Over the next few days, every semi-literate human being with a keyboard and an internet connection is going to post a Super Bowl preview. Since I qualify on all counts, here’s mine.
But before we get to that, something more interesting than the Super Bowl has begun. All but two teams are now wholeheartedly in the thick of the NFL off-season follies. This one should be a doozy. Two of our mainstays are already back in the news.
Mike Vick may be coming back sooner rather than later. It turns out that part of the reason for his longish 23-month sentence was that he tested positive for ganja when he pled guilty to the dog-fighting charges. Yep, little Ronnie Mexico was bonging himself silly prior to standing before a judge to make his plea. I don’t know if that was comically stupid or a valid emotional necessity. Whatever the case, a potential result of completing a drug rehab program while in the pokey would be getting out as early as late this year. Of course he would be leaving prison to face a mountain of debt (probably personal bankruptcy), followed by having to explain his newly exposed weed habit to Roger Goodell (whose lips would be pursed like the Church Lady), then, if re-instated, finding a team that would even consider taking the P.R. risk of inviting him to camp (take off to the Great White North, Mikey). I still think we have seen the last of Vick in the NFL.
We also have a Pacman sighting. And it was at a strip club. Never would have expected that. In this latest incident he was apparently in the middle of a disagreement over money with the female owner of the club. Never would have expected that. In the course of the disagreement he was accused of punching another woman who was present. Never would have expected that. The charges were subsequently dropped meaning either a) the woman was lying, or b) the woman was paid off. The money line on “b” is set at -375. No way does Roger Goodell reinstate him for 2008, which should only send him back to the strip clubs looking for solace. If it doesn’t turn deadly, this could be fun.
A couple of potential scandals are going nowhere media-wise. There are still a lot of open questions about the Tony Dungy/Jeff Fisher collusion in Week 17, where there may or may not have been agreement by the teams that the Colts would forego a final opportunity for victory. And there is an entire book coming out about the financing of Reggie Bush at USC entitled Tarnished Heisman. The common thread between these two scandals is that absolutely no one seems to care.
Then we have some minor rumors and absurdities. Joe Theismann suggested himself as a replacement for Matt Millen. That Detroiters shrugged and said “Why not?” succinctly defines the Lions organization. Out west, somebody jostled Al Davis’ brain-in-a-jar and he asked Lane Kiffin to voluntarily give up 2 years at 2 million quatloos so he could crown Dennis Green’s ass. And ESPN’s Dan Patrick owes me a new keyboard for referring to Jessica Simpson as Yoko Romo.
But the off-season show I’m looking forward to most is the epic drama of Bill Parcells trying to fix the Miami Dolphins. The Fins are an unmitigated train wreck. The litany of thickheadedness seems endless but it all came to a head before the end of the season. Keith Traylor got in a dust-up with some teammates over a game of dominos, then free agent bust/casino brawler Joey Porter took the opportunity to call Cam Cameron a coward in front of the whole team. These are the kinds of incidents you get on a 1-15 team. The situation has been festering for a while. Nick Saban’s desertion. Duante Culpepper over Drew Brees. Tedd Ginn — Tedd Ginn?? Innumerable starting QBs. Ricky Williams coming and going. You can even go back to Dan Marino bailing as GM after a few days. It’s just been one head shaker after another. This year, the only thing Miami is going to win is the Turd Watch over at PFT.
The most optimistic thing you can say is that the Dolphins hit rock bottom. This is why I am positive about the Parcells’ era. There is absolutely no move he can make that won’t be justifiable at this point. Anything is possible. If he saves this mess it will be the crowning achievement of his career, and that’s saying something. I just hope HBO Sports has him miked up and is following him around with a camera. No — two cameras: one on Parcells, and one on whoever he is talking to. I would spring for pay-per-view to see the expression on faces of Ricky Williams or Joey Porter during a dressing down from the Tuna. I want to see the look on Jeff Ireland’s face every time Parcells makes a “suggestion” about personnel. I want to see him tell Trent Green about his plans for him and see Trent reply, “Trent? That’s me, right?” HBO, are you listening?
For now, we are in the midst of what is effectively a fortnight long pre-game show. In an effort to fill all this time, the Super Bowl gets the sports journalism equivalent of a full rectal exam. No matter how trivial, shallow, or inane, there is no angle that is not exaggerated and no observation that is not deemed earth-shattering. Once game time rolls around I will be mildly concussed from regularly slamming my head into the coffee table from all the idiot commentary. And yet, there is no way this year could possibly be as bad as, say, the Jerome Bettis Home Town Bowl a couple of years back. There are two very legitimate stories to tell this year. No, not two weeks worth of stories, but better than usual.
Like many others, I had picked Green Bay to come out of the NFC (well, I did once the regular season ended anyway), but now I am happy the Giants are here. I probably shouldn’t be, though. In my pre-season NFC preview I said:
Ah yes, the team that put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” The Giants’ locker room is bitchier than a Desperate Housewife’s Tupperware party. You could argue that the Giants thrive on catty snipes and petty disputes, but their best offensive player has retired, their best defensive player keeps talking about retiring, their coach is hated and ignored, and the QB has a Slow Children Playing sign over his locker and he’s not sure why. Enjoy the drama Giants fans, ’cause that’s all you’ll have.
With apologies to Will Ferrell, the Giants shoved that back inside my face. It is absolutely astounding how much pure, unadulterated wrongness I was able to squeeze into a single paragraph.
As penance, I should go out and buy a Citizen Eco-drive watch, because like Eli Manning, it is unstoppable. Can you imagine the scene at the Citizen Watch headquarters midseason? I keep picturing the guy who championed Eli as their product spokesman as Michael from The Office, calling the staff together announcing how proud he is to have “America’s little brother” as the face of their product, then everyone walks away silently in deadpan disbelief. Except at the end of this episode, Michael gets a raise, a promotion.
I am delighted for Eli. Between his father, big brother, coaches, and every sports journalist in the country (including Yours Truly), is there anyone in the history of mankind who has been dumped on and condescended to more than him? Give us hell, Eli. We deserve it.
On the flipside we have Tiki Barber. Whatever the issues with the previous versions of the Giants, Tiki made it widely known that they were not about Tiki. Coughlin was a dictator, others were not giving their best efforts, Eli couldn’t lead, etc., but Tiki’s statistics clearly showed that it wasn’t his fault. Oh snap! What happened, Tiki? You left and now everything’s just peachy. Couldn’t possibly mean you were the problem, could it? I have a mental image of Tiki as Scotty from Boogie Nights banging his head against the steering wheel and crying, “I’m a f—ing idiot! I’m a f—ing idiot!”
Locker room psychology aside, this is not surprising. The Giants rise in the absence of Tiki is just another chapter in the ongoing degradation of the running back as a driving force in the NFL. You saw something similar this year when the Seahawks and Saints improved once Shaun Alexander and Reggie Bush were playing reduced roles. In the NFL, the running game exists only to keep defenses honest so that the passing game can succeed. Furthermore, the running game excels primarily through a successful offensive line. If you have a sharp O-line, the running back becomes a mere commodity. Just ask Edgerrin James. (This is reason #273 why Joe Thomas should have been Rookie of the Year and not Adrian Peterson.)
(By the way, I cannot come up with any commentary that would enhance this article about Giants offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer’s method of helping his Basque friend castrate 200 sheep. He uses his teeth. This quote says it all: “There was beer. Good times. It was worth it.” You have to read it. I’m dumbstruck.)
More interesting to stats geeks like me is that at the start of the playoffs, the Giants were, by a significant margin, the worst team in the playoffs. As measured by DVOA, the Giants were a substandard team with negatives in standard DVOA, weighted DVOA, and even non-adjusted (for opponent strength) DVOA. There was a pretty clear drop off after all the other teams before you got to the Giants. They had to beat the Bucs in Tampa Bay, the Cowboys in Dallas, and Green Bay on the Tundra (pretty friggin’ impressive, even if Favre gunslung it away in OT). Even with the benefit of being in the crapshoot NFC, it was a pretty unlikely outcome. In fact, in their last four games going back to their Week 17 game against the Pats, the Giants have put up some exceptional performances — completely out of character with the rest of the season. Once again this is detailed over at Football Outsiders.
Of course, the glib and shallow answer to why this improvement was unforeseen is, “You can’t measure heart.” Well, fine. But if you can’t measure it, what good does it do us? And if your argument is that the Giants suddenly found “heart” but the Bucs, Cowboys and Packers didn’t, well, I’d be willing to bet that no player on the losing team would say he didn’t play with all his heart. So I still don’t know what to make of the Giants, but I’m glad they are in because they are a good story. And they will make us all think about what is possible versus what is probable. And I’m happy for Eli, my honorary little brother. And I hope they win.
But they won’t. As has been the case since about half way through the season, there is simply no reason to expect the Patriots to lose. None. I know some people are pointing to distractions such as Randy Moss getting accused of assaulting a woman (a claim that is highly suspect), or Tom Brady’s phantom foot cast, or Dante Stallworth’s Martian alter ego (whoa), but those are nothing but straws for desperate journalists to grasp. Unless you are going to fall back on irrationality, such as “heart,” you have to pick the Pats to win the Super Bowl. Sorry, you just do.
I don’t hate the Pats, broadly speaking. I just find them a little annoying and rather tedious. I couldn’t possibly hate Tom Brady. After all, he is a Michigan Wolverine; I am a Michigan Wolverine. He dresses in the most stylish clothes money can buy; I dress in the most stylish clothes on clearance at T.J. Maxx. He spends his free time impregnating supermodels; I spend my free time thinking about impregnating supermodels. We’re practically the same person.
In contrast it’s easy to hate the Pats defense. They are stone dirty. Rodney Harrison is a two time winner of the Sports Illustrated Dirtiest Player in the NFL poll, not to mention the four-game HGH suspension from earlier in the year. Instead of game film, Vince Wilfork watches Three Stooges reruns to improve his eye-poking technique. (Although if I were him, I’d worry about Grey Ruegamer’s response to such a move.) The latest evidence is Charger’s center Nick Hardwick’s description of Richard Seymour: “Head slapping, foot stomping in the pile, running by and throwing punches in your back,” Hardwick said. “He’s a (expletive). … There were a lot of things he did. There’s a field goal where he was stomping feet. Who stomps feet? And the officials weren’t doing anything about it. He plays like a punk.”
But the most annoying thing about the Pats are the Boston sports fans with their it’s-great-to-be-a-winner preening and their we-so-deserve-this posturing and their clam-chowder-and-wicked-pissah accents. How long will it be until we are subjected to a novella-length column from Bill Simmons entitled “I’m Not Gay and Would Never Do Such a Thing But Hypothetically If Someone Put a Gun to My Head Who Would I Go Down On, ’86 Larry Bird, ’04 Curt Schilling, or ’07 Tom Brady?” Insufferable bastards, the lot of ‘em.
But why whine? There’s nothing we can do. The Pats just have too many weapons. Even when they were in close games this year, you always got the sense that they were playing with one hand strapped behind their backs. When crunch time came around, they just took out the other hand. We can root for Eli and crew, but let’s face it, we might as well rename this one the Rubber Stamp Bowl. My prediction is that we are treated to a boring Pats victory by at least a couple of touchdowns. An unsurprising end to an unsurprising season.
Unlike Peyton, I’m not bummed about the season ending this time around. Here’s to next year. When do two-a-days start?