Friday, October 16, 2015

Michigan QBs in my lifetime, #6 through 10

Alright, so a couple people have expressed some skepticism of how clear my memories of watching Elvis Grbac could possibly be. I'll go right out and say it, I have very few memories of him at all. I willingly concede that the highly simplified and unsophisticated snippets of memory that I have of guys like Elvis and Todd Collins don't give me anywhere near the full picture of their careers. However, I'll argue that this in no way invalidates my feelings and perceptions of them as a child, just starting to get exposed to sports and to my future college choice--both of which have heavily affected the direction of my life to this point. Anyway, I'm veering a little too close to sentimentality and philosophy here, so I'll cut myself off and just give my write-ups for Michigan Qbs number 10 through 6 on my list.

10. Tate Forcier (2009-10)

Shining moments: 
- We'll always have '09 Notre Dame
- That wonderful/awful 67-65 Illinois game in 2010

What I thought when I was 22:
I wanted Denard. I was blown away by Tate's incredible clutch play during the Notre Dame/Indiana/MSU stretch, but I'll freely admit now that I was secretly (not always secretly) rooting for Tate to fail so Denard could take over. Once that magical September run ended, fail is exactly what he did. First mildly (@Iowa), then spectacularly (OSU), then hilariously (actually getting the wings removed from his helmet by Rich Rod), then embarrassingly (crying by himself on the sideline as Denard demolishes UCONN), and finally kind of sadly (flunking out of UofM, transferring to 3 more schools and never playing a single down for any of them). Such a fast rise and such a steep fall, but one thing I'll say for Tate was that he was exciting to watch on the field and played with a certain pre-Manziel flair. And that Notre Dame game lives on.

9. Todd Collins (1993-94)

Shining moment:
- '94 @ Notre Dame, final drive to set up the Remy Hamilton game-winner,
Bowl Games: Hall of Fame (W), Holiday (W)

What I thought when I was  7:
I barely remember Todd Collins at all, even less than Elvis Grbac. That Notre Dame drive, listening to the '94 Hall of Fame Bowl, and watching the 95' Holiday Bowl are really my only specific memories of him. I got a little more excited about the Holiday Bowl game than I should have, thinking that knocking off 10-1 Colorado State was some big upset (I didn't really understand mid-majors at that point), and that it somewhat made up for the Hail Mary game against Colorado earlier in that season (you know, because they were from the same state).

In hindsight:
Collins seems to have had a very solid, but unspectacular 2 years as the starter. This was in the era where 4 losses was a major disappointment for Michigan, so two consecutive 8-4 seasons with him at the helm probably didn't sit well with a lot of people. I wonder now whether he got the same type of John Navarre-like abuse from the fan base at the time, and I just wasn't aware of it. Even so, he was still a big enough talent to get picked in the 2nd round of the NFL draft and had a long career, so he must have been pretty good overall at UofM.

8. Scott Dreisbach (1995-98)

Shining moment:
- '95 Virginia, pass to Mercury Hayes on the final play; and the way Brent Musburger says, "ssScotty, Dreis-bach!" right after.

What I thought when I was in elementary school:
I was far more in awe of Mercury Hayes and Amani Toomer at the time, so I wasn't necessarily paying that much attention to Dreisbach. I didn't really trust Griese after the Outback Bowl on New Year's '97, when his unbelievably stupid pick-6 cost them the Alabama game and caused Pops to whip a big roll of masking tape across his classroom and nearly put a hole through the opposite wall. With that in mind, I would have preferred that Dreisbach retain the starting job for the '97 season, but that season's result suggests that they had the right guy under center. I felt kind of sorry for Dreisbach, because it seemed like it was injuries more than anything else that put a halt to a promising career.

In hindsight:
Dreisbach to Mercury Hayes was the exact moment when my Michigan football fandom went to a new level, for many reasons. First, when I was in 2nd grade was the point where I could really start to sit through a full game by myself and either watch or listen to the entire thing from start to finish. This was also when I started reading the newspaper, so in the Detroit News/Free Press double Sunday edition, I was starting to check box scores, game recaps, and Wojo/Mitch Albom analysis the day after in edition to following most games on Saturday. Up until then, my only vivid Michigan memories are of bowl games and Desmond Howard, but by 1995 I was starting to know the names and numbers of a lot of different players. Finally, Michigan football took on an increased importance in our household in 1995, since this was the year that my cousin Tate walked onto the team, making the Virginia game his first time in a Michigan uniform. Unfortunately, Dreisbach dealt with a lot of injuries, and Michigan was stacked at the QB position in a way that I couldn't possibly comprehend back then (Griese, Brady, and Henson are a pretty tough trio to compete with, especially coming back from injury), so he really fell off the radar even by the end of that first season and never did much else from then on.

7. John Navarre (2000-03)

Shining moments:
- '03 @Minnesota, the epic 4th quarter comeback that probably saved him from getting lynched by an angry mob upon returning to town. He also had an awesome trick play receiving TD in that game.
- '03 Ohio State, his finest hour.
Bowl Games: Citrus (L), Outback (W), Rose (L)

What I thought when I was going through puberty:
John Navarre was the first Michigan player that I ever disliked. Maybe this is just because of the sturm and drang of adolescence, but it also might have had something to do with the inordinate number of passes that John Navarre got knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Or how he never once eluded a pass rusher in 4 years. Nor showed the faintest trace of emotion after crushing my hopes for another dream season, with 1997 fresh in my mind and an insanely talented supporting cast for 3 of those years.  Whatever the case, I didn't not care for the football stylings of John Navarre for about 3 1/2 seasons, and came to a grudging respect for the guy when he finally put it together a little bit a the end of his senior year. Michigan had all the pieces for undefeated regular seasons in 2000, 2001, and 2003, and my teenage self put the blame squarely on Navarre that all of those years ended with 3 or more losses.

In hindsight: 
The last half of his last season did a lot to make up for his previous shortcomings, and he did leave Michigan with a ton of passing records, and was named the 1st team All-Big 10 quarterback in 2003. He got an unbelievable amount of criticism from his own fans, and handled it with class, so I guess I have to respect that. At the same time though, I'll always associate Navarre with 1st and 3rd down passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage, and he is the poster child for an era of near-misses and unfulfilled expectations for Michigan football.

6. Brian Griese (1995-97)

Shining moments:
- '97 @Penn State, unbelievably scrambling 40 yards. Hitting Woodson across the middle to cap off the drive
- '95 @OSU, the quick slant across the middle to Tai Streets.
Bowl Games: 
'95 Alamo (L), '97 Outback (L), '98 Rose (W)

What I thought when I was in elementary school:
I was aware that his own dad, "Bob Grease" had been also been a famous quarterback. I was also aware that Brian Griese had gotten drunk and made an idiot of himself in the offseason. I knew that with Dreisbach in '95, Michigan was undefeated; with Brian Griese in '95, Michigan was not undefeated. Remember that roll of tape that Pops sent flying across his classroom? Brian Griese's fault. I thought that Michigan still could have won the Rose Bowl with Scott Dreisbach in '97.

In hindsight:
Griese was the consummate game manager during the National Championship season, and he quarterbacked three huge upsets over undefeated teams late in the season (two on the road, two against OSU), but for a guy with so few tangible iconic moments, statistics, or spectacular plays, I just can't put him any higher on the list. For what it's worth, Griese might be one of the all-time 'slightly above average' quarterbacks in Big 10 history. I also don't really understand why he was the one who got lifted up on his teammates' shoulders after the Ohio State game in '97 and not Woodson.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ranking all the Michigan QBs of my lifetime

Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Drew Henson, John Navarre, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett, Nick Sheridan, Steven Threet, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Shane Morris.

Those are all of the Michigan quarterbacks that I remember in my lifetime (being born in 1987), and as I love to rank things, I figured that putting all of them in order based on their contributions to Michigan football as I've grown up would be an amusing way to spend the evening. There are 15 of them in all.

Since age and context play such an important role in memory, I've tried to do as little research as I can possibly get away with, while still having a somewhat objective list. As much as possible, my criteria stays away from stats (freshman starters and passing offenses make it pretty much worthless to make comparisons in this way), and instead focus on memorable moments, individual performances, and famous wins. The other aspect here is how I personally related to each of these players at different ages and awareness levels throughout my life, seeing these guys first as superheroes, later as famous classmates and peers, and now as 'kids', and fluctuating between naivety and cynicism at every stage.

That's probably all the pretext that's necessary, so without further ado, here is my ranking of every starting Michigan QB that I've ever watched, as well as my clearest memories of them. I'll start with just numbers 15 through 11 tonight.

15. Shane Morris (2013-current)

Shining moment: 
-Getting that concussion against Minnesota, ultimately sealing Brady Hoke's and Dave Brandon's collective fate.

What I think:
Shane still has 2 years or so to potentially rise on the list, but as it stands, the guy has unfortunately done zilch as a UofM QB. No wins, no great plays, not even a single touchdown pass yet.

14. Nick Sheridan/13. Steven Threet (2008)

Shining moments:
-  (Sheridan) Leading a touchdown drive on the first possession of the Rich Rod era.
- (Sheridan) @Minnesota '08, a surprisingly competent showing in a 29-6 win.
- (Threet) '08 Wisconsin second half comeback

What I thought when I was 21:
Sheridan simply isn't talented enough to be playing Division 1 football, let alone starting in the Big 10 (back when it was the Big 11). Threet actually has some skills and decent composure, but is in the worst possible offensive system for his relative strengths.

In hindsight: 
Sheridan and Threet. As the Michigan stadium PA guy says about 'Temptation' and 'Hawaiian War Chant', "because you can't have one without the other". They'll be forever linked as far as Michigan football goes for their role during the Rich Rod disaster. Sheridan was the opening day starter, but I still think Threet was better and certainly a different caliber of player than Sheridan, which people don't always seem to realize. Threet, after all, did go on to become Arizona State's starting QB after leaving the Rich Rod regime.

12. Devin Gardner (2010-14)

Shining moments:
-'13 Notre Dame 'Under the Lights 2'®
-'13 The 42-41 Ohio State game
-'13 Back to back 4th quarter comebacks against Akron and UCONN (sorry, that was mean)

What I thought 2 years ago:
While less exciting than the incomparable Denard, "New 98" was poised to become a more consistent dual threat QB, ending the era where every run was an adventure, and every deep pass was a different type of adventure.

In hindsight:
I feel bad for talking shit about Devin, but the hard truth is that his most productive and mistake-free football for the Wolverines came when he was playing receiver, and his best quarterback play happened when he was the most out of practice (switching back from receiver in the middle of 2012). The near-upset of OSU notwithstanding, his remaining two years was a long and maddening downfall where potential and talent slowly become irreconcilable with reality and results. Due to how much worse his backups were, Devin was still basically unbenchable even after his confidence was completely shattered. Maybe that was some sort of justice from the football gods for getting a phony medical redshirt and essentially playing 5 years.

11. Ryan Mallett (2007)

Shining moments:
- 07' Notre Dame shellacking
- 07' win over Top 10 Penn State
- 07' Randomly sitting at my breakfast table in West Quad, allowing me to eavesdrop on him bragging to his buddy about partying in Canada the previous weekend (this was in-season, the week before the Ohio State game, if memory serves)

What I thought when I was 20:
Mallett was the first Michigan quarterback to be younger than me, and arriving in Ann Arbor right around the same time as I did, he was the first player on this list who I looked at as an actual person, rather than the larger than life heroes or bums that I only saw on TV previously (even being just 2 years older than me, Henne fell into the latter category in my mind). Mallett was also the first one that I would 'hear stories' about, from people who had some sort of interaction with them around campus. I can't say for certain whether any of the following stories are actually true, but as they say, perception is reality.

Here is a pretty good cross-section of my perception of Ryan Mallett as a person at that time:
- One of the frat boys from Beta who was on my freshman hall partied with Mallett a few times when he early-enrolled, and 'loved him', despite the majority of everyone else seeming to find him a pretty arrogant and unlikable guy. Beta got kicked off of campus that Spring, by the way.
- Occasionally tried to pick up girls at the Steve and Barry's by lurking near a crate of foam footballs and throwing the footballs at the girls to get their attention.
- Lloyd Carr once called him into the coaches office and told Mallett, "I don't like anything about you".

In hindsight: 
The guy had a howitzer for an arm, won some games in his few starts, hard to blame him for ditching Rich Rod, ended up having a great career at Arkansas. I still don't really like anything about him though.

I'll try to have the Top 10 done sometime before Saturday.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Under the Golden Dome

By Sunday evening, the Lions could have the best record in the NFL.

I had to go back and check the standings a few times just to make sure that was right. The last time writing a sentence like that in November would have even seemed plausible was before I knew how to write, so the very idea will take some getting used to. If sudden superstar Golden Tate and finally healthy Calvin Johnson can get the best of the Arizona's vaunted secondary, despite my justified skepticism, I might even have to admit that the DTLs have finally become valid contenders in the NFC.

I'm still not convinced in the slightest that this run is going to hold up, but the past month has definitely been fun. Stafford, while putting up some of the lowest numbers of his career for about the first 3 1/2 quarters of games, continues to build upon a growing collection of thrilling comeback victories, while the best Lions defense of any of our lifetimes keeps the team in games long enough for Staff and the offense to finally wake up in crunch time. With the return of Calvin last week, one can make a strong case that Bromo now has the best receiving combo in the league, as Golden creates big play after big play. I can't understand how the offense continues to struggle so much for the majority of games; the irony of the Jim Caldwell hire is that the offensive-minded coach can't get more output out of his star-studded offense, while the defense has soared to heights far beyond anything they ever did under the defensive-minded Schwartz. Then again, 7-2 isn't the time to complain or to wax paradoxical.

Welcoming Back an Old Friend

Almost as unlikely as the significance of the match-up against the 8-1 Cardinals is the quarterback who Dom and Co. will be lining up against; with Carson Palmer's ACL tear late in last week's game, Drew Stanton will be thrust into the starting spot for Arizona.

While Stanton never got any higher than third on the Lions' QB depth chart, I've always been impressed with his gamer mentality at MSU (there's no way Michigan wins the famous Braylon Edwards game in 2004 without Stanton getting injured), and his steady play for the games in 2010 when he was forced into action. Despite limited traditional quarterbacking skills, Stanton is truly a gamer, and has already gone 2-1 starting in place of Palmer earlier this year. I don't think Palmer's absence will make this one any easier.

Stanton may or may not have history on his side in coming back to face the Lions for the first time since leaving the team. The much-maligned John Kitna, Joey Harrington, and Rodney Peete all came back to embarrass the Lions in this situation (Joey had probably the best game of his career for Miami on Thanksgiving, Rodney put up 51 points on the DTLs in less than 3 quarters in a playoff game). Then again, Stanton wasn't very maligned while in Detroit, and neither was Erik Kramer, who lost his first 6 games to the Lions as a member of the Chicago Bears.

I Like Notre Dame.

I know this isn't exactly befitting of 'Michigan Men', and my friend H is going to skewer me for this. However, with the recent play of Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, now seems as good of a time as any for this admission. I like Notre Dame, and have since about 2002. The history, the mystique, the mythology, the life and lies of Knute Rockne, the fight song, the occasional green jerseys, the Navy rivalry, the exclusive contract with NBC, the awesome players that they're suddenly giving to the DTLs. It's fun when they win big games, and it's even more fun when they lose big games. I've seen Rudy about 20 times. I find it awesome that Joe Montana seems to be jealous that a movie was made about his shitty walk-on teammate instead of him. I've watched them rip MSU's heart out plenty of memorable times. Denard Robinson had 950 yards and 8 touchdowns in two games against them.

As long as they're not playing against Michigan, I generally root for Notre Dame about 75% percent of the time. As long as Golden and Theo keep saving the day for the Lions, that number might rise.

I was recently reading Murray Sperber's Shake Down the Thunder, a book that chronicles the early years of Notre Dame football, and was struck by just how similar college football still is today as in the 1920s: Recruiting violations, NCAA reform, innovative offenses that open up the field for smaller and quicker players, lucrative neutral site games, conference realignment, oversigning, early season cupcake games, coaches making more money than university presidents, right down to the crappy Grantland articles every week. I highly recommend the book for anyone looking for some perspective to the current changes in the college football landscape.

On the Horizon 

The Lions potentially have 2 consecutive road games that could be battles for the best record in the NFL; first against the Cardinals, then coming out to my stomping grounds in Boston next week against the Pats. That weekend I'll be going to the Harvard-Yale game instead, but like last year I've already booked a flight back to Michigan for the final home game against the Vikings.

There are still 4 remaining games on the schedule that are automatic losses in most years (8-1 Cards, 7-2 Pats, late season game at Chicago, Packers at Lambeau), so any talk about home field advantage or even a playoff spot is still preposterously premature. Regardless, this has all the makings of a very exciting remainder of the season, and I can't wait to head back to Ford Field in a month, either to watch a 10-3 squad wrap up a division title, or a 7-6 team hanging on for dear life.

Find @HBromo1 on Twitter starting at 4:25 tomorrow for commentary on the Lions' first clash for NFC supremacy in over 20 years.

Forward down the field...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

5 Burning Questions After Week 5

After serving a league-mandated five week suspension, first for calling Roger Goodell a liar, and then for viciously beating myself with a switch rather than watch the Lions attempt a field goal, Bromothymol is back!

To shake off the rust, I'm going to handle this post in the style of the first verse of Craig David's "7 Days",  in which the moderately underrated singer asks himself a bunch of questions, then answers them and expresses contempt for himself for having the audacity to ask them in the first place.

In the first verse of "7 Days", when listening to his own story about successfully asking somebody out, Craig David not only assumes the worst (Did she decline?…No), second guesses his own tact and forwardness (Didn't she mind?…I don't think so), questions the story's authenticity (Was it for real?…Damn sure), and needs more details before taking the boast at face value (What was the deal? A pretty girl, age twenty-four). 

That's pretty much how I feel five games into the Jim Caldwell era. I've seen plenty of reasons to start getting optimistic again, but then there's always that nagging Craig David in the back of my head that's going to need to hear a bit more of this story to see if if all checks out.

With that said, here are the 5 burning questions that I'm asking myself about Lions football, with 5 answers that are equally burning.

1. Is the new offense any better than the last one?
I tried typing this one into Multivac, but all it spit out was: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.

Maybe it's just the injuries, but it doesn't really look like. Stafford's decision making has mostly been better, he's spreading the ball around more, and Golden Tate has been awesome…so why aren't they moving the ball better? 7 points against the Panthers, 19 against the Pack, and they didn't come anywhere close to scoring in the second half last Sunday against the Bills (seeing as field goal range equates to 'not anywhere close' these days).  Calvin Johnson's injury and the fact that they're now down to the 4th string running back hopeful have something to do with that, but even at full strength, or as close to full strength as any NFL team can hope to be, the output has still been inconsistent. One minute, you've got Golden Tate stepping up in the slot for a huge catch and run, the next you're trying to throw 40 yard bombs to Jed Collins. Don't tell me that's part of the new 'system', and that it's just a matter of time before Jed starts reeling those in on a regular basis.

2. Can the Lions win the NFC North, or is another collapse during the second half of the season inevitable?

We know what we're dealing with here; being who they are, a second half collapse is always a distinct possibility. However, I really do think this time around, the train wreck is at least evitable. One thing I've noticed since Caldwell took over is that the team as a whole at least gives off the aura of being even-keeled, whereas even in the best of times with Schwartz the atmosphere was as volatile as can be. With Caldwell, there have still been a lot of penalties, but none of the insanely stupid variety yet. There are still some turnovers at bad times, but not the constant tension and panic yet. The fans are still booing, but at least it's just at the kicker and not at everyone else yet (the opposite of what we saw in the days of 'The Best in the Business').

Just like in 2013, the NFC North seems to be there for taking for Bromo. But honestly, if they couldn't do it last year, with literally every single variable falling in the Lions' favor (Easiest schedule I've ever seen them have, plenty of home games down the stretch, lengthy injuries to the QBs of other contenders, division rivals having terrible seasons, 4th quarter leads in every single game), it's really hard for me to sit here and say that they have a good chance this year, even after another decent start. 

I still haven't gotten over last year. I mean, if they couldn't win it last year…it's like a line that Pops once asked me, when I chastised him for suggesting that the only job opportunities for midgets are either as actors or circus performers.

"Well what else is there??"

3. Is this finally the year that the Lions win more games than Michigan football?

Now the sad part about this question is that they might have already done so. Lions up 3 to 2 right now, and after watching Michigan play the first half of their season, what game left on the schedule looks winnable? I mean, if you struggle with Miami of Ohio, can't beat Rutgers, and can't even compete with Utah or Minnesota…(see: Pops, Midgets)

The last time Bromo has won more games than Michigan was back in 1995 (Lions 10-6, Michigan 8-4), and the late season free-fall by both teams last year ended in a 7-7 tie. When people are without irony recalling the glory days of Rich Rodriguez (if you hear my friend H tell it, you would think they won at least 3 Rose Bowls w/ RichRod), it can't possibly bode well for the current regime. I wrote a post a few months ago semi-defending athletic director Dave Brandon, and fully defending the decision to wear blue pants for the Penn State night game. That blue pants game is finally coming up this weekend and those pants are literally the least of anyone connected to Michigan football's worries, but Dave Brandon and everyone he's ever hired are looking more and more indefensible with each passing day. 

The Lions might not have a great season, but they will definitely win more games than Michigan this year. 

4. Hey, could some of you guys carry me off the field if we win on Sunday?

Any lingering doubt as to whether the Lions made the right move in firing Jim Schwartz was put to bed immediately following the Bills game. Is it even worth it to stick it to your old employers if you can't help but make a complete ass of yourself gloating about it afterwards?

Who gets carried off the field following an early regular season game? Who ASKS their players to carry them off the field? Since when is it the defensive coordinator rather than the head coach that gets carried off the field? Actually, I don't know how I even remember this, but Jerry Sandusky did, and that's worked out pretty well for him.

I see your Schwartz is as big as mine.

5. Why isn't H-Bromo on Twitter yet?

Oh wait, it is! I don't exactly know how to use Twitter yet, but follow @HBromo1 starting NOW for live commentary on game days, as well as any other rants that I can keep to 140 characters or less. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ain't Gonna Be No Rematch.

At this point, the Rocky movies have been sequeled, parodied, and copied so many times that the entire franchise has been reduced to a running joke in many people's eyes. This is really too bad, because at its original core, the first Rocky movie is an enthralling story of the ultimate underdog, given the opportunity of a lifetime, going the distance. By the end of the final round, even with the result of the fight still in doubt, an injured and embarrassed Apollo tells Rocky, "Ain't gonna be no rematch", before being declared the winner in a split decision a few seconds later. "Don't want one", said Rocky.

Appalachian State, 2007. I had that exact thought after watching Brandent Engelmon intercept an errant Armanti Edwards pass late in the 4th quarter, one play after Michigan had finally taken a 32-31 lead. Michigan had trailed for the entire second half against an opponent that few people in the stadium had even heard of before, in a game that should have never been played to begin with. The heavyweight Wolverines were wholly under-prepared and equally unmotivated to play that afternoon, taking punch after punch from the surprising Mountaineers before finally countering with a haymaker of their own, a 54 yard Mike Hart touchdown run, followed by Engelmon's interception on the following play. App State had gone the distance, but Michigan was going to survive. Ain't gonna be no rematch, I thought. Go back to wherever in Appalachia that you're from, and please don't ever come back.

This was my sophomore year of college at UofM. If you'd told me that final exams were going to be cancelled, with an end-of-semester kegger at Mary Sue Coleman's house instead, I'd have said the odds of that happening were considerably higher than Appalachian State hanging around with the Wolverines in the football opener.

Around the second week of August, as I slept back in northern Michigan, I had a dream about the game. My only memory of the dream is sitting in the student section at the Big House, with a vivid image of the scoreboard on the opposite end of the stadium:
Appalachian State 30    Michigan 29
I woke up a little bit shaken, but calmed down quickly enough that I could chuckle about it as I ate my breakfast that morning. There was no premonition shit going on, just a stupid dream. I was heading back to Ann Arbor in a few weeks, and everything was going to be good. 30-29, ha. There was a better chance of Welcome Week running out of beer.

The night before the game, we were partying at our friend Z's house on West Stadium, right in the shadow of the Big House. Someone would try to mention the game every once in a while, but no one was very interested. My friend Hunter yelled out, "Fuck the Mountaineers!!" once or twice, but only got a few polite laughs out of it. Yeah right. No one cares about the Mountaineers. To be quite honest, I didn't even know they were called the Mountaineers until he said that. We tried to figure out exactly how much Michigan was favored by. Vegas didn't even offer a point spread. My brother tried to convince a crowd of people that Appalachian State might not be that awful. "They've won two consecutive national championships", he said. Ha. The wheelchair division doesn't count, big bro. "People need to take this team seriously," he said. "If we can just win by two touchdowns tomorrow, that's fine with me". He was absolutely lying. Anything less than a 40 point win would be a University-wide embarrassment. Someone spilled beer on my Jordans and I struck out with a girl I'd been flirting with. I figured that was going to be the worst part of my weekend.

By the time noon rolled around on Saturday, the indifference towards the football game had worn off, at least inside the Big House. When Michael Hart led the team out of the tunnel and under the Go Blue banner, the student section absolutely exploded. They were one touchdown away from making the National Championship game the year before, and almost the entire offense was coming back. We were in for a special season, even if it was just Appalachian State for now. 109,000+ people in that stadium were fully convinced that the team running out onto the field was about to make a serious run at the National Championship. Michigan took the opening kickoff, ran the offense as if it were a team scrimmage against the third-stringers, and Hart easily scored a touchdown about 3 minutes into the game. It got a little bit weird after that.

Every one of App State's playmakers had a goofy name. Armanti Edwards at QB. Dexter Jackson at WR, but not the Dexter Jackson that was in the NFL, the one that couldn't get a scholarship to a real school. There was CoCo Hilary, cuckoo for his first chance to play in front of more than 300 people. Hans Batichon. Watching The Mighty Ducks had left me pretty confident that a black guy couldn't be named Hans. Jim-Bob Norman at the other receiver slot. Come on. Yet on third-and-long on their opening drive, Edwards threw a quick slant to Dexter Jackson, Johnny Sears had his first of about 9 missed tackles on the day, and 75 yards later, the score was tied. The App State sideline was going nuts. They could have lost 52-7, and on the bus ride back, all they'd be talking about was when Dexter got loose in the first quarter.

It wasn't until halftime that I first thought, "there is a legitimate chance that we might lose this game". The sorority girls had seen enough by that point, most of them sitting down for good and unsuccessfully trying to text each other even as the third quarter started back up. Appalachian State was up 28-17 and getting the ball.

There were all kinds of theories and unsubstantiated rumors going around about how Michigan could have possibly played so poorly against such an obviously inferior opponent. Did Lloyd Carr even show them any film on this team? Did they even know that App State ran a spread offense? Was any time spent in practice preparing for this game, or were they using this tune-up game as a chance to get some extra work in for Oregon and Notre Dame? I watched Johnny Sears play so terribly and show up so out of position throughout the entire game that I thought to myself, "is this guy on drugs or something?" Before the final kickoff, he was so shook that he started running to the wrong side of the field before catching himself and following the rest of the team to the correct spot. He was supposed to be the kick returner. The Mountaineers had two separate possessions with a 31-20 lead, but made their own mistakes to keep Michigan in it.

The one positive takeaway from that game was the determination of Mike Hart. 188 yards and 3 touchdowns, including an impassioned 54 yard run to finally steal the lead back late in the 4th. The scream from the crowd as Hart passed the final defender sounded different than any crowd noise I've heard before or after. It was a scream of pure relief, a joyless, chilling, and nearly hysterical 'THANK YOU' to the savior of the season. Then Engelmon's interception. Then the unthinkable.

People remember the blocked field goal on the final play of the game, but almost forgotten is the series of bizarre instances during the final 4 minutes of that game. Michigan's offense stalled on that next possession, barely ticking down any of the clock, and then getting a first field goal blocked. App State marched down the field, getting a first down inside the 5 yard line with 30 seconds. Their coach then made a horrendous coaching decision that very nearly cost them the greatest upset in college football history; instead of letting the clock wind down to 1 second, he decided to kick a field goal on first down, giving App State the 34-32 lead, but also giving Michigan one more chance. With that chance, Chad Henne found Mario Manningham deep down the sideline to get Michigan back into field goal range for one final opportunity to avert disaster.

I was watching the game standing next to a friend who was pretty new to football. While Michigan set up for the final kick, he asked, "if he misses the kick, do you think there will still be enough time left to try another one?" The polite answer was a simple 'no'. I'm pretty sure I didn't use the polite answer.

The kick got blocked. Ain't gonna be no rematch.

Some of the things I vividly remember about walking back to South Quad after the game:
-20,000 students, including me, were badly sunburned to go along with their sudden depression. College kids don't wear sunscreen, and under any other circumstances, it would have been pretty comical to see that many burned faces all at the same time.
- The guy on the bongos. Anyone who's walked down Hoover Street to get to a game knows who I'm talking about, the bongo guy busking near the IM building who makes up rhymes about the game and the people walking by. He rapped out, "Don't feel bad 'bout the Mountaineers/they're all still a bunch of hill-billy queers." People wanted to laugh at his rhyme, but there was no mirth to be had.
- That was one of the few times that I've wanted to disassociate myself from the University of Michigan. All over a stupid game, sure, but we all know it's bigger than that.

Michigan football has not been the same since.

As with Rocky and Apollo, whether they wanted it or not, a rematch was inevitable. 7 years later, the psyche of Michigan football is still deeply haunted by that day, don't let anyone convince you otherwise. I'm a firm believer in the power of symbolism, and Saturday's game is symbolic.In order to meet their demons head on, Michigan-Appalachian State II needed to happen. And while the first time around was pure opportunity for the darlings from rural North Carolina, now there's at least a seedling of opportunity for the once-mighty Wolverines: while they can never undo what happened the first time these two teams met, a victory (any victory) on Saturday will be a small step towards atonement and escaping a few of those ghosts of 2007.

Take nothing for granted. Go the distance.

Happy college football season.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

NFL Helmet Rankings Part 2


17 and 18. Rams and Eagles

What's Sort of to Like:
- The Rams and Eagles are essentially going for the same thing here, which is the "3D effect on a 2D plane" design. It's a tricky thing to pull off, and each team does reasonably well with the idea
- I'm a fan of the ram horns and the cool spiral that it makes in 2D. The eagle wings have a decent visual effect as well, if we're willing to look past the fact that real eagles don't have wings coming out of their heads.
- Both teams got caught up in the uniform futurization movement near the start of the 2000s and ended up darkening the shade of the team colors in the process. The older, brighter versions were better in both cases. Philly would do well to consider going back to the silver face masks.

19. Seahawks

What's Nice and Mediocre, and Probably a Sign of Things to Come:
- This isn't the Seahawks' fault, but out of my mini helmet collection, this is the least accurate rendering. The seahawk is so disproportionately large that I had to double check to make sure the real thing doesn't actually look like that.
- In 2012, the Seahawks kicked off what I believe will be a new wave of uniform futurization (the last one was started by the Broncos right before they won their first Super Bowl. It's fitting that the Seahawks also won their first Super Bowl shortly after making the switch ).
- It takes the full uniform to really appreciate it, but Seattle seems to be looking to create an "Oregon of the NFL" vibe with their flashier new uniforms. The helmet is actually the least flamboyant of the updated uniform.
- I suspect that the mini-checkerboard stripe down the center of the helmet is something that will be often copied when other NFL teams have undergo the next round of makeovers in the next 5 years or so.

20. Packers

What's Only Ranked This High Because of a Long and Proud Tradition:
-It's hard to be all that objective when ranking a team that I've heavily disliked for the past 20 years. With that said, this 'classic' helmet is doesn't do it for me. However, they've kept the same design for over 50 years now, and I know that the locals absolutely love the look.
-Points taken away for the 'cheese and basil' color scheme, points added because these things were straight up yellow until 1960. A small improvement is still an improvement.
-Points added for the Georgia Bulldogs stealing the G logo, points taken away since Georgia's red and black helmets look way better.

21. Patriots

What's Disappointing:
- I'll be the first to admit that the helmets the Patriots had up until the early 90s just don't hold up to 21st century sensibilities. Even so, it's tough to transition from this to the current model. You have a Revolutionary War era caricature that was oozing with character, and you throw it all away for something that looks like it was designed by a high school kid having a little fun in Intro to Graphic Design class.
- The colonist on the logo looks like a mix between Elvis Presley and  Power Line from "A Goofy Movie".
- Helmets with no stripe going down the center creep me out a little bit.

22. Broncos

What's Not Even Cutting Edge Anymore:
- In 1997, the Broncos came out with brand new helmets and uniforms, with a type of design that the NFL had never seen before. They didn't look all that good, but they were a trendsetter that numerous other teams around the league followed; the colors got darker, the colors and stripes on uniforms changed, and the logos became all corporate.
- The aging John Elway looked terrible with the new look, but the Broncos went on to win Super Bowls in each of their first two seasons in the new helmets. The first wave of futuristic designs took off, and the Bucs, Eagles, Rams, Bills and Falcons (along with the newly created Titans and Ravens) followed suit.
- By 2014, nothing about this helmet looks cutting edge or futuristic.
- Remember these?

23. Chargers 

What's the Best Way to Ruin an Awesome Lightning Bolt Logo:
- The Chargers have a lot going for them in the uniform department: standard blue and gold colors, a logo that remains cool in any decade, and not one but two shades of blue that they look really good in. But the white helmets...
- A lightning bolt looks good with a navy blue backdrop. It looks good with a powder blue backdrop. It looks fantastic with a black backdrop. But WHITE? When do you ever see lightning on a bright day?
- They've done this so well with blue colored helmets, yet pick the one team color combination that isn't going to look good for their helmets. At the very least they could have the face masks be powder blue.

24. Texans

What's Actually Kind of Decent, Given a Lack of Material to Work With:

- I'm not going to sit here and say that the Texans helmet is 'good' by any stretch of the definition, but seeing as they are a very recent addition to the league and have a highly ambiguous team name, they're doing the best with what they have.
- My main complaint is that they have a mostly blue logo that's placed on top of an otherwise entirely blue helmet. This is probably the only helmet in the league that I think would look better if they changed the color to white.
- The cow head that also is kind of shaped like the state of Texas isn't horrible.
- With a small flip of the colors, they could have the logo also reflect the state's recent voting trends in national elections. 75 percent of the fans would love it, and it would give a nice local connection to the design.

25. Bills

What's Yet Another White Helmet That Should Be a Different Color:
- Anything that's to be said about the Chargers awesome logo and underachieving helmet can also be said about the Bills.
- That face mask has no business being gray.
- I look at the old red version of this exact same helmet and think of four straight Super Bowl appearances. I see these, and think 'Ryan Fitzpatrick'. Lots of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

26. Cardinals

What's White and Gray, and Red All Over:
- Here we have a plain white helmet with a a side view of an ill-tempered bird's head. This is basically just the inverse of the Baltimore Ravens helmet (that's not a compliment).
- Their home city is named after a different red bird than the one on the helmet. "A new city will spring phoenix-like upon the ruins of a former civilization". Yeah, but let's be the Cardinals instead.
- Wasted opportunity to have a red helmet with a golden fire/phoenix silhouette as the logo. The oldest professional football club in the United States deserves better.

27. Vikings

What's Not to Like:
- If the Vikings' helmet logo were part of a Rorschach test, you're either going to see some type of drinking gourd or an oversized sperm. You're not seeing Viking horns.
- This is what a failed "3D effect on a 2D plane" looks like.
- Purple helmet with a different shade of purple face mask?

28. Ravens- In its current state, the Ravens helmet is bland, unoriginal, and depressing. If anything, it's too much of a connection to their home city for me.

What Could Quickly Turn This Into a Much Better Helmet:
- Option #1: Take the bird off and go with a plain black helmet. That should piss off the Cleveland Browns.
- Option #2: Only have the bird on one side of the helmet. That should piss off the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- After all, isn't the entire point of the Ravens' existence just to piss off the Browns and the Steelers?

29. Titans

What's Not to Like:
-The team name makes no sense and has no connection to the city. It's hard to have a good helmet when that's the case. If they don't mind having a nickname with no connection to the city, they could have held on to the name Oilers and at least kept the greatest white helmet in NFL history.
- Why is the logo a comet? Titans don't have anything to do with comets, unless we're talking about Titan, the moon on Saturn that also isn't a comet.

30. Falcons

What's Not to Like:
- The designers are trying way too hard with that F/Falcon in flight. The old version of this logo was pretty weak as well, requiring a stretch in the imagination to look like either an F or a falcon.
- This updated version of the logo is much more obviously an F, but it still doesn't look any better.
- How to fix: what about a football version of the Atlanta Hawks Pacman logo? They could keep the same traditional black logo and white outline, but instead of the F, have a falcon's head within a football shaped oval.

31 Jaguars

What's Not to Like:
- I have a feeling that the Jaguars are well aware of the derivative and uninspired nature of these helmets. The problem is, they don't have the slightest idea how to fix it, and neither do I.
- Spilling gold paint over the back side of the helmet did nothing to help. Denard Robinson shouldn't have to be subjected to this.
- Teal instead of black (or gradient gold and black) is the best I can come up with.

32. Buccaneers

What's Not to Like:
- It's baffling that the Bucs were able to take the ugliest uniforms in the NFL and make them even worse, not once, but two times!
- They couldn't improve upon having Robin Hood's evil twin as the helmet logo??
- The current adjusted skull & crossbones is lifted directly from the Raiders.
- I'm sorry, but the XFL died 13 years ago.

NFL Helmet Rankings

How I spent my summer vacation: 
One weekend I'm in London, another weekend I'm in Croatia, another weekend I'm South Carolina, and yet another weekend was spent in my living room, staring at my collection of NFL miniature helmets and deciding which ones I like best. 

 The main criteria used in the judging were...
- Creativity/Uniqueness- Anybody can stick an animal's head on the side of their helmet. I want to see who does things a little bit differently.
-Color scheme- Obviously a great helmet needs to have some superficial aesthetic appeal.
- How the helmet looks when paired with the rest of the team's uniform.
- Past versions of the helmet- Has this design been improved over time? Did they ditch a great past design for an inferior replacement?
- Team history/Connection to the city- This is increasingly rare, but teams like the Steelers, Saints, and Cowboys do this aspect especially well.

With nothing more needed to be said, I present Bromothymol's official NFL helmet rankings for the 2014 season.

1. Steelers

What's to Like:
- Awesome story behind the logo, with a real connection to the city of Pittsburgh. The multi-colored diamonds are based on the Steelmark logo that was originally created by US Steel. The best NFL nicknames/logos are ones with this sort of connection to their home.
- The Blank Side- Pittsburgh is the only team in the NFL to have their logo on only one side of the helmet. This not only creates a pretty cool all black effect when the players are facing the left, but it is also a subtle but significant point for uniqueness. 
-"Steelers" on side- Pittsburgh is one of three teams that have their nickname spelled out in the helmet logo. The Raiders do this unnecessarily, but for the Steelers it's actually a nice touch since otherwise you'd have no clue what the logo is supposed to be. In another cool little piece of trivia, it actually used to just say "Steel" in this spot, which is kind of weird but cool to see in old pictures, like the Hollywood sign back when it read HOLLYWOODLAND.

2. Redskins

What's to Like:
- Enjoy this helmet while you still can, because with each passing day, it looks more and more likely that it will be banned in the near future. 
-The color scheme on these helmets is flawless, and the maroon reminds me of raspberry Tootsie Pops. How many other teams can say that their helmet looks like it tastes good?
-As we'll see later on on this list, the color of the face mask can make or break the helmet, and far too many teams screw this up. Not the Redskins though, the gold mask complements the maroon perfectly.
-At the risk of being offensive, I'll go ahead and say it, the logo is really cool. Plus, if they are forced to change logos, they could easily re-work this one to be RG3's face in side profile view and it would still look pretty good.

3. Bengals

What's to Like:
- The Bengals took what used to be a really crappy helmet design and improved on it greatly.
- I applaud the risk taking. Trying to add a visual effect like tiger stripes is pretty hit-or-miss. They not only took the risk, but it works big time.
- One of the few truly unique helmets in the NFL. I'm also a firm believer that college and pro sports just don't have enough orange and black color schemes.
-Helmet color matches that of the starting quarterback's hair. I can't begin to tell you how rare that is.

4. Colts

What's to Like:
-The Colts scored big on simple improvements made over time, as they went through some growing pains on earlier editions. Putting the horseshoes on the back was a terrible idea,as was the blue helmet with white horseshoes. Simply shifting them to the sides and flipping colors was all it took to right the ship, a solution that's held up for nearly 60 years now.
-Classic logo, made even better by the fact that it kind of makes sense, but not really when held up to closer scrutiny (Sure, they're the Colts, and horseshoes are a symbol for good luck, but this logo still looks like a U more than anything. The Colts shouldn't be represented by a U any more than the Miami 'Canes, but both are great logos).
-Having either white helmets or gray face masks usually means fashion suicide, but the Colts somehow get away with both.

5. Cowboys

What's to Like:
-I grew up hating the Cowboys, but you simply can't argue with the silver/blue/white color scheme, and the sleekness to this helmet that will never go out of style.
-It baffles me that Jerry Jones sends them out wear those gross alternate throwback jerseys with the white helmet and blue star so often.
- The word 'iconic' gets thrown around far too often these days, but this is a legitimately iconic helmet.

6. Browns- Everything about the Browns helmet defies explanation, which is exactly what makes it great. It's like the old flag of Libya.

What's to Like:
- When the Browns made their triumphant return to the league in 2002, they had every reason to update their  logo and helmet design. For some reason, they didn't. Monochromatic orange all the way baby.
- For some reason, these helmets aren't plain BROWN (which would vault them into the top 3 of this list).
- The Cleveland Browns logo is a plain orange football helmet.
- For some reason, guys with dreadlocks look awesome wearing these helmets.
- For some reason, Lil Bow Wow is wearing a Tim Couch jersey on the cover of his 2000 "Beware of Dog" album. It wasn't until very recently that I realized: that's not a Tim Couch jersey, Bow Wow had the foresight to pick up a FUTURE Johnny Manziel jersey!

7. 49ers

What's to Like:
-Here's an example of the sum being far greater than its parts. No helmet goes better with its jersey counterpart than this one and San Fran's red home jerseys.
- Does anyone else remember that 49ers jacket that Danny Tanner used to sometimes wear on Full House? In tennis, they refer to that as "too good".
- In 1991, the team tried to introduce a new helmet design, but quickly scrapped the idea when this was the best they could come up with. Imagine Joe Montana wearing that.

8. Saints

What's to Like:
The Saints and 49ers helmets are essentially the same thing, a dark gold with a basic side logo. 49ers get the edge due to the rest of their uniforms.
- In 1969, the team tried out black helmets with a gold fleur-de-lis during the preseason, but ultimately changed back to the color scheme that still holds up today. After taking a look at some artist renderings of what an updated version of those black helmets might look like, my conclusion is that making the switch would move them into the top 5, and possibly higher.

9. Bears

What's to Like:
-It used to really annoy me just how sleek Chicago's helmets are. No stripe down the middle, a navy blue that's so dark that it looks black most of the time, and a very pointy C. Over time, I've come to appreciate them for their cleanliness and sophistication.
-I'll also say that on a sunny day, there's no helmet that glistens quite like this one.
-I've seen a lot of fonts in my day, but none of them pull off the C quite like whatever font that is.

10. Raiders

What's Pretty Good Overall, With a Minor Grievance Here and There:
- Coolness-wise, it's hard to go wrong with a silver helmet. Plenty of teams find a way, as we'll see later on, but the Raiders mostly stick to the script and end up with a result they can be proud of.
- The man on the logo looks like he's probably an unspeakably terrible person, which I believe is the effect the designers were going for. The guy won't even open up his one good eye for the sake of being photographed. He's either drunk and passed out on the deck of a ship that he acquired through questionable means, or he's purposely being an asshole to the photographer.
- "Raiders" spelled out in the logo shield is unnecessary. We already know that unpleasant fellow is a Raider. He couldn't possibly be anything else.

11. Chiefs

What's Escaping Scrutiny from the NFL, Unlike Its Native Counterpart in Washington:
- Until the Buffalo Bills get their act together, this is the only red helmet in the NFL.
- Nothing really stands out about this design, but it's aesthetically pleasing all the same. As I once heard a roller coaster enthusiast at Cedar Point comment about the Gemini, "You know it's nice. It doesn't try to be something it's not."

12. Panthers

What's to Like:
-  Absolutely a product of their time, these helmets practically scream, 1995!!!
- The similarity between the Panthers uniforms and the Playmakers from the ESPN original series back in the day.
- They've now made it to their 20th season without any changes; it may not be the world's greatest design, but it's good enough, and I can appreciate the continuity.

13. Lions

I Have So Many Problems With This:
- There is literally no chance that I would ever rank Bromo's helmets lower than 16, so ranking them this low is telling of my frustrations with the design.
- They took a classic design that was nearly perfect and with only a few small changes, have butchered beyond any semblance of decency.

Door #1:
- We have an easy Top 3 helmet in the NFL, if not higher.
- Logo is simple and easy on the eyes, the blue face mask is a perfect complement to the silver.

Door #2:
-They can wear the 1934 throwbacks every game, every season, as far as I'm concerned. The plain silver helmets, silver pants, and silver jersey numbers are better than anything that at least 90% of the NFL has come up with at any time before or after.

Instead they chose Door #3, which apparently was "replace the Honolulu blue stripes going down the top with some ugly black ones, add a bunch of ugly and unnecessary lines to the lion silhouette, and throw on a horrible black face mask for good measure."

14 and 15. Giants and Jets

If You Can Be Boring There, You Can Be Boring Anywhere:
- Safe, uninspired, decent looking, there's nothing particularly right or wrong with the helmets of either New York team.
- Both of them look like they're not quite sure which era they're trying to evoke; each have somewhat of a throwback feel to them, but not exactly.
- The Giants do have a great shade of blue going for them. As a kid, I liked the GIANTS on the side instead of NY, but looking back, that doesn't really look right either.
- I'd like to see the Jets do a better job of incorporating a jet, but that hasn't gone well in previous attempts.
- I suppose I would have expected the suits on Madison Avenue to try a little bit harder on these.

16. Dolphins

What's to Feel Conflicted About:
In the Dan Marino days, the Dolphins were my 2nd favorite team, solely because I liked the helmets and the turquoise/orange jerseys.
- Over the years, this helmet keeps getting small tweaks that I like less and less each time.
- My replica mini helmet collection isn't up to date anymore, as the Dolphins made the puzzling decision to take off the helmet of the dolphin that's on their helmet. It's still the basically the same thing, but it looks all weird now. It's like seeing Mickey Mouse without pants. This article at New Republic does a much better job than I could of explaining the strangeness of this change. As for me, I'm keeping the Dolphins just barely in the top half for now.