Tiger at Masters (Take 2)
(Saturday, April 10, 2010)
Sports Reporter, Radio Personality, NFL Game Day Host
My first knowledge came on Tuesday, a little after 10:00 a.m. (ET) in the form of a Breaking News Alert, " Tiger Woods returning to golf at The Masters on April 8th."
My first reaction, "When exactly was he gone?"
Rhetorical, sure, but it is still a legitimate question.
Tiger announced his "indefinite break" from golf on December 11, 2009. That was following a tumultuous final few days in November in which Woods was, among many other things, injured in a car accident, treated at a hospital, had rumors swirl about numerous alleged affairs before admitting to being unfaithful with a message on his web site and then, finally, receiving a $164 traffic citation from the Florida Highway Patrol for careless driving on the 30th day of November. It was March 14, 2010 when he announced his return.
So let's check his scorecard from year-to-year before signing
- PGA events Woods played from 12/11/09 to 3/14/10 = 0
- PGA events Woods played from 12/11/08 to 3/14/09 = 2
But hey, he's back!
The scandal that began as an accident, that has still not yet been fully explained, when Woods hit a fire hydrant and tree near his driveway in Orlando, Florida, on Thanksgiving night was not the first controversy for Tiger. Over the years, Woods has taken criticism for dismissing autograph seekers, allegedly being a poor tipper, swearing out loud while on national television, playing too few events and overpopulating the continent of Asia. (Okay, I made the last one up.)
Woods played in only 17 PGA tournaments in 2009, 16 in 2007 and 15 in 2006 (his 2008 was shortened due to a knee injury). By comparison Phil Mickelson averaged playing in over 20 PGA events in the last 3 seasons. Most golf fans know that all Woods really cares about is winning the majors and surpassing Jack Nicklaus in career wins. Currently Woods trails the "Golden Bear" by 4 major championships.
"I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled."
[Tiger Woods, February 19, 2010]
And he still is today.
How timely for Tiger, who feels he has now repaired the personal damage from the fallout of his scandal(s), to not miss playing in any majors. How convenient for Woods, who is now focused on his family and being a better man, to have an excuse for not playing in the Shell Houston Open, Puerto Rico Open or the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Choosing the Masters for his return was an easy putt for Woods. Like his press conference, err, prepared speech that he read at TPC Sawgrass on February 19th, Augusta National Golf Club is also a controlled environment. Therefore, Woods can most likely avoid any heckling and (as an added bonus!) won't have to deal with any of those pesky autograph seekers, either.
Golf experts would like us to believe that to win the Masters one must tune-up beforehand by playing competitively in some other tournaments. That might be true for them, but not Tiger Woods. This isn't a baseball batter getting his timing, a basketball player getting in "game shape" or football player in "hitting shape". It's golf, and for Tiger Woods that means as long as he can practice and then prepare with the same access to the course as the others, then he's able to shoot the lowest score on it after four rounds.
Just, for us, it's not as difficult as landing a 350 yard drive in the middle of the fairway to understand Tiger's intention from the beginning of this "indefinite break" or predict his strategy moving forward. Woods will play the majors and then limit himself the few events he wishes to participate. Only now the PGA, its fans and writers can't fault him because he's doing so under the guise of a "family man".
Not that it should concern professional golf, the country clubs hosting or the networks televising the tournaments (that he selects to play) because all that matters is that Tiger Woods is there. Ticket sales will spike and viewer ratings will inflate all because of Tiger Woods. Even though these two say they won't be watching.
As actor Ving Rhames in the lead role of the 1997 movie "Don King: Only in America" said, "Let me tell you something: [ Mike] Tyson will be heavyweight champ again. And this time, you'll pay twice as much to see it. Why? Because y'all part of the same hypocrisy."
While that's as far as I'll compare Mike Tyson to Tiger Woods (rape and cheating on one's wife are less similar acts than boxing is to golfing) but the point of the statement should be taken. Woods will be golf champion again and you'll be there to watch him.
I know I will.
NFL Overtime Proposal Needs More Time
I've heard some say that spending 10 minutes with Tim Tebow will change one's life. Mine, somehow, remains unaffected
After countless hours of reporting, waiting and even speculation, the announcement most everyone was waiting for finally happened at the 2010 NFL Combine.
"Some guy named Tebow is now at Podium C," said the crackled voice out of the main media room speaker last Friday.
Oh, that announcement.
(In defense of those present that slammed the lap tops closed, pulled out a handheld recording device and ran to the podium - almost as fast as they sprinted the sandwich line hours earlier when lunch was served - it was a welcomed pro football prospect to hear speak after being reduced to interviews mostly consisting of placekickers, punter and offensive lineman from the day prior.)
It was actually on Saturday, at the Combine, when the NFL announced something that made my ears perk. News was leaked that the league could change its overtime format for playoff games when the competition committee meets March 21 – 24 in Orlando, Florida.
As a vocal opponent to the current system, Saturday's announcement was a better potential prophecy than anything the almighty Tim Tebow might have said to me the day before (which he did answer, albeit brief, a question for a story I was working on).
According to NFL spokesperson, Greg Aiello, the proposed change to overtime in postseason games would assure that both teams get the ball at least once unless the first team scores a touchdown. If the first team scores a field goal on the overtime's initial possession, then the other team gets one turn with the football. If they tie the game with another field goal, the game continues until the very next score.
As far as fixing how NFL overtime playoff games end its, well, a start. But it's still not right.
[Have you ever been in a social situation where everyone is ready to go somewhere and trying to decide, collectively, where to go and what to do? And you know "that guy" (or worse even, "that girl") who rejects each individual suggestion without offering a better suggestion? Well today, and in this column, "that guy" would be me.]
It's been a few days since I learned of the proposal and already I have, at least, a couple problems with it. The current system places too much advantage on the team that wins the overtime coin toss and the potentially updated version would do the same (only then, teams would strategically choose to kick rather than receive the overtime kickoff).
If this overtime procedure was passed (by winning at least two thirds of the vote from the 32 teams) the disadvantage shifts from having to play defense first to having to take the initial possession. Based on good football sense, that team would play with an offensive strategy much the same as a normal situation. They would try to score and, if not, pin the opposition deep in its own territory. If able to get in scoring position they would be faced with a decision; go for a touchdown or kick the field goal.
And both present disadvantages.
By electing to kick a field goal you give the ball back to your opponent. They would have a much higher percentage for answering your field goal with a touchdown (or, at least a tying field goal) since punting would be taken out of the equation. Trailing by 3 points and with the ball in a "do or die" scenario, offenses would be using 4 downs from anywhere on the field. In other words, they'd be playing with 33% more downs to move the chains.
By skipping the field goal and going for a touchdown on the initial overtime possession, you risk not scoring at all and then giving the opponent the very same opportunity (and same high percentages that we dislike under the current format) to win by a long field goal.
"There have been various concepts that have been discussed in recent years, but this one has never been proposed," Greg Aiello said to the Associated Press about the postseason overtime format.
Maybe this one was once thought about by some league official before, but was decided against after further review.
On this proposal I'm throwing a red flag challenge, or a red-faced fit, whichever is permitted by fans like me. The NFL needs to get back to the drawing board, the film room or wherever they go and find a fairer and more complete way to handle overtime games in the playoffs.
Who Needs a Villain?
"I wish I could hate you!"
Good vs. Evil.
The conflict between the two polar opposites has been the epicenter for, among other things, religious lessons, Hollywood drama and sports allegiances. For every "white hat" indentifying the honorable, there needs to be a "black hat" to represent the outlaws.
It's difficult to be a fan of a sports team without being a dedicated "hater" for another. The dislike that Boston Red Sox fans have for the New York Yankees (and vice-versa) has been well documented. So has the line in the sand that's been drawn between fans of the Dallas Cowboys and those of the Washington Redskins, the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes, Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadians and countless other rivals.
Most often, who represents the "good" and the "bad" is solely dependent on which side you are on. But for every hero we worship in sports, we typically have a villain to despise.
Or, so I once thought.
My original, and still my most dedicated, sports allegiance belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While watching the Steelers through the 1970's (who would later be tagged the 'Team of the Decade'), there were many other rivals to despise. There were the Oakland Raiders who we thought were dirty and cheaters, the Dallas Cowboys who were flashy and arrogant as well as the Houston Oilers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, who were nothing less than division-rivals.
Having someone to cheer against while rooting for your team makes following a sport more interesting and when your team clashes with their commonly hated opponent, the stakes for winning become even higher. (Just ask any Indiana Hoosier or Purdue Boilermaker fan.)
Recent events, however, indicate that the lure of sports intrigue may no longer need a Cain for their Abel, a Joker for their Batman or even a Rocky for their Drago. Having a likeable opponent doesn't lessen the desire to conquer in modern games. It's no longer needed when our country plays against the world or when our nation plays the biggest game in the world.
Thirty-years ago the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York. "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!..." we'd cheer for the United States hockey team. But we might as well been chanting "F.A.Q.! F.A.Q.! F.A.Q.!..." (Or something that had a similar phonetic sound when pronounced together as one word) to the team in red wearing the letter's CCCP on their hockey jerseys.
We loved the Americans winning gold during the Miracle on Ice because of how much we hated the Russians. Since the cold war ended, we've become indifferent to the nation, and athletes, we once abhorred.
In the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, once again we cheered the American's on ice but this time our "rivals" were the team from Canada.
Since when do we hate the Canadians?
We don't, and that's just my point.
The last time I crossed the northern border I was subject to less hassle and search than I got when driving from Nevada into California. (State police said they needed to be sure I didn't have any live firearms, dead bodies, fruits or vegetables in the car. No kidding.)
Just days after the United States upset Canada in the preliminary round of the Olympic hockey tournament, how many of us Americans found ourselves rooting for Canadian skater, Joannie Rochette, after learning her mother unexpectedly died days before her scheduled routine in the women's short program?
Television ratings for the 2010 Winter Olympics have been strong, despite our lack of hatred toward other countries. And so too was the viewership of another recent sports spectacle.
When the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, it was the most watched television program, ever. An estimated 106.5 million people saw the Colts play the Saints but, to anyone not already aligned with one of the participating teams, which of those upstanding, likeable teams was playing the part of the villain?
Was it the Indianapolis Colts?
I doubt it. Unless there is now jealousy toward Indy for the success they've enjoyed in the past decade.
Was it the New Orleans Saints?
Um, certainly not. A disaster devastated their city in 2005, which was then followed by resilience and a renaissance, turned (for now) the Saints into "America's Team".
Americans love their games and still hate their enemies. We just no longer need to dislike our opponents in order to be able to support our home teams.
Let the Delays Begin!
Leave it up to Canada to screw-up snow
"... and Shaler area schools will be delayed two hours today because of snow..."
For me at one time, hearing that on the radio or seeing it across the news ticker of my local television station was cause for excitement.
Already awake and dressed, a snow delay from school was always welcome. Before I could decide to sled down Kenneth Drive, ice skate on Pine Creek or be a derelict and bomb cars with snowballs from my secret hideout on East Pennview Street, my winter wonderland would be brought back to reality when handed a snow shovel.
Now, too old for school, I surely know what I was being taught back then. Delays are really no fun to be around.
My father used to say when I was a kid, "My son could never be a doctor because he doesn't have any patience." Perhaps a not-so-funny play on words but, still, it was very true. And it still is today.
I hate to wait on anything. Worse yet is when I'm being held up from watching a sporting event that I delegated time to view. You know that split-second when you turn on your television and can hear the audio but the screen hasn't appeared on your set? I hate it!
Last weekend I decided to give the XXI Winter Olympic Games some attention. I'm not a huge fan of certain events (especially the outfits and uniforms) but felt skipping them altogether might make me feel a little "un-American". But on Saturday (2/13) the men's downhill event had been postponed because the snow was too 'slushy'.
On Sunday, and then again on Monday, the speed skating competition was postponed because the ice needed resurfaced. On Tuesday, it was the women's downhill skiing and the men's super-combined event that both needed moved but this time because of too much snow.
Slushy snow, bad ice and too many snowflakes have interrupted the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada? Don't they call themselves the "Great White North" on that side of the border? Perhaps, it's now the "Mediocre White North".
(Not to further any frustration, but most 2010 Winter Olympic events we actually do see are already on tape-delay.)
Oh well, maybe some good old fashioned American ingenuity would fix things on Sunday, or at least I thought. Once tuned into the "Great American Race" for the Daytona 500 as NASCAR revved-up their engines to start another Sprint Cup season I was forced to sit through not just one, but two, delays. The 2 red flags were caused by a pothole that formed on turns 2 at Daytona International Speedway and the delays totaled almost 2 ½ hours.
[Note: Before we torch the track officials at DIS for the lengthy delay let me offer an insider's view at pothole repair. Throughout my college years I earn would money during the summer working for the road crew maintenance department of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. 2 hours and 24 minutes is actually a record-time for fixing a pothole, based on my experiences.
If the procedure was anything like I remember it would typically go down like this... First, the foreman would receive the assignment then wake up the rest of the crew from their morning naps. Then, the faulty pavement would be surveyed, analyzed and surveyed some more, before it's time for a coffee break. After the cup of java, the site manager would decide that extra tools are needed to properly make the repair so a truck would be sent back to the garage to pick them up. After returning, a Nimbus cloud would be spotted from miles away indicating the possibility of rain so work would be shut down to prevent breaking any of the union rules negotiated in the previous contract. More delays would ensue until someone notices that it's time for lunch break. After lunch, and only once the potential rain cloud had totally disappeared from eyesight, the summer-help would be instructed to set up orange cones around the pothole and redirect traffic for safety reasons. Following another mandatory break, work would resume (or, begin, depending on your interpretation of the word) work and the pothole would hopefully be fixed before the end of the day.]
If not, we'll try again and repeat the process tomorrow while we hope for a cloudless morning.]
There once was a time when stoppage in action meant something really cool just happened. If you were a fan at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City or the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1979 when Darryl Dawkins brought these 76ers games to a shattering stop, it might have been worth the wait to relish in what just happened.
Bad ice at an indoor coliseum, lack of snow at ski resort or potholes at our most revered racing event, those are not events to brag about having waited through delays to witness.
All Shook Up Over Handshakes
Peyton Manning did not shake hands with our photographer either before leaving Sun Life Stadium
Following the upset loss to the New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV, there's been a lot of talk about what Peyton Manning did. Most of the chatter has been centered around the interception that Manning threw, which was returned 74-yards for a touchdown by Saints' defensive back (and IU graduate), Tracy Porter.
That fourth quarter play, which essentially ended any hopes for the Indianapolis Colts while securing the first Super Bowl championship in New Orleans Saints franchise history, was followed by another move that has some calling Peyton Manning a 'poor sport'. After the game ended, Manning walked off the field at Sun Life Stadium without congratulating Drew Brees (or any other Saints players or coaches).
No postgame handshake, no high (or low) fives, no fist-bumps, no 'point and go's' and not even a 'bro hug double back-tap combo'. Peyton bolted for the locker room with his helmet still on.
I don't know if Peyton Manning is a sore loser or not. But I am pretty certain that, if so, he's self-aware of his public image enough to be sure not to appear in that manner. Especially on such a grand stage while knowing that most of the world is watching him.
Manning said after the game, "I certainly know how it was three years ago when we won and there's not much consolation for the guys that didn't win. There's the stage being set up, and the celebration, and it's the time for the Saints to celebrate. It's their field. They deserve the moment. But I certainly congratulate all their players and the Saints organization."
Indeed, Peyton Manning did call Drew Brees to congratulate the MVP from Super Bowl XLIV. Said Brees: "Peyton's a class guy."
Take his word for it, even if you didn't get to see for yourself.
Last May, after his Cleveland Cavaliers lost in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James walked off the court without shaking hands with Dwight Howard or any of the other members of the Orlando Magic.
Like Peyton Manning, James reached out to his victorious opponents after their initial celebration was well over. Only, James didn't make a phone call to Dwight Howard. Rather, King James sent an email to Howard congratulating him on advancing to the 2008-09 NBA Finals.
Oh, kids these days and their modern ways of communicating.
It's been almost 20 years since the "Bad Boys Pistons" lived up to their name and 9 of their 12 players (including Isiah Thomas) walked off the court with 14 seconds left in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals as they were being swept by the Chicago Bulls.
Maybe they should have sent a fax to Michael Jordan and his Bulls teammates after the Pistons recognized their mistake?
Some postgame handshakes are less honorable then had it been skipped all together. Remember Bill Belichick "congratulating" Tony Dungy after the Patriots lost to the Colts?
Bill Belichick made sure to offer Tom Coughlin a hurried handshake after the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Then, 'Darth Hoodie" disappeared from the field of the University of Phoenix Stadium with 1-second still remaining on the game clock.
And while this display of poor sportsmanship during a postgame handshaking tradition wasn't broadcast live to millions, it soon may have that many views on YouTube.com because of its shock appeal.
What's my suggestion?
I say we get hip with the times and take a lead from one of the Bud Lite campaigns that debuted during Super Bowl XLI. Skip the handshakes, hugs or even the fist-bumps with a new postgame tradition that's more fitting for true competitors.
Eugene Robinson gives his head some attention before playing in Super Bowl XXXIII
Namath guarantees victory in SB III!
Montana to Taylor in SB XXIII!
Elway goes airborne in SB XXXII!
Tyree out leaps Rodney Harrison in SB XLII!
Holmes out jumps the Cardinals secondary in SB XLIII!
As we approach Sunday's big game, we'll surely hear all about those legendary players and moments that helped make the Super Bowl the super spectacular that it has become. But let's not forget some of the memories the NFL would like for us to erase. And we're not referencing any of the on-field blunders such as Yepremian's attempted pass in SB VII, Jackie Smith's drop in SB XIII or even Scott Norwood's wide right in XXV.
Perhaps it's the pressure of the big game or the (most often) extra week that exists in between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Then again, maybe it's just a bunch of rich, spoiled athletes who already thought they were above society's laws that have made some Super Bowl preparations result in unexplainable pre-game behavior.
Remember Stanley Wilson in SB XXII? Of course not, because he never made the game. The Bengals RB missed it after nearly overdosing on cocaine in his hotel room on the eve of the kickoff. Barret Robbins didn't take his drugs the week of SB XXXVII and then was found drunk, wandering the streets of Tijuana the day before the game.
There's Mark Chmura, who after the Green Bay Packers won SB XXXI, refused an invitation to the White House citing protest of President Clinton's lack of moral code. Then less than three years later was accused of sexually seducing a teenage girl (his babysitter) at an after prom party.
And my favorite screw-up before the Super Bowl, there was Eugene Robinson, who on the eve of SB XXXIII was honored with the annual "Bart Starr Award" presented by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for "high moral reproach and character". What better way to celebrate then to offer a street prostitute forty dollars for oral sex? Too bad for Eugene, it was an undercover cop.
We're less than 72 hours before the kickoff for Super Bowl XLIV and, so far, no immediate member of either the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints have embarrassed their respective franchises. And, if there is a Super Bowl proposition for me to wager on, I bet none of the Colts or Saints will make that blunder before the Super Bowl begins. While keeping tabs on each player on an NFL team involves more watching-over than the OctoMom's babysitter, both the Colts and Saints are loaded with classy individuals throughout their 53-man roster.
Tuesday's annual Media Day was anything but controversial. While media members tried to get something, anything, from Dwight Freeney concerning his injured ankle, the other players avoided making any controversial statements. Not even a tired "Namath-like guarantee" could be pried from any of the players populating the concourse at Sun Life Stadium. These athletes don't just make their hometown fans proud, but probably do so to all of their parents as well.
Increased exposure from sleazy, celebrity web sites can't even crack the participants of this Super Bowl. As this column went to press, so far, the best TMZ could do was get a photograph of Reggie Bush walking out of a South Beach club Tuesday morning at 3:30 a.m.
Wow, how scandalous!
Super Bowl XLIV matches the two top playoff seeds from the NFC and AFC for the first time since 1993. The game should be on for the ages, but not one for the tabloids.
Peyton Manning should have a chance to play if Super Bowl XLIV would go into overtime
There's only two things I can't stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures... and the Dutch"
[Michael Caine, aka 'Nigel Powers', from Austin Powers in Goldmember]
If the commissioner of the NFL was to ask me what two things I can't stand, the most likely answer would have been, "The preseason and the Pro Bowl." Now, I'm not so sure. (And it's not because of moving the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl, Mr. Goodell. Sorry.)
While still not a fan of the 'simulated scrimmages' before each regular season or the 'fake football' of the annual Pro Bowl, last week's NFC Championship Game reminded me of something that leaves me more frustrated than a Cowboys fan in January. The NFL rules for overtime.
I'm far from alone on this one. While some analysts (Cris Collinsworth, Phil Simms) and league executives throw their support, there may be more fans of college football's BCS than there are of today's NFL overtime rules.
The current system begins with a coin toss and the team that scores first, by any means, wins. (You already knew that, but that was just in case Donovan McNabb is reading.) These overtime rules were put in place back in 1974. Since then, the game has transformed through many rules changes and most of them have benefited the offense. During that time period, the kickers (and kicking conditions) have improved as well.
Following a 60-minute deadlock, we just aren't thrilled to watch a team win the overtime coin toss, receive the kickoff, drive 30-40-yards and make a field goal before 4th down. But, reality isn't such the case and it only feels like that happens each time. There were 13 overtime games in the 2009 regular season and in only 5 did the team that won the coin toss score without having to play defense.
But in the playoffs when better teams are competing in this, an offensive-era of the league, it becomes a bigger issue. The league's overtime rules may have just hurt the Minnesota Vikings, and their fans, more so than another win by them would have inflicted pain on the people in Green Bay. In Indianapolis, it was felt just a season ago.
In last year's AFC wild card playoffs, the San Diego Chargers won the overtime coin toss and beat the Indianapolis Colts, 23-17, without Peyton Manning ever touching the football. This year's NFC championship, same scenario, but this time the Saints won and Brett Favre never took a snap.
In January of 2009, fans were denied the history to witness the legendary Peyton Manning, for the first time in his hall of fame career, lead a postseason drive with everything on the line. Last week, we may also been robbed of seeing Brett Favre have another memorable sudden death playoff game moment.
Peyton Manning in the 2008 playoffs would have been 50 years separated from when Johnny Unitas, wearing a Colts uniform, led a drive that I've now seen on film more times than the original Pamela Anderson sex tape. In the first-ever sudden death overtime game in NFL history, Unitas and the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants for the league championship. But we weren't able to see if it would play out in the same way for Manning.
Nor did football fans get to watch Brett Favre imitate history. Just 2 years ago was his last veteran opportunity to make a 'rookie throw' on a grand stage.
Favre's underthrown ball in overtime of the 2007-08 NFC championship sent the New York Giants to Super Bowl XLII weeks before he and the Packers began their nasty breakup. One more Favre interception to finish off his Vikings in New Orleans, and the Packers management would have been celebrating more than the Saints organization did following the game.
In the National Football League, it's the quarterbacks who are stars and the placekickers who are expandable. But in an overtime situation, the little soccer dude has more impact than the prestigious field general. And neither might be more crucial than the luck of winning that 50/50 coin toss.
It's fair for the league and the union to protect their players from injury. The regular season can withstand the anticlimactic shadow their overtime system sheds on an otherwise exciting ending. But postseason should provide the ultimate drama.
Unlike MLB, who failed to address issues that could embarrass the game in its biggest events like the 2002 All-Star Game tie, the NFL needs to be proactive and fix the overtime rules for their postseason games.
The fans deserve it.
Don't let the 5 wins and even fewer fans discourage you guys, go ahead and dump the coach with Gatorade in subfreezing temperatures
When gambling, I always like to set up my later losses before making my more immediate bets. Some don't get that and warn to not "put the cart ahead of the horse", but I bet they never had money on a horse where the cart was the only thing it didn't finish behind.
I'd be more confident predicting these NFL playoffs starting with the conference championships and working backwards to the wild card games. My ever-expanding holiday gut says the eventual winner of the NFC is playing football this weekend while this year's AFC champion has a first-round bye.
Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay or Arizona, put me down for any of those to beat the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings next weekend. Meanwhile, Indianapolis and San Diego should use their off week to prepare for one another in the conference finals.
The hottest teams advance and the luckiest ones eventually fall.
The Cowboys and Packers are hot but the Eagles and Cardinals have the chops to start sizzling after a quality road win. The Vikings and especially the Saints will have home field but whoever they play in the divisional playoffs will have their share of advantages too.
(Speaking of hot, I sure was in Week 17. Testing my theory that teams with nothing to play for will cover against those trying to make the playoffs we salute the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots and denounce the Bengals in the final week.)
The Colts and Chargers are the class of the AFC. The Texans and Steelers didn't deserve to make the postseason but both would have a better chance than the Jets or Bengals to win a playoff game in Indianapolis or San Diego. The Ravens can't run the table and the Patriots just don't look right.
Despite great momentum from a Week 17 winning streak, for the NFL Wild Card Playoffs I place my predictions with a confidence level at about - on a scale of Rosie O'Donnell to Megan Fox - I'd say, a Paul Poundstone chance of making me proud the next morning.
New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
If Marvin Lewis has any strategic sense at all (and that's a big IF) then he showed the Jets absolutely nothing during last week's slaughter. And by nothing I mean NOTHING. From Sunday's game to Saturday, the defensive schemes that Mark Sanchez sees in Cincinnati should look more foreign to him than the menu at Nha Hang Pho Viet Huong in Manhattan once did to me. Bengals 27, Jets 10
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Wow, could you imagine how good either might be if they had Terrell Owens? Guess you haven't heard anyone say that.
Here's something else that you shouldn't hear anyone say, "It's hard to beat a team three times in the same season," because that's about as accurate today as Nick Folk field goal attempt. Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens three times and since 1999 in games where a team has a 2-0 series, they are 5-2.
Dallas is finally playing really well at the right time. Cowboys 31, Eagles 21
Baltimore at New England
I don't think much of the Patriots potential this postseason. Welker's torn knee, Brady's broken ribs, Maroney's butter fingers, there even seems to be a deeper resentment toward the press in Bill Belichick's voice.
They couldn't win on the road against mediocre competition this season and won't against a quality opponent next week, but New England might be good for one win at home. Patriots 17, Ravens 13
Green Bay at Arizona
Disclosure item #1: Before the season began I had placed a "future" wager (on a whim and not so much done for the team as much as for the potential payout) on the Arizona Cardinals to win SB XLIV.
Disclosure item #2: It might not be possible for a heterosexual sports guy to have a bigger man crush on a player than I currently have on Aaron Rodgers.
Credit the Green Bay Packers management for knowing what fantasy football have now learned too, Aaron Rodgers is a quarterbacking stud. Packers 34, Cardinals 28
Still, for reasons I disclosed in my top-listed item, I'll be rooting for Kurt and the Cardinals.
Money over honeys, I guess.
Boyzee State Broncos
Boise State University has won their second Fiesta Bowl in four years after beating TCU 17-10 on Monday night. The win concludes another undefeated season for the Broncos (14-0) who have won more games than any college football team since 2000.
How did an athletic program, located in Boise, Idaho, become such a dominant force in college football?
Could it be the college courses they offer their student-athletes?
Or, the postgame reward the players receive for winning games?
You're a Mean One, Mr. Gundy
The Christmas tie isn't fooling anyone, Stan
"Did you have a nice holiday?"
Unofficially, that's the most overheard question beginning Christmas Day until the New Year. (Unless you are Charlie Sheen, of course, then it would be, "Did they read you your rights?"). The rest of us (sans Charlie) will typically respond with an agreeable, positive reply while mentioning our families, the children and loved ones whose company we enjoyed.
But don't expect Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to give you the standard seasonal response. "I would rather not play on Christmas," Van Gundy said before losing to the Boston Celtics on Friday. "This is a day to spend with your family. The league has been good to all of us in terms of what we get (big money) out of these TV games, so it would sound a little disingenuous to complain too much. But if I had my way, we'd take a five-day Christmas break."
Hey, put the rest of us down for a five day break too, Stan! And while we're synchronizing our work schedules, can ours also include a 3 to 4 month offseason as well??
The scheduling of NBA games on Christmas Day dates back to the inception of the league (late 1940s) then, starting in 1983, they were televised nationally and became a household tradition. This year the ESPN/ABC Network broadcasted 5 games on December 25th. And, unlike the NFL, the National Basketball Association strives to entertain fans with the game's biggest stars and best teams (LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers in one of those games this year).
Not only should the NBA ignore Van Gundy's scrooge-like request, but the NFL should be more particular as to how they gift-wrap games for their fans. Each year on Thanksgiving Day, fans are forced to suffer through blowouts because the NFL stubbornly sticks to the tradition of including the Detroit Lions and then scheduling a weak opponent for the Dallas Cowboys. Over the past four years of pro football on Thanksgiving Day, the Lions have lost by a combined score of 144-58 and the Cowboys have crushed their opponents (Oakland, Seattle, New York Jets and Tampa Bay) by a 130-29 margin.
Then, beginning in 2006, there is the Thanksgiving night game broadcast on the NFL Network - which is still only available in about half the homes in America. I guess is important to remind the less fortunate what they DON'T have on that day of thanks.
As for the family dilemma in the Van Gundy household... every heard of celebrating on Christmas Eve, Stan?
The massive interest for professional football and the growth of the National Football League has been undeniable. Replacing baseball many years ago as our nation’s most popular sport, the media coverage dedicated to covering the game has exploded almost as fast as the league, itself. But so many hours of coverage also means too many cliché’s and, as a result, too much lazy analysis.
Want to know what ESPN’s Tom Jackson thinks the (insert any NFL team here) need to do to win this week? “Run the football, play good defense and avoid turnovers”.
Thanks, Tom. I’ll try to remember that next time. Unlike the thousands of times you stated that in the past.
Last week Tony Dungy said on NBC’s “Football Night in America” pregame show that the Dallas Cowboys had ‘no chance’ of beating the New Orleans Saints in Week 15.
The Cowboys won 24-17. And, according to quarterback Tony Romo, they had Tony Dungy to partially thank for it. Romo mentioned following the game that a tape of Dungy’s comments was played for the Cowboys before they left for New Orleans.
How’s that for “Uncommon”?
When Tony Dungy joined the Sunday night show many wondered if he could be opinionated enough to make it work as an analyst. No longer a concern, we must now wonder if Dungy is objective enough.
Wasn’t Tony once the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? His 1999 team made it all the way to the NFC Championship where, behind quarterback Shaun King, they had to play the “Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis for a chance to be in the Super Bowl. Dungy’s team was far more than a touchdown underdog (the Saints were favored by 7 ½ over the Cowboys in Week 15) in that conference title game.
So, did your team have ‘no chance’ at winning, Tony?
Surely the Indianapolis Colts teams he coached know what it’s like to win as an underdog and lose as a favorite. The San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers have beaten the heavily-favored Dungy-led Colts’ teams in the postseason while his 2006 Super Bowl champions were underdogs their road playoff road games leading up to SB XLI.
In the future Tony Dungy (and some others) can watch some tape of their own during the week to avoid such analytical errors on Sunday. I’m positive that some pregame host, somewhere, reminded us recently, “That’s why they play the game”.
Sophomore running back Mark Ingram has been awarded as this year's Heisman Trophy winner. In the closest race in Heisman history, Ingram edged runner-up Toby Gerhart by a mere 28 votes to become the first member of the Alabama Crimson Tide to win the prestigious award.
Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it?
For Ingram it certainly was. “I'm a little overwhelmed right now," he said. "I'm just so excited to bring Alabama their first Heisman winner,” as the tears flowed (and subsequently ended all jokes in Tuscaloosa poking fun at Tim Tebow for crying after the SEC Championship game).
Standing at the podium Ingram struggled to speak and was encouraged to 'take his time' by the surrounding former winners. They all knew what a great moment it was to be recognized as college football's best in a season.
Well, almost all of them.
My favorite Heisman Trophy winner of all-time is Tony Dorsett. Attending games at Pitt Stadium as a child, I marveled at the Panthers tailback for his elusive ability and exceptional speed. Dorsett would scorch the opposition and would famously tear-up the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense for over 303 in 1975 and then (despite the efforts to grow the grass longer in effort to slow him down at South Bend) again in 1976 for a total of 290 yards. (Back then, an individual performance like such versus Notre Dame was unheard of, however, today even a white running back from an academic university can do so.)
Tony Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman winner, would hold the college rushing record for 22 years until Ricky Williams would surpass his total in 1998 (when Williams, himself, would win the award).
He was my favorite college football player then and now Tony Dorsett is my favorite former winner too. Check out Tony during Mark Ingram's speech stopping to check his BlackBerry (about 2:15 into the video).
Finally, we get to enjoy a classic moment during an acceptance speech.
I just hope for Tony's sake he wasn't being replied to after a late night text.