I, like everybody else I know, am happy for New Orleans -- the city, the people, the team -- although I didn't have any real objections to Philadelphia winning the whole thing. For starters, the Eagles, despite playing about 300 miles down I-76 from the Steelers, don't engender much intra-state hostility. Plus, just thinking about Jeff Garcia makes me laugh. Here's a guy who, by all outwardly appearances, looks like he should be selling shoes or something. How can you not pull for the Al Bundy of professional football?
Now the Ravens, Seahawks, and Patriots -- these teams are very easy to hate. Baltimore because Brian Billick, even after his off-season neutering, is still a smug jerk; Seattle for the largest concentration of whiny babies, fat coaches, bald quarterbacks and soft star running backs; New England for kicking the crap out of Pittsburgh every time it matters, for winning three Super Bowls in five years despite a roster full of star players, and for anything else that doesn't fit neatly into either of these categories.
And if you're curious, yes, I'm a hater. It's human nature, people. If you don't have a dog in the race, you can do two things: gamble to make things interesting or pull against the largest contingent of fans in your general vicinity invoking the old "misery love company" cliché.
My sports-gambling career lasted exactly one semester. After I won my first eight bets -- straight bets, parlays, reverses … the worse the odds the more likely the wager -- I proceeded to Eddie Mush my way into a $450 hole. For people with jobs and lives this may not sound like a lot of money, but for a college kid with no income, it might as well have been a million dollars. I eventually emptied my bank account, which was more a ceremonial act than anything. I mean, when you choose a bank because the ATM let's you withdraw five bucks at a time, well, then you've got other issues.
Things got so bad that I contemplated calling my parents to inform them their son was an idiot, and not your average idiot, but one who also needed five hundy to square a debt. After weighing my options, I did what any 21-year-old, unemployed halfwit would do: I made one more bet. Many of my college memories are blurred by time (and alcohol … but mostly time), but I vividly recall the events surrounding The Bet. After careful consideration, I laid down $500 that I didn't have -- and on top of the $450 hole I was already in -- on the Wake Forest-Oklahoma State 1995 Sweet 16 NCAA tournament game. I didn't just bet on a team; that would've made too much sense. Instead, I bet the over. As in, Wake-OSU will score over 122 points. One hundred twenty-two points doesn't sound like much, but the Cowboys were a low-scoring team featuring Big Country. The Demon Deacons had Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan, but were just as likely to score 55 points as 75.
In the end it proved pretty anticlimactic. I took the over, OSU won 71-66, and I wouldn't have to explain to my parents how I turned out like I did despite their best efforts. The point to this digression? Stick to the clichés because gambling is bad. Remember, the more you know…
So, it brought me great pleasure watching the Ravens bumble their way out of the playoffs. It's amazing how one game can change an entire fan base's perspective. Last week, Steve McNair was the missing piece to the puzzle; this week, after pulling a Boller, it's back to the usual off-season talking points. Namely, this team ain't going nowhere until it addresses the quarterback position. Yes, schadenfreude is all I got.
The Seahawks played pretty well against a Bears team that has struggled recently, and honestly, I liked Seattle before all the post-Super Bowl bellyaching. But seeing a red-faced Mike Holmgren (who, by the way, looks like Mr. Owl in those glasses) berating the officials over just about every call reminded my of why I wanted them to lose.
And then there are the Patriots. Like I said after the game, it's not really the playoffs until a Marty Schottenheimer-coached team loses. I know it's hard to place all the blame on Marty -- I mean, he doesn't even wear a headset for most games -- but his postseason failures are mind-boggling. I was surprised when the Chargers announced Schottenheimer would coach again in 2007, but DJ Gallo put it all in perspective with these made up quotes from last weekend's games:
Marty Schottenheimer, on his future: "I don't see what firing me would accomplish. The smart thing to do would be to allow me to coach next season, then fire me right before the playoffs."Yeah, it's meant to be funny, but it's not a bad idea.
When it became clear the Steelers weren't a playoff team -- somewhere between Week 5 and Week 17 -- I decided that if it came down to it, I'd prefer New England win its fourth Super Bowl instead of Baltimore winning its second. This is like choosing a band for your wedding reception and the only two choices are N'Sync and the Backstreet Boys. There's no winning … just degrees of losing. Still, I figured I could endure another Patriots media slurp far easier than I could stomach the Ravens -- and Brian Billick -- smugly patting themselves on the back for the next 12 months.
That said, in my new almost-perfect world, the Patriots lose to the Colts in the AFC Championship game. And as long as I'm wishing for stuff, the Steelers also name the guy who will be coaching the team for the next 20 years.