Falcons’ marketing department takes a short siesta

falcons graphic

It’s long been a running joke that football players are better known for brawn than brains. Apparently, the marketing department of at least one professional football team didn’t pay all that much attention in college, either.

The Atlanta Falcons will be in London this weekend to play the Detroit Lions, part of the National Football League’s effort to broaden its fan base.

To give Falcons fans an inside look at the team’s journey across the Atlantic, the club posted the above infographic detailing the travel schedule.

Someone’s lack of geography knowledge could have proven costly, as the graphic showed the team traveling first to Baltimore and then to somewhere in Spain, rather than London, which would have left them more than 900 miles south of Wembley Stadium.

Fortunately, the Falcons were alerted to the mistake and corrected the error, greatly diminishing chances that a group of extremely large, muscular and no doubt irate men would be left wandering the confines of Barcelona Airport.

(HT: Deadspin)

Death by football: Remembering a college friend 10 years later

justin Strzelczyk

It is not news to anyone who follows professional sports that the National Football League has some serious problems, including issues with domestic abuse, banned substances and players suffering debilitating and life-shortening injuries with all-too alarming frequency.

While this crisis seems to some a recent phenomenon, it’s not. The light has only been shined on it with greater intensity recently.

I remember when I got my first real inkling that something was wrong – really wrong – with professional football. It was perhaps 18 or 19 years ago, while watching a game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t remember who the Steelers were playing, but I do remember a specific play which was run toward the Steelers’ sideline, where Pittsburgh players not in the game were standing.

As one of the opposing players slowed up as he ran out of bounds at the end of the play, a Pittsburgh player standing along the sideline took the opportunity to deliver what in football parlance is known as a “forearm shiver,” clocking his opponent with a forearm to the head. As the opponent, not surprisingly, wasn’t expecting a blow, it had a powerful effect.

I remember the network catching the infraction and showing it again, and highlighting the culprit. It was Justin Strzelczyk, a grizzly bear of an offensive lineman. The incident was shocking not because of what happened – most every NFL game has cheap shots and late hits – but because of who committed the offense.

It stunned me because Strzelczyk, who I’d known in college, had been one of the most easygoing individuals I’d known during my time at the University of Maine. He may have been a 6-foot-6, 250-plus pound football player, but he was a genuinely good-natured guy.

I’d actually met him during his recruiting visit to Maine in 1986, when he was still a senior in high school. My dorm room was across the hall from that of one of the captains of the football team. Recruits are paired up with current team members when they visit campus and Strzelczyk spent the weekend of his recruiting visit across the hall, when he wasn’t out getting his first taste of college life.

That weekend, amid the beer, girls and good times of college, Strzelczyk was in hog heaven. I wasn’t surprised when he opted to attend Maine. We remained friends and would chat whenever we  bumped into each other on campus up until I graduated in 1988.

Strzelczyk continued to improve and was a starter and standout during the latter part of his career at Maine. The last time I saw him, ironically, was in April 1990. I’d gone back to Maine to visit some friends still in school and it happened to be the first day of that year’s NFL draft.

While walking on campus we saw each other and talked briefly; I asked him if he thought he’d be drafted. He replied that he hoped so, but he’d have to wait and see. He still had an easy way about him, despite the fact that he was hours away from learning what the future held for him.

In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him in the 11th round, No. 293 overall. Normally, 11th round draft choices don’t have much of chance of making it in the NFL, but Strzelczyk, who had size, aptitude and desire going for him, made the team.

Over the next nine seasons, Strzelczyk would play in 173 games for the Steelers, starting 75. He was versatile, starting at every position on the offensive line except center. He even played in Super Bowl XXX.

His career came to a close, as nearly all do in the NFL, because of an injury. He suffered a quadriceps tear during a game in 1998, and then was hurt the following year in bar fight. Finally, he suffered another injury during a celebrity hockey game in 2000 and was shortly afterward released by the Steelers.

Without football, Strzelczyk’s life seemed to come apart at the seams. He and his wife of eight years divorced in 2001; he was arrested for drinking and driving in 2003; and his behavior became increasingly erratic.

Continue reading

SI writer recalls run-in with Billy Morris

There’s a great deal of grief expended over newspapers being run by corporate types who take no active interest in the day-to-day operations of their publications.

While an involved manager is generally better than a disinterested leader whose only interest is the bottom line, sometimes having the head honcho closely involved can be a bit disquieting.

Joe Posnanski, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and longtime sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, recalled the time early in his career when, as a sports columnist at the Augusta Chronicle, his bosses came up with the idea that he would pick football games over the weekend and readers would write in their own predictions. If the readers beat him, they would get a T-shirt.

“They were called the ‘I Pounded Pos’ T-shirts, and they had a picture of me getting booted through a goal post,” Posnanski told Slate magazine. “I said, ‘I’ll be happy to do this, but you should know, I’m not very good at picking games.’ They said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’ll be fine.'”

Posnanski proved adept at predicting his inability to predict winners.

Well, the first week, I think we got, I don’t know, maybe 1,300 or 1,400 people writing in. I had a terrible week, and literally a thousand of them won. So of course the next week we got 5,000 in, because people were realizing it was really easy to get free T-shirts. The publisher of the newspaper, Billy Morris, who I’d never talked to — he ran not just our paper but the whole chain — I ran into him and he says, ‘You’re the guy who’s picking those game, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘You might want to start picking better.’ That was the most direct response I’ve ever gotten to being wrong.

Posnanski said that nearly 20 years later he still get letters from people about how they have five “I Pounded Pos” T-shirts in their house.

“I remember I got a photo from a guy who had clothed his entire family in these shirts,” he told Slate.

Making friends, influencing people – not

crabt

The only thing worse than the protracted sycophant-like treatment the media administers to the National Football League in general is the protracted sycophant-like treatment the media gives the NFL’s preseason.

Come on, you know the routine:  “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word/ And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

Which is how we get to this:

San Francisco 49ers first round draft choice Michael Crabtree is threatening to sit out the 2009 season by negotiating off mock drafts which didn’t occur rather than the real one that did.

Crabtree was selected by the 49ers, who had the No. 9 choice in the draft, after after the Oakland Raiders selected wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh overall.

Crabtree had been rated higher in predraft rankings than Heyward-Bey, but Raiders owner Al Davis, long known for doing the unorthodox, opted for Heyward-Bey. 

“Crabtree has decided that he shouldn’t have to be paid less because – based on all the made-up, predicted drafts – Al Davis made a mistake. He wants to be paid more than Heyward-Bey, demanding his contract reflect that it was actually he who was the higher selected receiver,” said Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, who terms the concept ground-breaking, if intellectually bankrupt.

Crabtree’s camp said Thursday that he is even willing to sit out the year and re-enter the draft next spring unless he gets more than the $23.5 million the Raiders guaranteed Heyward-Bey. Anything less than that stratospheric number is apparently “unacceptable,” Wetzel reports.

“We are prepared to do it,” David Wells, a cousin of Crabtree, told ESPN. “Michael just wants fair market value. Michael is one of the best players in the draft, and he just wants to be paid like one of the best players.”

The NFL draft and bad economics

lions1

S.M. Silva has an interesting post on the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s blog about the curiosity that is the National Football League draft.

In the recently concluded draft, the Detroit Lions selected former University of Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the first pick. The Lions and Stafford quickly announced an agreement that guarantees him at least $41.7 million in compensation before he plays a single game.

That means Stafford will have more money guaranteed to him then any other current NFL player, and represents a 20 percent premium over compensation guaranteed to Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, who was the first quarterback taken in last year’s draft.

As Silva points writes, “It’s a peculiar business model that guarantees eight-figure incomes to new hires who have yet to demonstrate any ability to perform in their positions. It’s even more peculiar when you examine the relationship between draft position and quarterback performance.”

Of quarterbacks selected in the draft’s first round, the recent evidence suggests at least a 50 percent failure rate, Silva writes.

“Taking the 16 quarterbacks selected between 2002 and 2006 – that is, quarterbacks with three full playing seasons since the NFL expanded to 32 teams – only eight are still with the team that selected them, and only seven are considered starters today. (And two of these seven may lose their starting jobs before the season begins.)”

Stafford’s fat payday, and the risky gamble that the Lions are making, is a product of the draft itself, Silva writes:

“By voluntarily restricting intra-club bidding for incoming players, owners simply drive up the price they have to pay for top selections like Stafford. In theory, Detroit could have selected Stafford and refused to sign him to a contract, keeping him out of the league entirely. But from a customer-relations standpoint, this would have been intolerable. Fans expect teams to sign top draft choices. Nor could Detroit change its mind and pursue another top-caliber rookie if post-draft negotiations with Stafford failed. The draft produces scarcity where none need exist.”

Of course, given the pathetic nature of the Lions, who completed the NFL’s first 0-16 season last year, Stafford is likely going to be earning a good bit of that $41.7 million the hard way. Still, it’s not a bad salary for someone just out of college.

Lions management opts not to insult fans

Here’s a shocker: The Detroit Lions will not be raising ticket prices next year.

Amid a sagging economy and the worst record in league history, the Lions will even cut prices on some seats, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Bob Raymond, VP of business operations for Ford Field, where the Lions play, said it was safe to assume the club will not increase prices in 2009. “We’re just not in position to do that with, one, the economy, and two, the way the team has performed.”

Translation: if the economy was anything but moribund or the Lions hadn’t been utterly inept and posted the first 0-16 mark in league history, ticket holders would be looking at a price bump in 2009.

If the Lions really cared about their fans, they’d offer at least a partial refund to those fans who had to sit through this season’s abomination, or vow not to increase prices again until the team makes the playoffs.

Why sports fans should watch the economy

Over on nationalreview.com’s sports media blog, Greg Pollowitz asks the question: “How long before the credit crunch hits the professional sports leagues?”

Actually, it already has, as evidenced by cuts in NASCAR and the NFL. And just last week, the East Coast Hockey League Augusta Lynx folded in mid-season, after more than 10 years in operation.

The topic of interest for Mr. Pollowitz was the signing of Francisco Rodriguez by the New York Mets to a three-year, $37 million contract.

“These sports franchises are built on the credit bubble,” he writes. “The banks and car companies, the biggest advertisers, will have to cut back. If Americans won’t buy cars, then how in the world will there be money available to pay the salaries of these players?”

Good question.