The Lofton Files: We’re #1* and #1

02/09/2012

The city of Indianapolis pulled off a big one. I rank this Super Bowl Week #1, but maybe with an asterisk like some of those baseball records. Indy did a magnificent job as a host. The downtown area was clean and the volunteers were over-the-top courteous. That Midwestern charm was at its finest. Everyone from shop owners to hotel staff to police officers kept telling us visitors to have a “Super Day” or “Super Week.” Everywhere you went, in every direction you turned in downtown Indy, you felt like you were at the Super Bowl. Even the day after the game on the way out of town there were extra volunteers at the airport to thank you for coming. The NFL has to have a great big grin on its face right now. The asterisk is for the weather: it could have been 20 degrees colder with rain or snow although I don’t think that would have changed the mood of the locals. Now, the out-of-town guests might have been a bit grumpy had the weather taken a turn for the worse, but it just didn’t happen thankfully. Indianapolis… you’re #1*.

Also #1? How about the New York Football Giants. Just a 9-7 record during regular season and here they are as Super Bowl Champs. You know that the Eagles and Cowboys will burn and twist a little over the course of the next few months knowing what might have been. Remember that Cowboys-Giants game in Week 14? The one where Tony Romo had Miles Austin open on a 3rd-down play that would’ve likely sealed the game for Dallas? Yeah, you can bet the Cowboys do too.

And just like that, it’s the off-season. This is the time of year when football starts ranking everything. Team by team. Player by player. Coach by coach. Play by play. If it’s part of the game, it will get ranked.

The most vital ranking is that of your players. Coaches will rank their current roster 1 thru 53. The rankings might be tagged with a comment such as ‘CAN WIN FOR US’,  ‘CAN WIN WITH HIM’ or ‘NEED BETTER,’ along with additional comments of either ‘ASCENDING’ or “DECLINING.’ Each coach and members of the personnel department submit evaluations on their teams. You also rank your players against those in your own division, which sometimes gives you comfort if you didn’t fare so well during the regular season. It’s the old, “Well, they have all the best players!”

Once a team is done with its own squad, they rank the players throughout the league. Remember free agency is just around the corner. The front office and the head coach need to be on the same page when they’re trying to improve the team. Fans tend to think about the present and what the team will look like in September. Great organizations think long-term with that window being about three years. Sure, everyone is concerned about this season and this game, but the people who make personnel decisions have to think much deeper. How will a free agent signing affect your draft plans and how will your young players develop if you make that signing? Are you creating a roadblock for a potential star? How can you compete and win your division? We love to say it’s a quarterback-driven league, but truthfully there are so many fluid parts to that equation.

Eli Manning threw way too many interceptions in 2010, but when you looked at the tape there were plenty of those picks that weren’t totally his fault. In 2011 Eli led the league in fourth-quarter touchdown passes, but you also have to give some credit to Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and others. Was Eli the worst quarterback in the world in 2010 based on those INTs or the best in 2011 because of those TDs? The truth lies somewhere in between, which is what those doing the evaluating will tell you.

The difference between the teams is so close that you can slide some of that confetti used for the Giants’ ticker tape parade between the G-men and their rivals. Just think again about that missed Romo-to-Austin pass. Such are the margins in the NFL.

Then again, when you’re Super Bowl Champs, there is no asterisk! Congrats to the Giants.

— James Lofton

Sunday Night Football analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton is on vacation until the Hall of Fame Game next summer. Though he’ll be probably be spending time ranking the plants in his garden. Roses – “Need Better”. Petunias – “Can Win For Us”. And so on…

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