Lebron James: A Defense From the Media – mOUNTbRENDON

This is obviously out of date, since game 7 already happened, but I wrote before then, I swear.

Lebron James has been the most scrutinized, analyzed, and polarized figure in sports ever. You can argue with me on the ever part, but I’ll stick to my guns. James is the first basketball superstar for the digital age as Bill Simmons pointed out in his article on Grantland that Shane Battier, his teammate pointed out,

He sneezes and it’s a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he’s really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don’t know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.

Though I was unable to watch his 45 point game Thursday night due to a lack of cable TV and sparse internet connection, I was overjoyed to see that he is getting praised, but then I stopped and thought ahead to Saturday’s game seven where, unless James equals or somehow surpasses that effort probably even if the Heat win, the media will do little other than destroy him for the next five months.

Most of this started with “The Decision”, where James infamously announced that he was taking “his talents to South beach.” Sure, he was criticized and overanalyzed before, but that moment left such a bad taste in so much of the media’s mouths that it caused this ridiculous spiral of over intensifying every single word, step, and form of body language that has come from Lebron since. And I’ll admit that I was caught up in it’s whirlwind. I went from kind of liking Lebron James to despising Lebron James, thanks, in part to what I still think a poorly handled “Decision”, but mostly due to the media’s influence.

But now, I sympathize with Lebron and I really hope that he succeeds (I think a subjective term in itself) because at this point, I think that it would much greater than any single achievement Michael Jordan ever made. Lebron James is a media guinea pig and I strongly believe that the media in combination with Lebron’s personality was the cause of his decision to go to Miami. If there is one thing that seems evident from Lebron’s personality, having not come close to actually meeting the guy in person, it’s that he wants to be liked. You can see it with how he came in to the league, embracing everyone’s excitement that he was the next big thing, to how he handled his teammates in Cleveland; they always looked like they were having fun as he was always leading elaborate handshakes, chest bumps, etc.

Because he is the first superstar of the digital age, he was the first superstar to constantly here from the media what “we” want from him, nonstop from the media and media-influenced public alike (see Twitter, Facebook). He listened to talking heads as they said things like, “if he doesn’t win multiple championships his career will be a complete failure” (I paraphrased this quote from memory). And so, he decided to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for a super team in Miami because that was the best path he saw to make everyone happy. It was, to him, showing everyone that he doesn’t care about anything but winning championships – a quality that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have been repeatedly praised for. But when his “Decision” backfired on him, something changed in him as well as the media. Everyone has always wanted Lebron James to be better than Jordan, but those same people measure “better” only by championships.

But it’s much more complicated than that.

Lebron James has been put in a different situation than Michael Jordan and there are many more factors than the ambiguity of the word “greatness” that play into winning multiple championships.

All of last season, he seemed confused and somewhat scared because of the intense backlash he was receiving, which over time led to – as far as I can tell – a period of maturation which has continued through Thursday’s game six. He seems to no longer care what people think about him and there are reports of him shutting himself off to the media entirely throughout this postseason (I think the best thing he could have ever done). And so, whether the Heat win game 7 or not, whether Lebron has another monster game or not, we should just stop and enjoy what happens, and this is what we should have been doing all along. Because considering the scrutiny, I think Lebron has handled the media and all its repercussions strikingly. Media personalities and so called “experts” should not be spending their time talking about what Lebron “needs to do” to be better, or petty criticisms like how he sometimes looks like he’s having too much fun out there, etc. The media should not be creating news and opinions and I think this applies to much more than just Lebron James and sports.

The Perfect Game (My last sports column for the Daily Evergreen)– By: Charles Westerman

I’ve written sports for the Evergreen since my freshman year. I’ve had a column for three. It was very surreal and sentimental to think I was writing my last one as I sat down at my computer on Monday… I wanted to write something that was truly from the heart and that gave people an idea as to why I think sports are more than just a game, but one of God’s greatest metaphors for life. Enjoy.  

For my last full-length column as an Evergreen sports writer, I’ve decided to go close to home. But going close to home for me requires you as a reader to journey with me a little over a thousand miles to Chugwater, Wyoming; a no-stoplight town off of I-25 with a population of 244 and an elevation of 5,288.

I grew up five minutes outside this town on a cattle ranch half a mile from the interstate. I’m sure there have been a few kids on long family vacations that were staring out the window and happened to notice an irregularity in one of the great iconic American images.

The basketball hoop in the driveway they were used to seeing, but they might have had a momentary escape from their boredom as they pondered why there was a five-foot tall ninety-five pound ranch kid hanging on the rim like he’s LeBron James.

Then they’d squint a little more and solve the mystery.

“Hey! That little cheater is using a trampoline to play basketball!”

This was the world of sports I grew up in. The great broadcast voices of my childhood were Dave Walsh (Wyoming Cowboys), Jeff Kingery (Colorado Rockies), and Mick Westerman (The 46 Blue Rock Road Trampoline Basketball Association).

Mick is my older brother by three years. He hit puberty by the time most kids loose their first tooth. Me on the other hand, I went to my first homecoming dance before I had hair in my armpits.

But unlike normal basketball, our size differences weren’t quite as drastic on mankind’s middle finger to gravity: The trampoline.

This variation of hoops I could at least compete with that adolescent behemoth I called my older brother. I was never quick or big, but by the time my trampoline basketball career ended, it was almost impossible to block my shot on a normal court. Because when you got your shot blocked on the tramp, the integrity of the game called upon you to shamefully go barefoot through the rough prairie grass and retrieve your sphere of rejection.

We spent most of our childhood on that little black-patch of heaven. We invented dozens of games on it, but none was more popular than trampoline basketball.

It was so powerful in our imaginations that despite the fact that our biggest crowd in the history of our league was a few bored people at my sister’s graduation party, the glory of victory was of Iliad-like proportions.

After our afterschool school snack, Mick and I would go to our room, select from our large selection of basketball jerseys, grab the boom box and head out to the tramp.

We’d plug in Third Eye Blind or Box Car Racer to our garage outlet, start the music, then start our warm-ups. I’m not joshing you when I tell you we had strict pre-game rituals we’d go through as Mick introduced the “listeners” to the big-game.

I could almost always compete with Mick, but I never beat him. Twenty-five percent of the time I’d be a little prick about losing. Twenty-five he’d be a big prick about winning. Another quarter of the time we’d both be pricks, and the remaining fourth we’d go to the freezer and grab a push-pop and talk about how much fun we’d just had.

But one-fateful day it all came together for me. I finally played the only way I had a chance to ever beat Mick in a game of tramp-basketball: perfectly. I played a perfect game and still barely beat him.

My celebration was similar to Macaulay Culkin’s in “Home Alone” when he realizes he made his family disappear.

Then something happened that was one of the biggest moments in one of the most important relationships of my life.

Mick got off the tramp, walked up to me, and instead of punching me in the kidneys like I thought he was going to, tasseled my hair and said the three sweetest words in sports, “Good game bro.”

I’d like to dedicate this column to Mick, who has supported my writing dreams with the same passion and challenge he always brought when we took the trampoline for a game of epic proportions.

We Don’t Want Peyton, We Want Apollo – By: mOUNTbRENDON

I recently read an article about Peyton Manning and his possible departure from Indianapolis (don’t worry, this blog is about more than sports) and was rather troubled by it.

Not that it is a poorly written article, it is actually a very well done piece, but it seems to serve as the perfect metaphor for where our culture is right now in reference to the media.

You can read the article here:

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7620692/indianapolis-meaning-peyton-manning

As stated in the article, Peyton Manning was once the perfect sports hero for the city of Indianapolis, a city whose “roots are Southern and really, really, really white.” Naturally, a 6 ‘4″ white quarterback with a southern drawl, fit perfectly as the town’s sports hero, particularly after the Ron Artest fiasco. In Manning, sports fans in Indianapolis were given one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and with that a Super Bowl banner.

But right now, there are talks of Peyton being traded, because the NFL is a business. I get that. They have the number one overall pick and therefore the exclusive rights to Andrew Luck. But it’s not that Peyton might get traded from Indianapolis that upsets me, it’s Peyton’s image, his status.

He will mostly likely get traded, not only because of Andrew Luck, but also because he failed to achieve this larger-than-life status that everyone now days longs for. Instead, Peyton achieved a life of personal privacy. He didn’t take any sort of metaphorical ownership of the city that everyone wanted him to take. He isn’t the sexy sport hero turned celebrity who embraces worship from all the “normal” football fans of the world.

Nope. He chose to remain human and coming from a family like the All-American Mannings (see Archie, Eli), this is something that should be celebrated. He chose to make jokes because that’s who he is. And he didn’t betray who he is for who everyone wanted him to be – another more-than-human sports figure.

And now, the fans, the organization, don’t seem all that loyal to him because of it. Most seem to be split and indifferent about his probably departure.

I have been looking a lot into the life of Bob Dylan recently because I’m writing my final paper for senior seminar on him. Dylan was perhaps the most uniquely fascinating celebrity character study to ever come around partly because he always knew the game that the media was playing and resented them for it. But he also loved, more than anything, playing and writing music and as a result, the media destroyed him in a sense. He was constantly dodging its ideologies so that he could hold on to himself as a person, not as a celebrity. But by doing so, he did just that (this is mostly my own speculation).

I have also been reading a lot of Greek tragedy for a different class and it’s revealed to me how awful the Greek gods were. They were extremely beautiful (physically) and extremely horrible, but most of all, extremely human, with a love for manipulation, worship, and success.

And, sadly, I have found that they are exactly like we want our celebrities to be. I seriously can’t find a significant difference between the two.

Even look at Lebron James, one of the most polarizing and larger-than-life figures in sports. He is constantly criticized for things that he does both on and off the court because he’s not what we want him to be. We want him to be the greatest basketball player ever, “the next Michael Jordan”. We want him to be god of all athletes, instead of what he is; just a really, really, freaking good basketball player.

I think that this applies to a lot of aspects of our culture, and I think we’re trained to act this way (but I won’t get into that aspect). Instead of simply enjoying what we have, enjoying watching people like Peyton and Lebron and allowing them to be and live like they want, we constantly criticize them for what they’re not: something more than human.

We seem to put the celebrity status above the athlete, actor, musician, etc. For some reason, they must be a big personality and someone who can rule over their city in order to gain our loyalty. That doesn’t make sense to me.

 

Peyton Manning doesn’t fit that mold and there is therefore, and always has been, this weird tension for sports fans and their perception of him. Everything from “The Manning Face” to his appearances on SNL and his ambiguous personal life has confused people.

He’s something different and we don’t like that. We want our celebrities to be Greek gods and correct me if I’m wrong, but there is something terribly wrong with that.

Eli: For Little Brothers Everywhere– By: Charles Westerman

Not to sound like your grandpa, but man time goes by quick.  All the sudden I look and it’s been a week since our last post.  Here’s my column about Little Bro Eli and the respect he’s earned even from someone who hates  what he’s done to my Pack (twice). Enjoy. 

One undeniable fact could be taken from Sunday’s epic Super Bowl: You don’t want Eli Manning to have the ball with under five minutes in the fourth quarter.  It’s the highest compliment you can give to the most powerful position in sports.

And I think for a lot of sports fans, they are having a hard time wrapping their head around the fact that they’re paying that compliment to Eli.

He has the disposition of a shy late-blooming eighth grade boy.  He doesn’t look like a killer.  Ice-Box (from the nineties Rick Moranis kids movie “Little Giants”) looks more intimidating in a Giants jersey than Eli.

But what Eli did in the Giants 21-17 Super Bowl win was nothing short of unfathomable: he’s given a legitimate argument to the debate that he’s as good– and could go on to be better—than the two pillars of the NFL over the last decade, Tom Brady and his older brother Peyton Manning.

Peyton’s kid brother now has won more Super Bowl rings than his sibling considered to be one of the greatest of all-time.  He has one less than Peyton’s nemesis Brady, but he’s beat him in two head-to-head Super Bowl matchups.

Eli is a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it comes to his ability to go for the throat.  Was he on a great team? As painful as it is to admit the Giants are the best, yes he was.  I’d rather go to a Nickelback concert than go up against the freak show that is New York’s defensive line.

But without Eli the Giants aren’t even a playoff team.  Even before he led a two-score comeback in the final five-minutes versus the Cowboys on December 11, he had led five fourth-quarter game winning drives.  That moved them to 7-6 in a tie with the Cowboys for the division lead.

The next week they lost to the Redskins, but beat the cross-town rival Jets and the Cowboys again in two win-or-go home scenarios.

Twice Eli has been given the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the Super Bowl.  Twice he’s delivered.  Brett Favre and Peyton can’t say that.  Lately Brady can’t say that. And Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have never even gotten the chance to say that.

I hate the Giants.  Every time I see Brandon Jacobs I want to punch him in that oversized watermelon he calls a head.  But I have nothing but the upmost admiration and respect for “The Little Brother.”

I have two older brothers of my own and let me tell you it’s not an easy thing to break their mental edge over you.  He and Peyton were very civil throughout all the sibling rivalry hype the last couple of weeks, but you know deep down they each want to be better than the other.

That’s what’s great about brothers.  The good ones make each other better.  And Eli and Peyton are some of the best.  But Eli has made today a day for little brothers everywhere to raise there glasses high and say, “Hey bro, hold the keys to my Corvette while I kiss my Lombardi Trophy.”

 

Cutting Off Your Sleeves (The Genius of Belichick)– By: Charles Westerman

In an interview two weeks ago, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he thinks his head coach, Bill Belichick, is the best coach in the NFL – ever. Better than Vince Lombardi. Better than Don Shula and Chuck Noll.

Is Kraft biased? Yes. Does he have any grounds to make such a claim? If the Pats win their fourth Super Bowl under Belichick on Sunday, he absolutely does.

So roll up your sleeves — heck if they’re really annoying just cut them off (that’s what Bill does) — and let’s get into this.

When you’re trying to make an argument for one guy being the all-time best, you have to look at what separates him from everyone else. In a column written on Jan. 20, Pro Football Talk’s website backed up Kraft’s reasoning about just what makes Belichick’s success superior: Belichick is coaching in the salary cap era.

The turnover in the NFL today is much more rapid than it was in Lombardi’s, Shula’s or Noll’s. Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the only defensive starter leftover from the 2007 team that nearly went 19-0.

Offensively, Tom Brady and most of his offensive line are still in tact, but other than the little used running back Kevin Faulk and elite receiver Wes Welker, Brady’s supporting cast is much different than 2007.

Belichick’s brilliance comes in his repeated ability to get to the Super Bowl with almost completely different teams. Not only is it a different team. It’s a team made mostly of misfits – unwanted NFL orphans.

What Mr. Fagan and his fingerless gloves are to Oliver Twist, Mr. Belichick and his sleeveless hoodies are to the NFL.

Despite always being at the low end of the draft poll, almost no one is better at it than Bill. Most the time he’s not even on the draft poll. Consider this – on this years 53-man roster, 18 Patriots are undrafted free-agents. Of those 18, eight are starters. Eleven more Patriots were drafted in the fifth-round or later, meaning that 29 — more than half of the roster — were not drafted in the first four rounds.

If Belichick beats the Giants on Sunday he will join Chuck Noll as the only coach in NFL history with four Super Bowl rings. If he wins on Sunday, he and his offense will go down as one of the best of all time. Let’s take a look at the keys pieces of that offense:

QB Tom Brady: drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft.

WR Wes Welker: 5-foot-9-inches tall, 185 pounds light, 4.61 pre-draft 40-time. Signed in 2007 from the Dolphins for a one-year $1.35 contract.

RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis: Has never fumbled in his NFL career. Undrafted, he was signed by the Pats in 2008.

RB Danny Woodhead: 5-foot-7 undrafted free agent out of Division-II Chadron State.

TE Rob Gronkowski: This season set the all-time single-season TD and yards record for a tight end. He’s in just his second season and fell to the second round of the draft because of injury concerns.

TE Aaron Hernandez: Drafted in the same year as Gronkowski in the fourth round. Was still fourth among all tight ends this season in receiving yards.

The innovation in the roster of Belichick’s offense speaks for itself. And if he takes down those pesky Giants on Sunday, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s the best and most progressive pro-football coach of all-time.  Robert Kraft might be biased but I’m not. I’m a Packers fan.

My apologies to Mr. Lombardi.

Giving the business to the 1% (Packers lose, heart crushed)– By: Charles Westerman

Maybe it was the rust from the bye week.

Maybe it was the seven drops, or the 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown given up in the closing seconds of the first half.

Maybe it was 14-year veteran Charles Woodson not knowing who his man-assignment was on multiple occasions.

Whatever it was, those were not the Green Bay Packers I’ve come to know on the field this Sunday against the New York Giants.

The 37-20 divisional loss at Lambeau was a reality check for the Pack in many ways.

However, I think the most significant void Green Bay has to address is something they’ve been missing all season, and might be the true source of their one-and-done performance in the playoffs.

Cullen Jenkins.

Last offseason the Packers decided not to resign the pro-bowl 3-4 defensive end and I believe that decision has been what Dom Capers’ defense has been missing this whole season.  It’s what made them go from a championship-caliber unit, to a yards-bleeding sack of chumps.

Seriously, watching the defense on third-down this season was like standing behind a cow and yanking its tail: you just knew you were about to get kicked in the groin.

The Packers decided to let Jenkins go in free agency because they’re a small-market team.  They live off the draft and don’t believe in shelling out a lot of money for big names.

This season they thought 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal had developed enough to replace Jenkins’ presence.

The problem is Neal was injured this season.

Ever since he arrived in Green Bay he has been about as durable as a glass-piñata. A team that was so plagued by injuries last season should have learned that your roster can never have too much depth.

But general manager Ted Thompson’s small-market strategy is hard to argue with because, firstly, it won a Super Bowl last year, and secondly, I believe 99 percent of the personnel decisions Thompson makes are solid gold.

Nevertheless, I’m going to take a page out of Occupy Wall Street’s playbook and give the business to the 1 percent (warning: that pun works in two ways).

Without Jenkins, the Packers regular season sack total went from being second best in the league last year (47) to tied for 27th this season (29).  Clay Matthews’ (cq) sack total went from 13.5  to 6. B.J. Raji —6.5 to 3.

Defensive ends who play in a 3-4 defense rarely have a gift for rushing the passer.  In a 3-4, ends need to be bigger in order to eat-up blocks for the linebackers to roam around, and because they’re bigger, they usually don’t have enough speed to create a consistent pass rush.  Jenkins was a rare breed.

He is a 3-4 end who could stop the run and rush the passer.  Last season he had 7 sacks in just eleven games.

Capers defense is built on chaos and confusion.

The Pack blitz from every angle, confuse the quarterback, allow aggressive play-making corner’s to jump routes and get picks.

Successful execution of this defense results in plenty of sacks and interceptions.  And though the Pack led the league with 31 interceptions, the lack of a pass rush was the reason they gave up more single-season passing yards than any defense in the history of the NFL.

Look for the Packer’s to use their early draft picks on a Cullen Jenkins-prototype end, and another outside linebacker to compliment and free up Matthews.

Tim Tebow is to classy, so I’ll trash Bill Maher — By: Charlie Westerman

My last column was about Tim Tebow. Maybe some of you are sick of hearing about him all the time.  If that’s the case, you might want to grab a trashcan or a doggy-bag if you plan to keep reading this; because it’s going to start with Tebow, build up to Tebow, and finish with Tebow. Tebow. Tebow.

I grew up in a Christian home.  My mom told me as I went off to college that I needed to go out and decide for myself if I believed it or not.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to pursue a relationship with Jesus because I realized that truly being a Christian wasn’t about following a checklist of religious rules.

No. It’s not about a religion, it’s about relationships; your relationship with God, with yourself, your family, friends, time, money, Facebook– you name it.  I’m really pretty piss-poor at living a relational life, but at the end of the day I somehow still want to get better at it.

I tell you this not to try and cram anything down your throat, but I think when a lot of people hear the words ‘Christian’ they immediately associate it with words like —conservative, Republican, judgmental, ignorant, close-minded, up-on-a-high-horse, boring.

They think of names like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Joel Osteen and Fred Phelps.  Personally, I think I speak for the majority of Christian’s when I say Fred Phelps needs grace almost more than anyone.  He perverts the Bible in order to gain personal power and unleash his anger.

The point I’m trying to make is that almost all Christians that mainstream culture knows about, are very extreme and often don’t even truly believe in the core teachings of the Gospel.  That’s why Tebow has caught on like a honey badger on Youtube.  He does believe and faithfully try to live a life that’s accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Contrary to what his own Pastor said, Tebow doesn’t believe he wins football games because God “favors” him.  He knows God is much bigger than sports.  Tebow wins because he works hard, he’s positive and encouraging to his teammates, his actions match up with his words, and therefore he is a leader people are willing to follow.

Of course this is speculation, but I would bet that when the camera shoots to Tebow praying on one knee before kickoff, he’s not asking God for a Broncos win; he’s asking God that whatever the outcome of the game is, that he (Tebow) would have glorified God and shown the powerful love of Jesus in anyway he could.  If the answer to that prayer involves him beating the Steelers for the Broncos first playoff win since 2006, then I’m sure that’s more than okay with him.

Bob Costas said in a story on NBC that even if people don’t believe the same as Tebow, his beliefs should at least be respected.  I think it’s ironic that profound Atheist Bill Maher has ragged on Christianity for being judgmental, close-minded, hypocritical etc.

Then he tweets things like “Wow, Jesus just f****d #TimTebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler “Hey, Buffalo’s killing them.” This was after Tebow’s loss to the Bill’s last month.  The first mainstream Christian that comes through not showing any of those characteristics Maher despises so much and he proceeds to judge and be close-minded about Tebow (which also makes him a hypocrite).

Everyone has a right to love or hate a sports figure. That’s one of the fun things about being a sports fan.  But I hope Tebow-haters will truly ask themselves the question: why? And if they still hate him, that they would at least respect him.  Because I’m betting he would genuinely respect you.

It’s getting harder and harder for the Doubting Tom’s to deny the winning ways of Faithful Tim

At the time I started writing this six-part column series looking at NFL Quarterbacks trying to qualify for elite (aka Championship) status, the player I’ve selected for the last installment didn’t even cross my mind.  Now I can’t turn ESPN on for ten-minutes without hearing the name Tim Tebow.

Growing up in southeastern Wyoming, being a two-hour drive from Denver meant I (a Packers fan) grew up in Broncos territory.  At the beginning of the year my best friend from back home was using phrases like “rebuilding” and “high draft picks” to describe the Broncos season.  Now he’s texting me things like “even the Jets defense can’t stop Jesus” after Tebow pulled yet another fourth quarter miracle out of his… offering plate.

In other installments for this series, I’ve used a lot of stats to make my arguments.  The only numbers you need to know about Tebow this season is 10 touchdowns, 1 interception, 87.9 quarterback rating, 6-1 record as a starter, and John 3:16.

Tebow may not be able to get to his second and third reads very well, but neither can Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman or Joe Flacco.  And all those guys are in their third year of the league, have better wide receiving cores, and weren’t told by 90 percent of NFL scouts that they’d never be good professional quarterbacks.

Of course, none of those guys put their head down like Jim Brown when they take off to run—Tebow does—the guy is a prehistoric quarterback revolution; the anti-Tom Brady.

What he’s done to the Mile High City is nothing short of miraculous.  General manager (and all-time Bronco favorite) John Elway doesn’t know whether to pull his hair out or break one of his glass knees doing a victory dance.

You better believe that Elway, one of the all-time great quarterbacks, wants to be the first person to say you can’t win in the NFL completing 2-8 passes for 69 yards.  But it turns out in this “pass happy” NFL era it can still be done (Week 10, 17-10 against Kansas City).  Actually, it could only be done by Tebow, whose second completion of the game was a perfect long-ball to Eric Decker for the game-winning touchdown.

There’s no rating on Madden for work ethic, leading by example, the ability to form healthy relationships and selflessness.

I think a big reason NFL scouts were so hesitant to take a chance on Tebow is because it would’ve been admitting their system has had a big flaw in it for a long time.  It would’ve been admitting that a guy who can throw 80 yards from his knees (first-overall 2007 draft pick JaMarcus Russell) is nothing compared to a guy who gets on his knees before every game (Tebow).

He might have more flaws in his mechanics than there are yoga pants in Pullman, but you can’t find many flaws in his character.  That is why Tebow has as good a chance as any quarterback in my series at making it to the elite-level.

For that to happen a few things need to be done. One: give him two-years of game experience and intense film study and people might actually use the words “Tebow” and “pass-threat” in the same sentence. Two: give the Broncos organization some time to build a team around him and let him build chemistry with a core of players.  Three: draft a premier tight-end.  Tebow loved Aaron Hernandez at Florida, and having a big, reliable target makes a quarterback like Tebow ten times more comfortable.

Do that and anyone whose not yet a “Tebow-liever” will be writing bible-verse references on band-aids and sticking them under their eyes.

 

 

The Poor Mans Brett Favre (These days that’s not saying much…)

This is from my sports column I do for the school paper at WSU, The Daily Evergreen.  Hopefully you’ll get a few chuckles out of it, and maybe some insight on sports… but I doubt it! 

The fifth player to go under the microscope of my six-part series looking at quarterbacks trying to make the leap from ‘solid’ to ‘elite’ status will be the physically-diabetic, seemingly manic-depressive, mentally narcissistic, humerusly-ballistic (that’s scientific mumbo-jumbo for your upper-arm) Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

If he retired today he would go down in sports history books as a poor-mans Brett Favre.  For a guy who rarely steps into his throws (or cracks a smile), it’s surprising NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t sat down to talk with him about taking some heat of his slant routes so he doesn’t take a Cover 2 linebacker’s head off.  The guy has an absolute cannon.

After Favre’s Jenn Sterger story last year (the Weiner-Pic Scandal), I honestly think Cutler should give a DNA sample to see if he’s one of Brett’s illegitimate children.  I’d bet my next semester’s tuition they’d be a match.  And these days we all know that’s no small chunk of change.  I kid of course, but any time a Packer fan has a chance to take shots at Favre and Cutler in the same paragraph, well then carpe diem and all that.

All bias aside, writing from a journalistic viewpoint, Cutler has been known as one of the most bi-polar quarterbacks in the league during his five and a half year career.  His 93 touchdowns would be admirable if he didn’t have 86 interceptions to go with it.  His NFC Championship run last season would be impressive if he hadn’t have gone out with a semi-serious knee injury in the third quarter; causing many players and members of the media to question his toughness.

Whether he wasn’t tough enough to push through it, or he was legitimately hurt, only Cutler knows.  But what really struck me about it was the expressionless look on his face as he sat by himself on the bench for the rest of the game.  So you got hurt in a big game– yeah, it sucks– but what separates the big-Bob’s, from the average-Joe’s is how you react to that situation.

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson gave a teary-eyed Hollywood-like halftime speech to his teammates with a broken-collarbone in the Super Bowl.  The fourteen-year veteran had spent years earning the unquestionable respect of his teammates.  They took his words to heart and it showed as they came out in the second half and won the game.

Whenever the camera went to the injured Cutler last year, you didn’t know if he was watching the NFC Championship or a documentary about sock-making.  That’s why I don’t think Cutler will ever go down as one of the greats.

Sure Bears hall of fame linebacker Brian Urlacher talks up Cutler to the media, but when you watch Cutler interact with his teammates, you can tell they tolerate him because of his talent, instead of respecting him because of his character.

I think somewhere around the time people were talking about Y2K Favre lost the latter trait.  I don’t think Cutler’s ever had it.

Poor guy.  Maybe it’s because he never knew his father (okay, seriously, that’s the last one).

Making “The Leap”

Charlie Westerman, Daily Evergreen Sports Column

The quarterback position is the most influential position in sports.

That fact has become even more concrete in the last few years as the game of football continues to evolve into more complex passing offenses that put the game in the quarterbacks’ hands even more.

While there are probably about 15 or 20 “good quarterbacks” in the NFL right now, the line between good and great is a big one to cross. Honestly, the only way to do it is to win a Super Bowl. That’s why there is only a handful of “great quarterbacks” in the league right now.

Even guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning — who have three Super Rings between them — are only playing good football this season. Their teams are winning, but they are not dominating their positions like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees (Peyton Manning would be in this category, if only he wasn’t injured this season).

Over my next five to seven columns, I’m going to analyze quarterbacks who are trying to make “the leap” from good to greatness. We’ll lead off with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

“Matty Ice,” as he is nicknamed, is one of the league’s best game managers. His pre-snap decision-making is great, including his ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. He’s very good out of play action and works hard to prepare for his opponent in the film room. So what keeps him from being elite?

Ryan may be great at managing a game, but he has yet to show he can dominate one. Defenses know that if they can shut down Michael Turner and the running game, the Falcons are a very mediocre offense. Ryan is yet to show he can be turned loose. None of the four elite quarterbacks mentioned above have ever really had a dominant run game, yet their offenses have always been among the top in the league. Unlike Brady and company, you can’t just spread the field with weapons and let “Matty Ice” go to work from the shotgun.

This was fine in Ryan’s first three seasons as he was developing and becoming acclimated to the fast pace of the NFL. But year four is really a year when you want your franchise quarterback to take a big step forward. Ryan’s eight touchdowns and six interceptions in the first six games of the season have him looking like he’s actually taken a step back from last season.

There really is no reason the Falcons’ passing attack should be as underachieving as they are besides Ryan’s mediocrity. Julio Jones and Roddy White are both legitimate weapons at wide receiver and tight end Tony Gonzalez is one of the best at his position ever and is still playing at an elite level despite his age.

If Ryan wants to make “the leap,” he needs to develop uncanny timing and chemistry with his young, talented receiving core that the Falcons will benefit from for years. You don’t see Ryan making back shoulder throws to White like you do Rodgers and Greg Jennings. You don’t see him throwing out routes on a line like you do Brady and Wes Welker. The difference is chemistry, timing and trust.

Until Ryan elevates his game and starts making not just the great throws, but the impossible ones, I don’t see the Falcons ever getting over the hump.