Archive | January, 2015

NFL15 “Cherry Cherry” & The Lost Super Bowl 49

30 Jan

Call it the Damn Shame Bowl.

Super Bowl 49’s match-up looks a dandy. Stellar class.

The Seattle Seahawks versus the New England Patriots portends to be a glittering gem in NFL’s cavalcade of crowning moments, the best face-off since Dallas and Pittsburgh last tangled for title in ‘79 in maybe the greatest high-top hootenanny of ‘em all (PIT 35-31).

The balance of team talent is superb.

The head coaches are nonpareil.


Pete Carroll plans to become the first man to dynastisize the college scene (USC / 2-NC) and bring that over into the pros (SEA / SB48), while Bill Belichick takes the Patriots to a record tying 9th Super appearance (DAL & PIT) and hopes to join that upper echelon of NFL gurus with four or more championships, joining Halas & Lambeau (6), Lombardi (5), Guy Chamberlin (Canton & Frankford) & Chuck Noll (4).

The franchises: commonalities and contrasts.


Neither is old guard (Bears, Pack, Giants) as Seahawks are NFL expansion (‘76) and Patriots of the rival AFL (‘59). Both so successful, so innovative, so non-conforming in approach to the game, it’s a damn shame Deflategate has dampened the spirit and blown the bloom off the rose of this championship, so much so that no matter who mines the Lombardi silver, the ne’er-do-well narrative will be an unwelcome hanger-on.

The competing quarterback styles, like SB48, shout, ‘Changing of the guard!’

Patriots’ Tom Brady is old school pocket passer who rarely leaves ‘the bridge,’ versus his opposite Russell Wilson who is no run-QB in Kaepernick vane but new version of the old single wing tailback and may be sign of things to come: mobile-manager QB.

The immovable object (SEA-D) vs the unstoppable force (NE-O).

And the Second-chance Bowl, i.e., Misters Lynch, Blount, etcetera.

But the gates, not the Bill variety, are killing us.


Give an anti-NFL hooligan a media-bandwagon from which to pelt the shield with virtual vegetables whenever a League issue appears on social stage (Rice, Redskins, Sam, flag-gates), and they’ll board in bunches. Splat!

Which should then come as no surprise that Democrats, bound by a PCB dictate, have, in one poll, anyway, been found to be more likely than Republicans, to disbelieve Patriots denial of game-ball mischief (PPP / 1-27 (SI (FS) / 1-28)). Maybe not on veracity as much as Bob Kraft’s friendship w/Roger Goodell who’s backer of Dan Snyder and his Redskins motif. The Kev Bacon thing.

Age, regional resentment and self-loathing (jealousy), may play roles as well.

Be that as it may, as the big game nears, which I’ll watch next day on NFL Replay (NFLN), sans the insufferable IR-delays, high school half-time and over-hyped commercials, we‘ll be sure to get our fill at the traditional media smorgasbord of fun factoids, player over-analysis and press-con overload.

Two weeks of hype has always been one-week mood-kill, but this time, maybe it’s a mood-enhancer, as evidenced in Bill Belichick’s Wednesday press conference.

In one of the more light-hearted but heavy-in-clever exchanges, and god knows we need some light moments these days, Belichick was tossed an “oddball” by a reporter, asking if he was aware of the unique circumstance in store: the first All-Croatian head-coach heritage Super Bowl. Reporter added, “they’re dancing in (Zagreb?) already.”

Kick-off is set for Sunday evening (6:30 / NBC).

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle’s world turns on a historical defense w/Kam Chancellor and Bob Wagner setting the tone. Other keys may be less-than-100% on game-day, i.e., Earl Thomas (arm) and Rich Sherman (elbow), who‘s reportedly completed his treatment but whose loved one is expecting their first born sometime post-Sunday. Another sub-plot, better variety.


Unless Ashley dissaudes his attendance so he can play, it’s most likely Dick will be bedside for the delivery, whenever it occurs. Child birth has elements of risk and then it’s #1 or 2 on ‘life’s most special moments’ list. Besides, he’s done the Super and his non-sport fandom expect full-faith & compassion here. Pete can fill the void.

So why such a ballyhooed defensive unit?

Besides topping the NFL rankings, there’s no compromise on the basics: tackle efficiency and over-lap in zones of responsibility, a team tactic that was SOP in olden days but in 2014 gets bumped by glory-stat strategy (sacks / INTs).


For the scoring side, it starts with a Tom Cable-capable offensive line and a pound & astound run-game featuring stalwart RB Marshawn ‘speaks with feet’ Lynch.

Lynch has been a force-in-motion of late but was fairly “silent” (See: SB5) in last Super Bowl and better find his rev this time or his friend-in-backfield will duck for cover.

Clearly, Russ Wilson can excel under pressure and is key cog in Hawks’ O-machine. But he’s still learning his trade (NFCT15 (4 INT) and will have tougher time vs Patriots pass defense (Revis & Collins) than he did Denver’s. His fast-track to fame was paved in managing from the pocket and reversion back to college curriculum (Rabbit 101), while unlikely in SB49, is a risky road onto which Pats D hopes they can divert.

Upside: When Wilson does bolt, his excursions are textbook for novice run-QBs.

He slides before the hit, has a motive in mind in sideline or end-zone and even in mobile-mode has a cohesion, a synchronization with his receiver corps (Wilson, Baldwin & Kearse) that translates into a fine ‘14 completion (63%).


Lateral mobility is key to Russ’ game, but hanging in, fighting urge to bolt, letting the big men (ML) carry the freight and implementing the boss’ game-plan, from the pocket, are reasons why Wilson & Seahawks’ offense clicked in Super Bowl 48.

Hawks rebounded nicely after Harvin’s high tail but their field of competition post-KC was so-so and had to pull their fat outta’ the fire vs visiting GB w/Rodgers limited.

And for master-craftsman Pete Carroll, looking the “new Belichick,“ the words football genius are waiting in the wings as he’s thrown down the gauntlet as challenge to his opposite for NFL’s best gladiator guru.

Carroll is leading that new wave of team scheme threatening to replace the west coast offense that’s defined NFL matriculatory methodology ever since Bill Walsh took the reigns in San Francisco.


It’s a scheme with Western flavor and plays big in NFCW. It begins with top defense that values tackling skills and loathes the late-game prevent mode. The offense works off play-action by establishing the run game to open the passing lanes for a manager-QB, pocket (Flacco) or mobile, who keeps it simple & sound (25-30a).

Word is, Wilson will become the highest paid QB in the land this off-season. But owner Allen best make sure he pays Pete a comparable king’s ransom, coach class. Man is Belichick West but the personas are worlds apart.

William the Conqueror plays it cool, almost aloof at times, though, with today’s petulant press corps it’s hard to find much fault there, while Peter the Great can’t talk enough. When he’s not jawing with the zebras he’s jawing his gum like nobody’s business.

A well structured, leader-laden defense (Kam & Dick) doesn’t require the same sideline symbiosis as the offense, where strategizing play-call is quick & constant.


Seahawks world spins on an axis of defense but it’s the harmony between it’s coach and quarterback that creates, sustains an atmosphere of life from which victory grows.

Carroll and his young protégé Wilson are ‘same-pagers.’ In a manager-QB system, the composer (Carroll) is as important as the conductor (Wilson) to making music.

It takes all styles to forge a championship caliber offense. Ditka and McMahon (’85-86) were kismet for brief time, but longevity requires rapport in style & purpose. Lombardi & Starr had it, Tom & Bill still have it and Pete & Russ are building to perfection.

Any imperfections aside, Pete Carroll & Crew have earned a reputation for making super teams (DEN (’14) / GB (’15)) look super-silly-us.

If Pete-harmonic continues to orchestrate happy tunes to which his men can play, Hawks could have a dynasty and a new football genius in the Emerald City by February 1st.

New England Patriots

Count Seahawks with the public (80%?) who wish Deflategate had never been.

On that Conference Sunday night when the story broke, there may have been feelings of disbelief, a little smugness, even some sympathy, but now, the NFC and Super Bowl defending champs know it’s only likely to give their AFC opponent better focus and more motivation to achieve that end that helps to cleanse the soul of the “cheat” talk that’s been driving dialogue for days. Pats have to win, they don’t have a choice, so they’ll tell themselves.


And with a better balance they can boast this time around (’14-15), it’s pretty fair chance they will…win.

Offense has always been a Patriots’ preference under Bill Belichick, defensive credentials notwithstanding, and this season is no different.

Ranking #11 in yards per game (365+), just behind Giants (10) and Hawks (9 / 376), they were neck n’ neck with GB (1 / 30.4), DEN and PHI in upper echelon of points per game (4 / 29.2) with Seahawks rounding out top ten (10 / 24.6).


Defensively, Minutemen are led by Jamie Collins (LB). They’ll come into University of Phoenix will respectable ranks. In ypg, they sit at #13 (344) (SEA 267 (1)) in virtual tie with MIA (12) & IND (13) and a strong #8 rank in ppg (19.6), about a FG off Seattle’s stellar #1 post (15.9).

Quarterback Tom Brady had another MVP-caliber season and would’ve positioned better for the trophy had he pulled off the road win at Lambeau W13 (L 26-21).

This season Tom had a quartet of inter-changeable run-support (Vereen, Ridley, Gray & Blount (W12)), a personnel shift that can pose a challenge for any caliber defense and then Shane possessing of the Chuck Foreman hands (52r / 447y).


As to the hardcore hand-corps, that’s been Patriots power-point for years. I count 4 Level-1 pair-a-mitts (Gronk, Edelman, Vereen & LaFell) and 2-4 Level-2 guys. They’re stacked. And nobody puts it in the old “bread basket” like Brady. Just ask Mr. Berman (ESPN).

It would be prudent to predict the stronger suits of both teams will determine SB49’s outcome: Seattle’s super-stout defense (IO) pushing back on Patriots scoring punch (UF).

But then you realize, their work-a-day ensembles aren’t too shabby. Hawks have their own tested TD tactics and Pats are no slouches at holding their ground too.

Seahawks’ defense can be a reincarnation of the rocks of granite 1932 Chicago Bears (44 pts allowed) and yet the Patriots are gonna‘ put up some points, “gar-ohn-teed.” Question is, can they keep Wilson & Co. from finding their happy zone, a la SB48?


Some think that incorporating the sprawling metropolis that is Russell Wilson-in-motion to be the key to stopping Seahawks flight. And that would be a red-herring.

Wilson’s mobility is merely an extension of the Carroll play-call. The former Badger is not a run-QB per se in category of Kaep, RG3 or Cam, all who run-at-will and funkify a game plan in the process of frequently futile free-lance, aka, misnomer read-option.

Hawks matriculate because Russ sticks to Carroll’s management plan: establish run and work the pass (short-to-mid) off play action (See: BAL, etc.). Mobility simply affords more time behind the line to execute an air-route or footwork at breakdown as Wilson has a nose for the 1st-dwn marker and sideline safety.

The keys to stopping Seattle scores: 1) frustrating Lynch, 2) stopping progress at point of pass completion and 3) flushing-out the young QB into vulnerability.


Super Bowl 49: Cherry on Top

Pre-season, this was the match-up most NFL fans envisioned, coast-to-coast.

Both coaches are smart, successful and capable of being bold and creative. Patriots held slight edge in TA/GA differential (12 v 9) and turnovers always play big. As to kicking games, something to always keep in mind in waning moments of Super play, New England holds small lead there, too, in place (94.6% / 83.8) and punt (46y / 44).

As Seattle has played a notch below last season’s Super showing, are fortunate to be in Glendale after shocking GB late and this is probably the best New England team in 10 years, one now vested with a morality mission of sorts, Patriots will win Super Bowl 49 and maybe, before the hoist, stop by the lost & found and retrieve its spirit.

Record: 96 – 55 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Belichick, wc.cca, K.Allison, 8.28.09, 2m; Belichick crop; Carroll, 12.29.13, M.Morris, wc.cca; baroque-gate, wc.cca, Strasbourg, Ji-Elle; Sherman, wc.cca, 8.18.12, J.Beall; Chancellor, M.Morris, wc.cca, 8.22.14; Wilson, wc.cca, 12.29.13, L.Mauer; Blitz-Seagals, wc.cca, SB48, A.Quintano; Seahawks, wc.cca, 76-01, wordmark; Patriots, wordmark, wc.cca, 60-92; Collins, wc.cca, J.Beall, 1.19.14; Brady, wc.cca, mongomez93; UofPhx.Std, wc.cca, Glendale, 2.4.08, DoHS; cherries, 6.1.08, wc.cca, B.Kua.
Posted: 1.30.15 @ 6:54pm; edit @ 11:48 EST


NFL15 Cherry Sour: “Fools for Scandal”

24 Jan

With Deflategate and its PSI pigskin narrative (lbs per sq inch) having tabled the pre-Super Bowl analysis that footballers have come to expect, it’s been a challenge for those of us who write on the NFL to find our focus.

I was beginning to feel a bit like “Elaine” (spirit, not body) in that Seinfeld episode where she fights writer’s block to find a theme for Peterman’s “Himalayan Walking Shoe.”


And then it hit me while watching a 1930s cockeyed romance (“Fools for Scandal (’38)) with, who else, but the legendary Carole Lombard. Such a beautiful face and talented mind never had to suffer so many face contortions.

Eureka!, patience is a virtue, all good things come to those who wait, whatever it was that made my tumblers fall into place, I had my theme, and a snappy title, too.

Maybe we’re not so much fools for tawdry tales as it is the media monopolies who know just how to press our buttons. We’re human, susceptible to scandalous habits, the weight of constant coverage and the minions who tag along to try to make it take hold.


Another black-hole has emerged in our sporting universe that’s sucking the joie de vivre out of our neo-national pastime at the worst time. Maybe not a sign of a civilization in decline but these media feeding frenzies of late (a la Rice, Sam, Sterling, The non-Catch (Dez), etc.) cannot be a bellwether of progress & better days ahead.

And once again, a picayune process of post-game deconstruction stole the show.

The details are sketchy and in flux, but following Sunday’s AFCT (NE 45-7), Patriots’ game-balls came under suspicion for under-inflation, triggered by either Ravens rumor or D’Qwell Jackson (Colts) in-game INT ball. The League then confiscated Pats balls just as 2nd half got underway and initiated an investigation as to whether or not the pigskins were in fact under-inflated, and if yes, the who, how and rule implications.

The League determined Wednesday that the 12-ball set of spheroids all held low pressure (-2 psi (lbs per square inch) below standard (12.5 min)) and released a Friday statement confirming “under-inflation” of Pats AFCT balls in 1st-half with rectification by 2nd.

Now we wait on the NFL to finish its investigation, reveal its determinations and if necessary, mete-out a penalty, whether that be a reprimand, team-tags (draft), fines or suspensions, probably post-SB. Oh goody.

Getting this settled by Monday would be a favored schedule, dissipating the odd cloud that hangs overhead and leaving a full week for serious game build-up.

That’s what fans’d favor. And faux-fans? They just want Roger & Redskins out.


On Thursday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his starry quarterback Tom Brady responded to the growing pressure and held separate press conferences.

And on the whole, I’d say that both men carried it off well enough.

Belichick (“had no knowledge”) was his usual curt, taciturn self, wisely keeping his words to a minimum and bristling anytime a reporter started to press.

Brady, for his part (“I have no knowledge of anyone doing anything”) was cordial as his usual self and entirely patient with a Boston press corps that hurled more softballs than tight spirals at the decorated and reputable but now suddenly questionable QB.


A female reporter finally did pose one of the few pointed queries: “Who handles the ball after the refs bring them over?” Brady: “I have no idea…we’re still trying to figure out what happened.”

Both played it too close to the vest and breached boundaries of believability at times (Brady: “I don’t think about the ball”) but achieved three critical goals: 1) denied any knowledge of the deflation; 2) made it clear they are in full cooperation with the investigation, and 3) appreciate the importance of the game’s integrity. Sometimes clear & concise equates candor.

One curious moment came when Tom made a “Mr. Whipple” claim: “I don’t squeeze the ball, I grip it, I guess there’s a difference.” Somewhere Dick Wilson of Charmin® fame is smiling (d.‘07).

And for anyone who’s not a Patriots pisser (Pollyannaish, but I’d guess 70% of fandom and 90% SB49 viewership), a group that cannot include most ex-jocks & scribes on ESPN discussion panels who should have their neutrality levels checked for pressure, or is not a hater of the NFL product, this topic can’t be put to rest fast enough.


What will become of New England’s legacy now?

To those with an axe to grind or prejudice to push regarding this outdoor version of our two most successful franchises in the past two decades (See also; Spurs), this misstep should leak about .5 psi outta’ their championship aura. Measurable but hardly deflating.

But a win over Seattle in SB49 will go a long way to putting this scandal to pasture and pumping air back into the Pats‘ championship ball. A loss? You should be so negative.

Not like Deflategate was gonna’ push most serious football fans to start doubting the Pats success anyway, but putting the newest kids on the super-block in their place with a win in SB49 will dull the edge of the hatchet critics have been wielding ever since news of Spygate broke (’07).

Getting some read on some of your opponents possible plays might prove somewhat helpful, though not likely to tip the scales, but monkeying with a few psi in the pigskin, that’s horse of different color and too much a-do about too small a dog, especially when a “properly inflated” Patriots’ part (NE 28pt 2H) exceeded their opponent’s whole (7pt) four-fold.

Deflategate is not so much about cheating as it is about comfort level, a state that every serious athlete knows all too well about. Hard to imagine there’s not a player in the present or past NFL who hasn’t, on occasion, converted a shenanigan into a claim of gamesmanship. And that includes misters Mark Brunell and Jerome Bettis.

Rules, and their consistent enforcement, are essential to quality. Without it, the game will die a slow death (See; un-addressed tanking claim & betting (NBA)).


If the NFL does due diligence in its inquiry, finds certain intent on part of Pats’ personnel to deflate in-game balls for unfair gain and a shepard search of League precedent reveals a unique culpability, a deterring penalty follows.

In the long run, the heightened attention to ball management will be a good thing. It’ll bring all sides together, the referees, manufacturer (Wilson®), players and the NFL, to hammer out an improved set of rules that respects, to some degree, individual tastes while maintaining easily verifiable standards that preserve the game’s integrity & spirit.

One concern in wake of Rice-gate is a new tendency to over-reach in appeasement, as NFL did in 2nd Rice susp’n (life). Don’t ‘throw the baby out with bath water,’ Roger.

We live in an age of micro-management, over-analysis and constant change, needful or not, but also one where guardians of integrity must be forever watchful of grift & greed. Not an easy job.

PEDs is cheating, and a real danger, if your health matters.

Starting more as experimentation, once the players became deceitful and their digits rose in never heretofore seen fashion, with exception of amazing Hack Wilson (‘30 / 191 RBIs), as questions & concerns were raised about the games integrity and the bad message to kids, changes finally came and cheating became the definition.'10.HordeFTL.thmb

The life of a football. Who woulda’ thunk?

Trying to pin-down it’s travels & tribulations, its friends & family of fiddling fingers all along its journey, and then for the NFL to publicly present a referee gauging process that appears less-than-standardized from start to finish, seems an impossible and unholy task.

We may be fools for scandal, but Roger Goodell is gonna’ be ready for the loony bin by the time his service is up.

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credits: T.Brady, 8.28.09, K.Allison, wc.cca; T.Brady, wc.cca, J.Beall, 12.18.11; black-hole, NASA, JSL-Caltech, wc.cca, 2.21.13; B.Belichick, 8.28.09, K.Allison, wc.cca; T.Brady, 10.27.13, J.Newton, wc.cca; D.Wilson, Mr.Whipple; R.Goodell, 8.30.12, wc.cca, SSG-T.Wade, USMA; Wilson,, wc.cca, HordeFTL, 2010.

Posted: 1.23.15 @ 11:39pm; edit 1.24 @ 1:26am, 12:34 EST

NFL15 Cherry Best: Hoisting Halas & Hunt

16 Jan

The Whittle Down

The CFP Committee couldn’t have chosen a better foursome, had they been the given task of selecting a college-style, coffee klatch of teams (4) for the NFL’s AFC – NFC Conference championships playoff, set to kick-off at mid-afternoon, this Sunday.

That’s assuming they’d have gone with the #1 and 2 seeds in each assemblage, meaning, the (Indy eliminated) Broncos (2) would‘ve made their grade.


I don’t know if the NFL result tends to validate the CFP methodology, which disdains a dilution of quality of competition (4) and cuts to the chase w/top seeds, or instead, shines a light on a flawed college set-up that leaves out top-tier risers (TCU), which here, would have been the Colts. But they’d have come close to getting it right, no matter the tack.

As it stands, three of the four remaining hopefuls for Super Bowl 49 are #1 (NE / SEA) and #2 (GB) seeds. Indy’s an AFC #4 and earned their spot, taking down defending American champs, the Broncos, at Mile High, 24-13 by leading most the way.

At this advanced stage in the NFL playoffs, the teams know pretty much everything they need to know about eachother, excepting the evolving injury reports. That’s especially true where the match-ups constitute re-matches of earlier contests just this season.

League schedulers were prophetic as Packers visited CenturyLink Field in September to kick-off the 2014-15 NFL season, getting a Puget Sound pasting in the process, 36-16.


For their part, Colts have received a double-thumping, having given one away in Indy to the visiting Pats in W11, 42-20, not too long after having taken a similar shellacking, East Coast variety, by losing big to the New Englanders in last season’s divisional, 43-22.

It’s been said that familiarity can breed contempt, but here, that will all depend on your particular motif.

If you wear a green G or blue horseshoe on your helmet, there just might be some contempt swirling around in your locker-room this weekend, but if it’s a seahawk or minuteman, it’s not so much contempt that could be a controlling emotion in the minds of players as it is complacency.  And that’s a coaching concern.

A likely, key component of both Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll’s pre-game, locker-room speeches: guard against over-confidence.

Experience is the best teacher. Indianapolis and Green Bay have been down these out-of-State roads before and are not likely to lose their road maps nor forget lessons learned.

Expect close contests, barnburner variety.


Conference Cherry Picks: Only the Best

Packers @ Seattle: 1-18 Fox 3:05 EST: Hawks win
Colts @ New England: CBS 6:40: Patriots win

Record: 94 – 55 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo Credit: Rozelle & Halas, J.Summaria, wc.cca, 80s; AFC Hunt trophy, A.Kirk, wc.cca; NFL Wikiproject; ripe cherries, Chirak, wc.cca, 6.24.07
Posted: 1.16.15 @ 2:09pm; updated 5:36 EST

The Eyes Have It: Booting Instant Replay

14 Jan

It happened again, another NFL game had its legitimacy forever thrown into question by a controversial, instant replay-aided ruling.

The now infamous edict in the Cowboys – Packers divisional playoff game, disallowing what looked to most non-GB fans to be a Tony Romo to Dez Bryant late-game TD pass in Sunday’s early contest will now live in sport infamy. The disallowed catch helped the hosts hold onto a 26-21 win and advance to face Seahawks in Seattle for NFC title.


The game itself will never carry cachet like the Ice Bowl (‘67) to which it harkened back. Not many games do. It was cold, but not that cold (-13 v 25°). Aaron Rodgers, with a sore calf, played a gutsy game, finding second wind in 2nd half to put Pack in control.

What the DAL-GB game has done is to bring into clearer focus this one, growing realization: instant replay was a mistake. A sacrilegious statement? Fiddlesticks.

It may be techo-crack for gadget geeks and video addicts, pacifier for cry-babies and give TV sponsors more window to poke their heads into our living rooms, but IR and its trappings is only making matters worse and helping to ruin our games.

It was sold as “Instant Karma,” but too many times IR has been instant headache. Officiating technology, including Jumbotron (Sony), with more sets of eyes and enhanced / different angles of vision, have not made football a better game.

It’s time to start talking about ending instant replay.

Sport scribes, TV talkers and on-line commenters spent most of Monday cackling about the Bryant moment, very little on the actual game-play, and how the NFL rule-book needs a tune-up. And that would be a red-herring, jumbo-size.


In too many critical times, one of the most incorrigible off-spring of America’s hot & heavy, on-going love affair with technology & gadgetry, the instant-replay child, has failed to, 1) not only create a clearer application of written rules to replay video but also encourages, even well-intentioned, interpretations that seem fashioned to fit the rule-book language (poor calls); 2) make truth more discernable, and 3) show a marked improvement in fan satisfaction.

Tackling the truth has proved a much more challenging task than first imagined when early-phase IR was first adopted by NFL in 1986, then upgraded in 1999.

Truth can be a slippery customer. Even if it’s stopped in its tracks, a la Kam Chancellor (man’s a force), it proves hard to “handle,” and even harder to spot.

What instant replay process and its challenge flags have too often done is lead to dicey review determinations, too much post-game deconstruction of wins, more TV commercials and made football and baseball zombies to technology.

Philosophers have debated truth since…forever. Some truths are clear (1+1=2), but put a car in front of 10 people and you’ll get five different opinions on it’s color. Even when we find the truth, we don’t always handle it very well and less often agree on it.


Referees do good, thankless work but have become on-field pawns, passive on play calls and servants to the replay overlords. And we made them that way. Shameful.

In the abstract, we all want the right (?) call, but the review-process can’t get it right with enough regularity, no matter how many sets of eyes or camera angles scrutinize the play.

But the League doesn’t like to admit a poor investment, sponsors are hard-pressed to give up the added commercial-time the reviews afford and those god awful Jumbotrons (Sony) that hang over every field now like a screaming pterodactyl are screwed in tight.

Who deserved the win in Green Bay? The Packers, of course, bad call n’ all.

Champions overcome adversity and Dallas coach Jason Garrett has said as much, as Packer-backers should’ve shut off the whine-spigot, cracked a beer (or unsweetened tea) and conceded “simultaneous(ness)” in 2012 (@ Seattle).

But it’s an awful way to walk away winners. They (GB), everyone, deserves better.


They sold us on the technology but too often, in tough calls, it’s been a frustrating failure.

Because of that, the deconstruction, the commercial drag and just because sport was never meant to be subjected to game-delaying, momentum-killing exactitude, it is high-time to extract ourselves from the morass, the addiction that has become instant replay.

It’s time to take back our game from sabrmetricians and technology goons who’ve moved in like gadgeted game-fixers in pork-pie fedora, and return officiating back to where it belongs: fully vested, on-field referees and their eyes only.

And it’s time to find some bliss, not in ignorance, but in trusting the zebras again, “get (some) satisfaction” and “get back” our game of football, the human-kind.

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credit: replay-review, college, Cantoni, ‘07, wc.cca; referee, NFL, Parry&Colvin, wc.cca, ‘08; replay-review, MLB, 2014, johnmaxmena2, wc.cca; NFL wikiproject; NFL-referee, Cheffers, wc.cca, royalbroil, ‘13-WI.
Posted: 1.14.15 @ 12:43am EST

NFL15 Cherry Division: Echoes of ’67, with Gloves

9 Jan

Reconstructing Legacies

It’s won’t be the Ice Bowl (‘67), and the “tundra” won’t be “frozen” when Dallas takes to Lambeau Field Sunday to face long-time rival Green Bay, not unless the forecast takes an icy turn for the worse (-13° ‘67). Weather folk expect seasonal cold on game-day (20°) w/partly cloudy skies, a slight warm-up from a frigid 11° predicted on Saturday before.


But the cartels of Cowboys, Packers, assorted fandoms and production personnel that’ll fill the historical echo-chamber to its rafters this weekend (1-11 Fox 1:00 EST), will likely feel plenty snug, no matter the chilly climate.

In pre-game build-up, the hallowed history shared by the Pack and Lone Star bunch will hang heavy in the crispy & crackly Wisconsin air (unless, hace viento) as both squads fully fixate on trying to simultaneously reconstruct past winning ways while hoping to break with some losing legacies, old and not so old.


For the Cowboys part, they’re making their first post-season visit to Packerland since that bitter cold day (and they were all day-timers back then), December 31, 1967, armed for bear and cheese, and bent on avenging the late-game, sneaky loss (QB Starr) to the host Packers (21-17) in a game many aged 50 & up consider the greatest ever played.

Some of the participants, on both sides, might disagree, saying, ‘It was no game, it was a frozen farce.’ But such a titanic test of wills, courage & creativity may never again be put to two squads, championship venue or otherwise.

What Cowboys coach Jason Garrett hopes to resurrect is two-fold: 1) a playoff prowess they’d had versus the Pack, all in Texas, that began in their next PS meet post-Ice Bowl, the strike-shortened ‘83 win over Bart Starr’s bunch (37-26) and ending in a barn-burner win over Holmgren & Co., 38-27 (‘96); and 2) locate their America’s Team playbook and return to the Super State that made them beloved, coast-to-coast (’72, 78, 93, 94, 96).


While Dallas is America’s Team, Packers are most certainly History’s Team. Mike McCarthy looks to re-establish home-field advantage that’d made City-County-Lambeau fields graveyards for the title-dreams of visitors for 50 years. Of their last 9 playoffs, 5 have ended in home loses (‘14, 12, 08, 05, 03), something unheard of in days of Curly, Vince and even Bart (STL WC ’83).

So, what will Sunday’s frozen fist-a-cuff have in common with the Ice Bowl?

Besides the obvious (DAL @ GB, cold, etc.), these Packers, though not taking to tundra as defending champs (SEA), still can, like their brethren of yore, claim a superior status (SB ‘11) to Dallas who haven‘t supped champagne since ‘96. In ‘67, Tom Landry had not won an NFL title, having lost their chance (and trip to SB1) earlier the same year (1-1-67) in Big D, losing NFL championship to the Packers (27-34) to whom they’d fall yet again less than a year later in Green Bay.


Another resemblance: the QBs. Like Starr, the greatest field tactician in the history of pro football, Packers current signal-caller Aaron Rodgers has an NFL title to his credit going into Sunday‘s match, whilst his Dallas opposite, Tony Romo, like Cowboys colorful and talented ‘67 signaler, “Dandy” Don Meredith, still seeks his own clutch-charm (ring).

What will be different?

Again, besides the obvious (more TV ads, crowd goofs, muscle-mass explosion), the field condition will be much improved.

In 1967, high-tech maintenance had just been hatched and through a series of miscues the installed technology, well, laid a hard, slippery egg. Today, it’s an art form and the turf will be playable, i.e., no razor-sharp ice shards or cement-bounce, the type of ricochet that sent GB’s top-hands in Boyd Dowler out early w/concussion from the legendary game.


And then there’s the hand-wear.

It’s become part of Ice Bowl lore: Vince Lombardi’s refusal to allow sideline heaters and glove-wear for his men in this coldest of contests. Different days, indeed.

That didn’t stop Cantonese linebacker Dave Robinson from using his noggin. Cleverly, Dave donned a pair of dark hand-mittens in hopes the coach wouldn’t notice. He didn’t, or didn’t squawk about it, and Robinson saved his digits from frost-bite, a malady many would sustain and suffer lingering pains from for the rest of their days (See: J. Pugh).

But no such worries today, no sir-ee, Bob. Those cozy & comfy symbols of sissified man-hood, and sticky solution to the butter-fingered ball-hawk, that make a small mint ($) for a handful but a mockery of the sport, have practically everything covered. But admittedly, at this time of the year, in northern Wisconsin, a little C&C can be excused.


Two questions leading up to Sunday‘s juggernaut joust, apart from how Aaron Rodgers calf injury plays out (“The secret is not minding that it hurts (O’Toole (LoA)):”

Who will be Chilly Bowl’s Chuck Mercein, Packers little used full-back (‘67: 14a, 56y) who was co-hero with Starr in breaking big runs in Green Bay’s final scoring drive?

And, will convalescing Bart and his former on-field nemesis, Bob Lilly (“Mr. Cowboy”) be watching the game? None better than those two. And yet the broadcast won’t be the same w/out Ray Scott (d. ’98) calling the action. Should be a “dandy,” Don (d. ’10). We remember.

Deconstructing Victory

It’s become the new, annoying tradition following football contests where questionable calls, and referees who make ‘em, are run through the ringer by faux-football media and easily excitable patrons, as it were a national crisis.

Simultaneous-gate (‘12) may’ve triggered this endless, post-game paralysis.

That’s when the visiting Packers were defeated in Seattle on a last-second hail Mary from QB Wilson to Golden Tate for the game-winning TD. Grab was upheld, offensive PI noted, the striking refs relieved the replacements and looming disaster was averted.

Last Sunday it was a no-call on a flagged pass play in Detroit – Dallas game that ruffled feathers. The hosts caught a break and media went bonkers, deconstructing the win and in the process, pinned a scarlet F (favored) on Dallas’ uniforms for the rest of their run.

Bottom line: Titlists overcome, or avoid adversity altogether. Just ask Jerry Kramer (Instant Replay (‘67)).

Deconstructing by Injury

“Got (Health)?” It matters, especially to those who put their bodies on the line, week in, week out. Football season takes its toll, oh Mama. Three of the four wild-card contests last weekend were shaped by injury outs.

Repairing the human body is not like a race car pulling into pit-row. Can’t just put on a new set of Goodyear® tires. And even if you could, it takes time to figure their form, learn game plan and develop synergy with mates.


Cardinals, Steelers and Bengals all got bounced in the wild-card round but have injury excuse. That doesn’t mean Indy, Baltimore and Carolina were undeserving winners, just that it aught provide cover from Monday morning ne’er-do-wells who dish out harsh.

Case-in-point, ESPN’s Stephen Smith, co-host of First Take. The bombastic one stated that Cincinnati is “accepting mediocrity…not Marvin Lewis, but Mike Brown.” Oh.


Only Smith and the new ESPN could spout silly, then leap-frog a black coach to get to the white owner, and get away with it, raising no racially-insensitive, red-flag.

Injuries late season can deconstruct a team. Replacements need time to acclimate to the scheme. Wiser football fans, players and brass will shrug & bear it when the wheels come off and look to next season in hopes of a healthier run.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Andy Dalton is, or is not, the long-term future for Cincy. He just wasn’t given a fair, and what some were figuring to be a final, playoff test in Colts game. Gotta let it play out in smart fashion.

Roger the Dodger

Mueller Report (in brief), released 1.8.15:


Winners: Roger Goodell, NFL and football fans;

Losers: Anti-Rogerians (AP, select media scribes, TMZ, ESPN (Disney) elite, Ray Rice, anti-Redskins, NFLPA leaders, on-line trolls, minions, etc) and the Committee to Promote Condoleezza Rice for NFL Commissioner;

Unaffected (or lost in analysis): victims & perpetrators of domestic violence and / or abuse, and a “criminal justice system” which, curiously, Mr. Mueller apparently believes should not be template for private sector.


Cherry Picks Divisional Rd: “No funny business”

Ravens @ New England: 1-10 NBC 4:35 EST: Pats win
Panthers @ Seattle: 8:15 Fox: Seahawks win
Cowboys @ Green Bay: 1-11 Fox 1:05: Dallas wins
Indianapolis @ Denver: CBS 4:40: Broncos win

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: IceBowl, art, wc.cca, JL1Row, GBHoF, ’10; Icebowl, Gorham, 1871, HMoA, Pearl, ’13, wc.cca; Dallas.cowboys, wordmark, wc.cca; Packers, wc.cca, ’59, word-mark; Romo, wc.cca, bigcatsliar, ’10; NFLgloves, USMC.Iraq, 7.27.06, Cpl.Lewis, wc.cca; Rodgers, Morbeck, wc.cca, ’08; Bengals, wc.cca, wordmark, ‘71-96; ESPN, CT, Jkinsocal, ’13, wc.cca; Goodell, wc.cca, 8.30.12, SSG.T.Wade, USMA; cherries, wc.cca, ’11, picdrome.
Posted: 1-8-15 @ 11:59pm EST

NFL15 Wild Cherry Picks: “Got (Destiny)?”

2 Jan

New Beginnings

It’s a whole new season, the NFL playoffs.

For the player, his body’s telling him it’s time to pack it in for winter, catch up on sleep, reacquaint w/friends & family, read the mail, walk the dog, anything but more football. But the contract, the bills to be paid and the desire to be the best, all drive him onward & upward in hopes of greater glory.


Every team is even-Steven. And is that really true?

The slates are clean, that’s true enough. Everyone kicks off their post-season at 0-0. No bodacious personal or team stats to boost egos while any on-field shenanigans are just yesterday‘s newspapers (See; Suh), so to speak.

But some teams clearly have a leg up on the competition.

Home-field and 1st-round byes, deserved as it they are, make a decided advantage. And while all twelve invitees are endowed with the spirit and physical skills to take the Lombardi trophy, only a handful, can we say, are cloaked in that garb of destiny.

Patriots: Belichick, Brady & Co. drip destiny, though, haven’t hoisted since ‘05;

Seahawks: Defending champs righted the ship at a fine time, made better by having overcome adversity earlier in the season when a malcontent (Harvin) had to be moved;

Packers: Returning the Lombardi silver to its place of forging (Lambeau) seems apropos and Mike & Aaron the men to engineer it. Chink in armor? GB’s been wobbly away;

Broncos: Balanced, as Peyton has ‘em #4 in pypg (291), rush is fine (112 (15)) and the defense stout-ful (305 ypg (3)). Strong wins late (@ KC & SD) are qualified by troubling losses in 2nd-half (NE, STL & CIN) making one wonder if SB48 funk is past or present;

Steelers: The trademark Pittsburgh defense must’ve run afoul of the politicized P&T Office and been ‘revoked’ because it’s been less protective in 2014 (353 (18)), but Big Ben’s been MVP-ish in demeanor and digits (302 (2));

Cowboys: The D is middle-of-the-pack (#15 ppg / 19 ypg) but offense clicks (4 / 7). That is an old ditty in Dallas, so question is, can Romo stay healthy and prove Mr. Clutch?

High Wattage or Road Warrior Romo?

Evolution, like time, marches on. They’re the champs. Undefeated.

What doesn’t evolve are opinions. Once someone sets their mind it’s unlikely to change. New perspective is as rare as a solar eclipse, but not half as interesting.

And sometimes the heavens open wide and the unexpected happens: re-think.

The MVP campaign for J.J. Watt, the man who’s fall-back candidate for Packer-backers (Rodgers), kicked into high-gear around mid-season. I let the bandwagon ride right on by. Too much emphasis on glory stats (sacks), not enough on substance (tackles).


But in his final games with playoff hope, JJ turned up the voltage.

Versus the Ravens and Jaguars, Watt had 10 tackles and 4 sacks, a difference maker when it counted most (59t / 19a / 20.5s / 10pd / 4ff / 5fr). And while the tackles total is off his career high (69 ‘12), his assists and fumbles were up noticeably.

DeMarco Murray was an MVP darkhorse, looking Peterson-esque (‘12), but late season slowage shelved any more thought of a 2nd runner in 3-yrs nabbing the trophy. Besides, while a back need not break 2000 (1845) to be MVP-worthy, and DM was integral (12-4), TDs better be biggish (15+ (13)) and some raucous highlight runs sure help (34 lg).

Peyton was another darkhorse in ‘14. Stats pretty great and some nice road wins late but INTs up (15) and road loss at Cincy (4i) ends the candidacy for ‘13 winner.


As for the guy whose super stats, including wins, give him a slight edge over his QB contenders, and seems to’ve been penned-in by voters in November, Mr. Rodgers need prove nothing in the Clutch & Game departments. But I wouldn’t vote MVP for a guy who, in ‘14, played poor enough in every road mettle-match from start to finish: (L) Seattle, Detroit, Saints & Buffalo (wins at MIA (spike-gate), CHI, MIN & TB).

That leaves the top contenders: Tony Romo, Brady, Kuechly, Roethlisberger and Watt.

A key element to winning MVP? Momentum. You need numbers and wins will help, but allies in the media are a big boost. In Luke’s case, he led the NFL in tackles (153t, 54a, 3s, 11pd) but is a defender and, unlike JJ, got no push whatsoever from the pens.

Same can be said for Big Ben. Terrific digits, spirited team (11-5) but poor press.

To Tony & Tom, the numbers are close. While Dallas’ road record (a clutch measure) was perfect 8-0, ‘Boys had a slightly easier slate. But that Romo came back from injury and won his signature game (@ SEA), while Brady lost his (@ GB), gives edge to Tone.

Quarterbacks like Brady we hold to a higher standard, one to which other performers will never themselves be held. Unfair? Ah, it’s the cost of greatness.


Now there are two: Misters Romo and Watt.

JJ’s leadership (2nd in team tackles (Joseph (70)), on a club going another year (9-7) with competent (Keenum, Fitz & Mallett) but uncertain QB play, was enormous.

Tony just did more. Gargantuan. Putting up wins & stats, working through a bad back, excelling under a dark cloud of past failures and thriving on the road should earn Mr. Romo his first MVP.

But once most minds get locked in, there’s no key to open it to reason. Likely Mr. Discount Double-Check, clouty with casters, wins his 2nd trophy. Whoop-de-doo.

Drunk With Virtue

On Monday’s First Take (ESPN), the dour, less popular re-configuration of the network‘s formerly delightful and decidedly different sport debate show, 1st and 10, co-host Skip Bayless referred to the Cleveland Browns’ rookie QB Jon Manziel as an “alcoholic.”


Jon’s made no secret of his taste for gatherings, public & private, and party-favors that accompany. The stories of his extra-curriculars have been popping up with regularity for two years, ever since the former Texas A&M phreshmon phenom took the Heisman.

That Manziel man-child has a behavior problem is of no debate. Not because he parties. Guy’s not long out of high school. But because of what he’s earned and then might lose.

Libation in moderation (including high-fructose corn syrup based beverages, i.e., soda pop), but Johnny Twelve-Pack or not, “alcoholic” is a haphazard diagnosis by Dr. Skip. And any claim of concern as motive is a too convenient fall-back where ratings figure.


If DUIs, DCs and the hung-over look start adding chapters to the Book of Johnny, talk of “alcohol(ism)” may be in order. Until then, it still looks like a straight maturity issue.

As for First Take, it’s always been the bad brother of OTL (ESPN), a network standard which has been sliding itself of late. Disney stirs the pot and we all stand in line to sup-it-up like it were “soup Nazi” blend. Ugh.

As for the Brownies, a good QB, coach and GM, for that matter, are all hard to find. They say ‘patience is a virtue,’ but some of us got virtue coming out our ears.

Browns fans deserve better, but so too, those that still watch First Take.

Wild Cherry Picks: Money up front

AZ Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers: 1-3 ESPN 4:35 EST: Cats win
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers: NBC 8:15: Steelers win
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts: 1-4 CBS 1:05: Colts win
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys: Fox 4:40: Cowboys win

Record: 89 – 52 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Brady, wc.cca, 8.28.09, K.Allison; Brady, mongomez93, wc.cca, 2012; Wilson, 12.29.13, L.Maurer, wc.cca; Roethlisberger, 9.9.12, J.Beall, wc.cca; JJ.Watt, wc.cca, 9.23.12, J.Beall; A.Rodgers, M.Morbeck, 2008, wc.cca; T.Romo, wc.cca, 10.13.10, bigcatsliar, wc.cca; ESPN, J.Kinsocal, 2.1.13, wc.cca; Manziel, wc.cca, 7.25.14, ED.Drost, wc.cca; cherries, Hispalois, Spain, 7.2.12, wc.cca,
Posted: 1-2-15 @ 2:37am; edit @ 6:30pm EST