Monday, February 20, 2012

Swimsuit models and QB ratings


Each year, the Madden game hits shelves with new tweaks, iterations, ideas, beeps and buzzes, and of course, a cover shot to supplant the last. Is there a cover outside of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue more hotly anticipated?

Once the new product adorns store fronts, congests blog forums and splashes across gaming magazines, we're regaled of graphical tales about EA labs where Madden's mad scientists whiteboarded new angles, conjured impossible moves, and acted out scenarios while hooked up to motion sensor devices. There are made-for-press-release subtleties like the addition of delicate shadows, artificial intelligence to replicate player tendencies, and generally more layers than a Chicago Bears punter in December. In the end, it's all about increasing the complexity and diversity of the experience so that what is essentially the same game, appears slightly different every summer. It's a well considered project, and with the exception of last year's delayed release, superbly executed.

But there is one aspect of the whole Madden saga that seems overlooked, and which I believe in this age of celebrity and news indulgence makes complete sense: the rate at which a player is distracted off-field. In other words, how much energy is he using, shall we say, between the sheets.

Now on the surface this seems a rather superficial concern, and perhaps not entirely appropriate for a video game enjoyed by kids. But this rating could easily be couched as "game day focus" or "mental preparedness" because such elements are very real considerations in any sporting endeavor. After all, pro football offers some stiff competition - pun intended.

So perhaps the fine people at EA could standardize this statistic for us Madden gamers in their next edition. They could call it the WAG (Wives And Girlfriends) Factor, and score the level of influence or distraction caused by partners of prominent players. Quarterbacks, as the highest profile stars, would be the most suitable category to trial this formula. For example, Tom Brady might score 75 points on the WAG Factor (as opposed to his "Awareness" score of 98 in Madden 12), because if popular media teaches us anything, it's that New England's favorite son hasn't performed to his optimum since dating Gisele Bundchen.

Or how about Tony Romo, who now as a married man might score 83, but surely would have been penalized in 2007 for dating pop music bombshell, Jessica Simpson - the ideal distraction. I'd suggest the former Romo - an 88 scorer overall in Madden 12 - might have tallied 54 in the WAG Factor. Then there's Jets signal-caller Mark Sanchez, who has the enviable task of dating swimsuit model, Kate Upton, but the unenviable delegation of explaining every lackluster performance to the New York media.

After The Sanchize's three-interception stunner against Miami last season, we could possibly deduce a significant level of "distraction". Sanchez may not even notch 50% on Madden's WAG Factor: I'd propose 47. And do we dare imagine the focus of an Upton-smitten Sanchez next season? It's challenging enough for those on the sideline to ignore the comeliness of Sports Illustrated's latest cover model, let alone someone commanding a pro football huddle.



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lin and Tebow churn the media machine


A recent poll on ESPN.com has revealed that 84% of fans (as of Tuesday evening) consider the rise of the New York Knicks Jeremy Lin to be greater than that of Tim Tebow.

So out of control is the media's focus on Lin - the namesake of the so-called Linsanity phenomenon - that Sportscenter anchors are even likening him to The Beatles. He surely has little in common with the Fab Four, but like Tebow, Lin is a talented athlete with the ability to inspire his teammates. He's also simply a guy looking for a long-term career in pro sports, who didn't ask for any of this extra attention or analysis. And yet,  the hype continues: GQ worked out some Lin lessons for the GOP; Yahoo claimed Kobe bowed to Lin's star power; and, The Huffington Post reported Harvard's rekindled love of basketball.

Why do we feel so compelled to seek out and elevate the next star of the hour? Are we just at the internet's mercy, fueled by micro-reporting and debate, constantly craving the latest search buzzwords?

Tebow - the web phenomenon - busted search algorithms when he painted John 3:16 on his face in early January. The top search terms that week were "John 3:16", "Tebow", and "Tim Tebow" according to Business Insider. Remember how crazy that period of time was? Was it really less "insane" than what's happening with Lin?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Peyton Problem


Come on now. This is becoming more excruciating than the Favre Fiasco. More intriguing than Maria Menounos' bikini bet. More persistent than the questionable sanity around the Lin phenomenon.

Where on earth is Peyton Manning playing next season?!

We all expect the Colts to sacrifice their franchise quarterback rather than pay him $28 million, which means there hasn't been this much speculation about a worn out 36-year old since Angelina Jolie's rakish appearance on the red carpet last week.

So what next?

Well...

The Stampede Blue blog has an interesting breakdown of Peyton's contract in Indy.

Revenge of the Birds take a look at the top contenders in the Manning sweepstakes, outlining the pros and cons of signing No.18. Interestingly, the reader poll below this post significantly favored the Arizona Cardinals.

The National Football Post's Andrew Brandt blogs for The Huffington Post this week, covering some of the trickier financial angles of the Colts dumping Peyton.

But if you're just over the whole thing and would rather some Manning-infused comedy relief, look no further than  Dave's Art Locker friends. Dave works Peyton's infamous frown into all 32 NFL logos. Nice job Dave.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Titans of the throwing industry

Among the many strange criticisms of Eli Manning is that he looks like a 12-year old. Even David Letterman was taken aback by the Super Bowl champ's fresh faced appearance last week. 

"It seems to me you've gotten younger since the last time I saw you," Letterman said.

"I have," Eli quipped. 

That Eli appeared stiffly in a blue blazer and maroon tie, his hair parted to one side like a Lego man, should not be an indictment of his personality - and yet, for many people it continues to be. An inordinate number of media and fans just don't to like the younger Manning, or at least, see him as an easy target. He's not accurate enough: that comes up, doesn't it? And sure, he's about a 58 per cent career passer. (But then again, he's thrown for 27, 579 yards and 185 touchdowns). Other people like to call Eli lucky, as if to say, his industrious and determined nature have nothing to do with his success. Aren't lucky athletes, simply quick-thinking, inventive and opportunistic?


The bottom line is that Eli isn't really cool. He's nice. He's the guy you'd like your sister to bring home. He's the opposite of Tom Brady, whose sharp looks and contemplated hair, perfect passes and cool nature, and broad shoulders and leggy wife, are all so fantastical that most people can't stomach hearing about his success. As fans, we can certainly be pedantic can't we? We don't like the goofy, and we tear down the  fashionable. What's the middle ground, Aaron Rodgers? Maybe. He's not perfect either, you know.     

Part of the problem is that the quarterback-jock icon is embedded in our minds, mostly due to Seventies and Eighties coming-of-age movies. He’s the guy with the delicate mane of hair, the Cruise-esque smile that looks hinged by screws, and obviously, the busty blonde cheerleader girlfriend on his arm. Life is charmed for the high school QB: consider that nobody else can wear painfully tight stone-washed jeans and still claim the respect of his friends.

It’s not until a QB hits the pro ranks, however, that he's personality is truly tested, that he earns his strips. He’s no longer dating the head cheerleader but rather, a supermodel; he’s paid in millions of dollars instead of cafeteria hamburgers on-the-house; and most importantly, he competes in a world that offers immortal status to those who excel - the Hall of Fame. It's high pressure, relentless scrutiny and a position that requires constant off-field maintenance along with on-field results. Just imagine having to cope with that in your own career.


When thinking about the coolest quarterback cats ever, the men whom somehow dodged the critical rush and thrived in all facets of modern athletic superstardom, Jim McMahon springs to mind. McMahon, a wise-cracking, showboating prankster, who had a penchant for headbands and big sunglasses, was also a skilled signal-caller who didn't care about what you thought. Boasting a strong arm and an uncanny knack for reading the game, McMahon was of that rare breed who could impact a contest with larger than life presence. He  took things into his own hands, seemingly in retaliation to the regimented and stern regime of Head Bear, Mike Ditka, and because he seemed unfazed by consequence. This deliberate bravado, and perhaps angst, helped him conquer the NFL, even when he appeared wildly out of control. At Super Bowl XX, for instance, when asked by reporters about a buttock injury, McMahon dropped his pants and mooned them. And on his own Letterman appearance in 1986, McMahon slouched and grinned behind oversized sunglasses like he was trying to impress the other kids in class. It was frigging awesome.

While McMahon was loose and aloof, Brett Favre was everyman tough - and that made him likable, or at least "relatable". Off the field, their were some misgivings, to be sure. But before all that, Favre defined "gunslinger" and in turn, built a persona based on heroics and hi-jinks. After all, he ripped a locker room towel whip with as much fervor as a 40-yard Hail Mary. That's the sort of teammate everybody wants. He performed the immaculate, and still always felt so mortal.

There are of course so many popular quarterbacks, from Unitas to Montana, Staubach to Elway, and perhaps the NFL's smoothest all-time operator, Joe Namath (GQ magazine included Namath in its 25 Coolest Athletes of All Time in 2011). But in this pantheon of football poster men, a guy whose name surprisingly logs less Google or YouTube searches than others, is Warren Moon. Some pundits say Moon went undrafted in the NFL because he was black. Others simply question his suitability as a quarterback. Without trivializing the situation, it was perhaps a blessing that Moon ended up in the Canadian Football League anyway, firstly to improve his game, and secondly, to stick it to the doubters. Resilience and defiance, too, have been known to motivate people in the bleachers.


During six seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos, Moon commandeered an unprecedented five consecutive Grey Cup championship runs and threw for 21,288 yards and 144 touchdown passes. After proving his wares, it was of little surprise that the NFL finally came calling. Moon moved to Houston and instantly restored pride to the pastel blue. Among his many achievements in the American game, he joined the Dans - Marino and Fouts - as the only quarterbacks to post back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons. And if you're still unconvinced that Moon deserves to be in this conversation, just remember that he is the only player ever to be inducted into both the CFL and NFL Halls of Fame. That's at least astounding, if not cool. 

While so many football writers and commentators fawn over the feats of Rodgers and Brees, Moon cooly, calmly and without event, threw 70,613 yards in the CFL and NFL combined. He was one of the purest, most elegant passers ever, who spiraled the ball as if it was on a spindle. And he did it repeatedly. If that doesn't steal the head cheerleader's attention, I don't know what will.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tim Tebow praying for the Eighties


In case you missed it, here's a satirical piece I wrote about Tim Tebow and 80s video gaming for The Good Men Project last month. If you enjoy personal sports narratives, be sure to check out some of the other stuff on Good Men.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Best Super Bowl ad - for football fans

The ads from this year's Super Bowl have charged a range of emotions and in some cases appear to have clouded all judgement. Of course, deciding which ad is best is like ranking the NFL's greatest ever teams: it's a completely arbitrary exercise with inherent biases. What makes a commercial good anyway? Its originality? Its artistry? Whether it makes you laugh or cry? Whether you recall the product thirty minutes later? Because it features dogs? Maybe its all of the above.

It's been reported that 111 million people watched the big game Sunday, so we can safely assume that at least a few of these people saw the ads. And apparently, as reported by Clickz, the dancing M&Ms effort was the most Tweeted. It was also rated as the most effective by other industry measures. But can we really ever know the effectiveness of an ad? While numbers reveal instant reaction, surely each commercial has a different impact on the subconscious down the road, long after the final whistle of Super Sunday.

For what it's worth, I think the NFL's Evolution ad was among the most memorable, uptempo, nostalgic, colorful, creative and certainly appealing for traditional football fans. This was a full blown scrimmage, after all, and deserved ads with equitable ingenuity; sexualized chocolate and high-IQ dogs won't stick in my mind, I'm afraid. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Roger and me...and you...and football




Did you receive an email from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week? I did. Maybe he just sent it to me? Maybe he wants to be more than just friends. He'll have to do more than a rather pedestrian and detached written correspondence though. I need dinner, chocolates, flowers - a little romancing Rog! It's almost Valentine's Day!

Anyway, a letter of this nature truly requires reading between the lines. So here's an interpretation of Roger Goodell's recent message to fans.

To NFL Fans:

Now that another remarkable NFL season has concluded, let me express my gratitude on behalf of all 32 NFL teams for your incredible support. [Keep in mind, you may lose your team in the near future because LA needs a club and I like the movies.] Record numbers of you watched at home, made your way to the stadium, and connected with the NFL in numerous other ways during the 2011 season. Your love of football is what makes the NFL special [But don't rule out another lockout where I'll make you agonizingly wait for the season to kick-off. You're important, but so is extra pocket change]. 

We are proud of the quality of the game today. From the individuals and team skills on display in every game to the record-breaking achievements of future Hall of Famers, the 2011 season was extraordinary on many levels. [I was invited on even more TV shows than last year. My thanks to our PR team]

It finished up with some of the most exciting playoff games of recent years leading to a tense, drama-filled Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots that was the most-watched show in the history of television. What a tribute to our players, coaches, and fans! [...advertisers, media partners and Madonna.]

As good as it’s been, I believe the NFL’s best days are ahead. Our responsibility in leading the league is to protect and enhance the bond between our game and the passionate fans who sustain it. We know we have to earn your trust every day and prove we are worthy of your amazing support. [But I likely won't be protecting the bond between players' heads and their bodies, nor the tradition of 16 fixtures - bring on 18 games!]

Our commitment to improve everything we do is ongoing. We are not done yet. [I just can't leave a good thing alone. It's like coffee: why have it plain when you can add caramel syrup?] From the game on the field to the fan experience at home -- and everything in between -- there are ways we can do even better. We owe it to you, the fans, to believe in better and strive for more. [In other words, I will be making changes for changes sake because I need to leave a stamp on the league. It's about legacy folks.] Our game has always evolved and that will continue. I encourage you to visit our new web site – NFL.com/evolution – to explore how the game has improved over the past century. There are more good changes to come. [See my earlier comment about more games.]

Our mission is captured very simply in these four words: 
Forever forward. Forever football. [I wonder if I can get a gig with Hallmark - that's gold!] Thank you once again for your passion and commitment to the game we all love.

Roger Goodell [I wanted to sign off as "Commish", but had second thoughts. Let's keep this platonic.]

                             

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Giant Super Bowl project: Beat Brady


The key to dethroning the Patriots – who are indeed royalty in the modern NFL era – is to unseat King Brady. The Golden Boy of American pro football is one of the few quarterbacks whose body of work apparently excludes him from being pulverized by opponents. If, instead, Patriot enemies were permitted to work within the regular parameters of the sport, then Brady's torso, and not his resume, would occupy tacklers’ thoughts.
Nonetheless, there are other roads aspiring champions can travel. So to assist the New York Giants, because they're the team requiring greater help in the upcoming Super Bowl I believe, here are three ways to unnerve Tom Brady (none of which, I'm proud to say, involve commenting on his hair before the ball is hiked).
1. Rush him: it’s a straightforward plan employed with monumental success since the days of Ghengis Kahn. If you pester people enough, at least Ghengis found, they’ll surrender entire land masses. Similarly, when Brady wins, it's because he's been awarded too much time. Nobody holds firm in the pocket like Brady, nor steps up as effectively when the rush comes. So blitzing him is certainly easier said than done. With a concentrated approach up the middle, however, that limits Brady’s ability to step forward and load, the Giants can disrupt the Patriots passing rhythm. But they also need to be wary of the short, escape-hatch pass Wes Welker. Charge! Fluster! Hit! This is the best form of defense against New England.
2. Limit the short passing game: Rob Gronkowsi seems larger than his six-feet-six, which adds a psychological layer nobody needs. His hands, to make matters worse, are in more places than Jamie Oliver. But stunting the short game is vital to New York's success because it's central to Brady's act: it's where he'll hope to eclipse Madonna's medley. If Brady hits Gronk quickly though, the Giants will need to pounce. You don't want the big lug in stride, chugging for home. The goal is to take away the middle and force Brady to push it outside and long. The Pats move the chains and churn the clock better than anyone in the NFL, so the G-Men will want Brady to beat them via extraordinary plays only. That, at least, they can live with.
3. Be ready for the no-huddle, and play action: The Pats have a mediocre running game, led by a man so inspiring that they refer to him as The Law Firm. So if you're the Giants, how much sense does it make to fear the run? About as much sense as Bill Belichick's hoody. Brady and Co. will speed-up the battle by forgoing huddles, so the Giants need to finish tackles and hit their marks with the aplomb of Broadway performers. Then, if New York's secondary can hold in the slot for a moment and allow Brady his fake hand-offs and fancy pirouettes, they'll be better able to track the Pats' diligent but slow receivers, who let's face it, would've been late for the midnight ride had Paul Revere called in sick.

This article first appeared on Technorati as Three ways to beat Brady and win a Super Bowl

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday's three biggest upsets

With the Super Bowl almost upon us, we thought it a good time to recall some of the classic games of the past - the ones that likely prompted more tears than a Vernon Davis winning touchdown.

By Kent McGroarty (guest blogger)

The Super Bowl has become a sort of holiday over the years, and is arguably more fun than February’s “official” breathers, Groundhog and Valentine’s Days. Yes, there’s also Mardi Gras, but people get just as hammered on Super Bowl Sunday as they do when piling on the beads. At any rate, Super Bowl usually comprises one team crushing the other, making the big day less exciting than it ought to be. Then there are times when the team everyone thought would get their cleats handed to them actually wound up winning the whole shebang. Such games are also among the best entertainment in the game’s history. 

Super Bowl upsets make for some awesome football, so here are three of the biggest ever:

Super Bowl IV: Kansas City Chiefs 23 - Minnesota Vikings 7

Not only were the Kansas City Chiefs widely regarded as not having a snowball’s chance in hell in this one, they were also dealing with a gambling scandal around quarterback Len Dawson. Despite Minnesota being the overwhelming favorites, the Chiefs took a 16-point lead at halftime, and their defense repeatedly kept the Vikings from invading the Chiefs end zone. Amazingly, KC held the Vikings to one touchdown on 67 offensive yards, and scored the game-winner on a 46-yard run. Dawson threw for 142 total yards and was named MVP. 

Super Bowl XXXVI: New England Patriots 20 - Saint Louis Rams 17

It could be said that Super Bowl XXXVI was during a time when nobody really feared the Patriots or Tom Brady. Though the Pats took a 17-3 start, league MVP Kurt Warner and the Rams scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie it with a minute and a half on the clock. Many figured the game would go into overtime, yet Brady drove his team to the Ram’s 30-yard line to put Adam Vinatieri in perfect position to kick the game-winning field goal. The astonishing victory thrust Brady into the spotlight, and there he has remained as one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks. 

Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31 - Green Bay Packers 24

Though it may be hard for some to remember when Brett Favre was just a pretty-young-thing, it was assumed Favre and the Packers would crush the aging John Elway and his Broncos. Though the Packers had won the Big Dance the previous year, they couldn’t stop Terrell Davis from rushing for 157 yards and scoring three touchdowns, including the winner with a mere two minutes on the clock. Elway finally won his ring.

Kent McGroarty is a Philadelphia based blogger for Gold Star Games, a tailgate gear supplier.

Audibles: Brady talks, people balk


Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a man known for his perfect smile, wife, and hair, has unfortunately made an imperfect comment: he doesn't like hotels in Buffalo.

Gasp!

Clearly there are fans who don't like Brady. There are media who don't like him. But this is an opinion, and the last time I checked, having an opinion isn't a crime. Somebody in the Brady entourage obviously thinks it is, however, because Brady apologized for his comment soon after.

I thought the Cloud Pusher blog gave this non-issue some much needed perspective.