SPORTS

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October 23, 2001

I hate the instability of the NFL in 2001

As if Anthrax and terrorism were not enough to turn the American world upside down, the NFL has defied expectations, or even explanation for that matter. This year, who are the good teams? It's difficult if not impossible to say with any certainty. The Tennesee Titans, expected to be good, are 2-3 (which is a slight recovery from a 1-3 start against a weak part of their schedule). Chicagoans, after resigning themselves to another year of suckitude from da Bears, have been woken up by a team that appears on fire — albeit against a bevy of easy opponents (though the victory against Baltimore adds to their legitimacy). Has the world gone insane? The Bears 4-2? Cleveland 4-2? San Diego 4-2? Hell, Cincinnati 3-3? What's going on?

To take a side rail, I think Rob Johnson serves as a personification of what is wrong in this league. A standout in mediocrity among a bevy of starting mediocre quarterbacks in the league, Johnson has never come through in a consistent manner. As pointed out in my column published shortly before his departure, Wade Phillips always had the wrong man. Johnson has a strong, accurate arm but no personality, no charisma, and no confidence. Doug Flutie is the man. He's an underdog who succeeds in the face of built-in adversity (his height, his age). He has the ability to rally his teammates. He makes good reads under pressure. He makes plays. Phillips ruined the Bills' last season by dividing the team with the quarterback controversy. Now Flutie's gone to the Chargers, and he's been followed by some key defensive personnel (Marcellus Wiley, Sam Rogers) effectively importing the Bills' good elements into San Diego's organization. The Bills are left with Johnson, a new coach, and a thusfar failed attempt to run a West Coast offense and a 4-3 (why they insist on being so conventional and stock after the glorious success of the K gun is beyond me — Bill Parcels and his comment about power football can eat a dick, 1990 was lost on a missed field goal).

So who's good then? The problem with the winning teams named above is that they have “easy" schedules. But easy was determined by who lost last year — as we can see, many are winning now. So who's actually good? The Rams seem to be the only sure bet, though a few weeks will sort out some of the confusion. In the meantime, the chaos has spawned some ludicrous Monday night games: Dallas-Washington (1-4, 0-5); St. Louis-Detroit (4-0, 0-3); matchups which are annoying to watch and basically irrelevant (I mean, for Dallas-Washington the outcome was only to eliminate a team from the winless club). The NFL may have to switch to flexible scheduling to make sure its featured game is one worth watching (though it is heartening to note that the St. LouisDetroit game was rated higher than Major League Baseball's playoffs). Oh, bring back the Bills of yesteryear.