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Found 9 results

  1. http://grantland.com/the-triangle/new-orleans-saints-salary-cap/ Too long to quote, really, but it's wonderful. Enjoy. tl;dr from Phillipkeith Manley:
  2. (Link added because of the crappy paste that is almost un-fixable. http://grantland.com...-nfl-preseason/ The preseason doesn’t matter. We run through the same stuff every year, only with different faces. There’s the bad team that looks great in meaningless action. The reclamation project at quarterback who looks revitalized and new. The unknown prospect who runs through third-team defenses for big plays. Occasionally, those teams and players do turn out to deliver on their promise, but there are so many washouts and false positives to go with those success stories that it’s impossible to figure out who is for real until the meaningful football starts in September. Let’s put the preseason in some context to understand how it’s not worth taking too seriously. The Difference How is preseason football different from the real thing? Well, there are the starters, ramping up to Week 3 before mostly sitting out in Week 4. Coaches try to optimize their decision-making to avoid getting players injured. Effort levels vary from team to team; bettors notably prefer some coaches (Mike Shanahan is a classic example) to others (hi, Ken Whisenhunt) by virtue of how their teams have performed in the past.1 Somewhat surprisingly, though, the half-full stadiums and modest energy levels of preseason crowds have little impact on home-field advantage. Since 2006,2 the home team has won 56.5 percent of preseason games; that’s virtually identical to the regular-season win rate over that time frame, 56.8 percent. Checking the statistical record, preseason football is different from the real thing in more subtle ways. According to the NFL’s numbers, here’s what August football is lacking (and why): 1. Scoring goes down. While preseason scoring has risen over the past several seasons, that has been met with a simultaneous increase in scoring during the regular seasons. Since 2006, the scoring in a typical preseason game is down about 14 percent from the scoring level during the subsequent regular season. Last year, while teams averaged 41.3 points per game during the preseason, the league then produced 46.8 points per game during the regular season, thelargest per-game average since 1948. Peyton Manning barely knew what he was doing back then. Preseason scoring in 2013, then, was down 11.8 percent from where it would land during the season to come. In 2014? That’s holding true. Penalties are up dramatically, with the emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding extending drives, but scoring is basically holding still with where it was one year ago. Teams have averaged 41.4 points per game during the preseason through the Monday Night Finger Football tilt between Washington and Cleveland, just one-tenth of one point higher than last year’s average. Why does scoring go down? Well, as you might expect … 2. Teams aren’t as efficient on offense. Big surprise, right? There’s no smoking gun for offenses in the preseason, but numbers drop across the board a tiny bit. For one, teams run the ball more frequently during the preseason; 55.5 percent of all offensive snaps during the preseason are pass plays,3 a figure that rises to 56.6 percent during the regular season. There’s also about one less play from scrimmage per game versus the regular season. When teams do throw the ball, they’re less efficient, with passer rating declining by nearly five points: Season CMP Att Cmp% Y/att TD INT Rating Preseason 17,464 29,453 59.3 6.1 992 773 77.3 Reg Season 73,192 120,563 60.7 6.6 5,071 3,506 81.9 Five points doesn’t seem like all that many, but it’s roughly the difference between the passer ratings of Ryan Fitzpatrick (82.0) and Jason Campbell (76.9) from a year ago. What? It still doesn’t seem that different? OK, fair enough. But you can see that preseason passers aren’t quite as impressive with the ball in their hands. Passers are also sacked less frequently, with their sack rate rising from 6.3 percent in the preseason to 6.8 percent during the subsequent regular season. Perhaps most notably, teams are far worse at running the ball in the preseason than they are during the regular season. Over those weird 2006-08 and 2010-13 time frames, offenses averaged 4.2 yards per carry on the ground during the regular season. In the preseason, they mustered up only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. That adds up; teams average about 28 rushing plays each per game, so you’re looking at a difference of just less than 17 yards between the two teams per game.4 3. Quarterbacks aren’t as good as they are during the regular season. The typical preseason player at a given position on a given snap is obviously worse than his counterpart at the same position during the regular season, but great quarterbacks are more scarce than great players at any other position. The drop-off between Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien is larger than the drop-off between, say, A.J. Hawk and Andy Mulumba at linebacker. You can see the decline in the numbers. 4. The preseason is schematically bland. The NFL doesn’t offer the All-22 coaching tape to the public during the preseason, but it’s a well-known fact that teams will run a shell of their typical offensive and defensive schemes during the preseason. It’s not as simple as suggesting that each team has money plays they don’t want to show the opposition, just more that offenses and defenses are drilling fundamentals and keeping their more specific schematic choices to themselves until the games count. Players still improvise and make plays — it’s still football, and a lot of players out there are trying to win jobs — but you’re seeing very vanilla versions of the West Coast offense going up against very simple Cover 2 looks from the defense. Washington, famously, didn’t feature the zone-read during the 2012 preseason, instead waiting until its opening game of the year to foist it upon an unsuspecting, overwhelmed Saints defense. How Doesn’t It Matter? The preseason vaguely approximates real football — it’s just enough of the real thing to fool you into getting excited for the Hall of Fame Game — but history also tells us that its breakout teams and players are often flashes in the pan. Obviously, the preseason is an incredibly small sample, with players who aren’t likely to make it in the NFL competing against one another. A lot of strange things can (and do) happen. It’s easy to find anecdotal examples of the preseason telling us very little about a team’s record; Detroit, for one, went 4-0 during the 2008 preseason, outscoring the opposition by a league-high 48 points. It promptly went 0-16 during the regular season. Last year, Houston had more wins in the preseason (three) than it did during the regular season (two). I could do this all day, but then again, there are teams like the 2003 Patriots, who went 4-0 during the preseason before winning 14 games and their second Super Bowl in three years. Studies have suggested there is no meaningful relationship between a team’s performance in the preseason and their subsequent record in the regular season since 1994. But what about the extremes? Does it mean anything if a team goes undefeated or can’t win even a single game during the preseason? I went back through 2000 and split out the 22 teams that went 4-0 and the 31 teams that went 0-4.5 If there’s some meaning to the preseason, the 4-0 teams should play way better in the regular season than the teams that got off to the 0-4 exhibition start, right? The difference, as it turns out, is negligible. Those 4-0 teams won an average of 8.0 games during their subsequent regular seasons, while the winless teams won an average of 7.3 games. The teams that are undefeated in the preseason aren’t getting any sort of boost from their hot “start,” and they’re barely better off than the teams that are terrible in August. Setting our sights narrower, a 2006 study suggested that teams that beat opponents in the first half of a preseason game did well against that same opposition in the regular season. What about the breakout passer of the preseason? Blake Bortles was expected to be a project even after the Jaguars took him with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, but he’s looked brilliant and decisive during Jacksonville’s first two games, posting a passer rating of 96.9 while inspiring calls for the Jags to start him over Chad Henne. Does his hot start suggest he’s ready to play earlier than just about anybody expected? There’s never anything wrong with playing well, but the evidence that it means something for Bortles’s future isn’t especially strong. Since 2000, quarterbacks selected with one of the first five picks in the draft haven’t especially done well during their rookie preseason. Combined,6 they’ve completed just 55.0 percent of their passes, thrown nearly as many interceptions (26) as touchdowns (27), and posted a passer rating of just 73.4. Bortles has played much better than the group’s cumulative performance, but even that’s not a feat. The highest passer rating in that group during their rookie preseason belonged to Mark Sanchez, who had a 111.0 preseason passer rating as a rookie. Robert Griffin (103.3) was second. Sam Bradford (95.9) was third. Not great. (To be fair, Andrew Luck is fourth.) Players like Philip Rivers (46.4) and Eli Manning (53.7) were far below the likes of Joey Harrington (74.5). You get the idea. The most painful anecdote was dug up a couple of years ago by Chase Stuart, who noted that Ryan Leaf received plenty of plaudits for his work during the 1999 preseason, including an exhibition game in the critical Week 3 in which Leaf went 15-of-24 for 172 yards with both a passing and–– rushing touchdown. The opposing starter went 11-of-21 for 123 yards with two picks, showing that he — rookie Peyton Manning — wasn’t the real McCoy. It’s not necessarily a surprise that Bortles would do better in the preseason than he might in the regular season. Athleticism and raw ability play up during the preseason, while schematic comfort and the ability to digest more complex coverages in real time — Bortles’s weaknesses heading into the NFL — are less likely to be exposed. It’s no surprise, for example, that a player like Sanchez might look better in the preseason than he would during the regular season, given that he can rely on his instincts. Indeed, Sanchez posted a passer rating of 88.0 during his five preseasons with the Jets, a figure that fell to 71.7 during his time on the field in the regular season. Just as is the case with Bortles, Sanchez’s hot start to the 2014 preseason means nothing in terms of divining his professional future. We’re cursed to care about this stuff because there’s nothing more interesting to distract us. It’s the same reason why we were talking about Jadeveon Clowney’s “first NFL sack” this past weekend, even though we’ll refer to his first sack during the 2014 regular season as Clowney’s first professional sack from that point forward. Likewise, regardless of what Bortles does as a pro, nobody will ever use his preseason performance as proof that he wasn’t ready or a star in the making. The preseason, at best, is a summer fling.
  3. http://grantland.com...udded-strategy/ Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t look like he runs an NFL team. In a profession where Ted Thompson and his Packers-sponsored golf outfit are the standard, the Falcons’ general manager looks like few of his colleagues. Rams GM Les Snead has style, but it’s that of Ned Stark’s body double. Dimitroff, with his spiked hair, thick frames, and wispy goatee, would fit on HBO too. It would just be as someone throwing money around on Silicon Valley. He’s a vegetarian in a land of carnivores, a Canadian in America’s game, a Deadhead surrounded by Seeger fans. It’s no surprise, then, that Dimitroff works the same way he looks: like no one else. The longest stint of Dimitroff’s career before coming to Atlanta was with the Patriots, alongside Bill Belichick. For four years, Dimitroff worked as the director of college scouting for a franchise notorious for hoarding draft picks and trading down every chance it got. When Dimitroff was given the keys to the Falcons in 2008, he started his tenure by looking at every draft choice the Patriots made — and going in the exact opposite direction. With Michael Vick likely gone, Dimitroff didn’t have much to consider when Matt Ryan — supposedly the safest quarterback bet in years — was still sitting there when Atlanta came on the clock at no. 3. Where Dimitroff’s strategy started to emerge was 18 picks later, when he traded two second-round picks for Washington’s pick at 21 to take left tackle Sam Baker. Neither of the picks traded away originally belonged to Atlanta. One was acquired in Houston’s trade for Matt Schaub a year earlier; the other came in a deal for DeAngelo Hall about two months before the draft. The process to select Baker was the first glimpse into how Dimitroff would treat draft picks — not as a collection of lottery tickets, but as a handful of chips that could be cashed in for potential cornerstones he might covet. Six years later, as Atlanta looks to rebound from the disaster that was 2013, that approach is still what defines the Falcons’ roster. In the NBA, seeing a bunch of smaller assets as a means of landing a star is the norm. A limited number of players are potential championship centerpieces; bringing in one of those players is a GM’s objective until he does. Simple math makes that plan less effective in football. With 53 players and 22 starters, the impact of one player (unless that player is a quarterback) is dulled. No one would argue that the Falcons didn’t make it work, though. In the first five seasons after Dimitroff arrived, Atlanta never won less than nine games. Twice it won 13. Two years ago, it was a Harry Douglas slip away from the Super Bowl. If that happens, maybe we’re celebrating Dimitroff’s all-in approach instead of championing Niners GM Trent Baalke — the new king of draft-pick stockpiling — as the smartest guy in the room. We’d point to Atlanta handing over a second-round pick for Tony Gonzalez as genius. We’d laugh as Julio Jones tore up the NFC playoffs while the picks Cleveland got in exchange for him (Phil Taylor, Brandon Weeden, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Jarius Wright) toiled away. But Douglas did slip. And if 2012 was everything that could go right with Dimitroff’s plan, 2013 was everything that could go wrong. When a team trades a handful of picks to move up, the main quality it sacrifices is depth. When a team does it routinely, a rash of injuries turns from problematic to season-killing. Jones started last season the same way he’d ended the previous one — as one of the four best wide receivers in the league. In his first five games, he had 41 catches for 580 yards and a couple of touchdowns. The problem is that those were his only five games, as foot surgery ended his season a week into October. Knee and hamstring problems turned his counterpart Roddy White into a broken-down version of himself for most of the year. Sean Weatherspoon, probably the Falcons’ best defensive player, missed nine games. Baker sat out of 12. Newly signed Steven Jackson managed only 157 carries. No matter the injuries elsewhere, the biggest blow — for several reasons — was Jones. The depth a team concedes when trading up for a star is even more important when that star gets hurt. Not only were the Falcons without Jones, they were without the two or three starters they might have had if they never traded for him at all. Jones’s absence made the holes elsewhere even more glaring. The lack of pass rush (last in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders), which was void of a single above-average homegrown player, haunted the defense. A subpar offensive line and a hobbled running back meant heaping even more on Ryan, who regressed without his top-tier receiving talent. The offense just folded in on itself. Most of Dimitroff’s headline-grabbing moves have been with Ryan in mind. Baker was brought in to protect a young franchise quarterback. Gonzalez was a sought after security blanket to aid that quarterback’s development. Jones was the final piece to put him over the top. For the most part, it worked. After the 2012 season, Ryan was given the contract extension he seemed to deserve as a 27-year-old who ranked among the best quarterbacks in football. What we saw last season is what happens when that support system starts to crumble. Ryan’s raw numbers look close to what they have in the better seasons of his career, but it took him 651 throws to get his 4,515 yards. He finished 20th in yards per attempt, right behind Case Keenum. Ryan still belongs near the top of the quarterback tier that doesn’t include Manning, Brees, and Rodgers — the sort that needs elite talent around him to make an offense hum. The hope for this year’s Falcons is that he’ll have that talent, with Jones on track for Week 1 and White riding a strong end of the season into this new one. What’s certain is that they’ll need them both. The realities brought on by the Jones trade haven’t gone away. Dimitroff has always been someone who attacks his team’s weaknesses every offseason, but this year, there was only so much he could do. The Falcons needed a makeover on the interior of their defensive line to finally make the full transition to a 3-4, and they did that by signing Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. They also remade the right side of their offensive line, signing Jon Asamoah to play guard and taking Jake Matthews sixth overall to be this year’s right tackle and eventually the left tackle when Baker plays out his string. The area where Atlanta probably needed the most help is an area where it didn’t get much, but that’s no fault of Dimitroff’s. This year’s top 10 was void of edge rushers outside Jadeveon Clowney. The irony of the “Clowney to the Falcons” rumors leading up to the draft is that the reason people thought the move might happen is the exact reason it couldn’t — or at least shouldn’t — have. Atlanta’s overall lack of depth because of past trades (there was actually another in 2013, when Dimitroff gave up a third-round pick to move up for Desmond Trufant) meant it couldn’t afford giving up a chance at potential starters. It was the same at the beginning of the second round, when the Falcons ended up taking Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman after teams like the Eagles and Cowboys traded up for pass-rushers in the 10 picks before Atlanta’s. That leaves the Falcons’ pass rush in a spot similarly troubling to the one it was in last year. The comparisons don’t end there, either. They’ll again face life without Weatherspoon, who’s out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. With Gonzalez retired, Ryan will start the season without one of his familiar targets. There’s reason to believe the talent across the board for Atlanta will be better. Rookie cornerbacks from a year ago should be more comfortable in Year 2, Asamoah and Matthews are a significant upgrade, and the defensive line is now filled with high-priced players. For the most part, though, it’s a roster with plenty of weak spots: outside linebacker, inside linebacker, tight end, free safety. That’s why this offseason’s efforts won’t matter much if Jones isn’t the player he was at the end of 2012 and the beginning of last season — the type of player who helps make Ryan the quarterback Atlanta needs him to be. When the Falcons traded up for Jones three years ago, they made it clear they thought he was the type of player upon which a franchise could hinge. It turns out they were right.
  4. The article is longer and I was going to post it but after formatting those charts....man **** that noise.
  5. http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9498600/bill-barnwell-ranks-top-assets-nfl The link to part 1 is contained in the article. Here's the entry for Matt Ryan (considered the 6th most valuable asset given the combination of performance, health, age, contract, etc) 6. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Ryan's lack of a contract extension both helps and hurts his value. On one hand, he isn't tied into an enormous deal with tons of guaranteed money if he were to get hurt this season; on the other hand, you're basically stuck paying him franchise tag money or forced to shell out an enormous up-front signing bonus in giving him a new long-term deal. In terms of his 2012, you saw what happened: Atlanta moved away from Michael Turner and went pass-happy; Ryan completed nearly 69 percent of his throws, kept his yards per attempt high, and won a playoff game to get those dudes off his back. If he sustains all of those 2012 gains, he's a top-five quarterback in the prime of his career. If he drops back to his pre-2012 levels, he's a good quarterback, but one who is likely to be overpaid by virtue of a market-value deal.20 One thing to note: I talk a lot about how teams can't consistently win a large percentage of those games that are decided by seven points or fewer, but there does seem to be an exception for great quarterbacks who are particularly effective at managing the clock and creating extra possessions for themselves at the ends of halves. This comes up for three people: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan, who is 27-11 in one-score games since arriving in the league. Normally, Atlanta's 7-2 record in one-touchdown games in 2012 would inspire fiery calls for regression toward the mean. I don't think they will go 7-2 again, but I'm skeptical that their performance in those games is totally random in the way that it is for other teams. If Ryan can pull out a disproportionately high percentage of those close games, he's worth millions more than his other numbers indicate. Like, a few dozen millions more.
  6. http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/62564/the-20-types-of-depressed-sports-fans I fall into: 16. The Fan Who Suddenly Has to go for a Walk This fan responds to adversity by removing himself from the situation. Sometimes, this will be accompanied by a hurried explanation. Often, he’ll just quietly get up and leave. You may or may not ever see him again. If you find yourself watching an important game with this fan and he announces that he's leaving, let him go. Do not try to talk him into staying. There’s a reason he doesn't trust himself to be around other human beings right now. You do not want to find out what that reason is. ------------------------------------------------ During the SEC Championship game and the Falcons playoff game, I just walked outside and lit up a cigarette until the game was finished. I just couldn't stand to be in front of my TV any longer.
  7. http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/53167/2013-free-agent-book-reggie-bush An introduction: Last year, I put together free-agent books from the perspective of a player agent for four different players, starting with Mike Wallace before moving on to Matt Flynn, Mario Williams, and Arian Foster. This year, I'll be doing the same for three players, starting today with Reggie Bush. For those who weren't around last year, these articles are designed to be smaller versions of the "books" that agents like Drew Rosenhaus or Scott Boras might prepare on behalf of their veteran free agents as they're about to hit the market. Normally, my goal is to present an accurate depiction of the league and its constituency; that's not the case here. In these articles, my goal is simply to sell the player as best I can to a potential team. I won't flat-out lie about the player's strengths or statistics, but if I can distort the numbers to make the player look better, I'm happy to do so. Please keep that in mind when reading these next three pieces. Thanks! Future Shock Very simply, the game has changed. The NFL continues to evolve further and further into a league dominated by passing attacks, and there's no sign of the shift letting up. In 1992, teams threw the ball an even 50 percent of the time. After a gradual climb, 20 years later, teams are throwing the ball on more than 54 percent of their offensive downs: The numbers even understate how drastically the style and schemes of the league's offenses are changing. More than ever, it's important for your offensive players to be versatile. Teams that made huge leaps this past season were driven by quarterbacks and wide receivers who looked like running backs once they got the ball in their hands. Likewise, one need look no further than the World Champion Baltimore Ravens to see the value of a running back who can also catch passes. If you don't have a superstar quarterback who can throw receivers open or fit the ball through impossible windows on every play, you need to surround the guy you have with playmakers who make his job easier. Reggie Bush is that playmaker. Reggie Bush is a back for today's NFL. The Hidden Workhorse I hardly need to point out the myriad skills Reggie Bush brings to the table. Since his days at USC, Bush has been renowned as a paragon of versatility and a constant threat to break a big play for his team. During his time as one of the key components of the New Orleans Saints offense, Bush lined up as a traditional running back, slot receiver, and devastating returner, helping to lead the Saints to a Super Bowl victory in 2009. Bush has been a winner and a perennial championship contender at every level of football. Over the past two years, though, Bush has emerged as an essential part of a Miami Dolphins offense that is otherwise bereft of playmakers. Despite playing with a mediocre set of quarterbacks and without a serious weapon in the passing attack this past year, Bush has quietly become the workhorse of the team and the primary reason Miami has been able to move the ball downfield. You've seen what the likes of Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker have done after they got out of Miami and moved into an offense that fit their strengths; Bush is capable of a similar leap when he leaves the Dolphins this offseason. Despite the fact that he has been cast in the role as Miami's primary running back, Bush has still managed to grossly outproduce the players around him on a per-carry basis. During his two years with the team, Bush has averaged a full yard per carry more than the players around him: You'll note Bush's touchdown total; in addition to remaining a big-play threat with his eight touchdowns of 15 yards or more over the past two years, Bush has been an effective goal-line back when the Dolphins have chosen to use him in that role. He has scored on three of his five carries from inside the 2-yard line, a 60 percent conversion rate that compares favorably with the league-average rate of 49.7 percent. Because the Dolphins have been so hard up for offensive weapons, Bush has produced an impressively large percentage of his team's workload. While Bush was regarded as a situational back during his time with the Saints, he has been the featured back during his run with Miami. During the past two years, Bush has been the ballhandler on 35.2 percent of his team's touches, which compares favorably to a back like Michael Turner (34.5 percent). About a quarter (26.4 percent) of Miami's offensive yardage has come courtesy of Bush, which places him among the league's best running backs: Despite that heavy workload, Bush has been able to withstand the emphasis on giving him the football and remained healthy during his time with the Dolphins. Bush has only missed one game during his two years in Miami; only three of the other nine backs on that list above have suited up more frequently than Bush, who was on the field for 55 percent of Miami's offensive snaps last year, tying him with Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden. When you watch Bush play, you see a back who is both capable of picking up the tough yards up the middle and bouncing outside to create a long gain. In addition, Bush has continued to make strides in protecting the football. After fumbling once every 43 touches as a member of the Saints, Bush fumbled just once every 65 touches during his time with the Dolphins. That's a fumble rate that compares favorably to the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Willis McGahee, and Charles over that same timeframe. That all speaks to Bush's continued improvement as a runner, but he remains the league's most devastating running back in the passing game. Since he entered the league in 2006, no other halfback has more receptions than Bush's 372. Only Steven Jackson and Darren Sproles have more receiving yards over that timeframe than Bush. Finally, there's plenty of reason to believe that Bush's best years are still ahead of him. The other backs on the market — thirtysomethings like Jackson and Turner — have far more wear-and-tear on their bodies than Bush does. Having just turned 28 and with fewer than 1,000 NFL carries, Bush is almost eerily similar to one recent back who shares both a skill set and a career path with him through the age of 27: Player A is Tiki Barber. Over the four ensuing seasons, Barber ran for 6,256 yards and scored 34 touchdowns while making the Pro Bowl three times. Like Barber, Bush has gotten more effective and efficient as his role has expanded. While Reggie's already had an extremely impressive career at the professional level, his best might still be yet to come. That's rare for a player entering free agency, and it represents a significant value opportunity for whichever franchise acquires his rights.
  8. http://www.grantland...me-a-sports-fan It was Sunday, January 17, 1999. I was in Augusta, Georgia, for the first big junior tennis tournament of the season, the Mayor's Cup. Two days earlier, I walked onto the court, unseeded, for my first-round match with the 9-seed. The end result: a three-set loss. Ever the type to get down on myself, I was bummed, a feeling that continued through my first-round consolation match the following day. I lost that too. I had traveled all the way to Augusta, during my long MLK weekend, to go 0-2. I was devastated. Then, to make matters worse, I couldn't leave. I had made the trek with a couple other players, and they were still in the tournament. So on Sunday, the penultimate day of the tournament, I showed up to the tennis center in street clothes, my racket back at the hotel. Coming empty-handed meant both spectators and participants alike were reminded that you're a loser. I was 11, and at that point in my life it got no worse than this. And then it started raining. A light drizzle turned into a monsoon. All of the players, coaches, and families left the court and made their way into the large, but not large enough, tennis center to await a ruling on whether the tournament was canceled or simply postponed. Selfishly hoping that it would get canceled so I could escape this tween ****, I sat in the corner by the window rooting for the storm to strengthen. Hours went by. There was still no ruling. As one of the few people in the building no longer involved in the tournament — emotionally or physically — I searched for distractions and found one in the form of a small TV in a corner of the room. It was now just after three o'clock and a small group had gathered. Because of my one-track pity party, I had completely forgotten that the Atlanta Falcons were playing in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings. I plopped down and saw that the Vikings were up in the fourth quarter. Unsure if I could handle any more bad news, I almost walked away. But looking around, I realized there was nowhere else to go. So I stayed put. It wasn't looking great. The Vikings were up 27-20 with a little more than two minutes left, and they had the ball, and they had Gary Anderson waiting to kick — and presumably make — a field goal to put the game out of reach. He hadn't missed once all season. And then, to put the Vikings up 30-20, from only 38 yards away, he missed. Wide. Left. No one could believe it — not in that tennis center, not in that stadium, not on that television. The focus of the room, full of Atlanta natives who’d made the drive, shifted from the future of the tennis tournament to the future of the Falcons. With two minutes left, Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler marched the Falcons down the field and threw a touchdown pass to Terance Mathis, sending the game into overtime. The extra period had its own 38-yarder, this one for Falcons kicker Morten Andersen. The second the ball left his foot, the tennis center erupted. This time, the ball sailed through, and the Dirty Birds were headed to Miami. High-fives and hugs happened between strangers left and right. No one seemed to care about the tournament (which was eventually canceled). No one seemed to care about much. The underdog Falcons had made the Super Bowl for the first time ever. I've never forgotten that day — down to the details — because it was always the day I thought I became a real sports fan. Sure, sports were the only thing that mattered to my 11-year-old self, and yes, there were moments that came with celebration before that (Sid's slide and 's catch), but something changed that day, for the better.It wasn't until almost 14 years later that I realized I'd been fooling myself all along. My investment in sports may have changed in that room in Augusta, but I didn't become a real sports fan, a person with a team that takes precedence over all, proudly and unhealthily, until yesterday. Ten a.m. on Sunday, January 13, 2013 is when everything actually changed. I woke up scared, not for what the future held, but of the anxiety that was attacking my insides. I felt nauseated. I needed a beer. It wasn't a completely foreign feeling, but never had it been the product of a sport I was watching. More than anything, I was confused. It wasn't as if I had just developed a newfound love of the Falcons (I've been wearing a lucky Falcons jersey every Sunday for years, have written about them at length and with a biased heart, and I even yelled at my hero, 2 Chainz, for betraying me by showing up at a 49ers game draped in red-and-gold gear a day earlier). They had been a team I adored my entire life, my favorite Atlanta team since we drafted Michael Vick, but never had I felt like this. I didn't know how to handle these new feelings, but I knew I needed people going through the same thing. Up until this point in my Falcons-watching adult life, one that has primarily taken place away from Atlanta, I had been completely satisfied with watching games alone, or with a friend or two, or if I was feeling especially sassy, at the rival bar, decked in Falcons garb with the hopes of being obnoxious in victory without getting into a scuffle. This morning was the first time I couldn't guarantee that last detail. For the first time, my internal pride was mirroring the external façade, and my true feelings matched the hyperbolic, dramatic way in which I spoke about my team. I didn't know what would come from this new-look me. I needed to be in a safe space. I didn't want to see anyone from Seattle, but I also couldn't be alone. Thankfully, Manhattan's Atlanta Falcons bar was but 11 blocks from my house. I ran there. Arriving just a minute before the game began, the scene in the bar felt like a mirage. All I saw were people wearing Falcons jerseys, of players old and new. Was it the Bud Ice talking, or did this place actually exist? And why did it take me so long to find her? Sitting with my ever-growing crew of Atlanta-expat loved ones, as close to the televisions as we could, we grew more and more excited as the game began and a field goal + touchdown + field goal + touchdown first half produced a 20-0 lead. Normally, this was the point at which I would begin to worry. As much as I'd like to pretend that the outside world hasn't affected me, nightmares of Matt Ryan's playoff failures and talk of the team’s inflated record had seeped into my brain. Up until that point, any and all overconfident proclamations that I made about the Falcons were exercises in hiding fear. When I woke up on Sunday, that was all gone. The Falcons were going to beat the Seahawks because they are my team and because they are the best team in the NFL. The doubt was gone. When the Seahawks scored a touchdown to make it 20-7, I was still good. Aggressively stress-eating, but still confident. That feeling only increased as the Falcons scored another touchdown to regain their 20-point lead going into the fourth quarter. It was at this point that everything bad that could happen happened. Twenty-one Seahawks points in 14 Earth minutes, with a Matt Ryan interception sprinkled in for good measure. With 31 seconds left, the Atlanta Falcons were down 28-27. Staring at the television, face in hat, hat on bar — thus, transitively, face on bar — all I could think of was a video I had watched not 24 hours earlier. I'd watched this video, of the Falcons making the Super Bowl, due in large part to that Gary Anderson miss, as a form of pumping myself up and remembering what it felt like to feel unadulterated joy. But now, with the Falcons down a point after being up by three scores, the clip’s unforeseen effect was coming back to haunt me. It wasn’t the Falcons’ victory I aligned with. It was the Vikings’ misery. "It has become one of the mythic moments in sports history in this town." "'98 was the season. All the stars had aligned." "When you have the perfect storm that this was — that perfect season, your Hall of Fame kicker, you're at home, you're in a dome, you've led the whole game — and you miss. And then you end up losing. It's pretty tough to top all those factors together."I didn't know what to do. I was only about five hours into this new-look, highly emotional sports fandom. I looked over at my friend, colleague, fellow Atlanta expat, and (most importantly) sports fan Lang Whitaker, who seemed to see the fear in my face. “We're fine,” he said. “Matt Ryan, 31 seconds, and two timeouts? We're fine.” For some reason I believed him. Never before that Sunday would I have done so. Typically, I operate under the guise of practicality. I hedge my bets. I act so as not to have my words come back to haunt me. Down with 30 seconds left, normally I would have been in reputation damage-control mode, thinking of excuses along the lines of "I mean, whatever. #GoAtlantaHawks." Not anymore. For the first time, if the Falcons lost, I felt like I lost. And I couldn't have that. So, with 25 seconds left, after a great Jacquizz Rodgers return, Matt Ryan got the ball and made two passes to get the Falcons within field goal range. The bar, which had gone quiet but had yet to become defeated, suddenly felt like the Georgia Dome. The whiskey shots ordered after the Seahawks' 28th point were suddenly looking less like vials of gasoline and more like trophies. With no timeouts and 13 seconds left, Falcons coach Mike Smith brought out kicker Matt Bryant. I looked up to the sky. I had to talk with someone. I don't know who it was, maybe it was God, maybe it was Melissa, the woman upstairs who told me about this bar, but all I knew was that I needed something, because this was it. The ball left Bryant’s foot and veered to the right, but even as Pete Carroll called timeout and everyone around explained the fallacy of icing the kicker, I thought for a moment that the Falcons had lost, and my heart sunk to a depth I didn't know was possible. But it didn't count. And then Matt Bryant walked out again. I screamed. I teared up. I jumped on things. The Seahawks still had an opportunity, but it all came down to a Russell Wilson Hail Mary, which did land in the hands of a wide receiver — one who played for the other team. I screamed. I teared up. I jumped on things. And then I ran through the bar, eventually getting accidentally punched in the nose, which just made me all-out cry. I couldn't have been happier. I didn't even know I had these emotions, but here they were for all to see. To win was amazing, but the realization that I was finally a sports fan is what really sent me over the emotional deep end. This was now my team, and, for better or worse, I'm stuck with them for the rest of my life. Not just geographically stuck. Emotionally stuck. I never thought I'd get here, but here I was. For years, since moving to New York, I've mocked the MSG television channel (and those who love it) for seemingly existing to show memories from the 1994 Rangers and Knicks seasons. They were great successes, yes, with the former winning it all and the latter coming up just short, but this was almost 20 years ago. I've long been bewildered at why footage from these seasons — sometimes just normal, unremarkable regular-season games — is always on. My thoughts on this were all I could think about as I stayed up past 2 a.m. for my fourth helping of SportsCenter. I needed to relive it. I needed to see Rodgers run over the Seahawks defense again, and to react to it like it was my first time. I needed to remember what it felt like when it was slipping away, and then what it felt like when the clock finally hit zero. And I needed to hear Stuart Scott say, in reference to the Falcons, "but one win away from the Super Bowl." I now understood why they cared. I understood, because I knew I'd be thinking about this game, and this day, for the rest of my life. And I knew I wouldn’t forget a single detail. The next few weeks will decide if I think back on this year like a 1994 Knicks or Rangers fan, but either way, what happened Sunday will never leave me. It took me 25 years, but I've finally arrived. Sports, thanks for having me. It feels great to be here.
  9. Halfway through the first section. Central point, the Bears were very lucky, recovering 5 out of 5 fumbles (4 of which came at crucial times). Worth a read. Link
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