For anyone who watch football in the late 1970s and 1980s, Walter Payton was emblematic of all that was good in professional sports. He was graceful on the field, and gracious off of it. Soft spoken and dignified, Payton– or, perhaps more precisely, what we knew of Payton– was the kind of player– the kind of person– to emulate. The NFL calls its man of the year award the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for that very reason. I was never a Bears fans. But, like many others, I was always a fan of Walter Payton.
Twelve years after his untimely death, Sports Illustrated has excerpted a book by Jeff Pearlman alleging that Payton cheated on his wife and did drugs. Why write this book? While I don’t condone cheating on your wife or using drugs, I fundamentally do not understand why this book needs to be written, now. For starters, the guy’s dead: he can’t defend himself. Moreover, people don’t still look up to Payton (see point one, he’s dead). Instead, they admire him for what he represented and, when they see an image of him dancing between defenders, the “C” emblazoned on his helmet, they think of when they were a kid. When Sunday was spent glued to a television, watching the voracious Bears’ defense serve as the perfect compliment to Payton’s elegance. Am I supposed to revisit that? Question it? Realize that, gee, idols aren’t always what they are cracked up to be when you peal away the onion? Wow, there’s a novel and timely lesson for the 40-plus crowd that admired him. Pearlman: for an encore, how about a book on the real truth behind the VHS versus Betamax fight for market share?
Every generation has a team that seems to have the talent to be elite but, when it comes getting time, time to deliver, for whatever reason, that team isn’t what anyone thought it was. Warren Moon’s Houston Oilers. Randall Cunningham’s Minnesota Vikings. Joe Montana’s Kansas City Chiefs. Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles. For these teams (and others I am forgetting), it seems that every year great expectations gave way to epic disappointments. For Warren Moon it was the Comeback, in which his Oilers surrendered 35 unanswered points in the second half to the Buffalo Bills (playing with their back-up QB, Frank Reich) to lose 38-35 in the playoffs. For the Vikings it was going 15-1 in 1998 only to lose to a not-very-good Atlanta Falcons team, and then to spend years pissing away wads of talent. At least the Eagles made the Super Bowl. But, the only thing I remember about that game is hearing after that McNabb was out of shape, dry heaving on the field.
Tony Romo’s Dallas Cowboys are undeniably that team for this generation. Every year, it seems, this team finds new ways to embarrass itself. Hype, with these guys, has been badly out-paced by reality as this team has repeatedly dry heaved on the field when it mattered. And, at this point, no one can know for sure if its that they lack heart (see December collapses, culminating with 2008 last game of regular season in Philadelphia with a playoff spot on the line), discipline (see penalties), talent (see terrible defense all season long and poor offensive line play), or any combination of the three.
Earlier today, ESPN reported that the Cowboys were ready to name Jason Garrett the team’s permanent head coach. This evening, however, Jones denied those reports, claiming that he had not yet made up his mind. While it is possible that Jones is being sincere, with Jones “sincerity” is more art than science. He often speaks in hyperbole and has a love-affair with making a “splash” in the off-season. What better way to keep the 6-10 Cowboys in the headlines for a few days than to kick around some marquee coaching names while Garrett hangs in limbo?
Mixed reports aside, though, Jones ultimately will make Garrett the next head coach. Why? Four reasons:
- Because Jones– who “buys the groceries” for this team– doesn’t think that the problem is talent. Simply put, Jones thinks this team has the talent to contend. He likely understands that he needs to fiddle (good-bye Marc Colombo, Roy Williams, and Marion Barber) but wholesale changes are not in the cards. Jones has to think this team has the talent: he has dumped long-term megabucks into a laundry list of players on this roster. Romo. Ware. Austin. Witten. Newman. Fat contracts all along the offensive line. He also is positively giddy over some of the young players on this team. Dez Bryant. Felix Jones. Sean Lee. There is no way that Jones brings in someone with the balls to say: “Jerry, I know you paid these guys a ton of money, and I know you love so-and-so, but these guys just aren’t that good.” Holmgren might do that. Gruden might do that. Jason Garrett won’t. He just won’t– too inexperienced, and too much involvement with picking these guys to disown them. Jones knows that Garrett will be all in with the core they already have on the roster.
- Because Jones Doesn’t Want Garrett to be His Next Sean Payton. Sean Payton was the heir apparent who got away when Bill Parcells overstayed his welcome. Jones liked everything about Payton- who is Jason Garrett (bright offensive mind) with some Parcellsian moxie (balls) built in. Payton is undeniably a great head coach . . . and he was right under Jones’ nose. Nothing would embarrass Jones more than having Garrett come in, earn monster paychecks as an assistant, get some experience in a lost season as the interim coach of the Cowboys, and then coach the Raiders (or some other team) to the Super Bowl. Call it the: how could Jones let Payton and Garrett get away factor. (This is not to say that Garrett is the next Payton. It is to say that Jones doesn’t want to find that out watching him coach someone else to the promise land.)
- Because Jones Has Already Told Us Garrett Will Be the Next Coach. If you listen carefully to what Jones has said about Garrett, he has told us that he thinks Garrett is the right man for the job. Jones has said that what he likes about Garrett is that he is organized and a good motivator. For a long time, Jones didn’t believe in “rah-rah” coaches. For a long time, Jones didn’t believe in changing coaches mid-season, either. In the wake of Wade Phillips’ 1-7 start this season, Jones has been forced to reconsider a lot of things and has finally realized what all of us already knew: Dallas isn’t disciplined and needs to be motivated. Enter Garrett. The antidote for what ails what Jones still believes is a talent-laden roster.
- Because the Reasons Not to Hire Garrett Don’t Matter in Jerry’s View of the World. One concern Jones has expressed is that Garrett is inexperienced as a head coach. That would matter more if Jones thought there was a talent problem. In Jones’ world, he doesn’t really care if Garrett can put a roster together– that just makes GM Jerry all the more indispensable. Through half a season, Garrett’s game calling has been solid, and Garrett proved he could what Phillips could not– get this team’s attention. Garrett got this team to play with passion when it had nothing on the line– something Phillips could not do even with plenty on the line.
Ultimately, Garrett remains attractive to Jones for the very same reasons he made him the highest paid assistant in the NFL. Here is a former player– a former Cowboy– who has learned under Jimmy Johnson (how to motivate), Norv Turner and Ernie Zampese (how to scheme), and Nick Saban (how to lead). He is friends with Aikman (a link to the glorious past!). He is Ivy league, seemingly no nonsense, but not yet big enough to challenge Jones’ way of doing things (like splitting up training camp into two locations to make more money, but arguably to the disadvantage of the team). Facts, though, are facts: the Jones’ formula for winning has yielded one playoff win in 15 years. Whether Cowboys’ fans like or not, whether that trajectory changes is tied to Tony Romo and the cast that Jones has assembled around him. By giving Garrett the gig, which will happen, Jones is making the safest of choices, a choice that effectively allows him to keep the gang (sans Wade) together in the hopes of better days to come.
Clay Matthews is the grandson, son and nephew of NFL royalty: the Matthews family. He is big, fast, and plays with abandon. He is quickly becoming one of the elite players at his position– 22.5 sacks in less than two full NFL seasons.
As is the case with so many good players, 25 teams passed on Matthews in the 2009 draft– including this week’s opponent for Green Bay, the New England Patriots. The Patriots traded the 26th pick in the first round for picks that turned out to be Darius Butler (CB), Brandon Tate (WR), Julian Edelman (WR), and Rob Gronkowski (TE). All but Gronkowski have failed to have a meaningful impact on the field.
A rare athlete, Matthews is also the only football player I know who is business in the front, party in the back, and hairless under the arms. To be sure, bad grooming decisions have long been a hallmark of the football player, particularly at the linebacker position. Consider, for example, Brian Bosworth:
Reports out of Denver are that Josh McDaniels will return next year to coach the Broncos. Although the franchise has been in serious damage control of late with Spygate II and the team’s lousy performance on the field, retaining him is not as big a surprise as people may think. Uncertainty over the league’s collective bargaining agreement has a lot of franchises hesitant to pay a new coach to sit around and do nothing (while paying an old coach to sit around and do nothing).
I also think the Broncos don’t want this to be the next Mike Shanahan (Raiders—>Broncos) or Bill Belichick (Browns—>Patriots) situation. Where McDaniels needs help is in the personnel department. The Broncos have made some wildly bad trades (see Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn), run some serious talent out of town (see Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall), and wildly over-thought draft day decisions (see trading up for Tim Tebow, drafting Knowshon Mereno, this list could go on).
While McDaniels isn’t soley responsible for these moves (they do have a GM, Brian Xanders), a lot of their personnel moves clearly have McDaniels’ name all over them. McDaniels has made a ton of mistakes, but my guess is that the Broncos also think he has learned from them and will look to build on what he has learned rather than starting over all over again. The timing of it also telling: saying he will return next year in the face of SpygateII and an increasingly hostile fan base shows that a lot of people (or, at least, people that matter) within the Broncos’ organization must still believe in McDaniels.
Slightly concerned about the state of the Cowboys, I decided to attend this week’s Giants-Cowboys game live, in the belly of the beast: the new Meadowlands. I figured, if Dallas was going to make a move this season, at 1-7, it was getting kind of late in the year and I wanted to be there to see Ol’ Red (Jason Garrett) flip the switch.
The Giants came into the game with momentum. Manning has been very good and the Giants’ defense has looked as though, at long last, Tom Coughlin’s testicles have once again descended from his body cavity. That vaunted pressure defense had returned. The buddy I went with to the game, a long time Giants season ticket holder, matter-of-factly told me on Saturday night: “Giants 35, Dallas 10″.
Gameday began oddly. On my way to the sports bar where I was going to meet my friend, I stopped in Times Square at a red light. Standing next to me: Montel Williams. Freaking Montel. (Swear to God: Montel!). He was wearing a black leather shirt. Not a black leather jacket: a black leather shirt. And, of course, he was sporting his trademark Montel ‘stache. You know the one: the highly manicured, jet-black ‘stache. Vintage Montel.
I considered saying “Hi, Montel, huge fan of your show” but I didn’t quite have my bearings and the moment passed. I regret it. Could be a Sliding Doors moment for me.
My friend and I watched the first half of the one o’clock games at a bar on 44th street between 8th and 9th avenues, mostly watching the Browns go toe-to-toe with the Jets with other Giants fans. Notwithstanding all of the nice things I say about him, TheDarkHorse used the texts I sent him (“Hillis is the Man!”) to say not-very-nice things about Jerry Jones. For my part, I took the high road. (I always do.) At half-time, my buddy and I settled up and made our way to the new Meadowlands.
At first blush, the new Meadowlands is impressive. We hit no traffic on the way over and, as we drove through the badlands of New Jersey, the new Meadowlands made for an imposing sight– a silver, edgier, more foreboding version of its predecessor.
As we got closer, though, certain things began to bother me. First, they built the stadium next to the fugliest shopping mall in the world. As best I can tell, the mall has no windows and appears to be made from plastic color panels ripped right from the pages of the Ikea catalog. I don’t care if your taste is modern, contemporary, traditional, or old fashioned: nothing about that mall looks right.
The stadium is also next to what used to be the Brendan Byrne arena. If you have ever been inside Brendan Byrne arena, then you know that it just isn’t very nice, either. Worse still, it is no longer called the Brendan Byrne arena. Instead, it is now known as the Izod Center. One thing is for sure, when I think New Jersey Devils hockey: i think Izod. (Apparently they paid $200 million dollars for naming rights. Izod: WTF. How does Izod even have $200 million?) Part of the parking garage used by the Giants also doubles as an indoor ski slope. (And they say Jerryworld is a circus!)
The inside of the stadium is nice. Wide concourses. Staircases in all the right places. Lots of beer and food lines and, most importantly, excellent vantage points from seemingly everywhere in the stadium (including the escalators).
As Artie previously reported, though, the Giants’ $1.6 billion dollar stadium revolted in the third quarter. First, half the lights in the stadium went out. I have actually been at sporting events in the past where that has happened. The difference here, though, was that it appeared as though no effort was made to turn the lights back on. After making an annoucement (along the lines of: we have concluded that there is enough light to still play the game) the game continued. A few minutes later, though, the whole stadium went black. Everything. Disorenting blackness.
When the lights came on, I turned to the guy sitting next to me (some teenage Jints fan) and said: wouldn’t it be kind of fun if, when the lights came back on, John Kitna was face down at midfield, with a ketchup stain on the back of his jersey, and thus the “Who Killed John Kitna Mystery Party!” begins. He didn’t think it was funny. I did, though, and I laughed and laughed about it. And I thought of Tom Coughlin on the jumbotron, delivering a speech filled with clues. And, of course, in the end Lawrence Tynes would be the killer because no one ever suspects the kicker.
What is not being reported on TV, though, and what ReadAndReact can exclusively report, is that the new Meadowlands simply doesn’t have enough bathrooms. Not even close. The lines were pee-in-your pants long. The kind where, once you go to the bathroom, you might as well just get back in the line to go again. How can you build a $1.6 billion stadium and not have enough bathrooms? (The urinals themselves are also oddly narrow. Whatever happened to the big pissing troughs?) Worse still: the bathrooms honestly smelled like poop. The smell in the 300 section bathroom was toxic and dangerous. People were pouring out the bathroom door besides themselves with the bad odor. Really bad smell, like I would imagine a Dirty Sanchez smells. Theories as to the source were plentiful– shouts of “somebody went on the floor” caromed off the walls. One person suggested that the smell was simply New Jersey.
For years, I have humored TheDarkhorse about the Browns. Told him the team is on the rise. If they could just fix this, then they will be a playoff-caliber team. If they could just find that, then they would be a playoff-caliber team. Butch Davis is a young Jimmy Johnson. Romeo Crennel is a mastermind. Eric Mangini: an inspired hire. Brady Quinn: what a pick. Derek Anderson: a find. Courtney Brown: rock-solid, you can build around him.
It was all a lie. I wanted to believe it. For him. He is a great guy. Truly. I wanted the Browns to turn the corner. Desperately. For him. For them. For the city of Cleveland. I hate visiting Cleveland (who doesn’t?), but I have always loved their heart. Their commitment. In an “I-feel-bad-for-you” kind of way. In a “you-are- pathetic” kind of way.
I am sitting here watching Dallas get throttled by the Packers. Dallas is a team that is as talented as any other in the league. Dallas is also a team with no f-cking heart. Zero. None. Jerry Jones says he researched the issue and determined it doesn’t make sense to change coaches in the middle of the season. Because interim coaches don’t win that often. So Dallas will continue to lose with Wade Phillips. Because, according to GM Jerry, it’s better that way. (Dallas just got penalized for having 12 men on the field. Wade Phillips is a teacher. Green Bay has out-gained Dallas 405 yards to 87. Jason Garrett is a Princeton grad.)
The Cleveland Browns are winning with grit. They are winning with physicality. This afternoon I watched them b-tch-slap a pretty good New England Patriots team. In some ways, it was like watching the Pats get beat by a version of itself. Colt McCoy is no Tom Brady, for sure, but the Browns are developing the Cleveland Way. Mangini has this team playing with spunk. Fire. Tenacity. Ingenuity. Intelligence. All of the ingredients Dallas is lacking.
The Cleveland Browns are actually turning the corner. Now, it’s early (they are only 3-5), but it feels real this time. They didn’t just win against the Patriots. They beat them. Handily. In all phases of the game. If Peyton Hillis doesn’t fire you up, you are dead. If Chansi Stuckey (Chansi Stuckey!) scoring a touchdown doesn’t make you believe in the power of the underdog, you are vapid. If Cleveland is not a team you can root for– even if you are a tried and true Steelers fan — you are classless. (Touchdown Clay Matthews. 45-7.)
In the post-LeBron era, the Cleveland Browns are giving people something to be proud of. Dallas is hosting the Super Bowl this year. $1.2 billion stadium. The media anointed Dallas a contender for the 4th year in a row. Will Dallas be the first team to play the Super Bowl at home? Did I mention that Dallas is playing on national TV tonight. Again. Cleveland is running a special on its web-site: 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 Pepsi’s for $119 dollars.
Earlier tonight, the TV flashed to Tony Romo on the sidelines. He was chuckling.
Word out of Dallas this evening is that Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ first round draft choice and media magnet, suffered a high ankle sprain that will keep him out of the entire preseason. Any way you cut it, this is a big deal for Big D who was relying on Bryant to turn an already good offense into one of the league’s best.
That’s the dumbest thing I have heard since Jimmy Johnson announced he was going on Survivor. Make no mistake, Jones has made a pastime of foot-in-mouth comments to the media (and fans) over the years, but this may well take the cake. Bryant is a rookie, getting ready for the first season of his professional career. He has to learn a new scheme. He hardly played last year in college. If practicing hard leads to injury, playing hard during games certainly will. What exactly is the message Jones wants to send here: don’t over-exert yourselves, players? Or, don’t work ‘em too hard, coach?
Wade Phillips should walk into work tomorrow and cold cock Jerry Jones. Dallas is a talented team that, under Phillips, walks a thin line between winning and utter chaos. For a team that has demonstrated about as much toughness as Mel Gibson has restraint, the last thing Dallas needs is the return of Camp Cupcake. Like last training camp (but unlike the Hard Knocks, Cupcake year), the Cowboys were seemingly going about their work with diligence and, almost as importantly, without too much self-inflicted hype. Shoulder-pad-gate aside, there was little news being made, which was good news for a team that has a track record of sucking when distracted. If Bryant goes on to perform poorly, or if the Cowboys struggle out of the gate, the media will feed upon the “should have rested him” comments from Jerry Jones and bury Phillips and the team along with it. Time will tell if Jones’ genetic condition, which renders him incapable of saying nothing in this situation, will have an impact in how the media treats Phillips in the weeks and months ahead.
I am late to the NFL party today, having missed most of today’s games (except for some highlights) because of holiday stuff. I am going to blog tonight’s Cowboys-Redskins game (just underway) . . . .
News of Tiger Woods’ troubles have overshadowed another sexcapade: Pat the Patriot (which would be the Patriots’ mascot) was arrested in a prostitution sting in Rhode Island.
Pat, aka Robert Sormenti, has been suspended by the team. The most fascinating angle to the story is that if “Pat” had gotten off just a month earlier he would have gotten off: prostitution was legal in Rhode Island until November 2009.
Like Baywatch and Knight-Rider before it, this week’s Webinar-Off is a timeless match-up between the forces of good (Cowboys) and evil (Giants). Dallas puts the flailing, frailing, and failing Giants out of their misery today because:
1. The Giants don’t have Vince Young to bring off the bench- The first time these two teams played, the Giants played with the same confidence that the resurgent Tennessee Titans are playing with now. Mario Manningham ate the Cowboys’ secondary for lunch, catching 10 passes for 150 yards and a score on a 49 yard bomb from a sharp Eli Manning. Steve Smith added 134 more yards and a score. That game was emblematic of the Giants 5-0 start as they answered every punch the Cowboys threw with one of their own. The Giants were a down-hill running, aggressive in the passing game, confident team on offensive that played well-enough on defense to corral the Cowboys’ big play threats. Evenly matched in terms of talent, the difference was that the Giants imposed their will on the Cowboys when it counted. The Giants simply aren’t that team anymore. Since that game, Manningham has put up pedestrian numbers (only one game with 100+ yards receiving), Manning has regressed, Brandon Jacobs has become “tip-toe” Jacobs, and the Giants’ defense has been so lackluster that Usi Umenyiora and Fred Robbins are being benched. The Giants are morphing into what the Cowboys were: soft. Injuries are part of it, but whatever it is, this team has lost its edge and there are no signs that the Giants will get it back in time to win today’s game or salvage what was once a promising season.
2. Mike Jenkins has reported for duty- The last time they matched up, the Cowboys started Orlando Scandrick opposite Terrence Newman. That was the last game Scandrick started, in part because of how he performed against the Giants but also because of the emergence of Mike Jenkins. Jenkins has, in the eyes of many, usurped Newman’s role as the best corner on the team– flashing the ability and aggressiveness that made him a first round talent two years ago. Jenkins has every reason to be motivated for today’s game if for no other reason than to avenge his much-discussed terrible tackling effort against Derrick Ward in his rookie season. Though Jenkins’ and Newman’s ability to cover has not resulted in as many turnovers as one would expect, it has allowed Dallas the opportunity to put more pressure on the quarterback. It has also allowed Dallas to simplify its schemes on defense, which has allowed the Cowboys to avoid the big play breakdowns that killed them against the Giants. Without a legitimate running threat, look for the Cowboys defensive to be more stout today as Jenkins and Newman make matters tougher on their receiving counterparts.
3. The Cowboys have Miles to go- As with Jenkins, Miles Austin has emerged since the Cowboys-Giants first match up. Austin leads the NFL with six touchdown catches of 20 yards are more and has helped take the heat off of Roy Williams. Coupled with the Barber, Choice, and Jones triumverate in the backfield, and the ever-reliable Witten, Austin gives the Cowboys the stretch-the-field weapon that they need to test the Giants’ thin secondary. Also look for Dallas to do more of what they did against the Raiders on Thanksgiving– crossing patterns with Austin– to see if Aaron Ross & Co. can keep up with the speedy Austin.
4. It’s December- The Giants need this win to save their season. Believe it or not: the 8-3 Cowboys do also. Dallas’ struggles in December are well-documented. If Dallas wants to be a team that matters in the playoffs they need to start by showing that they can put teams like the Giants away. Dallas has been focused on their performance in this season’s final month all year– as Bradie James said this week, the time is now to show everyone that this is not the same old fold ‘em Cowboys. Look for the Cowboys to match the Giants intensity today.
5. The Giants will be tighter than Tiger Woods on his wedding anniversary- The Giants look and feel like a team on the verge of imploding. While I don’t think that will happen today, I do think the Giants remind me a bit of last year’s Cowboys. When the going get tough, they play tight, fall behind, and just don’t have enough gumption to win in the end.
Dallas 24, Giants 21.
Fufkin: you agree?