Behind Enemy Lines

I’m having a mild case of guilt over this year’s world series. Sports by nature are competitive, and a side effect of competition is that we often unknowingly demonize our opponent. That’s difficult for me to rationalize right now. 

I work in Boston sports television and I’ve spent countless hours watching locker room interviews with this Boston team. I’ve probably seen more Red Sox baseball this season than any season of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. 

I’ve grown to like these Red Sox players. They seem to have an appreciation for the game and don’t take themselves too seriously. They work hard. They are human. These Red Sox players are, without a doubt, deserving of a world series. Yet, for all things they are, there’s one thing they are not. They are not St. Louis Cardinals. 

It’s vogue to be a Cardinal hater these days. I can understand that. Winning can make even the most satisfied person greedy. Winning can make the blessed turn spoiled and the humbled turn arrogant. Though I’m hardly a historian when it comes to New England culture and sports, I think I’ve seen it happen. 

New Englanders are a hard-working bunch. Salty as the sea their state borders, they care about their teams. Working men and women who can barely afford the high cost of living will plunk down hard-earned dough to support all of their championship caliber teams. New England demands winners, and roasts those who can’t perform, don’t work as hard as they do, and don’t win. 

After years of disappointment, Red Sox fans (and in many ways most Boston sports fans) developed a chip on their collective shoulders that would make even Atlas sigh. Once they were able to win, they wanted nothing more than to keep winning. Payroll bloated. Expectations became exponential. Patience and the past were forgotten. The city ran one of the best managers in the game out of town after a terrible collapse in 2011. The club made an even bigger mistake in 2012 and fans flocked elsewhere. Pundits and fans alike wanted the organization to know that they’d have to earn their way back into hearts and wallets of the people, as if the once downtrodden fan base, now arrogant, was somehow owed a winner every year. Empty seats dotted the park in April and May. This run has energized the city and reinvigorated a proud baseball town, but even today, many fans will tell you they prefer the Patriots or Bruins. Is that a true baseball town? 

I can’t imagine that ever happening in St. Louis, and I hope winning does not spoil the hearts and minds of Cardinal Nation – a fan base so nice, they have been known to applaud the opposing team. Can you imagine that happening in Boston? 

Boston is where I lay my head. It’s where my wife and I have decided to raise our young daughter and where we’ve both been blessed to find jobs we enjoy in a tough economy. We moved to Boston in 2011 and the city has welcomed us in. Boston’s warmth has sheltered us from the cold New England winters. Boston’s roads have challenged us as drivers. Boston’s cuisine and culture has enlightened us. Boston’s law enforcement protected us when the Boston bombing suspects staged a shootout in our neighborhood, and we watched the city rise in the wake of the terrible tragedy that occurred at the marathon. We are truly blessed to be here, and while I feel at home here, Boston is not my home. 

I grew up in Cardinal country; along I-55 in Central Illinois; a Cardinals-Cubs battle ground. My career may be in Boston, but I was educated in Missouri at the finest Journalism school in the land, and my home will always be under the Arch. I’m from the place where Imo’s Pizza or toasted ravioli are best followed by Ted Drewes frozen custard in the summer, the Redbirds are always on the radio, and the first question anyone asks you, is “Where did you go to high school?” 

My home is a place where names like Musial, Buck, Herzog and La Russa mean something. It’s the birthplace of the real Don Draper, the best Italian food you’ll ever eat on a Hill, and the only place where Clydesdales circling a baseball diamond is a time-honored tradition. Where the slicing sound of the crack of the bat can cut through any muggy summer night just off the Mississippi River, and Cardinal red is the only acceptable fashion choice for game day apparel. Home to truly the greatest fans in all of sports and 11 World Series titles. 

This one is for my grandmother, who grew up poor in Central Illinois, one of ten children and the only one who decided to become a Cardinal fan; Her choice spawned a family of four generations and counting to follow in her footsteps. The woman is so dedicated to the Redbirds she answers the phone “Go Cardinals” seemingly every October, and she used to keep score for every game from her home. When the games weren’t on TV, she sat by the radio, paper scorecard in hand. 

This series is for my grandfather, who balled like a baby when Albert Pujols signed with the Angels and cheered when the Cardinals signed Mike Matheny to manage the club with no prior experience. The man feels such a close connection to the players from his recliner chair, that for the past decade he’s invented his own set of cryptic nicknames for Cardinal players, which only he understands; I’m sure Tim McCarver would be proud. 

Each run into October fuels my octogenarian grandparents through another harsh Midwestern winter, until the promise of a new season awakens them in the spring. These wins keep them alive. 

This series is for my Dad, too. He’s the man who spent many fruitless hours trying to mold me into the next great left-hander in our backyard. I wish he had had a better batch of clay to mold and shape. He’s taught me everything I know about baseball and quite a bit more about life. I can vaguely remember his outburst after Game 6 in 1985 while I was still in the womb. He sat next to me in a sports bar in Columbia, Mo., when Jeff Weaver mowed down the Tigers in Game 5, on Oct. 27, 2006. I woke him up four times on Oct. 27, 2011, when the Cardinals refused to lose against the Rangers and battled into the wee hours of the morning to win Game 6.

Being a Cardinal fan is about remembering David Freese’s heroics in Game 6, David Eckstein in 2006 and Ozzie Smith’s “Go Crazy” in 1985. It’s for Yadi’s NLCS homer in 2006, Gibby’s Game 7 in ‘64 and ‘67 and Albert’s 3-homer performance in the 2011 Fall Classic. For the Gashouse Gang in ’34, the Suds Series in ’82 and for World Series wins in ’46, ’44, ’42, ’31 and ’26. It’s for 11 titles, 19 pennants and eight NLCS appearances in 13 years. This is for the sweep in 2004.

This is for all of that and for Cardinal Nation – a footprint that stretches as far west as California, as far north as the Dakotas and deep into the heart of Texas. Cardinal baseball flows in the river veins that replenish Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and spills out into the gulf. Cardinal fans are the torchbearers for a game that time has forgotten; a dying game, fading in popularity for a culture that lacks patience and demands speed and self-gratification. Cardinal fans are the keepers of the flame in baseball’s dark age. Cardinal baseball is who we are. We are proud of the team’s success. Someone has to win in October, and if your team can beat ours between the lines, we’ll be willing to share the stage.

Play ball.



What I would do if…I were the Big East Conference Campus Union writer Holly Anderson recently described the move by Memphis football as “a stack of rotting newspapers” and said that the Big East was “hurting its brand.” You can read the full article here:

With full respect to Anderson, but I’d argue that she lacks vision and doesn’t see what Memphis can be. Anderson goes on to name practically every other school in NCAA FBS football, claiming they’d be a suitable replacement for Memphis. Really? Every other school? Let’s hold the hyperbole, please. Anderson’s lone exception is the University of Alabama-Birmingham, a school with an equally struggling football program. Her reason? She likes the trophy Memphis and UAB play for, and doesn’t want to see it go away. Really? A trophy? That’s your reasoning? Thank goodness Anderson is not an athletic director or conference commissioner. She likely would have tried to adopt Floyd of Rosedale after reading Charlotte’s Web. For those playing the final jeopardy round at home, UAB and Memphis “Battle for the Bones,” which surprisingly looks like a plate of Memphis ribs to me. I think I’ll eat some while I drop some knowledge on Ms. Anderson.

Let’s get the obvious out-of-the-way first. The Memphis Tigers football team has been awful as of late. In the last three years, the Tigers are a putrid 3-31 and fans aren’t showing up. However, it wasn’t so long ago that the Tigers weren’t at least respectable in football, at least enough to take a chance on. Excluding an aberration in 2006, Memphis was .500 or better in five seasons prior to 2009, going to a bowl game in each season. I understand that those bowl games are the Beef O’Brady’s variety that no one watches, but you can’t penalize Memphis for going after the half-a-million dollar payout.

Williams now stars for the NFL's Carolina Panthers

In 2003, Memphis had a banner year, going 9-3 in Conference USA and having the nation’s No. 16 ranked offense behind quarterback Danny Wimprine and future NFL talent DeAngelo Williams. Williams ran for nearly 2,000 yards in each of the following seasons, and the Tigers averaged approximately 40,000 fans from 2003 to 2005.  I think Anderson would be hard-pressed to find many other schools she mentioned as alternatives, with similarly strong, and somewhat recent pedigrees.

Winning can cure almost anything. Winning programs bring in NFL-caliber recruits, provide necessary stadium upgrades, and haul in BCS dollars for the university. If you don’t think it can be done in an urban area, just ask the folks at TCU in Ft. Worth, Texas. The right coach can win anywhere, and a winning program can be established at Memphis. The greater Memphis area overflows with talent and the right coach can find success. When that happens, the conference officials at the Big East will look like soothsayers.

The Big East made a great move in adding Memphis, and truth be told, they probably don’t even realize it. Throughout the conference realignment raid, the Big East has found itself rejected and deserted more than any other conference. However, rejections by schools such as Air Force and departures by Syracuse and West Virginia should be met with creative optimism, as opposed to doom and gloom. You can’t convince departing schools and fan bases to come back, but what you can do, is think about creative ways to shape the future. The Big East needs to rebrand itself as the first national, metropolitan football conference.

University athletics face much different challenges in cities as opposed to college towns. If you’re a college football program in a college town, you’re competing with the 4-H fair on Saturday. If you’re in the city, you’re competing with major league baseball, the NFL, the NBA, a vibrant downtown district, live theatre and rock concerts, not to mention other schools. The stakes are higher, the product must be better; or people go away. None of this is new information, but it is something the Big East can use to its advantage.

By creating a league that focuses its attention entirely on city schools, the Big East will create a brotherhood of like-minded institutions. You won’t have a rogue school like West Virginia that can dominate in football because of different circumstances. The recruiting platform will be similar; the emphasis on football will become more relaxed. More member schools will trend toward men’s basketball as marketing tool for university success and coincidentally, that’s the Big East’s bread and butter. Memphis does all of these things, and that’s why they’re an ideal new member of the Big East.

Every Big East school should come from a city, and most do: DePaul (Chicago), Marquette (Milwaukee), South Florida (Tampa), St. John’s (NYC), Seton Hall (NYC/NJ), Villanova (Philadelphia), Georgetown (Washington D.C.). Providence, Cincinnati, Louisville go in without explanation. New members Houston, SMU (Dallas) and San Diego State are also good fits for this model. Even Boise State comes from a metropolitan area of 600-thousand.  No state schools should be allowed into this new club. Make it exclusive. So many other conferences are about the biggest and the best a state has to offer, why not go the other way for an identity? Technically UConn and Rutgers (the state university of New Jersey) don’t fit this model, but they’ll either be grandfathered in or leave for the ACC anyway. Let them go and find others. Call up Butler in Indianapolis. Head to Boston, St. Louis Seattle and Tulane with this message:

“We know your plight. We know what it is to be pressured for dollars, suffering for attention and struggling in a sport that needs 50,000+ in attendance six Saturdays a year. Cincinnati, Rutgers, USF, UCF, Houston and SMU all know your pain. Join us.”

Become big. Be bold. This is your time Big East. Time to find out if the play football at the University of Phoenix (kidding).

University of Phoenix Football...Coming to a cyber-stadium near you...

Anderson makes a case that Memphis may drop football all together and that might leave the Big East in a lurch without enough teams for the sport. My retort? So what? Football can’t be the Big East’s no. 1 priority anymore. That ship sailed along with Virginia Tech and Miami in 2004. Football still brings in the Benjamins, its important to make the effort and it doesn’t hurt to have Boise State on your side to face the bullies in bigger conferences, but that can’t be your concern now Big East. Don’t try so hard to be good at something you’re not. Try easier to be good at something you are.

Now is your time to be truly unique and set yourself apart for the future. Create a conference built-in the city, by the city, for the city. Your street cred with recruits will be unbelievable; winning will follow. Soon every one will know that the best ball is played in the Urban/Cosmopolitan/City league and the farm boys in the country will be reduced to watching 4-H on Saturdays.

Do you hear the sound of “Big Mo’” Texas? This is a new Mizzou brand

Neil Boumpani hammered away, creating a thunderous sound on his new gigantic creation.

“This is not something you make for sound. It’s more to … aggravate the other team.” He told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph.

Boumpani is the music instructor at Gordon College in Barnesville, Ga., and he recently built a nine-foot tall drum for the University of Missouri’s marching band, “Marching Mizzou,” and the new bass drum says a lot about the recent success of the University of Missouri and the new brand they’re trying to build.

“Booooooooooom…..Booom, Booom.” The drum bellows out.

“We’ll try the quarter mallets here, and get a little more definition.” Boumpani says on the drum’s YouTube clip.

The drum is a replacement for “Big MO,” the current University of Missouri bass drum, which stands at six-feet tall. Big MO has been a staple of Marching Mizzou and Mizzou football home games for many years.

At least according to my recent memory, Big MO has always been accompanied by two portly-looking gentlemen who would run the drum around the stadium every time the Missouri Tiger football team scored a touchdown. Since the team debuted a high-flying offensive attack in 2005, Big MO has seen a lot of miles and its handlers have spent a lot of Saturdays catching their breath.

The new “Big MO,” will measure a third larger than its predecessor. If it were just a foot taller, the suddenly elite Missouri basketball team could attach a rim to it and practice dunking.

According to Boumpani, per the Macon Telegraph, the only drum larger in existence is a 10-footer in China. Purdue University has long featured “The World’s Largest Drum” for its “All-American Marching Band,” and the University of Texas has its own, “Big Bertha,” but each of those drums are only eight feet in diameter. For the University of Missouri, who’s long stood in the shadow of the Longhorns since the creation of the Big 12 in 1996, the new Big MO is just another sign that Mizzou is on a roll.

Fresh off a wins over no. 6 Baylor, and arch-Rival Kansas in basketball, the University of Missouri has the nation’s No. 3 ranked men’s basketball team, the football team just landed the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, who scouts have compared to NFL-greats Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson, and the University is poised to officially jump to the SEC later this summer.

The move to more southern pastures has reportedly ticked of Big 12 officials and current conference brethren. Some even believe the fix could be in to prevent Missouri from winning the Big 12 basketball title this season. Recently Missouri basketball player Ricardo Ratliffe won a Big 12 player of the week award, prompting senior guard and captain Kim English to joke with the media saying that he didn’t expect Mizzou to receive any recognition from the conference because of the defection.

Big 12 Interim Comissioner Chuck Neinas would likely have you believe The University of Missouri and its representatives are a band of selfish outlaws, and while that might not be true, Mizzou athletics has had a pirate mentality lately, taking what they want and getting lucky in the process.

After being left at the alter by highly-touted basketball coach Matt Painter this summer, Mizzou Athletic Director Mike Alden reached into his bag of tricks to bring aboard Frank Haith, who had a career losing record in conference play with Miami. Haith then battled off-season allegations of NCAA violations from former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Now, Haith has the Tigers at the top of the Big 12 and is a coach of the year candidate. That same Tiger basketball team beat the University of Texas in basketball twice in the regular season for the first time ever. Apparently their eight-foot drum was in storage.

High school recruiting experts have also predicted that the Missouri football team will see a boost in recruiting following the recruitment of Green-Beckham, the University is preparing to unveil a new Nike makeover on 4-14-12 and now they have a huge drum to go along with it. Yes, it all goes back to the drum, which was manufactured in Georgia.

The first SEC opponent the Tigers will face next year? None other than the Georgia Bulldogs. In SEC country, it should be sacrilege for someone in the land of peaches to help another SEC school…Yet it happened, and the bulldogs will likely face a hostile environment this coming September, which will include an obnoxiously big drum.

Can you hear the drum Texas? Missouri knows it irritates you. Just like it irritated you when Texas A&M announced plans to build a new jumbotron for their football stadium in 2006 and Texas decided to build one bigger, dubbing it “Godzillatron.

The sound of the drum no doubt irritates an establishment that has to be bigger and better in everything and is the only school to ever have the audacity to create a TV network devoted entirely to glorifying itself. The sound of the drum also irritates the University of Kansas, as its just one more reminder that Missouri is off to potentially more lucrative opportunities than being the little sister to Texas and Oklahoma. The sound of the drum may even irritate Georgia and Alabama as it was crafted with materials and craftsmen from their states. As crazy as things are in the SEC, where fans go to jail for putting their genitals on each other, anything is possible.

Despite all of the recent fanfare Missouri has received, they must know that college sports (especially in conferences like the SEC or places like Texas) is all about “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s just a matter of time before Texas or Georgia or someone else decides they need a bass drum upgrade to 12 feet; it’s just a matter of time before the next Randy Moss shows up in someone else’s backyard.

Still, you have to hand it to the University of Missouri, the school’s athletic department, Athletic Director Mike Alden, the hundreds of student-athletes and the thousands of students and alumni who are supporting the school as they make the most of this little media run in the national spotlight. Who knows how far they can go and how many bigger schools their drum can “annoy.”

You can read the full article from the Macon Telegraph, reprinted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch here.

Jeremy Lin and the New York media: always looking for a savior

If you know about the Book of Revelation in the Bible, you likely know of the story that Jesus will come back to earth to deliver all Christian believers from sin. I’m not here to tell you whether or not that’s true, but I do hope that if it ever happens, Jesus chooses a better place to land than New York City; a city always looking to anoint a savior and also a city with an itchy trigger finger on the “I told you so” death ray.

In his first two starts for the New York Knicks, Jeremy Lin averaged at least 20 points and eight assists per game, one of only five NBA players to do so since 1976. This past Friday, Lin dropped 38 on the Los Angeles Lakers on national TV and then followed it up with 20 more against Minnesota on Saturday. He’s become an overnight sensation in the Big Apple and on ESPN, the worldwide leader in telling you what you should care about which teams and players you should care about. He’s drawn comparisons and been referred to as the NBA’s version of Tim Tebow. At one point within the last 48 hours, the New York Knicks twitter account had 29 recent tweets, 20 of them mentioned Lin. He’s what everyone’s talking about right now, and with good reason: he’s something new.

Lin is a Taiwanese-American basketball player who played at Harvard University. He was undrafted in the NBA and had an unremarkable stint last season with his hometown Golden State Warriors in Oakland.  This season, Lin has made himself a better player, and he should be commended for that. However, if Lin was playing in Milwaukee, his rise would be a just a footnote on most sports pages. Such is life when you play in Madison Square Garden.

Lin starred at Palo Alto High School before starring at Harvard. Much like Tebow, he’s been met with doubts at every level of his journey into becoming a professional athlete. However unlike Tebow, Lin doesn’t appear to come with any sort of message. He’s not shooting jumpers for Jesus or lay-ups for the Dhali Llama (not that there’s anything wrong with either), Lin is just a basketball player, but he’s likely also inspiration to millions of Asian-Americans who want to play professional basketball. He’s also a dream-marketing tool for the NBA who would like a new pitchman into China following the retirement of Yao Ming. That’s all pretty far off yet though, as Lin is still young in his NBA career.

Will this last? All the while you can hear the snide New York contingent ready to pipe up and say “I told you so.” Just as many across the nation were ready to say the same with Tebow. Much like Tebow, ESPN will likely give us all Lin overload in the next few days and weeks, just to make sure they can maximize their mileage on the story. We’re all going to get to know Lin’s favorite food, favorite Victoria’s Secret model and whether or not he talks and texts with Tebow on a regular basis. No doubt some idiot reporter will ask Lin about how the death of Kim Jong-Il will affect the region, to which Lin will likely reply that he’s from California and is not Korean, but Taiwanese.

We’ll get to enjoy it all, until we won’t anymore. Until the story becomes a non-story: either Lin continues to be a star in the NBA, or his star fades. Either way, ESPN, New York City and the media machine will move on to something else…unless Lin starts dating a Kardashian.

By all accounts, Lin appears to be an intelligent role model in a sport that appears to be lacking them. He’s not the first NBA player to come from nowhere to a fast start, the NBA is littered with fun characters like Nate Robinson, Shawn Bradley and Manute Bol, or once-great players like Shawn Kemp and Grant Hill. Yet none of those players are talked about today for their contributions on the court, or in the case of Bol and Hill, their contributions off the court. And to me, that’s where the biggest question in all of this lies:

Why do we put so many expectations on players and performers who we know probably aren’t as good as advertised? What is it about our culture that likes tearing people down? What’s the answer? Honestly, I wish I knew.

Will the media and twittersphere continue to talk about Lin even if he’s not as good as advertised? The answer is not one I probably want to hear. So for Lin’s sake, I can only wish him the best success as an NBA player, and hope that the reason he’s no longer a story is because he’s become too consistently good and predictable as a professional.

If you’re a fan of video game football, you have to be a fan of the Saints

With 2:44 left to play in a wildcard playoff game against the Detroit Lions, quarterback Drew Brees let loose a deep pass down the right sideline for wide receiver Marques Colston. Nothing about the play itself was all together that unusual for Saints offense built around an explosive and vertical passing game. What were unusual were the circumstances – the Saints were winning by 17 points; that’s three scoring drives in football strategy. Conventional football strategy would have suggested the Saints try to run the ball, grind down the clock and decrease the likelihood for comeback or injury during the final minutes of play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

If you’ve followed the Saints, you know, head coach Sean Payton’s strategy is rarely conventional. Down 10-3 nearing the end of the first half in Super Bowl XLIV (that’s 44 to you non-Romans), Payton went for it on 4th and goal from the 1 yard-line, rather than take the points…and he missed. However, he followed up that decision with an even bolder one – going for an onside kick to start the second half. Football analysts from New York to New Orleans later stated that play changed the momentum of the game, and likely won New Orleans their first Super Bowl.  The previous incident was written about ad nauseam two years ago. But a similar seed of unconventional thinking was sewn on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011, and continued to grow on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012.

That idea grew into one simple assertion: If you are a fan of nature, then you likely have to recognize the beauty of roses and sunsets. Similarly, if you are a fan of video game football, you must be a fan of the New Orleans Saints.

That’s because with 2:44 left to play in a game that was no longer in doubt, Drew Brees let a pass fly down the sidelines, not to try to win the game, but to try to break a record. Brees needed just 24 yards to break the NFL postseason single-game passing yards mark, set by Bernie Kosar in 1986 against the New York Jets (and Kosar needed overtime to get that high). Breeds needed 24, and the Saints were 30 yards away. Ultimately, the pass was incomplete and a pass interference penalty was called against Lions defender Aaron Berry. NFL pass interference penalties are assessed at the spot of the foul, which means that they count for the amount of yardage a receiver would have gained on the play. The yardage on this penalty? Twenty-three yards. Brees threw a perfect (albeit otherwise meaningless) pass at the end of the game to try to get him the exact yards needed to break the record while trying not to score, thus further embarrassing the Lions. That is simply incredible.

The Saints are playing on another level right now. They’re like a delinquent 7th grader who beats up on the computer AI of Madden football. Their offense is so good; they team is trying to find other ways to amuse themselves. It’s as if the discussion in the coaches’ box and huddles goes something like this:

“What’s the record again? Oh…we can beat that.”

And then the Saints go out and do it.

They did just that when Brees broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing record against the Atlanta Falcons in week 16 of the regular season. The record meant so much to the Saints, that Payton even called a timeout after the pass to allow the team to celebrate on the sideline (1:33):

The Saints offense is on a Asteroids run right now, seemingly having already beat the game, now they’re concerned about engraving their initials into the high score of the 80’s arcade game. Like Tommy, Brees’ & Co. sure plays a mean pinball. If you’ve ever truly mastered one-dimensional video game, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Have you ever become so good at something so mundane that you have to find ways to continue to make it fun? Did you ever play Tecmo Bowl with Bo Jackson, and run around the fields so many times it was laughably unrealistic?

Did you ever learn how to drop Mike Tyson in the first round of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!?

Or were you the one who got so bored with Tiger Woods golf that you learned how to get a hole-in-one on a par 5?

I myself, once spent an entire season of NCAA Football ‘06, on Playstation 2, refusing to score touchdowns and trying to get a kicker to win the Heisman by kicking only field goals. What was my kicker’s name? Alden Brown, the supposed real name of porn star Peter North (who refuses to let women touch his hair), not to be confused with Food Network personality Alton Brown… See you learn something new everyday, right kids?

Every Sunday, so many football coaches and players come to the press conference podium with sanitized answers and the same hackneyed response:

“We’re just trying to win the game.”

“Gotta take ‘em one at a time.”

“Records and stats don’t matter, all that matters is the ‘W’ in the win column.”

And while that may still all be true for the Saints, by now, they’d be sheepishly lying if they said that records didn’t matter. In a year in which offenses in the NFL can’t be stopped, the Saints are elite. They’ve become so good at what they do that records do matter. You may not be a fan of football, but if you’ve ever mastered something, from the trivial, to the magnificent, you have to feel compelled to be a fan of the Saints.

NFL Referees need nicknames


As I began this post, I was watching Bill Leavy call out a penalty during the Patriots-Bills game in Foxboro, Mass. You don’t know who Bill Leavy is, do you? This is Bill Leavy.

A fine NFL official who also is a retired San Jose police officer and firefighter. However, today, while officiating a game on a brisk January day, Leavy’s eyes appear grey. His face looks gaunt and pale, and the pockets of flesh surrounding his eyes looks almost ghostly.

Today, I’d argue that Mr. Leavy looks more like these characters:

That led me to this thought: why not give Bill Leavy a nickname? How about Bill “The Ghoul” Leavy? Bill “Ghostface” Leavy? “Skeletor” Leavy?

NFL Referees are serious regulators of gridiron justice. Wouldn’t the game be more fun if they had stage names/aliases? Here’s some more you can try on:

Ed “Guns Up” Hochuli

This one is perhaps the most obvious. Hochuli is arguably the NFL’s most popular referee. Hochuli and his pipes found their way into the American cultural consciousness several years ago, and today, even casual fans know of Hochuli’s notorious cannons. Hochuli came into the league in 1990. Sometime between now and then he decided he was “too close for missiles, and switched to guns.” According to, Hochuli is also an attorney. It would certainly be intimidating to face off against Hochuli in the courtroom. “Your honor, upon further review I believe counsel may be packing heat.”

Jerome “The Ladies Man” Boger

Boger,  who lives in Atlanta as an insurance underwriter for Allstate, doesn’t exactly look like Leon Phelps, the Tim Meadows character from SNL, but the two appear to have very similar speech patterns:

Ron “The Professor” Winter says Winter is a college professor at Western Michigan University (Go Broncos!) in Kalamazoo, Mich. Strangely, that’s really all his bio says, and fittingly for “Old Man Winter” that might just be enough.

Winter did manage to survive this nasty spill though:

Al “The Enforcer” Riveron

Riveron became the NFL’s first Hispanic referee in 2008. To me though, there’s something about Al(berto) Riveron’s scowl and demeanor that makes me believe he could have been one of Tony’s enforcers on The Sopranos. “The call on the field stands…don’t like it? I’ve got a baseball bat in my car…we can talk about it later.”

Scott “The Republican” Green

There’s just something about Green’s piercing eyes and blank stare. For some reason it reminds me of a disengaged high school gym coach or the disapproving father of your high school girlfriend. Because of previous life experience, I’d imagine both of those characters voting straight-ticket red state, and I’d venture a guess that Green does the same. says “Green is a co-partner in a government relations firm that assists law enforcement agencies in suburban Washington, D.C.” No doubt, the Republican is laying down the law seven days a week. Hippies, criminals and linemen prone to holding should be on notice.

Mike “All Business” Carey

With his perfectly trimmed mustache, demonstrative hand gestures and no-nonsense persona, Mike Carey is so “all business” he almost is above a nickname. “All Business” isn’t afraid to mix it up with players either:

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that Mike “All Business” Carey’s no-nonsense nature reminds me of this hall-of-fame YouTube clip:

Josh Fowler

Tebowing is Praying

Tim Tebow "Tebowing"

I just watched a feature on ESPN about a young boy who idolizes Tebow. He is also being treated for cancer. So in honor of his favorite quarterback, Joey had a picture taken. He was “Tebowing while chem-oing.”  He posted it, and Tebow tweeted him, saying he would pray for him.

It’s a very touching story. But I think we’re all forgetting something. What we’re all now calling “Tebowing,” is the act of praying publicly. I’m not going to go into the power of prayer or religion… but when Tim Tebow gets down on one knee and bows his head, he is thanking his God.

He’s not the only athlete to do this. There are many NFL players who make it to the end zone and drop down on one knee. What I presume they are doing is praying. There are countless MLB players (i.e. Albert Pujols) who upon making it to first base or crossing home plate will point toward the air with both hands. The act usually represents an athlete honoring a loved one who has recently passed, or they are thanking God. The only difference is a network camera won’t stay on them for 15 seconds zooming in slowing to highlight the action.

I find it fascinating that society is drawn to this act. People will post pictures on various social platforms doing this act everywhere. One of the most popular Fat Heads is of Tim Tebow, “Tebowing,” and everyone is comfortable with it because it’s called “Tebowing.” How do you think it would be perceived if instead of saying “Tebowing,” media and the rest of us said “praying?”

Jenny Li Fowler