Friday, January 27, 2006

Super Bowl Memories

The Super Bowl turns 40 this year. Actually the AFL/NFL Championship turns 40, it was not called the Super Bowl until a couple of years later. My father was saying last weekend that he's seen all of them, and it's amazing how the game (football) and the game (the Super Bowl) have changed significantly. Some changes are bad, but for the most part, the changes have been improvements. I've been watching the Super Bowl since I was 1 month old when I watched the Steelers beat the Rams in a Steelers baby onesy (my uncle from pittsburgh gave me one). The first Super Bowl I vividly remember was the Bears/Patriots, Super Bowl 20. The Bears are my dad's team and the Pats were the local team, and it was murder. I remember the Bears just being intimidating on defense, making the Pats look scared with every play. I also remember the Fridge scoring and my dad wondering why they didn't give Walter Payton the ball for a TD in the Super Bowl. This all sticks in my mind as we hit the Super Bowl 20 years after that first Super Bowl memory. Today I'll recall my 5 favorite Super Bowls and the most vivid memories I had of those games. Before I get into the list, I'll discuss my favorite of Dallas' 3 Super Bowl wins in the '90s and least favorite Super Bowl.

Favoriate Dallas Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXVII Dallas 52-Buffalo 17
I remember cheering them on as they went 1-15, and 3 years later they're going for the Super Bowl. It was just shocking, but if you witnessed them beat the 14-2 redskins the season before you knew they're time would come. Aikman played his normal stellar and smooth game, Emmitt got his yards and the defense shut down the Bills K-Gun offense. It was not in the bag, and no I am not going to write about Leon Lett's brainfart which prevented the Cowboys from scoring 59 points. My favorite memory was seeing the Bills drive down the field while it was still either team's game and go for it at the goalline. Ken Norton Jr. came out of nowhere and stuffed Thurman Thomas. It sent a message to the Bills that the defense would not give in to the vaunted Bills offense (they forced 9 turnovers).

Least Favorite Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXIV San Fran 55-Denver 10
This game was so bad that I enjoyed the Bud Bowl ads more for their football than the actual game. The last good ad wasthe first ad of the 3rd Quarter and afterthat, I stopped paying attention and played some Super Mario Bros. It was also depressing watching my cousin (Broncos Fan) have his spirit crushed again in a Super Bowl. It was not an enjoyable game to watch, even for 49ers fans. Rice and Montana were just machines then, and those back to back championsip years were an amazing display of QB/WR synergy. A guy no one ever discusses but had some great years, good playoffs, and great running style is Roger Craig. He'll never make the Hall of Fame, but he was a modern RB before the modern RB arrived. He paved the way.

5. Super Bowl XXV NY Giants 20-Buffalo 19
The hype for the K-Gun offense was on par with the current love for Manning's Colt offense. It just destroyed teams. They manhandled the Raiders in the AFC Championship game and looked unstoppable. The Giants had started the season 10-0 and were a defensive juggernaut. It was a great battle of minds as Belicheck took on Marv Levy. The Giants executed a perfect game plan on defense (to be repeated by the Pats 11 years later) and ate up the clock with OJ Anderson. They controlled the clock and held off the Bills long enough. Thurman Thomas put up one of the best performances by a losing player ever (190 yards total, big TD late). It all came down to one kick. Later, the images of the Bills' struggles would be Thomas losing his helmet, Norwood's miss, and the first blow out vs. Dallas. People forget just how good they were.

Favorite Super Bowl XXV Memory: Watching the Bills march down the field and feeling the butterflies in my stomach as Norwood lined up for a 49 yard FG. People forget how long and tough that FG attempt was, 49 yards on grass. He missed by maybe 2 yards wide right, and it was so crushing. Who knew it was only the beginning for the Bills?

4. Super Bowl XXIII San Fran 20-Cincy 16
It's hard to imagine a Cincy team in the Super Bowl, but it happened twice in the 80s. There were kick returns, hot stuff rookies, Montana to Rice, and high drama late in the game. As you watched the game, you kept waiting for the 49ers to turn the jets on and build a 30 point lead. It happened late (a Montana drive) and cemented Montana's legacy. The first few SBs I watched were blow outs or just plain boring; this one had a lot of excitement. There was something about that drive, like you just knew he would find the open man on every down. I remember that with the Bengals having returned a kickoff for a TD earlier, the whole room was on the edge of their seat because maybe the Bengals could strike again. Just a hopeless feeling for Bengals fans that you had a lead late but were going up against the best WR/QB combo ever.

Favorite Super Bowl XXIII Memory: Jerry Rice got into the endzone by just getting inside the pylon in the fourth quarter. The image of him stretching out to get into the endzone is burned in my memory and is the perfect image to associate with such an awesome game; 11 catches for 200+ yards.

3. Super Bowl XXXVI New England 20-St. Louis 17
This game unfolded almost exactly as SB XXV. Juggernaut offense versus Belicheck's schemes. You kept waiting for the Rams to figure out the Pats' D, and it took them about 3 quarters to go to Marshall Faulk. I remember my mom calling me at halftime and saying "Can you believe they're winning!?!?" No, I couldn't, and to this day (even after reading the Belicheck book) I still don't understand how they won that game with that team. This was example #1 why playing a prevent defense prevents you from winning games. I think the Pats had to go for the win in regulation because the momentum was all on the Rams' side; you could tell that they finally figured out how to score on the Pats. Brady hadn't thrown deep all year and they gave him the underneath passing lanes where he nickel & dimed them to FG range. The party at my apartment wasn't bad, too many people for too small of an apartment, but it had tons of beer. I remember when they announced Brady as the MVP (very underwhelming), my native Brookline roommate screamed in a drunken rage, "How do you not give it to Adam Vina-phucking-tieri!?!?!?" He then booted and got back together with his girlfriend. They're getting married soon.

Favorite Super Bowl XXXVI Memory: Vinatieri's kick. I remember the whole room being dead quiet, and I dialed up my grandma's number. As the kick sailed through, I congratulated her. Prior to February 2002, she was one of the 10 Patriots fans in all of New England. I repeated the same call when the Sox got the last out of the 2004 World Series.

2. Super Bowl XXXVIII New England 32-Carolina 29
The game was becoming the worst Super Bowl ever, then Delhomme flicked a switch and started to hit bombs. This game appeared wrapped up two different times by the Pats, but still the Panthers clawed back. One of the most furious second halves I remember, and one of the biggest bonehead moves ever with John Kasay kicking the ball out of bounds, giving the Pats the ball at the 40. I'll point out that I hate Brady/Montana comparisons and here's my biggest beef: Brady always lead the Pats to the 25 and let Vinatieri do the dirty work. Montana drove teams 80-90 yards for TDs. Brady going 35 yards in 1 minute is way less impressive than Montana going 90+ in 2. Plus, Montana didn't throw INTs in the endzone to let teams back into games.

Favorite Super Bowl XXXVIII Moment: My friends came over for the SB at my apartment, and we watched the game in horror. It really was the lamest SB, then my friend Alex bellowed, "Worst... Super Bowl... Ever". Everyone was feeling it, and it kickstarted something. This happened just prior to Delhomme and Brady trading TD drives. I swear to this day that the USA owes Alex an award. If they did a Sportscentury about that game they could go to him and discuss that moment of disgust and why he yelled. Vinatieri, Delhomme, Brady, John Fox…then Alex.

1. Super Bowl XXIV St. Louis 23-Titans 16
This was a great matchup when you look back on it but going into the game it looked like a Rams cakewalk. It also was one of those great gambling endings where the point spread was exactly the difference in the game. From what I recall, the Rams were favored by over 7, but the action was so heavy on the Titans that it pulled the spread down and then settled on 7. When you watched the Titans, you thought they were the young dynasty emerging in the AFC similar to thinking the Rams would run the NFC for years. They looked so good, and executed so well on both sides of the ball. The game was a perfect ugget of what those two teams did in the playoffs that season. A 'dynasty' didn't happen for either team, as neither QB could remain healthy, Eddie George broke down from 858 carries in 2 years, and Mike Martz forgot that he had Faulk as his RB.
Back to the game, the Rams cruised in the first half and had a 16-0 lead. Their problem was not finishing drives with TDs. The Titans fought hard and scored in the second half putting the Rams on the defensive. Eddie George picked up tough yards as McNair got in a groove and took command of the offense. You could feel all of the momentum shifting to the Titans with the FG that brought then even with the Rams. Like a dagger through the heart, the Rams went for it all with that bomb on their first play of a drive; Warner to Bruce 70+ yards. Everyone expected a 2 minute drill to start, but Warner reared back and dropped a bomb. I remember the room going absolutely nuts when he caught it. I think this typified the Rams/Martz offense era, they would win and die by their down the field style of play. This would later be exploited by Belicheck in SB 36. McNair then lead the Titans down the field for one last chance. As time expired, Dyson was tackled at the 2, streched out his arm, but fell one yard short. It all came down to one play on one last great drive.

Favorite Super Bowl XXIV Memory: That last play. One man going for the ultimate prize to send it into overtime as time expired and he fell one yard short. Not even in a storybook could you write it so cheesy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

crossing fingers.....

.....that I don't get a sinus infection. I'm predisposed to sinus infections, and this cold has been nasty. I've been battling a cold for several days that has pretty much kept me breathless and sounding like Peter Lorre. Bad timing of the onset as the initial sore throat, I thought, had developed because I had to talk loud Friday night over an Irish band at a bar. Had I known Saturday that the sore throat I was feeling was the beginning of a cold, I could have gone into my cold limiting formula.

During the first three days of the first signs of a cold, take 1000MG of Vitamin C, 1 Vitamin A tablet and 1 Zinc tablet 3 times a day. Do this with a meal so that you don't boot, as the C and Zinc are rough on the stomach. It works like a charm.


I've finished reading the Belicheck book and the Michael Jordan both book by David Halberstam. He's an excellent writer, who tries to tell you the story of every person who enters the "stage" of the book so you know their motives and beliefs. I've now started Jared Diamon's "Guns, Germs and Steel". I've heard about this book for years, and saw the PBS special on the book and author. So far (100 pages) so good.

Let's hope I can make it to work tomorrow. I miss work. I never missed work at my old place.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Conference Championship Games

Wow, did I get smacked around last week going 1-3. I need to stop trusting my gut when it comes to a game that I feel awful about. When I feel bad I need to go in the opposite direction. I got my backside handed to me with the picks of Da Bears and the Pats in the divisional round. Man I am sitting at .500 right now and have only 3 games to go. I've got year end awards to hand out but after the Super Bowl. I hate handing out awards before the whole season is over. I always think that is dumb, and baseball is the worst. This week has some intriguing match ups. Perennial winners meet up in the anti-CBS dream match up, Steelers/Broncos. The two NFC favorites not from Philadelphia match up in the great northwest, Panthers/Seahawks.

Steelers (+3) over BRONCOS

While the line has moved 2 points during the week, and the Steelers are on game 18 and on the road, I have to go with their streak. They've walked into two tough environments and manhandled those defenses, on the ground and through the air. The Broncos have the homefield advantage but I watched them let a Pats team that had no right to win that game hang in there until the final minute. If Adam Vinatieri makes that FG attempt, That Pats would have been one score down, right where they like to be. That whole 2 minute drill could have been different. Everyone kept waiting for them to pull it together this season and it took them until the final 4 weeks of the regular season to do so. I also feel that the Steelers are very flexible, and can tailor an offensive game to exploit the opposing team. I think that Big Ben is on the kind of roll that you can't wager against. I just hope Cowher doesn't get conservative and give away the game like he tried to last week.

SEAHAWKS (-4) over Panthers This is the one I hate to pick. The Panthersare riding a huge wave of optimism. Steve Smith is playing at a Jerry Rice level, and the defense has stepped it up. Winning three on the road is a tough challenge, and I am already picking one team to do it. I don't think I can do it twice. It's just the way the Seahawks won last weekend; it was a Pats of 2003 win. Here's something to consider, the Seahawks are 9-0 at home this year. They win at home with their formula of a great rushing attack that opens the passing game. Play action works on the Panthers. Running the ball works on the Panthers. The Bears scored 21 on the Panthers with a 'rookie' QB.

Here's an analogy that might help. Every year in the NCAA March Madness tourney, a team has a hiccup game. A hiccup game is when a high seed plays terrible. The goal of all high seeds is to survive the hiccup game and get back on track for the next game. Teams most likely to have hiccup games are teams that rely on 3 point shooting. One cold night and your done. I think the Seahawks had their hiccup game last week offensively, and it will be back to business come Sunday. Arrgghhh, I'm going with the home field advantage. I hate this pick, I hate it.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Divisional Round Reactions

Lessons learned after watching playoff football this weekend:
1. Big Ben is money.
2. Never let up after 100 yards, someone might blindside you.
3. No matter how great the QB, pressure forces mistakes & bad throws (Manning/Brady).
4. Steve Smith is a fast fast WR, double cover him.
5. Teams can forget what got them to the playoffs. Case in point: Da Bears & running the ball.
6. Rod Smith might be the best play ever who was not drafted.
7. Archie Manning's parents did something wrong to offend God and their descendants would be forever forced to suffer pain in high profile spots.
8. Karma. The Pats lost in the manner in which they always win.
9. You shouldn't give the MVP to a RB. Shaun Alexander went down and his team still won. An MVP is someone who is vital for victory, especially in the playoffs.
10. The Panthers play to the level of their competition. They shift gears and play very different games vs. very different opponents.

Friday, January 13, 2006

NFL Playoff Picks: Divisional Round Grudge Matches

I went 3-1 last week with my big mistake being to trust Eli Manning and a Tom Coughlin team. How did I not see a Manning playoff debut opportunity to bet against? The Giants peaked too soon and limped into the playoffs. They also had receivers who gave up on balls and the game. This week, the games look slanted in the favor of the home teams. I recall the 4 underdog cover of '03, and get a little antsy, but it's still the smart play to stick with the home teams who have rested for 1 week (In the Colts case, 4 weeks).

AFC

COLTS (-9) over Steelers The Steelers lucked out last week with the roll that their d-lineman took into the knee of Carson Palmer. Kitna came in and performed well, but seriously, who wasn't expecting the second half meltdown? I kept waiting for it, and with the botched snap on the FG attempt, I knew it was downhill from their on out. Kudos to the Bengals for putting up a fight, but when they were down by 4 why did the offensive coordinator stop running? I like the Steelers. I like their style, their Qb, their trick plays, but I don't like them in this game. I foresee Peyton Manning and Co. coming out and destroying them to prove a point to whomever is going to Indy next week. They have had a week to rest their banged up defensive guys, and the Edge has had a week of rest. He was looking beat the last few weeks, and they need him healthy to win the Super Bowl.

Pats (+3) over BRONCOS I hate going against a home team with a week off. I hate going against a team that was 13-3. I hate going against the Broncos run game. I hate the Patriots fans, who just woke up from their slumber to cheer for the Pats last Saturday. I just don't see it happening for the Broncos. Of course, this will prove to be wrong and the Broncos walk all over the Pats because bruschi and Seymour are limited and Anderson and Bell are rested. This is my upset for the round.

NFC

SEAHAWKS (-9.5) over Redskins The Skins victory was ugly, but let's not shoot them down. In back to back years, the Ravens and Pats won playoff games with similar, craptacular offensive performances. Ravens-Titans in January '01? Pats-Anyone in Jan/Feb of '02? Their luck runs out this week. Clinton portis is really hurting right now, and it appears that he will not be able to carry the ball more than 15 times. With no Portis, defenses can double Moss and make one of the H-backs try to beat them. Brunell is running on fumes right now, and the Hawks defense is rested and hungry.

BEARS (-2.5) over Panthers I hate this game. I hate it almost as much as the Pats/Broncos, but this one is a bit easier to gauge since both teams met up and played while they were both healthy. The Panthers can run on the Giants depleted LB corps, but they won't run on the Bears. The Bears also have made an upgrade at QB. While it is not a huge upgrade, it is important for several reasons:
1. Orton had hit the wall physically and mentally. Ask Big Ben how he felt this time last year.
2. Grossman throws better and with more accuracy than Orton
3. They now are a threat down the field with play action passes.

I think point 1 is the most important, but the third is significant for play calling. Look at the Bears/Packers game. The Bears had 4th & short in Packer territory and called a play action pass. Rather than just stuff it up the middle, Lovie Smith took a shot at the end zone. Grossman threw a bullet to Muhammed who dropped it. While it was incomplete, it was a call they wouldn't have made with Orton at the helm. Teams need to respect that now with the Bears. I think It's a low scoring affair, take the under.

Friday, January 06, 2006

NFL Playoffs Week 1

Playoff fever grips the nation. We start the wonderful stretch of playoffs in sports with the start of the NFL playoffs, then the Olympic hockey tourney, then move into March Madness, and conclude with the NBA & NHL playoffs in the Spring. The dead month of february is filled by the ever extending NFL season and the Olympics. Woohoo!

This opening weekend of the NFL playoffs has no glamour matchups. The only good subplots going are Eli Manning's playoff debut, the Bengals hosting a playoff game for the first time since the last century, and the battle of disrespect in New England (surprise, surprise). The lines on these games have not really moved this week, and the teams in the playoffs truly deserve to be there. The skins and jags have played a whole lot better than anyone gives them credit for, and teams like the Steelers and Pats have paid their dues week in week out. I feel a whole lot better about the AFC picks than I do about the NFC. There is always one upset in the first round, and my gut tells me that the topsy turvy NFC is where it will happen.

AFC
Steelers (-2.5) over Bengals
I hate road favorites in the playoffs, but the Bengals have stumbled in recent weeks. The INTs are not coming as frequently as they did at the beginning of the year, and their defense is still weak versus the run. Big Ben is back in good form, and hitting his spots. A lot of people knock Ben for who he plays with but look at how the Steelers did without Ben playing. They played bad on the offensive side of the ball. The secret to his success is that sure he doesn't throw often, but he hits his throws. He has to throw it deep to make sure defenses are honest and give their running game some breathing room. He opens up the field for them. If he wasn't capable of hitting his throws on a consistent basis, they'd stack the line like they do versus the ravens.

New England (-7.5) over Jacksonville
I want to give Jacksonville props for winning 12 games, for playing to a 4-1 record without their QB, for playing Indy tough two times this year, for having a good defense and developing receivers to help Leftwich. That's it though. They are going into the cold, in a hostile environment, on a cr@ppy field to play the defending champs. I'll have a whole other entry soon on "Patriots Fans", but I do want to point out that I was dead on with my analysis after the Colts game about their D and how they could finish 11-5 when guys came back. They foiled my plans by throwing the last game and going 10-6. The only way I can see why they did that was that they knew no matter what the wild card team will beat Cincy and they'd still draw the Broncos in the 2nd round. If it all proves true, then Belicheck is smarter than even David Halberstam thinks he is (I'm currently reading the book; Halberstam is marvelous as usual). If this game were on a neutral field, I would take the Jags and the points. Unfortunately, it's not.

NFC

Giants (-2.5) over Panthers
I just don't see it for the Panthers. No real running game. Nothing but Steve Smith in the passing game, and I don't trust Delhomme on the road. The Giants are shaky defensively themselves, but they are playing at home where they are smoking hot. Giants stadium is going to be electric, and with the acoustics there, an early 7-0 or 10-0 lead can feel like 20-0. Think about the 2000 NFC championship game versus the Vikings.

Washington (+3) over Bucs
I can't believe I am picking the Skins on the road, but they are on an absolute roll after losing in OT to the Chargers. The Skins had a problem closing teams out midway through the season and they have found a way to correct that. Don't swallow the playbook with a 10 point lead at halftime. I also trust Mark Brunell more than I trust Chris Simms. I know Simms has progressed, but this is the same Simms who couldn't win a bowl game to save his life. Major Applewhite is not on the bench to save his butt now. I also believe in the Skins defense and their ability to shut down the Bucs O. Greg Williams has proven that he is a great defensive coordinator, and should stay that way. His gameplan against Bledsoe and Manning in back to back weeks was really special. He is the 2000s Buddy Ryan: great defensive mind, bad head coach. Some people are just made to think on one side of the ball. Good luck.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

USC/Texas and a Playoff system

USC/Texas was all it was billed to be. My prediction of a Texas win turned out to be true sadly. So much has been written I will just list big observations....

1. The stars all came out to shine, Bush, Leinart, Young and LenDale White. All stepped it up, which does not happen in most bowl match-ups.

2. USC gave that game away with 3 red zone turnovers. Bush's lateral was a major WTF moment. Leinart's INT was an outstanding play by the Texas Safety. The 4th down was a goof with Leinart's slip (the turf was definitely slippery last night).

3. The 4th down go for it or punt decision was a good call. All night they were running up the gut on Texas and why not go for it. Even if they punt it gets them an extra 20-30 yards which means Vince Young would have to scramble maybe 2 times to make it up. USC needed one yard to win the championship, Carroll believed in his guys.

4. The review of the Texas fumble that got called an incompletion was BS, and already has my dad (USC fan representative for Maine) screaming conspiracy. If everyone in the stadium, the player who 'fumbled' it, and Dan Fouts all see it, why can't the review guy see it? BS. End of the game right there.

5. Every single bounce went Texas way from the get go (excluding the punt fumble). Every fumble on offense was right at their player's feet, and they got the bounces. That vibe told me it was Texas' game to lose.

6. I called this even before the game, but Boston Sports Guy jumped on the first chance to rip on Pete Carroll he got. Let's not forget that it was Bush's lateral or Leinart's slip or countless things on the field that USC players did incorrectly, no, it's Carroll's fault. This is the Boston Sports Guy's major problem. He writes through a Boston prism waaaay too much for non-New England readers, and like any New England homer, he makes his mind up about something and finds the evidence to back up only his point. He will never give in and say "Maybe Pete Carroll's 'player's coach' attitude is perfect for 18-24 year olds". Glad he's just a regular guy "spoiled prep school kid from the Metro West Suburbs cough cough" writing about sports "Holy Cross Grad who never played anything cough cough" and being super cool "let go from Kimmel's show cough-haha-cough".

7. Vince Young was superb, and on a side note, looks and sounds like the missing Wayans brother. I don't think he will be a great pro QB unless he works on his mechanics big time. He needs to sit one year and learnt he pro game like Culpepper, Palmer, even Eli for half the season. If the wrong team feeds him to the Lions, he's going to fail and get discouraged. He had no real zip on the ball, became erratic when he saw any pressure, and will not outrun defenses in the pros. In the pros, every team has LBs who can spy a QB (Derrick Brooks, Urlacher). In the pros, the safeties can tackle you (Ed Reed, Roy Williams). Vince Young could ask Mike Vick about the change. The Saints will be dumb and pick him; if not them, the Titans.

8. LenDale White ran himself into the middle of the first round. Wow, some serious power despite running through huge holes. He's a forgotten prospect, because the guy has the tools but might fall in the draft since Bush and Leinart shine so bright. If he posts a great 40 time, he could be at pick 10 (Arizona Cardinals).

I've thought about the playoff so much that I think I have a good way to keep all games relevant. The major argument that BCS fans give is that no playoff means that every regular season game matters. What they should do is have a 6 team playoff. The top two teams get a bye. This would mean there are 5 games. You have the 4 current BCS games be games in the playoff system and the new game is just called the national championship game. The polls won't have to be absolutely correct because the margin of error is now to find the top 6 not the top 2. Football is different from college basketball, truly only the top 4-8 teams can compete with one another on neutral sites. The problem of being the 3 team is "you don’t get a bye" but you still get a shot at the title. You could have the rose bowl be the game where the Pac 10 or Big Ten champ is in the playoff seeding, one is bound to be there. First round of games is on new years day. The semis are the next week, the week after that is the championship. The games would be played virtually all during winter break. It would prevent the early season/shocker loss (Penn St.) or the injury loss (Georgia) from destroying championship hopes. On top of that, the regular season would still matter for everyone because even the top 2 teams would want the first round bye. You couldn't rest starters because seeding would matter so much because of the bye possibility. The championship game is played on the off week before the super bowl. The ratings would be huge, and January Madness would be born. It's win-win. Money still goes to conferences, ratings are high because every BCS game matters, and fans get a true champion.