Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tebow's a gamer

Tim Tebow's move to the New York Jets has confounded most NFL experts and commentators. And yet, there's a strange genius at play in acquiring the country's biggest football personality to showcase his rare stylings on its grandest stage.

Here's a satirical piece I wrote earlier this year for The Good Men Project about the one, and only, Tebow.

Tebow's a gamer

There are two scenarios in which Tim Tebow would be the world's greatest quarterback: the first, on a frost-covered gridiron in Deluth Minnesota in 1923; the second, inside a football video game from the Eighties - coincidentally an era when aimlessly running in hostile environs was at a premium (see the movies Running Man, Blade Runner and Predator).

Too many people expect too much from Tebow. Of course this past season he couldn’t pitch a nine-yard out to save his life - he's a born runner, a replicant created better, for short term gain only. Why can’t we just accept the genius of his rare design?

When the video game gods considered the possibilities for a football prophet to eclipse black and white Xs and Os, they surely conjured a mold in Tebow's image. If you look closely, Tebow is in fact a Nintendo sprite, circa 1985. Left. Right. Forward. Back. The occasional awkward diagonal. Stick with these controls and Tebow will take you far. If he freezes mid-play, hit reset.

Unfortunately Tebow's in the wrong era, trapped in reality. He competes in this futuristic pigskin we know as the NFL, where his indecision and inaccuracy are brutally punished by battering rams with hardened plastic shells. It can never work, no matter what the epitomic quarterback John Elway says. Video game QBs of the mid-Eighties were different to actual QBs - more innocent, dancing and dashing around the pocket like a kid playing hopscotch in the backyard. Being pummeled in the back field was not in their repertoire, but reserved for those plodding NFLers taught to launch balls from deep in the pocket like a rusty- wheeled cannon. No, '85 sprites bounced, rolled and rambled, without a hint of deference for the defense, which looked hopelessly blinkered on every down, mind you.

In this vain, my favorite football video game as a kid was the underwhelming but charming 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 a game with the limited locomotion. But then again, 10-yard Fight moved video gamers beyond Atari’s pixilation and into, well, a sharper variation of little blurry squares.

The beauty of Fight – as anyone nostalgic about the original batch of Nintendo offerings will attest to – was simplicity. No fancy intro featuring Kid Rock or Creed. No mistimed broadcasting on a loop, more obvious than Ferris Bueller’s rigged doorbell. No overcompensation of mini-games because the main product's bogged down in complex playbooks. Instead, Fight resourced one offensive mode – Tim Tebow’s preferred attack – the read-option. Your quarterback simply received the ball upon the snap and could enact one of three choices: 1) run, 2) toss the ball horizontally to a running back, 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.

Playing the game again also reveals the ungoverned zeal Tebow must experience as he zigs and zags and then darts into every line, and finally, charges away from every helpless secondary. Tebow, like 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, like Tebow, 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. Indeed, Fight never matched its game play, but made up the difference with quirky, old-fashioned touches, chief of which was 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 - as opposed to completing entire seasons or starting as a rookie and ending up an MVP. 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 will never hold a candle to a scantily-clad Shannon Elizabeth but it has its own sex appeal. 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 CBS replays, you retreat your quarterback toward your own end zone, spinning and ducking in a Tebow-esquepixilated 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. 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.

Football, the way it was intended.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Doubling down on quarterbacks

They say fortune favors the brave, and at The Quarterback Casino this week, there were five fearless bidders for Peyton Manning. But there were also four losers at the close, and no matter what you think was whispered behind heavy doors guarded by burly earpiece-toting goons, there was only ever going to be one awarded the spoils. So I think it’s a stretch for some pundits and fans to start tossing their complimentary cocktails at the GMs who sat down at the Peyton Hold ‘Em table and left short of a flush. Cards were dealt, faces turned to stone, and perhaps some Jennifer Tilly-style cleavage was even dropped. But once those cards tumbled, all bets were off. The public went into a frenzy and everyone with a Twitter account was ready to pounce with 140-character assassinations. Sure, it’s human nature to hope for a run of aces in such matters, but really, how often do you land a king? 

The Manning free agency story has reaffirmed an ugly truth about modern water-cooler conversation, and that’s that every opinion, and every warped or misguided piece of gossip is shaping the collective perception about sports stories, even if all the information published is inaccurate. In particular, I take exception to the incessant slaughtering of the Miami Dolphins, as both a brand and an organization, first by a number of columnists, and broadly across social media, as if their current circumstance - being a mid-tier ball club - is the result of a flawed business strategy. This so-called hopelessness, not merely the ups and downs of off-season gambling, is said to have undermined the Fins ability to sign Matt Flynn, and perhaps Alex Smith, too. Seriously? Somebody sound the shark alarm: the Dolphins are in trouble!

Even if the Fish are starting to smell, even if what chronic tweeters like the Steelers' Ryan Clark says is remotely true, we have no real evidence to suggest that it was the basis of Manning’s choice to play in Denver. The fact that John Elway is the head honcho in Mile High would indicate that Manning was hooked on the Broncos from the start. None of the other four teams in play employ Elway either, so in that regard, they were each equally disadvantaged, and equally flawed in their chase. But because Miami so hastily pursued Flynn after Manning, and missed there as well, the stink of the initial miscue is more pungent, at least in the public arena, where apparently opinion now trumps fact. That little context is provided to the endless vitriol of rumor spewed across the web, and that only a tiny percentage of people – usually players, agents, and some reporters are actually informed about these dealings – makes it implausible that we consider it, or that so many columnists fuel the fire further. In some cases, it seems, the players don't even know the truth themselves, as we saw with Smith traveling to Miami in search of new options.

And now the online consensus is that Miami's signing of David Garrard was a desperate and floundering move from an organization is complete disarray, due mostly to the perceived ineptitude of GM Jeff Ireland. Heck, fans in Miami have taken to the streets over this. My question to those spinning this agenda, including the Tweeters, Commenters, and News Churners, is what is the club supposed to do at this juncture? If they do nothing, after missing on two quarterbacks, one of whom hasn't proven a thing outside of playing well in two NFL games, then certainly their inactivity would be ridiculed. By inking Garrard, who has played well in recent seasons, including 23 touchdowns for a 90.8 QB rating in 2010, they at least have an additional QB option. If the team signed him after 2008's AFC Wild Card Game it would be regarded as genius. Instead, now, it's a major risk because what you did five minutes ago isn't just fresh in the mind, it means the world. In this light, Matt Flynn is a superstar because he won a meaningless game late last season.

Hey here's something to tweet: Matt Moore won six games last year as the Dolphins starter, and was a play away from beating both the Cowboys and Giants too.

This article first appeared on Technorati as Broncos Strong Hand, While Dolphins Go Fish 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Best safety-man ever

This Peanuts sketch, a draft by the great Charles Schultz, is one of my favorites. Of course it's not as iconic as Lucy's ongoing kick-holder gag, but there's something surprising and hilarious about Snoopy swooping in on Chuck like Ed Reed. And then the casual delivery of the punchline, "Best safety-man we've ever had," is so silly it's both heartwarming and brilliant.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Elway's Manning Audible

Things were looking so hopeful for Dolphins fans a week ago, with the prospect of Peyton Manning, already a part-time Miami resident, making sunny South Beach his full-time home as the local team's quarterback. How sweet life could have been in this scenario: endless sun, pina coladas, presumably better baseball on its way, and the world's greatest signal-caller kicking ass and taking names in the modern Orange Bowl - the Fergie Bowl.

Then a chilly air swept through, blustery and burly like the man blowing it. John Elway, the greatest signal-caller of an earlier era, rode up to the Free Agent Saloon as Denver's saviour, like he has so many times before, to talk the same shot-gun language as Peyton. He probably ordered a whiskey sour, threw a warm arm around the highly-coveted pilgrim, whispered a few sweet audibles, and Bam!, every other team in contention was staring at the rear-end of a one horse race. Yippee-ki-yay MF!

In many ways this isn't fair on Dolphins, Cardinals, or Titans fans, whose clubs have truly legitimate and logical reasons to offer Manning a roster spot. What, after all, is reasonable about Manning going to Denver? Because Elway is there? They had Orton and blew that. They have Tebow and are ruining that. Now, almost as if to alleviate the ramifications of those misjudgements, the Broncos seek Manning's services, and look more like landing him than any other NFL club.

What's best for the league, and for fans, is being lost here. Manning will take his sore neck to frosty Mile High and possibly jeopardize his production with challenging conditions and an inferior offense. Then, the other quarterback-lacking clubs will overpay sub-par QBs who'll notch pedestrian numbers and help their teams miss the playoffs. So instead of seeing one dynamite Manning-led outfit, with football's John Wayne at the helm for one last hurrah, we'll have four mediocre clubs with distraught fan bases, desperately and sadly hoping Brett Favre un-retires.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

From Marino, to Moore to...Manning?

The Revenge of the Birds blog wrote a brief commentary this week on why Peyton Manning won't sign with the Jets, Redskins or Dolphins, citing unsuitable cities, dubious weather, new coaching regimes, uninspiring receiving corps, and not enough pork sandwich outlets as chief arguments. Okay, I made that last one up. But the other points are all valid.

Are these concerns realistic?

I certainly agree that Peyton in Jets green seems egregious: haven't we already been down that rocky road with Brett Favre? We know the Big Apple is a pressure cooker environment for quarterbacks - unless you share a name with Manhattan's theater district that is - and so it's a stretch to imagine Peyton facing that heat at this stage of his career, and in a town his brother already owns. Where's the upside? In hoping to meet Woody Allen, but spending more time with Woody Johnson?

Washington poses a more likely destination, especially with their superior coaching and bottomless pockets. But then again, would the ultimate on-field general be willing to relinquish some his command to the Shanahans? Doubtful. Furthermore, would the Hogs, a team perennially in limbo and without a bona fide leader, be keen on a veteran QB in a precarious state of health?

One time star, and Championship air guitarist, Donovan McNabb, threw his two cents in this week, indicating to ESPN that the Skins wouldn't again entertain a signal-caller at the tail end of his career. Donovan is apparently still part of Washington's inner circle.

"I don't see Peyton ending up in Washington," said McNabb. "Because what happens is now you're bringing in another veteran who will be 35, 36, who's been in one offense throughout his career - it's the same situation (as McNabb in 2010)."

That leaves the Dolphins, who in my mind, at least have the best receiving corps for a precision passer like Peyton. The group is headlined by the NFL's fiercest run-after-the-catch receiver Brandon Marshall, and also includes slot maestro, Davone Bess, the big mitts of Anthony Fasano, and the speedy down-field threat Brian Hartline, who according to the Phins Spotlight blog, has improved this past season with his 15.7 yards per catch.

As much as the Red Birds crave Manning too, I fear they're stuck with their low-key marquee man Kevin Kolb, whose nine touchdowns and eight turnovers in 2011 seem about on par with driving Aunt Edna to Phoenix. At least he's not Derek Anderson, right? Then again, Anderson could send it deep. (Sorry, momentary lapse into disillusionment).

Perhaps the final say goes to the South Florida faithful whose attempts to lure Manning have fallen just short of having Kim Kardashian parade around in an 18-shaped bikini. (Could that even work? The mind boggles). The Washington Post recently reported that Fins fans have erected a billboard at the intersection of I-95 and I-595 in Fort Lauderdale to advertise and their campaign. The website urges locals to vote for Manning to bring his talents, and neck brace, to South Beach, for what would surely be on par with Colts great Earl Morrall turning up in Miami and guiding the club to the NFL's first undefeated season in 1972. At the very least, Peyton could catch some rays and give LeBron James some pointers on how to be more measured in setting expectations.

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