January 2008

Countdown to the BIG ONE

Now that we’ve gotten through ankle-gate — yes, Brady will play in the Super Bowl and did anyone seriously think he was going to hand the reins over to Matt Cassel in the biggest game of his life? — we can focus on other matters. Here are some things I think about.

How does Tiki Barber feel about being retired? Yeah, I’ve heard him say he doesn’t miss football and he walked away at the right time. Does anyone seriously believe that? It’s got to be killing him.

Will Troy Brown be activated? Forgive me if this is a stupid question. I know he’s only played in one game all year. But who wouldn’t love to see this all-time great competitor be a part of the fourth Super Bowl and a 19-0 team?

Can Eli Manning be the Eli Manning of the last three weeks? Or does he revert to the erratic guy who showed up every Sunday before that. Therein lies the answer to whether this will be a competitive game or a blowout.

Where is Randy Moss? He’s been virtually invisible the last two weeks. Can Moss get back to the dominant receiver he was earlier in the year? Will the Giants let him, or will they double him like the Jags did?

If the game comes down to a field goal, can Gotskowski be Viniatieri, or will he be Scott Norwood? It’s a valid question. Yes, yes, yes, I know Steve made a huge kick in San Diego last year and at least one big one in Indy in last year’s AFC Championship loss, but he’s never done it with a Super Bowl on the line.

Was the first matchup between these two teams a true measuring stick to how close they are? Or were the Patriots simply tight that night because of the 16-0 hanging over them? How much will Belichick adjust from what happened in that game? Ditto on Coughlin.

Prediction? Pats 43, Giants 27.

P.S. — Yes, this is still a baseball blog despite the football dominance lately. With that in mind, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia today weighed in on Johan Santana’s imminent trade to the Mets.

Darth Vader has one more Giant obstacle

A good friend of mine — she’ll remain nameless because she’s just not the type of person who wants the glory — dubbed the Patriots Darth Frickin’ Vader. And that was before their victory in the AFC Championship Game.

Moral of the story. Nobody outside the six-state region of New England wants the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. They are the Hatriots. It’s obvious. Everyone always goes for the underdog and the Giants are the perfect underdog. Three road wins to get to the Super Bowl. Only one road loss all year. No statistical reason to play the Patriots hard in the last game of the regular season and they played their hearts out. Gotta love it.

This is going to be a tremendous game. Many teams would be awed by the Patriots. But the Giants went toe to toe with them in that aforementioned Dec. 29 game and that confidence has to carry over.

I think the Giants would have a much better chance to win this game if it was in cold conditions, such as Green Bay last week. But I think that mild weather will revive Randy Moss and Tom Brady is going to put on a full-fledged, aerial assault. The Giants will try to have a time of possession type offense and keep Brady and Co. off the field.

My only qualm with this game is that we have to wait so long to see it. Forget about the bye week. I want to see this game — NOW.

If the Patriots do go 19-0, it will be the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching sports.

You can be sure Bill Parcells will feel weird watching this game. Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick are both coaches that grew under his tutelage. And Bill Parcells of course, coached both of these franchises. Being a Jersey guy, you’d think Bill would be rooting for the Giants. But I’m sure he’s rooting hard for Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown — guys he coached back in New England.

One more for perfection

I hope everyone is fired up about the Super Bowl. Great Championship Day on Sunday. I’ll be back later today to expand on these thoughts, but in the meantime, I’d like to hear everyrone’s take on the Super Bowl.

Not as much charge for this matchup

I think I now know how I would have felt if the Red Sox had played the Twins in 2004 ALCS instead of the Yankees. It just wouldn’t have been the same.

I have to admit, I very much wanted to see the Patriots and the Colts this Sunday in Foxboro for the AFC Championship. It has become such a great rivalry and the Colts left such a bitterly sour taste in the mouth of every Patriots player and follower last January. Matter of fact, it was the most bitter Boston sports loss since the Yankees and Aaron Boone beat the Red Sox in game 7 of 2003, which is why the rematch this Sunday would have been so compelling.

Brady is at the very top of his game right now. And until yesterday, I thought Manning was still at the top of his. We are just spoiled around here to watch this football team week in and week out. Has Brady ever come up as small in the late stages of a big game as Manning did on his last two series yesterday? Granted, Manning did have nice numbers — 33-for-48, 402 yards, three TDs. But interceptions will kill you this time of year and he had two of them.

Now we’re left with the Pats and the injury-plagued Chargers. Just as I thought Jacksonville would give the Patriots everything they could handle last week, I don’t see this one being much of a game.

I predict the Pats win by a minimum of two touchdowns.

If any of you can convince me otherwise, please give it your best shot. Because there is very little going on Red Sox-wise, I figured we could talk some football.

Ian.

Rice will go deep in final Cooperstown at-bat

When one of my bosses called me this afternoon to give me the Hall of Fame results, he made the following opening remark:

Do you want the good news first or the bad news?

"Good news," I said.

"Jim Rice is going to the Hall of Fame."

"Great," I said. "What’s the bad news?"

"It’s not going to be until next year," he said.

Great line. And probably true. By gaining 72.2 percent of the votes, it seems a virtual lock that Rice will get those 16 extra votes next year that he lacked this year. History proves it. In the 20 times a potential candidate has received 70 percent of the votes but less than 75, he has eventually gained entry.

Given that next year is Rice’s final try on the writer’s ballot, I’d have to think certain writers will be more apt to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Granted, I grew up watching this man hit every day when I was a kid and a fan — long before I became a professional journalist — I don’t think that is swaying my opinion. Looking at it objectively, this guy was a dominant hitter for a decade plus. Crunch his numbers from 1975-86 and you will find a man who was more productive than any hitter in the American League at that time.

Those who think Rice was a product of Fenway Park simply don’t get it. Rice was never a pull hitter. He was always a guy who went to all fields. In fact, if he had played at Yankee Stadium with that short right field porch, he probably would have finished with 50 to 60 more career homers. If anything, the Green Monster took home runs away from Rice because of the blazing line drives he hit into it. Sure, Fenway helped Rice’s average. But definitely not his power.

I don’t get the longevity thing. So if Rice would have hung around an extra four or five years and had a bunch of mediocre numbers and tacked on to his hit and home run totals, all of a sudden he’s a Hall of Famer? In my mind, a Hall of Famer is someone who was dominant at his craft. Jim Rice was a lethal hitter. Just ask Goose Gossage.

Rice and Rickey Henderson in ’09. That should be an entertaining induction ceremony.

As Good as it Gets

First of all, Happy New Year! And has there ever been a happier New Year for a Boston sports fan? Seriously, can it get any better than this?

Consider what the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics have done the last two months. Since Game 4 of the ALCS, when the Sox were down 3-1 to the Indians, here is the combined record of those three teams.

Sox are 7-0
Pats are 16-0
Celtics are 27-3

By my count, that adds up to 50-3. That’s a little ridiculous. New England is positively spoiled right now. This is the opposite of around 1997, when the Patriots were all we had. That year, the Celtics and Bruins were both terrible and the Red Sox had a rare sub.-500 year in which they didn’t contend.

These are, in fact, the Good Old Days.

The best part about it? There isn’t yet an end in sight. The Patriots are three wins away from their ultimate goal and Brady should be in his prime for another five years at least. The Celtics are just starting what should be a golden run of three or four years. The Red Sox are positioned to win now, and for the next several years.

So what do you do? Sit back and enjoy and hope there are no major injuries. And savor this time. One never knows if all the stars will quite be aligned like this ever again.

Ian.

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