Monthly Archives: November 2009
It has taken me nearly 3 full days to wrap my brain around what happened on Sunday Night Football. The nausea of having to watch my Colts play the Patriots set in about 2-3 hours before the game even kicked off. Sometimes I can decipher my nausea. It usually means we’re going to play like crap, but Sunday I really just wasn’t sure. I thought we had great potential to blow this game out of the water, but I also felt like we had great potential to all out suck. I never imagined that it would end up being basically a mixture of both. I go into these games against the Patriots with a degree of cautious optimism/pessimistic hope, if you will.
I fought hard through that whole first half. I felt it looked a lot like the first half of the 2006-07 AFC Championship game, when the Colts mounted one of the largest 2nd half postseason comebacks in NFL history, so I stuck with it into halftime. I kept that little glimmer of hope…until the third quarter. That third quarter did everything it possibly could to break me, but still I watched. I watched a train wreck that I couldn’t do anything about. I watched the body snatchers take over the Colts team that while it experienced some struggles in its previous 8 wins of the season still managed to stay within themselves and pull it out in the end. Perhaps I should have thought of them more instead of letting what I had right before my eyes control me. There was just too much negative evidence. The writing was practically DRY on the wall.
So fast forward to 4 minutes and 12 seconds left IN THE ENTIRE GAME. The Patriots have just kicked a field goal to make the score 34-21. The Colts have 4 minutes and change to score 13 points for a tie, 14 for a win. I turned the TV off…well one of them anyway. I turned the big screen off and went upstairs to get ready for bed and the next day. I went over in my head the things I would be dying to say to the Patriots fan at work if he even tried to rub it in. And as I climbed into bed, I remembered what had kept me up on the night of the 2006-07 AFC Championship game. I nearly went to bed early on that game, but I said I’d stick it out until the laundry I was doing was finished. Oddly enough, the laundry finished about the time the Colts tied up that game. And then I said to myself that these guys aren’t giving up on themselves, so I’m not giving up on them. So back to this past Sunday night where for a minute and 49 seconds of game time, I gave up on them. I said good luck and more power to you coming back from a 13 point deficit in 4 minutes and change.
But when I climbed into bed I remembered. The game is 60 minutes long. Every down of offense, those 11 guys are going out there and plugging away trying to get enough plays right on the money to move the ball down the field when every stat and scoreboard around them is telling them to quit. Every down of defense, those 11 guys are going out there and plugging away trying to get one more stop when every stat and scoreboard around them is telling them to quit. So, I turned on the TV to see if it was over and if it wasn’t I would watch the rest just to stick it out with them. Turns out I really only missed one drive that resulted in a touchdown closing the 13 point gap to 6 with a score of 34-28. At this point, there were 2 minutes and 23 seconds left IN THE ENTIRE GAME. The Patriots are deep in their own territory. The Colts defense needs the biggest stop of the season to happen RIGHT NOW. And boy did it ever.
I climbed out of bed and got right up in front of the TV because while I could barely believe it, part of me somehow wasn’t shocked at all. I was mad at myself for missing that last touchdown. I was mad at myself for allowing the give up voices to win. But for those two minutes and change I was going to be there…full on. And then I saw something happen that I never thought I ever would until he was past his prime and easing into senility. Bill Belichick just completely lost it. Now I know this has been hotly debated over the last few days. And I know that if the 4th down play had been converted, we’d probably be talking about what a genius Bill is. But here’s one thing I know for sure about the Colts defense…when a team…any team…doesn’t have to be the Patriots…goes for it on 4th down, they ABSOLUTELY hate it. They view it as an insult…a sign of complete and total disrespect, and that defense hates being disrespected. Now maybe you’ll say, so what…who cares about a defense being disrespected…that doesn’t mean they make that stop every time. Of course it doesn’t, but here’s the thing…they only had to get it right once.
So here’s Peyton Manning handed the ball on the Pats 29 yard line. Here’s a QB who has passed for more yards in one decade than any other QB in the entire history of the NFL. Up to Sunday, he’d orchestrated 39 4th quarter comebacks. Could he get an even 40? I’m not sure I was any more calm the entire night than I was in those final two minutes. Guess what the Colts do in practice every Thursday afternoon…just guess…bet you’ll never guess. 2 minute drills OVER AND OVER AND OVER with different scenarios each time…most of them with way more than 29 yards needed to score. They practice them with 3 time outs, 2 time outs, 1 time out, and zero. They practice it from the 99 yard line and forward. They practice it with being down a field goal and they practice it with being down a touchdown or a touchdown with two point conversion. They are conditioned to know exactly what they need to do to win the game in the final two minutes. It is their ace in the hole.
So I watched as Peyton threw his first pass over the middle to Reggie Wayne for 15 yards. I watched as the Patriots stopped Joseph Addai on the 1 yard line after a 13 yard gain. I sighed as Joe ran head first into the pile on the next play for no gain. And then I very nearly lost my calm when Peyton let the clock run down to roughly 22 seconds before snapping the ball for the next play. But when he did snap that ball and Reg was in the end zone, I watched as, once again, Peyton threw Reg a pass that only Reg could catch. He put it exactly where Reg’s hands would reach out and grab it. A 1 yard pass to tie the game with 13 seconds left. I’m not sure I have ever…EVER…cheered for a PAT more than I did that last one.
I wondered to myself why after all these years I EVER give up on Peyton. I’ve seen some pretty incredible things over the years that nothing should surprise me anymore. That fat lady may have been warming up her pipes right before Tom Brady snapped the ball on 4th and 2, but the defense told her to cool her jets just a little bit longer. So I’m posting this blog entry as a reminder to myself from now on to never forget that there’s always a fat lady with a song and as long as Peyton Manning is on the team, she’s not singing at least until that clock hits 00:00.
Next week, the 2009-10 college basketball season begins, which means we’re roughly 21 weeks away from knowing who the 2010 national champion will be in Indianapolis, IN.
There are lots of changes to this season. For my Alma mater, Alabama, they’re at year 1 of a new beginning, a new chapter with a new coach. There’s a new scoreboard for Coleman Coliseum among other improvements to the venue for this season. I have lots of memories of the basketball team when I was in school. I can remember my freshman year sitting court side behind one of the baskets for the Kentucky game. I remember going to that game specifically to see Rick Pitino. I remember thinking how strange a feeling it was when he walked out on the court, like a king had just entered the building with his bodyguards dressed like mobsters. I remember when Mark Gottfried was hired. I remember it being such a breath of fresh air when he arrived. I remember going to Midnight Madness when the NCAA still required the teams to NOT scrimmage until it was actually after midnight. I had a huge crush on Jeremy Hays. He was the center on the team when I was in college. I still have his autograph on a poster and a t-shirt. But alas, the Mark Gottfried era, though it brought an Elite Eight and Mark’s Madness student section who did their best to keep the SEC refs in check, came to an end last season. Anthony Grant was hired in March and that same newness and breath of fresh air seemed to overtake those of us who actually pay attention to Alabama basketball. It’s a spark, an excitement, a push in what we hope is the right direction for the program. And it begins with this first season.
There are lots of changes this season. For North Carolina, the team I’ve pulled for since I was in my mother’s womb begins it’s 100th basketball season next week. For the 6th time, they are beginning a season as the reigning National Champions. In some ways they are starting over, too. Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Mike Copeland, and Bobby Frasor will not be dressed in Carolina uniforms. This team will do everything they can to chart their own course, make their own legacy all the while living in the shadow of the legends that have walked that campus and played for that school. They will look to model their game after people such as Lennie Rosenbluth, Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Antawn Jamison…among 100s of others. They’ll play for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the one on the back (we hope). They’ll be guided by one of the most accomplished coaching staffs in college basketball. They will try to handle the pressure not only of living up to the legacy that has been built over the last 99 seasons of Carolina basketball, but also the pressure of the media to see what this reloaded team can do as an encore to the last 4 seasons that culminated in the school’s 6th championship.
It’s exhausting, sometimes, what these 21 weeks can bring. I know with great certainty that while I absolutely LOVE the game of basketball, I usually feel like I’ve run a marathon by the time the championship game rolls around…and all that without ever putting on a uniform or dribbling a ball, so I can’t imagine the exhaustion level of one of the players. I’m determined to have fun with this season. Last season I was frustrated with the way Mark Gottfried’s tenure ended. He deserved a better ending. And I was nervous for every Carolina game that it would be the undoing of the entire team and they wouldn’t win their championship they’d worked 4 years to win. So, this season I want it to be different. I want to enjoy it…to feel that fun that Coach Williams talks about all the time. To experience the journey whether it be with the 1 or the 100 or both.
Bring on the season.
Bring on the fun.
ROLL TIDE and GO HEELS!
Shaun Alexander’s bodyguard: That’s what I always remember when I think of Chris Samuels. Chris was responsible not just for protecting the quarterback at Alabama, but for opening holes bigger than the Grand Canyon for running back Shaun Alexander as Alabama made their run for their 21st SEC championship. I can remember thinking our season was over when Chris got hurt. Most people would have pinned our hopes and dreams on Shaun Alexander’s cuts through the field, but no…I knew our bread and butter was with Chris. What I didn’t bank on was Chris Samuels so seamlessly transitioning to the role of coach and leader during his recovery. But what comes to mind after I daydream about how incredible he and Shaun were together during that 1999 college football season, is the kind of person Chris is.
Lately there has been speculation that Chris is close to retirement after 10 seasons in the NFL, and with his recent addition to the Washington Redskins Injured Reserve list, it seems all but confirmed. When I first heard about his neck injuries that could cause him permanent damage if he didn’t retire, I wanted to cry. Chris is one of the good guys…The guys that you don’t hear about because the players in the NFL who are the bad guys are much louder. You don’t hear about Chris staying out at a strip club throwing money in the air until the crack of dawn, but you also don’t get to hear what he’s really doing, such as constructing a mixed-income housing development in Selma, AL. It’s only when players like Chris retire that we get to hear the great stories about the person they are instead of the helmeted football player we see 16 weekends a year.
Take this story from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback for example:
Samuels was drafted by the Redskins third overall in 2000 to be their left tackle for a decade. He almost made it. He’s started 141 of 150 games, playing through painful shoulder, knee, ankle, back and neck injuries. But now, having been advised he risks his long-term health if he continues to play with a neck injury, he’ll sit the rest of the season. Many of his teammates think he’s played his last game.
I followed Samuels in 2000 during the run-up to the draft and through training camp — in part because SI wanted to do a you-are-there story on a top prospect as he prepared to leave the cocoon of college and enter the pressure of playing right away in the NFL, and in part because of the rise in importance of left tackles. Michael Lewis tells the tale of the value of a left tackle superbly in The Blind Side, and I credit him for seeing what the game has become. Tackle has joined quarterback and pass-rusher as the three most important cornerstone positions for NFL teams.
But as I followed Samuels, I saw not only a good player but also a compelling and conscientious person. The day before the draft, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Broadway, he twice turned away the housekeeper who wanted to make up the room. “It’s OK,” he said. “I got it.” He’d already made his bed, tidied the room and straightened up the bathroom, hanging the towels neatly on the rack.
In training camp, Bruce Smith and Dana Stubblefield took it upon themselves to school the rook and make his life miserable on and off the field. He took the taunts and the hazing through mini-camps, but determined he wouldn’t take it once the real practices started. It took just one practice for Samuels to fight back, taking Stubblefield on a wide rush and, when Stubblefield popped him in the forehead, Samuels cold-cocked him with a roundhouse right to the neck, just below the helmet. He knew as the cornerstone of the offensive line, he had to be a fighter and defend not only his turf but his peers’. He became one of the go-to guys on the team.
When Sean Taylor died senselessly, Samuels vacillated between outrage, fury and leadership — knowing he had to be there for the grieving, mostly younger guys in his locker room, which he was.
“I’ve been here six seasons,” Chris Cooley told me, “and three of those six seasons we’ve had some significant turmoil. But I never saw guys quit or try less, and part of that is because of Chris. He set such a great example with his work and his play. Part of being a leader is just showing up every day and working hard, and that’s all he’s ever done.
“It’s just so unfortunate that we lose him. He’s been the solid rock of the Redskins for 10 years. Cherished by the community. So respected by everyone in the locker room. He’s the kind of guy who would have made a great Hog. That’s about the greatest thing I could say about him — he would have fit in with those great Redskins of the past.”
If Samuels and Jones are forced to retire, the league will be diminished without them, and without players like them.