Friday, Jan. 22, 2010
It happens every year at this time. You know. The winter blahs. The hectic, euphoric rush of the holidays is over and for most of us all of its remnants are put away leaving everything looking bare. (That is unless youre that person in the neighborhood that STILL has their Christmas light up!)
Add to that, the bills are coming in (The Jersey Shore Barbie and Situation Ken cost what?) and we are only two months into the 6 months of Chicago winter, things are starting to look bleak. Of course for me there is also another reason for the bad feelings this time of year. (Isnt there always?) Its the NFL Playoffs. For me theyve always presented the ultimate dilemma. Thats because I realize, once again, that my team is not going to win. That I understood this going in isnt much of a consolation. Its one of the great ironies of life I guess, that someone who is as big a fan of the NFL as I am would be tortured by its ending each year. Isnt that funny? (For all of you Cub fans out there: Zip it! Youve had enough other things, Jordan, to ease your pain!) That I now reside in a city that treats its only Super Bowl win 24 years ago as the second coming makes it only funnier. Doesnt it?
So as I watch the two games on Sunday, it will be with tempered enthusiasm. Dont get me wrong, its my favorite day of football of the year. Im not feeling sorry, I think, jealous, would be the right word. Because, as the fans of the two teams that win on Sunday will find out, being that close will make your head explode. For a fan, there is no rush like your team winning it all, and of all of the sports, I dont think it gets any bigger than the NFL. A win this Sunday puts your team in the Super Bowl and you have two weeks to get ready. It can be the most wonderful two weeks of your rooting life. For someone like me its a dangerous time, as Red would tell Andy, because there is hope. It only figures then, that losing a Super Bowl is the ultimate downer. I would think that would be especially true for three of the four remaining teams.
For as much as a Philadelphia Eagles fan has suffered, over and over, fans of the Jets, Vikings and Saints are right there with them. Ill include the Jets in this even though they have a Super Bowl victory, probably the biggest ever, because it was over forty years ago. A lot of broken dreams in forty years. An Eagles fan can relate. Besides which, in New York, Jets fans are looked down upon. Normally I would find it funny, and also look down on them, and I have, but them being so close has me thinking of how much theyve endured. (Am I getting soft?!) Realistically I would think that this is the end of the line for this years Jets. They remind me of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of Tony Dungy that ran into the Greatest Show on Turf in the 1999 NFC title game. That game was also one that featured the high-powered offense versus the brick wall defense, the tipping point being that the team with the defense didnt have much play out of the QB and could run the ball, sound familiar? That game ended 11-6 in favor of the team with the offense. This Jets team, like that Bucs one is offensively a couple of years away from being the team to beat. (Tampa took 3 more.) So for a Jets team that was 9-7 and basically lucked its way into the playoffs, its been nice, we have some lovely parting gifts. I have a feeling that they will make their presence felt before they leave, but it wont be enough.
On the NFC side is where it gets really interesting. These are two tortured franchises. High praise from an Eagles fan. In Minnesota, theyve lost FOUR Super Bowls. Ouch! Not only that, in 1998, the Vikings were 15-1 and in the title game, at home, and leading with 2:07 left in the game. Their kicker, Gary Anderson had a 38 yard field goal to give them a ten point lead and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Of course, he missed it. His only miss all year! Atlanta then proceeded to tie the game and then win it in over-time. Dirty Bird! I wanted to get sick when I watched that. A loss like that put a serious hurt on the psyche of a fan for a long time. The players change, time moves on and the hurt stays. That team never really recovered, good but not good enough, including the infamous 41-0 loss to the Giants in the title game two years later. And did I mention the 4 Super Bowl losses? Or the Hail Mary game against the Cowboys? Can you imagine whats going on in the minds of Vikings fans right now? I can!
On the other side you have the New Orleans Saints. 6 playoff appearances in 43 years! Thats more than broken dreams, its heartbreaking. Why would you be a Saints fan? (I know why!) Do you like pain and suffering? Are you in such a Mardi Gras haze that you dont realize whats going on? And who dat could forget the Aints of the early 1980s? Yes this is one team that even a hardened cynic like myself wouldnt have a problem seeing win, theyve earned it. Also I have to mention that on the Saturday night before the 2006 NFC title game between the Saints and Bears was one of the most fun nights Ive had in the bar in my 15 years there. There was a line out the door. Saints fans everywhere! They were singing and dancing, and yes, drinking to their hearts content. It was a sight to behold. And after what they had endured with Katrina, who could blame them? They were happy to be ANYWHERE, let alone watching their team one step from the Super Bowl. We know how that ended, but I had so many of them come back in on Sunday, after what I know as a tough loss, to thank me for how much fun they had. That is something Ill never forget.
So I guess you can tell what team Im rooting for. While Im at work, Ill be riveted to the TV and cheering on the game (and my side bets) with everyone else, but Ill also realize how much it means to three fan bases far away from here. I know that for any one of them, two more wins will mean more than winning a game. It will mean an end to a seeming lifetime of suffering. Yeah, Im jealous (and soft!). But, of course, if Indy ends up winning it all, theres going to be a familiar feeling in those three fan bases. Very familiar, trust me. Same as it ever was!