Mike Tanier's Monday Morning Hangover: Caught Up, Pumped Up for Super Bowl XLIXJanuary 26, 2015
Did you check out of the NFL for a week in preparation for the Super Bowl hoopla? Have you turned off all media to avoid Deflategate? Need to get caught up on coaching changes, Senior Bowl news and other pertinent bits of NFL information? Looking for a remedy to Deflategate?
This week's Hangover is your catch-up show. It sets the stage for the Super Bowl while rounding up some coaching and scouting news.
It begins, of course, with Deflategate.
Soft balls: our narrative legacy of legacy narratives
Fate made me late to embrace debate on the state of Deflategate, but I would hate to wait on this great opportunity to add some hate to your plate:
If Tom Brady throws an underinflated football to Julian Edelman, but Richard Sherman breaks it up, but Sherman held for the entire play, but there was no flag, but the Patriots were in an "illegal" four-lineman formation, but Sherman tested positive for PEDs after the game, but the sample was improperly handled, does that mean that the Lions won the Super Bowl?
Welcome to Super Bowl week. Everyone is miserable. The Colts feel cheated out of a slightly less-lopsided loss in the AFC Championship Game. The Cowboys feel cheated out of a catch that would have counted if not for pesky details like "the rulebook," "past precedent" and "the ground." The Lions feel cheated because of a flag that got picked up—or perhaps sucked into a nearby unpressurized football. The Ravens feel cheated out of the indignation that should rightfully have been theirs if only #ConfusingEligibleReceiverSubstitutionPatternGate had a nice ring to it or made a feasible hashtag. And now, the Patriots feel cheated out of the recognition they deserve and the Seahawks feel cheated out of the attention they deserve.
At least the Packers know they have no one to blame but themselves. They may not get rings, but emotional health is the greatest prize of all.
The "feeling cheated" phenomenon is nearly universal among people who feel cheated for fun and profit. An incarcerated Cowboys fan has filed an $88 billion lawsuit against the NFL because of its correct ruling of Dez Bryant's non-catch in the Cowboys-Packers playoff game. Forbes estimates the Cowboys' value at about $3.2 billion, so this inmate believes he is entitled to a settlement that would allow him to buy his favorite team 27.5 times over. He would then take one look at the cap situation, give the team back 28 times and return to his prison cell all the wiser for it.
But if the Bryant non-catch can cause $88 billion in hardship, what is Deflategate worth? I can prove a lot of pain and suffering on this one. As damages, I demand the deed to the Caribbean.
Yes, the NFL has a major problem: the ability to dominate major news coverage and attract the attention of Good Morning America, the BBC and Brazilian television networks during a week when there are no meaningful games with a scandal 0.05 percent more serious than taking an emery board to a baseball or purposely flopping on the soccer pitch. Woe, woe to the poor NFL and its tarnished playoffs, which will culminate in a ratings bonanza that, incidentally, will have the Telemundo foxes too busy cha-cha'ing around limp footballs to "inflate" them this week to discuss such matters as domestic violence and concussion lawsuits.
Oh no, cries poor Roger Goodell, please don't challenge me with more questions about the proper PSI within a football. Please don't lead your nightly telecast with talk of the upcoming Super Bowl, or put it on Page A1 or frontload the press conference with questions that have nothing to do with lawsuits, grievances, Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson. And whatever you do, please don't throw this ol' hare back in that briar patch.
Deflategate managed to double down in the sheer insanity of Super Bowl week. Media Day has not even happened yet, and already Bill Nye the Science Guy has been called upon to debunk Bill Belichick's Young Ball Deflationism. Nye should go on a Boston sports legend tour; he can tangle with Curt Schilling about middle school-level scientific basics next (that would be something), then perhaps set Larry Bird straight once and for all about the Higgs-Boson Particle.
Bill O'Reilly also chimed in with his opinions as a means of promoting his next book, Killing Belichick (foreword by Marty Hurney). It's almost as if this story's importance has been exaggerated, slightly, somehow.
Deflategate is not a manufactured WWE-style controversy, but we could not tell the difference if it was. It's hard to think of a smaller detail that has ever generated an entire week of nonstop international news coverage than a football (OK, 11 footballs) inflated to insufficiently poofy standards in a game so lopsided that the Patriots could have won it while throwing pound cakes.
But Deflategate involves a team and coach that make wonderful comic book villains. The core of the controversy is so insubstantial that you can put wild spin on it, like a Wiffle Ball. Plus, we had a week with little to talk about leading up to the week in which everyone is talking football. If Deflategate didn't exist, a clever viral marketing department would be forced to invent it.
Yes, I know I am taking a contrary opinion in the Case of the Over-salted French Fries here. Bleacher Report's own Mike Freeman wrote this week that the Patriots' legacy is forever tarnished. I felt that by Saturday, when Belichick began spouting pseudo-scientific gobbledygook, this story had already started burning itself out.
By Tuesday's Media Day, when kids' network superheroes and dudes dressed in lederhosen are barging into interviews to make "limp balls" jokes, about 98 percent of the football world will be eager to move on. By the start of free agency, we will think back on last week as another week of our lives wasted. In five years, Deflategate will become the province of bottom-of-the-comment-thread denizens who have either cheating-related or homophobic nicknames for all 32 teams. (Cheatroits, Cheatboys, CheatHawks, CheatOlts, CharCheatGers; I will spare you examples of the latter.)
By the time Brady and Belichick are Hall of Fame eligible, the voters who plan to snub them for Deflategate, Spygate or other gates will either be chucked out of the room or severely outvoted on the first ballot. These aren't baseball Hall of Fame voters, after all; they don't think they are appointing a new pope.
Is the Patriots' legacy forever tarnished? All championship legacies are forever tarnished. The Seahawks got away with nonstop pass interference last year, right? Ray Lewis smeared deer antler all over himself and (because message board commenters 15 years later know far more than eyewitnesses or district attorneys) killed people with his bare hands.
The referees gave the Steelers that win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Peyton Manning's lone Super Bowl came against Rex Grossman in a downpour; that shouldn't count. The Redskins won three Super Bowls, but two came during strike years—how great a legacy is that? There are people who still think Super Bowl III was fixed. Al Davis would fill your footballs with plutonium if he thought the radiation sickness would give him a fourth-quarter edge, and his defenders would run over receivers with Harleys in the middle of the field. But the antics of the 1970s Raiders are remembered as "colorful."
Remember Bountygate? The Saints were accused of crimes about 50 times worse than what the Patriots are accused of. You can't permanently injure Kurt Warner or Brett Favre with a limp football. There were audiotapes, ledgers and other bits of evidence. Roger Goodell went into Angry Caesar mode and torched Saints headquarters, then everyone realized that perhaps they overreacted a bit to some old-school coaching cliches and some overzealous hits, just as everyone will soon realize that football inflation pressures are not subjects worthy of a week of national rancor.
When you think back on the 2009-11 Saints, do you think of them as a bunch of headhunters on a quest to hospitalize opposing quarterbacks? Maybe you do. Maybe you also still hold grudges from sixth grade. I think of Drew Brees, overtime in the Vikings game and surprise onside kicks. Bountygate ended just two years ago and involved real health and safety issues. It's largely forgotten, except as a chapter in the strange history of Goodell the Lawgiver. Deflategate doesn't stand a chance. It will fade the way our obsession with Manti Te'o's romantic life has faded.
"Sports legacy" is an outdated concept, a holdover from when sportswriters could control narrative and create the 1927 Yankees, Lombardi Packers, Jack Dempsey and Arnold Palmer that they wanted the world to love. You, as fans, can now see everything, find anything you need online, review video or written information that never fades or crinkles and draw your own conclusions. You have also become keenly aware of "narrative" itself, how we spin and counterspin for profit. If the 1927 Yankees played today, Babe Ruth would get treated like A-Rod. If Lombardi's Packers returned, each hagiographic article would include a rehash of Paul Hornung's gambling allegations in the comment thread.
Our generation's narrative legacy will be the death of legacy narratives. Championships are built out of great players and brilliant coaches, who sometimes twist rules, take drugs, do terrible things and get exceptionally lucky with calls and bounces. (They also sometimes give huge sums to charities, save people from car wrecks and inspire millions with their hard work and dedication.) There are lines that can never be crossed—game fixing, for example, or chloroforming the opponent's offensive line during stretches—but fiddling with the footballs does not come within 20 yards of that line.
The Patriots should be punished, of course. Rule violations should be punished. If you are stomping your feet and demanding that Belichick and Brady be suspended for the Super Bowl (or drawn and quartered), ask yourself: Will that make you feel better? Will it make football better? Will there be a parade around Monument Circle in Indy or through Baltimore's Inner Harbor to celebrate a Seahawks victory over Josh McDaniels and Jimmy Garoppolo? If there was, would anyone attend it?
Won't that just created a "tarnished" championship for the Seahawks?
If Brady and/or Belichick were suspended for the season opener next year, I wouldn't start a petition to save them. One September game is much less than you get for taking a banned diuretic that might be a masking agent for a performance enhancer. The Major League Baseball penalty for using a corked bat hovers around eight games, 5 percent of a baseball season. One game is 6.25 percent of a football season. Deflating a football is roughly as severe a crime as corking a bat.
But I have two specific punishments for the Patriots that have nothing to do with canceling the Super Bowl or vacating all of their championships and sending three Lombardi Trophies to Marty Hurney to make him feel better:
1. Sportswriters are banned from using the phrase "The Patriots Way" forever.
The phrase should be marked in word processors by a purple underline. The Patriots Way is a big reason we are in the Deflategate predicament. The Patriots have never won bunches of football games because they are well-organized and have lots of great players. The New England-based sports media military industrial complex insisted on declaring them our intellectual, moral and philosophical betters.
Every champion is going to enjoy some undue butt kissing, but The Patriots Way is unique and excessive. There's no San Antonio Spurs Way, even though the Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA. The Steelers won multiple championships in the last decade without inspiring some quasi-religious Steelers Way. The Patriots Way is a Boston-based phenomenon, the residue of decades of differentiating the doomed Red Sox from the majestic Yankees. They buy championships in New York. Here in Beantown, we strive for something purer: to earn our titles the right way.
Thanks to getting force-fed a bogus tale of secular sainthood for 14 years, the rest of America gets a little touchy when Socrates and his followers once again drive on the shoulder of the rulebook. If the Patriots were just another really good football team, this would have been just another minor football controversy.
So that's it, fellow writers: If you use the phrase Patriots Way ever again, you are banned from the pregame buffet line. That's how serious this is.
2. Every time Tom Brady throws a pass interference tantrum, the football gets examined.
Another reason non-Patriots fans get touchy about the Patriots is that they are the biggest rule lawyers in the NFL. If Wes Welker runs a rub play against them, they act like he brought an AK-47 onto the field. If they get caught pushing each other illegally to try to block an end-of-game field goal, they act like they are Jean Valjean getting chased through Paris for stealing a loaf of bread. It's nearly impossible for the Patriots to lose a close game without having something to say about it, and if they don't openly act like they were swindled, they have plenty of media cheerleaders who do it for them.
Brady, in particular, has never thrown an incomplete pass within three yards of his receiver without expecting a pass interference penalty. All quarterbacks lobby for pass interference, but he acts like his car just got rear-ended if a defender rubs auras with one of his receivers. Now that Jim Harbaugh is in Michigan, Brady is the noisiest ref-baiter in the league. Baseball umpires would squeeze his strike zone as punishment. Basketball referees would start remembering that there are rules against traveling after enduring non-stop complaints.
If Brady wants to keep lobbying for penalties, fine. But now that he is football's Gaylord Perry, he must submit to a football pressure check every time he gripes. Brady throws his hands in the air in mock astonishment, and out comes the tire gauge. They can also check his uniform for any illegal shoe colors or improperly rolled-up socks. Fair's fair, buddy: If you don't think the game is being called fairly, the referees cannot be faulted for doing due diligence.
And if the ball's PSI doesn't measure up, for any reason at all, Brady's ejected.
Those are two fair rules: no more pretending like the Patriots urinate lilac water, and some lost benefit-of-the-doubt for a guy with a bad case of flag entitlement. If the Patriots win, they get to be repeat, era-defining champions, but not apostles of some new faith. If the Seahawks win, it's because they're the champions for the millennial generation, not because the Patriots were forced to play without mushy balls, spy cameras or suspended leaders.
All of this talk of inflation and legacies took me back to Jim Lee Howell, head coach of the 1956 NFL champion Giants, the 1958 team that lost the Greatest Game Ever (there were two playoff games that were better this season alone, but that's a different argument), and other fine Giants teams of the 1950s. Howell is best remembered for having Tom Landry as his defensive coordinator and Lombardi as his offensive coordinator for many years.
You would think the Giants could have gotten more than one title out of Lombardi and Landry, but don't blame Howell, whose "legacy" was the wisdom to step aside and let his soon-to-be-legendary assistants do their jobs. "I just blow up the footballs and keep order," Howell once said of his role on the staff.
Oh Howell, we really could have used both of your skills last week.
Coaching Lazy Susan
Hope you enjoy this year's Patriots-Seahawks matchup. We'll likely see it again before Tom Brady retires.
At the beginning of the season, the two top rivals to the Seahawks and Patriots were the 49ers and Broncos. Each of those rivals chose to replace established coaches who had taken those teams to the Super Bowl with coaches who made team management feel more comfortable about itself.
If you can explain how the Broncos and 49ers are stronger under Gary Kubiak and Jim Tomsula than they were under John Fox and Jim Harbaugh, I am all ears. These hires were all about the consolidation of control and the managerial comfort level, not about making those teams more successful in the short term.
This year's coaching carousel turned into a Coaching Lazy Susan: lots of reclamation projects and obvious choices. Kubiak crashed against the Patriots' shores as a Texans and Ravens coach while the Ravens and Broncos slipped past the Patriots into the Super Bowl. Now he's the Broncos head coach; sounds to me like he keeps getting off the train at the wrong station.
The AFC East wannabes obligingly held an elaborate key party with their coaches and executives: Now Rex Ryan is in Buffalo, Mike Tannenbaum is in Miami and Chan Gailey is in New York with Todd Bowles; Jeff Ireland was banished to New Orleans to keep the Saints pinned to the mat. To think that the Patriots feel the need to bend the rules when opponents keep dropping their capes on puddles to keep Brady's feet from getting wet.
As for the 49ers, they found their Dave Campo. Long ago, Jerry Jones exiled Jimmy Johnson from Dallas for daring to take credit for the Cowboys' success, which he was almost completely responsible for. Barry Switzer replaced Johnson; Switzer was a player's coach, and Johnson stocked the roster with players, so the Cowboys won another Super Bowl. Switzer gave way to Chan Gailey, who coaxed the aging Troy Aikman core into the playoffs two more times, but Jones was drafting a steady stream of guys like Sherman Williams and David LaFleur and wondering why his coaches couldn't work with such solid building blocks. Ultimately, Jones scrapped the pretense of an autonomous head coach and promoted Campo to be an extension of his will. The Cowboys bottomed out with three straight 5-11 seasons. Jones mended his ways temporarily by hiring Bill Parcells, and the binge-and-purge cycle continues to this day.
Jed York and Trent Baalke skipped the Switzer and Gailey steps and went straight into yes-man mode. Tomsula is a beloved and respected position coach, but the NFL is loaded with beloved and respected position coaches. Promoting a defensive line coach to head coach is like promoting me to senior content director at Bleacher Report.
The 49ers are currently without an offensive coordinator, because Lane Kiffin turned them down. Think about that: Lane Kiffin turned down a chance to return to the NFL as the coordinator of a team that reached the NFC Championship Game two years ago. Eric Mangini is expected to take over as defensive coordinator. Dave Campo is currently the defensive coordinator for University of Kansas; there is definitely room for him on the 49ers staff, as long as he doesn't make waves.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the coaching staff that couldn't get over the top with Peyton Manning and Von Miller will try to take care of business with Jay Cutler and Willie Young! OK, that was glib. John Fox will restore order to a locker room that got stomped by Quitzilla, Adam Gase should be able to get Cutler's turnover total below 20, the whole Adam Gase-Ryan Case thing is easy to confuse but easier to spell, and...um, Young is pretty good. The Bears won't mount much of a challenge to the Seahawks, but they could cause trouble for the Packers, who were one slug of courage whiskey away from beating the Seahawks.
Like the Packers, the greatest threats to the Seahawks are in various states of soul-searching. The Eagles need a general manager, but while most teams need one who can manage a draft and negotiate with free agents, the Eagles need one who can mix energy shakes without getting the blender full of guava seeds. The Cowboys and Lions are singing "Is That All There is?" while accountants cry into the salary cap reports. The Cardinals must replace Todd Bowles, but former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau won't take the job (per ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss). LeBeau did not retire, but he flew to Arizona to visit his old friends, which is usually the final step toward retirement.
The Falcons are the greatest threats to the Patriots and Seahawks in 2015. They are expected to hire defensive coordinator Dan Quinn away from the Seahawks, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That's great news for the Patriots, who won't lose Josh McDaniels to the Patriots South. Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff will have to Patriots-up their organization in other ways and could make massive free-agent runs at the likes of Devin McCourty or Shane Vereen.
And heaven knows the Seahawks and Patriots cannot replace defensive coordinators, running backs or defensive backs. By the time Quinn and Bowles become threats to the Seahawks and Patriots, we'll be in a whole new NFL era, anyway.
Here's a less-than-comprehensive wrap-up of some of the other coaching changes that were overshadowed by the championship games and Deflategate.
Chan Gailey, Offensive Coordinator, Jets: There used to be a cable "reality" program called Rocket City Rednecks. Each week, a bunch of engineers based in Huntsville, Alabama, who were roughly as "hillbilly" as the Robertsons in real life but hammed it up for the cameras, built tank armor and jet engines out of scrap metal and empty beer cans. The show was actually fun, but it managed to alienate both engineers and country folk, so I think it may be the only scripted reality show ever to be cancelled.
Gailey reminds me of one of those Rocket City Rednecks. Give him some old beer kegs and the engine to a 1968 Chevelle, and he can blast you into low orbit. You won't reach the moon, and you will fry in reentry, but you will be surprised at how far you got, and the whole ride will be a thrill.
Gailey must build a coherent offense out of Geno Smith, Percy Harvin and all the mismatched parts the Jets assembled in the last two years. He's going to need a lot of beer cans.
Steve Spagnuolo, Defensive Coordinator, Giants: The Giants are hitting the rewind button. Fair enough. But can we skip the Ray Handley era?
The Broncos should have pushed hard for Spagnuolo. Say, this guy built a defensive line that shut down the Patriots in a Super Bowl. Then he cobbled together a secondary out of nobodies, which forced the Patriots to resort to trick plays in the playoffs. We have a great defensive line and secondary; imagine what he could do! But the Giants got to Spags first, so he won't be riding the Kubiak Express into the mountains.
Greg Olson, offensive coordinator, and Doug Marrone, offensive line coach, Jaguars: Gus Bradley praised Marrone's "humility" after bringing him onto the Jaguars staff during this week's Senior Bowl practices, per USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones. The 49ers brass also praised Tomsula's humility. You can tell what virtue is in short supply in the NFL these days.
Olson has coordinated for only one team that finished over .500 in eight seasons for four franchises: the 2009 Buccaneers in Josh Freeman's mirage season. Olson has coordinated for three teams that finished 3-13, two that finished 4-12, and one that finished 5-11. He has coordinated offenses that finished 31st, 30th, 28th, 28th, 27th, 24th and 20th in the NFL in points. The 2006 Rams, who still had Issac Bruce and Torry Holt among other assets, finished 10th. I'm not sure how to end this paragraph on a high note.
Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator, and Marty Mornhinweg, quarterbacks coach, Ravens. John Harbaugh's staff has become a halfway house and rehabilitation facility for down-and-out coaches. Jim Caldwell was still reeling from the Year Without a Peyton in Indy when Harbaugh dusted him off and started promoting him through the Ravens' chain of command. Spagnuolo's career was on a downward trajectory before Harbaugh rescued his former Andy Reid staff-mate. Kubiak nearly worked himself to death for a franchise that had soured on him in Houston. One year with Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, and he lands one of the highest-profile jobs in the league.
Trestman should do better as a coordinator than as a head coach; the Ravens offense is full of guys who will respond to the soft-spoken approach. Mornhinweg, another Andy Reid alum, may also benefit from the reverse Peter Principle. Instead of trying to solve the Jets offense, he can work on the riddle of making Playoff Flacco into Every Sunday Flacco.
John DeFilippo, offensive coordinator, Browns: By now, you have probably read ESPN's inside dirt on Johnny Manziel's rookie season, which all sounds similar to the outside dirt anyway. The Browns offense looks like the kind of career staller that veteran coaches would avoid, so the DeFilippo hire makes sense: Elevate a rising star who has never been more than a quarterbacks coach, led him take a stab at accelerating Manziel's maturation while padding his resume, keep three fingers on CTRL-ALT-DEL if you get the offensive Brown Screen of Death.
Then, Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported that DeFilippo did not study Manziel game film, or do much of anything Manziel-related, before taking the job. Here's DeFilippo:
I'll be honest with you. I'm going to be flat-out honest with you because it's the only way I know how to be. I have not. I've not watched the games from last year with Johnny. Obviously, I studied Johnny coming out of college and spent some time with Johnny.
I wouldn't say it was a lot of time, but I spent some time with Johnny. He flew out to Oakland and spent a day with him. Can you get an overview on a guy in one day? No, but you can get a grasp of what he thinks and how he's feeling and those things. I got along with Johnny when we met with him, but I can't tell you that I've watched the games yet. No, I have not.
It's impossible for me to read those quotes without hearing Marc Maron saying them. Specifically, I hear Maron as the squirrel in this Adventure Time cartoon.
Of course, there is no real film of Manziel to study, and the Browns appear to already be in loss-cutting mode, which is a familiar mode for them seven months after drafting a quarterback at the end of the first round. DeFilippo may soon wish that he followed Olson to Jacksonville; but then again, there was a lot of Blake Bortles film to watch.
Senior Bowl notes
I will keep this brief. Matt Bowen and Matt Miller did most of the heavy duty scouting for Bleacher Report down in Mobile. Here's a link to one of Bowen's practice reports; it has links to all of the others. Here's Miller's wrap-up. And here's a feature I wrote about just what the Senior Bowl is really all about, and another about some of the outstanding running back prospects who showcased themselves in Mobile.
Brett Hundley should have participated: That was the consensus view of almost everyone I spoke to in Mobile, including myself. The Senior Bowl lacked an exciting size-speed-arm prospect, and the UCLA quarterback would have stood out because of his raw tools. He could have coaxed a quarterback-starved team to climb back into the first round for him, assuming he handled the interview process well and hit the broad side of the Fairhope Stadium pirate ship three times out of five. Hundley could still be drafted high, but he missed a golden opportunity.
Nick Marshall can be a starting NFL cornerback: The Auburn quarterback changed positions early in the week. He actually took the field on Tuesday with a yellow "no-touch" quarterback jersey, disappeared for a few minutes, then reappeared in cornerback drills wearing a numberless jersey. Marshall looked athletic enough to play cornerback, but just as importantly (and surprisingly), looked downright polished. His physicality was impressive, his footwork improved every day and he knew how to do all kinds of little things, like get position on a receiver going deep.
Marshall would have been a seventh-rounder or free-agent camp arm as a quarterback. He will work his way into the middle rounds, perhaps higher, as a defensive back.
Dezmin Lewis is going to be very good: Lewis is a 6'4" clothesline prop of a receiver from Central Arkansas with outstanding hands and body control. He spent the week making leaping catches, diving catches and knuckles-scraping-the-grass catches. Lewis had a late-round draft grade from most experts but should rise; keep him on your radar if your team needs a Mike Evans type.
If Lewis sound familiar, it's because he is this guy.
A Capacity Crowd of Draftniks: This is just a call for sanity over the next three months, as draft opinions start to fly like green flies on the bay at low tide and arguments about trivial details get a little overheated.
Your friendly neighborhood draftniks were out in force at the Senior Bowl. The Matts were there for Bleacher Report, of course, but the gangs from CBS, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Optimum Scouting, Ourlads, Chicago Football (the Pro Football Weekly survivors), Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Draft Breakdown and a few dozen other national and local draft/general football outlets were at the practices and weigh-ins, talking to players/coaches/scouts/each other and generally working their tails off (between ribs and beers) to become as informed as possible about this year's draft.
They know what they are talking about, in other words. They do not hate your alma mater, they are not biased against short quarterbacks or tall cornerbacks or whatever and they are not just making stuff up based on the highlights of the Belk Bowl. Draft experts are often wrong, but it is rarely for wont of energy, effort or attention to the draft. You are welcome to disagree with them (us), but you should probably acknowledge that they have really done more homework on this particular subject than you and the guy from work who believes the local team can draft Marcus Mariota, Amari Cooper and Melvin Cooper, despite trading that first-round pick for Patrick Willis.
Pro Bowled over
"Pro Bowl is boring" jokes are the "airline food is terrible" jokes of the 2010s. Stating that the Pro Bowl is boring is like stating that you only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. It's like joking that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings. It's an ancient joke based on an observation from a bygone era which is no longer really true. It's a joke so old that when I wrote about it two-and-a-half years ago, I referenced another article from 26 years earlier, and it still felt old.
Oh, the Pro Bowl is still terrible. All all-star games are terrible. The NBA All-Star Game is still pretty cool if you enjoy hours of dunking and mugging for the camera. The NHL All-Star Game gets overshadowed by the league's omg, they are playing outside! Winter Classics, which I believe now occur weekly. The rest of the sports world takes three days off for baseball's All-Star Game; if there were no basketball or hockey on the weekend of the Pro Bowl, the prospect of watching Matthew Stafford in Arizona would start to look pretty good.
The ancillary events around all of the all-star games are excruciating. The Home Run Derby is like Bob Hope visiting the troops in the 1990s. The Slam Dunk Contest should actually include some young showboat leaping over a shark to jam the ball home. The NHL Skills Competition is men's figure skating with machismo.
But you don't get laughs making fun of the NHL or NBA, because they are not big fuzzy targets like the NFL.
The Pro Bowl was a ridiculous bloc of programming back when there were only six or seven channels per media market. Here are some of the other television programs on network or major cable channels you might have watched on Sunday night instead of the Pro Bowl: Undercover Boss, the Miss Universe pageant, a Storage Wars marathon, a Hoarders: Buried Alive marathon, Total Divas, Pawn Stars, Sister Wives and Pot Barons of Colorado, who are probably going to make a killing selling to Broncos fans next season. But really, let's complain about a goofy, less-than-competitive football game.
The Pro Bowl, it must be said, has improved. The "fantasy draft" concept creates an unwatchable midweek television show on NFL Network but makes a more watchable game. Moving the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl helped; the game is now a salty little appetizer, not the wafer thin mint that will make us explode if we eat it. The players try a little harder than they did three years ago, and it is noticeable. Jon Gruden gets to explain play calls as they happen because coaches and quarterbacks are mic'd, adding an educational component. Sunday night's game provided some legitimate highlights, like Brent Grimes' interception.
The Pro Bowl is better than the January non-championship college football bowls, better than the Home Run Derby or the NBA silliness, better than the random output from the college basketball generator, better than divas or pot barons.
It's better than three hours of talking about Deflategate, but then so is prostate surgery.
Feel free to make all the Pro Bowl jokes you want, of course. The NFL will get insane ratings with its Scouting Combine, insane ratings with a three-day draft, ratings for preseason exhibition games that will make advertisers drool into their checkbooks. The Pro Bowl is the NFL's one waste pitch, and it is still an 80-mph change-up just off the outside corner. It's your only chance to laugh at the NFL's inability to completely dominate the sports landscape, wedged between the week we spent hyperventilating over football inflation and the week when we all scream ourselves stupid.
Did I watch the game? I channel surfed, then skimmed it on DVR. But just because I didn't watch it doesn't mean I have to joke about it.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.