The All-22 All-Star Team is an attempt to provide some insight on the NFL's 22 most underappreciated players. Some will be All-Pros who haven't fully gotten their due; some will be names few casual fans have ever heard. All will, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.
The concept isn't new. It was first implemented in 1992, when Dom Capers arrived in Pittsburgh as a first-time defensive coordinator for Bill Cowher’s new Steelers staff. As any new coach would, Capers spent his early days surveying the talent in place. The latest in Pittsburgh’s lineage of defensive stars was Rod Woodson, then a 26-year-old cornerback fresh off his third straight trip to the Pro Bowl. In evaluating Woodson, it struck Capers that maybe there was a way in which his best defensive back could have even more impact on the game. Lined up on a receiver outside the numbers, there was only so much Woodson could do to influence a given game. But moving him inside, to the nickelback in passing situations, could really change the makeup of the game.
“My feeling when I looked at Rod outside was that he was matched up one-on-one, and he’d do his job, but I thought he could be a lot bigger factor in the game putting him inside,” Capers says. “He’s closer to the ball, he could get his hands on more balls, and you could blitz him. He’s going to make a lot of plays.” In his second year in Capers’s defense, Woodson was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Seventeen years later, Capers had déjà vu. The only difference was the Woodson. When Capers came to Green Bay in 2009, Charles Woodson was the team’s best defensive player. For Charles, it took less than two years for him to become the Packers' nickel corner. That season, he was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and the team finished 11-5.
When the rumor was circulating on Friday morning that the Packers were going to release Charles Woodson, I got more than one text message with the same question: “HOFer?” What makes Woodson’s time in Green Bay so notable isn’t my answer to that question — it’s how emphatically I gave it. I have no doubt that Woodson will give a speech in Canton one day, but the certainty in that assessment tends to make me forget about the uncertainty that came with Woodson signing in Green Bay.
In case you were busy making a fool of yourself mixing up the accomplishments of Franklin Pierce and James K. Polk, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NBA All-Star Game pitted the best players in the game against each other in Houston this weekend, with the West coming out on top, 143-138. L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul, who was named the game's MVP after getting 20 points and 15 assists, said, "I'm just so excited to help secure home court in the Finals for the West, because this time it counts!" When told that the game in no way counted, Paul went on to say, "Really? Is that why no one else was passing or playing defense until the end? Damn, I could have scored so many more points if I had known that."
Toronto Raptors rookie Terrence Ross won this year's NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest with his throwback tribute to former Raptor Vince Carter. First, he amazed the crowd with a display of world-class dunks. Then he limped off the court, petulantly burning bridges with his teammates and the people of Toronto. He plans on returning to next year's competition to complete his performance by not competing at all. "I can't believe it," said runner-up Jeremy Evans, who dunked over a painting of himself dunking over a painting of himself. "How the hell did I got out-meta-ed?"
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Matt Cain pitched 5.2 scoreless innings and the Giants won their record-tying sixth elimination game of the postseason, routing the Cardinals 9-0 to reach the World Series. The only hiccup came when rain began to fall late, and Tim Lincecum repeatedly wandered out to the field while the game was going on, holding out his hands and saying, "It's all so beautiful!" as he wept.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Roy Halladay pitched a six-hit complete game shutout, and the Phillies became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with a 1-0 win over the Astros. The Phillies chose not to celebrate with bottles of champagne, but each member of the Astros, as usual, celebrated with a wine glass of their own tears.