Hopefully, these aren't all going to be belated. To the games!
49er game: St. Louis 27, San Francisco 24 (OT)
The Niners came to the
TWA Temporary Corporate Monkier Dome in St. Louis, and lost a heartbreaking game in overtime. The team rallied back to tie in the game's final seconds, but after wide receiver Cedric Wilson failed to get out of bounds on the final play of regulation, the Rams won the coin toss and quickly kicked the game-winning field goal.
While it is frustrating to watch the 49ers struggle against St. Louis, it is nice that the team has their traditional rival back. When I was younger, the Niners and Rams played many hard-fought games, including a Monday Night contest in 1989 which was one of the greatest football games I've ever seen. For nearly a decade, the Rams were horrendous, and the once-great rivalry and devolved into a bi-yearly ass-kicking.
All this changed after the move to St. Louis. The Rams didn't get better right away, but the 49ers did lose their home-away-from home advantage they enjoyed in the Rams' old home in Anaheim. Since the Niners had a much larger fan base, and Southern California was nearby, the stands would often boast tens of thousands of Niner fans at away games. Joe Montana never lost a game there. Instead, the Rams played in a large artificial-surfaced dome, which was generally packed with fans that actually supported the home team. Domes are notoriously difficult for road teams, due to the crowd noise, as well as whatever other noise the stadium staff can pump in.
Finally, the Rams made a huge improvement in 1999, the same year that concussions ended Steve Young's playing career. The Rams won the Super Bowl, while the 49ers limped to their first losing record in over fifteen years. The tide had turned. Last year, the 49ers surpassed the injury-plagued Rams, but this year, the teams appear to be fairly evenly matched again. As a fan, I'm glad to have the rivalry back. I enjoy close games with the Rams; I just don't like losing those games.
Terrell Owens Clutchness Update: On 4th-and-8 with under thirty seconds remaining, the 49ers trailed by a touchdown. Everyone in the Corporate Moniker Dome knew, or should have known, that the ball was headed for Mr. Clutch, Terrell Owens. St. Louis blitzed, and Owens hauled in the game-tying score.
Terrell Owens Fanciness Update: Before the game, Owens warmed up wearing a skin-tight white bodysuit, looking like a member of the Ibiza bosled team. One could see the muscles of his impressive physique quite clearly through the rippling white Spandex/Lycra/body paint material, that is, if one were looking for that kind of thing. Of course, the insulated bodysuit was for a game played indoors, but when has logic ever stood in the way of fanciness in the past?
Mike Martz, Genius: Mike Martz is the coach of the Rams. The Rams have been known, for the past four years, for their innovative and complex offensive sets, often featuring four receivers and intricate timing-based pass patterns. Quarterback Kurt Warner has set records, running back Marshall Faulk has won the league's MVP award, and the team has scored lots of points. However, Martz sometimes seems to be more concerned with his own cleverness than actually winning football games. More specifically, he seems to forget that Faulk, one of the finest running backs in the league, plays for his team.
In the 2002 Super Bowl, the Rams were enormous favorites over the New England Patriots, the worst Super Bowl champions of all time. The Patriots' upset got an assist from Martz, who called an astonishing 50 pass plays, compared to 22 rushes. 22 rushes for a team that had the best running back in the league, and constantly faced defenses with five, six, or even seven defensive backs on the field. It was as if Martz was simply trying to defy New England, and prove that his genius play-calling could prevail even against a team geared to stop that very same plan. While the Rams outgained the Patriots by over 100 yards, and had 11 more first downs, they still lost.
Some of Martz's pass-craziness is responsible for the Rams' current quarterback controversy. Backup Marc Bulger has been elevated above record-setter Warner, with the justification being that the Rams win more with him. This is true, but:
a) Bulger has racked up his win totals facing inferior opponents, and
b) Martz himself has admitted to simplifying the offense and calling more runs for the less-experienced Bulger.
So, the Rams do better when they aren't passing 70% of the time. Indeed, most teams do, as unpredictability is an advantage, and running the ball has the added benefit of using up time, advantageous when a team is trying to give their own defense a rest. In the 49er game, the Rams ran 22 pass plays in the first half, and 7 rushes. They scored seven points. In the second half, after Bulger had taken some hard hits, the Rams went for 16 rushes and 17 passes, and scored 17 points. Will Mike Martz learn anything from this? History says no.
Putting the "ESP" in ESPN: Midway through the second quarter, Sean Keane thought Marc Bulger looked shaky. "If the Niners can put a hit on Bulger, I think he'll fumble," he loudly announced to two reliable witnesses. On the very next play Bulger was sacked, and linebacker Jeff Ulbrich recovered the fumble.
Sean also believes that the New York Yankees will play in the World Series this year, that the Phoenix Suns are a "sleeper" team in the NBA's Western Conference, and that Duran Duran's new album will suck. Place your bets now, sports fans!
Madison Avenue News: A Quiznos ad in the first half featured a man suckling from a mother wolf, easily one of the more disturbing images I have seen in mass-market advertising. I thought it might get so many complaints that it would never air again, but others have informed me that the Quiznos "Raised By Wolves" ad campaign is still going strong. What this says about our culture is unclear. Certainly, more research is necessary.
Bad NFL Announcer of the Week: The 49ers-Rams tilt aired on Fox, subjecting millions of innocents to Joe Buck's announcing. Through some combination of nepotism and FOX network dumbassery, Buck has become the lead announcer on both baseball and football telecasts. He exemplifies the FOX trend of talking about anything other than the game in progress, whether it's the Fan Cam, the players' and coaches' families, or songs tangentially related to players' names. Especially the songs. During the baseball playoffs last year, Buck thrice began singing "You've Got a Friend In Me" during games where Kirk "Woody" Rueter was pitching.
Buck believes that America would rather hear him "banter" with his other announcers than describe what's actually happening on the field of play. Buck believes America wants to hear him sing along with music leading into commercials, or occasionally and inexplicably during the game broadcast itself. Worst of all, Buck believes he is funny. He's still very young for an announcer, and I shudder to think I may have to endure his fakey unfunniness for another few decades. I also shudder to realize I'm already worked up about Joe Buck, and the baseball playoffs are still a week away. This is not good.
And finally: Kurt Warner probably didn't deserve his benching this week, but the benefit was that, for the first time in four years, I watched a Rams' game and didn't have to see the freakish and intense Mrs. Kurt Warner in the stands. I am willing to reserve judgment on Mrs. Marc Bulger, for nothing can be as bad as Warnerette.