Every week some random dolt, troubled by the thought of college and pro football living together in sin here in this part of the country, asks me this question. And well…some times the random dolt is right.
Let’s face it – in an average year, the NFL can’t carry college football’s jockstrap. The college game is more passionate and more affordable than the pro alternative with only a fraction of the prima donna element. But 2008 was no average year.
The League dominated the past year with storylines more outrageous than a Rod Blagojevich phone transcript. Brett Favre abandons his small town Wisconsin upbringing for stardom in the Big Apple. A geriatric Kerry Collins leads the Titans to the playoffs after Vince Young took his gun for a late-night ride. Michael Vick playing for the Mean Machine in Leavenworth. Tom Brady’s knee breaks up with him and he still bags a supermodel on the rebound. And the new “worst team of all time” finds an apropos new home – Detroit.
This year in particular, with all the big budgets, overpaid actors and unexpected twists and turns, the 2008 NFL was straight out of Hollywood. And with the offseason just weeks away, what’s Hollywood without an awards season. So without further delay, it’s time to honor the players, coaches, teams and minutiae (sorry, Pat Forde) that provided us with the best of the 2008 NFL regular season.
Best Player – Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta – How impressive is Ryan’s 11-5 record as a starter in his rookie season? Well, no rookie QB who started all 16 regular season games in the modern era of the NFL ever won more than six of them. But what’s more impressive was that Ryan accomplished this feat in Atlanta, where he and another rookie [Head Coach Mike Smith] have made most Falcons’ fans forget about the exploits of former QB and “rape stand” creator Michael Vick.
Best Coach – Tony Sparano, Miami – Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher or Atlanta’s Mike Smith could have easily slipped into the top spot here, but no one can top Sparano’s story. He was Bill Parcells’ top assistant in Dallas for several years before following his mentor to Miami in the wake of the Dolphins’ 1-15 season in 2007. Parcells, who was tapped to be Miami’s new general manager, took a chance that Sparano’s no-nonsense, disciplined approach would have an immediate impact. But a ten-game turnaround? That had to surprise even Parcells. The Dolphins posted an 11-5 record and won their first division title in more than six years.
Best Team – Tennessee Titans – I know, I know, I’m being preemptive. Remember, these are regular season awards. We’ll let the Super Bowl sort out the final verdict on this query.
But consider the circumstances surrounding the Titans early this year. Vince Young, perhaps the most hyped NFL product since…well, Mike Vick…goes crazy after a win against Jacksonville and drives around Nashville with a case of the blues, a loaded gun and no cell phone, forcing the team to initiate a police-led search to find him. Head Coach Jeff Fisher benched Young in favor of 36-year-old journeyman Kerry Collins, who proceeded to lead the team to a 13-3 regular season and a first-round bye. And as if relying on Collin’s middle-aged arm wasn’t risky enough, the team turned over it’s rushing attack to East Carolina rookie Chris Johnson. Johnson responded by finishing as the league’s eighth-best back, compiling 1,228 yards this season.
Best Game – Dallas at Arizona, Oct. 12, 2008 – Back when Dallas was still a contender and we were wondering if Arizona could be, the two teams squared off in the desert back in October. From the opening kickoff (returned by Arizona for a TD), to the opening minute of overtime (a blocked Dallas punt returned for a TD), this was a game dominated by big plays in crucial moments. Dallas scored nine points in 59 seconds to force overtime, but Arizona’s defense and special teams came up big in the extra period. Monty Beisel’s blocked punt for a touchdown gave the Cards a 30-24 win.
Best Schadenfreude – Dallas Cowboys – Yeah, yeah, I hear you yelling about the Patriots. But come on, you can’t beat the Cowboys here. They started off the season as the nearly unanimous NFC Super Bowl pick. HBO turned their mini-camp into a mini-series. Their roster is packed with egomaniacs (Terrell Owens) and felons (Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones). The team is owned by a modern-day Machiavelli (Jerry Jones). Their quarterback (Tony Romo) is dating Jessica Simpson. And the whole damn organization reeks of that irrational and inscrutable Texas superiority complex. So when they finish the season with two embarrassing losses and no playoff birth, we don’t just rejoice, we damn near break out in song.
Best NFL coverage – The NFL goes to spectacular lengths to polish, sanitize and gloss-over every aspect of its image, including press coverage. And most of the agencies that cover the league oblige. Therefore, each week is the same banal routine. This player is injured…boy are they going to miss him. This player builds playgrounds in his spare time. This team has overcome/succumbed to impossible odds. Etc., etc.
Thank God that the rise of the blogosphere, how ever damaging to our livelihood in the newspaper game, has finally injected a bit of jocularity into the No Fun League. And when it comes to the gold standard of NFL blogging, surf no further than KissingSuzyKolber.com.
The site, named in memory of Joe Namath’s drunken pass attempt at an ESPN sideline reporter during a Monday Night Football broadcast years ago, brings you topical NFL news by way of bawdy fiction writing. Hypothetical conversations between a hapless Wade Phillips and a domineering Jerry Jones are hysterical. The brooding rivalry between young quarterbacks Phillip Rivers and Jay Cutler is distilled into the recurring series: “Marmalard vs. Cutlerf**ker.” And we’d be remiss to forget “Tony and Jess,” the misadventures of gosh-darn-quarterback Tony Romo and his buxom love interest Jessica Simpson. It’s not safe for work or for children, but neither is “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” And no one wants to live in a world without “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
So that’s the best of the best from the year you should have watched, but probably did not. But the best is only half the story. The worst…well, that’s so much more fun. Check back next week for Part II, the worst of the best NFL season ever.