Sunday, 29 July 2012

2 Idiots Take On The NFC

In a concept stolen from noted American sports blogger and podcast host Bill Simmons, my friend Mainzey and I discuss the prospects for the NFC in the coming American Football season.  Take a look, we may get sued before we can do another one.

Dutton - I think we should begin with the NFC Division that matters most to the pair of us, and coincidentally the home of the reigning Super Bowl champions, the NFC East.

No team has retained the East crown since the Eagles won 4 straight, ending with the 2004 title. I do not see this trend coming to an end in 2012.  The Giants have not added quality to their roster, and in fact have several gaping holes where studs have departed. There is also the issue of Eli being the hunted rather than the hunter, his previous season as a Champion was not a triumph, for him or his team.

Mainzey - That Eagles team must have won a couple of superbowls with that record. I know you hate him but he is the best manning know with the best team resume. The team with the most talent has the star and the stupid owner

Dutton - The "Dallas has the most talent" argument is a myth, based on the same foundations as the Tooth Fairy. They have a serviceable quarterback, a good (but ageing) tight end and one great pass rusher. That's it.

The Eagles changed tack in 2012, by focussing on players they already had rather than high profile free agents. Vick is going to enjoy his first off season as the Eagles starting QB, he has two good receivers on the outside, a serviceable slot receiver, a top tight end and, potentially, the most complete back in the NFL.

MainzeyAre we saying Ware is past it???

Can't believe I am defending my arch enemy

This is your best team since last years team which worked out well.... Seriously if you keep Vick upright you should win 10 games easily

But enough with these teams lets talk about the team of the future....

DuttonYour "future" may remain much the same as your present, for the time being. Adding Robert Griffin III will make the Redskins a touch more dynamic, but the quality of help afforded to him is still not top tier. The Skins strength still lies in a more than adequate defence, with Kerrigan and Orakpo the studs.

MainzeyWe will win 7 I think. We were close in a lot of games I think RG3 helps us win a couple more

So are we saying Eagles?

DuttonI would say so. Big play offence, solid offensive line, great strength in depth on the defensive line. I would very surprised if the 2011 total of 8 wins was not surpassed.

MainzeySo we both pick the Eagles which may make Jerry Jones blow up the team which makes me smile.

So NFC North. I think this could be the deepest. Chicago still can play D and now Jay has someone to throw to I think they are serious this year

DuttonAh the NFC North, the land of the lost cornerback....

To compete in this division, you need to sling the ball around. There are three top arm QBs, we don't know what Ponder is yet. Chicago do indeed have that stud receiver they have been seeking for so long, but my worries with the Bears is an abysmal offensive line and an ageing defence. Briggs and Urlacher are not getting younger. They will be better than last year, but I don't expect them to come out on top in this division.

MainzeyYeah age is a concern but it is for me and you too

If we are talking about slinging the ball about then we have to talk about the best 1-2 in the league Stafford to MEGATRON!! The issue is can they keep the team out of jail and off the operating table. If they can they are a fantasy owners dream, if they can't I think Schwartz may have questions to answers

DuttonStafford to Johnson may well be the Manning to Wayne of this generation. The Lions are loaded on offence, built to use their front seven to generate pressure on defence. Like most teams in this division, their secondary is suspect (I'm being polite.)

Possibly owning the worst secondary, we come to the Green Bay Packers. While Stafford has his go-to-guy in Megatron, who is Aaron Rodgers favourite receiver?

The Open One.

MainzeyPackers need to get to the QB on defence. If they can I think they are the best team in the conference. I have 2 out of here me thinks Green Bay and Chicago

Also did you know golf on TV cricket on the iPad is the future?

DuttonOdd comment from someone who lives in the past...

Agreed. Packers to win, but I see a Wildcard for the Bears. Detroit will drop off from last season, but not disastrously so.  I'm not even talking about the Vikings.

How about the NFC West, for so long a joke division but not any more?

MainzeyOnly when it comes to my sports teams...but Yeah the Vikings without AP could have a long season.

This has the makings of a serious division for a change. St Louis intrigue me under Jeff Fisher, really need a big season out of Bradford but the defence should be solid

DuttonThis division is one of underrated (and talented) defences. San Francisco showed last year that they had a serious front seven. Seattle and Arizona showed flashes of improvement. The Rams have added talent to a talent starved roster, but don't expect them to climb away from the basement too far

MainzeyThe Seahawks are interesting to me. Will they progress or fall back a little? Not sure the offence can keep up with the defence especially with Lynch probably missing some games.

Dutton - So we have the 49ers winning this division then?

MainzeyThey were the best team in the division and I think they have gotten better so I can't see it being any other way


Now the real head scratcher in the NFC, the South.  For so long the preserve of the Saints, can they put Bountygate and the loss of their head coach behind them and retain their crown?

MainzeyI suppose the answer to this is do they still have Drew Brees? As the answer is yes I think they still have 10 plus wins on them although they hopefully lose game 1 to RG3

DuttonI think that's quite enough trips into fantasy land for you.

Yes, Brees is still the straw that stirs the drink in this team. I see the Bucs improving, though they could hardly regress, and I expect last years RG3 (Cam Newton) to continue to show signs of class. For me, I see Atlanta falling away. Not a Matty Ryan believer.

MainzeyI like the signings by Tampa just not sure they have overtaken New Orleans. If I am honest give me Cam and the original Steve Smith 

DuttonYep, can't argue.

So we have Eagles, Packers, 49ers and Saints topping their divisions.  I have wildcards for the Bears and...New York Giants.

Mainzey - I am with you on the Bears and I think I will throw a curve and go for..... Carolina Panthers

DuttonYou on board the Cam Newton train I see?

Great discussion Paul. We must do this again soon, as we discuss the ugly sister that is the AFC.

MainzeyThere is always one team who sneak up on us and I just have a feeling Cam can do it. 

Yeah join us soon for the AFC version!!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


Since I began writing this blog, I have been able to write about the end of Rahul Dravids Test career, the end of Peyton Manning's time as an Indianapolis Colt, and the calling of time on the career of one of country crickets hungriest run getters in Mark Ramprakash.  It is with a degree of sadness that I find myself writing once again about the end of a great era, as the news filters through of the end of the international (and probably cricketing) career of South African glove man Mark Boucher.


In terms of sheer numbers, Boucher stands apart from all other wicket keepers.  In Test cricket alone, his trusty mitts gobbled up an astonishing 532 catches in his 147 tests, and he backed these up with 23 stumpings (no mean feat, considering the lack of a quality spinner for virtually his entire Test career).  Both the number of catches and the number of matches played are records for a Test wicket keeper.

He was also a nuggety lower order batsman, capable of rescuing his side (his first test century came as a nightwatchman), establishing a dominant position with some lusty late innings hitting or saving his side with the same grim determination.  In terms of runs, he is the second highest run getter for all test match wicket keepers, his 5515 at an average of 30.30 (5 centuries, 23 fifties) a mere 55 runs behind that great freak of nature Adam Gilchrist (though Gilly got his 5570 in fewer matches at a higher average and with more centuries).  He stands up well against other prominent keeper/batsmen of the modern era, with the same number of centuries as Knott, Dhoni and Dujon, a higher average than those great Aussie glove man Healy and Marsh, and more not outs than any other keeper.

He finishes his career after a freak incident in a tour match at Taunton, warming up for his 4th and last tour of England.  An Imran Tahir googly hit the stumps, sending a bail up into the white of Boucher's left eye.  A sad end to a golden career, and one that saw him win, lose and draw a series in England.  His 1st series was in 1998, and he was to play a leading role in the match best remembered for the epic duel between Mike Atherton and Alan Donald at Trent Bridge.  Early in England's chase of 247, an Alan Donald short ball slammed into the glove of Atherton, and flew through to Boucher, who began the celebrations of a prized wicket.  Astonishingly still to this day, the umpire declined to advise Athers that his innings had ended.  Donald was incensed.  So began a spell of fast bowling rarely seen since the days of Bodyline.  Round the wicket Donald kept coming at Atherton, shorter and quicker.  The test match rested on this duel.  In a rare respite, Atherton watched from the non strikers end as Donald induced a nick from Nasser Hussain.  The ball flew through to Boucher...who dropped it.  Donald screamed, the muscles in his neck looking like they were ready to pop.  The spell was broken, Donald was done.  At the end of the over, prior to his taking up his fielding position at fine leg, Donald made a special effort to console his young teammate, a sporting gesture every bit as powerful as Flintoff and Lee's chat at Edgbaston seven years later.  England, famously, hung on to win by 8 wickets, and Atherton (ever the scamp) gifted Donald the glove, with his signature barely covering the red ball mark.

Apparently, Boucher retires on 999 international dismissals (998 of which are as a wicket keeper).The two mentioned above would have taken him to the awesome tally of 1000.  But they didn't.  Such is life.  Farewell Mark, maybe after this series we can take time to dwell on how truly great you are.  One thing is for sure, I'm happy you are not playing, but I wish you'd played again.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Prolific, Unfulfilled, Finished

December 29th 1998.  Australia need 175 runs to go 3-0 up in the Ashes series against the Old Enemy, and seem to be well on their way to doing so.  After both openers had been dismissed with only 41 runs on the board, Justin Langer and Mark Waugh have forged a partnership that seems to have taken the sting out of the England attack.  The 105th delivery faced by the obdurate Langer is bowled by Alan Mullally, and is short.  Right in the slot for Langer's pull shot, which he plays with power and authority.  All eyes turn to the boundary, where the ball must surely be heading.  But the ball is not there.  The ball is instead in the hands of the square leg fielder, who incredibly reversed course and dived back to his right to take a wonderful catch.  The wicket transforms the match, as the Aussies collapse to a 12 run defeat.

For all of his 35,659 runs, his 114 first class centuries, his 261 first class catches, it is this moment that I will always remember when I think of the name Mark Ramprakash.

Ramps retired from first class cricket on Thursday July 5th, after 25 years at the highest level.  His 2012 season had not been a success, and he had found himself out of the Surrey Championship XI.  A conversation had taken place between Ramps and the Surrey management regarding his "future", which seemed to a way of hastening the end of one of the most prolific domestic run scoring careers of the modern age.

Ramp's appetite for runs against county attacks was insatiable.  In 2006, his twentieth season on the county circuit, he averaged over 100 and scored over 2000.  Against Yorkshire at Headingley in 2008, he became only the 25th (and more likely than not, the last) player to register 100 first class centuries.  As impressive (and damn near incredible) these stats are, it should be noted that they took place five and seven years after the last of his 52 test matches, a spell that saw him score only two hundreds and average 27.32 against a career first class average of 53.14.

His debut test series came against the still awesome West Indies side in 1991.  He made 27 in both innings of a match best remembered for Graham Gooch's superb 154*, and in the remaining seven innings he only failed to reach twenty twice.  However, he only bettered 27 once, and then only by two runs.  The Windies would be his most frequent opponents for England, playing in 16 Tests against them.  His first, and many hoped coming of age, England hundred came in Bridgetown in 1998, a test match he scored 64* against the same opponents.  These would prove to be the only two times he would pass 50 against them.

Perhaps hinting at an aptitude for the big occasion, his best England days came against the Australians.  He averaged 42.40 against England's oldest foes, with one century (his last, at the Oval in 2001) and six 50s.  His average IN Australia jumped further, just a tick under 50, and five of his 50s were on Australian soil.  However,  his average against all other opponents ranged from 31.80 (versus India) to 7.75 (his record in three matches against Pakistan).

Many "experts" use the excuse that Ramprakash was not helped by the England regime at the time, showing little sympathy for this prodigious talent and quickly cutting him aside after every "failure".  Indeed, he did begin his international career in an era that most who played in it would agree that individuals worried more about their personal achievements rather than the teams.  It is noticeable perhaps that his most consistent time in an England shirt came just as the powers that be began to instill a notion of "Country First" in the players, and under the captaincy of Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain.  But this argument fails to take into account that he did keep "failing", and just couldn't score the mountains of runs against national attacks that he feasted on every summer in England.  Interestingly, Ramps won 16, lost 22 and drew 14 of his 52 tests.  He averaged 22.15 in wins, 25.95 in defeat, and 38 in drawn matches.  He was never a match winner for his country, but he was more than able to help save them.  Maybe this was down to a nagging knowledge that defeat would require scapegoats, and scapegoats usually meant him.

The game will never see the likes of Ramps again, the amount of first class cricket played these days simply will not allow a player to get up to 100 centuries.  But also, with the new "Team England" mentality, a player as talented and special will never go as unappreciated by his management.  But I have a feeling this last point will offer little comfort to a man who leaves the first class cricket scene for the last time.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Old Faces, New Surroundings

As the Transfer Window crashes open, I thought I would take this opportunity to speak of player movement in a completely different sport.  In 1993, Free Agency was granted to players in the NFL, meaning players were free to move to different clubs for much better money.  Here I take a look at the five players I consider to be the greatest of these movers and shakers.

One of the best to ever play at his position of Tight End, Sharpe had already won two Super Bowls during his time with the Denver Broncos with quarterback John Elway.  After an injury plagued 1999 season, he moved to the unfancied Baltimore Ravens.  In his first season with the Ravens, he amassed 810 yards from 67 receptions with five touchdowns, helping Baltimore into the playoffs.  In the post season, Sharpe produced possibly the greatest play in franchise history, as he raced 96 yards for the games only touchdown in the AFC Championship Game v Oakland.  The Super Bowl was one of the worst offensive matches of all time, but the Ravens were victorious, giving Sharpe his third Championship.  After a further season in Baltimore, Sharpe returned to Denver to play out his career.  He finished with 815 receptions, 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

Curtis Martin, or Cumar as Mullin loving referred to him, was a star running back for New England after his first three seasons in Foxboro.  He had won the Offensive Rookie of the Year and been voted to two Pro Bowls, so when division rivals New York Jets offered the restricted free agent Martin a six year $36m contract, many were stunned that the Patriots chose not to match the sheet.  Over the next eight seasons for the perennial underachieving Jets, Martin amassed a franchise record 10,302 yards on the ground, but never made it to a Super Bowl.  He became the oldest winner of the NFL rushing title when he won the award by ONE yard after the 2004 season.  He retired in 2007 with final totals of 14,101 rushing yards, 90 rushing touchdowns and a career rushing average of 4 yards a carry.

"Prime Time" and "Neon Deion" are just some of the nicknames given to one of the most dynamic personalities EVER to grace the NFL.  Sanders is the only person to ever play in both a Super Bowl AND a baseball World Series.  After five seasons with his first team, the Atlanta Falcons, Sanders left for San Francisco, where he won his first Super Bowl in his only season with the team.  He fell out with star wide receiver Jerry Rice, and promptly moved to Dallas.  In his first season with the Cowboys, he won his second consecutive Super Bowl.  He stayed with Dallas, playing to a level perhaps unsurpassed by a corner back in the NFL, until the end of the 1999 season.  He then became one of the first high profile free agent signings of the Dan Snyder Washington Redskins, but retired after one season.  He was coaxed back four years later by the Baltimore Ravens, adding five more interceptions and one more defensive touchdown to his awesome statistics.  Sanders is the only modern era NFL player to have scored six different types of touchdown, and his 19 defensive and return touchdowns are NFL records.

The 2005 season had been one of the most traumatic in the history of the New Orleans Saints.  After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints had been forced to abandon their Superdome home and go on the road for the whole season.  They finished 3-13, and fired head coach Jim Haslett.  They appointed Sean Payton has head coach, and lured free agent quarterback Drew Brees from San Diego.  Brees had posted back to back impressive seasons with the Chargers, but after they drafted Phil Rivers, Brees time in San Diego was numbered.  Expected to sign for the Miami Dolphins, Brees instead joined the Saints.  In his first season with the team, now back at the Superdome, the Saints went 10-6 and won their second ever playoff match, before losing in the NFC Championship game.  The Saints were now the feel good story of America, providing a banner for a city in which thousands were still suffering the effects of Katrina.  Brees next two seasons were equally impressive, but in his 4th year with the team he took them to the Super Bowl, where he put in a stellar performance to win the games MVP award and take New Orleans to its first Championship.  He continues to perform at a high level, breaking Dan Marino's single season passing yardage record in 2011.  In his time in The Big Easy, he has not only thrown for 28,394 yards and 201 touchdowns, he has transformed the franchise into one of the modern offensive powerhouses.

White was one of the most dominant defensive players of his or any other generation during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles, notching an astonishing 70 sacks in his first 57 games with two sack leader titles in his first four years.  His dominance however did not translate into a success, with a championship proving elusive in the City of Brotherly Love.  After 124 sacks in his eight seasons, he surprised football by moving to the once fabled, but now beleaguered, Green Bay Packers at the start of the 1993 season.  By the end of his 4th season, he finally became a Champion, as the Packers beat the New England Patriots (featuring Curtis Martin) 35-21.  White sacked Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe three times, including two on consecutive plays.  White played two more seasons in Green Bay, losing a further Super Bowl the season following his victory, and ended his career in Carolina, retiring after the 2000 season with a (then) NFL record of 198 sacks.

On December 26th 2004, Reggie White died aged just 43.  He was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.  His number 92 jersey has been retired by both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Packers.

White is to me the greatest Free Agent of all, as he was one of the first, and certainly the first to go and excel elsewhere.  The game, and the world in general, is the poorer for his loss.