Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Omar Being Isiah and the Mets Being the Knicks

I'm sure everyone is well aware of Omar Minaya's bizarre press conference yesterday where he calls out NY Daily News Mets beat writer Adam Rubin as someone who wanted to be a Met executive during Tony Bernazard's firing announcement. When pressed by Rubin, Omar played the "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" card, which Rubin rightfully accused Minaya of questioning his motives for reporting on Bernazard's tirades with the Mets minor league players and Francisco Rodriguez. The fact is, Rubin was correct in calling out Bernazard's behavior because it was embarrassing, and he was correct in that aspect as well. The underlying theme of this story has become how Minaya has started to turn the Mets into the Isiah-era Knicks.

Now, before I continue, let's state the fact that the Mets have at the very least played competitive baseball, which the Knicks didn't do. However, the NBA doesn't let you just pick up any player from free agency, while baseball does. Thus, the Mets are capable of picking up guys like Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, giving the impression of a good team. However, this season has shown us the failures of the Minaya-era as an organization and that you can't just keep throwing money to solve a problem, especially if you won't go full bore into throwing money. That was the story of the 1980s Yankees and it led to George Steinbrenner being banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent in order to win a pissing match with Dave Winfield (which he lost).

Back in 2004, the Mets were a mess. The 2000 NL pennant seemed like it was ancient and an the failures of the Art Howe era were taking shape. Then, the infamous Scott Kazmir-Victor Zambrano trade occured and almost immediately, was deemed a failure that would rank with Nolan Ryan, Amos Otis and Tom Seaver. It was then when the Wilpon's hired Omar Minaya to rebuild the Mets. It was immediate change as he went after Carlos Beltran, the most sought after hitter in free agency and Pedro Martinez and signed them. The Mets bounced back to 83-79 in 2005, then continued improvement with Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes to a division title in 2006. Little did anyone know that this would be the peak for the Mets under Minaya.

After breezing past the Dodgers in the Division Series, they faced a less-than stellar Cards team in the NLCS. Two games I will remember in that series as Game 2 was a crushing loss when Billy Wagner gave up a homer to So Taguchi and then were shutout in Game 3 by Jeff Suppan. Eventually, this series went seven and despite one of the greatest catches by Endy Chavez, Yadier Molina of all people hit a 9th-inning homer to win it. The following season, the Mets looked like they were going to make up for the playoff loss, but then started the first of an annual tradition of collapses in September. After last season, it was pivotal for Minaya to shake this team up that continued to fall apart. Instead, he left them completely bare in the farm system and now they can't make any trades.

To be fair, the injuries the Mets have had are devastating. Any team who loses three of their best four players and have to depend on Gary Sheffield at age 40 for their power is in trouble. Also, their farm system was depleted from the Johan Santana trade. Unfortunately, they haven't done a good job with the farm before and after the trade and have also got rid of plenty of players that would be huge for this team today. Heath Bell should still be in a Mets uniform, instead of being traded for a bag of balls. Then, he would be the closer and the money used on K-Rod could be used on another hitter. Xavier Nady shouldn't have been traded, he was a quality bat with a gritty edge; the type of player who is plentiful with the Phillies. Also, the Nady led to the enigma that is Ollie. Speaking of him, the Mets should of never resigned Oliver Perez this offseason; they should of paid the extra price for Derek Lowe, a proven commodity.

Omar Minaya got the job mainly because of his work with the Expos before they moved to Washington. Even though the team was on the cusp of contraction, the trade that I always remember was the Bartolo Colon trade which the Expos gave up Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips. Thus, I believe his reputation was inflated to begin with. He did what he set out to do, he made the Mets relevant, even had them a game from the World Series. However, the way the franchise turned, with the September chokes, the way in which they fired Willie Randolph, the Bernazard mess, players complaining about team doctors and now the war of words between Rubin and Minaya.

Back in 2003, the Knicks were in the same scenario when they fired Scott Layden because his years, the Knicks a bland boring team full of undersized forwards and an albatross of a contract for Allan Houston. Then they hired Isiah and he turned them from boring to embarrassment. That's what it seems like the Mets have done. Now it's time to let Omar go or take a chance that more bad can happen with the team. Perhaps the words "truck party" will be uttered again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Issue of Legalized Sports Betting

Today, all four sports leagues and the NCAA have sued to ban Delaware from legalizing sports betting. Now, Delaware is one of four states that are allowed to have sports betting, along with Nevada (obviously), Oregon, and Montana since they had sports gaming laws in the books before Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992, officially banning states from starting gaming laws. Since then, Nevada has been the one state to have sportsbooks, while all other wagering have been through bookies, either traditional bookies or Internet gaming sites.

Then, Delaware's Gov. Jack Markell led the charge to legalize sports betting in his state and it was approved, despite opposition from the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and the NCAA. Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey has now lobbied to have all states have betting on games, mainly since Atlantic City would be the biggest victim if Delaware is successful in doing this. The sports leagues don't want more gaming because they believe that would garner more of a microscopic view of each and every call.

To be fair, the leagues have a point, every call will be looked at more closely if more people are betting. However, I believe it's easier to control sports betting if it's legal and there will be added tax revenues because people love to gamble. So, I'm hoping that one day, I can go to a place in New York that will take sports bets as easy as it is to place horse bets at OTB, or the very least, drive to a casino in Atlantic City, Delaware, or Connecticut at an official sportsbook.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shanahan to the Chiefs says 4 Games for Vick

Since I christened "Shanahan to the Chiefs", finally Chris Mortensen has a story that can be another to his list of misses. Apparently, he and Sal Paolantonio are reporting that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might suspend Michael Vick for four games after serving two years in prison for dogfighting. He would get to take part in training camp if any team signs him. Now, just like Brett Favre, I'm against reporting on Michael Vick. However, now that Chris Mortensen is reporting this as a possibility, I'm hoping Vick either gets no games or 8+ games suspended, though if Vick isn't signed in the NFL and plays in the UFL, this report really doesn't mean anything.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great Giants and Jets What Ifs

The one thing that's easy to notice in my original What If article is that the Giants and Jets weren't really included. This isn't to think that neither team had any less important What Ifs than anyone else. It's because I can come up with many what if scenarios for both franchises since 1984. I've decided to limit it to three each to avoid a particularly long column, meaning I had to cut out a bunch of what ifs, such as "What if Doug Brien could make a field goal in the playoffs against Pittsburgh in 2004" or "What if Plaxico Burress didn't shoot himself last year." So let's begin with the Giants since the Jets history is littered with them.

3. What if Bill Parcells doesn't quit as Giants head coach in May 1991?

Following the Super Bowl winning season of 1990, Bill Parcells took his time deciding his future with the Giants, before resigning on May 15, 1991. The Giants picked offensive coordinator Ray Handley to replace him as coach. The result of this was the immediate fall of the Giants as overnight, the defense aged, Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms couldn't get a handle on the starting QB job and Ray Handley just stood there emotionless and perplexed on the sidelines. For Giants fans, he was Joe Walton, Rich Kotite that Jets fans are all too familiar with. He even hired Rod Rust, the worst coach in NFL history as defensive coordinator. After going 14-18 in two seasons, he was fired and has not only never coached again, he has never spoke to the media again.

So what if Parcells didn't quit in May '91? Well there's two ways to look at this, either Parcells stayed or he left sooner after Super Bowl XXV. If he stays, they make one final Super Bowl run in '91 and he retires after the season. Then, they would be looking at a Bill Cowher, though there's a good chance they go with Handley again. But, if Parcells left a few days after the victory over the Bills, then the Giants would still have a chance to keep their defensive coordinator... you guessed it, Bill Belichick. He was hired by the Cleveland Browns a week after the win, but before the Giants played the Patriots, Gary Myers wrote that George Young preferred Handley over Belichick because of Belichick's well-known icy demeanor. However, he was popular amongst his defense and if him being coach extends their effectiveness as a unit, the Giants could have been good for a few more years into the 90s. Of course, the Ray Handley era does lead to what if number two.

2. What if Dan Reeves picked Jeff Hostetler over Phil Simms before the 1993 season?

When Dan Reeves replaced Ray Handley for the 1993 season, he knew he had to decide on Hostetler and Simms. Keeping both of them for the '91 and '92 seasons and having them compete for the starting job was bad for both of them. It's never good to have two quarterbacks, because the pressure to perform or be yanked can be too great. Reeves decided to keep Simms for '93 and the Giants responded to an 11-5 season, and almost won the NFC if it wasn't for the Emmitt Smith Game (they wouldn't have beat that Cowboys team in the playoffs if they played them in the Meadowlands anyway). Simms earned Pro Bowl honors, but did most of his work late in '93 with a sore shoulder. Even though Simms underwent surgery that offseason, he still was set to play the 1994 season when the Giants cut him the day after the Rangers Cup win. This led to the Giants rushing the Dave Brown era, arguably the worst QB era in history and that history includes Joe Pisarcik; along with an four year period where there was no star player since Simms and LT were gone.

The less obvious question is what if Reeves picked Hostetler when determining who to keep between the two quarterbacks. Hostetler played his best during his time taking over for Simms since he had job security and that's also what he had with L.A./Oakland Raiders when he signed there. I'm sure his stats would have been similar to what he did in L.A. in 1993, and he led them to a second round playoff appearance, like the Giants did. Most importantly, Hostetler would have been the QB for all four years that Dan Reeves was there and maybe Reeves would of lasted longer than the four years. The Dave Brown era wouldn't have happened in New York as the Giants eventually trade him somewhere else and becomes another team's embarrassment. By the time Hostetler retires, the Giants would be able to draft someone new or sign Kerry Collins like they did.

1. What if Jeremy Shockey catches the dropped touchdown pass when the Giants collapsed in San Francisco?

I think this is the obvious number one though one would think that I would argue about the fateful last play. However, this touchdown would have ended this game and continued a bounce back season. After being one of the first year-after Super Bowl loser slump teams that we have seen lately, the Giants were showing signs of rebounding in 2002. They started slowly, but when Jim Fassel took over calling offensive plays, the Giants won seven of their last nine to make the playoffs. Kerry Collins threw for over 4,000 yards; Tiki Barber had nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage scoring 11 TD's; Amani Toomer had his finest year as a pro with 82 catches, 1,343 yards and eight TD's and despite only two touchdowns, Shockey gave the Giants a lethal dynamic at tight end during his rookie year, which Giants fans loved, hearkening back to the days of Mark Bavaro.

Following a rugged defensive struggle with the Eagles which the Giants barely won, the Giants went to San Francisco to face the 49ers. Despite a Terrell Owens early touchdown, the Giants offense started to score with ease and the Giants were up 35-14 when Shockey dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone. The Giants kicked a field goal to make it 38-14, and the Niners came roaring back to take a 39-38 lead off an unusually weak defense that season that the numbers didn't show. Everyone remembers the last play as the Giants achilles heel, field goal kicking, appeared and the non-call for pass interference ended the game. The following season, a Brian Westbrook punt return for a touchdown started a slide that ended Fassel's seven-year run with the Giants. It also resulted in a clean house as Tom Coughlin was hired, Kerry Collins was cut and the Giants made the move for Eli Manning. This loss set the stage for the Giants Super Bowl win in 2008.

So what if Shockey catches that pass and makes the score 42-14? Well, the Niners would have not finished the comeback, or at the very least, it goes to overtime. Then again, maybe the Giants stay aggressive on offense and the games ends at a 52-35 type score. After the win, the Giants would face the Bucs and lose when Collins plays awful against the Bucs defense, shades of the Super Bowl XXXV loss. However, Fassel is definitely in better shape for the 2003 season without a monumental collapse hanging over his head and the Giants probably don't fall apart like they did that season. Which also means they aren't in the Eli Manning sweepstakes. Shockey's career turns out better, since he hasn't been the same after that game. However, the Giants don't win Super Bowl XLII because this would be a time that the Giants would get a new quarterback to replace Collins. That QB could be any of Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Matt Leinhart or Vince Young, among some of the recent first rounders at the position. Honestly, as a Giant fan, I don't regret the Niner game because it sets up the latest run of Giants success, something the Jets haven't had.

3. What if the Jets actually made the right draft pick instead of the wrong one?

Then we don't have this video. But for fun, let's see who the Jets missed out on during each draft shown. In 1980, they could of picked Art Monk instead of Johnny Lam Jones; Freeman McNeil was a fair pick in '81; obviously Dan Marino should of went over Ken O'Brien. You never pick a fullback in the first round, while they let Christian Okoye pass to Kansas City. Steve Atwater and Andre Rison should be ahead of Jeff Lageman, Emmitt Smith over Blair Thomas, Chester McGlockton and Levon Kirkland over Johnny Mitchell and as evident in the video, Warren Sapp over Kyle Brady are the remaining players they missed.

2. What if Chad Pennington doesn't injure his rotator cuff during Week 9 of the 2004 season?

Chad Pennington's career was bouncing back in 2004. He led the Jets to the second round in 2002, but then started 2003 injured and the Jets plummeted to 6-10. Pennington was healthy in 2004 and was given a contract extension and proceed to give the Jets a fast start to the season, going 5-0. During a Week 9 loss to Buffalo, he tore his rotator cuff and missed the next three games. Quincy Carter took over at QB and the team went 2-1, but when Chad returned, it seemed that his shoulder wasn't fully healed and the Jets struggled down the stretch to a 10-6 record. They were lucky to win in San Diego when the Chargers played "Martyball", but lost to the Steelers when Herm Edwards played Martyball. Since then, Pennington has continued as a roller coaster ride with even years playing well and odds playing poor or hurt (and if you think this will effect my Dolphins preview, you're right.

So what if Pennington stays healthy for the 2004 season? I don't think it changes their 2004, maybe they beat Pittsburgh, but they don't beat New England. However, if he's not hurt, his 2005 outlook changes completely. If he plays a full season, the Jets aren't 4-12. As a matter of fact, I think they beat a down Pats team for the AFC East, who only won because the Jets and Bills were awful and the Fins were one of those second half surprises. They host a wild card game against the Jaguars and win, before losing to the Broncos in Denver. Most importantly, the injury weakened an already weak throwing arm and without it, I certainly see Pennington still with the Jets, though the team is more like the Eagles of recent memory since the AFC still has the Pats, Colts and Steelers as the dominant teams.

1. What if Dan Marino doesn't fake spike the Jets on Nov. 27, 1994?

The backstory of this game is interesting. The Bills were finally vulnerable in the AFC East after the four Super Bowl losses and were in second with a 6-5 record. The Patriots won two in a row and improved to 5-6, tied with the Colts for last place. After a 7-2, the Dolphins dropped their next two to come down to 7-4. And low and behold, the Jets, under first-year head coach Pete Carroll had recovered from a three-game losing streak to a 6-5 record and second in the division. They faced Miami and lead 24-6, when Marino led a comeback and scored the final touchdown on the infamous fake spike play, winning 28-24. The Jets didn't win another game in 1994 and fired Carroll after the 6-10 finish. Then they hired Rich Kotite, a man who was fired after overseeing the Eagles lose their last nine games in that same season and went 4-28 in those two years.

So what if the Jets beat the Dolphins? They would have tied Miami at 7-5 with four games left with the Pats and Bills at 6-6. The Jets certainly don't lose to Houston and they should beat the Lions at home and if they beat the Pats in New England, they win the AFC East. If they lose, they are a wild card team visiting Cleveland. Even if they don't beat Detroit, they still finish 8-8 and Pete Carroll is still coaching the Jets in 1995. He then gets to prove himself in his first stint as coach, instead of becoming a wash out in the NFL with New England and the best coach in college football this decade. However, the Bill Parcells era likely doesn't happen, since the Tuna has been known to take on teams from rock bottom (i.e. New England, Miami). The Rich Kotite years led to Parcells, and Parcells led to the best season for the Jets since Joe Namath was predicting football games.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

MLB Recap and Re-Picks

Tonight's the MLB All-Star Game and it gives everyone a redo of their preseason picks. Like most baseball writers and bloggers, I have some picks I'm proud of and many that I was completely wrong about. If anyone would like to read the preview edition in it's entirety, here it is. Of my eight award picks, Pujols is right, Halladay could be Cy Young and Santana and Wieters need great second-halfs to have any chance to win NL Cy and AL ROY, respectively.

The playoff pick I want back is Cleveland for obvious reasons, but the Royals, Mets and Cubs have disappointed me. The Giants I thought could contend, but didn't think the Wild Card would of been in play. I'm satisfied with my AL East picks now that the Rays have played better and have as good a chance to win. I undersold how much better the Tigers and Mariners would be and glossed over the Rangers, who have played well. In the NL, the Phillies and Dodgers are where I thought and the Cards and Brewers have played as I expected as well. With that said, here are five fearless predictions for baseball's second half.

1. The Blue Jays will not trade Roy Halladay. J.P. Ricciardi has said he will shop the best pitcher in the American League, but I can't see the Jays get fair value for him in the regular season. They are going to want four premium players/prospects, maybe a fifth and though it will be easier to get this season when he has a year left on his contract, I still can't see them sell it to the good people of Toronto. Honestly, if I'm a Blue Jays fan, I'd stop showing up to games if they trade him and maybe never return. Hockey season doesn't start until October and in Toronto, its 24/7 like baseball in New York.

2. Albert Pujols will win the Triple Crown. Prince Albert has sustained a big enough HR lead to not have to continue his pace and a Triple Crown is more memorable than a run at the HR record. The average is the only thing low, but I think Pujols will up it to .345 and Hanley Ramirez will drop his average. His great play will eventually lead to a NL Central title in St. Louis and return to the postseason for Tony La Russa and friends.

3. The axe will fall for both the Mets and Yankees. Even though injuries are killing the Mets, Jerry Manuel will be blamed for the season. Also, Joe Girardi will be fired as well by the Yankees because I don't think they can get past the first round; if they even make the playoffs. For some reason, I still think Omar Minaya and Brian Cashman will be saved this year, even though they deserve to go with their managers.

4. Seattle and Texas will just miss the playoffs. The Mariners and Rangers have been competitive with the Angels this season, but I don't see them beating out the Halos, now that their offense is clicking and the pitching has become healthier. As for more teams that will be on the outside, the Braves, Brewers, White Sox and Twins also just miss. I also think the Yankees will get passed by the Rays for the AL Wild Card

5. The Cubs will bounce back from a poor first half to make the playoffs. Chicago will make the playoffs as predicted and join the Cards, Phillies and Dodgers as the Giants fail to trade for a hitter and fall short with the Rockies. The AL will have the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers and Angels in the playoffs. Now, my World Series will include the Red Sox and the Dodgers and have Manny's return to Fenway. In a tough six game series, Los Angeles beats Boston.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Tale of Two Warriors

I wasn't planning on writing a blog post on Steve McNair's death. I used Twitter to break the news and showcase a YouTube clip. I thought the MSM did good work and I saw both angles on how his death is treated by the great Dan McGowan of Dan's Take and football guru Teddy Repantis from Sorts of Sports. However, now that Arturo Gatti died over the weekend and the circumstances on his death are similar, I felt compelled to write something.

I'll start with McNair, the more we hear about the way he died, the more we will have people who will either demonize him for being unfaithful to his wife and wish to remember him in a negative way, or they will remember him like I do, as a warrior of the football field, who left every limb out there trying to win. I understand why people demonize him for dating a 20-year-old, but this isn't new in sports and I am a believer that athletes should be able to live their own lives, particularly when he's retired.

The reason his death was a big deal was from his years on the field with the Oilers/Titans and Ravens. He was a gutsy player who never got the recognition for his achievements and his tough play throughout his career, which is a shame. He was the toughest QB during his era, tougher than Brett Favre. Favre may have made every start, but McNair took more punishment because of the physical nature of his game. After a great career at Alcorn St. (leading to the third pick in the 1995 NFL Draft), he established himself in the NFL during the Titans Super Bowl run. One of the plays I will always remember from him was his 51-yard run against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game to the Jacksonville 1 and followed up with a touchdown run.

In the Super Bowl, he led the Titans to a 16 point comeback, then drove the Titans down the field after a quick Kurt Warner touchdown pass. The other play I will remember is his Houdini-like escape with about 15 seconds left to find Kevin Dyson at the 10, setting up the most dramatic last play in NFL history; one that the Titans ultimately lost. After the Super Bowl loss, he would continue good seasons with the Titans, including sharing MVP with Peyton Manning in 2003 and after leaving, he led the Ravens to a AFC North title in 2006 and retired the following year.

As for Arturo Gatti, boxing fans will remember him for being one of the greatest warriors in recent memory as well as putting together wildly-entertaining matches. And in boxing, that is just as important as winning, maybe more. Winky Wright, for example, will never be thought of as highly as Arturo Gatti because his matches were mind numbing, despite his wins over Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad. Gatti helped resuscitate boxing this decade with his trilogy with "Irish" Micky Ward when most fans had become cynical of the sport and the quality of fighter had declined (and still down with respect to the heavyweights). I forget where I read this when someone mentioned that Gatti helped revitalize the Atlantic City boxing scene since he fought most of his fights there. During the 1980s, Mike Tyson fought many bouts in Boardwalk Hall, but the site was down until the last two Gatti-Ward matches there.

It seems that unlike McNair, no one will criticize Gatti's lifestyle, though since boxing is down (even I made the turn to UFC last week and I loved it), no one will really care about Gatti after a few days. There still is a mystery why he was killed, if it is in fact, his wife who strangled him. Still, I feel it would be remiss not to give "Thunder" Gatti the McNair treatment after he was such a crowd favorite for the past decade. I find it kind of interesting though that the two best out of nowhere fights of the decade were Gatti-Ward I and Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I and now Corrales and Gatti are no longer with us, which is very pro wrestling-esque.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What If Sports for the Past 25 Years

Now that we are in the dog days of sports and some time before football season, I figured what better than to start my series of "What If" blog posts in the four major sports for the past 25 years. In addition to the four major sports, I'm also going to write "What Ifs" for each NY-area teams. Let's start with the NFL, since I have neglected the NFL for most of the live of this blog, which certainly won't be the case once the season starts. There are hundreds of "what ifs" that you can discuss.

Every game has a what if the other team won; every offseason has a what if some team didn't sign this guy. But here are the ten best what if questions that can be asked (excluding the Giants and Jets) since the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII.

10. What if the NFL didn't pick Carolina and Jacksonville as expansion cities in 1993?

After the NFL expanded in 1976 and added the Seahawks and Buccaneers, the NFL kept itself at 28 teams throughout the 1980s. In 1992, the NFL decided to expand to 30 teams, with Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Memphis, and St. Louis being the leading candidates for expansion. Now, I know what you're thinking, isn't the real what if question have to do with the Colts leaving for Indianapolis in 1984? While certainly a what if, Baltimore had their chance to regain a team for the 1995 season. Meanwhile, for much of the process, Charlotte, St. Louis and Baltimore were the favorites and Jacksonville almost dropped out and only stayed in the hunt at the urging of Paul Tagliabue and other top-NFL officials.

In October 1993, the Carolina Panthers were in business and the second team would come a month later. St. Louis was thought they were going to win and even sold "St. Louis Stallions" t-shirts, before the NFL voted to put a team in Jacksonville and the Jaguars were born. St. Louis was at that time building a domed stadium and became attractive to any teams looking to move. After Bob Kraft bought the Pats and kept them in New England, the Rams would make the move to St. Louis. Baltimore would do to Cleveland what Indy did to them and stole the Browns, while Memphis would be the first stop after the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee. Meanwhile, both the Panthers and the Jaguars have had more or less a mixed history of success both on-and-off the field.

I contend that if the NFL doesn't expand to Jacksonville, one of the teams that moved wouldn't have because I can't see any team going to Jacksonville. There, you compete with the Dolphins, Bucs and Falcons, as well as all the college football in the market. If they stay in Charlotte and expand to St. Louis, I think the Rams move to Nashville/Memphis and Houston perhaps stays. If Baltimore is the pick and not St. Louis, the Browns stay in Cleveland. I do think if Charlotte was the big loser, they would be in more of a position for relocation because it was a faster growing area and not as much to share in terms of football (it's more basketball territory). And finally, we avoid having a Super Bowl played in a city as bad for the Super Bowl as Jacksonville.

9b. What if the Tennessee Titans don't pull off the Music City Miracle against the Bills?

The Bills had just taken a 16-15 lead over the Titans in the first playoff game played in Nashville. What happened next was NFL history as Kevin Dyson took the lateral pass from Frank Wycheck and ran for the touchdown. This led to the Titans lone Super Bowl run and five years of relative success, while the Buffalo Bills haven't returned to the playoffs since. So what if the Bills won (whether the play doesn't work or ruled a forward pass)? Well, the Bills would then face the Colts in the Divisional Round, but other than that, Wade Phillips would of still had Rob Johnson start at QB the following season and actually would of been proven right if they won that game, after the controversy of benching Doug Flutie for Johnson in the playoff game. The Bills had a chance to reach the Super Bowl, since the Titans ended up beating both the Colts and Jaguars and Phillips more than likely is thought of as a much better coach. Of course, the Bills could flame out since Wade Phillips is the coach.

As for the Titans, this game ended a transitional period for this franchise, but if they lose, this team could have regressed to a mediocre team who may or may not make the playoffs. It also would appear to downplay the death of Steve McNair last Saturday as we wouldn't have seen him in that Super Bowl where he was famous.

9a. What if the Houston Oilers hold on to beat the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card game?

Every football fan is aware that the Houston Oilers blew a 35-3 lead to the Bills in Buffalo in the 1992 Wild Card and was seeming cosmic justice that the Titans beat the Bills in the Music City Miracle seven years later. However, if the Oilers don't blow the lead, I don't think there is a Tennessee Titans today. The Oilers would have moved on to Pittsburgh the following week after beating the Bills and knowing Bill Cowher's postseason record, Houston had a legit chance to win there. Who knows, the Oilers could of faced the Cowboys in an all-Texas Super Bowl showdown. As for after 1993, the Oilers don't hire Buddy Ryan because of a defensive collapse and no punching incident occurs, as well as the dysfunctional nature of that whole season that saw them become pariahs in Houston.

As for Buffalo, they get to avoid the embarrassment of losing four straight Super Bowls since they lose early, but I think history happens to treat the Bills better than one would think. I, for one, am of the mind that the Bills were usually the inferior team in these Super Bowls and rightfully lost. I also think it was a great accomplishment to go to four straight Super Bowls, which is difficult because if you win them all, the league wants to knock you off and the losers get demoralized (look at this decades Super Bowl losers year-afters, except Seattle). One of two things happen to the Bills, either they begin to decline or they avoid stagnation and take advantage of the early loss to improve the team to win.

8. What if Dan Snyder never bought the Redskins?

Jack Kent Cooke's death ended an era of dominance of Washington Redskins football and the Redskins since Snyder bought the team have been at best, inconsistent, and at worst, a joke. This team was never a downright awful, but every year, whenever free agency starts, Dan Snyder signs two or three name guys to huge deals and the Redskins go on and finish 8-8 or 7-9, something like that. He's made many puzzling coaching decisions such as firing Norv Turner after a 7-6 start in 2000, firing Marty Schottenheimer the following season and replacing him with Steve Spurrier. So what if Synder never bought the team?

The Redskins probably use free agency like everyone else, signs one big deal a year, and uses the draft, like you still have to do, to improve. It also leads to a better front office and not the owner or an old Joe Gibbs making all the decisions. And judging by the lack of quality in the NFC for this decade, the Skins perhaps make more than three playoff appearance and they definitely don't go through the Steve Spurrier era, meaning no Danny Wuerffel era or the Shane Matthews Band experiments.

7. What if the "tuck rule" didn't exist?

Here's the first one of these what ifs that effect championships. Going back to the 2001 AFC Divisional Game, the Raiders recovered an apparent fumble to solidify a win against the Patriots, when the play was overturned by review because of a little-known rule now infamously known as the Tuck Rule. The rule means that if the QB brings the ball back to him in a throwing motion and the ball comes out, it's an incomplete pass. Because of the rule, the Patriots kept the ball, tied it in regulation and win in overtime. They would then go on to win Super Bowl XXXVI and begin a dynasty.

As for if the rule didn't exist, the Raiders win after recovering the ball and they head to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game. After that, I believe the Raiders beat the Steelers in the Championship Game and go to the Super Bowl a year early. I don't think they beat the Rams as the Pats defensive gameplan was key, but a Super Bowl appearance keeps Jon Gruden in Oakland for the 2002 season, meaning the Bucs don't win the following Super Bowl, the Raiders do. Also the Raider franchise, as a whole, avoids becoming the train wreck of a franchise they have become though I'm sure Gruden would of been fired by Al Davis by now. I don't think the Pats were as effected as one would think because Tom Brady stays at QB and they probably play the 2002 season more hungry without a title. Adam Vinatieri on the other hand, loses his reputation as a clutch kicker, since his three biggest kicks occured in that playoff run, meaning he goes from possible hall of famer, to just another kicker.

6. What if Trent Green doesn't get injured in the 1999 preseason?

The Rams were due for big things in the 1999 season as they traded for Marshall Faulk, drafted Torry Holt and signed Trent Green. It seemed like the season was over before it started when Green injured his knee and was out for the season. This led to the rise of Kurt Warner, as he took over for Green and led the Rams to the Super Bowl championship. As Warner turned into America's underdog, Green continued an up-and-down career with the Chiefs and Dolphins.

If he didn't get hurt, he would of ended up with the underdog role, not Warner. People forget, Green was an eighth-round draft pick of San Diego, toiled as a backup, bounced around both the NFL and CFL before his breakout season with the Redskins in 1998, leading to his contract with the Rams. He also fit better with Dick Vermeil than Warner did, hence his success with the Chiefs during Vermeil's tenure there. As for Warner, he probably never gets a real chance to play and doesn't get to go to three Super Bowls and become America's favorite QB this side of Brett Favre. Speaking of...

5. What if Brett Favre doesn't beat the Bengals in Week 3 of the 1992 season?

After Don Majkowski got injured during a Week 3 game against Cincinnati, Brett Favre took over for Green Bay and lead them to a comeback victory over the Bengals, punctuated with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor. After that, Majkowski became Wally Pipp to Favre's Lou Gehrig, as Favre led the Packers to a winning season in '92, the playoffs in '93, and the Super Bowl in '96; not to mention the countless memories in the league since.

However, if the Packers didn't win that game, they drop to 0-3 and the Brett Favre legend doesn't start as hot as it did, and maybe he remains the failure in Atlanta. If that's the case, the Green Bay franchise never has the great run it had in the 90s. And what no one talks about, the Bengals would have been 3-0 under new coach David Shula and instead of being a poster child of nepotistic coaching hires, the Bengals continue a comeback season in 1992 and avoid the awful play this team has displayed since Mike Brown took over as owner after Paul Brown's death.

4. What if Joe Montana doesn't get hurt in the 1990 NFC Championship Game?

The Niners were winning 13-9 against the Giants when Leonard Marshall crushed Montana in the fourth quarter. The Giants would eventually win after LT recovers a Roger Craig fumble and Matt Bahr made the final of five field goals to win it 15-13, ending the three-peat hopes of San Francisco. Montana ended up spending the next two seasons injured; leading to Steve Young's ascension to the starting job and the unpleasantness of watching Joe Montana in the Chiefs uniform (actually the most successful Schottenheimer Kansas City teams)

However, if Montana stays healthy, you could argue that the 49ers would be more comfortable being a little more aggressive. I think that the gameplan they had would have happened whether it was Montana or Young playing behind center, meaning they'd run with a 13-12 lead. Young's career, however, would start a few years later and if he makes the Hall of Fame, it wouldn't be with San Francisco.

3. What if the Cowboys don't trade Herschel Walker to Minnesota during the 1989 season?

After the Cowboys 3-13 record in 1988, they were worse in 1989 during Jimmy Johnson's first year. Knowing Dallas needed a major makeover, Johnson put Walker on the trade block in 1989. Despite interest from the Giants, Cleveland and Atlanta, the Vikings offered eight draft picks and five players and the Cowboys gladly took it. Walker never played with the Vikings as well as he did with the Dallas, while the Cowboys became a champion in 4 years, using the picks to get Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson and used other picks for trades.

However, this trade doesn't happen if Dallas accepts Cleveland's offer of a player, two first rounders and three second rounders. The Browns were looking for another weapon for Bernie Kosar and maybe a different system would have benefitted Walker as well as setting up an interesting combo of him and Eric Metcalf at both RB and kick returner. As for Dallas, the haul they get for Herschel isn't as significant and might not yield the same windfall as the added players and picks did from Minnesota. Maybe the Dallas dynasty doesn't start until 1993 or 1994 and after that, the salary cap is more of a factor.

2. What if Drew Bledsoe doesn't get hurt by Mo Lewis after the second game of the 2001 season?

The Patriots were about to go to 0-2 when Lewis hit Bledsoe later in their game against the Jets, leading to unproven Tom Brady becoming the starter. The rest is history as the Pats won three of the next four Super Bowls. Now, I kind of discussed the Pats back when talking about the Tuck Rule, but I felt this is a more appropriate what if for the Patriots.

Anyway, if Bledsoe doesn't get hurt, the Patriots don't make the playoffs and have another year like 2000. The year before, the Pats were 5-11 and looked like they were going to continue dropping. Bill Belichick was in his second year there and wasn't ready to bench Bledsoe yet and I'm sure people in Boston wondered if Belichick was going to fail like he did in Cleveland. And he would of; either in 2001 or 2002, the Pats would of fired Belichick and we may not know who Tom Brady is. However, with a fired Belichick by 2002, he certainly could have rejoined Bill Parcells in Dallas and with Belichick as a defensive coordinator, the Cowboys would of had more success and for a bonus, maybe Belichick convinces Parcells to bring Brady to America's Team.

1. What if the 49ers didn't draft Jerry Rice in the 1985 NFL Draft?

The San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl after the 1984 season after going 15-1 during the season. No one thought the Niners needed to improve but Bill Walsh found an unknown receiver at Mississippi Valley State named Jerry Rice that he wanted to draft. Thus he traded his first two picks to the Patriots for the 16th pick to get Rice. The rest is history as the Niners picked up the greatest receiver in NFL history, whose records are Gretzky-like. I also believe it's the singular reason the San Francisco dynasty continued into the 90s.

So what if the Niners failed to draft him? Well there were two receivers drafted ahead of Rice; Al Toon and Eddie Brown. Both had their moments and were Pro Bowls, but neither guy was durable enough to last past 1992. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys were rumored to be interested in Rice and had the 17th pick (likely the reason the Niners traded up). It's obvious that if the Jets or Bengals drafted Rice earlier in the draft, they're teams would have been altered (each had franchise QB's at the time). If the Cowboys drafted him, Tom Landry would have coached past 1988 and if Jerry Jones still buys the team, he would work with Landry since the 3-13 season in 1988 season doesn't happen and perhaps the 1990's dynasty doesn't happen. If the Patriots hold the pick at 16 and take Rice, they have him and Irving Fryar teamed up and Tony Eason's life would be easier and they have a puncher's chance to beat the Bears in Super Bowl XX, instead of getting throughly whooped.

As for the 49ers, they're dynasty comes to an end in the next three or so years because Jerry Rice was the player that transformed this team and allowed them to go from Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon to Rice and John Taylor. Solomon played his last year in 1985, while Clark retired in 1987. Without Rice, maybe the Niners last until the end of Montana's career, but I can't see Steve Young continue it without his favorite weapon. Looking back, the possibilities of Rice not ending up in San Fran arguably effect six different Super Bowl champs and more that aren't directly related to the Niners, Cowboys, Pats and Bengals. That's what makes this the greatest "what if" of the past 25 years of the NFL.