During his first 6-7 years in the league, Ray Lewis was quite simply phenomenal. Able to stack-and-shed linemen, light up ball carriers, and fly all over the field in coverage, the guy was as beastly as it gets. Then Ray began experiencing something really unfortunate: the second half of his career. He lost a step or four in coverage and started getting abused on occasion by offensive linemen. Which is fine except for one problem: His already annoying self-promotion grew at an even faster rate than his play declined. In 2003 they should have created a stat called the ray lewis, which is awarded to a player when he gets pancaked by an opposing player and/or jumps into a 15-player pile up, gets up from the fracas, and starts yelling "not in my house" to the player(s) that just kicked his ass. I remember a 2006 interview in which he compared himself to Michael Jordan and demanded that the Ravens find him his Scottie Pippen. And lets not forget this past offseason, in which, despite his supposedly intense love of and respect for the city of Baltimore, he declared that he wouldn't accept anything lower than a max-contract because he didn't want to accept that he's only 65% of his old self.
You might expect the media to see through Ray's shennanigans and accept his decline, but a funny thing has happened: everyone who covers the league seems to aid Ray in his self-aggrandizement. Every analyst on both NFL network and ESPN will always gush about his supposed intensity, ferocity, leadership, passion, textbook fundamentals, physicality, blah blah blah. It seems like every other week that we hear him give some interview in which prepares a speech with inane content and makes it sound eloquent (followed by the interviewer acting like a high school girl in the presence of Orlando Bloom). For years if we wanted to watch the Ravens play on Sunday Night Football we had to be willing to sit through Paul Magwire's endless Ray Lewis Eulogies in which he basically told the world that Ray Lewis gives him nightmares and makes him piss his pants (of course, listening to Paul Magwire always has been, is, and will be the most traumatic, tortorous, and horrifyingly awful experience in sports broadcasting, so this really shouldn't be all that surprising). Last year the absurdity reached its apex, when the Ravens chose to use their cap space to re-sign Lewis instead of the younger, more productive Bart Scott (and it sounds like the Cowboys had a similar offer lined up).
Ladies and Gentlemen, using my vast (read: nonexistent) medical knowledge that I have accumulated from watching lots of Scrubs (and a little bit of House), I present: Ray Lewis Syndrome. The symptoms: A player constantly pumps himself up; the sports media follows suit, leading to the player becoming wildly overrated. It's not enough to simply be overrated, like Steve Nash or Tim Tebow; the athlete must go out of his way to inflate his image and distort his value. With that, here is the list of athletes whom I have diagnosed as suffering from this dangerous condition...
Brett Favre:He always tells us in a (not so) subtle manner that he plays the game for fun, only brings a playground/gunslinger style, represents the common man, yada yada yada. TV's talking heads will never stop telling us how amazingly spectacular Favre is. Well, congratulations Brett, other than Ray, nobody has a worse case of Ray Lewis Syndrome than you. We keep hearing about how Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever because he owns so many passing records. Am I the only one that realizes how inflated Favre's statistics are? There's a reason why he has all the records for total yardage, completions, touchdowns: he also has the most total attempts. These are all volume stats that you can inevitably increase by simply throwing it a bunch of times. Favre owns all the volume passing records because he played more games than anyone else and threw it more times. If all you look at is volume stats, then you could also argue that Favre is a horrible QB (he owns the record for incompletions and interceptions). No, a better way to evaluate players is by looking at efficiency stats, like yards per completion, yards per attempt, completion percentage, etc. You can't pad these stats by simply throwing it a bunch of times. Each time that you throw the ball, you can only help your total number of yards, completions and touchdowns (unless they one day invent negative touchdowns). With the efficiency stats I mentioned, you can help or hurt them on every play, so a those stats are meaningful no matter how many times you throw it. Put it this way: In madden, if you want your quarterback to lead the league in passing, all you have to do is throw it every play, and it will happen even if you don't pass it well. ditto for touchdowns, completions, etc. But that strategy won't help you win the completion percentage title; you actually have to pass well on most of your throws.
Now hopefully you see why its better to look at efficiency rather than volume stats when evaluating a player, so lets take a closer look at Brett Favre's numbers. His yards per attempt of 7.0 makes him tied for 78th. His yards per completion of 11.4 make him tied for 190th. His 61.6 completion percentage is 17th all time. He throws an interception 3.3% of the time, good for 51st best. His touchdown percentage of 5.0% is tied for 52nd all time. My point is, on a play-by-play, pass-by-pass basis, Favre isn't nearly as good as the ESPN hype machine would have you think. I won't argue with the fact that he's a hall-of-famer, but Favre has always been overrated because people don't understand how to evaluate statistics.
Jay Cutler: Brett Favre 2.0! Cutler always insists that he's a franchise quarterback, and the media seems to believe him. Everyone always talks about his huge arm and good mobility. This offseason, Cutler whined, complained, and pouted his way out of town when Josh McDaniels tried to acquire Matt Cassel. As stupid as Josh McDaniels acted, Cutler has to take some blame; what exactly made him think that his 17-20 record with the Broncos made him untradeable? Someone please tell me, if Jay Cutler is so good, why has he never won anything? You'd have to go back to high school to find the last time a Jay Cutler-led team won more games than it lost. Yet if you were to spend 5 minutes talking to Mike Mayock, you would think that he won the freaking SEC at Vanderbilt and then lit up the NFL while leading the Broncos to the promised land. I mean, I think Mayock is the best in the business at his job, but come on, are you serious? Diabetes isn't Cutler's only medical problem.
Phillip Rivers: Jay Cutler lite. I bet he and Cutler meet every time they play each other and agree to get in a shouting match with each other every game to boost each other's profile.
Ron Artest: This hurts, because Ron-Ron is my second favorite baller. He's always been a good defender, but the problem is that he's the first, second, third and fourth person to tell you that. Then the talking heads listen to Artest, and before you know it he's got the same defensive reputation as Scottie Pippen. Even when he was defensive player of the year he did have some trouble against quicker players; just look at the trouble he had guarding Rip Hamilton in the 2004 eastern conference finals and Manu Ginobili in the 2006 western conference 1st round. Now he doesn't get exposed by quicker perimeter players: he gets abused. Brandon Roy made Artest look like a college player guarding a pro. Against the Lakers, wheh Artest had to guard Kobe looked like a JV player in a scrimmage with the Varsity guys. Kobe struggled much more mightily when he was guarded by Shane Battier, yet 9 out of 10 basketball writers probably think that Artest is capable of shutting down four positions. I can't wait until the lakers play the Cavs; Lebron will go off for 30 in the first half, but at halftime all the analysts will talk about how great Artest's defense was on Lebron. Priceless.
Shaq: Great Player 6 years ago, average player now. Shaq's galactic ego has been well-documented; Everywhere he goes, he declares that he'll dominate the NBA and proceeds to take shots at every player and team imaginable. Last year in Phoenix he never stopped ripping on Dwight Howard and purposely went after his own stats to prove that he could still play, team success be damned. And I don't know if any athlete has ever been as hyped up by the media as shaq. Which was fine, until, you know, he went from being a star with a huge ego to a complementary player with an even bigger ego. I have never seen anything as funny as Stuart Scott slurping Shaq's kool-aid on draft night, followed by Mark Jackson reminding him that its 2009 and not 2002.
Julius Peppers, Demarcus Ware, Dwight Freeny, Shawn Merriman: Four football players who go after sacks every play, run or pass, and then use their sack totals to hype themselves up. Even if they have a lower sack total than usual, they whine that they have more quarterback pressures which still makes them spectacular players. The inordinate number of pro-bowls that these guys get voted to is proof of the fact that everyone buys the hype. Fellas, I have two questions: First, if you guys are so good, then why do all your defenses suck? I mean, shouldn't great players make everyone around them better? Second, and more importantly, do any of you guys plan to ever play against the run?
Terrell Owens: Everywhere he goes, T.O. rants about how much of a playmaker he is, how much he's going to revolutionize his new team's offense, and how all the people at his previous locations are retards because they didn't get him the ball 800 times a game. At one time he was a very good, borderline dominant, player. Now he's a somewhat above average receiver who struggles against press coverage and drops so many passes that you would think the quarterback was throwng white-hot anvils instead of footballs. But anytime you hear people in the media talk about T.O., its always the same cliche, "Terrell Owens is a dynamic playmaker, he cannot be single covered, he instantly makes this offense better...". Few people are better at the art of self promotion than T.O.
Bill Parcells and Don Shula: Both guys won a pair of super bowls early, had some good but not great teams later in their careers, yet now are regarded as coaching legends. These guys are amazing at hyping themselves up; they always talk about how they demanded accountability and worked their asses off to get the most out of their players, and all that other cliche nonsense. They've brainwashed their players, who will always sing the praises of these guys at every opportunity possible. And football writers will follow in that praise, always talking glowingly about these guys. But these two are some of the most overrated coaches ever. Parcells rode Lawrence Taylor (and partially Bill Belicheck's) back to a pair of super bowl titles, then had some rather mediocre teams. Shula didn't win anything for the last 20 years of his career, couldn't put even a decent defense and running game around Dan Marino. Shula is especially annoying because of the perfect season: He never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever stops boasting about how that is the greatest accomplishment ever, and nothing that anyone does will ever equate to that, and that the 1972 dolphins are the greatest team ever. His brainwashed players do the same, and it makes me want to light myself on fire.
Shawn Marion: He always told us that he was dominating the league while playing out of position. When he was in Phoenix, Marion told anyone who would listen that he got points despite never having plays run for him, he got rebounds despite being a natural small forward playing the four, that he shoulda been defensive player of the year. He once even argued that he was the true MVP of the Suns (I'm a huge Steve Nash critic...but come on. Seriously?). Now everybody knows that he's overrated, but back then everybody was buying it. I'm still not sure how Shawn got all those All-Star nods. What Marion doesn't understand is this: He was a product of his coach and his point guard; He got most of his points because Mike D'antoni's up-tempo system allowed him to fly up and down and maximize his athletic gifts, and Steve Nash was there to direct him on offense and hit him in the right spots to get him easy buckets. Ever notice how he was moderately productive before Nash/D'antoni arrived, then his production jumped notticeably from 2005-2007, and finally he rapidly declined when he left the suns? Marion always complained about having to go against bigger guys, but that gave him a matchup advantage because so few power forwards have his athleticism; Marion could never be a conventional small forward because his most guys would be athletic enough to stay with him, and he doesn't have anywhere near enough basketball skills necessary to play the 3. There's a reason the suns never ran plays for him: He has iffy (not to mention extremely streaky) jump shot that he relies on too much when he should be attacking the rim, he can't dribble or pass, and he's not the most cerebral player. Marion points out his defense and rebounding, but he's also overrated in that area. Marion gets most of his rebounds on free throws and long rebounds, but he looks soft when he actually has to get tough boards. He's not really a tenacious defender. He just happens to be good there because he's long and athletic, but he's also rather soft and can't dominate people on the defensive end, and usually he spends more time overplaying to create steals than focusing on actually shutting down his man (and if Marion is as good as he says he is on defense, why has he never played on an above average defensive team? He clearly doesn't make his team better at defense).
Amare Stoudemire: Much of what I said about Marion could apply to Amare. He'll always tell you that he's a monster. The media still believes that he's the franchise player that everyone prematurely labeled him as after the 2005 playoffs. I'll buy it when he starts actually caring about defense. Or when he actually develops a single basketball skill. Right now he's just a freak athlete who is a product of Steve Nash's passing and Mike D'antoni's run 'n gun system.