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Monday, January 13, 2003
Pink houses for you and me

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Look at this Final Four in the NFL, dwellers.

The Cooler runneth over in excitement for the glory of the blue collar, for the cause of the downtrodden, for the fact that four of our nation's least glamorous cities are vying for a Super Bowl title.

Brad Johnson
Don't mess with the residents of Del Boca Vista.
Holy Hooters, Batman, Tampa Bay's Bucs are in the NFC title game!

Holy cheesesteak, Rocky, Philly's Eagles are the NFC title game!

Holy face-paint, Darth Vader, Oakland's Raiders are in the AFC title game!

Holy Grand Ole Opry, Minnie, Nashville's Titans are in the AFC title game!

This, dwellers, is America.

Don't be fooled by the other, high-falutin nonsense in some of our other towns. New York? Listen, The Cooler is as Gotham-friendly a place as you'll find, but don't confuse the epicness of Manhattan with the true essence of America. New York is a Woody Allen film and a Mel Brooks Broadway play; America is a Tim Allen film and a Garth Brooks CD.

San Francisco? Come on. The Cooler has permanent residence in the City by the Bay, but don't confuse the gentle fog and the sound of Tony Bennett's pipes singing "I Left My Heart" with the true essence of America. America, at heart, is a batch of in-your-face summer humidity, and the sound of a freaking 'N-Sync appearance on MTV's "TRL."

Chicago? The poetry of Carl Sandburg -- while real America is the self-help books of Dr. Phil. Boston? The tweed of Harvard -- while real America is your local JC on spring break in Fort Lauderdale. Seattle? The strident politics of the progressive Green Party -- while real America is a billboard in Texas reading, "INSANE HUSSEIN: TIME FOR YOUR MEDICATION."

Pat's Steaks
The Cooler doesn't think Fodor's is going to give a recommendation to Pat's Steaks.
You get the point. Our final four NFL teams are a true sampling of who we are. No pretense, no white-collar fluffiness. This is not your NPR Final Four in the NFL -- this is your classic rock station, your country oldies station. Seriously, how many of these Final Four cities would be judged by a traveling Euro as an uber-important Destination American City?

Tampa, sure, has awesome weather. But so does the rest of Florida, and DisneyWorld is in Orlando, while Miami, still carrying the swagger of Al Pacino's "Scarface," has more cachet than any town in the Sunshine State. Philly, yes, is the cradle of our nation, the home of our Declaration of Independence -- but it lost its tourist value since the word got out that it was a town so rough, even Ben Franklin got roughed up while flying a kite.

Nashville, a destination? Uh, maybe if Dollywood is sold out that weekend. And Oakland? Look, we love the plucky A's, we still believe a pulse may one day exist with the NBA's Warriors, and we acknowledge the fact that some sneaky-good Thai restaurants are hidden in those streets -- but Gertrude Stein was in an extremely generous mood when she said: "There is no there there.''

All of which is by way of saying: Tags, you have your wish. The Commish has overseen the departure of the NFL from L.A., the awarding of franchises to Jacksonville and Charlotte, the relocation of the Rams and Oilers to smaller markets, and the demise of "Monday Night Football" ratings.

He has, in sum, made a statement of Americana: No glitz, no glamour ... just a burger at a Champions sports bar at your local Marriott, drowned in fries, with a Bud Light on the side. Mmmm. Finger-lickin' good.

Isn't it awesome? Now, we move on to the Weekend List of Five before the fumes from my face paint makes me any more delirious:

1. Young Chad: all part of growing up, son
TVLand's rerun schedule has revived my childhood fascination with the sociologically epic show "The Brady Bunch," and I couldn't help but think of it when I saw Chad Pennington's second half Sunday. It was a total disaster. He was steering balls like a college kid, loaded, trying to guide a bicycle back to his dorm. The kid, God bless him, because he's going to be a great one, cracked in a road playoff game.

Chad Pennington
Sorry, Chad -- things don't go back to normal at the end of this show.
Just like Greg Brady in the "Bonus Baby" episode.

Now, I know Greg didn't pitch in a road playoff game, but when he got delusions of grandeur from meeting Don Drysdale and thinking he could become a "Bonus Baby," he was sorta like Chad Pennington, minus the fur coat. (Which, of course, brings up the tangential coincidence that Joe Namath, also, appeared in a "Brady Bunch" episode, but our Digression Limit has been stretched of late, and we'll back off.)

Anyway, Greg got lit up as a pitcher in a big game, and came crashing down to Earth.

Just like our guy Chad P.

Greg needed to be cuffed around to learn his lesson.

Just like our guy Chad P.

Greg took the beating as a chance to regroup, refocus and learn what's important in his life.

Just like our guy Chad P.

And since we have infinitely more faith in Herman Edwards than we did Robert Reed or Mike Brady, we think Chad P. is in good hands. Be patient, Jets fans. Be patient.

2. As for the "Stillers'' ...
I know, it hurts to get killed by a ref's call, but it hurts more to see Joe (2-for-4) Nedney beat you. I understand, Pittsburgh. Basically, you have an entire winter of misery and cold to contemplate the fact that:

A) Your beloved Steelers came back from 28-20 down to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

Hines Ward
Hines is that you? Honestly, you had us fooled.
B) The Tennessee kicker gacked a field goal at the end of regulation.

C) The Tennessee kicker gacked another field goal in overtime.

D) Dewayne Washington ran by that kicker, Nedney, and brushed into him with the same sort of force that you use in brushing by an old lady at the airport -- only to see Nedney flop like he was a Brazilian soccer player.

E) The Tennessee kicker, given a third life, beat you.

That hurts. No question. But, let's return to the Cardinal Rule of Cooler Sports Fandom, based on these eternal truths: Refs, in general, are going to choke. Thus, you cannot play a game that results in dependency on a ref's call. If you do, you have no leg to stand on. You are legless. You are the legless man. If you get hosed on a ref's call ... them's the breaks.

Trust me. I'm not trying to screw over the beloved burg of Steel City. The Cooler thinks Pittsburgh is one of America's great, underrated cities. But coming from a lifetime where we have accepted blown calls as part of the deal -- the phantom hold on the 49ers in the 1983 NFC Championship, the sheer brutality of the Bogus Affholter Catch in the 1987 USC-UCLA game -- all you can say is, channeling Steve Mariucci: "Bummer."

It hurts. But that's the deal.

3. Meanwhile: Kapalua, Ernie, the Tour ... tt's back!
Seriously, is there any more beautiful/kick-in-the-gut sight than the vistas of Maui for the PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes Championships? Half the time, you want to wipe away a tear for the beauty of the scene, the other half of the time, as you gaze out on slate gray skies spitting rain or snow, depending on your latitude, you want to say: What is this, torture? Get Maui off of my TV, before I start wearing Aloha shirts in 20-degree Maine weather.

Ernie Els
"I'd like to thank Tiger's knee, for requiring surgery."
Either way, a gigantic Cooler "Welcome Back" to the Tour. Yeah, Eldrick is on Knee-Induced hiatus, but the Big Easy has always been a favorite around here, and if dropping a cool 31-under on the Plantation Course isn't some sort of "Yo, Tiger!"-message, I don't know what is.

A parting thought: What, in sports, is as pure as an Ernie Els swing? This is butter, people. What compares? DiMaggio, going from first to third? I don't know. I wasn't alive at the time. What is it, then? Vinatieri, approaching a 45-yarder with his life on the line? Vlad Guerrero, throwing from right field to third? Allen Iverson, going 11-for-34 from the field?

Uh, scratch that last one.

We're sticking with the Big Easy over a 5-iron: poetry in motion.

4. Don't forget: the Aussie Open!
It's not just the PGA Tour that hath begun again -- we've got a tennis major, right out of the gate!

Jennifer Capriati
If you look far enough Jen, you can see your new ranking.
But sadly, how many of you watch the Australian Open? Probably the same number of you who watched the XFL's championship game.

But think of what we're missing: Some extremely talented Euro dude who might win. Some extremely hot Euro babe who might get erased in the round of 16. And Serena in a catsuit.

Set the TiVo, dwellers. It might be the other side of the world, but they love beer and they love sports, so Aussies would love that new Miller Lite ad with the cat-fighting chicks. For that, they deserve our respect.

5. Jeff Gordon: going Hollywood
I see where NASCAR's Madison Avenue-friendly Jeff Gordon hosted "Saturday Night Live." Question: How many NASCAR fans watch "SNL"? How many NASCAR fans root for pretty boy Jeff Gordon? I'm thinking the answer is the same -- and the number roughly equals the same as the head count at a midweek day game at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for an Indians-Tigers game in 1982.

This raises the question of other sports stars hosting "SNL." I know it's been done: Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, to name a few, have done it. But when can we get some real entertainment? When can it be hosted by Barry Bonds, just to see him cuss out the cue-card holder during a skit: "Man, why do you hold a card with such stupid lines on it?" When can it be hosted by Yao Ming, just to see him have a translator in every skit? When can it be hosted by Al Davis, just to have every skit end in Al turning to the camera and grinning: "Just win, baby," in a sort of Mr. Furley turn from "Three's Company"?

These are the thoughts that occupy any self-respecting dweller's head.

Now, go book your airline and hotel ticket for a weekend in Philly and Oakland, and enjoy yourselves, would ya?

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