Monday, September 20, 2004

Mondays Off!

One quick serious note before I get on with my random musings about Week 2 in the NFL:

The National Football League, more than any other sports organization, does a great job of keeping its finger on the emotional and cultural pulse of its audience. After September 11th, every other league, including the wayward NCAA and bewildered MLB looked directly to NFL Commissioner Tagliabue for guidance. He got it right, as usual, by suspending play for the weekend. This weekend, though, they got it wrong.

Shortly after 9/11, former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman turned down a lucrative contract extension, instead enlisting in the Army’s special forces unit, the Rangers. It was a noble, commendable act, and Tillman received nothing but praise from the national sports media. Tillman could have parlayed his story into even more fame and fortune than he would have received as an NFL player, but he chose to remain quiet, insisting that his sacrifice was no greater than that of any other soldier. He refused all interviews about his decision, and that was that. When he died in Afghanistan, it was a national tragedy, but no more than the death of any other young American serviceman with a promising future.

Yesterday marked “Pat Tillman day” in the NFL. Every player wore a decal on his helmet of Tillman’s number 40, and at halftime of the Patriots (don’t think that was an accident) –Cardinals matchup in Tempe, the crowd unfurled an enormous, 200-foot graphic of Tillman’s old Arizona jersey.

Now, I don’t claim to know Pat Tillman, or his family. I hadn’t really even heard of him as a player before his ballyhooed decision to reject a new contract. All I know is that he would have been appalled at the attention he received yesterday. There are now over one thousand families of servicemen and servicewomen who are suffering the same loss as Tillman’s, but the NFL didn’t have any of their uniforms to unfurl. Let’s honor Tillman’s service and his sacrifice by honoring his wishes, and remembering him for what he was—a quiet, dignified soldier who never wanted the attention in the first place.

Now onto some random musings from yesterday’s action:

The Vick Effect

Did anyone else miss Michael Vick as much as I did last year? I propose a referendum among the NFL Players’ Association: All in favor of a collective agreement to not injure Michael Vick for the rest of the season? And I think the ayes have it! I also think we can agree that this is to the greater good. Vick has something that you can’t put a finger on—from now on we’ll be calling it the Vick effect—an ability to control the entire game, even if he’s not even on the field or near the ball. How else could one of the league’s worst defenses have dominated the Rams like that? The Vick effect. There are other players who can have a similar impact, but not quite to the same degree. Randy Moss does it. Ray Lewis is a close second. But no other player dominates every aspect of the game like Vick. I watched that whole game yesterday—it was never close. The Rams got absolutely dismantled by the Vick effect. They looked mystified. Keep an eye out as Mondays Off follows the Vick effect's effects like Charles Kuralt for the remainder of the season.

Maybe They Should've Left 'em Off

In the ugliest snoozefest of a weekend of really ugly snoozefests (17 of 30 teams were held under 17 points on Sunday, and it wasn't because of great defense), the Cincinnati Bengals won their home opener against A.J. Feeley, Lamar Gordon and the disarrayed Dolphins 16-13. The real winner, though, was the Maintenance Staff at Paul Brown Stadium, who got the chance, for the first time since the stadium was erected a few years ago, to TURN ON THE LIGHTS. That’s right—this was the first evening (see: nationally televised) game in Cincinnati in more than four years. Luckily, it appears no one was hurt during the mad dash to see who got to be the first one to flip the switch.

And I Hadn't Even Written It Yet

In predictive response to my comments regarding Pat Tillman Day, the Football Gods quickly moved to prevent any future offenses by smiting Kellen Winslow: the Sequel. Last year, as a Senior tight end for the Miami Hurricanes, Winslow: the Sequel made some rather callous comments paralleling his personal battles on the field with those of our armed forces, which apexed with his screaming “I’m a fucking soldier!” into a reporter’s tape recorder while standing mostly naked in a locker room. Hence, while playing the Cowboys on Pat Tillman Day, Winslow: the Sequel’s fibula spontaneously splintered, putting him out of commission for, at least, the majority of the season. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson.

The NFLPA Will Be Pursuing an Appeal

Yesterday also marked the return of America’s favorite Hi-V grocery bagger, Kurt Warner, who won a start for the first time since the 2002 NFC Championship Game. Rumor is that Tom Coughlin fined him $1000 for being two years late.

I Can't Even Write a Kitschy Title

If you’re wondering why I haven’t written anything about the Titans yet, it’s because I’m too upset. Tennessee lost that game on several key plays—one short yardage situation inside the Colts’ 4, two dropped passes by Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett in the end zone, and Nick Harper’s touchdown takeaway on fourth and two. What do all of these plays have in common? Desire. Heart. Will. All of those intangibles that Jeff Fisher teams play with every single week. But for the first time since the franchise came to Nashville, I watched a team yesterday that lost because they didn’t want it badly enough. I don’t know if the losses of leaders Eddie George, Frank Wycheck, and Jevon Kearse are finally catching up, or if the Colts just caught the Titans on a bad day, but there was a disturbing lack of urgency on that field. The Colts played like they needed that game more than the Titans, and they won for that reason. This is the first real test for Fisher this year—we’ll see how he handles it, especially with a very frisky Jacksonville team coming to town next week. Stay tuned to Mondays Off for more on this.

Rice's Run

Yesterday, All-Universe Raiders wideout Jerry Rice went reception-less for the first time since 1985. That’s not a misprint—it’s been almost TWENTY YEARS since Jerry played a game without catching a pass. Just for the record, in 1985, Tears For Fears and Hill Street Blues were on top, and yours truly was carrying a He-Man backpack to my first day of kindergarten.

This Week's GIWOMT and BMOTW

This week’s Guy I Want On My Team is the Ravens’ Todd Heap, who made good on his name by collapsing in a heap after crawling back to the line with a badly-sprained ankle so that Kyle Boller could spike the ball and avoid using an injury time out in a key situation. His reward? The Bitch Move Of The Week, when the Steeler lined up opposite him leveled him at the snap. Anyway, congratulations, Todd, you’re this week’s Guy I Want On My Team. Close runner-up: Lions rookie Roy Williams, who’s just a badass.

Mondays Off Fantasy Update

ESPN announcer Paul Maguire added to his “You talk about…” season total by only three during last night’s Sunday Night broadcast, while Joe Theismann and Pat Summerall went scoreless. In their defense, though, I guess I wasn’t talking very much.

Seven Gibb-aways

And finally, kudos to legendary coach Joe Gibbs, whose extremely well-coached Redskins turned the ball over SEVEN TIMES to Kurt Warner and the Giants defense. The good news? They only lost by six points. I think that if the Skins only give away .857 points per turnover for the rest of the year, Gibbs’ll take that.

See you next week for more Mondays Off!


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