With the Super Bowl not even half a day behind us, the NFL season once again comes to a close. And once again, out of all professional sports, the NFL off-season is the most active of them all, with trades, drafts, signings, and the occasional crimes against human decency. So, while most of us start to draft excuses to avoid spending too much time with our SO's on Sunday afternoons, football life goes on.
And what better way to start the off-season than to look back on the past season with...another awards show!
Most awards recognize outstanding excellence in a particular field. The MVP, the Rookie of the Year, the Emmy for Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special. These, however, seek to acknowledge merit and achievements both obscure and questionable. In fact, "Obscure and Questionable" is my middle name. Onward!
The Doug Flutie Award for Breakthrough Performance...But Not By A Rookie: Every so often we see a player who's been languishing in the league without a shot at stardom, riding the bench while others get the reps and the glory. Then, one day something comes along to change that. An injured starter, a trade, a free agent signing few people pay attention to and with that, a star is born. While this year's winner had to share the limelight with his quarterback, his contribution to his team's surprising resurgence is nonetheless special. Our winner this year is...Michael Turner (RB, Atlanta Falcons). Now no longer playing second fiddle to LaDanian Tomlison in San Diego and combined with Matty Ice, Turner put Atlanta back on the football map after last seasons's series of disasters. Of course, considering what happened to the teams of past winners of this award just after they won, Turner and the Falcons may want to watch their step.
2007-2008 Winner: David Garrard (QB, Jacksonville Jaguars)
2006-2007 Winner: Frank Gore (RB, San Francisco 49ers)
The "Who 'Dey?" Award for the League's Best Obscure Team Up Until the Playoffs: You know how it is. Other than your local teams (and unless you pony up for packages on cable and satellite), more often than not you'll end up seeing teams the networks think are the best. Sometimes teams that don't make the playoffs (I'm looking at you, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys) get all of the attention while some teams just calmly slide into the playoffs and finally make people take notice. In this season's winner's case, most people not only didn't pay much attention to them, they didn't give them a shot in hell in the playoffs. Their only notable "achievements" before this January was the lifestyle of their now backup QB and the rants of their now former head coach. They were favored but widely picked to lose at home in the Wild Card playoffs, but win they did. They were given no shot in the Divisional Playoffs, but soundly thrashed their opponent. They were mildly favored in the Conference Championship and came close to blowing it, yet they prevailed. They even got to the Super Bowl and while weren't technically favored ended up participating in one of the most memorable games in recent years. Obviously if you haven't figured it out by now, our winner is...the Arizona Cardinals. Never before has this happened, and if whining Patriots fans have their way, it'll probably never happen again. This team came in with more axes to grind than your local lumberjacks union and while they came up short in Super Bowl XLIII, they all proved that they belonged there in spite of their detractors. As a son of noble Western Pennsylvanians dating back to the Revolutionary War, my hat is off to the Arizona Cardinals.
2007-2008 Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
2006-2007 Winner: New York Jets
The "Don't Believe the Hype" Award for the League's Highly Overrated Team: Great expectations usually result in great disappointment. When you have a team with star (pun intended) talent, you're expected to make noise in the league. The good kind of noise, not the whining and complaining you generally associate with losing teams like the Raiders or the Lions. Sometimes, though, the hype just goes to a level that's way beyond eleven. Certainly this was true for this year's winner. A reality show (with at least two more on the way), paparazzi, snide remarks in the locker room, debates with ESPN reporters, and an owner with an ego that barely fits into the new monstrosity of a stadium he's opening next season; this team was certainly asking for it. Of course, that team is...the Dallas Cowboys, marking our first back-to-back winner in this category. And why? Because it was more of the same. T.O. drama, Tony Romo drama, coaching drama; throw in Pacman Jones and the beatdown Philly gave them to knock them out of playoff contention and what we have is perhaps one of the most overrated franchises right now in professional sports next to the New York Yankees. Without something changing in Big D, they might be going for a three-peat.
2007-2008 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
2006-2007 Winner: San Diego Chargers
The Jim Mora Award for Spontaneous Press Conference Combustion: I both love and hate this category. I love it for the sheer insanity (PLAYOFFS?!) and quotability (I'M A MAN! I'M FORTY!) of it. On the other hand, I hate it because sometimes there's always a chance of not finding a winner in the ranks of the NFL, hence my bending the rules and looking to the college ranks last year. Head coaches are getting more and more media savvy, more level headed even after getting their butts whooped ten minutes before the press conference begins. This season had a real gem that not only fit the criteria for this award, but also lit a fire under his team to take their first steps away from mediocrity. That man is...Mike Singletary (Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers). His tirade, filled with such unforgettable phrases as "WE ARE NOT A CHARITY!" and "Can't do it, can't do it!" was not only funny, but ultimately useful, resulting in the team turning it around after the firing of Mike Nolan and earning the Samurai the head coach's position following the end of the regular season. It's not only good comedy, it's also good leadership. The pants thing, I'm not sure about.
2007-2008 Winner: Mike Gundy (Head Football Coach, Oklahoma State University)
2006-2007 Winner: Denny Green (Former Head Coach, Arizona Cardinals)
The Ricky Williams Award for the Worst Off-field Mishap of the Year: Perhaps we're too hard on football players; they are only human and they are prone to make the same mistakes that any other person is capable of. But one would think that somebody who has made it that far in the world and lives in the public spotlight would exercise better judgment. Then again, look at the now former governor of Illinois. But, since we're talking about the NFL, the transgressions may not result in impeachment, but can have a devastating affect on the team. Although in the case of this season's winner, it didn't look to initially be a problem. After all, this player had been somewhat of a pest in the locker room and some hoped that his not being there would change things for the better. Then came the playoffs. Naturally, I'm talking about...Plaxico Burress, (WR, New York Giants). With one accidental discharge of a gun tucked away in his sweatpants, he not only shot himself in the leg, but also his team in the foot. Without Plax in the line-up, Eli Manning went from Super Bowl winner back to being Peyton's little brother again at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. Just because someone on the team is a nuisance doesn't necessarily mean the team's better off without him. Right, G-Men?
2007-2008 Winner: Michael Vick (Former QB, Atlanta Falcons)
2006-2007 Winner: Ben Rothlesberger (QB, Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Guiding Light Award for Soap-Operas that Never End: Once touted as a revolution in media, there is one unfortunate side-effect of the 24 hour news cycle; you got to report stuff for 24 hours. For channels like CNN and FOX News, it means disecting the inauguration of Barack Obama from every possible angle, right on down to whether or not his coat was bullet resistant and to what his daughters were doing while he and the First Lady were partying until the brak of dawn. For ESPN, particularly when we're in the douldrums of the off-season, where the only other sport of note is baseball that still has miles to go before the penant race, it means constantly hounding NFL teams about this, that, and the other thing. Occasionally, we find ourselves tormented by an ongoing story that torments our every waking hour. Even if nothing is really going on with it, we're still being beaten over the head by speculation and rumors. This past season was no exception and this story will likely continue to haunt us through the winter, spring, and the summer. Said story is...Brett Favre. Yes, no need to qualify that any further; just the name should be enough to remind you of the endless coverage of Favre's ongoing drama with the Packers and the Jets and will likely send shivers down your back for the months to come. Nothing with this man is simple; the world seems to turn on every little word he says. I for one hope this time he makes a decision and sticks with it, though given past experience, I highly doubt it. *groan*
2007-2008 Winner: New England Patriots chasing the '72 Miami Dolphins
2006-2007 Winner: Terrell Owens (WR, Dallas Cowboys)
The Carolina Panthers Cheerleaders Award for Best Oogaba of the Season: This is another one of those awards that occasionally you have reach real far to find a winner, but at the same time, the effort is well rewarding, at least for me. Thankfully, our winner this year involved actual cheerleaders rather than fans or women completely not involved with the game of football. First off, special recognition should be given to our runners-up, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders who soldiered on in their tight leather outfits in the rain during a Week 13 game. As our own karmajay will attest, these gals are troopers, but they come just oh so short of our actual winner. You ordinarily don't think this sort of thing would happen during the playoffs, given that the majority of teams (at least the good ones) are in cold-weather areas. Thankfully the weather where our winner was happened to be nice (and it usually is year-round) and thus this particularly squad of sisters wore their normal ensemble, their oogaba just begging to be let out and in the case of one of their gorgeous clan, it kind of did. Our winner is...the San Diego Chargers cheerleader whose nipples inadvertently slipped out during the AFC Wild Card game. Want the proof? Have a look here (NSFW, obviously). Maybe Pacman "I likey de strip clubs" Jones should pay more attention to the sidelines.
2007-2008 Winner: Three Green Bay Packers fans wearing bikini tops, Week 17 and NFC Championship Game
2006-2007 Winner: Tara Conner and Katie Blair (Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, 2006). See this thread for details.
The Dick Cline Award for Bad Decisions in NFL Broadcasting: Television revolutionized the NFL and the NFL gave a little back to it. After all, no single program annually draws as much attention (and calls for proclamations of national holidays the following Monday) than the Super Bowl. That isn't to say that it's all been good; for every couple of Super Bowls, we get Heidi Bowls (to which the name of this award is in reference to). This year wasn't any different, from the Vikings locker room dong in Week 14, complaints about NBC's use of flex scheduling, and more people whining about not having the NFL Network. But this year, our winner has a bigger problem than just one little mistake, it's got a whole mess sitting on their hands when it comes to their football coverage. What started out as a small operation that few initially thought would work, it has become an empire, spanning all forms of media from print, radio, television, and the Internet (with a few bits in movies, too). Naturally, the top dog tends to attract the most scrutiny and sometimes it's unfounded, but not in the case of our winner...ESPN. The self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports was once heralded for how it covered football, from turning what should be something as entertaining as watching paint dry into an event almost as big as the Super Bowl. I'm talking about the draft, of course. But these days, one can start to see the chinks in the armor, the flaws in their diamond. For starters, ESPN seems to have this voracious need to snap up any recently retired player to serve as an analyst regardless of any media talent (see the hirings of Emmitt "Bitches still owe him sex" Smith, Keyshawn Johnson, Tim Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer, and most recently Herm Edwards). Their once must-see pregame show is starting to become a little tired (A holodeck? Didn't Star Trek run that gimick into the ground already?). The schtick of Chris "You're with me, Leather" Berman has worn completely thin, though it's still better than watching FOX continue to push the grossly-unfunny Frank Caliendo or having CBS' snore-fest rob you of your Sunday morning caffeine buzz. Monday Night Football, what used to be the one thing that made Mondays enjoyable, is dying a slow death now that ESPN's running the show (Didn't they learn from the Dennis Miller days that having a "regular joe" like Tony Kornheiser in the booth is a terrible idea?). Finally, and what is perhaps ESPN's most damning problem these days, is its reporting.
I'm not talking about their constant and overwhelming coverage; as I noted before, that's the nature of the beast these days. I'm more concerned with how they do it. Obviously, one of the most important tools in a journalist's arsenal are sources, the people that can give you the kind of information that you can't get an organization to admit publicly. One of ESPN's go-too guys in that regard for the last eighteen years or so has been Chris Mortensen, who's "I've talked with my sources in the [team or league office]" has become a familiar refrain on Sunday mornings and the occasional SportsCenter. Unfortunately, he's had some issues in that regard, in that said sources tend to be dead wrong. For example (thanks, *Legion*), Mort claimed that it was unlikely that Michael Vick would be indicted, he believed that the Cowboys were looking to hire Ron Rivera just before they announced they picked Wade Phillips, he reported that Eli Manning would be out for a month with a separated shoulder when in fact he didn't miss a single game all season, he said that Atlanta was looking for Bill Parcells to take over their front office (turns out they really didn't need him, anyway), he claimed that Mike Shanahan would be the next head coach in Kansas City, and he said the Raiders were up for sale, all of which he's either backed off from, quietly apologized for, or spun it to make it look like he he really wasn't wrong in the first place. All the while, journalists who don't suffer from Mort's form of premature speculation like the NFL Network's Adam Schefter, FOX Sports' Jay Glazer, and Sport's Illustrated's Peter King are shooting them down like a trained Delta Force operator playing Duck Hunt. It's kind of hard to keep relying on ESPN as a source for football news when their main man isn't all that reliable. And Mort's counterpart, John Clayton, isn't that much better. Just this past Friday, he and ESPN bogarted a story from Pro Football Talk concerning an x-ray performed on Ben Rothlesberger without sourcing it (which at least they did with Deadspin's reporting on Mark McGuire's brother, but this about football, not baseball).
Look, I know this is getting pretty long and the band looks like it's about to play me out, but in spite of how looks like I'm completely trashing ESPN, let me at least say something nice. Their baseball coverage (from a reporting standpoint, at least) is excellent. Outside the Lines and The Sports Reporters have been some of my favorite sports shows for nearly twenty years. E:60 puts a human face on sports that can get easily glossed over in a thirty-second highlight reel. On the other hand, ESPN's problems aren't limited to football, either, such as their over-reliance on opinion shows (Jim Rome is Burning, Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, and anything involving Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith). When one claims themselves as king of something, one better make sure the peasants are satisfied with how you're ruling. This particular peasant is not.
2007-2008 Winner: NFL Network
2006-2007 Winner: NFL Network
The Keyshawn Johnson Award for "C'mon Man" Moment of the Year: All right, if you're still here after my reading from the bully pulpit, I'd like to introduce a new award this year. Yes, I know I just kicked ESPN to the curb, but some how that catchphrase of Meshawn's is quite infectious (as in like a skin rash) and fits the bill for another dubious honor this year. Every so often you see a player made a boneheaded mistake and this award seeks to recognize the largest on-field one (the Ricky Williams' one is only for off-field incidents). Sometimes it could be a blown tackle, forgetting that if you step out of bounds in your own endzone resulting in a safety, or getting lifted by your junk by the ref. Or, as in the case of our innagural winner, it involves a celebration. No, he didn't try a Chad Ocho Cinco stunt. No, he wasn't fined for something as harmless as making a snow angel. Nope, this guy's problem was that he celebrated before he even scored. That's right, our winner is...DeShaun Dropson...I mean Jackson (WR, Philadelphia Eagles) for his Week 2 pre-endzone spike. And the funny part is that it isn't the first time he spiked the ball before breaking the plane, either. Does he have problems with depth perception or something? C'mon, man!
Rat Boy's Rat of the Year Award: Finally, the granddaddy of them all, the one award that you really, really don't want to have any part in (though Nick Saban) seems to be doing well right now). This award recognizes the worst of the worst, the most egregious acts that can possibly be committed by anyone affiliated with the National Football League. Someone must have done something incredibly bad in order to be considered for this award, and sadly there was plenty to choose from. From the aforementioned Plaxico Burress, to Matt "Cocaine is a hell of a drug" Jones, to the Carolina Panthers revoking the PSLs of anyone who didn't buy playoff tickets (and based on how they did against Arizona, I can see why anyone would), there's quite a number of bad behaviors to call attention to, but this one from early in the regular season takes the cake. Firing coaches isn't unusual, from the "Ah screw it!" firings in the mid season to the mass firings at the end of the regular season, there's a reason why it seems the head coaching position is so volatile. Someone has to be held accountable for bad performance and until some owner up and decides to purge the entire team, the coaching staff will always be the first target. But you see, this particular firing was different. There was an almost pathological nature to it, as if this took careful planning to set up the press conference to justify it. It was like watching Palpatine explain to the Galactic Senate why he wiped out the Jedi. Sure, you knew the emperor was full of sh*t, but it seemed so methodical that were it coming out of anyone else's mouth might sound plausible. Yes, if you haven't guessed by now, our winner this year is...Al Davis, (Owner, Oakland Raiders) for his firing of Lane Kiffen.
That Al Davis is a manipulative and controlling owner isn't a revelation; we've known that from the get go and it has clearly rubbed off on Jerry Jones. We also know that he can be ruthless in firing personnel; just ask Mike Shanahan. What takes the termination of Lane Kiffen to a whole different level is how far Al Davis went in doing this. Clearly he's not senile; his body may be failing him, but he's still as cold and as calculating as ever. I've never in my life have seen someone go through these lengths during a termination, to outline so painstakingly why he believed Lane Kiffen was fired for cause and thus wasn't owed all the money he was due under his contract. The sad part is that Al Davis does not understand why actions that might have served him well in the past don't seem to be generating results. He'll continue to sit on his silver and black throne wondering why his organization has become a mockery in the NFL, all the while Lane Kiffen enjoys himself at the University of Tennessee with his dad and his superbabe wife. But, it's acts like that will get you the Rat of the Year Award.
2007-2008 Winner: Michael Vick (Former QB, Atlanta Falcons)
2006-2007 Winner: Nick Saban (Former Head Coach, Miami Dolphins)