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 the fall of 2011, Margus Hunt, Southern Methodist University’s standout defensive end from Estonia, made a decision to reconnect with his homeland’s rich music history. “Music is in the roots of what we’ve been doing for the past 100 years,” Hunt says. “I always wanted to learn to play something, because I couldn’t sing or dance.” Once he found that a guitar class wouldn’t fit his schedule, Hunt opted for the piano. As the semester was ending, Hunt’s teacher asked if he wanted to perform at her recital. A leader of a revitalized Mustangs football program, Hunt spent that winter juggling both football and feverish piano practice with roommate and teammate Szymon Czerniak. The following April, he walked onstage at SMU’s O'Donnell Hall more nervous than he’d ever been during his gold-medal discus throws at the World Junior Championships or a four-year football career at SMU. Barely squeezing his legs under the piano, Hunt tickled out the first few bars of “Expression,” a Helen Jane Long composition that’s both calm and minimalistic — the same kind of collected repetitive piano pieces he listens to before a game. Hunt’s performance garnered a standing ovation, and the students who’d already performed joined their Estonian peer on stage. Most were between the ages of 5 and 10, and there, in the middle of them all, was the 6-foot-8-inch Hunt — the former world-class shot put and discus thrower, the future NFL player — smiling.
“It was incredible,” Czerniak recalls. “There’s this big, 300-pound, Russian-looking guy and all these 5- to 10-year-old kids. He took it really seriously.”
What do smart NFL teams do in and around draft day that naive, stupid teams don't do? They draft better players, of course, but it's not that simple. They don't "want it more" and will themselves into picking better players. The dregs of the league don't just forget what winning football teams look like and come away from the draft with three punters and a kicking tee. Matt Millen drafted Calvin Johnson. The Browns took Joe Thomas at the top of the first round. Dumb teams do brilliant things sometimes. And likewise, the teams we perceive to be among the league's smartest make plenty of mistakes on draft day. The Ravens traded up to grab Kyle Boller. The 49ers took Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers. Bill Belichick has drafted dozens of useless defensive backs over the past few years. This stuff happens.
Because they occasionally screw up, we know that it's not that the league's wise teams are privy to some super-secret scouting technique that the dumb ones can't pick up on. They don't see some tiny hitch on tape or have some perfect interview question that reveals everything about a player's future. And players don't come fully developed out of the college womb, either; they continue the growth and maturation process at the professional level, and it would be naive to pretend that the organization they end up in doesn't have a huge say in that. It's no accident that linebackers for the Steelers and defensive linemen on the Giants seem to develop more reliably than if those same players lined up for the Chargers or the Jaguars.
In case you just saw the trailer for Upside Down and found yourself suddenly back to square-one on your big screenplay idea, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Wes Welker has left the New England Patriots, signing a two-year contract with the Denver Broncos. "I always hated Welker," said Northeastern sophomore and Patriots superfan Aaron Sullivan. "Just like I always hated Clemens, Vinatieri, Damon, Beckett, Ray Ray, Manny B, and Tom Brady." When asked why he hated Tom Brady, who never has left a Boston-based team to play for a rival, Sullivan responded, "Oh, guy thinks he's so great because he never left the Pats. Real Pats leave. Period."
The Miami Heat won their 20th consecutive game, beating the Philadelphia 76ers, 98-94, on the road. "Twenty in a row, that's a perfect game in Magic: The Gathering, am I right?" asked Heat forward Shane Battier after the game. "If only someone on this team would play with me. I have a sweet black/blue deck I want to try out. I tried to teach Chris Andersen how to play, but he kept folding up the cards and throwing them at me while yelling, 'Cacaw!' It was disappointing."
Kobe Bryant suffered an ankle injury while landing awkwardly on a late field goal attempt defended by Dahntay Jones, as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Hawks in Atlanta, 96-92. Bryant has been ruled out indefinitely with the injury, saying after the game, "Revenge isn't the sort of thing that has a timetable. Except for a 30-minute head start." When told of Bryant's statement half an hour later, Jones asked, "Wait, when did he say that?" before slipping on a loose piece of linoleum and bruising his knee.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had surgery on his forearm last week to clean up an infection. These are the kinds of things that happen when your arm is operated on three times in three months. But Gronk being Gronk, we feel like there are some extra-medical reasons for his infectch. Here is a list of those possible reasons:
Prolonged exposure to Tryst air-conditioning condensation, stripper glitter, taking an inadvisable amount of Mountain Dew baths, a splinter from a Tower of Terror malfunction, gator sweat, stuffed animal fur, sourdough bread crumbs that had been in Logan Mankins's beard since 2010, stagnant Typhoon Lagoon water, a little bit of price-sticker glue from the shrink-wrap of a recently purchased copy of Ministry of Sound's The Sound of Dubstep, over-application of complimentary Harvard-branded body lotion, Funyun dust, uncared-for Capri Sun straw stab wound, a little bit of Aqib Talib's homemade kimchi, the enormousness of Tom Brady's personal sacrifice.
In case you were out stocking up on discounted Swedish meatballs, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
George Karl's Denver Nuggets continued their torrid offensive play as they beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home, 119-108, to deny the Lakers a chance to get back to .500. After the game, Kobe Bryant was all smiles, joking around with teammates and coaches in the locker room. When asked about his cheery demeanor, Bryant said, "I'm so glad you asked. You see, I enjoy losing to Coach Karl in the regular season because it reminds me of the last time I lost a postseason series to him back in, hmmm, I can't remember when. He's been coaching my whole career, though, so I'm sure he must have beaten me once in the postseason. No? No." Bryant then pulled a microphone out of his waistband and dropped it on the ground.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The AFC Championship Game featured a pair of offenses that for most of the season could not have been more different. As was brought up countless times during the playoffs, Joe Flacco was the best deep-ball thrower in football in 2012, but the Ravens struggled in their intermediate passing game and in manufacturing first downs. For the Pats, manufacturing first downs is all they do. They had 444 in all, 62 more than any other team.
Much of this middle-of-the-field dominance was — and has been — a product of Wes Welker. The 31-year-old receiver has caught 627 passes in his six seasons as a Patriot, and as every other piece of New England’s backfield and receiving corps has turned over, Welker has remained a constant for Tom Brady. Welker had another typically outstanding season in 2012, catching 118 passes for 1,354 yards while Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski missed significant time with injuries, and Brandon Lloyd, well ... didn’t do anything.
This steady production is what’s made Welker’s treatment by the Patriots and Bill Belichick a bit puzzling. Before the 2011 season, Welker, coming off his worst year as a Patriot, was offered a two-year, $16 million contract. He turned down that deal before getting the franchise tag that spring. Last offseason, coming off his best season as a Patriot, Welker was given a lesser offer, which he again turned down before getting the franchise tag. In total, Welker brought home more than he would’ve by signing the original sheet, but what had become clear was that to the Pats, Welker’s value had been defined. In New England, that usually means a line in the sand. When it came time this week for the Pats to decide whether to again use the franchise tag on Welker, they declined, meaning that Welker will likely become a free agent when the league year begins.
It's a Super Bowl-a-palooza from New Orleans! In other words, it's a two-part B.S. Report. In Part 1, Rembert Browne and Cousin Sal talk about the actual game; PEDs then find time to break down their terrible lunch. In Part 2, Tracy Morgan talks about the finale of 30 Rock before Giants defensive end Justin Tuck stops by to remind Bill that New York beat the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl. Good times.
To listen to this podcast, you can download it on iTunes here or go to the ESPN.com PodCenter here.
To listen to this podcast, you can download it on iTunes here or go to the ESPN.com PodCenter here.
With the rest of this off week between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, I'll be taking a look back at the playoffs (today) and the season at large (Thursday and Friday) before diving back into Super Bowl coverage next Monday. Today, I want to take a step back and look at how the reputation and perception of playoff participants have changed over the course of these past three weeks. That's right: It's time for a Playoff Stock Watch. Let's start with the players who have seen their stock skyrocket during January and work our way down to the players who've crashed and burned.
This week's Fourth-and-Short has four more thoughts on the four conference championship teams. In the cases of the 49ers and Ravens, it's time to begin the arduous process of breaking down the Harbaugh Bowl. With the Falcons and Patriots, now is a good time to reflect and anticipate how the runners-up might look and act differently in 2013.
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.
In case you were busy writing the first part of a gritty 3-D trilogy reimagining the story of Humpty Dumpty called "HD Volume One: Sitting on a Wall," here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The Baltimore Ravens topped the Patriots, 28-13, behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. After the game, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs reportedly said, "Tell (the Patriots) to have fun at the Pro Bowl." When told this, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady grinned ear to ear, saying, "Terrell said that? Really? I thought that guy didn't like me, what with the all the hitting and screaming today. I guess I learned a valuable lesson in judging. Tell Terrell congratulations on his hard-fought victory, and that we will have a great time at the Pro Bowl because nothing is better than chilling with friends in Hawaii. And then tell him aloha, because, hello, what a great competitor; goodbye, I'll miss his sweet face; and I just love that guy's attitude!"