Thursday, January 31, 2013

Agree or Not, Colin Kaepernick Looks Super for Near Future

Who knows what will happen on Sunday at the Superdome to add to a challenging week for Colin Kaepernick. It’s the biggest week for the 25-year-old man, a moment that he can prove that he’s tried, true and tested to handle the demands as a burgeoning quarterback. In a few days the man with the goatee and tattoos will step out of the tunnel to take on the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. His voice is heard in a room of fiery and raucous teammates.

He is a kid from an adoptive family — a good human being — the household name and the ultimate hero for the San Francisco 49ers since taking over at QB position. They believe it gives them a chance to win. They believe Kaepernick fits the read-option that Aaron Rodgers calls likely a fad. They believe the decision was made because of his excellent blend of height and throwing mechanics. They believe he’s far more efficient with his arm strength and flashes of elite accuracy, a flame-throwing quarterback who adds danger to the Niners offense.

Almost everybody knows that he can beat you with his feet, just as he can exploit his rifle arm, his mobility and his athleticism. The team’s confidence is the highest it’s been in a long time and people can’t believe that Kaepernick has maintained a congenial demeanor, his composure through 60 minutes of thrills and warmth. The starter Alex Smith was concussed, but now that Kaepernick has convinced Niners coach Jim Harbaugh that he’s present and future, it looks like he will never look back and bench him in favor of Smith.

The reality has kicked in, a glaring dichotomy was in full effect and the insanity of a quarterback controversy quickly dwindled once he validated Harbaugh’s notion. When he named Kaepernick the starter back in November when Smith was out with a concussion, it was strange and cynics weren’t too sure about the QB switch, since Smith was on a roll at the time of the change of direction.

It came with a risk, but in the end, it worked in the team’s favor, as the 49ers are just one win away from dancing and celebrating all night long in New Orleans while hoisting the hardware at the center of the field inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — where the Super Bowl festivities are happening three nights from now. I don’t know about you, but I believe in Kaepernick and everybody back in the Bay Area is probably bringing their best “Kaepernicking” pose and set to cheer the 49ers late Sunday evening. When he regularly made it a habit to kiss one of his biceps in celebration, a trademark that made him famous among fans nationally, it became a mantra that everybody tries to emulate.

Even I’m “Kaepernicking” now!

Everything you need to know about Kaepernick’s future could be seen wonderfully in the most important game of his young career. Basically it boils down to how well he performs in the Super Bowl. If he can manage to lead and deliver another triumphant Super Bowl victory for the first time since 1995, suddenly anointed like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, Kaepernick becomes the face of the celebrated franchise. As Steve Young, the last 49ers quarterback to win a Super Bowl pointed out, quite frankly he’s capable of bringing home another trophy to add to the team’s precious collection.

“He’s answered the bell with whatever’s been asked of him to do,” Young said Thursday. “You keep waiting for the shoe to drop because of the experience, and it hasn’t dropped.”

Young, not surprisingly, has praised Kaepernick late all season, a firm believer in him — having a real understanding of what it takes to win a Super Bowl. He’s been there, he’s done that and can now do his very best to give Kaepernick unsolicited advice that may very well benefit his game in the future as he’s still growing into a franchise quarterback, on the cusp of becoming the first starting quarterback of African American descent to win the championship game in almost half a century.

“He’s doing great, they have a lot of weapons and the best offensive line since the 2000 Rams and ’92 Cowboys,” Young said. “That line dictates the terms on everything.”

The truth of the matter, and we must accept, is that Young has a championship ring from a game that he set a Super Bowl record with six touchdown passes for the 1994 49ers in their blowout 49-26 win over the San Diego Chargers. Young, an ESPN analyst, believed in Kaepernick ever since his impressive performance against the Bears, a 32-7 win Nov. 19.

The apex of his career as a quarterback, the toughest assignment someone can take on in America’s most popular game, was reached prematurely when he developed into his role and had rapport with ride receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Beyond all of that, he’s greatly needed in this game if the Niners are hoping to raise the prize by the time the night is over, by the time the confetti falls from the concrete roof and by the time everybody leaves New Orleans happy and smiling like silly kids begging to visit Disney World.

He’s vital to the Niners revolutionary offense, he’s working out of a clever scheme for which offensive coordinator Greg Roman is a creative genius when it comes to calling plays. Harbaugh and Roman both need no reminding of this when it is apparent that Kaepernick fits perfectly, transcending by playing in the Pistol formation, which contributes to the team’s offense. It’s a very simplified and effective offense that has worked in his favor, and even more so, it has been a factor as the team advanced to the Super Bowl.

There were no flukes here, only a new formula to positive outcomes and an avalanche of repetitive runs to raise a nation’s consciousness by pulling out three consecutive victories and getting hot at the right time. It took a calm, cool and collective guy as good as Kaepernick to lead a stunning rally, the largest comeback in an NFC title game. Kaepernick is a smart, humbled person. His chances of becoming a Super Bowl champ are great, too, because he’s a respectable voice in the locker room and response to adversity.

His chances of celebrating with his team and likely becoming the Super Bowl MVP are great, too, because he’s a tremendous leader and remains unflappable and focus no matter what obstacles stands in his way. If he turns it over, well, then, he works diligently after a mistake that will make up for his early turnovers. He’s not one to easily collapse after one bad throw, but standing on the sideline with a glare in his eyes and with a positive attitude, he’s shown resiliency.

Had it been Smith, and nothing against him, there’s no way the 49ers would have rallied from 17 points down in the NFC title game to the Atlanta Falcons, just no way. But right now, the irony is that he’s rise to stardom, and maybe even a champ by Sunday night or early Monday morning. He’s not someone who response to a bevy of questions from the media and will keep it vague and concise, short and sweet, with his focus strictly on football and nothing else at this point.

And, at the moment, he’s not paying the media any mind and has sights set on leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in just his 10th career NFL start. He’s becoming a legend before our very eyes. It’s happening right now. The numbers speak loudly. The wins speak clearly. The 49ers have become a better team with him as the starter, and center Jonathan Goodwin began to see a difference for which he deserves a badge of honor, transforming the 49ers offense into a dangerous, more dynamic unit.

The other day, while reporters gathered around Ray Lewis’ table, Joe Staley, a 49ers offensive lineman, poked fun at Kaepernick, just as he’s done a terrific job protecting his star quarterback. A sturdy offensive line is a quarterback’s best friend, and the installation of the Pistol formation is the 49ers workable game plan.

It’s also easy to tip your Kaps to Kaepernick. Look what he’s done. The 49ers, just to refresh memories, are in the Super Bowl.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Randy Moss Declares Himself Greatest Receiver of All Time: Not Even Close

There were times, such as 10 years ago during his prime, when Randy Moss was unstoppable and capable of putting fear in every opponent and stretched the field so deep and beat a defender in coverage. He reminded us that he was respectively one of the greatest deep-ball receivers of our generation. But when Moss candidly was asked about his place in football history at Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, he went a bit too far. Moss, 35, declared himself as the greatest wide receiver of all time, and certainly is taking a beating by some while others have let it slide.

“I do think I’m the greatest receiver ever to play this game,” Moss said.

Is he the best receiver of all time, or is someone else just that much better? The answer is surely not a brainteaser but a no-brainer, and even if he claims he’s the best ever to play the game, he’s way off the mark. Not to break Moss’ heart, but it’s not even close. Just a decade ago Jerry Rice, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the 49ers and the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, touchdowns and yards, awed fans by his brilliance and magnificent performances on the field. So it was just the sort of remark Moss should not have made, and must take heed that Rice is widely viewed as the greatest wideout.

If somebody does surpass him in every category, it won’t be for a very long time. Moss or anybody else won’t break his unreachable, untouchable records. Maybe years from now a crafty receiver will come along and shatter Rice’s records, as records are meant to be broken. It’s not happening in this generation, even when Moss considers himself the most superlative talent to emerge in the league, even when he’s a genuine prodigy and even when he has the pedigree to be a primary target.

“Now that I’m older, I do think I’m the greatest receiver to ever do it,” Moss said, as you can see in the NFL Network clip above. “I don’t think numbers stand. Because you can talk about this and this, I think I’ve had … this year has been a down year for me statistically. The year before I retired was a down year, and Oakland was a down year. I don’t really live on numbers I really live on impact and what you’re able to do on that field.

“So I really do think I’m the greatest receiver to ever play the game.”

What he’s created in Super Week is nothing more but publicity only surrounding him and nobody else, and he’s done exactly that throughout his career of turbulence and monumental achievements, the one man who is hated or loved by his peers, fans and coaching staffs, the one man who is not fitted to play in every city around the league. While it is true that he’s an otherworldly talent and frequently speaks without thinking clearly before he utters something foolish that catches folks off guard, at a time when he has set sights on his first Super Bowl victory in Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Hall of Famer Michael Irvin insisted that there is no argument about who holds the greatest of all time title.

“Randy’s done a wonderful job in the NFL. He’s done some wonderful things,” Irvin said. “Numbers do count and especially when they lead to victories. That’s why I think everybody has to capitulate when it comes to talking about greatest receiver. Bar none, nobody’s having a conversation. It is Jerry Rice, period.”

Let’s look at the numbers shall we?

Numbers don’t lie.

As things stand, Rice completed his 20-year career with 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdown receptions. That alone is the best among all receivers in NFL history in all three categories. And really, to be a realist and speak the truth regarding an unnecessary debate, there is no argument, especially when the facts speak louder than Moss’ loud mouth. In contrast he’s definitely tallied the numbers to be mentioned in the same breath as Rice, but he’s not even in the same conversation when it comes to greatness and likely won’t ever be eulogized like the undisputed receiver in the history of the NFL. It’s been something of a roller coaster throughout his erratic career, which Moss has been known for quitting on teams, walking out on his teammates and not having the same kind of work ethic as Rice.

You can easily make the case that he’s been an asset in his first season with the 49ers (28 catches, 434 yards, three touchdowns), but he’s never done it consistently and has had flaws in his game because of his badass attitude and cockiness that ended his brief stints nearly everywhere he’s played. But over the last decade, when he was a star in Minneapolis and continued the Moss Tour of America by making himself feel right at home in two other American cities, he’s compiled impressive numbers no one ever imagined. This might explain why he avers that he’s better than Rice: 982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. More recently, Moss is ninth in NFL history with receptions, trailing — among others — Hines Ward, Isaac Bruce and Tony Gonzalez. At this time, as well, he is third in receiving yards behind Terrell Owens and Rice.

I wouldn’t call that great.

Sorry, Moss. That’s not good enough, not to surpass the rightful emperor of all receivers, mind you.

And while he’s no longer a defiant individual who was a toxic waste on nearly every team he’s played for during a rebellious period in all cities that gave him a shot to be the best receiver all time, his persona and Hall of Fame status remains the same. For someone who won’t stop whining and gripping, he has not changed a bit and is unhappy with his role in the 49ers offense. But he is, no matter what a person thinks of him making these statements, standing by his claim that he’s the greatest to ever play in the National Football League.

“What I said is what I felt, and I don’t want to get into a shouting match with Jerry Rice or anybody,” Moss said Wednesday during the 49ers’ media access for Super Bowl XLVII. “It’s my personal opinion. (Rice) has the numbers but I don’t believe in numbers.”

The hyperbole is just now heating up in New Orleans, and Moss is spewing not only trash talk but that he’s the great one. Moss is a man of prestige and has a certain cachet, who in 14 seasons has spent time in Minnesota (twice), Oakland, New England and Tennessee, before calling San Francisco home where he’s finally the happiest he’s been and not turning his back on the 49ers, a team that is well-coached by Jim Harbaugh. He is, as a disciplinarian, intolerant and doesn’t take kindly to players who are not on their best behavior, and Moss knows his limits and how far he can take his coach. It was arrogance, as we all know by now, that delayed success and nearly doomed his career and defiance recklessly bruised his reputation, before he finally matured into a man and settled down in the late stages of his career.

It’s OK, Moss — really — to tell America how you truly feel and give your honest answer. He isn’t, without much thought, shy to boldly lash out and alienate his ex-teammates, a defiant trait that has led to trouble over the years with prior teams he’s played for during the course of his magnificent but cancerous career. If he can disagree with a man who ridiculously thinks he’s not the best wideout to ever play the game, just so he could draw attention to himself, it would be the time to beg to differ with his bold statement — one that stunned the world.

It shouldn’t surprise no one that Moss is so cocky and self-absorbed, that he would make a loud proclamation to raise many eyebrows. By now, you and I should know the way he behaves and thinks — too much of a big-headed know-it-all and an egotist, foolishly sometimes not realizing that football is a team sport.

He isn’t just valiant and undaunted, he is misinformed and way off on this one. As he could possibly win his first Super Bowl ring, maybe he can go down as one of the instant heroes in this particular game. You never know. After all, that would make more sense. Hey, as long as Rice is not on the field.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ray Lewis: Dark Past Still Haunts All-Time Great

It’s Tuesday afternoon in New Orleans, and Ray Lewis walks onto the podium. The swarms of reporters and cameramen crowded in front of Lewis’ table, leaving him with no space or breathing room, as the 13-time Pro Bowler was the man of the hour. The man’s word of wisdom and courage is what defines Lewis at best — a 17-year run with the Ravens is the kind of longevity that is not commonplace in the NFL today. In a forgiving country, he’s a leader by example, on and off the field — a consultant to his teammates who comes to him for words of advice. His past is forgotten by many, particularly those who portray him as a role model, and maybe even a Super Bowl hero come Sunday.

He was all laughs and giggles Tuesday at Media Day, but he couldn’t breathe and heard endless questions. While he candidly spoke for an hour at the interview table at the center of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he declined to answer questions about his shameful past. He is, without argument, a preacher in shoulder pads and will go down as the greatest middle linebacker of all time, the ultimate maestro and teacher — or a hard-hitting, ball-ripping tackler. There’s not a moment that he’s not hungry — craving Super Bowl triumph — and as an aging star player, he knows Baltimore is one win away from immortality and can ride off into the sunset a winner forever. With that said, he will be trying to depart the game on top.

As a 37-year-old Lewis sat behind a microphone to address the media for his Media Day appearance of Super Week, it wasn’t long before he backtracked to his troubles of double homicides. The national storyline here, no doubt, is Lewis, a centerpiece of the Ravens defense, but also a man who is portrayed as a showman for all the wrong reasons. Inside the locker room, as you probably know, he’s a wise man who has inspired and fueled his teammates over the years by firing up his guys and even opposing players. Behind close doors, where he gives his pregame speeches, his energy and drive is contiguous. The stools in the locker room are his pulpits and the messages that he preaches makes an individual become a firm believer of a team that has spiritually changed the mood and elevated the heart and soul of a bona fide Ravens team.

There are multiple issues here — from his murder case to his connection to PED use reportedly — but Lewis is bigger than the game. At a time when he’s a fascinating story of Super Bowl XLVII, an athlete we can truly embrace no matter what happened in his wretched past when few still accuses him of double-murder after he was acquitted of the charges, Lewis is the symbol of the Ravens. For a man whose life was once in ruins, a troubled man once tied to the killings of two men outside of an Atlanta nightclub, the soon-to-be retired football star is lustily appreciated by the hometown crowd where he’s brought life back into the sports scene in Baltimore. The Super Bowl is Feb. 3, the day he will perform his signature pre-game dance, a day when he can celebrate on an elevated stage in the middle of the field and watch the confetti fall from the concrete roof.

It should come as no surprise that Lewis was bombarded with questions regarding the banned substances, his 13-year-old murder case and his forthcoming retirement. It’s all about his faith now. The point is that he’s not blasphemous but spiritual and spoke about his faith and about his relationship with God. It’s too bad for Lewis that he’s not answering supplement questions and hardly touched on the night that an incident occurred outside of an Atlanta nightclub. Thirteen years ago, a street brawl left two men fatally stabbed but Lewis eventually turned state’s witness against two of his friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting — who were eventually indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges.

He avoided murder to plead guilty to obstruction of justice, and testified at the trial of two of his friends but neither were convicted. It’s not fair to Lewis, and his image in many people’s minds is marked because of these murder charges, including whether or not he’s truly a changed man. He is — at the point — ignoring it and brushing it aside as if he was never there that night and as if none of it happened.

“Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions,” Lewis said, dodging discussions about the murders. “I just truly feel that this is God’s time, and whatever his time is, you know, let it be his will. Don’t try to please everybody with your words, try to make everybody’s story sound right.

At this time, I would rather direct my questions in other places. Because I live with that every day. You maybe can take a break from it. I don’t. I live with it every day of my life and I would rather not talk about it today.”

When the gossip spread through New Orleans, and the world entirely, he was embraced openly or either criticized as he’s been lately. He’s become the staple of Super Week, if not the game on Sunday, and could turn his life story into reality TV. While he’s turning to faith and publicity as a way to move on from a tragedy that has affected the nature of the game, thousands aren’t forgiving of his alleged sins and will forever bitterly scorn the Ravens star player. Now, however, no matter what he’s done as a person over the years to pay his debt to society, he’s described as a criminal who is getting away with murder. But the vast majority, however, celebrates a man for his charitable work, for his dominant performances as a stalwart and hard-nosed defender.

The notion that he talked much about God and little about what happened reveals his character and the way he values life while everybody else tries to grasp an understanding as to what really went down that night of the killings. By now it’s obvious that God is what he values, and by believing and turning things around for the better, he can touch everybody’s heart with his influence and sense of encouragement that has impacted all people, from football to non-football viewers.

“God has always been a part of my life,” said Lewis, who will lead his Ravens into the Super Bowl Sunday. “We’ve always believed in what faith is. And faith is a belief in things unseen. It’s hard to believe or listen to what man says because man can be tricked by words. We all can. Oh, you are too small, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. And then you don’t have too many people to believe in.

“So my relationship with God is the ultimate. I don’t claim no religion, I claim that there is a higher power. I’m non-denominational. There is a higher power that I’m drawn to. I’m emotional when I go to him, because when I go to Him it is the ultimate conversation.

“And I know there is no bad conversation with him. The only bad conversation is the conversation you don’t have with him. So it’s awesome to have that in my life and I’ve been having that my whole life.”

On the day he wasn’t too open about the homicide charges and shied away from the topic, like he’s hiding a shred of evidence, his name was tied to a Sports Illustrated report. He’s also, as reports state, linked to banned substances and was allegedly given a product to help heal his torn triceps. Among the most surreal revelations, he has not tested positive and denies using it. As with anything, he dismissed the report when asked about it at Super Bowl media day.

“Two years ago, it was the same report. I wouldn’t give that report or him any of my press. He’s not worthy of that. Next question,” Lewis said.

The person who ratted out Lewis was Mitch Ross, a co-owner of Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS), telling Sports Illustrated that he spoke to Lewis shortly after the linebacker tore his triceps Oct. 14 and he requested products that could help speed up his recovery. It’s hard to believe that he used deer-antler spray, which contains a substance, IGF-1, on the NFL’s banned list.

Aside from that, the murder case still echoes for Lewis, and he’s living with it everyday of his life. This is a time when he will think about those families of the two victims. The one thing about living in a forgiving country is that Lewis will be revered no matter what, particularly when he’s a sports figure who people tend to worship whether they are guilty or innocent — and because of it — he’s repaired his brand, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer and he’s an undisputed leader for his inspiration and devotion to a game that he’s incredibly passionate about.

It’s simple to forgive but hard to forget.

The dramatic finale, of course, might just end nicely against San Francisco on Sunday.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ray Rice On Verge of Becoming Football’s Brightest Star?

For all the chatter about Ray Lewis and the Harbaugh brothers, as the Harbowl campaign is sweeping the nation this week, Ray Rice, for the first time in his noteworthy NFL career, is emerging into a star running back after the Baltimore Ravens stopped abandoning the running game. The most he can do, if he’s handed the ball and knifes through San Francisco defenders, is validate his name as one of the most dynamic speedsters in the game.

With all his might, he’s quickly becoming a component on the Ravens offense, changing the team’s psyche that relentlessly results in fame and fortune. He’s done a good job for the Ravens. He is the ideal all-purpose running back for any offense, particularly under Jim Caldwell who is the Ravens offensive play-caller and knows how to utilize Rice, even though he’s conservative and has been criticized for not knowing the playbook. Early in the season, when Cam Cameron was calling the plays and couldn’t direct a stagnant and impotent offense, Rice wasn’t used to his fullest. But now, he’s clearly the centerpiece of the offensive attack, a dangerous player in open field, bursting through the holes with nifty moves.

It’s painful enough watching Baltimore not exploit its offense based on the speed and playmaking skills of the three-time Pro Bowler sometimes. The nausea, as Rice was forgotten and as the Ravens neglected his open-field brilliance, is finally gone and he is easily vital in the backfield for Baltimore to have success in the most important game of a long marathon. What has been lost in an incalculable, nauseating discussion is where Rice ranks in the National Football League, which is a bit absurd and shouldn’t be debatable when he’s indeed an elite runner in the game today. The man eludes multiple tacklers, he’s crafty and shows acceleration, but what overshadows Rice’s rush attack is QB Joe Flacco’s vertical passing.

The assumption has been that he will have the game of his life, will have monster yards on a night that he’s embraced by an audience tuning in to the most popular sports event. If he dares, he’d duplicate a 131-yard rushing performance that he had on a night spent in the frigid Mile High City, where he gave fans a Mile High Salute, which was a traditional touchdown celebration of Broncos all-time running back Terrell Davis. In his fifth NFL season, Rice has not lost his touch, running faster than ever, scampering into the end zone. So here he is this week, finally after five years, making his first trip to the Super Bowl.

He could be one of the Ravens players to flip the coin on Sunday, call heads or tails, and depending on which side the coin lands, then he may be running the ball early to fuel a crowd during a three-hour event of thrills and titillation, especially when he’s the team’s leading rusher. He could reign supreme in an offense that has become revolutionary in its own way. If Rice goes racing down Bourbon Street, not just to smell and taste Cajun food or Chef Emeril’s savory meals, he can easily be the real MVP of the Super Bowl and burst into view. All of which would be enough to make him elite, famous or a main attraction. But there’s more. As disturbing as it’s been to watch the running back position devalue recently, with the NFL turning into a pass-happy league this era, Rice is, respectively, the loudest man, as well as Ray Lewis, in the locker room. Once Lewis retires, which he’s announced weeks ago, Rice will take over as team leader. If he’s given the chance in Super Bowl XLVII, he will make tacklers miss, explode through the hole and dash into open field.

Amazingly, he’s come a long ways, wearing a smile during news conferences and speaking kindly of Lewis, who has been a father-figure to him and someone he can obviously look up to for guidance and consultancy. It would be nice to see Rice have a breakout performance, and not suddenly sputter when he can win his first Super Bowl and leave New Orleans happy, realizing he will be entitled to wear bling bling on his ring finger.

If only we could revere what Rice accomplished this season and wish him the best moving forward, he makes his sojourn in Baltimore, where he’s adored and his jersey is glorified. And when he was bad — as in terrible — he bounced back from adversity and ended his on-field woes, becoming an important player offensively and had the second-best postseason game a couple of weeks ago in zero-degree weather in Denver.

This is so much more than just a game. This is one of the proudest moments of Rice’s life, finally playing for what he’s been chasing since stepping foot into the league, since developing into a stud, reminding everyone that running backs are still relevant in this era. In his continuing quest to prove he’s the soul of Baltimore, like it or not, the running game is still alive. Over the years, though, teams have relinquished the running game.

Take last year’s Super Bowl, for instance. My point being is, even if it seems unrealistic and inaccurate, that the New York Giants won the contest having the league’s lowest-ranked ground game. As it is, ultimately, the NFL is a quarterback-driven, pass-crazed sport and nothing else seems to matter when a number of teams are lucky enough to have promised a franchise quarterback residency and megabuck deals to serve as their leader rightfully so. It was unfortunate, with his gifted speed and moves, to see Rice plagued by turnovers, for which he couldn’t ever hold on to the ball without fumbling it, so emotionally hurt on the sideline after a costly error.

It’s fine to say he’s made up for his mistakes, and has learned from them, not overwhelmed by his abundant recklessness that overshadowed his miraculous performances. It simply isn’t hard for people of football knowledge to fathom that conversations won’t revolve around him, with the media and the masses in general focused on that inevitably feel-good story of a veteran linebacker who will play the final game of his career and ride off into the sunset.

Get with it, folks. Rice, 25, is a downhill runner and rushed for 1,143 yards and added 478 on receptions. Rather than leave this guy out and insult him, he should be mentioned heavily in conversations throughout the week. It’s only fitting for someone who has entered his prime of his respective career. These football advocates, sugarcoating and refusing to credit Rice for his accomplishments, aren’t sure exactly whether he’s worth all the hype, all of which he will have to emerge from the tunnel on Sunday and play impressively. If so, he will convince every football watcher at the right place, at the right time, the game of roman numerals, the game where legends are born.

There is no way that he’s not a star, rushing for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, at the height of his compelling career, in a week of one of the most outstanding adventures. The irony in all of this is that Rice has compiled so many numbers on the field that he’s painted a lovely story of his own, a contiguous tale of deeds in effort of beating opponents to capitalize on victories, which is how the Ravens made it to this point. He is the guy with the best attributes as a running back, having agility and lateral quickness, having the ability to quickly stop and change direction in his route with balance and body control to make tacklers miss.

This would be the moment for the Ravens, if they don’t, to realize just maybe how fortunate they are to inherit one of the top running backs in the league, as they are not commonplace but are scarce.

With Rice around, the Ravens are an ultra threat.

Watch out, San Francisco.

Rice is coming to a Superdome near you.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What’s Not to Believe About Manti Te’o?

There is something wrong with this picture, so many pieces missing to a story about a man who was either duped or took part in a bizarre hoax. There is a plethora of holes to this story and Manti Te’o is deemed as a liar, be it that he could be a victim of a sophisticated online and telephonic hoax — especially when Ronaiah Tuiasosopo allegedly was behind the girlfriend hoax.

It’s horrendous and humiliating, disgraceful and unnecessary, on the heels of the weirdest story to ever affect the world of sports — in the age of social networking, which could generate a strange conspiracy. The stunning news, breaking in the same week that Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey about his doping, has left folks wondering whether Te’o was a victim or perpetrator, whether he was telling the truth or a lie, whether he was credible or untrustworthy. In many people’s eyes, including my own to be quite honest, he’s a liar and admittedly told ABC’s Katie Couric that he briefly lied to the public about his relationship with Lennay Kekua after learning she never existed. His online girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, wasn’t ever real but was fiction and a fake character. My guess here is, with all the inconsistencies of a strange and twisted saga, that Te’o took part in this hoax. It turns out, as the story continues to get relentlessly more bizarre, the person on the phone was a man.

What’s next? Will he finally come clean and admit that he was the hoaxer? The spotlight, for now, is on the most remarkable college football standout. It’s an ongoing soap opera, a maddening tale, a serious mystery stranger than Stephen Kings’ novels, turning a national sensation into an Internet punch line. The Notre Dame star turned into a storyteller in recent weeks, and happens to be in the middle of one of sports craziest controversies, based on his personal life. The weird thing about it all, upon hearing that his girlfriend had died, is the fact that he only sent white roses to her family and never visited his girlfriend in person.

Why didn’t he visit this so-called girlfriend after she allegedly had a car accident? Why didn’t he visit her when she was allegedly diagnosed with leukemia? Why didn’t he attend her funeral? There was no death notice, no obituary and no announcement of her funeral. So then if Te’o's girlfriend was imaginary, what else is? He talked to the person, via social networking, and stayed in touch for a long time by texting, sending Facebook messages and having phone conversations. As a man, as a guy who doesn’t believe in online dating services, I’d have to see my girlfriend in person, cuddle with her and give her a kiss.

It’s hard to believe anything he tells us.

The most surprising act, however, stunned the world and everybody has been talking about it, and cannot put it to rest. That’s because bits and pieces to this story unfolds each week, as there is never a dull moment. But when he visited Couric for a televised interview to share his side of the strangest story, with the controversy surrounding his imaginary girlfriend, he admitted he lied about his nonexistent girlfriend. So what else has he been lying about? In his first on-camera interview since Deadspin broke the news, he told Couric, on an episode of her talk show last week that he “wasn’t as forthcoming about it.” And now, suddenly, he’s willing to talk about it and told Couric he didn’t lie.

It’s almost fascinating that he’s not telling a lie, when he said the two met through his cousin and at a game his sophomore year. I’m not buying that. For one thing, he told Couric during the interview that he reached out to the person on Facebook. For another, he told his father that he and a fictitious character had met once in Hawai’i. It’s also puzzling and troubling to believe him, considering that in her FaceTime chats, her screen appeared black. How come he wasn’t suspicious? How come he never questioned it? How come he didn’t have any doubts?

Sincerely a week ago, according to Te’o unsurprisingly, he said he understands why people might be cynical about their relationship — although he told Couric that his feelings in the relationship were real. He initially wondered if she was real or not, especially when he was talking to her online and not dating in person. And, as online dating goes, you never know who you may be associating with — what to expect from the other end of the computer screen.

“I was just so caught up in the whole thing,” Te’o told Couric during the interview.

Through it all, though, it’s hard to tell whether he’s being honest or just telling a straight lie. In defense of his son, Te’o's father, said his son is just a kid and not a liar. The kid might not be telling it all. The kid might be acting and could be the eventual subject of a book later. And yes, he revealed he had no role in the hoax, but how are we supposed to, as people, believe what he says when it’s a complex story and difficult to solve the puzzle? The core issue here isn’t whether he’s homosexual or straight, which seems too personal and irrelevant. It’s that he’s accountable for a convoluted story that leaves everybody in a state of confusion, as everybody is wondering whether he’s a troublemaker and pulled off a bizarre stunt for attention. A week ago, during an on-camera interview, he insisted that he didn’t help create this Kekua character. Before he talked to Couric about a sickened and uncanny story, he told ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap in a 2½-hour off-camera interview in Florida, where he was training for the NFL draft that he was never involved.

So was he framed?

Who knows?

You only hope Te’o, a creative writer in a sense, isn’t lying to our faces and has been nothing but truthful, but more importantly, honest within himself. In the end, like anything else for that matter, the truth will surface and we will know if he’s fibbing or not, making us wonder more about deceptiveness and not so much about forthrightness. He’s gullible. He’s naive. And mentally, he’s not all there, I assume — maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I see in the man. Americans were hoping for an explanation in his first televised interview. So when we heard him speak to Couric in that very same interview, he said he has been ensnared in. That makes one often wonder if this was a publicity stunt that could propel him to Heisman trophy. That makes one often wonder if he fabricated a story with Tuiasosopo to hide his sexuality. He conveniently omitted details during his interview, which shot down much of his credibility, and to this day, folks are still suspicious and unsure what to believe.

“I wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been, ” Te’o told Couric during that interview.

This is an embarrassment, no question about it. Through it all, throwing intrusive questions out there, tough and hard ones that makes a person reveal the truth if successful, Couric teased us with a homosexual query. That was so distasteful and unacceptable, but she was obviously comfortable throwing it out there. She went as far to ask whether the All-American linebacker was gay.

“Are you gay?” Couric asked during the interview.

“No far from it, far from it,” Te’o responded with a chuckle.

On Katie’s nationally syndicated television show, she played tapes of voice messages left by a woman Te’o said he thought was Kekua. The person on the voice mail talked about her first session of chemotherapy. In one of those messages a woman called him out after she said another woman answered the phone. Even now, after learning she wasn’t authentic, he still wants to believe it was a woman. It certainly sounded like one. This particular individual wished him a good night in one of those recordings: “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much hon. Sweet dreams.”

There’s not a shred of evidence to go on here, even though one can suspect that he contributed in an everlasting scandal. He’s now become the center of tale of an immeasurable episode that has exhausted everyone to a degree. There’s a sense that he’s untruthful and is fallible. It’s a bit unearthly, although possible, that a 22-year-old woman had a near-death accident and then suddenly was diagnosed with cancer. Through her travails, when the two planned to meet while in San Diego, not once did he visit her in the hospital.

“It was a conversation that I didn’t want to have with my parents,” Te’o told Couric. “To say, ‘Uh Mom, Dad, I missed my flight … because I’m going to see Lennay in the hospital.’ ”

The lamest excuse was, after he was told that — on September 12 — Kekua died, that he was just frightened: “I was just scared and I didn’t know what to do.”

Still, he tends to talk about Kekua as if she’s real. You figure something isn’t right with the Te’o story after a phone call on December 6, from a woman he mistaken for Kekua’s sister. Oddly enough, he remembered that she said it was Lennay, who was his make-believe girlfriend. Eventually, he realized it was all a lie when a Twitter picture was sent to him later that month, with the girl he thought was Kekua, holding a sign with that day’s date. And yet, even though he had his doubts, on the day of the Heisman presentation, he still thought about her and shared that his girlfriend lost her battle with cancer.

Was Te’o the victim of an elaborate hoax, or was he involved in creating humbug?

“He’s not a liar. He’s a kid,” Brian Te’o said. “He’s a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man.”

I don’t know. Maybe he lived a lie.

That’s what I’d like to find out.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Not Buying Into Lance Armstrong's Admission

He should have been real and genuine, not a liar or a fraud. If he ever wants to move on with his life, past the wrenched era of a doping scandal that exposed nothing but lies and fabricated stories to scar his name in its entirety, Lance Armstrong would have totally come clean on Oprah's couch. But as it stands, from watching his vague interview with Oprah Winfrey, he's not ready to speak publicly and candidly, still refusing to get into the specifics of his confession to doping. He was not contrite and apologetic when he finally confessed that he used PEDs during his reign as an American cyclist.

“This story was so perfect for so long,” Armstrong told Winfrey, discussing his recovery in the aftermath of his 1996 cancer diagnosis. “You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have children — it’s just a mythic, perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”

We wanted to believe he was the greatest cyclist ever to represent the United States in the Tour de France, a symbol of patriotism, the one man who was honest and never used banned substances to achieve his success. We wanted to believe he would never try to beat the system or mislead people during and after his cycling career, the one man America watched ride and cross the finish line a winner annually at Tour de France. It's a shame, then, that all of this was a lie, turning a once-respected career into infamy as Armstrong cheated to have a competitive edge over other cyclists. It was not a de facto admission, and for all we know, he could have appeared on camera and stared deep into Oprah's eyes for clawing back sponsors and winnings. Armstrong, considerably the greatest of all time in his sport, says he never failed a doping test.

So why come clean now?

The day was eventually coming when Armstrong would uncover the truth, trying whatever it takes to stop reduction of multi-million dollar financial liabilities, trying whatever it takes to earn more money and rekindle a relationship with sponsorships. It's all about money, not about protecting his name or mending an image. It's all about pocketing cash, not about whether he's tarnished forever. He couldn't care less whether he's perceived as the greatest cyclist ever. What he wants is money, and he's satisfied, judging by his actions during the interview.

The disgraced cyclist was caught in a web of lies and doesn't -- all of a sudden -- want to divulge every factual detail to finally end what is a draining saga and try his hardest to repair a damaged image. In a society filled with deceit and mendacity, he's lost our trust, our respect and our admiration. As we should not have any sympathy and should instead be skeptical, when he still owes hundreds of apologizes and more specifics to complete his side of the story that is very obscure and incomprehensible, Armstrong has destroyed a tattered legacy as America was lied to entirely.

He's forever tainted and will have to live with the fact that he deceived everyone and had been too scummy to disclose the truth, only making it worse for himself by not publicly delivering the truth much sooner. The speculations are over, he's finally come out of his hidden closet and succumbed to reality, but a televised confession hurt more than it helped. The story certainly isn't going to fade away any time soon after his refusal to give any clues and after denying any and all facts, which he may have blatantly lied when he stopped doping.

"That's the only thing in this whole report that upset me," Armstrong said during the interview. "The accusation and alleged proof that they said I doped [in 2009] is not true. The last time I crossed the line, that line was 2005."

After years of denials and lawsuits, the allegations were true all along and many in the sport assumed he was using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his exalted career, including during his unbelievable pursuit of seven straight Tour de France championships from 1999 to 2005. Visiting Oprah, however, was not good enough to restore credibility but he tried desperately so. The legend of Armstrong was built on unprecedented Tour de France victories, but none of that matters now when, in fact, nobody wants to acknowledge such an incredible feat. They've had it with the lies and deceptiveness. It is all more amazing that he revealed little to almost nothing and instead was more concerned with compromising his position in the lawsuit.

For 90 minutes, he talked with Winfrey and should not have considered it a mea culpa after coming off as a jerk. The entire time he sat with Oprah, he was defiant, arrogant and oblivious. It's never been about other people's feelings, but about Lance Armstrong -- though he said he'd start reaching out to those he publicly humiliated and wronged. The person especially hurt by all of this includes Frankie Andreu's wife, Betsy, who testified in 2006 that Armstrong used endurance boosting EPO while going through cancer treatment in 1996. The truth is, he came clean too late, willingly putting out there that he'd get in touch with former massage therapist Emma O'Reilly and reporter David Walsh.

"I guess we know why I was [a bitch] all these years, putting up with that," Betsy said on CNN on Thursday night after watching the interview. "How was I supposed to act? Sweet as apple pie? … That exchange right there, it has me furious."

Because O'Reilly later told the truth about Armstrong's drug use and testified, Armstrong reacted by calling her a whore and a drunk under his breath. He tried to insult people's intelligence, he tried to make everyone else indeed feel as if they were wrong and bullied anyone who thought he was doping. Turns out they were right about Armstrong. It's hard to buy into his admission when he sued so many people for telling the damn truth. It's amazing that he can't remember people he sued through out the years to cover up his lies and bury the truth -- ruining relationships with close friends, teammates, business partners and associates. At one point, he couldn't tell the folks watching, including Oprah, the number of people he sued. More recently, the USADA charged Armstrong with doping throughout his career, and then a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Armstrong against the USADA.

It took time to actually hear from Armstrong, who finally stepped into the public eye and failed to tell the truth, not realizing the seriousness of how he may have ruined people's lives, including his reputation and image eternally. There is, believe it or not, no cure and no hope of reviving his career at this point, especially when a lot of questions still need to be answered. If he were to say too much, then he would have likely come across as too inauthentic, too rehearsed, almost like a hypocrite appearing on national TV. And then again, he may have not broken silence completely and sincerely to impress the American people to forgive him, persuading those angry at him to pretend as if he's done nothing wrong.

He knows the difference between right from wrong and knew doping was absolutely egregious, but what he failed to realize was that one day he would have to pay the consequences. Relatively speaking, he's looking for redemption, trying to save his Livestrong Foundation and trying to win the hearts back that he betrayed and disgusted with his lies and dirtiness.

This, however, won't be enough.

If this seems disturbing, it's because it is.

This is a story of humiliation endured in pursuit of public redemption, a man slightly coming clean for future liabilities, sympathy, criminal exposure, disgruntled cancer supporters and survivors and mitigation of his anti-doping sanction -- all because he is, in theory, hopeful he can reclaim his lucrative sponsorship deals. As one of America's sports encounters a downfall ... as the queen of media prepared 112 questions for the interview in hopes to find out the truth behind Armstrong's allegations ... he claimed that doping was an outbreak among cyclists.

The bad thing is, he declined to cover specifics or any cyclists' drug use, and admittedly said he used erythropoietin (EPO), testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone. It should come as no surprise that he played a part in blood doping and blood transfusions. It would be interesting, now that he openly took responsibility and fessed up, to see whether or not he eventually tell the whole thing. It seems as if there's more to this story and only he knows what actually happened.

“I don’t want to accuse anybody else. I don’t want to necessarily talk about anybody else,” Armstrong said. “I made the decisions, those are my mistakes, and I’m sitting here today to acknowledge that.”

The beginning of the interview was yes-or-no questions from Winfrey, and finally he acknowledged that he illegally used a number of banned substances. No, that wasn't a cure. That was a step closer to finding closure, maybe not redemption or forgiveness but an ending to a decade-long saga surrounding a cyclist who misrepresented his side of the story and bamboozled riders and the American people. As the interview proceeded, he was asked whether he could have won seven straight Tour de France titles without doping.

By hearing that question, Armstrong said, "Not in my view." He either had no confidence within his abilities or just wanted it so badly that he engaged in doping -- then again, he may have been referencing it to other cyclists who were allegedly using PEDs. Maybe it was a rampant growth of riders illegally abusing drugs for an advantage in competition. He isn't ashamed, and he isn't concerned with rehabilitating his life. He wants to make sure he earns something out of this. He wants money when nothing else matters, not even earning back people's trust. This created unnecessary hostility for what was supposed to be a start for redemption, and by following through on the interview, he took a step backwards and dug a deeper hole.

Armstrong told Winfrey it was “scary” that he didn’t feel he was wrong by doping, which he said started in the 1990s. Then, after he discussed that doping was "scary," he avowed that it was "even scarier" that he never felt bad about it. Back then, he didn't realize that the “scariest” part of his PED use was that cheating never bothered him -- too brazened and too arrogant -- and so he continued to use banned substances.

“I’m not sure this is an acceptable answer, but that’s like saying we have to have air in our tires or we have to have water in our bottles,” Armstrong said. “In my view, (doping) was part of the job. ... I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture, and that’s my mistake. That’s what I have to be sorry for.”

Oh, really? It was part of the job?

It wasn't part of the job. Armstrong chose to dope. Nobody persuaded him to cheat. Nobody made him try anything. He brought it on himself, and now wants to blame other cyclists for inspiring him to use banned substances. But suddenly, the question about the US Postal Service came -- he was kind of put on the spot by Winfrey when he was forced to explain whether he pressured other riders, as a leader on the team, to use PEDs.

“I guess I could have (pressured teammates to use PEDs), but I never did,” Armstrong said. “There was a level of expectation. We expected guys to be fit, to be strong, to perform, but I certainly didn’t (make threats). ... Even if I don’t say it, but I do it, and I’m the leader of the team, you’re leading by example, and that’s a problem.”

If there's one person relieved by all of this, it's USADA chief Travis Tygart, who pursued the case against Armstrong. He was, and still remains, somewhat at ease and said it was just a start for Armstrong.

"His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction," Tygart said in a statement. "But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”

After watching this, some will forgive and forget, while some won't ever forgive and forget.