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Monday, January 21, 2002
New England finally gets a call!

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Today's one-day special at The Cooler: Sno-Cones out of the Sparkletts jug.

Foxboro stadium
The Murph will need a couple of snow blowers to re-create the scene from Saturday night's classic.
See, I'm trying to simulate -- under the fluorescents -- that unreal snow-globe scene we saw Saturday night in Foxboro, Mass. Unforgettable stuff, man. I was waiting for Jon Gruden's tongue to stick to his headset mouthpiece, like Flick at recess after that dreaded triple-dog dare in "A Christmas Story."

How can we re-create such a panorama under the flouro-s, though? I mean, we'd have to borrow some props from that show "The Chamber" on Fox. The fan that blows ice chunks at you, the air conditioner turned to 10-below, the stream of 35-degree water out of a firehose -- the whole package of dignity.

(Yeah, we can say it. The show is, as my boy T.C. pointed out, the death knell for American society. That didn't stop my other boy Scottie from going on the show and winning 20 large, tho. That's right. Tune in next week and see my boy Scottie -- he's the guy in the goatee grimacing on the promos -- answer questions like, "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" while getting hit in the face with a Foxboro-sized piece of hail. Twenty large for that! Spring training drinks are on him. Yeaaaaah, booooy.)

But I digress.

Come to think from some of those crowd shots, I might not be far off the mark.

Wild stuff, man! The snow on the crown of the helmets? What organized sport would play under such "Chamber"-ish conditions? Baseball heads indoors at the first sign of mist. The PGA Tour takes its guys inside to the clubhouse spread once the first puddle forms on a green. I don't even think the Scottish rugby union would play in such insanity, opting instead for about 15 McEwans per man at the nearest tavern.

There was a point in the fourth quarter -- before "The Brady Miracle," or "The Vinatieri Vindication," or the "Sensation in the Snow," or the "Immaculate Incompletion," or whatever the hell moniker these self-absorbed New Englanders have attached to Saturday's game already -- where Brady got sacked. He had an enormo-chunk of ice in his helmet, a huge glob of frozen grass stuck to his neck and the Pats were down 13-3.

Tom Brady
You've got to hand it to the NFL for having the guts to schedule a night playoff game in January in New England.
It didn't look good, and the crowd was ugly. All I could think was: Some guy named Murph is in the crowd, two flasks in him, copping a Saharan heat and he's just unloading on Brady and the Pats. He's booing the living crap out of the squad, bitter and wondering why it is his lot in life to be an Irish-American in Boston and doomed to never see his Pats or Red Sox win it all.

Twenty minutes later, after the Immaculate Incompletion, Murph was hugging his best buddy O'Donnell from their days at St. Agnes Elementary School and crying tears of joy.

You New Englanders, man. You are an interesting, interesting lot.

I heard the boos. You don't think TV has mikes on the crowd? You guys were booing the Pats off the field at halftime. It was 7-0 at the time, man! All I could think was: Holy mother of Bob Kraft, this is an angry mob. The Pats have exceeded all expectation, created an autumn's worth of memory with a dynamic season, unearthed a stud rookie QB (who is from the Bay Area, by the way) and given the franchise hope ... and they're getting booed off the field, down 7-0 at half?

I talked to my boy Howie, born in Boston, raised in the Larry Bird Era in the suburb of Plymouth. He broke it down.

"Nobody can turn on you like a Boston crowd," Howie said. "Nobody. Not even Philly. Philly, they hate you all the way. Boston, they love you -- then they turn on you. They hate you. Nobody turns like a Boston crowd."

Tom Brady
Tom Brady's non-fumble might be the first break the entire region of New England has ever received.
Hilarious, man. Nobody turns on you like a Boston crowd.

By midnight Eastern, when Vinatieri somehow muscled a ball 45 yards through a dandruffian snow flurry; and when he did it again in OT for the win, I laughed. I knew Howie's boy Mikey in Plymouth was hard at work, building the ice statue of Vinatieri in the front yard to stand as sentinel through the night and triumphantly greet the dawn, commemorating the night that will never be forgotten in New England:

The Night a New England Team Finally Got a Call.

Really. That's what we should remember. Not the epic canvas of white snow falling from the black New England sky on an NFL playoff game for the ages.

What we should remember is that immutable, incredible fact: It was The Night a New England Team Finally Got a Call.

Congrats, lads. Enjoy. Bask. Rejoice.

Oh, one other thing.

It was a fumble.

On to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Billick's face: Worth it all
Brian Billick
The look on Brian Billick's face said it all as the Ravens were whipped Sunday in Pittsburgh.
We sat through last year's Super Bowl win. We sat through his sanctimonious speeches on HBO's "Hard Knocks." We sat through his speech claiming "sportswriters are like the thing on the bottom of my shoe" when Elvis Grbac had, like, his only good game of the season.

But Sunday, when Brian Billick's Baltimore Ravens had their lunch handed to them by a far superior Pittsburgh side, I could not get enough of those Billick sideline shots. The man was getting pantsed by a hated division rival, ending his season. And he hated it. He hated every down of it. And so CBS lingered on his face, the bite-into-the-lemon-then-chase-it-with-sour-milk mug.

Classic. An image to warm my chilly winter nights, and to help me drift off to peaceful, lasting sleep.

2. My guy Favre: Taking the gag
Brett Favre
Brett Favre had arguably the worst day of his career Sunday.
What can I say? My guy Brett Favre has feet of clay. I'd like to think it's because he's such a purist, he has no idea how to adjust his game to the bogus indoor scene. But in reality, he was swarmed and overmatched by a phenomenal Rams defense, which has already made reservations at the banquet room down at Pascale Manale's in New Orleans for the week of Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

Yeah, I hear you, Philly. I know the Eagles will represent. They'll play hard. But it's over, boys. Rams by at least two touchdowns. Aeneas Williams will be powering down BBQ shrimp with a bib on by this time next week.

As for the Favre Finale: Six picks, man! That's positively Detmerish. I wonder if I can barrel roll off the Favre Bandwagon and reclaim my old seat on the Flutiemania Bandwagon?

Yeah. I know. Shouldn't be a problem. Plenty o' seats for the Mullet Man's bandwagon.

3. Paging Chicago's offense. Please come to the white courtesy phone
Donovan McNabb
See, the Bears fit the bill perfectly. My guy Big Vic is a skilled gambler, and while we sat through a dreadful Warriors-Cavs game this week, he gave me his theory on the playoffs: There are teams that have had great seasons thus far, have gone beyond their dreams, and are just happy to be playing; and there are hungrier, veteran teams who will take care of business.

Like the Raiders-Pats. Uh, bad example.

Or the Steelers-Ravens. Uh, bad example.

Or the Eagles-Bears. Yeah, baby! Big Vic hit on that. The Bears had no business being in the playoffs this year. The Eagles were looking to move on. Result: Big Philly win.

What also helps this theory -- the Bears have the single worst offense in NFL history. Just an observation.

4. Lefty: Back and looking, uh, Leftyish
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson fattened up his wallet by winning the Bob Hope Classic.
I will never question Phil Mickelson's talent. Dude has sick amount of game. You could argue he has more shots in his bag than Tiger. And he showed as much when he nearly jarred his wedge in the playoff hole to win the Bob Hope from David Berganio Jr.

All that being said, got another look at Lefty's profile. What did he do in the five months he took off from golf: Eat his wife and kids? Lefty does not cut a Tigeresque figure. This has not escaped the notice of British golf writers. You think The Cooler is a den of cheap shots? I read a profile of Mickelson last year in an English newspaper comparing Mickelson's near-miss career to Colin Montgomerie's near-miss career. Many similarities were noted by the writer, who then penned this unforgettable line about Mickelson assuming Monty's throne:

"Distressingly," he wrote, "he also appears to be growing the same pair of breasts."

Ouch! Holy cow! Man, sounds like that guy could be a Pats fan.

5. Luke Walton: Killing me!
Luke Walton
Luke Walton put the hurt on his old man's alma mater.
Yeah, yeah. So, the UCLA Bruins blew a 20-point lead in Tucson. Of course they did. Those Stepford fans in their red sweaters and their desert-bred lunacy and their rhythmic claps and their Arizona-never-commits-a-foul attitude make McKale the creepiest place to play in the Pac-10.

That's not what killed me. Luke Walton killed me. Luke Walton going off on the Bruins! Luke Walton! For, like, 18 points and seven boards -- all of them clutch. Luke Walton! Son of perhaps the greatest Bruin of them all! What are you doing, Luke? You are killing me. Killing me! Heed your bloodline, man!

'Cause you know what you're doing? You're killing me!

I need to cool off. Somebody turn that ice fan my way. Pronto.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.