image

Tenaciously supporting a minority that so many in the majority have yet to understand takes considerable strength and courage, perhaps in its own way, requiring even more bravery than donning pads and a helmet on Sundays.

Speaking out in favor of marriage equality has put NFL players Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita (all heterosexual, in case you were wondering) on a new kind of athletic map, one that spans far beyond the football field.  The three veterans of the sport, all California natives, will have their eyes on Washington D.C. Tuesday and Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases that could change the course of history for gay people in this country.    

With the help of attorney John Dragseth and university law professor Tim Holbrook, the three NFL players filed an Amicus Brief with the court - a document stating one’s position as it relates to a case before the court - in support of marriage equality. 

"Basically it’s a way to bring attention to an aspect of the case we think is important to the Court that they might not have otherwise considered," said Kluwe who used the athlete perspective as the primary focus of the brief.

"Many different entities file amicus briefs in high profile cases, and if they’re cogent and well reasoned, the Court generally takes them into consideration."


Several athletes (current and former) have signed the brief, hoping to use their names to help push what they see as positive legislation forward.

"The brief shows that historically, many athletes have been powerful agents for social change," said Fujita, who recently wrote an essay about his views on marriage equality for the New York Times.

"People look to us, whether we like it or not. And that’s why our actions, and how we treat others, and the words we use, carry a lot of weight. We need to set the right example, especially for kids."

In an age where world famous sports stars (i.e. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, etc.) keep quiet about their personal and political beliefs, many find the recent surge of athletes coming out in support of the LGBT community and marriage equality to be something new, and surprising.

"Renaissance" would be a more accurate description of the gay rights movement building within the community of current and former professional athletes as the sports world has often been at the forefront of civil rights issues. 

Jackie Robinson integrated baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, several years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education integrated the country in 1954.

Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman stood for racial equality on the medal stand in Mexico City during the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Women gained equal access to play sports in school with the Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 and here we are, four decades later, where women earn only 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in the workplace.

The NFL’s renaissance men embrace the challenges faced by their predecessors as they become the next generation of athletes to take a stand on social issues.

"Until everyone is accepted and treated equally we will continue to push the envelope toward equality," said Ayanbadejo, who plans to speak at a marriage equality rally in Washington on Tuesday.  

"People know and accept that racism isn’t right. When every one feels the same way about discrimination and the law backs our stance, only then will we be satisfied."

While Ayanbadejo, Fujita and Kluwe have long been supporters of the LBGT community and marriage equality, their stock soared sky high in 2012, and even ruffled some feathers along the way, thanks to an election year with marriage equality on the ballot in several states. 

The broad discussion of constitutional gay rights narrowly trickled down to the sports world Monday as news broke regarding an NFL player who is strongly considering coming out to the public.  He would become the first openly gay, active athlete in the history of North American team sports.

It’s clear that a host of fellow athletes would support him, as there are plenty of notable names on the athlete’s brief submitted to the court.  But the list is noticeably devoid of the most recognizable sports figures.  No LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, or Sidney Crosby.  No Venus or Serena Williams, Rory McIlroy or Derek Jeter. 

"It would really help bolster the environment of support and equality we’re trying to promote in the NFL and other pro sports," Kluwe said of the importance of the biggest names in the business publicly supporting LGBT rights and marriage equality. 

"Top athletes are definitely role models for a lot of people, and having their help is invaluable."

In fairness to the aforementioned, they weren’t necessarily asked to participate.  Ayanbadejo did the majority of the recruiting himself on a busy, Super Bowl-winning schedule.

"The first filtering of candidates was done in my head. I targeted my athletes and went for it," said Ayanbadejo when asked how many "A-list" athletes were asked to join the cause.

Fujita made a few calls as well, witnessing first hand how money and corporate sponsorship can so easily create a serious conflict of interest for celebrities.

"There were a handful that I approached. And it wasn’t that they weren’t with us on issue. Sometimes ‘corporate interests’ weigh in, I think. That’s why I occasionally (half-jokingly) challenge these guys to be the ‘anti-Jordan.’"

Despite those who declined to participate (publicly or privately), Ayanbadejo was encouraged by the progress made by those who were willing to lend their support.

"There really wasn’t any flat out no’s but there was plenty of hesitation. And just as many guys that were hesitant stepped up and affirmative said yes. For me to be fair I would have had to have asked more guys but the overwhelming majority said yes. I would say I was batting around .650."

That average lines up nicely against the country as a whole, as nearly 60 percent of Americans said they support gay marriage.

The NFL’s renaissance men are hoping that one more majority sides with them as well come June, when the Supreme Court makes its decision on marriage equality. 

image

Dear Chris,

Hey man, how’s it going? I would like to sugar coat the meaty contents of this letter by first saying congratulations on making it to the Super Bowl, as you and your 49ers teammates have made the city of San Francisco beam with football pride for the first time in many years.  That is wonderful.

More importantly, I have a personal favor I’d like to ask of you.  Please don’t apologize for your homophobic comments, attempt to rephrase or claim your words were taken out of context. 

I’m not sure even the best and brightest of the PR world could find a way to spin this (courtesy of the Mercury News):

“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.

“Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”

Culliver suggested that homosexual athletes keep their sexuality private until 10 years after they retire.

Oy Vey. 

Apparently, Artie Lange is the new Oprah, getting guys like you to open up about such controversial subjects.  Impressive!

Here’s the thing Chris.  Personally, I respect your right to freely discuss your opinions, any time, any place. I’m sure the majority of San Franciscans agree, given the Bay Area’s storied history of the peace movement, freedom of speech and gay rights activism. 

This is why I implore you not to attempt to color these comments as something other than what they are; the dark truth that homophobia and strong anti-gay views remain deeply rooted in the world of professional sports.

Sure, there are other guys sprinkled throughout pro sports, for instance, your fellow NFL pals Brendon Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita, who are openly supportive of civil rights in this country, including LGBT rights.  But clearly the movement is not yet powerful enough to have impacted you, despite your own team’s efforts to join the cause

While it was a poor business move to publicly reveal your feelings about gays as a member of a San Francisco-based organization, there is no going back so you may as well resign to moving forward.

Should you apologize for hurting people’s feelings or offending them?  That seems fair.  You can stick by something you say while feeling bad that others are hurt by it.  In a weird and twisted way, I actually respect Lance Armstrong for a non-apology he gave Oprah in their sit-down interview.

Instead of taking the apology bait when Oprah asked him if he felt remorse, Armstrong’s response was, “everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught.” Finally, he was honest about something.

Chris, you are strong enough to take the Lance route on this one. 
Don’t be like your Super Bowl opponent Terrell Suggs who, after verbally decimating the "arrogant prick" Patriots, received a talking-to from teammate Ray Lewis, and consequently changed his tune to, “people don’t like them because they win,” in hopes of avoiding backlash.  That’s weak sauce.  Super weak. 

Stick to your beliefs.  Only if you mean it, say you’re sorry for offending anyone and then keep your mouth shut regarding this issue for the rest of the week.

And don’t worry about being excluded or treated as a leper back home in San Francisco after the Super Bowl.  Most of the folks in the Bay are much more accepting than you, so you need not worry.  It’s all good.  In fact, I bet you’ll be even more popular upon your return, as the locals will surely stop you on the street for a quick chat from time to time, in hopes that maybe, just maybe their open-mindedness might rub off on you. 

Sincerely,
Jackie

UPDATE:  Well, looks like Chris didn’t read my letter.  Bummer.

49ers statement, on behalf of Chris Culliver:

"The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”

2011 turned out to be a pretty rough year for Adrian Peterson.  Well, signing a seven-year, $100 million contract extension wasn’t too bad, but it was all downhill from there for the Minnesota Vikings running back.

Instead of studying his playbook or playing video games in the hotel room the night before the Vikings season finale against the Chicago Bears, the four-time Pro Bowl selection spent New Years Eve in a hospital room. 

Peterson kicked off 2012 wearing a paper gown and party hat while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury he suffered during the third quarter of the Vikings 33-26 victory over the Redskins in week 16. 

Between a horrendous 3-13 record and a shredded knee, there is nowhere to go but up for Peterson in 2012, thus making the best out of a crappy situation is a good start and a testament to his character. 

Peterson tweeted the pictures above with captions reading, “My time bringing in the New Year was great! Thanks to family & a lil Blue Bell country ice cream” and  “HAPPY NEW YEAR FANS & FAMIlY!!!”

Every year growing up, I spent one week of winter break at sleep-away camp in the mountains of Malibu, CA.  In the 8th grade, I fell during the New Years Eve activity, tearing a ligament in my hand.  Instead of counting down with my friends at the camp dance, I spent the final hours of 1996 quietly watching Dick Clark on the TV in my hospital room for an anticlimactic celebration with Robbo, the camp song leader and a doctor. 

I wonder which NYE show Peterson watched.  I’d like to think of him as an Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin kind of guy, but I digress. 

At around 1:30 a.m., I arrived back at camp to find my entire cabin of hyper teenage girls and a group of counselors waiting up to greet me and hear all about my New Years hospital adventure.  I had a cast on, so luckily there were plenty of people to help me get up to my top bunk.  I’m short, so it took a village, believe me. 

As Peterson’s tweets proved, some things aren’t as bad as they seem.  The Vikings expect Peterson to be fully recovered from the torn ACL and MCL injury right around the start of next season.  By all accounts, Peterson is one of the “good guys” in the league so here’s to 2012 treating him (and the rest of us) well.  L’Chaim!

We can choose our picks for most disappointing team of 2011 once the NFL regular season wraps up Sunday, but I’ve already cast my unofficial ballot for the Minnesota Vikings.

Heading into the 2011 season free of Favre, Moss, Childress and any other drama from last season, the Vikings showed promise in signing Adrian Peterson to a contract extension, drafting a talented quarterback in Christian Ponder and signing Donovan McNabb, a proven veteran. 

While the Vikings looked decent on paper, they were awful in reality, resulting in McNabb being cut, the misfortune of Peterson tearing his ACL and MCL in week 16 and a dreadful 3-12 record with one game against the Chicago Bears remaining on the schedule. 

In his first full season as a head coach, Leslie Frazier said that he speak with the Wilf Ownership group every day and acknowledged that despite his team’s struggles, he expects to be back on the Vikings sideline next season. 

Take a look at Frazier’s comments from Scout.com:

"I’ve got great bosses, and they’ve been very supportive. Write that. Very supportive. Even in the midst of … a 3-12 season. They’ve been very supportive, which I’m thankful for."

Laying it on a bit thick there, ‘eh Leslie?
"…they’ve been very supportive.  Write that."  Does that strike anybody else as odd?  You can kiss your boss’ butt without actually directing the media to help you do so.  But wait…it gets better!

"I haven’t been told I’m back for sure. It never has been an issue. I’m being completely honest with you," he said. "My job security has never been an issue other than when I’m talking to you guys (reporters). That’s the truth. We’re going to get this thing turned eventually. We’ll get it done."

Now I feel bad for our guy Leslie.  He seems like a smart, genuine and nice person.  I don’t think he should be fired after one bad year (yes, he went 3-3 as the Vikings interim coach last season after Brad Childress was fired, thus he inherited a hot mess), but going through a positive self-talk therapy session in the press looks pretty desperate. 

I’m sure he’s right; Frazier’s job is probably safe but it looks like he needs more convincing of that than anyone else.  Barring extenuating circumstances, I think most coaches should keep their job after one bad season.  For example, I think Jim Caldwell should remain the Colts head coach .  The team was successful under Caldwell after Tony Dungy left, but who knew Peyton Manning was the real offensive coordinator in Indianapolis?  It’s not Caldwell’s fault that Manning was handed all the cards in the deck over a long period of time.  With Manning, Luck, or whomever under center, Caldwell deserves another shot.

There is good news for Frazier though; Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said, “Leslie will definitely be back next year,” according to startribune.com.  Surely that quote has made its way to Frazier since the article was published on Dec. 5, but it sounds like Wilf has yet to deliver the news to Frazier directly.  Perhaps Vikings ownership should put Frazier’s mind at ease, officially, once and for all. 

 

Several NFL teams experienced the joy of the holiday season on Saturday, but for some, Christmas Eve was quite unkind.  

Lowlights
Tony Romo gave Dallas Cowboys fans a scare after exiting the game with a bruised throwing hand in the first quarter and leaving some dude I’ve never heard of (aka Stephen McGee) to quarterback the team against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Despite suffering a 20-7 loss to Philly, the ‘Boys still lead the NFC East but will need a win over the Giants in week 17 to keep it that way.  X-rays of Romo’s right hand came back negative which is a good sign, although he was unable to grip the ball or take snaps on the sideline following the injury.  After the loss, Romo told reporters that he would be just fine hinting that he will indeed play against the Giants in the regular season finale.  Hell, if the guy could play with broken ribs, we can assume he’s tough enough to give it a go a week from now.

Despite a 33-26 win over the Washington Redskins, the Minnesota Vikings also received a huge lump of coal this Christmas.  The Vikings four-time Pro Bowl running back  Adrian Peterson suffered a torn ACL during a rushing play in the third quarter where he planted his foot, then got hit by a defender pushing his knee in the opposite direction.  Adding injury to injury, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder went down on the very next play after a helmet-to-helmet hit resulted in “concussion-like symptoms” for the rookie.  Peterson is looking at a nine-month recovery process jeopardizing his availability for the beginning of next season.  No word on whether or not Ponder will return for Minnesota’s meaningless regular season finale against the Bears, although backup Joe Webb looked great finishing out the game in week 16.

Highlights & Playoff Picture

AFC
As for the games themselves, lets start with the obvious Christmas choice, the Denver Tebows…errrr … Broncos.  Although the Broncos got smoked by the Bills (40-14), yes, those Bills, from Buffalo (no, Tebow did not earn his wings with a late-game comeback or anything of the sort), Denver still leads the AFC West and can seal the deal with a victory over the Chiefs in week 17.  Here’s where it gets interesting though:  The Broncos will host the Chiefs, quarterbacked by one Kyle Orton who was ousted by Denver in October to make way for Tim Tebow as the starter.  Plus, it looks like the Chiefs really like interim head coach Romeo Crennel and will fight hard and play to win in hopes of helping him get him the permanent gig. 

Should the Broncos lose to KC and the Raiders beat the Chargers in week 17, Oakland will win the division.   Even if Denver wins the division for the first time since 2005, Oakland could get in as as a wildcard which means that TWO teams from this heinous division will make the postseason.  Hard to believe, but true. 

The AFC North will also be decided in week 17 but it’s not quite that simple.  Both the Steelers and Ravens have clinched a playoff spot, but a #2 seed/first-round bye is still up for grabs.  Pittsburgh, without Ben Roethlisberger shut out the Rams 27-0 in week 16 and will hope for a similar performance against the Browns on Sunday to catapult them out of the wildcard spot (#5 seed) in which they currently sit.   Baltimore leads the division at the moment and can claim the #2 seed with a win over the Bengals on Sunday, but Cincinnati will give it their best as beating the Ravens guarantees the Bengals a playoff berth.  Should the Bengals lose to the Ravens, they can squeeze into the playoffs with either a Jets and Raiders loss OR the Raiders winning the AFC West and a Jets loss to the Dolphins.

The T.J. Yates-led Texans have clinched the AFC South and will host the Tennessee Titans in Houston in week 17.  Interestingly enough, should the Titans beat the Texans Sunday, they will reach the playoffs as a wildcard team and play the Texans again in Houston during Wildcard Weekend. 

The AFC East-leading Patriots are kicking butt, despite allowing the Dolphins to actually think they were a good football team for the first half of their week 16 matchup.  In the end, Tom Brady and the New England offense ripped Miami to shreds as the Pats are just one win away from home field advantage throughout the playoffs until the Super Bowl itself.  Should they beat the Bills at home on Sunday, we might be in store for several weeks worth of smug news conferences from Bill Belichick.  Cue Bart Scott… CANT WAIT! 

Speaking of Bart Scott, it’s time for the Jets to put up or shut up as their postseason hopes are on the line in week 17.  It’s hard to have faith in the Jets after watching them get worked by the Giants, despite Rex Ryan going balls out from the get-go in sending only Plaxico Burress to represent the Jets captains at midfield before the coin toss in week 16.  How awkward was it watching Plex shake hands with his former Giants teammates?   The super quick and icy exchange between Burress and Eli Manning was cringe-worthy, wasn’t it?  After getting out of prison, Burress publicly expressed his disappointment with Manning for not visiting him in the clink and it looks like he still holds a grudge.   Back to the playoffs now, I for one would love nothing more than to watch the always entertaining Sexy Rexy and his Jets trash talk their way through the playoffs for a third straight season, but for my dreams to become a reality, New York will have to beat Miami Sunday, plus the Bengals, Raiders and Titans must lose OR the Raiders win the West while the Titans lose in Houston.  Good luck Sanchize! 

NFC

As for the NFC, the Packers took care of the Bears in Green Bay (thanks Jordy Nelson for almost eviscerating my lead going into my fantasy championship on Monday night) on Christmas, securing the top seed/bye week and eliminating Chicago from playoff contention.  Green Bay’s offense rolled and heck, even the defense, which is one of the worst in the league, showed up for this one.  And how ‘bout Aaron Rodgers carrying the ball and splitting the defense, causing a Bear-on-Bear collision between Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher?  When you force two of the NFL’s best linebackers to look like they’re acting out a slapstick scene from the  Three Stooges, you’re the man. 

The Lions are playoff bound for the first time since 1999 having clinched a wildcard spot (either the #5 or #6 seed depending on the Falcons) after exposing a fraudulent, never-to-be-trusted Chargers team with a convincing 38-10 victory in Detroit. 

Meanwhile the 49ers and Saints are both fighting for that elusive #2 seed/bye behind the #1 Packers.  If the Falcons beat the Saints in New Orleans on Monday night and log a win over the lifeless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Atlanta in week 17, the birds will win the NFC South and San Francisco will watch Wildcard Weekend from home as the #2 seed with the Saints in as a wildcard team.  The Saints can clinch the NFC South with one win or one Falcons loss (Atlanta would then be in as a wildcard team)  but can only secure the #2 seed with a 49ers loss (among a few other factors).  I wouldn’t count on a 49ers loss as Jim Harbaugh’s team is playing the horrendous St. Louis Rams to close out the regular season.  Sorry Rams fans.  All three of you. 

At this point, the real excitement in this conference lies in the week 17 NFC East matchup between two mediocre teams in the Cowboys and Giants in Jersey.  Winner takes all, loser goes home.  The Giants looked good against the cross-town rival Jets in week 16, but the same cannot be said for the Cowboys after losing Tony Romo to injury in the first quarter against the Eagles.  With running back Felix Jones dealing with a bum hamstring, the regular season finale will be especially tough for the ‘Boys, even if Romo plays injured (to some degree).  The East winner will occupy the #4 seed. 

Not much can be said for the Colts, Jaguars, or Rams, but there is room for a few non-playoff honorable mentions. 

Honorable Mentions

The first one goes to the Seattle Seahawks who had few expectations from anyone outside of the organization to start the season, yet managed to come away with some good wins behind Tarvaris Jackson and a skittle-snacking, ghost-riding Marshawn Lynch.  The running back alone made his team worth watching as Lynch had some of the best runs of the season in all of the NFL.

The Arizona Cardinals also made things interesting as backup QB John Skelton made somewhat of a name for himself going 4-2 as a starter. 

And finally, the last but certainly not least honorable mention goes to one Killa Cam Newton.   I have to admit, I was a non-believer in Newton, who I thought would prove to be a 1-year-wonder and a possible draft bust.  But Cam converted me, not only with Panthers wins, but with his performances in certain losses as well. With Carolina’s 46-16 beat down of the Bucs in week 16, Newton surpassed Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record, raising the bar as he now has 3,893 yards through the air.  Newton is responsible for 34 Panthers touchdowns this season, 20 passing and 14 rushing, the latter number, more than any quarterback in NFL history.  We can’t ignore Newton’s 16 interceptions and 5 fumbles, but we can cut the rookie some slack as the young man is smart, composed and already viewed as a leader by young players and veterans alike in his locker room. 

While the most important matchups are probably the Giants/Cowboys and the AFC North games (Big Ben could use the rest of a first-round bye while the Ravens would appreciate home-field advantage for once), I am looking forward to watching Cam and the Panthers one last time in week 17 as they take on my guy Drew Brees and the playoff-bound Saints. 

Under normal circumstances, who outside of Colorado or Minnesota would want to watch Sunday’s Broncos vs. Vikings game?  Who would want to see a two-win team without its star running back and a rookie QB take on a middle-of-the-road team that has let go of Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Marshall and Brandon Llyod in the last few years?

According to my twitter feed, EVERYONE was watching the Broncos/Vikings game on Sunday, myself included.

Just like he has over the last several weeks, the Broncos controversial quarterback entertained, thus watching the Tim Tebow Show today made NFL Sunday Ticket worth the money. 

To briefly recap, Tebow and the Broncos dug themselves another first half hole yet managed to claw their way out of it in the second half resulting in a 35-32 victory over the Vikings via a game-winning field goal. 

Here are a few essential facts when examining the Tim Tebow Experiment:

-The Broncos are 6-1 this season with Tebow as their starting QB.  Denver was 1-4 with Kyle Orton starting under center.

-Tebow led fourth quarter comebacks in five of his ten career starts.

-The Broncos have won five straight games and are now tied with the Oakland Raiders atop the AFC West with a 7-5 record, also tying Denver with the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC wild-card.  The Broncos own the tiebreakers against both teams.

As Tebow himself might say, this is a blessing.  People love Tebow because of his winning ways as a Florida Gator while others hate him because they say he can’t throw.  Many adore him because he wears his religion on his sleeve (and jersey and everywhere else) while others resent him for the exact same reason. 

This is the best kind of “controversy” any professional sports league could ask for.  It’s not about players being arrested for DUI or assault, or being suspended, or coaches driving naked through the Wendy’s drive-thru.  It’s not about the referees blowing calls, or the lack of instant replay wrongly deciding a game. 

It’s about a high profile college player who is now a “non-traditional” quarterback in the NFL.  It’s about a player who millions of fans can flock to while simultaneously compelling the non-believers to watch him, in hopes seeing their criticisms justified.  Love him or hate him, football fans can’t take their eyes off Tim Tebow. 

"I’m enjoying this guy play football, win games, and i’m watching him improve," said former head coach and current analyst Steve Mariucci on the NFL Network’s program NFL GameDay Highlights.  “The things we criticized him for early, that he cant throw foam the pocket, he’s doing that more often now in games, from the pocket.  Mike McCoy is doing a great job as his offensive coordinator calling plays and bringing him along as a professional quarterback.  I’m having a ball watching him.”

That comment is coming from  guy who is admittedly in love with Brett Favre, the ultimate quarterback’s quarterback, a future hall of famer.  The truth is that Mooch is right.  Check out this table I saw on ESPN.com which tracks Tebow’s progress through the air during Denver’s five-game winning streak:

Of course, every Broncos victory was a total team effort with the defense bailing Tebow and the offense out plenty of times.  But the fact that Tebow has only one interception in seven starts this season is remarkable, especially considering the hoopla over his passing ability, or lack thereof. 

"The dude lit us up. I guess we didn’t let him run, so that’s a plus," said Vikings defensive end Jared Allen after the game.  "I would have bet my paycheck he would not have beat us passing the ball. Hats off to him. … Kudos, I guess."  Good thing players betting on games is illegal. :)

The telecast showed Allen and Tebow chatting on the field in the final minute of the game as an injured player was being tended to.  The exchange seemed friendly and lighthearted.  I wonder if Allen gave Tebow props right then and there.  After completing 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards and a career-high passer rating of 149.3, it is time to give credit where credit is due.

Deion Sanders did just that on NFL GameDay Highlights.  “We need to stop measuring him in normal terms, because he’s a winner.  Lets just measure him in that aspect… John Elway has a real problem on his hands,” Sanders said. 

Baby steps Elway, baby steps.  Based on his improvements each week, it would be unfair to write off Tebow as the future of your franchise just yet.  Yes, John Fox has incorporated a college-like spread offense with options up the wazoo, but Tebow’s arm and accuracy are still managing to get better within that system.  Who knew?

Could I do without Tebow’s obligatory Jesus shout out after every win?  Yes.  Would more than ten complete passes make a game more enjoyable to watch in it’s entirety?  Certainly.  But the uncertainty surrounding an underdog and all around genuine guy makes Tim Tebow the most intriguing storyline of the year and Broncos games must-watch for casual and die-hard fans alike. 


For a good game recap from the Denver Post, click here:  http://www.denverpost.com/broncos/ci_19469264

                  

1999.

Bill Clinton is acquitted in impeachment proceedings.  Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino opens in Vegas.  Napster launches.  John F. Kennedy Jr. dies in a plane crash.  Lance Armstrong wins his first Tour de France.  Hugo Chavez becomes president of Venezuela. Family Guy debuts.  Both the Lions and Bills make the playoffs. 

Yep!  The last playoff appearance for both the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions came more than a decade ago on January 8, 2000, during the 1999 football season. 

Fast forward to Sunday, September 25, 2011, when the Bills beat the Patriots 34-31 and the Lions took down the Vikings 26-23 in OT.  Now I’m not saying that this 3-0 start means either team will make the playoffs this season, but it’s a damn good start, all things considered. 

This is the first 3-0 start for the Lions in 31 years (1980 season), and for Buffalo, their first 3 straight since the 2008 season.  I got really excited for both teams for a quick second before having a flashback to 2009 when the Denver Broncos started 6-0 under then-rookie head coach Josh McDaniels.  The Broncos didn’t make the playoffs that season. 

To narrow the focus a bit, each team snapped an ugly streak with today’s win. The Bills had dropped 15 consecutive games to the Patriots, with their last victory over New England coming on Buffalo’s season opener back in 2003.  The Lions, on the other hand, snapped a 14-game skid in Minneapolis, conquering the Vikings in the Metrodome for the first time since 1997.

On a small scale, each team won a specific yet important battle today.  Like Richard Dreyfuss tells Bill Murray in “What About Bob,”  it’s all about baby steps.  The Bills and Lions cleared both a mental and physical hurdle with wins over their division rivals.

Interestingly both teams did it by way of the comeback.  The Bills, at one point in the second quarter, trailed the Pats 21-0 while the Lions overcame a 20-0 Vikings lead. This is a catch 22… on one hand, it’s not good that both teams needed to dig themselves such a deep hole in order to get motivated enough to play well.  On the other hand, you can’t hate on a double digit deficit comeback.

For Buffalo, their last playoff appearance was a memorable one that they would like to forget…the Music City Miracle.  For Detroit, it was a 27-13 beatdown by the Redskins, who out-gained the Lions 223-45 in rushing yards, and sacked them 5 times.  Yikes.

I think today’s win was bigger for the Bills than the Lions.  Why?  The Patriots are not only the best team in the AFC East, but one of the best in the NFL.  Buffalo beat the better team on paper and in reality. 

In AP writer John Wawrow’s article, he quotes linebacker Chris Kelsay, who is one of only of four Bills players who was on the roster for the win against the Pats in ‘03, “It’s the biggest win of my career. I can’t think of any bigger…To beat these guys at home, in front of our fans, with the way they’re behind us despite being down early, it’s huge. I’ll never forget it.” 

Then we have the Lions who are only 4 seasons removed from going 0-16.  I still can’t believe that happened. Lions defensive end and overall beast Ndamukong Suh said after the game, “It feels great to start the season this way. This is what I expect from this team. We started out slow, but we’re able to limit their points and the offense picked it up in the second half.”  It’s easy for Suh to say, since he has only been around for a season and some change. The handful of ‘08 players who are still on the team must be beside themselves with glee (and a bit of happy disbelief as well).  

The Bills are now the division leaders in the AFC East.  I know, it doesn’t sound right verbally or being typed on a keyboard, but it’s true.  Up next the Bills have the Bengals in Cincy, the Eagles at home, and the Giants in Jersey before their bye in Week 7.  Should be an interesting few weeks there.

Meanwhile the Lions are co-leaders of the NFC North, hanging out with the defending Super Bowl champ Packers.  Coming up, Detroit gets the Cowboys in Dallas before three consecutive home games against da Bears, 49ers and Falcons, respectively.  The Lions will go to Denver to face the Broncos before their bye in week 9.  They don’t play the Packers until week 12 in the Motor City. 

Underdogs make sports appealing and desirable.  I’ll be rooting for both of these teams throughout the season, expecting the worst, but hoping for the best case scenario; that the Bills and Lions are finally for real.