Doping the postseason
Y2K shenanigans leave road to Tampa any team's game
NEW YORK (AP) -- What's up Doc? Try six new division winners in an NFL season Bugs Bunny truly could appreciate, filled with upside-down standings, virtually no home-field advantage and a wild final weekend.
Welcome to Looney Tunes Football.
The St. Louis Rams, whose machine-like efficiency carried them to their first Super Bowl crown a year ago, squeezed into the playoffs Sunday only because a rookie kicker for the Bears nailed a 54-yard field goal. And the Rams couldn't even win the NFC West, which went to -- get this bit of daffiness -- the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints were part of the all-new lineup atop each division, which also featured the unsurprising Tennessee Titans along with such longshots as the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.
Miami's celebrations after winning the AFC East at New England on Sunday were cut short when the players were summoned back onto the field after officials determined three seconds remained. Several Dolphins wore shower slippers and sweatsuits on the sideline as the last play was run.
"I just went out there as is," said Dolphins offensive lineman Kevin Donnalley, who returned to the field in a towel covering his bare legs. "I was bitter. We were all in here celebrating. But I knew our defense was going to shut them out. I just wanted to get it done quickly and get out of here."
Patriots defensive tackle Chad Eaton didn't appreciate the extra work to end his team's awful (5-11) season.
"If I get pneumonia out of this, somebody is going to hear about it," he said.
They'll be hearing about Paul Edinger's kick throughout the St. Louis area at least until the Rams return to New Orleans for Saturday's wild-card game. After the Rams beat the Saints, they were catapulted into the playoffs when Edinger's line drive at the Pontiac Silverdome easily cleared the crossbar, knocking the Lions out of a postseason spot.
"The whole Chicago Bears organization can come to my house for dinner," Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr said. "I'll put Edinger, the kicker, at the head of the table."
Sit him next to Marshall Faulk, one of the normalities of a year in which the Eagles soared from 5-11 to 11-5, the Redskins had a $100 million payroll that got them an 8-8 record, and the Bengals opened a new stadium whose turf looked like a minefield.
Faulk broke Emmitt Smith's record by scoring 26 touchdowns despite missing two games with an injury. He had 11 TDs in the final three weeks and rushed for a career-high 220 yards at New Orleans.
"He gashed us, he made us miss, he did what he wanted more or less," New Orleans defensive tackle Norman Hand said. "You have to give them credit, they came out and ran the ball on us, something I didn't think they could do."
Along with the Lions, the New York Jets were the biggest chokers. After winning their first four games and going 6-1 and 9-4, the Jets lost their final three and didn't make the playoffs. Then again, after going 1-3 in December, the Jets are 7-30 in that month in the last nine seasons that Bill Parcells was not their head coach.
"We had it right there," linebacker Roman Phifer said. "Three strikes and you're out. We had ample opportunity. It hurts."
Usually, it hurts to go on the road for the playoffs. But in this wacky season, visitors had plenty of success. Home teams were 138-110, a .554 winning percentage.
Last year, home teams finished 148-100 (.596). They were 151-89 (.629) in 1998; 144-94-2 (.594) in '97; 141-91 (.607) in '96; and 144-96 (.600) in '95.
One team that couldn't win almost anywhere was San Diego. The Chargers became the sixth club to go 1-15, and they couldn't blame everything on disappointing quarterback Ryan Leaf -- although they could blame a lot on him.
"I don't think we're a team that has to start over and put ourselves in a position where we can't have some immediate gratification next year," head coach Mike Riley said. "I'm not saying that we won't go through some anguish and hard times getting there, because there will be some changes. But maybe part of those changes will help us be better."
What does all this Y2K shenanigans mean? Well, if the playoffs are as unpredictably loony as the regular season was, let the fun begin.