Are NFL Storylines a Little Too Unreal?

NFL Logo
NFL: National Football League or Nuts For Lewis?

I admit, I’ve really only been a serious fan of football since the start of the new millennium. So what I’m about to ponder will most likely seem ridiculous – something to which my wife would readily agree. Still, I will press forward with my skepticism about some of the things that go on in the NFL. Since I started watching the NFL regularly, there have been some storylines that are just a little bit too good to be true. Not for the fans, but for the media and the league marketing department.

Here are some that come to mind.

  • John Elway, perennially denied a Superbowl victory, finally wins the big game. Twice in two years, including in his final game. Don’t get me wrong, those were some really good Bronco teams, but back-to-back SB wins from a 38 year-old QB seems a bit unlikely.
  • St. Louis Rams, “The Greatest Show on Turf,” lose (on turf) to a rookie QB despite being 14 point favorites. It wasn’t even supposed to be a contest.
  • The proliferation of low-seeded teams or teams with relatively weak records to emerge as Superbowl champs in the past decade (Steelers ’06, Giants ’07, Packers ’11, Giants ‘12). And we could be adding the Ravens to the list this year.
  • HOF running back Jerome Bettis wins the SB in his last game (on a 6 seed team). Michael Strahan wins SB in his last season (on a 5 seed team). I already mentioned Elway, and now Ray Lewis could go out a champion.
  • How about the Giants over the 18-0 Patriots? Looked like Superbowl XXXVI all over again. (BTW – I might’ve been the only person in America who picked the Giants that year.)
  • How about a Giants/Patriots rematch in a year (2012) that should’ve been Niners/Ravens? Not to worry, the Harbaugh Bowl was merely delayed for a year. And now it just got better with the added factor of the Ray Lewis spectacle…

Why I Bring This Up Now

First, the recent “he said, he said” between former wide receiver Tim Brown and former head coach Bill Callahan. The gist is that Brown implied Callahan ‘sabotaged’ Superbowl XXXVII because he hated the Raiders and wanted to see his friend John Gruden win, instead. Brown’s assertion is extreme, but he did at least get confirmation from former teammate Jon Ritchie, who stated that the Raiders spent all week practicing for a game plan which they completely discarded come game time. Callahan immediately denied Brown’s accusations. Regardless of who you believe, it puts even that Superbowl in the shadow of the sportlight.

Then there was this little gem from Peter King’s MMQB column (Tuesday edition).

Jim, a reader from Regina, Saskatchewan, wrote:

Any idea why the Patriots appeared to run exactly the same offensive scheme against the Ravens that the Broncos had failed with the week before? Lots of inside runs, short passes in the flat, short crossing patterns. If they were trying to make Ray Lewis look good, that was the offense to do it with. And then both head coaches choked in key situations – Bill Belichick punting from the 34, John Fox telling Peyton Manning to run on third-and-seven? Did they forget they both have the best quarterbacks of their generation?

You can draw your own conclusions…

No Conspiracy Theories—Just Skepticism

It just seems strange to me that both the AFC and NFC runner up from last year would make the Conference Championship Game the very next year. And, after the hoopla about the possibility of two brothers going against each other in the big game last year, it’s not a stretch to maintain that marketing machines and the media saw a story they could sure sink their teeth into this year. Then add the Ray Lewis farewell tour into the mix and there’s no way the Patriots were going to be allowed back to the Superbowl. What about the Falcons? Sure, Atlanta hasn’t won, but Matt Ryan is young and there’s plenty of time for them to get there. I’m betting they’ll be back.

For the record, I don’t care about the Harbaughs. I think they’re both good coaches. I don’t particularly like Ray Lewis and being married to a Steeler fan while living in Cincinnati, I’m starting to really hate Baltimore. Still, I’ll close with this: Ray Lewis may not have murdered anyone, but the media spectacle that has become his self-proclaimed farewell is killing my appetite for the NFL.

—Ryan Varney

Wade Boggs and the Field of Dreams – My Youth Lives Again

Today I surrendered to sweet nostalgia. My childhood was resurrected as I read a story that brought together three influential icons of my youth. For virtually every other human on the planet, this story was relatively meaningless, but for me it created the perfect storm of reflection.

(Quit blathering and get on with it, right?)

The story was about how the baseball complex used in the movie Field of Dreams was recently purchased by a group that included baseball HOFer Wade Boggs, with the goal of developing it into a multimillion dollar baseball and softball complex. It would also keep the complex from fading into obscurity.

So why is this story such a big deal for me? Three things: Wade Boggs, Field of Dreams and W.P. Kinsella.

A Little Personal History

I grew up in Northwest Ohio (Toledo), moved to Chicago and now currently reside in Cincinnati. As a kid I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell do Tiger games every night. So why am I a diehard Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins and New England Patriots fan?

Wade Boggs. For some reason, when I was eight years old, I took a liking to Wade Boggs, the baseball player. As an adult, I’m a little incredulous that my parents would let me idolize a proven womanizer and ridiculously heavy drinker – it’s been noted that Boggs would actually drink a case of beer after games. Then there’s the old joke that says he hit .800 with women in scoring position. But I digress…

Wade Boggs single-handedly turned me into a Red Sox fan, which then translated into me following the Bruins and Patriots. I learned heartbreak and pessimism quickly as immediately the Patriots got crushed in Superbowl XX, the Red Sox suffered through the Buckner World Series loss and the Bruins fell to the Edmonton Oilers in ’88 and again in ’90. Thank God for the new millennium.

1986 Topps Wade Boggs baseball card
1986 Topps Wade Boggs baseball card

I forced myself to bat left-handed just because Boggs batted lefty. I wanted to play third base. I even ended up playing for the Red Sox in Little League. I had Boggs posters all over my bedroom and to this day I still have a Wade Boggs binder displaying over 250 Boggs baseball cards (including 20 of the one pictured to the left). Yeah, I might’ve been a little obsessed.

So when I see a story about Boggs these days, I am always reminded of his influence on my childhood and my personal fandom. But this story! It has Boggs and Field of Dreams.

Not Costner’s Best Baseball Movie – But Still Good

Field of Dreams is a good baseball movie – though it’s no Bull Durham. However, it does a great job of unlocking the magic and mystery that has surrounded baseball through the years. It depicts players of old whose thirst for the game is quenched when an Iowan farmer builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn fields. Shoeless Joe Jackson, banned from baseball in 1920, and a host of old ballplayers find “heaven” playing ball again on this field of dreams, while farmer Ray Kinsella and family get to watch them play. As a kid, this movie brought to life the history of baseball and the reverence that should be paid to the game. It confirmed my love for baseball.

Field of Dreams Father and Son Story
Ray Kinsella (l) makes peace with his father John (r) in the closing scene of Field of Dreams

Today it’s the only movie I regularly cry while watching. Being older, I now recognize that the story is about a son reconnecting with his father. Baseball is just the vehicle that brings them together. As it turned out, the catchphrase “if you build it, he will come” was not about Shoeless Joe, but about John Kinsella, Ray’s father. Ray said some regretful things to his father and then his father died before Ray had a chance to make things right. By building the field of dreams, he was able to restore the relationship. It’s the last scene that always gets me.

The game is finished for the day and the players are all heading off into the corn (this makes sense if you see the movie) and one player is left standing on the field. Ray realizes it’s his father John and you can see the emotion on Ray’s face as he understands he can finally make peace with his dad. Ray walks over and introduces himself to John and they have a conversation about the field and whether or not it’s heaven and then Ray finally says, “Hey…Dad? You wanna have a catch?” And John says, “Yes, I’d like that.” And then they begin to throw the ball back and forth. And just like that, a simple game of catch brings a father and son together.

I’m tearing up even writing about this because my father and I spent a million hours playing catch together when I was a kid. Looking back, that time he spent with me meant everything. Playing ball was just a vehicle for him to show his love for me and I treasure those memories dearly now.
Okay, I have to move on or I’m going to short out the keyboard.

So Where Does W.P. Kinsella Fit Into All This?

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella
My favorite book by W.P. Kinsella

Field of Dreams was based loosely on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella was an avid baseball fan and had more than a passing interest in Canadian Indian mysticism. He was a master at weaving the mystical and magical into baseball tales in a way that was quite believable – to the young reader. As a kid I read every book, short story and essay Kinsella wrote. He made me believe that baseball was magic…and enduring. My copy of his book “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” is more worn than Billy Graham’s Bible. It was Kinsella who made me want to write.

The Perfect Storm

If you’ve made it this far (and I say thank you), you can now see how an insignificant, back page news story created the perfect storm of nostalgia for me. I played baseball (still do actually) and studied writing in school because the three influential factors found in this story. It was a remarkable trip down memory lane and I’m glad for the opportunity to have shared it with you. Sometimes it’s good to look back and remember how you got here.

Archibold “Moonlight” Graham (in Field of Dreams) said, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening.”

I’m glad I can now.

—Ryan Varney

New Car Could Fight Drunk-Driving Accidents

New car fights drunk-driving accidentsI just finished reading an article about the new Lincoln MKZ. Apparently the 2013 MKZ uses a system called Lane Keeper that automatically keeps your car from drifting out of your current lane – even around curves in the road. It also features adaptive cruise control that can allow your car to exactly match the speed of the car in front of you.

Think about that for a minute.

We’re talking about an autonomous car—or at least the start of one—with huge implications for today’s drivers. In fact, the author of the article I read, Ezra Dyer, points out that the new Lincoln MKZ will keep you safe if you’ve ever: fallen asleep at the wheel, been distracted by your cell phone or stereo system, or dropped a McNugget between the seats and went fishing for it.

Sadly, my immediate thought was, “Wow, this would really help drunk drivers.” It seems to me that speeding and weaving are the two biggest factors in drunk-driving accidents – that and not paying attention. So the 2013 Lincoln MKZ would do wonders for most inebriated drivers. If you’re not black-out drunk, the 2013 MKZ should provide you enough time to hit the brakes and keep you from side-swiping or rear-ending another vehicle.

Accident averted.

Plus, not speeding and weaving will lessen the chances of you catching the eye of that lurking state trooper and getting a DUI.

You bet I’ll drink to that.

—Ryan Varney