What do you call a fifth-round rookie WR with real expectations? Tajae Sharpe, and there may not be another player like him in NFL history. Tennessee's poor history of developing wideouts has led to a rare opportunity that Sharpe can seize this season.
27 Jan 2011
by Mike Tanier
Location: A McMansion in the Greater Chicagoland Area
Jay Cutler: Whew! What a day. It's great to be home, where I can rest my knee and tune out the ridiculous criticism I have been receiving. Wait, who the hell are you?
Amy Chua: I am Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I am your new life coach.
Cutler: Life coach? I don't need a life coach. I am calling the police. But ... Why won't my cell phone work?
Chua: I canceled your plan, you pathetic weakling. Your phone, texting, and social networking privileges are suspended until you win three Super Bowls.
Cutler: That's crazy! And what did you do to my walls? They are covered with newspaper clippings of Sunday's loss and headlines questioning my toughness. That's awful!
Chua: Do the headlines make you feel ashamed? Inadequate? They should, because you do not meet my standards, or anyone else's. We deserve better! I also taped 30 hours of talk radio hosts arguing about whether you were really injured. I control the volume. Now study the playbook until sunrise, or else I will turn the volume up ... Up ... UP ...
Cutler: Arrgh! It's too much. I will study. Let me just feed my cat and then ... Oh my God, what is Mister Snugglesocks doing in that cage over the deep fryer?
Chua: If you love Mister Snugglesocks and want him to live, you will go to the backyard and hit the bull's-eye on the cardboard Johnny Knox's chest 50 times from 30 yards away. Do it 60 times, and I will tell you where I hid the insulin needles.
Cutler: You monster! You cannot do this! I am an NFL player. I have powerful friends!
Chua: Oh really, do you have as many friends as the NFL player I have chained to your dishwasher?
Antonio Cromartie: Jay, you have to fight this crazy woman. She's a total as ... yeeeeeeeoooooooch!
Chua: I told you, Antonio, that every use of the a-word comes with a 3,000-volt price tag.
Cutler: Look, maybe your system makes sense for Cromartie, who could stand to get a little more involved in the parenting process. But I don't deserve to be treated like this!
Chua: Really? Because when I look in your eyes I see a weakling who has grown lazy and lax, who has squandered opportunities, and who let everyone around him down.
Cutler: At least I am not an egomaniac who claims to have my children's best interests at heart, then destroys their privacy and exposes their entire childhood to vicious mass-media scrutiny the moment I can turn a quick buck and make myself the center of attention.
Comartie: Burn! Burn! Go Jay, tell that crazy bi ... yeeeeeeeooooooooch!
Chua: I ... I have never been questioned before. Maybe we can both learn something. Maybe I must realize that the relationship between parent and child isn't a competition or a fashion statement, but something personal and private, something that requires both firmness and flexibility.
Cutler: And I must realize that image control is part of my job. I not only have to cut down on my interceptions but also have to keep working to gain the trust of fans. We're alike in a lot of ways: Much of the criticism against us is thoughtless and unjustified, with radio hosts using us as talking points and Internet smart-alecks taking shots at us for cheap laughs. But that doesn't mean we can't each do better, work past the interceptions, injuries, and crazy-mom stereotypes, and change some minds.
Chua: That sounds fair. Here is your cat and your medicine. And here's the remote control for the Cromartie Zapper.
Cutler: That's all I really wanted.
Cromartie: YEEEEEOUCH! You want the Gradkowski Zapper! YEEEEEOUCH! C'mon, man, I let Johnny beat me for a touchdown last month! Don't be an a- YEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOCH!
The Pro Bowl: The all-star game everyone takes pains to avoid, even the participants. The Pro Bowl is the intersection of an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii and a trip to the dentist, but it shouldn't be. With a little paradigm-splintering recontextualization (or, possibly, some changes), we can create the Perfect Pro Bowl.
Here's my proposal for transforming the Pro Bowl from an afterthought into an event:
The Pro Bowl is played in Honolulu to encourage players to show up. I think that plan has backfired. At the end of a season of flying around the country, players don't want to take a long flight anywhere. In the past, their wives may have pressured them into a family vacation in Hawaii, but the modern Pro Bowler is wealthy enough to go on any vacation he wants, on his own terms. And of course, normal fans cannot just load up the Winnebago and drive to the game.
The NFL moved the game to Miami in 2010 (and back to Aloha Stadium this year), but here are some better ideas than taking everyone's talents to South Beach:
If the Madden video games taught us anything, it's that 15-minute quarters are just too long for anything other than an actual football game. In the Perfect Pro Bowl, quarters will be five minutes long. We're bringing this event in at less than two hours, introductions and all.
The shortened quarters will limit playing time for backups, most of whom are only there because someone better declined to play. Oh well. It will also curtail the running game, so if you tune in to watch Michael Turner plunge off tackle, you are out of luck. All-Star games aren't about off-tackle plunges. Great starting pitchers have to content themselves with pitching to three batters in the fifth inning of baseball's All-Star game, and Turner might be limited to a fourth-and-1 plunge. Those are the breaks.
The league made a huge mistake by limiting strategy in the Pro Bowl. Teams can only line up in preset formations, can only play man coverage, and so on. It's exactly backward. In my plan, teams will be required to call one trick play per drive: a reverse, direct snap, option pass, or quick kick. Defenses will be forced to zone blitz so I can see nose tackles drop into coverage. If the coach doesn't comply, his team loses its first-round draft pick. The results will be unpredictable, exciting, and fun to watch.
Finally, two players from each roster will be designated "Inertia" selections. These are guys who make the Pro Bowl every year purely on reputation. Jason Peters and Adrian Wilson get the inertia award for the NFC this season, along with Ray Lewis and Jeff Saturday in the AFC. In baseball, fans want to see aging superstars play in the All-Star game. In football, no one really cares if Lewis or Saturday is on the field. The Inertia selections will each spend one quarter in the broadcast booth and three quarters hanging out in the crowd talking to fans. Would you buy a Pro Bowl ticket if the game was in New Orleans and there was a chance that Jason Peters would sit next to you? No? What if he were sitting behind you, so you weren't quite so crowded? That's better.
The Home Run Derby is cool. The Slam Dunk Contest used to be cool. The Three-Point Contest is geeky-cool. The hockey skating-and-shooting contests have quirky charm.
Unfortunately, NFL skills competitions are lame. Watching quarterbacks throw at targets is boring. Obstacle courses are only funny when 300-pound linemen are running them. The league and NFLPA wouldn't dare let players risk injury in a touch football game or some kind of televised weightlifting competition -- memories of Robert Edwards are still very fresh.
The solution? The NFL should borrow skill competitions from the other sports! During Perfect Pro Bowl Weekend, there will be a home run derby, a three-point competition, and a slam dunk contest. Players will be required to compete in at least one of them.
Admit it: You want to see Michael Vick or Roddy White dunk. And if Haloti Ngata or Shane Lechler can dunk, you definitely want to see it. Tony Gonzalez versus Matt Light in a three-pointer contest? I will tune in. As for the home run derby, construct a mini-Green Monster at some practice facility, make it about 300 feet to dead center so these guys have a chance of reaching it, and require Chris Johnson to swing for the fences while his peers and family look on. Television gold.
Players who don't want to participate in the athletic events will have to compete in an American Idol-like singing competition or a cooking throwdown against Bobby Flay. The coaches will have to face one another in chess, with the highlights to be interspersed among the other events.
You may think that these competitions would persuade players to come up with even more fake injuries. I think players would enjoy it. These guys love reality television, and many of them get a kick out of showing off non-football skills. And if the real Pro Bowlers refuse to participate, then I will settle for the players who show up. Really, I don't care who the Pro Bowl tackles are. If Tyson Clabo is the sixth-best tackle in the NFC, but he showed up at the Pro Bowl because he thinks he can hit a baseball or cook crabcakes, I will watch him, and to heck with everybody else.
The Pro Bowl and the NHL All-Star Game both take place on Sunday, which is a good idea. I am more likely to carve out time for two sports-ish "events" than one. To make the Perfect Pro Bowl work, there must be a harmonic convergence of all the winter All-Star games. The Senior Bowl, currently on Saturday, will be moved to Sunday. The NBA All-Star Game doesn't take place until February, and the NBA guys might not want to play along with us, because people actually watch their All-Star game. Given the right financial incentives, the NBA could be persuaded to line up with the other leagues, creating a wild Sunday of All-Star goodness.
To maximize fan interest, the games will run on a staggered schedule. The Senior Bowl can kick off at 1 p.m. (all times Eastern). Puck drops on the NHL at 3 p.m. The Pro Bowl kicks off at 5 p.m. The NBA gets the primetime treatment at 7 p.m. No matter when you sit down on your couch or barstool, you have two All-Star choices, plus pregame silliness or postgame highlights from other events.
The existence of a multi-sport All-Star Weekend will minimize that uneasy anxiety you feel after watching five minutes of the Pro Bowl -- that yawning, "I am wasting my life" ennui that sends you racing out to play catch with your children or change your smoke alarm batteries. On Perfect Pro Bowl Weekend, you aren't squandering precious seconds watching meaningless, half-hearted football. You are switching around sports, soaking in the pageantry, watching North America's greatest athletes in action, and immersing yourself in the deep wellspring of liveliness. At the very least, a four-game feast will hold your attention for more than 10 minutes.
There you have it: the Perfect Pro Bowl. A short game with up-tempo rules, wedged among other All-Star games on the television schedule, played in a city you can actually reach, surrounded by wacky events. It may sound more like a sideshow than a game, because that's what any All-Star game really is. It's all about fun!
And I will NOT be live-blogging it this year.
Anybody can rank the quarterbacks or coaches; I wanted to take a whack at the kickers. These rankings only include kickers who played for Super Bowl champions, and they are mostly subjective. They are based on the kicker's career, not what they did in the games themselves. I gave weight for being on multiple Super Bowl teams, for being a major contributor to those teams (like Matt Stover, who often had to provide all of the Ravens offense), for Super Bowl heroics, and for having a long, interesting career. Here is the list, from worst to best:
Jim O'Brien: O'Brien won Super Bowl V with a 32-yard field goal; before Adam Vinatieri, it was probably the most famous kick in Super Bowl history. O'Brien was 4-of-9 from the 30-39 yard range during the regular season, so the Super Bowl winner was hardly a chip shot for him. O'Brien was 13-of-31 on field goals two seasons later in 1972, but he did pitch in with 11 receptions at wide receiver. His career ended a year later.
Lin Elliot: When the Cowboys were clicking, they didn't really need a kicker to do anything but handle extra points. See Chris Boniol.
Shaun Suisham: Here is where he goes if the Steelers win.
Garrett Hartley: In between the slumps, suspensions, and John Carney resurrections, Hartley often gets the job done.
Chris Boniol: The Cowboys didn't ask much of Boniol, who could handle extra points and 35-yard field goals well enough. The Eagles were so impressed by Boniol's 87.1 percent accuracy that they signed him as a free agent. Once asked to kick 45-yard field goals regularly, Boniol proved to be terrible.
Errol Mann: Not a terrible kicker, but a guy the Raiders grabbed midway through the 1976 season when George Blanda finally retired and someone named Fred Steinfort went 4-of-8 on early attempts. Mann had a fine little career with the Lions and kicked for two more seasons in Oakland.
Mike Clark: The Cowboys' kicker in the early 1970s. He was 6-foot-1 and wore No. 83 in the 1960s, so he was clearly a holdover from the days of non-specialist kickers, but he has no receiving statistics.
Mike Cofer: An extra-point specialist for the 49ers of the George Seifert era. Cofer routinely missed one or two extra points per year, but he still made the Pro Bowl because he attempted 61 of them.
Ali Haji-Sheikh: A rookie superstar in 1983 who was already a has-been when he kicked for the Redskins in 1987. If his name didn't cause a flashback, there's:
Raul Allegre: Replaced Haji-Sheikh for the Giants and was slightly better. The mid-1980s were the Golden Age of Unusual Kicker Names. The rush on soccer-style kickers was so crazy that guys like Haji-Sheikh -- born in Michigan -- were caught in the dragnet of little guys with exotic-sounding names. The stereotypical tiny Cypriot has been replaced in the last 15 years by strapping Ryan Lindell types, definitely a boon for those of us who cannot spell.
Mason Crosby: Here is where he goes if the Packers win.
Martin Gramatica: A throwback to the 1980s: A 172-pounder from Argentina who was great from 1999-2002, then came down with a dead leg.
Doug Brien: Converted 60-of-62 extra points for the 1994 49ers, picking up exactly where Mike Cofer left off. He went on to a long, ordinary career with the Saints, Jets, and other teams.
Jeff Reed: Not a bad kicker. Attracted too much attention to himself.
Chris Jacke: A big-legged kicker who went 6-of-7 from 50-plus yards one year but was already starting to lose it when the Packers became a Super Bowl team.
Efren Herrera: Another mediocre Cowboys kicker. Herrera went on to have a few decent seasons in Seattle. The Cowboys' best pure kicker in history was probably Rafael Septien, but Septien never kicked for a Super Bowl champion.
Lawrence Tynes: Your basic modern-day kicker.
Chip Lohmiller: Led the league in attempts four straight times for the Mark Rypien-era Redskins.
Kevin Butler: He attempted 41 field goals for the 1986 Bears, who didn't have much of an offense. He hung around for years after that, kicking just well enough to keep his job.
Jim Turner: He was an early-era specialist kicker who had a long career with the Jets and Broncos.
Don Chandler: An old-school kicker-punter, Chandler played for the Giants for several years, then finished his career with the Packers and kicked in the first two Super Bowls. I probably have him overrated here, but he is getting credit for his punting and the fact that he was good for one 27-yard run on a fake per season. Not to be confused with Don Cheadle.
Roy Gerela: He started his career as a kicker/punter for the Oilers. A tricky guy to rank, because he kicked for the mighty Steelers, but I am skeptical of a guy who went 50-of-90 from 30-39 yards in the 1970s, when guys like Garo Yepremian were making those kicks about 75 percent of the time. He and Chandler belong together as so-so longtime kickers for great teams.
Ray Wersching: An Austrian soccer-style kicker with good short-range accuracy; one of the Stenerud-Yepremian wave of kickers who was still in the NFL by the late 1980s. Wersching gave the Niners a dependable decade.
Jeff Wilkins: Wilkins did some of his best work after the Rams peaked in 1999-2001. Being a modern kicker for a dome team with a high-powered offense helps his stats, but he was very good for many years.
Garo Yepremian: Going 11-of-15 on 40-to-49-yard field goals in 1970 was an accomplishment. He's best remembered for that all-time blooper pass and for shouting, "I kicked zee touchdown!" but he was a great kicker and, by all accounts, an interesting dude.
Eddie Murray: Earned a Super Bowl ring with the 1993 Cowboys (and kicked darn well that year) but ranks this high for 12 rock-solid seasons in Detroit and a long career as an ever-ready foot for hire.
Chris Bahr, Matt Bahr (tie): When I was on the NFL Network's "Top 10 Football Families," I tried to argue for the Bahr clan, who have a total of four Super Bowl rings. Matt took over for Gerela in Pittsburgh, endured a long exile in Cleveland, and then resurfaced as one of the heroes of Super Bowl XXV. Chris kicked for the Raiders for most of the 1980s. If I was going for real precision, Chris might be down in Gerela's territory, but I like keeping the brothers together.
Matt Stover: A truly great modern-era kicker for a Ravens team that always needed every point it could get.
Adam Vinatieri: This feels about right. We had a habit of deflating Vinatieri's "Mister Clutch" rhetoric around here five years ago. Since then, he's picked up another Super Bowl ring and had several more efficient seasons for a great team.
Mark Moseley: Moseley became a celebrity kicker when he converted 95.2 percent of his attempts in 1982. It was a strike-shortened season, and he didn't attempt many long field goals, but Moseley's accomplishments for a good team testified to just how accurate kickers had become over the previous decade. Moseley was one of the best long-distance kickers of the 1970s, going 13-of-28 on 40-plus yard attempts in 1977, before becoming the super-accurate veteran kicker of the 1980s. He may really belong below Vinatieri; both were overrated in their best seasons but had long, interesting careers.
Jan Stenerud: He went 12-of-13 on kicks of 17-to-19 yards in 1971, then converted 91.7 percent of his attempts a decade later, neatly connecting the era of short field goals through goal posts that were actually on the goal line with the era when 45-yarders were becoming nearly automatic. He was a great kicker in his 20s and his 40s, but his career had a soft, creamy center. The Hall of Fame voters selected him in 1991, then took 20 years off.
Jason Elam: Stenerud is getting lonely as the only modern era kicker in the Hall of Fame. He will probably be alone for a while. Gary Anderson and Nick Lowry didn't get past the preliminary nominee stage this year, not that either is an outstanding candidate. Morten Andersen will soon be eligible, and I believe he deserves serious consideration, as does Elam. With four Super Bowl rings and all those famous kicks, Vinatieri is probably going in. I am OK with that. Even though there have been better kickers over the last decade, he has a unique resume. Elam was unique, too, and he has the right mix of a long career, Super Bowl appearances, and personal statistics to make a serious case. If Stenerud is still alone in a decade, it's a sign that the voters are just being obstinate.
80 comments, Last at 03 Feb 2011, 2:35pm by Bright Blue Shorts