Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the World Cup is spectacular theatre (European spelling, out of deference), and I enjoyed every bloody (more deference) minute of it. I must admit, though, it was maddening at times. There was the frequent flopping—what’s in that magical spray that allows men go from incapacitated to running like a deer in seconds?—to the seemingly arbitrary method of determining stoppage time. Why not have a running clock throughout the match so fans know and refs can be held accountable?
But there were so many things to love about it, especially how much each game meant. I know this might be heresy to say, but the only sporting event that even comes close to mirroring the World Cup in terms of worldwide interest and epic magnitude of the outcome is the Super Bowl. For instance, as Japan was getting set to face off with Ivory Coast in group play, I explained to my 5-year old that a country in Asia was going to play a country in Africa in a stadium in South America and we were going to watch it in North America with everyone else from those continents and others at the same time. I got goosebumps, relaying the sense of global community to my little son. He blinked at me. And then asked if he could go on his iPad. Nevertheless, I think you get the point. It’s just one massive Worldwide Big Dance. To my delight, as well as the entire country, the American national team played a formidable role in it too.
2. I think Ian Darke is as good a play-by-play announcer as there is in any sport, and I would love to hear him call an NFL game. Darke’s calls on the U.S. games on ESPN were clinics on how to sound impartial while still broadcasting the emotions of a game to a highly partisan American audience chock-full of folks new to the sport and event. His sense of humor, grasp of the game and storytelling ability were downright Marv Albert-like. And his use of the English language was beyond refreshing, especially for a sports broadcast. I would love it if an NFL announcer called a jarred, fumbling running back “dispossessed” of the ball or a team getting beaten down like Brazil was by Germany “thoroughly chastened by the result.” I know broadcast teams for the upcoming NFL season are set, but perhaps in 2015 someone will give Darke a pop. Perhaps FOX Sports, which should absolutely procure Darke’s services for the 2018 World Cup.
3. I think the greatest sports invention in recent memory is the vanishing foam World Cup referees sprayed on the field to delineate the spots where a player should take a free kick and, 10 yards away, where defenders could build their wall. What an ingeniously simple way to communicate to fans at home. It was, in essence, FIFA’s version of the yellow first-down line on NFL broadcasts. Except, unlike the yellow line, this simple white foam was quite official. And I loved that the foam dispenser was clipped on the back of the ref’s belt.
Perhaps the NFL can use that foam to mark off the 5-yard zone from the line of scrimmage in which defensive backs can’t touch a receiver. You know, have the back judge spritz the field with a parallel line five yards away from the line of scrimmage while the offense huddles up. Or have the umpire run up to the quarterback and spray a circle around him since, you know, most of the time he can’t be touched.
4. I think I’m a freaking football Nostradamus. Here’s what I wrote last time I did this “I Think I Think” thing in this space last August.
I think all the fans who think the media spends too much airtime and ink talking about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel best brace themselves. Every move (or gesture) the kid currently makes is not only seen through the prism of whether he can lead his team to a title or himself to the Heisman podium again, but also what it means to his impending draft status. If he officially turns pro (insert joke here) in January as expected, that’s all my network and others covering the talent evaluation process will talk about from the Combine in Indianapolis to Radio City Music Hall. And keep in mind: the draft is being held later next year, in May.
Alright. That’s not a very long, thin limb to reside. (Also, in that piece, I did happen to pick Cleveland as my surprise team of 2013 based on what Norv Turner’s offense could do for Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson.) I figured I’d bring back the Manziel note to just reiterate what an insane season it’s going to be in Cleveland. With all due respect to Hoyer and his status atop the Browns’ depth chart for quarterback—and, recently, Indians’ ceremonial first-pitch throwing—the Cavs’ addition of LeBron will no doubt turn up the heat for the Browns to make their own splash. I think they’ll start JFF in Week 1 in, of all places, Heinz Field, against, of all defensive coordinators, Dick LeBeau. I’d be up for watching that. So will, you know, most of the country. CBS will be doing cartwheels over having that as a regional contest in their first Sunday slate of games.
5. I think Seattle is your Super Bowl favorite this year. Or should be. I know we haven’t seen a repeat champion in more than a decade for good reason, but here’s why I think the Seahawks could do it:
a. The Seattle roster wasn’t ravaged by salary cap decisions or free agency, like last year’s defending Super Bowl champion Ravens were. To the contrary, the Seahawks paid some top players to keep them in the fold for years to come.
b. The Seattle coaching staff hasn’t been raided, like most Super Bowl staffs have been. In fact, coach Pete Carroll may be singularly equipped to keep the competitive fires burning. Carroll’s daily mantra of “always compete” sure sounds like the perfect antidote to resting on one’s Super Bowl laurels.
c. The perfect extension of Carroll’s philosophy is Russell Wilson. I know this firsthand. When he guest-appeared on the 2013 season Championship Sunday edition of NFL GameDay Morning, Wilson reported for work at 3:30 a.m. Pacific Time—two-and-a-half-hours before air and a half-hour before your humble host, who usually beats everyone else on the on-air staff to work. Wilson gets it. He knows there’s much on which to improve personally and offensively as a whole.
d. Then there’s the Seattle home-field advantage, which should once again afford the Seahawks the luxury of needing only to play .500 football on the road to have a chance at the division title and, perhaps, conference. That’s regardless of how the NFC West is easily the toughest division in football.
That’s why I truly expect to see Seattle in Arizona next February playing for the right to pick up more confetti off the ground.
6. I think I’m glad I’m not an Emmy Awards voter. Just look at the recently announced nominees for Best Actor in a TV Drama:
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matt McConaughey, True Detective
For those keeping score, that’s the reigning Emmy (Daniels), Oscar (McConaughey), and Tony Award (Cranston) winners for Best Actor all in the same category. Toss in two previous Oscars for Spacey (American Beauty, The Usual Suspects), a Golden Globe for Hamm and a combined four previous Emmys for Cranston and Harrelson (Cheers) and you have The Emmys Group of Death. I loved True Detective and think McConaughey will win but, when it all comes down to it, Cranston in his final season as Walter White gets my nod. The third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, entitled “Ozymandias,” may be the best hour of TV I’ve ever seen.
7. I think we may have repeat division winners in six of the eight divisions this year. If you think that sounds far-fetched, well, NFL GameDay Morning researcher Bill Smith says the last time it happened was … 2012. But I’m going to say it happens again, and it’s still not going to involve the division that has yet to have a repeat winner since realignment brought it into existence in 2002: the NFC South. So I predict the Packers, Patriots, Colts, Broncos, Eagles, and Seahawks all repeat as division champions. Is it possible the Panthers and Bengals also repeat too? Of course, but that would give us repeat winners in all eight divisions, which, again, thanks to the NFC South, has not happened once since realignment. I think I’m not ready to predict that one … yet.
8. I think I might be naïve, but I was surprised to see how the Packers are still holding off on the inevitable Brett Favre jersey retirement ceremony for fear of negative reaction from the Lambeau faithful. In a story mentioning how Green Bay’s No. 4 won’t be retired in the 2014 season, team president Mark Murphy told Jason Wilde of ESPN.com that concern over booing is “an issue,” adding Favre “doesn’t want it and neither do we. He wouldn’t want to come back and get booed. You can’t control 80,750 people. I really think as time goes on, every year that passes, it’s less likely that he would get booed, but that’s an issue.” Again, I don’t have boots on the ground in Wisconsin, but Favre would get booed out of the stadium if he came back to Lambeau to be feted as the all-timer he clearly is? Really? This Vikings stuff isn’t water under the bridge yet? I find that surprising.
9. I think you can make book on Peyton Manning having another 50-touchdown season. If I had the first overall pick in my fantasy draft this year (by the way, I’ve never had one), I would take Manning. Yes, over Adrian Peterson. Over any running back. I know that’s crazy talk. Every fantasy expert I’ve ever been around says to draft your quarterback in later rounds. I finally did last year with Andrew Luck (Round 6 in a 10-team league!) and I won it all, barely winning the final against the team that had … Peyton Manning. So consider me sold. Manning is going to be on figurative tilt this year, especially after the way last year ended. Plus, I don’t understand how real football is a quarterback-driven sport that no longer drafts running backs in the real draft until the third round, but in standard scoring fantasy football, running backs are still the most valuable commodity. Of course, if I’m not drafting first (and I never do) and if Manning isn’t available when I’m picking, I’m going running back. And then running back again.
10. I think I’d like to offer kudos to Peter King, who bangs out these MMQBs like they’re a limerick and each one is a monster tome. I do have thoughts on coffee and travel—Jet Blue recently insisted my wife remove our sleeping baby from her chest-carrier prior to takeoff—but time constraints at the computer (I have three kids all under 6) forced me to attempt an abridged version of this column. And it was a bear. I have no earthly idea how Peter does this so well for 48 weeks. Kudos to you, sir.
While I’m at it, kudos to all my NFL Media colleagues who toil day-in and day-out in what we call the “non-playing season.” As we know all too well on our Culver City, Calif., campus, there’s no such thing as an off-season. When the playing season is in full swing, there are many NFL Media staffers preparing for events like the Senior Bowl, the Scouting Combine and, yes, the NFL Draft, which we’re all expecting to be far more logistically challenging in 2015. So, congratulations to all my friends and colleagues at NFL Network, NFL Films, NFL.com and all other NFL Media platforms (NFL Now on the way!) on crushing the coverage for yet another “non-playing season.” That said, we made it. Training camp has arrived! To the season!