I know I will take some flak for this, but I actually root for the NFC West teams in the playoffs.
Before I explain why, just know that as a Cardinals’ fan, the wins I cherish the most are the Cardinals’ wins over the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.
But—-I like taking pride in our own division and appreciate it when pundits deem the NFC West as the “toughest division in the NFL.”
Moreover, I believe that the farther teams go in the playoffs, the harder it is for them to be as good the next season.
Look at what happened to the Rams this year after making it all the way to the Super Bowl last year.
The deeper that teams go into the playoffs, the greater the physical and mental toll this has on the coaches and players.
Plus, when players shine under the brightest lights, their price tags go up—-which makes it harder for teams to hold on to their own stars because of the salary cap.
Thus, I am hoping that the 49ers beat the Vikings at home on Saturday and that the Seahawks upset the Packers on Sunday—-to create an All NFC West Championship game at Levi Stadium in Palo Alto.
I would look forward so much more to watching the Seahawks versus the 49ers, than watching the Vikings play the Packers, despite the allure of a game on “the frozen tundra” at Lambeau Field in January.
I must confess, one of my favorite players to watch is Russell Wilson. I love the way he competes. I love his positivity. I love his respect for the game, his teammates and his opponents.
Man, I still so vividly remember the 2014 NFC Championship game where Russell Wilson was having his worst game ever—-to the tune of 4 interceptions—-that’s not a typo—-and with a little over 5 minutes in the game, with the Seahawks trailing 19-7, Wilson sparked a furious rally, aided and abetted by the Packers’ backup TE Brandon Bostick fumbling an on-side kick—-and then the Packers’ Mason Crosby actually having to kick a clutch last second 48 yard FG in regulation to even the score at 22-22 to send the game into OT—-where Wilson won the game on a 35 yard TD pass to Jermaine Kearse (Wilson’s only TD pass of the game after 4 interceptions).
Amazingly, the Seahawks went on to trounce Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Conversely, I find Aaron Rodgers very annoying. Sure, he can sling it like few QBs ever have. But, there is something about his aloof and irritable demeanor that bothers me.
On the 49ers, the player who amazes me the most is TE George Kittle—-in my way of thinking, he plays like Pat Tillman in a 6-4, 250 pound frame. He leaves everything he has on the football field.
If the NFC Championship game doesn’t wind up being the Seahawks versus 49ers, then I am hoping for the most unusual scenario where the #5 seed Seahawks win and the #6 seed Vikings win—-which would place the NFC Championship game at Century Link Field in Seattle—-the very field where our Cardinals played their best game of the season.
If this were to happen, it would remind me of one of the most unusual playoff basketball games I ever coached.
In 1999, I had a young, but improving basketball team at Foxboro High School that had just sneaked into the Massachusetts Southeastern Massachusetts state tournament as the #22 seed (of 23 teams).
My Warriors got hot at the right time and proceeded to knock off the #1 seed (Bishop Connolly) and #3 seed (Bourne), both at their home courts.
Meanwhile, the #23 seed Canton Bulldogs, one of our top rivals in the Hockomock League (who we had split with during the regular season), knocked off the #2 and #4 seeds—-
And wouldn’t you know????
#22 seed Foxboro was hosting the State Semi-Final versus #23 seed Canton in our own gym!
I am not sure, but the astronomical odds would suggest that in the Mass State Basketball Tournament a #22 seed has never ever hosted a home game in the Semi-Finals.
In front of an SRO packed crowd at FHS with the Canton fans on one side and the Foxboro fans on the other, the game was an epic back and forth battle.
With 10 seconds left, down 1 point, and having the ball, I used my last timeout.
I designed a play to get my best shooter the ball off of a staggered double screen—-I told him to catch the pass, square up and shoot it right away.
The play worked to perfection as Chris Burns came off the staggered screens wide open at the foul line. He squared up like a pro—-but the ball circled the rim and popped out—-Canton’s best player snatched the rebound and we fouled him with 2.2 seconds left.
Now—-Canton’s best player was shooting a one and one—-and in three games versus them, I had never seen this outstanding player miss a free throw. He swished the first one to put Canton up by two.
By now the Canton fans were standing and chanting ‘it’s all over, it’s all over.” Who could blame them?
But then this happened:
It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving kid—-Pat Smith was our best defender, screener and passer who did all of the little things like dive on the floor for loose balls and rarely got his name in the Boston Globe.
Hail to the Hail Mary!