Midseason and voting season means it's time elect football's best, brightest, and most-bloviating.
After a long, expensive, occasionally ridiculous campaign, our national moment of truth has finally arrived. Of course, I'm referring to the midpoint of the NFL season. Which means it's time to assess the state of the league, and also speculate about what's to come.
In the spirit of the just-completed presidential election—I must admit, Stockholm Syndrome is going to make me miss hearing the same handful of attack ad voice actors every time I turn on my television—here are three politically-themed awards and a trio of predictions:
The Barack Obama Don't-Call-it-a-Comeback Award: Too old. New team. Bad neck. Zipless passes and a wobbly deep ball. Peyton Manning was supposed to be done, right? Yesterday's phenomenon. Saddled by a halting recovery. No match for the conservative, throwback force that took the country by storm in his seeming absence. So much for that. Now starring for the Denver Broncos—deliciously, the former squad of He Who Shall Not Be Named, lest Rex Ryan get a crazy idea and start playing him—Manning looks like his old self, on pace for career highs in yards and completion percentage and career second-bests in touchdowns and passer rating. Moreover, the Broncos are 5-3, trending in the right direction (four wins in their last five games) and play in the AFC West, a division with the worst combined record (13-9) in the league, a division so bad that both Norv Turner and Scott Pioli continue to be gainfully employed.
The Todd Akin "Wait, Did I Say That Out Loud?" Award: Following an upset home loss to struggling Carolina that left Washington 3-5, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, "you lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come. ... Obviously, we're not out of it statistically, but now we find out what type of character we've got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season." Translation? We're not trying to win anymore. Wait 'till next year. Shanahan's verbal white flag—the kind of comment usually uttered by losing coaches in, say, December—touched off a firestorm among Washington fans and players alike forcing the coach to walk matters back during a next-day press conference in which he also asked that reporters call him, maybe, before running with stories based on his comments.
The Dean Chambers/Joe Scarborough I-Was-Unaware-This-Exam-Would-Include-Actual-Mathematics Award: By locking out its regular referees in what can only be described as a petty management-labor power play—ostensibly, the dispute was over an amount of money smaller than league commissioner Roger Goodell's expected future yearly salary—the NFL calculated that the resulting damage to its product wouldn't be enough to drive fans away. The league was half-right. Fans did keep watching—but largely to mock, deride and otherwise work themselves into an apoplectic lather over a group of replacement officials so inept that they made Turner and Pioli look like the hyper-professional Neil McCauley in "Heat." In the wake of a game-deciding Monday Night Football debacle that became the lead story on the "Today Show" and in the country at large the next morning, the NFL had little choice but to cave in and give the regular officials most of what they wanted. Memo to league owners: When you lose Al Roker, you lose America.
Rookie Quarterbacks Will Continue to Impress: From Robert Griffin III to Russell Wilson to Manning's replacement in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck, first-year signal-callers are lighting up the league. And why not? Football has evolved into a pass-happy game at every level, which benefits players who can ... pass.
The New York Jets' Backup Quarterback Will Continue to Not Impress: Remember what I just said about players who can actually throw a football? Yep, that part matters.
The NFL Will Continue to Peddle Brain Trauma Malarkey: While continuing to deny both fault and responsibility as concussion lawsuits pile up—a strategy I find both dubious and strategically dumb—the league has been pushing a "Heads Up" youth football initiative that purports to alleviate the sport's increasingly serious brain trauma crisis by ... altering Pee-Wee tackling technique. Which is not a sufficient answer, and more like a liability dodge. Quick explanation: Football-induced brain trauma comes from hitting. It comes from getting hit in the head—by other players' helmets; by assorted body parts; by the ground—and also from changes in angular momentum. The brain is like a piece of silly putty that floats inside the skull, the way a yolk floats inside an eggshell. It can move, stretch, shear, and endure damage regardless of tackling technique or James Harrison wearing a Kevlar helmet. As Joe Biden might say, there's a word for all of this.
Hampton, give me three awards and three predictions for the rest of NFL 2012.