February 21, 2018

The Long View: Bush and Hawk Get Cut

The Green Bay Packers cut linebacker A.J. Hawk on Wednesday, the same day the Detroit Lions said goodbye to running back Reggie Bush. If this is the end for them it’s fitting that they go out together because they came into the league together, burdened with huge expectations.

Did they meet them?

Bush, a Heisman trophy winner at Southern Cal, was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. Hawk went to the Packers three picks later, fifth overall.

When a player is picked in the first round they’re expected to be a Pro Bowler. When they’re taken in the top five the hope, and the hype, is that they’ll end up in the Hall of Fame. Bush and Hawk have zero Pro Bowls between them and neither will make the Hall of Fame.

But are they busts?

Bush, who has been a hybrid in the NFL playing running back, receiver and returning kicks, accumulated 1,326 all-purpose yards and nine total touchdowns his rookie year and helped the Saints reach the NFC title game for the first time in franchise history (they lost to the Bears.)

Bush, despite battling injuries, contributed more than 1,000 yards in total offense in each of the next two seasons for the Saints (including three punt return TDs in 2008) and was a vital contributor in 2009 when the Saints advanced to their first and only Super Bowl, pulling off a huge upset of the Indianapolis Colts.

In 2011 Bush went to the Miami Dolphins and did something many thought he could not, rush for a thousand yards, 1,086 to be exact while also catching 43 passes for 296 yards and seven total touchdowns, numbers that he almost duplicated the next season in Miami.

Bush’s first year with Detroit in 2013 was the best of his career, statistically, with 1,512 yards from scrimmage and seven scores. This past season Bush appeared in just 11 games for Detroit with 550 total yards.

On draft day nine years ago if you had a crystal ball and saw that Reggie Bush would never win a rushing title, never make a Pro Bowl and play for three different teams you might have said he was going to be a disappointment.

But what if you looked into that very same mystical forecaster and saw that Bush would last nine seasons in a league when most players (especially small running backs) don’t last half that? And what if you were also told Bush would help a moribund franchise play in two conference title games and win one Super Bowl?

A.J. Hawk joined the Packers in 2006 and started all 16 games with 82 tackles, a number that he would never reach again.

But there are other numbers. Aaron James Hawk appeared in every game his rookie year and would do that again every year of his career except 2011 when he missed a grand total of two games.

Hawk was a starting linebacker in 136 of the 142 regular season games the Packers have played since 2006. He never had fewer than 53 tackles in a season, compiled nine career regular season interceptions and 19 sacks.

With Hawk, the Packers had the league’s second best defense in 2009 and fifth best in 2010, the year Hawk helped Green Bay win a Super Bowl, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let’s jump in the wayback machine and break out that crystal ball again. No Pro Bowls for Hawk, never led the league in tackles, didn’t create a lot of turnovers…but nine years as a starter means something. It means a lot of things.

If you’re still not impressed with Hawk or Bush we understand.   If you’ve read this far you’re obviously the demanding type and we respect that.

So let’s see how Reggie Bush and A.J. Hawk measure up with other first rounders from 2006.

The first overall pick that year was defensive end Mario Williams who went to the Houston Texans. Williams played in two Pro Bowls for the Texans and two more since joining Buffalo in 2012 including the last two seasons and appears to still be going strong.

The third overall pick was quarterback Vince Young who went to the Titans. He was the offensive rookie of the year and appeared in two Pro Bowls. But his career came to an end with the Eagles in 2011.

Offensive Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson went fourth overall to the Jets. He has made three Pro Bowls and is still going. Other future Pro Bowlers in the 2006 first round were Vernon Davis, Jay Cutler, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Antonio Cromartie, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, Jonathan Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Williams, Nick Mangold and Joseph Addai.

They all made at least one Pro Bowl but we confess there are a few in that group we’ve never heard of. And more importantly, perhaps, which one of those would you have rather had than Hawk or Bush? Ngata and Mangold almost certainly. The others spark a good debate.

The last player taken in the first round of 2006 was defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka who went to the Giants. Like Bush and Hawk, Kiwanuka was released this week. And like Bush and Hawk, Kiwanuka has a Super Bowl ring. Two of them.

Bush and Hawk might have a kindred spirit in Keith Van Horne, the All-American offensive lineman from Southern Cal who was taken by the Chicago Bears with the 11th overall pick in 1981. Chicagoans expected Van Horne to be a stud, a killer, an All-Pro, a legend.

He wasn’t. He was, however, a very solid football player, starting 169 games from 1981 until 1993. The Bears had great teams with Van Horne, making the playoffs seven times and winning one Super Bowl. There may have been other right tackles the Bears could have plugged in and had the same success. But the point is they didn’t need to look for another tackle because they had a good one.

Van Horne, Bush and Hawk are on the football’s Mount Rushmore of “take the long view.” All first round picks are expected to be great. Everyone wants a Lawrence Taylor, Peyton Manning, Patrick Peterson or J.J. Watt. But just because a first rounder doesn’t become a star doesn’t mean he was a bad pick. We all want winners, we all want stars and we all want it now. But patience can pay off. Availability, durability and determination cannot be measured at the combine.

Or maybe they can be and that’s really why Reggie Bush and A.J. Hawk were taken so high, and lasted so long.

The future…what can you do with it?


Pro Bowl Pick ‘Em

The future of football will be on display in Hawaii next January.

The NFL’s decision to revamp the Pro Bowl is not just an effort to breathe new life into a moribund event, but also opens the door to how football will likely be played in the possibly very near future.

During the January 26 game in Honolulu the ball will change hands at the end of each quarter so the push will be on to put points on the board just as if it were the end of a half.

Hello, two-minute drills in the first and third quarter.

And when those quick touchdowns are scored they won’t be followed by a kickoff.  Instead, like overtime football in college or sandlot ball with your cousin Birdie, teams will start with the ball at a designated spot, in this case their own 25-yard line.

Some tweaks will be made to the clock as well to speed things up.  Think Arena Football with a Ukulele soundtrack.

Other changes will include allowing defenses to play cover-2 and press coverage in addition to man-to-man but that’s more about simply giving defenses a chance because the NFL in 2013 and beyond is all about offense.

The NFL wants to keep the ball moving, the points piling up, the bodies safe, and the beer flowing so the league will have to figure out more ways to stop the clock even while speeding up the game.  Maybe halftimes will get longer or every seat at NFL stadiums will get equipped with a personal urinal.

Pro Bowl rosters are also going to be sized up in a new, yet antiquated way.

Taking a nod from the NHL and playgrounds everywhere, the Pro Bowl teams will be selected by team captains, with Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice serving as honorary captain honchos.

This drafting of players will topple the wall between the NFC and AFC which means Patriots can now play alongside Packers, Bears can team up with Broncos, and everyone can snub Riley Cooper.

It’s likely that no one will select David Wilson, Darius Reynaud, Josh Cribbs, Devin Hester, or Jacoby Jones either because without kickoffs there is no need for return specialists not even, apparently, for punts, as the league says players will be plunked off the regular roster for punt return duties.

Isn’t this a bit of a curious move when the league is, more than ever, trying to promote player safety?  “Hey, Adrian Peterson, want to return a punt?”  Hester, Marc Mariani, Vai Sikahema and Mike Nelms should refuse to ever have lunch with Roger Goodell again.

With the exception of Peterson, the NFL is becoming more of a passing league, one in which quarterbacks are protected, defenses are disdained and clones of Colin Kaepernick are being grown in test tubes in Jon Gruden’s basement.  So the Pro Bowl’s style of play could be a blueprint for the NFL’s next generation:  A fast-paced, high-scoring, minimal contact game that still relies on grit and toughness, but lives and breathes on speed and precision.

In other words, football is becoming basketball.

Things could be worse.

Pro Bowl Postmortem

Like wearing pointy shoes to church or kissing your cousin on the mouth, there are certain things that are fun but just don’t feel right. Put the Pro Bowl in that category.

The NFC prevailed over the AFC, 62-35, in the NFL’s annual All-Star exhibition in Hawaii in a game that, thankfully, had a lot more effort, professionalism, piss, vinegar, and pride than last year’s shameful patty cake poi-fest.

But will it be enough to keep commissioner Roger Goodell from pulling the pineapple on a game that generates less passion than Anne Hathaway’s hair at the SAG Awards? Actually, as many people normally watch the Pro Bowl as the World Series, which proves that baseball has a problem and football – even in faux form – can do little wrong.

Still, the game was not even close to a sellout but that could be because Sundays are also Full House marathon days on the Big Island.

Six players from the Kansas City Chiefs were in Hawaii today and there was also more than one member of the Miami Dolphins and, if you squinted, it may have been possible to spot Doug Flutie on the sidelines. Mr. Flutie could look Russell Wilson right in the eye, which proves that either Doug is taller than we remember or Wilson is shorter than advertised.  It also proves that nice guys may finish last but that doesn’t mean that short guys can’t finish first.


Texans defensive end J.J. Watt played several snaps at receiver, Packers center Jeff Saturday (who was benched during the regular season) actually played for both teams to give him a chance to have his crotch touched by his old pal Peyton Manning one more time, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was the game’s MVP, and it looked like there were more Patriots cheerleaders than Patriots players. Silly, silly, silly.

Some have suggested the Pro Bowl can be saved with a few major alterations like having college players take on the NFL pros or asking Cris Collinsworth to share more tales of drinking with Jack Lambert. But maybe the biggest improvement could come from insisting that Tom Brady shows up and Jerome Felton does not.

Maybe the Pro Bowl can be played on ice, or a camera could be placed on Ed Hochuli’s triceps. How about players on the winning team get a hug from Michele Tafoya, the losers get a kiss from Al Michaels and the grounds crew has lunch with Kimble Anders?

A really neat Pro Bowl would be one in which both 37 yard lines have their own Twitter feed and Mike McCarthy has to wear one of Tom Landry’s hats.

The Pro Bowl’s fate will be officially decided in April and it’s difficult to imagine what could happen between now and then to persuade Goodell whether to move forward with the world’s most-watched practice or replace it with Steppin’ Out with John Clayton. So, it’s likely that what’s done is done and we’re just waiting for the Commish to open the envelope.

If this was the final Pro Bowl we are left with tender memories. Remember the palm trees, the gentle breeze, the half-hearted tackles and Maurkice Pouncey’s smile. Hold dear to your heart the ridiculous scores, hula skirts and absence of Bears on offense.  Think always of the 50th state far, far away. The land of fake football. The gridiron of a grieving pigskin heart.


The Imperiled Pro Bowl

During the NFL draft the greatest accolade heaped upon any young man lucky enough to be selected was that he’s a “Pro Bowl caliber talent.”  The second greatest compliment was “Mel Kiper Jr. mows his lawn.”

And, because life can be strange, cruel, incongruous and far short of nougat and cheerleaders, it appears Mel will be around a lot longer than the Pro Bowl.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who, after last weekend, has bear hugged more men than a horny prison guard, says the league is seriously considering eliminating the Pro Bowl and replacing it with a crotch-kicking contest at Sean Payton’s house.

The Pro Bowl has long been the Shemp of All-Star games with no one really liking it but willing to tolerate it because we not only love football in any form but also appreciate anything broadcast from Hawaii that doesn’t include Don Ho or Jack Lord.

Even the players, who get a free trip to Honolulu and all the poi they can eat, don’t like the Pro Bowl.  Many of the top players opt out by feigning injury or pregnancy and the result is often a watered-down affair featuring guys who play like David Garrard.  Or, even worse, the real David Garrard.

At the most recent Pro Bowl the play was so uninspired that fans actually booed, which is something Hawaiians haven’t done since Pearl Harbor.  The AFC won, 59-41, one year after the NFC won 55-41, and the NFL is facing a lawsuit from the Ivy League, which wants its basketball scores back.

If the league cancels the Pro Bowl Dan Marino has already said he can’t make it to whatever will take its place.

The NFL says if the Pro Bowl disappears teams will still honor the contracts of players who are promised bonuses if they make the Pro Bowl.  But what would take the Pro Bowl’s place?  Trophy night?  A clambake?  A brew-and-view of “The Longest Yard”?  How about instead of the Pro Bowl the league and Jerome Bettis organize a night of pro bowlers?  Imagine bowling night with Pete Weber and Rhino Page matched up against Troy Polamalu and Terrell Suggs.  It could get ugly as one imagines, about the fifth or sixth frame, Suggs chucking Weber down the lane and into the pins.

There would be cheering, spillage and laughter.  The smell of Pabst Blue Ribbon and cigarettes would waft into the night mixed with laughter and bad 70s music from the jukebox.  It would feel nothing like Hawaii.  It would be a million miles from paradise.  But everyone would show up.