REMEMBERING THE MAD DUCK
Alex Karras was one of the great personalities football produced in what was its most crucial period; that 11 year period between the famed overtime championship in 1958 and the Jets upset of the Colts in Super Bowl 3. There was a sense that the AFL was the hipper league, and in a way, Karras stood for the old fashioned kind of NFL, the one whose position in American life was similar to the Rugby League among British sports. The NFL was played by hard men, on Sundays, in northern factory towns. Like Karras, they hung out in downtown bars, and in the offseason they worked jobs because they didn't make enough money playing football. Read George Plimpton's book Paper Lion, in which the erudite eastern intellectual is captivated with Karras' intelligence and abandon.
Karras, Roger Brown, and MLB Joe Schmidt made a solid core for the Detroit defense. At 248 pounds, Karras seemed small for a DT, but he was very quick, and worked on his moves. Plus, he wasn't really that small: Green Bay's center Jim Ringo weighed about 225, Jerry Kramer 245, and Fuzzy Thurston 240.
Karras' off-season job was often wrestling, and he used the money to buy part of the Lindell AC, which is where he and 'The Golden Boy' Paul Hornung put some bets on NFL games, and got suspended for a year by Pete Rozelle. During that year off Karras was unrepentant. He wrestled, setting up a feud with Dick the Bruiser (who, as Richard Afflis, had played for the pre-Lombardi Packers) which featured the two of them staging a brawl that tore up the Lindell. He made a lot of money. Finally, he sold his share of the bar, the comish reinstated him, and he refused to call a coin toss before a game, telling the ref 'I'm not allowed to gamble'.
You know all about Mongo and Blazing Saddles. You may not know he replaced another football player turned actor, Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson on Monday Night Football for three years, but his brand of irreverence didn't fit as well with Howard Cosell's as Don Meredith's would. As an actor his best parts were in Victor/Victoria and Against All Odds (a remake of ‘Out of the Past’) and as wrestler George Zaharias, who married the great athlete Babe Didrikson, in the movie Babe. Susan Clark played Babe, and they married, and later produced and starred together in Webster, which was the perfect role for such a soft tough guy as Karras.
Here's something he wrote in his autobiography, Even Big Guys Cry, and it could be the real definition of a man: “It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind." RIP Alex Karras.
Thursday Night Football LIVE ON SKY:
Pittsburgh (2-2) at Tennessee (1-4): I keep ignoring myself when I tell myself about the definite advantage to teams playing at home in TBTITNF, and then I keep ignoring it by convincing myself there are very good reasons why a team like the Steelers ought to be able to keep a team like the Titans under control. Tired and old as they look. As long as they can hobble after CJ2.0YPA, they should get their first road win. Pick: Steelers
Friday Morning Autopsy: Every year we say the Steelers' O line is a mess, and every year they have games like this one, where they lost their best lineman (C Maurkice Pouncey) and probably second best (RT Marcus Gilbert) and rushed for only 42 yards. CJ2.0YPA more than doubled that, and the Steelers never seemed to try to get the ball outside. They also didn't dial up the pressure on Matt Hasslebeck like I thought they ought to. I don't know if a 54 yard FG is your best bet in the last minute of a game, but I do know Bironas from 40 is a pretty safe bet. I've been wrong both times picking road teams on Thursday night, but then again, I've been wrong on two of the four home teams too!
Oakland (1-3) at Atlanta (5-0): My other rule of thumb is that, unless there are compelling reasons, you ought to go with the home team, since home teams win something like 60 per cent of NFL games anyway. I don't see any compelling reasons to expect the Raiders to catch the right plane, much less beat Atlanta in the BubbaDome. Pick: Falcons
Dallas (2-2) at Baltimore (4-1): The Ravens specialise in winning ugly. The Cowboys specialise in losing ugly. What does this suggest? Pick: Ravens
Cincinnati (3-2) at Cleveland (0-5): Ohio Derby! This is also a trap game for the Bengals, who messed up big time against the Dolphins at home. It's the chance for Brandon Weeden to establish himself as his generation's version of Ryan Tannehill. Law Firm is starting to revert back to his norm: he's not really a bell-cow back, and he has discovered the joy of fumbling. If ever the Browns are going to pick up a win, this is the week. If ever there were a week for Marvin Lewis to motivate the Bengals, this is it too. Pick: Bengals
St. Louis (3-2) at Miami (2-3): Palindromic records on display, and both teams are on a roll of sorts after shaky starts. According to the excellent Football Outsiders website, the NFC West is winning because of D: their metrics rank Seattle 3rd in defense, the Niners fourth, Arizona 7th and the Rams 8th. The difference between San Francisco and the rest is the Niners rank 3rd in offense, while the Seahawks are 21st, Crads 27th and Rams 28th. What makes this game interesting is that Miami is ranked fifth in defense themselves, but only 19th on offense. Which means by FO's DVOA calculations, this matchup is the league's no12 team against the no 13. I won't say which is which. Pick: Dolphins
Indianapolis (2-2) at Newark Airport Jest (2-3): One 'feel good' story: Andrew Luck delivering for Chuck Pagano in intensive care, and one 'feel crazy' story, Mark Sanchez's QB rating now sits firmly at 66.6, which is the Mark of the Beast in the book of Revelation, and if Tim Tebow arrives in shining Under Armor with the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, we will know that the end of the world will start in the middle of the Jersey swamps, not the middle East. Speaking of the Four Horsemen, Tony Sparano seems to have borrowed pages from their playbook at Knute Rockne's Notre Dame. I expect to see Sanchez make clocks run backwards by completing three passes in a row, then the White Knight and Joe McKnight come out and run a triple reverse counter sweep from the Notre Dame box formation. At least they resisted reading the Gospel according to TO. Moonies used to pass out leaflets saying how barcodes were 666 and the world was going to end. Sometimes it seems like that would be preferable to watching the Jets. Pick: Jest
Detroit (1-3) at Philadelphia (3-2) LIVE ON SKY: This is almost a must-win game for the visiting Lions, who ought to be able to have their indiscipline matched. Last week the Eagles fell short against the Steelers, while Detroit managed a no-score draw with the bye week. Andy Reid has suggested that the first team to run the ball automatically wins, but Jim Schwartz wants to play the game out, if only to see if he can actually get his arms around Reid while hugging him afterwards. Pick: Eagles
Kansas City (1-4) at Tampa (1-3): Chiefs fans won't be able to fly airplanes over RayJay with 'sack Cassel' banners because of McDill Airbase, from which the global war of terror is run. This will give them time to switch the banner to 'Sack Quinn' in time for next's week loss to the bye week. The Bucs are rested and ready, which means Greg Schiano probably has put some new wrinkles in to stop the victory formation. That is a formation that doesn't appear in the current Chiefs' playbook. Pick: Bucs
Buffalo (2-3) at Arizona (4-1):
Another of NATE'S FAVOURITE SIXTIES OLDIES (with apologies to the Fifth Dimension):
When Mario is in the seventh gap/And Dareus aligns with Kyle
Jairus will rule the secondary/And Bills will lose with style
This is the dawning of the age of the Buddy Nix, age of the Buddy Nix....
(chorus): Let Johnson shine! Let Jackson shine! Leodis! Aquarius!
Harmony from Chan play calling/sympathy as drives are stalling
mystic Fitzy revelations/in third and long situations
Aquarius/Or Buddy Nix?
Pick (even with Kevin Kolb; he will be starting won't he?): Crads
New England (3-2) at Seattle (3-2): Pete Carroll Bowl! Deion Branch Bowl Bowl! Seattle will pose a real challenge to the Pats because they are playing very well up front, with Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin presenting a Freeny/Mathis kind of package, and Kim Chancellor a tight end's worst nightmare. With Red Bryant inside they're hard to run against too. They've beaten Aaron Rodgers (into the ground), Tony Romo, and Cam Newton, but lost to Kevin Kolb and Sam Bradford. Go figure. You might be forgiven for looking at the Pats' interior line (G-C-G) and thinking it's a practice squad roster, but it's a tribute to coach Dante Scarnecchia that he always puts these groups together. Remember, the Pats won a Super Bowl with ex-Claymore Joe Andruzzi and Greg Robinson-Randall as the right side of their line, and another with Andruzzi, undrafted Steve Neal, and waiver wire guy Brandon Gorin starting, and the current starters (Vollmer and Solder) are both high draft picks. The hurry-up probably won't bother Carroll too much, as he used to play Oregon every year when he coached USC. Watch the Patriots run one play every 40 seconds, and lose to the Seahawks on a last second Hail Mary that hits the crossbar and bounces back 100 yards for a safety. Pick: Pats
New Jersey Giants (3-2) at San Francisco (4-1) LIVE ON SKY: Super Mario Manningham Bowl! Last time these teams met, the Giants' game plan was 'Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Williams', with two players admitting after the game they were told to target Williams after he'd suffered multiple concussions. But they weren't offered bounties so that was OK with the Comish. I like the revenge angle, but with Ted Ginn out there returning kicks, what could go wrong? Pick: Niners
Minnesota (4-1) at Washington (2-3): When Sean Witherspoon knocked out Robert Griffin the Skins' doctors were asking him, 'how many RGs are there?', 'which RG are you?' 'How many points were the bookies giving you against Atlanta?'. No wonder he stayed out. The Skins' D will not be stretched as much by the Vikes as they were by the Falcons, and Jim Haslett can probably dial up some run-stopping, though London Fletcher's weekly 15 tackles often seem to be further and further downfield. Pick: Skins
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL FOUR:
Green Bay (2-3) at Houston (5-0): That Clay Matthews/Brian Cushing USC teammate matchup isn't going to happen, and Cushing's loss is potentially crucial for the Texans. Go back and look at Wade Phillips' 3-4 at San Diego, for example, and think of Donnie Edwards, who played the same role as Cushing. Phillips doesn't two-gap as much as most 3-4 defenses up front, and needs a fast, active tackler (or two) at inside backer (in San Diego he had Steve Cooper—here and in Dallas he uses Bradie James as more of the 'Ted' or plugger role). Tim Dobbins knows the role (he played at San Diego) but doesn't have Cushing's speed, and that may be an area the Pack can attack if they can get some push from a suspect line and plodding backs (and that was before Cedric Benson got hurt). They may miss Joe Philbin more than people realise, though oddly they are still getting more offense than a lot of teams, and their D hasn't played as badly as last year's, except they're not generating turnovers. Speaking of plodding, though, everyone's talking about the Texans' runners/receivers/returners getting caught from behind, as if the Packers are about to unleash Randall Cobb on a group of golfers. But Alex Green has some speed and played in a spread at Hawaii, so he might be a better fit anyway. Pick: Texans
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON BBC RED BUTTON:
Denver (2-3) at San Diego (3-2): Why post-season matters: Norv Turner's record with the Chargers: 55-36 60 per cent. Tom Coughlin's with NYG: 85-59 59per cent. Just saying. Norv's teams famously start slowly, finish strong, and just squeeze into the playoffs before spiralling out like a French pilot trying to do an Immelman in a stalled-out Spad. The Chargers will have seen New England run Denver into the ground, and be tempted to try that with Ryan Matthews, but they can't run hurry up because it doesn't leave Phillip Rivers time to complain between plays. Denver will have noticed Jared Gaither hobbling around and run that tape over and over again for Von Miller. Hard to fault Gaither for trying to gut it out, but someone in the box ought to have noticed. It's not time for that December charge yet, is it? Pick: Broncos
Chicago (4-1): I wonder if Jay Cutler curses audibly in the huddle every time MikeTice radios in his play call? He and Rivers would be great playing Neidermeyer and Chip from the Omega House. On a brighter note, Bears TE Kellen Davis is helping raise funds for the fan who got his throat slashed in a Jacksonville bar before last week's game.
New Orleans (1-4): With teams taking Jimmy Graham out of plays (and now he's injured), Marques Colston limping, Lance Moore out, Mark Ingram running with no explosion, and the left side of their line noticeably less efficient without Carl Nicks, it's easy to see the problems for the replacement coaches. But a win is a win, even if it needed some frustrating calls for the Chargers to get there. NBC have the Saints again in two weeks, cynics might point out.
BYE BYE WEEKS:
Carolina (1-4): Say, didn't you used to be Cam Newton?
Jacksonville (1-4): Jags owner Shahid Khan received a telegram from Los Angeles City Council while he was here in London this week, saying 'Thanks anyway, we're happier with the NFL team we have now.'
LAST WEEK: 10-4 SEASON: 44-33