Spanning the Nation: Shut Up, Anthony Smith Edition
Part of me never really bought in to the "Boy Scout" image the New England Patriots have been cultivating throughout the media. Yes, they don't have anybody who pre-plans touchdown celebrations designed to elicit fines. They don't openly challenge the officiating or mope about replay. They present an impossibly bland, even-keeled image to the media. And yes, the coach basically jams humble pie into his impressive collection of talent, instilling the rigid "ONE...GAME...AT...A...TIME" mentality.
But if you watched them this season, specifically against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you know that's just a public face. Behind closed doors, the Patriots want blood. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel's directive couldn't have been more obvious: "Bring me the head of Anthony Smith". Part of me cringes at what Belichick has in mind for the Tattler, Eric Mangini, who was already persona-non-grata in New England before Video-Gate. These Patriots talk trash on the field. They get in people's faces. And they're six wins from perfection that would be miles ahead of the 17-0 benchmark set by the Dolphins in 1972.
So how'd the week go elsewhere? Glad you asked...
Angelo Suozzi - Hometown: Pittsford, NY
The Sabres' West Coast swing was one they'd like to forget, dropping games in Anaheim (4-1) and Los Angeles (8-2...for the record, the Kings are the worst team in the West and just two points ahead of Washington for the title of worst in the NHL). Some pride was salvaged with another road beatdown, this time with a 7-1 victory over the Sharks. How can Ryan Miller be bad enough to give up 8 goals to the worst team in the Western Conference and then hold San Jose and Joe Thornton to just 1? It boggles the mind. Also boggling the mind: the Buffalo Bills and their very real chance at making the playoffs. This Sunday's showdown versus 8-5 Cleveland will likely decide the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Before we can properly hype this matchup though, we have to figure out if it's even possible to have a showdown between Buffalo & Cleveland without one of these historically futile cities finally collapsing into the black vortex of doom upon losing. I don't think it is. So when the Bills and Browns square off, they won't just be fighting for the chance to eventually be eliminated by New England in the most lopsided NFL playoff game ever. They'll be fighting to preserve their city from reaching "Final Destination" and terminating itself permanently. God speed, Buffalo.
Thomas McCall - Hometown: Lake Charles, LA
The Saints are still holding on to the dream of coming back to January football with a victory tonight over the Atlanta Falcons, keeping them one run above "dead to rights" in the NFC playoff chase at 6-7. But they'll need help, and it won't be coming by way of Reginald Bush, who's done for the season with a knee injury. This might explain why Reggie just hasn't seemed like the same player this season, although Mike D was making such observations after Reggie & the 'Aints face-planted during the Thursday night opener back in September. Reggie's coach, Sean Payton, isn't afraid to stick to his Riverboat Gambler attitude even when trying to call a game-icing drive. If anybody can appreciate that you'd think it would be the fine people of New Orleans; not so, at least in the eyes of one Times-Picayune cartoonist. Over in Baton Rouge, it's championship month for LSU and their newly-minted $3 million dollar man, Les Miles. Apparently, Ohio State has already won the first key battle by having a better graduation rate than the Tigers - and it apparently occurred to nobody that trumpeting a 53% graduation over 51% is the definition of splitting hairs. If it's any boost to the Buckeye ego, Notre Dame played two schools with graduation rates better than it's 93% (Boston College & Navy) and lost to both of them.
Pat Girouard/Joe Long - Hometown: Cretin Derham Hall, MN
The question has vexed us all for the past few weeks, and now things have finally come to a head: Just who in the hell does these Minnesota Vikings think they are? Conjuring up memories of the high-flying heady days of Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, and Gary Anderson with their offensive explosions paced by Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, the Vikes have surged into the NFC playoff picture at 7-6, leading Brad Childress to declare his team will now be "the hunted" over the final three weeks after "going hunting" the previous month. If anybody appreciated a good hunting metaphor, it's bound to be the Minnesotans. Across town at the XCel Energy Center, news was good off the ice, less than stellar on it. Off the ice: St. Paul received a tremendous ego & tourist boost when Sports Illustrated, citing fledgling attendance figures, stripped Detroit of its title as "Hockeytown, USA" and, after laying out a case for Philadelphia and Buffalo, anointed St. Paul-Minneapolis as America's new "Hockeytown". The numbers make a compelling argument - since the Wild restored Minnesota as NHL territory in 2000, the franchise has sold every ticket to every game that's ever been played at the XCel. Contrasted with Detroit's inability to sell-out playoff games last May, and even the staunchest defenders of the Detroit legacy (Brian Fallon) might have a tough time making an argument. Bill Smith has yet to find a dance partner in his trade maneuvering, so the Twins might just have to settle for another boring 20-win campaign & Cy Young from Johan Santana. How horrible.
Brian Fallon - Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI
I have to admit it, the last five weeks have solidified my appreciation for Detroit Lions fans. Like a punch-drunk fighter who just doesn't know when to quit, or a race horse who's never won yet mystically continues to post himself, fans of the "Lie-Downs" keep getting hit and yet keep coming back for more. To be a Lions fan requires a psychological affection for pain and suffering I don't have. Not even Angelo's experience as a Bills fans or the annual screw-job the Eagles foist onto K-Braun compares. Those teams at least offer up a taste of success, of longevity; they've been competitive, made it to multiple Super Bowls. The maddening factor comes from being so close and yet never being able to go the final step. The Lions, on the other hand, in the past 40 years have just three division titles (none since 1993) and 1 playoff game. Think about that - a total of one playoff win in 40 years of football. Fallon should turn his focus to the other "vicious animal" team in Detroit, the Tigers, who will feature an absolutely ridiculous lineup with the addition of Miguel Cabrera, and this plucky youngster named Dontrelle Willis whom Florida insisted on including in the deal. And while plenty of good seats are apparently still available for the Red Wings game, the Wings don't care who's watching - they just win. At 22-6-2 in early December, I have to call it now and say I think Detroit can put a real run on their own record for wins (62, set in 1996). And to think - 50% of Detroit's losses are to the Blackhawks!
Kevin Braun - Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Fifth loss this season for the Eagles by four points or less. Is Mike Brey coaching the team or something? Donovan McNabb returned to the Philly lineup, but couldn't get any help from the officials or David Akers when it counted as Philly dropped it's third straight heartbreaker, 16-13 to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. It must really wear on an NFL defense to think about all the time and energy they spend on four days of relentless practice leading up to gameday, only to see a player who hasn't practice once in the entire damn seasons school them in every big moment (Plaxico Burress). Kevin, what would you like Phanta Claus to bring you for Christmas this season? Tadahito Iguchi as your third baseman, probably.
George Heidkamp - Hometown: Hinsdale, IL
Blackhawks: slumping. Bulls: building a Lake Shore Drive mansion with all the bricks they're tossing. White Sox: courageously failing to land any impact player in the trade/free agent markets. Da Bears: turning to Kyle Orton as their savior...hahaha. Essentially, all is as it should be in Chicago sports. The Packers show no signs of slowing down or dwelling on that frustrating loss to the Cowboys, as future Hall of Famer Ryan Grant paces the Packer rushing game into the playoffs at 11-2 with three easy games to close out the year - the 3-10 Rams, flailing Bears, and desperate Lions. I just wish the Patriots weren't doing what they were doing, because then I could at least cling to the fantasy notion that it's possible to send Favre out with the ultimate exclamation point by winning Super Bowl XLII.
Paul Jacobs - Hometown: St. Louis, MO
It could just be me, but the Cardinals and Scott Rolen come across like a domestic abuse case involving a bitchy wife and a drunk husband. Rolen goes out his way to make everybody in the organization miserable, then the 'man of the house' retaliates by basically promising to lock him up and throw away the key. You know we love you Scott, that's why we hit you. It got so bad that Phil Rogers declared one of the major casualties of the Winter Meetings to be the Cardinal's dignity. Ouch.
Mike Devitt - Hometown: Marion, IN
23-0. In the first 13 minutes of the game. That's all you need to know about the thorough dismantling Peyton Manning and his Big Band committed on the Artists Formerly Known as the Baltimore Ravens. And Manning did this without Marvin Harrison, with Dallas Clark neutralized, his offensive line hobbled, and his defense missing Dwight Freeney. It was so humiliating that Ravens fans headed to exits en masse before the first quarter ended, and the ones who stuck around did so mainly to boo the Colts on principal for deserting the city 24 years ago. 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith was called upon to lead the Raven's garbage time offense, and he scored a touchdown to make the final tally 44-20, which I guess isn't too bad until you factor in Manning left the game early in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Back at Headquarters...
This dispatch from Paul accurately sums up Tuesday night's victory over Kansas State in Madison Square Garden: "Harangody is a beast! They don't want to touch him! They don't want to have anything to do with him!" Mike Valenti would agree. The burly, barrel-chested 6'8" sophomore went toe-to-toe with consensus NBA lottery pick Michael Beasley on Tuesday night and came out on the other end with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Kyle McAlarney finished with a flourish in his New York homecoming, dropping a key late three-pointer (he finished with 18) in the 68-59 victory. Now, everybody root for K-State to go on a tear in Big 12 play, because they represent the only chance to have a quality non-conference win on the tournament resume. The Irish cleaned up the business of setting a new record for consecutive JACC wins quickly on Saturday, pasting Northern Illinois 108-62. Harangody, McAlarney, Rob Kurz, and Ryan Ayers all finished in double figures, while the entire Irish bench played significant minutes save for walk-ons Tim Andree and Tom Kopko. Tyrone Nash turned a few heads among freshman players, going perfect from the field (3-for-3) and collecting 5 rebounds. On the other hand, he wears Chris Thomas' number. While looking good in mop-up time against 2-7 NIU, don't expect to see Nash or fellow youngsters Tim Abromaitis or Tyrone Profitt to have too many long appearances, barring another marijuana arrest or catastrophic injury.