Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Category: Professional Football

Super Bowl LI: One Month Later

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

In the days following Super Bowl LI, my mind was racing with reflections, observations, and questions. I was in shock and still trying to grasp the gravity of what had happened. That moment almost forced me back to writing after my hiatus, but I decided to catch my breath and reflect on the game during the following weeks. Now, one month later, I can finally take a step back and work through my emotions during the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.

* * *

Leading up to the game, it felt like destiny and redemption were on the Patriots side. Deflategate had been the top Boston news story for a year and a half and the Pats began the season without their superstar QB Tom Brady thanks to a questionable (I’m being kind) 4-game suspension. The team played well without him (3-1) and when he returned in week 5, he was on a mission. He lit up the league and appeared to have an extra level of motivation (if that’s actually possible). In 12 regular season games, Brady finished with over 3,500 passing yards, 28 TDs (7th best in the NFL), and just 2 interceptions. He had the 5th best completion percentage in football (67.4%) and finished 2nd in the NFL MVP voting (just 4 votes behind his Super Bowl foe, Matt Ryan). Brady led the Pats through the playoffs with relative ease and into the biggest game of the season poised for success.

With Brady at the helm and excitement growing as the game grew near, I felt pretty confident as the ball was teed up for kickoff.  I was ready to finally have deflategate put to bed and watch Roger Goodell painfully smile as Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. All those happy feelings began to drift away when the game started and the dream of a 5th ring appeared to be slipping away in embarrassing blowout fashion.

Because I am a nauseatingly annoyingly optimist, I held a belief (although not strong) that this team could comeback, until the 8:36 mark in the 3rd quarter. After a weak drive to start the 2nd half resulting in a punt, Matt Ryan marched the Falcons down the field and threw a short 6-yard pass to RB Tevin Coleman for a TD, expanding their lead to 28-3. It was over. A 25-point deficit with 23 minutes left in the game is insurmountable. I could see the headlines in the papers the next day “Patriots Hopes Deflated”, “Patriots Embarrassed on the Biggest Stage”, “Patriots Redemption Tour Stopped Short”, and “Falcons Rip Patriots to Shreds” (yes, I know I’m a terrible headline writer…so sue me). Even the obnoxious pain-in-the-ass homer sports fan in me couldn’t see a way to victory and was giving up.

What followed next can only be described as the largest emotional roller coaster a sports fan can ever experience.

From the depths of despair, a tiny glimmer of hope began to emerge later in the 3rd quarter when RB James White caught a 5-yard TD pass from Brady. Some life. A heartbeat. Maybe they can at least make this game competitive. Then, just as quickly as the glimmer arrived, it left when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Was that not the perfect example of how the game had gone for the Pats? If they couldn’t even do the little things right, then there was certainly no chance of a huge comeback. The missed extra point error was compounded by the next play; a botched onside kick that Gostkowski himself ran into before it went 10 yards. No one knew it at the time, but the sequence of events following that botched kick would turn the game around for the Pats.

The Falcons began the drive essentially in field goal range, especially with their kicker, Matt Bryant‘s incredible leg.  So naturally, you would expect Atlanta to shorten the game by running and taking some time off the clock. Right? Wrong. They pass on first down to TE Austin Hooper for a 9-yard gain.  Ok, I’ll give them that one; a nice pass to pick up a solid chunk of yards while catching the defense off balance. Now they could stick to the ground game, waste some clock, and go to Mr. Automatic for a field goal to increase the lead to 22. Thankfully for the Pats, after a 2nd down run that resulted in a holding penalty on T Jake Matthews, the Falcons decided the passing game was the bees knees. After the penalty, 2nd down and long, the Falcons decide to try another pass to Hooper, but this time the result was basically no gain, bringing up 3rd down. Still in long field goal range, offensive coordinate Mike Shanahan dialed up another passing play that ended with Pats LB Kyle Van Noy and DE Trey Flowers planting Matty Ice into the turf for a massive sack that pushed Atlanta out of field goal range.

After that disaster of a possession from the Falcons, the slivers of hope began to grow and gain momentum. With 9:48 left, Gostkowski hit a short field goal to bring the deficit to 16 points (just 2 scores). Despite being frustrated with just a field goal, the optimist in me began to return. “This is just a 2 score game…How the hell is this just a 2 score game?” Just a little over a minute of game time later, my mood shifted from optimistic to legitimate excitement and anxiety. With Matt Ryan once again back to pass, LB Dont’a Hightower came around the edge and got a clean shot on him knocking the ball out, a fumble recovered by DT Alan Branch.  All of a sudden, it seemed like this comeback was a real possibility. All of the stars were beginning to align. Could this really be happening?

I don’t need to narrate the entire game, we all know what happened. The Pats went on to grab 2 scores and 2 2-pt conversions in the final 6 minutes of regulation to force OT in dramatic fashion. Once the game got to OT and the Pats won the coin toss, the game was over. Just like the 2004 Red Sox after they finished the incredible comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, no one was going to stop them from winning the championship at that point. I saw no way the Pats defense was getting back on the field. There has been no greater QB in football history with the game on the line than Tom Brady. As the Pats drove down field, my anxiety level was sky-high, despite feeling like the game was under control. When Super Bowl hero James White crossed the goal line to win the game, the emotional roller coaster was at it’s peak. From confidence, to sinking feelings of embarrassment, to hope re-emerging, to high-wire anxiety, to child-like joy, this game had it all. Heart attack city. It was so emotional and I was in such shock that it took until this past week, nearly a month later, to fully grasp what I witnessed on February 5th. That was the definition of a game to remember.

* * *

Jim Davis/Boston Globe

In the days following the game, a lot was made of where this sports moment ranks in the landscape of Boston sports lore. Boston fans have no shortage of amazing teams, memories, and comebacks to draw from, but for me, it was an easy choice: #2 behind the 2004 Red Sox. The 2004 Red Sox will likely never be surpassed in my mind. Breaking an 86-year curse and coming back from the brink of elimination in the ALCS against your most bitter rival is sports perfection and invoked an emotional reaction that sticks with me to this day. Besides the 2004 Red Sox, Super Bowl LI is without a doubt #2. As a game, most of it was not a particularly well-played game or entertaining to watch, but from midway in the 3rd quarter to the TD in OT, the mounting comeback is as an intriguing a story as there is in sports. The twists, turns, and big moments were almost too many to count. Add in a little deflategate redemption and the moment gains even more weight.

For some reason, the Patriots and Super Bowl dramatics go together like frosting and a cup cake. You can’t have one without the other.

The Ryan Fitzpatrick Jets Disaster

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

After 9 weeks of the NFL season, the AFC East is firmly in the control of the New England Patriots (7-1). They are 3 games up on the Miami Dolphins (4-4), Buffalo Bills (4-4) and 4 games up on the sad and pathetic New York Jets (3-6). The Jets were obviously hoping for better when they signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 1-year $12 million contract after a long and ugly stalemate this offseason. The Jets felt Fitzpatrick was the right person to lead this team to a solid season, but boy were they wrong. In typical fashion for the Jets, the Fitzpatrick signing is an absolute disaster in almost every way possible.

Through 9 games, 8 started, Fitzpatrick is ranked at or near the bottom in almost every statistical category. He has 8 TD passes compared to a whopping 13 interceptions (most in the NFL), including a historically bad 6 interception game against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 3. For perspective, he had 15 interceptions in 16 games last season and 8 in 12 games the year before. Fitzpatrick has the worst passing percentage of any qualified QB in the league (56.5%) and has just 220 yards/game (28th in the league). A sound $12 million investment?

From a Jets perspective, they can hang their hat on only offering Harvard educated Fitzpatrick a 1-year deal. They aren’t locked up long term with the worst QB in football and can move on next year. The only issue with that logic? Who’s their next QB? It’s certainly not going to be Geno Smith if they want to win football games.

I love watching the Jets disaster. They are just good enough to not get a top pick in the NFL draft, but bad enough to not contend in any real way. A rebuild takes a lot longer if you don’t sink like a rock and get a top player in the draft. Jets futility could become the norm over the next few years, so get used to it.

Vontaze Burfict Will Never Learn

Getty Images

Getty Images

At age 26, the reputation of Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict precedes him. By every definition of the word, he is a dirty player and has been his entire career. Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots is just another example of why Burfict should not be allowed to play in the NFL, especially if player safety is actually a concern for the NFL front office. On two occasions Sunday, Burfict took a shot at a Patriots player that had no impact on the play and with clear intent to harm.

Burfict’s list of on-field NFL transgressions is growing by the day. In 2015, he was fined 4 separate times for violating safety-related rules and began 2016 with a 3 game suspension thanks to a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers WR Antonio Brown in last year’s wild card game. Brown was knocked out and didn’t return. That hit and a previous history of ugly hits led to his suspension. Since 2012, Burfict has been fined $204,329 total for issues connected to player safety. His issues run much deeper than just in the NFL. In college at Arizona State Burfict had a rough junior season thanks to countless personal foul penalties and several rumors that he attacked a teammate. There was a good reason his draft stock fell from top 10 to undrafted. He is a talented player, but doesn’t understand the words control or restraint.

On Sunday, Burfict went low and took the legs out from Martellus Bennett away from the play. The pass was downfield to Danny Amendola, not near Bennett, yet he felt compelled to lunge at Bennett’s lower body. Regardless of whether he intended to harm or not, these are the hits the NFL is trying to remove from the game. After review of the tape however, that wasn’t even the worst transgression of the afternoon. During the 4th quarter, LeGarrette Blount plowed through the pile for a 1-yard TD. In the pile up, you can clearly see Burfict intentionally stomp on his legs. There is no question in my mind it was an intentional act.

Every year the NFL changes rules of the game to “protect player safety”. They have continued to increase penalties and restrictions around hits on QBs, limited contact with receivers downfield, and made attempts to limit kickoff returns all in an effort (supposedly) to protect the players. If the intention of the league is to focus on player safety, then something needs to be done about players who repeatedly disregard these rules like Vontaze Burfict. Clearly a 3-game suspension did not change the behavior of Burfict, so stricter penalties need to be enforced before someone gets seriously hurt.

NFL is Shooting Itself in the Foot

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

It’s not breaking news to many that the NFL ratings are down this season through 5 weeks. They are down around 10%, depending on exactly how you choose to segment/compare, a direction that has Goodell and Co. scrambling for answers. I don’t believe there is one clear reason for the decline, but it is likely a variety of factors, including the most polarizing election likely in history (and the debates), some big market struggles (New York and Chicago), some self-inflicted issues (*cough* *cough* suspensions), and, the biggest of all, ‘NFL fatigue’.

Let’s put the election aside, understanding it definitely plays a factor in lower viewership opposite the debates, but it is certainly not the sole cause. The first main cause in my mind revolves around large market teams. The New York Giants and New York Jets are a combined 3-7 this year. Both have lost 3 straight games and are in last place in their respective divisions (the Jets are tied for last in the AFC East and the Giants are alone at the bottom of the NFC East). Although there are plenty of devoted fans of both the Giants and Jets who will always watch, regardless of their records, when big market teams suck, bandwagon fans jump off and casual fan ratings suffer. When a market like New York or Chicago (Bears are 1-4) has teams struggling to win, that hurts ratings for the entire NFL.

Then there is the 2,000 lb elephant in the room: the suspension of Tom Brady. Thanks to Goodell’s ridiculous decision, the league was without Brady for the first 4 weeks of the season, limiting the number of casual fans who tune in. During the first Sunday night game against the Arizona Cardinals, NBC did a 14.8 rating, which out of context is excellent, but a more than 10% drop over the 2015 Sunday Night opener (16.7). Guess what? Stars drive ratings. No Brady, lower ratings. Who’s fault is that? It’s the definition of self-inflicted.

Finally, it is still amazing to me that after domestic violence cases, child abuse cases, sexual assault cases, and every other crime/stupid move in the book tarnishing the NFL’s reputation, that ratings still remained strong and even grew last season. My newly developed theory? The NFL ratings drop is, at least partially, due to a delayed reaction to the NFL’s mishandling of dozens of player situations combined with the endless deflategate talk. I believe it has developed into ‘NFL fatigue’ that has grown to a point of driving the more peripheral viewers away from the game. Fans who like football, but aren’t seriously invested in a team (or fantasy football) are opting to spend their Sundays (and Thursdays and Mondays) watching or doing other things. They have reached a breaking point and are no longer going to go out of their way to watch football.

In a hailmary effort to turn the tides, the NFL issued a ban on team twitter accounts posting highlight videos during the time-frame when the live game is airing on TV. The NFL thinks that fans who are on twitter watching highlights are less likely to watch the game live and that is a cause of the decreased ratings. That doesn’t just waft of desperation, it’s a giant diaper filled with desperation.

Given all these factors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little rebound before the season is over, but I’m not convinced the damage hasn’t already been done. I’m not convinced casual fans drifting away from the NFL won’t just stay away for good, causing a deeper ratings crisis for Goodell.

The Fall Sports Overlap and Overload

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s about this time every year that my head begins to fill will a jumble of sports craziness. Ok, maybe that’s unfair, my head is filled with sports craziness all year long, but this time of year it kicks into overdrive. With professional football beginning to pick up in week 4, professional baseball in the stretch run, and college football in full swing, life is crazy. Then you add the beginning of professional hockey now and professional/college basketball in the next few weeks and my eyes don’t know where to focus. It’s hard enough to keep up with 2 sports running simultaneously, forget 4 or 5. Here’s how I prioritize my limited sports viewing time in order to get the most bang for my buck during a nutty fall of sports.

Baseball

Since the Red Sox are very much in contention, they become the priority viewing experience, weekdays or weekends. Baseball is my true love and with just days left in the regular season and a potential championship contender in town, it has to be the focus. Once the Sox clinch the AL East (magic number is 1) and hopefully lock up the best record in baseball, I’ll have a small breather until the playoffs. Obviously, playoff baseball takes precedent over all else in October.

Also, since this week is the Fantasy Baseball championship for me, that will shift more of my focus away from other sports.

Pro Football/College Football

I limit my football focus to the weekends (unless UConn or the Patriots are playing another day) for now. Saturdays are for college football and Sundays are for pro football. It seems pretty logical, but can be surprisingly difficult to limit myself when both pro and college football are full-time viewing and following experiences. Between injury reports and match-up information, it’s an easy rabbit-hole to get sucked down on weekdays, but I must be strong!

Once the Red Sox season is over (hopefully not for another month+), I will shift the major focus of my attention to football. Since my Fantasy Football teams are terrible (combined 1-5), I may not have to worry too much about the fantasy aspect once baseball is over.

Pro Basketball/Pro Hockey

I know it’s blasphemy to say in Boston, but I’m just not a big NBA fan. I consider myself a periphery Celtics fan and enjoy watching an occasional game and following an interesting storyline, but can’t bring myself to watch on a consistent basis during the regular season. My wife would say that’s a good thing, because I love college basketball and pro hockey, which significantly overlap in seasons (not to mention the serious overlap with football), so I don’t know if I would have the time to avidly follow the Cs even if I wanted to.

The Boston Bruins are a newer passion for me. I grew up outside of Hartford, CT and was a big Whalers fan growing up. When they left Hartford in 1997, I denounced hockey for about a decade in protest. In 2007 when I moved to Boston, I began watching the Bruins and got the hockey itch back. Ever since then, for about 9 years now, I have been an avid hockey fan and a strong Bruins follower. On days when football is not being played and there isn’t a big UConn game (basketball or football), hockey is my major focus.

College Basketball

Being an obsessive UConn sports fan, college basketball season is often a joyous time. I follow the early season games as much as I can, but really start to watch obsessively after the turn of the year. January-April is prime college basketball watching season, with a special focus in early March and into April. Thankfully there are only a handful of earlier season games that are must-watch TV, allowing me to focus on other fall/winter sports until things really pick up. Regardless of what UConn does, the NCAA Tournament is the greatest sports viewing experience of any sport at any time hands down.

There are a smattering of other sports I follow casually during the fall/winter timeline, but everything else is secondary (or thirdary, or fourthdary, or fifthdary).  For right now, discipline and focus are the keys to successfully managing the sports nuttiness that is the fall. Happy watching everybody!

Wilfork Bears All on Body Issue Cover

Peter Hapak for ESPN

Peter Hapak for ESPN

How can you look at this picture and not smile? That is every bit of 326 lbs out on display in the upcoming 2016 ESPN Body Issue. All power to Wilfork for showing off all that man-meat to the entire world and being proud of his body.

When it was first announced the Houston Texans, and former New England Patriots DT Vince Wilfork would be in the body issue nearly nude, I became obsessed with the story. I have always been a huge (pun intended) fan of Wilfork and was sad to see him leave the Patriots. Thankfully, even though he is playing nearly 2,000 miles away, Wilfork is still entertaining us.

On Wednesday, Wilfork called out Tom Brady on twitter in a video asking for his wife, model Gisele Bundchen, to have her people give his people a call now that he was modelling.

Tommy Boi where u at? Now that I’ve done @ESPN Mag I’m ready for the modeling world. Pics out tomorrow! – from @wilfork75

Brady responded simply with #beastmode. The love between those two is as strong as ever.