Tag Archives: John Elway

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

The NFL: It Fascinates Me

If there’s so much we dislike about the game of football, its players, its coaches, its writers, its government, and yes, even our fellow fan, why do we bother with it? Now, I can’t speak for everyone else, but the game simply fascinates me, and I’m not alone. Remember, the game is only three hours of your week for sixteen weeks out of the year, if you affix yourself to one team.

And to the “3 Hours Per Week” Club, us die-hards just chuckle, which isn’t to say we’re without envy. Some of us have jobs where we clock out and disavow any knowledge of what happens there until we report for our next shift. For others, work consumes our lives and lingers on the mind during dinner, family-time, and in those minutes before we fall asleep at night. For those that clock out daily, but never stop working, you know the life of the NFL fan, or should I say fanatic(?) better than most.

If your favorite team missed the playoffs, you’ve now gone seven Sundays without a dog in the fight. Yet, there you are, tuning into the NFL Network, checking Twitter for the latest, and thinking about how 2015 is going to be different, hopefully better. From the time I started watching the game 30 years ago, it’s always been the same, with some obvious differences that today’s technology affords us. The day my season ends, it’s on to the next one.

Even if you win the Super Bowl, and trust me when I say, that’s a treat I’ve barely sniffed, it’s still the same. How do you do it again? For those that came up short, you’re asking, how do we finish the job? Nothing is ever enough, unless you’re ready to walk away on top, a la John Elway, and that only happened after he did it twice and would have been expected to get it done a third time. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did it three times in four years, but it took a decade of scratching and clawing at it, with very different supporting casts, to make it happen a fourth time.

Everyone talks about that stuff, and no one questions that playing to win the game, especially a championship game, is what it’s all about. That’s not even the fascinating part. Really, it’s the anticipation of everything, even the otherwise minute stuff, that makes the NFL, the shield, the empire that it actually is.

Personally, I don’t play Fantasy Football. I don’t bet on games against the spread. I don’t watch the draft from start to finish. And, I tend to avoid the pre-game shows. Still, I anticipate it, all of it.

I still want to know who the hot fantasy commodities are going to be, who is going to be favored and by how much, and the bar that Vegas sets for each team, as far as wins and losses are concerned. The draft has become a holiday, and much like actual holidays, they often disappoint (being a life-long Browns fan contributes to this in ways unimagineable). The schedule comes out in April, and the announcement of what date that will be is almost as suspenseful as learning who plays each other and when. Even though I do try to avoid studio shows, I’m always eager for a soundbyte to make waves that transcend the airwaves where they initially reside.

As unfortunate as it is, because heinous crimes are heinous by nature and lesser crimes are still bad, the off-field and off-season beat of our favorite game comes with its own intensity. We know that Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy are worth the price of admission on the field, and that matters more to some us than the type of human beings they are when the clock hits zero. Some of us care about the men they are, but most of you do not.

The game and everything that comes with it are bigger than the sum of their own parts. Those parts will modify, be replaced, and they’ll move on, but game isn’t going anywhere. It will change, and for the better, but it won’t come without its share of red ink for certain aspects. We’ll be able to ignore those and continue to be fascinated by a game. It’s not really fair to call professional football a game, because we’ve reached a point where few can deny it is THE game.

When is it Okay to Change Your Favorite Team?

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Changing your allegiance from one team to another is considered blasphemy to most sports fans. I am currently considering a blasphemous course of action.
Let me fill you in on a little background, so you don’t pass judgement on me before explaining my reasoning.
I grew up as a Cal Bears, because both my grandparents, my mom, and my cousin attended UC Berkeley. Some of my earliest childhood memories were tailgating with my grandparents and their friends before attending a Cal game. Of course, who could forget the Big Game against Stanford that left John Elway crying like a little baby. My grandparents were at that game and would retell the events of that infamous day at every family gathering for the next 20 years. The only problem with growing up as a Cal fan during the 80’s and 90’s was that they sucked each and every year.

Fast forward to the 21st century with the arrival of new coach Jeff Tedford. Cal finally became relevant for the first time in my life. They were regularly ranked and were even number one for about an hour. I was finally proud to be a Cal fan and was even able to start talking smack to fans of other Pac-12 schools. Cal regularly dominated Stanford and was only a step behind the almighty USC Trojans. Life was great as a Cal Bear fan, but all of that was about to change. Cal’s gradual demise seemed to begin as Stanford began to ascend. Cal went from a team who would regularly finish the season with something like a 10-2 record to one with a 7-5 record. 7-5 would’ve been great back in the 80’s but Cal fans got greedy, myself included. We thought Tedford was no longer the offensive guru he once was and had fallen behind the times. Also, Cal hadn’t had a decent quarterback since Aaron Rodgers had graduated. This culminated into the fans calling for the firing of the once heralded savior Jeff Tedford. We finally got our wish when Tedford was fired and Sonny Dykes was brought in from the offensive powerhouse Louisiana Tech. His use of the spread offense was sure to compete against Oregon and put Cal back into the national spotlight. He appeared to be the right choice at the right time. Appearances can sometimes be deceptive, and in the case of Sonny Dykes, this was exactly the case.

So here’s my dilemma. I just moved to Oregon a week ago, and I was thinking to myself that this would be the perfect opportunity to switch my allegiance from the Bears to the Ducks. After all, I can’t imagine Cal winning more than two games this year and I’m sure Oregon will once again be in championship contention throughout the season, especially with the new playoff system. Saturdays would be a lot more fun watching my new favorite team and its’ high powered offense steamrolling its’ way through the Pac-12. The other alternative is to continue to root for Cal as they once again dwell in the cellar of the Pac-12 and get pounced upon by the likes of Washington St. I mean, if those are your two choices, doesn’t the answer seem obvious? If you’re on a sinking boat that you have loved and taken care of for years, and a beautiful new shiny yacht comes by, isn’t the obvious choice to jump of your beloved boat and swim towards the yacht? It seems like a simple solution, but can one really just simply switch favorite teams? What if Cal became relevant again; could I flip-flop back to Cal? Wouldn’t that make me more of a politician than a sports fan? These questions all need careful examination before I make my decision.
I couldn’t make this transition to any Pac-12 team. I’ve always despised USC and that will never change. I also could never become a fan of Stanford, because that would hit to close to home. Throw in UCLA too, because they’re from Southern California and my NorCal roots force me to hate every team from SoCal. Wait, I grew a fan of Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers. Now, I’m a Golden State Warriors fan. That’s great, I can switch allegiances from one team to another. The only problem is that my switch from the Lakers to the Warriors was an organic change that evolved over the course of a decade. It wasn’t a conscious decision, rather it was a result of being a product of my environment. I got caught up in the Warriors excitement during the We Believe year. I went to their first home playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks and was hooked. I’ve got it, all I have to do is go to this year’s Civil War game against Oregon St and boom, the process will repeat itself.

Although this sounds like a nice idea, I can guarantee that I will be rooting for Cal as they get upset by Sacramento State, lose to Colorado at home, and follow that up with a loss to Wassou. But wait, what if it really was possible to switch favorite teams? Then I could plan for a trip back to the Bay Area in late October and watch Oregon trounce Cal at Levi’s Stadium. How sweet would that be to be able to celebrate my new favorite team’s victory at the 49ers’ brand new stadium in Santa Clara. Now that’s a plan. It’s time to get to work, because I have less than five months left to convince myself that I am officially an Oregon Ducks’ fan.
 

Joe Flacco is Still Not Elite

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Joe Flacco just won his first Super Bowl. He was named MVP of the game, and earned his place in NFL history. Flacco, at the beginning of this season, told the American public that he was indeed “elite”. This word has come up often when talking about quarterbacks, yet it’s meaning is somewhat ambiguous. Hopefully, the air can be cleared right here, right now: Flacco is not amongst the “elite” of today’s quarterbacks.

When you talk about “elite” you’re talking about the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Montana, Young, Elway, Staubach, and Unitas would be considered “elite” during their time. These guys were the best of the best, and are considered a once in a generation talent. They won Super Bowl after Super Bowl and proved time and time again that they belong amongst the greats in the Hall of Fame.

Today’s elites are just the same as those guys. Today’s elites are as follows: Manning, Manning, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers. There is no one else, including Joe Flacco, that is joining that group, at least for the time being. I wouldn’t even consider Ben Roethlisberger, who has won two Super Bowls of his own, elite. There is no mistake that his defense has carried him to those Super Bowls, and while he certainly has made the plays, he just isn’t quite as good as those “elite” guys. If Roethlisberger isn’t elite, you can bet that Flacco isn’t elite.

While Flacco certainly had an elite playoff run, (1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions), his regular season certainly wasn’t anything to write home about. He ranked 15th in touchdown passes, 14th in passing yards, and 28th in passer rating (minimum one pass attempt). These numbers are no more than middle of the road, and could barely pass for good, not even close to elite. Yes, he moved up the QB charts thanks to his postseason play, but until his regular season numbers mirror Brady’s, Manning’s, or Rodgers’, he’s still nothing more than a good quarterback.

The point is this: elite is a term that is used far too loosely these days. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are among the top 10 quarterbacks of all time. They are truly the elite of the elite, there is no question. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning have all earned their “elite” status by the numbers they put up or the magical Super Bowl runs they have made. While Flacco has his ring, he doesn’t have the numbers, nor the “leader” status, that those guys have.

Flacco can become elite, without a doubt. He certainly has the ability to win another ring or two, put up league-leading numbers, and become the emotional leader of his team. With Ray Lewis out of the way, Joe Flacco is going to be the face of the Baltimore Ravens franchise. Everything is going to be set for Flacco to reach the elite status he so greatly desires. Until then, however, you have to leave Joe Flacco out of every conversation of the “elite”.

Follow Hayden on Twitter @H_Grove

Elite TEAMS win Super Bowls, not elite Quarterbacks

The matchup for Super Bowl XLVII (That’s 47, I had to look up the roman numerals) is now set.  The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers successfully navigated the AFC and NFC respectively, to wind up in New Orleans, Louisiana, where they will decide who will be crowned NFL Champion for 2012-13.

There are some significant storylines which will get a lot of play over the two weeks leading up to the game.  The Harbaugh brothers coaching against one another; and the end of the Ray Lewis era are the two which will get most of the headlines.  There is however another storyline which likely won’t get much coverage; and it has to do with the quarterbacks.

I’m sure we’ll know everything there is to know about Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick by the time the game kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday.  The aspect that won’t get much focus is that neither one of these quarterbacks are elite.  That’s right, one of these two quarterbacks will win a Super Bowl, and neither one of them is elite. 

I have long stood by the premise that you don’t absolutely have to have an elite QB in the NFL to win the Super Bowl.  Does it help to have an elite QB?  Sure it does.  Having an all-world signal-caller running your offense eliminates some major question marks.  It also covers up a lot of deficiencies.  Can you win without an elite quarterback?  Yes you can. 

Teams sell out every year to try and get that guy.  You see it over and over on draft day; some team will reach in the first round to grab a QB who isn’t worth the stretch.  Meanwhile, those same teams could be filling in gaps all over their roster by picking the best players available; and actually building the foundation of a great team.

Look at the list of quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls and many of them are all-pro caliber.  But there are some glaring examples of supreme mediocrity under center.  How about Brad Johnson for the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  Or Trent Dilfer for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.  What about theWashington Redskins?  The Skins won in ’87 behind Doug Williams and ’91 with Mark Rypien.  Let’s not forget Jeff Hostetler for the 1990 New York Giants? 

The aforementioned Bucs, Ravens, Giants, and going back even further to the 1985 Chicago Bears; dismantled the opposition with ferocious defense.  The Bears had Jim McMahon.  He’s a shining example of why you don’t need a star at QB to win it all.  That guy was atrocious.  When you have Walter Payton, and one of the best defenses of all-time, it doesn’t matter.

I’m sure I’ll take flak for this example, but even Kurt Warner can be thrown in to this group.  Many people believe he was elite.  His true identity was a pretty good starting NFL QB, who had an excellent grasp of the Rams offense in 1999; and a ton of playmakers around him.  I’d argue that at least half of the starting QB’s in the league in ’99 would’ve won with that St. Louis Rams team.  As Warner showed with a not so good New York Giants team just a couple season later; on his own, Warner was just another guy.

Any of those guys on an average to below average NFL team, would’ve been downright bad.  Put in the proper situation, with protection, a running game, and good defense; and suddenly they’re Super Bowl Champions.  Both Rypien and Hostetler beat a Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly to get their rings.

John Elway is one of the best QB’s ever to play in the NFL.  For years he carried a pedestrian Denver Broncos team to the Super Bowl, only to lose badly.  It wasn’t until they brought in a stud running back like Terrell Davis, upgraded his receiving corps, and put some semblance of a defense on the field, before he could grab a couple of rings.

Let’s take a look at the two Super Bowl participants.  I’m sure the media will try and sell us that Joe Flacco is on the verge of stardom.  Maybe he is? I can’t say for certain.  I tend to believe that you can tell if a player is elite right away.  Flacco has not shown that, and I don’t believe he will ever be elite.  Is he good?  Sure he is.  He’s an above average, starting NFL quarterback; and that’s all you need. 

How about Colin Kaepernick?  Given how young he is, there is certainly a chance he becomes an all-time great player.  I highly doubt it though.  Now, I have a tendency to dislike QB’s that are heavily reliant upon their legs to make plays.  That’s fine if you can do that, but ultimately in the NFL, you do need to be able to throw the ball.  Kaepernick may never be elite, but he can sling it enough to win a championship.  The Falcons made him do it Sunday.  He only ran for 21 yards.  With time to throw, he made the plays necessary to win.

The reason one of these average QB’s will win a Super Bowl is simple; they are surrounded by great players.  Both the Ravens and 49ers have solid football players on both sides of the ball.  Each of these teams can run the football.  Each of these teams can protect the quarterback.  And each of these teams finish tackles and hit harder than their opponents.

Baltimore and San Francisco went about building their teams in different ways.  The Ravens have sustained success while trying to find the right guy to man the QB position.  They never did reach, or dump half of their draft picks to get their quarterback.  By plugging in quality players all over the field, they’ve remained competitive year in and year out. 

The 49ers had to endure a period of struggle, prior to finding success in the last few seasons.  All the while, they began to add to the core of the team which is now on the precipice of a title.  The Niners did select Alex Smith #1 overall, but he wasn’t really a reach.  He was supposed to be picked that high, he simply didn’t pan out.  By staying the course, and making good draft selections each season, San Fran has grown into a Super Bowl caliber team.

Now, I’m not suggesting that any organization with a star at quarterback should dump them.  Having an all-pro QB puts your team ahead of the curve, and maybe just a few pieces away from being in the Super Bowl.  If you end up with the #1 pick in the draft, you take Andrew Luck like the Indianapolis Colts did this past year.  What I am suggesting, is that if your organization is patient, makes sharp evaluations, and puts talent on the roster; you can win championships without a stud at quarterback. 

Every few years we actually get a surprise MVP of the Super Bowl.  Without a golden boy running the show for either team, this may be one of those years.  It’s refreshing to see that either the Ravens or 49ers will be rewarded for winning as a team, in what is arguably, the ultimate team game.