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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 116
What I’m Thankful For, Football Style

Rookie Scouting Portfolio The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information. This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.

Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic, he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider, or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast as you can!

I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in a variety of ways. As a 9 year-old kid in Cleveland, Ohio, the rest of the apartment complex kids and I would sneak away from the parades, meal, and NFL to play a game of tackle football. We always managed to round up enough guys, because the Detroit contest got boring prior to Billy Sims and much later, Barry Sanders. It was in those games I learned about strategy and technique. There was one kid, Shep—I know, I wish I was making this up—who could really punt the football, but only if he turned his back to the line of scrimmage after he received the snap! Worse yet, we had to experience doubling back 25-30 yards in a race with the receiving team for the ball a few times to come to the realization that Shep and his black and white Chucks had to take an unorthodox approach to effectively punt. I think it was at that point that I realized kickers were just weird.

I’m thankful I got to play football as a kid with Jimmy Diulus, David Campanella, and Matt Orloff. I don’t know whether you guys are still in East Cleveland, but it I feel the kids of this generation completely missed out as they are glued to Halo and Madden. And Jimmy Shima, if you’re still around, sorry about hitting you in the eye with the baseball bat. So you know, your mom said you deserved it...for which I’m very thankful—okay, I’m somewhat kidding on that one.

At that time I was more thankful for Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. He was one of the few players who really deserved to do a td celebration because it wasn’t only magic that he got to pay dirt, but it was a miracle he made the NFL in the first place. He was everything that made the average guy dream he could play pro football. He was drafted in the 15th round from Division III school, Widener College. He was 5-9, he wore those nerdy black framed glasses, and white shoes when the only player who ever wore them was Joe Namath. It was like Willie Mays Hayes and Wild Thing from Major League, were kidnapped by Dr. Frankenstein and their genetic material was used to create a kick return specialist and wide receiver. Johnson was quick, had moves on top of moves, could see the field unfold like it was happening before him in slow motion, and he just had a knack for the big play. When the Houston Oiler weaved through kick coverage and did the “Funky Chicken” in the end zone, I should have known that I was one day going to become a fan of the future Houston Oilers. White Shoes actually followed me to Atlanta and I got to watch him work his magic there on punt returns and Big Ben’s-Hail Mary’s. I’m still thankful for Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, because he made the NFL fun and it’s the reason we’ll always have players forgoing significant cuts of their paychecks to celebrate.

As a teen, we would play at the local soccer fields on Thanksgiving morning or in the preceding or succeeding days—often all three. It was that age where our bodies were relatively invincible compared to my approaching middle age of today, but even then we had a few scares. I remember a wet November afternoon where I connected with my best friend on a well-thrown corner route and he couldn’t stop sliding on the wet grass after he was pushed out of bounds. He slid about 10 yards and right into the chain link fence. From 30-40 yards away he looked like he was writhing in pain as if he were the guy in the box after the magician’s saw in half trick went awry. But we soon realized the fence didn’t impale him, but bent backwards as he slid into, and under it. He wasn’t doubled over in excruciating pain, he was laughing that he was stuck.

Sadly, tackle football games disappeared from my life in my twenties, although my friend Tres still plays flag football that morning in the same neighborhood. I can’t see him playing a brand of football where he can’t hit someone. I still imagine him about my school’s size equivalent of Maurice Jones-Drew laying out Shawne Merriman. Tres is now a kids’ football coach who teaches them to run the football and tackle like they ought to be wearing leather helmets—great guy—and I’m convinced to this day the first person to recognize that Brett Favre was going to be what he is today.

So I’m thankful for Tres, who taught me it’s not the size of the man but the size of his heart and will. That said, I’m thankful for Brian Westbrook, Maurice Jones Drew, Willie Parker, Priest Holmes, and Emmitt Smith for making fools out of doubters in their own incredible fashion. I’m also thankful to the first two for helping me win fantasy football championships along the way.

In my early thirties, I spent a Thanksgiving in Jamaica with a bunch of Ritz Carlton employees in a house in the cliffs east of Montego Bay, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It was there I had my first fried turkey cooked by a Louisiana native. That day, I watched my 1st overall dynasty pick, Randy Moss score three touchdowns in Dallas. Although Moss has sometimes been very much a turkey, there’s nothing like fried turkey. And this year, I’m thankful for Randy Moss for putting me in position to contend for a dynasty league title and more importantly putting me in awe of his natural skills. Is there a more naturally gifted player in football? Maybe Adrian Peterson, but for money I’m still taking Moss at this point. The guy just makes it all look easy. He might be the most graceful wide receiver in history.

And as much as I can’t stand him for trading away Earnest Byner and ditching Bernie Kosar, I’m thankful to Bill Belicheck and his henchman, Scott Pioli, for constructing an offense for the ages. I would have been more thankful if it were Favre chucking it to Moss in Green Bay, but I think the Universe was being kind to Vikings fans—it’s bad enough they have Brad Childress right now—Moss on the Packers might create riots in the streets of Minneapolis and they’ve already had enough disasters to deal with lately. If you’re a Pats fan, you better hope Moss stays healthy—even more than Brady—because without Moss, the Pats offense goes from great to good, and that would make them beatable.

I’m grateful that Peyton Manning is this generation’s Dan Marino to Tom Brady’s Joe Montana. I’m even more thankful that, unlike Marino, Manning won a Super Bowl Championship and in this case, is still the better QB than Tom Brady. Sorry Tom, but Randy Moss made Daunte Culpepper look like a Hall of Famer for a few years. The Pats QB would have earned a trip to Canton with or without Moss, but he’s #1A to Manning in my opinion. Unlike those TV guys, I do have an opinion. Marvin Harrison has been great, but as a deep threat, Randy Moss is without peer, and the Colts have long played in a tougher division without the benefit of a good defense. Tom is terrific, but Manning is the man. And as we have the Marino-Montana debate redeaux, there’s the successor to John Elway (who made a good argument for being better than anyone) out in Green Bay. Brett, we know you emulated Elway and he’s now a big fan of yours. Thanks Brett Favre, for keeping the Packers—and my fantasy team’s—hopes alive yet again, in 2007.

I’m thankful for Antonio D’Arcangelis’ one-liners and insights in his column, Through the Wire. Your comments about Beck being the third-fave of God and the alternate reality that is home to Tarvaris Jackson’s last game still make me chuckle…

Then there were the Charger- and Viking-like GM moves in my early thirties that always seemed to happen around Thanksgiving Day that killed my season. One of these mishaps included trading away rookie Chris Chambers for Olandis Gary only to lose my appetite for that homemade, chocolate crème pie as I watched Gary break his leg on the first play of the Cowboys game. Indigestion set in 5 weeks later, when Chambers caught fire and won the league for the guy who got him in return.

I’m thankful that despite the fact Phillip Rivers will be a college offensive coordinator in 5 years and Drew Brees will still be winning games that LaDainian Tomlinson still leads RBs with 10 tds in a “disappointing year.” LT may not be dominant this season, but he’s still one of the best. Speaking of the Chargers, I’m thankful for Norv Turner showing just how great a coach Marty Schottenheimer is. Everyone says the league has caught up to Joe Gibbs style of football, but it seems no matter where Schottenheimer goes, he produces a winner with his same “prehistoric offensive system.” Although never making it past the conference championship, no one wants to face Marty Ball in the playoffs. Zygi, are you reading between the lines here? You have the NFC equivalent of LT and Michael Turner on your RB depth chart with a better offensive line, if you don’t dump that floppy hat-wearing, Fargo character of a head coach for Schottenheimer in 2008, you’ll be the real problem with the Vikings.

Now that I’m in my late thirties, hitting the weights and treadmill to make a good fight of the battle we all eventually lose, and contemplating a return to the football fields of my youth (flag football if my knees can take the running), I find myself trying to figure out how in the world I can sample one of everything at the table and still have just a fist-sized portion on my plate. I’m also thankful that Priest Holmes is exiting this game still able to walk. And I’m thankful that all of you understand that in the same paragraph I can come off not being insensitive by stating that Lamont Jordan could wind up a Chief by the weekend if his request for a release is granted…

Since I’ll be loading 2-3 fist-sized portions onto the ole chow wagon, I’m thankful that the NFL in all their wisdom and foresight, scheduled the Packers-Lions as the early game, the Cowboys-Jets as the dinner game, and the Colts-Falcons as the Tryptophan Special. Because as I wish a Happy Thanksgiving Day to all you turkeys, you’ll be conked out on the couch by the time Indy has scored its 4th touchdown…