The past season was memorable for NFL fans and participants alike. The kiddie quarterback trend expanded. So did the run-option trend. The officials' strike made headlines but had little other significant bearing in the end --- the regulars proved just as bad, if more suave. Love him or hate him, Ray Lewis retired a winner. And, for the first time, brothers faced off in the Super Bowl as head coaches.
Those brothers both headmanned strong contenders. John Harbaugh's Ravens began the season looking like a sure bye. Jim Harbaugh's Niners looked to be a shoo-in for the NFCW. But the most stunning similarity between the two, other than their conference-champion status and their well-matched genes, was that both made stunningly risky moves on teams that seemed playoff bound already. But most failed to see the method in the madness --- the moves were both aligned with taking advantage of the fluctuating rule book and its striped disciples.
The Niners were doing fine when suddenly Alex Smith lost his job due to a brief injury. His coach made the extremely controversial decision to switch quarterbacks in November. That switch was aimed straight at the rule book. The rise of the untouchable quarterback has opened the door for scramblers. They don't have to be great field generals (though it helps), but if they can run and maintain the common sense to either stick to the sidelines or slide, there's really no way to stop them. Whether that state of affairs remains will, of course, be dictated by money. If the RG3 disasters proliferate, something will happen unless the NFL decides that the era of disposable quarterbacks is at hand. But, however that all works out, credit Harbaugh with exploiting the current trend in timely fashion.
Back in Baltimore the Ravens, still leading the AFCN, had hit a slump. John Harbaugh shockingly fired respected OC Cam Cameron (in December!) and promoted Jim Caldwell, whose resume seemed to read "cheerleader for Peyton Manning". Again, the results were spectacular as Joe Flacco proceeded to showcase offensive brilliance not seen before from him and to revive his team just in time for a playoff hot streak that culminated in a ring. There was a rules-based method to this madness too. Pass interference was becoming too much of a factor with such as Peyton Manning able to draw flags almost at will, and it was calling the credibility of too many games into question. In apparent response, the NFL moved away from it on both offense and defense. The result was a bonanza for large and powerful receivers who could muscle their way open without fear of drawing a flag. Caldwell's new offense was predicated on taking advantage of the situation, and the Ravens had guys who could execute the plan. It worked.
Each brother made a bold (and cold) midseason move that brought tepid support at best from many experts, and each pulled it off. Each case turned out to be a business decision made with foresight. Mark that as another item in the list of memorable happenings for 2012, perhaps in retrospect the most significant and unique one. How often are teams that change coaching staffs in December or quarterbacks in November rewarded with a Super Bowl berth? How about both?
Probably about as often as a jump-ball offense wins a title. The confluence of rare events occurred because in each case it meant exploiting rule changes better than anyone else. In reality, Harbaughs don't rule. Cold hatchet-man tactics don't rule. The rules rule. Nothing new there.