Thursday, January 20, 2005

Can you believe it's Thursday already? We've survived three days of freezing temperatures, boring lectures and pointless assignments, and now we're an OC, a Friday night and a 12-hour shift working the Late Night Olympics from a pair of championship games.

In case you were in a hole last night, or simply had to work during the game like I did, then it needs to be brought up that the Fighting Irish men's basketball team improved to 4-1 in the Big East with a win at struggling West Virginia. I just caught a nice little schedule break that went our way, as undefeated Boston College will have to travel to the Joyce Center while we do not have to venture to Chestnut Hill.

Must. Win. That. Game.


I also want to thank my awesome, awesome Cousin Lindsay, who actually put a link to my blog in her info. Big smiles from me, even if she was too lazy to paint me my second jazz club picture for Christmas. ~wink~ Happy Thursday, everybody.

WARNING: Explicit Pigskin Content to Follow

This is why the NFL blows away anything any other sport can put out there.

On Sunday, in the matinee, you get to see Donovan McNabb vs. Michael Vick, two of the most gifted athletes on the face of the planet. One’s a freak of nature in the way that he ducks and dives, then manages to set his feet and hurl a bomb downfield or scoot for the fifteen yards when the linebackers sag back. The other’s a god among mortals, seeing gaps and exploding through them, looking to run first, but when he chooses to throw has the ability to snap his wrist and summon the power from somewhere in that slim frame to shoot a laser across the middle.

That’s the appetizer for a main course featuring two teams that combined for 29 out of a potential 31 regular season wins (since they played each other). One starting quarterback has never lost a game ever, and the other is undefeated come playoff time and carries two Super Bowl rings on his weighted hand. They’ll be going against the number one and number two scoring defenses in the league, which feature some of the smartest, quickest and hardest-hitting defenders in the league.

And these events occur, of all places, in the state of Pennsylvania?

I’m sure you can hear the whispers from Erie to Scranton, from every Nittany Lion to every Owl to every Panther, that there’s going to be an all-Keystone Super Bowl. Oh, the draw that would be. Big Big Roethlisberger, his clock potentially striking seventeen in a row against Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid, the bridesmaids of the NFL the last couple of years. The battle lines would be drawn right through the center of Harrisburg as the Cheesesteakers mount up and head south, flowing into the Terrible Towel-wavers somewhere around the Carolinas as a great migration to Jacksonville takes place.

And the ratings for that game would be nothing short of magnificent, nothing short of phenomenal and the game would be as rugged and bloody and hard-hitting as anything you’ve seen since the last time Pittsburgh went into Jacksonville this year.

The only thing maybe more attractive, and the only thing that can really happen, will be the defending Super Bowl champions attempt to stamp the term “dynasty” upon their history against a one-man highlight show and a supporting cast of unknowns, attempting to redeem the careers of Fran Tarkenton, the 1980’s John Elway and Randall Cunningham in one swift blow by asserting that the mobile quarterback not named Steve Young can win a Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick’s schemes against the golden legs of Michael Vick.

It has to happen, doesn’t it

The hard part is going to be Mike Be Nimble winning in the City of Brotherly Love, where the Eagles fans will be waiting for a chance at redemption after three years of failing. The weather will be miserable and the only thing more menacing than the bleachers will be the Eagles’ secondary, which lost two Pro Bowlers and will still be sending three to Honolulu in February. Jim Johnson, the Philly defensive coordinator, owns a playbook that would make the creators of NFL Blitz jealous, with attacking schemes that utilize the talented athletes. Daunte Culpepper was stymied twice by it this year. Michael Vick could not overcome them in 2002. It’s an attacking style, meant at forcing the quarterback to make decisions he may not want to own up to the next play. The Bucs use it against Vick, and they own him with it.

However talented Jevon Kearse is, and he’s quite the athlete, he’s no Derrick Brooks, the only true kryptonite to Hotlanta’s Superman. The weather could be considered an issue if Vick’s best game of the season hadn’t come earlier this season in Denver, or he’d already completed sacrilege against Brett Favre’s tundra in the 2002 playoffs. And it’s not like 2002, where the only options for young Michael was Brian Finneran and Warrick Dunn. Now Peerless Price, Dez White and Michael Jenkins are onboard, and Alge Crumpler and TJ Duckett have grown up. They didn’t have Alex Gibbs to turn their offensive line into a coordinated battering ram of five men, nor did they have Rod Coleman to terrorize the quarterbacks into making some throws they might like to take back.

If they get the ball away before they go crashing into the turf.

But I can see it in my mind’s eye, a heavy dropping of snow screwing up the Eagles passing game as the Falcons just pound it away with the run, the cut-back with Dunn, then the off-tackle with Duckett and finally the roll-out with Vick as Jeremiah Trotter tries to decide if he wants to keep on busting through that A-gap or needs to play it honest and look at all options. It may be too late for him at that point in time, as Alge Crumpler slips behind the coverage and gets the ball zipped to him for a quick score. Or two. Or three.

On the other side of the state, after Philadelphia is reduced to tears by the Dirty Birds, version 2.0, the Steelers will attempt to win the state some pride. Again they’re playing at home in the AFC Championship game, only this time, they’re the underdogs following their performance, and the job the Patriots did, on Sunday.

So it’s gut-check time for Big Ben, who has to attempt to solve what will probably be Romeo Cronel’s last AFC Championship gameplan. History is not on his side, as thirteen times Belichick has gotten a look at a quarterback a second time in one season, and thirteen times that quarterback has failed to come out victorious. If you watched the game at Gillette on Sunday, and saw the way Rodney Harrison was all over the field, and took notice how Peyton Manning couldn’t turn his head without seeing a big number 54 and you have to feel the Patriots aren’t going to be giving up 21 points in the first quarter.

On the other side of the ball, it’s the rejuvenated Steel Curtain against a man who has never lost in the playoffs. A man whose taken out five MVP’s (Warner, Gannon, McNair, Manning twice) in his seven playoff wins, a man who when you judge a quarterback by winning has no peer in the postseason. Two postseason appearances up to this point, two Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl MVPs (although one should belong to Mike Vrabel). The Steelers will bring the blitz, just like they did on Halloween, and the Steelers will try to hold the Patriots to six yards rushing, like they did on Halloween, but this time the trick may be on them, as Corey Dillon suits up.

Sure, you can say that the way the lines played one player won’t matter, but if you think the Steelers will do that again to Charlie “Mr. ND” Weis’s offense again, you’ve been drinking too much of the black and gold Kool-Aid. This is going to be a slugfest with a rookie quarterback who is now playing like a rookie quarterback going against a team that’s playing like a defending champ who wants to go on defending next year, too.

So in my opinion, those of you anticipating a Keystone Throwdown, are going to be sorely disappointed. It’s going to be the best Super Bowl since last year when, for the second year in a row, you get to see the AFC East Champions take on the NFC South winner that was disrespected all season but features an exciting duo of running backs, a gritty quarterback and a defensive line that can get pressure without the help of blitzing.

16-2 never hurt so bad.

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