In the year when it was the Giants who slew the goliath Patriots (OK, they at least had the help of a devout David Tyree for those purists out there), the NFL in 2008 started off with an upset of biblical proportions and didn't let up when it came to great story lines.
There were fascinating stories, such as Brett Favre's latest unretirement, which was followed by a month-long stare-down between him at the Packers. The coverage was so intense (see: overdone) at times, it felt like a hostage crisis.
There was great disappointment, starting with Tom Brady's knee injury in the opening week, and great inspiration, such as the Dolphins going from 1-15 in 2007 to playoff contenders. There was yet another year of discontent and dysfunction in Oakland, where Raider fans may finally start to believe what the media has been saying for years about their beloved team.
And no season would be complete without a good Terrell Owens story, although Owens has done everything to diffuse the notion of a problem between himself, quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten. Usually, Owens is feeding these stories.
Oh well, give that story time. As for the top 10, there's no more time to waste.
Top 10 stories of 2008
Detroit Lions team owner and chairman William Clay Ford watches the team's training camp in Allen Park, Mich., Thursday, July 24, 2008.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
10. Detroit's imperfect 0-16: It's almost as if the Detroit Lions are upset with Oakland for displacing them as the league's biggest running gag and feel compelled to keep the crown. However, the Lions at least fired Matt Millen, ending what was the worst executive run in NFL history. Not that the Lions were much better before Millen took over. There's a reason they are one of only six current organizations that have yet to go to the Super Bowl, and haven't won a title in owner William Clay Ford's 50-year run with the team. That reason is Ford, but what did you expect from a man who also helped run a great auto industry into the ground? The Lions are the first team since Tampa Bay in 1976 to go winless, but least Tampa Bay was an expansion team.
9. Dallas: What would the season be without a big story or two from the best soap opera in the NFL? The latest comes courtesy of Terrell Owens, Tony Romo and Jason Witten. Is it all true? Who cares, it makes for great theater (which essentially is what owner Jerry Jones said after their win over the New York Giants). Lest the Owens-Romo-Witten drama allows us to forget, there were Jones' silly and misinterpreted comments about running back Marion Barber only days before. And before that, there was another Pacman Jones suspension and the injury to Romo. Before that, there was another edition of "Hard Knocks," featuring one Jason Garrett infomercial after another. Yep, there's no team quite like the Cowboys, even if they haven't won a playoff game in 13 years.
8. The Oakland Raiders: After six straight years of 11 losses or more (yeah, that's an NFL record), this has gone beyond rubbernecking an accident on the freeway. The Raiders have become one of those short films they show in high school driver's education ("Red Asphalt" back in my day) designed to scare youngsters into driving safe. Oakland has become a study in how to mismanage a team, complete with owner Al Davis so deep in denial that no one in the office dares to question him.
From the end of the 2007 season, when former coach Lane Kiffin wanted to fire Rob Ryan and hire his father Monte before Davis blocked the move, Kiffin and Davis engaged in a battle of wills. Instead of Davis fixing the problem, he let it fester into the season before finally firing Kiffin and not paying him. Throw in the trade-then-release of DeAngelo Hall and the ridiculous behavior of PR man John Herrera with a reporter and the Raiders have become a bigger joke than the Lions.
7. The fall of Plaxico Burress and tragedy of Richard Collier: Guns continued to be an extreme presence in the NFL even after the deaths of Sean Taylor and Darrent Williams and the shooting of Jerome McDougle. A year ago at this time, Burress was in the midst of a heroic season, playing through brutal injuries to his ankle, knee, shoulder and finger. Despite not practicing for almost the entire year, he helped get the Giants into the playoffs, had a dominating performance in Green Bay in the NFC championship game and then caught the winning TD pass in the Super Bowl.
Dolphins QB Chad Pennington talks with head coach Tony Sparano while facing the San Francisco 49ers. The Dolphins defeated the 49ers 14-9.
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Ten months later, after a flurry of fines from the team and a one-game suspension for breaking team rules, Burress essentially shot himself out of New York when he accidentally wounded himself with his own gun in a New York club in November. As for Collier, he was shot by a guy he had fought with two years earlier. Collier, who was sitting in his car at the time, had 14 bullet wounds from the incident and lost a leg in the process.
6. Miami revival after the Jason Taylor farewell: After Bill Parcells took over the football operations in late 2007 and eventually hired coach Tony Sparano, the belief was that the Dolphins would be rebuilding. Long-time star defensive end Jason Taylor certainly thought so and asked to be traded. After a difficult fight over issues like his participation in "Dancing with the Stars," Taylor was dealt and the Dolphins won the AFC East. After going 1-15 last season, this story is beyond improbable. The Dolphins tied the 1998 Colts for the best single-season improvement in NFL history. Simply wonderful and amazing.
5. Gene Upshaw's death and the collective bargaining agreement: Love him or hate him (and there weren't many people in between), there is no denying that Upshaw was one of the most important figures in NFL history. Not only as a Hall of Fame player, but perhaps more so as the executive director of the NFL Players Association. His sudden death from pancreatic cancer (he died three days after finding out he was ill) shocked the union, which must now find a new leader while simultaneously preparing for a difficult labor fight against the NFL.
The league opted out of the CBA in the offseason, setting the stage for labor unrest and a possible lockout in 2011.
As for Upshaw, he was experienced in the labor fight, not only taking part in two strikes in the 1980s, but also having essentially turning a bankrupt union into a thriving institution capable of taking the owners to court and prevailing. While he took plenty of heat along the way, there is no denying the union is light years better than it was when he first took over, and well-organized for the upcoming CBA battle.
4. Ryan dominates after getting richest rookie deal ever: This was a great year for rookie quarterback as Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco not only put together two of the greatest rookie seasons ever for that position (rivaling Dan Marino in 1983), but also helped their teams get into playoff contention. But the situation with Ryan is even more impressive considering what happened in Atlanta before him (Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino). Further, Ryan became the poster child for the argument over a rookie wage scale when he signed a rookie contract (six years, $72 million) that included the most-ever guaranteed money ($34.75 million). Ryan has quieted critics of the rookie pay system, but nothing will ever silence them.
3. Tom Brady gets hurt: A year after his record-breaking 50 touchdown passes, Brady's season lasted just over 7½ minutes before he was knocked out with a knee injury. The loss of the reigning Most Valuable Player was stunning, even though he was nursing other injuries that probably were going to at least curtail his season. Regardless, Brady's injury opens the door for Matt Cassel and his fascinating story (he hadn't started a game since high school) and opens the entire race for the Super Bowl in the AFC.
Giants WR David Tyree makes the catch over Patriots safety Rodney Harrison in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII.
(John David Mercer-US Presswire)
2. Brett Favre gets traded: Boy, talk about an ugly story that just wouldn't go away. First, Favre does his usual retirement dance, complete with teary goodbye at the press conference. Then the Packers, who really don't want Favre back after his horrendous second half against the New York Giants in the NFC title game, move on to Aaron Rodgers. Then Favre, not surprisingly, wants to un-retire, but backs out of a meeting with the Packers.
There have been Middle East peace talks that have gone smoother than this sideshow.
In the end, Favre wants to play and ultimately gets traded to the New York Jets, turning them into a playoff contender. In Green Bay, Rodgers has been OK, but the team has regressed.
1. Giants win the Super Bowl, toppling undefeated New England: A game so many people thought would serve as a coronation of the second perfect season in NFL history turned into one of the sport's all-time classics. New York shut down Brady, Randy Moss and the record-breaking Patriots offense. Still, in the fourth quarter, the Giants needed a drive for the ages to win it. That drive featured one of the greatest catches in playoff or Super Bowl history when David Tyree truly used his noggin to haul in a critical throw, keeping the Patriots from winning their fourth title this decade.
• Other stories worth mentioning: Phil Savage loses his cool in Cleveland; Mike Singletary loses his pants in San Francisco; Donovan McNabb gets benched in Philadelphia; The NFL goes to court over StarCaps.