By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Here at The Hangover, we love the rhythm and poetry of an NFL Sunday.

At 10:09 a.m., Pacific, in Week 14, the following things were true:

  • Peyton Manning had thrown for a TD in Houston.
  • Tom Coughlin was P.O.'ed about a call in Baltimore.
  • Billy Cundiff had missed a field goal in Dallas.
  • It was gray, snowy and romantic, in a bleu-cheese-dip-and-celery-on-the-side sort of way, in Buffalo.
  • I had been out of bed for 11 minutes.

    Nothing like a quick turn through the DirecTV dial just out of the rack. To paraphrase Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now," I love the look of the 700 channels on a Sunday morning. It looks like ... parity.

    Of all those images, the most alluring was the drama being played out hard by Lake Erie. Ah, Buffalo. The forgotten NFL city. The city that, if it didn't already have a franchise, wouldn't even make the long list of possible NFL expansion cities. The place where Bruce Smith once said: "It's not the end of the world -- but you can see it from there."

    Buffalo, the burg that has no big-league baseball, the village that has no NBA franchise. The town does lay claim to a hockey franchise ... not that anybody notices.

    Against that backdrop, The Hangover proposes to officially adopt Buffalo as our very own AFC team -- at least for the next three weeks. (Long-term commitments are overrated.)

    Buffalo has much with which to entice us. An 0-4 start for the Bills has turned into a 7-6 record that has them knocking on the playoff door. This would be a remarkable achievement, as I devoted a Week 4 Hangover to the brutal math that faces teams who notch 0-3 starts. I don't have my abacus handy, but NFL history shows that an 0-3 start is as good an omen as having a member of the extended McCown Clan quarterbacking your team.

    With the 37-7 horse-whipping of Cleveland secure, and with the Browns gaining fewer yards than the average Buffalo resident consumes in wings at the Anchor Bar and Grill on Any Given Sunday, the Bills are the hottest team in the league that doesn't have a quarterback with a hamburger named after him.

    (By the way, I'm completely serious about that Browns/Wings stat. I would stake large amounts of money that more than one bar-dweller downed at least 18 wings at the Anchor on Sunday. Likely, one of those consumers was a Browns fan on a roadie. Probably the guy who wears the dog mask.)

    So I invent the Buffalo Corner armed with an invite, and with some history. Reader Travis W. of Buffalo this past week extended a red carpet, saying there is room at the inn. "Buffalo can the Philly of the AFC in your heart," writes Travis, knowing my affinity for the hard-bitten City of Brotherly Love. He adds some ominous words, should Buffalo host a wild-card playoff game: "Hell hath no fury," writes Travis, "like Ralph Wilson Stadium in January."

    As for personal history, it was at the very Anchor Bar and Grill where I learned, from a family of Buffalo-raised Italians, just exactly how to eat a wing. It's a thing. There's no nibbling. There's no dillying, no dallying. You take the wing, dip it in bleu cheese, insert the entire thing in your mouth, slowly turn it counter-clockwise, and suck ALL of the meat off it before the bone leaves your mouth.

    Should you remove the wing and leave meat on the bone?

    Dude, you're a Jets fan.

    So, welcome to the Buffalo Corner Era at The Hangover.

    Enjoy a high-flying, high-scoring squad. Watch Willis McGahee run. Root for Drew Bledsoe as the Jim Plunkett of the 21st Century. Admire the big hair of the chick next to you in her Andre Reed gamer. Have a wing.

    Life, after all, is too short to leave meat on the bone.

    Players and coaches we love, Week 14
    Jerome Bettis, Maurice Hicks, Jim Mora, Jr. -- Who doesn't love Bettis? He's Brett Favre with a running back's number. He's a bundle of joy, yet in a body with dents and cracks befitting an Aussie Rules Football-playing graybeard. Bettis is 32, but in Earl Campbell Years, that makes him 65.

    Plus, he bowls. Really well.

    There have been few better stories than the return of All Things Steeler this year -- the salt-of-the-earth fans roaring in delight despite sporting cholesterol totals in the high 200s, Cowher's Jaw returning to legendary status in Steel City (Stillers' rallying cry: "You da Mandible!"), Big Ben Roethlisberger becoming a bona-fide Midwestern American hero -- but I'd rate Bettis' year near or at the top.

    There was Bettis on Sunday, artfully tossing a halfback option pass for a score to Jerame Tuman, when all about him, the Jets' defense expected another battering ram of a run from the Big Guy.

    Not to worry -- Bettis provided that, too, with yet another TD run, his 12th of the season.

    Here's Bettis' year:

  • Come to camp knowing Duce Staley is the guy.
  • Take your role as short-yardage/Pete Banaszek Clone/TD-scorer beautifully, and score five TDs in your first 18 carries.
  • When Staley goes down, spend Weeks 9-12 carrying the ball 33, 29, 29 and 31 times.
  • When Staley returns, keep smiling, then deke 'em all with a halfback option TD pass in your division-clinching win, which happens to earn Hangover honors for Best-Looking Game of the Week: Old-school uniforms on grass, AFC titans tussling in December ... Mmmm. You could almost smell the Primanti Bros.' sandos in my living room all the way out here in California.

    Plus, Bettis bowls. Really well.

    As for Hicks, how many of you know, or care about his tale? I mean, other than those of you in the FFL/Geek/Week 14 Transaction Pickup Crowd. Here's the deal: Former big-deal running back at North Carolina A&T never gets big break in NFL. Works as FedEx deliveryman. Plays in NFL Europe.

    You can imagine his conversations with customers as the FedEx guy:

    HICKS: "Sign here, sir. And you do know I was a legend at North Carolina A&T, and hope one day to run on NFL Sundays?"

    CUSTOMER: "Spare me the details, Walter Mitty. Just give me my Ebay-purchased ballpeen hammer and be gone."

    Hicks turned out 139 yards in 34 carries, and made the run to put the 49ers in field-goal position to beat Arizona. When you do something to lift the band of nothingness that is the 49ers to actual victory -- why, that's the Hangover's FedEx Delivery of the Week.

    Sign on the dotted line for victory, Mo.

    As for Mora, I can't remember an NFL coach swaggering into his job with more moxie than Jim Mora's kid did. He works the sidelines like Rick Pitino in heat. He was seen on an NFL Films clip barking at the Georgia Dome security head for failing to blast the proper pregame tunes one week. Faced with a blowout loss at Kansas City this year, he decided to go for it on every fourth down in the second half.

    Mora coaches like Jimmy Cagney in "White Heat" -- if the Falcons are going down, he's blazing the guns and shouting, in a Freudian call to his sire: "Top of the world, Pa!"

    So there were the Falcons -- the Falcons! -- champions of the NFC South in Week 14, clinching the division.

    Mora has the guys breathing fire down there, which is a massive accomplishment in a sterile sports environment that calls to mind a giant doctor's office. So Mora clinches the title with a 35-10 win over the Raiders, makes sure the NFL Films cameras are rolling and calls over impeccably-dressed Falcons owner Art Blank for the game ball ceremony.

    "We're going to give you a bunch of these," Mora says, tossing the ball to Blank, "so get a big room."

    Nobody in the Falcons organization has shown this much confidence since Eugene Robinson tried to get away with a little nocturnal road trip the night before Super Bowl XXXIII.

    Watch out: Falcon Nation (pop., Very Few) might be rising.

    I write, you clarify
    Last week's Hangover was surprisingly light on errors, a development which alarms a number of you. Perhaps most surprising: That we were able to educate, instead of stupefy. The key learning aid: The brief discussion of the phrase "begging the question" -- which does NOT, we repeat, NOT, mean "lead to" the question. In fact, it's a rather complicated concept of making an argument in which you assume your conclusion, but let's not get into that.

    Let's instead turn it to reader Dave Shultz from Boston, who fires off this amusing email pouncing on two more common English gaffes: "Irregardless of whether we use these words and phrases correctly, aren't we for all intensive purposes speaking the same language anyway?"

    Nicely done, Dave.

    Meanwhile, Dan McVey from Washington, Mo. is throwing in the towel when it comes to our native tongue. The word "moot", writes McVey, is usually used to mean "so outside the subject, it is not worthy of debate."

    Actually, McVey continues, "moot" means "a debatable point." Concludes McVey: "I've never heard the word used correctly in the 36 years of my life."

    Dan, at this point, The Hangover may very well be moot.

    Philly Corner
    Remind me never to cut corners -- specifically, Philly Corners -- ever again. Last week, to shake it up a bit and save space, I gave the weekly Philly Corner a sabbatical.

    Eagle Nation responded as if I were a Cowboy jersey in the 700 Level of the Vet.

    Reader Jaclyn B. says her week was "ruined," and others followed suit. On top of depriving the Cheese Whiz-Eaters of anecdotes about their bawdy fan base, I also dissed Eagle Nation for, well, failing to exist.

    A "Nation," I wrote last week, is a serious thing.

    Eagles fans responded: We're as serious as a heart attack, which, coincidentally, can be caused by too much Cheese Whiz.

    While I read countless testimonials from Bird fans who say they annexed Pro Player Stadium at last year's Monday nighter, and chased Bears fans out of bars in Chicago like marauding invaders, the best argument for Eagle Nation came from reader Jim Lamb, Jr. He went legit and said the dictionary defines a nation as "a people who share common customs, origins, history and, frequently, language." Writes Lamb: "Look no further than the strange language they speak. They drink and bathe in "wooder," they read the 'Inkwire'." For history, Lamb writes: "Every Philly team chokes when it really matters." For customs, he argues simply, "the mullet."

    Eagle Nation, it must be submitted, exists.

    In its honor, we present our Philly Anecdote of the week, from a reader who goes only by "Eric from Philly." In Eric's tale, some pre-game tailgating -- beer and Hibachis -- was getting good before the season-opener against the Giants a few years back. "One of the guys in the next car over is pretty ripped -- and it's going on 10 a.m.," writes Eric. "He's doing a lot of yelling."

    Here's where Eric's tale takes off: "Unfortunately, after inhaling a balloon filled with nitrous, while standing, he passes out -- falling right on top of my buddy's Hibachi. The flames are shooting out the sides -- but he's not moving. A quick thinker grabbed his belt loop and lifted him off the Hibachi. Moments later, he comes to, and stands up.

    His shirt is in tatters and falling off. His chest is burned. He likely requires some immediate first-aid. He looks down at his charred remains and yells: 'Whoo-Hoo! I'm on fire for the Eagles!'"

    Eagle Nation rarely disappoints.

    Why a Turkey Bowl is always necessary
    Many of you had tales of torn ligaments and broken bones about neighborhood Turkey Bowls, but it's hard to top the tale of destiny from reader Kevin Harrington, whose brother-in-law showed up for the Turkey Bowl the week before his National Guard unit was headed for basic training. A tackle to the Brother-in-Law's knee essentially blew it up, writes Harrington. "Tons of damage," he says, "and (the brother-in-law) is out in rehab for six months. He had to get his basic rescheduled. While he was in basic seven months after the injury, his unit is called up and sent to Iraq. Since my bro-in-law is still in basic, he can't make the deployment. While his unit is in Iraq for a year, he sits at home.

    "The Turkey Bowl might have saved my brother-in-law's life."

    Sounds like Clarence, the Guardian Angel, was divvying up the teams, eh?

    Question of the Week
    Longtime readers know The Hangover is just an NFL-based incarnation of The Cooler. As such, reader Michael Smith recalls a Cooler that detailed a deranged fan's Spring Training quest for the "9-9-9" -- an attempt to eat nine hot dogs and power nine 16 oz. beers in nine innings under the Arizona sun. Smith writes: "Is there a football equivalent to the 9-9-9? Is the sound of 4-4-4 imposing enough? Is it four quarts of Colt .45 and four full U-shaped links of Polish sausage in four quarters?"

    Not bad. But let's raise the stakes: four beers per quarter, four dogs per quarter, only four trips to the men's room allowed in four quarters? Naw. That could result in death.

    The Hangover is not interested in lawsuits.

    How about four beers and four dogs per half, for a total of Eight and eight? As a bonus, a beer and a dog at halftime, too, thus equaling the 9/9 laid out in a three-hour ballgame. Most NFL games, provided Eli Manning isn't stopping the clock with incompletions, go about three hours. Designated driver a must. Binful of Zantac a must, also.

    Gentlemen, start your engines.

    Final Week 14 thoughts

  • I want to like Minnesota, despite its status as a Dome-Dweller. I've always loved the uniforms, and the memories of the Bud Grant/Chuck Foreman/Condensed Breath Days at old Metropolitan Stadium loom strong in the memory. That said, I have to take issue with the play-call that let Randy Moss throw into the end zone with just over two minutes left in a tight, taut game with playoff ramifications against Seattle. So let me get this straight: Your QB is Daunte Culpepper, one of the five best in the game. You need a win. It's late. You're down. You need six. So, you let Randy Moss go deep. Wait -- what's Moss' passer rating again? Listen. I like funky play-calling as much as the next guy, but with just over two minutes to go, I'm thinking Culpepper ... Moss ... Culpepper ... Moss ... quien es mas macho? It raises an immediate question: Who would you rather have throwing into the end zone late -- Randy Moss, or Eli Manning?

  • Speaking of which, the Eli Manning-to-Ed Reed-to-Deion-Sanders follow-the-ball play in the Ravens' shellacking of New York might have been my favorite celebrity 1-2-3 punch of the year. You have Manning, enduring pure misery, throwing an INT to Reed, who should probably be the Defensive Player of the Year, who pitches back to Deion, defying Hangover logic by remaining relevant on a team with playoff hopes. Cherish that one. You won't see its like again, for a trail of woe-to-glory so easily enjoyed.

  • Sometimes, an old-fashioned bird-fly is all the amusement you need on a long NFL Sunday. So it was that Jake Plummer was caught flashing half of the peace sign to a fan during his mid-game woes against Miami, and doing it with a behind-the-head flourish that rated for style points. My problem: The TV replay fuzzed out his hand. I need to know: Is Plummer a student of the "All Fingers to the Palm" bird, otherwise known as the "New York Cabbie?" Or is he a student of the Pinky-Ring-Index-Finger-Crouch, otherwise known as the "One We Learned In School By Sliding a Pencil Across Our Knuckles?"

    Some questions are eternal.

    E-mail Brian Murphy at page2murphy@yahoo.com with thoughts, questions and unanswerable philosophical rants..




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    THE HANGOVER