Sports commentary that's more athletic than the players!

DEF "Tackles" the 1999 Football Season!
by DEF

The wait is over, sports fans – it's time to bring the old bearskin out of cold storage and get ready for another exciting year of NFL action! The American pastime is hotter than ever, and things look like they're really going to heat up as we head toward the Big Game: the Super Bowl of course! There have been so many gigantic changes in the NFL in the past year, and it's anyone's game. Last year's champion Denver Broncos have lost both their head coach and star quarterback to arbitration, and so it really remains to be seen who will come out ahead. This article will give you everything you need to know to prepare for the most exhilarating season since the underdog Cowboys beat the fearsome Redskins in '93! Go long!

The season got off to a thrilling start last week with many winners and losers, the most surprising of which was the Seahawks' heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears in double overtime. The Hawks were playing to win, but they couldn't pull it off against Mike Singletary's "wall of steel" defense line. Singletary has proven himself to be the best coach the Bears have had since Halas (sorry, Mr. Ditka), with three consecutive seasons of increasingly impressive wins. Last season they finished up 25-7, leaving me to speculate that they could be in contention this year, with a lot of drive and focus. Tight end Walter Payton, Jr. is unfortunately out for the season, suffering from the same kidney ailment that is plaguing his father, so our prayers are with them both as we look to another winning season.
 
The team to really watch this year is the St. Louis Browns, recently re-re-located from Cleveland and playing in the brand new Checkerdome 2000, financed in part by media magnate Rupert Murdoch with rumored Nazi gold. The Browns are boasting the best front-line since the '68 Heliocentrics (later renamed the Steelers). John Elway will lead the pack fresh off his last-minute trade from the Penguins, and together with passing receiver J.J. "Sousaphone" Jones, you couldn't ask for a better battery to charge up the Browns. Their disappointing finish in last year's wild-card derby (they went 2 for 7) might stand a chance at redemption if coach Kenny Loggins can keep them on track. Loggins is struggling in the position and hasn't had much support from the local sports media, but objectively I'd have to say that he's doing a great job, and might yet prove to be as good at winning Super Bowls as he is at garnering Grammy Awards.

Most of the pundits agree on one thing: the team to beat is Indianapolis. Though they lost a hotly contested championship to the Broncos last year, their previous four consecutive Super Bowl Crowns give them an added edge. Head coach John Madden is out, and none other than JOE NAMATH is in for his first season as a coach. Namath's reputation precedes him, and needless to say, Pacers fans are very excited to have Mr. Sunshine in charge of the Indy crew. Preseason workouts have led many press agents to declare this year's Pacers the biggest, brightest, and strongest team since the New Orleans Night of '57. The Night may be no more, but their legacy lives on in similarly abstract team names like the San Diego Chivalry, the Miami Fun, and the Ontario Belief System. None of these teams are in serious contention for a set of Super Bowl rings, however – but this is to be expected, as expansion teams rarely develop into champions until at least five years after they are added to the league, so give 'em time.

Shake-ups in management have affected several teams that were previously considered to be among the most bankable organizations in the league. The Nationals have been merged with the 49'ers to form a huge team that has not yet been named (the inside scoop is that they will be called the Doublebacks). NFL rules do not specifically prohibit double-sized teams from taking the field against regular-sized opponents, but obviously many coaches are up in arms about this situation. When you think about it, 19 to 9 is hardly a fair game. But at least this is far from the gimmickry of the new USFL-2's Milwaukee McCartneys, which not only uses double-sized teams, but only recruits players bearing a passable resemblance to the famous former Beatle. Needless to say, they have a terrible record so far in preseason play, and they're just another reason that purists like me wish that the game would return to its roots (especially the leather helmets). Some teams are so desperate for ticket sales that they've taken to WWF-style theatrics like exploding 50-yard-line mines and snipers hidden in skyboxes. The recent tragedy at the Arizona game, wherein four members of the marching band were picked off by one of these league-endorsed ruffians, should illustrate how that sort of notoriety is not doing the sport any good.

Fans are looking forward to a long year, with 40 additional games added on to the season to compensate for the "missing seasons" of '96 and '97 being shortened to 3 games each by a series of strikes and mergers. The prospect of interleague play has also got people excited, and the entire month of January has been set aside for these events. The NFL will be taking on the USFL-2, NHL, NBA, and ABA Reunion Tour teams, with a special three-day weekend given to the expository debut of the WFL (Women's Football League), with five teams competing for the top honors. Due to poor turnout at last season's exposition weekend, the GFA (Gay Footsieball Association) will not be returning this year, although there are several scheduled games to be held regionally. The different rules of Footsieball, which encourage cooperation rather than competition, seemed to confuse mainstream American fans, though the dedicated cult audience is definitely there.

Sizing things up, I'm going to have to predict the Boston Umpteenths for the championship this year, in a narrow victory over the equally skilled Puerto Rico Ricky Martins (formerly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). The Patriots are looking good, led by John McEnroe Jr., but there are far too many opportunities for them to have a catastrophic bus crash during their rigorous road schedule to actually peg them to go the distance. But don't count out Buffalo, who have consistently had excellent gambling averages despite mediocre play. Sometimes it seems like they are intentionally throwing games, but football diehards like myself never believe negative hype.

The NFL will celebrate two momentous careers this year, as "Mean" Joe Greene starts what he has said will be his final season. After 51 years in the NFL, we will definitely miss ya, Joe! Good luck to you in bowing out gracefully. The other, less graceful career being noted this year is that of Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson, who shocked everyone with his announcement this spring that he would be returning to football as the quarterback of the L.A. Rams. Hopefully the Rams will have the perspicacity to remove all sharp objects from the locker room, because I hear O.J. is a very sore loser! Just kidding, Orenthal, it's great to have you back and we're looking forward to another tremendous year.

Well that's it, football fans! Be sure to download a copy of my "DEF Unofficial Playbook '99" which has bios and gossip about every player in the NFL and USFL-2, as well as my predicted statistics for all 17,139 players. Remember, if you can get closer than I do to predicting all the statistics with accuracy, you may win a chance to see the SUPER BOWL on June 19, 2000 – to be held this year in Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the Las Vegas Grin.

© 1999 The Loud Bassoon