NEW ORLEANS — Quick thoughts on a great, fun, twilight-lit, dramatic Super Bowl:
? I’ve watched the fourth-down pass into the corner of the end zone, the Colin Kaepernick-to-Michael Crabtree misfire, with cornerback Jimmy Smith in contact with Crabtree and Crabtee with Smith. It lasts two yards beyond the five-yard bump zone. It’s close, but I don’t think it was interference. Crabtree was an aggressor there too.
? I still think, blitz and all, I’d like to have taken one chance with the ball in Kaepernick’s hands, running on the last series (instead of a LaMichael James run for two, incompletion, incompletion, incompletion).
? “MVP! MVP! MVP!” Joe Flacco’s extended family and friends chanted when he walked into his family’s private party at Huck Finn’s in the French Quarter this morning, just before 1 a.m.. Is there any doubt? Elite, schmelite. I don’t care what you call it, Flacco’s in the top echelon of quarterbacks right now.
? The HarBowl. John Harbaugh was so drained when I found him 70 minutes after the game. Forget what he said all week about not having any sympathy for his brother if Baltimore won. “I am totally devastated for my brother,” John Harbaugh said. “It’s strange — I don’t really feel emotion right now. No tears. I never thought you could feel 100 percent elation and 100 percent devastation at the same time. But I learned tonight you can.”
? There is something perfect about the Baltimore season coming down to making three defensive stops from the 5-yard line, with Ray Lewis on the field for the last time and Ed Reed likely on the field for the last time as a Raven, and Baltimore coming up with three straight stops.
? Still can’t believe head linesman Steve Stelljes didn’t throw out Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams for the two-handed shove of Stelljes in the first half. Blatant, obvious, ridiculous.
? Jim Harbaugh’s going to hurt himself on the sidelines. He’s as volcanic as Earl Weaver used to be.
? Last three champions: sixth (Green Bay), fourth (New York Giants) and fourth (Baltimore) seeds.
? The San Francisco offense is a barrel of fun, a roller-coaster with motions and shifts and phony handoffs-turned-pivoting-quarterback-end-arounds. It’s going to be so much fun watching that offense, and what coaches will do to it, in 2013.
? The first game of the NFL’s 94th season, on Sept. 5, 2013 … think of the possibilities. Ben Roethlisberger at Baltimore. Tom Brady at Baltimore. Aaron Rodgers at Baltimore. Adrian Peterson at Baltimore. J.J. Watt at Baltimore. An embarrassment of possibilities, NBC and the NFL.
As for the brownout, I don’t know what to say, other than a 34-minute delay in the middle of the biggest event of the year on the sports (and television) calendar is going to be a factor when New Orleans comes up for a Super Bowl the next time. Not good when you have a problem keeping the lights on.
We’ll get to the Hall of Fame, but let’s focus on the game, of course, first.
The non-call of the night.
In the NFC Championship Game, linebacker NaVorro Bowman had his hands on wideout Roddy White on Atlanta’s last-chance play of the game. Bowman impeded White, maybe enough that it should have drawn a flag. No flag.
I thought Jimmy Smith’s contact with Michael Crabtree in the Super Bowl, on fourth down in the end zone, wasn’t as physical.
I talked to Smith at length after the game. He said he was expecting Kaepernick to try to make a back-shoulder throw to Crabtree “because Kaepernick tapped the back of his helmet. That’s usually what that means. So I knew — stay square with the receiver, don’t let him get the ball on the back shoulder. And I knew he was going to Crabtree. We had some stat during the week like every time in the red zone there was a 52 percent chance on a pass they were going to Crabtree.”
Now for the contact. “It was pretty obvious by then the receiver was being physical, and I was being physical, and the refs were letting that stuff go,” he said.
The larger story here is how smart the Baltimore coaches were on the play. One of our SI reporters at the game, Matt Gagne, talked to coaches and found out the Ravens’ plan on those last four plays, all from inside the 7-yard line, was simple: If Kaepernick was going to beat them, he was going to have to do it with his arm and not his legs.
Kaepernick still rushed seven times for 62 yards — his fourth-highest output on the ground this season — and he scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown with 10 minutes to play. But faced with making a goal-line stand as they clung to a 34-29 lead at the end, the Ravens were determined to make Kaepernick throw the ball.
On first and goal from Baltimore’s 7-yard line, LaMichael James took a handoff but ran straight into a zero blitz, picking up just two yards before the two-minute warning. The zero blitz, or an all-out blitz, is the most effective way to disrupt the read-option. The offensive scheme operates like the pick-and-roll in basketball. Depending on how an isolated defender reacts, Kaepernick can either keep the ball like a point guard driving the lane or hand it off to a running back who has more room to operate.
Zero blitz takes away that wiggle room, with several defenders converging on the mesh point — the few feet of space where it’s not clear if the quarterback will keep the ball or hand it off. The downside, of course, is that an all-out blitz leaves the secondary in man coverage and wideouts will typically get open. This, however, wasn’t a typical situation. A short field hems in the receivers, making the coverage effective even if the blitz is slow. On three of their last four plays, the Ravens pinned their ears back and went after Kaepernick. But, as Gagne discovered, not on 2nd-and-goal from the 5. That’s when a chess match was just as effective as a street fight.
During the two-minute warning, John Harbaugh asked for zero blitz, telling defensive coordinator Dan Pees through the headset, “I do not want them to run the ball right here.” Pees had already called for a base defense, zone coverage, but Harbaugh had him rethinking the plan.
“At the last minute he was going to change his call to zero blitz,” Matt Weiss, the Ravens defensive quality control coach who was listening in on the conversation, told Gagne. “But he didn’t, and that turned out to be a great call. Dean almost got talked out of his instinct, which would have been bad for us. If we’re in zero blitz there, there’s a good chance they score a touchdown.”
That’s because Kaepernick took the snap and sprinted to his right — a move designed to beat the blitz that never came — and was forced to throw into tight coverage. The ball to Michael Crabtree fell incomplete. The Ravens weren’t disguising anymore blitzes, only to back off. Pees called for zero blitzes on the next two plays, and the pressure forced two more incomplete passes to Crabtree. “They were smart enough not to run the pistol. Dean did a great job of showing them zero blitz,” Weiss said. “We basically just said, ‘If you’re going to score this touchdown, Colin Kaepernick is going to have to throw the ball in the end zone.’ ” It worked, and Baltimore won.
Ray Lewis: The end.
Thoughts after the last game of Lewis’ career from Maryland alum, Ray Lewis fan and Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson:
“I still don’t know if I believe he’s really retired just yet. I guess when I see the Ravens out there and Ray not there, I’ll believe it. But I don’t want to.
“When a linebacker comes into the NFL, it’s like a receiver who wants to wear 80 because of Jerry Rice, or a running back who wants to wear 22 because of Emmitt Smith. I always wanted to wear 52 because of Ray Lewis. Ask Patrick Willis why he wears 52. It’s a tribute to the best we’ve ever seen. Just seeing his passion for the game, every game, was enough for bme. Anytime I see a player wear number 52, I know that guy has something to him. You can’t wear that number and not be a passionate football player.
“When I was at Maryland, Ray used to come around to practices and games because his brother, Keon Lattimore, played there. I idolized Ray, but I was scared of him. I could hardly speak to him. Just, ‘How you doing, Mr. Ray?’ I was afraid of him. It wasn’t until I got into the NFL that I finally was able to talk to him a little bit, and text him sometimes. I desperately wanted to be drafted into the AFC North. I wanted to play against the Ravens twice a year. I thought that would be the ultimate — to play in Ray Lewis’ division.
“It hasn’t always been easy because we’ve been losing here in Cleveland. But Ray will say things to me, or maybe send me a text, about how this won’t last forever. A couple of years ago, he said to me, ‘Stay the course. Things are beginning to change. I had to go through the tough times too, to appreciate the great time. You’re going to be part of the change.’ Just what an older player should say to a younger player like me. To me, he’s the best. The game’s not going to be the same without him.”
The Hall of Fame got it as right as any year I recall.
I am prejudiced, of course, as one of the 46 voters of the pro football shrine. But in my 21st session inside the voting room, I thought the seven-member class was just as I’d have drawn it up — with only this proviso: Michael Strahan or Charles Haley or Aeneas Williams would have absolutely been fine with me as the fifth and final member (on my ballot) instead of Warren Sapp. But the way I look at it is the way Strahan apparently feels about it: He’s going to get in eventually; he, Haley and Williams all will, in my opinion.
Five thoughts on the seven-man class of 2013:
Cris Carter breaks the logjam, but not for long. He was the most deserving of the three receivers (over Andre Reed and Tim Brown), I thought, because he did two things superbly: score touchdowns — 130 of them — and catch the ball within millimeters of the sideline and end line. He’s the best boundary receiver I’ve ever seen. The way I figure it, we could have 12 receivers with 1,000 catches who are not in the Hall by 2016, and I am just glad we, as a voting group, put one of the deserving pass catchers in this year. But it won’t get easier in 2014. Marvin Harrison enters the fray next year, and that can’t be good for Reed or Brown. Harrison caught 151 more balls than Reed — in three fewer seasons.
Art Modell wasn’t close, and I’m not sure he’s going to get back into the Final 15 anytime soon. We are forbidden from describing with any specifics the debate in the room, but I can say it’s going to be very hard to get Modell elected to the Hall anytime soon. He was eliminated when the voters reduced the list from 15 to 10 on the first cut of the day. The franchise move and overall record are factors, which, I guess, means none of the 46 people on the committee will be having dinner with Jack Harbaugh any time soon.
When Modell died last fall, the Ravens issued a statement with quotes honoring Modell, including praise from Jack Harbaugh that included this: “Scribes and pundits who believe in fairness and honesty dropped the ball today in allowing Art Modell to pass from this Earth without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. There is a narrow-minded corps of individuals who came up small today. Very small.”
The Parcells call wasn’t hard. I know some questioned his winning percentage of .570, but look at the bad teams he inherited (Giants, Pats, Jets, Cowboys), and look at his peers in the .570 neighborhood: Stram (.576), Noll (.572), Levy (.562). You take two teams to the Super Bowl, three to conference title games and four to the playoffs, you’re a Hall of Famer.
Love the offensive linemen. What’s great about the current crop of candidates is that most of the 46 candidates in the room have seen Jonathan Ogden dominate pass rushers from the quarterback’s left side. What I really appreciated about Ogden was his, for lack of a better phrase, clean play. He had 13 false starts in his career and 13 holding penalties. How incredible is that? And guard Larry Allen was a Hannah-type road-grader. I thought both were easy calls.
As for the Class of 2014 … Here come Marvin Harrison, Derrick Brooks and Tony Dungy, added to strong candidates Aeneas Williams, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan, Will Shields, Jerome Bettis and Andre Reed. It will be tough to argue against Harrison, and Dungy and Brooks have good arguments too. Another Saturday in paradise coming up next February in New York.
Peyton Manning wants the Pro Bowl to continue. Badly, quite honestly. Had the chance Friday night to host some SI clients at dinner in the French Quarter, with Peyton Manning the featured guest. Of all the things we discussed, I found his take on the Pro Bowl most interesting — I suppose because it made me think about my belief the game is totally useless.
Said Manning: “I just think it’s one of those events where the veteran players pay it forward with the young guys. I look back and remember learning things about how to be a pro from Mark Brunell and Rich Gannon. This year, there were Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck soaking everything in. I’ve seen Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis at the pool, talking about something. Greatness, maybe. LaDainian Tomlinson talking to Adrian Peterson. Don’t tell me there’s no value in that.
“I got to throw a touchdown pass to Jerry Rice one year in practice — I’ll never forget that. One year, I’m out there before practice with Tony Gonzalez — we’re at the Pro Bowl now, everybody relaxing, supposedly — and he says to me, ‘Hey, throw me 10 balls.’ I’ve had the chance to be coached by so many different coaches other than my own, and I’ve taken something from all them — Coughlin, Gruden, Shanahan, Belichick, Cowher, others. But here’s my favorite Pro Bowl story. I’m 4 years old. My dad is at the Pro Bowl, and he takes the family, and one day my mom can’t find me. It’s an hour, two hours. My dad and mom are thinking, ‘Do we call the police?’ So finally who shows up with little Peyton? Walter Payton. Walter Payton had me out on a catamaran!
“I keep hearing the commissioner wants to cancel it, and I just really hope it doesn’t happen. Guys played harder this year. J.J. Watt was playing hard out there. I just think if you cancel the game, so many veteran guys would miss out on paying it forward to so many young guys. You can’t replace that.”
The problem is the effort. Maybe it was better this year, as Manning says; I don’t know. I didn’t watch.
The Deep End
Each week of the 2012 season, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by ProFootballFocus.com, I’ve looked at one important matchup or individual performance metric from the weekend. In the season-ending Super Bowl, PFF’s Neil Hornsby isolated on one of his favorite players, San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith, in the Niners’ heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Baltimore. Reports Hornsby:
“In 2011 we selected Justin Smith as our defensive MVP and also named him the second-best player in football in our Top 101 players of the year. But the Super Bowl was his worst performance since 2009, and it helped doom San Francisco.
“Last year Smith picked up 90 quarterback disruptions on 754 rushes or, to put it another way, he got pressure on 12 percent of all dropbacks, leading his position. However, since returning from a triceps injury he sustained at New England in December, Smith has managed only two disruptions on 115 rushes or on 2 percent of passing plays, a level of disruption comparable with some of the worst pass rushing tackles in the NFL.
“That lack of pressure has also affected Aldon Smith, who since Week 15 has played well only once (making life miserable for Atlanta tackle Sam Baker in the Championship Game). Thus, the rush from the right of the 49ers defense has been almost nonexistent.
“Smith had the chance to go up against a rookie making only his fourth start at the left guard position in Kelechi Osemele and with a week’s rest surely things would be different. Right? Things only got worse. Not only was Smith held without any pressure, but Osemele, playing by far his finest game of the year, also bested him in the running game too, sometimes sealing him inside, sometimes pushing him back and sometimes cutting him to ground.
“Joe Flacco played well anyway, but when you are pressured on just eight of 35 passing plays (despite the 49ers blitzing more times than they have since they faced Christian Ponder in Week 3) it corroborates what many have been saying for some time: Smith is the heart and soul of the 49ers defense and without him at full fitness they are nowhere close to the force they are when he is healthy.”
1. Baltimore (14-6). It’s official: The coaches tied for the most wins in football over the last five seasons — regular season and postseason numbers combined — are John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick. You can look it up — 63 apiece. Not bad for a guy’s first five years as a head coach at any level.
2. San Francisco (13-5-1). If I’m GM Trent Baalke, I think I wake up this morning convinced I’ve got to do major surgery on the secondary. Just not trustworthy.
3. Atlanta (14-4). Mike Smith has an assignment for his defensive staff later this month, and if you read the Sports Illustrated coming in your mailbox this week with the Super Bowl on the cover, you’ll find out what it is.
4. New England (13-5). Whither Welker? Somehow, I say he stays in Foxboro one more year.
5. Seattle (12-6). Outscored foes by 167 points this season. Had the best QB, statistically, over the last half of the season. Seahawks fans want 2013 to start today.
6. Houston (13-5). Fair or unfair, 2013 will be a referendum season for Matt Schaub.
7. Denver (13-4). It’s a formality that the Broncos will give Peyton Manning a physical this spring, and a formality that he will pass it. That will trigger Denver locking in Manning at $20 million in 2013 and $20 million in 2014. So the next big question about Manning’s long-term future will come before the 2015 season, when he will be 39.
8. Green Bay (12-6). Kudos to Donald Driver, who celebrated his 38th birthday Saturday, a day after word surfaced he was retiring. One of the best seventh-round picks in NFL history, Driver had consecutive seasons as Brett Favre’s go-to guy of 84, 86, 92 and 82 catches between 2004 and 2007. “The perfect receiver,” Favre once said. “Always exactly where he was supposed to be, and great, great hands.” He leaves the game 37th on the all-time receiving list, with 743 receptions.
9. Washington (10-7). “You’ll see a better Robert Griffin,” Robert Griffin himself said when he popped up — on the day after Groundhog Day — at the Super Bowl Saturday, a month after his major knee surgery.
10. Indianapolis (11-6). Bruce Arians, you’ll be missed.
11. Minnesota (10-7). Adrian Peterson, you’ll be revered.
12. Cincinnati (10-7). Jim Anderson, the Bengals’ running backs coach since Paul Brown ran the franchise, is retiring after 29 years with the team. Think of all the good backs he taught — from James Brooks to Corey Dillon and beyond. A good, good man.
13. Chicago (10-6). Don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to what offensive fun Marc Trestman has in store for us in 2013.
14. New York Giants (9-7). Can’t fathom the Giants not signing both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz long term. Very long term.
15. St. Louis (7-8-1). Regarding the embarrassment of sort of hiring Rob Ryan and then sort of letting him go: You’re better off admitting a mistake early than ignoring it and hoping it goes away. And Rob Ryan is not one of those guys you can gloss over.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Joe Flacco, quarterback, Baltimore. Sort of a lifetime achievement award for his four-game playoff run too … 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, matching the best postseason by a quarterback of all time, by Flacco idol Joe Montana. But Sunday night, he controlled the game perfectly for 30 minutes, then had 71- and 59-yard field goal drives in him late to win.
Defensive Player of the Week
Ed Reed, free safety, Baltimore. Baltimore 31, San Francisco 29, 10 minutes left in the game, Niners lining up for a tying two-point conversion. Reed blitzes Colin Kaepernick from the quarterback’s left; maybe he got one foot over the line before the snap, maybe he didn’t. But no flag. Kaepernick had to rush his throw. Incomplete. If the Niners had converted, it would have been 34-31 when the 49ers were at the 5 inside the two-minute warning on fourth down and they could have kicked the game-tying field goal. Reed’s pressure eliminated that chance.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Jacoby Jones, KR/WR, Baltimore. Followed his 56-yard catch, fall, rise and run TD reception late in the first half with an NFL playoff record 108-yard kickoff return to start the second half. Not bad for a guy who made $2.5 million this year as a bargain basement speed receiver and return specialist.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend’s games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes suffered in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Kelechi Osemele, left guard, Baltimore. As Neil Hornsby pointed out above, Osemele performed very well against Justin Smith, and when Smith wasn’t over him, he held out the other interior rush men for the Niners. Once, he crushed Ricky Jean-Francois trying to storm into the backfield.
Coach of the Week
Dean Pees, defensive coordinator, Baltimore. He wisely called full blitzes on the last two snaps San Francisco had from the Ravens’ 5-yard line in the final two minutes, and such blitzes were calculated risks to hurry Kaepernick to make throws into the end zone. Pees has been a godsend for Baltimore since the Ravens lost Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis, and now he’s helped them win a Super Bowl ring.
Goats of the Week
Entergy, the power company, and SMG, the management company, of the Superdome. This is one of those things where it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. But it’s inexcusable that the power grid serving the Dome — whether faulty because of the energy demands of the Beyonce halftime show, or the energy demands of such a big event as the Super Bowl — would fail and hold the game hostage for 34 minutes.
Quote of the Week I
“There is no question in mind that there was pass interference and then a hold on Crabtree on the last one.”
– San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, who thought his receiver was impeded to the point of penalty on the last drive of the game.
Quote of the Week II
“Walter Payton is one. Myself is two.”
– Randy Moss, on football players he admires.
Quote of the Week III
“Mike Cerullo is a liar. We’ll get some notes here from Mr. Cerullo. I’ll say this to you, commissioner, and anybody that’s interested. I’m taking Mike Cerullo to court. I’m going to sue his ass for the things he said about me, the things he said about this football team. He’s going to be held accountable for everything he said. I make this offer again. If we want me to take a lie detector test this afternoon, I will do so. Or if you want me to do it tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon, I will do so. Mike Cerullo is a liar. A liar.”
– Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt, referring to Cerullo, the former Saints aide, in testimony before Saints bounty appeals hearing officer Paul Tagliabue last fall, as revealed by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
No beignets for you, then, Cerullo.
Quote of the Week IV
“And what was your name, son?”
– Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil, to Super Bowl-winning wide receiver Victor Cruz, upon meeting Cruz in the NFL media center at the Super Bowl.
Quote of the Week V
“Jim goes quickly off the deep end while John seems to be more constantly off the deep end.”
– Former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira, now a rules analyst for FOXsports.com, on the Harbaugh brothers.
Ed Koch Memorial Quote of the Week
Koch, the mayor of New York from 1978 to 1989, died of heart failure Friday at 88. The son of Polish immigrants, he might have been the most plain-speaking big politician of his day. He used to go to neighborhoods in New York and ask endlessly, “How’m I doing?” He had other quote gems, too, like saying that living in upstate Albany “is a fate worse than death.”
Those weren’t his best quotes, though.
Koch banned the Giants from having a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan after winning the Super Bowl in the 1986 season because he felt they’d abandoned the city when they moved to New Jersey. Koch said then: “If they want a parade, let them parade in front of the oil drums in Moonachie.” The Giants celebrated a few miles from Moonachie, in a confetti-strewn party at Giants Stadium after beating the Broncos.
Stat of the Week
I’ve seen some debate among my peers (not on the Pro Football Hall of Fame 46-person voting committee) about the significance of time spent debating each candidate. I don’t think, having been in the room, that’s very significant, and these figures seem to bear that out.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
The Super Bowl will be held in East Rutherford, N.J., on Feb. 2, 2014, outdoors in MetLife Stadium. Kickoff, unless the NFL amends recent history, will be at 6:30 p.m.
Exactly one year before that, on Saturday night at 6:30 in East Rutherford, here were the weather conditions:
Temperature: 27 degrees.
Winds: 10 mph from the west.
Wind chill temperature: 17 degrees.
Light snow began to fall at about 8 p.m., which a year from now would likely be around the two-minute warning of the first half.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Jet Propulsion Nerds
Caltech, which bills itself as the academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, had a great day Saturday on the baseball field. The baseball Beavers beat Pacifica College 9-7, marking the first win for the program in 10 years.
The school’s website posted this note: “Caltech baseball team snaps 228-game losing skid.”
With a picture of a basketball above it.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Not mine. Chris Christie’s. The New Jersey governor was at the Super Bowl, and he spent part of Saturday afternoon at the Ravens’ hotel, talking with coach John Harbaugh.
“We talked policy,” said Harbaugh, who is into current events more than many coaches I know.
Tweet of the Week I
“Family spokesman tells Louisville Courier Journal that Ali not only not near death but having a Super Bowl party.”
– @timdahlberg, Associated Press columnist, after rumors spread Sunday that Muhammad Ali was gravely ill.
“That’s a firm denial,” said my seatmate in the press box at the Super Bowl, Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
Tweet of the Week II
“This time, it’s the rich people trapped in the Superdome.”
– @NealPollack, a satirist, journalist, author and funny person during the Super Bowl blackout in the third quarter.
Tweet of the Week III
“Heck of a job, Brownie.”
– @ClydeHaberman, New York Times’ columnist on the Metro Desk, when the lights went down in Louisiana.
New Orleanians knew exactly what he meant. If you don’t, google it.
Tweet of the Week IV
“The Kaepernicks just pulled the plug in the Superdome. #powerout”
– @MarkMravic, one of my editors at Sports Illustrated, when 50 percent of the lights at the Superdome went out, causing a delay in the second half.
Tweet of the Week V
“Game day. pic.twitter.com/cHiJ9DZB”
– @BarackObama, at 10:15 a.m. Sunday.
Tweet of the Week VI
“Bumped into Raiders owner Mark Davis, and he gave me best SB line: ‘I don’t care who wins. I just want the Harbaughs to have another son.’ ”
– @LATimesFarmer, Sam Farmer, the NFL writer for that august paper, on Saturday.
How many years was that Dennis Allen contract?
Tweet of the Week VII
“Travis Hafner earned $57.05M from #Indians over past five seasons. During that time, he averaged 86 games and did not exceed 118.”
– @Ken_Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, after Hafner agreed to terms on a contract for 2013 with the Yankees.
In related news, Joe Flacco made $23.81 million from the Ravens over the past five seasons … and started every one of the team’s 93 games in that time.
That seems fair.
Tweet of the Week VIII
A multi-tweet string, from Carolina tight end @gregolsen82, after President Obama said he might not let his son play football if he ever had a son.
1: “Just tired hearing guys who made careers playing FB bash it. If it is so bad give back the money it gave u. Nobody forces anyone to play”
2: “I chose to play bc it’s my passion since age 5 and allows me to provide for my family. My decision. I am fully aware of what’s at stake”
3: “Of course I wish everyone could be injury free. And attempts to make safer are great. But bottom line it is COLLISION sport.”
4: “I also would never criticize a person for not allowing child to play. I understand that. All I’m saying is if you choose to play u get risks”
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Super Bowl XLVII:
a. Robert Griffin III narrating an ESPN story on Doug Williams’ historic Super Bowl-winning performance 25 years ago, and the significance for minority quarterbacks. Great piece, with my old friend from the Giants’ beat, Greg Garber, having a big hand in it.
b. The pregame note from ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss that this was the fourth straight year that Ravens special teamer/safety James Ihedigbo played in the AFC Championship Game (Jets, Jets, Patriots, Ravens).
c. And in the final media thing I liked: Judy Battista’s New York Times story revealing the NFL and General Electric will combine to spend some $50 million to create technology to better diagnose and detect concussions, and perhaps to invent new protective devices for the brain.
d. The Southern University marching band.
e. The Newtown kids and Jennifer Hudson. Wow! Wow! Best rendition of America the Beautiful I’ve ever heard.
f. Alicia Keys, not bad either. Longest anthem (2:35) in Super Bowl history, but who, other than Dr. Z, is counting?
g. Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and company: That is a great free agent signing iin Jacoby Jones.
h. Gotta love Twitter. @TheSBLights had 13,440 followers. “How about I give you 15% off your next electric bill and we call it even?” it tweeted 11 minutes into its existence.
i. Joe Flacco’s guts, particularly on that 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter, after the 49ers had trimmed the Ravens’ lead to 31-29, when he audibled out of a running play and threw a perfect back-shoulder fade to Anquan Boldin, who used his size advantage on Carlos Rogers to come down with a crucial 15-yard grab. Gorgeous throw, huge play.
j. And Flacco’s athleticism. The 49ers got into the backfield repeatedly, but Flacco, as CBS implied, looked like Ben Roethlisberger, evading the rush and throwing fastballs. Never more so than on that 30-yard completion to Boldin on 3rd-and7 from the Ravens’ 36 near the end of the first half, in which he rolled to his right and lofted the throw. “Joe is more athletic than people give him credit for,” Boldin would say later. Apparently.
k. Vernon Davis, a forgotten man for most of the beginning of the Kaepernick era (he had seven catches, total, in a seven-game stretch that ended with the Niners’ divisional round win over Green Bay), had five receptions for 106 yards against the Falcons, and six for 104 in the Super Bowl, against Ravens linebackers who simply could not stay with him.
l. Jacoby Jones’s homecoming. Jones, a New Orleans native, set a number of Super Bowl records on Sunday, including most combined yards in a game (290) and longest play (his 108-yard kickoff return). He also tied a record with two plays of 50-or-more yards. What a free agent signing the former Texan turned out to be by GM Ozzie Newsome.
m. Colin Kaepernick’s future. Aside from his ugly second-quarter interception, Kaepernick played beautifully: 16 for 28 for 302 yards, and also seven carries for 62. The hole the Niners dug themselves was not at all his fault, and he very nearly brought them all the way back. He looked nothing like a player making his 10th career start, and there can be no second-guessing Jim Harbaugh’s decision to replace Alex Smith with Kaepernick.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Super Bowl XLVII:
a. Brett Favre not being allowed to answer a question about when he’ll return to Green Bay on the NFL Network set, because there was too much shouting and merriment on the set. Lord, that stuff is tiring.
b. Nice effort, Mr. Greatest Wide Receiver of All Time, on the Ed Reed interception.
c. You cannot be serious, Jerome Boger’s crew. One of your men, head linesman Steve Stelljes, a Super Bowl official who theoretically was the best head linesman in the league this year, gets two-handed shoved by Baltimore cornerback Cary Williams and Williams not only doesn’t get thrown out BUT ALSO DOESN’T GET PENALIZED? Awful. Just awful. I don’t care how big a game this is, and you don’t want to leave a team one man short. Williams has to get thrown out for that. Stelljes blew that one big time.
d. Ever hear of directional punting, Andy Lee and Sam Koch?
e. Two punts bombed into the end zone, Sam Koch? What were you thinking? And the shankapotamus? Lucky for Koch the Ravens survived his worst day of the year.
f. The power outage. How does such a thing happen, with a 34-minute delay, in the biggest sports event of the American year?
g. The 49ers’ final four offensive plays. Perhaps, as Jim Harbaugh asserted, Michael Crabtree was held on Kaepernick’s 4th-and-goal throw from the 5 that would prove the game’s last significant play. The pass looked uncatchable. But the Niners sealed their own fate with a strange departure from the tactics that brought them to a brink of a title, when it mattered most. Abandoning the read option in favor of three straight out patterns to Michael Crabtree? Easy to second-guess the calls now, as they didn’t work, but Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman might have over-thought here.
h. Baltimore’s post-power outage conservatism. After the delay, which came with the Ravens leading 28-6, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell seemed to power down the downfield passing game that had worked so well in the first half. Flacco was 13 of 20 for 192 yards with three touchdowns in the first half, but threw the ball just 13 more times thereafter, against 19 rushing attempts, most of which went nowhere (the Ravens averaged just 2.7 yards per carry for the game).
i. Chris Culliver’s week. The Niners cornerback started Super Bowl week by making disgusting and well-covered homophobic comments, and ended it by being burned repeatedly by Ravens receivers, who were chuckling about his ineptitude in the postgame locker room. Culliver also committed a crucial pass interference against Torrey Smith on a 3rd-and-9 early in the fourth quarter, destroying the momentum the Niners had built.
j. Aldon Smith’s disappearance. Playing his sixth straight sackless game, Smith finished the season with the same number of sacks — 19.5 — as he had as of Dec. 9.
k. Worst, most claustrophobic winner’s locker room I’ve ever worked. Good people in it. Just microscopic.
3. I think here’s a reason London Fletcher has a future in the media business. He’s one of the most plain-spoken players I’ve dealt with over the years, and when CBS hired him to do some work for its cable network last week, Fletcher didn’t disappoint when the subject of HGH testing — which the NFL Players Association has steadfastly balked at, claiming the NFL’s proposal for testing is flawed — came up.
“I’ve got a message for my union: Stop the posturing and get the HGH testing done,” Fletcher said. “It’s time to get it done. I think it’s more prevalent in our league than you would think. There’s probably more than 10 percent of guys taking HGH. And we have to get it out. As a player who’s [been in the league] for 15 years and has done it the right way, I want a good, clean game. I want a level playing surface. I don’t want to have all this posturing and ‘Oh, well, can we trust the credibility of this guy, this test?’ … Stop the madness and let’s get the test done.” Couldn’t have said it better.
4. I think this about Anquan Boldin: There aren’t many, maybe any, wideouts stronger or tougher with the ball in the air.
5. I think these are my takes on the league’s awards, after balloting from the Associated Press’ 50-person awards panel (including me) was revealed Saturday night:
a. MVP: Adrian Peterson deserved it, and I believe he won it on the strength of his 199-yard final regular-season game against Green Bay. He got my vote, and 29.5 others, while Peyton Manning got the other 19.5 votes. I saw Manning Friday night and explained how I had him winning until that last day, and he understood. Might not have liked it, but he understood.
b. Offensive and Defensive players: Peterson and J.J. Watt romped. Easy.
c. Offensive and Defensive rookies: Robert Griffin III and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly won. I picked two Seahawks: quarterback Russell Wilson — who had the best quarterback rating in the league over the last half of the season — and linebacker Bobby Wagner. Griffin and Kuechly, the league’s leading tackler according to NFL stats (164), were good choices.
d. Comeback player: Peyton Manning. First guy to come back from the type of neck surgery he had to play at an MVP level. And he had three other neck procedures to recover from. Smart pick.
e. Coach: I split my vote between Bruce Arians and Chuck Pagano, and Arians won with 36.5 votes. He’s the first interim coach ever to win the award. His reward: a head-coaching job, a position he’s wanted for two decades, with Arizona.
6. I think this came from one veteran Raven after midnight this morning, and it speaks to what we love about this game so much: “You know, Baltimore’s not the biggest city. It’s sort of a secondary city, compared to a place like New York. But these people in Baltimore love us so much. One of the things that’s great about winning is winning for them. And winning the right way. We’re a team.” Those are the kinds of corny things I heard last night and this morning, and no one was apologizing for them.
7. I think one of the things I’ll always remember about this game — other than everything, of course — is a player I don’t know all that well, Ed Reed, being so emotional after the game. Not crying emotional; happy emotional. This was his hometown, and he knew it was probably his last game as a Raven.
To win the Super Bowl for the first time had to be incredible for him. I told him about how happy Charles Woodson was two years ago to win an unexpected title, and that’s what this game reminded me of. I’d also seen during the week, as the Ravens pool reporter, Reed hand his cell phone to PR man Chad Lewis and ask him to take a photo or video of him with a car wash in the background. The car wash, across Airline Highway where the Ravens practiced Thursday at Saints’ headquarters, is where Reed’s dad used to wash his car in Reed’s youth.
8. I think Andrea Kremer is off to a very good start with NFL Network as its health and safety reporter. She aired an important story Sunday on Jacksonville receiver Laurent Robinson trying to recover from four concussions in four months, and he and his wife wondering about life after football.
Said Robinson’s wife, Kat: “I’m constantly worried. If he has a headache, I’m worried. Why does he have a headache? If he’s tired, why is he tired? I’m trying to understand it, but at the same time, I’m worried every day that it’s going to affect our future.”
Good work by Kremer. It’s the kind of story that needs to be unearthed by her if the league’s own network is going to be taken seriously on hiring a serious reporter and allowing her to do her work the right way.
9. I think it’s easy for Roger Goodell to say he would let his son play football, and for Barack Obama to say he wouldn’t. They don’t have sons. They don’t have to decide.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Casinos are sad places. The nearest Starbucks to my hotel in New Orleans was in a casino across the street. Friday morning around 7, I walked into the place with my laptop, ready to do some writing. Seventies and ’80s rock filling the air, along with a cigarette cloud. Walked by a guy slumped on a stool with his right hand on a slot machine, either passed out or sleeping. Another couple, one with a coffee, another with a Miller Lite, both with cigarettes, on the machines next to him. Sheesh.
b. Smoking in bars in New Orleans. Really? Seriously? Went to a great bar on St. Charles Street the other night, The Avenue Bar, with a very serious beer menu, and noticed a cigarette vending machine, a huge one, next to the men’s room. And by about 10:30, the downstairs was full of smokers. Felt like I was back in college.
c. Incredible restaurant of the week: Root, a few long spirals from the Convention Center. On Saturday night, I had one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, and one of the strangest-sounding: Cohiba Smoked Scallops, served in a cigar box. True. Cohiba’s a famous cigar, and the scallops are grilled, then infused with cigar smoke. Sounded totally absurd, but they came highly recommended, and I tried them, and I was not disappointed.
Not only were the scallops tender, but also the smoke provided added value. For dessert, there were cocoa puffs, in minted milk, with mint chip ice cream. I am given to hyperbole (just ask Don Banks), but that’s as good a meal as I remember eating at a Super Bowl.
d. I know the meal I’d want as my last on death row. Two questions: What would the warden say if I said I wanted scallops in cigar smoke, with cocoa puffs and ice cream for dessert? And two, does Root deliver?
e. I don’t care about the blackout, and I care only mildly about the choking traffic. This is a great place for a Super Bowl.
f. If I’m awake, I know what I’ll be watching Wednesday at 10 p.m.: Armen Keteyian’s debut on 60 Minutes Sports, on Showtime. He was inside the blackout at the dome, I’m told, and will have some behind-the-scenes stuff looking at how a Super Bowl is put on. And he’ll have a long piece on Steve Sabol. I’ve missed Keteyian in the last few weeks, and I know when he has time to prepare pieces, it’s great TV.
g. My Super Bowl city rankings: 1. San Diego, 2. New Orleans, 3. Indianapolis, 4. Phoenix, 5. Dallas, 6. Tampa, 7. South Florida. I’d very much like L.A. and San Francisco to get back in the mix. (Why Miami so low? Too spread out. Everything’s a hassle. Convenience rules.)
h. Coffeenerdness: Thanks for the in-room coffee, Mr. Hilton. (He said sarcastically.) Had some hope when I saw the Lavazza packets there. But I see the Hilton has gone to the Acela School of Coffeenerdness. The Italians would blanch at that coffee-flavored water.
i. Beernerdness: Impressed with the Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen at the restaurant near our hotel, but the best beer I had here — though it’s not from here — was the Full Sail Amber, from Hood River, Ore. Dark brown and flavorful, and lighter than it looks. Just a terrific taste.
j. Devils-Islanders four times in the first 29 days of the season. You know how to stoke NHL fever, commish. (Sarcastic face.)
k. Did my heart good to see O.J. Brigance, battered by ALS, outside the Baltimore locker room last night. What a man.
l. MMQB will not end with the Super Bowl. It continues all year, so be looking for it on SI.com next Monday. Earlier. I promise.
The Adieu Haiku
Last night, very late …
Invaded a Flacco bash.
Huge Flacc of Flaccos.