Friday, January 20, 2012

Sports Ambassador Cheatsheet - *This* Close to Indy Edition

Remember last week when I promised to cut back on the Colts references? I lied - this weekend's storylines are so interwoven with the city of Indianapolis that it's unavoidable. Two of the four teams listed below will battle for Superbowl glory, so we're actually going to embrace the situation and make this an INDY themed cheatsheet. It's not even a stretch.

Why they want to win the Superbowl in Indianapolis: Revenge

It's March 29, 1984, a cold, snowy night. An old, cantankerous man is sneaking around the city of Baltimore, attempting to steal something he already owns. Something beloved by millions for generations, though that something is mediocre at best. That beloved something was the football team formerly known as the Baltimore Colts, and the relationship between the city and the team is difficult to explain, especially since I was two years old at the time. ESPN's 30for30 series did a phenomenal job of explaining it in a documentary called 'The Band that Wouldn't Die.' It made me feel really bad about myself as an Indianapolis fan... until I remembered that the Baltimore Ravens are actually the Cleveland Browns in purple clothing.

Baltimore fans are still rather bitter about the Colts leaving town. They relish beating the Colts and have probably enjoyed watching them implode this year (and continuing into the off-season). I can imagine they'd rather enjoy doing a victory dance in Indianapolis, like a bitter divorcee, flaunting success in the face of her ex with her much-younger boyfriend in tow. Meanwhile, the city of Cleveland weeps quietly in the corner, unnoticed by anyone. Again. Poor little guy.

Role in the narrative: Villain, even though I'm 100% in favor of their purple shoes.

Why they want to win the Superbowl in Indianapolis: Exorcism

Once the mighty juggernaut of the league, the Patriots ran afoul of some bad sports karma (which is real, and as soon as I finish my scholarly paper proving it, I'll publish it for your perusal).
  1. The Patriots coaching staff was accused of espionage, sneaking around and taping their opponents practices to gain the strategic advantage. The scandal was nicknamed 'spygate', and coach Bill Belichick (who is occasionally referred to as 'the hoodie') was fined, and the team lost a draft pick.
  2. In the quest for the first ever perfect nineteen win season, the Patriots seemed to take pleasure in not just beating their opponents, but in running up the score to prove their superiority and humiliate their opponents. SportsGuy (who is a Patriots fan) coined the phrase 'the Eff-You Touchdown' to describe this phenomenon. They won every game except the Superbowl (see: New York Giants, Helmet Catch).
  3. In a rather odd move for a Boston team to make, the Patriots traded one of their best players, future hall of fame hero kicker Adam Vinatieri to their arch rival, the Indianapolis Colts. Some Boston sports fans likened the trade to when Babe Ruth was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees (which led to the Curse of the Bambino and decades of strange disasters for the Red Sox until the curse was seemingly broken in 2004).

SportsGuy recounted all of the demons the Patriots have exorcised this season, while fielding a mediocre team by their standards: They beat the New York Jets twice (after the Jets embarrassed them in the playoffs last year); they face the Baltimore Ravens this weekend (who embarrassed them in the playoffs two years ago); to win the Superbowl in their arch rival's stadium and break the possible Vinatieri curse, Boston fans would take it as a clean slate.

There's only one problem - they were back to their old 'Eff You Touchdown' ways last week against the sainted Tim Tebow, and they even executed an 'Eff You' Punt.

Role in the narrative: Villain, no matter how dreamy Tom Brady may seem.

Why they want to win the Superbowl in Indianapolis: ELItism

The Giants won the Superbowl in 2007 (as a wildcard team) with what's become known as 'The Helmet Catch.' Then last weekend, Eli threw a second Helmet Catch against the Packers, just to prove that he could do it any time he wanted.

Once again, the Giants squeaked into the playoffs at literally the last second, weren't expected to really do anything, and now here they are again - one game away from another Superbowl. They just want to be loved. They just want to be taken seriously. They want you to believe that it's okay to be best friends with them again, there won't be any more calls at 2am asking you to bail them out of jail, they promise!

And they want you to believe that Eli Manning, the official little brother of the Indianapolis Colts, is every bit as good as his big brother. Peyton has been to two Superbowls (won one, lost one). If Eli makes his second and wins it, it will be hard to argue otherwise. If Eli makes it to the Superbowl and beats the despised Patriots again, he could probably run for Governor of Indiana and win for either party.

At the beginning of the season, a reporter asked Eli if he considered himself an elite quarterback, and he shocked the sports world by saying, "Yes." I'm not sure that anyone's shocked by anything Eli and the Giants do anymore, win lose or draw.

Role in the narrative: Adorkable Underdog

Why they want to win the Superbowl in Indianapolis: Redemption

The 49ers have a gilded history, including some of the most lauded names to ever play the game (Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, etc). I've likened their fall from grace to the crumbling of the Roman Empire, right down to their stadium's duct-taped electrical system.

But for the past few years, we knew they were lurking behind a long line of bad coaches and strange management decisions. The pieces were there, waiting for someone to put them together properly.

Last week, Alex Smith, considered a colossal failure for the past several years, did something he'd never done before - he acted like a clutch playoff quarterback and won a shootout against the NFL's biggest gunslingers, the Saints. He didn't panic, he kept his cool, even though nothing in his past made us expect him to. For some reason, I developed an irrational hatred of Alex Smith over the course of that game. Something in my brain told me, "NO! This isn't the way this is supposed to work! Go back to being terrible before my head explodes!"

Usually I'm a fan of the 'Disney' ending in sports narratives, and it really was a Disney-eque ending. Vernon Davis, who caught Alex's winning touchdown pass at the end of a back-and-forth game, even burst into tears and rushed to the sidelines to embrace his coach.

The 49ers playoff trip is a quest for redemption for a bunch of players who joined a team with a rich tradition and have since have been labelled as busts, disappointments, and underachievers. The man who figured out how to put the misfit pieces together is Jim Harbaugh, a former Colts quarterback who I'm sure would love nothing more than to go back to Indianapolis, a city that loved him very much, and get a second chance of his own at Superbowl glory. My love for Jim Harbaugh may outweigh my irrational hatred of Alex Smith, but I'm honestly not sure and I definitely can't explain it.

Role in the narrative: Unexpected Hero

In order of least to most interesting to me:
  • Ravens vs 49ers. The Ravens' coach is John Harbaugh; the 49ers coach is Jim Harbaugh. They are brothers. These two teams played once already this season on Thanksgiving day, and it wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be.
  • Ravens vs Giants. Anything involving the Giants this season has been kind of exciting. Anything involving the Ravens makes me zzzzzzz. I may hate the Ravens even more than I hate Alex Smith.
  • Patriots vs 49ers. This would be fun for the coaches, arguably two of the most entertaining characters in the game. Belichick would try something snide and passive aggressive, and then Harbaugh would punch him in the face. It would be awesome.
  • Patriots vs Giants. Most of the country is hoping for it - a rematch of the 2007 Superbowl, one of the most entertaining games ever. The Patriots are like a mafia family convinced the Giants stole something very personal from them. The Giants want to give the Patriots another wedgie on international television, just to prove they can.

Baltimore Ravens vs New England Patriots (3pm CBS)
New York Giants vs San Francisco 49ers (6:30pm FOX)

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