This might be a short blog.
The Super Bowl is Sunday, you may have heard. It is with a heavy heart that I welcome the final football game for a long, long time. Basketball season is here.
I have tossed back and forth on my hunch for this contest. Because personally, I am a big believer that fan bases who enjoy too much success are as insufferable as it gets, and perhaps knocking New England on its 18-1 rear would lend the whole North East a muzzle for a bit. But, at what cost?
So the New York blowhards can have at it? So, the division rival Giants and Eli Manning can add football immortality to their resumes?
From a rooting interest, I am obviously torn.
From a football standpoint, I am reminded of 1985.
The New England Patriots were a nice story. They had won 3 road playoff games and shocked the world by merely being in the playoffs. People began wondering about destiny and the “hot team” and all of that.
Meanwhile, the Bears were on their Super Bowl Shuffle run, and at 15-1, rolled into the playoffs where they promptly shut out both of their opponents. Many were wondering if they were the greatest team ever assembled for one season.
Well, Cinderella squared off against a “Great” team. Final? Chicago 46, New England 10.
That is where I am. One team has been pointing for this day since last spring. The other team likely was planning on watching the Super Bowl in various resort cities in the Western Hemisphere.
As much as I would like to see a good game, knowing how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick respond to big moments during this time of year tell me this:
New England 34, New York 17
I Am Legend says Pats, 23-7 …Wow. Spooky…
Great column from Mitch Albom on Tom Brady …
I asked Brady a question. I asked him Thursday morning what many in our state have been wondering for years.
How did we miss you?
And we did miss him. Oh, some wrote more than others. Some who cover Michigan on a regular basis dealt with Brady the way they deal with any Michigan quarterback.
But no one -- no one -- saw THIS GUY coming. No one saw the future of the NFL. No one saw a rock star/playboy superstar. No one saw a man who would have three Super Bowl rings before his 30th birthday and who might, before he's done, be considered the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. No one saw that when he wore No. 10 for the Wolverines.
It was like being handed the first iPod and saying, "Eh ... not interested."
So I asked Brady to explain my shortsightedness. And here was his polite reply:
"Well, my first three years, I was just trying to get on the field however I could. After we won a national championship with Brian (Griese) as the quarterback, I competed with him pretty hard that year to be the starter, and he beat me out in training camp, and we went on to be 12-0.
"That next season was when Drew (Henson) came in. Drew was an incredible player, an incredible athlete. He was from Brighton. He was recruited heavily by Coach (Lloyd) Carr. ... I was recruited by Coach (Gary) Moeller. The guy who recruited me, Bill Harris, left the year that I got there. ... The following year, the quarterback coach that recruited me, Kip Cartwright, left. So going into my second year, there was nobody that had really known me or really sat in my living room and said, 'Tom, this is the place for you.' "
That explains a lot. Coaches always are partial to the players they recruit. Brady got caught between administrations and star players. And Henson, remember, was the most heralded recruit in years. Carr immediately used him in his freshman opener -- invading Brady's first start -- and after that, the coach frequently shifted quarterbacks in and out.
That might seem insane now that 1) Henson is out of football and 2) Brady has become a guy you would never, ever bench.
But Brady, politely continuing, had an answer for that, too.
"Maybe some of the attributes that it takes to be a great professional quarterback aren't really the same things that are required as a college quarterback," he said. "I feel some of my strengths are my awareness and my decision making. I've never been a great athlete, and those tend to be some of the great players in college, because when you're playing against linebackers who run a 4.9 in college, if you run a 4.7 in college, you're going to outrun those linebackers. In the pros, those guys run 4.5. So if you run 4.7, you're a slow guy again."
So Brady took his skill set, waited his turn and rocketed to the top when he got there. Oh, it took awhile. He didn't get drafted until the 199th pick. He was fourth on the Patriots' depth chart. In those days, he was so sure he wouldn't play, "I was eating nachos before the game."
But just as he overcame the odds at Michigan, so did he rise in the NFL -- from obscurity to top of the heap. The difference is, this climb, everyone noticed. Back then, it was like he was here and gone.
I even asked Dan Dierdorf, the famed Michigan alum who broadcasts for CBS, whether he saw today's Tom Brady in the Ann Arbor version.
He laughed out loud.
"If I had said yes, wouldn't you have thought I was the most full-of-crap guy you've ever met in your life?"
So I wasn't alone. Yet I still feel guilty. I feel like I missed a stock pick. I feel like I overlooked the birth of the computer. I feel like I owe Brady an apology.
So once again, I asked him a question. I asked whether he felt "slighted."
And he showed a hint of that world-famous grin. And he said:
"No, I never think it's personal."
Ah. I feel much better.
Rondo hurts Mavs late …
In one of the season's best shows thus far, the Celtics scored the last six points for a 96-90 victory Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.
The Mavericks' winning streak ended at four, and the loss ensured Avery Johnson will not be coaching the Western Conference squad in his hometown of New Orleans at the All-Star Game on Feb. 17.
That honor was clinched by New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott with the Mavericks' loss.
But of the Mavericks' 14 losses this season (against 31 wins) this was one of their best efforts. They were missing Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse – and it showed at times, like a crucial turnover by Jason Terry in the final seconds.
The Celtics were without Kevin Garnett – who along with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce form the so-called Boston "Three Party."
So down the stretch, it was a gritty play by unheralded guard Rajon Rondo that would spring the Celtics.
Tied 90-90, the Mavericks stopped Boston, as Pierce, who had 26 points, missed a jumper. But as Dirk Nowitzki tried to clutch the rebound, the 6-1 Rondo was sneaking through the trees on the baseline.
"It was a well-fought game, and neither team gave the other team much," Nowitzki said. "I had the rebound in my hand when it was a tie game, and Rondo came out of nowhere. I didn't even see him, and he snuck it up to the basket before I could react."
That put the Celtics ahead for good. Nowitzki and Terry missed drives to the basket, the second of which led to James Posey's free throws with 10 seconds left. Terry, who would normally have been spotting up instead of handling the ball if Harris was healthy, threw a bad pass to Nowitzki to extinguish any last hope for the Mavericks.
The Mavericks pointed to a key officiating call with three minutes to go when Devean George was called for a blocking foul. Pierce hit both free throws to make it 90-88.
"It's dangerous taking that kind of chance at the end," George said. "More times than not, it's not going to go in your favor. I felt 100 percent positive like I was right in front of him."
The Mavericks had other problems, however. They were terrible from long range, yet they shot 22 3-pointers, making only four.
"Too many jump shots," Johnson said. "When we go 4-for-22 from 3, that's not a good night. We just weren't as persistent as we have been."
The Celtics' defense had something to do with that. They allow an NBA-low 88.2 points per game, and the Mavericks struggled to score, which is why they started settling for jumpers.
But both teams unleashed some defensive grit throughout the night. In the final five minutes, the score was tied 86-86, 88-88 and, finally, 90-90, when Nowitzki hit two free throws with 58.4 seconds left. Many failed possessions for both sides during that stretch were caused by sticky defense.
Nowitzki single-handedly kept the Mavericks close in the second half, when he scored 24 of his game-high 31 points.
But he had precious little help as Josh Howard had just two of his 19 points after halftime, and the Celtics got key contributions from Rondo, who picked off a game-best 12 rebounds.
Kidd Deal Lives??? …
But another source insisted that the deal still has life and noted that the "pretty much" disclaimer leaves open the possibility that the dialogue can be reheated to Tuesday's levels, especially since the league's Feb. 21 trading deadline is still three weeks away. And what most observers considered to be one of the biggest obstacles for New Jersey and Dallas to either moving or acquiring Kidd -- finding the third team they needed to broaden the deal -- might be less of an impediment than anticipated if Portland could be recruited so quickly.
Some reluctance from the Blazers, sources said, is one of the factors that has stalled the talks. In addition to the short-term concerns about the ankle injury that has sidelined Harris, Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard told The Oregonian newspaper last week that "we're not making any trades" to break up a roster of youngsters that rebounded from Greg Oden's season-ending injury to rank as the biggest surprise team so far in a league filled with surprise teams. Sources say Portland has been shopping Jack on his own, but parting with three or four players is something else, with guard Sergio Rodriguez also potentially involved. Outlaw's development, furthermore, is one of the stories of the Blazers' season.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, might also have some hesitation, even knowing that Kidd has made it clear behind the scenes that a return to Dallas and the opportunity to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki is his preferred outcome, ahead of a move to Cleveland to play with Team USA teammate and close friend LeBron James.
Sources say Dallas is resigned to the fact that it won't be able to reacquire Kidd -- 1994-95's co-Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill as a Mav but who left town in acrimonious circumstances less than two seasons later -- without parting with Harris, who's a fan and Mark Cuban favorite as well as a 24-year-old point guard having by far his best season.
The initial scenarios discussed by the teams, however, also would require Dallas to part with either Bass or center DeSagana Diop. Both are critical role players in the Mavericks' system. Bass ranks as the most effective backup Nowitzki has ever had and Diop operates as one half of the center tandem with Erick Dampier that has been successful against San Antonio and Tim Duncan.
The Mavs, if the deal goes through, would be undertaking the aggressive renovation that many critics have been calling for since they followed up a 67-win regular season with a first-round exit to Golden State last season. Although there would obviously be some risk giving Harris' job to a quarterback who will be 35 in March, Dallas is undoubtedly seduced by the idea of enhancing the scoring abilities of Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Kidd's arrival would likewise address Dallas' team IQ and mental toughness issues after back-to-back epic collapses in the playoffs, first to Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals and then to Golden State.
Stars need jackets …
The Stars were greeted by temperatures of minus-18 as they flew into Edmonton on Thursday for a weekend series in Alberta. They play the Oilers tonight and the Flames in Calgary on Saturday.
To some, it was the perfect environment to enjoy the perfect sport.
"I personally think it's exactly how it should be," said Andy Moog, the Stars' player development coach and a former Oilers standout. "It's a hard winter sport, and it's a hard winter city. There's a reason hockey is so popular, because that's all there is to do when it's this cold."
The run through Alberta is one of the most popular on the Stars' schedule, because players get to immerse themselves in the culture of hockey. The sport is on television all the time, it leads the sports coverage in newspapers and on radio, and the players are the top celebrities in town, hawking everything from soup to doughnuts to tires.
"I grew up in it, so it's obviously home to me," said forward Stu Barnes, who was born and raised in Edmonton. "But after you leave for a while and come back, it really is something to see. It's everything to them."
Stars analyst Daryl Reaugh worked the broadcast of Tuesday's Oilers game against the Sharks on Versus. Also a former Oilers goalie, Reaugh said he was impressed with the fan support in temperatures that were reported as cold as minus-40 (F).
"That's as cold as I've ever been in my life, and it was just one of those nights when it would have been really easy to stay home and watch the game on television," Reaugh said. "But that just wouldn't work up here. The place was full, the crowd was wild, and they were ready for a great hockey game."
As much as it would seem this has been going on for 100 years, the Oilers-Flames rivalry is fairly new. The Oilers started as a World Hockey Association franchise and joined the NHL in 1979. The Flames moved from Atlanta in 1980.
"I think it's definitely one of the best rivalries in hockey, if not the best," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "For those first 10 years or so, there were some great battles there, with big, strong, fast hockey teams. I don't think you can really know the perspective of that until you've been in it."
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