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You know what’s one thing that made Mary Poppins great?  She wasn’t actually the most likeable of characters.  She was a bit of a stick in the mud.  While Jane and Michael were having the types of adventures most kids dream about, the whole time Ms. Poppins seemed to be against the whole thing.  The first thing we see about her is that she has a huge ego – her magic measuring tape instantly exposes Jane’s and Michael’s flaws, but measures herself as “practically perfect in every way.”  I was taught to be humble as a child (I’ve since forgotten), and this scene always rubbed me the wrong way just a little.  Then there’s that tea party on the ceiling.  The song is “I love to laugh,” a great sentiment.  I always wanted to have Ed Wynn’s character for an uncle, such a happy, jolly man.  Mary Poppins’ verse in that song is about how obnoxiously some people laugh.  Everyone’s levitating and laughing and having a great time, and when she finally joins them, it’s with reluctance.  She’s a total stick in the mud.  She lulls the kids to sleep with a lullaby called “Stay awake.”  She’s a manipulative shrew.  But all these things are what make her the best nanny possible.  Quite a compelling character, and the reason the movie is one for the ages.

What?  You wanted me to talk about football?  Yeah, I guess that’s reasonable.

WHAT A HELL OF A GAME!!!

With about five minutes left in the game, my roommate Chris said, “You know, this is a little disappointing.  This game doesn’t feel very epic.”  I responded, “Just wait – the Super Bowl is made in the last two minutes.”  In a season where I was wrong about so many things, mostly involving people with blue helmets or windbreakers, it was nice to be right about something.  By the end, Chris was saying, “This has to be the best football game I’ve ever seen.”  Now, granted, he’s not a huge fan – this was probably the first game he watched all year. 

A few thoughts on the game:

I’m not sure I’ve seen a more impressive and exhilarating play, start to finish, than Eli Manning’s escape from Alcatraz followed by Tyree’s hand-and-helmet grab.  What impressed me most about the catch was that the ball didn’t do any more than graze the ground – undeniable proof that he had control of that ball all the way.  The only way it could have been better is if he’d somehow stayed barely upright and taken it in for a touchdown, but I’m not going to hold that against him.

Steve Smith and Ahmad Bradshaw both made major rookie mistakes; Smith letting the ball pop out of his arms and get intercepted, and Bradshaw fumbling that handoff.  Both made up for it; Smith making a great catch or two when it mattered most, and Bradshaw miraculously recovering that fumbled ball.  That tells you the kind of mental toughness those guys have. 

I can’t fathom how the guys at SI aren’t lambasting Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-13 in theoretical field goal range.  Peter King didn’t even bring it up, Don Banks mentioned it briefly as a puzzling decision at worst.  It’s simple to me: Gostkowski’s going to make that 49-yard field goal 50% of the time, I would imagine.  Even Tom Brady is only going to convert that 4th down 25% of the time at most.  There’s no wind and no weather.  Same consequence of failure, and the 7 points aren’t guaranteed if you get the first down.  Very obvious decision, if you ask me.  And I don’t need to point out that the Pats lost by a field goal. 

What a weird final second.  The change of possession, the swarm onto the field, Belichick coming out onto the field – I couldn’t tell if he was joining or fighting off the fray, but Aikman and Buck seemed to think he was yelling that there still had to be one more play – then storming into the locker room before that play was run.  Yet another entry in “The Bill Belichick Acts Like a Child Diaries.”

And most of all, no disrespect to Eli Manning, because he played wonderfully.  But this game was won because of the Giants’ defensive line, and the pressure they got on Brady.  He doesn’t get hit that much.  Ever.  You have to give Super Bowl MVP to one of those guys, or split it between them.  Justin Tuck, you’re my MVP, if that’s worth anything to you.  I can’t give you a Cadillac SUV (and can I say I’m glad at least it was a hybrid?), but if you want to come to Chicago, I’ll buy you a drink.

Yes, this game was huge.  Beyond huge.  We have yet to see the full ramifications.  And since there’s plenty of literature out there recapping the game and talking about what happened and didn’t happen, I’m more interested in talking about the future; what this game means for things that haven’t happened yet. 

1) Redskins’ coaching search: The choice is obvious to me.  First, if Snyder likes Jim Fassel all that much, he’s going to hire him and get him to work.  He’s only going to wait until after the Super Bowl if he really wants to see one of those guys.  Well, Josh McDaniels and Steve Spagnuolo went head to head, and one of them looked like a genius.  Those were some of the best blitz schemes you’ll ever see, because that’s what it takes to get to Brady.  Spags, please take the job.  Snyder, if you don’t hire this man, you’re even more idiotic than I thought.  He’s smart, he’s young enough yet experienced enough, and he’s been in the NFC East for a while now so he knows the Giants and Eagles intimately and the Cowboys and Redskins pretty well too.

2) Super Bowl Loser Syndrome: No team since the last Buffalo Bills AFC Championship team has made it past the divisional round of the playoffs the year after losing the Super Bowl.  All but one this decade have missed the playoffs entirely, excepting only the Seahawks, who squeaked out 9-7 in the worst division I’ve ever seen.  Could we see a non-powerhouse Patriots next year?  Well, it’s hard to see any AFC East foes challenging for the division crown.  Of course, I said that about the Bears and the NFC North last year, and I wasn’t alone.  If any team’s going to break the trend, it’s the Pats, but if I were making 2008 predictions today, I’d be tempted to say New England gets bounced in the first round by a Tennessee or a Jacksonville.

3) Fascinating Offseason: I don’t think one team’s offseason has ever been as heavily scrutinized as New England’s will be this year.  They’re Drama Central, and the fact that they don’t talk about any of it adds so much to the speculation frenzy.  We already knew to be looking out for whether Randy Moss leaves, if Belichick will be suspended, if they’ll lose Asante Samuel, and who they’ll draft with that senselessly high pick they got from the Niners.  Now we have the psychological reaction to having the perfect season ended at the last moment to wonder about. And there’s so much more that we can’t anticipate now.

4) AFC Dominance?: Ask anyone wearing football paraphernalia which conference dominates the other, and at least 80%, even today, will say “AFC.”  But with the Super Bowl win, the NFC now has the lead in the conference series.  In inter-conference regular season games, they won exactly 50%, and the Super Bowl gives them the edge.  The counter-argument throughout the playoffs was, “Yeah, but at the top it’s all AFC, the problem is it’s all AFC at the bottom, too.”  Well, my power rankings today would have the NFC in the top two – that’s right, today I think the Packers are better than the Patriots.

5) Sliding QB Draftees:  Eli Manning’s Super Bowl MVP performance might do wonders to reverse the trend of allowing quarterbacks to slide in the draft.  The last three Super Bowl teams were quarterbacked by early first round picks.  A QB with Ben Roethlisberger’s grade would have gone in the second or third round last year.  A passer with Eli’s grade and a different last name would have gone late in the first.  Now, coaches and GMs might change their minds.  I’m no longer ruling out Miami taking Matt Ryan, or someone else trading up to take him.  We may soon be back to the days when three QBs would go in the top 10.

6) Coaching Style Trends: One reason I didn’t want the Pats to win was that I don’t want everyone else copying Belichick.  As a fan of football in general, I don’t like his closed-off, all-business, no-fun Way of Doing Things.  And the NFL is a copycat league; struggling teams tend to mimic what the successful ones have done.  Coughlin has a similar take to Belichick’s, but it’s just loose enough that I like it.  He allowed his team to come in and be brash, and make bold predictions, and talk a little smack.  And I’d rather see that guy win. 

Come to think of it, Coughlin’s sort of the Mary Poppins of NFL coaches.  Mary Poppins is a strict disciplinarian, but with a softer touch, which Coughlin learned how to be this year.  Both can be a little off-putting at first, and while neither of them seems to be having fun, they take those in their care on the ride of their lives, and it’s what they had planned all along.  You just have to let yourself buy into what they want from you.  Yeah, I’d say that if there’s one lesson that transformed Coughlin into a good coach, it’s that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.  In the most delightful way. 

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