Sports

For Me, It’s the Best Rivalry in Sports

For Me, It’s the Best Rivalry in Sports

by Ric Albano

Today is an anniversary.

18 years ago today, on January 11, 1998, I attended the greatest live sports event of my life. The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers met for the AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium. In the crowd that day were about 58,742 Steeler fans and exactly three Bronco fans – myself, my then 6-year-old son, and “the Barrelman”. Walking in at about 9am through the very active tailgating crowd who grew especially animated at the sight of my son who was clad in my old bright orange Elway knock-off jersey which easily fit over his many layers of clothing and winter jacket. Before entering the stadium, my son’s attire also drew the attention of some Denver area press and we ended up doing interviews with a couple of newspapers (Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News) and my son was even broadcast live on a local Denver television station (I wish I’d remembered the call letters because it would be cool to see if that footage still exits). We even had a short conversation with legendary coach Joe Gibbs, who was then part of the NBC studio team. Yes, the sighting of Bronco fans in this sea of black and yellow was quite the spectacle.

Oh, and then there was the fun inside the stadium.

Dylan and the Barrelman Before the game, we snuck down to the sideline seats in order to watch the warm-ups and got the honor of meeting the legendary “Barrelman” ,Tim McKerran. We then made our way to the cheap seats about 3 rows from the top of the upper deck corner in a section almost exclusively packed with die-hard Steeler fans. There was a couple sitting behind us with no colors on who whispered that they were actually Cleveland Browns fans, there to watch the the Steelers lose, but would not cheer for anything positive for the Broncos, lest they be discovered.

The game itself had its back-and-forths with Pittsburgh taking an early 14-7 lead but Denver responding with 17 points before halftime to go ahead 24-14 at the break. The good news was that most of the scoring took place in our end zone, so our crappy seats actually turned out to be pretty good. The second half was more tense and more sloppy, as the Steelers moved the ball well but turned it over several times, preserving the Broncos 10 point lead well into the fourth quarter. Then Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart finally led his team on a long touchdown drive 1997 Steelers vs Broncostowards the far end zone, which absolutely electrified the crowd. The Broncos got the ball back with just under 3 minutes remaining and had the ball deep in their own territory, directly beneath us. The crowd got into an absolute frenzy with nothing but rotating “terrible towels” down the long funnel between our seats and the line of scrimmage. The Pittsburgh defense stopped two consecutive running plays, setting up a crucial third-and-long. One more stop and they would get the ball back with all the momentum and a chance to tie or win. The John Elway made one of his best passes of his storied career, threading the needle to hit Shannon Sharp down the middle. Within about 2 seconds, the decibel level went from about 110 to a quiet library and I swear mine was the only voice shouting at that moment. The Broncos ran out the clock to win the game and would go on to win their first Super Bowl two weeks later.

1977 Steelers vs BroncosFrom a personal standpoint, this is rivalry holds a special place in my heart. The Broncos’ first ever playoff game, which they won 34-21, was against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High Stadium in Denver on Christmas Eve in 1977 and this also happened to be the first football game I had ever watched from end to end. I was in the fourth grade and many of my classmates and few relatives were die hard Steelers fans, so I decided to check out the game. Later, I caught an NFL Films piece on the “wacky” fans of Denver (Barrelman among them) and for some reason decided that I wanted to be one of them. Fifth grade was tough, as it was my first as an “openly orange” Broncos fan and could not find a sympathetic compatriot in my class, my grade, or my school. Heck, I did not even meet another Bronco fan face to face until about a decade later when Denver started going to Super Bowls again. Things only got worse when the teams met again in the playoffs and I boldly predicted a victory only to have Pittsburgh crush us 33-10 at Three Rivers Stadium.

Yes, this football matchup was starting to mean something big.

1989 Steelers vs. BroncosIn the 1980s, the teams met twice more in the playoffs, both times in the Divisional round and at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The Broncos had a spectacular 13-3 season behind second year quarterback John Elway in 1984, but were shocking upset by the 9-7 Steelers an ouster from the playoffs. This nearly repeated in the 1989 playoffs but this time Elway led one of his famed last-minute comebacks to beat the Steelers 24-23, as the Broncos continued on their way to their third Super Bowl in four years. So in a sense, that AFC Championship Game in the late nineties was sort of a tie-breaker, as the Broncos vindicated their earlier home loss by winning at Three Rivers and took an overall playoff game lead 3-2.

But of course that game was not the end of it.

Tim Tebow against the SteelersFittingly (albeit sadly), both teams blew up their classic stadiums around the turn of the century and continued this rivalry and new structures built on the parking lots of the old. Ten years ago, the Steelers got their AFC Championship revenge by routing the Broncos in their new Invesco field, on their way to their fifth of six Super Bowl titles. (I wrote this 2006 article in anticipation of that game). Another memorable playoff game came following the 2011 season, as Tim Tebow had the finest passing game of his short career against the Steelers’ top rated defense and the 8-8 Broncos scored a major upset against the 12-4 Steelers in an AFC Wildcard Game. With this, the Broncos regained the playoff lead 4-3. But beyond theses great playoff games, there has also been a plethora of great regular season games through the years, most notably Elway’s first NFL game in 1983 and Peyton Manning’s first game as a Bronco in 2012. Just a little over three weeks ago, these teams met in Pittsburgh with the Broncos taking a big lead into halftime only to have the Steelers roar back for a comeback victory which ultimately saved their season.

Peyton Manning and Ben RoethlisbergerThis Sunday, the teams meet in Denver for their eighth playoff game. Each team has a seasoned, Super-winning quarterback who ranks no lower than second all time for their respective team. However, both Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have had their share on injuries this year, which may well be Manning’s last, so there is much uncertainty on both sides. No matter what happens, I will surely feel it to the bone whether it be the exuberance of a Denver victory or the agony of a defeat to Pittsburgh. In any case, this time I won’t be celebrating or suffering alone as my wife and one of my three sons have become die-hard Bronco fans along with me. By the way, this is not the same son who I brought to that Championship Game 18 years ago. He grew up to be a New York Giants fan and started this website partly in their honor.

Go figure.

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In Defense of Odell Beckham Jr.

In Defense of Odell Beckham Jr.

by J.D. Cook

NOTE: This article is a special blend of Giants Blog and Tuesday Morning Tailback by J.D. Cook. It comes at an opportune time, during the week of the fifth anniversary of the very first Tuesday Morning Tailback in 2010.

Football is a physical sport. The goal is to literally pound your opponent into submission. So it’s really not very shocking that emotions and competitiveness occasionally boil over into actions that go beyond a play. Odell Beckham Jr. was absolutely out of line when he started hitting Josh Norman after the whistle. The smart thing to do would have been to simply let his play do his talking. This was the attitude Beckham Jr. adopted in the 4th quarter when he caught a touchdown over Norman’s head. As Eli Manning said, this was the only time that Norman truly played Beckham one on one.

Now a day later the NFL has decided to suspend Beckham Jr. The action is warranted but hypocritical as well. It is a well-known fact that defenders often ‘trash talk’ to get into opposing players heads. Sometimes defenses employ gimmicks as well. In the case of the Panthers, their pre-game ritual apparently involves taunting their opponent with black baseball bats. This symbolically means they are going to take the other team to the wood shed. In other words, they are going to beat you. Along with that they apparently toss homophobic slurs at the opponent. This is of course, all in the spirit of ‘gamesmanship’.

Another part of the Panther’s defensive plan seems to be admonishing their opponents. After the game Beckham praised the Panthers as a great team. Josh Norman cursed Beckham out and lobbied for his suspension. He repeatedly attacked Beckham’s character over the next 24 hours, describing him as a dirty player. Beckham Jr has still not said a negative word against Norman. I guess there is such a thing as a sore winner. Listening to Norman, you almost forget that he started the ongoing feud with Beckham with a body slam early in the game.

As for the big play in question, it certainly looks dreadful when slowed down and over analyzed. A violent shot aimed at Norman; except, what if it wasn’t? I’m not sure where the helmet to helmet narrative began but I don’t understand why any player would willingly attempt to head-butt another player. Besides the obvious penalty it is also a potential brain injury for the person dishing out the hit. If any one player had moved a little bit in any direction, Beckham Jr’s hit would have been clean and may have resulted in the Giant’s running back shaking loose of the two defenders trying to tackle him.

Putting moral opinions on split second football decisions seems silly to me because of how quickly any one thing can change a play. I was a huge supporter of safety John Lynch, who was often labeled as ‘dirty’ because he did his job and put people on the ground when they came across his section of the field. If Beckham Jr’s block succeeded, no one would be suspended now. That said, it did not succeed and Beckham Jr is being painted as a malicious villain by everyone except his team.

The N.F.L. media, which has built Beckham Jr into a star since his catch in Dallas, has suddenly decided to tear him apart with a frenzy usually reserved for criminals. This is the same N.F.L. media that defended Terrell Owens through an entire career of locker room destruction. Beckham Jr is at fault for his actions but the N.F.L Media and Josh Norman contributed to the current situation in New York. Yet the N.F.L. Media is never accountable for its moral lynchings, which now occur regularly. In the current sports news world it seems like every player who is under suspicion of anything is instantly guilty of whatever they are accused. They apparently aren’t concerned with both sides of this story because Norman and the Panthers defense certainly contributed to the ugly situation that unfolded on Sunday Afternoon.

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Tuesday Morning TailbackTuesday Morning Tailback is a periodic article during football season which take a critical look at the NFL. We do this from the base belief that NFL football is the greatest game in the history of mankind, but some recent policies and the overall direction of the league has chipped away at this greatness. Our primary goal is to spark debate on these subjects, so please leave your own opinion on this article in the comment box below.

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More of the Same?

More of the Same?

by J.D.Cook

It’s been a rough couple of years since the Giants were last in the Superbowl. First we failed to qualify for the playoffs with a winning record of 9-7 in 2012. Then we had our first losing season in eight years in 2013. Finally things looked like they hit rock bottom last year when the team went 6-10. The Giants hadn’t been that bad since Coughlin’s first year as head coach. The worst part of watching these past three years has been seeing the team in situations the pre-2012 squad would have triumphed in. This isn’t the same crew that could drive a game winner down the field for a win or get a defensive stop when it’s necessary. That said there is hope this year.

Last night’s game against the Cowboys was one of the most exciting Giant’s games I’ve seen since their good years. Unfortunately, that all got washed away by one astoundingly stupid play. With 4th and Goal and needing a touchdown to put the game away, the Giants elected to…kick a field goal. The drive before Romo had proven virtually unstoppable and it was clear that he was going to be in a similar mode with the game on the line. Had the Giants went for it on 4th and goal and failed to get the score, Romo would have had 99 yards to drive. Instead the Giants not only kicked the field goal, ensuring Romo would be in a due or die scenario, and they also decided to kick the ball short in a bid to waste clock. When the kickoff was over the Giants had essentially spotted Romo 30 yards of field position. The rest is the stuff of Giants fan’s nightmares.

Now about that hope I mentioned. Steve Spagnolo’s Defense looked surprisingly spry. If his front four get some push they could make some serious noise. The offense failed to score but they converted on multiple 3rd downs and were without Victor Cruz, who will hopefully return soon. When he does the Giants might have an impressive offense. I don’t think it would be crazy if the Giants ended up 9-7 this year but maybe I still have a bit of that season opening optimism.

Up next: The Falcons.

 

New York Giants Blog by J.D. CookThe Giants Blog is published every Monday during the NFL season while the New York Giants remain viable contenders (which in 2011 was right to the end and their Super Bowl championship). On the weeks when the Giants have a Monday night game, the blog will be published on Wednesday. The blogs are thoughtful (albeit heavily biased) analysis of the Giants’ performance from our editor-in-chief and Giant fanatic J.D. Cook.

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There’s Always a Bigger Fish

There’s Always a Bigger Fish

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

I’m going to say something positive here. The NFL has wrapped up the 2014 season and ended exactly where it should be. Now, for the negative part. This place is one of total ambiguity and integrity, held together by various flavors of bubblegum.

Now, this may seem like an absurd statement following a Super Bowl which set a record as the most watched television event in history. But Tuesday Morning Tailback is all about the football itself, not the popularity contest that the NFL has become. The state of the game itself, along with the absurd media which illuminates it, may be weaker than ever. This is further compounded by some ridiculous ambiguity in rules along with a real lack of wisdom in some choices made by the supposed best in the business.

To illustrate, think of this sequence through the NFL playoffs:

  • Dallas beats Detroit after benefitting from a very questionable call
  • Green Bay beats Dallas after benefitting from a very questionable rule
  • Seattle beats Green Bay after an epic meltdown by the Packers
  • New England beats Seattle after a bizarre play call
  • And finally, the cloud of scandal may ultimately beat New England

As the saying of wisdom goes, “there’s always a bigger fish”, but in a competitive environment it is important to have an undisputed “biggest fish”. This is not to hate on New England, who I feel really played a great game in the Super Bowl. The simple question is, do we really know that the best team won?

Now, there is no doubt that this storm of close, exciting games was tremendously entertaining to watch. But the beauty of competitive sports is the live unpredictability, not the staged, WWE-like entertainment. Unfortunately, the NFL is drifting towards that latter option.

See you next season, folks (or maybe not)!

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Tuesday Morning TailbackTuesday Morning Tailback is a weekly article during football season which take a critical look at the NFL. We do this from the base belief that NFL football is the greatest game in the history of mankind, but some recent policies and the overall direction of the league has chipped away at this greatness. Our primary goal is to spark debate on these subjects, so please leave your own opinion on this article in the comment box below.

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If I Was Commissioner

If I Was Commissioner

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

Special guest post by J.D. Cook

The League seems to be in a constant state of controversy lately. Whether it’s Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson or the recent “deflategate”, we can’t help but think the Tuesday Morning Tailback would be more suited to run the league then those in power at the moment. With that in mind here are some of our solutions to solve some of the leagues current problems.

4 Point Plan to Improve the NFL

1. Zero Tolerance Rules for Substance Abuse or Conduct Unbecoming of a Player

This would include (but not be limited to) child abuse, dog abuse, spousal abuse, shooting self with gun while at a nightclub or even shooting others. Playing in the NFL is above all else a privilege and if you bring shame to the game you don’t belong in it. The same goes for the recent deflate gate situation. If it turns out to be 100% legitimate then someone should be sent from the league in the Patriots organization as this would mark the second time in seven years that the team has been caught trying to cheat. Fines don’t seem to have had any effect on players or organizations and have proven themselves as nothing more than jokes to the players who make millions of dollars.

2. Reduce Pass Interference Penalty to 15 Yards

This maximum penalty should be implemented so as to not unfairly impact a football contest. There are so many times in the NFL season that a controversial pass interference call gives a team a go-ahead touchdown that you’d think the NFL would have already changed this rule. Making it yard penalty instead of a spot penalty insures that teams don’t attempt hail Mary’s at the end of games or half’s in an effort to draw a pass interference penalty in the end zone. 15 yards is still a huge chunk of yardage and no intelligent cornerback would willingly take the penalty and give their opponent a first down with it.

3. Restore the Classic “Sudden Death Overtime”

Or move completely to College Football Overtime rules. One of the reasons the Tuesday Morning Tailback started was in opposition to the change of overtime rules in the NFL This was done quietly without much fuss and no decision has irked me more. Sudden Death is responsible for making the NFL America’s game after the fantastic 1958 championship game and it was unceremoniously taken out back and shot without so much as a goodbye. In its place we’ve been given a half assed overtime that neither pleases football conservatives or those calling for college rules. Appease one group and move on.

4. Restore a Sense of Football being a Blue-Collar Sport

Start by reducing ticket prices so that regular fans can make NFL games more than a once in every five year occurrence. Although there are still some teams that seem to have a blue collar fan base there are teams like, the N.Y. Giants, who have shunned those fans in recent years by hiking up their ticket prices and making football games exclusive celebrity driven affairs. The Blue Collar fans are the ones who actually live and die for NFL teams and they are the ones who should be filling NFL stands in favor of people who only go to games on Sunday for team buffets.

Those are my sure-fire solutions to fix the N.F.L. but we don’t just critique the NFL we also critique the NFL Media, so with that in mind we have some other ideas on how to fix their problems.

2 Point Plan to Improve NFL Media

1. Do Not Create Undeserved Hype for a Team

Just because it has a large fan base and viewership (Dallas Cowboys), over hype can negatively impacted the team itself as well as fans of every other team. It seems like every year the Dallas Cowboys are the team to beat and we’ve really had enough. I’d much rather hear about any of the other 31 teams in the NFL then Dallas on a daily basis. The Cowboys themselves would also probably love to be relived of the constant inflated expectations. They might even prove to be the team the media says they are when they aren’t saying it all season long. Every other team and fan of those teams hears the hype and wants to beat them that much more. Along with that a recent study showed that the Denver Broncos and not the Dallas Cowboys were ‘America’s Team’, or at least their favorite. So why do we keep getting hit on the head with the Dallas Cowboys!?

2. Stop Celebrating the Prima Donna over the Hard Workers in the NFL

Every year it seems like the biggest loudmouths become the talk of the media. While quietly great players are left in the dark. I’d rather hear an inspirational story about someone I don’t know as well then a report on what antics a loud mouth is up to any day of the week. Last year the media made Richard Sherman into a household name because of inflammatory comments rather than his very good play on the field which actually wasn’t very good on the play he received so much praise for.

Ah it’s all going down the toilet. Hire the Tuesday Morning Tailback and maybe we can still manage to save this thing with a football shaped plunger.

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Tuesday Morning TailbackTuesday Morning Tailback is a weekly article during football season which take a critical look at the NFL. We do this from the base belief that NFL football is the greatest game in the history of mankind, but some recent policies and the overall direction of the league has chipped away at this greatness. Our primary goal is to spark debate on these subjects, so please leave your own opinion on this article in the comment box below.

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Kill the Monster!

Kill the Monster!

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

It has long been my habit to criticize coaches who are ultra-conservative in critical situations. During the playoffs two years ago, I wrote the article called, Kneeling Down on the Job, where I stated that nothing is worse than a coach who doesn’t play to win. In that article, I referenced the coaching of Mike Sherman of the Green Bay Packers during a 2003 Divisional Playoff game against Philadelphia, a game in which Green Bay simply let Philadelphia come back by abandoning the very strategy which gave his team the lead in the first place. Eleven years later, Sherman’s successor Mike McCarthy has gone even further in this absurd strategy.

Sunday’s NFC Championship was dominated by the Packers on both sides of the ball for close to 57 minutes of playing time, where Green Bay had five takeaways and did not give up a single point to the Seattle offense. But McCarthy did not fully take advantage of these situations and guide his team to put the game out of reach. Now, this is not to take away from the on-field heroics by Russell Wilson and the offense of the Seattle Seahawks, nor some of the gross mistakes made by the Green Bay players late in the game. But I don’t think enough attention has been paid to the horrible decisions by McCarthy during this debacle.

These bad decisions started early in the game. Twice in the first quarter, the Packer offense got the ball inside the Seahawks two yard line. Twice, McCarthy decided to kick field goals from this position, potentially leaving 8 points on the ground. Late in the fourth quarter, when the Packers got the ball after Seattle’s fifth turnover, McCarthy ran uninspired middle runs, taking the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’s hand and giving Seattle the hope they needed. Then, in overtime when the Packers still had a chance, Green Bay called the most bizarre defense to give Wilson the chance to go for the jugular and kill the team which refused to kill his own.

And that’s what it is really all about, this heartbreaking defeat was the direct result of Green Bay refusing to kill off the defending World Champions when they had the chance. Just like in all bad slasher movies, or even this excellent episode of Game of Thrones, an NFL playoff game is a duel to the death where a team must execute or be executed. Adding to this situation is the opponent that Green bay faced. The whole Seahawks thing is like a giant cult, with rabid, earth shaking fans rooting for a team named after a fictional animal in a location akin to a modern day Atlantis with the ever-present danger of being destroyed by earthquake, volcano, tsunami, or all three at once. You must kill this mythical monster dead and never give yourself time to celebrate until the clock reaches zero.

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Tuesday Morning TailbackTuesday Morning Tailback is a weekly article during football season which take a critical look at the NFL. We do this from the base belief that NFL football is the greatest game in the history of mankind, but some recent policies and the overall direction of the league has chipped away at this greatness. Our primary goal is to spark debate on these subjects, so please leave your own opinion on this article in the comment box below.

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The NFL is a Wreck

The NFL is a Wreck

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

I didn’t realize until yesterday just how messed up it is that the NFL has their own media machine. NFL Network, NFL.com, and a massive social media presence usually seems harmless enough in promoting the sport we all love, but on this day we saw where this media can be used as pure propaganda and call into question the very integrity of the league.

Let’s start with all the Cowboy-boot-licking. Midway through Monday, the top story on NFL.com read; “Dez Bryant and Co.’s win over the Lions proves they’re no longer ‘those’ Cowboys”. Dez Bryant? The guy who had just three catches and was utterly shut down by the Detroit defense? Meanwhile, no mention of Dallas’s real receiving hero, Terrance Williams. Why? Because Only Jerks are Competitive? Elsewhere, the NFL spent a lot of energy trying to convince us that Tony Romo is now an “elite” quarterback who can win “the big one”. Romo was sacked six times and lost 51 yards in this lowest round playoff game.

Of course, anyone who saw that game knows that there was a very controversial play where the referees seemed to turn a blind eye on several Dallas penalties (including blatant “unsportsmanlike conduct” by Bryant that wasn’t called) in order to kill a Detroit drive while the Lions were leading deep in the fourth quarter. When NFL.com did mention this play further down the page, it was with this snarky comment;

The flag that wasn’t, which sparked a controversy. Regardless of how you view the play, it wasn’t why the Lions lost. Fact. End of story. — Kevin Patra”

Last night, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino (who parties with the Dallas Cowboys in the off-season) admitted that officials should not have picked up the flag on the critical defensive call. Really? Nice to know the day after when it is too late. A conspiracy theorist might look at another headline on the league’s site that previews a “great looking’ Divisional round, citing the upcoming Dallas-Green Bay game as; “Soon-to-be MVP Aaron Rodgers will host America’s Team in a battle of the two best offenses in football.” Apparently, the NFL forgot about the record-breaking Denver Broncos offense. Also, there’s just something wrong when the official media of a league which represents 32 franchises designating one as “America’s Team”.

Changing subjects, another NFL headline read “Back to the Bay?” with the copy tease stating; “Over 25 years after his first head-coaching gig in Oakland ended with acrimony, Mike Shanahan has interviewed with the Raiders.” This intriguing headline would be fine, except for one small fact. Mike Shanahan NEVER COACHED IN OAKLAND! During his short stint with the Raiders in 1988 and 1989, the team resided in LOS ANGELES. Simple fact-checking, NFL? Nah.

Speaking of the Raiders home town, the silver and black apparently want to move back to the City of Angels. But the Rams owner Stan Kroenke may be tripping up those plans by building a new NFL stadium in Los Angeles. The Chargers also seem to want to re-locate. This sets up a potentially devastating situation where three teams are vying to get into a city which once had a rich football legacy but ultimately failed to support its teams in the past. Further, the process will likely disenfranchise the current local fans of the teams that are positioning for a relocation.

The playoffs are a very exciting time and, except for the Detroit-Dallas game, usually portray the NFL at its best. But this will only serve to temporarily mask the cracks in integrity underneath the surface and hide the fact that the NFL is really a wreck.

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Tuesday Morning TailbackTuesday Morning Tailback is a weekly article during football season which take a critical look at the NFL. We do this from the base belief that NFL football is the greatest game in the history of mankind, but some recent policies and the overall direction of the league has chipped away at this greatness. Our primary goal is to spark debate on these subjects, so please leave your own opinion on this article in the comment box below.

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