Leave it to the experts to tell you the obvious: CBS’s Dan Dierdorf and Sport Illustrated both dubbed this past weekend football’s finest, all because it featured four high caliber NFL playoff games. More surprising is that no one has tied the weekend to the Martin Luther King three-day break, you know, the one we so richly deserve so many minutes and hours after the endless Christmas-New Years vacation. It’s safe to say NFL football at its peak moment continues to dominate the landscape as nothing can.
I was ready to give MLK Day a serious hearing, particularly after receiving an e-mail containing John Kerry’s official remarks in tribute to Dr. King. Here’s part of his inspirational message:
“As the Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, it is my responsibility to encourage economic growth and business development for all those who have been underserved or have felt the sting of past and present discrimination.”
Imagine if that had been part of Kerry’s Inaugural address. Thank you, Ohio.
But back to our regularly scheduled football. Two games stood out. One which did not was Philadelphia-Minnesota, simply because Minnesota proved once and for all that a team with a .500 record has no business competing in the playoffs. Same goes for St. Louis, which stood back and watched as Atlanta sprinted up and down the field in an accelerated practice. If Atlanta wants genuine success, it will find a first-rate starting backup to quarterback Michael Vick, whose unique running talent requires that he not be on the field for every snap.
The really sad outcome was the New York Jets’ ending up losing a game they had deservedly won, against the number one seed in all the world. They did everything right, except convert a game-ending field goal that had been served them on a silver platter.
Finally, there’s the one team in New England every red stater should adore: the Patriots, who again put on a clinic of how football should be played, grinding out several endless marches to and from Moscow in raw conditions, and in so doing dismantling the fancy Napoleons with the most fearsome offense in league history — so long as they’re allowed display inside their Fontainbleau of a cushy indoor stadium in Indianapolis. Out in the real world, they were toast — okay, frozen toast.
Last year something similar happened — Indy QB Peyton Manning came in hot, only to be shut down by New England’s tough guys. At least this year he played much better — it was just that his team was overwhelmed in every facet. All week long the experts suggested Manning would win regardless, and that his Patriots counterpart Tom Brady was somehow overrated, even though he’s already won two Super Bowls in his young career to Manning’s zero SB appearances. Two things to remember: Manning never beat Florida in his college years. Brady is the Jim Palmer of NFL quarterbacks.
To Manning’s credit, he came back his senior year in college just to try to beat Florida. It was just his luck that Tennessee won the national championship the year after he moved on to the NFL.
Overshadowed by the NFL’s weekend was another unusual move by a top college player — USC’s Heisman winning QB Matt Leinart announced he’ll be back next year to try to help his team win a third straight national championship. The move could cost him millions, which is exactly the point. When you’re playing for all the marbles, whatever the level, money is the least of your concerns. That’s why the NFL owned this past weekend. Football is America’s game, now more than ever.