What a first quarter of the season it has been! It isn’t hard to make the statement that football is the best sport and have evidence to back that statement up. All you need to do is show them the tape of the Dallas Cowboys/Detroit Lions game. First, the video of Nate Burleson’s riveting opening monologue going over the Detroit Lions recent history of 0-16 and other exploits. Then the favored, hometown Cowboys going up 20-3 with another Romo to Dez Bryant touchdown. As all hope looks to fade, Dez Bryant has an incomplete yet talks trash to the Lions defense and bench which suddenly rejuvenates the upstarts and gives them life back. Throw in an emphatically excited coach Jim Schwartz motioning incomplete to Dez defending his team’s honor.
Then the team rallies back with two exciting pick sixes surrounded by one of those exciting scenes in a movie that you know the QB and receiver (that’s Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson in case you’re keeping score at home) just sort of give each other a look and as the play transpires, close-ups of both of them show their subtle communication with one another that can only be described as something so unique to their relationship and it goes in slow motion right from the moment Stafford releases the ball to the time Johnson begins his ascent. That scene includes the moment that the third defender who realizes what’s going on and tries to get there in time gives chase to the play and in case the director wants more decides that upon release of the football, Stafford gets pancaked by two Dallas defenders, and Johnson jumps, and with the close up catches it and comes down all in slow motion and the crowd in stunned silence watches as Johnson emerges with the football as the ref in the background comes up to make the touchdown signal and the shot goes back to the QB celebrating on the ground as nice magical Disney theme music plays.
Then there’s the final play where Calvin Johnson goes up and catches the winning touchdown to ice the game and then the post game press conference where Jim Schwartz memorably goes on to shoot one back to Rob Ryan who ignorantly* said during the week of the game that he’s faced better receivers in practice about how he’s glad the third best receiver on the Cowboys was actually a Lion in reference to Romo’s 3 INT’s, two of which were pick sixes and transformed the dynamic of the game. Yeah, just show someone that footage and I’m sure you could end any argument right there.
*= This is why Rob isn’t a head coach. Atleast Rex isn’t stupid enough to say something like that which from the moment he said it kind of made you raise your eyebrow. I mean if you watched Calvin Johnson since he came into the league you knew that this guy was a top 5 receiver. But this season, with a healthy Stafford is turning into Randy Moss 1998 season where everytime you threw up the ball you knew it was to Randy and you knew he was going to catch it. That catch in triple coverage had to make Rob sick to his stomach. Don’t get me wrong. The Cowboys have a beast of their own in the making with Dez. He’s going to be great. I said during the draft that he had the chance to make everyone pay like Randy did for passing on him in the draft thanks to shaky background information. But let’s not bark up that tree. Calvin is better than Dez right now and I believe always will be. Something about Dez is missing. But back to my original point: this is why Rob isn’t a head coach. He’s too much of a wild card. He also needs to shave and cut his hair. The NFL is too rigid and conservative to allow a coach to look like a hippie. Trust me, its the good ole boys network and they won’t want that kind of guy in. It sets too bad of a precedent.
But you have to give baseball its due. These past two weeks, baseball has given us two nights worthy of our bravos. First, game 162 on September 28th where two playoff spots were up for grabs and there were four teams competing for them and two trying to complete the most amazing comeback ever in league history. The Cards were as far back as 10 games at the end of August and the Rays were as far back as 9 during the beginning of September. Somehow, both went into that final game needing but one win and some help to keep playing. Wouldn’t you know, Evan Longoria hit two homeruns to help his team come back from a 7 run deficit while the Red Sox, a team whom many considered overwhelming favorites to win it all couldn’t keep a lead in the ninth completing the meltdown. Meanwhile, in the National League, the Phillies honoring the gods of baseball by playing out every game to the fullest blocked the Braves from entering the playoffs by beating them in a game they had to have after the Cardinals had beaten the Houston Astros (you know, the Phillies minor league affiliate) 12-0 to complete the Cards own miraculous comeback with a complete game shutout thrown courtesy of Chris Carpenter.*
*= Foreshadowing anyone?
But if that weren’t enough drama for you, the first round featured 3 sudden death game 5’s featuring the Yankees against the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee against the upstart Diamondbacks, and Phillies against the upstart Cardinals. The Yankees were the first to be eliminated as the big bats of that Yankee line up could not overcome Detroit’s great bullpen and timely hitting. Timely because they jumped on the Yankee starter, young Ivan Nova who was later removed from the game thanks to arm stiffness or so said the medical report given by the Yankees. Joe Girardi, overmanaging as he usually does brought out his ace in the pivotal game five and Sabathia eventually surrendered the go-ahead RBI. The Yankees closed to within one in the bottom of the 9th when the heart of their line up came up with Yankee stadium on their feet hoping for the new Stadium to enjoy great memories like the old one had. Naturally the season came down to Alex Rodriguez at the plate and he struck out swinging to end the game as he left the mound with no regrets as he later said in a press conference showered by the boos of the high expectations of their fan base. The Yankees head into the offseason plagued by questions of their age, the remaining years on A-Rod’s contract and the eventual CC Sabathia opt-out from his contract. Remember how A-Rod had no leverage but he still managed to talk the Yankees into making him the highest paid player in all of sports, for a second time? Well, CC does have the leverage since he’s their ace and there’s no sure thing in their minor leagues yet and King Felix remains untouchable according to Mariners people. It will be interesting how the Yankees approach this offseason.
Not to be outdone by the natural drama that New York brings, the Brewers and Diamondbacks continued the wild ride of one run games by giving us a dramatic extra inning affair. John Axelford who had not blown a save since mid April came in and naturally blew the save as the scrappy Diamondbacks went the run producing route. Get a man on base, move him over, suicide squeeze and score a run. Typical Gibson fashion. But the year of T-Plush continued as he faced a bunch of ex-Mets and as any former National does, he scored a run as former Met farmhand Carlos Gomez raced from second on a single and scored the winning run as the ball sailed over the catcher’s head avoiding what would’ve been a more incredible play, the play at the plate.
If that weren’t enough for you, the capper was the Philadelphia Phillies and their vaunted rotation went up against those pesky Cardinals. Met fans remember these Cardinals as the ones that sneak up on you and can kill a magical season as they did to us in 2006. But this time they went in against the Cards in a 5 game set and the Phils had them right where they wanted them. Roy Halladay in a winner take all. And he gave up only one run. If you had told me before the game that Roy Halladay would only give up one run and go 8 innings I would’ve told you that the Phillies would win 9 out of 10 times. Of course that’s why you play the game. How do you beat an ace that pitches that effectively? Have your own ace that pitches a complete game shutout and that’s what Chris Carpenter did. He had the Phillies completely fooled all night as he weaved and bobbed through their line up with relative ease and efficiency. Finally Ryan Howard came up with the Phillies season in the balance and he put a strong swing on a ball that ended up weakly going to second where Nick Punto could’ve walked it to first. In fact he could’ve stayed on the field and did a few laps around Citizens Bank Ball park, hi five every Cards fan and then run to first. Why? Because Ryan Howard, it turns out, had torn his achilles as he made the turn on his swing and couldn’t make it down the base paths. Fitting end. Next year begins Howard’s big 5 year extension that runs for $125 million and suddenly the Phillies, everyone’s preseason pick to win it all thanks to that rotation doesn’t look AS formidable. Suddenly their line up is old in many spots. Chase Utley, who for my money was the heart and soul of that Phillies team, hit a drive to deep center in that bottom of the ninth that would have made it past the wall if he had full rotation of his hips. Something he clearly is no longer able to do after he had to rest himself. Jimmy Rollins yet another integral cog who has been disappearing from superstar status slowly since 2008 is up for a new contract. Which I’m told he will receive because of his status in the Philly clubhouse. So more of that payroll will be plugged into several superstars and Ruben Amaro will have to dig deeper to try and find that young superstar bat. Perhaps its Dominic Brown or John Mayberry Jr. Who knows exactly. The only thing the Phillies know is that they will have several questions moving forward.
So now the ALCS is a Midwesterner’s paradise. No longer is baseball being destroyed by those Satans of the East Coast and that media love they always get. Now its small town versus small town. Its Detroit, the town that has seen a revival in these past few months. The Lions are destroying the NFL with their 4-0 record and keeping pace with the Green Bay Packers, the Super Bowl champions, and now their beloved Tigers are going back to the ALCS hoping for a return trip to the World Series. They have the Cy-Young Winner and possible MVP on their team, Justin Verlander leading the charge. Then there’s the Milwaukee Brewers. After the NLDS win, when asked to do an interview which the interviewer would’ve certainly asked him what his thoughts were as the Brew-Crew were playing on and his impending free agency, Prince Fielder overcome with emotion could not give a response and ran to join his teammates. Then of course there are the St Louis Cardinals. Tony LaRussa’s bunch who somehow always end up in the playoffs. Who somehow always wind up in these circumstances when they sneak up on people. Albert Pujols is another midwestern super hero whom Cardinal fans are praying will stay with them for the rest of his playing days. What will happen once this season is over? Perhaps winning his second title will convince him that this is the place he wants to be. The Cardinals have plenty of pitching in the minor leagues and some hitting coming up. Finally, there’s the the Texas Rangers. The team that continues to bash its way to the top. The team with the young GM from Bayside, Queens. The same GM whom sources add would have definitely become the Mets GM had they simply placed a call and an offer. Naturally the Mets failed to do neither, but hey who cares. He’s the guy who built the Rangers into a superpower. Now have the Rangers again knocking on the door of a World Series which would be the second year in a row they would be there. Of course this is on the heels of a Dallas Mavericks NBA championship. This would turn that sports crazed state into one big championship parade route. They won game one and are now trying to get to the World Series and finish the job a year after letting their ace go. Amazing how things happen right?
Who knew baseball could be this exciting and October baseball continues with the ALCS and NLCS. While football is taking a minor backseat with bye weeks starting this week, plenty of cities will be wide awake watching their respective baseball teams try to bring some pride to their cities. Who knew baseball had that kind of football drama?
Here then are the week 5 picks with the hometeam in caps:
COLTS (-2) over Chiefs
Cardinals (+3) over VIKINGS – i’m sorry am I missing something here? Why is Minny still getting love?
Eagles (-3) over BILLS
RANGERS (-5) over Raiders
PANTHERS (+6.5) over Saints
Bengals (-1) over JAGS- stat of the week that will mess you up: NFL’s number one defense: your 2011 Cincinnati Bengals!
Titans (+3) over STEELERS- Start writing up the Steeler obituaries folks. And the curse of the Super Bowl losers continue. By the way, yet another stat that will mess up your day? Matt Hasselback is a relevant QB again.
GIANTS (-10) over Seahawks
49ERS (-3) over Bucs
PATRIOTS (-7.5) over Jets
Chargers (-3.5) over BRONCOS- The Chargers this week took out a full page ad in a LA newspaper. I’m just saying.
BREWERS (-5.5) over Falcons- I’m totally off the Matty Ice bandwagon by the way. I got off that express two weeks ago.
TIGERS (-5) over Bears- Can’t wait for this game. CANT WAIT!
Enjoy week 5 folks.