Wheels-off Monday Night Football Game

Last night’s Monday Night Football game had some issues.  The problems began before the game even started with Kat Deluna’s atrocious rendition of the National Anthem.  This will go down in history as one of the worst in a long line of terrible renditions of this song.  It was a terrible version filled with growling and runs all over the place.  It was off-key and badly sung in general.  At least she was all into herself instead of the lyrics.  They could have found someone better at the American Idol tryouts.  Thanks to Dallas fans for appropriately booing her sorry ass.

Being on ESPN, we had to put up with the idiot, Tony Kornheiser.  Now that Bryant Gumble is gone, he is, bar none, the worst sports commentator on television.  Last night, as I was frantically and unsuccessfully trying to get “The Ticket” (the Cowboys’ flagship station) to tune in on my radio, I came to the horrible realization that I would rather listen to Brent Musberger.  I never thought I would say that, but sadly it is true.

It is apparent that whatever the ESPN commentators are talking about is much more important than anything else that must be going on, especially the game itself.  At one point Stuart Scott was making some general point about DeSean Jackson after a play where he obviously got hurt.  Since the injury did not do anything to bolster his argument, I guess Scott felt that the injury was not worth mentioning.  Also, it is evident that ESPN is not concerned with providing their audience with a replay even if there is a questionable component to a play.  Thank goodness the refs finally got one right when they reversed the claim that a ball had been tipped (by a phantom, I guess) late in the game.  It was obvious that the ESPN crew was not even watching the game at that point, and it took the refs to point out the play to them.  Thank goodness for Tivo/DVR.  With it, I am able to rewind and review pertinent events of the game on my own, and then fast forward past all of the “blah, blah, blah.  There has to be someone better than this crew out there.  Please find them.

This all being said, the viewers of the game were treated to one of the best Monday Night Football games in history.  What an enjoyable shootout it was.  I make no secret of the fact that I am from the Dallas area, and am a lifelong Dallas fan, and as a result, an Eagles (and Redskins) hater.  This made the game all the better for me.  The rest of the league is lucky that the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants have to play six games against each other this season.  Overall, it was a great game, but it was not perfect on either side of the ball or with the striped shirts.

On this point, I want to say first that I do not consider myself to be a bad fan, one that always complains and finds fault in a game.  There are those guys who would pick apart a victory if their team won 50-0.  I am not like that, but that does not mean that I am blinded by victory either.

One thing that I believe is very hard for players to overcome is a tendency to make bad in-game decisions.  There are those players who perform well, but in certain situations fall apart or make catastrophic mistake.  Usually, this is occurs under pressure.

Monday night’s game had more than its fair share of these moments.  Some times a play simply underscores the fact that a player is a knucklehead in general.  Cowboy fans can thank DeSean Jackson for replacing Leon Lett as the player who made the most boneheaded decision in league history.  Get ready Eagles fans, I’m sure you will have years to enjoy the antics of this idiot if he can survive the Philadelphia media.  There is a great quote from Bull Durham that applies well to this discussion.  Crash Davis says, “Come on, ‘rook, show us that million-dollar arm. ‘Cause I got; oh yeah, I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours.”

Jackson’s folly overshadowed two other brain-dead plays that had a much greater impact on the game.  Late in the game, Donovan McNabb did his best Lucy Van Pelt impersonation when he stuck the ball out for Brian Westbrook, drew is back, and then stuck it back out again just in time to cause a game-changing fumble.  There is really no good explanation for this play, but he was just matching a equally bad decision made by Romo earlier in the game.

In that instance, Romo went to pitch the ball back to Marion Barber III, and had it slip out of his hands in his own end zone. Romo, instead of kicking the ball out of the end zone for a safety, the appropriate play at the time, picked it up.  This allowed him the opportunity to perform a Romo-like play and simply throw the ball away, as he was outside of the pocket when he got to it.  Instead, however, he picked up the ball, and looked for a moment as if he thought he were Barry Sanders, and was going to run it out of the end zone from eight yards deep himself.  Unfortunately, when he looked up there were four Eagles there ready to fustigate him.  Again, instead of making the good decision, and taking the safety, he decided to try to throw the ball away too late, and handed the Eagles a touchdown.

Look, I like Romo, and think he is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game of football today.  The problem is that I am beginning to worry about his ‘five cent head.’  Tony has shown a propensity for the bonehead play in his career so far, be it the faulty hold against Seattle, untimely interceptions or his highlight play when he scrambled all over the field for a first down (it was still a bad football decision, though it was very entertaining to watch.).  Many people have compared his ‘gunslinger’ mentality to Brett Favre (I hate these nauseous comparisons.).  We are told that ‘when you have a guy like this, you have to take the bad with the good.’  I don’t get this argument.  I just want the good.  I want a player’s great talent and ability to be bolstered by him smart in-game decisions.  That is what wins championships.  I’m starting to be afraid that when the chips are on the line, in a must-win game, that his ‘gunslinger’ mentality will result in Cowboy fans being shot through the heart.  I truly hope I am wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reaction to ESPN’s Top 10 Running Backs List

Due to hectic events, I have been a little remiss in writing lately.  I hope to make up for some of that with this hot sports opinion.

 

ESPN has published a list of the top running backs of all time, and it is a big steaming pile of horse s—.  You know it must be the slowest sports time of the year when they have nothing better to dredge up than the second most tired argument in sports (the first being the Pete Rose Hall of Fame argument)- the ‘who was better Emmitt or Barry’ argument.  I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the purpose of this article is simply to create interest through ‘shock value.’

 

Here is a short version of the list:

1. JIM BROWN
Career: Upon retiring before ’66 season, the Browns’ RB was all-time leader in rushing yards (12,312), all-purpose yards (15,549) and touchdowns (126).

2. BARRY SANDERS
Career: Sudden retirement in ’99 came with the Lions’ RB trailing only Walter Payton on the all-time rushing list. Ran for more than 1,500 yards in a season five times.

3. WALTER PAYTON
Career: Played on mediocre Bears teams until late in career but retired as leading rusher (16,726) in history.

4. EMMITT SMITH
Career: Smith, who played 13 seasons for Dallas and two for Arizona, took over as all-time rushing leader in ’02. His 164 rushing touchdowns are the most in history.

5. GALE SAYERS
Career: Knee problems forced him to retire in ’71 after seven seasons with the Bears. At 33, he was the youngest person selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

6. LADAINIAN TOMLINSON
Career: The Chargers’ RB has at least 1,200 rushing yards and 50 receptions in each of his first seven seasons.

7. MARSHALL FAULK
Career: Began career with Indianapolis in ’94 but was traded to St. Louis in ’99 and became cornerstone of “Greatest Show on Turf.” First running back in history to lead his team in receptions in five different seasons.

8. O.J. SIMPSON
Career: The Bills’ great became the first player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season when he gained 2,003 in ’73.

9. LENNY MOORE
Credentials: One of Johnny Unitas’ key weapons for the Colts, he scored a touchdown in 18 straight regular-season appearances between ’63 and ’65.

10. ERIC DICKERSON
Credentials: Reached 10,000 rushing yards in 91 games (the fastest pace in history) and rushed for 2,105 yards in ’84. Played for Rams, Colts, Falcons and Raiders.

 

To distance themselves from the ridiculousness of this list, they have been upfront in giving credit/assessing blame to these authors of the list Don Shula, Marv Levy, Dan Reeves, Robert Smith, Jerry Richardson, Floyd Reese, Jack Bushofsky and Emmitt Thomas.

 

I do not have a problem with Jim Brown being at the top of the list.  What he did during the time he was in the league, and when he did it compared with the other running backs of his era, makes his stand out above the rest on the list.

 

I start having problems at number two on the list.  Emmitt Smith is at number four.  I will deal with the tiring Barry/Emmitt argument first.  I do not want to hear about Barry’s self-truncated career any more.  He was a great back, but his career does not compare with Emmitt’s because he threw a fit and quit.  We do not know if he would have had a better career that Emmitt, because,… he quit.  There is no data, and it is not fair to project ‘could have been’ data to an argument such as this.  Barry should be on the list, but I put him at number five.  All of you Barry lovers need to let it go and realize that his early retirement actually hurt his legacy.

 

The authors of this article defend the list by saying that Walter Payton was great while playing most of his career on bad teams.  On the contrary, they spend a whole section of the article backhandedly complimenting Emmitt and explaining his position at number four as a result of the fact that he played with other stars, such as Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, together with a great offensive line who assisted in making Emmitt good.

 

How about this argument?  It is easier for a great running back to rack up yards on a bad team than a good team.  A bad team will place a larger part of the load on a great running back’s shoulders in order to keep from exposing the other bad parts of the offense.  On the other hand, a player like Emmitt could lose carries to other great players in his offense.  It seems worse than wrong to penalize a player for being on a great team.  The Cowboys played a #1 schedule against some of the best teams (including being in the NFC East) in the league for much of Emmitts career.  Payton and Sanders played much easier schedules in a much weaker division.  Check out Sanders’ performance in games that counted.  He could turn in a nice 25 yard performance with the season on the line.  Emmitt never did this.

 

Emmitt closed the deal also.  He not only set the all-time rushing record and the all-time rushing touchdowns record, he carried the Cowboys to three Superbowl victories in four years.  The article curiously gives some numbers, but does not just lay them out for consumption.  This is, of course, because the numbers do not back up the opinions espoused by the authors.  They oddly say, “Sudden retirement in ’99 came with the Lions’ RB trailing only Walter Payton on the all-time rushing list. Ran for more than 1,500 yards in a season five times”, regarding Barry Sanders.  When it comes time for the quick blurb about Emmitt it says, “Smith, who played 13 seasons for Dallas and two for Arizona, took over as all-time rushing leader in ’02. His 164 rushing touchdowns are the most in history.”  Dallas’ playoff record and Superbowl victories are not mentioned.  Of course, looking pretty as you run down the field is much more important than actually putting skins on the wall.

 

While I believe there is a legitimate debate near the top of the list, it begins to fall apart after Emmitt.  I am truly tired of seeing Gale Sayers at the top of these lists.  He is the biggest example of ‘good old days syndrome’ in sports.  In truth, if he had played in the last few years, we would not have even made the Hall of Fame.  His numbers compare with someone like Terrell Davis, who also had a very good short career, but does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, the argument that he is in the Hall of Fame is used to bolster many backs such as Davis who do not deserve to be there.

 

Seeing the rest of this list only underscores how difficult it is to have a great and sustained career at running back in the NFL.  Of course, Dickerson belongs on the list and much higher than #10.  He belongs in the top five in my book easily.  Compared with some of the others on the list, and listening to names that arises when the best backs of all time are listed, he may be the most underrated of the greatest running backs in the history of the game.

 

Even though he as a bastard and a killer, O.J. belongs on the list, and I put him at #6.  He was a undeniably the best back of his era.  Faulk probably deserve to be on the list, but he was as much a receiver as a rusher.  He changed the way the position was played, and he has his skins in the wall.  I put him at #7.

 

I’ really like Ladainian Tomlinson, and agree that if he continues to put up number even close to those he has so far, he may end up as the greatest back in the history of the game.  The point is, he has not done it yet, and as a result, I have to give him an incomplete, and cannot include him on the list.  He has already had one ‘career ending’ injury, and was hurt at the end of the last two seasons.  It is too early to give him a place on the list.  When I was in college, as a history major, we talked about the concept of history.  We were told that it is best not to write history until about twenty years after the fact.  This allows time for personal politics and such to wash away, and just leave the facts.  The same goes for this list.  We should at least allow the player’s career to end before evaluating it.

 

Lenny Moore?  Oh yeah, his name just rolls of the tongue in any conversation involving great running backs.  I find it interesting that they say his longevity, and the good job he did on a great team with other great players on the team, propelled him onto the list while these same facts seemed to hold Smith from reaching the top of the list.

 

Here is my list:

1. Jim Brown

2. Emmitt Smith

3. Walter Payton

4. Eric Dickerson

5. Barry Sanders

6. Marshall Faulk

7. OJ Simpson

8. Franco Harris

9. Earl Campbell (There is a big drop off to the last two places, and I might be talked into some else at these two slots).

 

Here are a couple of other lists for comparison, though the second is very suspect:

List 1

List 2