Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I can't write up the post mortem on the Fins 2009 season just yet with one game still to be played but barring a miracle the Dolphins are about to do something unique in their history: play an entire decade of football without notching a single postseason victory. Disappointing. Very disappointing. (Also unique: five different coaches in the decade.) But let's be optimistic, at least these last two seasons were an improvement on the two before them. So with hope for the future Past Interference wishes everybody a Happy New Year.

Indianapolis Colts: 14-1

Finally. We now know that once again another NFL season will end with the 1972 Miami Dolphins remaining the only team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated and untied. After an incredible 14-0 start the Colts fell at home to a mediocre New York Jets team, proving once again just how difficult it is for any team to go undefeated. Don Shula and those old Dolphins players presumably breathed sighs of relief, popped champagne corks, and partied like it’s January 14, 1973.

What? Ok, I know. It’s not that simple. It's what I hoped would happen before the game. But I just wanted the Colts to get beat. Instead, as everyone knows, leading 15-10 Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell made the curious decision to bench several of his starters including Peyton Manning. Once that decision was implemented the game turned. The second stringers were no match for the Jets and so the Colts went down for the first time this year. The CBS cameras fixated on Peyton Manning’s face while he stood on the sidelines watching his team lose its first game of the year. Hmm. How can I describe it? Well, he didn’t look too happy about it! The fans weren’t happy either. They furiously booed their home team. It was incredible theatre. You could just see how badly Manning wanted to be back in that game. He was clearly pissed.

Now the Colts made it clear weeks ago this might happen. They said they’d rest their stars once the team wrapped up the top-seed so we shouldn’t have been surprised. But I sure as hell was surprised! How could you not be? Who turns their backs on a shot at a perfect season? Bill Polian kept saying a perfect season wasn’t one of the team’s goals. No duh. Who goes into a season expecting to do undefeated? But once it’s there how do you not go for it? The ’72 Dolphins wrapped up their division (teams weren’t seeded back then) in week 10! But they kept playing like every game meant something. I thought for sure the Colts would do likewise. I’m kind of glad they didn’t because I know how much the perfect season means to Shula and his ’72 team. But what the Colts did just makes no sense and Tom Jackson summed it up in one word on ESPN right after the loss when he said he respects Polian but what the Colts did made him “uncomfortable”.

That’s exactly how I felt. To see Manning on the sidelines looking like that. And Wayne, Clark, and some of the other guys didn’t look to thrilled either. Manning knows his football history. Actually, even the dumbest player alive probably knows how special a perfect season would be. A championship’s great but 19-0 would be remembered forever. For Manning personally a perfect season could well earn him consensus “greatest QB of all-time” status. Not now.

So why’d they do it? To avoid injury? Then why play Manning and the rest at all? And why’d they play the whole game in week 15 when they had the top seed already wrapped up? A player can get hurt on any play at any time. Even in practice. You can’t play scared. Or maybe you can. Just leave Manning in but call only runs and safe passes. The chances of winning are still way better than with poor Curtis Painter. If Caldwell just wanted more rest for his players then again why play them at all? One more quarter was the breaking point?

I can see the argument that taking an undefeated season into the playoffs makes it more difficult to win it all. All that extra pressure combined with the extra physical wear and tear coming every week from every team playing you like it’s the Super Bowl so they can knock off an undefeated opponent. A lot of people think the Patriots got worn down by the time of Super Bowl XLII. Maybe it happened to the ’72 Dolphins too. They led the league in offense and defense that year but in the postseason they trailed late in two playoff games and had trouble scoring in all three. And check out this excerpt from an article about the Green Bay Packers first and only loss of 1962:

Lombardi, however, was actually seen laughing in the dressing room as he told the press after the game, "You didn't think we were going to win them all, did you?" He let the team know that the loss was a great reminder of the importance of teamwork and of not ever being overconfident.


Ok, so even Vince Lombardi thought trying to go undefeated could get in the way of trying to win a title. But so what? What do you do if you are undefeated, throw a game? Well you essentially could by resting starters during a tight game. But that just leads to a different problem. Now you’ve got a controversy dogging you the rest of the way. It’s the number one sports story right now: the Colts laid down and threw away a chance at a perfect season. They’re never gonna hear the end of it even if they win the Super Bowl. They threw away a ton of goodwill too. Fans everywhere were rooting for a perfect season to happen and for the game’s most popular player Peyton Manning to lead the way. Now you’ve ensured the reverse: fans rooting for the Colts to lose for angering the football gods by not putting their pedal to the metal and going for 19-0. Backlash! Yoou've got people speculating the Colts purposely lost to get the Jets or Texans into the playoffs and keep Pitsburgh and/or Baltimore out. The press has turned.

I don’t understand the thinking. What the Colts did makes no sense. It rubbed me and every other football fan the wrong way. To keep seeing Peyton Manning, a tremendous competitor, scowling like that on the sidelines denied a chance to do something nobody's ever done was just wrong. You know, this Colts team pulled out a lot more close games this year than you’d expect from a dominant team making a run at perfection. So now they’ve also lost their aura of invincibility if you will. And they can’t win for losing now. If they lose a playoff game everyone’s going to blame the loss to the Jets for killing the team’s momentum. If they win it all, everyone wonders what might have been.

Stupid Colts.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Weeks 15 and 16

Wow. Two devastating defeats back-to-back, all but ensuring no repeat visit to the postseason for the Dolphins. Strangely, after having problems all year finishing games after strong starts, the team now has come out flat two weeks in a row, gotten way down early, and had to furiously fight to get back in the game but fall just short both times.

The Tennessee was the "shoulda won" game. Six times on the Titans side of the field in the first three quarters and they settle for three field goals while turning it over three times. Three was the magic number. Vontae Davis appeared to be in good position on both of Justin Gage's two TD catches but he never made a play. Miami finally caught a break when Jeff Fisher bizarrely decided not to use any of his three time outs at the end of regulation when the Fins were backed up at their own two. Miami got the ball in first in OT but Henne badly overthrew his pass to Bess, the Titans intercepted it, and when the refs tacked on that terrible unnecessary roughness call on Camarillo (how the hell was he supposed to know the untouched defender wasn�t getting back up to advance the ball?), the Titans were in field goal range even though they couldn't advance the ball any further. It was nice to see Miami fight back to tie the score after being down by 18, but all that effort ended up going to waste.

They fell behind even further to the Texans in Week 16. 24-0? At home? That first half was a complete embarrassment. Way worse than the Week 15 embarrassment. I�ve praised Sparano several times for having his team come out prepared and motivated to compete almost every week so I'm at a real loss to explain what's gone so wrong so early two weeks in a row. Especially with the playoffs on the line. Again, there are positives: The defense coming up big in the second half; Lex Hilliard adequately subbing for Ricky Williams; and especially Henne getting his team back in the game. He�s not afraid to try to make a tough throw and he's only a first-year QB so you have to live with some mistakes. But it would have been nice to see a complete game at some point down the stretch from the whole team.

You know, I'm not one to blame officiating for a loss but you've gotta admit Miami�s getting jobbed way more than the average team this year. The worst this week was that obvious fumble by Chris Brown (recovered by Miami) ruled instead to be an incomplete pass even though Brown ran with the ball for three freaking steps. C�mon refs! And don't forget the ticky tack tripping call nullifying the bomb to Ginn that would have gotten Miami to within 10 with a whole quarter still to play plus all the momentum. The Dolphins just can't catch a break this year (literally in the case of Gibril Wilson who dropped the easiest interception opportunity he's ever gonna have).

My prediction of a 9-7 record was looking pretty good before the twin disasters of the last two weeks. Instead, as Dolphins� radio analyst Jim Mandich wrote after the Texans loss, "I'm sure when I open the phone lines this week for the talk show it will be 'Mad Dog, who are the Dolphins going to take with their first pick?'"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas

38 years ago the Miami Dolphins bested the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in what remains the longest NFL game ever played. 82 minutes and 40 seconds. I know a lot about this game. I know the Dolphins scored a TD to tie the game with just over a minute left in regulation. I know that all suddenly looked lost for Miami when Ed Podolak, having the best game of his career, returned the ensuing kickoff back 78 yards. I know KC kicker (and future Hall-of-Famer) Jan Stenerud, in the midst of the worst game of his career, then honked the 31-yard field goal try to send the game into overtime. The kicking follies continued--each team missed a FG try in the first OT period; Nick Buoniconti blocked Stenerud's try while Garo Yepremian couldn't convert a 52-yarder for the Fins. So on to double overtime where Miami made the big play that led to the end of the endless game. From their own 35 the Dolphins called a trap play that sprung Larry Csonka for 29 yards. A few more runs, a few more yards, and then Yepremian came in to boot the game-winner that silenced the stunned Chiefs home crowd.

Like I said, I know a lot about this game. But I have no memory of it. I was a little kid at the time and maybe I watched it but if I did I certainly don�t remember. No, my interest in this game came from a book somebody once bought me for my birthday. Each chapter related the saga of how some NFL record was made. And you know what? It was riveting. Man, I wish I still had that book. I remember one chapter related how Bert Jones set the NFL record (since broken) for consecutive completions in a game. That chapter ended something like this: "Bert's father Dub Jones once scored 6 touchdowns in a game. But he only tied an NFL record. His son broke one". Oooh. Chills (haha). Another chapter had a very evocative title that's stayed with me, "The Day The Footballs Flew". That one was on the NFL's all-time highest scoring game, a 72-41 Redskins blowout of the Giants. Jurgensen vs. Tittle. Hard to believe that 113 point total has stood for over 40 years.

Anyway, the last chapter of the book was entitled "The Longest Day". I know now but didn't know then that the title came from Cornelius Ryan's famous book about D-Day (or from the movie based on the book). But it was a perfect title for the NFL's longest game and I must have read and reread that chapter dozens of times. Somehow it connected me to a now-legendary game that maybe I'll actually get to see one day. (When will the NFL open up its library already? I'll pay). The Miami Dolphins first postseason victory in franchise history.

It's a different world now. With cable and the internet there's just so much out there to see and hear and read about football. And you can get sick of it all pretty quickly. But back in the time of Miami's Christmas day double-overtime victory and for years thereafter if you wanted NFL entertainment outside of the games themselves, you actually had to take the time to sit down and read a book. I wish I still knew the name of the one that chronicled the NFL's Longest Day. And I really wish I knew who wrote the thing. But whoever you are nameless author of that NFL book that once meant so much to me, if you're out there somewhere, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to any readers I have out there in the blogosphere. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read what I write, especially you sptrfn (I'll attempt to address your "What If" scenarios in a future post).

Ward vs. Harrison

I didn’t include any stats in my previous post on Hines Ward. Below you can see just how much bigger Marvin Harrison’s career receiving numbers are than Hines Ward’s (through Week 15 of the 2009 season).

PlayerGRecYdsY/CTD
Harrison19011021458013.2128
Ward1848831084912.378


That's a big advantage. Of course Ward’s not done yet though I don’t see how he realistically catches Harrison in any major category. However, there is one area where Ward is clearly superior to Harrison. One huge area. The postseason. Check it out:

PlayerGRecYdsY/CTD
Harrison166588313.62
Ward1476106414.08


For such a great receiver on such a successful team, Harrison’s postseason numbers are shockingly pedestrian. And despite playing in 16 playoff games, Harrison’s only scored twice in the playoffs, both in a wild-card round blowout of Denver. By contrast Ward’s raised the level of his game in the playoffs. Check out the tables below. While Harrison seemed to play worse as his team got farther in the playoffs, Ward gets better each playoff round. The goal of every team is to win. At least in the postseason Ward did a lot more to help his team win it all than Harrison ever did. That’s got to count for something in choosing an all-decade team.

Harrison
Playoff RoundGRecYdsY/CTD
Super Bowl155911.80
Conf. Championship27608.60
Divisional62533113.20
Wild Card72843315.52


Ward
Playoff RoundGRecYdsY/CTD
Super Bowl2716623.71
Conf. Championship41928715.12
Divisional52736213.43
Wild Card32324910.82

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New Orleans Saints: 13-1

Dude, what is your problem? Seriously. A 24-yarder?


Finally. The Saints at last fail to pull a rabbit out of their helmets and their unbeaten streak is no more. No thanks to Nick Folk (you jackass!) who pulled a Suisham. I'd really like to know what kind of voodoo curses or crude sexual taunts the Saints are using that unnerve their opponent kickers so badly that they miss chip-shot field goals at key moments. Magnets? Hypnosis? Anyway, the ultimate nightmare scenario has been avoided. You know, Drew Bress, leading his team to a 19-0 perfect season, capping it all off with a Super Bowl victory in the very home stadium of the team that not only passed on him twice but previously stood as the only NFL team to post a perfect season. Not gonna happen. One down, one to go. The Colts luck needs to run out soon too. Hard to see them losing to the Jets or Bills though. A loss, if it is to come, may have to wait for the playoffs. Maybe long-time Dolphin fans will wind up rooting hard for Brees after all, but as the instrument that drives a Super Bowl stake through the heart of the Indianapolis Colts' drive for a perfect season.

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week 14

A nice workmanlike victory over the Jaguars. Thanks to some turnovers the Dolphins were never able to get that one score to put away a game they seemingly controlled from the start, leading to some unnecessary suspense at the end. But beating a solid team on the road is never easy and Miami deserves a lot of credit for the tough win. Henne played extremely well. His one mistake, a interception, came when he got confused by a coverage. It's a shame the Dolphins have scrapped the Wildcat as they were the only team that could execute it consistently, but obviously neither Ricky Williams nor Pat White can run it anywhere near as effectively as Ronnie Brown. But the Dolphins are still doing a great job of running the football regardless. Camarillo looks to be back where he was before the knee injury. With him, Hartline and Bess all looking so good I think we can shut the door on Ted Ginn's days as a starter and once again resources will have to be expended on acquiring a deep threat in the offseason.

A lot of praise must go to the defense which shut down the Jags' passing game all day, especially in fourth quarter, something we haven't seen them do very often this year. So the playoffs remain a possibility. I wouldn't expect the Dolphins to do much should they qualify but playoff experience is always helpful, especially to guys who've never been there before like Henne.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hines Ward: All-Decade WR?

Recently SI.com football writer Peter King posted his NFL all-decade team. I don’t always agree with King and his stuff may not be great 100% of the time but he’s a great football writer and I always read his stuff. And I don’t have any criticism at the moment of any of his selections. His most controversial pick is surely Hines Ward as one of his two all-decade wideouts (alongside Randy Moss). King passed up guys with more impressive receiving numbers, most notably Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens. Now King knows the numbers and preemptively defends the Ward pick, highlighting Ward’s blocking ability and stating it was for a player “who produces and blocks and wins.” I kind of like the call. Yeah, I know T.O.’s caught a lot more TD’s but you can’t ignore the fact that three different teams decided they’d be better off without the guy even though he was putting up great numbers. How many other all-time greats can you name who were repeatedly told to get lost while still in their prime?

As for Marvin Harrison I think you have to adjust his career numbers down a bit because he played his whole career with maybe the greatest passer who ever lived. Notice how Peyton Manning’s in the midst of his greatest season even though Harrison's gone and was replaced by a rookie and a second-year guy with a French name and four career catches. Manning hasn't missed a beat.

Owens and Harrison were able to post bigger numbers than Ward in this decade not necessarily because of superior talent but because they played in better passing offenses. Or at least offenses that preferred to throw. Here’s how Harrison’s Colts ranked in passing attempts for each year of his career:

Marvin Harrison

YearRank
199615
199718
19981
199913
20008
20017
20025
20035
200415
200515
20066
200715
20085


Four times in the top five, seven times in the top ten, 12 times in the top half of the league.

Here’s Terrell Owens' teams:

YearRank
199611
199728
19985
19997
20004
200122
200210
200319
20049
20053
200620
200718
20088


Three top fives, seven top tens, eight times in the top half of the league. Now compare Hines Ward's Steelers:

YearRank
199822
199917
200029
200128
200216
200310
200432
200532
200614
200731
200820


Only once has Ward ever even played for a team ranked in the top ten for passing attempts (and that was just a tenth-place ranking!). Only three times has his team ever finished in the top half of the league. We can see he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to post the same kind of numbers year in and year out that Harrison or T.O. have. Ward’s played with a good QB for the past several years. He’s had other good receiving teammates (Burress, Holmes). So clearly the Steelers organization simply prefers to run the ball more than other teams. And therefore it’s only fair for Peter King to recognize Ward for his overall game and great productivity given the conservative offenses he’s played for. You can’t just give the nod to Owens or Harrison because they played on pass-happy teams. You’re supposed to be honoring the individual player, not his offense. It's not insane to prefer Ward.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mr. Drew Brees

I continue to follow Drew Brees’ career with a certain horrified fascination. Just knowing he should be but isn’t quarterbacking the Miami Dolphins right now kind of sucks, there’s just no other way to put it. The Dolphins blew it with Brees twice. Wannstadt passed on drafting Brees in 2001 and with the chance to rectify Wanny’s error in 2005 Saban instead passed on Brees in favor of signing worthless Duante Culpepper. And Brees wanted Miami to sign him! That’s the worst part. Actually I don’t know what the worst part is. What I do know is that a team in desperate need of a quarterback for practically this entire decade twice refused to grab somebody who for the last few years has been one of the best QB’s in the game. And every week this year football fans have gotten to see Brees’ incredible accuracy and tremendous decision-making week in and week out. His team’s 12-0, one of those wins coming at the expense of the Dolphins. Brees’ demolition of the New England Patriots a couple weeks ago was staggering. Could any quarterback ever have played a better game?

Making it slightly worse is the fact that Brees seems like a really good guy, someone you actually want to root for. I mean, you’re going to root for your team no matter what but it’s nice when your team’s got some actual quality individuals who deserve the cheers they get. Brees is one of the most respected players in the game. Which makes me wonder something.

Remember a few years back when Bret Favre’s dad died and there was a whole huge media story about how that would affect Favre and if he was going to play that week? That was all we heard about that week and for weeks after (And unless you drink a lot or suffer from early onset dementia you of course know Favre did play and play well that week and for the rest of the year). Well you may not have heard that Drew Brees’ mother passed away back in August. And it was just recently determined that she committed suicide. Also, while previously it was reported the two had not even spoken in the three years before her death it turns out that was all wrong and in fact the two had been working on repairing their strained relationship. So you have to think coping with all of that would be at least as hard as what Favre went through. Yet I heard no preseason speculation whatsoever wondering if after his mother’s death Brees could maintain the level of play that won him the 2008 Offensive Player of the Year Award. I’ve seen no commentary on just how amazing it is that Brees continues to perform like this despite what he’s been gone through. I’m just sayin’.

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Weeks 12 and 13

I’m kind of glad I delayed writing up a summary of Buffalo game. Man that was one depressing game. Coming off two wins in a row it looked like the Dolphins might have been starting to put something together. Climbing over .500 for the season and putting themselves in playoff position would have no small thing after an 0-3 start. Instead we saw Chad Henne seeming to regress, the team unable to execute the Wildcat without Ronnie Brown and a defense once again saving its worst for last-- the fourth quarter. That last item’s a real mystery ‘cause it happens even when the Dolphins are dominating time of possession all day. It’s always easy to overreact to one game but that collapse in the final four minutes really left a bad taste in the mouths of Dolphin fans.

But the high of the week 13 upset of the Patriots washed away that bitter taste real quick. The Patriots should have won that game. Taking advantage of Miami’s unfortunate tendency to give up the big play New England jumped out to a 14-0 lead and, after Miami crawled back into it, took a 21-10 lead in the second half. But the Dolphins kept plugging away. They decided to put the game in Henne’s hands and responded. And the defense made a couple of huge plays, stopping the Pats on a 4th-and-one and picking off Brady in the end zone.

So Miami fans go from pessimistic to optimistic in the space of a week. But losing to Buffalo blew the Dolphins’ margin for error when it comes to the postseason. It’s hard to see how they make the playoffs if they lose to Jacksonville this week.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chambers and Ginn: The saga continues

I wrote not too long ago that the big difference between the failures of professional athletes and the failures of the rest of us is that our failures don’t play out in front of millions of people. Ted Ginn seems like a nice young man. I have no reason to question his work ethic, his heart, his desire, or his will to win. I’m sure he’s trying his absolute best. But he is failing. He just can’t catch, at least not consistently enough to be a reliable receiver for his football team. Hopefully it’s something that’s correctible. (I’m sure it’s not but I’m going to keep hope alive here). Anyway, some clever person has made a Greatest Drops compilation for Mr. Ginn and even more cleverly that person has set it to the tune of Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. I do feel a little guilty about linking to it but (1) it’s funny; and (2) if and when Ginn has another good game it’ll help us put it in perspective.

As for the man Miami hoped Ginn would replace (and surpass) as their number one receiver, his amazing mini-comeback continues. Chris Chambers didn’t just put up a nice game last week, he was the big hero in the Kansas City Chiefs upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now PI doesn’t necessarily want to be the fly in the Chris Chambers ointment but check out the highlight of his big catch that set up the game-winning field goal (it’s at about the three-minute mark). He did a great job taking advantage of a blown coverage to motor down the field but what the hell was he doing at the end there? Doesn’t it look like he could have scored if he’d put his head down and tried to plow into the end zone? Why’d he just nonchalant it out of bounds like that? Get it over the goal line man, this is football! I know he’s apparently rejuvenated with the Chiefs but when I see something like that I can’t say I’m too sorry he’s not a Dolphin anymore.

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Weeks 10 and 11

Two games. Two double digit leads nearly squandered. But two wins.

Unfortunately, the biggest story of the Tampa Bay game turned out to be the loss of Miami’s best player, Ronnie Brown. This just sucks. For the second time in three years the guy gets wiped out in the midst of a phenomenal season. “They” say he should be fully recovered from his lis franc injury by next year. Let’s hope so. But he will be 28 any week now and has now suffered two serious injuries. We know Ricky Williams’ next season is his last so the Dolphins could be looking at the running back position in the 2010 draft.

Other than Brown, the big story from the Week 10 win was the team’s last-second comeback. Miami admirably played aggressively late in the game, throwing on third down in an attempt to get the first down that would all but assure victory. However, Chad Henne made one of the single worst throws I have ever seen, well behind the Miami receiver, into a crowd and into the unfriendly arms of a Tampa Bay defender. Honestly, I just can’t fathom how Henne made the decision to throw the ball to that location at that moment. You could watch that play a hundred times in a row and you would never ever fail to be shocked at what happened. But despite his all-out effort at earning goat horns the Bucs scored fast enough to give Henne a shot at redemption. And he came through! That’s big take away from the game. With the game on the line Henne made two big-time key throws to Bess and made another throw that drew pass interference. Very clutch. And Ricky Williams and Dan Carpenter did the rest. An ugly win. You shouldn’t need a last-second comeback drive at home to beat a terrible team but a win’s a win and the experience should serve Henne well.

Against Carolina the Dolphins didn’t need a comeback drive. They were able to hold off the Panthers late comeback. A strong performance from the defense and running game but the team’s knack of giving up fourth quarter points is becoming a little disturbing. The D should be getting stronger as the game progresses when the offense dominates time of possession. But they’re not. Henne continues to impress with his arm. He’s still not posting big numbers but he’s getting key third-down conversions when the team needs them. I don’t know what to say about Ricky Williams. (I do know I’m going to have to revise my Worst Trade in Miami Dolphins History series of posts when this season’s over). How this guy can play this well at age 32 is beyond me. If he’s this dominant now you almost can’t help wondering what kind of a career he might have had without the mental health issues getting in the way. As a bonus Lex Hilliard looked good in limited action. He needs to be good; Ricky can’t carry the entire load. The coaching impressed me. Despite offensive line injuries that forced a lot of shuffling the line was still able to block effectively. While you can question many of the team’s in-game tactical decisions to date the Dolphins remain a well-prepared disciplined team that sticks to its strengths. Hey, just contrast that with Carolina. Can anybody explain why that team refused to ride Deangelo Williams in the second half?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fourth and Two

As this is a football blog Past Interference was probably remiss in not throwing in its two cents in the matter of the most controversial play call of the year. So here’s PI’s belated take. Man, you would have thought Bill Belichick ran over somebody’s grandmother the way he got slammed for going for it on fourth-and-two from his own 30. Trent Dilfer, Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi angrily ripped him. Tony Dungy quietly ripped him. And the avalanche of rippery that followed the next morning was divided between those who attributed the gamble to a Belichick brain cramp and those who chalked it up to pure Belichickean arrogance. PI buys neither idiotic “explanation”. Analogize it to a baseball manager who walks a hitter who’s in the zone even if it “the book” says the hitter should be pitched to in that situation. Belichick simply decided his best chance to win was to convert then and there rather than turn it over to Peyton Manning. Even if the Pats don’t convert Belichick probably figured the Colts would score a TD regardless of field position so giving them a shorter field would at least give the Pats some time to come back.

So it was the right call? Obviously no. It didn’t work. Duh. But was it a defensible call? Well in the wake of the post-game vitriol tossed Belichick’s way, up popped a few people a lot smarter than me who coldly analyzed Belichick’s options instead of talking out of their ass and (surprise!) concluded Belichick wasn’t gambling at all. His decision made all the sense in the world. The percentages actually supported it or at least showed Belichick’s decision was a close call.

When New England’s offense came out for the fourth-and-two play I assumed they were going to try and draw the Colts offsides (a stupid assumption as NE had just burned their last time out and couldn’t afford a delay of game penalty). I just couldn’t believe they would actually go for it. You can’t ever truly know the percentages on any given play but at that time the chances of converting had to be less than what the percentages say. Yeah, the Pats have far better personnel than your average team but the Colts knew NE was going to throw. Especially once they lined up in the shotgun. Plus I don’t think the Colts chances of successfully executing a long TD drive if NE had punted were anything close to a sure thing. Manning might be having his best year ever but he was not at his best that night. He mixed in some horrible throws in with his great ones. But while I thought Belichick screwed up I was glad to see a coach rolling the dice like that.

The biggest post-game head-scratcher was Brushci saying his old coach disrespected his defense by going for it. Huh? What if the Pats got the first down? Wouldn’t the defense have appreciated getting to watch the final moments of a win from the comfort of the sideline? If that dissed D hadn’t allowed the Colts to get back in the seemingly over ballgame in the first place Bill B wouldn’t have to make the controversial move. And by letting the Colts easily move the 30-yards needed for the TD didn’t the defense provide ammunition for any belief by their coach that they couldn’t stop Manning? When a coach has to make a key decision with the game on the line must he also now consider the feelings of a key unit of his team in addition to trying to win the game? I’m just trying to imagine this alternate scenario where the Pats convert, win the game, and the defense can take no solace in the huge win over their arch-rival because their feelings are hurt.

Unfortunately for our society it’s now considered normal to turn over valuable television time to people who lack expertise on virtually any subject of importance (i.e. economics, foreign affairs, military matters, social sciences, environmental sciences, technology, psychology, etc.) and allow them to spout their ignorance on everything under the sun and misinform us all. I’d hate to see sports coverage, an easy enough area to develop some expertise in, following the same pathetic path.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy Thanksgiving. And what better Thanksgiving memory could there be for a Dolphin fan than the team's classic 1994 comeback win over the Cowboys in the ice and snow. Enjoy seeing Jerry Jones prematurely raise his arms in triumph and TV analyst Bob Trumpy's realization of which player made the blunder that gave the Dolphins a second chance at victory ("it's Leon Lett. Noooo!").

You know, all Dolphin fans really do have something to be thankful for this year. Just two years ago this team might have been the worst in football. Right there with the Lions, Browns and Raiders of the world. But while those teams remain among the league's worst organizations the Miami Dolphins are defending AFC East champs and right now they're back in the hunt for the playoffs despite an 0-3 start. With the right people in charge things can change quickly. So to Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano, thanks.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week 9

Before week 9’s loss to the Patriots, you could categorize the Miami Dolphins’ 2009 losses into two groups: losses where Miami was completely dominated and outplayed (Atlanta and San Diego), and losses where Miami should have won but blew the game thanks to their own mistakes (Indianapolis and New Orleans). This one doesn’t fit into either category. Miami played fairly well but they didn’t win. They smartly stuck with the running game. They didn’t make stupid mistakes. They never played themselves out of the game. But they lost because they’re not quite as good as New England. Really, the key difference between the two teams is the passing game, specifically the receivers. Randy Moss and Wes Welker made big plays for the Patriots. No receiver made big plays for the Dolphins. Ted Ginn yet again displayed his ability to drop key passes. Brian Hartline dropped a key pass. It’s never fun to see Welker reeling them in against the Dolphins when he should be reeling them in FOR the Dolphins. I noted the other day that the Cameron/Mueller regime actually did something right in 2007 by getting a second-rounder for Chambers. But that move by Mueller hardly makes up for his asinine move to trade away Welker months earlier for a second and seventh rounder. He all but gave away an All-Pro caliber player! I’m sure when I revise and update my earlier series The Worst Trades in Miami Dolphins History the Welker deal will have a place of honor.

This loss seemingly finished off any realistic shot at playoff spot for the Dolphins but there's still half a season to go and as we saw last year football miracles do happen. The team's still playing well and hopefully Henne can continue to improve down the stretch. But his job's going to be a lot harder than it needs to be if his receivers don't start holding on to the ball. Miami ended last season with a clear need to upgrade at wide receiver. So far it appears that need's still as great as ever.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Monte Clark (1937-2009)

Monte Clark had all kinds of success in the NFL. An offensive tackle, he won a title with Cleveland’s 1964 NFL championship squad and played 11 total seasons in the NFL. He didn’t have a winning record as an NFL head coach but he managed to lead Detroit to the playoffs twice, no small feat given that franchise’s post-60’s history of failure. And of course Clark’s best known success was his six-year tenure as the offensive line coach (and later offensive coordinator) for the Miami Dolphins where he helped build maybe the greatest offensive line of all-time. Certainly the performance of that line was the key to the Dolphins’ success from 1970-1975.

A while back I gave a lot of credit to former Dolphins’ GM Joe Thomas for the all the brilliant moves the organization made in building the Dolphins’ championship teams. However, I now know I gave way, way WAAAYY too much credit to Thomas. It’s kind of embarrassing to have gotten basic facts so totally wrong (and I’ll get around to completely rewriting that earlier post at some point so I won’t link to it, just forget it ever existed!) but I’m going to get them right here. this nice Dave Hyde tribute to Clark makes it quite clear that Don Shula and Monte Clark deserve most of the credit I gave to Thomas. It was Clark who convinced Shula to sign (and start) Jim Langer (a Hall of Famer), Bob Kuechenberg (perennial Hall of Fame candidate) and Wayne Moore (a fine player). And what better evidence of Clark’s greatness as an O-Line coach than the fact all those guys were once free agents given up on by their original teams? Clark saw something in those players missed by everybody else, he got Shula to grab them for nothing and then he molded them and rest of the team’s linemen into a dominant unit.

Monte Clark’s a key figure in Dolphins history and I should also add I can't recall anybody ever writing a single negative comment about the man.

Chris Chambers Catches Up

Did I put some kind of reverse jinx on Chris Chambers? Finding himself on his third team in less than three years, his career seemingly over (or so I speculated), the guy blows up with a huge game. Or rather, a huge final three minutes. He scored two TD’s, nearly brought the Chiefs back from a huge deficit and nearly cost me a much-needed fantasy football victory (my opponent started Matt Cassell). Well, last week Ted Ginn came out of nowhere to make Week 9 headlines before going back to dropping passes and doing nothing in Week 10. Can Chambers produce two weeks in a row?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Catching Up With Chris Chambers

Just as Ted Ginn makes some national headlines so too does his predecessor as disappointing go-to Dolphins receiver, Chris Chambers. Coincidence?

Chambers made some of the most athletic catches you’re ever going to see but he just couldn’t reel in passes consistently; his catch percentages were routinely terrible each season. But I shouldn’t be too unfair to him. While he never became the dominant player Dolphin fans were hoping for he did make a Pro Bowl and he had three different seasons for the Dolphins where he scored more receiving TD’s than Ginn’s current career total of five. Maybe Chambers never broke through to become an elite player but at this point Ginn would have to make serous strides just to become as good as Chambers was in his prime.

The reign of error that was the 2007 Miami Dolphins season has been well-documented. But no one can deny that the Cameron/Mueller regime actually made one small shrewd move while the team collapsed around them. In the midst of disaster Miami traded their best WR Chambers away for a second-round pick. Some criticized the move but in the two years since the trade Chambers has done virtually nothing while Miami used the draft pick they got for Chad Henne. You may have heard of him. Miami got a starting QB. San Diego got a guy who they just waived.

But why’d they waive him? Well you might think it was a matter of declining skills (he’s 29 now) evidenced by an inability to produce despite the presence of an excellent QB and other quality offensive talent. But you’d be wrong. At least according to Chambers.

He claims San Diego dumped him because he’s being stalked by the woman with whom he cheated on his wife. Not sure I’m buying that. I mean, Shaun Merriman’s done worse and he’s still a Charger right? However, I suppose it’s possible Chambers’ messy home life could explain his lack of production in 2009. Surely we’ve all had bad days at work because we’re distracted or consumed by personal problems. Football players are no different. Except their workplace failures tend to play out in front of millions of people. And fans aren’t going to be very understanding either unless you consider the words “You Suck!” to be understanding. On the other hand, who’s going to sympathize with a cheating bastard?

Given that Chambers’ career arc follows a predictable pattern for an aging receiver I’m skeptical of his explanation. But as a Miami fan I rooted for him so I’m going to hope I’m wrong and that somehow, someway he returns to his old productive yet frustrating form as a newly signed Kansas City Chief.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week 8

A disappointing day on offense and defense but who cares? Sweep baby! Three in a row! The Dolphins first season sweep of the Jets since 2003. The first time they’ve beaten New York three times in a row since 1997! What other info do we need to prove the Parcells/Ireland/Sparano troika is turning around this franchise? Jets lose. Jets lose.

Something interesting’s always going to happen in a Dolphins-Jets game. This time out it was…Ted Ginn? And in a good way? I recently read somebody’s (I forget who’s) speculation that Miami drafted Ginn because they wanted their own Devin Hester. I’m sure that’s right. When Miami took Ginn the Bears had just gone to a Super Bowl with Hester’s phenomenal season as a return-man a big reason why. Miami’s offense was, what’s the word, moribund? Impotent? Embarrassing? Pathetic? So why not draft a guy that at least shortens the field for an impotent offense? It made sense in theory but until last week Ginn was no Devin Hester. He wasn’t anything except a guy everyone hated ‘cause he sucked. No big plays in the return game. And for the most part no big plays in the passing game either. Well, not unless you count catchable balls clanking off his hands into the arms of a defender who proceeds to return it the other way for a TD.

But finally, last Sunday Ginn turned into the Devin Hester Miami was hoping for since 2007. At least for one game. Without his two spectacular back-to-back kickoff return TD’s Miami doesn’t win that game. Did getting called out by Kooch, Mercury Morris and Mark Duper provide sorely needed motivation? Is it a fluke? Who knows but hopefully Ginn can keep stepping it up in the return game. It just doesn’t look like he’s ever going to have the hands to be a dependable receiver for Chad Henne.

Two other notes. First, while so far Sparano appears to be doing a fine job of motivating and preparing his players each week I’m starting to get a little concerned about his technical in-game judgments. The questionable clock management and play-calling in the Indy game, the time out blunder in the New Orleans game, and now the crazy decision to go for two after taking an 11-point lead. It made no sense. With 8:48 left in the game who cares if the lead is 12 points or 13? The Jets needed two TD’s to win either way. But if you don’t make it, which Miami didn’t, the Jets now can tie it with a TD, a two-point conversion, and a field goal. And that almost happened! If the Jets had successfully executed that last two-point try then instead of a game-losing incomplete pass on their last play they probably would have kicked a game-tying FG. It could have been OT in New York (shudder). Sparano lucked out.

Second, I grew up in South Florida and suffered through many TV blackouts of Dolphins home games. So I listened to lots of Dolphins games on the radio as a kid (Rick Weaver was the man). And there’s nothing like the thrill of the hyperactive radio calls of a biased home-town announcing team. Former Fins Jimmy Cefalo, Joe Rose and the great Jim Mandich did the honors last Sunday. I could listen to these over and over again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Weeks 5-7

Overdue for some quick recaps

Week 5

I know it was just an early regular season game but this Monday Night win against the Jets had to be one of the greatest wins of the decade for Miami. No really. I'm not kidding. First of all, beating the Jets is never a bad thing. That makes a game great in itself no? And doing it on Monday Night just adds to the thrill. Can you ever think about these two teams playing in prime team without thinking back to their most memorable Monday Night game: that horrific 2002 collapse when Miami blew the 23-point fourth quarter lead and lost 40-37 in OT. (The defining game of the Wannstadt Era). I still have post-traumatic Dolphins stress syndrome from that game. Finally some payback! Driving the length of the field to break Jet fans hearts with a game-winning TD in the final seconds. Awesome. And maybe the best part was just how great and how clutch Chad Henne played. We’ve been waiting this entire decade for Marino’s successor to show up and in his first start Henne sure looked like he might be that guy. That perfect bomb to Ginn was kind of a shock and everyone took notice when Henne zipped in those critical third down throws to keep that last drive alive. Actually Henne’s performance was the second-best part. The best was the pre-game Jets hype getting flushed down the toilet. “How are the Dolphins and their rookie quarterback going to be to able to handle that Rex Ryan defense?” Oh, we’re so scared. Not a Rex Ryan defense. Just forfeit the game right now. Jaws says they're too good.

Well, everybody got their answer didn't they. Miami handled that Rex Ryan defense by kicking its ass! A great night to be alive.


Week 6

Bye Week


Week 7

The high lasted all of one week. Miami faced an upgrade in quality of opponent in week 6: the undefeated New Orleans Saints. A powerhouse offense led by the man who could have and should have been quarterbacking the Dolphins for the last 9 years, Drew Brees. A surprising defense stifling its opponents weekly. Most were skeptical of Miami’s chances against the Jets the week before. Everybody thought the Saints were taking this one. And surprise! Miami, not New Orleans, looked like the Super Bowl favorite. They outplayed them. They outscored them. They throttled them. They crushed them. Unfortunately I’m only talking about the first half. Miami’s offense kept matriculating the ball down the field and the defense wasn’t letting Brees do anything. And then three disastrous mistakes somehow worked in tandem to turn the game around in New Orleans’ favor just as the first half ended.

First, leading 24-3 with less than two minutes left, the Dolphins had the ball at the Saints’ 40. Another score, especially a TD, probably puts the game out of reach so I understand Coach Sparano’s decision to aggressively press his team’s advantage. But he might have been better served keeping the ball on the ground. Given their remaining time outs Miami still had plenty of time to score. And they didn’t need that many more yards to get into field goal range. But they decided to try to pass it down the field. First play—sack, necessitated a second-down pass, a pass caught by Devone Bess and promptly fumbled. Blunder Number One. Scoring opportunity gone. The focus shifts from scoring to just stopping the Saints and preserving the still fat 21-point lead. Bress did manage to drive the Saints to the Miami 21 and field goal range with no time outs left. But the Saints got greedy. They took a shot at a TD with only 12 seconds left. Brees hit Colston inside the five, not the end zone! Two Dolphin defenders dragged him down at the one before he landed over the goal line and the clock ran out before the Saints could try a FG. 24-3 halftime lead. Scratch that. The clock didn’t run out! It SHOULD have but the refs never saw Colston’s knee hit and so they ruled the play a TD. The worst call in a game filled with bad ones. Blunder Number Two. A replay review correctly overturned it but the game stoppage gave the Saints time for the one-yard field goal attempt they didn’t deserve (there needs to be a rule tweak to address this; maybe some sort of time runoff). Ok, 24-6 is still a three TD lead. Still good. But enter Blunder Number Three (can you enter a blunder?) Sparano called time out! WTF? Given the time to talk about it and the Saints decide to go for the TD and of course they get it. 24-10 at the half. All momentum to the Saints. Second half? Brees picks up where he left off, on fire. Miami made some stupid mistakes (and got screwed by a Saints INT TD return that should have been a touchback for Miami). And so the game was lost. The Dolphins had that game. They should have won it. It could have been their defining game of the season. But they blew it.

Beyond the screwed-up end of the first half, the biggest problem, the biggest disappointment was the offense’s struggles to hold onto the football. The 2008 Dolphins were practically mistake-free. This year’s model keeps turning the ball over and dropping passes. And the biggest offender? Ted Ginn. He just can’t reel in perfectly catchable balls. Between Ginn and the already waived John Beck it’s looking more and more like that 2007 draft was almost as big a disaster as that season itself was.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X



Top this catch


How bizarre is it that after only two last-minute championship-winning touchdown drives in 87 years of NFL history, it’s now been done in two straight Super Bowls? Both Super Bowls XLII and XLIII were won on last minute TD passes that capped desperation drives. But there the similarities between the two games end. Super Bowl XLII was probably the most anticipated Super Bowl ever. Super Bowl XLIII? Well, let’s face it. Nobody really cared if they weren’t diehard Steelers or Cardinals fans (if there is such a thing as the latter). Super Bowl XLII: Close and competitive the whole way, exciting from start to finish. Super Bowl XLIII: To be honest, I thought it was all over at halftime. In 18 unbelievable seconds the Cardinals went from about to take a halftime lead to trailing by 10 points. Coming back to win a Super Bowls after trailing by that many points is dicey anyway (it’s happened once). But coming back after that James Harrison punch in the gut INT return? No way. And the Cards did pretty much sleepwalk through the third quarter. The Steelers just needed one more TD to put the Cards away. But they couldn’t get it. They were so afraid of making the mistake that would let the Cards back into it that they only could tack on three more points…and they let the Cards back into it.

The game’s final eleven minutes made up for how incredibly boring the second half had been up until then. But if Super Bowl XLIII lacked the arc of the previous year’s Super Bowl, or some of the other great ones, it did feature something else that maybe no other Super Bowl has ever matched: the sheer number of great plays. If you were trying to make a list of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, you’ve got three from this game alone. No other Super Bowl can say that (if a Super Bowl could talk).

What are the five greatest Super Bowl plays ever? Let’s see, Manning-to-Tyree. Riggins’ run. And…well I don’t know what the other three would have been but take away two of them and substitute in Harrison’s INT return and Santonio Holmes’ game-winning TD. Now when you’re picking the greatest Super Bowl plays ever they have to be plays that were both spectacular and critical to the outcome. Marcus Allen’s amazing TD run in Super Bowl XVIII was spectacular but his team was up by 19 points at the time. That game was over. Jim O’Brien’s final field goal in Super Bowl V couldn’t have been more critical. It was the game winner. But c’mon, how spectacular can a 32-yard field goal be?

But Holmes’ catch! There’ve been four late game-winning Super Bowl TD catches. Clearly Holmes’ TD beats out John Taylor’s in Super Bowl and jailbird Burress’ in Super Bowl XLII. You could make an argument for Issac Bruce’s in Super Bowl XXXIV as the best as it was a 73-yard bomb. Holmes’ 6-yard catch had a higher degree difficulty with that while tapping the toes in bounds thing and it came a little later in the game so I’d lean toward that one as the biggest. Of course we could find room for both on our top five list.

Harrison’s TD is almost certainly the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history and one of the greatest INT returns in NFL history. The only other great defensive Super Bowl play that comes to mind is Mike Jones’ tackle to seal the Rams victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. And as great as that tackle was I don’t see how you can rate it ahead of a 100-yard TD return where the returner improbably stayed in bounds, avoided tacklers, and fell into the end zone with no time left on the last play of the half. Yeah it wasn’t a game ender but it was at least a 10-point swing as the Cardinals would have at least come out of there with a field goal. In a game decided by 4 points it was huge.

And there’s one other play we can’t forget. I can’t put it in the top five but it sure might make my top ten (I see a future post in the making). It’s Larry Fitzgerald’s 64-yard TD that gave Arizona its first lead of the game with 2:37 remaining. Without Roethlisberger’s and Holmes late heroics that would have been the game-winning TD. Besides Bruce’s TD referenced earlier the only other 4th quarter TD bomb I can remember that gave a team the lead in a Super Bowl was the 85-yarder to Muhsin Muhammad that put Carolina temporarily on top in Super Bowl XXXVIII. That was a huge play but Fitzgerald’s catch gets the edge for being more dramatic as it was later in the game and Muhammad’s catch resulted more from a blown coverage (he wasn’t covered) than a great play call. Warner–to-Fitzgerald also put the capper on the Jerry Rice-like postseason Fitzgerald was having.

So when you’re talking about Super Bowl XLIII you’re talking about three of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. Only Super Bowl XXIV can even claim two and those two aren’t quite as impressive as Super Bowl XLIII’s top two. If you like great plays and a classic finish, and who doesn’t, Super Bowl XLIII’s a contender for the greatest Super Bowl of all time.


The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time

Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part I
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part III
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IV
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion

Friday, October 9, 2009

Henne and Penny

It’s weird how sometimes sporting events can almost play out like a novel. And if you missed the novel that was Miami’s week two game with the Colts, then the first drive of their week three game against the Chargers served as a handy Cliff’s Notes version of the Colts game. The dominant running game. The perfect execution. And the devastating blunder negating all the hard work that came before. Against the Chargers it was Ronnie Brown’s fumble at the one that squandered the momentum and cost the team a TD. But of course that was just the prelude to the true football tragedy--Chad Pennington’s season-ending shoulder injury.

Now Sparano previously made it clear Henne would get his chance to play at some point this season. And after three straight losses the odds shot way up for Henne to be playing sooner than later. But it’s sad that it took a horrible injury to Pennington to bring about Henne’s first start. I need to write a few words here about Pennington. My first real memories of the NFL start date to about 1974. So for almost all my first 25 years of football-watching I saw great quarterbacks leading the Miami Dolphins. I expected it. First Griese. Then Marino. And then for eight solid years the Dolphins trotted out pathetic QB after pathetic QB. Jay Fiedler was probably the best of them and he barely rose to the level of mediocrity. And what came after. Ugh: Ray Lucas--high comedy. A.J. Feely---arguably the worst trade in team history. John Beck--utter waste of a high draft pick. Duante Culpeper--we could have had Drew Brees! (Nick Saban’s an idiot!). Cleo Lemon--a more aptly named player there has never been. You had to wonder if the Dolphins would ever start a quality QB again.

And then, thanks to Bret Favre not retiring for the fourth or fifth time, Chad Pennington dropped into the team’s lap. Pennington took the opportunity to post an MVP-type season, the best quarterbacking season of any Dolphin not in the Hall of Fame, and lead Miami to a division title and the playoffs. Playoffs! After a 1-15 season nobody saw that coming. Dolphin fans used to take the playoffs for granted. By 2008 it was a distant memory until Chad Pennington started taking the snaps. He gave us a minor miracle. Even if he never puts on a football uniform again Dolphin fans owe him a lot. Thanks Penny.

As for the other Chad, Chad Henne didn’t play all that well against San Diego. But I’ve seen worse (Hey Ray Lucas. How's it going A.J. Feely?) At least Henne showed flashes of potential, something we waited for in vain with John Beck and the other parade of losers I mentioned above. Against Buffalo Henne showed a lot more than flashes. He managed to play his entire first start without making one single catastrophic error, something that hasn’t been so easy to come by in this decade for Miami. Getting that first win was big. It was just two seasons ago that Miami was forced to yank Beck as the starter and reinstall Cleo Lemon at the helm (yeah, that was the sequence of events. It’s true) in a desperate attempt to get some kind of win someway somehow to avoid the stigma of an 0-16 season. And that plan actually worked. But nobody wanted a repeat of anything like that. Ever. Now without question it should be Henne’s team all year. He faces a tougher opponent this week so we shall see but so far so good.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins-Week Two

OK, time to worry.

When you physically dominate a team like the Dolphins did to the Colts last Monday night and you don’t come away with a win, something clearly went wrong that should not have gone wrong. And what that something was was coaching. Sparano deserves a lot of praise for the job he’s done since filling the tiny shoes of Nick Saban and Cam Cameron, but blame for the 27-23 loss to the Colts rests squarely on Sparano shoulders. A coach is responsible for a lot of things and Sparano got a lot of things right in Week Two. The game plan was great, the execution was better, and we saw a much more motivated and mistake-free performance than we saw in that Week One atrocity. But the in-game play-calling and clock management…ugh.

The three moments that stood out: (1) Facing third-and-seven at the Indy 32 with 56 seconds left in the first half, the Dolphins run Ricky Williams for five. Then they kick the FG on fourth and a short two. The play-calling here foreshadowed the later events including the devastating sequence that probably cost Miami the game. Going conservative and settling for a long-field goal attempt. I thought Miami should have gone for it on 4th down. And since they left 43 seconds for the Colts to score the tying FG, they probably should have. At the very least Sparano should have learned a lesson here. But he didn’t; (2) Third-and-six at Indy 30. 4:33 left in the game. 20-all. A simple 3-yard Ronnie Brown run and a FG for the sadly all-too-brief lead. Sparano went conservative and played for the field goal even though he knew he’d be leaving Manning almost four minutes only trailing by three. Insane. Bill Parcells is supposed to be this guy’s mentor! After playing so well all game why wouldn’t you try to put the Colts away here with a first down?; (3) The botched two-minute (plus) offense. This was what everyone was talking about after the game. ANd rightly so! I haven’t seen a worse hurry-up offense since Donovan McNabb vomited away Philly’s chances in Super Bowl XXXIX. Running on the first two plays. Wasting a time out. Not getting another play off before the two-minute warning. WTF? Miami had one last shot from the Colts 33. Now imagine if they had one or two more plays. Pulling out a win would have been a realistic scenario. I still can’t fathom how the team blew the end of the game that badly. Pennington’s an experienced QB. He knows what to do in that situation. Sparano and coaching staff didn’t help him.

The Dolphins blew a game they should have won. Now coming off a short week they’ve got a west coast game against a good team. You can’t like those odds even against a banged up San Diego team. I’ll say this. If Miami can take this game Sparano will have gone a long way to removing the taste of that coaching debacle from everyone’s mouth. If Miami loses, they drop to 0-3 and a return to the playoffs is pretty much out of the question. And so will be the chances of Chad Pennington QB’ing this team for 16 games.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Your 2009 Miami Dolphins: Week One

Oh Lordy.

I knew my 2009 NFL predictions would eventually prove embarrassing, they always do, but I expected that to come well into the season not the very next day! Who’s the opposite of Nostradamus? We need a term for that. I am that guy. Past Interference hereby officially apologizes to all the guys I singled out for improvement this year. Ronnie Brown? Did virtually nothing yesterday. Anthony Fasano? Well he improved in the category of fumbling the ball away. Jake Long? Manhandled by John Abraham. Pat White? My excitement wore off about the time he sailed a pass about ten yards over Ted Ginn’s wide open head. I mean a wide open Ted Ginn’s head. Oh it was ugly. Let’s not overreact to one bad loss, a road loss to a 2008 playoff team no less, but Miami played very, very badly yesterday and the score could have been a lot worse. The one bright spot was the run defense totally shutting down Michael Turner. Just keep repeating that Dolphin fans. It’s all we have. And Davone Bess looked good.

The worst part of it all was Chad Pennington playing like the 2008 playoff Chad Pennington, not the 2008 regular season Chad Pennington. That’s two horrible games in a row now for him. Sure the offensive line wasn’t giving him much time but Pennington had chances to get rid of the ball and either took a sack or was unable to hit an open receiver to salvage some yards. His arm strength looked weaker than ever and the team resorted to having him throw on the run several times to try to get something going. I should have put a big fat caveat in my 9-7 prediction. We might well see Chad Henne at QB sooner rather than later if Pennington keeps this up much longer and if that happens a losing record is likely. Not that I’d have a problem with the team putting Henne in there if Pennington is no longer what he was most of last year. The team simply couldn’t make any big plays yesterday. The few times they used the Wildcat it didn’t work. They might have been trying to set up a big pass play from White by running out of the formation the first couple of times. If that’s so it would have been brilliant except for White’s inability to hit the broad side of a barn on the play ‘cause that should have been 6. The big pass play Pennington pulled off came off a flea-flicker, not a downfield strike. Don’t be surprised if Henne gets in there sooner than you think (Is that another prediction?! When will I learn?). I still trust the management and coaching when all’s said and done so I’m not too worried (yet) despite yesterday's debacle.

You know, at least my playoff team picks don’t look half bad after a whole week. But I can’t figure out why I named Carolina as a playoff team. I thought they made a big mistake in resigning Jake Delhomme to a huge deal when he appeared finished last year in the playoffs. Like Pennington he’s picked up where he left off. Looks like Atlanta’s the better team right now. But don’t worry Panther fans, A.J. Feely’s on the way! Haha. (Did that trade Wannstedt made for him really happen? A second-rounder? Really?).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wildcat

Pat White's listed as the #2 quarterback today! C'mon kickoff.

2009 Predictions

Hallelujah. Finally, the NFL is back. Life is so much more boring without it. I think I started the last two seasons by blogging my predictions but I’m torn about it dong it again. Mainly, because they’re a huge embarrassment! Completely off base and giving anyone who cares to a pretty airtight case that I know nothing about football or anything else. But, in the short history of this blog making bad preseason predictions is the closest thing PI has to a tradition so let’s go ahead and do it anyway. Then forget this post ever existed.

The Miami Dolphins shocked the football world (and me) in 2008 by going 11-5 and winning the AFC East just one year after their 1-15 horror show. The reasons for the turnaround weren’t too hard to spot. With the new Parcells-Ireland-Sparano troika we got a solid draft, good personnel moves (signing Pennington especially), inspired coaching (the Wildcat), and basically the first time this decade the fans felt the team had people in charge who knew what they were doing. However, the Dolphins also prospered thanks to an easy schedule, almost surely an easier one than what the team’s going to face this year. Also, Pennington’s best-ever season made him an MVP candidate. Given his age and injury history odds are 2009 won’t be quite as magical. And with Tom Brady back at least one division opponent is likely to be much improved. Finally, where Miami’s luck in 2007 was all bad, everything that could go wrong went wrong, that all turned around completely in 2008 and the team finished with an impressive record despite only a slightly above-average point differential.

So there’s lots of reasons to think the Dolphins regress in 2008. Regression to the mean, coming back to earth, whatever you want to call it, there’s two things that cut against it: (1) Better players and (2) Playing better. Who knows how the team’s 2009 draft class turns out but so far they seem pretty high on Brian Hartline, they addressed a clear need in the secondary, and I’m gotta say I’m real excited to see what Pat White can do in this offense. Also, Jason Taylor’s back and while he may no longer play like a defensive MVP, any Jason Taylor is better than no Jason Taylor. As for better players, I like Ronnie Brown a lot this year (and my fantasy teams reflect that!). The guy was dominant on a horrible team in 2007 before he got hurt. He’s now in his second year back from the ACL-tear. And you know Miami’s offense is going to revolve around him. I’m looking for the 2007 Brown to be back. With another year experience the receiving corps should also be better. I don’t know about Ginn but I do like Bess and Fasano to step it up this year. And Jake Long will show he was worthy of this draft slot.

The team should be better in 2009 but might have a worse record due to the much tougher schedule. So I’ll say 9-7. Whatever happens it’s just comforting to know the team’s in good hands again. Growing up watching this team in the 70’s and 80’s, I just kind of took for granted the team would always be a playoff contender. But the post-Don Shula/Jimmy Johnson era wised me up permanently. You hand over the reigns of a franchise to incompetents and fools and your team can hit rock bottom pretty quickly.

The Rest. Sure why not. I have no limbs to crawl out on. New England and San Diego should easily win their divisions. The Colts should squeeze out another division title. And the one team I don’t hear too many people talking up is Baltimore. I didn’t like what I saw out of Pittsburgh on Thursday and the last time they won a Super Bowl they collapsed the next season. I can see that happening again. To me the Ravens look like the team to beat in the AFC North. All they need is for Flacco to build on his rookie season to challenge the Pats and Chargers for the Super Bowl. And with New England’s suspect defense and San Diego’s coach, I’m going to say the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl. Yeah, that’s right. In the NFC, the Giants, Eagles, Packers and Bears are the only teams I like as Super Bowl contenders. Seattle and Carolina are probably the best of the rest. I like the Vikings, Cowboys and Cardinals to collapse in the second half of the season. I’d kind of like to pick the Packers or Bears to go to the Super Bowl but the Giants are the best team.

Glad that’s over. Football’s back!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX



“They have to win now! That’s what teams of destiny do.”

--Me to my wife after the Manning to Tyree play.

In rethinking Super Bowl XLII, I’ve got to say I kind of feel sorry for Patriots fans (a little anyway). Not because their team blew a championship, a perfect season, and a claim to be the greatest team of all time. That’s sports. No, I feel sorry for them because to most of us that game was one of the most thrilling, electrifying sporting events we’ve ever seen. To them it’s just a sad and bitter memory, a reminder of the immortality their team lost that night.

That game was like one of those super-vivid dreams. You know the ones that seem so real, so detailed even though they’re so bizarre they couldn’t possibly have happened. And when you wake up you go over it in your mind while simultaneously coming to grips with the fact that no matter how intense it all was it in fact was just a crazy dream. Yeah, Super Bowl XLII was a little like that, except it all actually happened. The G-Men shutting down the greatest offense ever; Brady-to-Moss seemingly shutting the door on the upset bid; Manning-to-Tyree; the Plax TD; and the exclamation point--the big hit on Brady in the final seconds. I still can’t believe all that stuff happened. But it did. Or like an old Silver-Age DC comic would put it: Not A Hoax! Not A Dream! Not An Imaginary Story!

A few points about the game:

1) The Past Interference staff likes to think of themselves as basically humble people. But I’ve got to give myself some credit being the first person anywhere to realize the historic nature of what Eli Manning pulled off on February 5, 2008. No, not the huge upset; a lot of people noticed that. I’m referring to the winning drive. Before Super Bowl LXII, exactly two quarterbacks had ever led their team on a championship game-winning touchdown drive ending in the final two minutes of play. With his TD pass to Burress, Manning joined Bart Starr (The Ice Bowl) and Joe Montana (Super Bowl XXII) as the only QB’s to ever lead a last-minute championship TD drive. That’s right. Two Hall-of-Famers with nine combined championship rings…and Eli Manning. And those other guys started their drives trailing by 3. Manning trailed by 4. So only Eli began his historic drive with the pressure of knowing it had to end in a TD. Cool huh?

2) Now I’ll point out something else that I haven’t seen anyone else note: this was the closest Super Howl of all-time. I’m not just talking about the final 3-point margin of victory. Obviously there’ve been a few other three-point games. What I’m talking about is the score at any point during the game. At no time during Super Bowl XLII did either team ever lead the other by more than 4 points. In every other Super Bowl save two, one of the teams led the other by at least 9 points at some point during the game. The only other Super Bowls where nobody ever led by more than one score were Super Bowls V and XXII. The Colts won the former game by 3 and trailed by a full 7 points earlier. The latter game’s biggest lead was also 7 points and the final margin of victory was 4. So from start to finish Super Bowl XLII was the closest, most competitive game in Super Bowl history.

3) Finally, has any Super Bowl ever had more pre-game anticipation than this one? I don’t think so. New England shooting for perfection obviously interested just about everyone. You can’t compare the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII to this one; it was just a different media world back then, before the internet and the 24 hour news cycle. They might as well have broadcast that earlier game by crystal radio when you look at the mountain of oppressive hype you get today. Further jump-starting the pre-game chatter was the opponent, a New York team(!), one that almost beat the Pats in the Week 16 finale. I can only think of one other Super Bowl that came close to this one in terms of public interest: Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers/Cowboys rematch. I previously wrote that game was the closest thing the NFL ever had to an Ali-Frazier fight. But in the post-ESPN age you have to give the edge in “buzz” to Super Bowl XLII. I know it’s hard to imagine but trust me, there was once a time you actually could turn on a TV and never be able to find a single show featuring grown men yelling at each other about sports. Radio too.

After the Giants pulled off the upset for the ages, many called it greatest Super Bowl ever. And if you were arguing for it in a court of law you’ve got a lot of evidence. Let’s see: Unparalleled pre-game anticipation. Excitement and electricity that slowly built throughout the game. Close and competitive from the opening kickoff through the final seconds. The greatest play in Super Bowl history. And maybe the biggest upset ever.

I loved that game.

But I reflexively rejected the “best ever” level, probably due to my contrarian nature. I knew I’d have to think about it for a long while before determining how it ranked with all 41 of the Super Bowls that came before. And a year later, just when I’d finally processed it all and reached a conclusion, they had to go and play another Super Bowl that might have been the best ever.


The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time

Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part I
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part III
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IV
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion

Friday, July 31, 2009

Stuff I Saw On YouTube: Commando

A few months ago “Meet the Press” had an episode featuring various state governors as guests, one of whom was Arnold Schwarzenegger. My wife said to me she couldn’t believe someone as stupid as Arnold could get elected governor. I replied that she was way off base. Sure California might be in utter ruins by the time he leaves office but he isn’t stupid. My evidence? Simply this. Could an overly muscled guy with a funny name, a thick Austrian accent, and no apparent acting ability become the biggest box office star in the world if he wasn’t super smart? I don’t think so. Of course luck played a part in Arnold’s rise also. He hit the movies at the perfect time.

The 1980’s ushered in a new kind of action movie. Our ‘80’s army of one-man armies, aided by nothing more than their own superior training, sophisticated weaponry, the suspension of certain physical laws, and millions of dollars in special effects, slaughtered and dispatched hundreds of unmourned mercenaries, foreigners, traitors and aliens. Thankfully innocent bystanders always emerged completely unscathed in the countless explosions and deadly crossfires. Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood probably ushered in the age of the’ 80’s action movie but he opened the door for the combined acting talents of Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and whoever else I’m missing. Box-office gold. But Schwarzenegger was the king of them all y’all.

Now Arnold went on to make a few pretty good movies, but if you’re looking for the one movie that defines the ‘80’s era of good clean gratuitous slaughter, the apotheosis of the genre is Arnold’s true masterpiece: Commando. Now believe me, I’m not claiming it’s actually a good movie. You can’t defend this crap on any aesthetic level. But it’s a historic movie, the one introducing us to the on-screen Schwarzenegger persona that went on to rule the box-office. It’s the first time Arnold gets to kill people and be funny. For pure mindless entertainment you’ve got to check it out and the single best way to watch it is not as a full-length feature film, but rather as a series of hilarious clips on YouTube. It’s the only way to appreciate the absurd, gruesome yet cartoonlike violence, terrible acting (beside the point in a film such as this), and of course the classic Schwarzenegger one-liners uttered upon each ruthless dispatch of another hapless victim. Plus, by watching random Commando clips, you dispense with all those boring parts: you know, the parts advancing the narrative, i.e. the parts where Arnold’s not killing people or blowing s##t up. The real challenge is trying to figure out just which scene is the movie’s best.

Is it this one, Arnold’s first kill of the film? I love the stilted stoner dialogue (“Mellow out man”) delivered by the unarmed kidnapper. What was the dude's backup plan? Check out how Arnold offs him with one perfect shot from the gun he never even bothers to raise and aim. And I’m no firearms expert but that gun sure looks like it would blow someone’s head off, not just put a neat little hole in it.

How about this one? The bad dude Henriques manages to raise his arms after Arnold breaks his neck while the passengers mysteriously remain blissfully unaware of this carnage in their midst.

I’ve got a soft spot for this one. David Patrick Kelly, “Sully”, is a classic 80’s movie villain and for my money Arnold ends his miserable existence with the best one-liner of his career. Actually, it’s probably the single greatest line of dialogue in the history of cinema. You don’t believe me? Just watch. The final line’s pretty good too. James Bond did this stuff first but face it, Bond just isn’t all that funny. Arnold’s funny.

Ah, the infamous "Shed Scene". Hundreds of rounds of bullets and one severed arm prove no match for Arnold and some expertly wielded gardening implements. According to some YouTube commenters at least some DVD versions of the movie censor this scene. What's the thinking there? Who could possibly take the scene seriously? It parodies itself.

The final showdown with Bennett. Until this scene, the movie never really established the source of Bennett’s murderous grudge against Arnold’s character. Getting kicked out of an elite commando unit creates a need for lifelong revenge? Seems kind of lame. But at last the scales fall from our eyes during the final showdown. The wounded Schwarzenegger, uh, I mean John Matrix, psychologically manipulates Bennett into throwing away his gun so the two can engage in your classic mano a mano clash. How does “Matrix” do it? With a disturbing speech bursting with homoerotic sadomasochism. How else do you read this?

Put the knife in me and look me in the eye and see what's going on in there when you turn it…It’s between you and me. Don't deprive yourself of some pleasure. Come on Bennett, let’s party.


On top of that, pay attention to the facial expressions on the face of the leather-and-chain-mail clad Bennett while Arnold tempts and taunts him. Just in case the words alone weren’t “subtle” enough to clue the audience in. Yes, in the end it’s the 1980’s version of Gore Vidal’s script for Ben-Hur ("I'm not gonna be overt. There won't be one line. But I can write it in such a way that the audience is going to feel that there is something emotional between these two that is not stated, but that blows a fuse in Messala. That he is spurned. So it's a love scene gone wrong"). “Let off some steam Bennett” indeed.

Or what the hell. If you don’t have time to bleed just cut to the chase. Skip all of the above and just watch the one clip that trims all the fat and extracts the movies’ true essence. Killing. Yes, witness every single killing in the entire movie packed into one explosive four-minute clip. Kudos to whoever put that together. Time well spent.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII


The Sloppy Joe of Super Bowls



What if we watched a Super Bowl that was:
1) Close
2) High-scoring
3) Had a couple 4th quarter lead changes
4) And was decided on a last second field goal

That has to be the greatest Super Bowl of all-time right?

Well, what if we filled out the picture with a few other critical details:

1) Lots of penalties
2) Offensive, defensive and coaching blunders at key moments of the game
3) Terrible special teams play
4) Excepting a five-minute stretch of the 2nd quarter, no scoring in Quarters 1-3
5) Game overshadowed by Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple.

Now where does it rank?

C’mon we can’t be picky. You know how many Super Bowl blowouts there’ve been? If you watched a lot of Super Bowls in the 80’s then you better get down on your hands and knees and thank the football gods every time you get an entertaining Super Bowl like Super Bowl XXXVIII. If it’s close and comes down to the wire it’s a great game. And so it was.

Now calling it the greatest Super Bowl ever is another matter. To earn that honor the game must succeed on a number of levels. And one of those levels is Quality of Play. You want what an earlier generation of sportswriters might have described as a “Crisply played game”. Super Bowl XXXVIII featured too many mistakes to be the best ever. 20 penalties alone (25 called) disqualify this game from best-ever status. And what about the special teams? Adam Vinatieri cemented his legend as the greatest clutch kicker ever with his 41-yard game-winning kick. What’s that? He earlier missed 31 and 36-yard attempts? Move along, nothing to see here. Of course Carolina kicker John Kasay greased the skids for the Pats winning drive by sending his kickoff out of bonds, setting Brady and Co. up at their own 40. Brady and Co. should have been driving for a tying, not a winning FG, but Panthers coach John Fox panicked and started going for 2 prematurely, costing his team three points (New England never would have gone for 2 if they’d led 27-24 instead of 27-22). Then again, Carolina was lucky to even have a shot at the end.

The real story of the game was New England’s continual squandering of chances to put the game away. In the first half we had the two missed FG’s and later a loss of ten yards on a botched trick play on 3rd-and-3 from the CAR 31 that cost NE a shot at another FG. In the 4th quarter, NE gave up a 33-yard TD run right after going up 21-10. Then, leading 21-16 in the 4th, Tom Brady drove his team to the Panthers 9 with less than 8 minutes to play but instead of icing the game the supposed best big game passer of his time threw a pick in the end zone. A few plays later, Bill Belichick’s great D forgets to cover Muhsin Muhammad and he blew all our minds with an 85-yard TD score to give the Panthers their first and only lead of the game.

It was non-stop action the rest of the way. But overall just too many mistakes to be the best ever. Plus Janet Jackson’s nipple. Let’s call it the Sloppy Joe of Super Bowls.


The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time

Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part I
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part III
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IV
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Steve McNair





A second straight post about the recently departed.

It’s hard to know what to say about Steve McNair’s truly shocking death. However, I do know what I’m not going to say. In the news articles posted in the immediate aftermath of his death those who knew him kept repeating three things to describe him: “Warrior”, Leader” and “Charity work”. However, as soon as the sordid details of his death spilled out it all switched to talk about McNair’s “double life”, how McNair’s image didn’t match the reality. Really? Am I supposed to believe that there were grown adults out there who actually had an image of McNair, or any football player for that matter, as a super-moral upright clean-living perfect family guy? How na├»ve would you have to be to think of McNair in that way? I understand that children tend to worship their athletic heroes but you’d like to think that upon reaching adulthood this simplistic attitude would mature into something a bit more realistic. Basically, admire what athletes do on the field and hope that off the field they don’t embarrass themselves and their fans too badly.

The fact Steve McNair cheated on his wife in no way puts the lie to his existing image as warrior/leader/humanitarian. I certainly won’t condone adultery but we all know McNair was no different than a whole lot of other athletes (And Politicians. Preachers. Hundreds of millions of other human beings on this planet. Etc.). What he did with his girlfriend doesn’t change what he accomplished on the field. It doesn’t change the heightened level of play he inspired in his teammates. And it can’t possibly make less meaningful all the time and money he spent helping others less fortunate than he. The fact McNair chose a psycho for a mistress was unbelievably unfortunate for himself and his family but I don’t see why this changes his image. If his wife honestly and truly had no clue about her husband’s extracurricular activities then yeah I suppose you could say he was leading a sort of “double life” but really, McNair wasn’t a Mark Sanford or a Ted Haggard. I don’t recall McNair holding himself out as a paragon of “family values” or preaching about the virtues of monogamy. Basically, all this talk about the “other side” of McNair effectively blames him for his own murder. But his moral failings aren’t crimes. He wasn’t O.J. He was a victim. If we’d first heard about this crazy girlfriend in the context of a messy divorce rather than a murder/suicide would that have irrevocably altered how we see McNair? Of course not. And nobody would have been writing stupid columns about the “real” Steve McNair.

For me, thoughts about Steve McNair begin with his tremendous 4th quarter performance in Super Bowl XXXIV. He brought his team back from 16 points down, still the greatest deficit erased in Super Bowl history. His defense failed him in that game and a superhuman tackle prevented another comeback and a stunning win, but McNair could well have been the best player on the field that night. I associate McNair with all the games he gutted out, ignoring injuries and tremendous pain. He was the warrior everyone says he was and it was too bad all the cumulative injuries eroded his skills and ended his career prematurely. It’s sad but inevitable that from now on we’ll always think of the way he went out when we hear the name of Steve McNair. But those tabloid details only flesh out the picture of who he was off the field; they don’t change who he was on it. The memories stay the same.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stuff I Saw On YouTube: Michael Jackson

Probably because it’s the biggest celebrity death of my adult life, for some reason I feel the need to write something about Michael Jackson. Unless you count his jeri-curled influence on the look of 1980’s NFL players, Jackson’s one NFL connection was his halftime show performance at Super Bowl XXVII. I personally found it to be underwhelming—ultra-choreographed, over-rehearsed, lip-synched, and “show-bizzy”—though it was probably the kind of show Jackson fans expected at that point. Ironically, he didn’t know it then but playing that halftime show proved to be good timing because the allegations of child abuse that surfaced shortly thereafter undoubtedly would have put an end to the NFL’s interest in him. The stigma of that plus his ever-changing face and skin color, odd marriages, bizarre behavior and changing musical tastes soon turned him from King of Pop into America’s most well-known freak show. The public turned on him for good. Like I said, I wanted to write something about Michael Jackson but the only two observations I have to offer about the man are pretty mundane: (1) He was as talented an all-around performer as anyone we’ve ever seen; and (2) He was an incredibly sick man in every possible sense of that word.

In all the media talk following his death, the performance clip shown and talked about more than any other was Jackson’s performance of “Billie Jean” from that Motown 25th Anniversary Special. That performance proved to be the second-to-last step in his ascent to Elvis/Beatles level mega-stardom (The Path: (1) Off The Wall album; (2) Thriller album; (3) “Billie Jean” video breaks MTV’s black artist blacklist; (4) Motown Special; (5) “Thriller” video). The Motown Special clip unwrapped Jackson’s post-Thriller onstage self for the general public for the first time. It’s all there (except for the crotch tugging)--the dramatic pauses and gestures, the hat business, the Moonwalk. But to my mind this live performance clip from a 1977 episode of the Jackson’s Variety Show posted on You Tube impresses more.

Here, with his brothers, Jackson sings their old Jackson 5 hit “The Love You Save”. As a full-grown man Jackson can no longer hit the impossibly high notes he did as a 12-year old boy so he now sings it in his lower register and gives a tough, gritty vocal performance (a la the bridge on “Billie Jean”). Remember, in the Motown Special clip (as at the Super Bowl) he lip-synchs so you get no sense of his live vocal ability. In this clip you hear him singing great while dancing flat-out at the same time. And not with the precision Vegas-style moves of the Motown 25th or Super Bowl performances. Instead he’s all over the stage, propelling himself James Brown-like in all directions with a whole series of spins, slides and shuffles. His feet never stop moving. It sure looks spontaneous. Marlon and Jackie are up there with him and sometimes Michael joins their choreographed dance moves and sometimes he doesn’t (Marlon spectacularly blows whatever they rehearsed at the start anyway). He’s all up in their camera shots even when it’s Marlon’s turn to sing. But it doesn’t matter. It all works because Michael’s feeling it! He’s a force of nature. He’s getting pumped up with the music and doing whatever it takes to get the audience pumped up too. Michael’s not playing the part of the master showman here, he’s simply giving it everything he’s got because he can’t stand the thought that even one person in that whole damn audience might leave disappointed. It may not be the cultural watershed the Motown Special was but it’s a far purer demonstration of his talent. Just compare it to this (early 90’s) concert clip of him singing “The Love You Save”. Whether due to Jackson’s notorious perfectionism, his preference for spectacle and showmanship, or the simple loss of youthful energy, all the juice is sadly drained out of the song.

In the end, all the unanswered questions about Michael Jackson complicate feelings about his passing. Better to remember him as he was before his pathologies manifested themselves in plastic surgeries and twisted behavior. While simple chronology made discussion of the unsavory aspects of his life unavoidable, for the most part what coverage I saw mainly adhered to the “never speak ill of the dead” credo. Yet a classic awkward moment came when Larry King Live presented us with an “exclusive, inside look” at the interior of Jackson’s now stripped bare home at Neverland. After exciting descriptions of artwork and furniture that we unfortunately could no longer see, we got a look at a massive upstairs closet with a “secret” area in the corner of it. No doubt many viewers wondered exactly what kind of activities might have taken place in that secret space.

For once the media got something right in comparing Jackson’s popularity to that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles (and hence coverage of his death also prompted comparisons to Lennon’s and Presley’s). For most of the 1980’s Jackson’s music and image were seemingly everywhere, penetrating the public consciousness deeply and inescapably. The quality of the music’s a matter of taste but given that he crossed racial and cultural boundaries in a way the Beatles or Elvis never could, you could well argue Michael Jackson achieved a kind of universality unrivalled by any entertainer ever.