This weekend's NFL playoff games answered a number of important questions, not the least of which was: What would it look like if Brick Tamland, weatherman for the Channel 4 News Team, was the league's head of officiating? ("I ate fiberglass insulation. It wasn't cotton candy like the guy said...my tummy itches.")
In a stunning series of incompetence that amounted to their own version of a three-team parlay, NFL refs gave Denver a touchdown on a bogus pass interference call against New England's Asante Samuel; took a legitimate interception away from Pittsburgh's hirsute hitman Troy Polamalu (pronounced "polamalu"); and failed to penalize Chicago for delay of game, thus penalizing the Bears when Rex Grossman (pronounced "polamalu") was intercepted on a play that should've never happened. Good work, men.
In a statement that appeared to have been written by Colts' QB Peyton Manning, the league's real head of officiating, Mike Pereira, fessed up...that someone else made a mistake. Pereira acknowledged that referee Pete Morelli botched the Polamalu play and announced that all four officiating teams from this weekend will be reassigned to the Memoir Research Division at Random House Publishers where they will edit all of James Frey's future manuscripts.
As for Manning, his psyche must be in a million little pieces today. And his big game failure is anything but random. With Manning ruling the roost, Indy laid an egg in an embarrassing 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh, wasting a 13-0 start to the season, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and another team (Denver) doing their dirty work by ousting their nemesis, New England.
Worse than underachieving on another postseason stage, the two-time NFL MVP threw his offensive line under the B-U-S, this after the Steelers' "Bus," Jerome Bettis, fumbled on the goal line, nearly giving the Colts an undeserved victory. In the postgame presser, Manning said he was trying to be a "good teammate" by not going into detail but only saying his line had "protection problems." Well, at least he tried. That's like the captain of the Titanic saying in his Purgatorial press conference, "I want to be a good crew member here. Let's just say we had some water control issues."
I'm a huge Peyton Manning fan. Have been since he played for Tennessee. But even the most shameless apologist can't ignore his stunning inability to beat the best opponents. I may've sneaked a glimpse into Manning's makeup during an ESPN profile Sunday morning. They showed some home video of the three Manning boys playing football in their backyard. Peyton's the middle of the three and was probably 7 in this particular footage. He was running with the ball when his older brother, Cooper, grabbed him by the collar trying to make a tackle. Peyton started whining, "You grabbed me like this! You can't do that!" From that five-second piece of video, I just got the sneaking suspicion he was one of those kids who was such a sore loser that he'd do whatever it took, like complaining about an illegal tackle, to make sure he won. I could see him playing basketball in the driveway and pretending he was taking the last shot to win a game, "3...2...1..." He'd miss but keep counting, "1..." and miss again and keep counting, "1..." until he made it. I'm not sure he's grown out of that.
Maybe it was being the middle kid and having an older brother who was a great athlete as Cooper was. Like he's always been trying to prove something but never quite can. So when he'd win, he'd happily share the glory with teammates because he was inwardly fulfilled. But losing made him feel like such a failure inside, he couldn't stand the double whammy of others thinking he was to blame, so he'd find a scapegoat. Of course, the grown up Manning is media savvy enough to know you can't blatantly call out your teammates, so he gave the "good teammate" line. But in reality, he was being exactly the opposite. And those O-lineman won't forget it.
That psychoanalysis was free of charge. Now back to the sarcasm.
Almost as spoiled a sport as Manning was Patriots' coach Bill Belichick in the aftermath of his team's bid for a third straight Super Bowl being derailed by the Broncos, 27-13. Granted, he's not Tony Robbins in the best of times. But that sour puss series of one-word, p.o.'d, smart alecky answers was an embarrassment to the otherwise classy dynasty he's helped create.
Then there's Tony Dungy. How many truly gentle men have coached Super Bowl champions? Tom Landry (1972) comes to mind and maybe...Tom Landry (1978). Seems like more often, the best coaches are the spaz (see Jon Gruden and Brian Billick) or the cold-blooded dictators (Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, et al). I hope Dungy gets a ring someday. He's everything good about sports in a day when so much isn't. But I'm beginning to wonder if that style resonates in such a violent sport.
Goofiest Postgame Quote of the weekend goes to Colts' kicker Mike Vanderjagt, whose last-minute attempt to tie the game went further right than Jesse Helms (who actually couldn't have done any worse): "From the Polamalu interception reversal to Jerome's fumble, everything seemed to be lined up in our favor. I guess the Lord forgot about the football team." Just a suggestion, Mike: next time, try giving Him a little something to work with. He has a pretty good track record of widening the otherwise impassable, but that banana ball wouldn't have hit the Red Sea if you were standing next to Moses. The only bright spot for Vanderjagt was that his kick was so off-target, conspiracy theorists had no ammunition to suggest he threw the game.
So it's Panthers-Seahawks and Steelers-Broncos this weekend with the Super Bowl awaiting the winners. Brick Tamland's referees won't be doing the game, but he would like to extend to everyone an invitation to the pants party.