Hometown scribes talking up conference title games
Offense, defense, special teams ... sure, fans like to talk strategy.
But no one -- and we mean no one -- talks a good game like NFL writers. Like belly buttons, every person on the beat has an opinion, a better game plan.
As the AFC and NFC championship games near, here are what newspaper writers are saying (click the link for full text):
Armed with speed and athleticism, the Ravens' defense was constructed with the intent of shutting down scrambling quarterbacks. In the AFC Central, the Ravens have to go against the mobile likes of the Tennessee Titans' Steve McNair, Pittsburgh Steelers' Kordell Stewart and Jacksonville Jaguars' Mark Brunell twice a year.
That's why the Ravens show no fear in handling the fleet-footed Gannon. In fact, they relish the chase.
Some teams look to strictly contain Gannon. Others designate a player to spy on him, watching every move.
The Ravens choose to hunt him down.
The Ravens have risen above any criticism of their ways and means with a nine-game winning streak that has taken them to the AFC championship game, but at the risk of sounding like a seventh-grade English teacher, they need to work on their theme.
The "no respect" thing.
Can't they be more original?
You've heard it, of course. Who hasn't? The Ravens have ridden the old horse for weeks, reaching a high point after the wild-card win over the Denver Broncos, when Ravens head coach Brian Billick told a roomful of reporters that "a lot of you all didn't believe."
It wasn't quite as prevalent in the aftermath of Sunday's win in Tennessee, but it was still there.
"If we can't start getting respect after this, how can we?" linebacker Ray Lewis asked.
Andre Rison is a blithe spirit, Tinker Bell as a wide receiver.
Rison flits about the NFL as a real-life Tinker Bell, stopping here, stopping there, doing his thing, then quickly leaving for someplace else.
Rison has played for seven teams in 12 years. His reckless lifestyle largely explains his frequent movement. Front-office types tire of his antics eventually, yet he has been immensely popular with teammates everywhere he has gone because he is hard to dislike.
Rison discussed his bad-boy reputation -- the truths and untruths -- before he attempted to correct past negative remarks about Jerry Rice, and, lastly, to compare himself with other active NFL receivers in a free-wheeling Q & A.
And isn't this delicious irony, a championship game between teams run by two of the NFL's shakers and movers -- and I do mean movers.
The Baltimore Ravens, whom Art Modell took from Cleveland, and the Oakland Raiders, whom Al Davis took from Oakland and then took from Los Angeles to return to Oakland.
Fate has to have a hand in all this, along with some well-played defense. It has to be more than merely chance, Modell vs. Davis, men who march to their own drummers and to the tune played by desperate civic leaders.
While several of us listened to Dennis Green's postgame news conference Sunday, Randy Moss already was up on the soapbox in the Metrodome locker room next door.
"Where is he?" Moss demanded. "Where is that Dan guy? I want to see where he's at now. If anybody knows Dan, tell him Randy's looking for him. We're all looking for him."
Dan would be me, of course. I was the lone Star Tribune representative to have predicted the New Orleans Saints would knock off the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional playoff game. How I ever could have doubted a team outscored by 37 points in its past three games, I just don't know.
What's at stake this weekend? Oh, not much. Maybe just the entire future of the franchise.
Had the Vikings won a Super Bowl at any time during the past 10 years, they would be a lot closer to getting a new stadium. People love a winner. That includes taxpayers and politicians.
The championship window was wide open in 1998. It was half closed in '99. Now it's open just a crack. Yet the Vikings will urgently try to squeeze through in what surely will be the last attempt for several veteran players.
Jim Fassel lives by the philosophy that the higher the stakes, the more critical it is to play smart, mistake-free football.
He points to the St. Louis Rams' self-destruction this season as proof and makes no apologies for the New York Giants' plodding style that has thrill-seeking fans nationwide hoping Fassel's team doesn't make it to Tampa.
But now the Vikings and their long-ball game are coming to town. And while it's true the Giants can't afford to fumble the ball away three times as they did against the Eagles, they also can't afford to play field position football and rely on their defense to win the NFC Championship Game.
All of pro football is dazzled that Jim Fassel has remade himself and resurrected the Giants' season. If they only knew how annoyed it makes Fassel that they think he has changed at all.
Well, it used to annoy Fassel. For weeks after making the Nov. 22 playoff guarantee, Fassel has vehemently, repeatedly tried to convince everyone that he was a fiery, courageous, risk-taking guy all along.
The more he was called Mister Rogers, the more his face grew red. One day last month, in a very un-Mister Rogers tone of voice, Fassel turned and said, "You know, I hate that."