Tag Archive | heisman

He’s Here. He’s Queer. Rams Show No Fear.

Even the truest fans will admit the NFL Draft can be a drawn-out dog and pony show (just where the dogs and ponies are the size of T-Rexes). People will watch maybe the first round to see where the best-known college players wind up, but tune out once the marquee names are called.

Sam. I. Am.

Sam. I. Am. Who are you?

This was not the case in 2014, when the “most-watched draft ever,” according to ESPN, had more drama than a “Real Housewives” catfight.

First, there was the suspense over who would be the very first picks—specifically Texas A&M quarterback and 2012-13 Heisman winner Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel.

But a defensive player got the nod from Houston as first pick overall: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, best known for one of the most exciting hits ever made in college football.

And Johnny Football? He waited. And waited. And waited. Even the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he was rumored a lock, passed. Manziel finally found his new home with Cleveland in the 22nd Round.

The story took another interesting turn the following day, when it was announced the Browns’ top receiver Josh Gordon faced a season-long suspension for marijuana use. The other Browns receiver, Nate Burleson, currently has a fractured arm. So the beleaguered Browns fans, who have had only two winning seasons since 1999, will have to wait and see.

But like any good reality show, the biggest story of all came at the very end. Missouri’s Michael Sam, Defensive Player of the Year for the Southeastern Conference (SEC, considered the most competitive college league) would seem a sensible early-round pick.

But Sam is also openly gay. And his February NFL Combine performance—where potential rookies demonstrate their speed and strength in really tight underwear—was also lacking. Sam became the first SEC defensive player of the year since 2006 not to be taken in the first round. His Missouri teammate Kony Ealy was chosen in the second round by the Carolina Panthers.

Was it his performance? Was it his sexual orientation? No one knew for sure as round after round went by, and Sam waited by the phone.

In the seventh and final round, finally the call came. Sam was selected by the St. Louis Rams as the 249th pick overall—and the first ever openly gay professional football player. He nearly collapsed with emotion as he cried and kissed his boyfriend on national television. Other ESPN cameras showed fans at gay bars celebrating. (I sense a Saturday Night Live skit coming on this one.) Only seven more players were chosen, then the draft was over.

Coincidentally that night, the Brooklyn Nets’ Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, shared his support of Sam, then helped the Nets defeat the Miami Heat in a playoff game. Social media also went bonkers for Sam with celebrities, new teammates and respected athletes showing their support, including Deion Sanders, hall of fame Rams running back Erick Dickerson, and President Obama.

“I’m using every ounce of this to achieve greatness!!” tweeted Sam.

But he wasn’t completely nice.

“I knew I was going to get picked somewhere,” he said. “Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback.”

Will he make it? Who knows. Just being drafted does not guarantee you a spot on the 53-man roster. And last season’s Miami Dolphins bullying scandal shed light on what might really go on behind locker room doors, even among straight players.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher fully supports Sam, noting that the Rams actually signed an African-American football player a year before Jackie Robinson entered major league baseball. Fisher believes the Rams, near Columbia, Mo. where Sam went to college, are the perfect fit and does not expect tension.

“We’re in an age of diversity,” he said. “Players understand that. They know that.”

Had Sam not been drafted, he could have signed as a free agent and attended a team’s training camp (roughly a third of NFL players last year were undrafted).

But the fact that he was drafted—even though so late in the draft I expected Jeff Probst to pop out and issue Sam some “Survivor” challenge—it’s a good sign the NFL can overlook the possible distraction his sexual orientation may cause and focus on the skills Sam, and eventually others like him, bring to the rainbow-colored table.

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High Five Headlines: A Crap-Ton of Football. And a Little Men’s Figure Skating.

1–Like most kids, I was a very logical little girl. So I never could understand why our U.S. service academy football teams always seemed like sort of an afterthought. They were America’s smartest, bravest, and fittest young men, weren’t they? So why didn’t we see them in the sports headlines, like, every single day? I didn’t grasp that the academies don’t have as much flexibility in recruiting like other schools, and these soldiers were also tasked with the tiny burden of defending our country and that football might not be their top priority.

Can somebody help me up, please?

I’ve fallen since last season, and I can’t get up. (No, really, lil’ help here?)

Except for one day a year—the annual Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia, when the U.S. Military Academy and the Naval Academy square off in what is considered by many to be college football’s greatest rivalry. Unfortunately, the last decade or so, it really hasn’t been. Navy has won every year since 2004, including Saturday 34-7 over an Army team that has averaged fewer than three wins a season since 1998. Navy’s Keenan Reynolds set a Division I record for quarterbacks when he rushed for his 29th touchdown of the year and will lead the 8-4 Midshipmen to the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee State. As for Army, well at least they will always be our heroes, long after their football careers end.

2–Speaking of struggling programs, I usually try not to focus on my local Washington Redskins, but they were the NFL’s top story last week, so…

OK, so Coach Mike Shanahan “shut down” quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season, ostensibly to rest the knee he blew out in last year’s playoffs. He won’t play at all, while backup Kirk Cousins has taken the helm. RGIII was literally in the national sports news every day the last year—fans and non-fans alike wanted to see the affable, witty, Subway Sandwich-loving Offensive Rookie of the Year return to full strength. He did not. Challenged by his knee, a weak defense and a shaky relationship with Shanahan, RGIII’s sophomore year was middling at best, with a bunch of icky stats I don’t even have the heart to go into.

Then there is the Family Shanahan: Coach Mike, who by most accounts seems to be lobbying to be fired so he can depart his Skins losing legacy fully paid. His son Kyle is the offensive coordinator—therefore having a direct hand in RGIII’s performance. Would he be fired too? Or follow Dad if he quits? Or stay on and try to atone for the “RedSins” of the father? To be continued. Wish *I* could authorize a shutdown.

3—Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was named the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner by a landslide Saturday over five other players, including last year’s winner Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron–who I calculate got about 1/16 of the camera time as his girlfriend (you know it by now, say it with me) Miss Alabama Katherine Webb in the audience. Winston thanked his family and coaches ebulliently, noting several times his gratitude for the “truth” being on his side. Winston was cleared last week of potential rape charges from a 2012 incident, and will lead FSU into the national championship game against Auburn January 6. The alleged victim, meanwhile, has had to withdraw from FSU. I’ve said it before—no one knows what happened but the accuser and Winston. There are unscrupulous people out there of both genders. It’s just sad to me that one party is starting a great career, while the other is likely launching one at Taco Bell. But the law has spoken, so we move forward.

4–Sometimes good just isn’t good enough. Head football coach Mack Brown resigned from the University of Texas Saturday, but will stay on to coach the Longhorns against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Texas went 8-4 this year, but detractors still have questioned Brown since the program began declining—despite double-digit win seasons from 2001-2009—after its 2005 national championship. Coaches come and go every year, but if you know “Friday Night Lights,” you have some inkling of what football means to the Lone Star State. Brown’s departure is major news because he has had what is, in his words, “the best coaching job at the premier football program in the country” since 1998.

Another reason football fans’ antennae were up over this one was the possibility of Alabama coach Nick Saban coming aboard, and he’s won the last two national championships. But the hope didn’t last long—Saban signed a deal last week to remain with the Crimson Tide for roughly $7 million a year, a raise of about $1.5 million a year and more than that of most NFL coaches.

5—American 2010 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek will not be able to defend his title at the Sochi Winter Games due to ongoing issues with a torn labrum in his hip. Lysacek hadn’t competed since his win in Vancouver four years ago, but had remained optimistic for Sochi. During his comeback attempt last year, he experienced an abdominal tear, followed by the hip injury, which doctors feared could be permanent if he did not stop.

But in happier news, skier (and Tiger Woods paramour) Lindsey Vonn returned to the snow for practice runs in Colorado this weekend for the first time in the nine days since she reinjured her right knee. She had torn it completely February 5 of last year. Vonn hopes to return to competition next weekend and keep her Olympic hopes alive. She is the defending downhill gold medalist, holds four World Cup titles and is considered the most accomplished Alpine skier in American history.

High 5 Headlines! Rose Wilts, Worries for Winston, and Puppy Snuggles Cost Me the BEST NFL GAME EVER!

chester

Football, or fuzzy kisses? Chester is the clear winner, no OT.

1) It is a testament to the snuggliness of my dog (and maybe some wine) that I fell asleep with him on the couch last night and missed the end of an incredible NFL comeback. Denver visited Boston and brought along many storylines: two of the best quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady squaring off again; Denver receiver Wes Welker returning to play his former Patriots for the first time, and coming off a concussion last week; and temperatures colder than polar bear poop. Denver led 24-0 at the half, but Tom Brady returned reborn in the second,  completing more than 80 percent of his passes to erase the deficit–that Manning shredded with one last touchdown, sending the game into OT. Boston won on a field goal 34-31. Brady inked his 38th career game with 3+ TD passes and no interceptions, the second-most all-time to–guess who–Peyton Manning (42).

2) By the way, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick isn’t the only coach in the family. His daughter Amanda, a Wesleyan University grad, is the head women’s lacrosse coach at Wesleyan, where Dad himself played lacrosse in the early 70s. Both Belichicks were captains of their teams as seniors.

3) That slapping sound you are hearing is Chicago NBA fans’ collective foreheads this week as Bulls star (aka Michael Jordan 2.0) Derrick Rose is once again out for the season, requiring surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee. He missed last season after tearing the ACL in his left knee. Rose has been Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and an NBA All-Star, so his frustration must be only slightly worse than Adidas, who just launched his new shoe collection and “The Return of D Rose” campaign. (Or the frustration of Memphians like me, who had our national-runner-up 2008 season erased by the NCAA over allegations that Rose had someone else take his SATs for him. Sigh.) But Rose is only 25, having turned pro after just one year of college play (otherwise snarkily known as a “one and done”). Steve Nash (39, Lakers) and Manu Ginobli (36, San Antonio Spurs) are just a couple of superstar starters playing for super teams well into their 30s. And Chicago still has their NHL champion Blackhawks, currently among the top of the Western Conference.

4) The slapping sound you are still hearing is me. My forehead. Because it just couldn’t be a football season without a sexual assault case. Oh wait, my bad. Just before the season, a group of Vanderbilt players were indicted on counts of aggravated rape and sexual battery against a victim in a dorm room. (The case is ongoing and getting uglier). Now, Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Jameis Winston is at the center of a potential rape charge stemming from an encounter in December 2012. Details are still unclear, but we at least know the following: 1, The victim reported the event a year ago and asserts it was not consensual. 2, The case was only referred to the Florida State Attorney General two weeks ago. 3, There is a DNA evidence match confirmed. 4, Some affidavits support Winston; others support the alleged victim. And 5, Winston is a redshirt freshman leading the Seminoles to their first potential championship since 1999. Whatever the outcome, we can hope whoever is telling the truth will see justice, and that the athletes of a storied program won’t see their hard work overshadowed by scandal. But I have to wonder if either will happen.

5) OK, let’s end on a funny note. If you missed it last weekend (and I did because I haven’t found “Saturday Night Live” reliably funny since 1982. Yeah, I said it. Except for episodes with Justin Timberlake, also from Memphis. Naturally.), SNL really did come through with a parody of “The Red Zone” channel. Each Sunday, Red Zone allows fans to see any potential NFL scoring play–when the ball is within 20 yards of the goal line, aka “the red zone.” (I must admit I do have this channel.) But if you’re not into sports, you now have “The Rosé Zone“–a women’s channel with all the best (worst?) reality TV moments without the charity benefits and fashion shows. As one “viewer” puts it, “B*tches be crazy. But not all the time. Sometimes b*tches just be standin’ around and thinkin’.” <cut to Kim Kardashian staring vacantly>. “And mama ain’t about that.” Hilarious.