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DEAR JON LETTERS
A Boring Way to Win
Why Peyton Manning is Home for the Super Bowl.

by Dear Jon
January 18, 2005

Dear Reader, I spent the week-end watching football because I had no letters over which to agonize a reply. This is a gift article to my fan base. Remember, when I get no letters, I might not write anything. Then what will carry you through your Tuesday mornings?

Most of this article is going to be about football. For those of you in my loyal readership who are not football fans (i.e., the three or so women who actually read the Partial Observer) I will "hook" you by giving you three tips in relationship advice.

1. The second quarter is not a good time for you and your significant other to "talk." In fact, the reason Valentine's Day exists is that, by February 14, football is over, and it gives the man a chance to show you that he is pays attention to you, too.

2. When he asks you to bring him a beer and/or pretzels, it is not because he is a chauvinist jerk who thinks you are his personal servant. Far from it! It is simply that he does not want to miss a play, and you happen to be standing up. Really. That's all. It's like when you see that he happens to be appearing to do nothing, because he is a)watching television (a football game) or b)reading the newspaper, which counts as "nothing" too, so he is obviously available to you to help you lift something heavy from a tall shelf, or move furniture so you can vacuum.

3. If you really are with a guy who treats you well or bad depending on the outcome of a football game, then please, for crying out loud, break it off and find someone else. Most men know how to put sports in perspective. 

Now back to football:

Here are some things I noticed as I watched the second round of the NFL play-offs. I noticed that, whereas the Wild-Card Round featured three upsets by visiting teams the week before, this week the higher-seeded home team won every game.

Three of the games were not even real contests. The best football game went into overtime between the Jets and the Steelers. The story of that game is how the Jets kicker choked on two game-winning tries. I think that story is unfair. Had the ball not bounced off the crossbar, then the story of the game would have been how the rookie quarterback of the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, got tight in the play-offs and choked with two key interceptions. (No one remembers veteran running back Jerome Bettis's fumble either, which ended a touchdown drive deep in Jets territory.) 

If the Jets had won, all the football pundits would be talking about rookie quarterbacks in the play-offs. Now everyone is talking about the Steelers, at 15-1, hosting the Patriots as the top-seeded team in the league. I am starting to wonder if Roethlisberger will EVER lose a game. In my book, the two missed field goals versus the three Steelers turn-overs evened out the breaks in a great football game.

Because I wanted to watch great football, I watched a lot more AFC football than NFC. The Falcons and Eagles did not look as good as the Rams and Vikings looked out-of-place. Scoring a play-off win on the road is such an emotional high for low-seeded teams, it is no wonder that they can close the book on the season. Who is going to blame a team or its coaches for going 8-8, but then advancing to the second round of the play-offs? THe Rams and Vikings were dominated and brushed aside. 

If pundits are referring to the Patriots vs. Steelers match as the "real" Super Bowl, I would not blame them. The two best coaches of the NFL's two best teams are facing each other in the AFC championship. That used to be said ten or more years ago of the NFC, when the Cowboys and the 49ers were the perenniel championship contenders. Andy Reid, coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, will probably get his wish and advance to the Super Bowl, only to discover that getting there is not enough. 

An all Pennsylvania Super Bowl is looking pretty likely right now, except that the Patriots are going to come in knowing how the Steelers beat them head-to-head early in the season. In the mental games between coaches, the pressure is all on the Steeler's Bill Cowher. He is in the unfortunate position of being at home and therefore favored to win, with a rookie quarterback. Billicheck of the Patriots is the defending champion, coming with two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, as the UNDERDOG.

I do not know if anyone believed that New England's undermanned defense would be able to shut down Peyton Manning. But as the sole field goal lingered on the score board as the Patriots rolled, it became clear that super stars do not determine Super Bowls.

Consider that the records Peyton Manning are breaking or chasing are owned by Dan Marino. Marino has one Super Bowl appearance and no victory. Dan Fouts, another great quarterback, never played in the Super Bowl. Great quarterbacks were winning Super Bowls: Joe Montana and Troy Aikman. But they had the help of stars on defense, too. And while Dan Marino spent the final week-ends of January commiserating with relatives, quarterbacks winning Super Bowls were named Phil Simms, Frank Hostettler, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien. Who, you ask? Exactly.

Tom Brady is the most under-rated quarterback in the NFL, the only guy to win two Super Bowls in three seasons without becoming a household name. This is because he plays on the most under-rated Super Bowl dynasty in the NFL. Name a linebacker for the Patriots. Name a wide-receiver. How about their clutch-kicker? And yet these guys have rolled all over the league and are poised to do it again, by facing a rookie quarterback as the underdog.

The difference is they do it quietly. The brassy, obnoxious players are all working for someone else. Terrel Owens and Randy Moss light up the scoreboards and get the blood boiling of broadcasters and commentators all over the league. Will Randy Moss ever play in the big one? Brett Favre is worshipped by football analysts everywhere, but his Super Bowl championship team dates back approximately a million years, to the 1996 season, and it was anchored by Reggie White, the Minister of Defense.

Where are the Patriots jerseys and hats? Where is Tom Brady's cult of worshippers? Can anyone tell me Brett Favre's jersey number? Of course, everyone knows it is 4. Now tell me Brady's.

Right. And I don't have time to look it up.

What I like about the Steelers is the same kind of m.o. this season. A rookie quarterback cannot have won 14 straight games unless the team around him was deep and talented. Just when Randy Moss and Terrel Owens are making us wonder about the state of the league, and just when pundits are scratching their heads wondering why Manning can't go to the Super Bowl all by himself, the Steelers and the Patriots are proving to us that teams, not super stars, get it done.

About the Author:
Dear Jon is waiting for letters.


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