Friday, October 03, 2008


Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their fourth year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK4 = This week's ranking. WK3 = Last week's ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
1 1Titans 100.0017 7Cardinals60.68
2 3Giants 93.421826Jets 58.66
3 5Bills 88.021914t49ers 57.43
4 2Ravens 81.132018Dolphins 57.41
5 4Eagles 80.262120Seahawks 57.06
6 6Cowboys 75.152222tJaguars 55.18
7 8Steelers74.332317Vikings 51.36
811Bucs 73.012422tPatriots 50.04
913Chargers70.362525Colts 45.51
1014tBears 67.822624Raiders 45.25
1121Panthers66.332730Chiefs 37.79
1210Broncos 66.042827Bengals 31.93
1319Saints 64.762931Browns 31.25
14 9Falcons 62.503029Texans 29.16
1512Packers 63.243128Lions 25.21
1616Redskins62.363232Rams 0.00

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their fourth year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK3 = This week's ranking. WK2 = Last week's ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
1 2Titans 100.001721Vikings 60.33
2 8Ravens 95.991827Dolphins 56.95
3 1Giants 89.441915Saints 56.70
4 7Eagles 86.352025Seahawks 56.63
5 5Bills 80.762114Panthers 54.33
611Cowboys 78.7322t 6Patriots50.29
7 3Cardinals78.3222t24Jaguars 50.29
8 4Steelers 75.452422Raiders 48.97
916Falcons 73.812523Colts 46.21
1010Broncos 73.272618Jets 43.17
1113Bucs 69.162731Bengals 33.89
12 9Packers 68.922826Lions 27.89
1317Chargers 66.142929Texans 18.70
14t12Bears 65.953028Chiefs 17.73
14t2049ers 65.953130Browns 16.11
1619Redskins 60.993232Rams 0.00

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their fourth year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK2 = This week's ranking. WK1 = Last week's ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
1 5Giants 100.001717Chargers 55.92
29tTitans 94.171813Jets 53.82
3 8Cardinals 93.191928Redskins 53.38
4 6Steelers 88.77202549ers 51.80
5 2Bills 88.592119Vikings 48.78
69tPatriots 82.972230Raiders 45.78
7 1Eagles 80.762326Colts 42.83
89tRavens 80.652422tJaguars 42.72
914Packers 79.092531Seahawks 35.92
10 3Broncos 76.532621Lions 33.39
11 4Cowboys 74.572720Dolphins 26.51
12 7Bears 72.372822tChiefs 24.82
1318Bucs 70.482927Texans 24.60
1416Panthers 63.013029Browns 22.36
1515Saints 57.083122tBengals 21.80
1612Falcons 56.003232Rams 0.00

You could say the Rams are perfect in the red zone in 2008: In two games, they have not run a single play inside the opponents' 20 yard line.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Have I gone to the dark side?

I think I may have finally turned into That Guy. You know, That Fantasy Football Guy? In Monday night's game between the Eagles and the Cowboys, DeSean Jackson made one of the greatest bonehead plays of all time, spiking the ball (sort of) before he had even crossed the goal line. As it became clear that, because the Cowboys didn't jump on the ball once Jackson dropped it, the Eagles would retain possession at the 1 yard line, my reaction was not so much "What a goddam look-at-me idiot!" as it was "Oooooh! This could mean another TD for Brian Westbrook."

Because I have Brian Westbrook on my fantasy team. 22 points on Monday!

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their fourth year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK1 = This week's ranking. '07 = final 2007 ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
111Eagles 100.0017 5Chargers 47.66
226Bills 81.9518 9Bucs 44.68
321Broncos 78.751910Vikings 43.19
4 6Cowboys 77.742030Dolphins 39.66
513Giants 72.922122Lions 36.16
6 4Steelers 72.3622t17Bengals 34.81
720Bears 72.3122t 7Jaguars 34.81
816Cardinals 66.2722t28Chiefs 34.81
9t 1Patriots 65.19253149ers 33.73
9t25Ravens 65.1926 2Colts 27.69
9t15Titans 65.192718Texans 27.64
1229Falcons 63.842812Redskins 27.08
1324Jets 60.342914Browns 22.26
14 3Packers 56.813027Raiders 21.25
1519Saints 55.3231 8Seahawks 18.05
1623Panthers 52.343232Rams 0.00

Now, obviously, the rankings are going to be a little skewed with only one week's worth of data being fed into the formula. But you'll notice that only one team opens 2008 with the exact same ranking as at the end of 2007. You don't need a lot of data to determine the obvious.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Daunte's headlong dive into hell

Somewhat buried amid the fuss of the NFL's opening weekend was the news that quarterback Daunte Culpepper was retiring from football. The fact that the news passed with so little comment was amazing in itself: In 2004, Culpepper put up one of the best quarterback seasons ever and would have been the runaway league MVP had Peyton Manning not gotten in the way. Less than four years ago, the man was surrounded by talk of the Hall of Fame. Today he's puttering around in his kitchen wondering what happened. What happened was that he was betrayed by his agent.

Culpepper had spent the past two seasons with two different teams, dogged primarily by the knee injury that ended his 2005 season and to a far lesser extent by "character questions" like those that chased him out of Minnesota. How silly it is, then, that it was the character issue rather than the knee that ultimately drove him into retirement. Well ... more accurately, he drove himself into retirement, because -- that idiot agent we just mentioned? His name is Daunte Culpepper.

A lawyer who represents himself is said to have a fool for a client. I'd say the same about most athletes who choose to act as their own agents. There are exceptions, of course. For years, Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi negotiated his own contracts, and he did very well for himself. Then Bruschi had a stroke, and he got himself an agent. The stroke didn't weaken his intellectual ability to negotiate, but it did weaken his bargaining position. Whereas once he was dealing from a position of strength, now he was damaged goods, to an extent. Moving forward, he needed someone who cuts deals for a living.

Culpepper took a somewhat different tack. Since tearing up his knee in 2005, he has acted as his own agent. In those three years, he has been cut by three teams, the Vikings, Dolphins and Raiders, and he left on bad terms with all of them.

Coming into the 2008 season, you would think that if Culpepper wanted to remain an NFL quarterback, he would get a good agent to plead his case to team front offices -- tell, them: Look, I know this guy's been hurt a lot, but the knee's fine. Give him a shot to make the roster. It's not like clubs weren't interested. Green Bay offered him $1 million to back up Aaron Rodgers, and Pittsburgh reportedly offered him the veteran minimum (about $750,000) to fill in for the injured Charlie Batch as Ben Roethlisberger's primary backup.

And Culpepper said no to both offers. Why? Because I ain't no backup! Culpepper, who has appeared in maybe a dozen games over the past three seasons, insisted that he is, was and shall forever be an NFL starting quarterback and that any suggestion that he should wear a ballcap on the sidelines was an insult to his manhood. Or something. In announcing his retirement, Culpepper said that he didn't want to quit football, but that he didn't really have a choice because no team was going to allow him to compete for a starting job. In that statement, he revealed a stunning ignorance of a very well-known reality about life in the NFL.

And that reality is this: Unless he's backing up Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre or maybe Carson Palmer, a quarterback on an NFL roster is already competing for the starting job. This league goes through quarterbacks like digital cameras go through batteries. One bad game, and the fans are calling for a change; two bad games, and the front office starts asking questions; three bad games, and the coaches are getting the hook ready. (Exception: Chicago, where each quarterback gets eight to 10 dismal games.) And those QBs who are immune to criticism aren't necessarily immune to injury. Two of the guys on the list I just gave didn't finish their games Sunday: Brady, who's out for the year, and Roethlisberger, who went to the bench with a sore shoulder. Playing in relief of Roethlisberger: Byron Leftwich, like Culpepper a former high-first-round draft pick who had lost his job as a starter and bounced around the league. The difference is that Leftwich has an agent who told him that the best way to get a good QB job in the NFL is to be willing to take a not-so-good QB job in the NFL.

Hey, here's another former high-first-round pick who accepted a job as a backup: Trent Dilfer. He ended up winning a Super Bowl ring, staying in the league an extra decade, and securing himself a lucrative TV career. How about Kerry Collins? He had started in the Super Bowl, and yet was willing to ride the bench in Tennessee behind the apparently fragile-in-more-ways-than-one Vince Young. Guess who's starting for the Titans this weekend?

News of Culpepper's retirement was met with a chorus of "How is it that (Brodie Croyle, J.T. O'Sullivan, Kyle Orton, etc.) can land a roster spot, but a former Pro Bowler like Daunte Culpepper can't?" Ask Culpepper's agent. He didn't want to "compete" for the starting job somewhere; he wanted to come in and be handed the starting job. Based on what? All those touchdowns he threw to Randy Moss in 2004? His 3-7 record as a starter in Miami and Oakland? He didn't want a "spot" on the roster. A NFL roster has 53 spots, and Culpepper wouldn't accept 52 of them.

Maybe he really is done with football, and if so, I wish him well. But maybe his tune will change when he finds himself on the couch every Sunday afternoon. Maybe he'll get to the point where, if the phone rings with an offer to be a backup, he'll jump at the chance. (You don't think the Titans wouldn't be interested in seeing if he can run some of the plays drawn up for Young?) But just as likely, such a call will never come, because Culpepper has slid too far down the NFL totem pole, to the dreaded distinction of "distraction." Every NFL quarterback wants to be the starter. Hell, every NFL quarterback thinks he should be the starter. But those who aren't starters have to know to keep it to themselves, say the right things, and don't do anything to split the locker room. Coaches would rather lose games than lose their teams. Any team that signs Culpepper now comes preloaded with a quarterback controversy. So his phone won't ring.

There won't even be a call from his agent, just to say hi.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What we learned from opening night

1. Eli Manning still throws a lot of interceptions. The guy isn't a bad quarterback. He's a good quarterback and will enjoy a long, successful career. But one solid stretch at the end of last season did not cure him of all his ills, chief among them being his unfortunate tendency, at least two or three times a game, to put a pass right between the numbers of a guy in a different-color shirt. He did it at least four times on opening night -- including once in the end zone -- but you're not going to hear about it because the Redskins caught only one of those passes. Great quarterbacks don't just rack up yards and TDs. They protect the ball.

2. Are they sure that's the West Coast offense? John Madden remarked on it at least once, and I've heard it elsewhere: The Redskins under Jim Zorn have installed a West Coast passing offense but are leaving intact the power running game from the second Joe Gibbs era. Wha ... ? This is the football equivalent of wearing brown shoes with a blue suit. There's nothing inherently wrong with either, but you don't put them together and call it anything but ugly. In the West Coast, short passes are essentially part of the running game. The passing and the rushing have to be integrated seamlessly. You can't separate them. Well, you can, but don't expect it to work. I'm not saying that this is the reason that the Redskins receivers kept running 8-yard curls on 3rd-and-10, but ... well, maybe I am saying that.

3. The Redskins have Joe Gibbs' running game, Jim Zorn's passing game and Herm Edwards' clock management. Because of their atrocious use of the clock and non-use of timeouts, Washington nearly ran out of time at the end of the first half, just when they were putting together their first sustained drive of the game. Then they did run out of time in the fourth quarter, when, with less than 4 minutes left and needing two scores, they ran more than a minute off the clock with two plays that gained a total of 6 yards. In the waning moments, in their own end of the field, they were still calling designed runs up the middle and 6-yard hitch passes to the numbers.

4. South Carolina's quarterback is named "Smelley." I had to watch something after the game, and I sure as hell wasn't going to hang around on NBC and watch a bunch of politicians sniff their own fumes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Radar O'Really?

What kind of writing ability does it take to become president of the Pro Football Writers of America? The ability to cram as many inaccuracies as possible into one stupid "clever" lede. In a story about how the Washington Redskins are, for once, attracting very little media attention in the preseason,'s Alex Marvez begins this way:

"The stealth bombers protecting the White House have company.
The Washington Redskins are flying under the radar, too."

Let's count the problems:

1. Stealth bombers do not protect the White House. There's no way stealth bombers even could protect the White House. Stealth bombers are strategic weapons designed to deliver payloads of heavy explosives or cruise missiles. Their job is to destroy things, not prevent them from being destroyed. If you called in a B-2 to stop a terrorist attack on the White House, you'd eliminate the terrorists, all right -- plus the White House and much of Northwest Washington. There are warplanes circling above D.C., but they're fighters, not bombers.

2. Stealth bombers do not fly "under the radar." The whole point of stealth technology is that you don't have to fly under the radar, because the aircraft doesn't have a recognizable radar signature.

3. The planes that do protect the White House don't fly under the radar, either. To get below the detection field for ground-based radar, you have to fly so close to the ground that you'll all but deafen the people down there (in which case, no one will need radar to find the planes). The fighters over D.C. do the opposite, circling at extremely high altitudes, ready when called for to, say, shoot down a aircraft that's deemed a threat.

4. Finally, pilots of planes protecting the White House would have neither the need nor the desire to evade ground-based radar -- because that radar is part of their defense network. Evading American radar is a wonderful way for an American pilot to get his ass shot down by an American missile battery.

You can accuse me of being too literal, I suppose, but you just know that Marvez thought this lede was really, really clever, and he never once stopped to think whether it made a lick of sense.

But there is one nice thing to say. At least, thank God, he didn't write "flying under the radar screen."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Screwing the Vikings with Favre

It occurred to me this morning that the Packers may very well trade Brett Favre to a division rival. But don't be surprised if they wait until late in camp to do it. If Green Bay is going to battle Minnesota for control of the division, doesn't it make sense to disrupt the Vikings' preparations with a monthlong is-Favre-coming-to-Mankato circus? Then, once the Vikings have installed an offense with Tarvaris Jackson in the middle, and the team has rallied around Jackson, the Packers throw Favre into the mix? A situation like that could be absolute poison.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Super Bowl XLII Play-by-Playlooza

It's back! Down and Distance presents it's third annual look at every play, every ad, every inane comment by the announcers in the NFL's biggest game. It's the Super Bowl XLII Play-by-Playlooza!


The scene: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona. Your hosts: Fox Sports' Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Chris Myers and Pam Oliver are roaming the sidelines. Maricopa County sheriff's deputies have been warned to be on the lookout for Joe Namath and told to Tase first, ask questions later. (In the case of Mercury Morris, lethal force has been authorized.) Umpteen Sarah Connor Chronicles promos are loaded into the Betamax. America's greatest advertising minds have cued up an evening of guy-gets-kicked/bitten/shot-in-the-balls fun. Let's get it on!

If you're like me, you try not to even turn on your television on Super Bowl Sunday until the game is actually about to start, because every year, whichever network has the game pushes the pregame envelope even farther back. For all I know, this year Fox just went straight from its Sunday morning right-wing politics program into the pregame show. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what they did, because early in the afternoon, I happened to flip to Fox, and there was crazy person Shepard Smith leering out at me with his creepy child-molester eyes under the rubric of some pre-pre-pre-pregame show. That guy weirds me the fuck out. I accidentally flipped back about two hours later, and someone was interviewing the ancient Patriots linebackers. Tedy Bruschi was playing the saxophone for some fucking reason, and Junior Seau was wearing a Superfly hat. Once I saw that, I resolved not to go back until the game was about to start.

So I check back at 5 p.m. (Central), when, according to my TiVo, the game coverage is to begin. No more pregame, right? Well, Joe Buck informs me that I've arrived at the "Built Ford Tough Pre-Kick Show." Buck and Aikman talk about the Patriots and the Giants, and I'm sure it's all very compelling, just like I'm sure that not a word of it hasn't already been said eight different ways in the six hours of pregame. So we'll just fast-forward through all of it.

The teams come out on the field -- first the Giants, then the Patriots. Remember back when they used to do individual introductions at the Super Bowl? One team's offensive unit would be introduced ("... and playing quarterback, number 14, Craig Morton!"), as would the other team's defense. They don't do that anymore, and you have the New England Patriots to blame for it. Before Super Bowl XXXVI, the St. Louis Rams received the traditional intorduction, but the Patriots insisted that they would only take the field as a team. So the Rams came off looking like prima-donna camera hogs who put self before team, even though they were just following tradition, while the Patriots came off looking like gritty, devil-may-care underdogs.

And this is as good a time as any to raise the specter of Super Bowl XXXVI. Let's recap that game, briefly. The Rams, who had already won a Super Bowl, came into the game with a record-setting offense that may have been the best ever. Led by the league MVP at quarterback, they were two-touchdown favorites. The Patriots, meanwhile, were seen as a team of overachievers who had played way over their heads and were sure to get ground to pieces in the Super Bowl. But with a two-pronged strategy of slowing down the game while on offense and ruthless brutality on defense, the Patriots were able to pull off the upset.

Go ahead and print out that paragraph, OK? Now, let's compare and contrast the entrances:

The Giants take the field to Kanye West's Stronger. Telling lyric: "That that [sic] don't kill me can only make me stronger."
The Patriots take the field to Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train. Telling lyric: "Going off the rails on a crzy train."
A team's choice of song for the introductions is always quite revealing. Two years ago the Seattle Seahawks came out to Bittersweet Symphony. A lot of unfair things happened to them that day, and after taking the field with such a dumbass soundtrack, they deserved every goddam one of them. I don't know who on the Patriots picked Crazy Train, but I'm willing to point the finger at Tom Brady. I mean, this guy has said -- on the record -- that he listens to Sunday Bloody Sunday before games because it's a good football song. Of course it is. Just ask anyone in Belfast.

The Giants come out skipping and strutting and shimmying and waving their arms and trying to get the crowd fired up.
The Patriots trot out onto the field two-by-two, all steely determination and no fun, looking for all the world like the 501st Legion entering the Jedi Temple at the beginning of the Great Purge. (And don't pretend like you don't fucking know what I'm talking about, either. Super Bowl XLII, Episode III ... it's all of a piece.)
I can't help but think of that famous bit of NFL Films footage from the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame. As the Patriots were waiting to take the field (as a team, of course), Tom Brady was going absolutely apeshit in the tunnel, bouncing up and down and yammering non-stop at Drew Bledsoe, who, if he hadn't made up his mind that this kid was his best shot at a ring, might well have killed him just to shut him up. Contrast that with the Patriots' imperial march on 2008, and you just get a bad feeling about all of this.

Jordin Sparks comes out to sing the Star-Spangled Banner, and it's a happy coincidence for Fox that she's actually from Glendale, Arizona, and that her dad played for the New York Giants, because that way it looks like she has a real reason for doing this, beyond pimping Season 7 of American Idol. (Don't believe me? Remember who sang the national anthem at last season's NFC Championship Game in Chicago -- the final Fox football broadcast of the year? That's right: Elliott Yamin.) I have no doubt that if Blake Lewis had won last year's Idol, he'd have been here, instead, beat-boxing the shit out of the national anthem. And maybe Fox would have engineered it so that the Seahawks would be representing the NFC.

Before the game, you could place a prop bet in Vegas on how long it would take Jordin to sing the whole thing. The over/under was 1 minute 42 seconds. By my stopwatch, she went 1:55 from "O, say" to "home of the brave." Which is fine by me. America fucking rules, so it's worth nearly two full minutes of love. But what doesn't rule is her disgraceful performance. How many times do these clowns have to be told that the national anthem is not up for reinterpretation? We all know the melody, and we all expect you to follow it. We know where there should be pauses and where there shouldn't. The damn thing is hard enough to sing without some self-indulgent TV contest winner putting five extra syllables into the word "streaming." But there she goes. And the crowd roars its approval, because she's a hometown girl, and she's America's sweetheart and whatever. But it was a travesty, and she's a miserable beast so full of her own bullshit that the whites of her eyes are poopy brown.

Harsh? Sorry, but I refer you to the allegations cropping up all over the Internets that Jordin in fact lip-synched her entire performance -- allegations that have yet to appear in the mainstream media, which tells us one of two things: either they're true, and the MSM is trying to cover it up, or they're not true. Well, I just reviewed the tape, and I think they're true. Her voice and her face were a fraction of a second out of joint -- the inflection of her voice would change, then her face would change to match it -- and there's no way it was a simple technical problem.

A lot of people seem to get bent out of shape over performers who lip-synch. Me, I don't care. When you go to see Madonna in concert (and I'm sure all of you who understood the reference to the 501st Legion are also big, BIG Madonna fans), you go to see Madonna -- see her run around and dance and vogue and do all that high-energy stuff. Well, she can't do all of that and still sing, too. She'd be huffing and puffing, and she'd sound terrible. So she lip-synchs. The audience gets to hear the song as they know it and love it, and Madonna gets to entertain without sounding like your overweight uncle trying to take a shit. It's a victimless crime.

Look at the biggest lip-synch scandal of all: Milli Vanilli. They won the Grammy Award for best new artist of 1990. Then, when it came out that the Predator-looking dudes on the album cover and in all the music videos didn't actually sing the awful songs on the record, that they were just lip-synching, they were stripped of the Grammy. What has long fascinated me about the Milli Vanilli case is that the Grammy people -- who always, always claim that their awards are only about the music, not about looks or record sales or videos or anything else -- didn't just track down the people who did sing on the album and give the award to them. If the music was so good it was worth a Grammy, shouldn't it be irrelevant who sang it?

So, my policy is simple: Stars can lip-synch in all but one circumstance. Unfortunately for Jordin Sparks, that one circumstance is when they sing the national anthem of the United States of America. You JUST DO NOT lip-synch the national anthem. Afraid you might not sound your very best? Too goddam bad, sugar. When you are there to sing the Star-Spangled Banner, it's not about you. It's about America. We've all heard well-meaning performers butcher the song. We clap anyway, because it's not the performer we're clapping for. It's America. You know, America? The Bill of Rights? Soldiers, sailors and Marines? Amber waves of grain? United Flight 93? Yeah, that stuff. I think that if some kid your age can pull together the courage to walk the dark streets of Baghdad carrying only a rifle and a knapsack, the least you can do is go out there and sing one fucking song in his honor without a net. Can you do that for me, pumpkin?

And, oh yeah, your dad wasn't even that good.

Last year's Super Bowl was in Miami, so the coin toss was handled by the best and most famous Miami Dolphin of all time, Dan Marino. (And by that, of course, I do mean "Fuck you, 1972 Dolphins.") This year's game is in Arizona Cardinals territory, so the coin toss will be handled, appropriately enough, by the late San Francisco 49ers legend Bill Walsh. More specifically, by his two grown kids and by what the P.A. announcer refers to as "three of his finest leaders: Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and Steve Young." Which would be nice if it were true, but Young never served as anything but a backup to Joe Montana under Walsh. It wasn't until after George Seifert had replaced Walsh (in 1989) and Montana had been shipped to Kansas City (in 1992) that Young was finally considered a team leader.

But the NFL kindly asks that I not fuck with their narrative. Besides, the focal point here is Rice, who didn't wear a tie when he was introduced during the roll call of Super Bowl MVPs before Super Bowl XL, and doesn't do so again here. Instead, he appears to be wearing one of his Super Bowl rings on a chain around his neck. It's kind of high school, really. But it's becoming obvious that Jerry Rice doesn't do ties.

It's also becoming obvious that Jerry Rice, still the owner of nearly every major NFL receiving record, is no longer famous for his exploits on the football field. As he appeared on the screen, my wife asked, "Who is that?" And I said, "Jerry Rice." And she said, "The guy from Dancing With the Stars?" Now, usually, when someone tells a story like this, the point is to show how clueless the wife is. But that's not really the case here. Rice made a decision to introduce himself to a new generation of Americans as a dancing, prancing fool. He made his bed; now he has to lie in it in his shiny tap shoes.

So the team captains gather at midfield: Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Kevin Faulk and Ty Warren for the Patriots; and Eli Manning, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce and Jeff Feagles for the Giants. Michael Strahan, who has his helmet on but apparently isn't a member of the coin-toss party, comes out later and wanders around the periphery as referee Mike Carey (Yesssss! If it can't be Ed Hochuli, let it be Carey!) shows the coin (Lombardi Trophy = heads; Roman numerals = tails) and explains the ground rules. Ronnie Lott gets to do the actual flipping, and in a nice touch, Feagles, in his 20th season but playing his first Super Bowl, gets to call it: tails. Tails it is. Giants will get the ball. And we're ready for tackle football!


KICKOFF 15:00As the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski tees up the ball, Joe Buck speaks for a grateful nation when, after two weeks of chatter, and one day of Arlen Specter whoring it up for the cameras, he spits out: "Finally. Football." Gostkowski puts toe to ball, and 10,000 camera flashes go off. Photography tip: When you're in a stadium that's lit up brighter than noon in Death Valley, you don't need the flash. Dominik Hixon fields the kick three yards deep in the end zone and brings it out to the 23. For once, thankfully, no one mentions that Hixon was the guy Kevin Everett nearly killed himself on -- as if it's Hixon's fault.
1-10-NYG2314:55Eli Manning trots onto the field, and Buck asks "Mr. Aikman" to describe for us what goes through a quarterback's mind as he starts a Super Bowl for the first time. "For me, Joe, it was very emotional day, and you get out there on the field, and you're not really sure how your body's going to react." Which takes us back to that first play of Super Bowl XXVII, Cowboys vs. Bills, when Aikman took the snap, looked up, saw Cornelius Bennett closing in, froze, and then his bowels let loose so violently that it made the seat of his pants sag. Aikman says we may not get a good read on Manning "Because of the nature of his makeup," whatever that means. Manning keeps all his poop up inside and hands off to Brandon Jacobs. In a clumsy bit of foreshadowing, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel gets his hands on Jacobs in the backfield, but Jacobs escapes for a better-than-nothing 3-yard gain.
2-7-NYG26 14:14While the Giants chew up nearly the entire play clock, a graphic introduces the Patriots D. Buck quotes Vrabel as saying that when the New England linebackers "play awful, we're 'old'; when we play well, we're 'experienced.' " Fair enough, ya old fart. Another handoff, this time for 2 yards. For the first of many times tonight, the Fox microphones pick up someone -- an official, I assume -- shouting "We're done!" to indicate that the play is dead.
3-5-NYG28 13:32We get our first in-game look at Bill Belichick, who's wearing a ghastly red, short-sleeve hoodie. Despite a low snap and heavy pressure, Manning hangs in the pocket and hits Plaxico Burress, who has found an enormous hole in the New England zone (and Pats fans should hope to God that that was in fact a zone defense, because otherwise it would mean they have Randall Gay manned up on the only real deep threat the Giants have), for 14 yards.
1-10-NYG4212:53A 3-yard completion to Madison Hedgecock gets Buck going on the perpetual-motion circus that surrounds poor Manning. "They have picked apart the performance -- heck, we have -- the personality, the leadership ability, the body language of Eli Manning." And yet, considering how he's elevated his play in the postseason, "if there has been that imaginary corner, he seems to have turned it." Go ahead and parse that baby. If there really is an "imaginary corner," then it's not imaginary, is it? Aikman just shrugs and says that it's a good thing Manning didn't turn the ball over in any of the Giants' playoff games. Else, the Giants wouldn't be here. I honestly don't know that you can make that claim, but I don't have three Super Bowl rings. And I never shit my pants on the field like Aikman did. (This is how urban legends get started.)
2-7-NYG45 12:03While all that talking was happening, the play clock ground all the way down to :00 before Brandon Jacobs picks up 1 yard. The four plays so far have taken 41, 42, 39 and 50 seconds. Someone's been watching those tapes of the Patriots slowing the tempo on the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI -- as well as the tapes of Super Bowl XXIV, when the Giants slowed down the game and beat the Bills. Who was the Giants' D-coordinator that year? The guy in the ghastly red, short-sleeved hoodie.
3-6-NYG46 11:17Aikman: "There's no doubt that the New York Giants want to run the football." Really? Oh, no, I can't believe that, Troy. Another third down, another conversion, as Manning hits Steve Smith for 8. Also, another case of Randall Gay getting burned for that same third-down conversion. Rodney Harrison and Randall Gay are both hurt on the play -- probably on orders from the league, since we're four minutes into the game and haven't had a single commercial break.
AD!AD!The first ad of the game is also the first Anheuser-Busch ad of the game. The plot: Bud Light gives you the ability to breathe fire. Guy uses that ability to light candles, then has an allergic reaction to cat dander and starts sneezing fire. After a bunch of cheap-looking special effects and the same yowling-cat sound effect that we've all heard in a thousand other ads, we're told that the fire-breathing power has been removed from the beer. Dumb and unfunny.
AD!AD!An Audi ad plays off the scene in the Godfather in which Jack Woltz wakes up to find his horse's head in his bed. In this "spoof," a guy wakes up to find the grill of his luxury car in his bed. Takes far too long to develop, so that by the time we get to the payoff, we're just annoyed. If it were half as long, it would be twice as funny. And what's two times zero?
1-10-NE46 10:32As we stumble back from our first commercial break, we see an aerial shot of what appears to be a very pleasant midwinter day in Phoenix. So naturally, the roof of the stadium is closed. Also, we get a replay of the hit that led to the injury timeout: Harrison lowered his helmet and intended to spear Smith, but Gay's arm got in the way. In a nice bit of camera work, we can see that Gay is screaming and gripping his arm before he even hits the ground. Back to live action, Brandon Jacobs lowers his shoulder and blasts through the New England line for 7. Aikman: "Brandon Jacobs, for the last couple of weeks, and you virtually see it every single time he runs the football, going right through Merriweather." First of all, nobody's played any football at all for two weeks. And second, Brandon Merriweather played for Green Bay?
2-3-NE39 9:49Ahmad Bradshaw gains 2. Pam Oliver reports on her conversation with Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. If Eli is playing well, they're going to have him throw the ball! If he's not playing well, then they're going to run the ball more! Hey, don't let the cat out of the bag, there! Since we're talking about Eli, we get a shot of Peyton Manning up in a luxury box.
3-1-NE37 9:01On 3rd-and-inches, Bradshaw smashes into the line, picks up the necessary inches and then, just for the hell of it, carries Ty Warren for eight more yards even though Warren has him in a headlock Aikman gets tongue-tied trying to say "tremendous elusiveness." I don't blame him. Bradshaw's a beast.
1-10-NE29 8:17Manning tries to dump it off to Kevin Boss in the left flat, but throws it too low. Promo time! Coming up at halftime: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. More on them when the time comes.
2-10-NE29 8:11Jacobs goes right, away from the safety blitz, for 3.
3-7-NE26 7:27As the Giants line up for yet another third-and-fairly-long, we sneak a peek at Tom Brady sitting on his ass, without his helmet on, not tossing a ball around. It's not that he looks like he doesn't care, because obviously he does, but he doesn't look like a guy who feels any kind of urgency. I mean, I don't care that we're only halfway through the first quarter. It's the Super Bowl. It's urgent. On the field, Manning eludes the blitz, rolls right, and despite having Eugene Wilson wrapped around his ankles, hits Steve Smith for 9 yards and the first down.
1-10-NE17 6:41Manning goes for Burress in the end zone, but Ellis Hobbs gets his paw in there and bats the ball away. It's a nice play, one that we'll forget later on. The most impressive thing about the play, however, is that Burress doesn't come up screaming for a flag, as he usually does whenever he goes into the end zone but doesn't come out with a touchdown. Belichick is pissed that Hobbs didn't intercept the ball.
2-10-NE17 6:35Jacobs can't turn the corner. Loss of 1. Since we're down in the red zone, Aikman astutely points out that the Patriots, as dominant as they were for much of the season, weren't very good at red zone defense. If a team could get inside the 20, they usually got a touchdown. Which meant they'd lose 54-14 rather than 54-6, but you get his point.
3-11-NE18 5:47Old-school Eli puts in a cameo appearance with a 4-yard completion over the middle on 3rd-and-11.
4-7-NE14 5:06Lawrence Tynes, the NFC Championship Game goat-turned-goat-turned-hero, drills the 32-yard field goal. Three points seems pretty cruddy after 10 minutes and 17 plays, right? Foreshadowing! N.Y. Giants 3, New England 0

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Maybe Tiki Barber was the problem

Considering the way the New York Giants played over the last half of the 2007 season, I don't know that it's any great shock that they've wound up in the Super Bowl. But if back in September you had declared that this team, with Eli Manning playing quarterback, and with Tom Coughlin serving as head coach, and with running back Tiki Barber having retired, and with tight end Jeremy Shockey on injured reserve, would make the Super Bowl, someone would have called you crazy.

And that someone would probably have been Tiki Barber.

You remember Tiki, right? Played 10 years for the Giants? Fumbled the ball all the time? Finally stopped fumbling the ball all the time, but it didn't improve the team any? Him? Yeah, him.

As you may have known, Barber retired at the end of the 2006 season and took a job with NBC, where he offers the occasional opinion on Football Night in America in between discussing the Mommy Wars or the hot looks for fall or whatever it is he does with Matt and Meredith on the Today show. Eager to distinguish himself out of the gate this season, Barber seized on the Giants' 0-2 start to declare that Manning was a lousy leader and Coughlin was a lousy coach. From there, Barber continued to make headlines by ... um ...

You know, when you think about it, Barber didn't make any other headlines. Hired by NBC to bring viewers his wisdom and insight and big bald head and blah-blah-blah, Barber delivered two weeks of Giants locker room kiss-and-tell and 15 weeks of little else. He stabbed his former QB in the back, and he stabbed his former coach in the back. And then that QB and that coach and the rest of Barber's former teammates did something they'd never really done with him on the team: played spirited football in the postseason.

(Yes, the Giants went to the Super Bowl in 2000 while Barber was with the team. Perhaps even in spite of him. They won the NFC that year solely because someone had to. In the Super Bowl the Ravens exposed them for the frauds they were.)

So Tiki Barber -- a Hall of Fame player, according to Peter King, who lives in the New York area and works with Barber, so he's totally the best person to judge -- retires, and the Giants go on a better run than at any time since 1990. When is someone besides me going to theorize that maybe Tiki was the problem all along?

Think about it. The Giants players have gushed about how Manning has stepped up as a leader in the locker room this season. Perhaps that's because there is no longer a certain bald-headed self-appointed team leader poisoning that same locker room, running to whisper in the media's ear (Psst! Peter! C'mere!) that this kid can't get his shit together. The Giants have also noted that the notoriously rigid Coughlin has loosened up considerably this season. Perhaps that's because he felt he could loosen up, that he didn't have to hold the reins so tightly if there was no one there looking to grab them away.

It's just a theory, mind you.

The Giants are full of big personalities. Plaxico Burress can run his mouth. So can Antonio Pierce. And fucking Cooper Manning will win the Super Bowl before Michael Strahan will ever be content to let his play do all the talking. But those guys want to be happy more than they want to be right. (And in the NFL, being a champion = happy.) Tiki Barber? Somehow, he's just always seemed like a guy who had a greater desire to be right. Perhaps that's why he quit the game when he did, with the Giants seemingly ascendant. He wanted to go to TV, where he can always be "right." I mean, it's not like he's going to lose a battle of wits to Jerome Bettis. He would lose one to Cris Collinsworth, but Collinsworth is way out of his league in the insight department, and they both know it, so they don't get into it.

Back when he was still with the team, however, he was a leader. So when he pissed and moaned (or pissed and whispered) about the coach, the quarterback, the game plan, the hot looks for fall, whatever, other guys in the locker room took that cue. The Giants had a rep as a team out of control, where everybody was pulling in a different direction. Barber disappears, and what happens? Suddenly everyone's pulling in the same direction, and they win 12 out of 16, and they damn near punch out the 15-0 Patriots, and they bury both the Cowboys and the Packers on the road, and if I were a betting man I'd take the 12 points Vegas is offering and put a few hundred on the Giants in the Super Bowl.

Then there's Shockey. Barber may have lost credibility as a result of the Giants' run; Shockey might well lose money because of it. In a league full of look-at-me players, he's among the look-at-me-iest. And yet Manning is just fine with Kevin Boss in the lineup. Because it's the NFL and the contracts aren't guaranteed, it's inevitable that the Giants front office will ask whether they really need to be making Shockey the highest-paid tight end in the league when the team plays this well without him, especially when he comes with all the strutting and preening and tattoos and other bullshit.

But that's just riffing. Shockey has been out only two games. Insufficient data, as the scientists say. Barber has been gone all season. That's a statistically significant sample.

Monday, January 21, 2008

It was a fun litttle parity party

The NFL is about to see a remarkable run come to an end. Looking at the last 14 seasons, we see that, regardless of who won the Super Bowl, there have been 14 different losing teams:

2006 Bears
2005 Seahawks
2004 Eagles
2003 Panthers
2002 Raiders
2001 Rams
2000 Giants
1999 Titans
1998 Falcons
1997 Packers
1996 Patriots
1995 Steelers
1994 Chargers
1993 Bills
Whether the Patriots lose or the Giants lose, we'll have our first repeat loser since the back-to-back-to-back-to-back Bills of the early 1990s. Further, it didn't matter who won Sunday's conference championship games. The Chargers and Packers are also on the list of losers.

Feel free to discuss what all this means.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Oh, grow up

The NFC Championship Game gives us an interesting matchup at quarterback. For the Green Bay Packers, you have Brett Favre, who, despite the graying hair, the well-lined face and the litany of tragedies to befall his family, remains the closest thing the NFL has to Peter Pan. You know: The boy who never grew up. It's that childlike enthusiasm that gets guys like Peter King all moist in the panties.

The New York Giants, on the other hand, appear to have the Anti-Peter-Pan playing quarterback. From what I can tell by listening to the pigskin pundits, Eli Manning has been doing nothing but growing up since the third week of the season. After the divisional round victory over Dallas, we heard umpteen variations on the theme of "Eli Manning grew up today." Just like we heard it after the wildcard win in Tampa, and after the regular season finale against the Patriots.

Look, Eli Manning will be just fine. He'll never be as good a quarterback as his brother, but he's probably already a better quarterback than his dad. And I'm going to venture that he's a better quarterback than Philip Rivers. There are fans out there who think the Giants made a big mistake in trading Rivers for Manning on draft day 2004. All they need to do is look at how Rivers got into it with the fans in Indianapolis on Sunday. Think about it: If he can be driven to distraction by a bunch of Midwestern yahoos in the stands at the RCA Dome, do you really think the New York media would do anything but fucking eat him alive? Manning's been under the microscope since high school. You may not like how he deals with the spotlight -- essentially, by pretending he doesn't care -- but at least he deals with it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Memory lane

Monday night, the NFL Network was showing the original NBC broadcast of Super Bowl XXXII. The most remarkable thing about the game? It wasn't seeing Brett Favre as a 28-year-old kid. Or seeing John Elway still in uniform. Or seeing Mike Holmgren about 40 pounds lighter. Or listening to the bizarre three-man broadcast team of Dick Enberg, Phil Simms and Paul Maguire. Or even seeing the game being played in daylight. (It was in San Diego, so it was still light out at kickoff.)

No, the most remarkable thing was seeing referee Ed Hochuli, with hair, and with biceps and pecs about half the size they are today.

Just weird.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Time for Dungy to go

Do I have to say it again?
Yes, PCS, I'm afraid you're going to have to say it again.

Because I really don't want to have to say it again.
Oh, come on, man, just say it.


No coach in the National Football League mismanages the end of the regular season as consistently and as predictably as Tony Dungy. It cost him dearly year after year in Tampa. It cost him dearly year after year in Indianapolis up through 2005. And it cost him dearly again this year.

The most important event in Sunday's Chargers-Colts game was Marvin Harrison's fumble deep in San Diego territory. At that point, the Colts were up 7-0, and another touchdown would have put them in position to dictate the pace of the rest of the game. Then Harrison fumbled. Replays showed clearly that no Charger actually laid a hand or helmet on either the ball or the arm in which Harrison was carrying it. So who slapped the ball out?

Dungy, you could say.

Harrison hadn't played in a real game in two and a half months, having injured a knee against the Broncos in the fourth game of the year. By Week 16 of the regular season, however, he was said to be healthy enough to play, even though he wasn't the mythical "100%." But rather than give Harrison some action either in that game or in the season finale against the Titans, Dungy elected to hold him out to allow him to "heal fully." When questioned about whether his No. 1 receiver would be able to play effectively after such a long layoff, Dungy said he didn't think Harrison's timing would be a problem at all.

Well, it's not about timing, dummy. You can work on timing in practice. It's about contact, and Harrison hadn't had any contact in 11 weeks. Then, Sunday, the very first time an opposing player touched him (lightly), he dropped the ball.

The rest of the Colts were ugly in stretches, too. Both of Peyton Manning's interceptions came on passes that bounced off his receivers' hands. Why would a team that's as dependent on precision as the Colts play as sloppily and as unevenly as they did Sunday? Perhaps because they hadn't played a game to win in three weeks, since they wrapped up a first-round bye. Funny enough, that's exactly what happened in 2005. And yet, in 2006, when they had no choice but to play hard every week of the regular season, they came into the playoffs on a hot streak and took it all the way to the Super Bowl.

The better the Colts play in the regular season, the worse they perform in the playoffs -- because the better they play in the regular season, the earlier Dungy decides to start mailing it in. Sometimes -- or usually, if you're the Colts -- when you switch off the engine, you can't get it started again. For years, people have laid the Colts' postseason collapses on Manning. But it's not on him to get the entire team up for the game. That's the coach's job, and once again Dungy failed.

Heading into the offseason, there's uncertainty about whether Dungy will return. He says he hasn't even thought about it, which, if true, is a fairly selfish thing to do. Because every day he delays a decision is another day the Colts will fall behind everybody else in finding a successor, should he choose to leave. Nevertheless, Colts fans, if they ever want another shot at a Super Bowl, should hope he moves on.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A perspective on perfection

As everyone knows by now, the New England Patriots are the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season, but just what does that mean, form a historical standpoint? I produce an English-language news publication for international markets, and just for fun, I whipped up this graphic for this week's edition. I think it helps put the Patriots' accomplishment into perspective. Do you know how hard it is to go 16-0? Hell, do you know how hard it is to go 15-0?

Readers of Down and Distance are the only people in America who get to see this graphic. Lucky you.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


It's official: Down and Distance has finished the season tied for first place in the 2007 Sportsfrog NFL Picks contest Thanks to everyone who ... you know what? Thanks for nothing, actually. You didn't have any thing to do with this. This is all me Me ME ME ME ME. So suck it!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Week 17: High tide

The final week of the season is notoriously hard to pick, and yet Down and Distance went 12-4 to finish the season at 171-85, or 66.8%, which is a hair above the two-thirds line that delineates your ass from a hole in the ground. I'll let the boys at Sports Frog figure out where I finished in the final standings, but it may be pretty high. For those out there pulling for D and D, I thank you.

The bizarre nature of every season's Week 17 is best summed up not game-by-game, but rather archetype-by-archetype. There are only a few categories, but every team inevitably fits into one of them.

Played this year by: Washington, Tennessee, Cleveland
It's not the Browns' fault that their victory was made irrelevant by day's end.

Played this year by: Minnesota, New Orleans
Even if they'd won, the Vikings and Saints still would have been left outside. Tough titty. When you need to win to get in, you win. But the Vikings couldn't do it last week, either.

Played this year by: Chicago, Denver
They may have had crappy years, but neither the Bears nor the Broncos are the kind of team to roll over and let someone else come in and claim a playoff spot on their home field. That's the sort of thing the Vikings do.

Played this year by: Green Bay, San Diego

Played this year by: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Dallas
Note that I said these teams should rest the starters. Dallas didn't, and the Cowboys now look even more toothless than they did after losing to the Eagles. Jacksonville didn't need to beat Houston. The Colts didn't need to beat Tennessee, but they could have, if they'd even tried. Considering all the injuries Indy has battled through this year, I guess I'm OK with Manning and the rest taking the second half off, even though it'll probably cost them their shot at repeating. What I'm not OK with (nor was Madden) is the decision to pack it in when down by less than a touchdown with three minutes left. Even if you play your reserves, you still have to try to win the damn game. The only exception is when losing would get you a better playoff opponent (see New England throwing the last game of 2005 so they could get the Jaguars rather than the Steelers). That wasn't the case here. For shame.

Played this year by: New England, N.Y. Giants
To the chagrin of the 1972 Dolphins, the Patriots figured they'd made it this far, they might as well go for 16-0. To the everlasting credit of the Giants, they also played this game to win. (Well, except for that period when they tried to sit on a 5-point lead. You do that against the Patriots for even a second, and they'll slit your throat.) Even if it costs the Giants down the road in terms of injuries, it was the right call.

Played this year by: Tampa Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh

Played this year by: Cincinnati, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Atlanta(!), Houston, N.Y. Jets, Carolina, Arizona

Played this year by: San Francisco, St. Louis, Miami, Baltimore, Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit
Well, OK, the Ravens did have Brian Billick's job to play for. Perhaps that's why the Steelers let them win. Didn't work.

New England 38, N.Y. Giants 35
Chicago 33, New Orleans 25
Cleveland 20, San Francisco 7
Green Bay 34, Detroit 13
Houston 42, Jacksonville 28
Philadelphia 17, Buffalo 9
San Diego 30, Oakland 17
N.Y. Jets 13, Kansas City 10
Washington 27, Dallas 6
Arizona 48, St. Louis 19
Denver 22, Minnesota 19 (OT)
Tennessee 16, Indianapolis 10

Cincinnati 38, Miami 25
Atlanta 44, Seattle 41
Carolina 31, Tampa Bay 23
Baltimore 27, Pittsburgh 21

SEASON: 171-85 (66.8%)
(2006 through Week 17: 154-102, 60.2%)
(2005 through Week 17: 172-84, 67.2%)

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS have wrapped up their third year with -- duh -- New England in the top spot. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: FIN = final ranking. W16 = last week's ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score. P? = team in playoffs?)
1 1 Patriots100.0016-0Y
2 2 Colts 83.5713-3Y
3 6 Packers 72.8913-3Y
4 3 Steelers 71.0910-6Y
5 7 Chargers 70.5411-5Y
6 4 Cowboys 67.7313-3Y
7 5 Jaguars 64.9611-5Y
8 8 Seahawks 64.8810-6Y
9 9 Bucs 57.85 9-7Y
1010Vikings 53.61 8-8
1111Eagles 49.82 9-9
1216Redskins 46.68 9-7Y
1312Giants 45.5610-6Y
1413Browns 44.7710-6
1515Titans 41.7010-6Y
1619Cardinals41.63 8-8
1717Bengals 39.55 7-9
1818Texans 39.54 8-8
1914Saints 38.71 7-9
2020Bears 37.28 7-9
2122Broncos 20.75 7-9
2221Lions 20.43 7-9
2324Panthers 19.42 7-9
2423Jets 17.90 4-12
2527Ravens 13.71 5-11
2626Bills 13.23 7-9
2725Raiders 13.14 4-12
2828Chiefs 9.00 4-12
2932Falcons 3.15 4-12
3031Dolphins 1.33 1-15
313049ers 0.15 5-11
3229Rams 0.00 3-13
Teams eliminated this week* from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Steelers, Jaguars. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens, Chiefs, Panthers, Saints, Bills, Chargers, Redskins, Titans, Lions, Browns, Bucs, Giants, Seahawks.
*The Steelers had posted five losses, but had proved they can win the Super Bowl with an 11-5 record. This week they lost No. 6.
Teams remaining in Super Bowl championship consideration: Patriots, Colts, Cowboys, Packers.

Rotten fish

Wow. Just when it appeared that the 1972 Miami Dolphins were not, in fact, a bunch of pathetic old men clinging desperately to their fading moment in the sun, they go and reassert their sorry selves. For a team that won every game they played, they have proved themselves over and over during the ensuing 35 years to be an astounding pack of losers.

Exhibit A: In mid-December, as the New England Patriots were 14-0 and closing in on a perfect season of their own, Larry Csonka was taking part in ceremonies in Miami honoring the '72 Dolphins. (And it seems like they have those ceremonies about every six weeks down there. What else are they going to celebrate?) Csonka, the power runner on the early-'70s Dolphins teams before he chased the big money to the World Football League, commented that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was some kind of fool for playing his starters and playing to win even after New England had the No. 1 playoff seed locked up.

"He isn’t pulling his people out," Csonka said of Belichick. "He’s got a Super Bowl to worry about. Why would you even play Brady the next two games? Why would you even take a chance?" Well, Larry, perhaps because he has already won three Super Bowls, which is one more than ... um ... oh, I don't know ... you. (Hell, count the game plans he devised for Bill Parcells, and he's won five.)

This quote may well be the saddest I've seen all year. Every time any NFL team gets to 10-0, the '72 Dolphins -- led by Csonka's old backfield mate, former drug trafficker Mercury Morris -- take to the interview circuit to declare that all those wins don't mean nothin' if you don't win 'em all. As Morris famously declared, "Don't call me when you get to my neighborhood; call me when you get to my street." So here the Patriots were, driving up the Dolphins' street, and Csonka comes running out of the house in his bra and panties and his hair up and curlers, and he runs toward the Patriots' car waving his arms and screaming for them to turn around, turn around, for God's sake TURN AROUND.

(Despite what he says, I somehow suspect that Csonka had no problem with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin's decision to play his starters for the whole game against the 15-0 Patriots, even though the Giants also had their playoff spot locked in. Perhaps Coughlin understood that when you have a shot at greatness, you take it. Greatness? Yes. Mention the "Miami Dolphins" and "undefeated season" to a football fan my age, and you're just as likely to hear 1985 mentioned as 1972. More likely, even.)

Exhibit B: Now that the Patriots have finished the regular season 16-0, Morris' teammates are crawling out of the woodwork to point out that New England hasn't in fact done anything yet. Guard Bob Kuechenberg probably sums up the entire team's feelings best when he pipes up from his rocker: "They’ve done a heck of a job thus far. But now the exhibition season is over and the real season begins."

In every other year since 1972, the Dolphins have made themselves feel good -- and relevant -- with the knowledge that whatever team had happened to win the Super Bowl really hadn't accomplished much because they'd still been beaten in the regular season. Lombardi Trophies are nice, they always say, but somebody gets one of those every year. WE, on the other hand, went undefeated in the regular season, and that's the hardest thing you can do. (Especially when punks like Larry Csonka are pissing all over you for playing to win.) In other words, in most seasons the '72 Dolphins are quick to point out that it's not the Super Bowl title that made them special, it was the 14-0 regular season before that. This year, the Patriots have finished an even longer regular season undefeated, and ... well, look at that. The regular season doesn't matter anymore!

Every small town has a few guys who set high school football records about 30 years ago. Some of them move away and make something of themselves, and they continue to live their lives with the tape deck set on "play." And then, decades later, when some kid breaks a record, the local paper will track down the guy who just got passed, and he'll offer hearty congratulations. He might even have assumed that the record was broken a long time ago. Over the course of his life, if the topic of high school football came up in conversation, and if it seemed relevant, he would mention that he set a record and that it felt good at the time and that he's proud of it, but that it was a long time ago, and he's got a lot more to be proud of (then he pulls out the pictures of his kids).

But some of those old record breakers never leave town and never make something of themselves. Their tape deck goes stop-rewind-play, stop-rewind-play. You know the guy: He sits up at the top of the bleachers at every game, and he looks out at the current players -- kids who dare to be young and able while his body just gets older and saggier -- and he's filled with resentment. And when one of those kids starts getting close to one of his old records (or, better yet, to the last of his old records), he starts quietly rooting against him. Wishes for an injury, even. The kid gets closer, and he's not so quiet anymore. Nothing against the kid, he'll say, but it was harder in my day. And he'll go on to talk about the better equipment and the better field and the better conditioning, and it will be clear that he's doing just what the 1972 Dolphins are doing right now: Moving the goalposts every which direction, so that no matter what that kid does -- or the New England Patriots do -- the record will always stay intact, if only in his mind.

More from Kuechenberg: "If (the Patriots run the table in the playoffs, too), they will have earned it. But my heart is dead set against it. The ’72 team is uniquely immortal in American sports, and I don’t want us to lose that special place." Now, if he'd just stopped there, it'd be OK. Even being the asshole that I am, I do understand melancholy. We all want to feel special for the rest of our lives, and there's a certain sadness in seeing our achievements surpassed. But he goes on: "We will forever be immortal, and if they win every game in front of them, then they will join us among those ranks. They will have deserved, it and I will congratulate them. But something in my heart makes me feel that we accomplished something so special that it forever sets the standard of excellence in sports. Imperfect is mortal. Perfect is immortal.”

Well, no, God is immortal. You're just a fucking football team. But between the lines, it's obvious what he's saying: Even if the Patriots finish undefeated, even if they do it in a league that's 10 times tougher and 10 times more competitive, even if they do it by beating four playoff-caliber teams from their own conference (Colts, Chargers, Steelers, Browns) and three from the NFC (Cowboys, Redskins, Giants) while the 1972 Dolphins' best opponents were two 8-6 teams, even if they shatter every NFL record along the way, it won't matter -- because Miami went undefeated first. The Dolphins are saying they will always be Neil Armstrong, and the best the Patriots can aspire to be is Buzz Aldrin. What they don't get, though, is that while they were the first to walk on the moon, the Patriots are now walking on fucking Mars, and they're thinking maybe they could stroll on the surface of the sun and not even break a sweat.

So as the '72 Dolphins hunch over the toilet tonight (I hear it's taco night at the elder-care facility), they'd do well to consider the example of another Miami legend: Dan Marino. In 2004, when Peyton Manning was closing in on the record for touchdown passes in a season that Marino had held for 20 years, Marino admitted feeling wistful, admitted hoping that he could keep the record. But he didn't bitch about how the rules nowadays go out of their way to protect quarterbacks and prevent contact with receivers. He didn't insist that the record he set in 1984 was only meaningful because the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl that year. (They didn't win, though, so Mercury Morris wants you to know that the '84 Dolphins are pussies.) But he didn't do any of that. He sighed a little, shrugged his shoulders and congratulated Manning. A few years later, when Brett Favre started approaching all of Marino's career passing marks, Marino could have intimated that Favre was hanging around the league past his due date just to break his records. He could have -- and before this season, a lot of people would have thought he was right. (Just like Jim Brown was right about Franco Harris but didn't have any problem with Walter Payton breaking his records.) But he didn't. He sighed a little, shrugged his shoulders and congratulated Favre. Marino knows he's in the Hall of Fame. Knows that he was one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. Knows that he has carved out a successful second career as a broadcaster and that that's where his energy belongs.

What Marino understands, and what the '72 Dolphins have failed to grasp after more than three decades, is that while the record books may play a zero-sum game, the history books do not. The fact that someone broke your records does not mean that you never held them. Babe Ruth and Roger Maris are still with us, after all, just as Jack Nicklaus will be with us long after Tiger Woods wins his 20th major. The fact that someone matches or even surpasses your accomplishments does not diminish your accomplishments.

Next time he crosses paths with Mercury Morris down in Miami, Marino could try explaining that. Good luck.