Emmitt Smith, Marshawn Lynch & the Demise of the Superstar Running Back

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In 1996 the stars aligned for Emmitt Smith. Then 27 years old and among the NFL’s best running backs, Smith had just led the Dallas Cowboys to their second straight Super Bowl title and in return inked a record-setting eight-year deal. The package, worth a total of $63 million, converts to nearly $12 million a year in today’s dollars.

  Like Smith then, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is among the top two or three at his position heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl. Like Smith, the 28-year-old is on the brink of leading his franchise to a second straight championship and has accumulated a career total of 2033 rushing attempts – 26 more than Smith had after winning the 1996 Super Bowl.

  But don’t expect Lynch, who earned $6.5 million this season, to benefit from a similar windfall whether Seattle wins or loses the Super Bowl to slightly favored New England, according to betting odds in William Hill. Despite Lynch’s once in a generation talent, and despite his marketability skyrocketing through the surly, rogue attitude he’s adopted with the media, he’s on the wrong side of history.

At every level of football, teams rely on a lead running back far less to provide yards than even 15 years ago.  While the NFL’s very best teams still boast potent ground games, they have increasingly divvied their carries between dual-threat quarterbacks and a host of younger, cheaper running backs. In terms of yard production, Super Bowl teams’ top running backs have played progressively smaller roles within their teams’ seasons since the late 1990s. The trend has played out in the big game itself, where a running back hasn’t won Super Bowl MVP since 1998.

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  NB – Total offensive yards from each of the past 70 Super Bowl teams’ entire seasons, not just their Super Bowl games. “Top” running back defined by the tailback or fullback with the most rushing yards during the season.  

Seattle’s Super Bowl opponent has become an industry leader in the “running back by committee” approach. The New England Patriots in recent years have eschewed investing in a single running back in favor of giving big money to the likes of quarterback Tom Brady and defensive back Darrelle Revis. The Patriots have fielded three Super Bowl teams since 2004 and none of those teams has featured a running back with more than 840 yards on the year. This season, the Patriots have deployed a rotation of four running backs with none going over 412 rushing yards. The highest-paid Patriot running back, Shane Vereen, checks in around No. 30 on a team salary ranking.

Marshawn Lynch, of course, is an outlier in many ways. So far he’s bucked almost all trends involving declining productivity with marquee backs in their late 20s. Still, even through his success, we see seeds of another reason for the position’s demise.

Lynch has thrived, along with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, in a zone-read system  that pressures opposing defenses to make split-second decisions on which gifted runner to target. The system has also been used with success at lower levels, and has been a factor in no running backs being taken in the last two NFL Draft first rounds. Some college coaches have been exploiting the surplus of college-ready passers and pass-catchers at the high school ranks to find athletes whom they can convert into tailbacks, then installing zone-read options or zone running games that often require “less-varied skillset from running backs and only average speed,” SI.com’s Robert Klemko wrote. “The NFL consequence? When teams look at running backs, they don’t know what they’re getting.”

“The devaluing of running backs has something to do with some of the offenses that are being run in college,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn told Klemko. “There’s a big group that are part of the zone-read world, where maybe they’re not getting the ball in the backfield and handing it off to a guy and saying, ‘Watch what this dude can do.’ ”

“Beast Mode” proves these words still apply to today’s NFL every time the surly running back blasts down the sideline, ricocheting off defenders like the Millennium Falcon in an asteroid belt. But it happens far less frequently than it did in a time not so long ago.
1980x1100_SOE_Starwars_l3yoolcq_3fqddaar@2x
                                        Not Yoda, ya’ll. (Via SportsOnEarth.com)

The Civil War Andrew Luck Portrait to End All Civil War Andrew Luck Portraits

Ok – I lied…

If only Arizonan Ryan Fitzpatrick hadn’t attended a Yankee school like Harvard, this concept would really fly.

NFL Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal to be Auctioned Alongside 50 Units of Botox

Life's not quite a breeze for Lorenzo, but it's close.
Life’s not quite a breeze for Lorenzo, but it’s close.

Few professional athletes have had as much success jumping from one franchise to the next as four-time Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal. For 11 consecutive years, playing for the likes of Tennessee, San Diego, New York, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, he blocked for a 1,000-yard running back. He might have been the greatest journeyman in NFL history.

While Neal’s career accomplishments put him in rarefied air, the diversity and number of his activities since retiring after the 2008 season place him in a class all his own. On Saturday night, thanks to the Clovis North High School Bronco Foundation’s fundraiser, he takes the next step in a five-year journey that grows more fantastic by the day.

Neal, as well as the San Diego Chargers [12-1 favorites to win the 2015 Super Bowl], are item No. 7 on a list of live auction items that have been lassoed up by the foundation and donors for Clovis North’s annual Stampede:

“7 Priceless Football Weekend for 4 with Lorenzo Neal and the San Diego Chargers: watch Saturday’s pre-game practice, tour the locker room. and take pictures with your favorite Chargers. Receive executive parking pass for Sunday, attend the Chargers’ executive tailgate with Lorenzo Neal, and then go into the game –November 23 vs. the Rams.”

The list of potential prizes for supporters of this central Californian school doesn’t end with the chance to chill with Neal, the opportunity the feel the fire of fantasy football stud and MVP candidate Phillip Rivers from but feet away, get half a side of Organic beef butchered to one’s specifications or a beer Kegerator. Thanks to generous sponsors such as California Industrial Rubber Company, Inc. and Fresno dermatologist Kathleen Behr, silent auction items like botox are on the table too. Dr. Behr has provided 50 units of the cosmetic toxin for the evening’s festivities.

So, how exactly did Neal find himself here? Was it divine providence, or mere caprice, that led him from paving paths for Adrian Murrell, Warrick Dunn, Eddie George and Corey Dillon to being sold at the Panoche Creek River Ranch off North Highway 41?

The power to unravel this koan is beyond me.

I do know this: “Low Daddy” has become an entrepreneurial Krakatoa whose powers may just be unfathomable. He has spewed more revenue-generating and philanthropic lava, in more directions, than most minds can grasp.

Poppycock, you say?

The 43-year-old’s unofficial c.v. since retiring says otherwise. In it, we get some standard retired-player coaches’ clinic type stuff here, and a lot of NFL broadcast and radio color commentary there, but it gets pretty non-predictable in a hurry.

In the last five years, Lorenzo has also been:

– Hanging with comedian Adam Corolla, talking door hinges, flipping properties and why serving time sometimes isn’t all that bad.

– Taking care of his 1971 and ’72 Cutlass Supremes

– Headlining an apparently short-lived reality TV show project called “2nd Shot at Glory,” packaged as “American Idol” meets “The Biggest Loser” meets America’s most beloved pastime… football.” The show was to involve Neal and at least three other former NFL players supervising the efforts of pro football prospects.

2nd shot at Glory

“Participants can be from every position in the NFL. Can you imagine a kicker winning? – the outrage, the pandemonium!,” we read on the show’s Web site. “Finally, you can have your 2nd Shot at Glory by competing against other men from all across America for money, glory and most importantly, the opportunity for a spot on an NFL roster.”

“The winner receives $500,000 cash prize and a guaranteed contract with a professional agent to negotiate their first contract.”

– Overseeing another apparently short-lived project called Fan Foods Inc., a grocery store with a not-sizzling Facebook presence.

– Getting the word out on breast cancer

– Providing for his children, including a daughter who has suffered seizures and speech delay

Helping Native and aboriginal youth stay active

– Running a non-profit called Worldwide Athletes, LLC. Purpose = All about getting kids access to higher education.

Helping students at Fresno High School set and achieve goals through his “Changing a Generation Foundation.”

– Charging up to $2,000 per hour – with occasional half-off discounts – to speak to kids in a motivational manner.

Hawking a workout device called The Body Stretcher

– Wearing  a CrossFit T-shirt at a CrossFit gym grand opening

– Endorsing the StreetStrider, said to be the world’s first indoor/outdoor elliptical cross trainer

loneal

– Being a professor at Football University

– Helping run an anti drunk-driving service called Safe Ride Solutions. “Basically, it’s like having a AAA card for partying,” Neal told Yahoo Sports. “You call an 800 number, and an off-duty police officer comes to you and drives you home in your own car, no questions asked. It’s totally confidential. When we pitched it to the NFL, they gave us their approval and told us it was OK to shop it to teams.”

– Crashing his truck into a pole after getting drunk on the Fourth of July. Nobody was hurt. “[He] just ran off the road, struck a pole,” officer Axel Reyes told KFSN-TV. “Nothing real major about it.”

Continue reading NFL Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal to be Auctioned Alongside 50 Units of Botox

NFL Fullback Extraordinaire Lorenzo Neal Fought a Sumo Champion

It’s not any old NFL legend who has traveled to Japan and intentionally walked into the path of a human Mack truck, but Lorenzo Neal – in case you didn’t know – isn’t just any NFL legend.

During his career at Fresno State in the early 1990s, he was an All-Big West running back as well as an All-American wrestler. At one point he ranked No. 3 in the nation.

Naturally then, the sport of sumo wrestling intrigued Neal as collegian during a trip to Japan for a now-defunct football bowl. He wondered how his skills stacked up against those who outweighed him by 100-200 pounds. And then Neal went beyond wondering, as he recounted to Fox Sports journalist LaDainian Tomlinson:

I was wrapped in a fabric thong and spun around. (It was pretty interesting!) I was given a nice tug (on the loin cloth) before stepping into the ring and thought to myself, “OK, I don’t know if I want to be out here (for very) long.”

I went through three wrestlers and then faced the big boy, Akebono. (Akebono was the sumo champion at the time.) It wasn’t fun and it didn’t go well. Akebono hit me a couple of times in the throat, so I quickly jumped out of the ring and stated that I would stick to playing football.

Not a bad decision. After focusing on football and establishing himself as a premier fullback in his 17-year NFL career, Neal no longer competitively wrestles. But although he doesn’t hit the mat like he did back in the day, he still sometimes finds himself in unique positions.

To wit, the below email sent from California’s central valley, where so many Arkies and Okies migrated looking for a land of plenty amid the ravages of the Great Depression. Even today, parts of that land are still as fertile as any in the world. From it flows forth a cornucopia of fine foods, wines, services, cabo timeshares, Botox units and muscular former Chargers.

Item No. 7 below is proof:

September 29, 2014

Bronco Buster News:
Stampede Promises
Great Time, Ya’ll!

It’s a Stampede!

The Bronco Stampede is stompin’ through this Saturday night (starting at 5:30pm) and have we got a round up of great items in store for you!

From a gorgeous Dessert Sale to a Silent Auction with one-of-a-kind items, this is the best bronco bustin’ event the Stampede has ever seen: don’t miss dancing, dining and drinks under the stars at beautiful Panoche Creek River Ranch.

If you haven’t purchased your tickets, there’s still time. They are $40 until today at midnight, but prices go up to $45 through Saturday. Click here for all the info and to buy them now.

Lasso a Dream – 
Preview Live Auction Items Now!

The Bronco Foundation and our generous donors have lassoed up fun and unique items for the Live Auction! Starting at 7:30pm, bid high to benefit our Broncos and win these fabulous donated items:

1   One CIF Sports Pass: includes entry for two into any high school sporting event in California through June 2015 (excluding play-off games).

2    California Wine Locker with beautiful wine barrel Lazy Susan

3    Beer Bash in Your Backyard: A beer Kegerator and Keg of Tioga Sequoia craft beer

4    Steak Lover’s Dream: Half a Side of Organic Beef – butchered to your specifications

5    Stunning Square Shaped Diamond Earrings: 1.0 carat weight of diamonds

6    Exclusive CNEC 2015 Graduation Package: Reserved front row seating for 8 with 2 reserved parking spots

7    Priceless Football Weekend for 4 with Lorenzo Neal and the San Diego Chargers: watch Saturday’s pre-game practice, tour the locker room. and take pictures with your favorite Chargers.  Receive executive parking pass for Sunday, attend the Chargers’ executive tailgate with Lorenzo Neal, and then go into the game –November 23 vs. the Rams.

8    9′ by 12′ All-Steel Shed: features roll-up door and fiberglass skylights with free delivery (within reason) on October 6, 2014

9    Private Plane One-Day Adventure for up to 6 people

10    Shopping Spree Weekend: Two nights at the San Francisco Fairmont Heritage Place and a $500 Visa gift card

Please visit our Foundation webpage for more details about each item.

If you can’t make it to the event but still want to bid, we can provide you with a proxy bidder.  Contact us at broncofoundation@gmail.com to make arrangements. 

Thanks to all our Sponsors!

AOS –

Automated Office Systems

Kathleen L. Behr, M.D.

Boman & Associates Insurance Agency

Borga Steel Buildings & Components

Caglia Environmental

California Industrial Rubber Company, Inc./The Brust Family

Catalyst Marketing Company

Central Valley Labels

Donaghy Sales

LinkUs Corporation

Panoche Creek Packing

Sam’s Italian Deli and Market

SunPower by Quality Home Services

Silent Auction
Highlights!

Don’t miss our many spectacular silent auction items!  Some highlights:
*  Eat Street Bistro foodtruck catered dinner for 40   
*  Hell’s Kitchen:  VIP seating for 4 to a Hell’s Kitchen dinner service taping and VIP lounge access
*  Lasik Surgery: 
performed at Eye-Q

*  Oahu, Hawaii Timeshare Week:  2 bedroom, 14th floor penthouse beach villa at Ko Olina Villas Resort

* Cabo Timeshare Week:  Luxury suite at Pueblo Bonito Rose Resort and Spa
*  24 Harris Ranch Tri-tip roasts
 

*  Weekend stay at a cabin in Shaver

*  UFC Fight Tickets
 
*  50 units of Botox: from Dr. Kathleen Behr
*  Weekend stay at a condo in San Simeon, CA
 
*  Fine wines:  an unbelievable collection at our wine auction

Tying Brandon Allen, Chris Weinke & Zack Greinke to the Big Funny

weinke 1weinke2

Click on 53:44 mark of below podcast now. Ask questions later.

 

On Saturday, Brandon Allen completed 18 of 31 attempts for 175 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. In helping  his unranked Hogs hang with No. 6 Auburn through the third quarter, the Arkansas quarterback played an even stronger game his numbers indicate. His receivers dropped a few easy ones, including a touchdown, and the interception came after his arm was hit as a  result of a breakdown in protection, not bad decision making.

Overall, despite the Razorbacks’ defensive breakdowns in the second half of a 45-21 road loss, Hog fans can be excited about the progress Allen has shown bouncing back from an injury-riddled stretch in the middle of last season. His confidence was at an all-time high, his footwork and accuracy demonstrably improved.

Some of the credit here can go to Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman Trophy award winner who tutored Allen over the course of a few days earlier this summer in Florida. “I had a lot of problems with my balance in the pocket,” Allen told Razorback Nation. “Making a lot of off balanced throws and things that were hurting my accuracy. So we did a lot of balance work. A lot of bag work. A lot of foot drills.”

Weinke should also receive some credit for his name’s part in the one of the funniest sports skits you will hear in the latter part of this summer. The aural glory starts below, at the 53:19 mark of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast. The skit’s premise exhibits solid humor fundamentals by matching the normally humdrum world of sports award show introductions with an unexpectedly Seussian-cum-Clockwork-Orange type twist.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/164747668″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

The outcome: the most imaginative concatenations of the names “Mookie Wilson,” “Melky Cabrera,” ” “Zack Greinke, “Mark Lemke,” and “Pokey Reese” I’ve heard.

But the “key” to making the conceit really work was balance. It was too baseball-heavy, and needed a well-known name from America’s most popular sport injected into this particular Greinke/Mookie/Melky/Lemke/Pokey milieu to push it to the next level.

So, thank you, Chris Weinke. From lovers of Hog football and comedic consonance everywhere.

(You’re pretty cool, too, Dokie Williams)

A History of the N Word that isn’t Black and White

 

This pioneer's life deserves a closer look
This pioneer’s life deserves a closer look

Next week, we’ll learn whether the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s proposal to ban the N word in the NFL passed. The rule, which would cost teams 15 yards per violation, will be taken under further review by NFL owners at their annual meeting in Florida starting Monday.

The name “Fritz Pollard” has been leveraged by a non-profit organization to push for a change that Fritz Pollard himself might have not supported.But there’s some evidence Pollard, who in the 1920s became the first black NFL quarterback and coach (as well as the first black to play in the Rose Bowl), was O.K. with the word when it was used in non-hateful ways or in artistic endeavors. This runs counter to the beliefs of current leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, who believe the word should be banned regardless where and how it’s used in the NFL work place. “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room,” chairman John Wooten told CBS Sports.  “Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

Harry Carson, another Fritz Pollard Alliance leader, told SI.com that those who use the n-word as a sign of solidarity have “have no sense of history.” He added: “I find it very disheartening that in our society today we’re having a debate about the n-words being used as a term of endearment.”

Carson isn’t altogether accurate here. That’s why a closer look at the world in which Fritz Pollard lived is merited.

Nearly a century ago, a black Yale student used the N word in way that evokes how it’s used among many blacks today. The student, William Ashby, attended a Brown game at Yale to watch the much hyped Fritz Pollard play for the visiting Brown team. As the game got underway, Pollard – as usual – was pelted with racist taunts by the home side’s white fans. N words rained down on him. Opponents tried to maim him. But also, like usual, Pollard started dominating – and then a curious thing happened during one of his punt returns, according to Pollard’s biography. While Pollard ran, Yale students yelled “Catch that nigger. Kill that nigger” while Ashby – who was sitting with other African-Americans on the Brown side –  jumped up and yelled “Run, nigger, run. Go, Fritz, go.”

This appears to be evidence – which I will bear out – that the word was not always used in a derogatory way at the beginning of the 20th century. It appears blacks sometimes used the word in a positive way among themselves, as happens now. I don’t have direct evidence of Pollard using the N word himself but have found a few facts that make it less likely he was troubled by blacks who used it. In 1933, he played a significant role in a movie as controversial in large segments of black culture then as Wooten’s proposal is now. The movie was “Emperor Jones,” a story about an ambitious Pullman porter based on a Eugene O’Neill play. It starred former NFL player Paul Robeson, a college friend of Pollard’s whom he served as a personal assistant and trainer. Pollard played a bit part on screen as a pianist.

The movie was controversial among many whites because it starred a black man. But it was divisive among many writers in black newspaper circles because it made extensive use of the N word, quoting verbatim from the O’Neill play. Black columnists encouraged readers to boycott the movie. If Pollard despised the casual use of the N word in entertainment, as Wooten does, I don’t think Pollard would have been involved with the project.

The University of Arkansas Professor who Created a Sports Dystopia

roller ball

More than 40 years ago, around the time public outcry was peaking about brutality in football, a University of Arkansas English professor attended a basketball game at Barnhill Arena*. There, with the Razorbacks trailing, a fight broke out. It was, apparently, quite a vicious squabble, so much so it inspired the Hogs to roar back for a win.

It also inspired the professor, William Harrison, to wonder just how violent sports in the future may become. He was moved to pen “a little experimental story.”

That story, “Roller Ball Murder,” published in Esquire and inspired the screenplays for two movies. The story centers on a highly popular futuristic sport involving balls and big, strong men flying at each other at increasingly high velocities. Rules are changed to make the game more violent and drive up ratings. The result: higher rates of in-game injuries, and frequent death. Crowd noise for the first movie, released in 1975, was actually recorded during a live game at Barnhill Arena.

The NFL, of course, is currently changing its rules to make the game ostensibly more safe in light of the concussion debate. Yet while it focuses on concussions, the rate of musculoskeletal injuries keeps rising as players get bigger, stronger and faster.
William Harrison passed away last year, but his vision of a dark sports future should not be forgotten. He raised an important question in the 1970s that is just as perinent now: Where are American sports – in particular, football – headed? If its players keep getting bigger and faster, it cannot help but get more dangerous – no matter how much fancy equipment is stuffed into their lockers.
This is a topic I explore in my piece below for the Daily Beast:

Long before studies of former NFL players’ brain tissue shook America’s football-industrial complex to its stem, the sport had undergone other crises involving player safety. In the 1970s, no microscope was needed to see neck and spine injuries among players of all levels were escalating fast. One main culprit was the hard-shell helmet that had essentially become a spearing weapon. Too many coaches were teaching players a head-first form of tackling that left a path of mangled bodies in its wake, sending insurance premiums through the roof.Rollerball, a movie about a dystopian society fixated with an ultra-violent sport, became an international hit in 1975 and triggered more debate on brutality in sports within the general public. A former Penn State University president became so worried about the direction football was headed he made a plea in the form of a prediction to Joe Paterno, the former Nittany Lions head coach. “Joe, if football doesn’t do something about the injuries, soccer will be our national sport in 10 years.”

This didn’t happen, of course.

It is Manning, not Messi, Sherman, not Suarez, who dominate the headlines before Sunday’s massively anticipated Super Bowl. Denver’s greatest passing offense of all time is on a collision course with Seattle and its most fearsome pass defense in recent history. This here is tectonic heat, a contrast hitting at the heart of why we love sport in the first place. The NFL has most of me in its grasp for this one.

And yet, there is unease. Questions of whether the game’s brutality has gone too far persist. In terms of quantity and severity, there are signs we are on the cusp of the most violent Super Bowl yet.

The violence and danger of football extends far past professional stadiums.

Start with the increasing size, strength, and speed of players at almost all positions that has contributed to a rise in overall injuries over the last decade—from 2,623 in 2004 to 3,126 in 2012. Kam Chancellor, Seattle’s all-league safety, stands 6’3”, 232 pounds—specs that in the 1950s could have belonged to a defensive tackle. Nobody mixes mass, acceleration, and aggression quite like Chancellor, who appears to have the perfect mindset for somebody paid to do stuff like this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78qF72JwJwA&w=560&h=315]

“When I go out there, all of these hard hits and laying dudes out, that’s just my passion for the game,” he told the Seattle Times. “That’s just showing how much I love this game.”

*I haven’t been able to find an original interview source in which Harrison cites Barnhill as the site of the basketball game, but I have found secondary sources like this. Plus, it just makes sense. Very few English and creative writing professors bother to follow a team on the road.

Alvin Bailey, Ross Rasner, Tarvaris Jackson, Sean McGrath, Ty Powell & the Super Bowl

Ex Hog and Bronco Ross Rasner sure knows how to get after it.
Ex Hog and Bronco Ross Rasner sure knows how to get after it. Via Instagram
20140129_215312
McDonald (upper left) with other 2004 all-metro players such as Darren McFadden (#5) (via Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Heading into this Sunday’s Super Bowl, there appears to be three players with Arkansas ties on the rosters of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. The one who will likely play the biggest role in the game itself is Clinton McDaniel, a Jacksonville native/pass rusher extraordinaire who specializes in collapsing the pocket on third downs. Learn more about him in my Sporting Life Arkansas profile here.

Offensive lineman Alvin Bailey also looks to get some burn in the big game. The former Razorback left school early last spring, went undrafted, but has carved out a nice niche for himself in Seattle. He threw a key block in the NFC Championship game to spring running back Marshawn Lynch for a 40-yard touchdown run. Those points proved to be the winning margin in a game which finished 23-17.

“I’m having the time of a lifetime,” Bailey told The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel.

He’s made no starts. But Bailey played about a dozen snaps in the NFC Championship Game as an extra lineman. And he cleared out 49er safety Donte Whitner, allowing Lynch to score and put the Seahawks in control.

Bailey said leaving Arkansas wasn’t just a good decision, “it was a great decision.”

“I thought I was going to get drafted. Things didn’t work out that way. But I made it to the Seahawks, we’re in the Super Bowl now. I don’t regret anything.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atqhbbUnmAM&w=560&h=315]

Btw, here’s a nice KARK interview with Bailey’s gargantuan uncle, who’s livin’ large in Little Rock and is the main reason Bailey chose to attend Arkansas in the first place.

Tarvaris Jackson

Jackson hardly looked like a future pro during his two seasons as Razorback quarterback in 2002 and 2003. He had plenty “physical tools,” sure, but so does every other QB who starts at least one game in the SEC. What he lacked was the maturity to put it all together, and the patience to see it through in Fayetteville. Ten years after he transferred to Alabama State, he becomes the most unlikely former Razorback quarterback to be on a Super Bowl roster only a couple years after becoming the most unlikely ex Hog to throw for 3,000 yards in the NFL.

To me, it doesn’t matter that he likely won’t play a snap. Or that in the last week he has inspired such headlines as “Tarvaris Jackson’s Super Bowl Preparation is Sad and Boring.” But laugh not. Appreciate how amazing it is he’s almost been in the League for a full decade at QB, given how uninspiring his UA days were. It would be like time traveling to the NFL circa 2022 only to find Brandon Mitchell there as a savvy backup QB to Rafe Peavey in the Cowboy’s long-awaited return to the Super Bowl.

The Left Overs

None of the following guys with Arkansas college ties are on the rosters for Denver or Seattle. But don’t discount the part they played earlier in the season sharpening their teammates for the long haul.

1. Ross Rasner – Ras-Nasty sure could deliver a hit in his Hog days in 2009-2012, whether on special teams, as linebacker or safety. He wasn’t the most technically sound decleater we’ve ever seen on the Hill, so it wasn’t a surprise when he went unpicked in the 2013 Draft. Still, there was some cause for optimism when Denver signed Rasner as a free agent last spring and brought him to camp. Even if rookie stuff like this was happening:

khyyz_rasner_670089

Unfortunately, in the end, the burden of beating out veteran safeties like Quentin Jammer and Mike Adams for a final roster spot was too much to bear. Rasner was cut on August 31, 2013. He hasn’t yet resigned with another team, but if you think this is a man feeling down on his luck, these swag-tastic Instagram updates will have you thinking otherwise:

ras nasty

2. Sean McGrath

The 6-5, 247-pound McGrath is one of the most physically imposing college players to come out of Clark County, Ark. since Cowboys great Cliff Harris. While Harris played for Ouachita Baptist University, McGrath played in 2010 and 2011 for Henderson State after transferring from Eastern Illinois.

The Illinois native found the culture change tough at first, as he shared with ESPNW:

After two seasons as an EIU Panther, McGrath was dismissed for a violation of team rules… He got some help finding his next step from his assistant coach at EIU, Jeff Hoover, who would die in a car accident just a few months later.

“I was fortunate,” McGrath said of getting a second chance. “The late Jeff Hoover hooked me up with Coach [Scott] Maxfield down at Henderson State U, and bada-bing, bada-boom, I’m in the Bible Belt. Arkadelphia, Arkansas.”

Sounds made up, but it’s a real place. There were, of course, a few growing pains for McGrath, who adjusted to the South while sitting out the 2009 season.

“It’s a different place,” he said. “When I first got down there I didn’t know what a dry county was. Needless to say we had to get that changed. Political process went into effect and, you know. Let’s just say it was wet when we left.”

By 2010 the students of Henderson State were getting their buzz on and McGrath was back on track, catching 55 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He was injured for much of his senior year and went undrafted, but he refused to give up on his dream to go pro.

Last year, McGrath played as a tight end on Seattle’s practice squad for four months before finally being called up. McGrath played well and improved over the offseason. By last spring, he’d worked his way into being the Seahawks’ second-string tight end , and sent some Seattle sports opinionators into a caffeinated craze along the way. One blogger even imagined McGrath’s role in the waning minutes of a (then) hypothetical Super Bowl:

Wilson snaps the ball.  Broncos linebacker Von Miller reads the run coming his way, and attacks the line. Oddly, he finds himself moving backwards despite his legs churning forwards. Seahawks tight end Sean McGrath is walking him back off the line. It starts slowly, but McGrath gains momentum and has completely overpowered Miller by this point. Miller is a full five yards beyond the line of scrimmage when McGrath assassinates his dignity.  [emphasis mine]  He is no longer moving backwards because McGrath has planted him on his back.

McGrath was cut by Seattle on August 31, but soon picked up Kansas City. He ended up starting nine games for the Chiefs, tallying 26 receptions for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. And he would never, ever, think of assassinating the dignity of a good locker room interview:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCBetSs3ROI&w=560&h=315]

Keep this man away from the “Discovery Channel”!

3. Ty Powell

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll loves his linebacker/safeties fast, physical, big and snarling. That’s why he chose the 6’2″, 248-pound Powell in the seventh round, with the 231 overall pick, in the 2013 Draft. Powell had been plenty impressive at Harding University, where he was ranked the 17th best outside linebacker in the nation (inc. Division I) after a 2012 season that included 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and four blocked kicks [This, btw, may be a single season Arkansas college football record. Perhaps Hog Dan Skipper will break it…]

Powell says in the below video he believed he could have gone as high as the third or fourth round, so when he dropped to seventh he was left with a bit of a “chip on my shoulder”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F85esPoPyGE&w=560&h=315]

If Powell had a chip on his shoulder then, you know he had a veritable tortilla shell on the shoulder after being waived by the Seahawks this past September. Buffalo snapped the linebacker up the following month, though, and Powell finished with nine tackles in the the last four games of the season.

P.S. Kicker Eddie Carmona, who nailed a 62-yd FG at Harding, signed w/ Oakland in 2011, 2012
P.S. Kicker Eddie Carmona, who nailed a 62-yd FG at Harding, signed w/ Oakland in 2011, 2012

Ranking Peyton Manning & Tom Brady Vs All-Time Best QBs

BradyManning

At this moment, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are near-unanimous Top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history. Some will knock Brady for winning Super Bowls only on teams which operated during New England’s “Spygate” era. That may be so, but since the season that scandal broke – 2007 – Brady has still led his team to two Super Bowls and put up historic numbers. Likewise, Manning has been criticized for only winning one of two Super Bowls despite surpassing Dan Marino as the best regular season quarterback in NFL history. Still, Big Peyt led his team to ONE Super Bowl title – which counts for something. Not as much as two, but he deserves a spot in the Top 10 alongside the likes of Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and, yes, Drew Brees.

But for every modern player that enters fans’ conversations a near-lock Top 10er, someone from the olden days has to be knocked down a notch. This is a topic I explore in a piece for the Daily Beast:

The question of whether either quarterback has a legit claim to being the all-time best remains, though. The answer may seem clearer after the game, but will again muddle in the coming years as time erodes fans’ perceptions. Most of today’s NFL fans would agree Brady and Manning deserve to be ranked somewhere in the league’s all-time Top 10 quarterbacks. But Brady and Manning could not have already ascended into that pantheon unless older all-time greats like Otto Graham, Bart Starr and Sammy Baugh were knocked down a few notches.

Baugh, who starred for the Redskins in the 1940s, is the only player to lead the NFL in passing, punting, and intercepting in the same season. That’s pretty awesome, but unfortunately for Baugh’s reputation, he’s ancient history to most NFL fans. Nobody mentions his name anymore “because nobody’s seen him,” Joe Montana said in 2012. “It’s always about what’s happening now.”

It’s difficult to imagine, but to some future generation Manning’s career tally of 491 touchdowns and 219 interceptions will look as unimpressive as Baugh’s 187 TDs/203 INTs career total looks to us now. There will be quarterbacks faster, stronger and quicker than their predecessors who will in the coming decades earn teammates’ loyalties, shatter today’s records, win at least three Super Bowls and surpass Manning and Brady on most fans’ Top 10 lists. The young, explosive dual-threat stars squaring off in the NFC Championship Game—Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson—remind us Manning and Brady’s time at the top of their profession is limited.

For proof of how fluid all-time rankings in sports can be, and how current generation-centric most of us are, look at the below list compiled by Roland Lazenby for his book “100 Greatest Quarterbacks.” Most people would still have Montana, Bradshaw, Unitas, and maybe Staubach and Marino in their list, but you won’t see the others very often. Not since John Elway, Brett Favre and Steve Young have broke onto the scene.

Circa 1988
Book Circa 1988

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