Most NFL teams have a Super chance
Sports Illustrated's Peter King will file daily reports from Super Bowl XXXV. Check back tomorrow through Sunday by 1:30 p.m. ET to, in King's words, "find the good, the bad, the ugly and the latte of Super Bowl week."
TAMPA -- The NFL is changing, in a big way. The Ravens and Giants are poster children for the new-look league, just like the Rams and Titans were in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Stat of the week: The respective records of the last four Super Bowl teams in the year preceeding their appearance in the champioship game were 3-13 (Rams), 8-8 (Titans), 7-9 (Giants) and 8-8 (Ravens).
Not a team among them had made the playoffs the previous year. Not one had finished over .500. Teams change in a heartbeat in this league. "You can't even recognize the Giants from the team we played in midseason," Rams head coach Mike Martz told me. "They're a different team." And Denver head coach Mike Shanahan said the other day: "The days of building a Super Bowl-type team for three or four years are over. It's a near-impossibility. Look at the Ravens. How long will they be able to keep that defense together? And if they keep the defense intact, then you can't keep the rest of the team intact because of the salary cap. It makes solid drafting crucial, but you know you're not going to be [right] on all your draft choices."
This lends a roulette-like quality to the game. Spin the wheel next fall and who ends up in the Super Bowl? Knock out Cincinnati and maybe San Diego, Atlanta and Cleveland. That's about it. The other 27 teams all have a legitimate championship prayers. You laugh at Arizona? Well, what if that defense finally grows a heart, and Jake Plummer matures into a low-risk player this offseason? Look at all the high-draft picks there. I bet you a hundred bucks Dave McGinnis will use the Giants as a model for his team this offseason.
I saw McGinnis this afternoon in the lobby of my hotel. I told him my stat. I asked him what it meant. "Hope," he told me. "It means that we all enter next year with legitmate hope."
Rightfully so. The Giants did everything right this past offseason. Changed the chemistry, dumping some "me" guys in favor of "we" guys. Continued to develop Kerry Collins. Got the estranged defensive leaders, Jessie Armstead and Michael Strahan, back on board Good Ship Jim Fassel. Even with all that, the Giants were an unsteady 7-4 entering Week 13 in November, and this morning at the Giants' interview session, Strahan talked frankly about how the Giants didn't believe, even then. "We weren't good enough," he said. "I mean, not necessarily in talent, but in confidence. We had no confidence to play with the bigger teams, the better teams. When we built that, things started to change."
"Chemistry," Fassel said the other day, "is the no-question hardest thing to build in team sports today. Everything works against it. When you get it, it really gives you a chance you wouldn't otherwise have."
That's the lesson of this Super Bowl week. All things are possible for most every team in the NFL, within a very narrow window.
Bizarre Media Note of the Day
Nickelodeon hired a 12-year-old reporter to, in part, approach players and try to win staring contests with them.
Quote of the Day
I must give you three, all from the living, breathing quote of the day, Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa.
On comparisons between him and Refrigerator Perry: "I like opening the refrigerator, not being compared to one."
On the ban on local lap dancing: "I can't believe they shut it down. I was looking to make a few extra bucks."
On what he'd be doing with his life if he was a woman: "I'd be a stripper."
1. I think the Giants remain stunned by so many elements of their 41-0 NFC Championship Game win against the Vikings. Basically, they think the Vikings laid down after halftime. And one Minnesota player seems to have chucked it long before that. According to a Giants' eyewitness, Randy Moss blew his stack before the game when security officials at Giants Stadium would not allow him to bring 13 friends onto the Vikings sideline. Moss cursed the security official, the eyewitness said, and tried, unsuccessfully, to find someone else to permit his buddies to watch the game from the sidelines. I watched Moss on every play in the first half of the game and noticed him rarely turning on the jets and trying to burn cornerback Jason Sehorn. After the Vikings' first play of the game -- a 13-yard reception by Moss -- he mostly was content to stay in the pack and coast. Scariest thing about Moss? The Vikings are hostage to him. His contract expires after next season. They want to get a new deal done with him this offseason, but it would probably take a gargantuan ($17 million?) signing bonus, and the Vikings have other big free agents (Robert Smith, Dwayne Rudd) to take care of. The Vikings can't afford to let Moss see free agency in early 2002; they'd slap a franchise tag on him, restricting his movement, and Moss would go in the tank mentally. Plus, nobody tells Moss what to do. Not even Dennis Green. That's dangerous, a 23-year-old player dictating terms to a team on the precipice of being great.
2. I think, as one of the 38 voters participating in the Pro Football Hall of Fame balloting Saturday, the most interesting debate will be over whether Bill Parcells becomes the fourth coach enshrined as a first-ballot selection. On Wednesday afternoon Parcells could not say definitively that he would never coach again, which is the crux of the issue about his eligibility. Should a coach who may return to the sidelines gain entrance to the Hall of Fame before his on-field career is over? "It is not my intention to ever coach again," Parcells told a press gathering Wednesday. "But do I have a crystal ball? No. Don't make me say, 'Never, never, never.' I can't tell you what the future is." Asked if he had anything to say to the voters -- veteran media members from the NFL's 31 cities -- Parcells said no. "I can't control any of them," he said. "I never have had any control over them." My feeling? Parcells has reversed the sad fortunes of three teams over two decades. He won two Super Bowls. He coached in a third. If he were to get back into the game and have three consecutive 0-16 seasons, he still would be a Hall of Famer. To me, he ought to be voted in Saturday. That's the way I will vote.
3. I think Tiki Barber will wear the cast again Sunday. He'll get another X-ray on the broken left arm on Friday. "It's less invasive, and it won't be a problem."
4. I think I'm leaning toward the Giants, but I still haven't decided who to pick here yet. It won't matter when I do. Ten years ago, in this city, I picked Buffalo against the Giants, 49-10.
5. I think, judging by the more than half-empty Ice Palace on Tuesday night for the Lightning-Caps game (thanks for the tickets, Lightning), that hockey is not taking Tampa by storm. Maybe part of the reason is that you take your eardrums in your hands when you enter the building. The place is dead until the ear-splitting rock music blares between every stoppage of play.