I'm not a witch, I am just like you ... a football fan at heart

My name is Dave, and I'm a football fan.

If that sounds like a confession or apology, it isn't. I'm just stating a fact -- a fact that, until last week, I would've thought both obvious and essential for someone contributing to NFL.com.

Last week, as part of my list-a-palooza column, I -- an unapologetic Steelers fan -- ranked the top half-dozen quarterbacks I'd want under center for a big game. Here's how it looked:

The responses from you, the reader, ranged from accusatory to outraged. Sure, there were people who agreed with my assessment ... but they were in the minority. Take a look at some of the bon mots that appeared in the comments section on NFL.com.

» Manningbeatsbrady: Roethlisberger the best clutch quarterback?! Talk about the ultimate homer article!
» Kevatkinson07: You are a biased steelers fan. to say that manning is not the best or even tom, you are blinded by your love for the dirtiest team in football.
» Chinookers111: He is a Steelers fan, his credibility with this article is shot.
» Jwpullen: Where the he'll did this guy come from? Did his teenager steal his laptop and write this? Rothlesberger? Jeez.
» Jarbeez: Dave, you have just exposed yourself as a fan and not a football expert. You have just lost all credibility as an expert, and are obviously a Colts/Peyton Manning hater.

First of all, I'm not a Manning hater. He's never inflicted any significant pain on my team. Besides, I thought he was very funny on "Saturday Night Live." I've also repeatedly pointed out that while I think Ben Roethlisberger the football player is swell, I'm not a fan of Ben Roethlisberger the 'fella about town.' Likewise, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is the third-best player in league history according to the Top 100 special that recently aired on NFL Network. But do you take that to mean Commish Goodell wants to go clubbin' with LT this weekend?

In other words, if you're awaiting my apology, don't. It ain't coming, at least for that list. Over the first ten weeks of the season (and this column) I've lived by the creed taught by Jerry Orbach at the end of "Dirty Dancing" when he says, "When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong."

Matter of fact, I'd like to take a moment to apologize to fantasy owners and other hardcore football fans for the following (partial) list of inaccuracies, predictions and boners:

» The Dallas defense is a top-five fantasy unit.
» The Cowboys' Felix Jones is a good No. 2 running back option.
» Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb has ability to throw two touchdowns in one game.
» Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian has the ability to catch two passes in a month.
» Steve Smith South is 'bad quarterback proof.'
» The Jets' Mark Sanchez is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL (how could I have known the Panthers' Jimmy Clausen would be under center this season?).
» Eddie Royal is the best Denver receiver to draft (I was unaware of Brandon Lloyd' continuing NFL employment -- I thought he retired around the time "Joey" was premiering on NBC).
» The Niners are the best team in the NFC West (wait -- better hold off on waving the white flag at least until their intra-division clash of the titans versus the Rams is complete).
» Cleveland is the worst team in the AFC North (congratulations, Cincy -- you're back where you belong!).

Before you write me off as complete moron, though, please remember that I've also gotten some things right. I foretold of better-than-most-expected seasons for Josh Freeman, Terrell Owens and the Chiefs. But for all the less successful predictions and assumptions, I'm sorry. Then again, I'm not that sorry. Maybe I'm rationalizing, but -- at least outside of the Bengals' offensive huddle -- is there really such a thing as a crazy statement about the NFL anymore?

Six of last season's eight division winners are in third or fourth place this year. The Cleveland Browns just put together back-to-back butt whippings of the Saints and Patriots. Neither the Rams nor the Bucs are the worst team in the league. (To paraphrase James Taylor, in my mind I'm lookin' at Carolina.)

If it makes you feel any better, I've been burnt plenty by my own thoughts and predictions. And that's the point: I'm not here to empathize and relate to the players. I'm a lifelong fan, presumably like you.

You want my credentials? Fine. I've been obsessively watching football since 1977. As a child, I sat in frigid Three Rivers Stadium as the Steelers beat Bum Phillips' Oilers in back-to-back AFC Championship Games. For ten years, I didn't miss a home game ... and that was during the Mark Malone/Bubby Brister years. I suffered from the stands as the Steelers lost to San Diego -- with Stan Humphries at quarterback! -- in the 1994 AFC Championship Game. I watched in horror as the heavily favored Steelers lost to the Tuck Rule Patriots on a punt return, a blocked field goal and some awful quarterbacking from Kordell Stewart. Three years later, I saw those same Pats come in and dump Cowher's 15-1 bunch. I was in Denver the following year when Bettis got his ticket for a Super Bowl in his hometown, and was there in Detroit two weeks later when he arrived. I've basked in the reflected glory of big wins and had entire years ruined by crushing losses.

Am I supposed to pretend I'm not a fan? That those experiences haven't colored the way I think? Sorry, I don't think I could pull off being that disingenuous. I don't know about you, but I can't stand those press conferences that feature an insincere player reading an apology scripted by his agent. (For an example of what I'm talking about, look up Roethlisberger's "chat" with the media this spring.) For me to hide my fandom would be just as phony.

So what's your point, you critics at-large? I'm biased? Just because I have a rooting interest doesn't render me incapable of being objective (well, except when in comes to the Ravens. And the Philadelphia Flyers. And the DC Ovechkins. And the Penn St. Pussycats. Oh, yeah, and the West Virginia Mountaineers). By the way, I'm not a reporter. I'm not responsible for breaking news. My job is to provide an opinion on that news.

There are plenty of former players and coaches providing analysis for the NFL Network, ESPN and up and down your TV dial. I think the "insider's" angle is pretty well covered. When I walk the NFL Network halls, I see Hall of Famers like Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson. I have no doubt they could have a conversation deconstructing the zone blitz on a level that'd make me feel like Sarah Palin in geography class. With all due respect, though, their insights and deeper knowledge don't result in an ability to more accurately forecast how the games are gonna turn out.

That's not an indictment. It's just the way it is for anybody who tries to predict the completely unpredictable NFL. For this week at least, my quarterback rankings don't look half bad. Rodgers was flawless against the woeful Cowboys while Manning lost in Philly. If you disagree with me, don't worry: A fortnight from now, you'll probably be able to call me a dope when Manning throws 27 touchdowns in two games and Rodgers loses to his 41-year-old mentor.

More importantly, wouldn't be if weird if I weren't a fan? You might think my diehard allegiance takes away my credibility. I say it's the source my credibility. I didn't play the game, but I care at least as much as the guys who did. Matter of fact, I think it'd be fair to say I care more.

In other words ... I'm not a witch. I'm you. My team has just has more rings than yours.

Alright, now that was unnecessary. I apologize.

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