There has been a feeling in my sports brain all week that the Giants will play their best game on Sunday. Wounded animals are the most dangerous in the sports world, and no one is more wounded than the Giants right now: physically, mentally, and
The Cowboys can still accomplish their goals with a loss on Sunday. I am confident that they will still win the division even if they drop the contest. The Giants will be fit to be buried if they lose. The Cowboys want it. The Giants need it.
But, at the end of the day. They have Eli. The Cowboys have Romo. Now, it is true: Romo has not played in a road game with these stakes and this atmosphere. But, aren’t we foolish to continue to doubt this kid until he proves he bleeds? For the first time in my 9 seasons covering this team, I am ready to say it: I believe in the Cowboys.
Dallas 24, New York 17
Giants take on the media …who they will not play on Sunday…
In they came from their walkthrough, a beleaguered lightning brigade passing by a battery of well-aimed cameras, mikes and notebooks, when Brandon Jacobs sounded what will be the Giants' theme until D-Day against Dallas.
"We're not gonna take it," the 270-pound running back sang yesterday, pumping his fist as a few others joined the chorus.
Twisted Sister? More like Band of Brothers. The Giants have predictably moved onto Page 2 in the media storm playbook a day after Michael Strahan tried to intimidate an ESPN reporter, a week after Tiki/TomGate, a few days after their epic meltdown in Tennessee. Despite his insistence Wednesday that "I'll see you guys tomorrow when I talk on Thursday," Strahan was nowhere to found yesterday.
The Giants have met the enemy and he is - conveniently - the media.
"We're not angry at one another. We're angry at all you guys and we thank you for that," intoned linebacker Antonio Pierce, who claims to thrive when the headlines turn negative. "I love you guys. I think you're the best. You motivate me the most and I'd like to thank you in advance. When we get back on a streak again, I don't want you guys to jump on the bandwagon."
Unfortunately for Big Blue, the team vehicle has been a bus and the Giants and their coach have been busily throwing each other under it. The inactive Strahan, the team's most veteran player, ignited the latest brushfire on WFAN on Monday with his criticisms of Plaxico Burress for quitting on the play that put Sunday's collapse in motion. With the tire tracks still fresh, Burress said yesterday that he and Strahan had settled the matter, or, as Pierce said, "kissed."
"I talked to Stray. We sat down," Burress said. "I respect him as a person and if he feels that way about me, fine, but I'd rather have you come to me as a man instead of going on the radio. Hopefully, you guys will let us get it behind us."
Randy Galloway with a real good column today on training camp of 2004 and how Romo was to be cut …I have to admit, this is quality.
How close was all this to not happening? At least, not happening for the Cowboys.
Think back, my friends, to the summer of 2004 in Oxnard, Calif.
The Cowboys opened training camp with a strange mix on the quarterback depth chart.
The goofy Q was listed as the starter, followed by Big Bill's beloved Vinny as the AARP newcomer, and then there was "The Next Roger/Troy," except his name was Henson, not Romo.
Drew Henson had just arrived, his hip pocket full of Jerry's big bucks.
Buried under all this rubble was the previous season's roster surprise, the free-agent survivor from that cradle of NFL quarterbacks, Eastern Illinois University. We now know him as Tony Romo, or QB God.
So, the Cowboys had guaranteed money tied up in the first three, and not even a case of beer invested in Romo, who hadn't come close to sniffing playing time as a rookie.
Also remember, this was a summer of great expectations, since Bill Parcells' first season at Valley Ranch had produced a shocking 10-6 record and playoff berth.
Come early September '04, there appeared to be no way Romo could survive the roster cut. Then again, there is also no way we will ever know the truth, because no one would admit that, not now.
Ain't it a hoot, of course, that what saved Romo, and eventually would save the Cowboys, was a flunked drug test?
Quincy Carter whizzed the wrong stuff in a cup, and it rescued an entire franchise.
The team's decision, however, on quarterback "numbers" never came down to early September.
The Q was told to hit the streets less than a week into that training camp. And you know the rest of the story, although it took a couple of years for us to understand the rest of the story.
Vanderjagt on the street …
Since the Cowboys released Mike Vanderjagt on Nov. 27, no team claimed him on waivers and no teams have called and offered him a full-time job.
"He wants to go where he would have an opportunity to be the guy," Vanderjagt's agent, Gil Scott, said. "Right now, there's just not a whole lot of kickers messing up."
The Redskins discussed Vanderjagt and opted against him, signing former Cowboys kicker Shaun Suisham to their practice squad instead. And no other playoff contenders appear to have a pressing need at kicker.
In recent weeks, the Texans and Dolphins have tried out kickers, but neither team has been in contact with Scott.
For now it looks like Vanderjagt, who has returned to his home in Canada, might be iced for the remainder of this season.
Very random story, but Matt Mosely reminded me of the Bledsoe-Everclear story From 1997 …
Although a woman hurt at an Everclear concert filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking to hold the band partly responsible for injuries she suffered during their recent Boston concert, the group's manager denies it had anything to do with the incident.
The woman, 23-year-old Tameeka Messier, contends she suffered damage to her head and neck after 233-lb. New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe and 305-lb. lineman Max Lane each leapt from the stage and landed on her during Everclear's Nov. 13 performance at the Paradise Rock Club.
IN OTHER NEWS…
He is Here! Barry Zito and Scott Boras are interested? …or interested in Tom Hicks driving up the price…
Snow, sleet and ice hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Thursday.
So did free-agent pitcher Barry Zito and his agent, Scott Boras.
The Rangers are hoping that the inclement weather won't keep Zito from wanting to pitch at Ameriquest Field in Arlington. A source said Zito and Boras came in to meet with Rangers owner Tom Hicks and general manager Jon Daniels. Rangers officials declined comment but are definitely serious about Zito being their No. 1 free-agent target this winter.
As many as eight teams are pursuing Zito, and it's long been assumed that he wanted to pitch in either New York or Los Angeles. The Mets are considered one of the favorites because Zito is close to their pitching coach, Rick Peterson, who worked with him in Oakland.
But Zito also has a strong relationship with new Rangers manager Ron Washington, who spent the last 11 years as a coach with the Athletics. The two spoke right after Washington was named manager and Zito told him that he was strongly interested in playing for the Rangers.
The feeling is mutual. Zito and Boras met with the Rangers on Thursday and were planning to have dinner with Hicks on Thursday night.
Zito was 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 34 starts and 221 innings with the Athletics last year. Since the beginning of 2001, he is 95-59 with a 3.61 ERA. His 208 starts over the past six years are the most by any pitcher in the Major Leagues, and he is third in innings pitched.
The winter weather may have been ill-timed for Zito's visit, but he is well-acquainted with the summer conditions in Arlington. The southpaw has a career record of 11-1 with a 3.75 ERA at Ameriquest Field.
A winter visit by Boras and his client is usually a good sign for the Rangers. Boras brought Kevin Millwood last year, and he ended up signing a five-year, $60 million contract.
The Rangers still have interest in re-signing Vicente Padilla and have talked about other free-agent pitchers, including Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista. But Zito has been at the top of their list, and Hicks has shown a willingness to spend money on the right pitcher this winter. The Rangers submitted a $27 million bid in an effort to win the rights to Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
GMJ bids farewell to Texas …
"I wouldn't say a new manager alone is going to make a huge difference over there," Matthews said. "You could bring anyone in there. But if you don't go out and get the pieces that you need, as far as being able to pitch consistently, you're not going to win.
"I mean, we had Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, who had outstanding years for us last year. But aside from that, it took our pitching staff a while to come around. Our bullpen fared well in the second half of the season, but it was almost too late by then."
Matthews gets a $2 million signing bonus, $6 million next year, $9 million in 2008, $10 million in 2009, $11 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2011.
In addition, he can't be traded without his consent through October 2009. After that, Matthews can select four teams he can't be traded to without his permission. If he is traded, he would receive a $500,000 bonus each time he changes teams.
Another interesting name, Vernon Wells is in play …
Wells? The exact size of the Blue Jays' $90-million-something payroll?
"Look, it's not like any contract extension with Vernon Wells would count against the 2007 payroll, anyhow," Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Godfrey said. "Vernon Wells is going to make $5.7-million this year. Even if he does sign an extension, it wouldn't take effect until 2008."
Zaun is back (at last report.) You thought Prime Minister Stephen Harper's attempt to define national identity in Quebec was a neat trick? You should have spent Monday night with Ricciardi as he tried to figure out the identity of his catcher in 2007.
Ricciardi arrived in Toronto on Monday from a weekend ferrying his two boys from Worcester, Mass., to a hockey tournament in New Hampshire, figuring he'd have a nice dinner with the Thomases, hang around to announce that Rod Barajas was going to be the Jay catcher, then eventually head to the annual winter meetings, which will begin Sunday in Orlando.
Except Barajas decided to change agents -- dropping Terry Bross and hooking up with Dan Lozano, the latter of whom did not return phone calls yesterday -- and decided he wasn't going to take a physical that the Blue Jays had arranged after reaching apparent agreement on a two-year, $5.2-million contract last Wednesday.
"We had more than a handshake," Ricciardi said. "I'll leave it at that."
So the Blue Jays took the offer off the table and started talking to Zaun. Ah, Zaunie! The same guy who revived his career in 2004 when the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent one month after the Montreal Expos released him. Who had already dropped Canada from his calling plan -- literally -- Monday because he believed the reports that when he turned down a two-year, $6-million offer from the Blue Jays he'd severed his ties with the team. Zaun, who sat down for dinner at his home in Cincinnati on Monday around the time he received a phone call from the Blue Jays. Zaun, who ended up faxing back a signed contract at around 11:30 p.m. for two years, $7.25-million with a vesting option for a third year worth $3.75-million that kicks in if he plays 270 games in the first two years of the deal.
That was a bizarre turn of events, but it's no great mystery why the Wells drama is unfolding as it is. First, it's what the Blue Jays told Wells would happen this off-season. This is the free-agent period. Everybody else is using money to fill existing needs, not create new ones. Second, whenever negotiations with Wells begin it will come down to finding a number some place between, say, $13-million annually to $20-million annually and a length of contract that will keep both sides happy.
Dirk says he is ready …
Although he didn't practice Thursday as a precaution, Dirk Nowitzki said he expects to be in the lineup tonight when the Mavericks host the Sacramento Kings.
Nowitzki left Wednesday's 117-98 victory against Toronto late in the first period and did not return after complaining of blurred vision. He was examined by the Mavs' medical staff after the game, but on Thursday, Nowitzki said he was fine.
"We'll see how he feels when he comes to shootaround [this morning], and then I'll
have a little bit better gauge on it," coach Avery Johnson said. "But today he just kind of came and rode the [stationary] bike a little bit and did not participate in any part of practice."
Nowitzki wears a contact lens in his left eye but suffered a bruised retina in his right eye during Monday's game against Minnesota.
"I put up two fingers and he said, 'Two million,'" Johnson said. "So he can see. He still knows how to count."
Bill Simmons looks at the Eastern Conference …what a bad conference…
You couldn't even call the Eastern Conference an apocalypse -- it's more like a poopocalypse. Consider the following things:
A. We're hitting December in two days and the Orlando Magic are leading the East by two games. You heard me. The Orlando Magic. The Magic of Orlando.
B. Eleven of the 15 teams in the East are at least two games under .500.
C. The Celtics are leading the Atlantic Division even though they're 5-8 and came within one second-half comeback of canning their coach last weekend.
D. The five Atlantic teams have a combined record of 25-46.
E. If the season ended today, the Atlanta Hawks would be a 7-seed with Ty Lue as their starting point guard.
F. The 5-11 Knicks are only one game out of the last playoff spot.
The Stars look bad again; require a team meeting in Washington …they really need Morrow and Ott back ASAP…
The Stars closed their locker room doors for a team meeting after a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
It wasn't so much the performance at the Verizon Center that had players concerned as it was the performance over the last four weeks. Dallas has gone 5-7-0 after an 11-2-0 start and is quickly falling into the ranks of the NHL's middle class. That's hardly acceptable for a team that has won seven division titles in the last nine years.
"You can talk about all of the other factors you want. But in the end, it comes down to one-on-one battles, getting a save or scoring on a chance," a frustrated Dave Tippett said after the game. "We have some people who aren't playing to the level we think they should."
Although it would be easy to call out Mike Modano or Sergei Zubov or Eric Lindros for their roles in the downslide, players said they were focused on everybody pulling on the same rope.
"If you are getting the bad bounces or things aren't going your way, if you can find a way to be solid as a team, you win those games," Stu Barnes said.
Captain Brenden Morrow has missed four of the last five games with a sore groin, and it seems the Stars miss his physical edge. What's more, the absence of scrappy winger Steve Ott (ankle), who won't be back until Christmas, also could be showing.
Mix in the fact Trevor Daley is battling post-concussion syndrome, Modano and Zubov aren't completely healthy and Antti Miettinen suffered a lower body injury against Washington, and you have the Stars' first real injury problem in two seasons.
"Teams play hurt all the time," Tippett said. "That's what you do."
At home with Barry Zito - dude is nuts
Colin White hits Sean Avery