Archive for March, 2009

It’s a long and somewhat depressing off-season. Six months of guessing, planning, bragging, but above all not a single minute of regular season NFL action that means a jot.

So what is there to do in the wasteland between March and September?

Well there is baseball and even basketball, but despite almost 20 years of trying I cannot emotionally attach myself to the likes of the Denver Nuggets or the New York Yankees.

As a six year old to relieve boredom I recall my father buying me a sticker album, Panini Football 1980. To my non-European readers I refer to the round ball variety of football.

It was there that I remember the initial joy of opening packets of stickers (which I recall cost 5 pence a packet) to see if I could pull out a shiny silver badge or a famous player such as Liverpool star Kenny Dalglish or my childhood football hero Viv Anderson (a defender for Nottingham Forest and the first African Caribbean player to play for England).

Growing up in a small town in Surrey (a county below London on a map) I did not live near to a major football team so I chose the team to support based on the team sticker that had the most trophies by the players feet.

Back in 1980 Nottingham Forest were the best team in England and Europe under the genius that was Brian Clough, so I said to myself that would be my team. Little did I know that almost 30 years later I and most other Nottingham Forest fans would still be harking back to those glory days, with little to show for it in terms of trophies earned in the past three decades.

So I have football stickers to blame for my love of Nottingham Forest starting in 1980, and 29 years later I still share the same childlike excitement for opening packets of cards to see if I can pull a rare card or a limited edition one.

It is interesting in England that children in 2009 will potentially commence their love for collecting stickers the same way I did all those years ago, just like American children will open their first pack of NFL trading cards and share the passion for collecting small pieces of card.

Somebody somwhere was happy when they opened a pack and got this Matt Ryan card - on sale for $500 on EBay today

Somebody somwhere was happy when they opened a pack and got this Matt Ryan card - on sale for $500 on EBay today

Growing up in the 1980s I became obsessed with all things NFL and I recall that in 1987 Topps released a set of NFL cards. They were smaller than the set issued in the United States in both physical size and collection size.

I used to save up money given to me to get the bus to school to buy these cards and I remember sending off for the small collection box to keep my collection safe.

I would read all the stats on the back of each card and flick through the collection in boring lessons such as Music or Religious Education.

My music teacher Mrs Nye in fact confiscated my collection for a whole term (semester) as I was paying more attention to them than I was to playing an electric keyboard.

I did get them back the very first day of the next term and vowed to never bring them back to school. I can proudly say that I still have that collection, featuring the likes of Joe Montana, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino.

Where my interest began - a 1987 Topps Dan Marino card

Where my interest began - a 1987 Topps Dan Marino card

From then for about the next 15 years that was the only interaction I had with NFL trading cards, until one day at work in 2002 I was talking to a rather beefy looking businessman about the NFL.

He shared my love for American football and told me that he had a signed Walter Payton shirt hanging up in his office that he won on an Internet auction site called EBay.

After he told me how much he payed I quickly gave up on the idea of collecting full size NFL players shirts.

He must have seen that I was not exactly wealthy and suggested that I bid for an NFL trading card which is signed or has a small piece cut from an NFL players shirt.

I was very excited to even think I could own a small (very small in fact) piece of shirt worn by an NFL athlete in a real NFL game.

He told me that rookie players are the ones worth the most money so I bid for a card featuring the 2001 Heisman Tropy winner Eric Crouch and a small piece of a brown leather football that he had held.

I won the auction, and from then on I have spent time over the last 6 years collecting various cards on Ebay, as well as purchasing packets (an even on one occasion a full box) of NFL trading cards when visiting the USA.

I have not made any bids in 2009 but I get the feeling my wife would kill me if she saw a return of the small brown bubble envelopes dropping through our letterbox with remarkable regularity.

I am still waiting for the day that I pull an amazing cad from a pack I have purchased, as opposed to bidding for the card I know I have a chance of winning on EBay.

Cards I have pulled include; one with a piece of ball used by the Dolphins Ricky Williams in 2003 v the Buffalo Bills; one with a piece of the shirt held up by Calvin Johnson when he was drafted by the Detroit Lions and an autograph of former Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller.

I have emailed all the USA based card companies in the past and they have been kind enough to send me free cards and even card buying guides.

It’s a fun hobby for sure, provided you do not become obsessed, and providing you have the spare cash to indulge.

Above all it’s something to do during the tedium of the off-season, and what with the 2009 NFL Rookie Draft just weeks away, my advice would be to snap up any Rookie cards when they come up on EBay.

You could get a signed rookie card for a quarterback drafted in the sixth round for a very reasonable price! And we all know which three time Superbowl winning quarterback was a 6th round pick don’t we!

So does anyone else admit to collecting NFL trading cards? And if yes what was your best ever pull?

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One of the most intreguing 2009 picks Ole Miss OT Michael Oher
One of the most intreguing 2009 picks Ole Miss OT Michael Oher

I don’t claim to be any sort of NCAA Football expert as I did not see any live college football on tv here in England.

We do have the opportunity to subscribe to NASN (North American Sports Network) on satellite tv, but the cost is too high for me, and you can get ‘Pardon the Interruption’ and ‘Around the Horn’ free as podcasts on I-tunes – so why fay for it?
Bottom line the annual college draft is a bit of a mystery to me as aside from the big big names like Matthew Stafford and Michael Crabtree the draft contains a lot of college atheletes I will never have heard of before they get picked by the 32 NFL teams.
In this years draft  however there is one exception to my proverbial crap shoot of names and numbers – Ole Miss Rebels
offensive tackle Michael Oher.
Oher is predicted to be a 1st round pick anywhere from about pick 10 to pick 25, and at points in time over the past 12 months has been top 5.
So why do I claim to have inside knowledge on a 6 fee 6 inch tall 325 lb offensive tackle from Mississippi ? Well I read the Michael Lewis Book ‘The Blind Side’ and I now have an emotional attachment to Oher that I have fo no other draft pick.
The image of Oher walking the streets wearing the same pair of shorts and the same t-shirt day in day out before he is discovered by a rich white family and turned into an NFL prospect is pure Hollywood I thought when I read the book, and now I read today that Sandra Bullock is going to star in the movie ‘The Blind Side’ about Oher (obviously not as him though!).
The book details Oher’s background, including his childhood which sounded scarier than watching a Saw movie on magic mushrooms. Oher overcame more trauma than the rest of his high Briarcrest high-school football team mates put together, and is now due for a payday that seemed a million miles away at the start of this decade.
Whoever picks Oher will get a guy that is a physical specimen that was born to play football, even if he didn’t know it himself. Oher fancied himself as a basketball player in his early sporting career, but grew to a size at a young age that had college scouts dribbling into their foolscap contract folders.
For two days last year Oher declared himseld eligible for the 2008 NFL draft, but took wise counsel (not sure from who) to play his senior year in college. His reward? A Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech.
Now I must remind you that on the losing team that day was the ‘potential’ #1 2009 NFL draft pick Michael Crabtree. Funny how it’s such a small world.
I hope Oher gets drafted in the top 10 – he will be a huge asset to whoever drafts him. People who know a lot more than me compare him to Rams OT Orlando Pace. That’s the same Orlando Pace who has a Superbowl winners ring on his finger and two conference championship rings too.
Quite a legacy to live up to, but I believe Oher will become a Pro Bowl OT and make his NFL team smile as wide as the Mississippi river.

bucccccccccccccTwo of the busier teams so far in the NFL Free Agency period have been the London bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots.

The Buccaneers have given the Washington Redskins a run for their money with the following moving to the sunshine state;

***BIG GAINS***

Kellen Winslow – Tight End (from Cleveland by trade) This guy is a stud and maybe the best Buccs TE since Jimmie Giles.

Derrick Ward – Running Back (from New York Giants) A burner who will add great value to the backfield, with Earnerst Graham and Skoda Williams – well he breaks down far too many times to be called Cadillac.

Mike Nugent – Kicker (from New York Jets) I always think of either gold or chicken nuggets when I read out his name, Nugent is a good young kicker.

In addition Tampa re-signed – Tight End Jerramy Stevens, Wide Receiver Antonio Bryant, Wide Receiver Michael Clayton (not the one played by pretty boy George Clooney),  Safety Jermaine Phillips, Wide Receiver Cortez Hankton.

***BIG LOSSES***

Jovan Haye – Defensive Tackle (to Tennessee)

Philip Buchannon – Cornerback (to Detroit)

In addition Tampa released Linebacker Derick Brooks, Running Back Warwick Dunn, Wide Receiver Ike Hilliard, Linebacker Cato June and will not re-sign Quarterback Jeff Garcia.

So what does all this mean for new head coach Raheem Morris?

Pretty simple – heading into the 2009 NFL Draft the focus for the Buccs will be on defense.

It also means that Wembley bound Tampa Bay will need to get an offensive protagonist and a good one at that as the inclusion of Ward, Winslow and keeping Antonio Bryant means the supporting cast is already in place.

Luke McCown, Brian Griese and the unproven Josh Johnson do not make me think 11-5 and playoff win, more like 7-9 and another season of frustration. The consensus is that this is a rebuilding year for Tampa Bay, but if they do manage to get a stud qb in the next month then they can help expectations rise to a 10-6 or 11-5 season. Matt Cassell would have surely had more immediate fun/wins here than at Kansas City?

The current FA quarterbacks left who have started many games – JP Losman and Byron Leftwich (I still love the memeory of his college offensive linemen carrying him as he fought injury as a Marshall QB – see below) are not really the answer.

I am not ignoring the need for the Buccs to upgrade their offensive line, but defense is where the Buccs will be drawing in new blood at the 2009 draft.

With Derrick Brooks released and Ronde Barber getting older (maybe 1 or 2 seasons left realistically) the team will look for a stud linebacker in round 1. Someone like  Clay Matthews (the younger) or James Laurinaitis would be great picks for the Buccs.

Young defensive players such as Barrett Ruud, Gaines Adams, Aquib Talib, Quincy Black and Sabby Piscitelli are all players you would describe as having a huge upside, and Ruud was worthy of a spot on the NFC 2008 Pro Bowl roster.  

With some clever drafting and a few tweaks in Free Agency the Buccs can be a force to be reconed with, and as ever those people fortunate enough to get (and afford) tickets to the Tampa Bay v New England NFL game in London in October will be able to see of all the moves in March mean success in 2009-10.

The Buccs are doing the right thing by getting younger – but 2009 may be a tough year ahead.