I gotta admit I feel bad for the Cardinals, and not just because I picked them to pull off the upset on Sunday.
As I watched this one slip through their fingers, I couldn't help flashing back to all those Super Bowl losses my Bills suffered during the dawn of the fabulous '90s. It has been incredibly gratifying to see so many players from Buffalo's heyday voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- Kelly, Thurman, Marv, and now Bruce -- I think the nation has finally forgiven all those losses, but they still sting. I mean, we went to four straight Super Bowls, we haven't had the slightest whiff of anything like it since, and I don't see it on the horizon as we muddle our way through five-year plan No. 3 … 4? It's all a blur. The cold, hard reality is that you never know if you're going to get that close again.
On the bright side, I truly believe this Arizona team can get back -- provided it holds on to Kurt Warner. Take it from a Jim Kelly guy -- don't get fooled into thinking QBs like that come along every day. Until further notice, the "future" has no street-cred. Matt Leinart is Todd Collins -- just another reason for all of us to wish we'd been born in Pittsburgh.
Not only have the Steelers now officially won more rings than any other franchise, they are built to take a lot more shots at it -- 'cuz they got the QB thing right, and all it cost them was the 11th pick in the 2004 draft. Once again, Big Ben Roethlisberger didn't post the gaudiest Super Bowl stats, but this year, he made all the big plays when they were needed and looked like the consummate franchise QB while doing it. He is an incredible combination of huge, agile and accurate. He also seems to be a guy his teammates want to follow.
Taking a look back, it's fascinating to see how that '04 draft played out, with a healthy sprinkling of hindsight:
1. Eli Manning, QB, Chargers: But really, it's Philip Rivers, thanks to a prima-donna, draft-day cluster-bang that, at the time, seemed to doom Eli to the worst kind of NFL karma. Turns out everyone came out pretty good. The Chargers are set at QB for a long time to come, Eli already has a championship and he's about to get a nine-figure deal just like his brother, Peyton -- say, maybe it's time to start passing up those insipid Oreo commercials! Still, knowing what we know now, would you pick Rivers over Roethlisberger? Not if I have your ear ...
2. Robert Gallery, OT, Raiders: OK, now we get an ugly look at the downward spiral of teams that passed over Big Ben and corkscrewed into awfulness, like Reggie Jackson on one knee after a mighty swing-and-a-miss. Gallery was one of those annual prospects described as "your Pro Bowl left tackle for the next 10 years." The only problem is he is now playing guard, the Raiders are a colossal mess and the jury is still out on QB JaMarcus Russell. It's real simple, and this is exhibit "A": The right QB moves make a franchise; the wrong moves bury them.
3. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: At the time, you worried this was Dennis Green's fondness for a kid who was a Vikings ball boy back in the day. And with Anquan Boldin already in the fold, no one could blame you for thinking this was another version of bad franchise/Detroit Lions-type craziness for a team with too many glaring holes. Ha! I guess we can all exhale and admit Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the game. Shut out in the Super Bowl until there was only one minute left in the first half? Rough, but by the end of the game, the No. 1 defense in football still couldn't stop him from scoring. Twice.
5. Sean Taylor, S, Redskins: A great player felled by tragic circumstances but not worth picking over Ben.
6. Kellen Winslow, TE, Browns: Super-talent cut with tons of misadventures, immaturity and injuries. Survey says: Cleveland has cleaned house on the coach/front office front yet again.
10. Dunta Robinson, CB, Texans: A big talent who started strong and has suffered injuries. Of course, with David Carr entering his third year, what were they gonna do? Looks terrible in hindsight, but you also have to wonder what would have become of Big Ben behind that Texans O-line? A QB who ducks defensively every time his cat stretches?
Of course, Roethlisberger went to Pittsburgh with the next pick and the rest, as they say, is history. As a Bills fan looking back on the 13th and 22nd picks being spent on Lee Evans and J.P. Losman, respectively, I still can't stop biting the pillow that they didn't package whatever it took to move up three spots and grab Big Ben. Wow …
Worse than girls who call other girls dude ...
... watching Tony Dungy on the halftime set having to wait for Matt Millen to finish up before he could weigh in on the game. File that one under "credibility" vs. "the ability to talk like you have some."
Time travel and monkeys
In a depressed economy salted by the outrage of seeing all those CEOs still managing to snag their billion-dollar bonuses, I was curious to see what Madison Avenue was going to cook up during a time when $3 million for 30 seconds suddenly meant something. There were some bright spots and some colossal wrecks:
Go Daddy didn't let us down with its annual venal-yet-unrewarding beer fart. Now that Budweiser is Belgian-owned, I snorted every time they hammered home "the American Lager" nonsense. Teleflora's rude flowers were just depressing but not as depressing as Ed McMahon and MC Hammer reminding us that it's only a matter of time before we all have to sell our gold tooth fillings to pay for our prescriptions. And as far as I was concerned, the entire second half was a virtual wasteland.
Time transport was a running theme in a bunch of Super Bowl ads. We had Jason Statham hurtling time and genres for Audi, Pepsi had Bob Dylan's sunglasses, pop-culture moments and war split-screened with their contemporary counterparts. Will Ferrell went way back in time for "Land of the Lost" (which looks to be a really funny movie). We even saw Troy Polamalu's homage to Mean Joe Greene. Harkening back to a simpler time when every home wasn't in foreclosure, or just coincidence?
Monster.com really made me laugh with the guy working under the hindquarters of his boss' wall-mounted animals, but my highest marks went to the Castrol Edge "King of the Grease Monkeys" spot. It embodied what I consider to be the two most powerful ingredients of a Super Bowl ad: It was really funny, and it had a nice shock factor. I mean, come on -- a man making out with a monkey in his garage as Iron Butterfly provides the perfect surreal soundtrack? I don't care if you drive a hybrid. Pour some Castrol in there as a reward for ad dollars well spent.
Bobby Flay burgers
On the gluttony front, I want to personally thank Bobby Flay for writing a grill cookbook that actually works. How many times have you tried a recipe from a book, only to realize you've been sabotaged? Missing details, tips or just a sneaking suspicion the author doesn't want you to actually do it as well as he does?
No such fears as I prepared "Nacho Burgers" on my grill for the gang on Super Bowl Sunday. I'd give you the recipe, but it wouldn't be right when a guy is out there selling books. I have to tell you: Everything I have tried from "Bobby Flay's Grill It!" works like a charm -- fantastic. Thank me later.
I was surprised to hear a fair amount of anti-Boss venom spewing from some friends after what I thought was a perfectly delightful showing from Bruce Springsteen and the gang. One buddy snarled that he felt "The Boss" was "trying too hard to please" and jammed every crowd-pleasing trick from a typical three-hour show plus the kitchen sink into his 12-minute Super Bowl halftime window. Another buddy snarled, and I quote: "Anyone needing proof that no-talent @#!!^%! Bruce Springsteen should have hung it up 25 years ago, said proof was provided, and blatantly so. Just pathetic -- like a 60-year-old guy with an earring, a Harley and a 20-year-old girlfriend." He then finished off with a classic: "Just For Men, my ass!"
Made me laugh, but I must add my shock at how quickly we forget the banal horror of Nipple-gate and Paul Williams in a leather jacket -- I wasn't hallucinating on bad mescal, right? I actually did see that? Anyone out there remember? ... Now I'm getting scared.
Also, I appreciate that the crowd jamming the stage on the field actually looked like real people. I saw fat bald dudes in jerseys and liquored-up women past their prime letting loose.
Speaking of which, I think I just defined how I'm going to spend the offseason. Until next time, keep living that ever-elusive dream!