PETULANT (pet-u-lant) adjective — (of a person or their manner) childishly sulky or bad-tempered
As I enjoy what many consider to be the best football weekend of every NFL season, I got thinking about who to root for today. Always a dangerous proposition for the fans of my ultimate selection, but a necessary exercise to maximize my viewing enjoyment.
My favorite team was eliminated from the 2019 postseason tournament about 50 years ago, and the team I deemed bandwagon worthy a month ago (sorry, Houston), was dismissed without putting up much of a fight last weekend.
I was happy to see the Rams advance yesterday, but I’m not ready to claim that bandwagon as my own, as the Cowboys were too easy a target to root against. And while the side of me that likes runs of futility to continue had secretly hoped that Andy Reid would find another way to blow a home postseason game to an inferior opponent, thus continuing the run of suffering for Chiefs fans (hey, misery does love company), I do find Patrick Mahomes hard to root against.
So turning my attention to today’s games, I’m conflicted because I’m gravitating toward the Chargers (sorry in advance, L.A./San Diego fans).
The core of my conflict centers on the “petulant” (one of my favorite words) signal-caller for the Bolts, Philip Rivers. Is it just me, or has this guy been one of the least-appealing stars in professional sports for the past 15 years?
Yet I’m in dire danger of rooting for him today, and as I flip around the various pregame shows, it would appear I’m not alone. Even the notoriously front-running media types seem to have adopted Rivers as their potential hero du jour.
And that got me to thinking about how a sports figure successfully transitions, or reinvents himself (or herself — hello, Martina Hingis), into a sympathetic, elder statesman worthy of our collective rooting energy, regardless of how egregious the petulance of their youth might have been.
When Jimmy Connors first came on the tennis scene in the early-’70’s, he was “the brat.” Obnoxious, demonstrative and frustratingly talented, Connors changed the landscape of professional tennis, grabbing the attention of youngsters with rackets in their hands for the first time from the staid heroes of the 1960’s, like Aussies Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. For much of America, Connors was the star to root against, a symbol of all going wrong with youth in America, because of his “petulant” on-court demeanor.
Fast forward twenty years, and the same fiery Connors was the beloved elder-statesman, rallying thousands around his unlikely run through the 1991 U.S. Open. Same guy, but the switch was flipped and he had shed the “petulant” label and was now part of the fabric of our tennis history and experience (if only John McEnroe could figure out how to follow Connors’ lead, but alas, he’s still a petulant jackass, his shortcomings more visible than ever from his perch in the announcers booth), Jimbo the Everyman battling against age as much as his opponents, and worthy of our admiration.
Is this simply an age and maturation phenomenon? An indication that the audience’s views have shifted, along with those of society (or maybe more simplistically, the views of this writer)? I’m not sure of the answer, but I am sure that there are countless examples supporting such transformations across the history of professional sports.
Which brings me back to Rivers as the focal point of today’s Three Yards And A Cloud Of Dust. Is it simply time and age that turn this unappealing, long-time loser into an unlikely hero and sympathetic underdog? What happened to the guy we couldn’t wait to see crash and burn late in the game as he’s done so many times before, while disappointing the legions of San Diego fans? A mystery of sports, I suppose, but here I am, one foot on the Chargers bandwagon, and Rivers is the reason. Go figure.
WHICH QB ENGENDERS THE MOST SUPPORT TODAY?
There are four quarterbacks leading their teams today in hopes of joining the Rams and Chiefs in their respective conference finals. I would argue that Philip Rivers is, by far, the least likable of these QB’s, again making me question why I’m hoping he emerges victorious.
Consider today’s combatants:
*Tom Brady — can we all agree (assuming you are reading this outside of New England) that we are ready for Brady to be relegated to the ranks of the past-their-prime 40-something QB’s the game has humbled through the years? Is today the day? I think it very well could be (but as a Mets fan I also expected this annually from Mariano Rivera beginning around 2002 — you see how well that turned out for me). Brady is The GOAT, after all, and a standing champion’s still the champion. So as sick of him as we may be, he remains a complete freak when it comes to his otherworldly performance at this stage of his career.
*Drew Brees — okay, we all love Brees. Fact. But rooting for him is becoming a bit like rooting for Superman to save the day and defeat the bad guy. Or Apple to continue to thrive as a growth stock (okay, maybe every dog does have it day). It may be humanly impossible to root against Brees right now, but perhaps that day is coming if they capture another Lombardi Trophy this year? We’ll see, but for now he is THE MAN.
*Nick Foles — another one hard to root against, but he has the unfair advantage of possessing the most popular role in all of pro sports — the backup QB. I’ve been rooting against the Eagles all year, and barring that gutless Vikings collapse in the season’s final weekend, my predictions about the Eagles falling back to the level of ordinary ex-champ would have come to fruition. In other words — I’ll be rooting against Philly again today, despite the good guy of all good guys, Foles, at the helm for the Iggles.
*Rivers — he’s never beaten Brady. He never wins in sub-freezing temps. The Chargers have traveled cross-country. The Pats are rested. Yet somehow Rivers is the guy I’m moving toward as I organize my rooting interests for the day. “Petulant” no more, he’s a sympathetic, battle-tested veteran, who’s never won the big one and has the chance for a daily double today — earn his way to the AFC Championship game, and send Giselle’s husband packing.
Okay, let’s go Bolts!
REACTIONS TO YESTERDAY’S GAMES
I’ve already outlined my subtle disappointment over the Chiefs not extending their painful run of playoff disappointments against the Colts yesterday. Is Kansas City the best team remaining in the playoffs? Sure looked like they may be. We’ll know more after seeing the outcome of today’s late game between the Saints and Eagles, but Andy Reid’s bunch sure does look tough to match up with, and if the Chiefs defense can remain barely average, they have to be considered the favorites.
Time for Adam Vinatieri to retire. Yes, I’m bitter, because if the Colts kicker doesn’t cough up a PAT and an easily makable FG try, we could have been looking at a 24-17 game late in the 4th quarter yesterday. That tension would have allowed us to see which is the stronger force on this year’s edition of the Chiefs — a new superhero in the making named Patrick Mahomes, or a coach that will find a way to pull defeat from the jaws of victory if given just a crack in the door. Thanks to the Colts ancient place kicker, we’ll never know.
Vinatieri spoiled my fun, and it’s time for him to go. Plus, his beard is whiter than mine, and that needs to go, too.
The Rams better be rooting hard for the Eagles tonight. The Los Angelenos need every advantage they can get if they hope to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIII, and home field is a must. They struggled against the less-than-mediocre Cowboys yesterday, and despite all the hype around the powerful Rams running game, they showed a lot of areas of weakness, most notably in lacking a killer instinct and not closing. No way they go into New Orleans and emerge with a win next weekend. So all those Rams fans out there (tongue firmly in cheek) better be doing their best “Fly Eagles, Fly” chants around 4:00 eastern today.
Yeah, based on my year-long struggles with NFL SIX PICKS, I should probably leave these games be, but I can’t help myself:
Chargers (+3.5) over the PATRIOTS — This is a hedge pick, I’m embarrassed to admit. In my heart of hearts, I know beyond a reasonable doubt that if I’m outright rooting for a team, and also bet on them, that team is doomed to go down in flames. Sorry Bolts fans, but that means you today. However, I see this one being a loss in unbearably heartbreaking fashion, with a late FG sending Rivers and the boys back cross country once again thinking about what might have been. And their cover will be little consolation. We haven’t seen the last of Brady and Gronk just yet, I’m afraid. (Patriots 27-26)
Eagles (+8.5 ) over the SAINTS — Too big a spread. I know all about how the Saints dominated back in November. To me, that may be the biggest reason to pick the Eagles to cover. They have revenge on their minds, plenty of tape to see their deficiencies in living color, and how can the Saints not be looking ahead at least a little bit? Brees pulls it out for the home crowd, as New Orleans just has too many weapons not to expose the thin Philly secondary, but this will be a close one in the Big Easy. (Saints, 33-30)
It’s Divisional Round Sunday, folks, enjoy the games!