Monthly Archives: January 2015

If Seahawks Lose They Will Have John Madden to Blame

The Seattle vs New England is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated and evenly matched Super Bowl contests in recent history. Las Vegas odds makers have essentially declared the game a tossup and both the general public and the sports media are evenly divided on who will win the game.

Those picking the Seahawks think their defense will be able to rattle Brady just as they rattled Manning in last year’s Super Bowl and Russell Wilson will continue pulling rabbits out of hats. Those picking the Patriots believe that the Seahawks were lucky to get past the Packers and the Patriots are due for another Super Bowl victory. The people picking the Patriots are most likely right, but it is not for any of the reasons they have cited. The reason why the Patriots should be favoured is the John Madden Curse.

It has been well documented that virtually everyone who appears on the cover of Madden video game goes on to experience terrible misfortune and a drop off in performance. Michael Vick is the most famous example, as he actually was sent to jail shortly after appearing on the cover. Peyton Hillis’ career as a starting running back ended almost immediately after appearing on the cover. The 25th anniversary edition of the Madden game, which came out before this season, featured none other than Adrian Peterson on the cover. Who is going to be on the cover of the next edition of the Madden franchise? Richard Sherman.

As great a player as Sherman is, fate has almost certainly conspired to make him have a terrible game in the Super Bowl. There have already been several ominous omens that suggest the Madden curse may be setting in. He is nursing an arm injury that may severely impact his ability to tackle and to pick off the football. His pregnant girlfriend just happens to have a due date right around the date of the Super Bowl, which if it doesn’t cause him to miss the game at least has the potentially to distract him. A couple of days ago, Sherman actually played the Madden video game against Shawn Vereen of the Patriots and lost 14-0. And as if that weren’t enough, EA Sports official Super Bowl simulation had the Patriots beating the Seahawks 28-24. As great as the Seahawks are, it is tough to imagine them beating both the Patriots and the Madden Curse at the same time.

A Scorching Hot Take on DeflateGate

When the news broke last week that the NFL was investigating whether the New England Patriots had somehow illegally deflated their footballs in their game against the Indianapolis Colts, the sports world reacted with shock and disgust. The outrage is understandable given that the deflating of footballs could be one of the most shameful things to happen in the history of sports, up there with the 1919 Black Sox. The scandal has long since spilled out of the sports world and has caused nationwide anxiety at the desecration of such a hallowed organization as the NFL.

The Internet, cable TV, and talk radio have all been spouting all manner of scorching hot takes on the issue. There have been calls for fines, loss of draft picks, potentially keeping both Brady and Belichick out of the Hall of Fame, and even kicking the Patriots out of the Super Bowl in favour of the Colts, who got demolished in the AFC Championship game due to the deflated balls. The one thing that all of the commentators seem to agree on is that whatever the potential punishment, it would never quite be enough to truly see justice served against the evil empire that is the New England Patriots. That is about to change, as I have a punishment that any fair minded Patriots hater will agree is both sufficiently severe and poetic.

The NFL has wanted a team in Los Angeles ever since the Rams moved to St. Louis in the 1990s. The perfect solution would be for the league to move the Patriots to Los Angeles. When I say move them, I mean just that; not a sale. Bob Craft would be forced to take Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the rest of the team to California where they would become the Los Angeles Patriots. The league would then immediately offer an expansion team to the New England area. This could happen almost right away as there are no shortage of east coast businessmen and aging rock stars who would jump at the chance to own an NFL team, and there would be an empty stadium in Foxborough all ready to use.

But that’s not all; the league would then make then have the LA Patriots play the expansion team in Foxborough on the opening game of the season. That would then put the Patriots fans, who have benefited for so many years from all of the Patriots misdeeds, in a position where they would experience what it is like to have the Patriots running up the score on you in the 4th quarter. This, coupled with resentment over all the stories that would no doubt emerge about how Brady and Giselle enjoy southern California so much more than the Northeast, could then cause New England fans to boo the Patriots. The boldest and most shocking crime in the history of sports deserves no less than an equally shocking and bold punishment.

Tiger Woods Deeply Grateful for Deflategate

Earlier this week, the sports world exploded with the shocking story that the New England Patriots were caught using footballs that were deflated below the league mandated minimum PSI. Based on the media coverage, this is the biggest sports story in years, and has become perhaps the most captivating whodunit since “Who Shot J.R.?” And for all the millions of Patriots haters out there delighting in the so-called Deflategate/Ballghazi/Ballgate scandal, the person most thankful for New England’s troubles is not a hater at all; it is a golfer by the name of Tiger Woods.

For a long time, everything that Tiger Woods did was a major sports story, be it slightly altering his swing, hiring someone new to carry his golf clubs for him, or going out on a date with a skier. But this past week, one of the most famous athletes on the planet showed up at a downhill skiing race missing a tooth. Tiger’s agent provided the least believable explanation imaginable for the missing tooth when he claimed that a media member accidentally knocked out the tooth with a video camera.

I should point out that I am not saying that explanation provided by the agent is untrue; I am just saying that it is impossible for most objective observers to believe. How in the name of God could such a famous athlete get his tooth knocked out by a media member’s video camera at a highly public event and there not be any video or pictures of the incident. Keep in mind that this was a media member, who is making a living by reporting newsworthy moments in sports. What would be more newsworthy than a close up video of Tiger’s tooth getting knocked out? Why have no fans tweeted or posted pictures of Tiger and his entourage searching for the tooth in the snow? Why have we not seen any video of Tiger yelling at the offending cameraman?

If this had happened any other time the sports media would be transfixed on Toothgate, but as luck would have it, nobody is all that curious about what happened to the tooth. Tiger could come out and say that Lindsey Vonn knocked it out with her ski pole and it still wouldn’t knock Tom Brady’s deflated balls off the front pages.

49ers Fans Suddenly Find Themselves Rooting Against Their Own Team

It is exceedingly rare to find true fans that are actively rooting against their own team. Sometime when a team is awful some fans start hoping that the team will play poorly enough to get a number one overall pick so they can select a franchise player that will help turn the team around, but that is not truly rooting against their team. Generally when a fan base turns on a team it is when the ownership of the team is perceived as either not attempting to win or has blackmailed a local government for funding. These cases usually involve teams without deep roots in a community or without a proud tradition of winning.

The San Francisco 49ers are among the most celebrated teams in all of sports. They have had arguably the best quarterback of all time and the best receiver of all time play for them. They have 5 Super Bowl wins, one behind Pittsburgh for the all-time lead. For over 30 years, that team has been synonymous with excellence in the NFL, and has been to the NFC championship game three times in the past four years. Yet despite all that, they may well have the angriest fan base in all of professional sports.

The owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Jed York, fired one of the most respected and sought after coaches in the NFL and replaced him with the team’s defensive line coach. Jim Harbaugh turned around a moribund team and led it to three straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. Every single NFL team looking for a new head coach would have happily traded a draft pick and given Harbaugh a blank check to coach their team. For 49ers fans, it was bad enough that York fired such a universally respected coach, but then he poured jet fuel on the fire by hiring as his replacement someone that not a single other NFL team would have considered hiring as a head coach.

In firing Harbaugh and hiring someone named Jim Tomsula to replace him, Jed York has quickly gone to being a pariah among 49ers fans. It is to the point where many 49ers fans are actually hoping the team has an awful year next year, not to get good draft pick, but to make Jed York get his comeuppance for firing the coach who turned the team around. In some ways it is rather easy for 49ers fans to root for a disaster season. Few people would expect Jim Tomsula to improve much on Harbaugh’s 8-8 record this year, so if your best case scenario is missing the playoffs by a little bit, you might as well just hope for the worst case scenario. In for a penny, in for a pound.

All of the outrage on the part of 49er fans is fueled by the knowledge that the 34 year old Jed York did not buy the team with his own money; he was handed control of the team by his parents when he was 28. The idea that some young rich guy who has never had any great success on his own on either a football field or in the business world getting rid of such a great coach as Jim Harbaugh almost unspeakably galling. If the 49ers start next season 4-0, all will be forgiven, but if the team gets off to a rough start Jed York will find himself in the middle of a fan rebellion.

The NFL Needs a Minor League to Solve its Quarterback Problem

The NFL has a problem with quarterbacks, and it isn’t concussions or other injuries, it is that there simply aren’t enough quality quarterbacks being developed compared to other position players. More than ever, the quarterback is by far the most important position in football, yet there are fewer young men playing the positon of quarterback on a weekly basis than any other position. Ryan Lindley and Cardale Jones, who have both been in the news recently, albeit for vastly different reasons, perfectly illustrate the problem with the development of quarterbacks.

Ryan Lindley is an NFL quarterback who had the opportunity to not only play for a division winning team, but also start a playoff game. In his career during the regular season, he has 2 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In his first year in the league, he had 0 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In his second year in the league, he didn’t throw a single pass. When I say he didn’t throw a single pass, I don’t just mean the NFL. He didn’t throw a single pass in any actual game that year. The following year, he was asked to start a playoff game.

After selecting Ryan Lindley with a late round pick, and realizing after a couple of starts in his first year that he wasn’t quite ready to lead an offense in the NFL, the logical thing would have been to send him down to the NFL’s minor league to give him the chance to develop for a few years to see if he could at least become a credible backup quarterback. Unfortunately, the NFL has doesn’t have a minor league. If you aren’t good enough to start in the NFL, you sit on the bench and pray that the starting quarterback suffers a terrible injury after the trading deadline. If the NFL had the kind of robust minor league system as Major League Baseball, Ryan Lindley might have just completed a promising season at the AA affiliate and could have been looking forward to a starting for the AAA team next year. Unfortunately for him, he is unlikely to ever throw another pass in the NFL again.

Some might point out that NCAA football is the de facto minor leagues, but the case of Cardale Jones shows how hollow that argument is. Cardale Jones is as big, as strong, and can throw the ball as far as any quarterback in the NFL. He lead Ohio State to a 59-0 blowout over Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game, he lead his team to a come from behind victory over top ranked Alabama in the first every NCAA playoff, and then he helped his team beat Oregon in the National Championship game, outplaying the potential number one pick in the draft, Marcus Mariota. Clearly, Cardale Jones has the kind of raw talent that gives him a chance to be solid quarterback in the NFL. Yet in three years at Ohio State he has only played three games. As of the end of the past November, he had not played a single game in his college football career.

How is it that someone gifted with such immense talent could spend almost three years without playing in a single competitive game of football? As good as he appears to be, imagine how good he could be if he had been playing every week for the last three seasons. It also raises the question of how many other college backups are out there that have the talent but will never get the chance to show it. Were it not for injuries to both the first and second string quarterbacks, nobody outside of Ohio would ever have heard of Cardale Jones right now.

It is inconceivable to think that that at pitcher who could throw a 103 mile per hour fastball would spend his first three years out of high school sitting on a bench. He would be pitching and developing in the minors. Even if the guy were to play in the NCAA, there are at least 9 pitchers on every team so he would still be playing on a regular basis.

In the NFL, since there is no developmental league, and plenty of talented college quarterbacks either sit on the bench at big time schools or play in second rate divisions, teams are drafting quarterbacks from a needlessly small pool. Football is the most popular sport in the country, but teams frequently burn first round picks, and even first overall picks, on quarterbacks who are thoroughly unable to identify and/or accurately throw the ball to an open receiver. Teams who take a quarterback in the first round often set their teams back several years because they feel they have no choice but to start the guy for a few years. In baseball there are still plenty of first round busts, but you generally find that out when the guy is starting in the minors. If baseball were like football, Todd Van Poppel would have been Oakland’s number one starter for 4 years.

It is to the point where it isn’t just that there aren’t decent backups in the league; there aren’t even enough starting quarterbacks to go around. Every Sunday, starting quarterbacks who were taken in the first round repeatedly miss wide open receivers by about 10 feet. I recall watching Sam Bradford, a former number one overall pick, playing on either a Sunday or Monday night a few years ago and there were multiple occasions when he had a receiver wide open and just need to throw a straight line pass with no linebackers anywhere between him and his receivers, and he somehow managed to throw completely uncatchable balls. Both of those examples probably involved a throw of between 25 and 30 yards. As a comparison, short stops and third basemen in baseball routinely have to run to their left or right, catch a ball, grip it in a split second and make a full velocity 45 yard throw to first base. Think about how rare it is for a baseball player to miss the first baseman by 10 feet. It is so rare that it makes the highlights whenever someone throws the ball into a dugout or in the stands.

Even in the minor leagues, the baseball players all resemble major leaguers to the untrained eye. You don’t many more terrible throws or fielding errors than you do in the majors; you just don’t see as many fantastic plays. In the NFL, on any given Sunday there are a handful of quarterbacks that look like they’ve never played the game before. The reason this is happening is that so many quarterbacks simply have not spent enough time playing the game of football since they left high school. With football offenses becoming increasingly pass oriented, the NFL may need to seriously consider coming up with some type of minor league system to maintain the quality of its product.

The Wire is the Moby Dick of Cable Television

According seemingly every TV critic in the world, The Wire was the greatest TV show ever made. I don’t usually base my television viewing habits on what critics tell me to watch, but a lot of people who really love the shows that I loved, like Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad, have nothing but praise for the show, so I decided to give it a shot. I watched the first couple of episodes and found it really boring, so I stopped watching it.

After I initially gave up on the show, its praise on the Internet and social media continued to get louder and more enthusiastic. It seemed every review of a current cable drama always seemed to make some reference to the Wire. Prominent sports columnist Jason Whitlock started comparing every sports story to a Wire character or plotline. While waiting for the final half season of Breaking Bad to start I decided to give the show another chance.

I re-watched the last episode I had watched and then suffered through one or two more before again giving up on the show. When I first tried watching the show I thought it was just boring. When I tried watching it the second time I still thought it was boring but also realized that a lot of the characters and dialogue were terribly clichéd. In the last episode I watched McNulty was in a meeting with a bunch of veteran cops talking about some type of investigation or other, and the veteran cops, who looked like every single secondary cop character in every single cop movie ever made, talked just like every single secondary cop in every cop movie ever made, making snide remarks and basically just serving to show how our smart the protagonist cop is. There have been 1,000 scenes just like that in TV shows and movies in the past 40 years. I gave up after that.

A lot of the fans of The Wire like how it highlights how unfair and counterproductive the anti-drug policies have been in the United States. That’s great, but I already knew that long before I ever heard of The Wire and the flaws in the drug policies had been pointed out a million times by a million different people over the past 20 years, so I didn’t need to suffer through a boring TV show to hear a point that had already been made.

I feel like The Wire is the modern cable TV show version of Moby Dick. When Moby Dick was first published, it received high praise from one of the greatest writers of the era, Nathanial Hawthorne, but was a commercial flop. Only many years after the author’s death that it came to be regarded as of the great works in American literature. As with the Wire, I decided to see what all of the fuss was about and tried reading the 900 page book about hunting whales. Unlike the Wire, I managed to finish the book. But just like The Wire, I found that the book had a painfully slow developing plot and I was not remotely emotionally involved in the characters. After 600 pages I couldn’t have cared less if they killed the White Whale (spoiler: they don’t, the whale sinks the ship and kills almost everyone on it).

Imagery, symbolism and social commentary are all well and good, but if you are going to be a great storyteller, be it with film or letters, you have to tell a great and compelling story. The truly great storytellers are able to wrap their up their social commentary and symbolism with an entertaining storyline. Too many talented writers get so caught up in their message that they neglect the medium. The Wire may be an example of that, but truth be told, I may actually give the show yet another shot.

Peyton Manning – The Greg Norman of the NFL

I have always been a fan of Peyton Manning. I admired both his talent and his class on and off the field. As a lifelong, unwilling fan of hard luck teams and athletes, I was also helplessly drawn to the choking, underachieving label that was pinned on him since the early years of his career.

For some context, my favourite hockey team as a child was the Quebec Nordiques, the team that set records for futility, had a first overall pick refuse to play for them, and then won a Stanley Cup the very first year they moved to a new city. My favourite baseball team was the Expos, who after many years of suffering were looking like the favourite to win the World Series and then the World Series was cancelled for the first time since the World War II. The first golfer I ever cheered for was Greg Norman.

In many ways, if Greg Norman was a football player, he would be Peyton Manning. Like Manning, Norman had one of the greatest careers ever in terms of week in and week out performance, but never had the same success in the majors, which is what defines the legacies of the greatest golfers. Also like Manning, he was not completely without success in the majors, winning 2 British Opens. Peyton Manning did win a Super Bowl (and took teams to two others), which separates him from some all-time greats like Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Fran Tarkenton.

If Manning had never won a Super Bowl, the debate around him would be (perhaps unfairly) much simpler; he would simply not be in the discussion as one of the truly greatest quarterbacks of all time. But he did win a Super Bowl, he lead a spectacular 4th quarter comeback against the Patriots in Foxboro in the playoffs, he did take three teams to the Super Bowl.

What is so interesting about Manning is that he was just so close to perhaps being considered by some serious football commentators as the greatest of all time. If the Saints surprise onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl had failed. If Mike Vanderjagt had made that 46 yarder against Pittsburgh. If Roethlisberger didn’t make that ankle tackle. If a few more breaks had gone his way Manning could have easily had multiple rings and maybe three or four.

The reality though is that like Greg Norman, he often put himself in situations where he needed to catch a break. People who talk of Larry Mize’s miraculous chip in to beat Greg Norman in a playoff at the Masters fail to point out that if Norman had shot even par in the final round then Mize would never have had the chance to make that miraculous shot in the playoff. Despite the gutsy onside kick recovery by New Orleans, Manning still had the chance to lead a game winning drive but threw a pick six to end the game.

He may not be the greatest quarterback of all time but he may well have had the most interesting career. No other football player has ever had more records or more what-ifs than Peyton Manning.

Islamic Extremists Are Every Bit As Bad As Nazis

For decades, one of the most scoffed at clichés has been to compare someone or some group of people to Nazis. Adolf Hitler and his fellow Nazis were almost unimaginably evil, invading countries and attempting to exterminate entire races of people, so there was no more pejorative term in the modern lexicon than “Nazi”, but because they were so awful, the idea of comparing someone to then has long been considered both absurd and insulting to the many victims of the Nazis. Such comparisons have become emblematic of the type of overheated rhetoric that has seemed to infected public discourse in recent years. Everyone knows there is nothing as bad as the Nazis. Until now that is.

Islamic extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are every bit as bad as the Nazis were. Neither ISIS nor Al Qaeda have killed as many people as the Nazis (at least not yet) but that is only due to lack of means, not lack of effort. Nazi lead Germany/Austria was one of the most powerful countries on earth at the time. Al Qaeda doesn’t actually control any territory, and though ISIS may control portions of two war torn, economically backward countries, they don’t even have a fighter jet, let alone an air force. What kind of carnage do you think ISIS would inflict if it were in charge of one of the world’s most powerful countries?

ISIS and Al Qaeda routinely execute civilians, and openly encourage their sympathizers around the world to attack innocent strangers in an attempt to instill terror. Even humanitarian workers providing aid to Muslims are taken hostage and beheaded. The horrifying thing about extremists like ISIS is that they don’t make any attempt to hide their atrocities against civilians. On the contrary, they actually promote them by sending graphic video all over the Internet and social media. The world only learned of the full extent of the Nazi’s death camps after they were liberated.

Islamic extremists and Nazis are similar in that they both advocated a hateful, destructive ideology. The only difference is that one was based on the dominance of a race and the other was based on the dominance of a religion. Though the groups are similar, the reaction to them by the rest of the world is much different.

Nobody in the West has ever felt the slightest hesitation in criticizing Nazis or their Neo-Nazi descendants. There are still many people in the West who passionately believe the Nazis were right, but they are met head on by the majority of citizens who are equally passionate in shouting down and ostracizing these extremists. With Islamic extremism, the West is much less passionate and decisive in its opposition. Nobody of any political persuasion has any reticence or restraint in attacking Neo-Nazis, and for that reason, they have very little political power.

For some strange reason though, seemingly intelligent people in the West seem to have a deep fear of criticizing Islamic extremism, almost to the point of denying that it exists. It is becoming increasingly absurd in light of recent events to deny this issue. It is also odd that people are so worried about inadvertently offending Muslims by criticizing radical Islam when the vast majority of the victims of Islamic extremism are in fact Muslims. Most of the people beheaded in Iraq are Muslims, as in Syria, as are the people being routinely flogged and jailed in Saudi Arabia.

Hopefully the barbarity of the recent attacks in Paris will not just wake up the civilized world to the true danger of radical Islam, and also start some candid discussions that focus more the issues and less about offending people. I suspect that most Muslims are actually far more concerned about ISIS and Al Qaeda than they are about offensive cartoons.

I’m Sure That Deep Down Phil Simms Is Very Concerned About The Future of Afghanistan

One of the reasons the major networks pay so much money for NFL coverage is that, besides all the money they make selling advertising space, it also gives them a great platform to promote their own programming. Rather than take up valuable time during the commercial breaks, they can have the play by play guy plug shows during breaks in the action. Typically these are sitcoms and one-hour dramas, but CBS always promotes 60 Minutes, which can at times deal with very serious topics.

According to Jim Nantz, the show will be tackling a particularly serious issue tonight; the threat of the barbaric radical group ISIS expanding into Afghanistan after the American forces withdraw. The idea that after 14 years of American forces giving their lives to fight off the Taliban only to see an even more barbaric group take over after they pull out is obviously a chilling thought. Here is how the plug for the 60 Minutes program played out during the Bengals/Colts game today.

Jim Nantz: With American forces leaving Afghanistan, could ISIS move in there too? Hear from the General in charge tonight on 60 Minutes.

Phil Simms: How ‘bout this offensive line so far by the Indianapolis Colts?

Next time there is a particularly serious topic on 60 Minutes the producers might want to consider waiting until just before a commercial break before making the plug. Just a suggestion.