Honoring an Alaska man who coached football and tragically lost his life at 35. Plus answering reader questions about Tony Romo's MVP chances, Chip Kelly's stubborn play-calling and the passing of an overlooked NFL legend
Last week, a skier on Alaska’s Rainbow Mountains was killed when he was caught in an avalanche. His name was Erik Peterson. He was 35.
I learned about Peterson from his friend and fellow football coach, Rick Vanden Boom. Peterson lived in Delta Junction, a small community roughly 100 miles south of Fairbanks. A 2002 University of Massachusetts-Amherst graduate, he was a decathlete for the Minutemen.
Peterson was a simple man. He lived in a 10-foot-by-12-foot dry cabin and could fit most of his belongings in the back of his pickup truck. He loved Alaska for its backcountry skiing and mountain climbing, but he also was an avid football fan. He was an assistant coach at West High School and idolized Vince Lombardi. Peterson spent hours every Sunday watching NFL games. For the past 15 years, he had been the commissioner of a 12-team fantasy football league of men he met across the country.
Here's more about Peterson from two men who knew him well:
Rick Vanden Boom, friend and fellow coach...
Erik was always reading about backcountry skiing, mountain climbing and how to become a better coach. That was his life.
We were both assistants on the team and worked hard the first two weeks to try and prepare our team for the season. Erik's knowledge of football was incredible. He undoubtedly was the brains behind the operation. Erik taught football well, but more importantly he taught the young men how to live a good life and to be good people.
Sundays were all NFL. We knew we had the best schedule in the country—9 a.m. kickoff and Sunday night football started at 4:30 p.m. Erik loved to get into a good argument, especially over football. Vince Lombardi was a football god, but he always would argue with himself whether Parcells was the better coach because he took a team from worst to first. He always referenced The MMQB. Peter King's column was how he started his week late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
When Erik asked me if I would join his fantasy league this year, he made me fill out a questionnaire about my fantasy football experience, beliefs, etc. to make sure I would take it seriously. There’s no buy-in for the league; Erik kept an updated tab on records, stats and matchups anyway.
Last week, I was matched up against Erik. Initially I pulled all of my players to forfeit, but when I posted my intent on the message board, everyone in the league opposed. They knew Erik would be irate if someone wasn't giving 100 percent, even in fantasy football.
Erik was a great friend who was just starting to settle down his adventurous life. His girlfriend and her son were looking to relocate near Delta, buy a house, and hopefully start a family someday. He was simple and humble, but affected so many young athletes’ lives.
Gregg Wojcik, friend and fellow coach...
What's been personally difficult for me to deal with is thinking of Erik’s last moments. What was he thinking when he knew he was defeated?
What has given me some comfort is going back to some Vince Lombardi quotes that I remember Erik saying to the team. Erik loved Vince Lombardi. Lombardi quotes were almost like Bible quotes to Erik.
The Lombardi quote that gives me the most source of peace however is this one, and I'd like to think this was Eric's mindset just before he passed.
After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.
Rest assured Erik, you made the world a better place in which to live.
* * *
Now for your email:
TONY ROMO FOR MVP. I think Tony Romo should be MVP. Hear me out. By the numbers, he has had a good but not great season: 110.4 QB rating, 28 TDs and eight interceptions. Not a whole lot of yards, but that's to be expected with such a good running game.
But Romo was hobbled or absent in four games this year: the opener against San Francisco when he was coming back from surgery; the game against Washington when he was hurt; the following game against the Cards; and on the short week against Philadelphia. The Cowboys went 0-4 in these four games.
But when Romo has been able to move around OK, the Cowboys are 10-0, including seven wins on the road. He has 26 TDs to three interceptions, completes 72% of his passes, and has a QB rating of 124. Those are pretty good numbers.
While I appreciate what DeMarco Murray has done, the fact is the Cowboys can't win without a healthy Romo. If one Cowboy deserves consideration this year, I think it should be No. 9.
—Jean-Baptiste, New York
Excellent and persuasive case that you make for Romo. I truly appreciate how Romo has improved as a player and particularly as a player in the big moment. The MVP discussion is particularly difficult when you get to teams that have multiple candidates and or multiple great players. The biggest problem Romo faces, as I see it, is competition from within: Murray. When a running back is on course for nearly 2,000 yards and the biggest difference in the improvement of a team is the presence of a good all-around back, that takes away from the case of a quarterback who is playing extremely well.
There’s one other factor that plays against Romo. Other quarterbacks are having either the best seasons of their lives or close to that. What to do with Andrew Luck? And Ben Roethlisberger? I don't see Romo as a top-three pick for the award—right now. But there is still 1/8th of the season remaining, and my mind certainly could be changed from Aaron Rodgers to someone else in the next 13 days.
CHIP KELLY IS TO BLAME. Chip Kelly is a good coach, but he needs to be held accountable for back-to-back losses. You don’t win in the NFL when you only have the ball for 18 minutes a game. There are times when it’s wise to slow down and give your defense a rest. He cost his team any chance vs. Seattle and gave the Cowboys an easy 21-0 lead by not slowing down after the 14-0 start.
While I would agree with you that Kelly should take his share of the blame, my feeling is Mark Sanchez deserves the lions’ share for not being able to sustain drives, particularly early. You have to rely on your players to make plays whether you’re running a fast-paced offense or using all of the play clock. Kelly’s choice has been to play the same regardless of whether he has an efficient quarterback or not. If he slows it down, his players will notice. And his players will certainly think, “He’s slowing the game down because he doesn’t have faith in us to play fast and to make plays." So I think Kelly is in a tough spot there.
My only quibble with how Kelly is calling the offense right now: I would use Darren Sproles more. Sproles had five touches against Dallas. That’s poor coaching in my opinion. When you aren’t efficient throwing the ball downfield, you need to get the ball in the hands of your most explosive player more often—at least 13 to 15 times a game. I wouldn’t advise that for 16 games, but I would advise it down the stretch in games you absolutely must win.
WASHINGTON IN THE WRONG. Love your column. Surprised that you didn't mention Santana Moss and other Washington players verbally assaulting the officiating crew after they got the call right on the Robert Griffin play. I've never seen players attack officials like that, ever.
I thought it was bush league. What they didn’t see, obviously, was Robert Griffin III losing possession of the ball (even though it was hard to see) as he crossed the goal line. There is a larger issue at play when you see something like that. That larger issue is the control a coach has over his team. In my opinion, that reflected poorly on Jay Gruden. And Gruden, I hope, told his team either after the game or on Monday that the out-of-control display, particularly by Moss, is unacceptable.
QB HITS AND PENALTIES. Do you think the two plays that probably ended the seasons for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage would have been penalties if they were more well-known quarterbacks? I think flags should have been thrown on both. A leg whip broke Fitzpatrick's leg and the hit on Savage was at his knees and looked the same as the hit that took out Tom Brady a few years ago. Your thoughts?
For the record, the hit that took out Brady a few years ago was later outlawed—diving for an unprotected player’s lower leg as he threw. I’m sure you’ll think of this as naïve, but a referee monitoring hits on a quarterback understands that it doesn’t matter if it’s Tom Brady or Tom Savage who gets hit: If the official watching the play ignores a hit that is seen to be a penalty by the league office, the official will get graded down for that play and it significantly affects his chance to officiate a postseason game. When I tell people this, they often roll their eyes. When I traveled with Gene Steratore and his crew for a story in 2013, there was a hit that Steratore didn’t call on Case Keenum, the Houston backup quarterback, that very well could have been the difference between Steratore working a playoff game and working the Super Bowl last year. That is the reality of officiating in the NFL.
RIP FUZZY. Nothing to say about Fuzzy Thurston passing away Sunday morning?
—Ric, Racine, Wisc.
I definitely should have mentioned the passing of Thurston, at 80, over the weekend. I never met Thurston, who was a beloved figure not only on those Packers teams, but also to Packers alums and people throughout the state of Wisconsin—in part because he was a Wisconsin native who started his career with the Colts and moved on to play for Green Bay. Thurston didn’t get much credit for being a member of the 1958 Baltimore team that played one of the greatest games of all time, the NFL championship game victory over the Giants that year. He went on to be a member of all five of the Green Bay championship teams, and I know Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi valued his dogged, unselfish presence and what he contributed to those great teams. He’ll be missed by many throughout the upper Midwest. Thanks for making sure that he was remembered.
[widget widget_name="SI Newsletter Widget”]