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 were busy dancing like no one was watching, despite the fact many, many people were watching, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Clayton Kershaw pitched a shutout and hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-0 to open their 2013 season. "I've been playing at such a high level for a number of years, and now it's time for me to make an impact at every level of the franchise," Kershaw said after the game, while directing traffic in Dodger Stadium's serpentine parking lot, adeptly moving those headed to the 110 away from those headed toward the 101. Kershaw reportedly spent the remainder of his evening helping the grounds crew reseed the playing surface, before finally heading to the locker room to do the team's laundry.
Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies sent the Spurs to their second consecutive defeat, winning in Memphis, 92-90. Conley hit the game-winning shot with six-tenths of a second left on the clock, but was also held without a steal for the first time in 64 games. "I'm out of the game," Conley said after the win. "I've been taking things my whole life, but I'm done. I've got a wife now, and I think a more stable life is what we need." Despite these comments, Conley was, admittedly, "intrigued" by a plan that Marc Gasol was putting together for "one last big score," but at press time had still refused to commit to any more steals in a potential first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
On Monday afternoon, two notable wide receivers were dealt away in trades that seemed to make little sense for the organizations who were giving away their best wideouts. The Vikings, a playoff team one year ago, dealt Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a package built around Seattle's first-round pick despite the deal leaving Minnesota's cupboard bare at wide receiver and inspiring their best player to actually describe the trade as like getting " kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!" Then, the Ravens continued their tear-down of a Super Bowl–winning roster by astonishingly dealing wideout Anquan Boldin, who led all playoff participants in virtually every receiving category, to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick. That only led former teammate Torrey Smith to tweet "WHAT!!!" like he was an '80s video-game villain whose lair had been unexpectedly broached. One thing to take away from these deals: Star players will almost always respond to deals involving beloved teammates by invoking the triple exclamation point.
So why did these deals happen? And were they good deals for each of these teams to take? If you understand the former, you'll get a very good idea of the latter.
In case you were busy drinking all of the soda in New York, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Top-ranked Gonzaga completed its perfect run through West Coast Conference play, winning the WCC tournament final, 65-51, over St. Mary's. In a particularly touching postgame moment, Gonzaga alum John Stockton handed down to his son, current Gonzaga reserve guard David Stockton, a pair of his trademark shorts. "Look at the waistband," the elder Stockton said to his son with a wink, as he had written, "now, you are a man," inside them. When asked if he would wear the shorts in the upcoming NCAA tournament, David Stockton responded, "yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah."
In a showdown of Western Conference titans, the San Antonio Spurs topped the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-93, at home to maintain a two-game advantage in the race for the top seed. The win was the Spurs sixth straight win over the Thunder in San Antonio. "I know I should keep a tighter leash on my guys when we get down here," Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained after the game. "But I also know that K.D. went to school in the area, and he loves SeaWorld San Antonio. No more, though; we have important non-Orca-related business to attend to here. Next time, I promise you, we won't be all hopped up on elephant ears and the thrill of watching Shamu." Brooks then looked over his shoulder at a disappointed Durant, before adding, "well, probably."
The NFL offseason is fundamentally about one thing: hope. The mantra of "Any Given Sunday" is expanded to "Any Given Season," and the new — new rookies, new facilities, new schemes, new management — is the stuff those dreams are made of. But the most powerful offseason story lines, both in depth and on-field potential, are ones of redemption. Alex Smith's impending trade to the Kansas City Chiefs to play for Andy Reid offers that chance for both men.
Smith's story is, by now, well known. A former no. 1 overall pick by the 49ers, he, like the rest of the organization, stumbled around for several years until Jim Harbaugh became the head coach before the 2011 season. That year, Smith flourished in a game-manager role as the 49ers won 13 games and were a few special teams miscues away from playing in the Super Bowl. In 2012, Smith was better in almost every statistical category — completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, an impressive 104.1 passer rating — until he got hurt … and never regained his job, as the young, fleet-footed, strong-armed Colin Kaepernick took over and led the team to the Super Bowl.
Smith isn't yet 30, and a marriage with new Chiefs coach Andy Reid's offense seems — on the surface, at least — like it has the potential for sustained success. Reid is a stalwart of the old West Coast offense, the one developed by Bill Walsh and then carried throughout the NFL by protégés like Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, and, of course, Reid, who spent the last 14 seasons as head coach of the Eagles. Smith seems like the model West Coast offense quarterback — smart, accurate on underneath throws, with good feet and quickness. The scouting report on Smith sounds a lot like one for another great West Coast offense quarterback — Joe Montana.
In case you were out grilling in the rain to prove to yourself you could withstand the rigors of living in ancient times, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The San Antonio Spurs blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Phoenix Suns in overtime, 105-101, snapping an 18-game home winning streak. Spurs point guard and noted Frenchman Tony Parker, who was serenaded with MVP chants in the third quarter, said after the game, "How can one be 'most valuable' when we are all merely sacks of meat containing hearts that only continue beating out of a fear of change. Hopefully, our late collapse taught the people of San Antonio that lesson, and if it did not, que sera, for they are already dead in the eyes of our already living future selves." Parker then pulled out a pack of Gauloises, only to find it empty. "Cruel irony, if this does not serve as proof of a merciless God, which it does not, then what could?" Parker then folded the empty pack into a balloon and used it to hover slightly off the ground.
For those of us who grew up with the lopsided Super Bowls of the 1980s, it seems as if we've had an unusual run. The past few years of Super Bowls have stayed tight, the result in doubt until the very end. It's almost miraculous we haven't had one go to overtime yet, though there have been some some close calls. Despite the early signs of a blowout (and maybe in part because of a brownout), Super Bowl XLVII held the pattern: While the 49ers fell behind 4:18 into the game, and never led, they were only three points down with the ball and a theoretical chance to win, right until Ted Ginn Jr. was tackled returning the game-closing kickoff.
How do you measure the closeness of a game? The final score is one way, of course. But for the viewer — especially the TV viewer who can change the channel — the real test is how long the outcome of the game remained in doubt. One way to figure that out is to ask: When was the last point at which the losing team was within striking distance?
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."
It’s here. Super Bowl XLVII. The biggest betting day of the year. Hundreds of propositions available to wager on. It’s very sad that my wife getting a Valentine’s Day gift is completely dependent upon what color Gatorade is poured on the winning Harbaugh’s head.
But I’m not too worried, as I’ve been on a Rain Man–esque gambling roll lately. I crushed my theoretical bookie on championship weekend, amassing 472,000 jermajesties* — taking my season-long total to a whopping (and I mean a short, pudgy Italian whopping) 612,500 jermajesties overall. Still a bit shy of our goal of 1 million jermajesties, but that’s what Super Bowl Sunday is for. Follow my lead and let’s go to Disney World together.
(*Obligatory weekly explanation: A “jermajesty” represents the fake name given for a dollar amount in this blog. It’s also the unfortunate name of one of Jermaine Jackson’s sons.)
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.
“San Francisco. Baltimore. San Francisco. Baltimore. San Francisco. Baltimore.”
“What are you doing?” says Adam Eget.
“I’m thinking out loud. What do you think?”
“But you’ve said the same thing for the last hour.”
“I’m overthinking out loud.”
“Who do you like in the Super Bowl?”
“You got a good feeling?"
I want to kill Adam Eget, but Gabe Veltri is back and he’s got food. He’s dressed neatly and has two full bags from 7-Eleven. He empties them into the middle of the room with contempt. Food spills and fills the center of the apartment: Twizzlers and Butterfingers and Rolos and Creamsicles and PayDays and more and more and more. Gabe’s fridge is filled with Coca-Cola — Mexican Coca-Cola with cane sugar. Eget and I haven’t left Gabe’s apartment in four days.
I like to gamble. Gamble money on sports. Gabe calls it flipping coins.