Showing posts with label NFL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NFL. Show all posts

Monday, February 4, 2008

Girls gone wild

No, it's not that sort of post, and I do realize this is a soccer blog, but I'm a sports fan in general, and I always watch the SuperBowl. This year, though, was the first time I watched it with only female friends.
"You're actually going to watch the game?" Kim said incredulously.
"Isn't that the point?" I was confused.
"I never watch the game - I just visit and try the food," Kim stated.
Rachel was more willing to give the NFL a try. "Who do you want to win?" she asked me.
"The Giants," I answered, then left the room to bring in the mango salsa. When I got back, she was hanging up the phone, telling me she'd just placed a bet with her brother-in-law on the outcome.
"Who did you bet on?" I asked.
"The Giants, of course. You're the sportswriter, so I figured you'd know."
"Rachel, you didn't ask me who I thought was going to win," I protested. "The other team is undefeated this season."
"You didn't tell me that! What's the name of the other team?"
After establishing that Peyton wasn't playing, that the reason the other quarterback looked familiar was because they're related, and yes, Gisele is dating the other quarterback, on the other team, we moved on to the trivia of what downs actually mean.
I decided metaphors were easier than repeating the rules again and again.
"American football is like a sporting pageant of war, like chess. Think of the touchdown zone like the castle, where the opponents on offense try to storm in and the defense tries desperately to keep them out. The coaches are like chess players trying to figure out the the best way to break down their rivals, the guys on the line are like really big pawns doing the grunt work, and the quarterback is the most versatile and important player."
"So Tom and Eli are queens?" asked Kim.
Metaphors work until they break down.
My friends followed the action well enough, though, and we were a pretty glum bunch when Tom Brady marched the Pats mercilessly downfield to take the lead with only a few minutes left. When Eli Manning scrambled to make that pass to David Tyree, Rachel couldn't believe it. "How is he still standing?" Then we were both more amazed at the catch. The final touchdown play was almost easy by comparison.
"I watched the game," said Kim in disbelief. "That never happens, but it was good."
Rachel, meanwhile, was gloating on the phone, collecting her bet.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What if?

What if the NFL followed MLS' asinine playoff system and let more than half of its team into the playoffs?

Of course, the NFL playoffs are no joke. Teams that make the playoffs are there because they deserve to be there, not because they weren't as bad as the really bad teams.

But what if it was like MLS, where teams can mess around for three-fourths of the season and still have a legitimate shot of playing for the league title?

Let's see...

New England went 16-0 this year and had the best regular season in NFL history. Their reward: a bye week and no travel during the AFC portion of the playoffs. But under the MLS system, they'd play away against the Denver Broncos, who finished 7-9 and had a forgettable regular season.

The Indianapolis Colts, who won their division for the fifth consecutive season, would begin their title defense at Buffalo, who like Denver went a lousy 7-9.

The NFL, though, does it right. The NFL playoffs are a reward, not a consequence. Cleveland went 10-6 and still did not make the postseason. An MLS team will never finish their season with a .625 winning percentage and fail to make the playoffs.

I loathe the MLS playoff system. I think it's outdated, pathetic and rewards mediocrity. It hinders the league a great deal. Whatever team is top-of-table in June and July, it won't really matter because it will be canceled out by a team that's barely treading water come playoff time.

There will be 14 teams in the league this year. What makes most sense is to let six teams into the postseason, give the conference winners byes and let the second and third seeds duke it out in a one-off match at the second seed. Winner goes to number one for a conference final and winners meet in MLS Cup. Or, better yet, do away with the conferences, give the top two teams byes and have 3-6 and 4-5 meet in the playoffs.

But that makes too much sense. You'd only see that kind of sense in a league like the NFL.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What brave new world?

It could just be a muddy NFL game in London.

Or it could be the beginning of the apocalypse.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cross-training

In this month's issue of Men's Health magazine, there is a short piece on athletes from one sport who use another sport as part of their training regimen. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson is featured.

Johnson has appeared on TV and in print before about his love of soccer so I wasn't surprised to see him there. It's cool though for the added exposure he can give soccer.

There is a cool picture of him juggling a soccer ball while wearing a Sporting Lisbon jersey.


Disaster averted

A talented, young athlete complains to the media about their situation and the team is left to deal with the fallout.

But unlike Hope Solo and the US women's national team, Matt Leinart and the Arizona Cardinals handled such a situation professionally and level-headed.

Here's Leinart's situation: He was a high draft choice and labeled the franchise quarterback. He played some last season but the team struggled overall. This year, he was named the starting quarterback in the preseason but the Cardinals lost their opener. In game two, Leinart threw 299 yards and a TD as the Cardinals upset Seattle. Week 3 was the turning point of the season so far; Leinart struggled against the Ravens. He was 9-for-20 for 53 yards and was pulled in favor of Kurt Warner, who led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title several years ago and once considered one of the top quarterbacks in the game. Warner led the Cardinals to a comeback though the Cardinals still lost. However, Warner made an impression on Ken Whisenhunt and the first-year coach used both Warner and Leinart Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Cardinals won 21-14.

However, that win didn't exactly make Leinart happy, as he talked to Yahoo.com's Michael Silver.

During the game, Leinart snapped at the offensive coordinator and glared at his coach. Afterward, Leinart expressed frustration over his situation:

I just want them to ride or die with me. If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and I guess they have their reasons. But I don't understand it, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched.

So, how did Whisenhunt react to Leinart's reaction?

He reacted just the way I hoped he'd react. He was mad, and he wanted to play. That's the sign of a competitor – of a guy who can be our franchise quarterback for a long time.

And how did Warner react?

It's a hard situation for him; if I were the starter, I'd be upset. As the backup, I have no complaints. All I can ask for is a chance to play every week. It's working, for now.

The Cardinals haven't exactly been the model for NFL success, in fact, it's quite the contrary. The Cardinals have made the playoffs once since 1983. Still, the Cardinals seemingly handled the situation well. Warner, the veteran and Super Bowl champion, didn't come out and say that there were 52 guys united and that they needed for everyone to be in line; Whisenhunt didn't boot Leinart off the team or even relegate him to the bench full-time and I doubt Ron Wolfley (former Cardinals running back and current radio announcer) said he wouldn't want to catch passes from Leinart.

Yet the US women, supposedly one of the world's great national teams, handled a similar situation the way you would expect a team not used to winning anything would. But level-headed and sane people can still be found in sports.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Big day

Ah, Super Bowl Sunday. I'm enjoying being a fan for this one. It's amazing that with so much wall-to-wall media coverage, practically nothing insightful or original is being said. Perhaps it got lost in the glut of saturation. No matter. I devour the fluff pieces, the opinion ones, the prognostications, it's all a part of the pageantry of the "big game".

Being raised on American football and the World Cup hard-wired me to love a final. There's something both fatalistic and exhilarating to have it all come down to one game. I love that the last game matters, that it generally sets up the best versus the best. To me, that's what makes a single-table structure often anti-climactic - a team can sew up the title before the season ends, and it can clinch against a low-ranked team, on a day that no one has been able to plan for. The ones I hate the most are when a team wins a game, then goes home, and finds out there that the outcome of another team's result means they have clinched the title. Great. They're at home in their socks when they become champions. Lame. Plus, it makes it hard for the fans to prepare the party, because they're never quite sure when the title will come.

It's not that I refuse to watch the soccer abroad because of it - I follow it. I still like the elimination structure of Champions' League, though, for example.

Anyway, since I currently don't have an NFL beat, and I can just be a spectator, I'm soaking in all the pomp and build-up of the Super Bowl and marveling at how far MLS Cup has to go. Honestly, though, I think David Beckham in the championship game would make everything jump a factor in that direction.

So the friends are coming over, the big screen is set, the menu planned, (it's all about oven-ready appetizers), and the super sporting day is here. Yay for big events!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hispanics ignore football

No, not that one. The other one. At least according to the New York Times. I kind of wish Don Garber hadn't been so optimistic about the NFL's chances here. It'd be kind of funny to have an MLS bigwig say, "Yeah, American football has really dropped the ball here, but MLS has picked it up and run with it all the way to the bank."

Thing is, not even every MLS team has a site in Spanish. The Galaxy don't. The PR department was working on one for this year, but then the Beckham signing knocked them for a loop, and now I don't know where they're at with that project.

Real Salt Lake, of all places, had one right from the start.

A little bit short of a billion

I don't know where the NFL gets its statistics. I'm not quite sure if they think that since they are the leading sports league in the United States that gives them the right to embellish several key figures.

When I read that the NFL claims a potential 1 billion people around the world will watch the Super Bowl, I sighed. One billion people? To watch an American football game? Of course, the NFL commissioner drops that number and everyone runs with it.

I tried to do some research to see if that number had some basis to it but I was having problems. Then I found out why. Seems that, while it's easy to figure out an American viewing audience, the task of figuring out how many people watch the Super Bowl outside of the U.S. is not quite as easy.

Yes, it will be televised in 232 countries. Yes, it will be broadcast in Korea live for the first time. Yes, it will be broadcast in 33 languages. No, that does not mean 1 billion people will watch the Super Bowl.

I found this interesting story online. It debunks some myths about the Super Bowl, not just those regarding television viewership. The writer, Bill Briggs, says that at most there were 151 million viewers tuned in to last year's Super Bowl based on statistics he found (apparently, he's a better researcher than me).

The NFL is king in America but it wants to spread its tentacles worldwide. There have been preseason games over in Europe, Mexico and Asia and next season there will be a regular-season game in London. NFL Europe has found its niche in Germany and Holland and former NFL commish Paul Tagliabue said while in office that he would grant Mexico City an expansion team the next time the NFL expanded (though his successor Roger Goodell has made no such claim).

But while soccer is a minor sport here in the states, it is still king of the world. Nothing can touch it. Olympics come close but nothing can match the World Cup in terms of interest, marketing, appeal, prestige, etc.

Like I said earlier, I wasn't the best researcher. So I couldn't find figures for the 2006 World Cup and viewership. But I did find some stats for the 2002 World Cup (maybe it takes FIFA four years to compile such statistics).

Anyway, according to FIFA, a cumulative total of 28.8 billion people watched Korea/Japan 2002. Divide 28.8 billion by 64 (the total number of games) and each game had an average viewing audience of 437 million, or thereabouts. And for every Paraguay-Slovenia match, there was a Brazil-England.

Astounding as those figures are, just factor in the kickoff times (early in the morning throughout Europe, in the middle of the night across the Americas) and the frenzied passion the World Cup stirs is evident, a passion that the Super Bowl will never stretch across the American borders.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Resident contrarian

I've been avoiding bringing up the topic of the SuperBowl around Luis. I mean, it was obvious who he was pulling for when he showed up in full Chicago Bears regalia to the USMNT practice the other day, causing sometime Chi Town resident Bob Bradley to comment on his gear.

"It's been over twenty years!" Luis said in response. "They've got to win."

I like Chicago. I've been to visit three times, have friends from there, and have nice memories of a free cab ride to Toyota Park at Bridgeview, on my last trip for the Open Cup final.

All that said, I don't think the Bears are going to win. I think Tony Dungy is too canny of a coach and Peyton Manning too polished of a quarterback to be denied the ring they both want so badly.

I can't really root for the Colts - I've no emotional connection to the squad. I've never been to the city. I respect their performances, however. I don't think Da Bears are taking this one.

If I'm wrong, of course, it's going to be a long road trip to Arizona, because Luis will have plenty to gloat about.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Mexican headed to Kansas City

Kansas City's most popular player helped lure a big-time Mexican star to the U.S. this week. Friday, K.C. signed Ramiro Pruneda out of Monterrey and in the process kept him from going to Europe.

So, is Pruneda going to be a boost to Eddie Johnson and Co.? Well, not exactly.

Pruneda made his name playing futbol americano. The K.C. he signed with is the Chiefs, whose popular tight end, Tony Gonzalez, helped lure Pruneda to the NFL. In fact, Kansas City thought so highly of Pruneda that they did not make him go to NFL Europe and instead inked him to a two-year deal.

Pruneda is an oddity in Mexico. At 6-foot-6 and 317 pounds, Pruneda may as well have been a corn-fed good ol' boy from Nebraska. Instead, he is from Nuevo Leon and made his name leading Monterrey Tech to several Mexican championships (yes, they do play that kind of futbol in Mexico).