A Tale Of Two Halves

by Bert Bartlett

What’s with 30 minutes of football? For the past few games, the Saints have looked like an electric blanket on defense in the first half, then snoozing geezers after the break. It was weird on Sunday, with the clock at less than 4 minutes to play, to see the Saints losing to the 2-9 Jingles. Did they look too confident at that point that they were going to win the thing? One Soul Of The Saints thought so. But was glad they did.

It’s a long season and NFL football is conducive to blips and blurbs on the screen, making trends as fleeting as perceived. But one day in the not too distant future, the Saints may find themselves on the non-forgiving end of an opponent that is disciplined enough to not jump offside on a bogus snap count, or who will make them pay dearly for allowing kick-off returns to midfield with the game on the line. Let’s hope that isn’t the case early in this post-season, because 2010 will quickly be over, rover. Yep, ‘dem Saints are living dangerously to some extent.     

The St. Louis Rams bring great looking helmets, among the best in all of football, into the Superdome this week. The horns that curl smartly under the ear-holes, to pointed ends, have long lent the club an image of style. The Rams also bring a prized rookie at quarterback, Sam Bradford, who looks like a production machine in the making. Head coach Steve “Spags” Spagnuolo definitely has his team on an uptick in his second season at the helm, and on the field, they are less and less resembling lambs grazing in the grass. Steven Jackson is the strongest and best overall running back in the business, and admirably has not whined or sought greener pastures elsewhere, while continuing to produce for a weak team. Watch him run closely on Sunday. Jackson could have been casted as a stand-in in the movie Secretariat, and not as a human being. If Saints defenders simply go through the motions in hitting and tackling this guy, they will quickly resemble litter along a shoulder of I-10. Spags inevitably hopes his team gets good enough while Jackson remains in his prime. Fox’s Howie Long’s son, Chris, a top draft pick at defensive end, has not yet made an impact, but is only in his second year. In a month, the Rams may be the only ones left standing in the Romper Room that is their division, the NFC West, and could possibly be the Saints first opponent in the playoffs, should the current conference standings hold. 

The Saints and Rams, since the latter’s days in Los Angeles, have always had a kinky relationship, them going back to being the first opponent to kick-off in Tulane Stadium in 1967, to their bare-footed kicker booting Bum Phillips’ team out of the franchise becoming a playoff entrant for the first time, and to succumbing, as defending Super Bowl champs, to Jim Haslett and Aaron Brooks when the Saints finally broke their post-season virginity. Even though critical road trips to Baltimore and Atlanta follow, the Saints best not look too far ahead, or beyond a half at a time, and let the Rams get too involved this week, lest to lose ground before they even depart for the airport. In the papers, many sportswriters like to use the common vernacular, trap game, for match-ups like this. Oh hell, in the parity of this league, they’re all trap games.    

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Former SMU and Dallas Cowboy quarterback “Dandy” Don Meredith passed away at 72 this week. He became more famous for his stint as a color analyst on Monday Night Football, particularly for playing the role of devil’s advocate opposite Howard Cosell, who liked to listen to himself talk.  

But Meredith was no slouch at quarterback. He didn’t have the rocket arm of, say, an Elway or a Marino, but could throw a pretty and accurate a deep ball as anyone, as evidenced by Bob Hayes being on the receiving end of plenty of them, the two helping re-define the vertical game in pro ball in the 1960’s. Meredith had the Cowboys in position to beating the Packers at least once in their two consecutive title tilts; a few plays here, and a few more degrees there, and today the Vince Lombardi Trophy they give out after the Super Bowl could easily be called something else. You see an old photo of him in a meeting room with Tom Landry, the former looking like a raconteur, the latter a stern taskmaster, but the coach perhaps giggling on the inside, yet knowing he had the right guy taking snaps for the Cowboys. 

Meredith’s candor was disarming as it was genuine. One night on MNF, Cosell was espousing the better than average academic reputation of a school some player had attended, which he was often prone to do. Meredith paused, and said, “Howard, all those other colleges and universities…….don’t they have books at those places too?”  There were plenty of quips leaving listeners in stitches, alluding to Cleveland wide receiver Fair Hooker as “never having met one”, on the air saying he was definitely Mile High in Denver, and declaring bias outright when the Cowboys were playing the Cardinals.   

Football, television, life; Meredith could take them or leave them with equal disdain, as he did to lead a private retirement with his wife in Santa Fe, N.M., where he shied away from interviews, wondering why inquisitors thought he, or any of it, mattered. Meredith was a full blown Texan the whole country could be proud of, the kind of guy one wished he had gotten the opportunity to get to know.

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