Stoner’s Team to Defend the Planet isn’t a collection of all-time individuals, but a choice of all-time units. Well played…
“They told us that they admire our species for our creativity, resilience, and skill to control and/or use emotion to our advantage either by direct or indirect intimidation,” writes Matt Waldman about the RSP Writers Project: The Team to Defend the Planet. “These are things they plan to study and learn from us if they win control of the planet in this game.”
One thing that traditional/old-school sports media and intellectualized/new-age sports analysts are unified on is how much they hate one single question: “Have you even played the game, bro?” Granted, it usually only comes from a frustrated athletes and angry fans who don’t like a media member’s critiques.
It’s true that you don’t need to have played a sport to understand it theoretically (rules, strategies, etc.). However, I believe it’s truly impossible for someone to empathize with the intimidation and physicality involved with a violent, collision-based sport like football, boxing/MMA, or rugby. You might be able to understand, even sympathize. But you cannot empathize with the fear.
I understand the thought that if you can’t measure [momentum] why legitimize it as a concept? But whenever I hear someone dismiss the concept of momentum, I have the sneaking suspicion that person has never competed in a physical contest where fear for one’s well-being is a real factor of influence in the competition.
– Matt Waldman
If the aliens are so interested in our ability to use emotion and intimidation to our advantage, we’re going to let them experience it firsthand.
“I call it the Wine Cellar Team, and here’s why: Whenever someone makes an all-time team, they casually throw out names without context. I’ll take Bird, Magic, Jordan, Kareem, LeBron … What does that even mean? Did you like pre-baseball or post-baseball Jordan? Did you like alpha dog Magic or unselfish Magic? I need more information. Think like a wine snob and regard players like vintages of wine and not the brands themselves. Ask any wine connoisseur for their ten favorite Bordeaux of the last seventy-five years and they wouldn’t say, “Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite, Haut Brion, Latour …” They would give you precise vintages. The ’59 Mouton Rothschild. The ’53 Lafite. The ’82 Haut-Brion. The ’61 Latour.
I loved watching Bird, but I really loved watching ’86 Bird. Why? His teammates peaked in ’86, allowing him to explore parts of his game during his prime that couldn’t be explored otherwise. You could say his career year became special because of luck and timing. With wines, the determining factors for career years also hinge on luck and timing—like 1947, an unusually hot summer in France that created wines of high alcohol and low acidity. That’s how the ’47 Cheval Blanc emerged as a famous vintage and the best its vineyard ever produced … you know, just like ’77 Bill Walton.
Not every decision is that easy. Mouton-Rothschild peaked in ’53, ’59 and ’61 … you know, like how Magic peaked in different ways in ’82, ’85 and ’87. Wine connoisseurs disagree on the best Mouton-Rothschild vintage, just like we might disagree on the best vintage of Magic. His best scoring season occurred in ’87, but I have more than enough firepower on my Wine Cellar Team. If I’m already grabbing a Jordan bottle (either ’92 or ’96) and a bottle of ’86 Bird, and I’m definitely picking a few more scorers, why would I need Magic to assume a bigger scoring load? Why not start ’85 Magic (the ultimate for unselfish point guards) or maybe even bring ’82 Magic (younger, better defensively, capable of playing four positions, talented enough to average a shade under a triple double) off the bench as my sixth man?
So really, the Wine Cellar Team is a jigsaw puzzle.”
-Excerpt From: Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball”
I love this idea of assigning specific years as the peaks for a player, but I wanted to take it one step further. I loved the team I constructed (and I’ll post the roster at the end), but so many of the players I selected were no brainers for me. There was almost no internal debate for me, which almost made it boring. As I was going along I became much more intrigued with the idea of using entire position units from specific years. 2008 Ed Reed vs 2013 Earl Thomas isn’t a hard decision for me (Reed). But the 2006 Baltimore secondary vs the 2013 Seattle secondary is a much tougher decision for me, especially when considering how I’d want them to fit up with a certain linebacker unit or defensive line all within one scheme. I also figured that it would leave less of an unknown in figuring out the chemistry within the units. Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu might have been the best safeties of this generation, but put them together, and you’re looking at an awful lot of freelancing on the back-end of your defense. These units have already shown elite, tangible results and each unit is anchored by one of the best players in NFL history.
I also only selected units of whom I had a distinct memories of watching them play, basically making the late 90s as the cutoff point.
Rules: To fit the roster I’m constructing, we’re playing with late-90s/early-2000s style rules. Illegal Contact on a wide receiver after five yards and helmet-to-helmet hit enforcement are in place to keep the passing game from being completely stifled, but they’re more suggestions than a hard-and-fast, enforced rules.
Head Coach: Jimmy Johnson
“He coached the Bad Boys (Pistons). And if you can coach those assholes, you can coach anybody.” – Charles Barkley on the selection of Chuck Daly as head coach for the 1992 USA Olympic Basketball team
We have a short amount of time to prepare and a roster that doesn’t have a history of playing together. A foundation needs to be laid quickly. We literally don’t have time to complicate things or to have a steeper learning curve than is necessary, which eliminates the truly strategic types like Belichick or Walsh for me.
Further, we’re building a roster that’s going to feature a ton of egos and dominant personalities. What better person to handle a team like this than the man who coached the Bad Boys of college football and the early 90s Dallas Cowboys?
Coordinator: Norv Turner
When everything is going wrong, and it seems like we can’t get out of our own way on offense, we’re still going to be able to line up in a two-back set and be able to run Power-O for four yards a pop. We’ll have some inside and outside zone sprinkled in as a change-up, but the meat of the offense will come gap-style run plays – Power, Counter, and Sweeps. The drop back passing game will feature heavily on vertical stems. Our quick passing game might be unrefined and unsophisticated, but we’ll be able to take some of the heat off of our deep drop passing game by being able to run screen and lead draw out of our two-back sets. This offense is truly made in the spirit of Johnson’s Cowboy teams, and we’ll have his offensive coordinator at the helm.
2007 Packers [Editor’s note: for voting purposes, Stoner’s choice is clearly Favre even if he’s creative with the rules for the purpose of originality points]
- Brett Favre: 16 games, 363-531, 4155-28-15, 66.5%, 7.8 YPA; Playoffs: 2 games, 37-58, 409-5-2, 6.3%, 7.1 YPA
- Aaron Rodgers: 2 games, 20-28, 218-1-0, 71.4%, 7.8 YPA
The best quarterback duo of all time, only rivaled by the Montana-Young pairing in San Francisco (the 1999 Rams with Kurt Warner and Trent Green [who was injured in preseason] was a dark horse). In 2007, Favre had his best season in years. However, the Packers season ended with Favre throwing a game-losing interception at home in the playoffs against the New York Giants (who would go on to win the Superbowl against the undefeated Patriots). Rodgers wasn’t the robo-QB he is today, but played well in spot duty – albeit having his season ended due to a broken collarbone.
Favre was one of the no-brainers for this team for me. If he’s on, there’s no way we’re losing this game. The fact that I can back him up with the future most efficient QB of all-time makes this even more of a no-brainer. Sure, Favre is just as capable as losing the game for us singlehandedly with a boneheaded throw – but if he’s on, we’re not losing. Further, we should fully expect for the aliens to line up with a front-7 with their versions of Lawrence Taylors and Warren Sapps and Reggie Whites. He’s going to get hit. Violently. And I’m more than comfortable riding with the guy who’s going to get back up and tell that defender that he hits like a pussy.
Lastly, we’re going to dial back the volume and short passing game and be relying heavily on the ground game and vertical passing game. Stylistically, the offense will closer resemble what Favre ran with the Vikings in 2009, which was arguably his best (and definitively his most efficient) year in the NFL.
2002 Dolphins: Ricky Williams: 16 games, 383-1853-16, 4.8 YPC; 47-363-1, 7.7 YPR
The 2007 Chargers are probably the most talented backfield top to bottom (LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, and Lorenzo Neal at fullback). Bonus points because our Offensive Coordinator (Norv Turner) was the head coach of this very unit.
But we’re not worried about scheming and rotating the backs through a whole season. Although the 2007 Chargers had the best talent top-to-bottom, stylistically and philosophically I’m looking for more violence and physicality out of my run game. My dream running back for this team would be Earl Campbell – and Ricky Williams at his absolute peak is probably the closest thing we’ve seen to Campbell in modern times. In his first season with the Miami Dolphins, Williams received 27 touches per game (and a fumble rate of 1:55 carries) and led the league in rushing. He’s a perfect fit for what we want to do schematically. Look at the patience and vision he shows running these Counters, Powers, Tosses, Screens, and Draws in this series of highlight videos from his 2002 season (you can see that our fullback Rob Konrad is pretty good too). Williams was equally gifted at running inside and outside. However, when he knew he was about to be tackled, you can tell he enjoyed initiating contact – being the proverbial hammer instead of the nail. He’s going to take every single carry in this game, and he’s going to use that 5’11 230 pound body to bludgeon the alien defense over the course of four quarters. We might be hosed if he goes down, but if there’s one back I know that can handle this kind of workload, it’s Ricky.
2002 Kansas City Chiefs
- Tackles: Willie Roaf, John Tait
- LG: Brian Waters, RG: Will Shields
- C: Casey Weigmann
- 1st in NFL in total points and yards per play
- 3rd in NFL in rushing yards, 1st in rushing TDs
- All 5 started 16 games
Jimmy Johnson and Norv Turner will be devastated that their early 90s Cowboys offensive line just missed the date cutoff, but the 2002 Chiefs offensive line isn’t a bad consolation prize. Anchored by two future Hall of Famers in Roaf and Shields and three other borderline elite players in Waters, Tait, and Weigmann, this offensive line paved the way for newly acquired free agent Priest Holmes’ breakout year in 2002, as well as Trent Green’s ascendance into a better version of Matt Schaub. The unit’s dominance mitigated Tony Gonzalez’ poor run blocking and allowed him to flourish as the top option in the passing game.
1998 Minnesota Vikings
- Randy Moss: 11 games started, 69-1313-17; Playoffs: 2 games started, 10-148-2
- Cris Carter: 16 games started, 78-1011-12; Playoffs: 2 games started, 11-149-0
2008 Arizona Cardinals
- Larry Fitzgerald: 16 games started, 96-1431-12; Playoffs: 4 games started, 30-546-7
- Anquan Boldin: 11 games started, 89-1038-11; Playoffs: 3 games started, 14-190-1
- Steve Breaston: 9 games started, 77-1006-2; Playoffs: 2 games started, 13-148-0
Like with Favre, Moss was one of the no-brainers for my team. Selecting a unit Moss was on was actually easier than selecting a single year of performance from him, because he had three strong, separate peaks (1998, 2003, and 2007) that were unique, if not distinctly Randy. 2003 is the most impressive to me personally – it’s the only wide receiver season in NFL history where a player recorded at least 100 catches, averaged 100 yards per game, and averaged one receiving touchdown per game. Considering the surrounding offensive talent (poor) and the fact that Gus Frerotte threw 7 touchdowns and averaged 10 YPA in two games appearing for Dante Culpepper, it truly is one of the craziest and most unusual seasons ever.
However, Moss might never have been better than he was during his rookie year. This is the first memory most people have of Randy Moss. If they missed that game, they definitely saw him decimate the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. We also have Cris Carter, a Hall of Famer himself with hands of absolute glue. This duo wreaked havoc on the league, leading the Vikings to a record for most points in a season (the record was eventually broken by Moss’ 2007 Patriots team.)
The aliens will have to plan for Moss. He doesn’t even need a huge amount of targets to be effective – his simple presence will prevent them from running eight-man fronts against our run game. If they do get brave/reckless, we just need to attempt to throw to him deep. Remember too, that as a rookie, Moss was simply ecstatic to be in the NFL (after his turbulent college career) and showed up with a chip on his shoulder to show up all the teams that passed on him in the draft. We won’t have to deal with moody, enigmatic Randy. Happy-to-be-there rookie Randy dominating on nothing but verticals, posts, and corners is perfect. And we also fulfill every football fan’s dream of seeing prime Favre and prime Moss together on the same team.
I picked the 08 Cardinals as the backups for this unit for when we line up three or four wide. Larry Fitzgerald had the best postseason run for any wide receiver ever. Anquan Boldin is one of the biggest bully wide receivers that has ever played, and came back one week after getting his face broken on this hit during the 08 season. If one of Moss or Carter go down, I’m more than comfortable riding with either of these guys.
2011 New England Patriots
- Rob Gronkowski: Regular Season: 16 games, 90-1327-18; Playoffs: 3 games, 17-258-3
- Aaron Hernandez: Regular Season: 14 games, 79-910-7; Playoffs: 3 games, 19-188-2
Neither of these guys will get the volume they received in the 2011 Patriots offense, but they pair perfectly with our Chiefs 2002 offensive line. Jason Dunn was essentially a third offensive tackle for the Chiefs and helped pave huge lanes for Holmes to run through. Gronk gives us that and doubles as arguably the biggest physical mismatch in our passing game (which is saying something). Hernandez fills the Gonzalez role – his poor blocking is mitigated and he can be allowed to flourish as a receiver.
Read more RSPWP Teams to Defend the Planet at the directory page.
Eric Stoner writes for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio blog. He was the co-founder of the site Draft Mecca and his work has appeared at Rotoworld and Bleacher Report.