I used to like the Pro Bowl. The images of Hawaii, the relaxed look at the players, the sideline interviews, and the chance to see the league's best perform against each other were enough reasons to warrant viewing of the end of the season highlight game. When the game was played in Honolulu at teh end of the NFL season, it was the perfect showcase for the NFL. It was an end of the year celebration. It was never really about who won the game, but rather, which players could dominate it. Four times Minnesota Vikings won that honor, the MVP of the Pro Bowl. Fran Tarkenton was the first in 1965, and Adrian Peterson the last only a few years ago.
Today's Pro Bowl, cast between conference championships and the Super Bowl, is more a showcase of how little the players think of the game. Sure, ten of the twenty-eight missing players will be excused because they are in Super Bowl XLV, but isn't that who we wanted to see? For whatever reason Aaron Rodgers was left off of the roster, but six other Packers will be absent. But fear not, there was six Cowboys selected. Add five Giants and five Eagles and the NFC roster takes on an East feel, despite their ineptness in 2010.
The missing list includes a who's who of the NFL. Offense? Try missing Rodgers, Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Gates, Tom Brady, Maurice Jones-Drew and a few of the league's best linemen. On the defense, Dwight Freeney, Nnamdi Asomugha, Lance Briggs, Ed Reed, Asante Samuel, Ndamukong Suh, and Brian Urlacher, to name a few. I will even miss watching Clay Matthews, the dominant long-haired pass rusher of Green Bay. The long hair really bugs me, but can he play!
While I would not place the Pro Bowl in the same light as the All-Star games in the NBA and NHL (absolutely no defense), I think MLB has a better game. No, not the call-it-a-draw game, but the chance to see the game's best play hard. In baseball, one can play hard and not risk injury. Such is not the case in the other sports. The NFL simplifies defenses so as to avoid injuries. The result is a lot more scoring. While it is similar to the other sports, football's intensity seems to hide the softness of the All-Star venue better than hockey or basketball. I know when I am watching a 14-12 hockey game something is missing.
So today we sit back and watch the Pro Bowl if we has absolutely nothing else to do. I am debating taking the ice out of the gutters or viewing the game.
And it is a tough decision...
First, it should be made clear, it was the NFL, not the Eagles, who wussified football. The blizzard conditions on Sunday, about enough to delay a school start here in Minnesota, crippled the city of Philadelphia and forced the second postponement of a game for our Vikings. The "Tuesday Night" crew even pointed out that the Vikings have now had more games postponed than the Twins, by 2-1 margin.
So the game was moved. And when Tuesday rolled around it was a beautiful night, a clear field, and a chance for Michael Vick to showcase his MVP-like talent in front of a national audience. Only someone forgot to tell the Minnesota defense. Antoine Winfield played his best game in some time, and the front four with its' interchanging parts and added blitz help, made Vick's evening a sore one. We hit him so much he began to play like a ...wuss.
The game did not start out like it was a Minnesota night. The highly favored Eagles scored first, grabbing a 7-0 lead early in the contest. Michael Vick was taking many shots from our defense (which ironically looked like the Eagles defense), but delivering with runs and short passes well enough to move the football. Joe Webb began with short passes too, only he looked awkward at first, His short swing passes seemed to have a little extra air time, and the result was minimal gains. Adrian Peterson was held in check as well, and it looked like the beginnings of a long night. I must admit I turned away for the commercials to check on the Golden Gophers basketball game at the Kohl Center more than once.
It was not until Winfield stripped Vick of the ball and scored that Minnesota looked like it might win. Suddenly, the defensive attack on Vick begin to bear fruit. Despite numerous drops of interceptions by the rag-tag secondary earlier in the game, it was becoming clear that this defense owned Vick. By the end of the game a limping Vick looked nothing like one of the two potential MVPs in 2010. Give it to Tom Brady.
On the offensive side of the ball, there was Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. Harvin would end up with 100 yards, and many of them after the catch. Webb finding the human pinball meant the defense could not focus solely on the run. And when the Eagles worried about the pass, Peterson made them pay with punishing runs. AP finished with over 100 yards and a TD, and if not for his first lost fumble of the season late in the game, maybe his finest performance of the season considering the opponent.
And then there was Webb. He seemed to glide about the field much like Rod Carew. He never looked llike he was running full speed, but when he did run, few could catch him. His ten yard TD run included numerous misses from the part of Eagle defenders. And when Jim Kleinsasser leveled the last would-be tackler with a crushing block, Webb danced into the end zone for a touchdown that seemed to deflate the Eagles as much as the constant blitz on the other side of the ball.
It was not as if Philadelphia had nothing to play for - sure they wrapped up the NFC East, but Atlanta's loss to New Orleans on Monday had cleared a possible path for the one seed in the NFC. The Eagles were playing well, clearly the class of the East, and many people's choice for the NFC representative. A win meant a probable bye if either the Falcons or Bears lost the next week. And Chicago would be playing in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers back at the helm. It was possible.
Instead, Vick limped off the field, beaten, battered, and bested. The Eagles, a great thorn inside the paw of Vikings recent success, had been delivered a deathly blow to their Super Bowl hopes by Joe Webb and the now 6-9 Minnesota Vikings. Sure, we might have dropped from the 7th to 14th pick, but most Minnesota fans would say this was worth it. The confident, swaggering Eagles have fallen. How sad.
It started as far back as any fan can remember. In 1902 the "National" Football League (no relation), an organization backed by Major League Baseball, would have a Thanksgiving weekend set of games. The Ohio League, some say the birthplace of present day NFL, played games involving the powerhouse Canton Bulldogs in 1905-06. The last year before the official start of the NFL the Buffalo Prospects and the Rochester Jeffersons played to a scoreless tie for the New York Pro Football League in 1919. In 1920 the NFL took shape and the Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Green Bay Packers dominated the holiday games, save for a two year stretch (1939-40) when the Eagles and Steelers stole the show.
Televising the games first started in 1953. By 1956 CBS had taken control. Of course, the first game shown in color was on a Thanksgiving, 1965, when the Lions hosted the Colts. In 2006, the NFL added a third game through the NFL Network. The present schedule is for both conferences to alternate visiting Detroit and Dallas. The third game is randomly selected, though many feel the AFC should be allowed to permanently host at least one game. FOX and CBS, which have contracts with the NFL until 2013, broadcast the events based on the road team's conference.
Most teams will have opportunities to appear on Thanksgiving. Our own Minnesota Vikings have had six chances, and sport a league best 5-1 record. The Vikings' first appearance was in 1969, when they played at Detroit and won 27-0. They would also shut out the Lions in 1988 23-0. Minnesota has beaten Dallas three times (1987, 1998, 2000) in mostly high scoring games. The Vikings only loss on Thanksgiving was a 38-44 game vs. Detroit in 1995.
The one constant over the years has been that Detroit hosts the first game and that Dallas hosts the second. There has been many memorable games on Thansgiving Day. Maybe the greatest was the 1974 Cowboys game in which Roger Staubach went down and Clint Longley came in off the bench trailing 16-3 and led Dallas to victory. Or twenty years later, Jason Garrett (yes, the present day interim head coach) replaced Troy Aikman and led the Cowboys to a 42-31 win over Brett Favre and the Packers. In 1976, O.J. Simpson ran for 273 yards vs. the Lions, but the Bills still lost by two touchdowns. They were really bad. In 1980, David Williams of Chicago returned an overtime kickoff for a touchdown, the only time in the league's history. 1989 was special for the infamous "Bounty Bowl", when Eagles and Cowboys played amid stories that coaches had offered money for taking players out of the game. And finally, the 1998 blown coin toss call by the referees on Jerome Bettis' mistaken head-tails call, which had led to the rule change that players must call the toss now before it is flipped.
But as a fan since the 1960s ended, I have a beef or two on Turkey Day. My original complaint was the third game. Not that I did not love having eleven hours of football on family day (I did, wife not so much), but when the NFL Network first started, they were not in every household. It hurt to know that as I ate my third slice of ice cream-pumpkin pie (a family recipe - to die for) there was a game going on in the NFL that I was not able to watch. That was more torturous than watching the Lions get killed 47-10 by the Titans in 2008. This situation has since been remedied as my monopolistic cable-provider has come to terms with the NFL.
My next complaint is the Detroit Lions. They are really bad. All the time. I believe I read that they have averaged more than a twenty point loss in six straight Thanksgiving days. For a while it was OK, because it seemed like the day was reserved for making fun of Matt Millen and the Fords. But then the Lions finally let Millen go. Now they are just bad and not so funny. Detroit has young talent, and will be good someday, but frankly, they are a complete bore on television. It is so bad that I find myself cheering for them despite the fact they are my division rivals. Today they will face the Patriots, who recently defeated the Steelers and the Colts. I wonder how that will go?
I am more complacent watching the Cowboys in the 2nd game. I hate them almost as much as Green Bay and more than Chicago. I hated the Hail Mary play, their domination in the Super Bowl years, the Herschel Walker trade, Jimmy Johnson and most of all, Jerry Jones. It is no strange coincidence that the two greatest egomaniacs of owners (Jones and Mark Cuban of the NBA) hail from Texas. This year they host New Orleans, and I hope Drew Brees throws for 600 yards. Sadly, the game really doesn't matter as the Cowboys, like the Lions, are completely out of the playoff race.
The final game tonight will be the Bengals and the Jets. This could have been a great game if Cincinnati had decided to play like they could play when they play. But they chose not. Instead, the contest will be another in which there is a blowout or the Jets win ugly. The best thing to look forward to in this game is the Terrell Owens and Darrelle Revis match up, made larger by Owens' big mouth. I will watch, but I may chose dishes over the second half, as Carson Palmer struggles more than he does not.
So this is Thanksgiving. Another year older. Another year of the Lions and Cowboys. Given the 3-7 record of Minnesota, I say Ziggy should get in those winter meetings and ask to be a permanent host of the future Thanksgivings, when Minnesota builds that new stadium. Or, if we choose not to, then the Wilfs can push for the West Coast to have the late game via the Los Angeles Vikings.
I have had quite a few jobs in my life. A lot of bosses, too. I have been a boss (I guess) at times. It is easier being a boss than being bossed, for sure.
With the firing of Brad Childress stories are now coming out of confrontation and unhappiness. He made many mistakes in front of thousands of Vikings fans every game. Millions on television. During this turbulent year Childress had conflicts with his team more than once. Rumors were he was disrespected. Randy Moss came and verbalized the underlying current that started as far back as the playoff loss to the Eagles years ago. All was not well.
I have suffered under the leadership of bosses who were ill-equipped to manage. Inexperienced and prone to mistakes. Throw in confrontational, and you have the ingredients for disaster.
Ziggy Wilf's decision to fire Childress was supported by probably 80% of the community or greater. With the lease on the Dome nearing the end, talk of a lock-out and/or strike, and a sudden pro-Vikings majority in Minnesota Congress, public relations demanded something be done. Giving up a 3rd round pick for the Moss trade is proof that management needed to please the people now. 3-7 is not exactly how to do that.
I have had many good leaders for bosses. I am/was happy to work hard for them. Happy to do what it took to succeed.
Leslie Frazier is now on board as interim head coach. His story is both tragic and triumphant. He was a defensive back for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. His career ended on the winning side of Super Bowl XX. And the tragic moment was a punt return that Keith Ortego botched by calling a fair catch and then handing off the ball anyway to Frazier on a called reverse. Frazier was down. Forever. The game was already in hand, the Bears 4-6 defense as good as any in football ever. But Frazier never played again.
His coaching career began a few years later at Trinity College in Illinois. He took an unheralded program and turned it around to the point he won two NAIA titles. In 1997 he was promoted to defensive back coach of Illinois. In 1999 he joined the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles as a DB coach. The Eagles suddenly turned their team around. He then was hired in 2003 by Cincinnati as defensive coordinator. The Bengals immediately ended a long streak of consecutive losing seasons. That Cincy team was renowned for its' ability to create turnovers. In 2005 Frazier was hired by Tony Dungy as DB coach and Special Grand Inquisitor's Assistant or something like that. That Colts team improved in its' pass defense from 15th to 6th and won Super Bowl XLI. Finally, Frazier was hired by Minnesota (and Brad Childress) in February, 2007.
Frazier has been a part of many successes as both a player and a coach. He also has experienced as tragic an end to an NFL career as any. Frazier has seen the highs and lows that provide opportunity for respect from his players. I expect the Vikings to play hard for him.
Bringing in a new boss does not always work.
Sometimes even a bad boss is not why an organization does not function well. Most bosses have bosses. The front office for Minnesota has to accept responsibility for drafts, signings, and team direction. And the owner is their boss. If the organization is ill it is a safe bet that the higher-ups are easily as responsible for the mess as the underlings. Sure, players have to accept responsibility for poor play. And if the players under performed for Childress, who is to say they will not continue to under perform? But where is the gauge on the front office? How do we know when they are to blame?
I welcome Leslie Frazier as the new coach. But he is not a Bill Parcells that will completely turn around an entire organization. Besides Childress, all the other pieces of the 3-7 season are still around. Was it really all on Childress? Can one bad boss destroy a 12-4 team in a single season? However did we get within a play of the Super Bowl if that were true?
My Thursday was highlighted by the 7th grade's first football game of the season. The faces were eager, ranging from complete fear of the unknown, to anticipation of full contact with an opponent. Most start tentative, until the team gives out that first stick of another which seems to raise the desire for getting a chance to contribute. Hopefully, by the time those first year players are ready to play, the score has not been already decided. In the case of my Rockford team, we surrendered a first play sixty yard touchdown run. From there we shutdown our bigger and more established foe. Unfortunately at this level, defense seems to find its' way before offense, and we never got untracked, losing 16-0 in a hard fought battle.
Fridays are high school football night. Fans are families which typically have a son on the team, or student bodies which show up in numbers to support their friends and peers. Bigger schools like Totino Grace, Wayzata, Minnetonka and the like have stands full for games that can create quite an atmosphere. Growing up I recall high school football games as the beginning of Friday night fun. It is these games that there is the most at stake for players, in my opinion. Players are involved simply for the enjoyment of football and school spirit. When you win the weekend is enjoyed, losses and the weekends are spent sulking.
Saturdays are college football days. Those alumni and football fanatics will go to large stadiums to see powerful programs, or in the case of smaller colleges, create a campus party that lasts before and after games. I enjoyed my time at Hamline University games (years ago) more than I have as an alumni of the University of Minnesota. I recall sneaking in mini-kegs, chanting with nearby sorority sisters, or simply screaming for two and a half hours. It was a blast. Unfortunately, I now find myself unable to even watch my alma mater, as they cannot seem to find a coach or recruits that makes then superior to schools like South Dakota. Major programs hoard television time, like Notre Dame, to the point that I seem to enjoy watching those games solely on the hope that a big school falls. For whatever reason, I grew up in the 1970s cheering for Alabama and coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. I liked the simple uniforms, I guess.
Sundays are for NFL football. By this time I have invested a large amount of my time to football over the weekend. While I tend not to watch too much college these days, I am dedicated to my team of forty years: the Minnesota Vikings. On top of the must watch status of the home team, I also enjoy watching the Green Bay Packers play, on the hope that someone will beat them. Of all the football I take part in, there is no greater rivalry for me than the North Division of professional football. I was addicted to this rivalry from 1970 to today. It has grown in its' intensity. Losing to the Packers I would equate with passing a kidney stone.
Football is a busy time. Even at high school where I should be focused on education, I find connections with students and staff involving all four levels of football. In addition, at Rockford there is a new tradition where staff wear their alma mater sweatshirts on the last Friday of the month. The English teacher I talked to everyday suddenly becomes a hated rival as she dons her Wisconsin colors. And don't get me started on those from Iowa. Or Michigan.
Yes there is a lot of football in my life. But I am not alone. From Thursdays to Sundays (and other days for JV and C squads) I live and breathe the game. Knowing what I do about the active brain and the success of the student athlete, I would not want it any other way. Even if my own child suddenly liked Green Bay.
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