Try to find a reason to root against anyone in today's matchups


Workers clear the turf at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in preparation for today's NFC championship game.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 4:08 a.m.
Today brings us pro football's version of the Final Four and as far as I can tell it is the first time in the history of civilization that so many people are pining to spend February in Jacksonville.
The state of Pennsylvania hosts the pre-Super Bowl parties, one in Philly and the other in Pittsburgh, the snow coming at no extra charge.
The four teams who made it this far did it with defense, which should surprise nobody. After all, 14 of the last 16 Super Bowl winners have been in the top 10 in the NFL in defense. Today brings us the top three scoring defenses in the league but an Atlanta team that led the NFL in sacks.
For seven hours, assuming we skip the pre-game shows that will regurgitate all of the information we've been hearing all week, the TV is unflippable. You don't switch to see what else is on.
This is what's on.
And these two games have a lot of what we look for in sports drama.
There is just one thing missing.
The bad guys.
Come on, what's the fun of watching such a major event if there is not a team to pull against?
Negative rooting takes a holiday today.
What, you're going to cheer against the Patriots? You can't be serious.
OK, so New England is working on a dynasty and we usually pull for the underdogs. But this is a different kind of dominance. This has been done with a bunch of guys who, in the words of safety Rodney Harrison, always play like a bunch of fifth-round draft picks.
This is the ultimate team.
During the same span of Patriot prominence, the New York Yankees have spent a trillion dollars trying to win a World Series championship and have come up empty. The Yankees, now that's a team to root against.
But not the Pats.
Their coach may have the personality of a wet pretzel, but you find yourself liking a guy who dresses like he's on the way to the gym. Especially a coach who made the great Peyton Manning look like a high school quarterback.
And how can you not like Tom Brady? In college, he had to put up with Michigan fans who wanted Drew Henson to be the quarterback. There were questions when he took over for Drew Bledsoe. (I'm guessing he won't be naming his first son Drew).
All he's done is go 7-0 in the playoffs.
But it's not like the Patriots' opponent today is an easy team to pull against. The head coach is a maniac during games who, as Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly chronicled last week, would rather spend time with his daughters than take advantage of his mug.
The quarterback is a rookie. You're going to root against a rookie who lost his mother when he was young? I didn't think so.
Ever met Hines Ward, the Steeler receiver? Really good guy. The Bus, you're going to cheer for Jerome Bettis to fumble? Are you kidding?
But don't look to the NFC title game for villains. Randy Moss, after all, has already been eliminated.
Instead, we have the Falcons and Eagles. The Falcons, right, like anybody ever roots against the poor little Falcons.
A rookie coach, a no-name defense and the greatest running quarterback in history. What's not to like? And did we mention that Warrick Dunn just might be the single best person in all of organized sports?
That leaves us with Philly. But Terrell Owens still is out with an injury. The team isn't as good but the karma is better.
If you are searching hard for a team to cheer against, I guess Philadelphia would qualify only because of its fans. But don't you feel a little empathy for a team that has been this close to Super Bowl the last three years?
Wouldn't you like to see Donovan McNabb finally make it? And for you Florida fans this is the one team in the Final Four with a strong Gator connection in starters Lito Sheppard and Jevon Kearse.
Personally, I'd like to see Philadelphia make it to Jacksonville because defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had the same job with the 1985 USFL team in Jacksonville that I covered. And I'd like to see them make it for Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson's former caddy who died in April of Lou Gehrig's disease and was a huge Eagles fan.
But I've always been a closet Falcons fan. I mean, I would never wear a Michael Vick jersey, but I remember the days of Steve Bartkowski.
I'd like to see Pittsburgh make it to the Super Bowl. But gosh, I admire what New England has done.
No villains, no venom.
Still, it won't be boring.
You can reach Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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