Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Weed of Crime, Like Most Weeds, Bears No Fruit at All

The Denver Broncos have been fined $50,000 for the actions of former employee Steve Scarnecchia, who apparently videotaped the walkthrough practice of the San Francisco 49ers the day before the two teams played in London, England last month.

The sum of the fine was one-tenth of what Pats' coach Bill Belichick was socked for in 2007 for the same crime. This is because after a rigorous investigation by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, channeling his inner Warren Commission, the league chose to believe the claim by Bronco coach Josh McDaniels that he refused to view the illicit tapes. The NFL's "forensic computer team" (coming soon, CSI:NFL, with Mark Wahlberg as Goodell) determined the Broncos' computers had no trace of the tapes).

Class, do you think an NFL team trying to win a game might go out and purchase a laptop with cash, use it, then drop it into the Thames? Me, too.

But NFL justice, such as it is, is not what interests me about this matter. What's more relevant is the game's result. The 49ers won. Advance knowledge of San Francisco's plays didn't help the Broncos, because by and large they suck as a team at some rather important elements of football, such as running and tackling. Breaking rules on scouting can't make up for that. Only breaking the rule limiting you to 11 players at a time can.

The truth is, pro football teams suffer from the same probklems vis a vis the collection and use of intelligence as do governments. They are obsessed by the information they collect, collect far, far more of it than they can use, and tend to ignore the most useful bits of information because it gets lost in the clutter. The New England Patriots have been throwing red-zone TD passes to utterly uncovered tight ends for a decade now, and NFL defenses STILL haven't caught on.

Most of all, obsession with intelligence/scouting breeds the paranoia that makes spies and football teams equally nuts. The little item Peter King had last week about the Colts thinking the Pats might have bugged their locker room at Gillette Stadium spoke volumes as to the fine line Peyton Manning's psyche walks between workaholic genius and complete bughouse case. It spoke longer volumes about how the Colts, for all their success, think of themselves as starting every game against New England two down at the turn.

When a team finds a means of scouting how effectively its opponent will block and tackle the following Sunday, the NFL will have a form of espionage on its hands worth making rules to outlaw. Until then, franchises could have video and audio tapes of every action and word of their opponent's practices and meetings, and it won't help them very much, if at all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Service Breaks Win Matches

If a team has a defense that's prone to surrendering yards, it can compensate through takeaways. Ask the New Orleans Saints. That is exactly the formula they used to be last year's Super Bowl champions.

Of necessity, it is the New England Patriots' defensive formula in 2010. Working pretty well so far, too. It's a little hard on the coaching staff, but it's working.

Overlay Department

It's almost post time for this game, I know, but I only learned the number while eating lunch. The Texans are getting 6 1/2 against the Jets. That is a LOT of points to give for a team whose last two wins were in overtime and whose home record is worse than their road record.

The Texans have been disappointing this season, like every other season. But there's many miles and about four points worth of spread between an NFL team that disappoints and one that sucks.

History Is a Process, Not a Pop Quiz

Today's game between the Patriots and Colts should have a noticeable but not decisive impact on the 2010 NFL season. Win or lose, the Pats will continue to be prime contenders for their divisional title and a bye in the playoffs. Win or lose, the Colts will continue to struggle to win each game, yet remain slight favorites to win their division.

I expect the Pats to win, and by a wider margin than is customary in this rivalry. New England is demonstrably a better team than it was in 2009, the Colts are slightly but demonstrably weaker, New England is playing at home, not away as it was in 2009, and the final score of that game was 35-34. This adds up, to me at least, to a situation where an Indy win would be a real surprise, if not a shock. It's never shocking when the Colts win.

What will NOT happen today, and what cannot happen in any single football game, is any change in the historic status of quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That train has sailed. Each man is and will remain regarded as one of the two best QBs of their era and two of the five to 10 best of any era. That will be true if the final score today is 59-0, and the loser throws six interceptions.

One would like to think we have gone beyond childish arguments over these two nonpareils. It's like arguing over what's better, Thanksgiving dinner or a cold beer after 18 holes of golf on a hot summer day. They're both great!! We're lucky to have both in our lives. Pats fans wouldn't trade Brady and Colts wouldn't trade Manning and both sets of fans are right.

Brady and Manning are linked in history, and will remain so. About the only way one of them could alter their historical memory for the worse is to go out and hang on for almost a decade trying to regain their lost youth as Brett Favre has done. Having dealt with both men more than once, I'm sure they're each way too smart for that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Gotta Be a Football Hero To Get Along With Your Parole Officer

Sports, and make that quadruple for sports journalism, doesn't do nuance. There's no room for gray in its zero-sum universe of primary colors. Naturally, this means that sports (again, quadruple for sports journalism) frequently makes an ass of itself.

Michael Vick, quarterback and ex-convict, had a very good game last Monday night against the Redskins. This has led some people who really should know better, like ESPN columnist Rick Reilly and, rather more ominously, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, to make it known they think Vick is a changed man. That heinous crime he did time for? He's really sorry. Michael's getting his life together now. He's become kind of a spiritual presence in pro football Just look at his presence in the pocket if you don't believe us.

There should be a typographical icon for an about an hour's worth of sighing. If there is and I don't know about it, please insert. It is deplorable but inevitable that Vick's 2010 on-field success would bring back what I might actually hate worst about sports -- my old enemy, mankind's enemy really, Scoreboard Morality.

For the first half of the 2010 season, Vick has been a far better quarterback than he was before he spent over a year as the guest of the state for (never forget), a particularly disgusting and awful crime. He's certainly been one of the best QBs in the league, and the most fun to watch by a wide margin. Since Vick plays for the team I grew up rooting for, the Eagles, his performance has mildly improved my attitude towards the universe this autumn.

I'm not what anyone would call a hardcore Eagles fan. For one thing, I haven't even been arrested at a game yet. It will surprise no one that true Eagle fans have wholly embraced Scoreboard Morality when it comes to Vick. For a playoff berth, true Eagle fans would replace Andy Reid with Pol Pot. That's who they are. But it's important to remember Eagle fans are only an exaggerated caricature of what all NFL fans are, different in degree, not in kind. Don't try to tell me that if Vick had been the Pats' backup and Tom Brady went down, then Vick lit up the league as he has in Philly, the felon wouldn't be just as acclaimed here as he is in my old home town. The most professional nasty jackasses among our talk show hosts would be kissing Vick's cleats. Scoreboard Morality has way more power than Lord Voldemort.

It is my destiny to have wound up with two "formers" in my life as regards to sports. I am no longer a sports journalist, and try as I might, I can't go back completely to the mindset I had as a fan before I covered the damn games. I exist betwixt and between those two worlds. Sometimes it's irksome, but I think it's the perfect spot from which to look at Michael Vick.

My rule as a columnist was "don't be afraid to grasp the obvious" so let's start there. There is considerable tension within our society about persons in Vick's situation who AREN'T gifted athletes or famous people, who are, in fact, just schlub ex-cons, the stupid, selfish losers who commit most crimes. Society rightly resents and fears those folks for what they did. At the same time, society more or less recognizes that not letting ex-cons try to reintegrate their lives into society's approved mix only guarantees they'll revert to active cons, a high enough possibility already.

There are millions of Americans, many of them sports fans, who are so repulsed by the degraded act of sadistic violence in which Vick was involved that they will never forgive him and wish he was failing as a player so they didn't have to think about him. But after the initial outcry when the Eagles signed Vick, there have been very few voices stating he shouldn't be allowed to ply his trade. I think it's fair to say that many of those Americans believe Vick can't change, is bound to get in trouble with the law once again, and are looking forward to seeing that happen.

Those antifans could be right. But honesty compels us to state that Scoreboard Morality could be right, too. Vick COULD be a changed man. The one thing prison gives prisoners is plenty of time for self-examination. Maybe Vick looked inside himself, didn't care for what he found, and has begun the process of cleansing his soul and doing what he can to make amends. There are libraries full of criminology research which states that the odds of that happening are longer than those for the Bills meeting the Panthers in the Super Bowl, but it does happen to some people. Only a fool is so cynical as to never believe in happy endings.

My slight personal interaction with Vick as a reporter, well before the dog fighting deal, offers this slight support for the idea Vick has changed. It is possible introspection had an enormous impact on Vick the person because it was beyond obvious talking to him in 2002-2004 that Vick had never had a moment's introspection in his life. He was a blank slate. It would be unfair to state Vick came off as a dope, but it would be accurate to state that he came off as a guy who hadn't needed to use much of whatever brainpower nature had given him.

Nor did Vick project the strong personality than, in one way or another, almost all successful NFL quarterbacks do. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady couldn't be more different in many ways as people, but in their presence, you know you are dealing with someone who's their own man. Vick didn't come as a leader -- just a jock, a bland, blah jock.

In short, I have little trouble believing that Vick fell into crime because he was too weak and too thoughtless to see that what he was dealing with was evil. That's not an excuse that should impress anyone, but it does leave open the possibility that the shock of incarceration changed Vick.

The opposite possibility remains wide-open, too. Michael Vick could still be a depraved sadist because that's what he's always been and always will be. Evil may be central to his identity. People don't change just because it's their interests to do so, or because it makes the rest of us feel better. All my sportswriting life, I avoided as much as I could writing about athletes attempting to be recovering substance abusers. That's a very hard path to walk, and I didn't want to write something celebratory that would look bad for both the athlete and me if said athlete fell off the wagon in spectacular public fashion.

I covered John Daly when he was drinking and when he was sober, and the sad truth was, in either condition, Daly lives every waking moment with demons that'd scare the shit out of any of us. That's another shade of gray situation with which the Crayola world of sports commentary couldn't handle too well.

Is Michael Vick a saved soul, an unrepentant villain, or somewhere foundering between those two extremes? I dunno. That's the point, nobody does. I'll bet Vick doesn't know, at least I hope he doesn't think he does. Rick Reilly and Roger Goodell sure don't. You can't judge a person's worth as a human being by their yards per pass attempt. Isn't it enough to say it's nice to see Vick playing so well, because performances by gifted players make watching football fun? Can't the world just say it HOPES Vick is going to redeem himself?

The older I get, the more I realize judgment is something best left suspended where human beings are concerned. The best rule of thumb for Happy Endings for troubled souls in sports is the same rule fans learn about Home Teams at an early age.

Root for both of them with all your heart. Just never bet on 'em.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fighters Make Fights, Just Not Necessarily Close Fights

Tom Brady is uniquely equipped to exploit the theoretical weaknesses in the Pittsburgh Steeler defense constructed by Dick LeBeau. Long story short, that defense rests on blitzing as a way of life, and no quarterback, not even Peyton Manning, who gets more pub for it, is better at punishing the blitz than Brady. The way Brady invariably turns into the skid and finds the receiver in the area vacated by a blitzer is pure beauty for the football-inclined.

When the Steelers' defensive line through injury or what have you is unable to contribute the slightest push on pass plays, as they weren't, the result is points, a lot of points, for the Pats.

That's half the explanation for why New England won last night in Pittsburgh, and why Brady-quarterbacked teams have essentially owned the Steelers for a decade. The other half of the explanation is more mysterious. Bill Belichick or SOMEBODY on the New England coaching staff has the power to cloud the minds of the Steeler offense, particularly whoever's calling the plays.

Since approximately the founding of the franchise in 1933, the Steelers have had a most predictable formula. If they run the ball to some effect, they usually win. If not, well, then not. The Pats have been able to stop Pittsburgh's running more often than not, but last night, they went one better. They got the Steelers to forget to trying to run altogether.

I'm not talking about when Pittsburgh fell far behind and had to throw. How about its first possession. First down, Steelers run for three yards. Second down, Ben Roethlisberger goes into the shotgun. Ditto third down. Two incompletions, and the Steelers' evening got off a perfect start on the Doom Bobsled Track.

How could any NFL offense fail to run 60 percent of the time against a defense who let the Browns run for 230 yards the week before? Didn't the Steelers watch film. Why'd they act as if they were 10 points down before the Pats got the ball?

Who knows? One doesn't often see a sport team with the Steelers' record of success possessed of such an inferiority complex about a rival team. But you didn't need to be either Jung, Freud or Amos Alonzo Stagg to see that the complex was in full hideous swing last night. Until we see evidence otherwise, what one might expect to be a rivalry will continue as a mismatch.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Wages of Sin Will Be Even Better Wages

Whether or not Cam Newton of Auburn gets to finish the 2010 college football season, he should regard himself as finished with college football.

Based on the always dangerous evidence of my own eyes, Newton has reached the point where he is wasting his time in the college game. Jamarcus Russell, he's not. He is about three times as impressive as Sam Bradford was in his final uninjured season at Oklahoma, and Bradford is doing quite nicely, thank you, as the Rams' quarterback.

Newton could have gotten on a plane last night after beating Georgia, showed up in Charlotte, San Francisco, Miami, or Phoenix (to name the most obvious examples), and start today for that city's NFL franchise no questions asked.

It was noted by many reporters and broadcasters that Newton didn't seem overly worried yesterday about the NCAA inquiry into his recruiting by Auburn. This doesn't strike me as surprising. By spring, the NCAA should be as important in Newton's life as the International Monetary Fund is today.

Wonder if Newton's been on the horn to Reggie Bush? There's another guy whose life was wrecked by a college football scandal. Down to his last four or five million, poor devil.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Annoying Controversies of the Week in Review

1. Derek Jeter wins Gold Glove for American League shortstops

Cue the outrage, outrage with math on top. It is an article of faith among the more statistically driven, and I do mean driven, segment of baseball fans and commentators that Jeter is the WORST fielding shortstop extant and possibly in all of baseball history. It drives them crazy that American League managers and coaches, who vote for the Gold Glove winners, disagree, and have cited Jeter as the BEST fielder at his position five times.

Some of the anger is just the usual Yankee-hatred looking for a place to land, but more of it has to do with the baffled fury of the figure filberts (God, I love that phrase) who have seen their ideas on offense become conventional wisdom inside baseball itself, but whose ideas on fielding are still rejected. Don't baseball people know how hard it is to come up with those equations?

To boil down the statistical complaint against Jeter into English, it is that the Yankee captain has no range to speak of. He makes the plays on routine balls hit towards his position, and has no chance of grabbing balls hit beyond that relatively small slice of the diamond with his reach.

The evidence of my own eyes indicates this complaint has merit. Since the livelihood of the Gold Glove voters depends on looking at baseball games and thinking about them, I'm going to assume managers and coaches see the same thing when they see Jeter. Obviously then, they don't care. Or rather, in the baseball value system of said coaches and managers, making the routine play in the field consistently is held to be a superior quality than the ability to make MORE plays with LESS consistency.

This judgment may or may not be valid (actually, I think the math men have a bit of the better of the argument in Range v. Consistency), but it's what the voters think. It is baseball conventional wisdom for better or worse. Complaining about baseball conventional wisdom is like complaining about leaves falling in November. It's useless, and makes the complainer sound like a nut -- even if the complaint is valid.

2. Cam Newton, Auburn quarterback, may have accepted cash money to attend that fine institution of higher learning.

What! College football players get paid on the side!?! There's a Pulitzer in that for somebody, presuming they can send the story back in time to 1902 when it'd be a scoop.

Actually, the story is that Newton's father got the $200K to have his son attend Auburn, and used it for the nefarious purpose of building a new church for his congregation. Pretty sinister, if you ask me. Is that even illegal? If some yahoo Auburn alum wants to make a nice donation to a church, isn't that his tax-deductible business?

Maybe not. The FBI is looking into Newton's recruiting. So if terrorists attack Alabama this month, there's your reason. We let our guard down to defend the purity of the essence of the SEC.

Now, every American over age five knows that college football's rules regarding money are broken so often as to be nonexistent in practice. The football hero driving a fancy car around campus has been a cliche of our country's sporting life since the automobile became a mass consumer product. It used to a convertible, and now it's an Escalade. Same thing.

Nor should we have any quarrel with that. As a big business where everyone can make as much money as they can grab except the most important employees, college football shouldn't be surprised if said employees put most of their brainpower towards figuring out how to steal from the business. I submit that by accepting illegal payments, be it from agents or their schools, players are showing that they really are learning something at college.

Let me put it this way. Would you attend Auburn without getting paid for it? How about Mississippi State? The questions answer themselves.

No, the newsworthy part of Newton's travails is that the news itself is all the result of leaks from jilted suitors -- Florida, where Newton used to attend school, and Mississippi State, which was allegedly told Newton's price for playing there, and failed to meet it. If Newton gets busted, it will be by the same technique big drug seizures go down -- other drug dealers rat out more successful rivals.

The SEC has the same business ethics as the Zetas, minus a lot of homicide. So far. If there's ever a playoff in college ball, that might not last.

3. The Celtics are meanies.

Kevin Garnett made a tasteless insult to an opponent on the court. Paul Pierce sent out a (pretty funny) insulting tweet about LeBron James after the Celtics beat the Heat the other night. Many feelings in the NBA are hurt.

As a lifelong Celtic-hater, let me say this. Well done, gentlemen!! Red would be proud of you. Seeing Celtic players embrace their inner wrestling heel warms my heart and soul. A winning Celtics team without arrogance is like a sportsmanlike Raider team, or a Yankee team with a payroll less than $100 million. It puts the universe out of whack.

I can't begin to explain how disconcerting Boston's 2008 NBA title and last year's playoff run were to this Celtic-hater. I couldn't resent either one in the slightest. The first involved seeing three future Hall of Famers win their first and long overdue championship. The second was admirable in every way. Karma was served when Boston beat the Cavs. I was not. Sympathy for the Celtics is a distressing and unnatural emotion to me. I feel I am letting down the late Wilt Chamberlain.

Thanks, and here are my thanks, to Garnett, Pierce & C0., my inner turmoil is resolved. The Celts are going to approach this season the way all great Celtics teams should approach a season, with a sneer on their lips and contempt in their hearts. Here we are chumps. Do something about it -- if you can.

I can pay these Celtics no greater, more heartfelt tribute than this: BOOOO!!!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Not All Statistics Lie

230 yards rushing. That three digit-number is all that's needed to tell the story of an NFL game. It's a short story, and depending on your point of view, a sad one.

Forget everything else that happened. Ignore whatever other numbers and words are in the sports section. If a pro team runs for 230 yards in a game, it won. There can't be one game in 50 where it doesn't. Not only did it win, but when a team rushes for that many yards, it led practically the entire game at a minimum, and did so by a significant 10-point plus margin through the entire second half.

That last feature is because teams much more often run because they're winning then win because they're running. First downs by rushing are the best defense a team can possibly present to its opponent. They box the field position-time-scoreboard trifecta.

More importantly, a team that runs for over 200 yards in an NFL game just delivered a physical ass-kicking to the other guys. Its no-necks on the OL just shoved the other bunch's no-necks around as and where they pleased. Such physical dominance is very, very rare in pro football. When it happens, lopsidedness results. The final score winds up as, oh, 34-14 or thereabouts. You know, like the Pats game yesterday.

The Browns had the 230 yards rushing in New England's loss and the easy victory that stat told us about. This must be especially discouraging for Bill Belichick. I'm sure the coach expected that a defense force-feeding young players into much of its starting 11 would cost the Pats a few games this year. But I'm equally sure he expected those losses would come through lack of group cohesion and individual blunders, not from a total ass-kicking. It was the total ass-kicking the Ravens laid on the 2009 defense in the playoffs, after all, which was responsible for most of the new Pats defenders being MADE starters.

If there's any consolation for the Pats, it's this. One reason 200 yard rushing games are rare in the NFL is that half the teams in the league can't run the ball well enough to pile up that total in three games, and almost all the other half has forgotten the run altogether.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Clothes Make the Man If Not the BCS

The University of Oregon football team was on TV yesterday, and I looked at its game, the same thought hit me that has been with me on those infrequent occasions I have watched the Ducks in the past decade.

What do the players FEEL like dressed in those ridiculous duds?

Oregon's home uniform yesterday was black, neon traffic cone lime, and a sort of silvery sparkle for the feather drawing that goes on their jerseys over the shoulder pads. The font for the uniform numbers was a quasi-modern style last seen in the 1970s movies about the grim, soulless 21st century to be. The entire effect was designed to make a casual observer say, "Hey, they finally made a remake of "Tron." The unis were a tribute to video games nobody plays anymore.

As all of college football knows, Oregon's main athletic booster is Phil Knight, the head of Nike, and Knight provides the Ducks with uniforms of Nike's design which makes the team essentially tax-deductable advertising. Rest assured, somewhere out there in America there are PLENTY of high school football coaches and athletic directors just dim enough to think that a new, badass self-image created by weird uniforms is just what they need to turn their teams around.

But do the Oregon players feel badass in their gear? Probably. Kids like clothes that stand out, and besides, dressing in whatever Knight wants is about the only tradition Oregon football has established in a century or so of effort.

But I'd like to think at least some of the Ducks put on their "what is it this week" uniforms with a certain embarrassment, and a slight twinge of wistful longing that they didn't choose a school whose uniforms project, how to put this, a somewhat more self-confident and secure identity.

The game on opposite Oregon's was LSU-Alabama. Each team was dressed in the same uniforms they have worn for over 60 years. Alabama's are particularly old-fashioned, crimson and white with numerals on the side of the helmet. That's what Bear's teams wore, and dadgumit, that's the Tide will wear forever, because of Bear.

I approve. People are always yammering about college football tradition, but you know, they're not always full of it. It is a good thing to be part of an institution larger than oneself, that was around before you got here and will be here after you're gone. Sometimes that helps an individual BE larger than himself on behalf of said institution.

Put it this way. An Alabama kid puts on the same uniform Joe Namath, John Hannah and Ozzie Newsome did. That matters. It matters more than putting on a uniform designed to indicate "hey, I'm a hyper 19-year old with muscles and quick reflexes."

Muscles get tired and reflexes slow in the course of a 60-minute game. What a player can draw on from inside himself to refresh them matters quite a bit.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

If Jamie Dukes Was on That Committee, We Have Grounds for the Supreme Court Appeal Right There

Last Thursday night, I found myself desperately missing Bill Belichick's company. I wanted him right there on my couch, just so I could see him display his indignation and dismay when NFL Network announced that Jerry Rice, not Jim Brown, had been the greatest player in National Football League history.

Probably the one and only trait I share with the coach of the New England Patriots is a taste for football history. Show me or him a reel of black and white film of men slogging about on a muddy field in helmets without facemasks, and we're happily preoccupied men. And that horrible moment, I needed the comfort of a withering Belichickian sneer, or a trademark deadpan sarcastic remark. I needed to know I was not alone in my disbelieving outrage.

Sports history is endless argument (so's real history), but if there is one point I felt settled beyond dispute, it was that Brown was the all-time all-timer. He was the greatest running back ever, and frankly, represented the violence at its core. Jim Brown was an offensive "skill" player defensive players feared -- a complete reversal of the game's usual psychological equation. Jim Brown WAS pro football, in all its ferocious, more than slightly inhuman glory.

Jerry Rice was for sure the greatest wide receiver ever and a magnificent football player. Number two in history? Maybe. Number four of five would be more like it. But best? Wide receivers can't be best. No matter how great, they are still dependent on the man who throws them the ball. Replace Joe Montana and Steve Young with Jim Harbaugh and Tony Eason in Rice's life, and where would he be in histry?

I was still wondering how the distinguished committee who made these ranking made this blunder until I learned that Mike Golic was on it. All became clear. A panel of talking heads who think the NFL began with Super Bowl I, and whose grasp of football present, let alone past is hazy, had made the choices. Boooo!!! And I'll bet Belichick booed, too -- in his heart.

The coach, in fact, was part of the NFL Network's television series. He introduced the segment on Sammy Baugh. Each player's film clips were accompanied by a talking head who said WHY said player was one of history's greatest. Some were mundane. Belichick's, needless to say, was outstanding.

Baugh was rated 14th, another horrible injustice. That's about seven places too low at a minimum. First great passing quarterback? Led the league in passing, interceptions as a defensive back and punting all in the same season? The one player of the past most cited as being able to be great today in a game where people are about 50 percent bigger? That's fourteenth?

Worst of all, of course, is the knowledge Baugh was ranked so low only because they couldn't find color films of his best performances. In the NFL, truth always comes in a well-beaten second to marketing. Which is why, class, Peyton Manning was rated eighth.

For the record, the segment on Manning was probably the best television of all 100 segments of the series. This was because he was presented by Ray Lewis (#18 himself) and Lewis was freakin' eloquent. He made the hair stand up on your neck talking about Manning. At the end, you were sold on the notion of Manning as an historic player.

Not so sold I'd rank him about Baugh, however, or Otto Graham (16), or for that matter, Tom Brady (21). If people argue in bars and on the Internet as to whether Brady or Manning is better today, and they do (my answer, as ever, is give me either one, please), how can HISTORY rate one of these phenoms 13 places above the other?

There was never the slightest chance NFL Network wouldn't do this (marketing!!!), but it was a terrible mistake to put active players on this list. How can you rate a body of work that isn't finished? What if Brady wins two or three more Super Bowls? What if Manning does the same, or throws 60 TD passes in a season? Those are not idle speculations, all are well within the bounds of probability. It was an injustice to both quarterbacks to treat their careers as dusty past when they're both vibrantly part of football's here and now.

(BTW, Brady's presenter was Derek Jeter, a very cool idea that failed because Jeter, as always, was hopelessly bland and dull.)

I want to be fair, especially because the 100 Greatest Players in NFL History's ratings were not. This was an excellent television program and I watched every episode devotedly. Every player on the list is a Hall of Famer, all their careers deserve to be honored by all football fans, and it gave me great pleasure to think of each star as the clips of their deeds were shown.

BUT history is supposed to be about accuracy. Accuracy is hard to establish in human affairs, so there are permissible debates, and we learn new things about old events as we go along. Revisionism, however, can only go so far. The causes of the Civil War remain open to scrutiny. Which side won is not.

A historian who will tell you Jerry Rice was a better player than Jim Brown is like a historian telling you Grant surrendered to Lee at Appomattox Court House.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Make Sure to Grab a Beer From the Beverage Cart Before You Hit the Emergency Slide, Randy!!

Somehow, you just knew that it wasn't in the cards for Randy Moss' farewell to the National Football League to involve a tearful ceremony at the 50-yard line. Although it would have been a good one.

"I stand before you today, the strangest man on the face of the earth."

Moss has given two post-game press conferences this season, and shot his way of two franchises as a result. That's a record they'll be chasing for a long, long time. As a result, it seems reasonable to conclude that his distinguished NFL career is over. Teams get desperate to fill holes in midseason, but not necessarily that desperate. Moss just isn't going to get with the program if doesn't like said program. In a disciplined/authoritarian game like football, that's the second worst thing a franchise can have on its roster, second only to a quarterback controversy.

For the record, I don't think Moss is a bad guy. Odd, yes. Self-centered, my yes. But not malicious, just a loner in a sport built on groups.

And while Bill Belichick is absolutely never ever going to do this, if Moss returned to the Pats, whom he seems to regard as Boys Town for wide receivers, it would make Michael Felger's first radio appearance after the deal must-listening for us commuters.

Until Mike's stroke on the air, that is.