Saturday, February 15, 2014

Candlestick Park: One Last Drop Back

Candlestick print

One reason football makes other sports feel like watching checkers in heavy fog, is its iconic settings. Those big places, after all, are more than bricks and mortar, beer taps and urinal cakes, crumpled beer cups and forgotten ticket stubs under seats. They give meaning to the NFL. 

Along with Tom Brady's hair.

Soulless concrete stadiums enliven on game days because of the intangible energy that wraps around the field and its surrounding bleachers. It lifts players to rare heights and fans two feet from their seats, and lingers long after the final whistle. Atmosphere needs a place to swell. 

Sure, it might quieten each Monday, drowned out by the buzz of lawnmowers, the whip of sprinklers and sweeping brooms, and SportsCenter's 'Boo-yahs'. But any metaphysical matter that can fill an arena is capable of setting into its beams and lodging in crevices, both those within gray pylons and ourselves. It then stays a while. It's simply something that giant screens and wi-fi technology could never connect us to. 

Which is why it hurts to see such old places pulverised. 

Candlestick Park in San Francisco is slated for demolition later this year, according to, allowing for a prolonged farewell that may even include Paul McCartney doing a creaky version of Long Tall Sally. 

Ohhhh baby, we're gonna have some fun that night!

In the late summer of 1966, The Beatles added yet another layer to 'the Stick's' iconic fabric as only they could, in what was to be their final live show anywhere. The guitars twanged richly that evening, but it's hard to be sure over time, given the piercing screams that drown the show's lasting audio. Hitting fewer vocal peaks these days, I'm sure Sir Paul wouldn't mind those same squeals the next time around.

The Beatles at Candlestick
The Fab Four played their last live show at the Stick

It's indeed a cruel twist fate that awaits all venerable stadiums sitting on prime real estate: Developers eventually catch up to rising markets and no amount of NFL memorabilia could outstrip the value of a building on Candlestick Point. No, men with grand visions, grander than bulldozing from the backfield to the end zone, that is, chase these sorts of opportunities down like the Coyote after the Roadrunner. If they catch you, your team as you know it, is through.

If only Roger Craig was still running.

How things change. One day you're wondering if Montana can hit Rice on a fade, the next Montana's saying things like he was never that enamoured with the park anyway.

Joe, say it isn't so?

The Stick, glorious home of the mighty 49ers for more than 40 years, will supposedly turn into a shopping mall and some residential space. To progress nowadays, it seems, you must supplant history - with a few walk-in wardrobes.

Niners quarterback John Brodie, 1971

The Niners are moving to Santa Clara, a decent commute south of San Francisco, and into a $1.2 billion home which is near complete. All that's apparently missing from the new Levi's Stadium is its Bandera Bermuda grass, and the players new denim pants. Okay I made that second part up. But they will be wearing denim jocks.

Listen, I get that things - especially big cement things - become outdated. Seats shrink and scoreboards expand. Paint peels and toilets decay. Where it was once easy to find a spot for a LeBaron, an SUV is different proposition. 

Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara
A visual of the new stadium in Santa Clara

Yes, the new digs look pretty swish and will fast fill the Niners backdrop. Hey, shivering in the upper deck on an icy Monday night, might just become a distant memory. That's what we're aiming for, right? Before you know it, you'll be making crazy comments like you were never a fan of the old park. 

But I'll miss the place, typified by the lively bus ride through town and neighborhood streets, down to the arena where the winds are so fierce there's no justifiable reason to punt a football. But the 49ers did so anyway. And also rolled out plays that delighted fans so much, for so long.

The images and sounds of them all, the many memories, still huddle around the Stick's old walls, waiting for the next great play to be called.

Joe Montana with Coach Bill Walsh
Coach Walsh helps Joe look for his keys
Candlestick Park parking lot
First ones here, and we'll be the first to leave!
And they said Sochi wouldn't be ready

Saturday, January 25, 2014

10 New Audibles For Peyton Manning On Super Bowl Sunday

The big wigs over at Broncos HQ are said to have concerns ahead of the Super Bowl because Peyton Manning's "Omaha! Omaha!" signal call has become too obvious. 

In light of this, they've come up with 10 new audibles for Manning to use at the line against the Seattle Seahawks.

“Hey Irsay! Irrr-saaaayyy.....!”
“Brady’s hair....Brady.....Hair....Hut!”
“Oma-wooohhh, what's that smell?"

"New York, New York!"

"Actually it's Jersey. We're in Jersey!"

“Colts! Broncos! Same difference!"

“O brother, where art thou?”

“Wounded duck! Wounded duck!”

"Sherman! Sherman! Sherman!"

"Handsarefrozen! Frozenyahearme! Frooooo-zen!

Monday, January 13, 2014

NFL Cool Rankings: The Quest For The Holy Grail

With only four teams left to pursue the Super Bowl’s Holy Grail, it remains to be seen who escapes the series of traps left within the playoff temple. The path to the Vince Lombardi Trophy can be a treacherous one to be sure, especially with that old knight Walt Coleman patrolling the sidelines.

“Only the penitent man shall pass!” he cries.

But are there such men in this year’s crop of quarterback heroes?

First, there's Brady, who is unforgiving. Then Manning, who seems more like an everyman. How about the two young guns, Kaepernick and Wilson, who both strut the park with more bravado than prized poodles at Westminster?

Indeed, there’s no room for internalizing in the modern game. Strut! Stride! Charge! Or be charged. Run, or be roughhoused. Or rocked. That's why the older guys get rid it of it so quickly, you see.
Truth is, time is also running out. For Brady and Manning, this may be the last hurrah. For Wilson and Kaepernick it might be just the start of many blue ribbons. They're the future, or so everybody is telling us. 
Whether you side with these players, and their teams, may ultimately be framed by their cultural impact (hashtag - leaping onto a cool bandwagon).

So for the indecisive and uninitiated, here’s a quick guide to the coolness levels of the four remaining contenders.

1. Seattle Seahawks

The Hawks are the hottest team in cool colors since the Blue Man Group. They’re still hot, right? 
Anyway, you can’t help but like Wilson. He’s so slick. So fast. So cool. And can throw. Plus, his post-game comments are the stuff of, I don't know, a senator. A good senator, one without a lascivious past. He makes you believe. 
Then there’s that animal Beast Mode – a.k.a. Marshawn Lynch. Man he’s scary. He looks like the Predator, for crying out loud. 
So, if don’t have a horse in this race and need one, it’s hard to look past the suddenly favorited ringless underdog.

2. Denver Broncos

The Broncos defense is menacing. That’s what football fans say. The uniform is rich. That’s what fashionistas say. The air is rarified. That's what the media says. The old 'D' logo was once impenetrable and therefore legendary. That’s what I say.

Speaking of legends, how about Peyton Manning? They don’t come much bigger. Or better. Or humbler. He seems like a great guy. A man who studies the game more earnestly than that nerdy dude in your fantasy league who's so very pedantic on trades. What gives with that? I just need another receiver, guy. Pull the trigger. 
Anyway, if you believe in miracles - and Peyton winning at age 37 post serious injury is one - Denver should be your team. 
"Omaha! Omaha!" 
3. New England Patriots

Look, even as a neutral observer I’m finding it tough to recommend the Pats. They’re just too dynastic. Too conniving. I mean Belichick and Brady are the Gargamel and Azrael of the NFL, aren't they? Everyone else are Smurfs, scurrying for survival. And you know who Vanity is right….?

4. San Francisco 49ers

Yes, Colin Kaepernick loves to kiss his arms. Give the man a mirror and put a flower in his hat! I’m sorry but....yes he can run. Great. He sometimes even throws it well. Other times, when he's not congratulating himself, he does the two simultaneously, like a tattooed cyborg that’s short-circuiting. In fact, I’m convinced Jim Harbaugh built Kaepernick in his basement as part of an elaborate plan to unseat Alex Smith, win a Super Bowl, and more importantly, the hearts and minds of every Gen Y fan out there.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

7 things we've learned already this NFL postseason

1. Andy Dalton can throw one heck of a deep ball. It's the short to mid range stuff that turns him into Gus Frerotte.

2. Sean Payton somehow makes a visor look credible in the freezing cold. Can you imagine what he'd do with a sombrero?

3. Drew Brees can launch some shockingly conceived balls, but rest assured he'll always be excused by the talking heads.

4. Philly's Riley Cooper mistook a pair of dishwashing gloves for his receiving mittens against the Saints. Apparently.

5. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson likened Andrew Luck to Michael Jordan because he wants the ball. But that scoop and score play was really the stuff of Magic.

6. It's funny how players that do dumb things like Cary Williams horse-collar tackle on Darren Sproles can look so proud of such a careless mistake.

7. Colin Kaepernick is really good at running. Yes folks, he's like a gazelle! Spotting wide open receivers is proving more challenging however.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

If pro QBs moonlighted at your local deli

A photo taken at a Houston-based restaurant rounded the web recently because of its tongue-in-cheek dig at Texans quarterback, Matt Schaub.

The shop's sandwich board read:

Matt Schaub special - Pick Six - Toppings for you burger.

The clever idea got us thinking, what if pro quarterbacks actually moonlighted at your neighborhood deli?

So without further ado...

If Peyton Manning worked your local deli counter, orders would change last second and hit your hands before you looked up.

If Ben Roethlisberger worked your local deli counter, your pastrami on rye would end up sacked in a steaming heap.

If Geno Smith worked your local deli counter, Rex Ryan would insist a sub be named after him.

If Alex Smith worked your local deli counter, sandwiches would be quick and precise, but mostly under-appreciated.

If Cam Newton worked your local deli counter, the service would dazzle but leave you wanting more.

If Aaron Rodgers worked your local deli counter, it'd be high quality but relentless reviews by sports anchors would leave an unsavory taste.      
If Jay Cutler worked your local deli counter, orders would fly out with extra mustard and a sprinkle of disdain.

If Tony Romo worked your local deli counter, all wrong orders would be blamed on him, even on his day off.

If Carson Palmer worked your local deli counter, the turnovers would stand out.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Is Tannehill the right call in Miami, right now?

Former Miami Dolphins quarterback, Don Strock, was interviewed for The Finsiders blog this week, which was interesting because writer, Andy Cohen, later repeated Strock's answers on being a back-up to the team's current second-stringer, Matt Moore. He cleverly reported this in the story.

What stood out was Moore’s maturity and patience on a matter that would grind the gears of most QBs until they combusted. 

But it’s warm and sparkly down in Florida, you see, where spirals probably glisten a little more en route to the hands, cheerleaders seem more sprightly and full of bounce, and melting ice cream in the swelter tastes fruitier to the tongue. 

So why blow up over holding a clipboard in the sun, right? 

One nugget from Strock to Moore was, “Your time will come”, which the current back-up knows all too well.

Moore responded, “Well, it’s come true in the past for me. So if history repeats itself, I guess my time will come."

Moore is a guy who says the right things, and then when he hits the field, mostly does alright too. And they said Tom Cruise had all the right moves. Well, he did, until about the second Mission Impossible flick. It seemed to get a little strange after that. Perhaps it was all the John Woo slo-mo sequences that messed up his equilibrium.

The thing is, I’m still not convinced Ryan Tannehill should be Miami’s starting signal-caller, even after his decent rookie year. I like his upside, don’t get me wrong. He has arm strength. He can run. He looks business-like at press conferences and his wife hits it out of the ball park before the pitch is even thrown. 

What’s not to like about Team Tannehill? 

But still, I don’t really care about media moves and showy draft picks for the sake of ticket sales – I care about wins. And if you’re a Fins fan, you’d certainly be asking yourself after the Hall Of Fame Game on Sunday - other than how does Chris Collinsworth get the part in his hair to stay like that – should I be worried that Tannehill looked shaky?

Yes, it’s preseason. And it was just five plays. Yet, Moore came in, and as it always does when No.8 sets up shop behind center, the offense moved. Sure, he made a couple of questionable calls himself. We all have. I’m still getting ripped for a pair of pants in my closet I thought were men’s. This whole ‘skinny’ fashion trend is so confusing. 

The point is, Moore gives the team more - quite literally. Certainly he’s a little loose – somewhat Favrean, if you will. But as long as he stays retired when he eventually hangs the cleats up, and keeps the crotch selfies to himself, I’m on board.

Miami should be too. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Temptation to use Tebow and how

Tim Tebow, New England Patriots
Tim Tebow's loose spiral and sporting spirit have been shipped to New England, but outside of that, who really knows what this means?

In truth, few saw this coming. And yet, the Patriots may have been planning the move for weeks. That he was sitting on the sideline unemployed apparently proved too tempting for the team's coach Bill Belichick, who in this scenario is a little like Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent. Ironically, the once almighty Tebow had become a forbidden fruit around the league, before the Pats swooped in this month.

You could argue, in fact, that his stay in New York marked the end, where minimal opportunity was afforded the quarterback in a farcical situation which amounted to nothing more than a PR stunt. In short, the Jets signed the man but acquired the mania, something they always seem to crave.

At any rate, Belichick is not one to dwell on past sins. He's been down this road many times, yielding both success and failure, trial and tribulation. Though never repentance - not even with the likes of Albert Haynesworth. This might be his most ernest Hail Mary of all. 

As football fans, we thought Tebow might at least be a good "wildcat" option in New York, where it was expected the Jets would consider his versatility and size, and send him steaming from the backfield. In theory, Tebow was ideal for the club, where, as the back-up QB, he might have been inserted into the fray to pick up short yardage, or perhaps torment the opposition with some of the trickery the wildcat attack is known for.

Now the sport's insiders are forecasting Tebow in all manner of situations - be they wild, cat-like or a hybrid of the two. The NFL Network's Rich Eisen tweeted that it makes little sense Tebow play as just a QB. CBS Sports' Mike Freeman tweeted that Tebow won't only study tight-end but also quarterback. ESPN's Chris Mortensen tweeted that Tebow will be a third string signal-caller.
(In case you were wondering, I tweeted nothing, because like most fans, I have no idea what the heck Tebow will be doing in New England, outside of genuflecting and high-fiving).

But I do think about the wildcat, or at least variations of that type of offense. It is made for television football, just like Tebow. Tebow and the wildcat together might be like John Hamm and dark suits. This should have already been in syndication in New York. Just as the Miami Dolphins famously employed it in 2008, quarterback Mark Sanchez could have regularly split wide, while a second runner positioned himself in the backfield. Then, as a man swept behind the line, the ball might have been snapped into the hands of an enterprising Tebow, and New York football would have lit up again like Broadway Joe Namath. Tebow in lights, that's what we all envisaged, right?

Well, there's still a chance of this, I guess.

The wildcat has transitioned to the read option offense of late, where players like the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III and the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson are reading defenses and choosing an appropriate option. Presuming Belichick isn't grooming Tebow to play fulltime quarterback behind the game's best signal-caller, Tom Brady - as many writers and commentators are suggesting - option play might be Tebow’s niche in New England. After all, Tebow is a tank of a man at 6-foot-three and 236 pounds (the NFL's scariest runner is Adrian Peterson is 217 pounds). Given the chance to bamboozle defenders using New England’s vast arsenal, Tebow might seize the day. If there was ever an athlete who could be an effective football player without a positional label, it is No.15 – soon to No.5 in his new uniform.

Working against this is clipboard pretence. Pro football's most prominent talking heads seem enamoured with the idea that modern football requires every player to be a specialist. How often do we hear about the intricacies of elaborate assignments, the complexities of playbooks, and that a generalist just can’t cope? Tebow is the case study here. It may well be true that the highest level of football calls for the focus of a fundamental skill, such as blocking, or running through gaps, or, as it is in Tebow’s case, accurate forward passing. But at the end of the day, aren't self-belief, being hard to tackle and having incredible diligence all skills?

Working in favor of the idea is Tebow’s prior professional success. Like the backs of a former era, Tebow is less conceptual in his approach to football: he sees a hole and he darts through it. He watches a defense lean one way, and heads the other. He's also less reliant on schemes and formations than is given credit for. He's the game's equivalent of Larry David: set up the scene and he'll take it from there. We saw him do this in Denver in 2011.

Tebow ran numerous option plays as the Broncos quarterback with Willis McGahee as running back, where together they amassed hundreds of yards on the ground in a short time. Denver played the option almost exclusively in the fourth quarter of their 38-24 win over the Oakland Raiders. They used it again a week later in a 17-10 unseating of the Kansas City Chiefs. But most notably, in an overtime win over the San Diego Chargers, Tebow set an NFL record 22 rushing attempts by a quarterback in one game, using the option. His 67 yards rushing and 143 passing that day, boasted a mastery of the strategy that was unprecedented at the professional level.

For all the so-called gimmicks and gadgets that teams should employ for a player like Tebow, its the player himself who most often makes something happen. That's Tebow's forte - interpretation. Certainly, running backs or half-backs, or "wild" backs need blocking and unbalanced formations, and the potential of several outlets or escape hatches, but they also dictate outcomes using their supreme speed, strength and vision. And in Tebow's case, an unparalleled will to succeed is undoubtedly a factor too. In this regard, Tebow’s runs, especially those late in the Denver campaign two seasons ago, appear to be the work of divine intervention.

So, yes, the Pats will need to think through some options. They'll benefit from plays specific to Tebow's repertoire, and to pinpoint instances in which he can bowl through, around, or over obstacles. But it'll be his thunderous running, and elusiveness, that'll make those plays work. And whether the defense suspects it or not, Tebow won't be denied yards. He'll additionally confuse defenders and inspire audiences simply by being on the field. He'll whip up lot of noise, both literally and metaphorically, even if just for a handful of plays.

Okay, we don't know exactly what Belichick will do with Tebow, so what do we know?

We know that Tebow is a rare and confounding specimen - a player who can make some throws, but more importantly, change direction like a running back. We can make fun of his passing but Tebow’s downfield tosses weren’t so terrible in Denver that they can't be a threat at all (he made 9 of 18 in that San Diego game). The promise of a threat is all Belichick needs for this signing to be a success in the end. The prospect of Tebow breaking a single play is certainly worth the risk.

The coach recently told reporters, "we'll see," of what he plans for Tebow. And yet, in Tebow, he surely realizes the potential to weave a number of tricks. It might take time, maybe even a season. However, given Belichick's propensity to use players out of position, as he did once so effectively playing linebacker Mike Vrabel as a tight end, Tebow has great prospects on this very clever football team.

Let's remember, Tebow is not just a run-of-the-mill back NFL defenses are accustomed to preparing for. He's simply not like those boasting power only, or just quickness, or even agility. Rather, he is a man with an array of skills, the way old-style footballers like Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs had almost 100 years ago. Heck, strap the headgear on him, they might even look alike.

Regardless of what's to come in New England, many pundits will discuss Tebow's signing as if there’s a grand Belichickian subtext. But there no real agenda when it comes to Tebow, not beyond getting the ball across the goal line.