Every now and then, our boss, Bill Simmons, will forward some of his reader mail to me and fellow Triangle editor Chris Ryan. Most of the time, it’s to troll us about our favorite teams (Brian Urlacher’s pre-draft ascension was entirely legitimate, and I won’t hear otherwise), but occasionally, one of the notes has an idea so insane that it actually makes a lot of sense.
Following the NFL draft, Jonathan from Suitland, Maryland, sent an explanation of why it often sucks to root for the Eagles around draft time. His reasoning for this was a series of draft trades made during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. It started with a trade in April 2009, when the Bears traded Kyle Orton, the 18th pick in 2009, a third-rounder in 2009, and their first-round pick in 2010 to the Broncos in exchange for Jay Cutler and Denver’s 2009 fifth-round pick. Now, watch carefully. This gets confusing fast.
In case you were busy singing John Philip Sousa tunes with your loved ones, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The New York Knicks overcame a 22-point deficit and a knee injury to Carmelo Anthony to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 102-97. Anthony, who's day-to-day with knee stiffness, said after the game, "I'm glad we won, but I'm really just glad Pablo Prigioni didn't put up a career night. I'm not at all ready for Prigloonacy."
I had just taken my seat on my flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, one of the few Niners fans on a plane where anyone wearing Ravens gear had been given a complimentary drink ticket, when a man wearing a red leather jacket and a different shade of red jeans sauntered up the aisle. He was carrying a red duffel bag. A meaningful percentage of his zippers were gold. He stopped at the row in front of me, looked up at his ticket, and sighed. It was Ma$e. He had been assigned a middle seat.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
I don't know if something as unabashedly macro as the Super Bowl could ever be considered a microcosm for anything, but here's what I'd say: It seems almost stupidly fitting, after a season in which the NFL's commissioner displayed an uncharacteristic surplus of political ineptitude, that the league could not manage to keep its own power on. And it seems just as fitting that one of the more entertaining NFL seasons in recent memory climaxed near the goal line, with a quarterback who represents the possibilities of the future ultimately in charge of the game's result. The NFL is great, and the NFL is dysfunctional. It lives in the light, and it lives in the dark. — Michael Weinreb
Super Bowl XLVII was also the final game for one of the legends of an era, Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis, who has seen his share of controversy throughout his career, left the stage with his trademark piety, saying, "Man, I didn't play well enough for us to win, but the team and God really picked me up. Haven't gotten away with anything like that in a loooooong time." Lewis then winked, pointed to the sky, and said, "I owe you one, big guy!" God responded, "Dude owes me more than one. Way more. Man, sometimes I have no idea why I keep bailing him out. But we go way back. I dunno, Pete is telling me to cut him off, but then I see those big sweet eyes, and I just can't help myself."
When I decided to count down the 22 most important players in Sunday’s Super Bowl, I didn’t imagine it was going to be all that hard. I mean, there are 44 total starters; picking half of them should be doable. Then I actually started.
Let me first explain what this list is actually supposed to represent. These aren’t the 22 best players in the Super Bowl or the 22 players I expect to make the biggest impact. This is my best attempt at figuring out which 22 players matter most, and that proved to be more difficult than I’d planned.
Even with some cheating (a few guys at similar positions are listed together, so actually there are 27 players. I'm not sorry), there are some notable omissions that I don’t feel great about. Jonathan Goodwin has been one of the best centers in football this year, but for the purposes of this list, he’s out. Not a single Ravens cornerback is listed, which isn’t to say that Corey Graham and Cary Williams won’t play a part; it’s to say that how San Francisco uses Michael Crabtree doesn’t make one side or area of the field more important than another. Dennis Pitta has been invaluable for the Ravens’ offense since Jim Caldwell took over, but I still think he’s been Joe Flacco’s third most important receiver in the playoffs. With all that in mind, here are the guys who actually did make the final cut.
After a decade of mostly familiar names, Super Bowl XLVII is set to provide some welcome new blood under center. Sunday will mark the first title game in five years to feature two quarterbacks who’ve never been here before, but that’s about where their similarities in experience end. For Colin Kaepernick, this start in New Orleans comes barely three months after the first of his NFL career. For Joe Flacco, it’s the next step in his playoff success. But even with all the pressure young Kaepernick is set to face, in my mind, and in terms of scheme, support, and circumstance, there will be more of it placed on Flacco.
Like the 49ers, previous versions of these Ravens relied on a bruising running game and great defense to buttress a young quarterback as he improved from week-to-week. This year, those areas of strength have lagged. After a long stretch of dominance, Baltimore's famed and historic defense fell to the middle of the pack in nearly every category, and although the Ray Rice–led running game is still formidable, its efficiency and production took a step back.
This means that for the first time, the Ravens have become Joe Flacco’s team, and more than ever, Baltimore has relied on its passing attack. Ray Rice has been a steady bailout option for most of Flacco’s career, but it’s Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta who will be the keys come Sunday night.
On Sunday a Beyoncé performance will be bookended by a football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. But before these teams take the field in New Orleans to do battle, they will engage in a cold war. Subliminal and explicit insults will become bulletin-board material. Injury reports will be investigated like Watergate leaks. Jim Harbaugh will get increasingly irritated. Every day there will be a winner and a loser of the Story Line Bowl. Who decides these things? We do.
There's something philanthropic about the Ravens' return to the Super Bowl (their first appearance in the title game since winning it all in 2000). There's just a spirit of giving surrounding the team. John Harbaugh is giving Juan Castillo a second chance at a third career, as the noted early riser/unremarkable offensive line coach/much-maligned defensive coordinator has been announced as the Ravens' new well, I'll let Harbaugh explain: "He’ll be kind of a lead coach in terms of the run game and organizing the run game for us." Also receiving gifts this week? Joe Flacco, who got the kind of backhanded compliment that could only come from a father: "Joe is dull As dull as he is portrayed in the media, he’s that dull. He is dull." Don't bury the lede, Steve Flacco! Other Ravens tidbits: Brendon Ayanbadejo wants to use the Super Bowl and the intense spotlight that comes with it to promote his support of gay marriage, Terrell Suggs hasn't called the Niners "arrogant pricks" yet, Bernard Pollard thinks we are in the twilight years of professional football, AND NOBODY SEEMS TO KNOW WHAT TO GET MILLIE OR JIMMY FOR THEIR WEDDING PRESENT. We're dealing with a lot of shit! That being said, the Ravens seem to have gotten through the first true day of Super Bowl buildup without giving the Niners anything to get irrationally pissed about, and even put some good karma into the world.
My friend Garrett, of Boston, has been calling Ravens QB Joe Flacco "FlaccoLOL" all year. Every one of those Bad Joe Flacco Games this season, with the zero touchdown passes and zero completed passes and fumbles everywhere, is followed soon thereafter by a stupid text message from Garrett about "FlaccoLOL" and how he sucks and is not an Elite Quarterback. "FlaccoLOL" — is this a funny name? No. Well, it's fine.
As a Marylander, I'm used to this sort of unfunny abuse from our breathless national treasures to the north, the Massachusetts sports fans. And while they've usually gotten the upper hand, nothing's better than seeing them called out, beaten, and sucking for air. So when Garrett suggested I trek up to Foxborough for the AFC Championship — "You could crash in our guest room and cry into your FlaccoLOL jersey" — what else was a starving freelance writer to do other than spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the possibility of schadenfreude?
On any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Anquan Boldin: Hall of Famer?
Anquan Boldin has not made a Pro Bowl since leaving the Arizona Cardinals at the end of the 2009 season. He has not had a 1,000-yard season in Baltimore, and the beast who caught 11 touchdowns in 2008 has been limited to a total of seven touchdowns in his past two seasons. Up until these playoffs, Boldin had mostly fallen off the casual fan's radar — if your interactions with the NFL come mostly from highlights, fantasy, and Red Zone, you might have even forgotten that Anquan Boldin was still in the league.