Sunday, February 28, 2010

Black History Month

As Black History Month concludes Past Interference salutes someone whose six-decades-old contribution to the National Football League still reverberates today.

Over 60 years ago Jackie Robinson shattered Major League Baseball's color line, an event so important it transcended sports. Playing courageous and brilliant baseball Robinson proved the utter falsity of the racist beliefs that had kept blacks out of Major League Baseball for so long while paving the way for the Civil Rights movement to come. Arguably the most important athlete of the 20th Century Robinson's virtually a sainted figure in our history now right up there with Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks. And deservedly so.

But this post isn't about the great Jackie Robinson. (This is a football blog.) Now contrast Jackie's status as an icon with the virtual anonymity of the man who broke the National Football League's color line...a year before Robinson did the same for baseball. There's no mystery about this. The NFL's popularity in the mid-1940's in no way compared to that of professional baseball (it would take over another decade for that to change). Also, the NFL's color line had only been in place for 13 years while baseball had been banning African-Americans for over half a century before Jackie Robinson. But while the NFL's reintegration was not the seismic event that baseball's was, the man who broke football's color line deserves honor and recognition all the same. His name was Kenny Washington and given the nature of the game he no doubt experienced a kind of physical brutality from racist competititors that even Robinson never had to endure. But this post isn't about Kenny Washington either.

Obviously Jackie Robinson didn't singlehandedly desegreate Major League Baseball. For reasons both idealistic and financial Dodgers GM and President Branch Rickey signed him and gave him the opportunity to make history after getting permission from the team's board of directors. By contrast, the L.A. Rams had no interest whatsoever in signing Washington or any African American. So why'd they make the move?

In the standard histories of the NFL that I've read, the L.A. Rams signed Washington as a necessity in order for the newly relocated Rams to be able to obtain a lease to play in the city-owned Los Angeles Colisuem. Officials for Los Angeles County and the Coliseum Commission essentially forced the team to do the right thing. But I should have known that was too simple a story. If history's shown us anything it's that social and political change never comes about from the top down. The people themselves have to make their government act. In a still-segregated nation no government official was on their own going to force a football owner to sign a black player. What if the team balked and went elsewhere? So who pushed L.A. to sign Washington?

It wasn't one person alone but after reading up on the subject it appears that the man who deserves most of the credit is a guy by the name of William Clare (Halley) Harding. Halley Harding was a sportswriter for an African American weekly newspaper, and he was also what a later generation might unsympathetically describe as "militant". Harding did whatever he could to use his forum and his standing in the community to promote the cause of equality for blacks. Recognizing the opportunity the Rams move to his city created, Harding showed up along with the rest of the press for a meeting between Rams officials and the Coliseum Commission where the Rams sought a lease to play football at the city's stadium, the Coliseum. The meeting was open to the public and so Harding took the opportunity to not only attend but to make several impassioned speeches highlighting the contributions of African Americans to Los Angeles, the U.S. of A., and the NFL itself prior to 1933. Taken aback the Rams' representative, "Chile" Walsh, denied any prejudice on the part of the Rams or the NFL. A white commission member, Roger Jessup, then asked point blank if the Rams would bar local legend Kenny Washington from the Rams. Walsh said they would not. Jessup informed him that if Washington didn't play for L.A. the Rams wouldn't be playing there either.

At a later meeting between Walsh and local black sportswriters Harding and others pushed for specific promises from Walsh to sign black players. Pressure from Harding also got the L.A. County Supervisor, Leonard Roach, to put in writing the promise not to discriminate. And so Roach and Jessup later got their share of credit for the Kenny Washington signing. But according to historian Gretchen Atwood,

"Chile Walsh was sick of Harding's constant pressure. And because of the public statements Roach and Jessup made against racial bias, Walsh and the Rams could pass the buck if anyone objected to the signing—basically, shrug and tell other NFL owners, 'Hey, our hands were tied, we needed the lease to the stadium.'"

So there you have it. Roach and Jessup acted but it was Harding who got them to act. It must be noted that All-American Football Conference's L.A. Dons signed a lease with the Coliseum that very same year yet their lease conspicuously failed to include any commitment whatsoever to sign black players, something you'd expect if Roach and the Commission were the ones truly responsible for forcing the Rams to integrate. No, it was Halley Harding who raised the necessary hell and applied the proper pressure to help break once and for all the NFL's 13-year-old color line. He deserves the lion's share of the credit for making it happen and now Past Interference salutes Mr. Harding's long-ago effort.

Postscript: The Gretchen Atwood quote above along with a good bit of the information in this post came from the great Sports Illustrated article by Alexander Wolff linked to above. It's well worth your time to read it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mosi Tatupu

Former Patriots running back Mosi Tatupu passed away the other day at the not-so-old age of 54. Tatupu never starred in the NFL but he was one of those guys fans love: he was versatile, he gave his all, he played a long time and he had a cool name. As Tatupu played at fullback and special teams so he never amassed huge rushing totals. In a 14-year career he topped 80 yards in a game only six times. Here's his six biggest games:

1) 12/12/82 81 yards
2) 11/13/83 95 yards
3) 12/04/83 128 yards
4) 10/07/84 83 yards
5) 10/14/84 93 yards
6) 10/21/84 90 yards

And guess who the opponent was in three of those six games? Of course, the Miami Dolphins (games 1, 2, and 6). Back in the 80's, role players and draft day disappointments frequently metamorphosized into human highlight films when facing the Dolphins defense. Why not Mosi Totupu? One of the above games is kind of famous. Do you know? Do you know? Here's a hint. Final score: 3-0.

It's the first one on the list. A New England victory that we now know as "The Snowplow Game". You know, the one where that convict was somehow allowed to drive his snowplow (really a tractor with a big broom attached) onto the field to clear a spot for the game-winning kick. The only score of the day. The weather was so bad the Patriots completed only two passes all day and pretty much spent the whole game handing off to either Mark Van Eghan or Mosi Tatupu, who got his 81 yards on only 13 carries. Don Shula got so mad about the whole thing he actually got the NFL to impose a new No Snowplow rule. That's right. No groundskeepers may clear snow before a kick now. The last time I saw Shula interviewed about the game he still seemed pretty ticked off about it. The man holds a grudge. But while we remember the stupid Snowplow Game for its infamous ending, on the occasion of his passing let's also now remember it as the very first time Mosi Tatupu helped plow his team to victory.

Too-infrequent Pass Interference contributor Jeff remembers Pete Axthelm, who also left us too early, joking about "the Pats' inexplicable overuse of [Tatupu] in a late season game back when they sucked." The witty Axthelm called Mosi, "the increaingly slowin' Samoan."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV

PI intended to post its Super Bowl pick at some point prior to the game. In the immediate aftermath of the conference championships PI assumed the Colts would be the pick. The Vikings clearly outplayed New Orleans and the Saints emerged triumphant due only to Minnesota's unfortunate propensity to put the ball on the turf. Meanwhile the Colts impressively came from two scores down to decisively defeat the Jets thanks to perhaps the best peformance of Peyton Manning's career. But immediate impressions can be dangerous ones. PI took a closer look at each team, did some reading, checked some numbers and then changed its mind. PI heard Aaraon Schatz of Football Outsiders say his stats showed the teams as evenly matched. PI heard a gambling-oriented sports-radio talk show host state that the "smart money" was being bet on the Saints. So if the numbers showed the Saints and Colts to be even, then you take the underdog Saints and the 4.5 points no? But unlike the Vegas smart guys couldn't go with the logic. Some nagging feeling or perhaps an all-too-recent reading of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink made us reluctant to part from the early Colts pick.

Let's be honest. It was Manning.

After the fourth MVP award and the impressive playoff wins, the consensus was starting to build that Manning might well be the greatest QB ever. A second Lombardi Trophy would go a very long way to making his case a convincing one. Manning did appear to be playing the very best football of his career. And it's been one hell of a career so far. Click here for Throwing Into Traffic's lyrical analysis of how Manning and the very best of his teammates elevated the rest of their roster to a team capable of winning a championship. It's good stuff. And it had PI almost believing. Given the numbers, the personel, the records, etc., there was no rationale reason to have considered Indianapolis a lock to win. Just look at the QB's. Drew Brees quietly played at least as well as Manning this season, if not better. And his play over the last several years was comparable to Manning as well.

But while he'd never been on the big stage before and hadn't played great in his two NFC title appearances, Manning seemingly ended questions about his big game ability back in 2006. Winning every game he started and finished in 2009, including seven comback victories, lots of people were making the case that the already-great Peyton Manning had managed to raised his game even further. That he was something we'd never seen before in professional football: an equivalent to Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. Somebody capable of propelling himself and his team to victory through sheer mastery of the game. The most cerebral, most prepared QB the game's ever seen. Was really that possible? A lot of people certainly thought so and those thoughts made PI start to doubt what the numbers were saying. We posted no pre-game prediction.

In the game's early stages Manning emerged looking every bit the player so many asserted him to be, the greatest quarterback to ever play. The game's greatest thinker. Two well-executed drives complimented by a Dwight Freeny-led defense that stymied the Saints completely added up to a dominant first quarter and a 10-0 lead. As the quarter ended all Colts fans had to be confident of victory. No Saints fan could have been optimistic. As we've written about before here Super Bowls do not lend themselves to comebacks. Only two teams had ever come back from more than two scores down to win a Super Bowl. Ten points remains the greatest deficit overcome in victory. The Colts were likely one score away from an insurmountable lead. And then the game changed.

The Saints first two drives ended in punts. The team had yet to cross into Colts territory. But on their third possession Brees started to find his range as they say. A huge sack by Freeney forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal but by scoring three the Saints assured they would not trail by three scores no matter what Indy did on their next possession. The drive also kicked off a streak of six consecutive Saints possessions that ended in Colts territory. The Saints scored on all but one of those possessions. Yeah, and not counting the final kneeldown that accounts for every remaining possession. Essentially, after his first two drives Brees and the Saints offense became unstoppable. And remember the Saints second drive, the one that ended at midfield, would have continued into Colts territory had Marcus Colston not dropped an easy reception.

Brees did nothing spectacular in terms of big plays. The Colts apparently made the decision not to give up the big play. So Brees just efficiently and remorselessly picked the Indianapolis D apart. Rarely under pressure Brees showed near-perfect accuracy. He couldn't be stopped. Every pass was right where it needed to be. But with their early 10-0 lead the Colts could still win if Manning could just match Brees. But the two key plays of the second quarter, the two failed third-down conversions, prevented that from happening. Pierre Garcon's huge drop forced the first Colts' punt of the game. A big gain might well have led to a 17-3 lead and given Super Bowl history the Saints' offense might well have begun to press at that point. Certainly the Colts defense would have been given a big lift, as well as more time to rest. But their defense did rise to the challenge for the last time in the game. A huge goal-line stand put Indy back in the driver's seat once more. And then came the second huge Colts blunder of the game: a run for no gain on third-and-one from their own 10 with 46 seconds left in the half. The subsequent punt gave the Saints a chance to add three points right before the half and Brees easily moved the team into FG range for Hartley.

Now after the game Saints coach Gary Payton was lauded for his aggressiveness. Going for the TD at the one and later calling for the second-half opening onsides kick. Conversely, the Colts were pilloried for playing conservatively. And this alleged conservatism was demonstrated by the Colts decision to run the ball three times on their final drive of the first half. I can't agree with that at all. The Colts played it exactly right; it just didn't work out. When you take possession at your own one-yard line, holding the lead with less than two minutes left in the half, the overriding goal is not to score but to prevent the other team from scoring. Playing it safe is the smart play. Turning the ball over down there and giving up the lead right before the half is a surefire way to lose a Super Bowl. Running it was the way to go. The Saints were weak against the run this year and the Colts ran well in this game--more reasons to to go with the ground game. Plus Manning's reputation as the two-minute warning master aided the Colts here as New Orleans was hesitant to burn their own timeouts in case Indy did try to push the ball into Saints' territory. Two runs gained nine yards. One first down would guarantee at least a 7-point halftime lead for the Colts and they'd have about 50 seconds left and two time-outs to try to add three more. And they'd have the psychological boost of the goal-line stand entering halftime. But they got stuffed on third-and-one, punted, Brees went to work, and Hartley burned them for the FG that effectively erased the Saints earlier failed fourth-and-goal. Just a huge turning point. And for all those who ripped Indy for running it what about the Saints' strategy there? If Payton was so smart and aggressive why'd he let the Colts burn almost a minute of clock. Payton could have used up all his time-outs when the Colts had the ball, trusted his D to get the three-and-out and then Brees would have had almost an extra minute. Not doing that cost his team a shot a game-tying TD right before the half. Had the Saints lost wouldn't we be hearing about that?

This is pure conjecture but if the Colts get that first down and then tack on a field goal to go up 13-3 before the half they probably look for that onsides kick. The bigger lead makes an onsides kick more likely. Anyway if Hank Baskett holds onto the ball then both of Payton's aggressive calls blow up in his face. Not that he made the wrong call either time but no matter how brilliant your decisions you sometimes need some luck too. And the Colts didn't get any. The failed third-down conversions prevented Indy from taking a commanding lead. The onsides kick did the same while also giving the Saints a chance to take the lead and further limiting the number of Colts' possessions (only 4 in each half).

Now the fourth big play that cost the Colts the game was a true blunder and Jim Campbell deserved to be ripped to shreds for sending out Matt Stover to try a 51-yard field goal. Who didn't know he was going to miss? One of the worst coaching decisions I've ever seen. I suppose you could the play before a blunder as well. Going deep on 3rd-and-11 was not a wise choice by Manning. He did the same thing in the 2005 divisional playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Instead of trying to get closer for his kicker he went for the home run ball. It wasn't close. Just getting some yards might have made going for it on 4th down a possibility too. But a pooch punt would have made way more sense. The short field made it just too easy for Brees.

The fatal fifth play was of course Tracy Porter's pick-six. That all but ended the game, the chance for our first overtime Super Bowl, and ensured I would not have to edit my Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time series for at least one more year. (I'd rank this one at maybe 11th).

In the aftermath of the game Manning's place in history became as big a topic of conversation as it had been before the game. But instead of Manning now moving into position to be the consensus greatest ever, the consensus now foreclosed him from ever reaching such exalted status. Now I have no doubt this is true barring a couple of future Super Bowl wins (still a possibility); most people expect to find several championships on the Greatest Ever's resume. But I think heaping most of the blame on Manning's head for the loss is unfair.

When Manning began to drive his team down the field for what they hoped would be the tying touchdown I checked the time and realized the game was at about the three-hour mark. Taking into account the super-long halftime show and the extra commercials we'd been force-fed I realized just what an incredibly fast game we'd been watching. But it perfect sense. Long scoring drives, few incomplete passes and no turnovers until THE turnover equalled fewer possesions, just 8 for each team. I can't remember seeing anything like that before. Here's a list of those 8 Indianapolis drives:

1) 53-yard drive. FG
2) 96-yard drive. TD
3) Three-and-out. Garcon drop on 3rd-and-4
4) Three-and-out. Hart stuffed on 3rd-and-1
5) 76-yard drive. TD
6) 56-yard drive. Missed FG
7) Pick 6
8) 81-yard drive. Turned over on downs.

Except for the interception (and yes that's a big except) what exactly did Manning do to lose the game? For all the talk of how brilliant the Saints defense played in limiting Manning's offense to 17 points I saw nothing of the kind. Check out the stats. The Colts bettered the Saints in yards and first downs. Time of possession was even. Indy was far and away the better rushing team. Now New Orleans obviously made the biggest defensive play of the game but that was just a fantastic effort by Porter. A brilliant gamble. The Saints made the key third-down stop on the Colts' fourth drive, but that was a run. And they did forced Indy into the third-and-long where Manning unwisely went for it all prior to the missed FG drive. That's really it for the great defense we saw from New Orleans. Manning just didn't have many possessions to work with. He thus needed to score four or five times on his eight possessions but blunders by teammates (Garcon, Baskett), himself, and coaches (Stover's FG attempt) thwarted his chances.

One other factor having nothing to do with Manning: special teams. Other than Football Outsiders I've seen no one point to this as the true key to the game. But you've got one team kicking three long field goals and perfectly executing an onside kick, and another team missing a long field goal and botching an onside kick recovery. And don't forget about the field position. The Colts' best starting field position all day was their own 30. New Orleans beat that on four possessions. That wasn't all due to the return game obviously but the Colts didn't have one good kick return all day. Most critically they only started from their own 11 on the drive ending in the missed field goal. The offensive and defensive stats don't show the Colts to be second-best. Throw in special teams and we've got a different story.

So Manning has to get in line if we're looking to blame people for the loss (instead of crediting the Saints). The two missed third down plays in the second quarter. The dropped onside kick. The missed FG. If any of those things go the other way maybe Manning never needs to be in the position to throw that pick to Porter. But he did. So was does that one mistake mean when addressing Mannings legacy? Well, it wasn't a crazy choke job like what Favre pulled in the NFC Championship. Some blamed Reggie Wayne. Some blamed Manning. Some said it was just a great play by Porter. I don't know enough to say how bad of a play it was on Manning's part. But he telegraphed something, showed some tendency, that Porter picked up on at the very least. Manning only made one real mistake in the game but unfortunately for him that mistake made the difference.

But consider how when Kurt Warner announced his retirement a few weeks ago people were falling all over themselves to call him a Hall of Fame lock, an odd thing to say about a quarterback with a mere 5 seasons of great play. In his favor are Warner's performances in three Super Bowls; the three highest yardage totals in Super Bowl history. But Warner lost two of those games. And in each of those two losses Warner threw interceptions returned for touchdowns that cost his team the game. Nobody seems to be holding that against him.

Given the mistakes of his teammates Manning needed to play a near-perfect game to win. He didn't and so he deserves some blame. But plenty of quarterbacks have won Super Bowls while playing a lot worse than Manning did in Super Bowl XLIV. Let's cut him a little slack.

The Pro Bowl, My Best Friend, and John Madden

I can't believe I put up that stupipd Pro Bowl post without finishing it. The whole reason I wrote about the game in the first place is because I have an actual Pro Bowl memory. You see, I exaggerated a bit when I wrote that no one cares about the game. I'm sure the players cared more once upon a time when they made very little money and worked off-season jobs. Winning meant a winner's share and every little bit helped back then. And besides the players, Past Interference actually cared! It's true. On January 20, 1974, a young me cared. My best friend Lewis and I watched with great interest. We were huge Dolphin fans and among those Dolphins on the AFC roster was my then-favorite player Bob Griese. I was excited. Nobody told me it was a worthless exhibition. The AFC's other Pro Bowl quarterback was Kenny Stabler. And to mine and Lewis' consternation AFC coach John Madden chose to play Stabler for the entire first half! Jerk! We couldn't understand it. Griese had just won his second straight Super Bowl. Stabler was a loser. What was going on? Obviously Madden, the coach of the hated Oakland Raiders, was playing favorites by giving all the glory to his boy the Snake while letting poor gallant Bob Griese waste away on the sidelines. And the AFC trailed at the half thanks to stupid Madden's decision to play Stabler and Stabler only. It made no sense.

Being clever little boys, Lewis and I took matters into our own hands and struck back the only way we knew how. We adapted the then-current Wrigley's Spearmint Gum jingle for our own purposes. The commercial may have hyped "Wrigley's Spearmint Gum, Gum, Gum" but two young budding songsmiths brilliantly repurposed it to say "Coach is very dumb, dumb, dumb". Funny stuff huh? As fate would have it, Madden played Griese for the entire second half. I suppose that might have been his plan all along but I'm sticking with my favoritism theory! Anyway, being the superior quarterback Griese led the AFC to a comeback 15-13 win and the hero of the game was another Dolphin, Garo Yepremian. He accounted for his team's points, kicking five field goals including the game-winner with 21 seconds left. Sweet. Truly we witnessed a football classic that day.

I searched YouTube in vain for that old 1974 Wrigley's commercial. But in the process I turned up something way better: a 90's Russian version of the commercial that has the same basic jingle! The collapse of communism just keeps on giving.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion

At long last the conclusion to Past Interference's Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time series, just in time for the Super Bowl XLIV festivities (like we planned it). Here are PI's rankings of the ten best Super Bowls ever played. Click the links at the bottom of this post to read PI's deeper thoughts on each game.

(10) Super Bowl XXIII. San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16. Montana.

(9) Super Bowl XXXVI. New England 20, St. Louis 17. If this is number one on your own list I won't argue. Personally, I'm still mad about how the Rams D played on that last drive because I wanted me some Super Bowl overtime.

(8) Super Bowl XXXVIII. New England 32, Carolina 29. Pure insanity. Tons of mistakes and penalties, yet action-packed and suspenseful to the final play. Nipple!

(7) Super Bowl XXXI. Denver 31, Green Bay 24. A very underrated game. Given their own unfortunate Super Bowl history combined with the NFC's incredible run of dominance in the big game, Denver's triumph here ought to be more appreciated. High-scoring and close all the way. What more do you want?

(6) Tie: Super Bowl XIII. Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31. Super Bowl XIV. Pittsburgh 31, L.A. Rams 19. PI would love to go old school and pick one of these two for the number one spot but each game suffers from the same aesthetic fatal flaw, not going down to the wire. Each could have but the Cowboys just couldn't catch a break and Vince Ferragamo turned back into Vince Ferragamo in the 4th quarter.

(4) Super Bowl XXXIV. St. Lous 23, Tennessee 16. A slightly dull first half but a classic second half more than made up for it. You couldn't ask for a better fourth quarter. The Warner-to-Bruce TD bomb, the frantic final Tennesse drive and the fateful Jones' tackle still linger in the memory.

(3) Super Bowl XLIII. Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23. I had a very hard time figuring whether this game should rank second or third. It wound up third based on what I thought was a slightly lower quality of play than in PI's choice for number two. Both the Steelers and Cardinals looked listless for long stretches of the game especially in the third quarter. The fourth quarter fireworks came as a real shocker precisely because Harrison's awesome first-half ending INT TD appeared as though it would be the only dramatic moment of the night. Luckily the Cards woke up in the 4th and the Steelers then roused themselves for a game-winning drive.

(2) Super Bowl XXV. New York 21, Buffalo 19. An exciting game from start to finish is a real Super Bowl rarity so appreciate it when you get it! Sure you could knock the paucity of truly memorable plays, but the high drama, the wild momentum swings, the heroic efforts on both sides, the true clash of styles, and the final fateful miss earn this easy honors as the best Super Bowl of the first quarter-century of the Super Bowl era.

(1) Super Bowl XLII. New York 17, New England 14. With a perfect season hanging in the balance the NFL owed us a game for the ages. And we got one: the game's drama matched the game's importance. The team's combined for "only" 31 points but with neither team capable of consecutive scores every score equalled a lead change. The tension kept building and building and building in a way that no other Super Bowl's ever matched. And Manning-to-Tyree? I didn't see the Immaculate Reception live but I'm grateful I saw this one. A magical NFL moment, a shocking upset, and, in my opinion, 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, February 5, 2010

You're talking about...the Pro Bowl?

We've seen and heard something in the last couple weeks that I can't recall ever happening before. People talking about the Pro Bowl. Yes, the Pro Bowl! That most meaningless of All-Star games. A game hardly anybody watches. A game hardly anybody cares about. Even the most diehard of NFL fans, like us at Past Interference, don't care about it. To belabor the obvious, nobody cares because: (1) Nobody tries; it's an exhibition; and (2) End of Super Bowl = end of football interest (until next season). Nothing to be done about reason number one but in a logical attempt to do something about reason number two the NFL (as you may have heard) moved the Pro Bowl from its usual spot, Hawaii, to a new spot, Miami, and from it's usual slot, a week after the Super Bowl, to a new slot, a week before the Super Bowl (8 commas in one sentence). Oh noes! The flood of negative reaction these moves produced might have fooled someone into thinking people now actually care about the Pro Bowl. But really, some people just need something to talk about, argue about and yell about. Yes, there's a small downside to the NFL's plan. Holding the game before the Super Bowl means the guys playing in the Super Bowl can't make the Pro Bowl. The absence of those guys plus the usual injury scratches left us with the ridiculous specatacle of a David Garrard taking snaps for a Pro Bowl team.

So anyway, sportswritersandtalkers ripped the NFL mercilessly for the Pro Bowl move. And guess what? NFL smart. Everyone else stupid. Pro Bowl TV ratings shot up 39% over last year! We got just as silly and meaningless a game as we always get but a lot more people watched this year's silly meaninglessness. Clearly we're starved for some football, any football, during the two week interval before the Super Bowl. Now the Super Bowl players who missed out and all of the participating players who would have preferred the Hawaii Pro Bowl experience have a legitimate gripe here. The move deprived them of something. Jim Florio of explained the dilemma best on a local radio show I heard. To paraphrase him, he asked "what is the Pro Bowl supposed to be? A revenue enhancer for the league (ratings) or a reward for the players (Hawaii)?" That's it in a nutshell. Where does the Pro Bowl go from here? Well, when you have 32 rich greedy bastards running the show I'm gonna guess money wins out in the end. So long Hawaii.