I couldn't think of a good lead for this week's NFL column, so you know what that means? Time to break out the old mailbag! Here we go...
Q: Will someone tell Tony Dungy that a team earns a championship every year, but earning a special place in history by posting a perfect season ... that's something that doesn't come around too often. He is going to rob his players a chance to do something no NFL team has ever done in a 16-game season. Also, I have Peyton in fantasy.
-- Dave, New York, NY
SG: I'm with you -- go for the 16 wins, it's the difference between being remembered for 12 months or multiple decades. Just ask the '72 Dolphins; they still have camera crews showing up to watch them get drunk together.
I don't understand Dungy, to be honest. After they whupped Pittsburgh on Monday, "NFL Films" showed his postgame speech when he told his team, "Can't tell you how proud I am. The one thing we gotta get corrected though -- this was a playoff-type atmosphere. We gotta be able to play with composure in these situations. We're playing with energy, we're playing with emotion, we're playing with talent, when we put it all together and play with composure, we're gonna be very very tough to beat."
(Um, Tony? You're already very, very tough to beat! You're 11-0! Nobody can stop your offense! You're going to be a double-digit favorite in the AFC Championship Game and a 14-point favorite in the Super Bowl! Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Jeez, if Brian Billick was coaching this team, he'd be wearing a smoking jacket on the sidelines, puffing on Cubans, pinching the other coach's cheeks during postgame handshakes and referring to himself as "The Ace.")
Q: Is there any weirder phenomenon than Hines Ward's constant smiling while he plays football? Has any other player in history been able to play at a Pro Bowl level while smiling the entire time? Why isn't there more made of this?
-- Ed Levicoff, Pittsburgh, PA
SG: Come on, he's smiling all the time because he made it through two years of the Tommy Maddox Era without suffering a major neck injury from getting laid out over the middle while going for one of Tommy's floaters. Can you blame him?
Q: Would there be anything more scary than waking up in the middle of the night and having Chris Kaman standing at the foot of your bed?
-- Tony, Minneapolis
SG: Sure -- having the Texans plus-4 in a game they're leading by 10 points with 30 seconds to go, followed by a seventh-string QB from Harvard completing a 43-yard TD pass on fourth down, then a perfect onside kick recovered by the Rams, a game-tying 47-yard field goal to force overtime, and then the Rams covering because a white guy takes a wide receiver screen 60 yards for the game-winning TD. That's more harrowing than seeing Kaman at the foot of your bed. Although not by much.
Q: Wouldn't it be pretty funny to hear ESPN's "Sunday Night Football" crew give a eulogy?
-- Alex, Syosset, NY
SG: Actually, I was hoping for a Pat Morita tribute during the Saints-Jets game...
Patrick: Guys, we'd be remiss if we didn't say good-bye to one of the great, great actors of our generation, Pat Morita -- what an actor this guy was! Just a great, great, great actor.
Theismann: Mike, when we talked to John Avildsen, the director of "The Karate Kid," he told us that Pat Morita was one of the greatest actors he ever worked with. I mean, here's a guy who was simply robbed for the 1984 Best Supporting Actor by Dr. Haing S. Ngor.
Maguire: I'm gonna tell you what a great actor this guy was. Watch this clip from the first "Karate Kid" when he saves Daniel-San on Halloween ... watch him jump this fence and take out the Cobra Kai -- here it comes, here it comes, WHAM! BAM! Right there! And look at his feet! See his feet moving! Is this guy something? You think this guy doesn't know karate?
Patrick: What a scene for Pat Morita! HOLY COW!
Theismann: And guys, when we talked to Jimmy Franklin, the head writer for "Happy Days" back in 1977, he told us that Pat Morita was the easiest guy he has ever written for -- and this is a guy who wrote for Pat Schneider, Vic Tayback, Conrad Bain and pretty much every great sitcom actor from that decade.
Maguire: And Joe, you want to talk about a guy who could steal a scene? This guy could steal scenes. He'd steal 'em right out of thin air! And you know the thing about Pat Morita -- when he belted out a line like "wax on, wax off," I'm gonna tell you somethin' right now: You believed him. You waxed on, and you waxed off.
Theismann: I'm not so sure he wasn't the greatest character actor of all-time.
Patrick: What a great, great actor and what a huge, huge loss -- you cannot say enough about it. So long, Pat Morita.
Q: How can you have the Dolphins as the winners of the "Team That's Had Their Hearts Ripped Out Because of Their Crappy QBs" Award??? Brooks + Vinny + Kingsbury is not a better combo put together than Gus on the Dolphins.
-- Mark M., Storrs, CT
SG: Yeah, but the Dolphins are a decent team with a good coach -- they could have taken the AFC East with even a mediocre QB. The Jets would have stunk with or without Pennington. That's the big difference.
Hey, if you're a Jets fan, you should be secretly happy here. There's nothing more randomly entertaining than rooting against your team for a good cause -- in this case, the Reggie Bush Sweepstakes -- and hoping your team puts up a good fight without actually winning any games. When this happened with the Patriots a whopping four times in 11 years (1981, 1984, 1991 and 1992), I remember thoroughly enjoying some of those late-November/December games -- in a weird way, it was more entertaining than a 10-6 season when you lose in Round 1 of the playoffs. As my buddy Raff (diehard Jets fan) pointed out after their dramatic Saints loss on Sunday night, "It's been such pleasure to root for a perennial loser to keep losing ... I feel so relaxed watching football on Sundays, it's like taking a hot bath."
(And while we're on the subject, when you need to play hard every week but keep blowing close games to get the No. 1 pick ... I mean, could you ask for a better coach than Herm Edwards? To paraphrase John Bender, isn't he OUTSTANDING in that capacity?)
Q: What are the odds of you slipping a Michael Irvin joke past your editors in this week's NFL column? I say 10-to-1.
-- Wayne M., Rye, NY
SG: Don't underestimate me. I'd say closer to 3-to-1.
Q: According to another website on Tuesday, the top-3 most likely successors to the Lions' soon-to-be vacant head coaching position are, in order of likelihood, Mike Martz, Herm Edwards and Dick Jauron. I e-mailed that article to a few friends who are fellow Lions fans. The unanimous response: "Kill me."
-- Andrew Bratt, NYC
SG: I'm rooting for them to bring back Wayne Fontes, kinda like how the Orlando Magic brought back Brian Hill this season. By the way, in a sports media climate that becomes increasingly ludicrous every week, wasn't the treatment of the Mariucci firing especially goofy? Either you had to argue that "Mooch deserved it, this team had quit on him," or you had to argue that "Forget about Mooch, I'll tell ya who should be fired here, what about Matt Millen?" The important thing is that, no matter which angle you chose, you had to call Mariucci "Mooch."
Here's my point: What were we arguing about? The Lions were poorly coached AND the roster was poorly assembled. What more can you say? Why was this such a major story? Shouldn't we be discussing the important things in life? You know, like ...
Q: I think I've finally found a "Save Until I Delete" program for TiVo that rivals the Pistons-Pacers brawl. Please tell me that you witnessed the trainwreck that was the "Real World Austin Reunion?!?" Nehemiah was thisclose to pulling an Artest at one point, going toe-to-toe with Rachel. Then, he says that Danny is "trying to be Ben Affleck." Ouch. Please comment!
-- Jason, Larchmont, NY
SG: Sure, twist my arm. My favorite moments included ...
1. Wes and Nehemiah trying to explain the OJ-like altercation with Rachel in the final episode, followed by Rachel giving the first-ever, "You know what, I deserved it, I attacked them first, I was asking for it" defense. Fun show for the whole family.
2. Johanna admitting that she and Wes were finally boyfriend/girlfriend -- after all, how could anyone resist someone who could best be described as a shorter, less charismatic, dumber, more transparent, pre-BALCO version of the Miz? It was only a matter of time.
3. The wildly loathsome Nehemiah starting trouble with Danny at the end of the show, then refusing to back off, followed by Wes screaming, "Come on, Nehemiah, be professional!" Yeah, seriously, Nehemiah. Be professional. Don't you realize this is a reality-TV show?
4. Danny claiming that he hadn't turned into an egomaniac since the show ended, followed by a taped segment when he proposed to his girlfriend in Central Park with cameras on hand. You could practically see the "Maybe MTV will televise our wedding like CBS did with Boston Rob and Amber!" lightbulb flickering over his head. High comedy.
(By the way, Danny is the fourth Real World cast member with a horrible Boston accent, a hair-trigger temper and an IQ of 45, yet they refuse to put the female equivalent on the show -- the gum-snapping, frizzy-haired chick from Saugus who still wears Bourque jerseys and Jordache jeans; dates a guy who's failed the state trooper test four times and now is allegedly making six figures selling real estate; says stuff like, "I'm not nearly as much of a slut as I used to be"; brags about winning two grand at Wonderland once; claims she once made out with Derek Lowe; and flips out if you mistakenly think she's from Revere. Why hasn't that girl been cast on the show yet? Thirteen years and counting and that demo hasn't been tapped once?)
Q: In the NCAA basketball preview edition of SI, there's a blurb about Nelly celebrating his birthday party in St. Louis, and it ends on the following note: "Nelly's friends arranged ... a party at announcer Joe Buck's restaurant J. Buck's. Nelly and his girlfriend, Ashanti, enjoyed baseball-shaped cakes and Cracker Jack served by scantily clad 'vendors.'" Which leads to the following hypothetical: If Nelly's friends had arranged for Joe Buck to do the play-by-play of this party, how do you think he would have described this scene as it unfolded in his own restaurant?
-- Sean Maxwell, Toronto, Ontario
SG: I wouldn't know how to do a play-by-play, but I can almost guarantee that one of Nelly's friends was working it with a some hot babe at the bar, followed by Buck coming over and saying, "Wow, you guys have been talking for 45 minutes ... this is getting serious! Just in case you guys were thinking of hooking up, I just wanted to make sure that you guys knew that everyone here has noticed that you guys have been talking for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!" And that would be quickly followed by the girl fleeing for the men's room and Nelly's buddy saying, "Yo, why'd you do that? What the hell?"
Q: Do you realize the 2005 Giants have become Video Madden in real life? They had the equivalent of your "No Freaking Way" game against the Vikings, giving up the KO, PR, and INT for TDs, come back with a late touchdown and 2-point to tie, only to lose on the last-second FG. And now against Seattle, Jay Feely was kicking like someone who had no idea how to use the FG feature in Madden and didn't know how to handle the power/accuracy meters. Not only that, they have a Madden name generator guy like Chase Blackburn on the team. It's surreal.
-- Matt, Northern NJ
SG: You know what was crazy about that game? I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, that was one for the ages -- the first-ever Triple Stomach Punch Game. We will never see anything like that again." Then I'm watching "SportsCenter" that night and they show a graphic about how Cardinals kicker Neil O'Donoghue missed three overtime kicks in an eventual Monday night tie against the Giants in 1983 (including a 19-yarder). Astounding, right? So I immediately went online to research this O'Donoghue game, stumbling across another O'Donoghue disaster in Tampa Bay where he had four kicks blocked by the Vikings in a 1979 game, including a last-second PAT attempt that would have sent the game into overtime.
Now I was intrigued. I started googling phrases like "Neil O'Donahue horrible," "Neil O'Donahue missed" and "Neil O'Donahue blocked." And games kept popping up, In 1984, he blew a game to the Packers with a missed PAT and a 45-yard field goal that was short. On the last game of the '84 season, needing a win against Washington to make the playoffs, O'Donoghue missed the game-winning field goal as time expired. Playing for Tampa Bay in 1978, someone snapped the ball over his holder's head, followed by O'Donoghue trying to kick the ball out of bounds and whiffing on it -- leading to an 80-yard return by the Vikes and Bucs coach John McKay to derisively call him "The Irish Wonder." Turns out he played nine seasons for three teams and went 112-189 on field goals, which means he averaged 12-for-21 every year for nine years. If this guy doesn't warrant his own "SportsCentury" episode, I don't know who does.
Q: If Lindsay Lohan's breasts rebound all the way from their near-oblivion, would it be analagous to MJ's first un-retirement? It would be a big day for the entire male population to see the "We're back" picture.
-- Justin Killian, NYC
SG: I couldn't agree more. And if it ended with her version of MJ's final game-winning shot in Utah -- in this case, the lead role in the NC-17 movie, "Basic Instinct 2" -- even better. Please send me an address, I want to FedEx her five cheeseburgers, two orders of onions rings and a chocolate milkshake.
Q: Here is my list of currently annoying NFL trends, please tell me what you would add.
• 1. A national TV network allowing Tony Siragusa to chime in during a game from the sidelines at his discretion.
• 2. Seeing two teams play a horrible game where there are turnovers and missed opportunities and then say that it was a great defensive matchup just because the score was low and close.
• 3. Comparing teams at Week 10 to the great teams of all time.
• 4. Chad Johnson.
--Phil, Richmond, Va.
SG: All right, I'd like to add the following things WHILE being interrupted by Tony Siragusa:
• 5. The networks consistently going to commercial between kickoffs and first downs, yet refusing to go to commercial during those five-minute instant replay delays.
• 6. The horsecollar tackle only getting called for a penalty if someone blows out a knee.
• 7. Praising any kicker, QB or coach for showing "courage" during a game when we have firemen rushing into burning buildin-
(Tony: "Excuse me, guys, here's another thing that's annoying, when you buy nachos and they forget to put the cheese on them. You need cheese with nachos! Am I right? I'm big and I love nachos! Back to you, guys.")
• 8. Defensive players steadfastly refusing to pull an offensive player down by his dreadlocks, even though that seems to be an enormous advantage.
• 9. Somebody telling the story about how Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer went to a game in Indianapolis last year to study Manning and Harrison.
• 10. When they're showing fantasy stats on the bottom and consistently pick the least interesting guys, so the scroll goes something like, "Bengals 42, Ravens 29 ... Heap, 1 catch for 6 yar ... "
(Tony: "Hey, just heard that you brought up Todd Heap, interesting story there, when he was a rookie on the Ravens, one night during training camp, we broke into his hotel room, covered him in duct tape and rolled him down a six-story fire escape ... he was NOT happy, guys.")
You know what? Let's just go to the Week 13 picks ...
(HOME TEAMS IN CAPS)
DOLPHINS (-5) over Bills
This just in: Ricky Williams has invited himself over to Michael Irvin's house for Thanksgiving next year.
(Random coaching subplot I always enjoy: When a struggling offensive coordinator either leaves the booth to call plays from the field or vice-versa, which is the football equivalent of two buddies changing seats at a blackjack table after losing eight straight hands. For instance, Miami's Scott Linehan moved down to the field last week, "leading" to a 30-21 win, and Gus Frerotte said afterward, "When you're on the field, you kinda get a feel for what plays and players are working." Wow, really, Gus? Then why would anyone stay in the booth? I love this stuff.)
BROWNS (+3) over Jags
David Garrard playing on the road, in Cleveland, in cold weather? I don't think so.
(By the way, if you had to pick the NFL player to be on the receiving end of this generation's Theismann/LT injury, wouldn't you pick Byron Leftwich? He could be the first player in NFL history to have an appendage detach from his body on a tackle.)
Bengals (+3) over STEELERS
Normally in these big brother/little brother relationships, I hate picking the little brother until they've already gotten over the hump ... but something's wrong with Big Ben. He doesn't look right. And even the whiff of a Tommy Maddox cameo has me gravitating toward the points. Speaking of the Steelers, did you ever wonder what's said when two NFL players are woofing at one another? NFL Films caught a great exchange before the Indy-Pittsburgh game between Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans. Here's the actual transcript:
-- Haggans: "I guarantee you better not catch a hitch! You better not catch a hitch!"
-- Wayne: "You know where I'm at!"
-- Haggans: "You better not catch a hitch!"
-- Wayne: "You know where I'm at!"
-- Haggans: "You better not catch a hitch!"
-- Wayne: "Whatcha gonna do?"
(Wait, wasn't that how the Lincoln-Douglas debate started?)
RAVENS (-8) over Texans
Did you see "Survivor" last night? Lydia the Fishmonger hadn't eaten for like 4 weeks, so they played the "Auction Game" and gave everyone like $400 to spend ... and she ended up spending $120 on a mosquito net and got outbid for every food item, as well as the immunity hint (even though she was definitely getting voted off within the next two shows). Anyway, if you look closely at her expression during the auction, I swear, she's making the Dom Capers Face for like 5 straight minutes. That's one for the ages.
BRUINS FRONT OFFICE (-11) over Bruins Fans
Joe Thornton to San Jose for three random dudes? And you wonder why I bailed on this franchise in the '90s. Others weren't so lucky.
BEARS (-7) over Packers
I'm starting to re-think this whole Bears thing -- what if they snuck into that first seed with 12 wins, then needed only to play two home games in 10-degree, windy/crazy/surreal weather in front of 60,000 maniacal fans to make the Super Bowl? Would you bet against them with that defense and all the breaks they've been getting?
Which reminds me ...
"ORTON! JUREVICIUS! It's the NFC Championship Game, right here on Fox!"
COLTS (-15.5) over Titans
Can we all stop with the "Plummer for MVP" crap? His coach wouldn't even trust him to throw the ball on third down with two minutes left in a tie game last week. Come on. Manning is the MVP this year. Even I admit it. He's been awesome to watch these last few weeks. Just awesome. I will now intentionally trip and hit my head on the side of a coffee table.
Here are the Sports Guy's Confidence Picks for Week 13:
Vikings (-2.5) over LIONS
Long live the Ewing Theory! By the way, here's a provocative e-mail from Al in Lindewood, New Jersey: "Am I the only one who thinks the Joey Harrington situation has gotten to the point where we might actually see a "Private Pyle" moment from Full Metal Jacket. You know, Matt Millen wanders into the locker room, can't find Harrington and then goes into the bathroom only to see his QB loading the rifle and calling out the wide receiver progressions to various plays?"
Jets (+10.5) over PATRIOTS
Playing the role of the beaten-up star QB who took way too much punishment over the first 10-11 games and is slowly breaking down ... ladies and gentleman, Mr. Tom Brady!
(And yes, the AFC East is the worst division in football. I agree. You can stop sending me that e-mail. Seriously. I'm with you. Heard you loud and clear. Gotcha.)
GIANTS (-3) over Cowboys
This feels like one of those classic Tiki Barber Home Games -- 220 rushing ards, two long TDs, another 75 yards receiving, and then 45 TV appearances over the subsequent three days. Do you think Tiki has a TV studio built in his house? Is there a show he wouldn't do? I kept expecting to see him presenting during the 2005 AVN Awards on Playboy Channel this month. And the nominees for best girl-girl scene are ...
Falcons (+3) over PANTHERS
Chad Johnson did a special dance in the Steel City
J.P. Losman murdered the Bills once again, it's such a pity
In Minnesota the Ewing Theory replaced the Sex Cruise
In Baltimore Billick sees Boller and thinks about booze
Harrington gunned down Matt Millen in the locker room
Vick went into Carolina and he lowered the boom
Because I like it, I love it, I want some more of it
I try so hard, I can't rise above it.
Don't know what it is 'bout the pushin' and the shovin'
But I like it, I love it, I want some more of it
(Did you ever try to predict the Tim McGraw lyrics on Monday Night Football? Um ... me neither ... )
NINERS (-3) over Cardinals
How are we supposed to pick a game like this? Seriously. You tell me.
(That Tim McGraw song is running through your head now, isn't it? Sorry 'bout that. Good luck getting through the rest of the afternoon.)
Bucs (+3.5) over SAINTS
Clint from Milpitas, CA asks, "I was riding an exercise bike during Jets-Saints when I THOUGHT I heard Joe Theismann say he thinks Jim Haslett 'deserves to be Coach of the Year.' Should I get a cat-scan? Can this man say anything negative about anyone? How does he feel about Josef Stalin?"
Well, Clint, I think you heard it correctly. New York reader Ernie Goodwin elaborates: "Did you hear Patrick and Theismann on Sunday night? Patrick said that Haslett has done a 'remarkable' job coaching the Saints this year. Yes, they were 2-8 at this point. Theismann followed with, and I quote, 'Haslett deserves to be Coach of the Year.' I thought I was dreaming and I was thinking to myself, 'Ernie, haven't you been smoking peyote for like the last 3 days, and maybe this is all in your head?' Turns out I was wrong, it was indeed actually said. Good times. I'm off to free-climb Mt. Vesuvius."
Redskins (-3) over RAMS
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the NFL equivalent of Gonzaga during March Madness -- is there anyone NOT on the bandwagon? Bandwagons + gambling = no $$$$$$.
(Random TV note: My new favorite ongoing TV subplot involves Dan Marino on "Inside the NFL" -- once a week, he'll try to bust someone's chops with a joke, but ends up deadpanning the punch line, over-laughing at his own joke, then turning to the crew to see if they're laughing. Just a phenomenal sequence -- vaguely reminiscent of Judge Smails laughing at his own jokes in "Caddyshack." Please look out for it.)
Broncos (-1) over CHIEFS
One of the sad things about parity: All my rules from my world-famous Gambling Manifesto have been washed away. You can go against Buffalo, Kansas City and Green Bay at home. You can take a crappy team like the Titans giving more than 7 points. You can take a crummy QB like Gus Frerotte on the road. You can wager heavily against Brett Favre. You don't have to be afraid of a road favorite like Denver in this one. Basically, wagering on NFL regular season games is like playing craps. There's no rhyme or reason to it. I find this mildly depressing.
CHARGERS (-11.5) over Raiders
The Norv Turner Second-Half Collapse Checklist ...
• Guys arguing on the sidelines? (CHECK)
• Embarrassing losses at home? (CHECK)
• QB getting sacked and throwing the ball up for grabs? (CHECK)
• Just an ungodly amount of penalties? (CHECK)
• Steady stream of excuses? (CHECK)
• Players taking veiled shots at the coaching staff? (CHECK)
• General malaise and dissatisfaction within the fan base? (CHECK)
• Local columnists taking shots at him? (CHECK)
• Big coaching name (Mariucci) looming in the background as a replacement? (CHECK)
EAGLES (+4) over Seahawks
Here's my theory: Over the summer, I think Mike Holmgren pulled an Earl Hickey, made a list of everyone he ever crossed, somehow atoned for all those sins, reversed his karma, and now he's winning football games when the other team's kicker misses three game-winning field goals in a 30-minute span. It's the only thing that makes sense. But on Monday night, he's going to be looking across the field at a fat guy with a red mustache, almost like looking into a mirror ... and it's gonna throw that karma off. Just for one week.
(But just long enough for the Bears to seize control of the NFC. Stay tuned ... )
LAST WEEK: 8-7-1
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.