NEWS - DECEMBER 2013
Devils CEO wants to take the hockey team corporate to boost ticket sales
John Brennan December 1st 2013
The fanaticism of the Devils’ hard-core fans was immortalized in an episode of “Seinfeld” almost 20 years ago, when Elaine is appalled that her boyfriend painted his face Devils red for a game against the New York Rangers. The Devils’ new chief executive officer, Scott O’Neil, knew all about the team’s fans when he took the job in August.
“They’re loud, they’re proud and they show,” O’Neil said in a recent interview at the team’s home at the Prudential Center in Newark. “They’re terrific. Look at the 200 [upper] level when it’s packed to the gills, with fans going crazy.”
But for all of that vocal tribalism, the Devils usually have a hard time selling out their arena, just as they often struggled to fill their previous home in the Meadowlands after moving there from Colorado in 1982.
Now O’Neil and the club’s new president, Hugh Weber, say they have done the research and have concluded how they might solve the paradox of a fanatical fan base and a lot of unsold seats — which even the move to their new $385 million arena in 2007 has not resolved.
“Where we have to put some focus and energy is into the corporate community,” said O’Neil, who was a Madison Square Garden executive from 2008 to 2012. “I think that’s what’s missing here. We need to get after them: meet them, tell them what we’re about, and show how this is a good way to drive business.”
Weber, the former president of the New Orleans Hornets of the National Basketball Association, said this missing connection has led to two vital areas of the Prudential Center being “undersold” — luxury suites and the premium, lower-level seats between the goal lines known as “club seats.”
“It’s not that the seats have been priced too high as much as there was not enough focus on small businesses,” Weber said. “These tickets for corporations can be like corporate golf outings in terms of networking — and when you don’t focus on that, you don’t sell them.”
Of course, to the metropolitan area’s business community — and even to many North Jersey business executives — the Devils are not the venerated Rangers of Madison Square Garden and midtown Manhattan. O’Neil himself ran into a similar challenge 20 years ago when, just months after graduating from Villanova University, he began making cold calls, trying to persuade businesses to become corporate sponsors of the Meadowlands’ professional basketball team, the New Jersey Nets.
“Back then, people would say, ‘the Mets?’ And I’d say no, ‘Nets’ — and they’d say, ‘Oh, Jets?’ ” O’Neil recalled. “It was not ideal.”
The Nets also usually struggled in the attendance department in their 35 years in New Jersey while in the shadow of the New York Knicks — and it didn’t help that the franchise never won an NBA championship. New York real estate developer Bruce Ratner bought the Nets a decade ago, and after years of delays he moved the team last year to the $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
But O’Neil said that the Devils, with a high-tech and relatively new arena, an affluent population in the region and considerable mass transit options to Newark, have plenty of reasons to woo North Jersey corporations.
He credited the previous ownership — Jeff Vanderbeek was a principal owner of the team from 2004 until a group led by Philadelphia 76ers basketball owner Josh Harris bought the team in August for a reported $320 million — with having done a “nice job of building the season ticket base” the last three seasons.
But both O’Neil and Weber concluded that the ticket sales force also had been allowed to dwindle to an insufficient level.
“We’re going to triple the sales force,” O’Neil said.
Weber said that the number of employees engaged in ticket sales was important not only for adding new accounts but also for retaining longtime customers.
“If you’re not creating an engagement with fans all season long, it’s a proven fact that [retention] percentages will fall down,” Weber said. “If we have more season-ticket-holder events, more benefits for them, we can raise the renewal rate by 5 percent or so and get to where we should be.”
Early season numbers demonstrate that much work remains to be done by the only major sports franchise with the words “New Jersey” as its prefix.
After missing the playoffs last season, the Devils are 26th in attendance out of 30 National Hockey League teams so far this season, averaging only 14,120 spectators per game as of last week. Last season, the team ranked 20th in attendance — matching their best standing in a decade — in part because of fans’ lingering fondness for the team’s postseason advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2011-12 season.
Frank Vuono, co-founder of 16W Marketing in Rutherford and a Devils season-ticket holder since Day One in 1982, said that O’Neil’s tenure at Madison Square Garden should help him and his staff “think in much bigger terms” with the Devils.
“I would expect the new owners and Scott to be much more aggressive about corporate associations, not only for selling tickets but also ultimately corporate sponsorships,” Vuono said. “I know I’ve been in the marketing business for over 30 years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever received an actual mailing from the Devils.”
Vuono said that ticket sales are more important to NHL teams than to other professional teams; a greater portion of their total revenue comes from that source because the hockey league has much less lucrative national television deals than the other major sports.
“So it’s critical that you figure out how to make those sales,” said Vuono, adding that an immediate turnaround is not likely because many companies make decisions on whether to buy season tickets or suites as much as a year in advance.
But more than 30 years of mediocre Nets and Devils ticket sales in North Jersey do not mean that the trend can’t be reversed eventually, Vuono said.
“The NHL is a quality organization with a great product, and with the demographics here, there’s no reason they can’t sell it out,” Vuono said.
O’Neil agrees, saying of the goal of a full season of sellouts, “That’s what we’re working toward.”
Weber said he has been intrigued by the differences and similarities between post-Katrina New Orleans and Newark, citing “reputations for interesting politics, poor schools and violence.”
But Weber, who left the Hornets job in mid-2012, said that just as New Orleans has bounced back from hard times, he believes that the charter-school experiments in Newark and the prominence of just-departed Mayor Cory Booker have improved the New Jersey city’s image, too.
He said that while some potential ticket buyers have offered resistance by citing a feeling of being intimidated by Newark, the team has found this to be a “false objection” once the discussion continues.
“We talk about how extremely safe and convenient it is, and then we find that the real reasons are something else, like a lack of time or perhaps their children that |they used to take to games at the Meadowlands have grown up,” he said.
Weber also noted a contrast between the cities. “New Orleans has a very cool culture and vibe, but what they lack is infrastructure,” he said. “It’s just the opposite here, where you have the infrastructure, but the city is trying to find its vibe.”
The Devils, Weber and O’Neil hope, can become an integral part of what that vibe eventually becomes.
CBS Sports Network To Televise WFAN’s ‘Boomer & Carton’
Associated Press December 2nd 2013
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – CBS announced on Monday that beginning January 2014 CBS Sports Network will simulcast “Boomer & Carton,” the popular morning show broadcast on CBS RADIO’s WFAN-AM/FM. Combining these two powerful assets within CBS will result in national exposure for the local radio program and premier weekday content for the 24-hour cable home of CBS Sports. The four-hour morning show is hosted by NFL ON CBS studio analyst Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton live Monday-Friday from 6:00-10:00 AM, ET.
“Boomer & Carton” debuted on Sept. 4, 2007, and features local sports talk, news headlines and interviews with current and former sports icons, league personnel and a variety of national celebrities from the entertainment and music industries. The show originates from CBS RADIO’s WFAN studio in New York City.
“The addition of the “Boomer and Carton” show significantly enhances our on-air lineup, adding hours of live and relevant programming to CBS Sports Network each morning,” said Sean McManus, Chairman, CBS Sports. “It is great to be able to welcome one of the nation’s top sports-talk radio shows to the networks of CBS Sports.”
“Boomer and Carton have created one of the industry’s best sports-talk programs that captures all the drama and excitement of New York sports,” said Dan Mason, President and CEO, CBS RADIO. “Together we look forward to presenting the show to the CBS Sports Network audience of enthusiastic sports fans.”
CBS Sports Network is available across the country to more than 99 million homes through local cable, video and telco providers and via satellite on DIRECTV Channel 221 and DISH Network Channel 158. The Network is widely available throughout the New York metropolitan area on Time Warner Cable channel 457 (SD) and 467 (HD); Cablevision channel 143 or 412 (SD) and 793 (HD); Comcast channel 183 or 274 or 732 (SD) and 854 or 1721 (HD); Verizon FiOS channel 94; AT&T U-Verse channel 643 (SD) and 1643 (HD); RCN channel 380 (SD) and 575 (HD); Mediacom channel 171 (SD) and 762 (HD); Service Electric TV channel 114 or 176 (SD) and 614 or 676 (HD); and Blue Ridge Cable TV channel 204 (SD) and 629 (HD). For more information, including a full programming schedule, go to http://www.cbssportsnetwork.com.
Esiason, who quarterbacked the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals during a 14-year NFL career, joined CBS Sports in February 2002 as a studio analyst for THE NFL TODAY, the CBS Television Network’s NFL pre-game show. In addition to hosting WFAN-AM/FM New York’s morning program, Esiason can be heard providing commentary on CBS Sports Radio as part of the network’s “CBS Sports Minute” feature, and calls Monday Night Football, playoff and Super Bowl broadcasts for WestwoodOne.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1988 and awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 1995 for his philanthropic work. He has raised in excess of $100 million for the Boomer Esiason Foundation to fight cystic fibrosis since 1993, when his son was diagnosed with the disease.
Radio veteran Carton, who interned at WFAN during college, has spent more than 20 years in the broadcast industry working for various stations around the country, including notable stops in Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Denver, New York and New Jersey, before coming full-circle and returning to his hometown to co-host WFAN’s morning show.
During the course of his seasoned radio career he has been recognized by numerous publications including the National Association of Broadcasters, Cynopsis, Philadelphia magazine and Talkers, as well as ranking on Politicsnj.com’s Power List of New Jersey’s most politically-influential personalities during his time hosting afternoons at NJ 101.5. Carton serves as the voice of the passionate New York sports fan, while providing comic relief and getting behind some of the biggest sports stories in the Tri-State Area. In 2013, he released his first book, “Loudmouth.”
About CBS Sports Network
CBS Sports Network is available to more than 99 million households across the country. The network airs more than 400 live games annually, showcasing an array of men’s and women’s sports, as well as in-depth studio shows, documentaries and original programs. NFL programming includes the studio shows NFL MONDAY QB and THAT OTHER PREGAME SHOW, the network’s fan-focused Sunday pregame show. CBS Sports Network also provides extensive shoulder programming around CBS Sports’ championship events, including the Super Bowl, The Masters, PGA Championship and US Open Tennis Championships. The Network serves as the national television home for the Arena Football League (AFL) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR), and features myriad other sports, including professional lacrosse and AVP beach volleyball. Weekday news and commentary shows include ROME and LEAD OFF.
WFAN-AM/FM is the original and longest-running sports station in the nation, celebrating its 26th anniversary this past July. With more listeners than any other station of its kind, The FAN provides audiences across the Tri-State Area with live and local programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is home to award-winning personalities Mike Francesa, Boomer Esiason, Craig Carton, Joe Benigno, Evan Roberts and Steve Somers. The station is the flagship broadcast home for several area sports teams, including the New York Giants, New York Yankees, Brooklyn Nets and New Jersey Devils. Listen to WFAN on-air, online at http://www.wfan.com and via the Radio.com app for a variety of mobile devices.
Quest Diagnostics Launches New BRCA 1/2 Test
Andrew D. Smith December 2nd 2013
Quest Diagnostics, a business founded 46 years ago in a medical resident’s two-room apartment, has parlayed the exponential subsequent growth in medical testing into an operation worth $8.5 billion.
The company, which is based in Madison, New Jersey, now employs 41,000 people to provide 3000 different tests at 2100 patient service centers across the United States and around the world. Quest regularly serves about half the nation’s doctors and hospitals, performing at least one test on about 30% of the American population each year. It expects to earn at least $583 million this year.
Quest’s tests range from basic diagnostics—total cholesterol, Pap testing, white blood cell count—to more complex examinations. For example, in October, Quest announced the availability of BRCAvantage, a cutting-edge test that identifies mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are associated with increased risk of inherited breast and ovarian cancers. The test is cheaper than the Myriad Genetics version, and Quest hopes to challenge Myriad for market share.
BRCAvantage comprises four individual tests that are administered on the basis of a patient’s risk level. The test screens for known harmful BRCA 1/2 mutations using nextgeneration sequencing and multiplex ligation dependent probe amplification (MLPA). Identified gene variants are crossreferenced with mutational databases for clinical analysis. To facilitate the implementation of BRCAvantage, Quest announced that it will offer clinicians and patients access to third-party genetic counselors.
A number of the tests that Quest offers were developed, at least in part, inside company labs. Quest sells its many tests under a variety of banners that reflect acquisitions over the years and the creation of specialized subsidiaries: Quest Diagnostics Nichols Institute, AmeriPath, Athena Diagnostics, Berkeley HeartLab, Dermpath Diagnostics, and Focus Diagnostics.
Among the many niche-testing markets served by Quest, the largest may be the market for analysis on blood and other samples collected as part of clinical research projects. Another major testing niche is employee screening. Quest and its ExamOne subsidiary offer not only a comprehensive slate of drug tests but also a wide line of products designed to catch heart problems and diabetes early.
For customers who prefer to do their own testing, Quest sells a wide variety of kits and equipment—under its own name and the Celera, Focus Diagnostics, and InSure brands—designed to detect everything from HIV to warning signs that a patient will reject a transplant organ.
Finally, alone among all the testing businesses, there is Care360, a medical IT company that helps about 200,000 American doctors analyze, share, and store electronic medical records.
All told, these business lines generate more than $7 billion in annual revenue, with net margins of around 20%.
Analysts’ reviews of the company are uneven. Skeptics note that the economic downturn has reduced what people will pay for medical tests and that deficit-fighting efforts may lead the government to cut reimbursements. Bullish analysts note that the Affordable Care Act is expected to add 30 million Americans to the ranks of those with medical insurance and that the number of things we know how to test for keeps increasing rapidly.
Mary Carillo, Cris Collinsworth & Ato Boldon Join NBC Olympics Coverage in Sochi
Assocaited Press December 4th 2013
NBC Olympics announced today that Mary Carillo, Cris Collinsworth and Ato Boldon will serve as correspondents for its coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, offering insights and commentary on the Olympics.
"We're excited to have Mary, Cris and Ato, accomplished athletes and broadcasters, offer a unique perspective on the Winter Games while also telling the stories about the athletes and host country that make the Games so special," said Jim Bell, Executive Producer, NBC Olympics.
The trio joins previously announced correspondent Maria Sharapova, a Sochi native and winner of four Grand Slam singles crowns and a silver medal for Russia in women's singles at the 2012 London Olympics.
More commentators will be announced in the coming weeks
Following is a closer look at NBC Olympics' newly announced Sochi correspondents:
ATO BOLDON: A four-time Olympic medalist and NBC Sports Group's lead track and field analyst, Boldon makes his Winter Olympics debut in Sochi. Boldon made his Olympic broadcast debut as a track and field analyst during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and reprised his role at the 2012 London Olympics. Boldon was nominated for a Sports Emmy Award for "Outstanding Sports Personality" - a first for a track and field analyst - for his work at and leading up to the 2012 London Olympics.
MARY CARILLO: Sochi marks Carillo's 12th Olympic assignment overall and ninth for NBC. She will continue her work presenting vignettes about the people, culture and history of the host country, stylized snapshots that bring viewers unique perspective on the place the world is visiting for two weeks. In addition, Carillo will serve as host and interviewer for a documentary on former Olympic figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, featuring an exclusive interview of Kerrigan, which will air during NBC Olympics' Sochi Winter Games coverage. At prior Olympics for NBC, Carillo served as late night host and correspondent at the 2012 London Olympics, 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Carillo hosted Olympic Ice, a daily figure skating show on USA Network. At the 2004 Athens Games, Carillo earned critical acclaim in her debut as a full-time Olympic host on Bravo's coverage. She also anchored USA Network's live coverage of the gold medal tennis matches in Athens. During NBC's coverage of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, Carillo served as a reporter at Utah Olympic Park, where she covered the bobsled, luge and skeleton competitions, and co-hosted the Closing Ceremony.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: A 14-time Emmy Award-winner and NBC's Sunday Night Football analyst, Collinsworth reprises his role as an Olympic correspondent, a role he served in at the 2010 Vancouver and 2008 Beijing Games. Collinsworth joined NBC Olympics coverage as a track and field reporter at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
THE OLYMPICS BEGIN FEB. 6, 2014
With more Winter Olympic events than ever before, competition for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games from Sochi, Russia, will begin one day prior to the Opening Ceremony. As a result, NBC will begin its Primetime coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 6, one night before the broadcast network provides its traditional Primetime coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, Feb. 7. This marks the first time NBC will air Olympic Primetime coverage before the Opening Ceremony. The Primetime broadcast on Thursday, Feb. 6, is scheduled to include competition in snowboard slopestyle (men's and women's), in which two-time gold medalist Shaun White is expected to compete in slopestyle's Olympic debut; team figure skating, which is also in the Olympics for the first time; and women's freestyle moguls.
Super Bowl 2014: New Jersey out in the cold?
Laura Petrecca December 7th 2013
It's epic gridiron action. Two well-known entities going head-to-head in a Feb. 2 football game that will bring power, notoriety and money.
But this isn't about who will be the 2014 Super Bowl champ. This is about two neighboring states - New York and New Jersey - that each want its share of the hundreds of millions in economic spending that Super Bowl XLVIII is slated to bring in.
MORE: Fox has already sold out the Super Bowl ads. They're on one team as official game co-hosts, but they'll compete for hotel guests, partygoers, restaurant reservations and overall bragging rights.
New Jersey's vocal governor, Chris Christie, has stressed that the game's East
SPORTS: Seattle Seahawks are the Super Bowl favorite
Rutherford, NJ stadium is on his state's turf, saying in a NFL Media interview that as long as everyone understands the Super Bowl "is in New Jersey, not New York, then I'm fine."
Yet, "stadium location and Chris Christie notwithstanding, this Super Bowl is all about New York," says sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman. "That's where the action is: the hotels, restaurants, nightlife, business headquarters, media outlets, pre-game party sites, you name it."
"New York will shine brightly, with most all of the branding and spending happening there," he says. "New Jersey will mainly be an afterthought."
And as predicted by East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella,New York City has garnered most of the Super Sunday attention so far.
The Big Apple is hosting one of the biggest attractions around the game: Super Bowl Boulevard, which is a ten-block stretch down Broadway that will have concerts, athlete autograph signings and a seven-story-tall toboggan slide ride. And deep-pocketed companies such as DirecTV and Anheuser-Busch InBev have selected Manhattan as the location for their lavish, star-studded parties.
Bill La Rosa, director of the Hudson County division of cultural and tourism affairs in New Jersey, says his North Jersey region is "working hard" to grab a sliver of the spotlight -- and spending -- that often goes to New York City. But it's a challenge.
MetLife Stadium "is in one (state) and you have a lot of parties and official activation in another," he says.
He's well aware that New Jersey is the butt of many jokes, but he says that even "the underdog of states in this country" deserves a chance to show the world that it can be a desirable tourist destination.
"New York doesn't get hurt, and we all benefit if the visitor knows they have the opportunity to do things in New York and New Jersey," he says.
If potential visitors knew all that New Jersey had to offer, they may extend vacation time in both New York and New Jersey, turning what could be a quick trip to New York City into a "long-haul" vacation.
"It's a win-win for both states," he says.
With the massive attention coming on Super Sunday, New Jersey will get a chance to showcase its state - but it has to figure out how to best communicate its message, says Paul Swangard, managing director of the James H. Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.
It "needs to be able to use this event to communicate to the millions and millions of people watching at home that New Jersey is a place to pay attention to," he says.
But it may need a hail mary.
New York City is like the successful, attention-grabbing older sibling who has "a fabulous reputation" for hosting amazing parties, while New Jersey is the younger brother in the shadow, he says. "New York always stands to be seen as the big brother."
Some things that put New Jersey at a home-field disadvantage:
Transportation troubles: There are still questions about the stadium parking restrictions and no clear answers on how mass transportation will work. "We're still waiting to hear how people will have access the stadium parking lot," says Himanshu Dadarwala, owner of a New Jersey Econo Lodge so close to MetLife stadium that "you can hear the crowd" on game days. Without that information, he's not able to answer perspective guest's questions about how they can get to the game from his hotel or plan out transportation for them. Official details on the transportation plans surrounding the game are slated to be announced on Monday.
Big-spending sponsors only want New York: Although there are many New Jersey bars and restaurants that are close to both the MetLife Stadium and Manhattan, most sponsors will only consider the bright lights of New York City for their affairs. "We here in New Jersey are having a tough time finding sponsors," La Rosa says. "We are working hard and just hope they will look at New Jersey and realize that there is huge consumer buying power here."
Media outlets will mainly be in Manhattan: Not only is New York City the headquarters for some of the biggest media companies in the country, journalists that aren't based there will have a Manhattan venue -- the Sheraton Hotel in midtown - as their official media center base camp.
New York has myriad must-see tourist sights. "If I'm a so-called everyday fan and I get this rare opportunity to go to the Super Bowl, I'm not going to miss the opportunity to see Times Square or other touristy sights," says David Carter, executive director or the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute.
Robert Tuchman, president of sports and entertainment marketing company Goviva, is planning activities for 750 individuals coming to town for Super Bowl-related events, and says "not one person has requested to be in New Jersey."
But all hope isn't lost for New Jersey, says Steve Rosner, partner and co-founder of 16W Marketing, which is based in Rutherford, NJ. near the stadium.
Since the two teams that will play in the Big Game haven't been decided yet, there is still time for New Jersey businesses to aggressively market to folks from those areas who attend the game.
"New Jersey hotels, restaurants and catering halls will be able to make up for some of the pre-spending that has already been done in New York," he says.
Local business people "cannot be discouraged about what has transpired to date," he says. "They've got to be proactive -- rather than reactive -- in securing business once the teams are solidified."
Chris Long Playing Leading Role In Rams’ Rise
Jonathan Webb December 18th 2013
When attempting to summarize his six-year NFL journey, Chris Long speaks as someone who would likely assign only ‘incomplete’ as a grade.
The assessment would speak nothing of his individual contributions since being chosen with the second overall pick in the 2008 draft. It would overlook the fact that Long has fulfilled many of the hopes the Rams held for him when they installed him as a starting defensive end following that high draft pick. Serving as a mainstay along the Rams’ defensive front for the last six years, Long has led the Rams with 48.5 sacks, which also ranks 14th in the NFL in that time span. If he reaches 10 or more sacks this year, Long would join Kevin Carter and Leonard Little as the only St. Louis Rams to tally double-digit sacks in three consecutive seasons.
The grade would only be attributed to the considerable promise that the future appears to hold for Long and his teammates, with the objective being a consistently contending team in St. Louis for the first time in a decade.
If there is an ideal player to personify the blue-collar, physical style of play that has been the trademark of the Jeff Fisher era in St. Louis, it would be hard to identify anyone more fitting than Long. During his first preseason as the Rams’ head coach, Fisher likened Long to veteran end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who accumulated 38.5 sacks in five seasons under Fisher with the Tennessee Titans. Similar to Vanden Bosch, Long has provided not only a high-motor defensive end who rarely leaves the field during a game, but has also displayed the durability to maintain that presence each week.
Few defensive players have provided both the production and week-to-week presence as Long has since 2008. Since that rookie season, Long has not missed a single game, a feat that only Minnesota’s Jared Allen and Chicago’s Julius Peppers can match among NFL defensive ends.
As for his rate of production, while his numbers through three-quarters of the 2013 season may lag behind what he has become accustomed to in recent years, his presence has contributed to the success of the entire line.
Third-year defensive end Robert Quinn is off to a career year, leading the NFC with 15 sacks. Often times, the unsung contributor to Quinn’s success has been Long, as the veteran end’s presence has limited teams’ abilities to double-team the Rams’ premier pass-rusher.
“What happens is he forces that thing to (DE) Robert (Quinn) sometimes because we have two guys on the outside that really do a good job of restricting the quarterback from running the ball and collapsing the pocket,” defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. “The one that gets the one-on-one usually wins. He’s been a great asset to us, a great combo.”
True to Walton’s assessment, Long and Quinn entered this week having combined for 21.5 sacks on the season, third-most by any pass-rushing duo in the NFL, just a half-sack behind Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. As a unit, the Rams’ defensive line has accounted for 38 of the team’s 41 sacks entering Week 14, with Long and Quinn serving as the leaders of a deep and talented group.
“I’m sure at times, it’s a decision they have to make,” Long said. “Who do they want to take away? Do they want to slide to Will (Hayes) who is a terrific inside rusher. Do they want to chip me? Do they want to chip Rob? If Eugene (Sims) is out there, he rushes well inside. It’s really a group effort getting to the quarterback. A lot of people don’t realize how much of a team effort it is, but when you have the best pass-rusher in football on the other side of you—and I do—it’s a pretty nice perk.”
The Long Road Back
Long doesn’t shy away from expressing the weight of the collective frustration pent up over five losing seasons in the NFL. There is little left to the imagination when Long expounds upon the beginning of an NFL career that showed team success would come slower than any of his teammates envisioned.
There was the 7-9 2010 season, a year that left the Rams a single win from postseason play, only to turn in a 2-14 season in an injury-plagued 2011. The team struggles wore on Long, currently the longest-tenured Ram.
“For a while there, it was tough,” Long said. “That being said, being better now and knowing what we have here, losses are more disappointing now because we know what we’re capable of. It was tougher being up and down earlier in the season, and hopefully we have this thing moving in the right direction.”
In the first year of Fisher’s regime, the Rams improved to 7-8-1, the team’s best regular-season finish since 2006. Similar to the days following the 2010 season, last year’s finish produced a considerable amount of optimism for the future. However, Long sees far more staying power in the latest resurgence for the only NFL franchise he’s known.
“We have the faith that it’s going to get better,” Long said. We had the faith before, but there was less evidence as to why we were going to succeed. We’ve exhibited that we can play with the best of the best against a tough schedule and we’re a physical football team. That’s the great part. To be on a team that’s physical is awesome, and I never take that for granted. That’s something that if it’s a fistfight of a game, we can come out on top.”
For Long, the defining moments in becoming sold on Fisher and the upward direction of the Rams organization came during two weekends last fall. In a pair of meetings with the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams emerged with a win and a tie, faring better against the eventual NFC champions than any other team during the regular season.
“We’re a different team completely—talent-wise, scheme-wise, belief,” Long said. “The belief thing is huge. It’s built through success, and we’re trying to build that success. We feel really good about ourselves right now, but we have a long way to go. We have the ability to take those next steps, but we have to take those steps. When you look at San Francisco, they went to the Super Bowl last year. We went toe-to-toe with them and, quite frankly, beat them up a bit. As a D-lineman, I hadn’t been on a team before that had been able to impose their will on another team that was really physical and well-respected. Seeing how we could compete in the division and with some of the things we’ve done this year, they’re just eye-openers. It just goes to show you if we can be consistent, how good we can be.”
Despite his seniority status among what began the year as the league’s youngest NFL team, Long prefers to view himself as a cog in the proverbial wheel, identifying leadership within the defensive unit as a committee effort.
“I’m just a part of that puzzle with leadership here,” Long said. “We’ve got a lot of good leaders. In the D-line room, we’re blessed to just have guys who lead by example. William Hayes is a guy who just works his tail off. He’s a leader, and I like to just set an example for the younger guys. I think accountability and dependability are key. It’s not always about what you say to them.”
While he may be measured in how he communicates his leadership verbally, his efforts on the practice field and in games have been most influential. For young, emerging players like Quinn, the example placed on the field on a daily basis by Long, as well as other holdovers from lean seasons in St. Louis has proven beneficial.
“With him and James, those guys have been through the struggles,” Quinn said. “They know the potential that we have as well as other guys. They’re just ready for a change, and they know we can only control one week at a time, but also look at the big picture. “I think it makes him hungrier to perform better and help this team win. The guys on this team who have gone through the struggles and don’t want to go through that again, they just stay focused and get better each and every day.”
While the signs surrounding this Rams team have yielded much excitement and optimism in the present, Long knows the potential of the only franchise he’s ever known remains far from fulfilled. The floor has been sufficiently raised in St. Louis, and Long has played a primary role in its most recent advancement.
“It’s gratifying to be on the ascent right now,” Long said. “Now when you show up to work, you know you have a chance to win. When you have a chance to compete, and if you execute well and play to your potential, we can beat a lot of people.”