MIAMI – I am confident to say that on a number of subjects, I am more intelligent than the average NFL player. This isn't because I am so smart as much as, well, let's face it: we aren't talking about the most intellectual group out there.
I am too nice a guy to say some of these guys are dumb, but when trying to get into college some of them only managed a 22 on their alphabet.
But there is one subject where I know virtually nothing and they know virtually everything – football. They've played it most of their lives. They've been taught it by highly qualified coaches. Other than making television commercials and managing their tab at the local gentlemen's club, it is their job.
Tight end Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts was rattling off his duties the other day and he mentioned practicing football (which I don't do), attending meetings about football (which I never do), watching film of not only football games, but, get this, football practice (which I never watch) and taking part in strategy sessions about football (which I've never been invited to).
Needless to say, I would think Clark – and every other player on the Colts and Chicago Bears – has a lot better idea what is going to happen Sunday in Super Bowl XLI than clueless old me.
And whom does Clark think will win? "Whoever makes the fewest mistakes."
Gee, thanks. But that's the thing, no one knows – least of all me. And yet, a lot of players actually care who I think is going to win. Some of them care a great deal even.
"I think it just goes back to the age-old thing that people say you shouldn't care about what people say about you," Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher said. "I think, in all honesty, people do."
The media making predictions has become this huge deal, seemingly bigger each and every year. It used to be some newspapers would have a "picks" column each week from one writer. Now, every newspaper has them. And just about everyone on the staff is involved.
Every television show is dominated by predictions – who is going to win, who is going to play well, who is going to fail. Everything is speculation. I did a run through Radio Row here on Wednesday, 10 shows in a couple of hours, all over the country. Just about everyone – except for my guys Boers and Bernstein at The Score in Chicago who completely agree with me on this – wanted a prediction.
Why? How the heck would I know?
Somehow the sports media has gone from reporting on things to predicting things. It's funny, but I have an actual journalism degree where I took classes in writing, editing and interviewing but never sports handicapping (although one of my roommates was a bookie). Maybe they get to that stuff in grad school.
Not to mention, knowing what will happen, or even what just happened in a game as complex as football is essentially impossible. When asked what happened even coaches always claim "I have to watch the tape."
The problem is, as this prediction phenomenon has grown, it has taken on a life of its own. The Bears have spent this entire postseason claiming they were inspired by the media predicting against them. Even Bears fans have jumped on the bandwagon. I received at least a hundred emails deriding me for picking against Chicago even though I haven't picked an NFL game all season.
So even if you don't participate – even if you admit you don't know enough about football to provide anything but wild speculation – you get ripped.
"[It's] because the media fashions itself as knowing a lot about football," Chicago tight end Desmond Clark said. "You get the 'experts' all the ESPN guys who are supposed to know what they are talking about."
But obviously we (and they) don't. At least not many of us, even if we used to play the game and own sherbet colored suits. Outside of a few, such as Ron Jaworski, there aren't a whole lot of "media people" breaking down game film.
Writers? Forget it. For the most part, we don't know anything. Any prediction we make is a pure hunch. Often we just repeat what we heard on TV. Sometimes we don't even believe what we say. We like to switch our predictions for different cities. Hey, why anger the home team's listeners?
Earlier this month, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette asked me to make a pick for the Sugar Bowl between Notre Dame and Louisiana State. Figuring there weren't many LSU fans reading the paper in Fort Wayne, I picked the Irish. And we know how that turned out.
Yet the players keep caring, even as we continually prove we know nothing. Even if, when we are wrong, some of us write mea culpa columns about how we were wrong, like it is such a surprise.
"It's not that [players] care, it is just [players] pay attention to it," Clark said. "Because you want to know what people think about you as an individual and as a team.
"Not you," he continued. "You're being honest about it. But if I said you were a sucky media guy" – I guess he's been reading the column – "you wouldn't like that. I don't know anything about the media."
So here is where we are at, a job that is supposed to be about telling stories, has turned into a handicapping competition. Where we are often wrong and even when we are right we just anger someone.
"No one knows exactly what is going to happen out there," said Vasher, on why no one should bother predicting anything.
True, but what happens when you retire and get a TV job, Nathan?
"I'll probably be making wrong predictions too."
Sounds like a plan. Bears 21, Colts 20.