"Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."
-- Mark Twain
I like Mark Twain. For folksy wisdom, he's hard to beat. But I've never been a big fan of that expression. And as I was watching the AFC wild-card game on Saturday night, I realized why: It's not true. At least not in the NFL.
Snow and cold may have stopped the armies of Hitler and Napoleon, but they won't slow down the Jaguars. Three weeks ago, the Jags pasted the Steelers in a blizzard when Fred Taylor rumbled for a season high in rushing yards. Last Saturday night's wild-card game was Maurice Jones-Drew's turn. In his first ever playoff game, Pocket Hercules had 168 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Not bad for a bunch guys from Sunny Florida.
Even if teams can stop their running backs, they still have to face David Garrard, who just might be the game's most underrated player. This season he had a higher quarterback rating than Peyton Manning, averaged more yards per completion than Brett Favre and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Matt Hasselbeck. Saturday night wasn't Garrard's best game. But on fourth-and-2 with the game in the balance, Del Rio called Garrard's number. That tells me something. That Garrard rumbled for more than 30 yards tells me even more. About him. And the Jaguars.
Now Jacksonville goes to New England to face the Patriots, whose most famous playoff moment came in a blizzard. Funny thing is, the NFL geography is upside down. I mean, the Patriots themselves aren't built for the cold. All those empty backfields and five-receiver sets. They're built to pass. And passing can be tricky in January in the Northeast. Wind, not snow or cold, is the enemy of passing games. I remember the 1962 NFL Championship Game in New York, where wind carried Y.A. Tittle's passes -- and the Giants' hopes of a title -- away.
The other thing I remember about the 1962 Championship Game was New York receiver Del Shofner putting cayenne pepper in his socks to generate some heat. I don't think it worked because he got skunked. Not a single catch all day.
I guess when it comes down to it, I'm more inclined to agree with Dante Alighieri than Twain. The deepest circle of Dante's Inferno doesn't burn. It isn't on fire; it's frozen. And in his final glimpse of Hell, Dante sees Satan upside down through the ice.
Upside down, through the ice. Kind of like the NFL geography this January, where the warm-weather Jags purr in the cold. Maybe Del Rio is a little suspicious of Twain, too.