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Fantasy football gets a dose of reality

9 Sep

Fantasy football not only has 26 million participants, it has become so pervasive that its scores will now sit alongside real football scores.

Huh?

In a nutshell, Roger Goodell and the NFL have made the odd decision to display fantasy football results on the scoreboard at each NFL fixture.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told The New York Daily News: “We want you most of all to sit back and enjoy it – in our stadiums, on television, and wherever else you connect with the NFL. Football fans enjoying football is what we love.”

As much as I love fantasy football, this is a curious move. We go to the games for the game, not a multi-tiered informational experience. If I wanted that I could hook into my iPad and never leave the house. And anyone who’s at a game and more concerned with what their No.2 running back is doing on the other side of the country than the action in front of them, should seriously think about giving their seats up to someone who really wants to be at the game.

Sometimes the suits need to stop trying to be cool and just worry about the business at hand – providing a quality on-the-field product.

NFL draft hats, kind of retro

28 Apr

The 2011 NFL draft hats are now available but we’re not sure the latest design lends itself to all team logos. The contrasting panel on the visor seems to be an attempt at a retro design, but doesn’t always gel with the overall team color. White can look wrong on a hat can’t it? For example, the Browns hat contrasts white with orange, and similarly the Steelers hat white with yellow. Meh.

We do like the Cowboys and Rams versions, however, where white is more striking against a darker color. You’d think they’d factor this notion into the equation, right?

Why American sports need to stay American

12 Mar

The Big Four sports leagues thank you for your support over the years  – you’ve been great!

But out of interest, have you got any wealthier, better looking, easily pleased friends – preferably with a cool foreign accent? Just a little routine check – the head honchos back at league HQ are putting out the feelers because while things are extremely good right now, well, you know, they can always be better.

Contrary to what you might think, multiple revenue streams in the billions, enormous fan bases, mass cultural appeal, and the general economic influence that comes with being one of the primary entertainment products in North America, just isn’t enough. No way. Not in this restless, attention splintered era of BlackBerry and Twitter.

For the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL there’s always the prospect of more. They suffer from a serious George Clooney Complex: there’s a leggy Italian brunette in the bed (the current fan base), but she’ll never be wife material. After all, nbody’s wife material when your always dreaming about the next conquest (the potential global fan base).

Like our pal George, the Mega Sports Brands have another customer around the corner, up the street, across the border or over the ocean, in somebody else’s bed. As far as they’re concerned, people around the world are so dissatisfied with their own local sports entertainment that they’d be crazy not to fork out money for a piece of the American sports pantheon. It’s this arrogance and sense of entitlement from pro sports big cheeses that threatens to ruin the very thing that makes American sports leagues so great…they’re American!

The perpetual journey of major sports leagues in the United States reminds me of the early settlers who were determined to expand, no matter the cost. Their desire not only built a prolific and powerful economy but redefined the term “superpower”, to the point that global competitors started looking meek.  This drive began to shape the nation’s psyche. It became in essence, what is to be American, and set apart a burgeoning nation from all others forever.

But let’s get some perspective: we’re not talking about a something as admirable as the birth of a nation. We’re talking about expanding pro basketball or football competitions, simply because capitalism calls for it.

It all begs the question, at what point does this hunger for sporting monopoly – to acquire more than your share, and to conquer the global market – start becoming, well, something akin to the mission statement of a Bond villain?

Sure, there’s always room to improve or tweak even the very best products. I mean Halle Berry didn’t really start flooring the greater male population – and I mean Johnny Gill type leveling – until the mid-Nineties. It only happened for Team Halle when she cropped the hair and leveraged the assets. It’s now safe to say that her level of market penetration has maxed out.

The Big Four aren’t far behind Halle. While they may not have reached global market saturation, they’re still world beaters. They’re the sports industry’s version of BMW, Apple and Coke. In other words, the benchmarks in their field.

So why risk such unparalleled success?

Come on. It doesn’t matter how many new types of Cokes you concoct, or whether you sell 53 different colors of the iPod, the original offering is still leaps and bounds ahead of anything else. The product at its height, is like Halle in Swordfish – it doesn’t get any better.

But sports commissioners always stare beyond the horizon, don’t they. Forget steady growth and maintaining customer satisfaction; they view sports administration with a sort of Starbuckian principle of multiplication. More locations = more customers = greater market share = another house in the Hamptons.

But how do we the fans see it?

Two ways:

1. We don’t want more teams or more games

The trouble  is, many of the Big Four’s potential fans – the ones they’re targeting in places like London, Mexico and Beijing – simply aren’t interested. They’re just not. You only needed to see the ho-hum Nets – Raptors extravaganza that recently played out in London’s O2 arena to realize that. And when it comes to more games, the reasons have been covered ad nauseam – chief among them the risk of increased injuries and therefore a weakened on-field product.

2. International fans don’t need more sports

The mere assumption that foreign fans are desperate for more American sports, or at least should be, only deters them further. It’s the Krispy Kreme Donuts effect: it doesn’t matter how many dozens of stores you open in North America, the desire for heavily glazed donuts doesn’t necessarily translate outside of the country. That’s why you’re seeing stores close up shop in other regions.

The same thing goes for NBA basketball. Many foreigners are intrigued – even in awe of the NBA and its many talented stars. But they won’t return to the game with the same commitment as American fans because they don’t have an appetite for it. They already have soccer, rugby, cricket, handball, motor racing, golf, tennis, table tennis, surfing, field hockey, their own versions of football and yes, even their own basketball, hockey and baseball leagues.

Where does it end? Does it end?

The entrepreneurial egos of pro sports tycoons won’t relent. In true corporate fashion, they see more jersey sales, bigger stadiums and whopping TV deals in their futures. They won’t be satisfied until every last suburban duplex, high-rise one-bedder or island retreat around the globe has the tube locked into their games and the Twitter screen ticking over with news from their leagues.

Planetary sports dominations is not unique to the US of course. England’s been flogging its Premier League overseas for years. As such, the EPL has registered and succeeded in all corners of the globe. The major difference, however, is that we’re talking about soccer, a sport that appeals to, and is played by all levels of society on just about every continent. It already has a ground swell in the allies of Naples or the ghettos of Argentina. And perhaps more to the point, soccer doesn’t face the issue of teaching new fans the merits of going for it on fourth and one with the game on the line. Nor does it depend on specialized facilities like basketball courts or ice rinks. Soccer broke down borders, overcame language barriers and thrived without infrastructure a long, long time ago.

More simply, I want the big sports leagues to stay North American because globalization is watering down cultural independence. Case in point: when I was growing up I loved watching Magic and the Lakers, despite living outside of the US. He was perpetual motion – freewheeling and thrilling. Watching a Lakers – Bulls game was about the best thing I could imagine taking place in the sports world at that time. Heck, at any time.

But what made it so attractive to my ten-year old eyes, thousands of miles away from the Great Western Forum, was that Magic was a Hollywood basketballer. He was an untouchable American superstar, like Arnie or Sly diving from a giant explosion across the silver screen. It was, and still is, the best reality TV ever. Magic belonged on my crappy 16-inch NEC  or recorded to on one of my dusty VHS tapes – a sporting fantasy, a legend. That’s what made him so appealing to me as an outsider. He wasn’t in my backyard and thus, I had even greater appreciation for his hardwood exploits.

Listen, international fans are well-versed on US pro sports. We read Sports Illustrated, we watch Stuart Scott. We know what “booy-yah” means. We don’t need to be pandered to by the respective league commissioners with their grandiose ideas about expanding brands abroad. We don’t want the NBA to include a London Rain, or a Shanghai Surprise. Why should it? It’s the National Basketball Association. If I want to watch international basketball, with its plodding pace, inordinate amount of perimeter shooting and remarkably flat inside play, then I’ll tune into the Olympics.

Further, why would I want to watch NFL football, which is so intrinsically American, being played by Germans? Or Brits? Or in Britain, even? If I’m a Packers or Niners or Chiefs fan, why do I want my club to travel over an ocean for a single game, turning up bleary-eyed, uninterested and struggling to digest a duck confit, in front of a vaguely interested group of foreigners – most with no emotional connection to the team?

I don’t.

Americans don’t want it either. And any well-informed, self-respecting fan abroad is okay with that. Give us the Seattle Seahawks against the Oakland Raiders at Quest Field, snow falling like it’s the apocalypse, Collinsworth riffing about perfect routs and some crazy local flashing his frozen belly to the nearest camera and onto my cable-burdened flatscreen, any day of the week.

That’s the product. That’s what makes it work. Leave it the way it is – and where it is – and stop trying to mix in vanilla flavoring and shipping crates of it to places and people who are too busy absorbing a five-day cricket match.

You’ve already bedded the leggy brunette, isn’t that enough?

NFL owners should try trading places with us

3 Mar

We’re really talking about a measly one dollar out of nine.

That’s what’s the NFL owners are fighting for and threatening to cancel our beloved pro football season over. From a fan’s perspective, it’s unreal.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, we’re at this awful juncture because the current owners are now unhappy with the labor deal that was set-up in 2006 – which is obviously so recent that many of today’s owners signed-off on that very deal. Terrific. Look, I’d like to see the Star Wars prequels remade but it ain’t going to happen.

The Huffington Post reported the situation rather succinctly this week:

Now, the NFL’s owners are threatening to scrap the coming season if the players, who currently receive 50 percent of the $9 billion revenue pie, don’t cede $1 billion of that revenue. The owners say they need the money for stadiums, but the players union is skeptical because the owners have refused to open their books to show how they spend the cut of revenue they already receive.

Money for stadiums? Really? Four and half billion not covering the bill for urinal cakes gentlemen?

What’s most frustrating about this whole situation for us fans, is not that many local economies will be potentially damaged by a lockout (though that is clearly a major concern), but that the owners seem oblivious to the fact that football fans will miss the game.

It’s that simple. We love NFL football. We don’t want even a single game to be cancelled. We don’t care what the deal is, as long as football happens. That’s it. That should be their bottom line. Nothing should impede this goal.

But of course, when millionaires and billionaires are involved, a single dollar becomes oddly important.

Top football technology

15 Feb

With the NFL season done and dusted, there’s time to get a little retrospective.

So let’s talk football technology.

Style + Tech For Men recently posted its Top 11 Highest-scoring Advancements in Super Bowl Technology. It’s a good list, with my favorite being No. 2, Supervision, a system of multiple high-speed cameras.

These cameras provide us football nuts with high-def, ultra-slow-motion replays, which have revolutionized watching the pro game in particular. Just think about David Tyree’s legendary helmet catch, or Santonio Holmes game-winning-back-of-the-end-zone-grab. Neither would have reached such heights without the advent of super on-field shots.

The best replay moments certainly occur, however, when your favorite back is tearing up the field, arms pumping, legs churning, ball tucked high and tight. Slow-mo poetry.

Henne’s who you wanted, right?

9 Dec

Chad Henne is facing a blitz like he’s never seen before.

The Miami Dolphins quarterback hasn’t performed to expectations and now there are doubts about him as NFL starter. It’s been a swell of negative commentary around the Fins signal-caller lately, led by the likes of The Orlando Sun-Sentinel’s David Hyde, who surprisingly called for an “end to the Henne era” following his 16 for 32, three interception performance against the Browns.

Rough, huh?

Miami lost to the Browns after Henne bounced a ball into the arms of a lineman, setting up the game winning score. He then trotted from the field looking fairly distraught, and worse yet, with fans seemingly having lost faith in their starter.

That’s the problem with being a highly drafted back-up QB in the NFL, isn’t it? Everybody loves you because you’ve done everything right – because you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re only interceptions are in midweek scrimmages, and even then, you’re simply testing the arm, showing the coaches what you have.

Henne was as well liked a back-up as there ever was. Playing understudy to Chad Pennington – who by comparison has a pistol to Henne’s bazooka – only served to enhance the Michigan man’s reputation. By the time he earned the starting spot, everyone expected Dan Marino Version 2. I guess the Microsoft era has burdened us with the notion of always “updgrading”.

While Henne has a similarly powerful arm, he hasn’t yet shown Marino-like vision. But shouldn’t we give him a little more time? Acquiring Pennington-like vision will indeed take time.

After scouring the web today for Henne commentary, I couldn’t help but feel the lynch mob has sharpened their pitchforks too quickly when it comes to Miami’s No.7. Sure, he’s had time to improve on his fundamentals. He’ had time to become a leader. He’s had time to learn the offense, and, prepare for the league’s tougher defenses. But many experts are now claiming the arc of progress hasn’t climbed steadily enough.

Really?

Henne is in his third year, and from where I’m sitting, he’s doing okay. No need to panic. There have been a high number of picks. No question. But not so many that fans need to hit comment sections of newspapers with such reckless abandon. Seriously. Try some celebrity sites for a while – give yourselves a break.

Let’s take a look at the numbers: Henne has 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season. These stats rank him at the bottom of AFC quarterbacks, and so, no, it’s not great. But there have been moments among the poor passes that defy the numbers (there always are). Moments where the quarterback squeezed a mini-rocket into the hands of tight-end Anthony Fasano, or lobbed a rainbow over the shoulder of back Patrick Cobbs. You can’t teach these passes – they’re instinctive.

There have also been plays that were superbly extended, when Henne – despite lumbering size – moved out of the pocket with agility and poise. He’s rolled to the right and sidearmed lasers; other times he’s hopped forward behind the defense to steal first downs. That’s solid quarterbacking.

Finally, before you jump to your next online forum to chastise Henne, think about Marino’s first few years as a pro. In his second year, No.13 threw 17 picks. In his next season, in 1985, he gave away 21 interceptions. Now Marino certainly threw a lot more touchdowns, but he also had some quality receivers. Not to mention the fastest release of any QB in memory.

Henne is not far off. He just needs more time. And patience from the very pundits who called for his number when he was riding the pine. That was just two seasons ago. Remember?

Why you need Cedric Benson on your fantasy football team

6 Sep

It’s true. Cedric Benson has disappointed many of us over the years.

When a player is selected No.4 overall in the NFL draft, after all, people expect big things. I mean, Matt Leinart went No.10 and look at the pressure on that guy. Sheesh.

For the first three years of his career, Benson looked more like the TV butler than a top ten running back. I should know, I was forced to play the troublesome tailback after everyone else on my 2006 fantasy roster fizzled. (How did I end up with Samkon Gado anyway?)

What a season it turned out to be. Playing behind Thomas Jones, who chalked up 1,210 yards for the Bears that year, Benson hardly got a look in. And when he did, he simply lacked the expected spark. You know, the kind of electricity that makes a back the best in college football.

He averaged a mere three fantasy points per game that season. Oh, the humanity.

But things have changed since my seventh place fantasy finish of ’06, and I’m not just referring to the guy’s haircut. Benson ran like a man both possessed and distressed in 2009. In 13 games for the Cincinnati Bengals, he pounded out 1,251 yards, which was good for 13 fantasy points a game. That’s 166.65 fantasy points in total and enough to rank him in the top 10 for fantasy backs that season. It was, well, pleasantly surprising.

And so most pundits now have Benson amongst their top 10 backs for 2010. But should you have him even higher?

Yes, because he’ll get his touches

Benson should have in excess of 300 carries again, so there’s potential for him to trounce last season’s totals—especially if he plays 16 games. The addition of Chad Ochocinco should only help open up the field too, giving our man Benson a chance to score more than six touchdowns and boost his points per week even further.

Yes, because he’s a rebel with a cause

Remember, this is a guy who still has something to prove, and is young enough to make any lingering doubters pay. Again. Funny what a chip on the shoulder can do, eh? Benson hits the hole with rage. He breaks tackles violently. He makes his cut with authority. He grips the ball like Indiana Jones does that idol in the opening sequence of Raiders. Yeh, I’m saying not even a poison dart can bring him down.

Yes, because no defense can slow his charge

Now you might argue Benson’s best games in 2009 were against weak opponents such as Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City. Sure, he mauled some lesser clubs. But he also terrorized the best defenses in the league. For example, he slashed Baltimore for 120 yards in week 5, and destroyed the Jets for 169 yards in the AFC wild card game. He even silenced Rex Ryan, and for that deserves our respect.

The Bengals will face the Ravens and Jets again in 2010, but also some more porous defensive units like Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina. There’s a slew of potential Benson fantasy points right there, folks. Couple that with the fact that he’s on a contract year and 2006 might feel like it never happened.