Lincoln Kennedy's playing days are long gone. So too are the fun times at the Dallas Cowboys' "White House" … or at least we think. However, the connection between sports and politics is quite strong.
As Americans are asked to decide on a new president, other public officials and several measures Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports wants your vote as well.
With the NFL at its midway point in the 2008 season, we want to know who's deserving of honors. Who's been the most impressive "Sideline president" so far? Which "first-time voter" is having the biggest impact? And which "absentee performer" has least lived up to expectations?
NFL staffers Jason Cole, Charles Robinson and Michael Silver have given their takes. Check out the list of nominees and cast your vote.
Sideline President (Coach of the Year)
Cole: Perhaps taking a cue from Sarah Palin, rookie coaches Jim Zorn (Washington Redskins), Mike Smith (Atlanta Falcons) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens) have risen to prominence out of nowhere. More important, all three have surprisingly put their teams in playoff contention so far. As for the best, give the nod to Zorn, who so many people expected to be on the way out of Washington already because he was perceived as too naïve for the task. Special mention goes to Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) and John Fox (Carolina Panthers), particularly Belichick, who is 5-3 without Tom Brady.
Robinson: Zorn isn't a bad choice, and you have to love what Jeff Fisher (Tennessee Titans) has done in spite of the early-season drama with Vince Young. But Atlanta's Mike Smith has gone to work with a rookie quarterback (Matt Ryan), a rookie left tackle (Sam Baker) and a first-year starter at running back (Michael Turner). Defensively, he's got John Abraham playing like one of the league's top five defensive ends, and he's erased the ugliness of Bobby Petrino in the locker room.
Silver: Fisher has coached his team for longer than any of his peers, and over the last 14 years there have seldom been times when the Oilers/Titans weren't suitably primed to compete to the best of their abilities. This season, however, Fisher has taken his preparatory and motivational brilliance to a new level. Franchise quarterback Young melted down in the season opener, awash in a cycle of ineffectiveness, injury and depression that could've sent Tennessee into a tailspin. Fisher managed the fallout, unblinkingly turned over the offense to veteran Kerry Collins and coached his way through the potential crisis. The Titans (8-0) have a four-game lead in the AFC South and are the league's only undefeated team.
Field Delegate (MVP)
Cole: There's still plenty of doubters out there regarding whether the Titans can win a title, but there's no question that they have the best defense in the league. The unit is led by tackle Albert Haynesworth, who over the past two seasons has channeled the spirit of Joe Greene. Actually, he has done that for three seasons, but that's another story. Haynesworth is the best player on the most dominating unit in the league. That's an MVP.
Robinson: Nobody cares about running backs anymore, right? Well, Clinton Portis has been as consistent as gravity this season, averaging 110.6 yards per game and blowing people up blocking, too. Part of the reason quarterback Jason Campbell hadn't thrown an interception through the first eight games is because defenses are creeping up to stop Portis rather than sitting back in passing lanes. Remove Portis from the equation and the Redskins aren't winning all these close games (six wins all by eight points or less).
Silver: Kurt Warner burst onto the scene in 1999 as an out-of-nowhere sensation, a former supermarket stock boy who won a pair of MVPs while taking the St. Louis Rams to their first two Super Bowls in a record-setting, three-season whirlwind. His quick reads and uncanny accuracy defined the Greatest Show On Turf. That impression of Warner seems as passé as the Clinton Administration or "Seinfeld," yet at 37, he is having another ridiculously productive season (he's leading the NFL with a 69.9 completion percentage and is second in passer rating, touchdown passes and yards) while leading the Arizona Cardinals toward what should be their first division title since Gerald Ford was president. Take Warner away from Arizona, and the NFC West might not have a team above .500. Give him health and decent protection in the pocket, and he just might produce another dramatic playoff run.
First-time voter (Rookie of the Year)
Cole: It isn't simply that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan's first pass went for a touchdown or even that he's kept the previously hapless Falcons in contention through half the season. It's that Ryan stepped into a pressurized situation and is thriving. Ryan indirectly followed the talented Michael Vick, thrived in the racially divisive situation Vick's case created in Atlanta and has had to live up to the richest rookie contract ever. So far, so good.
Robinson: It's hard to argue against Ryan, although Tennessee's Chris Johnson is pushing hard for consideration. The bottom line: Ryan has walked into an impossible situation in an unforgiving environment and made people think about life after Vick. On draft day, I sat with Falcons general manager Tom Dimitroff and he went on and on about how Ryan had the "it" factor of the best quarterbacks. Dimitroff said he couldn't define it, but he knew it when he saw it. Now I do, too.
Silver: It's very hard to argue here against what Ryan has done as a rookie quarterback for one of the NFL's most surprising teams, but for the sake of variety I'm going to try. Without their ultra-fast first-year halfback, Johnson, the Titans wouldn't be close to undefeated, and Collins' life in the pocket would be a lot more hectic. Johnson's numbers after eight games are impressive – after Sunday, he ranked fourth in the NFL with 715 rushing yards, with an impressive average of 4.9 yards per carry – and his timing has been remarkable. We saw this on Sunday when, after getting the ball at the start of overtime against the Packers, Johnson uncorked a 16-yard run on third-and-6 and gained 45 of Tennessee's 55 yards in a drive that set up Rob Bironas' winning field goal.
Absentee performer (Most disappointing team/unit)
Cole: It's pretty telling when you're so bad that you get your defensive coordinator fired in another country. But that's the story of the San Diego Chargers defense this season, which has been torched during a 3-5 first half that could cost the Chargers a playoff berth. Only two years ago, this was the best defense in the league. Ted Cottrell was the fall guy for a unit that has played with no urgency since losing emotional leader Shawne Merriman.
Robinson: San Diego's defense has gone nine straight quarters without a sack or interception. That speaks volumes about a unit that has totally deflated. I realize the Chargers miss Merriman, but almost all of the main components from last season's defense remain. It's not just that the unit hasn't pressured the quarterback or made plays. Now they are missing tackles and getting pushed around. Disappointing doesn't begin to describe this unit.
Silver: Last January, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked like the league's up-and-coming power. Led by their cool and efficient quarterback, David Garrard, and a roster of underappreciated hard workers, the Jags went up to Pittsburgh and pulled out a tight playoff victory, then gamely battled the undefeated Patriots before losing in the Foxborough chill. This season, head coach Jack Del Rio has many of the same players, but the formula isn't working. It's not like Jacksonville (3-5) is getting blown out – all eight of its games have been decided by a touchdown or less – but after Sunday's 21-19 loss to the previously winless Bengals, another trip to the postseason is highly unlikely.
Red/blue state of mind (Ultra conservative/extremely liberal philosophy)
Cole: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can't help himself when it comes to giving guys the benefit of the doubt and a second chance. Somehow, in the early 1990s when the guys were partying at the White House and doing whatever else, the franchise still managed to win three Super Bowl titles in a four-year stretch. But now, the acquisition of guys like Adam "Pacman" Jones doesn't seem to be getting you any closer to a title. In fairness, the woes this season have little if anything to do with the Pacman distraction. However, if you want guys like that on your team, you better have Jimmy Johnson around to ride herd.
Robinson: Tennessee and Baltimore are playing a brand of football that runs contrary to today's flashy, pass-happy NFL. It's all about running, defense and conservative quarterback play. Both teams rank in the NFL's top three in rushing attempts and sixth in scoring defense. Meanwhile, their quarterbacks rank in the bottom six in the league in pass attempts – Tennessee at 27th overall and Baltimore at 31st. Welcome back to the 1950s.
Silver: Before Bill Parcells hired him to coach the Miami Dolphins last January, former Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Sparano was as close to a ham-and-egger as you find in the NFL assistant ranks. Who knew that, upon taking over a team that went 1-15 in 2007, he would spice things up so wonderfully? In the late September game that announced Miami as a playoff contender, Sparano and his staff thoroughly outsmarted Bill Belichick and his Patriots assistants in a 38-13 shocker at New England, unveiling the "Wildcat" formation featuring Ronnie Brown behind center and fellow halfback Ricky Williams and starting quarterback Chad Pennington as wideouts. Direct snaps to Brown produced three of his four rushing touchdowns in that game, and he also threw for another out of the formation. While the Wildcat (and variations thereof) is now trendy in NFL circles, Sparano has stayed bold and innovative in coaching the Dolphins (4-4) into the AFC East mix.
- Tennessee Titans
- Atlanta Falcons
- Bill Belichick
- Jeff Fisher
- White House
- Michael Silver
- Michael Vick