Thou shalt not hit a quarterback

In an effort to make the National Football League a lot safer, officials are cracking down on violent hits by players such as leading with the helmet when making a tackle. I can certainly understand the logic behind these new stricter enforcement of the rules. Head injuries suffered by players can be very serious and concussions can carry lifetime problems for many players. Another rule that is drawing some rather heated criticism from fans and players alike is the new enforcement of rules designed to protect quarterbacks after they release the ball. After a quarterback releases the ball, he is not to be tackled or hit. Doing so will result in a personal foul penalty to the defensive player. Are these stricter enforcement of rules really going to help the game and make players safer? In many ways, I say no.

Imagine for second that you are a big bruising linebacker. Your main task is to play defense and prevent the other team from marching down the field. A large part of playing good defense on the football field is putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. During a play in a crucial moment in the game, you see the quarterback in the pocket ready to launch the ball downfield. You run full force at the quarterback in an effort to intimidate him and possible sack him behind the line of scrimmage. Just seconds before you reach his area, he releases the ball and you run into him. It is a personal foul penalty on you and may end up costing your team the game. Forget about the fact that a 300 lb linemen running at full speed probably needs some time to slow down and might accidentally hit the quarterback. The only way you can prevent this from happening is to run at half speed towards the quarterback and hope he does not release the ball. Not exactly an effective way to play defense if you ask me!

There appears to be much confusion about these new rules in the early season. The Green Bay Packers paid an enormous price when Clay Matthews was whistled for roughing the passer late in last week’s game. It appeared that he made a perfectly clean play on the quarterback however the official saw it differently. I saw many players get penalized for other rules violations during preseason games. It is great that the league is very concerned about the safety of its players, but at the same time, aggressive and hard play is a huge part of the game. Where do you draw the line? I would not want to be an official in today’s NFL. I can just see some team losing a big game because some official made a questionable late hit call on a player. There are so many gray areas to be worked out.

As a fan of the game, I love to see good hard-hitting football. I just hope these new rules do not take the enjoyment of watching football. I have a fear that the NFL and quite frankly, football at every level will turn into flag football. The confusion over these new rules are not only frustrating to the players, but the fans as well. Can we still maintain good aggressive play while protecting the players? I would hope so!

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Thoughts on the NFL playoffs and a bold Super Bowl prediction

The NFL crowned champions in both the AFC and NFC conferences last Sunday and now we are down to 2 teams playing in the Super Bowl next weekend in tropical Minneapolis. As a resident of the Twin Cities, I am thrilled to have the game in my backyard. It will be fun to watch some of the activities leading up to the big game. As far as attending the game goes, forget it! I do not have an extra 4k around to spend on a ticket! Regardless, I would like to mention some observations that I saw during the playoffs and make a prediction on the Super Bowl. Now granted, I am not one these highly paid sports writers who are probably much more knowledgeably than I am. I am just a fan with a few opinions and here are a few takes of mine on what went down during the playoffs.

1) Biggest Surprise. Prior to the playoffs starting, how many so-called experts had the Philadelphia Eagles going to the Super Bowl? The Eagles were in disarray at the end of the regular season. They lost their starting quarterback to a serious knee injury and looked terrible at the end of the regular season. Things did not even look good for them in the first half of their game against Atlanta. Suddenly, the Eagles got hot, came back to beat Atlanta and beat the Minnesota Vikings in rather surprisingly easy fashion with a back up quarterback.

2) Where is that vaunted defense? Along the lines of surprises, the collapses of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Vikings should be mentioned. If someone would have said to me that Jacksonville would have a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter of their AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, I would easily put money on them to win the game. They have one of the best defenses in the game and for them to give up two late touchdowns was rather surprising. Even more surprising was the way Nick Foles and the Eagles scored and moved the ball at will against the Vikings top rated defense.  Sometimes there is nothing a defense can do against a hot quarterback.

3) Most memorable moment. The walk-off touchdown catch by Stephan Diggs of the Vikings during the Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints game will go down as one of the most memorable plays in NFL history. It is easily the most memorable play of this year’s playoffs and that game was also the best game of the playoffs so far.

4) MVP of the playoffs. I know everyone will say that Tom Brady should be the MVP so far and I can’t disagree, but what about Nick Foles of the Eagles? I might just have to give him the nod. He has really stepped up his play during the playoffs. Will he continue his fine play during the Super Bowl remains to be seen.

5) Wait till next year. So which team that was eliminated during the playoffs have the best up side for the future? You say to yourself, wait until next year. I would have to say it would be the New Orleans Saints. A great young team on both sides of the ball with a good veteran quarterback. They will be serious Super Bowl contenders next year.

6) The Patriots last hurrah? One has to wonder how much longer Tom Brady will keep on playing, especially at his high level. How much does he have left in his tank? Is that great dynasty coming to an end? Will Bill Belichick come back to coach the Patriots next year? These are curious thoughts that I have about the Patriots.

Now for a prediction on the Super Bowl. It would not surprise me if the Eagles win. They are playing extremely well and their defensive line might give Tom Brady fits. I just cannot bet against Belechick, Brady and the Patriots. Their experience will help them win this game 27-17 and the dynasty continues.

 

 

An NFL playoff game for the ages

Throughout the course of NFL history, there have been some rather spectacular playoff games and moments that people are still talking about today. Who can forget that incredible immaculate reception during the Steelers, Oakland game in the early 70’s? Or the big catch during the Dallas, San Francisco game in the 80’s? Last year’s Super Bowl was one of the better and most dramatic post-season games that I have ever seen. And lets not forget the incredible play at the goal line during the Patriots, Seahawks classic Super Bowl in 2015. I thought I had seen it all until I sat down last Sunday and watched a playoff game that I will never forget. The Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints game will go down as one of the most dramatic playoff games ever and the ending might be the most stunning ending ever to a playoff game.

Before I go any further, let me just put out this disclaimer. I am a huge Minnesota Vikings fan so naturally, this post is easy to write about. Perhaps if they had lost, it would not be such a great game of the ages! But either way, the last quarter kept me on the edge of my seat. 4 lead changes in the last 3 minutes of the game. And then the play that everyone is talking about, the walkoff long touchdown pass. That play is now called the “Minnesota Miracle”. I have seen a few football games end on a long touchdown pass, but never with so much at stake. Prior to the pass, I was just hoping the Vikings would somehow get the ball down in field goal range. Things looked very dire for the purple at that point. The Saints had a one point lead and Vikings only had 25 seconds to work with along with a long distance to move the ball.

Whether you are a coach, player or fan, you never want to give up hope ever in a game. Perhaps the Vikings could throw a long pass downfield and get a pass interference call. A miracle was needed and it came. I will never get sick of seeing that final play. In many ways, the Vikings were extremely fortunate to win because the Saints defensive back made an epic mistake during the play. You could also question the roles of the other defenders during the play as well.

Maybe this play and win will be just the thing to erase the string of bad luck the fans and organization have had to endure for the past 50 years. Sometimes a win like that is precursor to a special moment for the team. You just know that it is your year. Regardless, as a fan, I will never forget the “Minnesota Miracle”.  Those are the moments that you just crave for as a sports fan of a particular team. That game and play will still be fresh in my mind some 20 years from now. It is just nice to be on the good side of a miraculous play for a change. An even better thing for us Vikings fans would be seeing our team win the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned. Now that one miracle has occurred, will winning the Super Bowl be another miracle in store for us?

A real ageless wonder in the NFL

It is widely believed by many that a career for your typical NFL player usually runs about 5 years. By the time most players reach 30, they are already contemplating retirement. The game is just to violent for your typical player to have a long career in the NFL. The human body is just not built to withstand that type of punishment for any long-term amount of time. A particular player during this year’s playoffs has really gone against that belief and is one of those freaks who has actually had a long and very storied career. His name is none other than Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots. The fact that he is still performing at a very high level is one of the most amazing sports stories ever. And the guy is 40 years old! Sometimes I wonder if Brady is really human. The man is a total freak of nature!

I don’t know if Brady is still the best quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers might have surpassed him, but it is hard to argue that anyone else is better than Brady. If not the best, Brady is certainly the second best quarterback in the league and you could also consider him as being one of the better players in the league. In how many other leagues is a 40-year-old considered one of the top players? Most players reached their peak during the late 20’s and decline after that. By the time many players are 32, it is time to think about being a role player on the team. Here you have Brady at 40 still dominating the league; how amazing is that? In all my years of watching sports, I have never seen an athlete perform like that so late in his career.

Perhaps more athletes can learn from what Brady is doing and his habits off the field. He reportedly is very disciplined about taking care of his body and has a very strict diet. Maybe he has found something in the fountain of youth that other players can use. Sure, Brady has for the most part avoided any chronic injuries that shorten many players career, but his willingness to take his craft serious with that much discipline should be applauded whether you are a fan of his or not.

Brady says that he wants to play until  he is 45, then retire. Heck, why not play until you are 50? He could probably still be somewhat effective even at 50. We are witnessing a very special athlete in our midst. Professional sports are supposed to be leagues dominated by young 20 some year olds. Brady is blowing that myth that players cannot play at 40. Maybe more players will realize that they too can play well at that age. Maybe 40 is the new 30 in the world of professional sports.

The most jinxed team in the NFL

The NFL playoffs started yesterday and the odds makers in Las Vegas have listed the New England Patriots and the Minnesota Vikings as favorites to reach this year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. These playoffs mean a little more to me personally because I have been a diehard Viking’s fan for all of my life and there would be absolutely nothing better than to have my favorite NFL team win the Super Bowl in my home state. But will it happen? I have my doubts. You see the Vikings might be the most jinxed team in the NFL. They are like the Chicago Cubs of the NFL, a curse seems to be over this franchise. Will this be the year that curse or jinx is removed? I am not holding my breath!

Anyone who follows the NFL should know about the Vikings record in the Super Bowl, yes it is 0-4. In all fairness, the Vikings were only favored in one of those games, but that 0-4 tag is a huge thorn in the sides of many people here in this state who follow the purple. The lack of a Super Bowl win really stings but there have been some devastating  playoff loses that I vividly remember. The 2009-2010 team had  all the components on winning the Super Bowl and lost a gut wrenching overtime game to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game after having a first and 10 in field goal range late in regulation. The 1998 team might have been one of the best Vikings teams ever and also lost the NFC title game in overtime when the Vikings very accurate field goal kicker missed a short field goal in regulation that would have iced the game. There have been other blown playoff games due to dropped end zone passes, penalties and missed opportunities.

Yes, being a Minnesota Vikings fan is an exercise in emotional torture. Just when you think this team will do something special, the bottom drops out and they break our hearts. This year’s team has pretty much come out of nowhere to be in this position. There is no way I expected them to reach the Super Bowl after they lost their starting quarterback earlier this year. Perhaps a playoff disappointment would not sting as much, but the table is set for them. They are the favorites and I believe they can beat any AFC team right now should they make it to the big game. A golden opportunity to redeem 50 plus years of disappointments is staring them right in the face.

The Boston Red Sox eliminated a long curse when they won the World Series some 14 years ago. The Chicago Cubs ended their long jinx last year of never winning the World Series. Maybe the sports gods will be kind to the Vikings this year and they will win their first Super Bowl in their own building. How sweet would that be?!! As Vikings fans, we can only dream. We all know that something has to go wrong. How can we expect anything different?

 

In defense of the NFL

The National Football League might be arguably the most popular professional sports league in the world. It is without question the most popular of the many professional leagues here in the United States. The recent anthem protests by several players has really put that popularity to the test. Many fans seem to be tuning out and ratings of the games are in a downward spiral. I hear many fans saying they are through with watching professional football and talks of more boycotts are sure to come if these protests continue by these disrespectful players.

As a huge lifetime fan of the league, I thought hard and long about boycotting this season and refusing to watch any games. Seeing players disrespect our flag by taking a knee during the anthem rubbed me the wrong way. How could a player who is privileged to be making millions of dollars by just playing a game show such lack of appreciation for this country? It seems like these protests are a direct slap in the face for many fans like myself who love this country. Then it dawned on me that these players represent a small minority of players in the league. A huge majority still have enough common decency to stand for just a few minutes and show some respect to our country. I am sure many are not entirely totally happy with what has gone on with the recent police shootings of unarmed black men, but they put those things aside to show just a little appreciation for how fortunate they are to be living in the United States.

Furthermore, many of these NFL players are extremely active in the community. Many use their off days to visit hospitals and schools. I saw a number of players from our local team visit a hospital and surely brighten the day of a young boy who was undergoing cancer treatment. These type of stories go widely unnoticed by the media. They like to focus on all the bad things that players do. Included among those players are probably some who are protesting. And let us not forget about J.J. Watt, a young player who organized a relief effort for victims of Hurricane Harvey. If you are going to criticize players for being unpatriotic, you might want to look at players such as Watt who has given so much time and effort to help those in need. There are many other players just like him who will sacrifice much to help out a fellow American. That is what this country is all about.

When I think of this acts of helping others, it makes me forget the actions of just a few knuckleheads. There are plenty of good dudes in the NFL and they are really worthy of our support. They do a lot for our country. I know many people are really upset with some of the players and the league’s response to these protests. I just think that we need to look at the total picture and understand that this league is filled by a majority of players who love this country. I don’t think boycotting the league at this time is the answer. I will still continue to watch and enjoy what is by far the best professional league going today.

Show some respect, stand for the anthem.

It started with Colin Kaepernick,  then several other prominent athletes joined this practice of kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to protest certain atrocities going in this country. With the upcoming NFL season just a few weeks away, this controversy of not standing during the anthem is not going away anytime soon and more players are bound to take a knee this year as well.

It is absolutely true, this is America and you have a right not to stand during the playing of our national anthem. Whether an athlete wants to stand or not stand is their own decision. However, with all decisions of that nature come consequences and many players fail to realize how much they are turning off fans like myself. It is also my right as a fan and a consumer of the league to turn off the NFL and distance myself from this complete disrespect of our nation.

Do these spoiled athletes realize how many opportunities are given to them in this country? Is it too much to give just a few minutes of gratitude to stand and show appreciation for the opportunity to earn a lot money by growing up in this great country? Or maybe honor many brave young men and women who gave their lives in honor of this country? Instead I hear whiners like Kaepernick and other athletes talk about all the wrongs going on and how they feel they must make a statement. Outside of protesting the national anthem, what have you done to help fix these problems. I often wonder how involved some of these athletes are in the inner city where many of these problems of our society originate. How many actually go to the police departments and talk about how they can work with the police to help ease racial tensions?

I think I speak for a lot of fans in seeing a very disturbing trend among some of these athletes, especially athletes of color. Many years ago, black athletes were on professional rosters because of their skin color. That has dramatically changed. As I mentioned in a previous post about Confederate symbols, we have come a longs ways in helping bridge the gap between whites and blacks in this country. I just wish some of these pampered athletes would look at the whole picture and realize how lucky they are to be playing ball and making a ton of money in this country. Disrespecting our country by failing to stand during the anthem is a huge turnoff for me and many fans. I have no time to feel sorry or support those disrespectful, pampered, crybabies.