Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 7:39 AM

NFL Conference Championship Sunday: Hail, Patriots! Hail, Eagles!

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Casual Football fans think Super Bowl Sunday is the most exciting day of the NFL season. But real fans know that day is conference championship Sunday.

(“NFL’s Historic Conference Championship Sunday,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 22, 2007)

Sure enough, this conference championship Sunday lived up to the hype.

AFC

Much to my chagrin, this earlier AFC game turned out to be the more exciting of the two. Of course, anyone familiar with my NFL commentaries knows that I think the Patriots are cheaters who too often prosper.

This explains the unbridled relish I displayed on the rare occasions when they got their comeuppance. I refer you to “Giants Stomp Patriots to Win Super Bowl XLVI 21-17,” February 6, 2012, and “NFL Sacks Brady as Court Reinstates Deflategate Suspension,” April 27, 2017.

Therefore, to say I wanted the Jaguars to win would be the understatement of the season. Unfortunately, those damned “Deflategate” cheaters prospered — again:

The New England Patriots were down 20-10 early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s A.F.C. Championship game. Little had worked for the Patriots all day, but like Tom Brady has so many times over the years, the 40-year-old quarterback kept his cool and led the Patriots to a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(New York Times, January 22, 2018)

Truth be told, I switched to FIS Alpine skiing after Brady led the Patriots on an 85-yard drive to close that early fourth-quarter gap to 20-17. I had seen this game before … too many friggin’ times.

Incidentally, USA skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin missed golden opportunities in Cortina d’Ampezzo, mirroring similar opportunities missed at other stops on the World Cup circuit this season. No doubt each will win a gold medal at next month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. But neither will sweep her events in Phelpsian fashion as hyped. I digress …

If you bought into the drama over Brady’s jammed finger (on his throwing hand no less), you’d probably buy into a time share in the Florida Everglades. I didn’t think for a minute that his “injury” was nearly as serious as the Patriots pretended. #Gamesmanship!

In fact, Brady was so much on form, he passed for 26 of 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns. What’s more, his game-winning pass to Danny Amendola has gone viral. Mind you, it took Amendola’s balletic athleticism to make it a touchdown catch. Yet Brady is getting all the credit.

Whatever the case, it will surely rival the touchdown Joe Montana threw to Dwight Clarke in the 1981 NFC championship game as the best catch in championship history.

Finally, superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski is Brady’s “go-to” receiver. But here is what I wrote about him after last year’s championship game, when yet another injury prevented him from even playing:

Apropos of hype, injury-prone, party-boy Rob Gronkowski is fast becoming to the Patriots what NBA player Derrick Rose became to the Bulls: all promise, no pay off. The Patriots proved this season they don’t need him, just as the Bulls proved they don’t need Rose.

Therefore, the Patriots would do well to trade ‘Gronk,’ just as the Bulls traded Rose.

(“NFL Conference Championship Sunday: Hail, Patriots! Hail, Falcons!” The iPINIONS Journal, January 25, 2017)

Sure enough:

Gronkowski was taken out with two minutes remaining in the first half of the of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Barry Church. …

At the start of the fourth quarter, the team announced Gronkowski would be out for the remainder of the game.

(Sports Illustrated, January 21, 2018)

All the same, I would bet my life savings he’ll be cleared to play in the Super Bowl on February 4. But it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll avoid another injury to play the entire game.

NFC

As indicated above, this game was not as exciting.

The Vikings scored on their opening drive, but it was all downhill from there as the Eagles scored 38 unanswered points.

(SBNation, January 21, 2018)

And I watched the whole thing. Not that I’m complaining. As a long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am thrilled they routed the Minnesota Vikings 38-7.

In doing so, they won their first berth to the Super Bowl since 2004. This ended 13 years during which I spent conference championship Sundays sounding sour notes like this:

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this day of Football revelry was undermined by the lingering sour taste of watching the Packers eliminate my team, the Philadelphia Eagles, from the playoffs two weeks ago.  Naturally, this was reason enough for me to root for the Bears to rout the Packers.

(“NFL Championship Sunday,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 24, 2011)

That said, I’m a little superstitious. Specifically, I fear writing anymore, and gloating unavoidably, will jinx them.

The only reason I watched this game is that I fully expected the Vikings to make a comeback. Perversely, watching that play out would have been as irresistible as watching a Donald Trump press conference, which invariably features him blurting out train-wreck gaffes.

Frankly, it seemed incomprehensible to me that backup quarterback Nick Foles would succeed where superstars like Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford failed.

In fairness to Foles, though, nobody thought the Eagles would advance beyond the first week of the playoffs. Carson Wentz, our latest Brady in the making, dashed all hopes after he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 14 of the regular season. Yet here we are.

But my superstition is such that I’m not even going to watch the Eagles soar over the Patriots to win their first Super Bowl trophy in team history!

Go Eagles!

Related commentaries:
NFL conference championships
Deflategate
Championship Sunday

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