The Vengeance of the Football Gods

The stadium scene.
Jan. 9 2001 6:30 PM

The Vengeance of the Football Gods

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Cronus tormented Uranus, Zeus tormented Cronus, Hera tormented Hercules, Paris tormented Hera, Hades tormented Persephone, Aphrodite tormented Helen, and now the football gods have chosen to torment the Tennessee Titans. Oh, why such a bitter fate? "Poor wretches, what misery is this that ye suffer?" (Sophocles, or possibly Bonnie Bernstein from the sideline.)

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They are rending garments and gnashing teeth in Nashville today, for the Flaming Thumbtacks—possessors of the league's best record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the clear team to beat in the NFL postseason—honked to the Baltimore Ravens, becoming the sole home team to lose in the playoffs so far.

How could the football gods have allowed this to happen? The T's wandered in the desert seeking a home. They have been humble during success. Their collective head is not swelled. Their opponent, by contrast, was arrogant and showed hubris. The Ravens boasted, bragged, and preened in the week before the game. They called T's RB Eddie George a "baby." Ravens defensive linemen showed up at the stadium dressed in military fatigues. Ravens coach Brian Billick shook his fist at the crowd after his team went ahead 24-10, one of the most unsportsmanlike gestures TMQ has ever observed. Yet Tennessee was humbled, the Ravens crowned, and the outcome was clearly divine intervention. The T's completely dominated play (see Stat No. 5 below), but Baltimore won on two improbable turnover returns that appeared under the direct control of supernatural forces.

There's only one possible explanation. The Tennessee franchise is being punished for changing its name from Oilers to Titans, taking the name of the primordial gods overthrown by the Olympians, led by Zeus at the battle of the Titanomachy. The football gods, we must infer, are descended from the Olympians (obvious sports link) and, offended by the name Titans, staged a second Titanomachy. That's the only explanation TMQ can think of. It surely can't be that the arrogant, thuggish Ravens are the better team.

Mythology note: He whom the gods puff up, the gods destroy. Let's see what happens to Billick and his chief thug, Ray ("Sure I Was There at the Double Murder but Nobody Was Guilty of Anything") Lewis.

Motivational note: The early line for the NFC championship makes the Vikings a one-point favorite at the Meadowlands. Imagine the grin Jersey/A coach Jim Fassel must have broken into when he read that. Nothing could offer a better motivational tool than to be the dog in your own house.

Best Plays of Divisional Weekend: Best No. 1. Leading 17-3 and facing third and one early in the third, Minnesota called a power run. But when QB Daunte Culpepper came to the line and saw the Saints' CBs playing soft, he gave Randy Moss a hand signal that meant run a quick hitch. Moss caught it and brilliantly outran all defenders for the 68-yard touchdown that broke open the game. One reason the play worked so well was that Culpepper didn't bark an audible, which would have alerted the Saints that he was altering plays based on their alignment—Moss was the only Viking who knew the call was changing to a pass. But boy, did Minnesota ever get away with one. Because the offensive linemen still thought it was a run, they run-blocked, firing across the line rather than retreating to pass-block. When Culpepper released the ball, the entire Viking offensive line was downfield. The play should have been brought back.

Best No. 2. Leading the Eagles 17-3 in the fourth but doing nothing on offense, Jersey/A lined up with two tight ends then split both left. QB Kerry Collins play-faked and then crouch-faked, hiding the ball at his midriff. Both TEs ran posts, one shallow, one deep. The well-coached Philadelphia defense had no idea what it was looking at. Collins completed a 34-yard pass to Pete Mitchell, setting up the Giants field goal that iced the game.

Best No. 3. After Jersey/A tackle Luke Petitgout left the game with an injury, the Eagles expected their opponent to run or roll away from his replacement, unknown OT Mike Rosenthal. When a green replacement enters a game, coaches normally move the action as far as possible in the other direction. Instead the Giants ran straight behind Rosenthal's tail on his first three downs, and the Eagles were so unprepared for this move that the runs generated 33 yards.

Worst Plays of Divisional Weekend: Worst No. 1. Trailing Oakland 20-0 on the first possession of the second half, the Dolphins faced fourth and three at their 39. Dave Wannstedt sent in the kicking team. Why are you punting? Behind 20 points on the road, a team must take chances, and as chances go, fourth and three is not bad. For his faint heart, Wannstedt was punished by the football gods. The punt went 39 yards and was returned 24 yards, meaning the ball ended up about where it would have been anyway if Miami had gone for the first and missed.

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