"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
04 Feb 2009
by Vince Verhei
Once upon a time, Scramble for the Ball was kind of an intermediary in the football week, recapping the prior Sunday's games and getting you ready for the weekend ahead. With the Super Bowl over and no games to preview, this will not be the usual wacky edition of Scramble for the Ball. We were not told that we did or did not have to write a column this week; in fact, we were asked if we even wanted to. I decided that it would be best to put the season to bed with a final Scramble, looking back at why it is we do what we do.
Being a die-hard NFL fan is not an easy undertaking. For 21 Sundays a year, you're devoted to virtually nothing but the game. Three hours at a minimum, almost always six, and often nine for the Sunday night game. Tack on another hour or two for pre- or postgame shows. (Personally, I never watch pregame shows. I consider Monday through Saturday to be one giant pregame show.) Then there are another three hours on Monday nights, then Thursdays later in the year, and even Saturdays at the end of the regular season. And then the first two weeks of the playoffs, where it's six hours Saturday AND Sunday, before it finally starts to settle down.
Watching TV is one thing. If you go to games live, you might be looking at an even bigger timesink. My cousin is a Seahawks season ticket holder. Like many fans, he lives a couple of hours outside the city his team calls home. To make sure he gets to the stadium in time for a 1 p.m. kickoff, he needs to leave no later than 10 a.m. Then there are three hours of football (or whatever the hell it was the Seahawks were doing this year), then an even longer commute home. When it's all said and done, going to football games can be more work than, well, going to work.
And all that's just watching football. For those of us on this site, it means several hours writing stories, and even more time researching those stories. Does that make us special? Not really, at least not in the amount of time devoted to our projects. If you're reading this site, odds are you spend at least an hour a day managing your fantasy team, or reading other Web sites, or checking Vegas numbers for a friendly, non-monetary wager with a coworker. You stop watching old Super Bowls on NFL Network just long enough to make sure your travel plans for the weekend road game are in place. You're the last person in town who pays money for a newspaper subscription, because you can't start your day without reading what's going on in practice or a preview of the next opponent.
These are the people I am speaking to. The extreme end of the bell curve. The niche market among the niche market. I know a guy who claims to be a huge Giants fan. I say "claims to be" because unless the Giants game is shown on local Seattle TV, he doesn't watch it. He'll go play video games or watch a movie or whatever. But no Sunday Ticket package, no sports bar visits, not even checking the score on a cell phone. Sometimes on Sunday evenings, I will get a text message from this guy asking if the Giants won, and I always think "If you really cared, you would know by now." For this guy, and millions of others like him, being a fan is easy. You see your team a handful of times a year, you watch a couple of playoff games, you go to the best Super Bowl party you can find and call it good.
Not the rest of us. Oh no. We know where we'll be and what we're missing out on each and every week starting in September (or even August, for the extreme end of the extreme end of the bell curve) and ending in early February. For football, we miss church. Birthday parties. Movies. Baseball. The last sunny weekend of the year. The first snowy weekend of the season. Time with the women (or men) in our lives. Time with children or parents. For people like this, being a fan is not easy. It is an ordeal.
So why do we do it? Well, obviously, because watching football is fun, but it's more than that. It's because on any given Sunday, we may see something crazy. Brandon Marshall might catch 18 passes against Denver, and nobody will notice because they're distracted by Ed Hochuli's blown call. Miami might start direct-snapping the ball to Ronnie Brown and end New England's record win streak. Brett Favre may throw six touchdown passes in one game. Tarvaris Jackson may throw four touchdown passes in one game. (Those last two both happened against the Cardinals, by the way.) The Texans may lead the Colts by 17 with less than six minutes to go and still lose. Chicago may score a go-ahead touchdown with 11 seconds to go in Atlanta and still lose. A crappy Seahawks team may upend a Jets squad fighting for their playoff lives in Mike Holmgren's last game in Seattle.
Those are just the surprises we get on any given day. Fanatically throwing yourself into this league is like reading 32 books at once. Buffalo's story opened full of hope and promise, then got more bitter and depressing with each chapter. San Diego's was the opposite, the tale of a team falling shockingly behind early, but persevering and triumphing before eventually falling short. Tennessee's biography was one of many small victories, ending in a powerful and unfair tragedy. Detroit fans got a used copy of Garfield Gets Cookin'.
That covers the teams, but each player has their own story. Michael Turner started out hot and we all waited for him to cool off. Then he put up 208 yards in Week 17. David Garrard started off cold and stayed that way. The defenses in Cleveland and Oakland are not very good, but Shaun Rogers and Nnamdi Asomugha are still great, great players. We can decide for ourselves whether we would want Ed Reed over Troy Polamalu, or Larry Fitzgerald over Andre Johnson, or Ryan Clady over Jake Long. We know which quarterbacks make their offensive lines look better than they are (Drew Brees) and which get sacked more than they should (Matt Cassel).
Skipping the regular season and watching the playoffs is like walking into a theater just in time to see King Kong fight biplanes atop the Empire State Building, or Rhett Butler telling Scarlett O'Hara he doesn't give a damn, or Verbal Kint lose his limp and correct his posture. You may be able to figure out what led to the conclusion, but you won't understand what made it so important.
But we know. We understand why the entire story is special, and we feel lucky to have been a part of it. And we'll live happily ever after.
This is the last Scramble I'll be doing for a while, but stay tuned to Football Outsiders. I'll be participating in our usual Four Downs offseason coverage, and I've also got a handful of old Super Bowls on file to review, FO-style. I'll also be updating my blog with notes and podcasts at vinnyv.com.
As those of you who read this week's Audibles know, there were many, many candidates for KCW this week. Given a few days to calm down, we've settled on Ike Taylor, the Steelers cornerback whose personal foul handed the Cardinals 15 free yards as they were driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Just read that sentence again. Has more wood ever been chopped?
One thing's for sure: This award is NOT going to Mike Tomlin, who kicked field goals on two fourth-and-goal plays, once from the 1 and once from the 3. The kick from the 1-yard line on the game's opening drive was especially timid. So Ken Whisenhunt wins the Colbert Award by virtue of not being Mike Tomlin. We're sure that we'll make up for the whole last-minute Super Bowl loss thing.
The team competition was over long ago. Bill Barnwell destroyed everyone, led by the 91 points of Kurt Warner, and four other players scoring at least 20. The real question was this: Could Larry Fitzgerald, by himself, outscore someone else's entire roster? Fitzgerald's big day in the big game put his postseason totals at 4 games, 30 catches, 546 yards, 18.2 yards per catch, 7 touchdowns, and 95 points.
|FO Playoff Fantasy Standings|
Yes, Fitzgerald outscored an entire roster -- but at least it wasn't Vince's! Jason Beattie's roster produced just 91 points, led by the 34 of Philip Rivers. (So yes, Fitzgerald beat Team Beattie, and Warner tied them.) Only one "player" on Beattie's roster reached the championship round: the Eagles defense. And we all know how that turned out. You can view the original draft and complete rosters here.
Not surprisingly, no Best of the Rest team could match Barnwell's score. The top finisher was Superbears, who finished with 162 points.
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