Of all the madness that was this NFL offseason (the Draft’s superstar rookies, the refs striking (!) and rather a lot of dementia related ex-player suicides) the changes in Denver over the last 6 months had the most repercussions.
Despite leading Denver to their first playoff victory in over a decade the very religious and buff Tim Tebow was dumped quickly to the Jets, to make way for 1st ballot Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning, fresh off having the top of his spine fused together to enable him to keep playing.
To say that this caused much rending of garments (particularly Broncos® official merchandise) is underplaying the PR fallout Denver had to deal with, and Tebow’s new home the Jets are now suffering. Tebow is a decent athlete, a below average QB, and sadly a living religious icon to a large part of North America. However, whether through divine grace or sheer bloody luck, he does win football games. It takes balls to kick out someone who has delivered in the postseason in the NFL, and it took perma-tanned Denver legend John Elway to do it. Now there’s a lot riding, literally and figuratively, on Manning’s reconstructed neck.
Now there’s a lot riding, literally and figuratively, on Manning’s reconstructed neck.
No one doubts Peyton’s credentials. He carried the Indianapolis Colts from ignominy to 12 years of consistent success including two Super Bowls (1 win). But after a full year out of the game, he’s at the tail end of that illustrious career. He could literally drop dead if hit heavily in the neck, and he’s on a team with few deep weapons capable of catching his throws, especially how far they will sail in the thin air of Mile High Stadium. If he was looking for a challenge, well, he’s found one.
And if he does decide it isn’t worth it, there’s always acting. I couldn’t find the current DIRECTV spot with him and Dion Sanders as magic TV fairies (!) but here he is channelling his nice line in slightly awkward Tom Hanks-ness:
One final Peyton note: kids can’t wear his number 18 shirt to school in Colorado or California. Its a ‘gang-affiliated’ number.
The other story of the opening part of the season isn’t that new Redskin’s QB Robert Griffin III has more TV commercials than pro games. Its the striking refs.
NFL football is notoriously hard to ref properly, despite having 7 officials on the field. It is said often, and correctly, that with all the holding/clipping/pushing in line play its technically possible to call a penalty on every play of an NFL game. Calling a game is more about choosing which calls NOT to make, and to get the critical plays right. That’s a difficult thing despite having all those eyes, and sophisticated replay facilities at every game.
The part that freaks me out is that the replacement refs for some games are not those from just one level down. They are refs from WAY down the ladder. Some have only Division III college experience, a few are actual high-school teachers who moonlight. One is an elementary school teacher in real life, who usually refs 6 on 6 games for 11 year olds.
Based on last Wednesday’s opening game, things could go smoothly and we’ll only be as angry as we usually are. But try and imagine a Champions League game reffed by someone from the Hackney marshes, except most of the players weigh 300+ pounds and stand 6′ 4″ and above, and the potential for mayhem is high.
COLTS AT BEARS (SKY2, SUNDAY 5.30PM)
Speaking of Peyton…here’s his old team the Colts with their new superstar rookie Andrew Luck taking his first pro snaps. Luck IS the real deal. In the last 25 years you’re looking at only the 90′s 49ers (Montana/Young) and OO’s Packers (Favre/Rogers) as teams that managed to draft one HOF QB after another. This is already looking that way, and he hasn’t thrown a pass yet.
Luck’s an extremely accurate thrower and very smart. Will he win on the road against a slowly resurgent Bears? No. But will he be someone to tune in for over the next decade? Yes.
As for those Bears, if they had a better coach that’s a Top 5 team. They do not have a better coach.
49ers AT PACKERS (SKY2, SUNDAY 9.15PM)
In football terms, probably the game of the week (although the second half of GIANTS/COWBOYS on Wednesday was pretty bloody good).
The Pack are still the best team in football. As one columnist put it this week, if you offered any of the other teams the entire Packers roster in a straight up trade, ALL the other teams would take that trade in a heartbeat. They are the Man City of the NFL, but a whole lot more likable.
The 49ers are now a good team again, due mainly to better coaching. If the Manning brothers are the royal family of quarterbacking, the Harbaughs are the same of head coaching. The Ravens and 49ers now perfectly reflect the ferocious attitude of their coaches, both hyper fit ex-pros in their mid-40s. In the NFL, having a psychotic on the sideline is a very good thing. Either a ranter like Parcels, or a likely serial killer, i.e Bellichick.
Pack win, but its close.
BRONCOS AT STEELERS (BBC RED BUTTON, 5LIVE MONDAY 1.20am)
And now we’ll see whether or not Peyton knows what he’s got himself into. The Steelers at home aren’t fun for anybody, and as long as he stays upright and the team look good for even part of the game, this is a win of sorts for Denver. It will not be a win on the scoreboard.
Its also a win for the BBC who will run it on the red button. It’s a great game to kick off that new service. Anything that means you have to put up with less of that horrendous SKY UK coverage is a good thing.
RAVENS AT BENGALS
RAIDERS AT CHARGERS(BBC RED BUTTON, 5LIVE TUESDAY 03:15am)
You’d have to be fan of these teams to watch any of this. Raiders at Chargers will be a true race to the bottom in terms of quality. The Chargers should win handily, but it will not be a game full of highlights.
The Bengals are actually a bit better this year, but that’s from a very low base. The Ravens are well coached, and even though their stars are aging, they have another season of greatness in them.
Their original owner Art Modell died Thursday so there will be a bit of that playing into this game. Speaking of Art, I’m not aware of another sports owner as vilified as him. He moved the legendary Cleveland Browns to Baltimore over a stadium deal in ’96, and Ohioans have burned him in effigy since. As an NFL fan, I’m much happier that the Ravens exist than not (where else would the homicidally-tinged madness of Ray Lewis find full release?), so those sad midwesterners can just suck on their two awful teams (the Bengals and Browns 2.0) and leave him in peace.
THIS WEEK IN SURPRISINGLY AWESOME ESPN ADS:
John Clayton is a very sober, usually dour, extremely hard working NFL reporter for ESPN.
Because of his odd look and general math teacher secretly huffing meth vibe, he’s always been the subject of parody on the web. Here, he embraces it brilliantly.
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