Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hot Stove, Bosox Edition

Drew's deal is finally official; Sox eye deal for Rockies' Helton

The Red Sox have solidified one half of the right side of their diamond and are looking at a deal that could shore up the other half of it.

The long-delayed signing of right fielder J.D. Drew was finally completed yesterday when the Sox and Drew's agent, Scott Borass came to terms on the language necessary to satisfy both parties enough to seal the 5-year, $70 million dollar deal.

Boston had expressed concern over the length of the deal and the fact that they could be paying a man who cannot lift his arm above his shoulder by the final years. Drew has had prior shoulder woes and had holes drilled into the shoulder where cartilage had to be reattached in September of 2005.

Needless to say Boston's brass wanted some insurance that if Drew couldn't fulfill his end of the deal the team could recoup some of the cash they are paying him. Everything got worked out when the parties agreed that Boston could opt out of the deal after 3 years if Drew spends time on the DL for injuries relating to the original surgery anytime during the third season.

Which would then make it Theo's 3-year, $42 million dollar disaster instead of a $70 million dollar dud.

Let's just keep our fingers crossed, RSN, that Drew remains healthy enough to knock in 100 runs, bat .300 and hit 20-25 homers and displays a never-before-seen passion for both the game & his new, hyper-critical home.

While the Drew signing officially took 52 days to complete it looks like a deal for Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton might not take Boston as long to consummate.
The Denver Post is reporting that talks have gotten underway between the two clubs regarding a deal that would send 3B Mike Lowell and Human Gas Can Julian Tavarez from Lans-downe St. to the corner of 20th & Blake for 3-time Gold Glove winner Helton. Sticking points in the deal revolve around the fact that the Rockies want the Sox to throw in young hurlers Matt-apan Manny Delcarmen and/or potential closer Craig Hanson. That's when the Sox said "uh-uh."

Helton was one of the premiere slugging and fielding first basemen in the game when Colorado inked him to a massive 9-year, $141 million dollar deal in 2001. The 5-time All Star has a career .333 batting average, currently the best among active players, and is the cornerstone of the Rockies franchise. The team knows it will suffer a significant backlash for trading away such an team icon but ownership realizes that a crappy team + aging player that will account for 33% of the entire payroll next season= bad business model.

If the package can be worked out Boston would be on the hook for another injury-prone, expensive player for the right side of their field, along with Drew. Helton has been plagued by back issues for a few years now and was sidelined last year for 14 games due to a mysterious stomach ailment. His numbers fell well off his career averages when he hit .301 with only 15 homers with 81 RBIs; from 1999-2004 Helton averaged 36 homers and 121 RBIs while batting

Losing Lowell would be a blow to the Sox, but not one they couldn't overcome. Acquired as an albatross contract weighing down the Josh Beckett deal Lowell turned in a stellar season (.284, 20 HRs, 47 2Bs, 80 RBIs) for Boston and quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his hustle, sparkling fielding & clutch hitting and likable demeanor. But his age and potential drop off in production make him a piece that Boston can wield in deals where a team is looking for a solid veteran third baseman. Plus then they can just move Youk back to third where, although he played quite admirably at first last year, I believe he is better suited.

It will be interesting to see if the Sox do pull off this deal what the reaction will be compared to the Drew deal. Helton is still owed $90 million for 6 years and even if Colorado picks up half of that, as has been speculated the would have to do in order to facilitate a deal, if he doesn't produce will the fans cut him more slack because he is perceived as a gritty, "dirt dog"-type as opposed to Drew's laid-back surfer style?

What I know is that Helton would immediately solidify a position that has been a black hole for Boston since Big Mo left to go slide down the dugout steps in Anaheim. In his prime Helton had the glove of JT Snow and the bat of Jim Thome. Even if he is less than 100% he is still leagues better than the stiffs (Brian Daubach, Kevin Millar, Mike Stanley, and Tony Clark ) who have manned the position since 1998. Is his health a factor, like Drew's? Yes. But the Sox have proved they are willing to roll the "Dice" (pun intended) in order to erase the memories of last season.

One thing is for sure- with Drew, Matsuzaka, Lugo, Joel Pinero, JC Romero, and possibly Helton this team looks a whole lot different than the disappointing 3rd place club from 2006.

20 days until pitchers & catchers report.


Making peace with Ryan Nece

Contrary to how this picture looks I do not have 3 chins

Sorry I've been gone so lone, I have been busy hobnobbing with another member of Tampa Bay athletic community.

You may remember back in December when I attended my wife's Christmas party I was thrilled to be able to hang with a baseball legend, Tampa's own Crime Dog Fred McGriff. You may also recall that I was pissed because it was the first party in a decade I didn't bring a camera because my shitty old camera was on its last legs.

Last night my wife's company had another party, this time for the ad sales execs (you know, the ones that rake in all the dough for BrightHouse Nets) and luckily Santa brought me a new Canon A540 because the guest speaker was Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Ryan Nece.

Ryan is a 5th-year vet out of UCLA who was better known for being the son of NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott but has made himself into an indispensable part of the Bucs formidable linebacking corps alongside Mr. Derrick Brooks.

Unfortunately, Ryan was seated behind a table signing autographs and accommodating pictures so this did not allow me to go over the intricacies of the Tampa Cover 2 defense with him, ask him for some inside stories from the Super Bowl, or discuss how much I love to watch his dad, former 49er great Ronnie Lott, tear players' heads off every Sunday throughout the 1980s.
No, Ryan was not indicating how many wins the Bucs will have next season
Still, he was very cordial and affable and he was more than willing to pose for pictures; not surprisingly, he admitted he enjoyed posing with the ladies rather than the likes of me.

I'm not sure who enjoyed this pic more, my wife & Kimmy or Ryan.

After the cocktail hour Ryan got on stage (not sure how much BrightHouse paid him for this appearance but it was worth it) and gave a heartfelt speech about the importance of teamwork, togetherness, and desire to succeed that makes for a productive team. Candidly, he admitted that last year's putrid Yucs team seemed to lack all of these traits, which is what led them to a disastrous 4-12 season.

He also got a good laugh from the audience when he talked about football players' penchant for patting each other on the ass when they make a good play. Once again with candor, he admitted that it's merely because they like to "pat each other on the tush," nothing more nothing less. Hmm.

I just want to close by thanking Brighthouse and everyone responsible for the event for providing a very pleasurable evening with excellent food, pricey drinks, decent music and the opportunity to meet an NFL player.
Plus I got to shake hands with a man who has touched the tushes of most of the players in the National Football league.

So, I got that going for me.

As a footnote to this story, I was watching Tampa Bay's annual Gasparilla Day parade and who did I spot atop the Buccaneer float?

None other than the tushie toucher himself.

This guy really gets around.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia
Rated: R
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson,
Hilary Swank, Mia Kirschner
Directed by; Brian De Palma
Run time: 2 hours
The 1947 Black Dahlia murder is many things: tragic, gruesome, puzzling, unthinkable, sad and unsolved.

Unfortunately, this wretched movie doesn't adequately cover any of those aspects or shed any new light on the puzzling murder, dismemberment, and subsequent sensational media coverage of Ms. Elizabeth "Betty" Short. In fact, the crime is barely touched upon in this laughable piece of claptrap from blowhard director De Palma.

The film is based on the James Ellroy (LA Confidential) novel and deals with two detectives who worked the Dahlia case, along with many others in LA during that period. Officer Dwight " Bucky" Bleichart (Hartnett, Lucky # Slevin) and Sgt. Lee Blanchard (Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking) are a pair of former world class boxers who went by the name "Fire & Ice" in their pugilistic hey-days and now fight crime together for the LAPD.

Back up a minute. Do you see what's wrong from the start?

The main character is a pretty-boy named Bucky with an Alfalfa hairdo who used to be a boxer and is now a cop. His former partner-in-punching is now his superior at the depart-ment and the two of them had a nickname that makes the Ricky Bobby "Shake & Bake" catchphrase seem genius by comparison.

Okay, I thought, I'm going to try to get past this foolishness and give the film a chance. However, about 6:00 in and just after some of the fellas in the precinct threw the term "Jew boys" around a couple of times, I was about to give up for good; the next scene depicted Bucky's crazy, Nazi-loving father shooting pigeons outside his window with an old handgun. Wow...

Pressing on we learn that Lee has a girlfriend who just happens to be a voluptuous blond named Kay Lake (Johansson, Match Point), and the two live together in a posh apartment bought with stashed away "fight money." From the minute Bucky locks eyes with the sultry Kay there is absolutely no doubt the two will hook up, it's just a matter of when, how, and what will be the consequence? There is absolutely no drama there.
(gratuitous Scarlett photo )

By the twenty minute mark, there has yet to be even a mention of the Dahlia case. Plenty of nonsense about a child rapist on the loose who Bucky is hell-bent on bringing to justice, and another man set to get out of jail soon who has a connection to Kay that is inconsequential to the plot but nothing related to the infamous murder.

Finally, twenty five minutes into this thing, the title character rears her severed head, incidentally discovered after Bucky & Lee are involved in a shootout. In a small lot behind the scene of the gunfight, we see the dissected body of Betty Short, blood drained from her corpse and mouth carved into a rictus grin. At last, the heart of the tale will take over and we will be swept up in the fury surrounding one of the most notorious murder cases of the era.


What we get instead is a tepid love triangle between Bucky, Lee, and Kay. Lee descends into madness over his obsession with the Dahlia case. Yawn. We hardly see him actually investi-gating the case, but we are to believe it is so harrowing to him that he is losing sleep over it and becoming abusive to poor Kay. Kay responds by coming on to Bucky, but he can't bring himself to betray his partner--yet. As a way to get his mind off of Kay's advances, Bucky hooks up with a society girl who may have a connection to Betty. Madeline Linscott (Swank, Million Dollar Baby) is the daughter of a wealthy businessman hiding the fact that she has a taste for the other side of the fence as far as partners go. When Bucky learns she may have had a relationship with Short in the weeks prior to her death, he beds her in order to get to the truth. Or, something like that.

To say it's hard to picture Swank, who previously has been known for her roles as a 'man' (Boys Don't Cry) and a tomboy boxer (MDB), as a sexy swinging socialite was a bit of a stretch to say the least. But, no more of a stretch than hearing Gen -Y starlet Hartnett attempt to use a gravelly voice while uttering phrases like, " I'm saving myself for Rita Hayworth." Ugh.

Bucky and Maddie soon jump in the sack and Bucky starts to piece together clues gleaned from Maddie about Short's supposed involvement in the underground porn scene. This allows De Pervert to show some black & white footage of Short (Kirschner, The L Word) and another woman partaking in acts involving leather straps and sex toys. The whole seedy storyline had the feel of a bad retro- L Word, and it was unfortunate that the only way we got to know the victim was through desperation-laden audition tapes. Even sadder when you realize that there has never been any evidence to substantiate the claims that Short was ever a prostitute or porn actress-it's just an excuse for De Palma to juice up this ridiculous movie of the weak.

By now, I get the gist that this film is no more about the murder of Betty Short than Spike Lee's Summer of Sam was about the Son of Sam killings; the murder is merely a vehicle to carry us through the lives of people who have tangential relationships to the famous slayings. But, where SOS captured the anxiety, fear, and atmosphere of the era it was portraying, Dahlia always feels like it's just a bunch of actors going through the motions on a Hollywood sound stage.

To sum this mess up, it turns out that Madeline's eccentric family had something to do with Short's murder but it is never plausibly explained why. Bucky & Kay's hookup had all the steam of a lukewarm cup of tea, and all the other plot developments were met with either a yawn or a "who cares?"

Bottom line is this film failed to accomplish much of anything except to serve as resume padding for the actors and for a former great director to get his rocks off by further tarnishing the image of the pitiful victim in this gruesome crime. It basically had nothing to do with the actual crime itself and everything to do with a bunch of sad sack losers who nobody gives two shits about when all is said & done.

How bad was it? I neglected to mention the ridiculous spon-taneous earthquake, Bucky's tooth being knocked out onto a table during a bout, the overly melodramatic music, painfully bad dialogue, and worst but not least, a cameo by KD Lang as a singer in a lesbian nightclub.

In one painful piece of dialogue Maddie says to Bucky " I think you'd rather f**k me than kill me, but I don't think you have the guts to do either."

Well, Mr. De Palma, to paraphrase Ms. Maddie I think you tried to f**k us rather than make a good movie, and you certainly accomplished one part of that equation.


Oh yeah, I almost forgot...

..the NHL All Star Game is tonight!

No shit, I hadn't even realized the season had started and it's already at the midway point.

Don't laugh, you know you had no idea either.

I guess I've been so caught up with Bowl season, NFL playoffs and awards shows/nominations that I forgot the NHL was even back in action after its laughably debilitating work stoppage.

How far has the sport fallen since that ill-fated strike of 2004-05? The marquee event showcasing the league's talent is being held on a Wednesday night on a lowly cable channel called Versus, form-erly known as the Nashville Network and Spike TV, and Outdoor Life Network.

I'm not making this up.

The league announced the unveiling of new uniforms the other day and it barely registered as a blip in the sports universe. Had the NFL tried this ESPN would have devoted an hour-long special to the news. My knowledge of players in the NHL right now consists of Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, and wunderkids Alex-ander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. That's it.

Does anyone else play?

If that's not bad enough I barely remembered the NBA season was underway until the MSG brawl & Iverson trade.

How bad are things in David Stern's league? A marquee player accused his wife of spousal abuse; another Atlanta player was fined for pulling a "Vick" on the fans while a ref was reprimanded for hurling ob-scenities at a fan; MJ's former bitch threw a cake at a bystander; and not just one but two star players were punished for attempt-ing to throw punches last week.

Oh yeah, a bunch of superstars are hurt (Wade, Shaq, Jeffer-son, Pierce, Chris Paul, Yao, Rashard Lewis) and last year's draft hasn't exactly produced a bumper crop of future league MVPs, has it ?

Plus the commish decided to switch back to the old ball after players complained of the new ball just as players were getting used to the new ball.

And they wonder why they have an image problem?

BTW, has college hoops started yet? I have yet to see a highlight of a superstar Player of the Year candidate or a lock Final 4 team.

Okay so I lied a little on that last one. I saw the highlights of that 3-OT Texas/Ok St thriller last week (wish I had caught the game), and I realize that the Longhorns' Kevin Durant and Ohio State's giant shot blocker Greg Oden are dominant forces in their first (and only) seasons on campus. I also saw where Boston College coach Al Skinner had the balls to toss his team's postseason aspirations right out the window...

...but where have all the good stories gone? Duke is reloading (they've got a kiddie corps going on in Durham) so everyone doesn't hate them enough, Redick is gone so Public Enemy # 1 has left the sport, the Gators returned all 5 starters from the National Championship team and are about as exciting as an episode of "Hogan Knows Best" and there is not one clear-cut unbeat-able team in all the land.

So where am I going with all this? Merely pointing out that foot-ball, both college and pro, and baseball are the only two sports that matter anymore, and if I were to pick a distant third it would probably be auto racing/NASCAR.

Now that my Pats have been knocked out and my football season has officially ended all I can say is:

35 days until the first spring training game.

That's my state of the sports nation. Thank You all.

I'm going to check out the skills competition.

If I can locate Versus on my cable dial.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar Nominations: Selections, Surprises & Snubs

The nominees for the 79th edition of the Academy Awards were announced this morning. As usual, there were enough shoo-ins and surprises to fill the entire blogosphere for the next month. Since I'm still suffering from post-traumatic stress from the Pats' loss, I am going to immerse myself in Oscar minutea for a while.

Leading the way with 8 nominations is the musical Dreamgirls. The semi-biographical story of the rise and fall of the Motown group, The Supremes, and based on the long-running Broadway play scored noms for Supporting Actor (Golden Globe winner Eddie Murphy), Supporting Actress (Globes winner Jennifer Hudson), Art Direction, Costume Design and 3 for Best Song but shockingly, not one for Best Director (Bill Condon) nor Best Picture. Hmmmmm.

The next big story is the success of the slightly-seen drama Babel, which rode the wave of its Golden Globe win for Best Drama to a second-best 7 noms including Picture, Director (for the extremely talented Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) and Original Screenplay. Pretty impressive, considering the film has been seen by approximately 4,000 people worldwide.
But the biggest shocker of all...

Marky Mark has been nominated for an Academy Award!

No word on if he would accept his statue in the guise of Dirk Diggler.

Here's a rundown of all the major categories with my take on each. Mind you, I have not personally seen any of these films; yet, in fact, the closest I've come is my wife saw Dreamgirls the other night. These are my thoughts based on observations, not reviews of the film themselves. By the time the awards roll around, I will have seen many of the nominees except for Dreamgirls- I don't do musicals unless it's a hilarious episode of Scrubs.

Best Picture:
-Little Miss Sunshine
-Letters From Iwo Jima
-The Departed
-The Queen

Babel has now gone from dark horse contender to possibly the next Funny Cide, that is a strong candidate to upset the apparent front runner, Empire Maker, err The Departed.

Little Miss Sunshine is the big shock here, as the little Sundance darling that could grabbed a total of 4 noms. Another mild surprise is Clint Eastwood's Letters..., the Japanese-language companion to Flags of Our Fathers, eking out a selection.

Dreamgirls. A leading 8 noms but none here is a curious omission to say the least, especially with the huge cast, noted director and recent Best Picture noms for musicals Chicago and Moulin Rouge.

Best Actor:
-Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
-Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
-Peter O'Toole, Venus
-Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland
-Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness

Whitaker won the Globe for his spot-on portrayal of dictator Idi Amin and is the strong front-runner for the Oscar as well; the likable actor should score the win on his first nomination.

DiCaprio was selected for the critically-acclaimed Blood Diamond and not his role in the higher profile Departed. That's the risk when you get nominated in 2 films and the Academy can only select one performance. His nomination for Diamond virtually ensures he won't win, solidifying my new moniker for him: Di-Can't-win-o.

You have to look at Sasha Baron Cohen for Borat, but everyone knew he would never get nominated for fear of another risque acceptance speech by the raunchy comedian. Many are saying Hugh Wolverine Jackman should have been rewarded for his work in the period romance The Fountain. I agreed with the fact that Edward Norton's entrancing portrayal of The Illusionist was mentioned on a few snubbed lists.

Best Actress:
-Helen Mirren, The Queen
-Penelope Cruz, Volver
-Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
-Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada
-Kate Winslet, Little Children

Mirren scored the Globe for her uncanny portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II dealing with the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, and the supremely talent Brit is the odds-on favorite here also. Record-setting nominee Streep (this is her 14th nod) could be a sentimental pick but don't bet on it.

The Spanish beauty Cruz, not necessarily known for her acting chops, secured her first nom for her searing portrait of a grief-stricken Spanish wife & mother in Pedro Almodovar's Best Foreign film nominee, Volver.

Most glaring would be Annette Benning's wild performance as writer Augusten Burrough's neurotic mom in Running with Scissors. Sorry Naomi Watts, nobody saw The Painted Veil.

Best Director:
-Martin Scorsese, The Departed
-Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
-Paul Greengrass, United 93
-Stephen Frears, The Queen
-Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel

Scorsese has got to be feeling like perennial Daytime Emmy bridesmaid Susan Lucci. The brilliant little director has been nominated 5 times in this category (Aviator, Gangs of New York, Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Raging Bull) but has yet to score a statue. The 6th time should be the charm, though, with The Departed boasting top-notch acting, critical acclaim as well as mass appeal ($125 mil+ box office.)

Greengrass snuck in for his compassionate handling of what might have happened on that fateful 9/11 flight although his film only garnered one other nom, for Best Editing.

Condon for Dreamgirls would be the biggest omission here if not for the fact that the film didn't even get a Best Picture nom; so many believe Almodovar for Volver was the most snub-worthy. Forget about the husband-wife duo of Johnathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine)- the Academy frowns upon pairs.

Best Supporting Actor:
-Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
-Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
-Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
-Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
-Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children

Murphy took home the Globe for his heartfelt performance as a conflicted singer and will be a sentimental choice to win here. Will the Academy look past his raunchy & goofy past performances, notorious surly demeanor, and run-ins with transvestite prostitutes and Scary Spice? If not, look for 2-time nominee Hounsou to score his first win.

Has to be everyone's favorite former rapping underwear model, Wahlberg. I still remember when this guy was nothing but a punk wannabe tooling around in my hometown (he grew up in the town next door to mine just south of Boston) in his convertible Mercedes thinking his shit didn't stink. I guess he's got a reason to think that now. It's just hard to believe that the guy who portrayed a porn star (Boogie Nights), rock star (Rock Star), and sports star (Invincible) is now up for a golden statue; only in America!

Two biggies here: Brad Pitt for Babel and Jack Nicholson for The Departed. Although Babel is a multi-faceted, multi-character study, many believe that pretty boy Pitt's portrayal of a panic-stricken American on foreign soil was a career-defining performance; too much third world glad handing for the Academy's liking? Nicholson seemed to be a lock for a nod here, but perhaps the Academy is growing tired of Jack's penchant for overacting and omnipresent sunglass-clad mug.

Many thought Ben Affleck should have been rewarded for his role as troubled actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland; I say c'mon- Affleck & Wahlberg being nominated in the same year? That's like the Sox winning the World Series- a once in a lifetime event.

Best Supporting Actress:
-Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
-Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
-Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
-Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
-Adrian Barraza, Babel

Hudson took home the Globe and would have to be considered the front runner right now, but don't be surprised if she experiences a 'she was a loser on American Karaoke just a few years ago, we can't give this to her' factor. Plus, Beyonce's psycho dad will go to any length to prevent her from winning.
So look for either the always excellent Blanchett or Kikuchi to sneak in. Personally, I hope it's Rinko- I just really enjoy saying her name, "rinkokikuchi,rinkokikuchi,rinkokikuchirinko..."

That would have to go to Breslin, who at 10 becomes the 4th youngest actor to be nominated. If Little Miss Sunshine herself were to win, she would be the second-youngest golden statue winner, trailing Tatum O'Neal by a few months.

Vera Farmiga, The Departed. Just for putting up with and competing against that male-dominated, testosterone-tinted tale should have earned this Jersey girl a nom.

Other notable nominees include the Spanish-language horror/fantasy Pan's Labyrinth which scored a surprising 6 noms including Best Foreign film (I am going to see that one this weekend -it finally opened here). A well-deserved nom for the luscious cinematography of The Illusionist and Borat scoring an Adapted Screenplay nom even though Cohen has admitted that most of the film was improvised. Three noms for the critical darling Children of Men (cinematography, editing, original screenplay) but none in major categories, perhaps due to the bleak-but-chilling film's late release date.

As for watching the nominated films here is a rundown of how, when, and where you can see them before the ceremony on February 25th.

In theaters now:
-Pan's Labyrinth
-The Queen
-Last King of Scotland
-Letters from Iwo Jima
-Children of Men
-Pursuit of Happyness
-Blood Diamond

On video now:
-Little Miss Sunshine
-Devil Wears Prada
-United 93

Coming to video:
-Flags of our Fathers (Feb 6)
-Running with Scissors (Feb 6)
-Hollywoodland (Feb 6)
-Half Nelson (Feb 13)
-The Departed (Feb 13)
-Babel (Feb 20)

For more Oscar stuff some good sites to get the full stories can be found here, here and here.


Monday, January 22, 2007

NFC Championship: Bears 39, Saints 14

The Saints march back to New Orleans with nothing to be ashamed of despite the 25 point ass-kicking administered by the Bears yesterday.

From 3-13 to the NFC Championship Game in one year. From road warriors to winning a home playoff game. From the nation's vagabonds to America's Team. This Saints team did so much for so many people in such a short period of time than hundreds of millions of uncharted federal funds could in a decade.

That being said they really laid an enormous stink bomb on the slippery turf of Soldier Field.

How bad were the Saints? Let me count the ways:

4- the number of turnovers the Saints committed (3 fumbles, 1 INT), also the number of fumbles they had (they recovered one.) Drew Brees fumbled twice, recovering one, while Marques Colston & kick returner Michael Lewis fumbled as well. What's the old saying? Repeat after me folks: YOU CAN'T WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS IF YOU GIVE THE BALL AWAY.

196- the amount of rushing yards allowed by New Orleans. Thomas Jones gashed them for 123 yards on just 19 carries (6.5 YPC) and two scores and Cedric Benson bludgeoned them for 60 yards on 24 attempts and a score. Jones had an incredible 1-man drive where he carried all 8 times for all 69 yards ending in his 2-yard touchdown.

56- number of rushing yards the Saints had after gaining 208 yards on the ground last week against the Eagles. Deuce McAllister had 143 yards on 21 carries in that game; yesterday he was held to 18 yards on 6 carries. Can you say "stop the run", anyone?

14 + 1- the number of touches Reggie Bush had (7 receptions, 4 rushes, 3 punt returns) plus the number of idiotic, immature, foolish, egotistical, and unnecessary taunts he turned in. Reg, we know you have talent and we know it gets frustrating when it takes you 10, 15, or 20 plays to rip off a big gain in the NFL where in college it only took 3 or 4, but listen up kid: when you are losing on the scoreboard you do not show up the other team with a child-like taunt that can only serve the purpose of firing the other team up and making yourself look bad. Even if you just made an awesome 88-yard catch and score.
"Go ahead, taunt me again Bush and I'll slam the friggin' Halas trophy over your puny head"

0-10- that's the record of the last 10 dome teams to go on the road outdoors in a Championship game. The weather definitely played a factor in this game no matter what anybody says. The field was like a Slip-n-Slide from the start and only got worse as the snow fell. Freezing temps and blustery conditions do not favor an indoor club no matter how much it practices outside and the Saints inability to hold onto the rock was a direct result of the weather.

All of that added up to one lousy game for the boys from the bayou.
Things started off badly but could have been worse for New Orleans. Despite three first quarter fumbles and a complete inability to move the ball the Saints were down only 16-0 as halftime approached thanks to Chicago's inability to put the ball in the end zone; despite several long drives Jones' 69-yard solo effort was the only time the Bears could muster more than a field goal.

When New Orleans put a touchdown on the board before the half it was a confidence booster for the team and rookie receiver Marques Colston especially. Colston was responsible for one fumble and numerous drops and slips in the half but made a spectacular grab over the middle for 29 yards in which he caught the ball by reaching around linebacker Brian Urlacher and then capped the 3-yard drive with a 13-yard TD reception on a pretty slant play.

That score cut the lead to 16-7 at the half and gave the Saints, and the rest of America discounting the Windy City and legions of Bears fans worldwide, new hope. It seemed as if the Bears were throttling the Saints into the mushy turf, yet here they were only down 9 with a whole half to go. Hmmmm.

That hope turned into cockiness shortly after halftime when Bush caught a fly ball from Brees about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage and raced 88 yards to the end zone, juking & sidestepping tacklers along the way and then waving at a pursuing Urlacher from about the 20 and culminating his romp with a somersault into the end zone and a little dance. Way to act like you been there, dude (note to Reggie: NEVER taunt Brian Urlacher. Ever.)

The breathtaking touchdown and extracurricular ending (which should have drawn a taunting flag but didn't- if that wasn't taunting there is no such thing) drew the Saints to within 2 at 16-14 and drew the ire of the crowd as it appeared as though the late season sputtering of Chicago's defense was rearing its ugly head again.

Little did anyone know that would be the last points the high-powered Saints would score as the Bears D, perhaps inspired by Mr. Bush's little antics, would go on to stifle any and every New Orleans drive for the rest of the day amidst the blowing flurries inside the old stadium by the lake.

But Chicago wasn't done scoring-not by a long shot. As if Bush's taunts awoke a hibernating beast the Bears tacked on a safety (the first in Championship game history) when Brees was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, then scored three touchdowns in the 4th quarter on a 33-yard reception by Bernard Big Play Berrian, a 12-yard run from Benson and Jones capping the scoring with a 15-yard score shortly after the Saints failed on a 4th & 13 from their 30.
See Reggie, we can taunt, too. And we're actually winning

Lights out, party's over, clean up the mess on your way out.

So the Saints miraculous, karma-fueled and nationally supported run to immortality came to a sobering halt on the field in Chicago. The team that meant so much more than wins and losses to a region was stopped short of reaching their ultimate goal.

But they entertained plenty of people along the way.

As for Chicago they are one step away from wiping the mantra of "the '85 Bears were the best team ever" off the lips of millions of Bears fans from Lake Charles to Lake Okeechobee. Rex Grossman is going to the Super Bowl with a chance to throw the critics off his back once and for all- hold on a second, REX FREAKING GROSSMAN IS GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL????!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!!

Sorry, just realized the enormity of that statement. The Year of the Gator continues.

Where was I, oh yeah, the big game features the first match up of African American coaches in a Super Bowl history with Tony Dungy taking on former protege Lovie Smith. The fact that the coaches just happen to be best friends and former members of the Yuccaneer coaching staff makes it all the sweeter for having waited so long for this day to come, and not even a week after MLK Day.
Redemption song indeed.

I want to say congrats to my good friends & Bear fans Doug & Melissa (and their cub, Henry), Walleye and Bob & Barb's family in Chicago, Gene & Jake and most of all Barb, who knew all along that the power of Chicago Bob's memory has been guiding this team from the start.

Good luck guys, and may the force of Bubba be with you.


Here's some big NFL news...

What do these guys have in common? Both left the game this weekend, neither for good.

It's amazing to me that all day today the news coverage has not been about the Colts knocking off the Pats or the Bears making it back to the Super Bowl for the first time in over 20 years but instead focused on the "earth-shattering" news that Bill Parcells has "retired" yet again.

This just in: Larry Brown likes to move around.

Whoopie. Parcells has "retired" more than Michael Jordan. His "retirements" are about as permanent as Lindsay Lohan's sobriety. There has literally been hours of TV & radio coverage as well as scads of Internet articles regarding the Tuna's most recent "retirement", with a smattering of Championship & Super Bowl Sunday coverage thrown in as an afterthought for a guy who has already pulled this stunt 3 other times. Wake up people-this is not BIG news. A blurb maybe, but wall-to-wall coverage? No way.

Breaking news: Terell Owens is a jackass

I'm sorry, I don't get it. This is a coach whore swore up and down to the Patroit's brass that he was done with coaching and then took a job with the jets 8 days later. He then "retired" again 4 years later. Why is it so surprising that he would "retire" from Dallas where the owner brought in players Parcells didn't want (hello T.O.) and he was forced to use a quarterback he didn't want who ended up making one of the biggest playoff choke plays in history. Plus he's 65 and can't relate to these prima dona athletes who don't want to listen to his stories anymore (hello T.O.) It was time for him to "retire" again.

This way next year when some coaching jobs open up Tuna can battle it out with fellow "retiree" Bill Cowher to play the "who can get the biggest contract & most power to come back and rebuild a team" game.

And this is big news?

I'm going to watch Prison Break and get away from the reality of pro sports at the moment.

Stop the presses: Donald Trump has bad hair.


AFC Championship: Colts 38, Pats 34

The day after.

The aftermath of the Pats devastating, emotional, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, humiliating, mind-boggling, disheartening, unfathomable and incredible loss to the Colts has felt like a slow & painful death for Pats fans.

It feels like being poisoned. At the end of game last night, when Tom Terrific threw the interception to Indy's Marlin Don't Call Me Tito Jackson which sealed the Colts biggest win since the Mayflower vans left Baltimore, I thought I had been hit with a poison dart- my immediate reaction was numbness, shock and confusion mixed with a healthy dose of dull pain.

The next day it's as if the lethal toxin has spread throughout my body, causing me to feel nauseous, irate, weak and dizzy. My brain is frazzled and my extremities are useless. There is a sharp pain in my head and a sick feeling in my gut. "Has this really happened? Did the Colts really perform an exorcism on the demons from New England that have haunted them for all these years, and was it the presence of shaman Adam Vinateri that finally turned the tide away from the East Coast conquerors and towards the team from middle America?"

I know I have to review the game before I can spew bile-filled comments about it so I will attempt to put a coherent summary together before my brain is completely overrun with hysteria.

The game started out the way any red white & blue Pats fan would want it to. On New England's second drive they went 75 yards in 8 plays highlighted by a 35-yard run by Corey Dillon on 4th & 1 from the Colts 48 (Brilliant Call # 1) and capped with a wacky, lucky touchdown that made it feel like the football gods were shining on our team once again. Brady handed off to Lawrence no show Maroney (8 rushes, 13 yards) who fumbled the exchange just before the goal line. Three or four Colts players surrounded the ball but somehow it squirted out of that circle of humanity and was pounced on by guard Logan Mankins in the end zone for a miraculous touchdown; 7-0 New England and it was just get started.

Manning & Co. countered with a long 14-play 53-yard drive that fell short of the end zone thanks to a holding call on the Colts at the Pats 26. Old friend Adam Vinateri kept his streak alive of never having missed a kick in this arena by nailing a 42-yarder to slice the lead to 7-3, and New England's infamous "bend-but-don't-break" defense held true.

The second quarter would bring so much joy to Pats fans that we could hardly contain our giddiness. As the quarter opened New England was already mounting a 72-yard drive that began at the end of the first quarter and featured a 27-yard pass from Brady to Troy Mr. Clutch Brown on 4th & 6 from the Colts 34 (Brilliant Call #2) that set up Dillon's 7-yard touchdown scamper and the lead was 14-3 before Indy even knew what hit 'em.

If that wasn't bad enough for the 56,000+ yokels that packed the stadium what happened next just about brought tears to their eyes. After a three yard run by Dominic Rhodes put the Colts at their own 31 yard line manning threw an ill-advised pass to the right sideline intended for Marvin Harrison. Unfortunately for Indy Assante I shoulda been in the Pro Bowl Samuel jumped the route and picked Manning off, returned it the 31 yards for the score and sent the legions of Patriot fans into a "this is too good to be true" tizzy. It was now 21-3 New England just 5:00 minutes before halftime and you got the feeling that the folks back home were already planning the team's itinerary for Miami.

So even when Indy mounted its best drive of the game, marching 80 yards on 15 plays in just under three minutes and tacking on a 26-yard Vinateri field goal to cut their deficit to 21-6 at the half, no one on New England's side really batted an eye, least of all thought that drive would spell the beginning of the end of the good times for the Pats.

Soon after the second half started everyone would realize that the way the game began was not the way it was going to end. The Colts received the opening kick and promptly embarked on a monstrous 14 play, 76-yard endeavor that chewed up the first 7:00 minutes of the 3rd quarter and culminated with a 1-yard TD run by Manning. The drive featured a long play of 12 yards and it was that Chinese water torture style of offense that started to eat a hole in the Patriots stoic defense. That score cut the deficit to a workable 21-13 and the Patriot fans started adjusting seating positions in an effort to squelch the queasy feeling growing in our bellies.

That feeling would grow to a full-fledged salmonella scare after a quick 3 & out by Brady & the offense. Then CBS put up a graphic showing that the Colts have run 29 of the last 30 plays spanning the halves and Solomon Wilcots (where did they dig this guy up from?) reports that the Patriot sideline is starting to resemble a scene from "Grey's Anatomy"- contusions, sprains, cramps, dehydration & a gale force of sucking wind.

As all of this is going on Manning goes right back to work on that beleaguered defense, orchestrating another 76-yard drive, this time aided by 2 costly New England penalties an, offsides on Richard Seymour on 3rd & 5 from the 27 that gave Indy a first down and a pass interference on Ellis Hobbs, who played the game of his life, for face guarding Harrison in the corner of the end zone that set up 1st & goal from the one.

This was the part that really stung the most for New England players, coaches, and fans: Dungy & the Colts used a play straight from the Hooded Genius' playbook to tie the game and swing the momentum fully over to Indy's side. Manning took the hand off and everyone thought the play was going to be a run up the middle. But Manning rolled out and threw to a wide open man on the left flat who cruised into the end zone for the touchdown that sent the whole;e state of Indiana into a frenzy and the Patriot Nation into a state of shock.

The player who waltzed in with the score that broke the Patriots' back? Defensive tackle and former Patriot Dan Klecko. Ouch.

Manning completed the 18-point comeback with a 2-point conversion to Harrison and the game was tied at 21, yet it felt like the Pats had already lost something. I think it was their impenetrable aura of playoff invincibility, but I'm not sure.

From here things just got worse, and that sickening feeling growing inside my stomach was turning into a full blown Norovirus. The Pats would tease us into thinking they were going to pull this one out somehow, just like they did in San Diego last week despite the odds being stacked against them, but it wouldn't last. The brief hope was provided courtesy of an 80-yard return on the ensuing kick by Hobbs which quickly gave New England the ball at the Indy 21. Five plays later, including a wide open drop in the end zone by Reche slippery fingers Caldwell, Brady hit the other Gator Jabbar Gaffney on the back end line for a great grab as he was shoved out of bounds. After further review the call stood and New England briefly regained their composure & swagger, holding a tentative 28-21 lead entering the final quarter.

It was that final quarter that will go down as this team's Waterloo, the 15 minutes that deconstructed the Patriot myth and exposed the Team of the Decade to be the second best team on the field this night. Of course after the go-ahead score Manning immediately marched his troops down the field, slicing and dicing the exhausted Pats D for another 67 yards in a mere 3 minutes and tying the game on what would prove to be the most unbelievable of all the crazy touchdowns scored on the day.

Rhodes took the hand off from the 2 and barrelled forward towards the goal line but had the ball knocked out of his grip by a ballistic Patriot helmet. The ball dropped down and was recovered by center Jeff Saturday for another touchdown by a lineman, the third of the game, and it was like an "anything you can do we can do better" type of score. This mad dash to the finish line was knotted at 28 and it definitely looked like whoever had the ball last would have the chance to win this game.

Things looked good for New England when a 15-yard return coupled with a face mask penalty on Indy gave the Pats the ball at the Colts 43 but a costly penalty, an illegal shift on Gaffney, and another wide-open drop by Caldwell forced them to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Stephen Adam who? Gostowski. The damage was done though as the Pats could have had an easy touchdown; Caldwell lined up with no one opposite him, but by the time Brady realized it Caldwell was so anxious to get the score and atone for his earlier drop that the ball clanged off his hands and fell harmlessly to the turf.

Did the Pats chances of winning this game fall with it?

It would appear that way because on the next series Manning had his playoff coming out play, a play that said "we're not gonna take it" anymore and began lifting the ginourmous monkey off his back. On first down from his own 23 Manning hit Dallas Clark at midfield who zigged & zagged his way to the Pats 25 for a back-breaking 52-yard reception that stunned the Pats defense and elated the Colts sideline. Although Indy had to settle for a 36-yard Vinateri field goal that knotted the game at 31 the damage to the Pats psyche was done:

the Patriot defense absolutely could not stop the Colts offense in the second half.

Another terrific return by Hobbs, who had 220 yards worth of returns on the evening, gave New England great field position again, but again they had to settle for 3 points instead of 7 despite a 25-yard completion to Daniel Graham that put the ball on the Colts 29.

So it was 34-31 New England and after the teams traded punts the Colts took over with 2:17 to go from their own 20.

What followed will forever be known as Indy's version of The Drive in the annals of Indianapolis sports folklore, as small as those annals are.

Once again RainManning moved the team down the field, splicing a devastating 32-yard pass to Bryan Fletcher, who was being "covered" by 2nd year linebacker Eric Alexander, around two other completions, two Joseph Addai runs and a highly questionable roughing the passer call on Tully Banta-Cain to get the Colts to 3rd & 2 from the 3. When Addai took the hand off, put his head down and ran through a gaping hole for the score to make it 37-34 with exactly one minute left the Colts had their first lead of this see-saw battle and had unquestionably lifted that gigantic gorilla off their backs.

The only question was would Tom Brady be able to place that hairy beast right back on Peyton's shoulders?

Fifty four seconds and 79 yards was all that stood in the way of another miraculous win or the monkey being lifted off Manning's shoulders for good. After a 19-yard completion from Brady to Ben Watson and a 15-yarder to Heath Evans got the ball to the Indy 40 everyone in the country was sitting on the edge of their seats just waiting to see how Tom Terrific was going to do it again. Everybody except Peyton, that is. The CBS cameras showed Manning on the sideline with his head in his hands, unable to watch the life get sucked out of his team by Mr. America yet again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the inevitable; Brady's next pass was picked off by the (now) immortal marlin Jackson and the Colts were on their way to the Super Bowl at the expense of the shell shocked New England Patriots.

The greatest comeback in Championship game history was complete as well as New England owning the dubious distinction of being the highest-scoring losing team in team in Championship game history as well. Wow. Talk about a double-dip of a devastating defeat.

The monkey has been put to the side for Manning, Dungy and the rest of the underachieving Colts team. It's on to the Super Bowl to face another primate-saddles squad, the Chicago Bears.
The Colts finally succeeded in displacing their arch rival on the field in a meaningful game, and the off-season of wondering what could have been and whimpering begins today for New England and its fans.

It's too early to tell if this is a "Chicago Bulls overcoming the Detroit Pistons" moment or a "Sox beating the Yanks in the ALCS" moment for the Colts yet. Meaning the 1990 Pistons went on to win two titles and become a dominant team for years after finally getting over the hump that was the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. But the 2004 Red Sox team that dispatched the Stanks in the biggest series comeback in sports history fell to a miserable 3rd place just two years later and have to spend lavishly just to keep pace with the Evil Empire. Is this win just a one-year blip for the Colts & pats, or has the tide really turned in favor of the perennial postseason losers?

It's hard to say but many of Patriot Nation's worst fears were realized last night on the FieldTurf at the RCA Dome:

-Peyton Manning can indeed win the big one. He has just beaten the two toughest defensive teams in the AFC in successive weeks, one in a tough-as-nails grinder on the road (12-6 @ B-More) and another a come-from-behind shootout against his personal Goliath at home to reach that elusive Super Bowl.

-The Colts can no longer be considered Regular Season Wonders.

One of my favorite nicknames I've hung on a team or a player is now wiped off my list. After yesterday's victory, coupled with playoff wins over the Chiefs and Ravens, even if the Colts go on to lose the Bowl this run has eliminated them as Regular Season Wonders forevermore (unless they go 14-2 next season & lose in the first round. Fingers crossed.)

-Tom Brady is human
Despite supermodel & actress girlfriends, 3 Super Bowls & 2 SB MVPs, a Hall of Fame career and the love and adoration of millions of fans worldwide we found out at the end of the game last night that there is a mere mortal man behind the Wizard's curtain. When Tommy Boy took the ball with less than a minute left and 80 yards to go for the win everybody and their brother just knew he would guide the team down the field and lead his troops to yet another postseason comeback victory. You know the rest.

He didn't and a little chip was taken out of the Brady Mystique that let us all realize he is human after all.

That's all I can muster right now. I'm heading back to my dark bedroom to look up at the ceiling for a few hours and think of all the witty comebacks I'm going to have to throw back at gloating Patriot haters for the next year.

As Dan Shaughnessey so perfectly put it in today's Globe, "Red Sox pitchers & catchers report on February 18th."


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Just saw a replay of that roughing the passer call...

...has there ever been a more horseshit call in the history of the league?!?! This explains everything- the league and TV networks obviously wanted the Colts to win and made sure they did.
Happy now, America?


Colts come back from largest deficit in Championship game history

"mumble mumble muble... C*&KS*&KINGMOTHERFU*KERMANNINGGOTOHELL...whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?!!?



Chris Berman: "Back on NFL Primetime, it's Peyton Manning, going to the Super Bowl, live..."

Me: "Whhhyyyyyyyyy...aahhgrgghhhhrrrwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.....???!!@@@&&*%$#!"


Super Bowl XLI: Chicago vs. Indianapolis

a.k.a. another Super Bowl I won't need to watch

I'm in too much pain to do a regular post after the Colts just got through exorcising years of demons by knocking off the mighty Patriots, their personal nemesis, and advance to the Super Bowl.

Two weeks of hearing "Peyton Manning is going to the Super Bowl" and Rex Grossman will be there with him?!

I think I'll just go lock myself in a dark room and have a good scream.

I'll get back to you later when I'm more coherent.


AFC Championship Game Preview

New England Patriots (12-4) @ Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

6:30 EST CBS
Line: IND -3

I've got so much emotionally invested in this game, and so much has been said & written about the Pats v. Colts in the past that I'm going to do a simple summary of what I think will happen in the style of my new favorite TV character, Andy from The Office:

Pats- Team of the decade.

Colts- Regular Season Wonders.

Brady & Belichick- Dynastic Duo always win the big one.

Manning & Dungy- Lovable losers who can't win the big one.

Keys- Pats- run the ball. Colts- resurgent defense
Brady: god in cleats; Manning: stat-hungry publicity whore.

Colts= Pats' bitches

Playoffs-Pats own 'em

Result- Pats head to Miami in search of title #4.

South Beach here we come!
Go Pats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


NFC Championship Game Preview

New Orleans Saints (10-6) @ Chicago Bears (13-3)
3:00 EST FOX
Line: CHI -3

The NFC Championship game features two teams in desperate need of a marquee win to reestablish themselves as true conference powers.

The Saints have been so bad for so long that they earned a derisive nickname and played host to paper bag-wearing fans for the better part of two decades. This season that all changed as the team's return to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana injected new life to the devastated region and the subsequent ride to the NFC South crown, a home playoff win and now their first trip to the championship game has seen the them go from "The Aint's" to the new "America's Team" (sorry, Dallas, it's not 1983 any longer- your rights to the moniker have expired.) A trip to the Super Bowl would not only bring joy and positivity to the bayou but bring legitimacy to the franchise that once was the laughingstock of the league.

The Bears have had good seasons in recent history, winning the NFC Central in its last year of existence, 2001, as well as few winning campaigns in the early '90s. But other than that the franchise has been trying-and failing-to live up to the myth & memory that is the 1985 Bears for over 20 years. That team had great coaches, wild characters, Hall-of-Fame players and most memorably, a Super Bowl shuffle. The organization has been trying to shed that 300-lb gorilla for decades but failed miserably until this year. Even now though, with a great defense,a solid coach in Lovie Smith and an NFC best 13-3 record the doubting Thomases are out in full force, probably because their quarterback is as shaky as a 3-year-old on roller blades and their vaunted defense sputtered down the stretch. One win today and everything will change, and you might even hear strains of Marley's "Redemption Song" blaring through Spaceship Soldier Field's loudspeakers.

So which team will find redemption today? Only one way to find out- my patented, world famous breakdown method.

NO-Drew Brees: 4,418 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs, 18 sacks, 64.3% completions
CHI-Rex Grossman: 3,193 yards, 23 TDs, 20 INTs, 21 sacks, 54.6% completions

Hmmm, this is a tough one...let's see, either the guy who resurrected an offense, team, and region while finishing second in the league MVP balloting or the dude who has been ridiculed, lambasted and vilified by his home fans and every analyst, talk show host & columnist in the country for his poor decisions which have led to a slew of bad turnovers. Tough choice.

The confidence and character Brees brings to the team is the reason the Saints are where they are today. His intensity in the huddle is something that had been sorely lacking in the Aaron Brooks era. Brees' performance was directly responsible for the Saints having the top passing offense in the league during the regular season and he has multiple targets to choose from.

Grossman had a roller coaster season. He started out hot, throwing 10 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions as the Bears raced out to a 5-0 start, but suddenly he started using the other team as his favorite targets; he went through a miserable stretch where he threw 14 picks in the next 7 games, which included a miraculous comeback win over Arizona and embarrassing losses to Miami and New England. By the end of the year he had regained his form until a stinker to end the season against the Packers. In limited action Grossman went 2-12 for 33 yards and 3 INTs as the Bears got clobbered by Green bay. Afterwards Rexie admitted that he didn't prepare properly for the contest and his mind was elsewhere during the game.

It was around this time that the calls for Grossman's ouster became full-fledged screams.

All I know is I'll take Brees on a bad day over Grossman on his best day. Rex better have another game like last week against the Seahawks where he controlled tempo, minimized mistakes and put his team in a position to win the game. That's all he needs to do today. He should be able to take advantage of New Orleans' weak link, its secondary, and go deep to big play receiver Bernard Berrian against aging cornerback Fred Thomas like Philly did last week. Unfortunately for the former Gator he sometimes seems incapable of doing just those simple things.
ADVANTAGE: Saints (big time)

Running Backs:
McAllister: 1,057 yards, 10 TDs
Bush: 565 yards, 6 TDs
Jones: 1,210 yards, 6 TDs
Benson: 647 yards, 6 TDs

These two rushing attacks couldn't be more different. Chicago uses the combination of Thomas Jones & Cedric Benson to move the chains in a methodical and powerful way. There's not a lot of razzle-dazzle or sneakiness with these two-what you see is what you get. Although Jones has been the featured back for most of the season, Benson's slightly craftier running and bigger gains have seen him get more playing time of late. But Jones got the call more in last weeks win over Seattle (21 carries to 12) and chipped in with 66 yards and 2 scores.

New Orleans boasts one of the new wave of NFL backfields- the change-of-pace backs. When Reggie Bush was drafted with the second overall pick last year many assumed he would just step right in and become the everyday stater. Not so fast my friend. The Saints still had power back Deuce McAllister and he wasn't about to go quietly into the Louisiana night, especially with Bush struggling to pick up the nuances of the pro game early on- like the fact that every defender wanted to take him down and welcome him to the league the hard way.

Now the two provide a nice contrast in style- Deuce will punish defenders with his battering ram running while Reggie can turn a 5 yard loss into a big gain with his leg-breaking cuts. The pair has to be riding a wave of confidence, also, after torching Philly for 208 yards on the ground last week, 143 from McAllister.

A pretty even heat here, but I would give a slight edge to the Saints for the way they are running right now and the ability to mix things up in the backfield.
ADVANTAGE: Saints (barely)

Colston: 70 recs, 1,038 yards, 8 TDs
Bush: 88 recs, 742 yards, 2 TDs
Muhammed: 60 recs, 863 yards, 5 TDs
Berrian: 51 recs, 775 yards, 6 TDs

To say the Saints like to spread the ball around is like saying Will Ferrell likes to act like a retarded goofball. New Orleans had 10 guys with 14 or more receptions, 7 with more than 300 yards receiving. Compare that to Chicago, which had 7 receivers with more than 14 catches, 4 with over 300 yards, and it's safe to say that the saints have the advantage as far as passing the ball around over the limited Bears.

Rookie of the Year runner-up Marques Colston was one of the surprise stories of the season. The kid out of Hofstra was the 3rd to last player drafted last year and stunned the league with his incredible season that would have been even better had he not missed 3 games with an ankle injury. The big (6'4", 230 lbs) Colston provides a nice target for Brees to see down field, and his excellent hands, ability to catch the ball on the fly and large frame made him a formidable weapon for other teams to stop. Combine his talents with that of Mr. Bush, who had a better year receiving the ball than running it (although many of his 88 catches were of the 3-yard dump, catch-and-run variety) and the emergence of 3rd year man Devery Henderson (32 recs, 745 yards, 5 TDs) as a deep threat and what you've got is a potent, capable fleet of receivers.

Chicago relies heavily on two receivers to move the chains: possession man Mushin Muhammed, who at the age of 33 showed signs of wear & tear but still managed a team-high 60 catches, and deep threat Bernard Berrian, who started the year with long TD catches of 49, 41, 46 & 62 yards in the first 5 games. He is a big play receiver and will be the key to Chicago being able to stretch the field and set up scoring opportunities. After those two the pack thins out; Grossman likes to use TE Desmond Clark (45 recs, 626 yards, 6 TDs), and Rashied Davies and Thomas Jones will get some balls thrown to them as well.

Once again the Saints seem to be the more dangerous team here due to the sheer number and versatility of their receivers.
ADVANTAGE: Saints (by far)

NO: 307 (11th in NFL)
CHI: 294 (5th)
NO: 20 (13th)
CHI: 16 (3rd)
Pass YPG-
NO: 178 (3rd)
CHI: 195 (11th)
Rush YPG-
NO: 129 (23rd)
CHI: 99 (4th)

Finally we come to a category where the Bears have a decided advantage. Chicago's defense was one of the stingiest in the league for most of the season until massive T Tommie Harris went out with an injury and Tank Johnson decided to like up to his nickname by stockpiling more weapons than some third world nations. The last 5 games, including playoffs, Chicago allowed a mediocre 24 PPG, including 31 to the Bucs and 26 to the Packers. The D will have to play better than that today if it hopes to shut down the Saints powerful offense.

As always the key to Chicago's D is All-Everything linebacker Brian Urlacher. The throwback defender needs to be a force in this game, not only in stopping the runs but in getting pressure on Brees so he can't make the easy throws down field. As is so often the case as the Urlacher goes, so goes the Bears defense, and if he doesn't have a monster game the Bears have little chance of winning. As for the secondary Charles Tillman will have the unenviable task of trying to stop Colston while Ricky Manning, Jr & Nathan Vasher are also going to have to stay close to the Saints multitude of receivers.

Although the Saints defense has been criticised as being the weak link of the team they do employ a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. The main component of the unti is the line, led by the immovable run stopper Hollis Thomas and ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, who combined for 16 1/2 sacks this year. The linebackers are solid if unspectacular, with Scott Fujita, Tommy Polley & Scott Shanle doing most of the damage, and the secondary-Thomas, Mike McKenzie, Josh Bullocks, Jay Bellamy, Omar Stoutmire- is unspectacular and susceptible to the big play (see Fred Thomas comment above.)

Like I said this is the one category where the Bears should have the advantage in their favor and they need to exploit it if they hope to pull out this win. In other words they need to play like the first 10 weeks of the season rather than the last 5.
ADVANTAGE: Bears (clearly)

Coaching & Intangibles:
New Orleans' Sean Payton was the Coach of the Year and his masterful play calling, ability to mix things up according to the situation & team and rapport with his players is one of the big reasons why the Saints had such a turnaround season. He is one of the best young minds in the game, doesn't get out coached often, and is unafraid to do something different if it means giving his team an advantage.

Lovie Smith is another solid young coach who has turned the team around by going back to basic Bears football- running the ball and playing smash mouth defense. He is soft spoken and fatherly and his insistence on sticking with Grossman ("Rex is our quarterback"- repeat ad nauseum) both endeared him to his players and infuriated an impatient fan base. It will be interesting to see how he reacts if his team gets down early and how he will handle the heat if Grossman starts tossing the ball to the other team again.

The home field advantage could be the deciding factor in this one. The weather will not be pleasant- cold, windy possible snow- which would most definitely favor the Monsters of the Midway, who live for conditions like that. New Orleans being a dome team has a decided disadvantage when it comes to weather and notoriously dome teams do not fare well in outdoor Championship games. Old Mother Nature might be the one who has the most say about who wins this contest, which doesn't bode well for New Orleans & their pass-happy attack.

As for an X-Factor the Bears rookie return man Devin Hester set the league on fire after he returned his 6th kick for a touchdown back in early December. Since then he has fumbled more balls than he's caught and looks like he is out-thinking himself and trying to return the ball before he catches it. If he can concentrate and rip off some big returns, or even a touchdown, he could be a big advantage for the offensively-challenged Bears.

For New Orleans I am going with Devery Henderson. He is somewhat the forgotten man because of the presence of Bush, Colston, and Joe Horn when he is healthy, but Henderson always seems to get open downfield for a backbreaking gain- he only had 1 catch last week but it was a big 35-yarder that set up the Saints first touchdown. How big is this guy's catches? He averages 23 yards per catch.
ADVANTAGE: Bears (slight)

After all of this scientific analysis I can only come to one conclusion- it should be a close, tough game that could be dictated by weather and will benefit the team that can control the ball and play mistake free. New Orleans has the better offensive team, better coach, and the backing of an entire nation that would like nothing better than to see this downtrodden franchise reach the pinnacle of the sport in its first year back in its Big Easy home.

Chicago will have the weather, home field, and determination to stifle all the doubters and bring a playoff winning team back to the Windy City on their side. Grossman would love to quiet all the critics and enjoy the recent run of Gator-related success and the whole team would enjoy being the squad that finally quiets the ghosts of yesteryear and gives Chicago its first championship team in 21 years.

MY PICK: The Saints, are coming, the Saints, are Miami.