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To paraphrase The Zombies (an apt name here), it's the time of the season when many NFL teams turn into pumpkins, taking your irrational exuberance with them into the teeth of the cold, dark winter.
I'm a New York Giants fan who expected them to go 4-12 while wobbly Kurt Warner ran for his life behind an offensive line that was imported from the Swiss Alps. They stunned me by starting 4-1 and waxing the red-hot (at the time) Culpepper Vikings. The talk in the local papers turned to the playoffs and blah blah blah. Now Big Blew is 5-4 after a putrid 17-14 loss to Arizona in which Warner was sacked six times and had several passes swatted. Defensive end Michael Strahan is done for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, and rookie Eli Manning will be thrown to the Falcons on Sunday. Can you say 5-11?
I'm clearly not alone in my gloom and doom. On Monday morning, I found myself a-moanin' and a-groanin' in the office with a Jets fan, a Cowboys fan, and a Chiefs fan when a Redskins fan shuffled by.
"We're just trying to decide who here roots for the worst team," I said.
"Oh, man..." sighed the 'Skins fan.
You can develop a pretty dire mindset while rooting for an inept team. I was so thoroughly beaten down by the Giants' nuclear winters of the 1970s and early '80s that their two Super Bowl wins still feel surreal. Joe Pisarcik's infamous Fumble against the Eagles in 1978, Sean Landeta's whiffed punt in the end zone against the Bears in the 1985 playoffs, and a long line of stunning miscues taught me to wait for the other cleat to fall, no matter how well things were going.
Barry Shapiro, a fellow fan and former colleague at the late, great SPORT magazine coined The Giant Flatulence Principle: that moment when the Giants mess up and you catch the first whiff of impending defeat. In the infamous playoff collapse against the 49ers in 2003, it was when Jeremy Shockey dropped a certain TD pass that would have put the Giants up 41-14 with about four minutes left in the third quarter. They settled for a field goal and the 49ers began to score and score and score and score some more. It ended with that laughably botched Keystone Kops field goal attempt as time ran out on a mind-melting 39-38 loss. I'm still in therapy.
This season, it was the Giants' 28-13 loss to the Lions on October 24 that started their 1-3 nosedive. On Sunday against Arizona, it was having a 44-yard field goal attempt blocked in the third quarter. They were leading 14-10, but the snowball then began to roll back down on them. It wasn't long before cornerback Will Peterson nixed a 12-yard sack by getting flagged for illegal hands to the face of Cardinal wideout Anquan Boldin. Instead of third-and-22, the Cards had a first down at the Giants' 21. Ol' Emmitt Smith rumbled home six plays later and Arizona had the W in their little red bag.
"That game made your head hurt it was so ugly," says my colleague Shawn Nicholls. "Then they switched over to bonus coverage of the Packers and Vikings, and you're like, 'Ah, real football!'"
Indeed. I'm sure the Giants don't hold the patent on agonizing disintegration. It only seems that way. But I'd love to know if your favorite team has conditioned you to expect the worst. All I know is that the winning Giants of three weeks ago must have been using ringers recruited in a Moonachie speakeasy. Now, it's nothin' but blown leads, sacks, turnovers, botched plays, and penalties. Oh, the penalties. Every Sunday is Flag Day with these Giants. I haven't seen so much yellow since I had jaundice.
The First Indigence Investments Clarification Corner
Goodness gracious. If it were physically possible to follow the suggestion most commonly put forth by those of you who disagree with what I write in this space, I would have the most robust love life on the planet, albeit entirely with myself. The coarse carnal requests rained down last week after I listed five athletes (Michael Phelps, Wally Backman, Ken Caminiti, Kobe Bryant, and Terrell Owens) who had been in the news for less than ideal behavior. Several readers were incensed by the presence of Owens and Phelps in a lineup that included an addict (Caminiti), an accused rapist (Bryant), and a convicted criminal (Backman). But I wasn't trying to suggest that all crimes, misdemeanors, and indiscretions are created equal. I was merely addressing the issue of athletes as role models and those five were listed simply because they have been in the news recently. As for Owens, athletes are commonly called upon to set good examples of sportsmanship, and T.O. has become the latest poster child for taunting.
Last week, I also raised the question of how much kids are looking up to athletes as role models off the field. Well, here are the results of our latest ultra-scientific website poll at SIKIDS.com
Do you look up to athletes as role models off the field?
Sometimes. It depends on the athlete: 1,550
No. What they do on the field is all that matters: 708
Clearly this ain't the golden age of sports role models, but the qualified answer that carried the day may be a hopeful sign. The big question now is who the most popular athletes are among the urchins of America. That's for next week.