On a freezing Thursday in December, there I was: standing on the Navy sideline holding a large plastic bowl with a microphone in the middle, leashed to the bleachers via thick black cable. The temperatures were literally freezing (which I was reminded only needs to be below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which still seems a little high), as evidenced by the rock solid case of water bottles outside of ESPN's production van. The University of Virginia's football team was to take on Navy's in these conditions. And I was the Parab guy.
I Ventured to Maryland with high hopes. My good friend Kristin lives in Annapolis and kindly housed me the night before, while also introducing me to "Godless" on Netflix. For the record, that show is wonderful and Jeff Daniels is an American treasure. God I want to be in a Western. But that's beside the point. After all, I was here for a football game.
I arrived the next morning and ran into a circus of road closures, UVA blue and orange blending with the Navy faithful, and the general commotion that would accompany such an event. After two wrong parking lot turns and waiting in standstill traffic for close to half an hour, I made it to the staff parking lot. And, as I would learn soon, I was actually the first to arrive.
I popped open the door to my practical 2007 Nissan Rogue hatchback and was met with the kind of chill that Edgar Allen Poe would put to narrative. (See what I did there? Poe was a Baltimore guy...). But I was prepared: layers, my friends, layers. But still it wasn't enough. This is the kind of cold that makes you turn around and go home. The kind of cold that freezes fingers in seconds. Everest cold. But I had a job to do and by God if I wasn't going to be the best parabolic microphone holder that I could be.
I introduced myself to everyone in the production truck. It was so cold they had to move the coffee machine inside. I fired it up and promptly blew a fuse, causing all the monitors to go black. Good start.
After unsuccessfully blaming the outage on the family dog (not present), all of us sideline guys were huddled together and given the safety speech. Major plot points: don't be on your cell phone and don't get run over. I successfully managed both once the game started, narrowly avoiding a Navy running play as the giant, armor-clad players came hurdling toward me. I can safely attest to this: there is absolutely no way to look cool while trying to run away from something and holding a parabolic microphone. No way. It's impossible. You have all the grace of a fat eight-year-old with an over-sized backpack, except the backpack is hanging around your neck in front of you. Somehow I managed to avoid the collision, though. There's footage of this somewhere.
I should take a moment to explain the parabolic apparatus: it is literally like a giant clear plastic salad bowl, about the size of half a beach ball. It's got a strap that hangs around your neck, with a little padded part that slides off your neck only moments after the strap is in place. There are handles on this salad bowl, and upon releasing said handles, the bowl flops down uncomfortably in front of you, essentially picking up audio from the grass in front of you and possibly the tips of your shoes. There are headphones here, and both the headphones and the mic are plugged into a little pack you wear on your belt. All of this attached by a cable which tethers you to the sideline and runs down the front of the bleachers to some unknown room in the nether-regions of the stadium somewhere. I imagine a room full of computers and TV monitors, watching over all the workings of the world at large, with one monitor exclusively playing re-runs of Oprah. I don't know why.
So this was my life for the duration of the game. Pointing this microphone at the action, and trying to figure out when my glove and toe warmers would kick in. Apparently they're activated by the air. But if they're in my shoe, how much air are they really getting? There are some mysteries I will never learn the answer to.
The game started with a bang: UVA returned the opening kick for a touchdown. I'd hardly noticed the game even starting. This was ironic because the jumbo-screen would soon reveal that this was the same thing that happened in the last Military Bowl that Navy played in 2015, with Pitt returning the opening touchdown that day.
Things did not look good for Navy. However, much to the chagrin of the UVA faithful, these were the last points their Cavaliers would score on the day. Navy responded with a fervor: taking over with their running game from both the runningbacks and the quarterback option. Navy's upstart defense played extremely well, constantly putting pressure on UVA and being generally dominant. It was clear that Navy was built for this kind of weather as well, as UVA's quarterback suffered frequent drops from his receivers and just couldn't get into any kind of rhythm in the first half.
UVA started to put together what resembled an offense toward the end of the second half, but by then it was too late, most of the crowd had dispersed save the most grisled fans, and I was fairly certain I'd lost up to three toes to frost bite. No matter. My time at the military bowl was one for the ages. I warmed up later that night eating too much at and Indian buffet and cuddling up with, of course, an episode of "Godless." Seriously, national treasure.
Disappointment. Heartbreak. Rage. These are just some of the emotions swirling around Cowboy Nation at the news of DeMarco Murray's defection to their bitter rival the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. And as much as I want to give into the die-hard Cowboy fan inside me, I know that Murray did what was right for him. Let's face it, these rivalries are much more intense for the fans than they are for the players. In the NFL, these guys see each other twice a year, many of them are friends. That's one reason players often move within the division. The NFL builds up a bloodlust between two teams because it's good for ratings. When in reality, the guys are all hanging out after the game.
The Philadelphia Eagles offered Murray a five-year, $42 million contract with $21 million guaranteed. The Dallas Cowboys offered Murray a four-year, $24 million contract with $12 million guaranteed. You do the math. These guys are more than just commodities in Madden football games. They're people. They're more than statistics and winning percentage. They have families and, naturally, their priorities will always be about what is best for them, not this illusion of loyalty to a team that will not hesitate to cut them the second their production doesn't match their contract. It's a strange double standard that has been imposed by American sports narratives, that a player should have some kind of fealty to the team that drafted them, when really the teams themselves are huge corporations that will continue to rake in cash long after these players are done with their careers. You wouldn't take half the money to stay with your office job simply because they were the first place that hired you, would you?
The average NFL career lasts three years. Three years. With the new collective bargaining agreement, if players are lucky enough to reach the end of their modest (by NFL standards) rookie contracts, they often only have one more real payday waiting for them. The rookie contract typically goes four years, leaving the average player around 25/26 years old. Their next contract would be in the four-five year range, leaving the player just north of 30. Not too many 30-year-olds getting paid top dollar in the NFL unless you happen to be named Manning. Murray saw a chance to take care of himself and his family for life, and he took it. No one can blame him for that.
After the frenzy of action in Day One of the new NFL year, the 2014 NFL rushing leader is still available. Here's a look at some of the teams rumored to be vying for his services:
The Dallas Cowboys want Murray back, but only at a price that makes sense to them, which seems to be in the $7 million range. Some teams might offer Murray more, but Dallas probably offers the best offensive line and the best chance of winning. Dallas Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones called Murray Sunday night, most likely to express their desire to keep the RB, but also to let him know their price range. Interestingly enough, the next morning Murray took down any mention of the Dallas Cowboys from his Twitter account, which would seem to suggest the RB is prepared to move on.
Obviously, the Eagles now have a huge need, but this one doesn't make much sense in light of the LeSean McCoy trade. If getting rid of McCoy was to free up salary, Murray would be asking for just as much, if not more. Maybe the Eagles just really liked Kiko Alonso and they figured they could score Murray in free agency. The other plus would be hurting the Dallas Cowboys, which might take the sting out of losing McCoy for Eagle fans.
NOTE: Apparently the Eagles are set on signing Ryan Mathews. Sigh of relief for Cowboy fans.
The team that will most likely offer Murray the biggest contract, Oakland is in obvious need of playmakers and reasons to come to the stadium. Murray would provide a big name and past production but can he hold up behind that line? Oakland also has promising young RB Latavius Murray who averaged 5.2 YPC last year and showed flashes of being a really dynamic back. Maybe a two headed Murray monster behind Derek Carr is just the thing to make Oakland's offense respectable.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been making moves that would appear to signal the end of their many years in NFL purgatory. The signing of Julius Thomas was a smart way to provide a solid end zone threat to the passing game to couple with emerging receivers Allen Robinson and Marquise Lee. You add Murray to this equation with some improved offensive line play and all of a sudden you have the makings of a respectable offense. Of course, everything hinges on Blake Bortles taking the necessary next steps in year two, which is entirely possible. Keep an eye on these Jaguars.
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys' impending decision whether or not to resign the NFL's leading rusher from last year, DeMarco Murray. In light of Dez Bryant's most recent reception of the franchise tag, something everyone pretty much knew was going to happen, it would seem the Cowboys have chosen Bryant over Murray. However, the man with his finger on the trigger at the top of the Cowboys pecking order is still named Jerry Jones, so anything is possible.
Conventional wisdom and general consensus seems to lean towards the Cowboys moving on from their newly anointed “star” running back; what with his brittle injury history, his ridiculous over-usage last season, and the devaluation of running backs as commodities in today's NFL, it makes sense, right? Especially given the newly minted “NFL Executive of the Year” Jerry Jones' born again philosophy regarding player personnel: avoiding sentimentality and not doling out huge contracts to one year wonders (cough, Marion Barber). He's a new man, and while he's always put the Cowboys first, it now seems that Jerry Jones finally has accrued the smarts, or put the people in place, to actually get the Cowboys to first.
Let's just keep in mind who we're talking about here. This isn't Bill Belichick trading Logan Mankins or letting Wes Welker go. This is Jerry Jones. This is the same Jerry Jones who this time last year was being fingered by the entire Cowboy nation as the main culprit for the Cowboy's lone playoff win in nearly 20 years. The only GM in the league who has total job security because, guess what? He's his own boss. The same man who fought every person in the draft room until the final seconds to draft Johnny “Anything But Football” Manziel instead of future rookie Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin. The same man who, according to the wonderful article by ESPN the Magazine's Don Van Natta Jr., was quoted after passing on Manziel as saying “I'm... not... happy...” 2014 NFL Executive of the Year, people. Let the good times roll.
Oh what a difference a year makes. A 12-4 season, a division title, and their first playoff win since 2009. All thanks to Jerry Jones, a new man.
Which brings us back to the DeMarco Murray question. To sign, or not to sign? On the one hand, you have an incredibly versatile back who can do everything you ask him to do including catch passes out of the backfield and block in pass protection, who didn't miss a game last year despite playing with a plate in his left hand to secure a broken bone, and who led the NFL last season with 1845 yards, nearly 500 more yards than the next guy. On the other hand, this is also a player who was nearly beaten to a pulp carrying the ball an Eric Dickerson-like 392 times last year (just 24 attempts shy of the NFL record, with well documented fall off after such seasons. See: Larry Johnson), a player who has never completed a full season until last year because of numerous injuries, and a player playing behind arguably one of the NFL's top offensive lines that may be able to make any running back look good.
Difficult choice indeed. Especially with the type of runners likely to be available when the Cowboys pick at #27.
But one thing people don't seem to be taking into consideration is the chance that, just maybe, sentimental Jerry rears his head once again? It seems he's stumbled into another modern day set of triplets. And after the agonizing loss at Green Bay (it was a catch), you don't think Jerry is aching to get the band back together? Relive the old glory days of Troy, Emmitt, and Michael with their new counterparts of Tony, DeMarco, and Dez?
The decision of what to do with DeMarco Murray can be easily argued from both sides, which is what makes it such a challenging one. There is inherent risk in starting with a new back, but there is also risk in retaining the back with an injury history coming off an abusive season. It's a decision that falls on the Dallas Cowboys organization and, ultimately, on the shoulders of Jerry Jones. Which Jerry will show up?