January sucks. It’s cold as hell, and for many of us it’s a reminder that we spent yet another 12 months not doing any of the things we set out to do. We reevaluate our career trajectories. We reevaluate our finances. We reevaluate our waistlines. Chiefs fans do all of these things, plus one: we reevaluate why our team doesn’t win games in January (here’s a hint: of the franchise’s nine playoff victories, eight were piloted by quarterbacks now in the Hall of Fame). It isn’t bittersweet. It’s just bitter.
There is, however, a lot of great football that gets played in January, and with enough beer and a little forced forgetfulness, there’s still some enjoyment to be culled from watching it. I caught most of this year’s postseason action, and I gotta say, I dug it. There were some solid football games played, and aside from Wild Card Weekend’s Rookie Bowl, I cared about the outcome of every contest. I’ll get to this weekend’s festivities in a moment, but first I’d like to ponder a bit on a few of my favorite moments from three of the past four weeks. In reverse order:
The Falcons Get Blown Out. The Playoffs do a pretty good job of separating the wheat from the chaff. Most years, at least one quarterback will outright embarrass himself during the first two weeks. Matt Cassel took the honors last year, and Tony Romo the year before. This year it was Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were drafted 15 picks apart in 2008. In four years as starters, they’ve thrown roughly the same number of passes with roughly the same completion percentage, roughly the same number of touchdowns, and exactly the same number of picks. Visit Falcons fan forums, and you’ll see discussions of whether or not Ryan should already be considered elite. Visit Ravens fan forums, and you’ll see discussions of whether or not Flacco should keep his job after his contract is up.
Imagine that you’re an avid football fan who got hit in the head with a rock and are presently suffering from selective amnesia, with the primary symptom being that you don’t remember a thing about the past four seasons. If I told you one of those guys won at least one playoff game every year of his young career, and the other is 0-3 and has yet to throw for over 200 yards in a postseason contest, based on the tenor of the two aforementioned respective discussions, would you suspect the pissed off fan base was the one with the perennial winner? Probably not, right? I feel a little bad seeing Atlanta lose because Tony Gonzalez was so good for so many years here, and I’m afraid he’ll play until he’s as old as Moses if he doesn’t get a ring soon. Still, I made a lot of predictions about Ryan not being all that great right before the 2008 draft, and seeing him get shut out makes me look like a little less of a complete idiot (note that I make fewer and fewer draft predictions every year…. I was so far off base with Ryan and with Donald Brown the following year that now I don’t even try).
Billy Cundiff Channels His Inner Big Gus. For those of you that don’t remember much of the movie Leatherheads, Big Gus was Keith Loneker’s lineman sized character who played kicker because that’s what his high school coach/math teacher thought he’d be best at. His first attempt sends the ball crashing through the drumline of the team’s marching band. His nonchalant response: “I hooked it.” Watching Cundiff’s kick put the nail in the Ravens’ coffin, Big Gus was my first thought. My second thought was pure empathy. Chiefs fans know exactly how Ravens fans do right now. Sorry, Maryland. It’s an awful way to go out.
A 75% Shot At A Great Storyline. I don’t go in much for sensationalist storylines, but if I did, this would have been a hell of a great month. Going into the Conference Championships, the four potential matchups for the Super Bowl included two recent Super Bowl rematches and a brother vs. brother head coaching dual. The only tough sell (as Super Bowls go, which is to say still not a very tough sell) would have been New England vs. San Francisco, which still would have been marketable on account of the fact that it would have been a good game. That’s what the Super Bowl is still about, right? The game? No, no. I’m sorry. It’s about Madonna. Please Lord, no nipples this year, okay?
Tom Brady Takes Down Tim Tebow. I don’t have any strong affectation for Tom Brady. He’s easily in the discussion for best ever at the toughest position in sports. If he played for my team, I’m sure he’d be one of my all time favorites. He doesn’t, however, and he’s been a bit of a thorn in the Chiefs’ side (technically speaking, he’s 4-1 against the Chiefs, but I don’t feel he deserves anywhere close to full credit for Pollardgate 2008). Still, he’s been good to a few of my fantasy teams over the years, and the fact that I’ve never once anticipated the Chiefs beating him has helped mitigate the heartache of it having only happened once. Outspoken is the word that best describes my feelings toward Tim Tebow. Ergo, given that I bear no malice toward the guy, I’m happy it was him that got the job done. Thanks, Tom.
Tim Tebow Takes Down Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. In retrospect, my favorite moment of the 2011/12 NFL Playoffs thus far is not Tim Tebow losing, but rather Tim Tebow winning. That’s not an endorsement of the guy or a reversal of any of my prior statements about him. It’s just the result of a subtle tug from my moral compass. While I still hold low regard for the overzealous quarterback who knows little about quarterbacking and seemingly less about zeal, at the end of the day, Tim Tebow isn’t a bad guy. Ben Roethlisberger is. Before last year’s Super Bowl, The Onion SportsDome ran an article titled “Ben Roethlisberger One Win Away From Being A Good Person”, which outlined how a 12-4 season followed by two postseason wins had helped exonerate Big Ben in the eyes of the public of his wrongdoing. ESPN euphemised his offenses by reducing his (alleged) crime to sexual assault. It wasn’t sexual assault. It was rape. Twice.
I’m not one who believes an athlete’s job carries with it some greater responsibility for moralistic behavior. It doesn’t. An athlete’s job isn’t to be a nice guy. If it was, Shawon Dunston would be in the Baseball Hall Of Fame and Ty Cobb would have died penniless at age 23. Furthermore, I don’t believe past transgressions, particularly ones which are never tried in a court of law, should affect an athlete’s future employment. I love dogs, but I don’t let that color my opinion of whether or not Michael Vick should be in the NFL. His debt to society ended when he was released from prison. By that measure, I don’t think Roethlisberger’s actions should keep him off the field either.
That doesn’t mean I want him to win, however. If the Cosmos’s only means of karmic retribution against Ben is to shame him every postseason, so be it. It isn’t enough, but life is seldom fair. I have a friend who is a Pittsburgh native and hasn’t missed a game since the Steel Curtain era. For the first time in his life, he’s conflicted about his allegiance. It’s hard to root for a team captained by such a complete bastard. Thus, as much as I dislike Tebow, I cannot picture a situation wherein, faced with the decision to root for him or root for Roethlisberger, I would ever not pick Tebow.
Get On With It. In the past three years, I’ve waxed poetic more than once about the New York Giants. Their model for building is superb: a #1 overall pick at QB surrounded by mostly homegrown talent, with fierce blocking, fierce tackling, and a seemingly endless supply of top shelf pass rushers. I’m a big fan of their right tackle, Kareem McKenzie, who I earnestly believe is the best run blocking tackle of the past decade. If they win, I won’t be disappointed.
Having said that, I’ll be rooting against them this Sunday. Wes Welker and Brian Waters deserve rings, and neither of them have a whole lot longer to get them. Welker’s level of play hasn’t declined yet, but facts are facts–he’s 30 years old, and receivers in their 30s age like bread, not wine. Waters is only two years removed from his best season, and while he’s still rightfully making Pro Bowls, everyone knows he’s approaching the blue hour.
Welker and Waters have similar stories. Both were multiple position iron man players in college–Welker as a receiver, defensive back, kick returner, kicker, and punter, and Waters as a tight end and defensive end. Both went undrafted and originally signed with teams oblivious to their enormous potential. Both worked their asses off to get to where they are now, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with an unkind word about whom they are as men. I stated above that athletes bear no responsibility to be men of great character. That’s absolutely true, but it’s still better when they are.
Mind you, if the Pats win, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Welker, Waters, and a bevy of other deserving players get a ring, but it also bears the unfortunate consequence of doing the same for Chad Ochenta y Cinco. It’s a necessary evil, made more palatable by the fact that he’ll get it with a team that seldom saw it fit to look his way more than once or twice a game. That’s the sort of luxury I’d like the Chiefs to have–to be able to view a 10,000 yard receiver as expendable. That’s the sort of luxury reserved for teams that free agents actually want to sign with (here’s a hint: they’re the ones with the really good quarterbacks).
Yeah, that’s right. I’m back to bitching about Matt Cassel. I guess that means it’s a good time to stop.