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Before we dish up this week's succulent smorgasbord of spicy opinion and crunchy cliché, I'd like to wheel out my inner curmudgeon and let him carp that postseason baseball is killing me. I'm at the advanced age where I need my beauty sleep, damn it, and it sure seems like hell will be home to a profitable NHL franchise before one of these playoff games ends by 11 p.m. (If you live west of the Mississippi, click over to hamsterdance.com for some wholesome entertainment while I serve up a flagon of bitter Eastern time zone whine).
The young bucks I work with look at me like I just fled the local nuthatch when I tell them I grew up in a time when you had to scoot home from school or work to catch the last few innings of LCS or World Series games. I covertly listened to the Miracle Mets in the 1969 Series on a transistor radio while feigning attention in 7th grade algebra class. And while even I can see the profit potential in prime-time games, do they have to throw the first pitch at 8:19 when the last two-hour major league game was played while the Whigs were a viable political party? Would a 7:30 start lead to fiscal ruination for the networks? These Yankees-Red Sox marathons have left me hallucinating due to lack of sleep. I swear, I actually thought I saw the Sox crawl out of an 0-3 hole and force Game 7. Talk about losing touch with reality ...
And now let us fetch the old oilcloth sack that contains your very thoughts and belongings.
Q: I was taught that in sports, the "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" law rules. I saw the SI Players poll on the best QB in the NFL. My question is, what has Peyton Manning done lately? Yes, an MVP award is nice, but that doesn't make you the best. Since when is just making it to a conference championship game enough? I guess you have to make it there, and then throw four picks to help your team lose. -- Kristen, Quincy, Mass.
A: The designation "best" is purely subjective, particularly in a sport in which one's performance is heavily influenced by the performance of one's teammates. Even the most gifted QB is going to look like a rodeo clown if his receivers have skillets for hands, his line can't block spam, and his coach is the owner of a mail-order brain. And much depends on what you mean by "lately" and "enough." If you have a Steinbrenner-ian mindset, "lately" means "this week" and "enough" is impossible to attain. Has Donovan McNabb done anything lately for Philadelphia after going 0-for-the-last-3 NFC title games?
It's interesting that Tom Brady, who has two Super Bowl rings in three seasons and a record 20 straight wins and counting, isn't mentioned more often as the NFL's best QB. Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper, and McNabb are far more dazzling, and Brady seems somewhat overshadowed by his brutally efficient team. As for Manning, there's no doubt he has the smarts and talent to at least be seriously considered as the league's best signal-barker. What he's done lately is lead the Colts (4-1) to first place in the AFC South while ranking second to red-hot Culpepper in QB rating (127 to 114.1) and TD heaves (18-14).
In six seasons, Manning has tossed for 4,000 yards five years in a row while leading the Colts to four playoff appearances and the 2003 AFC title game. Yeah, that four-pick outing against the Patriots was unsightly, but sometimes a QB needs time and big-game lumps to get over the hump. Brett Favre didn't reach his first conference title game until his fifth season (1995) and he threw his only two picks of the postseason while losing 38-27 to Dallas, the eventual Super Bowl winner. The next season, Green Bay went all the way. Hall of Famer John Elway reached the Super Bowl in his fourth season (1986) and lost. He didn't win a ring until 1998, in his fourth crack at it. Both those guys were widely considered the best at one time or another, perhaps even before they won that big ol' Lombardi Trophy.
So this leads us to this week's Existential Question: What makes a QB, or an athlete in any team sport for that matter, the best? Feel free to send your thoughts, cans, or bottles this way.
Q: Regarding sports clichés, just what the hell does everyone in the world of sports journalism think "untracked" means? The dictionary definition is: lacking pathways; "trackless wilderness;" "roadless areas," and its synonyms are pathless, roadless, etc. Shouldn't the proper expression be "getting the offense on track" or "back on track" rather than untracked? Untracked seems to mean the opposite of on track. For example, wouldn't untracked mean the same thing as derailed? Derailed certainly doesn't have a positive connotation. -- Jason Cox, Pittsburgh, Pa.
A: No, it certainly does not. Perhaps too many scribes become untracked and derail readers with clichés such as ...
Have a question or opinion for John? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
Q: More words and phrases that should be banned:
"the next level"
unnecessary references to "football" when the context requires only "ball," e.g., run the ball
"one day (or game) at a time"
"defend" in place of "play defense against"
"game plan" as a verb
"He/she is all about (winning, etc.)"
"Disrespect" as a verb
"Find a way to win", etc.
-- Paul Hauge, Westfield, N.J.
A: I'll see you those and raise you, "We left it all on the field" (then please go clean it up). I also claw my eyes in craven despair when hockey players declare, "We played a good hockey game tonight," and football announcers intone, "You're going to lose a lot of football games that way, Frank." What dark force compels them to cite the very sport I am watching? Is it because they know my sight is growing dim from clawing my eyes?
At this moment, I'm preparing to flee the planet in the face of the "Who's Your Daddy?" onslaught. Maybe it's just a New York-area thing, but used car ads in local papers now have screaming come-ons that use Pedro Martinez's unfortunate utterance, which I fear is rapidly becoming the new "Show me the money." Surely it won't be long before even the Overshoe Funeral Home is announcing its fall blowout with "Who's Your Daddy?"
Last Week's Existential Question of the Week: Is it harder to root for lousy teams or reasonably good ones that occasionally come agonizingly close?
It's much worse to root for good teams that come close than to root for bad teams. The close losses haunt you for years whereas bad teams are easy to forget. There comes a point in rooting for a bad team that you just accept that they are bad, but heartbreakers are worse. Much more ink is used writing about the near-misses of the Sacramento Kings than the bad teams assembled by the Golden State Warriors, as it should be. -- Kenyon Colloran, Hiroshima, Japan
Indeed, sir. You can bet your last piaster that the fans who get the dirty end of the stick in Game 7 of the ALCS will be waving it in the air for a long time.