The MMQB 2013 Reflections
Our writers share the experiences that impacted them most and best represent where they feel the game is at in 2013
We’re particularly fond of 2013 here at The MMQB. It’s the year, as you may know, that we launched this site without much in the way of a mission statement except trying to provide for readers a new perspective on a game we all love and spend so much of our lives dedicated to.
We had no idea, when we pushed the button that birthed The MMQB on July 22, how it would be received, so six months later with the year wrapping up, we want to thank everyone who’s read even just a word of word of what we’ve done. It’s been a great experience for all involved. Below, our four staff writers reflect on a memory from the year that strikes them as most poignant as we turn the calendar over to 2014.
For more, check out our top 100 photos from the 2013 season. Happy New Year, everyone.
CHICAGO—I’m in the van with the Gene Steratore officiating crew after a 23-20 Chicago victory over Baltimore at Soldier Field in November. This has been one of the most interesting weeks in my reporting life, being able to be behind the curtain with a crew of officials, because these seven men are usually treated like CIA agents. You don’t know them, you don’t talk to them … they don’t exist, except for three hours on Sunday, when millions of Americans pass judgment on how awful they are, and how they are ruining the game so many people love. But after some long conversations with NFL people, I’d gotten permission to spend a week with this crew and to write whatever I see. It was enlightening.
Steratore, a 50-year-old referee, is one of the league’s best. And so here he was, across the aisle in this van, on the way to O’Hare and a flight back home to western Pennsylvania, and I brought up something that was troubling to him.
“What about the late hit on Julius Peppers you called?” I said.
Creases on his forehead. Sort of a disgusted look on his face.
“Are you kidding? That’s a flag. Easy. After last week?” he said.
The play: With 5:51 left in the first half, Joe Flacco scrambled for a first down, slid, and was hit during his slide by Peppers. Steratore threw the flag, and he called unnecessary roughness on a sliding quarterback who’d given himself up. Peppers immediately threw his hands in the air, angry. Borderline call. But after getting whacked for two hits on the quarterback seven days earlier, Steratore had entered this game with more of an itchy trigger finger. “Whacked” in this case means he’d been downgraded—the worst punishment for an official short of a game suspension—on two plays because the league graders thought he should have called unnecessary roughness twice the previous week when he’d kept his flag in his pocket. Plus, during the weekly pre-game meeting on Saturday, league officiating supervisor Gary Slaughter had told the crew, “Guys, the biggest thing on our radar is UNR [the three-letter abbreviation in ref parlance for unnecessary roughness]. Roughing the quarterback, stay after those. Remember, we want you to err on the side of safety.”
In the league’s quest to make the game safer, the officials were constantly on the prowl for the kinds of fouls that appeared ticky-tack to some—such as the marginal Peppers hit on Flacco, which in real time looked like a gentle hit. Certainly there was contact, but it wasn’t much. So much of my time with this crew in five different cities in seven days was spent talking about safety and UNR. I came away thinking: These guys cannot get every one of these right, but they’re being watched so carefully by the league that they’ve got to make calls like the Peppers call. It’s too much of a game of Russian Roulette not to.
“A few minutes later,” Steratore told me there in the van, “I walked up to Julius during a TV timeout and said, ‘Look, Julius, if that play happened in my backyard, I’m not calling it. But I get graded too, just like you.’ He said, ‘I understand.’ “
Postscript: When the game was graded, Steratore got a “support-only” grade from the league. Meaning the NFL doesn’t think he should have made the call, but he won’t be graded negatively for it.
I didn’t see Steratore after that Sunday night, but if I were him, and I saw that “support-only” grade come across my laptop on Tuesday morning, I’d have thrown my hands in the air and said, My God. What do you want me to do?
Greg A. Bedard
When I think back to this wacky first year at The MMQB, one in which I saw everything from police executing a search warrant at Aaron Hernandez’s house to Peter King standing in our GoRVing.com vehicle belting “Like a Rolling Stone” at 3 a.m. on our training camp tour, I think my favorite moment was at Chiefs camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo. The teams I had previously covered (the Dolphins, Packers and Patriots) all trained at their own facilities, so it was a different experience to see a team out on its own, and a pretty cool setting to boot. It was open and relaxed—how I’m guessing it used to be for most teams. And it afforded me an opportunity to evaluate another team in a setting that is usually very telling: a full-padded practice. It didn’t take very long to notice that the Chiefs were big and athletic on all three levels of the defense, and that defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was using the Jets’ scheme he learned from Rex Ryan to put players in position to succeed. The Chiefs were attacking from different places on every snap. I was impressed. Didn’t look like a 2-14 team, which the Chiefs were in 2012, to me.
After walking up from practice with general manager John Dorsey, who I knew from our time in Green Bay, we sat on a bench overlooking the fields and he asked me what I thought. “Well, it looks like you’re going to have a chance to field a dominant defense, which means you’re going to at least be in the hunt.” I barely got the words out when Dorsey started barking. “Don’t you go writing that! That’s all we need is for people to be expecting this or that. We’re trying to build a championship team here. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Well, I picked the Chiefs to win the AFC West over the Broncos, which didn’t happen. But Kansas City did start 9-0 and made the playoffs at 11-5, largely on the strength of their defense and running back Jammal Charles. Sorry John, you’ve got expectations heaped upon you now. That’s your own doing.
Go to Page 2 for Robert Klemko’s and Jenny Vrentas’s reflections at the year’s end.