Howdy, sports fans, it's time to get fired up for the Game of the Century by breaking down its most compelling matchups: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning … Bill Belichick vs. Tony Dungy … Scott Pioli vs. Bill Polian.
Why yes, discerning readers, I did just list a pair of personnel gurus in a context normally reserved for people who actually block and tackle. And I did so not simply because this is the last remaining angle that has yet to be covered leading into Sunday's Showdown In Naptown.
When people talk about the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts and trot out the cliché "these two teams just don't like each other," little do they realize they're talking about the respective front offices.
If you think Pioli, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel, and Colts president Polian aren't taking the outcome of Sunday's game personally, I've got some oceanfront real estate near the RCA Dome I'd like to sell you.
The grisly truth is: there's more bad blood between the two franchises' celebrated 'suits' than in "Saw IV."
Polian, who habitually watches games from the press box, is a prickly, ultra-intense, control freak of a man who sometimes makes a spectacle of himself in such settings. In January of 2004, when the Colts were in the process of suffering a 24-14 road defeat to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, Polian angrily and visibly reacted to the rough treatment of the Indy receivers by New England's defensive backs.
After the season Polian, a member of the NFL's competition committee, helped spearhead a "rules emphasis" instructing officials to enforce defensive holding and pass interference violations more zealously. (It was dubbed the "Ty Law Rule," a reference to the then-Patriots cornerback who intercepted Manning three times that day.) The following January the Pats scored a 20-3 divisional round playoff victory over the Colts, again in Foxborough, and Polian at various times pounded his fist on the table and made other angry gestures.
When the Colts finally defeated New England, 40-21, at Gillette Stadium in November of '05, Polian, according to nbcsports.com's Tom Curran, watched then-New England backup quarterback Doug Flutie scramble on the last play and blurted out, "Break his leg."
I didn't hear the remark, but I'm fairly sure he wasn't wishing Flutie good luck.
Last season, during an October game between the Colts and Jets at Giants Stadium, Polian went even further, quite literally taking matters into his own hands. According to a report on FOX's pre-game show by Jay Glazer, Polian became upset before the game that loudspeakers had been set up too close to the field and began arguing with a New York Jets operations employee. At one point, Glazer reported, Polian grabbed the employee by the lapels of his suit jacket and jacked him up against the wall of a tunnel underneath the stands.
According to Glazer, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum raised the issue with a league office, and Polian was later forced to write a written apology.
Here's where the Pats' front office decided to have some fun: Shortly before the Colts headed to Foxborough for a game last November, Pioli contacted the NFL and, citing the incident at Giants Stadium and Polian's past behavior in the Gillette Stadium press box, indicated he was concerned for the safety of the Patriots' employees. Pioli went on to demand that Polian provide a signed assurance that he wouldn't physically harm anyone who worked for the Patriots; otherwise, the vice president said, the team wouldn't issue Polian a credential. To say Pioli, Belichick and various other Pats higher-ups got a rise out of that bit of gamesmanship would be a massive understatement.
Polian sidestepped the potentially embarrassing quandary by getting admission to the stadium through other means and electing not to sit in the press box. He undoubtedly was still seething two months later, when the Colts hosted the Pats in the '06 AFC Championship game.
"That's when he got us back by turning up the heat in the Dome," insists one Patriots source. "If you remember, we had about eight players who'd been suffering from flu-like symptoms and were dehydrated, and it was like 85 degrees in there. The field was slick, our players were slipping all over the place, and they had the usual pumped-in crowd noise. I give him credit. He got us."
My sources in Indy scoff at the notion that Polian or anyone else ordered the temperature turned up, but even if he didn't, the fact that the Patriots believe it to have been the case tells you all you need to know.
Sure, there are signs of mutual respect and even kinship between the two rivals: the growing off-the-field bond between Brady and Manning, for example, or less-publicized touches like the supportive phone call Indy owner Jimmy Irsay placed to his Patriots counterpart, Robert Kraft, in the wake of the Spygate scandal.
But for the most part, these are two organizations angling to take down the other by any means necessary. Consider that Dungy, who normally shies away from controversy, reacted to the scandal by telling reporters in September that it would be "disturbing" if the Patriots were found guilty of having videotaped opposing coaches giving signals on the sidelines, adding, "You kind of feel like there is a code of honor, a code of ethics in the league. You want to win and you want to do things the right way."
He then compared the Patriots to Barry Bonds.
On Wednesday, Dungy stood by his earlier comments. Do you think there's any chance Belichick might be reminding the Patriots of Dungy's words as they prepare for this battle of undefeated foes? Or do you think he perhaps may show a clip of Manning, during the quarterback's Saturday Night Live monologue last spring, vowing that the Colts would "kick (the Patriots') ass again"?
I hope all of that happens, and a bunch of other motivational madness I haven't even heard about yet. Most of all, I pray that I get a nice seat in the sure-to-be-toasty press box near Polian as it all plays out.
That way, if there's a controversial call against the Colts, I can lean over and ask for Polian's personal interpretation – as long as he promises, in writing, not to jeopardize my personal safety.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Tennessee Titans will confound David Carr and defeat the Carolina Panthers, and Steve Smith is going to be very, very grumpy afterward … It might not be pretty, but J.P. Losman will outduel Carson Palmer (yes, I am typing those words) as the Buffalo Bills beat the Cincinnati Bengals … Terence Newman, to the house, on Sunday Night Football – you heard it here first.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Martina Hingis was recently spotted wearing a fitted Eagles jersey and tight jeans while snuggling in a seedy Philly lounge with one of Andy Reid's sons.
2. After being dissed by Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, Jeff George threw a tight spiral through the window of the coach's office at the team's Winter Park training facility, knocking over a glass of water on the coach's desk (Dean Wormer style) while a man took a chainsaw to a dead horse in the background.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Brandi Chastain improved to 3-0 with the New York Giants' 13-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins Sunday, but she has yet to pick against a team that has actually won a game this season. Scratch that – both the Rams and Dolphins have byes, so the soccer mom is taking the Pittsburgh Steelers to defeat the Baltimore Ravens at home on Monday night. Her reasoning: "Besides the fact that Pittsburgh gives up very few points, I was a Steelers fan when I was a kid. I wanted to be a lineman. I seriously thought I had a chance to play for them; I never realized there were no women in the NFL. I loved (John) Stallworth, (Lynn) Swann, (Jack) Ham, (Franco) Harris, (Rocky) Bleier, (Terry) Bradshaw. Every weekend I watched. Now having met Ben (Roethlisberger), I like to cheer him on. Besides, they have the 'new coach' enthusiasm on their side. And Mr. (Dan) Rooney has always been nice to me."
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
Stung by subpar performances from Carson Palmer, Adrian Peterson and Kevin Curtis, Beat the Gypsy suffered its second consecutive defeat, losing by less than five points to "Bangers" to drop to 5-3 and into a first-place tie in the, uh, streetwalkers division of the 12-team league. "This sucks," my buddy Malibu said Thursday, noting that big games by Brian Westbrook and Brandon Jacobs sealed his doom. "My son (A-Man) is 7-1 and has a great chance to win the league, and one reason is a lot of his key players – Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth – are on winning teams, which should help even more as the season goes on. Meanwhile, a lot of my guys play for teams that suck."
Facing another too-close-to-call matchup with "'Roid Rage" (Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Terrell Owens) Malibu put in a waiver claim for Ahman Green and asked for advice. Here's what I had for him: Play Santana Moss. Say what ? Moss, he reminded me, hasn't sniffed the end zone this season. He is, according to my good friend The Fantasy Man, one of three notable receivers and tight ends among a list of 126 who have failed to catch a touchdown pass this season. "He's due," I said, laughing. "And he's playing his former team, the New York Jets, so he'll be exceptionally motivated. He'll go off. It's a lock." I also suggested that, even if his waiver claim on Green goes through, he might instead consider playing Chester Taylor (along with Peterson). "The Chargers will probably get up on the Vikings early," I said, making Malibu feel all warm and fuzzy, "and if so the Vikings may go with Taylor, because he's better when it comes to pass-protection." I think I heard him rolling his eyes over the phone.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
In the wake of her positive cocaine test at Wimbledon, Martina Hingis is denying that she has ever used the drug. But perhaps the best strategy would be to roll with it, pass herself off as retro-chic and try to score some endorsement bucks. Picture Hingis rolling up in a white stretch limo pitching cat-eye Vuarnets and Chemin de Fer jeans, or maybe unitards or leg warmers … all while waving a Wilson T-3000 racquet. And while we're on topic, has any NFL coach ever taken a more personal public bashing than Andy Reid did Thursday in a Norristown, Pa. courtroom? It's obviously a serious and devastating development for the Reid family, but I do have one whimsical observation: If Reid's house is indeed a "drug emporium," as Montgomery County Judge Stephen O'Neill asserts, can we assume that the real action takes place in the den?
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
My old friend Ricky Sandoval, the Detroit Lions' director of security, is 17 months into his battle with pancreatic cancer, a particularly brutal form of the disease. Sandoval, one of the toughest dudes you'll ever encounter, will be featured in a 30-second public service announcement with Detroit defensive captain Cory Redding to promote awareness. It'll air on Ford Field's large video display system prior to Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. Let's also send our thoughts and prayers to Jorden LaFointaine-Kussmann, a freshman goalkeeper on Cal's 19th-ranked women's soccer team, who is locked in her own fight against lymphoma.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
"Cheerleader takes hit"
IF CAL WINS A FOOTBALL GAME I'LL …
Now that the Bears are all but out of the running (alive only in a mathematical sense) for the Rose Bowl, this space has lost its sizzle, but that doesn't mean I should stop one maniacal Cal fan from being "out of the running" in a more literal sense. Labor attorney Ron Yank, a former Cal student and professor who pounds the pavement 365 days a year, has vowed to shelve his obsessive exercise regimen through Jan. 1 should the now-unranked Bears end their three-game losing streak with a victory over Washington State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. This is no ordinary vow. "Put it this way," Yank says. "If I'm on an 8 a.m. flight to Boston, I'll get up at 2 a.m. and run seven miles in the dark in my (Oakland) neighborhood with those little reflector bands. Last winter up at Tahoe it snowed and they couldn't get the roads clear, and I went running against traffic on Pioneer Trail. When a car came, I'd dive for the side, then get back on the road and keep going."
Yank, 65, who recently qualified for next April's Boston Marathon (it'll be his 14th overall marathon), says he'll be able to recover amply from his training lapse and be in top form for the race. He'll have plenty of time on his hands, because come Dec. 31, he'll stop working – he's leaving Carroll, Burdick and McDonough after 26 years, with a gala retirement dinner set for Friday night in San Francisco. Says Yank: "I'll sober up in the morning, go for one last run and have plenty of time to get ready to root on the Bears."
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
This one's from Peyton Manning to his favorite opposing coach, to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb."
"Under my thumb
The coach who once had me down Under my thumb
The dude who once pushed me around
It's down to me
The difference in the grey hoodie
Down to me, the change has come
He's under my thumb
Ain't it the truth Bill?
Under my thumb
His cameras are kept to himself
Under my thumb, well he
He can run it up on someone else
It's down to me, oh that's what I said
The way he scowls when we're kicking off
Down to me, the change has come
He's under my thumb
Say, it's alright
Cut that meat and
Take it easy, Bill"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Do you really think that the New York Giants are a 'legitimate Super Bowl contender?' C'mon, gimme a friggin break! They haven't beaten anybody. Sure, they've won six straight … but the teams they've beaten have a combined record of 11-33. Further, in their most recent game, they barely slipped by the 0-8 Dolphins. 'Giant steps' my butt … Come talk to me when they actually beat somebody worthwhile! Till then, this nonsense must cease."
Menlo Park, Calif.
Guess what, dude? In the NFC, almost everyone is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. That includes the 3-4 Saints, my preseason pick.
"The NFL game at Wembley was awesomely received by 82k fans inside the stadium. I'm glad that you are sticking up for the UK when a lot of 'fans' are implying that we don't know the game and we wouldn't appreciate it. There was a kid that sat behind me at the game on Sunday night who knew all the rules and the plays, and that teams tend to rush on first and pass on third. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of his knowledge came from computer games but it doesn't matter, he still understood the game – and if an 11 year old understood it, I can almost guarantee that the vast majority of the fans knew what was going on as well. So 80 percent booed as NY ran the clock … but 80 percent of the entire crowd was backing Miami so that's why they jeered (perhaps they should look at their own clock management issues instead!). Oh and to the 'orthodontically challenged cousins to the East?' post: Cousins, try ancestors … along with the Spanish, French … By the way Michael, it's good that people can read your articles and send you comment, but it's not a custom associated with all Yahoo! Sports writers. Therefore can you just bring Eddie Pells up to speed on my behalf. He wrote: ' … former English rugby captain Martin Johnson … was roundly booed when he was introduced; it's not often that the captain gets booed at a game in the States.' Martin was not booed … quite the opposite and NFL fans from the UK realise how much he loves the sport. John Terry, the Giants honourary captain, was booed-partly because on 20 percent of fans were supporting the Giants and partly because Chelsea (the football, aka Soccer) club he plays for is one of the most hated in the league. Anyway … rant over, I'm out like a Rockies batter! Stay opinionated."
For what it's worth, Mr. Pells works for the Associated Press, not the World's Greatest Internet Company. And you are absolutely correct about the crowd's reaction to Johnson and Terry, respectively.
"In your article about Eli Manning running for a touchdown in London, you used the word 'cement' improperly. Cement is a powder, that when mixed with water, aggregates, and a plasticizer, reacts to create strong bonds and fill the voids between the aggregates. This is called concrete. The two are not interchangeable. Your misconception demonstrates immense ignorance. In the future, please refraim from using a word, when you don't know the meaning of that word."
Whether or not it actually exists, can I use the word "cementhead"?
"Yo Silver, 'The Immigrant Song' is off Zeppelin III. Hardly the song that started it all (that would be "Good Times, Bad Times')."
Yep, yep, yep – unconscionable error on my part. I plead jet lag and temporary insanity; that and the deal I made with Satan.
"Reading was promoted from the English Championship. The oddly-named First Division is actually two levels below the Premiership … What can you expect from the crazy Brits."
Thanks for the help; this adopting-a-Premier League team is going to be a bit choppy at first. And be sure to tune in Friday to see how the Royals fared at Fulham.
"Are you kidding me? Randy Moss has always been a good teammate, it's just idiots like you in the media that make guys out to be bad guys when in fact it's the total opposite. So what … he likes to win? Is that a bad thing? I'm sure Tom Brady likes to win too but b/c Randy Moss plays wide receiver, is black, and talks a little trash you make him out to be a villain. Your article is about as dumb as you look in your picture. Oh, the one thing you did state the truth on is that adversity is not headed the Pats way and there is one big reason … Randy Moss!"
Oh, right, it's a black thing. Sorry, but you don't want to know how many African-American players I've talked to who have similar feelings about Moss … and how many white guys I've covered (Bill Romanowski, for starters) I'd rank way, way below Moss on the character food chain. This has more to do with the way Moss dogged it in Oakland, which makes it a silver-and-black thing, I suppose.
"Thank you so much for your article on Randy Moss. It was long over due. Randy gets a lot of (flak) for his two years in Oakland but I have yet had a media guy tell me what WR would have turn that franchise around; TO? Marvin Harrison? Torry Holt? Chad Johnson? Then why was Randy expected to turn this team around. As far as taking off plays, ask the Dallas Cowboys if he takes off plays. I think Moss is what 6 or 7 and 0 against the 'Boys. Moss gets my vote as comeback player of the year and a Pro Bowl slot. Thanks again."
Here's one receiver who was capable of turning around that franchise (with some help from similarly un-Moss-like teammates): Jerry Rice.
"An apology, hmmm … In April, you write a piece that essentially says, although Moss may or may not produce on the field, by trading for a front-runner like him the Patriots exposed their shining-ray-of-class image as a fraud. So far this season, all Moss has really done is remove any doubt that he sleepwalked through his Raider days stealing Al Davis's money. The Pats, meanwhile, get caught cheating and adopt the third-grade bully approach to regaining respect … All things considered, Michael, you do need to apologize to yourself for this apology. Moss is still the kind of guy it's better to lose without than win with, and all the noise to the contrary is a statement about how far our society values winning above selflessness, effort and sportsmanship."
Fine, you win: Dear Michael, I apologize for having apologized. Sincerely … Michael from Northern California.
"To The Honorable Michael Silver, I merely wanted to pen you a short congratulatory note. It is rare indeed that any individual actually admits to making mistakes in our guiltless culture. Your column on Randy Moss was a superb example of what we should expect of those who commit the occasional faus pax. It was also well-written, and being an author, I always appreciate fine word craft. (I'm also a Pats fan.) Were we ever to see a politician admit to a mistake, I personally would salt my sombrero and eat it. Thank you for both your skill and genuine humility. Sincerely … "
Andrew Lomac macNair
San Isidro, Costa Rica
Wow, thank you. One thing about my readers, they are so unfailingly polite.
"Another assinine article. Who picks these qurstions – your 5 year old? And enough already about (Brett) Favre. Great? Yes. Playoff bound? I doubt it, but their division belongs in Pop Warner."
Yes, my five-year-old picks the questions, and my eight-year-old spell-checks. For what it's worth, he thinks you are the assinine one.
"Green Bay Packers: 'Can you name five more memorable Brett Favre passes than the one he threw to beat the Broncos?' 1. The one to Antonio Freeman on Monday Night in overtime that bounced off (Vikings cornerback Cris Dishman) who was on the ground and Freeman got up to run it in for a touchdown. 2. The TD to Javon Walker where Walker leaped between two defenders on the Monday night against the Raiders after Favre's father died. 3. Green Bay's first playoff victory in decades against Detroit when Favre threw across the field and far down it to Sterling Sharpe for a game winning TD. 4. The TD pass to Kitrick Taylor to seal a frantic comeback over the Bengals in the game that began Favre's career when he took over for Don Majikowski. 5. The audibled TD to Andre Rison at the beginning of the Super Bowl. So, off the top of my head, maybe this ranks sixth, although the concussed Favre sneaking away from the trainers and running back out onto the field for one play to throw a TD and then being scolded and having his helmet taken away is pretty good too."
Thanks for taking the time to answer the question, and for allowing us to relive all those cool memories.
"Hey man, good job of pissing off everyone again, but your not that smart. I think you know that, but I still enjoy your damn article against my better judgement. You have succeeded in being another person who makes up for good writing by pissing off people to read it. Congrats! But really, those 40,000 people who bought the tickets … good for them, they got to watch a (expletive) game on a (expletive) day. I wish we could have done better by having some better teams play. The Super Bowl is still an American holiday, your probably tired of hearing that but it is true. Plus, that link to the guy talking about a premier game, or whatever the hell it is, played in America obviously doesn't know any Americans. I substitute teach at a high school and the soccer players here, who won the sectional for the first time and I would like to say how happy and proud of them I am, wouldn't go and watch a soccer game if they had to. That is the American attitude toward soccer, They'll play it, but noone here really wants to watch a slow soccer game. So my point is: don't give that lame-ass excuse to support your even lamer ass Super Bowl Europe opinion, your wrong bud, but keep up with the (expletive)."
Attention, all high school students in the Freeport, Ill. school district: When Mr. Marten gives you a lesson on spelling, grammar or punctuation, do not listen to him!