Friday, February 29, 2008

The King of the NFL

He didn't look like a king. He was usually scrambling for his life from salivating, hungry defensive linemen who always knew it was feast day. Though they tried hard, his offensive linemen were always outmatched, like boys playing against men. They couldn't help him, they couldn't keep his safe.

All the land he really asked for was a three-foot square chunk of turf in the pocket to pass from, but he rarely found it; and never could he stay there for long. He was sacked more times than Carthage.

When he came out of college, he was the Matt Leinart or Vince Young of his day. He was The Franchise. Trouble was, he played on a franchise team just a few years out of the gate in the NFL and the learning curve for a new team was steep. Impossibly steep.

Instead of shining like the star everyone knew he was, on a weekly basis he was battered and beat up like he lived in a cage with Mike Tyson. Hardly able to put his team in the playoffs alone, it took everything he had to put his feet on the floor on Monday mornings.

It was troubling to watch. Here was this hero with so much potential but week after miserable week he was always at the bottom of an avalanche. It was sad. Many people said, "Poor fella. What a waste."

And such was his career. No opportunities to showcase his real talent because his teams could never contend. Every year ended with disappointment; certainly discouragement and disillusion also must have raised their voices. Though the man plodded on, there never was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; in fact, there was never even a rainbow, just a hurricane every Sunday for many torturous years. And then the man limped away.

Sometimes life offers you surprises in ways you didn't expect them. You put your efforts and energies into a purpose but the by-product of your work ends up being more rewarding. I mean, when you are digging a hole, aren't you also building a hill?

Well, the king was building a hill, though he did not know it. He knew his three skinny boys liked to play in the dirt, but he didn't recognize it as a hill that his efforts had created. Those boys, the princes, loved the things their dad loved. They emulated him. They looked up to him. Though he was everybody else's punching bag, and nobody knew he was a king, he was always a hero to the princes. He patiently taught them his craft. He worked with them, encouraged them.

When they got knocked down, he told them to get back up; after all, wasn't that really his own true specialty? Perhaps no one had been knocked down more.

And up they got. And up, and up. It wasn't long and the king was starting to forget about some of the disappointment of the NFL, the success of his boys was easing some pain. As the boys got older and the game got more intense, the king realized that it was not about him any more, it was about them; his heart was renewed.

All three princes were spectacular. They had the king's genes. He lived through them at their games in other ways as well. The victories were sweeter than ones he could remember from when he played high school and college ball, they were somehow more fulfilling.

Of course, any father can tell you that the success of his son is a richer drink than success himself. Perhaps that is because the success of the son says that not only was the son successful, but the son was able to be successful because the father was successful at enabling the son. So, it's doubled; or something.

But in the king's case, it was doubled, and doubled again, and doubled a third time. The boys were great, just like their dad. Then one went down with an injury, he would not play again. But the trend was already established, he, too was a chip off the old block.

The second prince carried on and would eventually be named the greatest player in the greatest game. That game was vindication for the king. It was sweeter than all the bitterness from all the years of his own career. It washed away every collision, every bruise, every loss, every failure. He was clean again, rejuvenated, and he finally realized that he had totally misinterpreted his life's purpose. He wasn't meant to find success in the NFL, he was meant to find success as a dad.

So this past month, the New York Giants fans were happy for their team, and rightly so, for the Giants played with lion-hearts. But for the king, this was deja-vu all over again; it was abundant, bountiful joy; doubled, and then doubled once more.

In fact, not only did his third son follow the second to the greatest of heights, but it was the king's coronation as well. It revealed and announced that indeed he was a king because his boys were the princes. The hill of dirt had become a mountain and they were all standing on its top, three boys and a king.

Giants fans were proud that day.

But nobody, nobody on this planet was more proud or more deserving than the King of the NFL, Archie Manning.

Archie Manning with his sons, Cooper, Eli and Peyton.
(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NFL Withdrawals: Golf is NOT a Sport!

It tries to sneak up on you in the off-season - when you aren't paying attention. You are deep into the February blues, trying to find a reason to go on after your NFL team failed to win the Super Bowl, again. Nothing much matters, the weather is lousy. You know that it will be a long six months until a new football season. You wonder if you can hang on that long. Your defenses are down and though you don't know it, you are vulnerable.

The first strike is when you are scrolling through the channels on Sunday afternoon during what is, by all rights, football game time. But, of course, the season is over. Even the Pro Bowl is in the books, though for the life of you, you can't remember who won. There are no football games on. But as you cruise to one of your familiar football channels, out of habit, mostly, you realize that there appears to be some excitement happening. So you stop for a moment to see what it is. Which is your first mistake.

You see the green, green inviting grass of Pebble Beach or some lush golf course in Arizona or Hawaii. People seem to be having a good time, you think, and they are acting like there is some drama going on. Perhaps this is something that is significant and that matters, you wonder. Your curiosity is piqued and then come the Rubicon of temptations: you are tempted to actually care about golf.

But I am here to save you from the cruel fate that awaits you should you render your heart to its green seductions and false promises. If you can just get the clarity of mind to quickly move on to the next channel immediately, you will have spared yourself from shame and humiliation. For if you stay, if you give in, if you let your heart be lulled into the sweet delusion that golf is actually a sport, you will be lost.

And when you are lost, it will take you to places, you will do things that even your friends didn't think you would sink to doing. You will only begin to recover when training camp starts again in July, and your awakening will only come through the embarrassing admission that you stooped so far as to enjoy something that was not real. Your friends will turn their backs to you and go talk to their real football friends instead, leaving you standing there alone, and in your shame.

For you have violated sacred sports territory, you have called a sport that which is not a sport. You have betrayed true sports fans everywhere. And you have forgotten the obvious truths about golf that reveal that it is not a sport at all.

Golf's Disqualifiers

So if you have already crossed that subtle, tempting, Rubicon line, let me review for you why golf is not a sport:

1. First of all, you know those fans that you see on tv? They all look like they are having a good time and that golf matters to them? Fake. They're all fake fans. They are all paid actors and actresses. All of them. Why do you think that they have some of the golf tournaments in the winter out in California? Duh! It's where all the actors are! The PGA, Nike, Buick and the like all pitch in to fit the bill to bring in these actors and tell them to look like they're having a good time.

Of course, they're not, you know. In fact it is so boring to them that they can hardly keep the corners turned on their smiles for more than a few moments. Directors learned this long ago, which is why a broadcast will move from green 12 to green 15 to green 7 to a tee-off on 3, all within a few moments. It's because the actors are having such a rotten time that they can only hide it for a camera shot every once in awhile. Yup.

2. Still not convinced? Well, let me ask you this, have you ever seen someone hit a golf ball? You have? Good. Now have you ever seen a professional hit a golf ball? You have? OK. Now, exactly how fast was that ball moving when he hit it? What's that, it wasn't moving at all? Which is exactly my point! How can golf be a sport when the ball they are trying to hit is sitting still on a tee?!

Does Barry Bonds get to hit a baseball from a tee? Heavens no, he has to try to hit one that is traveling 100 mph, and moving up, down, left or right as well! So where is the challenge in hitting a STILL ball? Oooh, pretty challenging!

3. And then there's this, "Shhh, quiet now, he's about to putt for a birdie." Everybody is supposed to BE QUIET as this fellow is trying to sink a putt and beat the guys he is golfing with. What the heck is up with that? Is that how things are in the real world? Absolutely not! When the Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre is calling signals in Chicago do Bears fans say, "Shhh, quiet now, he's starting to call signals?" You got to be kidding me, right? No way does that ever happen. Not in anything that is actually a sport.

Do you remember back in the day when Larry Bird went up to the free-throw line one time in some other city? When he brought the ball up an looked at the basket, the entire fan section behind the basket that Bird was looking at pulled out full-length posters of some model in a swimsuit. Each fan had a poster. There were hundreds of them all waving around trying to distract Larry Bird. He even laughed. I don't remember if he made the shot or not, he probably did because he always stabbed you in the heart when you challenged him. But the point is that prohibiting spectators from expressing themselves is, well, it's just un-American.

In fact the best part of the first Jackass movie was when the guys took a blow-horn to the golf course, hid in the nearby bushes and shrieked it every time some golf monkey was trying to tee off! It was hilarious! One hero even went to far as to hit a golf ball at the hecklers. Over a little bit of noise. Imagine if real professional athletes responded that way in real sports!

4. Besides the ridiculousness of hitting a stopped ball, the other side of the golf shot is this: NOBODY'S trying to STOP them! They don't have a defender trying to take their head off, they don't have a pitcher trying to take their head off, they don't have a defenseman trying to take their head off. They are standing there at their leisure, waiting for who knows what to take their shot whenever they dang well feel like it. No pressure, no defense, no inhibitors. So where's the sport? It can't be called a sport, it's just simple narcissism.

5. The names are just wrong! You have a guy named Tiger, don't you expect him to line up right next to Urlacher on defense? Or maybe he could slash his way down the ice and hammer defensemen on his way to scoring a goal? Perhaps he's a boxer going the full-15 with Lennox Lewis?

Sorry, wrong dimension. This Tiger is skinny and he hits a little white ball further down the grass. No claws, no teeth, no blood-curling roar. Just 'plink.' That's all.

And the Shark? Nope, no bite, just a nice hat.

Suggested (Mandatory) Changes

Although the list could go on and on, rather than make it exhaustive, perhaps we could suggest some changes to this pastime that, if applied, would then make it a real, actual sport.

a. Institute Tackle Golf. Yes, that is right. You heard it here first. Can't you just see it, 'Bobcat Forrest is about to tee off. He looks down range, pulls back, ooohh, he's smeared from the blindside by the foursome coming up from hole 5! That's gotta hurt 'ol Bobcat. Looks like he'll need the stretcher to take him away again today."

Don't tell me that you wouldn't like that. Guys from other holes sneaking back to wipe you out, guys from your own foursome turning on you. Heck, you could have some roaming marauders sent out by the clubhouse striking from the bushes or hiding in trees. Maybe as long as you're off your golf cart you are open game.

I'll bet hitting that ball wouldn't be so easy then would it? And if you need to pad up, that's alright. You might even have the other guys in your party block for you while you are trying to hit it.

b. Bumping Up. Here's an idea that is long overdue. How about instead of waiting around forever for the party in front of you to mozy down the course before you hit the ball, you hit your ball and try to hit them. If you hit a guy in the party in front of you, you get to bump up and go ahead of that party! It's the perfect idea. That way Mr. StupidPants won't just be taking his dear, sweet old time while he's playing the course, he'll be hurrying and watching over his shoulder as well. With enough good shots, you can be out in front of everybody.

A corollary to this rule is that golf course maintenance workers, mowers and the like are objects that you get rewarded for hitting. Hit the tractor, get a free drink. Hit the guy driving the tractor, take a stroke off your score on that hole.

c. Mulligan-Mulligan-Oh, Crap. How many strikes do you get in baseball? Three. How many downs do you get in football? Four. So let's apply that to golf and go a conservative three balls from every lay. Hit the original ball; don't like it, hit another. Still don't like it hit one more. Seems only fair. Then you gotta decide there and then which one you are going to play.

But there is, a catch. Any other player can hit your mulligans. Like the guy coming the opposite way down another fairway, he can step over and smack your mulligan anywhere he wants to and you still have to play it. We'll use yellow, green or orange balls for mulligans, so that other golfers know which balls are fair game.

d. Here is a picture of my nephews. They are in a pasture called Pebble Beach Golf Course. Both nephews are from Wisconsin, one from the western part of the state and one from Green Bay (Wrightstown, actually.) These fellas, like all cheeseheads, were raised to know that you can find three things in a pasture, cows, cowpies, and occasionally, deer.

What you don't see in this particular picture of the pasture, er, golf course, is that there are often more deer on this course than people. Lots of them. Herds. And nobody bothers them at all.

Now there are some things about California that cheeseheads can tolerate; well some things. But letting deer roam freely and leisurely around a golf course is not one of them. Most certainly not! While taking this picture my nephews had half a mind to busting out their rifles right there and then. It would be worth the trip to jail to spot a deer in that far wood line, take him down with an .06, walk over and drag him into the fairway and gut him out right there on Pebble Beach Golf Course. (People take themselves farrr to seriously at Pebble Beach.)

So here's the final new golf rule, hunting on golf courses is mandatory. You must carry firearms in your golf cart and you must at least chase deer down the fairway with high-caliber bullets.

If the golf world would be willing to accept these rule suggestions, it could then possibly attain the status of actually being a sport. But do not be deceived, it still remains only something that sashays by until football gets here again!!!

(Is it the end July yet?)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Patriots Win a Title: 'Most Hated'

The New England Patriots have been declared 2007-2008's Most Hated Team in Football by a majority of voters in PackSmack's first annual inscrutable scientific poll. Gathering 54% of the hate vote, the ill-will about the cheating organization seems convincingly wide-spread.

A deeper look into the vote reveals even more when the Patriots competition is considered. In order to win the title of The Most Hated Team in Football, New England had to actually be hated more than the despicable Dallas Cowboys and the low-life Chicago Bears. That is some pretty stiff competition. But New England was up for the task.

The Cowboys were only able to garner 19% of the vote, which is disproportionate to the level of scorn their annual arrogance actually arouses in fans from other teams. So once again, the Cowboys are disappointing.

And though the Chicago Bears mustered a mere 25% of the overall hate votes, this in no way should be indicative that their place at the very bottom of the universal food chain has changed. It has not. In terms of class and order, plankton is still echelons above them. Perhaps, rather, it was a case of mercy and a testimony to the personal character of the voters in that they did not want to kick the poor Bears when they were down. What's the point, right? (Besides obligation, natural order, compulsion and the communication of true cheesehead family values to future generations, and all.)

Or perhaps it was more like the Bears played so badly this year that many people forgot that they were in the NFL. Kind of like they were so insignificant as to have lost their place in the minds of football fans. It seems from the voting that that fans welcome the thought of there not being a Chicago; it is a pleasant thought indeed.

We think, though, that even though the Bears did not win the Most Hated Team in Football this year, that they could wear the title, Most Hated Team in Football, Runner-Up. That would give them something to make hats and t-shirts out of since things like NFC North Division Champions and the like are already taken. Or perhaps they could consolidate this past year's accomplishments with the voting results and make a motto something like, 'Humiliated, Hated and Worthless,' or 'Delivering Another Year of Futility and Ire,' or 'Wasting Everybody's Time Once Again.' We think such slogans are worthy and appropriate and encourage the Bears to adopt the one that fits.

But as for the Patriots, they are the hands-down winner this year. They are The Most Hated Team in Football. Such a title does not happen by accident. It is earned. And it is in sharp contrast to the titles that New England fans were themselves giving to their team such as, 'The Greatest Team Ever,' and other laughable nonsense. Hard not to chuckle now, isn't it? Go ahead, laugh out loud, loud enough for the big-mouths in New England to hear you. Of course that wouldn't have to be that loud because it is pretty quiet up there these days. Why just the other day a pin dropped and they could hear it all the way down to the Meadowlands.

In fact the only other sounds being made up in that region are the repeated noises of Ted Kennedy incessantly kissing Barak Obama's back side. Yeah, Kennedy must figure that this is his last and only shot at becoming Vice-President, and is working pretty hard to suck up to the Democratic front-runner. When you think about it, it is kind of appropriate, isn't it? Kennedy from Massachusetts = New England Patriot fan and Obama from Illinois = Chicago Bears fan. That would make it a Patriot-Bears ticket.

And we already know from our PackSmack poll how people feel about these teams.

My money's on McCain; by a landslide.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Giants Deserve Lombardi Trophy - Karma Denies Belichick

You can't fool karma. You can sneak behind your authority's back, you can scam your friends, you can take advantage of your brothers, you can lead by deception, you can hide in the shadows and fool everybody else, but you aren't going to fool karma.

Some men will abandon all principles and ethics to craft their way into utopia. The problem is, is that utopia isn't seized by con-artists and hucksters; rather, it is granted to those who best exemplify its values. Such values are: toughness, discipline, effort, execution of the fundamentals, teamwork, focus, tenacity, courage, responsibility, bravery, determination and complete commitment.

Such utopian values are also the type of values characteristic of Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi, whom the NFL Super Bowl trophy is named after. Therefore, with such a name and a legacy attached to the trophy, it seems entirely appropriate and fitting that it should be handed to a team that exemplifies the values Lombardi stood for. This year, the New York Giants earned that Lombardi trophy, for they did things the right way.

Apparently New England coach Bill Belichick must have run out of illegally-obtained video tape on the New York Giant defense because he had no answer for the vicious pass rush that the Giants assaulted Patriot quarterback Tender Tom Brady with all day. When Brady wasn't getting his face planted into the Phoenix stadium turf, he was throwing at people's feet or to places where there was no receiver at all; yes, he felt the pressure. Perhaps video tape alone cannot stop a pass rush.

Who ever heard of a helmet-catch? What kind of a play was that where Eli Mannning escaped from the grasp of several Patriot pass-rushers, and then tossed the ball downfield so his receiver could catch it on his helmet? Is that normal? Well, not according to the receiver, David Tyree, who said about the play, "This was all supernatural." (Photo: Barton Sillverman/The New York Times)

It wasn't just a talented catch after a fortunate escape, though certainly those things were there; it was karma getting involved so that blatant, under-handed cheating would not receive the reward of being welcomed into utopia.

So at the end of the day, it is the New York Giants, winning by the honest type of values that Lombardi stood for who are admitted into utopia, while convicted cheater Bill Belichick is denied. Belichick's party is not over, however, as the NFL Commissioner has been asked to meet with members of Congress over Belichick's cheating antics.

Though karma would not give Belichick what he could not earn, perhaps Belichick, who should have been banned from the NFL, will find that karma will instead give him what he has earned.