Tag Archives: nfl

Don’t hate the player (Richard Sherman), hate the game.

Malcolm Smith.

That’s the name of the Seahawks linebacker who hustled downfield to make a heads-up interception that will send Seattle to its second Super Bowl™ ever. You won’t remember his name, because he didn’t do what Richard Sherman did.

Sherman, as most of the world knows by now, is the All-Pro cornerback who made an amazing mid-air adjustment to tip the ball to Smith. Then adjusted a lot of attitudes just after the game when Erin Andrews asked him a question and he went off with the kind of trash talk he brings every minute of every game. Just as much of the Twitterverse had hit “send” on a congratulatory tweet to the Seahawks, Sherman suddenly changed the conversation.

My Twitter feed was divided between immediate haters of Sherman and those who found his candor “refreshing” and about what you’d expect right after a ferocious game between two teams that hate each other.

The most naive reaction came from professional communicators who suggested somebody should get Sherman to media relations training. Sherman has a communication degree from Stanford. He knows what he’s doing. He knows this is how he gets famous. And if you knew Richard Sherman — and almost nobody does — you wouldn’t have been very surprised.

*****

umadbro

Courtesy of Richard Sherman Twitpic

I’ve been a Seahawks fan longer than probably the majority of my Facebook friends have been alive. I’ve seen ups and downs with this franchise — more downs than ups, many years in the NFL desert — so this win was beyond exciting. I was disappointed in Sherman’s behavior because it taints the moment of victory and turned many fans (with a shallow understanding of the team and the game) against them for the Super Bowl™.

Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the game. He led the league in interceptions, which is all the more amazing because quarterbacks so rarely throw his way. Sherman (correctly) noted that on the final play, the 49ers gambled by going at the Seahawks’ best defender. He has bravado, but he can back it up.

If you follow the Seahawks or are a hardcore football fan, you know this. If he played in New York, you’d know it. If he played among the East Coast media that sets our sporting agenda, you’d know it. But he plays up in the northwest corner of the country, where you have to do bold things to get attention.

He first gained notice when, after the rising Seahawks earned a surprising upset win over the Patriots last season, he tweeted a photo of himself and New England quarterback/media darling Tom Brady with a caption “U mad bro?” The sports establishment that reveres Brady was aghast some upstart would do such a thing, people with actual senses of humor found it funny, and soon enough the sports world returned to ignoring Seattle and its mouthy cornerback.

The Seahawks and the 49ers hate each other with a passion. The Seattle secondary and San Francisco receivers trash talk and taunt more than most, so it’s not surprising that Sherman and Michael Crabtree, the receiver he tipped the ball away from and ripped in his postgame interview, despise each other. The NFL likely will fine Sherman for his comments (probably less than the $50,000 they docked teammate Marshawn Lynch for not talking to the media) while realizing the swagger he brings and the rivalry between the two young teams will bring the league riches beyond belief.

*****

Russell Wilson is the kind of player coaches and PR staff dream about. In just his second year in the NFL, the humble Seahawk most believed too small to play his position in the league is now a franchise quarterback for a Super Bowl™-bound team. He says everything you’d want in his interviews about hard work and teammates and respect for opponents. He makes plays with his head, his legs and his arm. Wilson is known as the first player to show up for practice and the last to leave. Wilson’s face lights up when he tells heartwarming tales of visits to children’s hospitals, and how much he admires the brave young people he meets.

Russell Wilson is everything we say we want in our heroes.

So he’ll never be as famous as Richard Sherman.

*****

Fortune favors the brave. That line has been written many times about the Seahawks (mainly in Seattle, of course, because outside media barely paid attention to them until recently). Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider built the Seahawks from also-rans to Super Bowl™ contenders in a few short years by taking lots of risks and creating a competitive atmosphere. They took risks on quarterbacks deemed too short, cornerbacks deemed too big, defensive lineman considered too small, and found a way to win. Mel Kiper and the shellacked-hair draft analysts who make a living pricing young players as if they are sides of beef, routinely give the Seahawks low grades in their drafts … but Wilson (third round), Sherman (fifth round) and others Kiper and others derided are among the best at their position, and undrafted free agent Doug Baldwin made a number of game-changing plays on Saturday.

Deciding to go for it on fourth down — where Wilson rifled a pass to another undrafted free agent receiver, Jermaine Kearse, for the go-ahead score — is the kind of thing most observers applaud … when it works. On the field, Sherman deflecting the pass to Smith to seal the Seahawks win and trip to the big game is something fans cheer.

But when the athletes we venerate for on-field bravado do something other than act as corporate spokespeople, the world acts with disgust. Fans tweet their dissatisfaction, not realizing they are merely making the target of their anger more famous and more ripe for several endorsement deals.

Richard Sherman knows this. Football is not the only game he plays better than almost anybody else. Russell Wilson can still become famous, and deserves to. Malcolm Smith can still become a prized football player. But only Richard Sherman has become the most talked-about athlete on the planet.

UPDATE: Sherman explains himself and his comments in a Monday Morning Quarterback column for Sports Illustrated. If you’re interested in knowing how he really is, it’s well worth a read.

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super bowl™ ads, with student perspectives.

One great thing about teaching an advertising/media copywriting class is every spring brings the gift of discussing Super Bowl™ ads with a sought-after demographic focus group … the 23 students in #brc328. Before class, I asked them all to tweet what they thought were effective ads, and why, then we watched and talked about many commercials.

Five trends/topics worth noting:

1. NFL = Nostalgia For Life? Advertisers frequently want to use nostalgia to reach a specific demographic, but the NFL managed to score a bullseye on a whole host of generations. The students recognized how the ad included everything from current shows like The Office and Modern Family to ’90s favorites like Seinfeld and Friends to “oldies” like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch. Of course, the NFL has the unique advantage of television contracts with all the major players and thus can more easily negotiate the rights to use the shows, which would otherwise represent the biggest challenge.

2. Bridgestone: Difference Between Concept and Execution. Two popular spots with the students for Bridgestone, “Carma” (with the beaver) and “Reply All,” were both very entertaining. But they noticed a difference. With “Reply All,” viewers more paid attention to the frenetic actor destroying various electronic devices and barely noticed the product. But they preferred “Carma” — which gets my vote for best ad this year because it tied directly to the product, in terms of handling and braking ability (and, as one student pointed out, “six months later” showed it lasts). Playing off a timeless Aesop’s fable, employing a cute beaver with human tendencies and providing a feel-good ending, it’s hard to envision creating a better ad.

3. VW Uses The Force. The class favorite, overall, involved the kid in the Darth Vader mask trying to use the Force repeatedly with the payoff of the VW starting remotely. While students didn’t see that as any great product benefit — they’ve grown up in the era of the remote car-starter — the simple storytelling, cute concept and timeless tie-in with Star Wars all clicked. Nota bene: The Star Wars appeal spans generations.

4. Doritos: Finger-Lickin’ Good? While they found it funny and memorable, students had mixed feelings on the ad where the office worker licks the Doritos-crumbed finger of a co-worker. Some thought it successfully communcated the idea that Doritos are irresistibly good. Others found the idea of someone sucking someone else’s finger appropriately creepy. Or both.

5. Chrysler + Detroit + Eminem = Discussion. Much like the Twitterverse, the class split on the Chrysler “Detroit” ad featuring Eminem. They generally thought it had beautiful production values. Consensus found it showcased the Motor City fabulously — I like its underdog tone and one student said it resembled an engaging tourism spot. While many folks of, ahem, a certain age lamented in the blogosphere Em “selling out,” many students already consider him yesterday’s news (one even used the term “old”). As for the connection to the product, one student said “Lose Yourself” made him think of 8 Mile, which brought to mind trailer parks … a world away from a luxury car. For what it’s worth, on production and general branding merit for its three products, I really liked it.

I’m always impressed with students’ variety of opinions, which are well-articulated, thoughtful and multi-layered. What was unanimous? All thought the Groupon/Tibet ad was a really bad idea, but you don’t need to take an advertising course to recognize poor taste when you see it.

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super bowling: models of risk-taking vs. yielding to self-interest.

It’s the last Sunday in the National Football League regular season, and eight of the 16 games have implications on who will make the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl. By contrast, NCAA DI football will stage 34 post-season bowl games this year, only one of which means anything for the national championship.

Quick: Which system do you think is more popular? Which do you think was built on risk-taking and which is steeped in self-interest?

Just as it’s clear that many more people will watch Denver and San Diego compete for the final NFL playoff spot this evening than will switch over to see Northern Illinois play Louisiana Tech in tonight’s Independence Bowl, it’s easy to see the NFL is the king of all sports in America. But it took a lot of gambles to get there.

In the 1960s, the established NFL assented to play a championship game vs. the upstart American Football League. The title game became known as the Super Bowl, almost as a joke, and the first two years the NFL winner crushed its AFL foe. But before Super Bowl III in 1969, a brash QB named Joe Namath guaranteed his New York Jets, heavy underdogs in everyone’s mind, would beat the powerful Baltimore Colts. Namath and the Jets won 16-7 and, the stigma of inferiority gone, the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. In also embracing other risky ventures like Monday Night Football, the NFL has become a model league whose 2008 Super Bowl attracted more than 148 million viewers in the U.S. (making it the second most-watched program of all time).

If the race to the Super Bowl is the Eiffel Tower, the NCAA’s bowl season is a series of small erector sets. While every other NCAA sport has some kind of open championship (including Division IA, II and III football), DI football works with the Bowl Championship Series using computer formulas to select who plays in the national championship game. This is good news for this year’s title teams, Florida and Oklahoma (who have each lost once), but bad news for other teams who lost once (including Texas, Texas Tech, USC, Alabama and Penn State).

While fans, coaches and supporters of teams who miss out on the championship game complain, college presidents, bowl organizers and sponsors keep this unpopular non-playoff format in place, giving us things like the St. Petersburg Bowl (South Florida vs. Memphis), the Motor City Bowl (Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan) and Papajohns.com Bowl (North Carolina State vs. Rutgers). Sure, 34 teams get to win their last games, but 33 of them are just earning consolation prizes. Compare this to the DI basketball tournament — known as March Madness — where 65 teams chase the championship on the court.

To my point: How many of us have worked places where we were allowed to take risks in pursuit of excellence? How many of us have worked in places where self-interest stands in the way of greater success for customers and internal stakeholders? Where would you rather work?

For the new year, I urge workplaces everywhere to take more chances, when those chances can support better customer service, happier employees and improved solutions. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gearing up for a big day of important NFL games.

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