Thursday, February 28, 2013

RTW Trip: Day 1-2

 Day 1 – The Voyage Begins

When I started planning this trip, the trip itself served as an afterthought. What pleased me was getting the combination of mileage flights that I wanted, getting the 20-hour layover in Singapore that I wanted (not once, but twice), bypassing the horror of ever having to actually take United, despite using ‘United’ miles. No, the trip itself was far in the future, the green light at the other end of the lake in Gatsby, and planning the trip was what led up to it. But now it was here. The first journey approached. 30 different flights are to come (I wish I was kidding, as I realized that nearly a 4th of the days of my trip involve a flight), and like any long list, it has to start somewhere. And that somewhere was, coincidentally, the longest flight of the trip, the 14 hour jaunt between JFK airport and Johannesburg, on South African Airways’ beautiful A340-600 (for those of you who aren’t plane nuts and don’t recognize that name, google Airbus A340-600; with the possible exception of the B747, there might not be a more aesthetically stunning plane). It was a strange flight to be sure. 14 hours in a metal tube six miles above the ground is never easy, but having the opportunity to fly on so many new airlines (this one, along with Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Singapore Airlines and All Nippon Airlines, not to mention the budget carriers like Air Asia and JetStar) was actually one of the most enticing aspects going in. At 10:40 AM on February 24th, in JFK’s Terminal 4, Gate 26, it started. It will end aboard a Singapore Airlines A380-800 (a plane even normal people know because of its two full levels), on a Frankfurt-JFK route, on June 8th. There is little chance I will ever be on a trip like this again. But after the flight, and the first day in South Africa, there is a great chance I will be aboard South African Airways again.

There is a huge catch-22 in long-haul flight for smaller airlines (and with a lack of connection destinations in its isolated pocket of the globe, South African Airlines counts). Planes that can fly the requisite 7,000 miles are really big (the A340-600 is the longest plane in the world), but those routes aren’t always full. Let’s just say this was one of those times. I was in the last quadrant of the plane, along with about 10 other youths, a couple older singles, and one family of four. The plane was in 2-4-2 configuration, and it became immediately obvious that everyone would get at least two seats to themselves. In fact, even before the plane left the gate, the crew announced that we should ‘wait until after takeoff’ to switch seats. I was situated in the aisle seat of the ‘4’, and because I didn’t want to be selfish and take all four seats in a row (some did do this, but there were still more than enough empty seats to go around), I targeted my coveted window-aisle combo. I could have the window, an attraction I’ve leaned towards for much of my life, and the aisle empty, a feature that I’ve slowly come around to when I realized things like ‘being able to go to the bathroom any time I wanted’ trumped ‘three minutes of watching planes in airports aligned with 12 hours of watching clouds’. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to the crew’s suggestion, and staked claim to 67 H-J before takeoff. It was a great move.

I’ll say a couple things about South African Airlines. First, is that their food service is good but rare, and not that it is undercooked. They served just two meal services in the entire 14-hour flight, a ‘dinner’ and a ‘breakfast’. What irks me is that the flight started at 11:00 AM NYC time, and they served what they called the ‘dinner’ at basically around noon. They could have easily served a lunch, then a dinner than a breakfast, or at least served something more filling than a half-sandwich and chips in-between the meals. This opinion could easily change after taking Singapore Airlines, but out of all the 10+ hour flights I have taken, the gold-standard in food terms is Cathay Pacific. Who along with two full meals, served a round of meat-filled sandwiches and a Raman ‘cup-of-noodles’. This was before the airline industry crashed, so it could be cost-cutting measures by SAA, but either way, the food that came was good but way too little of it actually came. The other takeaway from my time aboard South African Airways was that they had the most extensive movie collection I have ever seen. Touch-Screen On-Demand behind-the-seat entertainment is now basically standard on any reputable airline (I’ve flown Etihad, Swiss and Korean long distance over the past two years and had it on all of them), but I’ve never seen such a collection of movies. They had the standard new releases (Argo and Lincoln), the standard kids movies (Happy Feet & Ice Age 1 and 2), but they had about 20 other English titles, like The King’s Speech, the Avengers, older movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and the movie that I embarrassingly watched and enjoyed, Pitch Perfect (about competing a cappella groups – made slightly less embarrassing by the presence of Brittany Snow, Anna Camp and Anna Kendrick in the film). Bravo, South African Airways. Now just replace some of that budget with more food.

The 14 hours went by quicker than I expected. It is slightly jarring to be in a situation where you have sat down for roughly 7 hours and barely gotten past the halfway mark, but they put the lights out in the cabin for roughly 10 hours of the flight, so it was basically like a cozy little hotel. When we finally landed in Johannesburg, I was a little disappointed. First, to be leaving my floating personal entertainment service; second, and more meaningful, was Johannesburg’s incredibly overcast weather. By the time the plane emerged blow the clouds, we were already just about 400 feet above the ground. It was dark, dim and as I would later find out, the polar opposite of Cape Town.

Four hours later, I entered another plane. This time one about half the size, with no movies to choose from, and packed to the gills. The two hour flight to Cape Town was as quick as a two hour flight could be. I was stunned to learn while watching out my window as we took off from Johannesburg that both Lufthansa and Air France send an A380 on their routes to the ‘Burgh. As much as I am sure the NYC-JNB flight on the A340-600 is never full, I am even more sure that Lufthansa and Air France are sending that big boy out less than full. The biggest shock, however, was that Emirates was not sending an A380 on the route, which is basically against everything Emirates stands for in this modern flying world. The descent into Cape Town was everything the descent into Johannesburg was not. There was no cloud in the sky, and the mountains enveloping the Cape were visible, an stunning welcome party to the Cape.

Day 2 – Welcome to the Cape


As I left Cape Town airport and headed towards my hotel (the ‘Altona Lodge’) in Green Point (near the Waterfront), I continued to be marveled at just how beautiful the city of Cape Town could be. The mountains that make up Table Mountain National Reserve are as good as advertised. A nice combination of a long flat mountain reminiscent of Mt. Rushmore (without the faces) and the mountain that stands over Machu Picchu, with the selling point being I don’t have to climb up thousands of feet in Cuzco or trek to South Dakota to see it. I’ll speak more about the Table Mountain experience when I go up it in a few days, but for now and from afar, it is breathtaking.

The hotel is perfectly situated in a quiet, small street away from much of the noise and bustle of the Waterfront area, but walking distance from that same area. I decided due to my lack of sleep and packed schedule over the rest of the week to take it lightly on the first day, and set up a walking route towards the waterfront (the Wharf as it would be better known – and to familiarize it with my imaginary readers from San Francisco), but I took a slightly scenic route through the lasting remains of the Cape Town development project for the World Cup. The first site is the stadium (it hosted the Germany vs. Spain semifinal, among other games) still gleaming in its modern design. Next to the stadium are an in-progress Cricket Field, a beautiful golf course, and an open area with multiple rugby fields. I can’t really think of anything that encapsulates South Africa more than a large public and professional sports complex that is adorned with beautiful trees, lush greenery, and, due to the time of day, a magnificent sunset. That, to me, is South Africa, athletic, modern beauty. 

The waterfront itself was small, but packed with restaurants and shops. It reminded me of a lot of South Street Seaport in its design of its main mall (The Vitoria Wharf Center), and also San Francisco, in its small harbor. I walked up and down the quays looking for my place to eat for the evening, but also to just imbibe this little corner of South Africa. It is a weird feeling, in general, being in South Africa. I realized when walking by the water that this was the same ocean (The Atlantic) that I have walked by in New York, Boston, DC, Jacksonville, Miami; but this was about as far away (literally, not metaphorically) from that as I could be. I was on the other side of the world, closer to the Antarctic than any other main continent. I was in uncharted territory, and it felt great.
I finally decided on a restaurant, Sevruga, that had a view of the water. As many of the restaurants on the Waterfront (save for a couple of exceptions, such as the Quay Four Tavern – a place I expect to go to at least once) it was expensive in South Africa terms, but compared to the US, just moderately so. Their menu featured many African staples (Ostrich, Crocodile, Kingklip fish) but done in un-African ways. Probably not the greatest introduction into South African cuisine, but from what I have read, South Africa really doesn’t have a cooking style all their own, but ingredients and meats, so having Ostrich Tandoori Slices (which doubled as my breakfast the next morning), with really good mash potatoes (I forget what was in them) and Miso-Marinated Kingklip with crayfish Mash potatoes in peach suace, was African bases (Ostrich, Kingklip) and despite their foreign-inspired cuisines, they were both excellent in a great, intimate setting. A wonderful dinner to start off my African experience, and although I may never have that pricey a dinner again in Cape Town, it was well worth it. My dad often says how important Ambience and Atmosphere are for a restaurant. Well, quay-side outside on a beautiful night in Cape Town is quite an ambience. I took a cab home, full and content, ready to start my first act of tourism (a trip to Cape Point, the Westernmost part of South Africa and one of the Southern-most points) the next day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Best Season of My Life

Maybe it was a product of just having more free time, or maybe a product of discovering Football Outsiders and (my two All-Time Go-To football sites), or maybe it was not having Tom Brady around, but the 2008 NFL Season was my favorite individual regular season in my time watching football, and I could make the argument that it was one of the most exciting, enticing and interesting seasons of my lifetime. It was a great year with a brilliant mix of great offense, great run games, great defenses and great stories. It was a year that changed football, a year with no great team after a season defined by great ones ('07 Patriots, Cowboys, Colts). It was a year that had the most uninteresting chase for perfection in the '08 Titans after the ultimate one. It was a year with ultimately a bad postseason (redeemed by a Great Super Bowl), but a great regular season.

The season would be invariable changed by what happened that July and then an event that took place at 1:20 PM the first Sunday of the season. The second event was Tom Brady tearing his ACL, ending the Patriots season. The Patriots themselves rebounded well under Matt Cassel and finished 11-5, but didn't make the playoffs (we will get to the team that did in a while). Many people complained when an 11-5 team was left out, but it was the Patriots fault for losing each game they played against AFC Playoff Competitors. The other event was the first true Brett Favre saga. Favre retired in a tearful, beautiful press conference in March, saying that he basically was burnt out. The rumblings then started in June, rumblings that Favre wanted back in. Then became the 2nd biggest QB decision of the past 10 years (the bigger one is the one Jim Irsay made last March), and Ted Thompson picked to keep Aaron Rogers, and let Favre go, with the one condition that he couldn't go to Minnesota. Favre eventually picked the New York Jets, setting in place the first major change for the 2008 season.

The 2008 season started in earnest in Week 3 & 4, with two games that would define the season. The first was in Foxboro, as the 2-0 Patriots took on the 0-2 Miami Dolphins. The Patriots, winners of 21 straight regular season games, took on the Dolphins fresh off a 1-15 season. The Dolphins, with nothing to lose, decided to open up their playbook, and release the 'WildCat' to the world. With this direct-snap offense, the Dolphins changed the fortunes of their team, but also started the Greatest one-season football trend that I have ever seen. In that game, the Dolphins scored four TDs of WildCat plays in a 38-13 beatdown of New England. By the time the season was done, the WildCat would help spur the Dolphins to an 11-5 season, and permeate its way all across the league. Almost every team without a true star QB had some variation of the package (my favorite was a WildCat pitch to Troy Smith, the backup QB for the Ravens, where he thew a deep bomb to Joe Flacco). No one ran it like the Dolphins though. No one practiced it as much, had as many variations, used it so much and so effectively. The Wildcat was the Dolphins. It made Ronnie Brown less of a bust, it made Chad Pennington into a star QB for a season, and it made the Dolphins make the playoffs a year after going 1-15.

One week and seven hours later, the 2-0 Ravens took on the 2-1 Steelers in Heinz Field. The Ravens were two games into the Flacco-Harbaugh era, and were a surprise 2-0 after firing Brian Billick in the offseason. The Steelers were among the best teams in the league, one of the teams that took the place of the Patriots when Brady went down. They played a close, tight game that night. The Ravens jumped out to a 13-3 lead. The Steelers answered withT two quick TDs to go up 17-13. The Ravens tied it at 20 late, and the Steelers finished the game winning with an OT Field Goal. In the game, Joe Flacco threw for 191 yards. Roethlisberger threw for 192. Neither team gained 250 yards on offense. With Brady out, the Patriots-Colts rivalry stopped for a year, and little did we know that a stronger, more bloody and hate-filled rivalry would take its place that night. The Steelers-Ravens rivalry started in earnest that night, and it hasn't stopped since.

The 2008 Season was also defined by the differences between all the top teams. 2007 was defined by pass-first teams dominating. All the teams that went 13-3 or better (Pats, Colts, Cowboys, Packers), had crazy efficient passing games. In 2008, teams were defined by so many different strengths. The only team to go better than 12-4 was the Tennessee Titans, who were built off a great run game (LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson), and a stout defense. The other bye teams (Giants, Panthers, Steelers) were all built off running the ball or defense. The Giants ran the ball so well with their Earth, Wind and Fire attack (Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw), and it was keyed by their dominant o-line. The Panthers ran it even better, as DeAngelo Williams finished the season with a dominant run. The Steelers had the best defense in the NFL in any measureable way. They had the league's best pass defense, 2nd best rush defense, best defense in yards allowed and best defense in points allowed. They had players playing great at every level, and full health for that season. They were absolutely dominant, not allowing a single 300 yard passer or 100 yard rusher the entire season. Only one team even gained 300 yards on them, and that was the 13-3 Titans, and they only got 322. Remember, in this same season the first assault at Marino's record was made as Drew Brees ended up 36 yards short. This wasn't some bygone era of running and defense. The Steelers dominated essentially the same NFL that exists now. And it was beautiful.

The '08 Season was, as many seasons are, partly defined by the events of the NFC East. Every year people expound about it being the best division, the toughest division. That probably wasn't true in 2008, but it definitely was the most dramatic, arcane and interesting. It was a 17-week jaunt that included a surprising start by Washinton, an epic collapse by the Cowboys, a dramatic comeback by the Eagles, and a dominant Giants team. The Giants were not very interesting for much of the season, because their dominance that followed their win in Super Bowl XLII was just that. The Giants started the season 11-1 off of an o-line playing about as well as any o-line ever. Eli Manning was careful, limiting his interceptions better than ever before. The Giants were a machine, retroactively making the events in Glendale seem less and less like a fluke. And then, on November 28th, Plaxico Burress decided to bring a handgun with him to a nightclub and shot himself.

It ended Burress' Giants career, but also sidetracked the NFL's best team in 2008 to that point in the season. The Giants were 10-1, and would win their next game, but they then dropped two games straight, scoring just 14 points in both, to the Eagles and Cowboys. They did man up and win a 'winner-takes-#1-Seed" game against the Panthers in Week 16, a dramatic 31-28 win in OT, and one of the best games of the year, and then nearly beat the playoff-bound Vikings with their 'B-Team' in Week 17, but the Giants were nowhere near as complete without Burress. In the end, the lost to another NFC East team, one that had it a little more interesting.

The Eagles and Cowboys traded blows all season long. It started in Week 2, when the Cowboys beat the Eagles 41-37 in a wild game, most remembered for DeSean Jackson dropping the ball early before crossing the goal-line. The Cowboys got off to a fast start, until Tony Romo got injured and missed three games, where the Cowboys went 1-2. He came back and the Cowboys continued their good play, and moved to 8-4 following their Thanksgiving win over the Seahawks. The Eagles won on Thanksgiving as well, blasting the eventual NFC Champion Cardinals 48-21 in the night game. It was a marked win because it was the game that followed one of the lowest moments in the Andy Reid era (until this year, that is), when Donovan McNabb was benched in an awful 36-7 loss to the Ravens. That loss to Baltimore followed a 13-13 tie with the Bengals, where McNabb admitted not knowing that NFL games could end in a tie. It was that type of year for the Eagles, but after all that they weren't that far away.

The Cowboys, after being 8-4, started an epic tailspin. First up, they blew a 13-3 lead in the 4th Quarter to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. It was a memorable game for me. I can almost remember everything about it, like Troy Polamalu's interception on the very first drive, both QBs being pounded all day long by good defenses, and that comeback by Pittsburgh. They scored a TD to tie it, then DeShea Townsend picked off Romo to end it. The Cowboys rebounded with a win over the Giants the next week to stay ahead of Philly. Then came a crazy last two weeks. First, on Saturday Night, the Cowboys hosted the Ravens in the final game ever at Texas Stadium. NFL Network pulled out all the stops, giving the audience the mash crew of Bob Papa, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk. The game was kind of close, but the Ravens just made every big play. First, Ed Reed picked off two ducks by Romo. Then, after the Cowboys closed it to 19-17 with over 4 minutes to go, Willis McGahee had a 77 yard TD run. The Cowboys answered with another TD, and then on the first play of the last drive, LeRon McClain had an 82 yard TD run. I can still remember Deion Sanders "You've Got To Be KIDDING ME!!!" call when McClain burst free. The Cowboys closed out Texas Stadium with an awful 33-24 loss. The Cowboys were still in the driver's seat, though, after the Eagles lost 10-3 to Washington, making the Week 17 game against Philly almost meaningless for Philly. But, the Texans upset the 9-6 Bears, and the Raiders upset the 9-6 Buccaneers, making the 9-6 Cowboys @ the 8-6-1 Eagles a de-facto playoff game. The winner won the #6 seed (and the right to play Tarvaris Jackson).

It was one of two 'win-and-you're-in' Week 17 games, as the Sunday Night game was the 8-7 Broncos hosting the 7-8 Chargers (who were 4-8 at one point, while the Broncos were7-4), and neither was close. The Chargers smashed the Broncos 52-25. The Eagles win was a little more interesting. I was sitting in a hotel room in Orlando while my family was out shopping, and with the fireworks from that game, it may well have been in Disneyworld. The Eagles won 44-6. That is no misprint. 44-6. They were only up 17-3, when Tony Romo threw an interception that the Eagles converted into a TD. Then, on the kickoff, up 24-3 right before half, PacMan Jones fumbled, and the Eagles added a 50-yard Field Goal. Then came the real haymaker, as the Eagles returned back-to-back Romo sack-fumbles for TDs of 73 and 96 yards to make it 41-3 and essentially end the game. It was probably the most schaudenfreudianly great game in Cowboys history, and the most satisfying regular season game of Andy Reid or Donovan McNabb's life. It was a great, crazy way to end what was a crazy year in the NFC East.

The '08 Season was also marked by some great, incredible meaningful but not always statistically brilliant, QB play. It was a weird season where the best QBs statistically (Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner) played for teams that went 8-8, 8-8 and 9-7. No, the 2008 season's QBs that got the most attention weren't the best statistically, but they were just the most interesting. 2008 started the trend of starting rookie QBs immediately. Until 2008, it still was normal for rookies to sit on the bench the first year. Even the high-water mark for rookie QBs, Ben Roethlisberger, sat on the bench until Tommy Maddox got hurt. In 2008, the Atlanta Falcons, fresh off the end of the Michael Vick era, selected Matt Ryan with the 3rd pick in the draft and started him from Day 1. The Baltimore Ravens selected Joe Flacco later in the 1st round, and started him from Day 1. Both went 11-5. Both have been consistently good in their careers, but they were special as rookies.

Joe Flacco had less to do, as he had the help of a special defense. The Ravens were pretty much 2nd in all the stats on defense the Steelers were 1st in. They had their own once-in-a-generation player playing at his best, as Ed Reed had maybe his best season. It started slow, but Reed was dominant over the 2nd half of the season. Over the last 8 games, Reed had 8 interceptions, returning one for a record 109 yard TD against the Eagles. He also forced and recovered a fumble for a TD. In my mind, Ed Reed, and that Ravens team, as well as the Steelers and Titans, in the 2008 season made me love defense and what it was capable of doing. Seeing the 2008 Ravens defense play with that unending swagger, seeing the likes of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, Haloti Ngata, and the Boss himself Ed Reed play at their best. That's why I love defense. The Ravens were back, and it had little to do with Joe Flacco that year.

Matt Ryan was different. He inherited a 4-12 team that lost its QB one year, and lost its coach, Bobby Petrino, the next. The notoriously flaky Atlanta fans were pretty much out on the team coming into the 2008 season, and even with a couple of shrewd moves like hiring Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, bringing in Michael Turner, no one expected anything from the Falcons. Then, Matt Ryan, the #3 pick of the draft, threw a TD on his first professional pass, and it was off. The Falcons were never dominant, but with a smart, safe QB and a bruising runner (372 carries for Michael Turner), the Falcons went 11-5 and made it back to the playoffs. It was a brilliant resurrection of a franchise that was 20 months from having their QB put in jail for dog-fighting, and then 10 months from having their head coach snake out in the night to Arkansas. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith resurrected that franchise, and it hasn't stopped since.

The final QB of 2008 was Peyton Manning, is it always will and should be. Peyton Manning entered the season with an inflamed bursa sac that required immediate, emergency surgery in early August. It was the first time Peyton Manning had any sort of medical concern (which is ironic, given the events of three years later), and he missed the entirety of the preseason. Peyton returned for the opener, which coupled as the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium, and looked exceedingly rusty in a sullen 29-13 loss to the Bears. He followed that up with an incredible comeback win in Minnesota, bringing the Colts back from 15-0 down in the 3rd to win 18-15, despite getting no protection or running game. That was just a brief respite from a stumbling half-season of football, as the Colts began the season 3-4, with back-to-back road losses to Green Bay and Tennessee to end the streak. They sat out of the playoff picture, two games behind New England, who was their next opponent, despite New England not having Tom Brady.

Then came one of the more important Colts-Patriots games in their run, as the Colts barely beat a Brady-less Pats team, winning 18-15. That was the first act in an incredible 2nd half performance for Manning, and one of the great rides I've ever been on as a sports fan. Putting aside Manning's shaky start, that was not a great Colts team. Like every other Colts team since the beginning of time, the Colts were injured. The played games without either starting corner and Bob Sanders. They had Dallas Clark go out for some time, and Joseph Addai get hurt. They had Marvin Harrison playing as a shell of himself. They had nothing but Manning, and a crafty pass defense that allowed just 6 TDs all year long (which is kind of absurd). And that Patriots win was the catalyst to the most memorable Colts regular season run of my life.

A little backstory was that I made a bet with my friend Albert when the Colts were 3-4 that they would go at least 11-5. I had one game to play with. The Colts made that uneccessary, going from 3-4 to 12-4, winning nine straight and other than a couple easy breathers (35-3 over Cincinnati, 23-0 over the Titans in a double-rest game), they were all close. Right after New England was a trip to play the Steelers in Heinz Field. It may be my favorite non-Patriots related Colts regular season win I have seen, as a Colts team without their starting corners or Bob Sanders or Dallas Clark went into Pittsburgh and beat the eventual Champs, coming back from 17-7 down in the process. Manning barely completed half his passes, but threw for 3 TDs and no picks, including a game-winning 17-yard swing pass right over Troy Polamalu's head into Dominic Rhodes' lap. It was beautiful, as was Eric Foster's goal-line stop on 4th down when the Colts were tied at 17. It was win #2. That was followed two weeks later by a 23-20 win in San Diego (yeah, the Colts could beat the Chargers once), with Vinatieri nailing a 50-yarder to do it. Then came Manning's MVP clincher, with a flawless performance to beat the Jaguars to nail down a playoff spot. It wasn't Manning's best football, but it was close. In those last 9 games, Manning went 209/290 (72.1%), for 2,248 yards (7.8 y/a), with 17 TDs and 3 INTs, for a 109.7 passer rating. The Colts went 9-0 in those games. Manning deservedly won his 3rd MVP in a season where he defined what valuable meant. His play made that Colts team go from 3-4 to 12-4.

It might be that Manning factor that made me love 2008 that much, but I think it was more about the fact that the 2008 season was a season without the bullshit that football talk is built off of now. In 2008, the top QBs didn't have great win-loss seasons, so we weren't barraged by the 'QB X is the greatest' stuff we routinely get now. Back then, there were great running games, great defenses. In the regular season, there were many ways to win. There was new blood, in Atlanta, and Baltimore, and Arizona of all places. 2007 was defined by the best blue blood teams playing extremely well for the whole season, with New England going 16-0, and Indianapolis, Dallas and Green Bay not far behind. 2007 was built for the millionaires, while 2008 was for the everyman. It was a season where Jake Delhomme could QB a 12-4 team, where Chad Pennington was the runner-up for MVP, where Kerry Collins QBed the only team that won more than 12 games.

In Week 15, the Steelers and Ravens met in M&T Bank Stadium. The Steelers were 10-3, the Ravens were 9-4. The winner would take over control of the AFC North. The news that the Titans lost to make them 12-2 right before the game started was huge, as the Steelers knew if they beat Baltimore, they could then beat the Titans to steal the #1 seed. Everything was on the line for the NFL's best rivalry, and the game was brilliant. Neither offense did anything. Both defenses dominated. Flacco was picked off twice. Roethlisberger was sacked twice, once by Ray Lewis and once by Ed Reed. It was a field-goal filled game, and late in the 4th quarter, the Baltimore fans were going insane as the Ravens had a 9-6 lead with the Steelers backed up on their own 8 yard line with 3:26 to go. Then, in 12 plays, Roethlisberger led the Steelers into the end zone, going ahead 13-9, breaking the hearts of everyone in a raucous M&T Bank, and wrapping up the AFC North. It was one of the best games of the season, a true epic. And it was a game that ended 13-9, with just 513 yards of offense and one TD combined. And it was one of the best games of year. 2008 was that type of season, and that is why I loved it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

15 Best Chappelle's Show Skits

15.) The Three Daves

This was the first real sketch that poked fun at Dave himself (as he very rightfully noted in his routine to the audience before the sketch), and although it wasn't groundbreaking and pretty light, it was really funny. I think it was just short enough to be really effective, not taking too much time for each Dave, and making it just a series of quick-hits. It also brought out a great 'What If?' when Chappelle mentioned that Chris Tucker beat him out for the part in Rush Hour. If that was true, I might really want to see that version of Rush Hour.

Best Line:
- "I'm glad you think Nick Cannon is so God Damn Hilarious, because he just ran off with yo' school clothes money."

14.) Tyrone Biggums Intervention

I wasn't a huge fan of Tyrone Biggums as a Chappelle character, but I much preferred his second sketch to his first, mainly because of how it just grew upon its realistic premise into a complete farce. Chappelle plays Tyrone well throughout, but the sketch is really about the other people's stories. The story of Tyrone taking advantage of the white married couple was so measured that it worked just perfectly. First with Tyrone studying for the test, seemingly cleaning his life, and then spiraling out of control. Of course, the reveal of Tyrone selling the house for a "$450,000 crack party, Come one, Come all!". Just a great satire of a crackhead.

Best Lines:

- "What y'all tell him. Come on, you Benedict Arnolds, what you'll tell him?"
- "It's like the good book said. Let he who is without sin throw-eth the first rock, and I shall smoke it"

13.) Reparations

This was a sketch that probably went a little too long, but packed a lot of great jokes. Plus, it introduced the Tron character, which is probably my favorite recurring Chappelle character. It also introduced the 2nd most famous one-line from the show, with Donell Rawlings, driving hist truck that carries just Newports, yelling "I'm Rich, Bitch!!". The show also introduced Chuck Taylor, Chappelle's great white-face news anchor that would be used quite a few times. This was really early in the show's run, and set the groundwork for a lot of comedy to come.

Best Line

- "Nah, girl. I bought this baby straight cash."
- " Hide the money, ya'll. There's white people around."

12.) Kneehigh Park

Not many elements of Chappelle's Show came from his stand-up work, but this, although altered, might have. Chappelle had a stand-up bit about how adult themed Sesame Street is, and this was basically that version of Sesame Street on crack. It included the best gross-out humor the show ever did. Some of the STD songs fell a little flat (the Herpes one, for instance) but my God was it great. I did seem just a little too crazy to have little kids there, though.

Best Lines:

- "What you don't understand, is I make love to my hand. I don't need you, honey; I beat my dick like it owes me money."
- "Oh, Hello Dave Chappelle. What's it been? Two Months?" 

11.) Law & Order

There was a better sketch about the judicial system in this country that is in the Top-10. What hurts Law & Order is other than a few lines, the White side of things fell flat. However, Tron, as a well-regarded crack lord was just brilliant.The depth of that character, and the great performance by his legal team was bueatiful. For anyone that says this showed played on race, I submit this sketch. Chappelle and Co. were so much smarter about comedy in general, as they noticed the hilariousness of the word 'Fif' for Fifth. Him taking the document out of the manila folder saying 'Fif' was just perfect.

Best Lines: 

- "Sorry I'm late, but I got caught up in some Punani"
- "When I get out, can I still traffic rocks to the Community?"
- [written] 'FiF'

10.) Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Prince

I might be underrating the second iteration of Charlie Murphy's true Hollywood stories, but that is because until the point where they started playing basketball it was underwhelming. However, when the basketball game started it might have become the funniest couple of minutes in the shows run. Just the thought of Prince and the Revolution playing basketball is good enough, but the ridiculous narration and visual gags thrown in made the sketch really brilliant. The little details, like Prince's play being "Darling Picky" right before the whole bit with the fruity pick, or Prince hanging in midair, or them being in their Revolution clothes, or Prince's little tear and nose twitch before the game. All of it came together in a brilliant bit of modern comedy. Of course, though, I would be remiss to not mention the great cap to the whole thing (other than Charlie's speech), which was Prince serving them pancakes. That is as absurdist as it comes, and as funny.

Best Lines

- "He had this other cat, Mickey Free. He was the new cat in Shalamar. When he joined the group, I heard mad cats like Shalamar got this new bitch in the group, she fine as a muthafucker. Mickey Free is not a girl, you understand."
- "Hey, Prince, can we cool this place down"... "Why don't you wash yourself down in the waters of Lake Minnetonka."
- "Shoot the J... SHOOT IT!!"

9.) I Know Black People?!

In the second longest sketh the show ever did (the longest is the one at the top of the list), Chappelle didn't so much force people to be racist, but just poked fun at people's opinions of Black People, and how true many of those opinions were. Apparently those were real random people, not actors, but they all worked so well. That said, a lot of the comedy came from sources that had nothing to do with mining the disparate views of what Black People really are, but Chappelle just being funny, like commenting that "somehow that is right" when he gets a response of 'yes' to 'Is Pimpin' Easy' after a series of nos, or that ridiculous face he makes after singing the end of the Good Times lyric, or his add that, yes, black people will tell a cop "Girl you got a badonkadonk." In the end, it didn't matter that some random guy one, but that we were treated to a really, really fun game show that had memorable contestants, a funny host, and a great idea that presented what could've been a thorny subject in the funniest, most honest way possible.

Best Lines

-"What is a badonkadonk"... "Oh, that's junk in the trunk, what you put your mug on, saddly up and ride.. that's a big.. Ass."
- "I know another actress on Goodtimes was Lenny Kravitz's mother"... "Oh, I'm sorry, that was the Jefferson's, but close."
- "How can they rise up and overcome?"... "Can they overcome?"... "Reparations?"... "That's a complex answer?"... "Staying Alive?"... "Stop cutting each other's throats?"... "Get out and vote?".. "I'm sorry, that is incorrect."

8.) Jury Duty

This might have been the sketch that mixed pointed political and racial opinions with pure comedy better than any other. Listening to Chappelle as the tough potential juror and you started to believe that OJ's bloody glove meant nothing ('I got a couple of bloody gloves on me right now') or that describing Michael Jackson's penis is not all that difficult ('it's gotta head, a shaft, two balls and hair, pressed permed hair... with glitter sprinkled on top), or that it really doesn't make sense that OJ gets arrested two days later when Tupac and Biggie's murders were just never really investigated. Chappelle does at least show that some of his doubts are definitely unreasonable ('they do crazy things with those special effects. That piss coulda been digital) and that maybe our current justice system isn't all that great. The Law & Order sketch was more about race, but Jury Duty was more about the system itself, the idea that one man with his biases could possibly dole out punishment over another man. Oh yeah, it was also hilarious.

Best Lines

- 'Would you let your child sleep with Michael Jackson?'... 'Fuck No!!'
- 'We woulda taken care of OJ the first time he beat my sister. We woulda made Orange Juice outta that nigga'... 'OJ BE DEAD, NIGGA'
- 'Are you aware that Robert Blake is being charged with murder?'... 'Oh yeah. Barretta did that shit.'
- 'How come Biggie and Tupac's murders are out there but you arrest OJ the next day? Nicole Simpson can't rap. I want justice.'

7.) Trading Spouses

This is the first Season 1 sketch so far in the Top-10. There are more to come, but Season 2 dominates the list. That isn't as much a knock on Season 1 as it is a credit to just how incredible Season 2 is. Anyway, back to Trading Spouses. The most incredible part of the sketch was that it was played about a year BEFORE the show aired in the US in its multiple forms (Wife Swap/Trading Spouse). This wasn't that much about the difference in parenting and husbanding styles of Black and White Men, but just differences in general, and mainly sexual ones. The White husband flipping through "Ebony" magazine on the bathroom, while the White Wife gets incredibly horny around the Black Husband. Again, this was shown a good year before Trading Spouses became a show on the US, and like Chappelle's versions of 'Making the Band' and 'Real World' (both still to come) this version of 'Trading Spouses' seems better than the real one.

Best Lines:

- "You betta check your tone, girl. Use your inside voice, before I put you outside."
- "Do you mind if I turn off this R&B Music... I kind of want to hear you breathing. I also feel more comfortable if I pull my penis through this hole."
- "For the first time in my life, I tasted Brown Sugar... and not in my oatmeal."

6.) Making the Band

The most incredible thing about this sketch (and the reality show parody that is yet to come) is that it was still hilarious even if the person had never seen Making the Band. Sure, Diddy himself is a little dated now, but even then, the idea of P. Diddy becoming increasingly lazy, needing to be carried on a sofa and then needing a piggy-back ride. That might be the strangest but funniest joke in Chappelle Show history. The whole sketch was about escalations, really. Other than the Diddy being lazy, was the ridiculous tasks that he would make the group do (get a sugar cookie to buy a set of left-handed golf clubs to getting a picture with a midget holding these balloons to finally getting the breastmilk of a Columbian immigrant) and then his rant about what people were doing instead of working (doing your hair to doing makeup, to chopping onions to doing taxes). Of course, focusing on Diddy leaves out the rest of the sketch, which was largely unmemorable (not a huge fan of the Dylan character) other than Dylan fighting with Wyclef Jean (another great little moment that was funny solely because it was just funny) and Diddy's memorable rant. Overall, though, it perfectly parodied a ridiculous show, a ridiculous character (Diddy) and provided some of the greatest parallel joke structure I've seen in a short sketch.

Best Lines

- [When Fighting Wyclef] 'You're too close man. Too close man.'
- "How yall gonna choke a legend. You can't choke all your problems. It takes hard work. If I had my way, I'd never work. I'd stay home all day, watch Scarface 50 times, eat a Turkey sandwhich and have sex all fucking day. I'd dress up as a clown and surprise kids at schools. Then I'd take a dump in the back of a movie theater, and wait till someone sat in it and hear a squish. That's funny to me. Then I'd paint, read, play violin. I'd climb the mountains and sing the songs I'd like to sing.
- "Playboy? Playboy? You just gonna comb your hair? Sarah? You just gonna talk up all your anytime minutes? Is this anytime? You just gonna sit there and chop onions? This a good time to chop onions? Look at this nigga. You just gonna sit there and do your taxes, Ness? Sit there and crunch numbers? Is that hot? Is that what's going on in the streets?

5.) Frontline: Clayton Bigsby - the Black White Supremacist

Let's get this out in the open, the sketch isn't really as funny as it was groundbreaking. It was the final sketch on the 1st episode of the show (talk about coming out of the gates firing on all cylinders), and it was probably the most pointed sketch in the history of the show. No sketch took such a serious look at racism as this one, but still it didn't mock or satirize racism, but turn the idea on its head about how ingrained it is in our culture. The way his upbringing made him think he was a white is probably not even that far off from what could have been possible. Chappelle proposing that race isn't about color, but about culture, that a culture could make someone who is blind be so against a people of a certain skin color. The other lasting impression of this sketch is Chappelle's easy use of the N-Word in Episode 1. It worked here (even though the word was being used in its most derrogatory form) because Chappelle was saying it, and it continued to work throughout the show's run. The sketch reached its absurdist crescendo in Bigsby's speech in front of KKK members. The speech is notable for being hilarious, which is important, because even in a sketch so pointed in its meaning, Chappelle kept it about the humor and the laughs to the very end.

Best Lines:

- "First of all, they're lazy, good-for-nothing tricksters, crack smoking swindlers, big-butt-having, wide-nose breathing up the white man's air, eating all the chicken; they think they're the best dancers, and they stink."
- "My friend Jasper told me a coon came up to pick up his sister, and he told him 'look here, nigger. If anyone is going to be having sex with my girl, it is going to be me!' "
- "White Power. Colin Powell, Cunnilingus Rice. Cunnilingus Rice sounds like a Mexican Dish, maybe we should send her on a plate to Mexico and let them eat her... White Power."

4.) The Mad Real World

This was one of the first time Chappelle really took to tearing down the hypocrisy and race-baiting present in reality television by turning it totally on its head, and presenting the Real World in, honestly, what is a better version of the actual show. I love how Chappelle can use some of the same characters in different sketches, and his use of Tron (most recently seen as the Richest Man in the World) as the main narrator was just great, as was everyone in the house, including Chad. The sketch actually did little to show why the real version of the Real World is unfair, but instead just poked fun at how a group of black people would act in a similar situation, but added ridiculous elements all around, like Troy adding weed to the smoothies, and Chad's girlfriend immediately turning on Chad and sleeping with Tyree and Lysol (what a great name, by the way). The innocence of Chad was also used well, when he claims that you should never get put into a sleeperhold by a black person because you will wake up the next day bleeding from your anus. The Mad Real World never really followed through on its supposed purpose, but definitely showed just how funny life in an enclosed environment can be,

Best Lines:

- "I did not sleep with Katie"... "Yeah, Tyree, you did sleep with me"... "Correction. I did sleep with Katie.".... "Hey Chad, I slept with Katie too."
- "Katie's got some big ass Tittays"... "Niggas are wilin' "
- "Look at me America. Look how Tron is livin'.. For the Cit-ayy!!"

3.) Black Bush

By far, this was the best political sketch the show ever did. Despite the media's general hatred of the Bush Presidency that was going on during the show's time, Dave never really lampooned the president until this epic sketch. Dave pulled no punch, satirizing every part of the Bush regime, using Black versions of Rumsfeld, the Director of the CIA, and Tony Blair (great, great cameo by Jamie Foxx). The best part of the sketch was that it wasn't even attacking Bush that much, but the lunacy of politics. Black Bush himself admitted that the only reason he wants to go into Iraq is that "that nigga tried to kill my FATHA!!", and that there was oil. He gave a most Bush-like response to the UN, telling them to go get themselves an army. He could have just made the sketch about a black president, and it would have been just as funny, but the subtle digs at Bush and the lack of evidence were just great. But what made the sketch was the part that had nothing to do with Bush, the idea that the war is distracting people from Gay Marraige and the Moon. M-A-R-S, MARS, Bitches. Red Rocks. The final sketch in the real era of the Chappelle Show was a home run.

Best Lines:

- "What about people who say you're only interested in the Middle East for oil?"... "What? Huh, Oil? Who said something about oil, bitch. You cooking? Oil?"
- "Kofi Annan, you think I'm gonna take orders from an African? You might speak sixteen langauges, but you're gonna need 'em when you're out in Times Square selling fake hats. I know Gucci when I see one, nigga, I'm rich"
- "Can't be distracted about what's going on in the War, what's going on in the economy. I got that shit under control. Let's focus on Space, nigga. The United States of Space. Write this down. M-A-R-S, Mars, bitches. That's where we're going. Red Rocks!"

2.) The Playa Haters Ball

With the exception of the sketch still to come, no sketch used non-Chappelle cast members better than the Playa Hater's Ball, which was about as perfect as a sketch can be. It started off well with the hilarious screen of HBO doing documentaries on pimps, hos, mark-ass tricks and trick-ass marks and everything else, and now doing one on haters. The best part of the sketch was without any set-up, all four of the main haters (Buc Nasty, Beautiful, Pit Bull and Silky) were really well established. Patrice O'Neal (RIP) was just brilliant as Pit Bull, as well Donnell and Charlie (his first real use on the show). What really made the sketch go, though, was the fact that this was a little glimpse into the life of a comedian when they are with their pals. It really seemed like four comedian buddies (Murphy, Rawlings, O'Neal and Chappelle) just took turns making up lines and shitting on each other. Much of the sketch seemed improvised, and a lot of it was (what gives it away is after Chappelle's slam on Rosie that "she wears underwear with dickholes in 'em" everyone breaks and they leave it in). The whole sketch seemed like a lot of fun, and for a show that was usually so exacting, it was great to see a sketch with absolutely no social commentary, and just insult after hilarious, biting insult.

Best Lines:

- "The so called Beautiful, why don't you click your heels together three times, and go back to Africa. And as for you, Boss Hogg. Very insulting what you said about my coat. It's made from your momma's pubic hair."
- [On Rosie O'Donnell during the photo-flip] "Now that's one bitch I wouldn't want to fight. She's got underwears with dickholes in 'em"
- "Beautiful on the weekends does stunts for Little Richard in Gay Movies. First off, I would like to thank God ALmighty for giving evrybody so much, and me so little. I hate you, I hate you. I don't even know you and I hate your guts. I hope all the bad things in life happen to you and no one but you. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go home, and put some water in Buc Nasty's Momma's dish."

1.) Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Rick James

What else, really. It might be overhyped. It might be the mainstream choice. That said, sometimes, the object of the mainstream's affection is well deserved, and that is the case here. If you want to create a perfect sketch, just follow what Chappelle and company did here. They perfectly satirized a memorable, crazy character. They created (or if we believe Charlie, used) ridiculous situations, but ones that fit the characters. Make every scene have great background jokes. Everything just worked perfectly in this long-form piece, from the narration, to the use of the real Rick James, to adding little details like the Security Guard being cross-eyed, or the Unity ring. Everything was just perfect. It was basically the whole episode, and even then it seems really tight and short, flowing perfectly in essentially just four scenes (Studio 54, Eddie's apartment, Rick's hotel room, China Club) all comically basic, it never, ever felt like it was dragging. That said, the best part of the sketch was probably the use of the two narrators in Charlie and Rick. Charlie is just a great storyteller (though that was better used in the Prince sketch), while Rick was just great. The "Cocaine's a Hell of a Drug" line got funnier and funnier each time until it became the funniest thing I've ever heard. His rant about not stomping dirt on the couch than immediately contradicting himself was a great touch. Using the real Rick almost humanized the Chappelle Rick, and really gave the sketch a kind, almost appreciable, base. The best part of the sketch is that I haven't even mentioned the infamous 'I'm Rick James, Bitch!' line, and even if that was never spoken, this sketch still would be number 1.

Best Lines:

- "Welcome to the China Club... A Chonga Chang Chang, a Chonga Chung Chang."
- "Fuck Yo Couch, Nigga. I've been kicked out of better homes than this. I'll be back, you black muthafucka. Wide-nose-having muthafucka. They shoulda never given you niggas money, you don't know how to appreciate shit."
- "It's a celebration, bitches. Show Charlie Murphy your titties.... The Milk's Gone Bad, Charlie"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII: Looking Back at a Strange, Solid Super Bowl

Well, that was interesting, wasn't it? A Super Bowl that gave us everything. We got an old-fashioned Super Bowl blowout for 31 minutes. We got the great ending that we have been accustomed to as NFL fans over the last decade. We got some referee controversy. We got a few good ads and the annual tradition of people pretty much slamming the vast majority of the ads. We got a good halftime show, and the first good halftime show that didn't feature 50+ year old rockers since who knows how long. And finally we got a blackout, another halftime, for us to get more drunk, more antsy and more interested in how this all went down. Like each of the last two years, I'm doing my Super Bowl review rambling style.

= Let's get to this early; yes that could have easily been called holding on 4th down, but they were letting the receivers and corners play all game long. The only time they called one was on the Culliver DPI on Smith that was far more egregious. I heard some people compare this to Super Bowl XL in terms of the refs ruining the game, which is such an overstatement. I doubt people really remember that call five or ten years from now like they did and will about the calls in Super Bowl XL.

= What's more interesting to note is how stagnant that 49ers offense can look inside the ten yard line. The one glaring weakness in Kaepernick's game is that he doesn't react well to pressure. He rarely is because of how good the 49ers o-line is, but in this game, there were three plays inside the 10 yard line where the Ravens got quick pressure on Kaepernick. The first was Kruger's sack, which is hard to pin on Kaep. The 2nd was the two-point conversion and the final one was the 4th down, and in those last two he just quickly fired an overthrow fade that had no real chance of getting caught. There isn't much that Kaepernick needs to improve on, but throwing under pressure and more importantly, throwing with touch, are things that he does need to.

= Finally with that out of the way, let us get to the Ravens, a great team. They weren't a great team for much of the regular season (even when they started 9-2), but they weren't healthy in the regular season either. The 2011 Ravens were a great team, and the first time they had that lineup together was in the 2012 playoffs, and the Ravens returned to being a great team. Let's start with that defense. They weren't great in the Super Bowl, giving up 468 yards, giving up 25 second half points, but three times the 49ers entered the 10 yard line, and they gave up one TD and two FGs. They stiffened when they needed to and had a great goal line stand to win the game in Ray Lewis' final series. It may have been pass interference, but what a great blitz call on 4th down, making Kaepernick just lob one up there.

= Joe Flacco is not a great QB, but he is a very good one. He is good enough to win a Super Bowl, as are a lot of QBs. Just being able to win the Super Bowl doesn't make you great. It doesn't make you elite (I don't think Eli is elite either), but Joe Flacco played the best four game stretch of his career in the biggest four game stretch of his career. He went from riding along a great defense and running game in 2008 and 2009 playoffs (the guy once was the winning QB going 4/10 for 34 yards and a pick for a game - and his team won that game on the road by 19), to a guy who has been great in the playoffs two straight years. Congratulations to Joe Flacco, but the fact that he now has been given Carte Blanch by Steve Bisciotti to demand whatever he wants might be bad for the long term prospect of that team.

= Ray Lewis is a great player, but way too much has been written about him so let's go to some other people. It's great to see Steve Bisciotti win a ring. He's been a quiet owner, but a damn good one. The Ravens are a great organization from top down, starting with Bisciotti. He's given his team the resources to succeed, he let's his football people run the football side of the team, and man has it worked. Good to also see the more likable, less insane, Harbaugh brother win a ring. He's been such a steady coach in his time in Baltimore. I can remember seeing that underdog Ravens team back in 2008 play their way into the AFC Championship Game. It took four more years to reach destiny, but they did. Ozzie Newsome too. Great player, and in all honesty, a better GM. His drafts have been great, his player management has been great. Just a great nucleus in Baltimore.

= And finally, Ed Reed. As it was mentioned multiple times throughout Super Bowl week, people do erroneously assume that Reed was on that 2000 Super Bowl team. I like for all great players to win a ring at least once, and especially for a guy like Ed Reed, who is all class and has come close numerous times. It was fitting that Reed got a record tying interception in his first Super Bowl. A great final honor for a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Also, no one can anymore use the "Polamalu has two rings" defense in the 'Reed vs. Polamalu' debates, which Reed should win going away.

= As for the game, I actually do think the blackout had a real impact, although that is nearly an impossible angle to defend since right after the blackout ended, the 49ers had to punt and the Ravens were half a yard away from starting a nice little drive up 28-6. I was shocked the game was that one-sided and I figured the 49ers would go on a run, but still have to credit them for making it that close. The Ravens kind of shot themselves in the foot with their two good 2nd half drives. First, they couldn't punch it in on 1st and Goal from the 5 (after getting like 9 straight TDs in goal-to-go situations in the playoffs), and then Dennis Pitta dropped a catchable ball that could have extended the drive that made it 34-29. It all led to a great finish, and the smartest coaching decision I have ever seen. No, the decision to take the safety wasn't that great, but telling his o-lineman to egregiously hold to make sure Koch gets a ton of time to waste was genius. Holding in the end zone makes it a safety anyway, so there was nothing to lose. Just genius.

= Considering the strength of recent Super Bowls, this probably slots in at 5th of the last 11. That doesn't sound so great, but there haven't been many bad ones recently. I would put Pats-Panthers, Pats-Giants I & II, and Steelers-Cards ahead of it. I just think this was a slightly better version of the Steelers-Packers game two years ago. Same with a team coming back from a big deficit. Same 3TD game from the winning QB. Just this time the comeback came a bit closer to actually being made.

= Overall, these playoffs were good but not great. Four great games, with a great Super Bowl, great NFC Title Game, great NFC Divisional Game (Seahawks @ Falcons) and an absolutely epic Divisional Game with the Ravens winning that battle in Denver. From what the Ravens did in their other three playoff games, to me the Broncos look better in my eyes. They gave the Ravens a tougher game than any other team. The Ravens were exceedingly lucky to win that game. The Ravens were clearly the better team on the field in all the three other games. Rahim Moore falling over himself is the lasting image of these NFL Playoffs.

= The 49ers will be good for a while, but as I said about the Packers in 2010, you never know if you get another shot. They played a great 2nd Half, but they looked unprepared early. How is it possible for you to be in an illegal formation in the first play of the game. How many times can they have practiced that play coming into the game? Just bizarre. This wasn't Jim Harbaugh's brightest moment, but the guy is still a fabulous coach. They are stocked with young talent. The one question I have with the 49ers is that so much of what they do on defense seems to be tied to Justin Smith, and Justin Smith is quite old. They need to be able to replace him going forward.

= Now, it is time to flip the page to 2013. There are a couple things to look forward to. There are a lot free agent receivers to come up this year, headed by Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe, and possible Wes Welker. Then there is the huge Alex Smith question. He would be perfect, in my eyes, in Minnesota, so it will be interesting to see if Minnesota stays with Christian Ponder. Finally, it will be interesting to see if we see as little turnover in playoffs teams as we did in 2012. 8 playoff teams returned in 2012, with only the Steelers, Giants, Lions and Saints failing to make it back. All four division winners in the AFC repeated. That could easily happen again. If I had to bet, I would say that the Ravens are the most likely AFC division winner to not repeat. The lesser tier of the AFC has to rise some time.

= This was a fun season overall. It was great to watch that Colts team play so inspired all year long for their ill coach. It was great to watch the great defenses of 2013, like the Bears and Seahawks. It was great to watch the three great rookie QBs. It was great to watch Adrian Peterson do Adrian Peterson like things. It was great to watch JJ Watt have the best season a 3-4 DE has ever had. It was great to watch Peyton Manning play again, as the league is just better when #18 is flinging the ball around. And finally, it was great to watch a deserving Ravens team take their heartbreaking loss from January 2012 in stride, making it a launching pad for a great postseason run, and finish of winning a memorable Super Bowl. A football season is never bad, but this was a particularly good one.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Where the 2012 Playoffs Ranked

So, last summer, I did a series of posts ranking all the playoff games that were played since the NFL's last realignment (the 2002 season), which was a tidy ten years of playoff football, one-hundred games to rank (didn't do Super Bowls - not sure why I didn't then, but am too lazy to do them now). Well, that is a dynamic list, and I'll update it each year as I do the blog (I'll have actual recaps for this year's games later in the NFL off-season, but for now just update the list). First, after looking back at my rankings I have to make a few changes.


* - I'm removing the "The Very Good Games" tier from the Wild Card rankings. That group encompassed five games (#10-6). The first three I'm putting in the group below ,"The Good Games", and the last two I'm putting in the group above, "The Great Games." I'm also changing the #2 Wild-Card game (2006 - Cowboys @ Seahawks) to "Epic" status.
* - For the Wild-Card games, I'm doing some ranking adjustments, moving up #13 (06 - Giants @ Eagles) up to #11, and moving #12 & #11 back one spot. Then, the current #8 & #9 (07 - Jaguars @ Steelers, 08 - Colts @ Chargers) move up a spot as the #7 (10 - Saints @ Seahawks) moves back two spots. Anyway, those are the rankings for the Wild Card Round BEFORE ranking the four games from 2012.
* - Not many changes for Divisional Weekend, but I'm moving my #4 (03 - Packers @ Eagles) and switching it with my current #5 (02 - Steelers @ Titans). That's the only change. I was much more detailed with my divisional round rankings than the Wild Card one, mainly because I chose to be like the NFL Hall of Fame when ranking those while I was an MLB HOF voter with the Wild Card Round games, hence why I was so stingy with my "Great" and "Epic" labels.

12 AFC - Bengals 13 @ Texans 19 (#28)
12 NFC - Vikings 3 @ Packers 24 (#40)
12 AFC - Colts 9 @ Ravens 24 (#29)
12 NFC - Seahawks 24 @ Redskins 14 (#17)

12 AFC - Ravens 38 @ Broncos 35 (#4)
12 NFC - Packers 31 @ 49ers 45 (#25)
12 NFC - Seahawks 28 @ Falcons 30 (#12)
12 AFC - Texans 28 @ Patriots 41 (#38)

12 NFC - 49ers 28 @ Falcons 24 (#6)
12 AFC - Ravens 28 @ Patriots 13 (#10)

To see the updated list and where the '12 games rank, check below.

Wild Card

44.) 02 AFC - Colts 0 @ Jets 41
43.) 10 AFC - Ravens 30 @ Chiefs 7
42.) 05 NFC - Panthers 23 @ Giants 0
41.) 07 AFC - Titans 6 @ Chargers 17

40.) 12 NFC - Vikings 3 @ Packers 24
39.) 05 AFC - Jaguars 3 @ Patriots 28
38.) 05 NFC - Redskins 17 @ Buccaneers 10
37.) 06 AFC - Chiefs 8 @ Colts 23
36.) 04 AFC - Broncos 24 @ Colts 49
35.) 11 NFC - Falcons 2 @ Giants 24
34.) 08 AFC - Ravens 27 @ Dolphins 9
33.) 08 NFC - Eagles 26 @ Vikings 14
32.) 03 NFC - Cowboys 10 @ Panthers 29
31.) 07 NFC - Giants 24 @ Buccaneers 14
30.) 09 AFC - Jets 24 @ Bengals 14

29.) 12 AFC - Colts 9 @ Ravens 24
28.) 12 AFC - Bengals 13 @ Texans 19
27.) 09 NFC - Eagles 14 @ Cowboys 34
26.) 09 AFC - Ravens 33 @ Patriots 14
25.) 02 NFC - Falcons 27 @ Packers 7
24.) 11 NFC - Lions 28 @ Saints 45
23.) 04 NFC - Vikings 31 @ Packers 17
22.) 05 AFC - Steelers 31 @ Bengals 17
21.) 11 AFC - Bengals 10 @ Texans 31
20.) 06 AFC - Jets 16 @ Patriots 37
19.) 07 NFC - Redskins 14 @ Seahawks 35
18.) 03 AFC - Broncos 10 @ Colts 41

17.) 12 NFC - Seahawks 24 @ Redskins 14
16.) 10 NFC - Packers 21 @ Eagles 16
15.) 10 AFC - Jets 17 @ Colts 16
14.) 04 NFC - Rams 27 @ Seahawks 20
13.) 08 NFC - Falcons 24 @ Cardinals 30
12.) 03 AFC - Titans 20 @ Ravens 17
11.) 06 NFC - Giants 20 @ Eagles 23
10.) 04 AFC - Jets 20 @ Chargers 17
9.) 10 NFC - Saints 36 @ Seahawks 41
8.) 08 AFC - Colts 17 @ Chargers 23
7.) 07 AFC - Jaguars 31 @ Steelers 29
6.) 02 AFC - Browns 33 @ Steelers 36
5.) 02 NFC - Giants 38 @ 49ers 39
4.) 03 NFC - Seahawks 27 @ Packers 33
3.) 11 AFC - Steelers 23 @ Broncos 29
2.) 06 NFC - Cowboys 20 @ Seahawks 21
1.) 09 NFC - Packers 45 @ Cardinals 51

44.) 08 NFC - Cardinals 33 @ Panthers 13
43.) 02 NFC - Falcons 6 @ Eagles 20
42.) 09 NFC - Cardinals 14 @ Saints 45
41.) 02 NFC - 49ers 6 @ Buccaneers 31
40.) 11 AFC - Broncos 10 @ Patriots 45
39.) 10 NFC - Seahawks 24 @ Bears 35
38.) 12 AFC - Texans 28 @ Patriots 41
37.) 04 NFC - Vikings 14 @ Eagles 27
36.) 05 NFC - Redskins 10 @ Seahawks 20
35.) 09 AFC - Ravens 3 @ Colts 20
34.) 02 AFC - Jets 10 @ Raiders 30
33.) 08 NFC - Eagles 23 @ Giants 11
32.) 05 NFC - Panthers 29 @ Bears 21
31.) 04 NFC - Rams 17 @ Falcons 47
30.) 09 NFC - Cowboys 3 @ Vikings 34
29.) 10 NFC - Packers 48 @ Falcons 21
28.) 07 NFC - Seahawks 20 @ Packers 42
27.) 04 AFC - Colts 3 @ Patriots 20
26.) 08 AFC - Chargers 24 @ Steelers 35

25.) 12 NFC - Packers 31 @ 49ers 45
24.) 11 AFC - Texans 13 @ Ravens 20
23.) 07 AFC - Jaguars 20 @ Patriots 31
22.) 11 NFC - Giants 37 @ Packers 20
21.) 05 AFC - Patriots 13 @ Broncos 27
20.) 08 AFC - Ravens 13 @ Titans 10
19.) 06 AFC - Colts 15 @ Ravens 6
18.) 03 AFC - Colts 38 @ Chiefs 31
17.) 03 AFC - Titans 14 @ Patriots 17
16.) 10 AFC - Ravens 24 @ Steelers 31
15.) 09 AFC - Jets 17 @ Chargers 14
14.) 10 AFC - Jets 28 @ Patriots 21
13.) 12 NFC - Seahawks 28 @ Falcons 30

12.) 04 AFC - Jets 17 @ Steelers 20
11.) 07 NFC - Giants 21 @ Cowboys 17
10.) 03 NFC - Panthers 29 @ Rams 23
9.) 07 AFC - Chargers 28 @ Colts 24
8.) 06 NFC - Seahawks 24 @ Bears 27
7.) 06 NFC - Eagles 24 @ Saints 27
6.) 03 NFC - Packers 17 @ Eagles 20
5.) 02 AFC - Steelers 31 @ Titans 34

4.) 12 AFC - Ravens 38 @ Broncos 35
3.) 11 NFC - Saints 32 @ 49ers 36
2.) 06 AFC - Patriots 24 @ Chargers 21
1.) 05 AFC - Steelers 21 @ Colts 18


22.) 03 NFC - Panthers 14 @ Eagles 3
21.) 04 NFC - Falcons 10 @ Eagles 27
20.) 05 AFC - Steelers 34 @ Broncos 17
19.) 02 NFC - Buccaneers 27 @ Eagles 10
18.) 03 AFC - Colts 14 @ Patriots 24
17.) 05 NFC - Panthers 14 @ Seahawks 34
16.) 04 AFC - Patriots 41 @ Steelers 27
15.) 10 AFC - Jets 19 @ Steelers 24
14.) 10 NFC - Packers 21 @ Bears 14
13.) 02 AFC - Titans 24 @ Raiders 41
12.) 06 NFC - Saints 14 @ Bears 39
11.) 07 AFC - Chargers 12 @ Patriots 21
10.) 12 AFC - Ravens 28 @ Patriots 13
9.) 09 AFC - Jets 17 @ Colts 30
8.) 08 AFC - Ravens 14 @ Steelers 23
7.) 08 NFC - Eagles 25 @ Cardinals 32
6.) 12 NFC - 49ers 28 @ Falcons 24
5.) 11 AFC - Ravens 20 @ Patriots 23
4.) 11 NFC - Giants 20 @ 49ers 17
3.) 09 NFC - Vikings 28 @ Saints 31
2.) 07 NFC - Giants 23 @ Packers 20
1.) 06 AFC - Patriots 34 @ Colts 38

Super Bowl XLVII: Position Group Breakdowns

These teams on paper are really even right now since the Ravens are at their healthiest and the 49ers are not, so this should be interesting. I did this two years ago, and like that year both these two teams play a 3-4 on defense which makes the comparison easy.

**Just a quick stat about that 3-4 thing, 3-4 defenses haven't really dominated appearances in Super Bowls. Just a quick look:

'02 - 4-3 (TB) vs. 4-3 (OAK)
'03 - 4-3 (CAR) vs. 3-4 (NE)
'04 - 4-3 (PHI) vs. 3-4 (NE)
'05 - 4-3 (SEA) vs. 3-4 (PIT)
'06 - 4-3 (CHI) vs. 4-3 (IND)
'07 - 4-3 (NYG) vs. 3-4 (NE)
'08 - 4-3 (ARZ) vs. 3-4 (PIT)
'09 - 4-3* (NO) vs. 4-3 (IND)
'10 - 3-4 (GB) vs. 3-4 (PIT)
'11 - 4-3 (NYG) vs. 4-3 (NE)
'12 - 3-4 (SF) vs. 3-4 (BAL)

* - the Saints played a lot of 3-3-5 looks, but were on paper a 4-3 team.

Yeah, the 4-3 defense still works a lot, and works well.**

Anyway, let's get to the position breakdowns.

QB: J. Flacco vs. C. Kaepernick

For the first time since 2005, we don't have any 'elite' QBs in the Super Bowl, which is refreshing. For the first time since that same year, the winning QB won't be compared favorably by some idiots to Peyton Manning, so that is good for me. Anyway, Flacco and Kaepernick have both been great this postseason. It's really a choice of conventional drop-back QB vs. New-Wave QB, but I'll go a slightly different direction, and play the experience angle. I just don't trust Kaepernick against such a smart defense. Both QBs are facing the best defenses they have faced in the playoffs so they both have challenges. Overall, it is hard to really separate the two, but that might be more that I feel Kaepernick has been a little overrated.

Edge: Even

RB: R. Rice & B. Pierce vs. F. Gore vs L. James

Production and performance would tell you the 49ers. Frank Gore had a better year than Ray Rice running the ball, and LaMichael James came on strong late in the year to at least match what Bernard Pierce has done late in the year. However, there are two reasons why I lean to Baltimore here. The first is that the 49ers run offense was actually more efficient when Alex Smith was the QB, particularly with Gore (who averaged 5.8 ypc with Smith, and down to 4.1 with Kap), and the other is Ray Rice is a much better receiving option than Frank Gore at this point in their careers. The receiving area is where the 49ers really miss Kendall Hunter.

Edge: Ravens


WR: A. Boldin, T. Smith & J. Jones vs. M. Crabtree, R. Moss & T. Ginn

Both teams receiving corps are built somewhat similarly. They both have the possession receiver with underrated breakout ability at the #1 spot with Boldin and Crabtree. They both have deep threats at the #2 and #3 positions in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones against a more-used Randy Moss and Ted Ginn. They both don't have a real slot receiver type that many recent Super Bowl participants have had. In the end, I like the Ravens guys better in all of those catagories. I'm surprised the 49ers haven't really missed a beat without Mario Manningham, but they may miss him in this game. Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin are playing really well right now.

Edge: Ravens

TE: D. Pitta & E. Dickson vs. V. Davis & D. Walker

I'm not sure what happened to Ed Dickson's usage rate as a receiver this year, but it is clear that he is not really a receiving threat and is used almost purely for his blocking ability. Luckily for the Ravens, Dennis Pitta is a really good player and is coming off of a great game against the Patriots. All that said, the 49ers are better here. Delanie Walker hasn't been used much in the playoffs but his usage rate has increased with Kap as the starter. Vernon Davis showed that it was just lack of targets pushing his numbers down, but the Ravens aren't great at covering TEs.

Edge: 49ers

OL: Rejuvanated Ravens vs. Dominant 49ers

The Ravens O-Line is playing really, really well right now with their new combination. Putting Omiyele inside and moving Oher to RT, allowing McKinnie to start again has done wonders for this teams pass protection. Flacco is a pretty sackable QB, but he was rarely touched by the Broncos (really impressive) or the Patriots (not as impressive). Overall, the 49ers guys are just better. Anthony Davis can be had, but the other four are really good. Joe Staley has had a really impressive last two seasons. Iupati and Boone have been great inside and Goodwin has been a key addition the last two seasons. They have the NFL's best run-blocking o-line and one of the best pass-blocking o-lines. This is the 49ers biggest advantage in the game.

Edge: 49ers

DL: H. Ngata, M. Kemoeatu & P. McPhee vs. J. Smith, I. Sopoaga & R. McDonald

Ten weeks ago, this would easily go to 49ers. At that point, Justin Smith was healthy and Haloti Ngata was not with a PCL strain. Since then, Justin Smith is playing with partially torn triceps and Haloti Ngata looks as healthy as he has at any time over the past two seasons. They are two of the three best 3-4 DEs in the NFL (the other guy is a man named Watt), but their health is going in opposite directions. The other two guys are pretty even. I'm not sure why I think this, and the performance over the regular season definitely doesn't show it, but I think Ngata finding the magic elixir is just what the Ravens needed.

Edge: Ravens


OLB: T. Suggs & P. Kruger vs. A. Smith & A. Brooks

This is an interesting one. Aldon Smith has been average for a while now and he isn't good against the run. Suggs is still good against the run, but he is clearly not all the way back from his offseason achilles injury (which is not a surprise), and his pass rush has been lacking all year. Paul Kruger has become a much more effective player this season and has been the Ravens best pass rusher in each of the Ravens playoffs win, while Ahmad Brooks is just another above average player. I have no idea where to go hear with injury and lack of recent performance, so I'll just call it even.

Edge: Even

ILB: R. Lewis & D. Ellerbe vs. P. Willis & N. Bowman

Ray Lewis has a lot of tackles in the playoffs. That's nice, but it is easy to get a lot of tackles when your opponent runs about 85 plays a game. Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman have a lot of tackles as well, but that's a function of them being awesome. Lewis is a liability in coverage, while Willis and Bowman are great in coverage, allowing the 49ers to play four linebackers against 3-wide. Danell Ellerbe has really come on late in the season, but he's nowhere near either of the two 49ers ILBs. This is the biggest advantage either team has at any position.

Edge: 49ers

CB: C. Williams, C. Brown & C. Graham vs. C. Rogers, T. Brown & C. Culliver

Fun fact, a lot of these corners' names start with the letter 'C'. Anyway, the Ravens are interesting because none of the three are really great, and the best one is probably the one that usually covers the slot (Corey Graham) and the 49ers have no natural slot receiver. Cary Williams has played better in the playoffs, admittedly. On the 49ers side, Carlos Rogers has still been good but his play dropped after a stellar 2011 season. Tarrelle Brown is a solid player, if unspectacular, and Chris Culliver is physical, but has no natural player to match up against (something like Graham). There is no real edge in coverage, but the Ravens guys seem to have better ball skills now that we see that Rogers' 6-int season in 2011 was a fluke.

Edge: Ravens

S: E. Reed & B. Pollard vs. D. Goldson & D. Whitner

There's one first-ballot future hall of famer in this group, and while Ed Reed is clearly not the player he once was, there is a reason that the Ravens have allowed just one throw of more than 20 yards to be completed (Brady's pass to Welker on a sweet double-move). Opposing QBs are still scared of throwing Reed's way. Bernard Pollard is effective, but a liability in coverage. The 49ers' duo was great all year long, but Dashon Goldson has been lost in coverage a lot this postseason. Whitner is essentially a Pollard-esque hitter who also can cover. This is real close, and off of the 2012 performance as a whole, it goes to the 49ers.

Edge: 49ers

ST: J. Tucker, S. Koch & J. Jones vs. D. Akers, A. Lee & T. Ginn

The 49ers had one of the league's best special teams in 2011, but that didn't really carry over. The Ravens had one of the best special teams in 2012, and that hasn't really carried over to the playoffs either. The 49ers have the better punter, but the Ravens have the better kicker. There is a huge experience advantage, with Tucker being a rookie, but David Akers has really struggled this season while Tucker has been money. The Ravens had the best return game during the regular season, and since the 49ers don't force a ton of touchbacks, that's another place where their Special Teams edge could be felt.

Edge: Ravens

Final Tally: 5-4-2 in favor of Baltimore

Ravens edge at RB, WR, DL, CB, ST

49ers edge at TE, OL, ILB, S

Even at QB, OLB

Pick coming tomorrow. Some random playoff stuff coming later today.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.