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The holidays are over.
Sad. Bittersweet life.
I'm one of those guys who sees the holidays as continuing until the SuperBowl, a bit more subdued maybe but blocking and tackling and guys trying to catch balls while other guys try and stop them always fills me with a sense of wonder and peace.
Now that the Bowl season is over its time to get into the NFL playoffs. The finest athletes in the world, blocking and tackling and trying to catch a ball.
The playoffs cap off what was a pretty dire NFL season. The quality of the football was pretty high but the scheduling made it so that there were a huge amount of meaningless poorly played games. I was talking to some guys who thought the Cleveland v Lions game was the best game of the year. That's the one where the Lion's Matt Stafford won the game with a touchdown pass with no time remaining.
What I saw was a pretty poorly played game with erratic execution. That doesn't change what it means to the players and the players are always what makes any game fascinating.
As bad as the season was there were some bright glowing spots. There has to be.
The New Orleans Saints with Dru Brees cheerleading them and gut checking them to a 13-0 start was incredible. And The Cincinnati Bengals sweeping the AFC North was something that I couldn't ignore and appreciate.
As it stands that's my dream SuperBowl. Right now it's not my prediction it's just the SuperBowl I would like to see.
There's a lot of things I like about the Bengals. There's a strong USC connection, which I always like. Carson Palmer, the QB, coming back and playing like the elite QB he is. Keith Rivers and Rey
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Maleluga giving the Bengals a real playmaking defense and a dangerous front seven. And then they picked up Larry Johnson.
I knew Larry Johnson from State College High School. He was a phenomenal athlete then. I met his father and mother and his little brother Tony (who may be a better athlete but lacks Larry's hard competitive edge). I know the kid and I know he's not like the way the press has depicted him.
There are things about being an elite athlete that non-athletes never seem to get. They can't imagine what its like to prepare your body to stretch it past the possible, the mindset that's entailed in always believing you're being better than your opponent. The stresses of tuning your body and your mind create a tension. Pop stars and classical musicians are permitted to have their affectations and tantrum demands. Its expected and respected. An athlete is only "permitted" to be either sullen or at least keep his mouth shut.
There's been a lot of talk about Tom Brady being the NFL player of the decade. It would be really hard to make any arguments against that. The rings, the record and the duress and he definitely
falls into the "keep your mouth shut" category in his public life. But as awe inspiring as Brady is there's a player on the Bengals who falls into a different category, The Player I Most Wished I'd Coached of the Decade. And that player would be Chad Ocho Cinco nee Johnson.
Ocho Cinco created one of the most wondrous moments in sports history. It was a week before Christmas and then Ocho Cinco scored a TD. I don't remember the score or the situation or even who the opponent was. What I remember was Ocho Cinco scoring the TD and then running to a side line marker. He tilted the marker up and pulled out a giant Christmas stocking stuffed with loot. He then ran up and down the sidelines tossing Christmas presents to the fans.
It was glorious, it was ebullient and the greatest TD celebration that ever was or will be. The NFL fined him and banned all such actions so they'd never be again. They've completely erased the moment from their history. They took something fun and made it illegal because it detracted from the seriousness of the game.
I've been coaching for 20 years. Most of it working with the social inclusion of youth. Football is a
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hard vicious game that I still contend is the best and ultimate way to show young people how to work to improve themselves to be the best that they can be so that they can fit into a plan and be part of a team so that the team can go forward and accomplish unbelievable things. And all of those kids took the lessons that our game had to teach them and used those lessons to succeed in a community and society that had previously written them off as wasted youth.
And that worked because our game is fun. The hours of gym work, the hours of practice for the scant minutes of game time were all just fun.
The NFL doesn't much care about fun.
I worked with NFL Europe or the World Football League or whatever gooney name they were giving it for a while. It soon seemed to me that this league had only two purposes: For the owners to be able to take lavish European vacations that could be written off as business expense and to sell
more NFL merchandise. I met about half of the NFL owners of the time and a good chunk of Paul Taglibue's staff.
It was only after Vince McMahon founded the X-Football League that anyone started to care about what they were putting on the field. Starting to use the League as a "minor" developmental league was
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the solution but that was still secondary to expensive vacations and selling merchandise. Neither goal held any interest for me so I didn't last long in the NFL Europe offices or fields.
But those are the kind of guys who never played the game who could look at Chad Ocho Cinco, an elite receiver who rejoiced in and loved our game and instead of catching the infectious fever that Ocho Cinco brings to the field they only saw something that needed to be eliminated.
Whatever these guys do for a good time I doubt it could ever interest me.
This year Ocho Cinco, in the midst of the best season the Bengals have ever had, after a blown pass interference that wasn't called, Ocho Cinco tried to bribe the official with a dollar. It was humorous, it was fun and funny. It bought an NFL game up to a level of beauty and entertainment that I never thought it could recall.
Ocho Cinco was fined $50,000. He paid the fine and then matched the fine and made an equal donation to children's charities. To understand NFL priorities remember that a cheap shot merits as little as a $3,000 fine. That's like getting 30 days for assault and 15 years for dancing after midnight.
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Chad Henry, the other Bengals elite receiver died tragically this season in a shocking way. Ocho Cinco wanted to wear his jersey the weekend of Henry's death. The NFL said no tributes to the dead unless they're straight ahead white guys I figure. Ocho CInco stood his ground and the NFL promised him the heaviest fine it could levy. The Player's Union actually stepped forward and said it would pay the fine on Ocho Cinco's behalf. The NFL refused. Their intent was to punish Ocho Cinco if he dared to pay a tribute to his friend and teammate, a touching tribute that would have touched my heart and the heart's of millions to see.
They took the joy and beauty out of the moment and Ocho Cinco sadly, if prudently, denied himself the simple Eulogy to his friend.
There's a long list of things Ocho Cinco has done that appeal to me. When he had no receptions against Reavis in the season finale he gave Reavis credit for being great and never blamed his injured knee. He had one season where he went public with his despair at playing for loosing teams
and then came back and apologized for it and on and on.
Chad Ocho Cinco is a player that I think can be held up as an example to other young men. He works incredibly hard. He's super fit. He runs excellent routes, helps his QB, is a good blocker. His game is constantly improving. And he has fun playing this sport at its highest level. He laughs and enjoys his status as a rich celebrity. HE cares for the children of his community in ways great and small. He's turned the iPhone and the smart phone community into his own special place to reach out to fans and other players.
Chad Ocho Cinco is what I dreamed each of my players, my kids, might become. And I think he's special and I hope to see him play in the SuperBowl catching a TD pass somersaulting out of the back of the end zone with the ball still in his hands.
At the end of the regular season I am leading my friend by one point. This is a testament to the genius and clear headed thinking I gave all my picks as well as a testament to the depths of feminine cheating and lucky guessing . . . Well, it is.
Due to some insightful scheduling 3 of this weeks 4 games are rematches from last week . . . That sure spells excitement not to mention a weird sense of deja vu.
My picks are in bold
New York Jets at Cincinnati
- The Jets won last week in a game that meant everything to them and nothing to the Bengals. The only thing that makes me nervous about this game is that the Bengals still won't have Ray Maleluga. Their D needs his high rev motor back there. He's a disruptive force who fits in well to the Bengals team. I also think Ocho Cinco will burn Reavis for one long TD.
at Dallas - Its hard for me to pick a team with Michael Vick. He has not held to his
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promises as far as I'm concerned. I was a supporter but he's done minimal work with kids or on behalf of animals. Carson Palmer appears at his local animal shelter on Pet Adoption day for nothing but the joy of it. Where was Vick on that day? I think that was the condition for his release and for his reinstatement. It's the NFL and only tickets and merchandise sales really matter.But I like the Cowboys D well enough but think their O is wreckless and erratic. The Eagles are even more erratic, remember they got bombed by the Raiders not that long ago. McNabb is too good a QB and too intense a leader to permit a replay of last weeks dismal performance.
Baltimore at New England
- Game of the Week if only because it's not a replay like the others. I like the Ravens and think they match up well with the Patriots. Brady has a broken finger to match his three broken ribs so it should be close.
28 at Arizona 21 - The packers blew the Cardinals out last week in a game that meant nothing to the Cards. The Packers should keep the swagger and Clay Matthews should delight in chasing down immobile Kurt Warner.