Unabated to the QB, Divisional Playoffs: And Then There Were Four…

If only his performance, like this photo, kept Nate Kaeding out of focus.

“This is so true that we rarely confide in those who are better than we. Rather, we are more inclined to flee their society. Most often, on the other hand, we confess to those who are like us and who share our weaknesses. Hence we don’t want to improve ourselves or be bettered, for we should first have to be judged in default. We merely wish to be pitied and encouraged in the course we have chosen. In short, we should like, at the same time, to cease being guilty and yet not make the effort of cleansing ourselves…We lack the energy of evil as well as the energy of good.”

—Albert Camus

Heading into Conference Championship weekend, we’re gonna play a little game I like to call “Who deserves it more?” You see, fans have a tendency to exaggerate their own suffering in recalling agonizing defeats and the severe personal trauma inflicted upon them by their own, inescapable fandom.

And all of our final four can lay some claim to suffering. But which fan base has been hurt the most, and which deserves a Super Bowl title on its mantle the most?

We’ll start in the AFC with the Colts. Indianapolis is the longshot to win a “Who deserves it more?” contest being that it won the Super Bowl three years ago and is the favorite to win it again. But that isn’t to say that the Colts haven’t had to deal with their share of postseason disappointment. While they have undoubtedly been the best regular-season team of the Aughts—and probably in the midst of the best regular-season run of all time—they have only one title to show for it.* They are, in essence, this decade’s Atlanta Braves. One of the major fears of the sports fan is that you will have a truly transcendent player on your team for a substantial amount of time, and you won’t take advantage of it to the tune of multiple titles. If you told a Colts fan before the 1999 season that Peyton Manning would likely break dozens of quarterbacking records and win more MVPs than anyone else in the game’s history, said Colts fan would probably be disappointed to find out that he would witness only one Super Bowl title in the process.* But let’s be honest: Colts fans really can’t complain too much. They have Peyton Manning and the Jets don’t, because…

*And a pretty forgettable one at that.

…Peyton Manning decided to return for his senior season at Tennessee. If Manning came out after his junior year as most expected, he would have been taken first overall by the 1-15 New York Jets. The Jets ended up trading the pick (the Rams took Orlando Pace, the Jets grabbed James Farrior later) and still improving by eight games under Bill Parcells. In the 13 years since Parcells emigrated south from New England, the Jets have had just three losing seasons—the same number as Indianapolis. Of course, the Jets’ winning seasons have tended toward 9-7s and 10-6s rather than 12-4s and 14-2s like in Indy. And that means they’ve made just one trip to the AFC Championship game in that span and still haven’t been to the Super Bowl since man walked on the moon and Major League Baseball instituted the LCS. In their history, the Jets have gained a bit of a reputation for really exciting their fan base only to let them down in the worst way possible: They do this by starting out 10-1 in 1986, losing their last five games, winning a playoff game, and then losing in Cleveland in double overtime. Or getting a 10-point lead in Denver in the ’98 AFC Championship game and committing six turnovers to blow it. Or having Doug Brien miss two field goals in two minutes on the road at 15-1 Pittsburgh in the ’04 playoffs. This kind of outcome is always met with a cry of “Same old Jets,” although fans use this way too much: You can be sure that, regardless of how they lose to the Colts on Sunday, a lot of Jets fans will think, “Same old Jets.”

The Jets and Colts at least have something the Saints and Vikings don’t: a Lombardi trophy. Here’s where our game of “Who deserves it more?” gets trickier, because it comes down to what’s more tormenting to a fan base: getting close but never winning, or never getting close at all? A Lombardi-less resume is one of the only things the Saints and Vikings have in common as franchises. New Orleans has a winning percentage of .421 as a franchise—fifth-worst in the league.* Minnesota is at .555—fifth-best.** The Saints have made the playoffs seven times; the Vikings 26. Minnesota has been to the NFC Championship eight times before, hosting it four times. This is New Orleans’ second trip and their first at home.

*Ahead of the Cardinals, Falcons, Buccaneers, and Texans.

**Behind the Cowboys, Dolphins, Bears, and Packers.***

***The NFC North is tough sledding.

All of these signs point to New Orleans having a harder history, but there is the small matter of the Vikings losing all four of their trips to the Super Bowl in its first 10 years of existence. That included their loss as 13-point favorites in Super Bowl IV to the upstart Kansas City Chiefs. Saints fans also didn’t have to endure anything as horrifying as the 1998 NFC Championship.

In the end, what’s worse? Is it worse to suffer a seemingly neverending series of small losses, or just a few really big ones? Is it worse to be unknown or to be known for coming up short? Is it worse to root for the Saints or for the Vikings?

Sunday may hold the answer.

  • Speaking of fun to watch, it’s nice to have Reggie Bush back.
  • My basic (and recreationally anecdotal) conception of how to play man-to-man as a cornerback is that you run stride for stride with the receiver, read his eyes, and look back to the quarterback when he looks back. Here’s the thing that makes Darrelle Revis so good: He almost always locates the ball before the receiver does. He usually looks back before the receiver does. I have no idea how he does this, but he does it almost every time.
  • The one disappointment about Revis’ season: why not put him back to return punts instead of Jerricho Cotchery. Revis did do this in college.
  • Joe Flacco threw for 3,600 yards this year? Really?
  • No, really?
  • Kurt Warner is definitely not a Hall of Famer after that performance Sunday. Looks like the Saints knocked him out!
  • Too soon.
  • Is it too much to ask Anquan Boldin to play a postseason game? He’s started and finished two of the six playoff games the Cardinals have played the last two seasons.
  • Saints’ record when they force a turnover: 14-1. When they don’t: 0-2.
  • While I feel bad for Nate Kaeding, we can all agree that, if someone told you that you were going to be a major goat in a sporting event but gave you the chance to choose which city’s team you would be playing for when this happened, we’d all pick San Diego, right?
  • That list goes: San Diego, Atlanta, Phoenix.
  • The reverse of that list (Cities I’d Never Want to Mess Up In): New York, Boston, Philadelphia.
  • Of course, if you’re a soccer player, anywhere in South America wins.
  • Back to Kaeding: the first field goal was really the killer, and not just because it almost certainly stuck in his mind for the 40-yarder in the fourth quarter and reminded him of his similar playoff failings (against the Jets, no less). Missing that first-quarter field goal prevented San Diego from building the all-important two-score lead in the first half, which would have forced the Jets out of their conservative shell. Instead, the Jets stayed conservative, got the big mistake from Philip Rivers, and capitalized.
  • The Jets’ offense right now reminds me of a tennis player that doesn’t try to hit winners; he just returns your stuff from side-to-side until eventually you hit it into the net. The Chargers hit it into the net a few too many times on Sunday. It came down to San Diego doing all the little things wrong. They committed too many penalties, they missed a bevy of opportunities early, they wasted too many seconds. Example: Vincent Jackson’s 15-yard personal foul call (I agree with Phil Simms that they should have let it go)(and with Joe Posnanski that Simms seemed vaguely angry during the game) added at least one play to the Chargers’ scoring drive, or about 14 seconds (according to the play-by-play). Jackson’s coming up a yard short of the goal line later in the drive meant Rivers needed to sneak in after 22 more seconds ticked off the clock. That’s 36 seconds in all lost, meaning SD could have been kicking off with 2:56 on the clock instead of 2:20, which means it could have kicked deep,* which means the Jets don’t dare go for it on fourth down, which means the Chargers get the ball back with a chance to drive for the tie.

* Furthermore, that might have been just enough time (it’s iffy, I know) for San Diego to call a timeout after the Jets’ first play with something like 2:46 on the clock, have the Jets run another play that takes under six seconds, meaning New York would run its third-down play before the 2:00 warning. This does open up the passing game for the Jets on that third-down play (since the clock would stop regardless of the play’s outcome). In a worst-case scenario of timing had they kicked it deep, though, the Chargers would have gotten the ball back with roughly 1:15 on the clock.

  • I don’t think I need to tell you how stunned I am by that Vikings-Cowboys game. Did not see Minnesota getting that much more pressure on the quarterback than Dallas, and I thought the Cowboys secondary had turned itself around. It didn’t, most noticeably when Gerald Sensabaugh didn’t turn around on the long TD pass to Sidney Rice (the first long TD pass to Sidney Rice).

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by only dodgers' fan friend on January 19, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    you’re right. san diego really is the best city for that to happen.


  2. Posted by Preston on January 19, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    At half time the San Diego Chargers had it and let it slip away. What a bunch of losers and Nate you were real helpful in realizing this loss.


  3. […] Championship Weekend last season, I explored the issue of fan suffering. In comparing the histories of the Saints and Vikings, I […]


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