A look back at New England's worst games this year shows which matchups will be critical in Super Bowl XLIX.
01 Dec 2006
by Mike Tanier
The Fantasy Football Hall of Fame took a small step toward becoming a reality after last year's feature in Too Deep Zone.
Sadly, it also took three leaps backwards. That will happen when a visionary like Virgil Parks pursues his dream. Parks wanted to create a museum where marginal football fans could honor the legacy left by marginal football players. But scandals and corruption threatened to sabotage his effort long before the first shovelful of dirt was thrown into a wheelbarrow. Luckily for Parks and his legions of followers, an unlikely savior emerged to engineer a Frank Reich-like comeback to rescue the Hall.
For readers who missed last year's article, the FFHoF is the brainchild of Parks, serial litigant and drummer for Not Fragile, the third-most successful Bachman Turner Overdrive cover band on the East Coast. Parks was never a big football fan, but he played a lot of fantasy football, and he grew to admire players who did far more for his fantasy team that they did for their actual teams: run 'n' shoot receivers, goal line running backs, and one-year wonder tight ends. Eventually, Parks prevailed on the government of Pennsauken, New Jersey (birthplace of John Taylor) to provide a plot of land for a museum and multi-media showplace. The difference between Parks' Hall and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton is simple. For a Canton HoFer, stats only tell part of the story. For a Pennsauken HoFer, stats are the whole story, or they tell more story than there actually should be.
Parks got a boost when a semi-prominent sportswriter profiled his effort last December. (Author bows regally.) The article piqued fan and player interest, allowing Parks to host a gala dinner at a landmark steakhouse in Pennsauken. Over 500 former players, journalists, and gate-crashers packed the cavernous dining room in early February. Darnay Scott gave a rousing speech about his commitment to great fantasy stats. Barry Foster pigged out on zucchini bread. Rebecca Wells read an excerpt from her latest book, The Fantasy Draft of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Parks was the toast of the town.
At the gala, Parks and the Hall Board of Trustees made an astonishing announcement: the selection committee was waiving the retirement rule and inducting Aaron Brooks before his playing career was over. Committee chairman Olaf Saaksgaard cited Brooks' fantasy accomplishments -- four 3,000-yard, 20-touchdown seasons, one measly playoff win -- and the extreme unlikelihood that Brooks' actual ability will ever exceed his fantasy value as the reason for skipping the normal selection process. "Brooks is exactly like Roberto Clemente would have been if Clemente never did anything heroic and spent his entire career padding his stats," explained Saaksgaard.
The decision created a stir among the few sober writers at the event, but "stir" was what a radical idea like the FFHoF needed (in addition to "buzz," of course). With a star-studded cast led by Eddie George likely to join Brooks in the Hall in 2007, the road to reality seemed smooth. Parks had read his blocks, hit the hole, and had plenty of open field in front of him. Groundbreaking was scheduled for April of 2006.
But by questing for the Golden Fleece, Parks had opened Pandora's Box, and closing it was a Herculean task (gratuitous mythology references courtesy Bulfinch.org). He and the selection committee (which includes the author) weren't ready for the flood of suggestions, requests, and bribes. Well, we were ready for the bribes, but you get my drift. Parks soon became the target of several unseemly lobbying efforts. The first was benign enough: the Society to Induct Ferrell Edmunds into Pennsauken bombarded the committee with hundreds of letters, phone calls, e-mails, 8-by-10 glossies, impassioned pleas, and tchotchke (including Ferrell Edmunds key chains, mud flaps, and tea cozies). "It looked like a mediocre Dolphins tight end exploded in here" Saaksgaard said of the FFHoF offices. At least the Edmunds people didn't resort to violence; when Parks hung up on the representative of a group calling itself the Nick Lowery Legion, he found the tires of his Kia slashed. (Lowery has thoroughly denounced the group. A DHS case is pending.)
While dealing with the lobbyists, Parks faced a financial crisis. A higher public profile meant fewer slip-and-fall opportunities, forcing Parks to find new revenue streams. Disastrously, Parks decided to become a regional distributor for Intelli-Scam, a direct sales pyramid scheme endorsed by his church (Parks is a druid). When money got tight, he invested FFHoF funds in Intelli-Scam. Soon, the FFHoF was bankrupt, its initial investment fees converted into 275 warehouse palettes of cat grooming supplies.
Things went from bad to worse. The FFHoF was mocked as "not real" by Deadspin.com. Selection committee president Saaksgaard's Fantasy Football and Call of Cthulhu blog went bankrupt when many of his readers failed sanity checks. Saaksgaard quickly rebounded with a Fantasy Football and Babylon 5 blog, but even with weekly articles by Edgar Bennett and Peter Jurasik, he lost a large percentage of his audience.
Rock bottom was discovered in mid-May. Parks scheduled a press conference to display what he planned would be one of the Hall's major exhibits -- a triptych illustrating Rob Johnson's exceptional game for the Jaguars against the Ravens in 1997, his signing by the Bills, and the overreaction of fantasy owners everywhere. The center panel, loosely based on The Last Supper, was to feature 12 fantasy owners seated on one side of a table, cheat sheets in hand, expressing shock over Johnson's third-round selection.
But in a fit of Dan Brown fever, artist Claude Lasgoux replaced one of the owners in the picture with an image of Georgia Frontiere. Journalists scoffed. Parks panicked. Saaksgaard threw a bottle of Kettel One at Lasgoux's head. Media attention quickly dried up.
Parks and the committee were downtrodden. Little did we know that our savior was sitting in his basement half a continent away, sorting out kicking tees.
Wyoming native Willy Boland loves special teams more than any other element of football. Some would say he loves special teams more than his own wife. His wife, for instance. "He's always in that damn basement with the damn kicking stuff," she told me when I visited the Boland homestead. "I'm sick of it. Can I, you know, fix you a drink or something?"
I declined the drink and instead visited Boland in his basement, which contains the largest collection of special teams memorabilia in the world. The retired astrophysicist started collecting when he was 16. "It started as a hobby," Boland explained. "Then it became a passion, then an obsession. Then, back to passion for a while, then a compulsion. Now, it's somewhere between a hobby and a pastime."
Boland displays his treasures with the skill of a museum curator. On his south wall hangs a collection of neckties made by Garo Yepremian. A set of snowplow keys, autographed by Mark Henderson, rests under glass next to his hot-water heater. Reggie Roby's wristwatch is displayed next to Boland's Sump Pump. Game-worn jerseys -- Ricky Upchurch, Obed Ariri, Mike Bartrum -- line the walls. "Some people watch football to see touchdowns," Boland explained. "For me, the touchdown is just an appetizer. The extra point and the next kickoff are the main course."
In the middle of the room, lit by two strobe lights and a disco ball, sit a pair of glittering white cleats. I don't need to be told who they belonged to. But Boland told me anyway. "William Arthur Johnson wore those in 1975, the year he returned four kicks for touchdowns. I paid $9,000 for them on E-Bay."
Boland was quite clearly insane. But he was a big football fan with a large memorabilia collection and a little money to invest. I arranged to have Parks meet Boland, and before long, they agreed to a merger -- The Fantasy Football and Special Teams Hall of Fame (FFaSTHoF).
The FFaSTHoF doesn't have a home (except at Football Outsiders), but it does have lots of junk to put in whatever home it finds, plus the worst acronym on earth. And fans now have two types of players to argue over.
If you have been paging down through all of the gags to get to the nominees, it's time to start reading again. First, here are the current members of the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame:
Quarterbacks: Randall Cunningham, Don Majkowski (Charter Members), Aaron Brooks (Class of 2007)
Running backs: Natrone Means, Christian Okoye, Chris Warren (Charter Members), Terry Allen (Class of 2006)
Wide Receivers: Andre Rison, Rob Moore (Charter Members), Terrance Mathis, Ed McCaffrey, Carl Pickens (Class of 2006)
Tight Ends: Ben Coates (Charter Member)
Kicker: Al Del Greco (Charter Member; kickers will remain in the fantasy wing of the Hall).
Coaches/Innovators: Mouse Davis (Charter Member), Buddy Ryan (Class of 2006).
Next, it's time to introduce the inaugural class of special teamers:
Punters: Ray Guy, Reggie Roby
Kick Returners: Billy White Shoes Johnson, Dave Meggett, Brian Mitchell
Gunners: Bill Bates, Vince Papale, Steve Tasker (note: Tasker and Guy aren't getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The voters are just futzing with them).
Now, let's review this year's semi-finalists, with brief profiles for prominent players in their first year of eligibility.
Quarterback: Doug Flutie. Fantasy accomplishments: Minimal, but the guy spent a decade as a media darling despite the fact that he was a glorified bonsai Don Strock. Bonus points for executing the only dropkick ever seen by a living person. Negatives: He apparently was a very good player in some other country.
Quarterback: Rich Gannon. Fantasy accomplishments: Outstanding fantasy seasons from 1999-2002. Scrambling quarterback who ran for 21 career touchdowns. Five interceptions in the Super Bowl. Spent a decade on the bench behind guys like Wade Wilson and Steve Bono. Made throwing sidearm cool.
Quarterback: Jim Everett, Jeff George, Jeff Hostetler, Erik Kramer, Ken O'Brien, Mark Rypien.
Running Back: Charlie Garner: Fantasy accomplishments: Outstanding fantasy seasons in 2000 and 2002. One of the great yardage league players. Was somehow misused by the Eagles for five seasons. Negatives: Never an outstanding player in touchdown leagues. Had seven catches in the Super Bowl and was pretty good in other postseason appearances.
Running Back: Eddie George. Fantasy accomplishments: Seven 1,000-yard seasons. Outstanding fantasy seasons in 1999, 2000 and 2002. Was a better fantasy player than real player for most of his career. Enormous biceps. Completely pointless final season with the Cowboys. Negatives: Was an excellent player in the 1999 postseason and scored two Super Bowl touchdowns.
Running Back: Garrison Hearst. Fantasy accomplishments: Outstanding fantasy season in 1998, with several other good seasons. Constantly injured. Had one of the most unlikely comebacks in history after missing two seasons with a severe leg injury. Delightfully pointless end-of-career stint in Denver tricked many fantasy owners into drafting him in 2004.
Running Back: Moe Williams. Fantasy accomplishments: All-time great leechback season in 2002. Ruined Michael Bennett as a fantasy player. Bonus points for only carrying the ball nine times in the playoffs over a ten-year career.
Running Back: Jamal Anderson, Ernest Byner, Barry Foster, Rodney Hampton, Robert Smith, James Stewart, Ricky Watters.
Wide Receiver: Jimmy Smith. Fantasy accomplishments: Seven 1,000-yard seasons. Was the consummate stat compiler. Seriously, he was a very good player, and we all like him, but what memories do you have of Smith besides the fact that he caught six passes for 75 yards every week for 10 years? Negatives: He had some great postseason games.
Wide Receiver: Antonio Freeman, Michael Jackson, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, Webster Slaughter.
Tight End: Chad Lewis. Fantasy accomplishments: Pretty good fantasy seasons in 2000 and 2001. Donovan McNabb's favorite target. Had a ridiculous 12-catch, four-touchdown season in 1997. Was over-drafted in fantasy leagues for years based on his relationship with McNabb and two Pro Bowl appearances. Negatives: Not a great fantasy player. Like many of our finalists, he did actually play well in the postseason.
Tight End: Freddie Jones. Fantasy accomplishments: Outstanding fantasy season in 2000, with good seasons in 1998 and 1999. Spent four years as the tight end you drafted after all of the good tight ends were taken. Grand imperial sensei of the two-catch, five-yard stat line.
Tight End: Mark Chmura, Eric Green, Alfred Pupunu, Wesley Walls.
Kickers: Steve Christie, Mike Hollis, Norm Johnson, Chip Lohmiller, Nick Lowery, Eddie Murray, Pete Stoyanovich.
Finally, here are the semi-finalists for the Special Teams wing:
Desmond Howard: Won a Super Bowl MVP award. Was overrated and overpaid by the Redskins long before that became their modus operandi.
Eric Metcalf: Fourth on the all-time punt return yardage list. Dad kicked butt too.
Vai Sikahema: Great all-purpose return man who used to box the uprights after a touchdown.
Ricky Upchurch: Eight punt return touchdowns, baby!
Steve DeOssie: Followed Bill Parcells all around the league. Actually started a Super Bowl at linebacker for the Giants. Somehow parlayed long-snapping success into a broadcast career.
Jeff Robinson: Impressive 12-year career as a snapper. Was one of those jerks who caught two passes per year, both for touchdowns at the goal line.
Trey Junkin: That dude who was called out of retirement by the Giants when he was about 52 years old and blew that snap. But, like, he was good before that.
Sean Landeta: Dude kicked forever, man.
Rohn Stark: Led the league in punting average three times and used to punt 90 times per year for those awful Colts teams of the Mayflower era.
Tom Tupa: Gotta love emergency quarterbacks
Rick Tuten: Bonus points for nickname "Bootin' Tuten."
How to Vote: Post your choices (and any write-in candidates) on the message board. Vote for as many candidates as you wish. We'll have some poor intern go through the choices and pick a group of finalists. Then, you can vote for the inductees as part of our annual Football Outsiders Awards in January. Your votes will be factored in with those of the selection committee to choose the Class of 2007!
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