Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 NFL CHAMPIONSHIP CHEATSHEET: Flacco stole Eli's Mojo

Last weekend's playoff games were epic, from what I've heard - but since I didn't see most of them, I'll blissfully pretend they never happened (cough-Denver-cough). This Sunday we have two Conference Championship Games: four teams have the chance to advance to the Super Bowl in New Orleans with Beyonce. (And by the way, how in the hell did Timberlake get invited back to the halftime show? Did everyone forget what happened last time? If he tries to pull anything this time, will Jay-Z have him killed? So much potential drama and we haven't even gotten to the football yet.)

THE GAMES - SUNDAY JAN 20th
San Francisco 49ers vs Atlanta Falcons - 3pm, FOX (in Atlanta's dome stadium)
Baltimore Ravens vs New England Patriots - 6:30pm, CBS (outside in the Boston winter elements)


THE CONTENDERS

Atlanta Falcons
They finally won a playoff game. Lord knows they tried to lose, but the Seahawks insisted, "No, please! We've played the 49ers enough for one year!" I watched this game in an airport bar (in the South), and it was funny because EVERYONE was cheering for Seattle. Everyone. And as I realized that no one wanted the Falcons to win, I also realized that I had no idea who their coach was. I mumbled aloud, "What's his name, what's his name, the one who looks like John McCain..." And then Seattle's coach Pete Carroll called a timeout to "freeze the kicker" and everyone laughed. So in conclusion, I only remember a coach's name if a) they've been associated with the Colts, or b) they produce an aura of hilarity. So high-five, Coach Who Looks Like John McCain - I don't know your name, and that's probably a compliment.

Baltimore Ravens
Last year, a reporter interviewing Eli Manning asked, "Do you consider yourself an elite quarterback?" When Eli said 'yes,' the football media exploded with laughter and debated his merits for weeks. Next things we knew, Eli had a second Super Bowl ring, and no one was laughing anymore.

This year, a reporter interviewing Joe Flacco asked, "Do you consider yourself an elite quarterback?" When Joe said 'yes,' there was a quiet combination of chuckle-and-headshake before everyone moved on with their lives. Next thing we knew, Eli missed the playoffs, and Peyton Manning's dream comeback season was ruined by the bloodthirsty Ravens.

Coincidence, or the clear work of a wizard-animagus? You be the judge.

New England Patriots
They're baaack! Part of me thinks it would be fun to see them go to the Super Bowl and lose it again, in hopes their legacy would go the way of the 1990's Buffalo Bills.

San Francisco 49ers
Kaepernick'd (v): To lose one's job to a backup as the result of suffering an injury. Example: Christian Ponder was NOT kaepernick'd by Joe Webb.

I'm developing a sports-crush on Colin Kaepernick. I get why Harbaugh loves him. He seems like a great kid, he's a two sport athlete (he was at one time a pitching prospect for the Chicago Cubs), and he's a flat-out joy to watch if you're an impartial observer. But that doesn't negate the fact that the 49ers are a prime targets for an epic sports-karma curse.

49ers quarterback Alex Smith was the number one pick in the 2005 draft (the same draft as Aaron Rodgers, a Bay Area native, who fully expected to be taken instead; one might argue that Smith has since been a victim of the Curse of Aaron Rodgers, but seeing as how the Packers just lost to the 49ers, it's lost most of its steam by now - apparently just a 'seven years bad luck' type of thing).

Since entering the league, Alex has been skewered and jerked and smashed and boo'ed. He's had multiple coaches thrust upon him, making for a consistently unstable (and arguably incompetent) team. His career has been miserable, and he was declared a bust years ago. But he stayed classy, always doing everything he was asked. Last year, his savior arrived: Coach Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback who understood him, who had been through many of the same career struggles and pitfalls. Harbaugh rejuvenated Alex's career, and together, they got within a goofy special teams performance of the Super Bowl.

This season, the reborn Alex was well on his way again - until he was sidelined with a concussion. Harbaugh started Kaepernick instead, and here we are. Alex Smith got kaepernick'd.

For reasons I still can't explain, the sight of Alex Smith used to make me irrationally angry. I wanted him to lose, I enjoyed watching the slapstick drops and fumbles. When Harbaugh joined the team, I had an existential crisis, wanting Harbaugh to win and Alex Smith to lose when they were both on the same team.

Now, when they show Alex on the sidelines, fully healthy and capable of playing and winning, I want the Disney ending for him. The Ballad of Alex Smith hasn't been fully written yet. He'll probably go to another team, and he'll probably do well. Will he leave some sort of hex behind? Will we wonder what he could have been - if he'd had a stable situation the last seven years, if he'd not gotten hurt, if he'd insisted on playing despite his injury? As much as I want the 49ers and my beloved Coach Harbaugh to win it all this year, I suggest we continue to watch this space.

POTENTIAL SUPERBOWL MATCH-UPS

Atlanta Falcons vs Baltimore Ravens
Ugh.

New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons
And thus I'm forced to root for Matty Ice to have as many Super Bowl wins as Peyton, thus further perpetuating the comparisons and driving me to give up sports and go live in the wilderness with no shoes.

San Francisco 49ers vs New England Patriots
This would be the glamor match-up. Big names, big teams, high ratings, and a higher likelihood of the Patriots losing again on an international stage. *delighted hand-clasp*

Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers
The coach of the Baltimore Ravens is named John Harbaugh - he would be Jim Harbaugh's brother. Coach Harbaugh East versus Coach Harbaugh West with eternal family bragging rights on the line. If it were up to me, this is the match-up I would choose.
  • A prologue of brotherly love (in which I can pretend they're talking about Mannings instead of Harbaughs - and by the way, Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean is their brother-in-law, too; the Mannings need to up their game, stat).
  • A final Ray Lewis dance (complete with cyborg arm) before he retires and joins ESPN's studio crew.
  • The possibility of a million sad cutaways to Alex Smith on the sidelines, as he silently wishes broken bones upon Colin Kaepernick so he can once, JUST ONCE, be the hero and get the recognition he deserves. I can't fathom how he would feel if he got a consolation Super Bowl ring whilst holding the clipboard, heaping insult upon his injury. That ring would probably be hurtled off the Bay Bridge at one in the morning - and goodness hopes it would be an accurate throw, not off his back foot.
  • Joe Flacco continuing to channel his inner Eli (because for me, all football eventually circles back to the Manning Family).
  • In the end, I rather like the idea of Jim Harbaugh getting a ring. He's been close twice, once with the Colts and last year with the Niners. Enough flirting, Captain; get the job done this time. And I hope Andrew Luck's in attendance to celebrate with his old Stanford coach, just to take the season full-circle.
The Super Bowl is Sunday Feb 3 at 6:30EST on CBS.