Heaven, hell and the NFL
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

I've got a fever hanging out by The Cooler today, and the only thing that can cure it is -- more NFL.

Jeremy Shockey
Jeremy Shockey's attitude is a perfect fit in New York.
(Of course, this opening line would be funny if uttered by Christopher Walken as record producer Bruce Dickinson. Walken's Dickinson, in a "Saturday Night Live" skit, said the legendary: "I've got a fever, and the only thing that can cure it is ... more cowbell" during the recording of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." Then again, most things are funnier when uttered by Christopher Walken as Bruce Dickinson, but it's a little early in today's column for a digression, wouldn't you say?)

Anyway, as I was saying: The NFL ran so hot this weekend, The Cooler runneth dry!

We had it all, dwellers.

You want frightening memories of being terrorized by the bad-ass dude in the back parking lot of your high school? I give to you Jeremy Shockey -- 10 catches, 98 yards and about two Meadowlands' worth of 'tude.

You want bitter Philadelphians? I give to you a kicker -- a kicker! -- getting the red-ass on reporters. That's right, Eagles booter David Akers, chewing out scribes!

You want reverie, remembrance of things past, a journey that would be Proustian, if we could verify that Proust ever played in his neighborhood Mud Bowl games? I give you rain and mud and sliding Raiders and Chiefs.

We could go on:

Proof that bloodless androids, immune to human pressures, are taking over our sports world? I give you Adam Vinatieri, who has pickpocketed the trademark to the nickname "Mr. Clutch" while Jerry West slept during a Memphis Grizzlies game, and has made it his own.

Proof that Andy Reid can be beaten in a pie-eating contest? I give you Levon (The Body) Kirkland. If the Eagles are ever short a few footballs after a practice session, I suggest the first thing they do is give Kirkland a feather and send him to the Vomitorium, to see what he comes up with.

So many images and thought-provoking moments on the final, playoff-crazy weekend: Who throws a prettier ball than Michael Vick? Who wears a ski cap more awkwardly than dreadlock-laden Ricky Williams? Who decided to let the Cincy-Buffalo and Minnesota-Detroit games be played, after all?

Levon Kirkland, Tiki Barber
Levon Kirkland hungrily pounces on Tiki Barber's fumble.
There were enough high drama and storylines to keep this NorCal dweller tucked inside the dry, warm living room all weekend. I ventured outside only when directed -- a quick grocery run ordered by my babe, executed only after great protest, as if the outdoor oxygen would make me wither like the Wicked Witch facing a Cooler full of water. Even the Jets-Packers game, though it spun into Blowout City, was riveting enough to distract my attention from proper construction of a dictionary stand, a Christmas gift. The resulting tower of wobble is further proof that God put the Irish on this Earth to drink, not to build.

The beauty could all be summed up by a moment in the Giants-Eagles game. Late second quarter. Tiki Barber lost a fumble near the goal line. A scrum ensued, and would not stop. The scrum took on a life of its own, a sort of black hole of limbs and helmets. The officials tried to fight their way in to see who had the ball, an exercise in futility on par with the Bengals-Bills tilt. Ten seconds turned into 20. You could only see vague movements in the scrum, and could see that there were, indeed, a few unlucky souls on the bottom of that scrum.

Late December. An NFC East clash of rivals. Playoff implications being fought for in that scrum. You could only imagine the pure, medieval barbarism on the bottom of that scrum, human activity so base so as to make "Gangs of New York" look like "Fantasia."

I leaned back in the Strat-o-Lounger, Cooler by my side, taking in the violence and the tension ... all was right with the NFL world.

From that, into our Weekend List of Five:

1. The Saints
Grady Jackson, Norman Hand
Grady Jackson and Norman Hand can't feel any worse than being a Saint.
Yes, the Saints.

Oy, the Saints.

Step forward, Saints.

Show your faces, ye New Orleans footballers, to America.

One by one. Take off your helmets. State your names, in an unsightly version of "To Tell the Truth."

"I'm Joe Horn, and I'm the guy who got into a shoving match with Carolina defenders before the game, then failed to follow up in spectacularly embarrassing fashion. I'm also the cat who made four catches for 43 yards in a game that would have gotten us a playoff bid."

"I'm Aaron Brooks. I'm the guy who went 12 of 31 for 145 and two picks -- in the game that would have gotten us a playoff bid. I'm also the cat who got booed out of the Bayou in our final home game of the year.''

"I'm Jim Haslett. I'm the coach who has now presided over two of the worst late-season meltdowns in NFL history. Quit jobs so awesome, they belong only in Saints lore.''

Who do the Saints measure up to, in U.S. annals of gagdom? You can't say the Cubs because the Cubs are lovable and play in Wrigley and their fans aren't angry, just drunk. You can't say the Red Sox, although they do share the Angry Fan thing. But the Red Sox have made several World Series, and mostly have the misfortune to live in the Yankees' shadow. Who, then? Carolina and Jacksonville are too new. The Seattle Seahawks, maybe. But the 'Hawks are just sort of ... irrelevant.

The Saints, dwellers, seem to be carving out their own special niche. Congrats, lads.

Who dat who has a worse history of football than the Saints?

We're still waiting.

2. Jeremy Shockey: Some thoughts
Jeremy Shockey
Fear the powerful and awesome Shockey.
Who do you think Shockey would be, if he lived in small-town America and did not play tight end for a famous NFL team? Would he be the stud mechanic at the local garage, who rarely said a word to anyone and just fixed cars all day, seeking his outlet only when he roared his hog out on to the open road? The mysterious loner -- that could be Shockey.

Or, he could be the rambunctious troublemaker: the pool-playing bully who kept vigil at the town tavern, and who is famous for rolling anyone who looked at him the wrong way. The town heavy -- that could be Shockey.

Point is, Shockey is a man of many powers. He inspires fear and awe, usually in that order.

One moment in the Giants-Eagles game stands out -- the one when Shockey leapt over the middle and took a major lick from Eagles safety Michael Lewis. Shockey got up from the savage hit, completion intact, and signaled for the first down -- the international sign of "You Didn't Hurt Me" from NFL receivers. Thing is, usually the receiver does that, then starts speaking in Swahili and heads for the wrong sideline. Shockey just got back in the Giants huddle. And somehow, you get the feeling that Lewis is laying in a Philadelphia-area bed right now, with a cartoon-sized icepack on his head. Meanwhile, Shockey is riding his Harley through the New Jersey hills, grinning all the while, mane flapping in the wind.

3. Adieu, Riverfront!
Cinergy Field
More than 30 years of sports memories crumbled to the ground with Cinergy Field, nee Riverfront Stadium.
First, Three Rivers. Now, Riverfront.

Where have you gone, America's artificial-turf cookie-cutter stadium? Where have you gone, multipurpose venue that can play host to a major league season, an NFL season and a Billy Graham revival?

I'm not sure, but in the dust of Riverfront this weekend, I swear I saw all the memories come to life: One dust cloud formed the likeness of Johnny Bench, squatting behind the plate. Another formed the high-leg kick of Tom Seaver. And still a third, an exact replica of a betting sheet from Pete Rose's manager's office.

I had to wipe away a tear of nostalgia.

4. The return of the Juice
Carson Palmer, O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson tells USC QB Carson Palmer, left, how he was once known as a football player.
So O.J. Simpson visited USC's practice in Miami this weekend.

What genius in the 'SC administration green-lighted this move? Listen: You get a call from O.J., looking to go watch his alma mater practice before the Orange Bowl, you respond in one of two ways:


Failing that, try this:

(b) "Juice? Sure! No question. The university would be proud to have you come by. It'll be great P.R. for the school, reminding the nation that you once played for us. Now that we've climbed back into glory, and since you don't bring any baggage with you or anything ... Yeah, so, uh .... We're practicing, uh, at a small high school near Lake, uh, Okeechobee, about 100 miles north of Miami. Yeah, around, say, uh, 10 p.m. Yeah, I know it's strange and all, but coach Carroll wants to get the guys, uh, away from the spotlight. Yeah. So, you know, uh, just drop your name with the security guard and we'll see you then! Uh, no, I don't know the name of the school. But it's near some, uh, Lake. Yeah, 10 p.m. Fight on, Juice!"

Then, proceed to normal Orange Bowl practice in the afternoon.

Can you believe it, really? The Juice! In the house! At least Iowa will know a pitch to the tailback will be coming when Carson Palmer, in honor of the visit, barks out the team's special new audible at the line: "DOUBLE MURDER 32! DOUBLE MURDER 32! SET, HUT!"

5. Rick Pitino, bay-bee!
Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino can still be a champion in Pitinoville.
You can call Louisville, Ky., "Rebuilding City"! You are now entering Pitinoville, Population: One Champion! The Cardinal of Hoops is Ricky P., and he has come to bless Louisville U.!

Oh, sorry.

You'll have to forgive me: I watched the Louisville-Kentucky game on Saturday and heard Dick Vitale spend the last 10 minutes of the game talking about Rick Pitino the way the Scots talk about William Wallace. Do you think Winston Churchill spoke this lovingly of the Royal Air Force?

Now, don't get me wrong: Big Vitale fan here. Met him in '88 while a cub reporter at UCLA, and Vitale didn't even think about big-timing me and my pal Sully as he pimped Dan Majerle as a Player to Watch in UCLA's first-round NCAA Tourney game against Central Michigan. Twelve years later, met Vitale at a Devil Rays-A's game in St. Petersburg, and he talked up A's bench coach Ken Macha, listing Macha's Triple-A success as a manager with the Boston organization, while Macha gave an embarrassed smile. Now, look at Macha: big-league manager!

The Vitale Touch is something to behold.

Just a simple reminder that as we head into the New Year, college hoops is speeding up on us, dwellers. And that means Dickie V., and Ricky P., and all the rest.

But, man -- just think what Vitale would say about Jeremy Shockey if given the chance!

He's a Diaper Dandy! He's the Man Over the Middle, bay-bee! He's got the Mane of a Lion, and he's the King of the New York Jungle! The baddest apple in the Big Apple ...

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

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