Hit by the news that the Seattle Seahawks have acquired Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice for many millions of dollars, I cannot help but smile. Rice was very good, and with Brett Favre he was sometimes magical. But there was the hip. Then there was the poorly timed surgery. Jackson always carried the burden of having been a lousy draft pick. He had a few good games, some great, but every mistake just screamed "Why a quarterback in the second round?".
Now Madieu Williams is cut. Possibly Pat Williams, too. Meanwhile, Ray Edwards is off to Atlanta. Others are rumored to be gone soon. What is going on? Have the Vikings gone mad? No. When a team finishes 6-10 changes will have to be made. The Vikings as of a day ago were still five million dollars over the proposed cap. More will have to be done. Restructuring of contracts. Signing of cheaper players. And we are not alone.
I heard on ESPN radio today that 2nd overall pick Von Miller signed for about 1/3 of the value of 2010's number two pick, Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Detroit Lions. And less guaranteed money. Teams are not going to be paying out as much to unproven rookies. Call it the Jamarcus Russell clause, if you will. In 2007 he held out from joining the Raiders until they caved with a 61 million dollar contract, 32 guaranteed. Russell proceeded to go 7-18 as a starter.
No, teams are tightening their belts. The new CBA focuses less monies on the rookies, and provides better futures for the retired. Kind of like most of today's working class. Forego the vacations and restaurants, save for tomorrow. With the smorgasbord of free agents available, teams can look in many directions for help. And the Vikings are visiting some foreign markets.
One receiver who has not made a media splash to date is Emmanuel Arceneaux. You know, the two year Canadian Football League veteran from British Columbia? Formerly of Alcorn State? You say you have never heard of him? Well he caught 130 passes in two seasons for 12 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards. In three playoff games he had 17 catches for 269 yards and a TD. The 6'2, 210 pound receiver may not be a household name, but he is a bargain. And then there is former Colts and Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu. He ran a 4.35 in the combine five years ago. In his five seasons he has caught a total of 41 passes. These are the kind of deals bargain shoppers get.
The tightening of the belt is putting your monies in areas of importance, and then getting by in lesser areas. Missing out on paying Sidney Rice 44 million dollars is not a terrible thing. Wide receivers are not like your gas and electric bills. They are more like cable television. Sure it is great to have a good one, but you cannot afford 210 channels when you struggle to buy food. Want proof that it is a luxury? Look at the last few Super Bowl winners. The Packers and Colts are two teams that have quality at receiver, but also fill ins. We already have Percy Harvin. Signing Sidney Rice was a luxury we could not afford.
The Vikings must focus their monies on essentials. Check those SB winners again. Notice how each contained a great quarterback, a good offensive line, and definitely a strong pass rush. That is where the budget must give a little.
Times are tough everywhere. While we all scrimp and save we can understand the letting go of players who are not essential, and maybe a few who are. Vikings fans just hope that the guys making the budget decisions are thinking about the future. With Green Bay and Detroit ready to compete in 2011, saving is only one of our present worries.
As talk of a trade for Donovan McNabb looms, I find myself excited. The drafting of Christian Ponder is precursor to a future unknown. The signing of Tarvaris Jackson by the Seahawks strange. Free agent quarterbacks like Kyle Orton and Vince Young just do not do it for me. Questions at QB are not good to have going into a season where the Packers are defending champions, the Lions expected to be much improved again, and the Bears looking decent. So we may bring in the aged McNabb.
I remember when Donovan McNabb visited in September, 1996, with the Syracuse Orangemen. They were nationally ranked, and faced my Golden Gophers who had just eked out a three point win versus Ball State in the Metrodome a week earlier. It did not look promising. McNabb was strong-armed, fast, and impossible to contain. I sat with my 6 year-old son among the older alumni and expected the worst. Sure enough, McNabb impressed early and the Gophers trailed. Unfortunately, a ticket had been given to a Syracuse fan who would sit among the Minnesota faithful. Every play that McNabb made, every score, this guy would scream how it was "over" for the pathetic Gophers. He laughed at our team. He knew how good McNabb was.
My son complained to me. I complained to him. We hated this fan in orange. What was he doing sitting among the alumni? I silently cursed the person who surrendered their ticket to this outsider. I did not want to spend the game being humiliated by a fan from another team. I whispered to my son (like a nice Minnesotan) that he was a bad man. He would get his someday, just probably not by a Wacker led Gopher team. But then the tide changed. I recall turnovers turning into touchdowns. The Syracuse fan grew quieter. All of the elder fans I sat with started to smile. And then my son, whom I love dearly, started to say the things we alums could not. He taunted the Orangeman. He laughed at him. And it was a glorious day. Minnesota pulled off an improbable upset against McNabb and Syracuse (who would finish the year ranked and 9-3). I never hugged my son more than that day.
Some twelve plus years later I took that same son to the Vikings playoff game versus the Eagles. We had Adrian Peterson, we had won the NFC Central, and the aging Donovan McNabb came to town with his Eagles and their vaunted defense. Gus Frerotte had led Minnesota in 2008 to a respectable year. I am not sure many thought we would get to the Super Bowl, but most hoped we could defeat the Eagles at home in this first round of the playoffs, McNabb was good. We were not. The 26-14 loss was a low point for my son, myself, and our relationship with the Vikings. Next to the 1998 playoff loss to the Falcons, this was the worst we had encountered. It was the last game I would watch live with him before he went off to college. Not a good way to end.
And now the Vikings are wanting to bring McNabb in to push/educate Christian Ponder. Or maybe to start and return Minnesota to the respectability of just a season ago, when we were a play away form the Super Bowl? Minnesota has had success bringing in older quarterbacks before. Guys like Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson, Frerotte, and Brett Favre have done exactly that. Why can't it be McNabb, too?
It will be difficult at best. But one thing is certain, Donovan McNabb brings a history that warrants hope. He was the facilitator of a football fan friendship I have kept with my son for many years. Maybe he can help some other father/son duo enjoy moments like we have had?
It was the worst of times. Or is.
A 6-10 year was difficult to swallow. Given the success of the 2009 Vikings many found the 2010 season upsetting. Brett Favre was battered like Archie Manning, due in part to a offensive line that seemed to scream "Where is Matt Birk?". Favre's response to the attack was to throw interceptions or fumble in his own end zone (against a visiting Dolphins). The two tackles did not have success against the better pass-rushers in the NFL such as Julius Peppers or Clay Matthews. The defensive secondary minus Cedric Griffin and the hope of a talented Chris Cook was awful. The defensive front seemed to take half of the season off in terms of a pass rush. But we persevere as the fan. Better times are ahead, right?
Now we face this weekend's championship game with the knowledge that our two most hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, are this year's best in the NFC. It is not the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, or any East team. The NFC North is a powerhouse. Don't laugh, we have sent three of the last four finalists to the NFC Championship. Five of the last ten teams. Unfortunately, it has been mostly Chicago and Green Bay.
We can rationalize our failure in 2010 as a product of our two rivals' success. After all, we were 6-6 against the rest of the NFL. Only the games versus the Giants was as lopsided a loss as matches with the Bears and Packers, and that was one with Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. We were closer against the Saints, Patriots, and Jets in other losses. But that defensive mechanism does not take away the reality that our division is tough right now.
I reluctantly tip my cap to the two teams. Green Bay has awoke with an offense that is quite impressive. Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback Minnesota wished it had. The Dom Capers' defense has improved as those cheesy blowhard fans had predicted. Now, they seem to have found a punishing running back in James Starks. No, he is not Adrian Peterson. But he also is not Ryan Grant, to the betterment of Green Bay.
The Chicago Bears have arisen thanks to their defense. There is enough hands now on the offense that Jay Cutler's missiles find targets. The line gets enough of a push to allow Matt Forte chances at yardage. But the defense shows up religiously. Twelve times this season they have surrendered twenty of fewer points, including eight of their first nine games (the exception being twenty-three). Only the loss to the Patriots suggested this season that the Bears might be vulnerable defensively.
We are left with cheering for the winner of this Sunday's game in the Super Bowl. As much as I despise the thought, I certainly would prefer that one of the two defeat the winner of the AFC Championship. An NFC win would be further proof that the 2010 's demise was as much a result of our division's toughness as any ineptness. Not that it is comforting knowing the Bears and Packers are really good right now.
It certainly is not.
The look on a small child's face when their mommy's face appears from behind something hidden is precious. I would learn in school studying the work of Jean Piaget and others that this process was called "object permanence" or the lack thereof. When the object leaves the sight of the underdeveloped brain, presto, it is gone. That is what makes Peek-A-Boo such a fun game. It is like finding your parent new each time.
Sure we all knew the talent existed. We have developed brains, we do not need to see something to know it is there. You can hide behind losses to the Dolphins and Packers are home, it does not matter. Most of us still remember that game in New Orleans last season, or the team that completely dismantled the Cowboys and even the Giants, albeit their reserves at the end of last year.
The ground game provided 190 yards, Adrian Peterson over one hundred with three TDs. Toby Gerhard added over fifty more. Tarvaris Jackson ran twice for twenty-two additional yards. All of that with guard Steve Hutchinson replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chris DeGeare. Sidney Rice caught five for over one hundred yards including a Jackson pass that went through a pair of defender's hands and ended up being wrestled over for Rice's first score. The defense, led by the disappearing front line, was stalwart. Star rookie Steve Johnson of the Bills caught TWO passes.
No, this is not time to start looking at the playoff schedule. Unfortunately, most of the teams Minnesota is trying to catch also won. Only Tampa Bay faltered and that was because they faced a good Atlanta Falcons team now 10-2 and on top of the NFC. There are a few 8-4 teams that the Vikings would have to catch in order to make the playoffs, and presently our 5-7 record is woefully short. One of them, the New York Giants, comes to town next week.
No, we are not suddenly giddy like a two year old child. We have developed brains. We all knew the good team was right behind the wall, set of hands, or whatever blocked our view. We know this week it was only the Buffalo Bills, too.
The smile you see is because we missed them so very badly.
The good team, that is.
I am thinking about trying out for the Vikings or Twins pretty soon. I still throw hard and I am in my forties. Isn't that enough? I wouldn't have thought so last week, but August 17th has rekindled my desire to become the pro athlete I dreamed of being in the 1970s. I think I can.
The news of Brett Favre's return after three teammates tracked him down was blasted in the media by some. How could the Vikings grovel like this? Offering millions more to a forty year-old to rejoin the team after his umpteenth retirement. Have we no backbone? Letting the old man skip training camp, again. Treating Tarvaris Jackson like he is a wicked step-child. Certainly now, as a forty-something, teams will simply copy the Saints plan of violently attacking him and he will not make it through the season. Minnesota is grasping at straws.
To that I say Jim Thome. Last night Thome rocked a home run to win a dramatic event against the White Sox. Thome is at that forty year level. Thome was basically let go by teams because all he could do is hit. As a matter of fact, he can hit. And the last team to tell him goodbye found that out last night. It was old-timer's day yesterday, what with the Return of the Favre and Thome's blast. It was the kind of night that makes forty-somethings like me reconsider their career paths.
Is it crazy that these old guys want to keep playing a young man's sport? How can they remain successful? They cannot last an entire season, can they? What fools these elderly be, right?
Let me introduce the greatest of oldies: Gordie Howe. Gordie played a violent sport (hockey) full of collisions and injuries. He started at sixteen in the minors and finished as a fifty-one year old in 1980 for the Hartford Whalers. He played in all eighty games that year. Gordie's best year scoring wise came in the 1968-69 season, when at the age of forty he topped 100 points for the only time in his career. This guy was so tough he survived a fractured skull in the 1950 playoffs, returning the next year at the start of the season. He also knocked out Maurice "Rocket" Richard with one punch as a rookie. Sounds a lot like a quarterback I know. As a side note, Howe did play a shift in the minors for the Detroit Vipers in 1997, at the age of seventy.
Besides Thome, baseball boasts many present forty-something. Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel to name a few. Baseball has had players like Satchell Paige (59 years old), Hoyt Wilhelm (49), Phil Niekro (48), and Jesse Orosco (46). Others whom have pitched into their forties include: Nolan Ryan, Tommy John, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens. But these are pitchers in baseball. These are not QBs in an NFL game, where opponents aim to knock you out of the game. Pitching in the MLB is not the same thing.
True. Maybe Gordie Howe was the exception and pitchers are not comparable?
George Blanda was a place kicker and quarterback who started in the NFL in 1949. He retired in 1958. Then he came back again in 1960. Familiar? Blanda starred as a quarterback/kicker in the AFL for the Houston Oilers. He was the leading passer in the league many times. In 1967 he switched teams, joining the Oakland Raiders as a thirty-nine year old. He was released in 1970 but came back again in his forties. Where have I heard that before? Blanda won two games in relief of an injured QB that season. Blanda went on to start an AFC Championship Game at the age of forty-eight, nearly winning until two late interceptions (yes, heard that before, too).
But George Blanda was far from the only QB to be active in his forties. Other quarterbacks at the same age range included: Doug Flutie, Steve DeBerg, and Vinny Testaverde. Even linebacker Junior Seau has neared this level. It can be done.
I am happy that Favre has returned. I laugh at those who laugh at us. I know there is a great history of we old people doing tremendous things throughout sports. Jim Thome reminded over forty thousand people first-hand last night. I have a feeling Favre will convince more than that. Old people are no different than you and me. Or was that short people?
Anyway, I am stretching out right now in lieu of the 2011-12 NFL season. Or maybe the 2011 MLB season?
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