Friday, November 30, 2007

This Blog Is For Idiots

In my previous two posts I wrote longer than usual sentences and used bigger than usual words in a pathetic attempt to raise the high school reading level of this blog. As you can plainly see, I failed utterly and completely.

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The New York Jets: On the Verge of Football History?

Before the 2007 NFL season began, I authored a blog entry discussing the interesting fact that since the 1970 merger, eleven teams had produced one-win seasons and, of the eleven wins of those eleven teams, three had come at the expense of the New York Jets while only one other team had at least two such losses. Even more fascinating, the Jets’ three defeats had each come in an entirely different decade: one in the 1970’s, one in the 1980’s, and one in the 1990’s, meaning the Jets currently owned a three-decade streak of Losing to Losers (unless you’re one of those odd people who insist that 1980 is the last year of the 1970’s rather than the first year of the 1980’s; then this strange “streak” does not exist for you). I bemoaned the fact that this current decade was nearing its end before the Jets could extend their streak into a fourth consecutive decade. Since the writing of that post, two things have happened necessitating this follow-up:

1) First, I engaged in further research, going back to 1960, and I discovered that in fact the Jets’ streak has lasted over four decades! The 1960’s saw a surprising nine teams produce horrible one-win seasons. Adding those nine teams to the prevous list of the post-Sixties Awful Eleven leaves us this list of twenty one-loss teams with, more importantly for the purpose of this post, in parenthesis those teams that managed to fall in defeat to the Terrible Twenty:

1960: Washington Redskins (Dallas Cowboys)
1961: Washington Redskins (Dallas Cowboys)
1962: Oakland Raiders (Boston Patriots)
1962: Los Angeles Rams (San Francisco 49’ers)
1966: New York Giants (Washington Redskins)
1967: Atlanta Falcons (Minnesota Vikings)
1968: Buffalo Bills (New York Jets)
1969: Chicago Bears (Pittsburgh Steelers)
1969: Pittsburgh Steelers (Detroit Lions)
1971: Buffalo Bills (New England Patriots)
1972: Houston Oilers (New York Jets)
1973: Houston Oilers (Baltimore Colts)
1980: New Orleans Saints (New York Jets)
1982: Houston Oilers (Seattle Seahawks)
1989: Dallas Cowboys (Washington Redskins)
1990: New England Patriots (Indianapolis Colts)
1991: Indianapolis Colts (New York Jets)
1996: New York Jets (Arizona Cardinals)
2000: San Diego Chargers (Kansas City Chiefs)
2001: Carolina Panthers (Minnesota Vikings)

Five franchises, the Cowboys, Patriots, Redskins, Vikings, and Colts have fallen twice to one-win teams. But the New York Jets easily stand alone when it comes to Losing to Losers. Including the decade of the Sixties, now it’s four separate times the Jets have been the sole victim of a one-win team. And it’s so much better once we tally up the years the Jets have been vanquished by the lowest of the low: 1968, 1972, 1980, and 1991. With awe we see each ignominious defeat taking place in a different decade; the Jets embarrassed themselves in the 1960’s, 1970’s, the 1980’s AND the 1990’s. Unfortunately, it’s been 16 years since the Jets’ last ultimate loss and with this current decade nearing its end the Jets’ amazing streak had appeared to be in serious jeopardy at the time of my previous blog post on this subject.

2) Suddenly opportunity in the form of the 0-11 Miami Dolphins has dropped into the New York Jets’ lap. Should the Jets find a way to lose to the Dolphins this weekend and the Dolphins then go on to lose their remaining games, the Jets will have lost to a one-win team for an unprecedented fifth consecutive decade, a record guaranteed to last for over half a century at least! As a Dolphins fan I am a little torn about this scenario. I will be rooting for Miami to beat the Jets just as enthusiastically as I do every time my favorite team squares off against those losers in Kelly green. Perhaps even more so this time as I desperately do not wish to see the Dolphins become the first 0-16 team in NFL history. So that part is easy. But should Miami knock of the J-E-T-S this weekend that only completes the first part of the equation. The Dolphins would then have to lose their final four games and become a 1-15 team in order for the Jets’ Losing to Losers streak to continue for a fifth straight decade. Could I really root for Miami to drop four straight? Of course not! But you know if it happens it happens.

First things first. Can the New York Jets rise to the challenge and pull out a critical loss on the road to ensuring their place in history? It all starts this weekend.

Trivia Notes:
1) In addition to the 20 one-win teams, the modern era has seen three winless teams. The 1976 Bucs of course, the 0-11-1 Dallas Cowboys of 1960 who tied the New York Giants, and the 0-8-1 Baltimore Colts of 1982 who tied the Green Bay Packers.

2) The 1968 Jets and Bills were actually AFL teams at the time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lay Off the 1972 Miami Dolphins Already

As the New England Patriots inch ever closer to becoming the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to complete a perfect season, many football fans are rooting hard for the Pats to join the Dolphins in perfection. Some of those fans are longtime New England partisans, but a surprisingly large number of them cheer on the Pats for a strange reason: so they will no longer have to hear from or about those cranky, bitter, old men who suited up for Miami back in ’72. Now is it true that the perfect Dolphins are cranky, bitter, bad sports who openly celebrate the losses of others with a champagne celebration, alienating football fans by the dozens with their bad sportsmanship? Not really. The champagne celebrations are a myth promulgated by our ignorant sensationalizing sports media. Snopes busts the myth here.

To boil it down, just two guys, Dick Anderson and Nick Bunoconti, toast each other in a parking lot with champagne after the last undefeated team loses every year. That’s it, only two men, not every surviving member of the team, and I’m pretty sure the little ritual of Dick and Nick isn’t nationally televised. Honestly, I blame ESPN and Chris Berman for blowing that all out of proportion. Each year, when that last undefeated team loses, NFL Primetime/The Blitz shows the highlights, we hear the sound effect of a champagne cork popping, Berman mugs, makes a big show of the whole thing (“What’s that I hear Tommy? The 1972 Dolphins celebrating?”), and congratulates the Fins again for being the only NFL team to accomplish perfection. Now the champagne myth had to predate Berman’s shtick for that tired bit to have ever been generated, but I’m pretty sure the shtick popularized the whole thing in the minds of fans who are convinced this mythical team celebration is both real and in poor taste.

Now, here’s the crux of the problem. The 17-0 mark is a unique record that stands alone among all other records. You know in baseball every single game starts out as a potential no-hitter. Something similar happens with every new football season. Every team’s got a shot at an undefeated season until they lose. So the story of Miami’s record comes up every single year. Nobody really cares all about that much about any team records, a la most points, fewest points allowed, etc., other than winning them all. When Brett Favre breaks another one of Marino’s records, it’s a one-time story (just as Manning breaking Favre’s records one day will be). Nobody cares anymore, nobody will be asking him about it in the future, we all move on. But the 17-0 mark is a completely different animal. After 34 years the 1972 Miami Dolphins still remain the only undefeated team in NFL history. So for 34 years we’ve had sportswriters calling 1972 Dolphins players and coaches to ask those players and coaches what they think about somebody’s chances of going undefeated. And in years where a team appears to actually have a shot at doing it, we get lots and lots of attention paid to those 1972 players and coaches, attention that gets exponentially worse over the years with the rise of sports-talk radio and 24 hour cable sports channels. And who are the players and coaches most likely to be asked for their thoughts? Why, controversial opinionated types like Eugene “Mercury” Morris and cranky high-profile former head coaches like Don Shula. The sports media want to fan the flames of controversy and the likes of Morris and Shula are all too happy to help them.

And what should an undefeated Dolphin answer when asked how he feels about the 2007 New England Patriots? Does any football player want their record tied or beaten? Of course not and if they say they the opposite then they’re lying and we all know it. Honesty does not equal poor sportsmanship. And those old Dolphins really, really do not want anybody to join them in the pantheon of perfection. The greatness of the 1972 Miami Dolphins is inextricably intertwined with that team remaining as the NFL’s only perfect team. When fans and football experts debate who the greatest team of all time is, the arguments get complicated. Points scored, points allowed, margins of victory, strength of schedule, Hall of Fame players, clutch performance--all factors to be considered. But the1972 Miami Dolphins claim to greatness is the simplest argument of all: They won ‘em all. Nobody else can say that. Nobody else ever failed to put forth at least one losing effort. Everyone else cracked under the pressure of trying to win every time out. But not the 1972 Dolphins. Maybe there were other more dominant teams, but alone the 1972 Dolphins succeeded every time they stepped on the football field. Should the 2007 Patriots also go undefeated, the ’72 Miami Dolphins forever lose their unique claim to fame. Understandably, none of them wish that to happen and several of them aren’t shy about letting that be known. And the media constantly sticking microphones in their faces allows us to repeatedly be bombarded with this vital information, negatively coloring the perceptions of those old players.

But you cannot let the words of a few men from an entire football team stand in for the whole. It’s totally unfair. Fine, Dick and Nick celebrate, Shula think the Pats cheat, and Merc is kind of a jerk. That’s hardly the whole story. Former Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich said this recently to the New York Daily News: “You guys put forth the myth that we are pathetic losers down here clicking champagne glasses and clinging desperately to a record set 35 years ago…Somehow we've been portrayed as being evil. We don't ever blow our own horn. It's a great record, but the record doesn't get beaten. The Patriots have assembled a powerhouse of a team. They are a classy bunch of guys and play ball the right way. If they want to join the unbeaten club, come on aboard."

Now get off the Dolphins’ backs already!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

2007 Miami Dolphins Midseason Report

SHORT VERSION: They stink!!!!!!!!!


LONGER VERSION: Has there been a sadder moment in recent Dolphins history than the announcement that Ronnie Brown tore his ACL and was done for the year? Brown was having possibly the greatest season any Dolphins running back has ever had, and for a winless team no less, at the time he wrecked his knee. The one bright spot in a dismal season and now he might never be the same again. You have to go back to Jacksonville’s 62-7 destruction of Miami in the 1999 playoffs for the last great moment of Dolphin sorrow. As that game progressed it was all too clear that Dan Marino was finished, that he wasn’t winning a Super Bowl, and that Jimmy Johnson wasn’t going to be the savior Miami fans hoped for when Huizenga forced Shula out in favor of Johnson. It’s been all downhill since that game.

Now it’s all a big ball of nothing. Terrible defense, horrific passing game, star player out. It doesn’t get worse. If you’re homer enough to desperately need some sort of bright spot to cling to, I’d say we’ve got three things:

(1) The offensive line’s playing very well. The success of the running game wasn’t entirely due to Brown. The other backs are averaging over 5 yards a carry too (in limited play admittedly). And Miami’s above average in not allowing sacks despite the bad quarterbacking. So if the team can find a few quality skill position players, a very good offense is still a possibility.

(2) The team is still trying. At least they haven't quit on their coach yet. It can’t be easy to go out and give it your best effort when you know yet another loss is the likely outcome and you stopped thinking about the playoffs in week three. Half the eight losses have been by three points. Miami’s got to catch a break sometime right?

(3) The team finally recognizes it’s time to rebuild. The trade of Chris Chambers sent a message that this team knows it’s years away from contending and that it’s time to stockpile draft picks and get young. For years the team's been guilty of thinking it was a player or two away and they'd give up picks to get vets (of questionable talent) and miss the playoffs anyway. I'm looking at you Dave Wannstedt! That's finally over. Lemon's getting the start yet again this week so maybe I'm speaking/writing too soon. Beck needs to be starting as soon as possible. The Dolphins are going to have a top pick next year and there’s lot of QB prospects out there. Do we need one? FIND OUT ALREADY CAM! Get this kid in there. Looks like it won’t be this week. It's gotta be next week though right? Right?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"We Are Kickers We Kick Ball"

Not until the mid-1960’s did the smart guys of the NFL finally realize that you could a football farther and more accurately by approaching the ball from an angle and kicking with the instep of the foot rather than kicking the ball straight ahead with the toe of the shoe. When Jan Stenerud of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs turned out to be the best kicker professional football had ever seen, the rush was on for “soccer-style” kickers. And who better to kick the ball soccer-style than actual soccer players? Now Americans probably hated soccer then even more than they do today so it was off to fertile foreign lands for football scouts eager to find the next Jan Stenerud (who was from Norway). By the time of the 1970 NFL merger, the league fielded seven foreign-born kickers. Seven years later, the number of foreign-born kickers had nearly doubled. 13 of the NFL’s 28 teams, almost half, started a kicker not native to the United States in 1977. The sheer number of these little kicking machines from far-off lands combined with Garo Yepremian’s “I Keek a Touchdown” line, cemented forever in the public mind the picture of a league stocked with kickers speaking broken-English who barely understood the game they were getting big money to play. The apotheosis of that picture came on January 24, 1987. That night, football legends Walter Payton and Joe Montana co-hosted Saturday Night Live on the eve of Super Bowl XXI. A year earlier, the Bears took the country by storm with their Super Bowl Shuffle video. Now, in that style of that earlier “masterpiece”, SNL created their own special music video featuring Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, and whoever the hell else as NFL placekickers rapping and celebrating their own unique football prowess. Unfortunately NBC won’t allow this classic bit to stay on YouTube. I know the chorus was something like: “We are kickers, we kick ball, we play with ball, we kick the ball.” Lovitz pleaded not to be traded to Green Bay, “No Green Bay, Brrrrrr Green Bay, please please please, no Green Bay.” Phil Hartman played a kicker named Horst.

The highlight of the bit was the pungi solo mimed by the actor dressed in snake-charming gear. What that had to do with any actual kicker I have no idea since as far as I know, no NFL team’s ever suited up a kicker from the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, or North Africa. (And yes, that includes Ali Haji-Sheikh a.k.a. "Ali Haji Shank". He was born in Michigan!). Foreign placekickers have mainly come from Europe and North and South America. Whatever, it seemed to work. Funny thing is, the trend toward foreign-born kickers was actually declining at the time of that SNL episode. There were only 10 foreign-born placekickers on NFL rosters during the 1986 season. A decade later, there were only four. Right now? Still just four: Lawrence Tynes (Scotland), Shaun Suisham (Canada), Sebastian Janikowski (Poland), and the ageless Morten Andersen (Denmark). Almost all NFL kickers now hail from the good old U S of A. The good times of dopey kickers butchering the English language appear all but over. Except for Janikowski. Now that guy’s a real idiot.