When I was a kid in Connecticut, football weather started right after Labor Day. There was a chill in the air that made you put away your baseball glove and pump up the pigskin. There’s nothing like the sting of a football bouncing off ice-cold fingers — ah, the memories. My father had tickets to New York Giants games, and my brothers and I would take turns going with him. Those trips to Yankee Stadium began about then.
Here in Southern California, it’s usually hotter in September than July. I cringe watching the boys of the Pac-10 play their early games in 95 degree weather; in fact, I usually don’t watch. My baseball glove is still out, Vin Scully’s on the radio and the football is still buried in the closet — in September.
January starts the real football season. First the Rose Bowl — a classic this year, for which everyone should be grateful, even disappointed Trojan fans. Then, tomorrow, the NFL playoffs begin. I can hardly rouse myself to pay much attention to the NFL in September or October, when there’s still baseball to be played. I usually start checking it out after Thanksgiving, and get really interested the final two weeks. The first two rounds of the playoffs are usually where the best games happen.
This weekend is “wild card weekend” — the desperado round, the round reserved for the riff-raff whilst the elite teams (the Colts, Broncos, Bears and Seahawks) heal their injuries. Saturday, we get Joe Gibbs’ surging Redskins against the revived Jon Gruden-led Tampa Bay, two coaches with powerful personae, followed by the only game where the outcome is foreordained, weak Jacksonville vs. lordly New England. Then Sunday, two potentially great games, Carolina v. the New Jersey Giants of NY, and maybe the most enticing, the Steelers v. the Carson Palmer Bengals. Trojan fans can look at that game as a potential Advil for their bruised feelings (because Carson Palmer was Matt Leinert’s predecessor at the Trojan QB spot). I’d love to see Cincinatti win it.
By the way, I took this picture about 5:15 tonight. It was 85 today, and probably 70 when I snapped it. My wife and I took our dog for a walk in San Pedro, and were it not for the Christmas lights still hanging off some of the boats at Cabrillo marina and the pounding surf foaming over the breakwater, you’d have thought it was a summer day. It will be fun to watch the Pats and Jags play in Foxboro, Mass. at 8 p.m. local time Saturday night, where the high that day will have been 31 degrees. Vicarious chills!
Update (1/8): What happened to Carson Palmer was distressing, to say the least. On his second offensive play, he throws a perfect bomb down the right side to Chris Henry for a 60-something yard gain. But Palmer never sees it caught, because the Steeler nose tackle barrelled his body to land on the side of Palmer’s left leg, while clasping it with his arm. The leg does not flex that way and so knee ligaments were torn. You didn’t need to be a doctor to know Palmer’s day, season, maybe career, were over.
Since I’m not a sportswriter, I can freely speculate that the Steelers might’ve put a target on him. It was evident from the outcome that the Bengals without Palmer were not competitive with the playoff perenniel Pittsburgh. I know, the Steeler who nailed him, Kimo von Oelhoffen (a cousin of Claus von Bulow perhaps?), seemed upset when he saw Palmer crumpled on the turf. But it looked fishy to my untrained eye. Not the shoulder to the knee — that could’ve been von Oelhoffen’s momentum. No, it was von Oelhoffen’s reach around the leg that seemed to really put some torque into the tackle. The ball was long out of Palmer’s hand, so that looked gratuitous. (Update 1/9: Coverage of the incident has everyone swearing on a stack of Vince Lombardi photos that it was accidental. Okay, I won’t argue.)
The biggest surprise of the weekend was how feeble the Giants looked against the Carolina. Nothing good New England does under Belichek and Brady could surprise me. They’ll be back in the Super Bowl, I figure.