There’s no “picks” column this week because the NFL decided we needed two full weeks of Super Bowl hype, so let’s hand out some belated awards for the conference championship games:
The Teddy Kennedy Award for “Most improbable overachievement by a younger brother”
What about Eli Manning winning three playoff games on the road, prevailing in minus-4 degree weather in Green Bay and leading the underdog Giants to the Super Bowl? My God, look at the previous sentence again! Just look at it! I can’t get over it. Has there ever been a more improbable Super Bowl QB? Right after the winning field goal Sunday night, poor Eli had to run 40 yards before he found a teammate to hug … and when he found one, it was punter Jeff Feagles. High comedy. This is how Teddy Kennedy’s political career would have unfolded if Chappaquiddick had never happened.
The Roger Clemens Award for “Best story that was ignored by the national media”
The great Brett Favre completely collapsed in the Giants-Packers game, throwing multiple balls up for grabs, single-handedly killing his team, and then everyone gave him the kid gloves treatment afterward. Favre had an incredible season and exceeded everyone’s expectations. It was a wonderful ride, but come on. Didn’t Troy Aikman and Joe Buck have to discuss Favre’s Level 5 stinkbomb during the telecast beyond just alluding to it a couple of times? What about Peter King, who didn’t even mention Favre’s grisly performance in his normally comprehensive MMQB column? With all the breaks Green Bay got in that game, if Favre had given his team even a C-plus, the Pack would have won. You know he was bad when the Giants planned on kicking off in OT even if they won the coin flip.
(Note: The media spent four months spoon-feeding us this urban legend that Favre wasn’t a gunslinger anymore, he was managing games now, he wasn’t going to kill his team by taking dumb chances — I wrote about how dumb this story line was as far back as Week 4 — when the reality was Favre was playing the same way he always did, only he was playing exceptionally well and had better teammates. Unfortunately, for Packers fans, that minus-4 weather ended up freezing his Fountain of Youth and he killed their Super Bowl hopes. In my opinion, Favre never changed the way he played this season. Not even one iota. He just played well until Week 19. Which reminds me …)
The Bill Simmons Award for “Most obvious gambling story line that everyone completely missed”
On paper, it seems absolutely incredible that Eli totally outplayed Favre in Lambeau in the third coldest playoff game ever. I never would have predicted this in a million years, especially given Eli’s past performance in cold weather. Then I thought about it afterward and realized something: Favre is 38, Eli is 27 and the weather was minus-4. Who’s more likely to be affected by bone-chilling temperatures — a young QB with little wear and tear on his body, or an old QB who has started 270 consecutive games, battled an addiction to painkillers and probably takes 15 minutes to get out of bed every morning? Wouldn’t it be the old guy?
Think of it this way: A family gets together for the holidays in Buffalo. There are three brothers in the family (ages 27, 35 and 38), two sisters, a mom, a dad and a grandfather. One morning, Buffalo gets crushed by a blizzard and somebody has to shovel the driveway in minus-4 degree weather for two hours. Which family member gets bundled up and goes out there? The youngest brother. Why? BECAUSE HE’S 27!!!!!!!!! He’s the youngest, healthiest one! Is there any chance the 38-year-old guy goes out there? No! Why? BECAUSE HE’S 38!!!! Why didn’t I think of this before the game? I hate myself.
The Spy Magazine Award for “Best use of Donald Trump”
When HBO’s “Inside the NFL” followed Bob Kraft around for the Jags-Pats game, the cameras caught him praising Laurence Maroney by telling a guest in his luxury suite, “He’s finally running hard.” The name of the guest? Donald Trump. A few days after the show aired, Maroney took over the second half of the San Diego game and bowled over tacklers like he was Earl Campbell. Now that’s how you pull off a backhanded compliment! See, there’s a reason Bob Kraft is rich.
(Speaking of Maroney, here’s the weirdest stat of the 2007 season: Did you know Maroney and Joseph Addai are the exact same size and weight? Both are 5-foot-10, 220 pounds. It’s true. I was shocked by that one.)
The Matthew Berry Award for “Most obvious ‘Eff You!’ to fantasy owners”
How ’bout Vincent Jackson and Maroney turning it on in the playoffs and becoming the fantasy forces everyone thought they would be in August? What’s the over/under on fantasy owners who watched Jackson make his umpteenth big catch in the Pats game, listened to Phil Simms talk about what a weapon Jackson had become, then stood up and held both middle fingers toward their TV? I say 50,000.
The Blair Witch Award for “Most terrifying videotape”
To TMZ.com for sneak-attacking Patriots fans with video of Tom Brady limping around with a walking cast on his right foot Monday night outside Gisele’s townhouse in Manhattan. Fortunately, my sources (that’s right, I have sources!) tell me it’s just an ankle sprain, and he’ll be 100 percent ready to go Feb. 3. Even better, because the sprain happened in the second quarter, (A) Pats fans now have an excuse for Brady’s unusually shaky performance last Sunday, and (B) I don’t have to write the joke that I had planned for this paragraph: “After Brady’s third pick, I kept expecting CBS to cut to a shot of his father in the stands and accidentally show Archie Manning.”
The Billy King Award for “Worst performance by a GM”
Does Randy Mueller ever work again in the NFL after getting second-round picks for Chris Chambers and Wes Welker and that’s it? I say no.
The Rush Limbaugh Award for “Most inexplicable studio performance”
What about Phil Rivers gutting it out on an injured knee and keeping his team in the game, then Coach Cowher telling us at halftime that San Diego should bench Rivers for Billy Freaking Volek? Did he honestly believe such an inane thing, or was he just trying to spur some halftime debate? We should take away his Super Bowl ring until we figure this out for sure. By the way, the coach didn’t win this award — it goes to Dan Marino, whose cell phone went off twice during the halftime show, leading to a new entry to the Pantheon of Faces, the Dan Marino, “Uh-Oh, That’s My Cell Phone” Face. That slayed me. I think this was the first time in eons that I actually enjoyed a halftime show.
(One other note on Marino’s cell phone: Was anyone else disappointed he didn’t have a personalized ring tone? And if he did, what would have been the unintentionally funniest one for that particular moment? At gunpoint, I’d say either “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio or the theme song to “The Titanic.” Either one ends his broadcasting career because we never could have taken him seriously again.)
The John Kreese Award for “Best re-enactment of a famous ‘Karate Kid’ scene”
Did you notice Mike Vrabel sweeping the leg — literally and figuratively — on Phil Rivers’ first interception? The only thing Vrabel was missing was a bloody nose. Yes, it should have been a penalty. And, yes, it was creepy this happened during the same weekend Versus gave up and just ran the “Karate Kid” trilogy for an entire weekend.
The Ron Silver Award for “Most confusing commercial that we were subjected to way too many times”
Here’s a nuts-and-bolts recap of the Jeep commercial they’ve shown 600,000 times during the playoffs: Starts out with a guy driving in his Jeep Liberty and signing along to “Rock Me Gently.” A squirrel leaps in the through the sun roof and starts singing with him. A few seconds later, two birds fly in through the sun roof and they join in. A few seconds later, a coyote plops in through the sun roof and quickly eats one of the birds. The coyote spits out the bird, and then the driver, the squirrel, the coyote and the birds happily sing the lyrics to “Rock Me Gently” and drive away. And this is supposed to encourage me to buy a Jeep Liberty … how?
(Compare that to the excellent Cadillac ads in which Daniels from “The Wire” is cruising in his car at night and ends his Cadillac sermon by briefly developing multiple personalities and saying, “Thank you, Daddy … you’re welcome, Son” as the guitar kicks in and he drives away at 150 mph. Now that’s an automobile ad!)
The Buffalo Bills Award for “Most depressed group of fans”
You’re a Packers fan. You tailgated in sub-zero weather, watched your team play poorly in the NFC Championship Game in sub-zero weather and somehow make it to OT, had everything set up for another Favre miracle win, and then everything went to hell. Favre blew the game and you’re filing out of a freezing-cold Lambeau like sardines and looking at (A) no Super Bowl and (B) a three-hour ride home in minus-4 degree weather. Wow. Now that’s a tough loss.
The Always-Tip-Your-Blackjack-Dealer Award for “Latest evidence that karma points really do exist”
After the Giants admirably played their starters in Week 17 and gave us such a memorable football game against the Patriots, I wondered this heading into their wild-card game in Tampa, Fla.: “We’re about to find out the definitive answer for the question, ‘Can an NFL team’s actions in the last two weeks of the season determine its karmic fate for the playoffs?’ ”
My conclusion? No. Upon further review? Yes. The overwhelming karma from Week 17 coupled with Tiki Barber’s Ewing Theory potential turned the G-men into an unstoppable force of nature — even in Green Bay, after all the breaks that went against them and TWO shanked go-ahead field goals in the final 10 minutes, they still pulled it out.
You know what will be interesting? What happens next season in Week 17? How could any franchise justify giving away regular-season games after what happened with the Bucs, Colts and Giants this year? If this leads to everyone trying in Week 17, you know what else that means beyond the obvious gambling implications? We finally get to extend fantasy leagues one more week and have the finals in Week 17! So thank you, 2007 New York Giants. You made the world a better place.
Hey, speaking of blackjack …
The Norv Turner Award for “This week’s football moment when Norv Turner stayed on 16”
Nine minutes left, down by nine points, just out of field-goal range in New England territory, fourth-and-9 … and Norv punts it. Classic. The Pats have scored 600-plus points and counting this season. What were the odds of San Diego getting a three-and-out there? You know it’s a bad coaching move when the fans for the other team are rejoicing because of the decision you just made.
The Rocky IV Award for “Best enjoyably bad cable movie that ran during Sunday’s games and partially sucked me in”
Does it get any better than the first 30 minutes of “Sleeping With The Enemy?” You have Julia Roberts at her apex, living in one of the coolest summer houses in movie history, only she’s married to a creepy rich guy with a mustache and severe OCD who puts on a sinister opera CD every time he’s ready to have sex; says things like, “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you’re trying to provoke a quarrel with me”; gets upset if the bathroom towels aren’t hanging at the same length; takes her sailing on stormy nights when she can’t swim; and if that’s not enough, regularly beats the crap out of her. What a great premise for a movie! Of course, they botched it by having her escape in the first third of the movie, finding a new identity and falling for a drama teacher who has one of the worst beard/mullet combos in recorded history.
Here’s the mistake they made: Julia’s fake drowning escape was the natural ending for the movie! Why didn’t they just stretch out her demented relationship with her husband for another hour? That was the most interesting part of the movie, right? By the 80-minute mark, after enduring a few more beatings and some uber-creepiness, we would have been standing up and cheering when she escaped. Also, was there a better villain than the wife-beating husband? I always thought they should have spun him off into a TV detective series, like a domestic violence version of “Hart to Hart.” Maybe there’s still time.
The Robert Horry Award (no explanation needed)
To Kevin Faulk (no explanation needed).
The Vince Carter Award (no explanation needed)
I won’t pretend to know whether LaDainian Tomlinson could have kept playing Sunday or not. It’s his body, and he knows the limits of his body better than anyone. However, it’s inexplicable to me they didn’t use him as a decoy for at least one of the ill-fated red-zone plays, injured or not. With that said, if you’re allegedly the leader of the team and you can’t keep going, how does it help your team to sulk on the bench with your Darth Vader helmet on? Somebody needs to send him the clip of an injured Lance Harbor’s work on the sidelines in the championship game of “Varsity Blues.” It just seems like we hear a lot of talk from/about Tomlinson and how much heart he has, how much he hates losing, how much of a leader he is, how much he respects the game … and yet, in consecutive games with his team’s season on the line, he was frowning on the bench in Indy and sulking on the bench in New England. Bizarre. And by the way, I don’t think we’re keeping the real “L.T.” out of a championship game unless his legs had been chopped off. I’m just saying.
(By the way, I lost a great e-mail from a reader so I can’t give him the proper credit — basically, the reader was convinced Tomlinson left at halftime and hired a clubhouse assistant to put on his uniform, go out for the second half in the Darth Vader helmet and never budge from the bench. The funny thing is, we have no evidence to the contrary. This actually could have happened.)
The Ewing Theory Award (no explanation needed)
Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Tiki Barber! Like everyone else, I was devastated NBC didn’t have a postgame show this week — watching Tiki force a smile and pretend to be happy for his old teammates would have been the No. 2 highlight of the weekend other than Lawrence Tynes staving off a certain homicide from an enraged Giants fan by nailing the final 47-yarder. Any time someone saves themselves from death, that’s the highlight of the weekend unless Dan Marino’s cell phone keeps going off during a halftime show.
The Tommy Heinsohn Award for “Best and most consistent mispronounciation of a good player’s name”
We’re at the five-year mark and Phil Simms continues to think New England’s All-Pro cornerback is named “Asante Samuels.” When do you think the producers gave up on correcting him? Two years ago? Last year?
The John Madden’s Eyebrows Award for “Funniest ongoing subplot in HD”
Thanks to the freezing temperatures in Green Bay, poor Tom Coughlin’s face turned a color of red that nobody even knew existed. In fact, Crayola needs to release a new blood-red crayon and call it “Tom Coughlin’s Freezing Face.” Out of all the e-mails we received about it, my favorite came from Adam Z. in Carolina: “It looks like Hannibal Lecter peeled Coughlin’s face off. Someone get that man a hot towel, for the love of god!”
(One other benefit to the freezing cold: Fox doing its studio show outside in Lambeau, leading to this halftime e-mail from Jason in Sagamore: “Did you see Terry Bradshaw? He looked like a hiker lost on a mountain on the verge of succumbing to hypothermia. At one point, he let his mic fall away from his mouth so nobody could hear his analysis. I was pretty sure he was having a stroke until Curt Menefee started to reach over to hold the mic up for him, and Terry muscled the thing back up with all his might.”)
The Dwight Howard Award for “Guy who most needs a nickname”
We need to figure out this Brandon Jacobs thing. The nickname “Nigerian Nightmare” made Christian Okoye sound 10 times more terrifying, yet “Brandon Jacobs” sounds like someone who got expelled from boarding school for trying to steal the SAT. Even worse, you can’t shorten his name (“B-Jake” doesn’t work), and you definitely can’t use his initials because, well, you know. So what do we do? The man clearly needs a nickname. Can we dust off “Night Train” for him? That has been dormant for a good 50 years since Dick Lane had it. Should we call him “The American Nightmare” as an homage to Okoye? At the very least, the Giants’ Web site should have a nickname contest to figure this out.
The Mr. Short-Term Memory Award for “Best gambling theory I created and then completely ignored”
Even better, I can’t even remember when I wrote this — I just know I wrote it at some point in the past two years. But I specifically remember writing about the “Nobody believed in us except the guys in this locker room!” rallying cry that has become such a huge factor in the playoffs in every sport. You’re almost better off NOT having people believe in you because you can use that nonbelief for motivation, right? I swear, I wrote about this once. I’m getting old.
The Spinal Tap Drummer Award for “Most jinxed position”
Here, let’s pretend I’m talking this over with Troy Aikman right after the Giants-Packers game:
- Me: “Troy, what happens to football players when they start kicking and long-snapping for the Giants? Those have become two of the most jinxed positions in football, haven’t they? I feel like you could take the best kicker and long snapper in the league, stick them on the Giants in a playoff game, and the ceiling for both guys would be a D-plus. It’s crazy, isn’t it?
Troy: “Well, Bill, I think you’re exactly right. The Giants have had trouble with their special teams for years, and we saw it again today. When you have trouble snapping the ball and kicking the ball in the National Football League, that’s going to affect a football team in a close game. So you’re exactly right on that, there’s no question, you’re exactly right.”
The Brent Musberger Award for “Easiest championship game to hype.”
“Brady! Manning! Boston! New York! It’s the underdog New Giants against the 18-0 Patriots … Super Bowl XLII, right now on Fox!”
(Now the bad news: a game that doesn’t need to be hyped has two weeks to be hyped. Yikes. I promise you won’t hear another football-related peep from me until a week from Friday. It’s the least I can do.)
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column — as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more — check out the revamped Sports Guy’s World.