There is so much going on in the world at this moment and the overwhelming majority of it is awful. That, combined with the fact that I'm something of an expert on the Golden Knights (that is a joke, but I did do a serviceable writeup for Deadspin), means I'm going to treat myself and write about the Stanley Cup Finals.

Overall, both teams somewhat surprisingly beat deeper teams, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay. Those teams have more talent spread out over more spots in the lineup. In the end, Winnipeg's gaggle of goal scoring forwards couldn't overcome VGK's terrifying speed and a hot Fleury gave the latter a real edge in net over one of the weaker, or maybe just "least great", netminder in the playoffs in Hellebuyck. They just ran Winnipeg ragged like they do everyone else.

Washington couldn't match Tampa for talent, but it too had the edge in net with Hotlby on his game and, honestly, they have one of the greatest players of all time looking possessed. Washington's four lines can't compete with TB's four lines on paper, but one team has Ovechkin and the other doesn't. He has worn the playoff choker label for a decade and this year has shot it to hell. He's one of maybe three players in this era who can totally take over games, and he's doing it.

These two teams create a very interesting set of matchups.

GOAL: Tough call here. Fleury is playing the best hockey of his life and has two Stanley Cup rings. Holtby is playing outstanding as well and has never won the big one. In terms of the way they are playing right now it's a toss-up. Based on overall body of work and "intangibles" like experience and composure under pressure a slight edge has to go to Fleury.
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Advantage: VGK

DEFENSE: Big mismatch here, with the Caps' six an obviously stronger group. That said, VGK's overmatched D has played better than anyone could expect all year so why stop now. The speed of Vegas's forwards keeps pressure off them and woo boy does Fleury bail them out a lot. John Carlson is probably going to win the Norris Trophy this year and he earned it. Carlson, Orlov, and Niskanen are all better than any individual d-man on Vegas. Kempny can fly and that will help a lot in this series. The one weak link for DC is Brooks Orpik, who has had a great long career but is not the fleetest of foot anymore – he will have trouble with this gang. Conversely, the Ovechkin line is going to be matched up with…Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt. OK. Advantage: Caps

FORWARDS: VGK is fast, fast, fast. The bottom two lines aren't flush with talent but this team is out to make every game a track meet.
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As crazy as it sounds, the Karlsson-Marchessault-Smith line has been as good or better than the Ovechkin-Wilson-Kuznetsov line all year. Let's just say both teams' top lines are a big reason why they're here. The second lines give a small edge to Vegas; I'd want Backstrom and Oshie on paper but there's no denying that Neal-Perron-Haula, unbelievably, has been stellar all year. Both teams have active, fast fourth lines that don't score much. The third lines will be key. Burakovsky finally stirred to life 15 games into the playoffs, and Eller and Connolly are guys who have played a lot of hockey. Eakin-Tuch-Carpenter is more of a track team than a super-skilled line, but that speed generates a ton of scoring chances for them. Tough call here. The Ovechkin line is unstoppable at the moment, but it's delusional to ignore what the Karlsson top line has done this season, which is little short of incredible. Have to call this a draw: DC's bottom six are slightly better, while VGK's top six have the edge…but the Caps have Ovechkin. Advantage: Draw

Prediction: Caps in 7. The only thing I'm actually confident about is that this will be a long series. Vegas is obviously an incredible story, but if DC keeps up the level of play they've displayed in these playoffs they will be there tooth and nail for the Knights.


I haven't used the "Skip this" tag in over a year, so if it applies to you just bear with this post.

Gary Bettman has done a lot of good things for the NHL. When he became commissioner in 1993 the league was struggling to attract revenue beyond the gate (i.e., other than ticket sales) and it was a niche sport in the US on par with soccer or tennis. He thoroughly modernized the league, something even his biggest detractors admit, and in the process has probably been a net positive.

His Achilles Heel, though, has been the insistence on bringing hockey to the Sun Belt in the US. On paper it makes sense, although owners in 1993 were rightly incredulous. He had the foresight to point out how much of the US population would move to the Sun Belt, and his predictions came true. Unfortunately expanding to the Sun Belt has been a mixed bag at best because the fundamental premise – that Midwest / New England transplants to the South will want to see their favorite teams come to town for road games – is badly flawed. If the team can't build a local fan base because local fans simply don't care about hockey, the franchise is doomed. Atlanta lasted all of seven years. The Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes have been a ward of the league several times and don't attract flies to their expensive Glendale arena even though the team has been good recently, making the playoffs multiple times and even knocking off the 3-time Cup winning Blackhawks in 2011. Florida has been a basketcase / zombie franchise in a Miami market that could not care less about it for over 20 years now.

The two teams that succeeded in the Sun Belt – Tampa Bay and Nashville – did so because their ownership groups were intelligent enough not to rely on old fans coming to see their team on the road as a fan base. They both sustained huge short term losses by giving away tickets (especially to kids, knowing that the parents would have to come too) by the bushel. For every 10 free tickets, 1 person came and realized "Hey, I like this!" and they slowly built a local base.
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Having good teams helped a lot too (TB has won 1 Cup and runner-upped a second). So Bettman will, with some justification, point out that Sun Belt hockey can work.

And now he's doubling down on Las Vegas. Las Vegas is going to be a goddamn disaster. My suggestion on a popular hockey site for the team nickname (which ended up being the atrocious "Black Knights", as generic a name as you can find) was the Nordiques, because this team is going to be in Quebec in ten years or I'll eat my hat. Las Vegas has nothing that suggests it can ever support a pro sports team, and especially not hockey.

The obvious flaw in the Vegas market is that even the local population is transient. People, usually younger people, move to Vegas to work for a few years before burning out on the "Sin City" atmosphere and moving somewhere normal. It's not a place any sane person can take for very long. The other part of the population is retirees who are only going to care inasmuch as they can see the Bruins or Blackhawks come to town a couple times per year. It is beyond unlikely that a hockey team – assuming for a second that anyone in the desert even is predisposed to care about hockey – is going to build a strong local following in a place where the population is constantly churning.
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They'll sell out in year one for the novelty factor – At the very least the league will strong arm casinos into gobbling up season tickets to give away for free – and I'm guessing that by the end of year two there will be more people on the ice than in the seats. Even if the team is good, which isn't likely given the expansion draft rules adopted last summer, this has all the makings of a non-starter.

Winnipeg's new team, the ex-Atlanta Thrashers, proves that when in doubt, NHL teams belong in Canada. Statistical analysis suggests that even though it is the 4th largest city in the US, Houston (pop. 6,500,000) has fewer people who like hockey enough to buy tickets than Saskatoon (pop. 260,000). Insiders were floored that Quebec City, with its billionaire ownership group willing to self-fund an arena and where the Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) are still missed, was not awarded an expansion team in favor of Vegas. Something tells me that they'll be getting their team soon enough. Despite the US/Canadian exchange rate issue, which Bettman blamed for the QC group's rejection, can't override the basic fact that people in Quebec will go to the games and nobody in Vegas will.

The worst outcome will be Bettman choosing to die on the hill of a Vegas franchise as he has stubbornly refused all attempts to relocate Phoenix or Florida despite them both being clear failures and money losers in their current markets. Bettman's getting old and he could decide to dig in his heels. But if 10% of the league's teams – 3 of 30 – are money losing Bettman pet projects, I think the owners are likely to rebel. So it's time for Hamilton and Quebec City to make sure that the local owners' groups and arena plans are ready to roll because this Vegas adventure is likely to be as short lived as it is poorly thought out.


There cannot be a baseball fan on Earth, Yankees devotees included, who is not a little embarrassed by Jetermania. The national sports media's overindulgence in #2's final month was at parts ridiculous ("Jeter's final night game!") to the unwatchable (various "tribute" videos from annoying NYC personalities). People are so sick of hearing about Jeter that there has been a strong and unsurprising backlash of articles critical not only of the media coverage but of Jeter as a person and a player. While many of us have been on the "Shut Up about Jeter" bandwagon for a decade now, it filled to overcapacity in the past two months.

So that is how I find myself sitting here about to defend, and even laud, Derek Jeter. I am as sick to death of the coverage of his retirement as anyone else, but even as a career Yankee hater I have a hard time believing that any half-serious fan could say with a straight face that #2 is not an all-time great player. All of these sarcastic headlines about honoring "one of the 500 greatest players of all time" might inspire some giggles but are patently ridiculous.

Derek Jeter has that Ben Affleck disease – just looking at his face and listening to him talk creates an irresistible urge to punch him, even when he's saying something intelligent. He benefits from playing on teams that are always loaded with expensive talent. He lives in the media capital of the US, if not the world, and his every accomplishment is reported on in glowing terms. All of this is true. Fine. Look at the numbers, though, and you see an absolute, slam dunk, first ballot Hall of Famer and that's not even debatable. Oh, I'm sorry…are there a lot of other shortstops with 3465 hits, .310/.377/.440 career slash numbers, eight 200 hit seasons, and 96 career oWAR? I guess he should wait until the rest of them are inducted. If they existed.

The criticisms of Jeter are well known and valid. He was not a great defensive player. He was an average one for the first half of his career and then a liability in the field over the second half. For how many great HOF hitters is defense a consideration? Most HOFers were either undistinguished defensively, played next to none (Molitor, Thomas, etc), transitioned to easier positions like 1B in their 30s to hide their defensive deficiencies (Murray, Foxx, Mize), or had allegedly fantastic defensive skills that were mostly mythical (Brock, Stargell, Winfield). When guys are great hitters, nobody cares about their defense. Dave Winfield was about as useful in the field as a traffic pylon in the field; I don't recall that mattering much when he became Hall-eligible.

Jeter also gets considerable criticism for how bad his final season was.

This is so stupid it isn't even worth discussing. Pick ten random HOF hitters and look at their final seasons.

Look at what players who are practically worshiped like Ripken, Brett, Murray, and Mays did in their final season (or two). Everyone hangs on a year or two too long, usually in a desperate effort to pad counting stats or reach milestone numbers.

Did he benefit from playing on high payroll, talent-stocked teams? Yes. And he was consistently the best or one of the best players on those teams when they were successful.

He also delivered in the postseason, a notable shortcoming of many HOF caliber hitters.

In short, I get it. I understand that everyone is sick of Jeter and that the media coverage was so far over the top that it's hard not to hate him for it. That said, don't be an idiot. He was not a perfect player, but with the BBWAA opening the doors of the Hall to mediocre Nice Guys like Rice, Dawson, and Perez in recent years there is not a single decent argument against Jeter, the best hitting shortstop of the last 100 years, being anything but a lock for Cooperstown the moment he is eligible. Fuck that guy, but he could hit.


My Cardinals are off to a surprising 3-0 start, surprising not only because they aren't as talented as many other teams but also because they're down to their backup quarterback. Luckily they're one of the few teams in the NFL that has that valuable commodity known as a backup QB. And I mean the old school kind, the kind you don't see very often these days. The Professional Backup is a unique animal, far more rare than the backups most often seen around the league.

There are four types of backup QB. First and most common is the Failed Starter. Guys like Jason Campbell, Derek Anderson, and Jimmy Clausen are classic FS types. The problem is that they failed as starters because they're not very good, so if you have to play them it turns out that they're…well, not very good. Second is the Untested Rookie. You spent a high draft pick on him and he makes a decent salary so by default he's second on the depth chart. If he has to play, it's a total crapshoot. Third is the Aged Veteran. He was a good starter at some point but he's pushing 40 now. The team hopes that if he does have to play, it will be mercifully brief. Each hit could be his last, and the speed/arm strength are gone.
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Finally there is the Professional Backup – a guy who knows that he is not the starter, knows his place on the roster, and is competent to play without crippling the team's chances to win. The PB plays a quarter here or there when the starter is having an off day; he starts a game every year or two when the #1 guy sprains his ankle. After each performance he returns to the bench with zero complaints. There is never a "QB controversy" on account of his ego because he doesn't have one.

Arizona's Drew Stanton is a good modern example of the PB, but undoubtedly the greatest ever was Earl Morrall. Most casual fans have no idea who he is. But he backed up some of the greatest greats – Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese, etc – and was always ready to provide competent if unspectacular play in relief. Did any fans out there realize that during the legendary 1972 Dolphins undefeated season Morrall started and won more games than gimpy Griese? Or that in 1970 he took over for an aging Johnny Unitas on short notice and won a Super Bowl? And yet everyone including Morrall himself knew he was the caddy and not the starter.
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He never set the world on fire when he played; he did the same as Stanton is currently doing in the desert – not making mistakes and playing within his limited skill set. Like a professional.

The PB has disappeared for the same reason that the Long Reliever has disappeared from baseball: there is a shortage of quality quarterbacks so anyone remotely competent is anointed a starter. Josh McCown, for example, is a great backup but now he's starting on a woeful Tampa Bay team. Some other great PBs that come to mind are Zeke Bratkowski (Bart Starr's longtime caddy), Don Strock, Jeff Hostetler (who supported Phil Simms on those great Giants teams), and Jon Kitna. The latter two were eventually turned into starters – Hoss with the Raiders and Kitna with Cincinnati and Detroit – by desperate teams even though it was clear that they were destined to be excellent number twos. Green Bay's Matt Flynn is a recent example of a guy who clearly isn't a starter but who plays great in relief.

Scarcity is slowly driving the Professional Backup into extinction, but there are still a few out there. It's the kind of thing that you appreciate if you're a non-casual fan with an eye for the little things that make the game fun to watch. Viva Earl Morrall.


In one of my previous lives I was paid small amounts of money to write things about football. Specifically I wrote about NFL draft prospects; I was an early adopter of Draft Mania that has overtaken sports publications and networks in the last ten years. In the late Eighties and early Nineties there was none of the circus you see today. Mel Kiper was some schmuck who hawked an annual draft guide in ads in Pro Football Weekly. It was a spiral-bound packet of black-and-white copier paper, the kind you make at Kinko's.

When I began grad school in 2003, I had to let the draft writing go by the wayside. I didn't have the time to commit to it anymore and it's not possible to write anything useful or accurate without investing the necessary time. The thing is, I used to be not-bad at it. Sometimes I see the overwhelming amount of space networks like ESPN devote to the NFL draft today and I wonder if I made a bad career choice (Hint: I did). But in any case, I've been planning to come out of retirement for day because of a player in this year's draft class who is attracting the attention of people who ordinarily don't give two shakes about football: Michael Sam.

The amount of media attention being focused on this guy right now is completely unfair, but could have been predicted in advance of his announcement on ESPN (He had told his college teammates privately and without fanfare about a year ago). And now the NFL is getting scrutiny from a lot of places where the football side of what's about to happen is not well understood. Based on events of the past few weeks, Sam is likely to be a late-round draft pick. And I'm pretty sure that when it happens, "It must be because he's gay" is going to be a most common response. It's a little more complicated than that.

The day before Sam made his announcement, he was likely to be a mid-round (3rd/4th) pick. These guys are usually productive college players who lack ideal size or speed to impress the NFL or guys who are physically gifted but who never really did much in college. Sam is the former. The day after he made his announcement, he was still a mid-round pick. That's not naive; NFL executives and coaches are under intense pressure to win now and they would draft a guy who wore pink panties and had two dicks growing out of his chin if they thought it would help them win. I'm not so naive to think that everyone in the league is open and accepting of gay people, but if they think this guy can take down quarterbacks they'll put up with a lot of baggage (as they define it).

The problem is that Sam went to the NFL Combine (a tryout camp, basically) and took a major dump.
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For a pass-rusher without great size, he ran a very slow 40-yard dash (4.92) and put up a pitiful 17 reps on the bench press. By normal human standards he's a phenomenal athlete, but those numbers are basically those of a player who isn't good enough to get drafted at all. In fact, it's only because he showed such good production on the field at Missouri that someone will take a shot at him in the late (5th-7th) rounds.

Sam improved upon those numbers just a bit on Thursday at a workout on the Missouri campus but he looks like the classic "tweener" – a guy who isn't big or strong enough to overpower NFL players and not fast enough to compensate for the lack of size/strength. If you're gonna be small, you have to be fast. If you're gonna be slow, you better have superhuman strength or size. "But he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year!" Yes, he was. Tons of guys who are great college players flop in the NFL. Despite what whacko SEC fans might tell you, the SEC is not the NFL.
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The players are smaller and slower than even the least competent players Sam will face in the NFL.

So what NFL coaches are looking at in Sam is a guy who is going to bring a media circus with him (through no fault of his own) and has "Tries hard but just isn't good enough" written all over him. A step too slow, a bit too small, etc. Of course, the draft is always a crapshoot – Sam could become the best player in the NFL for all we know. However, the track record of players like Sam isn't great. My best guess is that Sam will be something like a 5th round pick, based on his on-field success at Missouri, for a team like the Bears or Saints that uses traditional ends in a 4-3 front. If he's drafted there (or later) we should avoid reading too much into it. No one can deny that he was a great college football player, but he's just not that exciting as an NFL prospect and that's all there is to it. The attitude and college production say Great Player while his overall athletic ability says Warm Body.


The Cardinals team that I expected to go 3-13 this season closed out a surprise 10-6 year with a close loss to their hated rivals the 49ers on Sunday. In a tight game (San Fran 23, Arizona 20) the kickers were the difference. The Cardinals' Jay Feely missed two makeable field goals (37 and 43 yards) while SF's Phil Dawson provided the three-point margin of victory with a 56 yard moon shot in the 4th quarter. Retrospectives on the season are unanimous, as are fans around the internet, that Feely must be replaced this offseason.

This highlights a fascinating trend in the NFL over the past twenty years. The kicking game has become so accurate that coaches, players, and fans alike treat it as automatic. If a kicker ever misses, his job security is immediately called into question. I've done a bit of research and uncovered some statistics that underscore the point.

For the season Jay "Unemployed" Feely was 30 for 36 on field goals (83%). In 1965, the league leader, long-time Cardinal Jim Bakken, hit 67% of his kicks. In 2013 the worst kicker in the league, an aging Sebastian Janikowski, hit 70%. The league leader, Matt Prater, was a ridiculous 25-of-26 (96%) including an unheard of 64 yarder, a record. The Saints Garrett Hartley was waived a few weeks ago for hitting 73% on the year. So the worst kicker in today's NFL was better than the best kicker in seasons past. Jim Bakken's league-leading 67% from 1965 wouldn't even have been good enough to keep his job today.

Want a few more percentages? The current career leaderboard is dominated by active and recent kickers. Of players with at least three seasons of experience, former Colt Mike Vanderjagt is the all-time leader with 86% for his career. Dozens of other modern kickers are right behind him with career averages between 80 and 85 percent. Jan Stenerud, the sole kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and widely recognized as a legend, hit 66% for his career. George Blanda, another Hall of Famer as a QB and K, held the NFL scoring record for decades following his retirement and was a 52% career FG kicker. And he was a full-time kicker in the NFL for twenty-six years.

It's not just about accuracy; let's talk about distance. The NFL career mark for over-50 yard FGs is held by Jason Hanson, who made 52 such kicks. Morten Andersen, considered widely to be the greatest long-range kicker in history upon his retirement, made 40 (on 84 attempts!) in his career. In 2012, Vikings rookie Blair Walsh made ten-of-ten FGs over 50 yards. That is, in one season he got a quarter of the way to Andersen's total from 22 seasons. And he didn't miss a single one. Hall of Famer Stenerud made a grand total of 17 kicks from over 50. Walsh will surpass that in his third season. Of the 14 field goals made from 60 or more yards in NFL history, half (7/14) have been since 2010. Sixty-yarders aren't exactly routine but they're no longer rare.

One final stats: League-wide, kickers made 13% of kicks over 50 yards in the 1960s. Since 2000 the number is 54% and increasing annually. What was once seen for what it is – a remarkably difficult thing to do, kicking an oblong ball through six-yard wide uprights from 150+ feet over a seven-plus foot wall of men trying to block it – is now routine:

When Jason Hanson entered the NFL nearly two decades ago, he got hugs and high-fives for nailing a long field goal. Now, he's lucky to get a handshake. "It used to be 45 and over was, 'Great kick! You made it!"' the Detroit Lions kicker recounted. "Now, it's like, you miss under 50 and people are kind of like, 'What's the matter?"'

So what gives? The two most obvious answers are, one, that kickers are becoming better, stronger athletes just like every other NFL player. Compare the 230-pound offensive linemen and the scrawny 5'10" receivers of the 60s and 70s with the 350-pound behemoths and 6'3" 220-pound sprinters of today and the difference is obvious. The second big change was the development of the soccer-style kick as opposed to the traditional straight-on approach, a topic I've written about at length previously due to the influx of hilariously-named foreign kickers it brought into the NFL.

There are additional factors. There is better coaching from an earlier age combined with the era of specialization. Today's kickers are kickers – period. George Blanda kicked but was also a QB. Ditto Hall of Famers like QB Bob Waterfield, RB Paul Hornung, and OL Lou Groza. Teams didn't have "a kicker" prior to 1960. It was whoever they had at some other position that happened to be the best at kicking. They lined up during training camp and took a whack at it and the coach picked someone to kick (and punt). It was not unusual for six or seven different players on the roster to attempt a kick during a season. Today kickers are dedicated kickers from Pee Wee and high school football up to the pro level. And they have specific kicking coaches all along the way. Specialization has also taken place with the kickers' best friends, the long-snappers, who now do nothing but long-snap and place the ball precisely in the right spot. Every time.

One other thing is often overlooked, in my opinion: the playing surface has improved. Kicking is extremely sensitive to weather (Remember the hilarious kicks in that Bears-Niners game in gale force winds a few years ago?) and the field. In rain or snow or wind, accuracy falls rapidly. Well now we have domed stadiums all over the league and either impeccable grass surfaces or advanced artificial ones like FieldTurf. Compare that to the muddy, sparse cow pastures teams played on (in outdoor stadiums) in the past and there's no question it helps.

The kicking game has become almost too accurate; the machine-like precision of modern kickers is changing the game. Today, as soon as a team gets across the 40 yard line it's getting to be an automatic 3 points. This has led to calls to narrow the goalposts in an effort to make the game less predictable, although that proposal has been met without enthusiasm. Fans know that the sport has changed a lot over the years, but it's odd to think of a guy like Jay Feely getting the pink slip over a performance that a few years ago might have earned him a case full of trophies.


Sometimes I feel like the NFL is turning into the Arena Football League, or perhaps one of those low-end NCAA Division I conferences out west that treat us to regular 49-38 shootouts that grace our cable channels late on Saturday evenings. The season just opened with a Thursday night (???) contest between the Ravens, a team long known for staunch defense and a methodical offense, and Broncos combining for 800 passing yards and 9 touchdown passes. Despite the presence on the field of possibly the best all-around runner in the game, Ray Rice, both teams put up only the mildest pretense of running the ball. This game illustrates why passing (and receiving) statistics from the past 15 years have become meaningless. For the first 75 years of NFL history, one QB threw for 5000 yards in a season (Dan Marino, 1984). Since 2008 it has happened five times, thrice in one season (2011).

Like Major League Baseball was guilty of manipulating the game to produce more scoring at several times during its history, this offensive explosion in football is rooted in rule changes made specifically to light up the scoreboard. Hall of Fame defensive backs from years past would step onto the field today to learn that they can't so much as lay a finger on receivers without drawing a penalty, and offensive lines are given vast leeway to protect quarterbacks – in addition to the many rules in place to prevent QBs from getting injured. This is simple self interest from the league's perspective. The NFL is well aware that the "watchability" of its product depends heavily on having a decent or better QB on every team, and there aren't enough QBs to go around (let alone enough to give any team a second decent one as a backup). If you want to see some truly awful football, watch two teams with crappy QBs go head to head, or notice the sharp drop-off that occurs when a good QB leaves a game due to injury.

I understand the desire to protect the game's most important assets; the other rules, particularly the new emphasis on throwing penalty flags for any contact between defenders and receivers, are less beneficial to the game. Many of the TEs and WRs in the league today border on uncoverable if defenders are not allowed to get physical. Larry Fitzgerald? Jimmy Graham? Antonio Gates? How in the hell is anyone supposed to cover guys like that? Graham is my favorite example; at 6'7", 280 with arms like a 747 and the ability to run like a deer, the defenders might as well not be on the field if they can't make contact with the guy until after the catch.

The downside to all of these rules designed to boost offense was made clear this evening. I don't feel like that was a football game; that was Tecmo Bowl, or some Arena League game where one QB throws 15 TD passes. Everyone loves watching a good shootout now and then, but the NFL has turned the game one-dimensional. It went from a run-first league to pass-first to the pass-only game we're starting to see in the last few years. If we're going to continue down this path, just take the 12-15 teams with good QBs, put them in the playoffs, and forget about the regular season.
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I appreciate this game, brutal as it is, on a lot of different levels.
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I enjoy watching a good passing attack, but it's not the only thing I enjoy watching.


Like any sport, American football has evolved dramatically over the years due to changes in rules, equipment, and technique. The invention of the forward pass, for example, was coupled with the development of the easier to grip oblong ball used today (previously, a more rounded, rugby-style ball was used) to revolutionize the game. Other major changes followed advances like the West Coast offense (the timing-based passing game), the blitz, and so on.

Maybe the most significant rule changes for the modern game is totally foreign (foreshadowing!) to most fans today. True fact: even the worst kicker in the modern NFL is better than the best kickers of 40+ years ago. Today, kickers routinely hit 80%+ of their field goal attempts, whereas for most of the game's history field goals were a 40% proposition or worse. There are two reasons for this. First, kickers were rarely specialists before the 1960s. Someone who played another position usually pulled double-duty as a (lousy) kicker. Hall of Famers at other positions, like Lou Groza, Paul Hornung, and Bob Waterfield, were also kickers for their teams.

The second change was the development of the Soccer-Style kick. The SSK was to football what the Fosbury Flop was to high jumping. Kickers used to approach the ball straight-on and kick it with their toe and the bridge of their foot. Accuracy depended on how squarely they hit the ball, which is to say they were not very accurate under game conditions. The ball also left the foot at a very high angle, meaning that lateral distance was limited.

Then along came two Hungarian brothers – Pete and Karol (Charlie) Gogolak. They started playing football when their parents immigrated to the U.S. Having grown up playing soccer they kicked the ball with an angled approach and the instep/arch of their foot, like a soccer ball. Everyone noticed that the ball went much farther with much more accuracy. When Charlie took the NFL by storm, other teams were so desperate for their own soccer-style kicker that Peter, a kicker at Princeton, became the 6th overall pick in the 1966 draft.

Since American-born kickers couldn't shake the straight-on habits they had been using for years, NFL teams had to look overseas for soccer-trained Europeans who could adapt to the NFL game. (Trivia note: the last straight-on kicker, Mark Moseley of the Redskins, retired in 1986). That's how the NFL, representing a quintessentially American game with few if any foreign-born players, was suddenly flooded with Europeans, Latin Americans, and others who did not look like football players, had no skills other than kicking, and had funny names.

This became a punchline in the 1970s and 1980s – it seemed like every team had a foreign kicker (remember Homer Simpson's line, "This country was built on immigrants. We need them. Without them, who would train our tigers and kick our extra points?") Their contributions greatly improved the game by turning the kicking game into a strategy rather than a crapshoot. One of them, Norway's Jan Stenerud, is still the only kicker in the Hall of Fame.

Here is my tribute to some of the scrawniest, most lovable foreign players to enliven the NFL during the Soccer Style craze and beyond.

More German Than German: Horst Muhlmann – A part-time bricklayer and soccer goaltender, Muhlmann was imported by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969. No, he did not have a handlebar mustache and he put up with plenty of Colonel Klink jokes. Honorable Mention: Uwe Von Schamann, whose name is more fun to say and who absolutely nailed the mustache befitting a German.

Adorable Little Fella Award: Garo Yepremian – Most Americans don't even know where Cyprus is, but football fans remember this Cypriot kicker. First, he looked less like a football player than anyone who ever lived.


Even non-fans recognize a line Yepremian shouted after kicking one game-winning field goal – "I keek a touchdown! I keek a touchdown!" – when it became one of Johnny Carson's favorite catchprhases. And finally, fans remember little Yepremian making one of the most embarrassing (and decisive) plays in Super Bowl history in 1973.

Polack of the Century: Czezlaw "Chester" Marcol – Packer fans fondly recall "the Polish Prince" for the time he ran one of his own blocked kicks in for a touchdown, which he later admitted he was able to do because he was high on cocaine. Look at this fucking guy!

Chester Marcol

Safety specs AND the single-bar facemask!

So British It Actually Hurts: Mick Luckhurst – If you're going to have a kicker from Redbourn, England, he better be named something as stereotypically British as Mick Luckhurst. Quite the handsome chap, too!

Speaking of Micks: Cornelis "Neil" O'Donoghue – Cardinals fans certainly remember this fucking twat, whose career highlights include missing the field goal that would have put them in the 1984 playoffs and the game in 1983 that ended in a 20-20 tie because O'Donoghue missed three (!!!) FGs in overtime.

The Flying Argentines: Bill and Martin Gramatica – After stellar college careers, these tiny sprites had only decent NFL careers. Older brother Martin, aka Automatica, kicked decently for Tampa and several other teams, while Martin is remembered solely for blowing out his goddamn ACL while celebrating a routine kick.

Colombian Superstar: Fuad Reveiz – This former Viking and Dolphin makes the list solely on the basis of his incredible nickname, "Fuad-o-Matic", and Chris Berman's habit of referring to his kicks as "Fuad Shots".

Rolls off the Tongue: Raul Allegre – Such a happy sounding name on this 1980s New York Giant hailing from Mexico. Dishonorable Mention: Cowboys Mexican kicker Rafael Septien, whose name wasn't as fun and who somehow avoided prison after pleading guilty to molesting a kid.

Not Just Europeans Award: Obed Ariri – How fun is it to say "Obed Ariri"? The pint-sized Nigerian kicked briefly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he apparently drives a taxi in St. Petersburg today. Honorable Mention: Donald Igwebuike, who idolized Ariri, replaced him on the Buccaneers, and eventually got busted swallowing balloons of heroin and trying to smuggle them into the U.S.

How Can I Only Pick One Swede? – Ove Johansson? Bjorn Nittmo? Ola Kimrin? I sure as hell can't pick just one. When I was 10, I was convinced that "Bjorn Nittmo" was the kind of name that takes you places, even if you're not talented (he wasn't).

Insert Hitler Joke Here: Austrian trio – Anton "Toni" Fritsch, Toni Linhart, and longtime 49er Ray Wersching all hailed from the land of the Fuhrer. Fortunately for them, I doubt most football players actually know Hitler was Austrian and not German.

The trend lives on today, with foreign kickers like Lawrence Tynes (Scotland), Sebastian Janikowski (Poland), and Shaun Suisham (Canada) currently kicking away. As the NFL becomes a bit more popular around the world, non-American players are hardly a surprise (Germany's Bjoern Werner was drafted in the 1st round last week). This is a great development for the league and for the game, but I have to admit that I could use the simple pleasure of the occasional lovably-accented placekicker named something like Olaf.

(Super Honorable Mention: Former Charger Rolf Benirschke was born in the U.S. to German parents, but he deserves mention because he retired after 9 seasons to become the host of Wheel of Fortune.)


(Mind the category tag; you're really not going to give a crap if you don't like sports. Even if you do, it's dicey. For non sports fans, here is the just-released archive of the National Security Agency's classified internal newsletter, "Cryptologs", from the 1970s to the late 1990s. There is plenty of redaction, but also plenty of amazingly interesting tidbits.
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I have the bad luck of being a devoted fan of three teams that have been very bad for a very long time, experiencing a modicum of success only recently. The White Sox had not won a championship since 1917 when they were victorious in 2005. The Cardinals managed the improbable feat of winning one playoff game between their NFL Championship in 1947 (!!!) and their run to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season. And the Blackhawks, saddled with the worst non-Donald Sterling owner in professional sports for decades, won a Stanley Cup in 1961 before experiencing four-plus decades of futility.
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Even as a young Blackhawks fan in the 1980s it was apparent that the team would not win a championship until Old Man Wirtz died. The last decade of his horrible life was a dark time for Chicago hockey fans, immediately after the dynamic teams they fielded in the early 1990s (Roenick, Chelios, Belfour, Suter, etc.) but before the Cup-winning team of 2009 began to take shape (the current lineup of Toews, Sharp, Kane, Keith, etc.) To be blunt, the Blackhawks teams of the last few years before Wirtz's 2007 death were among the saddest excuses for hockey in the history of the sport.

The 2003-2004 season – the impending lockout wiped out the following season, if you recall – was the Hawks' nadir as a franchise. Not only was the team awful, it was awful with no hope of future improvement. The players were old, anonymous journeymen (their top center was 33 year old Igor Korolev, who managed three goals all season) and young minor leaguers who…belonged in the minors. Their coach, Brian Sutter, was ordered halfway through the season to lose as many games as possible with the goal of getting a top draft pick. Being a somewhat self-respecting person, he refused. So the Wirtz's long-time hatchet man, GM Bob Pulford, developed a brilliant strategy of putting any player who showed a slight ability to play the game of hockey on Injured Reserve with mysterious ailments. This deprived the coach of what few half-decent players he had, and the team won exactly 3 of its final 20 games that year. It was brutal.

With two games left in the season the team was bad enough to be assured of the #1 overall draft pick. To be certain of that outcome, Pulford determined that the team's goaltenders – the eminently forgettable duo of Michael Leighton and Steve Passmore – were both "injured" and thus unavailable. They called up from the minors a failed former first-round pick named Adam Munro to play out the string. In the second to last game of the year, Mr. Munro stood on his head for 60 minutes in goal, stopping 41 of 42 shots by the equally terrible Phoenix Coyotes before surrendering a goal in overtime. In the NHL a loss in overtime is worth 1 point in the standings (compared to two for a win, zero for a loss). That one point knocked the Blackhawks out of contention for the first draft pick; instead they ended up with the third.

The first pick was some guy named Ovechkin, followed by Evgeni Malkin at #2. With the #3 pick, the Blackhawks took the legendary Cam Barker, who is currently disappointing his 5th NHL team. The Blackhawks have certainly turned things around in recent years, but I never see Ovechkin or Malkin without thinking, "Damn you, Adam Munro!" Oh, the possibilities.