It's 2012 now, everybody, which means we don't have long left to go. That being the case, I'm hoping that the new year will bring us the best and most fun NFL calendar year we've ever had. Here are my five New Years wishes towards that end.
5. A healthy neckbone for Peyton Manning. I've been assuming, and it seems like most others have, too, that Peyton Manning will just show up next summer with a healthy neck and a can-do attitude. I'm not so sure this will be the case.
Once upon a time, we all thought it was a given that he'd start in the first week of the season. "Ah, he'll play," we said, chalking it up to the toughness, competitiveness and longevity that had defined his career for over a decade. As it turns out, whatever mystery ailment is in his neck has been nasty enough to conquer all of that. Which means it's pretty damn nasty.
Manning hasn't hit one of his recovery deadlines (imaginary and media-inspired as they may be) yet. He wasn't ready for the opener. He wasn't ready a few weeks into the season. He wasn't playing by the end of the year. If anyone knows of any compelling medical reasons to believe he'll be ready to go by the summer, I'm all ears. I don't know that we've heard one encouraging thing.
4. Avoidance of a brother vs. brother Super Bowl. Ravens, 49ers, Jets, Cowboys … I have no quibble with any of you. Go ahead. Tear through the playoffs and make the Super Bowl. But please don't do it in any combination that gives Super Bowl XLVI a Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh or Ryan vs. Ryan matchup. That could get a little rough.
Remember the Jim Harbaugh vs. John Harbaugh game on Thanksgiving night? It was a quality football game buried in so much schmaltz and sentimentality that it made an episode of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" look like "The Wire." And that was from the NFL Network, the more emotionally stable of the NFL's cable outlets.
Now imagine that taking place during the world's biggest media event, with two weeks of build-up before it, and not just covered by places that traditionally cover football, but by Telemundo, Ladies Home Journal, Dutch public radio, and the official newsletter of Mrs. McConnell's fifth grade spelling class. It'll be too much. We'll be consumed by it.
3. A roster spot for Terrell Owens. When a man's best offer is coming from the IFL's Allen Wranglers, it's probably safe to say that his ego troubles are behind him (or are at least trumped by his financial troubles). Physically, I don't know if Owens can still play, but emotionally, he might be in the best football shape of his life.
I don't wish for this as any kind of a public service to Terrell Owens; I just happen to believe that the league is a more interesting place with him than without him. And what an amazing story it would be ‒ from the Super Bowl, down to the IFL, back to the NFL? It would be just like the Kurt Warner story, except so vastly different in so many different ways.
2. That we can all stop saying that anything is "ruining" the game. So many things were responsible for ruining the NFL in 2011: moving kickoffs to the 35-yard-line, rules to protect quarterbacks, rules to protect defenseless receivers, rules prohibiting helmet-to-helmet hits … all evidence of the deteriorating fabric of masculinity that shrouds our game, and harbingers of its impending transformation into a fanciful dance recital where no one keeps score, we're all winners, and after every game, everyone gets participation ribbons and rocky road ice cream (unless they have a nut allergy).
Except that this season has been as entertaining, if not moreso, than any in recent memory. Honestly, have you enjoyed this season less than any in the past? Everything you love is still there, even if you happen to love brutality and violence. I promise you, these guys will all be just as broken-down and crippled as you hoped for in 50 years.
As for the kickoffs now coming from the 35-yard-line, have we ever worried so much about anything so inconsequential? Did anyone even think about that after, say, week three?
The game is still the game. Everything that's always made it great still exists, in fine form, as you read this.
1. That Tim Tebow magic is as plentiful in 2012 as it was in 2011. Without even trying to explain it (we'll get to that after he wins the Super Bowl with five straight last-second victories), Tim Tebow's easily been the most fascinating NFL thing of 2011. We've never seen anything quite like him, or at least, the reaction he inspires. I'm almost certain that the fascination will continue into 2012, but I'm making it my top wish, just in case.
At this point, what could happen that would make Tim Tebow irrelevant to the media? Getting benched? That would only strengthen his popularity. Playing poorly for ten straight weeks? People would delight in that. A Lawrence Phillips-esque Tim Tebow crime spree? TMZ would explode.
Ideally, he'll just keep on the same path he's on now and build a 15-year career out of last-second miracle wins involving awe-inspiring plays on his own part and inexplicable collapses by every single opponent he faces. He will render any attempts at understanding or explaining the NFL completely useless.