Monday, March 26, 2012

Who's A Bust: Future Hall of Famer's Pt. 1

I did this some years ago when I just started the blog, but I'll like to forget I did. In fact, some of my choices (Kelvin Hayden???) were so horrible I'm not even going to bring them up. Anyway, you've seen this before. Many times even. Here will be my opinion on which active players deserve to be in the HOF.

Quickly, before we start on active one's, I'll take a moment to talk about the recently retired ones. The big HOF issue these days is Chris Carter, and the seemingly long time it is taking him, and other great WRs from the 1990's, to make the HOF. Chris Carter, Tim Brown and, in my opinion, to a lesser extent Andre Reed are all waiting because their most notable contemporary who has already retired was one Jerry Rice, and there are currently WRs in the NFL who put up huge numbers each year. I feel that this is seriously unfair to those guys. They were three of the five WRs in their day (Rice and Irvin being the other two). They deserve enshrinement. WR is going to be a real problem (for this excercise, I am considering Terrell Owens to be retired, whether that is the case or not). Apart from those three, Moss, Owens, Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are going to be eligible soon and they all have good cases. Some are obvious HOFers (Owens) that few will dispute, and the only way to dispute is attitude-related anectodes that are mostly bull. One is a player who should be a shoo-in, but because of his reclusiveness and the fact the Greatest QB of All Time was throwing him the ball for much of his career is being put down (Harrison). The other two played together for a number of years, but who's peaks did not really align apart from the three GSOT years. Holt probably has a stronger case, and I think most HOF voters (those mostly out-of-touch writers who care more about a player's quotability than catch rate) will probably be against putting two WRs from the same team who played together in the HOF (especially since Faulk is already in, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner are on the way). Anyway, this is about current players.

Unlike last time, I will have four tiers. The first will be for sure fire 1st Ballot HOFers. These are the best. These are the guys that are among the six to eight best all time at their position. Their names are legendary. They could retire today and get in 1st ballot (Think Jerry Rice or Anthony Munoz). The second tier is for the guys that are basically already HOFers, but there would be some debate, some argument and they might not be 1st ballot (think Roger Staubach or Willie Brown). The third is for younger guys who are all between five to eight years of experience (there are a few instances where someone with said experience is already HOF worthy), who are well on their way. They are guys who probably have the resume of a HOF at 28, but because they are just 28 aren't there yet. They will graduate to the 2nd or possibly 1st tier in five years or so. The fourh tier is my projection tier where I just guess at which really young players (four years or less) will one day get there. This tier has the chance of being laughably, egregiously wrong come 2015. Anyway, the first post will be the offense and special teams, while the second will be the defense and coaches.


1st Tier: Peyton Manning (Colts, Broncos), Tom Brady (Patriots)

Both are obvious. No point in even discussing this. I just hope they both don't retire in the same year because I wouldn't want to have a debate over who should get to be inducted last (usually given to the best player in that HOF class).

2nd Tier: Drew Brees (Chargers, Saints), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

Yup. I think if these guys retire this year (or next) they are in. Roethlisberger is probably more polarizing than Brees at this point (which is odd given how these two were viewed in relation to each other just three years ago). Drew Brees has just finished the most exhaustively compiled 6-year stretch that any QB has ever put up (67.8% cmp, 28,394 yards, 7.7/11.4 ypa/ypc, 201 TDs, 93 INTs for a 98.5 rating - for a comparison, Manning's best six year stretch is from 2003-2008, where he put up 66.5% cmp, 25,010 yards, 8.0/12.0 ypa/ypc, 195 TDs and 65 INTs for a 102.7 rating). Brees has a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP. He has the two highest completion percentage years of all time, and two of the four highest yardage totals of all time. His New Orleans era is historic. I think his down years in San Diego and his lack of team success (only three 12+ win seasons) hurts him to not get in first ballot. He's not those two above, but he's not far behind. As for Ben. Two rings. One signature Super Bowl drive (arguably the best drive in Super Bowl history). Another trip. Great postseason record (I hate that that matters, but I have to be honest, it does). Five years with a passer rating above 97 (in comparison, both Brees and Brady have just three each). He's had two 4,000 yard seasons. He's had a 30 TD season. He really has a resume that just stacks up with past HOFers.

3rd Tier: Eli Manning (Giants), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Philip Rivers (Chargers)


Eli Manning has two Super Bowls, like Roethlisberger, and two Super Bowl MVPs, like Brady, but he doesn't have either of their regular season success. This was by far Eli Manning's best regular season, and it would be Brady's 5th best (behind 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011) or Roethlisberger's 4th best (behind 2005, 2007 and 2009). Eli Manning seems to have turned the corner and could have many more years close to 2011 and then he should be fine. Aaron Rodgers just had one of the top-5 passing seasons ever. He's the career leader in passer rating. He's had the best start to a career ever. The only issue is he's only had four years under his belt. Rivers has been right there with Rodgers and Brees over the past 5 years. I think he'll have a bounce back year next year. His spot as a potential HOFer is more tenuous than the other two (though numbers wise he's way ahead of Manning). He really is this generation's Dan Fouts. He might never win a Super Bowl, but that doesn't, and really shouldn't, mean he can't get to the HOF.

4th Tier: Cam Newton (Panthers)

This is a projection which could be very wrong. Obviously, the amount of variation that his career could take is massive. That said, he had the most impressive rookie season I have ever seen. He's Michael Vick but someone who is more advanced as a passer. What he did with that offense that could barely crack 20 points in 2010 was incredible. He has the pieces around him with a good o-line and two good running backs. Overall, I was really wrong about Cam Newton coming into the draft, but I think I will be less wrong about this.


1st Tier: LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers, Jets)

Yeah, it is that obvious. His average season during his 9-year tenure in San Diego was the following:

320 rushes for 1,387 yrds (4.34 ypc), 15.3 rushing TDs, with 59 catches, 439 receiving yards and 1.7 receiving TDs.

That is insane. His best years in San Diego were incredible. He's the best RB I have ever seen in the 2000s. I hope the fact that he had a sad tendency to get hurt in the playoffs will be a knock against him, because he was awesome. 

2nd Tier: Adrian Peterson (Vikings)

In this era of limited one-back systems, the numbers of a RB has to be looked at differently for a HOF possibility. While WR numbers are just getting better and better, the numbers for a RB is becoming worse. Peterson is something of an anomaly. He's the primary back. Of course, the huge caveat is the injury, but I think if Peterson returns to something where he was before and puts up two to three more years of average Peterson production, he is in. In just 5 years in the league, he's already closing in on 7,000 yards with near 70 TDs. He's been the best running back overall for the entirety of his career. He's already a 2-time all-pro. I think he gets there without too much work in the future.

3rd Tier: Chris Johnson (Titans)

For CJ, it is just faith that 2011 was a flukey bad year. Sure, there is a track record of guys getting their payday and falling off, but even CJ turned it around near the end of  2011. He'll never have a year like 2009 again, but he's already on Peterson's pace. With the turn back to mostly two-back sets and the ever-continuing increase of passing the ball, running back stats are probably not going to reach the historical landmarks that merit inclusion. Runners like CJ are guys that in this era with deflated career rushing totals are a lot more credible as a HOF than people would think.

4th Tier: LeSean McCoy (Eagles), Arian Foster (Texans)

LeSean McCoy is just 23. He's become the best dual threat RB in the NFL. He had 17 rushing TDs last season, and with Michael Vick as his QBs, his rushing numbers should continue to be good for the foresee-able future. McCoy already has a 1st-Team All-Pro nod under his belt. Arian Foster is also just 23 years old, and is really underrated as a receiving threat. His running numbers have been better than anyone else over the past two years. The system he is in is perfect, as Kubiak's Texans run game has become the neo-Broncos running game from the past decade. Barring injury, he could have a great career.


1st Tier: Randy Moss (49ers)

I have a feeling that he will get in 1st ballot. When motivated and healthy, he was the best WR ever. His numbers during his best years are insane. His Vikings career included two 17 TD seasons, one with 15 and one with 13 (in 13 games). Of course, his three-year run in New England was almost more ridiculous. The 23 TDs. The good season with Cassel. The nice 2009 season. Even his first year in Oakland in 2004 wasn't all that bad. He was the best QB maker in history. There's a reason why the Vikings went 15-1, 10-6 and 11-5 from 1998-2000 with three different QBs (Cunningham, George, Culpepper). He's had 1,000 yard season with65 QBs (those three plus Kerry Collins, Brady and Cassel). I've never seen a receiver so utterly dominant as Randy Moss.

2nd Tier: Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals), Andre Johnson (Texans), Steve Smith (Panthers)


 Larry Fitzgerald has a chance to, statistically, be the 2nd greatest WR ever. I'm not putting him in Tier 1 because if he retires today, he's not 1st-ballot, and mainly because no WR seems to be these days. That said, after just 8 years, Fitzgerald has averaged 86.3 catches, 1,200 yards and 9 TDs. Limit those to just his last 5 seasons beginning with Warner's true renaissance, and it goes to 92.6 catches for 1,296 yards and 10 TDs. Last year showed with just average QBing, he could put up monster numbers. As for Andre Johnson, he had four consecutive season of at least 90 ypg. How many other players have done that? None. He's had a mix of awful to good QBing and performed throughout. The one concern is that he's only played 20 games the last two seasons. He's not as sure as Fitzgerald, but already having 5 pro-bowl nods and 2 all-pros, he's in good shape. Steve Smith is more precarious, as he's mixed insane seasons with above average ones. I think his reputation gets him in over just the numbers. At his best, he was the most uncoverable WR ever. Add to that the fact that he was short but still dominated at a tall-man's position and he really should get in. He's not always been healthy and he's never had great QB play (although that might begin to change) but his overall success is there. He also had, in my opinion, the best non-Moss-in-2007 season of any WR this decade, by being the sole weapon of note for the 2005 Panthers (103 catches, 1,563 yards, 12 TDs). Unbelievable player.

3rd Tier: Wes Welker (Dolphins, Patriots), Calvin Johnson (Lions)

Wes Welker has a couple of things really going against him. One is that he's already 30 and his numbers for his career are worse than both Fitzgerald and Andre who are younger and more dynamic. Secondly, his career yards-per-catch is just 11.1, which would be the lowest of any HOF WR. That said, he has been a catching machine with Brady. Some may fight against him because of the system, but no one has ever caught as many balls over a 5-year period as Wes Welker. This is more of a projection than Wes Welker because Calvin is younger, but that helps him a lot. He's already caught 49 TDs, and with Matt Stafford, he could be force-fed for years near the goal-line. His career average of 16.0 yards per reception is unbelievable. After an underwhelming rookie season he's been among the best over the past four years, and he's been the central figure to rebuilding the Lions. He's got a way to go, but he's definitely on the same track as Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, if a little less accomplished. But talent isn't the issue, but rather time.

4th Tier: Hakeem Nicks (Giants), Mike Wallace (Steelers)

I'm a lot more confident about Mike Wallace, but Hakeem Nicks has had a great start to his three year career. His numbers are getting better. He's Eli Manning's favorite target (I think he's better than Victor Cruz) and Eli Manning is entering a new prime of his career. Numbers will be there for Eli, and of course they will also be there for Nicks just as well. As for Mike Wallace, what's not to like. He's only 25. He's never missed a game. With a career 18.7 yards-per-reception he's the most dynamic vertical threat in the NFL, and is getting better at the short-passing game. What could be an issue is Pittsburgh seems to be thinking about moving to more run, but as long as he's paired with a good QB, he's set up great.


1st Tier: Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs, Falcons)

He's the best receiving TE in NFL history. Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome and Shannon Sharpe might be nice, but Tony Gonzalez is to TEs as Jerry Rice is to WRs. He's 2nd all time in catches, and that is for any player. He's closing in on 100 TDs. If he was a WR, he might have a shot at the HOF, but he's a TE, and the best one ever.

2nd Tier: Antonio Gates (Chargers), Jason Witten (Cowboys)

After going four straight years without missing a game (2006-2009 - happened to coincide with the Chargers best four year run), Gates' body might be breaking down. If he could squeeze another two or three years at his current pace he's about as sure-fire as they get. The 13.1 yards-per-reception over his career, he's the most dynamic TE ever. 76 TDs are nice too. 8 time pro-bowler and 3 time all-pro just solidify that status. Jason Witten's case might be easier. Witten has been remarkably consistent over his career, missing just two games. After a nice start to his career with middling QBs, with Romo he's exploded into a new version of Tony Gonzalez. He's not the TD threat that Gates and Gonzalez are, but he's the Welker of receiving TEs. What separates Witten though is that he's reknowned as a great blocking TE, which is something that he has that Gonzalez and Gates does not.

3rd Tier: No One

4th Tier: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots), Jimmy Graham (Saints)

Honestly, after the past season for each, it is hard not to see GRONK or the blondie Jimmy Graham not making it in. They had the best and the second best receiving seasons for a TE ever. That said, they've both just played two seasons. They can easily have their careers derailed by injury, or in Gronkowski's case loss of qaulity WR (his career will undoubtedly go longer than Brady's). Another thing about Jimmy Graham is that he will be 27 next season. I have no idea how he got that old that quickly. Gronk is probably the safer bet, but again, injuries can always happen, and their total resume obviously doesn't merit inclusion yet.


1st Tier: No One

2nd Tier: No One

3rd Tier: Jake Long (Dolphins), Joe Thomas (Browns) 

Since there are no stats for o-lineman (other than pancakes, which I've never heard referenced in a game), the two things most important for o-lineman are reputation (which is much harder to lose than it is to earn) and things like pro-bowls and all-pro nods. If you are on a championship team, that might outweigh having less pro-bowls. Anyway, with the Great Tackles of the 2000s out of the game (Ogden, Jones, Pace), we are left with a new era where no one is really all that close to in yet. Jake Long, in four seasons, has been to four pro-bowls and one all-pro. In give seasons, Joe Thomas has been to five pro-bowls and three all-pros. Thomas is probably on the fast track, as for Long, it's a little less sure but with the reputation that he already has, it will be hard for him not to get there eventually.

4th Tier: Joe Staley (49ers), Ryan Clady (Broncos) 

Joe Staley's been playing for 5 seasons, so he's old for this tier, but his career is really starting anew as the team is finally good. He's been a good player for years and is finally starting to get that recognition. The 49ers success has made more people aware of Joe Staley, and more pro-bowls should follow. Ryan Clady has played four seasons, never missed a game, and now gets to block for Peyton Manning. He's been named a 1st team all-pro already. The Peyton Manning thing is key, as he'll probably get closer to the spotlight in coming years. Just like Staley, the veteran's real career is just starting.


1st Tier: Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks, Vikings)

His reputation may have finally started to outstrip his play, but 5 all-pro selections, as well as a 1st team all-decade gets you this lofty distinction. Walter Jones may have been slightly better, but just slightly. At his best Steve Hutchinson was absolutely dominant. With Hutch blocking for him, Shaun Alexander was one of the best running backs in the NFL. He leaves Seattle and Alexander all but turns to shit. He comes to Minnesota, and Adrian Peterson becomes the best running back in the NFL. The real best in the NFL was Hutchinson himself.

2nd Tier: Logan Mankins (Patriots), Kris Dielman (Chargers)

Logan Mankins as a 1st round pick was roundly criticized, but Bill Belichick knew what he was doing with Mankins. He's only missed one game due to injury in his career (although with ACL surgery may more be coming in 2012), and has been the best lineman for what has been among the best offense in the NFL over the past 5 years. It is commonly forgotten that Mankins came along after the Dynasty Pats, but he's been one of the three constants, along with Brady and Welker, of the juggernaut offense Pats. Kris Dielman is definitely a tough choice. I do think he will get serious consideration though being the best blocker for one of the best offenses of the 2000s. He was Tomlinson's best blocker for almost his entire career. Also, given the sad way his career ended, he might get some sympathy consideration.

3rd Tier: Jahri Evans (Saints)

Another guy who has never missed a game, Jahri Evans is a three time 1st-team All-Pro, and is really high-profile given him being the best blocker for the NFL's best offense year-after-year. He was among the Saints epic 2006 rookie class (with Reggie Bush and Marques Colston), and is the best player from it. Assuming he stays healthy, and the Bounty-Gate stuff doesn't kill off the Saints full-time, Evans should be able to get in.

4th Tier: Carl Nicks (Saints)

Many consider Carl Nicks the better guard to Jahri Evans. He's younger and more versatile. However, his move to Tampa Bay might kill his chances. Anyway, he's in this tier mainly because he is younger than Evans. Another guy who's never missed a game, Carl Nicks basically has the reputation now of being the best guard in the NFL. If that reputation carries with him to Tampa Bay, he should be set.


1st Tier: No One

2nd Tier: Jeff Saturday (Colts), Shaun O'Hara (Giants)

Center, more than the other positions on the line, is really the one tied to team success. Jeff Saturday, honestly, hasn't been a great blocker for a while now. That said, from 2000-2007 he was great. The 2 all-pros might be a little low, but that is mainly because it was hard to get nods when sure-fire HOFers Kevin Mawae and Olin Kruetz were hoarding them. Being the man tasked with interpreting Manning's audibles for a decade is probably enough to get him in (lock him up if the Packers win a SB with Saturday as the center). Shaun O'Hara gets the "he was a good center on a good team for a long time" induction. His case is definitely weaker than Saturday, but at most times in the NFL, there are two HOF centers in their prime. Saturday and O'Hara just make sense. Both were smart. Both were agile. Both were centers for Mannings. Both could very well end up in the HOF.

3rd Tier: Nick Mangold (Jets)

He's a far better center than Saturday or O'Hara. He could easily be a better center than Mawae and Kruetz. I ranked Mangold as the 8th best NFL Player in the NFL last year and I'm not at all ashamed. He was absolutely dominant in 2010. It was the first time I've ever really noticed a center for being brilliant. He single-blocked Vince Wilfork with relative ease in the 2010 Divisional Game. Nick Mangold is one of the few bright lights the Jets have in that mad-house they know run. He's already got 2 all-pro nods to his name and more will be coming.

4th Tier: Maurkice Pouncey (Steelers)

Personally, I've never been that impressed, but the media seemed to have lapped up Peter Kings lactations about Pouncey in 2010, voting him to the all-pro team after a good but not great 2011 campaign. He has the reputation he needs to keep getting nods to Hawaii. Pouncey does get the benefit of being with a good team, which could get him in the Saturday route.

Next Up - The Defense and Coaches

It Wasn't Mad, But it was Good

There might not have been any buzzer-beaters. There might not have been many overtimes (just one). There might not have been any games that didn't end with minutes of tireless free-throws and desperation heaves. But you know what? I'll take it. The games have been for the most part, well-played. There's been stretches of great offense and stretches of great defense. The blue-blood teams (save for Duke, which I'm bringing up just so we can laugh at them again) have dominated for the most part. The good teams have won, for the most part. The 2012 version of March Madness will probably be remembered for a spate of injuries taking out the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the field (Syracuse, UNC) and the dominance of the best team in the field. But to me, I will remember it for the most watchable basketball in a tournament since 2009. And the return of a lot of good teams for the first time since then as well.

From 2007-2009, we had 12 Final 4 teams and they were all good. They were all very good. They were all better than any Final 4 team from 2010-2011. The only Final 4 team from the past two years that comes close is the 2010 Duke team. Those years gave us the best team I have seen since I started watching College Basketball (about 2003) with the 2nd Florida team (Noah, Horford, Brewer, Green, Humphrey), the better two of the UCLA teams that went to three straight Final 4 (Westbrook and Love headlining the 2008 brew), a good Georgetown Team (Hibbert and Jeff Green), the Oden and Conley Ohio St team, the Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington, Green UNC team in 2008 and 2009, the Kansas national title team in 2008. Those were loaded years, the last few (or in case of 2009, the first) before the "one-and-done" took over basketball. Those teams would've easily beaten the 2010 and 2011 Final 4 teams on most days. I don't know if the 2012 vintage compares as a whole, but I think this is the strongest group of Final-4 teams since 2008. And that is a good thing.

Those (2007-2009) weren't great tournaments. There were few upsets (in 2009, all the #1-3 seeds reached the Sweet 16 and in 2008, all the #1 seeds made the Final-4), but there was really good quality basketball. It is hard to really have both (exceptions would be tournaments like in 2005). When the teams are good, and each region has 2-3 really good teams, the little guys are hurt. It is a lot harder for the VCU's and Davidson's to make their runs when the top teams are all very strong. And that is what happened this year. For once, it felt like I was watching teams that really had plans. When VCU made their run last year, it was mostly due to a string of crazy, un-repeatable three-pointers. It isn't hard to get hot for a couple games and hitting a ton of threes. Any team can honestly do that. What is hard is getting a game-plan and playing.

The reason I prefer the NBA to March Madness is just that the game is so much better. The drama might not be there (although good playoff games have the drama as well), but everything else is. I feel like people consider a good college game to be just one that is dramatic in the last 5 minutes, and the preceding 35 are mostly irrelevant. I think it is mostly opposite. A good NBA game is good for 48 minutes. Teams know what they are doing. They run competent offenses. You can see plays being run. You can see defensive schemes. Those things aren't always present in college, but I've seen a lot more of it this year than the past two.

To me, the first great game I saw this year was the Purdue-Kansas team. I'll talk more about Bill Self later, but that Kansas team, on a night where their offense couldn't do anything, just battled their way to beating a game Purdue team. The next good game was Indiana-Kentucky. Indiana played offense that really looked like NBA offense. To me, the tournament apexed with the past two late Elite 8 games, with Ohio St-Syracuse and Kansas-UNC. Both games ended with the winner pulling away late, but they were both intense, well-played and close throughout for about 35 minutes. They both featured teams switching and changing defenses. They both featured a lot of good players matching up against each other. UNC-Kansas had some of the most intense back-and-forth sequences in that 1st Half that I've seen. Both teams played inspired early, playing at a combined level that would give any great game over the years a run for their money. Their was an energy in the building that was palpable. It was everything great about college basketball in two halves. Great offense in the first, and great defense in the 2nd. It was a great game, that capped off a good first two rounds of the tournament. There are no cindarellas, but after 2011, I think we aren't really due for a Cindarella until 2014. I'll take four blue-blood programs that don't rely on hitting threes (in Kansas' case, just rejecting the idea of having the ability to hit threes) to win, but rely on great game-plans, good offensive sets and tough, tight defense.

Two More Points

1.) Kentucky is a great team. 

They are easily better than any Final-4 team in 2010 or 2011. The last Final-4 team I can begin to put on their level is the 2009 UNC team, that had a really underratedly dominant tournament run (winning every game by at least 12, easily winning their two Final-4 games). What I love about Kentucky is that they play great team defense, really defend the paint, and are incredibly unselfish on offense. They remind a lot of a younger, more explosive version of the 2006-2007 Back-to-Back Florida team, in that there is no one true star on offense and they play so well as a team. Now, I think that second Florida team was better. They got a little bored in the middle of the season, but come tournament time, they were dominant and while they didn't really beat-down their Final-4 opponents they had to play two great teams (UCLA and Ohio St.). But I do think this is Calipari's best team. I don't know much about the Mass team from '96, but the '08 Memphis team was really good, and probably had one singular player better than anyone on this Kentucky team (I think Derrick Rose was better that year than Anthony Davis this year), but they didn't have the incredible depth of front-line ability that this Kentucky team has.

Kentucky did get a perfect set-up this year. They had their #2 seed lose in the first round (not that I think Duke would have really gave them much trouble), and had their two biggest competitors, including the one team that was neck-and-neck with them for #1 all year long, lose key players right before or during the tournament. I think they will win the title this year, but if there's any coach I would think could really pull off something massive, it is Rick Pitino.

One last thing about Kentucky - I heard a couple of media people say this earlier today, but Kentucky could absolutely not beat an NBA team. The discussion is a little more provocative this year because the worst NBA team (Charlotte) is particularly putrid, but still, Charlotte would crush Kentucky. Yes, it is true that Kentucky has a lot of future NBA players, but likely only two (Gilchrist, Davis) will ever be all-stars (Teague, in my opinion, is a nice player but not starter-quality for any competent NBA team). Kentucky wouldn't come close. No college team would come close. It might be a little more competitive than putting the worst NFL team up against the best college team (Alabama's defense was great in 2011, but they still wouldn't come close.

2.) I never want to hear about Bill Self and Kansas losing to low-ranked teams again, and that he isn't anything but a spectacular coach. 

The fact that this team was even in the Top-10 all year long and got a #2 seed was incredible. This team lost four starters from last year's team. Their best two players this year were a back-up forward and the 4th best starter (Robinson and Taylor). They have no McDonald's All-Americans (Kentucky, I think, has 6 - UNC had 5, even without Kendall Marshall). Bill Self is a good recruiter. Kansas always has talent. They've definitely had more talent than those lower-ranked teams they have lost to (Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU), but they haven't had the amazing talent than Calipari's Memphis and Kentucky teams had, or UNC had, or even Syracuse had (Boeheim doesn't get 1/10th the criticism for Syracuse routinely losing to lower-seeded teams since their 2008 Title). If there is anything to criticize Self for is that his teams have a penchant to get psyched against lower-seeded teams in the tournament. It isn't Self's fault. To me, unless a coach has a great offensive system, a coach's defensive abilities is a lot more important. Self's teams have always played great defense. Always.

I do think they do get psyched by lower-seeded teams. Get nervous. Their shots are off. That said, Bill Self's Kansas teams are 3-0 against #1 seeds now. They are always prepared to step up big. Their performance against a loaded UNC team in the 2008 Final-4 was incredible. Seeing that score of 40-12 was one of the more ridiculous things I've witnessed in my time watching college basketball. But nothing comes close to what he's done this year. His team didn't really fail to play their best against Purdue and NC State as much as they just weren't all that good. This isn't, on paper, a Final-4 worthy team with nowhere near the talent of the last two Kansas teams (especially that 2010 team). This was a team with a bunch of heart and calmness. They didn't get too disturbed by slow starts. They didn't get too nervous with close games. They finished games - reminded me a lot of Butler in 2010. They can play in close games, and I think they know the close a game gets the better their chances are. It will be interesting to see if they can take out Ohio St, who is definitely more talented, but I like their chances.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thank You Roger Goodell

I've been critical of Roger Goodell quite a bit in the past. I didn't like his actions before the lockout. I didn't like the fact he keeps trumpeting that fans want an 18-game schedule when few fans actually do. That all said, I gained a lot of respect for Goodell today. He did come down on the Saints, and he did come down hard. He exceeded my expectations of what the punishment would be. Maybe he went a little overboard giving Sean Payton a whole year, but it doesn't matter. He was able to finally tell the players, and the fans, that he can be just as stern against management as he is under players. Good on you, Roger Goodell.

After the Saints scandal broke four weeks ago, I was amazed at the score of defensive players who came out and said that they were surprised about all the fuss made over some bounty program, that this was going on all over the place. Now, I believe that this probably was going on in places outside of New Orleans, but that is not the issue. These defensive players were also speaking about how this is the mentality of defensive players, that this is what the NFL is about. (I should say that there were a lot of players who also condemned this. I remember being pleasantly surprised that on an ESPN panel with Marcellus Wiley and Darren Woodson who both thought that this whole thing was ridiculous, Tedy Bruschi ripped into NFL players that thing this is the right way to play defense). The NFL is not about intentionally hurting opponents. The NFL is not about that. At all.

There is nothing wrong with hitting a player hard. In fact, in many times, some of the most awesome plays in the NFL are those hits. Perfectly timed, perfectly formed. Every now and then, a perfectly legal hit will result in a player getting injured. That is life in the NFL. Everyone in the league knows that, accepts that. The issue is no player, after administering such a hit, should get basically rewarded for that for the sole fact that the guy he hit had to leave the game. If this is prevalent around the league, that is a problem. It shouldn't be. The league cannot be a place where money is handed out to players who inure other players. That is not what the league should be. Hits are fine. I'm even fine with some spend money given to players who get sacks or interceptions (I realize these have cap issues), but it becomes a different issue when teams are giving out money for injuring opponents. It is disgraceful. If it is going on around the league, well, then all of those teams are disgraceful. It is amazing that people are taught from childhood that the "everyone else is doing it" excuse is about as flimsy and weak an excuse you can use as a defense. Yet, somehow, in the most 'manly' sport, instead of acting like a man and not getting extra money to potentially put quality of life in risk, it becomes the go-to excuse and somehow viewed as a legitimate way to defend this act.

I am of the belief that the penalty would not have been near this severe had Sean Payton and Gregg Williams not lied to the NFL in 2010 when the NFL first investigated the bounty system after the 2009 NFC Championship Game, and then continued to lie, and more appallingly, continued to have the system. Yes, Sean Payton may not have actually taken part in the system, but he apparently knew about it, did nothing to stop it, and denied knowledge to the NFL. It was a systematic loss of trust and control of that organization by Payton. This stuff happens in the NCAA (not bounties, but lying to NCAA investigators, loss of institutional control, etc.) and there, despite that entity being corrupt as shit, such actions a lot of times result in losing your job. Now, I don't think Sean Payton should be banned for life. If Tom Benson wants to take that step, it is his prerogative. But I think sitting him out for a year, for not only doing nothing to stop this despicable program, but lying to the NFL about it, is more than fair.

I credit Roger Goodell for not taking the easy way out and just given Sean Payton a fine (that is the easy way out because if I have read correctly, no head coach has ever been suspended for a single game before). I credit him for sticking to his beliefs, for not accepting behavior that in the 'real world' could easily result in losing your job. At some point, this became not only about bounties and injuries, but the lies and deceit involved on the part of the Saints.

The Saints under Sean Payton were the most uplifting story the NFL had seen all decade when they returned to the Superdome, when the city was still very much recovering, and surprised everyone by going 10-6 and reaching the NFC Championship Game back in 2006. That was before Gregg Williams got to New Orleans. Three years later, they still had some of that goodwill, but now they had Gregg Williams. They had a defense that took the ball away, and an offense that was the best in the league. They won their Super Bowl, which was widely hailed as a beautiful moment for a league, and for an owner, that stood by the city of New Orleans. Three years later, for me at least, that moment is ruined.

My team lost in that Super Bowl. Each day that passed, the pain of that loss got worse. The only one silver lining was that they lost to a team, and a city, that was deserving. Honestly, I can't feel that way anymore, and it isn't even about the Super Bowl, where I don't remember any hit that seemed curious. No, it goes back to the game that evidently started this whole thing, the 2009 NFC Championship, a game dominated by the Vikings in every capacity other than the ability to hold onto the ball. The Saints pounded Favre that day, many times after the whistle. They blitzed him all day (coincidentally, they couldn't really cover anyone), and hit him into oblivion. Favre tweeted out a picture of his ankle after the game, and in it, the ankle more resembled a piece of charcoal. Did the bounty put on Favre that day help the Saints win? In my mind, definitely. Favre's first interception came on a play where he was hit illegally (some blame goes to the refs, for not calling it). That play led to the audio evidence of one player yelling "pay me my money" after for the time-being, knocking Favre out of the game. Favre's 2nd, and more infamous, interception came after he was too injured to run the ball, when he could have gotten 6 or 7 yards and brought them back into reasonable field goal range. The Saints didn't actively cheat, but they won dirty.

That all said, I don't think Roger Goodell should strip their title, not that I think he ever considered it.No, Roger Goodell did enough, and everything he did was fair. He took the two people most responsible and gave them a stern, but fair punishment. Honestly, even if Gregg Williams never gets to coach in the NFL again, it would still be fair in my book. Roger Goodell stood up for the player safety he believes in. He stood up for his own league's ability to trust their teams. He stood up for the players who may have fell victim to the Saints' dirty system. He didn't take their title, but he took their master, and their innocence. The Saints aren't heroes. Their title may have captivated an area sorely needing happiness, but now those same people must live knowing that their title will always be covered in a shroud of dirty play, bounties and lies. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Manning is a Bronco

Just looks weird, doesn't it? Apparently, Manning is planning to wear #16, his college number. The #18 is retired in Denver for Frank Tripucka, although he's said that he's fine with the team unretiring it for Manning.

Well, I never thought that this would happen originally because I thought they were tied to Tebow. I didn't see John Fox, a pretty conservative coach overall, making this decision to cut ties with Tebow. But I'll credit him, and John Elway, for realizing that despite the amount of goodwill the Tebow era, that they could upgrade at QB. Their QB play was, other than at times their defense, the worst part of the 2011 Denver Broncos. That certainly won't be the case in 2012. I'm not sure if I like it for Manning, but it makes a lot of sense.

Personally, the news late last week that the 49ers were one of the three finalists made me giddy. That team has a loaded defense. They have intriguing new WRs with the Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. However, they were in the tougher conference. The NFC is loaded again. Green Bay, New Orleans, and San Francisco were all 13-3 last year. The Bears were 7-3 before Jay Cutler got hurt, and added Brandon Marshall. The Eagles were an 10-6 team that played 8-8 and should be better. The :Lions are on the rise, and the Panthers of 2012 can be the Lions of 2011. Of course, they also have the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants in that conference. Manning avoided that, and gets a conference with an aging Ravens team that lost some players (Ben Grubbs, Jarrett Johnson), an aging Pittsburgh team, New England and Houston. That last team in that list is to me the best team in the AFC if their guys stay healthy. I'll just say that the Denver Broncos will be a good team in 2012.

I just don't know if I could easily be behind the Manning-led Broncos because I hate the Broncos. I'm a Raider fan. They are a huge rival. All the AFC West teams are really equal rivals to each other (something like the NFC East). All of the teams hate each other. I think the Raiders will be competitive in 2012, and could have challenged for that division, but now they are likely the 3rd best team in the AFC West. Unfair to Oakland, but overall, my love for the Raiders will last long beyond 2016, when Manning's deal ends.

As for his fit in Denver. He gets the best o-line he's had since 2007. He gets the best running game that he's had since 2007. He gets a good receiver in Thomas and an up-and-coming receiver in Eric Decker. They Broncos have cap room to go out and sign another receiver (or maybe go out and poach Mike Wallace). The defense is more of an issue. They ended the year nicely (not counting that awful performance in New England). Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are great young pass rushers. I'm not too well-versed about the rest of their defense (other than Champ Bailey, who's aging but still skilled). Guys like Mark Anderson, Curtis Lofton and Aaron Ross are still available. I don't think they are the favorites in the AFC. I would give that distinction to the Texans and Patriots, but the Steelers, Ravens and now Broncos are right there behind.
It will be an interesting year in the AFC for sure. The conference has been owned by the Patriots, Colts and Steelers for 11 years. Other than the Raiders almost mirage-like Super Bowl appearance in 2002, those teams have won the AFC every year. The Broncos get the chance to break that spell. We know the Colts are done for the next couple years at least. I wish Andrew Luck the best, but the Colts next shot at the playoffs, if they are really good at turning this around, is 2013. The Broncos can win a Super Bowl. Will they? who knows. Will it be fun watching? Definitely.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The 18 Best things about the Manning Era

18.) He had the best 2-game stretch a QB has ever had. 

In the first two games of the 2003 Playoffs, which Manning entered with a 0-3 playoff record and a ton of pressure to get off the mat in the playoffs, Manning laid to waste the Broncos and Chiefs. Manning started with a 22-26 for 377 yards and 5 TDs. That equates for a 158.3 passer rating. Passer ratings cannot get any higher than that. His next game was at the 13-3 Chiefs, in Arrowhead. In a loud, hostile environment, Manning went 22-30 for 304 yards and 3 TDs. That equates to a 138.7 rating. For two games, the Colts offense did not punt. They played offense at a level probably only matched by the early 2007 Patriots, but this was in the playoffs. Manning was incredible. His cumulative stats were 44-56 (78.6%) for 681 yards and 8 TDs (no INTs, by the way). That is a 156.9 passer rating. I dare anyone to try to find two straight games that equate to a passer rating that high. That is nearly perfect for two straight games. That was incredible. (No, I'm not going to talk about the game that immediately followed it).

17.) He didn't want to take more money in 2011.

Jim Irsay, before he became Twitter's most ridiculous, incomprehensible character, kept on saying that the minimum for Peyton Manning's new contract was well above Tom Brady's new contract. Irsay wanted this. Irsay wanted to reward the guy that personally made him hundreds of millions. Manning didn't want all that. He didn't want to take a cap-crippling contract, especially with his health up in the air back in the Summer of 2011. Manning did end up getting a contract worth more than Tom Brady, so I don't want to compare him to Gandhi, but he took barely a cent more than Brady's contract, and even agreed to have outs in that contract so if his health doesn't improve, he and the Colts can make a split. It is awful that it has come to this, but it has. I'm just happy Manning gave the Colts the flexibility to make this move.

16.) He was a great teammate.

Manning got so unceremoniously slammed for saying that "There were some problems with protection" after the 2005 loss to the Steelers, that people never realized Peyton Manning has taken the blame, and blamed himself, after every Colts loss ever. He's the perfect teammate. Compare this to Tom Brady, who probably should have just blamed himself regarding the throw and Welker almost-catch in Super Bowl XLVI, but didn't. Manning took the blame immediately for the pick in Super Bowl XLIV, even though it was Reggie Wayne's fault. He took the blame for the loss to the Chargers in the 2007 Divisional, even though he threw 400 yards and twice gave his team the lead in the 2nd half, only to see them lose the lead to Billy Volek.. Manning always took the blame. He shouldered the load. He never, ever got credit for this, but it was one of his best traits as a player.

15.) He won 4 MVPs

People sometimes use this as a way to slam Peyton, saying that he is only "The Greatest Regular Season QB of All-Time". Even though that is true, it should not be made fun of. It is amazing that he's won four MVPs. He probably could have easily won it in 2005 as well (I mean, Shaun Alexander wasn't even the best player on his team). Peyton Manning led a team that won 12+ games for seven straight years. Brady's longest streak is 2 (2003-2004, 2006-2007, 2010-2011). Ben Roethlisberger's streak is also 2. Brees, Rodgers, Rivers, Eli; all of their longest is 1. Manning did it seven straight times. That is absolutely incredible. Peyton Manning was the best regular season QB of all time, and considering at most, the playoffs is only 25% as long as the regular season, being the best regular season QB is more representative of a true star than being the best in the playoffs. Peyton Manning was there, every year. 4,000 yds. 30 TDs. 65% cmp. He was the best.

14.) He was tough as nails.

Until his 2011 mysterious neck-injury, Peyton Manning missed exactly one play due to injury. That one play, he broke his jaw. He broke his fucking jaw and missed one play. On the play that possibly started his neck issues (getting double-teamed by the Redskins, coached by one Gregg Williams) he coolly got up and called timeout. He didn't miss a play, and retaliated with 244 yards and 3 TDs in the 2nd half. Now, Peyton probably should have missed some time in the beginning of 2008, cause he really didn't start out all that well (that said, it isn't like with Sorgi they would have beaten the Bears or they only lost to the Jaguars because of a 59 yard field goal), but Peyton decided to play. This was just another thing that Peyton got little credit for. Peyton wasn't known as a fortress, a guy who never got hurt. Peyton just did it anyway.  Broke his jaw. Missed one play.

13.) "God Damnit, Donald!!"

This one explains itself. This was one of the funniest moments I have ever seen on a football field. First of all, Manning instantly realizes that Donald Brown did his protection wrong. Then, with Jarrett Johnson chasing him from behind, and Terrell Suggs coming up from the front, Manning still decides to just let off some stream. That's a man who's calm and knows what he is doing.

12.) He was the respected one.

Ray Lewis called him the smartest player he's ever played against. Ed Reed called him the smartest QB he's ever seen. Opposing coaches have many times expressed their love and fear of Peyton Manning. When the NFL Network did its Top 100 Greatest NFL Players of All Time back during the 2010 season, they polled 80 ex-players, coaches, GMs and media members. Peyton Manning was the highest ranking active player. He was not only that, but ranked #8 overall. He may get forgotten every day when people rank their best QBs, or get slammed for his postseason "failings" but when it comes down to laying your cards on the table, they all know that Peyton is the best.

11.) Rex Ryan is in complete awe of Peyton Manning

Rex Ryan has personally blamed Manning for ruining his chance to win two Super Bowls. Rex Ryan's best defenses were the 2006 Ravens and the 2009 Jets. Both times they ran into Manning in the playoffs. He actually had a lot of success making Manning uncomfortable in the 2006 Divisional Game, but Manning handled every blitz that the Ravens, who had 60 sacks that season, threw at him. Rex Ryan left the game in shock that Manning figured out his blitzes. Then came 2009. That 2009 Jets defense was incredible on pass defense. Manning shredded the fuck out of them. Rex Ryan was in awe of what Peyton Manning was doing during that game. Because of how good that defense was, many Colts fans consider that game Manning's best performance of his career.

10.) Bill Belichick feared him.

It wasn't always this way. Bill Belichick owned the younger Manning. His great defenses could confuse him, pressure him, and make him impatient in a way few could. That all changed in 2005, when Manning shredded the Patriots in Foxboro. All in all though, the real rivalry was as much Manning vs. Belichick as Manning vs. Brady. First of all, those were the two matching wits, but in reality, those are the two teams heartbeat. And one guy ended up really fearing the other. No lead is too much for Manning, and no one knew this better than Bill Belichick. A quick rundown of Manning's near comebacks against Belichick:
  • 2003 Week 11: Colts come back from down 31-10 in the 3rd Quarter, and the rally falls short as Willie McGinest stones Edgerrin James on 4th and Goal from the 1 to end the game. The Colts lose 38-34, but valiantly come back.
  • 2006 AFC Title: Colts down 21-3, and then proceed to outscore the Patriots 35-13 the rest of the way. Manning rolls up a 14-23 for 227 yard performance in the 2nd half as the Colts score 32 points. Win the game 38-34.
  • 2009 Week 9: Colts down 31-14 with 14 minutes to go. Despite throwing another interception, Manning and the Colts score three TDs to win 35-34 (more about this one in a minute)
  • 2010 Weeel 9: Colts down 31-14 with 12 minutes to go. Manning and the Colts score two quick TDs and are on the Patriots 22 when Manning gets hit and throws an interception, nearly missing another 17 point comeback.
Bill Belichick fears Manning. That's the only real explanation for him going on 4th & 2 in 2009. I'm pretty sure Belichick doesn't do this (at his own 28) against any other QB. Against Rodgers, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Brees, Eli and whoever else, no way Belichick takes that risk. You even saw the fear the next year. I have never seen Belichick celebrate harder after a regular season win than his gleeful smile and yell after Manning got picked off in that game last year. He knew he escaped another one. He knew he had survived another Manning onslaught.

9.) Those damn gyrations.

It became an understated story that Peyton's line-calling and fake audibling definitely lessened as his career went on, but for many years Peyton's routine at the line of scrimmage was almost annoying, if it wasn't so funny. I always had the sense that early in his career, most of those signals were fake. However, as his career went on, the things he was barking became less and less ridiculous, they became more and more effective. They actually became kind of coherent to a fan, they meant something. At worst, he always gave the impression that he always knew what he was doing. He always knew what the other team was doing, he had more intellect than anyone. Maybe all of that wasn't true, but Colts fans thought it was anyway, and Manning's signals and audibles and barks made it seem all the more true.

8.) He had that brilliant 2004 Season

Other than his TD% of 9.9 (49 TDs in 497 throws), none of the records Manning set in 2004 still hold. Tom Brady bested his TD record. Aaron Rodgers this year bested his passer rating record. That said, Manning made it look way more effortless. In 2007, a lot of those were Tom Brady throwing short ones to Welker that he took to the house. In 2011, Rodgers relied on a ridiculous amount of YAC. In 2004, Manning just made it look completely silly. It was more ridiculous than anything I have ever seen. What made that season even more ridiculous was that Mannning had that season in a year he threw, at the time, the fewest passes of his career. Brady's big year came with 81 more throws, some of them late in blowouts. Manning very often in 2004 took himself out of games even in the 3rd quarter. Manning threw just one TD that year in the 4th Quarter of a game where the Colts were leading by more than one score. Brady threw six in 2007 in the 4th Quarter where the Pats were up by at least one score. Peyton had the most efficient year ever. The one record he still does hold that I care about is he has the highest single-season DVOA rating of a QB ever.

7.) He changed Indianapolis.

I haven't ever lived in Indianapolis. I probably never will. But I have conversed with enough people to realize what Manning meant to Indianapolis, what he meant to the Colts franchise, what he meant to the sports landscape in Indianapolis. Indiana has always been an auto racing, and more so, basketball state. Bob Knight and U of I. Reggie Miller making the Pacers into contenders. Manning was drafted by the Colts in April 1998. In May 1998, Reggie Miller and the Pacers gave the Bulls arguably their toughest series in Michael Jordan's six title runs. The Colts didn't matter. Fourteen years later the Colts are all that matters. The Colts transformed Indianapolis and Indiana into a football state. There were fears that the Colts might be relocated before Manning came on board. As he leaves, not only are the Colts entrenched in Indy, but they have a brand new, beautiful stadium, and have gotten the distinction of being able to host a Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was Indy. He was classy and non-conceited. He was selfless and personable. He was private, but public enough to put his name on the side of a Hospital. He was Indy's hero.

6.) He was funny, and willing to laugh at himself.

Peyton Manning was made fun of for being such a continuous presence on commercials. But fuck it. They were absolutely hilarious. All of them. All of those MasterCard commercials were not only well written, but Peyton acted really well. He bought into the idea of what he was supposed to play. He made us laugh with him and at him. He wasn't a comedian in interviews, but funny and strong enough that you just know that hanging with him will include lots of laughs.

Even outside of commercials, Peyton was game. He spoofed himself in the ESPYs. He was always willing to make fun of himself. He was willing to make himself seem personable, seem one with the masses. You could have a beer with Peyton Manning.

He was the best athlete I have ever seen on SNL. He seemed like a natural. Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Michael Phelps all seemed nervous. They all seemed like athletes. Peyton Manning seemed something close to a real cast-member. His performance in that United Way spoof was hilarious. Seeing him sip coffee and dead-panning that he "walked around with a salami in his pants, just so he could have a secret" too Kristen Wiig, and seeing him doing it masterfully while Wiig broke. That was a sight.

5.) He had the best 2-minute drill/hurry-up ever.

Peyton Manning ran a 2-minute drill like it was a performance art. One of the best examples was that famous 4th and 2 game. Manning led the Colts on three TD drives in the 4th Quarter, not one of which lasted more than 3 minutes. The first two went 70+ yards, and Manning, without using a timeout, just effortlessly ran a hurry-up. It was so good it seemed like slow-motion. I was complaining they weren't working fast enough, just slowly picking up chunks of yards, but before you know it, they were in the end zone, and barely any time ran off the clock. Peyton Manning once ran a 13 play 2:00 drive against the Titans. There was never a 2:00 drive that Peyton couldn't work out. That is why every Colts fan was so upset at Caldwell for just giving up right before halftime against the Saints in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was the best 2:00 QB I've ever seen. One of the things I will miss most about Manning will only be realized once Andrew Luck gets his first crack at a 2:00 drill.

4.) He could never be sacked.

Since 2003, the most Peyton Manning has been sacked in any one season is 21 times, in 2007. Peyton Manning, even as a rookie QB for a 13-3 team, was sacked just 22 times. Peyton Manning had some really good o-lines in the middle of his career (2003-2007), but starting in 2008, that line just got worse and worse, and Peyton Manning just got better and better at getting rid of that ball. He could never get sacked. He barely got hit. In 2009, with a bad o-line, Peyton Manning dropped back 581 times, and got sacked on just 10 of those drop-backs. 10 tiimes. I mean, good God man. Tom Brady has dropped back to pass about 1900 fewer times than Peyton Manning. He's been sacked 42 more times. Philip Rivers has dropped back 4200 fewer times, and been sacked just 41 less times. Aaron Rodgers has thrown in over 5,000 fewer times, and had been sacked just 50 fewer times. Football Outsiders calculates an Adjusted Sack Rate for o-lines and QBs, which basically measures how few sacks a QB takes adjusted for the amount of times he drops back and adjusted for the opponent. In Manning's career, the Colts o-line has ranked #1, #1, #2, #7, #2, #2, #2, #1, #1, #6, #1, #1, and #1. That is an amazing consistency. He was just the hardest guy to sack, ever. It is the one skill that he is indisputably better than any other QB in the NFL today, and most likely ever.

3.) He was Human.

He wasn't a robot. He wasn't untouchable. He got confused. He threw some bad interceptions. He had mortal days. He could lose games. Peyton Manning wasn't perfect. He wasn't the model hero. He didn't have the flowing locks and the rugged good looks that some QBs do. He doesn't have that face that always inspires confidence. Hell, before Tom Brady took the field on that last drive of the 2006 AFC Championship Game, Manning was praying with his head down, just hoping for the best. He didn't know any better. Peyton wasn't untouchable, and that is part of why we loved him. We knew he could make mistakes. He fell down in January, a victim of a defense that couldn't hold a lead and some inhumanly unfair circumstances of luck. He's lost 3 playoff games at home without throwing an interception. No other QB has lost more than 1. He was a real American Hero, fighting up against the media's scorn and ridicule to finally win and conquer everything, and then just to be human enough to fall victim to his own body.

2.) He could win the most ridiculous games.

Peyton Manning has won a game when trailing 35-14 with 5 minutes to go. Peyton Manning has won a game trailing 27-10 with 6 minutes to go.

He's won a game trailing 31-14 with fourteen minutes to go. Two weeks later, the team was down seventeen again in the first half, and won, again.

Peyton Manning has had his team trailing by 18 in the 2006 Title Game, and then by 11 in the 2009 Title Game. The Colts won both.

Peyton Manning just was never out of a game. Nothing was too ridiculous. The Colts won 7 straight games after trailing in the 4th Quarter. Peyton Manning won a game in Pittsburgh against the eventual Super Bowl Champions without the services of Dallas Clark, and three of the Colts usual lineman, and with Dominic Rhodes as the primary RB. He won a game with less than 15 minutes time of possession.

That might have been the limit to what Peyton could lead a team to do. 15 minutes. One quarter. They still won. They put up 2 points a minute basically. Manning could do anything. I doubt any QB has put up the resume that Manning has with the type of just stupid games he's pulled out.

1.) He was the ultimate Trump-Card.


Peyton Manning, I will never be able to thank you enough. You are a large percentage of the reason that I love this game. You are the reason that so many people in Indiana and around the world love this game. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

All Good Things...

Now I wish I never even added Big News #3 to Friday's post, the one regarding that amateur footage of Peyton throwing at Duke. It pains me to beyond belief that the last video footage of Manning throwing with that blue horseshoe helmet on will be that footage. I'll have the memories, but I can't escape the reality.

The greatest QB I have ever seen is no longer going to be playing QB for my team. The man who literally built football in Indiana. The man without whom that stadium isn't built, the careers of Bill Polian and Tony Dungy aren't fortified enough so they enter Canton, and my personal list of favorite sports memories is 1,000 memories shorter. He's gone. He's coming back, but just like when I watched Roy Oswalt in that Phillies uniform, it won't be the same. Hell, I'll root for him hard. I want him to win the next three Super Bowls. I want him to get the recognition he deserves, the universal acceptance of just how incredible he was. I realize the best way for him to do that would be outside of Indianapolis anyway, but that definitely doesn't make it any easier. Peyton Manning is gone. An institution in the NFL is over. And all I can think is I wish I appreciated it more.

Football, and sports in general, is a weird thing. Even though 99% of the games come with no trophy attached, the only game that inevitably one cares about are the ones that do. This should not be the case. I wish I could forget about the heartbreak that I had to face in the games that "matter" and remember the brilliance in the games that lead up to the games that "matter". But that is the issue. The games in September and October and November matter as well. I have to learn to realize this. That the happiness I derive from my team winning, as well as the depression that comes from my team losing, should not be disproportionately represented by what happened in January.

One of my favorite Colts bloggers, Nate Dunlevy, had a post this past season where he talked about the idea of a "Happy Sunday." That the true implicit worth of a team to a fan is the happiness that that team gives. If the team gives their fans more "Happy Sundays" than not, that team is doing its job. Sure, some Sundays can give more happiness than others, but at the end of each week, did your football team make you happy? That is the only question that matters. For 7 straight years, Peyton Manning gave us a Happy Sunday at least 12 times. I think Manning's injury last year made me really appreciate this idea, that every Happy Sunday you get should be remembered, cherished. It hit me when I was watching Dan Orlovsky lead a 2-minute drill to upset the Texans in Week 16. That game meant nothing. The Colts were floundering worse than anyone expected without Manning, and the Texans were locked into the #3 seed. But I got into it. I was locked in, focused on the Colts for the first time all year. I was given, in that case, a Happy Thursday, but still, the first one I truly enjoyed in the regular season in a while. The first one I thought I could look back on 5 years from now and love.

See, when I look back at all those memorable Manning moments, like the 21 point comeback against the Bucs in 2003, or the greatest passing offense I have ever seen in 2004, or the beatdown of New England in Foxboro in 2005, or the run of great, dramatic moments like winning in Heinz Field in 2008, or the drama of 4th & 2 in 2009, my mind inevitably races past all of that to the fact that all of those seasons for the Colts were 'doomed.' That encompassing those isolated moments of pure joy was a harrowing playoff loss. Those playoff losses for a time ruined those great moments. I mean, 'What's the point of Bill Belichick gambling for it on 4th and 2 if Hank Baskett is going to try to pick up an onside kick three months later?' I would say to myself. The idea of "Happy Sundays" changed all of that.

When I first accepted that Manning was not coming back (sometime in January) it became easier. I can't look forward to Manning bringing Indianapolis another Super Bowl, getting redemption for that loss in Super Bowl XLIV, a loss that haunts me more and more each month. I can't look forward to the next ridiculous comeback. I can only look back now if I want to think about Manning as a Colt. I can only look back, and finally open up that treasure chest of great Manning moments. I can finally start to enjoy Manning's awesome moments un-tethered, because for once, I know that no matter how much I want that redemption, Manning is done in a Colts uniform. This is all he had to give us, and damn was it special.

Peyton Manning won't be a Colt, and I fear that his legacy in Indianapolis will never be truly appreciated by those outside Indy. Had the team just won that game against the Saints, all of this would be different. Everyone would have had to accept him, other than those idiots who think that Terry Bradshaw is the greatest, and therefore, Manning needs more than two rings. I fear people won't remember the Manning era as what it was. People will remember it like the Marino era, and I'm sure the Miami fans do look back with great joy at those years with Marino, but this is different. Miami had great football before Dan Marino. Miami had achieved perfection without Marino. Indianapolis had achieved nothing other than some close, flukey wins by an average team in 1995. Peyton Manning made the Colts. But most of all, as a football fan, he made me.

I probably would have still been a football fan without Peyton, but I would have never been this knowledgeable. I would have never known just how great a QB can be. If I hadn't seen him struggle against Bill Belichick's defenses in the 2003 and 2004 Playoffs, I probably don't know how good a defense and great coaching could be. If I hadn't seem him overcome such incredible odds to win some of those games, I might not believe in comebacks the way I do. If I hadn't seen him unfairly slammed by awful media personalities for not winning enough as an individual in a team sport, I might not realize how bad and low-base a lot of the main-stream media is. If not for Peyton Manning, I would not love football the way I do. And it is time to make sure I use that love to do what is best, remember Peyton for the wins, for the joy, for the brilliance, and for giving me way too many "Happy Sundays."

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.