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Friday, April 17, 2009

Boom! John Madden Retires

John Madden is pretty much synonymous with football. Whether its through coaching, commentating or helping to create probably one of the best sports video games ever made, the Monday Night/Sunday Night football analyst is known for his love of the sport he so heavily influenced. As he decides to end his career in commentating, we are left with a void to fill on regular season nights.

The man had a knack for making an average play sound like the most exciting thing that had happened on television. With his signature "boom!" or "bang!", he would draw the x's and the o's right on the screen to make you feel like you were part of a team with him; dissecting the play. He leaves the game better than he found it. Having won a Super Bowl as head coach for the Raiders and an impressive 14 Sports Emmy Awards as a commentator, Madden's mark on the game is permanent for every young football fan to appreciate in the future.

His quirkiness was bold and was also part of his appeal. Only Madden could ride a custom, luxury bus around the country (refusing to fly) from game to game and make it seem like a normal occurrence. His Thanksgiving Day game prize to the winning team was a Turducken; a hybrid bird of turkey, duck, and chicken. His so-called "Maddenisms" are legendary and copied by comedians and fans alike. Stating the obvious to his fans as if it would have never occurred to them, was more of a gift than a flaw.

The video game is where John Madden proved himself to be ageless. Madden NFL Football published by Electronic Arts, is one of the most popular video games to date. It is so popular, that NFL players continue to clamour for the cover of the updated version each year. There has been theory of a "Madden curse" which predicts that the player on the cover will be doomed to be injured in the following season. Although, some players have been injured after being featured on the cover, the curse is believed to be just a coincidental superstition.

We the fan will miss John Madden's voice and presence in the booth every week during the season. We will miss the "boom!", we will miss the turducken, and we will miss all of the "Maddenisms" that filled our evening games. But, I have a feeling that John Madden could never really leave the NFL or the game of football. The game is forever in him and he will forever be in the game.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Must See Games of The 2009 Season

The NFL has released its 2009 schedule and the anticipation of the big match up games has already begun. With the big free agency signings and trade impacts (Cutler to da Bears come to mind) many games will be promoted with even bigger hype than before. Here are the rivalries and rematches to look for in the 2009-2010 season:

Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Opening Day)
The defending Super Bowl Champs Pittsburgh will take on the team with the best record of last season, the Titans in the leagues opening Thursday night game. This is just one of five primetime appearances by the Steelers next season. Tennessee beat the Champs last year 31-14. The Steelers haven't lost a game since.

Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers (week 1)
Jay Cutler and da Bears visit the Pack in their opener in primetime on Sunday night. Chicago's potent defense and new gunslinging QB look to make a good first impression on the season by taking out a division foe on the road. That's a tall order in Lambeau Field.

New York Giant vs. Dallas Cowboys (week 2)
This game will be a very publicized one. The Cowboys will open their brand new stadium and will be without their tortured star receiver T.O. (released at the end of the season). The Giants look to redeem themselves after falling apart in the playoffs and parting with their star wideout Plaxico Burress. This one sets the tone for the division

Indianapolis Colts vs. Arizona Cardinals (week 3)
Are the Cardinals for real? We will find out in this game. They will be at home, which is where they play best. But, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league and was last year's league MVP. Some felt that title should have gone to Kurt Warner, QB for the Cardinals. They will go head-to-head in this game.

San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (week 4)
San Diego has all of the pieces in place to make a run for the Super Bowl. Phillip Rivers has proven that he can lead this team in big games. He's also proven that he likes to start trouble with opposing players and even fans. I doubt he'll take on big Ben Rothlisberger one-on-one. He'll have a chance here. But, with that Steeler defense looking to put him on his back, I doubt he'll be thinking of Ben at all.

San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos (week 6)
I can guarantee that referee Ed Hoculi will not be officiating or even attending this game. Hoculi, one of the leagues best refs, blew a whistle and the call during a game with these to teams last season that pretty much cost the Chargers the win. Former Coach Mike Shanahan infamously went for a two point conversion to win a nail biter in this division match up. This rematch will not be for the faint of heart.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots (week 7, Wimbley Stadium, London)
I don't know why the NFL is so intent on playing regular season games internationally. Perhaps its a plan for world domination. I'm not sure that the British will ever really embrace "American Football", but they tend to show up and cheer. So it counts. I do feel that the Bucs are being robbed of a home game, though.

New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (week 10)
I always love this match up. Its turned into a bonafide rivalry for the ages. I just hope that Brady returns from his injury still playing like the champion he is. Peyton Manning shouldn't disappoint with this standout game at home. He loves a chance to beat the Pats.

New York Jets vs. New England Patriots (week 11)
This is a rivalry for the ages. It does lose some of its luster now that Mangini is gone. That whole teacher vs. apprentice angle is no longer there. Also, the late, great, tape debate should finally be over ( a reference to the Pats being fined by the league for videotaping the Jets illegally during a game). But Jet fans and New England fans truly despise one another, which makes this game all the more entertaining.

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions (week 12, Thanksgiving Day)
Okay, so the Lions aren't high on anyone's watch list lately. But come Thanksgiving Day, this game is always on and always entertaining. The Lions put on a good show and they have even won a few against the Packers when the elements are all aligned in their favor. Besides, some one, some where will mention a turducken.

Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers (week 14)
This match up always seems to get a primetime viewing. The reason for that is the fact that these two teams fight to the very end in a highly entertaining rivalry that leaves fans wanting more. The 9ers and the Cards are 2 and 1 respectively in their division and this match up never disappoints for its sense of urgency and desperation to prove one's greatness. It usually goes down to the last second or into overtime.

San Diego Chargers vs. Tennesee Titans (week 16, Christmas Day)
Nothing like opening presents, eating Christmas cookies, visiting with relatives and watching some live football on NFL network. This match up features two AFC powerhouses that will sure to be in the hunt for a Super Bowl berth. Besides, I'm sure that Phillip Rivers can probably take Kerry Collins in a fist fight.

I believe these games will live up to their billing. I just wish the season was starting next week and not in September. But, that's how the world works. Until then, we have a schedule of games and we are ready for football.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Top 10 NFL Draft Steals of All Time

For my very first top ten Tuesday, I will like to explore the 10 players who were drafted far below their actual NFL value. These players were most likely not even given television time on draft day. They were probably at home watching the draft like the rest of us. But, they did get a call to play for a team and they used their opportunity to become legitimate super stars in the league. You see, its not WHEN you are drafted into the league. Its WHAT you do once you're there.

10) Rodney Harrison, San Diego Chargers (5th round, pick 145, 1995)
They say defense wins championships. Rodney Harrison is a guy you want on your defense. Frequently voted the "dirtiest" player in the league by fans, players, and coaches alike, Harrison is known for his ruthless pursuit of the ball. With 34 career interceptions and 30.5 sacks (the most of any defensive back in history) he is the guy that quarterbacks and offensive coordinators must account for on game day.
Just 2 years after being drafted by the Chargers, Harrison became the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns on an interception return, fumble return, and kick off return in the same season. He later went on to play for the New England Patriots where he won 2 Super Bowl Championships.

9) Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (3rd round, pick 74, 2001)
Steve Smith is the kind of player that I like to label "a baller". Keep that term in your vocabularies, it will be referred to often. Anyhow, Steve Smith is "a baller", a guy who will go across the middle to catch the ball; knowing that he will get annihilated in the process. He's the kind of guy that will lay his body out for the reception, even when its not a touchdown. He's the kind of player that will always get the first down. Just make sure you give him the ball.
Steve Smith was drafted in 2001 and made his first pro bowl in .... 2001. His rookie year, Smith became an accomplished kick off and punt return specialist. By the 2002 season, he was the starting wide receiver. In 2005, Smith accomplished the triple crown of NFL receiving: leading the league in receiving yards, catches (tie), and touchdowns (tie) in one season. He was only the 3rd player in the league to do so. The first player was Jerry Rice, of course. The second player was....

8) Shannon Sharpe, Denver Broncos (7th round, pick 192, 1990)
Denver drafted Shannon Sharpe as wide receiver. But, it was his conversion to Tight End that made him a bonafide NFL star. Sharpe will most likely be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame as one of the best Tight Ends in the game. Known for his loud trash talking (the guy has never seen a microphone he didn't like) Sharpe was always a threat when he had the pads on.
He's played in 8 Pro Bowls, amassed 1,000 yards receiving three times, and has won 3 Super Bowl rings. My favorite Shannon Sharpe play came in the 2000 AFC title game when he was a Baltimore Raven playing against the Oakland Raiders. He caught a short pass on 3rd and 18 from his own 4 yard line and ran it 96 yards for a touchdown. That play solidified the Ravens win and they went on to win their 1st Super Bowl.

7) Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd round, pick 92, 1998)
No matter what happens on the field, Hines Ward is always smiling. Actually, when he wins Super Bowls he does shed a tear or two. But whether its a huge hit from a defensive back, trash talking from other teams, or even an on-field "bounty" placed on his head, Ward always keeps his signature smile and sense of humor.
Smiling aside, Hines Ward is one of the most reliable, accomplished, hard to cover wideouts in the NFL. He's been to 4 Pro Bowls, he's amassed just under 10,000 yards receiving and he's won 2 Super Bowl rings; even a Super Bowl MVP trophy. All by the age of 33. I'd say the Steelers got Hines Ward at a steal. Yes, I actually typed that.

6) Zack Thomas, Miami Dolphins (5th round, pick 154, 1996)
With 7 Pro Bowls and over 1700 tackles, Zack Thomas is a bit scary. This is not the guy quarterbacks want to see on the other side of the ball. With 20.5 sacks and 17 interceptions in his career, Thomas is known for his relentless pursuit of the quarterback.
His story is one of ambition, hard work, and a "never say die" attitude that took him from a base salary player in his rookie year to becoming the highest paid player in Miami Dolphin history (even higher than Marino) in 3 short years. Now a linebacker for the Kansas City Cheifs, Zach Thomas has recorded more tackles than any linebacker in the NFL Hall of Fame. Which is exactly where he's headed.

5) Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (6th round, pick 196, 1995)
Coach Mike Shanahan drafted T.D. and gave him the 6th running back spot on his roster. One thing you have to say for Mike Shanahan; he knows a good running back when he sees one. By opening day, Davis was the starter. He went on to be the lowest drafted running back to get 1,000 yards in his rookie season.
In his first Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, T.D. rushed for 150 yards and scored 3 rushing touchdowns (the first player to ever do so in a Super Bowl). He went on to be Super Bowl MVP. He finished his career with 3 Pro Bowls and 2 Championships before his retirement in 2002. I think that deserves his signature "Mile-High salute".

4) Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (1st round, pick 27, 1983)
I know he was still drafted in the first round. But, 5 quarterbacks were drafted before Marino was. Given what we know today, the Dolphins used their late first round pick to draft, what most feel, was the best quarterback to ever play in the league.
Dan Marino went on to set so many NFL records that I refuse to list them all in this (or any) post. However, in honor of the 27th pick in the 1983 draft, I will list those that are still standing today: Most passing yards in a single season (5,084), most games with 400 + yards (career and single season), most games with 300 + yards (career), most games with 4 + touchdowns (career and single season), most seasons with 40+ touchdowns, and the first quarterback to throw for 100 TDs, 200 TDs, and 300 TDs in the fewest number of games. (whew!) Enough said.

3) Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys (10th round, pick 129 1964)
Staubach was not your typical draft pick. He was drafted in 1964, but continued his military obligations until 1969 when he finally began his rookie year with the Cowboys. He was 27 years old. He finally got real playing time in 1971 where he shared quarterbacking duties until week 8 when he was announced the full time starter.
He went on that year to win 10 games in a row including Dallas' first Super Bowl where he was named the MVP. With over 22,000 passing yards, 153 passing touchdowns and 21 rushing touchdowns to his illustrious career, Roger Staubach was inducted to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985. A not so typical career for the not so typical 10th round pick. Legendary is the best fitting word.

2) Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (3rd round, pick 82, 1979)
This one is hard for me. I really want to put Joe Montana as the best steal in draft history. There is definitely an argument for him to have that label. After being drafted from Notre Dame and providing back up duties for 2 seasons, Joe Montana became the starting quarterback for the 49ers in the 1981 season. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The 49ers became the NFL's most glorified dynasty. His first season as starter, Joe and the 49ers finished with a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl Championship. And Joe, did it all with dramatic flair. In the NFC title game against Dallas, Joe led the 49ers down field 89 yards and finished the drive with a last second touchdown to Dwight Clark to win the NFC Championship. The play was immortalized as "The Catch" and today is remembered as one of the best plays in league history. Joe went on to orchestrate a last minute drive in the Super Bowl to beat Cincinnati for the 49ers first Championship ring.
Joe Montana was just getting started. He went on to win 3 more Super Bowls in 1984, 1989, 1990 (back to back). He was Super Bowl MVP in 3 out of the 4 Championships that he won and league MVP twice. Many believe that Joe Montana was the best quarterback in the Super Bowl era. As a 49er fan, my opinion is biased, but no other quarterback has the Super Bowl record of Joe Montana. If greatness in the league is judged by Super Bowl performance, than no one was ever better than Joe.

1) Tom Brady, New England Patriots (6th round, pick 199, 2000)
So why is Tom Brady the biggest steal in the NFL draft? I will say for two main reasons. The first is his combine performance. The vision of Brady running that 40 yard dash and the photos of him shirtless next to that drab of a sign with his stats listed, are just priceless. He looked goofy and out of his element. Honestly, its a wonder he got drafted at all. The Patriots used a compensatory pick to draft Brady and they were less than impressed with him, to say the least. He did make the team however, as the 4th string QB.
My other main reason for listing Tom Brady as the biggest steal in NFL draft history, is the prolific career he has produced in such a short time. After taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in the 2001 season, Brady went on to win his first Super Bowl. During that Championship game, he orchestrated one of the most calm and cool game winning drives ever seen in the league.
His numbers compare with the best of them; 3 Super Bowl Championships, 2 Super Bowl MVPs, 4 Pro Bowls and a career QB rating of 92.9. He's not even 30 years old. At this rate, Brady will be the best QB of all-time, with the most Super Bowl wins and MVPs of any player by the time he's inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
He may have run one of the worst looking 40 yard dashes I have ever seen, but Tom Brady is a future Hall of Fame quarterback and probably on his way to being the best of all time. For that reason, he's the biggest steal ever in the draft.

Well, that's today's Top Ten. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Next Tuesday, look for My Top 10 Draft Busts of all time.

Top Ten Tuesdays

This may be ambitious, but I have decided to invoke what will be referred to as "Top Ten Tuesday". Basically, from now until preseason, I will provide a top ten list of various NFL players, facts, plays, etc. These lists are not to be taken with extreme seriousness and I'm sure there will be some that disagree with my assessments. But, I felt like adding them purely for entertainment value. So without further adieu .....

Monday, April 13, 2009

QB Matt Stafford will visit the 49ers

You may be wondering why this is news. We know that draft prospects visit dozens of teams before the draft. They check out anyone and everyone who is interested in picking them. Teams look at any viable prospect for their first round pick. So, the most touted quarterback in the upcoming draft visiting the team with the 10th overall pick, shouldn't be surprising. However, communications and dealings between the 49ers and Matt Stafford have been rocky at best.

Stafford visited with 49er scouts at the combine. The 49ers were very thorough in their evaluation of Stafford. They even had their team psychologist meet with him. This is where things got dicey. The team shrink pushed Stafford to discuss his parents' divorce which happened during his childhood. Stafford was not comfortable with the line of questioning, prompting the shrink to state that the QB had "unfinished business" with the divorce.

49er Head Coach Mike Singletary backed up the shrink and stated that "If you're looking at drafting a guy in the first round and you're going to pay him millions of dollars, and asking him about the divorce of his parents, if that's going to be an issue, then you know what, maybe he doesn't belong here"

Following the Coach's statement, analysts and fans alike, wrote off any possibility of the 49ers picking Stafford. And, with the Lions looking to possibly get a QB with their #1 pick, it seemed unlikely that the 49ers would even take another look at the Georgia standout. Now, Stafford plans to visit with San Francisco today. Surprisingly, some draft boards even have Stafford slipping to a lower spot, possibly the 10th. This phenomenon is what I like to call "doing a Leinart"; a reference to former USC QB Matt Leinart's drop to the 10th spot in 2006.

Was the whole divorce/shrink thing overblown? You bet. Do the 49ers have the need for a franchise QB? Does a car need tires? Yes. They need a young, athletic, QB to be the face of their organization. Personally, I was hoping for the 49ers to take Mark Sanchez with this pick. But, if Stafford is available, he will be the best talent on the board at the time. I have to admit that I'm glad that the 49ers and Stafford have decided to meet again. If anything, it shows a willingness to communicate on both sides.

If I were a betting person, I would bet that this visit between the Georgia QB and the 49ers will be a moot point. Stafford will go #1 (or at least in the top 5) and the 49ers will never get the chance to draft him with the 10th pick. Then again, I never would have guessed that Matt Leinart would have fallen to the 10th pick either. Anything is possible on draft day.