Walkthrough: Heaven and Hell
by Mike Tanier
Denver, Tuesday afternoon...
JOHN FOX: Good afternoon, media members. It is time for me to announce who our starting quarterback will be for our next game.
FOX: I have given this a lot of thought, and I am proud to announce that my new starter is...
REPORTER (to himself): Oh, he said "new" starter! It’s Tebow! I know it! Or maybe Brady Quinn. That would throw people off the track.
FOX: Jake Delhomme.
JAKE: Hey, it is great to be here. As you all know, I have worked with Coach Fox for years and, whoops! Screeeeeeeeeeeeee!
REPORTER: Jake, did you just fumble the entire podium?
JAKE: Yes. And that’s on me. I take full accountability for my mistakes. Oh my, I seem to have forgotten to wear pants this morning.
REPORTER: Coach, we know how loyal you and Delhomme are to one another, but isn’t this a little ridiculous? At some point, don’t we have to take a long look at Tebow and see what we have, instead of putting obstacles in his way?
FOX: Jake Delhomme is not an obstacle! He is a quarterback I am comfortable with. And this has nothing to do with the fact that his great-grandfather pulled my grandfather out of a foxhole in the Ardennes during a mustard gas attack in 1917. Anyway, we only have to pay him $21 million over three years, because he is still getting paid by the Panthers and Browns!
JAKE: I am just so happy to be here in Miami!
REPORTER: Denver! This is Denver! Didn’t you see the damn mountains? Mountains! Who ever heard of a mountain in Miami?
JAKE: Mountains are like free safeties. I kinda tune them out.
REPORTER: Oh, how can things get any worse?
ANDY REID: Mmmm, let’s start with the catastrophes. I am proud to announce that we have hired a defensive consultant.
REPORTER: Thank heavens. I wonder if it is Chuck Cecil? He was a good coach in Tennessee. Or Jeremiah Trotter? That would be more of a public relations move, but anyone would be better than who we have now.
ANDY REID: This new coach has won championships. And he also has a long history with the city of Philadelphia.
REPORTER: Who could that be? Dick Vermeil? That would be awesome! Or Bill Cowher? He did play for the Eagles, so you could stretch things to say he had a "history" here.
REID: Ladies and gentlemen, Terry Francona.
FRANCONA: Hey, it is great to be back in Philly, and I cannot wait to set the Eagles' starting lineup and defensive bullpen.
REPORTER: What are you talking about? Terry, do you know anything about NFL defense?
FRANCONA: Does Juan Castillo?
REPORTER: Good point.
REID: Mmmm, Castillo will be given the Dana Bible Memorial Headset, the one that lets him play Call of Duty during games.
FRANCONA: You know, I had my arms wrapped around Joe Buck during an American League playoff broadcast the other day, and I could not help nuzzling him and saying, "Gee, it would be great to give football fans the kind of experience I just gave Red Sox fans."
REPORTER: How can things get any worse?
Peyton Hillis: Good afternoon, folks. I know you have some questions about me missing a game with strep throat on the advice of my agent. I am happy to inform you that I will now get all of my health advice from a personal medical consultant.
REPORTER: That is great news. I wonder who it is? Maybe Doctor James Andrews?
HILLIS: This person has been dedicated to providing medical advice in a public forum for many years.
REPORTER: A national expert? C. Everett Koop? Dr. Phil?
HILLIS: Ladies and gentlemen, my new health guru, Jenny McCarthy.
JENNY: Hi everybody! Chicken pox vaccines make baby Jesus run backwards!
HILLIS: Under Dr. McCarthy’s guidance I ... cough! ... know that I will not miss time ... cough!
REPORTER: Peyton, do you have whooping cough?
JENNY: He will be fine. He just needs, like, some multivitamins and stuff. And some cold cream for those bumps on his face that are totally not measles.
HILLIS: I am feeling a little feverish. Can you stick another leech on my neck?
REPORTER: How can things get any worse?
In New York, or wherever the NBA labor negotiations are held...
DAVID STERN: I know we cancelled the first two weeks of the season, and no one cares at all because there is football, college football, baseball playoffs, the start of the NHL season, and new episodes of Modern Family to focus on. We are, however, serious about bringing you all the excitement and drama of early-season NBA action, no matter what it takes.
REPORTER: Finally, it sounds like there might be some progress. I don’t want to wind up like Albert Breer, melting slowly on a city sidewalk while waiting for an agent to text me.
STERN: We have hired a special outside negotiator to cut through the rhetoric and get things done!
REPORTER: Hooray! Maybe it is DeMaurice Smith. I will be able to cover games and feed my family!
STERN: Ladies and gentleman, a Ranting Al Pacino.
PACINO: Hoo-hah! Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Hoo-hah!
REPORTER: Mr. Ranting Pacino, I know you were a great actor once, but how do you plan to help the NBA when all you can do now is pose and scream?
PACINO: I plan to take a flamethrower to this place! Now I would like some John Daniels!
JON DANIELS: Hi, I would just like to say that it has been great to work with Nolan Ryan to rebuild the Rangers organization.
PACINO: Not you! A glass of whiskey! Hoo-hah! That is how I order whiskey! Hoo-hah! Now say hello to my little friend!
JON DANIELS: Err, is that my cue?
PACINO: You don’t have a cue, little man! The horror, the horror.
REPORTER: That’s Brando! You can’t even keep your rants straight! Can it get any worse?
STEVE JOBS: They sound lost without us down there, Al.
AL DAVIS: Just putt, baby.
Al Davis is watching under us.
When eulogizing an individual like Davis, it feels disrespectful to not make a wisecrack about his "evil mastermind" persona. That persona is part of his life’s work. To take too high a high road is to defang him, and Davis spent four decades convincing us that he actually had fangs. Heaven may want him, but hell is definitely afraid that he will take over. Davis liked that we thought of him that way.
The devious Davis is the one we will remember, not the out-of-touch character of recent years, who probably was not as out-of-touch as jokers like me made him out to be. The Raiders of recent years have been mismanaged, and their football philosophies have been backward-thinking, but they shared those problems with many, many other teams whose owners/executives did not have the benefit of being genuine pioneers. Davis was a better executive than Matt Millen, better than anyone who has floated through the Rams organization besides Dick Vermeil. He had been the best football executive in the Bay Area since the Yorks took over. He was no worse than the guys who ran the Cardinals, Bengals, and Browns at various times in the last decade. His scouting department may have atrophied until all that was left was a "best available speedster" reflex, but at least there was a recognizable philosophy at work. Better an outdated idea than no idea, or a jumble of ideas.
The Raiders were the last NFL team that had the personality of a small, regional business. There was a time when all of the NFL and AFL teams were essentially midsized community businesses, like big car dealerships or local banks. They still counted on the local Kiwanis club to buy season tickets and still reached out to the community in some meaningful way, not one annual charity event or an August "Fan Appreciation Night." They took on the quirks of both their cities and their owners, so the George Halas Bears had a personality that was different from the Dan Reeves Los Angeles Rams. Now, the Bears’ personality, when it is distinct from other teams at all, is just leftover Halas personality. The teams have been, for many years, just 31 slight variations on the same corporate structure, and then the Raiders.
That old-fashioned, do-it-yourself mentality weakened the Raiders on the field over the last decade, but again, at least they were weaklings with charm. When the Rams are bad, they are a bad fast food hamburger, while the Raiders are a strange, overcooked burger with unusual toppings at a small-town diner, something that is at least is recognizable as food that was assembled by a human. The Raiders had all the strengths and weaknesses of a privately-owned concern, like an independent record store downtown. The record store may close on Tuesdays, just because. They may not stock Coldplay, because the guy who runs it thinks only wankers like Coldplay, but there is a whole wall of untouched Jimmy Rodgers LPs. Record Store Guy can’t compete with Amazon, or Best Buy, or iTunes. And frankly, we don’t go to Record Store Guy’s shop anymore. But we want to root for him, and we want him to succeed, in some way that does not require us to buy his merchandise.
And that is the Al Davis paradox: we simultaneously liked to make fun of him, found it easy to write columns about his whacked-out decisions, and wished we lived in a world where guys like him could still build a team or rule a league, completely upon the singularity of their cleverness and will. He sounds like a hell of a person to have to work for, but at least you were certain you were working for a person.
There have been greater football minds in NFL history, some of them active in the league today, but Davis was more than a football mind. There are not many ground-floor entrepreneurs in the major sports anymore. Vince McMahon is the only one who leaps to mind, though pro wrestling is not really a sport. There could never be a league full of Al Davises, because franchises would bounce all over the place, owners would sue one another, and no one on earth would be crazy enough to take the commissioner job. But if there had not been a few Davis types in the past, like Al Spalding or Eddie Gottlieb, we might not have professional sports in the way we now recognize and enjoy them. Halas, Bert Bell, Bill Veeck, Walter A. Brown: these guys made rules and bent laws, supplied something to consumers who did not know how much they demanded it, and built leagues and empires out of daring ideas.
Davis was one of the last of the founding fathers, but he was also the voice of dissent. Football’s Machiavelli, Thomas Paine, and George Carlin in a white track suit. The last of the seat-of-the-pants sports executives. A true maverick, not someone who uses the word as a slogan. It was his football, baby, and nothing was going to take it away from him.
My guess is that he made it to heaven before the devil knew he was dead. He was, after all, obsessed with speed.
I would like to apologize to Doug Baldwin.
I wrote an article about rookie wide receivers last week, and I left Baldwin out of it, even though he was among the rookie leaders in receptions and yards. I was pressed for time and space, and I was trying to tie the article in with the Packers-Falcons game, so I decided to highlight Randall Cobb instead of Doug Baldwin. I do not watch much Seahawks football, because they reside in my SEP field. I had the impression that Baldwin was just a receiver of necessity in their rickety little offense, and that he would disappear when Sidney Rice returned.
After watching the Giants game, I realize that Baldwin is very good. He is quick, has a knack for exploiting zone coverage, and can hold onto the football after making a catch in traffic. His touchdown against the Giants was an easy play -– he was wide open because two Giants defenders bit on a fake screen pass -– but his other catches in that game were far more impressive. He runs up the seam from the slot in a hurry. He can make things happen after a screen pass. Baldwin is small, does not appear to have great deep speed, and doesn’t have the elite shiftiness of a Percy Harvin, but he is bright beyond his years. He is a young Derrick Mason, which the league needs, because the old Derrick Mason is all worn out and needs replacing.
Sorry, Doug. I promise not to exclude you next time.
As for you, Mike Tice, I mean everything I ever said about you.
Stuck for Luck
As the Eagles were publicly humiliating themselves on Sunday, my bartender turned to the regulars in the back of the tavern and declared: "That’s okay, guys, we’ll get the first round pick and draft Andrew Luck next year."
A follower on Twitter asked me if the Rams would or should select Andrew Luck if they end up with the first overall pick.
In Indianapolis, of course, "Suck for Luck" is a grass-roots movement.
Colts fans get a pass on this one: coveting Luck makes sense for them. Even if Peyton Manning comes back fit as a fiddle next year, he will be a 36-year-old fiddle with the kind of neck condition that doesn’t get better with age.
But Eagles fans coveting Luck? Michael Vick is signed for eighty years. He is one of the few players on the roster not making completely idiotic decisions right now, the pick-six by Nick Barnett not withstanding (many of his other interceptions have been tipped balls). Watch footage of the Eagles’ offensive line, and you will see that any other quarterback in the league would have died twice in the first five games.
As for the Rams, Sam Bradford is off to a very poor start. His receivers are Brandon Gibson and Mike Sims-Walker. He is trying to master a new offense. The entire team is in disaster mode. The Rams have about a dozen needs more pressing than bailing on the guy who was everyone’s quarterback of the future three months ago.
Rams fans should be pumped up about getting a top receiver like Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffrey. The guys at Walter Football suggest that the Rams should target USC tackle Matt Kalil, and even coined the phrase "Fall Flat for Matt." Eagles fans should be dreaming of linebackers, but since everyone knows that the Eagles won’t draft any linebackers unless the current regime is overthrown, we could also get psyched about falling flat for Matt.
Of course, Luck is a quarterback, and he is the highest profile prospect in the nation, so it is fun to speculate about him. Fans in Seattle and Miami can dream of a future with Luck. Fans in St. Louis and Philadelphia should dream of a future with Bradford or Vick. The problem is that a great offensive tackle is not exactly a sugarplum dancing in your head when your team just lost and the future looks grim. The guys at the bar probably won’t rally around the excitement of a new left tackle arriving next April.
But a wide receiver or running back? They are almost as much fun to speculate about as quarterbacks. So if you are a fan in a city with a non-emergency at quarterback, and you want to paint a picture of a rosier future, don’t use Luck. Get All Pumped for Alshon or Bent for Trent Richardson.
And if you are in Denver, wait a few weeks before making your decision.
The Tebow Show
I watched the whole Tebow show on Monday morning -– all ten passes and six runs from Sunday’s loss to the Chargers -– looking for something to diagram. I settled on the end-of-game Hail Mary. It encapsulated the Tebow experience nicely. He had no idea where to go with the football. His scramble was about three times as dramatic as it needed to be: the little ballet-spin move he made with no defender within two yards was particularly precious. His eventual throw was off target, though it was hard to be certain who his target really was. That said, it was a lot of fun, and it nearly worked.
|Figure 1: Like a Record, Baby|
(As shown, the play did reveal that Knowshon Moreno can give an exceptional effort when pass blocking. At one point, Moreno goes to the ground and cuts Shaun Phillips, gets up, sees Tebow scrambling back in his direction, and chips another lineman. The play was really a Moreno highlight reel).
Tebow’s other passes were variations on this theme. He never threw the ball on time. He backpedalled after his first read, scanned the field in confusion, then heaved the ball in the general direction of a receiver. Brandon Lloyd can catch anything in his general direction, so he hauled in one pass. Moreno took a screen 27 yards. Most passes were too high or too low, and all were too late.
The runs were better, of course, particularly the designed runs. John Fox and Mike McCoy seem reluctant to call them. Fox and McCoy do not even like the shotgun much: Tebow was often under center, and he bobbled several snaps. Putting aside the fact that Tebow has had two seasons to master the center snap, most teams now have a large enough shotgun package that they should not have to force their quarterback to play under center, particularly when trailing in the second half. There appears to be some institutional stubbornness at work: Tebow does not fit McCoy’s system, but McCoy did not do much to make him fit in the Broncos game, at least in the first few series.
It was encouraging to learn on Tuesday that Tebow will finally get a crack at starting. I hope he gets a long crack: four games at least, a whole season preferably. I don’t think he will be good. I believe he will look something like an unprepared Vince Young on his best days. If he fails, he must fail incontrovertibly so the Broncos can get on with things. If his running and his intangibles make him a viable quarterback, then McCoy must get busy molding the offense to him.
Fox should have taken care of all of this in August. Tebow should have started the preseason games. Fox knew he had one of the most famous athletes in America, a symbol of the excesses of the previous regime, languishing on his bench. He knew Tebow would be a headache for Orton and a potential public relations nightmare. Fox chose to go the "no one in the locker room hears the fans cheering or cares" route, which was silly. This is not a case of the fans liking the backup better because that is what fans of bad teams do. This is fans choosing a cultural figure over a journeyman non-entity, and the only way Fox could prove he was making the right decision is by proving himself right. Either A) Orton had to be be really good in McCoy’s system, or B) Tebow had to be bad in any system.
Plan A has failed. I am not rooting for Plan B to fail -– Tebow is great copy and fun to watch -– I am just eager to see the Broncos get on with things. Come April, I want to either be writing about the Broncos’ future with Tebow or penciling rookie quarterbacks into their mock drafts. Broncos fans probably feel the same way, because two years of speculation is more than enough.
So if Tebow goes 8-for-24 next week, with more rushing yards than passing yards, I will still support Fox’s decision to start him. Come mid-November, maybe we can talk about Orton again, Or Brady Quinn. On second thought, lets stick with Orton. Until then, stick with Tebow.