Three Man Rush

You know when you looked at that Thanksgiving spread yesterday, you had some favorites already in mind. 

Be real, if you had to narrow down all that grub to three choices, you could easily do it. I’d take my mom’s cheesy potatoes, mushrooms, and some honey ham. Yeah, I said ham over turkey. Sue me.

Every week, my co-hosts and I at The Big Three look at the NFL schedule the same way. We could talk about all of them for any length of time, but there’s a few we really really want to break down. With no show this week, I figured I’d share three games that oughta fill your appetite as well as what momma provided on the holiday. 

Arizona at Philadelphia

I’m so tempted to make another Thanksgiving reference with a battle of birds here, but I’ll refrain. This is the most intriguing game of the weekend to me, simply because of one thing: we want to know which of these teams is legitimate. 

The Eagles came into this season with plenty of hype behind Chip Kelly’s lightning fast regime, and it seems like they’re hitting a stride. Michael Vick no longer holds the keys to the offense anymore, and frankly, that’s been a welcome change in the city of brotherly love. Nick Foles doesn’t look to be a fluke. 

Foles, according to Pro Football Focus, has a higher overall grade as a quarterback than Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Carson Palmer to name a few. Granted, he’s had fewer starts on the year as a whole, but the guy is simply balling out. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and is completing 64% of his passes while averaging about 10 yards per attempt. Slice that up anyway you want, but it’s pretty impressive.

He’ll have his work cut out for him though, as he’s facing one of the most impressive defensive units in the league. The Cardinals’ defense is fully stocked in the playmaking department, starting up front with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Campbell is finally starting to be recognized for his stellar play, and is riding a hot streak for pressuring the quarterback. Over the last three games, 13 of his overall 29 QB hurries have occurred.

But go to the next level and it doesn’t get any easier for Foles. A mixture of youth and age holds down the fort for Arizona inside, as Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby have proved to be quite the duo, particularly in pass coverage. Washington is simply one of the better coverage linebackers in the game. He’s forced quarterbacks into the fourth worst QB rating when throwing his direction, while nabbing two interceptions. Not to be outdone by much, Dansby has forced them into the seventh worst QB rating when throwing his way, while leading 3-4 inside linebackers with 7 passes defended. 

I’ve gone all this way and haven’t even talked about my two favorite players on this unit: Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both are ballhawking freaks filled with limitless athletic ability, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has taken full advantage. Mathieu leads all cornerbacks with 8 QB hurries and 60 tackles, becoming one of the largest steals of this past year’s draft. Patrick Peterson hasn’t let up too many completions, allowing quarterbacks to only complete about 51% of passes thrown towards him. But he has given up 6 touchdowns. I expect him and DeSean Jackson to have quite the battle. 

PREDICTION: I think this is a great statement opportunity for Arizona. Going on the road to shut down this offense is a tall task, but I think they’re fully up for it. Philadelphia’s defense has played better as of late, but Carson Palmer should be able to find enough holes in the secondary to give the Cards a win to push them to 8-4. Foles and Shady McCoy struggle a little bit against a straight up scary defensive unit. 24-14 Arizona. 

Denver at Kansas City

I think I can already hear Arrowhead rocking. Quite simply, this is the biggest game of the season for the Chiefs. It’s an opportunity to snap a two-game skid, and get the division lead. The lead is up for grabs for Denver too, but this is still bigger for Kansas City due to one thing they think they’re not getting enough of: respect. 

What’s been the issue with the Chiefs these past two games? Take a look at their 3rd down efficiency. They’ve gone 7-22 on 3rd down, amounting to a 32% conversion rate. That’s not allowing the offense to extend drives and give a great defense enough rest against two great quarterbacks: Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. Now that they’re facing Manning again, this stat will be key again, as the best defense against the legend is keeping him off the field as much as possible. 

You also can’t start slow if you’re the Chiefs. They were down 10-0 by the end of the first quarter in Denver, and had to battle back to make it 17-10 at halftime. That was resilient until they let Denver get another two-score lead in the third quarter. This team is not built to play catchup, especially with a team as offensively dangerous as the Broncos. 

It’ll also be interesting to see if Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are fully effective after being injured last week. If these guys aren’t their usual menacing selves, it’s not good news for the Kansas City pass rush. They’ve combined for 20 of the team’s 37 sacks, as well as 5 of the team’s 9 forced fumbles. Needless to say, they’re the gamechangers on this defense. They need to bring it to bother Manning. 

Denver isn’t riding into Arrowhead very happily though. They battled New England in arguably the best game of the season last week, only to lose thanks to Wes Welker’s inability to call off Tony Carter on a punt in overtime. So expect the Broncos to be fully ready to take out some rage after such a disappointing loss.

The brunt of that rage may come from one of the best defensive players in football, Von Miller. Miller started off the New England game furiously, immediately making his presence known with a strip-sack of Tom Brady. But Kansas City actually did a great job of keeping him quiet in the first matchup. I’d look for Miller to possibly line up over Eric Fisher more often this time around, as Fisher gave one of the worst performances of the year for a right tackle in the first game, according to Pro Football Focus. That wouldn’t be the best matchup for Fisher to rebound. 

The Broncos will certainly want to try and take advantage of the Chiefs’ defense through the air. The pass defense has been less than stellar for Kansas City these past few weeks, culminating in being carved up by Philip Rivers last week. Manning will particularly look to pick on Marcus Cooper again, as he completed 13 passes for 128 yards against him two weeks ago. Rivers also took advantage of him last week, so Cooper will want to revert to his form before these last two weeks.

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Photo Courtesy: Pro Football Focus

PREDICTION: I know the Chiefs really need this one, but I don’t like their two biggest playmakers on defense coming into this game off of injuries. It’s even worse when you haven’t been your usual self defending the pass. I like Manning and the boys to make it a season sweep. 31-20, Denver. 

New Orleans at Seattle

Wait, what? This game is on Monday Night Football? WE HAVE OUR 2ND MEANINGFUL MONDAY NIGHT GAME IN THREE WEEKS. WAKE UP HANK WILLIAMS JR. 

In all seriousness, this is a showdown. Seattle holds the best record in the NFC at 10-1, with the Saints one game behind at 9-2. In terms of playoff implications, it’s meaningful for homefield advantage. The Superdome and CenturyLink Field are two of the most raucous environments in football. No visitor wants to make a trip to either venue come playoff time. Both of these teams also have division mates waiting for an opening to snatch in San Francisco and Carolina. 

Seattle’s offense is reliant on being able to shift into Beast Mode. Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 925 yards this season while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He’s busted 6 runs for longer than 20 yards, and scored 9 touchdowns. Simply put, the dude has been getting his Skittles. 

So can New Orleans stop that? The Saints are middle of the pack when it comes to rushing yards allowed per game, coming in 15th with about 112 yards allowed. On the ends, Cameron Jordan has been solid against the run, grading out as the 18th best 3-4 defensive end in that department. Akiem Hicks has actually been better, grading out as the 9th best. But inside on the line is where an issue may arise. John Jenkins, the nose tackle, only grades out as the 42nd best run stopping tackle. 

Staying inside, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton both grade negatively against the run for inside linebackers. This doesn’t seem to bode well against Lynch, who is one of the most physical running backs in the game. It’s relevant to say the Seahawks’ guards have not performed well as run blockers, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down Lynch. Look for him to go up the gut to challenge the Saints’ interior run defense. 

When the Saints have lost this season, they’ve been gashed by guys like Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley, bruising backs in their own right. They need to step up the physicality here if they want to win this one. 

Offensively for New Orleans, I’d normally suspect Drew Brees to have his work cut out for him against the Legion of Boom. But that Legion doesn’t have as much bang for this matchup. Brandon Browner will miss out, as well as Walter Thurmond. Both of those guys grade positively in pass coverage, while only allowing 2 touchdowns on the year. That leaves Richard Sherman with a lot of work to do against one of the top five quarterbacks in the league.

The biggest weapon for Brees is obviously Jimmy Graham, but Seattle has only allowed 2 touchdowns to tight ends this season. He’s simply been beating any type of coverage thrown at him, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Seahawks try to slow him down. Kam Chancellor is certainly a big enough body and good enough safety to keep up with Graham, and I’d expect Seattle to try and match him up with the playmaking tight end. I’d be surprised to see them throw a corner on him with their second and third best corners out. 

The number one guy to watch on defense for New Orleans? The aforementioned Cameron Jordan. He’s been an absolute beast this season as a 3-4 defensive end, registering 9 sacks, 10 QB hits, and 36 QB hurries. The Seahawks’ tackles have been abysmal in terms of pass blocking this season, as all of them have graded negatively. They definitely miss Russell Okung, but they’re lucky to have an elusive QB like Russell Wilson. He’ll have to keep his eyes and feet ready for the challenge Jordan presents if he wants a shot at winning this game.

Jordan also plays a majority of his snaps at the right defensive end position, which is particularly relevant for Wilson. While being able to throw the ball well in any direction, the former 3rd round pick has been most effective throwing passes to his left for passes 10-19 yards or 20+ yards long. 

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Photo Courtesy: Pro Football Focus

Jordan will be rushing from Wilson’s left, so he could be a disruption if the quarterback looks this way often.  

PREDICTION: I don’t like a defense that’s not at full strength for a guy like Drew Brees. If the Seattle secondary was at full strength, I’d possibly feel differently. The Seahawks’ pass rush, while unrelenting, faces one of the better pass-protecting units in the league in New Orleans. This will be close, with Lynch getting his yards and Wilson making big plays. But ultimately, Brees takes advantage of the missing Seahawks. 28-24, New Orleans. 

All Eyes on Franklin

Sometimes, the hardest role is being the act to follow.

That was James Franklin’s first problem. Before he became the starting quarterback at Missouri for his sophomore season, the Tigers had just witnessed their three greatest quarterbacks in history: Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. One is Missouri’s career total yard record holder, another had Mizzou on the cusp of BCS berths, and the other became the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft.

When Franklin stepped in, the expectations for a quarterback at the University of Missouri were higher than ever. And he was ready to meet them.

In 2011, Franklin threw for 2.865 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 63% of his passes. He rumbled his way to 981 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. To put the rushing in perspective, the 15 touchdowns were three short of Brad Smith’s single season school record of 18. Smith also never threw for more than 17 touchdowns in a season in his collegiate career.

Franklin led that team to an 8-5 record and an Insight Bowl blowout of North Carolina. While the numbers certainly backed him up, Missouri’s next move would bring the doubters again: could he hang in the SEC?

After all, this wasn’t the offensive bonanza of the Big 12 anymore. It wasn’t the infamous “old man football” that former Tiger Sheldon Richardson proclaimed. This was SEC football, where hits crash and roars bellow throughout stadiums. And Missouri was too damn finesse to handle anything like that.

We all know what type of season ensued. Mizzou, battered by injuries, limped to a 5-7 record. Franklin became the face of this failure of a first year in the premier conference in college football.

But while Franklin’s face was occupied, his body was being battered. He missed three games that season while trying to will his way through others. That effort, while certainly courageous, affected him on the field and ultimately led to the lowest point of his college career.

After sitting out part or all of the two games before, Franklin started against the Florida Gators on November 3, 2012 in Gainesville. Mizzou entered the Swamp in pursuit of their first marquee conference win over a 7th ranked Florida team. The Tigers outgained and outpossessed the Gators, but lost 14-7 due to their quarterback throwing a career high four interceptions.

Let the bashing begin.

Mizzou fans let out their anguish with Franklin, particularly on Twitter. This was a shot to prove something, and their quarterback single-handedly blew that chance. For the rest of the season, it became a popular topic to question if he should remain the starter for Missouri while he’s here.

But the criticism of his play wasn’t enough. Word had gotten out that Franklin, a devout Christian, refused to take any sort of pain medication due to his faith. Fans began to question his toughness and how much he really wanted to be out on the field. While the season ended and Franklin recovered, expectations certainly weren’t high coming into the 2013 campaign.

That changed pretty quickly, and James Franklin had a large part in that transformation. Through the first five games, he threw for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns. With those numbers, some were saying how the senior could possibly garner some Heisman consideration. He was playing at his highest level going into one of the biggest games in program history: a meeting with the Georgia Bulldogs, the team who painfully introduced Mizzou to the SEC a year earlier, between the hedges.

After three quarters, the Tigers had a lead in hand. Georgia was making their push, and as he scrambled out of the pocket, Franklin got knocked out of the game. Missouri would get the momentous victory, but after an offseason full of recovery, it was time for Franklin to recover again.

This time around though, the replacement was catching some eyes. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk took the reins of the offense, and unleashed some big play ability. While inefficient, Mauk showed some of the talent that made him a four star recruit, as Mizzou went 3-1 in its next four games.

And here we are now. The only way this team can get a shot at the SEC title is to win its next two games. There’s no room for error anymore, and whoever is at the helm needs to be ready to step up.

That’s where Tiger fans have had some disagreement. Some think Mauk should be starting today, even though Franklin has been medically cleared and ruled good to go. Nevermind the senior’s stellar play from earlier in the season; this team was still winning with Mauk.

The decision was made, and today, Franklin returns to his starting spot. While it’s obvious these two games will help define what this season means for this team, there’s an element that hasn’t been discussed: Franklin’s legacy at Mizzou.

Everyone always remembers how you finished. After everything he’s gone through with criticism and injuries, he now has the chance to go out with a potential conference title, something Smith, Daniel, and Gabbert couldn’t accomplish. He’ll step into a raucous stadium in Oxford tonight, and then square off against the most electrifying player in college football, Johnny Manziel, for his final home game. Oh, then he’d probably have to play this team called Alabama for the SEC crown.

Fair or unfair, this stretch will likely determine how Franklin is remembered in Columbia, MO. He has full weaponry around him, a great offensive line protecting him, and a chip from the Rock M on his shoulder. The opportunity awaits, and at the end of it, what will he be? The act that followed?

Or the act that changed it all?

My Sunday

Woodgrain. That’s what the air smelled like.

You ever noticed that when you walk into a home you’ve never been to, there’s a distinct smell that encapsulates your experience? My house always nails me with a cleanly, fresh scent. My grandmother’s struck me with a cozy, warm aroma that comforted my nostrils with a swift entrance. This place hit me with a ski-lodge feel, and I gravitated to it.

See, this was a special Sunday for me. My brother just arrived back home on Saturday to spend one of his two weeks off for the entire year with his family (the perils of a doctoral student’s schedule). It had been a while since I had seen him, and with how close we’ve been throughout my life, long absences from each other is something we don’t like much. The Greever Boys were back together again.

That night, my mom received a text from the aforementioned family friends. Rick and his partner Joe wanted to take us all out to a seafood lunch, since the two boys are back home together. But Rick called us something I’ve never heard him call us before: his family. Him and Joe wanted to take their family out.

We arrived to Riptide’s, a local favorite of ours for seafood. Rick and Joe are regulars, so much so that the staff knows exactly what cocktails and food they order. And when you go out with Rick and Joe, let me assure you there will be three guaranteed results: cocktails, laughs, and decadent cuisine.

So we all sat down and caught up. Joe automatically asks me about the ESPN dream, and I jokingly told him they were hiring me tomorrow. He goes to Cory, and per usual with my brother, Cory takes the reins of doctoral tales filled with scientific terminology that I’ll never understand. We’re deep into conversation, and a waitress comes over to us.

Her name is Mallory, she graduated a year before I did from Matoaca High School. I ask her how things are going, and she proceeds to recount the horrible load she has from taking a packed four week anatomy and physiology course. She tells me that she already knows everything I’m up to, because my mom has told her before, Cory too for that matter. The entire county of Chesterfield knows my brother and I’s education, interests, and hobbies. My mom gets word around. Mallory told me, “She’s very proud of her boys.”

We gave our good lucks, and she went back to work. I had just finished an entire sampler of beautiful seafood. I still had the smallest bite of saltwater pinching my taste buds from succulent oysters and clams. The East Coast baby. It doesn’t get better.

We departed the restaurant and went back to Rick and Joe’s house. They always love to get Cory and I going to talking about our respective passions. We go on and on about what we love about journalism (me) and exercise science (him), what drives us to pursue these compelling, yet intellectually different fields. Cory explains to Joe how to treat different issues pertaining to his arthritis. I explain to Joe how there’s a live delay when correspondents are coming in from different locations. The boys were back at it.

Then, Rick revealed to us that him and Joe will be officially married sometime in October in Maryland. It’s not legal in Virginia, so they have to go up there to do it. I told Rick how disappointed I am that I won’t be able to make it back for it (or the lavish party I’m sure will follow) due to school. And as they discussed the wedding, I fell deep into thought about their upcoming marriage.

I look at the love these two men share. I look at the home they’ve created for themselves. I look at the overwhelming affection they have always treated our family with. And I looked at that text message in my mind again: family. Two members of our extended family can’t simply confirm their commitment to their love in the state of Virginia. I can’t understand the reasoning behind why they can’t be wed. It’s pure, admirable love. It’s the kind of love you dream about attaining, the stuff that ends corny movies, the old couple who will never let go of each other.

But I was snapped back to attention by Rick commending me on my attention to detail. When we had walked into the house, I was immediately drawn to a gorgeous chandelier hanging above our heads as we entered. Normally, I don’t pay them any mind, since they always seem to be the same. This one was different though.

The diamonds were encased into a ball-like structure. I want to say it looked like a disco ball, but that’s a little tacky for my taste. It was like a disco orb that commanded your attention. Rick told me it reminded him of my dad, and how he always observe things. I’ve been paid some compliments, but whenever I’m compared to my father, nothing makes me happier.

That triggered more family talk, as we looked back at how Cory used to come in my crib and play with me, or when I’d come up to my crib when he got up to leave for school. All of this really brought me to a moment on this beautiful day: I’m lucky.

I’m lucky to be a Greever. I’m lucky to have a caring, loving mother who has done anything and everything to help me achieve anything. I’m lucky to have a hard-working, hilarious father who set the right example for me. I’m lucky to have not only a brother, but a best friend like Cory. And I’m lucky to have two uncles who will finally get to confirm their love, even if it has to be done in another state.

This is my family on the last day of June. We eat, drink, laugh, and talk about our dreams. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. To channel my inner Maximus (Gladiator, favorite movie of mine) here:

I’m the son of Steven Jackson Greever and Lisa Anne Greever, the grandson of Ruby (bless her soul) and Howard Greever, as well as Nicholas and Hilda Maiuro (bless their souls).  I’m the younger brother of Cory Jackson Greever. And no matter what I ever accomplish to honor all of these loving people, there’s nothing I will be more damn proud of than to bear the name of my family.

I smelled that grain on the way out the door again. It’s stowed in my library of senses on a special shelf: home.

Marshall in March

Every year, March rolls around and we immediately search for a sweetheart. We look for the Steph Curry’s, the Jimmer Fredette’s, the Kemba Walker’s. We soak up the surprise runs of teams like Butler, VCU, and Northern Iowa. We search for the scintillatingly sensational sentiment of a feel good story.

While that is all good and heart-warming, I present the yang to your feel-good yin: Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson.

The manipulative Marshall minces no words when it comes to his game. He’s the sharpshooter at the gym that you can’t stand. He could pull up from any spot on the court, with any man in his face, and still find a way to drain it. When you think your wound is big enough from the swish of the nylon, he pours a heap of salt on it with a taunt.

Obviously, opposing fans don’t take much of a liking to these antics. And normally, when they attack a player on the court, that player just tries to respond strictly with his play.

With Henderson, you got another thing coming.

As we saw at Auburn earlier in the year, and in the SEC tournament games against Missouri and Florida, Henderson will not hesitate to get right up into the front row of opposing fans and let them know about his success.

He flashes the crest of his school to every angry eye. His eyes widen as his sharp voice bellows obscenities of pride and resentment, while he mocks your school’s infamous chant. This is all fun to him, as much of a dismay as that may be to you.

I’m one of those who doesn’t take well to his methods. I cannot stand seeing him succeed on a court, especially after he led a comeback to knock out my Missouri Tigers.

You may try to convince yourself he’s better off the court, like this is only an in-game persona.

Again. You’re wrong.

As I walked back to the media room at Bridgestone Arena during the latter half of the Florida-Alabama semifinal in the SEC Tournament, I had to stop due to Ole Miss walking by to their locker room. I paused and looked for Nashville’s newest nemesis.

Henderson strolled by with a smirk on his face, wearing his white Dr. Dre Beats, rolling his head around to the vibe of his tunes. It reminded me of watching a cobra slither around right before he strikes. He knows he’s the bad guy; and he loves it.

Naturally, I told myself the bad guy was going to burn out to a feel-good story. Ole Miss was about to take on the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores, who were making their own surprise run in this conference tournament. More desperate than Ole Miss, Vandy needed to win this tournament to get an NCAA bid.

When the Commodores were up by double digits, and had their home crowd enjoying Henderson’s struggling jumper, I was feeling confident he might not succeed. But like everyone else, when I doubted the villain, he came back and bit me.

Henderson rained jumpers from every body position imaginable, as he and the Rebels stormed back to comfortably win. After one long ball, he stuck his hand to his head, making a three-point shark, as he laughed down the court.

From that point on, I accepted a couple truths. First, there was no way Ole Miss was losing this momentum to Florida. Second, I may hate this guy more than any basketball player in recent memory. But lastly, and most importantly:

Henderson will only add more chaos to what will be an already chaotic tournament.

When you watch the Rebels, the cameras will be all over him. If they’re struggling, the first thing you’ll say is, “Man, I want to see that little punk Henderson’s face.” When they’re hot, you’ll say, “Don’t let me see his damn smirk.”

You’ll anxiously await his post-game comments, if his coach even lets him talk to reporters. You’ll try to gather up as much anti-Henderson ammunition as possible. You might even easily count him out if he ever looks down.

But I caution you: never doubt this kid.

His team was as bubblicious as any other team in the country entering conference tournament week. They faced double-digit deficits multiple times during that week, yet still found a way to take a title and automatic bid home.

So while we all desperately want Otto Porter, Trey Burke, or any star to be our hero, we conveniently forget the most compelling part of our best stories:

Every fairy tale needs a villain. In Marshall Henderson, you may have your best one yet.

The End

I’ve been going to Baltimore Ravens home games since I was four years old. I’ve seen Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac, Trent Dilfer, and dozens of more hopeless quarterbacks take the field in purple and black. 

In their short history, the Ravens have had a great deal of tremendous players don their uniform. Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Jamal Lewis, Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, etc. And while they’re great in their own right, get something straight:

Nobody, past, present, or future, will ever represent what Ray Lewis has been to the Baltimore Ravens. 

I could go on and on about the leadership and inspiration Ray Lewis has brought to Baltimore, which is not matched by any player on any roster in the league. But I think we’ve all done that enough. It can be summed up by simply saying that if we all had the passion for our jobs like Ray Lewis does for football, we’d all be more productive.

Here’s what I think is lost when talking about Ray Lewis’s career. When we all discuss the greatest players of all time, we always feel like it must be a quarterback. If we rank the best players of this past era, I guarantee you most people would put either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at the top of that list. Trust me, I can see that wholeheartedly and might even agree with you. 

But consider this: those two men, along with all the others who play the quarterback position, touch the ball on every single play of an NFL game. Out of any position, they have the most influential decisions on the field. For the most part, their play defines franchises and wins championships.

When you sit back and think about Number 52′s place in the history of football, consider all the influence legendary quarterbacks had on their teams. THAT is what Ray Lewis has been to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2000, he, as a middle linebacker, led them to a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback. Believe me, they didn’t win because of any Dilfer Dimes. They won because Lewis was tracking down runners sideline to sideline faster than a cheetah going after prey. 

Lewis defined a franchise by rarely touching the ball (even with 20 fumble recoveries and 31 interceptions) and playing a side of the ball that is continuously put at a disadvantage with every passing year of a pass happy league. The man could’ve won more if there was even an above average quarterback playing for the franchise for a stretch. But you’d never hear him say that. 

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: there is not a defensive player in the history of the NFL who has defined a franchise more. He’s the greatest middle linebacker to ever play the game. Durable, passionate, vicious, and influential. Nobody has the package like him. Without him, this franchise is nowhere near where they’ve been. 

So when I walk up to my family’s seats in Section 505, Row 24, Seats 1, 2, and 3, and I take my seat in M&T Bank Stadium, I’m going to soak every minute of it in. I, like thousands of others, will be wearing his black jersey, awaiting the pre-game festivities. Defensive player introductions have always been a favorite of Ravens games, and we all know why.

For the last time, “Hot in Herre” will blare over the stadium speakers. For the last time, 52 will walk out of the tunnel, emerging from a cloud of smoke. For the last time, Ray Lewis will bust into that infamous dance. And for the last time, the city of Baltimore will completely go ballistic for possibly the best player of this era, and the man who has defined sports for them. 

It still won’t do him justice. 

 

Newtown

When I was a young child, there was nothing like Christmas morning. Christmas Eve was never a night I got too much sleep. I was too busy imagining the gifts that lay under the tree, and honestly, the gigantic breakfast my mom cooks every Christmas. 

But there was one tradition that was really unique to me. See, in our home, we have an Advent calendar. Even if it has Santa on it, the wooden calendar has a tree on it with hooks. Below that are 24 doors, each of the days of December leading up to Christmas day.

Once December hit, I looked forward to opening each of those doors on their respective days. I found a multitude of wooden objects in there, from teddy bears to bird houses, candy canes to snowflakes. The simplest little symbols gave me the utmost excitement, and my anticipation built with each day leading up to Christmas. 

With today’s horrific shooting in Newtown, CT, I came to the realization that there were now 20 less children who could enjoy the traditions that I did at such an age. 20 less teenagers to experience the highs and lows of adolescence. And 20 less future adults who could’ve helped change this world. 

I’ve never been so stricken by such terror, and it was only fitting that I watched it all unfold with my mother on the couch. I saw tears in her eyes as she told me ANY life of a child lost is one too many. We talked about how lucky I’ve been to be able to peacefully obtain education, to be able to walk in and out of school safely with any knowledge I gained. The parents of this country grieve when in any other year, they’re mostly finishing up their Christmas shopping. 

Every life lost today is an unthinkable horror. Every innocent soul is now up above as a glowing angel this Christmas. I give every ounce of my heart to the families affected by this, as you all simply thought it would be another school day. 

I’m 20 years old now. I haven’t even thought about opening any of the doors on that calendar in years. But today, I walked up to it and stared at the door with number 14 on it. After a few minutes, I opened it, and held a little birdhouse in the palm of my hand. 

It just wasn’t the same. 

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Guess This Is Goodbye

Well, I gotta say one thing: J2150 has been one hell of a course.

Coming into this, I really thought I could just get away with the video skills I’ve obtained over this past year. Little did I know that I was going to expand my journalistic abilities to much more than that. I now know how to edit audio better than ever before, as well as actually know how to set up a great photo.

In addition to what I’ve learned, I will simply never forget some of the stories I got to watch as well. Ones that really stuck out to me were The Marlboro Man as well as the one about the Seltzer man. Both were true works of art that really took a great deal of skill and deft storytelling.

But I’d like to take this moment to thank my instructor, Shane Epping. Shane is an extremely talented photographer employed here at Mizzou, and out of any journalism instructor I’ve had, I have enjoyed him the most.

What makes Shane tremendous is his overall commitment to the true roots of journalism. He never really focuses too much on the technical abilities of things. Instead, he likes to look for the storytelling involved, how well you covered the voices of your topic. I really do respect his preachings here, and his constant reminders to us that our stories really do matter.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe your stories can actually make a difference in someone’s life. But, with Shane’s encouragement and teaching, I certainly learned that this was not the case. By completing my final project on Special Olympics, and seeing the reactions to the product, I can safely say those folks enjoyed my work.

I couldn’t be more proud of what I accomplished in this course, especially with that wonderful organization. I was truly blessed to be in the section I was in, as well as to have an instructor as great as Shane was. The journalism school needs more like him.

But for now, I am done with multimedia (academically of course). It’s been a blast, and I’ll continue to work to become a better storyteller.