May The Curse Be Lifted

Not too early to get our wishes for the New Year in order. Here's number one: San Diego and New Orleans meet in Super Bowl XLI. Philip Rivers vs. Drew Brees. Brees must feel like a man who was pushed out of an airplane only to find out he was tied to a bungee cord, which caused him to bob back up and into the plane he was thrown out of, but now everybody loves him.

No matter what Brees says, being dumped -- or to put it more kindly, being offered a contract he had to refuse (a cheapskate bid of $2 million guaranteed for the first year) -- by the good-and-getting-very-much-better Chargers was a slap in the face. Being picked up by New Orleans ($10 million first-year base) was good money, but he had to accept exile from major media markets.

The Saints were coming off a 3-13 season, kept down by a sociopath owner, and playing in a town that recently lost half its population. Nine months after Brees signed with the Saints, his team is atop the NFC South; in fact, the Saints have the second best record in the entire NFC. Brees leads the league in passing yards, 4033, and owns the NFL's highest quarterback rating at 101.2 (Rivers is 5th, with 2879 yards thrown and a 96.3 rating).

All this was brought into death-grip focus over the course of Sunday's ass-kicking of Dallas, a team that up until then was the consensus best team in the NFL. The Saints compiled 536 yards in total offense. Brees threw five touchdown passes, was 26 of 38 for 384 passing yards. The Saints, on the road, bitch-slapped the Cowboys 42-17. And it could have been worse. As it was, they were good enough to make a Parcells team quit in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans did this to Dallas? How? Well, in a draft pick of Ryan Leafian proportions, Houston, holder of the first pick this year, chose a defensive end and passed on Reggie Bush. New Orleans, drafting second, didn't. Now, throw in Drew Brees. Now, throw in Sean Payton. This is Payton's first year as a head coach. On Sunday, he went up against his boss/tyrant of 11 months ago, so you can understand at least one reason why the Saints won and the reason why Payton called an onside kick while leading 35 to 17.

New Year's wish number two: in the run-up to the Super Bowl, San Diego plays Indianapolis for the AFC championship. That game will star Marty Schottenheimer and Tony Dungy. Both men are cursed. But, if they play in the AFC championship, one coach will go on to the Super Bowl and be welcomed back into humankind.

Tony Dungy has been Indianapolis head coach since 2002. Here's his record... First year went 10-6 and lost the AFC wildcard game. In 2003, went 12-4, lost the AFC championship game. Was 12-4 in 2004, lost AFC divisional playoff game. Finished 2005 with a 14-2 record, lost AFC divisional playoff game.

Dungy coached Tampa Bay from 1996 through 2001. Save for his first year, he never had a losing season. He took the Bucs into the 1997 playoffs and lost the NFC divisional playoff game. No playoffs in 1998. Lost the NFC championship game in 1999. Lost the NFC wildcard game in 2000 and in 2001.

But, Dungy is a bug at the feet of our own Marty Schottenheimer. Marty has been a head coach in the NFL since 1984, which is about three dog lifetimes. He's coached Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington, and San Diego. Despite whatever players he had, whatever owners he had, he's only recorded two losing seasons, 1998 and 2003.

He made four playoff appearances with Cleveland, seven playoff appearances while coaching Kansas City, and one since he got to San Diego in January 2002. But, he's never been to the Super Bowl.

Now, what do these men have in common other than a cursed losing streak in the postseason? Answer: they both subscribe to the theory that when you get the football only four things can happen, and five of them are bad. Therefore, always run the football in a crunch.

They both have taken a pledge, many times, saying in their own way, "This is the end of Martyball. Martyball is dead." But, put them on the same field with a trip to Super Bowl XLI on the line, and there'll come a moment in the game -- say, fourth quarter, ball on the opponent's 26-yard line, third down, six yards to go for a first down -- when all the voices in their heads will scream, "Run the ball over left tackle," while you and me and the rest of North America are thinking, "Perfect time for a pass." What will Marty or Tony do?

That's what I want to see.

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