Leader Blues

Saturday, December 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Perfection rarest gift NFL lover could get

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Christmas has already come and gone and you know what gifts you did and did not get.

As I write this, Christmas is still a couple days away, but I already know what I didnít get.

I didnít get my Perfection Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys shook out of their usual December doldrums to beat the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints 24-17 a week ago.

With the Saints now 13-1, that leaves the 14-0 Indianapolis Colts as the NFLís only perfect team and it shatters my dream of two unbeaten teams meeting in the Super Bowl.

My loss. And yours. And the NFLís.

What fun it would have been to see two clubs not just competing for a world championship but also competing for all-time supremacy, especially in a league like the NFL, which is genetically engineered for parity.

They would have talked about it for decades to come. Such a Super Bowl, had it happened, would have been an instant classic vaulting to the revered status held for games like the 1958 Colts-New York Giants NFL championship, a sudden-death thriller which consecrated the marriage of pro football and television.

Even if my little Perfection Bowl had turned out to be a dog ó the kind of 30-point Super Bowl blowout we used to get every year ó it would have been memorable because of the undefeated status of the teams in it.

The Saints might still make it to the Super Bowl, but people are already saying, ďThatís the Saints. They never win anything.Ē

And the luster is sort of off the team a little bit, though I can root for them because coach Sean Peyton is a fellow Eastern Illinois alum.

I know, so is Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but he was after my time. Peyton was the freshman quarterback when I was a junior at EIU and he was a frat brother to one of my roommates; I think I was even rude to Peyton on the phone once.

But I digress.

Iíd still like to see the Colts run the table, just to finally silence those dead-enders from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 14-0 in the regular season and finished 17-0 in that Super Bowl championship year.

Like a ďlast manĒ club of war veterans, some of the former Dolphins still break out the champagne every time a team threatening to match their perfect record finally loses a game, and Iím a little tired of it. It wasnít like the 1972 Dolphins had anything to do with the Giants tripping up the 2007 New England Patriots (18-1) in the Super Bowl.

Should the Colts march to the Super Bowl undefeated and win it, they will have gone 19-0, since todayís regular season is two games longer than in 1972, and will effectively blow the Dolphins out of the water.

But the Colts have been living lucky lately. There were nine lead changes in their 35-31 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and after that ó and after seeing the Saints get the Cowboysí best shot ó one realizes just how tough it is to find perfection.
It simply wonít happen in a 162-game Major League Baseball season or the 82-game NBA and NHL seasons.

If itís going to happen, it will happen in football, where the once-a-week schedule allows fewer chances for bad things to happen to good teams. Enough high school and college teams have already gone unbeaten that the feat isnít considered all that rare, though it is still impressive.

The NFL, with its draft order and free agency, does its best to see that dynasties donít last long, however the union of quality coaches and management has given us some ripping good teams over the years.

But so far, none of those teams have been good enough to survive the injury to the marquee player, the innovative game plan of an opponent, the bad day or the funny bounce of the oblong ball with the points on the end.

Sooner or later, one or all of those factors have been the banana peel on a teamís path to perfection.

The Colts play the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills down the stretch and it has been mumbled, Peyton Manningís wishes to the contrary, that coach Jim Caldwell may rest some of his stars since Indianapolis has every conceivable playoff advantage sewn up.

Even if Manning and the first string play and survive the best shots they are sure to get from the Jets and Bills, the Colts must then beat two playoff teams just to get to the Super Bowl.

Thatís a tall order for any team, but Iím rooting for the Colts to succeed because I still want to see something never before done in the NFL.

My son is going to be a big Colts fan too, though he doesnít know it yet. You see, if Indy loses, Iím going to become bored with the NFL and will be looking for something to do.

And my son got an Xbox for Christmas.