Sport as Salvation

As the first round of the NFL draft is in the books, I’m brought back to the idea of sport.

Why do we play/follow these games?

There are a myriad of answers that skew all across the spectrum to such an idea, but, especially now that I’m interacting with a whole new set of people, there is one reoccurring theme.  Redemption.

"A child can escape the shadows" - Steve Largent

These simple games, learned as children or through adult curiosity, speak to some core principle of what we are as humans.  We are incomplete, broken beings and our greatest gift, and curse, is that we are utterly aware of this (often times, to varying degrees).  While there are many methods to assuage this void (love, popularity, knowledge, etc.), one of the most popular refuges are philosophy and religion.  From the outside, sport may seem to be neither, but, in practice, it is the incarnation of the words of Antiquity and Theological minds.

We offer our pitiless faith to our desired end, hoping to be rewarded with favorable outcomes.  The tickets and memorabilia purchased, the training sessions endured, the choices sacrificed, the hills galavanted in muscle’s strain, the abstinence from the joys and folly of youth realized, sustained, or prolonged;  Ultimately, we are pilgrims to some tenant beyond ourselves for the idea that there is some joy beyond the aimless human existence.  Even the cynics who believe otherwise secretly wish they’re wrong.

Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man:  to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do.”  I am not entirely sure if this is true largely for the fact that its impossible to know any of those things for certain.  Which, in itself, is kind of the point.  When you’re sure of something, when you’ve dedicated yourself to something, wholeheartedly, you know what to believe, you know what to desire, and you know what to do.  Sports makes those choices simple.  It outlines goals.  Championships, MVPs, Awards, Recognition, Respect, Halls of Fame.  There’s very little gray.  However, for those of us who go astray, the games also offer means to salvation.

Salvation comes not from what we do or what we receive, but from how the things we do and receive changes us

 

For me, my football life’s second act (how fitting that I found a second act in Europe as American lives are said to not hold any) is, in a way, salvation.  I have quite surpassed my complete need for this game to save me from myself/who I am/the darkness, as I had achieved what I had wanted when I set out.  However, there is still something elemental about it that has brought peace to me, time and time again.  In my first act, I didn’t enjoy the game thoroughly.  Each game, each play, was wrought with concern and calculations.  I was always cognizant of every faucet, there was little to no escape from the mortal plight in these games.  I was preoccupied, I was harried, I was obsessively seeking to control every element of what occurred on the field.  In this renewed pursuit, I am enjoying the moment, treasuring each moment of practice and work-outs.  My past contrition, perhaps, the cost to gain this new freedom and peace.

Either way, the first trial is set for tomorrow in Trondheim.  La Gå Trolls!

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The First Week

I didn’t mean for this to turn into the “My return to American Football in Norway” blog, as that would be the antithesis of the blogs’ title… Alas, we are here.  Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think; He can turn the wheel in which he turns (T.S. Eliot).

Football and life, in its most simplistic form, is a matter of hitting or being hit

After my first week back at football, I can say this: I’m still standing… barely (it may have felt).  My legs are weary, knees scrapped, and arms bruised, but my spirit renewed.  There is something one gains in the loss of the physical.

How many stadiums do you know that come with a skatepark attached?

How it Started.

The stadium is a short bus ride from where I live.  Which is both convenient and seemingly a message that it is where I belong (juxtaposed to the myriad of trams and buses I would need to make it to the practice facility of the other Oslo team).  My first day of practice started with me waiting on the field for some sign of activity or life.  Save for the handful of skateboarders on the ramps, there wasn’t any.  I soon found the field house underneath the stands and met a few of my new teammates.  They helped me find equipment and I got ready for practice.  On my way out of the locker room, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.  My brimming smile evident beneath the intertwined mask and hulking, shoulder pads.

It was determined that my position was to be at wideout, which was fine by me, I was just happy to be on the field again.  Upon stepping out on said field, two things struck me.  One, it was cold.  The weather was south of 5 celsius (<40 fahrenheit) and my layers of clothing were needed, however, my hands were exposed.  Catching the football proved to be quite the unenviable task, but, after a handful of catches, the old, familiar feeling set in and all was right.  The second thing I notice was the lack of other players.  Throughout the course of the week, the numbers would never balloon over thirty, but much is the similar plight of similar teams in North America.  Practices melted into each other, as they often do, and I found myself in the routine (though, its odd hearing a huddle break with… Ready… Skål!).

Ready.... SKÅL!

So Here We Are.

The practices are similar to every other practice I have had in my life.  Warm-ups, special teams, individual group drills, 7-on-7 passing drills, and team drills.  I was one of two Americans on the field, but, English freely flowed throughout the days, with a healthy dose of Norwegian interspersed.  However, we all spoke the language of football… very few guys wore the lower pads (hip, butt, thigh, and knee), but the hitting was abrupt and sincere all the same.

I made my share of plays as well as blowing a fair amount of chances, too.  Though, each day I found more improvement than the day preceding it.  However, what really reignited my fire for the game, despite the drudgery of repeated drills that is the monotonous, necessary tasks of building a football team, was the energy of my new teammates.  Many of them utterly embraced the rogue, brash, foreign (ok… American) nature of this game, gravitating to it.  There were former handball and soccer players who pushed themselves through the paces, excitedly chomping at the bit for their next opportunity to run a mundane route or to block backside on a running play.  I’m totally humbled by their love of the game.  Maybe its still the newness here, but my fellow Trolls have this passion for the work they do on the field that’s unmatched in a lot of kids in the states who take the game for granted, as a birthright. Much as with everything else, sports is becoming globalized.  Its not so unthinkable, as it once was to me, that, years down the line, someone could challenge America’s grip on their penultimate jewel, Football.

We have time before then and, before that time, I will have another week of practice.  Stay tuned.

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On why I decided to play football again

Yard by yard... until the goal is accomplished

I thought about it last night. Though, I thought about a lot of other things: How would I compete against guys, in shape, a half decade my junior? What had I lost in skill or dulled instinct? Did I still have “it”?  Ultimately, for each new question (there were about a million or so more I thought about, but didn’t type), I kept coming back to what had brought me here. The question that had always been with me, the unquenchable desire to provide that answer, one first down, one touchdown, one win at a time.
Tonight (8pm, Central European Standard Time), I will be trying out for the Vålerenga Trolls, an American Football club in East Oslo. I’m not sure what position I will play (in essence, it doesn’t really matter), nor am I sure what I will be able to contribute to the club (it’s always hard coming to a new team and the language barrier doesn’t help). I do know that about seven years ago, as I sat in the athletic director’s office and he told me my appeal for a fifth year of eligibility had been declined, the last thing I thought I’d ever do was what I’ll be doing tonight (simply put, playing competitive, tackle football… The whole “in Norway” part is just a goofy additive).

Gå Trolls!

I thought about it a year ago. My decision to move to Norway had just been made (in my mind, at least) and I was looking through my collection of clothes making preliminary decisions. Amongst the pseudo-hipster/neo-yuppie crappola was a stockpile of my former, football life. True, I’ve been playing ultra-competitive flag and not-so-competitive tag football, but nothing that warranted the amount of football-related gear. It wasn’t by accident or coincidence. These items had survived a half dozen moves since their last, necessary use. What would I do with it all? I bagged most of it up and its collecting dust in my childhood bedroom. However, a few items made it across the Atlantic. Perhaps, deep down, I was hoping I’d still need them.

In all honesty, I thought I was done with football. I’m not… I think it’s done with me, but I’m not done with it.

Baseball and me just weren't meant to be...

I thought about it eight and a half years ago. I had just suffered four of the most embarrassing months of my life having been reduced from an all-conference QB to the bench on a 3-7 squad. As far as I was concerned, my football career was over. In my mind, it was time to give up the dream and concentrate on my better sport (baseball). Easier said then done, you can give up your dreams, but your dreams don’t give up you. While I went on to start a handful of games and even set some records at a new college, I would never play another inning of collegiate baseball.

There are times in life where you suffer a setback. A big, fat one that rattles you to your core. It leaves you with scars and bruises you don’t see. If you bury the hurt and pain, it doesn’t go away or fade… It grows and morphs and intermingles with every aspect of your life until it is addressed or attended with finality. I’ve seen that disheartenment turn better men than me into bitter, spiteful shells of what they could’ve been. That scares me… I spent all this time running away from something I couldn’t escape because it was me, it is what I have become due to what I was unable to be.

It wasn't all about earning that letter for the jacket (note: This isn't a picture of my actual lettermen jacket)

I thought about it all through growing up. The little league coaches that told me I had no future in football. The high school coaches who thought I was too small, too soft spoken, too average to be a leader. The teammates who sought out other guys to challenge me and then doubted me (sometimes openly and loudly). The opposing coaches who openly mocked and ridiculed me to the local papers. My own parents who quietly hoped I’d focus my energy on something else less hazardous. I took it and answered them all one first down, one touchdown, and one win at a time.

 

So, after all that, it always comes down to this one question for me:

Why are you playing football?
Because they said I couldn’t (over the years, the “they” have been many people… Now, it’s only my collective memory)

Time to go to work back to work.

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Four Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament

1)  You could have offered me a huge paycheck and promised me a long weekend with Mélanie Laurent (what?  I have a thing for French actresses) in a villa in Corsica and I still would not have wanted to switch places with Stilman White.  No way.  By now, we all know of the diminutive, rarely used back-up point guard for the University of North Carolina who stepped in to the starting line-up when the starter, Kendall Marshall, was unavailable due to injury.

"Stilman, go be scrappy over there! OVER THERE!"

While most sportswriters will call White’s efforts “scrappy” and “tenacious”, really just code speak for overmatched, white athletes who don’t crap their pants during the game, I will venture to say that White spent a great deal of time contemplating the wisdom of not embarking on his Mormon mission before enrolling at UNC.  Though, all things being equal, he played inspired and gave UNC a chance to win.  Which is all you can ask from a deep reserve against a team on a roll (Ohio) and an inspired group of talented upperclassmen (Kansas).  However, I also think after the games (at least the first one) in the locker room, before he passed out from exhaustion due to playing five times more minutes than his previous career high, Stilman White checked the seat of his shorts… you know, just in case.

Look upon my works, ye mortal, and tremble...

2) Kentucky, when they eventually win the championship, will not ruin college basketball as we know it.  There will not be a rush to be a factory for “one-and-done” athletes to act as a finishing school for former pros.  We will see the Mayan prophecy come true before we will see the likes of 1960s UCLA again.  The answer is for a myriad of reasons… (Glad you asked). A) There aren’t enough coaches who can boast the Calipari credentials (I coached in the league, I have enough sources around to know how to best prepare you).  Unless an influx of college coaches flocked to the college ranks (Hi, Larry Brown). B) There simply aren’t enough Anthony Davis’ to populate many teams.  Sure, Kentucky has gotten some of the consensus top basketball players in each class, but so has UNC, Arizona, UCLA, and Ohio State.  The problem lies in that, whenever you have the fickle soul of a teenager, inconsistency reigns.  Just like Thomas Robinson came out of nowhere to be a star at Kansas, the Wear twins have plummeted from top 10, blue chip recruit status. C) Some of these schools actually have academic reputations to uphold.  True, this caveat won’t affect Kentucky or virtually anyone else in the SEC outside of Vanderbilt (Sorry.  It’s true… The Commodores should do themselves a favor and beg their way in to the ACC), but it’s true for UNC, Duke, UCLA, UCONN (well, maybe not UCONN so much), and Syracuse, along with a lot of other teams that find themselves in residence in the top 25.  Sure, those chancellors and boards like having top basketball teams, but they like having their top rankings in U.S. News and other academic listings more.

You lose to Savannah State and suddenly everyone forgets that you beat TCU and lost to Marquette by 1

3) Lehigh and Norfolk State pulling twin upsets speaks more about the parity and dispersion of talent than Butler, VCU, or George Mason.  I know the twin 15 seeds winning their first two games didn’t really illicit as much delirious joy as the latter three (save for in Lehigh County, PA, Hampton Roads Proper, VA, and Chapel Hill, NC), but it could be a case of expectancy given the previous results of cinderella teams and each team’s second round exit.  However, as its been known for some time that the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association… home to VCU and George Mason) has been a highly competitive conference (before the Rams and Patriots, Hofstra, Old Dominion, and Lasalle garnered multiple bids in the 90s), the same could not be said for the MEAC and Patriot League (Bucknell won a game a few years back, but, before that, you’d have to go to David Robinson’s Navy teams for anything noteworthy; while the MEAC has pulled the 15-over-2 routine more than any other conference, they’ve never received a higher seed than 15).  Their results, coupled with UNC-Asheville pushing Syracuse to the limit, shows that we’re entering a new landscape where, truly, every team that makes it to the second round (sorry, play-in teams.  There’s a reason you’re playing in), has a legitimate chance to make it to the second weekend.

4) All-Tournament Team (I know, the three most important games are left to be played)

G: CJ Fair

G: Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist

F: Thomas Robinson

F: Anthony Davis

C: Tyler Zeller (Jared Sullinger didn’t pull down 20 rebounds in a game)

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The Back-up

Every back-up wishes for only one thing: A Chance

Halfway through the 2004 College Football season, I had to face two, hard truths.  1) Playing football, which had been a large component (in my mind) of my life for the previous thirteen years was, in all likelihood, about to end and 2) Despite my success, there would always be one huge question that would loom over everything: How much more could it have been?

As Jadakiss reminds us, the last thing most people want to hear about is old timers who had “it” (who cares?).  As such, I will spare you most of the details of my fall from grace and sum it up as such.  On the football field, I was once “kinda a big deal” and am now nothing, but, along the way, I was also the guy standing frustrated on the sideline holding the clipboard.  The Back-up.

I still think about it.  Even when I try not to think about it, something can trigger a memory to wasted, Saturday afternoons.  The provocation, this time, was randomly stumbling upon a youtube clip from the ephemeral career of Steven Sheffield.

I was at a suburban DC bar the day after New Year’s when I was introduced to Sheffield byway of his performance in the Valero’s Alamo Bowl.  With much maligned starter Taylor Potts, ineffective, Sheffield came in and set the stage ablaze, leading the Red Raiders, in light of the Mike Leach firing at the hands of All-American douche bag, Adam James, to the win.  I was a convert that night.  Sheffield was having a coming out party, in a nationally televised game, after he’d finally been given the one thing every back-up desires most: a chance (how good was Sheffield?  When I asked my friend who was with me in the bar about the night, he had this to say about Sheffield: you mean the greatest quarterback of all time?? Never was given a fair shake at Texas Tech. I will never forget his 4th quarter drive, no incompletions, capped off with touchdown, and he came ice cold off the bench. Possibly a greater performance than any Joe Montana highlight... my friend is prone to getting excited).

Just like with any enterprise in life, the depth chart can often be a reflection of a myriad of reasons that have little to do with talent or production.  Simply put, coaching staffs have been known to not play their best players or even the players that gives their team the best chance to win.  I know, this sounds crazy, but it is true.  Perhaps a highly publicized recruitment brings in a talented, but inherently flawed, player who isn’t as good (but has vastly greater potential) than a pre-existing starter recruited by a previous regime.  The coach would ride with the new guy because shafting a blue chip sends the wrong message to future recruits and the ego to “win with my guys” is bigger than one would think (think this is far-fetched?  Google “Major Applewhite” and get back to me).

Also, the alumni and “other external factors” can make the decision just as well (If you still have your Google window open, type in “Rob Bolden” and “Rashard Casey”).  Regardless of the reasoning, it happens.  It sucks, its cruel, its unfair, but so is life and, more expressly, sports.  That’s part of the reason why our society enjoys the games so much.  Nothing is better than watching imperfect people in imperfect situations, striving together to rise above.  In fact, “the back up to star” story is a common one told and provides inspiration for all, from pop warner to the board room.  ‘Always be ready’, they say.  ‘You never know’.  Wasn’t five-time AFC Champion, Tom Brady, a back-up at Michigan?  Wasn’t Drew Brees run out of San Diego?  Didn’t Tee Martin hold Peyton’s clipboard for four years before winning a National Championship?  Though, what these platitudes don’t tell you is that for each Brady, there are countless others that never get their chance.  They are the exception, the extreme outliers.  We are the 99%.

For every Brady, there are countless others

So why does Sheffield resonate so deeply with me?

Sheffield wasn’t even supposed to be at Texas Tech.  After Greg McElroy, wisely, backed out of his commitment to go to Alabama, Leach needed another QB.  However, he didn’t have any scholarships so he convinced Sheffield to take a “preferred walk-on” route to Tech.  From Day one in Lubbock, the plan was for Sheffield to provide depth as Potts was the “two-time All-Texas” standout to bridge the gap from Legend Graham Harrell to the next prodigy for Leach’s great offense.  As reports read, almost from the start, it was apparent that Sheffield was talented and, in many ways, his quick release and exceptional accuracy, were a better fit for the spread-crossing route system than the cannon of Potts.

After Harrell graduated, Potts became the starter anyway.

Potts was one of the few, big-time recruits that had been recruited by powerhouse programs like Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, but chose Tech, anyway.  Their matriculation in Lubbock was a recruiting coupe.  Why rock the boat by playing a walk-on QB when Potts was still a great talent in his own right?  Disaster struck halfway through the 2009 season when Potts got concussed (he’d been stinking it up prior to this) and Sheffield came in and obliterated Kansas State.

The following week, Sheffield scored three TDs in an upset of 15th ranked, Nebraska.  Unfortunately, Sheffield broke his foot in that game and would be sidelined until his magical back-up duty in the Alamo Bowl.  Sheffield would start only one other game the rest of his career.

I started 12 games in four years of collegiate football.  I played in parts of nine more.  That leaves 19 games where I never figured into the events more than just a back-up.  After my second year, I was named first team all-conference and runner-up for the Conference’s Player of the Year.  I would only start two more games the rest of my career.  Everything that has happened in my life has taught me to believe, equally, in everything that hadn’t happened, for each were equally responsible in shaping me into who I have become.  I’m sure Sheffield, Applewhite, and the countless other “back-ups” believe in that, too.

Though, it doesn’t quell the wondering.

John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote: “Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: it might have been”.  No one knows that better than back-ups.  Currently, Sheffield is struggling as, fittingly, a back-up in the Arena Football League.  He’s still chasing that dream, trying to write a better ending than the one other’s would have written for him.  If it doesn’t work out, at least he tried.  That won’t answer that lingering question, but at least he followed through on the chance.  That’s all a back-up can ask for.

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The last two play the last one

I’ve seen both the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers play in person this year, from the field level.

Both teams are awe-inspiringly good for different reasons.

The St. Louis Cardinals, despite being stuck in third place in late June when they visited my hometown Orioles, were a well tuned machine of slick fielding and savvy base running.  Extra bases were taken on offense, and extra bases were denied on defense.  It was a very subtle dominance, but each player (even the woefully slow Lance Berkman) was efficient at his position.  A freak arm injury robbed me the pleasure of seeing Albert Pujols (I’m still bitter about it), but no player was truly a superstar at his position, but was above average.  A very key distinction that separates the play-off teams from my Orioles (in addition to playing in the more forgiving NL Central).

The Texas Rangers, despite being in a dogfight with the perennially underwhelming Angels at the season’s onset in late May when they came to Charm City , were a collection of hammers.  Outside of the New York Yankees, no other team had such a collection of guys who could straight mash (not to be confused with hit, that would be the hated Red Sox… though, those guys were more like slow pitch softball all-stars.  Kings of placing the ball in the gaps between fielders than sheer force).  Literally, everyone on their roster was capable of ripping a shot down the foul line or launching a majestic rainbow into the cheap seats (though, that’s a relative term at Camden Yards).

With the exception of Chris Carpenter (criminally underrated… he might be the least respected, still dominant Cy Young award winner of the past decade… sorry, Brandon Webb) and oft brilliant Derek Holland (he of the even more brilliant nickname, the Dutch Oven), no pitcher on either staff really can dominate a game (apologies to Scott Feldman of the Rangers and Jason Motte of the Cardinals… each has had their share of stumbles). 

So there should really be no surprise this series has gone to Game 7.

Who will win tonight?

 

The brawn of the Rangers or the team-bigger-than-the-individual-parts Cardinals?  Ron Washington managing on instinct and in-game intuition or Tony La Russa micromanaging through a complicated formula of matrices and advanced algebra? 

St. Louis, who has been scratching and grinding just to get into the play-offs, has been riding an incredible fortunate streak (including last night’s Game 6 that was filled with more than one fortunate bounce… well, that and Nelson Cruz’ inability to field fly balls) just as Texas has been self-assured and dominant since early Summer.

Well, its one game.  Anything can happen and, for this series, everything has happened.  It’s time for the more talented, mashers from the Lone Star State to win 6-2.   Unless, of course, the game comes down to Nelson Cruz fielding a fly ball again.

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NFL Power Poll… Packers gotta Gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NFL Power Poll makes its 2011 debut… same game (music for each team/group of teams that exemplifies where they are at this point in the season)… Starting at the top!

Green Bay Packers

“All the other kids, with their pumped up kicks, better run, better run, outrun my gun!”

– “Pumped up Kicks” by Foster the People

 

Can enough be said about how sick Aaron Rodgers has been this season? (So much so that I’ve now abandoned my Jake Gyllenhal jokes… Consequently, I’m devoting that energy into a “Forrest Griffin looks like Josh Hartnett” campaign) Good gracious… Jermichael Finley has the NFL’s Best Tight End Championship belt (Good run, Antonio Gates… though, Jimmy Graham is the #1 Contender).  Clay Matthews has the NFL Best Outside Linebacker Championship belt (Good run, James Harrison)… not to mention the fact that Greg Jennings has a credible claim on a share of the Best Wide Receiver Championship belt (Larry Fitzgerald is a decent QB away from owning it outright… let’s just say that Fitzy has the WBO and WBC belts), B.J. Raji singlehandedly dominating games, and Mason Crosby making field goals from 32947823748 yards out.  This team may not lose.

 

New England Patriots

“When you gotta job to do, you gotta do it well… and give the other guy hell”

– “Live and let die” by Paul McCartney

 

In honor of Sir McCartney’s third marriage, I had to throw out a song lyric of his.  Though, who better to the timeless Beatle than the timeless machine that is the Patriots’ offense?  Wes Welker may be in the midst of one of the greatest WR seasons ever.  Their defense is slowly rounding in to form and, with the vanquishing of their nemesis, the Jets, their path to the AFC East crown is pretty wide open save for one surprising challenger.

 

Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers

“I went to the store and found that talk is still cheap.”

– “She will” by Lil’ Wayne

 

These teams have just been coming out and beating down their opponents, save for one game.  While the Ravens’ slip-up was a shocking misstep against an up-and-down Titans teams, the Chargers can take solace in their lone loss coming against the Patriots.  While each have done it differently (Ravens, defense; Chargers, offense), the results can’t be disputed.  These three teams were lost in a lot of the off-season hype and talk, but they’ve proved that they’re viable candidates for the Super Bowl.

 

Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, and San Francisco 49ers

“Sooner or later, it comes down to fate… I might as well be the one.”

– “Only the Good Die young” by Billy Joel

 

Three franchises that can’t win for losing the past few seasons… Matt Schaub use to be a whizz kid but that was five seasons ago.  He’s looking more Matt Hasselback than Tom Brady these days as he and his absent minded professor coach, Gary Kubiak, find new ways to disappoint their fan base each season.  Things aren’t much better in the city by the Bay.  The Saints can only ride Drew Brees’ wizardry for so long… The Singletary years built a great foundation (unfortunately, that foundation didn’t come with an offense), that didn’t result in anything other than great moral character.  Jim Harbaugh has them all believing, but he still has Alex Smith at Quarterback… The Texans and 49ers have seemingly had “the goods” for years (The Saints at least got a Lombardi), but haven’t been able to breakthrough.  Maybe, in the end, the last two play-off teams in and out come down to luck.  Could this be the year that the Texans and 49ers luck changes?

 

Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills

“I’m just doin’ better than what everyone projected, I knew that I’d be here, if you ask me how it feel, Imma say it’s everything that I expected.”

– “My Last” by Big Sean

 

No one (not even those hearty citizens of the Motor and Queen City) expected their teams to be doing this well at this point in the season.  They could each lose out the rest of the way (not likely, but just saying) and this season will already be looked upon as an improvement over anything in recent history (Justin Verlander is sitting distraught in a quiet room somewhere right now).  Whether it’s Fitzmagic in Western NY or Chaos N. Suh in Eastern Michigan, we can all agree that something special is happening (and will continue to happen until the inevitable Matt Stafford injury and the NFL realizes the Bills have no front seven).

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

“They sayin’ I fell off, ooh, I needed that.”

– “Headlines” by Drake

 

Yes, we were all ready to call the Steelers as good as dead after they caught a good, ol’ fashion, passionate butt whippin’ in Week 1 (I even believe they had their shoes, coat, and hat taken), had a few sluggish wins, and were lambasted by Houston (Had I put this out two weeks ago like I originally wanted, they would’ve been a few rungs lower).  Though, just like always, Ben rubbed some dirt on his face, fake limped (look, I’m not saying he isn’t in pain, but even Tiny Tim tweeted for Roethlisberger to stop milking it) and gritted his teeth to a dominant performance of the Titans.  The AFC’s top two seeds won’t be decided until Week 16.

 

Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans

“O.g. is one who standin’ on his own feet./A boss is one who guarantee we gone eat…
dawg … one day we gone meet.”

– “I’m a Boss” by MMG

 

These teams have been down for a few seasons (well, some longer than others… See: Snyder, Mr.) for various different reasons (Hi, Daniel; Eli + no pass rush; Fisher and VY had worn out their stays three seasons ago), but that’s all ancient news now.  Much like William Leonard Roberts II (aka Ricky Rosay, who in his own right was a decent football prospect), a few big hits can erase even the most dubious past and give credence to whatever you’re shouting about now.  Granted, shouting over six weeks isn’t the same as doing it for 17… two of these teams are about to go in to free fall

 

Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders

“We all have a weakness, but some of ours are easy to identify… Remind me that we’ll always have each other, when everything else is gone.”

– “Dig” by Incubus

 

These teams, while capable of putting together impressive wins (not talking about that Vikings laugher, Chicago… Adrian Peterson deserves better), are clearly a step below the previously mentioned teams.  However, it’s not quite as severe as what many news outlets are reporting them to be.  Matt Ryan, maybe not the savior he was proclaimed to be, is still a top ten QB in this league (I’m sure the Ravens, Redskins, Titans, and 49ers would take him over their current signal callers in a nanosecond).  Jay Cutler isn’t the same guy who sulked his way out of Denver (much in how Steve Young became a man when he came to San Francisco ).  The Jets can still do enough well that ten wins is pretty conceivable (that defense and their wide receivers are well above the league average).  Oakland may have lost Jason Campbell for the season, but they have the “win it for Al”, Carson trying to prove the haters wrong, and the awful AFC West advantage that these other teams lack.  All these large fan bases should take solace, most of these team’s cores are young and under contract for some time… there’s no where to go but up.

 

Tampa Bay Bucs, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Dallas Romos

“I don’t need to be reminded that this is how it was. I moved on, I passed a billboard down my block, that asks if I’ve had enough, and aloud I say “I’ve had too much” when the truth is, I’m just getting started.”

– “Barlights” by Fun.

 

All these teams are probably done with the season all ready, yet, they still have to play the rest of their games.  In fact, they probably all want to hit the “reset” button and try to have a better showing.  Alas, that isn’t the case which means that their fans are already looking to next year.  Unfortunately, many of these teams are in tenuous positions with some solid, young players (Josh Freeman and LaGarette Blount, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Colt McCoy and Greg Little, Dez Bryant and… Miles Austin is still youngish), but a lot more older and unreliable ones ( Does Tampa Bay ’s defense have a starter under 27 not named Gerald McCoy?  Can you name any of the journeymen that comprise the Bengals’ and Browns’ offensive lines?   Don’t even bother to ask about the Cowboy’s offensive line).  Is it too early to start cheering for the 2013 versions of these teams?

 

Philadelphia Eagles

“You’d kill yourself for recognition,

Kill yourself to never ever stop
You broke another mirror,
You’re turning into something you are not.”

– “High and Dry” by Radiohead

 

Poor, poor Mike Vick.  After all the accolades and big contract, he wanted nothing more than to put the Eagles back on his back and carry them through another torrid season while disproving all his haters (believe me, there’s a lot of them still… its like they just mutated!  In fact, I was at a party last weekend where a guy steadfastly asserted that Vick would “never be a viable QB” because “he was always looking to run”.  The guy was a Packers fan and failed to realize that Vick season high in passing yards in a game exceeded Aaron Rodgers, to whom Vick had only eight less passing attempts.).  The more deadest on being the “pocket Vick” this Eagles team becomes, the more they lose their identity (as well as their “scary to defend” essence).  It’s all about finding a balance, which was on display this past Sunday.  The rest of the league should hope that was just an aberration and not the new modus operandi. 

 

Carolina Fightin’ Cam Newtons

“Hold up, before we end this campaign,
As you can see, we done bodied the damn lames,
Lord, please let them accept the things they can’t change,
And pray that all of their pain be champagne,”
– “Otis” by Kanye West and Jay-Z

 

Juxtapose to the distraught plight of Michael Vick is the unflappable, untouchable Cam Newton (Elliot Ness, and the other NFL rookies, have nothing on him!).  Whether its dropping three hundred yard passing games like its nothing (really, Cam… back-to-back 400 yard games!?!) or shrugging off the NCAA investigations ( Auburn allegedly spent $120k to land Newton … what a bargain!  Don’t believe me?  Ask tOSU boosters how much they shelled out on Pryor).  Newton hasn’t just changed the game for the time being, he’s given the Panthers their first legitimate superstar QB (Sorry, Delhomme and Collins… no apologies to Chris Weinke) and resurrected the career of Steve Smith (who may be the happiest person in the Carolinas not named Dabo Swinney).

 

Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals

“Maybe sometimes, we feel afraid, but it’s alright,
The more you stay the same, the more they seem to change…

Just go ahead, let your hair down…You’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow.”

– “Put Your Records on” by Corinne Bailey Rae

 

These teams are bad.  Though, it isn’t quite as dismal as it looks (even for you, Tarvaris Jackson).  They’re not that bad, talent-wise (well, maybe you are, Kevin Kolb); they’re just bad, identity-wise.  If Dennis Green were faced with scheming against them, he’d look quizzically and shrug (why this could be for a variety of reasons, the one I was looking for is that they couldn’t be who we thought they were because they are nothing).  Maybe the promotion of Tebow and jettison of Lloyd (the loudest pro-Orton supporter, btw) is the spark plug this team needs (I can tell you as an Eric Decker fantasy owner, I’m pretty excited).  Maybe Sidney Rice FINALLY being healthy will right the Seahawks ship (granted, that ship is more rowboat than battleship, but it’s the NFC West… we take what we can get).  Maybe Larry Fitzgerald will repeatedly defy double and triple teams to allow the Cardinals offense to resemble… well, an offense.  I don’t know.  I do know that one of these teams is about to rocket up the standings… stay tuned.

 

Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and St. Louis Rams

“Your classicisms and history don’t impress me… I was born for today and the day after, year after year”

– “The Future is now” by The Boo Radleys

 

These teams are bad.  Though, again, it isn’t quite as dismal as it looks (well, except for you, Matt Moore).  Youth rules these teams and, much like the teams a few rungs up, its all about tomorrow.  Unfortunately, its still today… The Vikings have finally realized (or maybe not) that going with the grizzled, veteran QB isn’t always the best solution (one out of three isn’t bad).  The Christian Ponder era has officially begun (though, it looks strangely like the dawn of the Joe Webb era).  Miami has done everything except for starting to sell Andrew Luck jerseys to make it clear that they’re packing it in and hoping to land the superstar QB.  With the electric Reggie Bush, the enigmatic Brandon Marshall, the incendiary Daniel Thomas, the productive Anthony Fasano, a underrated defense (hi, Cameron Wake!) and well, whatever it is Brian Hartline brings to the table, its not exactly like the cupboard is bare.  Sam Bradford is good and now he finally has a receiver to accompany Stephen Jackson. 

 

Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs

“We get wasted, then I taste it, then I waste it again… and we’re doin’ it again”

– “Another again” by John Legend

 

These teams are bad.  Like, really bad.  It is as dismal as it looks.  In fact, it’s worse.  The Jaguars have underwhelming Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert as the Red Riffle (Andy Dalton) continues to dazzle in Cincinatti, their coach is as good as fired, and the LA has done everything except hiring the moving company to bring the Jaguars to the City of Angels.  Poor Mauriece Jones-Drew.  You deserve better than this, my friend.  On the opposite end, you have the Chiefs.  Last year’s winners of the AFC West by virtue of taking advantage of a weak schedule and being merely competent (How the Chargers were Norv Turner’d out of a dynasty should be one of the biggest shortcomings ever… fortunately, San Diego is such an awesome place that their fans have plenty of distractions).  This season has seen them freefall, wasting all of last year’s momentum… The Chargers seemingly have their act together and playing the first place teams from the other divisions isn’t quite as easy.  They’re an old, veteran team so the rebuilding phase hasn’t even started yet.  Worse still, they don’t even have the light of the tunnel of moving to a sunny locale… Arrowhead has seen the last playoff game it’ll probably see for a long time.

 

Indianapolis Colts

“Home, lemme go home!  Home is whenever I’m with you.”

– “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

 

The song here sums up how Colt’s fans feel about their broken leader, Peyton Manning.  Curtis Painter hasn’t made anyone forget about Jim Sorgi (which, in itself, may be the worst feeling outside of Manning’s neck right now).  The defense is old and hurt and the offense… well, they count the fact that Painter hasn’t completely messed himself a positive.  Colts’ fans don’t have to be worrying about home… seems they’ll be there for at least the next two postseasons.  Manning is 36 and if he’s unable to return near his pre-injury form and they miss on Luck, the Colts could be home for much, much longer.

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