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Monday, January 6, 2003
Updated: January 7, 12:52 PM ET
Nothing beats a comeback

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

If there were ever a time to check the memo posted above The Cooler every Monday, the Three Rules of Cooler life, today is that day. Check the little yellow Post-It.

Giants fans
Giants fans will spend the offseason thinking about what might have been.

That's right, dwellers. Truths of life. Enduring verities. The things that keep our Cooler filled, and give us reason to wake up in the morning, hangover or no.

(By the way, that calls into question the statement Sinatra once made: "I feel sorry for people who don't drink, because when they wake up, that's as good as they're gonna feel all day." I used to think that meant people who didn't drink would never feel the sweet, warm glow of a buzz as it spread through their head and body in the early evening. But then a pal quoted it, and talked about how it meant that those who drink wake up hung over, but eventually recover. I ran it by my girl, who split the difference and said Sinatra meant both truths. So, that's settled. End of digression.)

But let's focus on Truth No. 3.

That's why they play the games.

Trying to digest that NFL Sunday of wild-card games, we are forced to seek refuge in this cliché, like a stoner seeks refuge in an In-'N'-Out double-double, animal style, after a few particularly deep bong hits.

I love sports clichés. They're so damn true. You know, you really do have to take them one at a time. If you don't, you're hosed. And it is a good idea to give 110 percent. What if the dude on the other side of the ball is giving 109?

And, of course, that's why they play the games.

Browns fans
Browns fans will be dogged by the memory of another painful playoff loss.
At musty and dear old Candlestick Park on Sunday, it was New York 38, San Francisco 14, with a little more than four minutes to play in the third quarter. The Niners were toast. History. Yesterday's news, at the bottom of a birdcage, after a big lunch for the bird.

Same thing in Pittsburgh. Third quarter: Cleveland 24, Pittsburgh 7. The Steelers were over. Another home loss in January. Brutality. Enough to make your Primanti Brothers sand-o taste like you ordered the turd-and-sawdust special, with extra sawdust, hold the mayo.

Then, dwellers, we witnessed the wondrousness of The Comeback, that greatest thing of all in sports.

Really, what beats a Comeback? Nothing beats a Comeback. Touchdown-trading, basket-trading shootouts? Nope. Can't beat a Comeback. Pitching duels that go 0-0 into the ninth? Nope. Nothing beats a Comeback. Morganna, the Kissing Bandit, planting one on Mike Schmidt, in the era before silicone? Nah. Nothing beats a Comeback.

Think of all the great Comebacks we've seen in sports: The Mean Machine came back to win in "The Longest Yard." The Cutters made a big-time Comeback in "Breaking Away." Billy Mills made the greatest Comeback of all-time in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, unless you want to count the Bad News Bears' comeback at the Astrodome, witnessed by Bob Watson and Enos Cabell themselves.

The Comeback: Brings a tear to the eye ("Stillers" and Niners), or sends tears into the beers (Giants and Browns), depending on your perspective.

The Comeback: A way of life for Rocky Balboa.

The Comeback: You gotta believe ... unless,of course, we're talking about the music of Cher.

Straight, then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Hang on, Woody ... Woody, hang on!
Ohio State fans
Hang on, Ohio State fans ... but you might want to let go of his head.
The above title is, apparently, a key singalong lyric for any good, old-fashioned, drunk and happy Ohio State fan worth his Buckeye. I, the Pac-10 ignoramus, had no clue. But my guy at work, Big Al, turned me on to this. (This is Big Al's third mention in The Cooler, and he sent me an inter-office message asking for a commission if I broke out his apparently copyrighted persona again. Sorry, Big Al. When the boys in Bristol start paying me, I'll start paying you.)

But I guess the Ohio State band plays the old 1965 hit by The McCoys, "Hang on, Sloopy," and Buckeye fans sing at games, "Hang on, Woody ... Woody, hang on!" out of reverence for the late, great Woody Hayes -- the Al Haig of college football coaches.

I guess the idea is: Get a heat on, then sing alternate lyrics to "Hang on, Sloopy," all the while reveling in Ohio State football.

Well, hell. After that Fiesta Bowl? I'm in.

Hang on, Woody ... Woody, hang on!

Big Al said he once attended a wedding where the wedding guests sang that for the bride, who entered the church in an Art Schlichter jersey. I cannot make this stuff up. This is Big Ten football. This is Buckeye Madness. This is Ohio. This is a different deal.

I'm serious. A different deal. Big Al went to Rutgers, but because he grew up in Cleveland, he'd kill for the Buckeyes. Another pal of mine, G. Bell, went to West Point, but because he grew up in a small-town in Ohio, he'd kill anyone Big Al won't kill -- just for the Buckeyes. I read some Ohio papers online after the double-OT victory over Miami, and some revelers included a guy who played football for Colorado -- and would have killed his neighbor in Ohio if he didn't root for the Buckeyes.

It's Ohio, man. It's a different deal. It's some sort of John Glenn mind-meld thing. They're like fans of Ireland's soccer team -- hellbent on being the palest, loudest, happiest and most drunk fans at any sporting event involving their team.

Hell, who wouldn't drink to that?

The first American in space was from Ohio ... and they produced Woody Hayes. So, everybody, to our national champs, let's sing:

Hang on, Woody ...

2. A brief pause for the Ohio State cheerleader kicker girl
Did any of you see the halftime promotion at the Fiesta Bowl? It featured cheerleaders from Miami and Ohio State, trying to kick field goals. So this little bird from Columbus gets up there, in her cute little Ohio State cheerleading outfit, with a cute red ribbon in her cute little co-ed hair, and just flat pures it! She knifed that thing home like she was Annette Vinatieri.

I seriously had to apply a cold compress to the forehead. It might have been one of the Five Hottest Things I've ever seen.

Forget late-night Cinemax. Forget the NFL cheerleaders in Santa suits. A Midwestern co-ed, a Big Ten betty, in a cheerleading outfit, with her red ribbon bouncing in her hair ... slicing home a field goal to win the big money for her school. Like her name was really Jan Stenerud, and like she was ready to wonder why a guy was named Jan in the first place, Euro-names or no Euro-names.

We'd better move on to the next item, before she puts in a restraining order on me.

3. Favre at Lambeau: Say it ain't so, Brett!
Brett Favre
Brett Favre and the Pack never got up off the Lambeau turf.
Did somebody kidnap Brett Favre and put in an Android version of Brett Favre? Was this the work of KAOS from "Get Smart!"? Was this something out of Austin Powers or, worse, the Ted Williams family will, where Favre was frozen cryogenically and the Green Bay Packers were left to fend with an evil twin version of Favre?

All I know is this: Down at my local tavern, Martin Mack's on Haight Street, my Irish bartender pal Brian counts on me for, ahem, expert, insider, fail-safe knowledge. Usually, I play coy, not wanting to flaunt my expert, insider, fail-safe knowledge. Just twice this year have I dipped into my expert, insider, fail-safe knowledge and given Brian tips:

Once, when the Raiders went to play at Denver on a Monday night. Bet your farm, and your neighbor's farm, I told him, on Denver, and give up the points. Bet any farm you see. Buy a few extra farms, and bet them.

That worked out pretty well.

My other take-it-to-the-bank, please-this-is-so-easy-for-me and I-am-all-knowing-and-wise pick was, of course, Green Bay. At home. Against a dome team. In the playoffs. Giving up the points.

That worked out pretty well, too.

You figure he's going to hock a loogie into my next pint of Guinness? You figure I'll get the "special sauce" next time I order the fries down at Martin Mack's?

Yikes.

4. Then again, Mike Vick
There is something about the way this cat just gets under center that lets you know something special is going to happen. He's got that slight little hitch, where his left foot is behind his right, like he's ready to explode. Or like he knows something you don't. Or like he just can't wait to get the play rolling, because something big is brewing.

Michael Vick
Watching Michael Vick is a little like watching Warren Beatty in his prime.
And yet, for all the beauty Vick creates with his legs, it's his thrown passes that I can't erase from my mind. Seriously, have you ever seen a prettier ball? There is a fluidity with which Vick throws that cannot be explained by physics, or by hack sportswriters, but it produces a thing of beauty: a tight spiral, thrown effortlessly, and usually right on the money.

Watching this guy throw is like watching Willie Mays play center field, like watching Bill Clinton lie, like watching Warren Beatty make time with Julie Christie or Carly Simon at the Beverly Hills Hotel anytime in the 1970s. Just a natural, doing his thing.

5. A final tribute to the state of Ohio
The Cooler was all set, until the fourth quarter at Heinz Field, to pay tribute to the Buckeye State for the greatest weekend of its sporting existence. Really, when does it get any better than Ohio State winning the national title and the Cleveland Browns beating the Pittsburgh Steelers -- in the playoffs?

This would have gone up there with any Reds World Series run; with any Oscar Robertson triple-double; with any vision of Marge Schott burning a butt at Riverfront, while manager Pete Rose played a parlay in the Reds-Padres game playing out in front of him.

Alas, sports giveth to the state of Ohio ... and sports taketh away from the state of Ohio.

All we can do is encourage our Buckeye friends, and do so in song. So, hit it boys:

Hang on, Ohio ... Ohio, hang on!

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