Sunday, February 04, 2007

My three sons

Quick NFL thoughts before a Super Bowl I couldn't be more apathetic about . . .
I probably shouldn't admit this, but ESPN's feature this morning on the three Manning boys (including the eldest, Cooper, who had to give up football after high school due to a neck problem) was nothing less than endearing. It almost made me want to root for the big goof today. (Almost, I said.) The funniest part of the feature came when some old home movies showed Peyton, who must have been about 7, crying and whining that Cooper was hitting him too hard. It's like he was born to play for Bill Polian.

There's no doubt it's been the Year of the Gator. The University of Florida football and men's basketball teams are reigning national champions, David Eckstein - the grittiest, guttiest, Gator alumni of them all! - blooped and dinked his way to the World Series MVP award, and lest we forget, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson and Kelvin Kight gave the Patriots the greatest receiving quartet in league history. (Or maybe not.) Our point here? Rex Grossman is, as you probably know, a Gainesville grad, which is just about the most logical reason I can come up with for thinking the Bears have a chance today.

All right, I'll admit it: I'm looking forward to watching Prince at halftime, and not solely because I'm rooting for a wardrobe malfunction from one of his famously smokin' hot backup singers. (Hey, before you mock me or him, remember this is the guy who "mentored" Carmen Electra, Sheena Easton, Apollonia, and the legendary Vanity, who made Halle Berry look like Booger McFarland. Now that's a talented roster.) Oh, the little purple fella (wow, that doesn't read quite right) might be a freak who's purified himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka one too many times, but he's a ridiculously talented freak, and I'm guessing he'll remind the skeptics of that today.

Michael Irvin, a Hall of Famer? It's as obvious as one of his gaudy suits. Bruce Matthews? A mortal lock. Thurman Thomas? Well, of course the heart of the K-Gun Bills belongs in Canton, and I say Andre Reed should be there alongside him. Roger Wehrli? A five-time All-Pro and an All-Decade Team selection in the '70s certainly has a worthy resume, though I'd have voted for Derrick Thomas and Andre Tippett (an All-Decade pick in the '80s) over him. Charlie Sanders? Hell, he could start for the Lions today. And Gene Hickerson . . . uh . . . um . . . hmmm . . . (furiously searching Google) . . . oh, all right, I can't say I've ever heard of the guy. Why do I get the feeling Dr. Z was behind getting this old timer into the Hall 33 years after his career ended? Geezers unite!

I'm not saying there are ulterior motives in action here, but anyone who suggests Ted Johnson suffered all 30 of his concussions while playing for Bill Belichick is in dire need of a brain scan themselves.

As is their tradition on Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN2 has been running a marathon of the NFL Films highlight videos from each Super Bowl. (How many Polo shirts does Steve Sabol have, anyway? I think he owns more than Ralph Lauren himself.) Naturally, I had to watch the Pats-Rams "Tonight A Dynasty Is Born!" film from beginning to end, but to be honest, I didn't enjoy it as much as I normally would. I guess the joy of that game is tempered by the melancholy sense that the Patriots should be playing in this one, too; it served as a reminder of what was lost in the second half of the Indy game. Ah, well, I suppose we should get over it. Anyway, a couple of scattered thoughts from our latest viewing of XXXVI: Tom Brady was so much more animated then than he is now. He was jumping around like the spawn of Pete Carroll after every big play. Now, he's more like Belichick, all business . . . It never fails to astound me how little top-notch talent there was on that Patriots team. The likes of J.R. Redmond, Jermaine Wiggins, and Tebucky Jones played significant roles in that post season. It would be easy to argue that winning it all with that roster was the single-best one-season coaching job in league history . . . You want an unsung hero during this dynastic run? I offer you David Patten. Seems like he caught a touchdown pass in every big game . . . That idiot No. 33 on the Rams (a quick search tells me his name is Justin Watson) cracks me up every time: "I like our chances! I LIKE our chances!" Sure, pal . . . Seems like a long time ago that Kurt Warner was, you know, good . . . Man, Bob Kraft never goes for subtle understatement when a cheeseball line is handy: "Today, we are all Patriots!" I'm guessing Mike Martz probably disputed that sentiment . . . I never fail to smile at Antowain Smith's high-stepping sprint onto the field after Vinatieri's field goal. I think that's the fastest he ever ran . . . Man, I miss that Super Bowl feeling.

So how's it going to go? Ideally, Brian Urlacher will knock Peyton silly like mean old Cooper used to, and Jim Sorgi will get three-plus quarters to introduce himself to the world. Assuming that doesn't happen, I can't really come up with one logical scenario in which Chicago wins this game. Oh, I suppose Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson could run for a combined 175 yards, and Manning could remember it's his nature to gag in the biggest moments, and Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher and Urlacher could render Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark invisible, and Devin Hester could (and probably will) gash Indy's porous special teams, and Tank Johnson could shoot Bob Sanders during pregame warmups, and Rex Grossman could get through the entire game without doing all those stupid things Rex Grossman does. But I can't help but think Chicago needs just about all of those things to happen to have chance, and that's a whole helluva lot to ask against a team as talented as Indy. The heart says Chicago, 31-30, but the brain overrules: Peyton and the Ponies, 38-13.

If the Colts have to win this thing, I do hope it comes via Adam Vinatieri's right foot in the final seconds. Sure, it's just plain strange to see our ol' No. 4 so content wearing our rival's laundry, and I wish he wasn't so damn satisfied about being a Colt. But one more moment for the ages in a Super Bowl would make him a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame, and those crusty old fools who decide such things need all the evidence they can get. And besides, no matter the colors he's wearing now, history will always remember him as a Patriot.

As for today's Completely Random Football Cards:




If you didn't get a little verklempt watching Armen Keteyian's pregame piece on Walter Payton and Brian Piccolo, then you don't have a soul, my friend. Seven years after his death, the footage of a shockingly frail Payton at the press conference in which he revealed his illness still floods my eyes every time. I only hope my own son grows up to be the man Jarrett Payton seemed to be that day.

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