By Tim Graham
For my latest NFL Sunday feature story, I tried to examine a broad topic with as much clarity and brevity as possible.
I don't know if I succeeded. Trying to determine the value of special teams -- such a nuanced realm -- made for an unwieldy subject, but it was a fun story to write and proved relevant to the Buffalo Bills' 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
As my editors will tell you, I have a tendency to over-research, over-interview and over-write.
Because of that, a newspaper's finite space is my undefeated natural enemy. I'm rarely able to shoehorn all of my material into a print story.
Then there's the stuff that simply doesn't mesh with whatever I'm writing about. Oftentimes my interviews will stray off topic and down some interesting side streets. Why leave it on the cutting room floor?
From now on, rather than waste interviews and data, I'll post worthwhile leftovers on the Press Coverage blog.
Here are the best unabridged quotes and outtakes from this week's special-teams story.
"It's a football play, and it shows you that everything in football's important, and everything can be game-affecting. I've been beaten on blocked field goals. I've been beaten on field goals where we blocked it and the other team picked it up and scored.
"That particular play took on a lot of importance because it was a playoff game. Unfortunately for me, it was the last game that I coached. I don't think I'm getting over that one any time soon.
"You were in position to win the game on what should be a pretty routine play, and there was nothing wrong with the snap. There was nothing wrong. We didn't have an error on the part of someone else. It just was mishandled. This game is not without human error.
"How many times are you going to have a passed ball affect the outcome of a baseball game? Over the course of the season, it might be one out of 162. I don't know. But it's a game-affecting play. (Writer's note: I tell Parcells I would compare it to having the winning run picked off third base in the World Series; Parcells laughs.) Whatever the lowest-percentage play that could probably happen to change the game ... That takes on a high degree of importance."
"They look at me, and I don't think they expect much. It's such a mismatch. I just play a different sport than all these guys. I really do. It would be as odd as if somebody threw me a basketball and told me to hit a three-pointer.
"And then, the mismatch ... If I had to tackle myself I'd look silly. Then you put a guy in front of me who's a world-class athlete, it's, like, 'Oh, geez.' I should do better than that. I should at least widen him out and fill in the hole a little more. But at least to my face [Bills teammates] didn't say much to me.
"If you don't practice it enough, it's not going to matter. If I go out there for a tackling drill as a one-off, then I'll maybe get run over or beat up. And it's hard to mimic a game situation. It would be like me taking one of these guys and saying, 'Let's go hit three field goals every six weeks so you're ready for a game.' That's not going to get you ready for a game."
Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick on kicker Garo Yepremian's infamous Super Bowl bungle:
"What makes it worse is Mike Bass is running down the sidelines and Garo's got a clean shot at the guy. All he has to do is bump him, slow him down, and Garo didn't even want to get near him. He didn't even want to try to tackle him. At least try to redeem yourself. That didn't make it any better.
"What a lot of the guys don't care for -- and Garo's a great speaker; I don't want to take that away from him -- is that he made a very nice living off that play by giving motivational talks. If I made a mistake that nearly cost my team the game I probably wouldn't try to make money off of it."
Parcells on free agency and the salary cap changed special-teams units for the worse:
"You had good veteran players on your special teams and had been doing it for five or six years. Now, with the salary cap, kids are there primarily to be special-teams players. It's cheaper to have a first-year player, and when you're talking about a $300,000 or $400,000 difference at eight or 10 players, that amounts to quite a bit of money.
"The ability to develop players, to be efficient, is reduced by the lack of contact in practice. Players get their experience in on-the-job training.
"You had five or six veterans on your team that were your core-four members, and that gave you the nucleus of experience that you need on special teams. Steve Tasker was a game-changing player just by virtue of his ability on special teams. He was dynamic."
"Frankly, the first three or four years I was in the league there were some games it was like shooting fish in a barrel. You knew you probably were going to have a pretty good game because you watched them on tape and could tell. There were a handful of special-teams coaches in the league where you knew you had to be at your best.
"Now it's to the point where everybody's coached well. The margin for error is a lot slimmer. You've got to work your tail off just to break even. If you're not prepared, it will beat you.
"There was a time 25 years ago where if you weren't real good on special teams it might not make a difference in the game. If your approach is just to get by, it'll beat you. Everybody in the league is just too good at what they do."
taggedNFL Sunday Outtakes