At the start of NFL 2012 season, the regular crew of referees have not been in charge of officiating the games. The NFL Referees Association and the National Football League are having trouble agreeing on money (what else is new?), but early on it didn't seem like a particularly big deal. When quarterback Joe Flacco came out with strongly worded comments condemning the NFL for using replacement refs instead of hammering out a deal with the old guard, the news was largely met with silence, if not outright scorn. Flacco was just upset, said the contrarians, because his team lost.
Eagles' running back LeShean McCoy even claims that a replacement referee told him outright that he needed McCoy to do well for his own fantasy league.
None of this is good press for the NFL, which have seen Young's comments played out publicly. If they stand ground, they run the risk of confirming what he said. If they rush out of the gates in an attempt to show concern for both player safety and the integrity of the game, they risk appearing weak with the locked-out refs.
This turning point, however, does not mean that this matter has passed the point of no return. The upcoming choices the NFL makes in regards to the money they will or won't pay their old refs will be reflected one way or another in future games. And if we reach a point where it seems the replacement refs actually do decide a game, that point will have arrived, and Young's words will have their veracity tested.
News broke on Wednesday that football legendJunior Seau had been found dead. He was shot to death, according to the preliminary reports, but word started leaking pretty quickly that it looked like a case of suicide. This can still be termed a shooting death, sure, but there's a lot more impact to the word suicide.
In the days before this awful event occurred, the NFL had been aflutter with news of the Saints bounty program. Sports Illustrated was even linking to this article with the header "The Final Shoe Drops." It's incredible to think that a sport that is literally predicated upon players hitting one another could find itself so aghast at the existence of this bounty program.
The connecting factor between these two stories, of course, is the commissioner of the National Football League: Roger Goodell. Charged with protecting the sport that Americans cherish, and preserving its place at the top of the nation's sporting pyramid, Goodell has done more than a passable job. Football is constantly surpassing its old records: more money made, more games shown, bigger audience for the Super Bowl; the list goes on.
However, there's no denying that while Goodell has shown genuine concern about the concussion issue, that very issue is much larger than we previously understood. Take, for example, the case of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself to death last year. In his autopsy, it was concluded that Duerson was the victim of a neurodegenerative ailment symptomatic of concussions.
Junior Seau, by all accounts, was a highly successful, positive-thinking role model, celebrated in his community, by his team, and even by a large portion of the country, especially in his playing days. His intensity may have put some people off, sure, but practically everyone who was living in Southern California in the early and mid-90s was rooting for him. He doesn’t seem like a suicide risk at first glance, but the connection between getting your brain addled on a regular basis and coming down with serious depression afterwards seems like it's becoming more and more clear with every incident the sports-loving public suffers through. The saga of Barret Robbins and the litany of lawsuits concerning concussions seem to suggest we as an audience (and participants!) are reaching the breaking point.
It should be abundantly clear that I am not a medical expert, nor has it been confirmed that Seau actually killed himself. And plenty of people suffer through concussions and go on to lead rich, full, successful lives.
Despite the above disclaimers, though, if Roger Goodell's duty is to serve as the vanguard of the National Football League, there have got to be some common sense steps taken before the damning proof has been served. Americans love football and want to continue to, but as concussions and health care of ex-players are increasingly presented in the news, plenty of NIMBY mothers and fathers are going to extend those cares beyond their backyards and onto their children. Everybody wants to raise the next successful quarterback. But what if the risk is too high?
The Broncos’ budding wideout talks game time, overtime and Tebow time
By Adam Fox
Eleven seconds and 80 yards later, a perfectly threaded pass from Tim Tebow completed the shortest OT period in National Football League history. It also thrust 24-year-old Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas into the sporting spotlight with his swift sprint to the orange- and blue-shaded end zone.
The Giants beat the Patriots again, and all of a sudden, we've got a new meme. The idea that Tom Brady is incapable of beating Eli Manning gained some serious traction on Sunday night, as the New York G-Men beat New England's favorite son for the second time in the biggest game of them all.
While a big story at the water cooler today might revolve around the half time show and the maybe-controversy of Madonna's guest M.I.A. flipping the bird, there was plenty of football to comment on, too. The game, while sloppy in many places, proceeded at a pace that was far from predicted. The 38 total points fell pretty easily under the Vegas-based line of 53, and probably surprised many people who were expecting an offensive slugfest.
With two points scored in the first six minutes of play, the Giants seized control of the game quickly, thanks to an unusual safety. Brady had attempted a pass from his own end zone, which was ruled intentional grounding, resulting in the two points and a return of possession to the Giants.
Just five and a half minutes later, the Giants cashed in on that drive, making the score 9-0. The Patriots were seemingly on the ropes. However, New England started the second quarter by chipping in a field goal after five minutes. They proceeded to make two strong defensive stands, sandwiched by an anemic offensive set of three-and-out, but followed up that weakness by going 99 yards in just under 4 minutes—a performance that netted them a touchdown and the lead to go into halftime.
After the halftime controversy that wasn't—although it's probably a good thing Heather Wilson isn't our Representative here in New Mexico anymore—the big surprises started coming. The slow start might have been expected, given Super Bowl-sized nerves, but surely no one counted on 19 points in the first half being repeated in the second.
The Patriots grabbed a lead, seemingly confident even as the Giants first kicked one field goal and then another, to pull within two points. But the fourth quarter opened with Brady throwing it deep, only to be intercepted. The following drive by the Giants, while resulting in no points, killed enough clock that things were getting to an end point, no matter what. With that same two-point lead, the Patriots were in a delicate position.
That perilous footing proved to be disastrous when, following a null Patriots set, Eli Manning orchestrated a big drive, sparked by a dazzling 38-yard Mario Manningham sideline catch. The Giants milked the clock and got deep enough field position that Patriots coach Bill Belichick gambled on allowing the touchdown to go through, leaving Brady and co. just under one minute to put together a game-winning drive.
But it wasn't to be. Patriot receivers had ket drops as the game dwindled, and Brady's final Hail Mary pass was batted up in the end zone, falling just out of reach of a diving Rob Gronkowski. It resulted in a 21-17 G-Men win.
Belichick and Brady are now 3-2 in Super Bowls together, and Manning is 2-0. No one can deny the Patriots their place as a dynasty, but it appears there is a new force to be reckoned with at the top of the heap.
Obviously, the majority of the public wants to see a rematch of Super Bowl XLII with the Patriots facing the Giants. It's not that simple, though.
In order to get past the 49ers, the Giants will have to overcome the underdog story of the year. With Alex Smith (he of the No. 1 pick who has disappointed in almost every one of his six previous seasons in the NFL) gunning, the 49ers have impressed upon nearly everyone by now the fact that they are a serious team. By beating the New Orleans Saints in dramatic—if not overwhelming—fashion, the 49ers have proved that its sometimes-anemic offense (especially in regards to the passing game) is not a problem and its defense is a facet upon which they may hang their collective hat.
The Giants, on the other hand, rolled over the Green Bay Packers in such demonstrative fashion that their offense, which was well-heralded previously, may become secondary to a defensive unit that sacked opposing quarterback Aaron Rodgers four times. The Giants also had their way on offense, with Eli Manning picking apart the Packers' defense in way that was rather embarrassing.
In the AFC, the New England Patriots put an end to the miracle story of Tim Tebow's Broncos. The team-that-could just ran into a buzz saw and was clearly outmatched. Tebow outlived expectations this year and should be proud of the wins he (and the Broncos defense) managed this season, as well as making it to the playoffs, but the Patriots offense hung 45 points on the vaunted Broncos defense.
New England looks to continue its performance next weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, whose defense is miles ahead of the Broncos. The only hitch in the Ravens' game plan could be found in their regular season record: Of the four games they lost, all were away from home. Next week they'll play at Gillette Stadium, where New England is a tidy 7-1. That sole loss, by the way? It came to the New York Giants.
Both games will be televised on Sunday, with Baltimore and New England at 1 PM on CBS, and New York playing in San Francisco at 4:30 p.m. on Fox.
Before the season started, fans and critics questioned the potential of this year's Lobos. Head coach Steve Alford imposed multiple non-conference tournaments into the schedule to test his team’s mental toughness. Based on its 14-2 record, it seems this team has answered the challenge. The Lobos concluded non-conference play last Saturday at home against North Dakota. Despite having starting freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood recovering from an ankle sprain, the team didn't miss a beat, with six Lobos scoring in double figures. UNM only had a 10-point lead at half time, but turned up the pressure and blew out North Dakota 85-57. Now riding a 12-game winning streak, the Lobos have an extended break before facing the Wyoming Cowboys, Jan. 14 at Laramie. Alford has his team performing extremely well, but there's no denying some of its opponents have been subpar. Only time will tell if this could come back and haunt New Mexico when facing the top Mountain West Conference teams.
Chris Schnedier/AP photo
Tebow celebrates after an OT victory over the Steelers
The New York Giants may be experiencing deja vu during their attempt at another Super Bowl run. An underrated Eli Manning, an average regular season, great unknown wide receivers and a furious pass rush are creating a lethal combination that could lead the Giants to the promised land. But first they had to take care of the Atlanta Falcons. The Giants defense tormented Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, enabling Giants QB Eli Manning to have good field position and throw for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns. New York only allowed a safety and dominated the Falcons, 24-2. Now the Giants must face the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for a spot in the NFC Championship. The Packers will be the favorite, but to count out Manning and the Giants would be a mistake.
For those hoping the hype surrounding Tim Tebow would eventually disappear, they’ll have to wait at least another week. Besides Denver Broncos fans, anyone who says they picked the Donkeys to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers is probably lying. The Steelers were fighting injuries to key defensive stars and Ben Roethlisberger was hampered by a leg injury. But going into the game Denver was given little chance to pull the upset, considering they lost three in a row prior to Sunday. The unsung Broncos defense stopped the Steelers in the fourth quarter to force the first new playoff overtime. That set the stage for another Tebow miracle. It only took a coin flip and one play and Tebow delivered another miraculous victory. His 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas not only gave the Broncos the 29-23 win but also should guaranteed Tebow's job for next season. His stats aren’t always impressive, but there's no doubt when it's crunchtime, he delivers. Tebow has to prove he can put a full game together before he can be worthy of all the media attention. Keep in mind this is Tebow’s first season as a starter. If he can improve, it wouldn't be surprising if he rises to be an elite quarterback in the NFL.
As the regular season finished up last week, New York Giants fans got another win to gloat about in their rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys. This one stung in a pretty spectacular manner, too, since the G-Men's win meant that the Cowboys would be nowhere to be found in this year's playoff schedule.
Things get started this wild card weekend with a quartet of games that offer plenty of excitement, plus the promise of water cooler talk to last the entire week. Cincinnati plays at Houston to open things up and then Detroit gets to play in New Orleans.
If you can find two better examples in the last ten years of cities with everything hanging out on the line playing each other in the playoffs, your memory is better than mine. The Saints' first season after Hurricane Katrina ravaged its city was kicked off with a bang and finished almost as near as one can ask for, without winning the big prize. Of course, New Orleans is past its sportly woes after taking home the Lombardi Trophy two years ago.
Detroit, on the other hand, has been awful for a long time, and has had its troubles well-documented as a result of the auto industry's meltdown. A win for either side will represent just another level by which the respective cities have overcome the tumultuous previous decade.
The Atlanta Falcons get things kicked off on Sunday with a game against the aforementioned Giants. That great game, though, serves merely as a precursor to the ongoing drama of Tim Tebow. The Pittsburgh Steelers (they of the most championships of all time in the NFL) will face off in Denver against the Broncos, hoping to end the miraculous season of a team that virtually no one picked to even make the playoffs.
Let's be clear: This is merely the wild card weekend of the playoffs. Details haven't even been given on the top dogs in each conference, which consist of the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens, and the New England Patriots. The Packers and the Patriots are the likely favorites to win their respective conferences, but their paths to Super Bowl XLVI are by no means guaranteed.
The best time of the year for a football fan is upon us. It's only going to get better.
Brock Lesnar made his long-awaited return to the octagon when he faced top Heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem. UFC President Dana White was certainly happy to see Lesnar return as he's the biggest pay-per-view draw in mixed martial arts. Despite Lesnar's bout with diverticulitis, many critics picked him to win by overwhelming Overeem with his wrestling ability. Shockingly, when Overeem aimed to the body with knees and kicks, that ability disappeared. Eventually, Lesnar crumbled to the ground and allowed the referee to rescue him from the Overeem beatdown. In the post fight interview, Lesnar announced his retirement under pressure from his wife and kids. Despite only having eight professional fights, Lesnar accomplished a lot in his brief tenure in the sport. While professional wrestling fans will wish for Lesnar's return to the WWE, Overeem can now become a major star with American MMA fans with a victory over UFC Heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos.
Also in MMA, Jackson's fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone earned his co-main-event spot against Nate Diaz by going 4-0 in 2011. Both men engaged in a war of words through interviews and press conferences before the bout. Then, when the fight started, Diaz’ trash talk seemed to take Cerrone out of his comfort zone. Diaz’ signature boxing frustrated Cerrone and gave Diaz a massive advantage headed into the later rounds. “Cowboy” mounted a decent comeback in Round 2 with huge leg kicks, but Diaz countered with multiple combinations to the head. In Round 3 Diaz continued his striking dominance en route to a 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 unanimous decision. Diaz makes a very convincing case for a title shot but most likely will have another fight against a wrestler in order to become No. 1 contender. As for Cerrone, he has six victories out of his last seven fights and is still a major player in the Lightweight division. If he gets his wish to fight on the UFC Japan card, a victory could put him back in the title mix.
After a heartbreaking overtime loss to Santa Clara, the Lobos have been on a roll, winning nine straight before their New Year’s Eve battle with St. Louis. More than 15,000 witnessed UNM hold off the Billikens for the 64-60 victory. The Billikens kept within reach, but Drew Gordon’s 18 points and 9 rebounds carried the Lobos for their 10th straight win. While UNM may have been a little rocky to start the season, it has huge momentum headed into conference play. The Lobos have a good combination of athleticism, defense and confidence that may lead them to a Mountain West Conference title.
Eli’s in the playoffs; Tony’s not.
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants had challenging seasons in 2011. But each team had had one last opportunity to erase the failures of the past and earn an NFC East title and a ticket to the playoffs with a win last night. Many would think with everything on the line during Sunday Night Football, this game would be competitive. Instead the Giants embarrassed the Cowboys and moved into an early 21-0 lead in the first half. The injured Tony Romo engineered a fourth quarter comeback with two touchdowns to close within seven points. But the underrated Eli Manning made the Dallas defense pay and threw a four-yard touchdown to Hakeem Nicks to seal the 34-13 victory and win the division. The Giants earned a wild card home game and will face the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday. Meanwhile, Dallas will search for answers to the many flaws they showed this season. Expect Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones to evaluate everyone’s job, from star players to the coaching staff.
Alabama and LSU will sqaure off in the title game.
After Thanksgiving, football on both the pro and collegiate level heads toward the goal line.
NCAA games come to an end for many fans—especially in Albuquerque, especially these days—long before Christmas. The bowl season extends further than it has in the past, sure, but that's mainly due to the proliferation of the so-called bowl games. We start with the New Mexico Bowl, which Temple took over Wyoming on Dec. 17, and continue all the way to the BCS.
The title game occurs on Monday, Jan. 9, when No. 2 Alabama will face first-ranked LSU. Between now and then, plenty of pretenders to the bowl throne will battle, but few of them are worth the time it'll take to play, much less to watch. Of course, no disrespect is intended, as I'm sure Michigan State and Georgia, at No.’s 17 and 16, respectively, are great football teams, and their fans care very much who wins the game. But outside that constituency, its hard to muster feelings for the Outback Bowl, amongst others.
The day before the title game, in fact, is somehow, for some reason, occupied by Arkansas State versus Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Just for fun, although I'm sure it's been done before, let's look at some of these corporate sponsorships: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, Little Caesar's Bowl, TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl! All of these games have been or will be televised nationally. Advertising really has changed the world.
The end of the college football bowl season dovetails nicely into the end of the NFL’s regular season, where things are really heating up. The titanic Green Bay Packers are obviously still a favorite, and the Philadelphia Eagles (preseason favorites who have been extensively covered) have now been officially dismissed from the playoffs. Perhaps another year to gel will help them live up to the lofty expectations.
While Green Bay has wrecked the regular season (save a blip two weeks ago), the New England Patriots have gone under the radar to resume their traditional position atop the AFC. Plenty of spoilers await a slip from either side, including the surprising stories of the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans.
Romo and Manning will decide who wins the NFC East
With only one more week in the regular season, plenty of teams are still itching to play spoiler. The biggest end-of-season matchup, however, seems guaranteed to be the Dallas Cowboys playing in New York against the Giants. The teams will play for the NFC East Championship in the last game of the regular season, on New Year's Day.
Football's finale is always the best, save the drama regarding the need for a true playoff system in college football. This year should be no different, whether you'll be watching the boys play in the BCS title game, or following the pros as they make the final cuts for the playoffs.