In what is perhaps the biggest postseason upset since the underdog Patriots beat the high-powered St. Louis Rams almost a decade ago, the Seattle Seahawks, roundly mocked for being the first team with a sub.-500 record to make the playoffs and a double-digit home underdog, shocked the New Orleans Saints 41-36 in a shootout that began with the Saints taking a 10-0 lead early only to have Seattle storm back and the respective offenses beating the opposing defenses into submission the rest of the way. The road to retaining their championship was going to be a difficult proposition at best for the defending champs, but to get slapped early and often by a team with a losing record helps cement the mantra of "Any Given Sunday" or, in this case, "Any Given Saturday."
Perhaps even more astounding was the ouster of the Indianapolis Colts from the postseason. At halftime, Peyton Manning had a seven-point lead over the New York Jets and he led his offense to points every time they had the ball in the second half. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough, as the Colts had to settle for three second-half field goals, but the Jets only allowed Manning on the field once in the first 20 minutes of the second half. In the end, what appeared to be yet another notch in the belt of Adam Vinatieri instead became a Folk tale, as former Cowboys kicker Nick Folk – cut by Dallas for his inaccuracy – kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jets a 17-16 road win.
At a time where the clock may well be ticking down to the end of football as we know it for the future beyond the Super Bowl – some insiders claim both sides are preparing for the worst, which is never a good sign – the games proved again Saturday why it is worth fighting for and not letting greed and stubbornness get in the way.
In baseball, it seems like a given that, when the postseason comes around, you're guaranteed to have the Yankees involved, most likely the Red Sox and, just as likely, teams like the Phillies and Dodgers in the National League. Half the league is dead before the season begins and, if the rich teams don't have the horses to make a legitimate run, they routinely pilfer the smaller-market teams for their own short-term benefit.
The NBA is no better, because that league has always been as crooked as a dog's hind leg. They had to institute a draft lottery because teams were intentionally tanking games in order to assure higher draft picks and it has been common knowledge that top teams like the Celtics and Lakers don't give their maximum effort every game because they have to prepare to play as many as 28 postseason games. Even their refs have gone to jail for fixing games. All that's missing is the cast of "The Sopranos" sitting courtside when a questionable finish happens at the Garden.
Only the NFL can have a team like the Saints rise out of nothing and become a champion, serving as a flashpoint for a city beset with misery that needed something the rally around. Only in NFL could a team like the Colts pull back on the reigns with a 14-0 record and leading at halftime of the 15th game to prove a point that having everyone healthy for the postseason was more important than potentially being the first 19-0 team in NFL history.
They were the stories of 2009 and, thanks to the NFL, they had Rex Ryan and his wild card Jets and Brett Favre's improbable return to dominance as backup storylines if either the Colts or Saints fell by the wayside. They didn't and produced one of the more exciting Super Bowls of them all.
But, in the NFL, time marches to a faster beat than it does in baseball or basketball. In the span of a little more than three hours, both conference champions were eliminated – one as an 11-point road favorite and the other playing at home with a distinct home-field advantage. Their story was last year, not this year. Both were shoved to the side so new stories can be told about the 2010 season. For all their achievements, they both end up on the back burner with teams like the Vikings, Cowboys, Giants and Chargers – all of whom had Super Bowl steam heading into the year and came away from it watching from the sidelines.
Saturday was one of those days that proves the point all over again why the NFL is the greatest sport. Can Sunday live up to Saturday's opening act? Probably not, but the best thing about the NFL is that the best week of the season is coming next week, as the teams that already have a playoff win go up against those with the week of rest getting ready to prove their regular-season roll can continue. It doesn't get much better than that. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and fans would have to harken back to these days on fall weekends if there isn't any football.