After five years of writing this NFL column, I'm lodging an official protest.
Every week during the season, I bang out my research on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, watch all the relevant shows, grab a post-"Survivor" coffee and write until the wee hours of Thursday night. That's my routine. And over the years, I came to grips that things can change from Friday morning (my last chance to change a pick) to Sunday morning (when games start on the West Coast). Six or seven times a year, I'll get screwed by a late pregame injury or an unforeseen weather report. I'm fine with this.
But I'm drawing the line with last week's Tommy Maddox debacle. On Sunday morning, right around 9:48, my daughter and I were watching the pregame shows when we saw a chilling graphic flash on the bottom of the screen: "MADDOX TO START FOR STEELERS."
You know how I feel about Maddox. During the 2002 season, when the Kordell Stewart Era was threatening to cause riots in Pittsburgh, Maddox assumed the quarterback job and played out of his mind -- including a 473-yard game against Atlanta -- before nearly getting paralyzed by an awkward hit against the Titans in mid-November. He's never been the same. Not even remotely. To be honest, I didn't even know he was still in the league. When Roethlisberger was injured last week, Chaz Batch was supposed to start for Pittsburgh. I'm fine with Chaz Batch -- you can win with him, his Detroit years were better than anyone remembers, and he won't single-handedly kill you. So I picked the Steelers giving three to the Jags, never imagining ...
"MADDOX TO START FOR STEELERS."
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat????? Maybe it was too late to change the column, but I still had a chance to take the Jags in my picks league ... so I threw my baby in her Baby Einstein Activity Center (she started crying, but whatever, this was important), turned on my laptop and waited for Windows to load. At 9:54, I was online. At 9:55, I called up ESPN's "Pigskin Pick'Em" site, which hosts our league and was loading slower than usual.
Suddenly I realized something: There were probably 3 million people online right now who saw the Maddox flash and scurried online to change their pick. This was horrible. Who would have ever thought that Tommy Maddox could potentially crash ESPN.com? Finally, at 9:58, the site loaded and I changed my pick with two minutes to spare -- although the baby was throwing a full-fledged Cowher-like tantrum in her Baby Einstein thingie and needed another 20 minutes and a right breast (not mine) before she calmed down.
How did this turn out? If the Steelers-Jags game was the Pitt-Aniston marriage, Maddox would have been Angelina Jolie. He single-handedly changed the course of the game. It was unprecedented. Forget about the interception TD in overtime that lost the game, or the preceding fumble that squandered a certain game-winning field goal, or the other two interceptions, or all the other terrible plays he made ... near the end of the fourth quarter, he threw another potential game-losing interception that a Jags linebacker dropped on his way to the end zone. Meanwhile, Bill Cowher was standing on the sidelines frantically pressing the RESET button on his PlayStation to no avail.
Here's the point: If this ever happens again -- and by "this," I mean, "I pick the Steelers on Friday, and over the next 48 hours, we come to find out that Maddox is starting the game" -- let's make a gentlemen's agreement that my pick switches to the other team. And I don't care if the other team is the Sex Cruise Vikings, the Dead Man Walking Texans, you name it. He made my baby cry, he made Steelers fans cry, he nearly made me cry. I'm never, ever, ever, EVER getting stuck backing Tommy Maddox again. We're calling this the "Maddox Corollary."
Five other quarterbacks qualify this season: Jonathan Quinn; Chad Hutchinson; JP Losman; AJ Feeley; and, of course, Mr. Jamie Martin. If any of them are announced as the starter for a 2005 game after my picks column is handed in, the pick switches to the other team because of the Maddox Corollary. I can't have this happen again.
While we're here, some other things I noticed during Week Six ...
• My favorite running NFL Package moment is flipping channels and coming across a Saints game right after an Aaron Brooks incomplete pass, followed by the announcer saying, "Slow start for Aaron Brooks" as Brooks stands there with his hands on his hips and a dumb smile on his face. I think this has happened to me 75 times over the last six years.
• Wes Welker, Rock Cartwright and Boss Bailey ... those sound like three of the characters in "Brokeback Mountain." There's no way those are real names. Why isn't anyone investigating this? The "Madden" engine has been making up names for real NFL players all season and nobody cares.
• Chad Johnson has gold teeth, he cries after losses, he talks trash, he's a gamer, he just wants to win. Absolutely. Now let's never hear any of these five things again.
• There's a Fox announcer who refuses to get excited no matter what's happening in the game -- he makes Pat Summerall sound like Kevin Harlan. Not sure of his name. Anyway, if his producers are reading this, get the dude some coffee. Seriously.
• Did you see Kenoy Kennedy's vicious hit on Delhomme that knocked him out of the Carolina-Detroit game? I've been asking this ever since Warran Sapp twisted Jerry Rice's head around and blew out Rice's knee on the same play in 1997, but why can't we have penalties more than 15 yards? Like that Kennedy hit -- that should have been like a 50-yard penalty, right? Or when Romo broke Kerry Collins' jaw -- that should have been a 125-yard penalty. They need to change this.
• Let's just say that I picked Gus Frerotte (and Miami) for two straight weeks on the road, and you will see me gargle with hydrochloric acid before it happens a third time.
• Vikings-related jokes and headlines that just aren't funny anymore: Anything involving the Whizzinator; any headline involving the phrase "Viking Funeral"; and the "purify yourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka" joke. Done, done and done.
• This is bothering me even after the 10,000th viewing: Why didn't Tom Brady convince Bridget Moynihan to film the Visa commercial with him? Was she busy cutting a commentary for the "I Robot" DVD or something? Did the Visa people go out of their way to find a dead ringer for her, or was it just an astounding coincidence? And was Bridget ticked off when she saw the commercial? I mean, if I ever filmed a commercial and there was a Sports Gal lookalike in it, somehow I feel like I would get blamed and sucked into one of those pseudo-arguments where she asks questions like, "Did she hit on you?" and "You probably liked having an actress play me, didn't you?"
(By the way, don't get married. I'm serious.)
• Shhhhhhhhh ... we're getting very close to the Chester Taylor Era ... it's coming ...
• This has nothing to do with Week Six, but to the person who kept farting somewhere around the 10th row of the 12:54 PM United flight from Denver to Los Angeles yesterday ... may you burn in hell.
• Cris Carter's anti-Romanowski tirade on "Inside the NFL" this week single-handedly redeemed every HBO/Carter moment that has come before it. Tremendous television. Bob Costas couldn't have thrown it to the next game fast enough -- I kept expecting them to come back from the next game with a terrified Costas.
• Note to Fox: I would wager that 95 to 98 percent of the guys watching your pregame show are guys. Of that 95 to 98 percent, probably 96 to 98 percent have never had a conversation that included the words, "Hey, who do you think is the Sexiest Man in the NFL?" If your goal was to get me to turn the channel, it worked.
• Finally, when the Patriots announced that Tedy Bruschi was returning this week, we reached a new low in the "I don't make sports fun for fans to follow, so I'm going to play the contrarian role and just tick them off" game that has haunted the Boston sports scene for the last few years: Some media members tried to claim that Bruschi was being selfish for coming back, causing such a "major" distraction and even jeopardizing his family's future. Selfish? For being cleared medically by every doctor he had, then deciding to resume his football career? That's selfish? Also, who are they to decide what's best for Bruschi and his family?
On FSN's local TV show in Boston, I watched one of these contrarians smugly making the selfish argument with the incredulous hosts for a few minutes, followed by the guy shrugging his shoulders and saying, "Hey, you pay for me my opinion." I have this on TiVo -- even saved it. And you wonder why the sports fans in New England are crazy -- if Boston fans are like passengers on an airplane who are afraid to fly, some of these media members are like stewardesses who just walk up and down the cabin screaming, "We're all gonna die! We're all gonna die!" Then they return to their little flight attendant area, high-five each other and wait for the checks to clear. What a travesty.
And on that note, onto the Week Seven picks ...
(Home team in caps)
DOLPHINS (-1.5) over Chiefs
There's a very good chance that the Dolphins could go 0-8 on the road and 8-0 at home ... in fact, I think I'll predict it. By the way, is anyone else rooting for Ricky Williams to score a TD, just to see whether he'll blow a hit from a mock bong as part of his touchdown dance? I think I would pay $500 to see this happen during a game that Joe Buck was announcing -- his head would explode.
(Speaking of Ricky, doesn't his beard look like something that would be grown after somebody has been playing "Survivor" for five weeks? Does he just live in the wilderness? Does he own a house anymore? Does he shower? Does he sleep at the football stadium? Can somebody follow him around for a week?)
Steelers (PK) over BENGALS
This is the Kitchen Sink Game of all Kitchen Sink Games -- if the Steelers lose this one, they would be 2½ games behind a Cincy team with maybe two tough games left on its schedule. I'm covered in Bill Cowher's spit just thinking about it. And yes, if you're keeping score at home, Cincy's five victories came against teams with a 5-17 record ... so to paraphrase Winston Wolf, let's not start sucking each other's popsicles yet.
Packers (-1.5) over VIKINGS
A few thoughts on this one ...
1. The Daunte Culpepper Fantasy Support Group has appealed to FEMA for emergency federal funding. Stay tuned. In the meantime, do NOT start him. Do NOT watch Vikings highlights or glance at their box scores. If you're in a room and someone else brings up Daunte, immediately leave that room. If you have any other Vikings on your team, waive them. If your company has spam triggers for e-mails, make sure they add Culpepper to the list so you don't read any unsuspecting e-mails. And if your TV has a format feature, then change from the regular picture to "Zoom" -- this way, you won't see the stat lines from other games on the bottom of your TV screen. Remember, we can get through this. Our long national nightmare is almost over -- 11 weeks to go.
2. Mike Tice is like Michael Myers -- you have to chop off his head to kill him. And even then, he might come back to coach the following week.
3. From Tulsa reader Dwyane Davis: "If I were running the PA system for an opposing NFL team, I would play the Love Boat theme music everytime the Vikings did anything." Dwayne, you're officially the funniest person in Tulsa.
4. Does anyone else feel like Brett Favre could be entering one of those Letterman-like resurgences, when you think he's washed up and suddenly the show is brilliant again, and there's no rational explanation for it?
5. Is Ziggy the Vikings' owner the first-ever "Ziggy" who wasn't a limo driver, bookie or low-level mafioso?
Saints (+3) over RAMS
Has a game ever turned faster on one play than Bulger's interception at 17-0 on Monday night, followed by the Colts linebacker gleefully steamrolling him and hurting Bulger's shoulder? Have you ever picked a team that was getting 13 points and winning by 17 in the first half and felt like you were out of the game before? Me neither. Steven Jackson and Torry Holt could have challenged each other to a duel in the second quarter and shot one another and it wouldn't have been as damaging as that Bulger play. Good golly.
(And yes, this is a pick exclusively against Jamie Martin and the interim coach with the NASCAR mustache. As it should be.)
|WORLD SERIES PICK|
White Sox in six, for three reasons:
1. They just finished a 10-game stretch where they played against three teams in must-win situations (Cleveland, Boston, LA) ... and went 9-1. That's pretty good.|
2. If Clemens wins another World Series, I might be forced to rewrite "Why Clemens is the Anti-Christ" and I'm not emotionally prepared to do that.
3. I'm starting to think that the Baseball Gods just plain hate the Cubs.
Colts (-15.5) over RICE UNIVERSITY
One of the highlights of the TV season: ABC miking Peyton Manning last Monday. My favorite part was when he saw Dominique Rhodes after the fumbled kickoff, and he knew he had to say something because he was miked, so he ended up muttering in a robotic voice, "Hey, shake it off, you need to shake it off" as Rhodes stood there with a "What's going on, this guy hasn't talked to me in three years?" look on his face. That killed me. My second favorite part was when Manning got into the argument with the O-line coach and Tarik Glenn, and things became so heated that ABC decided they couldn't show the video, then all tapes were subsequently destroyed by NFL Films. Wouldn't want anything to get in the way of the "Manning vs. Manning" Super Bowl in four months, you know?
(Speaking of the Colts, they seem very unhappy to me for a team that's 7-0. Now here's the team that needed a sex cruise.)
Chargers (+3.5) over EAGLES
I'm down on the 2005 Eagles: They can't run the ball. Not only is Westbrook a glorified third down back, not only do they have trouble controlling the clock at the end of games, but McNabb always gives them 2-3 big scrambling plays per game -- always at crucial times -- only he's so banged up right now, he's a complete nonthreat (10 carries, 9 yards). Plus, the other teams know he's a nonthreat, so they don't have to waste an extra defender on him. Throw in the lack of depth at receiver and a competitive division (maybe the best in the league) and it seems like Philly is in some major trouble this season. I don't think they have the horses.
(Which raises a bigger question: Imagine if the Eagles finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs ... but the Bears win the NFC North with a 5-11 record? Would that be 10 times worse than the 2005 Padres debacle, 20 times worse or 50 times worse?)
BEARS (-2) over Ravens
Any time a good defense with a crappy quarterback is battling a good defense with a crappy quarterback, I have to go with the good defense with the crappy quarterback. That's just one of my rules.
BROWNS (-2.5) over Lions
So the Lions get two interception touchdowns at home, as well as a convoluted situation in which Chris Weinke (Chris Weinke!) has to orchestrate a game-saving drive for the Panthers ... and they STILL lose. That's pretty bad. Meanwhile, I love the Browns at home. I'm giving this the John Locke of the Week.
Just for Zhitniks and giggles, two Joey Harrington thoughts:
1. My favorite part of the Joey Era is when they come back from commercial during Lions games and an assistant coach is showing him those overhead pictures with a "How did you not see they were in Cover 4?" look on his face, and Joey is on the defensive like a 16-year-old kid who can't explain why there are eight Heinekens missing from Dad's fridge, and the cameras just show them arguing for five seconds. That kills me.
2. From Miami reader Jason Miller: "Forget about Joey Harrington changing his name to 'Joe.' If he really wants to pull a Castor Troy and change how people view him, then he needs to change his name to 'Albert' (like Joey/Albert Belle did). And with Halloween right around the corner, the timing is perfect! Of course, if he is visited at home by a bunch of egg-throwing kids, then they'll probably have a better completion percentage with his car and house than Joey/Albert will have with his receivers in any game this season."
Bills (+3) over RAIDERS
Kelly Holcomb on the road, Norv Turner and Kerry Collins at home. You figure it out. I'm going with the Bills simply because of Willis McGahee, the best player on the field for two straight weeks. As teammate Chris Villarrial said, "He's been really spunked up these last couple games." Um, let's move on.
REDSKINS (-12) over Niners
San Fran's quarterback depth chart this week ...
1. Alex Smith
2. Ken Dorsey
3. Cody Pickett
(In other words, give the points.)
SEAHAWKS (-3.5) over Cowboys
The Cowboys are due for a bonafide stinker, aren't they? And since I have nothing else to add, it's time for my fantasy horror story of the week:
In my West Coast league, the STD's (owned by myself and Tony Barbieri) lost the fantasy equivalent of a Stomach Punch Game last week. Three things you need to know about our team. First, we have Daunte Culpepper, who has pretty much given us fantasy SARS at this point. Watching him on the Vikings every week is slowly killing my soul. I'm not even kidding. I am going to rob a liquor store or something soon. I'm filled with hate. Second, we have Mike Anderson, who had a TD reversed in the Pats game even though there was no real evidence to overturn it, plus he's losing his job to a guy who rushes for 10 yards a carry. And third, we have Marvin Harrison, suddenly the No. 12 option in the Colts offense, who was running in for a meaningless touchdown during the Rams game that would have won us the week ... and ended up getting tackled on the 1-foot line. We lost by three points.
(Our response: A panic trade of Harrison for Clinton Portis, who has a stripper's pole, a red hot tub, a waterbed and mirrored ceilings in his basement. Basically, we needed him on the STD's. It was destiny.)
CARDS (-3.5) over Titans
I love how Denny Green is playing coy with this Sunday's starting quarterback, like the Titans are going to be totally flustered if they're expecting Josh McCown and Kurt Warner lines up behind center. Oh, no, it's Warner! This changes everything! Instead of the young kid who sucks, we get the washed-up old guy! Now what do we do? In fact, it's so ridiculous, I think I have to take them.
GIANTS (-2) over Broncos
During the fourth quarter of the Giants-Cowboys game, Eli unveiled the Eli Manning Face for about 15 minutes ... then it went away and he turned into a young Tom Brady down the stretch. But it was fun to see the Eli Face again -- all that was missing was the Chargers hat and the awkward handshake with Paul Tagliabue.
Anyway, I still believe in the Giants. And in case you believe in the Broncos, lemme remind you of three things: they started 5-1 each of the past two seasons; Tatum Bell rushed for nearly 10 yards a carry (25 for 241) over the last two games, which would almost certainly shatter every rushing record known to man if it continues; and there's a reason they call Jake "The Snake." Let's see them win a tough one on the road before we pull out the popsicles here.
(Random Denver note: The city obliterated the record for "Most stoned people at a Simmons signing" on Wednesday night. Next time, I'm handing out complimentary Visine with each book.)
FALCONS (-7) over Jets
Vinny on the road ... Vinny on the road ... Vinny on the road ... Vinny on the road ...
Last week: 7-7
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available right now on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.