Tuck's Takes: What non-playoff players do now that season is over
Some players quickly leave football behind them
Other players feel left out once postseason begins
My choice for Coach Of The Year is a no-brainer
The playoffs are finally here as the dreams of winning an NFL title for players on 12 teams still remain. Ever wonder what the other players around the league do once the season is over? You know, the players on the 20 teams that didn't make it and have a couple months between now and the beginning of the offseason workout programs in late March? More often than not they leave the city in which they play. Immediately.
"I will be heading back down to Texas on pretty much the first thing smokin'," joked Bills cornerback Terrence McGee when asked about his offseason plans.
The end of the season is a bittersweet moment for most players. On the one hand, the players are beat up and tired from a marathon season and excited for an extended break. Think of a sixth-grader on the last day of school before summer vacation. The tremendous down time that players get, at least from a structure standpoint, is one of the best parts of being an NFL player. You have over two months to go on trips and visit family and friends as the vast trauma that has taken over your body for six months begins to heal. The stress and pressure of an NFL regular season subsides and you are able to enjoy yourself and re-charge your batteries for the next year. I mean, can you even imagine how happy the Detroit Lions players are that this disaster of a season is over?
I learned how it works the hard way. As an eager rookie with the Washington Redskins, I stayed in the D.C. area after the season and reported to the weight room a week after the last game. It was a ghost town. I thought it was like college and that winter conditioning would start. I believed it was my job and that you were supposed to go back to work. Nobody told me that it is standard operating procedure for everyone to get away. I quickly realized it would be fruitless to work out without even having someone to spot me so I headed back to Pennsylvania.
The bitter moment for most players comes about a week after the last game. A great deal of the joy that accompanied the culmination of endless meetings and practices is offset when the playoff games are on the television. It is like a cool party and you weren't invited. Some guys aren't able to watch at all.
I can still recall seeing veteran offensive lineman Jon Runyan at the Super Bowl in 2003 after his Eagles had lost to the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFC Championship game. He was walking with a limp and could not bend his arm. He looked like he was in terrible pain.
"Yeah," he acknowledged when asked if he was hurting, "but I wish I had the chance to go out and do it just one more time."
Some guys follow the transactions concerning the comings and goings around the league closely. Others could care less. I once called a fellow lineman three days after our quarterback had been unceremoniously released to discuss it with him. "What?" he exclaimed. He had no idea and he wasn't happy. It was like I had awoken a bear from hibernation.
Players take as much time as they need to recover and a lot of them opt for postseason surgeries to clean out their elbow, shoulder, and knee joints. Others prefer to see if certain injuries will heal on their own. The rule of thumb is that you take more time off for every season you have in the league because it takes your body that much longer to recover.
Then, before you know it, mid-March is right around the corner and it will be time to head back to your team and get ready to do it all over again. It seems as if the very moment your body has finally sufficiently recuperated to the point where it feels good coincides with date you head back to your NFL city, which of course only means it is time to punish it once again in the name of glory and money.
No-brainer for top coach
My quick pick for 2008 NFL Coach of the Year is Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons. Nobody did more with less and with lower expectations. Nobody had more to overcome. Nobody had less of a pedigree. And nobody deserves it more.
John Harbaugh was amazing in Baltimore, but he had a ready-made defense with Rex Ryan already in place. That puts him a notch below Smith in terms of a complete turnaround. Harbaugh's ability to win 11 games with a team starting a rookie quarterback from an FCS school really boosts his stock, however.
Tony Sparano led the Dolphins to 10 more wins than the year before and would probably win this award any other year, but the presence of Bill Parcells and his specter over the organization hurts Sparano's candidacy, as unfair as that may be. No matter how well the Dolphins do, and no matter how clear it is that the coaching of a team with only 13 turnovers, an NFL record, has been outstanding, the Big Tuna still looms large from his corner office.
Jeff Fisher gets very little mention for this award despite the fact that his Titans overcame the Vince Young distraction to post the best record in the NFL. Not exactly chopped liver. They made the playoffs last year, however, and Kerry Collins is a big reason for the improvement this season.
Bill Belichick may have had his best coaching job ever with the Patriots but it is still not enough to topple Smith. Belichick deserves a lifetime achievement award or something of that variety because his real genius was not necessarily what he did this year in getting his team to 11-5 after losing the best football player on the planet. His best move was made the last four years when he hung onto and developed Matt Cassel through some difficult times. Cassel followed Brady around the facility like a puppy dog, mirroring his every move, and Belichick never took it for granted that he may have to use him someday. As usual, Belichick was prepared when things looked the most dire.
Belichick still, I don't think, could have coached the Falcons to an 11-5 record in year one with a rookie quarterback and the Petrino-Vick stink still hovering around the franchise. Mike Smith did, and because of that stunning accomplishment he is the best choice for the NFL's preeminent coaching award.