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An Analysis of the Pre-Super Bowl NFL and More

Column by David Berl
and Jeremy Cohen

This week's 21-gun salute goes out to San Diego charger middle linebacker Junior "The Trapezious Artist" Seau. Battling numbness in his left arm from a pinched trapezious nerve that has plagued him since week 11, Seau single-armedly shut down the AFC-leading Pittsburgh rushing attack pacing the Lightning Bolts to a hard-fought 1713 victory and a first-ever Super Bowl berth.

Although the AFC championship game may have been bested in the ratings by "Matlock: The Assassination" on TBS, it was far from the lackluster defensive struggle it was promised to be.

In fact, this year's AFC playoffs were a coming-out party of sorts for the mostly B-league conference. The infusion of new teams and young talent into the postseason meant tighter competition and the establishment of new rivalries: the mentor-mentee matchup of Bill Parcells vs. Bill Belichek, the look-a-like contest of Junior Seau vs. Rod Woodson, the I-have-more-nicknames-than-you battle of Barry "Bananas" Foster (Australian for __________, mate) vs. Natrone "By any/of slender/ways and" Means "business," the I'm-missing-more-body-parts-than-you squabble of San Diego's Mark Seay (kidney) and Miami's Bryan Cox (brain), and most importantly the internal discord of Pittsburgh QB Neil O'Donnell vs. any semblance of personality.

While the most exciting thing happening in the formulaic NFC playoffs this year was Pat Summerall's all-too-stoic promotion of Fox's "House of Buggin," the AFC's second season featured a classic quarterback duel between Joe Montana and Dan Marino, the inaugural Morgue Bowl between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and two San Diego victories with so many nailbiters, you had to resort to your toes.

Indeed, Sunday's title game in soaked Four Rivers Stadium, with Stan Humphries and Alfred Pupunu dishing out a second half platter full of deep passes and strong running against a Pittsburgh defense so rugged they may not take off their uniforms until next season, provided a more entertaining game than the much ballyhooed, replace your divots, match-up of the Cowboys and Forty Niners.

While San Francisco certainly deserves its favorite status in the upcoming Super Bowl, the Almost Football Conference is beginning to shake off the cobwebs of the Buffalo Bills regime and put forth a viable challenge to the senior conference.

While the AFC playoffs provided a full plate of entertaining upsets, the NFC ran according to form, as only one team won away from its own friendly confines. The four also-rans in the NFC playoffs posed no threat to the powerful Cowboys and 49ers, who cruised into the championship game without breaking a sweat.

The Lions, who inexplicably refuse to fire coach Wayne "I win only when my job is on the line" Fontes, are harmless, as long as penetrating Detroit's backfield remains easier than driving a Motown made vehicle. The Vikings' undersized defense impresses during the regular season, but, as usual, pulls a Houdini disappearing act in the playoffs. Leave it to the Vikes to make Steve Walsh look like anything but the worst quarterback to come out of Miami in 15 years.

Speaking of the Bears, rumor has it that Coach Dave Wannstedt plans to market videotapes of his offense in an effort to compete with Unisom and Nitol. Wannstedt did a great job with a team which possesses limited skills at best, but his offense is more predictable than Bob Dole's political aspirations.

Solid defense only takes a team so far, and in Da Bears' case, it took them to an embarrassing shallacking at the hands of the Forty Niners. In fact, both divisional playoff games were about as evenly matched as the American battle with Grenada's rebels, and the only entertaining portion of either game was watching baby faces Steve Young and Jerry Rice rumble with the Bears' defense.

Thus, the stage was set for the "real Super Bowl," a matchup of the NFL's two dominating teams. Throughout the week of hype, every player, coach, and analyst ESPN could hire repeated the old cliche, "Whichever team makes fewer mistakes will win." Obviously, this was the case, but the most important mistake, the one which determined the outcome of the game more than any other, was Jerry Jones's imbecilic decision to fire Jimmy Johnson and hire Barry "make Troy Aikman run the option in college" Switzer.

What an inspirational speech Switzer must have delivered before the game. Did he end his speech with the emotional line, "Okay guys, we're going to go out there and fumble, fumble, fumble - let's go get 'em?"

The Cowboys began the game flatter than a two year old Coke and were unable to recover from their early deficit, despite valiant efforts from Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. To their credit, Young and the Niners capitalized on the Cowboys' errors and have earned their spot in the Super Bowl - a game which will be decided before Chris Berman even begins to expound upon the virtues of Bud Light's star quarterback.

College Basketball

Now that the college basketball season has moved beyond the meaningless tropical invitationals, the contenders are beginning to separate themselves from the pretenders in league play. To be sure, the field is wide open, and in an effort to help wade through upset city, we present our slate of predicted conference champions and league most valuable players: Atlantic Coast Conference, Dean Smith's talented club, led be super-Sophs Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, will prove victorious in the nation's strongest conference.

However look for strong challenges from Wake Forest, Virginia, and Maryland, whose center, Joe Smith, will take player of the year honors. Smith's power, combined with his agility and range, allows him to dominate games and will eventually make this "diaper dandy" a number one pick and an NBA star.

Southeastern Conference: Defending National Champions Arkansas should conquer the SEC once again. The talented Razorbacks, featuring Corliss "I look like Charles, but I don't play like him yet" Williamson and Scotty Thurman, have looked vulnerable thus far, but Nolan's "40 minutes of hell" and tremendous quickness should be enough to stave off strong challenges from Kentucky and Florida. Williamson, the 6 foot, 7 inch man-child whose astounding strength overwhelms opponents, will collect the player of the year award.

Big 10 + 1: The perennial powerhouses, Michigan and Indiana, have enormous talent deficits, as the Fab Five have become the Adequate Two and Bobby Knight's group has less experience than President Clinton's cabinet.

Many talented teams will vie for the conference championship, including Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan State. The edge goes to Michigan State, whose prime time playing guard, Shawn Respert, will dominate conference play as the Big Dog did a season ago.

Big 8: The class of the conference appears to be Kansas, whose tenacious defense, and point guard Jacques Vaughn, should lead Roy Williams' club to the title. However, expect strong challenges from Missouri and Oklahoma State, whose gigantic center, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, will be the conference's top player.

Pac 10: The Pac 10 has arrived as a basketball powerhouse, and for the first time in years, boasts several talented teams. Although Arizona State, Cal, and Stanford will have strong campaigns, the race for the conference title will be between Arizona and favorite UCLA.

Look for the Wildcats to win in an upset, with lightning-quick player of the year Daimon Stoudamire leading the way.

Atlantic 10: John Calipari's UMass Minutemen are the league's only dominating team, as John Cheney and Temple begin to rebuild. Massachusetts features sophomore center Marcus Camby and A-10 player of the year Lou "Death" Roe. Roe's tenacity inside, combined with his improved touch from the perimeter, have been instrumental in the club's ascension to the number one ranking.

The Languid Metro Atlantic Conference Game of the Week: Canisius 79, Loyola 65.

Big East: College basketball's black and blue conference has been rejuvenated by freshman phenoms Alan Iverson of Georgetown and Felipe Lopez of St. John's. However, the Big East race will come down to Connecticut, led by Donny "don't call me Donyell" Marshall, Israeli national Doron Scheffer, and sharp-shooting Ray Allen and Syracuse, with player of the year Lawrence "poetry in" Moten. In the end, Connecticut will prevail, for one simple reason: If there is a way to lose, Jimmy Boeheim will certainly find it.

NBA Update

This week's NBA Update comes straight from the errant mumblings of Dr. Jack Ramsay:

The Atlantic Division is shaping up to be a two horse race this season, with one thoroughbred, one old steed, and no Philly. Despite the veteran Knicks' resurgence of late, the Orlando Magic's explosive start, a credit to Tree Rollins, has left the rest of the division in their wake.

Among those struggling to keep their swelled heads above water are the New Jersey Nets, who have more head cases than a cryogenics lab, the Miami "in" Heat who have had more bad trades than an unemployed gasoline attendant, and the Philadelphia 76ers whose Basketball Anonymous team meetings begin, "I am B.J. Tyler, and I am a 76er."

Nonetheless, the surprise of the division so far has been the complete fallout of the Washington "Bite the" Bullets who, key injuries notwithstanding, have displayed no sense of teamwork en route to a .212 winning percentage. The Bullets, however, do expect to contend next year with the apparent addition of a top lottery pick (read Jerry Stackhouse) and the return of a healthy Chris "Don't call me Dick" Webber along with Don MacLean "Deluxe," Rex Chapman, and talented rookie Juwan Howard.

Bold Prediction #1: 7'7" Washington center Gheorge Muresan secedes from the Union, contradicting the saying "No man is an island."

Unlike the Atlantic, this year's Central division is a horse of a different color. Four teams figure to contend for the right to avoid playing Orlando until the Eastern Conference finals. First place Cleveland's consistent defense and "no frills" attack of Tyrone Hill, Bobby Phills, and Chris Mills, coupled with sharpshooting Mark Price, have made the Erie proletariat pay homage to the Czar of the Telestrator, Mike Fratello.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets, with stingy Mugsy Bogues at the helm, and the Indiana Pacers, behind a hot Reggie Miller, loom close behind. In Chicago, the talented Bulls are faced with a dilemma as to how to handle star forward Scottie Pippen, whose continuing embroilment with General Manager Jerry "Sour" Krauss has forced them to either trade him or place him on injured reserve with a bruised ego.

The we've-resorted-to-being-the-team-to-watch-for-next-year in the Central is the Detroit Pistons who, in Grant Hill, Oliver Miller, and Terry Mills, have the groundwork laid for a successful "no frills" campaign of their own.

Bold Prediction #2: Questioning why baseball managers are the only coaches to dress in team uniform, Larry Brown wears beefy John "Hot Plate" William's uniform in a mid season victory over the Atlanta Hawks. San Diego's Bobby Ross follows suit in the Super Bowl donning number 32 with "JUICE" inscribed on the back.

The Western conference, as usual, has shaped up to be superior thus far this season. In the Midwest, San Antonio figures to keep pace with Utah and Houston as long as Vinny Del Negro stays away from Dennis Rodman's shampoo.

The tabernacle choir of Stockton, Hornacek, and Malone have kept the Jazz on an up note, but look for a slim bench led by Tom "Torture" Chambers and Adam "Hanker" Keefe to wear even thinner as the season progresses.

The strength of the Midwest remains the World Champion Rockets who have overcome a slow take-off with the improved efforts athletic forward Robert Horry and the deadeye shooting of Kenny Smith. The up-and-comer of this division is the Dallas Mavericks, who finally have a creator in Jason Kidd.

Bold Prediction #3: Jeff Hornacek never misses another shot.

The Pacific crown has already been sized to fit the big head of the Phoenix Suns' Charles Barkley. With 4/5 of an All-Star team, a healthy Phoenix lineup of Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Danny Manning, and Barkley seems to be a (Nike) shoo-in for a championship, especially with able reserves Eliot Perry, Wayman Tisdale, and A.C. Green ready to go at the sound of muscle-tightening.

The only challenge to their throne appear to be the perenially athletic Seattle Supersonics, who would easily be the best team in the league if basketball were an eight on eight affair. The Lakers and Blazers make for scary playoff fodder, with Cedric Ceballos and Rod Strickland having banner years. The team on the rise in the Pacific is the Sacramento Kings, who are jokers no more after an outstanding duo of draft picks in Brian Grant and Michael Smith.

Bold Prediction #4: Shawn Kemp retires midway through a playoff rematch with the Denver Nuggets and joins the Professional Bowling Tour, which soon thereafter goes on strike.

The Inside Pitch

Dr. Tom Osborne, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, now has national championship as well. However, was it the Huskers' performance or sympathy for this perennial Orange Bowl loser that gave him the title? The vote here is for the latter.

After all, Penn State dominated every team on its difficult schedule, with the exception of two close wins at Illinois and Michigan. Joe Pa's offense was unstoppable, consistently racking up four or five touchdown leads in the first half.

However, other coaches and those in the media have punished Paterno for refusing to run up the score. First, his star running back, Ki-Jana Carter, is denied the Heisman Trophy despite averaging nine yards per carry, simply because he rarely played a second half and could not accumulate enough rushing yards.

Then, neither the coaches nor the media give the Lions a share of the title, choosing a Nebraska team that played a negligible non-conference schedule and failed to dominate the likes of Oklahoma and Wyoming. The message this sends to the always dignified Paterno is simple: In order to win the national championship, it is necessary to a) barely lose the title several times and elicit sympathy (see Osborne, Bobby Bowden), or b) score 80 points per game and embarrass overmatched opponents.

College football should decide its championship the way every other sport does - on the playing field, and everyone outside of Knebraska knows that Paterno's bunch would have plowed over the Corneaters.

Trivia

Speaking of the Lions, what Penn State linebacker secured a national championship by intercepting Vinnie Testaverdess pass in the waning seconds of the 1987 Fiesta Bowl? Send answers by electronic mail to: bell@mit.edu. Winners will receive a fun filled day with Dick Vitale (earplugs not included).