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"Learning the Game" Archive


The Hole Randy Moss Will Leave in the NFL (Until He Returns For the Playoffs)

Talented Wide Receiver Randy Moss frozen in time as I like to think of him

Randy Moss may or may not be gone for good. The way injuries happen in the NFL, this post may be outdated by the 4th week of this season. But since Randy CLAIMS he’s retiring, lots of blogs will spend this week honoring him and reminiscing, hopefully, on a time when Moss’ play was elite, consistent, and awe-inspiring.

Sports Illustrated already put together a nice collage of rare Randy Moss photos I think is worth checking out. If you’re unfamiliar with Moss, it’s a great way to get a quick history lesson on the man who made phrases like “Straight cash homey” popular, interviewed himself a time or two, and just generally made the game more exciting to watch.

You can get your “is Randy Moss is the greatest ever” debate on some other blog. I have bigger concerns.

When Moss is gone, who will inject the NFL with his brand of authentic eccentricity?

No matter how much the NFL tries to crack down on players’ personalities the league has benefitted over the years from the story lines erratic behavior creates.  In particular, the behavior of those who have become known as  ”diva wide receivers.” It used to be the running backs that got all the glory, but as the pass in the NFL expanded, we got to know the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Ochocinco. We tuned in to see Moss’ mooning, T.O.’s cheerleading, and Ochocinco’s hair.

The media has changed so much in the time that that Moss first appeared on the scene. Today, we operate in a 24 hour news cycle and football is more popular than ever. There is endless encouragement for players to practice being what Moss was naturally.  With Moss you never got the sense that he was putting on for the public. Every strange press conference, run in with the law, hair style, and plaid piece of clothing felt as if Moss was simply being himself and you were just privileged enough to tune in to his channel.

The same media that spends so much time covering players’ antics (and racking up the dough while doing so), is the same media that berated Moss (and others) for giving them the footage they needed to survive. That bashing lends itself to a sports media that will provide a zillion excuses not to vote Randy Moss into the Hall of Fame his first year of eligibility but will swiftly insert Brett Favre. The same Brett Favre who has spent the last 4 years trying with all of his might to erase all memory of his greatness. Fortunately, for him, an adoring media wouldn’t let him. Moss should be so lucky.

It’s a shame that Moss’ kind of personality can only really be appreciated in retrospect. In a 16 game season every play is so consequential. When a player seems eccentric we spend every free moment speculating about what negative impact he’s having on the team. You want a player like Moss to show up every game and not be a “distraction.”  It never occurs to you while running through the season that you should stop and appreciate the smell of something besides the roses.

I was a fan of the great Jerry Rice, and when Rice retired, there was no question in my mind how great a player he was or that his level of skill and professionalism was a loss to the sport. But his retirement didn’t leave me with the kind of longing Moss’ less-than-ideal departure will inspire. You know, that general feeling that without this person around, I’m “missing something” a whole lot bigger than game highlights. We can hail star students who are most widely known for their dedication to the sport, and it’s a wonderful thing to do. But when the last pass is caught, it is players like Moss who leave us with iconic footage on and off the field.



Special MBA Program for Athletes Could Help NFL Players Avoid Financial Ruin

Rocky McIntosh signing autographs back in his playing days

Former Redskin Rocky McIntosh is one of 22 enrolled in GWU MBA Program for Athletes and Celebs

In heartwarming, positive, uplifting or whatever news, George Washington University has started an MBA program that is tailored to athletes. According to the Washington Post:

The program has a nontraditional schedule aimed to help students balance their studies with their athletic careers. The current group studied in Washington for 10 days this summer. They’ll meet again in New York in February and later next year in Los Angeles. They’ll hit each of the three cities again in the second year of the program. While there is some work and reading assigned during the long gaps between classroom time, the athletes say they have such busy travel and work schedules, the flexibility offered by the program was a huge draw.

Apparently though there are other types of athletes in the program (which is in its first year), such as former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, the majority of the 22 players enrolled are current or former NFL players.

While the program’s inaugural class features an NFL assistant coach (the Minnesota Vikings’ Jimmie Johnson) and a professional poker player (Michelle Lau), most members of the group are football players, including current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a three-time Pro Bowler on special teams; former Ravens linebacker Duane Starks, who played 10 years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2001; and Will Witherspoon, a nine-year veteran currently with the Tennessee Titans.

School officials said it made sense to target the NFL because many football players are forced to pursue a second career much sooner than they might prefer. The average NFL career is less than 31 / 2 years — though the average for players on an opening day roster is actually closer to six years, according to the league. Those numbers are recited ad nauseum to players each year, starting at the rookie symposium that precedes each season.

One of the great things about the program is that it welcomes the stars’ spouses to enroll as well. GWU says:

…families of celebrities and athletes often face challenging periods when ending one career and beginning another. In an effort to alleviate some of this pressure experienced by families, GW encourages spouses to take part in the program. This model will equip spouses with the same business skills, language and tools, which will help families to work together when taking their next steps.

I think this is particularly important for football players because their lifestyles often face a stark decline once they retire, and many spouses aren’t prepared for it. This program can help BOTH of them return to work or expand their earning potential. But the thing I like the most about this idea is the fact that many players go broke, not because they overspend or have too many children, but because they enter bad business deals. They either start businesses they don’t have the skills to run or trust the wrong folks.

GWU is one of the top schools in the country, I think their program has the potential to really have a positive impact and set the standard for more programs like this at other top colleges.



Crank That Bubble Screen: Eagles and Cowboys Edition

Eagles DB Asante Samuel

Chris over at Smart Football wrote a GREAT and very readable post on constraint plays i.e. those plays that are designed to put constraints on defenses. Chris’ post is about offensive philosophy and structure and how important it is not to lose sight of it. I think it’s worth the read.

One passage, however, triggered a memory I had of the Cowboys handily beating my Eagles:

Constraint plays thus work on defenders who cheat. For example, the safety might get tired of watching you break big runs up the middle, so he begins to cheat up. Now you call play-action and make him pay for his impatience. The outside linebackers cheat in for the same reason; to stop the run. Now you throw the bubble screen, run the bootleg passes to the flat, and make them pay for their impatience.

The bubble screen as an example reminded me of the 2009-2010 season when Cowboys QB Tony Romo completed 8 bubble screen passes to WR Miles Austin in just one game against the Eagles. Of course I didn’t remember how many passes there were, I had to use my trusty google. But I did remember several plays being executed the same way against an Eagles defense that wasn’t particularly good but contained a few gems of individual talent.

And that’s where the possibility of getting burned comes into play as those players like, for example, Asante Samuel are looking to break up the play.  The inclination for Eagles defensive backs to move up  (I look at it as almost blitzing without blitzing) got them burned on lots of deep passes. Eagles were using “aggression” to make up for the lack of quality. BURN.  The bubble screen being a shorter pass that initially looks to be deep was just as effective at exposing their problems in the secondary. Eagles DBs are not much of a unit per se and in many ways the Eagles defense continues to be a sham in the backfield. That’s why all the  talk of sending Nnamdi Asomugha to the Eagles talk is so prominent.

Eagles did pick up some defensive backs in the draft but still plan to pursue starters in free agency. Not Asomugha though.




Is History the Reason For the Love Dallas Coach Jason Garrett is Getting?

The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants played a hell of a game yesterday. Only the numerous flags and challenges kept the game from being a complete shoot-out. Everyone was surprised by how cohesive both the Dallas offense and defense were (aside from a weird mini-alteracation between Sensabaugh and another defensive player whose jersey # I didn’t catch). The other surprise was how badly Eli Manning played. He threw repeat passes in to double coverage and just generally had trouble advancing the ball something that seems odd given the fact that they scored quite a bit. However, the Giants defense was the biggest letdown because Dallas scored freely for most of the first half.

After the game, the love thrust upon Jason Garrett, who moved up this week from offensive coordinator to interim head coach, was over the top. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw couldn’t gush enough. Even before the game, Jimmy Johnson clearly expressed his wishes that Garrett do well and made it very clear that when he left Dallas, he did so on his own terms.

Football is a sport that is all about connections. Sure it’d be nice to believe that Garrett is the recipient of random good will or, even better, that he deserves all this love, but I suspect that the fondness for Garrett has more to do with history than performance.

Garrett’s father, Jim, was also a football coach who recruited both his sons to play under him at Columbia (Jason and his brother returned to Princeton to graduate once their father left the coaching spot at Columbia). The older Garrett went on to become a scout for the Cowboys opening the door for the younger Garrett to take a position with the team so many years later. It should be noted that Garrett was hotly pursued for a head coaching position by the Ravens and turned it down to remain in Dallas as offensive coordinator.

When Garret turned down the Raven’s coaching job Cowboys blogs wrote:

Garrett has an attachment to the Cowboys organization dating back to his playing days, when he was Troy Aikman’s backup on two Super Bowl championship teams and served as the practice squad quarterback for a third. He wanted to return to Dallas last off-season even though he was still under contract as the Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach. His father, Jim Garrett, also had been a longtime scout for the Cowboys.

But Garrett also has family ties to the Ravens organization. His dad coached the Browns’ running backs when Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarity played for Cleveland. Owner Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.

Ravens president Dick Cass and Garrett are fellow Princeton graduates, and Cass actually represented Jones in his acquisition of the Cowboys and Texas Stadium back in 1989. Garrett met with Cass, Newsome and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti during his visit.

Ahh good old history. So that takes care of the good will toward Garrett by Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, and Jerry Jones. But what about Joe Buck?

This one might be a stretch but connections don’t have to be strong to be impactful. Joe Buck’s father Jack was also a sports announcer back in the days when most announcers were assigned specific teams to cover rather than time slots as is more the practice today. For a while Jack Buck was assigned to cover Cowboys games, so that may explain some of it. However, due to the large amount of NFC games that seem to occur on Fox (not completely sure why) in 2007 alone Joe Buck and Troy Aikman called at least 7 Dallas games during the season making them pretty familiar with Dallas Cowboy talking points. Could those two things be totally coincidental? I suppose so.

As for Terry Bradshaw I’m chalking it up to him not taking his meds.

The final explanation could be that the Cowboys are America’s team, and we want America to win right?

Overall I just think it’s always interesting to think of all the ways history “may” impact the present. In sports fond memories of the past are never far from current consciousness.


The NFL Should Have Given Players The Safety Video Before Issuing Fines

I watched the video that the NFL showed players to help them understand why a lot of them are about to be a little lighter in the pockets.

My biggest observation is that I DO understand the rules better. My 2nd biggest observation is that some players will be fined and it won’t be their fault. My 3rd observation is that I’m coming around to be okay with number 2…sort of.

I think the NFL will be challenged in getting these modern gladiators to understand what it means for a player to be “defenseless.” This is is a word players don’t like. As far as they’re concerned, if you’re on the field you’re fair game to be knocked silly. But AU CONTRAIRE MON FRERE!! Not so fast.

From the video, the NFL defines defenseless basically as a player who literally cannot defend themselves without giving up on a play. [Just to be clear these are my words, not theirs. However, since this shit can be kind of grey and this is my blog, I'mma explain it how I interpreted it. Use the comment section to disagree]

For example, if a receiver is in mid-catch, he’s defenseless because he can’t protect himself with his hands because they’re after the ball and he can’t avoid the hit with his body because it would put him out of catching range. His choice is to either avoid a hit (and look like a punk) or catch the ball and get clobbered or try to catch the ball and get clobbered before/during/after. A punter is defenseless mid-kick-obviously the only way to avoid a hit is to not kick the ball. Combine this with the fact that once a player has “committed” he may never see the other player coming in the first place. Defenseless and unbraced!


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