Tag Archives: NFL

Watching the NFL bail the Steelers out…

The Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger have accepted Big Ben’s suspension and will move forward.  Luckily for them, the NFL has set them up to still be very successful next year and they aren’t afraid to capitalize on Big Ben’s transgressions for which they were so quick to punish him.

By reminded that Roethlisberger’s ban is six games long with the option of being reduced to four with good behavior.  Now let the following just sink in for a second:

The Steelers’ first six games: one 2009 playoff  team (Baltimore), zero games in primetime

The Steelers’ final ten games: six 2009 playoff teams (Cincinnati twice, Baltimore, New Orleans, New England, New York Jets), five games in primetime

Did the NFL expect the sports world to read the above with anything but a puzzled look?

Two things are clear:

1) The league wants to protect the Steelers to allow them to have a fighting chance at making the playoffs.

2) The league wants to capitalize on Big Ben’s return by putting him in primetime.  (By the way, if Roethlisberger’s suspension does go the full six games, the first three games he plays in upon returning are all in primetime).

Unfortunately for the league, the schedule was released a day before the suspension was handed down to Pittsburgh’s quarterback.  That meant that when Roethlisberger’s ban was unveiled, fans immediately looked to see what games he’d miss, when and where he’d return and how the schedule would shake out for the pride of western Pennsylvania.

What they found when looking down the schedule was six winnable games while Ben is on the sidelines.  If he misses all six, his first game back then comes in Week 8 at New Orleans on Sunday Night Football.  Ironically, the game is on Halloween Night.  Hopefully, fans in the Crescent City will come to the Superdome dressed as everyone’s favorite sexual assaulting quarterback.

The more realistic option is that Ben misses four games, meaning his return comes in Week 6 at home when the Browns come to town.  That means Roethlisberger would have two “tune-up” games against Cleveland and Miami before getting into the real teeth of the Steelers’ schedule starting with that big game in New Orleans against the Super Bowl champs.

If one looks deeper, the NFL continued to have the Steelers’ best interests in mind when make the 2010 schedule, seeing as they conveniently gave Pittsburgh their bye in Week 5.  If Big Ben is reinstated after the four games, head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh offense would have two weeks to reacclimate and get themselves straight in practice before they take the field with their starting quarterback in the lineup again.

Surely, these situations can’t all be coincidental, right?  The NFL wouldn’t be trying to protect one of the league’s most prominent franchises?  They aren’t looking out for the Rooney family?  Ask a Bengals fan those questions and see what they say.  Can we honestly say that if this happened to a team with an owner who has been a thorn in the side of the league (say, Jerry Jones), that things would be fair and equal?

(I bet that if Tony Romo were suspended for the first four games of the year that the Cowboys schedule would go Eagles, Giants, Saints, Vikings.)

The most nauseating part of all of this is the way the NFL is capitalizing on something that they have professed as being abhorrent and irresponsible.  To put the Steelers on national television for what could potentially be Roethlisberger’s first three games back and to have  them in primetime for five of the final ten weeks of the year reeks of foul play.

After sitting him down for his discretions, the league is not afraid to capitalize on the publicity and viewership that can be had with Pittsburgh’s high-profile position in the NFL’s primetime lineup.  Surely, Roger Goodell cannot think that Big Ben is the right face to have on the NFL’s product moving forward, at least not until Big Ben stops exposing himself to college students in bathrooms.

But Goodell’s advisers must not have been moved by the commissioner’s suspension and stand against sexual assault.  Or maybe they were just too focused on the financial windfall that could come from Big Ben’s return to the league in primetime, in the home of the Super Bowl champs, on Halloween no less.  Cash is king.

Anyway you look at it, the NFL dropped the ball with this one.  They effectively served their fans a cow pie sandwich, with the Big Ben suspension sandwiched between the schedule release and the NFL Draft.  Now that we have it digested (yummy), the real aftertaste of what the NFL did for the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers is far more sour than sweet.

Most teams need to pay millions of dollars to get offensive lineman to provide that kind of protection.  The Steelers got a little for free for the 2010-11 NFL season.

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Filed under Athletes' Behavior, Ben Roethlisberger, Football, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers

Watching Tiger’s new best friend…

“Did you hear the one about Tiger Woods and the cocktail wait-”

“Yes, we’ve heard it.”

“Oh…how about the one where Tiger walks into this bar and-”

“Heard that one, too.”

“Well did you hear the one where Ben Roethlisberger hired a bodyguard and…”

As his friends around the table leaned in and soaked up Randy’s every last word, he made sure to pour extra gusto into the punchline…

“…and then Clarice said, ‘That’s why they don’t sell pants!'”

The crowd went wild and Randy basked in the glow of a joke told right and a fan base inspired.  That night Randy took solace in the fact that Ben Roethlisberger helped prove to himself that he indeed “still had it.”

And somewhere Tiger Woods is smiling, practicing golf and smiling some more.  Why?  Becuase now that Ben Roethlisberger elevated the game of athletes committing sexual misconduct to level five, Tiger is just a golfer again.

Sure, he’ll play in a  tournament next month that will bring some of the talk back, but it won’t be as bad as The Masters, right?  It can’t be.  And then another major will roll around and he’ll face some scrutiny about pressure at a major, but it will be calmer than Augusta.  Before you know it, most people will forget about what he did (besides he only cheated on his wife…a lot).

And who does Tiger have to thank for some of this alleviated pressure?  None other than Big Ben.

Roethlisberger went ahead and trumped good old Tiger by doing everything he could to disgust America’s sports fans by having one single incident in a club bathroom go awry.

Most Americans don’t care that Tiger Woods may have been beaten with his own golf club by his wife, Elin, in front of his house.  Especially when you consider that Big Ben exposed himself to a 20-year-old college student in a club hallway.

Sports fans can ignore the fact that over a dozen women claimed to have “been with” Tiger when they consider that Roethlisberger hired Pennsylvania policemen to guard his tryst with the Georgia college student (one of those police officers has since resigned).

Amateur golfers can find solace in the fact that Woods only had naked pictures taken of him by one of his mistresses to use as  blackmail, while Roethlisberger’s escapades have left Steeler fans with an appetite for dried meat snacks, wondering how they will be able to live without Big Ben’s Beef Jerky, Roethlisberger’s signature line of meaty snacks.

ESPN’s coverage of Tiger Woods has gone from DEFCON 5 to a flatline in the wake of the Roethlisberger scandal.  Surely, Ben should keep checking his mail for a thank you card from Tiger, maybe he will even refer him to his sex rehab facility.

When it comes to sex scandals and athletes, the way out used to be to win a championship (think Kobe Bryant) and make everyone forget.  Now that they are so common, offenders need to just wait for the next one to come up and their own scandal will eventually blow over.  There is only one lesson to be learned from this astute analysis:

When it comes to sexual misconduct, there are no winners…unless you’re Tiger Woods.

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Filed under Athletes' Behavior, Ben Roethlisberger, Football, Golf, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tiger Woods

Watching the NFL Scouting Combine (part 2)…

This is the second of a two-part column.  The first part can be read HERE.

The combine needs to be a way to look at raw physical skills and athletic potential.  Rarely will someone need to run a 40-yard dash in a straight line during a game.  Or make a vertical leap from a standing position.  Or perform consecutive reps on a bench press with weights equaling 225 pounds.

What NFL teams should want are football players.  Athletes that have tremendous track records with great film of them playing exceptional football.  The graveyard of draft busts is littered with guys who had great combine performances.

College performance and film footage should be the first thing steams look at prior to drafting players.  The next thing to look at is character, followed by the combine results, which should just solidify the front office’s thoughts on a player, not create them.

Let’s take a look at a few players who are considered top picks in April’s draft.  C.J. Spiller (Clemson RB) was one of the best all-around offensive players in college football, tearing up an underrated ACC this year.  His ability to catch passes and return kicks in addition to run the ball effectively makes him a niche player in the mold of a Reggie Bush without the #1 pick price tag and with a better knack for finding holes as a runner.  He is considered the top rated running back by Scouts, Inc. and falls somewhere in the top 15 of most everyone’s big board.  Spiller goes out to the combine and turns in 4.28 40-yard dash to impress scouts.  This should solidify to NFL teams that he has the raw skills to connect to his exceptional performance at Clemson.  Should it vault him to the number one pick?  Probably not.  It probably shouldn’t vault him anywhere.  Where he goes will depend on team need and with a lot of teams not looking at running backs early because of the amount available through other means and how of all positions in the NFL, backs break down faster, somewhere in the top 15 is still where he will go.

Now let’s check out Joe Haden, a cornerback from the University of Florida.  Haden was a lock down corner for the Gators, a team that was atop the toughest conference in college football, the SEC, while he was in school.  He was always matched up against the other team’s best receiver and produced with great ball skills and exceptional tackling ability for a corner.  He even blitzes off the corner well for his position.  He was widely considered by Scouts, Inc. and others as the best cornerback in a defensive back-heavy draft.  He grades out as the next Darrelle Revis and has been projected as a top 10 pick, a top 5 pick by others and should be the first corner off the board in April.  Then he comes out to the combine and whiffs on his 40 times, running a 4.57 and a 4.60, not the typical speed of your NFL shutdown corner.  So now all the scouts are curious about whether Haden can be what everyone thought he would be in the NFL.  Questions of if he may slip down in the draft have been asked and anyone who is anyone says that he must have a good 40 time when Florida hosts scouts on its pro day later this month.  Like Spiller, however, the truth about Joe Haden can be seen when watching his film.  Haden comes as advertised when you watch him cover the best wideouts in the SEC and it is my belief that he should still be the first corner off the board.

And then there’s Bruce Campbell.  No, not the guy from Evil Dead, the offensive lineman from the University of Maryland.  Campbell was a mediocre lineman at College Park who wasn’t a full-fledged starter until halfway into the 2008 season, only started 17 games in his college career (only 9 last season), received one vote for the All-ACC Conference team, missed multiple games due to turf toe, underwent minor brain surgery to drain fluid in 2008 and was described by head coach Ralph Friedgen as a player who would go to study hall as opposed to taking the field when spring practices begin.  Campbell went to Indy for the combine and tore things up, having the best 40-yard dash time (4.85) amongst offensive lineman, finished sixth in bench press repetitions (34) and fifth in the vertical jump (32 inches).  Now he is the buzz name as his physical traits have shot him up the board where Scouts, Inc. currently has him listed at 30th with a grade of 91 out of 100 (remember, the top prospect Suh is a 97).  How does this happen?  A guy who has an injury history, hasn’t started that long, has not been honored with any collegiate awards, shows a lack of quality work ethic and is slammed by his head coach is a first round pick because of his combine numbers?  If my Dolphins take this guy, I’ll be furious.

The combine does way too much in determining the viability of these players.  They shouldn’t downgrade athletes who had great college careers like Haden nor upgrade those who had mediocre seasons in school but had great combine workouts like Campbell.  Picks should be made based on the team’s needs and how the organization feels a certain player will fit into a system, along with his viability as a contributor.

If Tim Tebow is drafted it will be because someone believes he will make a good NFL player at the quarterback position or somewhere else.  Will it be because he had a ridiculous vertical leap for a QB (38.5 inches) or a solid 40-yard dash time (4.7 seconds) at a non-speed position?  Hopefully not.  Hopefully it will be because someone loved the fire he showed and the desire he has to make it.  If a team has faith that he will succeed and if the general manager and coach have job security enough to develop him at the next level, then he will be picked higher and have a job somewhere next year.

Did his combine performance change any of that?

What we need to do is to stop relying on this exhibition of track competitions as a tool for evaluating players who have three or four seasons of work to break down.  The NFL and its network have done a great job of having the combine and the free agent period bridge the gap between the Super Bowl and the draft, making it so that we never stop talking about pro football (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But shouldn’t the best way to judge football player’s value be how he plays. . .I don’t know -FOOTBALL?  Let’s judge players based upon on-the-field performance, not on-the-track performance.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN, Football, Journalism, NFL, NFL Draft, NFL Draft Combine

Watching the NFL Scouting Combine (part 1)…

Texting is cool. When it first became mainstream in the last half decade, an appropriate question to ask a potential texting buddy was “Do you text?” Well the guys at ESPN working the NFL Draft certainly do. In the past five days, I have received eight text messages from ESPN on results from the NFL scouting combine.

These text messages contained 40-yard dash times and other physical measurements as opposed numbers that should matter such as yards-per-carry averages, sacks allowed or passer rating figures.

While I acknowledge the reason for the combine and the value gained by seeing these hundreds of athletes work out, it has evolved from a behind-the-scenes part of the league into an event put on the forefront, televised and analyzed beyond what is needed. Imagine if contract negotiations were televised and broken down by analysts and financial advisers and that is what the combine has become.

I used to be perfectly fine watching Mel Kiper, Jr. or Todd McShay tell me the week before the draft that Larry Johnson had a great workout during the combine or that Vince Young had trouble answering questions and scored low on the Wonderlic Test. I don’t need a nightly report from the combine, interviews throughout the week and text message updates when someone breaks 4.3 on the 40. Imagine if an NFL practice were covered like this. We’d have reports from Ed Werder that Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne were out of sync for two consecutive plays in practice. Then I’d have to get my iPhone out of my pocket to be told in a text message from Adam Schefter that Manning and Wayne were struggling.

Speaking of my iPhone, it had to come out of my pocket twice in one hour for the same player this week. USC safety Taylor Mays reportedly tied the combine record in the 40, running a 4.24. So on March 2nd at 9:18 AM, ESPN sent out a text that his unofficial time had tied the record according to “The Buzz,” one of the Worldwide Leader’s blogs from the combine. However, his official time ended up being a non-superhuman 4.43. The Buzz then corrected this on the live blog and ESPN sent out a second text at 10:17 AM, correcting the time to reflect the official reading. My disappointment was evident as I had to stop my Taylor-Mays-Broke-The-Forty-Yard-Dash-Record-Party which had been raging since 9:19. My guests were furious when I dismissed them, sent the strippers home and returned the keg to Lee’s Discount Liquor. It was the best 58 minutes of my life and now they are just as ordinary as any others.

How necessary are these updates? What good are they to the casual fan? Any fan? Do we actually think that University of Tennessee fans are sitting at home, watching the NFL Network to see Eric Berry wow scouts with a 43-inch vertical leap? Picture 20 inebriated Vols fans in a living room with high def TVs, beer, orange sweatshirts and plates of nachos. It’s not happening. Nobody cares.

What we should start doing is to hold viewing parties where a player does a workout in Indianapolis and then they cut to a packed stadium of fans from his university cheering when he has a sub-4.3 40-yard-dash time.

While the media saturation of the combine is objectionable, (I guess the NFL Network, which airs the combine, has to put some on their channel to avoid letting Rich Eisen talk anymore) what’s worse is that there is so much weight put on the workouts these athletes have when dictating where they are drafted.

I truly hope that guys like Trindon Holliday, whom ESPN texted me about when he ran the 40 in 4.27 seconds, doesn’t see his draft stock rise too much because of that performance. Holliday was LSU’s return specialist and had only 126 rushing yards last season but averaged over 18 yards per punt return and 24. 4 yards per kickoff returned. ESPN has him listed has the third best return specialist in the draft and Scouts, Inc. scores him as a prospect with a grade of 30 out of 100, (Ndamukong Suh is a 97).

When it comes to the NFL Draft, I like to track and watch it as much as anyone, but I want to recognize a player based on what he did in college not because McShay texted me that he ran a 4.34 in the 40. If Holliday gets drafted, I will only know him because of ESPN’s text and while that’s better than not knowing him at all, you won’t catch me jumping up at a draft party saying “Wow. Holliday had a heck of a 40 time. He should be a great fit for the Chiefs.”

This is part one of a two-part column.  Check out part 2 HERE.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN, Football, Journalism, NFL, NFL Draft, NFL Draft Combine, NFL Network

Watching what could have been with Drew Brees…

As the Saints and Colts prepare to have all eyes on them Sunday night in Miami, Drew Brees prepares to share the biggest spotlight with the best quarterback in the world, Peyton Manning.  Miami Dolphins fans have the unfortunate privilege of watching Brees play in the stadium he nearly called home.

This reality may torment Dolphin fans day in and day out, but in the Super Bowl, in their city, it has to sting more than usual.  Let’s revisit Brees’ decision and explore what might have happened had it been different.

It was March of 2006 when Brees made the decision to sign with New Orleans and rookie head coach Sean Payton.  The Saints were coming off a dismal season, going 3-13 and playing no games in the city of New Orleans after the devastation from Hurricane Katrina.  Brees’ decision was partly swayed by the role the Saints -and eventually Brees- played in the rebuilding of New Orleans’ city and its spirit.

There was one other team who showed interest in Brees, who was coming off a devastating shoulder injury from his last game as a San Diego Charger.  Dr. James Andrews performed the reconstruction and 30 other NFL teams were scared off.  The Miami Dolphins were the one team that showed interest in the quarterback, but were unwilling to guarantee the kind of money that Brees was seeking.  ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown is set to air a feature on Brees’ surgery including interviews with Andrews that will show just how badly the injured shoulder was and why every NFL team was correct in steering clear and why the Dolphins had ample reason to hesitate.

Nick Saban was the Dolphins coach that season.  The Fins had just finished a 9-7 and seemed to be moving in the right direction.  They were in the market for a proven quarterback and Brees was on their radar.  After negotiations that were described as business-like and always had the dark cloud of Brees’ shoulder and the franchise’s injury concerns hovering, the Dolphins decided to break talks and instead traded a second-round draft pick for another quarterback coming off an injury, Daunte Culpepper.  That trade was made the same day Brees signed a 6-year, $60 million contract with New Orleans.

The rest is history.  Brees has been throwing touchdown passes since he signed with the Saints, has been an integral part of the rebuilding process of New Orleans and will play on sports’ biggest stage on Sunday.  Culpepper lasted four games as Miami’s starter before being benched and was eventually put on injured reserve.  Saban bolted for Alabama after two seasons in Miami and is now on the top of the college football heap once again with the Crimson Tide’s national championship.

But what if Brees came to South Florida?  What if the Fins rolled the dice on his injured shoulder instead of Culpeper’s mangled knee?  Brees had the opportunity to sign a contract with Miami for less money.  Though he says that the rebuilding process after Katrina was a part of his decision-making process, would more money have tipped the tables?  Let’s make like we’re all four-year-olds and play “pretend” for a few minutes. . .

The most devastating effect in this whole alternate scenario is on the city of New Orleans.  In 2005, the Saints played two preseason games in the Superdome before Katrina forced them into vagabonds for the rest of the year.  Training in San José and playing home games in New York, San Antonio and Baton Rouge, the team’s future was up in the air when the curtain closed on Jim Haslett and the Saints’ season.

Had Brees donned the bright orange jersey of Miami, the Saints would have had limited options at quarterback.  Culpepper may have found himself in black and gold and we all know how ready he was to play.  Currently on the roster at the end of ’05 were longtime starter Aaron Brooks and backup Todd Bouman, who supplanted Brooks as the starter for the final three games of ’05.  Brooks had started 82 consecutive games, but clearly his time as New Orleans’s starter was over.  He was released at the end of the season.

With those options moving forward, the fortune of the Saints without Brees would have been tenuous at best.  Owner Tom Benson remained committed to keep the team in New Orleans after Katrina and that effort was certainly solidified by Brees’ arrival, the team’s subsequent rousing homecoming and the events of 2006: a 10-6 season, a divisional title, a playoff win over Philadelphia and a conference championship appearance.

The magic of the 2006 return to New Orleans may have energized the team through two mediocre seasons (7-9 and 8-8) and zero playoff appearances in 2007 and 2008.  Beginning the 2009 season, the team was a posh playoff pick, but many critics also thought that Sean Payton may have been on the hot seat if the magical 2006 season was followed up by a third sub-par effort.

Say the Saints plodded through 2006 with Brooks, Bouman or Culpepper at quarterback and ended up with the same record as the Dolphins (6-10) or worse.  Money says that fans might turn away from the team as a beacon for hope and reality would set in pretty quickly on Benson and the ownership group.  Three consecutive seasons of “Ain’ts” football might have Benson ready to sell or move the franchise to cozier surroundings like San Antonio or Los Angeles.  The Saints had been playing with house money since 2006 and Payton and Brees kept the energy up by immersing themselves in New Orleans’ recovery efforts.  The same may not have happened if 2006 wasn’t so sterling.

And what of the Dolphins if Brees came to Joe Robbie/Dolphins/Pro Player/Land Shark/Sun Life Stadium?  This is where things get really crazy in bizarro world.  Brees would undoubtedly have taken the reigns of a club on the rise, coming off a 9-7 season in Saban’s first as an NFL coach.  The addition of Brees of could have been league-altering.  This was a team with a stellar defense left for Saban after Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt built it to dominance.  The offense featured 1,000-yard rusher Ronnie Brown in his second season and four receiving options that caught over 50 passes each with quarterbacks like Culpepper and Joey Harrington under center.  Wes Welker was one of those targets, leading the Dolphins in receptions.

Clearly, Brees would have nurtured this group and turned them into instant contenders the way he did with the Saints.  Some may even argue that Miami had more pieces in place to become a power faster. 

What would the ramifications hold for this change of fortune?  Let’s explore a few:

Would Saban have bolted?  In the final weeks and after the 2006 season in which the Dolphins went 6-10, the rumor mill swirled around Saban’s departure for Alabama.  We have all heard the controversies and seen the name calling about his claim that he would never leave and then his exodus to Tuscaloosa.  But what if Brees brought him another winning season?  A division title?  A playoff win?  An AFC Conference Championship appearance?  These are all things Brees did in his first year with the Saints, and we already established that Miami’s supporting cast may have been more ready to take a longer leap.

That 2006 season ended up being the first losing season of Saban’s head coaching career.  He hadn’t even gone .500 since he went 6-6 twice in three years (1996 and 1998) while coaching at Michigan State University.  Odds are, Saban would have wanted to see this through and with Brees in place, there would be no reason to ditch the Dolphins.

So what of Alabama?  Clearly, the team would be on the lookout for another high-profile coach after dismissing Mike Shula after four seasons, the last of which being 6-6 campaign.  Would the Crimson Tide’s win in the BCS Championship game last month still happen?  Doubtful, seeing as no one but Saban could have done what happened in the turn-around of that program.  Saban went 6-6 (2007) in his first season at Alabama before going 12-0 in 2008’s regular season, ending that year with losses to Florida in the SEC Championship and Utah in the Sugar Bowl.  In 2009, the Tide became BCS Champions.  None of this would have happen if Saban stayed and he very well may have if Brees roamed South Beach.

What of Wes Welker?  Would he have been traded after Brees developed a connection with him in 2006?  Like Tom Brady, Brees may have been able to bring out the best in the receiver Miami branded as a borderline slot guy with great return skills.  The next season, Welker got a lowball offer from the Fins and the Patriot swooped in and traded Miami a two draft picks (rounds 2 and 7) for the Texas Tech graduate.  This would surely impact the Patriots’ dynasty moving forward and have some effect on Moss and Brady’s production without their slot weapon.  Furthermore, with Saban still in control and the Dolphins making more sound decisions without being in front office limbo, the chances they recognized the talent and locked him are more likely.

Alas, for Dolphins fans this reality never materialized.  The Saints got Brees and now here we are.  I do believe the signing of Brees in New Orleans was meant to be.  He was the perfect fit of great player, amazing human being for that city at the right time.  The way he dove right into New Orleans has been inspiring and he has become a major part of that city’s rebirth.  He truly embraced the Crescent City from the word go.  Brees and his wife, Brittany, chose to restore a 100-year-old New Orleans mansion and have become true New Orleanians.   His charitable contributions and activity in the Katrina recovery have been immeasurable.

Now it’s time to see if Brees can do something that would be a first and not a restoration…winning the Super Bowl for the city he now calls home in the city he almost did.

Here is my pick for the Super Bowl.  Odds are from Danny Sheridan as of Friday Night.

NEW ORLEANS (+5) 34, Indianapolis 31

I think the magic continues and the Saints take the whole enchilada.  The game should be very exciting and I see lots of scoring.  I think the difference will be turnovers caused by the Saints defense and the mojo that comes with having most of the nation rooting for you and the good karma that comes with overcoming a natural disaster like Katrina.  A new America’s Team will be crowned Sunday night.  Who dat?

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Filed under Betting, Drew Brees, Football, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, NFL, Playoffs

Watching an owner with heart in the AFC Championship…

Typically, owners of major sports franchises are not lauded for much of anything.  Either they are loudmouths like Mark Cuban, meddlers like Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones, divorcés like the McCourts, or incompetent like Donald Sterling and Al Davis.

Owners who are well-respected like Dan Rooney, Tom Hicks and John Henry don’t usually make headlines because they generally refrain from doing idiotic things.

Rarely is there a story about an owner which does not involve his or her wasting money on a star, berating referees to earn a hefty fine or firing a coach after seven games.  Rarely do we think of owners as anything but rich, well-to-do employers of rich, well-to-do athletes.  We do not typically picture these elite individuals as regular human beings and the thought of a tragedy striking them is almost unfathomable.

Enter Robert Wood Johnson IV, or Woody as he is affectionately known.  Johnson, 62, is the heir to the Johnson & Johnson corporation as the great-grandson of the original Robert Wood Johnson, who co-founded the company.  Woody Johnson has dedicated most of his life to philanthropy and purchased the New York Jets from Leon Hess in 2000.  The Jets return to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1998 on Sunday when they take on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy.

Johnson is father to five children, three daughters and two sons, and his philanthropy is closely tied to the love he has for his kids.  Doctors diagnosed daughter Casey with diabetes, prompting Johnson to donate heavily to causes related to the disease with which his first-born was afflicted.  Johnson also serves as chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  His second daughter, Jaime, contracted lupus, inspiring her father to found the Alliance for Lupus Research.

Earlier this month on January 4th, Casey Johnson died at the age of 30.  The cause of death has yet to be determined.

She died the day after the Jets clinched a playoff spot by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals, setting up a rematch with them in the wild card round.  The Jets won the second matchup and then upset the San Diego Chargers to get to the AFC Championship.  Needless to say, this return to the postseason for New York’s owner has not been all that he anticipated, as the Johnson family put Casey to rest during the playoffs.  The ceremony was private and quiet, bittersweet for Woody Johnson and his beloved football team.

Casey was in the spotlight in her own right in recent years.  She grew up on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and was known to pal around with fellow heiresses Paris and Nicky Hilton.  The three were featured together in the 2002 documentary, “The It Girls”.

Ms. Johnson was also common tabloid fodder in the last six months, drawing headlines for questionable relationships and strange behavior.  Just last month, Casey announced her engagement to Tila Tequila of reality show fame in an online video, earning raised eyebrows and even more questions.

But Casey Johnson’s life did have a deeper side.  In 1994 she wrote a book with her parents entitled Managing Your Child’s Diabetes.  Clearly, Casey’s battle with diabetes has fueled Woody’s passion for helping treat the disease.

Casey was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of eight in 1988.  In addition to the book the Johnsons published, the family donated $10 million to a diabetes campaign in 1994 and had given at least $5 million more before Woody Johnson and his wife, Nancy, divorced in 2001.

In 2007, Casey Johnson adopted a child from Kazakhstan, whom she named Ava-Monroe.  Today, she is survived by that daughter in addition to her parents and siblings.

The attention Casey received from the media didn’t always sit well with her and she struggled with it most of her life.  Her love/hate relationship with her family’s history may have been best characterized in a 2007 interview with Life/Style Television.  She said then:

“You really have to know why someone wants to be your friend.  I’ve learned that the hard way.  I’m Casey Johnson.  I’m not The Johnson & Johnson Girl.”

In 2004, Casey’s cousin, Jaime produced “Born Rich,” a documentary on heirs to ridiculous fortunes.  The piece explored the effect inheritances have on children and how they fare later in their lives.  11 other heirs to similar fortunes were also interviewed for the production.

Since the cause of death is not yet known, speculation on what Casey was involved in is inevitable.  The torment that Woody Johnson must be feeling is incomprehensible for a man who has dedicated his life to serving others, many of whom shared the same misfortunes his daughters had, leading to his involvement in organizations that help research and treat lupus and diabetes.

Additionally, Johnson’s legacy of charitable acts includes being a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and being a successful lobbyist.  In 2002, Johnson was effective in lobbying Congress for a five-year, $750 million package for funding diabetes research.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invited Woody Johnson to join the board of the charity set up through his grandfather’s estate.  He was the only member of the Johnson family asked to be a part of the foundation.  The charitable organization has nearly $8 billion in assets and gives $1 billion annually, making it the United States’ largest foundation of its kind dedicated solely to health care.

Johnson had a sit-down with several reporters for 20 minutes on Thursday, acknowledging how difficult it is for him but that he is still behind his team and excited for what is to come.  It was uncertain whether Johnson would attend the Jets’ game at Cincinnati, but he was there and in the end…when Head Coach Rex Ryan awarded him the game ball.

There can be no doubt that winning has been the best medicine for Woody Johnson, the man who gave so much only to lose something so dear just weeks ago.  Ryan and his players have done a lot to ease the pain for Johnson and the owner reciprocates the same kind of care.  Earlier in the year, he comforted long snapper James Dearth, who lost his mother.

Woody Johnson is not your typical owner.  He cares deeply about people and helping those who are in need.  While his fortune was inherited, what he has given back is immeasurable.  The loss of his daughter is truly tragic, but perhaps these upstart Jets have just the medicine to cure Johnson’s gloom: a Super Bowl berth.

Here are my picks for the AFC and NFC Conference Championships.  Lines are from Danny Sheridan as of Friday evening.  Picks against the spread are in caps.

Indianapolis 27, NEW YORK JETS (+7 ½) 24

I don’t know if New York pulls this game out, but I think it will be very close.  I will certainly be rooting for them as they are the underdog and I think it would be a great karma game for Indy to lose to the team they could have put their foot down on in Week 16 when they were 14-0 and let up.  I see this game coming down to how well the Jets can control the ball with their running game and how many times they can force Peyton Manning and the Colts offense into field goals instead of touchdowns.  I see it coming down to one possession and think that taking the points is the safest wager.

NEW ORLEANS (-3 ½) 38, Minnesota 24

I think the Superdome will be too much for Minnesota.  Their defense can be beaten and Drew Brees certainly has the weapons to put up points.  I also see Brett Favre rediscovering how to throw bad passes in big spots this game.  The Viking running attack really has not been effective for some time and Favre has been asked to throw more.  I see the Saint secondary coming up with big plays and think Darren Sharper will make his presence known to the team that let him walk.  Add all that to the crazy crowd and the Saints being legit at home and I see New Orleans travelling to Miami for the Super Bowl.

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Watching the NFL Divisional Playoffs

One of the more intriguing storylines leading up to this weekend’s divisional playoffs is the re-signing of Deuce McCallister to the New Orleans Saints.

This old friend came back to a team that drafted him in 2001 out of Mississippi and a squad he led into their last playoff appearance three years ago when he rushed for over 1500 yards in 2006.  In that playoff, McAllister led the Saints in rushing and scored a touchdown to help the team defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round.

Upon signing the oft-injured running back, the Saints immediately declared that he would lead the team onto the field and  be an honorary captain against the Arizona Cardinals later today when the teams play in the NFC Divisional Round at the Superdome in New Orleans.

It appears that will be all McAllister will do, barring some horrific injuries to the Saints running back corps, which consists of leading rusher and newly healthy Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell.  All three have seen significant playing time this season.  Even the fourth running back on the roster, Lynell Hamilton, has looked impressive in limited time when injuries hampered the options Head Coach Sean Payton had in the backfield.

So why make the move?  Some point to a sentimental effort to have McAllister be a part of the playoff roster, reminiscent of a team who hadn’t been there in a while and wanted to honor the beat-up veteran with a spot on the active roster.  However, this is not that kind of team.  They were in the playoffs just three seasons ago, with McAllister, and they made it to the NFC Championship game, where the Saints fell to the Chicago Bears, the eventual runner-up to Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.

Clearly, the Saints don’t believe McAllister has the ability to contribute in the playoffs.  The man he replaced on the roster, Rodney Leslie, is a reserve defensive tackle, who did not practice this week due to a knee injury.

Additionally, this isn’t exactly a situation where a team like Kansas City were to resign Trent Green because he never really had a shot in the playoffs during his six years on the team.  Or if the Dolphins were to bring back Zach Thomas as an honorary captain right before the playoffs were to kick off.

So why then?  The sentimental value of having him on the squad as a captain is apparent, but my general view on this New Orleans team is that they are driven from within by several players with something to prove (i.e. Drew Brees, Jeremy Shockey and a host of others) and a coach who is fiery and motivated to have success.  However, there may be more to the drive behind this Bourbon Street squad.

McAllister’s signing may be evidence that Payton doesn’t feel his team is motivated enough coming into the playoffs.  They did, after all, tumble into their number one seed after three consecutive losses to Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina.  This after the outspoken effort to have a perfect season. 

Perhaps Payton felt they poured all of their emotion into the perfect season, only to fall short and be running on fumes going into “The Tournament.”  Maybe Payton realized that defenses had figured out how to slow down Brees and the Saints’ prolific passing attack and that offenses had worked through a tough defense to control the ball and score points on an always game Saints defense.  The Saints have not had a dominating performance since their big Monday night win against the New England Patriots on November 30th and have not scored more than twenty points in over a month, since they put up 26 in a 3-point victory at Atlanta.

An injection of emotion from the returning McAllister may have been just the right prescription for this stumbling team.

Regardless, it is curious, has been interesting to watch and is a story that has flown under the radar as more “feel good” than anything.

I still like the Saints this weekend mostly because I think the Superdome is a huge advantage and that their team does show the makings of one that wants to prove everyone wrong, make a name for themselves and are ready for the big time.  Not to mention the fact that Brees must have needed a drool cup as he watched Aaron Rodgers and the Packers take apart the Cardinal defensive secondary.

I think Brees and Warner give us an aerial show but that eventually the Saints pull ahead and move into the NFC Championship.

Here are my official picks (in caps).  Lines are from Danny Sheridan as of Saturday morning.

SAINTS (-7) 34, Cardinals 24

I think Brees and New Orleans have a feeding frenzy on Arizona’s defense and the Saints’ defense does just enough to slow down Kurt Warner in what may be his last game.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) 27, Baltimore 16

The layoff will get Indy off to a slow start, but I think Peyton and company play a smart game and handle the Ravens.  I also have a hunch that something really is wrong with Joe Flacco.

Minnesota 17, DALLAS (+3) 16

A defensive battle here will be characterized by Dallas’ inability to stop the run late.  I also see Favre making enough big plays on third downs to limit Romo’s possessions in the second half.

San Diego 24, NEW YORK (+7) 21

Darelle Revis can’t cover everyone and Rivers finds enough opportunities around the field to withstand the Jets defense.  However, I think the show will be stolen by Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene in a coming out party of sorts.

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