Playing Catch Up with the NFL

One of the late NFL games here in Southern California today has Las Vegas taking on Los Angeles.

Okay, now that takes some getting used to, doesn’t it? Los Angeles football has existed off and on for most of my life, so that part of the equation I can almost come to terms with. That is, until we note that the L.A. half of today’s matchup isn’t the Rams (or even the Raiders), it’s the Chargers.

And that I’ll never get used to, since the only thing cool the Chargers ever had going for them was that they played in San Diego! Even the awesome, lightning bolt logos on their helmets have lost a little luster in their move 120 miles to the north.

To further complicate things, the Raiders are part of today’s late game, fresh off a move of their own, from Oakland (where regardless of how many times they relocate, the Raiders will always belong) to Las Vegas.

If we all agree that change is the only constant in life, I suppose I should quit complaining and just get with the program. It doesn’t matter if the league will always be imprinted in my head the way it was configured back when I first figured out how to read the league standings when I was a kid.

In that world, it’s the Oilers who will always play in Houston, the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Colts in Baltimore, and the Jets on actual New York soil, not in some New Jersey swamp.

Today the Cleveland Browns are resting at home during their bye week, but we all know these aren’t the real Browns. They are sort of like that second Darrin in Bewitched that just appeared one year, sort of resembled the original Darrin, but was never quite as entertaining. There’s no Jim Brown in this zombie version of the Browns history, or even Leroy Kelly. No Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar. Hell, we can’t even give them the unsuccessful, Cleveland version of Bill Belichick (you know, the one that showed up out of nowhere back in New England this year).

Raiders-Chargers is today’s late game on Fox, which I’m choosing to watch because if I sit through another minute of the Dallas Cowboys this season I may turn to stone. Dallas is playing Pittsburgh on CBS right now, that network’s national game that immediately followed the Ravens victory over the Colts.

Yeah, we need to take a second on Ravens-Colts, don’t we.

So the Ravens play their home games in Baltimore, right? Even won a couple of Super Bowls there. Great fans, those Baltimore die-hards. Problem is, the Colts won Super Bowl V for that same group of fans back in the early-’70’s, when they played their home games in Baltimore.

Greatest Game Ever Played? Alan Ameche? Artie Donovan? Gino Marchetti? John Mackey? You could make a case that right up until Bob Irsay snuck them off into the Baltimore night, the Colts were the most storied NFL franchise east of Green Bay.

We’ve experienced an entire era of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (those Colts delivered a second Super Bowl title to the Indy fans, too), but when we think Colts, we’ll never stop envisioning Johnny Unitas and his high-topped cleats, jogging back onto a muddy field while pulling that badass helmet with the white horseshoe emblem over his crewcut. Nope, like the Chargers’ bolt, the Colts’ horseshoe has never been quite as cool when worn in Indiana.

At least the Ravens and Colts have established some winning traditions and identities in their new homes. Not so when we turn our attention to the abomination that is Houston/Tennessee.

The Houston football team isn’t supposed to have some knockoff Patriots emblem on their helmet, it should be an oil rig about to spew black gold and Texas Tea (oops, sorry for the Beverly Hillbillies reference), while Dan Pastorini throws another interception killing a drive. It’s Earl Campbell running over some cringing free safety. Give me Bum Phillips, Curly Culp and Warren Moon, not whatever Houston football is known for today (okay, we must admit, today’s Houston edition has put together quite a reputation for spitting the bit when the playoffs roll around, especially when playing in front of their home fans).

But for those of us paying attention, we know that the Oilers aren’t dead, they just play their home games in Tennessee now (where, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the Beverly Hillbillies set sail from after Ole Jed became a millionaire). There, as the Titans, they’ve put together an unremarkable run of title-free football that might warrant more derision if we weren’t currently comparing them to the Houston Texans.

At least Tennessee did make it to one Super Bowl, where they lost to…

Enjoying their own bye week today is the “true” Los Angeles gridiron entry — the Rams. The Rams have one Super Bowl trophy to their credit, a title won over the Titans-nee-Oilers while playing their home games in St. Louis.

St. Louis? So the Rams really played there, did they? For twenty years, you say? Huh. Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, a teary Dick Vermiel, Greatest Show on Turf, and yet, if push comes to shove, I barely remember the St. Louis Rams.

In fact, the only St. Louis football I do remember with clarity, came during the misbegotten run of the St. Louis Cardinals. Jim Hart launching bombs to Mel Gray just often enough to keep things close before losing week after week to the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles as the prototype fifth wheel of the NFC East. Yeah, that’s the St. Louis football I remember, and if it were up to me (alas, it’s not) they would only play Super Bowls and college football in the desert today.

Expansion teams? In my book, there will only ever be two — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, featuring the Selmon Brothers, Lee Roy and Dewey, and the AFC West Seattle Seahawks, with that crazy lefty, Jim Zorn slinging it all over the field to Steve Largent. Until Jacksonville, Carolina, the imposter Cleveland Browns or the Houston Whatever-their-names-are win a Super Bowl, they don’t exist in my NFL.

Given all that, I’ve just talked myself into changing the channel back to the Steelers-Cowboys game. It promises to be a lopsided contest, but at least these are two franchises that offer me historic consistency. Besides, the real upside to Pittsburgh-Dallas today is that it never gets old seeing somebody whip up on the Dallas Cowboys.

Because the more things change in the NFL, the more they stay the same (just ask the winless New York Jets).

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