THE TOP OFF-THE-FIELD STORIES:
5. The NFL Owners Opt Out of the CBA
Unhappy with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and eager to start negotiations for a new one, the NFL owners voted unanimously in mid-May to opt out of the CBA that they had approved just two years ago. The current CBA will expire in 2011, but we will have NFL football as usual for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Incidentally, 2010 will be a year without a salary cap if no new CBA has been ratified by then. A work stoppage is obviously possible in 2011 if a new labor deal is not in place. The last NFL work stoppage happened in 1987.
4. The Passing of Gene Upshaw
Upshaw, who had served as the executive director of the NFL Players Union since 1983, died abruptly of pancreatic cancer just a couple of weeks before the start of the regular season. Among his notable accomplishments as union chief, Upshaw had helped players obtain free agency and the wealth that came with it. The former Oakland Raiders star and NFL Hall of Famer took a leading role in all union negotiations that resulted in new CBAs in 1977, 1982 and 1993, along with extensions in 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2006. He was 63 years old.
3. Hurricane Ike Hits Reliant Stadium, Texans’ Schedule
Back in mid-September, Hurricane Ike made landfall near
2. The Plaxico Burress Meltdown
Already in hot water with the New York Giants for his lackluster play and repeated violations of team rules, the wide receiver was arrested on two counts of felony criminal possession of a weapon in early December after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh with his own .40-caliber Glock pistol while partying at a New York area night club.
law prohibits the possession of a concealed weapon. The Giants placed Burress on the Non-Football Injury List for the rest of the season while he recovered from the gunshot wound. Although Burress is presumed innocent unless proven guilty, the odds are stacked against him returning to the Giants or the NFL in the short-term. Anyone convicted of an illegal weapons possession charge in
1. The Richard Collier Shooting
The entire league was stunned by the vicious and nearly fatal shooting of the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle in early September. He was shot 14 times while sitting in a car and left for dead. Collier miraculously survived, but he had to have his left leg amputated and remains paralyzed below the waist. In case you missed it, Collier joined his teammates at midfield for the pregame coin toss during
THE TOP ON-THE-FIELD STORIES:
15. The Thanksgiving Day Games Were
Complaints about the often disappointing quality of the Thanksgiving Day NFL contests have been flying for years, but Thanksgiving 2008 featured the most noncompetitive, boring slate of games in recent memory. The Tennessee Titans annihilated the Detroit Lions 47-10, the Dallas Cowboys ripped the Seattle Seahawks 34-9 and the Philadelphia Eagles pounded the Arizona Cardinals 48-20. If you’re a fan of
14. Mike Singletary’s Head Coaching Debut
Singletary’s first game as the
13. The Benching of Donovan McNabb
Would quarterback Peyton Manning have gotten the hook if he was having a bad game? Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid’s decision to sit his star at halftime of what turned out to be a 36-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12 was a shocker. On the day, McNabb had gone 8-for-18 for 59 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Kevin Kolb, who replaced McNabb, didn’t do much better, completing 10 of his 23 passes for 73 yards with no touchdowns and two picks. McNabb got his starting job back the following week for the Eagles’ Thanksgiving Day game against the Arizona Cardinals. Prior to the benching, McNabb had turned the ball over seven times in six quarters. After the benching, he has turned the ball over just two times in six contests. McNabb led the Eagles to a 9-6-1 record and a 26-14 playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. The McNabb benching also touched off a huge debate about whether he would return to
12. Three Coaches Fired By Mid-Season
Following an 0-4 start to the season, the St. Louis Rams fired Scott Linehan in just his third year on the job. Linehan, who went 11-25 with the Rams, was despised by his players; they had clearly quit on him. The locker room dissension that had been building for two seasons finally erupted when
Linehan benched quarterback Marc Bulger. Running back Steven Jackson and wide receiver Torry Holt were among several Rams players who publicly blasted the move, saying they had no confidence in Linehan’s ability to lead the team.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett served as
Oakland Raiders managing partner Al Davis fired head coach Lane Kiffin after the Raiders had started the season 1-3, ending Kiffin’s unsuccessful, tumultuous 20-month stint (5-15 overall record) with the club. Davis and Kiffin had a huge falling out on a variety of on-the-field and off-the-field matters, which resulted in the two publicly feuding after Kiffin was dismissed. Offensive line coach Tom Cable served as interim head coach for the rest of the season.
Mike Nolan was shown the door after Week 7 by the
11. Peyton Manning Won His Third League MVP Award
Manning earned his record-tying third NFL MVP Award the hard way. As you probably recall, the 11-year veteran underwent late preseason surgery to have an infected bursa sac removed from his left knee and endured some post-surgery complications that forced him to miss training camp and all five of the Colts’ preseason games. Out of shape and rusty from not playing during the preseason, Manning struggled mightily during the first two months of the regular season. However, with the Colts wallowing at 3-4, Manning finally found his touch and led the team to nine straight wins and a playoff appearance (a 23-17 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card round) to close out the season. By the way, Manning also won the NFL MVP Award in 2003 (shared it with retired quarterback Steve McNair) and in 2004. Quarterback Brett Favre is the only other player who has won three MVP Awards.
10. The Dawn of a New Era in Titletown
For the first time in 16 years, the Green Bay Packers started a quarterback who was not named Brett Favre. The Packers went 6-10 in 2008 (seven of their losses were by four points or less), but you can’t blame the club’s terribly disappointing campaign on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He comfortably slid into the starting job that Favre had held for a record 253 consecutive starts. Although Rodgers still has some flaws in his game (ill-timed fumbles, occasional bad reads and sometimes holds the ball too long), he completed 341 of his 536 throws (63.6 percent completions) for 4,038 yards with 28 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions for a 93.8 passer rating. He also rushed 56 times for 207 yards and four scores.
9. DeAngelo Williams’ Unexpected Breakout Season
During Williams’ first three years with the Carolina Panthers, he had flashed some big-play ability, but the
8. The Year of the Rookies
We saw an unprecedented number of significant contributions from rookie players on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons), who was also named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) both led their teams to winning seasons and playoff appearances. Ryan’s 87.7 passer rating ranked No. 6 in the NFC, while Flacco’s 80.3 passer rating was the tenth best in the AFC.
Running backs Steve Slaton (Houston Texans) and Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans) finished No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the AFC in rushing. In the NFC, running back Matt Forte (Chicago Bears) and running back Kevin Smith (Detroit Lions) closed out the season ranked No. 5 and No. 11, respectively, in rushing. Forte also led his team in receptions. Rookies Tashard Choice (Dallas Cowboys), Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers), Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England Patriots), Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens) and Tim Hightower (Arizona Cardinals) also made notable contributions to their respective teams during the course of the season.
Wide receiver Eddie Royal (Denver Broncos) finished sixth in the AFC with 91 catches while wide receiver DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles) led his team with 62 receptions and displayed a lot of prowess as a return man. Tight end John Carlson (Seattle Seahawks) was the most consistent of the rookie tight ends, leading his team with 55 catches (third best total among tight ends in the NFC).
Following their stellar 2007 campaign (13-3 record, 13 Pro Bowlers), the Cowboys were a popular preseason Super Bowl pick. However, 2008 will go down as one of the most disappointing seasons in the franchise’s storied history. Team owner Jerry Jones made some very debatable moves, which included signing Adam “Pacman” Jones and giving away a king’s ransom in draft picks to the Detroit Lions in exchange for wide receiver Roy Williams. Late in the season, wide receiver Terrell Owens ignited a firestorm by publicly accusing quarterback Tony Romo of showing favoritism in the passing game to tight end Jason Witten. Owens and
The bad NFL teams always have managed to squeak out a win or two during the course of a regular season, which is why most pundits did not think it was possible for the Detroit Lions to go winless. Nevertheless,
5. The Shocking End of an Era in
After serving 14 seasons as the head coach of the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan was abruptly fired just after the regular season wrapped up. During an emotional presser, team owner Pat Bowlen explained his stunning decision to oust Shanahan, saying the franchise needed to go in a different direction. Shanahan, who had entered 2008 as the NFL’s longest-tenured head coach, had compiled a 146-89 record and won two Super Bowls (1998 and 1999) with the Broncos, but he was just 24-24 in his last three seasons. The team’s late-season collapse had cost Shanahan his job. The Broncos had squandered a three-game lead in the AFC West standings, losing their last three contests, including a 52-21 debacle that gave the division title to the San Diego Chargers. Shanahan also had held the title of executive vice president of football operations, which gave him final say in personnel matters. Shanahan the coach was not to blame for
4. The Brett Favre Un-Retirement Saga
Shortly after his tearful spring 2007 retirement announcement, Favre un-retired and wanted to return to the Green Bay Packers. However, despite making public statements to the contrary, head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson did not want Favre to return, because they had moved forward with quarterback Aaron Rodgers firmly entrenched as the team’s new starter. Following a very lengthy, awkward and occasionally bizarre public feud between Favre and the Packers, the future Hall of Famer finally consented to a trade to the New York Jets. Despite missing a good portion of Jets training camp and playing in a completely different offensive scheme, Favre helped
3. Tom Brady’s Knee Injury
The New England Patriots lost the 2007 NFL MVP Brady to a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL and torn MCL) in Week 1 when safety Bernard Pollard (Kansas City Chiefs) slammed into Brady’s knee while he was throwing a pass. To refresh your memory, the hit was legal and not considered malicious. Prior to the injury, Brady had not missed a start since September 30, 2001, which marked his first official start with the club.
2. The Flight of the New-Look
The Michael Vick dog-fighting ring fiasco, which ended Vick’s career in Atlanta, and the tumultuous tenure of now-former head coach Bobby Petrino, who walked out on his “dream job” after 13 games, demoralized the once-proud Atlanta Falcons franchise in 2007, resulting in a disastrous 4-12 campaign. Desperate for a fresh start,
1. The Resurrection of the
After a miserable 1-15 showing in 2007, Miami tied an NFL record for the biggest one-season turnaround by going 11-5 and winning the AFC East behind quarterback Chad Pennington (2008 NFL Comeback Player of the Year). Determined to change his team’s fortunes, Dolphins team owner Wayne Huizenga hired Bill Parcells to serve as his executive vice president of football operations. Parcells hired Tony Sparano from the Dallas Cowboys to coach the club and overhauled Miami’s roster, which included selecting Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Several well-known faces, such as linebacker Zach Thomas and linebacker Jason Taylor, were shown the door. The Dolphins also received unexpected contributions from a variety of players on both sides of the ball, most notably running back Ricky Williams and running back Ronnie Brown, who was returning from knee surgery, most often effectively using the Wildcat formation. The Dolphins’ 27-9 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens was a disappointment, but it certainly did not tarnish the team’s surprising 2008 accomplishments.