The CHFF year in review
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 29, 2008
Reviews have been good to the Cold, Hard Football Facts in 2008, as fans and pigskin "pundits" praised us from coast to coast this year.
Of course, we hold no soft spot in our charcoal hearts for kind words. So, before diving into the playoffs later this week, here is our pull-no-punches Year in Review of the best and worst from the football world, and from the Cold, Hard Football Facts themselves, in the year that was 2008.
Executive of the Year – Atlanta owner Arthur Blank
We don't usually think of owners when we consider executives of the year. But nobody has done more to resurrect his name or his franchise over the past year.
Blank was made a laughingstock last year by the quarterback he treated as a son and the college coach he had given a shot at the big time. Both proved embarrassments and Blank's reputation suffered in the process. He looked lost and wayward at this time last year, like a CHFF reader who learns that the stadium shuts off the beer taps at halftime.
But he steadied the organizational ship, first by raiding the Patriots organization and naming previously unknown Thomas Dimitroff as his general manager, and then by bringing in the previously unknown Mike Smith as head coach. Together, they made the two best off-season personnel moves of the year, grabbing QB Matt Ryan in the draft and RB Michael Turner in free agency.
Both were bold, decisive moves. Remember, NOBODY, none of the draft "pundits," thought that the Falcons would take a QB in the draft. In fact, the "pundits" thought that the Falcons should wait around for Michael Vick to return as QB.
Of course, CHFF was one of the few outlets to laugh at that idea. So, too, did Blank and Dimitroff, and the results speak for themselves:
The Falcons went from 4-12 laughingstock in 2007 to 11-5 playoff contender in 2008. Credit Blank for what appears to be extraordinary leadership in hard times.
Most Valuable Player – Miami QB Chad Pennington
Easily the MVP of the 2008 season. Read more about his MVP season here.
Short version: Cast off by the Jets in August, Pennington went out and delivered one of the great turnarounds in NFL history, while finishing among the league leaders in most major passing categories. And just for a little exclamation point, in the season finale he faced the team who dumped him, on the road no less, to help Miami secure its first division title since ice covered the earth.
Offensive Player of the Year – Atlanta RB Michael Turner
Turner was always productive during his four years in San Diego, averaging a very inspiring 5.51 yards per attempt the few times he stepped on the field (228 for 1,257).
But he couldn't crack the line-up, starting just one game while playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson.
Those teams who judge and secure talent based upon the number of headlines they generate (helllooooo, NY Jets!!!) might have overlooked Turner.
But the Falcons looked at the Cold, Hard Football Facts and found a guy who had shown he could produce when given a chance.
Turner responded by rushing for 1,699 yards (second in the NFL to Adrian Peterson) and a team-record 17 TDs, while forcing Atlanta opponents to respect the run, thereby opening up opportunities for rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to ease his way into the NFL and perform at a level few would have predicted.
Defensive Player of the Year – Kansas City S Bernard Pollard
Sure, guys like DeMarcus Ware and Ed Reed had great seasons.
But Pollard, the Chiefs safety known as "the Bonecrusher," made the single biggest play of the 2008 season when he took out Tom Brady's knee early in the first game of the year.
No play in football had a greater impact on the 2008 season. With Brady in New England's line-up instead of the inexperienced Matt Cassel, the Patriots are probably 13-3 or 14-2 instead of 11-5; the Patriots probably have the No. 1 offense in football again (they still led the AFC in scoring); the Patriots are probably the top seed again in the AFC; and the Patriots are probably big favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Instead, the Patriots are sitting at home watching the playoffs and Brady is sitting at home, wondering if he'll ever return the same player again.
In fact, if Brady fails to return to form, you could argue that no play in football, period, had a greater impact than Pollard's knee dive: a Hall of Fame performer at the very peak of his career, cut down like summer wheat in early September.
Pollard won't be a popular choice. In fact, nobody will vote for him and he's certainly not the best defensive player in the league, not by any stretch. But he had a bigger impact on the game than any defender in the NFL this year.
1980s retread act of the year – Loverboy
We've been rehashing the music of our 1980s teenagedom all season. And who can blame us with a decade full of gems like this? From the keyboard intro that's eerily reminsicent of the CHiPS theme song, to the funky bass line, to the awful headband – few acts screamed "1980s!!!" with its pinky and index finger extended high over its head like Loverboy.
show video here
If you listened closely this year, you could hear Jets fans at the Meadowlands singing "Turn Me Loose" to Brett Favre over the final five weeks of the season.
Top Football State of the Year – Pennsylvania
Heady times here in the Gridiron Breadbasket.
For just the fourth time in history, Penn State is playing in a major bowl game in the same year that the Steelers and Eagles are in the playoffs.
Pennsylvania's pigskin power troika pulled off the same feat in 1947, 1978 and 1996. However, the state's preeminent college football program and its NFL entries have never combined to win a major bowl game and the Super Bowl in the same season. So a chance to make Keystone State history is still open here in 2008-09.
In 1947, the Nittany Lions battled to a 13-13 tie with SMU in the Cotton Bowl while the Eagles blanked the Steelers, 21-0, in a rare conference tie-breaker playoff game, before losing to the Cardinals for the redbird's only championship game victory.
In 1978, the Nittany Lions lost 14-7 to Bear Bryant's 'Bama squad in the Sugar Bowl, while the 9-7 Eagles squeaked into the playoffs as a wildcard team and the Steelers won their third Super Bowl of the decade.
In 1996, the Nittany Lions pasted Texas, 38-15, in the Fiesta Bowl, while the 10-6 Steelers and 10-6 Eagles made early playoff exits.
It's been a great year everywhere for Pennsylvania football. Hell, even Pitt went 9-3 this year and plays Oregon State New Year's Eve in the Sun Bowl; Villanova reached the I-AA quarterfinals; and Penn went 5-2 in the Ivy League.
Worst Football State of the Year – Michigan
What a disaster for the Wolverine State.
The Lions became the first team in history to go 0-15, and then broke their own record a week later with a 16th and final emphatic defeat in their season finale. The Ford Family set a new land-speed record in firing Rod Marinelli, who turned a promising 6-2 start in the 2007 season into a stunning 1-23 debacle over the final 24 games of his career. (Unlikely to earn a head coaching gig again, Marinelli's career ends with a 10-38 (.208) record.)
The state's most popular football team, meanwhile, the one that plays in Ann Arbor, brought in a high-priced new coach, Rich Rodriguez, amid great controversy, and proceeded to have one of the worst seasons in history – 2-6 in the Big 10 and 3-9 overall. Hell, the Wolverines lost to arch-rival Ohio State by the biggest margin in 40 years and, even worse, were doubled up, 35-17, by one of the worst Notre Dame teams in history.
Only a 9-3 season and a New Year's Day bowl appearance by Michigan State saves people of the Mitten from counting the Chippewas as their most promising football team of 2008.
The "Can I Get a Refund?" Award – Factless Jets fans
Brett Favre Jets No. 4 jerseys were the hottest-selling sports item in the nation back in August.
After another typical Favre season – leads the league in INTs (22), melts down at the end of the year – those No. 4 Jets jerseys are about as popular as herpes.
Blame factless Jets fans who put hype above the all-knowing wisdom of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
If they had only spent a little more time here, and knew about the player beyond what they heard from Favre droolbags like John Madden and Chris Berman, they would have saved the $90 and spent it on something more fulfilling, like a bag of drugs or a happy ending at the local Asian massage parlor.
Coach of the Year – Tony Sparano, Miami
We have some general rules of thumb about coach of the year. For example, if you ...
- Ressurect a once-proud franchise after the worst year in its history
- Dust-off some old-school single-wing football to embarrass a division rival that had won a record 21 regular season games in a row
- Help your team improve by a record 10 games from one season to the next
- Beat an arch-rival on the road in the final game of the year to win the division title
... then you are easily the NFL coach of the year.
The "Ayy, matey, I lost me pot of Gold" Award – Al Davis
We hate to pile on Al. After all, as noted by the Cold, Hard Football earlier this year, he was once the most powerful pirate on the high seas of pigskin.
But the past greatness simply makes the decline and fall of the organization all the more difficult to swallow.
His Raiders were a dominant NFL franchise for more than 30 years. Today, after a 5-11 season, the Raiders have suffered double-digit losses for a record six straight seasons.
Since winning the 2002 AFC championship, the Raiders are 24-73 (.245) – only the Lions prevent Oakland from status as the league's worst franchise right now.
Time for Davis to hang 'em up and let the organization reinvent itself.
Exposed Donkey Rat Fraud of 2008 – Eric Mangini
First, Mangini repays his mentor, Bill Belichick, by stabbing him in the back to take a job with the arch-rival Jets – even attempting to woo Belichick's staff with the 2005 postseason still in progress. What a donkey.
Then in his second season, Mangini reported his former mentor to league officials for engaging in an activity that every team in the NFL engaged in – attempting to decipher their opponents' signals. What a rat.
For an encore in his third season, Mangini fell in love with a washed-up old gunslinger who hadn't closed out a season strong since 1997, and his organization dumped the perfectly good quarterback it had in its stable, who ended up with a divisional rival. Mangini then watched helplessly as the perfectly good QB dumped in August had an MVP-caliber season, while the washed up old gunslinger the Jets fell in love with in August fell apart in December like a Mideast peace treaty. What a fraud.
On the way out of town, in the season finale, Magini's pigskin paramour looked completely confused in a home loss against – you guessed – the quarterback the Jets had dumped. Mangini was fired within 24 hours of the loss.
It couldn't have happened to a more ungrateful fraud.
Cured Pork Product of the Year – Homemade peameal
We've had peameal (real Canadian bacon) in our tailgate portfolio for quite some time now.
But we've really hit our stride with it this year, and it's been a raging success on our tailgate circuit. And, the best part? It's just so damn easy to make, folks. Try it at home. Takes about two minutes to mix together and the salt, sugar and water. Then a day of waiting around. And, bam! You have homemade Canadian bacon.
The "With Millions Losing their Jobs this Year Why Can't this Guy Be One of Them" Award – Tony "Joe Chardonnay" Kornheiser
We still have bouts of nausea thinking about Kornheiser's first Packers game this year, followed up the debacle in his first BrettFavre game of the year.
Kornheiser isn't even knowledgable enough of football to call high school games on your local cable access channel, let alone on what was once the nation's preeminent sports broadcast.
Nice guy. Does a good job on the talk shows. But when you spend two entire broadcasts spitting out the word "BrettFavre" so often that even your boothmates make fun of you, it's time for a new gig.
In the true spirit of 2008, we suggest that ESPN go to Congress and ask for a broadcast booth bailout.
Team of the Year – Indianapolis
The Colts entered the 2008 season with more injuries than Michael Vick's dogs. Even ironman face-of-the-franchise Peyton Manning underwent knee surgery, curiously close to the start of the season. Not a good sign.
After struggling to a 3-4 start, the Colts began November with a hard-fought 18-15 win over their arch-nemesis New England. They haven't loss since, entering the playoffs with a nine-game win streak and status as the proverbial "team nobody wants to play."
They are hardly the high-flying Colts of years past. They scored just 377 points this year, while surrendering 298, for a mere +79 scoring differential. But they've won a lot of tight battles and appear to have a gritty toughness that some of their more gaudy teams of the past seemed to lack.
"There is Still Hope" award – Marvin Lewis, head coach, Cincinnati
Lewis was as good as dead to us, and to the football world, after an 0-8 start which put the traditionally bad Bengals on pace to become the worst in a long line of bad teams in franchise history.
Somehow, he steadied the organization: Cincy went 4-3-1 over the final eight games of the year and, in all likelihood, earned Lewis another as head coach when it looked like he was a certain goner as recently as November.
Cold, Hard Football Fact of the Year – 110.8 Defensive Passer Rating
It's a Cold, Hard Football Facts maxim that winning teams pass well and stop the pass, while losing teams pass poorly and can't stop the pass.
Need more proof? Well, consider the case of the Lions, the first 0-16 team in NFL history.
The Lions accomplished this historic feat of futility by surrendering a defensive passer rating of 110.8 – easily the worst mark of any defense in NFL history. To put that into perspective, only five individual passers in history have pieced together seasons in which they posted a rating better than 110.8:
- Peyton Mannning, 121.1 (2004)
- Tom Brady, 117.2 (2007)
- Steve Young, 112.8 (1994)
- Joe Montana, 112.4 (1989)
- Daunte Culpepper, 110.9 (2004)
To put it another way: Week after week, the Lions made even ordinary quarterbacks look like Joe Montana at his very, very best. They will go down as the worst team in history because they fielded the worst pass defense in history.
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