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STERIODS: Contrasting the NFL & MLB

This time last year, Hank Steinbrenner came out and stated that he didn’t “like baseball being singled out” when it came to the attention by media and congress over the steroids issue.  He later commented, “Everybody that knows sports knows football is tailor-made for performance-enhancing drugs.  I don’t know how they managed to skate by.  It irritates me.  Don’t tell me it’s not more prevalent.  The number in football is at least twice as many.  Look at the speed and size of those players.”

In the wake of A-Rod’s admittance of steroid use between 2001 and 2003, I do think it’s interesting to contrast why there seems to be a double standard between performance enhancing drugs in baseball and football.

A-Rod Admits His Guilt

A-Rod Admits His Guilt

I do think it is amazing that guys like Shawne Merriman and Rodney Harrison–two prominent defensive players in the NFL–can test positive for steroids/HGH and no one truly seem to care.  Do football fans not care about the integrity of the game?  Do fans and maybe even the media enable these players because they want to see brutal collisions on the field?

I do think, though, that there are a few differences between baseball and football in regards to this issue.  Harrison, and to some degree, Shawne Merriman, admitted that they were wrong.  They were willing to accept their penalties.  That doesn’t make what they did okay, but these players and others did not break NFL policy and continue to lie about it time after time.  They didn’t play the “he said, she said” game.

That’s not to say that some of the players in the MLB should admit guilt if they aren’t guilty.  But, at least in the court of public opinion, they all certainly aren’t innocent.  Barry Bonds?  Palmeiro?  Clemens? Maguire?  Sosa?   There is this “hush, hush” mentality among these big name players, and yet damning evidence mounts against them that would appear to seriously cloud their credibility.  With A-Rod stating that he did indeed take performance-enhancing drugs–after a 2007 interview with Katie Couric where he flatly denied this claim–an entire era of baseball has an enormous blemish on it.

Another distinct difference between baseball and football in regards to steroids is the actual benefit.  It is known that steroids can give you a boost in strength, muscle, and speed.  HGH, a substance that Rodney Harrison was found to be taking this time last year, is widely believed to aid in the recovery of injury.  When Harrison apparently took the drug, he was attempting to recover much quicker from an injury than he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.  Again, this doesn’t justify his actions.

Harrison Tested Positive

Harrison Tested Positive

But at the same time, we as fans cannot begin to fathom the wear and tear on one’s body that playing in the NFL induces.  There are former players that have a hard time going about their day due to massive injuries.  ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth, a former offensive lineman, has admitted to having at least twenty knee surgeries.  And some former players even suffer from dementia due to the brutal sport of football.

Another issue is the impact steroids has on the game of baseball and football.  Baseball is much less of a team sport than football.  Essentially, baseball is a pitcher versus a batter.  If the pitcher is taking steroids which in turn allows him to throw the ball with a bit more velocity, that is an advantage.  If the batter is utilizing steroids to allow him to hit the ball further, that could potentially turn a double play into a home-run.  That is, most certainly, an advantage.

These factors decide games.

Can games really be decided by steroids in football, though?  Does steroids help you read a defense better?  Does steroids allow you to make every single tackle on the field?  Does steroids give you the drive to study film, decipher signals, or enhance your vision to see the hole?

Football is a team sport.  If one person–or for that matter, a few players–are using steroids on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, I am not convinced that that is an advantage.  It may make you a bit stronger.  It may make you a bit faster.  But, unlike baseball, I don’t think those benefits can make you and your team better.  I’ve seen guys come into the NFL who are complete physical specimens (Former number 1 overall pick in 2000, DE Courtney Brown, springs to mind), and yet could barely crack the starting lineup.

Looks Like Tarzan, Plays Like Jane

Courtney Brown: Looks Like Tarzan, Plays Like Jane

Guys who are the strongest and fastest and yet their careers never take off due to injury, an inability to pick up the playbook, or a complete lack of heart.

Remember, you need the physical tools and talent in the NFL, but football is most certainly a mental game.  Akili Smith and Michael Vick could throw the ball out of the stadium and into oncoming traffic on the highway, yet they were both mediocre quarterbacks.

Smith Didnt Work Out for the Bengals

Smith Didn't Work Out for the Bengals

I am not saying that players cannot and do not benefit from steroids in the NFL.  In 2006, when Merriman was suspended four games for steroids, he still racked up 17 sacks in 12 games.  That is an incredible stat.  At the same time, in 2007, in just 15 games, Merriman still registered 12.5 sacks.  That is a very good total, still.  And while steroids may have contributed to Merriman being able to get around the corner and sack Peyton Manning a couple extra times, steroids absolutely cannot aid you if you bite on Manning’s play fake and he throws it over the top to Reggie Wayne for a touchdown.

Lastly, it cannot be forgotten that baseball is a numbers game.  Home runs, batting averages and bases stolen–it’s what baseball fans care about, from age 8 to 80.

Quick, name me how many yards Emmitt Smith gained in his career?  How many touchdowns did Jerry Rice retire with?  How many sacks did Reggie White have?  How many consecutive games has Brett Favre played?

Even the most die-hard NFL fan would be hard pressed to answer those questions.

Yes, baseball is about the numbers, and if a player is on steroids and has a chance to balloon his numbers into the stratosphere, that is something that the common baseball fan can’t stand.  No one wants someone to eclipse Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth without knowing they did it the old natural way.

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Features & Opinions, NFL | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Play In Super Bowl History?

Since the Super Bowl ended, many pundits and fans alike have stated that James Harrison’s interception return for a touchdown was the greatest play ever in Super Bowl history.

James Harrison

James Harrison

But I just don’t see it.

It was an excellent play, to be sure, but best ever?  While I appreciate that the interception helped prevent a Cardinals touchdown–and more importantly Cardinals momentum–I don’t regard that play as the best ever.

For starters, it happened at the end of the second half.  This wasn’t with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.  Second, while an interception return for a touchdown is incredible, I’ve seen Ed Reed this season have more spectacular interception returns than the Harrison scamper down the sideline.  In my eyes, that play was more of an indictment of Arizona’s inability to tackle a linebacker running out of gas.

I’d argue that Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopping Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the very last play of regulation in Super Bowl XXXIV was much better.  The Titans needed a touchdown to tie the game and send it into overtime.  Mike Jones, a relative unknown, prevented Kevin Dyson from gaining the extra yard that he needed.  Despite Steve McNair’s efforts on that drive, the Titans came up one yard short.  Ironically, weeks before, the Titans had benefited from the Music City Miracle–a play that essentially came down to whether the lateral from Frank Wycheck to (oddly enough) Kevin Dyson was indeed a lateral or forward pass.  Was it a yard forward or behind?  Well, weeks later in the Super Bowl, it was clearly one yard short.

Kevin Dyson

Kevin Dyson

In my opinion, though, last year’s catch by David Tyree was the best in Super Bowl history.  In fact, NFL Films President Steve Sabol wrote an NFL.com article about it last season.

The Giants were all that stood in the way of the Patriots being immortalized for all time.  Down 14-10, it’s 3rd and 5 at the Giants 44 yard line.  There’s one minute and fifteen seconds left in the game.  Manning takes the snap and finds a way to elude the grasp of  Jarvis Green and Adalius Thomas.  Manning hails the ball down the middle of the field, and a wide receiver that nobody heard of battles with a Hall of Fame safety in Rodney Harrison.  Tyree pins the ball to his helmet while falling backwards.  He holds onto the football.  First down, Giants.

Just four plays later, Manning hits Burress in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.  The rest is history.

For my money, that’s easily the best play in Super Bowl history.  It had drama and significant ramifications, but more importantly, it left you in awe.  After an entire year, I still cannot understand how 1) Eli Manning was not sacked, forcing an almost impossible fourth down attempt and 2) how David Tyree–who only caught four passes in the regular season and whom teammates stated was dropping passes all week in practice leading up the big game–could find a way to hold onto the football in such a tough, high stakes situation.

February 5, 2009 Posted by | Features & Opinions, NFL | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Are the Colts Perrenial Playoff Losers?

The Colts are king of the regular season.  They consistently win 10+ games every year.  Their coach has an even keeled demeanor and their team has some of the best collection of talent in the league.

Manning Contemplates his Playoff History

Manning Contemplates his Playoff History

With Saturday night’s loss to the 8-8 San Diego Chargers, however,  it must be asked…why do the Colts lose so much in the playoffs?

Here’s some playoff history of the Colts that dates back to 2000:

•Jan. 3, 2009 – AFC Wildcard – San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17

•Jan. 13, 2008 – AFC Divisional – San Diego 28, Indianapolis 24

•Feb. 4, 2007 – Super Bowl XLI – Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

• Jan. 21, 2007 – AFC Championship – Indianapolis 38, New England 34

• Jan. 13, 2007 – AFC Divisional – Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6

• Jan. 6, 2007 – AFC Wildcard – Indianapolis 23, Kansas City 8

• Jan. 15, 2006 – AFC Divisional – Pittsburgh 21, Indianapolis 18

• Jan. 16, 2005 – AFC Divisional – New England 20, Indianapolis 3

• Jan. 9, 2005 – AFC Wild Card – Indianapolis 49, Denver 24

• Jan. 18, 2004 – AFC Championship – New England 24, Indianapolis 14

• Jan. 11, 2004 – AFC Divisional – Indianapolis 38, Chiefs 31

• Jan. 4, 2004 – AFC Wild Card – Indianapolis 41, Denver 10

• Jan. 4, 2003 – AFC Wild Card – Jets 41, Indianapolis 0

• Dec. 30, 2001 – AFC Wild Card – Miami 23, Indianapolis 17 (OT)

• Jan. 16, 2000 – AFC Divisional – Tennessee 19, Indianapolis 16

As the record shows, over the past decade, the Colts have made the playoffs nine times.  In nine trips to the post season, they have won the Superbowl once, and went to the AFC Championship only twice.  They have lost in the wildcard round three times, while falling in the divisional round four times.  And in their AFC Championship win against the Patriots in early 2007, it must be noted that the Colts were down by 18 points.  One could argue that Manning and the Colts won that game just as much as the Patriots lost it.

So why is this the case?  No one really knows.  Some may want to blame Dungy, a laid back coach who often chooses (like last season) to rest his starters before the playoffs begin.  Compare that to what Giants coach Tom Coughlin did against the Patriots in week 17–where New York played as if the last game of the season was the Superbowl instead of a meaningless game for the Giants.  Does that have a genuine effect?  No one knows for certain.

Some want to blame Peyton Manning or the finesse offensive scheme.  Is Manning a poor playoff quarterback?  Are the Colts too much of a soft team during the regular season to compete with the tougher, more aggressive teams in the post season?

We’ll probably never know for certain.  But be sure to share your thoughts on why the Colts have so many problems in the playoffs.

January 6, 2009 Posted by | NFL | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Case for Matt Ryan for League MVP

Ryan Takes the Field

Ryan Takes the Field

It may be impossible to fathom, but I think Matt Ryan has a strong case for MVP of the league. This award is usually given to the player who has the gaudiest stats, the one who has the most endorsements, and the one who’s the biggest household name. But that’s not what an MVP of the NFL should be.

MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. This is exactly how you should judge a player who’s up for this award. The thought process should go something like this: If this player was not on [fill in the blank team], where would this [fill in the blank team] be right now? How significant of an impact has this player had on the success of the team?

Let’s first look at the contenders. First up: Kurt Warner. Warner is reminding us of his “greatest show on turf” days. He’s thrown for over 4,200 yards and 26 touchdowns. But he’s fumbled the ball a mind boggling ten times this season; he’s fumbled an astonishing 53 times over the past five years. His Cardinals are also only 8-6. It’s remarkable that they’ll host their first home playoff game since 1947, but Arizona is only in the playoffs this year because their division is so inept.

Next up: Adrian Peterson. I love Peterson—loved him in college, and always thought that he had hall of fame talent. As great of a year as AD (short for “All Day,” his nickname) is having, it still falls short compared to his rookie season. Currently, AD has played 14 games and rushed for 1,581 yards and nine touchdowns. Last season, Peterson played 14 games–(missed two to injury)–and started just nine of those 14 matchups. In that time, he rushed for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also broke the single game rushing record last season. There’s no question that his stats would be off the charts with a better passing game, but the Vikings are a bit disappointing given how much talent the team has.

Next is Albert Haynesworth. This man has been a beast for the middle of the defensive line in Tennessee. With 51 tackles and 8.5 sacks, Haynesworth is the reason why the Titans defense has been so tough up front. With that said, it looks like he will be out the remainder of the regular season with a leg injury.

Next is, of course, Peyton Manning. Manning is no doubt incredible—one of the top five quarterbacks I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. It’s hard to argue against him. His numbers, though below his average, are still good. Close to 4,000 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and a 66.4 completion percentage. Injuries, too, ravaged this team, and Manning found a way to rebound like he always does.

With that said, Manning’s Colts still lost the division to the Titans. And though Manning’s stats look good, you have to wonder how the Colts almost lost to the Browns (final score: 10-6). In that game, Manning had less than 130 passing yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. That just shouldn’t happen. Even in a game like Thursday’s matchup against the Jaguars, it just seems the Colts start slow against teams they should beat. It shouldn’t take over three quarters for a Manning-led offense to finally start clicking.

As for Matt Ryan, his stats don’t jump out at you necessarily. He has over 3,100 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and a 62.2 completion percentage. But it’s not always about the numbers. Remember, the Falcons were the team that no one wanted to play for (D’Angelo Hall). Hell, no one wanted to coach there, either (Bobby Petrino). Even Bill Parcells left owner Arthur Blank at the altar regarding a vacant front office position. And, of course, the stench of Michael Vick permeated throughout the entire franchise. With everything that had transpired with this team last year, Blank was asked if he felt used by the media. Blank’s response: “Actually, I feel abused.”

It was ugly in Atlanta in 2007. Last season, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich were attempting to quarterback this team. In 2008, the job has been given to a 23 year old rookie quarterback, and he has been outstanding. He throws the ball extremely well, often very accurate and away from the opposition. He manages the game. He understands the playbook. He’s composed on the field, looking like a ten year veteran in the pocket. Off the field, he exudes confidence when talking to the press.

Some may have thought Ryan would find success in the NFL, but no one would’ve predicted it would come this early. And no one could have foreseen that it would come just one year after the utter disaster that was the 2007 Atlanta Falcons.

In my opinion, Ryan had both the lowest and highest of expectations. He was a top level draftee who was paid an ungodly sum of money. He took over a downtrodden team as an inexperienced pro. And he was filling the shoes of one of the most exciting players in the NFL, and ironically enough one of the most hated athletes in America–Michael Vick.

And all Ryan has done is lead the Falcons to a 9-5 record—they would be 10-6 had Roddy White caught a perfectly thrown touchdown pass by Ryan in the back of the end zone with 58 seconds remaining against the Broncos in week 11. The Falcons are still in the mix for a wild card spot. And while running back Michael Turner no doubt has been a force for Atlanta, Matt Ryan would get my vote for league MVP.

Who is your choice for MVP?

December 20, 2008 Posted by | NFL, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment