The New Kings of the NFL Featured on a Regional Four-Cover Series of This Week’s SI 2013 NFL Preview

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 2013 NFL Preview—on newsstands now—breaks down the 2013 NFL season with 68 pages of scouting reports chock full of analysis, stats and conference power rankings for all 32 teams, as well as the annual predictions from TheMMQB.com editor and SI senior writer Peter King. Click here to see King’s 2013 predictions.

Four young quarterbacks who enjoyed breakout seasons in 2012 – Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson – are featured on a regional four-cover series of this week’s SI. Each of “The New Kings” calls to mind a Super Bowl champion. Jenny Vrentas writes on why RG3 is like John Elway; Robert Klemko tells you why Luck is like Peyton Manning; Austin Murphy describes why Kaepernick is like Steve Young; and Jim Trotter writes about why Wilson is like Drew Brees.

WHY RG3 = JOHN ELWAY BY JENNY VRENTAS (PAGE 49)

COV0902sara.eg.rock.okcity.LO.indd“If you’ve got a guy who’s got the talented arm and he can make off-scheduled plays—that gives you a chance to win Super Bowls,” says Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, referring to John Elway (who he won two Super Bowls with in Denver) and his current quarterback, Robert Griffin III. While Griffin’s speed makes him unique among quarterbacks, Vrentas says “he is more than a runner just as Elway was more than a passer.”

Dan Reeves, the Broncos’ coach for the first decade of Elway’s career, sees a similarity in how RG3, like Elway, can scramble, keep an eye downfield and connect on a big pass play. As Elway got older, he came to rely much more on his arm than on his legs. “That’s going to be one of the key things with RG3: Is he going to be able to make that transition?” Reeves says. “He’s fortunate to have a coach that’s had that experience.”

WHY ANDREW LUCK = PEYTON MANNING BY ROBERT KLEMKO (PAGE 50)

COV0902woodstock.LO.inddAfter replacing alltime great Colts quarterback Peyton Manning last year and leading his team to an improbable playoff berth, it’s inevitable that Andrew Luck would draw comparisons to Manning. Klemko writes, “Luck has the arm strength that Manning, now the Broncos’ QB, once boasted, and the same obsession with preparation. But there’s one way in which he’s very different.”

Manning was known to foster tension in practice and be very hard on his teammates. Luck is a different breed. “In practice, he has fun,” says Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who has played with both quarterbacks. “He’s like a big kid out there playing Pee Wee football.” While he is honored to be compared to Manning, Luck does not think he should be after only one season in the NFL. “Peyton set the bar for being a quarterback,” Luck says, “and certainly for being a quarterback in this town. But I do not live in Peyton Manning’s world. I feel like the media has made me out to be more like him than I really am.”

WHY COLIN KAEPERNICK = STEVE YOUNG BY AUSTIN MURPHY (PAGE 53)

COV0902merced.kaep.lo.inddColin Kaepernick, a native of Wisconsin, grew up idolizing Brett Favre and admired his supreme self-assurance and inclination to attack. And while Kaepernick’s allegiance remained with Favre and the Packers when his family moved to California when he was four, he became aware of and intrigued by the play of 49ers quarterback Steve Young. “He was different from most quarterbacks, as far as the scrambling, what he was able to do with his legs,” Kaepernick says. “And he went out and won games.” Murphy says he has far more in common with Young than Favre: “Both played in the Western Athletic Conference (Young at BYU, Kaepernick at Nevada); both wound up with the Niners; both became embroiled in quarterback controversies that ended with each rival being traded to the Chiefs (Joe Montana in1993, Alex Smith last March).”

Kaepernick has not had to endure the same trials as Young, who took 10 seasons to make it to the Super Bowl. Yet his rapid rise has not altered his work ethic. “He’s had an outstanding off-season,” Jim Harbaugh says. “Top-notch.” “During OTAs I’d get here pretty early,” says wide receiver Kyle Williams. “This is before our workouts. I see this guy out on the field running 200-yard sprints. Kap works harder than everybody.”

“If you don’t do that,” explains Kaepernick, “people aren’t gonna respect you as a leader, they’re not gonna want to follow you, because you’re not putting in the same work they are.”

WHY RUSSELL WILSON = DREW BREES BY JIM TROTTER (PAGE 54)

COV0902merced.wilson.lo.inddEver since he was a teenager second-year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has admired Drew Brees. Wilson saw a lot of himself in the Saints’ star – a player who refused to accept critic’s contention that he was too short.  As Trotter writes, “He thinks, throws, talks, prepares and generally carries himself like the former Super Bowl MVP, who is as classy as he is talented.”

When the two quarterbacks met at last year’s Pro Bowl, Brees helped Wilson correct a flaw in his footwork. Yet for all of their similarities, Brees sees a major difference. “He’s more talented than I am,” Brees says. “He’s more athletic. He grasped the NFL game at a faster pace than I did. He has not only great leadership qualities, great charisma, but also the It factor that you look for in a young quarterback. I couldn’t be more impressed. You watch the road he traveled, and you’re happy for him and root for him.”


The Maddest 2 Minutes in Sports

ImageIn four of the last five Super Bowls, the game has been determined by a turbulent, exciting final drive. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Austin Murphy (@si_austinmurphy) takes us through the history of the two-minute drills that make NFL games, especially Super Bowls, so memorable. From Unitas to Montana to Manning (Eli, that is), Murphy breaks down some of the most iconic drives. The piece also dives into the drill’s evolution, such as communication between quarterback and coach via headset, the growth of hurry-up offenses and the intense preparation of all the possible late game scenarios coaches stress to get ready for games.

“There’s so much more emphasis on [hurry-up offenses]. Especially in OTAS and training camp,” says new Cardinals coach and former Colts interim coach Bruce Arians (PAGE 34), who helped rookie quarterback Andrew Luck become a two-minute maestro this season.

Murphy also poses the question of which Super Bowl quarterback has the better chance to lead a winning two-minute drill in this year’s game. Will it be Joe Flacco, who already has 10 fourth-quarter comebacks to his name, or the elusive Colin Kaepernick, who showed at Nevada that he has the potential to be a “future maestro of the 2MD”?

“Flacco’s guys know he can do it. They’re going to have a confidence that the 49ers can’t have because they haven’t done it,” says Randy Cross (PAGE 32), the former 49ers center who was a part of in the winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII.


Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?

Lewis cover 2 4 13

Ravens linebacker and team leader Ray Lewis is featured under the headline “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” on the cover of the Feb. 4, 2013 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday.

In a special piece for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Mark Oppenheimer (@markopp1), religion columnist for The New York Times, tackles the paradox of big-time football: The sport with the biggest Christian presence, most famous Christian athletes and most religious leaders affiliated with teams features a culture that seemingly goes against the values of Christianity.

 “Church and pro football both revolve around Sunday, and 50 years into our national experiment of mixing the two, it is not at all clear that faith has won the day,” writes Oppenheimer (PAGE 40).

Oppenheimer notes what has become customary for many NFL players: They point to heaven, pray on their knees and thank Jesus in post-game interviews. This Sunday at the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis will wear his customary black T-shirt under his uniform that says PSALMS 91 and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, if successful on a big play, will kiss either his tattoo of the words GOD TO GLORY or the one that reads FAITH.

Justin Tuck, New York Giants defensive end and leader of the Giants’ team Bible study says:

“A lot of people rely on the game for their identity. My happiness and joy aren’t based on how well I play or if I get a sack. I should live a life that God is pleased with, not live a life total strangers are pleased with on Sunday.” (PAGE 40)

However, Oppenheimer wonders if the violent nature of the game, not to mention the lifestyle of many wealthy NFL players contradicts what the Christianity stands for. He writes:

“Football brings a level of violence that is deeply at odds with Christ’s message.” (PAGE 41)

He also notes that the Bible is filled with passages that emphasize the weak over the strong and the poor at the expense of the rich, and that it instructs followers to keep the Sabbath holy.

On the contrary, others argue, including many religious leaders, that football builds character and thereby makes a man more of a Christian—a commingling of faith and football now accepted by fans.

“God loves us just the way we are” says Les Steckel, a former NFL head and assistant coach, who now is president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, “but at the same time he does require excellence. And in the NFL, performance is ultimate.” (PAGE 38)

Former Redskins and Cardinals running back Tim Hightower, a devout Christian, understands the dilemma faced by religious football players. Hightower says:

“You have to stop and ask yourself: Am I a football player who is Christian, or a Christian who is a football player?” (PAGE43)

Download a high res image of the cover here


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the Cover of This Week’s Sports Illustrated

SF Cover 1 21 13San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for more yards—181—than any other quarterback in any NFL game, threw for another 261 and finished with four TDs in a 45-31 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Divisional playoff last Saturday, is on the cover of the Jan. 21, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday. This is the first time Kaepernick has appeared on the cover, and the first time a 49er was featured on the cover since Jan. 23, 2012.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Austin Murphy (@si_austinmurphy) says that after one of the most electrifying playoff debuts in NFL History, Kaepernick has silenced critics (the college coaches who didn’t find him worthy of a scholarship; the NFL teams who picked five quarterbacks before him in the ’11 draft; and the fans who preferred Alex Smith).

 “I had a lot to prove,” Kaepernick shouted on the field after the game. “A lot of people doubted me and my ability to lead this team (PAGE 41).”

 Perhaps it was fate that the 49er quarterback led his team to a win over the Packers. Kaepernick’s mother Theresa told Murphy about a letter she found that Colin wrote to himself as a fourth grader. It said in part: I hope I go to a good college in football, then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years (PAGE 39).


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