December 14, 2017

Arizona Ascension: Cards Will Win Super Bowl

The Arizona Cardinals will win the Super Bowl this coming February, becoming the first team to ever win the Vince Lombardi Trophy on its home turf and giving the redbirds their first NFL title since 1947, when they played in Chicago.

The Cardinals play in perhaps the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West, but have a favorable early schedule opening up on Sunday night with a home tilt against the San Diego Chargers before traveling to New York to face the Giants and then return home to host the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners are tough but a bit in disarray and so the Cards have a very good chance to enter their bye week at 3-0.

After that the Cardinals travel to Denver which won’t have Wes Welker or Matt Prater and, in a nutshell and also considering the St. Louis Rams are not the team they hoped they would be before Sam Bradford’s injury, the Cardinals might not have a truly difficult test until visiting the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle on November 23rd.

The Cardinals also have hope for a hot start following their amazingly hot finish last season, when they won seven of their last nine to finish 10-6 and were widely considered the league’s top team among those that did not make the playoffs.

The Cardinals were a hot team last year.  This year, they will show they are a very good team.

The Cardinals have a very talented veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer who is entering his second year in the maroon and white and his second year under coach Bruce Arians.

Palmer and Arians have two terrific wideouts, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, a solid tight end in John Carlson and a snappy good running back in Andre Ellington.

Last year, in his rookie campaign, Ellington averaged five and-a-half yards per carry and ran for three scores – including an 80-yard doozy against the Atlanta Falcons that was pure speed, guts and Cardinal-ness.

This year, he’ll be even better.  (Right?)

On defense, the Cardinals certainly will feel the absences of Darnell Dockett, the spectacular defensive tackle who is gone for 2014 with a torn ACL, and linebacker Daryl Washington, out with a drug suspension. But the Cardinals are still armed with a defensive secondary of Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson, four gentlemen who take serious umbrage with those who try to catch the ball in front of them or run past them.

The Cards’ D is also still solid on the front seven, especially considering they still have defensive tackle Frostee Rucker.  When your name is Frostee, greatness will find you.

But really?  Can the Arizona Cardinals truly win a conference that has the Seahawks, Saints, 49ers, Packers, Bears and Eagles?

It will be tough.  It will be fun.

The Cardinals will make the playoffs and once you’ve reached January, anything can happen.  Just ask the ’07 and ’11 Giants.  Talk to the ’12 Ravens.  Talk to the teams they beat, too.

The Arizona Cardinals don’t have the most talent in the NFL, but they might have the most mojo.  They have a good defense, a quick-strike offense, a terrific head coach and they have those gray facemasks, God love ’em.

The Arizona Cardinals will win the Super Bowl.  For the first time since Harry Truman was president and only the second time since the sound barrier was broken the Cardinals will be NFL champs.  They will shock, they will awe, they will win.

And who will the Cardinals beat in Super Bowl XLIX?  Why, the Chargers, of course.  The Redbirds and Bolts will meet Sunday night in Week One and then meet again in February.  Cardinals 30, Chargers 23.  Freaky fun for all.




Super Bowl XLVIII

This Super Bowl matched up the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos and I for one thought this was going to be a great game.  There was lots of speculation leading up to this game as far as the weather was concerned.  Will it snow?  Will it rain?  Will a huge snowstorm hit the area and force the game to be rescheduled?  The answer to those questions was a resounding “NO!”  The temperature was in the 40s and there was just a slight chance of precipitation.

Seattle won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Steven Hauschka hit the opening kickoff six yards deep into the end zone and return man Trindon Holliday returned it to the 14.  Quarterback Peyton Manning led the offense on to the field and started in the shotgun formation.  As he called the signals, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over his head and it rolled toward the end zone.  A mad scramble ensued and running back Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety.  Well that most certainly was an original beginning to the Super Bowl.  A grand total of 12 seconds had run off the clock and the Seahawks were already up 2-0.

Denver punter Britton Colquitt hit a 64-yard punt that was fielded by return man/wide receiver Golden Tate at the 16.  He returned it to the 36 and quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense went to work.  Running back Marshawn Lynch got the call on first down and was brought down after a gain of three yards. From the 39, wide receiver Percy Harvin ran up the left side for a gain of 30.  That put the Seahawks at the Denver 31.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by an incomplete pass to tight end Zach Miller.  That was followed by a six-yard completion to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.  On third and nine from the 30, Wilson fired a bullet to Kearse and he caught it for a gain of 12 yards and a first down at the 18.  The next two plays gained four yards and on third and six from the 14, Wilson ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds just before he got to the first down marker.  Head coach Pete Carroll challenged the spot, but it was ruled that Wilson was still just short of the marker.  Instead of going for it, Hauschka came into the game and his 31-yard field goal attempt was good.  With 10:21 to go in the first quarter, the Seahawks led 5-0.

Hauschka sent the kickoff through the end zone, but the Seahawks were penalized for unnecessary roughness.  That put the Broncos at their 35.  But three plays gained just eight yards and they were forced to punt.  The punt was fair caught by Tate at the Seattle 28-yard line.  On third and seven from the 31, Wilson threw to his left and the ball was caught by Tate for nine yards and a first down at the 40.  From the 40, Wilson found fullback Michael Robinson for seven yards.  Lynch was stuffed for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin across the middle for a gain of six.  That was good enough for a first down at the Denver 48.  From the 48, Harvin caught another pass for a gain of five.  Then the Seahawks decided to get fancy and tried a crazy flea-flicker play that didn’t work.  On third and five from the 43, Wilson floated a deep pass up the left side for Baldwin who hauled it in for a gain of 36 yards.  A holding call moved them back ten yards and Lynch continued to struggle to get positive yardage.  On third and 14, Wilson looked for Kearse in the back of the end zone.  Kearse had possession of it for a second, but the ball was knocked out by linebacker Nate Irving.  That meant it was time for another field goal.  Hauschka made his 33-yard attempt and the Seahawks led 8-0 with 2:16 to go in the first quarter.

Aside from a five-yard completion to wide receiver Wes Welker, the Broncos still couldn’t get going.  On second and five from the 25, Moreno ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  The Broncos recovered it at the 23 and that set up a third and seven from the 23.  Manning looked for tight end Julius Thomas and the pass was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor at the 39.  He returned it two yards and the Seahawks set up shop at the Denver 37.  Another end around to Harvin gained 15 yards and tight end Luke Willson caught a five-yard pass.  Lynch ran up the middle for a gain of six and a first down at the 11.  Lynch was thrown for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found Baldwin for a gain of seven on second down.  That set up a third and four from the five-yard line.  Wilson threw to the back corner of the end zone for Tate, but the pass was incomplete.  Then a flag appeared.  Cornerback Tony Carter was flagged for pass interference and that gave the Seahawks a first down at the one-yard line.  Two plays later, Lynch ran it in for the first touchdown of the game.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 15-0 with 12 minutes to go in the first half.

The Broncos started at their 16 and Manning went to the air immediately.  Two completions to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and a short run by Moreno finally got the Broncos a first down at the 30.  Two more passes to D. Thomas and another carry by Moreno netted another first down at the 40.  On third and nine from the 41, Manning found Welker across the middle for a gain of 16 and the Broncos found themselves in Seattle territory.  Another catch by D. Thomas and a short carry by running back Montee Ball moved them down to the 32.  A holding penalty moved them back ten yards and a pass to tight end Jacob Tamme went for a loss of two yards.  From the 44, Moreno ran for a gain of nine.  That set up a third and 13 from the 35.  The Seahawks brought some pressure and defensive end Cliff Avril got to Manning just as he let the ball go and it was picked off at the 31 by linebacker Malcolm Smith.  That was bad for the Broncos and it got worse as Smith returned it all the way for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks went up 22-0 with 3:21 to go in the first half.

Holliday managed to return the ball to the 33 on the ensuing kickoff.  It looked like he fumbled, but he was ruled down before the ball came loose.  With time running short and knowing the walls were closing in, Manning knew he had to get his team into the end zone.  He spread the ball around to three different receivers and they quickly moved down to the Seattle 27.  An incomplete pass to J. Thomas, a six-yard catch by Moreno and a false start set up a third and nine from the 26.  Manning dumped a short pass to Moreno that came up two yards short of the first down.  What do you do now?  Go for the field goal?  No.  Head coach John Fox decided to go for it and Manning looked for D. Thomas.  The pass was incomplete and the Seahawks took over at their 19 with one minute to go in the half.  Two carries by Lynch ran out the clock and the Seahawks led 22-0 at halftime.

For once, I actually enjoyed the halftime show.  Good sound, good lighting and it was good to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few minutes.  Back to return the kickoff to start the second half was the dangerous Percy Harvin.  Instead of trying to kick it through the end zone, kicker Matt Prater sent a knuckle-ball down the middle to keep the ball away from Harvin.  Nice try, but Harvin still got his hands on it.  He headed straight up the middle and returned it for an 87-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks now led 29-0 with 14:48 to go in the third quarter.  To open the game, the Seahawks scored 12 seconds into the first quarter.  Then, they scored 12 seconds into the third quarter.  Interesting.

It was officially time for the Broncos to get into “panic mode.”  They went from their 23 to the Seattle 38 with little trouble.  But the Seahawk defense stiffened and forced another punt.  The punt was downed at the eight and on first down, Lynch got loose, but was tripped up at the 26.  If he had broken one more tackle, he likely would have scored.  That was the only eventful play of that possession and punter Jon Ryan got off a 45-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver 36 by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  He returned it to the 45 and the Broncos had yet another opportunity to put some points on the board.  On second and nine from the 46, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for a gain of ten and a first down at the Seattle 44.  From the 44, Manning hit D. Thomas in stride across the middle.  As Thomas ran up the left side, the ball was knocked loose by cornerback Byron Maxwell and recovered by Smith at the 20 and he returned it seven yards.  The Broncos were also flagged for unnecessary roughness and that gave the Seahawks a first down at their 42-yard line.

A short carry by Lynch and a 12-yard completion to Willson moved them to the Denver 43.  From the 42, Wilson found wide receiver Ricardo Lockette for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 23.  On the very next play, Wilson found Kearse on the right side and he was the recipient of some very poor tackling.  That enabled him to find the end zone for another Seahawk touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were now up 36-0 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Broncos started at their 20 and had no choice but to throw the ball on every down.  Judging by the looks on their faces, they looked like they would rather not even finish the game.  But completions to Welker, J. Thomas and Moreno had them moving in the right direction.  A pass interference call gave them a first down at the Seattle 41.  Two more catches by Welker and one by Tamme got them a first down at the 14.  With the final seconds of the quarter ticking away, Manning took the snap and fired a strike to the end zone that was caught for a touchdown by D. Thomas.  They decided to go for two and it was good as Manning hooked up with Welker again.  At the end of the third quarter, the Seahawks led 36-8.

The Broncos tried an unsuccessful onside kick that was recovered at the Denver 48 by Miller.  From the 48, backup running back Robert Turbin rumbled up the left side for a gain of 33 yards.  But that was brought back by a holding call and it moved the Seahawks back to their 42-yard line.  Miller caught a pass for ten yards and Tate added eight more to set up a third and two at the Denver 40.  From the 40, Baldwin caught a six-yard pass for a first down at the 34.  Then Kearse got in on the action again and made a nice catch for a gain of 24 yards.  That set up a first and goal from the ten and Wilson found Baldwin who bounced off a couple of defenders and dove into the end zone.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 43-8 with 11:45 to go in the game.  That 11:45 was also known as “garbage time.”

Neither team scored again and the Seattle Seahawks came away with a 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos for their first Super Bowl win.  Malcom Smith was named MVP as he had a great game with an interception for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and six solo tackles.  Their defense as a whole played very well.  Although they registered only one sack, they pressured Manning throughout the game, forced four turnovers and rarely let the Denver receivers get loose for big gains.  All in all, it was a very impressive performance by the Seahawks and the Broncos are now the only team to lose five Super Bowls.  Their overall record in Super Bowls is 2-5.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 18 of 25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.  He also had 26 yards rushing on three carries.  Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with five and receiving yards with 66 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Percy Harvin had the most rushing yards with 45 on two carries.  The Broncos did a good job of containing Marshawn Lynch as he finished the game with 39 yards on 15 carries.  18 of those yards came on one carry.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith tied for the lead in solo tackles with six.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 34 of 49 for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Demaryius Thomas set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions and he also had the most receiving yards with 118 and a touchdown.  There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the Denver ground game.  Knowshon Moreno led the team in rushing with 17 yards on five carries.  They finished the game with a total of 27 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with seven and he had one tackle for a loss.

And that’s that.  I enjoyed writing these playoff articles and I’ll be returning as the Raider Guy later in the year.  Up next is the combine, then free agency starts and then the draft will take place in May.  Until then, take it easy.


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


The Minnesota Vikings Will Win the Super Bowl

The Minnesota Vikings will win the Super Bowl.

This season.

Deep breaths, knee bends, shadowbox, second thoughts.

Yep, that’s right, the Minnesota Vikings will win Super Bowl XLVIII and, for the first time in franchise history, hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.


The Vikings have the best player in football; running back Adrian Peterson, a Pro Bowl fullback; Jerome Felton, one of the NFL’s most reliable receivers; Greg Jennings, (in his first year in the purple since defecting from the Green Bay Packers) three (yes, three) good tight ends in Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Rhett Ellison; a great offensive line (ranked in the top ten by rotoworld and fantasy pros) and a gritty and improving starting quarterback in Christian Ponder.  The Vikes also have a respectable backup QB in Matt Cassel.

On defense the Vikings are led by perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen and outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who has been voted to Hawaii the last two seasons and is still very much in his prime.  Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams seems as if he played for Norm Van Brocklin and has certainly seen his better days but is only 33 and still good.

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh made the Pro Bowl last season, his rookie year.

The Vikings had one of the best drafts this year; some have said the very best.   Bucky Brooks, of, gave the Vikes an A+ for drafting cornerback Xavier Rhodes, (Florida State) defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, (Florida) and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, (Tennessee) all in the first round.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is entering his third full season.  Last year he took a team that most experts didn’t think would do much and led them to a 10-6 mark and a playoff berth.  Frazier played for Mike Ditka and coached under Tony Dungy so he knows fire, ice, and winning football.  He was long considered one of the top assistants in the NFL and has more talent this year than he has ever had before.

The Vikings are the best team in the NFC North.  The Green Bay Packers will always be good as long as Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are alive but the Packers have lost Jennings to the Vikes, fellow receiver Donald Driver to retirement, cornerback Charles Woodson bolted for the Oakland Raiders, (why?) and running back Cedric Benson is also gone.  The Pack will be good, but losing all those guys and having to now face Jennings instead of throw to him will hurt too much.  The Chicago Bears will be an exciting team with an improved offense but have an old defense and, under first year head coach Marc Trestman, too many question marks.  The Detroit Lions refuse to ignite hope or praise.

The Vikings will win the NFC North and who will knock them off in the playoffs?  The San Francisco 49ers are loaded but the bet here is that their strength will be their weakness, meaning there is no way quarterback Colin Kaepernick will duplicate last year’s entrancing breakout season.  Plus, that Super Bowl hangover is always difficult to overcome.  It’s tough to argue against the Niners and if they have home field advantage in the postseason the smart money will be on them.  But smart money doesn’t live here right now, and the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will have to go through the Purple Kingdom, which brings us to the Atlanta Falcons.  Fifteen seasons ago the Falcons beat the Vikings in the NFC title game in Minnesota.  It’s time for revenge.  Who really thinks the Falcons will reach the Super Bowl?

What about the rock ‘em-sock ‘em Seattle Seahawks?  The thinking here is, like San Francisco’s QB, enigmatic Seattle signal-caller Russell Wilson will also take a step back after an amazing first year at the helm.  Plus, no self-respecting person ever picks Pete Carroll.

The Minnesota Vikings will win the NFC and advance to their first Super Bowl since the 1976 season, which was their fourth Super Bowl appearance under Bud Grant and their fourth loss.  This year’s Vikings, who play under a dome will, strangely, play in their natural climate, the first cold weather Super Bowl ever, when they take the field at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey on February 2, Groundhog Day, but Vikes fans will not relive their past defeats.  This time the Purple People Eaters will get outstanding running from Adrian Peterson, efficient passing from Christian Ponder, clutch catches from Jennings and Patterson, an attacking, gritty defense, and a 40-yard field goal through the snow from Blair Walsh as time expires and will top the Denver Broncos, 23-20.

Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Joey Browner, Paul Krause, Chuck Foreman, Robert Smith, Tommy Kramer, Joe Kapp, Ron Yary, Randall McDaniel, Mick Tinglehoff and Jim Marshall will smile.  Snow will fall on New Jersey and stretch under a victorious wind all the way to the Twin Cities.

The Minnesota Vikings will win the Super Bowl.

Really, Christian Ponder is good enough.

A Democracy of Champions

The Baltimore Ravens hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions having won the National Football League crown for the second time in 13 seasons.

Since Baltimore’s last Super Bowl triumph 12 years ago the Super Bowl winners have been New England, Tampa Bay, New England, New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay and the New York Giants again.  That means since the turn of the century only seven different cities have finished atop the NFL heap.

Over that same time, 16 teams have reached the Super Bowl: Baltimore, the New York Giants, New England, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Indianapolis, Chicago, Arizona, New Orleans, Green Bay and San Francisco.  This means half of the NFL has played on the final Sunday since the 2000s began.  One more than half if you include the Tennessee Titans by noting that they played in the Super Bowl (losing to the St. Louis Rams) in January, 2000.

Of the NFL’s 32 teams 18 have won a Super Bowl: Green Bay, the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Colts (Baltimore and Indianapolis) Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.

The Buffalo Bills have never won a Super Bowl.  Neither have the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks or Arizona Cardinals.

The Browns, Texans, Jaguars and Lions have never even reached a Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl, of course, does not – as much as everyone wants to seem to believe – encompass all of NFL achievement.  The Super Bowl has been around for 47 years, which is about how long the NFL existed before it started referring to the championship game by using Roman numerals.

If you look at NFL championships before the Super Bowl era, the Browns claim titles in 1950, ’54, ’55 and ’64.  The Lions were NFL Champions in 1935, ’52, ’53 and ’57.  The Eagles won it all in 1948, ’49 and ’60.  The Cardinals – while playing in Chicago – won titles in 1925 and ’47.

The Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers all won American Football League titles before the Super Bowl era and never had to, (or perhaps never got the chance to is the way to say it,) face the NFL champs at season’s end.

If you include the NFL titles before the Super Bowl era  (and not the AFL titles) then 22 of the league’s 32 teams have been world champions.

How does this compare to other sports?

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball and 22 of them have won a World Series.  The only teams to never have an October (or early November) parade are the Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals (previously the Montreal Expos) Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.  The Mariners and Nationals are the only teams to never even play in a World Series.

The National Hockey League has 30 teams and 18 of them have won at least one Stanley Cup.  Six teams – Washington, Ottawa, Florida, Buffalo, Vancouver and St. Louis – have reached the Stanley Cup Finals at least once but never won.  Columbus, Minnesota, Winnipeg, (formerly Atlanta) Nashville, San Jose and Phoenix have never been one of the final two teams skating.

The National Basketball Association is comprised of 30 teams and is the least equitable of the four major North American sports leagues when it comes to championships.  Of the NBA’s 30 current squads, only 17 have won titles and only 13 have won a championship playing in the city where they presently reside and under their current moniker.

Of the NBA’s 66 championships exactly half – 33 – have been won by either the Boston Celtics (17) or Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (16.)  Throw in the Chicago Bulls (6) and San Antonio Spurs (4) and it gets downright class warfare silly.

Disregarding your favorite team, who would you want to see win a championship?  Who has it worse, the Arizona Cardinals who haven’t won a championship since 1947 (when they were the Chicago Cardinals) or the Chicago Cubs who have won it all but not for 105 years?

Is it really better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?  This coming NFL season will be the 20th anniversary since the Buffalo Bills reached the Super Bowl for the fourth straight time and, we all know, lost for the fourth straight time.

The Minnesota Vikings have also lost four Super Bowls, the last one coming after the 1976 season.  Does that pain fade over the years?  Are Vikings fans nostalgic for those good old days when they always had their hearts broken?

Cleveland hasn’t boasted a champion since the Browns in 1964 and before that those great teams of the 50s.   The Indians haven’t won it all since 1948 and the Cavaliers never have.  And the Ravens, we all recall, actually used to be the Browns.  But that’s a long time ago.  And far away.

The NFL has reportedly decided that if next season’s Super Bowl which, for the first time, will be played outdoors at a cold weather site (New Jersey), gets hit by a snowstorm the game will be moved to either Saturday or Monday.  Maybe even Tuesday.   Playing a Super Bowl on a Tuesday would be like winning the lottery in Russia.  It just wouldn’t seem trustworthy.

So maybe the only real winner will be the snowflakes.  The parade next season will be for Mother Nature and God’s dandruff.  The snowflakes will hear the chorus of cheers and the winds of triumph.  They’ll descend on grass and engulf the green and refuse to budge.  The snow will put up a goal line stand.  The trophy goes to the flake that fights the hardest.

Super Bowl XLVII

This year, the Super Bowl matched up the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens against the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.  It was the first time in Super Bowl history that brothers (John and Jim Harbaugh) were coaching the teams and it was being billed as the “Har-Bowl” or the “Super-Bro.”  So, after two weeks of hype, we were finally ready for the game to start.  The Ravens won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Justin Tucker kicked it deep for a touch-back and the 49ers started at their 20.  They got the game off to a good start when quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis.  Unfortunately, that play was called back due to an illegal formation penalty.  Three plays later, punter Andy Lee came on and hit a 50-yard punt that was fielded at the Raven 32 by return man Jacoby Jones.  He returned it to the 49 and the Ravens had good field position for their first drive.

From the 49, quarterback Joe Flacco completed a short pass to fullback Vonta Leach that went for eight yards.  Running back Ray Rice ran for four yards on the next play and that got the Ravens a first down at the San Francisco 39.  From the 39, Flacco went to wide receiver Torrey Smith for 20 more yards and the Ravens were marching.  A short run by Rice and an incomplete pass made it third and nine.  On third down, Flacco looked for tight end Dennis Pitta and the pass was incomplete.  However, the 49ers were flagged for an offside penalty.  On third and four from the 13, Flacco threw for the end zone and the pass was caught by wide receiver Anquan Boldin for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens had an early 7-0 lead.

Starting from their 20, the 49ers went to work.  Running back Frank Gore was thrown for a loss of one on first down, but Kaepernick came back with a 19-yard completion to wide receiver Michael Crabtree.  Runs of nine and five yards by Gore and 16 more rushing yards from Kaepernick moved the ball to the Raven 32.  Kaepernick then found Davis open for a gain of 24 and the 49ers were at the Raven eight-yard line.  They would go no further.  In fact, they went backwards as Kaepernick was sacked on third down for a loss of ten by linebacker Paul Kruger.  Kicker David Akers came into the game and made his 36-yard field goal attempt.  That made it 7-3 with 3:58 to go in the first quarter.

The Ravens managed to get a couple of first downs on their next drive but ended up punting.  Sam Koch’s punt went into the end zone and the 49ers were starting from their 20 again.  Passes of 29 and 11 yards to Davis had the 49ers off to a good start.  Rookie running back LaMichael James ran up the left side for eight yards and Gore got seven more on the next play.  On first down from the Raven 24, James ran off right end and the ball came loose.  It was recovered by defensive end Arthur Jones at the 25.

Running back Bernard Pierce got some action to start this drive and he netted 12 yards on three carries.  From the 37, Flacco found Pitta for nine and Pierce got two yards on his next carry for a first down at the 48.  Flacco then found tight end Ed Dickson for 23 yards and Rice ran up the right side for seven more.  Flacco looked for Dickson again and he was dragged down at the San Francisco eight-yard line.  A facemask penalty on safety Donte Whitner made it first and goal from the four.  On second and goal from the one, Flacco fired a pass into the end zone that was caught by Pitta for another Raven touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 14-3 with 7:06 to go in the first half.

The 49ers got the ball back at their 21 and Kaepernick put up a deep ball for wide receiver Randy Moss.  The ball was picked off by safety Ed Reed at the San Francisco 44 and returned to the 38.  After that, a huge brawl ensued.  Offsetting penalties were called and the Ravens were in business again.  Three runs by Rice, a short pass to Leach and a seven-yard pass to Rice got them a first down at the San Francisco 15.  The next three plays netted one yard and Tucker came on for a field goal attempt.  Instead of kicking the ball through the uprights, Tucker took the snap and ran up the left side in hopes of getting a first down.  He was pushed out of bounds one yard short of the first down marker by safety Darcel McBath.

A quick three and out by the 49ers gave the Ravens the ball at their 44.  On third and ten, Flacco looked deep for Jones and the ball was caught at the San Francisco nine.  After Jones caught the pass, he fell to the turf, quickly got up and made his way into the end zone for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now had a 21-3 lead with 1:45 to go in the half.

Starting at the 20, Kaepernick completed a six-yard pass to Crabtree and a 14-yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker.  A roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata got them 15 more yards and a first down at the Raven 45.  Kaepernick looked for Walker again and found him for a gain of 28.  That got them down to the 17, but they couldn’t get the ball into the zone.  Akers made his 27-yard field goal attempt and the Ravens took a 21-6 lead into the locker room.

The second half got started with a bang as Jones fielded the kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone and ran straight up the middle.  Not a 49er could catch him and he ran it in for a 108-yard touchdown.  By the way, that was the longest scoring play in Super Bowl history.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 28-6 with 14:49 to go in the third quarter.  The 49ers started at their 14 and on first down, Kaepernick hooked up with Crabtree for a gain of 29 yards.  On first down from the 43, Gore ran up the left side for three and Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of six yards.  And then the lights went out.  The lights stayed out for a grand total of 34 minutes.  I felt like I was in the twilight zone.  After they finally came back on, the 49ers faced a third and 13 and didn’t get the first down.  The Ravens didn’t fare much better on their next drive and punted after four plays.

From their 20, the 49ers went to work knowing they had to get something going if they wanted to avoid being blown out.  Kaepernick had two scrambles that netted 20 yards and a first down at the 40.  On third and eight from the 42, Moss caught a nine-yard pass for a first down at the Raven 49.  From the 49, Kaepernick hit Davis for 18 yards and a first down at the 31.  Next, Crabtree caught a pass on the left side, bounced off a couple of defenders and made his way into the end zone for a 49er touchdown.  Akers made the point after and the score was now 28-13 with 7:20 to go in the third quarter.

On their next drive, the Ravens went nowhere as Flacco was sacked on third and ten by linebacker Ahmad Brooks.  49er return man Tedd Ginn fielded the punt at the San Francisco 48 and returned it to the Raven 20.  It took two plays to go 20 yards and Gore ran the ball in from the six-yard line for a touchdown.  Akers made the point after and it was now 28-20 with five minutes to go in the third quarter.  You could feel the momentum swing in favor of the 49ers.  What made it worse for the Ravens was an injury to Ngata.  He would not return to the game.  It couldn’t get worse than that, could it?  Yes it could.  On second and seven from the 23, the 49ers brought the blitz.  Flacco managed to dump off a pass to Rice on the left side where he was hit by cornerback Tarell Brown.  The ball came loose and Brown recovered it at the 24.

This time, the Raven defense was ready.  The 49ers managed to gain only three yards on three plays and it was up to Akers to put some more points on the board.  His kick sailed wide left, but the Ravens were flagged for running into the kicker.  That moved them up five yards and Akers was granted another try from 34 yards.  The kick was good and the score was now 28-23 with 3:10 to go in the third quarter.

The Ravens took over at their 28.  Two runs by Pierce and a 30-yard catch and run by Boldin moved the Ravens to the San Francisco 35.  Pitta caught another one for seven yards, Rice ran for two and Pierce had a nice run up the left side for a gain of eight.  He was hurt after that play, but would return later in the game.  A four-yard run by Rice and a nine-yard catch by Boldin made it first and goal at the four.  Two runs by Rice got them down to the one.  Instead of running it again, Flacco rolled out to the right side and couldn’t find anyone open.  The pass was incomplete and the Ravens had to settle for a 19-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and that made it 31-23 with 12:54 to go in the game.

The 49ers had little trouble moving the ball from their 24-yard line.  A five-yard run by Gore, a 32-yard catch by Moss and a 21-yard run by Gore made it first down at the Raven 18.  On second and seven from the 15, Kaepernick took it the rest of the way for another touchdown.  That made it 31-29 and they went for two to tie the game up.  The Ravens blitzed and Kaepernick’s pass to Moss was overthrown.  The score remained 31-29 with 9:57 to go in the game.

The Ravens started at their 21 and on third and nine, a pass interference penalty was called on cornerback Chris Culliver.  That gave them a first down at their 36.  A short run by Pierce and another catch by Boldin appeared to give the Ravens another first down.  But 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh challenged the spot and it was ruled Boldin was short of the first down.  That made it third and one from the 45.  I think everyone in the building was expecting a run up the middle on the next play.  Instead, Flacco called an audible and threw to the right side to Boldin.  Despite being blanketed by cornerback Carlos Rogers, Boldin managed to haul in the pass for a gain of 15 and a crucial first down.  Rice finally got loose for a gain of 12 and another first down at the San Francisco 28.  Two short runs by Rice and an offside penalty made it third and two at the 20.  Flacco fired a pass to Pitta, but he couldn’t hold on and that brought up fourth down.  Tucker came into the game again and his 38-yard attempt was good.  The Ravens now led 34-29 with 4:19 to go in the game.

Eight-yard runs by Kaepernick and Gore got the 49ers a first down at their 36.  On second and ten from the 36, Kaepernick hit Crabtree for a gain of 24 and a first down at the Raven 40.  From the 40, Gore ran up the left side and was finally pushed out of bounds at the seven-yard line.  The 49ers had to go seven yards to take the lead after they had trailed 28-6 earlier in the game.  From the seven, James ran for two yards.  On second down from the five, Kaepernick looked for Crabtree and the pass was incomplete.  He would look for Crabtree again on third down and get the same result.  That made it fourth and goal from the five.  Kaepernick took the snap and once again looked for Crabtree in the end zone.  The pass fell incomplete and the 49ers turned the ball over on downs.  There was definitely some contact between Crabtree and cornerback Jimmy Smith on that final play, but no flag was thrown.  This caused Jim Harbaugh to lose his mind and he was very critical of the zebras after the game.

The Ravens took over at their five-yard line and three plays got them exactly three yards.  The 49ers used up their remaining timeouts and on fourth down with 12 seconds remaining, the Ravens went into punt formation.  Koch took the snap and held the ball as long as he could before running out of the end zone for a safety.  That made it 34-31 with four seconds remaining.  From the 20, Koch blasted a 61-yard punt that was fielded by Ginn.  He fielded it at the 19 and was brought down at midfield.  That brought the game to an end with the final score: Baltimore Ravens 34 San Francisco 49ers 31.

For the Ravens, Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco completed 23 of 33 for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Anquan Boldin led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 104 and a touchdown.  The Ravens had a tough time moving the ball on the ground and Ray Rice led the way with 59 yards on 20 carries.  Rice also had 19 yards receiving and one lost fumble.  As a team, the Ravens rushed for just 93 yards on 35 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Dannell Ellerbee led the Ravens with six solo tackles and one tackle for a loss.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 for 302 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  He also had 62 yards rushing on seven carries and one rushing touchdown.  Vernon Davis led the team in receptions with six and Crabtree had the most yards receiving with 109 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Frank Gore led the way with 110 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.  As a team, the 49ers averaged 6.3 yards a carry and racked up 182 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Patrick Willis led the 49ers with eight solo tackles.

That was one hell of a game.  The Ravens could do no wrong until the lights went out.  After they came back on, all the momentum switched to the 49ers.  But, when it came to crunch time, the Raven defense got the job done.  Linebacker Ray Lewis played his last game and is retiring a champion.  The next time we see him will be at his Hall of Fame induction speech.  It was indeed a tough loss for the 49ers, but they have a bright future with Colin Kaepernick at the helm.  I would imagine quarterback Alex Smith won’t be back next year.  Maybe he’ll end up in Arizona or Kansas City.  As of right now, your guess is as good as mine.

I enjoyed writing all these post season articles and I’ll return next month as The Raider Guy.  They have the third pick in the draft this year and need help at lots of positions.  As far as I am concerned, Damontre Moore from Texas A&M is the guy they need to get.  That will be discussed at a later time.  Until then, take it easy.


A Chicago Super Bowl

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday that the Windy City should be allowed to one day host the Super Bowl at Soldier Field.  When Goodell finished laughing and realized that Emanuel was serious there was a silence so awkward it was like finding condoms in Grandma’s glove compartment.

Actually, Goodell seems to be taking Emanuel’s request seriously and he has to, because that’s the can of worms that Roger G. and the Billionaires opened when they agreed to put a Super Bowl in the New Jersey Meadowlands in 2014, the first time the Great American Game will be held outside in a cold weather setting.

There are many reasons that Soldier Field might not be the best place to play a Super Bowl but the frigid, Arctic cold blowing off Lake Michigan in the middle of winter is probably the most glaring. Chicago averages about eight inches of snow in February and has an average high temperature of 33 degrees with an average of low of 17.

Russians don’t like Chicago in February.

Soldier Field also has a seating capacity of only about 63,000 and, according to news reports, not enough luxury suites for those rich cats and New England Patriots fans who normally attend games with Roman numerals while real fans are stuck at home drinking Rhinelander and breaking up fistfights in the den.

Still, it could be fun.  Chicago remembers well the city’s fugacious but expensive and ultimately failed attempt to land the 2016 Olympics and so it might provide some civic salve if the Super Bowl came to town instead.  And while Chicago is cold in February it’s always a fun city and one imagines the Super Bowl village by the lakefront featuring attractions like snowball fights or “Bribe The Alderman.”

Chicago has great hotels, restaurants, bars, museums and ice floes and there would be plenty for football fans and Chris Berman to do in the days leading up to the big game.

The only trouble for Chicago would arise if the Packers were playing.  Maybe we could all drive up to Green Bay for the week and get drunk and burn things.

The reason Roger Goodell was in Chicago was to congratulate the city for Soldier Field becoming the first NFL stadium to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its environmentally sustainable attributes.  So who knows?  Maybe by 2016 the Chicago Park District will have figured out a way to store energy to keep Soldier Field seats nice and warm even in February.  Or maybe they’ll just buy a bunch of batteries.

If the New York area can host a Super Bowl so can Chicago.  So can Green Bay, Denver, Pittsburgh and Hank Stram’s old house.  Let football’s biggest game return to its natural roots.  Bring on the snow, let in the cold.  Let’s have a 13-10 snow globe affair.  It will look great on TV.




Super Bowl Week Experience: The Real Game Before The Game

The National Football League, the greatest marketing machine in the Western Hemisphere, held it’s biggest event of the year a few Sundays ago in Indianapolis. The Super Bowl has become known not just for the game, but for its ability to become the epicenter of North America, for one week every year wherever it is held. This year the New York Giants and New England Patriots faced off on February 5, 2012 for the NFL title, but the real game came well before those two teams faced off to see who would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

The NFL schedules the Super Bowl two weeks after the NFC and AFC champions are crowned for several reasons. The first, being for the scheduling of travel arrangements for the teams participating in the game and their respective families. The second, being to drive up the hype for the game by using the media to keep the NFL in the spotlight and in the hearts of its fans.

This year Indianapolis became one of the few cold weather cities ever to host a Super Bowl. Lucas Oil Stadium, the home field of the Indianapolis Colts for those that have never been there, is one of the most beautiful stadiums you will ever see. The sight lines from every seat in the stadium are breathtaking, making every fan feel as if they have the best seat in the house regardless of where they are sitting. The stadium is decorated with murals and photographs of Peyton Manning everywhere you look making it clear that this is the house that Peyton built. Unfortunately, the way it looks now Peyton may have played his last game as a Colt, but that is a story for a different day.

The NFL adopted new policies during several of the pre-game events. The first being the selling of tickets to the media day event. This event is set to give the media covering the event access to the players for a specified amount of time, helping to fill notebooks and tape recorders for that week’s news stories. The bigger the star the bigger their presence at media day. Eli Manning and Tom Brady are supplied with a podium, microphone, and signage to identify them. The unknown offensive lineman is left wandering and hoping someone notices them and wants to hear what they have to say. Now that it is open to the public, for a fee, the event has more professional autograph seekers present than media.

The other event that the NFL opened to the public was radio row in the media center. Every year the NFL designates a hotel or convention center for the media to use as a base of operations. The Super Bowl media center is where every public relations guru wants to be, pushing their movie, book, or whatever project they may be involved in. Where else can you see Tim Tebow, swimsuit model Kate Upton, and comedian Adam Sandler standing within a few feet of each other. This year the general public was allowed into the center of the radio area and were now able to watch the who’s who of entertainment and sports making the rounds at all of the different broadcast tables. While I am sure that the fans were glad to have this look behind the curtain, it just made an already chaotic event that much more difficult for both the broadcasters and their guests. While most fans in attendance were respectful, there were professional autograph seekers with duffel bags full of items, looking for autographs to sell on eBay. After seeing these professional stalkers in action, I can see why some celebrities now refuse to sign autographs for fans. It appeared that the bigger the broadcaster, the larger the space they were allotted in the center. The Jim Rome Show, Sirius NFL Radio, and ESPN had the largest areas on radio row, while some of the smaller 1000 watt AM radio stations were left with a five-foot table and just happy to be in the room. The biggest thrill was not meeting Curt Shilling, Adam Sandler or any of the other celebrities in attendance, but instead the realization that if you had a media credential you could take all of the bottled water, coffee or ice cream sandwiches you could consume. Now I know how the other half lives.

The Super Bowl’s biggest fan event that week was the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center. The NFL set up several events in the convention center, including events where you could test your throwing and kicking ability — all for a twenty-five dollar daily entrance fee and the signing of a liability waiver. The event was a football fan’s dream with appearances by the biggest stars in the game, including Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tony Gonzalez and many others. They signed autographs and took pictures with fans, for get this, no additional fee. The only drawback was that the average line to wait for one of these free autographs was over an hour and for the bigger stars, such as Drew Brees, well over two. It was at this event that I realized that I, like many more of the fans inside, had become hypnotized by the machine known as the NFL. Throughout the convention center there were refreshment stands set up because you were not allowed to bring any type of food or drink inside, which was enforced by event security through intense bag checks. When I felt parched, I approached a refreshment stand and asked for a Pepsi, which was in a twenty-ounce bottle. The worker at the kiosk said that the Pepsi cost four dollars. With a smile on my face, I handed over a five-dollar bill without a complaint. As I turned away from the refreshment stand it crossed my mind, if I had been anywhere else and they told me a Pepsi cost four dollars, I would have complained and walked out just on principle. However, the NFL had all in attendance somehow hypnotized into thinking this drink deal was a bargain. I did draw the line at the twenty-dollar popcorn bucket that was smaller than medium size movie popcorn. The best way to describe the NFL Experience would be Disneyland for football fans. You will have a great time, be exhausted when it’s over, and horrified when you later realize how much you spent.

Super Bowl week is also known for its collection of celebrity parties. Several organizations hold events for charity and deliver as promised, such as Ron Jaworski’s Jaws Youth Playbook foundation and the Gridiron Greats. Events like those bring fans together with celebrities for a good cause. These organizations leave the fans in attendance fulfilled with the experience of meeting their childhood heroes, while raising money for a good cause.

On the other hand, for every great organization looking to raise money for charity, there is a party promoter trying to pull a fast one. All through the city you will hear of events where the top celebrities will be partying and you too can attend these exclusive events if you are willing to fork over $500 to $1500. Many of these parties have fine print on the admission ticket saying that the celebrities listed on the ticket were only invited and that there was no guarantee they would actually attend. Most pre-Super Bowl parties are bait and switch events where you have horrible bar food, bottom shelf liquor and a wave from a B-list celebrity, who leaves as quickly as they entered, often collecting a cash envelope for that brief appearance. I would recommend that if you have any intention of attending the Super Bowl that you thoroughly research events and look for feedback from others that have attended the parties thrown by these organizations/promoters in the past.

Now to the big game, which after all of the hoopla and exhausting events on the days leading up to the main event, now almost seemed secondary. The price gouging in Indianapolis on game day was incredible with parking garages around the stadium charging $200 to park. To avoid the obscene parking prices, many fans took taxis to the stadium. A quarter-mile ride was twenty dollars, but seemed a bargain to the parking cost. The security to enter a Super Bowl stadium took hours to navigate and is just as strict as what the TSA employs at major airports. Many fans enter the stadium up to four hours early just to make sure they are inside for kickoff. Just imagine if you had to get 70,000 people through a TSA checkpoint at the airport in time for a flight. If you try to get in less than an hour before kickoff, odds are you will miss most of the first quarter.  Despite all of the difficulty getting in, the game did not disappoint with the Giants hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. As soon as the confetti fell, the battle to get home began. The taxis lined up outside Lucas Oil were trying to charge fifty dollars for the same ride I paid twenty dollars for just hours earlier. After haggling and the threat of calling a state trooper, who was working the security detail, over to the taxi the price dropped considerably. As fast as the city of Indianapolis became the center of the world, it just as quickly emptied and within a day was back to business as usual.

The events before the Super Bowl are each an event unto themselves. If you have the opportunity to ever attend “The Big Game”, be prepared, be rested and have a wallet full of cash and an available credit line. While I am still a huge fan of the game of football, the look behind the curtain has opened my eyes to the fact that it is really only a business. While you can love the NFL with all of your heart, it will only really love you back if you have enough money. Knowing that, I still plan on watching football every Sunday next season, but now with my eyes wide open and one hand firmly on my wallet.



January 24, 2012

The New York Giants entered the postseason with the worst record of any NFC playoff team and now, a few weeks later, they’re headed to the Super Bowl and are building their resume as perhaps the greatest franchise in the history of the NFL.

Let’s look things over:

The Giants are playing in their fifth Super Bowl, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys, (8) Pittsburgh Steelers, (8) New England Patriots, (7 including this year) and Denver Broncos (6) and are tied with the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins.

And, as Giants fans who are little gray around the temples and/or fans of ESPN Classic will tell you, the G-Men were also involved in big games long before they called them Super Bowls and debuted the “A-Team” afterwards.  Between 1933 and 1963 the New York Giants appeared in the NFL Championship game 14 times, basically every other year, and more than any other team.  The problem is the Giants sported a record of just 3-11 in those title games and, yes, there were a lot fewer teams competing back then.  But still, all told, the Giants are now one of the last two teams standing for 19th time in their history, more than any other team.

And while the Giants are certainly not proud of that 3-11 championship game record, some of those losses came in epic games including “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” which was New York’s 23-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 title game at Yankee Stadium.

The Giants were voted NFL champions in 1927 back before title games were played, then won three NFL championship games and then three Super Bowls.  Add it up and the Giants have won it all seven times, putting them only behind the Packers, who have won 13 titles, and the Chicago Bears, who have won nine.

How about great players?  The Bears lead the NFL with 30 Hall-of-Famers, the Washington Redskins are next with 28 (some guys are listed twice on the Hall of Fame website, or on two different teams, it’s very confusing but this is the best true calculation I can come up with) and the Giants are next with 27.

What about cultural impact?  The Giants hail from New York and if you can make it there, so the song says, you can make it anywhere, and succeeding in New York seems to hold greater weight than being the top dog in Green Bay or Denver.  No, the Giants aren’t icons like the New York Yankees and have never been sexy like the Cowboys or flashy like the Los Angeles Lakers but they have been consistent contenders since the days of Babe Ruth, probably have more fans than any other NFL team except for perhaps the Cowboys or the Bears and once had a player named Tuffy Leemans – how cool is that?

Maybe the Giants aren’t the greatest franchise in NFL history.  The Packers can stake a claim, so can the Bears, Steelers, Cowboys and maybe even the Patriots.  But if a team is measured by the number of seasons it keeps its fans interested until the very end, the number of players it sends to Canton, and looking cool in blue, then the New York Giants might deserve the vote.  And if Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Justin Tuck and the rest of the G-Men can knock off the Patriots on February 5 it won’t just be a victory, but another Giant step toward football history.