As you know, we’re in a bit of a dead-zone where the NFL is concerned. The Scouting Combine has come and gone, and the Draft isn’t till early May. Free agency gets going March 11th, and it always uncovers a golden nugget or two for the die-hard NFL event miner. However, this year’s market just doesn’t seem to have the dynamics to be blockbuster-eventful. It certainly won’t match, for example, the one in which Peyton Manning was paraded around the NFL—speaking to or working out for Arizona, Miami, San Francisco, Denver, and others. The fringe-involvement of high-profilers Andrew Luck and Tim Tebow sweetened that pot.
Unfortunately, in February and March, it tends to be criminal activity—alleged or otherwise—that dominates NFL news, and so far 2014 is no different. An NFL running back and his fiancée were charged with domestic violence last month. A former NFL safety is now facing rape allegations. Just this past weekend, a recently suspended NFL offensive lineman checked himself into rehab and then had second thoughts—only to discover that second thoughts under those circumstances can quickly be vetoed by the professionals in charge of the facility. Oops.
But rather than focussing on the negative stories that often haunt the NFL this time of year, I try to remind myself of some of the more charismatic and entertaining personalities that have kept a lot of the fans coming back. I think of the style and flare of Al Davis (R.I.P.) or Deion Sanders, and the inimitable wit and wisdom of John Madden and Chris Berman. I think of the dual-personalities of the highly aggressive, yet intelligently humorous Richard Sherman and of the ferocious on-field, yet compassionate off-field “Mean” Joe Greene. I couldn’t go on without mentioning the all-around class of individuals like Walter Payton, Troy Aikman, and Matt Birk.
One of the more colorful NFL personalities was on full display recently, just before the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLVIII. For the ceremonial coin toss, Joe Namath sported his trademark, flamboyant fur-coat and further wowed the crowd by comically botching the initial toss—a scene that seemed to reveal the familiar glow of inebriation.
(Aside: I’m not an advocate of fur-wearing, and Joe has hardly been the perfect role model over the years, but let’s not drift down either of those bumpy roads here.)
“Broadway” Joe, of course, was the obvious choice for this year’s coin toss, given that the big game was to be played in fur-coat-wearing conditions and that Namath helped the host city of New York win its first Super Bowl in 1969—after famously guaranteeing the win to the sports media.
When I think of Joe’s career on and off the field, he seems to have tasted it all. He won a National Championship in college. He won a Super Bowl. He’s been to the Pro Bowl. He started a chain of bars with two other American pro sports figures. In ads he was shaved by one of America’s most famous pinup models, and even once donned Hanes pantyhose. Namath may also deserve a significant amount of the credit for popularizing 70s-style mustaches, though I believe the origin of that rests with Reggie Jackson and the Oakland A’s.
While we’re on the subject of facial hair, the NFL has its hipsters too. Arguably, Brett Keisel is leading the charge.
With one of my personal interests in mind, some of America’s better-known writers have been associated with the NFL. Hunter S. Thompson was a huge fan who frequented live games and wrote about the sport on numerous occasions. Journalist George Plimpton attended a Detroit Lions training camp as backup QB and wrote about the experience in his book Paper Lion … (shakes head in disgust) only the Lions.
I understand that many of us like to read about crime, violence, and human failure, and that the NFL offseason can be chock full of the stuff. This time of year though, when the sports media has a tendency to make it seem like those things are almost all that’s going on in the NFL, I choose to remember—and to celebrate—the witty, quirky, flamboyant, and even classy personalities that add to the spirit and tradition of the game.
(photos credited to Ticado, REUTERS/Carlo Allegri, and SteelersFanshop.us)