What makes the championship games so exciting? I have often asked myself that question because most of the time my team is not playing. In fact I would suspect that most fans don’t have their team playing so what is it that continues to draw us to the TV, the radio, the parties, and to the disappointments of the games never reaching the hype? The answers lie in a lot of reasons and let’s look at some for the games being played tomorrow.
The AFC Championship game is a rematch of sorts of their regular season encounter in week 16. The Indianapolis Colts came into the game 14-0. Everyone was wondering if they could displace the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team to go undefeated and capture the Super Bowl. The challenge could not have appeared to be any easier. After all, the NY Jets were a team ready for elimination; their coach had already publically said as much, "This is tough, because we're obviously out of the playoffs. We thought we had a great chance to make it to the playoffs. This is hugely disappointing."
The problem was that first year Indy coach Jim Caldwell and their owner had resting were more intent on resting their players than extending their record to 15-0. As a result the Colts pulled their players by the end of the first quarter while holding a slim lead. A loss by the Jets would have ended any possible chance of them making the playoffs but a win left them mathematically still in the equation. Well, the decision by the Colts to pull their players leads to the Jets winning easily, 29-15 and guess what the rematch.
Rematches are almost always intriguing by the sheer amount of smack that is disseminated by fans on both sides and not to mention all the prognosticators. Now everyone wants to watch to see who is right. Are the Jets and their defense really that good, could Indy and Manning easily have eliminated this team that by all rights should not be here with a rookie quarterback?
This brings us to the second intriguing reason for wanting to watch this game. Sunday is an opportunity to watch the brilliance of Peyton Manning and to see a rookie QB, Mark Sanchez, who has captured the imagination of Jet fans. I have not seen as much excitement from the Jet faithful since Joe Namath was predicting an upset of the then Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, my senior junior year in high school. Funny how we can look at the game this week and be mesmerized with thoughts of Colts vs. Jets, Sanchez vs. Manning, Namath vs. Johnny Unitas (fourth quarter), and the fact that once again the Colts are heavily favored.
Finally there is the plain fascination with is Peyton Manning the best NFL Quarterback ever. He has only 1 Super Bowl appearance and he was the MVP. The problem is that the Colts have made this ride before and more often than not they don’t make it to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning and the Colts lost to my Tennessee Titans 16-19 in Jan 2000 for the Divisional Championship. A year later almost, actually Dec of 2000 they lost to Miami in a wild card game, 17-23. The Jets may recall an embarrassing defeat they put on the Colts in 2003, 41-0. Peyton threw two picks in that game. A year later the Colts began the series of heartbreaks against the New England Patriots. Manning threw four picks in the loss and since then people have been asking the question who is better Brady or Manning. Manning in fact has thrown 18 picks in 16 playoff appearances. He has thrown as many as four has thrown three picks once, and two picks three times. In other words despite his perfection sometimes he does look terrible. In a way people are wondering which Manning people will see on Sunday, the MVP or the one that gets frustrated and implodes in the big game.
This game features two picture perfect reasons for tuning in. The first is the mention of Brett Favre and the second is “Who Dat?” The New Orleans Saints are returning the NFC Championship game for the second time in four years. They are city that is still battling back from hurricane Katrina, they have never been to the Super Bowl, and they have a prolific offense. They like the Colts were “Breesing” through the season when all of a sudden the wheels came off. They are 14-3 right now but who can forget the way in which they quickly went from 13-0 to 13-3 losing their last three games of the season. Still fans around the country are also captivated by Drew Brees. Drew through for over 4,000 yards this season and finished with a 109 passer rating. If he were playing for some team in New York, San Diego, Chicago instead of New Orleans he might be a household name, is however around my house because he has been my fantasy QB. His 34 touchdowns and pass completion percentage of greater than 70 percent makes him daunting presence out there in the Super Dome where the Saints will play on Sunday.
Then there is Reggie Bush. Ever since Vince Young and Reggie Bush tangled in the Texas vs. USC BCS Championship game, fans have wanted to watch him perform on the pro level. Reggie however has been sort of an anomaly. What he contributes is not easily recognizable and at times he gets lost. Still he brings about a certain fascination and to be hones last week he looked great. Therefore, those of us who still believe he is a game-breaker wait and watch to see if this will be the game that we say, “I told you so.”
Finally and make no mistake, the reason we are watching the game tomorrow is drama played out in 40 year old Brett Favre. Can he lead the Vikings back to the Super Bowl? Favre’s passer rating is a not so shabby 107.2. Okay so it is a little worse than Drew Brees, the old man has thrown for 33 TDs, 7 interceptions and yes also over 4,000 yds. This is Favre’s best year ever. If not for Manning getting his 4th MVP, Favre might have gotten his fourth. I think you could say he almost equally deserves it. Anyway, I will not dwell on the past in the words of Mark McGuire. Favre is what the Vikings bet the ranch on and so far so good. I believe that this game is the highlight because no matter who wins probably everyone will somehow feel good. Favre will be considered to have had a great season and unquestionably the missing link to Minnesota’s return to the NFC Championship game. On the other hand, who could not be happy for the Saints going to the Super Bowl for the first time? In contrast in the AFC game Jets fans will be happy with a win or a loss because quite frankly they did not expect to be here this season. Colt fans and Peyton Manning fans will only be happy with a win. Despite all his stats, Peyton needs to get to a second Super Bowl and winning it would be even better if he is to go down in the annals of NFL Historians as the greatest QB ever.