Proposed NFL Ban On N-Word

proposed NFL ban on n-wordThe NFL has plans to crack down on players using N-bombs. The big debate is whether or not they can successfully implement and enforce such an idea. A secondary debate then ensued over whether this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to the Washington Redskins (R-word) franchise.

What troubles me is that this even needs to be addressed. Why is the N-word still being used?

Obviously I hear it being dropped in rap songs – though of the “-a” or “-ah” variety as opposed to the original “-er” version – (“-a” or “-ah” being considered okay), and occasionally from the mouths of white, self-proclaimed “old-school” types (decidedly not okay). The former usage is apparently a term of endearment while the latter screams “Racist.”

It all depends on who uses it and how. Context, they say, is everything.

So here we have a word that those advocating human rights and racial equality worked hard to eradicate from the English vocabulary. The N-word stood as a representation of all backward and racist thinking and its elimination from use is a way to show progress in our thinking about racial equality.

Maybe that’s why such in-house usage of the N-word feels like two steps forward, one step back. Isn’t it going against what past elders have championed? Why resurrect something so hateful?

Is it really an attempt to change the connotation of the word? Or is it merely an attempt to rub it in the face of those on the outside? We can use it, but you can’t. I hope it’s not the latter because that really feels like driving a stake through the heart of progress through self-segregation.

Based on this line of thinking, let’s take a look at another cringe-worthy word: faggot (at least it makes me feel as uncomfortable as the N-word).

Straight white rapper Eminem slings this epithet in several of his songs and he has been labeled a homophobe because of it. Why? Because the term has a negative connotation and denigrates an entire group of people.

Now I don’t follow a lot of gay culture, but I am friends with a fair number of gay people. I can say that I’ve never heard any of them refer to another using this term. However, by N-word logic, it would be fine if they did.

But would it further the progress of our acceptance of gays and gay rights? Unlikely.

Now, about the R-word.

If the connotation of the term “redskins” is as negative and ugly as the N-word or faggot, then the Washington NFL franchise needs to change its name. In fact, I would argue that the use of redskins is even more egregious than the use of the N-word.

I don’t know anyone, including Native Americans, who drop R-bombs. Other than to reference the Washington football franchise or potatoes, this term has long since disappeared from our lexicon. There are no attempts to bring it back into vogue or to use it as a racial slur. Let’s move on.

Besides, the Washington Redskins could stand a makeover. That franchise provides the only negative connotation to the R-word these days.

I think it was comedian Chris Rock who observed that having a team called the Washington Redskins was like having a team called the New York N-words. Obviously, that would never happen.

And yet, use of the N-word persists: who can use it, who can’t use it, and if you do use it in the NFL, will it draw a 15 yard penalty? (What’s the equivalent of a 15 yard penalty in life, BTW?)

In the end, those who still insist on using the N-word bring to mind a group of mentally-disabled people sitting around calling each other retards.

Endearing, isn’t it?

—Ryan Varney

Who Needs to Win More, Brady or Manning?

Manning versus Brady
Image courtesy of Seekonk Speedway

The 2014 AFC Championship pits Peyton Manning against Tom Brady…again. The debate swirls this week as to which quarterback needs to win this game more, Manning or Brady. Here are two quotes, one from each side of the debate.

Manning Needs It

“I believe that the football community as a whole will continue to keep Peyton Manning one tier below the best of the best if he doesn’t win another Super Bowl.” – Lyle Graversen on Fansided.

Brady Needs It

“Sunday, Tom Brady has a chance to not only end the never-ending-debate of Manning vs. Brady, but he takes one more step to restoring his legacy as one of the great post season players in NFL history.” – Dylan Smith on ChowderandChampions.com

Verdict

Regarding Manning, I’m not sure the football community views him one tier below the best of the best. The guy set the record for TDs in a season, saw it broken and then set it again – and this time with the total yards record tacked on. He’s won multiple MVPs, but gets dinged because he has one lonely Super Bowl ring. Ridiculous. That a QB’s greatness is determined by a singular game is absurd (more on this notion later). Manning is one of the all-time greats.

Regarding Brady, he has two MVPs and three Super Bowl rings. He broke Manning’s TD record (only to cede it this year). He also has more playoff wins, though he’s “struggled” as of late. He is just as great in the regular season as in the post season. Again, he gets a boost because of his SB rings. Even if he doesn’t win this weekend, he is still one of the all-time greats.

If New England wins and then goes on to win the Super Bowl, well, now we’ll have an interesting debate: who is the greatest QB of all time, Brady or Montana?

If Denver wins out, no one will be asking, “Who is the greatest of all time, Montana or Manning?”

Why Super Bowl Rings Are Over-rated (in terms of legacy and ratings)

Football is a team sport. Um, duh, you might be thinking. Why is it that the number of Super Bowl rings plays such a minimal role when arguing for the greatest running back, tight end or wide receiver? How about linebacker, cornerback or tackle?

While quarterback play is increasingly important in today’s NFL, he’s still just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to winning a championship.

The Patriots won Super Bowls with Brady because they had a better than good defense (not great) and a productive running attack. They lost Super Bowls when the run game was weak and the D and offensive lines were overmatched. Brady wins when Brady gets protection, which only happens when the team is strong. Manning operates the same way.

Joe Flacco proved that Super Bowl rings means big money, but ask any Baltimore fan, “Is he worth the money?” No, Hon, not a chance. The football community will never regard Flacco as one of the all-time greats, even if he wins another Super Bowl. The salary demands we do, but the play is just too inconsistent.

Manning and Brady have consistently been amazing, leading their teams to scads of regular season wins, post season successes and some Super Bowl victories. It’s the combination of these that cement their legacies.

I will concede that if everything is equal, then you can use the number of rings to tip the scales.

So Who’s the Best – Manning or Brady?

Regular season wins, post season wins, MVPs, passing records, Super Bowls…they’re all for the birds. Manning is the best. He never went to Michigan.

—Ryan Varney

Christmas Gifts for Patriots Fans

Christmas gifts for Patriots fans

Need a last minute Christmas gift for the Patriots fan in your life? Why not spread the cheer this holiday season with the smash CD “A Very Tom Brady Christmas”! Your Pats fan will love the merry tunes and joyful lyrics, celebrating our boys in red, white and blue. Check out some song and lyric samples below –

Here Comes Belichick

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
Brady and Ridley and Gronkowski
are making all the plays.
Gillette is ringing, fans are singing;
All is merry and bright.
Don your jerseys and say your prayers,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
He’s got a book that is filled with plays
to beat those Jets again.
Hear those Brady passes sizzling by,
What a beautiful sight.
Stand and cheer, guzzle down that beer,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Playoff Time is Here

Playoff time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that Pat fans
call their favorite time of year.

Snowflakes in the air,
drunkards everywhere,
Brady finds an open man
with seconds left to spare.

The kick is in the air;
Gostkowski knows it’s fair;
Confetti falls, we’ve won it all
with such dramatic flair.

Playoff time is here;
the Superbowl is near;
oh that we could always see
us win it every year,
us win it every year.

O Little Town of Foxborough

O little town of Foxborough,
Gillette’s lights shining bright;
Above the D, past cornerbacks
The TD pass sails by;
Then in the end zone shineth
Gronkowski’s famous spike.
The hopes and dreams of all Pats fans
Come true for us tonight.

Brady Baby

Brady baby, give the handoff to Vereen,
been an awful good back,
Brady baby, so hand it off for six tonight.

Brady baby, Amendola wants in, Ridley and Gronk, too.
So spread out the cheer,
Brady baby, and let it all fly tonight.

The Christmas Song

Opponents roasting on an open fire
Brady nipping at your D
Forty yard bombs being slung by our hero
All the fans wearing ol’ number twelve.
Everybody knows a touchdown
with an extra point
Help to make the season bright
Pat fans with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Ninky’s on his way
He’s coming with such speed
and power on his sack sleigh
And every quarterback is gonna drop
As five-o comes ‘round the edge
And makes another stop.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To Pat fans, one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

Enjoy other holiday Patriot favorites too –

Joy to Gillette
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Another Ring
I Saw Mommy Kissing Brady Claus
Ridley the Rock Hands Fumbler
Buffalo Got Run Over by the Patriots
Chandler the Sackman

—Ryan Varney

This CD is not actually available for purchase.

Patriots Versus Bengals Week 5 Recap

Patriots versus Bengals week 5 recap
Brady’s jersey sums up the Patriots vs. Bengals in week 5

The New England Patriots took on the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday and one word can utterly and completely describe the entire affair: bad. The weather was bad, the Patriots offense was bad, the Bengals offense was bad, special teams were bad, even the Ben Gals cheerleading outfits were bad.

Okay, so the defenses were both good, with the Bengals D being just slightly better.

But mostly, everything was bad. Punts were dropped, quarterbacks were routinely sacked, fumbles cropped up at potentially pivotal moments, passes were erratic and errant and adjustments were not made.

The Patriots offense took two or three steps back after a very promising turn in Atlanta last week. The young receivers looked like they were making progress, the O line was opening holes for the running back tandem, and Brady threw the ball like Brady should.

This week, the receivers looked like they’d never run a route before, the running backs couldn’t hit the second level and Tom Brady failed to adjust his throws to accommodate the poor route running. At some point the quarterback, no matter where he thinks the receiver should be, has to actually make a pass that the receiver can catch. It’s called adjusting to the game on the field.

To be fair, the offensive line was, well, offensive. Allowing four sacks and multiple hurries, they were the anti-Denver O line.

Reason to Believe

But, there is hope for New England. Last week, the D was dealt a huge (in every sense) loss with the season-ending injury to Vince Wilfork, and there was concern about stopping the run. Despite allowing nearly 200 rushing yards to former Pat Benjarvis Green-Ellis, Giovanni Bernard and Andy Dalton, the Pat’s D only gave up one monster run of 28 yards to the sneaky fast rookie Bernard. And they almost pulled out four consecutive stops inside their own three yard line even after being on the field most of the day.

I would also be very surprised if the offense played this poorly again. Next week, the Saints head to Foxboro and Rob Ryan has always given Brady fits, but the Pats are at home, so I don’t see a repeat of yesterday’s Tom-foolery. Miami could stymie them, but by then, Gronk should be back to provide some much needed punch.

This game was a trap game. Don’t get me wrong, the Bengals are (or at least can be) a very, very good football team. But sandwiched between a trip to Atlanta and the high flying Saints, it was pretty clear that the coaching staff did not have a good game plan for neutralizing a potent Bengal’s D line.

Plus, Brady was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games. This will not be taken lightly by a competitor of Brady’s nature. This will definitely throw some fuel on the fire heading into the Saints matchup next week.

I’ve only seen Brady play live twice, and the first time I saw him at his best – beating the Browns in Cleveland 42 – 15 in 2004 – and now I’ve seen him at his worst.

Patriots versus Bengals week 5 recap
My view of the opening kickoff

Ultimately, yesterday’s game will be a forgettable footnote on the 2013 season.

Next week, let’s hope we’re singing, “When the Saints Go Marching [Home]”…with a loss. And let’s hope we see the start of a new touchdown streak by #12.

—Ryan Varney

Dusty Baker and Reds Part Ways

Cincinnati Reds and Dusty Baker part ways
Reds and Dusty Baker part ways after several failed playoffs
Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker
Baker loses NLCS with Cubs
San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker
Dusty loses WS with SF Giants

Dusty Baker and the Reds are parting ways. Reds fans have been calling for Baker’s head since 2010 but have been largely ignored by a Red’s front office that seemed to have Baker’s back 100%. So it is rather surprising that Baker’s out with a year to go on his contract. Whether it was the Red’s decision or Baker’s to part, it was the right move for both.

Sometimes I’m happy to see a manager get fired (yeah, you Bobby Valentine and hopefully you, Joe Girardi), but in this case, as vocal as I’ve been about firing Dusty, I have mixed emotions.

Let’s face it, Baker took a woeful, inept Reds team and, with the help of Walt Jocketty, reversed the current flowing through GABP. He’s gotten them into the playoffs three times in six years and has overseen the transitions of Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto into national stars. He’s done a world of good for our Redlegs.

Yet, on the big stage, his teams falter. Where was your World Series triumph in 2002, Dusty, when you had the most dominant hitter on the planet (who didn’t even win the MVP because the second baseman was so good) and a 3-2 edge over the Angels? Where was your NL championship in 2003 when you had the second most prolific homerun hitter of the era and a bevy of young arms? No, you can’t blame Bartman. And what happened to your playoff run in 2012 when you go on the road and win two games only to come home and lose three straight?

As I’ve said before, it’s a case of motivation. Over 162 games, staying level-headed and even-keeled is a good thing – keeps you from burning out. But come October, you need to dial it up, give your players an edge and light a fire in the clubhouse. But it’s not Baker’s style to raise a ruckus. He’d prefer to leave it up to the players.

But who do players take their cue from? The GM? The owners? No. They take it from the captain, the skipper, the guy who’s in the trenches with them.

In 2003 Baker let the Cubs get away with all kinds of blame-shifting. They had a chance to win after the Bartman incident, but like the 2002 Giants, couldn’t close the door. Then a decade later, the 2012 Reds couldn’t close the door on Baker’s former team, needing only to win one of three games at home. Finally, there’s the ignominious honor of bowing out of the playoffs to a team that hasn’t seen (let alone win) a playoff game in over two decades.

What do all these teams have in common? Talent, ability and a complete lack of urgency in the clutch. What can the manager control or influence? The mindset, the heart and the emotional fire that burns inside his players.

Team meetings and motivational speeches don’t win games. But they put the team in a mindset that gives them the best shot of winning. Baker’s track record clearly demonstrates that his players are not in the best mindset come crunch time. (Remember when the Reds hit .272 with a .436 slugging percentage as team in 2010, only to get no-hit and swept out of a Division Series where they scored four total runs in three games?)

And now, Baker leaves the Reds with minimal hardware, unmet potential and worse, a team without clubhouse leadership.

It remains to be seen how Jocketty and the front office will approach hiring a new manager, but for the sake of our storied franchise, let’s hope they hire a motivator, an inspirer, perhaps an orator, but most certainly a leader.

—Ryan Varney

PS – Fire Jacoby next.

2013 Reds Post Season Recap

2013 Reds post season recap
Lights out for the 2013 Reds

This article will be about as long as the Reds post season.

Last night, the Jekyll and Hyde Reds showed up to PNC Park in all their Mr. Hyde ugliness, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2. The Reds post season lasted eight and a half innings and just under three hours and fifteen minutes.

**********

Actually, there’s more.

Everyone will want to second guess Dusty Baker for going with Johnny Cueto over Mat Latos, considering Cueto is still getting into pitching shape after missing most of the season. But it’s hard to argue with his logic. Cueto is (well, was) 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA at PNC Park, and Latos hasn’t looked his sharpest lately.

The fact is, Cueto simply didn’t come through. He wasn’t locating his pitches the way Francisco Liriano did. It appeared the constant, droning Cue-to, Cue-to, Cue-to chants definitely rattled him. (Note to Buccos fans: act like you’ve been there before – er, never mind.) Trouble was certainly evident when even Liriano slapped a hit up the middle. He only had three all year – for an impressive .064 BA. Then there was the long ball situation. While Marlon Byrd’s was forgivable, Cueto, along with Logan Ondrusek, also surrendered homeruns to a weak hitting catcher batting seventh in the order.

Russell Martin only batted .226 during the year with 15 jacks. Both his homers were soul crushing. Following up Marlon Byrd’s HR, Martin’s first bomb exploded the fact that Cueto was off his game. And then in the seventh, his second blast of the game pushed the run differential to five, meaning the Reds couldn’t even get back into the game with a four-run homer.

Congrats, fellas. You didn’t let McCutcheon beat you. Sure, he had two hits, two walks and a run, but he wasn’t the difference in the game.

Cueto’s inability to perform doesn’t let Baker off the hook, though. Part of a manager’s responsibilities falls outside the on-field strategies. Managers need to motivate.

Ask yourself, how motivated have the Reds looked in their past three post season appearances?

Not very.

The Reds have a ton of talent, but zero leadership. Not amongst the coaching staff and consequently, not amongst the players. This can be laid squarely on the manager’s shoulders. Pittsburgh clearly has less total talent than the Reds, but Clint Hurdle can light a fire when it’s needed.

So what now?

Moving Forward

Baker has exhausted his run as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. A change is needed and it starts with letting him go. In fact, the whole staff needs to go.

While I don’t have a suggestion for Baker’s replacement – other than “Please God, not Bobby Valentine” – I do have a suggestion for hitting coach: Dwayne Murphy.

To answer your question, Dwayne Murphy is currently the first base coach of the Toronto Blue Jays. And that job is actually a demotion for him. He was formerly the hitting coach for the Jays and is the guy responsible for making Jose Bautista the hitter he is today. Oh, and he turned Edwin Encarnacion into Bautista 2.0, something the Reds couldn’t do in all his time with them.

Imagine Todd Frazier unleashing the power we know he has to the extent that those two have. Devin Mesoraco, too. With Choo most likely gone and the uncertainty of Ludwick’s health, wouldn’t that be something of a nice surprise?

And the aggressive hitting approach Murphy takes could certainly help us remember why we ponied up a cool $225 million for Joey Votto.

Not trying to pour salt in the wound, but former Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner is said to have said, “Homerun hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords.” Votto must’ve bought stock in Ford this year, because he’s buying up a fleet of them.

The Reds are sitting on a great wealth of talent and ability, from pitching to defense and even to hitting. But it needs to be brought to life, day in and day out – and especially in the clutch.

A change in the coaching staff is the best place to start if the 2014 Reds are to come alive and stay alive, all the way through October.

—Ryan Varney

New England Patriots 1st Quarter Review

The NFL season is officially 25% complete. New England has been 100% successful. With four wins and zero losses, this team has exceeded expectations – well, mine anyway. Games may have been ugly and low-scoring (by recent Patriots offensive standards), but a win is a win.

The team seems to be in a state of continuous transition on both sides of the ball. Players are being rotated in, out and around more than NASCAR tires in a pit stop.


2013 New England Patriots Offensive Carousel
Clockwise from top: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan. Center: Tom Brady. Waiting to ride: Rob Gronkowski.

On the offensive side of the ball we’ve seen Welker out, Amendola in. Amendola out, Edelman in. Rookies Thompkins, Dobson and Boyce all in. The tight end position has featured Sudfeld, Hoomanawanui and Mulligan while waiting for the return of Gronk. And then there’s the running back carousel. Ridley, thought to be the feature back, has been supplanted by Vereen (now out for eight games), Blount and Bolden (returned after missing two games).

The defensive side of the ball has seen more consistency, but the Falcons game dealt the Pats a potentially huge blow with the loss of Vince Wilfork to an Achilles tear. Rookie Joe Vellano stepped up admirably, but it remains to be seen what level of play he can sustain.

I’ve been one of the few critical voices regarding Bill Belichick as a head coach due to the Pats lack of hardware, given all the talent he’s had over the past five seasons. Sure, they’ve been a great regular season team, but that has not translated in the big games. However, up to this point in the season, Bill Belichick should be in the running for coach of the year.

Getting back to a strong, consistent run game has given Brady more time to get his rookie receiving core up to speed and NFL standards, and Belichick’s finally found the right defensive personnel to execute pass coverage without having to loosen up on their tight run D. The linebackers have done an excellent job in pass coverage and the D line has been getting to the quarterback without resorting to all out blitzes. Cornerback play has stopped looking like it belongs in high school and safeties continue to play smart.

Perhaps the lack of superstar egos in the clubhouse has contributed to the team chemistry, but whatever’s going on in that locker room is clearly providing a true team atmosphere. Players are picking each other up and seem to be giving just a little more effort when the chips are down.
I’m starting to think Peter King’s Superbowl prediction may not be as ridiculous as I’ve deemed it. If the injury bug can be stilled for a few weeks, this roster has a real chance to gel into an exciting team on both sides of the ball. The receiving core has made vast improvements each week and the defense continues to make plays when they’re needed. Even the 23 points to Falcons wasn’t as bad as it looked. Twenty-three points to a team with a HOF tight end (still playing at an amazingly high level), two all-pro receivers, a sneaky-fast running back and a stud QB playing at their house is nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering the inability to recover a late onside kick and some truly exceptional catches by Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez – where the defense had the play covered perfectly. Plus they stopped the Falcons four consecutive downs twice, including the game-sealing series with a minute to go (something they haven’t been able to do against any team the last five years).

2nd Quarter Preview

The second quarter of the season has the Pats up against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Saints at home, the Jets in New York and the Dolphins at home. With four wins already in the bag, the Patriots would do good to end the 2nd quarter with a 2 – 2 record. Ideally, the two wins would be against the division rivals, but I definitely see the Saints as being a little more than the Pats can handle at this point with their surprising defensive play so far.

The Bengals game poses a real problem. I will actually be in attendance at the game (strike one for NE), I’ll be wearing my jersey (strike two) and the Bengals are Jekyll and Hyde at the moment. If this game was in New England, I wouldn’t give the Bengals as much of a chance, but it’s in Cincinnati (strike three). My stupid superstitions aside (like I have any real effect on the game), the Patriots have a better than average shot at winning this game, which would go a long way toward easing the pressure of having to beat a surprisingly good Dolphins team.

If the Patriots stick to and execute their season gameplan on both sides of the ball, they could go into halftime with a 7 – 1 record (4 – 0 in the AFC East). This would be a remarkable feat. However, I suspect they’ll be 6 – 2 or even 5 – 3 at the break (3 – 1 in the division). Still, given the personnel carousel, this too would be pretty darn respectable and leaves them in a good position for making a playoff run.

One thing I’ll say for certain: this team is drilling away at my pessimistic foundation. Even I’m starting to believe in what this team can achieve.

—Ryan Varney