Monday, August 27, 2007

I'm Blogging This

Over the course of the next four months, I will be rooting for Derrick Mason to score points, the Ravens Defense to limit points, Matt Stover to add extra points and, gulp, Carson Palmer to compile as many points as possible. Such is the life of a fantasy football General Manager where team loyalties, sports knowledge and sometimes even friendships are put to the test.

Over the last few years, fantasy football has outgrown its niche status as a hobby for only the most die-hard fans (women may have classified this male-dominated social class as “losers”) to become as common a companion to the game day experience as pizza and wings. Men and women of all ages now participate in the reported $1 to $2 billion-a-year industry and the trend has spawned side businesses for evaluating players and enhancing the draft day experience. What follows is my attempt to offer opinions on both as I recently returned from my 5th annual trip to Atlantic City, NJ as a founding member of Retired Orangemen Fantasy Football.

I wont bore you with the historical details of the ROFF (which is named as such because the majority of the owners attended Syracuse University together) as only the 14 current members of the league and the seven men on the waiting list - yes, we have a waiting list to get in - would care. However, to understand the path that led us back to AC this year, one would only have to look at the trophy awarded to the winner of the league each season, which has the team and owner’s name etched into history a la Lord Stanley’s Cup. I wanted to avoid putting the second annual award of the ROFF in the same sentence as The Stanley Cup, but another yearly piece of hardware handed out at the draft goes to the team that finished last and it is not only appropriately titled, “The Toilet Bowl” but we physically give the “winner” a toilet seat with the logos of each recipient pasted around the rim. (Yes, we have logos too)

Fast forward to this past weekend and the 2007 draft. It was another memorable weekend for all those in attendance. We laughed (at each others picks). We cursed (at each others picks). We ate a lot of nachos (in between each others picks). And after more than 8 hours in room 2008 at the FantaSea Resorts (seriously, its called FantaSea – coincidence?) 14 supposed friends had selected the 15 men to follow for the next four months.

I’d be happy to reprint the draft order for you to compare your own league’s results, however, our board might not look quite like yours for two reasons. First off, and this is a necessity to any league considering taking their virtual vice into reality, we actually have a draft board with color coated stickers of all the potential draftees. The resulting rainbow is among the most beautiful sights of the weekend when full, partially because Atlantic City’s shoreline hasn’t aged so well. The second reason is that our league features a keeper component, which allows owners to keep two players for up to three years. This is where you might find some notes interesting:

My keepers were Reggie Bush and Laurence Maroney. Okay, you might not find that interesting, but you’ll probably hear a lot about them during the next 20 installments of Coffee on the 50. By the way, my team name for this year is BushMaroney’07, so my keeper choices were not a surprise. Some of the more surprising players kept this year include Antonio Gates – the only tight end held over – and a Lee Evans/Reggie Wayne pairing – who were kept over Edgerrin James and Chester Taylor, bucking the conventional wisdom that says running backs are gold.

You might not think that a draft board and keepers make the ROFF unique. Fantasy football has more than 17 million players and some are bound to expand upon our efforts, but there are few additional items of note that make our league special, and I encourage all to copy our methods:

1. Draft books: Designate a commissioner who will compile bios and historical team data for each owner, collate this information, graphically design, print, hole-punch, place in binders and mail to all members of the league. Our commissioner, Marc Epstein, deserves credit he will probably never receive for wasting so much time on us. Why does he do it, “It’s something 14 of my closest friends can do together,” said Epstein. “It’s a way for us to stay connected even though we’re miles apart. Its not about football.” Tear.

2. Draft shirts: Create a new shirt each year to commemorate draft weekend. You will find these very useful at the gym or when gardening. (Or when stranded by a Hurricane – more on that in a moment.)

3. Build your own website: Yahoo! just isn’t enough sometimes, especially when many league members write columns each week that need their own place in cyberspace to live. Hence,

4. Pictures: Take a ton; they can be used for future iMovie’s set to music. (This year’s received a standing ovation.)

5. Go to the movies: Each year a new made-for-quoting movie comes out in the summer and dominates the conversation around the nacho dip. This year, SuperBad served as the film of choice and most references to the outstanding performances from Michael Cera and Jonah Hill cannot be repeated here. Although one league member, Parker Deay, who is literally a cartoon character on American Dad, mocked the myriad quotes with a quick quip, “I’m McLove…” as I think we all agree McLovin has already jumped the shark.

As the actual selection rounds began, the first Raven off the board was Willis McGahee. Willis has always been a formidable pick, but the move to Baltimore has re-ignited hopes that McGahee will rise to the status of an elite running back in the fantasy world, or to quote ESPN’s Merril Hodge, a “Factor Back”. Number 23 was taken by Rich Kiss, who commented on the choice, “As long as he doesn’t get hurt, it’s a safe pick.” Genius Rich. Fortunately for all Coffee on the 50 fans, another league member, Chris Brockman, who is actually a part of the sports media and knows what the readers want, added some actual analysis on behalf of Kiss, “We’re very happy to see him out of Buffalo, right Rich?”

Kiss is also a founding member of the ROFF, but more importantly, travels in from New Orleans each August to take part. As fate would have it, this meant that Rich was also attending the draft when Hurricane Katrina moved in on the Gulf Coast two years ago. Unfortunately, in an attempt to get back home before the hurricane hit, Rich only made it as far as Atlanta when his connecting flight was cancelled. He spent the next few weeks in Florida and Mississippi with only the clothes he had at the draft, which of course included a Donovan McNabb Syracuse jersey and a newly minted draft day t-shirt.

The 2007 draft continued for another 7 hours and 13 rounds with some surprises and sour grapes along the way. Here are a few selections to note (remember, with 14 teams there were 28 player kept before the real action began):

First Available Player Taken – Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (29th overall pick)
First Rookie – Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills, RB (50th overall pick)
First Rookie Wide Receiver – Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, WR (57th overall pick)
First Defense – Baltimore Ravens (73rd overall pick)
Biggest Rise up the Board (according to me) – Brian Leonard, St. Louis Rams, RB (116th overall pick)
Biggest Fall down the Board (according to me) – Jon Kitna, Detroit Lions, QB (109th overall pick)

4 – Number of Indianapolis Colts kept (Manning, Harrison, Addai, Wayne)

– Number of games Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals is suspended this year; yet, he was still drafted ahead of Amani Toomer, Marty Booker, and Ashley Lelie

– Number of kickers taken in the last two rounds (note that one team did not even select a kicker on draft day which means only 3 kickers were taken before the final two rounds)

– Number of minutes it took me to decide to take Carson Palmer over Drew Brees and Marc Bulger. I’m still reviewing the choice in my head as I could have taken Javon Walker and waited for Brees on the way back. Brees wont have to play the Ravens twice this year and Bulger added Drew Bennett to his arsenal, but I still went with Palmer. If I had 25 days to think about this I still wouldn’t know for sure what to do. Seriously, what Ravens fan wants to root for Carson Palmer? At least its not Peyton Manning.

– As in 2:30AM. As in the local time in South Korea when the draft started, which is where one league member happened to be this past weekend as he is beginning a year of teaching ESL in the Far East. Nick Serrano stayed up to date on the draft via text messaging and a few long distance calls to the hotel, and stayed up the entire night as the sun rose over Seoul. Said Serrano of what being part of the draft meant, “It’s 2:30 in the morning here and it already feels like it’s going to end too soon.” We miss you Nick.

Adrian Peterson – Last year’s winner, Jason Cantor, GM of Five Second Stare, selected two players with the same name (running backs from Minnesota and Chicago), presumably a first in fantasy history. Of course Steve Smith and Steve Smith had the chance to repeat the feat, but two different owners drafted them.

B.J Surhoff – Let me explain. Although Serrano wins the honor of furthest from the FantaSea, another GM had to make his picks via BlackBerry as Gregg Moore, GM of the Maryland Fighting Blue Crabs, had to stay back in the Charm City this weekend. Moore works for the Baltimore Orioles and as luck would have it, the career of BJ Surhoff was to be honored about the same time we made the turn on round 8. Moore pressed on admirably and filled out his team nicely, although I think his final pick of Musa Smith may have been a little hasty.

As the draft finally came to an end there was one last list to check. Another league member, Jason Sherman, GM of the Shermtanks, had invested in a program that actually will take your draft and project the points of the league. Big surprise when the results came out as Sherman announced “First in active roster? Me. Sweet.”

BushMaroney’07 was projected 4th but even in the virtual world, the best team on paper does not always produce, well, the best team on paper. Talk to me in December to see how Bush, Maroney and Carson Palmer performed. If Palmer earns me a spot on the trophy, it certainly will be sweet. Bittersweet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The most important moment of Monday night’s whitewashing of the Eagles may have been a combination of two plays during the first drive of the game. Willis McGahee ran off tackle for 16 yards followed by a play-action fake by Steve McNair and a 22-yard toss to Todd Heap. By all accounts, this is what the Ravens offense will look like in 2007 as the new burst in the backfield will freeze defenses for an extra second, giving McNair enough time to find Mason, Clayton, Williams, Heap and anyone else Brian Billick and Rich Neuheisel choose to send downfield.

But you knew all that. We all knew all that. Ozzie sure knew it when he brought Willis to Baltimore. Fantasy football forecasters seem to have known that as mock-drafts across the net have the Ravens running back amongst the top ten at his position and both Clayton and Williams listed as possible breakout performers at wide receiver. And of course Willis knew that as he relayed to the press after the game, “I told the receivers that they’re going to love me this year.” And because everyone knew this was going to happen, another moment from Monday night would prove to be the most memorable. And if you don’t remember, don’t worry; you can now watch it again as often as you’d like. That’s because on a punt return in the 2nd half, Ravens rookie linebacker Antwan Barnes YouTubed Eagles kicker Sav Rocca.

There is no more posterizing in the digital age. In the time it would take to merely develop the film, more than 12,000 fans have already replayed the footage on their computers and shared it with their friends and family. And despite the premier of “Jacked Up” still a few weeks away, the play made the rounds across the ESPN family of networks within hours of the final whistle.

Of course Barnes is still a first year professional and was modest when describing his first game at M&T Bank Stadium as he told the Baltimore Sun, “For my first game, I think I did pretty well.” Fortunately for all Ravens fans, Bart Scott’s ascension in the ranks now allows him to speak a little more freely and he was quoted describing the rookie linebacker as “a beast.”

News of the beast sighting made its way across the oceans the conventional way as well as The Australian reported on the debut of Rocca, a former Australian Rules Football player for the North Melbourne Kangaroos (he played for other teams as well, but the Kangaroos just fit the stereotype perfectly). In the article, Rocca was quoted as saying, "He got me pretty good actually.” Actually, the reporter for the Aussie paper, David Nason, had the best description as he characterized the hit as a “crash tackle.”

Barnes’ big play is yet another moment that will live on, literally, on the servers of YouTube for years to come. However, although the website is only two and half years old, Antwan will now share hard drive space with some of the greatest sports clips of all time, including three examples I found by the time Rocca found his helmet. In no particular order, I give you a fans-eye-view of Barry Bonds’ recording breaking home run; the antithesis of the Ravens draft history in an NFL Draft montage of the New York Jets selections and fan reactions over the years; and in the wake of Madden ‘08 fever, although those commercials are spot on, the single greatest video game athlete in the post-Atari era, Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson.

The list goes on and although Barnes is playing for playing time in Baltimore, his crash tackle against the Eagles will continue to receive airtime around the world.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Real World: River Falls

Richard Hatch. Puck. Flava Flav. The Donald. Rob and Amber. Kelly Clarkson. And now – Priest Holmes and Brodie Croyle.

The reality TV revolution has spawned a slew of small screen stars since Real World first took Manhattan almost twenty years ago. From regular Joe’s to Joe Millionaires (who ended up being a regular Joe as well, but that’s beside the point) the cameras have helped create and reinvigorate careers, which is why HBO’s latest edition of Hard Knocks is the best reality show on TV (or at least the best reality show to debut last night as Real World 19 from Sydney, Australia also introduced America to a few new strangers).

NFL Films and HBO have teamed up once again to give cable subscribers across the country an all-access pass to training camp in the NFL. The third edition of the series, which made its debut tracking the defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens back in 2001, literally rides shotgun with the Kansas City Chiefs as they prepare for the 2007 season (at least one cameraman rode with Head Coach Herm Edwards to camp in order to capture a solid 30 seconds of vital footage).

You may think the Chiefs would lack the star-power to sustain a nationwide audience, but who would have thought that 51 million Americans would stay glued to their TV sets to watch Hatch, Rudy Boesch, and Kelly Wiglesworth battle it out for a million dollars. So why is this season of Hard Knocks so compelling? Last night’s premier provided a few reasons to create a series recording on your DVR:

First of all, the team practices 500 miles from Kansas City at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. The team – and surprisingly all of their weight-room equipment – is bussed north across three states to set up camp for the month of August. Coach Edwards made the drive a day early, not so that he could get a head start on preparing for their upcoming scrimmage against the Vikings, but so that he could finish drawing his “Welcome to Training Camp” sign. Seriously, he colored in the bubble letters with a red sharpie and was standing outside the dorms when the busses arrived.

The real story, however, is the town of River Falls, where a penny still buys you 10 minutes on a parking meter and the part-time mayor greets the players on their way out to practice. The most awkward moment of the show was when Mayor Richards asked one of the players coming out of the tunnel, “When’s Larry Johnson coming back?” He just genuinely wanted to know. Speaking of LJ, the editors really outdid themselves in the episode as they cut to Johnson sitting on what appeared to be a luxurious white leather coach in a New York City apartment as an unidentified SportsCenter anchor announced from Larry’s flat-screen that he was holding out. Video evidence confirmed this theory.

Back in Alabama, Brodie Croyle, the Chiefs #2 QB who is vying to win the job from journeyman Damon Huard, was shown packing for his three weeks out-of-town with his new bride. In the first of presumably many ‘awe-shucks’ moments, the cameras caught Mrs. Croyle picking out boxers for the second-year gunslinger who apparently had trouble packing his rookie season. Brodie was perfectly cast for the role of “young hot-shot with the golden arm, short temper, perfect teeth, surfer shorts, and shaggy hair” in comparison to the equally dead-on portrayal of the “old-timer, knee-braced, not about talent, more about football IQ” played by Huard.

If Croyle is the potential emerging star, then Priest Holmes is the veteran looking to reinvigorate his career. After almost two years out of the game due to injuries, Holmes, the former Raven, is trying to make a comeback. His arrival was just in time for the Chiefs, whose #1 RB on the depth-chart was shown splitting time between the white couch in the Big Apple and a weight-training facility in Phoenix. Priest seemed determined and dedicated to take back the starting spot he lost two years ago, but his presence at camp just seemed to brighten the hopes of players and coaches alike. He’s yet to put on the pads, however, so stay tuned.

If all that wasn’t enough, the squad includes a Turk, a Tank, Tony G, and a Turley – all of whom have to ride a bike from the dorms to the practice fields. Of course Tony Gonzales does get some preferential treatment as his bedroom is on the first floor, where as the rookies have to hike up to the fourth floor each and every day – and that’s just the first year players who reported on time. First round holdout, Dwayne Bowe, had yet to report to camp as the show began. As a result, veteran wide receiver Eddie Kennison planned a little punishment for D-Bowe, which could include sending him to Krispy Kreme – in Minnesota – to get the receiving corp. some doughnuts. Here that Yamon? A run to the Apple Store doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Somewhere between Hell’s Kitchen and Trump Tower, River Falls, WI plays host to the Kansas City Chiefs, NFL Films, and HBO for the best reality show on television. That is until September 6th, when the 17-part NFL regular season gets started. Until then, we’ll just have to watch as 80 players are picked to live in the dorms of a small-town college campus to find out what happens when coaches stop being polite and the games aren’t for real. The Real World. River Falls.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Canton Call

As you may have heard, Cal Ripken Jr. was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. You might also be aware that we are currently at war in Iraq and Paris Hilton was recently in jail. Maybe you’ve even caught a glimpse of this Beckham character as well. In any case, the media blitz on baseball’s holy grail commenced with Baltimore’s native son being immortalized among the greats of the game with a bronze plaque hung in the hall at The Hall. A momentous day in the history of sports in the Charm City as Ripken joined Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, and Eddie Murray as Hall of Fame O’s. And although it might be a while until an Oriole reaches such great heights again, Baltimore sports fans could soon have reason to rejoice.

Cooperstown’s kid cousin, Canton, OH, is home to the National Football League Hall of Fame, which hosts this weekends legends ball as they induct the Class of 2007. The inductees include Bruce Matthews, Thurman Thomas, and Michael Irvin, whose Cowboy’s bested TT’s Bills in back-to-back Super Bowls in the early 90s. As many faithful fans could attest, Irvin and Thomas will join a slew of footballers from Baltimore already in Canton. However, they are erroneously classified as merely Hall of Fame Colts, grouped together with the only Indianapolis player to make it in, Eric Dickerson. And although we will never forget where Berry, Donovan, Ewbank, Hendricks, Mackey, Marchetti, Parker, and Unitas played, we yearn for the day when the city of Baltimore will be recognized for its role in building the game and bringing it in to the 21st Century. Well my feathered friends, that day will come soon, and according to ESPN Page 2’s Thomas Neumann and Scott Symmes, there might be three or four trips to Ohio on the horizon.

Neumann and Symmes review the 50 active players who seem destined for enshrinement and not surprisingly, two Ravens make an appearance in his top 10 – Ray Lewis (#5) and Jonathan Ogden (#7). Both of our beloved first picks in franchise history are bound to become the first and second Ravens to become Hall of Famer’s, thanks in part to prolonged dominance at their respective positions, numerous Pro Bowl selections, and of course, the rings they won together in 2001.

In addition to Ray and JO, two other current Ravens received inclusion in the story, including the still blossoming superstar, Ed Reed (#33). In describing Reed’s resume, the most notable notation was about what still is yet to come as the article states, “Reed has the speed and versatility to possibly be considered the finest safety in NFL history one day.” Take a minute to breathe that one in. Lewis and Ogden may already be considered among the best ever at their positions, and now its time to contemplate that real possibility that a third member of the flock could become an all-time great.

Not to be overlooked, the fourth Raven identified was Steve McNair, who was listed as one of ten players still on the HOF bubble. His years as an Oiler/Titan provided some prolific pegs to make the climb to Canton, but hope is not all lost as the authors write, “McNair probably needs a Super Bowl ring to punch his ticket.” So what they’re saying is, if the Ravens win the Championship, McNair’s bonus package will include a bronze bust at the Hall. Here’s hoping Canton comes calling.

Editors “shameless alma mater pride” Note: Syracuse was one of just eight schools with multiple players included on the list of 50 – Marvin Harrison (#8) and Dwight Freeney (#16).