Monday, January 22, 2007

Historical events? Make it a double

Yesterday saw two history-making events in American sports: First, Lovie Smith became the first black head coach of an NFL team to win his conference championship and thereby coach a team to the Super Bowl. Before the Super Bowl era, there were no black head coaches, so Smith became the first to ever coach his team to the NFL title game of any sort. The first black head coach to have his team play for a trip to the Super Bowl was the first black head coach, Art Shell, whose 1990 Raiders were disintegrated in the AFC title game by the Bills, 51-3.

The second history-making event occurred at the final whistle of the Colts-Patriots game. The Colts' victory means that not only will the NFL have a black head coach in the Super Bowl for the first time ever, it will have the first black head coach to WIN the Super Bowl because the Colts' Tony Dungy became the first black head coach to win the AFC crown.

The Monk likes the fact that Dungy, who personifies dignity, and Smith, who personifies integrity, are both persons with class as well as ability. Smith is a huge bear of a man who is the big brother/father figure to his players. In his first year, 2004, the Bears were 5-11; now they're NFC Champs.

After all of Dungy's near misses, the painful indignity of watching Tampa win the Super Bowl the year after he left the team to go to the Colts after coming close in previous seasons, the questions about whether his quietly intense demeanor could translate to championship-caliber coaching in an NFL filled with fire-and-brimstone coaching personas, and the death of his son last year, it's especially good to see him win a conference title.

In other news, Tom Coughlin will coach the Giants next year.

Quick thoughts from yesterday: (1) The Monk is happy to see Thomas Jones thriving in Chicago. Jones is a U.Va. grad and looked like the next Emmitt Smith when he played for the Cavs: low center of gravity, quick feet, breakaway speed. Then he got drafted into the football abyss in Arizona. Yuk. After getting cut, landing in Tampa, performing fairly well and then winding up with the Bears in '04, Jones finally was healthy enough in body and mind to be useful. He took over from Anthony Thomas and ran for more than 900 yards. Last year, despite the Bears' decision to draft overrated hotshot Cedric Benson, Jones scampered for more than 1300 yards. This season, he totaled another 1200+ despite more playing time for Benson. He's scored two TDs in each of the Bears' playoff games this year, and ran on the last seven plays of the Bears' only first-half TD yesterday. Good on ya, TJ.

(2) The monkey on Peyton Manning's back was really barely hanging on before yesterday's game against the Patriots. Despite his well-documented honks against the Pats, Peyton's record against Brady head-to-head had improved to 2-4 before last night's game. Easily forgotten were both Indy's beatdown of the Pats in Foxboro last year (40-21, and it wasn't that close) and its close win in New England this season. Whatever mastery of Manning that Belichick's teams had began to wane in the autumn of '05. So yesterday's success was not a stunner. Instead, the manner of that success is the real surprise: coming back from a 21-3 deficit, rolling the Pats' defense for four TDs and 32 points in the second half, throwing for 349 yards with all-Pro and all-Pro/Hall-of-Famer-to-be WRs Wayne and Harrison combining for just 109 yards on nine catches, none longer than 18 yards, no TD.

The Colts took a page from the Pats' playbook with a fatboy flat pass -- using a tackle-eligible play at the goal line for a TD. And beat on the Pats' defense with short passes and inside runs in the second half while allowing New England only 8 yards rushing after halftime. For those of you counting along at home, the Colts are 0-for 16 holding opponents under 100 yards rushing in the regular season, 3-for-3 in the playoffs.

Other thoughts on this one: (a) kudos to Peyton for shaking off the mantle of Wilt to Brady's Russell and by doing it primarily with his third option, Dallas Clark (6 catches, 137 yards), The Monk hopes Peyton wins the Super Bowl; (b) kudos to the Colts for sticking with their game plan in the second half and not abandoning the run, evidently they saw that the Pats were beginning to wilt at the end of the first half when the Colts used a long drive to set up a half-ending FG; (c) the lost skill personnel factor finally bit the Pats in the rear -- reclamation-project WR Reche Caldwell had two horrendous dropped passes: one in the end zone, one on a later drive when he was wide open at the Colts 7 with no one near him. The first didn't matter because the Pats scored a TD on the next play; the second cost the Pats four points because they settled for a FG on that drive. Four point swing in a game they lost by four -- you figure out the importance of that.

Super Bowl preference? Go Colts!

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