Thursday, July 25, 2013
NFL Culture By Team (Part 2)
Last time in this space, we looked at each team in the AFC and how they are perceived by the world (or at least this writer) at large. Let's turn now to the NFC.
Dallas Cowboys — They are sort of the New York Yankees of the NFL, in that they probably have both the most fans of any team across the country (they bill themselves "America's Team") and the most haters. As you might expect with a team with such cache, they have a lot of historical success, but while they haven't reached the Super Bowl in quite some time, they at least are usually in the playoff picture. They are owned by the cartoonish magnate Jerry Jones, who gets other people to clean his glasses.
Philadelphia Eagles — The Eagles are most notorious for their fans, and their fans are notorious for being perpetually unsatisfied with everything and anything. This is most famously illustrated by the time they booed Santa Clause, who made an on-field appearance during a game in 1968. Having lived in the shadow of Philadelphia for six years, I can attest that their fans are odious, and as a result a) I was never tempted to root for a Philly team, and b) I always felt sorry for their longtime beleaguered quarterback Donovan McNabb. I think The Onion quite nicely sums up the fans' treatment of him with two satirical pieces.
New York Giants — The more popular of the two New York teams has won multiple Super Bowls and while New York teams, being from the cultural behemoth that New York is, creates a lot of anti-fans, are generally well-liked because a) they beat the hated Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, and b) they are led by quarterback Eli Manning, who is pretty unassuming despite his successes and he is the younger, less-regarded brother of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, so he's kind of hard to hate.
I mentioned "Broadway Joe" Namath in my Jets writeup. For a time in the '70s, the Giants quarterback was Joe Pisarcik. His stint was not successful, leading the New York media to dub him ... Off-Broadway Joe. That's the second-best insulting NFL nickname I've ever heard (read on about the Seahawks for the first!)
Washington Redskins — Like every team in this division save the Eagles, the 'Skins have a proud history of Super Bowl victories, and they are perhaps the most popular team in the NFL right now all thanks to exciting rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. He was a highly-decorated college player and took the NFL by storm last year. In college football, quarterbacks do a lot more running and are more of a constant dual threat than they are in the NFL, where such an offensive scheme is discouraged thanks to the conventional wisdom that a) that offense won't work in the NFL, and b) it will get your quarterback killed. RGIII was successful running the ball in 2012 but did indeed suffer a serious injury in his last game, but his recovery is looking good.
Green Bay Packers — Along with the Steelers, the most successful NFL franchise. In fact, I'd give the nod to the Packers over the Steelers, because the Steelers did not achieve greatness until the '70s, whereas the Pack (behind Vince Lombardi, the most legendary NFL coach of all-time) began their run of success ... well, in the '30s, but in terms of modern era, in the '60s. They also won the Super Bowl in 1996 and 2010 and remain elite. The Packers are an anomaly among American Sports franchises in that play in a small city (population 104,000) and are publicly-owned.
Chicago Bears — There might not be another team in the NFL that is more heavily defined by a single season. That season was 1985, and the Bears have one of the greatest teams in NFL history, going 15-1 and rolling through the playoffs and thrashing the Patriots in the Super Bowl 46-10. That team was led by Walter Payton, one of the greatest running backs to play the game, Jim McMahon, a very colorful, outspoken quarterback known for wearing sunglasses almost everywhere, and William "The Refrigerator" Perry, a huge defensive lineman sometimes put in as running back to just steamroll over the other team. I shouldn't neglect to mention Mike Ditka, their tough-as-nails coach of the time. The Bears remain relevant and popular because they are usually decent and play in Chicago.
Minnesota Vikings — The are sort of the Buffalo Bills of the NFC, having gone 0-4 in Super Bowls. They haven't made it that far in a long time, however, and only occasionally make playoff appearances these days. They remain relevant by having the reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, an unstoppable, record-breaking running back.
Detroit Lions — Speaking of unstoppable running backs, the Lions are best defined by their own running legend Barry Sanders. There's a lot of debate over who the greatest running back of all time was. I usually recuse myself from such arguments because I don't feel like I have a strong grasp on the historical greats, but for my money Sanders is the greatest running back that I've actually watched. Despite his greatness, Sanders abruptly retired in 1998. Why? Because he was fed up with the losing culture. That has only intensified in the years since, as the Lions have only made two playoff appearances since and went 0-16 in 2008.
New Orleans Saints — This is probably the team that has the greatest ratio of fans vs. a relative paucity of haters. This is a team that is hard to dislike (or WAS hard prior to two years ago, more on that in a bit). The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, just four years after their city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, so everyone was pulling for them, especially since they were and are led by quarterback Drew Brees, who seems to be just about the nicest guy in human existence.
Then the Saints were revealed to have issued "bounties" to their players (i.e., incentives to injure players on other teams) and while they were punished severely by the NFL, this cost the Saints some fans. Still, a lot of people defend the Saints, saying every team does this sort of thing.
Atlanta Falcons — This is the team that usually dukes it out with the Saints for NFC South supremacy. Since they have been fairly terrible for most of their youngish history, I don't think the Falcons have much of a national reputation, for good or ill, now that they are a winning team. They are led by quarterback Matt Ryan, whose nickname, Matty Ice, is a play on him not just being cool under pressure, but a pun on a very popular beer among college students (due to its cheapness), Natural ("Natty") Ice.
Carolina Panthers — Entered the league in 1995, and like the other team that entered the league in 1995, made the conference championship game in just their second year. Since then, most years they seem to be either pretty good or really terrible, with not a lot of in-between (although an exception was last year). They are led by Cam Newton, who was sort of RG III in terms of playing style and media interest before RG III himself took the spotlight away.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — This is my favorite team so obviously you should love them. They joined the league in 1976 and for their first 20 or so years were notorious, record-breaking losers. Since then, they have been pretty successful, winning the Super Bowl in 2002, and usually are good for a playoff appearance every two or three years. Not much of a national reputation.
San Francisco 49ers — This was the team of my childhood and a dynasty of the 80s. At the time, they were led by a succession of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Since then, times have been tough, but they have rebounded in a big way the last two years, culminating in a Super Bowl appearance last year. Like the Panthers and Redskins, they are led by an exciting quarterback who can run — Colin Kaepernik.
Seattle Seahawks — They joined the league the same year as Tampa Bay and have generally been the more successful of the two franchises, but have not won a Super Bowl. They pride themselves on having the loudest fans and stadium. This is usually something of an average team, some years slightly better, some years slightly worse. During the NFL referees strike of early last season, the Seahawks were the beneficiaries of what I think is the worst call in NFL history, at least during the era of instant replay. The Seahawks receiver on the play was Golden Tate. This led the officials to be dubbed, "The Golden Tate Warriors." Look at this list of NBA teams if you don't get the pun.
St. Louis Rams — This is usually not a strong team, but they are primarily known for two things. 1) They were the first team to have a logo on their helmet, when a Rams player painted on ram horns. 2) They were very successful in the early aughts, when, behind quarterback Kurt Warner, had a very successful run known as "The Greatest Show on Turf" which led to two Super Bowl appearances and one victory.
Arizona Cardinals — Despite being the oldest continually-run franchise in the NFL (founded in 1898), I'm not sure any team has fewer fans or haters outside their market. This is because they have been, through most of their history, losers, and despite a Super Bowl appearance a few years back, are terrible once again today. They have made the playoffs eight times in the last 66 years. Ouch.