Two years ago, I -- along with the rest of the Texans fans -- was genuinely peeved to lose Eric Winston. Not only because the Texans O-Line had been dominant in 2012 but because Eric is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful athletes, and it's just fun when those guys play for your team.
So I'm thrilled to get Eric on my blogcast this week! Eric is a lot like my favorite athlete of all time, Charles Barkley, in that he's got a lot to say about topics both in and out of football. So hopefully we'll get to cover a bunch of interesting topics and get his take.
Eric welcome -- let's start with football. I know that you'd have liked the Cardinals to be in that game last night -- and we'll get back to that later -- but what was your takeaway from last night's games? You must at the very least have an opinion on Erin Andrews' follow up?
The games yesterday were great! The Broncos v Pats game wasn't as good as the first edition but it was impressive the way the Broncos dominated almost all game. The thing about the Broncos that has been most impressive during the playoffs has been their defense. I think we all expected a lot from their O but their D shut down a pretty good Charger team and didn't allow the Pats much. The key has been their tackling. Making a ton of open field tackles and not giving up extra yards.
The Seahawks v 49ers game was pretty much everything I thought it would be. Big hits, a lot of "jawing", and "off schedule" plays by each QB. The Seahawks defense is so impressive. It will be a fun Super Bowl from an Xs and Os standpoint. Looking forward to watching the breakdowns and the opinions of some of the pundits before the game.
As for the Sherman stuff after the game, I just kind of laugh. That's what Richard Sherman has become. Great player, that plays on a great defense, that is smart enough to know how much publicity he is receiving not just for his play, but for his comments. Obviously there is a lot of history between the two players and I can attest to the fact that when some one talks sh*t to you, you want to beat him even worse. Seems like it all came together at the end of the game for Sherman.
I get why people are shocked by his comments and that's fine but people need to cut the high horse stuff. Fans want to be as close to the field as possible, know as much about the player as possible, and then when they see it, they aren't happy with what they see. Some are gracious, some aren't. Some are humble, some aren't. Some have a lot of personality, some don't. Probably not that different from a normal work space in that respect.
Eric, I've heard from people in the know that one of the dirty little secrets of the sports industry is that there are, let's say at least a significant handful of athletes, who genuinely dislike fans and view them almost as a necessary evil.
How prevalent, if at all, is that attitude amongst players and do you think that high horse reactions like the ones you describe contribute to that sentiment?
(Full disclosure: I really enjoy watching Richard Sherman and I understand that some people -- not just athletes -- motivate themselves with chip on the shoulder narratives and that such motivation can work albeit with some quirky results)
I'd say that's true. I think there are a lot of different reasons why that is. In an odd way, Twitter has contributed to this sentiment. You should read the mentions in some athletes' mentions section. It's crazy. I've gotten some stuff that I would say is way over the top but I can't imagine the stuff a guy like Matt Schaub got this year or any other starting QB gets if their team doesn't win that week.
I've heard all sorts reasons from teammates why they don't like fans in general and some of them have decent points. Most of them have a valid reason why they have a general dislike for fans. I try to make the point that twitter or "crazy fans" in general represents a small fraction of the overall fan base and there are many more good fans than bad, but a lot guys are set in their way of thinking.
P.S. Don't think some players are the only ones that feel like this. I've been around coaches who might dislike fans more than players.
You mentioned Matt Schaub, but I'd like to ask you about Gary Kubiak. For years, Gary Kubiak's offense stretched and bootlegged the league to death, but this year I heard a lot of chatter about how the stretch zone offense simply couldn't win in the NFL.
You've got a unique perspective here since you were an instrumental piece in the Gary Kubiak offense, but you also played in a different kind of offense this year with the Cardinals.
Is this a case of talking heads simply playing the result or can teams no longer win with the 1990's stretch zone Denver Broncos offense?
I think that is typical "what have you done for me lately" attitude that exists in the NFL. Last year going into the playoffs, the Texans and the Redskins were the toast of league, now the zone scheme can't work anymore. Just had a bad year.
In the Texans case, losing Arian Foster really hurt and not having a healthy Ben Tate as well as a regressing Case Keenum as the season went on all contributed to the demise of the run game.
Take me inside the mind of a professional competitor: was there some part of you that enjoyed seeing a team that let you go really struggle (and struggle to fill your position) or does the fact that you have real friendships and relationships with players on that team make it painful to watch them have such a poor year?
Both. I think any time you spend a good amount of time somewhere you become connected to the place. Building as many friendships as I did and having so many good friends on the team made them really hard to root against. At the same time, the competitive part doesn't want to see your former team have success without you. I think everyone wants to feel like they had something to do with that success they had while you were there and if they lose when you are gone, it sort of vindicates your contribution.
Truth is, they were 12-4 and 2-14 without me, so I doubt I had much to do with either. At the end of the day when I watched Texan games, I usually found myself rooting for them. Might have been habit but I love the city of Houston and my friends that are still on the team so at the end of the day, that won out.
Looking back at this year, the biggest meta story had to be bullying and the Jonathan Martin incident and concussions continue to be a huge focus. We also love to talk about race and homosexuality in the locker room because that drives traffic.
What, in your opinion, is the most underreported story right now in the NFL? What should those who care about the sport be talking about but that's flying under the radar because it's not sexy? Steroids? Something else?
That's a tough one. With all the networks, websites, and overall media covering the NFL, I can't say that there is a story that is "under reported". There have definitely been a lot of big stories this year with the Jonathan Martin one probably being the biggest but I can't say I feel like any one story hasn't got its due.
Eric, I've always been interested in what you have to say -- I watched several episodes of NYOSS back in the day. I credit Dan Lebatard for opening my eyes to the fact that guys who have gotten as far as the NFL are USUALLY going to defy the jock stereotype.
I'm curious, who are one or two other guys around the NFL that you've met who really left an impression on you intellectually?
I completely agree with LeBatard on that. Huge difference between college and pros in that regard. I've been lucky enough to be around some smart guys along the way. One guy is Scott Jackson. He came to Houston via Tampa my second year, I think. Due to injuries he didn't end up playing much but made the team consecutive seasons after coming to Houston. Our convos were always good and I always knew he was a pretty smart guy. Toward the end of his career he was on IR and studying for the GMAT to get into business school. I never asked a lot about it again until he told me he was going to check out a few schools. Remember, he was on IR so he was rehabbing and doing this. So I asked him what schools he was visiting. He told me, "Harvard, MIT, Virginia, and Chicago School of Busines. I stopped and thought about what he just said. Then I asked him, "what did you get on the GMAT?" Scott said "720". (Out of 800).
I always knew he was a really smart guy but I didn't know he was Harvard Business school smart. He ended up going to Darden Business School at the Univ Virginia and now works for Boston Consulting. Not a bad after NFL job. That story will always stick with me for some reason.
Another guy is Dominique Foxworth. Former NFL player and current President of the NFLPA is currently at Harvard Business school.
I've always thought that a lot of guys that I have been around are extremely smart and talented and capable of the same thing but they don't know how to apply their energy. Don't know how to get to point D when they are at point A of their after NFL career.
Well then let me follow up with this -- and then I'll let you go (you've been a wonderful guest). I started thinking about this around the time that Arian Foster put himself up for an IPO, but do you sense that more pro-athletes are starting to take their post-sports career more seriously?
Yes I do. The biggest thing is money in my opinion. I think guys realize how popular the sport is now and whatever you want to get into after your career is over, it's important that you handle yourself the right way during your career to give yourself that opportunity to get into whatever that is.
I also think how wide reaching the media is now plays a part in it. No one wants to see themselves on TV or the Internet looking bad. No one wants that phone call from their mom telling them that their mom saw them in a pic on the Internet or looking like an idiot on TV.
Eric, you've been very gracious with your time. You can follow Eric at @ericwinston on Twitter. Eric, if you have any projects you'd like to plug, please include links in the last reply.
Oh and one more thing: when you've inked your new deal, preferably with the Texans (a guy can hope right?), feel free to break the news here on ReplyAll -- because, come on, breaking news on Twitter is so 2013!