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09-17-2004, 10:06 AM
link (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=fleming/040915)

Beware the NFL assumptions

The yellow truck looked like the thing Uma Thurman drove in "Kill Bill Vol. 1." When I pulled up to The Link a few hours before the start of the 2004 season, all I saw was one limp limb hanging over the back end of the cab. It was attached to the lifeless body of an overzealous Eagles fan who'd apparently partied a wee bit too much in anticipation of the 2004 season. (That, or he was left over from the last NFC title game.)

On closer inspection, I saw that his red face had a creepy, but calm, formaldehyde smile burned on by the afternoon sun. And like his new hero, T.O. (who was caught in traffic), this dude (let's call him Ralph) was in serious danger of missing kickoff ... in October.

This is what happens after Week 1 of each new NFL season. Across the league, everyone either parties or panics way too much. You're either 1-0, undefeated, looking good and heading to the playoffs, or you're 0-1, winless, in disarray and wondering how long 'til your coach gets canned and you get the No. 1 pick in the draft.

It's the football equivalent of the Fight or Flight response. It's the annual Week 1 Party or Panic response.

In Philly -- God love this place -- the normally surly football savants were downright giddy after T.O. caught three TD passes against the (They Might Be) Giants. You could almost hear Ralph's buddies extrapolating T.O.'s TD totals over the entire season ... eight ... carry the one ... add to the three ... 48 TDs!!!!!. Afterward, a revived Ralph and his friends were talking about having "the greatest offense this town has ever seen." And, realizing they've somehow been awarded the Cardinals schedule by accident, they began bragging how the "1972 Dolphins won't be sipping champagne this season."

This is definitely not the position the Eagles hoped Shawn Andrews would be in.
Never mind that the season-ending injury to guard Shawn Andrews leaves Philly dangerously thin up front, or what it says about the Philly front seven when the top three leading tacklers on Sunday were defensive backs. Forget, too, the hangover from three straight loses in the NFC title game -- a streak that one player confessed to me last year had the team worried about becoming the "NFC version of the Buffalo Bills."

Forget all that. Just give the 1-0 Eagles their damn Lombardi trophy now, block off Broad Street and let them have the parade before the weather turns nasty.

Reeelax, people. Pace yourself. Sit down. Take a deep breath. It's a long season.

Trust me, the Redskins aren't really that good. The Ravens aren't really that bad. The Chargers are still as strong as static electricity. These are not the 1964 Browns. And the Lions should look at their win against the Bears this way: "Cool! Now we're 1-24 on the road."

I hear people talking about the Kansas City-Carolina game this week as a "must-win situation" for both teams, and I want to jump into that yellow pickup truck and match Ralphie boy Natty Light for Natty Light. Yes, I'm well aware that only 10 teams in NFL history have come back from an 0-2 start to win their division. But, really, parity has made the races down the stretch so tight that the month of September is more like an extended version of the pre-season.

In 1980, the Detroit Lions started the season 4-0. Everyone in my hometown of Motown went nuts. A doofus safety named James 'Spiderman' Allen cut a cover of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Of course, the Motor City Kitties bit the dust in four of their last seven games and missed the playoffs. I threw out my Lions gear and never listened to another Queen song in my life. (So it wasn't a total loss.)

On the flip side of that, in 1996, I visited with new head coach Tony Dungy after he started 0-5 during his first season in Tampa. The 5-0 Vikes were coming to town, and even Dungy's son Eric had jumped ship on the Bucs and their long history of bushwhacked buffoonery. Dungy, though, didn't change a thing. He never turned a table over. Never raised his voice. Didn't show a single sign of panic. The great ones never do. (Are you listening, Tom "watch my cranium explode right here on the sidelines" Coughlin?)

The Bucs beat Minnesota 24-13 that week for Dungy's first W. His calm and consistent leadership during this stretch is still cited by his players as the beginning of the turn-around in Tampa.

Don't count Andy Reid and Brad Childress among the fans basking in Week 1 glory.
I can tell you there is no partying going on at Philly's practice facility this week. Responding to Donovan McNabb's eye-popping performance -- 26 of 36 (76 percent) for 330 yards, four TDs and a 137.5 passer rating -- Andy Reid called it a "nice day." Somebody get this red bull a Red Bull. By 1 p.m. on Monday, Philly's sharp offensive coordinator Brad Childress had already put the Giants game "to bed" and was busy inside his darkened office breaking down film on the Vikes.

Like the rest of us should, Childress and Reid remembered back to the start of last year when both the Patriots and the Birds were skunked in their season openers. Somehow, the world didn't end. Both teams made their conference title games.

The Vikes, on the other hand, started 6-0 and sat home in January.

"What if last year, the Patriots had said, 'OK, we're done, it's over' after losing (to Buffalo 31-0 in the 2004 season opener)," said New York Giants linebacker Kevin Lewis. "If we look at it like it's time to panic now, we'd be done for the season before it even began. I'm not sure how long you've been covering the league, but the last time a team went undefeated was in 1972."

Nearby, Jeremy Shockey stood by his locker wearing a yellow (one shade away from surrender, I suppose) bath towel as a doo-rag. He guaranteed that the next time these two teams meet, the game will be a lot closer. On the other side of the locker room, Tiki Barber was another picture of calm confidence.

"Coming in, we were using this game as a measuring stick," he said. "So now, we know what we have to do."

Yeah. Stay away from Ralph.

09-17-2004, 10:07 AM
If it's a repost, you can....bite me.