Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 Retiree Update: Papa Smurf and Wolverine

With several significant retirements announced in the last several weeks, I figured it was time for another update on the big names that have decided to hang up their cleats (click here and here for other posts on this year's retirees).  We'll have to see if any of these retirements will impact the draft strategies of their respective teams.  Will they use the draft to fill these voids, or do they have more pressing needs?

Hines Ward (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers):  Hines Ward was born in Seoul, South Korea to an African American father and Korean mother.  He attended the University of Georgia and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 1998 draft.  Hines played his entire career with the Steelers, earning team MVP honors three times, and four NFL Pro Bowl selections.  Over his 14-year career, he amassed an incredible 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns.  Though known for his trademark smile, Ward actually had a reputation for making dirty blocks against opponents.  With a tendency to hit defensive backs from their blind sides, Hines was voted the dirtiest player in the NFL in 2009, based on a Sports Illustrated poll of NFL players.

Ward's trademark smile, visible even behind the face mask

Off the field, Ward has become an advocate in Korea for the acceptance of multiracial children.  Another pet project of Hines is Positive Athlete, which encourages kids to develop “positivity” and good sportsmanship when engaging in athletic competition and as productive members of their community.  Despite his reputation for hard hitting on the field, Hines is a great role model for positivism; his nickname among his teammates is “Papa Smurf” for his ability to keep them looking up, while staying grounded.  Dancing With the Stars fans will remember Hines as the champion of the show’s twelfth season.

Though he had many memorable performances in his career, his most notable is his showing in Super Bowl XL, for which he won Super Bowl MVP.  One of the stand-out highlights from the Steelers victory is this touchdown pass he caught from fellow receiver Antwaan Randle-El:

Look familiar?  Loyal Naptime Huddle readers should remember this clip from the Super Bowl Game Changers series.

Marion Barber (RB, Dallas Cowboys, 2005-2010; Chicago Bears, 2011):  Marion Barber attended the University of Minnesota and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 2005 draft.  Despite his strength and running ability, a toe injury and the “running back by committee” scheme implemented by the Cowboys kept Barber designated as a backup until 2008.  His role as running leader was short-lived, however, as injuries plagued him in 2009, allowing Tashard Choice and Felix Jones to take bites out of his total carries.  After being released by the Cowboys in July 2011, Barber was quickly snapped up by the Chicago Bears, who signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract.  With the Cowboys, he was selected to one Pro Bowl and ran for nearly 4,000 yards for 43 touchdowns; he also caught 163 passed for 1,231 yards and 6 touchdowns. 

Ryan Diem (Offensive Lineman, Indianapolis Colts): Ryan Diem attended Northern Illinois University and was drafted by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2001 draft. Over the 11-year career with the Colts, he started 150 of the 158 games he played in and was part of their win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

Diem ready to rumble with the Pats' Rodney Harrison

Light at his mountain-manny best
Matt Light (OT, New England Patriots):  Matt Light attended Purdue University and was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 2001 draft.  He made his presence known right away, starting 12 of 14 games played in his rookie season; he was even on the starting lineup for the Patriots victory in Super Bowl XXXVI that year.  The Patriots earned another championship two years later, in a Super Bowl in which Light and the rest of the offensive line did not allow a single sack of Tom Brady.  Over his eleven-year career, Light was selected to three Pro Bowls, won three Super Bowls and started in 153 of the 155 games he played.  He was also named to the Patriots’ All-2000s and 50th Anniversary teams.

Brian Dawkins (Safety, Philadelphia Eagles):  Brian Dawkins attended Clemson University and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1996 draft.  Dawkins has enjoyed a long career and has consistently performed at a level that’s put him among the best in the league at the safety position.  Known for his hard-hitting, passionate approach to the game, Dawkins adopted the on-field alter ego, “Wolverine.”  In his rookie season, Brian replaced a veteran as starter and never looked back.  He soon became the anchor of the Eagles secondary, starting 182 of 183 games.  After the 2008 season, Dawkins joined the Denver Broncos; he played in every game that season and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.  Unfortunately, injuries held Dawkins back in the next two seasons, even though he was still able to make it to another Pro Bowl this year.  Over his 16-year career, Brian Dawkins earned nine Pro Bowl selections and was named an All Pro six times.  He had a total of 1,131 tackles, 26 sacks and 37 interceptions.

Mark Brunell (QB, Jacksonville Jaguars):  Mark Brunell isn’t one of those quarterbacks that you’ll hear mentioned in conversations about the greats like Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Steve Young and Tom Brady.  However, he was a consummate professional, quite leader and work horse, playing in the league for 19 seasons.  He attended the University of Washington and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 1993 NFL Draft.  With Brett Favre firmly in the starting position at QB, Brunell didn’t become a starter until he was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995, the club’s first season.  He remained in Jacksonville for nine years, during which he earned three Pro Bowl selections.  Under Brunell’s leadership, the Jaguars became the first NFL expansion team to make the playoffs in three of their first four seasons. 

Brunell joined the Washington Redskins in 2004.  His first season with the ‘Skins was forgettable:  he suffered a hamstring injury and was benched midseason.  He was named the backup going into the 2005 season, but took the reins when starter Patrick Ramsey suffered an injury early in the season.  That year, he led the Redskins to the playoffs.  Brunell’s comeback was short-lived, however, as he was benched late in the 2006 season in favor of Jason Campbell.  He moved on to the Saints in 2008, where he didn’t enter a game until the next year.  He appeared in every game that season—as the holder on field goal attempts.  His most recent stop in the league was the New York Jets, for whom he has played only two games.  Though he hasn’t officially declared his retirement, the Jets recent acquisition of Tim Tebow and Brunell’s stated desire to spend more time watching his young sons play football, make an official declaration a mere formality.

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