February 7, 2006
Michaela Hutchison:
103-pound Alaskan high school sophomore is the first girl in the U.S. to win a state wrestling title against boys. I smell a movie-rights bidding war!
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Let's get some closure on the Super Bowl officiating snafu:

Get. Over. It.

Two days later, the outrage is already evaporating, although not before Mike Holmgren could get in the day's best gripe, in a speech to fans sure to cost him big with the league:

"We knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well."

(Tough talk. Did the refs create his last-minute bungling at the end of the first half? Or force him to punt with six minutes to go, down two scores to a team well-known for its ability to chew up the clock?)

Why is the outrage over the officiating unsustainable? It was driven by neutral fans.

Most of us really couldn't have cared less about the specific outcome -- except that we wanted that outcome to be free of sketchy officiating. I think what bothered most fans is the very real impact those four sketchy calls had on the outcome.

We had our say yesterday. It exploded into a "thing." For one day, at least, it even defined this Super Bowl.

But even Seahawks players are already spinning the blame away from the refs and onto themselves:

"We're not going to blame this on anyone but ourselves." (Grant Wistrom)

"I think we beat ourselves." (Rocky Bernard)

After the Day of Outrage yesterday, fans outside of Seattle are quickly moving on. Over time, the game's details will fade -- like every other Super Bowl -- until all we'll remember is:

"Uh, right. The Steelers won. I think I remember something about Jerome Bettis." (To which your kid, in 40 years, will reply: Who? And you'll wonder why you cared so much.)

It's possible the sorry officiating will be a part of that long-term memory, if only because it was the most notable batch of bad calls on a Super Bowl stage that most anyone can remember.

But Super Bowl runner-ups are rarely remembered by fans at large. There is the team that lost most agonizingly (XXV Bills). And that's it. Do the Seahawks rise to this standard?

Griping about the refs -- even with cause -- just doesn't do it.

The furor is already dissipating. The neutral fans carrying the "Refs Stunk!" banner yesterday had little rooting interest to begin with; that emotion is unsustainable in a losing cause.

In the end, the more likely scenario is that we'll forget how the Seahawks lost and simply remember the champ. We only have room for so much outrage -- and most fans are already moving on, ready for the next thing.

Maybe it's the reffing at the Duke-UNC game tonight. And hey, don't we have ice-skating judges to rip next week?

But maybe -- hopefully -- it won't have anything to do with reffing at all.

XL: 48 Hours Later
As I mentioned above, the true test of a Super Bowl is what you're still thinking about the day after the day after the game, when morning-after enthusiasm morphs into second-day revisionism that will settle into permanent conventional wisdom. It's amazing how quickly we all pivot from earnestness to cynicism:

Day 1: Big Ben rules! Youngest QB to ever win a Super Bowl.

Day 2: Big Ben = Trent Dilfer. Except for that one nifty bomb that set up his TD, he arguably had the weakest QB performance ever to win a Super Bowl.

Day 1: Hines Ward MVP! Isn't it touching that he went from early-season holdout to Super Bowl hero?

Day 2: Randle El Rules! Had the best throw of the Super Bowl, and he isn't even a QB. The Bears will make a huge splash and sign him.

Gonzaga: Wins 35th straight at home, but needs last-sec FT
West Virginia: Reaches Top 10 for first time in '05-'06
BC and BU: Advance to final of college hockey's Beanpot
Suns-Wolves ref: That game-saving KG block resembled GT
Chris Paul: Held to 2-12 FG in matchup with Kidd (14/11/9)
"Bittersweet Symphony": Retired as a big-game intro song
Day 1: Bettis retires? Aww … what an amazing way for this guy to end his career.

Day 2: Bettis as egomaniac? Between his one-man player intro and his self-absorbed postgame moment, is it good riddance to The Bus?

Day 1: Former SB MVP Roll Call! A cool moment, despite the shocking dilapidation of joints (and Jerry Rice's outfit).

Day 2: Joe Montana is a jerk. In one fell (greedy) swoop, no-show Montana obliterated the 25 years of goodwill he had built up.

(Update: Montana protested that it wasn't about the money; he had his son's basketball game to go to. Terry Bradshaw, another no-show, also said he had family commitments and it wasn't about money. What about it, NFL? Can you clarify?)

Day 1: "Magic Fridge." Got "Best Ad" not just because it was clever, but also I suspect, because it ran so early in the broadcast.

Day 2: "Crime Deterrent." Who wasn't pelting their co-worker with a cell phone yesterday? (Wait: Does Mobile ESPN have that feature?)

Day 1: This game had no buzz! From the moment the Super Bowl was set, critics were griping that the matchup lacked the buzz for an audience.

Day 2: Best ratings since '96! In the wildest stat of the game, XL generated more viewers than any SB in a decade. Take that, Pats.

Big Ben shaved
In a now-obligatory ritual, the sports hero's playoff beard gets shaved publicly. Big Ben set a new bar, going on Letterman last night to be shorn as hairless as a Budweiser sheep streaker.

The most notable part (aside from the fact that he looks much better) is that he got paid to do it, and Gillette got its highest-profile display of the new Fusion razor.

Truth stranger than fiction: If you haven't seen the Onion's parody of Gillette going to five blades (from February 2004!), it's prescient.

Champs: What next?
Can the Steelers repeat? As long as Big Ben stays healthy, they might, but there's no way they do it in the same unprecedented way. They'll be better than a six-seed.

Aside from replacing the retiring Jerome Bettis, their highest-profile free agent is Antwaan Randle El, the only WR to ever throw a TD pass in the Super Bowl, and who is widely speculated to be the object of lust from his hometown Chicago Bears.

The fiscally prudent Steelers already have one WR (XL MVP Hines Ward) locked up in a rich deal; can they (or will they) really afford another? (Len P. has the complete picture here.)

Meanwhile, Steelers O.C. Ken Whisenhunt will interview with the Raiders today or tomorrow in what looks like a fait accompli. (Hmm: Now he could bring Randle El with him, right? That would be a good idea.)

As for the Seahawks, most fans will focus on a single player this offseason: NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, who took short money last year thinking he'd get a payday this year.

The Seahawks might do it out of obligation, but isn't the NFL loaded with examples that running back is an easily filled position -- particularly if you have an O-line as good as Seattle's? Couldn't they be the NFC's Broncos?

And there's the rub: The team's real MVP might have been Pro Bowl OG Steve Hutchinson; He's the free agent to watch. (John Clayton is all over it.)

Rivalry Week: Duke/UNC
Who gets more gift-wrapped calls: The Steelers in Super Bowl XL or Duke in the 2005-06 ACC season?

The crowning moment of Rivalry Week is Duke at UNC tonight (9 ET, ESPN). Scanning the schedule, it's the toughest remaining game Duke will play until the Sweet 16.

And that's kind of a shocker, a testament to the remarkable coaching job Roy Williams has done with a young team that lost basically the entire engine of last year's champion. (Given the talent level and the fact that UNC is only 1.5 games out of second place in the tough ACC, Williams has arguably done a better job this year than last year.)

It's going to be hard for UNC to match up with either Sheldon Williams or JJ Redick, who has become the Kobe Bryant of college hoops -- you simply must watch Redick (37.8 ppg in ACC games) to see how much he might score.

The best matchup of the night is between the two best freshmen in college hoops: UNC's Tyler Hansbrough (17.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Duke's Josh McRoberts (7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg). McNasty came in with more hype, but Hans has emerged as the "hans-down" college hoops Freshman of the Year.

(By the way, don't think that A-Rod's attendance at the Duke-FSU game at Cameron this weekend went unnoticed. If you had to choose between seeing A-Rod or J-Red get slapped in the face, it would be hard for you, wouldn't it?)

Fire Isiah (now)
What a moment at Madison Square Garden tonight: The bottom-feeding Knicks -- in total disarray, from executive suite to roster to payroll to record -- will host the Clippers, who are 11 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history.

Through some smart personnel moves and, yes, even owner Don Sterling's historically mocked focus on being cheap economics, the Clippers have shed their label as NBA punch line -- only to be replaced by Isiah and the Knicks.

Lost in the XL weekend, you may have missed that Isiah traded for a small forward who will cost the Knicks $34 million in 2007 ($17 mil salary plus $17 mil dollar-for-dollar luxury tax), who can't play defense and shoots too much for his own good.

To land Rose, Isiah traded away Antonio Davis, the Knicks' best interior defender, a Larry Brown disciple (and ambassador to the rest of the disgruntled team) and -- most important -- a player in the final year of his contract.

I'm not interested in having Isiah threaten to beat me up, but he is the most inept executive in the NBA -- if not all of sports.

Every business he's tried to run, he's run into the ground. The Knicks have managed to get worse under his leadership -- and, amazingly, they have yet to hit bottom.

How does Isiah keep his job?

(Sorry, I didn't say that with enough emphasis: HOW?!?!)

"Brown and Bubbly":
In the day-after analysis, Diet Pepsi got skewered far worse than any other ad. "Brown and Bubbly" will be adopted, but not the way they probably wanted.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Super Bowl XL
Page 2 Index
College Hoops' Top 5 Rivalry Week Games
Duke at UNC
Mother of all rivalries
Ohio St. at Mich.
Both in Top 25
WVA at Pitt
Big East's best game?
Saint Joe's at Nova
Got to love Big Five
Duke at Maryland
Earmuffs, children!

Parade Watch: The Steelers will have their official celebration today, and expect almost as many Towels as were at Ford Field on Sunday.

(Related: Pittsburgh students are told that missing school for the parade in inexcusable. But apparently not pelting classmates in Elway jerseys.)

MLB Hot Stove: Blue Jays continue sizzling offseason and sign C Bengie Molina (.295, 15 HR, 69 RBI). Cost? Relative bargain $5 mil for 1 year.

NBA Tonight: Lakers at Mavs. Remember when the 62 that Kobe scored against Dallas in the last game seemed huge? How quaint. Rematch tonight.

WBC drug-testing announced: Two players per team will be randomly tested. Not that anyone should be worried, right? RIGHT???

Speaking of officiating, the crew from Saturday's Duke-FSU hoops game was suspended for a game for giving out an extraordinarily bad "T."

Some lament the NFL season's end, but I tire of "24/7 Super Bowl" over the past two weeks. So send your story tips using the e-mail link below.

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