Okay, here's my gambling story for Round One ...
With Suns-Clippers clashing with Jets-Chargers on Saturday night, I was facing a dilemma: Stay home for one of only 11 NFL playoff games this season, or TiVo the game and check out an NBA team on pace for 70 wins this season. I ended up choosing the Suns, justifying the decision because NFL games are already on a five-second delay, plus there's another three-second delay with TiVo ... when you think about it, you're about nine seconds behind on every play. So what's the difference between nine seconds and 9,000 seconds? I'm still watching a recording, right?
I decided to be That Guy Who Doesn't Want to Know the Score. Which never works out. Either someone calls you during the game, you overhear someone talking, you accidentally see a TV ... Murphy's Law always kicks in. But that didn't stop me from rolling the dice. Since the Staples Center flashes NFL scores in the corners of the arena, I promised myself that I would make it through the Clips game without ever peeking at those mini-scoreboards.
Well, you can guess how this one turned out. Given that I had the Chargers in four different teasers and parlays -- all they had to do was win by three -- we sat down for about two seconds before I glanced at the mini-scoreboard for a second half update. NYJ 14, SD 7 (7:00, 3rd). Great. I was done for the night. Johnson and Q were popping threes, Stoudemire and Marion were filling lanes, Nash was playing the point like Sean O'Neill in his prime ... and I was staring at an 8-by-10 scoreboard flashing erratic updates from 300 feet away.
NYJ 17, SD 7 (1:09, 3rd).
NYJ 17, SD 7 (12:18, 4th).
At one point, the time didn't change for about 15 minutes. And I was DYING. Stoudemire could have dunked from midcourt and I probably would have missed it. To make matters worse, the guy sitting directly behind us was ignoring the game and babbling on about his law firm, enraging the Sports Gal to the point that she hissed, "No wonder he hasn't made partner yet, he talks too much!" I thought she was going to attack him with her 48-ounce Diet Coke cup.
NYJ 17, SD 10 (4:20, 4th).
(Come on ... please ... )
NYJ 17, SD 10 (1:58, 4th).
(There goes the cover ... )
NYJ 17, SD 10 (1:12, 4th).
(I feel sick ... I honestly feel sick ... )
NYJ 17, SD 17 (0:11, 4th).
(Wait ... whaaaaaaaaaaaat????)
Since we were nearing halftime of the Clips game, I grabbed the Sports Gal and dragged her to a little-known bar behind Section 117, a trendy place that serves $10 drinks, $15 appetizers and complimentary Botox injections. You may even see a few NBA groupies trying to coordinate their ovulation cycles. Right as we arrived, some guy at the bar explained the Eric Barton play to us, which sounded like a Level One Stomach Punch. No way the Jets could bounce back from that doozy, right? We watched the Chargers march down for the game-winning score, reaching New York's 23 in a matter of minutes ... and then Marty wrapped both hands around his neck, calling three straight runs for no gain, leading to a 40-yarder (from the right hashmark, no less) for a rookie kicker who had the Kevin Bacon "I can't believe Colonel Jessup just admitted that he ordered the Code Red" Face going. Way to go, Marty. You did it again. The kid pushed it right as the bar exploded. And I paid our check and scurried out of there.
"Why don't you want to see the end of the game?" the Sports Gal asked.
"Because I know how it's going to end."
Ten minutes later, the score flashed on the mini-scoreboard:
NYJ 20, SD 17 (F).
Amd that's when I vowed two things:
1. I'm never taping an NFL playoff game again. Ever.
2. Not only am I never wagering on Marty Schottenheimer in a playoff game again, If you ever hear me even considering it, you have full permission to slice my achilles tendons with a Ginsu knife.
So let's give Marty the old "The more things change, the more they change" Award. He's been doing this since I was in college. In the first Playoff Gambling Manifesto, Rule No. 3 was "Before you select a team, make sure Marty Schottenheimer or Jim Mora isn't coaching them." Then a few years lapsed without a Marty playoff appearance before he resurrected his career in San Diego ... and hoodwinked me into backing him again. The lesson, as always: I'm an idiot.
While we're here, some other awards from Round One:
Saddest group of fans: Seahawks fans
You have to feel for them. Even as Vanilli was running down the sidelines with that game-winning overtime TD, I was thinking of my poor friend KJ, a die-hard Seattle fan and author of the upcoming book, "If We Killed Jim McIlvaine, Would That Get Him off The Cap?" Imagine rooting for the Seahawks for the past 20 years? Has there been a more nondescript franchise in any sport?
(Whoops, that's what I wrote last season after the crushing Packers game. Since then, we've had two more agonizing regular season losses for Seattle, plus a playoff defeat where their receiver dropped a game-tying TD on the final play. Not only have the Seahawks failed to win a playoff game in 20 years, they have lost three of their last five playoff games on the final play. Personally, I think the franchise should embrace their fan's pain and just start playing The Cure and The Smiths during home games.)
Funniest reaction: Mike Martz after every Rams TD
He's like a drunk guy at a $10 craps table in Vegas, isn't he? If the Rams ever acquired Jon Kitna -- leading to a touchdown where Kitna did the extended finger-point at the sky, followed by Martz's crap table reaction -- I'm not sure what I would do. In fact, let's make this happen.
Most one-sided game that wasn't that one-sided: Jets-Chargers
Did anyone else think the Jets could have blown them out in the first three quarters? Not only were they controlling the clock, but Pennington missed two wide-open guys for big plays in the first half ... plus, Marty was doing his "I'd rather play not to lose" routine and refusing to take the shackles off Brees. And by the way, if the Chargers had done the rinky-dink routine during the season, they would have gone 7-9. That's wasn't the team I wagered on. I can't stop talking about this.
Strangest studio show: ABC's Saturday crew
Put it this way: Can you imagine any other circumstances in which Michael Strahan, Chris Berman, Brian Billick and Steve Young would be hanging out for seven straight hours? Who decides these things? It was like one of those "Politically Incorrect" panels that Bill Maher used to put together; they should have just substituted Margaret Cho for Young.
Funniest pre-game intro: Torry Holt
I love when he does the "Torry Big-Game Holt" routine. Always kills me. By the way, I think ABC's introductions for the starting lineups should also be used at weddings. You know the part when they introduce the bridal party? Instead of having some scheevy DJ introducing everyone, just produce a pre-taped video package like ABC does, with everyone looking into the camera and saying things like, "Bill 'Big Game' Simmons, Usher, College of the Holy Cross." Somebody try this. Please.
Scariest omen: Marty's playoff record
Seriously, what's worse than taking the Chargers then seeing them throw up that "5-11" stat? I have never given up on four bets in 0.035 seconds before. I'm telling you, I will never get over taking the Chargers last weekend. Just thinking about it gives me the same feeling I get whenever my wife leaves her keys dangling from our front door for five hours. Again? It happened again?
Best all-around performance: Randy Moss
First, he gets all the uptight guys on the studio shows in a hilarious lather. Honestly, Boomer Esiason became so angry during his pregame tirade on Moss, it was like watching Hitler give those crazy speeches in the late-30's. (Not to compare Boomer to Hitler, but you know what I mean.) Then, Moss decides to wear Thelma's afro from "Good Times." Then he kills the Packers downfield, drops a few 12-letter swear words on camera while screaming at the Lambeau fans, and caps things off with a second TD and the fake moon, which drove the MAWSM (middle-aged white sports media) bonkers again. And then he took credit for the Minny win by claiming that he caused such a distraction leading up the game, everyone was focusing on him and not the annual Minnesota collapse -- which was actually sorta true.
(Moss' grade for the weekend: A-plus. You couldn't ask for much more.)
Funniest meltdown: Joe Buck
Seeing him gunning for an Emmy after Moss' moon had to be one of the funniest TiVo moments of all-time, right up there with the Jackson wardrobe malfunction and everything Stephen Jackson did during the Artest melee. Hey, remember the days when play-by-play guys were only there to provide play-by-play and set up the color guys? Then Bob Costas started doing baseball games ... within ten years, we had Buck unilaterally deciding the groundrules for moral decency during NFL games, starting a chain reaction that actually led to FOX and ESPN refuse to replay the clip that night. Since when did Buck turn into the Dad from Footloose? Isn't he like 35?
(One other question here: Wasn't Buck the same guy who beat those Babe Ruth pictures and angles into the ground over the past two years during Red Sox playoff games? So he's okay with torturing an entire fan base of young Red Sox fans to build up a media-related curse, but those same young kids need to be protected from seeing somebody pantomine mooning a crowd? How does this work again?)
My vote for biggest ongoing hypocrisy: The Brett Favre Era
Forget about the fact that we have to officially change Rule No. 5 in the Playoff Gambling Manifesto to "Don't bet heavily on or against Brett Favre under any circumstances." He couldn't have been worse on Sunday. Wasn't possible. Even Aaron Brooks was embarrassed by the play when Favre threw the ball five yards across the line of scrimmage, but you can't knock him because he's Brett Favre and you're only supposed to gush things like "Does this guy love this game or what?"
(We've officially reached the point where Favre craps the bed 50% of the time in big games. In fact, when I was talking to my buddy Geoff, a huge Vikes fan, before the game, we both mentioned that Minnesota's only chance was for Favre to come out doing Evil Favre things -- namely, throwing the ball up for grabs and making dumb plays. Which is exactly what happened. And the best thing about Favre is that you know right away; there's always time for the makeup halftime wager.)
Goofiest name: Sammy Davis
He's a d-back on the Chargers. I mean ... shouldn't we just retire certain names? Like, nobody can be "Sammy Davis" ever again? Or "Kurt Cobain"? Or "John Holmes"? And so on.
Most inevitable rout: The Broncos-Colts game
My favorite part: When the Broncos were down 21-3 and tried the inevitable onside kick, followed by the Colts recovering and Dungy nodding happily in the replay, like he was saying, "Yup, we knew it was coming." Every time they cut back to Shanahan, didn't you keep expecting him to suddenly have a five o'clock shadow and be holding a brown bag of liquor?
Weirdest ongoing tradition: Announcers knowing the game plans
Heading into the Chargers game, Madden tells us that the Jets want to prove that Pennington can throw the ball downfield -- in fact, he wouldn't be surprised if they go deep on the first play. So what happens? Not only do they go deep on the first play, Pennington goes deep another 6-7 times during the course of the game.
So here's my question: Why don't both teams have someone watching the first 5-6 minutes of every telecast, just for these little nuggets? Clearly, the announcers are fed information by both coaches with the "Wink-wink, don't say anything until the game starts" agreement. Couldn't you take advantage of this? More important, why would you tell Madden and Al Michaels anything? If I were Herman Edwards, I would give the CBS announcers tidbits like, "If we can get Anthony Becht the ball 10-15 times today, we can win" and "I'm going with all onside kicks -- it's never been done before, they'll never see it coming" and even "This is terrible, but my long snapper, has been getting hammered before games and there's nothing I can do about it."
All right, enough with the awards. Before we get to the Round 2 picks, it's worth mentioning that three of the four underdogs won outright last weekend, and six of the last seven playoff underdogs from last season covered as well (including all four in Round 2). Throwing in the fact that Seattle-Green Bay was the final game of Round One last January -- with Seattle covering -- that means 10 of the last 12 playoff underdogs have covered the spread (with six winning outright).
Will it continue this week? Onto the picks ...
Home teams in caps
STEELERS (-8.5) over Jets
Four things worry me about the Jets in this one:
The Pick: Steelers 30, Jets 10
Rams (+7) over FALCONS
Everything seems right for the Rams here: Another road game (so they don't have to deal with their fans); a dome game (and they're built for domes); a Falcons team that hasn't played a meaningful game in 4 weeks; and the fact that Rule No. 10 from the Manifesto is in play ("Beware of the easy two-team teaser on the same day" -- in this case, teasing the Steelers down to 2.5 and the Falcons down to 1). I like this Rams team for one simple reason: Not only can they drive down the field and get a score when they need one, but when you're watching them, you have total confidence that they're going to score. And that's saying something. I don't have that same faith in the Falcons. This line seems about 3 points too high to me. Maybe the Rams are 9-8, but there's a pretty good chance that they're a decent team that just took four months to get hot.
Does Mike Martz scare the holy bejeezus out of me? Absolutely. But don't forget, Jim Mora Jr. is involved in this game, and his Dad teamed up with Schottenheimer in the original Rule No. 3: "Before you select a team, make sure Marty Schottenheimer or Jim Mora isn't coaching them." Can that defective playoff gene be handed down? I say yes.
The Pick: Rams 30, Falcons 27
EAGLES (-8.5) over Vikings
Conflicting rules here: Yes, I think the Vikings can win this game (Rule No. 11) ... yes, the coaching matchup seems woefully one-sided towards the Eagles (Rule No. 4) ... yes, Mike Tice is involved (Rule No. 3) ... and yes, everyone seems to be taking the Vikings in this game (Rule No. 2).
So let's look at this logically. Against good defenses, the Vikings have struggled. That Reid-Tice matchup has to be worth 3 points for the Eagles. Moss' sprained ankle could be worth another 3. The Eagles are nice and rested; that's another 3. I think Philly's crowd shows up on Sunday -- that's worth another 3. McNabb tearing up that embattled Minnesota secondary is worth 7. Minnesota playing their third straight playoff-type game on the road -- that's worth another 3. And as Dan Dierdorf would say, I'm not so sure Minnesota's Super Bowl wasn't last week in Lambeau. They played with something to prove. Can you do that two weeks in a row? Probably not. That's another 7.
The Pick: Eagles 29, Vikings 17
PATS (-2) over Colts
Does this one worry me? Absolutely. You have the defending champs without both starting cornerbacks, playing against the most prolific offense in years. You have Manning's 0-and-6 streak at Foxboro, which can't possibly last for his entire career. You have a Colts team that believes it's just as good as the Patriots, that they could have won any of their last four games, regardless of whether that's true or not. And you have a league that seems much more interested in condoning Indianapolis's style of play over New England's style of play.
With that said, it seems strange that the Colts seem to be such an overwhelming pick given that the Pats went 14-2; they're playing at home; they have a better coach; they have a 1,600-yard rusher who's been dying to play in a big game for 8 years; they're the prototypical "grind games out, force mistakes, make those 2 or 3 plays in the end" teams that always give the Colts trouble; and they have clearly had Indy's number over the years. Belichick even kept the field uncovered during an ice storm last Tuesday, just to slow down the field.
But that's not why I'm picking them. Here's why:
Two days before the start of the 2004 season, I was flicking channels and stumbled across an NFL Films show about the defending champs. Well, I had to watch. When your team wins a championship, you watch everything after the fact. That's just the way it is. Near the end of this particular show, they threw a delightful curveball at me: Never-before-seen footage of the Patriot players receiving their five-carat championship rings, which happened during a private ceremony over the summer. The boys opened the boxes at the same time, like a bunch of kids on Christmas. Then they cut to an interview with Richard Seymour, who said, "You can't get anything like this by accident, you can't pay for something like this with money, it just takes hard work, blood, sweat and tears, sacrifices ... this is why we do what we do."
Yup, that about sums it up.
Then Rodney Harrison came on camera, holds up his ring and says, "The best way I can explain this is this is the next-best thing to my son being born four months ago -- that's what type of experience this is ... it's unbelievable, the type of committment, the type of sacrifice it took to achieve this," as we see footage from the ceremony of Harrison holding his ring up in the air for the first time, then bringing it down against his face and breaking into tears, a lifelong dream accomplished. What a moment. A little bit later, we see Tom Brady looking at his ring and sobbing in delight, followed by Brady hugging one of his lineman as hard as he can.
Brady gets the final word: "It's the most beautiful ring I've ever seen, but more than that, it was one of the most wonderful times in my life."
Forget about the fact that the show earned instant "Save Until I Delete" status on my TiVo, or that I watch the last few minutes every time I can't remember why I write about sports for a living. I just feel like there are two types of champions -- the kind that was just happy to win once, or the kind that wants to keep winning. And this Patriots team isn't done yet. I think they live for moments like this. I think they want to be remembered as one of the greatest teams ever. I think they always manage to rise to the occasion when it matters. And I think I'm going to keep picking them until somebody takes them down.
The Pick: Patriots 27, Colts 23
Last week: 2-2
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.