Ed Rendell, Brett Favre, Michael VIck and Barack Obama Add Up To NFL Circus
Bob Costas and the rest of the NBC Sports coverage of this week's NFL game between the Minnesota Viking and Philadelphia Eagles will be dancing in the aisles of Lincoln Financial Field tonight, as their ratings for this game are sure to shoot up after a slew of quasi-controversial moments and monumentally controversial figures found ways to impact the game over the past week.
When it was originally scheduled, this looked like a relatively routine game. The Eagles should be easy winners; the Vikings are far removed from playoff contention. Philadelphia has relatively little left to gain or lose, as they seem ticketed for the third seed in the NFC unless they win out and the Chicago Bears lose next Sunday.
Yet, after a two-day weather postponement, the game will go off with a good deal more anticipation than it ultimately deserves. Read on for five reasons why.
1. The Obama-Vick Affair
During NBC's studio show Sunday, with which they went on despite the cancellation, Peter King reported that President Barack Obama recently called the Eagles and owner Jeffrey Lurie to tell them he appreciated Michael Vick getting a second chance with the team.
Vick, of course, spent two years in prison, and Obama made it known that he thought Vick's resurgent season and healing public persona make a good case for the rehabilitative mode of prison reform and prison infrastructure. Vick has, by all accounts, done good things both for animals and for society at large since his release, so the congratulations were not out of order. Still, the controversy began to swirl almost immediately.
Animal activists, naturally, are appalled over the President's explicit endorsement of the apparently easy forgiveness Vick has achieved after heinously abusing dogs for so long. Republican voices and others find the call a bit self-aggrandizing. Sports fans with any off-season behind them think Obama is a bit premature in thinking Vick will now be a model citizen for life; depending on athletes as positive off-field image makers is not a good idea. Anyway, the debate over all the angles continues, and Vick and Obama get a little more air time--because, really, they needed it. Haven't heard much about those two lately.
2. Brett Favre's Last Shootout
Once Brett Favre's streak of consecutive starts ended on Dec. 13, most people probably thought he would never play in the NFL again. That's likely the precise reason that he did, taking to the field last Monday night for about a quarter and a half of snow-covered nostalgia before the Bears knocked whatever memories he was living right out of his head and concussed him on the hard tundra of the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
Now, a week later, Favre is again considering giving it one last try. He almost certainly could not have played Sunday, but the extra 48 hours has people buzzing and could well facilitate another unlikely start for Brett. Every time he steps onto the field these days, it could be the last time, so fans will tune in to see whether or not it happens.
3. Walking Calculus
The game itself offered little flavor, and although the cancellation pushed it nearly into next week, the really sexy sound bites for news outlets did not come from anyone who had even a remote attachment to the game or the league itself: It came from Ed Rendell.
Rendell is the governor of Pennsylvania, a man with a colorful past and a strong set of opinions. In two separate interviews given Sunday and Monday, Rendell made an absolute fool of himself by confusing the issue and apparently adopting the traditions of his visiting Viking friends: His comments seemed straight out of the Jesse Ventura school of gubernatorial faux pas.
At one point Sunday, he quibbled with the local weather man in Philly about how much snow was on the ground (he was wrong, and it was pretty clear, really). He went on to call the cancellation "a joke," and called America "a nation of wussies."
The best quote, though, came when Rendell brought the topic around to China:
"If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? He’s right, the people would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked, and they would be doing calculus on the way down."
I leave to others to evaluate Rendell's possible implicit racism, the rather apparently poor comparison to the Chinese (who probably march citizens through blizzards just for entertainment sometimes) and the fact that the Chinese do not play football. Here's my thing: They're doing calculus during this march? I have a hard enough time with it sitting down, indoors. Walking calculus. Bravo, China.
4. Caught in The Webb
Joe Webb is still waiting. He should probably have been made the starting quarterback when Favre first got ruled out for the Dec. 13 game, but instead, the Vikings sent out free agent-to-be and general weak link Tarvaris Jackson. Then, after Jackson went down for the year and Favre looked very doubtful for the Bears game, Webb was finally installed as the presumptive starting quarterback. He prepared that way all week, assuming he would be sent out to play that Monday night.
Only he didn't. Favre stole the show back by taking the field, and Webb's fill-in effort felt like just that: not the passing of a torch but someone to play out the string.
Webb has been the projected starter again this week, though Favre now seems more and more likely to steal away Webb's first shot at starting yet again. If this guy is, as the Vikings seems to think, a potential long-term fix, they need to get him some chances sooner or later. But will Webb force their hand with a solid performance this or next week? Or will Favre get to finish his career the way he wants?
5. A Curiosity
The NFL has not had a Tuesday game since 1946, and this one will draw a fair share of football frivolity lovers who just want to see some pseudo-history. Tuesday games are not likely to ever become a regular occurrence, but let me point this out: If the NFL expands to 18 games in a season, in addition to five to seven deaths per season, we could see more and more proliferation of mid-week specials and/or teams playing on varying lengths of rest: A team could someday play in successive weeks on Sunday, Thursday, Tuesday, Thursday and Monday. In the meantime, though, Tuesday football seems impossible and exciting.