Hoyer

One of the things they don’t tell you about college is how much time you have. No, you mostly hear about classes and studying and parties and dorm life and how busy everything is, but the real truth is that you have a lot of free time. And so you have to find something to do, something to distract yourself, or else you’ll just sit there and be a person and think about stuff and no one wants that.

My friend Alex and I played a lot of Madden. This was especially true during our sophomore year, when we lived right next to each other and it was so easy to spend one or two or eight hours a day playing Madden.

We were evenly matched and so most games were close. There were many many epic moments over the years. We got pretty good (on offense) and the games evolved into 70 point slugfests. But there is one game that is still the most memorable of all.

I was playing as the Patriots, and Alex was playing as the Bears, and Alex took a lead into the second half. Just when I was on my way to coming back, Julius Peppers sacked Tom Brady hard. Tom was out for the count. I tried to will him back to his feet, prayed he could come back after one series, but no, he was done. Fractured fibula.

And out trotted Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer, you may remember, was Brady’s backup for a few years. He only played a handful of times when the Patriots were blowing out their opponent and they wanted to give Brady some rest. But he was always there. And so it was up to him to salvage this game and lead the Patriots to victory.

Hoyer had some AWFUL ratings in Madden. Like, any completed pass was a miracle. But you can’t measure heart. Hoyer came in and he was ruthless. He hit his receivers in tight coverage. He ran for a first down. And wouldn’t you believe it, he lead the Patriots down the field for a touchdown and a late-game lead. It was inexplicable, but I was just so proud and EVERYTHING WAS GREAT.

And then on the next three drives he threw three interceptions and I lost the game.

But Hoyer’s spirit lived on, so much that we started calling the game ‘Hoyer’ instead of Madden. This was eventually shortened to ‘Hoy.’

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Soon, the word Hoyer meant many different things.

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And then things got weird.

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You know how you can say a word so many times in a row so that it no longer means anything?* That’s what happened with Hoyer. It became a verb (to hoy), a noun (the hoyer), an adverb (hoyly), an adjective (hoyeriffic) and none of it made any sense. The whole Hoyer thing turned into absolute chaos, kinda like the end of that Too Many Cooks video.

*This phenomenon actually has a name – semantic satiation. It was coined by Leon Jakobovits James in 1962. This recently happened to me with the word ‘pretzel.’ In How I Met Your Mother, Ted repeated the world ‘bowl’ over and over, stating that “any word sounds weird if you say it enough.”

For the past four years, we still communicate with the word Hoyer almost exclusively. We rely on inflection and context to uncover the meaning.

Up until recently, the domain of Hoyer was exclusively ours. The real Hoyer continued to backup Brady, and then he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals, and then to the Cleveland Browns, and we expected him remain a backup before quietly retiring.

And then, in 2014, Brian Hoyer became relevant.

Hoyer competed with first round pick Johnny Manziel for the Browns’ starting job. Hoyer won. And he’s played great. Through nine games, he’s thrown for 2,200 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and he has a QB rating over 90. The Browns are 6-3, and they are in first place in the AFC North, and Hoyer is a big reason why. This is big news in Cleveland – the Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002 and they have been mostly terrible since. After years of standing in the shadows of Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer has become a household name.

You know how it feels when you discover a band, and no one else knows about them, and then they catch on and become popular? That’s how this feels. I’ve always felt like Hoyer was mine. I guess you could call me a Brian Hoyer hipster. A hoypster.

Still, it is pretty cool to see him flourish in the NFL. It’s about time that the world discovers the greatness that is Brian Hoyer.

SAGG

It was the philosopher E.F. Schumacher who wrote that what separates man from animals is our self-awareness. We are not only able to think, but we are aware of our thinking. It is this power that makes us human and also capable of transcending our humanity.

And then there’s the sports equivalent: the SAGG.

As a sports fan, the SAGG is about the best thing you could ask for. SAGG stands “self-aware great game,” or a game that is so great that you know it’s great when you’re watching it. It doesn’t matter how it ends, it doesn’t matter who wins, because the game itself is already an epic. Sometimes, during a SAGG, you can see the gravitas of the moment rub off on the players. They start to realize that, yeah, this is not an ordinary game. The game has transcended itself.

Joe Posnanski coined the term SAGG back in 2010. I can’t find the exact post, but I believe he created it after the Kansas State-Xavier Sweet 16 game, a game I’ve written about before. He wrote that sometimes games get to be so good that you just find yourself inside. And this, I think, is why we watch sports, to have moments like this where you know – where everyone knows – that the thing you are watching is a great thing. I suppose that’s true for entertainment in general.

A SAGG is a rare event – they maybe happen a handful of times per year. I think back to some over the years – the Twins/Tigers tiebreaker in 2009, the Giants/Packers 2007 NFC Championship, the Isner/Mahut Wimbledon match, the Derek Jeter dives-into-the-stands game, these are all games that created some amazing storylines and evolved into something that was unforgettable. And we knew it when we watched.

Here is something I’ve noticed – four recent college basketball SAGG’s all had an almost identical call from Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale. It’s happened once per year, and it’s funny because I only watch a handful of regular season college basketball games each year, but one more time I witnessed a SAGG with that same call again.

This is the Kentucky/Indiana finish from 2011, which ended Kentucky’s undefeated season.

And then in 2012, Austin Rivers hit this shot to beat UNC:

And then in 2013, Butler beat Gonzaga on this crazy finish (the 1-minute mark):

And now we’re in 2014, and on Saturday night Duke hit this shot to send the game to overtime against Syracuse:

Each time, Dan Shulman screams Yes! or Ohhh! and Dick Vitale says I can’t believe it! or Unbelievable! with that same cadence. Four. Straight. Years. This is what SAGG’s are made of.

**

Anyway, the entire country was treated to the opposite of a SAGG, the anti-SAGG, on Sunday, when the Seahawks destroyed the Broncos in the Superbowl.

Here’s one quick thought that I would like to share. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Seahawks. In 2005, I picked them to go to the Superbowl, and everyone told me it was an awful pick. And then Shaun Alexander went on to have one of the greatest seasons ever for a running back. The Seahawks coasted into the Superbowl as the #1 seed in the NFC, but of course by that time no one remembered that I had picked them in September.

Well, that Superbowl didn’t end well for them, but here’s my most vivid memory from that game: as the PA guy introduced the Seahawks, and the players ran onto the field, a song started playing. I didn’t know what song it was, but I thought it had one of the coolest intros ever. For months I tried searching for it. Remember, this was back in 2005, so there was no Shazam, there was no Twitter, so I had to dig to find that song. And it took me awhile, but I finally found it. It was The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony.

So last night I was curious to see if the Seahawks would run out to that same song, almost a decade later. They did.

Remembering a great football game

One of the great football games happened on this date, two years ago.

I was down in New Orleans* on a service trip, and we had a free day before our departure. We ventured into the city to watch the Saints play the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

*It was a pretty wild time to be down in New Orleans. The Saints were in the playoffs. LSU was in the national championship game. And the game was in the Superdome.

We found a bar, which was quiet and subdued and … wait, that’s not true. It was loud and crazy and hot and smelly and intensely Southern. I have no idea where it was or what it was called. I do remember they were serving free food. It’s hard to forget that.

The first half was mostly uneventful. I ate and observed and ate some more. But man, Saints fans are passionate. Everyone in the bar was tuned to the game, everyone cheered in rhythm, it was like a college atmosphere. And this was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of bars in New Orleans where everyone had their eye on the game.

At halftime, I walked outside to get some air and recorded this video.

And then the fun starts. The 49ers are up 20-14 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Saints start with good field position and kick a field goal to cut the deficit to 20-17. The 49ers and Saints trade three-and-outs, then the 49ers kick a field goal to go up 23-17.

Down six, and with seven and a half minutes left, Drew Brees drives the Saints down the field with methodical precision. A 13-yard pass to Devery Handerson, an 11 yard pass to Marques Colston, a 4-yard pass to Robert Meachem, a 5 yard pass to Darren Sproles. Finally, another short pass to Sproles, but this time he runs past the linebackers, avoids the safeties, gets a block, and runs into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown. The place erupts. The Saints take the lead, 24-23. There are four minutes left.

The 49ers start at the 20. Alex Smith completes a short pass to Kendall Hunter and then completes a deep pass to Vernon Davis to move them into Saints territory. Then, out of nowhere, a designed run for Smith. He gets some good blocks and sprints into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown. They go for two and fail, but it doesn’t matter – the 49ers have the lead with 2:11 left. The bar goes quiet.

And then Drew Brees takes over once again. He starts the drive with short passes, leading his receivers out-of-bounds to stop the clock. And then, he goes down the middle for Jimmy Graham, who catches the pass with his 6-foot-7 frame and breaks away from the San Francisco secondary. The bar erupts, cheering for Jimmy Graham as he passes midfield, passes the 40, the 30, the 20, the 10, the goal line. Everyone is jumping up and down, screaming and cheering with unabashed joy, hugging anyone in sight, chanting who dat. It is quite a sight. Cars are honking their horns outside, and then even those sounds are drowned out when the Saints convert their two-point attempt to go up 32-29.

Well, the Saints’ drive was quick, too quick really, and the 49ers still have about 90 seconds left, needing just a field goal to tie. They start deep in Saints territory, but Vernon Davis catches a deep pass for 47 yards, pushing the 49ers back into Saints territory. Frank Gore catches another pass, and now the 49ers are on the 14-yard line, well within field goal range. The clock is ticking, the 49ers can’t call a timeout, and Smith spikes the ball. They can still run two or three plays to the end zone, which would give them the win. A field goal would send it to overtime. Smith goes down the middle to Davis, who makes a difficult catch in the end zone for a touchdown. The 49ers take the lead, 36-32. Davis takes off his helmet, and he’s crying – this is just three years after former head coach Mike Singletary called him uncoachable.

The bar, meanwhile, becomes a hostile environment, filled with groans and obscenities and drunken stupors. The Saints have nine seconds left, but the game is effectively over. They try a miracle play, but of course it doesn’t work, and the game ends. The 49ers move on to the NFC Championship, and the Saints are done. We leave. Soon we’re on our way back to Boston.

It was an historic game – a miraculous fourth quarter with four lead changes, 34 total points, and a game-winning touchdown. Sure, I wanted to see the Saints win, I wanted to see those fans erupt with cheers as the game ticked down to its final seconds, but it wasn’t meant to be.

**

Well, yes, this story has a happy ending. The following week, the 49ers faced the Giants in the NFC Championship game. The Giants won in overtime and then beat the Patriots in the Superbowl. If the Saints had won, then I have, like, no idea what could have happened in that championship game. Maybe the Giants still win. Maybe they don’t. Either way, I’m glad that things played out the way they did.

A lost season

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the New York Football Giants on the blog – nearly two years, by my count.

And why should I write about the Giants? It was a terrible year. They started the 2013 season 0-6, had a brief stretch of wins, but ultimately finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Eli Manning had one of the worst seasons for a quarterback in quite some time – 18 touchdowns, 27 interceptions and a 69.4 quarterback rating. Yes, some would say it was a lost season.

A lot of Giants fans began to root against the team once it was clear they were not going to make the playoffs. You see, kids, more losses means a higher draft pick. And a higher draft pick means a better shot at winning in 2014 and 2015 and for years to come. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. It’s not an irrational temptation, to root against your team when the season is lost. Colts fans did the same two years ago, and they ended up with Andrew Luck, who just led them to one of the greatest playoff comebacks of all time.

Well, I’ve never liked that mentality. I don’t like losing. Ever. Even if it means a better draft pick, which doesn’t really guarantee anything. Thankfully I haven’t had to face this problem too much. I’ve been lucky to watch some incredibly successful and talented teams across all sports. The Yankees have won, the Giants have won, BC has won, the Knicks, well, no, they haven’t won. But I’m not much of a Knicks fan.

So, yeah, I haven’t had many opportunities to watch losing teams. In fact, this was the first year since 1994 that neither the Yankees nor the Giants were in the playoffs. It was the first time in 18 years the Yankees won fewer than 87 games, the first time in a decade that the Giants finished under .500. Like I said, I have been very lucky to grow up with these two teams.

So what do you do when a season is lost? Do you stop watching? Do you root for the team to lose? Do you even care? Well, maybe this is weird, but I liked it. I don’t think I’d like it if it became a trend, but, well, it was interesting. For the Giants, and the fans, there was no pressure, only football – not for the sake of the playoffs, but for the sake of the game. Guys were trying to prove themselves – for pride and for their livelihood. Fans tweeted ‘What’s the point anymore?’ but I sat and watched and continued to cheer on every third down conversion, every made field goal, every Manning pass down the field.* And, no, maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do, not when the team was so pathetic from the start, but it felt right.

*OK, well, no, I would be lying if I told you I watched and cheered for every play down the stretch. I’m hoping no one actually reads these asides.

I had a similar feeling at the end of the Yankees’ season. When it was clear that they were not going to make the playoffs, I still watched, still hoped for a win, because that’s what you do when you are a fan. You stick with your team, regardless of the state of the organization, regardless of the won-less record, because being a fan is about commitment and toughness and loyalty all of those Vince Lombardi-isms (in this case applied to the couch, not the gridiron). And, yeah, in some weird way the losses were refreshing. Without the playoffs to worry about, I could just watch the Yankees play baseball. The game mattered in a different way. Hey, at least there were games to watch.

Georgia

Some thoughts from my recent trip to Atlanta to broadcast the BC-Georgia Tech game:

It is amazing how quickly BC football has fallen in such a short period of time, especially on defense. Three years ago we had one of the top running defenses in all of college football. This year we are at the bottom. And, facing a Georgia Tech team that averaged 331 yards on the ground per game, it was no surprise that we lost by 20.

Nonetheless, it was an awesome experience to fly with the team on a charter flight, explore a city with a very different culture than I am accustomed to, stay at a luxury hotel, walk on the field prior to the game, take advantage of the food in the press box, and broadcast the game. We were treated like kings – with police escorts to and from the stadium, a hotel staff that blasted the BC fight song upon our arrival, and an absolutely massive goodie-bag on the plane with more food than I could handle.

All of this was possible because I made the decision to join the student radio program WZBC my freshman year. At the time I was looking to meet some new people and perhaps secure a weekly sports-talk show. Little did I know that this would lead to four years of Crowd Noise, four football broadcasts, a handful of baseball broadcasts, tons of free food and hotel stays and plane flights, and some really memorable experiences.

The end of football

It’s September, which means it’s football season. Saturdays are for tailgating and BC games, Sundays are for the NFL and the Giants. It’s an exciting time.

My relationship with football is very different than with baseball. When I think of baseball, I think of warm summer nights, of a slow and easy pace – it allows for an almost hypnotic viewing experience. It keeps the blood pressure down. Most of the time, I watch baseball alone. The hours roll by and then it’s 10:07 PM and the Yankees have won 6-2.

Football is the opposite. When I think of football, I think of cold weather and high-intensity situations. I think of the different themes and broadcasters on CBS and FOX and NBC* and ESPN. Usually, I’m either in a crowded room or a loud stadium. I almost never watch football alone. The conditions are rough, and each game carries much more importance. The game is the event, but the action on the field is only a part of the experience.

*NBC’s Sunday Night Football always reminds me that the weekend is over. I used to hate that, since it meant a new week was about to start and I would have five straight days of classes and homework and early rise-and-shine’s. That theme will forever be connected with the conclusion of the weekend – it is football’s version of 60 Minutes.

America shares this passion for football – it is our country’s most popular sport, and it is ingrained into our culture. But it is impossible to ignore the reports that football causes long-term head injuries, and in many cases, premature death. Concussions go ignored – because, hey, it’s a part of the game. Suck it up. It’s the machismo nature of the sport.

And then, five years into retirement, you can’t walk. Or support your family.

It seemed like these reports were highlighted on ESPN daily during the offseason, especially in May following Junior Seau’s death. There were calls for the NFL to do something, anything – and to their credit, Roger Goodell and the NFL donated $30 million in efforts to pioneer player safety.

And then, the football season started and everyone forgot about it because there were games to be played.

All of this leads to the big question – how much longer will professional football be around?

I’ve had this discussion with a few friends, and everyone seems to have a different opinion. There are some that believe that football will be gone in 20 years. Others believe that safety measures and rule changes will be improved to prevent these sorts of injuries. And then there are those that think football will continue to grow, player safety be damned.

Would I let my kids play football? I’m not so sure I would. And I think more and more parents are seeing it that way. But there’s also the other side of it – football pays a lot of money, and if you’re big and strong from a young age, the incentive to play is there.

I’m not so sure what the future holds for football, because people enjoy it too much and it is a staple of our fall weekends. I don’t think it will ever be gone, but I do think there will continue to be a mass movement from parents to guide their kids toward other sports.

Champs

Sometimes sports are so breathtakingly amazing that words don’t do it justice.

That’s how I feel after watching the Giants win the Superbowl. I’m trying to find words to describe their run to another championship – their second in four years – but I still don’t know how it happened.

I guess we can start with Eli Manning. From the final regular season game through the Superbowl (five must-win games), he was nearly flawless: 130-196, 1565 yards, 12 touchdowns, 1 interception. I think we can put to rest any questions of Eli’s level of play. He has become the best quarterback in New York history.

The defense was outstanding. In four games they allowed a total of 56 points to four elite offensive teams.

In the playoffs, the Giants beat the NFC’s 2 seed and BOTH 1 seeds. The teams they beat in the playoffs had a combined regular season record of 52-12. The games were close, hard-fought, and played in tough environments…and each time the Giants prevailed.

But again, at a certain point words don’t do it justice.

I’m thrilled to have seen my teams win four championships – and believe me, I don’t take them for granted. The Giants in ’08, the Yankees in ’09, BC hockey in ’10, and now the Giants in ’12.

Thanks for a great ride. See you in September, NFL.

We’re going to the ‘ship!

When I saw the Giants lose to the Redskins back in week 15, I thought there was no way they could make a run in the playoffs. They looked lost, tired, and they still had to play two tough games against the Jets and Cowboys.

Here we are five weeks later, and the Giants are in the Superbowl. I really have no idea how this happened. They are a completely different team.

Eli Manning is playing the best football of his life, even better than he did in 2007. The defense is healthy, and the front four have done an incredible job putting pressure on the quarterback.

It’s scary how similar this playoff run is to 2007.

– In 2007, the Giants beat the Buccanners (an NFC South team) 24-14 in the wild-card round.

– In 2011, the Giants beat the Falcons (an NFC South team) 24-2 in the wild-card round.

– In 2007, the Giants went on the road to play the Cowboys, the #1 seed in the NFC, in the divisional round. They won 21-17.

– In 2011, the Giants went on the road to play the Packers, the #1 seed in the NFC, in the divisional round. They won 37-20.

– In 2007, the Giants went on the road to play the Packers, the #2 seed in the NFC, in the NFC championship game. The Giants won 23-20 in overtime when Lawrence Tynes kicked a game-winning field goal. The field goal was set up by a Brett Favre interception.

– In 2011, the Giants went on the road to play the 49ers, the #2 seed in the NFC, in the NFC championship game. The Giants won 20-17 in overtime when Lawrence Tynes kicked a game-winning field goal. The field goal was set up by a Kyle Williams fumble.

And both times, it’s been Giants/Patriots in the Superbowl.

From a personal standpoint, I was a junior in high school during the last playoff run. I was sixteen, didn’t have my license yet, and was getting ready to take the SAT’s. This time I’m a junior in college. A lot has changed since then, but once again, the Giants were able to complete an improbable playoff run.

And now comes the hardest part: waiting.

bELIeve

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, you probably know that I like to post a ‘bELIeve’ status before Giants games. The first time I posted this was during the 2009 NFC Wild Card round, when the Giants played (and eventually lost to) the Eagles.

Well, today I was curious to see how the Giants played when I posted a ‘bELIeve’ status. Do I actually think it has any effect on the games? Of course not. But this is how my mind thinks about things, and I had a few hours to kill.

So, I went through my archives on Twitter and Facebook and discovered that of the 51 games the Giants have played since the 2009 playoff game against the Eagles, I have posted a ‘bELIeve’ status 25 times, or roughly 50% of the time.

Here is what I found:

With a bELIeve status or tweet:

Giants’ record: 16-9
Eli Manning stats: 515-823, 6925 yards, 52 touchdowns, 31 interceptions, 94.7 QB rating

Without a bELIeve status or tweet:

Giants’ record: 13-13
Eli Manning stats: 559-908, 6807 yards, 41 touchdowns, 27 interceptions, 87.2 QB rating

And there it is: conclusive evidence that Eli and the Giants play better when I post a ‘bELIeve’ status.

Playoffs

For the first time in three years, the Giants are going back to the playoffs.

Eli Manning had one of the best games of his career on Sunday: 24 of 33 with 346 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. By quarterback rating, it was the fourth-best game of his career. Considering the implications of the game, it isn’t a stretch to say that this was his finest regular season game as a Giant.

The receiving core had a lot to do with it too – Victor Cruz has established himself as one of the better receivers in the league, including a huge 74-yard touchdown catch that gave the Giants the lead in the first quarter.

Eli’s finest season comes in what was easily the most prolific passing season in NFL history. Not only were there amazing individual performances – Drew Brees broke the all-time passing yards record and Aaron Rodgers had probably the best season ever for a quarterback – but the league as a whole played at an unprecedented level. Here’s how 2011 compared to some other recent seasons:

Passing attempts:

2011: 17,411
2010: 17,269
2009: 17,033
2008: 16,526
2007: 17,045

Average passing yards per game:

2011: 229.7
2010: 221.6
2009: 218.6
2008: 211.3
2007: 214.3

League QB Rating:

2011: 82.5
2010: 82.2
2009: 81.2
2008: 81.5
2007: 80.9

4,000 yard passers

2011: 10
2010: 5
2009: 10
2008: 6
2007: 7

This is just the last five seasons – the trend toward passing has risen for the better part of 30 years. Guys in the seventies and eighties rarely threw for 3,000 yards – this year, TWENTY guys did. Matthew Stafford threw for 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns and didn’t make the pro bowl.

But as great as the league passing was this year, my favorite storyline was easily the Tim Tebow saga – which is ironic I guess since everyone talks about how bad of a passer he is. Joe Posnanski said it best a few weeks ago – Tebowmania is something that is new, unexpected, and incalculable. His five fourth-quarter comebacks this year were the stuff of legend (and were also helped by some incredible kicking by Matt Prater and an absolutely dominant defense).

In any event, I will be travelling down to New Orleans next weekend (more on that later). I just hope there is a TV around so I can watch the Giants and the Falcons. Thankfully the Saints have a bye week.