1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. OK. You give me an MVP after the debacle weekend of so many candidates. Manning ascends to the top by default, despite engineering zero touchdown drives for only the fifth time in a 10-year NFL career. This is a seasonal award, obviously, because of the Colts being 8-4 and Manning being most responsible.
Let me tell you a story. My Sirius NFL Radio partner, Randy Cross, was on a Frontier Airlines flight from Denver to Atlanta eight nights ago after doing Oakland-Denver for CBS. Frontier has satellite TV at every seat and Cross and his seat neighbor were watching the waning moments of the Indy-San Diego Sunday-nighter. The Chargers kicked a field goal to tie the game at 20 with a minute and a half left. The ensuing conversation:
Seat neighbor: "Overtime.''
Cross, pointing to the time remaining: "The Chargers are toast.''
Seat neighbor: "Why?''
Cross, pointing to Peyton Manning on the screen: "Because of him.''
Eighty-seven seconds later , after another game-winning drive by the master of them, the Colts were walking off the field with a 23-20 win.
2. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. Falcons were supposed to go 3-13. They are 8-4. They've won at San Diego and Green Bay. They've beaten 9-3 Carolina in the last month.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. In many ways, he's having the best year at the most important position in football, even with a bummer Sunday in Tampa. But it'll be hard for me to hand the MVP to a guy who won't be playing in January, especially after how he played down the stretch in yesterday's must win, throwing picks on the final two possessions.
5. James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh. I might argue this spot belongs to Troy Polamalu or LaMarr Woodley. But Harrison makes two or three plays that matter on a big scale every week, and he did that again in the miserable rain of Foxboro Sunday.
Good Guy of the Week
Mike Holmgren, coach, Seattle. The other night, before taking his underperforming Seahawks to do battle with Dallas, Holmgren stood before his team and did something he never remembers doing: He choked up so much speaking to the players and coaches he was unable to continue. "We all need to be grateful and to give thanks for the jobs we have in this game,'' he told his team. "It should be a time of Thanksgiving for all of us.''
A couple of days later, he still couldn't quite figure out why he got so emotional, but I can: Holmgren is one of the guys in the NFL I've met over the years who really gets it. He knows how fortunate he is to be making $7 million a year, or whatever Paul Allen's exact number is in this last year of his contract, and just because his team is terrible is no reason to not remind his players of their good fortune. I hope the players and coaches in this league spent five minutes over the weekend thinking those thoughts, especially in these hard economic times for so many.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
For the first time in their history, the Detroit Lions are below .500 (33-34-2) in Thanksgiving Day games.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
This is not my travel note. It's Bob Papa's. I heard the six-day sked of the NFL Network play-by-play voice/ HBO Boxing announcer/Sirius NFL Radio host/New York Giants radio voice, and it beat the crap out of any travel note I could dream up this week. In fact, it's right up there with any travel note in history, except perhaps the one about the incessant-farter-in-a-confined-space on the Newark-to-Providence puddle jumper a few years back, which Bob Costas is still laughing about.
Papa did the Cards-Eagles game Thursday night for NFL Network, got back to his north Jersey home after about 2:30 a.m., did the Sirius NFL Radio "Opening Drive'' show from 7-10 a.m., Friday, from his home, flew to Los Angeles at 1:45 p.m. Friday, drove 60 miles to an Ontario, Calif., hotel, met with four boxers whose fights he was preparing to announce Saturday, did the two fights beginning at 7:15 p.m. Pacific Time in Ontario, sped back to LAX for a midnight redeye to Dulles Airport outside Washington, hustled to FedEx Field, showered, got a nice suit on for 10:13 a.m. hit on NFL Network's "NFL GameDay Morning'' show, set the scene for the network's viewers on the Plaxico Burress situation with his on-field report, headed for the Giants radio booth, did the play-by-play of the Giants' 29-7 win over Washington, boarded a Giants team bus to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, flew back to Newark, drove home, and got up to do the 7-10 a.m. Sirius NFL Radio "Opening Drive,'' at his home.
I did say six days. That's five.
Papa, on Tuesday, will do the Sirius gig from 7 to 10 a.m., hustle to Giants Stadium to tape his Giants TV show, then go back to Newark International Airport. He's flying to San Diego. Player and coach interviews. Practice-watching in advance of Raiders-Chargers Thursday night.
The Way We Were
Modern Kickers, all of them, vs. Pete Gogolak.
Forty-five years ago, pro football had only straight-on kickers. Then, in the 1964 draft, Buffalo chose a revolutionary figure in pro football history, and not just because of what he did on the field -- Pete Gogolak. The soccer-style kicker from Cornell was picked in the 11th round, and promptly rocked pro football in an August exhibition game in Tampa, Fla. The American pro football record field goal at the time was 54 yards. Gogolak, in his first outing with the Bills, booted one from 57. An irreversible trend was born.
As the NFL inches toward an all-time field-goal efficiency record -- the league's kickers have made 81 percent of their field goals entering Sunday's games -- I thought I'd do this category a little differently this week, thanks to longtime Buffalo football authority, peer and columnist Larry Felser, whose book, The Birth of the New NFL: How the 1966 NFL/AFL Merger Transformed Pro Football, is chock-full of great, great stories like Gogolak's, and will be one of the books I feature on my holiday shopping list in next week's full-service MMQB.
Gogolak's 1966 defection actually led to the merger of the two leagues. At the time, the leagues had an unofficial truce -- neither league would raid the other league's veteran rosters. Rookies were fair game for competition, but not vets. Then, when Gogolak's contract expired after the 1965 season, Giants owner Wellington Mara signed Gogolak, enraging the AFL owners and starting a bidding war for players. Within weeks, the AFL signed Mike Ditka, John Brodie and Roman Gabriel; none ever played in the AFL, but their signings made the NFL take the AFL serious and forced the 1966 merger. The two leagues combined in time for the 1970 season.
"Gogolak was the poison apple,'' Felser said Sunday. "Mara was Eve.''