Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy New Year

2008 is coming to a close when it seems like it just started.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like this was a jam-packed year that flew by way too fast.  With that, I give you my final post for this year.  It’s not a WWIR, but it’ll do.

  • How Did We Get Here: Saturday night, the Colts will take on the Chargers, again.  In the playoffs, again.  In San Diego, again.  Every road team in the wild card weekend is picked to win the game.  But the analysts are all still picking the Chargers to overcome that betting line and with good reason.  As a Colts fan, I know all too well how history repeats itself.  The Chargers have become our new Patriots.  But that’s ok.  Count the Colts out. 
    • Two years ago they won the Super Bowl with everyone counting them out.  They said our rushing defense couldn’t stop Larry Johnson and the Chiefs.  Check!  Then they said Peyton would never be able to handle the Ravens’ defense.  Check!  Well then there’s no way we can handle the Patriots AGAIN.  They always have our number in the playoffs.  Biggest 2nd half comeback in the history of the conference championship game, Check!  Rain on the Super Bowl…Peyton will never be able to handle those conditions and bring home the trophy.  CHECKMATE! 
    • I’m hopeful (and cautiously optimistic) that this post season turns out the way the 2006 season turned out, but am realistically thinking it will turn out like 2005 or 2007 did.  I will say the fairy tale ending is all set.  Peyton comes back from 2 knee surgeries in 14 days, missing training camp and preseason.  The IR list is longer than the weekly injury report, but the team goes on a 9 game winning streak.  The Super Bowl is in Tampa where Tony Dungy began his head coaching career and was (thankfully for us Colts fans) sent packing after three straight years of playoff appearances.  I’m of the mind that this is Tony’s last season, so with everything that the Colts have had to face this year and to overcome, for Tony to get to go out in that fashion in Tampa…Hollywood couldn’t even make this stuff up. 
    • So, Saturday I will sit in the same spot I’ve sat all season.  I will make the same game time munchies that I made for every playoff game in 2006, and I will hold my breath.  No matter what happens though, I will look back at this season when it’s really all said and done and marvel at the fact that in January I was actually thinking Playoffs!
  • Mary Poppins It Is: Friday night, Alabama plays Utah in the Sugar Bowl (get it: Mary Poppins/spoon full of sugar…oh never mind).  We will be doing this without Andre “I couldn’t wait 5 freaking days before I spoke to a dumb agent” Smith.  I’m a firm believer that just because you lose a player to injury (physical or stupidity) does not mean you give up and throw in the towel.  Coach Saban is a strong enough coach to know this and hopefully he’s capable of effectively communicating that to the players.  We can do this without him.  We just have know that we can and step up.  I’m still having a hard time looking at this game as anything other than a consolation prize.  I allowed myself to get my heart set on the National Championship, so anything less just seems like a let down.  The Sugar Bowl’s great.  There are a ton of teams who would give anything to be in our position right now, but it just still feels wrong. 
  • The Life of the Party: Sunday, North Carolina begins its ACC play against Boston College.  I have never looked so forward to and at the same time been so scared of a section of their schedule.  In my humble opinion, the ACC is THE BEST college basketball conference in the country, so I know all too well how horrible and how gratifying this part of the year can be.  I’m still looking for a few more things to come together on the court, but to this point, I am so incredibly proud of what they’ve done.  I will say they look like they’re a little bored with all of this and are looking forward to the Wednesday/Saturday ACC schedule.  It’s really when things start to fire on all cylinders, but knowing how difficult it is to win out in ACC play, I’m terribly nervous. 
  • 2009: In my mind’s eye, there is a door marked 2009.  It is closed and locked, but tonight at midnight, the door will swing open.  I have no idea what is on the other side of that door.  I have hopes of what I will find, but it is all so uncertain.  Some days when I wake up I want that door to stay shut and locked.  I don’t want to walk through it.  And other days I wake up and say, “bring it.”  Guess there’s only one way to do this…bust that dang door wide open and say, “hit me with your best shot.”

Happy New Year, everyone!

NFL Hindsight

In honor of the 2008 NFL regular season coming to a close, I have compiled a list of the top ten things I learned from this season.  It was remarkably more educational than I thought it would be.

10.  Attending training camp has a direct correlation with how a player performs at the beginning of a season.

9.  Preseason games are actually beneficial if for no other reason than to knock the rust off.

8.  A below .500 season by week 7 does not mean the team’s season is over.

7.  Week 17 can really mean something to just about every team.  In yesterday’s final regular season Sunday, 16 games were played.  10 of them had possible playoff implications, and 1 of them had historical implications. 

6.  Matt Cassel has been highly underrated and deserves a giant contract on the free agency market.

5.  Never pin your fantasy football hopes on a QB who got his girlfriend pregnant and then promptly made her his ex-girlfriend because football karma is &#$%@.  You know that black cloud hanging over his head was going to strike eventually.

4.  Opening night of a new stadium does not automatically ensure a win on said opening night.

3.  Never trade a player to a division rival to make room for a washed-up QB who should have stayed retired.  Revenge is sweet and usually favors the traded player.

2.  Capitalizing on horribly botched calls by the refs in week 2 will come back to bite you in week 17 even if none of it was your fault.  The football gods don’t care how they right a wrong just as long as it’s righted.

1.  Diabetes is not a death sentence for athletes.  Just ask Jay Cutler.

Honorable Mention: Fans of football actually know more about the NFL rule book than the players and coaches.  Hopefully, Donovan McNabb will do some studying during the offseason.  Not knowing the overtime rules quite frankly is unacceptable. 

And now, the rest of the story. 

Peyton Manning is typically a private person especially when it comes to any injury he might have.  It’s mainly to keep other teams from knowing what ails him and to keep the media from using it as an excuse.  I read Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column every week, and this week I was rewarded for my faithfulness.  He managed to get an interview with Peyton where the big lug spilled the beans on what really happened with his knee.  You can say a lot about Peyton’s shortcomings not the least of which is his immobility, but I challenge you to read the following interview and NOT completely believe that Peyton Manning is one tough football player.  He’s not just a quarterback.  He’s a rough and tumble, hard as nails football player.  [Note: Some of this is a bit graphic.]

There are few things in this job I take more seriously than my National Football League MVP vote for the Associated Press. I value my Hall of Fame vote a little more, but being one of 50 voters for the all-pro team and postseason awards, including the MVP, is big because it goes down in history. The MVP winner doesn’t get bronzed, as Hall of Famers do, but there’s no single-season award that means more to a player. To be part of anointing one man as the most indispensable, the most important, the most valuable for a season in the biggest sport in the country is a cool task.

We voters are human, so we’re going to approach the voting differently. My criteria have never changed. The inclusion of the word “valuable” differentiates this from a player of the year award. If I’m voting for Offensive Player of the Year, for example, I’m likely voting for the individual who had the best season of anyone on offense; if a player on a 6-10 team set the single-season rushing record, I’d likely vote for him for the offensive player award. But it’s highly doubtful I’d vote for him as MVP. For MVP, I ask myself this question: Which player, removed from his team, would have the biggest impact on the team’s record?

That’s a tough call this season on premier teams like the Giants, Tennessee and Pittsburgh because they each had so many outstanding players. By season’s end, I might have voted for Brandon Jacobs over Eli Manning on the Giants, and maybe Kerry Collins over Albert Haynesworth or Chris Johnson as Tennessee’s MVP, and James Harrisonover Roethlisberger (though that would be close) or Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh.

I liked Pennington immensely because he was the clear keystone to a team improving from one win to 11; but the Dolphins got big contributions from the defense (they won five games scoring 17 points or fewer) and the Wildcat Formation. DeAngelo Williams made a late charge for Carolina, scoring 11 touchdowns in four late-season games, but check out the pedestrian first half of his season: The Panthers went 6-2, and Williams rushed for 468 yards and three touchdowns in the six wins.

Matt Ryan? I love him, and I love his candidacy. I can’t argue with a soul who’d name him MVP. Imagine stepping into Team Turmoil for Michael Vick, with the racial division of Atlanta to overcome as well, and having to learn to play quarterback at the NFL level, which rookies never do well. I’ll never forget being in Atlanta on draft weekend and listening to veteran sports anchor Gil Tyree, who is an African-American, tell me about the Vick shadow that would be so hard for Ryan to escape. “Michael’s a messiah here. No matter what Matt Ryan will do, he’ll never be accepted,” Tyree said. Talk about a tough road for a young kid.

But Ryan led the Falcons to the playoffs, with only 25 negative plays out of 480 pass-drops — nine interceptions, 16 sacks. He walked into the NFL throwing superbly downfield, which is always one of the last traits a young quarterback perfects. His 7.9 yards-per-attempt was better than good downfield throwers Jay Cutler, Kurt Warnerand both Mannings.

I’m going with James Harrison at five, DeAngelo Williams four, Chad Pennington three, Matt Ryan two. And Peyton Manning one.

I have been leaning toward Manning for the past four or five weeks, because I’ve felt the Colts would have been well below .500 without him, particularly if he hadn’t rallied them from 15- and 17-point late-game deficits to beat Minnesota and Houston, respectively. Manning never had a running game all season to help him; the Colts’ 3.4-yard average per rush was their lowest this decade. He started the season more hurt than we knew (at least until now) and without his redoubtable center. The Colts went 3-4 through the end of October, but it would have been 1-6 without those comebacks over the Vikes and Texans. Then, with Manning finally getting his legs under him, the Colts rode a classic 9-0 Manning stretch to finish 12-4 and earn the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs.

The story of Manning’s 11th season is a good story, one he hasn’t told this season to anyone else in my business — to the best of my knowledge. As usually happens with Manning, the conversation was going to be 10 or 20 minutes, and then one thing led to another, and by the end, I had enough stuff for a couple of chapters of a book.

The story actually starts in Hawaii, at the Pro Bowl last year.

“I started to experience swelling in my knee at the Pro Bowl,” Manning said. “I had two weeks off after the playoffs ended for us. Did nothing before Hawaii. Went to the beach, went to the Super Bowl, showed up in Hawaii, all of a sudden my knee swelled up like a grapefruit. The Chargers trainers bent over backwards, treating a player that’s not even their player. They’re supposed to be on vacation, and here they are, driving me all over the place to get an MRI. No big deal, I thought. I played the game, and after the game, the thing is gone, it’s dissipated throughout my body. Very strange.

“I get back in April, start lifting weights, it blew up again. Couldn’t kneel on it. I had a good offseason, thought I threw it pretty good, and I had the knee drained maybe seven times. Two or three weeks later it’d come back. Let me go back to a conversation I had with Bill Parcells when we did a commercial for the Super Bowl. He advised me, ‘Don’t ever forget your legs. Legs, legs legs. Do your squats. That’s so important as you get older.’ And I worked on that hard.

“On Monday before camp [actually July 14, 10 days before training camp opened], my leg’s on fire, it’s red, I’m hurtin’ bad. I fly to Indy right away and find out the fluid in there’s infected. So they tell me, ‘We’re gonna remove your bursa sac. Pretty standard procedure.’ Then the fluid starts to seep back.”

Doctors couldn’t stop the fluid from seeping into the knee. Ten days after surgery, the knee was still swollen. The Colts set a deadline of Wednesday, July 30, to decide whether to have another procedure called “quilting” done. In quilting, a surgeon stitches the skin down to shut off the suspected flow of any infected fluid.

Now came the cloak-and-dagger stuff. Manning couldn’t fly because of the risks of swelling and infection. So the Colts flew orthopedist-to-the-stars James Andrews(and one or two other experts) into Colts camp in Terre Haute to examine Manning. He consulted with Giants team physician Russell Warren.

“All of them say the same thing: ‘You’ve got to do something about it,’ ” Manning told me. “I agreed. My biggest fear was the Saturday night before we play the Patriots in Week 10, it’s gonna happen again.”

So the second surgery was set for July 31 at 6 a.m. Manning was told it’d take about 30 minutes to sew about 20 sutures in the knee. The Colts had a car set to pick Manning up to take him home at 9 a.m.

He woke up at 5 p.m. There weren’t 20 sutures implanted. Doctors had to use 80. Surgery didn’t take 30 minutes. It took three hours.

“They didn’t have a choice,” Manning said. “There was so much fluid, the pockets were so big, that they had to use 80.”

The knee stayed wrapped Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, Colts director of rehabilitation Erin Barill came to Manning’s house to check on how the knee was healing. “He warned me the knee does not look good,” Manning said. “And he said, ‘Do you want to see it?’ ”

Of course he did. “Funny thing was, I was getting ready to watch the Colts-Redskins Hall of Fame game. Weird. I have never watched the Colts play on TV, ever. And then I get ready to see what the knee looks like.”

Drumroll. Barill took the wrap off.

“I looked down, and my knee looked like a brain after surgery. You know how they show you pictures of a brain in science class? That’s what this was — swollen, ugly. I kind of got my hopes up, but it was disgusting. Mangled, in layers, dimples all over it. It didn’t look good at all. My heart just sank. I was nervous and scared. It was so new to me. Some of these guys playing in the NFL have surgery all the time. Not me. The only surgery I’d ever had was for a deviated septum my sophomore year in high school. Here I have one July 14, then another one two weeks later. Uncharted waters for me.”

This thought occurred to me then: How in the world did Manning and the Colts keep this so under wraps?

Manning had his own anal traits, plus the never-ending Brett Favreunretirement saga, to thank for that. “I’m one of those guys who never wants to be on the injury report,” he said. “I don’t want people to say, ‘What’s wrong with your ankle or your knee or whatever?’ I don’t want my opponents to know anything. When I see a corner who’s got a bad ankle, I say, ‘Let’s check this thing out in the game.’ Plus, the whole Favre thing was dominating the news. Nobody had time to report anything else.

“It was the most miserable training camp. I’d do the rehab in my dorm to stay out of the way of people at camp. The best thing that happened was I had a video machine in my room. I was watching … I was waiting all day for the practice tape. I was dying. I just wanted to see the tape.”

Days turned into weeks. The Colts originally said Manning’s injury was a four-to-six-week job, and when he got close to the six-week anniversary, Manning still wasn’t working out.

“Remember what Parcells told me. ‘Legs, legs, legs.’ Well, I lost all my strength in my left leg, and you don’t want to create an imbalance in your legs, so I couldn’t do much with my right leg either. But all the range of motion in my left leg was gone. Could I get to where I can drop and run? I had no idea. I really did not know. All I had ever known, every year in camp, was to take every rep, every practice. Now I get no reps in camp.

“The biggest thing as we got close to the season was I didn’t think I could move the way I wanted to. I’ll never be mistaken for Donovan McNabb or my dad [mobile ex-Saint Archie Manning]. And my balance was a problem. I couldn’t finish the throws.”

Making it worse was the absence of longtime center Jeff Saturday with a knee injury; he knew the hieroglyphic-type Colts offense as well as Manning. Now the Colts had to get seventh-round rookie Jamey Richard, a college guard, ready to face, in order, Tommie Harris, Kevin and Pat Williams, and John Henderson. Before the first game, instead of spending an extra half-hour or two a day working the legs, Manning was on the practice field and in the meeting room with Richard, teaching him the idiosyncrasies of being the Colts center.

Feeling weak, Manning had no impact on a 29-13 opening loss to Chicago. In Week 2 at Minnesota, the Vikes led 15-0 midway through the third quarter. “We’re down 15-0, thinking about being 0-2, and knowing we got Jacksonville the next week,” Manning said. He led two touchdown drives, with a two-point conversion on the second, to tie it. “Probably the biggest play of the game, third-and-10 on the 50 [actually third-and-nine at the Minnesota 49], I get Reggie Wayne on a post-route from the slot, ball rushes right past the DB’s ear into Reggie. That told me, ‘I can still make these throws. If I keep rehabbing, I can make it back. I still have it.’ ” Gain of 20. The Colts won on a field goal.

Manning struggled again the next week; Indy lost to Jacksonville. “The next week, Houston’s got us 27-10 midway through the fourth quarter. It is not looking good. Lotta people thinking, ‘Here come the Texans’ — they finished 8-8 the year before, their crowd’s fired up, they’re inspired to win after Hurricane Ike. But it’s your job to play until the final seconds. I throw a touchdown pass to Tom Santithat looks like a stat-padder. Then [Gary] Brackett takes a fumble back for a touchdown.”

Lucky for the Colts, Sage Rosenfels was awful that day, and handed the Colts a touchdown and a short field late. Manning threw the winning touchdown pass to Wayne off that short field. Colts, 31-27.

Easily they could have been 0-4. But 18 points in the last 20 minutes at Minnesota, and 21 points in the last five at Houston, and the season was saved.

What was bugging Manning at that point, even at 2-2, was the time he had to spend every week in rehab and rebuilding the strength in his legs. Instead of coming in early to watch tape or talk to a coach before the morning meetings, Manning had to be in by 6:30 for an hour of rehab five days a week, and spend another hour after practice doing the same. He still did most of his other work, but not as much of the on-field stuff with his receivers that he was used to. Combine that with zero reps in training camp for a guy who craves them, and you see why he was treading water — 10 touchdowns, nine picks, a 3-4 record after an ugly Monday night loss at Tennessee — through two months.

“It just sucked up all my energy, ‘ he said. “My goal has always been to avoid the trainers room, and now, for the first time in my whole career, I’m going in every morning before meetings, challenging my preparation time. But after a couple of months doing that — after the Tennessee game, I didn’t have to go into the trainers room anymore. I felt right. But at that point, we’re 3-4, and we all but ruled out winning the division. Tennessee wasn’t gonna collapse.

“The biggest problem with New England coming up, Pittsburgh on the road, San Diego on the road — was avoiding sitting around, saying, ‘Boy, we are in trouble.’ It was like, ‘Are we going to say it’s just not our year, wait ’til next year, or are we gonna do something about it?’ The other thing people don’t think about is we’ve got a lot of second-, third- fourth-year players, and we’d started the last three years 13-0, 8-0 and 7-0, and these guys are going, ‘What the hell is going on?’ But as Tony [Dungy] told ’em, this is what the NFL is all about.”

As November dawned, the Colts knew they might have to go 8-1, or even 9-0, to make the playoffs. Manning, finally feeling good, and taking the two rehab hours per day out of his routine, got his team on a run.

“I truly believe it is no coincidence we have gone on the winning streak since then,” Manning said.

Now onto the MVP issue. My take is Manning was the keystone to this team starting 3-4 instead of being out of it at 1-6. In the final nine games, Manning’s 9-0 record led all NFL quarterbacks, Manning’s 72-percent accuracy led all NFL quarterbacks, and Manning’s 17-to-3 touchdown-to-interception (plus-14) differential led all NFL quarterbacks.

He completed 21 of 29 to beat New England. He got a little lucky with some Roethlisberger turnovers the next week at Pittsburgh, but he also threw three of the 12 touchdown passes the Steelers allowed all season. His running game managed 91, 90, 57, 106 and 32 yards over the next five games, but he had enough in the tank to win each one without much of a ground alternative.

In Sunday’s Dungy special of a finale (the starters play a series or three), Manning played long enough to exceed 4,000 yards for the ninth season. He went seven for seven. Five months after recoiling in shock at the sight of his grotesque knee, he finished his most unlikely great season in the NFL.

So the Colts finished 12-4. It’s not as stunning as the 11-5 of the Dolphins or Falcons, to be sure. We could argue — and you might win — that Miami without Pennington and Atlanta without Ryan would have been 5-11 or worse. But I simply will not accept that coaches who proved themselves very resourceful (Tony Sparano, Mike Smith) would have been hapless without their quarterbacks. Miami would have played Chad Henne earlier. Atlanta would have ridden Turner to a few wins. Indy? Without Manning, I say a team that ran the ball in quicksand would have been 4-12.

“This has been my most rewarding regular season, because of what we’ve all been faced with here,” Manning said. “I’ve been proud to be on this team. Guys dug deep. I dug deep.”

Come to think of it, it’s not that tough a call.

WWIR: The Early Edition

Because of the holidays I’m doing this week’s WWIR a day early.  I’m debating about whether to have a WWIR next week.  We’ll see, but just in case, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and happy new year.

  • 100+: Last week a milestone was reached.  Something that has been in the works and inevitable for some time now.  I had no doubt in my mind that one day I would be prouder than I’ve ever been in my life.  No, it wasn’t Tony Dungy taking his team to 10 consecutive playoff appearances, and it wasn’t Tyler Hansbrough becoming UNC’s all time leading scorer.  No…last week my brother won his 100th game as a head basketball coach.  I still remember the first time I saw him coach a high school game.  I cried just watching him stand on the sidelines watching the players warm up.  Heck…I still remember the first time I saw him coach the city Rec. League.  I couldn’t tell you the score of any game he’s coached (there are too many numbers in my head already), but I can tell you that he has more passion for the game of basketball than some high powered, over paid NBA players do.  I hope some day that someone sees that same passion that I do and snatches him up for a college program.  He’s long overdue for such a recognition.
  • Mah-whidge: My dear, sweet, beautiful friend Jacque got married this weekend to the man of her dreams, Mike.  They got married in jolly ole England, so many of us couldn’t be there to celebrate with them.  However, this being the information age, Jacque and Mike arranged for a live stream of the wedding on their wedding website.  Several of my friends gathered in one location to watch the joyous occasion.  Jacque looked spectacular in her dress and Mike cleaned up nicely in his authentic kilt.  We couldn’t help but crack up when the officiant began the ceremony with the word marriage.  But, he didn’t pronounce marriage the way you and I might.  It sounded like something straight out of The Princess Bride.  Yes, on Saturday, Mah-whidge was what brought us together that day.  Congratulation Jacque and Mike.  May you find happiness as you navigate this crazy world together.
  • 1st to 10:  Now, back to that Tony Dungy thing.  As I sit here today, I’m still amazed that just as I typed a few months ago that the Colts were going to have to win out for any chance at making the playoffs, they seemed to string together these last 8 wins in order to do just that.  It was looking a little all for not in the first half and deep into the 3rd quarter last Thursday night as the Jaguars led at halftime 17-7.  But something funny happened…not just Peyton being Peyton and throwing all of 5 incompletions the entire night (at halftime he had zero incompletions in 13 attempts), but something I haven’t felt all season.  I sat on my couch and starred at the score and thought briefly about the prospect of having to beat Tennessee the next week in order to get into the playoffs.  And just as quickly as the thought crossed my mind, I erased it because in my heart and my mind, I just felt like they were going to pull it out.  Sure the defense frustrated me for much of the game, but all too often this season I’ve watched one Colts defense play 3 quarters and a totally different Colts defense play the 4th.  God love ’em…they come through in the end.  And with that win and a playoff berth, Tony Dungy becomes the first coach in the history of the NFL to lead his team to 10 consecutive post season appearances.  A few of those appearance I’d like to forget, but growing pains though they might be, over the years, I have learned how incredibly hard it is to win a super bowl.  31 teams go home every year unhappy and 1 goes home with a sparkly trophy.  So for one coach…one coach…to take his team to the post season…not just 10 times, but 10 straight times, there are just no words that appropriately describe how remarkable that really is.  It couldn’t have happened to a better guy, either.
  • All Good Things Must Come To An End:  Just days after that playoff berth win, the city of Indianapolis disposed of the first home of the Indianapolis Colts.  The roof had long been deflated and the new stadium had long been broken in.  But now, the building is no more.  Good-bye sweet RCA dome.  May you rest in peace in stadium heaven.  The memories you produced will not soon be forgotten.

Be merry and bright, everyone.  Happy Holidays!

Finding Hope

I’ve talked many times on this site about Rick Reilly, once of Sports Illustrated and now of ESPN the Magazine.  I don’t always agree with what he writes, but I always read.  He has brought me to tears more times than I can count and made me laugh hysterically even more often than that.  Today’s column takes the cake, so much so that I have posted it below.  Be forewarned, I balled like a baby:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Life of Reilly


They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

Did you hear that? The other team’s fans?

They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, “Go Tornadoes!” Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.

It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name.

“I never in my life thought I’d hear people cheering for us to hit their kids,” recalls Gainesville’s QB and middle linebacker, Isaiah. “I wouldn’t expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to!”

And even though Faith walloped them 33-14, the Gainesville kids were so happy that after the game they gave head coach Mark Williams a sideline squirt-bottle shower like he’d just won state. Gotta be the first Gatorade bath in history for an 0-9 coach.

But then you saw the 12 uniformed officers escorting the 14 Gainesville players off the field and two and two started to make four. They lined the players up in groups of five—handcuffs ready in their back pockets—and marched them to the team bus. That’s because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game it plays is on the road.

This all started when Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.

So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send:” Hogan wrote. “You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”

Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan’s office and asked, “Coach, why are we doing this?”

And Hogan said, “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”

Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders!

“I thought maybe they were confused,” said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). “They started yelling ‘DEE-fense!’ when their team had the ball. I said, ‘What? Why they cheerin’ for us?'”

It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games,” says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. “You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!”

Maybe it figures that Gainesville played better than it had all season, scoring the game’s last two touchdowns. Of course, this might be because Hogan put his third-string nose guard at safety and his third-string cornerback at defensive end. Still.

After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

And it was a good thing everybody’s heads were bowed because they might’ve seen Hogan wiping away tears.

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home—a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.

The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, “You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know.”

And as the bus pulled away, all the Gainesville players crammed to one side and pressed their hands to the window, staring at these people they’d never met before, watching their waves and smiles disappearing into the night.

Anyway, with the economy six feet under and Christmas running on about three and a half reindeer, it’s nice to know that one of the best presents you can give is still absolutely free.

Hope.

I am…

I found this on my friend Kathryn’s blog and thought, “why not?”.

*I am not as strong as people believe I am.
*I want to be thinner.
*I have more to me than just being a sportsfanatic.
*I miss my grandmother.
*I fear I’ve missed my window of opportunity.
*I hear a lot more than people around me realize.
*I search for old friends on the Internet.
*I wonder if my chances have passed me by.
*I regret not at least applying to UNC.
*I love my nephew.
*I forgive but have trouble forgetting.
*I ache to find peace.
*I always bake when I’m stressed or bored.
*I try to see the good in people no matter what.
*I seem happier than I feel.
*I know my parents are proud of me.
*I feel lost sometimes.
*I dance rarely and usually only with the babies in the nursery.
*I dream of being a wife, mother, and author.
*I give more of my time than my money, but I should give more of both.
*I listen to my friends’ problems better than I listen to my own problems.
*I sing in the car.
*I laugh as often as possible.
*I can’t do it all, but I sure do try.
*I cry, period.
*I sleep alone.
*I am happy when the Colts, Tar Heels, or Tide win.
*I see God’s blessings all around me.
*I need to think better of myself.
*I should exercise.

The View From The Top

In the spring of 1977, a 21 year old kid from Rocky Mount, NC walked into his head coach’s office and told the coach that he would be staying for his senior season despite his NBA prospects.  In the spring of 2008, a 22 year old kid, this time from Poplar Bluff, MO, walked into that same office and told his head coach that he would be staying for his senior season despite his NBA prospects.  Neither one of them made their decision based on the opportunity to become the school’s career points leader.

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For over 30 years, Phil Ford held the record with 2,290 points until about 7:30pm, December 18, 2008.  Phil finished his college career just months before I was born, but in watching old game footage, listening to stories my mother told me, and seeing how he carried himself and how much he loved UNC and Carolina Basketball, he became my favorite UNC player of all time.  Sure the Dante Calabria’s, Eric Montross’s, Shammond Williams’s, Ed Cota’s, Vince Carter’s, and Wes Miller’s of the world came along and tried incredibly hard to become my favorite player.  Then, on November 19, 2005, a scrawny 6’9″ kid from the midwest walked onto the Smith Center court and stole my heart.

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Last night, Phil Ford’s journey and Tyler Hansbrough’s journey met at center court.  Phil never played in the Smith Center.  Tyler never played in Carmichael Auditorium.  Phil was a point guard.  Tyler is a power forward.  Phil never dunked a basketball and didn’t have a three point line.  Tyler’s hands have met the rim more often than not and he only brings the ball up the court if he steals it for a fast break.  But for me, the differences end there.  Both are National Players of the Year, both are fully aware of what it means to wear the Blue, and both are incredible ambassadors of UNC and Carolina Basketball.  These two boys became men in Chapel Hill, NC.  They both possess the same hard work and dedication needed to handle the pressure that surrounds the Carolina Basketball program.  They both command respect on the court in the quiet ways they lead by example.  They both earned a rock star following.  And they were the only two people in the arena last night who knew how the other one felt.

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The view from the top is something I can only imagine, but as I picture it in my mind, I see Phil standing up there after all this time and as Tyler reaches the summit Phil is there to extend a congratulatory hand to his brother in this wonderful fraternity and show him the sights.   You will never get me to choose between the two.  I just can’t pick one over the other, but I will clarify them.  Phil is my favorite UNC point guard of all time and Tyler is my favorite UNC big man of all time.  There will never be another Phil and there will never be another Tyler.  And that is as it should be.

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The above are the words of this blog’s author on the record breaking moment last night.  For an even better, more qualified and articulate opinion on the event, please read Adam Lucas’s column here.

A New Hope

Found this today on the IndyStar Colts Blog.  It’s promising, but it means I have to hope that Gonzalez or Gates decides not to go:

December 17, 2008

A quick note before I forget that four Colts were named AFC alternates for the Pro Bowl — TE Dallas Clark, S Bob Sanders, C Jeff Saturday and P Hunter Smith.

Don’t know the pecking order, there are three alternates for each position, but I’m guessing if either starter at TE doesn’t go, Clark will get his first Pro Bowl trip. Same for Smith, who like Clark is a good guy and deserving.

Sanders would be going for the third time despite the fact that the maximum number of games he can play in is seven. Saturday, who has missed four games this season, has gone the last three years. If he doesn’t get re-signed by the Colts, it would be a great way to end his enjoyable ride in Indy.

Christmas 2008 Newsletter

The following is the 2008 Newsletter that is enclosed with my Christmas cards for out of town family and friends or in town family and friends who don’t get to hear all this stuff throughout the year.  A lot of it has been highlighted on the blog, so I guess you could consider this a 2008 blog recap.  Enjoy!

Christmas 2008

Dear Family and Friends,

I can’t believe it’s already been a year. It seems like just yesterday we were ringing in 2008. This past year has been exceptionally fun as I’ve watched my nephew Lincoln grow into an active toddler, traveled a bit, and tried new things.

In March, I traveled to Huntsville for a quick weekend trip to visit some friends who had recently moved there from Virginia and to attend their daughter Jilian’s first birthday. In May, I flew to Savannah, GA to meet up with my parents and go to Paula Deen’s restaurant, The Lady and Sons. No offense to my mother or anyone else who has cooked me a meal, but that Sunday Buffet is the BEST meal I’ve ever had in my life. After our short visit in Savannah, mom, dad, and I drove down to Tampa where they dropped me off to spend the rest of the week following Memorial Day with Lincoln (and Andy and Janet).

This was the first time I’d been with Lincoln since Thanksgiving. By all accounts, he seemed to take to me right away. We spent most mornings sitting in the floor playing, and by playing I mean I sat there and he crawled all over me. Andy and Janet said I was spoiling him with all the play time, and he wasn’t going to know what to do once I left and didn’t have his play toy anymore. But, I do what I have to since I have such a limited amount of time to spend with him.

In July, mom and dad visited me in Virginia, and at the end of their visit, I traveled with them to North Carolina for a long weekend. We stopped in Chapel Hill to see the new basketball museum at UNC. While on campus, we actually spotted just about every single member of the men’s basketball team on their way back from a workout. I’ve been to Chapel Hill several times in my life and never seen any of the players, so that was a real treat.

Also in July, my annual work conference took me to Denver, CO. It was exciting because I’d never been there. I stood a mile above sea level, saw a few mountains out in the distance, ate at John Elway’s restaurant, and toured the Broncos stadium. I also got to catch up with some friends of mine who moved out there several years ago. It was a great trip, and the change in altitude really didn’t bother me.

In August, I turned 30 and had the great pleasure of Andy, Janet, and Lincoln visiting me for my birthday weekend. This marked Lincoln’s first airplane ride, which he handled like a pro. It was going to be a surprise, but my mom convinced them to give me a heads up. It made turning the big 3-0 a little less “painful.” Lincoln loved Aunt Leann’s house, and I even got to take him to church and “teach” him in my nursery class. He loved it there, too, but what kid doesn’t love a room full of toys and Cheerios?

I decided to commemorate my 30th birthday by getting a tattoo on the inside of my left leg down by my ankle. You can see it on the enclosed picture. It’s smaller than the picture suggests, and it reads “Believe, John 20:29.” I kind of had always wanted one, but never knew what I’d want on me permanently. I finally settled on this as it was one of the first Bible verses I memorized and has always been one of my favorites.

In September, we all congregated in Tampa for the auspicious occasion of celebrating Lincoln Robert’s very first birthday. We all agreed that we couldn’t believe it had already been a year. Lincoln took to his cake like a champ and had half of it eaten in no time flat. Promptly following the cake he was given a bath and put down for a nap. A few weeks following his birthday he decided to give walking a try and has been on the go ever since. At his one year appointment, our Super Baby’s measurements registered on the 12 month chart, something his pediatrician has never
had happen with a child who was 2 months premature. Preemies will show up on the chart matching their gestational age, but usually not the chart for their chronological age. I wasn’t surprised AT ALL.

In October, mom flew up to Virginia, and she and I traveled back to Chapel Hill, NC for the annual Late Night with Roy (Williams). This is the first time the NCAA allows college basketball teams to hold full practices. The North Carolina players, like many other schools, hold a show of skits for the fans and then a scrimmage following the show. This being the senior year for several members of the team, not the least of which is current National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, mom and I just felt like we couldn’t miss it. Concerned that there would be long lines, we joined the ranks outside the Smith Center at about 12:30pm for an event that started at 7:30 (doors opened at 4). Mom nearly froze, but even with all of that we had so much fun and enjoyed every second of it.

In November, I went home for Thanksgiving. I got to babysit Lincoln while Andy and Janet finished up work before the holiday. Lincoln and I really enjoyed ourselves. We watched Noggin, took a couple walks to the park, played, and napped. He really is the happiest child I’ve ever been around, and that’s my completely unbiased opinion, of course. That brings us to December after what seems like a whirlwind year.

Here are a few more news items to share. Janet returned to teaching in August and is now a middle school teacher in Plant City. Andy changed grade levels from elementary to high school and is now the head girl’s basketball coach at Gaither High School in Tampa. Mom and dad continue to enjoy retirement, if you can call it that in dad’s case. Their new favorite job is being grandparents, of course. In fact, I think dad has found a new best friend. They laugh and walk and read together. It’s really a sight to see.

In case you missed it, Alabama’s football team had a strong hold on the #1 spot in the polls for a good bit of the season this year. They’ll be playing in the Sugar Bowl against Utah on January 2nd. The Colts got off to a rocky start, but seem to have righted the ship and as of this writing, are on a six game win streak. And, North Carolina’s men’s basketball team continues its prominence at #1 in the senior class’s final bid for a National Championship. Oh yeah…and Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in one Olympics!

As 2008 comes to a close and we look forward to a 2009 that seems to have more promise than I ever imagined would happen in my lifetime, let’s all remember to dream big and believe that anything can happen when you do.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Leann

WWIR: 9 and counting

  • Lazy Daze: This weekend was most relaxing, but a little odd.  It was the first Saturday that I didn’t have college football to watch, but thankfully, there was college basketball.  I got all my errands done on Friday night (since I lead a fabulously exciting life), so Saturday I got to just hang out at the house and do laundry and various other lazy day things.  I went to the post office at about 8pm and mailed the last of my packages.  My post office has one of those automated shipping machines, and I’ve discovered if you go at night or on Sunday, no one is there and there’s no line.  Oh I love it.  Sunday I finished my holiday baking, so from now until after Christmas I just get to look at all the pretty decorations.
  • Inevitable: Saturday night’s game was UNC v. Oral Roberts.  Yeah I know…what a combo, but hey…the #2 team in the nation played Stony Brook the other night.  Deal with it!  Going into the game Tyler Hansbrough needed 35 points to become UNC’s career points leader.  Coach Williams pulled him at the 26 point mark.  As you can see in the Tyler Tracker to the right, he needs 9 points tomorrow night against Evansville to take the top spot.  Coach Williams wanted Phil Ford (the current #1 and still the best point guard to ever play at UNC) to be there when Tyler broke the record, and Phil couldn’t be there Saturday (he’s an assistant with the NBA Charlotte Bobcats).  So, Coach pulled him before he could muscle his way through the last 9 points.  It’s amazing to me that we’ve gotten to watch 4 years of Tyler Hansbrough, but it’s even more amazing that Tyler and Phil are cut from the same cloth only 30 years apart.  I think it will come on a 3-point play, and I think Tyler will have no idea when he hits it.  Someone will have to pull him aside and tell him that the last shot sealed the deal.  And then Tyler can go back to playing basketball…just as it should be.  For a rather humorous and tongue in cheek perspective on Tyler Hansbrough, read Rick Reilly’s column this week.
  • Fail Safe: James M. Fail graduated from the University of Alabama in 1949.  Since then he has become a wealthy man through his work as a financier.  Monday, the University named a room after him.  Mr. Fail never expected to have anything named after him because, as he says, “who would want anything with the name ‘Fail’ on it?”  I tend to agree until I found out what they named after him.  The Visitor’s Locker Room at Bryant-Denny (football) Stadium is now called…wait for it…The Fail Room.  You can’t make this stuff up people. 
  • Still Waiting: Well…speaking of failures, my campaign to get Dallas Clark’s ticket punched to the Pro Bowl failed miserably yesterday afternoon when the rosters were announced and his name was not on it.  I’ve heard a lot of analysts say that he was one of the biggest surprises not to make it.  He gets beat out every year by Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs and Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers mainly because he’s not as flashy as they are.  Tony and Antonio rack up stats as the primary receiving option on their teams, while Dallas plays a more traditional tight end role for the Colts.  This is due in most part to the fact that Peyton has so many weapons that Dallas is just one of several options.  His contribution to the team can’t be found on a stat sheet.  Never mind the fact that Tony is on a team whose offense is ranked 24th in the league and current record is 2-12, but I guess since he’s the best player the Chiefs have, he should get to go to Hawaii for the umpteenth time in his career.  And Antonio Gates ranks 4th (2 behind Dallas) among AFC tight ends and is on a team whose record is 6-8.  But I’m not bitter.  Dallas Clark will always be All-Pro in my book. 
    • More Pro Bowl: On a happier note, the Colts had 4 players selected: 2 offense and 2 defense.  Both Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were selected, which means both our defensive ends are going to Hawaii.  Robert (an Alabama A&M grad) has long lived in Dwight’s shadow, but he is more than deserving of this honor.  This will be the 5th round 2003 draft pick’s first trip to the Pro Bowl.  Reggie Wayne will be making his 3rd consecutive trip to Hawaii, and Peyton Manning will finally get to hold court at the players hotel with his baby brother Eli. 
  • Sweatin’ It Out: Detriot came to Indy on Sunday to play the Colts.  Yes, the 0-13 (at the time) Detroit Lions.  I was afraid we were going to get our behinds handed to us because it’s crunch time.  Going into Sunday, Detroit had 3 games left to keep from going winless the whole season.  The Colts tried ever so carefully to be THAT team that helped them get over the hump.  With 9 minutes left in the game, the score was tied at 21.  The Colts had a 21-10 advantage at halftime and watched (literally…just stood there and watched) Detroit spend the first 17 minutes of the 2nd half climbing out of the whole to tie it up.  And then Peyton just got pissed off and racked up 10 more points on them before the game was over.  Dallas Clark broke his own franchise records in Sunday’s game catching 12 balls for 142 yards and one touchdown.  But, suffice it to say, beating Detroit by only 10 points wasn’t very thrilling.  The Colts need one more win to earn a wild card spot in the playoffs.  I still find that last sentence remarkable after the horrid way this season started, but I’m so proud of them for hanging in there and making it happen. 

Christmas is 8 days away.  Are you ready?

WWIR: Finding Peace

  • The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: This weekend I pulled out all the Christmas decorations and managed to get them all up.  I love coming home to my house with the Christmas lights already on (they’re on timers).  Thanks to my friend Jessica for coming over on Sunday afternoon and helping me finish everything off.  It helped keep my mind off the events of the previous day.  I have almost all my Christmas shopping done.  One last gift I’m going to get tonight because I had to wait until it was released.  Then it’s off to the UPS store to ship the gifts.  I am SO excited about one of the gifts I got for the daughter of a friend.  I can’t wait to hear how she likes it.  All the Christmas cards are ready to go into the mail, but I feel like I’m forgetting something completely.  It may just be that December seems to be rolling by incredibly fast.  Today we are 14 days from Christmas Eve.  That’s just too quick for me.
  • No Smiles: Saturday afternoon/evening went horribly.  In the back of my mind I pretty much expected Bama to lose that game, but one part of me couldn’t shake the fact that I thought we could do it.  I really did.  There are no words to explain how proud I am of the team for the way they performed this season.  I wanted something to be proud of, but mostly I just wanted them to care when they played poorly and not have that better luck next time attitude.  I can say without reservation that they overachieved on my request.  Never in a million years would I have guessed that a team that had nearly the same record the two previous seasons would turn around hold an everlasting grasp on the #1 spot in the polls for half the season.  No matter what you might think of him, Nick Saban is worth every penny we’ve paid him.  And honestly, if you think there is a soul out there who wouldn’t leave their current job for $4 million a year, you’re delusional unless the individual makes more than $4M a year.  Some day, I hope Coach Saban tells the whole back story of how everything REALLY went down.  I am excited about next season if for no other reason than we still have Nick Saban.  The only thing that worries me is that the majority of the 9 scholarship seniors were the O-line.  Take a moment and think about that…Bama did everything they did this year with fewer scholarship seniors than the 11 players needed on the field for a team at any given time.  That’s remarkable to say the least.  It’s on to the Sugar Bowl for us against what the media calls Florida’s clone (Utah).  Hopefully, we’ll send the seniors out on a happy note. 
  • Priceless Time: My friend Knoel came in to town on Thursday night.  She stayed with me on Thursday and Friday night and I dropped her off at her hotel downtown on Saturday afternoon for her conference this week.  I took Friday off and we just played.  Did a little shopping and had a lot of fun.  Knoel was also a big help this weekend with the Christmas decorating…and despite my protests, she even cleaned my kitchen for me.  Saturday we went downtown to see the sights because Knoel had never been here before.  She was in awe.  I enjoy seeing DC through some one’s eyes who’s never been here before.  Sometimes the city’s elegance gets lost on me, but those moments bring me back.  Knoel seemed to have a great time as well, and hopefully the next time she comes she’ll bring the whole family. 
  • Streaking: The Colts are on a 6 game winning streak, and suddenly the media is back on their bandwagon.  Imagine that.  There’s even been mention of Peyton for MVP.  I’ll admit, I was ready to throw in the towel on multiple occasions, but something always gave me just a little glimmer of hope.  Now, I’m not saying we’re gonna win the Super Bowl, but I am saying we’ve got a shot.  Stranger things have happened.  You just have to be playing your best ball at the right time.  This weekend the Colts play Detroit.  I’m crossing my fingers that we’re not THAT ONE TEAM.  You know what I mean.
  • First Times: Saturday, Lincoln went to his first football game with Mimi, Grandpa, and Daddy.  They took him to the ACC Championship game that was played in Tampa, FL.  He liked the band.  🙂  Mom thinks that the football game was just too far away for him to realize it was the same thing that shows up inside the box at home.  But still he had fun!  Mom is wearing her Carolina shirt in protest that she had to go watch VA Tech and Boston College.  Apparently there were several people there under the same protest. 
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