Even this Week, Indianapolis is Peyton’s Place

Peyton Manning (source: zimbio.com)

The Patriots and Giants will square off for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium in one of the most anticipated Super Bowls in history.  Without actually being in the midwest city (historically more associated with car racing and basketball), one cannot fail to notice the ominous visage hovering over the storyline. Peyton Manning is the most successful athlete in Indianapolis history.  Before he arrived in the city as the league’s number one draft pick in April 1998, the Colts future Hall of Fame quarterback transformed the franchise from a laughing stock to a perennial championship contender.  
 
Sure, Peyton could have gone to more than the two Super Bowls that he has starred in.  There was 1999, only the young legend’s second NFL season, when the Colts won their division (at that time the AFC East) and earned a first round playoff bye. The Tennesee Titans were a team of miracles that season, and after defeating Buffalo in the “Music City Miracle”, Steve McNair, Eddie George, and the Titans shocked the Colts in Manning’s first playoff game.
 
Then, there were 2003 and 2004.  In both playoff games, the Colts found themselves on the frozen turf of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. It was in these two clashes that the Colts-Patriots rivalry was born. Manning threw four interceptions against the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship Game – three to New England cornerback Ty Law. Before this game, the Colts had won two playoff games without having to punt the ball once. In Foxboro, Bill Belichick’s defense was able to confuse and interrupt the explosive Indy offense in a decisive Patriots victory.
 
In the 2004 AFC Divisional Playoff at New England, the Colts offense never got off the ground in a 20-3 demise. It was then widely speculated that Peyton Manning could not solve Belichick’s defensive alignments. Over the next five seasons, those hypotheses were proven incorrect. Peyton finally demonstrated an ability to defeat the Patriots in Foxboro, first on Monday Night Football in 2005 and then on Sunday Night Football in 2006.
 
The Patriots visited Indianapolis in January 2007 for the 2006 AFC Championship Game. This time it was the Pats who bolted out to an early 21-3 lead. In the second half, the Manning legend eclipsed an utlimate milestone as he lifted the Colts back into the contest with their New England adversaries. In the closing minutes, Manning directed Indy the length of the field for a game-winning touchdown drive. This time, Brady was the combatant who threw an interception with the AFC title in the balance in the final seconds.  The Colts had hurdled the Patriots in the postseason and advanced to their first Super Bowl since the team’s Baltimore era in 1970.
 
With that 2006 AFC Championship, Peyton had put Indianapolis on the football map for the only time in their 23-year stint in that midwest city. Two weeks later, Manning earned a Vince Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl MVP Award with a thrashing of the Chicago Bears in a Miami rainstorm.
 
Three years later, after earning two more league MVP Awards to bring his NFL record to four league MVP Awards, Peyton guided the Colts to another Super Bowl (also in Miami) – a compelling drama with the New Orleans Saints. Manning threw a key interception at the end of that title bout – a Saints victory.  But, 2009 had been another amazing year for Indy with a 14-0 start to their regular season and two convincing victories over the challenging Ravens and Jets in the playoffs. From my living room, it seemed apparent that the Colts could have gone undefeated in the regular season.  However, not wanting to risk postseason injuries, Indianapolis rested several key players (including their star QB) in losses to the Jets and Titans (both teams that NEEDED those wins just to make the playoffs). The Colts were so strong in 2009 that by Week 15, they had actually put themselves in position to DECIDE which teams qualified for the postseason.
 
Now the NFL world has gathered in Indy for Super Bowl XLVI.  Peyton’s little brother, Eli is there – attempting to win his second Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl MVP Award. He would pass his older brother in both categories, if successful. The image of Peyton hugging his brother after the latter defeated the then undefeated 2007 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII is unforgettable – the model for an athlete supporting a sibling’s aspirations – even if those aspirations are in direct competition with his own.
 
While his rival Brady and his brother Eli will contend for football’s world championship on Sunday night, let there be no mistake – the Super Bowl has come to Indianapolis because of Peyton Manning. Lucas Oil Field,  the state-of-the-art retractable dome palace in Downtown Indy that has replaced the Hoosier Dome, has been developed because of the football frenzy that Peyton Manning brought to that city fourteen years ago.
 
Earlier today at Super Bowl XLVI Media Day, Tom Brady said that there would be nothing he would rather see than Peyton Manning playing quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.  In the past few weeks, it has become increasingly likely that Manning will never wear the Colts uniform again and quite possible that he will never play football again. The neck injury suffered at the end of the 2010 regular season presents a serious challenge to Peyton’s career. All true NFL fans desire to once again see those spiraling footballs launched like missiles from the right hand of Peyton Manning, whether with the Colts or another team. The continuation of his legendary career is uncertain. However, on Sunday night, when NBC zooms into the glass box where Peyton will be sitting with his NFL QB father Archie and their family, take a minute to even internally reflect on Peyton’s phenomenal achievements and contributions to the NFL. Remember that no matter who wins Super Bowl XLVI, Indianapolis is Peyton’s Place.    
 

Djokovic-Nadal a Match for the Ages

Novak Djokovic (source: Scott Barbour from Getty Images)

Five hours and fifty-three minutes.  The 2012 Australian Open Mens Final between Serbian Novak Djokovic and Spaniard Rafael Nadal commenced in Melbourne at 3:00 AM EST yesterday.  I woke up at 8:30 and with a delay having already been built into the final, I was granted an opportunity to watch the entire fifth set.  Djokovic had won the first set and then Nadal had rallied to win the next two sets. I did wake up early in the morning with the TV turned to ESPN2 to see Nadal leading, two sets to one. Then I passed out, not even thinking about watching the match at that hour.

So I woke up to hear that there had been a lengthy delay and to see that Djokovic had won the fourth set to tie the match. In the fifth and deciding set, the volleying intensity was at an all-time high, with both combatants racing across the court to return each challenging slam. The match recalled shades of Nadal’s previous Wimbledon encounters with Roger Federer over the years. My mind even waltzed back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when Boris Becker would square off against Stefan Edberg at the French Open or when Andre Agassi would confront Pete Sampras for titles in London or Flushing Meadow.

The strengh and speed of the two competitors in this Australian Open Final were spectacles in themselves.  Of course, the final set reached a 5-5 tie, before Djokovic surged ahead and led 6-5. Nadal led the twelfth point before the Serbian battled back to force Deuce. Novak’s championship volley left Rafa with no chance, frozen on his feet and also in time in a moment that the Melbourne fans will never forget. Djokovic fell to his knees in exaspiration. When he regained his feet, and ran to the net and hugged Nadal in a salute to his opponent and to the competitive spirit of the event.

ESPN’s Chris Fowler said that he hopes that we all get to see these two stars compete against one another again in June at the French Open.  With only a six-hour time difference, I’ll tune in for that one right from the beginning!

Big Ern Visits MLK

A visit to our Nation’s Capital is not complete nowadays without a trip to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  This shrine to America’s greatest civil rights leader was inducted in September 2011.  Yesterday, some colleague/friends and I paid a visit to this historic monument.

When you walk into the MLK Memorial, you are faced with a surprising introduction – two tall shaved pieces of stone.  Walking between the two stone pillars to enter the memorial on this bright, warm DC winter day bestowed an ominous feeling inside of me – like peering into a dark cave; not knowing what was inside. Upon reaching the end of the pillars, you see another high, massive stone tablet directly in front of you. I did not realize that the image of Boston University’s most famous alumnus would be engraved on the next side to my right hand on the four-sided pillar. Of course, for those of you who know me, I chose to walk to my left-hand side. In that direction was a gray wall featuring several of Dr. King’s greatest quotations from speeches made in Alabama, California, DC, and Norway.

Quotes like:

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” (This was my favorite of the quotes at the memorial. I like how Dr. King knows how to properly use commas like me.)

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.  This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (This was a friend’s favorite quote yesterday.)

So I finally turned right to the third side of the pillar, which read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” Martin Luther King most certainly was just that.

I had one more side of the tablet to look at. I was expecting to see another quote, but to my surprise emerged the towering sculpture of Dr. King. He gazed out into the Tidal Basin toward the Jefferson Memorial, wearing a suit and tie, with his arms crossed.  In his left hand was a rolled up speech – how symbolic!  I had a feeling of awe and gravity, very similar to that from twenty years ago – the first time I saw the Lincoln Memorial. Like President Lincoln, Dr. King appears to peering right at you – as if possibly wondering what your contribution to our country should be. As the sun set on the Tidal Basin and Washington DC, I thought of the freedom that Americans are blessed with each new day.  Thank you, MLK for peacefully protecting that freedom.     

 

 

Fun Super Bowl Facts

Facts about the Super Bowl that may fly under the radar (all facts include the upcoming Super Bowl XLVI):

1) The Patriots, Steelers, and Colts have collectively represented the AFC in the last 9 Super Bowls.

2) In the 10-year period between 2001 and 2010, the NFC was represented in the Super Bowl by exactly 10 different teams (62.5 percent of that conference):

Rams, Buccaneers, Panthers, Eagles, Seahawks, Bears, Giants, Cardinals, Saints, and Packers  

The Giants, who will play in Super Bowl XLVI, have ended the 10-year NFC streak of a different team winning that conference. For the record, the Giants were also the last NFC Champion before the beginning of the streak – they lost Super Bowl XXXV (2000 season) to the Ravens, 34-7.

3) Despite its storied history and 4 NFL Championships, the Cleveland Browns are one of only 4 of the league’s 32 teams that have never gone to a Super Bowl. Their titles are from the 1950s and 60s, before the Super Bowl series began in January 1967.

The other 3 teams that have never gone to a Super Bowl:

Detroit Lions (one the league’s oldest teams), Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars

4) No Super Bowl has ever been tied at the end of regulation.  Therefore, no Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime.

5) Two of the Super Bowls with the highest point spreads for the favorite (Colts 17.5 in 1968 and Rams 14.5 in 2001) were won outright by the underdog (Jets in 1968 and Patriots in 2001). In other words, the underdog not only covered the spread, but also won the game.

6) Joe Montana has won more Super Bowl MVP awards than any other player – 3.

Tom Brady can tie his childhood idol for this record in Super Bowl XLVI.

7) From a 13-year period from 1984-1996, the NFC won EVERY Super Bowl.

Game On: Super Bowl XLVI the Rematch of All Rematches

Eli Manning (source: zenko.com)

The matchup is set – the Vince Lombardi Trophy is on the line when the Giants face the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianpolis next Sunday night. These two teams of course squared off against one another four years ago in Phoenix’ Super Bowl XLII.  In the forty-five years of Super Bowls, there have only been a few repeat battles. 

The only true Super Bowl Rematch (a matchup between repeat AFC and NFC Champions in two consecutive years) was Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills in January 1994.  Those Bills were playing in their fourth consecutive Super Bowl – also a record.  In Super Bowl XXVII at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, the Cowboys destroyed the Bills, 52-17.  That was the game with the famous Leon Lett fumble.  Lett, a Cowboys defensive tackle, having recovered a Buffalo turnover, was jaunting into the end zone while holding the ball out in a taunting fashion.  Bills hustler Don Beebe chased after Lett and closed within range of the oblivious defender at around the five-yard line.  Beebe dove and swatted the ball out of Lett’s unprotected hand.  The Bills recovered the football and Lett was humiliated, despite the Dallas blowout victory. 

So, the two teams met again in the following Super Bowl.  Buffalo actually defeated Dallas early in the 1993 season, although the Cowboys Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith had still been holding out in a contractual dispute with team owner Jerry Jones. This rematch was competitive with Buffalo’s title dreams still alive into the second half. However, Emmitt took over the second half of Super Bowl XXVIII for Dallas – earning game MVP honors and leading the Cowboys to their second straight world championship.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have met in three different Super Bowls: X, XIII, and XXX. Super Bowls X and XIII were contested basically with the same cast of characters on both squads and both games were fourth quarter thrillers.  QB Terry Bradshaw and wide receiver Lynn Swann emerged as the heroes in both of those Pittsburgh victories (both played in Miami’s Orange Bowl).  Super Bowl XXX was the first NFL championship game in Phoenix.  Although Jimmy Johnson, who won titles in 1992 and 1993 for Dallas was gone, Barry Switzer led “Jimmy’s Boys” against Bill Cowher’s Steelers in January 1996. In another closely fought battle, this time the Cowboys rose to the top with the guidance of a Larry Brown interception of a Neil O’Donnell pass – then returned for a touchdown. With the 1995 World Championship, these Cowboys had won their third title in four years – establishing a football dynasty in the 1990s. 

The San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals have played each other in two Super Bowls: XVI (Pontiac Silverdome – Suburban Detroit) and XXIII (Miami’s Dolphin Stadium). Super Bowl XVI in January 1982 ended with the 49ers first title and the introduction of eventual NFL legends: QB Joe Montana, Coach Bill Walsh, and free safety Ronnie Lott. While the 49ers dominated the Bengals in the Silverdome, Super Bowl XXIII in Miami was an all-time classic.  Montana drove San Francisco the length of the field in the closing minutes, throwing a 30-plus-yard strike to game MVP Jerry Rice and then splitting the Bengals defense with a timing pattern to John Taylor in the end zone to win the championship.

The Dolphins and Redskins have played each other twice in Super Bowls: VII and XVII (both in Pasadena). In Super Bowl VII, coach Don Shula, QB Bob Griese, and a “No Name Defense” led by Nick Buonocotti, completed the only Perfect Season (17-0) in post-merger NFL history. Then the Redskins, behind game MVP running back John Riggins, won that franchise’s first Super Bowl for Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs in a tight battle in January 1983.

But the rematches that I have spoken of here were not “rivalries”.  Patriots-Giants has all the makings for the development of a championship rivalry similar to the following:

          –   BOXING: Ali-Frazier (3 heavyweight title bouts: 2 won by Ali, 1 won by Frazier)

          –   BASKETBALL: Celtics-Lakers (met for the NBA Championship 12 times (1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2008, and 2010)  The Celtics have won 9 of these championships.)

          –   BASEBALL: Yankees-Red Sox (always in the same division, met in 1978 division title playoff and met for AL Championships in 2003 and 2004)

          –  BASEBALL: Giants-Dodgers (always in the same division, rivalry spans from both teams’ birth in New York to their current California homes, met in 1951 NL Championship Game (won by Giants at New York’s old Polo Grounds))

Tom Brady (Source: zimbio.com)

 Now let’s get into Patriots-Giants.  Before the Patriots entered the old AFL in 1960 as an original team of that league, the Giants were the most popular NFL team in New England.  It is part of the reason why Giants games are still typically shown on Boston’s local NFC telecasts. This rivalry commenced on December 27, 2007 in each team’s final game of that regular season.  No team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins (14-0) had gone undefeated in an NFL regular season.  The Patriots took the old Giants Stadium field with a 15-0 record that night.  Tom Brady set the single season record for TD passes in a season with a monumental scoring delivery to Randy Moss, who with that catch, set the single season record for TD receptions in one season.  The Patriots won the game, 38-35, and earned their 16-0 perfect “regular” season.  However, the Giants walked away from the game with a 10-6 record, a wild-card playoff spot, and an inspirational lift – a demonstration that they could compete with the best team in the league.

In Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona (Suburban Phoenix) was played on February 3, 2008.  The Patriots explosive offense (the most explosive in NFL history statistically) pulled out of the gate in neutral. The Giants pressure defense held New England to one touchdown and only seven points in the first half. At one point in the second half, the frustration of the Patriots offense became apparent.  With the Patirots in field goal range and facing Fourth and Eight, Bill Belichick chose to keep his offense on the field to convert a first down – like they had done all season.  It didn’t work – the Patriots didn’t score and have been regretting it ever since.

The Giants led the game, 10-7 in the fourth quarter. With about five minutes left in the game, Brady threw his first and only touchdown pass to Moss to give the undefeated Pats the lead, 14-10.  The Giants offense needed to drive the length of the field and reach the end zone to win the championship.  On fourth and forever, Manning’s ankle was within the grasp of New England’s Jarvis Green.  If Green had applied just about one more pound-per-square-foot of pressure, Eli would have fallen and New England would have been gulping champagne with Mercury Morris and the 1972 Perfect Dolphins. But Jarvis Green couldn’t pull down Manning and Archie’s youngest NFL son was able to launch the ball about 30 yards downfield into the direction of New England’s enforcing safety Rodney Harrison.  If Harrison intercepts the ball, the Perfect Season would have been intact. But, Giants wide receiver David Tyree caught the ball at the same instant as Harrison and was able to grasp more than 50% of the pigskin before both players fell to the ground. A disaster for New York had been converted into a first down.  Moments later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the end zone to give the Giants the lead with less than 2 minutes to go.

The Patriots had one final gasp of life – a Hail Mary pass attempt from Brady to Moss that fell to the turf and ended both New England’s dreams of a fourth Super Bowl title in seven years and the historic accomplishment of the Perfect Season.

The 2011 Giants (although only 9-7) are more talented than their 2007 championship edition. Their defense is younger, faster, and more ferocious.  Their quarterback (Eli) is more experienced, more accurate, more intelligent, and more leathal.  On November 6th in Foxboro, they trailed New England in the closing minutes of the game once again.  Manning calmly directed New York down the field once again and into the end zone with another game-winning touchdown pass.  Since that contest, the Patriots have won 10 consecutive games, scoring over 30 points 8 of them.

This battle is for history.  Only three teams have won four or more Lombardi Trophies – the Steelers (6), Cowboys (5), 49ers (5), and Packers (4). The winner of Super Bowl XLVI will join that illustrious group.

Game On!

Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick (source: cnnsi.com)

Big Ern’s Championship Picks

Here we are everyone, it’s NFL Championship Weekend!

The roads to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Sunday, February 5 have been salted in Foxboro and covered with a tarp at San Francisco’s Candlestick Point.

Last week, Big Ern went 2-2 in the divisional round with winning picks in Houston and the Giants and losers with the Saints and Broncos.

Here are Big Ern’s Championship Picks:

AFC Championship Game:

Sunday, January 22 at 3:00

Baltimore Ravens (13-4)

at New England Patriots (14-3) (7.5 point favorites)

Tom Brady (Source: zimbio.com)

Big Ern’s Pick: Patriots 41, Ravens 17

The Ravens barely beat Houston.  I’m not taking anything away from the Texans, but like in 1988 when Vice-Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen told his opponent, Senator Dan Quayle “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you’re NO Jack Kennedy!”, the situation here is similar. Like there is only one Jack Kennedy, there is only one Tom Brady, one Bill Belichick, and potentially NO playoff homefield advantage equivalent to Gillette Stadium. On a cold (half-light, half-dark January afternoon), the Ravens are going to feel the full burn of “The Razor”.

NFC Championship Game:

Sunday, January 22 at 6:30

New York Giants (11-7)

at San Francisco 49ers (14-3) (2.5 point favorites)

Big Ern’s Pick:

49ers 27, Giants 24

As thrilling as San Francisco’s victory over New Orleans was last week, this battle with the Giants should be no pushover in terms of excitement.  New York QB Eli Manning is playing the best football of his career and their receiver Hakeem Nicks is in an absolute ZONE.

I see this as a field goal game and I think that Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes is going to miss a big one. Manning is not going to sit back in the pocket with the luxury of time he enjoyed against Green Bay.  The 49ers defense is going to apply swarming pressure on Eli.

I expect a monster game from San Francisco running back Frank Gore and a well-balanced passing attack from QB Alex Smith.  The 49ers will seal this one with a field goal in the fourth quarter.

Super Bowl Summary:

So I predict that Tom Brady is going to shoot for his fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy against the team he grew up cheering for – the 49ers.

Are We Still in High School?

Ed Reed (Source: ESPN.com)

Yesterday, Baltimore Ravens Pro-Bowl safety Ed Reed criticized his team’s QB Joe Flacco. Reed claims that Flacco did not have control of the Baltimore offense during the Ravens 20-13 divisional playoff win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

This morning, ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning chimed in on this situation. Apparently, Reed claims that he has left a voicemail for Flacco, apologizing for his comments made on the radio. He also revealed that Flacco responded to him with a text message saying something to the effect of “It’s cool.”

Mike Greenberg (who I found out today shares a birthday with my brother Eric – “Greenie” was born during the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox season) says that a situation like this and communication like this “Is NOT cool.” Both he and Mike Golic say that this is high school behavior and that there is some problem between the two players if they are not verbally discussing this issue.  Greenie and Golic further digressed to say that adult life is very much like high school and that most peoples’ personalities and behaviors do not change between high school and adulthood.

What do you all think about this?  Are you the same as you were in high school?  Are your brothers, sisters, and friends the same as they were as teenagers?  While I think there are several similarities between High School Ernie and Finance Ernie, I certainly believe that I am far more open-minded at 33 than I was at 16. What do you think? And do you think that the Reed-Flacco communication is “high school behavior”?

Brown’s AFC Championship Pick

NFL Commentary from my good friend: Mike Brown:
I've been predicting since Thanksgiving that the AFC north champion
will win the superbowl, so it is with great trepidation that I
approach this week's game. Has anyone else looked at how weak our
schedule was this year? We are 0-2 vs. playoff* teams (steelers,
giants). How do the Ravens compare? They are 5-0 vs. playoff teams!
(texans twice, steelers twice, 49ers)
 
My heart is always going to root for the Pats but honestly, it sounds
ridiculous to me that the Pats are 7.5 point favorites. There is no
chance the Ravens are going to give up 45 points. That's just not
going to happen. First of all on offense they think run first pass
second. That reduces Brady's playing time. Second of all the Ravens
actually have a defense. They'll probably watch film and determine
that leaving Gronkowski wide open in the end zone is not an effective
defensive scheme. Brown's prediction:
 
Ravens 24 - Pats 21
 
I'd take the points and the under.
 
Meanwhile I'll be watching the game at Gallaher's rooting for Brady to
put up 10 touchdowns and make this email look foolish.
 
-mike
 
* I discount legitimacy of Denver as a playoff team given they lost 3
in a row to finish 8-8 and backed into the playoffs on a 3-way tie
break in the crappy AFC West. Their Steelers victory was a fluke.
 
(ern feel free to include my commentary on ernblog.com)

Vegas a Good Spot for Divisional Playoffs

If you’re a sports fan and you like the Las Vegas atmosphere, the middle weekend of January (typically the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend) is a great time to head to the desert city. I met a couple of college friends, a buddy’s little brother, and some new friends from the Midwest this past weekend for some fun and football.

Three of us watched the first twenty game minutes of Saints-49ers at the “New York, New York” Sports Book. For those who don’t know, a Sports Book is the section of a Las Vegas casino dedicating to sports betting. On the previous day, I had been able to lock in my “Pick of the Weekend” at the new hotel & casino – Aria: Saints (3.5-point road favorite) over San Francisco. I had to shop around for the bet as MGM Grande (where we stayed) had New Orleans giving 4 points on Friday afternoon. By gametime on Saturday, most casinos were lined up at the 3.5-point spread.

If you’re into Vegas Sports Books, “New York, New York” is not the place for you.  When we were there, they were showing the playoff football game on only one “low-definition” screen.  At one point, they were showing the BC basketball game against Virginia Tech on two screens, outnumbering the huge playoff game by an entire TV!  Ludicrous! 

That’s okay.  Our viewing experience was about to dramatically improve. The other six guys had taken a tour of the strip as five of that crew had never been to Vegas before.  I got a text message from my buddy saying that they were watching the game outside at Caesar’s Palace. Now we were talking.  With the 49ers surprisingly in front, 17-0, we bolted out of “New York, New York”.

When we showed up to Caesar’s, it was a much superior viewing experience.  There were Saints and 49ers fans with their game jerseys and tee-shirts at different tables outside the circular bar.  All of the screens were Samsung HDs. The outdoor terrace even featured blue columns to give the event a true Roman experience.  Hoo-Dat Nation started to get loud as the Saints began their comeback toward the end of the first half.  New Orleans closed the gap to 17-14 at Halftime behind Drew Brees.

At Halftime, a couple of the guys joined me for a trip to the Caesar’s Sports Book (widely considered the King of Sports Books). It was here that we looked at second half odds for the Saints-Niners game (which were surprisingly the same as for the original game – Saints by 3.5). The Patriots spread over the Broncos for that evening’s game had grown from 13.5 to 14. I did not feel comfortable with that wide a margin (as indicated last week in ErnBlog). However, with the Over/Under at 53.5 and the observation that these Patriots typically score about 35 on their own, I took the Over.

We returned outside to watch the second half of New Orleans-San Francisco and one of the most exciting fourth quarters in NFL Playoff history. With the 49ers trailing 29-24 in the closing minutes, San Francisco QB Alex Smith scrambled into the end zone to give the hometown Niners a 32-29 lead. In what seemed like only a few minutes later, Brees connected with tight end Jimmy Graham, who bounced off a 49er corner and blasted about 40 more yards into the end zone to put New Orleans back on top, 35-32.

At this point, the only way I could win my bet was for San Francisco to tie the game with a field goal, sending this epic thriller into OT. Then, I would need New Orleans to score a touchdown in the extra period (without San Fran scoring at all), so that the Saints could cover the point spread. When the 49ers quickly returned to field goal range (there was absolutely no defense on either side in the last six minutes of this game), my hopes and the hopes of my supportive buddies were high. But, then, in the closing seconds, Alex Smith truly “grew up” and found tight end Vernon Davis in the end zone with about a 12-yard pass to give the 49ers a dramatic 36-32 victory. The old Candlestick Park was shaking again (and Thank God – no earthquake this time).

We needed to head back to MGM to get ready for dinner.  Of course, we wanted to get back there as soon as possible so that we could watch Patriots-Broncos.  Tebow Mania was running wild in Las Vegas.  Number 15 was undoubtedly the most common NFL jersey spotted on the strip. I was “Tebowed” five times between Friday and Saturday. If you don’t know what that means by now, one “Tebows (verb)” someone else by kneeling and placing his or her left forearm to his or her head, while looking down in prayer.  I was disappointingly only “Tebowed” by men.  It was extremely funny every time it happened. By the time we found a shutttle bus in front of Caesar’s, Brady had already driven the Pats down the field and thrown a TD pass to Wes Welker.

By the time we returned to MGM, Brady had connected with Rob (“Gronk”) Gronkowski for another New England TD. My buddy and I were watching the game at a cool bar with couches and HD screens when Denver’s Willis McGahee squirmed into the end zone to cut the Pats lead in half, 14-7.  Tebow Mania got a little loud at that point and a girl pointed to me and yelled, “There!  There you go!  New England sucks!”  Her boyfriend or male friend sitting next to her kind of put his hand on her shoulder to calm her down. His facial expression read, “Let’s relax here, hunny.  This is New England we’re playing tonight.”

Broncos Faithful did not erupt in excitement again that night.  Brady threw four more touchdowns – including 2 more to the Gronk and a laser beam to Deion Branch. The Pats destroyed Denver, 45-10 and the 55-point total put me Over the 53.5 points required to win my bet.

On Sunday, we reserved a VIP room at the Sporting House Bar and Grille at “New York, New York”.  The office-style room had comfortable leather chairs, one big screen Samsung HD (about 70-inches) and two other smaller HD screens. We could also look out the windows of the room into the main concourse of the restaurant, which featured wall-size screens, etc.  You couldn’t turn your head without being able to experience the NFL Playoffs.  Awesome.

We watched T.J. Yates and the Texans fall a touchdown short in Baltimore to the Ravens, 20-13.  No wagers on that one.  Then, the final installment of the divisional round commenced – the Giants at Green Bay. Most of the guys on this trip were from Wisconsin and huge “Cheeseheads” (Packer fans). The Packers were favored by 7.5 points (too high for my money); so I took the Giants.  Eli Manning was on fire early on, directing the Giants to a 20-10 halftime advantage, highlighted by a 35-yard TD pass to Hakeen Nicks at the halftime whistle.  Other than the one buddy from Connecticut (huge Giants fan), our VIP room got pretty quiet in the second half as Aaron Rodgers got belted by the Giants defensive line.  New York won the game, 37-20 to advance to San Francisco (of all places) for the NFC Championship Game.  I felt bad for my Packer-fan buddies.  It’s tough to go 15-1, have the best record in the NFL, and then get bounced in your first playoff game.  I know I didn’t like it last year when the Patriots were in a similar situation only to succumb at home to the Jets.

One thing is for certain: if you are a big football fan, Vegas is the place to watch the big playoff games!

Time Zone Zanyism

Interesting time zone phenomenon that I came across today.  Remember how in the United States we used to change the clocks once in April and then again in October?  Well, a few years ago, we changed the Daylights Savings months to March and November.  It seemed like everyone was really happy about the change because it resulted in the sun staying out later in both March and October.

However, in the world of international finance, it turned out that not “everyone” was happy about the U.S. Daylight Savings changes.  In most of the Western European markets, for example, which were always six hours ahead of New York, the time changes really added more calculations to an already confusing overseas trading environment.  In March for example, when we “SPRING ahead” by an hour, the clocks stay the same in Spain.  At that point, New York is only FIVE hours ahead of Madrid.  In late October, the Western Europeans “FALL back” by an hour, making them once again only FIVE hours ahead of New York.  Then, the next week in early November, we FALL back by “our hour” (say that fast three times) and are once again SIX hours behind them again.

The only truly meaningful comment that I have about this situation is that it’s a good thing that Munich’s Oktoberfest is held mostly in late-September, because I was already fairly perplexed over there to begin with!