Last weekend's drama a tough act to follow


Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 12, 2004 at 11:39 p.m.

Pardon me while I re-focus my eyeballs. After two days of watching NFL playoff games that had everything, Monday morning was more numbing than usual.

And the Colts just scored again.

The NFL put its best teams on display Saturday and Sunday and gave us pure drama. We had coaches making dumb decisions, big plays and bad plays, nail-biting finishes, two games that couldn't be completed in their allotted time, questionable calls by officials and amazing performances.

And the Colts just scored again.

I'm not sure what the NFL can do for an encore. It's difficult to believe the conference championship games can match what we saw this weekend, but it was the perfect antidote for those of us experiencing college football withdrawal.

Even if you are a college fanatic, even if you kept thumbing the remote looking for Herbstreit and Corso to break down the East-West game, even if you spent part of your two days off watching ESPN Classic's re-broadcast of the two national championship games, you had to be impressed with what transpired in the league they call "The King."

And the Colts just scored again.

You wished you could have been at one of these incredible games even if it meant wearing so many layers of clothes you would have looked like RalphieRandy in "A Christmas Story."

To see the Panthers stun the Rams in a dome where they never lose. To see Mike Martz, genius at large, sit on the ball with time to win the game and settle for overtime, only to see his decision eventually eliminate St. Louis.

To see the frustration on Dick Vermeil's face because his defense could not even slow down Peyton Manning for more than one play in a row.

To see Donovan McNabb's fourth-and-26 pass with the game on the line.

To see Adam Vinatieri do it again, kicking a frozen ball 46 yards and seeing it duck over the crossbar.

My television right now is suffering from low self-esteem, that's how often I yelled in its direction. When that dope Dan Dierdorf said that the Chiefs had to punt and everyone else knew they couldn't, that if they did they might as well move to France and throw their arms up in surrender.

When Green Bay coach Mike Sherman didn't go for the first down against a defense that had shown it was incapable of stopping the Packers' running game.

When Green Bay didn't cover the seam route on fourth-and-26.

When Carolina's Steve Smith got behind the defense.

When Tennessee got the ball in great field position with a chance to win the game.

When Dante Hall got a head of steam going at about the 40-yard line and you knew he was gone.

It was an amazing weekend, and now we are left with two intriguing matchups.

The unstoppable Colts against the stop sign that is New England's defense.

The improbable Panthers against the perennial runners-up in Philadelphia.

We thought we might see the Patriots, a team just two years removed from winning a Super Bowl. The Eagles, once they got inspiration from Rush Limbaugh, are playing like we expected. Indianapolis had to win a playoff game or two eventually, right?

So the real surprise is the Panthers, a team nobody expected to win its division, not with the mighty Bucs defending their Lombardi Trophy. Not only did Carolina win the NFC South, it did so easily, with hardly a protest from anybody else in the division.

Then, the Panthers eliminated Bill Parcells and Mike Martz, making them the poster team for anyone rooting against the insufferable.

And so, we move on without Brett Favre. But that was his fault anyway for throwing that ridiculous pass/punt in overtime. Without Marshall Faulk, because his coach let him down. Without Eddie George and Steve McNair. Without Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez. Without one of the big market teams because none of them showed up for the regular season.

Instead, we have Charlotte, Indianapolis, Foxboro and Philly. We have a coach known for defense orchestrating the best offense in the league. Maybe Tony Dungy did know what he was doing in Tampa Bay.

We have the potential for great stories during Super Bowl week whether it's Manning and Dungy, Bill Belichick's return to the big game, McNabb's redemption or the amazing emergence of Jake Delhomme.

And we have the player who is absolutely stealing money in the playoffs.

His name is Hunter Smith.

He is the Indianapolis punter.

He has yet to punt in the playoffs.

And the Colts just scored again.

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear Pat weekdays from 4-5 p.m. on WGGG 1230-AM in Gainesville and WMOP 900-AM in Ocala.

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