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Root (or boot) all 32 NFL teams

Coming Thursday: Woody's Winners for Week 1! In the meantime, mental_floss has your football fix right here. Even if you're not an NFL fan, now that the new season is almost upon us, someone, somewhere will ask you your opinion about a team or two. We've done the work for you by scouring last year's pro football statistics, so whether you want to "talk up" an NFL team or rant about how horrible they are, one of these factoids should fit the bill. Enjoy!

ARIZONA CARDINALS

  • A good sign from last season: The Cardinals completed 94.7% of their field goals in 2009, best in the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Cardinals were worst in the NFL in 2009 with 18 lost fumbles.

ATLANTA FALCONS

  • A good sign from last season: The Falcons committed only 78 penalties in 2009, fewest in the NFC.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Falcons defense allowed opponents a 43.5% third-down completion rate in 2009, highest in the NFC.

Click "more" to view the positives and negatives of each of the NFL's other 30 teams.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • A good sign from last season: The Ravens allowed only 3.4 yards per rush in 2009, best in the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Ravens had trouble in close games in 2009; 5 of their 7 losses were by six or fewer points.

BUFFALO BILLS

  • A good sign from last season: The Bills defense led the AFC in 2009 with 29 interceptions.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Bills scored only 6 rushing TDs in 2009, worst in the AFC.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • A good sign from last season: The Panthers boasted two 1000-yard rushers with 17 TD between them.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Panthers allowed 24.8 yards per kickoff return in 2009, highest in the NFC.

CHICAGO BEARS

  • A good sign from last season: The Bears were the only NFL team in 2009 not to allow any opponent a return/recovery TD.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Bears rushed for 71 first downs in 2009, fewest in the NFL.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

  • A good sign from last season: The Bengals averaged 11.9 yards per punt return in 2009, best in the AFC.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Bengals lost 12 fumbles in 2009, twice as many as their defense recovered.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

  • A good sign from last season: The Browns scored 3 touchdowns on kickoff returns in 2009, most in the AFC.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Browns scored in single-digits in 7 of their first 11 games in 2009.

DALLAS COWBOYS

  • A good sign from last season: The Cowboys scored at least 25 points in five of their first 7 games in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Cowboys didn't return a kickoff for more than 41 yards last year, worst in the NFL.

DENVER BRONCOS

  • A good sign from last season: The Broncos defense forced 30 fumbles in 2009, most in the AFC.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Broncos won their first six games of 2009, but then had two four-game losing streaks.

DETROIT LIONS

  • A good sign from last season: The Lions' 101-yard interception return for a TD was 2009's longest.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Lions were the only team to lose to the Rams in 2009, and they did so at home.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

  • A good sign from last season: The Packers scored three or more TDs in 15 of 16 games last season.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Packers led the NFL with 118 penalties in 2009.

HOUSTON TEXANS

  • A good sign from last season: The Texans led the NFL with 290.9 passing yards per game in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Texans' longest rush of 2009 was 32 yards, worst in the NFL.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

  • A good sign from last season: The Colts completed 49.2% of their third-down conversions in 2009 to lead the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Colts allowed opponents to complete 45% of their third-down conversions in 2009, tied for worst in the NFL.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

  • A good sign from last season: The Jaguars had the fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards in the NFL in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Jaguars were sacked 44 times in 2009 while their defense only doled out 14.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

  • A good sign from last season: The Chiefs kicked 41 punts inside the opponents' 20, most in the NFL in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Chiefs had as many fumbles as touchdowns (31 of each) in 2009.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

  • A good sign from last season: The Dolphins scored 22 rushing TDs in 2009, tying them for the league lead.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Dolphins defense allowed 14.2 yards per catch, worst in the NFL in 2009.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

  • A good sign from last season: The Vikings scored 27 or more points in 13 games in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: Three of the Vikings' four 2009 losses came to non-playoff teams.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

  • A good sign from last season: The Patriots earned 397.3 yards per game, best in the AFC.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Patriots' 39-yards-per-punt average was worst in the NFL.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

  • A good sign from last season: The Saints scored 9 TDs on returns and recoveries in 2009, three more than any other team.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Saints allowed 14.3 yards per punt return in 2009, worst in the NFL.

NEW YORK GIANTS

  • A good sign from last season: The Giants only punted for touchback twice in 2009, tied for first in the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Giants scored single digits in three of its final six games last season.

NEW YORK JETS

  • A good sign from last season: The Jets' defense held opposing QBs to a 51.6 completion percentage in 2009, lowest in the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Jets had trouble in close games, losing 5 times by five points or fewer in 2009.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

  • A good sign from last season: The Raiders averaged 51.1 yards per punt in 2009, 3.5 yards more than any other team.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Raiders only scored 22 points in the 3rd quarter all of last season.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

  • A good sign from last season: The Eagles averaged 13.1 yards per pass completion in 2009, tops in the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Eagles lost to the Cowboys three times in 2009 (twice in the regular season, once in the playoffs).

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

  • A good sign from last season: The Steelers sacked opposing QBs 47 times, most in the AFC in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Steelers allowed 4 kickoff returns for TD in 2009, while no other NFL team allowed more than 2.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

  • A good sign from last season: The Chargers' 13.3 yards per reception in 2009 was tops in the NFL.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Chargers' 3.3 yards per carry in 2009 was worst in the NFL.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

  • A good sign from last season: The Seahawks scored two shutout victories in their first five games last year.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Seahawks led the NFL with 33 fumbles in 2009.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

  • A good sign from last season: The 49ers held their opponents to 10 or fewer points in seven games in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The 49ers led the NFC in punts in 2009 with 99.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

  • A good sign from last season: The Rams were successful on 6 of 7 FG of 50+ yards in 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Rams allowed 4 interception returns for TD in 2009, tied for the NFL lead.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

  • A good sign from last season: The Buccaneers defeated the Super Bowl Champion Saints during the 2009 regular season.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Buccaneers only scored more than 24 points in one game in 2009.

TENNESSEE TITANS

  • A good sign from last season: The Titans averaged 27 points per game over the last 10 games of 2009.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Titans did not have a TE or WR with 50 or more catches in 2009.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

  • A good sign from last season: The Redskins boasted two players with 11 sacks.
  • A bad sign from last season: The Redskins took the ball away only 17 times in 2009, fewer than any NFL team.

NOTE: The use of current and former NFL logos is for identification and informational purposes only, and these logos remain the copyrights of the National Football League and/or the franchises depicted.

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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