(Reprinted from '03)
not to overstate it, but the Monday Night Game that
just got done about 30 seconds ago has to be one of
the most startling television shows in history. i'm
not sure what on earth to think. it featured:
- depending on your definition of 'comeback,' the
greatest comeback in NFL history (more later on why),
culminating in OT, won by a drive that started at the
opponents 3 yardline.
- a referee decision so poor that it almost defies any
explaination besides a blatant fix.
- consumate, top of the industry pro Al Michaels
coming absolutely apart on the air.
So the onfield stuff:
Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay, with the best NFL defense
in a decade, led the Colts 35-14, at home, with 4
minutes to play. Read that again, just to be clear
how wrapped up this game was.
Led by Payton Manning - and coach Tony Dungy, who
the Bucs fired 2 years ago - the Colts came all the
way back to tie. According to ABC, no team in NFL
history had EVER comeback from 21 points down in 4
minutes - considering the opponent, a solid case for
greatest comeback ever.
Almost as a sidenote, we can fairly say that Payton
Manning has Arrived.
In the overtime, after a TB punt, Manning started
at the 3 yard line, and drove the Colts downfield,
converting three third-downs with passes over the
middle. From the 20-yardline, they trotted out their
kicker, who statistically never misses.
And he shanked it.
And then - NOW GET THIS - a flag came in for
UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT on Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice on
the play. The replay showed rice lined up 5 yards
behind the line, running forward, leaping to block the
kick (missing by a mile), landing more or less on the
line of scrimage among his teammates. End of play.
He was not aided in his leap, did not affect the play,
and when he landed his "contact" was with his own
teammates and consisted of just a small bump against a
lineman to keep from falling over. An utterly,
totally unremarkable and typical play.
And he got flagged for it.
The rulebook, as Madden read it a few seconds
later, says if you run forward and jump for a block,
you can't make "contact" with other players when you
land. Now, I don't watch the line of scrimmage on
field goals too often, but there was nothing about the
play even remotely beligerent, unfair, unsafe or
unusual about what Rice did. He jumped up, landed on
his feet in the middle of his teammates, arms out and
draping over the linemen - and, NONE of it affected
the kick, which the guy just flat missed. I have to
believe that, if enforced, that rule would invalidate
at least 70 percent of all field goals ever kicked.
If ANYBODY thinks the NFL is fixed, you now have as
close to a smoking gun as you'll ever get.
Rekick and - here it comes - the guy HITS THE
GOALPOST, AND IT BOUNCES BACK THROUGH. Ballgame.
the greatest comeback of all time capped by the
cheapest win i ever saw.
Finally, in the midst of this, Al Michaels - the
definitive calm professional in an industry of heavy
breathers - goes nuts. "ARE YOU KIDDING? WHAT WAS
THAT?! THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE?!?!??!" Comes apart
pleading the Bucs case the way, oh, say, I would if I
was rooting for the Bucs.
i've never heard Michaels get seriously flustered,
but he was in a rage on this one. He was so incensde,
he pretty much ignored the winning kick.
just an all-around staggering spectacle.
And for what it's worth: manning can play.