Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ranking the Jerseys


A few months ago, my buddy Mark Followill (the TV Voice of the Mavericks, who is also a huge pro cycling fan) asked me a question: Is it more prestigious for a rider to win the overall at the Tour of California, or the white jersey for Best Young Rider at the Tour de France? A solid question--the TOC has turned into one of the biggest early season stage races on the UCI calendar--but my answer was the white jersey at the Tour, because, well, it's the Tour. To set yourself apart on the sport's biggest stage makes more of an impact on your career than winning a much lesser stage race.

His question got me thinking about the prestige factor of the various jerseys in the sport of pro cycling, so I've decided to rank them. For the purposes of this list, we're going to say the rider wins the jersey, not just wears the jersey--in other words, he wins the Tour's white jersey in Paris, not just wears it for a day in week one.

1. Maillot Jaune, Tour de France


This is the obvious number one. However, if I was given the choice of wearing the yellow jersey for just one day early in the race or winning the World Champion's or Giro's jersey, I would easily take winning those vs. wearing yellow. Yes, the career of many a racer has been made complete by just wearing yellow for a day in the Tour--it changes their lives, and they can dine out on that moment in the sun forever. But the true legends of the sport don't just wear yellow, they win yellow. Still, it is, without question, the most prestigious piece of cloth in cycling, and always will be.

2. Rainbow Jersey, World Champion


The best thing about winning the rainbow jersey is that you earn the right to wear it for the next 364 days. Every race you take part in, you will be recognized as the World Champion. The event itself is a one-day race, but it's the biggest one-day race on the calendar. And, when worn with traditional black shorts, it's the best look in the peloton.

3. Maglia Rosa, Tour of Italy


The pink jersey (insert joke here) is worn by the leader (or winner) of the Tour of Italy, the second most prestigious Grand Tour in the world. I rank the pink just behind the rainbow, because I believe most riders would rather be World Champion than win the Giro--because when you win the World's, you are the best of the best one-day racers, but when you win the Giro, you are the best of the second-best Grand Tour riders (behind the winner of the Tour). Still, the Maglia Rosa is a beautiful, tradition-rich, romantic garment. If you win it, you become a legend.

4. Red Jersey, Tour of Spain


For years, the leader of the Vuelta a Espana wore a yellow-ish, golden-ish jersey. A few years ago, race organizers decided to set themselves apart from the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, so they switched to red. There are three Grand Tours (three week stage races), and the Tour of Spain is definitely the third of the three. But it's still a major event, and the Roja is the fourth most prestigious jersey a racer can capture.

5. Polka Dot Jersey, Tour de France


It's the most obnoxious jersey in the sport, but also one of the most recognized and revered. The competition has become a bit bastardized over the years (many times the winner is not actually the best climber in the Tour, but instead the best at winning enough points along the way), but the winner instantly becomes one of the most popular faces in the sport. To be called "the best climber in the best race" has a nice ring to it. Winners include Tour idols such as Coppi, Bartali, Bahamontes, Gaul, Jimenez, Van Impe, Merckx, and Hinault.

6. Green Jersey, Tour de France


Ranks slightly behind the Tour's Polka Dots. The Maillot Vert goes to the leader/winner of the Points Classification, or the best sprinter in the race. Legends like Van Looy, Merckx, Hinault Maertens, Kelly, Zabel and Boonen have all won this jersey. Because the most romantic aspect of the Tour de France are the climbs, the prestige of the Polka Dots ranks just ahead of the prestige of the Green. But it's close.

7. Yellow Jersey, Tour of Switzerland


Looking very much like the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, the yellow of the Tour de Suisse is, nevertheless, very prestigious. While not a Grand Tour, the TDS is recognized as the fourth most important stage race on the calendar.

8. Yellow Jersey, Paris-Nice


I might have placed this jersey above the Tour of Switzerland jersey had the Paris-Nice organizers kept the traditional white jersey look for their race leader. In 2008, they went to an all-yellow jersey, much to the chagrin of those velo-nuts who loved the white jersey look. Both the Tour of Switzerland and Paris-Nice (which is a week-long stage race) began in 1933, and both have been won by many big names in the sport. They are almost equal in terms of prestige.

9. Belgian National Champion Jersey


Practically every country holds a one-day national championship race, but no country's champion is more respected than the Belgian's. If you are the crowned best of Belgium, then you are a true badass. Plus, the color scheme (black, yellow, red) is very cool, and stands out in the group. It's a race so difficult to win that Merckx only won it once. Like the World Champion's jersey, you get to wear a national champion jersey in every race for the next year, adding to the prestige.

10. Italian National Champion Jersey


The wearer of the green, white and red tricolor is worshiped in cycling-crazed Italy, and respected throughout the peloton.

11. French National Champion Jersey


One of the "Big Three" national championship jerseys, the French winner's garment also comes with a storied history. Bobet, Poulidor, Hinault and Fignon are just a few of the legends who won this race.

12. (tie) Yellow Jersey, Criterium du Dauphine
Yellow Jersey, Tour de Romandie




Yes, more yellow. These races both started in 1947, and both have been won by some very big names. They are each on a level below the big stage races listed above, but they rank above the bevy of "other" stage races around the world.

14. White Jersey, Tour de France


Awarded to best rider under the age of 26 at the Tour, this jersey has a high prestige factor because it announces you as a future star in the world's biggest race. Several winners of the white jersey have gone on to win the yellow jersey, including Fignon, LeMond, Pantani and Ullrich. It also means you get to stand on the final podium in Paris, one of the highest honors in the sport.


15. (tie) Blue Jersey (Mountain Classification), Tour of Italy
Red Jersey (Sprint Classification), Tour of Italy



Great trophies for any climber or sprinter to have, but not nearly in the same league as the Polka Dot and the Green from the Tour de France.

Honorable Mention:


The Cycling Jersey Czar has spoken.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Seven Wonders of the Metroplex

On the show this week, we were talking about the Astrodome being torn down, a structure that was once referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It got us talking about the real Seven Wonders of the World, which got me thinking about what the Seven Wonders of the Metroplex would be. Most Wonders of the World lists are split into two categories: man-made and natural. So, I would like to present my lists of the Wonders of the Metroplex.

THE SEVEN MAN-MADE WONDERS OF THE METROPLEX

The AT&T Deathstar

The Texas Motor Speedway

Reunion Tower

The Green Building

The High Five

DFW Airport

Big Tex


THE SEVEN NATURAL WONDERS OF THE METROPLEX

The Trinity River

The Great Trinity Forest (the largest natural forest in any US metropolitan area)

Cedar Hill State Park

Dallas National Golf Course (yes, man-made, but the topography is natural)

Flagpole Hill

Goat Hill (home of the waterfall billboard)

The Drolen-Dombeck Mountain Range on Channel 11


There you have it. Make a point to visit these Wonders, although you'll need to be a member at Dallas National to visit there, and you'll need to be a boyfriend or husband (or doctor, I suppose) of Drolen or Dombeck to have visiting rights to those ranges. Safe travels!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

1:24

It took a great football strategy debate for me to dust off my blog space.

This morning on the show, Troy Aikman took offense to our thought (and I think Norm's and Bob's and Corby's thoughts) that the Cowboys would have been better off on Sunday trying to run out the clock and pooch-punting to Detroit once they got the ball back with 1:24 to play. While we all respect Troy, and will defer to him on almost all football issues, I would like to not only make my case for punting, but I'd also like to explore the myriad of possibilities in what was a fascinating football strategy moment.

First, the facts of the moment: DAL 27, DET 24. DAL ball on DET 31, 1:24 to play. Timeouts remaining: DAL 2, DET 2. DAL defense has just forced a 4-and-out.

My preferred strategy: DAL takes a knee (Romo takes a few steps back, kneels, 3 seconds elapse), timeout DET, 1:21 to play. DAL takes a knee on second down, timeout DET, now 1:18 to play. DAL takes a knee on third down, DET out of timeouts, play resets at 1:15, :40 run off gets the clock down to :35 (DAL could use a timeout here, or better, take a delay of game to give Jones more room). Punt on 4th down, clock down to :26 or so, ball is downed (hopefully) at, let's say, the 10 yard line (maybe the one, but also maybe a touchback, so we'll split the difference). DET now has :26 to get go about 60 yards for the game-tying field goal (Akers hasn't been money the last two seasons on big kicks, either), and they have no timeouts. They would have almost no ability to work the middle of the field. Yes, they drove 80 yards in 1:02 for the game-winning touchdown, but 60 yards in less than half that time? NFL stats say DAL would have had a 99% chance of winning the game. This is why I would have played it this way, because the odds were tremendously with you. And, by having Romo take a knee on three straight snaps, you eliminate almost any chance of a fumble or a penalty.

Troy (and others) thought that the best play for the DAL offense was going for the first down. I don't disagree with this, necessarily, but I think it's hard to argue that was Garrett's plan. DAL tried three straight runs up the gut--the first run lost 3 yards, the second run lost 1 yard. On 3rd and 14 from the DET 35, they ran Tanner again up the gut (he bounced it outside, which he was not supposed to do). Three straight runs up the gut, against the strength of the DET defense (their tackles), against 10 or 11 in the box, with Tanner, your 4th team running back, and with your best O-lineman Brian Waters on the sideline, and with a running game that has averaged 2.4 yards per carry the last three weeks, was never, ever going to pick up a first down.

So, if Tanner had followed the play call and stayed between the tackles, he most likely would have lost a yard. That would have made it 4th and 15 from the DET 36. What was Garrett going to do there, attempt a 53-54 yard FG from Bailey's uncomfortable hash? If that was the strategy, that is fairly high-risk. Yes, Bailey had made two 53 yarders earlier in the game, and yes, he's their most consistent performer--but if he had missed, DET takes over at their own 43 yard line! Let's hope that on 4th and 15 Garrett would have punted, which brings us basically back to my suggested strategy, it's just that Garrett would have run three straight hand-offs for losses, and I would have run three straight QB kneel-downs for losses.

Note: Troy has also said it was more about gaining a few yards on the ground and making for a shorter FG attempt than perhaps trying to pick up a first down. This makes sense, and if you had a good power running game and were going against an iffy interior defense, it's reasonable to expect to gain 2, 2, and 2, making it a 42 yard FG attempt instead of 48. Troy is correct that this is solid football logic. However, as outlined above, the chances of this DAL running game picking up any positive yardage on those called running plays under those circumstances were slim. Now, if DAL had a healthy DeMarco Murray and a healthy Brian Waters, or if they could have traded quickly for Adrian Peterson or the 49ers O-line, this strategy would make more sense.

Another possibile scenario, and it's certainly more risky: DAL goes with an aggressive mindset and throws the ball in an attempt to pick up the first down. Troy said the strategy perhaps should have been to pick up the first down, but as I've mentioned, Garrett's strategy was partly flawed in trying to pick up a first down by running, because the conditions were not right. So, they almost had to throw to pick up a first down, which, of course, brings into play the possibility of an incomplete pass, which allows DET to save their timeouts. Some believe this would have been the way to go, and while it does send a message of trying to win the game as opposed to playing not to lose, I think the risk far outweighs the reward.

For the record, as it played out, I don't have a huge problem with Garrett's final decision on that drive, which was to kick the 44 yard FG. Bailey is money from that distance, and if he misses, DET gets it at the 34 instead of the 43. However, it's certainly another aspect of the strategy debate, because on the off chance that Bailey had missed, DET has 1:02 on the clock, and they only need to gain about 30 yards to get into position for the game-tying FG. But, with the shorter FG attempt, Garrett probably had to take the high-percentage points and make DET drive 80 yards and score a touchdown.

In the end, Garrett's strategy didn't work. And, in the end, my strategy may also have failed. Why? Because it's the DAL defense, the 32nd ranked unit in the NFL, which also happens to be on a league-record pace for yards allowed. While it's fun to debate the X's and O's of the final 1:24, it's probably a waste of time, because no matter how much time was left or how far DET had to drive, the Lions were probably going to finish the job.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Tour de France


There is no place I would rather be than riding my bicycle on the backroads of France--specifically on the legendary roads of the French Alps, where the Tour de France is often won or lost. There is nothing quite like pedaling along a perfect ribbon of smooth blacktop as it takes you up above the tree line to a majestic vista, and knowing that Coppi, Merckx, and Hinault did the exact same thing (only a bit faster) on their way to Tour glory.

I've made six cycling-specific trips to France, starting 20 years ago in 1993. There are many great touring companies that put together these kinds of expeditions, but I prefer to book my own. I've almost always gone with my best bud, Dave, and we like the freedom of planning our own trip. There are a couple of keys to doing this: 1) as soon as the Tour de France route is revealed, make your hotel/apartment reservations, and 2) make sure you know what days you'll want to watch the race and then plan accordingly around the other stages so that the race doesn't interfere with your rides.

This year, we flew into Geneva and rented a station wagon big enough to fit both bikes and our luggage. The Geneva airport has a luggage check, which is a great place to store your bike boxes so that you don't have to lug them around for a week. We drove south 90 minutes to Grenoble, and rented an apartment in the middle of town for the first three nights. I like booking apartments through sites like VRBO.com--it's usually cheaper than a hotel, and you feel more at home.

Our first ride left from Grenoble. We went north through the Chartreuse region of France, climbing the Col de Porte, the Col du Cucheron, and the Col du Granier. These are not the high mountains of the Alps, but they are tough climbs, with each averaging 6%-8% in steepness and anywhere from 5k to 15k in length. We then descended into the valley and rode back into Grenoble. Day One totals: 64 miles, 4:30 saddle time, 7100 feet of climbing.

The next day we drove south to the Vercors region of France. We did a loop that included climbing the Col de Carri, the Col de la Bataille, and the Col de la Machine. The last couple of kilometers of the Machine were spectacular:


Day Two totals: 50 miles, 3:30, 5700 ft climbing.

The following day would be our first high-mountain experience of the trip, driving to Bourg d'Oisans and climbing the legendary Alpe d'Huez. This was a Monday, and the Tour de France would be here on Thursday, so the road was packed with spectators camping out for the race, and with cyclists riding up the climb. This made for a high-energy experience. The Alpe is a hard, hard climb. It's 15k at a steady 8%, and it never gives you a break. At the top, we then had to climb the Col de Serenne, which was to be used in the Tour for the first time this year. It's short, but very steep, and the descent was treacherous. Once in the valley, we then climbed to Les Duex Alpes, where Marco Pantani made his famous ascent to win the '98 Tour. Day Three totals: 50 miles, 4:15, 7100 feet.


That evening we made the scenic drive southwest to the tiny hamlet of Barcelonnette. This was my favorite town of the trip--a quaint old-town square, nice restaurants, and beautiful mountains in every direction. The next morning we rode from our hotel in Barcelonnette to the Col de la Bonettte, which is the highest paved road in Europe. It was a long climb, 25 kilometers, and steep, but the views all of the way up were incredible. It's the most spectacular climb I've ever done. I could ride this climb every day for the rest of my life and be content. At the top, you have a 360 degree view of the snow-capped peaks of the French and Italian Alps. Speaking of snow, for the last 5k we were pedaling past huge snow banks--in July!


From the top of the Bonette, we descended back into Barcelonnette and then rode up the Pra Loup climb, which is famous in Tour de France lore for being the last place that Eddy Merckx wore the yellow jersey. France's Bernard Thevenet dropped Merckx halfway up, taking yellow and winning the '75 Tour. It's such a legendary Tour moment that it's still commemorated throughout the region.

Day Four totals: 54 miles, 4:20, 7040 feet of climbing. You may notice that these rides are taking a long, long time. Riding 50 miles in North Texas might only take 2:30 or 3:00, but with these long, steep climbs, your saddle time increases dramatically. For those of you who ride in the Dallas area, you're probably familiar with Loving Hill--well, imagine Loving Hill being 12 miles long. That's what the climbs are like in the Alps. If you're planning a trip like this, make sure you train hard. If you aren't in shape, it can be a miserable experience. I was smarter with my gearing this trip, too. My first trip, in '93, I rode a 53x42 up front, and an 11-21 in the back--that's right, an easiest gear of 42x21, which is insane. This trip, I had a 53x39 up front, and a 12-29 in back, which was great. The 29 came in handy.

Day Five was an off day from riding. It was the day we would watch the Tour de France. We picked the Stage 17 time trial, giving us a chance to see each rider individually against the clock. Through work, I was able to get us each a press pass, which gave us incredible access to the riders in the start and finish areas. We were able to tour the pits before the race, seeing each team's bus and set-up area, and see each team's riders warming up on their trainers three feet in front of us. I'm planning on writing a separate blog post on my day at the race, complete with a ton of photos from the start/finish areas, sometime next week.


At the finish area, we ran into our hero, Greg LeMond--the first (and now officially the only) American winner of the Tour. LeMond was my biggest inspiration when I was getting into the sport in the early 80's, and it was a thrill to see him again.


That evening after the race, we drove north a couple of hours to Bourg Saint Maurice, a ski village near the Italian border, and moved into an apartment overlooking the city center. It rained the next morning, but that afternoon we were able to ride up the Cormet de Roselend, a stunning climb which gave us a view of Mont Blanc on the way up. We descended back into town, and ducked into a bar to have a beer and watch the Alpe d'Huez stage on TV with a bunch of locals, which was a blast! A Frenchman, Christophe Riblon, won the stage, and the locals went crazy--it was cool to see.

Day Six totals: 25 miles, 2:00, 3730 feet.

The next day we climbed two monsters: La Plagne, where Stephen Roche saved his '87 Tour win, and Courchevel. Each climb was relentless--a steady 8%. La Plagne was kind of scenic, but Courchevel was not. The only cool thing about Courchevel was seeing the airport at the top of the mountain and it's crazy-short runway:


Day Seven totals: 61 miles, 5:00, 9800 feet.

Finally, our last day of the trip, and our biggest ride. Dave was tuckered from the previous six days of climbing almost 41,000 feet, so he decided to drive the team support car behind me for the final ride--a 100 mile monster of a day. I had planned this ride months ago, and had been thinking about this ride for 30 years. The queen stage of the Tour de France has often been contested over three "hors de categorie" climbs, meaning the climbs are so tough that they are "beyond category," as though the human mind cannot comprehend their difficulty. It may be a romantic way for the Tour to dress them up, but trust me, they are beasts. For 30 years, I've watched the Tour riders tackle courses like this, and I've always wondered if I could do it. I finally got my chance.

Like Dave, I was a bit tired from the previous week of riding, but I felt OK, and was more-than-excited about the challenge. I climbed aboard my carbon mistress at 8am that morning, and started climbing the north side of the Col de Madeleine. It's 25k in length, and averages 7%. It's also breathtakingly beautiful. I had perfect weather for this ride, and the morning sun bathed the mountain in a brilliant light. Two kilometers from the top, I ran into an unlikely traffic jam: a giant heard of cattle being driven down the road. It was such a unique experience that I didn't mind my momentum up the climb coming to halt.


After cresting the top of the Madeleine, I plunged to the valley below and started the brutal climb of the Col de la Croix de Fer--a 30k climb that seems to go on forever. By the summit, I had been on the bike for over five hours, and I was hungry. I stopped at the small cafe at the top, ate a sandwich and slammed a Coke, and started downhill. The descent was down the Glandon, which was fast and fun. Now, all that was left to do was climb the south side of the Madeleine, and then descend back to the start village of La Lechere. The south side of the Madeleine is "only" 20k, but it's 8%-10% the entire way. It's a quad-buster, and my quads were already spent. I told myself I'd get up that climb no matter what it took. It wasn't my fastest climb ever, and I started cramping near the top, but I made it. I was thrilled at the top. I had a big smile on my face all the way down to the finish.

It was my best cycling experience ever, and the best day of my life. The ride totaled exactly 100 miles (my first century ride in Europe), 8:40 in the saddle (my longest ride ever, time-wise), and 15,900 feet of climbing! I had perfect weather, great support from Dave, and I felt strong the whole way. I had trained a lot for this trip through the spring and summer, and it paid off. At age 47, I felt better on the climbs than I've ever felt before. I wasn't exactly floating up them, but I wasn't struggling, either. I was moving at a pretty good clip, or as good of a clip as you can up a 10% grade.


Trip totals for the week: 404 miles, 32 hours in the saddle, and 57,000 feet of climbing (or, two times up Mt Everest!).

The trip was a success. Our goal was to sleep, ride, eat, and repeat. We did just that.

Regarding the 100th Tour de France: I thought it was a good race, but not a great one. There were some interesting individual stages, but Chris Froome made the overall race a formality. He was far-and-away the strongest. I like what I hear out of Froome in interviews, but as a rider, I think he's a spaz. He has these crazy accelerations when he doesn't need to, he rides with his elbows pointed straight out, and when he bonks he waves his hand like crazy to the team car instead of playing poker. But there is no denying that he's a badass, and he controlled this year's race almost by himself, as his Sky team was not nearly as strong as it was in support of Wiggins last year.

And, despite the terrible publicity around the sport recently, the crowds were still huge. Fans seem to just want to experience the culture and the cult of the sport. The fans love riding their bikes, and they love being around the race, and nothing else seems to matter. TV ratings in France were higher than they've been in 20 years. This 100th Tour did a great job of paying tribute to the past, and the fans ate it up.

Fans of any sport just want to be thrilled. Football fans and baseball fans and cycling fans get overwhelmed by the spectacle of their sports, and it makes them forget the seedy side of things. Whatever thrills you, whatever gets you through the day. Bike racing still thrills me, and nothing makes me happier than riding my bike. This trip did both, and it was the best trip of my life.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

One More Time



I grew up in the 70's in Oklahoma City, a boy without a country. I was a huge professional basketball fan, but this was long before the OKC Thunder. Oklahoma kids typically rooted for Dallas teams like the Cowboys and Rangers, since geographically they were the closest pro teams to us. Because of this, I probably would have grown up a Mavericks fan, but the Mavericks didn't exist then. I thought about making the Houston Rockets my team, but nothing about them grabbed me. But one evening, in the fall of 1974, I was fiddling with the radio in my bedroom, and I stumbled upon a basketball game which captivated me.

The station was 1200 AM, WOAI in San Antonio. The game was between the San Antonio Spurs and the Kentucky Colonels. It wasn't the NBA--I was listening to a game with teams that I was only vaguely familiar with. The great Terry Stembridge was the play-by-play man, and the game was exciting (the Spurs lost--I only know this because I've traced the game to the October 24th, 1974 113-103 loss in Louisville). I felt like I was eavesdropping on a strange, new world of renegade, star-filled professional basketball (and the ABA was indeed a strange world of renegade, star-filled basketball). "Join us tomorrow night, as we'll be in New York to take on Dr. J and the New York Nets," said Stembridge, at the end of his broadcast. I can't tell you how thrilling that sounded to a basketball-starved nine year old trapped in the NBA black hole that was the American Heartland in the 70's. And so, the next night I was by the channel--how could I not listen to a game with Dr. J playing in it? I was hooked. They weren't an NBA team, but it pro basketball, and it was a league that nobody at school knew about, which made me feel like I was as step ahead. Plus, they were geographically close to OKC, and located in my native Texas, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

Two years later, the NBA absorbed four ABA teams. Thankfully, the Spurs were one of those teams, or I would have had to go searching for a new favorite. Since I started following the team in '74, they've almost always been good. In 40 years, they've only missed the playoffs four times, which is remarkable. But for many, many years, they were next year's champs. They came close a few times during the George Gervin era, but could never get past the Bullets (when they were an Eastern Conference team) or the Lakers (when they moved to the West). Even during the early and peak David Robinson years, they always came up short. None of those teams ever made the NBA Finals.

Now, the Spurs are in their fifth Finals, having won the previous four. The last 15 years of Spurs basketball is a stretch of excellence that is rarely seen in any sport. Popovich, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are a modern-day Auerbach, Russell, Cousy and Havlicek (whose careers were more overlapping than this Spurs core, yet the comparison between the two sets of four is pretty close).

Lately, the Spurs have reminded me of another New England team: the Patriots. In the last 15 years, the Spurs have four titles, the Pats have three. The Spurs have won 70% of their games, so have the Pats. The Spurs have been to the conference finals seven times in that stretch, the Pats have been seven times. The Spurs foundation is Popovich/Duncan, the Pats foundation is Belichick/Brady. And, it's been a while since either was back on the mountain top--the Spurs last won it all in '07, the Pats in '04. Yet, each has been a strong contender every year since their last title, and each has been dismissed as "old" or having their "window shut" by many, yet they keep hanging around and keep winning divisions or conferences almost yearly.

I understand that Mavs fans will never openly cheer for the Spurs--I don't expect Red Sox fans to ever root for the Yankees. But I would hope that any basketball fan would, at the very least, appreciate the rare greatness that is this Spurs team. In 40 years, I've never seen an NBA team that passes the ball as well as these Spurs, and I've rarely seen a team as unselfish as these Spurs (I do rank the '10-'11 Mavs as one of those great, unselfish teams). Bill Simmons perfectly described these Spurs when he said "they're like that old married couple who has been together for 50 years and you look at them and say 'wow, they really like each other,' except there are four of them (Pop, Duncan, Parker and Manu), not just two." It really is a rare thing in pro sports to see a team that has had so much success get along as well as they do. Everyone checks their ego at the door. It's all about the greater good.

One of the things I like the most about this team is that in 15 years you've never heard of Duncan calling out a teammate, or Parker bitching about his coach, or Manu complaining about coming off the bench. If they have disagreements, they are kept in-house. Publicly, the players defer to Popovich--on everything. They never question him. The loyalty displayed between coach and star players, and vice versa, is rare. They know they have a good thing, they know the system works, and they understand the pecking order. It's kept them viable for much longer than anyone could have imagined.

Two years ago, the 8th seeded Grizzlies beat top seed San Antonio in the first round. I wrote a blog post proclaiming the end of the Duncan era. I couldn't have been more wrong. The Spurs kept believing in the system, and they kept tweaking it. Duncan needed help down low, and they developed Tiago Splitter. They needed younger legs and longer defenders on the perimeter, so they drafted Kawhi Leonard and groomed Danny Green and Gary Neal. Always tweaking around the core three, and always believing--even when their fans and the media didn't.



And here they are again. Miami will be very tough to beat. They are the defending champs, they have the best player in the world, and they have home court advantage. But the Spurs have something, too--a chemistry which is truly rare in pro sports. And it's a chemistry that we may never see again, given player movement and the new CBA. I'm going to enjoy this NBA Finals, because win or lose, it's a special treat to watch a group of guys who respect each other so much and play team-first basketball the way the Spurs do. The kid from OKC remembers the ABA, and how far his favorite basketball team has come.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston



Six weeks ago, I received my official Boston Marathon "Runner Passport," complete with my race number. I registered for 2013 edition of the world's oldest annual marathon last September, at the time thinking I would run. I had qualified for the fourth year in a row, and you can never be sure if or when you'll qualify again, so I thought I should take advantage of it.

But as fall turned into winter, I realized that I was burned out on running marathons, and I decided to skip Boston '13. I needed a break--I had run 10 marathons since I took up the sport in 2007, and I had run five in the previous 14 months. To say I was lacking motivation would be a huge understatement. To keep myself in some kind of running shape, I ran a couple of days each week, but nothing long, and all of it unstructured. After six straight years of constantly being on a training program, I started running only when I felt like it, and always without a watch--and I was so unmotivated to run, it was hard to even do that.

But when I got my race packet in the mail in March, I was hit by a huge wave of desire. Just seeing my bib number--7496--and reading the runner's race bible, I got all fired up to run Boston again. I planned a four week crash-training program, and was ready to go to Beantown on limited training, just to keep my modest streak (I had run the last three) alive. I wanted to again be a part of the greatest race in the world.

My enthusiasm was short-lived, however, as later that week my plan was snuffed out. At work, we weren't sure if we were going to be able to pull off our "Musers Tour of Texas" road trip due to a number of logistical issues. But near the end of March, we got word that our trip was all-systems go, and we would be departing Dallas on April 15th, the morning of the running of the 117th Boston Marathon. Oh well, maybe next year, I thought. I wasn't properly trained anyway, so it probably would have been ugly. It was just as well that I couldn't go.

I had no idea how lucky I was that work had interfered with play.



During day one of our road trip, we stopped in Dublin, TX. We were touring the quaint Ben Hogan Museum, when Gordon got a news alert on his phone. He interrupted our tour guide by delivering the chilling line "there have been two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon." My heart stopped for a second, and I got sick to my stomach. I first thought about how close I came to running this year--thank God I was in a small town in Central Texas instead. Then I immediately thought about all of my friends that were running Boston. My stomach got a little worse. I tried to do the math, wondering about each one of them, hoping that they had finished ahead of the blasts, or hoping that they were still out on course negotiating the Newton Hills.

Right away, I called my friend Matt, whose wife Melissa was running her first Boston. He said they were fine, but that they had been at the exact site of the explosions five minutes before the bombs went off. He was waiting for his wife at the finish line, holding their two year old daughter and standing with his brother and sister-in-law. If Melissa had been five minutes slower...

One by one, I called and texted everyone I could think of who was running Boston that day. One by one, I got good news in return. After a while, only one of my friends was unaccounted for, and he remained so for several hours. Finally, his son called me tell me that pops was OK--what a relief.

Then I thought back to last year, and my wife's attempt to qualify for Boston. She missed by just a few minutes--at the time we were both disappointed, but in hindsight, that miss may have turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to either of us. Had she qualified, she certainly would have run this year, and I certainly would have gone to support her. I've gone to watch her in other marathons before, and I like to jump all over the course and see her as many times as I can. Knowing myself, I would have certainly tried to be right at the finish to see her cross the line. I would have positioned myself on the west side of the street, where the bombs went off, because it's less congested than the east side. It's very possible that she would have been finishing right around the time of the blasts. It's possible that I would have been standing right where those monsters placed those backpacks.

The finish line. That familiar blue and yellow paint job on Boylston Street is perhaps the most iconic spot in the running world. Every runner dreams of qualifying for Boston, and every runner dreams of crossing that line. For many, that moment, that spot, is the fulfillment of a life-long ambition. I've experienced such joy at that finish line, from my own when I completed my first Boston in 2010, to the tears of joy streaming down the cheeks of strangers around me as they embraced their loved ones. To see that finish line splattered with blood and shrapnel didn't make any sense.

The finish line at Boston is a symbol of human sacrifice and achievement. It's crowded with family and friends of runners, waiting to share the moment--family and friends who understand the sacrifice and achievement. It's crowded with volunteers who spend 10 hours standing there, putting medals around the necks and blankets around the shoulders of weary finishers--volunteers who understand the sacrifice and the achievement. Family, friends, and volunteers who suddenly found themselves targeted by two brothers who thought that mass-murder was somehow their calling.



After watching the moving images from Boston last week, from the heroic efforts at the finish line of those helping to save lives, to the incredibly moving singing of the National Anthem at the Bruins game, it's made me want to be a part of that great race again. One of the many wonderful things about the endurance sports community is the sense of charity and comradery within its ranks. Untold millions (maybe billions?) have been raised by runners and cyclists and swimmers to help a myriad of charitable causes. The running world has pledged to help the victims of the bombings, and pledged to make next year's 118th running of Boston a statement event.

Patriots' Day in Boston is a true celebration of this country. 25,000 run the marathon, another million cheer from the roadside, another million cram the local bars and parks, and it seems like another million cram Fenway for the annual Red Sox day game. It's a special day to be a part of. But to race again, I'll have to qualify again, which is part of the beauty of the Boston Marathon. And next year's race promises to be the most beautiful of them all. So, excuse me while I go for a run. Lack of motivation is no longer a problem.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Quarterback Decision Fatigue Theory


Colin Kaepernick ended up five yards short of winning a Super Bowl. He would have become the first option-type, dual-threat quarterback to do so. With the emergence of Kaepernick, RGIII, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, there is a new thought in the NFL that this is the quarterback of the future--that in football's new age, you'll have just as good of a chance to win a Super Bowl with one of these guys as you would with a traditional pocket passer. I don't believe this. I think the pocket passer will always have the ultimate advantage.

I call it my "Quarterback Decision Fatigue Theory." For reference, you may want to read more about decision fatigue--none of us are immune from it. My theory is that the dual-threat quarterback is being asked to make more decisions than he can perhaps handle. In high school and college, the great option quarterback can dominate because he's facing high school and college defenses, where there are few, if any, NFL-caliber players or schemes, so the constant decisions he has to make are easier. But once he gets to the NFL, the defensive talent is immense, every week, and the schemes much more complex, and his decisions become more an more difficult, more and more stressful.

On our radio program, we talk a lot about Jason Garrett being overloaded as a head coach and offensive play caller--that he's got too much on his plate during a game to operate at peak efficiency at either job. We also recently discussed Bill Walsh, who said he had to retire because he couldn't keep taxing his central nervous system in the way that he was, since he was GM, coach, administrator, psychologist--he did everything for the 49ers, and it became too great a burden to handle. I've also read numerous studies about athletes, young and old, and how easy it is for those who do too much or train too hard to end up taxing their CNS to the point of diminishing returns.

So, my theory focuses on this question: are coaches asking too much of a true, dual-threat quarterback in today's highly complex NFL?

There is no question that Kaepernick, Wilson and RGIII had terrific rookie seasons. They outplayed and defeated traditional pocket passers many, many times. Except, of course, in the ultimate game. Is it possible that these dual-threat QB's will never be able to win titles because by the end of game, or the end of a season, the odds say that they'll be more worn down than a pocket passer because of all they're asked to do?

Consider the average pocket passer. During a game, his offense will typically have 60-70 snaps. In a perfect world, he will throw it half of the time, and hand it off to a running back half of the time. So, for 30-35 snaps per game, the pocket passer basically gets the play off. Yes, he still has to execute the snap, or audible a run call, but once he hands the ball off, he can already start thinking about the next play--getting himself together.

The dual-threat QB (DTQB) doesn't have that luxury. The DTQB has to be fully mentally and physically engaged for just about every play. If it's one of the typical 30 pass plays per game, he has to go the normal read of the defense at the line of scrimmage, and then through his progressions as the play develops, just like the pocket passer. But the DTQB is also asked to run the read option, which means that for an additional 10-20 snaps a game, he's got to make more big, split-second decisions--from the time he breaks the huddle, to the time the ball is snapped, reading the defensive end, and deciding to keep or hand off. And, if he keeps, he's then got to shift into running back mode. He might be 15 yards down the field, take a big hit, and then he's responsible for immediately getting back to his feet, getting focused, and leading the next play. It never stops for the DTQB.

The pocket passer doesn't tax his body, mind, or CNS the way the DTQB does. The DTQB doesn't get the 30-35 snaps a game off the way the pocket passer does. The pocket passer doesn't take the physical abuse that the DTQB does (unless the pocket passer has a terrible offensive line and gets sacked a ton). The DTQB is also a running back, but the difference is that after a big run, the DTQB has to go right back into battle, while the RB often trots to the sideline for a breather. There are no breathers for the DTQB, and I think eventually it wears them down.

There has been much written on the "Information Overload Theory," and how it applies to fighter pilots and battle field commanders. Why, then, couldn't the same theory be applied to the DTQB? Isn't it at least a possibility that the DTQB is being asked to do too much, to be too engaged for too many snaps? Isn't it possible that by the time the end of the game comes around, that the the DTQB has taxed his CNS to the point that he's unable to make the right decision or the correct throw that might be necessary to win the game? If we all agree that every player is more worn down by the end of the game than they were at the start, then why isn't it also possible that the player that the most is being demanded of would be more worn down than anyone else on the field, thus compromising his decision making and effectiveness?

Much is also made of the DTQB being more injury prone. Isn't it logical to assume that the DTQB is more injury prone not only because he's running more and exposing himself more to hits, but also because he's more taxed mentally, which can lead to poor decisions when it comes to protecting himself? Maybe by a certain point in the game, the DTQB is so worn down physically and mentally that he's not able to process exactly when he needs to slide to avoid a big hit, or his senses aren't quite sharp enough to pick up the weak side defender because his senses have been overloaded?

Add to all of this the fact that, at least according to offensive coordinators around the league, NFL defenses are much more complex than they were even five years ago. The hardest position in sports is that of NFL quarterback, and now we are to believe that by adding the read option to his already difficult job, that the DTQB is simply going to continue to run and throw all over these defenses? My guess is that next season, defenses will be much better prepared to face the read option, which means the DTQB's will be eventually forced more into a traditional pocket passer role in order to succeed. I won't say that Kaepernick or RGIII will never win a Super Bowl, I just think that if they do, they'll do it as a pocket passer, not a DTQB. Each of those guys has a great arm, and could easily win games as a pocket passer, running only occasionally on a scramble--more like Aaron Rodgers.


The Quarterback Sensory Overload Theory allows for the possibility that Kaepernick or Cam or RGIII could turn out to be a truly transcendent athlete--a Michael Jordan-type who is the exception to any rule. But even Jordan had Scottie Pippen to help take some the the load off. It may end up that one of the new wave of DTQB's wins a Super Bowl running the read option and throwing the ball equally well, but I don't see it, and I don't think the DTQB will ever dominate the NFL. Steve Young is the closest thing we've ever had to a running QB winning the Super Bowl, and he wasn't running the option. Colin Kaepernick was all the rage one week ago, but pocket passer Joe Flacco is the one who got his first ring. The Super Bowl is the domain of the pocket passer. It's an exclusive club, and the sign on the door still reads "Option Quarterbacks Not Allowed." I think there's a reason for that--the Quarterback Decision Fatigue Theory.

Private author footnote: Please don't be surprised if I win some kind of major award for the development of this theory. It could be something really big, like a Nobel Prize. If it indeed ends up being a life-changing-type award, I can't promise that I will continue to write these blog posts, but that's a decision that I will only be able to make after experiencing what life is like after winning a Nobel Prize. Hopefully I won't be paralyzed by decision fatigue, which would be the ultimate irony.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Step One


In his attempt to comeback a third time in his life (from cancer in '97, and to bike racing in '09), Lance Armstrong has already made one big mistake: the Oprah interview should have been five minutes long, not 2 1/2 hours.

All anybody has ever wanted to hear was Lance admitting that he doped--that's it. And he did that in the first minute of the interview. It was surreal to see the guy who had denied so strongly for so many years finally admitting what the rest of the world already knew. But as the interview continued, a funny thing happened: everyone wanted more. Just confessing wasn't enough. Had he stopped the interview after a few minutes (in hindsight, maybe it shouldn't have been an interview, and instead just a statement?), I think the public would have been OK with things, for a while. We all would have gotten our confession, and then waited to see what Lance would do next on his road to redemption.

But the interview went on, and on, and on--which gave Lance plenty of opportunities to revert to his normal, defensive nature. After making everyone happy and confessing, he then pissed everyone off by qualifying things. He said "I just took a tiny amount of EPO" and "I thought I needed the testosterone because of the cancer" (even though he admitted to taking testosterone before he had cancer). He played the semantics game when asked if he had demanded that teammates dope. The worst moment was the very strange "I called her crazy, called her a bitch, but I never called her fat" defense of his steamrolling of Betsy Andreu. Nobody wanted to hear his qualifications, nobody wanted to hear him playing word games, and all he had to say about Betsy was "I'm sorry." But he couldn't, because he's still not living in the real world--he's still on planet Lance, where all things revolve around his image.

I've always maintained that this interview was about two things. 1) He is the ultimate control freak, and his life is completely out of control. He went from a world where he was revered and in control, to a world where everyone was laughing at him and there was nothing he could do about it. This interview was a way of taking back some control of the situation. If you noticed, many times during the interview he specifically referred to things being "out of control." 2) He desperately wants to compete in triathlons again, and he knew that he had to confess to start the process of getting his lifetime ban reduced. Last summer, Lance was two months away from competing in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii--a race some thought he would win, and a race I believe he deeply covets--before he was slapped with the lifetime ban. One of the few times he really lit up during the interview was when Oprah asked him if he wanted to compete again--he said "Hell yes! That's what I am, that's what drives me." He then made sure to point out that everyone else who had testified had been given six month suspensions, but he was given "the death penalty." It was his way of telling the world "this isn't fair," which the world doesn't want to hear from a guy who hasn't played by the rules for almost 20 years.

Lance had some good moments during the interview. The best, of course, was him finally admitting that he doped. No athlete in the history of sports had denied doping as strongly and for as long as he did. Admitting that he was a ruthless bully was also a good step forward for him. When he talked about his oldest son, Luke, defending him at school against kids who were saying that his father had doped, he broke down--and that seemed like an honest, difficult moment for Lance, which is something we never see from him. And, saying that he would be willing to help clean up the sport was a big olive branch from Lance to the cycling world, which was a positive.

He had bad moments, too. The qualifications, the semantical games, the defending of the evil Dr. Ferrari, and his insistence that he rode the 2009 and 2010 Tours clean. During the interview he said that he never felt like doping was cheating--that it was as natural as putting air in his tires. He also said he didn't think it was possible to win the Tour clean. So why would he suddenly not dope in his comeback attempt? The biological passport may have given him pause, but it's hard to imagine that, at age 38 and after three years away from the sport, he could come back and finish third in the Tour on bread and water. Many think he's looking for an eight year ban from competing, retroactive to 2005 (his last Tour win) so that he can compete in triathlons this year, thus he wants everyone to believe he's been clean since '05. However, it's hard to believe that he was clean, given the sport, given his history, and given his manager during those years (Johan Bruyneel, who is as dirty as they come). On the flip side, it seems like a huge gamble for a guy who is supposedly now telling the truth to lie about '09 and '10 and risk others coming forward and saying that they saw him doping during those races. But right now it's easier to believe that he would risk getting busted again than believing he rode those Tours on nothing but pasta.


Throughout the interview, I had the feeling that Lance was not sorry about doping, nor was he sorry about the way he destroyed people in defense of his lies. Instead, I had the feeling that Lance was sorry only that he'd been busted. Many think he's hit rock bottom, but I don't think he's close to that yet. I think he's in shock right now--shock that his world has crumbled. He'll get to rock bottom, one day, and perhaps only then will we see true contrition.

In the end, this was about as much as we could expect from Lance as he begins the long and maybe impossible task of repairing his image. For now, I'm happy that we at least got a confession. The rest of the world wanted much more--but they wanted the impossible. Lance wasn't going to suddenly flip a switch and cry for two hours and say nothing but "Im so sorry, I'm so sorry"--egomaniacal control freaks don't change overnight. Lance was correct when he said "it's going to be a process." For those wanting more--like names, doping details, full apologies and complete contrition--I think you'll eventually get that. He's got massive legal concerns preventing a lot of that from happening at this moment, and he's got massive personal issues preventing a lot that from happening immediately, too. His therapist may very well be a more important figure in his life than his lawyers as he attempts to move forward.

It was hard to feel sorry for him at any point during the Oprah interview, but afterwards I did--although maybe I was feeling sorrier for the sport of cycling and it's beautiful events like the Tour de France than I was for Lance. The general public, unfamiliar with the nature of the sport, is going to think that Lance just took some pills and then won the Tour, which is far from true. His doping overshadows the amount of work that he--and all of the cheating champions in cycling--still had to put in. Doped or clean, Lance is a phenomenal athlete, capable of doing things very few have ever been able to do. Lance doped, but he also still had to go punish himself on the bike for five hours each day in training, and turn himself inside-out during races to win. But that's the bed that Lance has made for himself. Before, most people looked at Lance and said "freak of nature," which he is. Now, most people look at Lance and say "greatest fraud in sports," which he also is.

(A great cycling hypothetical is the question of birthdays. There is no doubt that Lance is guilty of being a prick and guilty of doping. But can it be argued that he's also a victim of his era? My all-time hero is Greg LeMond. I would bet a lot of money that LeMond was clean during his Tour de France wins--in fact, it's widely acknowledged that LeMond was the last clean Tour winner. But I've always wondered what would have happened had LeMond been born ten years later? As a child, LeMond was driven by the thought of winning the Tour de France and the World Championships. He was at his peak during an era that was pre-EPO. If LeMond had debuted in 1992, when Lance did, would LeMond have tried EPO? The only way to win the Tour in the 90's would have been to dope. By the time EPO hit the peloton full-force in 1991, LeMond had already won three Tours and two World titles, and was set financially for life--he didn't need to dope. But would a 22 year old LeMond, or Hinault, or Merckx, have taken EPO if they had started their careers when Lance did? I think it's easy for riders of past generations to look down on the dopers of the 90's and 00's, but it was a much different game then--a game the older guys never had to decide to play or not.)

For Lance, step one is complete. He's confessed to doping. What will step two look like? Or step three? Will there be any more steps? I believe that, at some point, Lance will testify under oath about everything he knows about doping in cycling. He'll do that not to help the sport heal, but to help reduce his lifetime ban from competition, to increase future earning potential, and to help restore his good name--as well as some scene control. Competing and controlling are at the heart of everything Lance Armstrong does, and I don't think that will ever change.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

God's Finest Work


When I was a kid, I wanted to be a running back. Most kids want to be the quarterback, but not me. 100 yard rushing games were much more magical to me than 300 yard passing games. A touchdown run seemed way more difficult than throwing a touchdown pass. A 1,000 yard rushing season, whether at the high school, college or pro level, was the individual sports number that impressed me the most. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a running back take a pitch, hit the seam, accelerate, and jet down the sideline. Perhaps growing up in Oklahoma during the halcyon days of the wishbone fostered my love for the running back position, but whatever the reason, I consider myself a running back connoisseur--which entitles me to write this blog post and there is nothing that you, the reader, can do about it.

(Note: While RB's were, and are, my ultimate, I also reserve a special place in my football heart for the running quarterback--I like those guys even more than a pure passer. A special tip of the cap to Jack Mildren, Steve Davis, Thomas Lott, J.C. Watts, Jamelle Hollieway and Charles Thompson, as well as non-Sooners like James Street, Dee Dowis and that freak Johnny Football.)

Who is the greatest running back ever? Few questions in sports generate a heated debate like this one. Ask this question of any football fan, and you could hear any one of 20-30 different names in response. I've always believed that Barry Sanders was the best. I've never seen anyone quite like him. He holds the college single season record (2,628--think about that!) which included five straight 200 yard games. In the NFL, he set the record for consecutive 100 yard games with 14, and had he not retired way too early, he would have easily become the NFL's all-time leading rusher. He gained most of his NFL yardage without the benefit of being on a great team, or having a great quarterback or great offensive line--heck, Sanders rarely even had a fullback to clear the way for him. He did everything on his own.


(Note: Because I believe Sanders to be the best does not mean that I think everyone else sucked. If you want to argue that Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson (awkward), Gale Sayers, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, L.T., Marcus Allen, Tony Dorsett--or any of the guys I'm about to mention--are the best ever, I don't really have a problem with it. You would be wrong, but I don't really have a problem with it.)

One of the things I look for in a back is the thrill factor--that feeling of great anticipation you get before the snap, just hoping that he gets the ball because something really exciting could happen. Franco Harris had zero thrill factor. John Riggins, Larry Csonka, Otis Anderson, George Rogers--all great backs, but guys who barely moved the needle for me. Luckily, as kid who loved OU, I always had a thrill-back to root for. Greg Pruitt, Joe Washington, Billy Sims--all had a huge thrill factor. Marcus Dupree may truly have been the greatest that never was--a massive thrill every time he touched the ball.

And then there was Sweetness. Walter Payton was a god. If you want to argue that he was the greatest ever, you have a pretty good argument. Great speed, great strength, great moves, great numbers. If you don't have Payton in your top two or three running backs of all-time, then you are making a big mistake. He is the second-most perfect back that God ever created.


Which brings me to the guy that I consider the closest to perfection at the position that I've ever seen: Adrian Peterson. Sanders was the best, but he wasn't the perfect back--he was 5'8. Payton was 5'10. Peterson is the perfect size: 6'1, 217. Big enough to scare the hell out of defenders, but light enough to possess 4.3 speed. Only Bo Jackson (6'1, 227) and Herschel Walker (6'1, 225) compare to Peterson in terms of size/speed perfection, but neither of those backs had Adrian's moves. Dickerson was 6'3, 220--perhaps an inch or two too tall, hindering his ability to "get small" and somewhat limiting his shiftiness. No back has ever thrilled me like A.D (All Day, for those who don't know and think I made a typo). I don't believe we've ever seen anyone with his size, his speed, his vision, his moves, his toughness and his work ethic. Ever.

Peterson can run straight over you, or he can take one arm and throw you out of his way. He can run around you, either by freezing you with a great stutter-step or by changing direction on a dime. He can run away from you by using his great acceleration at the line of scrimmage, or by using his blazing speed in the open field. There are no limits to the ways in which he can get his yardage. His one weakness, which showed early in his career, was the fumble, but over the last three years he appears to have corrected that problem.

Peterson's 2012 season was the stuff of legend, and probably the greatest season by a running back in NFL history. With apologies to '73 Simpson, '77 Payton, '84 Dickerson, '97 Sanders,'06 Tomlinson, and '09 Johnson, '12 Peterson beats them all. 2,097 yards (an astounding 6.0 yards per carry!) eight months after tearing his MCL and ACL on a team that has zero passing threat is such a remarkable feat it defies all football logic. Had Peterson rushed for 1,000 yards this season, I would have considered that an incredible comeback. But to double that? You have to be kidding me.

His very first carry in a big game in college was a 44 yard run against Texas--you could tell that Peterson was extra-special. 1,925 yards as a true freshman and (at the time) the closest a frosh had ever come to winning the Heisman Trophy. Kids everywhere wanted to wear #28.


(Note: A.D., Dickerson, and Faulk made high 20 numbers for RB's cool. 26, 27, 28, and 29 were always a bit of a wasteland for great backs, who usually wore low 20's or low 30's. High 30's never, ever look good on a running back. Traditionally, the best running back numbers have been 20, 22, 24, 32, 33, 34. In college, I've also always loved a running back who wore a single digit--it makes them look fast. And, oddly, I liked it that Charles White wore 12 at USC--somehow he made that ultimate QB number look cool as a RB. It should also be noted that 49 is the worst possible legally-allowed number for a running back.)

In addition to authoring the greatest-ever season by a running back, Peterson also holds the NFL record for most yards in one game (297). With 8,849 career yards at age 27, A.D. has a chance, if he remains healthy (big if for any running back) to come close to Emmitt's all-time mark. He would have to average about 1,300 yards for seven more seasons--not out of the question given his physical gifts and his work ethic. Even if he never threatens Emmitt's mark, he's already cemented himself as the best back of his era, and one of the best of all-time.

No running back has ever come close to giving me the thrills that A.D. has. I would like us all to hit our knees and thank the sweet Lord for creating the perfect running back. Amen.