Ron Borges, of the Boston Herald, seems to believe that it’s more important to Theo Epstein to beat the Yankees than anything else. “With the opening of
spring training less than three weeks away it would appear the retooling of the Red Sox is complete, at least for now. So what has general manager Theo
Epstein wrought?
Beats me, which is unimportant. Beats the Yankees? I don’t think so.
If an array of new fielding metrics you need a Ph.D. to understand are to be believed, the Red Sox will have to travel with two planes this year. The first for the players, the second for their Gold Gloves.
According to Epstein, the Red Sox will be competitive through the use of kung fu baseball, the art of winning without scoring. They will be so flawless in the field that opponents will simply forfeit, their inability to penetrate the Steel Curtain Defense so frustrating that the other side simply resigns. Sort of like playing Bobby Fischer in chess.
While teams created by Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies or Brian Cashman of the Yankees cling hopelessly to National League and American League pennants and a misplaced faith in the old order represented by stats like batting average, fielding average and RBI, teams of the new millennium like the Red Sox believe those are insignificant relics of a bygone era, the buggy whips of baseball. They have been replaced by faith in OBP, OPS, UZR (I thought those were the initials of a former Russian state only to learn it means Ultimate Zone Rating), DRS (defensive runs saved) and PMR (probabilistic model of range). Based on crunching numbers into these new formulas, one expert in baseball metrics, John Dewan, has written that the addition of Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron in the field will add nine more victories to the Sox’ bottom line.
Lo and behold, we just won the pennant! Who knew?
A year ago, the Sox won 95 games despite apparently stumbling around in the field like a half-drunken softball team in a Wednesday night league. Somehow they miraculously finished only eight games behind the Yankees without being able to catch a cold standing naked in the Alaskan wilderness. Fortunately, those Sox have been replaced by guys whose gloves are more valuable than Michael Jackson’s.
Together, Cameron, Scutaro and Beltre hit eight home runs more than Jason Bay but, as we now know, home runs are meaningless. Fortunately Sox fans, so are RBI because Bay had 119, which was 49 more than Cameron, 59 more than Scutaro and please don’t ask how many more than Beltre (all right, 75 if you must know but compare his DVD to Bay’s CD and divide by BVD and see what you get – a pennant, of course).
Some might argue that pitching in Fenway Park  is not exactly like pitching in Yosemite Park, but Sox’ management has discovered that despite mistaken
evidence to the contrary, scoring runs is no longer essential to winning games. Interesting concept.
Throw the ball, catch it and trade a walk for a homer and just like that you’ve got nine more wins and a pennant. Or so they want you to believe over on
Yawkey Way.
Owner John Henry recently reminded his paying customers that the Sox won 95 games a year ago. Only problem is the Yankees won 103 and the World
Series, to which John Henry would reply, “Yeah, but what’s their ATM?”
Moneyball, which became defined as the love of sabermetrics over old-school stats like HR and RBI, has led Billy Beane, the godfather of this con job, to build an economic Oakland A’s team that hasn’t won a pennant in 20 years or a World Series in 21, but did manage to have a best-selling book written about the concept. The A’s did win division titles in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006, but what they have actually won during the Moneyball era is nothing. No sequel is planned.
Now it seems the Sox have headed down the same road of quantum baseball over your grandad’s version, which was mistakenly centered on foolishness like hitting and scoring runs.
This has gone so far that Dewan has come up with a new type of struck ball. While he factors ground balls, fly balls and line drives in his fielding metrics, he also has created “fliners.”
If mastery of fliners beats the Yankees, I’m all for it, but my lying eyes have told me it takes live arms and live bats. Gloves only beat the Yankees when Jason Varitek  is stuffing one up the nose of Alex Rodriguez.
As the days dwindle toward the start of another spring of hope, let’s pray that’s no longer the case, because if all this talk of OBP, OPS, UZR, DRS and
PMR was really only about ATM that’s going to end up BAD for US.”

Mark Heisler writes for The LA Times about the NBA and had this to say about the late Abe Pollin. “There goes a great Bullet, er, Wizard.

Even if the whole world abandoned Gilbert Arenas, who had the misfortune to become perfectly inconvenient and vulnerable at the same time, there was one man who would have remembered all he meant to the Washington Wizards and the “legacy of Abe Pollin” the late owner’s family keeps talking about.

That man, of course, was Abe Pollin.

If Pollin was different, it wasn’t for being wildly successful as an NBA owner, because he wasn’t.

It was for his generosity that was expressed in everything he did, including his day-to-day operation, such as clinging to General Manager Wes Unseld, whom he loved, long after Unseld had become inconvenient.

President Obama marked Pollin’s passing in November, noting, “Abe believed in Washington, D.C., when many others didn’t, putting his own fortune on the
line to help revitalize the city he loved.”

Pollin’s death made the op-ed Page of the New York Times, where sharp-tongued Maureen Dowd wrote:

“I’ve seen some people who were fierce in the face of mortification and death. But none as fierce as Abe Pollin.”

As if to prove it, mortification reappeared within weeks in the form of a nationwide scandal, and no one was fierce in its face.

Only Arenas could have pulled this off, taking childish behavior all the way to a level that was criminal, but I can’t see Abe doing that “I’m shocked, shocked!” number from “Casablanca.”

Abe knew Gilbert, it was what he did.

Nor can I imagine it occurring to Pollin to use this to void Arenas’ $111-million deal –which Abe gave him, despite Gilbert’s year off following knee surgery and the challenges he posed for the coaches.

Now Pollin is gone and his heirs care only about keeping this from splashing on their patriarch . . . who would have waded in up to his neck.

Arenas, the wild and crazy guy they adored, is now an un-Wizard.

As steadfast a defender as the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon put the Wizards’ fall on this incident, writing:

“The events of the last month have killed what was and what might have been . . . Eddie Jordan coaching Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler,
Brendan Haywood.

“But it’s over now.”

Actually, it keeled over before that. The Wizards were 8-17 before the incident, already looking for takers for their big contracts, starting with Gilbert’s.

Arenas’ contract is part of a bigger, seamier picture as the Pollins negotiate the sale of the team, insisting for the first time that it can go to anyone, not just minority owner Ted Leonsis.

At this point, we may be leaving the area of farce and moving into cosmic joke.

Shorn of the furor after the erroneous New York Post report that the players drew on each other in the locker room, this was what remained of the story on the “SportsCenter” crawl:

“Arenas and Crittenton suspended for season for bringing guns to Verizon Center.”

Arenas, suspended for 50 games, and Crittenton, for 38 are now in Major Outlaw company, Nos. 3 and 4 on the all-time list with:

1. Ron Artest — 73 games for starting the Auburn Hills melee, wading in the stands to punch (the wrong) fan.

2. Latrell Sprewell — 68 for choking Coach P.J. Carlesimo.

5. Stephen Jackson — 30 for following Artest into the stands and flailing away.

6. Kermit Washington — 26 for the punch that caved in Rudy Tomjanovich’s face.

In the precedent the Wizards would have to explain away, Jackson, then an Indiana Pacer, fired a handgun in the air — four or five times, he told police — to break up a fight outside a strip club in 2006.

Still on probation for his actions in Auburn Hills, Jackson pleaded guilty to felony recklessness . . . and was suspended by the NBA for seven games.

It was clear all along Stern had a problem, with all the furor created by a report that didn’t turn out to be true.

Gilbert being Gilbert, he made it easy, or made up Stern’s mind, with his pregame skit, pretending to shoot his laughing teammates.

This can’t go on any further, can it?

Oh, it can?

With collective bargaining 18 months out and the NBA seeking givebacks, the atmosphere remains cordial. Union head Billy Hunter even appeared with Stern at last season’s All-Star game, agreeing the players had to do their part in hard economic times.

Cordiality will go out the window the moment the Wizards void Arenas’ deal as players wonder how ironclad their contracts are if they’re pulled over during a bad season.

Oh, and the Wizards probably would lose. Even league people say there’s a high legal bar to surmount.

Of course, everyone has been mad at everyone else before. On the other hand, after several years of pleasant developments, the NBA is nearing a tipping point.

After years of West domination and yawner Finals, the conferences are balanced with a Lakers-Celtics revival and an emerging Lakers-Cavaliers rivalry, not to mention Cavaliers vs. Celtics vs. Magic.

On the other hand, the Celtics might not last long and who knows where LeBron James and the other big free agents will be in a year?

And, of course, wouldn’t it be fun to have a real lockout in 2011?

So, just in case this saga turns into a black hole and sucks everyone in, everyone will have had it coming.”

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This is the opinion of Bill Dwyer from the LA Times, “The scrum of big-time sports may be adding to the pile soon. March Madness may become March
Insanity.

The NCAA is pondering adding to its 65-team men’s basketball tournament, making it a 96-team field. It is locked into the current format only through this year’s championship game. After that, it can re-negotiate its $6-billion contract with CBS.

The 96-team field is a dumb idea, based on greed.

So expect it to happen.

If you give somebody more product, they have to pay more. It’s a simple theory, and since big-time college sports is pretty much a product these days, 31 more packages filled with potential story lines should make CBS raise the ante and/or take in cable partners. One of the likely cable partners would be ESPN, the sugar daddy of American sports these days.

Is there no God? Expanding the tournament by 15 more games means that a network has paid for just that many more opportunities to subject viewers to
three people sitting at a table analyzing what is going to happen before it happens, followed by three people sitting at a table analyzing what happened after it happened. How much more can we wallow in televised cliches and belabor the obvious?

The truth is there are already 97 teams that play in NCAA-owned postseason tournaments. It’s just that 32 of them currently take part in the NIT (National
Invitation Tournament), which should be called the TOL — Tournament of Leftovers. It’s only good for the coaches, who can tell their administration and alums that they got their team “into the postseason.”

NCAA officials say that adding those teams to the big tournament would elevate their profile, and they’re probably right. Can you imagine UCLA’s Ben
Howland talking to a group of Bruins boosters in the off-season and starting his speech with, “Well, last season was a success because we got to the NIT”? At least he wouldn’t have to cite a junior tournament.

Coaches such as Howland and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke would have an understanding for the 96-team proposal, if it truly did the one thing Coach K
advocated recently in his support of the expansion. That being put more emphasis on the regular-season conference race.

This year’s Pacific 10 Conference is a prime example. The teams are so closely matched — another way to say none of them are very good — that whoever
wins the conference title may not go to the NCAA tournament.

The Pac-10’s automatic berth goes to the winner of its postseason tournament. The regular-season conference champion wins out over 18 games. The conference tournament champion wins out over four at the most, usually three.

Taking care of the regular-season champion is a good thing, but only in the current 65-team NCAA format. That means there would be no need for
conference tournaments, which would mean doing away with another of college basketball’s cash cows.

Which means that’s not going to happen.

The NCAA is a business, but not a business of widget makers. It is supposed to be guided by its higher calling: the advancement of the education of our
college students through athletics. It provides the raw material for the pros, but that doesn’t mean it has to do business like them.

If it goes ahead with this plan to reach deeper into television’s pockets, in return for the rights to televise another round of games matching the likes of 15-13 Washington State against 14-16 Northwestern, it should at least consider being right up front in its approach. Hire Tom Cruise, put him in his “Jerry Maguire”
wardrobe and have him stand up in front of CBS executives, pound on the table and yell,”Show me the money!”

At least that would be honest.

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And the NCAA basketball tournament is closer to being perfect than broken.

Instead of taking the Jerry Maguire image into contract talks with CBS, the NCAA would be best served by sitting down, pointing out the massive success and branding value this event brings to the network, and negotiating a reasonable increase.

When all the papers are signed, leave the meeting, meet the media and present an outline of how this additional money will be used. We should assume that it will further educational aspects of each member school.

That’s the NCAA’s reason to exist. Orchestrating disproportionately bigger and richer TV shows is not.”

Gwen Knapp wrote in the SF Chronicle, “Tennis just opened the doors to its “Rudy”/”Tin Cup”/”American Idol” – or maybe just the vacation-resort equivalent of Deion Sanders.
The USTA announced Tuesday that it would hold a national amateur playoff to pick two wild-card entries for the U.S. Open, and Olympic skier Bode Miller
said he’d sign on for the challenge. Miller won the Maine singles high school state title in 1996, and his family owns a tennis camp.
He also has won a made-for-TV “The Superstars” competition, beating six NFL players in 2002, and made a guest appearance in the outfield for the
erstwhile Nashua Pride of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
His Olympic background alone should make the USTA hope that Miller has the chops to go far in its new playoff, which will feature 16 regional qualifying
events. But the grandstanding iconoclast that comes with all that talent could set up a reality-TV dream.
Who knows what Miller might do? Quaffing beer in the middle of a set seems a distinct possibility. This, after all, is a guy who infamously told “60 Minutes”
that he had been known to ski “wasted” and finished off a disastrous performance in Turin four years ago by saying he “got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”
Come to think of it, he could be the low-rent Andre Agassi.
If he plays tennis as recklessly as he skis – Miller once went almost an entire run on one leg after losing a ski – he could end up horizontal more than Boris
Becker in his prime.
Now imagine that kind of character going up against some 30-year-old elementary schoolteacher or a firefighter.
The idea probably would be a winner for tennis without Miller. The USTA has, at the very least, guaranteed itself a great drawing card for the usually tedious first round of the Open. And if Miller doesn’t make it to New York, the organizers might want to train him for another challenge he seems perfectly suited to
tackle – serving as the chair umpire for Serena Williams’ first match.”

Wally Matthews of NY Newsday said, “Brian Cashman may be a lot of things but one thing he is not is a liar.
On the night the Yankees wrapped up the 2009 World Series, while Champagne corks still were being popped and wardrobes still being ruined in the chaotic victors’ clubhouse, the GM stood outside in the hallway and told me that the postseason heroics of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui would make no difference in the Yankees’ decision on whether to re-sign them.
Just more than a month later, Matsui, the Series MVP, was a former Yankee, having signed with the Angels.
And yesterday, Damon’s Yankees career probably came to its official, irrevocable end – he has been a free agent since the end of the World Series – when the Yankees signed Randy Winn to a one-year deal, effectively filling their complement of outfielders for the start of the 2010 season at least.
There’s nothing particularly coldhearted or unprecedented about this – in previous years, the Yankees parted with such October luminaries as Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Aaron Boone and even Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson – and in fact serves to remind us that Cashman’s loyalty is to the Yankee brand, not any individual player, which is as it should be.
Clearly, Damon’s age wasn’t the issue-at 36, he is less than a year older than Winn – nor was his performance, because by just about any yardstick, he is a
significantly better player.
No, it turns out that what Cashman said, laughably, to Scott Boras back in mid-December and repeated to MLB.com the other day was the truth.
In essence, he told both, “We’d love to have Damon back, but we simply can’t afford him.”
It’s hard to determine which is more incredible: That the New York Yankees, despite their Fort Knox of a ballpark, their diamond mine of a regional television network and their embarrassingly affluent fan base actually do have budget constraints.
Or, that they truly intend to stick to them.
In any event, when Boras came calling for a two-year, $26-million Christmas present for Damon, Cashman said, “I’ve only got $2 million to spend.”
Boras laughed the same way I did when, around the time of the 2009 All-Star break, Cashman told me he wouldn’t be a bidder for Roy Halladay because as
he put it, “He’s too rich for our blood right now.” Boras also drastically reduced his asking price for Damon, realizing Cashman was serious.
Hard to believe, when you consider that roughly a year ago, the Yankees were in the midst of spending nearly a half-billion dollars on three players –
CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.
Who would imagine that, a year later, having won it all, they would nickel-and-dime Damon, without whom they might still be desperately seeking the elusive title No. 27?
But Cashman obviously was being truthful when he told Boras that Hal Steinbrenner had set a strict $200-million payroll limit – it seems ridiculous to write such a thing, but around the Yankees that is what passes for frugality – for 2010.
He said he had $2 million and Wednesday, that is precisely what he spent on Winn, who last year hit .262 with two homers and 51 RBIs for the Giants.
Perhaps it is precisely the Yankees’ success last year that motivates them to play it relatively on the cheap this year. Winning buys a club a lot of equity, even one with a fan base that has a sense of entitlement.
Maybe they think their nucleus – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Teixeira – combined with the addition of Curtis Granderson and Nick
Johnson, will be enough to compensate for the loss of the 300-odd runs generated in 2009 by Damon and Matsui.
Maybe they think Teixeira still will knock in 122 runs without Damon getting on base ahead of him, and still will hit 39 homers while being fed a steady diet of curveballs from pitchers no longer concerned about speed on the basepaths.
Maybe they believe Brett Gardner will suffice as an everyday outfielder – heck, they won titles with Chad Curtis and Melky Cabrera out there practically every day – and they know from experience that their fans will forgive them just about any farewell. Case in point: Bernie Williams.
And maybe, come the All-Star break, they will look at the production from their revamped outfield – incredibly, Nick Swisher, a first-year Yankee in 2009, will be the only returning regular in their outfield – and wind up having to spend more than the $8 million or so it would have taken to retain Damon for one more year.
All I know is, come late July 2010, if Cashman tells me he can’t afford to add another outfielder, I won’t be laughing. I’ll be believing.”

So, it’s the down-time before the Super Bowl’s kick off. Now we start to see the creativity of some of the people in the “toy department.” Here Ron Borges,
of the Boston Herald, gives us his “All-Decade Team” in the NFL.
                                                            
 “QB PEYTON MANNING – Only four-time NFL MVP, Manning led all QBs of the decade in yards, touchdowns and QB rating. Won one Super Bowl
and has Colts back for second time this year.
Alternate: Tom Brady

RB LaDainian Tomlinson – He was the decade’s leader in rushing yards, touchdowns and total yards from scrimmage and it wasn’t close in any category. Hall of Famer on roller skates.
Alternates: Edgerrin James, Jamal Lewis, Shaun Alexander

FB Mike Alstott – He may not have been the best pure blocker but he was the best all-around fullback of his era because he could also catch the ball and run between the tackles effectively.
Alternate: Lorenzo Neal

WR Torry Holt – He was first in yards, first in catches and seventh in touchdowns. No one was more productive.
Alternate: Terrell Owens

WR Marvin Harrison – He was third in receptions (791), fourth in yards (10,439) and made the Pro Bowl seven times, matching Holt.
Alternate: Randy Moss

TE Tony Gonzalez – Seldom blocked but had 315 more catches than the next highest tight end, nearly 3,800 more yards and 11 more scores. All-time leading receiver among tight ends.
Alternate: Antonio Gates

LT Jonathan Ogden – Eight Pro Bowls this decade and 11 in 12 years. Dominated position from his rookie year.
Alternate: Walter Jones

RT Willie Anderson – Different skill set to play this position from right tackle and Anderson was the most adept at it. Power blocker PAR EXCELLENCE.
Alternate: Jon Runyan

G Alan Faneca and Will Shields – Consistently chosen by their peers as the two best at their position, Faneca starting in the Pro Bowl eight times, Shields
seven. Powerful run blockers whose teams consistently were in top 10 rushing.
Alternates: Steve Hutchinson, Brian Waters

C Kevin Mawae – There’s a reason Curtis Martin led the NFL in rushing in 2004 with Mawae at center and Chris Johnson did the same thing five years later in Tennessee with Mawae in the middle.
Alternate: Jeff Saturday

DEFENSE

DE Michael Strahan – Holds single-season sack record (22.5). Finished the decade with 89 sacks in 113 games rushing mostly from the strong side, while
also playing solidly against the run.
Alternate: Leonard Little

DE Jason Taylor – Only pass rusher to finish the decade with at least 100 sacks (110). Great edge rusher who made the Pro Bowl six times. Versatile enough
to have forced 39 fumbles while defending 74 passes.
Alternate: Dwight Freeney

DT Richard Seymour – Five-time Pro Bowl selection versatile enough to play DE against the run and move inside to rush the passer. Dominated his position on three Super Bowl champions.
Alternate: Jamal Williams

DT La’Roi Glover – Actually led NFC in sacks one year, the only defensive tackle to do so and went to six Pro Bowls, five as a starter.
Alternate: Warren Sapp

WEAKSIDE LB Derrick Brooks – Maybe the best to ever play the position. One of only 10 players in history to reach the Pro Bowl 10 straight seasons
Alternate: Why bother but take Joey Porter if you want?

MIDDLE LB Ray Lewis – Can you think of someone better?
Alternates: Brian Urlacher, Zach Thomas

STRONG SIDE LB Keith Brooking – Once they found a home for him he played the strong side as well as one could. His nine straight 100-tackle seasons
show that.
Alternate: Lance Briggs

CB Champ Bailey – Had more interceptions than any other corner this decade despite fact teams seldom threw his way. Started seven Pro Bowls. Definition
of a shutdown corner.
Alternate: Ronde Barber

CB Ty Law – A bear against the run and a No. 1 cover corner as well (32 INTs) who made his biggest plays in the biggest games, i.e. Super Bowls and AFC
title games.
Alternate: Charles Woodson

SS Darren Sharper – He had 57 interceptions and returned nine for scores. He played offense on defense.
Alternate: Brian Dawkins

FS Ed Reed – Has played both free and strong safety and made more plays that changed games in both places.
Alternate: Troy Polamalu

K Adam Vinatieri – Greatest clutch kicker in history, won two Super Bowls in final seconds and most memorable playoff game in a blizzard.
Alternate: Matt Stover

P Shane Lechler – His numbers are stronomical and so are his punts.
Alternate: Donnie Jones

KR Devin Hester – Guy returned 13 kicks for scores in TWO YEARS. Two others were called back. I don’t care if he ever played another game after that.
Alternate: Joshua Cribbs

PR Dante Hall – Six returns for scores and 10.5-yard average, second only to Hester.
Alternate: Allen Rossum
SP Larry Izzo – This guy was nearly unblockable for years and the kind of leader who was a captain eight times on three different teams.
Alternate: Sean Morey

Coach Bill Belichick – Have you ever seen his jewelry box?
Alternate: Tony Dungy

DESTINY; NO GUARANTEES

January 28, 2010

Bruce Jenkins looked at how destiny affected the Saints and the Vikings and wrote in the SF Chronicle, “”Destiny” is a tricky word, generally inappropriate in a sporting sense, but it seemed to have a place Sunday night in one of the most exciting NFC Championship Games ever played. If you weren’t moved by the sight of confetti, delirious fans and a pulsating Bourbon Street after New Orleans’ victory over Minnesota, you are one jaded soul.
Everything about the scene seemed right. The Saints had stood up to Brett Favre’s surge of glory and carved out their path to the Super Bowl. Favre, who hasn’t had that finishing touch in the twilight of his career, made a bad decision with a weary body, leading to a crushing interception. But most of all, the city of New Orleans had come back – all the way back, some would say.
Can you imagine the scene around midnight? Not just Sunday, but for the next two weeks? A trip to southeast Louisiana reveals a landscape still immersed in the recovery process, but they say Bourbon Street hasn’t lost a bit of its magic. The coming days will be nothing short of a football-inspired festival, the first of its kind. As Saints (and former Cal) linebacker Scott Fujita put it, “Brett Favre is a great story. But New Orleans is a better story.”
The Saints won this one for Archie Manning, Danny Abramowicz and George Rogers, as well as Charlie Durkee, Ray Poage and Brett Bech. They won it for the diligent folks who set up a training camp in Jackson, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina left the team virtually homeless in August 2005. They won it for the beleaguered Jim Mora and for every fan who ever wandered out of the Superdome in a head-scratching malaise.
The only reasonable laments from the Vikings’ locker room concerned the matter of overtime, and a patently unfair system that invariably leaves questions unanswered. Could Favre have summoned one more epic drive if given the chance? And more to the point, what type of system finds its most relevant moment in the coin toss? Yes, it’s the matchless drama of overtime – but more importantly, “Heads!”
You hear all sorts of macho nonsense in defense of this mess, like, “Play some defense – then you can get the ball,” but this isn’t boot camp (“Pick yourself out of that mud puddle, son. Tough guys don’t get strokes.”). Overtime literally means starting over. Makes no difference who looked weaker going in. NBA overtimes don’t end after the first hoop. If somebody scores in the top of the tenth inning, you’ve got your shot in the bottom half. Don’t throw fairness out the window at a time it’s needed most.
Not that we’ve heard any brilliant solutions. Many have come forth, but even the most sensible one – a fifth quarter – raises the issue of exhausted athletes and disgruntled television executives. Try something, though. Anything. Too many off these films end at intermission.
Other thoughts:
— Regardless of the outcome, Favre did more than enough to silence his most savage critics. We all got sick of his drama-queen act over the past two summers, but he’s pure magic on the field, one of the toughest quarterbacks of the modern era and an absolute pleasure to watch.
Favre threw for 310 yards and kept the Vikings’ offense rolling through a disheartening series of turnovers and the din of an uproarious crowd. The city-in-recovery angle aside, this became a memorable game because Favre was part of it. If he wants to play another year, hey, sounds great from here.
— For years, fans waited a few days for the NFL Films version of historic games or individual performances. They craved the expert camera work, the riveting slow motion, the sense that Ed Sabol’s crew was on top of everything, on the field and on the sidelines.
It’s true that nothing matches the texture of celluloid, but Fox’s Sunday telecast was a masterpiece of timing, technology and direction. It’s not surprising that a number of NFL Films cameramen have been hired by television networks, because the product has reached the highest level of expertise.
— Somebody say it’s a joke that the Pro Bowl will be played Sunday. That simply can’t be right. Then again, expect the worst from a sport that interrupts the sweet momentum of its playoff season with a two-week break. Just enough time, a great coach once said, to consider all the things that can go wrong.
— I picture a very old man strolling Bourbon Street on an evening this week, in search of the sweet music he’s heard since the Roaring Twenties. He always loved jazz, and he loved the New Orleans Saints from the moment they first took the field. This is one of the great weeks of his life, with a Super Bowl ahead, and he’s feeling decades younger. Glancing down a darkened alley, he heads instinctively in the direction of a trumpet solo. He could swear it’s Louis Armstrong.”

 

Frank Deford, of SI.com, is always able to grab a problem and discuss it without a lot of useless window dressing. One of Elmore Leonard’s writing rules says,”If it sounds like writing, get rid of it.”  Here he discusses that there are no guarantees… no matter how much we insist.
“Happily, unless I’ve missed it — although maybe, as we sharpie teenagers used to say: accidentally on purpose — no member of the Colts or Saints has yet come forth to guarantee his team’s victory in the Super Bowl.
Actually, I don’t primarily blame athletes for this guaranteeing nonsense — which is just enthusiasm run amuck. I blame my colleagues in the media for
promulgating this idiocy. It would be the equivalent of financial writers breathlessly printing verbatim whenever some unqualified analyst guaranteed that he could double your money in one stock overnight. Come on, guys, just because some jock babbles incoherently, you don’t have to pass it on.
Guaranteeing victory did have an amusing genesis in the 1960s when first the young Muhammad Ali and then Joe Namath employed it as an original PR
gimmick. And, hey, they got it right. They walked the walk. But we sports journalists should have been smart enough to have buried the humbug then. I’d imagine that since Mssrs. Ali and Namath inaugurated the bunkum, the going rate of guarantee proficiency has been around fifty percent — in the coin-flipping realm. And yet we sports scribes can’t resist reporting it like gospel. Please.
Now that’s why I do like it that so many athletes are using Twitter these days. First of all, Tweeting is a good fit for athletes because it doesn’t require an ability to spell correctly or employ grammar, neither of which most of our erstwhile student-athletes are reel gude at. Secondly, Tweeting is specifically meant for those who have signed up for the Twitter universe, so those of us who do not wish to be bombarded by aimless, misspelled chatter are a protected species.
Worse only than guaranteeing, though, is the absolute penchant that misbehaving athletes have for confessing and apologizing — or at least making a stab at it.
For like politicians and movie stars, our sporting role models tend to confess with their fingers crossed behind their backs. The latest in a long line of kinda
sorta confessing came, you will recall, compliments of a lugubrious Mark McGwire, who finally got around to saying he’d used performance enhancing drugs, only he couldn’t remember what exactly they were, and, of course, he took them only for medicinal purposes and not at all to help him hit home runs. As insincere as McGwire’s performance was, it could not live up to that given by Jason Giambi’s of a few years ago, who held a long press conference in which he apologized profusely, but never said what he was apologizing for. That remains the gold standard, steroid division.
Finally, if I may say one good word about Tiger Woods it is that he had the decency to get lost. I would only hope that when he reappears he stands up
before the assembled press and says only, “Ladies and gentlemen, I tee off at noon tomorrow, and I’ll be happy to discuss my round afterwards.” We don’t
need to hear anything else. But, you watch, his handlers will make him apologize and confess.
I guarantee it.”

Bill Dwyer, of the LA Times, provided a different look at “The Wizard of Westwood.”

“All along, we have assumed that John Wooden’s 10 national
collegiate basketball titles as UCLA’s coach represent his most amazing achievement in sports. All along, we assumed wrong.

Those 10 titles are the most defining, not most amazing.

Which brings us to the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament that ended Monday in La Quinta, and to one of its players, Carl Pettersson, the Swede who played
for North Carolina State and who has won more than $2 million in three of his seven full seasons on the PGA Tour.

Huh?

John Wooden, age 99, and Carl Pettersson, age 32. Two names never previously used in the same sentence.

Hang in here. There is an explanation.

Saturday at La Quinta Country Club, in the third round of the five-round Hope, Pettersson stood 259 yards from the pin for his second shot on the par-five fifth hole. He took out his three-wood and, as his caddie, Grant Berry, said Monday, “hit as good a shot as you’ll ever see.”

Pettersson’s summary, as typifies most pro golfers, was less flamboyant: “I hit it as hard I could, it landed and rolled in.”

He had scored a double eagle, a two on a par-five hole, something golfers call an albatross. They are so rare that last year on the tour, only four were made.
In 2008, there was only one, by Daniel Chopra, and in ’07, only five. In the 31-year history of the Champions Tour, golf’s senior circuit where accurate
records were kept from the beginning, a total of 34 double eagles have been made.

When it happens, it gets headlines, as Pettersson’s shot did here in the desert. For anybody who achieves it, even if you are a pro, it is a memorable moment.

“It was my third,” Pettersson said, “but the other two were in practice.”

Holes in one are commonplace by comparison. Pettersson has had nine, one on the tour, on No. 14 at Riviera at the 2004 Nissan Open, now the Northern
Trust Open. Golf Digest rates the possibility of getting two holes in one in the same round as 67 million to 1, or about the same as O.J.’s DNA odds.

Golf Digest also lists something even more incredible: a golfer having a hole in one and a double eagle in the same round. It doesn’t give odds, but just think in terms of double O.J., or maybe triple. Golf Digest says that feat has been reported as happening four times in history.

One of the four was by John Wooden.

It was 1947, and Wooden, 36, was soon to move to UCLA and change the course of the school’s athletic history.

Although Golf Digest reports it as taking place at the Erskine Park Golf Course in South Bend, Ind., Wooden said Monday that it was at the Chain of Lakes
course, now the South Bend Country Club.

“I used a four-iron for the hole in one,” Wooden said from his home in Encino. “It was about 185 yards. Then I made the two on the par five on the back.
Used a brassie.”

A brassie was the rough equivalent of a two-wood.

Wooden said he kept the card and has it stored somewhere. He said he remembers the local paper running a little story the next day. He also retains his
typical self-effacing humor about this feat.

“I shot a 77 that day,” he said. “You go five under on two holes and a 77 doesn’t look all that good.”

Wooden said that his love of golf is right up there with that of his favorite sport, baseball. It also bridges several generations. He said he has fond memories of
walking a course a few years ago with Tiger Woods, and fond memories of watching Byron Nelson play in a tour event in South Bend in 1948.

“He won the tournament,” Wooden recalled, “but he shot one shot more each day. I remember one of the sportswriters writing that was because the divots
got an inch deeper every day.”

Pettersson was asked Monday if he had heard of anybody making a hole in one and a double eagle in the same round. His eyes got wide and he shook his
head. He was told it had been done by John Wooden.

“The old basketball coach?” he asked. And his eyes got wide again.

It turns out that the ace/double-eagle combo had been achieved much closer for Pettersson’s memory than Wooden’s feat 63 years ago.

One of the four double eagles listed for 2009 in the official PGA guide was by Nicholas Thompson, who achieved it three months ago at the Frys.com Open
in Scottsdale, Ariz. In that same round, two holes later, Thompson made a hole in one.

Thompson shot a 65 that late October day, posted his only top-10 finish of the year and, partly because of that three-hole spree of five under par, managed to keep his ranking in the tour’s top 125 and keep his card for this season.

He wasn’t at the Bob Hope on Monday. He had missed the cut by two shots.

Or, as golf lore should start listing it, he had missed by 40% of a John Wooden.”

 Plaschke of the LA Times must have heard Ratto, because he wrote, “The truth was hard to hear amid a Superdome din, difficult to see through French
Quarter tears, impossible to reckon immediately after what felt like one of the most deserved victories in NFL history.

Two days later, though, it’s still there, pounding like a hangover, reeking like a Bourbon Street back alley.

Plaschke of the LA Times must have heard Ratto, because he wrote, “The truth was hard to hear amid a Superdome din, difficult to see through French
Quarter tears, impossible to reckon immediately after what felt like one of the most deserved victories in NFL history.

Two days later, the truth is staring in the face of a league too shrouded in 36 years of silly tradition to see it.

That great victory by the New Orleans Saints against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game Sunday night?

It wasn’t fair.

It was fun, it was exciting, it felt right, but it wasn’t fair.

The Saints won during an overtime period in which the Vikings never touched the ball.

The Saints won by taking advantage of the worst rule in American sports.

Only in the NFL can a game be decided by an extension of play in which both teams might not have an equal chance to score.

Only in the NFL can a game be contested for three hours by two full teams, then be decided in 10 minutes by only half of each team.

The NFL calls it sudden death, but that’s true only for the loser of the coin toss. For the winner of that toss, it’s instant life. In a league that otherwise takes great pains to promote fairness both on and off the field, it’s an unnecessary evil.

Not to dull the justified buzz of the Saints’ 31-28 victory, but, well, you saw it.

The Vikings, you’ll recall, lost the overtime coin toss, kicked to the Saints, absorbed a 40-yard kickoff return by Pierre Thomas, then watched the Saints drive all of 39 yards before Garrett Hartley won it with a 40-yard field goal.

Game over after 39 yards.

Game over with future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre watching from the sideline, just as fellow star Peyton Manning watched his season end last year in a first-possession overtime loss in San Diego.

In a game of offense and defense, why does the overtime period not involve both teams’ offense and defense?

Baseball’s extra-innings rule allows both teams’ offense and defense to compete. Basketball’s overtime rule is simply an extension of the regular game.
Hockey’s shootout rule also involves players who score and one who is charged with stopping them. Even college football, with its quirky dueling possessions rule, does it better.

Certainly, while watching the Saints drive toward victory, it was easy to say, “Well, Favre ended the game by throwing the interception, he deserves to watch.”

But he was watching only because his team called “heads” and the coin showed “tails.” He was never given a final chance to win this dramatic, drawn-out game of skill because his team lost a five-second game of chance.

“I actually think you should give the other team a possession,” Dan Marino, Hall of Fame quarterback, said Tuesday on a CBS conference call. “Especially
[with] Brett Favre. He threw an interception. Give that guy a chance, one chance. Give him at least one possession in overtime.”

I agree. But this view is certainly not unanimous. I asked the question on the Super Bowl preview conference call, and immediately the network’s three
pregame experts began debating it. Marino wants the rule changed. Shannon Sharpe does not. Boomer Esiason seemed uncertain.

Sharpe took the popular view that if an NFL defense can’t stop its opponent on the first overtime possession, then that team doesn’t deserve to win.

“Fairness doesn’t happen in professional sports . . . These are grown men. . . . I need [Vikings end] Jared Allen, the third-highest-paid defensive player in the
league, to step up for me and make a play,” Sharpe said.

Esiason took the view that even by giving each team one possession, it might not be fair.

“How about if the New Orleans Saints kick a field goal in overtime, and then they give the ball back to the Minnesota Vikings and they score a touchdown?”
He said. “Now what are we going to do?”

It’s one thing to have respected former NFL stars and commentators arguing about player performance or coaching decisions. But here, two weeks before
the Super Bowl, and they’re arguing about a rule?

That should tell the NFL owners all they need to know about that rule.

It is often difficult to get 24 of 32 owners to agree on anything, but shouldn’t changing this rule be the easiest decision since allowing shoulder pads?

Those owners often point to the statistics that the winner of the coin toss is only slightly more likely to win the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the rule’s inception in 1974, the winner of the coin toss has won 239 times in 445 games, a 54% rate.

However, around 70% of those victories came by field goals, which means not only can overtime be played without one team’s offense, but it can be played with only a fraction of the other team’s offense.

It’s a real football game decided by something other than real football. For this country’s new national pastime, that’s not very American.

The solution here is easy, requires all of five words.

Give both teams the ball.

If a team that wins the coin toss scores, then that team kicks off to the other team for its one shot. If the team that wins the toss is stopped, the other team
simply takes over and they play until someone scores.

Think the Saints would have played for only a field goal if they knew Favre would get the ball back? Think Drew Brees would have been the winning
quarterback by throwing for just 21 yards on the final drive?

But Hartley’s kick was perfect, and the moment was sublime, and pen-on-their-sleeves writers like me described the scene as if the Saints had just delivered a sermon, and afterward nobody dared speak a blasphemous word.

But the truth remains, and if you think it’s no big deal, then ponder something like this happening in two weeks. Actually, I hope it does happen again in two
weeks.

“They’re not going to change the rules until it happens in the Super Bowl,” said Marino.

He’s right. Only when the worst rule in American sports is exposed on American sports’ biggest stage will it finally die. Can you imagine?

Saints: “We really want this Super Bowl championship.”

Colts: “Fine, we’ll flip you for it.”

Bob Ryan was in New Orleans for the game and wrote in the Boston Globe: “It was evening in New Orleans and not a creature was stirring, not even a
mouse.
They were all inside, watching the Saints.
A Saints-record Superdome crowd of 71,276 was inside, making noise, lots of noise. Lord knows how many other Louisianans were perched in front of TV
sets, probably no more than 85 percent of them clutching a beer. This was, to borrow a phrase, no life-and-death matter. No, it was far more important than that.
This was football.
This was football, in a football culture, and don’t think you can pretend to understand what this game meant to these people if you’ve never been exposed to a football culture, and that’s before even discussing what this town and this state have been through since the terrible events of August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit.
Businesses and restaurants that normally would have been open on a Sunday either never opened or closed early. What aberrant, anti-social, anti-sport,
anti-Saints person would come out on a night like this? And it goes without saying the employees wanted to see the game, too.
And what a strange, wonderful, memorable, and historic game it was. An evening of uneven but compelling football ended in black-and-gold glory when Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal to give the Saints a 31-28 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings that sent them into the Super Bowl for the first time in their tortured 43-year history.
“Four years ago there was a hole in this roof,’’ said Saints coach Sean Payton about the aftermath of Katrina. “The fans in this region deserve it. I’m just glad to be part of it.’’
There have been many conference championship games in the post-merger NFL, and, on an artistic level, there have been many better. But there never has been one quite like this, first because of the unique setting and second because of the peculiar dynamics of a game in which turnovers and near turnovers (in the form of fumbles that could have been recovered by a Saint, but weren’t) assumed a larger and larger role as the game progressed. It got to the point where it was just assumed some new, wacky thing would happen.
Oh, and throw in the extra drama supplied by the ever-theatrical Brett Favre, who looked as if he had been KO’d from the game with what appeared to be
an ankle injury in the third quarter but who returned without missing a series to rally his Vikings from a 28-21 deficit. But the aging Favre never makes it easy, and, sure enough, he cost his team a chance for the field goal that might have won the game in regulation by throwing an interception to Tracy Porter on third and 15 at the Saints’ 38 with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. This followed an unforgivable 12-men-on-the-field penalty on the Vikings on the previous play. Trust me. This game truly was bizarre.
“There were a lot of momentum shifts,’’ said Payton. “We just kept battling.’’
The Saints created enough turnovers to win a normal NFL playoff game many times over, but they were unable to capitalize directly often enough to avoid
playing the additional 4:45 it took to settle this one.
The “Who Dat?’’-chanting, umbrella-waving, black-and-gold crowd made plenty of noise, but it wasn’t enough to keep Favre and the Vikings from scoring four touchdowns.
All the noise, all the joy, all the enormous party atmosphere and good cheer generated by the raucous gathering in the Superdome was worth absolutely
nothing in any tangible sense as the Vikings took the opening kickoff and ambled 80 yards in 10 plays to grab an immediate 7-0 lead, capped by Adrian Peterson’s artful 19-yard scamper. Nor did the crowd faze Minnesota the second time the Vikings had the ball as the visitors responded to the Saints’ matching score, moving 73 yards in 10 plays to seize a 14-7 first-period advantage.
But on this second march the Saints were conspirators in their demise, abetting the Minnesota advance with an offsides on third and 10 at the Vikings’ 27; a defensive holding call on Randall Gay that negated a get-off-the-field incompletion; and, finally, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Bobby McCray, who was alleged to have abused Favre following a handoff.
After that, it seemed, the Saints had the bad stuff out of their system for the rest of the half, as they shut out the Vikings in the second quarter, tying the game at 14 when Drew Brees’s 9-yard pass to Devery Henderson topped off a seven-play, 64-yard drive. Brees had enough time to read the entire morning paper as he sauntered to his right, simply waiting for somebody to get open.
But that was back when the game seemed, well, routine, before the goofy stuff that defined the second half and that produced the great surges of emotion that teased the fans before Hartley sent them into a frenzy and ensured that there would be a celebration that almost undoubtedly is continuing as you read this.
It was, without question, the biggest field goal of the 23-year-old Hartley’s career. “I told him there was a little fleur de lis right up there between those
uprights,’’ said Payton. “He’s been consistent all year. It was a big kick.’’
No one parties like New Orleans, and now they are toasting their beloved Saints. Who dat think they can beat dem Saints indeed?”

Ray Ratto tried heading off some of the arguments for the revision of over-time rules in the NFL. His words appeared in the SF Chronicle on Monday the
25th . “Not one word about the unfairness of the NFL overtime rule, and we mean it. Not one word.
The Minnesota Vikings had their chances, and tons of them. They gave up the ball 13 or 14 times, we can’t remember which. They very nearly got their
Walter-Huston-in-Treasure-of-the-Sierra-Madre impersonator quarterback killed. They played poorly enough to lose three games, so if they or their
supporters are thinking of grousing about the overtime rule being unfair, they can belt up.
Whining about the NFL overtime has been a staple of amateur rulesmakers for years, because it isn’t what they like to call “fair.” The proper response to that is, “So what? You had 60 minutes. Make another tackle. Don’t fumble. Shut up.”
But in this specific example, the Vikings were so appallingly substandard Sunday that overtime should not have been offered as an option. Brett Favre was clocked so many times that even the NFL’s quarterback-in-the-plastic-bubble rules couldn’t save him. The Saints were ordinary; the Vikings were drunken sailors.
In short, the right thing happened Sunday.
As for the overtime rule, well, it’s exactly what it needs to be. It’s not a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of do-the-job-you’ve-been-handed. Make the stop,
force the punt, knock the ball loose. Defense gets to play the game, too.
The Saints are going to Miami because they were more efficient, and because they did more to disrupt the Vikings than the Vikings did to disrupt the Saints.
The better team won. Justice was done. And somewhere, Al Davis is telling someone, “I saw a lot of greatness in that Sean Payton.” See, something for
everyone.
The Super Bowl is an intriguing match, although most folks will like Indianapolis more than New Orleans. It won’t be as good as the NFC Championship Game, but it will fill in the gaps between advertisements well enough.
And now, the bad news. The clock just started on FavreWatch 5. Our long national nightmare is back on.”

Dan Shaughnessy, of the Boston Globe, wrote a recap of the playoff games. “The streets of Miami and Fort Lauderdale will be a lot more peaceful in the first week of February. They won’t have to count the silverware at Don Shula’s Steakhouse in Miami Lakes and there’ll be no nightly mayhem at South Beach.
The New York Jets and their marauding fans are not going to the Super Bowl. Coach Rex Ryan’s magic carpet ride came to a screaming halt in the second
half of a 30-17 AFC Championship game loss at Lucas Oil (Can Boyd) Stadium yesterday.
Peyton Manning and the Colts are going to the big game for the second time in four years and they should be going there with an 18-0 record, but that’s
another story for another day. Today we say farewell to the 2009-10 Jets.
“We were a good football team, but today wasn’t our day,’’ Ryan said moments after the defeat. “We thought we could win it all. We really did.’’
The season started with Ryan announcing he wasn’t coming to New York to kiss Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s rings. The blustering rookie head man made good on most of his promises. He made plenty of mistakes along the way – like announcing “we’re obviously out of the playoffs’’ after a Game 14 loss to the Falcons.
The Jets were 4-6 through 10 games and 7-7 after the Atlanta debacle. Then they went on a roll. The Colts opened the door by tanking in the second half of their Dec. 27 game and every permutation worked out in the Jets’ favor the rest of the way.
Ryan said they should be favorites in every playoff game. His guys believed. They shocked the Bengals in Cincinnati and the Chargers in San Diego and for a few minutes yesterday it looked like they might do it again. When Indy’s Joseph Addai fumbled late in the second quarter, the Jets took over on the Indy 29 with 3:40 left in the half. The Jets already had a 14-6 lead and they were looking at a good chance to go ahead, 21-6. But their offense stalled and they settled for a field goal. Making matters worse, they gave Manning the ball back with 2:11 left on the clock.
Big mistake. Manning quickly reminded everyone why Belichick went for it on fourth and 2 here in November. Manning put the Colts in the end zone in less
than a minute. Four plays. So instead of leading, 21-6, at halftime, the Jets led, 17-13. The damage was done. The Jets would not score again and Manning had figured out how to shred the New York defense.
“That was huge,’’ Manning said of the late TD in the first half. “It reminded me of the New England game three years ago.’’
Ouch. That was the AFC Championship game when the Patriots led, 21-3, in the first half only to give up a late field goal and be dissected by Manning for
32 points in the second half in a 38-34 loss.
There was another crucial moment early in the third quarter yesterday. Facing fourth and 7 from the Colts 34, Ryan sent Jay Feely out for a 52-yard field goal attempt. Feely missed and Manning took advantage of the short field, putting the Colts in the lead for good, 20-17, with an eight-play, 57-yard touchdown drive.
Sounding a little like Randy Moss, Manning went out of his way to tell the world that he was not afraid of Jets lockdown corner Darrelle Revis.
It was hard to watch Manning and the Colts without thinking about the Patriots’ game here Nov. 15. It truly was the highlight and lowlight of the New England season. The Patriots outplayed the Super Bowl Colts for 58 minutes. They rattled Manning, intercepting him twice in the second half. Then came fourth and 2 and the season unraveled.
January has been a cold month in Foxborough because of the playoff demise of the Patriots and the tournament emergence of the Jets.
It’s hard to know where the Jets will go from here. We know they are not going to Miami for the Super Bowl, but they are emboldened as they look forward to the 2010 season. They think they’re better than the Patriots.
“We want to have a tough football team that’s a blue-collar team that can run the football and play defense and for the most part we accomplished that,’’ said Ryan. “We’re close, there’s no question. We don’t need a whole lot. Now we’ll be able to come back and hit the ground running.’’
And their rowdy fans (“J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!’’) are going to let you hear about it every day between now and the season opener.

Bill Plaschke, of the LA Times, wrote after the game with the Vikings: “From New Orleans
 “Lord, how I want to be in that number.

On a raging Sunday in the bayou, they marched, through 42 years of football misery, through the jagged remains of human tragedy, to a Super Bowl that will surely taste like gumbo and feel like salvation.

In a chilly and deafening building that a few years ago was a symbol of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints finally came marching in to an NFC championship victory that seemed as much destined as deserved.

“This is for everybody in this city who’s had homes who used to be wet,” Coach Sean Payton shouted after one of the most memorable, meaningful games in NFL playoff history.

At this, 71,276 fans shouted back, again and again, the Superdome transformed from a place of mourning to a cacophony of joy.

For nearly four exhausting hours, the Saints had clearly lost the battle to the Minnesota Vikings.

Yet, buoyed by the thousands chanting and millions more praying, they somehow won the game.

It took several little gifts from the football gods, a huge one from the Football God, an overtime coin toss, and a game-winning kick by a guy who began the
season on a drug suspension, but it happened.

Saints 31, Vikings 28, and for the next two weeks, Who Dat is no longer a question, but an answer.

“From the horrors of Hurricane Katrina to the Super Bowl, God has truly graced us.”

The words were spoken in the bowels of the Superdome late Sunday, with horns blaring outside and music thumping inside and Brett Favre hobbling into the arms of his wife.

They were spoken not by game-winning kicker Garrett Hartley, or game-saving defender Tracy Porter, but by the one person who really knows how this was accomplished.

“Following the Saints has been like 40 years in the desert . . . and then there was a flood,” said Sister Mary Andrew, principal of a French Quarter school.
“But God has finally led us out.”

If that is the case, then it was Favre who unlocked the door.

How does it happen that a team is outgained, 475 yards to 257, and is futilely trying to hold off a Hall of Fame quarterback deep in its territory in the final
seconds of a tie game, and still wins?

Because for all his greatness, Favre is still Favre, and instead of just running the ball a few open yards into field-goal range and then falling with 19 seconds remaining, he insisted on being a hero, throwing a pass across his body into traffic.

Porter picked off the pass to send the game into overtime. From there, destiny required a failed coin-toss call by the Vikings, a dropped interception by Viking Ben Leber, two bad Vikings penalties, a 10-play Saints drive, and a 40-yard Hartley field goal.

Yeah, all that. In about 10 minutes. Multiply that by an entire evening and you have a classic.

“The Saints are about entertainment,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “And today you had it all, the highs, the lows, everything.”

In the end, the highs rang through the building like Mardi Gras on steroids, fans screaming and hugging and dancing and refusing to leave.

Through the confetti of those highs, you could see the lows of a 40-year-old man hobbling off the field with his head in jersey.

That would be Favre, who went to Minnesota this season with the intention of playing in one more Super Bowl before the end of his career, and was
ultimately flattened in the effort.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said at the outset of his news conference, his throat thick and his face scratched.

He could begin with how he was punished as never before, yet he hung in there to throw for 310 yards and a touchdown.

He could continue with how he was helped off the field late in the third quarter after his ankle was crunched between two tacklers, how he lay on a sideline table with his hands on his helmet, how his career should have ended that moment.

“We thought he was done, he was checked out, we had finished him,” defensive end Will Smith said. “We were even game planning for their next
quarterback . . . then he hobbles back into the game. We were like, whoa, he’s back?”

They weren’t the only ones stunned. Fueled by Favre’s return, the Vikings continued to dominate the Saints but ultimately could not overcome their three lost fumbles and Favre’s final interception.

In case it looked familiar, yes, it was the same type of silly pass that cost the Packers the NFC championship two seasons ago in overtime against the New
York Giants.

“I probably should have ran it,” Favre said of his losing play. “I don’t know how many yards we needed for a field goal, but I knew we needed some.”

He didn’t know how many yards because he was so beat up. The Vikings earlier suffered a damaging 12-player penalty on that last drive, and Favre didn’t know anything about that, either.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know who should have been in or not,” he said.

As Favre limped slowly down the hall to the interview room, some Saints employees cheered him, while another Saints fan hurled ice and punches at an NFL official trying to guide him.

It was that kind of night.

“I wonder if I can hold up, especially after a day like today, physically and mentally,” Favre said.

At the other end of the Superdome tunnel, the Saints were swaggering around after holding up an entire town.

“To be able to represent a city that looks to us as a beacon of hope is awesome,” Fujita said. “This is a monumental day.”

Their quarterback, Drew Brees, was hassled and inconsistent. Their running attack was spotty. They converted only three third downs.

But they scored one touchdown after a 61-yard kickoff return by Courtney Roby. They scored one after a Percy Harvin fumble deep in Vikings territory.
They stopped the Vikings on two other fumbles at the Saints’ five- and 10-yard lines.

After years of being plagued by mistakes, the Saints finally watched somebody else make them, and celebrated with each blunder, and who can blame them?

In the end of an exhilarating Sunday night, it seems the Saints deserved to be running through the confetti and smoke to the Superdome stands like little kids looking for their parents, posing and waving and chanting, a town and a team joined.”

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe gave his take on the New Orleans Saints’ growth, before the Viking game.                                                                                                                                              
 “Did the New Orleans Saints make their fans a little antsy with those three straight L’s to end the season?
They sure did.
“People got nervous in December,’’ says Travis Thompson, a bartender at a local institution called the Port of Call. “They started saying, ‘Same old Saints.’ ’’
But don’t confuse that with bailing. People here still loved ’em. They were just worried about ’em.
“It’s like when you have a mentally challenged little brother,’’ Thompson explains. “You don’t abandon him. You always love him.’’
Put yourself in their place. You live in a football culture. Your team has been in existence since 1967. If you were there from the beginning, you waited two decades for a winning team, let alone a playoff team. Your building has been the site of six Super Bowls, but the closest your team ever has come to playing in one was a 39-14 loss to the Bears in the 2006 NFC Championship game.
Paper bags over the heads? Why, that was you, or somebody you know who first did that. Mockingly calling your home team the “Aints’’? Yup, that too was you. Or your daddy. Or your cousin. Or your next-door neighbor. It’s not as if you ever expect things to go right with the Saints.
And then came 2009. All those glorious W’s and all those touchdowns. Yours was now the Greatest Show On Turf. Forty-five points against Detroit
(well, OK . . .); 48 against the Eagles (legit enough for you?); 48 against the Giants (when we still thought they actually had a defense); 46 against the Dolphins.
And who could forget that 38-17 beatdown of the Patriots in that big Monday night game?
It was all going great until a 33-30 OT squeaker over the Redskins. That was the first sign of mortality. The Saints just got by Atlanta (26-23) the following
week, and then it started to go bad with a 24-17 home loss to the Cowboys. A week later, the Saints lost at home to the wretched Buccaneers and then
capped off a dismal finishing month by losing at Carolina.
Same old Saints?
But now people are feeling better. Last week, their team looked like the September-October-November Saints, clocking the Arizona Cardinals by a 45-14 score. In that game there was a welcome gift, a demonstration of athletic superiority by a man who has been a colossal tease for most of his professional career.
That man, of course, is Reggie Bush, who never has lived up to the promise that he would be the consistent game-changer as a professional that he was as a collegian at USC. And one brilliant game does not mean he is going to be that man.
What Reggie Bush did last week was remind people why he was so coveted and why he was selected No. 2 overall in the 2006 draft, with many pundits
declaring that in selecting North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams over Bush, the Houston Texans had just passed over the football equivalent of Michael Jordan.
Last week, Bush produced 217 all-purpose yards, the highlights a 46-yard touchdown run and an 83-yard punt return. The latter is something Bushologists have seen many times, but the former was a revelation, for in this particular excursion Bush not only ran around and away from opposing tacklers, he also bounced off a few, escaping at least one perilous situation with a twisting move that was somewhat unBushlike.
Bush attributed his performance to good health and the adrenaline flow provided by participation in a certified big game. Bush had microfracture knee surgery a year ago and he pointed out that no one ever has an instant recovery when that occurs. As far as the adrenaline is concerned, he simply said, “I live for these games.’’
There’s another big game this evening. The opponents will be the Minnesota Vikings, and the winner will advance to Super Bowl XLIV to be played two
weeks hence in Miami’s Endless Name Change Stadium.
It is a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in the NFL, the Saints led by quarterback Drew Brees and the Vikings by Brett Favre, who is coming off a
four-TD performance against the Cowboys. The 40-year-old Favre is the most-discussed player in the league, with people now either loving or hating him, depending on whether they view him as a true icon out to prove something or an insufferable egomaniac who needs football far more than it needs him.
What’s beyond dispute is the fact that the Vikings wouldn’t be in this game if they had to depend on Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels to get them here.
Favre brings an extra buzz to any game, but his presence in this one is secondary to the central issue, which is the psyche of the Saints’ followers, who have put the December shakes behind them and recommitted themselves to the team as it tries to bring a championship to this very special city and state.
A Super Bowl championship will not restore the physical damage or reverse the social upheaval caused by Hurricane Katrina. Who doesn’t know that? But if you were going to pick the one thing that would put a smile on the most faces, and create an excuse for the New Orleans party to end all parties, it would be for the Saints to become kings of the known football world. That would have been true in 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000, but it is exponentially truer in 2010, 4 1/2 years post-Katrina.
In other words, there’s no excuse for anyone being neutral in this one. If you’re not from Minnesota or Kiln, Miss., you have to be pulling for the Saints.”

“Team’s of Destiny” somehow don’t often fare well against fate. Perhaps it’s because fate is the beginning sound of fatal.

Sally Jenkins, of the DC Post, talked about some of the careful actions taken by athletes (notice please, that I didn’t use the word superstitions because I
understand it completely) “Don’t ever kill a cricket — it’s bad luck. This maxim once made me get up in the middle of the night and conduct a search party for the Jiminy chirping behind my kitchen sink, then carry it reverently in my palms to a churchyard and release it in the pre-dawn. But I’m no more superstitious than Babe Ruth, who used to swing his bat viciously at butterflies, believing they were harbingers of slumps. Or the current New York Jets, whose superstitions are starting to make them look mangy. Quarterback Mark Sanchez still hasn’t shaved, and Coach Rex Ryan hasn’t cut his hair or changed his grease-stained sweatshirt in a month.
“We’re not superstitious, but we’re not dumb either,” Ryan says. “We’re not taking any chances.”
All of us are inclined to believe we have more influence in the world than we really do. But athletes as a group seem exceptionally prone to believe in their power to affect chance, judging by their obsession with ritualistic superstition. Consider how some of the participants in the NFL conference championship games are behaving this week. The bearded Sanchez quit shaving four weeks ago when his team was 7-7. Running back Thomas Jones reeks of Coppertone thanks to a compulsion to slather on sunscreen before every game, even when his Jets play indoors. And the shaggy, rumpled Ryan is such a slave to ritual that he made the team practice outside this Thursday, even though their game against the Indianapolis Colts will be under a roof.
“I think Rex is one-upping me in that way,” Sanchez said. “It’s not the end of the world, but why change now? I’ve gotten into a routine, and it’s worked thus far these last couple of weeks. We’ve been on our game as a team and no one wants to change. I sure don’t.”
When Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was in high school, he refused to wash his socks after victories, to the point that his family rooted for him to lose. Stock-car drivers believe green cars are cursed, and peanut shells are dangerous to engines, though no one is sure quite why. Turk Wendell, the former Cubs and Mets reliever, brushed his teeth and chewed licorice between innings.
Athletic superstition crosses cultural borders. In 2006 a pair of researchers from the Netherlands, Michaéla Schippers and Paul Van Lange, surveyed 197 top European athletes in hockey, soccer and volleyball, and published their findings in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Eighty percent of the athletes they interviewed participated in superstitious rites, which they defined as “unusual, repetitive, rigid behavior that is perceived to have a positive effect by the actor, whereas in reality there is no causal link between the behavior and the outcome of an event. Superstitious rituals differ from a normal routine in that the person gives the action a special, magical significance.”
One athlete ate four pancakes before every game. Another wore his soccer shin guards even at home. Another smoked a cigarette before every contest.
Sixty-six of them ate special foods, 46 had to enter the field a certain way — including one footballer who buried his gum in the same patch of dirt — and 51 wore lucky clothing. Twenty-nine had prayer rituals, 27 dressed themselves in a specific unvarying order, and 14 had bathroom rituals.
There is a common theme underlying these behaviors: the illusion of control. Athletes believe their ritual can affect performance. But can they really? Or are they no more or less in charge than, say, pigeons?
Pigeons?
Yes, pigeons. In 1947 the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology called “Superstition in the
Pigeon.” Basically Skinner put a bird in a box, and rigged up a mechanism that delivered food “at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird’s behavior.” Skinner discovered that his pigeons began to associate the delivery of food with the actions they performed as it was delivered. They kept doing what they did at the moment the food arrived. A pigeon that had turned its head, repeatedly turned its head. A pigeon that happened to be walking in a circle, continued to walk in a circle.
Skinner argued there was an analogy between superstitious pigeons and superstitious humans. He noticed similar behavior in poker players and bowlers.
“Rituals for changing one’s fortune at cards are good examples,” he wrote. “A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances.”
Skinner’s superstitious pigeons were eventually labeled as somewhat simplistic by other researchers, but his ideas about conditioning and reinforcement were hugely influential. And anyone who has watched athletes tick, twitch, and perform pregame voodoo knows Skinner was on to something. Skinner’s point was that the pigeons confused chance with skill. Athletes have the same tendency — which is why it’s so endlessly amusing to catalogue their habits and quirky juju.
But there’s also something worth admiring in their behavior, too. Athletes, unlike pigeons, actually can overcome chance with skill. For most of us,
superstitious ritual is a way to deal with buried anxiety, a playful way to cope with the fact that the world is often disorderly and capricious, a bad accident
waiting to happen. We fantasize we can alter fortune. We practice superstition as empty magic.
Athletes’ rituals aren’t empty magic, but a kind of psychological preparation, a form of visualization; that’s the bedrock of sports psychology. It’s their way of preparing to address potential bad luck, accident or even danger and answering it with belief in their cultivated excellence. One of the reasons Sanchez won’t shave is because you don’t screw with a streak. But another reason is because it makes him look and feel like a veteran. It’s a token of his real, hard-won knowledge, a reminder that you don’t need as much luck once you’ve got experience.”

Dan Shaughnessy of the BOSTON Globe feels torn about who to root on in today’s Jets-Colts game.                                                                                                                                          
“It’s always about us, and therefore this AFC Championship game must be viewed through the prism of Patriot Place.
Colts-Jets.
Ugh.
Any way both of these teams can lose today?
Let’s start with the ugly dateline. The AFC Championship game is being played at Lucas Oil (Can Boyd) Stadium in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, the heart of the heartland. That’s a big bowl of wrong. We all know this game should be played annually at the Razor off Route 1 in Foxborough.
Bet you thought the Patriots would be playing host to the AFC championship when you sat through two-a-days last summer. Remember those high hopes?
Tom Brady was coming back and the Kraft AC would resume the unfinished business from that nightmare in the desert in February 2008.
That was back when we still thought the Patriots were the class of the AFC. That was before New England’s season unraveled on a fourth-and-2 attempt
right here at Lucas Oil. That was before the Jets emerged as the true beasts of the AFC East.
So here we are with the Colts, whom we hate, playing the Jets, whom we hate, in a city and a stadium where bad things have happened to the Patriots.
New England is 6-1 lifetime in Lamar Hunt Trophy games, but Indy happens to be the site of the Patriots’ only defeat. And it was a doozy. Three years ago
this weekend, the Patriots were ahead, 21-3, late in the first half of the AFC title game. They gave up 32 points in the second half and lost, 38-34. It was the game that motivated New England’s take-no-prisoners, run-up-the-score ride to 18-0 in 2007.
So we hate the Colts. We hate Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian and the dirty tricks of turning up the heat and cranking up the sound. We think the Colts are soft front-runners, unable to get going when the going gets tough. We hate the trendy thought that Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady. As long as Tom has three rings to Peyton’s one, we still can make a case for our guy.
We hate that these Colts dissed the notion of a perfect season when they had a chance. When coach Jim Caldwell pulled his starters in the third quarter of
Week 16 against the Jets, it was a smarmy message to the Patriots. It was the Colts saying, “We’re not going to waste our energy on something that backfired on the Patriots. We’re going to do this the smart way and win the Super Bowl instead of going for some cheesy perfection.’’
This makes us hope the Colts lose. We want to see their plan blow up like an exploding cigar in the face of Polian.
We’re still mad about 38-34 in 2007 and we’re still mad about fourth-and-2, so we hope the Colts choke today. We want the Colts to get smoked.
. . . but that would mean the Jets win and go to the Super Bowl.
Ouch.
What’s worse than the Jets in the Super Bowl, unless it’s the Yankees winning the World Series?
The Jets in the Super Bowl is validation for Eric “Fredo’’ Mangini (this is still largely Mangini’s team), Woody Johnson, Fireman Ed, Arlen Specter, Bill
Parcells, and everything else the Patriots loathe.
The Jets in the Super Bowl means that Rex Ryan, HC of the NYJ, was right when he said he didn’t come to New York to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. It means Darrelle Revis is right when he calls Randy Moss a slouch. It means the Jets are doing things right and the Patriots are doing things wrong. It means Damien Woody is going to say he likes these Jets more than the 2003 Patriots. It means Belichick and the Krafts have allowed their archenemies to vault ahead of them. It means the Patriots have to stop trying to win on the cheap, stressing “value’’ in the same smug manner that Theo Epstein emphasizes Ultimate Zone Ratings.
It was former Jets president Steve Gutman who suggested Belichick was mentally unstable when Hoodie resigned as HC of the NYJ.
And it was the Jets who ratted out Belichick’s cheating ways in the Spygate scandal of 2007. How can any Patriot fan ever root for the Jets?
Ryan already has drawn up the Jets’ Super Bowl itinerary through Feb. 9, and that includes a victory parade in the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan.
Any way you look at it, this is a painful game for the Patriots and their legion. No matter which team wins, it’s a loss for New England.”

I’m sorry but I think the Colts will beat the Jets 27-12 on Sunday.

Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, is hoping that the games today and tomorrow will produce SOME TV worth watching.                                                                               “Are you ready for some, yup, football?
What I’m talking about, of course, is seriously exciting, stirring, back-and-forth, competitive NFL football, not the butt-kicking exercises we were subjected to last weekend, and, yes, I’m including the Jets-Chargers in this assessment.
Hey, I’m not angry or anything. I know how it works in sports. You take what you get, and what we got were four games with many individual highlights, but games which left us with more questions than answers as we turn to the games tomorrow that will give us our 2010 Super Bowl participants.
What struck me last week was not simply how good the four winners were – and they were all very, very good – but how inept and boneheaded the four
losers were. In addition to bringing their C and D games physically, the Cardinals, Ravens, Cowboys, and Chargers were all extraordinarily dim-witted and self-destructive. You can imagine vanquished regular-season (or, in some cases, postseason) foes watching what was going on and saying, “How come they didn’t play that way against us?’’
What I do like about tomorrow’s lineup is that the four teams who should be left are the ones playing. Even the most diehard, bitter Patriots partisan would have to suck it up and admit that the Jets have the look and feel of a championship team, now that Mark Sanchez is taking such nice care of the football and making such good decisions. There was never any question about the defense, was there?
The Jets are in an enviable position because they alone have no pressure on them other than whatever responsibility they feel to back up the words of their refreshingly brash coach. The Jets can be loosey-goosey, whereas the Colts, Saints, and Vikings all have to satisfy a constituency that has been assuming there would be a February championship parade in their town for the last three months. When Rex Ryan insists that, given a choice, he would rather be managing his roster than any other, he is making sense on at least one level. The worst that can happen if the Jets lose is that people start lining up for 2010 tickets on Monday morning. The Jets are in a wonderful win-win posture.
And why can’t the Jets win? The Chargers were the hottest of the hot, and the Jets had enough answers on both sides of the ball to send them home – again.
In the micro sense, they mirror the 2005 Steelers, who won Super Bowl XL over Seattle with a young quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger), which many people said couldn’t be done. In the macro sense, are they not eerily reminiscent of the 2001 Patriots, winners of Super Bowl XXXVI?
The Colts cannot possibly be happy seeing the Jets come their way, for they are directly responsible for the Jets’ presence in the playoffs. Had coach Jim
Caldwell chosen to finish the job his team had started in Week 16, when he yanked his starters after the Colts had built a 15-10 third-quarter lead, the
J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets would have been O-U-T, out, out, out of the tournament. But Indianapolis almost deliberately allowed the fox to infiltrate the tournament henhouse, and many people would be chuckling and cackling were the Jets to show thanks for that largesse by beating them in their own dwelling tomorrow afternoon.
Now, the Colts have certainly fooled me. We all know who their MVP is, but was it not a given that safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of
the Year, was 1A in terms of his overall importance to the team? I know I bought into that concept.
Well, the great man has played in just two games this season, none since Week 8. I still believe there is only one Bob Sanders, but the Colts have
compensated for his absence. A relatively young defensive backfield is doing just fine. If you don’t mind, I would like to salute, long after the fact, strong
safety Melvin Bullitt, who never received proper credit in the 617, 508, 978, 857, 781, 774, 351, 339, 413, 860, 203, 603, 207, 802, or 401 area codes for making a superb play on the infamous fourth and 2, sniffing out the play and wrapping up Kevin Faulk to create the iffy, unchallengeable spot that changed the game, and – who knows? – the season.
I still like the Colts in this one, but I don’t love ’em. You know what I mean?
The same goes for the Saints, who got here by playing their best game since the Nov. 30 destruction of the Patriots, but can’t be pronounced as 100 percent offensively cured for what ailed them since their 45-point outburst last week came against the Cardinals, who had also given up 45 the week before to Green Bay. What we can say is that if Reggie Bush is going to play like that every week for the rest of his career, the Saints could go undefeated until such time as “Avatar VI’’ rakes in a trillion dollars on its first weekend.
The NFC game will be an interesting matchup of teams that looked something close to invincible Way Back When, before looking frighteningly mortal at the
end of the season. The Vikings’ story line was established the day they cast aside quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels in favor of the
larger-than-life Brett Favre, who now makes postseason NFL history every time he completes a pass, or takes a snap for that matter. Time is running out on my bold prediction that this latest chapter in his compelling story will end with him throwing a killer interception into a crowd of enemy defenders. I must admit he looked like the 1996 Favre against the woeful Cowboys last week.
Aside to the Pigskin God: Would one good game out of two be too much to ask?”

John Tomase, of The Boston Herald, gave the Red Sox nation an early wake-up when he wrote: “Remember the good old days, when the New York
Yankees threw money at washed up veterans with the frenzy of Connie tossing the china at Carlo in “The Godfather?”
Those days are gone. And if the last two offseasons are any indication, those days may never come back.
This is bad news for the AL East, and particularly bad news for the Red Sox], who have relied on a smarter roster-building approach to keep pace with their filthy-rich neighbors.
But months after regaining their perch atop the baseball universe with a dominating run to World Series title No. 27, the Yankees once again proved that this isn’t Hal Steinbrenner’s father’s team anymore
New York acquired All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers at age 28 to fill one of the team’s most glaring holes on both offense and defense. The Yankees then swung a deal with the Atlanta Braves for right-hander Javier Vazquez, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting after going 16-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts.
Vazquez, incidentally, will be the fourth starter behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in his second stint with the club.
Oh, and the Yankees still have first baseman Mark Teixeira, shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, catcher Jorge Posada and second
baseman Robinson Cano in the lineup – and closer Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.
Feel free to weep.
“Granderson, of course he’s going to make them better,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s the kind of guy that fits into that landscape in New York where he’s going to thrive within that kind of a situation I got to know him a bit during the All-Star Game. This is a wonderful young man. He’s
very bright, very motivated, and I would bet that going to New York under those circumstances is going to bring out the best in him, too.”
Granderson is just the latest example of the sea change that has taken place in New York. Last year it was Sabathia, Teixeira and to a lesser extent Burnett,
three players in their primes (the first two still in their 20s) who could actually project to play their best baseball in New York, as opposed to leaving it behind them.
The offseason was also notable for whom the Yankees did not pursue. Besides a few cursory phone calls, they sat out the Jason Bay free agent sweepstakes,
even though there was once a time they probably would have jumped to steal the left fielder from the Red Sox.
Ditto on left fielder Matt Holliday, right-hander John Lackey and every other high-priced free agent of significance. The Yankees didn’t even re-sign Johnny Damon, in part because of the outfielder’s age, but also because they didn’t feel he was worth a multi-year deal for more than $10 million annually.
Same goes for World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, a designated hitter at the close of his New York tenure.
“They have a couple of things that make life difficult for us,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of the Yankees. “They have a lot of money and they have smart people running what they’re doing. So you have to acknowledge that. They’re not going away.”
Faced with a couple of final holes on the roster, the Yankees didn’t spend wildly. They instead made a Red Sox kind of move and inked on-base machine Nick Johnson as a potential designated hitter.
Johnson, who came up through the Yankees farm system, hasn’t exactly been the picture of health in his career, but he appeared in 133 games for the
Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins last year and hit .291 with a .426 on base percentage. As a one-year, $5.75 million flyer, he’s the perfect kind of low-risk, high-reward signing that the Sox have prided themselves in making during general manager Theo Epstein’s tenure.
Add it all together, and the Yankees have done nothing this offseason but reinforce the fact that they will once again be overwhelming World Series favorites.
“If they go out there next year and play with the same passion and don’t make the mistakes and play the game and execute it like they did (in 2009), they’re
going to be tough again, obviously,” Maddon said. “They’re going to be the team to beat once again.”

I can see Sunday’s game as being a very physical one. The ground game should turnout to be very important to both teams.
Sanchez must play the GAME of his very short career and stay entirely within himself.
I can see Joseph Addai playing a huge role for Indy who are looking to deflate the Jets’ playoff  balloon. Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones, of the Jets, will
have a lot to say about that.
The score won’t be a high one, with neither team reaching the 20-point mark. It might be a 15-14 final.
I’ll pick the winner tomorrow. Right now, as Peter Sellers once said, “I could say yes or no and if I was forced to give you an answer, I could go either way.”

Jim Baumbach, of NY Newsday, wrote about “Little Artie” Donovan. “NFL Hall of Famer Art Donovan earned a spot on the Rolodexes of Johnny Carson
and David Letterman long after his playing days thanks to his always colorful, entertaining and at times outlandish stories.
No wonder he likes Rex Ryan so much.
“He’s not like all these other coaches who are such — where you don’t know what they’re saying,” Donovan, 85, told Newsday in a telephone interview this week. “At least he comes out and says something. I get a kick out of him.”
A prolific defensive tackle with the Baltimore Colts in 1950 and 1953-61, Donovan still lives in the Baltimore area and has owned a country club for decades.
But he won’t be rooting for the Colts Sunday. He dropped his allegiance when they moved out of town in the middle of the night in March 1984. Now he
considers himself a Ravens fan.
Ryan spent 10 years on the Ravens’ staff before he was hired by the Jets. But he didn’t make much of an impact on Donovan. “I guess he didn’t have too
much to say when he was down here,” Donovan said. “But he’s sure making up for time up there in New York.”
Oh, by the way . . . there’s something else Donovan said he likes about Ryan.
His gut.
“I’ll tell you one thing, he’s fatter than I am!” Donovan said, laughing loudly into the phone. “We were watching the game, a couple of us, I said, ‘Damn, he’s going to blow up!”
At Wednesday’s news conference at the Jets’ practice facility in Florham Park, N.J., Ryan poked fun at a story in the New York Post about his weight. “I’m
feeling a little faint. I only had 6,000 of the 7,000 calories I normally eat, so bear with me.”
Donovan, meanwhile, said his own weight reached about 320 pounds at his heaviest. But now he said he is back below 275, which was his playing weight
some 50 years ago.
Speaking of his playing days, Donovan revealed he lied about his age when he broke into professional football and it stuck. Having spent four years in the
military before college, Donovan wanted to get back some lost time. So he did, and the Hall of Fame still thinks he’s 84, when actually he’ 85.
“I was born June the fifth, 1924, but if you see all the books or programs where I was listed, it says I was born in 1925,” he said. “I just told everybody I was born in ’25. But my birth certificate says ’24.”
Public records back up Donovan’s story that he was born in 1924.
“I was stealing a year from Weeb Ewbank,” Donovan said. “That weasel would have cut me a year sooner if he knew I was 40.”
Raised in the Bronx and schooled at Mount St. Michael, Donovan pointed out that he has Long Island ties. He remembered playing Chaminade in high school and spending summers in Long Beach. That was a long time ago, and he knows it.
“In 13 years in football, you know how many push-ups I did? Thirteen. One push-up a year,” Donovan said. “All this — doesn’t make you a better football
player. You have to know how to play the game.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday listed five things the Jets could do to stop Manning. “Rex Ryan said he already asked for and received his Christmas present from
Santa Claus, so he assumes he’ll have to deal with Peyton Manning for the entire game in Sunday’s AFC Championship.
Bart Scott called Manning perhaps the greatest quarterback who ever lived, so he’s figuring on a long day, too.
And Darrelle Revis says he’ll study the tapes more than ever in preparation for the future Hall of Famer.
They all know that if you beat Manning, then you are almost certain to beat the Colts and advance to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise
history. Now the question is how to go about it.
The Jets got a firsthand look at Manning during last month’s 29-15 win over the Colts, but they know they didn’t see the complete version. Manning was
pulled with the Colts, who were 14-0 at the time, ahead 15-10 in the third quarter. The Jets beat up on poor rookie Curtis Painter the rest of the way.
How to stop Manning this time? The five ways it can happen:
1.) One of the big keys to the Jets’ 17-14 upset of the Chargers in Sunday’s divisional round was their unconventional approach at the start of the game
Rather than go right to man-to-man coverage, as they’d been doing all season, Ryan started out in a more conservative “Cover 2” zone. It’s an approach that allows offenses to complete shorter passes but prevents the big play by using two safeties to cover deep throws. But the scheme also confused Philip Rivers and the Chargers, because they weren’t expecting it. That element of surprise might not be there against the Colts, because they’ve studied it on film from last week’s game. But it will give the Jets an opportunity to study how Manning wants to attack the defense, as was the case against Rivers.
2.) Since coming into the league in 1998, Manning has never missed a start. One of the reasons: He gets rid of the ball so quickly, he rarely gets hit. The
Colts’ offensive line has been terrific, allowing only 10 sacks of Manning all season. There’s no reason to think the Jets can get to Manning on a consistent basis, so it’s fine to put more men in coverage and limit the passing game that way. But there will be opportunities to send blitzers, and the Jets need to try it here and there.
Two suggestions: Send Scott up the middle on occasion, and send defensive backs from the edges. Kerry Rhodes had a huge sack and forced fumble against Rivers on Sunday, and there’s no reason that he or Dwight Lowery or Jim Leonhard can’t take the outside route. And if you really want to shake things up?
Send Revis, who hasn’t blitzed all season.
3.) Even if the Jets do start out in a cover 2, they need to keep Revis in the vicinity of Wayne, the Colts’ Pro Bowl receiver. Revis has emerged as the best
cover corner in the NFL, and Wayne is clearly the Colts’ best receiver, so it’s dangerous to risk Wayne going against the Jets’ other corners. On Sunday,
Revis generally remained on the left side of the defensive formation, and thus didn’t shadow San Diego’s top receiver, Vincent Jackson, who flipped sides and went in motion to stay away from Revis. There are times when the Colts like to get Wayne matched up in single coverage on deep “go” routes, but Ryan will be able to accurately predict when those routes occur based on video study. But if Revis is responsible for the shorter routes in a zone coverage, the Jets’ use of “cover 2” will help defend the deep pass.
4.) Use “bracket coverage” involving safety Kerry Rhodes and linebacker David Harris on tight end Dallas Clark. As dangerous a weapon as Wayne is in the Colts’ offense, Clark is equally effective. He has wide receiver-type speed, so he’s a threat not only on shorter patterns, especially “dig” routes where he runs to a spot, turns and gets Manning’s passes on a timing basis, but on longer ones, as well. Clark is expert at running across the middle on intermediate and longer-range passes. The Jets have assigned Rhodes to top-flight tight ends, but he might need a bit more help with Clark. So if the Jets use Rhodes and Harris to bracket Clark by staying on either side of him, it’s an effective coverage tool. Even if Clark catches the passes, having two players in his vicinity will reduce his yards after catch.
5.) Force Manning into second- and third-and-long by clamping down on the run. You might not know it from their record, but the Colts have a problem on offense. It’s the running game, and it has been ineffective for much of the season. That was especially true in Saturday night’s 20-3 win over the Ravens in the divisional playoffs, when Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown totaled 33 yards on 17 carries. That put additional pressure on Manning, who threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, one of which was called back on a penalty. If the Jets, the top-ranked rush defense in the NFL, can play to form against Addai and Brown, it will force Manning into obvious passing situations and limit his effectiveness.
JETS DISMANTLED PEYTON’S COLTS IN 2002
If anyone would know what it takes to beat Peyton Manning and the Colts in the playoffs, it’s Herman Edwards. In 2002, in his second year as Jets coach, the Jets manhandled Indianapolis, 41-0, in a wild-card game at Giants Stadium. Chad Pennington outplayed Manning, who completed 14 of 31 passes for 137 yards with two interceptions.”