Keeping Up With the (Jerry) Jones

georgia dome
It looks like the good people of Atlanta are going to be on the receiving end, whether they want it or not, of a new stadium which will be replacing the Georgia Dome.

The price tag for the new sports venue will come in at around $1 billion (that’s with a B).  The plan is for the Atlanta Falcons to cover $700 million of the costs with the rest coming from a new hotel-motel tax which purportedly will impact only non-Georgians.  One would have to assume that residents of the Peach State never stay in hotels or motels when traveling overnight.

The party line states that there will be no financial impact on the residents of the greater metropolitan area or the fans of the Atlanta Falcons.  That might seem plausible until you remember that if you patronize the stadium it will cost you something like $20 to park your car, $8.00 for a beer, $7.50 for a Coke, and $8.00 for a hotdog (without chili).  Don’t even ask what a ticket is going to cost.

It’s also being slowly leaked out that season ticket holders will be assessed a “seat license fee” which apparently will grant the payor the right to then purchase a season ticket from the payee.  “Hiya, hiya!  Step right up!  You pays your money.  You takes your chances!

At a recent news conference at which plans for the new stadium were discussed, Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, had the audacity to say (out of the right side of his mouth), “We don’t need a building to play in next Sunday . . . The Georgia Dome is a good building. We love playing in it.  (Falcons coach) Mike Smith has an incredible record in it.

Out of the left side of his mouth he must have been mumbling something along the line of, “Gotta have it!  Gotta have it!

Did I mention, that I’ve been unable to find anyone who roughly meets the description of the “common man” who desires, much less believes that there is a need for, a new stadium in Atlanta?  I’m still looking.
insde dome
As a sports photographer, I’ve covered many events at the Dome.  The Dome has just turned 20 years of age and I’ve got to tell you, it’s a beautiful stadium; well maintained, offering every amenity that the discriminating sports fan, athlete, and member of the working media could desire.  But apparently, it’s got to go!

I can’t help wondering to myself why Atlanta needs a new stadium.  Is there a desire to relocate the stadium out of the downtown area, placing it in the suburbs where presumably it will be more accessible?  Apparently not, the word on the street is that the new artifice will be located just south of the current Dome’s location.

One explanation may be that Roger Goodell and the NFL patriarchs have let it be known that the Georgia Dome will no longer be considered as the location for future Super Bowls.  Why?  The upcoming Super Bowl is going to be played in New Orlean’s Super Dome which is over twice as old as the Georgia Dome.

Relative sizes - NFL Stadium Jumbotrons

Relative sizes – NFL Stadium Jumbotrons

No, I think the true explanation is much simpler.  As Mark Bradly, Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer put it, “…. in sports as in life, new and shiny trumps tried and true.

Imagine the angst that rends the hearts and souls of billionaire owners and millionaire players as they walk into new stadiums like the monstrosity which recently opened in Dallas, an architectural testimony to the massive ego of Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones.

Gee, our Jumbo-tron’s not nearly as big as Jerry’s.  We need a new one!  And he’s got a retractable roof too!

Make no mistake about it, size does matter.

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Which Way Will the Pigskin Bounce?

Whether or not you consider yourself a football fan, and without a doubt you should be, there is at least one very compelling playoff game that should be well worth viewing this coming Sunday afternoon.
Seattle-Seahawks-LogoRedskins
Twelve months ago, the Seattle Seahawks were finishing up a disappointing 7-9 season, while the Washington Redskins ended 2011 with a, dare I say it, dismal 5-11 record.  With seasons like those, it came as no surprise that neither team qualified for the 2011 post-season playoffs.  And at the time, not many expected that to change any time soon.

What a difference a year makes; not to mention having an early pick in the NFL draft!   Fast forward to 2012 and we find that Seattle will be bringing it’s 11-5 record to FedEx Field in the nation’s capitol for their Wildcard Weekend clash with the NFC East champion Redskins who finished 2012 at 10-6.  Kick off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST.  Make a note of that and put it on your refrigerator door.

Both teams have experienced a significant resurgence in their pigskin fortunes this season.  One of the more popular explanations for the turn around which both organizations have enjoyed begins and ends with their team’s brand new rookie quarterbacks; the Seahawks’ sometimes diminutive, sometimes gigantic Russell Wilson and Washington’s Robert Griffin III, aka RGIII.
media-frenzy
It’s true that it’s virtually impossible for a team to excel in the NFL without quality talent at the quarterback position, but I would like to think that in its frenzy to cover Wilson and Griffin, the media will attempt to find some time to focus a little attention on the contributions made by those often overlooked guys who play in the other 21 positions; and I’m not even including the kickers!  As glamorous as a quarterback can be, it’s extremely difficult for him to win that many games without those other guys showing up and playing their positions well.

In any event, I’ll be intently watching game on Sunday to see which of these two teams will progress to Week 2 of the playoffs and a showdown with my hometown Atlanta Falcons.  Did I mention that the Falcons have the best record in the NFL at 13-3?
Falcons fan
The really big question in my mind is which Falcon team will be showing up for that game.  The championship quality team which earlier this season shut out the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants, or that bunch of bumbling, no-tackling, smack-talkers who lost to both the hapless Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  If the Falcons fail to win and don’t progress to the NFC Championship game, the media backlash against Atlanta’s sports reputation will rival the coverage given the December 21st Mayan Apocalypse. None of us want to see that repeated.

I dare not say more for fear of provoking the football gods and drawing their attention any more than necessary.

I Think I’m Finally Getting the Hang of This Thing

I’m a sports fan.  Frankly I enjoy just about every sport you can name; from baseball to football, basketball to golf, lacrosse to tennis.  I even follow the English Premier League (soccer) and that’s saying something for an American southern boy!

When the fantasy sports craze began to take off a few years ago, I decided that I’d give it a whirl to see what it was all about.  In hindsight, it was probably a mistake for me to pick major league baseball for my first foray into the complex world of fantasy sports.

I quickly discovered that I wasn’t ready to make the commitment in terms of time and research which is necessary to effectively manage a fantasy team in a sport with a 162 game season.

So I went into fantasy sports dormancy for a number of years.

That is until a couple of weeks before the kick-off of this year’s NFL season.  I was watching something on ESPN when, during a commercial break, I saw an advertisement for NFL.com’s Fantasy Football leagues.

Hmm? I thought to myself, surely I can commit to managing a fantasy team for the NFL’s 16 game season (not counting the playoffs)!

Just to be on the safe side, I chose the easy, low-impact option by joining a league that featured an automated draft.  This allowed me to put my toe into the water without having to do any of the lengthy preparation required to effectively participate in a live player draft.

Yeah, I took the easy way out, no doubt about it.

I was pleasantly surprised at the team which the NFL robot drafted for me.  At quarterback I ended up with the Patriot’s Tom Brady and Eli Manning of the Giants. Between them, they owned five Super Bowl rings.

I was beginning to think that this might be fun!

After a very slow start, I went 0-3 for the first three weeks of the season, I’m starting to understand how to pick up players on waivers and in the process slough off some of the deadwood residing on my roster.  Once I found the NFL.com Fantasy app for my iPhone, I really became active on the waiver wire and have managed to strengthen my line up significantly.

Now 5 weeks into the season, my team is 2-3 and my fantasy point totals each week are starting to climb into the respectable range.

I’m also finding that my interest in each week’s games has increased.  I’m watching games on Sunday with the television remote in one hand and my iPhone in the other so I can keep up with my how players are doing in real-time.

Am I going to win my league? Probably not.  But I’m starting to think that I’ll be doing this again next season and might even conduct my own draft.

Have I fallen victim to NFL.com’s cleaver ruse to utilize fantasy leagues as a means of increasing interest in their product?

Absolutely!

A Momentary or Complete Loss of Perspective?

I’m as big a football fan as the next guy, but I’m having a very difficult time generating any real empathy for the position of the “regular” NFL officials who are still essentially out on strike.

I’m all in favor of people being properly compensated for their work, but I also believe that the free market economy should have a significant role in establishing what is a fair and equitable rate of compensation for any job.

NOTE: I’m going to leave out post-season play for the purposes of the following comparisons.

Do you know what NFL officials earn now?  Under the current agreement, NFL officials earn an average salary of $149,000 per year.  This is for a season that runs from August until December; a 5 month work year.  NFL officials are, and always have been, considered to be part-time employees.  By the way, a brand new first-year NFL official earns $78,000 per year.

For comparison purposes, Major League Baseball umpires earn an average of $200-300,000 per year.  Now before you scream “foul” in favor of the downtrodden NFL referees, let’s remember that the MLB umpire work year stretches from March (spring training) through October, 8 months.  The MLB umpires are also considered full-time, professional employees.

So let’s compare.  A part-time job which pays $149,000 per year versus a full-time job which pays $200-300,000 per year.  That sounds like a fair balance, particularly considering that in the case of both positions, the league in question pays all of their travel and hotel expenses.

How many of you who are reading this would turn down a part-time job paying $149,000 per year?

Another sticking point in the current negotiations between the NFL and the officials is the league’s desire to eliminate the current NFL official’s pension and replace it with a 401k plan.  I have to ask, what other part-time job comes complete with a pension plan in the first place?  The NFL’s position is that most corporations are doing the exact same thing for their employees.  In fact, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, is not covered by a pension plan.

The officials are apparently okay with this proposal in principle, but in practice they want the NFL to fund their individual 401k plans to the tune of  approximately $38,000 per year.

$38,000 per year.  Did you know that $38,000 per year is more than the current annual median income in the United States?  I worked in the corporate world for over 30 years and I can assure you that I never received a 401k matching contribution anywhere close to $38,000 from my employer.

So where are we?  $149,000 per year annual salary, a part-time job with a 5 month work year, all travel expenses covered, and the company wants to kick in a 401k plan.

I have to tell you; that’s sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.  And I’m sure it does to the hundreds of thousands of folks across this country who currently find themselves under- and unemployed.

My advice to the NFL officials who continue to hold out for more:  Either get back to work or tender your resignations so somebody else can take your place.

Time to get on with it, gentlemen.

Right Down There with Used Car Salesmen and Congress

Such is the plight of the NFL’s replacement officials!

I was watching Monday Night Football last night.  The Atlanta Falcons were hosting the Denver Broncos.  As much as I would have liked to have been focused on the athleticism of the players, the play calling of the coaches, and the ebb and flow of the game; my attention was constantly being drawn to the performance of the replacement officials.  I wonder how the average football fan would rate the performance of the replacements through the first two weeks of the regular season?  Probably not very highly.

I have a real sense of empathy for these guys.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be walking in their shoes.  No matter which way they turn, they find themselves in an undeniably difficult,”Lose-Lose” situation.

“Say what?”

They know that regardless of how well they perform their jobs, they will shortly no longer be officiating NFL games.  They know that the NFL coaches and players relate to them as students often relate to substitute teachers, figuring out just how much they can get away with – and then pushing for just a little more.  They know that given their own inexperience, every call they make will likely be challenged and open to ridicule.

Is it any wonder that they sometimes take a bit too long in throwing a penalty flag and then sometimes take inordinately long periods of time in deciding what to do next?

On average, it takes 3 hours to play a typical NFL game.  It took just under an hour to complete the first quarter of last night’s Broncos at Falcons game.  At one point, I was considering the possibility of going on to bed and getting up this morning in time to catch the 4th quarter.  Fortunately, the pace picked up in subsequent quarters, but it still took 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete play.

Now I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the regular officials who are holding out for a better deal, which of course means more money from the NFL.  After all, they earn an average salary of $148,000 per year for a part-time job and that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

But I do think that it’s time for the NFL to cut to the chase and come to an agreement that gets the experienced officials back on the field; and the quicker the better.  For years, I’ve thought that it would be in the best interests of the NFL to have full-time, professional officials – but at this point, that’s a story for another day.

That said, I also think it’s time to cut the replacement officials a little slack.  If they weren’t out there on the field, would there even be an NFL season right now?  I hope that they’re being well compensated and, after the dust settles, will be able to look back on this experience with a least a little bit of a smile.

Tom Brady lets me down!

Lured by the siren song issuing from the NFL.com television commercial, for the first time ever, I joined a Fantasy Football league.

I’m a lover of all things sport; football, baseball, golf, even English Premier League soccer (and that’s a stretch for a Southern boy). But until this season, I’ve never been bitten by the fantasy sports bug.

Pursuing the path of least resistance, I elected to enter a league with an automated draft. I had no interest in doing the homework necessary to get prepared for a “live” draft. I was quite pleased with the players who ended up on my roster. At quarterback, I ended up with Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Between them, they’ve won 5 Super Bowls. But when you find yourself with an embarrassment of riches, how do you decide who to play?

Earlier this week, I was struggling with which of my two QBs to start this weekend. Eli and the Giants were matched up against Tampa Bay, a team they should easily handle; but Brady and the Patriots were playing the lowly Arizona Cardinals.

I envisioned Tom really lighting up the Cardinal secondary and piling up massive quantities of fantasy points. So I started Brady, leaving Eli riding my fantasy bench.

The real fantasy was in my vision of Patriot dominance. The Cardinals beat the Patriots, 20-18, while allowing Brady to pick up only 14.5 fantasy points.

Meanwhile, Manning threw for over 500 yards in the Giants victory over the Buccaneers, amassing 26.2 points, none of which are of use to me since I didn’t start Eli. Lesson learned. (I hope) In any event, there’s always next week.