Sunday, September 03, 2006

Football is here!

One of my favorite months of the year has finally arrived, September, with its opening weekend heralding in high school and college football, while next weekend will see the advent of the NFL regular season games. Also, although I haven’t attended a meet since the last time I coached it in 1987, I’m sure another one of my old favorites, cross country, is in the midst of its inaugural contests. While the temperature still climbs to the 80’s down here during the day, the faintest touch of fall seems to be in the night and morning air. Of course that later feeling could all be simply wishful thinking on my part.

I no longer coach, and I rarely even go to games anymore, since no one in my family shares my passion for the sport, but I do keep up with the sport religiously, mostly on the internet but also through the mediums of radio and, to a lesser extent, television. Like many other Americans I’m in a fantasy football league. Computer woes forced me to miss my draft, and I’m still off line as I type the text of this blog, so I won’t know who my fantasy players are for a bit, but I already know who I’m rooting for in the sports world, just as I know whom I’m rooting for in the political one. Like the poet I’m a mass of contradictions when it comes to my choices, but I’m old enough not to let it worry me anymore.

To start with, I’ll still root for my hometown Atlanta Falcons, although I’ve lost most of enthusiasm for Mike Vick. I really thought last year would be the year he would breakthrough as a quarterback, but it didn’t really happen. Neither did he show the maturity or leadership I would have hoped in adversity. Hope springs eternal, but if he doesn’t make major strides this year then it might be time to look elsewhere, D. J. Shockley anyone?

I’m not quite as big a Jim Mora fan as I was once either. Of course I readily admit that I wanted us to hire interim coach Wade Phillips or Lovie Smith back when Arthur Blank was checking out replacements for Dan Reeves. That didn’t happen, but if we don’t at least reach the playoffs this year then it might be time to send out resume requests again.

Still, all in all, I’m a birds fan, and I plan to especially cheer lustily every time Warrick Dunn, Patrick Kearney, Ed Hartwell, Rod Coleman, John Abraham, Grady Jackson, Keith Brooking, DeAngelo Hall, and Shockley are on the field. If my preferences seem weighted to the defensive side of the ball that’s because it was my favorite side to play in the meager couple of years that I played the sport in high school. When it came to coaching I preferred working with the linemen so my preferences show that also.

In the non Falcons NFL world, this year I’m rooting for wide receiver David Boston to have a big comeback year and play well for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Boston has had a lot of problems over the last few years, many of then his own fault perhaps, but I’m a big fan of underdogs and comeback stories. If that biblical father could let the prodigal son come back then who am I to deny the same chance to some of football’s prodigal returnees?

In keeping with that theme, I’m also rooting for Marcus Vick to stick with the Miami Dolphins and get some playing time, along with hopefully some new found maturity and judgment. I’m pulling for the position switchers, such as former Penn QB Michael Robinson, now a running back for the San Francisco Forty-Niners, and former Missouri QB Brad Smith, now trying to make the New York Jets as a receiver. For what it’s worth both had good games here at the end of the preseason, as did the younger Vick and the veteran Boston.

Among the bigger names in the sport, I’m a fan of Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, hoping he can make a comeback to his 2000 yards plus year of a few seasons ago. Hopefully Jamal has grown up some and also recovered from injuries. Ed Reed is another Raven I’m cheering on. I’ll always root for Tiki Barber of the Giants, as well as his brother Ronde of the Bucs. I’m pulling for Georgia Southern alumni Adrian Peterson of the Chicago Bears (ok, hardly a big name, but a stellar kid with a lot of heart – check out his bio sometime) as well as Bears back up QB Brian Griese, son of Bob Griese of my beloved early 70’s Dolphins team fame.

I’m cheering the New Orleans Saints when they’re not playing against my Falcons, because that city (beloved of my wild partying youth) needs some good news. Along that line I’m especially rooting for Drew Brees, whom I cheered for in San Diego, and rookie Reggie Bush, to both have great years.

On the coaching side I have my definite favorites that I try to follow and urge on. Sean Payton of New Orleans is one of the ones I’m rooting for. Another is Art Shell, long a favorite of mine when he was here with the Falcons as a line coach. Art has made a comeback with the Oakland Raiders, and I’m with him this time through the proverbial thick and thin. I just hope Al Davis feels the same way. I’ve already mentioned my liking Bum Phillips’ son Wade, and I hope he and his defense have a great year in San Diego, maybe leading him to another head coaching gig.

Every year it seems there’s a coach that’s been unfairly treated or blamed for things that weren’t his fault. That’s the nature of the business, all the way from high school to college to the pros. Because of that I like to pick at least one coach each year whom I root for simply because I think he was given the shaft. In this year’s category of “he was wronged” I nominate what will probably be an unpopular choice with many, but as any reader of this blog knows I don’t mind being contrary or controversial. Heck, I’m the same guy who thought Mike Price was done dirty by Alabama, which is one or two reasons I’ll never cheer for the Crimson Tide again (failure to hire Sylvester Crooms is the other, in case you’re wondering). I’m also the guy who felt that George Leary was done dirty by Notre Dame, but since they then turned around and screwed Tyrone Willingham I figured that showed what character (or lack thereof) resided in the leadership of that supposedly hallowed institution. Liking present head coach and former Patriot Charlie Weiss, along with his assistant Bill Lewis (who was screwed by Georgia Tech several years ago himself) is the only reason I even consider rooting for ND from time to time nowadays.

At any rate former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice is my choice this year as the guy who was done dirty. While Mike wasn’t perfect, Minnesota’s owners never treated him right, showing little support and vastly underpaying him while he was there. Also, as supposed savior Brad Childress is now discovering in Minnesota so far, it’s very easy to say “we won’t have any scandals or controversies on this team” but a little bit harder to actually have that happen. Suffice to say I’ll be cheering Tice on this year in his stint as an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while I’m secretly enjoying every little bad thing that happens in Minnesota.

There are other coaches that I annually support, among them the Seahawks Mike Holmgren, Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher, (yes, I suffered emotional trauma during last year’s Super Bowl, since I wished both could win), the afore mentioned Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, along with Romeo Crennel of the Cleveland Browns. I ask you, how can you not like football coaches with names like Lovie and Romeo?

Finally, the coach I’m really rooting for this year is Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy has been a class act for years, and he deserves to take a team to the Super Bowl. Will the Colts make it this year? I think so, but we won’t really know till the playoffs, will we? That’s what makes the sport so much fun. Stay tuned.

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