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The Football Fanatic

By O.B. Usmen

COLUMNIST

Week two in the NFL had its share of upsets, but it was the big victories that stood out this week. By soundly beating the Jets 44-7 behind two defensive touchdowns and another masterful performance by Tom Brady, the Patriots have asserted that they are for real. While some still doubt New England can keep it up, the confidence they have right now could make them the most dangerous team in the league.

Like the Patriots, Miami has looked impressive in the season’s infancy and was able to hold on to beat the Colts 21-13 after being up 21-3 at halftime. Ricky Williams is the best running back in the league right now, and it’s no surprise the Miami defense is dominating.

The Eagles seemed to have forgotten last week’s heartbreaking loss to Tennessee in their 37-7 whipping of the Redskins on Monday night. Steve Spurrier’s “fun-n-gun”offense stood as no match for Philadelphia’s swarming defense which kept Washington to 90 yards passing. Still, not every team you’d expect to look sharp has lived up to their expectations.

What’s going on in Pittsburgh?

Granted, their first two games have been against top teams, but the Steelers have looked less than inspiring, losing last week to New England 30-14 and this week to Oakland 30-17. With last year’s dominating defense and old-fashioned ball control offense pretty much intact, Pittsburgh seemed geared-up to make a run at the Super Bowl. Now, with an 0-2 record, they’ll be searching for answers to their woes before its too late to turn the season around.

It’s a well kept secret, seeing as Pittsburgh had the best defense in the league last year, but their secondary is weak. The statistics didn’t show it last year, but if you watch the Steelers’ defense you’ll see that the secondary gets burned every game. Unfortunately for the Steelers, their opponents seem to have figured it out. Last week, Tom Brady threw the ball 43 times for 294 yards and three touchdowns against Pittsburgh. The Raiders had obviously done their research too as Rich Gannon threw an unimaginable 64 times for 403 yards. Jerome Bettis is having trouble getting involved in the offense because they’re always playing catch-up, and frankly, they don’t stand a chance if their hopes are riding on Kordell Stewart.

While the Steelers will benefit from the second easiest schedule in the league, with such a glaring weakness, I don’t see Pittsburgh in the mix of Super Bowl contenders.

Peyton’s failed tribute

The football world lost one of its greatest with the passing of Johnny Unitas last week. Considered by many to be the most influential quarterback in history, Unitas’s legacy is one that will ring true for generations.

Peyton Manning, who considered Unitas a mentor, wanted to honor him during Sunday’s game against the Dolphins by wearing Unitas’s trademark black high-top cleats. Manning made a formal request to the NFL asking to wear the cleats even though they are not allowed by the NFL’s dress code. The NFL promptly denied Manning’s request and threatened to fine him $25,000 if he did wear them. Manning agreed not to wear the cleats, saying that he would be willing to pay any fine but did not wish to dishonor Unitas by breaking NFL rules as part of his tribute.

In my opinion, the NFL’s ruling is outrageous. I understand the NFL’s desire to maintain a sense of order and presentability for its players, but rejecting Manning’s tribute is going against that desire entirely. If a player wants to pay his respects to a late superstar, and has the presence of mind to make an official request instead of taking the fine, his noble request should be lauded not discouraged.

The NFL bastardized what would have been a tasteful gesture and for that they should review their process for making such decisions. Manning’s tribute would have offered a lasting memory for all Unitas fans, as if he had suited up one last time (Manning wears number 18 for the Colts, whereas Unitas wore number 19).

Alas, the NFL isn’t perfect, but its damn close.