Posted: Friday October 14, 2005 4:40PM; Updated: Friday October 14, 2005 5:49PM
The Diet Pepesi Machine may be just the thing Patriots coach Bill Belichick could use for his injury-ravaged team.
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There is an intense debate raging on in football circles right now, and it has nothing to do with Ricky, Ronnie or who's the better Manning. It has everything to do, though, with fast food, flat soda and which product would perform better in pads.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Then you haven't been watching much pro football on Sundays, when near-constant ads for Burger King and Diet Pepsi engender thoughts of a Super Bowl contender built around either a bruising blue vending machine or a blue-blooded sandwich tycoon. Which begs the question: If you had to start a franchise from scratch, who's your No. 1 pick? "When it comes right down to it," says factor back turned ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, "I want a difference-maker."
There's plenty of visual evidence to make a case for either player, but the Diet Pepsi highlight is a showcase in brute force. In one clip, the Machine hits a tackling dummy with such ferocity, the dummy goes up in smoke. Play the Diet Pepsi Machine on the defensive line, and he'll lead the league in sacks. Play it on the offensive line, and the Machine would give new meaning to the phrase "pancake block." One would think that any coach who had the Machine on his roster is assured a lush life, with workdays that end before 10 p.m. Any coach who didn't have the Machine would seemingly put himself at greater risk for burnout. Consider: The Patriots are down six. No time outs and time fast expiring (unless this is Heinz Field, in which case you can add 1:21). It's fourth-and-goal at the half-inch line. The Pats line up in the I-formation, with Corey Dillon as the deep back. The Machine, who in the aforementioned clip also makes a catch over the middle for a touchdown against the Jets, checks in as tackle eligible. Now, ask yourself: How exactly do you neutralize a 72-by-32-by-31-inch drink vending machine?
Well, you could always unplug it. Mobility is another possible weakness. "The Diet Pepsi Machine is somewhat stagnant and lead footed," Hoge says. "[It] doesn't have the ability to create." If it's a real fictional gamer you're looking for, Hoge offers the Burger King, a slasher whose deep speed and soft hands could be an asset on either side of the ball. While not blessed with the Machine's size or power or size to soak up a beating, the King possesses the type of feel for the game that you just can't teach. "I'd probably use him like Brian Westbrook a little bit," Hoge says. "Use him like Vick a little bit. He'd be my perimeter guy."
Like Neon Deion and Randy Moss before him, the King needs only one play to make a game his. Two in particular stand out. The first finds the Buffalo Bills on the road and driving against the Baltimore Ravens. Working out of the shotgun from the Ravens' 45-yard line, Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe slings a pass to Willis McGahee in the flat. Ravens safety Chad Williams reads the play perfectly and tips the ball away from McGahee. Swooping in to gather the gift interception is the Burger King, who -- unfettered by a full robe, gold crown and matching medallion -- collects the ball in stride and returns it 55 yards to paydirt.
The second finds the Minnesota Vikings at home and on the move against the Denver Broncos. Also working out of the shotgun, the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper is flushed from the pocket and scrambling. Fading to his right, he launches a rainbow intended for Moss. The then-Vikings receiver makes the grab in the red zone, draws a couple of defenders and, before going down, laterals to his left to a streaking King, who again scampers into the end zone untouched. Two plays. Two touchdowns.
No doubt there's a wealth of talent here. But no king comes without baggage, and this royal is well traveled. He can't seem to stick with one team, huddling with Ravens defense for one play, then scheming with the Vikings offense the next. The wanderlust also extends off the field, where an unsupervised King is liable to turn up in a neighbor's front yard or lumberjack's forest if left to his own devises. But Hoge doesn't see any harm in the King playing gypsy. "As long as he's where he's got inside the white lines, I'm not going to get too concerned with what he's doing outside that," he says -- but stops short of lending his full endorsement to more hazardous extracurriculars. "The logrolling? That can be dangerous," he says. "I've actually have done that before."
Forgoing a proper uniform and helmet, meanwhile, is liable to land both players in hot water with the league's fashion police. "They couldn't even get on the field," Hoge says. "You'd have to change that [thinking] before you went out and signed one of 'em." Keep in mind, there's no right or wrong approach. Whether it's the sudsy machine or the sexier monarch you desire, each brings their own trimmings to the table. The Machine might pave a clear path to the end zone, the King usually finds his way there, albeit in his own roundabout way.