If one examines the arc of a headline sports story in the early 21st century, it usually proves to be a roller coaster worthy curve. I'm not talking one of those old corkscrew numbers with twists and turns–though at times those stories do abound–but more like the big ticket thrill rides that find us starting off at ground level and soaring to unimaginable heights in the sky. Layers of meaning and effect are added, more and more information leaks out as we climb, and before long, we're at the peak of the first hill, looking out and over the landscape of sports wondering what the hell made us think it would be fun to hang this high in the air, where our perspective is out of wack and the slow ascent that brought us this far from the ground doesn't even register in memory. 

This analogy is particularly apt when it comes to the ongoing saga of the 2013 Miami Dolphins, who right now must be wondering exactly how terrifying the drop from the top of this story’s hill is going to be. A couple weeks back, I'm sure the players, coaches and fans in South Beach wouldn't have dared imagine a media circus so large and two of their offensive lineman in its center ring, but that as they say, is where we're at right now. When news surfaced that the Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin had left the team indefinitely to deal with a personal issue, the ripple along the sporting pond was minuscule. But we quickly learned that Martin, who has an anecdotal history of mental duress and a (gasp!) Stanford education backed up by intellectual parents, wasn't leaving his teammates behind for no good reason. The man his teammates affectionately call ‘Big Weirdo’ was stepping away because he had flat had enough of the less-than-genial treatment his fellow Dolphins were apt to hand out. Rookie hazing is one thing, but bullying and harassing a second year guy right out of town is another all together, and from what Martin sez (sorry, reading the new Pynchon right now) and his camp continues to leak, this isn’t just some gentle ribbing.

We found out the straw that broke the lineman's back was when high school cafeteria style, a table full of teammates got up and left when Martin took a seat with them for a team meal. That knucklehead move aside, Martin also spoke to consistent mistreatment by his fellow Dolphins, having to chip in 15K on a jaunt to Vegas he didn’t even go on, continued hazing into his second year in the league, a general disregard for his dislike for such treatment, all culminating in the release of text messages and voice mails from Richie Incognito, the embattled Dolphins vet who called Martin a half-nigger, said he'd shit in the young man's mouth, and polished it off by saying he was going to kill him. 

Incognito, despite his name's import, is a fairly conspicuous miscreant. How’s this for a brief career summation: being suspended from and then essentially kicked off the Nebraska football team, transferring to Oregon where he was dismissed within a week's time, ending up on what Tony Dungy called several NFL teams' DNDC (Do Not Draft because of Character) lists, eventually drafted by St. Louis, racking up so many fines and personal foul penalties with the Rams in five years that he was summarily cut, followed by a cup of coffee in Buffalo, which led him to finally land in the mess he's made in Miami. He's a serial punk who once trash talked Antonio Smith into ripping Incognito's helmet off, then attack him with it. Just the kind of guy I'd want molding my team's young linemen. Good grief. And check the GIF:

But being surprised by Incognito's behavior is akin to surprise that members of a ballet troupe have rhythm. It's part of a football player's job description to be tough and to an extent, unruly–Incognito being at the extreme (and additionally racist) end of this bruising spectrum. And hazing, if you want to call it institutionalized or not, is also part of the game, especially at preseason training camp, the place where a team takes shape, bonds, and teammates spend most of their waking moments together. Did Incognito take it too far? Yes he did. But to what extent we'll never really know. Beyond the racial overtones, the Dolphins’ group dynamic is for the most part unknown to all of us who don’t strap on a helmet every Sunday in the fall. I can't speak to what is and isn't acceptable behavior in Miami, any more than you can. Incognito may be an abusive (ahem, racist) outlier, but is also an example of the nature of the NFL beast. The league just doesn't want to admit it. They want to condemn tough guy behavior and hits to the head, and yet promote an image of concern and commitment to player safety, the latter of which is done with a huge wink and a neck breaking nod. The NFL is one thing, says it's another, and has to decide at some point what the actual realities on and off the field really are.  

But again, we should certainly not be surprised. Football is the manliest game among the manly American sports. It’s full of jocks, tough guys, and varying degrees of dickhead, so why does a guy like Richie Incognito and his treatment of someone like Jonathan Martin, strike anyone as odd? The brash bully putting the screws to the aloof nerd is a story as old as time itself, and on a football team? Of course this kind of bullshit goes on. The difference here, and the reason the story has now gained traction with not only the sports media, but also national news outlets, is that it pushes hot button issues in America. Race is the third rail of any news story, but when combined with money, fame, the most popular game in the country, and bullying–a topic du jour on the internet and beyond–the headlines not only grow in size, but reach out to ever more ears and eyeballs. 

While the character types and plot movements in this story are nothing if not unoriginal, and play to the current national conscience surrounding bullying and the manufactured specter of wussification, what the Dolphins are dealing with tells us more about is what it’s like to be a professional football player. Race is the undercard to the main event of football’s ridiculous warrior mentality and the bullies and jerks it manufactures.  

That’s because the racial aspect is easy to identify and condemn: anyone that uses the language that Incognito did is a racist first and fool second. We can all agree on that. But what the story says about football’s culture and overall aesthetic is where the real intrigue lies. It’s a league where by all accounts thoughtful, at times sensitive young athletes like Jonathan Martin are bullied off of teams made up of men who do nothing but defend his primary bully as soon as both are out the door. A league that saw fit to severely punish the perpetrators behind Bounty Gate, but is itself exposed in a book and accompanying documentary as categoric deniers of the repercussions of head injuries. A league in which it is now near-criminal to target another player’s head, but top brass continue to push for an 18-game season and Thursday night double-headers, only increasing the level of carnage. Plain and simple, it is a league that wants to have its brutal cake and eat it too, and for every nice guy like Tony Gonzalez or Arian Foster, there are five more that are closer in temperament to Richie Incognito. 

The story of Jonathan Martin is sad and telling at the end of the day. It’s sad that Richie Incognito, who is clearly a dick, and evidently a racist (he also called Warren Sapp that famous n-word, on the playing field no less, according to the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer), can lead his teammates in pushing around a young athlete with his whole career still in front of him. It’s sad that after that, his teammates and other players lined up to support the bully, and not the victim. It’s sad that the NFL is a place where this sort of thing still goes on, and it’s sad that we’re surprised that it does. Football is violent, the men who play it are intense, possibly performance-drug-addled hired guns, and it is a boys’ club to the Nth degree. As fans, we love it because of these very facts–the way we like action movies and violent video games and books of the very same nature. I previously opined on why my love for football is giving me all kinds of misgivings lately, but more than ever I’m even more tired of the NFL’s two-faced rationale. They don’t want to clean their room, they want to shove everything into the closet when the media happens to check in. Deep down, the powers that be in football know that its manly, violent aura is its bread and butter, and they can’t continue to put lipstick on a pig(skin) and tell us it’s a pretty girl.

And of course, we haven't even mentioned what the coaching staff and front office in Miami knew, but to a lot of folks, it feels like yes, indeed, they did order the Code Red. And if they didn't know about any of this, that's even worse. An NFL team should know its own stripes, and whether or not they change, and I'm pretty sure the Dolphins do in this case. Because while a guy like Incognito–or another recent headline stirrer Brandon Meriweather–is deplorable, at least Meriweather seems to be in on the league’s sick joke that he’s exactly the kind of monster the NFL creates. Don’t just take it from me though, the fan and observer, or Meriweather, the perennial headhunter, take it instead from Chicago Bears wide receiver and league veteran Brandon Marshall. When asked about the situation in his former NFL home of Miami, he summed things up thusly:

"Take a little boy and a little girl. A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up, shake it off. You’ll be OK. Don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men to mask their feelings, don't show their emotions. And it’s that times 100 with football players. You can’t show that you're hurt, you can’t show any pain. So for a guy to come into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, that’s a problem. That’s what I mean by the culture of the NFL. And that’s what we have to change.” – via Deadspin via the Chicago Tribune

What Brandon Marshall so succinctly points out and what this roller coaster of a story in Miami continues to accentuate is that football cannot walk the line between rigorous physical attrition and tough-guy BS and politically correct, media-friendly exhibitions of contrition. The NFL has to decide if it is more Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin. More bully, or victim. Because in the eyes of this writer, no real truth lay between.



After a series of false starts (no athletic pun intended) on a variety of sporty topics, I’ve decided to write a post here at Bo Jackson’s Hip that isn’t about sports at all. I started and stopped posts about Jason Collins coming out of the closet, Tim Tebow moving to New England, and most recently, the two epic collapses we saw in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final. But none of those topics materialized into something interesting to read, so I’ve scrapped all of that and decided to flex a different linguistic muscle.

In lieu of sports, this post’s focus is Jay-Z, and more specifically his new long player, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Rap music, and Mr. Carter himself, pop up all the time during my posts about sports, so trust me when I say that though this post isn’t about sports, it's still Bo Jackson's Hip.

This isn’t exactly a review of Magna Carta Holy Grail, but more a discussion of it in relation to Jay-Z’s close to two-decade-long career. I’m not a music critic, but still want to examine what the new album says about him and his position in the music industry and the American culture at large. I probably wouldn’t be suited to review a Jay-Z album because of my devotion to his catalogue and belief that he is perhaps the greatest MC of all time, but ironically I do feel suited to talk about what the album and its artist mean in a broader sense. The album is a statement about Jay-Z’s role as a black success story in white America, a hyperbolic but fairly accurate representation of his cultural influence, his navigation of fame’s complex gauntlet, and of course–because he’s still a rapper at the end of the day–the fact that he’s a much better MC than the rest of these lyrical crumbsnatchers.

The first track, “Holy Grail”, features a soulful Justin Timberlake delivering perhaps the performance of his career, and acts as a potent thesis statement for the remainder of the album. It is a song about the trappings of fame, and about Jay-Z's continued escapability. It references black figures that have squandered their wealth like MC Hammer and Mike Tyson, and a white musician who buckled under the fierce gaze of the public eye in Kurt Cobain. A brief melodic and lyrical sampling from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" finds Jay and Justin Timberlake re-working Nirvana's bombastic entry into the mainstream, shifting "here we are now, entertain us" into "and we all just, entertainers." The song and much of the album assert that Jay-Z is near immune to the serious damage that fame can do to an individual, and contains some of Magna Carta Holy Grail's other recurring themes: Jay-Z's position as an influential black American, the responsibility that comes with this power, and his still heavy influence on rap music.

From jump street, I’m buying it. That’s because I believe that Jay-Z means something in America, the same way that Michael Jordan means something, or James Brown means something, or Ernest Hemingway means something, or Orson Welles means something.

Or Muhammad Ali means something.

The boxer is mentioned several times on MCHG (I’m already tired of typing that whole damn thing out), and like Jean-Michel Basquiat, is a continued referential and reverential touchstone. While Jay-Z has never stood up for a cause the way Ali did in his refusal to enter the draft, or spent time in jail for this and his religious convictions, I still think the Ali references are merited. I don’t know that any athlete has ever transcended his own sport to fascinate and inspire both America and the global community the way Muhammad Ali has, and I don’t think that another ever will. Jay-Z no doubt sees himself in a similar light, and while some may call that a typical display of egoism for the rapper, I for one can at least see why he has so much admiration for the champ. Like Ali, Jay’s the greatest, and he’s black, and motherfuckers have to deal with that. Just take a look at the references to the Louisville Lip from MCHG:

Just let me be great, just let me be great
I feel like mothafuckin' Cassius Clay right now, genius!

Muhammad Hovi, my back against the ropes
the black Maybach, I'm back inside the boat

America tried to emasculate the greats
Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes
Wait, tell them rumble young man rumble

Like the greatest heavyweight of all time became more than just a fighter, Jay-Z has become something beyond an artist. This is evident in his move outward into business as the former CEO of Def Jam and current CEO of Roc Nation, and in his co-ownership of the Nets, where he was the driving force behind the NBA team’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. And recently, his foray into athlete representation (he’s off to a nice start) forced him to move up and move on, ceding his stake in the NBA franchise that now calls his home-borough home. He’s done all of this while joining into a high-profile marriage with perhaps the most well-known female artist in music since Madonna, Beyoncé Knowles, only increasing an already large pop-cultural cache. Like Ali, this has happened with, for want of a better word, his blackness intact. In the same way that Muhammad Ali’s race wasn’t an aspect of his fame, but inseparable from it, Jay-Z has always been not only prideful of his status as a black American, but intentionally unquiet about what it means in the context of our culture.

This personal motivation, which goes back to his emergence from retirement with 2006’s Kingdom Come, is now a sharpened weapon the rapper wields regularly in response to his critics, an upstart generation of rappers, and frankly anyone who doubts his capabilities. Like Ali, Jay-Z’s confidence, style, and fearlessness are a charismatic combination that captivate the culture as a whole–not just fans of sports or music. Kingdom Come was a warning shot to younger rappers that the king of New York was back, The Blueprint 3 was a continuation of that theme, but also a reminder that even as he aged, Jay-Z was still a forward thinking mainstream artist sonically and topically, and his shared effort with Kanye West, Watch the Throne, was a flag-planting ceremony that decided to forego subtlety in favor of a celebration of the black wealth, power, and influence that both men have cultivated. (In between all of that great music was a spur-of-the-moment classic called American Gangster inspired by the film of the same name. It is a deft exploration of the similarities he found in the story of drug dealer Frank Lucas, but I digress...). And of course, it was Jay-Z who brought Kanye along lo those many years ago, when the kilt-wearing media hound was still rocking brightly colored polo shirts and a backpack on stage (I know, I was there on that first tour, but more on ‘Ye in just a moment...).

By following his farewell to the game, The Black Album (can’t be much clearer than that album title) with Kingdom Come, The Blueprint 3, Watch the Throne, and now Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z’s statement to the music industry and America as a whole about his status as an artist and a black success story in the United States has been, in order: “I’m back”, “I’m the future”, “I matter”, and now, “I’m not finished”.

With, MCHG Jay-Z proves himself smarter, stronger, and bent on expanding his breadth of influence and financial prowess. Unlike Ali, and his rap contemporaries the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, Jay intends to flourish into middle age and work towards injecting a bit of melanin into the lily-white power structure of the United States, which fittingly is now run by a man of mixed white and black blood. After all, as Jay already told us, he himself is a “small part of the reason the president is black.”

And while many assessments of MCHG and Jay-Z’s other recent output point out that the MC is stuck in a “I’m richer than you are” rut, I would argue that his eloquence on the mic is only increasing, and that while his words have begun to ring a familiar bell, like a great novelist Jay-Z is performing deft variations on a theme. His entire career arc can almost be summed up in just one of his most memorable lines: “from Marcy to Madison Square”. He has risen from a low-level street hustler in a Brooklyn housing project to be one of the richest men in entertainment and now to be a multi-dimensional business man who lunches with Warren Buffett and visits with the president.

I’d pound that message home too if I were him.

No wonder that pre-MCHG, Jay-Z’s last appearance on record was a contribution to the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the The Great Gatsby. Like Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Shawn Carter is a stranger in a strange (read: rich) land, with a wealth initially built on criminal behavior that has exploded into a legitimate rise into the upper class. A place where not only do the two Jays seemingly not belong, but must struggle with the old guard of American wealth’s dated ideas about what it means to be rich and powerful. And again, like Ali, B.I.G., Tupac, and Jay Gatsby, Jay-Z refuses to let this life batter him into submission. He will not succumb to figurative and literal beatings, or a fictional or actual death at the hands of his fame and wealth.

The album's intent is reinforced just before halftime with "Somewhere in America", a triumphant tune that serves as prelude to further explorations of the rapper's self-perceived and actual impact. The next three songs embellish "Somewhere"'s vibe and attitude, as "Crown", "Heaven" and the brief but powerful "Versus" take lethal aim at anyone who would dare sell Jay-Z short. This is all done atop the varyingly lush and sparse production of Timbaland, whose near-continuous presence on the album gets assists from J-Roc, Pharrell, Boi-1da, Hit Boy, and The Dream. Conspicuously absent from that list of who's-who producers is Kanye West, whom Jay-Z seems intent on putting in his place. Lyrical shout-outs to Kanye's Yeezus pop up from time to time, and the album seems to be a reminder to Kanye that he is still the Pippen to Jay-Z's Jordan.

With his latest release, Kanye West decided to be so direct in his assessment of himself as a powerful black man that the album borders on parody, while Jay-Z foregoes Yeezy’s hatchet in favor of the scalpel. Kanye titles a song “I Am a God”, on an album called Yeezus while Jigga starts “Crown” with a boastful line in the spirit of rap tradition: ‘You in the presence of a king/scratch that, you in the presence of a god.’ This couplet is in line with the Five-percent Nation’s belief in the black man as god on earth, which is also referenced in “Heaven”, with Jay saying: “Arm, leg, leg, arm, head - this is God body/Knowledge, wisdom, freedom, understanding - we just want our equality.” The Five-percenters take ALLAH as an acronym for arm, leg, leg, arm, head and consider the knowledge of self as an ultimate pursuit.

Jay-Z has a baby with Beyoncé. Kanye has a baby with Kim. Nuff said. Also Magna Carta (Carter) is a much better play on words than Yeezus (Yeezy/Jesus), just sayin’.

Kanye can’t seem to get out of his own ego’s way. He turned what is an important and at times breathtaking sonic contribution to the mainstream of rap in Yeezus into a trite black (mogul) power manifesto. Contrastingly, Jay-Z expertly walks the line between pop artist and black difference-maker, enabling him to deliver his message with a stealthy vigor, and also more effectively than his protege. The album as a whole, from promotion to execution, are a not-so-subtle reminder to Mr. West of where he got his swagger from. While Kanye stirs up a commotion with an arrogant projection of his new video on the side of a building, Jay-Z debuts his album art next to the real Magna Carta. While Kanye strips his record of artistic packaging altogether and doesn’t mind when it leaks to the web early, Jay-Z makes a game-changing move in the age of the download by guaranteeing his record’s platinum status through a million-copy deal with Samsung.

In both content and context, Kanye comes off as a child screaming for attention, while Jay-Z asserts himself as a grown man that everyone notices when he walks into a room.

Yet through all of this chest-puffing, name-dropping (one song on MCHG is called “Tom Ford” for chrissakes), and money-counting, the introspective version of Jay-Z is still the star of the album. Frank Ocean, who joins the MC on the aptly titled “Oceans”, brings out the same Jay-Z he lured forward in Watch the Throne’s “Made In America”. Recognizing his fame and the small odds of his success, he says ‘If it wasn't for these pictures they wouldn't see me at all/Aww, whole world's in awe/I crash through glass ceilings, I break through closed doors.’ Likewise, in “Jay-Z Blue”, he addresses a near-maniacal urge to shelter his new daughter from public torment, sampling Mommie Dearest dialogue and giving us lines like: ‘Now I got my own daughter/taught her how to take her first steps/cut the cord watch her take her first breath/and I’m trying and I’m lying if I said I wasn’t scared.’

A rapper telling you about his fatherly fears is one thing, but when he goes on to talk about how stoked he is about his wife, things really get anti-rap-establishment. What might sound like a cheesy premise for a song is actually anything but, and the modern-day New Jack Swing of “Part II (On The Run)” ends up being a sincere duet with Beyoncé and a sure-fire future hit single. The look inward continues at album’s end, with “Nickels and Dimes”, a last exploration of Jay’s career-spanning theme: his rise from poverty to power. In this fitting closer, he is at once both unsure of his status: ‘I cut myself today to see if I still bleed/success is so sublime/gotta do that time to time so I don’t lose my mind/something ‘bout the struggle so divine/this sort of love is hard to define’ and still clearly comfortable with his self-given title as the best rapper alive: ‘Like Magic in his prime when Kareem sky hooked/Y’all not worthy, sometimes I feel like y’all don’t deserve me, my flow unearthly.’

Just to get all Decoded on your ass real quick, let’s take a look at Jay-Z’s talent on the mic from just those last two songs.

After he hijacks Juvenile’s cadence and flow in “Part II” , bouncing along with: ‘Touch a nigga where his rib at/I click clat/push your motherfuckin’ wig back/I did that’ the next line is about how he’s ‘been wilding since a juvi’. No one makes you listen close like Jay-Z. Not convinced? How about those “Nickels and Dimes” lines, where throwing in the word “worthy” (as in worthiness and James Worthy) after referencing Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar is the kind of subtle double entendre other rappers just can’t mimic. It’s next-level wordplay that only Shawn Carter seems capable of delivering without beating you over the head with its cleverness–a trait so many new MC’s lack. Toss in the fact that the internal rhyme from that other line in “Nickels”–sublime/time to time/lose my mind–would make Rakim blush and you have a record that just made a bunch of youngsters trolling Rap Genius lose their collective minds.

Magna Carta Holy Grail is a statement on fame, a message to the white establishment, and a vivid reminder to MCs everywhere about who’s still on top. Jay-Z wants you take away a sense of his prominence as a wealthy black man in America, but at the end of the day he still can’t resist sonning a few more rappers before it’s all said and done. MCHG is an example of Jay-Z at his lyrical best, and an example of an artist who is distinctly aware of his own influence and ability.

It’s Magna Carta, the magnum opus...it’s Picasso, baby.



Sometimes the human element of a sports story is drowned in the tide of larger-than-life personalities and the growing wave of big money. In college and the pros, significance can be poorly grafted on to what is really just a game at the end of the day–a highly lucrative, at times riveting game–but a game just the same. This happens via overreaching profiles in magazines or sappy segments tacked on to pre-game analysis and halftime shows. Often, it’s a lame attempt at manufacturing interest, but sometimes, the human element of a game or team story is pushed to the forefront when we least expect it, and the games we watch are exposed as just another way to pass the time. The points scored and wins and losses recede quickly into the background and the audience’s focus is turned to the fact that players and coaches are our fellow men first, and athletes and professionals second.

Such was the case last Sunday evening, when a game played to determine who would advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four became a reminder of the gruesome potentialities that abound when athletes compete against one and other for sporting glory. Louisville reserve guard Kevin Ware’s injury has been witnessed and documented thoroughly during this past week, and here on the eve of his team’s Final Four match-up with the Wichita State Shockers, it’s surely grabbed your attention at some point, whether you pay attention to the tournament, basketball, or sports in general. That’s because it was a chilling moment for us all, as people, and leveled the differences between rabid fan and casual witness.

To put it simply, the young Louisville Cardinal’s broken leg is among the worst things I’ve ever seen on television. While anyone who witnessed what happened could clearly sense and attempt to relate to the sophomore’s pain as he lay brutally hobbled on the sideline, Louisville players and fans experienced Ware’s injury in ways that the rest of the country probably isn’t privy too. I was unlucky, or lucky, or whatever–I was there–to watch the game between Duke and Louisville with a bar full of Cardinal fans in a watering hole within the River City’s limits, and nearly all had gathered with the hope of watching their team continue towards the Final Four in Atlanta and beat a perpetually despised foe in the Blue Devils from Durham, NC. My friends and the others in attendance, along with a bevy of Cards fans at the game in Indy, were at a fever pitch from tip off, but that vivd enthusiasm completely disappeared when Ware’s injury occurred. Their vigor waned even further when it was replayed a moment later.

Like so many around the country, but with a particularly heavy local heart, they had a visceral reaction to seeing a fellow human being in unknowable pain. One that happened to wear the jersey of their favorite team. Ware was certainly suffering, and he wasn’t the only one. The reaction of those around me, and their reaction to the reaction of his teammates on court, was gripping. Suddenly this wasn’t a basketball player injured, but a man in pain. Those weren’t his teammates crying, or vomiting, or writhing in agony at what they saw, they were Ware’s friends. The crowded barroom, like any other in the area, wasn’t filled with fans, but empathetic fellow terrestrial travelers. One and all were staggered by the reality of the situation, and the outcome of the game seemed to vanish from the collective priority list. It had been replaced by a hope that Ware’s pain could be eased and that his friends on the court could pull themselves together after witnessing the horrifying sight of a young man’s leg collapsing on a routine jump into the air, and the unbearable view they had to the bone protruding from the skin stretched across his shin.

To say the air went out of the room would not do the change in mood justice. Knowing my own squeamish sensibilities, I couldn’t watch the replay at the time. I have since, but wish I hadn’t. I should have trusted the sage voice of Jim Nantz, who called it the worst basketball injury he had ever seen during the broadcast, or one of my radio favorites Jim Rome, who tweeted that it was one of the most terrifying things he had ever seen.

What followed looked more like theater of the macabre than a basketball game. Ware’s teammates reacted in a way that lent even more of a desolate air to the arena than his exposed shin bone already had. They reeled and grabbed at each other on the bench, which you can see from the heart-wrenching GIF after the jump, and only Luke Hancock was able to gather himself enough to walk over to Ware as he lay near the sideline, twisting with an agony I don’t even want to begin to imagine. Hancock comforted Ware with a hand on his chest, no doubt trying to calm a man that was headed for the medical definition of shock, while the rest of the country tried to deal with the literal use of the word.

Louisville and Duke players looked as if they had just witnessed a fallen brother succumb to the injuries of war, unable to control their emotion as they wept and collapsed to the court. Basketball no longer mattered, but everyone in the arena and the millions watching at home knew that no matter how horrific what they just witnessed was, and how difficult it would be for the players–especially the Cardinals–to continue, the game had to go on. Louisville would have to play the rest of the first half and the entirety of the second with the specter of their fallen teammate hanging over them and the vivid images of his injury replaying in their minds.

It would have been easy for Louisville to fall apart and let what was a close and tightly contested first half turn into a run away for Duke in the second. Instead, Louisville emerged from the locker room on fire offensively and defensively, with their ball pressure, team speed and tenacity on the interior strangling the Blue Devils the rest of the way. They opened up a lead that would continue to grow until the final buzzer sounded, dispatching of their Elite Eight foe by more than twenty points. I’m not sure what Coach Rick Pitino said to his kids at half time, but it must have been a speech for the ages. I tweeted it shortly after the game and still believe it as I look back: it showed an incredible amount of will for Louisville to do what they did and speaks to their collective character and talent to honor their teammate with an astounding effort down the stretch.

And incredibly, even cut down by an injury that did its best to destroy his leg, Ware had a part in the victory. His injury may easily be regarded as the most visually disturbing and physically catastrophic in the history of sports, but his only message to the team while being attended to on-court was: “just win the game.” Those that heard his words were stunned that he could manage to inspire his teammates, and I sit here at my keyboard equally impressed with that young man’s heart and intestinal strength. There he was, with an injury that might end his career, his future physical wellbeing hanging in the balance, pain both physical and emotional rushing through his body, and he still had the guts to gather the energy to cheer his team towards victory. In other circumstances Ware could be described as unflappable, but as it was and still is, the better description is heroic.

If I were to stay in line with the way I usually process a situation like this here at BJH, I would talk about how Ware had been such a solid contributor to his team over the last few games, how he was a game away from a homecoming in his native Atlanta, how his teammates proved their mettle in spades, and how like many times before, Bo’s career-ending injury came to mind and the threat of unexpected tragedy was again foremost in my thoughts. But that’s per usual–I am a constant champion of how sports tell us much about being human. This however, was the humanity of sports. Ware and that game between Louisville and Duke are beyond the scope of my usual sporting lens. It was all too real to be analogized, or interpreted, or applied in an appropriate context. It’s the memory of what was happening on that Sunday, what happened, and how everyone both near and far felt in that instant and beyond. It was the incredible journey from tragedy to triumph within the span of a college basketball game.

I’m a Louisville transplant and Ohio State fan first, but if I wasn’t already pulling for the Cardinals to win it all now that the Buckeyes are out and my local pride begins to shine, I don’t see how anyone, myself included, can pull for another squad to win the NCAA championship. With Ware on the mend at a staggering clip, the Cards riding an athletic and emotional high, and my city excited to the nth degree, the “human element” of this story has officially transcended that oft-used bromide. No matter any prior allegiances, I’d say we’re all Louisville fans the rest of the way.



LeBron James is playing like a man possessed and the Miami Heat have now won an incredible 22 games in a row. King James is building what could end up being the most impressive regular season stat line and overall performance in NBA history and the Heat are achieving a level of dominance that has pollsters pitting them against the entire field when it comes to predicting who will win the NBA title. Who do you got, Miami, or any other team in the NBA? 

South Beach is figuratively on fire with all this damn Heat. 

And yet, another team, and another star player, continue to be the real topic of conversation league-wide. The Los Angeles Lakers, the current eight seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, have been the topic du jour ever since Dwight Howard and Steve Nash both joined Kobe Bryant in the City of Angels this past off season. While I spoke on Dwight’s move to LA and what it meant for him and the league, I’ve been biding my time when it comes to letting out words on the Lakers as a whole.

There are a few reasons for this–I’ve been busy, writing about the Super Bowl seemed more important, I tend to take my time ranting and raving on the dominant sports story–but the biggest factor in my decision to stay quiet is that first and foremost, I’m a Lakers fan. Now I don’t get paid to do what I do here at Bo Jackson’s Hip, so I’m allowed to stay a fan first and writer second, but that can sure blur the line between objective reasoning and analysis and a rooting interest in my team’s success. I love Kobe, love LA, and behind Ohio State athletics and the Detroit Tigers, the Lakers are the most important team in sports for this writer. They’re one of my “we” teams and just like for the Lakers themselves, the 2012-2013 NBA season has been tough for me to handle and a lesson in managing expectations. 

With all of the pre-season hype surrounding their big  acquisitions and the ever-dominant presence of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers seemed poised to make a run at an NBA title this season. With Bryant, Howard, Gasol, and Nash, the team has at least three and perhaps four future hall-of-famers on its roster. Add in the man formerly known as Ron Artest, Metta World Peace, no slouch in his own right, and you’ve got what looked at the onset of the season like a team prepared to compete with the Spurs, Thunder, and Heat for the NBA crown. But then of course, the season actually started, and the Lakers began to crumble almost from the word “go”.

First things first, Dwight Howard’s back was still healing, so he wasn’t even close to 100%. Then, head coach Mike Brown decided to implement the if not obscure, certainly unexpected Princeton Offense, to the surprise of analysts, fans, and Laker players as well. The offense didn’t work, plain and simple, and the Lakers sent Mike Brown packing before his second season with the team even had a chance to get going. Next, the Lakers flirted with Zen Master Phil Jackson, perhaps the greatest coach in NBA history to replace Brown, only to spurn him at the last moment and sign Mike D’Antoni instead. The change was followed by a broken leg for Steve Nash, an abdominal injury for his back-up Steve Blake, and another key bench player, Jordan Hill being lost for the season.

Not to mention that when Dwight Howard’s back eventually started to look healthier, he suffered a torn labrum that coincided with Pau Gasol tearing his plantar fascia and landing on the injury report for 6 to 8 weeks. Gasol still isn’t back, but just as the Lakers seemed to be pulling things together and playing a bit more as a cohesive unit, Dahntay Jones decided to make a dirty play on Kobe Bryant, stepping underneath the Laker legend as he lifted up for a game-winning shot against the Atlanta Hawks. Reports were that Bryant would be out “indefinitely” with a “severely sprained” ankle and the one constant in LA would no longer be Bryant, but indeed, change.

Just look at all of that nonsense for a moment, will you? I know that excuses may be the refuge of cowards, but I do not feel like a callow apologist or craven Laker homer as I lay out the destabilizing run of vicissitudes that the men in purple and gold have had to endure this year. Did I mention that their owner died a couple weeks back as well? The owner who had been the heartbeat of the franchise since he arrived at the job and led the team to an NBA championship in his first year in the owner’s box? Dr. Buss’ departure from this mortal coil isn’t an on-court mishap like the others I’ve mentioned, it’s just another in the long line of bummers that my SoCal kids have had to battle through on their way to a playoff spot. 

And that’s the other thing! Everyone is deriding the Lakers because they are barely in the playoff picture as of the date of this writing, but a lesser team, in other words, a team without Kobe Bean Bryant, would not even be sniffing the playoffs with this many injuries, this much instability on the coaching staff, and with the death of a front-office cornerstone (who I will admit, was ceding more and more control as his health failed him, but still...). I think it’s damn near heroic that the Lakers are in the playoff hunt in an incredibly competitive Western Conference where the top five teams, not to mention teams six through nine, are head and shoulders above their Eastern Conference counterparts (outside of Miami), considering the fact that the Staples Center has resembled a Korean War infirmary for most of the 2012-2013 season.

Just look at the numbers if you don’t believe me. Here are the games played for some of the key Laker players:

Pau Gasol: 36
Steve Nash: 42
Jordan Hill: 29 (won’t play another in 2012-2013 season)
Steve Blake: 29
Dwight Howard: 60
Kobe Bryant: 66
Metta World Peace: 65

That’s out of a possible 66 up until this point. So the only two starters that have been in the line-up all season are World Peace and Bryant, while the remainder of those players have all missed large chunks of games, and more importantly minutes on the court together with the other pieces of the Laker puzzle. Those injuries have overlapped in bad ways for the Lakers as well, and it seems like whenever one player returns, another goes down with injury. The impending return of Gasol coinciding with the injury to Bryant is only the latest example in this trend. And don’t be fooled by the “60” next to D-Howard’s name. Not one of those games has been played in perfect health, with that previously mentioned torn labrum only adding to his ailing back, rendering one of the league’s most impressive athletes and explosive talents a shell of his former self. It is only recently that Howard has begun to look more like the Superman of his days in Orlando, but he still plays through pain on a nightly basis. 

My point is, as Onyx would say, “Bacdafucup”. If you want to say the criticism of the Lakers is warranted, that’s your prerogative and I wouldn’t completely disagree with you. But this notion that the Lakers are a disappointment because of some sort of lack of effort or refusal to play team basketball is downright offensive to me as a Laker fan first, but also as a fan with a fairly high basketball IQ second. I’m not Hubie Brown or Dr. Jack Ramsay over here, but I can certainly see why the Lakers have struggled, and am not only comfortable with where they are in the Western Conference playoff picture considering, but impressed that they haven’t slipped further down the western totem pole. And of course, there really is only one person to thank for all of this, and that’s the man that has been carrying the torch in LA for the last 17 seasons.

The Black Mamba, Vino, the ageless wonder. Call him whatever you or he likes, Kobe Bryant is putting together one of his most impressive individual performances in his long and illustrious career, 17 years into that amazing tenure in the NBA. He has not only met or surpassed career averages in nearly every statistical category, but has carried a team that wanted to fall of his back at every turn, and when defeat seemed likely, or a playoff spot beyond reach, has performed at a level that can only be called transcendent. I tweeted it a few games back, when Kobe single-handedly beat the Toronto Raptors down the stretch in Los Angeles with a dizzying array of impossible three-point shots, emphatic slam dunks and jaw-dropping offensive moves: LeBron James may well be the best player in the NBA, but Kobe Bryant is the greatest player in the league. 

That might seem like a murky distinction, but it isn’t. The truth is that no one on planet earth, including LBJ, could have done what Bryant did that evening against the Raptors. He willed his team to victory in a way that blasts that cliché back to the stone age and hit pressure-packed shot after pressure-packed shot when a miss would have almost certainly meant a loss. Watch the highlight and tell me you aren’t impressed.

I’ve been watching Kobe for years now, just like any NBA fan, but with a closer if not keener eye as a Laker fan. Does that make me biased? Maybe, but what it really does is help me put into perspective what exactly he has done this season. The man has played better than I have ever seen him play. His shot is as consistent as it’s ever been, he is spreading the ball around at a clip that is among his career-best, and has physically looked better than he has in years. While the basketball gods seemed determined to poison this season for the Lakers, the Black Mamba ironically doesn’t seem to believe in a snake-bitten 2012-2013 campaign. He plays basketball better than anyone I have ever watched outside of a certain man by the name of Jordan–another shooting guard you may have heard of–and is proving this season more than any other in his incredible career that he is among the best to ever dribble a basketball on an NBA court.

Right now, we have no idea how much time Kobe is going to miss with his ankle sprain (though that “little black box” thing doesn’t bode well...), but given his super-human ability to slough off injuries that would sideline a man with a lesser commitment to excellence, it won’t take anything away from what he has done thus far. He has kept a team together that seems destined to fall apart, and refuses to believe in the idea of a wasted season. The main reason being, he knows he doesn’t have very many seasons left. It would be easy for KB and the Lakers to admit that this is a train wreck of a season, put their effort on cruise control, and take the off-season to heal and regroup for 2013-2014. But we all know he won’t do that. He’ll come back, and in all likelihood lead a team that, despite their myriad talents, wouldn’t make it to the playoffs without his efforts. Beyond that, who really knows what will happen. A low seed in the Western Conference doesn’t seem like any way to make it to the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals, but as I have said before, a man who doubts greatness does so at his own peril. 

The Lakers may seem like a disappointment, but to this fan, they are anything but. They are an example of what a team, and more impressively so, a single player, can do when faced with an unreasonable level of hype and expectation is compounded by a slew of season-changing injuries, yet still finds a way to win. The near future seems uncertain for the Lakers but I do know one thing for sure: nobody, not the Spurs, the Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, et al want LA to pull things together out west before the playoffs start. They’re too talented a team to overlook if they actually can get healthy and finally play defense as a unit, and they have the greatest player in the league leading their unlikely charge into the post-season. 

Nothing about this year has been ideal for the Lakers, but that’s a life lesson we’ve all learned by now. You can’t wait for the perfect set of circumstances to try and get things done, you just have to play the hand dealt you and push your chips into the pot when it’s all on the line. I’m just glad I’ve got the steady hand of Kobe Bryant and the high-card Laker line-up to ride into the playoffs with. The rest of the league might not be worried just yet, but when it comes time to ante up, we’ll see who folds and who makes the big call up against the purple and gold.



While I would like to jump directly into my assessment of Super Bowl XLVII, I wanted to start this post out on a more personal note. I’m writing with a heavy heart right now, as I learned days ago that a great friend and beautiful person passed away in my home town of Toledo, OH. I just want to honor him for a moment by telling you what I’ve already learned from his death: don’t let your friends fade away. We all grow up and grow apart to a certain extent, but it’s important to make the effort. To reach out and keep close friends close, no matter the distance or years that may now separate us. Our friends and family, especially the ones who need our help the most, should not be pushed to the background of our lives no matter how naturally that seems to happen. I’ll miss you to the fullest extent dear friend, and hope that your energy finds a peaceful place to rest somewhere in our infinite cosmos.

So with that said, and no easy transition to make, let’s talk Super Bowl.

I’ve most definitely watched better Super Bowls, but I don’t think I can recall one as strange as this one. With a huge lead cum huge come back thanks to a power outage smack dab in the middle of the game, there assuredly has never been a Super Bowl quite like the one we witnessed a week ago. While everybody and their brother has an opinion on how the game will play out in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, nobody really had a clear grasp on how this one would play out. Most experts and laymen alike, not to mention the money movers in Las Vegas, had this a pretty even match-up, although some big money apparently moved in the direction of the Ravens toward the tail end of the week in Sin City.

It’s why how the game started was a surprise to me, and to most that I watched the game with as well. A Super Bowl party is a lot like the game itself. Everyone’s nervous, a little edgy, with too much excitement bottled up all week to relax and have a good time right out of the gate. You have to take a deep breath, drink a tall beer, crack those first couple of bags of chips, and then take in the action properly with everyone else in the room. The players, just like a fan settling in to his spot on the couch, certainly looked jittery, and the 49ers were especially uneasy at the beginning of the game. Sometimes this leads to a quick score by the other team, which the Ravens obliged the Niners with, but it usually doesn’t snowball into the kind of lead that Baltimore had built by half time.

The Ravens didn’t look particularly dominant to this writer at the onset, but the 49ers certainly played as poorly as they possibly could. Their usually stout defense was steadily pushed around by the Ravens offensive line, and their deft and skillful secondary fell asleep on a couple of plays that could have gotten them off the field on third down. The Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, looked unfazed by the pressure, and was bailed out on more than one occasion by the aforementioned sleepiness of the 49ers “D” and a couple of big plays by his talented receiving corps. 

And speaking of those receivers, I still remain convinced that Anquan Boldin should have been the game’s MVP, regardless of his quarterback’s equally impressive effort or the big play-making that Jacoby Jones had a hand in (more on that later). Boldin caught the game’s first touchdown, made a series of drive-extending and eye-popping grabs, and without his 100 plus yards receiving and phenomenal play throughout, the Ravens would not have ended their night last Sunday as Super Bowl champions. Ray Lewis, even with god on his side, didn’t even play a factor in the game’s outcome, and Joe Flacco, riding the star power of the quarterback position, didn’t do as much as Q in the eyes of this writer. Boldin is among the strongest and most underrated at his position in all the league, and like former MVP wide receiver Hines Ward before him, did more than his team’s signal caller to secure victory on Super Bowl Sunday.

But back to the action...

By halftime, it looked like all was lost for the 49ers. They couldn’t cash in on the two drives they made deep into Baltimore territory, leading to a pair of field goals where touchdowns were necessary to keep them in the game. The murmurs around the room at my Super Bowl party were of the “here we go” and “at least we could’ve got a good game” variety. But then one Beyoncé Knowles took the stage for her halftime performance, and distracted us all from the rout that appeared to be on at the Superdome in New Orleans on Super Bowl Sunday.

Beyoncé took to a stage as luxuriant (and I assume expensive) as the world of entertainment allows, and like many a Super Bowl halftime performer, made us all forget for 15 minutes that we were, in fact, watching a football game. I was a bit confused at first by the colossal goblet lit up at the center of the field, but was more impressed by her talent and obvious, shall we say, assets, than anything else. She put on a high energy show that left many in awe both in the room with me that Sunday night and in the Twitter-verse, where her breathless, high-intensity workout disguised as musical performance was the topic of conversation up and down my feed. She seemed to soak up every bit of energy that the Superdome had to offer, and it turns out, she just may have.

Shortly after halftime and a 108 yard kick-off return for touchdown by the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones, the game looked to be all but over. With that touchdown the 49ers looked all but dead in the water. They were facing a third and long that looked like it was destined to end in another giving-over of the football to the Ravens when all of the sudden, the lights went out. After the game, I heard more than one talking head and bodiless radio voice claim that they were more than nervous when everything went black in the Superdome, convinced that in this post-9/11 America of ours, something terrible was about to happen. I didn’t think that, and nobody I was watching the game with thought that either. What everybody I was watching the game with started to talk about was that this little electrical SNAFU was exactly what the 49ers needed.

The longer the power outage lasted, the more uneasy you could see the once giddy Ravens’ sideline becoming. They knew what we all know, that the big “MO”, momentum, is as important to a football game and any sporting contest as the talent on the field or the game plans devised by the coaching staffs. This was the exact break that the 49ers needed. The long delay stole momentum away from the Ravens, giving the 49ers a chance to reset the game’s parameters. Remember, the 49ers overcame large deficits to beat several opponents this year, including the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game. It was too perfect a storm for the Niners not to mount a comeback.

And that’s exactly what they did. Though they did punt away the ball directly following a failed third down after the black out ended, that was their last miscue for the next 28 minutes of game time. They battled back, regained their confidence, and had the Ravens on the ropes. Baltimore did not score again until the fourth quarter. Momentum had shifted. The game had changed. The Super Bowl was all of the sudden up for grabs. A blow out had turned into a shoot out and the Niners all of the sudden seemed destined to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 

For all the hype leading up to the game the preceding week–Ray Lewis and his deer sprayed last chance at a second championship, a showdown between two head coaches who just happened to come from the same vagina, a loud-mouthed Niner cornerback proving his ignorance in regards to sexual preference, a second-year signal caller covered in tattoos who runs as well as he throws getting an early chance at career-defining glory–all of that stuff was pushed aside because of a 30 plus minute power outage that had given us what might be the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history. For once, the hype didn’t live up to the actual product. This game was far better than any of us could have possibly imagined. But the drama simply wasn’t over.

After the Ravens stalled on a late drive that had it ended in a touchdown would have also ended the game, they instead kicked a field goal and gave the Niners one more chance at a game-winning drive. It all seemed preordained. The young Colin Kaepernick was going to lead his team down the field, punch in the final score, and make this the greatest Super Bowl that had ever been played. You could just feel it. And for a moment, that’s what happened. But then the 49ers actually got to the precipice of their championship, and the wheels fell off their victory train in the truest sense of the analogy. 

On the brink of capping their amazing comeback, the Niners fell apart. In the shadow of their opponent's goal post, their play calling took a turn towards the mystifying (like forgetting how well their freaking quarterback can run), time management became a factor, the team looked rushed, and then of course, there was what looked like a holding penalty on Michael Crabtree on their last chance at victory in the right corner of the end zone. The way the game had been officiated all night (bumping and holding receivers was fair game throughout, hell, you could even shove a referee and get away with it) this wasn’t that big of a surprise, but upon further review, it sure did look like a blatant holding call. Maybe Crabtree wouldn’t have got to that ball anyway, but there is no “uncatchable” caveat for defensive holding the way there is for defensive pass interference. 

The debate about whether the flag should have been thrown could go back and forth forever, but just think about this for a moment: how would this game be perceived if the flag is thrown, the Niners get four fresh chances at a TD, succeed, and win the game? I don’t have a vested interest in the winner either way, but I bet the NFL is glad things played out the way they did. If the call had been made, you would have the Ravens and every sporting cynic from New Orleans to North Baltimore out there griping about how something was amiss. The Ravens, a team clearly in control of the biggest game of the season, would have been derailed by a freak power outage, then a penalty on the final play. I’ve never, ever believed that a league has actually tried to manifest one outcome over the other in its championship game/series, but there would have been a lot of hot and bothered people yelping about just that had the Niners got that call and won the game.

But holding call or no, the Niners had their chances to seal the deal. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what is so incredible about this Super Bowl, and why power outage induced as it was, San Fran’s comeback will still loom large in the annals of Super Bowl history. Despite how bad they played in the first half, despite giving up a Jacoby Jones touchdown on the opening kick off of the second half, despite the heroic play of Baltimore’s receivers and the steady hand of Joe Flacco, the 49ers almost won the damn game. They should never have had that four-down chance from the Ravens’ seven yard line at the end, but they did, and they missed that chance.

For all the Super Bowl detractors that squirm out of the woodwork each year, denouncing the game as an ostentatious spectacle celebrating a knuckle-headed sport that is proving to be violent beyond already established assessments, the NFL’s championship game is still the best in sports. It is the iridescent peacock feather in the league’s shimmering, officially licensed, sideline cap. I’ve said it several times before in many previous posts, and it becomes more and more obvious each year: football is still king in American sports, with no indication that it will abdicate the throne any time soon. Last Sunday’s game proved why no matter the story lines, teams involved, or players on the field, the NFL’s crowning ceremony is always entertaining. 

On occasion, it’s unforgettable. 



Sometimes life gets in the way. That’s certainly the case here at Bo Jackson’s Hip, where I haven’t put up new words since the tail end of August. I never like to take this long between posts, no matter the reason, but in a strange way it’s been good to take a break from writing about sports. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and watch. To take in the action, enjoy the games, and not feel like the thoughts and opinions scurrying through my brain have to be typed out on a keyboard. I like to take a little time away, but not even at the end of typing out this initial paragraph, it feels even better to be doing the damn thing once again. It’s a hobby, Bo Jackson’s Hip, but it’s also something that I’m rather proud of when it comes right down to it. I love sports, I love to write, and this is the place where there is no editor or deadline to get in between those two things. 

I guess it’s just good to be back.

When I was trying to decide what to write about after my long hiatus, I realized that a lot has happened in sports in the interval between September of 2012 and now the beginning of 2013. The World Series was played, where my Detroit Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants, the NBA season has started, the hockey season hasn’t, the college football season reached its culmination Monday night, and the entirety of the NFL season is finished, with the first round of the playoffs also in the books.

And it is that last bit of the sporting world that I wish to focus on in this post. I don’t think I’ve gone through an entire NFL season without writing a post since I started to write things that appear on the internet lo those many years ago. I picked a hell of a season to take off, one of the strangest and most intriguing I can remember, so I think it’s fitting to go ahead and break down the NFL regular season as we jump into the playoffs. If we’re lucky, they’ll be filled with just as many of the unique circumstances and off-kilter happenings that characterized the 2012 season from start to finish. 

The dominant 2012 NFL headline for me, and the place I will start, is with the starting running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Adrian Peterson’s knee exploded in the second to last game of the 2011 season, and while Vikings’ fans were thunderstruck and the entire league gasped at what might have been a career ending injury, I don’t think anyone on planet earth would have believed you if you had told them how things were going to play out for mister “All Day.”

Just picture it. You hop in a time machine that leaves today and head back to the locker room after that fateful day last December. You track down Peterson, who is clearly crestfallen and heartbroken, questioning what’s next not only for his knee, but possibly his career. Here’s what you tell him:

“Adrian, I know it looks bad now. I know you’re in physical and emotional pain right now and I don’t know how to console you. Actually, wait a minute, I’m from the not-so-distant future and I know exactly how to console you. Less than a year from now, you will defy all odds and expectations and start the first game of the 2012 season. Not only will you be ready day one, but you will end up rushing for more than 2,000 yards on that surgically repaired knee. Your torn ligaments will become a distant memory in short order as you come up 9 measly yards short of Eric Dickerson’s seemingly unbreakable single season rushing record, lead the Vikings to the playoffs, and are the odds-on favorite to be the league’s Comeback Player of the Year, and also its Most Valuable Player. In short, you will act like a super-human and achieve physical feats that will have some questioning your humanity. I mean seriously, you can tell me, are you an android?”

I have a feeling AP may have punched said time-traveler into next week with such a cockamamy story, but that’s exactly what happened. I’ve never seen anything like it. I hate to bring the world of Fantasy Football into reality football, but on draft day I avoided Peterson like the plague. I refused to believe that a man could come back for the better part of the following season after what Peterson did to his knee, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have given that man a chance in hell at setting the single season NFL rushing record. Not only does Peterson deserve the aforementioned awards that our time-traveler mentioned, but this season will go down as one of the most legendary in any sport, in any generation. It will turn this man, who was already among the most talented in the NFL, into the kind of legend that any young athlete dreams of becoming. I don’t even want to hear about Peyton Manning competing for the MVP award, although his nearly-as-miraculous comeback is my next topic of conversation.

Manning’s return from the neck injury that threatened to derail his career and an entire season spent away from the game is nothing short of extraordinary, but Manning is nothing short of an extraordinary athlete. Many questioned whether PM would be the QB he used to be, yours truly included. Some even questioned whether he would return to an NFL sideline at all, ever, yours truly included. Coming back from neck surgery, a year off, and joining a new team did not seem to be any way to revitalize what may be the greatest career that any NFL quarterback has ever had, but that’s what we get for questioning Manning’s ability, heart, and competitive edge. 

He lifted the Broncos to the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, changed a decent team into a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and erased any of the doubts that swirled around him for the better part of the last year and a half. If he is not the greatest quarterback who has ever lived, he certainly has a solid footing in the debate. No matter what happens in the playoffs, no matter where the Broncos finish, Manning’s 2012 season, like Peterson’s, will be among the most talked about in the history of sport. If not for Peterson, Manning would be the clear-cut MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. That’s how incredible this season has been for these two athletes. They have done so much and proved so many wrong, and yet must share the spotlight when it comes to the individual awards that the NFL has to offer. 

It is simply stunning. But again, this has been a flabbergasting year in the NFL. Beyond what Manning and Peterson have accomplished, there has been even more fodder for discussion and opinion than the usually compelling NFL season typically offers. The Steelers missed the playoffs, the Bengals made it again, the Lions self-destructed, the Jets were a drama on par with any of the Bard’s best work, and three rookie quarterbacks turned teams that missed the playoffs into teams that made the playoffs. And those three rookie QB’s succeeded in terms that are nearly as impressive as Manning and Peterson. Andrew Luck, the number one overall selection of the Indianapolis Colts and Manning’s heir apparent, turned the Colts from a two win team into an eleven win team in the span of one season. 

Though his voice sounds like he swallowed a frog who swallowed a bag full of cotton balls on most occasions, Luck’s feat should not be underestimated. Even with Manning, many wouldn’t have pegged the Colts as a playoff team considering how many other moving parts left Indy, both on the sideline and on the field. Yet Luck turned in one of the most impressive rookie seasons by any quarterback in history, and though the Colts were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, Luck’s potential manifested itself in immediate results, turning a rebuilding process into a slight remodel that might add some pressure, but more so brings confidence to a team sorely lacking in that department only a year ago.

In Washington D.C., the second overall pick found similar success. Robert Griffin III combined his athletic ability, strong arm, and a level of leadership that belies his age to power the Redskins into the playoffs with the help of another fantastic rookie, running back Alfred Morris. Sure, the Skins were in much better shape entering the season than the Colts, but RG3’s accomplishments are nearly on par with Luck’s. Both faced an ungodly amount of pressure to succeed immediately and met it with a steely resolve, taking teams that looked a couple years away from the postseason and propelling them past playoff incumbents that seemed sure to leave them in the dust. The Skins won a division shared with the defending Super Bowl champions in the Giants, and the Colts beat out former champs the Pittsburgh Steelers for one of the last remaining playoff births in a similar fashion.

The third rookie QB to lead his team to the playoffs, Russell Wilson, may not be the most impressive of the three considering the talent on defense that the Seattle Seahawks already possessed and established big-time running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, but he is surely the most unexpected success of the trio. Wilson is undersized, was picked a full two rounds behind Luck and Griffin III, and wasn’t even the assumed starter in Seattle at the onset of training camp. Wilson should have backed up free agent acquisition Matt Flynn, who signed a sizable contract after apprenticing under one of the premiere QB’s in the NFL, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Wilson not only leap-frogged Flynn on the Seahawks’ depth chart, but led Seattle to the playoffs, on his way scoring 50+ points in three consecutive regular season games. He also tied Peyton Manning’s rookie passing touchdown record, no easy feat on a team that doesn’t have a true No. 1 wide receiver on its roster.

And that’s not to mention what another neophyte QB, second-year chucker Colin Kaepernick, has done in San Francisco, stepping in to replace Alex Smith under center for one of the best teams in the league. His arrival in the Bay has given the 49ers added firepower on offense and served as a dynamic complement to Frank Gore at running back, only adding to a clearly dominant defense. 

As in the case of MVP and Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year honors are just as debatable considering the performances of each of these three signal callers. Debate has raged about who deserves the award, and if you look at the three situations I just laid out, it’s easy to see why. At the end of the football day, I give the award to Luck. As I said, he turned a two win team into a playoff team, was statistically better than most of the QB’s who have been in the league for years, and did so with the specter of the departed Peyton Manning, perhaps the greatest player to ever play the position and an institution in the city of Indianapolis, hanging above him all the way. Luck gets the nod, but not by much, and all three young men make what Cam Newton did as a rookie last year in Carolina look like child’s play in comparison. 

Despite all of these unexpected performances and unlikely heroes, both the AFC and NFC have seen that while so much changes, so much also stays the same. Tom Brady and the Patriots still sit near the top in the AFC going into the divisional round of the playoffs, a Peyton Manning led team is locked into home field advantage throughout, the Texans still seem just below that upper echelon of NFL teams, the Atlanta Falcons once again had a dominant regular season but remain playoff unknowns, and the 49ers and Packers still seemed poised to make a Super Bowl run. The consistent teams have remained so, while the up and coming franchises look like Jim breaking down his mitts in Blazing Saddles: steady as a rock, but still shaky in the face of playoff pressure and unknown territory. This weekend will decide whether or not the upstarts can finally break the hold that the elite teams and the men who lead them (calling doctor Rodgers, doctor Manning, doctor Brady) have on a chance at the Lombardi trophy.

The unexpected events that have ruled the NFL season remind me of an age old sports adage: That’s why they play the games. If everything turned out how preseason prognosticators predicted, Las Vegas lines would lead us to believe, or how things looked statistically on paper, all of the charm and entertainment value of the sporting life would fade away faster than a lineman who gets beat on every snap or a QB who can’t hit the fade route. Despite its PR battle with the increasing brutality of the game itself, the now undeniable affect that concussions have on its players, and recent missteps by commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL refuses to relinquish it’s crown as the most popular American sport.

Indeed, that’s why they play the games, and more importantly, that’s why we watch.