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Reggie White wasn't a football player. He was a force of nature.
Here at The Hangover, a birth certificate prevents me from saying I saw Deacon Jones or Bob Lilly in their primes. But I did see Reggie White in his prime, and, including Bruce Smith in that elite party of two, I will say I never saw a more fearsome, unstoppable blast of athleticism and raw strength on an NFL playing field.
The NFL and the White family lost a legend on Sunday. Reggie White put a swim move on St. Peter and is now pass-rushing his way into the backfield that is the pearly gates.
Today we pause, however briefly, to honor his memory. White's passing overshadows all other Week 16 stories. This morning is Reggie White's mourning. We grieve the great ones, and then, sadly, we move on.
Quick Reggie White story, courtesy of Harris Barton, the former 49ers All-Pro offensive tackle, learned from my days on the Niners beat:
Barton lines up opposite White when White is at the peak of his powers, as a Philadelphia Eagle. Every snap, White gets in the three-point stance and begins shouting pre-snap spiritual furor at Barton. He tells Barton that the Lord Jesus is his savior, and that by the end of the game, White will have thrashed Barton so thoroughly, Barton will have no choice but to accept the Lord as his savior. This goes on, snap after snap, Reggie preaching, Barton trying to hold him off.
Finally, Barton goes for the punch line.
White is shouting about the Lord, and just before the snap, Barton smiles: "Reggie," he says, "I'm Jewish."
No doubt, Reggie roared that big laugh of his.
Reading his obituary, I was reminded of little career bits. I'd forgotten White started with the USFL. I'd also forgotten he'd finished his career as a Carolina Panther. He may have been a singular talent, but Reggie White is the same as any other great one: He hated to fade into retirement, and stayed, probably, too long in the end.
I didn't know he did impressions of Rodney Dangerfield, either. Or Muhammad Ali. Those must have been rich moments in the Vet locker room, or at Lambeau Field -- Reggie White, doing Dangerfield.
White to aging offensive tackle who he beats on every snap: You must have been a hell of a player before electricity.
We would be dishonest if we didn't mention his great flop, his great Japanese-can-make-TVs-out-of-watches/Hispanics-live-40-to-a-house speech. It was hugely embarrassing, but it was Reggie White. You got the feeling that, as offensive and, yes, accidentally funny, as it was, somewhere in that speech was a good heart, trying to say good things.
Besides, now isn't the time for mudslinging, or mockery.
Now is the time to remember the joy he brought Eagles fans and Packers fans, and fans of the game who appreciated greatness.
Now is the time to be thankful we got to see Reggie White, and to be even more thankful we didn't have to block him.
Players we love, Week 16
Brett Favre, Trent Dilfer, Frisbee-Catching Dogs
Favre on Christmas Eve, leading a fourth-quarter comeback in Minnesota, then shedding a few. With a fire in the hearth and my babe cooking a Dec. 24 turkey and homemade apple pie for dessert ... that was about as sweet as it gets, Hangover Nation.
I'm no Packer honk. I do love the good people of Wisconsin -- my favorite drinking state -- but this is just about enjoying the Favre-ness of Favre. He's clearly diminished, not nearly the player he was eight years ago, when he was young and fresh and unstoppable. Now, he makes more mistakes and isn't as efficient and is on the back nine of his career -- but damn, isn't it fun to watch him still do his thing? Purely on an emotional level.
Sorry Vikings fans.
As for Dilfer -- holy mother of Rogaine, I forgot he was still in the league. Any guy who can complete 10 passes in 26 tries for 128 yards, zero TDs and a pick, and still make PWL is a special breed. So when Dilfer churned those 32-years-old-but-look-so-much-older legs for the first down scramble that guaranteed victory for Seattle, he did more than beat the Cardinals. He prevented a little-known Pacific Northwest phenomenon known as SMO (Seahawk Meltdown Overdrive), which would have afflicted all 'Hawks fans east to the Idaho border and south to the Oregon border. Symptoms include bitching about the underachieving squad, moaning about the lack of a Super Bowl and pining for Jim Zorn. Look for the disease to possibly flare up again after the first round of the playoffs.
As for Frisbee Catching Dogs, well, CBS came out of commercial in Indy with a slo-mo replay of the halftime activity in the RCA Dome: a black Lab chasing down a Frisbee and spearing it out of the air, like a canine Lance Alworth. I love Frisbee-catching dogs. Tell the NFL to save the dough on Janet Jackson's wardrobe, or Paul McCartney's set list or any other halftime shenanigans. Just give me Frisbee-catching dogs and nearby beer vendors. Life will be just fine.
Players we don't necessarily love, but are forced to respect
I like Peyton's act. Just don't love it, you know? Maybe I need to see him get to the mountaintop to fully appreciate him.
I know, I know. He works hard, is fully respectful of his elders, understands the game, throws a beautiful ball, does it all the right way. Like I said: I like him. Just don't love him. It's an undefinable thing.
So, congratulations on No. 49, Peyton. You gotta make it 50, just for the sake of epicness. One of the things football records lack is the "epic" quality. Do you know the number of career sacks Bruce Smith has? Or number of passes Jerry Rice has caught?
In baseball, the numbers are weighter. 755 or .406 or 56 or 73. You know what each of those numbers represents. That's why Peyton needs to hit 50, and stop -- so we can walk around for the next 20 years saying, "Remember that year Peyton Manning threw 50? Dude was unstoppable."
Congrats, Peyton. You're an honor to your family, your team and Danny Marino.
Now, win a Super Bowl so we can really elevate you.
Only two weeks old, the Buffalo Corner of the Hangover is fast becoming a personal favorite, if only for the unique flavor of the place. Not many places in this country resemble Buffalo, where wing-eating is second only to freezing your patootie off. (Aside: Last week, reader Louis Small, currently in Berkeley, Calif. but originally from Buffalo, wanted Americans to know a key fact -- the bleu cheese dressing is for the celery sticks, not the wings. Small called dipping the wing in the bleu cheese nothing short of "almost heresy.")
The Bills won their sixth straight game on Sunday, although beating the XFL squad that is the San Francisco 49ers now should probably count for just a half-win. And you know what a Bills win means: Mrs. Bertie is banging a soup pot somewhere in Tonawanda.
Confused? Don't be. Reader Rich Sampson of Silver Spring, Md. said he used to visit his grandparents in Tonawanda, N.Y., a Buffalo suburb. On Sundays in the fall, if the Bills scored a touchdown, Mrs. Bertie -- who lived a few houses down from Sampson's grandparents -- "would be out on her front porch," Sampson wrote, "banging a soup pot with a large wooden spoon." That's not all. Mrs. Bertie "would keep it up," Sampson wrote, "until the PAT was completed, and the Bills' 'SHOUT' song would blare in unison from the tiny Cape Cod houses.
"If anything encapsulates what being a Bills fan in Buffalo means," he wrote, "that's it."
Or, it's this, from reader Ed Dempsey in Charleston, S.C., who wrote in to say his aunt, a retired nun, knitted vestments for the priest at St. Margaret's in Buffalo -- vestments that featured red and blue charging buffaloes. The vestments were a huge hit, until the bishop in Buffalo put the kibosh on the blending of religions. There must, it turns out, be separation of Church and Bills in Buffalo.
I'm feeling some serious Buffalo vibe here. Playoffs, anyone?
An American Tradition: The "Christmas Story" Marathon
In the history of this great nation, it gets no better than a four-day stretch that started with Packers-Vikings, melded right into Ralphie's quest for the Red Ryder Carbon-Action 200 Range Air Rifle, bled into Raiders-Chiefs, Broncos-Titans on Saturday and then a Sunday of pigskin, punctuated by the intermittent storms of food and sleep.
Well, all right. I'll come clean. Chiefs-Raiders and Broncos-Titans played serious second fiddle to opening tons of presents, commuting to the home of the parental units, eating my Mom's prime rib dinner and playing super-competitive Pictionary with the family, to the point where tempers crept to the edge. That's right, Hangover readers. I had a good, clean, Warren Sapp-free Christmas Day.
If you doubt the legitimacy of "A Christmas Story" in an NFL-themed column -- well, then obviously you haven't been reading the 16 week-long digression that is The Hangover. Nonetheless, to prove its worth, remember that Ralphie's Dad grumbles over the Chicago Bears, calling them the "Chipmunks of the Midway." A day later, in 2004 Detroit, the Bears lost to the Lions. Need we say more?
Anyway, a couple of amusing points. One, reader Eli Karon shared his story: "As a Jew," Karon e-mailed, "one of the things I most look forward to around Christmas is going out on Christmas Eve and getting absolutely housed. Two years ago, I did just that. I stumbled home, and fell asleep watching "A Christmas Story" in my dark room. Little did I know that it was 24 hours of "A Christmas Story". Later, I awoke, fully clothed, shoes still tied, sun in my eyes ... at the EXACT same part of the movie as the night before. Talk about creepy."
Perhaps less creepy, and more titillating, is the bit of trivia sent in by reader Matt D. of Salem, Ohio, who pointed out something I've never noticed -- and should be fully ashamed for not noticing. Matt D. picked up that The Hangover is a fan of both the 1977 classic "Slap Shot" and 1983's "A Christmas Story", but never made the link that the actress Melinda Dillon plays both Ralphie's Mom and -- Suzanne Hanrahan, the lesbian ex-wife of Hanrahan!
Have you seen the nude scene from "Slap Shot"? That's Ralphie's Mom? I am speechless. I am without speech.
Makes me long for a comforting domestic scene -- some cookies and MILF.
Philadelphians, follow my lead.
Go to the kitchen. Find your brown paper lunch bags.
Remove one. Place the opening over your mouth.
Now, breathe in.
Breathe in again.
Repeat until you realize the following: You still have the best team in the NFC. You still have home-field advantage. How can a team lose an NFC Championship game at home? Come on!
Uh, sorry about that.
What you need are two things: 1) Philly stories, and 2) Alcohol.
The latter, apparently, is already covered. Reader Michelle Tacconelli forwarded me an e-mail from her friend, Angela Amento, which read: "The first official meeting of the "T.O. IS INJURED AND I WANT TO CRY CLUB" will be held at a location to be determined in Manayunk. The location will come well-stocked with alcohol and cute boys to drown our sorrows."
Lonely bachelors of Philly, unite: Michelle, Angela and the rest of Philly's finest Italian-American babes are looking for a green-jerseyed shoulder to cry on. Follow your instincts, boys. Two things: Leave your face paint at home. And remember to pick up the tab.
As for the Philly stories? We've got 'em -- the perfect antidote to post-Christmas blues, post-T.O. angst and illustrative of your town's general depravity.
Faithful reader Gabe from Philly e-mailed to note that safety remains a concern during the holidays -- before the Eagles-Packers game, firemen roamed the lot handing out papers on grilling safety, reminding all of the one-year anniversary of the grill that got loose and started a fire that consumed several vehicles and was "visible from inside the Linc." Only in Philly can the acronym "G.G.W." stand for "Grills Gone Wild."
Reader Chris B. wrote in last week with his two cents.
Cent One: "Once at the Vet, the man sitting beside us began to take long drinks from a bottle of rum, then apologized for his rudeness in not offering us any. We got to talking," Chris B. wrote, "and he revealed he was a high-school principal."
(Hangover note: Surely, the principal's name was Mr. Morgan, and was known by the savvier kids around school only as "Capt. Morgan.")
Cent Two: "During early-morning tailgating," Chris B. wrote, "some Air Force jets flew over the Vet. Seeing this, one drunken Phan decided to paint 'USA' on his face. He went to a car window, applied the paint, and proudly came back featuring 'A2U' on his face."
Eagles fans did not disappoint, Chris wrote, as most of Birds Nation broke into a chant: "A2U!", "A2U!"
See, Eagles fans? Life is not all sadness and ankle surgeries. We can laugh a little, too.
Now, have faith. Like I said: Trust is a must. If you trust the quality of the meat at Pat's, then you can trust your 13-1 Birds.
Final Week 16 thoughts
Besides, if they didn't make it, we could spend all day barbecuing Dungy for bad game management. See? A win-win.
It could have been a scene out of "A Christmas Story."
Say, if that was the case, maybe Melinda Dillon as Ralphie's Mom was somewhere in the stands.
I wonder if she took off her top to celebrate?
E-mail Brian Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org