Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Super Bowl LXI: On Parity, the Cokehead, and Marbles

Ed.: Have you ever noticed that link on the TANBR sidebar that says "Hodson to Fuller"? Have you ever clicked on it? If you have, you might be familiar with the witty and prescient prose stylings of P.T. Now that the college football season has ended, that blog is on indefinite hiatus, and he's offered to become a regular contributor for us. So close that window of Adrian Wilson's sixty-six inch vertical, and read this piece from another mothafucka out my squad:

With my notebook safely back in the 3-2-3, I finally realized why I seemed to have deorbited from the blogosphere (a little rusty) for six weeks or so. It's so much easier to just blog over an episode of "The Hills" rather than labor away on a five-year-old desktop in my bedroom. It just felt like way too much like work, and not enough about finding rare Darryl Strawberry photographs, or befriending prom-bound LSU football recruits (Jo-seph Barks-dale).

Not enough Darryl Strawberry news lately. That looks eerily like the nuclear bomb on 24 Season 6. Oops.

I'm not going to turn into one of those angst-filled technology bloggers, but it did take HP over a month to pace this system capable of surfing the eBay. Heck, they even fixed the 'z' key, which was decimated after the first two weeks of the college football season (think of a particular LSU corner who returned back-to-back interceptions for touchdowns).

Pimpin's a Mechanical Engineering major according to pacebook. One day, I'm going to run into JZ at Fred's or something and start rapping some control systems and gear ratios with him.

Still, rather than reminisce about the Sugar Bowl or the Saints, let's look forward, TANBRines, at the upcoming "Super Bowl" "matchup" and, more specifically, its two quarterbacks.

With the clock winding down on the first half of the NFC Championship last Sunday, Rex Grossman (no middle name, checked) was having trouble understanding the playcall through his helmet audio. The Bears had the ball around their own 30 with no more than 0:35 left on the clock. After a meaningless Tom Jones run up the middle on first down, it appeared Chicago was expectedly ready to head to the locker room. Instead, a flustered Rexy took the snap and Chris Leaked it near the first row; the play must have taken about three seconds off the clock. The entire Bears staff looked at him with Manning Faces.

Sexy still claims his greatest college accomplishment was the 2001 44-15 'Slingin' in the Rain' drubbing in Baton Rouge. Hey, we were conference champions.

Never has such an inconsequential play stuck in my head for so long. It did absolutely nothing to alter the game or momentum; the Saints ended the first half and started the second half with the fire of 1000 Scott Fujitas. However, the Bears had dominated 26 minutes of the first half, and intensifying snow was doing nothing to help. I found myself saying This is going to be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl? over and over again.

Asian Assassin: The Chiefs turtleneck will always remind me of Vermeil, one of my favorite people. "You know what? They're right sometimes. More often than not, they're right."

That second down, the rest of the game (I could've easily mentioned S.R. Grossman's timeout confusion, making the obvious Chris Webber comparisons when he actually resembled Josh Howard in Game 5 of the Finals more closely), and an extremely flawed Chicago Bears NFC Champion team drove home the theme that's becoming clearer and clearer every season. The NFL, in its quest to achieve more parity since the "decade" dynasties of the Steelers, Niners, and Cowboys, has become so diluted that teams with inherent flaws apparent from Week 1 can not only compete for a playoff berth, but win their conferences easily.

I just remember Will questioning pledges during some ritual with "Do you know who Josh Howard is?" "..." "He's only the most versatile young player in the NBA."

Has this been Tags's plan all along? We're one Bears win away from an unprecedented two-year stretch of World Champion quarterbacks that are game managers at best. In the past, those types of signal callers were an anomaly, always sandwiched among dynasty-leading golden boys. For every Jeff Hostetler, there was a Joe Montana. For every Brad Johnson, there was a Tom Brady. In fact, I'm poring over a list of every Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Names like Starr, Unitas, Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman, Favre, and Elway jump off the page. Sure, there's a Doug Williams or Len Dawson sprinkled in, but only once every eight years or so. This decade alone has made names like Dilfer, Johnson, and Roethlisberger (who'll get progressively worse, trust me) the stuff of local legends.

This came up when googling Jeff Hostetler, from a bizarre collection of college football photographs entitled '30 YEARS OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL,' covering Jay Fiedler to Jumbo Elliot. By the way, 'Hostetler' is an entry in the Microsoft Word lexicon. At least it doesn't invoke the red correction. Such are the luxuries of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

In a little under a month, football has forced a transition from a system designed to guarantee the top two, well-hyped, dominant teams to a three-week roll of a pair of dice. And I can't handle it much longer. A sixth-seeded team has made two of the past three Super Bowls. Last year's champion was 7-5 at one point. I'm all for teams hitting hot streaks at the right time, but there also comes a point when I want to see unforgettable, '85 Bears-type dominance. I guess that's the greedy, sucker-for-hype sports philosophy I've always had. Complaining about college football's lack of a playoff system is becoming more and more popular with every season, but I find myself asking the same question--would I be satisfied with Louisvilles and Boise States winning every season?

I probably would've stopped watching college football if I were coherent in 1984.

And then after the Colts won the AFC, I started complaining about how this was even worse than Ravens/Giants, about how the most loathsome play-by-play announcer would be calling it, about how I wasn't even going to watch except for Prince and the commercials. With the retirements of Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells, I can only hope for a few glorious Coors Light press conferences. But the truth is, names like Dilfer and Roethlisberger are about to be overshadowed by a jump-off-the-page name I've been waiting for, and I'm still not even remotely satisfied.

Over the last decade, there has simply been no more frustrating athlete for me than Peyton Manning. Owens, Bonds, McGwire, Romanowski, Cadillac Williams included. The thing is, I know I hate him. I've made it clear to several people in several different situations. I've known this since he was a phenom junior at hometown Newman High. When people find out my Manning hatred (Cooper included), their reactions are two-fold. First, they act as if I'm against New Orleans, sports, success, and America all rolled into one. Next, predictably, they want a concise, bulleted summary of my hatred. The older Manning fans might even use words such as 'classy' and 'well-spoken' in his defense; the younger fans might point to his funny, mustachioed commercials.

Coops fratting it up.

And the most frustrating thing is that I still cannot answer the question satisfactorily. I mention how Peyton is not necessarily a class act, referencing the sexual harassment charges filed against him by a Tennessee athletic trainer. I mention how he's not necessarily the consummate team player either, pointing to instances of throwing teammates under the bus after critical losses, or even vetoing a coach's decision to punt while on the field. Those are anomalies of character, they say, and I might agree with them--perhaps anyone in such a public spotlight would have similar notable lapses of judgment.

"I'm trying to be a good teammate here.... let's just say we had some problems with protection." That's what she said.

I then mention how Peyton has become something larger than the team he plays for, the very antithesis of a team player. And this isn't necessarily Marbles's fault. But on every AFC Championship promo I saw, it was Peyton Manning and the Colts host the New England Patriots. His story has been presented as an against-all-odds underdog just trying to make it to the sport's biggest stage. I'm usually a sucker for those storylines along with everyone else, but, in Peyton's case, the underdog story is fundamentally flawed.

In actuality, Manning has had the majority of the odds stacked in his favor from a young age. With the notable last name and football pedigree, affluent garden district childhood, private school education, and lucrative SEC scholarship, the pieces have always been in place for Marbles to succeed. Even at the pro level, Peyton has had the luxury of being behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines, throwing to receivers who are exceptional, selfless route runners. For the most part, he's been coached by a defensive mind who allows tremendous liberties in changing the offensive plays at the line of scrimmage. An astonishing statistic illustrating Manning's goodwill is his consecutive games streak: Peyton has started every single game of his NFL career. Even more amazing, he has missed only one snap due to injury. The fact that it has taken Manning so long to reach the Super Bowl is almost lovable in itself--the hapless, playoff ne'er-do-well finally backdooring his way in with a much-maligned defense singlehandedly winning two of the three playoff games. But the media has stuck with the underdog storyline--even if his team is favored by seven.

But Peyton, when taken at the personal level, becomes one of the most fascinating athletes for me personally. Nearly every single thing I've pointed out about Marbles is a quality of some of my favorite athletes from other sports. One of my favorite people--ever--is often characterized by LeBron James and the Cavaliers on television commercials. Dikembe Mutombo has a legitimate cult following solely because of "Who wants to sex Mutombo?" Rasheed Wallace often throws teammates under the bus and blatantly ignores his coaches during timeouts, and he's still my favorite basketball player.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Manning is so fundamentally uncool about everything. His feeble attempts at developing a public personality--the seemingly endless commercials for Sprint, Mastercard, Gatorade, Reebok, etc., are often characterized as funny simply because Manning is essentially unfunny. Even when Manning exhibits a fairly impressive amount of hardness, specifically the "idiot kicker" comments about Vanderjagt, it occurs in the most uncool situation possible in professional football, the Pro Bowl. Even so, I have a soft spot for the Mark Madsens and Ben Voogds of the sports world simply because they're clearly not hip enough to blend in.

Manning in his element.

So I'm taking these two football-free weeks to evaluate just how the Colts' imminent Super Bowl win will change the Manning dynamic for me personally. Peyton's about to win the first of multiple championships with the Colts, officially placing his name aside Unitas, Montana, and co. as one of the greatest ever. After the AFC Championship, I thought that, at the very least, a Manning win would put his underdog, against-all-odds dynamic to an end. But it will only ignite a new debate--Is Manning the best quarterback ever? And count on Peyton to be characteristically quiet about everything.

Maybe that's the frustrating thing about Manning. His reactions (or non-reactions) to media coverage and hype are completely foreign in today's sports world. And not in a cool, Tomlinson-type way. By all accounts, a privileged quarterback's son should be a smug, arrogant, selfish prick during his rise to the top. I often take Manning's reticence as the highest level of smugness, taking comfort in the fact that he must secretly be a dick in private. Being from a successful NFL family, Peyton should also be a fairly sharp, charismatic cat. But the truth is, Manning is the opposite of all those adjectives when in front of the camera, acting as if his latest press conference was his first.

You'll probably finish with the most yards, most touchdowns, most consecutive starts, and most face imitations, but you'll always have Jamie Ann Naughright, P.

And I think that's what makes me most uneasy about Manning. He's unlike any high-profile athlete of his era. He's unclassifiable. Not only is he uncommonly quiet, cool, and (publicly) humble about his successes, but he's paradoxically uncoordinated, uncool, and unmysterious about his fame. He really brings nothing to the table other than success and statistics. And after a Super Bowl win, that might be the definition of a straightforward Hall of Fame quarterback. Don't get me wrong, I still hate him. Although, his potential expression (tears?) while holding the Lombardi Trophy--and perhaps the MVP--would almost be worth a Colts Super Bowl XLI win. Sadly, this probably won't be the last Manning essay I write--soon after his retirement, Marbles will put his communications major to work on a network studio show...I'm thinking CBS. And soon after that, his inevitable rise to a head coaching position will ensure another 25 years of Manning coverage. Come 2055, I still don't think we'll be prepared to see an eighty-year-old Peyton in 12,000i HDTV.


MT said...

I should have been sleeping an hour ago, but apparently Madden Nation is now a marathon. I didn't know Eminem had a little brother, but the kid lives in Tampa and goes by secret, he's apparently been lurking. I swear, I never want to see that little bastard dancing again. Quite possibly my favorite part is the intensity all these kids play with. Next time I pace someone in class, I'm going for the "Let's Go!"

Super Bowl. I live in Chicago and don't care. The city itself has been hyped about this all season, but for every "sexy rexy" quote, you can remind these cats that the dude slept on the last game of the season because he was thinking about his new years plans. They're a good team, but there's not much to get excited about. Same with the Colts, besides the fact that I hate Peyton Manning for reasons I can't explain. We'll all be watching, but I'm pulling with the colts only because I don't want to be in my apartment during a riot. peace.

Tank said...

I'm pulling for the Bears. If Peyton actually goes to the Super Bowl and gets paced, it'll be even more devastating than losing in the playoffs.

As for the hating Peyton thing, his Wikipedia entry mentions that he's friends with Reggie Miller, my least favorite NBA player ever. This might set up a hatred of epic proportions. Let's hope they don't also have Pat Riley's cell phone number.