Burden lifted

MIAMI – Tears began flowing down Katina Taylor's pretty face as the magnitude of the moment began to sink in, another heart-wrenching twist to a long-ago lost season. There was Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover booting the 44-yard field goal that would surely doom the Miami Dolphins to an overtime defeat, a disappointment destined to be more severe than any of the 13 that preceded it, when suddenly the ball took a delightful and unexpected turn for the better.

So, perhaps, did the fate of a franchise: Stover's high kick sailed wide left, setting off a joyous roar of relief and disbelief at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday, from the stands to the sidelines to the suite where Mrs. Taylor sobbed like she'd just gotten an engagement ring. It's not over. We didn't lose!

As much as anyone not employed by the Dolphins' organization, Katina – wife of the disgruntled star defensive end, sister of the injured star middle linebacker – had been living the nightmare of a team threatening to reach an historic level of haplessness. In this season of mistakes, bad breaks and constant heartaches, from the new coach's laughable draft-day address while being shouted down by angry fans to the owner's admission on Saturday that he is contemplating a sale of the team, it seemed to all concerned parties that nothing would go Miami's way.

Then Stover missed, and there was hope amid the tears. "That was my sign," linebacker Joey Porter said later. "I just knew we were going to win."

After blowing a chance to put away Baltimore in regulation, surviving a last-second defeat by a mere 18 inches and sweating out Stover's first overtime miss in six career attempts, the Dolphins finally did the thing that only the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 0-14 infamy could not. On the third play of their first overtime drive, Miami quarterback Cleo Lemon hit Greg Camarillo on a perfectly sold inside seam route called "Ernie" (after retired offensive guru Ernie Zampese), and the previously obscure wideout raced 64 yards for a touchdown that lit up the scoreboard (Dolphins 22, Ravens 16) and every face in South Florida.

Katina cried some more. So did owner Wayne Huizenga, who turns 70 this month and may be preparing to unload the team (now 1-13 heading into next Sunday's game against the 14-0 New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.) for more than $1 billion. Coach Don Shula and the Perfect Season Players partied like it was 1972.

Camarillo, who had raised his left hand a few yards from the goal line – not "We're No. 1," but "We Finally Got One" – cavorted with the deliriously happy fans behind the end zone while nearly half the team rushed up from behind, pressing him against the shaky barrier.

It was a celebration more unrestrained than anything we've seen at the stadium for a long, long time – and that includes the Indianapolis Colts' collective hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy in February.

"I know it's not the Super Bowl," defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday said. "But for us, this was Super Bowl-like."

That's what happens when you spend months as the league's laughingstock, watching fans put bags over their heads and getting besieged by criticism of your owner, coach and teammates from all quarters. And, let's be fair – there has been plenty of internal sniping as well, though not nearly as much as you'd expect from a team that hadn’t won a game in more than a year.

When Cam Cameron got a game ball from Katina's husband, Jason – while another Dolphins player proceeded to dump a Gatorade bucket full of ice water on the first-year coach before reporters were allowed into the locker room – it was a scene drenched in irony.

Taylor, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, has been among those most bothered by Cameron's leadership style, to the point where he will likely try to force his way out of Miami after the season. Deployed as a "Jack" linebacker by former coach Nick Saban in a varied scheme that kept offenses off balance, Taylor was dismayed when holdover defensive coordinator Dom Capers instead installed him as a predictably positioned end for the first month-and-a-half of the '07 campaign.

He and others also bristled at Cameron's prickly personality, micromanagement of players and a pronounced lack of deference to decorated veterans like Taylor and his brother-in-law, Zach Thomas. (Sidelined for much of the season by concussion-related symptoms, Thomas was peeved when, earlier this month, he learned via phone call that he had been placed on the season-ending reserve/injured list.)

As the losses mounted, six of them by three points, Cameron became a kinder, gentler control freak. Whether his players stuck together because of him or in spite of him, they did a commendable job of fighting through adversity in a sport in which lack of sincerity is punished conspicuously.

"Anything that could happen to this team has happened this year, and I'm surprised the attitude isn't worse," Thomas said after Sunday's game. "This locker room is still together; that's the crazy thing. We don't have any feuds, and it's surprising, because we've had feuds here in the past even when we've been winning."

Ask passionate veterans like Taylor, who showed up in a big way Sunday (two first-quarter sacks and a block of Stover's 50-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half), and Porter, the oft-criticized free-agent signee from the Steelers who has quietly upped his game over the past couple of months, and they'll tell you the players have grown closer amid the hellishness.

As Sunday's effort showed, there's no Bobby Petrino in this team.

"Guys kept fighting, every week," Porter said Sunday night as he prepared to head to South Beach with several teammates. "As this played out, all of us had to handle things the way we thought was best – some guys went home and sat alone in the dark, some guys went out drinking and tried to let off steam. But people never checked out, and now we're a lot closer. We just wanted to make sure we weren't going to be the team that went 0-16. That would have been too embarrassing to be remembered that way."

Taylor, for one, seemed far from militant as he assessed the misery of the past few months. "Losing accentuates everything," he said softly. "But we've been drawn closer through the adversity, because nobody on the outside gives us a chance. It's been a long time coming."

So many questions remain. Will Huizenga sell? Will he or the potential new owner fire Cameron or, for that matter, general manager Randy Mueller? Will Taylor and Thomas, stalwarts for more than a decade, be playing elsewhere in 2008?

All of those questions temporarily faded to the background on Sunday as the Dolphins reacquainted themselves with the thrill of victory and pondered the most whimsical notion of all.

"Can we go to New England next Sunday and defend the honor of the '72 Dolphins?" Holliday asked as he stood at his locker. "That's the storyline everyone's gonna be talking about."

Katina Taylor's husband didn't laugh or cry; he merely shook his head.

"Come on, now," the defensive end said to Holliday. "Let us enjoy this one for a minute."


While the Dolphins were avoiding history, the Bucs were making some on the other side of the state, ending one of the most bizarre streaks in pro sports. Until Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard burst to the end zone in the first quarter of Sunday's 37-3 victory over the Falcons, no Tampa Bay player had ever returned a kickoff for a touchdown. That's a run of frustration that spanned nearly 32 seasons, 1,864 previous attempts by 141 players and more than 21 miles (37,395 yards). Of more immediate importance was that the Bucs (9-5) clinched the NFC South title – the fifth consecutive year the winner of that division has come off a last-place finish the previous season. In other words, watch out for the Falcons in 2008.

Whenever a team locks down its playoff position before the end of the regular season, there's always a debate as to how much it should pull back. Now that the Patriots (14-0) and Colts (12-2) have clinched the Nos. 1 and 2 playoff seeds in the AFC, respectively, I suspect we're going to see two very different approaches. New England coach Bill Belichick, who seems hell-bent on completing the second perfect regular season of the post-merger era, claims he's not going to do anything differently than he has any other week. Conversely, Indy coach Tony Dungy will almost certainly err on the side of getting his team healthy and trying to mitigate the danger that Peyton Manning or another key player will go down with an injury. I'll have more on this later, but my initial read is that all of this sets up advantageously for the Colts, who are in the rare position of being a defending champion that virtually everyone expects to lose. Even if Marvin Harrison can't come back – or, if he does, can't approach his pre-injury form – the continued development of rookie Anthony Gonzalez gives Indy a chance to be potent come playoff time, not to mention loose and rested.

Brian Westbrook is one smart dude. With the Eagles up 10-6 and the Cowboys out of timeouts with 2:19 remaining, the Philly halfback broke into the clear and was headed for a touchdown; instead, he slid to a stop just before the goal line, allowing Donovan McNabb to kneel down three times and end the game. Had Westbrook completed the TD, Dallas could have come back and scored, then attempted an onside kick, so it was definitely the right call … even if it made thousands of fantasy players across America scream "Noooooooo!" in unison. I wonder how many fantasy playoff outcomes were impacted by that decision, and I'm even more curious as to whether Westbrook, once the season ends, will look back and realize that he cost himself some incentive money. If so, he really is a quintessential team player.

Scott Fujita apparently plays better without sleep: The Saints' athletic linebacker, who three days earlier welcomed twin daughters Delilah and Isabell into the world, had 10 tackles (including two sacks and a forced fumble) in New Orleans' 31-24 victory over Arizona, which kept the home team's playoff hopes alive. After his second sack of Kurt Warner, Fujita blew a double-kiss – "just in case the girls were watching," he explained Sunday night via text message. "A dad's gotta do what a dad's gotta do." Fujita's weary wife, Jaclyn, thoroughly enjoyed the tribute while watching from her hospital room.

In addition to his other accomplishments in 2007 – leading the Jaguars (10-4) into the playoffs, rushing for 100 yards or more in his past four games – Fred Taylor has officially become the Mayor of Morning Rush. The 10th-year halfback merits mention once again after his 147-yard effort in Jacksonville's 29-22 victory in chilly Pittsburgh, which included the game-winning scoring run from 12 yards out with 1:57 remaining. Taylor habitually slays the Steelers – he has averaged 121 rushing yards in his past six games against Pittsburgh and now holds the record for most rushing yards by an opponent at Heinz Field (Sunday's effort was the first 100-yarder by a non-Steeler at Heinz in more than three years) and at Three Rivers Stadium (234 in 2000). And we'll say it yet again: This man must be extended his first career Pro Bowl invitation, or something is truly wrong.

Brett Favre set another record in the Packers' 33-14 victory over the Rams, surpassing Dan Marino to become the NFL's all-time leader with 61,405 passing yards. Now he merely needs to throw for 554 yards in his final two regular-season games to catch … Lynn Dickey ? That's right – Dickey has the Pack's franchise record for passing yards in a single season (4,458 in 1983).

In the wake of the Bobby Petrino fiasco, the Falcons' coaching job remains a good one because of owner Arthur Blank's intensive level of commitment, and we're hoping he gets it right this time. Here's some free advice for Blank from Cardinals halfback Edgerrin James, who called the other day to promote Arizona running backs coach Maurice Carthon as a candidate. "He's too big to be a position coach," James said. "Coming from the Parcells system, with his knowledge and ability to relate to players, he'd be perfect. And in a city like that, with such a large and involved African-American population, he's exactly what they need. He knows his (stuff). In our meeting rooms he's so far ahead, it's scary. Sometimes, it's like he's talking over your head – about the overall scheme, and not just what we're supposed to do as backs. He understands players, but he can be tough, too." In fairness, I heard some negative things about Carthon's performance as the Browns' offensive coordinator the previous two seasons, but James' words definitely carry weight.


OK, conspiracy theorists, have at it: It sure looked like the Patriots benefited from a replay-reversal standard (the Jets' Justin McCareins was ruled to have juggled an apparent touchdown catch with 2:32 to go) that was not applied on a similar play involving a New England receiver two weeks ago (Jabar Gaffney's bobbled game-winning score against the Ravens). But Mike Nugent missing the ensuing 35-yard field goal attempt that could have cut New England's lead to a touchdown? That was just gagging under pressure, something the Pats almost never do.

Belichick got a lot of credit for the seemingly simple act of shaking Eric Mangini's hand after the game, but commentators seem to be overlooking a key element of his evolution. Unlike last season's playoff victory over the Jets, Belichick didn't shove a cameraman as he tried to reach Mangini through the crowd. This time, it appeared from the CBS telecast, he had a New England security official shove one for him. Well played, Pats. Well played.

After spending the bulk of the week (accurately) calling Petrino a quitter, the Falcons' players summoned an "effort" against the Bucs that seemed suspiciously like an homage. Or maybe Atlanta, now guided by interim coach Emmitt Thomas, is just that awful. Consider that the Falcons totaled five first downs, 27 yards passing, 133 total yards and were 0-for-9 on third-down conversions. They had more turnovers (five) than pass completions (four). They've lost five games in a row by a combined 161-53 margin. Quitters? You make the call.

While we're at it, how about those Lions (51-14 losers at San Diego, Detroit's sixth consecutive defeat after a 6-2 start)? It looks like Jon Kitna's celebrated quest for 10 will be realized – if by "victories" he meant "defeats."

As Arizona's postseason hopes all but disappeared in the Superdome, cameras caught Warner jawing with Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines. But he wasn't the only member of his family squabbling in the Crescent City. Up in the stands, Kurt's wife, Brenda, shot back at a fan who called her husband an unflattering name that refers to a part of the anatomy: "He's a two-time MVP. And you are?" Mercifully, the conversation ended there.

Tony Romo's thumb is messed up? Wow, yet another Favre parallel for the kid from Wisconsin. I expect Romo to battle through, just like the legend did after he broke it in 2003 (and, in truth, that digit has never been the same).

I'm not sure if the Steelers are a fading team – in all likelihood, Pittsburgh will be able to beat the Rams and Ravens on the road to stave off Cleveland in the AFC North. But the Steelers will likely expend a lot of energy doing so, and they're looking at a probable No. 4 seed (if the Chargers win out) and a return visit from the Jags in the first round. As for that much desired rematch with the Patriots some of Pittsburgh's players want? It may not happen.

All the people calling Alex Smith a bust may want to take a closer look at another highly drafted 49ers player. Tight end Vernon Davis, the ultra-talented yet apparently clueless No. 6 overall pick from '06, had a touchdown catch in San Francisco's 20-13 upset of the Bengals on Saturday, but he has hardly wowed teammates with his commitment. Picture this scene, from some of my spies in the Niners' locker room: Last Sunday, a minute before the 49ers were about to take the field for warmups before their game against the Minnesota Vikings, Davis, his body fully oiled up, stared at himself in the mirror, flexed his massive forearms, looked at them admiringly and blew each of his biceps an affectionate kiss. What a baller.


1. The re-branding of prunes as "California dried plums." Really? You marketing geniuses are hoping that you can fool people into eating more of something they'd otherwise reject by changing the name? Good luck with that. "Wow, Millie, what's this in my breakfast cereal? California dried plums, you say? Why, they're fabulous. I adore their wrinkled texture, chalky taste and the way they make my tummy rumble for hours afterward. I'd even go out on a limb and say they're nature's laxative, and what's not to like about that? And they even make a California dried plum juice ? Ho ho! What a lovely revelation. Why didn't somebody think of drying plums before?"

2. Brian Billick's decision to play it safe and kick a game-tying field goal on fourth-and-goal from the half-yard-line with 12 seconds left in regulation. Huh? I could perhaps see the wisdom in the coach's wimpiness if the Ravens were battling for a playoff spot, but Baltimore, at the time of his decision, was a 4-9 team with a seven-game losing streak. And Baltimore was playing the Dolphins , the team that had taken losing to a new level in '07. It gets worse: The Ravens have a power back, Willis McGahee, who, on his previous carry, had gained 11 yards on third-and-10. Rookie quarterback Troy Smith is a threat to bootleg as well. Now, I know that Billick appeared to get away with it, as the Ravens won the toss in overtime and drove into position for Stover's would-be game-winner. But if you're a Ravens fan, you have to be completely disgusted with the approach. And Billick's offensive players can't be thrilled that he didn't trust them to gain half a yard with the game on the line.


Another point for the Royals (details in The Gameface on Friday), another Monday Night Football prediction from Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann, who is 2-0 in this capacity after the Saints took down the Falcons last week. "I am going to go with the Vikings over the Bears," he said via email from the U.K. "They beat them earlier in the season on a late field goal. The Bears … are going to start (Kyle) Orton. He hasn't played for almost two years. The Vikings have the league's top-ranked run defence, allowing only 70.7 ypg and in the last five games only 47.6 ypg. I read that somewhere and I find that to be almost unbelievable. Have to go with the Vikings. But I do love the Bears. I've loved them ever since I was kid so if I am wrong it will be OK. Da Bears. Maybe it was the Saturday Night Live skit." And yes, he did spell defence the British way.


For weeks now, I've been hearing the same refrain from Seahawks fans: "Yeah, everyone talks about the Cowboys and Packers, but what about us?" Never mind that the Seahawks have beaten just one team in '07 that currently has a winning record (the Bucs, in the season opener). They went into Sunday's game at Carolina with a five-game winning streak, another NFC West title in the bag and visions of a second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons … and lost to the dubious Panthers, 13-10, in a game that exposed them as a one-dimensional operation. Unlike the Seattle team that thrived behind a dominant offensive line in '05, these Seahawks aren't built for the playoffs – certainly not for going into Lambeau Field and winning in January, which is their likely matchup if they can win their final two games (against the disengaged Ravens and the disheveled Falcons), hold on to the No. 3 seed in the NFC and win their wild-card weekend contest. Even coach Mike Holmgren admitted it in his news conference after Sunday's 44-yard effort on the grounds, saying, "We didn't run worth a lick. We're going to keep trying. But to think we're all of a sudden going to become this power running team, I think it's a little foolish." The result was that the Hawks were beaten by a Carolina team that the previous week lost 37-6 to the Jags (a real team) and which last month was defeated by the Falcons. So listen up, "12th Man": You should get down on your knees and give thanks that your team plays in the NFC West; otherwise it would be scrapping for a playoff berth. In the meantime, unless and until the Seahawks prove they're in the same league as the Cowboys and Packers, kindly down another espresso shot and shut up.


"No question here Mike, just a comment on the excellent Hatriot article. I thought you pretty much nailed all the reasons for the haters and made it crystal clear for those on both sides of the argument. I'm personally a fan of the Patriots but didn't know all of the history behind the hate. Well here's to the Pats going 19-0 and getting a cold shower of Hatorade dumped on them!"

John Dauphinais
Chester, N.H.

Wow. Thanks. You like me. You really like me …

"Hey Mike your still an (expletive). Give me a break because Coach Bill doesn,t have great post game handshakes everyone hates him. HMMM a nice coach like Herm Edwards or coach Belichick,you do the math."

Dave Cafasso
Location unknown

… uh, maybe not. You'll be happy to know that I just did the math, and you have a grammatical mistake in 100 percent of your sentences. Solid.

"You have it all wrong. The Cowboys are the most-hated NFL team. I disagree with you that the Patriots are non-classy men. They are really nice. Tom Brady was not yelling or fighting with that Steelers player. He was talking nicely to him. Besides Bill did admit to that scandal you were talking about. The only game that I believe that ran up the score was in the win against the Redskins. I will stand behind the Patriots no matter what you or anybody else says about them. You were very unprofessional by only giving one side of the story."

Courtney Fraser
North Potomac, Md.

I love it when people "talk nicely" on the field. I know that after the game, Brady declined to repeat what he had said, explaining that he wouldn't want his mother to know the exact words. Apparently those words were, "I love you, and I'm man enough to say it" – or something to that effect. Thanks for enlightening us.

"You missed something in the 6 reasons the Patriots are hated. While all 6 are glaringly true, there is one big reason that to this day still bothers many fans. The Patriots' dominance and Super Bowl victories should have never even been. What I am referring to is the way they backed into their first Super Bowl. Yes, that's right, you all remember the famous 'Tuck Rule' don't you? I have watched that play, of Brady being sacked and fumbling the ball against the Raiders, and I don't care what any official says about the 'Tuck Rule' … Brady fumbled that ball and the Patriots did not deserve to get that victory or go to the Super Bowl. Since that 'outrageously bad' call, the Patriots seem to get all kinds of 'unique' calls at the most appropriate times, that seem to keep their streak alive … I've never seen anything like it before. Favoritism? Lopsided officiating? Whatever you want to call it, the 'Tuck Rule' was a bunch of bologna and that is where the hatred started!"

Aliso Viejo, Calif.

I agree that the Tuck Rule is preposterous and that its application has been uneven – and that the Raiders should have gotten the ball after (Charles) Woodson's hit. But so what? That has nothing to do with the Pats' remarkable record of success since that call, and even if it was an injustice, why would people possibly blame them ? Hate the refs (and the competition committee), not the team.

"As a native New Yorker and Yankees fan, I was struck by how much my team is hated in New England (where I currently attend school). I have lived in other parts of the country and noticed such sentiment before. But nowhere have I detected such irrational mob-like hatred as I have here in Red Sox Nation. (As far as this region is concerned, A-Rod ranks right up there with Bin Laden as public enemy No. 1. And some New England women would rather a potential suitor be infected with gonorrhea than turn out to be a Yankees fan.) So it actually makes me laugh when I see New Englanders sitting around in a bahh (bar) on a snow-covered freezing night, sipping their Sam Adams or Shipyards, scratching their heads and wondering why the rest of the nation hates their Patriots so."

Joon Choi
Portland, Maine

Actually, I think the recent run of success by the Red Sox, along with the reemergence of the Celtics, has also fueled the anti-Pats sentiment in the rest of the country. As one of my friends recently put it, people are "Bostoned-out."

"Excellent and fair analysis of why the Patriots are much despised. As with every great sports team, there are many things to love and admire and many things that, well, you could do without. Jesus, they are fun to watch, though."

Portland, Maine

Yeah, they are …

"Hey man, could you please hand ms.brady a flashlight, because she can't see (expletive)! Does she really have no earthly idea as to why ppl don't like her brother's team? Get a clue lady."


OK, new rule at Trippin': You are free to criticize me, but don't even think about taking a shot at Nancy Brady. And you'd better hope I don't hand her a flashlight, because you might not like what she does with it.

"Are you the same (expletive) who wrote the article on Yahoo! last fall – 'Why The Red Sox Will Never make it to the World Series'? It must be hard to be a loser …"

Sue Lynch
Location unknown

No, that was a different (expletive).

"It is just a comment. I am no great sports fan, but I am a Senior Director of Analytical Chemistry at a Pharmaceutical Company. I am sure Mr. Silver that you aced the subject of Chemistry and can teach me a couple of things like what you wrote about the Pats here. However, your column shows me that you are a poor loner who has a acid pen when it comes to success. What would you write about your self? Take a half day and write who you are and what you stand for and publish it with a comment button. I have lived the last 18 years building successful teams for companies. My latest endeavor was to take a dying team and make them successful. I often look at the Pats because they bring in misfits and really make them stars. Do you think that is by drugging them? I invite you to build a team of 5 who are willing to give their free time and personal activities to doing your bidding. Keep them going for 5 years without them turning to rot. Then you will perhaps come to understand what it is all about. Never try to figure out a person unless you have been in the same situation. That is what is so amazing about you Journalists. You have not done anything but you have advice and criticism about everything. Are you willing to take my challenge and write about yourself or are you a 'Big Chicken' like every other Journalist?."

Uditha deAlwis
Mansfield, Mass.

Oh, you surly chemists. Afraid to write about myself? Where have you been? It's a "challenge" that even my friends, colleagues, spouse, children and parents will tell you I'm all too eager to embrace.

"Thank god the NFL isn't a popularity contest or the Patriots wouldn't even be in contention. It's a multi-billion dollar business, so the most important thing is the bottom line – wins. They're in pretty good shape, I'd say. Granted, Bill Belichick arrogantly broke the rules and he and the Patriots paid their punishment. Those looking for remorse in as cutthroat an industry as the NFL shouldn't hold their collective breaths. Simply, enjoy watching history as it unfolds and if someone knocks off the Pats, enjoy that as well. By the way, as a Patriots fan, I have no problem with the team being despised. After years of being the joke of the NFL, this is far better. Plus, when you win as consistently and as often as this team does, people are bound to stop liking you eventually, especially if you're shoved down their throats every week by the media. Happy Festivus!"

Somerville, Mass.

Ah, Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us. I admire your highly evolved approach to being a fan.

"Did you have to toss the ' … wackos from the religious right …' comment in there? It just seems so out of place. Us geniuses from the atheists left hate him too."


Ha, a lefty with a sense of humor. I love it. I was referring to the many emails I've received from readers who say they are deeply offended by some of the choices Brady has made in his personal life. Upon further review, I realize that some of these emails are from people who simply disapprove of those choices, and I shouldn't have generalized. As far as the "wackos" line, I apologize for my redundancy.

"Well, I started to read a nice article, then you start with the hate. I'll even quote it for you, 'Very few people, outside of some judgmental wackos from the religious right, have anything negative to say about Brady …' I stopped reading right there. It's this kind of attitude that is dividing this country, so you can take your hatred of anyone with a religious upbringing and stuff it."

Location unknown

The attitude from the left is dividing this country? Have you been in hibernation for the past decade, or are you merely delusional? And for the record, I have zero inherent hatred for "anyone with a religious upbringing" but I sure as hell hate, say, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.

"Your a fool first off. Everyone is behind the Pats and I don't know where your doing your research but it must not be in the heart of Boston. People all over the world that are truly from Boston defend and fight for there team every week. You have no idea what your talking about, it must be easy to have your job? Any fool can type up a bunch of BS just to stur something up."

Las Vegas

That's true. But it takes a real fool to spell stir with a u.

"Let me start off saying that I am a diehard fan, and have been before Brady was even at Michigan. I just want to say that this has been one of the best articles I have ever read on Yahoo! It is honest, and completely unbiased. You use your facts without slandering the Patriots, but also not showing favoritism and skirting the truth. I will always be a Pats fan, even though they cheated, no matter what rule Belichick 'didn't understand.' Keep up the good work!"

David F.
Providence, R.I.

Thank you for getting it.

"Thank you … thank you! I am a huge Patriot hater and this is the first sports story I've read in months that doesn't make me want to puke. You have totally made my day. It could have been a bit more nasty … but it is a start!"


Thank you for not puking.

"The moment I began to laugh at the concept of the Patriots as a 'class' organization was the 2005 Super Bowl, when seemingly half the team spent inordinate amounts of energy mocking Terrell Owens' 'wing flap' celebration. Putting aside the fact that T.O. had an almost super-human performance in coming back from injury and torching the Pats, the larger point was: dude, you guys just won the effing Super Bowl, and your first thought is, 'let's make fun of some jackass'?"


I believe that, for better or worse, the Patriots' code is something like this: We're allowed to trash you and mock you, but only if you start it.

"'Love to Hate' was the best thing I read all day. Thanks for writing what so many of us have been feeling. I'd even rather see the Packers beat the Pats if they meet in this year's Super Bowl, and I'm a Bears fan! (I can't believe I just said that …)."

San Diego

I can't believe it, either.

"I was about to write you to tell you how much I loved your column on why we hate the Patriots so much, but then got upset about how much you bashed the 49ers. The thing about Alex Smith getting called itty-bitty by Nolan was funny (even though it didn't really make sense because he is out for the season) but saying we aren't a top rate organization? Why take that shot at us, when fans of this team are obviously already hurting in a big way. Those of us who were there for all the glory years are having a hard time with the fact that the owner is an (expletive) and it looks like we are not going to have a winning season in the near future. But not top-rate? We are a classy team: I don't agree with your comment. Losing is hard, especially when we went into this season with high hopes and the second easiest schedule in the NFL (based on win-percentage of opponents the prior year). Other than a few remarks that were probably said out of frustration, we have been amazingly strong, as is evidenced by the public support (Trent) Dilfer showed our new offensive coordinator (even when we all know that Turner's departure is the reason for the team's offensive slide). Please, lay off my team, just pity us fans … About the Patriots article, great job! I started hating them before they were good because they were my sister-in-law's family's team. Of course they got really good, and it only made me more irritated. Your reasons we hate them are solid, great article! That team drives me nuts. My husband and I think a good ending to the season would be for the 0-14 Dolphins to upset the 14-0 Patriots. Would that be a game or what?"

Roseville, Calif.

Having been there as a beat writer for some of the glory years, I do pity the 49ers fans. That comment was largely directed at ownership, though the coach-quarterback feud tells me there's a lot of dysfunction in the building. I've written that Denise DeBartolo York should do the right thing and sell the team back to her brother, Eddie. Hey, it's Christmas – might as well dream.

"Yo! That remix of 'Hail Mary' was classic. Have you ever thought of going into the ghost-writing business? On another note, when are you going to do something about your Bert and Ernie eyebrows?"

New Rochelle, N.Y.

Later this week, when I pay a visit to my awesome hairdresser, Jenifer, and she breaks out the hedge-trimmers.


"We are very angry that a guy we thought was a leader lied to us and our owner for his selfish reasons. He is a coward that could not finish the year out. He was a guy that couldn't adjust to the pro game and misled our fans that he could bring a championship to the city of Atlanta. Words can't truly describe the lives he has effected cause he couldn't handle the heat. He is weak. He is unreal. He has no class."
– Email Wednesday from Falcons halfback Warrick Dunn, on Bobby Petrino.