Coach's Corner

This year's NFL playoffs aren't exactly measuring up to the classics of all time.

Shea Stadium, 1968:With empty beer cups and hot dog wrappers blowing chaotically in a swirling, icy tornado, Joe Namath, the first modern sports superstar, whips (a perfect description of the Namath throwing motion) a ball 52 yards through the maelstrom into the hands of Don Maynard to beat the Raiders in the final seconds of the AFC championship game.

Even the most rabid fan, like me, will admit it's been a dismal NFL playoff season. Unless you happen to be a fan of the Ravens or the Giants, there's not much good to be said about the playoff tourney to date. I found more excitement watching the Longhorns try to score 20 points by halftime. I discovered more entertainment on VH1's countdown of female divas. So go ahead, penalize me 15 yards for excessive use of the first-person pronoun. I am one disappointed sports fan.

Playoff days are special: planned for well in advance of the first 11:30 kickoff. Specific hours of television time are carefully negotiated. Prayers are sent to the Sports God for a gloomy, cold, rainy day ... the theory being, the gloomier, colder, and wetter, the less likely I am to have any desire to leave the comforts of the couch. The morning's sports pages are carefully scanned. Even I, however, have a limit. I can't watch the idiotic network pregame shows. Howie and Terry were amusing once, now they're a dull Vegas show. Howie's much better on the Radio Shack commercials. Jerry Glanville (and the most recently fired head coach over on CBS) are only slightly less childish than the frat boys on Fox.

The Metrodome, 1998: Kicker Gary Anderson doesn't miss his first field goal of the year until two minutes remain to be played against the Falcons. Atlanta, a huge underdog, goes on to beat the Vikings in overtime.

Today's games, though not without surprises, are bad, barely watchable stuff. I thought the Vikings would beat New York, a rare home underdog. I can't recall ever watching a good team fold up and collapse as meekly as Minnesota did today. It went like this: The big, strong, supremely confident guy strides into a bar to fight some obnoxious little twit. The people in the saloon are barely watching as the big fellow pulls his sweatshirt over his head. At this moment the little fellow wallops the big guy across the forehead with a heavy pool cue. To paraphrase Howard Cosell, "Down go the Vikings! Down go the Vikings!" Dazed, they stagger to their feet. At just this moment the mean little guy delivers a full body kick in the gonads. New York has two TDs before Minnesota touches the ball. The result: a 41-0 humiliation at the hands of Kerry Collins, a QB all but run out of the league two years ago. The New York Giants, a 40-1 pick to reach this spot in September, will be playing in Tampa.

The Drive, 1986: The greatest game ever played. The temperature's well below zero in ancient Municipal Stadium, casting a dark late-afternoon shadow over frozen Lake Erie. A remorseless, John Elway-led 95-yard drive plants a last-second stake into the heart of the old Cleveland Browns. It's the last time the Browns will see a championship game until today, under the guise of the Ravens.

In Oakland (a preseason 30-1 pick to get this far), another sort of lousy game is about to begin. Though the final 16-3 score indicates a reasonably close game, it is, in fact, as big a blowout as the fiasco in the Meadowlands. The nondescript Baltimore Ravens, themselves a big Super Bowl longshot, with a savage defense and Trent Dilfer -- I said, sportsfans, Trent Fucking Dilfer!! -- under center, castrate and perform a sex-change operation on the biggest, baddest offense in the AFC. This game is so damn dull, I wish I'd taped the Vikings-Giants game so I could watch it again. The Ravens, essentially, play for a field-goal lead. That's all they need to win. Their defense is as savage and efficient as advertised; their offense like watching the Weather Channel for three straight hours. The Raider offense is snuffed in a rolling avalanche, uprooting huge trees and stout concrete buildings like an angry child throwing his Legos against a bedroom wall. Various Oakland running backs are playfully tossed into the air by Baltimore linebackers. Likely league MVP Rich Gannon is almost broken in half by a Raven cheap shot, reminiscent of Raider "tackles" of yore. But an unbroken Gannon would not have mattered. This was a pissed-off Baltimore team.

The Ice Bowl, Green Bay, 1967: The most memorable of all: 13 below zero at kickoff (with a toe-freezing wind chill of minus-43) on, Cosell again, "The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field." Can you imagine what the media would make of a "warm weather" team like Dallas going to Green Bay under those conditions today? The weather alone would cost Dallas 10 points on the modern betting line. It was a Cowboy loss, but possibly their finest hour. It takes the most famous QB sneak in history -- with only seconds remaining -- to kill the Cowboys, 21-17, on a January day so long ago.

This is a lot of history to live up to. Maybe next year.

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