"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
21 Oct 2010
by Mike Tanier
If you listen to ESPN Radio, you are probably aware that Troy Polamalu's hair has its own website. But being an intelligent, busy person, you wouldn't dream of visiting a site that's nothing more than an extended shampoo commercial.
That's why I am here. I headed to www.Troyshair.com on Monday morning expecting to see Shockwave games of shampoo bottles blasting dandruff flakes. With expectations that low, I didn't think it was possible to be disappointed.
Once Troy's Hair loads, you are greeted by a giant image of Polamalu, from the nose up, staring at you intently through your screen. His famous mane flows out to the corners of your screen, giving his head a shape somewhere between a trapezoid and an earthen burial mound. Polamalu's facial expression is supposed to be intense, but instead it looks like a mixture of anger and confusion. He's not thinking, "I can't wait to sack Joe Flacco." He's wondering, "How the hell did I get roped into this?" Move your mouse around, and Polamalu's head turns so that you can see his profile or a three-quarters view. You can even turn it completely around if you want to know what it's like to sit behind a Steelers safety in church.
There's stuff in Polamalu's hair. I would expect the Head & Shoulders people not to load their spokesman's hair with foreign objects since their product is supposed to make hair, you know, clean. Head & Shoulders fights dandruff, but apparently it's powerless against MP3 players, magic markers, and miniature helmets that become lodged amid your curls. Yes, Polamalu's famous hair is horribly infested with links.
Those links lead to the kind of interactive stuff you would expect from this kind of site, except with "clever" names. You can take part in the Polamalooza or play Quizamalu, which allows you to "prove your superior man-knowledge" (important, because your sperm count drops 97 percent the moment you visit a shampoo website). There's an Appamalu for your phone and a Polamalizer for your photos. There was probably more, but all of the polamarketing made me barfamalu.
After a healthy purge, I was ready to explore deeper into Polamalu's hair. First up, that man-knowledge. Question 1 asked: "How long is the average career of an NFL running back?" The choices were 2.5 years, 5 years, 7 years, and 10 years. I chose 2.5 years.
Wrong: The computer says 10 years. "Try another question and see if you can save yourself from further embarrassment," the Quizamalu card taunts.
Really? Ten years? The average running back? LaDainian Tomlinson is in his tenth season. That's an average career? Eddie George played nine seasons. I guess he had a below-average career, length-wise. The Head & Shoulders marketing people can't possibly be wrong.
Next question: Which one of these is not one of Troy's hobbies: growing flowers, making furniture, cross-stitching, or playing piano? I guessed piano, because the only football player I can remember who admitted to being a decent piano player was Joey Harrington. Wrong! Making furniture, the only truly "manly" of the four pursuits on the list.
Clearly, I had the wrong idea about man-knowledge: It's not about facts, it's about random guesses and how intimately I scrutinize the finishing-school-worthy hobbies of an immaculately coiffed male athlete. I am starting to think I am not the target audience for this site.
By the fifth question, I was asked which of four players was involved in the Immaculate Reception. I chose Franco Harris, since Frenchy Fuqua was not on the list. The computer told me the answer was Jim McMahon. No kidding.
Time for a different link. The Polamalu Playbook promises to show "Troy's gameplan for ridiculously thick looking hair" and introduces visitors to three "enemies" that can make hair look thin. No, age is not one of them. Oil and sweat buildup can turn hair into "lifeless clumps," but Head & Shoulders has surfactants that zone-blitz the buildup and deliver helmet-to-helmet molecular hits that send those oil and sweat globules straight to the locker room beneath your shower drain. Your girlfriend's shampoo is another enemy. It may contain too much conditioner, but Head & Shoulders is "tailored-conditioning for a man." Men, of course, scratch their heads like lice-ridden cave dwellers because of dandruff, but guess which shampoo has a Hyrda-Zinc formula, plus the electrolytes that plants crave? Screw hair care -- I'm drinking shots of this stuff to preserve my masculinity before it's too late! The Playbook also has video that I couldn't get to load. It's probably of Jim McMahon throwing to Wayne Gretzky during the Immaculate Reception.
OK, now to the good stuff: polamalizing my photo, or troycapitating myself, or whatever. Before I could upload a photo of my face embedded in black curls, I had to register with the website. And oh, how I had to register. My password needed eight characters and numbers. I was asked two verification questions about my elementary school and my first girlfriend's name (Our Lady of Unspeakable Penance, conveniently, is the answer to both). It then asked for my address and phone number. I have a mutual fund with a major international firm, the kind that hires computer geniuses to discover new prime numbers to ensure site security, but I don't think their site asked as much personal info as this site devoted to a Steelers' hair, all so I could engage in some cut-rate Photoshop exercise.
But I love you, dear readers, love you enough to give them two credit card numbers and an imprint of my house key. I then had to scroll through a 453-page Terms of Service agreement confirming that I was authorized to use my photo, that it wasn't part of my elaborate plot to get rich by selling hairy caricatures of people at carnivals, and so on. Sure enough, once I registered, the application was easy to use, and voila! I created a version of myself with swathed in surfactants and Hydra-zinc.
Except that I couldn't just grab the photo. The site told me I had to wait until I got an e-mail link. Twenty minutes passed and nothing happened. I got scared. I gave the shampoo people a lot of personal information. Was my bank account getting drainamalued?
While I waited, I voted in an all-time NFL hair tournament. I chose Polamalu over Brian Bosworth. McMahon, Mark Gastineau, and Bob Golic were also among the Field of Eight. Sadly, it appeared that the contest was completed. I wasn't allowed to cast any other votes, or to write in Tom Brady as an alternate candidate. An hour passed, and no photo. A day passed, and no e-mail link. It's just as well. The disclaimer probably prevented me from profiting from the picture, so I wouldn't be allowed to post it here anyway.
Two days after my experience on Troy's hair, I'm still lamenting the lack of surfactants on my soul, but I am also wondering who thought the site was a good idea. Also, do people really think of football fans this way? I can see the market research team now, sitting around a table brainstorming for Polamalu ideas. "Football fans are stupid, so just put anything you want on the trivia cards. They are also hyper-macho trash talkers, so make sure you insult their manhood constantly, making jokes about man-knowledge and girlie shampoo. Just make sure they have to enter a 43-digit PIN to enter the site, because we wouldn't want some hacker to tunnel in and make us look bad."
I also wonder if Proctor & Gamble, who makes Head & Shoulders, knows that the ESPN morning team is sending listeners to a poorly constructed website that makes their company look pretty terrible. Usually, I rope my kids into exercises like this, though I am a little gun shy after the Ochocinco cereal sex-line incident. My son would probably love a polamalized photo of himself; he would print it and bring it to school for laughs. Luckily, I didn't show him the site, because he would have been disappointed to learn that the photo would just disappear into the cyber-ether. Kids are about the only people who would get anything out of a site like this, but there's nothing really on the site for kids, or adults, or real humans.
This marketing campaign is probably running its course, anyway. I have a feeling that next year we will discover that Head & Shoulders is offering the chance to have our hair Lincecombed. I'll decline.
Joseph Addai had a 46-yard run before injuring his shoulder on Sunday night. It was the longest run of his career. Addai's longest run before that was a 41-yarder in his rookie season.
Don't those career highs sound a little low? Addai has been a featured back in a great offense for more than four seasons. He's had 954 rushes, and he's a fast guy -- the kind of back you'd expect to peel off a few 60-yarders. But while Addai has had some long receptions, including a 73-yarder, he's ripped off an amazingly small number of longer runs.
Addai inspired me to look up the longest runs by history's greatest backs. Walter Payton's longest run was a 76-yarder; Emmitt Smith had a 75-yarder. Tony Dorsett had the longest run in history, of course, a 99-yard run in 1982. All of the Top 10 rushers in NFL history recorded at least one 70-yard run. Of the 10,000-yard backs, Ricky Watters had the "shortest" long run, a 57-yarder in 1995.
You would expect a pretty close correlation between players' all-time rushing yardage and their longest runs, at least at the top of the list, before lots of other random factors kick in. I didn't run the regression, but it looks pretty tight. The 10,000-yard backs typically have 70-plus yard runs to their credit, but as you dip to the next tier, you see guys like Terry Allen (32nd all time, 8,614 yards, 55-yard high), Earnest Byner (34th all time, 6,261 yards, 54-yard high) and Larry Csonka (39th all time, 8,081 yards, 54-yard high). To have the kind of long career that gets a back into the all-time top 50 in rushing, he must have some explosive big-play ability early in his career. In today's football, a guy who leaves college as a step-slow piledriver just won't last long enough or get enough opportunities to crack the leader boards.
The highest career rushing total for a back whose longest run was fewer than 40 yards belongs to Mark van Eeghen, who was one of my favorite players up until Super Bowl XV. Van Eeghen was an old-school fullback for the Raiders who rushed for 6,657 yards (58th all time), but his longest carries were two 34-yarders. Van Eeghen was cool, but he was about as un-Addai like as can be. He made his living off fullback bellies, not stretches and draws.
Addai ranks 184th on the all-time rushing list, right between Anthony Thomas, whose longest career run was 67 yards, and Barry Foster, whose longest career run was 69 yards. On Sunday night, he passed Bam Morris, Gerry Ellis, Jon Arnett, Wilbur Jackson, Clarke Hinkle, Timmy Brown, Rocky Bleier, Randy McMillan, Walt Garrison, and A-Train. Let's see, you've got a Hall of Famer, a war hero, and a guy who liked to drive around with six pounds of weed in his trunk, among others. Quite a night's work. Garrison was a legendary plodder, a fullback whose longest career run was 41 yards, same as Addai's once was. In fact, Addai is now 45 yards ahead of Garrison, so his 46-yard run almost exactly marks the difference between them.
Addai needs 12 yards to pass Foster, a one-year wonder who suddenly lost the will to play football in 1994. Once Addai gets healthy and off the bye week, such luminaries as Harvey Williams and Leroy Hoard are within his sights. A 100-yard game will vault him all the way past Nicholas Vincent Pietrosante, a nice Irish kid from Notre Dame who played fullback for the Lions in the 1960s in 173rd place. Pietrosante made the cover of Sports Illustrated as . Pietrosante asks his toddler daughter why he plays football. "To make money to buy me salami," she replies. Tremendous. Addai may be catching up with a legendary lunchmeat provider, but he shouldn't get too full of himself. Julius Jones is still ahead of him on the all-time list, as is Michael Vick.
As Addai climbs the all-time list, he'll almost have to add some more long runs to his repertoire. The days when van Eeghen could grind out a 10-year career on four-yard gains is gone. Addai has had a unique career, but he's already on the downside. Every 40-yard run counts as he battles to get past the Fosters and Pietrosantes of the world.
Chris Ivory, the Saints' leading rusher with 233 yards, attended Tiffin University.
Nate Washington, the Titans' leading receiver with 227 receiving yards, also attended Tiffin University.
Tiffin Univeristy, 3,422 students, located in Northern Ohio, somewhere between Cleveland, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Tiffin Dragons are a Division II team with a 1-6 record. The Dragons lost to the Northwood Timberwolves on Saturday, allowing 399 rushing yards in an important GLIAC shootout. They face Ohio Dominican on Saturday. It's Homecoming.
The Dragons went 0-11 last year. The fact that Ivory only played four games probably had something to do with it, though one running back can only do so much in a 62-0 loss to Northern Michigan or a 38-8 loss to Wayne State. Ivory wound up at Tiffin after getting dismissed from Washington State University, so he didn't get a chance to rewrite the Dragons' record book. Washington, on the other hand, holds most of the school's receiving records: receptions (212), yards (4,214) and touchdowns (47).
No Tiffin player has ever been drafted by the NFL, and despite the success of Ivory and Washington, it appears unlikely that the team will become a talent pipeline -- unless they can stop GLIAC foes from enjoying 400-yard rushing days. But that doesn't mean that Tiffin is completely off the map. Troy Vincent is scheduled to speak at the college on November 5. The topic is "Cool Solutions." Vincent's current NFL job is to operate as an "early warning system" to teach incoming players about becoming better citizens. So naturally, he's taking this important message to the GLIAC.
Tiffin sounds like a lovely, sleepy little campus, and the Homecoming events list features a pub crawl, which sounds like the perfect cure for a possible loss to a Dominican college (the Ohio Dominican Panthers are 1-5 but coming off a win against Findlay). A little low-level football might be just the cure for a week spent staring at hair shampoo websites, or whatever. On Sunday, Nate Washington takes on the Eagles and Chris Ivory takes on the Saints, and Tiffin alums can take heart that their football program is no laughing matter.
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