Bill Simmons is my favorite sportswriter. He has been for the last 3 years or so. I didn’t become a really big fan of his until the spring of 2007 when he was constantly producing great NBA and college basketball columns once or twice a week. But the first time he ever caught my eye as a writer, was back in the summer of 2005. My friend Peder mentioned to me that this guy at ESPN.com had written an awesome column that compared some of the best moments from the movie ‘Anchorman’ to the best moments of the NBA offseason that year. I loved it, and I couldn’t help but notice how unique it was compared to all other sports columns I had ever read. The premise of the column seemed so absurd, because it was just making a bunch of crazy analogies that nobody else would have ever thought of, and yet, it worked. Really well. You should read it (after you’re done reading this, of course). So maybe the fact that I’ve read so many of “The Sports Guy’s” columns since, is the reason that I had the most random analogy pop up in my head the other day. It was kind of like, “Running back A would clearly by Sitcom X to Running back B’s Sitcom Y”. Why did I have this random thought that then made me want to dig deeper and eventually write this nonsensical blog post? We may never know. But this should be fun.
Before I get started, the rules of these comparisons are that I am comparing some of the greatest running backs in NFL history to the “greatest” sitcoms of my era (the 1990’s and 2000’s). There will be some facts used for comparisons, but mainly, this is all my opinion. If you don’t like it, comment on it.
LaDainian has had a really successful career. Two and 1/2 Men has been a very successful show. I think Tomlinson benefited from a pretty good o-line, playing in a relatively weak division, his team constantly giving him goal line carries to inflate his touchdown stats, and glorification from his head coach (Marty Schottenheimer) and ESPN. Two and 1/2 Men benefited from getting it’s start by “playing behind it’s good o-line” represented by “Everybody Loves Raymond”, then eventually was never up against any big time comedies from other networks (weak competition), and was made the centerpiece of CBS’s comedy lineup on Monday nights to pad it’s stats, and was also given Emmy’s and Golden Globes and constantly promoted by it’s “coach” (CBS) so we would believe it was a good show. Sure both LaDainian and 2 1/2 Men earned a lot of this favorable treatment, but all of those rushing touchdowns can’t convince me that Tomlinson is a top 10 running back of all time, just like Emmy’s and ratings can’t convince me that Two and 1/2 Men is one of the greatest comedies of my era. I don’t know a single person who watches that show regularly and insists that it’s great. I do know people who think Tomlinson is great (or at least was) but I’m not convinced, and this is my opinion and my blog.
I’ve never been a big fan of Faulk or of Scrubs, but when you watch either one, you can’t deny that you’re seeing a quality performance. I kind of had a prejudice against Faulk because he played for the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams that stole all of the thunder from my beloved Vikings (plus they torched us on the way to their Super Bowl), and I also always unfairly disliked Scrubs because it seemed too goofy and I didn’t want to like a show that took place in a hospital (maybe it made me think of ER; maybe I just hate needles, blood, and guts). Also Zach Braff kind of annoyed me like Brenda Warner annoyed me when the Rams were good. Anyhow, the more I watch Scrubs, which I seem to do a lot of lately, because my roommate adores it, and the more I watch Faulk play, the more I like them, and the respect I have for them increases. Both Faulk and Scrubs were “traded” (Faulk: from the Colts to the Rams, Scrubs: dropped by NBC, picked up by ABC) during their relative primes, and both show great versatility: Faulk with his ability to be a great runner and a great receiver out of the backfield; Scrubs with its ability to be funny, go quasi-musical for an entire episode, or even be a soap opera sometimes (which is the best reason why I don’t like the show as a whole). Whether I like to admit it or not, Faulk is one of the great running backs in NFL history, and Scrubs is one of the notable sitcoms of my era.
O.J. Simpson – The Simpsons
I know, I know, this seems silly to go this route. I have to admit when I was growing up, whenever I heard the name O.J. Simpson, I thought of the Simpsons, because it’s just not that common of a name, and I did love that show. O.J. didn’t have nearly the length in career that the Simpsons have had as a running TV show, but what we can say is that O.J. put up some of the greatest single seasons that any running back had ever put up, and the Simpsons put up some great seasons in their early years as well. Particularly season 5 of O.J.’s career was the single greatest season in NFL history, and season 5 of the Simpsons was their greatest season. Also, the 300th episode mark for the Simpsons was the unofficial end to that show for me, and since then it’s been a train wreck, much like O.J.’s life after his career ended. I’m afraid years from now people will remember the Simpsons as the animated sitcom that was on TV way too long, and forget how great it once was, just like people from my generation know O.J. as a lunatic who most likely murdered his wife and got away with it, rather than one of the best running backs ever. See, this analogy thing is working out, isn’t it?
Now maybe it’s not true that everyone really does love the show Everybody Loves Raymond, but it is the name of the show, and I contend, that everybody loves Barry Sanders. I mean, he was a thorn in my side as a Vikings fan, and yet how can I not love the guy? I don’t know anybody that has anything bad to say about the guy as a person or a player. He was very successful in Detroit despite never having a great passing game or formidable offensive line to help him, just like Raymond had the challenge of being a great sitcom on a bad “team” of its own at the time (CBS) in a time when the dominant sitcoms were on NBC (the biggest ones will be named later in this column, so I don’t want to give them away). For the most part this analogy is weak, but I rank Raymond as one of the top 3 sitcoms of my era, and I rank Sanders as probably the #3 running back of all time as well.
Dickerson came into the league and had immediate impact. The standard that young running backs have to measure themselves against when they come into the league are Dickerson’s early career numbers. When Peterson came into the league, he immediately started drawing comparisons to Dickerson because of the early success, the upright running style with blazing speed, and the fact that they both originated in Texas. I don’t really know anything about the success of the Office in the U.K., but it was successful enough to be redone here in the U.S., and so it must have done quite well. Dickerson was so good so early, that the remainder of his career doesn’t seem as great simply because of how good he was early on. I worry the same for Adrian. The U.S. version of the Office had a shortened first season that was really good (much like Adrian), and then seemed to peak in its second season (also, much like Adrian thus far). In it’s third season, you could already see the show slipping, and year after year after that, it continued to decline in quality. I hope Adrian’s drop off in year 3 is not a sign that he will fulfill this comparison. As for Dickerson and the Office U.K. version, I can’t really make any comparisons, it just works too well that Adrian looks like a remake of Dickerson, and obviously the U.S. Office is a remake of the U.K. Office. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but it just seemed like the obvious choice. By the way, I know it’s preposterous to include Adrian in this discussion, but when he was so good those first two years, he had a ton of people saying things like, “could go down as the greatest of all time” and “I’ve never seen a running back combine speed and power so well”, much like when I watched Season 1 of The Office (my favorite season, and also Adrian’s rookie year has been my favorite thus far) it was so good that it made me utter the preposterous statement of, “if they keep this up, this show is going to be better than “(my favorite show that will be named later in column)”, which now seems so ridiculous, and it makes me feel stupid for ever saying it. I hope people 10 years from now aren’t regretting their comments about Adrian in the same way.
Gale Sayers – Arrested Development
To me, AD is so good, that I would put it’s three seasons worth of episodes up against any equal number of episodes from any other show, and AD will be better every time. That doesn’t quite make it my favorite show, or even the greatest show, in my opinion, but it’s worth noting the greatness in a short amount of time, and the potential that was there. Could there be a better fit for an analogy than what I just described and Gale Sayers’ career? The guy only played 7 seasons, only 3 of which were full 14 game seasons, and yet he still made 4 Pro Bowls and was named to 5 1st team All Pro teams. My dad is a Bears fan, and he swears by how great and elusive Sayers was for that short time. He said that Sayers gave you that edge-of-your-seat-because-this-guy-can-take-it-to-the-house-at-any-moment feeling (a lot of hyphens, I know) that guys like Peterson, Sanders, and Dickerson were known for, only Sayers may have been better than all of them. But, longevity has to count for something, so Sayers isn’t a top 5 running back of all time (although he is a Hall of Famer) and AD is not my favorite show of all time, but they both deserve consideration and the immortality that comes with being mentioned in my blog (huh?).
I’m doing these last three all together because I’m sick of saying “the show or player will be named later in the blog” and these three have to play off of each other a little bit to work. It starts with Jim Brown (and I’ll reveal now that Brown and Smith were the two I had the original random thought about that inspired this blog entry). Brown is considered by most, to be the greatest running back of all time. I agree with that, and I’ll also swear up and down that Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all time. They both lasted 9 seasons, and they both went out earlier than they needed to, but they wanted to leave on their terms, and go out on top. I don’t really have to say much more on Seinfeld and Brown because that right there is a pretty strong case. Now, I’ve always thought that Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all time, and Friends was NBC’s chick version of Seinfeld that was nearly as popular (thanks to women) but nowhere near as good. Much like Emmitt Smith is probably a name that is known by far more women in this country because he’s more recent and accomplished more records than Brown, Friends might rival Seinfeld’s sitcom popularity supremacy due to large female audiences. But Smith would have been nothing if it hadn’t been for the amazing team around him, and Friends’ success could be largely attributed to riding the coattails of Seinfeld in its early going. Plus, I hate Friends, and I can’t stand Emmitt Smith. You can’t convince me that he was better than someone like Curtis Martin or Corey Dillon. He just had a better situation. Now, where Curb comes in, is that it came years after Seinfeld, but was the brainchild of the same man: Larry David. Its brilliant, but it’s not quite as good as Seinfeld, and it also is unique because it airs on HBO. Payton broke all of Brown’s records (only to have them broken by Smith) but Brown dogged Payton when people suggested that he was better than himself because Payton played longer than Brown, and plus medical advances made it easier to stay healthy, and the lengthened season padded his stats as well. People may have been willing to suggest that Curb was better than Seinfeld, but it has had more freedom to be creative over at HBO (no censoring, don’t have to fit into a ½ hour time slot with commercials, not burdened with coming up with a full 22-episode season each year). I like Curb a lot, but I think it’s just a few notches down from Seinfeld, much like how much I like Payton, but still see him a few notches down from Brown. Smith and Friends really aren’t in the same tier of greatness that Brown and Payton, and Seinfeld and Curb are.
So there you have it, the most bizarre blog post from me yet, but I plan on doing this again. It was fun. I would love to hear any crazy analogies I may have whiffed on here, so please comment if you’ve got any good ones I didn’t mention, or if you can make a better case for why any of my analogies are wrong.
Well, was it possible for me to be more wrong about the Super Bowl? I sure came off as confident, and perhaps arrogant in my Super Bowl prediction post, almost Tony Dungy-esque. I think I was blinded my bitterness coming off of the Vikings’ loss to the Saints, and I was far too influenced by the Saints’ last performance, which I was underwhelmed by. I also had endless confidence in Manning’s abilities, and ironically, a throw made by him put the game out of reach for his team. So here are my top 5 observations that I take away from the game, some of which I hope are a bit more under the radar than others.
5. Garrett Hartley: Clutch
The same guy who missed a chip-shot to avoid an eventual overtime loss to the pathetic Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 16 of the regular season came through with 3 huge field goals in this game, all of which came at 40+ yards. This kid was perhaps the greatest unsung hero of the night. Sean Payton put his full trust in him to not only put points on the board, but to do so when missing means putting the Colts offense in great field position. (Stash that point away for later.)
4. The Onside Kick: Good Coaching, Bad Coaching, Bad Hands, or just plain luck?
As soon as the second half started with that onside kick, (which was perfectly kicked) I immediately was disappointed in myself for not seeing it coming. Sean Payton just strikes you as the kind of guy who will roll the dice (already proven by the 4th down run at the goal line), and you knew he didn’t want Manning to march on his D again to go down two scores. The statistic was that this was the first ever non-fourth quarter onside kick in Super Bowl history, so I give Payton credit for having the guts to make this call, knowing the Colts wouldn’t expect it, but also knowing it could backfire. I thought that I should have know that the onside kick was a possibility, but who should have really suspected it were the guys getting 6 figures to coach a professional football team on the Colts sideline. I think the special teams coordinator should have realized the idea of it, or maybe even Jim Caldwell. But maybe that’s a bit unfair of me. But then there’s Hank Baskett, whose name would suggest that the ball would land softly in his grasp and never leave, but on the contrary, he just looked about as athletic as Stanley Hudson in the basketball episode of The Office, and let the ball bounce off of him and into a big scrum for the ball. I thought the replay looked like the Colts had it, but if the refs don’t see it right away, it’s up for grabs in that pile, so you can’t complain. So with all of the “bounces” that seemed to go the Saints’ way in order to execute this onside kick, it was kind of a lucky play, which in football, sometimes you need to win.
3. The Stover 51 yard FG miss: Worst decision of the night outside of the Manning interception
Matt Stover has been a very accurate kicker throughout his career. That being said, I cannot disagree with Caldwell’s decision to send him out there to kick that 51 yarder with a 17-16 lead any more. At that point in the game, the Colts were having a bit of trouble stopping the Saints’ offense, so why would you kick a field goal that A) if you miss, gives them the ball at their own 41, or B) if you make, you kick off to them and they get the ball between their 35-15 (guessing), when you could punt and pin them inside the 10 or 5 and make it very hard for them to produce a scoring drive. Also, it’s risk versus reward. With a make, you take your lead from 1 to 4, which pushes it past a field goal game, but it’s still a one possession game, and the Saints get decent field position with a make and great field position with a miss. If it would have made it a two score game, or put the Colts up by 1 or 2, or tied the game, I would have agreed with the decision because of reward of the situation. But a 42 year old kicker out doors does not give you a good enough chance to make the kick for what you could gain from it. They should have punted.
2. The 4th and goal decision by Payton: Correct, but did he get lucky again?
I thought that Sean Payton made the right choice to go for the touchdown on fourth down and goal in the second quarter, but he lucked out that the Colts were slightly too content with a seven point lead, and he got an extra 3 points out of it. The way I see it, the way the Colts were moving the ball in the first half, it would have been foolish to kick the field goal and give Peyton the ball at about the 25 with about 2 minutes to go in the half. I see that as best case scenario 10-6, worst case scenario 17-6, and possibly 13-6, but most likely would have looked like 17-6 Colts at halftime. With his decision to go for it, even when the Colts got the stop, they had to play tight and run the ball to get out of the shadow of their goalpost to avoid giving the Saints the ball back with really good field position. Even if the Colts had gotten the first down on the Addai run on 2nd down and long, it would have already killed almost a minute of their time to march down the field, since they weren’t calling timeouts due to fear of the Saints getting the ball again.
1. Garcon’s drop early in the 2nd quarter: ouch
Up until that point, the Colts had scored on every possession. The score was 10-3, and Peyton was making every big throw while being pressured, or picking apart the coverage when the Saints would drop 8 and rush only 3. On this particular play, it was third down, and Garcon got single man to man coverage with Jabari Greer, and he ran a perfectly crisp route that left him wide open as he crossed the field coming out of his break. Peyton led him perfectly in stride, and I think Pierre started to look at all of that open green grass ahead of him, and he just missed an easy reception. Now it’s only speculation, but I dare say that the Colts go on to keep moving the ball and dominating the time of possession in the first half if that catch is made, but instead, Peyton and the Colts had to punt and the Saints played the ball control style of offense, and went on to dominate the quarter. Otherwise, it could have been at least a two score game at half time, and I’m not sure the Colts aren’t the Super Bowl Champions today. That’s an awful lot of speculation, but that’s just my take. Drops like that are disheartening, and it just felt like a bad omen and a huge missed opportunity for the Colts.
Anyhow, you Saints can enjoy this for now, but next year hopefully the old man either retires or breaks in his first preseason game, and Tarvaris Jackson and the Vikings will trounce you in the Metrodome.
My Super Bowl XLV Prediction:
Vikings 34, Ravens 24
Haha, Go Vikes!