July 28, 2017

Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin Walk Into A Bar

 

Give a little thought to this conjured scenario. Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin are both private, reclusive types who have managed to share many of their thoughts, visions and talents with the world. Such endeavors require the proper introspection. Therefore, a logical spot to take in and digress on the world is the window booth at Manuel’s Tavern, located at the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta, Georgia. Dylan, having played Atlanta the first time some fifty years ago at near-by Emory University, may recall the legendary watering hole which has long attracted journalists, politicians, poets, cops and other thirsty types. Taupin, whose songwriting partner, Elton John, has a penthouse apartment in the Buckhead community, a half dozen miles north of the tavern, would enjoy the earthy charm of Manuel’s. The place is genuine and time-tested, unlike the spacious shopping palaces and pricey restaurants found in Elton’s corner of town. The tavern’s window booth, where Manuel Maloof himself used to host friends while pontificating, complaining and looking after customers is the ideal place to consider all things global and local. It’s quite easy to visualize Messrs Dylan and Taupin there.

Near the window booth is a large photo of the revered Atlanta Constitution Editor Ralph McGill, whose courageous opinions implored the South and the nation as a whole to fully embrace its ideas of liberty and justice for all. McGill, Dylan would inform Taupin, was a close friend of the poet and historian Carl Sandberg. Visits to Sandberg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina provided McGill with great reassurance. According to Leonard Ray Teel, in his book, Ralph Emerson McGill, Voice Of The Southern Conscience, McGill “felt a healing power in the ancient poet.” Teel also noted that In McGill, Sandberg “recognized a kindred spirit trying to lead a later generation into social change.” McGill and Sandberg, admired and heralded the world over, stood in awe of one another. Dylan could understand that. On the same concert tour that brought him to Atlanta in 1964, he stopped by Flat Rock to talk with Sandberg and present him with a copy of his new album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Taupin, a native of Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England, but now a full-time resident of Santa Ynez, California, has a deep devotion to the stories of America, be they documented or apocryphal. The novels and the films on the silver screen vie with the history books when telling a great nation’s story and Taupin is hip to the legends, the lies and what’s fact. In a recent entry on his blog, rather than hawking The Diving Board, his latest collaboration with Elton John, he takes politicos from both sides of the aisle to task, feeling sad and disgusted with the lying that goes with leadership. Taupin is a keen observer with an admitted “curmudgeonly nature,” which has to make him feel at home in Manuel’s booth.

Separate The Good From The Bad… Manuel Maloof was on the right side of history as the change that McGill, Sandberg and Dylan championed began to take place. Not only was he a bartender-philosopher personified, he was also among the most influential Democrats in the state of Georgia. His tavern has photographs of those who stopped by while seeking the Presidency of the United States: McGovern, Carter, Clinton and Gore. Maloof died in 2004, four years before Barack Obama signaled another change. It would’ve been fascinating to hear him speak on the election and performance of President Obama. He’d offer praise, but he wouldn’t mince his words if the president disappointed him either. One afternoon in the late ’80s, he and I were discussing civil rights leader and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Nearing the end of his second term as Mayor, Young was a visionary but often negligent with his mayoral duties. “I love Andy Young,” Maloof said one afternoon, “but it would be great if he’d could just travel around the world as Mayor and let me run the city.” Maloof was angry over the pervasive crime in Atlanta. He talked of how one young man tried to steal the ring off his finger at a downtown transit (MARTA) station. Maloof, nearing 60 at the time, stood his ground and walked away with his ring, but that didn’t make him any happier with what was happening in his hometown.

A regular walking by Dylan and Taupin’s booth could stop and explain a little about Manuel’s Tavern and the role it played in the city’s history. Dylan and Taupin, both quick studies, wouldn’t need too much briefing, but they might ask about the Atlanta sports scene. They’d likely find it puzzling that Atlanta for so long has paid more attention to the professional and collegiate football teams, even in mediocre years, than to the Atlanta Braves, who since 1991 have won 600 more games than they’ve lost, accumulating 15 division titles and sending new members to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Maloof was sure proud of the Braves and he might have made Braves fans of Dylan and Taupin too.

It would be a tougher sell with the Atlanta Falcons, the National Football League team that began play in 1966. Much of their history has been similar to tragic car wrecks people recall when passing dangerous intersections. In the same 23 year period of the Braves’ excellence, the Falcons are three games under .500 (182-185) with 36 of those wins coming between 2010 and 2012. In the season just completed, the Falcons went 4-12, a record that ranks among the worst in their tragicomic history.

Twenty Pounds Of Headlines… Give the Falcons credit: they’ve provided Atlanta sportswriters with reams of fascinating copy. Local playwrights wish they had such material to work with. While compiling a 134-229 record in their first quarter century of play, the Falcons, naturally, filled its rosters with, ahem, colorful players. In ’88, they lost their Special Teams Captain, David Croudip, when a “cocaine cocktail” killed him. That was tragic but somewhat predictable, given the lack of control management had over the team. Two years later, Aundray Bruce, the NFL’s top draft choice* from ’88, pulled a pellet gun on a pizza delivery guy. Neither Bruce nor teammate Marcus Cotton had money to pay for the pizza, so what can poor NFL players who’ve squandered their riches do? It’s simple: scare the hell out of the guy delivering the pizza. Charges were filed. Bruce was arrested on misdemeanor charges and released on a $1,050.00 bond. The delivery guy said Bruce “seemed to think it was pretty funny… pretty much laughing all through it.” Bruce may have thought it was funny like the two paternity suits pending against him or his failure to make payments on two mortgages totaling $912,000. When your life is such a mess, you laugh at all the wrong things.

Nearly a decade later, on January 17, 1999, the Falcons defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and found themselves Super Bowl-bound for the first time in their 33 seasons. It was a very well-balanced and exciting Atlanta Falcons team. The Falcons had a good chance of beating the Denver Broncos in Miami to become NFL Champions.

Things began happily enough on the morning of January 30, 1999, the day before the Super Bowl. Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was honored by Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Robinson was presented with the Bart Starr Award for “high moral character.” For one who takes his football and faith seriously, what else could go wrong? Plenty. Less than twelve hours later, Robinson was arrested on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. The charge: soliciting an undercover police officer for oral sex. Robinson’s to-do list for the day had to be a hoot: Go to Christian group meeting. Win award for high moral character. Have lunch. Spend time with the missus by the pool. Have dinner. Go to Biscayne Boulevard for some pregame fellatio.

By the way, the Falcons lost 34-19. Robinson played as if he had been serviced multiple times on Biscayne Boulevard, getting beat by Rod Smith on an 80-yard touchdown reception.

Now I’ve Seen This Chain Gang… The NFL is often referred to as the National Felons League. Some believe the appellation is unfair; others believe it’s acknowledgement of reality. Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, at least 31 NFL players were arrested. Some of the charges were the standard DUIs, “criminal mischief,” and assault, with the two worst offenses being “attempted murder” and “first degree murder.” No Atlanta Falcon in memory has been charged with murder, at least not murdering a human being, but Michael Vick, the team’s star quarterback did serve most of two years (’07-’09) in Federal Prison for promoting and financing an interstate dog-fighting operation. Canine executions were featured in the Vick promotions.

Not long before the dog stories broke, Vick’s behavior was viewed as erratic and offensive. Struggling through a tough season, Vick gave fans the “bird,” in fact a “double-bird,” as he walked off the field (Two middle fingers up…. way up).

Bob Dylan wrote of dogs running free. Robert Louis Stevenson once observed that dogs “will be in heaven long before any of us.” All this was lost on Michael Vick. In The New York Times, Juliet Macur reported on Jim Gorant’s book, The Lost Dogs, a collection of sordid and true stories of Vick and his “Bad Newz Kennels.”

Once he (Vick) and a friend grabbed the paws of a little red dog and held it over their heads, like a jump rope, slamming the animal on the ground again and again until it was lifeless.

The most disappointed of Vick’s supporters was Falcons owner Arthur Blank. He had gleaned an entirely different impression of his star quarterback. Vick had even come to the owner’s home for dinner and played video games with Blank’s children. One could feel bad for Blank, a nice man dealing with an embarrassing story. One felt worse for the dogs, but there was still support in Atlanta for Michael Vick. After all, he was an exciting quarterback capable of engineering the most spectacular plays. He didn’t play the game by the book; on the field, he wrote his own book. Thus, once a free man, he’d write additional chapters. Many NFL teams with no shame would hustle to sign him up.

During the 2009 season, Vick was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, but they used him sparingly as a back-up to Donovan McNabb, a great player and a fine gentleman. Yet McNabb was past his prime and by the next season, Vick was named the Eagles’ starting quarterback. And there were others besides PETA members unhappy with Vick’s return to glory. Bernie Taupin, in his blog, questioned how Vick, “a guy who has racked up some of the most heinous cruelties you could possibly inflict on an innocent creature be idolized, lionized and treated like the second coming of Christ?” Taupin, an avowed football fan, had difficulty fathoming the lack of values in the NFL, noting, “When it comes to football, the agonizing deaths and stifled whimpers of the dogs he tortured, electrocuted, hung and drowned are swept conveniently under the rug.”

When Vick and the Eagles came to play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on December 7, 2009, the response of Vick supporters would have disgusted Taupin all the more. Of course, Vick was relishing the moment, according to the Associated Press:

“It was as loud as it gets in the Dome,” said Vick, who teared up on the bus ride over to the stadium. “I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”

OK, whatever, but Vick was right in assuming thousands of Atlanta fans had his back. A couple of years before, a local minister used his pulpit to reprove an Atlanta sportswriter, a member of the church, for being critical of Vick in his columns. He saw no good in a black sportswriter bringing down an accomplished black athlete, a hero to many in our town. Making this more amazing is that the sportswriter was the one often condemned by hothead whites on the sports talk shows whenever the subject of race was raised. It’s little wonder some topics go wanting for civil discussion in this town.

The Band Is Playing “Dixie,” A Man Got His Hand Outstretched… But football trumps all down South. Consider the ongoing matter with the Atlanta Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank. The poor Falcons have had to play in the Georgia Dome, opened in ’92 and built by Georgia taxpayers at a cost of $214 million. The Georgia Dome is hardly a classic structure, but 70,000 fans often pack the place for NFL games. Concerts by Paul McCartney, U2 and the Rolling Stones were held there in the ’90s, and major college football games are also played in the Dome, with few expressing irritation over the ambiance. Still, Blank has been talking for years about needing a new stadium so his Falcons could be more competitive — a word in this caffeinated society that’s used to make taxpayers dig deeper. In doing so, more plush suites will be available to the swells attending the game, likely at a cost to taxpayers somewhere. Given all that, in the way Atlanta’s power elite view things, the Georgia Dome, just 21 years old, is worthy of the wrecking ball. Arthur Blank, Falcons owner and respected philanthropist, will get his way.

Give Arthur Blank credit. He, with some help from the NFL, agreed to pay for most of the new Falcons’ nest, which will go up in the same vicinity as the Georgia Dome. It will be part of the Georgia World Congress Center and host the same annual events — and more — as held at the Dome. So what’s not to like? For one, Blank’s plea for funds — some $200 million — from the tax collected by Atlanta hotels and motels, kept clean and comfy by employees eking out a living in a metro area that has been slow to rebound from the Great Recession. Yet new Falcons stadium boosters point out, as Blank did in the December 22 AJC, that “84% of the tax is being paid by people who don’t live in this state.” Talk about Southern hospitality; Welcome to Atlanta, now bend over.

By state law, revenues from the hotel-motel tax cannot be used by the City of Atlanta for basic infrastructure, public safety, libraries, schools, etc.; you know, frou-frou stuff. The revenues can only be “used for a variety of projects that will help promote the city as a tourist destination for meetings or conventions, historic and cultural travel and other types of attractions,” according to an Atlanta Falcons website. While it is fair to say that such tax allocations can help create jobs and enhance the city’s quality of life, the claim falls on deaf ears among tens of thousands of city taxpayers. Here we go again, they think, another subsidy for a professional sports team owner – in this case, Blank, who’s listed by Forbes  as being worth $1.7 billion. Forbes also reported that the expected revenues at the Falcons’ new nest raised the team valuation to $933 million, not bad for a team that has for most of its history been an embarrassment to its hometown. In addition to that, Forbes noted Blank’s own net worth climbed by half a billion dollars from September 2010 to September 2013.

He’s A Great Humanitarian, He’s A Great Philanthropist… There’s little sense in begrudging the wealth Blank has attained through his co-founding of Home Depot and the investments he’s made. It isn’t a day at the beach to visit Home Depot, but the stores have served a need in the marketplace. Blank worked hard and worked smart in developing that big box chain. In his field, he did a lot of things better than others, so more power to him. Blank has also contributed money — and his own time — to charities and good causes. When you meet him, he comes across as a good guy. He has concerns on the humanitarian side that compels the philanthropist in him to sign the “Giving Pledge.” According to the “Giving Pledge” rules, a signatory promises to donate at least half of his wealth to charitable concerns, either during his lifetime or afterward.

Already Blank has made sizeable donations to education, environmental and arts organizations. He’s shown his heart to be in the right place — and his wallet tags along. That makes his determination in getting taxpayers to kick in for the new Falcons stadium more disturbing. NFL teams, with their tax exemptions, tax abatements, television contracts and revenue sharing plans, are immensely profitable. Any owner claiming to be in the red is lying or is among the world’s worst business people. But we know Blank to be a very savvy businessman — and he’s smooth. In the December 22 interview with the AJC, he was asked why he needed a hotel-motel tax to help build his new stadium. The savvy and smooth answer follows:

“The success of the franchise shouldn’t be dependent on one individual or their estate, but it should be a sustainable organization. A public-private partnership is very important. In this case, 84% of the tax is being paid by people who don’t live in the state. The stadium will impact tourism in a positive way. We think the tax is a fair level of public support.”

Oh, that explains it. Blank assumes and commands “a fair level of public support.” Never mind that said support wasn’t approved via referendum by the impacted public which has little interest in subsidizing a billionaire whose shiniest toy is a team of millionaires. But in Atlanta and the state of Georgia, that hardly matters. The political mix here is a strange hybrid that hardly serves the citizenry, so of course the Falcons get their stadium –partially paid for with the $200 million from the hotel-motel tax, which, according to the billionaire, is mostly collected from people who don’t live in Atlanta. So can the people who live here use the revenue from such a tax to fund programs that would help them and their children have a cleaner, safer and more informed community? The answer is absolutely not, because we’re dealt the short hand by community leaders similar to individuals at the marketplace in Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guard”: Merchants and thieves, hungry for power.

Entertain By Picking Brains… Both the famous and the average Joe are rewarded by walking through the rooms of Manuel’s Tavern. Old black and white photographs, most of them taken before 1980, adorn the walls. The pictures capture a time in Atlanta when progress was measured by ways other than how much richer millionaires become. Not far from Manuel’s old window booth hangs a large picture of Falcons running back Jim “Cannonball” Butler evading defenders in a ’68 game versus the Detroit Lions. Despite Cannonball’s 60-yard touchdown run, the Falcons lost that day, looking bad against a mediocre team. Ailing NFL clubs loved to see the Falcons on the schedule.

What the folks who gathered at Manuel’s in those days wanted was a competitive team. Winning more than three games a year would be a good start. And there was little concern for the owner’s definition of “competitive,” especially if that meant leather chairs in suites where the well-healed could watch the owner’s team. An owner of a professional football club had already competed rather well in the marketplace, thank you, and wouldn’t seek tax dollars as defined in a “public and private partnership,” or so we thought. Another guy, gifted at turning a phrase, could join Dylan and Taupin, and enjoy the company at Manuel’s Tavern. Taking in the view from Manuel’s window booth and knowing how it’s been all the way back to the days of Genesis, when Cain slew Abel, he’d note what’s always driven the good and the bad. That guy, Bruce Springsteen, would  sum it up like this:

Poor man wanna be rich,
Rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain’t satisfied,
Till he rules everything.

*Bruce was named by Sports Illustrated as the second biggest draft bust in modern NFL history.

From the forthcoming book, Drop Me Off on Peachtree, A History of Atlanta

 

Eagles 49, Raiders 20

The Philadelphia Eagles made their way across the country to take on the Oakland Raiders.  The Eagles were coming off a 15-7 loss to the New York Giants and the Raiders were coming off a 21-18 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.  A holding penalty on the kickoff forced the Raiders to start their first drive at their eight-yard line.  Completions to wide receivers Denarius Moore and Rod Streater moved them to the 41.  But they wouldn’t get much farther and Marquette King punted the ball away.  But there was a flag on the play and the Eagles were penalized for running into the kicker.  The Raiders were given another chance, but they couldn’t capitalize and ended up punting again.

Quarterback Nick Foles led the Eagles onto the field and they went right to work with their no huddle offense.  A screen pass to wide receiver Riley Cooper turned into a huge catch and run as he took it up the left sideline for a gain of 42 yards.  On third and 13 from the Philadelphia 49, Foles connected with wide receiver Jeff Maehl for a gain of 19 yards.  Passes to running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Zach Ertz set them up with a first and goal at the two-yard line.  Foles took the snap, calmly looked to his left and found tight end Brent Celek for a touchdown.  Kicker Alex Henery made the point after and the Eagles led 7-0 with 5:18 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders started at their 20 and on third and five from the 25, quarterback Terrelle Pryor hit Streater on a crossing route that went for a big gain of 66 yards.  The drive would stall at the six and kicker Sebastian Janikowski made his 24-yard field goal attempt.  With 2:02 to go in the first quarter, the Eagles led 7-3.

The Eagles started at their 18 and two quick runs by McCoy moved them to the 33.  A short completion to McCoy and a couple of carries by running back Bryce Brown netted a first down at the 46.  Brown got the call again and this time he ran right up the middle of the already worn out Raider defense for a gain of 32 yards.  A short run by Brown and a short pass to Celek set up a third and five from the Oakland 17.  Once again, Foles had all day to find a receiver and he found Cooper in the end zone for another Eagle touchdown.  Henery made the point after and the Eagles led 14-3 with 14:17 to go in the second quarter.

What the Raiders needed to do here was take some time off the clock and keep Foles on the sideline.  That didn’t happen.  They gained 26 yards and punted again.  Also, McFadden injured his hamstring and did not return.  So, the Eagles took over at their 37.  Foles took the snap and found Cooper wide open for a 63-yard touchdown.  That was way too easy.  The Eagles now led 21-3 and the once fired up Oakland faithful were starting to boo their team.  I can’t say that I blame them for doing that.

The Raiders started at their 20 again and a run by running back Rashad Jennings and a completion to tight end Mychal Rivera moved the ball to the 41.  Another decent run by Jennings and a completion to fullback Marcel Reece moved the Raiders into Philadelphia territory.  A 35-yard scramble by Pryor set them up with a first and goal at the eight.  Jennings took it the rest of the way for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Eagles now led 21-10 with 7:34 to go in the second quarter.

With the offense finally finding the end zone, maybe the defense would find a way to slow the Eagles down and the Raiders could get back into the game.  Yeah.  And maybe it’ll snow in Florida in July.  For the first two plays of this drive, the Raiders actually got to Foles for a sack and forced an incompletion.  To top that off, the Eagles were flagged for a false start.  That set up a third and 16.  But that was no problem for Foles.  He looked to his right and found Jackson for a gain of 17 and a first down at the 31.  That totally deflated the Raider defense and runs by McCoy and Brown netted another first down.  Completions to Jackson and Celek made it first goal at the 15.  From there, Foles hooked up with Ertz for another Eagle touchdown.  Henery made the point after and the Eagles now had a commanding 28-10 lead with four minutes to go in the second quarter.

Both teams punted on their next possessions and the Raiders got the ball back at their 25 with one minute remaining.  Some scrambling from Pryor and completions to Streater and Rivera got them moving in the right direction.  They managed to get down to the Philadelphia 35 and Janikowski nailed his 53-yard attempt.  At halftime the score was 28-13.  Maybe that long field goal right before the end of the half gave the Raiders a spark and they’d make some adjustments and come back and win the game.  No.  There was no spark.  There was no fire.  There wasn’t even a puff of smoke.  It was more of the same in the second half.  The Eagles scored on their next two drives and with 11 minutes to go in the third quarter, the game was out of hand as the Eagles led 42-13.  That was all I could take.  I turned on the red zone channel and watched the other games.

With this win, the Eagles improved to 4-5 and the Raiders dropped to 3-5.  For the Eagles, Nick Foles had a perfect passer rating and completed 22 0f 28 for 406 yards and seven touchdowns.  DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz led the team in receptions with five apiece.  Jackson had the most receiving yards with 150 and Cooper had the most touchdowns with three.  On the ground, Bryce Brown led the way with 54 yards on seven carries.  As a team, the Eagles rushed for 128 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, linebacker DeMeco Ryans led the team in solo tackles with nine.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 22 of 41 for 288 yards and two interceptions.  He also had 94 yards rushing on ten carries.  After he left the game with a knee injury, Matt McGloin came in to mop up and he completed 7 of 15 for 87 yards.  Rashad Jennings led the team in receptions with seven and Rod Streater led the team in receiving yards with 98.  On the ground, Jennings did a good job filling in for McFadden as he ran for 102 yards on 15 carries.  Linebacker Nick Roach led the team in solo tackles with six and he was one of the few players who actually got to the quarterback.

The worst thing about seeing your favorite team get trashed is that you as a fan can’t do a damn thing about it.  I sat there and watched the offensive line get pushed around like rag dolls.  Pryor was literally running for his life as soon as the game started.  I watched the secondary get torched for seven touchdown passes.  Players were out of position and the pass rush was nonexistent.  This was like a horror movie on a football field.  So, what was the problem, Raiders?  Were you overconfident?  Did you think that since the Eagles hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the past two games that you could easily shut them down?

Coming into this game, the Raiders had a 3-4 record.  Those wins were over the winless Jacksonville Jaguars, the up and down San Diego Chargers and a bad Pittsburgh Steelers team.  That’s not a very impressive resume’.  Up next is a trip across the country to take on the New York Giants.  That means it’s a game in the eastern time zone against an opponent from the NFC.  I haven’t seen them win one of those match-ups in a LONG time.  If they play like they did against the Eagles, the Giants will come away with an easy win.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

These Birds Were Prey

The Chicago Bears played their best game of the season on Monday night, defeating the Eagles, 30-24, in Philadelphia and assuring themselves of having more victories this year than Andy Reid has chins.

This was not a football game for the ages but, except maybe for “The Godfather Part Two” or a marathon of Valerie Bertinelli infomercials, it was just about the most fine way possible to spend three and-a-half hours in front of the TV.

This is not the Bears team we thought we’d see but it is the Bears team we hoped we’d see.  Or perhaps, after a night of too many Old Styles, waffle fries and Tareytons, dreamt we would see.  This was a Bears team that played tenacious fly-to-the-ball defense, chewed up yardage and clock and piled up points on offense and sent a message to the rest of the NFL – including Green Bay – that even if the road to the Super Bowl doesn’t go through Chicago, Soldier Field at least deserves a spot on the map.

Oh, I squeal and tap dance with the joy.

One of the things that makes this victory so satisfying is despite the fact that the Bears came into this contest with a better record than the Eagles and had beaten Philadelphia last year and two of the three previous seasons, this game was hyped as being all about the Eagles.  Philadelphia, though just 3-4 coming in, had won two straight including last week’s demolition of the Dallas Cowboys and appeared to finally be living up to their preseason “dream team” hype and so were installed as favorites by more than a touchdown.  The Bears were coming off a win in London over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before last week’s bye week but I guess victories overseas don’t count because the 4-3 Bears were billed as mere target practice for the resurgent Mike Vick and his merry band of receivers and acrobats.

The Bears jumped out to a 7-0 lead by taking the opening kickoff down the field on a 12-play, 79-yard drive capped off by Jay Cutler’s five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth.  But the man who motored Chicago down the field was the guy who has been doing it all 2011 long, running back Matt Forte.  Forte ran for 52 yards on that drive alone and could count the dollar signs in that new contract he’s going to get at season’s end.

But then the voodoo came out.

The Bears were up, 10-3, in the second quarter and were rolling when Forte did something he hadn’t done in his last 347 touches.  He fumbled.  And Eagles linebacker Brian Rolle was there to scoop it up and run in for a 24-yard score and it was 10-10.  Uh-oh.

But Chicago did what good teams do and shook it off and knocked the feathers off Eagles punt returner DeSean Jackson and recovered the ball at the Philadelphia 11.  The Bears couldn’t punch it in from there but did get a bit lucky when Eagles defensive end Jason Babin, he of the many sacks and even more tattoos, was called for a late hit on Cutler.  It was a questionable call as replays showed that Mr. Babin appeared to have been pushed into Cutler by a Bears lineman.  Still, happy for a fresh leash on offensive life and four more downs, Marion Barber chugged it in from two yards out and the Bears led 17-10 at halftime.

Then it was the third quarter which, like bad mustaches and “Rocky” sequels, was pure Philly.  The Eagles, obviously inspired by coach Reid throwing liverwurst and pickles at them at halftime, came out rockin’ in the second half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive ending on a four-yard TD run up the middle by Ronnie “I was once the second overall pick in the draft but hey, so was Ryan Leaf” Brown.  Then more Philly Funk fell on the Bears as Forte who, before Monday night, didn’t even know what a fumble was suddenly was making a habit of them and put the ball on the ground again.  The Eagles took over at Chicago’s 41 and, two plays later, LeSean McCoy galloped right up the middle for 33 yards and into the endzone and the Eagles led 24-17 and Forte looked like a guy who had just farted during a funeral.

Do the Chicago Bears strike you and yours as a team that rallies from a seven-point, second half deficit on the road against a team with a nest of amazing athletes and a great coach?  Hell yes!  Forte was given some much needed quiet time on the bench and Barber and Cutler helped matriculate the ball down the field on a 10-play, 74-yard drive and Robbie Gould booted a 38-yard field goal and it was 24-20 and, daggummit, this was really was one heck of a football game, wasn’t it?

Enter the fourth quarter and Cutler was playing like a guy who knows he doesn’t have to marry an annoying, no-talent reality TV lady.  Cutler marched the Bears deep into enemy territory aided in large part by his old friend, Forte, who got his confidence back as well as his hands and hung on to the ball on several more carries.  Cutler was also an ally with his best friend, wide receiver and former Vanderbilt teammate “My Name is Earl” Bennett connecting with him for a key 22-yard play and then for a beautiful Packer-Patriot like floater in the corner of the endzone for a five-yard TD.  Just like that the Bears led, 27-24, and the ESPN crew said some very nice things about them, those kind TV fellas, them.

Quick side note…Bennett (five catches, 95 yards, 1 TD) is not a great receiver.  Not yet.  Just like Barber is never going to make anyone forget Walter Payton, or even Matt Forte.  But all season long we Cook County residents have been hoping to have both of those guys healthy and ready.  Barber missed the first three games of the season but, since his return, the Bears are 4-1.  Bennett hadn’t played since early in week two and seems to be the only receiver Cutler truly trusts because they went to college together and because he simply does the best job of catching the ball.  Bennett might not even make Green Bay’s roster but with a jackhammer 1-2 punch at running back and an offensive line that’s playing better each week he might be just enough for Cutler and the Bears…end of side note.

So, the Bears led 27-24 with 12 minutes left and then the Bears defense got tough and the Eagles got stupid.  Chicago forced the Eagles to punt from the visiting team’s 42-yard line but Philly tried to pull a fast one, faking the punt with punter Chas Henry attempting a pass to a wide-open Colt Anderson but the pass was woefully, embarrassingly short.  Was it Andy Reid’s call?  Was it Henry’s?  It didn’t work.  The Bears took over and rolled up some more turf, though not quite enough clock, and Gould kicked a 22-yard field goal and it was 30-24.

The Eagles had a last gasp and Vick, because he’s Vick, got the birds marching a bit but ran out of room as the Bears defense did what it did all night long, rushing the passer and being uncharacteristically physical with receivers and Philly’s drive fizzled.  Ballgame.  Chicago Bears 30, Not So Sunny in Philadelphia Eagles, 24.

This was a great game and a huge win for the Bears who are now 5-3 and not just in the playoff hunt but are carrying two shotguns and a bloody knife.  The Eagles, despite their accolades, aren’t a great team and Reid, the best coach in the NFL not named Bill Belichick, didn’t have a great game.  But the fact is if Forte doesn’t have two very fluky fumbles the Bears probably would have won this game, 42-10.

The Bears defense wore its big boy shoes and mean boy grimace all night long, continually harassing Vick and holding him to just 213 yards through the air, no TD’s and intercepting him once.  Vick was also held to just 34 yards rushing and McCoy managed just 71 yards on 16 carries.  The Bears defense was determined not to let Jackson or any of Philly’s other speedy receivers get behind them for big plays and accomplished that not just by keeping their safeties deep but by challenging the Birds’ receivers at the line of scrimmage.  Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers were all over the field, flying at guys and hitting them without mercy.  The Bears defense played as if they had to prove they’re a lot better than everyone thinks they are.  Good idea.  They also played like a defense that knows its window is closing.  It is.

Forte had those two fumbles but otherwise was brilliant with 24 carries for 133 yards and three catches for another 17.  Cutler was damn good, especially in the second half, finishing 18 for 32 for 208 yards and two scores and was never intercepted and, for the first time in 29 games, wasn’t sacked.  Cutler deserves a great deal of credit for that last statistic as he made several amazing plays to stay on his feet including a nifty pirouette in the second half.  But the true heroes of this Bears offense are those who play on the line.  This much-maligned group of big uglies has played better with each week and is a unit that was considered a team weakness just a few weeks ago but now might, gulp, be one of its strengths.  Of course, it’s easier to block better when you have Forte playing great, Barber backing him up and Bennett plucking every ball in sight.  But it all starts on the line and Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice deserves, perhaps, as big a raise as Forte and offensive coordinator Mike Martz is finally realizing that he must call plays that help his blockers and play to his skill players’ strengths.

The Bears ran the ball 34 times and threw it 32, a beautiful offensive balance.  But Martz still has his goofy, stubborn side like running out of the Wildcat on 2nd and 15, and trying to isolate tight ends on passing plays when Forte and Bennett are playing like studs.  It’s a little odd.  And perhaps more disturbing than Forte’s fumbles in this game were the Bears dropped passes.  Dane Sanzenbacher dropped an easy pass and so did Roy Williams.  And Forte and Bennett are the only Bears who can routinely get separation.  Now that Bennett’s back, hopefully for good, it’s time to put Sanzenbacher on the bench and figure out how to get Williams, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox to keep moving and keep catching.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the season and the Bears are 5-3 and the future is suddenly hopeful, if not downright promising.  The Bears now come home to host the suddenly not-so-fierce 6-2 Detroit Lions.  After that, it’s four straight contests against the AFC West before a home game against the Seattle Seahawks.  And then, wouldn’t you know it?  It will suddenly be Christmas and the Bears will be visiting the Packers in Green Bay.  It’s not crazy, or at least not too crazy, to imagine that the Bears could run the table all the way up to that Packers game.  (Really, can’t the Bears beat the Lions and Chargers at home and then top the Raiders on the road, come home to chomp on the Chiefs, beat the Tim Tebows in Denver and then come home to grill the Seahawks?)  If they do, they’ll be 11-3 and lookin’ good but the problem is even that might not be enough to catch the Packers who could very well be 14-0 at that juncture.

Zoinks.

But let’s stay grounded.  For now the Chicago Bears are riding a three-game winning streak, are running the ball great and are making the march toward Thanksgiving an interesting one.  And for one night in Philadelphia they looked like a team that can give anyone a good game, and give everyone a lot to think about.

 

Trades Involving Big Name QB’s That Never Happened

It’s often mentioned that championship teams are built through the NFL draft.  It’s a fairly cliché statement, but it’s entirely true.  What’s often overlooked is that draft selections are only one aspect of the draft.  The ability of front office staffs to wheel and deal during the draft can also make lasting impacts on NFL teams.  The most impactful trades often involve quarterbacks.

There are a lot of trade rumors involving QB’s flying around draft weekend, and usually none of them end up true.  Imagine though if some of them did in fact become true.  The NFL landscape would certainly be different.  Listed below are some draft time trade rumors from the past 25 years (as reported by the major media) involving star QB’s, that never became true.

 

1983 NFL Draft – Rumored John Elway/#1 Pick Trades

Before the 1983 NFL draft, John Elway told the Baltimore Colts (owners of the NFL’s #1 pick) not to select him.  That’s because Elway wanted to play for a team located on the west coast, and if he was selected by the Colts, he insinuated he might abandon football, and pursue a career in baseball.  In the end, the Colts selected Elway, but soon after traded him to the Denver Broncos.  The rest is history.

With Elway’s strong statements before the draft, it appeared to the major media that the Colts would trade the #1 pick; thus trading the rights to select Elway.  The Los Angeles Raiders and San Diego Chargers were two teams mentioned as likely candidates to win the Elway sweepstakes.

The San Diego Chargers owned three picks in the first round, and were having difficulty signing All-Pro QB Dan Fouts to a new contract.  The Raiders had a solid veteran QB in Jim Plunkett, but Al Davis always liked to make a splash at the draft.

The Baltimore Colts were willing to trade the #1 pick/Elway to the San Diego Chargers for all three of the Chargers first round picks, but the Chargers were unwilling to give up the 5th overall selection.  Perhaps if the Chargers hadn’t signed Dan Fouts to a new contract the night before, the Chargers might have been more willing to give up that 5th overall pick.

There were a number of different rumored trade offers from the Raiders.  One scenario stated the Raiders were offering a number of top picks in the 1983 and 1984 drafts, as well as former first round selection in QB Marc Wilson.  Another rumor mentioned that the Raiders would consider trading future Hall of Fame RB Marcus Allen.  Lastly, it was also rumored that the Raiders were attempting to attain first round selections, in order to trade them for Elway.  Reportedly, the Raiders were offering RB Kenny King, G Mickey Marvin, and future Hall of Fame DE Howie Long to the Chicago Bears (6th pick) or the Philadelphia Eagles (8th pick).

The Dallas Cowboys were also rumored as being interested in Elway.  It was rumored that the Cowboys offered the Colts their top selection in the 1983 draft (23rd overall), and a number of veteran players, possibly QB Danny White and DT Randy White.

Lastly, despite Elway’s request to play for a team on the west coast, the New England Patriots were supposedly highly interested in selecting Elway.  It was rumored that the Patriots would offer the Colts their first round selections in 1983, 1984, and 1985, as well as a veteran player or another top selection.

In the end, the Denver Broncos were truly the dark horse candidate to get John Elway, and made out the best.

In hindsight, the Chargers should have traded all three first round selections for Elway.  The Chargers did pick up three solid players with their picks; LB Billy Ray Smith, RB Gary Anderson, and DB Gill Byrd.  However, none of those players had Hall of Fame careers.

The Cowboys also should have offered a bit more for Elway.  Although, if they did, I’m sure the team wouldn’t have gone through the collapse they did in 1988 and 1989; which ultimately led to the birth of a dynasty.  Who knows if it was even nothing more than a remote possibility, but the Patriots also should have made more of an effort to get Elway.

Meanwhile, it’s debatable whether the Raiders made the right decision by not trading for Elway.  The Raiders would go on to win the Super Bowl in 1983.  Without Marcus Allen and/or Howie Long, that probably doesn’t happen.   However, I’m sure the Raiders would have loved to have had Elway at QB with some of their more talented teams in the early 1990’s.

Lastly, the Colts would have been better off taking trade offers from any of the rumored trades, before actually selecting Elway.  Once they selected Elway, and he refused to play for them, their bargaining power was reduced significantly.  In the end, the Colts picked up an unproductive QB in Mark Herrmann, a talented tackle, albeit not a Hall of Famer in Chris Hinton, and a first round selection in the 1984 draft (used on G Ron Solt).

 

1987 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trades

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed QB Vinny Testaverde to a contract weeks before they would actually be able to select him #1 in the 1987 NFL draft.  This gave the Buccaneers a few weeks to shop around highly talented QB Steve Young.  Eventually, the San Francisco 49ers would pick up Young for second and third round picks.  However, the Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Cardinals had also been in trade talks with the 49ers for Young.

After the draft, Packers head coach Forrest Gregg stated the 49ers asking price for Steve Young was too steep.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals elected to choose a QB in the draft by selecting Kelly Stouffer.

Looking back, the Packers should have realized the asking price for Steve Young wasn’t too steep.  However, they came out of it rather unscathed, with a smart draft selection of Don Majkowski, and a smart trade for Brett Favre.  The Cardinals however didn’t get so lucky.  Stouffer never played a snap with the Cardinals, refusing to sign with them.

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trade

The San Francisco 49ers reportedly made a trade offer to the Los Angeles Raiders, in which they were going to trade the NFL’s top rated passer, Steve Young, for the Raiders first and second round selections, and WR Tim Brown.  49ers head coach George Seifert admitted the 49ers attempted to trade up in the draft, but didn’t get into the specifics on any trade offers they may have made.

The Raiders ended up picking defensive lineman Chester McGlockton with their first round pick, and the Raiders traded up in the second round to pick offensive lineman Greg Skrepenak.

Clearly, it looks like the 49ers benefited from this trade not occurring.  Steve Young continued to be one of the best QB’s in the NFL, and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship in 1994.

If the trade did go through, the 49ers would have had Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and most likely future Hall of Famer Tim Brown at the receiver’s positions.  Coincidentally, the two players would be paired together as Raiders during the 2001-2003 seasons.

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Phil Simms Trades

What turned out to be a rumor with no legs, the New York Giants were reportedly interested in trading veteran QB Phil Simms, so they could move up in the 1992 NFL draft and select QB David Klinger.  The San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Raiders were supposedly interested in Simms.  The Giants denied the rumor.  Simms remained with the Giants for a few more years and eventually won the starting job back.   Jeff Hostetler, the Giants starting QB at the time, would end up with the Raiders one year later.

 

1993 NFL Draft – Rumored Joe Montana Trades

If you thought the sight of Joe Montana in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform was strange, imagine how he would have looked in an Arizona Cardinals uniform, or a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform.

The Buccaneers were the original front running team to get Joe Montana.  They had a surplus of draft picks, some youthful talent, and Montana worked with Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche when Wyche was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.  But Montana had no interest in going to a team that wasn’t a contender, and chose against being traded to the Buccaneers.

Despite Montana’s request to go to Kansas City, it looked as if Montana would end up in a Cardinals uniform because they were offering more compensation for him.  The Cardinals were offering the 49ers their first round selection in the draft (20th pick).  At that point in the trade negations, no other team had even offered the 49ers a draft selection in the second round.

The Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Raiders also expressed interest in trading for Montana, but their type of offensive styles didn’t appeal to Montana.

Eventually, the 49ers and Chiefs came to an agreement.  The 49ers sent Montana, safety David Whitmore and their third round selection in the 1994 draft.  In return, the 49ers received the Chiefs first round draft pick (18th overall).

You can’t really fault the Buccaneers or Cardinals for not getting Montana.  Montana wanted to go to the Chiefs, and when the Chiefs offered enough compensation, a deal was made.  The Buccaneers and Cardinals were merely curious bystanders.

 

1995 NFL Draft – Rumored Mark Brunell Trades

In 1995, Mark Brunell wasn’t a household name; however some NFL teams recognized his talents, and were willing to take a chance on him.  The team Brunell played for, the Green Bay Packers, already had a talented and young QB on their roster in Brett Favre.

The Philadelphia Eagles actually had a deal in principle made with the Packers for Brunell, under the stipulation that they would be able to sign Brunell to a long term contract.  Brunell and the Eagles never reached a contract agreement, and the Eagles agreement to send their second and fifth round selections to the Packers fell through.

The St. Louis Rams were also reported as a team interested in Brunell.  In the end, the Jacksonville Jaguars sent their third and fifth round picks to the Packers for Brunell.

If the Eagles had been able to sign Brunell, it would have changed the franchise.  Brunell came into his own during the 1996 playoffs; during a time when the Eagles were struggling to find a suitable QB to lead their talented roster.

 

2010 NFL Draft – Rumored Ben Roethlisberger Trades

Coming off another off-season embarrassment relating to their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, it was rumored that the Pittsburgh Steelers were interested in trading him.

It was reported that the Steelers offered Roethlisberger to the St. Louis Rams as a way to attain the #1 pick in the draft.  However, the Rams had no interest in the trade, and selected QB Sam Bradford.

The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders were also mentioned as possible trading partners with the Steelers for Roethlisberger.  The Steelers confirmed they had spoken to the Raiders about Roethlisberger, but denied speaking to the Browns.

 

One final note: If there is a big name QB with trade rumors attached to his name, it appears that the Oakland Raiders will always be interested.  Every QB on this list, with the exception of Mark Brunell, was of interest to the Raiders.

 

Andrew McKillop runs the sports research blog SportsDelve.com.