By: timbersfan, 6:08 AM GMT on January 26, 2013
Not for the first or last time in his life, Machael David was approaching a fork in the road. Seventeen years old and carrying a UK passport bearing someone else’s picture, the young Nigerian found himself confronted by two lines in the JFK Airport immigration hall. Tired and hungry (he hadn’t known the food on the trans-Atlantic flight was free), and speaking only rudimentary English, the young man now faced a moment of uncertainty as to which line to join and, looking for a sign, slowed to a halt. Irritated by the sudden blockage, a family group pushed impatiently past him and headed for the shorter “U.S. Citizens” line. David smiled and followed them gratefully, thinking: “This must be where the black people go ... ”
Seven years later, I’m standing with Machael David beside a soccer field in Florida, and he’s telling me, “I’m glad that I was caught. It enabled me to go through everything that has happened since.” The route from a harsh fluorescent-lit interview room at JFK to speaking with reporters at the MLS Combine has not been a straightforward one, but then neither was the path that brought him to America in the first place. For David, it has become the norm for the lucky breaks in his life to first appear as crushing disappointments.
It’s perhaps why he’s so upbeat and positive when we talk, despite what has been a disappointing Combine for him on the field. When we first speak, he’s just come off the field after his final trial game, playing in his favored holding midfield role, after he had been positioned in an unfamiliar right-back role for his previous games. His performance has been tidy (David’s favorite player is Claude Makelele, that most reliable of cogs in flashy teams’ engine rooms), but despite his constant talking and organizing, and vividly colored boots, it possibly hasn’t been as eye-catching as it needs to be for a game played in audition mode. At every turn, David chose the neat pass, the simple interception, the teammate in space. For all his wider spiritual belief, founded in personal experience and his Christian faith, that the right opportunities in life will reveal themselves, part of me finds myself wishing that just for today he’d been more selfish in forcing the issue and grabbing the coaches’ attentions on the field.
It’s a thought that comes up again a few days later on SuperDraft day. At one point, David would have been what Travis Clark, a staff writer for youth and college soccer site Top Drawer Soccer, calls “a borderline first round talent” for the SuperDraft. But injuries in his later college years have pushed him down the rankings a little, and a young man described in his MLS scouting report as a “very good soccer player” who “reads the game very well,” has had such remarks qualified by doubts about his fitness and his mentality. After his performance at the Combine, he gets only scattered mentions in the mock drafts and blog posts that are the currency of draft week. And now, as the draft unfolds, and first Andrew Farrell, then 18 other players, are selected with the first 19 picks, there’s hard confirmation that David will not be going in the first round.
Watching in Santa Barbara, Brian Escalera, a UC Santa Barbara booster and active member of the university’s Living Scholar mentorship program, is feeling uneasy as the draft progresses. Machael David, one of the athletes he mentors, is watching the draft beside him, quietly refusing any offers of food or something to drink, as a steady drip of rejection arrives every three minutes onscreen. Earlier that week, Escalera had traveled to Florida to accompany David to the Combine, where there’d been polite interest from a few teams, but not a great deal of buzz. Now Escalera was wondering how the young man might react if he were not picked in the second round.
David came into Escalera’s life during the former’s sophomore year at college and swiftly became part of what Escalera calls an extended family, that includes his wife, Jan, children, and a growing number of university athletes that he mentors and who know him as "Poppa B." Escalera doesn’t play favorites, but calls Machael "an extraordinary young man," praising his maturity, generosity, and strength. He's one of only a few people who knows David’s story well enough to know how far he's come, only to now be potentially told by MLS front offices that he will be coming no further. The draft continues — pick 23 ... pick 24 ... no Machael David.
Machael David was born in Nigeria. The early death of his father left his mother unable to care for him properly, and a young Machael ended up living a peripatetic existence between street life and an abusive uncle he feared. So when an “agent” showed up at a soccer game in his neighborhood and praised his talent, David and nine others jumped at his promise to make them professionals in Italy — signing a blank sheet of paper with their names typed on them. Having tied the boys to an exploitative contract and taken their passports, the agent ended up abandoning the the group in Milan just as the FIFA rules on foreign players tightened (a 2004 rule change affected international eligibility, which had a knock-on effect on youth policy and how players demonstrate a link to the country they're playing in), and where, as highly visible illegal immigrants, the young teenagers lived precariously, selling pirated CDs in return for lodgings in so-called “Senegalese hotels,” and dodging immigration officials.
Through all this instability, the common thread was soccer. “For every kid in poverty in my country, the only way out for them is soccer.” Stranded far from home with no prospects, soccer became the center of a limited social life for the young men. Each weekend, David and his fellow African immigrants would gather at a park near the Milano Cadorna rail station to play a pickup game and talk about grandiose future plans, which generally had a limited basis in reality. Though, as David notes, at least in this situation, definitive failure was deferred: “Getting out of Nigeria, you’d rather live in poverty in another country than go back home not making it. You’d die from the pressure of people there.” Still, at that stage in his life, the only end to this limbo looked to be eventual deportation. By the end of his time in Italy, seven of the group David had arrived with had been forcibly removed from the country.
Despite his narrowing horizons, David found a way out. As it happened, a reasonably common part of the illegal diaspora in Milan was a crude variety of speculative investor who would front prospective talents a passport and the cost of a plane ticket, in return for a share when the player made it. Hearing at one of the park soccer games about this talented young man who’d become vocally obsessed by the idea of America, one of these figures came forward during David’s third year in the city. Thus, armed with a one-way ticket, 50 Euros and that fake UK passport, 17-year-old Machael David flew into New York.
Perhaps the young man’s only advantage at that moment was the fact that he had no comprehension of how flimsy his pretext for entering the country was. His vivid array of red flags included joining the wrong nationality line at immigration, of course, but that was just for starters. There was the fake passport, the blank customs form, the lack of English, the lack of a return ticket, the lack of even a notional idea of an address for his stay in the U.S., and indeed his initial haltingly stated belief to the first officer he met, that he was “coming to live in America.” Now, any non-citizen who has flown into JFK with even legitimate paperwork knows what an intimidating snarl of a welcome it can represent. Yet as the clearly vulnerable young man broke down and wept, begging not to be sent back to Nigeria, he was actually reassured by another immigration officer that he was safe, would be treated fairly, and would now be going to a children’s group home in Queens, while his case was heard.
After three months at the home, during which time he learned English and converted to Christianity, and with his transition to adulthood (and adult detention) pending, David caught a break, as a host family in Tacoma, Washington, volunteered to take him in while a lawyer began working on his asylum case. And he kept playing soccer. Before long, David was a star starter for his new high school team and had been taken under the wing of his coach J.R. Chamber’s family. He was adapting academically and, working extra morning and evening sessions, managed to start and complete high school in two and a half years with a 3.8 GPA, before a chance encounter with a UC Santa Barbara assistant coach, Greg Wilson (who had come to see a teammate of David's play), opened up a path to college. Other recruiters had come and gone quickly — attracted by the player’s talent but alarmed by his lack of U.S. academic history and likely NCAA eligibility difficulties. But UC Santa Barbara saw something in the young player, not the least his tenacity in getting this far in his life, and proactively pursued David.
In the meantime, a successful asylum claim had gotten him his green card, but even now at college, David’s route was not smooth — his crash course to get there had indeed left him short of NCAA eligibility, and he could not play in his first year. That, plus the injuries that curtailed his appearances the previous year, left his college playing record looking sparse, though he picked up several awards, including recognition from Top Drawer Soccer as an All-American rookie first-team selection. He was on peoples’ radar — Travis Clark recalls his impression of him at the time as “very good on the ball; he played ‘big’ in midfield.” He still likes the player, though he offers that with the caveat that “the knock on him is the injuries.”
Despite the injuries — none of which were career-threatening — David was making the most of his college experience, regularly posting highly in, and even winning, the UCSB's Golden Eagle award for the athlete with the best GPA. After his own experiences, he hatched a plan to become an immigration lawyer, and became involved in community work under the guidance of Escalera and his family. David is deeply grateful for Escalera’s support, though years of looking after himself from too young an age have left him wary of anything that compromises his sense of individual self-reliance — though playing as a team member helps.
I hear these details of David’s life at a further sitdown interview at the Combine. He speaks with quick urgency, motoring through his story as if impelled to cover each detail. It’s as much testimony as it is biographical background. At each apparent setback in the narrative, he talks about destiny intervening — seeing his detention at JFK, and even his abandonment in Milan at 14, as fortuitous in what they allowed to follow. When we talk about the SuperDraft, he’s hopeful, but insists he’s not looking for money or glory as a soccer player: “I’m looking for an assignment.” I think again of Makelele.
As I listen to David’s story, I’m moved by the big details, but I'm also ambivalent about the urgency of it all — speaking to Escalera, who calls me back more than once as I’m writing the story, quietly but definitely protective of David, it’s clear he shares the young player’s idea that this is a story about much more than soccer. I tend to agree, but if it’s to have wider resonance, David needs a team.
As we get deeper into the second round of the SuperDraft, nobody's mentioning Machael David when each picking team’s name comes up. Of the players on David’s combine team, the Generation Adidas pair of Kekutah Manneh and Eriq Zavaleta had gone early in the top 10, while the midfielder Carlos Alvarez had gone second overall. As the draft proceeds, other names he’d played alongside come off the board, and teams who’d shown an interest in him conclude their business for the day.
With only 10 picks remaining, there’s still a little hope that a day marked by significant trade activity might yet bring David back into contention. There’s been a call for a timeout as Real Salt Lake trade places with Philadelphia. For a technically gifted defensive midfielder like Machael David, RSL might be an ideal team — a disciplined, well-established system for a player like that to learn in, with an ideal role model in Kyle Beckerman. They also have a coach, in Jason Kreis, who’s prepared to throw youngsters in early and who knows firsthand that all sorts of factors can push a player down the draft order. Kreis himself was drafted 43rd overall in the 5th round of the inaugural MLS draft before becoming the first player to score 100 MLS goals.
The timeout concludes, and the pick is announced ... forward Devon Sandoval. The remaining picks pass in a blur, until the Galaxy use the last pick of the day to take another of David’s teammates at the Combine, left back Greg Cochrane. And that’s that. In Santa Barbara, Escalera now steels himself to deal with a crushed David, but is surprised that the young man, while disappointed, is the first to look ahead:
“It’s OK. We’re going to get through this," he says. "This’ll be fine on Tuesday [the Supplemental Draft]. I’ll have another opportunity. Tuesday will be our day."
“You think you’re mentoring these young men,” Escalera says. “But they’re mentoring you. … For him to be so disappointed watching the first two rounds and then turn [around] like that — this is the resilience of this young man.”
When I call David after the draft is over, he’s equally calm: “Honestly speaking, when I look at the players who were picked, I’m really happy for them that they’re going to have a future, but I am disappointed because when I look at players who can play holding midfielder, I didn’t think there was anyone left who was a natural in that position. If this was even two years ago, I would not be speaking to you now, because of the disappointment. But I’ve grown a lot, and I’m trying not to panic. I believe in myself. For me, it doesn’t matter if I’m the first or the last pick, I just need the chance to step on the field.”
That next chance is the Supplemental Draft, a few days after the SuperDraft. David is couch-surfing at a friend's until he gets word of how that goes. “I told them, ‘I’m just waiting till Tuesday and hopefully I can leave you guys alone.’” He’s reluctant to lean further on Escalera, who’s promised to continue to support him and feels that if no team comes in for him, his story may come full circle: “I spoke to my mom by phone today, and she’s been praying and fasting for three days … and that’s what hits me the most — she depends on me … At the moment, I feel a little bit like when I was back in Africa: that I have nowhere to go.” He trails off for a moment, then seems to remember himself: “I just need a chance.”
With the 44th pick of the MLS Supplemental Draft, Machael David was drafted by the Colorado Rapids and will travel to meet up with the team at preseason camp in the hopes of earning a contract.
By: timbersfan, 6:03 AM GMT on January 26, 2013
Happy New Year? Just checking. According to Bruce Arena, 2011 didn’t end until June 2012, at least if we’re to believe the epic MLS Cup postgame press conference, which itself finished sometime around January 3, 2013, some 32 days after the final whistle. While most of the L.A. Galaxy players were still on the field cavorting after their win, and as David Beckham’s brand conducted a complicated transatlantic farewell merger with itself in front of the L.A. fans, in a shower of confetti and symbolic multiple-flag donning (with a side order of fruit of loins), elsewhere, deep in the bowels of the Home Depot Center, a press conference that stretched into Samuel Beckett territory was getting under way. (“It’s been a long season. Is it over? Yes. Well? Shall we go? Yes, Let’s go.” They do not move.) Sometime during the third hour, a weary Bruce Arena was asked about the two halves of his side’s Hyde-and-Jekyll season and he volunteered the idea that after their MLS Cup victory the previous year, the 2011 season never ended, what with postseason tours, injury-prompted reshuffles, CONCACAF Champions League preparations, and so on. Only the MLS champions’ visit to the White House in May (at which point the Galaxy were woefully out of form) finally gave a sense of closure and started the turnaround that led to another Cup.
In footballing terms you can have sympathy with Arena’s position, but on the other hand, one of the perils of following MLS in tandem with other leagues — which is the general lot of all but the most parochial of American soccer fans — is that there is no such thing as an offseason. No sooner had I turned the key in my rental car, leaving the Home Depot Center to the more diligent cleaners a few hours after the final whistle of MLS Cup, than I found myself checking my phone and thinking idly, I wonder what the mood’s like in Sunderland right now.
The answer was “grim,” of course. And not just because I was in L.A. and it was 4 a.m. on a Sunday in Sunderland at that moment — a time when downtown Fawcett Street is traditionally a mosaic of bodily fluids, broken glass, and Lycra. I knew it would be grim before I checked, for that is the Sunderland way. Yet I sort of thought that with my not paying full attention in recent months, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. Instead, of course, it was worse — and as a conditioned victim of what that team has put me through over the years, within seconds of looking at the first message board howl glowing angrily up at me from the phone screen, I was convinced that it was my fault — if only I’d been paying attention, this wouldn’t have happened. For that, in turn, is the supporter’s way: eternal, superstitious vigilance.
It’s not that I hadn’t been following just how uninspiring Sunderland have been this season (a dreary desert of footballing imagination punctuated by the occasional mirage of a Steven Fletcher goal — any questions?), it’s just that with a fairly full-time gig covering another league, and living in another country, I’ve been able to treat my relationship with Sunderland rather more like casual stalking of an ex on Facebook, rather than a 37-year marriage sustained only by the promise of release at death. “I’m Sun’lun till I die,” bellow the fans at every game. They are as well, the poor fools.
So now, staring at the phone as the car idled and various Galaxy players made their way to their celebration party, any thought of my enjoying the MLS offseason as a healthy expat was sucked into a vortex of despair eight time zones away, as Sunderland had their way with me. The screen’s little rectangle of light made me think of Christian Bale’s Batman dumped into that deep foreign prison with the tantalizing skylight that it seems so simple to climb out of (just beat Fulham at home and steal a point on the road at a hit-or-miss Liverpool … ). I pulled out of the Home Depot Center car park wondering if Wes Brown would ever be healthy. And that can’t be healthy.
The next morning I did a radio interview with TalkSport in the U.K. They wanted to know about David Beckham’s time in MLS. Sitting in the same rental car, on a Long Beach side street, on hold with the producer, I looked up at palm trees as the phone’s speaker pumped out the feed from the station: traffic reports from Knutsford and Keele. Suddenly, I was jerked out of the Proustian reverie these familiar English motorway waypoints evoked with the news that we were going over to Carrow Road and Norwich vs. Sunderland: “With 20 minutes to go, Norwich still lead …. ” Some other words, then: “Joining me now from Los Angeles, Graham Parker is a …. ” I instantly wanted the idiot with the weird accent to stop talking about Beckham (in fairness, so did the presenter) so we could get back to the updates from Sunderland’s game, but I also thought that if we went back too soon, there wouldn’t be enough time for the ball to squirt off the back of John O’Shea’s knee for an equalizer. So I kept talking. Eventually the presenter cut across me and the interview ended. We went back to Norwich. Sunderland had not scored. This is their way. I call it simply “grim doggedness.”
Many teams have “a way” — though such expressions of a team ethos tend to be evoked around the more pleasurable aesthetic end of the spectrum (with due respect to 1980’s Wimbledon). Speak with Tottenham fans of a certain vintage — say, those who are two family generations at most removed from the double-winning side of the early 1960s — and they will talk idealistically about the “Tottenham way.” Their way, apparently, is a simple one founded on the principles of attractive wing play and swashbuckling attacking, though observers over the years may note that their way also includes such elements as “chronic underachievement.” Ways are not tactics or systems as such; they’re an overarching stylistic philosophy, which oftentimes provide their romantic advocates with a puritanical code for support as they judge which players are spiritually fit to wear the shirt.
To this end, Spurs fans love a free spirit like a Glenn Hoddle, or of course a marauding wing back like Gareth Bale (swashbuckles as fiercely as any pirate; dives as though he’s walked the plank). They’ll even purr admiringly when crowd favorite Ossie Ardiles briefly returns as manager and plays with something like nine forwards. Given the fact that “ways” mythologize over time, arguably it is the team “coached” by Ardiles that was the acme of the Spurs way, in that Bill Nicholson’s team that won the League and Cup double and gave birth to “the Tottenham way” were just playing what they thought would be effective football, whereas Ardiles’s version of Spurs played like they’d spent hours in seminaries studying the holy scriptures written in praise of those ideals. And since the fans are the high priests and custodians of “the way,” initially they were delighted at the impression of the Ardiles team (“look at that majestic line of advancing white shirts”) — until they got stuffed something like 9-4 every week and the novelty and the idealism wore off pretty quick (“they look like a First World War surrender, innit?”).
Spurs fans of course are not unique in this — in the Premier league alone, there are many teams with notable “ways”: Liverpool (the continuity of the boot room [er … ]; pass and move; chronic underachievement), Newcastle United (fast attacks; weeping, topless, fat men in sleet; chronic underachievement), Manchester United (romantic youth; experimental timekeeping), Manchester City (the construction of ever-grander stages in the search for jaw-dropping failure — Aguero winning the title for them with the last kick of the 2012 season was not, the sniffy purists would argue, the City way).
And as I have noted, Sunderland, too, have a way. And it is a way you will recognize if you are a hardened fan of Burnley, Colorado Rapids, or Stenhousemuir. The purest expression of an aesthetic ideal I ever saw at a stadium was when Sunderland’s Gavin McCann attempted a back heel (against the stylish Arsenal, natch) and an old man near me shed decades to leap to his feet and howl, “STOP IT MAN, McCANN — YOU’RE DOGGED!” before slumping back in his seat in wounded outrage. He did rally briefly, to grimace encouragingly when McCann later had the grace to lie lifeless on the turf for five minutes after going for a 10-90 ball with Patrick Vieira. And there was a further bizarre coda of affectation/mental instability five minutes from the end of the game, when he witheringly assessed those looking to beat the traffic as being “off to their nice warm baths” (bathing apparently being the height of bourgeois decadence for this most Spartan of Mackems). But nothing quite matched the intensity of his initial scream of betrayal that McCann had somehow forsaken his way. And perhaps, by extension, the Sunderland “way.”
Now Sunderland fans, and I number among them, will point out that Peter Reid’s turn-of-the-century teams were promoted from the Championship with a record points total, then finished seventh, twice in succession (including a heady moment of playing Manchester United for first place at New Year) — and that those teams were founded on a basis of attacking wing play that might reasonably be called the ideal of what their fans love to see. Mightn’t that be the Sunderland way? Personally I think those fans, bruised by disappointment (ask them what followed those two seventh-place finishes), like their attacking wingers only as much as their runs give them a nice distance to make up when they’re charging back desperately to retrieve lost causes. And while these supporters appreciate style and flair as much as the next fan, they’re just as happy to see it smothered by an honest red-and-white yeoman. Witness the fan I overheard waxing lyrical at a different Sunderland-Arsenal game, during the Londoners’ period of unaccountably poor results against the Mackems (an honor now bestowed on Manchester City): “Oh, they’re a lovely team; try to play the game the right way; joy to watch; man-for-man more skill than us all over the park; and they always get fuck all up here.”
Don’t take my word for it, though. You know how, watching that Being Liverpool series, you had the feeling that someone was assigned by the club to stand off-camera and make a throat-cutting gesture anytime anything vaguely contentious looked like it might be raised in the dressing room? There was a reason for that. In the mid-'90s Peter Reid’s Sunderland team allowed BBC cameras to follow them throughout the season, giving a rare and cheerfully unguarded insight into their motivational techniques, tactical subtleties, and preaching of the “Sunderland way.” The result was Premier Passions, which you owe yourself an afternoon’s YouTube fun with, if only to marvel at the people who are the linchpins of multimillion-dollar sporting operations as they go about their business. It’s stood as a cautionary tale ever since.
Anyway, I recently stumbled across a montage of Peter Reid’s team talks from the show, which I’d like to share with you, so that you, too, can appreciate the creative foundations of Sunderland’s greatest postwar team. Head to the 3:17 mark for the musings of Peter Reid’s assistant Bobby Saxton (warning: NSFW — indeed, NSF-anything) as he gently explains that the answer to solving a persistent problem caused by Aston Villa’s attack is to “get up their arses.”
This is perhaps the essence of the way.
I suggest you watch the whole thing, though. Reid’s OPTA-fueled analysis of one display as “weak as piss” is also a highlight, yet there is, if not method to the madness, at least madness, as the clip also documents wins over Arsenal and Manchester United. Needless to say, Sunderland were relegated that year.
And since that casual reconnection in a Home Depot Center car park last month, I’ve watched them contrive to beat Manchester City, then get hammered at Liverpool; give up a two-goal head start to Bolton, then retrieve it, to set up what will doubtless be a defeat at home in the FA Cup replay; etc. My face in repose has morphed back to the stoical set jaw reserved for shipyard closures and last-minute losses at Reading. This team elevate hope only to send it tumbling back down the well, while Martin O’Neill grimaces (and Tom Conti looks faintly disappointed in a cowl).
So don’t talk to me about seasons never ending — my particular footballing life is endless and relentless. That’s the way of things. Thank God the soccer will be back soon. See you at the Superdraft.
By: timbersfan, 6:01 AM GMT on January 26, 2013
“It was tough out there on the wing — that side of the field is really hard. I think they use it for cricket ... ”
I’m talking to a young hopeful at the MLS Combine, the selection trials for the SuperDraft, after he has dragged himself off the field to talk to the few reporters gathered here at the Central Broward Regional Park stadium. I look out in the general area of where he is pointing, and see that there is indeed a dry, hard square of dirt at the far side of the field, large enough to accommodate a particularly unforgiving wicket, if not being quite so accommodating to a sprinting soccer player’s cleats. The player looks irritated — the state of the field out there has compounded his frustration at being played on the wing instead of his normal forward position, and he feels he hasn’t done himself justice on the biggest stage of his footballing life so far. As he slopes off to the locker room, he gives another last grimace at the dusty patch of ground. It’s doubtful that he’ll be consoled when he returns for his next game two days later to find the dirt has been painted green. Welcome to the lowest rung of MLS.
I wasn’t going to come down from New York for the Combine — the annual event in which 60 or so hopefuls are put through their paces in front of MLS coaching staffs in the hope of earning a SuperDraft selection. Prior to covering the SuperDraft last year, I had watched the Combine on a pixelated MLS feed, and had felt that a combination of that plus the various mock drafts executed with relish by the wonkier end of the U.S. soccer cognoscenti were plenty to get a sense of things. But this year I’d been kicking around another story idea featuring an interview subject living half an hour from Fort Lauderdale and I’d remembered someone saying to me that the Combine was one of the best places to speak to MLS coaches (because let’s face it, aside from all being in one place, they’re as relaxed and open as they’re going to be all year right now, when none of them has a losing record yet). So at the last minute I muttered something about “networking” and “it is work” to my wife and headed down to Florida.
If the Combine is big news in Fort Lauderdale, it’s hard to see sign of it as I’m driving in. The biggest attraction in town is suggested by a home-made poster on a pedestrian bridge advertising a forthcoming screening of Zero Dark Thirty. Other billboards mutedly plead the case for forthcoming gun shows and orchid expos, apparently at the same versatile venue. When I finally drive past the giant swap meet by the highway and arrive, I find that Central Broward Regional Park's stadium is actually a loose collection of stands built around one side of a large staked out circle accommodating the cricket field. At the other, unpopulated, side a simple barrier barely breaks the impression of an endless field of grass — reminding me of a sun-drenched version of Brian James’s description of Carlisle’s Brunton Park: “the notion that a ball kicked over the fence would go on bouncing until it dropped off the end of the world is hard to shake off.” The end of some young men’s small soccer worlds will come this weekend, but in the general understated environment of the Combine it’s hard to spot a sense of occasion. Perhaps that’s no bad thing for the nerves of the participants, but such atmosphere as there is feels like it might dissipate at any moment.
It’s hardly helped by the soccer on view on Day 1. The first game starts like a bad 10-year-old’s pickup game. Anxious for touches to impress early, players end up bunched in high lines for the first half, as the ball pinballs around among them. It’s a traditional first-day mess, and perhaps only the center backs stand out — cleaning up the ball decently at the edge of the fray. Meanwhile, the rest of the players struggle to gain traction in the melee. Jason “J.J.” Johnson, the raw but talented young forward who has drawn comparisons with C.J. Sapong, is one of those who played out of position, and he looks tentative on the wing, playing just in front of the low line of temporary bleachers that has been installed for the MLS coaches to observe the young players up close. At first what these coaches see is a young man with a flashy haircut, boots, and earrings, not doing much to add to a striking first impression.
Gradually the game stretches a little and the two attacking playmakers for each team begin to impress with some neat touches. UConn’s Carlos Alvarez gets himself a couple of goals, much to the satisfaction of Chivas USA’s new coach Sanchez "Chelis" Sola (Alvarez’s father once played for Chivas Guadalajara), who will later declare his intention to take the player with his no. 2 overall pick. Chelis might have been given food for thought, though, by the performance of Mikey Lopez on the other team — the slight, young midfielder has an assured game, and indeed his stock will rise throughout the weekend.
Noting these developments, I’m continually reminded how this is an alienating way to watch a game — basically running a parallel mental leader board alongside the action (to be reordered momentarily). Individual moments of skill or errors are always talking points in the sport, but at the Combine the games themselves are simply frames for individual moments. Every time a goal is scored there’s less a sense of excitement at how this narrows or blows open the game, or changes its momentum, than a sudden jarring reminder that all these “phrases” we’re focusing on are meant to add up to something like a recognizable story. It’s a little like trying to imagine sound by reading the numbers in a digital sample.
So back at the opening game, there’s a sudden burst of movement as a routine ball out of the back sees Johnson spin, turn, and lose his marker as he sprints to the edge of the box before crossing for teammate John Stertzer to score. You can see all concerned walking back to their starting positions playing the moment back in their heads and wondering what they’ve just done for their stock. As Johnson jogs back to the halfway line, a little lighter on his toes for his part in the goal, the player who was marking him seems to be visibly shrinking as he slowly turns back to his position. Meanwhile, in the stands, members of the press, family friends, agents, and college coaches look at their list of starters and ask each other “Who scored? Stertzer? He’s looked decent actually." Shuffle. Recalibrate. Repeat ...
I’m surrounded in the stands by now-familiar faces from the MLS circuit. Sprawled over three rows, the ESPN posse are holding court: Alexi Lalas laid back and offering laconic asides, Taylor Twellman always ready to prod the group with a goofy comment. As the game unfolds and the non-playing teams on the far side of the field are measured for how high they can leap, Lalas starts a debate on how useful a metric that could possibly be, when it doesn’t simultaneously measure a skill like heading. In the next minute he shrugs off some good-natured taunting from colleagues at the sight of the long-haired Greg Cochrane looking lively as an overlapping wingback: “He’s got long hair — he should have good music taste, Alexi” (at last year’s draft, Lalas’s on-air color commentary on players lower down the order tended to revolve around the bands they liked). Another Lalas, Greg, the MLS digital editor, is glancing up at the assembled crowd to wonder how many total Twitter followers are represented here. When the stand does respond in unison to something, it’s not to a goal, but the Twitter news that Alex Morgan has been allocated not to Seattle, but Portland.
It’s not that those watching don’t care about what we’re watching — the occasional, suddenly tensing shoulders of a spectator indicates a parent or coach who clearly cares to a fault, or one of the ESPN group will lean forward, stab their notes and start whispering urgently at something they’ve just seen and why this means “he doesn’t convince me” or “that’s what he can do right there.” The general lack of focus is because the game itself, and the score produced by it, is utterly secondary to a process we can only guess at, namely what the assembled coaches down in front of us are thinking.
And there is a secondary theater at the Combine of watching said coaches interacting all in one place. There’s Philadelphia’s John Hackworth, making his way on and off the field without any entourage, stopping to talk affably to fans; Bruce Arena is in full training gear at the heart of his ever-expanding L.A. Galaxy huddle, looking relaxed and in his element close to the halfway line; Ben Olsen and Dominic Kinnear are ever present down on the benches, too, though more studiedly focused than Arena as they watch the games — even Olsen’s apparent jokes seem intense. Meanwhile the Toronto and Chivas technical teams enjoy a kind of inverted stardom — their poor finishes last season give them the high draft picks this year. New Portland boss Caleb Porter is circulating everywhere — perhaps hoping he can trade Portland back into the first two rounds for one of the college players he knows so well from his years in Akron.
Not everyone is front and center. There’s little sign of Seattle’s Sigi Schmid, for example — though he is here, watching the games from the second floor of the clubhouse. So too are the New York delegation of interim head coach Mike Petke and technical director Ricardo Campos. Contrary to message-board leaps of logic, there’s no particular intrigue to where any coaching team watches the game from, or why — and in line with the idea of preseason bonhomie, all are approachable. Petke jokes to me about how he “can die happy, now that I’ve coached my hometown club,” following his two-month offseason stint since Hans Backe’s departure. Even Arena wanders over to share a few words, noting of the media mock drafts, “You guys treat it like it’s a science ... ” and suggesting the reality is much more prosaic.
"Pick the best left on the board regardless of position” has been the Galaxy’s mantra in recent years, though their successful recent seasons and subsequent low picks have meant that that’s a fait accompli as much as a policy. Their last high pick was in 2009, when they landed Omar Gonzalez (who turned out to be the best on the board from the start).
The last 10 minutes of the game get messy again, as players both tire and lose discipline. Those within any sort of reach of goal now start hitting wild shots that they hope might knuckle spectacularly to propel them to a draft position. None go in, and the ball boys and girls are kept busy scrambling through the empty stands beyond the goals. Finally the game ends and the two sides troop off to be replaced by the players from the other two teams, and the next game quickly gets under way. I’m still talking with a disappointed Jason Johnson about his hit-and-miss performance when midfielder Dillon Powers opens the scoring in that next game with a thumping shot. Johnson’s eyes flicker to the game behind us, “Well, I suppose it’s good to get the butterflies out of the stomach on Day 1.”
I wish him luck, and for once find myself truly meaning that end-of-interview platitude. I find that happening repeatedly over the next few days. Even the most feted of these young players faces an uncertain path ahead — most of them have at least acquired a college education, but even those who’ll now segue into decent, if not exorbitant, starting salaries as Generation Adidas players still face a long route toward anything like stable careers. And speaking with one young player, Machael David, of whom more soon, he remarks that with his college career over he’s basically homeless if he does not find a team. We both know he has had injuries and is a long shot to go in the first two rounds, but as with Johnson I wish him luck, and promise to revisit his extraordinary personal story.
When you see the players up close, en masse, you’re reminded of how young they really are and what this represents for them. At one point in the weekend, I walk in front of the clubhouse to make a call and find myself standing a few feet behind Mikey Lopez and presumptive no. 1 draft pick Andrew Farrell as they sit on a concrete ledge happily watching the two other teams play, only for one of the Combine coaches to shout at them to get inside and get ready for the bus. As they scramble to their feet, reaching for their kit bags, they look not like budding superstars, but guilty kids. Kids who just want to play.
Andrew Farrell was drafted no. 1 overall by New England Revolution. His roommate at the Combine, Jason Johnson, was drafted no. 13 by Houston Dynamo. Carlos Alvarez (2) went to Chivas USA as expected, and Mikey Lopez (14) went to Sporting Kansas City.
Machael David was interviewed by three MLS sides, but was not selected in the SuperDraft and will now enter the Supplemental Draft on Tuesday.
By: timbersfan, 5:59 AM GMT on January 26, 2013
Today’s English soccer landscape is governed by inevitability. Save a few rare surprises, the best players, the most trophies, and the most coveted spots in the Premier League table end up belonging to the wealthy clubs from Manchester, London, and the red half of Merseyside. It’s the harsh reality of a sport where money is tied directly to success. The formula is simple — the more a club spends of the former, the more that club can expect of the latter.
The domestic cups are about the only the place left for a small club to capture football glory. Catch a few favorable draws, upend a disinterested giant, and — voila — your supporters might be lucky enough to enjoy a … quarterfinal match. Sadly, even the cups seem to experience very little chaos that upsets the established order. Over the past 12 years, Liverpool, the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and Arsenal have combined to win 19 of the past 24 League and F.A. Cups finals.
But just a year after Championship side Cardiff City took Liverpool to penalties before falling short in the final, the League Cup is the stage for yet another improbable run. This time it’s Bradford City.
If you haven’t heard of the Bantams before, don’t be too hard on yourself. The club has barely spent any time in England’s top division, other than two unmemorable seasons in the Premier League from 1999-2001. And given the club is currently occupying 11th place in League Two, it’s certainly easy to lose track of them. But incredibly enough, this lowly club in the lowest of England’s full-time professional leagues is on the verge of making a cup final.
It was a journey that started innocently enough as Bradford City defeated Notts County, Watford, and Burton Albion, each by one-goal margins, before the Round 4 draw sent them to Wigan’s DW Stadium. Going up against a Premier League side is typically the end of the road for a League Two club. Even a club with limited resources like Wigan dwarfs the spending power of one like Bradford City.
But thanks to Roberto Martinez making nine changes to his starting XI, the Bantams were able survive long enough to force penalties. After Wigan’s Shaun Maloney sent his attempt sailing over the crossbar, Bradford’s Alan Connell slotted his kick home, putting the Bantams up, 4-2. Jordi Gomez tried to keep Wigan’s hopes alive with the next penalty, but Matt Duke, Bradford’s 35-year-old journeyman keeper, deflected Gomez’s attempt wide and sent Bradford to its first quarterfinal in club history.
That meant Arsenal was coming to Valley Parade stadium. Though the Twitter feeds of Gunners fans would fool some into thinking their club was teetering on the brink of relegation, they were very much heavy favorites entering the match — the equivalent of a 16-seed trying in vain to take down a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. Bradford was in the driver’s seat early after midfielder Garry Thompson knocked in a deflection, following a free kick. Just when it looked like the Bradford would pull out the win, Arsneal’s Thomas Vermaelen headed home a Santi Cazorla cross in the 88th minute to force extra time. Neither side scored in the extra half hour, and it was down to penalties once again.
As soon as Varmaelen’s attempt clanged off the post, it was “Wenger Out” time for Arsenal supporters and celebration time for Bradford City as they moved onto to the semifinals.
Thanks to late goals from Carl McHugh and Rory McArdle, cementing a 3-1 victory against Aston Villa, the first leg of Bradford’s semifinal wasn’t nearly as dramatic the previous two rounds of matches. With a chance to make history, though, that's sure change. Over the past 20 years, just three clubs — Cardiff City, Tranmere and Middlesbrough — outside the top flight have even made a League Cup final. Bradford City, with a two-goal lead on aggregate, is a heavy favorite to become just the fourth.
A win on Tuesday would also give the Bantams a chance to be the first club outside of the top two leagues to win the trophy since Swindon Town did in 1969. By accomplishing such a feat in an era where the divide between the haves and have nots is greater than ever before, Bradford City would — if they haven’t already — create an indelible memory for its fan base and give a little luster to the reputation of English football's rather uncompetitive domestic cup competitions. Who knows? They might even prove, albeit briefly, that money isn't everything.
By: timbersfan, 5:57 AM GMT on January 26, 2013
Soccer provides few opportunities for close-ups, so you flash personality where you can: meticulously sculpted faux-hawks and Prison Break–status tattoos, cheeky nutmegs and superfluous dribbling-for-art's-sake, GIF-ready goal celebrations and radiant footwear. I've always loved that one of the most popular soccer boots on the planet is called the Mercurial Vapor — one of its signature colorways is "violet poppy/obsidian/orange." The "Vapor" part is self-explanatory: It sounds cool, conjuring images of an unmarkable winger or striker — the shoe's target market, really — teleporting into open space. "Mercurial" because, allusions to the god Mercury aside, it's the perfect word to describe some of the world's most talented attacking players: supremely talented yet fickle, volatile, erratic, tantrum-y, wanting of attention.
All of which makes the striker who falters all the more noticeable.1 Over the past two seasons, the sudden futility of Chelsea's Fernando Torres has become one of the Premier League's consistently baffling stories. He arrived to Chelsea in the January 2011 transfer window, having established himself as one of the world's best strikers at Atletico Madrid and then Liverpool. The boyish,2 pouting Torres helped initiate Spain's domination of world soccer when he scored the lone goal of the 2008 European Championship final against Germany. That goal captured everything about his gifts — he was fast and strong enough to get by or just shrug off defenders, yet careful enough to get the ball into the net by force or finesse. That breakthrough European Championship — it's hard to remember that Spain once seemed so ordinary and unlucky — capped a remarkable run for the then 24-year-old Torres. During the 2007-08 season, he scored 33 goals in all competitions.
Some of Torres's struggles since then come down to lingering injuries, and it's hard to maintain that look of freckly ebullience once you've forced a transfer to a major rival.3 Now it's just pure, grown-up "bitchface." But his inability to fit with Chelsea's squad of intergalactic superstars continues to mystify those around him, as well as seemingly random onlookers. Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell claims that two weeks of "intensive sprint training" will bring back the old Nando. Former manager Roberto Di Matteo suggests that he "has a psychological problem, and only Fernando can unlock it." His confidence, Di Matteo continues, is suffering, and it's a weariness Torres wears on his face. Perhaps this explains interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez's protective encouragement of the striker he helped nurture back at Liverpool. "Fernando was doing a great job," Benitez remarked after their 2-1 defeat of Arsenal on Sunday. "These people who like to quote stats and stats, they don't have any clue about what is going on." Of the "Torres Sucks" stats making the rounds, there's one that's especially cruel. A couple weeks ago, Stoke City's Jon Walters gifted Chelsea two own goals and many joked that he had scored more times for Chelsea this year than Torres himself had.
CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES
Still, Torres always seems on the verge of regaining his impudent swag, even if that expectation merely makes it seem all the more pathetic. How long can you wait? The memory persists of his proudest moment at Chelsea, a goal against Barcelona during last spring's Champions League semifinals that sent commentator (and former rival Gary Neville) into an orgasmic tizzy. As I watched Torres pick up the ball and drive toward the opposing goal, I couldn't help but imagine how he would fumble this opportunity. What new form of humiliation will we as a society soon be witnessing? That was a long run for someone with everything to think about. Instead, he scored and, for a moment, order was restored.
In contrast, I've grown accustomed to expecting absolutely nothing when Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov touches the ball, since it's impossible to guess what he might do with it. The Bulgarian striker is one of the Premier League's most mystical players, languidly pirouetting as everyone else around him growls and huffs and proves their determination by stampeding as hard as they can. It often looks like Berbatov is playing an entirely different game out there. He's slow on the ball, complete and elegant in his movements, rarely hurried, like the calm eye at the center of a cyclone. You can watch him score in sundry, totally unique ways, and yet how often does he use his left foot as anything more than a pivot?4 He looks alone out there, miffed that his teammates can't read his thoughts and get him the ball where he wants it.
It's as though our language is stretched when applied to the skill with which he controls the ball. "Everything he plucked out the sky died on his toe," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew recently observed. "Modern society, never mind modern football, does not deserve Berbatov," Rob Smyth recently wrote in The Surreal Football Magazine, and it's the kind of cerebral praise ("existential striker" is another) that makes sense once you've seen Berbatov tame a long pass with a flick of the toe. It can be frustrating to watch if you think a striker needs to be pathologically addicted to goal-scoring. But greed doesn't look the same in all specimens. Berbatov was a teenage prodigy for CSKA Sofia — good enough to be kidnapped — and a star for Bayer Leverkusen and then Tottenham Hotspur. Most recently, he spent four inconsistent years at Manchester United, winning a Golden Boot but never quite earning the trust of his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, whose obsession with constantly improving his strike force seemed to destabilize Berbatov. Part of the problem was his presence. Everyone else was busy running up and down the pitch. True to his role, Berbatov would just graze peacefully by himself, occasionally holding up a brutal, quick-strike counterattack with his slow-mo grandeur. Was he uninterested, lazy, bored, unsuited to Ferguson's fully committed, blood-oath style?
Berbatov is one of the more sympathetic stars in the Premier League. After leading the league in goals in 2010-11 — a season in which United finished first, despite Wayne Rooney's mid-season threat to leave for rival Manchester City — Berbatov barely played last season. Ferguson's acquisition of striker Robin van Persie from Arsenal finally freed Berbatov from his status as an insurance policy. At Fulham, Berbatov can be a freelancing genius, one of the focal points of an attack that, let's be honest, rarely meets his majestic standard.
One of the few things Berbatov does seem to spend time "trying" to do — besides imitating how his doppelgänger Andy Garcia holds a cigarette — is coming up with messages for his undershirt. It's become a tired tradition, but Berbatov single-handedly revived it the day after Christmas by scoring against Southampton and pulling up his jersey to reveal a form-fitting undershirt upon which someone with neurotic penmanship had scrawled "KEEP CALM AND PASS ME THE BALL." Maybe, as Smyth suggests, Berbatov is here to prove something, to question our assumptions and short-circuit our expectations. What if genius doesn't actually need to exert itself? Hard work, the sweat on your brow, a muddied uniform: It's all a con. Why make a show of effort when your style is pure and effortless?
Solving the Centerback Conundrum: Does the USMNT Need a Leader?
By: timbersfan, 6:05 AM GMT on January 18, 2013
In 2012, United States national team captain Carlos Bocanegra and relative newcomer Geoff Cameron started nine matches each at centerback. Clarence Goodson figured in Jurgen Klinsmann's first XI six times. A duo made from that trio started 10 of the team's 15 games, including all six World Cup qualifiers and the last five fixtures of the calendar year. But none of the combinations were without fault, and the pairing is an ongoing concern for the coaching staff (and, certainly, the rabid American fan base).
Two questions: (1) What is the problem, exactly? And (2) What is the solution?
First thing first: Even the best centerback tandems in the world need time to develop together. It's impossible to step out on to the field and immediately mesh. Cameron, who had the best year of the three, is also the newest member of the trio. Nine of his 11 caps came in 2012. He was getting used to the international game on the fly and getting used to his American counterparts at the same time. Right now, Cameron is the only sure starter — and even that statement comes more from need than anything — with Bocanegra returning from injury, Goodson's play having fallen off, and none of the other prospects like Omar Gonzalez or Matt Besler jumping to grab a spot. (Yet, at least.)
Assuming Captain America Bocanegra can return soon from a hamstring tear he suffered in Russia, he's the favorite to slide in next to the Stoke City defender when the Americans take the field in Honduras on February 6 to start the final round of World Cup qualifying. But that duo only played four games together in the past 12 months, hardly enough time to really get acquainted. "That's a partnership that has to grow and grow and grow," Tim Howard says of the relationship. "That doesn't happen overnight. It happens over many, many years and many, many games. That has to keep getting better and better." It will, but it takes time.
Another issue is the lack of a vocal leader in the backline, someone who can scream and yell and organize the defense when the best-laid plans go to hell. None of the three are the in-your-face type of player, nor are their potential replacements. The days of Jay DeMerit taking control are gone, and they aren't coming back. "It's not an easy thing to do," Howard says. "It's either natural or it's not. Jay had it. That was Jay's personality. That was one of Jay's strong traits. He's outgoing, confident in his ability to communicate, organize, and lead. It's not an easy thing to do, and it's something that we have to continue to get better at."
But does a team really need that type of fiery personality, the traditional leader in the back? I asked Alexi Lalas, the fiery — and not just because of his trademark red hair — former central defender, who paired for years with the quieter Marcelo Balboa in a successful defending duo. "There's the traditional classic type of screaming, leading, prodding, bullying type of defender that we often revere and hold up as the model, but I don't think that you have to have that to be effective and to lead," he says. Bocanegra, et al., fit into the latter mold. These players can work, but of course, "you hedge your bets with [a fiery guy], though," Lalas adds, laughing.
If you watch the Americans play, you'll no doubt see Howard admonishing or applauding his defense, trying to keep it organized. But there's only so much the veteran Everton goalkeeper can do. He's working to keep the entire team in shape, to see the whole picture. The back four needs its own leader; think the goaltender's "macro" to the defenders' "micro."
In addition to helping adjust spacing and positioning, vocal players play another role, as well. Often, it's not the content of their words that matters, but the simple existence of them. "I think you have to talk for 90 minutes. Something always has to be coming out of your mouth," Howard says. "It doesn't have to be positive or negative. It can be as obvious as 'the sun is shining,' but it needs to be a constant flow of communication that keeps everybody on their toes."
Lalas, now an analyst for ESPN, agrees. One of the hardest parts of a soccer game — especially for backliners — is staying in the present. Frequently, the ball is seemingly out of danger, 40, 50, or 60 yards away. And yet, a few seconds of letting the mind wander can change everything. "As defenders, so much of our existence is trying to stay focused, trying to not [let] that one momentary lapse affect us and, ultimately, affect the game," the 96-capped player says. "It's easy to zone out or to get into a lull. Talking helps you individually stay in the game and helps you keep others in the game."
Now, let's talk solutions. The good part is that Klinsmann has a number of potential options. In addition to Cameron, Bocanegra, and Goodson, three players — A.J. DeLaGarza, Oguchi Onyewu, and Maurice Edu — saw time at centerback in 2012. Each one showed flashes of being able to compete internationally. More promising, however, are Besler and Gonzalez, the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year and 2012 MLS Cup MVP, respectively, currently in the traditional January camp. The coach expects both men to show they belong, especially the Los Angeles Galaxy defender. "We want him to understand that there's another level waiting for him, that he has to work for that level and that he has to develop a confidence and personality to get to the international level. We are curious — you know, there is no pressure on him. We help in that process," Klinsmann said.
Part of that process will be learning to organize and express himself vocally on the field. The skill comes naturally to a player like DeMerit, but reserved players can improve. "I think there is an element of it being innate, but I do think that you can get better at it, recognizing what works and what doesn't," Lalas says. "You have to be able to do something and say something when there's chaos and disarray. You have to be able to get your point across."
Lalas continues: "If you are going to be a vocal leader, you have got to be a man manager and recognize which players need which type of vocal leadership at which time. You have to be able to pat them on the back and kick them in the butt with equal measure in certain situations." Klinsmann started the traditional three-week camp with a string of days dedicated to fitness, including sessions about proper diet. Perhaps he should've thrown in a course or two on the art of communication, as well.
By: timbersfan, 10:05 AM GMT on January 12, 2013
Years after Aegon's Landing
Chronological plank of the succession of the kings and queens after Aegon's conquest. The Targaryen kings are in black or red, Baratheon in yellow and periods of rebellion in orange
This page is intended to draw a rough chronology of events since the world since Aegon's Landing an epoch event, that Maesters and educated people counted the years in relation to. George R. R. Martin has been vague in regard to some dates, so this chronology is often based on estimations according to key dates, character ages etc. For a more general overview of the history see major events timeline.
See Also: Years after Aegon's Landing Theories.
Jump to: Top / Year's 1-99 / Year's 100-199 / Year's 200-249 / Year's 250-297 / Year's 298-Today (Series)
Year 1 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon and his sisters land with their three dragons on three hills close to the Mouth of the Blackwater Rush.
King Harren the Black finishes the construction of Harrenhal.
War of Conquest
Titles and positions
Orys Baratheon is named Hand of the King.
Daemon Velaryon is named Master of Ships.
Crispian Celtigar is named Master of Coin.
Tristan Massey is named Master of Laws.
The Kingsguard is formed.
House Baratheon is named new overlord of the Stormlands.
House Tully is named new overlord of the Riverlands.
House Greyjoy is named new overlord of the Iron Islands.
House Tyrell is named new overlord of the Reach and Warden of the South.
House Stark is named Warden of the North.
House Lannister is named Warden of the West.
House Arryn is named Warden of the East.
Harren the Black
Argilac the Arrogant
Year 37 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon I dies from unknown circumstances.
Aenys I is crowned.
Maegor Targaryen is named his Hand of the King
The Faith of the Seven rises up in rebellion against the Targaryens.
Year 42 after Aegon's Landing
Aenys I dies from unknown circumstances.
Maegor I is crowned.
Year 48 after Aegon's Landing
Maegor I is murdered on the Iron Throne
Jaehaerys I is crowned.
Jump to: Top / Year's 1-99 / Year's 100-199 / Year's 200-249 / Year's 250-297 / Year's 298-Today (Series)
Year 103 after Aegon's Landing
Jaehaerys I dies from unknown circumstances.
Viserys I is crowned.
Year 120 after Aegon's Landing
(Circa) Aegon III, son of Rhaenyra Targaryen.
Year 121 after Aegon's Landing
(Circa) Viserys II, son of Rhaenyra Targaryen.
Year 129 after Aegon's Landing
Viserys I dies from unknown circumstances.
Aegon II is crowned.
Dance of the Dragons, The first major civil war in the history of the Seven Kingdoms.
Year 131 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon II dies from unknown circumstances.
Aegon III is crowned.
Year 137 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon IV son of Viserys Targaryen
Year 138 after Aegon's Landing
Aemon the Dragonknight, son of Viserys Targaryen
Year 143 after Aegon's Landing
Daeron I, son of Aegon III and his Velaryon queen.
Viserys II is named Hand of the King.
Year 144 after Aegon's Landing
Baelor I, son of Aegon III and his Velaryon queen.
Year 145 after Aegon's Landing
Daena Targaryen, daughter of Aegon III and his Velaryon queen.
Year 147 after Aegon's Landing
Rhaena Targaryen, daughter of Aegon III and his Velaryon queen.
Year 150 after Aegon's Landing
Elaena Targaryen, daughter of Aegon III and his Velaryon queen.
(Circa) Arlan of Pennytree.
Year 154 after Aegon's Landing
Daeron II, son of Aegon IV and Naerys Targaryen.
Year 155 after Aegon's Landing
(Circa) The last dragon dies.
Year 157 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon III dies from unknown circumstances.
Daeron I is crowned.
Daeron I conquers Dorne.
Year 161 after Aegon's Landing
Daeron I fighting the Dornishmen.
Ser Olyvar Oakheart, at the side of the young dragon.
Baelor I walks the Boneway barefoot to make peace with Dorne, and rescues Aemon the Dragonknight from a "snakepit".
Baelor I is crowned.
Year 162 after Aegon's Landing
Year 168 after Aegon's Landing
(Circa) Daeron Targaryen and Myriah Martell.
Year 169 after Aegon's Landing
Baelor Breakspear, son of Daeron II and Myriah Martell.
(Circa) Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of Aegon IV and Naerys
Year 170 after Aegon's Landing
Daemon Blackfyre, bastard son of Aegon IV and Daena Targaryen (who at this time is recluded in the Maidenvault)
Aerys I, son of Daeron II and Myriah Martell.
(circa) King Baelor I brokers the marriage of Princess Daenerys Targaryen with the Prince of Dorne, to make peace with Dorne after the conquest of Daeron I.
Year 171 after Aegon's Landing
Baelor I, the first of his name, dies in unknown circumstances.
Viserys II, the second of his name, is crowned.
Year 172 after Aegon's Landing
Aegor Rivers, bastard son of Aegon IV and Barba Bracken.
Rhaegel Targaryen, son of Daeron II and Myriah Martell.
Viserys II, the second of his name, dies in unknown circumstances.
Aegon IV is crowned.
Year 175 after Aegon's Landing
Brynden Rivers, bastard son of Aegon IV and Mylessa Blackwood.
Year 182 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon IV knights his bastard son Daemon Blackfyre and gives him the ancestral sword Blackfyre.
Year 184 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon and Aemon, twin sons of Daemon Blackfyre and by an unknown woman.
Aegon IV dies.
Aegon IV legitimizes all his bastards in his deathbed.
Daeron II is crowned.
Year 189 after Aegon's Landing
Daemon II Blackfyre, son of Daemon Blackfyre.
Year 190 after Aegon's Landing
Year 191 after Aegon's Landing
Daeron Targaryen, son of Maekar Targaryen.
Year 192 after Aegon's Landing
Aerion Targaryen, son of Maekar Targaryen, is born.
Joffrey Caswell, son of Lord Armond Caswell, is born.
Year 196 after Aegon's Landing
Ser Glendon Ball, allegedly son of Quentyn Ball.
Quentyn Ball, slain at the eve of the Battle of the Redgrass Field.
Lord Hayford, slain at the Redgrass Field.
Daemon Blackfyre, by an arrow shoot from Brynden Rivers.
Aemon and Aegon Blackfyre, by rain of arrows from the Raven's Teeth.
Lord Ambrose Butterwell is removed from his post as Hand of the King.
Lord Hayford is named Hand of the King.
Battle of the Redgrass Field.
Year 197 after Aegon's Landing
Dorne formally joins the Seven Kingdoms.
Marriage of Daenerys to Prince Maron Martell.
Year 198 after Aegon's Landing
Maester Aemon, son of Maekar I.
Year 199 after Aegon's Landing
A tourney is held at Storm's End. Ser Arlan of Pennytree breaks four lances against Baelor Breakspear before being defeated.
Jump to: Top / Year's 1-99 / Year's 100-199 / Year's 200-249 / Year's 250-297 / Year's 298-Today (Series)
Year 201 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon V, son of Maekar I.
Year 205 after Aegon's Landing
Quentyn Blackwood, slain by Ser Otho Bracken on a tourney at King's Landing.
Old Lord Dondarrion and Lord Caron drive the Vulture King out of the Red Mountains and kill him for treason.
Year 207 after Aegon's Landing
Aemon Targaryen is sent to the Citadel to become a maester.
Year 208 after Aegon's Landing
The events described in The Hedge Knight take place in 208 AL
Lord Walder Frey.
Arlan of Pennytree, of a chill.
Baelor Targaryen, on a tourney mishap.
A tourney takes place at Ashford.
The minor branch of House Fossoway is founded.
Aerion Targaryen is sent to Lys.
Aegon Targaryen joins the hedge knight Ser Duncan the Tall as squire.
Year 209 after Aegon's Landing
Known as The Year of the Great Spring Sickness
Daeron II, the second of his name, dies in the spring.
Valarr Targaryen, dies in the spring.
Matarys Targaryen, dies in the spring.
Lord Damon Lannister, the Grey Lion, dies in the spring.
The Great Spring Sickness spreads.
Aerys I is crowned.
Brynden Rivers is named Hand of the King.
Year 210 after Aegon's Landing
(Circa) Gowen Baratheon and Tya Lannister.
Year 211 after Aegon's Landing
The events described in The Sworn Sword take place on 211
Eustace Osgrey and Rohanne Webber.
Dagon Greyjoy and his ironmen raid Fair Isle and the western coast of Westeros.
Year 212 after Aegon's Landing
The events described in The Mystery Knight take place on 212
Gormon Peake, Lord of Starpike, executed by the orders of the Hand of the King Bloodraven.
Lord Ambrose Butterwell and an unnamed Frey bride.
The Whitewalls Tourney
The Second Blackfyre Rebellion is crushed.
Year 216 after Aegon's Landing
Grand Maester Pycelle.
Year 217 after Aegon's Landing
Aemon Targaryen becomes a Maester.
Year 220 after Aegon's Landing
(estimated) Galazza Galare, a girl of the House of Galare.  
Year 221 after Aegon's Landing
Aerys I dies in unknown circumstances.
Maekar I is crowned.
Year 225 after Aegon's Landing
Year 230 after Aegon's Landing
Eldon Estermont, Lord of Greenstone.
Year 232 after Aegon's Landing
Aerion Targaryen, drinking a cup of wildfire.
Year 233 after Aegon's Landing
Maekar I dies fighting an outlaw lord.
A Great Council is summoned.
Aegon V is crowned.
Maester Aemon and Brynden Rivers join the Night's Watch.
Year 234 after Aegon's Landing
Stevron Frey, son of Lord Walder Frey.
Year 235 after Aegon's Landing
Year 237 after Aegon's Landing
Barristan Selmy, son of Lyonel Selmy.
Year 239 after Aegon's Landing
Year 240 after Aegon's Landing
Year 243 after Aegon's Landing
Aerys Targaryen, son of Jaehaerys II.
Tywin Lannister, son of Tytos Lannister.
Year 245 after Aegon's Landing
Kevan Lannister, son of Tytos Lannister.
Year 246 after Aegon's Landing
Genna Lannister, daughter of Tytos Lannister.
Year 247 after Aegon's Landing
Barristan Selmy is defeated by Duncan Targaryen in a tourney at Blackhaven.
Year 248 after Aegon's Landing
Doran Martell, son of Lady Martell
Jared Frey fourth son of Lord Walder Frey is born.
(Circa) Alliser Thorne, a member of House Thorne. 
Year 249 after Aegon's Landing
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Year 253 after Aegon's Landing
Tytos Lannister anounces his plans to marry Genna Lannister to Emmon Frey. Tywin Lannister openly criticizes the match.
Barristan Selmy is knighted by Aegon V after defeating Duncan the Small in a tourney.
Year 254 after Aegon's Landing
Jorah Mormont, son of Jeor Mormont
Year 256 after Aegon's Landing
Mace Tyrell, son of Luthor Tyrell and Olenna Redwyne.
Elder Brother of Quiet Isle the third son of a knight.
(Circa) Maelys Blackfyre, slain on the Stepstones by Barristan Selmy.
(Circa) War of the Ninepenny Kings.
Year 257 after Aegon's Landing
Elia Martell, daughter of Lady Martell
Year 258 after Aegon's Landing
Oberyn Martell, son of Lady Martell
(Circa) Mirri Maz Duur, a Lhazareen. 
Grand Maester Pycelle is appointed to the small council.
Year 259 after Aegon's Landing
Rhaegar Targaryen, son of Aerys II and Rhaella Targaryen, born the same day of the Tragedy of Summerhall.
Ser Duncan the Tall Lord Commander of the Kingsguard
Duncan Targaryen the Small in unknown circumstances related to the Tragedy of Summerhall.
Tragedy of Summerhall
Jaehaerys II crowned.
Year 260 after Aegon's Landing
Emma, later a tavern wench.  
Lord Commander Gerold Hightower names Barristan Selmy a member of the Kingsguard.
(Circa) Tywin Lannister defeats and exterminates the Reynes and the Tarbecks.
Year 261 after Aegon's Landing
Brandon Stark, son of Rickard Stark and Lady Stark.
Year 262 after Aegon's Landing
Merrett Frey, son of Lord Walder Frey and Amarei Crakehall.
Jaehaerys II, in unknown circumstances.
Aerys II is crowned.
Tywin Lannister is named Hand of the King.
Year 263 after Aegon's Landing
Eddard Stark, son of Rickard Stark and Lady Stark.
Robert Baratheon, son of Steffon Baratheon and Cassana Estermont.
Year 264 after Aegon's Landing
Catelyn Tully, daughter of Hoster Tully and Minisa Whent.
Year 265 after Aegon's Landing
Stannis Baratheon, son of Steffon Baratheon and Cassana Estermont.
Melara Hetherspoon.  
Year 266 after Aegon's Landing
Cersei Lannister and Jaime Lannister, twin children of Tywin Lannister and Joana Lannister.
Lysa Tully, daughter of Hoster Tully and Minisa Whent.
Petyr Baelish is born.
Year 267 after Aegon's Landing
Lyanna Stark, daughter of Rickard Stark and Lady Stark.
Tytos Lannister, of a heart attack while going to see his mistress.
Tywin Lannister inherits the lordship of Casterly Rock.
Year 268 after Aegon's Landing
Vogarro a Triarch of Volantis.
Year 270 after Aegon's Landing
Rhaegar Frey, son of Aenys Frey and Tyana Wylde.
Tyta Frey, daughter of Lord Walder Frey and Alyssa Blackwood.
Year 271 after Aegon's Landing
Eddard Stark is sent to the Eyrie to be fostered by Jon Arryn.
Year 272 after Aegon's Landing
Obara Sand the daughter of Oberyn Martell and an Oldtown whore
Year 273 after Aegon's Landing
Edmure Tully, son of Hoster Tully and Minisa Whent.
Year 274 after Aegon's Landing
Tyrion Lannister, son of Tywin Lannister and Joanna Lannister.
Tysha, future wife of Tyrion Lannister.
Joanna Lannister, in childbed.
Year 275 after Aegon's Landing
Viserys Targaryen, son of Aerys II and Rhaella Targaryen.
Willas Tyrell, son of Mace Tyrell and Alerie Hightower.
Nymeria Sand bastard daughter of Oberyn Martell and a noblewoman from Volantis.
Year 276 after Aegon's Landing
Asha Greyjoy, daughter of Balon Greyjoy and Alannys Harlaw.
Melara Hetherspoon, fostered with Cersei Lannister, drowned in a well. 
Rhaegar Targaryen is knighted. 
Tywin Lannister hosts a tourney at Casterly Rock to welcome king Aerys II to the West. Cersei becomes infatuated with Rhaegar.
Tywin Lannister plans to have Rhaegar and Cersei engaged at the final feast of the Tourney. Aerys II Targaryen turns down the offer. In the final feast there are "cold silences" and "chilly looks" between the King and his Hand. 
Cersei visits Maggy the Frog with Jeyne Farman and Melara Hetherspoon. 
Year 277 after Aegon's Landing
Garlan Tyrell, son of Mace Tyrell and Alerie Hightower.
Robar Royce, second son of Yohn Royce.
Sylva Santagar, heir of Spottswood.
Tyene Sand is the bastard daughter of Prince Oberyn Martell and a Septa.
Year 278 after Aegon's Landing
Arianne Martell, daughter of Doran Martell and Mellario of Norvos.
Renly Baratheon, son of Steffon Baratheon and Cassana Estermont.
Aurane Waters. Bastard of House Velaryon.
Kerwin, a future Maester. 
Steffon Baratheon, drowned in Shipbreaker Bay.
Cassana Estermont, drowned in Shipbreaker Bay.
Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell
Tywin Lannister takes Cersei to court with hopes of marrying her to Rhaegar.
Gregor Clegane inflicts horrific facial burns on his brother Sandor.
Year 279 after Aegon's Landing
Theon Greyjoy, son of Balon Greyjoy and Alannys Harlaw.
A tourney is held in Storm's End to honor Lord Steffon's memory. Barristan Selmy is proclaimed sole champion.
Year 280 after Aegon's Landing
Ygritte, a wildling girl.
Simon Toyne, slain by Barristan Selmy.
The Smiling Knight, slain by Arthur Dayne.
Harlan Grandison, died in his sleep.
Jaime Lannister is knighted by Arthur Dayne.
Barristan Selmy and Arthur Dayne lead an attack against the Kingswood Brotherhood.
While staying on King's Landing in his way from the Kingswood to Casterly Rock, Cersei convinces Jaime to beg Aerys for a place in the Kingsguard.
A tourney is held in Storm's End to honor Lord Steffon's memory. Barristan Selmy is proclaimed sole champion.
Year 281 after Aegon's Landing
Known as The Year of the False Spring
Olyvar Frey, fourth son of Lord Walder Frey and Bethany Rosby.
Shae, a peasant girl.
Kyra, a peasant girl.
Sarella Sand bastard children of Oberyn Martell and a trader captain from the Summer Islands.
(Circa) Pate, later a novice at the Citadel.
Brandon Stark: Strangled by order of the Aerys II.
Rickard Stark: burned alive by order of the Aerys II.
The Tourney at Harrenhal, where Jaime is accepted on the Kingsguard, the Knight of the Laughing Tree defeats several knights, and Rhaegar names Lyanna Stark Queen of Love and Beauty.
Tywin Lannister resigns his office as Hand of the King and departs for Casterly Rock.
Owen Merryweather is named Hand.
Rhaegar flees with Lyanna Stark.
Brandon Stark goes to King's Landing and is imprisoned.
Rickard Stark and other nobles are called to King's Landing, where they are executed with their sons.
Year 282 after Aegon's Landing
Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell
The Pisswater prince, an infant of similar age to Aegon.
Loras Tyrell, son of Mace Tyrell and Alerie Hightower.
Brienne of Tarth, daughter of Selwyn of Tarth.
Joyeuse Erenford, eighth wife of Lord Walder Frey.
Jhogo, a Dothraki. 
Amerei Frey, daughter of Merrett Frey and Mariya Darry.
Gregor Clegane is knighted by Rhaegar Targaryen.
Beginning of Robert's Rebellion
Jon Arryn raises his banners against Aerys.
Jon Arryn fights the lords of the Vale that do not join him.
Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon depart to the North and the Stormlands to raise their banners.
The siege of Storm's End by Lords Tyrell and Redwyne begins.
Year 283 after Aegon's Landing
Alayaya, daughter of Chataya.
Roslin Frey, daughter of Lord Walder Frey and Bethany Rosby.
Gilly, daughter of Craster  and Ferny 
Desmera Redwyne, the daughter of Lord Paxter Redwyne and Mina Tyrell.
Meera Reed, daughter of Howland Reed and Jyana.
Robb Stark, son of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully.
Jon Snow, bastard son of Eddard Stark and an unknown woman.
Samwell Tarly, son of Randyll Tarly and Melessa Florent.
Rhaegar Targaryen, slain by Robert Baratheon on the Trident.
Lewyn Martell and Jonothor Darry, at the Battle of the Trident.
Myles Mooton slain by Robert Baratheon at the Battle of the Bells.
Denys Arryn slain by Jon Connington at the Battle of the Bells.
Qarlton Chelsted, burned alive after his resignation as Hand of the King.
Aerys II, killed by Jaime Lannister during the Sack of King's Landing.
Rossart, Hand of the King, slain by Jaime Lannister during the Sack of King's Landing.
Elia Martell, raped and murdered by Gregor Clegane during the Sack of King's Landing.
Rhaenys Targaryen, stabbed several times by Amory Lorch during the Sack of King's Landing.
Aegon Targaryen, dashed against a wall by Gregor Clegane during the Sack of King's Landing.
The Pisswater prince, the infant who reportedly died in place of Aegon Targaryen.
Gawen Wylde, died in the cells of Storm's End.
Gerold Hightower, Arthur Dayne and Oswell Whent, at the Tower of Joy.
Lyanna Stark, in unknown circumstances.
Ashara Dayne jumped from a tower at Starfall into the sea.
Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully.
Jon Arryn and Lysa Tully.
Owen Merryweather is dismissed as Hand, stripped of his lands and exiled for failing to contain the Rebellion.
Jon Connington is named Hand.
The Battle of the Bells, the rebels defeat the royal army.
Lord Jon Connington is stripped of his lands and exiled for having been defeated at the Battle of the Bells.
Qarlton Chelsted is named Hand.
Rhaegar Targaryen returns from the south and marshals an army.
Qartlon Chelsted resigns, is burned alive, and the pyromancer Rossart is named Hand.
The Battle of the Trident, deciding victory for the rebels.
The Sack of King's Landing.
Robert Baratheon is crowned.
Battle at Tower of Joy
Eddard Stark lifts the siege of Storm's End.
Year 284 after Aegon's Landing
Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of Aerys II and Rhaella Targaryen.
Arwyn Frey, daughter of Lord Walder Frey and Annara Farring
Fat Walda Frey, daughter of Merrett Frey and Mariya Darry.
Jeyne Westerling, daughter of Gawen Westerling and Sybell Spicer.
Rhaella Targaryen, in childbed.
Willem Darry flees with the last Targaryens to Braavos.
Stannis Baratheon takes Dragonstone.
Jon Arryn visits Dorne to return Lewyn Martell's bones and negotiate peace.
Year 285 after Aegon's Landing
Renly Baratheon is named Lord of Storm's End.
Stannis Baratheon is named Prince of Dragonstone.
Cley Cerwyn, son of Lord Medger Cerwyn.
(Circa) Layna, daughter of an alehouse owner.  
Rosey, daughter of a serving wench. 
Tyrek Lannister, son of Tygett Lannister and Darlessa Marbrand.
Year 286 after Aegon's Landing
Joffrey Baratheon, son of Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister being the real biological father.
Jojen Reed, son of Howland Reed and Jyana.
Elia Sand, bastard daughter of Prince Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.
Wendel Frey, son of Lord Walder Frey and Annara Farring
Marissa Frey, daughter of Merrett Frey and Mariya Darry.
Year 287 after Aegon's Landing
Sansa Stark, daughter of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully.
Hoster Frey, son of Whalen Frey and Sylwa Paege
Elenya Westerling, daughter of Gawen Westerling and Sybell Spicer.
Stannis Baratheon and Selyse Florent
Tyrion Lannister and Tysha
After discovering that his son had married a crofter's daughter, Lord Tywin Lannister had Tysha raped by all his guards and by Tyrion at the end. She was paid and sent "wherever whores go".
Year 288 after Aegon's Landing
Trystane Martell, son of Doran Martell and Mellario of Norvos.
Edric Storm, bastard son of Robert Baratheon and Delena Florent.
Joy Hill, bastard daughter of Gerion Lannister.
Larence Snow, bastard son of Halys Hornwood.
Obella Sand the bastard daughter of Prince Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.
Colmar Frey, son of Lord Walder Frey and Annara Farring
Merianne Frey, daughter of Whalen Frey and Sylwa Paege
Year 289 after Aegon's Landing
Arya Stark, daughter of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully.
Shireen Baratheon, daughter of Stannis Baratheon and Selyse Florent.
Beren Tallhart, son of Leobald Tallhart and Berena Hornwood.
Waltyr Frey, son of Lord Walder Frey and Annara Farring.
Rodrik Greyjoy, slain at Seagard during Greyjoy's Rebellion.
Maron Greyjoy, died on Pyke during Greyjoy's Rebellion.
Jorah Mormont wed Lynesse Hightower.
Balon Greyjoy's Rebellion.
Theon becomes Eddard Stark's ward.
Tourney at Lannisport, celebrating Robert I's victory over Balon Greyjoy.
Year 290 after Aegon's Landing
Myrcella Baratheon, daughter of Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister being the real biological father.
Elmar Frey, son of Lord Walder Frey and Annara Farring. Later betrothed to Arya Stark.
Robert Brax, son of Flement Brax and Morya Frey.
Rollam Westerling, son of Gawen Westerling and Sybell Spicer.
Year 291 after Aegon's Landing
Bran Stark, son of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully.
Tommen Baratheon, son of Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister being the real biological father.
Gerion Lannister embarks on his voyage to find Brightroar.
Year 292 after Aegon's Landing
Robert Arryn, son of Jon Arryn and Lysa Tully.
Dorea Sand, bastard daughter of Prince Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.
Big Walder Frey, son of Jammos Frey and Sallei Paege. 
Little Walder Frey, son of Merrett Frey and Mariya Darry. 
Tysane Frey, daughter of Lothar Frey and Leonella Lefford.
Petyr Baelish enters the small council as Master of Coin.
Arianne Martell reads a letter of his father promising his seat to Quentyn.
Year 293 after Aegon's Landing
Shirei Frey, daughter of Lord Walder Frey and Annara Farring. Black Walder Frey is rumored to be her actual father.
Walder Brax, son of Flement Brax and Morya Frey.
Jorah Mormont is caught selling poachers and flees from Westeros.
Year 294 after Aegon's Landing
Loreza Sand, bastard daughter of Prince Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.
The Silver, a horse of the Dothraki. Earliest possible time of birth. 
Dickon Frey, son of Jammos Frey and Sallei Paege.
Mathis Frey, son of Jammos Frey and Sallei Paege.
Sylas, former steward for Balon Greyjoy at Pyke.
Elza (or Ella), Grazdan zo Galare's slave.
At his 57th year, Barristan Selmy is victorious in a Tourney held at King's Landing.
Ser Balman Byrch claimed to have ridden well in a Tourney held at Duskendale.
Year 295 after Aegon's Landing
Rickon Stark, son of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully.
Walda Rivers, daughter of Aemon Rivers.
Walda Frey, daughter of Lothar Frey and Leonella Lefford.
Year 296 after Aegon's Landing
Jon Brax, son of Flement Brax and Morya Frey
Della Frey, daughter of Benfrey Frey and Jyanna Frey
Hazzea, a Ghiscari child of the plains, born near the city of Meereen.  
Year 297 after Aegon's Landing
Osmund Frey, son of Benfrey Frey and Jyanna Frey.
Emberlei Frey, daughter of Lothar Frey and Leonella Lefford.
Barra, one of the many bastard children of Robert Baratheon.
Weasel, peasant girl born in an unnamed village, in the western shore of Gods Eye, Riverlands.  
Ser Waymar Royce, slain by Others.
Domeric Bolton poisoned by his bastard half brother Ramsay Snow
Myles Toyne commander of the Golden Company
Will, slain by a wight.
Euron Greyjoy sleeps with his brothers Victarion wife and is exiled from the Iron Islands.
Tourney for Prince Joffrey's 12th Name Day takes place in King's Landing.
The city of Meereen suffers a plague. Many slaves die. A year later, there is still high demand for healthy young girls and boys under ten. The brothels of the city trying to find replacements for their casualties. 
Jump to: Top / Year's 1-99 / Year's 100-199 / Year's 200-249 / Year's 250-297 / Year's 298-Today (Series)
Year 298 after Aegon's Landing
Nearly all chapters from A Game of Thrones take place during 298.
Direwolves born in the North and adopted by the Starks
Rhaego, son of Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen. Stillborn. 
Dragons born in the Dothraki Sea to Daenerys Targaryen
In the North
Gared, executed for desertion from the Night's Watch.
At the Wall and Beyond
Jaremy Rykker, slain by wights at Castle Black.
Across the narrow sea
Viserys Targaryen, killed when Khal Drogo pours molten gold over his head.
Khal Drogo, suffocated in the Dothraki Sea.
In King's landing
Jon Arryn, poisoned with the Tears of Lys
Robert Baratheon, slain by a wild boar while hunting.
Eddard Stark, beheaded by order of Joffrey Baratheon.
Jory Cassel, slain in the streets of King's Landing.
In the Riverland's
Raymun Darry, slain during the Battle at the Mummer's Ford.
Halys Hornwood, slain at the Battle of the Green Fork.
Torrhen Karstark, Eddard Karstark and Daryn Hornwood, slain at the Battle of the Whispering Wood.
Andros Brax, drowned at the Battle of the Camps.
Rest of Westeros
Vardis Egen, slain during a trial by combat at the Eyrie.
Lord Vance, the father of Ser Karyl Vance, slain at the Battle of the Golden Tooth.
Lady killed by Eddard Stark while en route to King's Landing.
In the North
Stiv, Hali and Wallen slain while trying to take Bran Stark a hostage.
At the Wall and Beyond
Othor and Jafer Flowers, slain beyond the Wall.
Across the narrow sea
Ogo and Fogo, slain near a Lhazareen settlement.
Haggo, Qotho, Cohollo, Quaro and Eroeh, slain in the Dothraki Sea.
Mirri Maz Duur, burned to death in the Red Waste.
In King's landing
Ser Hugh killed in the Tourney of the Hand by Gregor Clegane
Heward and Wyl, slain in the streets of King's Landing.
Tregar, died of wounds suffered in the streets of King's Landing.
Tomard, Varly and Cayn, slain in the throne room of the Red Keep.
Desmond, Hullen, Vayon Poole and Septa Mordane, slain in the Tower of the Hand.
Mhaegen and Barra, slain at Chataya's brothel in King's Landing by Allar Deem.
In the Riverland's
Cedric Payne died fighting in the Riverlands.
Lorimer the Belly hanged for stealing.
Ulf son of Umar and Conn son of Coratt, slain at the Battle of the Green Fork.
Rest of Westeros
Chiggen, Lharys, Mohor, Kurleket, Jyck and Morrec, slain in the Mountains of the Moon.
Maester Cressen, poisoned on Dragonstone.
Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo.
Renly Baratheon to Margaery Tyrell after his brothers death.
Titles and Positions
Eddard Stark is named Hand of the King.
Ser Karyl Vance inherits the title of Lord of Wayfarer's Rest.
Kings Joffrey Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon and Robb Stark are crowned.
Cersei Lannister is named the Queen Regent.
Janos Slynt is raised to Lord of Harrenhal, establishing the new house of Slynt.
Rodrik Cassel is named Castellan of Winterfell.
Ser Barristan Selmy is removed from the Kingsguard.
Sandor Clegane is made a member of the Kingsguard, despite the fact he is not a knight.
Ser Jaime Lannister is named new Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
Lord Tywin Lannister is named Hand of the King to King Joffrey.
Ko Pono becomes Khal Pono after the death of Khal Drogo.
Ko Jhaqo becomes Khal Jhaqo after the death of Khal Drogo.
Mago becomes a bloodrider to Khal Jhaqo.
Daenerys Targaryen is made a Khaleesi of the Dothraki
Aggo, Jhogo and Rakharo become bloodriders to Daenerys Targaryen.
Battles of the Golden Tooth, Mummer's Ford, Riverrun, Green Fork, Whispering Wood and the Camps.
The Tourney of the Hand is held in honor of the appointment of Eddard Stark.
Following his loss at the Tourney, Gregor Clegane and his men gang-rape Layna. 
A red bleeding star appears in the sky.
Dragons are born after the last known to Westeros died circa 155 AL.
Autumn begins to descend on Westeros representing the end of the long summer.
Year 299 after Aegon's Landing
Nearly all chapters from A Clash of Kings and most of A Storm of Swords take place during 299.
The abomination, son of Craster and Gilly. 
In the North
Donella Manderly starved to death after being forced to wed Ramsay Snow.
Rodrik Cassel, Cley Cerwyn and Leobald Tallhart, killed by at the Sack of Winterfell.
Benfred Tallhart, drowned on the Stony Shore.
At the Wall and Beyond
Jeor Mormont, slain by his own men of the Night's Watch at Craster's Keep.
Craster slain by Dirk.
Across the narrow sea
Oznak zo Pahl slain by Strong Belwas in a dual.
Mero known as the Titans Bastard, slain by Arstan Whitebeard.
In King's landing
Aron Santagar, Preston Greenfield and the High Septon, slain during the Riot of King's Landing.
Imry Florent killed during the Battle of the Blackwater.
Jacelyn Bywater, killed by his own soldiers during the Battle of the Blackwater.
Mandon Moore, slain by Podrick Payne during the Battle of the Blackwater.
Guyard Morrigen, slain by Garlan Tyrell at the Battle of the Blackwater.
Bryce Caron, slain by Philip Foote at the Battle of the Blackwater.
Edwyd Fossoway and Bryan Fossoway, slain by Lothor Brune at the Battle of the Blackwater.
Lord Chyttering, slain at the Battle of the Blackwater.
In the Riverland's
Robb Stark, murdered by Roose Bolton during the Red Wedding.
Catelyn Tully, slain by Ryman Frey druing the during the Red Wedding.
Grey Wind slain at the Red Wedding.
Ser Wendel Manderly slain at the Red Wedding.
Smalljon Umber, decapitated by Bolton men at the Red Wedding..
Dacey Mormont is killed by Ryman Frey at the Red Wedding.
Donnel Locke, felled by crossbow bolts at the Red Wedding.
Owen Norrey, felled by crossbow bolts at the Red Wedding.
Robin Flint, surrounded by Freys and stabbed to death at the Red Wedding.
Lucas Blackwood, killed by Hosteen Frey at the Red Wedding.
Raynald Westerling killed by crossbow bolts at the Red Wedding.
Benfrey Frey died from a wound he recieved at the Red Wedding.
Ser Garse Goodbrook and Ser Tytos Frey killed by Sandor Clegane at the Red Wedding.
Benfrey Frey died of wounds he received at the Red Wedding.
Rickard Karstark executed by Robb Stark.
Hoster Tully, of old age.
Amory Lorch fed to a bear.
Burton Crakehall, slain by the Brotherhood Without Banners.
Hendry Bracken, slain in the battle to retake Stone Hedge.
Lyman Darry, slain by Gregor Clegane when he retook Darry.
Leo Lefford, drowned at the Battle of the Fords.
Medger Cerwyn, died of his wounds at Harrenhal.
Rest of Westeros
Renly Baratheon, slain by a dark shadow under control of the sorceress Melisandre.
Balon Greyjoy, fell to his death from a bridge (possibly assassinated by the command of his brother Euron).
Hubard Rambton, slain on Dragonstone defending the septuary.
Stafford Lannister and Rupert Brax, slain at the Battle of Oxcross.
Stevron Frey, died from festered wounds taken at the Battle of Oxcross.
Robar Royce and Emmon Cuy, slain by Ser Loras Tyrell near Storm's End.
Cortnay Penrose, fell from a wall at Storm's End.
In the North
Reek, slain near Hornwood.
Alebelly and Mikken, slain at Winterfell.
Septon Chayle, thrown into a well at Winterfell.
Squint and Drennan, slain on guard duty at Winterfell.
Gelmarr, Aggar, Gynir, slain at Winterfell by Ramsay Snow.
Farlen, executed at Winterfell.
Black Lorren, Red Rolfe, Ulf the Ill, Kenned, and Poxy Tym, slain during Sack of Winterfell.
Luwin, slain by Osha.
Todric, slain on the Stony Shore.
At the Wall and Beyond
Alfyn Crowkiller, slain beyond the Wall.
Ebben, slain by wildlings in the Skirling Pass.
Qhorin Halfhand, slain by Jon Snow in the Skirling Pass.
Thoren Smallwood, Ottyn Wythers, Bernarr, Ryles and Maslyn slain at the Battle of the Fist of the First Men.
Hake slain while fleeing the Battle of the Fist of the First Men.
Bannen, Byam Flint and Rolley died at Craster's Keep.
Small Paul, Chett, Softfoot, Lark and Garth of Oldtown deserters and traitors of the Night's Watch slain by the Others.
Jarl killed while climbing the Wall and a section broke off.
Endrew Tarth, Watt and Aladale Wynch slain at the Battle of the Bridge of Skulls
Ygritte, Quort and Stone Thumbs slain during the wildling sneak assault on Castle Black.
Dilly, Old Henry, Young Henly, Pate, Rast and Dick Follard slain defending Castle Black from the wildling sneak assault.
Dalbridge, slain in the Skirling Pass.
Across the narrow sea
Doreah, died of a sickness in the Red Waste.
Prendahl na Ghezn and Sallor the Bald slain by Daario Naharis
Grazdan mo Ullhor and Grazdan killed during the sack of Astapor
Kraznys mo Nakloz burned to death by Drogon.
In King's landing
Dale, Allard, Matthos and Maric Seaworth slain at the Battle of the Blackwater.
Jate Blackberry, Hookface Will, Hal the Hog, slain at the Battle of the Blackwater.
Symon Silvertongue killed and later made into a stew.
In the Riverland's
Yoren, Woth, Dobber, Qyle and Koss, slain at an abandoned holdfast in the Riverlands.
Kurz, died of an infected wound in the Riverlands.
Septon Utt hanged by the Brotherhood Without Banners.
Lommy Greenhands, slain in the Riverlands.
Chiswyck, fell/pushed off a walkway at Harrenhal.
Weese, slain at Harrenhal.
Poul Pemford and Myles, slain at Riverrun.
Tothmure, Lucan and Harra, executed at Harrenhal.
Jinglebell slain at the Red Wedding by Lady Catelyn
Ser Garse Goodbrook and Ser Tytos Frey slain at the Red Wedding by Sandor Clegane.
Iggo, slain in the Riverlands.
Rest of Westeros
Allar Deem washed/thrown overboard during the voyage to the Wall.
Praed, died of a sickness along the Kingsroad.
Sawane Botley drowned by Euron Greyjoy when he refused to swear fealty to him.
Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling.
Donella Manderly was forced to wed Ramsay Snow.
Tyrek Lannister and Ermesande Hayford.
Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark.
Roose Bolton and Walda Frey.
Edmure Tully to Roslin Frey at what becomes known as the Red Wedding.
Titles and Positions
Tyrion Lannister is made acting Hand of the King.
A new High Septon is named after the death of the previous in the riots.
Petyr Baelish is made Lord of Harrenhal, resigns as Master of coin.
Tywin Lannister takes over the position of Hand of the King.
Tyrion Lannister is made/demoted to Master of coin.
Kevan Lannister is made Master of laws.
Mace Tyrell is made Master of ships.
Paxter Redwyne and Mathis Rowan are made councillors on the small council.
Doran Martell is offered a seat on the small council, he sends his brother Oberyn Martell to fill it.
Boros Blount is removed from the Kingsguard for cowardice by Cersei Lannister.
Balon Swann, Osmund Kettleblack and Loras Tyrell are named to the Kingsguard.
Boros Blount is reinstated to the Kingsguard by Tywin Lannister.
Lancel Lannister is made Lord of Darry.
Ser Philip Foote is made a Lord and given the lands of House Caron.
Hallyne the pyromaner is made a Lord.
Lothor Brune, Bronn, Osney Kettleblack and Osfryd Kettleblack are knighted.
Garlan Tyrell receives the lands and castles of House Florent making him a Lord.
Amory Lorch is named Castellan of Harrenhal.
Vargo Hoat declares himself Lord of Harrenhal.
Gendry is knighted by Beric Dondarrion.
Alester Florent is made Hand of the King to Stannis Baratheon, but is later stripped of the office for treason.
Davos Seaworth is made a Lord, Admiral and Hand of the King to Stannis Baratheon.
War of the Five Kings.
Siege of Storm's End by Stannis Baratheon's troops.
The Riot of King's Landing.
Battles of Oxcross, Ashemark and the the Fords
the Stony Shore
Fist of the First Men.
The sackings of Darry, Winterfell
Battle of the Blackwater.
The Red Wedding.
A Tournament is held in honor of King Joffreys nameday. The Tournament is a small affair however.
Year 300 after Aegon's Landing
The final chapters of A Storm of Swords (from King Joffreys wedding which took place on the first day of the 300th century since Aegons landing onwards) take place in 300 AL and all the chapters of A Feast For Crows and A Dance with Dragons take place on 300
Tyrion Tanner, bastard son of Lollys Stokeworth and an unknown rapist.
Leana Frey, daughter of Lothar Frey and Leonella Lefford.
In the North
Aenys Frey killed by a trap set by Mors "Crowfood" Umber
Rhaegar Frey possibly baked in a pie.
Jared Frey possibly baked in a pie.
Symond Frey possibly baked in a pie.
Little Walder Frey killed at Winterfell.
At the Wall and Beyond
Janos Slynt beheaded by Jon Snow for refusing to obey orders.
Rattleshirt burned to death as Mance Rayder.
Donal Noye slain while fighting Mag the Mighty
Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg slain by Donal Noye.
Across the narrow sea
Quentyn Martell is killed by the dragon Rhaegal.
Maester Aemon died due to a chill and old age.
King Cleon slain by his own man who became Cleon the Second.
Cleon the Second slain by King Cutthroat.
King Cutthroat slain during the siege of Astapor
Queen Whore slain during the siege of Astapor
Yurkhaz zo Yunzak trampled to death by his own fleeing slaves.
Groleo killed by Bloodbeard
Cletus Yronwood and Willam Wells, slain by corsairs.
In King's landing
King Joffrey, poisoned during his wedding feast.
Oberyn Martell slain in a trial by combat against Gregor Clegane.
Gregor Clegane died a slow, agonising death from thickened manticore venom.
Tywin Lannister, slain by his son Tyrion Lannister on his privy with a crossbow.
The High Septon is killed by Osney Kettleblack.
Kevan Lannister killed with a crossbow bolt by Varys
Pycelle killed by Varys.
In the Riverland's
Beric Dondarrion died his seventh and final death resurrecting Catelyn Tully.
Merrett Frey, Petyr Frey and Ryman Frey, captured and hanged by Lady Stoneheart.
Rorge who burned Saltpans, slain by Brienne of Tarth.
Rest of Westeros
Lysa Tully, pushed to her death by her husband Petyr Baelish.
Arys Oakheart, beheaded by Areo Hotah after a suicide charge.
Alester Florent burned to death by Melisandre.
In the North
Kyra who was hunted by Ramsay Bolton.
Adrack Humble, Dagon Codd and Ralf Kenning slain at Moat Cailin.
Hagen, Cromm and Rolfe The Dwarf slain during the retaking of Deepwood Motte
Yellow Dick slain by Rowan
Luton slain by Ramsay Bolton
Squirrel, Frenya, Holly, Rowan, Willow Witch-eye, Myrtle killed and skinned at Winterfell
At the Wall and Beyond
Dalla while giving birth to Mance Rayders son.
Harma the Dogshead slain during the battle of the Wall.
Thistle, slain beyond the Wall.
Styr the Magnar of Thenn slain during the battle of the Wall
Alyn slain during the battle of the Wall.
Dormund slain during the battle of the Wall by Ser Richard Horpe.
Torwynd died of the cold beyond the Wall.
Varamyr, slain beyond the Wall.
Garth Greyfeather, Black Jack Bulwer and Hairy Hal slain beyond the Wall by the Weeper.
Patrek of King's Mountain killed by the Giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun
Across the narrow sea
Dareon killed by Arya Stark for being a deserter of the Night's Watch.
Hazzea claimed to have been killed by Drogon.
Stalwart Shield, Mossador, Black Fist, Cetherys, Duran, Eladon Goldenhair, Loyal Spear slain by the Sons of the Harpy
Rylona Rhee a harpist slain by the Sons of the Harpy
Harghaz slain by Drogon
Yezzan zo Qaggaz, Sweets and Nurse killed by the Pale mare
Kedry, slain by corsairs.
Oppo, a dwarf who was murdered by sailors who falsely believed him to be Tyrion Lannister.
Barsena Blackhair killed in the fighting pits by a boar
Krazz slain by Ser Barristan Selmy
Mollono Yos Dob died from the Pale Mare.
Maestar Kerwin killed by the command of Victarion Greyjoy
Magister Ordello of Pentos died of poison.
In King's landing
Shae strangled by Tyrion Lannister.
Dontos Hollard killed on the orders of Petyr Baelish.
Gyles Rosby died of his cough.
Hamish the Harper died while a prisoner in Qyburns care.
Senelle and Falyse Stokeworth died from Qyburns twisted experiments.
In the Riverland's
Polliver slain by Sandor Clegane at the Crossroads Inn.
The Tickler slain by Arya Stark at the Crossroads Inn.
Biter slain by Gendry.
Robert Blackwood of sickness.
Shella Whent the last of House Whent.
Rest of Westeros
Baelor Blacktyde killed by Euron Greyjoy.
Talbert Serry killed by Victarion Greyjoy.
Pate killed by poison.
Tanda Stokeworth fell and broke her leg after fall from a horse, later died from the injury.
Balman Byrch slain by Bronn.
Cragorn from sounding the Dragon Horn.
Marillion jumped from his sky cell.
Nimble Dick Crabb slain by Shagwell.
Timeon, Pyg and Shagwell slain by Brienne of Tarth.
Eon Hunter dies suddenly. According to Petyr Baelish he was murdered by his youngest son Harlan.
Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell.
Petyr Baelish and Lysa Arryn.
Bronn of the Blackwater and Lollys Stokeworth.
Tommen Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell, after Joffreys death.
Asha Greyjoy and Erik Ironmaker, Asha was not present at this wedding which was arranged by Euron Greyjoy
Daenerys Targaryen and Hizdahr zo Loraq
Ramsay Bolton marries the fake Arya Stark (Jeyne Poole).
Alys Karstark and Sigorn the Magnar of Thenn.
Axell Florent to Gerrick Kingsblood's eldest daughter.
Brus Buckler to Gerrick Kingsblood's second daughter.
Malegorn of Redpool to Gerrick Kingsblood's youngest daughter.
Titles and Positions
Tommen Baratheon, the first of his name, is crowned King of Westeros.
Euron Greyjoy is crowned the new Iron King.
Rolph Spicer is made Lord of Castamere by Tywin Lannister.
Emmon Frey is made Lord of Riverrun.
Jon Snow is named Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
Roose Bolton was made Warden of the North by Tywin Lannister.
Daven Lannister was made Warden of the West.
Damion Lannister was named Castellan of Casterly Rock.
Polliver was named Castellan of Harrenhal by Gregor Clegane, but is eventually slain.
Bonifer Hasty is named new Castellan of Harrenhal.
Cersei Lannister names a new small council, replacing nearly all of the old members.
Harys Swyft is named Hand of the King to Tommen Baratheon by Cersei Lannister.
Gyles Rosby is named master of coin.
Orton Merryweather is named master of laws.
Aurane Waters is named master of ships
Qyburn is named new master of whisperers.
A new High Septon is named, he becomes known as the High Sparrow.
Harys Swyft is demoted to master of coin after Gyles Rosbys death.
Orton Merryweather is named Hand of the King to Tommen Baratheon, he later resigns.
Gilwood Hunter becomes the New Lord of Longbow Hall and the head of House Hunter.
Harrold Hardyng is knighted by Bronze Yohn Royce.
After Cersei's imprisonment, Kevan Lannister is made Regent to King Tommen.
Kevan Lannister names a new small council.
Mace Tyrell is named Hand of the King to Tommen Baratheon by Kevan Lannister.
Randyll Tarly is named master of laws.
Paxter Redwyne is named master of ships.
Doran Martell sends Nymeria Sand to take the vacant Dornish seat on the small council.
Ser Robert Strong is named to the Kingsguard.
Hizdahr zo Loraq is crowned King of Meereen.
Elections are held in Volantis for the Triarchs
The War of the Five Kings ends, with Renly, Balon and Robb dead and Stannis fleeing to the North.
Castle Black is assaulted by wildlings lead by Mance Rayder, but Stannis arrives and defeats them with his army.
Ironmen led by Euron Greyjoy attack the Shield Islands.
Dragonstone is assaulted by the royalist forces led by Loras Tyrell, who is nearly killed in the attack.
The Golden Company lands in the Stormlands.
Moat Cailin is captured by House Bolton.
Stannis Baratheon takes Deepwood Motte.
Astapor falls in a siege to the Yunkai.
With Daenerys gone Yunkai begins to besiege Meereen.
Tytos Blackwood surrenders to Jaime Lannister.
Stannis Baratheons army marches on Winterfell.
Winter engulfs Westeros meaning there is no chance now of a last harvest.
The Faith Militant is reborn again. The order becomes very powerful.
A Kingsmoot is called on the Iron Islands for the first time in over two thousand years.
In response to the Iron Thrones refusal to pay back the money owed the Iron Bank of Braavos refuses any new loans to Westeros causing economic chaos.
Margaery Tyrell and Cersei Lannister are held prisoners by the Faith and accused of adultery and treason.
Mance Rayder is held a captive of House Bolton.
Theon Greyjoy and Jeyne Poole (the false Arya Stark) escape Winterfell.
Ramsay Bolton sends Jon Snow a letter claiming Stannis is dead.
Jon Snow is stabbed multiple times by his own men (unknown if he survived)
Jump to: Top / Year's 1-99 / Year's 100-199 / Year's 200-249 / Year's 250-297 / Year's 298-Today (Series)
References and Notes
↑ A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 70, The Queen's Hand (Barristan IV).
↑ Estimated to be about 20 years older than Barristan Selmy, who is in his early sixties.
↑ Cersei and Qyburn claim Lord Eldon is 70 years old. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei
↑ Jon claims that Ottyn is of an age with Jeor Mormont. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 23, Jon
↑ Lord Wyman claims to be nearly sixty in 298 AL when he speaks with Catelyn Tully. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, Catelyn
↑ Age estimated by Jon Snow.
↑ Mirri is described as a "woman of forty years"
↑ 8.0 8.1 A Feast for Crows, Prologue.
↑ Estimated to have been 40-years-old in 300 AL.
↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 36, Cersei.
↑ Said to be 11-years-old in 276 AL
↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei.
↑ Catelyn meets him when she speaks with Renly near Storm's End and estimates that he is about 21. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 31, Catelyn
↑ A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei
↑ A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 56, The Iron Suitor (Victarion 0).
↑ Introduced as a "a youth of sixteen years" in 298 AL.
↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 23, Jon.
↑ 18.0 18.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 33, Samwell.
↑ Her age as estimated by Jon Snow.
↑ Maester Cressen claims that Renly has only been Lord of Storm's End for 13 years. A Clash of Kings, Prologue
↑ 21.0 21.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 30, Arya.
↑ Estimated to have been 13-years-old in 298 AL.
↑ Missandei was "no more than ten" during the events of 299, and mentioned as being "eleven" during events of 300
↑ Based on the information that he is of an age with Arya Stark. He might be slightly younger.
↑ Tyrion states that Gerion had left some eight years earlier. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 32, Tyrion
↑ 26.0 26.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 12, Reek.
↑ Said to be 8-years-old in 300 AL
↑ Said to be 8-years-old in 300 AL
↑ Introduced as a "filly" in 298 AL. The term filly is used for female horses below the age of four.
↑ A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys I
↑ A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei
↑ A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 11, Daenerys.
↑ She was reportedly "four years old" at the time of her death
↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 9, Arya.
↑ Age estimated by Arya Stark
↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 61, Daenerys.
↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 68, Daenerys.
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The Always Reliable Mailbag
By: timbersfan, 12:50 AM GMT on January 12, 2013
Remember when the Seahawks paid a pretty penny for Matt Flynn, then a charismatic rookie quarterback/messiah/cult leader/56th U.S. President named Russell Wilson won their hearts and left them no choice BUT to start him? That's what my readers did this week. I had a more ambitious plan for my Round 2 playoff column, but my readers sent along so many quality mailbag questions that I didn't have a choice.
Quick background on mailbags: I have been cranking them out since my old website launched in 1997, just a few scant years after Gore Vidal created the Internet. At the time, anyone who wrote about sports for an Internet site wrote exactly how people wrote in newspapers. Shorter, cleaner, more traditional stuff. Pieces weren't supposed to stretch long because online readers allegedly didn't have attention spans to sit in front of their computers and read stuff. (Ha.) Before my site launched, I sketched out a few running gimmicks that, in my opinion, could definitely work for a frequent online column. One idea was a straight rip-off of one of my favorite David Letterman gimmicks: "Viewer Mail." I loved that segment and spent most of the 1980s trying to get a letter answered on Letterman's show. Never happened. Why couldn't it work as an online column? Instead of letters, couldn't readers send in e-mails that I'd have fun answering, and somehow there would be enough for a whole column?
When my AOL-only page launched on Digital City Boston in May of '97, I was especially excited for three ideas: I wanted to write a running diary of watching the NBA draft at my dad's house, I wanted to write about the 30 Worst Sports Movies of all time, and I wanted to write a "Viewer Mail" column. But I needed enough decent e-mails to pull it off. I posted my first four columns and stuck my AOL e-mail underneath every one of them, hoping I'd get enough e-mails for an entire "Viewer Mail." But in 1997 the Internet was a bizarre cross between the Wild Wild West and a maximum-security prison. There were no rules, no accountability, and more incoherent, typo-infested, all-caps e-mails than you can possibly imagine. I remember being shocked by how vicious people were. One time, I called Karl Malone "The Mail Fraud" in a column and someone from Utah (who somehow found the piece) sent me a legitimate death threat while also describing various ways I could have coitus with myself. Knives and axes were included. Not just knives — knives AND axes. So that was interesting.
That didn't stop me from wanting to write an all-reader column. I thought about calling the first one "Reader Mail" (as a Letterman homage) before ultimately settling on the totally forgettable moniker "Feedback." I zipped through every decent reader e-mail I had saved in an AOL document — by the way, don't think this process has changed for me 16 years later; it's EXACTLY the same — before realizing I didn't have quite enough. I was one decent e-mail short. I had to use one from my Uncle Mark,1 who had sent me a teasing e-mail after I made fun of Tiger in a previous column. Just for unintentional comedy's sake, here was the e-mail (and my response):
MZAMIARA WRITES: You've got it out for the Tiger. Let's see you make that kind of money on your sticky candy-coated couch potato Sega joy stick. Do you get nervous when that pizza man is about to bang on your door when you go to make that 12 foot putt?
SG: Hah! When I'm playing Sega Genesis, I can tune out just about everything — Charlestown parents screaming at their children ("Bow-bby, Maaaaak, Jenni-fah, come he-ahhh!"), the sweltering heat of my 4th floor apartment, the cackling sounds of my roommate as he watches Howard Stern's "E! Television" show, girlfriends leaving nasty messages on my answering machine ("Bill, I think we need to talk … I don't like how you make me wear Larry Bird's jersey to bed every night … "). Let me tell you, the pizza man ringing the doorbell doesn't even faze me. I welcome the distraction.
For God's sake, read that thing again! Did I even write that? Who was that guy? I was living in Charlestown (Massachusetts) with a roommate. Larry Bird, Howard Stern, ex-girlfriends, young Tiger Woods, Sega Genesis … take a big whiff and you'll smell the pungent odor of 1997. A year when, by the way, Grantland's own Rembert Browne and Robert Mays were 9 years old. I will now light myself on fire. (No, really, I'm doing it this time.)
We posted the "Feedback" column and … boom! Coherent e-mails started trickling in! The next "Feedback" was significantly meatier. From there, we were off and running. To be clear — I'm not taking credit for creating mailbags or anything. It couldn't have been a more obvious gimmick for an online column. (Especially for anyone old enough to remember "Dear Abby.") If anything, NOT doing them would have been weird. But there was no model to point to in 1997, either. How long should these be? How long should my answers be? Could I make fun of readers within the column, or would they take it personally? Could I use the same person twice in the same column, or would it seem like I was desperate for e-mails? If a reader wrote something offensive, could I still run that e-mail and make fun of it, or was I condoning that e-mail by running it? Did I include their real e-mails? Their real names? How did this work?
I spent the next three years figuring out answers to those questions while blowing out "Feedback" into a much longer column. It was always my favorite one to write. Always. The format hasn't changed, and it hasn't really needed to change. I have never made up an e-mail simply because I never needed to make one up. Readers were always funny and interesting and smart and goofy and — especially — just plain bizarre. "Feedback" could veer in any direction at any time, and when you think about it, that's the biggest asset of the Internet, right?
During my last year with my old site, I started writing a spin-off "Sports Guy Mailbag" that featured longer answers; when I finally arrived at ESPN.com in 2001, I ended up merging the feedback and mailbag ideas together into the current format. (Here's the first one.) It remains my single favorite column gimmick even after all these years. They are my weakness. I genuinely love writing them. And actually, I always write them long and end up cutting backward — there's usually 1,000 or so words that get chopped every time. I know, it's ridiculous. It's a freaking mailbag. Everyone has a mailbag at this point. But every time I write one, I think back to the day when I was one e-mail short and had to hit up Uncle Mark.2
This week? We were about 10 e-mails too long. So fuck yeah, we're doing a two-part mailbag before Round Two picks. Thanks as always for writing in. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.
Q: Why isn't it a bigger deal that Aaron Rodgers is going up against the team that passed on him with their first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft?
—Mike, Oregon, WI
SG: Hmmmmmmmm …
Q: I think you are forgetting something with the Packers-Niners game this week. This is the ultimate Aaron Rodgers "FU" game dating back to the 2005 Draft. He finally gets to show the Niners how they screwed up not picking him as the local kid to lead the franchise. What could be better? Alex Smith on the roster, but benched. Check. Already has a Super Bowl victory. Check. In front of his hometown crowd in a playoff game. Check plus. I think Rodgers is about to play out of his mind.
—Jim Petersen, Taylorville, IL
SG: All right, I'm starting to get roped in. One or two more e-mails could push this over the edge.
Q: You know that little idiom that you use? The one where you tell yourself to never bet against Aaron Rodgers? The one based on the idea that Rodgers tells every media member he can that he holds grudges? The one that 60 Minutes spent an entire segment chronicling how sensitive Rodgers is to perceived slights as little as coming off as short in person? Yeah, that one! Well this week it's at DEFCON 12.3 Not only is Aaron Rodgers returning home to NorCal to play football for the first time since 2008, but he's doing it against his childhood team. The team that passed him up with their first pick in the NFL Draft, which created this clip.
Are you telling me Aaron Rodgers hasn't gone to bed every night since April 23, 2005 waiting for a moment like this give the 49ers a huge F-U? This has the potential to be the biggest revenge story since Arnold in Commando.
— Matt Gullickson, Laguna Niguel
SG: Whoa, video evidence plus a forced reference to a 1980s movie? You know the key to my heart, Matt Gullickson. What a fascinating clip. How can anyone pick the Niners after seeing that clip? Let's quickly zip through Rodgers's potential for an Eff You game.
Motivation: Through the roof. He's been waiting for eight solid years to play this specific game. And it's do-or-die to boot.
Talent: He's one of the three most talented QBs in football by any calculation. It's Brady, Manning and Rodgers in some order.
Playoff Chops: Won the Super Bowl two years ago. I think we're fine here.
Danger of Him Being Adrian Balboa'ed: (a.k.a. domesticated by a new wife or girlfriend who is either giving him phenomenal, mind-altering sex or saying things to him like "You have to stop blaming the Niners, it's juvenile, you're better than that" or "Your offensive line can't block, you're playing on the road … YOU CAN'T WIN!!!!!!"). Google tells us that Rodgers might be engaged to girlfriend Destiny Newton, but I really think we're fine here.4
Eff You History: He's been complaining about the 2005 draft for years; only Tom Brady has been the subject of more "How getting slighted in the draft gave Quarterback X the motivation to become great" features. Even recently, you might remember Rodgers annihilating Houston in a Sunday-night game; early in the first quarter of that game, Cris Collinsworth did the chuckling, We talked to Aaron last night and he couldn't believe people were counting the Packers out, you just got the sense from him that there was no way Green Bay was losing tonight routine, followed by everyone who gambles on football saying, "Hey, Cris, you couldn't have told us that 15 minutes before the game?"
Eff You History, Part 2: After that Houston game, this happened.
Supporting Media Evidence: You mean, like a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece headlined, "Rodgers ready for fun — and a little revenge"? Is that what you were thinking?
Intangibles: San Francisco kicked Green Bay's asses in Week 1 … Mike McCarthy was San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2005, when they passed on Rodgers, leaving the door open for Rodgers to sarcastically hug McCarthy after a five-TD game while whispering, "Don't think some of that wasn't for you, too" … Niners star Justin Smith is either missing the game or playing hurt (huge blow to their pass rush) … Green Bay's receiving crew is the healthiest it's been all year … Rodgers is going against a first-year starter, so really, you'd be taking A FIRST-YEAR STARTER AGAINST AARON F-ING RODGERS … oh, and he's playing in the Bay Area against his hometown team, which didn't take him in the draft, in case you forgot.
Final Eff You Potential Verdict: Through the roof.
Q: Heard you talking on your podcast about potentially taking the 49ers on Saturday night. Just a quick reminder: the number one shoulder chip QB going against his childhood team — the team that PASSED on him in 2005. Watch this quick clip and bet against Rodgers at your own risk.
—Ryan McCormick, Phoenix
SG: Did you watch that clip again? Good lord. I'm taking the Packers +3. It's done.
Q: Can we get a Levels of Losing ruling for the Redskins-Seahawks game: Watching the amazing athlete who saved your team shred his ligaments bit by bit, knowing he has no chance of pulling it out, yet the defense holds you in there until the end, realizing it was a wonderful season but now, with the bad snap everyone saw coming for three quarters, it may never happen again, confirming your fears that this was just too good to be true. The game doesn't matter. If only RGIII had made it out OK, I'd be alright.
SG: After Tom Brady blew out his knee eight minutes into the 2008 season, I created a new Level of Losing called "The Left at the Altar Loss", which I described at the time as "When you're waiting for months and months for the season to start (like planning a wedding), then you have your fantasy drafts (the bachelor party), then you have the rehearsal dinner the night before (making your starting fantasy lineups, making your bets, figuring out which games you'll watch Sunday), then you go to the church for the actual wedding (getting in front of the TV for the 1 p.m. ET games) … and as you're standing on the altar, you find out your bride either changed her mind or got run over by the limo driver. That was me and every other Patriots fan that Sunday — we had our tuxedos on, we were ready to go, and suddenly we were sitting in a waiting room in a hot tuxedo waiting for medical updates on our comatose fiancée and halfheartedly trying to talk ourselves into one of the bridesmaids." Griffin's knee injury was a combination "Left at the Altar Loss" and a "Guillotine" (because you were fearing that it might happen for three and a half quarters), so as far as I can tell, it's the first-ever "Guillotined at the Altar" loss.
Q: Was watching the Seahawks-Redskins game with a couple friends. As it was coming to an end, we were trying to figure out who the Hawks were going to play next. We easily named off SF and GB, but we couldn't remember who the other NFC playoff team was. It took us all about two minutes to finally say, "oh yeah, the Falcons!!!" Nobody believes in them. I can't be the only one who finds this hilarious. They could have finished 16-0 and still only Rembert would believe in them.
SG: (Suddenly nervous about the Seahawks +2.5.)
Q: I'm a big BC fan and I just have to say don't bet on Matt Ryan. I love the guy but he has never shown up for a big game ever. He was awful in two ACC title games. Nothing in big bowl games, lots of regulation comebacks but no big games. And the trend followed right on to the Falcons, 0-3 playoffs. Stay away.
SG: (Feeling better.)
Q: So I was preparing for my first sexual experience this weekend and I encountered something more nerve-wracking than the experience itself … buying the condom. How does one go about it? Do you go to a convenience store far away so no one recognizes you? Do you buy other things with it so it looks like you haven't been dreading this moment all day? Do you look the cashier in the eye like "Yeah … you know what's up." No sports question here, just an important life question.
SG: Two tips: Always buy a few other things and ALWAYS make eye contact. And make the eye contact with one of those "That's right, I'm getting laid tonight" looks on your face. Don't look like this:
JEFF ZELEVANSKY/GETTY IMAGES
Q: Is Robert Griffin's injury the first example of a player/coach/team being criticized for letting an injured player continue to play following all of Goodell's changes to player safety? If this injury happened 3-5 years ago Griffin would be lauded for playing through the pain. Philip Rivers played the 2008 AFC Championship game with a torn ACL and was praised for it. Though Griffin does use his legs a lot more than Rivers does, the situations are similar. Is the era of the play-through-pain tough guy gone?
—John B., Bloomington, IN
SG: The short answer: No way. I think people just love Griffin. They didn't want to see his career risked or endangered in any way. If you think of him like an action movie hero, it makes more sense. He's reckless, he's exciting, he keeps finding danger, he keeps you on your toes … there's just something about the way Griffin plays that makes you feel like you're a nervous parent watching your ninth-grade son playing a high school game against bigger kids. I watched Redskins games for four solid months without any real interest other than, "It's especially fun to watch Robert Griffin. I hope he doesn't get hurt." And every time he scrambled — even if you picked against the Redskins in your picks pool, even if you wagered against him, even if you were going against him in fantasy — as soon as he started getting a little too ambitious and thinking to himself, I know that big safety is coming at me, but maybe I can get by him, you were thinking to yourself, NO, RG3! GO DOWN! JUST GO DOWN! while secretly hoping he didn't go down and tried to deke the guy.
In general, 2012 turned into the Season of Player Safety — we thought about it constantly, we felt guilty about it (most recently, upon hearing the profoundly discouraging news of Junior Seau's CTE diagnosis), we fretted that we weren't doing enough, we spread blame around, we wondered why nobody who ran the league truly started caring about this stuff until the last couple of years. But I don't think that affected how people reacted to Griffin on Sunday. Phil Rivers earned our respect in 2008 — I think that still happens five years later. Ben Roethlisberger practically played with a broken rib jutting through his torso — we didn't expect anything less because he's Big Ben, tough dude, plays through anything. Peyton Manning decided to keep playing football after four neck surgeries, which sure seems dangerous — and yet, I can't remember anyone vehemently protesting. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler left a 2010 playoff game with a knee injury even though he could have limped around and kept playing. Remember what happened? He got raked over the coals by just about everyone. So it depends on the guy.
In Griffin's case, he wanted to keep playing. His team didn't trail for the first 50 minutes of the game, and his coach believed just having a hobbled Griffin out there gave the Redskins the best chance to keep that lead. Oh, and the Redskins were paying the best knee expert on the planet to stand on their sideline and help them with this ongoing decision. (Note: Andrews claims they didn't ultimately listen to him. Who knows?) I watched every play of that game with Mays and Jacoby from Grantland; we didn't even have the "Should they pull Griffin for Cousins?" conversation until Seattle went up by seven. (They said no. I said yes, but only because I thought Cousins had proven himself in a similar situation.) But I was waaaaaaaaaay more nervous than usual, and really, it's because I love watching Griffin play football. It's the same reason there was a disproportionate amount of venom toward Mike Shanahan (for keeping him out there) and the Redskins (for being the umpeteenth NFL team that was too cheap to have a respectable field for a playoff game). They jeopardized someone we liked watching.
Q: How can anyone take your playoff picks seriously after what happened in Week 17? You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders — maybe it's not as famous as "never get involved in a land war in Asia," but "Never bet on Tony Romo, when the playoffs are on the line!" has to be right up there, right?
SG: Should we change Romo's nickname from "The Romocoaster" to "The Asian Land War?" I'm on the fence.
Q: You must feel great right now, because facing the Texans is a blessing. Matt Schaub is just horrible, and you might be right about him being hurt. You can only throw so many passes into the flat before one is going to be jumped and picked off. However, New England is screwed in the AFC Championship. Because they will either be going to Denver and lose to the Magical Comeback Season of Peyton Manning, or else they will face the Ravens at home again, in the We Want Revenge For Last Year And We Have Added Emotion Because We Hate You And We Want To Win For Ray game. It's going to be like there are 11 Bernard Karmell Pollards on the field every play. So enjoy this win because it's going to be your last this season.
—Taylor, Patchogue, NY
SG: I don't like your tone, Mister. But you just made the best possible case for the Patriots — a case that somehow doesn't involve their finally healthy offense, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady. Here's the problem for Houston: Matt Schaub doesn't look right … and hasn't since the last time he played in New England. Can't throw the ball downfield at all. Rushes his throws when he thinks he's getting hit. Everything is 15 yards and in. If Andy Dalton hit a wide-open A.J. Green on either of those deep balls, the Texans would have had to score 21 points or more to win and I'm not sure they could have done it. And that was indoors! I don't think you can win outdoors in New England without throwing the ball — especially against a team that can drop 30-40 points on any Sunday. I just don't see it. There's a reason Vegas jacked the spread two points higher than it should be. Nobody wants to take Schaub on the road.
Q: After watching Eddie Money's Geico commercial, I couldn't help but think "he's still alive?" Did he win the "He's Still Alive???" award in 2012? You know, someone who showed up out of nowhere and forced you to Google them to make sure that they were indeed, alive? The other candidate was Mike D'Antoni, but upon further review, watching him coach the Lakers … nope, he's dead.
—Justin G, Wilkes Barre
SG: Too soon! My 2012 "He's Still Alive???" award goes to the Iron Sheik, who reinvented himself as a celebrity Twitter troller extraordinaire and passed 200,000 followers recently. Throw in a never-ending supply of warm camel semen and he's never been happier. That's right, you drink camel semen, Iron Sheik! AMERICA NUMBER ONE! IRAN, HAK-PTEW! It's too early to declare a 2013 winner, as much as I want to give it to Gary Bruce Bettman. Speaking of Bettman …
Q: This should have been an easy victory for the NHL. The season will happen, hockey is back, Hallelujah Amen. BOOM! Instead they picked the worst possible time/manner to announce the deal. First, they made the announcement on 6 am on a Sunday. I don't know about you, but I'm almost always guaranteed to be passed out at that point. By the time I'm awake/not hungover it's football time. Why would the NHL announce the deal on a day that some major playoff games were happening? Are they shortsighted when it comes to EVERYTHING? I need ANSWERS!
—James Cutler, Philly
SG: That e-mail was Reason No. 193 why Gary Bruce Bettman is the NHL's serial killer. Reason No. 194: Instead of "leaking" a tentative schedule for that first weekend of games (January 19 and 20) before the players ratified the new CBA, the league smartly decided not to leak anything — now we're eight days away from the start of the season, and no NHL season-ticket holder can make plans that weekend or effectively answer questions like, "Should we make dinner reservations for that Saturday night or do you have a hockey game?" or "Are we still going camping this weekend or do we have to stick around?" And god forbid you have kids with scheduled playdates, birthday parties, soccer games or whatever — you're at the whim of Gary Bruce Bettman, the most incompetent sports commissioner who ever lived.
True story: My father is visiting next weekend to see his grandkids and possibly watch the Broncos-Patriots game if the Patriots can get past Houston this weekend. (See what I did there? Hold on, I'll knock on a little more wood to be safe.) The Sports Gal and I ended up having this exchange.
Her: "What are we doing that Saturday with your dad?"
Me: "Not sure yet — there might be a Kings game. They might raise the banner that afternoon."
Her: "What time?"
Me: "It's unclear, they haven't announced the schedule yet."
Me: "Because the players need to sign the new labor deal."
Her: "They can't just tell you what games are the first weekend?"
Her (agitated): "Doesn't hockey realize that people make plans ahead of time for weekends?"
Me: "I … I don't know."
Her: "So we can't plan anything on Saturday until we find out if there's a hockey game."
Her: "Even thought it's basically a week from now?"
Me: "Right. And even though they've been holding my season-ticket money since last April."
Her: "SERIOUSLY, WHY IS HOCKEY SO STUPID?????"
(Congratulations to my wife for being the 100 millionth North American to ask this question.)
Q: I am beyond excited about the NHLs impending return. What am I not excited about? Bettman. My math teacher was talking to me and came up with a great idea to really stick it to Bettman. With ten minutes and three seconds left in every period, fans would begin a three second countdown, "three, two, one, Bettman sucks" It would be awesome. Imagine hearing that at the halfway mark of every period. The only problem is that everyone would have to know. Could this idea spread through social media? It would be the perfect way to stick it to the man who has screwed NHL fans over and over again. Tweet it, write about it, you're the Sports Guy, you can make this happen.
—Kent, Hartford, CT
SG: We'll call it the 10-Minute Bettman plan. I love the idea. It's brilliant. There is absolutely no reason it shouldn't happen. Putting Katie Bakes and Puck Daddy in charge.
Q: Since Nate Silver is predicting a Pats-Seahawks Superbowl (and seeing that he has been 100% right lately) what are you going to do if that happens?
—Dave, So. Florida
SG: On behalf of all Patriots fans, it's great to have The Witch on our side — and if Politico passive-aggressively criticizes Nate's pick over the next few weeks as it slowly comes true, even better. We couldn't be happier. What a double treat. And if it ends up being Pats-Seahawks, I need you to understand something. There's only one thing worse than losing a Super Bowl to anyone named "Manning" … and that's losing a Super Bowl to Pete Carroll. If the Seahawks are standing in the way of our fourth Bowl, I will turn on Russell Wilson faster than Magic Johnson turned on the Mike D'Antoni hiring.
Q: Did you see the Rex Ryan tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey? Is Rex in the Tyson Zone yet?
—Jake Bryant, Weymouth, MA
SG: Rex's marriage is in the Tyson Zone. You name it, I'm prepared for it. A leaked swingers video with the Ryans, Phil Jackson and Jeannie Buss? I'm prepared. A stolen text phone photo of Rex dressed like Bella from Twilight and his wife dressed like Edward? I'm prepared. A holiday card of Rex dressed like Tarzan and swinging from Brett Favre's dong into the arms of his Jane wife? I'm prepared.
Q: What if the Patriots lost to Denver, then let Welker leave and he signed with the Broncos?
—Brandon, Winston Salem
SG: (Unable to speak.)
Q: Where would that rank on the Betrayal Scale?
—Brandon, Winston Salem
SG: (Slowly turning bright red.)
Q: Is there even a betrayal scale? You should make one.
—Brandon, Winston Salem
SG: GET THE HELL OUT OF MY MAILBAG! GET OUT! AND DON'T EVER COME BACK!!!!!
Q: If the Vikings' loss wasn't bad enough, I now have to deal with the Joe Webb rookie card I bought on eBay earlier today when I found out he was starting. I think I am going to take the hit on my feedback rating over paying for the card. What would you do?
—Ken, St. Paul, MN
SG: Pay for the card, have fun with it. You'll get some comedy out of the card. Your friends will laugh, you can make fun of it — you can't lose. And from a karma standpoint, you don't want to assume "I didn't pay off an eBay bid" karma when you already have "I root for the Vikings" karma. By the way, the big winner of that Vikings-Packers game was Christian Ponder — he would have almost definitely stunk in that game, followed by a spring and summer of "Are the Vikings wasting Peterson's prime with Ponder?" questions. Instead, Vikings fans are saying things like, "I can't believe how much we missed Ponder!"
Q: Remember that classic SNL sketch about the all-drugs Olympics? How about an all sports Hall of Fame for PED users? How about an initial class of Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Lyle Alzado, Barry Bonds and the East German Womens Swimming Team trainer (special contributor)?
—Ben Saunders, NY, NY
SG: These two guys would like to have a word with you.
Q: It's finally here, the moment I've been waiting for all season; the chance to bet a road underdog against the Falcons in the Playoffs. But now I'm second guessing myself. Thinking this is the year Matt Ryan finally breaks through because they are the "Nobody believes in us" 13-3 #1 seed. I hate this.
—AJ, Peabody, MA
SG: Stick to your guns, AJ. Remember what got us here — hard work, extraordinary patience, an unwavering belief in yourself, and the knowledge that everything would pay off in Round 2 when we could wager on a quality road team in Atlanta. Keep your eyes on the prize. Don't get suckered in by the whole "West Coast team playing a 1 p.m. East Coast game" thing, Chris Clemons's knee injury, or even the fact that it's the most important game Matt Ryan has ever played (and he knows it). And don't worry about the "Nobody Believes In Us" thing. The Giants murdered that theory this season. Everyone's onto it now. Can't work if everyone has their guards up. Take the Seahawks, take the points. They are better.
Q: The House vs. Cousin Sal showdown is the most legitimately intriguing ESPN production since "The Decision."
—Matthew Ludtke, East Lansing
SG: That might be the best backhanded compliment of all time. For anyone who doesn't listen to the B.S. Report, we've been promoting a special Super Bowl Saturday edition of "House Eats" called "House Eats: New Orleans" in which Sal and House keep eating Cajun food until one of them either taps out or dies. The fellas at sportsbook.com became so excited about it that they semi-jokingly posted a line (House as a minus-130 favorite), followed by House drawing enough action that they had to make him a 2-to-1 favorite before a late surge of Sal action after I made an impassioned case for his underdog chances in Monday's pod. Now House is a minus-150 favorite, Jim Gray is clamoring to be involved, listeners are asking to attend the event, and I'm more excited for this contest than for Sunday's game. Fine, the Jim Gray part wasn't true. (Although I bet he'd want to be involved. What would be more emotionally scarring for Jim Gray — thinking he was going to get trampled to death during the Artest Melee, or getting thrown up on during "House Eats"?) This entire paragraph is either the highlight or the lowlight of my career.
Q: Watching the Redskins/Seahawks game on Sunday, I started to wonder what will happen when Dr. James Andrews eventually retires/dies. Will American sports suffer noticeably? Shouldn't all the major players' associations get together to form some kind of contingency plan? Can we at least get an America's Next Top Sports Orthopedist reality show out of it? Also, can you remember another instance of a figure who is only tangentially related to sports becoming this famous because of it? At this point, doesn't every serious sports fan know who Dr. James Andrews is?
—Alex D, Alamo, CA
SG: The biggest flaw with your argument: It's unclear if Dr. James Andrews will ever die. These past 20 years, I've had a sneaking suspicion that he's been clandestinely pulling blood cells and hemoglobin from the world's best athletic specimens, then going back to his Alabama mansion and injecting that stuff into his own body so he can live two more centuries. If you think I'm crazy, just wait until he inexplicably becomes an All-Pro receiver, wins a 2016 Olympic gold medal and finishes second in the 2019 Boston Marathon as his new wife Katherine Webb Andrews cheers him on. You wait.
But that shouldn't stop ESPN from green-lighting America's Next Top Sports Orthopedist for a revamped Tuesday-night lineup of edgier shows like Shirtless PTI, Drunk Around the Horn, and Rob Parker's provocatively uncomfortable new game show, Are You a Cornball Brother? (Whoops, they just canceled Are You a Cornball Brother? My bad.) As for a contingency plan, I'm more interested in why his competitors have publicly conceded that entire territory to Andrews. Given that he makes somewhere between $50 million and $10 hundred billion kajillion per year, isn't it amazing that none of his competitors repeatedly slandered him to the media, ran election-style attack ads or framed him for a murder? Where was the carefully leaked "Griffin's injury may have really been Dr. Andrews's fault" article this week? If this were a scripted FX drama, at least two hot-shot competitors would have come after Andrews by now and at least one of them would have drugged him right before he operated on Kyrie Irving in a special two-part God Hates Cleveland episode.
Q: Did you see this in the Wall Street Journal today?
The Infidelity Phone that you jokingly championed during the Tiger Woods saga is now a reality. I'm a lawyer. Say the word and I'll get the lawsuit started. You are owed money my friend. You are a visionary.
—Paul Allen, Philly
SG: If it's all right with you, I think I'll avoid any situation that results in me telling my wife, "So I'm suing for royalties for that new cell phone they made for cheaters … "
Q: After the formal introduction of Andy Reid as Kansas City's new head coach, do you realize the Chiefs have hired two more of your "Flabbergasted Four" as head coaches, giving them three in all (Herm Edwards, Romeo Crennel and Andy Reid)! Can I get a "ladies and gentlemen your Kansas City Chiefs?"
—Chris James, Blackstone, NY
SG: And don't rule out the Chiefs firing Andy in 2016 and hiring Brad Childress to complete the Flabbergasted Four Trifecta! (Wait, what? They're already talking to Brad about joining Andy's staff? Are we sure?) In all caps … LADIES AND GENTLEMEN … YOUR KANSAS CITY CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Q: You wondered last week who would win the Bernard Karmell Pollard award. I'd like to nominate the Redskins' franchise for their abhorrent field, which was littered with bodies, mudslides, and James Andrewses. They were cruising until it destroyed the franchise savior's knee (Griffin) and then it blew up the ACL of the winning team's best pash rusher (Chris Clemons). It could possibly swing the playoff hopes of two teams, no small feat. Brutal.
Q: The playing surface at FedEx field is another reason why Goodell is such a hypocrite with player safety. He allows billionaire owners to make players use crappy field conditions. It wasn't even grass half the time, just dirt. The number of injuries that occurred (RG3, Clem, Hauschka) was simply ridiculous and needs to be fixed. Eff you, Goodell, you dirty owners' butt-kissing hypocrite.
—Troy S., Seattle
SG: Here's how I felt about that e-mail.
Q: Shouldn't the Bernard Pollard Award (for the "Totally Random Player Who Affected This Year's Playoffs The Most") really be called the Mo Lewis Award? Lewis made a good play and knocked Drew Bledsoe out of an early regular season game. This good play though inadvertently caused the Patriots to win the Super Bowl that year and to dominate the Jets for 12 years running. (Doesn't that feel good to say?)
—Matt Buehler, Boston
SG: You're exactly right, Matt. Mo Lewis knocked Drew Bledsoe out of that game and allowed Tom Brady to start playing, and that's worked out pretty great for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. If something happens that enables something better to happen, that's pretty good. It makes more sense to call this "The Mo Lewis Award." So Matt, you're exactly right.5
(Sorry, I let Troy Aikman answer that last e-mail.)
Q: I was wondering if it would be possible if I could get a picture of Mr. Babe Ruth signed by his daughter Dorothy. My dad, Mr Ronnie dove really loves baseball and I would love to give him this hand drawed picture. Thank you in advance. Wayne
—Wayne Smith, Aberdeen
SG: You forgot to include your address — should I just FedEx it right to the Weirdo Clinic in Aberdeen?
Q: Have you realized that if Peyton's Broncos beat the Patriots this year, Tom Brady & the Patriots will most likely have been denied four additional Super Bowls directly because of the Manning brothers? This got me thinking of a movie idea, involving Bill Belichick as an evil mastermind (not too far off from real-life), who creates a time machine and sends Brady back to the 1970s to stop Archie Manning from conceiving his two sons. With all the different time-travel rules the movie could play with, the possiblities are endless. Wouldn't this be a must-own Blu-ray?
—Adam, Lexington, MA
SG: I knew this was a great idea because it could easily be a movie or animated series, but also, it's something I spent about 15 seconds mulling over while thinking, Wait, what if this could actually happen in real life? (Build Belichick a time machine and, at the very least, I think he strongly considers it.) But you left out a crucial part of the plot: Roger Goodell catching wind of Belichick's scheme, then going back in time himself to stop Brady (like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2) so he can protect a future world where the Mannings rule football. Oh, and he could spend his spare time convincing thousands of 1970s players to sign documents releasing the league from all accountability for their future health issues while he's there. Here's $1,000 up front … just sign this. Trust me, I'm from the future! My biggest question: What would this movie/cartoon be called: Zero Dark Manning? or The Manning Terminator? You could talk me into either.
Q: As a Bills fan, I for one am very excited for the Doug Marrone era. Look at those credentials! He coached the Saints offense for three years, an offense that has seen no drop in production since Marrone left and arguably has gotten even more high-charged since 2008 under a guy named Pete Carmichael, who's also being interviewed for head coaching positions that was totally available! And what a sterling tenure at Syracuse! 25-25 with two Pinstripe Bowl wins? Sounds like major success at the NFL level is right around the corner! I can't decide is what's funnier: That the Bills hired a mediocre college coach with so-so NFL success to replace their mediocre college coach with so-so NFL success they had just fired (And I'm completely unsurprised by this), or the chain reaction of hilarity of the Browns reacting by re-booting their coaching search. So I guess in summary, while I can't wait to watch the 2015 Toronto Bills hire Ron Turner away from Florida International, thank God we're not Cleveland.
—Trevor, Naperville, IL
SG: Hold on, we're not done.
Q: After the Browns coaching hire, I'm curious as to how many "God hates Cleveland" e-mails you get in a 24-hour span vs "Your 2013 CLEVELAND BROWNS!" e-mails. I'd lean toward God on this one, mostly because I'm pretty sure the new coach's name can only be pronounced in Aramaic.
SG: A 12-hour inbox survey after the hiring was announced revealed that readers went with "God hates Cleveland" over "Your 2013 Cleveland Browns!" by a 3-to-1 margin. (The lesson, as always … ) I'd urge Browns fans to give the new regime a chance if only because new Browns president Alec Scheiner is (a) highly respected within the sports community for everything he accomplished with the Cowboys (including putting together their new stadium), (b) someone who embraced the statistical revolution as early as anyone in football (and will hire the best possible people to help the Browns there), (c) a huge Bachelor fan who could hold a conversation with Chris Harrison for at least 20 minutes, (d) someone who once outdrank my buddy J-Bug (who weighed 280 pounds at the time), and (e) someone persuasive enough that he convinced his wife, who loved Texas, to move their family from Dallas to Cleveland. I'm not saying those five things, when combined into a larger package, necessarily translate into massive success. But you have to give him a chance, right?
Q: A Denver vs. Seattle Super Bowl appears as a very real possibility. I don't think it's a coincidence that both Colorado and Washington legalized pot during this season. Thoughts?
SG: The Pot Bowl! I just bought www.thepotbowl.com just to be safe. While we're here: I tweeted two days ago that "Within 10 months, Seattle might have Russell Wilson, the Sonics and legalized marijuana. I'm putting my house on the market." I forgot Felix Hernandez. My bad, Felix. Please forgive me. You helped me win the 2007 League of Dorks title; I will never forget what we had. Don't think otherwise. But can Denver really make it past Round 2? Please take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the next e-mail.
Q: Since somehow you've gotten sick again this week (16 times in 8 days has to be a record for consecutive illnesses to start a year), I'd like to help you with your Broncos-Ravens Pick. The weather is expected to be freezing that day (a high of 23). I'd like to remind you that the Broncos starting QB is 36 and coming off 4 neck surgeries. Hmm 36 year old QB in cold weather, were have I read this before … oh wait, you wrote it! Come back with me to Jan. 2008 when you wrote …
The Bill Simmons Award for "Most obvious gambling story line that everyone completely missed."
On paper, it seems absolutely incredible that Eli totally outplayed Favre in Lambeau in the third coldest playoff game ever. I never would have predicted this in a million years, especially given Eli's past performance in cold weather. Then I thought about it afterward and realized something: Favre is 38, Eli is 27 and the weather was minus-4. Who's more likely to be affected by bone-chilling temperatures — a young QB with little wear and tear on his body, or an old QB who has started 270 consecutive games, battled an addiction to painkillers and probably takes 15 minutes to get out of bed every morning? Wouldn't it be the old guy? Why didn't I think of this before the game? I hate myself.
There is your argument for the Ravens.
—Chris, Salem, OR
SG: You're right! There's my argument for the Ravens! You even left out five things …
• Manning has never won a playoff game when the temperature was lower than 40 degrees, going 0-3 and throwing one TD and seven picks in those three games.
• Manning will be wearing a special glove during Saturday's game to help with his grip. Why? Because his grip is weaker in colder weather because of nerve damage from those four surgeries. I am not making this up.
• As my buddy Cousin Sal points out, for the past SEVEN postseasons, at least one prohibitive or semi-prohibitive favorite has crapped the bed at home in Round 2: the 2011 Packers (8-point faves, lost to Giants); 2010 Patriots (9.5-point faves, lost to the Jets); 2009 Chargers (9-point faves, lost to the Jets); 2008 Panthers (10-point faves, lost to Arizona); 2007 Colts (11-point faves, lost to San Diego); 2006 Chargers (5-point faves, lost to New England); and 2005 Colts (8.5-point faves, lost to Pittsburgh). For the streak to continue, either the Patriots or Broncos would have to blow their home game this week. I'm just sayin'.
• One last Manning-Brady battle in the AFC title game is just too delicious on paper. Look at this photo. We're one weekend away from it happening, with a trip to the Bowl on the line. Someone has to screw it up, right?
STEW MILNE/US PRESSWIRE
• In a vacuum, I think the Broncos are better than the Ravens — something they proved a few weeks ago with their butt-kicking of the Ravens in Baltimore (even if the Ravens were missing Bernard Pierce and two defensive starters). But if you're picking a big road dog, you want to make sure they can block (they can) and make at least one big special teams play (and the Ravens have a great special teams). You want to make sure they're experienced, and that they won't be even remotely afraid, that they'll be almost irrationally confident that they can win the game (3-for-3 for the Ravens). You want to make sure they're well coached (yes for the Ravens), and that they have a quarterback who's won big games on the road before. (Say what you want about Flacco, but he's 6-4 in the playoffs and came within that Lee Evans strip of making the Super Bowl last year.) You want to make sure they can throw the ball downfield (they can) and that their big-play guys can make two big plays (yes for the Ravens with Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and even Bernard Pierce), and that they're on something of a mission (Ray Lewis's announcement clinched that). You want to make sure they can handle the January elements (no problem there). And if there's a dash of "Nobody Believes In Us!," even better (and there is).
Here's the point: There's enough going on here that I don't feel comfortable laying 10 points with the Broncos. More on this in a second.
Q: So I was watching and old episode of Jackass where Johnny Knoxville gets a colon cleansing and it got me thinking. Did you know that you can lose about 15 pounds from doing one of those?? This led me to think, couldn't this be used to some sort of advantage? You'd be dropping 15 pounds without losing ANY muscle or athletic ability. Kobe (because if anyone would take advantage of this, it'd be Kobe) is listed at 205, if he dropped to 190 while not losing any muscle wouldn't he be strikingly quicker and have a higher vertical? If you're exploring every facet of improvement, wouldn't someone like him consider it?
—Chris, Las Vegas
SG: Uh-oh, we're in range …
Q: While reading your column about your laptop going on the fritz, I was surprised to learn you didn't convert your old computer (the one you compared to Charlie Batch) to a porn machine. Once you get a new computer, it is customary to convert your old computer into a device that's sole purpose is to download pornography. Since you don't want to ruin a perfectly good computer, you always have a back up. Sure I'll click on this link, I don't give a crap if it's infested with viruses, this is no longer my computer, it is a porn machine.
—Hudson, Ithaca, NY
SG: Yup, these are my readers. Time for my Round 2 picks …
Home teams in caps
Ravens (+10) over BRONCOS
Too many points. I keep staring at this game thinking, Wait a second, the Ravens have a chance. Worst-case scenario: Manning comes out firing, Flacco gets the Joe Flacco Face going and I end up feeling like a moron by the second quarter. Believe me. But I have a weird feeling about this game. Can't explain it. Even called Mike Lombardi this morning just to make sure, leading to this exchange.
Me: "Am I crazy or can the Ravens win this game?"
Lombardi: "You are NOT crazy."
I don't think I'm crazy. I don't think I'm crazy. I don't think I'm crazy. I don't think I'm crazy.
The Pick: Baltimore 27, Denver 24
Packers (+3) over NINERS
My fears for picking against the Niners: The inevitable split-screen shot of Jim Harbaugh vs. Mike McCarthy that will make my stomach sink … any shot of Dom Capers in the booth … Kaepernick scampering around and doing Kaepernick things … Randy Moss haunting the Pack one last time … the 57 replays they're going to show of T.O.'s superhuman catch to beat Favre's Packers in the '98 playoffs … what happened in Week 1 … the thought of the Packers dominating the game and somehow blowing it because of poor clock management, shaky kicking, poor tackling and all the other stuff that submarines a team in the playoffs. God, I wish I trusted their defense more.
My fears for picking the Niners: Backing a first-year starter … going against Aaron Rodgers in Eff You Mode … no Mario Manningham … going against Aaron Rodgers in Eff You Mode … a limited Justin Smith … going against Aaron Rodgers in Eff You Mode … what Brady did to the Niners in the second half of their game (and the similarities between Green Bay's offense and New England's offense) … this clip.
I can't do it. I can't go against Rodgers. I just think the guy is great.
The Pick: Green Bay 31, San Francisco 27
Seahawks (+2.5) over FALCONS
My fears for picking against the Falcons: Taking three road teams in Round 2 … going against Matt Ryan in what's clearly a "My Career Is On Trial" Game … the "Nobody Believes In Us Even Though We're A No. 1 Seed" thing … the Georgia Dome getting louder than loud (especially if the Falcons go up early) … Seattle's pass rush falling apart without Chris Clemons … Pete Carroll turning into 2006 Rose Bowl/1998 Patriots Pete Carroll … the Frightening Roddy White and The Even More Frightening Julio Jones … the inevitable "Tony Gonzalez jumping over two guys in the back of the end zone" touchdown catch … the fact that everyone seems to love the Seahawks (gulp) … the fact that Seattle always seems to play these dramatically tight road games (and the Falcons have been pulling those games out of their butts all season, regardless of how they played in the first 50 minutes of the game).
My fears for picking the Falcons: You can do whatever you want against their defense (literally, whatever you want) … Matt Ryan's playoff history … Mike Smith on any borderline fourth-and-short call … the fact that Seattle has "the look" (as Lombardi loves to say) … Marshawn Lynch going into a Beast Mode against a D that probably won't do a good job tackling him … Seattle's oversized cheating cornerbacks matching up nicely with Atlanta's oversized receivers … that Packers-Seahawks rematch lingering, and really, seeming predestined when you remember that we'll always remember 2012 as the Year of the Replacement Refs (so why not have that become a subplot to make the Bowl?) … the slight chance this really might be the Year of Russell Wilson.
When in doubt, take the points … and take the team you think is better. I think the Seahawks are better. They don't have any holes. They've proven themselves over and over again. They've earned our gambling trust. We will see. Either way, I think this one is coming down to the final two minutes — that's how the seasons have gone for both of these teams. It's destiny.
The Pick: Seattle 27, Atlanta 24
PATRIOTS (-10) over Texans
Keep this in mind: The Patriots haven't submitted a dominant playoff performance against a quality team in years. (No, you can't count the Denver Tebows last January.) You'd have to hearken back to their snowy shellacking of Manning's Colts (Pats 20, Colts 3) in January 2005. I just think they're due for a monster game.
And if you're thinking big picture, we're going on eight years since the last Lombardi Trophy here. That's two presidential terms. Tom Brady is 35 years old. Bill Belichick is 60 years old. Bob Kraft is 71 years old. It's been 11 years since that first Super Bowl victory in New Orleans, back when Bledsoe and Ty and Willie were still around, when the Patriots franchise was still something of a joke, when the Boston sports scene was stuck in a rut, when it seemed absolutely inconceivable that the New England Patriots would ever win anything other than a booby prize. They ended up winning three Bowls. With a couple of breaks, they could have won three more. Time is running out. I think the Patriots know it. They're two wins away from returning to New Orleans with a totally different team, and with their three essential characters at totally different points of their careers and lives. But the mission will remain the same. And it starts this weekend.
The Pick: New England 45, Houston 20
Playoff Record: 3-1
Regular-Season Record: 132-120-4
By: timbersfan, 12:35 PM GMT on January 10, 2013
Date Home Team Away Team
3/3 4:30PM PST
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
2013 MLS First Kick
3/9 7:30PM PST
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
MLS Regular Season
at CenturyLink Field
3/30 3:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at Dick's Sporting Goods Park
Date Home Team Away Team
4/6 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
4/14 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
4/21 8:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at Buck Shaw Stadium
4/27 5:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park
Date Home Team Away Team
5/2 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
5/8 6:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at FC Dallas Stadium
5/12 3:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
MLS Regular Season
at BC Place
5/25 4:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at RFK Stadium
Date Home Team Away Team
6/8 5:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at Toyota Park
6/15 2:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
6/19 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at The Home Depot Center
6/23 4:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
Date Home Team Away Team
7/7 2:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at Crew Stadium
7/13 8:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
7/20 4:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at PPL Park
7/27 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at Buck Shaw Stadium
Date Home Team Away Team
8/3 8:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
8/17 8:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
8/21 8:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
Real Salt Lake
8/25 7:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at CenturyLink Field
8/30 7:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at Rio Tinto Stadium
Real Salt Lake
Date Home Team Away Team
9/7 8:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
9/14 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at The Home Depot Center
9/20 7:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
9/29 12:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
Date Home Team Away Team
MLS Regular Season
at BC Place
10/13 6:00PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
10/19 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at JELD-WEN Field
Real Salt Lake
10/26 7:30PM PDT
MLS Regular Season
at The Home Depot Center
NFL Playoff Prognostications
By: timbersfan, 11:57 PM GMT on January 04, 2013
Another wide-open NFL playoffs, another ill-fated quest to finish 11-0 against the spread, another monster Brady-Manning playoff duel looming … wait, what year is this? (Checking.) It's 2013! 2013??? More important, do we really have a chance to give fewer than 10 points against Christian Ponder — on the road, outdoors — in a legally sanctioned postseason game? We're less than 48 hours away, and to my knowledge nobody has screwed this up yet. Actually, I don't want to jinx it. Forget I said anything. Let's break down every line for Round 1. And I mean EVERY line.
Matt Schaub (-3) over Andy Dalton
As recently as one month ago, Schaub would have been laying a touchdown. Remember the guy who threw for 842 yards and six TDs in Weeks 11 and 12? Schaub's QB ratings for his last four games: 19.1, 90.4, 46.2, 37.1. He put up 22 points total in the final two weeks. He's thrown one touchdown pass since December 2. His body language has become so gloomy that he could join the cast of Parenthood tomorrow, then pull off any scene in which Monica Potter needs someone to stare sadly at her while she's wearing a prosthetic bald head that makes her look like the long-lost Conehead.1 So … what happened? Is he secretly injured? Did he go into a funk? Did he switch bodies with T.J. Yates? Are Schaub and Josh Freeman starring in Contagion 2: Accidentally Touched by Ryan Leaf? What happened?
Meanwhile, you know what you're getting with Dalton — he's one of those guys who is never available on your fantasy free-agent wire, only nobody ever starts him, either (making him the Brad Johnson of this generation). Could he win a road playoff game? Depends on your version of the word "win." Dalton could be the starting QB of a road playoff team that won mainly because the other team sucked. I could see that. But down by seven, on the road, in a potentially loud dome, with only one legitimate receiving target, a flimsy offensive line (seventh-most sacks in the NFL) and J.J. Watt wreaking havoc? That makes me nervous. QBR ranks him 22nd, jammed right between Sam Bradford and Matt Hasselbeck. DVOA ranks him 20th, one spot ahead of Christian Ponder and Philip Rivers.
You're not gonna believe this, but the guy who still uses a ThinkPad, AOL and a BlackBerry also holds on to some old rules from years gone by. And one of those rules is pretty simple; shit, it might be THE rule. If you're picking a QB in a road playoff game, you better believe in that QB. If Andy was throwing to A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Aaron Hernandez with Alfred Morris running the ball, I might believe in him. But flanked by Green, Andrew Hawkins, Jermaine Gresham and BenJarvus Green-Ellis? I'm lukewarm. The best argument in Dalton's favor? Mark Sanchez won road playoff games in 2009 AND 2010. And you wouldn't trust that guy to successfully park your car right now.2
The Giants' "Nobody Believes In Us Factor" (-13) over Houston's "Nobody Believes In Us" Factor
If the Texans were favored by three or less, I could see the N.B.I.U. case here. But they're laying 4½ even after rolling over against ChuckStrong last week in a game they desperately needed to win. Seems generous. Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin completed the final level of N.B.I.U. — by the time Week 17 ended, NOBODY believed in the 2012 New York Football Giants. That's what he always wanted, that's what he got.
In general, it was a fascinating year for N.B.I.U., as teams proactively embraced the fact that people didn't believe in them and pointed it out ahead of time; as this was happening, we were searching for teams who ranked high on the N.B.I.U. scale and adjusting our expectations accordingly. The concept itself got thrown out the window. You're not supposed to realize that you failed to believe in a team until after they won and shoved it in your face, then they're doing the whole "nobody believed in us but the people in this locker room" routine. (Maybe the concept will trickle over into politics and economics — for instance, Paul Krugman wrote a "Nobody Believes in Supply and Demand" column recently, and someone could easily make a 3,000-word N.B.I.U. case for John Boehner right now.3 Although Harry S. Truman was the ultimate N.B.I.U. politician. I'm getting sidetracked.) What we really need? A new theory. A fresh one.
The Post-Holiday Diet Theory (+8.5) over Every Other Dumb Simmons Theory
You know how even people in good shape let themselves go a little over the holidays? For one thing, it's cold — you don't mind packing on a couple of extra pounds. You're on vacation, so your schedule gets thrown out of whack. You miss a week of exercising, jogging, playing sports or whatever else you're doing to stay fit. You're eating bigger meals, you're drinking a little more, you're eating more junk food, and there are 10 times as many desserts kicking around. If you're stuck at a family gathering making small talk with one of your annoying cousins, you might even reflexively get that third plate of food just to get away from him or her. At some point, you made the decision, "I'm letting myself go a little here," and you're fine with it. Then the holidays finish and you feel that extra flab around your belly, become disgusted and attack your everyday life with a new resolve — better eating, more exercising, no dessert, less drinking, you name it. It's just a matter of saying, "All right, enough messing around."
We watch the let-yourself-go phenomenon happen to certain contenders in December every year — they peak in October and November, lose their mojo for whatever reason and finish the season playing less-than-inspired football. When it happens, we have to decide if it's a funk or something bigger. In Houston's case, they got their butts kicked in New England, rallied back to beat Indy, got steamrolled by one of the greatest running backs ever during his greatest season, then found themselves ChuckStronged in Week 17. Funk … or something bigger? The more I'm thinking about it, I say funk. And this is the weekend when the Texans say, "All right, enough messing around," rededicate themselves and go back to doing Texans things — namely, running the ball down Cincy's throat, harassing Dalton on every pass and protecting the football. Which leads us to …
TEXANS (-4.5) over Bengals
Only one person could screw this pick up: Matt Schaub. This makes me feel better: The Bengals haven't won a road playoff game in the history of the franchise (dating back to 1968). Their last playoff win happened in January 1991 — when they beat the Houston Oilers before losing to Bo Jackson's Los Angeles Raiders. As reader Rob from Boston writes, "The Bengals have not won a playoff game since destroying Bo Jackson's hip. If you were God and you created Bo Jackson, perhaps the most naturally gifted athlete ever, wouldn't you seek retribution against the team who destroyed those gifts? Proof? Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, David Klingler, Akili Smith, Dick LeBeau, Kimo von Oelhoffen … I could keep going. Give the points and take the over on Marvin losing a challenge on an irrelevant play." I concur.
The Pick: Houston 27, Cincy 17.
"Don't EVER Bet Against Aaron Rodgers" (-3.5) over "Don't EVER Bet Against Adrian Peterson"
In the regular season? That's probably a pick 'em line. In the playoffs, you're always better off taking a frightening QB over a frightening running back. And did you see Rodgers's December numbers? 1,457 yards, 11 touchdowns, one pick, 113.3 QB rating. Yeeesh. Peterson was our 2012 MVP for throwing a mediocre Vikings team on his back and submitting the single greatest running back season any of us have ever seen. Manning was the runner-up for transforming Denver into a Super Bowl contender. But you can't sleep on what Rodgers did, as a Milwaukee reader named Michael explains:
Aaron Rodgers is so damned good that an off year for him means leading the league in Passer Rating and TD/Int ratio even though he has an absolute train wreck of an O-line, a rotating cast of always-injured receivers and a below average run game (by the way, what are the chances that Alex Green or DuJuan Harris puts up more than 2.0 YPC with that O-line and any QB other than Rodgers?). How anyone thinks he doesn't deserve just as many MVP votes as Manning is beyond me. The guy has nothing around him, gets destroyed every other play through no fault of his own, and yet is still the most feared player in the league. Hell, I think I might vote for him over Adrian I-Just-Carried-An-Entire-Franchise-To-The-Playoffs -While-Simultaneously-Having-The-Best-Season-Of-An y-Pro-Athlete-In-The-Last-20-Years-And-Oh-By-The-W ay-My-Left-Knee-Is-Made-Out-Of-The-Same-Liquid-Met al-Shit-As-The-Bad-Guy-From-T2 Peterson.
Jadeveon Clowney, Physical Freak (PK) over Adrian Peterson, Physical Freak
Question: If Clowney jumped the snap and tried to tackle Peterson behind the line of scrimmage, what would happen? Would it be like the time Superman fought the guy who looks like Nikola Pekovic in Superman II? Would buildings fall over? Would the earth implode? And if you were the Chiefs, wouldn't you convince Clowney to declare for this year's draft and sue the NFL to become eligible? What do you have to lose? Does anyone think Clowney is NOT ready for the NFL? I'm adding this to my Sports Czar campaign — we need a special draft committee for all sports that's empowered to give special exemptions to any high school basketball player or college football freshman/sophomore who's prematurely ready to play professionally. Clowney is ready.
Antoine Winfield's Broken Right Hand (+3.5) over Every Other Key Round 1 Injury
Tough one for Minnesota — when Winfield (a superb corner) left last Sunday's game because of the pain in his already broken right hand, Green Bay tortured his replacement (special teamer Marcus Sherels) to the tune of nine catches and 162 yards. This weekend, Winfield is going to play with a hard cast — making it difficult for him to tackle and jam receivers at the line. There's only one sports scenario in which you want to hear the words "hard cast" — that's right, pro wrestling.
Blair Walsh (-10) over Mason Crosby
If you're talking yourself into a Vikings upset, part of that pick involves a nine-point swing that looks like this: Crosby (a mess this season) shanking an easy kick in the first half and making Mike McCarthy lose all faith in him, followed by Walsh (a stud) nailing two kicks of over 50 yards to keep Minnesota hanging around. And instead of Green Bay leading 20-10, somehow it's 17-16 as Cris Collinsworth is saying things like, It's four-down territory here for Green Bay, I know they're on the 30 but you can't bring Crosby out here, he's just too far gone right now. That's one piece. As for the other …
Andy Reid (-7) over Mike McCarthy
You might remember me predicting that Reid would pass the torch to McCarthy as this generation's perennial successful coach who keeps blowing sloppy playoff games year after year while also gaining weight and maybe even growing a mustache. When Philly fired Reid, that made me worry that McCarthy would be grabbing that torch starting this weekend (threatening my Packers pick). But wait! Before we knew it, three teams were fighting to hire Andy before the Chiefs finally stepped in, delighting Chiefs fans and BBQ establishments all over the KC area. So I don't see any torch-passing. At least not yet.
Green Bay's receivers (-30.5) over Minnesota's receivers
On one side: Jordy "I'm Finally Healthy" Nelson, Greg "Me Too" Jennings, Randall "I'm Secretly Terrifying" Cobb and James "I Swung Some Fantasy Leagues" Jones. On the other side: Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins. Come on. Now throw in …
Indoors Christian Ponder (-12) over Outdoors Christian Ponder
The 2012 Vikings played outside four times and lost all four games: at Washington (lost by 12), at Seattle (lost by 10), at Chicago (lost by 18), at Green Bay (lost by nine). Ponder's best game happened in Washington (352 yards, 2 TDs, 2 picks), although he had Percy Harvin at that point (11 catches, 133 yards). In Week 9 at Seattle, with Harvin hobbled, the Seahawks held him to 63 yards on 22 pass attempts (you read that correctly), sacked him four times and picked him once. In Week 12 at Chicago, he threw 43 times for just 159 yards (one TD, one pick). In Week 13 at Green Bay, he threw 25 times for a whopping 119 yards (one TD, two picks) — and that was with Peterson (210 yards, six or seven "HOLY SHIT!" moments) playing out of his mind. So in Ponder's last three outdoor road games, he attempted 90 passes that yielded just 341 yards. Not even four yards per pass attempt! I mean, I wanted no part of wagering on Christian Ponder in a road playoff game even before I looked this stuff up.
PACKERS (-7.5) over Vikings
Again, Aaron Rodgers vs. Christian Ponder in Lambeau … and the line is less than 10????? Come on. Stop it.
The Pick: Packers 34, Vikings 17
ChuckStrong (-4) over Ray Lewis's Retirement
You have to hand it to Lewis — his retirement announcement was a valiant attempt to upstage ChuckStrong, especially considering Charlie Strong's Louisville team shocked Florida as 14-point underdogs and pushed ChuckStrong to a whole other level. Plan A was retiring; Plan B was convincing Torrey Smith to legally change his name to Chaz Strong just for Sunday's game. But there's a big difference between winning a playoff game for your cancer-survivor coach and winning it for your hung-on-a-little-too-long linebacker who's better off doing TV (where he's going to be fantastic, by the way).
Indy's Upset Victory Potential This Weekend (-3) over Everyone Else's Upset Victory Potential This Weekend
The recipe for a Colts upset in three parts …
Part 1: They need the Ravens to look like the Ravens from the past seven games, when they barely beat Pittsburgh by three (the game Byron Leftwich played with broken ribs); won an OT game in San Diego (with help from Ray Rice's incredible fourth-and-29 play); lost at home to Charlie Batch (Charlie Batch!); lost in OT at Washington (to Kirk Cousins!); got slaughtered in Denver (lost by 17, wasn't that close); whupped the free-falling Giants; lost to Cincy (meaningless game). It's hard to believe the Ravens could be giving a touchdown in the playoffs to anyone right now. It's an average offensive team and an average defensive team (with a phenomenal special-teams unit, but still).
Part 2: The power of ChuckStrong. Remember when the 2011 Broncos ushered in the brief but lovable era of "TEEEEEEE-BOWWWWWWWWWWW!," kept winning games they should never have been winning, and then everything crested with that playoff victory over Pittsburgh? Isn't that a pretty good doppelgänger for the 2012 Colts and ChuckStrong? Football Outsiders ranks the Colts as the worst 11-win playoff team since 1991; they're even the worst 10-win playoff team since 1991. Like the 2011 Broncos, their season stopped making sense well before the playoffs. And like the 2011 Broncos, they landed a possibly over-the-hill playoff opponent who might be more reputation than actual substance at this point. If this particular Colts team was playing in Denver or New England, the talent discrepancy would become insurmountable. That's not the case in Baltimore.
Part 3: What Andrew Luck am I getting in this game? Am I getting the guy who turned the ball over 28 times (18 picks, 10 fumbles)? Am I getting the guy who looked like Roethlisberger 2.0 in last week's Houston game, keeping drives alive and staving off pressure play after play? Am I getting the guy who's proven to be truly clutch at a pretty precocious age? Am I getting all three of those guys at the same time? You can't pick the Colts to win this game without saying, "I think Andrew Luck is gonna be lights-out" … and his habit of getting better when it matters bodes well for a playoff game.
Colts (+7) over RAVENS
You know the old saying, "When in doubt, take the points?" I'd like to tweak that to, "When in doubt, take the points … especially if that means you can root for a head coach who just came back from fighting leukemia and who might deliver the greatest postgame speech that's ever happened if they somehow pull this one off, followed by that team trekking to Denver to battle the greatest player in Colts history."
The Pick: Colts 30, Ravens 24
Kevin Kolb (+4) over Bernard Pollard
Little-known fact: Do you realize Kevin Kolb swung the playoff byes in both conferences? If not for Kolb relieving an injured John Skelton and orchestrating an 11-play, 85-yard, game-winning drive against Seattle in Week 1, the Seahawks would have finished 12-4 and won the NFC West (and the no. 2 seed). And if Kolb hadn't slapped together four decent quarters in New England (140 yards, one TD, no picks, just two sacks) without ever doing any Kevin Kolb things, New England would have been the AFC's no. 1 seed. The other big culprits: Norv Turner, Phil Rivers and the Future L.A. Chargers, who blew a 24-point lead in Week 6 to Manning's Broncos, inadvertently rejuvenating the nerves in his neck and turning him into 2006 Peyton again. Since falling behind 24-0 on that Monday night, Denver has outscored its opponents 346-151, Peyton regained the Manning Brother championship belt, and this happened.
JEFF ZELEVANSKY/GETTY IMAGES
Anyway, the favorites for the 6th Annual Bernard Karmell Pollard Award — given annually to the most random person who affected the 2013 playoffs — are Kolb, Turner and Rivers right now. Special kudos to Pollard for winning his own award last year. And don't count him out this month since he's still playing for the Ravens and might be one hit away on Manning or Brady from winning back-to-back Pollards.
Mike and Kyle Shanahan (-91) over Me and My Son
The Shanahans teamed up to save football in Washington, master a devastating offensive scheme and capture the NFC East. Meanwhile, the Simmonses just completed World no. 5 in New Super Mario Bros. Wii together. They have a big lead over us. I'm not gonna lie.
Seattle Sports Renaissance (+3) over D.C. Sports Renaissance
D.C. fans couldn't have enjoyed a better 2012: They added a likable/electric/charismatic franchise QB (and a franchise RB as well!), rebuilt their baseball team around two marketable stars, nearly made the Stanley Cup finals and even hit rock-bottom in a good way when the pathetic Wizards became the new black sheep/laughingstock of the National Basketball Association (replacing the Clippers, who finally abdicated the title after a 35-year run). If you're going to be a train wreck, you might as well become a historic train wreck, right? Add everything up and it was D.C.'s most memorable sports year in eons. But could Seattle be positioning itself for a similar 2013 renaissance? What if the Seahawks make a prolonged playoff run (and it's definitely possible)? What if the Sacramento Kings get sold to a Seattle ownership group? What if the Mariners start scoring more than 1.5 runs a game? What if the Sounders win whatever the hell the MLS title is called? Keep an eye on this.
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch (-2.5) over Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris
Only because of RG3's bulky knee brace. Great battle, though. I'd have so much more to say about this game, but unfortunately, someone gave me the ebola virus and I spent Thursday night and Friday morning lying in bed, shivering, sweating and basically having an out-of-body experience. Please allow me to make a pick so I can go back to lying on a cold bathroom floor.
Seahawks (-3) over REDSKINS
The easiest pick of Round 1 for me. The Seahawks aren't just the most balanced team in football, they're one of the most balanced teams ever. Football Outsiders' DVOA ranked them fourth in offense, fourth in defense and third in special teams. They didn't play a single bad game all season — even in their five losses, they had a chance to win each game in the final minutes. So if you're picking against them, you're doing it for three reasons: You think they're a better home team than road team, you're jumping at the chance to pick against Pete Carroll on the road, and you're banking on Washington's crowd (great fans, by the way) to push their boys to another level.
All solid reasons … I just don't agree. I don't think the Redskins are good enough to win this game — even last Sunday, they benefited from three ghastly Tony Romo interceptions and some legitimate coaching incompetence on Dallas's end (really, you couldn't figure out a smart way to pick up those relentless blitzes, Dallas?) and barely won. Seattle is a whole different animal. We're headed for a final four of Seahawks-Packers and Brady-Manning, along with 250,000 replays of Golden Tate's Hail Mary. It's destiny. And on that note, I'm going back to the cold floor.
The Pick: Seattle 30, Washington 17
Last Week: 7-9
20 Wishes for the USMNT in 2013
By: timbersfan, 1:23 AM GMT on January 04, 2013
The United States national team finished 2012 with a record of 9-2-3, tying the best calendar year showing in the modern era. They qualified for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualification. They beat Italy and Mexico on the road, and tied Russia in Russia. They found some talent — Graham Zusi, Geoff Cameron, and Danny Williams, especially — and brought back some more (hey, Eddie Johnson). Jurgen Klinsmann's troops suffered setbacks, as well, notably a loss in Jamaica and an inability to "play pretty" consistently, but it was a successful 12-month period. On to 2013, one more year until the World Cup in Brazil. Here are 20 things the team needs to accomplish in its centennial season.
1. Qualify for the 2014 World Cup. It's simple, stupid.
2. See no. 1. If they don't accomplish this goal — a quest that begins on February 6 in Honduras and ends 10 games later in Panama City's Estadio Rommel Fernández on October 15 — the year is an unmitigated failure of the highest degree.
3. Let the Michael Bradley takeover continue. 2012 was the year he proved he was the team's best player. 2013 should be the year the entire game plan revolves around his growing talent.
4. Find a no. 1 central defensive pair. Cameron and … Carlos Bocanegra? Clarence Goodson? Omar Gonzalez? Oguchi Onyewu? Hell, Jay DeMerit? (And, while we're here, are we sure about Cameron? Early signs say yes, but will shuffling between right back at Stoke and center back for the U.S. prove increasingly difficult?)
5. Consolidate the ranks. 2012 saw a successfully deepened player pool. With the World Cup on the horizon, 2013 needs to be about settling on a first-choice Starting XI and determining some semblance of a substitution philosophy. Neither has to be chiseled into stone, but right now they're written in chalk on the street and it's raining.
6. Win the 2013 Gold Cup. Mexico won the 2009 final, a dominating 5-0 victory that helped El Tri regain their mojo when playing in the U.S. (even though both countries brought their "B" squads to the tournament). The Americans' 4-2 loss in the 2011 final was the last game Bob Bradley coached. The winner of the coming year's regional championship won't qualify for the Confederations Cup, but they will have some momentum going into September's vital qualifier in the U.S.
7. Find a forward who can score in the World Cup. The day after Jozy Altidore missed a sitter against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, he explained what went through his head immediately before he kicked the ball. "I was thinking, 'I'm going to score in the World Cup,'" the forward said honestly. Altidore, of course, did not. Nor has any American striker since Brian McBride tallied in the quarterfinal of the 2002 World Cup. Forwards are falling out of favor in international football — see Spain's preferred "don't need ’em" 4-6-0 formation — but the Red, White, and Blue could desperately use a striker capable of scoring against the highest level of competition. (For what it's worth, my pick is Altidore, a player who has improved immeasurably since his miss in South Africa and made at least one midseason Best XI list in the Netherlands.)
8. Reach the Under-20 World Cup. The U.S. missed the 2011 U-20 World Cup and failed to qualify for the London Olympics. Tab Ramos, now coaching the U-20 side, needs to stop the trend of failure.
9. Complete the transition from Bob Bradley's USMNT to Jurgen Klinsmann's. Because national teams play so few games, moving from one coach to another always takes longer than it should. Sometime around the middle of 2012, the USMNT finally felt like they were becoming the team Klinsmann wanted. Another non-World Cup year will give the former German national team coach enough time to install his philosophy.
10. But remember, this game is about the players, not the coach. Klinsmann has an (understandable) ego. That said, he needs to keep it in check. The smiley German will be judged on the outcomes of the games, not the laughs he garners in the press conferences.
11. Find a leader. Captain Carlos Bocanegra's days seem to be numbered, and he has never been a natural, vocal leader. Tim Howard is happy to yell and scream, but there's only so much a goalkeeper can do. Landon Donovan expressed interest in the captaincy, but who knows if he's coming back or if his quiet demeanor would be appropriately suited to the role. Klinsmann loves the bite of Jermaine Jones but the the hotheaded Schalke midfielder makes too many mistakes for the national team. Someone needs to step up and take control. Is Michael Bradley the answer?
12. Come together as a team. The growing diversity of the squad has advantages, but it can also create cliques. The vets trying to hold on (Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Herculez Gomez), the Germans (Jones, Williams, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler), the young guys who want more (Mix Diskerud, Juan Agudelo, Joe Gyau), etc. The groups haven't been an issue yet — the Americans are a remarkably tight side — but keep an eye out, especially if they start to struggle in qualifying.
13. Win all five home qualifiers. The Stars and Stripes went a 9-0-1 in the United States during the Hexagonal round in 2006 and 2010. (The only blemish was a meaningless tie with Costa Rica.) Getting 15 points wouldn't automatically put them into the World Cup, but it would consolidate the "America as fortress" meme. And these are games they should win.
14. Earn eight points in away qualifiers. A mark of 2-1-2 would best the results from the two previous cycles by one point. It's tough to see the U.S. winning or even tying in Mexico, but they should be able to draw with Honduras and Costa Rica, avenge the semifinal round loss to Jamaica with a victory, and beat Panama.
15. Play better on the road in CONCACAF. The struggles are documented. But the excuses — the poor field, the difficult venues, the whatever — are growing tired. The U.S. is much better than any non-Mexico CONCACAF team. It's time they played like it everywhere, even on the bumpy fields of small Central American countries.
16. Figure out what to do about Landon Donovan. Or, perhaps, let Landon Donovan figure out what Landon Donovan wants to do about Landon Donovan. The face of U.S. soccer for the past 12 years is tired, both physically and emotionally. He needs a break and is taking one. He deserves time to consider his future, but he should tell his teammates sooner rather than later.
17. More post-game Buds with Bill. And Santas for Bradley.
18. Give up on playing with three central midfielders. Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Danny Williams, and, to a lesser extent, Maurice Edu are all talented players. But having three of them on the field at the same time doesn't work. And it decreases the options elsewhere. It's time to stop (but it won't, since Williams and Bradley need to play and Klinsmann loves Jones).
19. Remember, it's just a game. This one's for the fans. This isn't life and death, guys and girls; it's supposed to be fun. Frustrating sometimes, for sure, but fun. Don't forget that when the U.S. concedes yet another bad goal early in a qualification game.
20. Just freaking qualify for Brazil. And do it with minimal drama, please.
By: timbersfan, 1:20 AM GMT on January 04, 2013
A sport is not a business. You can make a business out of a sport, in the same way you can make a business out of sex or alpaca hair or tomatoes,1 but you'll be selling something that's tangential to the sport itself. The NFL doesn't sell "football"; it sells access to the best football players. Fans buy that access in the form of game tickets. NBC buys it in the form of broadcast rights, then airs the game to attract a TV audience whose sports-captivated attention it can sell to a sports-advertising firm hired by Gatorade, which is selling a drink people might choose to consume while playing a sport.
Sport generates economic activity, but sport isn't inherently economic. Sport is just some people playing a game. You could argue that playing a game is always an economic activity on some grad-studenty, breathing-is-an-economic-activity level, and you'd probably be right, I don't know. I have a PhD in economics, but I made it myself, out of graham crackers. The point is that if you got rid of the whole system of professional American sports, just handed it over to the North Koreans and let Kim Jong-un plumply deliver his Glorious Leopard Make Wrong Sunday Ticket Decree,2 football would still exist, would still be played, would still saturate the culture in all kinds of ways, even though there would be no NFL and Football Night in America would draw a Nielsen rating that could only be represented by a drawing of a bomb landing on a sheep.3
A sport is not a business. I'm working my way through this point because I'm about to talk about two of my least favorite things — Sepp Blatter and the question of whether soccer will ever make it in America — and I want to get a little armature in place. Over the weekend, Sepp Blatter alienated, or re-alienated, or re-re-re-re-alienated, American soccer fans. He did this by making a couple of brief remarks, at the end of an interview with Al Jazeera, about MLS and the state of the American game. These remarks were not flattering. They were also not that big a deal, but when the president of the world organization governing your sport turns his stupid-beams on you, it's only natural to flip out a little. Here's what he said:
The problem in the United States — it's a little bit different. Don't forget that soccer, as they call football there, is the most popular game in the youth. It's not American football or baseball; it is soccer. But there is no very strong professional league. They have just the MLS, but they have not these professional leagues, which are recognized by the American society.
It is a question of time, I thought when they had the World Cup in '94, 1994. But '94 — now we are in 2012, it's now 18 years. So it should have been done now. But they are still struggling.
So, OK. What bugged MLS fans about this was pretty much what bugs everybody Blatter decides to distraction-troll; at 76, the dude simply plays with an impossibly well-crafted blend of cluelessness and malice. He's the Johnnie Walker Blue of grandfatherly, passive-aggressive smack talk. You never know whether he's misinterpreting facts because he's unacquainted with them or because he's working some Big Lie–type long con and it suits him to deny a trend. So, for instance, if he doesn't know that MLS is now the third-ranking American pro sport in terms of live attendance, or that (as league commissioner Don Garber emphasized in his response) it has recently signed personal-best sponsorship and TV deals totaling $230 million, or that it's well along in its successful long-term program of stadium-infrastructure improvement — that's maddening, because he's the president of FIFA and he should know stuff. If he knows it and he's deliberately ignoring it, that's maddening because he's the president of FIFA and he shouldn't be a smug, puffy liar, probably. It's a mark of the truly great cultural trolls, the Trumps and Becks and Morgans, that they make you hate them for being stupid enough to be as wrong as they are while simultaneously making you hate them for being smart enough to exploit the stupidity of their audience. Blatter takes the confused-moron-but-also-evil-genius routine to a whole other plane, though, because you can't even say whose stupidity he's trying to exploit. He's rousing no rabble — brilliantly. He's hosting history's most appalling drive-time talk show for an audience of zero, and somehow he keeps signing bigger and bigger contracts.
And then — as if that weren't enough! — there's the fact that he's kind of right. Not really right, not right on the level of detail, but right in a big, soft way that's hard to argue with. MLS's 13-year trend under Garber has been one of gradual, steady, intelligently managed growth. You can point to a hundred measurables that confirm this.4 On the other hand, has the league been embraced by Tonight Show American society? Obviously not. And yes, it's crazy to assume we should have reached that stage in 18 years, given that there are a couple of other sports over here that compete in a small way for public attention. But by the time you say all that, you've already conceded Blatter's main point, and he just sits there, smiling his dumb smile at you, twinkling horribly.
Anyway, what got me about Blatter's interview fragment was what it said about his, and by extension FIFA's, view of soccer in general. FIFA, and try not to laugh as you read this, is technically a nonprofit organization that exists to support soccer at all levels. A 6-year-old practicing with a ball in an alley is, and don't forget to download my comedy podcast on iTunes here, technically as important as the Premier League, as far as FIFA is concerned. FIFA is inevitably going to be involved with the commercial sphere around soccer, but the group's main concern is supposed to be the game itself. A sport is not a business! And yet: Blatter looks at America, sees a country where soccer is the most popular youth sport, and calls that "struggling" because they don't run MLS spots during How I Met Your Mother.
Well, "FIFA is about the money" isn't exactly a moon-landing headline, news-wise. This would be a pretty minor entry in the old anti-FIFA account if it didn't so instructively misrepresent what's actually happening in American soccer. Because the thing is, the quarterly report of a pro league is only one way to measure the state of a sport; it doesn't tell the whole story. And where American soccer has grown the most over the past decade is in the area where sport exists outside the business of sport.5 Or at least outside the traditional benchmarks of the business. To understand a sport's place in a culture you have to look beyond TV and even outside stadiums — you have to look at playgrounds and mall concourses and the jokes people you haven't talked to in 12 years are making on Facebook. And I'm sorry, but by those measures, the condition of soccer in America is roughly a billion times healthier than it was 18 years ago. It's countless little things. You see grown-ups playing soccer in the park. You see college bros in Messi jerseys killing time at the airport. Manchester United shows up on the front page of nytimes.com — not once, but regularly. Strangers you meet know about the Champions League. I hope this doesn't sound too anecdotal/Thomas Friedman's–cab–driver–ish, but the whole point is that you can't really measure it. Soccer is just much more of a steady everyday presence than it was a few years ago. It just is.
And isn't it naive to expect anything else? The NFL and superhero movies are all that's left of the monoculture these days, and the Internet means France is right next door to everybody. It's the fate of almost every interest to be carried along by complex, dedicated, decentralized groups of fans. You don't know them because their One Big League suddenly starts throwing off billionaires, you know them because you see three matching T-shirts in the subway one week and realize that this is a thing. In America, soccer fans are painting their faces for MLS games and/or streaming gray-market Blackburn matches and/or hanging out in soccer bars and/or arguing with Spanish fans about Thierry Henry on Barcelona message boards. There's no real rubric for evaluating the success of that kind of diffuse participation. Maybe someday someone will figure out how to fuse it into a consolidated moneymaking operation, but regardless, is it even debatable that the game as a game is in better shape here than it has been in 80 years? That fans, whether or not they're also customers, are having a better, easier, less isolated experience?
The World Cup is a business. FIFA is a business. Sepp Blatter runs a business. Soccer is something else.
We Three Kings
By: timbersfan, 1:18 AM GMT on January 03, 2013
It doesn't take a long time for the fate of a football team to turn. In Week 6, the Colts traveled to the Meadowlands and lost to the Jets, 35-9. Two weeks later, the Vikings would lose to the Buccaneers in Minnesota, 36-17. The following week, the Redskins lost 21-13 to the 2-6 Panthers at home, dropping Washington to 3-6. After those three losses to teams who finished with a combined record of 20-28, the three surprise teams in this year's postseason surged to the top of the heap, going a combined 21-5 the rest of the way. If we knew so little about what they were going to do then, how can we forecast what they'll do from here on out? There may be two Super Bowl teams in this batch, contenders who are going to ride their hot streak to New Orleans by the end of the month. There may also be three teams who were able to do just enough to squeak into the playoffs and might be at home next weekend. To get the best guess possible as to which path they'll take, all I can do is put what they've done and where they've come from in context.
There is one statistic that almost always comes into play when teams make dramatic improvements in their record from one year to the next: winning percentage in games decided by one touchdown or less. That's no different this year. In 2011, the Colts and Vikings were a combined 3-14 in games decided by one touchdown or less. For Minnesota, that included an 0-4 start, with three consecutive losses in games in which they led by 10 points or more at halftime. This year, amazingly, those same two teams are 14-2 in games decided by the same margin, and one of the losses was by the Vikings to these Colts. History tells us that there's virtually1 nothing sustainable about that statistic, but that's admittedly hard to reconcile with teams that carry themselves like winners and play confident, focused football.
Those wins have also been at the heart of their playoff pushes. The boiling-hot 9-2 stretch that led the Colts into January football saw Indianapolis go 7-0 in games decided by one touchdown or less, with those wins coming against teams who were a combined 36-67 in games that didn't involve Indy. In other words, the Colts went 7-0 against a sub-six-win team every time out. That's the equivalent of beating the 5-11 Cardinals seven times in a row without ever doing so by more than one score.
The Redskins, meanwhile, only improved from 3-5 last year to 5-4 in games decided by one touchdown or less, but the gap between their slow start and hot finish is almost entirely explained by what they did in close games. The 3-6 start that seemed to extinguish Washington's playoff hopes saw the Redskins go 1-4 in one-touchdown games, including the famously unnecessary loss to the Rams driven by that late personal foul on Josh Morgan and blown fourth-quarter leads against the Falcons and Giants. Their remarkable 7-0 finish, as you can probably deduce, has been driven by a 4-0 record in those same close games. That includes comeback victories over the Giants and Ravens, plus a 27-20 win over the Eagles that saw Philadelphia miss a would-be tying touchdown pass in the end zone.
You can poke a hole in the idea that these teams have some sort of pure winning mentality that only allows them to dominate in the clutch pretty easily. Even Vikings fans have probably forgotten about Week 1, when they gave away the lead to the Jaguars by allowing Cecil Shorts to get behind them for what looked to be a game-sealing touchdown (and two-point conversion) with 27 seconds left. Instead, the Vikings managed to pull together a drive to the 37-yard line and got a 55-yard field goal from debuting kicker Blair Walsh to tie up the game before winning it in overtime.
Even if you're with me in believing that these teams have run a little hot in those close games, it's undoubtedly true that they've also genuinely raised their game and played better than they did a year ago or even two months ago. We all know that their records changed, but what about their performance has shifted? That's the more meaningful question, and it gives us the best insight into whether they'll maintain their success in the playoffs.
In a way, Minnesota's ascension as a playoff team is the unlikeliest of the three. The Colts and Redskins upgraded from arguably the two worst quarterback situations in football to the top 10 in the offseason, moves that alone would be enough to push them up out of the cellar and toward contention. The Vikings are doing this with essentially the same core that led them to a 3-13 record a year ago. Just five of the 22 offensive and defensive starters that suited up in Sunday's dramatic win over Green Bay were not in the organization one year ago, and of those five, only first-round picks Matt Kalil (left tackle) and Harrison Smith (safety) have been key contributors this season. Quarterback Christian Ponder has been better than he was a year ago, upping his completion percentage from 54.3 percent to 62.1 percent, but he remains a checkdown artist rarely capable of making throws like the one that sprung Jarius Wright for 65 yards Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota has found other ways to improve. A special teams unit that ranked 27th in DVOA last season has improved to sixth this year, with much of that improvement driven by their rookie kicker, the aforementioned Walsh. If you still believe in kicking stats, it's worth noting that Walsh went 21-for-35 at Georgia during his senior year, for a field goal percentage of just 60 percent. He was 2-for-5 in 2011 and 10-17 over his college career from 50-plus yards; this year, he's 10-for-10.
The more noticeable improvement, of course, doesn't require advanced metrics; eyes will do just fine. It's not just that Adrian Peterson has returned from a devastating knee injury at 100 percent; it's that he's returned from that devastating knee injury and somehow turned into a far better player than he was before the injury even happened. Four weeks ago, Peterson seemed like a dark horse in the MVP race whose best hope would come from the league's quarterbacks splitting the passer vote, but Peterson's final quarter of the season saw him come on strong and all but lock up the MVP award with a heroic performance in what amounted to a playoff game for the Vikings.2
I am normally loath to suggest that a lowly running back has enough of an impact on his team's performance to justify being the league MVP, but this version of Peterson is no mere mortal running back. After four years of averaging between 4.4 and 4.8 yards per carry, Peterson put up one of the most incredible seasons a running back has ever produced, averaging a full 6.0 yards per pop across his 348 carries. Barry Sanders is the only back since 1990 to average more yards per carry in a 300-rush season than Peterson did this past year, and he did so by a mere one-tenth of one yard per carry, a difference of about two extra yards per game.
Even that doesn't truly express how rare Peterson's performance was, though. There are 158 instances of a running back carrying the ball 300 times or more in a season since 1990. Those backs averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Peterson's figure of 6.0 yards per run is 3.1 standard deviations above the mean; it's a true statistical outlier, a stunningly rare occurrence amid players with this sort of workload.
To try to put that into context, consider that there have been 197 instances since 1990 of a quarterback throwing 500 passes in a given season. A player with a workload3 for quarterbacks very similar to that of Peterson for running backs, coincidentally, is this year's edition of Peyton Manning. Manning has thrown 583 passes this year while averaging a robust 8.0 yards per pass attempt. That, however, is just 1.2 standard deviations above the mean yards-per-attempt figure posted by the average quarterback with 500 passes or more. If Manning was producing yards at a similar level to Peterson — 3.1 standard deviations above the mean in terms of yards per attempt — he would be averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt. And if Peyton Manning was averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt this year with the same workload, he would have 5,421 passing yards, which would be enough to place him just behind Drew Brees's 2011 season on the all-time leaderboard for passing yards in a season. In short and without math: Adrian Peterson is playing at a level so much better than the average workhorse running back that you simply have to give him the MVP award.
London Fletcher Calling
Washington's improvement, meanwhile, owes more to its defense than you might expect. It's a leap I wrote about earlier in this run, but the numbers bear out that the Redskins' defense has had more to do with their big playoff run than has the offense. During their 3-6 start, the Washington offense averaged 25.1 points per game, a figure that improved to an even 30 during the 7-0 finish. That's a 4.9-point difference. Meanwhile, the Washington defense went from allowing 27.6 points per game during the rough seas of September and October to an even 20.0 points per game after Election Day, a difference of 7.6 points. Plenty of those points came in garbage time against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, too, so that figure even understates the genuine improvement this unit has made over the final seven weeks of the year.
How did they get better? Well, the obvious indicators don't show any notable changes. Washington forced 16 turnovers through nine games, an average of 1.8 per contest and a figure that rose slightly to 2.1 turnovers per game over their final seven contests. That's not it. They've been bad on third down on both sides of the divide, allowing opposing offenses to convert 43.8 percent of the time during the 3-6 run (which was seventh-worst in the league), a figure that's up to 45.6 percent after their bye week. Their dismal first-down pass defense allowed 8.8 yards per pass attempt during the first nine weeks of the year, a figure only topped by the Saints and Chiefs. Their more recent run has seen them allow a more respectable 6.8 yards per throw. Their sack rate has also improved from 3.8 percent to 6.0 percent. The steps above that are positive all help a little bit, but not enough to single-handedly change the Redskins, who seem to be getting better out of sheer will.
One hidden way in which the Redskins have improved on defense is by staying healthy. That seems odd to say for a team that lost starting lineman Adam Carriker and star linebacker Brian Orakpo to season-ending injuries after two weeks, but the Redskins defense has managed to stay remarkably healthy since those two injuries occurred; every other starter has made it through the year without missing a start. For a unit that has been very thin in the past thanks to years of poor drafting and expensive mistakes on veterans, this sort of health has allowed them to stay effective through the second half of the season.
On Sunday, that health gap stood out against a Cowboys team that was riddled with injuries. By the end of the game, Dallas was playing without its two top receivers and with a quarterback that had a broken rib. Washington looked like a defense with chemistry, one that didn't blow many assignments and one that was able to execute intricate blitz packages and coverages behind those rushes. The Dallas offense looked desperate and out-of-sorts, relying on talent and a bit of luck to move the ball. For all that the Washington running game did, Dallas took over the ball down three points with 3:33 to go; it was the Redskins defense that forced Tony Romo into a terrible throw and picked off that pass, virtually ending the game as a contest. It remains to be seen how well the Redskins can match up with Seattle's zone-read rushing attack and the athleticism of Russell Wilson, but they're playing their best football of the season on defense.
The Colts, on the other hand, don't really have a statistical pedigree suggesting that they're even an average NFL team. Before the Colts' comfortable victory on Sunday over the Texans,4 Football Outsiders had them ranked as the league's 28th-best team, just below the lowly Eagles and Cardinals. Unsurprisingly, they were also listed with the league's easiest schedule, an analysis that pro-football-reference.com agrees with. The Colts finished with a point differential of -30, the sixth-lowest figure for a playoff team since 1990.5 Indianapolis better hope that wins are the only metric that counts, because wins are the only measure of the Colts that suggest Indy to be a playoff-caliber team.
Indianapolis's biggest problem has been its run defense, a unit that has allowed a league-high 5.1 yards per attempt this year. Thanks to a 44-carry, 352-yard effort from the thing that vaguely resembles an NFL offense in Kansas City last week, that figure has actually risen to 5.5 yards per pop during the second half. The Colts would do well to get Cory Redding (who sat out Sunday's game with a quad injury) back into steady rotation, but their personnel just otherwise doesn't match up well with opposition running games. Castoffs like Antonio Johnson and Jerrell Freeman get too many reps, while former star defensive end Dwight Freeney was never much for stopping the run as a down lineman, let alone as a linebacker. The Indy rush defense will get better eventually, but this personnel group will struggle to stop the likes of Arian Foster and Stevan Ridley in the playoffs.
The Colts finally got their big win by some sort of margin this week when they handled the Texans at home, eventually prevailing 28-16 in a game that they controlled from start to finish. It's definitely Indianapolis's best performance of the year, but there's reason to wonder whether it's as impressive of a win as it might have seemed a few weeks earlier. The Texans' free fall from seemingly having home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs locked up all the way down to the 3 seed isn't exactly a secret, but the Texans haven't really looked impressive since their 13-6 win over the Bears in Chicago in Week 10. Their 29-17 win over the Colts was even more of a struggle than the final score indicates. In any event, Houston became the first team in the history of the 16-game NFL schedule to start the year 11-1 (or 12-0) before failing to pick up a first-round bye. Great teams have gone on to win the Super Bowl after late-season slides — the 2009 Saints are the most recent example, having started 13-0 before losing their final three and then winning out in the playoffs — but it raises some doubt about whether the Texans team that's about to show up in the playoffs is any great shakes. More on them later in the week.
Of these three, I think Washington is most likely to enjoy some sort of success in the playoffs. Although they've arguably drawn the toughest opposition of the three in Seattle, the Redskins are also the only team of the three that gets to play at home during wild-card weekend. That can go a long way for a marginal team, as the 2011 Broncos and 2010 Seahawks have shown. Another week should also help Robert Griffin get closer to 100 percent, and if RG3 is near full health, the Redskins have an offense that neither of these teams can touch, even with AD. Besides, who doesn't want to see a long playoff run from the league's most exhilarating player?
Thank You for Not Coaching
Since several head coaches will likely be fired as you're reading this Monday morning, let's try to keep this one short and gentle.
Ron Rivera stuck to his guns in short yardage, mostly, by refusing to hand the ball to Cam Newton inside the 5-yard line once with three cracks at the goal line in the first quarter. He eventually kicked a 20-yard field goal. This was despite the drive having been extended solely by a Newton draw for 15 yards on third-and-2, and the ensuing fact that Mike Tolbert would score three times in short yardage without much of a fuss as the game went along.
Mike Shanahan and the Redskins have been one of the league's most aggressive teams on fourth down this season, likely thanks to the presence of RG3, but they settled for a 37-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter on fourth-and-2 that would have put them up 3-0, only for Kai Forbath to push his kick. Even with an injured RG3, their success in the running game suggests that Washington might have been better off just trying to convert for two yards there.
Mike McCarthy challenged a play in the first half that would have turned a second-and-10 into a second-and-16. The challenge worked, but the Vikings erased it off the board quickly with a third-and-12 conversion off a screen pass to Toby Gerhart on a drive that ended up scoring points.
McCarthy's even more bizarre incident was when he threw a challenge flag after a possible James Jones fumble at the 1-yard line, seemingly preventing the referees from reviewing the call (à la the Jim Schwartz ruling from earlier this year). The crew tried to claim that the replay official buzzed down to say that he was reviewing it before McCarthy threw the flag, but it felt like a ready-made excuse from the NFL to regulate the heat that came out of the Schwartz call (and the possible loopholes that were discussed). In either case, McCarthy didn't know that the replay official had buzzed down, so his challenge flag was just as ill-advised as Schwartz's was; he just got luckier treatment. It was a clearly awful decision, and while some would recommend that the mistake get chalked up to coaches living in the heat of the moment, it's also worth noting that Aaron Rodgers immediately realized what McCarthy had done and started screaming at his coach, while Jordy Nelson cheekily tried to pick up the flag and hide it before the referees saw it.
By: timbersfan, 1:17 AM GMT on January 03, 2013
The "T" on my ThinkPad flipped off last week as I was typing. My natural instinct was to blame my hellion son or my unlucky dog, Rufus, since they cause 99.99 percent of the disasters in my house. But I've only had this laptop for five months — it usually takes two years for my keyboard to start falling apart like it's Arian Foster on your 2013 fantasy team. How could this happen?
My wife (a longtime MacGyver wanna-be) thought she could Super Glue the "T" back on the keyboard, which made me nervous because Super Glue is probably the most misunderstood product on the planet. You use Super Glue to fix a broken chair, or maybe even the face mask of an autographed Mark Sanchez helmet that you just threw against the wall. You shouldn't use it for anything electronic; it just ends up making an already sticky situation stickier. One stuck "T" and one domestic argument later, I found myself back where I started. Thankfully, I had purchased something called "three-year onsite NBD and three-year priority support and three-year ThinkPad Protection" for $269 when I bought my laptop last June, which meant that if anything happened to my laptop, a technician would arrive the following day to fix it. I called Lenovo, banged out a service order and that was that.
The next day, Lenovo e-mailed me some bad news: My part was on back order and wouldn't be available for five to seven business days. (Random note: I love when the phrase "business days" gets involved — sports teams should start using that for injured athletes so it sounds like they're coming back sooner than they are. When Gronk broke his forearm, the Pats should have announced that he'd be out for 25 business days — I would have felt so much better.) I did the math and realized that "five to seven business days" really meant "You're screwed, we're not fixing your laptop until after Christmas." The good news was that Lenovo would be keeping my $269 for "three-year onsite NBD and three-year priority support and three-year ThinkPad Protection" out of good faith. Cool. Thanks, Lenovo.
That left me with three choices …
1. Write my Week 16 column on a keyboard that looks like this.
(Doable, but immensely frustrating. You don't realize how many T's there are until you have to slow down every time you're about to type one. That last sentence had nine "T's. Really, it couldn't have been a "Q" or a "Z" that came off?)
2. Write my Week 16 column on my BlackBerry. (Yes, I still use my BlackBerry even after breaking up with it five different times — I hate typing on touchscreens.) Then I could e-mail it to Grantland's copy desk through my AOL account, and maybe even post the eventual link on my Angelfire blog.
3. Bring my old 2009 laptop out of retirement with the same thinking that the Steelers used for Charlie Batch last month, right down to the condition of the laptop (far too creaky, thoroughly beaten up), my expectations (I just wanted it to manage the game for me without any killer turnovers) and the constant terror (not just that things would fall apart at any time, but that I'd lose my work even though I was saving it). There's a 90 percent chance my old laptop is possessed by an evil spirit — everything is going fine when, suddenly, keys stop randomly working, everything goes haywire and this happens.
I went with ThinkPad Charlie Batch and hoped for the best. And just like the Steelers-Ravens game in Week 13, something magical happened — that beaten-up computer somehow cranked out a massive holiday mailbag without totally falling apart. Near the end, it was running on fumes of its fumes. The "8" and "9" keys stopped working, and at one point everything just shut down without any warning. (Somehow I had just saved my Word document 45 seconds before it happened.) Charlie and I made it to the finish line and mailed in the column. Not even 20 minutes later, everything was flashing and Charlie had to be carried out on a virtual stretcher — all we were missing were other laptops praying in a circle as Dan Dierdorf said, "Well, you always hate to see this happen."
I spent the next few days learning how to write with a missing "T" key and wondering what would have been the best way to set that $269 on fire, ultimately deciding on 269 one-dollar bills because that would have generated the most smoke. By Thursday (the seventh and allegedly last "business day"), I thought I'd call Lenovo to check in on my new keyboard. The technical support lady quickly called up my case, eventually leading to this exchange.
TSL: "I'm showing the part will arrive tomorrow. An on-site technician will contact you then."
Me: "Tomorrow — that would make eight business days. You guys said five to seven."
TSL: "Well, we didn't have the part, so … "
Me: "I write for a living — keyboards are kind of important for typing. I paid extra for next-day repair and support because I wanted to make sure I always had a laptop that worked."
TSL: "You should have the new part tomorrow. Someone will call you."
Me: "We just passed 240 hours since my first support call … is it possible that I mistakenly bought 240-hour support?"
TSL: "We do apologize, sir."
Me: "If I wanted to tell you to F off, should I do it once right now, or repeatedly over the next five to seven business days in Lenovo time so you could hear me telling you to F off for two straight weeks?"
Just kidding, I didn't say that. I'm sure my new keyboard will probably arrive as you're reading this week's column. Thanks again, Lenovo!
We're dedicating these Week 17 picks to Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Romeo Crennel, Chan Gailey and Pat Shurmur … five coaches who will be sorely missed by everyone who writes snarky football columns for a living. I'm welling up just thinking about it. If there are a couple of T's missing in what you're abou to read, I know you'll undersand.
HOME TEAMS IN CAPS
Jets (+3) over BILLS
At Stake: You mean, other than the AFC East's fourth-place schedule for 2013? This might be the last time we see Mark Sanchez wearing a Jets uniform, Tim Tebow wearing an NFL uniform, Ryan Fitzpatrick wearing anything other than a headset, Chan Gailey coaching a football team that isn't playing Division III,1 and Rex Ryan before he gets canned and ends up joining either Tirico and Gruden in ESPN's Monday Night Football booth or Dave Attell on Showtime's Dave's Old Foot-Fetish Porn. Even people in Buffalo don't want to watch this game — it's blacked out in Western New York.
The Pick: When in doubt, take the points — especially when the underdog's coach has beaten the favorite's coach five straight times by an average of 19 points. Speaking of the Jets, I enjoyed these two e-mails …
From John D. in Somerville, Massachusetts (home of Redbones, New England's greatest BBQ place and a future location for House Eats): "When an awful player has a huge contract, and his team wants to get rid of him but can't because no one wants him, and they can't cut him because of the cap, can we just call that the Sanchize Tag? It's like the opposite of a franchise tag because you know he's going to be paid a lot of money to stay with the same team, but only because he sucks so hard." How great is that? Just for the hell of it, I bugged my illegitimate son Bill Barnwell during his holiday vacation and asked for his top-five Sanchize Tag guys for 2013 (see this extended footnote).2
From LTG in NYC: "As a life-long Pats fan who has spent his entire adult life in NYC, I am acutely familiar with the Pats/Jets rivalry. I keep thinking the Jets hit rock bottom (Fireman Ed, the Butt Fumble, Tebow) then they keep digging further. Anyway, my in-laws had their annual holiday party at their house in NJ last Saturday and I saw a buddy who is a life-long Jets fan. He's otherwise a nice successful good guy with great seats and has taken me to a couple Pats-Jets Meadowlands games. He walked in and we said our hellos and … that was it. About an hour later he came up to me and YELLED, "I find your pity upsetting!" The fact that I was NOT mocking him was killing him because the only reason why I, a Pats fan of all people, would not mock him was and could only be, of course … pity. The absolute worst feeling and he stewed about it for an hour … before exploding in the middle of the party. That's an absolute new low in fandom. Even for Jets fans."
(I'm telling you, it's good to have the Jets back.)
COLTS (+7) over Texans
At Stake: A loss would ruin Houston's no. 1 seed and maybe even Houston's first-round bye. The Colts already locked down a no. 5-seed, but they can lock down America's heart by playing their starters and winning Chuck Pagano's comeback game. Speaking of Pagano, here's reason no. 319 why I know I'm getting old: Pagano's emotional "I want to dance at my daughters' weddings" speech left me choked up and thinking about life and death and carpe diem and dancing at my own daughter's wedding and all that gooey stuff. Had I seen it 10 years ago, I would have thought, My God, Chuck just put a ton of pressure on the two dudes dating his daughters to buy them engagement rings! WOW! An unprecedented power play by Chuck! Just call him #ChuckStrongarm!
The Pick: Indy wins late, lots of tears afterward … and no, it can't play out any other way. In reality, they're better off letting Houston grab the no. 1-seed, then beating Baltimore in Round 1 and playing Houston in Round 2 over going to Denver (where they'd get destroyed). But this stopped being logical a long time ago. Ride the emotion, keep winning, don't worry about who you're playing.
BRONCOS (-16) over Chiefs
At Stake: By winning, Denver clinches a no. 2-seed and maybe even the no. 1-seed with help from #ChuckStrong. By losing, the Chiefs could clinch the first pick in the 2013 draft … which, naturally, doesn't feature a franchise quarterback because God secretly hates Kansas City. Topeka reader Dave Kensinger describes how bad it's been for Chiefs fans …
"You want Rock Bottom? The last time the Chiefs won a playoff game, here was the clinching play:
"Joe Montana handed off …
"to Marcus Allen …
"to beat the Houston Oilers …
"in the Astrodome …
"Oh well, at least we have the Royals."
The Pick: Denver wins by 30, followed by Deron Williams getting Romeo Crennel fired the following morning. Speaking of Romeo, one more loss would bring his career record to an astonishing 28-55, putting him 27 games under .500 for his career. (Sadly, I only gambled against him in half of those games. I have a lot of regrets.) Of the 651 NFL coaches on pro-footballreference.com (I'm assuming that's all of them, but you never know), only 14 did worse than Romeo's probable minus-27: the one and only Rod Marinelli (10-38), Steve "This Opportunity Never Happens If That Ball Doesn't Stick To Tyree's Helmet" Spagnuolo (10-38), the immortal Bruce Coslet (47-77), Phil Handler (a sneaky-amazing 4-34), Joe "I Somehow Got Two Chances" Bugel (24-56), Dom "Call Me If You Want To Ruin Your Expansion Team" Capers (48-80), Ray "I Was Coached By Bear Bryant, And That's Where The Similarities End" Perkins (42-75), David "The Ultimate Sports Legacy Kid If Not For Jim Dolan And Jimmy Buss" Shula (19-52), Norm Van Brocklin (66-100), the persistently horrific Dan Henning (38-73), Bert Bell (10-46), John McKay (44-88) and Marion Campbell (34-80 for a record minus-46).
Quick note on Campbell: He coached pieces of three Atlanta seasons in the mid-'70s (going 6-19) before becoming Dick Vermeil's defensive coordinator in Philadelphia during the Jaworski/Papile glory years, eventually replacing Vermeil in 1983 (finishing 17-29-1), then somehow landing Atlanta's head job AGAIN in 1987 (going 11-32 before retiring). You know what that means? If Campbell can get hired three times, including twice by the same team, then Romeo still has a chance for one more head-coaching stint! Who's up for thirds with the Romeo Era? Let's run this back! You're up, Buffalo. Hire the man.
Dolphins (+10) over PATRIOTS
At Stake: The Pats can clinch a no. 3-seed and maybe even leapfrog to no. 1 if Houston and Denver both lose. (Unlikely, but still … ) Meanwhile, the Dolphins need one more loss to guarantee themselves a Quadruple Jauron3 — a.k.a. finishing either 6-10 or 7-9 for four straight seasons. Much harder than it sounds.
The Pick: Too much Uncle Miltie potential, too much garbage-time TD potential, too easy to throw on New England with Alfonzo Dennard out … I'm picking Miami for an ugly cover at least. Would Belichick be devastated if Miami pulled off the upset, then the Patriots slipped to a no. 4-seed and drew Indy in Round 1 and Houston in Round 2 (two teams they've crushed this season)? I mean, Belichick wouldn't tank this game … right?
BENGALS (-2.5) over Ravens
At Stake: The Ravens could jump to a 3-seed, but only if Belichick throws New England blows the Miami game … and even then, they're better off at no. 4 so they can play Indy in Round 1. And Cincy can't budge from the no. 6-seed and would rather play Baltimore than New England next week. Can two teams throw the same game? It might take the full three hours for Alex Pappademas to understand what's happening here.
The Pick: S-T-A-Y-A-W-A-Y. No gambling on this game. Close the Ravens-Bengals window on your illegal offshore betting account and walk away NOW.
Jaguars (+4) over TITANS
At Stake: Nothing.
The Pick: Always ride Chad Henne when he's this lukewarm.
STEELERS (-6) over Browns
At Stake: On paper, nothing … unless you have a gambling problem. If so, this might be your only chance to wager against Cleveland practice-squad QB Chad Lewis, who's starting because Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy are injured. Some highlights from five minutes of extensive Chad Lewis Googling …
• Whoops, his name is Thad.
• Yesterday someone edited his Wikipedia page to say his nickname was "The Champ." Not "Champ" but "The Champ" — kind of like how you're not allowed to call "The Edge" by "Edge." Today, it's gone. Doesn't mean we can't still call him "The Champ," though.
• He's the career leader in passing yards and passing TDs at Duke University. So what if that's like being the UNLV Running Rebel who had the highest GPA during the Jerry Tarkanian era? Those are still two quality records, right?
• He could become the seventh Duke quarterback to start an NFL game, following the footsteps of Leo Hart, Al Woodall, Dave Brown, Sonny Jurgensen, Bob Brodhead and Mr. Anthony Dilweg.
• He looks like the guy who accidentally kills Ryan Phillippe in the impossibly underrated 1999 classic Cruel Intentions. Why haven't they turned Cruel Intentions into a TV show yet? Have we ever gotten a legitimately good explanation?4
• When you search for Thad Lewis clips on YouTube, a bunch of Lincoln clips of Tommy Lee Jones playing Thaddeus Stevens come up. I ended up watching two of the Jones clips even though I'd already seen the movie — he's that good — before getting angry all over again that Steven Spielberg ruined the movie with a certain decision he made. (Check the footnotes if you already saw the movie.5) Has Tommy Lee Jones replaced Clint Eastwood as America's favorite over-60 actor, or am I crazy? Have you ever heard anyone say the words, "Crap, this movie has Tommy Lee Jones in it" or "I liked that movie, but it could have used a little less Tommy Lee Jones"? Thanks to Chad Lewis for reminding me how much I love Tommy Lee Jones. Er, Thad Lewis.
• He's the 18th QB to start for the Browns since they relaunched the franchise in 1999. As Justin in New York points out, "Who has the best winning percentage of any Browns starting QB? The answer … JAKE DELHOMME at 2-2. I think as a New Year's resolution you should make a point to stop hating on Jake and give him his due justice as the New Browns' BEST QB EVER."
So to recap: You have my permission to tease the Steelers with ANYONE this week. Knock yourself out. Meanwhile, Ryan Cassidy passes along this week's "God hates Cleveland" e-mail:
"Every year I go to a Browns game with my dad and he never has anything Browns-related to wear. I decided to look on the official Browns website to see what they had, stumbling upon one of the most depressing things I have ever seen as a Browns fan, and thats saying something. They currently have jerseys available for five active Browns players (one is a backup QB?) and nine, yes nine, former players!! This list for formers includes: Peyton Hillis, Brady Quinn, Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis, Kamerion Wimbley, Kellen Winslow, Derek Anderson, Donte Stallworth (this one has to be a joke right), and Joe Jurevicius. How sad does your franchise have to be to have more former player jerseys available than current players? And most of them were terrible. God really does hate Cleveland."
Panthers (+5.5) over SAINTS
FALCONS (-3.5) over Bucs
At Stake: Nada.
The Picks: Put it this way … I accidentally cut this section out of the original column in a copy-paste accident and never noticed until after the column went up. You know what? I'm not even apologizing.
Eagles (+7.5) over GIANTS
At Stake: New York's 8.5 percent playoff hopes; Michael Vick's 2013 contract; the Andy Reid era; a possible alternate ending for the Silver Linings Playbook Blu-ray; the faint possibility of Philly players trying to carry Andy off the field and everyone collapsing like a building during an earthquake.
The Pick: The Giants died a few weeks ago; we didn't totally notice the smell of the corpse until last weekend.6 They can't pressure the passer. They can't defend receivers. They can't throw the ball like they once did without Mario Manningham and with Hakeem Nicks hobbling around. What are they? I don't even need to waste a reverse jinx on them this week — I think they lose outright to the Eagles this week, followed by the Eagles mismanaging the clock and pouring Gatorade on Andy Reid too soon just for old times' sake. Please, Lord, let Andy end up with the Chargers and Phil Rivers so they can join forces and figure out ways to blow games late that haven't even been invented yet. I don't ask for much.
VIKINGS (+3.5) over Packers
At Stake: Green Bay's no. 2 seed;7 Minnesota's playoff spot;8 Eric Dickerson's rushing record; a looming playoff gambling dilemma (wanting to wager against Christian Ponder in a road playoff game while simultaneously being terrified to wager against Adrian Peterson under any circumstances); Aaron Rodgers's "Never bet against Aaron Rodgers when he's hot" reputation; the psyche of Vikings fans.
The Pick: I'd never wager on this game because I'm too afraid to go against Rodgers OR Peterson, but these two e-mails nearly swayed me toward a Green Bay pick …
E-mail No. 1 (from Jim in Washington): "You made it sound in your Week 17 podcast with Sal that the Packers line was too high. Let me tell you something — do not bet against Rodgers when he gets hot. I've learned the hard way. The Packers are somehow on a 9-1 run and no one is talking about them. Rodgers finds slights like Brady used to early in his career — you don't think he's mad about this? Don't bet against Rodgers, Simmons, DON'T BET AGAINST RODGERS!"
E-mail No. 2 (from Joseph in St. Paul): "A message received by all Vikings fans just 12 hours ago …
" … ALL CALL … VIKINGS FANS …
"Prepare To Engage Expectation Management Plan Zulu … Presume Loss … Brace For Intense Misery At Echo Hour, S-Day …
… END TRANSMISSION … "
And then I thought about it …
What's fun about laying 3½ with Green Bay? I want to root for the Vikes at home! I want that extra half-point! I want to wager against Ponder in Round 1! COME ON, VIKES!
Bears (-3.5) over LIONS
At Stake: Chicago's flimsy playoff hopes (they need to win AND they need Minnesota to lose); Calvin Johnson's chances to break the 2,000-yard receiving mark; maybe Lovie Smith's job; maybe Jim Schwartz's job; Jay Cutler and Stat Padford9 staging a "Who can stare down his best receiver and keep forcing him the ball in triple coverage more times?" contest for the ages; the actual date that Chicago fans say, "Screw football, when is Derrick coming back?" (it's either this Monday or a week from Monday); the terrifying possibility of the Packers winning, then the Bears somehow losing, followed by die-hard Bears fan Robert Mays developing a drinking problem, followed by a massive Grantland staff intervention and Mays screaming, "I'm fine! I'M FINE!" before storming off to get drunk again.
The Pick: That half-point scared me until I remembered that Chicago and Indy were this year's Good Bad Teams — not including Week 1 (when Chicago crushed Indy), the Bears and Colts finished 1-7 against Green Bay, Houston, San Francisco, New England and Seattle and 17-3 against everyone else. Since the Lions have lost seven straight and are 22-41 in the Jim Schwartz era, I'd say this qualifies as a "Good Bad Team beating a Bad Team" scenario. Don't you love that Chicago fans have to end their Sports Year From Hell by having to root for Green Bay? As Dallas reader John D. points out, "Has there been a better parallel in 2012 than the Bears and Homeland? Both had high expectations coming into the season, both began promising (leaving fans excited and wanting more), both fizzled out towards the middle (leaving fans worried that this season wouldn't be as good as we originally thought), and finally, both ended with bulgy-eyed crying women (Carrie and Urlacher) rooting for bad guys."
CHARGERS (-7) over Raiders
At Stake: Norv's last game. That's right, the one who drew the ire of my buddy Hopper in Vegas for staying on 16 is finally going to be unemployed, at least until the Jets hire him as their new offensive coordinator and all is right with the world again.
The Pick: Hey everyone, it's your last chance to parlay San Diego with an early game, win the early game, debate whether to hedge, ride the parlay, then get screwed over by a Norv team that screwed up a game it should have easily won. It's gonna be emotional. Come on, you and me … let's do this. One last time. Let's lose some money.
Cards (+16.5) over NINERS
SEAHAWKS (-11) over Rams
At Stake: The Niners can clinch the no. 2-seed with a win, and a Packers loss, leaving Seattle stuck with a no. 5-seed unless Arizona's Brian Hoyer pulls a Matt Flynn (a.k.a. the random backup QB who catches fire in Week 17 and stumbles into an extravagant free-agent deal). You know the Seahawks will show up because of their crowd and because Russell Wilson might be the Messiah … but what about the Niners? How banged up are they after those brutal New England and Seattle games? How much will they miss Mario Manningham? Are they really playing a just-concussed Vernon Davis? Couldn't Arizona's D and special teams keep them hanging around?
The picks: A blowout in Seattle; a bizarre nail-biter in San Francisco. Hey, did you know I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season? It's true, I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season. So to recap, I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season. Here's the link of the column in which I picked the Seahawks to make the Super Bowl before the season. Do you know who I picked to make the Super Bowl before the season? The Seahawks!!!
Cowboys (+3) over REDSKINS
At Stake: The NFC East title; the no. 4 seed; the no. 6 seed if Minnesota AND Chicago lose (if that happens and Dallas beats Washington, Dallas gets no. 4 and Washington gets no. 6; if that happens and Washington wins, the Redskins get no. 4 and the Giants get no. 6); the Jason Garrett era; the "Rookie of the Year" award; a potentially massive NBC rating; the mood of Monday's B.S. Report with Cousin Sal; the latest chapter of the ongoing saga, "How Good Is Tony Romo?"
The Pick: Pick a scenario …
Scenario A: A suddenly healthy Robert Griffin III scampers around, slices and dices Dallas's defense, spearheads a brutally efficient Redskins running game and generally does RG3 things as Washington's sellout crowd absolutely loses its mind, followed by dozens of shots of a depressed Jerry Jones, Garrett blankly staring out to the field with one of those "Maybe I should see if I could get a college job" looks on his face, then Romo gamely bringing the Cowboys back from 20 down in the fourth quarter with two garbage-time TDs, followed by the inevitable onside kick that Dan Bailey screws up by kicking out of bounds. Washington wins by six.
Scenario B: Griffin doesn't look totally healthy … Washington's ridiculous fumble luck (they've recovered 19 of their 25 fumbles) finally swings against them … Romo plays out of his mind as Cris Collinsworth lectures us that we "have to stop pretending that Tony Romo isn't an elite QB" … a once-crazy Washington crowd goes into super-tense "Uh-Oh" mode (shades of the Nats' last playoff game) as Romo does whatever he wants … Griffin makes one classic rookie mistake down the stretch … Collinsworth gushes that "People don't realize how mentally tough this Cowboys team is" … Al Michaels gets excited when a late Cowboys field goal beats the "over" … Dallas wins by 10.
(Hmmmmmmmmmmm … )
Why do I keep drifting back to Scenario B? Cowboys 34, Redskins 24.
Last note: Thanks to everyone for reading Grantland in 2012. And while we're here, thanks to John Skipper, John Walsh, Rob King, John Kosner and Marie Donoghue for enabling the single most rewarding experience of my career; thanks to Dan Fierman, Sean Fennessey and Megan Creydt for guarding Grantland's front door and keeping the site going every day; thanks to David Cho for selling stuff and doing David Cho things; thanks to Mike Philbrick for dominating the East Coast and editing my mediocre column; thanks to the incomparable and indispensable Dave Jacoby for being our Office MVP; thanks to Grantland OG's Jay Kang and Rafe Bartholomew for always pushing us creatively; thanks to Mark Lisanti and Chris Ryan for shepherding our entertaining blogs while somehow finding time to write quality stuff, too; thanks to our young'uns (Robert Mays, Emily Yoshida, Juliet Litman and Sarah Larimer) for working their butts off while keeping the office happy; thanks to newer additions Harlan Edelman, Craig Gaines and Carlos Sepulveda for fitting in so seamlessly; thanks to the Single Greatest Intern Who Ever Lived (Patricia Lee); and last but not least, thanks to our talented crew of writers who carry Grantland day after day after day. This site has turned into everything we ever hoped it would be. Happy New Year. See you in 2013.
Last Week's Record: 9-7
2012 Record: 125-111-4
Pink Slips Abound on Black Monday in the NFL
By: timbersfan, 1:16 AM GMT on January 03, 2013
Black Monday delivered. The first morning of the offseason for 20 of the league's 32 teams brought a stunning wave of pink slips, as more than half of those 20 teams responded to their disappointing campaigns by firing at least one prominent member of their front offices or coaching staffs. Most handled it with class. Bud Adams of the Titans fired his COO, former general manager Mike Reinfeldt, by noting "I think we’d be better off without him," which is a total disregard for tact that you can only possess by being 90 years old and an NFL owner. It's like sending a telegram whose entire contents read "IDGAF." By the end of the day, seven head coaches and five general managers had hit the street, despite the continued employment of embattled candidates like Mike Munchak, Ron Rivera, and Jeff Ireland. Somehow, though, the only move that seemed truly surprising came out of Chicago, where Lovie Smith was sacrificed for the Bears' second-half collapse.
It's much easier to figure out which coaches and general managers are likely to be fired than fill those same holes with available candidates, so I'm going to avoid prognosticating here. My rule of thumb is that teams tend to notice their personnel's weaknesses as they fire them and replace them with personnel of the opposite persuasion. If they've just fired an offensive-minded leader with a reputation for being a player's coach, teams often look for a defensive coordinator with a disciplinarian streak. I don't know that the pattern I'm describing is necessarily what teams should follow, but I think it's a path that a fair amount of the league's teams do, in fact, take.
So, with that in mind, I want to examine why these 12 men didn't make it into 2013 with their jobs. Understanding what went wrong (or what was perceived to have gone wrong) should give us some insight into whether the moves made any sense and if the teams in question are actually going to improve by making a switch.
There's no clear-cut smoking gun in every case, but there is one factor that plays an obvious role in many of these firings: disappointing quarterback play. By my count, the only firings on Monday that weren't directly preceded by a failed season from the sacked employee's quarterbacks were with Smith in Chicago and the combination of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner in San Diego. You can make a case that Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers didn't quite meet expectations, but consider that each of the nine other candidates oversaw quarterbacks who will either lose their job or be in a battle for their previously secure starting job in 2013, and you have an idea of just how closely quarterback play and coach/GM job security are related.
Let's start with the most surprising firing of Black Monday and work our way down.
Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears head coach
Let's be honest: Had the Packers beaten the Vikings on Sunday and pushed the Bears into the NFC playoffs, Lovie Smith wouldn't be getting fired this offseason. You can argue that new general manager Phil Emery probably wanted to hire a new head coach after taking over last offseason, but coaches with Smith's track record and popularity within the organization don't get fired after making a playoff run. Smith's status as Chicago's head coach is basically tied to a terrible game from Tramon Williams against the Vikings, which seems like too flimsy of a pretense to create an organizational shift. Making decisions based on what happened in Week 17 one day afterward is rash.
The public argument against Smith revolves around the idea that he wasn't able to get enough out of the Chicago offense, which seems like an odd complaint to levy against a former defensive coordinator who mostly turned the offense over to former head coaches like Mike Martz and Mike Tice. And while Chicago's offense was a dismal 26th in DVOA this season, it's hard to argue that he had much to work with beyond the skill position troika of Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte.
Instead, the perpetual problem in Chicago is their grotesque offensive line, a grouping that has been among the league's worst for nearly a half-decade by now. The Bears have attacked the problem a few different ways, but none of their methods have worked. Although they didn't have first- or second-round picks in 2009 and 2010 (mostly as a consequence of the Cutler trade), they did use their 2008 and 2011 first-round picks on offensive linemen. They've gotten little from those picks so far: Chris Williams struggled with injuries and failed to emerge as the team's left tackle of the future before being released in the final year of his rookie deal last October, while 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi missed virtually all of his rookie year and was benched during this past sophomore campaign. Going outside the organization didn't offer much more. Former general manager Jerry Angelo placed a premium on acquiring versatile offensive linemen in free agency, but the players he signed — John St. Clair, Chris Spencer, and Frank Omiyale — weren't actually good in any position. Hall of Famer–to-be Orlando Pace even showed up for a half-season, albeit years after he was broken down by injuries. The team would shuffle spots on the line every few weeks and bench a guy here or there, but outside of stalwarts Olin Kreutz (who left after 2010) and Roberto Garza, the Bears were constantly looking for answers up and down their line.
The result is a line filled with castoffs and accidents. J'Marcus Webb is nobody's idea of a left tackle, but he's spent most of the last two years in that spot by default while treating most pass rushers like he's a store on Black Friday. Webb was a seventh-round pick, as was guard Lance Louis. Castoffs like Jonathan Scott and Chilo Rachal saw far too many reps, virtually by default. It was a line that nearly got Cutler killed and helped contribute to the disastrous stretch by Caleb Hanie that ruined the promising 2011 season.
You can argue it in both directions. Did Angelo deliver talented players to Smith, only for them to struggle under his watch and fail to develop into reliable starters? It's always hard to tell, but I don't think that's the case. Williams was ruined by injuries, as was an earlier Angelo first-round pick at tackle, Marc Colombo. The spare parts that came in through free agency haven't been any great shakes elsewhere, and the likes of Webb and Louis aren't supposed to be key contributors to an NFL team. Emery might do a better job of delivering offensive line talent to whoever the next coach is, but I don't think Smith could've done much more with what he had. With Brian Urlacher hitting free agency and the rest of Chicago's defensive core looking very old these days, this could be the start of a rebuilding project in Chicago, even if Emery suggests otherwise.
Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves, Arizona Cardinals head coach and GM
Could you have imagined this at the end of September? The Cardinals were 4-0, having beaten the Patriots in Foxborough and blown out the Eagles at home. Heck, they even beat the Seahawks in Week 1, a win that looks better now than it did at the time. With the Rams and Bills coming up, you could make a case that the Cardinals were about to start 6-0. That's contract extension time!
Instead, three months later, the braintrust that took the Cardinals to an improbable Super Bowl run in 2008 has been let go. In a way, Arizona might have been victims of their early success; this was probably just about the talent level of a 5-11 team, but starting 4-0 and finishing 1-11 makes 5-11 feel a lot worse than a less streaky season. If you stretch their great start back into the 2011 season, the Cardinals had famously put together a 10-2 run, one that saw them go 9-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Naturally, that wasn't sustainable; they went 0-4 in those same games during the 1-11 finish. (Be wary, Colts fans.)
The problem with the Cardinals ended up being what everyone suspected the problem was with the Cardinals before the season: They had two quarterbacks and neither of them were any good. Graves didn't deliver Whisenhunt any really effective options, but Whisenhunt made it worse by affecting his usual pattern of cycling back and forth between his choices, destroying each player's confidence and any sense of rhythm with his receivers in the process. Those changes were initially forced upon Whisenhunt by injuries, with John Skelton going down in Week 1 and Kevin Kolb suffering what ended up being a season-ending injury weeks later, but he went back and forth with Skelton and rookie Ryan Lindley without rhyme or reason. An offensive line that rivaled Chicago's as the league's worst didn't help matters, either.
Whisenhunt is actually a pretty good head coach once you get beyond his inability to handle quarterbacks, which makes him a great candidate for a team with a stable quarterback situation, like the Bears or Chargers. Of course, stable quarterback situations make a lot of head coaches look good, too.
Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs head coach
The surprise here isn't that Crennel was fired, but instead that general manager Scott Pioli appears to be holding onto his job after a 2-14 season. Crennel was an ill-fated hire, an interim coach who got to keep his job because the Chiefs upset the Packers at home in his first game as interim coach last season. The track record of interim coaches is dismal, and Crennel's awful year in Kansas City was no exception. Crennel hired Brian Daboll to run the Kansas City offense, but the unit descended into farce as the season progressed, with the combination of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn seemingly not allowed to throw passes for quarters at a time. The staff had to deal with unimaginable tragedy after the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide incident, but Crennel simply wasn't an effective football coach.
The case for Pioli is murky. His commitment to Cassel has held the organization back through the tenures of both Crennel and Todd Haley. The Chiefs have an elite core of talent with Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Brandon Flowers, but each of those players was drafted before Pioli arrived in town. Pioli's drafts have been uneven at best, with the likes of Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas, Jonathan Baldwin, and Tyson Jackson all failing to live up to expectations. With the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, Pioli seems likely to use another first-rounder on his defensive line, but his most important task this offseason is to move on from the Cassel era and find a quarterback.
Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills head coach
Gailey is genuinely an innovative offensive mind. He was the first person to bring the Pistol offense to the NFL, back when he was stuck with a rookie Tyler Thigpen as an injury replacement with the Chiefs in 2008. He got a lot out of Fred Jackson over the past three years, and this season he turned C.J. Spiller into a superstar weapon, a player who did as much each time he touched the ball as any back in football beyond Adrian Peterson. And he did all that with an offensive line of no-names, a group that was mostly drafted and developed into a competent bunch in-house.
Despite his innovative offensive mind, though, Gailey has struggled to get results. Since returning from the college ranks in 2008, Gailey and his offenses have ranked 26th, 28th, 14th, and 21st in points scored. You can argue that he hasn't had a ton to work with over that time, but it was Gailey who benched incumbent Trent Edwards and turned the team over to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who then received an ill-fated contract extension after an unlikely hot stretch in 2011. Fitzpatrick has been a better quarterback in Buffalo than he was elsewhere, but at 31, it seems unlikely that he'll take a leap forward. Gailey's play calling was also curious, as the Bills blew late leads over the Cardinals (before eventually coming back to win in overtime) and Titans (no such luck) with ill-fated passes in clear running situations. If the Bills hold on for the win in those two games and stop a last-minute Rams drive in Week 14, they're 8-8 and Gailey probably keeps his job.
Gailey's other problem came in turning the defense over to trusted confidant Dave Wannstedt, who failed to inspire a defensive line that seemed dominant on paper. Injuries to the new Williams Wall — Kyle and record free agent Mario — didn't help matters, but the Bills failed to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and couldn't reproduce the fluky high turnover rate of 2011, when they were fifth in takeaways. Wannstedt was also let go on Monday. It's hard to see either Gailey or Wannstedt, both 60, running an NFL team again.
Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert, Cleveland Browns head coach and GM
The Heckert firing was rumored for months, as incoming owner Jimmy Haslam brought along former Eagles president Joe Banner, who was expected to hire a new general manager at the end of the season. Heckert worked alongside former team president Mike Holmgren, neither of whom will look back at their time in Cleveland longingly on an America's Team: Cleveland Browns broadcast someday. They left some talented draft picks for the new management team, notably cornerback Joe Haden, but the Browns are also without a second-round pick in this year's draft after using a supplemental draft pick on wideout Josh Gordon.
They didn't deliver much for Shurmur to work with, but it's hard to see where Shurmur made things better. Brought in as an offensive mind after helping Sam Bradford along during his rookie year at quarterback, Shurmur failed to develop Colt McCoy into a reliable starter and didn't get much out of Brandon Weeden during the 29-year-old's rookie season. The team's other young skill position players also stagnated, although Gordon showed some promise as a big-play threat during an 801-yard rookie season. Our Chris Brown referred to the Cleveland offensive scheme in December as "predictable, not creative, and incoherent.” Shurmur showed little aptitude as a play caller and routinely made strategic mistakes in terms of managing game situations. He might catch on with Andy Reid's next staff, having spent seven years as quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, but Cleveland's next hire is extremely likely to be an upgrade.
Cleveland clearly can't win with the talent they currently have on hand, so a team that's seemingly been rebuilding since it came back into existence in 1999 will need to make some changes after finding its next head coach. Of all the teams in football, I think they have the least to lose by thinking out of the box and doing something radically different, both with their coaching hire and their subsequent personnel decisions. Going back to the well with a conventional coach and Weeden seems unbearable, and I'm not even a Browns fan.
Mike Tannenbaum, New York Jets general manager
I wrote about the mistakes made by Tannenbaum in mid-December, and there's nothing new to add since then. The Jets would be wise to hire a replacement with more of a scouting background to try to rebuild through the draft, but whoever they hire will decide the fate of the 2013 Jets by determining what to do with Mark Sanchez and his contract.
Gene Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager
The Smith era in Jacksonville was also covered at length here on Grantland in November. Since that article was posted, Russell Wilson has gone 6-1 and completed 67.3 percent of his passes while averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, throwing 14 touchdowns against two picks. It's a little unfair to characterize Jacksonville as having specifically passed on Wilson, since every other team did too, but taking a punter five picks before what appears to be a franchise quarterback is going to be the epitaph for Smith's run in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars are reportedly planning on signing Tim Tebow this offseason, a move that would come at the expense of Blaine Gabbert and apparently with the blessing of whichever general manager the team hires. Think about that one for a moment. If you were interviewing to be the general manager of an NFL team and you knew that you were going to have to give Tim Tebow, at the very least, a legitimate opportunity to be your starting quarterback, would that excite you? Would you only want to deal with that if you didn't have other chances to be a general manager elsewhere? I think the likelihood of a Tebow deal will limit the options available to Jacksonville, but that remains to be seen.
Norv Turner and A.J. Smith, San Diego Chargers head coach and GM
Legendary baseball general manager Branch Rickey was fond of noting that it's better to deal a player a year too early than a year too late. Here, we have a management combination fired a year too late. Turner and Smith should have been let go after a disappointing 2011 season, but they stuck around one more year and needed a 3-1 stretch over the final four games to make it to 7-9. San Diego was 0-5 against teams with a winning record, including that Week 6 loss to the Broncos that saw them blow a 24-0 halftime lead, allowing 35 unanswered points in the second half.
Turner's faults are already legend, so it seems petty to bring them up again. Smith's regression seems more interesting, anyway. It's difficult to overstate how talented the 2005-07 Chargers were, and that was even after letting Drew Brees leave for free. Injuries hit the young talent, as Marcus McNeill and Shawne Merriman went from franchise cornerstones to afterthoughts just as they were supposed to be peaking, but Smith's acumen in the draft seemed to disappear overnight. He had a terrible four-year run that saw him take wideout Craig Davis, cornerback Antoine Cason, outside linebacker Larry English, and running back Ryan Mathews in the first round. Davis was a colossal flop who is out of football. Cason wasn't able to contribute in the slot and has been a below-average starter on the outside. English has four starts and 8.5 sacks in four years. Mathews showed flashes of brilliance in 2011, but he's been injury-prone (fracturing his collarbone twice this year) and hasn't been able to hold onto the football.
Smith never learned his lesson with the running game, either. San Diego spent more on running backs than anybody else in football in 2009 to keep LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles around, but they had the worst rushing attack in football, averaging a dismal 3.3 yards per carry. Smith's response to this, somehow, was to let them both go and use another valuable asset, a first-round pick, to draft Mathews. No wonder Mike Tolbert wanted to leave.
San Diego should be the most exciting job on the market, even beyond the fact that it's a high-paying job in Simmons's most-livable city. The Chargers have a bona fide franchise quarterback and play in arguably the league's worst division, the AFC West. Instead, the sheer lack of talent on the roster doesn't make it a particularly appealing opportunity.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles head coach
I wrote a postmortem for the Andy Reid era last month suggesting that the Reid epoch will look better with a little bit of perspective, something I still stand by. I agree it was time for Reid to go, that a change of scenery was probably going to be best for everybody involved, but I still haven't heard a good answer to this question: Who are the Eagles going to hire who will represent a long-term upgrade on Andy Reid?
The best example I can think of is Bill Cowher, and the rumors around Cowher for years have suggested that he's going to require personnel control if he returns to be a head coach somewhere. That's not going to happen in Philadelphia, where owner Jeffrey Lurie holds general manager Howie Roseman in high regard. I don't know that I would be desperate to give somebody like Cowher, who came out of the best drafting and development scheme in football — a scheme that was great both before he got there and since he's left — full personnel control.
Would you prefer Jon Gruden? Gruden has a Super Bowl ring, but after winning the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002, his teams went a combined 45-51 while going 0-2 during their two trips to the playoffs. Compare that to the Reid Patrol, who feverishly note that the Eagles have gone 66-61 with a losing record (3-4) in the playoffs since Philly's trip to the Super Bowl in 2004 as a sign that it's time for Reid to go. If a Super Bowl win a decade ago is enough for you, why not go after Brian Billick? Or Mike Holmgren, Reid's mentor in Green Bay? Are they really significantly better options in 2013?
The reality is that the Eagles would love to hire Andy Reid if it weren't for the fact that they just fired him. His is the best résumé on the market, which is why you've already seen teams jockeying for position to get him in for possible interviews. In fact, it's not unreasonable to suggest that a team like Arizona might not have fired their otherwise-competent head coach if it weren't for Reid's availability. The last guy to come onto the marketplace with a résumé like Reid's is Mike Shanahan, and while it took a couple of years, he turned his new organization around.
Philadelphia will look at a variety of candidates. They would be a nice fit for Chip Kelly, who would allow the Eagles to give Michael Vick one final shot in an offense that could play to his strengths. If they follow the head coaching maxim, they would follow the Reid era by targeting a defensive-minded disciplinarian, which would lead them toward Cowher or Lovie Smith. I think whoever they hire will be a short-term upgrade on Reid, just by virtue of bringing in some fresh ideas and new motivational tactics to a group of players who had been used to the Reid Way. In the long-term, though, it's going to be very difficult for the Eagles to find somebody who represents an upgrade on their departed head coach.
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.