to the team when he did play. Things are never as simple as "good guy/bad guy" in the League, and in continually crediting Tiki's absence with the Giants' success, I think the team, the fans, and the New York media do a disservice to someone who helped bring the franchise back to prominence.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Legitimate Business

For those of you who aren't regularly perusing our sidebars here at Throwing Into Traffic, you may not have noticed that we are now VERY much in the T-Shirt business. A few samplings of our wares (the first bunch are geared toward Giants fans, but we'll be expanding soon)...

First, something highlighting our favorite bruising back...

And that's not the only guy you can support...

And for the ladies...

True, we're all about supporting NY fans with a penchant for wearing blue right now, but we'll be expanding our store in the coming weeks. In the meantime, feel free to grab a t-shirt by visiting our store.


New address, same crushing loneliness

For those of you who didn't notice, we've now got a new email address!


Feel free to throw us links, tips, or general validation of our existence on the web.


Link: Players get away with stupid names; coaches, not so much.

(I hope he speaks grunt, or Del Rio's gonna be disappointed.)

Recently jilted as a suitor for the Redskins head coaching vacancy, AOL is reporting that Gregg Williams is now a candidate to step in as the new defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Honestly, if this happens, then there won't be a team in the league that wants to face off with the Jags, and not because they're better than everybody else; nobody will want to play them because they will be the meanest, most physically brutal team in the league. Williams, already known for his knack for crafting hardnosed defensive schemes, would step in to a Jags team that has plenty of cap room to go find free agents, and the team already has a scary front four and solid talent in the secondary. Creative coaching and a linebacker or two would turn this team into a defensive machine, and given the way their offense already grinds out time of possession, I'd love to see what other teams can do when they only get the ball for 15-20 mins.

Link: KSK Scouts the Pats

(Local Boston youth, probably screaming racial slurs at Pats WR Randy Moss)

The conscience burn ward that is KSK has put up a scouting report of the New England Patriots. A sample...

"A lot of people think a cover 2 scheme will frustrate Randy Moss. But you know what really frustrates him? A woman with a sassy mouth"

Sweet Lord...

What Matters Most: Randy Moss – The freedom to be whatever we make him

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the time in between now and then looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, Patriots WR Randy Moss.

In most great historical figures, it is a personal dichotomy that allows different people to have such stark contrasts between their opinions of a single person. The recent death of Benazir Bhutto, as well as the “martyr or corrupt politician” debate that has followed, is the most poignant recent example of this, but it’s been true forever, in every walk of life. Thomas Jefferson was either the father of the ideals of this nation or a bastard who took advantage of those whose social status he viewed as beneath him, betraying the very ideals he espoused in his writings, depending on who you ask. The same is true in sports figures. Ty Cobb is a baseball legend to some and a horrific bigot to others. Ask any of Michael Jordan’s teammates about him and the results are equally polarizing, depending on whether they choose to remember the way his game made his teammates better or the isolating arrogance with which he commanded the court. The point is that great figures usually, on some very core level, have a dichotomy within themselves, one that gives rise to an easy dichotomy of perspectives.

Randy Moss is different. Unlike the Cobb (athlete/racist) or Jordan (teammate/misanthrope) dichotomies, Moss’s dichotomy is one that exists purely with regard to perspective. That is to say, Moss is not liked or disliked based on what one chooses to accept from his personality; that would imply that the division can be neatly set out in terms of “I know he is X, but I choose to ignore that and see that he is Y.” Divisions on Randy Moss tend to have the same root, with differing opinions hinging on how two people respond to the exact same trait, one which defines everything about Moss’s career: Defiance.

Randy Moss defies pretty much everything about what we think a receiver can do. At 6’4”, he’s tall enough to take advantage of small corners, yet has a speed that can make bigger corners look foolish if they miss on their attempts to jam him at the line, the only way to really begin to account for him. On top of all of this, he has a leaping ability that defies gravity; the man twists and moves in midair in ways that I’ve only seen in NASA footage of astronauts. Add to this a sort of “screw you” that permeates his movements on the field, in part because of his joining a team that is defined by it and in part because of his own innate desire to defy expectations, and the picture is one of the ultimate rebel, laughing in the face of his limitations and drawing hordes of fans along the way. If you’re a Randy Moss fan, that is. Otherwise, all you see is the same defiance twisted in horrific ways. His comments regarding the death of the 1970 Marshall football team defied our ideas of respect for the dead. His story relationship with the law has defied our notions of athletes as role models. His professional relationship with his former employers, one based in his choosing to perform at his best effort only when it suits him, defies our ideals of sportsmanship and discipline. Note that none of this is based in anything different than the same qualities that Moss’s fans adore; they are two inseparable sides of the same coin. Moss’s unity of character is precisely what makes him so divisive.

As such, there’s something very fundamentalist about Moss; his adherence to who he is above all else makes him at once admirable or despicable solely because of that adherence, less because of anything he does than because of the way in which we choose to view him. As with any fundamentalist, he is practically impossible to feel neutrality towards; his nature forces you to respond to him the way you respond to any force that is quite so imposing. The Super Bowl will be the yet another field for us to respond to his defiance, this time as he attempts to defy the way we define legends. Traditionally, legends are endearing figures to at least one group of people. If Moss can achieve the Super Bowl in which he has played an instrumental role, he will have opened the door to the possibility of mercenary legends, athletes of the highest caliber who move seamlessly from team to team throughout their prime, selling their greatness to the highest bidder. If he succeeds, we will all once again respond with either rapt awe or visceral hate, less because of his own influence than the way in which we attach ourselves to the root of that influence.

(Welcome Deadspin readers. Feel free to check out the rest of the site, and, if you're in need to t-shirt goodness, to peruse our t-shirt store)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Link: Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain

Hat-tip to Epic Carnival for this, but there's a very interesting take in the NC Tribune on just who's the chicken and who's the egg in the Brady-Belichick relationship. Worth a quick read.

Also, apologies on the lack of action today; this head cold is a sonofabitch. We'll have two (TWO!) "What Really Matters" columns up tomorrow.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Link: You maniacs! You blew it up!

(One syllable...sounds like "hay"...)

The ladies over at Ladies... have put together a brilliant post tearing apart high society's attempts at destroying that most sacred of days. Protect it, people!

Link: Not like they need the help, but...

(Still cooler than whatever you've got planned.)

Deadspin editor Will Leitch has a column up at The Sporting Blog. It's actually a good read, and does a pretty good job of tweaking the celebrity that surrounds The Super Bowl.

I'm going to throw a Jets themed Super Bowl party. I don't want to go on and on about the pageantry involved, but it ends with me getting kicked out of a strip club and vomiting.

What Matters Most: Brandon Jacobs – The Iron Horse

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the time in between now and then looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, Giants RB Brandon Jacobs.

There are times when football is beautiful to watch. Randy Moss grabs a ball out of the air, defying gravity, and we all look in awe. Adrian Peterson spins away from a tackle, and everyone stands and reacts; it’s the age old sports cliché of poetry in motion. Those are the times when all the stereotypes of football being a game played by brutes seem to fall away.

A Brandon Jacobs run is not one of those times. Indeed, he’s looks like something of a relic, given the way that the game has gone so vertical over the last several years. Every time he gets the ball, there’s a sense that something bad is going to happen to a defender. Some running backs make people miss. Rare running backs attack defenders early when the opportunity presents itself. Jacobs, on the other hand, is something else entirely. The hits that he takes, which he seems to create as much as defenders do, are like side effects, afterthoughts to his greater plan. It never looks like there’s any improvisation to his game; he is simply going to run the routes he’s given, like a destination driven machine. God save the unlucky defender standing between point A and point B.

It shows most at the goal line. Defenses know he’s getting the ball, and yet he keeps coming, keeps running his route, driving through anything in his way and arriving in the end zone. His more powerful runs evoke the kind of feelings I imagine little kids used to have when they saw a train thunder by. Jacobs is, essentially, everything that Tiki wasn’t. Tiki was graceful; Jacobs is punishing. Tiki was improvisational in the backfield; Jacobs runs simply and matter of factly. More importantly, Tiki frequently looked uninterested in what he was doing, despite the fact that he was, when he wanted to be, a brilliant offensive player; every run by the Iron Horse looks important, largely due to the aforementioned brutality with which they often conclude.

All of this makes Jacobs sound decidedly old school, but what is more accurate to say is that Brandon Jacobs represents the next dramatic evolutionary step of the power back. The image of the “power back” who takes joy in collisions with defenders was first fully embodied by Jim Brown. Backs like Ricky Williams, in his prime, and Marion Barber III represent the natural physical development of the Jim Brown mold in the modern NFL because they seem or seemed to take joy in the power of their collisions.

Jacobs represents not merely a superficial development of the same mold, but a new mold entirely. The passion, the desire to create violence for violence’s sake, that seemed or seems to drive the painful collisions of all three of those men is nowhere to be found at the heart Jacobs’s style. This may seem like a jarring disconnect, given the fact that Jacobs on average days creates collisions as brutal as any of Brown’s, Williams’s, or Barber’s, but it actually makes perfect sense. The goal of any running back is to make the run they’ve been assigned work. Some backs, upon realizing that their planned path is unavailable, change paths and improvise well outside of the set play. Most power backs, in responding to obstacles in their path, attack defenders, essentially ambushing them with violence before they expected it, in the hopes that they can create chaos in the defense, which will allow them to return to their path.

Jacobs, on the other hand, runs with such precision, such unwavering dedication to his routes, that violent contact isn’t part of a plan; it is a foregone conclusion, as inevitable as an exhale after a deep breath. Defenders will inevitably find their way into Jacobs’s path from time to time, and where a small back would dodge or a traditional power back would attempt to create contact early, Jacobs will remain steadfast on his path, which means that his initial contact with defenders will take place with both him and his opponent primed for impact, which explains the stunning way in which defenders are often thrown away from Jacobs on contact. It is a total disregard for any concept of pain resulting in explosions of human force the likes of which are usually reserved for injuries, all performed by a man with no more malice than any other machine designed for violent tasks, as evidenced by the way Jacobs seamlessly moves past the violence he causes as soon as it takes place.

He’ll be asked to do his brutal work again when he faces the Patriots in Arizona. As good a defense as they are, the Patriots aren’t prepared for the kind of force that Jacobs brings, and if he gets past that front line, which he usually does after linemen stop trying to attack him directly in order to avoid the full force of Jacobs’s rush, there will be hell to pay for some unfortunate linebackers or, if God answers my prayers, Rodney Harrison. If the Giants are smart, they won’t try to rely on their most dynamic weapon, Plaxico Burress, to beat the Pats; stopping dynamic tools has been how Belichick has made his bones in the League. Instead, they’ll make Belichick answer the question that I’m most interested in myself: How do you game plan against something that is equal parts simple and relentless? How do you stop a freight train from reaching its destination? How do you stop a full speed Brandon Jacobs going from point A to point B?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quickie: Broadway Eli?

Interesting post over at Your Face Is a Sports Blog (whose name makes me giggle), where they're drawing an interesting comparison between Eli Manning's development and the legendary Joe Namath. Perhaps the most interesting stat line is the following...

Look at their numbers through their first four seasons:

Namath: 55 G, 50.0 Pct., 12,753 YD, 78 TD, 87 INT
E. Manning: 57 G, 54.7 Pct., 11,385 YD, 77 TD, 64 INT

Now, I'm not sure this means Eli is going to become the kind of legend Namath was. For starters, you have to win at least one big dance before you can be in that echelon of quarterbacks (sad fact, for the Dan Marinos of the world, but true). Secondly, there may not be a more iconic cultural figure at QB than Namath. I don't think Eli has the charisma to create the kind of image that Broadway Joe (or Eli's own brother, for that matter) have established in sports culture. Breaking the comparison down to statistics ignores the fact that Namath's stats aren't the reason he's in the Hall of Fame; it's the fact that he redefined the way America thought of the term "quarterback" in a way that mainstream Americans, even those who don't watch football, still apply today. An interesting thought, nonetheless, and Eli certainly has time to do several embarrassing commercials/sideline acts before it's all said and done.

What Matters Most: The Patriots Offensive Line - Family Business

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the next two weeks looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, The Patriots Offensive Line.

One of the ways we measure truly great athletes is how unstoppable they are. Think of what it was like to watch Michael Jordan in his prime, holding the basketball in the fourth quarter of any close game. Watching him miss was more remarkable than watching him make basket upon basket, mostly because it defied the laws of the game you were watching. You knew he was going to score, because that was just the way things were. Michael Jordan making baskets with the game on the line wasn’t an event; it was a natural phenomenon, like breathing or sleeping. It was, despite the best efforts of any opponent on any night, unstoppable.

There’s a similar air around the Patriots offensive line. I remember watching the Jets play a playoff game against the Pats last year, and it got to the point where every time the Pats offense lined up, I prayed for a dropped pass. I knew that no matter what, no matter how many defenders the Jets threw at him, and no matter where the blitz was coming from, not a single defender would touch Tom Brady, because they’d get no further than the five men lined up in front of him. The story has been pretty much the same this year for the rest of the league. The unit allowed only 21 sacks against Tom Brady, a four way tie for 13th best among starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Oh, and while they did that, they also bought him time to have the highest quarterback rating in the league, the highest passing yards, and an all time NFL season TD record. Put simply, this line doesn’t just protect its quarterback from sacks; it makes plays work the way that they’re designed, moving downfield quickly and scoring at an alarming rate.

That doesn’t happen without pride, without a sense of purpose that separates great players from great talents. In the case of this offensive line, that talent seems to be one built on tradition. Consider this: every starter on the Patriots offensive line has been a Patriot for the entirety of their NFL career. Three of them have seen multiple Super Bowls. Outside of Tom Brady and Laurence Maroney, nobody on this offense can claim either of those things. Throughout the season, throughout every season, one of the constants has come to be that the Patriots line will protect Tom Brady. Guards Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal punish interior defenders, routinely advancing the point of contact beyond the original line of scrimmage and buying the extra yard or two that turn fourth and shorts into first downs. Tackles Nick Kaczur and Matt Light turn complex blitzes into simple equations: Defender divided by large man equals deep downfield pass. At the middle of the line, Dan Koppen coordinates the show with an ease that shows; this group never looks as though they’ve been caught off guard, the sign of a great center. The end result is a group of relatively nameless individuals (other offensive linemen have garnered significantly more accolades and media attention than any of these guys) that move as perhaps the most indomitable entity in the entire league.

It is this entity that will be at the center of what happens when all is said and done in Phoenix. A lot can and probably will happen that nobody could have considered, occurrences that will somehow change the game in a way that nobody could have foreseen; however, if one thing happens, then everything else becomes a sideshow to the inevitable: If this line remains as unassailable as it’s looked when the Pats have dominated, the Patriots will be champions again. As such, the line holds a destiny swaying role that no other player, coach, or unit on the field holds. Knowing that they’re facing perhaps the most difficult matchup of their season for the second time, against a line that is dedicated to disrupting the very calm that the Pats linemen create, the peace that Tom Brady thrives on, you can bet that this line will be doing everything it can to hold off the onslaught of Giants blitzes pass rush schemes. Yet they won’t be reaching into some bag of tricks to do so, as one might assume when facing an opponent of this caliber again. Instead, they’ll be reaching back to the same tradition that has formed, hardened, and defined this faceless beast for years.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quickie: Coaching NFL football is the ultimate musical chairs game

In further proof that, when in comes to NFL head coaching, it's not what you've done, but what your name is, Jim Fassel has emerged as the leading candidate to take the head coaching gig for the Washington Redskins. It's telling that I've yet to read or hear a single fan or player opinion that makes this sound like a good idea (UM over at KSK and Mr. Irrelevant are both particularly sour).

Does anyone have a good reason why this man should get the job? Here's a guy who was fired by Brian Billick for not being able to run an offense, and Brian Billick was convinced that Elvis Grbac was the future of NFL quarterbacking. Meanwhile, player favorite Gregg Williams is on the bench after having run a top ten defensive squad despite the loss of several key players.

For that matter, why not take a chance on a NEW name? Mike Singletary, whose name keeps coming up, has to get hired sooner or later, right? Or why not get one of the many veterans on the market? If you're going to hire Jim Fassel, shouldn't you have at least tried to hire Brian Billick first, and get the root of the shit-offense tree instead of just eating its shitty fruit?

Yet another reason why this is the most weirdly managed team in the NFC.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Quickie: The good guys don't run...well...

One last shot for the evening, courtesy of Bolder Law. Apparently, the Green Bay Packers should be looking in Charlottesville for some defenders, as current Giants rush game wunderkind Ahmad Bradshaw was apparently kicked off of the UVA football team after he was caught from behind while running from Charlottesville police. Either that, or defenders should be allowed to carry around nightsticks and guns, in which case Rodney Harrison is already prepared.

Quickie: Did Philip Rivers win this round against LT2?

Not sure how many people saw this, but apparently Philip Rivers played last Sunday's AFC championship game against the Patriots with one ACL, as he'd had arthroscopic surgery just a week before the game in order to ensure he'd be able to play. This really is the perfect comeuppance on LT2 for the walk away diss earlier this year, as Tomlinson sat out practically the entire game with a similar injury.

You have to admire the fact that Rivers went out there to play such an important game with that kind of injury, whether or not he's shown himself to be a prick extraordinaire. I'm also hoping that we see this fact brought up at least ten times next season by Rivers himself in press conferences.

As for LT2, it just continues to reflect more and more poorly on him that he sat out what may have been the most important game of his career. The Patriots were on the ropes on Sunday, and it was largely due to a poor red zone offense that the Chargers were unable to seal the deal on an otherwise well executed game. How would having a premier scoring back like Tomlinson have changed that factor of the game plan? You can't be generally abrasive the entire season, then not show up when it's time for you to live up to what everyone should now see is a self adorned "diva" status.

What Matters Most: Plaxico Burress - Hiding In Plain Sight

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the next two weeks looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, Plaxico Burress.

In trying to find the best angle from which to view Plaxico Burress, there are a lot of options that seem initially obvious, but are ultimately shallow and insufficient for determining who he is as he enters the Super Bowl. For starters, Plaxico Burress is not simply a perennial underachiever; saying that diminishes his significant value to the team, his proven ability to take over any game he’s in, and it ignores the fact that his own story has been inextricably tied to Eli Manning’s rocky development. He is also not simply another big receiver. Indeed, perhaps nobody has been more responsible for the delay in the realization of the Big Receiver Revolution we’re so high on here than Burress, whose inability to live up to his physical gifts acted as a cautionary tale to NFL GMs for such a long time. Indeed, if we were to take the general accounts of Burress's attitude as gospel, one would have to wonder whether, as important as he is to the game, Burress cared about the upcoming Super Bowl at all.

Then there is the infamous account of his night at a New York nightclub. After spending an evening out, presumably doing the kind of things that rich young people in The City do, Burress allegedly walked out on a $2000 bar tab because he was unhappy with the amount of attention he was receiving from the female patrons. That, to me, is the perfect place to begin any discussion of Plaxico Burress: A 6’5”, 232 pound multi-millionaire who plays professional football and throws tantrums because he still can’t get noticed at clubs.

Burress’s many distinctive traits, from his freakish stature to even his name, ought to make obscurity hard to come by, and yet it is the shadow beneath which he has spent the bulk of his NFL career. Burress has never been named to a Pro Bowl. Despite his clear ability to turn games around, he has never been thought of as an elite receiver, the kind of player that must be prepared for. Instead, he is always mentioned as an example of a player who, though very talented, has never been great. This is, unfortunately, a hell that is largely of Plaxico’s own making. Look through his career stats, and you’ll find too many games in which he’s vanished. His own teammates have called him out for taking plays off, essentially making himself disappear. This is made all the more odd considering that the very reason why Burress decided to come to New York was so that he could be made more of an offensive factor, used in more ways, highlighted for being everything that he was meant to be.

It’s hell for someone with great gifts and ambitions to be normal. Underachieve, and you can always find something to blame; you can claim injury or unfair circumstances or any number of setbacks that are beyond your control. Be great, and you can never lack for praise and the benefits of fame. Normalcy, however, makes you nothing. Nobody cares about normal people. Normalcy turns individuals into static. It swallows up a 6’5”, 232lbs athlete and makes him invisible. Wonder what made Plaxico so angry that night? It’s not that he couldn’t get a girl; money, fame, and good looks always win out in the long run. It’s the fact that people didn’t see him without his acting out, the fact that, even after all this time in the league, even after coming to the city that makes stars, he still had to do something out of the ordinary to be SOMEONE in public.

That nightclub tantrum set the tone for this entire NFL season, which has been Plaxico Burress’s last stand against the anonymity of being normal. We’ve seen him emerge as a gamebreaker, throwing up high effort, high result performances in both wins and losses, almost defeating the New England Patriots on his own. He’s angrier, and there’s something in his game that feels a little more desperate. It’s the kind of desperation that follows almost everybody who wants to be remembered, rare, boring exceptions aside. Last week, he walked into Green Bay and made a Pro Bowl caliber corner look amateurish, using every catch to send a message to the Packers sideline, but more importantly to the league as a whole, a message that has underscored every one of his outstanding performances this year: YOU CAN’T COVER ME; YOU CAN’T IGNORE ME; I AM NOT NORMAL. Against New England, he must do the same if he hopes to permanently entrench himself as one of the league’s special receivers. The Super Bowl is where legends are made. We remember the name David Givens (DAVID GIVENS) for the mere fact that he’s a champion; how much more could Plaxico Burress, with his gifts and achievements, be remembered if he gained a ring of his own? If, however, he loses, he’ll go back to being the same Plaxico Burress we’ve always known him to be, neither hot nor cold, and at age 30, it’s unlikely he’ll get too many more shots to become anything more than that. Given how we’ve seen him crushed by that image before, Plaxico has as much to lose in this Super Bowl as anybody, if not more.

(Welcome Deadspin readers. Feel free to keep checking in for more of our unique brand of Super Bowl analysis throughout the week.)

Quickie: Keep's working...

Courtesy of AOL Fanhouse, a report that Tom Brady was spotted wearing a boot on his foot while walking around in NYC. In a city filled with cabbies that are Giants fans, I am stunned that he hasn't been hit by a car yet. Seriously, you're cabbies; who's going to notice if you hit a guy? Just do what you always do and say he jumped in front of you for the insurance.

(edit: Link fixed)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monday Hangover: Conference Championships, 1-21-2008

We’re already late, so I’ll skip the small talk. A few random thoughts on the games…

- The Patriots looked beatable yesterday, but what makes them scary isn’t how unbeatable they look on other days. It’s the fact that, on a day when their quarterback looked as shaken as he has all year, on a day when their defense was giving up the long plays that they’ve been vulnerable to all year, this team still won. They may be beatable, but it’s going to take a hell of a game.

- To that end, someone needs to explain to me how Kevin Faulk is beating teams on screens every time there’s an obvious passing down. At some point, don’t you stop giving that up? If you’re going to get beat, at least don’t get beat by the same thing every single time.

- Whoever is Tom Brady’s publicist needs to do something about how every single photo he takes makes him look like an enormous douche. He’s an incredible player, and he’s not a bad looking guy, but WOW…does every candid shot need to have him holding a purse or making a weird face?

- The “Shut Down Moss and Let’s See What Happens” game plan works, it’s just about three months too late. True, they haven’t lost yet, but the teams that have pulled it off haven’t had the firepower to take advantage of it.

- As true as what Nick Hardwick is saying about Richard Seymour may be, IT’S MISSING THE POINT!!! Everyone needs to stop talking about anyone on the Patriots except for Rodney Harrison; it just muddies the waters and distracts people from the real antichrist of football. Nobody was pointing out that the deck chairs didn’t match on the Titanic.

- Chris Chambers didn’t come through on an easy deep ball, which cost the Chargers an interception. Welcome to the Miami Dolphins’ existence for the last five years. Little wide receivers are going the way of the dinosaur. We’ll revisit this discussion when someone grossly overpays DeSean Jackson in the draft.

- Why teams don’t cover the middle of the field more against the Pats is beyond me. The Chargers picked up at least two INTs doing it. Brady isn’t some sixth sense mutant; he just knows his game plan really, really well. Why not try and disrupt it a little?

- Kevin Faulk? The best passing down back ever (according to Skip Bayless)? Really???

- He’s the quarterback who gives the Packers the best chance to win, but makes an excellent point: On a night when his team needed him to sit back and just not screw up, Brett Favre was outplayed by a quarterback who, despite maturing a lot, shouldn’t be outplaying him.

- I look at the Packers and I can’t tell whether they’re primed to be great for a while, or just the beneficiaries of everything clicking at the same time for one great year. On the one hand, that offense is young (minus Favre), and Rodgers has shown he’s capable of being a great replacement. Also, the front seven on defense is nothing short of dominant. On the other hand, Favre is getting old, and you have to wonder what losing him will do to that offense, Donald Driver is going to lose a step some time soon, and how long can the Grizzle Gang of Woodson and Harris stay in top form? Next year will tell us more about this team’s future than this past season.

- Personally, I think they’ll hang around in the top tier, but I’m firmly entrenched in the Rodge Lodge.

- On a related note, I haven’t seen a corner as overmatched as Al Harris was against Plaxico Burress since the last time I saw the Jets play anybody (hooray for the homer heat!).

-What the hell happened to Tom Coughlin’s face? He turned red! I’m researching Botox and its side effects in the cold to see if this confirms my opinion since day one of the season that Tom Coughlin has had work done.

- Eli Manning is on the verge, but he’s not quite there. That’s a very good thing for Giants fans going into the biggest game of his career. It’s been remarkable the way Giants fans and the New York media have gotten a little common sense and decided that while he hasn’t been bad at all, he hasn’t been amazing (which would lead to the “HE’S FINALLY ARRIVED!” madness that always seems to follow him). Instead, he’s played very well exactly the way he’d been asked. If he does it one more time, and Coughlin has a game plan for a full 60 minutes (as opposed to the 45 he planned for last time), Eli will be making his “well, aw shucks, did I just win?” face as he holds up the Lombardi Trophy.

- Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are the “Thunder and Lightning” combination that pretty much every running back tandem ever has claimed to be. Bradshaw looks like Tiki catching passes out of the backfield, but with a little more initial burst. Meanwhile, The Iron Horse Brandon Jacobs has bested Marion the Barbarian as the most painful running back to tackle in the league. Charles Woodson has a bruise on his chest in the shape of Jacobs’s shoulder.

- As for the game coming up in two weeks? I really don’t know. I want to believe it will be a great game, and I think it can be one, but two factors are working against it:

First, the Pats beat the Giants on a night that the Giants were giving them their BEST shot. I just don’t know that the Giants have another 45 minutes like that in them. Give me some time and I’ll come up with a rationale as to why.

Second, the Pats have been playing in cold weather games, and now make a move to dry, pleasant weather, on fast turf. How will a Giants secondary held together by wishes and dreams keep up with speedsters like Moss and Stallworth?

Still, there’s a game to be had here. That Giants ground game has been dominant, and the pass rush is built to challenge Brady’ timing.

We’ll see. In the meantime, keep checking the site. We’ve got a lot of content going up this week, including Super Bowl matchups and profiles, more characters dropping in with predictions, and more of the TiT coverage you’ve come to know

Happy Martin Luther King Day

Late start on the holiday, but we'll have the Hangover up soon, and the start of our Super Bowl analysis.

But first, something more important...

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind."

Worth remembering, whether or not it's about football.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Endgame: Conference Championship Previews

San Diego Chargers at New England Patriots

The AFC is not a place for nice guys. You like the goofy, commercial appeal of Peyton Manning? We’ve seen him eviscerate underperforming teammates on television before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it again. Love those Jaguars, with David Garrard’s million dollar smile and the team’s hard working mentality? Jack Del Rio told his former starting quarterback he was the man for the job, fired him days later, and the team forgot all about him. So it’s fitting that, in a conference dedicated to reminding us that nice guys finish last, it is the meanest, angriest, least likable teams that have risen to the top.

To say that the Patriots are unlikable is cliché at this point. Tom Brady runs up the score, there’s no longer any doubt that Randy Moss cheated every former employer he had, and I’d say Rodney Harrison was the devil’s agent on earth if I didn’t have a lingering suspicion that he may in fact be the Antichrist himself. It goes deeper than just competitive dislike, though. Normally, if some terrible injury were to happen to a player, I’d imagine I’d feel sympathy for them. Not so with this Patriots team. If Tom Brady got the Theismann treatment on Sunday, most people who aren’t Pats fans would feel absolutely nothing. Worse, some of them would be cheering; so many of us have been wanting it to happen all season long. This team isn’t just ruining the sports season; it’s making each and every one of us worse people.

Which is why most of will be cheering for San Diego this weekend, a team that, against any other opponent, would easily draw the ire of unattached football fans. They’d deserve it, too. Shawne Merriman is still the same obnoxious, ends-justify-the-means prick he’s always been, and LT2 has finally started to be exposed as a diva in his own right. But the piece de resistance is clearly Philip Rivers, whose tirades over the last several weeks have been the stuff of legend. What kind of a douchebag taunts a crowd from the sidelines. What kind of an a-hole yells at his own fans? In the now t-shirt marketed words of Kissing Suzy Kolber, “Ya betta ask somebodddaaaayyyyyy.” What’s even stranger is that the more abrasive the team gets, the hotter they become, a fact that became very clear during last weekend’s stomping of the Colts (forget what the scoreboard said, that game shouldn’t have even been close). They alienate as they succeed, the opposite trajectory of the typical NFL franchise.

And that’s OK, and maybe even necessary for this weekend. The Patriots have torn through the AFC like movie monsters, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that you don’t kill Godzilla with kindness. Consider the majority of the teams that have come closer than anyone else to winning: The Colts (forget the nice guy image; they HATE the Pats more than any of us can imagine), the Giants (the team that set the bar for abrasive interactions through the media), and the Ravens (who were the Patriots in a time before winning justified being a bad example). The Chargers have more firepower than any of these teams, and have displayed a meaner streak as well. Don’t kid yourself into thinking Belichick is happy to see these guys; it’s hard to beat a team twice, and this team is meaner and, more importantly, better than the first go around. Expect the Juggernaut to pull out its fullest, most creative arsenal. Expect these teams to hit each other in the mouth hard. Best of all, expect a much better football game than anyone on TV believes. This isn’t David vs. Goliath; it’s Mothra vs. Godzilla, and we’re all rooting for whoever we consider the lesser of two evils while cities get destroyed.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

In contrast to their AFC colleagues, the NFC seems to stand for the Nice Fellas Conference. Tony Romo smiles all the time! Brett Favre plays games with the refs! Michael Strahan cracks funny jokes at press conferences! Hi-fives and hugs all around!!! Also in contrast to the AFC, it is the two best feel-good stories of the NFC that face off in the conference championship.

And make no mistake, the New York Giants are as satisfying a feel-good story as you’ll find in these playoffs. After enduring a season filled with doubts about their potential and derision toward their quarterback, everything changed for this team in Week 17, when, with no other motivator than their own pride as a team, they took a stand against the Patriots. Even though they lost that game, something changed on the field. The pass rush lived up to its immense potential. Brandon Jacobs ran like trying to bring him down with fewer than three men was a waste of time. Perhaps most importantly, Eli Manning stopped looking like he cared what the crowd thought (told you so…). Since then, they’ve looked as hot as any team, pummeling Tampa Bay and Dallas into submission. The defense that won’t stay out of the backfield and an offense that grinds and, in a surprising twist, has shown they can change pace and hustle downfield before you realize what’s happening.

But they’re messing with destiny now. Everything you knew about Brett Favre was wrong: He didn’t come back to break records, and he didn’t come back because he couldn’t shake his itch to play the game; Brett Favre came back to win a Super Bowl, and to do it on his terms. Playing fast and loose, with a receiving corps that is as ready to improvise as its quarterback, the Packers pass attack has looked as difficult to defend as anyone in the league. As if fighting to keep up, the defense has brutalized opponents, with only, ironically, the Giants boasting as impressive a front seven, and the Grizzle Gang of corners Woodson and Harris freeing up the safeties to play centerfield. Throw in the emergence of Ryan Grant as a smaller, but quicker Brandon Jacobs, and there’s not much this team can’t do well.

Sure, they may seem friendlier than their AFC counterparts, but neither one of these teams is playing for the “NFC Champion” hats the winner receives; they both know that they can win in the big show, and they both know that this is the game that gets them there. Still, the highlights of both of these teams operate in a manner distinct from the AFC competitors. The Pats and Chargers make their high powered offenses look like exercises in perfection, a ballet with precise steps to be followed. The Packers pass attack and the Giants front seven, on the other hand, make the game look fun, something that’s crafted on the fly. That makes this game unpredictable, unlike the obvious favorite-underdog relationship of the AFC. Look for this game to wind up being the most fun to watch, particularly because both of these teams have won over the football viewing public this year. Expect whoever comes out on top to show signs that they can be more than just a space filler across the field from the AFC Super Bowl representative.

Quickie: Ewwwwwwww

Courtesy of Deadspin. This is probably as effective a mental torture tactic as any of that namby-pamby crap they pull at Gitmo.

Quickie: On Eli Manning

(The Sourpuss is melting. It's about time.)

From Slate, a really good piece by Roger Director on Eli Manning, and why it may have taken so long for mainstream America to get behind him. My favorite excerpt:

We want our quarterbacks to be tabloid-dimensional, to provide an adrenaline jolt when we see their pictures in the sports pages. And Eli doesn't. And won't. Maybe he's quietly telling us to keep things in perspective, to put away the popcorn machines. Maybe we're so busy telling him to grow up, we don't realize we're the ones who need to.

Definitely worth a read.

Quickie: Philip Rivers needs to release his Pacific Surge

FanIQ found this amazing video of Philip Rivers earlier today, in which he professes his undying allegiance to...chastity?

Now I'm not one to judge anyone's religious convictions. Still, this seems to mesh really poorly with his general douchebaggery: The trash talk, the yelling at fans. If you're going to pick and choose your morality, you'd think you'd start with something less difficult than abstaining from sex.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Quickie: Marvin Lewis is a jealous dance partner.

ESPN is reporting that, according to Marvin Lewis, Chad Johnson will NOT be traded in the offseason. Lewis told reporters that

[Johnson]'s going to go back and be a pro and go forward and play.

Hey, Marv, I hear it's a good idea to lay down ultimatums to notoriously touchy receivers. That always goes well.

Seriously, though, it's the right decision for the Bengals. Johnson knows his image is too reliant on gamesmanship for him to comfortably sit out a season, and the team would never get anywhere near fair value for him right now. Add to that the fact that Lewis is fighting for his career next season (why he wasn't THIS season is beyond me), and this seems to be the right move. Getting rid of a franchise player rarely results in a team improving anytime soon, and Lewis doesn't have years to develop a squad. Johnson is also the only thing giving the Bengals a positive resonance with fans. He's the direction that team should be moving in: Aggressive (the defense lacks ANY teeth), explosive (the run game lacked anything like his quickness), and fun (Carson's tantrums are the new Eli's sourpuss).

Now is the past

With everyone predicting victories for both the Patriots and Packers this weekend, the stage appears set for what many believe to be the most significant quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history: Tom Brady vs. Brett Favre. Certainly, sportscasters have reason to gush. Brady and Favre are at the helms of the best and second best passing attacks in the league, respectively, promising a shootout that could rival any this season. Furthermore, the storyline is so good it sells itself: One man is primed to achieve the kind of legendary status reserved for a chosen pantheon, while the other fights back with an energy that nobody believed he had left; the face of the old guard drawing on every last ounce of his essence to hold off the face of the new guard for one more year. It’s epic, and, if it happens, will certainly be worthy of the kind of hyperbole it will receive.

I wonder, though, if anyone has really considered the other side of this weekend’s coin with regards to its prelude for a Super Bowl matchup. With everyone piling on the anticipation for the historical significance of Brady vs. Favre, nobody seems to realize that it really doesn’t mean that much for the league moving forward. Favre will be remembered as a legend win or lose, and Brady is going to be remembered as the greatest quarterback of his generation. The game’s image is immense, but its stakes are minimal. Meanwhile, if both of these icons of their position happen to lose this weekend, we may miss out on the game that could act as the perfect centerpiece for the league’s history. Instead, we’ll watch Manning vs. Rivers: The game that could mean everything for the league’s future.

For the NFL to remain the premier sports league in America, it is imperative that its franchise quarterbacks of the future mature into stars of the caliber of the current star quarterbacks. Up to this point, only Ben Roethlisberger, having become the Super Bowl winning “Big Ben,” has done so. David Garrard is emerging, but is too old to comfortably fit into the rising crop, and it becomes more and more evident each year that Carson Palmer will become little more than an addition to an “Underrated/Overrated” debate as a result of his incredible statistics and utter inability to lead his team to similar achievement. For Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, however, the future remains wonderfully undecided. As it stands, both have proven themselves this season to be capable of leading their teams to success, with each helming teams with double digit win totals that have made it deep into the playoffs, overcoming adversity along the way. Each has had their heroic moments, with Rivers’s coming in his beautiful performance against the Colts last week, and Eli’s coming, oddly enough, in a near victory against this season’s juggernaut. Yet each is also escaping a past that still weighs them down in their ascent to real stardom: Both have been called mere game managers, both have shown wild inconsistent streaks, and both have had to endure more than their fair share of ire from their respective fan bases. A face off in the Super Bowl would signal their arrival as franchise quarterbacks, and fill out the currently sparse pantheon of the future’s iconic signal callers.

What’s more, a Manning-Rivers Super Bowl game sets up a rivalry that unfolds organically. Fans will remember the draft day trade that sent each of these top five picks to their current teams. At the time, Manning was the brash youth, refusing to play for a squad he felt was beneath him, and Rivers the quiet apprentice waiting patiently to be given the reins of the team. Manning went on to be battered and bruised by the baptism by fire of playing in New York, while Rivers seemed to step seamlessly into his place in the Chargers’ offensive machine. This year, the roles seemed to reverse themselves. Manning showed signs of calm maturity, gracefully handling the restless Giants fans and eventually winning them over, while Rivers incurred his first taste of the wrath of his own fan base and seemed to lash out, exposing an insecurity that had been bubbling beneath the surface ever since he was traded away by New York, the very team he would be facing in a Giants-Chargers Super Bowl.

The matchup plays out as dramatically as Brady-Favre ever could. Having finally matured to be comfortable in his own skin, does Eli take hold of the greatness that has been his birthright, or does Rivers finally stake his claim as being more than just another piece of the San Diego system? Does one settle into becoming an icon, or is it something that must be violently seized? Having finally arrived at their respective identities, a game between these two quarterbacks would answer questions that fans may never even have realized needed to be asked. Furthermore, the stakes of this game would be much more significant for either of these men, as each would be fighting not only for present glory, but also for a secure place in the league’s future. If Brady-Favre is the showdown, then we should all be grateful; it’s a historic game. I just hope in their disappointment over not getting what they planned for, the football community doesn’t miss out on something that could be just as good, if not better

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Quickie: Every Peyton Manning commercial ever

Quick one before we close shop for the day: Someone has compiled every Peyton Manning commercial.

Who cares how many Super Bowls Brady will leave with. Peyton will have made us laugh.

The Randy Moss we knew and loved barely tolerated is getting antsy

"That's right, with THIS side of my hand, right here."

Patriots WR Randy Moss, who has been touted as having made a complete turnaround in terms of his unruly off-field behavior this year, has apparently been slapped with a restraining order by a woman who is attempting to get, according to his interview with reporters, "six figures" from him. Obviously, because no charges have been filed as of yet, we can and should presume Moss as telling the truth.

We can also, however, presume Bostonians gigantic douchebags. Here are some of my favorite comments on the interview...

"such BS! if the chargers, the nfl, the new york post, del rio, favre, giants or any other patriot hater else thinks this is going to stop us from getting the 4th ring, theyre dead wrong!"

Right. It's their diabolical plan for this woman to beat herself up and accuse Randy Moss, so that he'll be brought down. Because victims of domestic abuse at the hands of athletes have such a history of getting career changing results.

"This lady seems like pure scum, and I hope she gets nailed for extortion if she did try to get money out of him."

Now I'm sure we all, like this educated gentleman, think that abuse victims a bit "whiny," but it's worth pointing out that there's a reason why civil charges are frequently brought before criminal charges, but getting into that would involve a lot of things that I don't feel like discussing (law school mumbo jumbo), and Pats fans don't feel like deciphering (three syllable words).

"feel bad for Randy let's hope that he get's through this nothing that a couple of TD reception can't cure....."

Sweet Lord. I hope you get cancer. How many TD receptions you think it would take to cure that?

Quickie: Winston Justice remembers when Osi did this to him...

(photo courtesy of Kissing Suzy Kolber, linked below)

In news that I can in no way verify with any real journalistic credibility, KSK has dug up the blog of one "Claudi", who claims in her recent (and only) post that that Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants paid her do I say this without being gross...

...actually, there's no way to say it without being gross. He paid her to let him take a crap on her. (NSFW!!!)

Pardon me while I go wash myself thoroughly.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Quickie: Norv the conqueror

(photo courtesy of Kissing Suzy Kolber, linked below)

KSK sends Norv Turner forth on his great quest. Go see. Nowish.

Quickie: So...can they?

Really good analysis from Football Outsiders (easily the go-to destination to find the most interesting numbers behind the game) on the Colts-Chargers game, which people seem to be talking about like it was the upset of all upsets. Personally, I'm not all that surprised. We've known all year that the Colts defense was going to suffer after the loss of Freeney, and the idea that losing a talent like that doesn't hurt a team is ridiculous. Also, for all the talk of how the previous game against San Diego had been "the worst game possible" for the Colts, didn't it rain on BOTH sides of the field that day?

Don't call it an upset; I'm saving that word for next week. That Chargers team is dangerous, and Vincent Jackson appears to have a little Braylon Edwards envy in him. Big receivers are the new little black dress, people; they look good anywhere.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Quickie: That's Mr. Turner to you

From the always spectacular "Debriefing: The Seven Deadly Sins of Sunday" column by MJD over at the Fanhouse, comes this spectacular turnaround on the oft criticized Turner, who many called DOA...

You're 8 point underdogs, your quarterback has been shaky, and you're going on the road to play the defending Super Bowl champions in maybe the league's most hostile environment. In addition, your tight end and biggest receiving threat is severely hobbled, and you're going to lose the league's best running back and your starting quarterback for much of the second half.

Name a coach who's going to go in there and get that win. Name a coach with the pants prunes to go into that Lion's Den, and come out with the lion's still-beating, blood-dripping heart in his triumphant, fearless hand.

Who do you want? Lombardi? Noll? Belichick? Walsh?

You want Norv.

Morv Motherflipping Turner.

Norv has been widely mocked since ... well, since he first took the head coaching job with the Redskins, and the public first saw the permanent "someone murders my dog every single day of my life" look on his face. The mockery has only intensified since.

Norv became a punchline as he went 9-23 with the Raiders, and the mockery only grew louder when he was inexplicably hired by San Diego to replace Marty Schottenheimer, who had just gone 14-2 and had won more NFL games than all but five people in the history of the universe. The mockery was positively deafening when the Chargers started the season 1-3. Everyone was laughing at Norv.

On this Monday, though, it's impossible to mock Norv Turner. The Colts only lost 4 times this year ... once, to the Patriots and the afore-mentioned Bill Belichick, once when they threw the last game of the regular season, and now, twice to Norv Turner.

Norv got a hand from a pretty good collection of talent, of course. Philip Rivers, before getting hurt, had his best game of the year ... the Chargers offensive line had a phenomenal day ... and the Bolts also have a defense that's good enough, not to stop Peyton Manning, but to force him and/or his receivers into the occasional mistake. Manning threw for 402 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the Chargers got a fumble out of Marvin Harrison, they got a couple of interceptions off of deflections, and they forced 9 incompletions on Manning's last 11 throws.

But if Norv was helped by the Chargers talent, then the Chargers talent was helped along by Norv. They won in Indianapolis because they were well-prepared, they had an outstanding gameplan, they believed in themselves even when they weren't close to full-strength, and everyone on the roster was ready to handle their business.

Say what you want about Norv's career to this point, but poorly-coached teams don't do what the Chargers did yesterday.

You have to imagine he's smiling somewhere today. At least, however close that craggly Badlands topography of a face lets him come to smiling.

Quickie: It hurts every time.

A good, if heartbroken, account of what happened to the heavily favored Colts yesterday, courtesy of Stampede Blue.

You almost forget that this is a team that this has happened to time and time again.

Put a Harvard grad on the sidelines, and this kind of crap goes down every time...

Monday Hangover: Divisional Playoff Edition (1-14-2008)

As I write this, I’m back in classes, which are starting up at 9:30 AM. Having pretty much gone through two months, one easy and one hellish, in which the only consistent thread was that I could pretty much set my own schedule, there is no worse kick in the balls than a wakeup time that involves a single hour digit in the AM. I say “kick in the balls” both to emphasize how miserable it is, and also because it’s one of the only other experiences that creates that lingering nausea. As I write this, I’ve got my digestive system working both ways, actively trying to get down the breakfast burrito that will fuel my day (champion fuel) while I simultaneously try and keep down the prior contents of my stomach, mostly booze, frozen dinner, regret, and booze (CHAMPION FUEL!). Oh yeah, it’s a great day to be anywhere near me.

Anyway, I’m coming to the conclusion that dealing with waking up early isn’t a part of growing up; it is the ONLY thing that separates growing up from being blissfully immature. I’m firmly convinced that the only maturity issue separating me from a CEO of a Fortune 500 company is that after we’re both done doing the mini-throwup that accompanies these morning rituals (and we’re just going to accept that as normal, and not as a sign of my burgeoning alcoholism), he’s just less likely to do the whole “Eff this, I’m going back to bed” thing that I do pretty much once a week, which, unless you’re pregnant (you lucky few), doesn’t really fly. In any case, I’m looking forward to writing more over the next month, largely because all that bitterness in my stomach (and the aforementioned “bad news bears” mix of sundry items) has to go somewhere, and this football blog seems like a better idea than leaving a lecture hall smelling like eggs and tequila.

And on that pleasant note, the games!

- Boring Jack Del Rio’s boring style of game planning finally caught up to him on Saturday, when his Jaguars team, a team that played as clean an offensive game as could be expected up until a fourth quarter interception, failed to create any kind of blitz packages to pressure Tom Brady. On the one hand, I get the idea; you want to keep those receivers covered. Still, this is the league’s best offensive line you’re dealing with, and asking any secondary to cover all those receivers for the kind of time that the Jags were allowing is just unfair. The result was a defensive game that was as boring and ineffective as the offense was boring and effective, with the Pats scoring on all but two possessions, and one of those ending in a rare missed field goal. All in all, the game was probably the best example of how you can’t just take jabs at the favorite in the ring and hope to win via decision; you need to knock them out.

- Also, kudos to Jack Del Rio, because just when I thought he couldn’t look like more of an out of place Neanderthal than he did in a suit, he shows up looking like a stuntman from Wild Hogs in an AWFUL leather jacket.

We are THIS close to him coaching in finger gloves and a handlebar mustache, and it will be glorious.

- I love the idea that David Garrard, having proven himself one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league this year, could have easily wound up a defensive tackle because big name programs are essentially racist. Who takes a proven high school quarterback and decides “oh, he’s one of the smartest guys on the field, but he’s big and black, so he’s probably a natural for the least complex and most brutal job”? Does the Klan run a BCS football program? Ah, sorry, I forgot Ole Miss. Carry on.

- On a related note, and after initial resistance, I’ve come to accept that David Garrard adds charm to the Jags. Byron Leftwich wasn’t actually charming, we all just thought so because we think fat people are jolly.

- Rodney Harrison really might be the most dirty player in the league, and I think it’s largely because nobody has perfected the “WHO, ME?!?!?” look quite like he has. The Pats as a whole clearly run drills on the move (Wes Welker, a quiet competitor on the Dolphins, had a couple of great “What do you MEAN that pass was dropped?!?” moves), but Harrison is taking it beyond a move. It’s like he wasn’t there when he cheated in the first place, as though he’s offended by the very suggestion he could go un-canonized after his death. We are about three seasons removed from him pulling a The Last Boy Scout, gunning down a player on the field, and making bug eyes of disbelief as the police take him away (crying about getting “no respect” the whole time, of course).

- Alright, I know I’ve been hard on Philip Rivers, but I was only half joking about the Chargers needing to “out-douche” the Pats next week. Who would you rather have in that game, the quiet Philip Rivers who couldn’t beat the Reche Caldwell Pats of last year, or the absolute A-hole who has helmed a seven game win streak at the end of the year. Also, the new Philip Rivers seems one bad booing session away from punching a fan in the face, which, in a stadium full of Massholes, is both great television AND good for America.

- I’m also not buying that the Pats would rather be seeing the Chargers than the Colts. First, you’ve got to think that Belichick has had some sort of plan in the back of his mind for an eventual Colts-Pats rematch. Second, this Colts team isn’t even as good as the one that lost to the Pats during the regular season due to injuries (forget Dungy, I’m wondering whether Marvin Harrison will still be with the team next year...), let alone better than the Chargers.

- Third, these Chargers can beat the Patriots, and are perhaps better geared to do so than any other team that made the playoffs. They’ve got three incredible downfield threats. They’ve got a run game that has to be respected, which will let those receivers find favorable matchups. They’ve got a shifty 3-4 defense that keeps offenses guessing as to where the blitz is coming from, complemented by the scariest defensive backfield to throw into in the entire league. Finally, and I’ve said this already, this team has looked hotter than anyone else in the league, speeding up and getting better while everyone else seems to be slowing down a step or two. Whether or not they’ll win next week is another matter, but at the very least they’re the team with the best shot.

- Rodney Harrison, Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, Jabar Gaffney and LT2 all on the field at the same time? It’s like a reverse-baseball-cap-wearing frat guy’s wet dream!!!!!

- Seattle is not winning their division again next year. Too much went right for them this year, and everyone knows that they just can’t run the ball anymore. Tiki Barber v.2.0 isn’t getting it done, and MoMo is even more mediocre. The shame of it is that Hasselbeck looks like he’s hitting his prime, too.

- Can anyone not be rooting for the Packers at this point? Wait, sorry, forgot about Aaron Rodgers. My mistake.

- Also, don’t sleep on the Packers, or the NFC contenders for that matter. Both of these teams have shown an ability to hang with AFC opponents. Both can go downfield (the Packers more so), and have developed power run games (the Giants more so). Also, both have defenses that have created problems for every opponent when they’ve been clicking. I’m not saying they could do it easily, but at the very least there’s a chance that either one of these guys could keep the Super Bowl from being the afterthought we thought it would be early on in the year.

- So when T.O., who looked as heartbroken as I’ve ever seen him after Sunday’s loss, even mentions his quarterback’s new relationship we all think he’s a cancer and a team distraction, but nobody is going to even SUGGEST that perhaps Tony Romo didn’t act in his team’s best interest when he disappeared to Mexico with a gossip magazine favorite during the playoffs? Hmm…

- Only non-playoff related note: We call Chad Johnson a team cancer for celebrating and showing signs of anger at his team’s constant underachievement, but we say nothing about Carson Palmer basically asking for his coaching staff to be fired. HMM…

-In reality, I just want a Chad Johnson/T.O. wideout tandem somewhere. Anywhere. I’ll start a multimillion-dollar flag football league if it will facilitate this.

- You know why it sucks to be Eli Manning? Not because people jump down his throat when he has boneheaded days; that happens everywhere. No, the worst part is that when he has a string of solid, bt not amazing performances, everyone somehow acts like he’s “turned the corner” and is now ready to take his brother’s throne. Case in point, he had a solid game against Dallas, but he was 12/18. His stat line shows he did a great job managing the game, but it certainly doesn’t show that he’s a premier quarterback yet, AND THAT IS OK. He doesn’t need to light the world on fire with his offense; he just needs to keep defenses honest and let his “Jaguars of the NFC” style game plan do the rest.

- Guarantee that fatty Giants backup QB Jared Lorenzen asked Eli more than once whether or not there really was an Oreo Double Stuff Racing League.

- All in all, these are the most entertaining playoffs in a long time. Every divisional matchup was intriguing for at least a little while (with Packers/Seahawks being the worst, and making the best case for dropping the divisional format of playoff seeding), and the resulting matchups are potentially great. You’ve got the unstoppable juggernaut facing off against the team that looks like it could not care less about its opponents, its ranking, or the fans (either their opponents’ or their own). You’ve got the spry overachievers who seem to be caught up in the wake of their cagey veteran leader’s revival tour running into the only team in their conference with more momentum, playing with perhaps a bigger chip on their shoulder than anyone else. I’m looking forward to another weekend of destroying my body to sweet, sweet football action.

That's all for this week, more to come as we move on. It's a New Year. I've got a new change of gear (I swear).