Friday, March 07, 2008

The Passion

There is a certain child-like excitement and passion that exists with the members of Red Sox Nation that few other fan-bases have.

This is not a knock on the fans of other teams, nor is it all inclusive with the members of The Nation. It does not exist with the Pink Hatters...those whose allegiance to The Nation depends upon the team's ability to stay on top of the pile, those whose allegiance is predicated upon the fact that it's the "in thing," that it's fashionable to root for the Red Sox.

It does exist with Cubs fans and Packer Backers. You see it with Cleveland fans, and the Baltimore faithful who still sting from the move of the Colts to Indy.

These are the people that can speak with authority about team members that played 20 years before they could have witnessed them on the field because the history of the team is important to them.

Most of all, it is notable that these people can be reduced to a child-like I-received-exactly-what-I-wanted-from-Santa excitement over the simple discovery of a piece of memorabilia lost to time.

I wanted to comment on this because the blogger of Somewhere on the Masthead, evidently a card carrying member of RSN, has a story of just such a instance of child-like excitement.

If you have a few minutes, go over there and read it. Fellow members of the Nation will understand.


There are a lot of things that can cause stigma in professional sports - failure to make the big play; cheating; steroid use; lying when caught; gaining a reputation as a bad clubhouse guy; being a thug off the field; being relegated to the bench. These are some of the most common reasons. Often the stigma exists most strongly with the fans, sometimes with coaches, and occasionally with general managers.

Teams gain it for bad personnel decisions, bad coaching decisions, and, often, bad decisions from ownership.

Players like Pacman Jones have painted themselves into a corner with both fans and GM's, likely having to deal with all sorts of specially designed restrictions built into his contract, should he ever get signed again to an NFL deal. Randy Moss will have his Raider years dog him well after retirement, when Hall of Fame voters are asked to look at the body of his work.

The Patriots will have Spygate follow them, primarily with the fans of the game, just as Mike Shanahan, unless he wins another Super Bowl, will be questioned for his inability to get his team back to the big game without John Elway.

To touch a little further on the Spygate stigma - it certainly doesn't seem to have hurt the team within the free agent market, or the team's ability to re-sign its own. Sure, both Randall Gay and Asante Samuel jumped ship, but Samuel was expected to leave (his decision had nothing to do with winning, as much as he might publicly claim otherwise...who out there really believes that the Eagles are closer than the Patriots to getting back to the big game?). But this is what has happened with free agents since the final whistle blew on the Giants' championship season...

  • Linebacker TJ Slaughter was signed on February 12
  • Wideout Kelley Washington was resigned Feb 29
  • Long snapper Lonnie Paxton was resigned Feb 29
  • Tedy Bruschi was resigned on Feb 29
  • Wide receiver Sam Aiken was signed on March 3
  • Randy Moss was resigned on March 3
  • Corner Jason Webster was signed on March 4
  • Jabar Gaffney was resigned on March 5
  • Safety Tank Williams and corner Lewis Sanders were signed March 6
After all of that, it appears as though Carolina Panthers linebacker Adam Seward expects to receive a contract offer from the Pats.

Of the above, of the five free agents signed away from other teams, almost all have started at one point or another. The others are career special teamers or back ups, including Seward. Seward is the most interesting case.

Sure, Slaughter has been a starter in the league, and adds good depth to an aging linebacking corps with hold-over starters are Bruschi, Adalius Thomas, and Mike Vrabel. But Seward is intriguing.

Seward is a career back up and special teamer coming off his first NFL contract. He never managed to crack the starting line-up in Carolina due to injuries, and a deep linebacking corps on the Panthers.

Seven years ago this March 16 the Patriots signed a linebacker with the stigma of being a career back-up, unable to break into the starting line-up of a Steelers team rife with all-pros at the linebacker position. Mike Vrabel went on to become a defensive linchpin of a team that went to four Super Bowls and won three.

I'm not saying that Seward is the next Mike Vrabel, but it should be interesting to see, if signed, whether or not the 26-year old former teammate of former Patriot Ryan Claridge gets a shot at the starting inside spot next to Bruschi, a shot at shaking the stigmas of special teamer, injury prone, and back up.

There's a lot of speculation that the Patriots will address linebacker in the draft, possibly with their seventh pick, despite the fact that Bill Belichick and his brain trust have not addressed the position with an early rounder since Belichick's Cleveland days. If Seward is signed, that will make two linebackers, three DB's and a wide-out added to the team.

Should the young linebacker sign and pan out, this will be compared to the Vrabel signing. If he is signed, the team overlooks a stud in the early rounds with the intention of giving Seward the job and he doesn't pan out...well, let's just say I can see the "Seward's Folly" headlines right now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 - 1870)
Brett Favre's retirement is about a number of things - it's about one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the history of football hanging up the cleats; it's about the team's failure to land Randy Moss for the second straight year (no matter what might be said publicly to the contrary); it's about a change to the face of a franchise; and, mostly, it's about two cities and the divergent paths they took a little more than a decade and a half ago.

This is about Atlanta and Green Bay.

This is about the 1991 second round pick that became one of the most recognizable and most accomplished passers in the NFL over the better part of the last two decades. He won a Super Bowl, appeared in another, and appeared in 22 playoff games overall. Favre was traded by Atlanta to Green Bay between the '91 and '92 seasons for a first round pick.

With that pick the Atlanta Falcons picked running back Tony Smith. Smith played in 33 games over three seasons with six starts. He was primarily used as a kick and punt returner. His combined yardage for those 33 games - 2,267. That's 68 yards and a little more than two feet per game, almost all on special teams. He averaged fewer than ten yards per game as a tailback.

He had three total touchdowns. One for every eleven games in which he appeared.

Since the trade the Falcons have had eight different quarterbacks lead the team in passing, and at least sixteen different QB's have started at least one game for the team since Favre first started for the Pack in the third game of the 1992 season.

Favre has been great, albeit flawed. While he holds the NFL record for touchdown passes, he also holds the record for interceptions. Most fan bases would take that, I think.

He had his issues with pain killer addiction, but owned up to it in a way that is rare with professional athletes.

Through it all, Favre has had a Hall of Fame career.

There's no guaranteeing that Favre would have gone on to the career he has had would he have remained in Atlanta. I think it's unlikely. However, since Favre took over the starting reigns in Green Bay here are some basic facts about the two teams -

According to ESPN, Green Bay has the best record in the NFL since Favre joined the team. Their record with Favre as the starter - 160 -94. The Falcons during the same time period - 111-142-1.

For the better part of 17 years the gunslinger from Mississippi was the face of the franchise in the Frozen Tundra.

He is likable, and amiable in interviews, coming across with an "aw shucks" country charm that has allowed him to get free passes from the press and football announcers for his questionable decisions on the field. But his easy charm and the way he wears his emotions on his sleeve - shaving his head in support of his wife's battle with breast cancer, talking candidly about the passing of his father during the post game of a contest with the Raiders - made him seem approachable to the fans, not just of the Packers, but of football.

Teams in all sports look for that Face of the Franchise. Someone marketable, someone with star power and ability. In Favre's time, the Patriots had Drew Bledsoe who pulled the team out of the mud and put them on his back for the better part of the 1990's, and then Tom Brady, and to a lesser extent, Tedy Bruschi. The Red Sox have David Ortiz (would Big Papi have become Big Papi had he remained with the Twins?). The Yankees have Derek Jeter. The list goes on - Steve Nash, Peyton Manning, Jason Taylor. You say the names and people automatically think of the teams.

Sometimes the face is indicative of the team. Isiah Thomas was once a face with which teams wanted to be associated with. Same for Matt Millen. And even Michael Vick. All of that is less true now.

The franchise that traded Favre had no true Face of the Franchise until they committed to Vick in 2004. Thirteen seasons after their back-up left to become the face of another, Atlanta finally found their face. Now the face of their franchise is a convicted felon. That face followed them through a season without Vick appearing in a single game. It will likely follow them through one more season, until they find someone charming and marketable and can take the franchise to the next level...someone like a backup quarterback they once had.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mob Mentallity

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

-Agent K, Men in Black

I've been inspired to touch on something because of a debate that I've having with Lisa over at A Red Sox State of Maine. I won't rehash that conversation over here, but I do want to touch on the decay of fandom.

It is something I have discussed before, to some extent.

I think that over the last 20 years we have witnessed a decline in etiquette from fans while we have progressively become a society of entitlement. More and more often we are reading about schools and teachers that no longer discipline children because parental reactions aren't, "what did my child do wrong." Rather, most parents' reactions are, "what did you do to my child." Personal responsibility is going out the window.

This is as evident with fans as anywhere else.

With the purchase of a ticket to an event, people feel that their money spent gives them the right to act inappropriately.

As late as 1960 people still dressed in their Sunday best for a day at the ball park. While I understand not dressing to a tee to go to a game, there was enough respect for what was happening on the field that most of what goes on now didn't happen then.

People feel that the money spent gives them the right to throw syringes at Barry Bonds, batteries at JD Drew, beer bottles at opponents in Cleveland, and curse and spit at children and adults wearing opponents' uniforms in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Sure, it gives them the right to cheer or boo accordingly, to show your approval or disapproval of what happens on the field, but that right stops when the actions make other fans feel threatened, or could do damage to...well, anyone.

No batteries. No bottles. No syringes. No threats. No spitting.

In 2003 in Chicago there were four separate incidents of fans running on the field during a White Sox-Royals game. This culminated in the assault of one of the umpires by a couple of the fans. There was also the assault of the Royals first base coach by a father-son tandem in Chicago.

Sports Illustrated has a list of eleven incidents of fan boorishness and assault of which only one incident is before 1974, and eight of them are since 1984. It is by no means a complete list.

The incidents are legion, and they didn't start at the professional games.

Unfortunately, parents and youth coaches are regularly setting a horrible example for future generations, engaging in this same behavior at little league games and pee wee football. Just last year a mob attacked the umpires at a little league game in New Hampshire. There was, in Philly, a man who pulled a gun on his son's youth football coach because he felt the boy wasn't getting enough playing time, or the coach in Pittsburgh who paid his pitcher $25 to throw at an autistic player on an opposing team.

Does racism play a part? Yes. Is it the driving force? I have my doubts. I think that it's more the mass stupidity. The heavy drinking. And the belief that a ticket entitles them to be morons.