Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Florida Football And Its Leading Offenses


Life by the beach inspires an array of styles, not least of which is the irrepressible Hawaiian shirt. It’s an item that not only conjures the islands, but also California surfing, Miami boardwalks, and Andy Reid at the post-game podium.

For every elaborate floral print—and apologetic head coach—however, there’s a slick suit, and in a subtropical climate like Florida, there’s something both wildly insane and wonderfully cool about that. Of course, the man that made the suit-loose-tie combo iconic in the Sunshine State was Frank Sinatra, and to this day, the Chairman is the benchmark for making impossibly stylish sartorial moves.

Speaking of which, pro football’s three Floridian teams have also been daring to dream of greatness, if not on the sporting field then en route to it. For these clubs, 2014 might be highlighted by colorful runs from the locker room more so than actual footballing prowess. Still, in some circles, like club marketing meetings and around pro shop water-coolers, this might be a thrilling season. Indeed fashion, like football, is all about your perspective.



Which brings me to the latest ensembles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, teams known for sun splashed decals. In the case of the Bucs, it’s not that their new unis are lacking pizazz, but more so that the team's brand and heritage has been put to the sword. Since the NFL banned the club from wearing its vintage creamsicle collection (due to nonsensical concerns over ill-fitted helmet switches), we don’t see it anymore. Instead, we’re faced with the bold red and beautiful pewter combination—now accompanied by an enlarged helmet logo—which is in its own way striking, and certainly useful to people short of sight.


Then there's the Dolphins, who have gone from their famed aqua to a distinctly brighter blue, and more notably, from a cartoon dolphin wearing a helmet to a sleeker elongated version completely void of protective head wear. What would Ol' Blue Eyes say? This proved a difficult adjustment for many among the Miami faithful, because the club's most iconic images are those awash with its venerable branding, that of Strock, Griese, Csonka, the Killer Bs, Duper, Mercury and Marino. You simply can't erase a winning formula. Well, you can, you just need a 40 year buffer since the last major success.

Finally, Jacksonville's new two-tone helmet is really quite astonishing. Did they run out of gold sharpies or something? I'm just not sure what to make of the whole amalgam, which seems more confused than Senator Keely in South Beach. When they called it the bold new city of the south, they weren't messing around, huh?



Now none of these designs are offensive as such, it's just that they defy tradition. And if we start neglecting NFL traditions, then what do we have? That's right, an even grizzlier version of Coach Ditka. And nobody wants that. So the only way to subdue the poked bear is to get Errol Flynn back on the side of Tampa's hat, demand that Flipper straps up, and have the Jags revert to their all black dome. Anything less than these moves would be akin to Colin Farrell trying to be Don Johnson, the ultimate of Floridian vices.



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hoyer Is The Starter, Not Manziel ... Okay?


Here's a thought — if you added Tim Tebow to the current Cleveland Browns quarterbacking mix who would you pick as the starter: Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, or Tebow?

Because the three have impressed few, you might defer to the most famous player. This would at least be in keeping with the adopted process of several NFL general managers in such a scenario. The potential to be an icon often outweighs the promise of accurate passing, after all.

Browns coach Mike Pettine recently said that he wants his players running scared a little bit, presumably to instil the idea that nobody’s job is safe. He called pro football a performance based business, which it obviously is and hardly needs spelling out. I’m certain the players don't need to hear it phrased like this either. It’s hardly motivating or inspiring to have your coach say you need to perform or you’re out on your keister. I mean come on, nobody's lifting their game with the skipper breathing stale coffee vapors down their neck. Consider the plunging fortunes of Matt Schaub.

Given Pettine’s approach, it’s easy to see why maybe his quarterbacks are struggling, Manziel included. Tentatively announced starter Hoyer isn’t exactly being touted as the team’s leader, which is clearly what’s needed here. But Pettine won't be that emphatic because the Browns want to sell Manziel t-shirts, which is why he's also hedging about a two-quarterback system.

Then there's the issue that Hoyer hasn't exactly lit the preseason up, and by contrast has actually kept the offense in a shadowy lull. But hey, it’s the preseason, folks. Even Eugene Tackleberry wasn’t the cop he later became until he completed basic training. It took a leader like Commandant Lassard to know he'd have many, many opportunities to thrive.


The point is the whole situation reminds me of when former Browns QB Bernie Kosar was undermined by Bill Belichick. At least Kosar had the benefit of being a Browns legend, throwing for 3,000 yards four times with the club. Hoyer’s doing it uphill. He's thrown more worrying glances than he has yards to this point. And still, he deserves a genuine shot, not a half-hearted vote of confidence.

Well despite all this, everybody’s mostly worried about Johnny Football. Is he ready for the big time? they ask. Is he mature enough? Can he flip it down field as well as he flips the bird? As you've likely guessed, I’m more interested in Brian Football right now. Sure, he doesn’t come with as much hype, nor does he stir TV’s talking heads into verbal diarrhea the way Manziel does. But he could be a very good quarterback in time. While Manziel was off betting on himself in Vegas this summer, or twerking with Bieber, or whatever he does in his spare time, Hoyer went about his business, studying the playbook, taking reps and signing footballs, ‘Browns starter.’



Okay, I made the last bit up. But he may as well have because anyone who cares about Cleveland football knew in their heart of hearts that Manziel wouldn’t be ready for week one. Except him. Presumably he felt his talents would win him the starting gig, not realizing that athleticism doesn’t help you read a defense, or learn a playbook, or act like a pro. College educations just aren’t what they used to be.


So you see, this is mostly about Hoyer, who gets buried in Browns media coverage like Bruce at a Kardashian pool party. It’s no fun being the smartresponsible, flat-reared one is it? Hoyer could throw six of seven balls in his next game and there’d still be those clamouring for Manziel to go in. Yes, this is the nature of pro football, especially in our age of short attention spans. Nothing helps a raw talent like Johnny Manziel to be perceived as more important than he is than passing glances, and that’s exactly how many people follow the NFL nowadays. Those who really watch the game, however, know it takes more than bravado to play behind center.

Let’s not dismiss the focus and poise it’ll take Hoyer to keep his starting job and applaud his injury comeback. This Cleveland gig isn't exactly his to lose but Manziel’s to win really, and that’s possibly the worst case scenario for any quarterback. If the Browns succeed, Hoyer will be spared. If they fail, he’ll be the obvious scapegoat, hung out to dry by media hounds and an increasingly impatient fan base. 

You know Manziel will step in at some point because like Tebow before him, the public inertia is too great. Not even Ricky Vaughn rose to stardom this quickly folks.

Burn on big river, burn on.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Redskins Name Change That Just Makes Sense



Before quarterback Rex Grossman left the Washington Redskins, the most apt new name for the club was obviousthe Washington Rex-slings.

Not only would that moniker have eased over the tongue like chili from Ben's, but would've born culture relevance, and dare I say, gravitas. The old silhouetted logo might have been adapted to Rex’s face too, his crew cut neatly replacing the current feathers atop it. Equally as important, the old school ‘R’ would have stayed put as a result. It was just a win-win for Washington's marketing department and Hog fans alike.


But unfortunately Rexy is in Cleveland now, where his slingshots will soon send third-string vapor trails across the Ohio sky. You want to talk about LeBron James’ contribution to the state’s economy: how about the extra air traffic personnel needed at Hopkins International to track Rex-fueled spirals? You can’t rely on one guy downing venti-sized Americanos for that. No, you need a team. This is the sort of job creation the Rex brand delivers folks.

Well, as wonderful as it all would have been, this can’t happen until Mr Grossman goes back to Washington. And cursory visits, like his most recent preseason pine warming, just aren't enough. We need him in the burgundy and gold to make this all a reality.

So until then, there are several other name suggestions that might satisfy picketers. Firstly, I’m not against RedHawks, but it’s not quite right is it? It would require a drastic logo change, and while many people want a clean break from Washington’s footballing past, there’s no need to transform the entire image is there? For this reason, I’m higher on RedFeathers. There’s something dignified about it. And it rollsnot quite like Rexslingsbut it still drops from your lips in a tight end-over-end fashion. It’d also work with all existing logos.


The other name suggestion worth consideration is Braves, mostly because it was the team's original name back in 1932, but also has better brand implications than the current nickname. Club insiders could appease owner Dan Snyder with this one as well, by noting the courage needed to make the switch, especially after he has long resisted. They could draw up pie charts and powerpoint graphs that show how the move could reshape his reputation, raising it from Richard Nixon territory to Theismann and Duke Ellington company.

Still, I know what you’re thinking. You can’t get Rexslings out of your head, right? Me neither. There’s still time America. There's still time.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eli Shoots For The Stars On Broadway


Eli Manning might be more divisive than the new Turtles movie. At least the heroes-in-a-half-shell never seemed to care about their detractors. 

Eli, on the other hand, well, he's more contemplative.

It's a funny thing playing quarterback in New York, mostly because you're only as good as your last down, or fur coat purchase for that matter. Consider that Eli is a two-time Super Bowl champ and yet an all-time punching bag among pundits. Some seem to especially resent his penchant for suddenly improbable moments, and those people are usually Patriots fans, like Grantland’s head honcho Bill Simmons. 

The Sports Guy is right that Manning pulls passes out of his rear in a way that'd make Copperfield gush. But by the same token, you might say the Giants signal-caller simply has guts. I’m not talking about the sort of big ones it takes to ask out Gisele Bundchen, but the kind that leads you to toss a prayer into the swirling Meadowlands winds in front of 80,000 screaming fans. Gisele turns you down, at least you’re going home with your cool hair and in a sports car. But blow a big pass in New York and you’re spending the night in the shadows of the MetLife concourse my friend.


The point is that I admire Eli for his understated bravado. He’s like the quietly over-confident movie friend who thinks he’s got a chance with Emma Stone's character. The shame is he just might, if he’d stop wearing shades in the cafeteria.

Apparently most Giants fans agree that the younger Manning still has special something to offer. In fact, about 74% of people in a NJ.com poll said they still had faith in often maligned QB, as of this week. That’s a stronger vote of confidence than I’m sure Big Apple fans would be willing to give Jets pilot Geno Smith. "EEhhh Geno, whenareyouagonnalearnah?!"

Ahead of Eli's eleventh season, the G-Men think tank ordered in the playbook made famous on the opposite coast. Yes, starting in early September, you’ll see New York’s No.10 make shorter drops and more promptly let it fly as he looks for high percentage readsJoe Montana style. This West Coast move is aimed at curtailing his errors and presumably will give the offense a better chance of avoiding three-and-outs.

However, many writers have jumped on the audacious 70% completion goal the Giants have scribbled at the top of Eli's To Do list, deriding it as a hard target for the best ever, let alone a QB who's never surpassed the 63% mark. Fair enough, but this system will give New York's receivers a chance to improve, and I'd count on Manning to make it work. 


Others, like Neil Paine of Five Thirty Eight also contend that the idea of trying to mitigate mistakes doesn't always pay off. I can't argue this, especially when we know Eli can drop his head faster than Matt Schaub's in a Houston deli if things go off course. On a cool night at Lincoln Financial Field, with the boos raining down and your palms sweatier than the day Cougar turned in his wings, you might rather see Eli heave a few speculators, right? 

Time, and Manning's timing, will tell.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bounty Hunters Out As Fantasy Tilts Into New Era


In the world of money collection there have been a few exceptional talents. Among them, Rocky Balboa, Chili Palmer and that roundish guy from Rounders. Not surprisingly, they all packed a punch, and a few pounds.

The ultimate pound of flesh guy was Shakespeare's Shylock, of course, but it's way too early in the football calendar to get literary. Let's save that for when the Raiders and Dolphins meet in London Town.

Now you could employ one of the aforementioned goons to collect your fantasy football payments, but it’d probably come at a premium and who knows if you’d come away without a black eye for your trouble. Alternatively, there's a more roguish figure like Boba Fett, who always seemed efficiently cool, but you know, I think that weird salivating sandpit in Return Of The Jedi may have digested him by now.


Meanwhile, there's a company by the name of Tilt that's based in San Francisco and formerly known as Crowdtilt, which has moved into this arena  the seemingly untapped market of fantasy football fee collection.

The premise of its new offering is that collecting league entry fees can be a hassle, and while I've never had to do it, I've certainly sensed the agitation it's caused league managers when asked for "just two more days...please...I'll pay you double....whatever you want."

Who knew fantasy commissioners wielded the power of Don Corleone?

Using Tilt, which has partnered with sports media giant ESPN in this endeavor, league commissioners log in through Facebook, and can set payments and the number of teams involved before any prize money is made available. 

The company charges 95c fee for each team using a debit card and an additional 2.9% processing charge if the payment is made by credit card. This is a one time fee, it should be noted. Commissioners can also communicate with team owners in their league through the Tilt system and customize payouts as required.


The partnership with Disney-owned ESPN is a strong turn for Tilt, something in the realm of Colin Kaepernick looping a long ball to Vernon Davis. This is a joint score, however, because Tilt's technology will provide ESPN and its fantasy players with an easy to use and secure payment set-up, which was previously lacking. On the other side, ESPN's brand clout presumably appealed to Tilt.

Tilt started in 2012 as a firm that helps people crowdfund, raise or pool money. Last year it shortened its name to Tilt with the aim of broadening its vision to include the idea of something tipping or tilting behind a critical mass. In this vein, moving into fantasy football is a clever step.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pro Football In 10 Yard Pixels


My favorite football video game as a kid was the mental headlock, 10-yard Fight. 

I was nine when it was released, which gifted me with a suitable lack of expectation and a necessary amount of patience to enjoy such a limited game. But then again, 10-yard Fight moved video gamers beyond Atari’s raw pixilation and into, well, a slightly sharper variation of little blurry squares. 


The beauty of Fight—as anyone nostalgic about the original batch of Nintendo offerings will attest to—was its simplicity. No fancy intro featuring Kid Rock or Creed. No mistimed broadcasting on a loop. No overcompensating mini-games because the main product’s bogged down in complex playbooks. 

Instead, Fight resourced one offensive mode—the read-option. Your quarterback simply took the snap and could make three choices: 1) run, 2) toss the ball horizontally to a running back, or 3) throw the ball to your lone down-field receiver. It was the sort of stark, unscheduled, draw-it-up-the-sand approach to football that made you fall in love with the sport in the first place. 


The Fight signal-caller, hurriedly scans for space, reads the lean of defenders’ bodies and chooses an angle, by foot or by air. It’s a basic premise with an understated beauty. But 10-yard Fight is polarizing because most gamers, and even those with a penchant for anything retro, prefer the oft-heralded Tecmo Bowl. And to be fair, Tecmo seems a superb blend of dynamism and graphical prowess in hindsight. 

Fight never matched its game play, and yet made up the difference with quirky, old-fashioned touches, chief of which were its sound effects. Its mirthful audio snippets can only be described as cuts from an abandoned Casio keyboard recording session, which provided both practical and emotional checkpoints for a game that hinged on such things. Fight’s intermittent jingles signalled new downs, first downs, and touchdowns—but more importantly, success! 

Football deconstructed into 10-yard struggles posed a feasible and enticing challenge in the Eighties, kind of like the “It girls” they casted during the era’s teen movies: Cindy Mancini in Can’t Buy Me Love or Andy in the The Goonies were just the types of love interests nerds locked in their rooms with Nintendo could not attain, but hoped to. Yet, if you consider today’s It girl—Madden on the Xbox, if you will—they’re all uninhibited nymphs whose mere silhouettes are enough to unsettle the fit of your Dockers. It’s a challenge of another kind. 

Fight has its own sex appeal, though. How about, for example, when the marching defense is coming for you, with that tappity-tap drumming sound in your ear? Then, at a speed equitable to the one typically seen on scratchy CBS replays, you retreat your quarterback toward your own end zone, spinning and ducking in a Tim Tebow-esque fashion until ultimately you find yourself yards from the goalposts, at which point your only option – your only read – is to heave it back down field toward your lone receiver. 

If you’re lucky, the ball will sail beyond the smattering of defenders—who by this stage have mostly drifted toward the sideline in search of pixilated Gatorade—and will conclude its flight in the opposite end zone, in the hands of your receiver. The bird-like whistle will sound repetitively as your man leaps for joy on the spot, seemingly with no place else to go. You glance at the rapidly ticking clock and get ready to defend, where you’ll soon play the part of cumbersome obstacle, and your opponent will attempt to secure ground in highly-coveted 10-yard increments.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Candlestick Park: One Last Drop Back


Candlestick print

One reason football makes other sports feel like watching checkers in heavy fog, is its iconic settings. Those big places, after all, are more than bricks and mortar, beer taps and urinal cakes, crumpled beer cups and forgotten ticket stubs under seats. They give meaning to the NFL. 

Along with Tom Brady's hair.

Soulless concrete stadiums enliven on game days because of the intangible energy that wraps around the field and its surrounding bleachers. It lifts players to rare heights and fans two feet from their seats, and lingers long after the final whistle. Atmosphere needs a place to swell. 

Sure, it might quieten each Monday, drowned out by the buzz of lawnmowers, the whip of sprinklers and sweeping brooms, and SportsCenter's 'Boo-yahs'. But any metaphysical matter that can fill an arena is capable of setting into its beams and lodging in crevices, both those within gray pylons and ourselves. It then stays a while. It's simply something that giant screens and wi-fi technology could never connect us to. 

Which is why it hurts to see such old places pulverised. 




Candlestick Park in San Francisco is slated for demolition later this year, according to SFGate.com, allowing for a prolonged farewell that may even include Paul McCartney doing a creaky version of Long Tall Sally. 

Ohhhh baby, we're gonna have some fun that night!

In the late summer of 1966, The Beatles added yet another layer to 'the Stick's' iconic fabric as only they could, in what was to be their final live show anywhere. The guitars twanged richly that evening, but it's hard to be sure over time, given the piercing screams that drown the show's lasting audio. Hitting fewer vocal peaks these days, I'm sure Sir Paul wouldn't mind those same squeals the next time around.


The Beatles at Candlestick
The Fab Four played their last live show at the Stick

It's indeed a cruel twist fate that awaits all venerable stadiums sitting on prime real estate: Developers eventually catch up to rising markets and no amount of NFL memorabilia could outstrip the value of a building on Candlestick Point. No, men with grand visions, grander than bulldozing from the backfield to the end zone, that is, chase these sorts of opportunities down like the Coyote after the Roadrunner. If they catch you, your team as you know it, is through.


If only Roger Craig was still running.

How things change. One day you're wondering if Montana can hit Rice on a fade, the next Montana's saying things like he was never that enamoured with the park anyway.

Joe, say it isn't so?

The Stick, glorious home of the mighty 49ers for more than 40 years, will supposedly turn into a shopping mall and some residential space. To progress nowadays, it seems, you must supplant history - with a few walk-in wardrobes.


Niners quarterback John Brodie, 1971

The Niners are moving to Santa Clara, a decent commute south of San Francisco, and into a $1.2 billion home which is near complete. All that's apparently missing from the new Levi's Stadium is its Bandera Bermuda grass, and the players new denim pants. Okay I made that second part up. But they will be wearing denim jocks.

Listen, I get that things - especially big cement things - become outdated. Seats shrink and scoreboards expand. Paint peels and toilets decay. Where it was once easy to find a spot for a LeBaron, an SUV is different proposition. 

Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara
A visual of the new stadium in Santa Clara

Yes, the new digs look pretty swish and will fast fill the Niners backdrop. Hey, shivering in the upper deck on an icy Monday night, might just become a distant memory. That's what we're aiming for, right? Before you know it, you'll be making crazy comments like you were never a fan of the old park. 





But I'll miss the place, typified by the lively bus ride through town and neighborhood streets, down to the arena where the winds are so fierce there's no justifiable reason to punt a football. But the 49ers did so anyway. And also rolled out plays that delighted fans so much, for so long.

The images and sounds of them all, the many memories, still huddle around the Stick's old walls, waiting for the next great play to be called.



Joe Montana with Coach Bill Walsh
Coach Walsh helps Joe look for his keys
Candlestick Park parking lot
First ones here, and we'll be the first to leave!
And they said Sochi wouldn't be ready