Monday, February 8, 2010

I Hate to Throw Stones, But ...

... are there any standards in sports writing? I know music writers have little room to speak, but here's one of the dumbest things I've seen written after the Super Bowl, this by the Louisville Mojo's Billy Reed:

Bad Karma Beat the Colts

The New Orleans Saints didn't beat the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl as much as bad karma did. You should not mess around with Mother Nature, or, apparently the gods of football. The Colts should never have blown off their opportunity to go unbeaten.

By winning their first 14 regular-season games, the Colts put themselves in position to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL team to ever reign as unbeaten Super Bowl champions. It's a hollowed goal worth achieving. Yet instead of pursuing it, the Colts blew it off.

They went in the tank in their last two regular-season games, gift-wrapping victories for the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills by putting their starters on the sidelines. The goal, said Colts' president Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell, was winning the Super Bowl, not going unbeaten.

They could have achieved both, Instead, the got neither. By blowing the Super Bowl to the underdog Saints, the Colts got what they deserved in the eyes of those who believe that every team has an obligation – to itself, its fans, and the integrity of the game – to try to win every time it puts on the uniform.

- Evidently players and talent have nothing to do with results; it's all about keeping the football gods happy. Of course, the other team that thwarted the game's integrity, sat its players down and didn't try in the final week was the New Orleans Saints. I guess the football gods were too busy stewing over the Colts' sins to properly smite the Saints.

I have yet to see the team good enough to orchestrate its place in history. The Colts tried it and got on the wrong side of karma. You tempt the gods at your own risk. When the Colts did their tank jobs against the Jets and Bills, you can bet that George Halas, Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi were frowning up in Hoghide Heaven.

- This is pretty Aristotelian now, with Jim Caldwell punished for his hubris. Do we blind him now or later?

Other than money, why play at all if you are not going to play for your place in history? Exactly 44 teams now have won the Super Bowl, but only one has been crowned as an unbeaten Super Bowl champion. The '72 Dolphins set the bar high and so far nobody has been able to vault it.

Those who have come closest – the New England Patriots of a couple of years ago, for example – have failed not from lack of effort, but because they weren't quite good enough. We'll never know if the Colts were good enough because Polian and Caldwell, playing God, took their fate into their own hands.

- Wait, so talent does matter? Now I'm confused. Or, did the football gods conspire to saddle the Pats with an inferior team? Those insidious gods!

Of course, there's also this: Maybe the Saints are just better. Maybe the Saints would have won even if the Colts had come into the Super Bowl unbeaten.

The Saints Sean Payton out-coached Caldwell, catching the Colts unprepared with some new offensive and defensive wrinkles. His decision to open the second half with an onside kick was one of the guttiest in Super Bowl history. And in the end, after an incredible duel of surpassing excellence, it was the Colts' MVP quarterback, Peyton Manning, who cracked instead of his New Orleans counterpart, Purdue product Drew Brees.

With the Colts down by only seven and driving, Manning threw an interception that Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, a native of Louisiana and a second-round draft pick from LSU, grabbed and returned 74 yards to blow the game open.

It was not a hard play. Porter simply moved around and in front of Manning's intended receiver, Reggie Wayne, and took Manning's pass right in the numbers. Yards from reaching the end zone, Porter began pointing at Saints fans in the stands, touching off a wild celebration both in Sun Life Stadium and on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

- What's a discussion of football doing in this column?

It was a marvelous spiritual victory for a city still coming back from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the 2006 natural disaster that brought the Gulf Coast region to its knees. The Saints' home, the New Orleans Superdome, was seriously damaged, but still served as a shelter for refugees.

- What time is it? Cliche o'clock, time for stock piety!

As fate would have it, Peyton Manning also is a native of New Orleans. He was born there during the dark early years of the Saints franchise, when his father, Archie, was taking weekly beatings as the Saints' QB. The team was so bad that they became known as the Aints and fans took to wearing paper sacks over their heads.

- "Oh, cruel fate," Peyton says, "Why dost thou trifle with me so? Why must I play my father's keeper? And what's that tired reference to 1980 doing in this paragraph?"

The victory comes in the midst of Mardi Gras and is guaranteed to do what was previously thought to be impossible, which is send the festival to new levels of drunkenness and debauchery. But that's OK.

It's great to see New Orleans alive and well and strutting again.
Heck, I'll bet that if you look carefully during the Mardi Gras parade, you might just see the gods of football riding a float through the French Quarter. They still rule the game, you see, and woe be to the team that defies them.

- What time is it? Cliche o'five, time for a sidehanded slap at our partying and an anachronistic reference to floats in the French Quarter, something that hasn't happened in my 20-plus years in New Orleans.

To be fair to Billy Reed, he's hardly alone in his love of the intangibles. The Saints were supposedly doomed against the Cardinals because the Cards were "hot," having played a shootout against the Packers in the wild card game while the Saints rested players for two weeks. What's a team to do if it has no momentum, like the Cards and Cowboys? Evidently, sit home and watch the Super Bowl on TV. This week,the Saints were underdogs because they lacked experience in the Super Bowl. I gather inexperienced teams would lose all professionalism and roll up like pillbugs at the feet of Carrie Underwood when faced with the prospect of playing the nation's biggest game in front of its biggest audience. Ask the Colts how that experience worked out for them. Bottom line: Intangibles vs. actual football stuff - go with the stuff.

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