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Game Journal
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Point Spread: Denver -3
Over/Under: 41.5


We start with a dramatic intro read by...ex-NFL defensive end and current old man, Deacon Jones. I realize that, while I can discuss at length the relative merits of National League shortstops of the 1930's, my knowledge of football history does not begin until The Catch. But by all accounts, Deacon Jones was a stud. He does alright here, though he's no Don Cheadle. My favorite part comes when he slips in a completely gratuitous potshot at Peyton Manning.

Deacon Jones gives way to a live shot of Invesco Field in denver, where the fans are waving the least-intimidating props I've ever seen. Orange pom-poms don't make me think the Broncos are out for blood.

The normally-excited Phil Simms warns both teams to stay calm, and resist giving in to the excitement of being but oen game away from the Super Bowl. As a sequel to last week's pink shirt, Simms is wearing a pink tie.

Jim Nantz and Simms assert that Jake Plummer's critics are just waiting for him to stumble, and that they will continue to await his failures until he wins a Super Bowl. It's interesting that Plummer's name is associated with interceptions, because at the beginning of his career, he was known for his fourth-quarter excellence and frequent comebacks. Simms says that the Broncos love Plummer because he shuns publicity and media attention.

With all the attention given to Plummer's long hair and unruly beard during this post-season, I find it interesting that no one mentions that the look is a tribute to college teammate Pat Tillman, especially given the NFL's usual enthusiasm for any tie-ins with the military. Perhaps that's because Tillman is no longer an ideal hero for the war on terror, once the facts about his death, and the government's cover-up came out. And while Plummer might shun publicity, he didn't shy away from ripping the government's treatment of the Tillman story.

That was a digression.

UPS Game Points:

1) Box Office Blitz: Both teams are going to blitz a lot. "Box office blitz" was the best blitz-related phrase they could find? Is this because the Sundance Film Festival is going on in a neighboring state?

2) Pressure Cooker Kicker: A kicker might have to make an important kick, and "kicker" sounds like cooker".

Those Game Points were so bad, I'm sending some packages Fed Ex out of spite.

Sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein is wearing a leopard-print fur hat and a crazy, Kati Vol-esque scraf that looks like it's made out of Muppet. Her hair looks blonder than last week, but it might just be sunnier today. She tells us Jerome Bettis made a speech about getting him to the Super Bowl. Inspiring.

The team has added Armen Keteyian to the sideline, much to the delight of Simms. Armen tells us that Mike Holmgren made "the speech of the year" before the game, which consisted of...making fun of his players. Armen gives us excerpts:
"You defensive linemen from Cleveland, you're all busts."
"Todd Sauerbrun, no one wanted you."
"John Lynch, you're like 80 - why are you still playing?"
Reportedly this did not make anyone cry. Rather, it make them realize the "lack of respect" shown to Denver all year. Nantz agrees that the "lack of respect" message often works.

Five Broncos made it to the Pro Bowl, including the aforementioned Lynch. The Broncos were favored against the defending champs last week, and they're favored again today. Were any teams adequately respected this year? Maybe the 1-15 Texans? I can still imagine David Carr standing up in the locker room after the Reggie Bush Bowl and declaring, "Nobody gave us a chance at the first pick in the draft. What do you say now, unbelievers? Two and fourteen, baby!"

Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears
Point Spread: Chicago -3

My former roommate Gabe has been driving the Bears bandwagon since the beginning of the season. While Paul and I speculated about Andy Lee's shot at the Pro Bowl, and whether the 49ers would get the first pick in the draft again, Gabe was focusing on the Bears.

"Seven wins might be enough to take the NFC North this year. You never know. After all, they get to play the Lions twice. And the Niners, at home."

While guarded, his optimism proved to be correct, as the Bears won 11 games and earned the second seed in the NFC. It's Chicago's first trip to the playoffs since 2001, when they went 13-3, got the second seed in the playoffs, and lost in their first game. Like the 2001 team, the Bears are a defensive team that likes to run the ball. In their regular-season game against Carolina, the Bears won 13-3.

Carolina is back in the playoffs after one year away. They beat the crap out of the Giants last week for their third consecutive road playoff win, which is impressive. The Panthers also have a good defense, especially the defensive backs, and they have a great wide receiver named Steve Smith. I'm fond of Steve Smith, not just because he's my height, but because he had the best touchdown celebration of the year. Vikings cornerback and sex boat multi-tasker Fred Smoot talked trash to Smith before the game, and Smith responded by catching 11 passes for 201 yards, and, most insultingly, pretending to row a boat in the end zone after his TD. Ooh, that's a burn, Fred Smoot!

I think the Bears will take it, 17-13. Bill Swerski predicted Bears 158, Carolina -24.


This is my first exposure to FOX announcer Joe Buck since the World Series. One benefit of the 49ers sucking for these past two years is that the top FOX team never does their games, and I never have to hear Joe Buck. Sure, Curt Menefee isn't the best announcer, and he sometimes messes up players' names, and what down it is, and the pronunciation of basic English words, but at least he's not Joe Buck.

During his pre-game spiel, Buck isn't wearing his glasses. Has he had LASIK surgery? Maybe Joe only has to be fake-smart for baseball telecasts. Joe establishes his theme for the game: Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is quite inexperienced. Buck and analyst Troy Aikman are both wearing extremely shiny suits.

"Least Niners" Theory update: So far, the teams with the most former 49ers are actually 2-1. One could argue that, though the Colts had just one former Niner, kicker Jose Cortez, the incredible crappiness of said former Niner might outweigh Pittsburgh's raw ex-Niner advantage, but it seems that "least Niners" is not a reliable handicapping indicator. This game should put the theory to the ultimate test, as Carolina has three ex-Niners, and Chicago has none.

FOX has two sideline reporters working the game, Pam Oliver and Chris Myers. I guess they're expecting a lot of sideline news. Sicne the game is on FOX, you can be assured there won't be any of that liberal sideline bias you get on so many mainstream sports telecasts. Only fair and balanced injury updates for us today.

DISCLAIMER: I watched the game via Tivo. In a chat with my dad about an hour after the game's actual start time, he let slip that at some point, Carolina leads 16-7, and that it's "not a bad game".

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts, 1/15/06
Point Spread: Indianapolis -9.5

Pittsburgh was 11-5 this year, Indy was 14-2. Pittsburgh lost 26-7 in their game in Indianapolis this year. I didn't write a preview for this game, simply because I had nothing interesting to say, and I'm picking the favorite. I think the Colts are going to win the Super Bowl, especially now that New England has lost. I actually thought Denver was a little better than New England, but I thought the Pats had a better chance to beat the Colts. Peyton Manning has a reputation as a choker, and his lifetime record is 3-5. However, he's 3-2 in the last two years, and 3-0 against teams that aren't the New England Patriots.

This also might be Jerome Bettis's last game, since he has strongly hinted that he will be retiring after the season.

In other pre-game news, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter complained that the Colts "don't want to play smashmouth football, they want to trick you. Not trick you like that, but they want to go in the hurry-up offense and try to catch you in something. They don't want to just call the play, get up there and run it. They want to make you think. They want to make it a thinking game instead of a football game." He also stated that the Steelers have a simple game plan: they run the ball, and they play good defense. Sometimes they do play-action.

Colts cornerback Nick Harper got stabbed in the knee by his wife. A few months ago, Harper got arrested for punching his wife in the face, so I'm thinking he may have deserved it. Luckily, cornerback isn't one of those positions where running and changing direction quickly is important.


CBS has the team of Dick Enberg and Dan Dierdorf announcing the game today, with Big Armen Keteyian working the sidelines. Our introduction montage features the song, "Time Has Come Today" and a Dick Enberg monologue about the nature of time. Montage themes:

Colts Coach Tony Dungy used to play for the Steelers.
Jerome Bettis might be concerned with the passage of time.
Time inexorably determines the outcome.
Tony Dungy's son died (this theme presented more subtly).

Dan Dierdorf continues the weekend's crowd noise theme by commenting the noise in the RCA Dome is "blowing us off our chairs". There is absolutely no way that Seattle's stadium is louder than this place, as FOX claimed yesterday.

Dierdorf on Manning: "How do you say this guy had a bad year? Well, he threw fewer touchdown passes. Not." Clearly, Dierdorf remains on the cutting edge of contemporary slang and youth culture.

Dierdorf also believes that a running quarterback would help Pittsburgh, but I'm not sure if he's referring to Ben Roethlisberger or if he thinks they should bring in Charlie Batch. (Roethlisberger will be referred to as "Big Ben" from here on out, for typing-related reasons.) Phil Simms would find Big Ben's neatly trimmed beard far more acceptable than that of Jake Plummer.

UPS Reliable Game Points:

Indianapolis: "Back in the Saddle?"
This Game Point refers to worries about Indy's time off, and whether that will result in rustiness. I am more concerned with the mixed mascot metaphor. Indy is the Colts, yet they're getting back in the saddle, in order to ride...themselves.

Pittsburgh: "Play It Again, Ben"
Dierdorf explains that this Game Point is about Big Ben taking revenge on the Colts for the earlier loss. It's a revenge game. You know, just like Casablanca. Technically, the Game Point should be, "Play it, Big Ben. Play 'As Time Goes By'."

Big Armen checks in, looking good on the sidelines. He says that Indy's crowd noise caused five false starts in the previous matchup with Pittsburgh. It seems that we are again going to be celebrating the heroism of yelling at the top of your lungs for no reason. Also, both networks are going with the assumption that the sole cause of false starts is crowd noise, rather than defensive pressure, or, say, your spastic quarterback changing plays at the line of scrimmage all day long.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos, 1/14/06
Point Spread: Denver -3


My recording kicks in with the CBS pre-game show. Dan Marino is disrespecting Tommy Brady in a pre-game interview with questions like, "Are the Patriots the greatest dynasty in NFL history?" Marino learns that Tommy has become more vocal with his teammates this season. Why? He "has the respect of the guys." As does his butt-like chin.

We go to Invesco Field in Denver. Our first fan sign of the game says, "Cooking Brady Soup: We Want a SUPER BOWL Of It". OK, so the sign spells out the name of the network, awkwardly, in three of its ten words, so congratulations for that. That sign is weird, not very catchy, and frankly a little bit gross. Are the Bronco fans going to resort to cannibalism to end the New England dynasty? The sign is being held up by at least four people, because the slogan is just that good.

Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are announcing the game today. Last week, Simms got embarrassed when Nantz called him out for saying "Cincinna-tuh", and then Nantz felt bad and talked at length about how much he enjoys hearing Phil's Kentucky drawl. Then the two of them started making out.

Simms is very excited to be at the game. He says he's excited, mentions how much excitement there is in the stadium, and says he's excited again. It apepars he's also wearing a pink shirt.

Some company sponsors the pre-game Points (I forgot to write it down, and they don't pay me) which are entirely free of content. The Points are "Confident, Almost Cocky" and "Assert Your Will". To make them even more meaningless, Simms says the Points apply to both teams equally.

Simm's analysis:

New England's offense: They can handle the blitz
Denver's defense: Blitz!

So, make whatever you want out of that one.

Denver's offense: Wear the Patriots down with running back Mike Anderson.
New England's defense: "It's all about the linebackers"

I feel smarter already. By the way, Phil Simms attended Morehead State University. He was also in Tau Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity whose Berkeley chapter is producing Stand Up For Stand-Up.

Denver's punter, Todd Sauerbrun, kicks off. Sauerbrun was allegedly a steroid user while he played for Carolina, and some speculated that his move to high-altitude Denver (and the steroids) might lead to some punting records. He might have set some, but since he's a punter, no one cares.

The Broncos line up for an eight-man blitz, which causes a New England false start. Or the crowd noise does. Safety John Lynch breaks through the line and disrespects Tommy with a celebratory fist pump. Tommy responds with a series of mocking fist pumps of his own. It's pretty funny.

In both games today, TV cameras have caught foamhead wearers among the home crowds. The Broncos foamhead is even more glorious on television, like a might foam steed ready to burst from the fan's head.

The Patriots seem to be hassling the referees quite a bit today. I haven't seen them very much this year, but it seems uncharacteristic from what I remember.

One thing the Patriots seem to excel at is beating blitzes by throwing screens. They killed Philly with them in last year's Super Bowl, and early on, they've done it to Denver as well. Denver is sending a lot of rushers at Brady on a consistent basis.

First bold coaching move of the game: New England goes for it on 4th-and-1 at the Denver 36. They don't get it, but I really like this decision. It's a difficult field goal, and a punt doesn't get you much in the way of field position. Most coaches aren't secure enough to do it, especially in the first quarter.

Ten minutes into the game, Jake Plummer still hasn't thrown an interception.

Plummer runs for seven yards and a first down. It was fast. Fast like a snake. Two seconds later, Simms says, "You see why he's called 'Jake the Snake'." I want to hear more variations. Plummer's run betrayed the defense again. He's poisoned that blitz with a venomous quick-read. Plummer takes a serpentine route through the defensive line.

Tommy Brady hits linebacker Al Wilson in the chest with a pass at his own five-yard line, but Wilson shows the proper respect by dropping the ball. On the next play, Tommy nearly tricks the Broncos, who are disrespectfully pointing at an apparent false start, but his receiver runs the wrong route and New England has to punt.

The first quarter ends in a scoreless tie.

Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks, 1/14/04
Point Spread: Seattle -9.5


We begin with sideline reporter Tony "The Goose" Siragusa welcoming us to Seattle's Qwest Field. He's standing and delivering a monologue about rain and crowd noise. According to The Goose, crowd noise is something that Seahawk fans "take a lot of proud in". By the way, Spike Lee cast The Goose in 25th Hour and made him do a Russian accent.

The crowd considers themselves the "12th Man" on the field, and they even have a 12th Man flag that they raise. Today, injured safety Ken Hamlin is raising that flag. Hamlin was nearly killed in a fight outside a nightclub back in October, when his assailants hit him over the head multiple times with a street sign. You know, that is a side of Seattle that Mudhoney and Pearl Jam really never captured.

Since FOX is already setting up crowd noise as their dominant pre-game theme, I have to say that I really hate crowd noise, at least, when it's crowd noise for the sake of crowd noise. I'm sure that there is a negative effect on the opposing team and their ability to communicate effectively, and I'm all for loud cheering in crucial situations, but what they seem to be talking about here is making noise simply for the sake of making noise. Not even yelling words, or singing songs, like soccer fans. Yelling, ringing bells, raw wordless animal shrieks, for nearly three hours.

The "Noise-o-meter" says 102 decibels, while FOX's graphic lists other loud noises, ranging from 110 to 140 decibels. Either the producers expected the fans to be louder, or they're trying to say, "At least there aren't actual jet engines in the stands, which would present quite a challenge for the Redskins."

Seattle has an excellent offense and a pretty good defense. Washington has a great defense and a mediocre offense. Also, about a third of Washington's players are somewhat injured.

First Quarter

Seattle gets the ball first, and on their third play, they go after injured Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs. A completion to WR Darrell Jackson goes for 37 yards. Announcers Dick Stockton and Darryl Johnston are talking about how the Seahakws clinched home-field advantage with a few games remaining, and how they have not been playing "meaningful games" for a month. Meanwhile, Washington has had to each of its last six games just to keep their season alive. I would still take "meaningful rest".

Interestingly, Johnston's nickname is "Moose". I don't think Dick Stockton has any nicknames, but definitely not any that end in "-oose".

Fumble! MVP Shawn Alexander fumbles the ball at the ten-yard line, without being touched by a defender. Because of the NFL's free agency rules, Alexander is probably going to leave Seattle after the season. There are an unusual number of running backs who might be playing their final games with their current teams this weekend: Edgerrin James in Indianapolis, DeShaun Foster in Carolina, Corey Dillon in New England, and Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh. Maybe this means teams don't think running backs are all that important. Of course, last year running backs were three of the top five picks in the draft, and this year a running back will also be chosen first, so what do I know?

FOX turns overused cliche into concrete graphic with their look at some Redskins offensive players, under the headline, "Who is going to step up?" This is the same broadcast team that often identifies their "Huh?!" play of the game. I'm guessing that Santana Moss will have to step up, both because he's Washington's only good receiver and because he's like my height.

The Redskins are forced to punt, and the fumble ends up costing Seattle 53 yards. Perhaps Washington is already playing a field-position game.

McDonald's has chosen to stop trying to be funny in commercials. This one features a guy with red hair, dressed like Ronald McDonald, who sits down on a bench next to a Ronald McDonald statue. That's the whole ad. It reminds me of the year my sisters made a birthday card for Docta V that had a drawing of R-McD on the front, with a caption that just said, "You."

We return and The Goose, already desperate for something to do, is dunking a football in a bucket of cold water, to show how the Redskins prepared for the inclement weather. The announcers resist joking about Mark Brunell and his struggles with wet balls, but I do not.

blogging the reggie bush bowl


With the 49ers' win over St. Louis last week, some of the luster is gone from the Texans-49ers tilt, AKA the "Reggie Bush Bowl". As recently as two weeks ago, this game had the potential to be a matchup of a two-win and a one-win team. That's historic futility. However, it's now a two-win team versus a three-win team. The Saints, Jets, and Packers all enter the day with three wins, so the stakes in this game are not quite as clear. The Titans get Reggie Bush with a loss, and probably draft second or third with a win. The 49ers have poor odds for the #1 pick even with a loss, and might fall as far as the #7 selection with a victory.

Conclusion: There are a lot of teams that suck this season. Are you ready for some football?

First quarter

I don't wake up from my nap until nearly three minutes into the game, just in time to see Alex Smith take a sack. He did manage to avoid a safety or fumble, at least. I fell asleep after Carolina took a 24-point lead on Atlanta. Even the promise of Jim Mora the Younger throwing equipment on the sidelines was not enough to keep me awake.

Elsewhere in the NFL, both the Packers and Jets have won their morning games to finish at 4-12, while the Saints have lost. I can't find confirmation one way or another on the Internet, but it looks like Houston will pick first with a loss, and second with a win. Even if the 49ers lose, I think the strength of schedule tiebreaker means they'd pick after Houston. So, for the Niners, this game is at best the D'Brickashaw Ferguson Bowl. Still, that's better than it being the Haloti Ngata Bowl, I guess.

Andy Lee just punted the ball 18 yards out of bounds. I guess he's a D'Brickashaw fan.

My old roommates and I used to talk up Andy Lee's Pro Bowl chances, based on how much he'd punting, given the 49ers' sorry offense. We thought his punting might get really good, given all that practice, and if he set the single-season punt record, Pro Bowl voters couldn't possibly ignore him. We failed to anticipate how often Alex Smith was going to fumble, so Lee didn't get quite as many chances as we expected. Still, that pathetic shank was his 98th of the season, which leads the league. He'd need 17 punts today to tie the record, which is impossible even on this terrible team.

The Texans drive down to the 3, but have to kick a field goal. With all the hype attached to the #1 pick, it's important to remember that both teams' wretched quarterbacks were the first selections in their respective drafts. At least the Texans can blame Jeff Tedford.

Alex Smith has been sacked both times he's tried to throw a pass so far. I think the color guy is Rich Gannon, and he really hates Alex Smith. Football telecasts have been a wasteland in the Bay Area. The 49ers get the absolute dregs of every network's announcing rotation. The only game they've played that even had a sideline reporter was the gimmicky Sunday Night game in Mexico City, and even then, the announcers included Joe Theisman and Paul Maguire. "Mira a este hombre. Estas mirando? Ahora, miralo, miralo - estas mirando? Bam!"

Continuing his efforts to improve the team's draft position, Andy Lee has his next punt blocked. I don't think he's going to Honolulu.

Houston starts from the 49ers's 25. So, they got slightly worse field position from the punt they blocked, compared to the one Andy Lee actually kicked. They waste little time in scoring, only I miss the whole scoring drive because my sister Molly is watching The Best Man on cable. She asks, "Oh, is this game important?" and I can't lie. I steal the remote back just in time to see Andy Lee punt again. This time, it goes 22 yards.

Philadelphia is leading Washington, 10 to 7, and I wish I were watching that game instead.

On the last play of the first quarter, Alex Smith completes his first pass. It gains one single yard.

Second Quarter

"Alex Smith is doing a great job commanding the huddle", according to our crack broadcast team. Smith then does a poor job commanding the football, bouncing a pass into the arms of a Texan defender.

My dad is very happy with the ten-point deficit. I am having a tougher time rooting against the 49ers, though I know a high draft pick is better than a meaningless win. It probably doesn't matter, since the San Francisco offense has shown no signs it can score ten points in a game.

In The Best Man, the guy from Hustle and Flow is playing poker with Taye Diggs and Michael from "Lost". Molly and I think Taye Diggs is about 5'6". IMDB claims 5'10", which we agree is a goddamn lie. Also, the movie was directed by Spike Lee's cousin.

Grudgingly, we return to the game, where Gannon says the 49ers are "playing a field position game", which is announcer-speak for "unable to get a first down". The 49ers follow this comment by allowing a 25-yard punt return.

After another punt, the 49ers put together a real drive, based on surprisingly competent passing by Smith and some very solid rushing. The continued quality play of running back Frank Gore makes Don Criqui suggest that maybe the Niners don't need a running back like Reggie Bush. Then he comments that Gore is having surgery on both shoulders once the season ends. Also, Gore tore ACLs in each leg during college, and his knees were repaired with ligaments taken from cadavers. This is not a franchise running back here.

Alex Smith throws his first career touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd, after the announcers unsuccessfully attempt to jinx him by discussing his no-TD streak. Gannon also manages to slip in a dig at his former backup, Bobby Hoying, who started eight games in 1998 and threw zero TD passes.

With just 18 seconds remaining in the half, Tony Banks enters the game for Houston, to take a knee. Tony Banks, who I believe is the worst quarterback ever to take a snap in the Super Bowl, is the game's X Factor. If Banks is quarterbacking, it is anyone's game in the second half.

"I bet they told Carr to fake an injury", snarls my dad.


I can't properly enjoy the halftime highlights, because I'm unsure whose victories help the 49ers' strength of schedule tiebreaker, but they are mostly quite sad. Saints QB Todd Bouman fumbles a snap, and makes one of the weakest attempts at a tackle I've ever seen. Bouman's elevation to the starting job may yet get New Orleans the #1 pick, and it was done in the guise of disciplining old QB Aaron Brooks. Coach Jim Haslett is still totally getting fired, but this was a brilliant move. Maybe the Saints should give him that five-year extension he demanded after all. CBS also shows Herm Edwards giving an inspirational postgame speech, because they think he's getting fired on Monday.

The CBS "Fantasy Notebook" shows Alex Smith has surprisingly not-terrible halftime stats. He's 11/14, though for only 82 yards. The more interesting thing about the Notebook is that CBS apparently thinks completion percentage is a big part of fantasy football.

By the way, Joe Theisman picked Jim Haislett as his Coach of the Year.

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