Playoffs in paradise
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- It is a strange thing, life in Hawaii as an American sports fan.

There may be no more challenging task on this Earth then to keep tabs on the action on The Mainland Sports Scene when lolling about the Valley Isle of Maui. I tried, trust me. I'm propping up the Olde Water Cooler for a second consecutive week in '04, and inviting dwellers to gather for Weekend Sports Chatter, but I'm going to have to rely on you guys to fill in the details.

Stuart Appleby
While Stuart Appleby was winning the Mercedes in Maui, more people were paying attention to the NFL.
It's the antidote to sports mania: The South Pacific. I came here to cover the Mercedes Championships and believe me, it was tough enough paying attention to Stuart Appleby, much less four NFL playoff games. Of course, that might speak more to Stuart Appleby than anything else, but that's a different topic.

It's just flat-out brutal trying to fire up for Mainland Sports over here. The combination of time zones, scenery and weather is enough to never make you care about Mike Martz's game management again. Bookies must dry up and blow away in the trade winds over here. It may lend credence to my new theory that American Sports are fueled mostly by a combination of boredom and bad weather.

Then again, there is a strain of sports mania over here -- it just so happens to be nightly live telecasts of University of Hawaii volleyball.

Rainbow volleyball -- live. This stuff wouldn't crack the nether regions of a 576-channel cable system on The Mainland.

Here? It's on, like, Channel 4. Prime time.

Coaches wearing leis: A surefire way to signal to the viewer that the outcome of the sporting event is, in essence, wholly insignificant. How can a coach get fired up over the final score when his neck smells so damn good?

And the sight of NFL playoff action seems from a distant galaxy. The Pats-Titans game? What were those people wearing? Parkas, ski masks, thermals? Cognitive dissonance reigned. That garb has never hung on the racks of a surf shop in Maui. What's the all-time low in Hawaii, anyway -- 65 degrees?

We might as well have been watching sports from the planet Pluto.

On the TV screen, New Englanders braved the game, despite their frozen ears threatening to snap off their heads and walk off in protest.

In the press room at Kapalua, writers braved the game on TV, despite a blown fuse in the air conditioner threatening to push the temperature to the low 70s.

We'll move on to the Weekend List of Five, even though life in Maui is, really, an Endless Weekend:

1. The Philly Phan: Always Worth Saluting
Imagine a Philly sports fan in Hawaii, trying to fire up for his Eagles playoff game. He would be met by utter indifference -- and an offer to go whale watching.

So it was heartening to turn on the TV for a slice of Mainland Mania -- the jersey-clad Birds fans still keeping the faith at "The Linc". Does any town wear the jersey more proudly than Philly? I still hold dear the memory of a pair of Philly chicks, a few years back, sitting front row at the Vet -- an angle that would allow them virtually no vision of the field -- sporting matching No. 21 Eric Allen jerseys. I always liked to believe those ladies bought those jerseys of their own volition, and that boyfriends were never a factor in the purchase.

When Donovan McNabb completed the 4th-and-26 pass to Freddie Mitchell, I could see in the background thousands of Philadelphians convulsing their bodies into twisted states, as if they'd begin speaking in tongues. Nearly every human I saw was wearing an Eagles replica jersey. I can only believe that in those masses, some wore an Eagles jersey with the name "Balboa" on the back -- always remembering that the original "Rocky" stands the test of time to this day.

Amusingly enough, as I write this, the local Hawaiian telecast showed footage of the pregame parking lot fire at "The Linc." Hey -- more flame to roast the pregame meats!

2. Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri -- the most popular person in New England.
I ask every New Englander today: Vinatieri or John F. Kennedy?

I ask every New Englander today: Vinatieri or Tip O'Neill?

I ask every New Englander today: Vinatieri or Henry David Thoreau?

I'd ask every New Englander "Vinatieri or Ted Williams?", but the Sub-Freezing Jokes would be way too easy.

I don't know if one man can so easily point to his legacy in any sports town in America as Adam Vinatieri can point to his in Boston. The resume is legendary. Saturday night's kick to win only added to the legend, sort of like learning that JFK shagged Marilyn Monroe while President added to his.

3. The Elusive Dynasty
That said, if the Pats hold serve on Sunday in the AFC Championship game, then dispose of the third-rate NFC offering in Houston, Bill Belichick might have to enter the Vinatieri/JFK Shagging Marilyn Realm. Belichick will have, by dint of his own skill and passion, achieved two Super Bowl championships in three years. This would mark a team as a classic in an earlier era. In this era of watered-down mediocrity, where last year's Super Bowl champ is this year's 4-12 morass of embarrassment, I'd say it's fair to pronounce that Belichick and the Pats will have achieved the first dynasty since the Mike Shanahan-John Elway Broncos.

Man. That seems like it was way back in the 20th century.

4. The Legend
At Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, we saw one man in control of his team's destiny.

All year, he was the best on the field.

All year, he lifted his game to a place others don't dare tread.

All year, he produced at a level that reduced the league to awed admirer.

And now, in January, he would do it again -- only when the stakes were highest.

Peyton Manning?

Take a walk, sports fan!

Dante Hall
Dante Hall might be the most exciting player in the NFL.
I speak of Dante Hall, who just put the wraps on perhaps the most exciting one-man show in NFL history.

What could compare?

Jim Brown's 1965 campaign?

Joe Montana's 1990 season?

Al Cowlings' lead block from the driver's seat for The Juice in the 1994 car chase?

Please. I haven't seen moves like Dante Hall's since Bill Clinton's semantic Statue of Liberty play on the meaning of the word "is".

Dante Hall reduced the memory of Billy "White Shoes" Johnson to off-Broadway nonsense. We'll never see his ilk again. And now, his season is over.

We weep at The Cooler.

5. The Irv Factor: What Happened?
Fourth-and-26 -- surely the Ghost of Irv Favre would be the extra man in the secondary, to knock down that Donovan McNabb pass to Freddie Mitchell.

David Akers' field goal to tie in regulation -- surely the Wind of Irv's Memory would blow that kick wide.

Brett Favre with the ball at the 50 in overtime -- surely the Spirit of Irv would guide his son to the smart decision-making that would net a Green Bay win.

And then ... Philly 20, Green Bay 17, in overtime.

The dream died hard, didn't it?

Maybe Irv's Ghost has something big in store for next year.

Or, maybe it's time for Brett to go home and nurture his emotional wounds.

That's probably it, you know. Irv has rung the dinner bell on the porch, and it's time for his son to come home and start healing.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2.





THE WATER COOLER

ALSO SEE:


Brian Murphy Archive

Murphy: Profiles in courage

Murphy: Rhyme time

Murphy: College hoops pros

Murphy: Winter meeting quiz

Murphy: Inhuman nature

Murphy: Tiger's wedding plans

Murphy: The best sports holiday

Murphy: Ah, the revelry of a rivalry





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