BY JEFF ANGUS
The calendar year of 2012 has been quite the rollercoaster ride of events for the National Football League. Terrific on-field performances (most notably Adrian Peterson) have been overshadowed by scandal and tragedy related to the game, from the New Orleans Saints and the infamous ‘Bountygate’ situation, to the Junior Seau suicide, to the Jovan Belcher tragedy.
Let’s take a look at the stories and headlines that dominated the football world over the past 12 months.
A SECOND RING FOR ELI
Eli Manning and the New York Giants shocked the football world again with a second improbable Super Bowl victory. The Giants defeated several heavy favorites along the way, including the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots. Tom Coughlin outcoached Bill Belichick for the second time in the Super Bowl, and Eli Manning went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady, emerging victorious in the end. The Giants finished the 2012 regular season with a 9-7 record (the exact same record they had a year previous), but thanks to a vastly improved division, they won’t have an opportunity to play for the Super Bowl.
THE BEST ROOKIE QB CLASS… EVER
Andrew Luck has lived up to the hype (and then some) that comes with being a first overall selection. Robert Griffin III has reenergized the entire Washington Redskins organization with his savvy and athleticism, and Russell Wilson has looked like a 10-year veteran running the Seahawks offense this season. At no other point in NFL history have rookie QBs had so much impact – all three of them are the main reason why their respective clubs are now in the NFL postseason.
ADRIAN PETERSON RETURNS WITH A VENGEANCE
If you ever need motivation to get to the gym, just think of Peterson. Less than a year after tearing his ACL (a serious injury for anyone, especially an NFL running back, where the ACL is vital to performance), Peterson ran wild over NFL defenses, falling only nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. Peterson, like the three rookie QBs above, is the main reason why his Vikings are in the playoffs. They certainly aren’t there because of QB Christian Ponder, who has been at best very average this season. The fact that Peterson had such a dominant year is impressive, but couple that with the fact that it usually takes a full year for ACL injuries to completely heal, and the fact that opposing defences know the Vikings are going to run and still can’t do anything about it, and you have the makings of the Comeback Player of the Year as well as the NFL MVP (with a big hat tip to Peyton Manning in Denver).
The NFL and its referees were involved in a labour dispute to start the 2012 season, and the league decided to call in replacement officials to do the job in the interim. The replacement officials struggled (to say the least) with the pace of the game. They lost control in many situations, and made countless embarrassing and incorrect penalty calls. You can’t fault these officials, who received minimal job training from the NFL. Blame the league that generates billions in revenue only to nickel and dime its referees.
The referee lockout was mercifully ended after the now-infamous Golden Tate touchdown catch at the end of the game against Green Bay that resulted in the PlayNow Sports Referee Refund.
The league caught wind of the illegal and dangerous pay-for-injury environment in New Orleans, and they came down extremely hard on the club. Essentially, the Saints and its players had slush funds built up that rewarded players who injured opposing players (especially star players, like quarterbacks and receivers). Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 regular season. Coordinator Gregg Williams (the mastermind of the bounties) was suspended from the NFL indefinitely. GM Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first half of 2012.
Many Saints players were hit hard by the NFL as well. Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season. Will Smith was suspended for four games. Former Saints players Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove were suspended for three and eight games, respectfully. However, the player suspensions were overturned after former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue reviewed the case near the end of the 2012 year. It didn’t really matter at that point, as the damage had been done, to both the Saints and the reputation of the above players. The New Orleans Saints failed to qualify for the playoffs, even after a great season from Drew Brees. Payton re-signed with the club for the next few years, joining Brees, who re-signed back in June.
PEYTON MANNING AND TOM BRADY DOMINATING AGAIN
Tom Brady had another spectacular season, and he would be the favorite to win the league MVP trophy in most other years. However, 2012 hasn’t been like most other years. It featured MVP performances from two players on the comeback trail – Peterson, who was mentioned above, and Peyton Manning. The Colts made the wise move to cut ties with Manning in favour of Luck, and the Broncos made an equally wise move in moving Tim Tebow and bringing Manning in. Manning has had one of his best seasons ever, all at the age of 37 and, not to mention, coming off of an entire missed season due to a serious neck surgery. He continues to move up in a variety of categories in the all time NFL record books, but the only number he is concerned with his how many Super Bowl rings he has (one, and with the Broncos he has a great shot at doubling that total).
THE READ OPTION
Many teams in the NFL started to implement the read option a lot more in their playbooks this year (and with great success). The Redskins run their entire offense out of the read option, as they can rely on RGIII’s decision making and mobility. The same goes for Wilson in Seattle – the Seahawks offense really took off midseason after the team started to use the read option more.
Not every team can run the read option – it places a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make good decisions with both his hands and his feet. Here is a great read breaking down the Seahawks read option success in a game against the Chicago Bears earlier this season.
2012 was also a year filled with tragedy for the NFL. Former star linebacker Junior Seau took his own life. Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life after killing his girlfriend. Ravens WR Torrey Smith lost his younger brother in a motorcycle accident. Cowboys Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident, and Eagles coach Andy Reid’s son died of a drug overdose Sports are meant to both distract and inspire, but incidents like these remind us that they are a distant second after all of the other important things in life. I’m not sure there is an easy solution to these tragedies – it was a tough year for the league and many of those involved in it.
THE CONCUSSION EPIDEMIC
And it is only going to get tougher. The class-action lawsuit against the NFL now has over 4,000 former players involved (approximately one-third of all living former players), and the NFL isn’t the only pro sports league guilty of overlooking what is a serious problem. Is it going to take a death in the middle of a game to get the league to smarten up and start making meaningful changes to how it protects its players with regards to head injuries? Let’s hope not.