THE BEAST’S NFL PRESEASON OVERVIEW
While the mainstream sporting press focuses on such trifles as the quarterback controversies in Washington, Tampa Bay, and San Diego, the BEAST has had its deformed eye on the more important fan issues still developing this preseason. Here’s an overview of some of the trends worth watching as we head toward the regular season:
The rookie crops of the last four or five years have sharply changed the NFL name dynamic. The “Terrell/Terrelle” skill-position player craze appears to be
petering out, while a whole host of new name trends has been taking hold. Of these, none seems more explosive than the new emphasis on the unnecessary first-name apostrophe. Five years ago, there wasn’t a single player in the NFL with a silent, auxiliary apostrophe at the end of his first name. Now, there are nearly a dozen, including cornerbacks Andre’ Goodman (Lions) and Dre’ Bly (Rams), tight end Daunte’ Finger (Rams), wide receivers Andre’ Davis (Browns) and Donte’ Stallworth (Saints), linebacker Andra’ Davis (Browns; not to be confused with teammate Andre’) and guard Tre’ Johnson (Browns), among others.
In Stallworth and Andre’ Davis, both of whom have been clocked in the 40 at under 4.3 seconds, the NFL now probably boasts the world’s two fastest silent/meaningless apostrophes. There must have been some good weed being passed around in the football breeding grounds about 20 years ago. Keep an eye on this trend, it’s booming…
Another name trend that went from pervasive to completely out of control between last season and this one is the AttenTion-GrabBing capital letter in the middle of the first name. While veterans like LaRoi Glover, LaVar Arrington and Je’Rod Cherry have given NFL fans an opportunity to warm up to the secondary capital letter on a gradual basis, the uninitiated this year might find himself overwhelmed because of newcomers like LeCharles Bentley (Saints), DeShaun Foster (Panthers) DeVeren Johnson (Cowboys), and over a dozen more.
In the pantheon of secondary capital-letter NFL names, Buffalo’s own second-year linebacker DaShon Polk might be one of the tamer entries; on the other hand, the amazingly named DeMarkis Faggins (Texans) looks like an early favorite to win the fourth annual Earthwind Moreland/Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila NFL Name of the Year Award. If he makes the team, that is. Stay tuned for the FiNal TalLy…
Last but not least, it’s time for the yearly update on the spiraling Antoine situation. Three years ago, there were only two or three different spellings of the name “Antoine” on NFL rosters. This year, there are a total of seven. Some examples: Antuan Edwards (Packers), Antwaan Randle-El (Steelers), Buffalo’s own traditionally-spelled Antoine Winfield, Twan Russell (Dolphins), and New England Patriots Antowain Smith, Antwoine Womack, and Antwan Harris. You need 22 to field a full game; at this rate, the NFL will make it by about 2005. Keep an eye on the free agent wire this summer to see if the number gets up to eight or nine before the first kickoff.
All the major NFL cliches have had excellent off-seasons. Just a few games into the exhibition schedule, we’ve already had a player sidelined with “Flu-like symptoms” (linebacker Peter Sirmon, Titans), had “thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family” (numerous coaches and players around the league following the spinal injury to Houston’s Leomont Evans), and seen a strong resurgence in the “and things of that nature” interview sound byte.
In the latter case, the arrival in Washington of Steve Spurrier–who was a notorious “things of that nature” sound-byte baron while at Florida–has triggered a boom in cliche-mongering among new coaches. Here’s Spurrier on Shane
Matthews, in what appears to be his inaugural NFL cliche: “He’s not been real diligent in the weight room and things of that nature.”
Here’s another new coach, Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden: “We’ve been on the field working our foot work, the terminology and things of that nature.”
San Diego’s Marty Schottenheimer: “You can’t walk in and effectively change 40 percent of the personnel group and add new coaches and things of that nature and expect that after four preseason games, you are going to step in line and start off where you think you can be.”
This being the preseason, other coaches are opting for the more traditional exhibition game cliches. To date, only one, however, has opted for the “bullets flying” phrase, use of which traditionally surges in weeks three and four of the exhibition season, as the real season approaches. “I like what I’ve seen from our new corners,” Carolina coach John Fox said, “but until we get out there and the bullets start flying in game conditions and the preseason and training camp, the jury’s still out.”
Oddly enough, not a single “dreaded high ankle sprain” has appeared in the news yet. Bills left tackle Jonas Jennings went down shortly before press time with a high-ankle sprain, but team officials have declined so far to say whether or not it is dreaded. More updates in the following issue on cliche usage this year…
Never before has such utter hair chaos ruled the NFL. In a year in which the sporting world’s most famous haircut repulsively belongs to a soccer player (Brazil’s Ronaldo donned a much-imitated “unicorn shave” for the World Cup), and in which, following Warren Sapp’s amazing decision to shave his cornrows, the most recognizable NFL haircut belongs to draft prognosticator Mel Kiper, Jr., an utter vacuum of personal grooming inspiration now reigns on the gridiron.
What’s next in hair, following last year’s explosive ascension of rows and braids (coupled with black see-through hair-nets)? There’s scarcely the faintest glimmer of a hint this exhibition season. One of last year’s most outstanding hair choices, the braided ponytail of Cincinnati’s elaborately-named seventh-round draft pick T.J. Houshmandzadeh, appeared in the preseason opener to be longer than ever.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Houshmandzadeh looks like’s he’s making a serious run at a starting job over Peter Warrick and Michael Westbrook… And while Sapp has shaved his braids, the other major braid-wearers all seem determined to hold on to the look for at least one more year: Plaxico Burress, Troy Brown, Willie McGinest. Green Bay Packers corner Mike McKenzie even explicitly stated his intention to keep his braids for the immediate future.
“I had the braids back in college,” McKenzie said last month. “The braids were pretty good to me. I did the Afro, the braids and the low fade. I kind of naturally grew into the new look. Chances are they’re going to be with me for a little while.”
Meanwhile, white quarterback hairdos, after the brief scare brought on by the Jon Kitna phenomenon a few years back, appear to have settled back comfortably into anchorman mode.
Only Lions newcomer Joey Harrington offered a whiff of intrigue when he answered a question about his preference between Star Wars princesses Leia and Padme Amidala. “Princess Leia,” answered the former Ducks star during camp. “You’ve got to love the cinnamon-roll hairstyle.”
Could an experiment be in the works? And will Riddell design the helmet to fit the buns? We’ll see as we watch the rest of this preseason.