2009 NFL Season: Week 12 Thanksgiving Day Special

INTRODUCTION

After the New York Giants went 5-0 many pundits had them ranked as the best team in the NFL in their power rankings. I said then that they were at best a mediocre team. I may not always be right, but I was right about that.

The traditional football games on Thanksgiving Day featured two matchups that really were not that compelling to the average football fan. The still lowly Detroit Lions hosted the solid but struggling Green Bay Packers, while the Dallas Cowboys hosted the usually pathetic Oakland Raiders. Most thought the games would be blowouts and they certainly lived up to the tripe. Green Bay had no trouble rolling over Detroit, and Oakland proved to be no match for Dallas.

Many have wondered if the Detroit Lions should no longer be hosting a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving given their long standing lack of quality teams. A Thanksgiving Day matchup should be a marquee game between two quality teams, right?

I disagree though. The Detroit Lions have been hosting a Thanksgiving Day game since 1934. That’s 75 years of tradition for the Lions, sometimes a good team, lately not, hosting a game on this holiday. The National Football League is built on tradition and after 75 years I don’t see a reason to break that tradition now. Despite not being a great team now, presumably the Lions will be relevant again. And for me, watching any professional football game is enjoyable. And I always know I’ll see the Lions host somebody on this day and I look forward to it every year.

GAMES I WATCHED

Green Bay Packers over Detroit Lions, 34-12

As expected this game was not even close. After Green Bay fumbled the opening kickoff leading to a quick Detroit touchdown, the game was basically over. Detroit’s offense never did much else, while Matthew Stafford threw four picks.

Green Bay played an all around solid game, with Donald Driver catching seven passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. This included a 68 yard grab in the first quarter to set up Green Bay’s first touchdown. Cornerback Charles Woodson had his second sterling game with two interceptions, one that he returned for a touchdown in garbage time.

I’m not sure why the Lions started rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford who played with a separated left shoulder. I think he has the potential to be the franchise quarterback for the Lions and it just doesn’t seem worth risking further damage to his shoulder at this point in the season.

This game turned out pretty much as expected. It was a good game for Green Bay to get back to winning and try to jumpstart an attempt to make the playoffs as Wild Card team. They have a long way to go for that.

MVP: Donald Driver, WR


Dallas Cowboys over Oakland Raiders, 24-7

The NFC East used to be considered the toughest conference in the NFL. Not anymore. Right now the storied franchise of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles are middle of the road teams, at best. The Washington Redskins are abysmal and shouldn’t even be in the conversation.

The race for the NFC East is going down the stretch and Dallas needs to keep winning with the Giants and Eagles right in the mix. Pundits have even taken to calling Tony Romo not just an average quarterback, but a bad one. And he deserves it given the way he has played this year.

In this game Dallas had no trouble putting the Raiders away. Romo had a very good outing and wide receiver Miles Austin was again fantastic. He had seven catches for 145 yards and touchdown to lead the Dallas Cowboys offense.

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders started fourth year quarterback Bruce Gradkowski over the bust of a number one overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell. Gradkowski, frankly, is never going to be a particularly good NFL quarterback, but he is gutsy and had didn’t play that badly against the Cowboys. The Raiders were just simply overmatched talent wise on the field.

Dallas, like Green Bay, really needed an easy win and to get their offense rolling after a very pedestrian performance against the Redskins last week, a game they should have lost but didn’t.

MVP: Miles Austin, WR


Denver Broncos over New York Giants, 26-6

This was the marquee matchup of the day which most thought we be a closely contested ball game. Both teams have been struggling a great deal the past month, with the Broncos losing four straight games and the Giants losing the last five out of six. Too bad it was on the NFL Network. Many football fans, as a result, didn’t have access to the game. Well, it was an interesting game but not much was missed.

I actually thought the Giants would win this game but they never bothered to show up. They were pathetic.

The Giants, on their second offensive snap of the game, had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. They followed this up with a minus two yard run by Brandon Jacobs. That basically set the tone for the game as the Giants offense seemed to have stayed in New York.

I watched Brandon Jacobs very closely in this game because he has been struggling of late. What I noticed was disturbing. Even when he got into a good hole he didn’t have the same burst of speed and power to make a good gain like he has in the past. I don’t know if it’s because he has been injured a bit or some other ailment, but he definitely is not the same runner he has been in the past. There were holes that he got to that a Chris Johnson or an Adrian Peterson, or last years Brandon Jacobs for that matter, would have turned into a long gain. Something is missing or gone awry there.

Meanwhile a lot has been said of the struggles of the Giants offensive line. They played reasonably well at all times, more so on running plays. The announcers kept saying they were getting beat physically but they most looked confused by the Broncos tricky defensive alignments than physically dominated.

But the Broncos defense played extremely well. Elvis Dumervil had two sacks and a forced fumble, safety Brian Dawkins was a menace all over the field, and the Denver secondary, led by Champ Bailey, blanketed the Giants’ receivers. In fact the quarterback pressures could often be attributed to superior defensive back play more so than the defensive line dominating the line of scrimmage. But it was a very well played game by the Denver defense all around.

The Giants defense didn’t play terribly but again, they weren’t beaten physically as much as the Broncos just outplayed them. Case in point, if you watched Giants’ defense end Osi Umenyiora against the Bronco’s left tackle, Ryan Clady, he often got good penetration and sometimes pressure on Kyle Orton. But he was completely shut out of the game.

Meanwhile Denver’s rookie running back Knowshon Moreno played very well with a shifty, slithery style of running that netted yards when most backs would have been shut down. I have seen Denver play several times this year and I have not seen these moves by Moreno before. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t watching him at his best or that he has been injured, but now I see why people are so excited about this guy. He has a unique running style that avoids big contact and can make the most out of small openings. And of course wide receiver Brandon Marshall was making some sick one handed catches.

But frankly, at the end of the day I am not sure whether Denver looked so good because the Giants were just plain awful, or if they have come out of their funk. They certainly looked much better than they have the past few times I’ve seen them. I do know one thing, however, the Giants appear to be on the way down an out. See ya!

The MVP could really go to Dumervil, Dawkins, or Bailey. I am going with Champ Bailey because I thought it was the Denver pass coverage that was the key to their success on defense.

MVP: Champ Bailey, CB

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 9

Week 9 turned into a disaster for three teams while other teams keep rolling along.

How did Green Bay manage to lose to Tampa Bay, who got their first win on Sunday? The Packer defense has just collapsed and the offensive line simply can’t protect Aaron Rodgers. Maybe the emotional letdown of losing to the Vikings twice and being three games back in the division with no realistic shot at the division title did them in?  Or maybe their defense just blows? But even at 4-4 a Wild Card spot is still a realistic goal.

Congratulations to Tampa Bay and rookie quarterback Josh Freeman on the Bucs’ first win of the season. Freeman may not have looked like the next coming of Tom Brady but he has to get Rookie of the Week honors for leading his team to a win in his first start.

After a big win against Denver last week the Baltimore Ravens have lost to Cincinnati for the second time this year. While stranger things have happened, their shot at the division title is greatly diminished. They are now a struggling team that needs to string some wins together to stay in the hunt.

The New York Giants after a 5-0 start have lost 4 straight. I’ve been saying all along they are an average team and they now look like it. After losing in the last seconds to the Chargers this is a team that needs to find itself.

The Tennessee Titans have won two in a row on the back of running back Chris Johnson. What happened to the 49′ers and their fine start to the season?

New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith has had two big games in a row. He might be making a run for my end of season All Pro Team. I’m sure he’s motivated by being left off my Midseason All Pro Team.

I’ve heard talk that the Patriots might be interested in signing Larry Johnson. I hope we don’t get that desperate. This guy is a punk.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Miami Dolphins, 27-17 (NFL Replay)

This was a critically important win for the New England Patriots who face the Colts, Jets, and Saints the next three weeks, a real murderers’ row. They handed Miami their first division loss and are now two games up on the Jets. The next few weeks are critical for the Patriots as they face two of the best teams in the league, and their archrival New York Jets, who shut Brady and his bunch down in their first meeting this season.

The Patriots defense bent a bit but did just enough to keep Miami from rolling all over them and really held them in check in the fourth quarter.

Randy Moss’s two huge plays, a one handed grab at the one yard line and 71 yard catch and run for a touchdown shows he’s still got it.

MVP: Randy Moss, WR

Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens, 17-7

In many ways this game was not as close as the score might indicate. Cincinnati dominated both lines of scrimmage throughout the game and Baltimore never really threatened them. This is the second time I have seen the Bengals offensive line absolutely dominate an opponent.

For the Ravens they clearly missed Haloti Ngata who sat out with an ankle injury, as their defensive line was constantly knocked off the ball, rendering Ray Lewis and the rest of the linebackers less effective. These two teams played a few weeks ago with a similar result, although Cincinnati had to pull it out at the very end, so maybe he would not have made that much of a difference.

I hear a lot of people questioning whether Cincinnati is for real. They lost on a fluke play to Denver or they would be 6-1, after a mediocre outing against Houston. Seeing how well their offensive line has been playing and their consistency on defense, I think Cincinnati is definitely an upper echelon team. They will have a big test next week against division foe Pittsburgh.

Cedric Benson should thank his offensive line for another fine outing, rushing for 117 tough yards.

MVP: Cedric Benson, RB

San Diego Chargers over New York Giants, 21-20

The Giants really let one slip away here, allowing the Chargers to put together an 80 yard last minute drive to win the game. They have now lost four games in a row and don’t look very good on offense or defense.

Eli Manning is struggling, but frankly I don’t think it’s entirely his fault. After a good start to the season, Steve Smith nor Mario Manningham are doing much to help him out. Even the offensive line, one of the best in the league, struggled against the Chargers. They allowed Shawn Merriman to look like he was back on steroids and actually a good football player.

The Giants secondary has always been a weak spot but they were often protected by the ferocious pass rush of the Giants’ front seven. But against the Chargers they just simply were not getting it done for the most part.

The Giants are a mediocre team and they lost to another mediocre team. While neither team are bottom feeders, they don’t look like they are going anywhere in this season either.

The star of the day was wider receiver Vincent Jackson and his two touchdown grabs. He is starting to emerge as one of the elite receivers in the league. Now that the Chargers have cut Chris Chambers, Malcolm Floyd needs to step up. He did nothing this game. Meanwhile, Chris Chambers had a good day with his new team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

MVP: Vincent Jackson, WR

Dallas Cowboys over Philadelphia Eagles, 20-16

This game actually turned out more less the way I expected it, the Cowboys winning a close game. Neither team looked like world beaters but the Dallas offensive line, other than Flozell Adams, played a very solid game. They were able to move the ball enough to eek out a win. Leonard Davis played particularly well at left guard, where most of the running attack seemed to be focused.

Donovan McNabb loves to throw the ball in the ground. What is up with that? He seems to be getting less and less accurate with his passes every time I see him play. But of course the Dallas defense mugged him all night long. The entire Dallas defense played well, but my hats are off to SS Gerald Sensabaugh, who was a disruptive force in the game and had an interception. Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff
also had an excellent game with two sacks.

The Eagles were not able to generate many big plays and the offensive line wasn’t much help to Donovan and the backs. One always wonders about how valuable a single player is to a team, but the Eagles certainly do look a lot different without Brian Westbrook in the lineup. Even when he doesn’t get as many touches in a game the team seems to play better with him in there.

Dallas now has a solid grip on the top spot in the NFC East title race. While it’s not a death grip, this win leaves them sitting pretty.

MVP: Gerald Sensabaugh, SS

New Orleans Saints over Carolina Panthers, 30-20 (DVR)

I’m not sure why everyone is making a big deal out of the Saints’ “comeback” against the Panthers. They were never down by more than 14 points. For an offense this explosive that is nothing. The bottom line is the Saints have proven to be a winning team and winning teams find a way to win. The Panthers have proven to be a losing team, and losing teams find a way to lose.

The Panthers got their 14 point lead aided by a couple of turnovers (and a big play). The Saints were down 17-6 in after the first half as a result. But the telling part of the game and the difference between the two teams can be seen in the first two possessions of the second half.

The Saints get the ball in the second half and march to a touchdown to bring the game to 17-13. Carolina gets the ball and marches down to within the five yard line. They should score a touchdown, right? Instead they have confusion at the line of scrimmage and call a timeout. AFTER the time out, they run a horrible play that results in an easy sack for the Saints. Within the five yard line: a sack, results in a field goal instead of touchdown, 20-13, game over as the Saints go on with a few big plays to spank the lesser team.

Saints winners. Carolina losers.

Despite the big three plays by Brees to three different receivers, he had some turnovers so my MVP is DE Will Smith.

MVP: Will Smith, DE

Pittsburgh Steelers over Denver Broncos, 28-10

Is that crash I’m hearing the Denver Broncos coming back down to earth? After a 6-0 start they have back to back losses.

Well, let’s not beat up on Denver too bad. This game, like Denver’s loss last week, was a pretty hard struggle until the fourth quarter. The Denver defense played well, but they, not the Steelers playing in altitude in an away game, are the unit that seemed to fold a bit in the fourth quarter. Of course the Steelers kept pounding the rock at them. And Rashard Mendenhall seems to have established himself as the starting running back in Pittsburgh. With Willie Parker dinged up, Mendenhall ground out 155 yards to win the game.

And okay, Big Ben had a nice game, but I’m sick of hearing “elite” and “Hall of Fame” next to his name. Yes, he’s having a great year and had two Super Bowl wins. Did you know that Big Ben has the lowest QB rating of any Super Bowl winning QB ever? And that the Steelers won their first Super Bowl despite his poor play (and Seattle fans would say plenty of help from the atrocious referees). And that he wasn’t the best player on the field in their second Super Bowl win?

Okay, I really do love Big Ben, but he is no Dan Marino. Or is he?

MVP: Rashard Mendenhall, RB


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Defensive Player: Gerald Sensabaugh, SS, Dallas Cowboys

Offensive Lineman: Leonard Davis, G, Dallas Cowboys

Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt, P, Kansas City Chiefs

Rookie of the Week: Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 7

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 35-7

First let me talk about the Buccaneers because there really is not a lot I have to say about them.  I have seen them twice this year and they are simply not a good team.  They are clearly in a rebuilding phase and it will probably take a few years for them to either get a competitive team together or sink into a perennial bottom feeder.  In this game Tampa Bay was simply overmatched by a better team.  I will say this about Tampa Bay, they played hard to the end, unlike the Titans last week, which is a good sign for this team.

It’s really hard to evaluate where the Patriots are after losing a close game to Denver and then blowing out two bad teams in back to back weeks.  The Tennessee Titans just quit and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just not that good.  But the bottom line is the Patriots are good team, but not an elite team like the Saints, Colts, Vikings, Denver, and the Steelers.  At the same time they did what they had to do to win against teams they should beat and didn’t play down to the level of the competition.

There were a lot of positives to take away from this game for Patriots fans, but some red flags as well.  First, the offense played really well at times but in parts of the game they were really sloppy.  Brady threw two interceptions, one in the end zone taking points off the board.  And the left side of the offensive line with Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer struggled at times with bad penalties.  Vollmer actually played pretty well in place of the injured Matt Light at left tackle. In the third quarter he appeared to be injured and was called for holding a few times after that.  Mankins had no excuse and just seemed to lose focus during parts of the second half.  On the bright side rookie wide receiver Sam Aiken stepped up to the plate with a nice touchdown and Wes Welker was, well, Wes Welker, salting the game away in the second half with a series of catches that put the game away.

On defense, Brandon Meriweather had two interceptions, including a pick six at to put the first points on the board to open the game.  But the Buccaneers, who are no offensive juggernaut, moved the ball very well at times, which is worrisome considering the prolific offenses New England will be facing after the upcoming bye week.  I have also noticed that Vince Wilfork is not nearly the dominate force in the new 4-3 alignment as he was in the 3-4.  It seems having to take on blockers from the side makes him a bit easier to move around and he simply isn’t the dominator he has been in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, he is no slouch and is still a top flight defensive tackle, he just simply appears to be more effective in a 3-4.  Solid tackling is also an issue for this team.

To quote another fanatic Patriots fan like myself, who summed up the game exactly the way I did:

Another feel good win.  These bad teams make our defense look so good.  I have to keep on reminding myself that our defense is defending against horrible offenses.  I suspect that in reality, we are pretty good, but we’re not elite.  We’re in that group right below the elite teams.  If we make the playoffs, which I’m assuming we will somehow, we won’t be favored against Colt type teams, but we’ll be dangerous and if we peak at the right time and with a little luck, anything could happen.

And one last comment, while Brandon Meriweather had a great game with two interceptions and a touchdown, my MVP is going to Wes Welker, whose catches in the second half put the game away.  He finished with 10 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown.

MVP:  Wes Welker, WR
Cincinnati Bengals over Chicago Bears, 45-10

The Bengals offensive line absolutely dominated the Bears defensive line.  That, along with determined running by Cedric Benson, who netted 189 yards rushing, lead to a blow out win for the Bengals.  The Bears, meanwhile, were awful on offensive and the whining Jay Cutler who thinks he’s the next coming of John Elway chunked up three interceptions, leading the Bears to a 3-3 record, mainly on the back of their defense.  Kyle Orton anyone?

The Bengals look like a very solid team this year and I have no idea where this new and improved Cedric Benson has come from.  In years past he has been an injury prone, contact adverse, bust of a top ten draft pick.  He certainly wasn’t avoiding any contact in this game.  While he had more than help from his dominate offensive line, he ran like a beast and over the Bears.  The entire Bengals team, on both sides of the ball, played a physical, stellar game.  The Bengals laid and egg against Houston last week, but they appear to be a team to be reckoned with this year.  What a surprise.

Finally, while I know Carson Palmer played an outstanding game, the entire offense did, I am giving my MVP to Benson for his tough, determined running which was really what opened everything up for the Bengals.

MVP:  Cedric Benson, RB


Arizona Cardinals over New York Giants, 24-17

I have to admit I am very surprised that the Cardinals came out of the Meadowlands with a win in this game.  Last year they played so bad on the road and they have been very inconsistent this year in general.  The defense made Eli Manning and the Giants receivers look bad, which isn’t always that hard to do.  Eli is not the model of consistency at the quarterback position.  Eli threw three interceptions and while I thought he played a poor game, his receivers were not helping him out much, getting pushed around by the Arizona cornerbacks and running poor routes.

Arizona’s defense really stepped up to the plate by stopping the running game and putting it on Eli Manning’s shoulders.  Eli was not up to the challenge.  As a female friend and fellow Patriots fan said of Eli:  “He’s not his brother and never will be.  If they ever played in the Super Bowl against each other, God forbid, Peyton will rip his heart out and show that he is, and always will be, the little brother.”

Ouch, tough words, but they ring true.  It was the defense and a lucky play that won the playoff games and Super Bowl XLII.  And now suddenly the running game even looks suspect.

On the other side of the coin, Kurt Warner managed to play pretty well despite that Wayne Gandy, his left tackle, couldn’t block my 88 year old grandmother.  Warner has had ball security issues in the past and he was under a ton of pressure from the Giants defense the entire game.  The Cardinals did establish a bit of a running game with Beanie Wells, but it was Warner that made the offense run, despite that he had to be a bit concerned about Gandy not protecting him well on the left side of the line.

At the end of the day, the Giants are the Giants.  Some weeks they look great and others not so much.  The Cardinals are the same way but more of a mystery to me.  I don’t see them making the same kind of run they did last year, but they certainly are a dangerous offensive team when they get going and their defensive has improved. It will be interesting to see what they do the rest of the season.

This was a game ultimately won on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals.  It’s hard to pick an MVP but I’m going with free safety Antrel Rolle who played a solid game and sealed the win with an intercepton.

MVP:  Antrel Rolle, FS
Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins, 27-17

The Redskins have not only proven themselves to be an awful team, they have become the laughingstock of the NFL.  Yes, they have won two games against winless teams, but only barely.  But other than the Tennessee Titans, they look to me to be the most anemic team in the league.  At least the Lions, Rams, and Buccaneers try hard.

Jim Zorn should resign given that Redskins management has stripped him of his duties, humiliated him publically by their actions, and have effectively neutered him as a head coach and a leader of the team.  Dan Snyder is the worst owner in the NFL since Victor Kiam.

I am now convinced that Jason Campbell is not an NFL caliber quarterback that can lead a team to a championship.  He has always been very spotting in his decision making and mechanics, but if anything he seems to have regressed.  Even when he had time to throw the ball he was jittery in the pocket, had poor mechanics, and made poor decisions.  The Redskins tried to replace him in the off season.  I suspect they will try even hard at the end of this season.

The Eagles won this game more because of the ineptitude of the Redskins and on two big time offensive touchdowns by the speedy, dynamic DeSean Jackson.  But the Eagles appear to be a rather mediocre team themselves.  I think Donovan McNabb has left his best days behind him.  He had some good throws and has a big arm, but he is very inconsistent and even more inaccurate with his throws than he has been in the past.  How many times is going to throw the ball into the dirt to an open receiver this year?

And what is the fascination with Michael Vick in the “Wildcat”?  This is another joke.  It has yet to be effective.

The Eagles defense did play well but it’s hard to say whether that was because of the Redskins offensive line, which truly is offensive to football fans, or talent.  I think the Eagles defense actually is for real and with enough big plays from the offensive should keep them in the hunt in the NFC East.  But I don’t consider the Eagles a great team, but a mediocre one beating a bad one.

Dallas, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants will be battling it out the rest of the season for the NFC East crown. Dallas looks ascendant at the moment after last week’s game, but they too have been very inconsistent and vulnerable.  The Giants have been considered by most the odds on favorite but even when they were undefeated I wasn’t seeing it.  It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the end.

MVP:  DeSean Jackson, WR


OTHER OBSERVATIONS

Leon Washington: Leon Washington suffering a serious injury, breaking his fibula so bad the bone was sticking out, makes me feel really bad.  Despite that he plays for the team I dislike the most, the New York Jets, he is a dynamic player on special teams, as a change of pace back alongside Thomas Jones, and he seems to be make excellent plays at the most critical moments.  He has killed the Patriots in the past with his return yards and converting third downs to first downs on touch or difficult plays.  I admire Leon Washington and regret his injury and hope he is able to come back.

Poor Offensive Tackle Play: And can’t recall seeing more poor performances by offensive tackles than I have seen this year.  I’d like to call out some players for really poor play.

Wayne Gandy of the Cardinals has been awful every time I have seen him.

Stephon Heyer of the Washington Redskins, now playing left tackle, has also been a liability to the team.  He is a good run blocker but not a good pass blocker.  Ironically, he played better against the Eagles this week but Campbell did his offensive line no favors by stepping into coverage or playing poorly when he had plenty of time to throw.

Orlando Pace was just atrocious against the Bengals and has been in the few games I’ve seen the Bears play this year.  It is shame because he was, at one time, one of the best tackles in the league.  His injuries and age have clearly caught up with him.

Flozell Adams of the Dallas Cowboys is the most irritating tackle.  He is not longer a great blocker and gets call for holds and false starts frequently.  Of course his tripping of Justin Tuck is just an example of how he survives.

New Orleans Saints:  This team is for real!  I have them ranked as the number one team in the league right now.  Can they go undefeated?  I frankly don’t think they can but the moxie they showed in coming back against Miami is impressive and scary for the rest of the league.


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati

Defensive Player: Antrel Rolle, FS, Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Lineman: Evan Mathis, G, Cincinnati Bengals

Special Teams: Percy Harvin, WR/KR, Minnesota Vikings

Rookie of the Week: Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

 

“The Best Game Ever: Giants V. Colts, 1958” Book Review

51h2bqqsmjll__sl500_aa240_The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL  by Mark Bowden

Review by C. Douglas Baker

The Best Game Ever is a fairly good account of what is probably the most famous game in NFL history—the 1958 NFL Championship game where the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants 23-17 in the NFL’s first sudden death overtime game.

The game pitted some of the greatest players of all time against one another, such as Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry of the Colts and Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the Giants.

It also sported three legendary coaches: Vince Lombardi on offense for the Giants, Tom Landry on defense for the Giants, and Weeb Ewbank, the head coach of Baltimore who went on to win another seminal NFL Championship when his New York Jets upset his former team, the Baltimore Colts, in Super Bowl III.

As most who follow football closely know, this game is considered the launching point of the modern NFL because it occurred in the early years of television and at least the last part of the game was seen by an estimated 30 million people. After this game, the popularity of professional football took off, particularly because the action is well suited for television viewing.

This book tells the story of the game mostly from the players’ perspective, focusing somewhat more on the Baltimore Colts, particularly Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, who both had phenomenal performances in this game. But it also tells the story of other key players on both sides of the ball to greater or lesser degrees.

It does a less stellar job of building the drama of the game, maybe because we already know the outcome. But overall, it completely documents the game and the key turning points that lead to the eventual outcome.

These include Frank Gifford not making a first down on third and short that would have allowed the Giants to run out the clock to win the game, and the Unitas-to-Barry connection on an improvised play for a first down on the final drive in regulation to tie the game.

For a football fan, this is certainly an enjoyable book that provides some insight into the game and the players, particularly Raymond Berry, who gets the most coverage. While I wouldn’t classify this as The Best Football Book Ever, it is well done and worth reading.

The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL

Tiki Barber on Tiki Barber (and the New York Giants)

tikibookTiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond by Tiki Barber with Gil Reavill

Review by C. Douglas Baker

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Tiki Barber. Most of those reading this review probably already know who Tiki Barber is, but he played for the New York Giants as a tailback from 1997 to 2006, ending his career with over 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving.

Only two other running backs have accomplished that feat (Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen). He retired at the end of the 2006 season, at the age of 31 at the top of his game.

I’m not a New York Giants fan, but as football fan you have to appreciate the way he played on the field. He wasn’t the biggest back, but he was an electric one and the last five years of his career he was one of the top backs in the league. He is also clearly a very bright and articulate fellow, retiring to go into a broadcasting career that isn’t just some ex-jock talking sports.

In this book Tiki takes the opportunity to talk about his life experiences. He grew up in a single parent household in Roanoke, Virginia with his twin brother Ronde Barber, who is an outstanding cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Growing up with a hard working mother raising two sons, and having an alter ego in an identical twin, clearly shaped his outlook on life and kept him grounded. He also talks very briefly about his career at the University of Virginia, a school he and his brother chose more for its location and academics than they did (obviously) for its football prowess.

The bulk of the book, however, is about Tiki’s career with the New York Giants. There really isn’t a lot of nitty-gritty X’s and O’s discussion in the book, or interesting anecdotes about crazy player antics, strategies, or the inside story of the New York Giants.

This book is more about his perseverance going from what many considered to be an undersized back on special teams and third downs, to an every down back and one of the best to ever play the game.

The last part of the book focuses more on the last few years of his career with really a new regime, a new disciplinarian head coach in Tom Coughlin, a new quarterback in Eli Manning, along with new offensive players, Plaxico Burress (WR) and Jeremy Shockey (TE).

Anyone who has closely followed football knows of what appears to be a little bit of turmoil and dissention on the Giants team. A team with prominent players complaining about the head coach and his disciplinarian ways.  Of course, there is the media, or at least some in the media, were somewhat harsh on Tiki announcing his retirement during his last season, saying it was selfish and a distraction for the team.

Tiki himself was part of the problem, saying after one playoff game, the team was “out coached” and making other allusions to his dislike of the way the team was handled under Coughlin. Tiki rationalizes this a bit in the book.

Certainly players can say what they want, but regardless of what Tiki says, that players aren’t paying attention to this and it’s not a distraction, I don’t find that very believable. Anytime you have prominent players undermining the head coach he loses respect and it will get into the mindset of the team. 

Maybe Tiki is right. He says he retired, at least in part, because Coughlin made him lose his desire to play and he wanted to pursue other things in his life. But all that swirling attention around the coach certainly couldn’t have helped the team mentally.

Overall I found this book interesting, but nothing particularly inspiring or insightful. It is Tiki’s story and that, in and of itself, is interesting enough for me.

For those looking for a tell all, inside story of the Giants or pro football, this is not the book for you. For those looking for X’s and O’s and strategy, this is not the book for you either. For those looking for a snapshot into the thoughts and life of a great NFL player, this is your ticket.

Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond