Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.
16 Jun 2011
by Mike Tanier
Finally, a Walkthrough intro that seamlessly combines the three things we love the most: NFL history, Scandinavia, and boobies.
Patricia Rooney Mara is the great-great granddaughter of both Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. and Giants founder Tim Mara. A stunningly beautiful descendent of football founding fathers, Mara is like the NFL made flesh. And that flesh is on generous display in the movie poster for the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Here, and VERY NSFW.) Rooney Mara is Lisbeth Salader, in the greatest casting coup for the scion of an NFL founder since Mildred Bell Halas earned the role of Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. (She later died in a bizarre makeup application accident.)
I have never seen Mara act. I have not seen The Social Network, because if I wanted to see people waste their lives on the Internet, I would put a mirror behind my laptop. But I feel like I know Mara intimately after seeing the movie posters. She does rather inhabit Lisbeth's character in the photos, displaying the genetically-endowed toughness to tame the Jack Lamberts and Sam Huffs of the world, as well as a naked vulnerability that comes naturally from being naked.
In the European version of the film, Lisbeth Salander is not just a sexy Gothic super-hacker, but also the Rich Kotite of sexual power politics. After a corrupt government "guardian" (a parole officer, I think) extorts sexual favors from her, she concocts a plan to go to his apartment, alone but armed with hidden cameras, to catch him in the act of assaulting her again. Alas, he is far more aggressive the time around, and she is treated very brutally. Fortunately, she gets the footage she needs on the guardian, then turns the tables on him with some graphic sexual violence of her own.
There must have been some rain on the chart when she came up with that strategy. Perhaps the hacker should have tried, say, hacking? The novel and film make it clear that Lisbeth can slip right onto the computer of journalist Mikhael Blomquist and monitor his murder investigation from afar. A guy who sodomizes women under his legal care probably has some pretty incriminating stuff lying around his hard drive. Perverted government officials are well-known for their discretion when using computers. Of course, films about characters who sit around and type on computers rarely become hits, though Mara has a knack for getting cast in them.
The original film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sold itself as both "serious art-house fare" and "woman's empowerment," which meant that many of my female high school students found themselves sitting next to mom with a bowl of microwave popcorn, expecting to see a thriller with a powerful female lead that might contain a little salacious material here and there. Whoa boy. My students' descriptions of watching the uncomfortably long assault sequences were far more entertaining than the film, which juxtaposes torture porn with the tale of a dour journalist investigating a murder by talking to boring people. The constant sexual violence is supposed to be an allegory for the intrusiveness of the Swedish government, I think. Subtle. If my wife ever finds anything smutty on my hard drive, I will claim it's allegorical. "Those two guys are doing to that girl what the Cowboys did to the Broncos in Super Bowl XII." On second thought, I will just claim that the girl in the nurse's outfit is really the great granddaughter of both Curly Lambeau and George Marshall, and that I am just researching a Walkthrough. In about five years, I will just blame the kids.
The movie poster reveals one important difference between the American and European versions of the film -- this Lisbeth has breasts. Noomi Rapace does not. Do not be angry, Scandinavian readers! I did not say she was not beautiful. In some photos, she looks like Natalie Portman with smaller breasts. In others, Jennifer Garner with smaller breasts. The sequels are out in Europe, and Lisbeth becomes much more androgynous, looking at times like Sid Vicious, but with smaller breasts. If Mara is naked half as long as Rapace was, we will get plenty of opportunity to get acquainted with the gals, Danni and Wellington.
By snagging the Lisbeth role, Mara is said to be "making a name for herself." She doesn't need a name. She has two wonderful names; three if you really like "Patricia." Her names will ring through football history forever. And when she's done simulating sodomy for our allegorical amusement, she may want to return to her roots. Mara would make a great spokeswoman or host for NFL Films or the NFL Network. If nothing else, she could liven up NFL's Top Ten with tall tales from both families. That show could use some more attractive talking heads.
She just needs to put her clothes back on first.
If you missed my "Twenty-four Hours in New York Sports" travelogue, it is still archived on the Bats blog. Between that project, some other articles, and the end of the school year for my wife and kids, I am pretty gassed, so this Walkthrough is a little light.
I received a lot of feedback during the trip, and one thing I noticed is that it's not enough to dislike a sport anymore. We have to dismiss it. The go-to insult is to say that something is "not a sport." A couple of you did that on the comment boards here. I don't mean to call you out, because I saw the same thing on the Times message boards, heard it from friends before I left and from strangers I talked to on the road, and so on. I have probably said it a few times, and not just about cup stacking or rhythmic gymnastics, but about more traditional things I happened to dislike.
A few people said that track is not a sport. Let's call ancient Greece and tell them to cancel the first Olympics. Horse racing also has a few thousand more years of history under its belt than the NFL, so let's agree that it's a sport. The WNBA suffered the usual reflexive insults every time I brought it up to anyone. You can hate the fact that it's an overhyped league that has been jammed down our throats by an even more overhyped league. You can find women's team sports at the post-collegiate level perfunctory and uninteresting. But it is still freakin' basketball, played in a big league arena by athletes who could clobber you in a game of 1-on-1. It's a sport. It's just not your sport. Or mine.
I don't mean to sound preachy. Hearing and reading variations on the same joke got very old. It's fun to argue the merits of various sports and kid about the habits and preferences of fans. But writing something off as valueless is pointless.
The Steelers were covered a few months ago, so it's time to cruise through the rest of the NFL North. Let's get the franchise that has only been around for 15 years out of the way first.
1. Joe Flacco. Congratulations to the Audubon High School baseball team, winners of the New Jersey Group 1 State Championships on Saturday. Brian Flacco was one of the key performers for the Green Wave. There is never a short supply of Flaccos in this world.
2. Vinny Testaverde. Vinny worms his way onto a lot of these lists. He is here because of his excellent 1996 season. If you have not guessed, this is strictly a Ravens list, with the Browns covered in a few paragraphs.
3. Steve McNair. The top seven Ravens in Approximate Value over at Pro Football Reference are all defenders or offensive linemen. Then you get Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap. Flacco ranks 22nd, though he will shoot up the board with a solid year this season. Testaverde is 34th. Kyle Boller is 48th. McNair and Tony Banks are tied for 74th with guys like Jameel McClain. McNair had one strong season in Baltimore, which is one more than just about any other quarterback had.
4. Kyle Boller. Boller had just one 300-plus yard passing game in five seasons with the Ravens. His best game, a four-touchdown effort against the Giants in 2004, was mostly an along-for-the ride performance. Boller led 27- and 14-yard touchdown drives, plus a zero-yard field goal drive, throwing for just 219 yards as the Ravens defense forced turnovers and handed the offense the ball in Giants territory. Boller played well in that game, but as "best games ever" go, it's a sad little entry.
5. Don't make me pick among these guys. Let's talk about the Bengals instead.
1. Ken Anderson. People who advocate Anderson as a Hall of Famer point to his excellence from 1973 to 1975 and his MVP-caliber performances in 1981-82, constructing scaffolding between those two peaks to suggest that Anderson sustained that level of performance for a decade. He didn't. Bill Walsh left Cincy in 1976, Paul Brown began a program of Blast from the Past personnel management, and Anderson broke a bone in his hand in 1978 and suffered back ailments in 1979. When offensive production exploded from 1978-80, Anderson did not join the party. By the start of the 1981 season, he was a 32-year-old with injury issues who had not had a truly good season since 1976. He then had two magnificent years, one of them strike-shortened, before hitting his real decline.
Anderson's career is similar to Kurt Warner's: tiny college background, early and late success with a long lull, a legendary coach and young-gun offensive guru mentoring him early in his career. Warner was 1-2 in Super Bowls, Anderson 0-1, with a 2-4 lifetime playoff record. Warner is a borderline Hall of Famer in many people's minds (at least if you ignore the fact that he was great copy, which is hard to ignore). Anderson's credentials are not as good.
Analysts knew that Anderson was among the best quarterbacks in football in 1974 and 1975; I found a Sports Illustrated article calling him the best quarterback in football before the 1976 season, noting that the "computers" gave him a 93.5 rating. Anderson was making coffee commercials in 1982. He wasn't some unnoticed player rediscovered later by statisticians. He isn't being kept out of the Hall because voters disrespect or misunderstand stats. He is missing the whole middle of his career. That is why he is not in Canton.
2. Boomer Esiason. The Sam Wyche-Esiason Bengals were a lot of fun to watch. Esiason ran the no-huddle offense very well, threw a great deep ball, spread the wealth to a bunch of receivers, and could scramble. He was better than Jim Kelly in his best seasons, but his peak was shorter and his surrounding cast was not as good.
Esiason had a second tour of duty with the Bengals in 1997, winning four games and throwing 13 touchdowns during Bruce Coslett's extended effort to humiliate Jeff Blake. It's never a good idea to bring a lovable veteran on his last legs in to finish a season: Boomer retired after the season, Blake lost credibility in the organization, and the Bengals went into a seven-year funk.
3. Carson Palmer. Palmer appeared to be destined for No. 1 before his 2008 injury. Now, the Bengals organization wants him to suffer for their sins.
4. Jeff Blake. He was a little mad bomber who scrambled pretty well and had two excellent years before running into a buzz saw named Bruce Coslett. Coslett was a Baby Parcells who amassed a 47-77 career coaching record. He did not like Blake for some reason, so he put Esiason, then Neil O'Donnell, and finally Akili Smith in his way. When Smith flaked out, Blake had one more solid season, but the organization got rid of both him and Coslett. Blake went on to have serviceable seasons for the Saints, Ravens, and Cardinals, hanging around for years as a backup. Coslett would have been better off giving Blake the ball and letting him air it out.
5. Virgil Carter. This is a darn good list for a pretty bad franchise, isn't it? Legend has it that Bill Walsh designed the prenatal West Coast Offense to accommodate Carter, a small, smart quarterback playing behind a bad line. Carter completed 62.2 percent of his passes in 1971, evidence that Walsh was working his magic. Other than his brush with strategic history, Carter was nothing special as a quarterback.
Greg Cook was the greatest one-year wonder in NFL history, if you count players who only played one year. Cook suffered a devastating shoulder injury early in his rookie season, yet somehow returned to action after a few weeks. He led the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and efficiency rating while doing permanent damage to his throwing arm. He had Ben Roethlisberger's size-arm-toughness-running package. Carter replaced him, and Walsh began shortening drops, adding reads, and taking away deep throws to accommodate the quarterback change. That's part of the West Coast Offense story as told, anyway; it is starting to sound a little like a Paul Bunyan tale in the retelling.
1. Otto Graham. Let's say that there was a super-team in the USFL in the 1980s. Take Jim Mora's Baltimore Stars, who had Sam Mills and Bart Oates, and add Jim Kelly, Reggie White, and Herschel Walker. These Stars won our fake USFL every year, and when the league folded, the NFL figured they would make a fine replacement for the Colts in Baltimore, bringing the Birmingham Stallions and Memphis Showboats along to fill some other markets.
The alternate timeline Baltimore Stars, entering the NFL in 1986, are immediate contenders, with a fine coach, great quarterback, tough running back, and excellent defense. The Stallions and Showboats are much weaker, though the Stallions survive a few years without folding and the common draft could get them back on their feet. Twenty-five years later, the distinction between the USFL-era and NFL-era stars has blurred.
Now here's the question: If all of this had happened, would you consider the USFL a "major" league? And if Kelly had three USFL championships to go along with his NFL efforts, would you make an argument that he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history?
The case for the AAFC being a bona fide equal to the NFL is based largely on the fact that the Browns dominated the AAFC, then entered the NFL and promptly took over. The fact that the Browns completely blew away the AAFC is evidence that the league was not an equal to the NFL. It was more like college basketball's Big West Conference back in the UNLV heyday: one monster team with a bunch of punching bags.
The AAFC Browns were full of great players like Graham, Marion Motley, Mac Speedie, and many more, just as our juiced-up Baltimore Stars can claim a lineup full of Hall of Famers. The other rosters in the AAFC had scattered talent, like the USFL had in 1985. One of the best non-Browns in the AAFC was Spec Sanders, tailback for the New York Yanks. He rushed for 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns one year, throwing for another 1,400 yards. He was a superstar in the AAFC. He survived one year in the NFL as a punter. Pete Layden of the Yanks intercepted seven passes in 1949 while rushing for 576 yards. He lasted a year as a one-way player with the NFL's Yanks (not the same franchise, but a bad team that gobbled up the Yanks name and a lot of AAFC talent) before disappearing. Chet Mutryn, a 179-pound halfback for the old Bills, scored 10 touchdowns one year and rushed for more than 800 yards twice in the AAFC. He never played in the NFL. The Yanks were 8-4 in the AAFC's final season, the Bills 5-5-2. These teams were full of stars who could only play in the NFL as backups or specialists. The AAFC was better than the USFL, I believe, and there are plenty of extenuating circumstances at work (like a war that forced players to start their careers at age 27), but the concept that AAFC stats are completely analogous to NFL stats of the same era is silly.
None of this has any impact on Graham's status as a great player or Hall of Famer (or on Motley's, Speedie's, Joe Perry's, or that of any other star on those great Browns and 'Niners teams). It does puncture holes in his Greatest Quarterback Ever argument. Graham dominated the AAFC, but his statistics drop noticeably when he entered the NFL. They eventually bounce back, but not quite to 1946-49 levels. Had Graham played in the NFL, I think he would have been in the same mix as Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, and later Norm Van Brocklin, but he would not have lapped the field. My evidence is that he didn't lap the field when the leagues finally did merge. He may have been the best of that bunch, but not by the margin that his AAFC stats indicate.
Again, Hall of Famer, legend, innovator. I am as leery of giving him too much credit for beating the Chicago Rockets as I am about giving Kelly props for wins against the Jacksonville Bulls.
2. Frank Ryan. The most overlooked quarterback in football history, hands down. The greatness of the early-'60s Browns has been ignored. We all know about Jim Brown, but Brown is immortalized as a one-man show, just like O.J. Simpson and the early-career Walter Payton. Ryan led the NFL in touchdowns with Brown in the backfield, then did it again with Leroy Kelly. Ryan led the Browns to the championship in 1964 and got them close a few other times. All of the credit goes to Brown, Kelly, Paul Warfield, and others. Ryan deserves more than the footnote treatment. He is not a Hall of Famer, but I think his Hall argument is no weaker than Anderson's or Ken Stabler's. He deserves to be talked about once in a while.
3. Bernie Kosar. Probably the least-coordinated looking great athlete ever. Kosar ran like an overgrown toddler and threw like he was trying to shotput a watermelon, but it all worked.
4. Brian Sipe. Sipe earned the Captain Comeback reputation with seven fourth-quarter comebacks or game-winning drives in 1979 and four more in 1980 (nod here to the real Captain Comeback, Scott Kacsmar of Pro Football Reference). It was a pretty amazing run of heroics, and Sipe was an excellent trigger man for a high-powered offense for several years.
Sipe was the NFL MVP in 1980; in 1984, he was the quarterback for the New Jersey Generals. Younger fans have no idea what a serious competitor the USFL looked like in its first two seasons.
5. Milt Plum. The Danny White of Browns history, wedged between Graham and Ryan the way White got stuck between Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. Plum reached the Pro Bowl twice, but he was perceived as a functionary who took orders from Paul Brown and handed off to Jim Brown. That's a more accurate description of Plum than of Ryan, who got a similar reputation despite the fact that both Browns were gone by the middle of his career. Plum is one of the best No. 5s we have encountered.
Bill Nelsen was a solid player for a good Browns team that still featured Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield. Testaverde had his moments. No current Browns quarterback is in danger of cracking this list. If we combined the Browns and Ravens, Flacco is a season or two away from overtaking either Plum or Testaverde, whose stock goes up when you combine his Ravens and Browns exploits.
95 comments, Last at 11 Jul 2011, 12:01pm by JimZipCode