Top 10 NFL stories of 2010
Michael Vick's re-emergence as a top NFL player has been captivating
The Saints' win in Super Bowl XLIV wasn't just any other championship
Ben Roethlisberger's suspension was a sobering moment for the Steelers' QB
1. The redemption of Michael Vick. There are comebacks, and then there are comebacks, and Vick's career renaissance is in a league of its own. Nothing more than a bit player for the Eagles during the 2009 season -- his first season back in the league after serving almost two years in prison because of his dogfighting conviction -- Vick has electrified the NFL in 2010 like no one else. Though he was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for Atlanta, Vick has elevated his game to a new level since he became the Philadelphia starter in Week 2. In a Week 10 Monday-night game at Washington, he put on a tour de force performance, becoming the first QB in league history to pass for 300 yards with four touchdowns and rush for at least 80 yards and two more scores in the same game. Once a pariah, he's now an MVP candidate who has the Eagles on the cusp of a playoff berth.
2. The Saints go marching in to the Super Bowl winner's circle. The feel-good story of the year in the NFL was the Saints' march to the first Super Bowl title in New Orleans' 43-year franchise history, a quest that was as old as the Super Bowl itself. It wasn't just another championship for just another NFL city. The Saints became a living, breathing symbol of the beleaguered but indomitable city of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast region, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005. The Colts were five-point favorites, but the Saints overcame an early 10-point deficit, in part with the help of a daring onside kick to start the second half, and wound up winning 31-17 in Miami behind the MVP performance of quarterback Drew Brees. In a city where the party never ends, New Orleans threw its biggest bash ever in honor of its beloved Saints. Who dat, indeed.
3. A long and painfully slow goodbye for Brett Favre. Like a blackjack player who stays at the table too long, unable to recognize that beating the house is not a forever proposition, Favre's return to Minnesota for a 20th NFL season played out like a doomed adventure almost from the start. Unlike his magic carpet ride of a season last year, when he took the Vikings all the way into overtime of the NFC title game, Favre's winning touch was missing this time around, and he absorbed damaging blows both on and off the field. As Favre went, so went the Vikings' season, and eventually Minnesota's losing ways cost head coach Brad Childress his job. Favre finally incurred an injury he couldn't shake off and saw his cherished starting streak snapped at 297 games. He returned unexpectedly a week later only to leave Monday's game against Chicago with a concussion. Depending on how quickly he recovers, the 41-year-old Favre could end his NFL career watching his losing team play out the string.
4. Randy Moss can't find a home. No one in the NFL traveled a road with more bizarre turns than Moss did in 2010. The 13-year veteran receiver kept running out patterns all season, from New England, to Minnesota, to Tennessee, trying to find both appreciation and remuneration, not to mention someone to throw him the ball. But it was not to be. The Patriots sent him packing in early October after he started spouting off about wanting a new contract, and his stay in Minnesota lasted a mere four weeks, ending after he openly pined for his days in New England. His arrival in Tennessee was much heralded, but his impact has been almost nil, and everywhere he goes, losing ensues. If Vick is the league's comeback story of the year, Moss was just the opposite. He was the Go-Away Player of the Year.
5. The Donovan McNabb trade. When McNabb was traded from the Eagles to the Redskins on Easter night, it ended an era in Philadelphia and began one in Washington. Make that an error in Washington. Nothing about McNabb's time in D.C. has gone as planned, and his presence under center did little to rid the Redskins of the dysfunction and losing that has plagued owner Daniel Snyder's tenure. McNabb's play has been mediocre for the most part, and though he did lead Washington to a vindicating win at Philadelphia in Week 4, by Week 8 new head coach Mike Shanahan had benched him for the final two minutes of a loss at Detroit, setting off a weeklong melodrama. With Washington out of playoff contention by Week 15, McNabb was benched again in favor of the non-descript Rex Grossman, signaling the end of his brief stay in D.C.
6. The Ben Roethlisberger suspension. The Steelers' quarterback won two Super Bowl rings in his first five seasons in the NFL, but his career careened out of control after a Georgia college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a nightclub bathroom in early March after a night of heavy drinking. Roethlisberger was never charged in the incident, which took place in Milledgeville, Ga., but he suffered heavily in the court of public opinion, and the Steelers reportedly even considered parting ways with their 2004 first-round pick. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season, later reducing that penalty to four games after the quarterback responded to the punishment by undergoing evaluation and showing contrition for his admittedly boorish and immature behavior.
7. Helmet-to-helmet fallout, high-speed collisions and their impact. In Week 6 of the regular season, some players hit really hard, and the league hit back. The topic of football's level of violence and what kinds of contact should be unacceptable dominated our attention, thanks to the high-profile hits meted that Sunday out by the likes of New England safety Brandon Merriweather, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison and Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson. The firestorm of alarm that ensued resulted in the NFL adding teeth to its rules concerning illegal hits to the head and neck area, threatening future suspensions and fining the three aforementioned players from $50,000 to $75,000. The issue sparked a raging, weeklong debate about the physical price the game exacts, and whether players or league officials know what's best for football.
8. Cowboys implode, no Super Bowl host for them. With the Dallas area set to host Super Bowl XLV in early February 2011, the Cowboys started the 2010 season with bold talk and such grand designs. Jerry Jones' team made no secret of its intention to become the first team to play a Super Bowl on its own home field -- the eye-catching, two-year-old Cowboys Stadium, in all its state-of-the-artness. But then the games began, and Dallas struggled to avoid embarrassment on a weekly basis. The Cowboys got off to a season-killing 1-7 start, lost starting quarterback Tony Romo to injury along the way and fired fourth-year head coach Wade Phillips after it became clear that his team had quit on him in a Sunday-night drubbing at the hands of Green Bay. Though interim head coach Jason Garrett has infused some life back into the Cowboys season, winning four out of six games since taking over, there will be no Super Bowl berth for Dallas this year. If they want to go to the game, the Cowboys players will have to buy a ticket like everyone else.
9. The Albert Haynesworth-Mike Shanahan showdown in D.C. Theirs has been a bad marriage from the start, on an epic scale of say, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. Haynesworth has little use for Shanahan, and vice versa. But while we all saw trouble brewing between the Redskins' high-priced defensive tackle and their new, autocratic head coach, who could have known just how bad the train wreck would be? Haynesworth made it clear he didn't want to play nose tackle in the Redskins' new 3-4 defense, and to drive home the point, he skipped most of the team's offseason workouts. Shanahan responded by making him jump through assorted hoops (almost literally) as part of the conditioning program that Haynesworth had to pass before being allowed to join training camp. Things didn't get a lot better after that, with Haynesworth deactivated for four games during the regular season, loafing his way through plays at times and generally staying locked in a test of wills with Shanahan. The end of the saga was predictable. Haynesworth was suspended for the rest of the season, without pay, and will be playing his football somewhere else in 2011.
10. The overtime debate sparks a rule change. When the Saints beat the Vikings 27-24 on a first-possession field goal in overtime of the NFC title game in New Orleans, denying Favre a chance to even have the ball in his hands in the extra period, it renewed the debate over the inherent fairness of a team being able to win a coin flip and then the game on any score in sudden death. At the league's annual meeting in March in Orlando, NFL owners voted 28-4 to take a half-measure, leaving the OT rules unchanged in the regular season, but adding a new twist for the playoffs. Starting with the 2010 postseason, a team can only win on the first possession of overtime if it scores a touchdown. A field goal merely extends the game and gives the other team the ball, with a chance to either match or beat that score. Ironically, the new OT rule for the playoffs wouldn't have made an impact had it been instituted this regular season. Of the 18 overtime games played through Week 15, 16 of them (or 88.9 percent) have featured at least one possession for each team. Nothing unfair about that.