Of Brackets, Basketballs and Business


Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

It’s that time of year again, when the country is consumed by March Madness, that annual rite of Spring in which Cinderellas, Dark Horses and Number 1 seeds all hope the months of hard work, planning and strategy sessions pay off. It’s a time when coaching staffs and scouting departments are working overtime, trying to find that bit of knowledge, that key piece of competitive intelligence, that will propel them to victory and the admiration of their peers – just like you trying to fill out your bracket for the annual office pool.

Perhaps that’s what makes the NCAA tournament unique on the American sports landscape (that and the associated drop-off in workplace productivity) – it gives everyone an opportunity to participate.

The brackets are the great democratizer of sports fandom. It doesn’t matter whether you went to Duke or a #16 seed no-hoper, everybody has a chance to win their office pool or impress their friends by picking the winners. This year a perfect bracket might also make you a billionaire. Spoiler Alert: The odds of a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion (you have a better chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field). It’s also a great opportunity for anybody who’s ever watched Dickie V, Clark Kellogg, Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery and thought, “I know more than those guys,” to put their brackets where there mouth is.

The truth is, many fans do know more than the so-called experts because access to information has never been greater than it is today. Now, anybody – and everybody – has access to player highlights, detailed statistical breakdowns, games summaries and recaps, and the latest news regarding injuries. In fact, if anything, there’s too much information available.

What separates the best pundits, and bracketologists, from everybody else is the ability to not just collect information, but to interpret it. Understanding what’s valuable data and what’s noise is the key to picking the right #12 over #5 upset and accurately predicting which number 1 seeds will make it to the Final Four (and which ones won’t).

College Basketball’s Growing Analytics Trend

Much like how data has changed professional baseball (see Moneyball), college basketball is increasingly being driven by statistical analysis. When evaluating players, stats like points scored, rebounds and assists are now mere vanity metrics, similar to likes and follows in social media. Progressive coaches like these (ESPN Insider subscription required) realize that information has never been more critical. A pre-season article from this past November in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlines the changes:

“Athletic departments are spending thousands of dollars on computer programs to help better analyze data. Jobs once held by basketball experts are now being offered to graduates with finance, statistics and economics degrees, all in an effort to succeed in a crowded college basketball industry that generates $1.1 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

Competitive advantage can be a matter of knowing which matchups you can leverage or which defensive scheme to employ against your next opponent. It’s why coaches and fans alike have been rushing to KenPom.com these last few days, scouring the site that breaks down hoops analytics like no other. Knowing how to analyze real-time data, and more importantly how to act upon it in the form of critical half-time adjustments, is often a deciding factor.

Maybe this is why so many great college coaches have gone on to write business books. Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Bob Knight, Dean Smith & Pat Summit all know the value of competitive intelligence and the advantages it brings on the court and in business.  Today, business resembles the frantic pace of a basketball game in the final two minutes as Social Media has created an ‘always-on,’ 24/7 business environment. For marketers this brings with it great challenges and equally great opportunities. Never before have brands had so many issues to deal with: increased competition, new and dynamic media channels, a participatory consumer with the means to speak loudly in the public forum; all these factors can make a CMO feel like an undersized point guard facing a full court press.

Utilizing Competitive Intelligence in Business

Yet at the same time marketers have access to tools that let them make sense of all this. We’ve seen the advent of Command Centers that help brands and their agencies take advantage of Real Time Marketing opportunities like the Super Bowl.  But of course not every brand can invest in a Command Center like Gatorade, or mobilize a strike force of writers, graphic designers, ad execs and legal teams to send out the perfect tweet to capitalize on a power failure like Oreo did last year. What most brand marketers need is an everyday tool that allows them to make sound decisions based on data, just like a good basketball coach does.

So, this year when you’re filling out your bracket, ask yourself this question: Do I have more information about the starting center for Wichita State than I do about my content marketing strategy? If the answer is yes, we’d love to talk with you. We’re Unmetric and we believe that when you connect people with information great things can happen.

5 Painfully Obvious Arsenal Facts Exposed During Aston Villa Loss

The British Premier League kicked off yesterday and for Arsenal fans many of our worst nightmares materialized. A 1-3 home loss

Aston Villa 3 - 1 Arsenal.

Aston Villa 3 – 1 Arsenal.

to Aston Villa left many of those at the Emirates in open revolt against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.  Many of the problems that Arsenal have been fighting for the last several years reared up again in this game.  Let’s take a look:

1. Inability to hold a lead / no killer instinct? Yep.

Just over five minutes into the game and Arsenal are up 1-0 thanks to some really nice play from Walcott and Giroud. That should have been a cue to put the pressure on and make a statement.  When Man U took a 1-0 lead today against Swansea, the put in another two minutes later and eventually went up 3-0 before winning 4-1. Arsenal however went into half tied 1-1. This seems to be a recurring issue with Arsenal – when does a lead ever feel safe? Not only do we seem unable to get that second quick goal, you always feel like we’ll leak the equalizer at the other end.

2. Lack of focus/desire on defense? Yep.

Too many times it just looks like Arsenal treat defense as something not to be too bothered about. On the first goal, Gaby Agbonlahor bobbed and weaved his way through several Arsenal defenders. Once he did so, several other players decided to become spectators rather than pursue the play. On the second goal, Arsenal gave the ball away easily in midfield. Bad call on the penalty? Yeah, probably, but don’t turn it over like that and the penalty/non-penalty never becomes an issue. Yes, on the third goal Arsenal were pressing hard to get an equalizer, but where was the left back? Did no one have defensive responsibilities on that play?

3. Lots of possession, not much to show for it? Yep.

Arsenal have an abundance of skilled players and as a result often have the bulk of possession. Yesterday was no exception as the Gunners enjoyed 64% of time on the ball. But that possession resulted in only four shots on goal (as compared to Villa’s 6 shots). Would we have taken more shots if Podolski had come on before the 93rd(?!) minute, or if Cazorla had played more than 45 minutes? Probably, but they didn’t, and Arsenal only managed one goal. Either the players on the pitch must simply have a go more often, or the manager needs to come up with a new game plan. Either way, four shots on goal, at home, against mid-table opposition is going to result in a poor result, greater possession or no.

Arsenal player injured? Shocker.

Arsenal player injured? Shocker.

4. Brittle players? Yep.

I don’t watch many games from the other BPL teams, so maybe this is common across the league, but Arsenal players seem to be injured, nicked and bruised an awful lot. Putting aside the players who were unavailable before the game started, during the game Gibbs, Sagna and Oxlade-Chamberlain all seemed to pick up injuries of some degree. Even if none of them miss time, their losses within this game shows the brittleness of our players. It just doesn’t seem to take much to bang our guys around.

5. Lack of squad depth an issue? Yep.

For the last several weeks Arsenal fans have been waiting for the transfers we all thought were coming. Sure, the transfer window is still open, but the games count now. Arteta is out for 4-5 weeks, Vermaelen is also out till mid-September. Monreal missed the first game… I appreciate that Wenger doesn’t want to go out and just pick up any player, especially at an inflated price, but if bringing in players earns the team points on days like today, well then they aren’t over-priced. 16 BPL teams found players worth purchasing this summer, why couldn’t Arsenal?

It’s just one game, but let’s see if this result spurs Wenger to make moves now.

Sports: The End of the Mythic Hero Era

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio...

Recently I was engaged in a discussion with colleagues around the notion of the larger-than-life sports hero in today’s culture. As the conversation went on I came to hold the belief that we may be at the end of the Mythic Hero Era in sports, that they may in fact, be an endangered species. Further, I’d suggest that the mythic sports hero didn’t die out slowly, but rather like the dinosaurs, was felled by extinction level events over relatively short period of time.

To be sure, it was a long run. For roughly 100 years athletes were role models, idols and poster boys – we loved them for their skills, yes, but it was more than that. We don’t venerate Robert Horry (seven NBA titles) the same way we do Michael Jordan (six NBA titles). There were plenty of great players, plenty of Hall of Famers in fact. But the Mythic Hero was something more. They created indelible moments that transcended or defined the sport. Babe Ruth “calling his shot.” Lance Armstrong giving Jan Ullrich “the Look.” Michael Jordan shrugging after hitting another 3-pointer in the Finals. These are the moments that elevate a mere athlete to the level of Mythic Hero.

But that Mythic Hero is defined by something more. They have an aura that is a combination of their on-field exploits and something else – their personality, or perhaps their good looks and more than occasionally, their “off-field” exploits factored in (see: Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, George Best, Joe Namath among others).

And as the times changed, so did the Mythic Hero. From the first half of the 20th century baseball and boxing produced the truly gargantuan sports personalities – with the occasional nod perhaps to horse racing or golf. Over the next 50 years football and basketball were in the ascendancy, giving us both players (Ray Nitschke, Wilt Chamberlain) and coaches (Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach) of legend.

As social and cultural issues became more complex, the Mythic Hero became a reflection of the times. Mythic Heroes of the 70s, Reggie Jackson and Muhammad Ali, were divisive figures (as was announcer Howard Cosell), but their hold on American culture was undeniable. In the 80s, as corporations entered into the arena of sport at unprecedented levels – led by Nike – the Mythic Hero morphed from anti-hero to spokesperson. Ironically, while this led to the creation of several Mythic Heroes (and the perfectly mythic 1992 Olympic basketball Dream Team), it was also the canary in the coal mine. The end was coming.

But as the 20th century came to a close, giants still roamed the Earth. Jordan, Lance, Favre, Bonds, Gretzky, Tiger. Every sport seemingly had a Mythic Hero. Including NASCAR. And then, in February of 2001, Dale Earnhardt died on the racetrack in Daytona and with him the end of the Mythic Hero era rapidly began coming to a close. Soon after we’d learn that our baseball heroes – McGwire, Sosa, Bonds – were not who we thought they were. Lance would be dogged by drug allegations, Brett Favre’s last seasons were more famous for dong shots than playoff victories, and Tiger, well, you know the story there.

But certainly Mythic Heroes of the past were no saints. Mantle and Wilt were drinkers and womanizers respectively. Babe Ruth was both and George Best once famously said, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
It wasn’t the nature of the indiscretion, rather the manner that separated the Mythic Hero of the 20th century from the Tragic Hero of the 21st century.

Or perhaps it was outside forces – the media, both traditional and social. Where once a reporter might look the other way when a player was drunk or with a female companion other than their wife, today it is reported instantaneously. The result? Derek Jeter.  A truly great player and a sure first ballot Hall of Famer. But our interest in Jeter is confined to what happens between the white lines of the field. Jeter has never allowed himself to become back page news or tabloid fodder. He is the perfect embodiment of the brand ambassador, which is probably good for Ford and the Yankees, but bad for the continuation of the Mythic Hero.

So as the Shaquille O’Neals, Pedro Martinezs and Deion Sanderses faded into the sunset over the last decade, they have been replaced by whom?  Since the death of Earnhardt in 2001 what new athletes have emerged to take the mantle of Mythic Hero? The only one that comes to mind is LeBron James. But even he seems somehow less than those he is compared to. A barely discernable copy of Kobe, himself an imitation of Jordan. Perhaps this ESPN SportsCenter ad epitomizes and illustrates the current cultural truth better than anything else:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.


“Think we could add a few more defenders, with CGI? That would make me look more like a hero, you know, a super hero.” Hard to image Ted Williams doing a spot like that.

So, who fills the void left by the decline of the Mythic Hero? Who are the small mammals to their dinosaurs? The answer may lie in the changing nature of media and content that has arisen at the same time the Mythic Hero has fallen. The democratization of media has given rise to athletes like Brodie Smith. Smith, who you likely do not know, has three YouTube channels totaling nearly 30 million views and 180,000 subscribers. NBA All-Star? Super Bowl hero? No, Brodie Smith plays professional Ultimate Frisbee. Maybe you have heard of Dude Perfect, a bunch of college kids who execute elaborate basketball-inspired trick shots. If not, here’s the copy from their website:

Listed by Advertising Age as one of YouTube’s hottest brands, Dude Perfect has used its crazy basketball shots to inspire millions with their contagious Go Big philosophy. In the three short years since they exploded onto the scene, Dude Perfect has filmed basketball videos all over the world and worked with Fortune 500 brands such as GMC, ESPN, AT&T, and Southwest Airlines. Withover 73 million views across their online content, (highlight video), they’ve walked the ESPYs red carpet, been featured on Jimmy KimmelRegis and KellyGMACBS Evening News, and other shows around the globe, and even had their work aired commercially during primetime events such as the NBA Finals and the FIFA World Cup. As evidence of their increasing popularity, the Dude Perfect brand recently expanded by launching what has become a best-selling game for iPhoneiPad, andAndroid, and followed that up with the release of their newly published book, Go BigShowing no signs of slowing down, Dude Perfect has big plans for 2012. Always focused on using their platform for a cause greater than themselves, Dude Perfect is dedicated to working alongside honorable non-profits such as Charity Water and Compassion International.

Not surprisingly, Dude Perfect and Brodie Smith have teamed up for a collaboration video that has racked up nearly 10 million views all told:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.


Maybe Nike’s next Mythic Hero in the making is busy making video content… for Nike. Casey Niestat, a professional film-maker and agent provocateur shot Nike’s #makeitcount video:


If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.


For a new generation of sports fans and athletes, that video provides the blueprint and roadmap for the Mythic Hero of the 21st century. In a world where sports fans have become jaded and disillusioned, maybe it will be a non-athlete athlete that will become the larger than life figure. For the past several years we’ve seen athletes try to leverage their on-field talent into reality shows (Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco) and competitions (how many NFL players have won Dancing with the Stars now?) Perhaps the time is right for someone to leverage their other skills in order to be seen as an athlete and Mythic Hero.


Arsenal and Thierry Henry

I wish he had stayed a legend.

It’s time for one of my occasional sports rants. This time the target of my vitriol is my favorite football club, Arsenal FC. Like any true fan, I have a love/hate relationship with the club. After a purple patch from 1998-2004, the club, while still successful by most standards, has fallen off a bit. But my grievance is not with the players on the pitch, or even the results. These will fluctuate and looked at over the long lens of time, this is still a very good time for Arsenal.

No, my issue is with the management of the team and how that management mirrors larger business management issues that are being faced by businesses of all sorts. First, it may be helpful to understand that before Michael Lewis explored the groundbreaking sports management theories of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s in Moneyball, Arsenal FC and their manager, Arsene Wenger, were doing the very same thing. When Wenger joined Arsenal in the late-90s the English Premier League was primarily filled with English players. These players, and this is a broad generalization, had a strict training regimen that included smoking, drinking and eating large quantities of unhealthful foods. Then they’d go out and play the second half.

Wenger revolutionized the EPL by introducing a wholly new,and modern approach to training. Soon, his teams were fitter and faster than their rivals. He combined this by exploiting a market inequality, signing talented foreign players at fees well below what English-born players were commanding. It’s hard to remember now, but 15 years ago it was conventional wisdom that Johnny Foreigner couldn’t hack it in the rough and tumble English game. Just like Beene and the A’s, Wenger made Arsenal competitive by doing what others hadn’t or wouldn’t. Actually, he was far more successful than the A’s. Arsenal won a closet full of trophies and Wenger will go down as one of a handful of greatest managers in English football history. But this is the past.

What of today? Today Arsenal are far more like those A’s teams immortalized by Lewis. Good, competitive, but not winning any trophies. The cause of this decline is one that will be familiar to many a marketer or business thinker – an inability to recognize a changing business environment. Just as Arsenal changed the game in the late-90s to early-00’s, the game changed again when Roman Abromovich bought Chelsea. This was followed by the arrival of big money owners at other clubs, including Manchester United and Manchester City. Since these change, truly a case of “Moneyball” only Chelsea and ManU have won the title, and not coincidentally Chelsea, ManU and Man City are three of the four teams currently above Arsenal in the league table. The game changed, but Arsenal didn’t. They continued their philosophy of finding bargains and they have managed to do so, but not to the same degree they once did. The other clubs have caught on. Once, players who would surely have been Arsenal players were snatched up by other Premiership clubs. Players like Yaya Toure (brother of then-Arsenal star Kolo Toure) and Dutch national team player Rafael van der Vaart come to mind They went to Man City and London-rival Tottenham (also above Arsenal in the current table) respectively. As is often the case, once ‘the game’ has changed on a management team, other cracks begin to appear.

As Arsenal began to lose their competitive advantages – other teams were training better too – other problems began cropping up.  Injuries seemed to hamstring the club every year. Were the training methods no longer working?  These injuries exposed a lack of quality depth on the team. Now we are in January of 2012 are Arsenal find themselves in the unfamiliar position of fifth place. The club hasn’t finished lower than fourth since 1995-96. The current dilemma revolves around a dearth of strikers and the need to fill this gap. Before we get to the current solution, let’s analyze the problem: Arsenal’s main attacking weapon is Dutch striker Robin van Persie. RvP has been nothing short of amazing, scoring in virtually every game he played in 2011. He’s also somewhat injury prone, so there is a known risk with him.  Arsenal’s other attacking options include Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh. Both of these players are native of Africa, and we’ll be unavailable to Arsenal as they compete in the African Cup of Nations tournament. This was a known issue. The other attacking options for the club include young and/or inexperienced players.

At the start of the season Arsenal sent Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner on loan to Sunderland. So, now that the January transfer window has opened, what has Arsenal decided to do to address this issue? A loan deal for former Arsenal star, Thierry Henry. This is a clear case of a management team that has lost its way and is now grasping for something, anything, to hold onto. To be clear, I’m a huge fan of Thierry Henry. But I’m also a firm believer than no player is bigger than the club. I felt I was aligned with Arsene Wenger on this, and I even advocated for the sale of Henry a few years before he was sold to Barcelona. I was literally threatened with physical violence at the time. But of course Henry was eventually sold, as was Vieira and any number of Arsenal stars who Wenger knew, knew, were on the downside of their careers. But recently something strange has happened. When Wenger has found himself in dire straits he has gone against his own philosophy and brought in players well past their sell-by dates. Sol Campbell was brought back – after he quit on his Arsenal teammates in a match. Jens Lehmann made a comeback when it was clear we had never properly replaced him. And now, in what can only be considered a move of desperation, or worse, a cynical PR move, Arsenal are bringing back Thierry Henry.

Henry is certainly past his best days, and has become injury prone since leaving Arsenal. Others have already enumerated the reasons why this is a bad move.  My anger stems from the issue that this is a temporary move when the current squad, even at full strength, wasn’t good enough. Bringing Henry back feels like a PR move. It says, “we aren’t serious about winning, so let’s bring back a former hero to appease the fans.”

Of course a sports club brings out strong opinions on both sides. To present an alternative view, here’s John Simmons, co-author of Winning Together: the story of the Arsenal brand:

Brightening the brand

All Arsenal fans will welcome the return of Thierry Henry with fingers crossed. It will be great to see him in an Arsenal shirt again. But we know he won’t be the same player as he was in his prime. It might or might not work in footballing terms. We’ll keep our fingers crossed to hope he does well and doesn’t tarnish his legendary reputation.

But what about Arsenal’s reputation – what about the impact of Henry’s return on the Arsenal brand? Here there seems to me much less debate. The return of Thierry Henry has an entirely positive influence on the Arsenal brand. At a time when the brand has been weakened by high-profile defections – Fabregas, Nasri, Clichy – here is a world-class Arsenal legend asserting his faith. It’s almost an extreme example of brand loyalty because Henry has more to lose than to gain from this short-term situation.

A Return to Glory?

The effect of his return will be many-sided. It raises media interest worldwide in Arsenal and says something extraordinary about the club’s attraction – it’s a great positive story. More importantly it will raise the spirits of those most closely connected with the club. The fans will look forward to seeing him play – it will send a message that Henry identifies with their loyalty. It’s always good to see him return to the Emirates as a spectator but appearing on the pitch is a stronger show of support. He’s “here to help” as the official message puts it. There’s a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ element to this story of the fan sitting in the stands being called upon to put on the shirt and take part in the game.

The players will enjoy it too. He comes back humbly not to be the focus of the team, and all the senior players, including Robin Van Persie, have praised him warmly. Not many of the current team got a chance to play alongside Henry, and that opportunity must have seemed even more remote even a few weeks ago when his statue was unveiled. Now this will seem like an unexpected bonus for them, something to take into their memories when they’ve finished their playing careers. Henry’s a man of great charisma so it lifts a player’s spirits even to train with him. The younger players hold him in awe, the older players have a deep respect – his presence vindicates their choice of Arsenal as the team to play for.

How does Henry fit with the Arsenal brand? In Winning Together Matt and I defined the brand’s four essential values as:

  • Courage in the face of adversity
  • Loyalty to each other
  • Positive about the future
  • Proud of our past

Thierry Henry’s return demonstrates the strength of each of those values.

In the book we exemplified the brand values with a quotation from Thierry Henry in 2005: “Here everyone is pulling in the same direction but above all else there is an atmosphere I’ve never known before. We are all in the same boat. We laugh together. There is not a star. We are a true family, including the supporters.”

The fact is, Henry is a star and he’s a star who brightens the brand. He’s shown his loyalty as clearly as anyone could. Who knows, perhaps he’ll return again – after his playing days – to strengthen the ties even more strongly.

A passionate case for the defense certainly. I’d like to here from marketers as well as Arsenal fans, what do you think about the move?

The Curious Case of Tim Tebow

Defying definitions

At this point it’s pretty hard to avoid Tim Tebow as a piece of popular culture. He’s the biggest story so far in this NFL season, as he’s led his team, the Denver Broncos, to first place in their division, winning seven of the eight games he’s started. His signature move, taking to one knee in a moment of quiet prayer, has taken on a life of its own, as fans around the world have started “Tebowing.”

Personally, I don’t find the issue of his faith that interesting. He seems genuine and while he’s certainly not shy about verbalizing his faith, he isn’t the first athlete to mention religion within the context of sport. We’ve become used to athletes thanking God, or forming prayer circles after games. So while The New Times calls Tebow the Mile-High Messiah, and The Wall Street Journal refers to him as God’s Quarterback, what I find far more interesting is how the football community has struggled with Tim Tebow.

Tebow had great success in college, winning the Heisman Trophy (best college player) and led his team to the national championship twice. When he graduated, “the experts” said he wouldn’t make it in the pros because he didn’t fit the classic pro model. Plenty of college standouts, Heisman Trophy winners in fact, fall into this category. Since 2001 alone Troy Smith and Eric Crouch were both Heisman Trophy-winning college QBs with little or no pro success. Another, Jason White of Oklahoma also failed to make it in the pros, but for another reason. If you take a little bit deeper look at those three, you start to see why Tebow is such an enigma to “the experts.”

Like Tebow, Crouch was a white quarterback at a national powerhouse school who was often a run first, pass second player. Crouch played for four NFL teams in three seasons before getting bounced from the league. A running white QB? No shot, said “the experts” and Crouch was proof. Jason White was a white quarterback at a national powerhouse school, who played the position “like it’s supposed to be played.” Due to injuries he never was able to take his career to the next level. That’s a shame, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. “The experts” understand that.  Troy Smith was a black quarterback at a national powerhouse school who was often a run first, pass second player. “The experts” have seen plenty of those and knew that, with a few exceptions, those don’t work in the NFL either. But they certainly have a better shot of working than a white QB who runs better than he throws. That model just doesn’t exist, never has really.

Sure, Fran Tarkenton ran around a lot, and Steve Young was quite athletic. But they still worked within a fundamentally conventional offense.  Tim Tebow wasn’t going to work because “the experts” in the NFL are traditionalists. In fact the NFL tries hard to keep innovation out of the league. Coaches are supposed to do things by the book, even when the book has been proven to be wrong, statistically speaking.

“The experts” hold a lot of power in the NFL world, always have. It’s because of “the experts” that Warren Moon had to play in Canada before starting his Hall of Fame NFL career. See, Warren Moon is black, and in the late-70s / early-80s black guys didn’t play QB in the NFL. You know who else didn’t play QB in the NFL? Short guys. So Doug Flutie (also a Heisman Trophy winner) was always questioned despite winning awards and championships in Canada. At 5’10” he just wasn’t tall enough to be effective in the NFL. Never mind the fact that Flutie, over 12 NFL seasons, had a winning record.

And now “the experts,” just like with Moon or Flutie, or Doug Williams (1st black QB to win a Super Bowl) or Pat Haden (only 5’11”) have something with Tebow that doesn’t fit their worldview. Quarterbacks are supposed to be tall (Tebow, check), and white (Tebow, check), and sit in the pocket (whoops). You know, like Ryan Leaf (6’5″) or Heath Shuler (6’2″). Combined NFL record of those two players? 12-31. Or first overall draft picks Jeff George (6’4″) and David Carr (6’3″), two other prototypical white QBs who amassed  a combined 70-136 record.

This is the real issue with Tebow. His 7-1 record flies in the face of everything “the experts” know to be true. This of course is

Tebowing Sweeps America

doubling maddening because we know that “the experts” not only fail to recognize talent (Moon, Flutie), but they also inaccurately predict future success (Leaf, Shuler). When they get it wrong, “the experts” have to admit that they know about as much as the average fan when it comes to predicting success.

No matter which way you turn with Tebow, he defies easy explanation, categorization or definition. If you believe running QBs can’t succeed in the NFL, Tebow proves you wrong. If you concede that a running QB might work in the NFL, but only if he is Michael Vick or Donavan McNabb or Steve McNair (i.e. black), Tebow proves you wrong. If a QB has to be a pocket passer, Tebow proves you wrong.

But what if just like all the Joe Morgans of baseball refused to believe in the Bill James-style of statistical analysis made famous by the book,Moneyball, you say, “In football it’s not about the stats, you can just look at a guy and tell if he’s going to be good”? Well, Tebow doesn’t “look” good. His throwing mechanics are awful. He’s built like a fullback, not a quarterback. Anybody who watched him practice for 15 minutes said, “this kid will never make it in the NFL as a QB.” But Tebow proves them wrong.  What if you do believe that statistics don’t lie, can you make an argument for Tebow then? It’s pretty hard to for the first 45 minutes of the game. His best stat is based on what he doesn’t do, turn the ball over.

Tim Tebow is getting a lot of attention for what he is not – neither a black, running QB or a traditional, white QB – as for what he is: a winner. And while “the experts” love a winner, they do so only on their terms. I don’t think Tebow’s religious beliefs have much to do with how “the experts” view him. Kurt Warner, also an evangelical christian, is part of the establishment. Ray Lewis, a revered figure in the NFL was convicted of obstruction of justice in a murder case. Morals, in the NFL, take a back seat to whether or not you can play. But you better play the way you are expected to. In the case of Warner, that means being a traditional pocket passer. For Lewis, that’s being a ferocious linebacker.

Tim Tebow is more than likely going to lose his next start (against the New England Patriots) and all “the experts” will be able to say, “see, I told you so,” conveniently forgetting about the other 10 QBs, all of the traditional variety, who also lost to Tom Brady and the Pats this year. That one loss, and maybe another in the playoffs should the Broncos make it, is all “the experts” will need to prove that Tebow is a failure. Then the Broncos legendary QB and current Executive VP of Football Operations, John Elway, himself a pretty mobile quarterback, will be off the hook. He can safely trade for, draft or otherwise acquire the traditional QB the Broncos so clearly need.


Sports Champions: A return to heritage

India Captures Title, One Billion People Cheer

This is a small sample size, but let’s take a look at some recent winners in sports. Back in February, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. Arguably the two most storied franchises in the NFL (and save the Yankees, possibly American sports.)

Later in the Spring, the Cricket World Cup was won by India, the country most associated with the sport, after a nearly 30 year run without lifting the trophy. Last month, the Rugby World Cup was claimed by New Zealand, once again the country now most associated with the sport, and once again after a lengthy drought (last title, 1987). Less than a week later, the St. Louis Cardinals clinched their 11th World Series title (2nd most in history).

What does this all mean? Again, with a sample size this small, probably nothing. But when times are tough (economically in the U.S., politically in India, environmentally in New Zealand) people look for something to rally around. Something safe and reassuring that they know they can count. Something that reminds them of their strengths and past successes. Sport can answer that call and in a lovely symbiotic relationship, the teams feed off the fans who are desperate for the win, driving them on to play inspired. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that the Cricket World Cup was played partially in India and the Rugby World Cup took place in New Zealand.