You want chocolate cake. The question in late August is, are you fanatic enough to actually believe an insane person offering chocolate cake?
For instance, let's say you cheer for a perennially horrible football team in Southern Ohio, maybe even the worst-run organization in the history of professional sports. History may grate at you, but this is the modern media age. At least one certifiable nutcase - probably on an Internet fan site - is always willing to publicly declare why YOUR team is going to win the Super Bowl. If you believe the hype - and I recommend that you always believe the hype - YOUR team really is going to win the Super Bowl.
If you believe it and embrace it with all of your heart, then you have a reason to exist in America in the fall of 2003. And if you do not believe it well then you, poor child, are NOT ready for some football.
The good news for you, as a fan, is that I am insane - I have a diploma, not to mention relatives, saying so. And I have cake.
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Soon the season will start and the question I hear everywhere I go is, "Hey, what's gonna happen?"
Usually, I say, "I'm gonna get some pizza and think about cheerleaders," but fans press me for details and I choose, because I am forced, to sacrifice my dignity and have my palm read. People clamor; I give in.
It's true, the results of every NFL season are written in my palms. Or maybe all that hand-wringing from being wrong every single year - I always predict the same team will win the Super Bowl - has worn down my skin to its essence. See, I think 2003 really is the year for MY team.
So what's gonna happen? Welcome to my delusions:
NFC EAST - When in doubt, I always go with the quarterback and once again the best quarterback in the NFC East is Donovan McNabb by a mile, 3/8ths, four feet and 14/19ths inches - give or take a smidgen. The Giants will challenge for a while until Jeremy Shockey gets sued by the Pope and Madonna, while the Cowboys, like all Parcells' teams, will be good by the end of the year. And if God is still running the universe and He is even half the fan that all the players say, the Redskins will suck. EAGLES
NFC NORTH - It's true that I am the last guy on the planet who believes in the Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss combination. But in the years they were drafted, they each should have been the number one pick, and this year will prove that. This is the year the Vikings put it together, which is bad news for the Packers, who I fear will face bad luck in much the same way that a mystic in a garden of good and evil just gets a bad vibe. The Lions will be interesting, which is more than I will say for the Bears. VIKINGS
NFC SOUTH - When Michael Vick broke his leg, it made fans in Tampa Bay smile because it seemed to wrap up the division for the Buccaneers. But the Buccaneers will play like they think they are champions which means they will struggle for the first half of the season and by the time they wake up, Michael Vick will be back performing Houdini tricks on the gridiron. The Panthers will be average and the Saints are the Saints, nuff' said. FALCONS
NFC WEST - Do I believe Kurt Warner can ever be what he was? Well, I believe in Santa Claus and I believe that Kurt Warner at his best is the best quarterback I have ever seen play football. Even if he never quite gets there again, I still think Warner will be good enough to lead the Rams to a bunch of wins - despite the fact that Rams Coach Mike Martz is actually a robotron controlled by a guy named Rob, the assistant manager of a convenience store in Missouri. The 49ers will miss the rudder of Steve Mariucci and the Cardinals will again have to prove to fans that they really are an NFL franchise. RAMS
AFC EAST - Tom Brady is the real thing and he is not done winning championships. I don't need a crystal ball to see this. I've got eyes. This may not be the year (right now I am predicting next year for the Patriots, but next year I will predict the Browns) for the championship but as long as Brady is running the Patriots offense, they are in every game. As for the Dolphins let me just say that I saw Bob Griese play and Brian Griese is no Bob Griese.although Ricky Williams does a reasonable impression of Larry Csonka. As for the Bills, Drew Bledsoe will never go to another Super Bowl, and the Jets only wish they had a big-play receiver. PATRIOTS
AFC NORTH - When the Cleveland Cavaliers tanked their last NBA season in order to have a chance to draft phenom Lebron James, it looked like the gustiest move that ever worked out in Cleveland sports history. That is, until Butch Davis benched Tim Couch for Kelly Holcomb. Suddenly, the Cleveland Browns have a big-time tough-guy reputation as the blue-collar team they really are. The Browns are done throwing light jabs. This team will throw roundhouses, and connect often. Expect other teams to see stars - like William Green. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh Tommy Maddox will suddenly remember how to sell insurance - because he has to. The Ravens will challenge the Browns for a while until Brian Billick's face catches on fire while staring in a mirror. And by the end of the season, the Bengals will be begging the Packers to trade them Akili Smith. BROWNS
AFC SOUTH - Peyton Manning is much like Peyton Place - he is all tease. And again, Peyton and the Colts will almost make the playoffs before figuring a way to embarrassingly lose their way out of the invitation. Still, for a while this season each us will think that the Colts are for sure the best team in football. Just remember to look at the calendar - if it is a month that begins with Septemb or Octobe - it probably means nothing other than, "that's typical." So that is why I am picking the Titans to win the division. Steve McNair is one of those guys who should have played with no teeth in the 1950s. The Jaguars will not have an identity this year, which is bad, and the Texans will have an identity this year, which is even worse. TITANS
AFC WEST - If you don't pick a surprise team to win a division you are not allowed to have a predictions' column - it's in the rules. So when the San Diego Chargers gallop to the AFC West championship at the end of the season just remember that it only happened because of that rule. Some things are cosmic and having LaDanian Tomlinson coached by Marty Schottenheimer helps. The funny thing will be how the Raiders will lead the division at the halfway point when the entire team suddenly all gets old at 1:13 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. "I'm tired," says Gannon. "Me too," says Rice. "That's odd," says Brown.Meanwhile Priest Holmes has another career season but the rest of the Chiefs make Dick Vermeil weep, and Broncos fans just shake their heads with dumbfounded amazement and say, "Why is Jake Plummer our quarterback?" CHARGERS
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Vikings over Rams
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Browns over Patriots
SUPER BOWL: Browns 34, Vikings 20
Soon, we'll realize how ludicrous it was for fans of some of these teams to think that dreams come true. Truth is, it's easy for a fool to make predictions, and I've done that. Did you like the cake?
This column was sponsored by the Lake Erie Loop.