A year late, but better late than never.
I got a message from Eric Stoner while I was in Asheville, North Carolina on a much-needed vacation last week. It happened sometime between my viewing of Raku pottery at the Rivers Arts District, chicken and waffle breakfasts at King Daddy, and dinners at the Admiral and Mela.
i was just thinking about this randomly…
but Steve McNair has to be the backup to Favre in the game to defend the planet right?
Between those hours of sleeping, hot-tubbing, and Shark-Weeking, I realized that I never released my Team to Defend the Planet. I shared some of my picks and team-building philosophy but never assembled the squad for public viewing.
Considering that earth is still here and the aliens haven’t descended upon our planet to relieve of us of our misery (November is still around the corner for those of you more pessimistic souls…), I suppose I still have time to field a squad for the world’s consideration.
General Team Philosophy
When there’s a game to decide the fate of humanity, invoking the word “pressure” is an act of lunacy that would promote Captain Obvious directly to Admiral Idiot. This is a game for grown-ass men.
I need players who know when to be loose and when to tighten things up. The annals of football history contain teams that thrived under the constant pressure and intensely grim personalities of these coaches, I don’t want that type of sideline leader for one game.
These despots-in-training can go home and pray for the return of college football.This team is built with different birds.
I want physically and emotionally resilient athletes and coaches who aren’t afraid of taking risks. Tough guys with on-field smarts. Scheme-versatile improvisers.
With everything on the line, this team needs to play with nothing to lose. Players who will play out of their mind and in the zone and coaches who strategically encourage that behavior.
Our opponents have the advantage of scouting us. They will do something that confuses us early. It could earn them a big lead. We need a team who never believes they’re out of the game.
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Bill Belichick almost got the nod and I’m still feeling of tinge of regret about the decision. The Patriots’ coach embodies so many of the qualities of this team. When it comes to smarts and in-game adjustments, there might not be anyone better.
Belichick is a much more personable human being away from the public eye, he’s a a classic introvert. Even if we can closed practices there will be profound media scrutiny and I’d rather have a figurehead who can inspire confidence and hope in the public while also embodying that aggressive, resilient, player-friendly, high-energy mentality I’m seeking from a coach.
Carroll draw energy from human interaction. He’s a player’s coach. And he’s an optimist.
It’s likely the aliens will push us beyond or conventional knowledge base. We’ll be forced to innovate and that requires integration of (seemingly) disparate ideas.
We’ll need a coach and staff open to innovation but aren’t married to the novel for the sake of ego. Carroll, who draws from a diverse set of influences, including Bud Grant, John Wooden, psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Jung, Chögyam Trungpa, and W. Timothy Gallwey, fits the bill as an open-minded, flexible coach with Jupiter-sized cajones.
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Holmgren
This unit will run a West Coast Offense. So why Holmgren over the master, Bill Walsh? I want rapport between the coordinator and the quarterback and few pairings were better in their prime than Holmgren and Brett Favre.
Holmgren learned at the feet of Bill Walsh but he was also a master teacher in his own right. Beside tutoring future head coaches Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, and Steve Mariucci, his work with Favre cannot be understated.
Walsh’s top pupil took a wild and undisciplined quarterback on and off the field who didn’t even know what a nickel defense was during his first two seasons as a starter and turned him into a three-time MVP. Think about Favre’s antics on and off the field and then meditate on that previous statement of leadership.
Developing an exceptional personality and player like Favre requires a delicate balance of knowing when to enforce discipline and when to let go. You can’t replace that hard-earned experience overnight. Although possible they might hit it off immediately, even the great Bill Walsh might face a learning curve with Favre that could slow this team’s progress.
Recognizing what makes a unique talent like Favre special and allowing it to happen is well beyond the level of trust that most coordinators have. Many offenses fail in the league today because coaches don’t give players the room to do what they do best.
They pick the system over the talent. It won’t happen with these two.
Walsh may have been the master creator of the West Coast System but Holmgren proved he was a masterful editor of play-selection. Walsh’s offense had become unwieldy with its massive playbooks. Holmgren excelled at simplifying the playbook–even with the likes of future coaches on his staff submitting great ideas every week.
The personnel on this squad offers a dizzying array of possibilities that could scatter the energies and efficiency of an offense. The editor’s eye of Holmgren will develop the best game plan to keep this offense sharp, efficient, explosive, and versatile without taxing its collective memory banks.
QB: Brett Favre
There is no earthling better suited to defend our planet against the unknown than Favre. If I had the luxury of naming backups, Steve McNair and Russell Wilson would be on my short list. McNair was the ultimate warrior with an underrated game from the pocket. If the Titans drafted Randy Moss, the team would be a two-time Super Bowl winner, the 2000 Ravens would have been a trivia question, and McNair would be in the Hall of Fame.
Say what you want about Wilson’s likability, what he did after a slow starts by Seattle against Washington, Atlanta, Green Bay, and Carolina in playoff games is the yardstick for a never-say-die competitor. Especially in last year’s losing effort against the Panthers. In that game, Cam Newton was John Connor to Wilson’s relentless Terminator.
There should be a shoe commercial with Newton training feverishly with intermittent camera jumps to Wilson training equally hard, whispering as if he’s in Newton’s ear, “I’m gaining on you…”
RB: Marshawn Lynch
Didn’t you give Lynch the ax in your RB Cut-Down series?
I confess. Then I realized that I need to cultivate an attitude that integrates the archetypes of superstar, grunt, and warrior. It meant making my No.1 option Walter Payton and making him my punter.
When I told Jene Bramel that I was considering Lynch as my starter, he said, “Why wouldn’t you give the job to the runner who was Lynch before Lynch?”
Lynch is similar to Payton when it comes to relentless stamina, equal facility eluding or attacking a defender, imagination and creativity, respect of his teammates, and a complementary style to his RB teammates in other positions below. But Lynch is also a different breed who sublimates his pride for the betterment of the team than any back I’ve seen, including the incomparable Payton.
He’ll keep the offense multiple, defenses confused, and earth weird.
FB: Marcus Allen
If God put one person on this earth to be a professional football player it would have been Marcus Allen…He was the most instinctive, natural football player that I have ever been around. I mean, you feel like you were stealing money getting paid to coach this guy.
-Marty Schottenheimer from NFL Network’s Marcus Allen: A Football Life
Allen is the perfect fullback in this offense. He’s an excellent blocker, a great receiver downfield, a capable passer from the RB position, and an unselfish teammate who was cast into Al Davis’ crucible and emerged an even greater leader. He also have five straight years where he was at the top of his craft as a ball carrier.
WR: Steve Smith
There was never a question in my mind about his inclusion on this squad. Smith is a game-wrecker, an enforcer, and an IED disguised in a mascot’s body. He’s the prank I hope I can play on the aliens, praying that they somehow missed him while scouting our game’s history from afar.
I doubt they overlooked him. It doesn’t matter, I didn’t pick Smith to trick anyone. His skill, big-game performances, personality, and psychological makeup are exactly what I’m seeking for my team to defend the planet.
Smith plays his position at both extremes of the physical spectrum. Depending on what you need from him on a given play, Smith is a 5’9″ water bug or a 9’5″ giant. I can’t think of a wide receiver that truly has this extreme combo of skills.
I’m not sure there’s a player in football who does. Imagine if Darren Sproles had Marshawn Lynch’s power and balance, that’s Smith in a nutshell.
He’ll start over Randy Moss as the X. When Moss plays the X, Smith will platoon with Marshall Faulk in the slot. He’ll push his teammates to otherworldly play.
WR Jerry Rice
Watch A Football Life episode on the 49ers great and it’s clear that Rice was an emotionally distant, obsessive perfectionist, whose pursuit of individual greatness was a lonely path.
Rice didn’t intend it this way, but his nature is an irritant that actually inspires. His obsessive nature challenges colleagues to work a little harder. His difficulty loosening up will annoy at certain moments. But sometimes you need that friction.
I would not want multiple players like Rice on my team. Leading by example is inspiring. Serious-minded personalities that push teammates to buckle down is sometimes necessary. There’s also a point where a team can get too uptight and a bunch of me-focused, navel-gazing, deadly solemn solo artists can drain morale.
I’m seeking balance and that comes from the strength that diversity creates. There is no single mentality to address every dangerous situation. Sometimes you need jokes (Favre), sometimes you need to see fight (Smith), sometimes you need to turn the situation on its head (Lynch), and sometimes you need to see a guy who has unshakable faith that if you let him do his job everything will turn out alright (Rice).
Rice will be my flanker. If the aliens are prepared for his fantastic technique and neutralize it, I’ll bench him for Moss.
Read more on my selection of Rice.
WR: Randy Moss
You will get no hand wringing from me about Moss. He’s the best deep receiver ever, one of the most dangerous players in the history of the game, and the most intelligent receiver Bill Belichick ever coached.
He wasn’t the model teammate, a model citizen, or a mature guy. As much as his life in the eye of the media off the field seemed like turmoil, everything Moss did on the field embodied grace. There is no player in the game who tracks the deep ball better or disguised his tracking with a defender glued to him.
Moss and Favre always wanted to play together. This time they’ll do it at the top of their games and if the aliens lean hard on stopping Moss, Steve Smith can make the aliens pay from anywhere on the field while Rice relentlessly moves the chains and wins in the red zone.
Moss will play all three positions to distract the defense and force difficult match-ups that benefit the offense.
Read more about my choice of Moss here.
WR: Marshall Faulk
Faulk won’t be my starting running back, but I know he can hang with the best if I use him from the backfield. Fit is an important part of building this team. It’s why Faulk will be my starting slot receiver.
Wes Welker might read defenses as well as Faulk and run slightly better routes, but Faulk has more speed, quickness, and much better skill after the catch. Welker can’t play running back like Faulk, he can’t run the same variety of screens as Faulk, and he doesn’t make my offense as multiple and versatile at the line of scrimmage as Faulk.
If you haven’t figured it out, my coordinator will move Faulk around the offense to create havoc. When you think about it, if you took Pierre Thomas’ frame, versatility, and smarts, and gave him Darren Sproles’ burst, agility, and strength per pound, you’d get a player that’s a lot like Faulk.
With Faulk, Allen, and three of Smith, Moss, Rice, and my net two skill players on the list, the offense can approach the line of scrimmage in an empty set and shift to 10, 11, or 21 personnel and still have a tremendous edge on the defense with run-pass options.
When you see my final two receivers for empty sets and substitutions, it’s going to tie the whole room together. .
Special Team Gunner & WR5: Hines Ward
Imagine a special forces unit swimming to shore of hostile territory in the middle of the night, sneaking through the jungle, and arriving at the hideout of its target. The enemy is huddled around a map that details the plans of its next rebel incursion when an object flies through an open window and rolls to a stop at their feet.
The last thing the enemy remembers before the explosion is the grin painted on that handheld pineapple. Ask Ed Reed, Keith Rivers, or Ray Lewis about that smiling hand grenade wearing No.86.
Ward’s blocking on screen plays will open the field from spread sets. I can also put Ward tight to the tackle in a two-point stance and use him in the run game.
Ward will lull the defense to sleep as a third receiver. They won’t realize he’s a shockingly effective TE2 in the ground game of a 12 personnel alignment until he sends a linebacker and safety to the training room. .
He’ll also open things in the short passing game for the likes of Moss, Smith, Faulk, Allen, and Rice. When the defense overreact to Ward as a blocker, he’ll sneak behind the defense for a big play or he’ll be the centerpiece of a trick play.
Ward started and thrived at Georgia as a quarterback, running back, and receiver. He was the catalyst of many Steelers’ trick plays and he’ll provide that service to the offense in the red zone and empty sets. Especially after he gets the alien’s attention as a dangerous lead blocker.
He’ll also be that smiling hand grenade. Favre, Lynch, and Gronkowski are all lobbying Pete Carroll to take Ward’s name off the back of his jersey, and substitute it with the phrase, “Have A Nice Day.”
TE Rob Gronkowski
Do I really need to explain this one? I can’t think of a more simpatico combination on and off the field than Gronkowski and Favre.
They’ll play pranks on Jerry Rice. They’ll drive safeties and linebackers to distraction over the middle. And they’ll dominate in the red zone.
Gronkowski delivers top skills as a receiver, blocker, and open field runner. He’s the queen of the grass chessboard with Ward as the knight.
LT: Anthony Munoz
A professional iron man, Munoz only missed three games due to injury after playing only 16 for his entire college career. Munoz was good enough early in his career for the offensive line coach to let him develop his own stance. Bob Trumpy told NFL Films that the 278-pound Munoz was the only lineman he saw run long distances of 10-12 miles three times a week to keep in shape during the year.
He’s a versatile player with stamina to handle a no-huddle, quick-paced offense, and he can catch the football on the tackle eligible. Imagine the defense keying on Gronkowski and Ward as the functional tight ends.
The offense can shift Ward from the slot to a tight alignment next to Gronkowski that they used to run earlier in the game. When the defense overreacts to Ward’s shift and prepares for run, the tackle-eligible Munoz is now left uncovered and wide open after one of Favre’s killer play fakes.
LG: Bruce Matthews
I want versatility along my offensive front because who knows how much depth the aliens will allow with each unit. If injuries happen, I want players who can move around the front and excel. Matthews fits the bill.
The 19-year veteran played every position on the line of scrimmage and earned 14 consecutive Pro Bowls (1988-2001) as a left guard, right guard, and center. He finished his career as a 40-year-old all-star after three consecutive years as an All-Pro selection.
Pro Football Reference has Matthews ranked as its No.10 player in the history of the modern game based on its Approximate Value metric. It’s a fun bonus point but I didn’t know this until well after I selected him.
You can’t have a team to defend the planet without one of the Matthews clan playing for it. This family was born to play the game at a high level for a long time.
Bruce was the best of the bunch.
Sturdy, savvy, and versatile, Matthews played with Archie Manning, Warren Moon and Steve McNair. He blocked for Earl Campbell and Eddie George.
Matthews and Favre have seen it all while transcending multiple generations of football. I want that kind of knowledge from my QB-C combo if my starting center gets hurt.I also like having a left guard who played center at an All-Pro level because it should enhance communication of what they see before the snap.
C: Dwight Stephenson
The Dolphins center only played eight years due to a career-ending injury but he was dominant. His Pro Football Reference Approximate Value metric had three top-10 seasons in a row, including a No.2 AV overall the year before he was permanently knocked out of the game.
Pro Football Focus named an award after Stephenson for the best player in football.What made Stephenson special? I’ll let Neil Hornsby wax poetic:
A center, that started only 87 games before being cut down by injury, but was so clearly transcendent, he was still voted to the Hall of Fame. This is the Gayle Sayers of offensive linemen. We don’t have any PFF metrics for Stephenson, although he is one of those players that goes beyond that. All you have to do is watch pretty much any Dolphins game in which he played and it becomes immediately apparent this is a player “out of time”; so unbelievably quick that he hardly ever looked in trouble, never mind beaten.
Paul Zimmerman voted Stephenson to his All-Time team, which appears this week at Peter King’s MMQB. He has a great quote from Howie Long about Stephenson as the only center that defenses planned to neutralize ahead of time with an unusual strategy and multiple players.
Am I worried about the size differences between these players and the current linemen of the NFL? Not really. I’ll let the modern science of the aliens calculate the adjusted size-athleticism during the reanimation sequence.
Quickness, smarts, and technique are underrated.
RG: John Hannah
He was the best guard and arguably the best lineman of all-time. I’ll let Dr. Z explain it to you.
RT: Walter Jones
NFL Media’s Elliot Harrison wrote about Jones’ incredible sack rate of 23 in 180 games–less than 2 per year.
Veteran beat writer Clare Farnsworth shares a great story about how good Jones was–and would become–from Howard Mudd, one of the best coaches of the position.
As we made our way from the practice fields to the dining hall, Mudd said all the things he was supposed to say: Jones would see spot action. We don’t want to throw too much at him in this first game. He’s only a rookie who has missed so much of training camp.
Then Mudd offered, “Are we done?” When I nodded and thanked him, he pointed at my tape recorder and said, “Then turn that thing off.”
Mudd then proceeded to tell me that Jones not only would play, he was going to start, adding, “And this kid is going to be better than anyone can possibly imagine.” It was only a preseason game, but Jones did line up opposite eventual Hall of Famer Chris Doleman. After Jones was finished with him, it was like, “Did Doleman even play in this game.”
So the legend of Walter Jones was off and running – or blocking, in this case.
Reminded of our exchange several years later, when Mudd was the line coach for the Indianapolis Colts and Jones had been to five Pro Bowls, Mudd laughed and said, “I don’t remember that as vividly as you do, but that sounds about right.”
SI’s Greg Bishop wrote an insightful segment about Jones’ unconventional playing style.
Jones was so good, so steady, he often skipped training camp in various contract disputes and Hasselbeck overheard coaches whisper that they preferred it that way, because his absence made certain he would not get hurt. He always showed up and started and dominated, Big Walt, at left tackle, same as always.
When Hasselbeck left Seattle, he realized how little he knew about defensive ends that lined up opposite left tackles. He never studied them with Jones there. He did meet them, though, at Pro Bowls and other player functions. Inevitably, they said that Jones was the worst offense lineman to watch film of. That was because his technique was unconventional, reliant on athleticism and feet so nimble that coaches swore that when he ran past them at full speed they could not hear his footsteps. And because he so stymied those defenders, they did not want to relive that process in the film room.
The potential issue my line has with Jones and Munoz as my tackles is that they relied so much on their athletic dominance that a superior pair of athletes at defensive end could expose any technical flaws these two possessed. From what I can gather, Jones and Munoz weren’t as flawed as they were creative. But I won’t be surprised if the aliens have the players to test this pair.
Punt Returns: Barry Sanders
I value great running backs. Part of my plan on offense is to play a fast-paced, physical game with athletic linemen that can wear out the opponent. Having a strong collection of versatile runners helps me do this in case there’s an injury or a game plan that stymies my Plan A backfield with Lynch and Allen.
Sanders is a great punt returner, so I lose nothing if the game script limits him only to this role. If my Plan A needs a breather, Sanders is the NFL’s Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson.
Kick Returner: Adrian Peterson
Peterson averages 25 yards per return. Devin Hester has 250 more returns during his career with a 24.8 yards per return average and 5 career touchdowns. Still, I’m confident that Peterson will get our team field position.
I’m far less confident in choosing Hester for one role over one of the greatest running backs in the history of the game, a genetic freak with return skills, and the most determined runner I’ve seen not named Jim Brown or Earl Campbell. It may appear as a slight for any of these backs to have a role other than starting RB but I would feel tremendously stupid if I left a player back on earth capable of these feats.
As Ike Taylor said, he’s a combination of a freight train, a NASCAR vehicle, and a cheetah.
Punter: Walter Payton
Make no mistake, Payton will be an integral part of the offense. He’ll pass protect. He’ll catch the ball from the backfield, and work from the slot or split wide if the match-up dictates.
The more I can make defenses overcompensate for player who could be a runner or receiver, the greater the chance the opponent makes a huge mistake that Favre and company can exploit.
And you better believe Payton will carry the ball. After Ditka’s goof 30 years ago, every player on this roster will make for damn sure that Payton sees goal line duty in this game.
But his primary position in this game will be punter.
With one career attempt for 39 yards, Payton will be my punter and it is the easiest decision I’ve made about running backs.
It goes deeper than finding a punter. Like most fans, I love to scoff at the value of kickers all the while knowing that punting isn’t an act of surrender. It’s a valuable, strategic act.
But this isn’t any football game, it’s a form of war deciding the fate of humanity. The value of strategy goes beyond developing a plan of superior intellectual merit.
We’re instilling a loose, confident, and defiant mindset. We’re taking the fight to the aliens. They will not have a second to let their guard down.
The aliens will hear this message loud and clear. It won’t be lost in cultural translation. They know the game and have obviously studied the history of our on earth or they wouldn’t have come up with the idea.
When they see Marcus Allen doing a fullback’s dirty work, Marshall Faulk holding down the slot, Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders as return specialists, and Walter Payton doing the thang, it will be like Ali standing in the corner between rounds as the opponent sits on a stool.
It’s about cultivating bravado and psyching-out the aliens at the same time. They admire our creativity and emotion.
It doesn’t mean they are emotionless. In fact, they may cope with feelings worse than us.
It’s why I want to give them that wink at the oddest moment. I want to get in their heads. I want to scramble their insides.
I want to do things that make death tremble to take us.
Kicker: Doug Flutie
Smart, athletic improvisers often pull off the impossible. If we underestimated Flutie for his entire pro career, what do you think the aliens will do? If the depth chart at quarterback has tight limits, Flutie will make a great emergency QB.
And rabbit’s foot.
Yeah, I’m superstitious. What about it?
Special Teamer: Hines Ward
Have a nice day!
Read more RSPWP Teams to Defend the Planet at the directory page.
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