Friday, January 17, 2014

Are You There, Football Gods? It's Me, A Fan.

For the first time in I don't know how long, I don't know whom to root for in Sunday's AFC and NFC Championship games.

Usually it’s pretty easy, for reasons as varied as "that's my team" or “if my team is going to lose, it better be to the Super Bowl champ” or “that coach/player/owner/GM is a bit of a douche and I don’t want good things to happen for them” or “Aaron Rodgers is dreamy.”

But this year? I got nothing.

Let’s look at the specifics. For one thing, this is the Final Four that I’m fairly certain 99.9 percent of the NFL viewing audience wanted, or at least expected. When’s the last time that happened?! Usually it’s some sixth-seed that goes on a run to get to the big game. 

For another thing, all four teams have something imminently likeable about that.

Even the Patriots. You heard me.

In the NFC, the main storyline is the two head coaches. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, who went from the NFL (Harbaugh as a player, Carroll as a coach) to college (Harbaugh at San Diego and then Stanford, Carroll at Southern Cal) and then back to the NFL. They have faced each other numerous times, first in the Pac 12 and now in the NFC West. They were both successful college coaches and have continued that success in the pros. They seem to be well liked by their players, though perhaps not by their peers. But since JimSchwartz is no longer the head coach of the Lions, perhaps that second part is no longer applicable.

Regardless, both men are respected by everyone. Carroll is the cool guy who looks fun to hang out with. Harbaugh is the tough guy who looks, um, tough. And sometimes angry. Advantage: Seahawks

Both teams play dirty tough. The Seahawks’ players talk. A lot. And not just Richard Sherman. Pretty much all of them. Watch each play – you’ll see them jawing at opposing players long after the play is over. San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin also talks a lot, but I like him. Even though he went to Florida State. Advantage: 49ers

Both Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are extremely talented, smart, fun to watch players. If I was a sideline reporter who had to interview both players, I would give the advantage to Wilson, as Kaepernick always seems to be doing his best Gregg Popovich impersonation, but since I’m not a sideline reporter, I find that hilarious. Advantage: neither

Both teams have representatives from the Florida Gators. 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald is a Gator, as is Seahawks’ wide receiver Percy Harvin. Seattle has a slight edge here, because two of its coaches have UF ties. Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn held the same role at Florida in 2011 and 2012 before re-joining Seattle’s staff as the DC and Defensive Assistant Marquand Manual is a former UF player. Plus, Seattle’s wide receiver coach is named Kippy. Advantage: Seahawks

I really like Anquan Boldin. I love the way he plays. It doesn’t bother me as much as it does Troy Aikman that he talks a lot inbetween plays. That guy is one tough dude. Might not be the fastest, but he puts himself in the right place at the right time and he makes tough catches. Plus, there’s a small part of me that says, “man it would be a real slap in the face to Baltimore if one of their key cogs from a year ago gets back to the Super Bowl.” (I don’t dislike Baltimore – I just thought it was a dumb move to let Boldin go.) Advantage: 49ers

Final tally: 49ers 2, Seahawks 2

Then you look at the AFC. After the Patriots defeated the Broncos in overtime earlier this season, my wife and I said to each other that if the Football Gods didn’t give us a Denver-New England rematch in the playoffs they were not doing their job. Well, those wild and wacky gods listened, and here we have one of the best AFC Championships in recent history (on paper at least).

Tom Brady is going for his fourth Super Bowl, but first since 2003. Peyton Manning is going for his second Super Bowl. Both are incredibly good at what they do, hard-nosed, tough on their opponents (and teammates) but somehow still likeable. My wife really wants Manning to get another ring, but I dunno. I’m torn. Advantage: neither

Both head coaches have been around for a while and are well-respected in the NFL. Both once served as defensive coordinator for the Giants. Both got head coaching gigs after being a part of a coaching staff in New Jersey: John Fox was the Giants DC before getting the Panthers job (where he lost in Super Bowl XXXIX to Bill Belichick, Brady and the Patriots); Belichick was Giants DC before getting the Browns job and then the Jets DC before getting the Jets and then the Patriots job. Fox seems like a decent fellow, but he’s been able to stay under-the-radar guy. Belichick is…Belichick. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’d like to see both of them win a Super Bowl, but perhaps the fact that Fox has yet to get a ring puts Denver ahead. Advantage: Broncos

The Broncos have a LOT of talent on offense, especially at the skill positions, with three receivers who could be the No. 1 guy on a lot of other teams and a tight end that plays like a wide receiver. The Patriots have Tom Brady and a bunch of solid, dependable players, none of whom really strike the fear of God in anyone. If Rob Gronkowski were playing, he would be that guy, but he’s not, so he isn’t. To some degree, the Patriots are the underdog here. Advantage: Patriots

The Gator connection is pretty sparse on both sides. The Patriots had Aaron Hernandez, but…yeah. Let’s move on. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was put on IR last week after apparently missing a team meeting. So…yeah. Two-for-two. The Broncos have three Gators on their roster in wide receiver Andre Caldwell, defensive end Jeremy Mincey and linebacker Lerentee McCray. Caldwell plays sparingly, Mincey plays not at all, and McCray is on IR. Peyton Manning never beat the Gators while he was at Tennessee. Sure, that really isn’t a Gators connection, but it’s fun to remind people of that fact. Not a single time did Peyton Manning defeat the Florida Gators. Fun thought. Advantage: neither

As for coaches names, the Patriots’ Linebackers Coach is former Giant and Patriot Pepper Johnson. The Broncos’ Offensive Assistant is Jim Bob Cooter. JIM. BOB. COOTER. That is outstanding. But he also went to Tennessee, so that eliminates any pulling for that may have happened because of his awesome name. Advantage: neither

Final tally: Broncos 1, Patriots 1

So after going through the numbers, I still have no idea which team(s) I would like to see win on Sunday. So instead of pulling for a particular team, I’ll root for the games themselves. I want games that get talked about for years to come. Games that leave us shaking our heads in amazement. Games that we feel lucky for having witnessed.

I don’t remember the last time I was this excited for the AFC and NFC Championships. I hope the games live up to the hype in my head.

Football gods, do your thing.

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