Super Sunday! Super Memories!!

Super Sunday! Super Memories!!

Friday, Feb. 5, 2010
7:30 AM

Time for my favorite holiday: Super Bowl Sunday. Honestly, does it get any bettor? Oops, Freudian slip, I mean better. Besides Thanksgiving, is there any other day of celebration that we all can agree on? And, theres no tryptophan haze to deal with. Not to mention, for some folks, its not a mandatory family holiday, so many awkward situations, like with Uncle Tommy, can be avoided. Just food, friends and football.

Its the one day of the year that for most of my life, I can remember exactly where I was and what happened that day. (Forget about birthdays. Too many!) My first memory goes back to Super Bowl IV. I just remember part of that game though, it would be years later when I would realize the joy of just keep matriculating the ball downfield boys! and what the 65 toss power trap was. My first full-game memory is of Super Bowl V and Jim OBriens kick to beat the Cowboys. Even as a 9 year old, it was fun to watch Dallas lose, and almost forty years later, its still fun. Good times.

The game with my first official rooting interest was Super Bowl XI when the Raiders beat the Vikings. In my neighborhood, since the Eagles where awful for all of our young lives, guys would pick other teams to root for in the playoffs. Nearly all of them rooted for the Dolphins and Steelers, convenient for them, since those two teams won four consecutive championships. Of course I took a more tortured course (REALLY?!) and rooted for the Oakland Raiders. The Immaculate Reception game against Pittsburgh was especially tough. To fight the whole game and finally take a lead and then lose on a fluke 4th and 10 play with 22 seconds left was hard to take, especially knowing the ribbing I would take at school the next day. (An 11 year old has his priorities!) It only took 4 more long years until the Raiders had their revenge and won the Super Bowl. (The day after that Super Bowl, I could not wait to get to school!) It was made better by the fact that my parents took me to my first NFL game that year and I got to watch the Raiders pound the Eagles 26-7. I think that the fact that the first time I saw the Eagles in-person I was rooting against them explains a lot about me, what I dont know but Im sure that you can figure it out!

The next game of major significance for me was January 25, 1981. Eagles vs. Raiders! Do the ironies in my life ever stop?! Dick Vermeil coming to the Eagles was the start of a golden age of Philadelphia football in which the Eagles actually had 4 consecutive winning seasons and won 3 playoff games! To understand the implications of that statement, I suggest that you que your Netflix to INVINCIBLE and enjoy the show! For some reason, back then, you could not buy mass quantities of liquid refreshments on Sundays in Pennsylvania, so a venture over the Commodore Barry to New Jersey was required. We were on our way back over when Jaworski threw the first of his three picks to Rod Martin in their personal game of catch. Ugh. That was a long night, most of the other problems in the world where solved though. We had a lot of refreshments! (And another thing!)

Like the rest of the country, Philadelphia was caught up in Bears fever during the 85 season. That was a team of which no one has seen the likes of which before or since. That they put a 44-0 beat down on Americas Team made them even bigger in our eyes. But there was something else that made these Bears a fan favorite. I got to explain this to Steve Mongo McMichael at a Cubs-Phillies game this past summer. Noticing that he shot a razor glare at me because I was in a Cub fan V.I.P. area wearing a Phillies jersey, I couldnt help being myself when we were introduced. You know we loved your 85 team in Philly, I told him. You guys liked our personality? he asked wearing a satisfied smile. Nope. Not that. I replied, It was cover, cover, cover! You guys were a lock! Thats why everyone in the rest of the country loved you! He didnt seem to like that much and the smile went away. Too busy still living in 1985 I guess. Oh well, it is what it is. (One note: The house party I was at the night of that game lasted well into the next morning. Can you say parlay?)

Over the next 20 years, just about all of the games included me working or being with people that I got off of work early to watch with. The day has evolved from just a house party day to a party day. In the eighties and early nineties, Super Bowl Sunday, meant a slow work night for us in the restaurant business. No more, especially since I began working at 33 West Kinzie Street almost 15 years ago. In fact, I moved to Chicago on Super Bowl weekend exactly 15 years ago. Drove all day Friday and Saturday, enjoyed the game at a family party on Sunday, then went looking for a job on Monday. Ive only not worked at Harrys during the game once since then.

You guessed it. It was the Eagles next visit to the game after the 2004 season. That was the year that the danger of having hope kicked me in the face. Part of why I living here so much is that all of my family and friends here were so excited for me. I had large groups of friends join me downtown to watch the playoff games before I started work and then they followed me to Harrys when I started my shift to continue the fun. They were interesting nights. I had a chance to go to the game, but that didnt seem right. I needed to go back home to truly feel the emotion and share it with people who felt exactly as I did. My weekend started with my first appearance on Chicago Tribune Live with Dan Jiggetts. (And the celebrity life of an over-weight, over-caffeinated bartender was born! Funny, on that show when I mentioned to 85 Bear Otis Wilson my theory about his team, he laughed out loud.) Then it was an early flight on Sunday with the wife and kids to Philadelphia. The buzz in the airport was incredible. It was like the city was about to burst. Having four generations in the house to watch the game made it seem right, we would endure this together.(And I said endure before the game was ever played, because I know better) (I took a tape of my TV appearance for whoever wanted to enjoy it. What I enjoyed was answering Why are you on TV? thirty times , with no good answer. Honestly! A bartender on TV?!)

After McNabbs first interception, a familiar feeling came over the room as we all shot glances at each other, saying, here we go again. The flight home on Monday was not as fun, although the walk through a depressed city was kind of cathartic, time to leave it behind. Of course, as the plane was about to pull out, a fueling truck was stalled underneath us and would delay our departure. Travelling anywhere with a two-year-old is never easy and doing the math of the flight in my head led me to believe this was not a good sign. (Kids only have so many consecutive good minutes in them!) For the flight, my wife was in a group of three seats with the kids and I was across the aisle. Not very far, but it seemed like miles. After 45 minutes, we were off. As we were preparing for our descent into Midway, Im thinking, that wasnt bad. I mean, I only got about six dirty glances from my wife as the kids took all of her attention as I sat there reading my papers and enjoying snacks, bullet dodged!. Then it happened. My son, strapped into his car seat, lost his mind. Not the usual, I need attention because Im bored lost. No, I mean, top of his lungs, I cant take it anymore lost. As my wife desperately looked over for help, I gave her the, Do I know you lady? look. Not funny! Cmon honey, thats called gallows humor, Im in a state of depression. Still not funny. (To her!)

For my Bear brethren, the 2006 season was quite a ride. The bar rocked all year for the games, and the city was usually giddy on the days in between, with hope of what was to come. (Didnt anybody watch the Shawshank Redemption?!) But I was not a kill-joy, out-loud anyway. I reveled with them, always thinking, I dont feel good about this. (Well, maybe a few people knew that I agreed with Dennis Green.)That Super Sunday was fun at the beginning. We had three 85 Bears at the bar and Notre Dame All-American and nineties Bear Chris Zorich to share in the fun. Then there was Hesters return and the place was up for grabs. ( Zorich is one big dude! He was behind the bar and I was introducing him to all of the regulars. One of our marketing people took a picture of the two of us together. As Chris moved down the bar, I asked if I could see the picture. Oops, it didnt take.

I went down and explained Chris and told him about the picture and asked if he would come back down to my end of the bar to take another. No problem. Then, as these were standing with our arms around each other, and me feeling very small, Bridget, whose taking the picture, starts fumbling with the camera. After what seemed like 5 minutes of awkwardness with us still man-hugging, I turned to Chris and whispered in his ear, I paid her to do that. We laughed about that the rest of the night, although, I think his was nervous laughter. It was a joke! Not that there is anything wrong with that! Then someone handed Jim McMahon a microphone, and like the game, everything went downhill.

So as I get ready to spend another Super Bowl behind the bar at Harrys, I know that no matter what, its going to be a day I always remember. Its all about the game (and the end of the 96-hour pre-game show) and who we enjoy it with. A Super Sunday indeed! And if anyone reading this knows Chris Zorich, please let him know, Im still behind the bar! (Wink-wink!)

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

james-franklin-1207.jpg
USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Michigan star Jabrill Peppers honored as college football's most versatile player with Paul Hornung Award

jabrill-peppers-1206.jpg
USA TODAY

Michigan star Jabrill Peppers honored as college football's most versatile player with Paul Hornung Award

As if this was going to be a surprise.

The most versatile player in college football is easily Michigan's do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers, and there was confirmation of that Wednesday, when Peppers was honored as the winner of this year's Paul Hornung Award, which annually honors the country's most versatile player.

"It means a lot to me to win this award," Peppers said in the announcement. "You definitely want to do as much as possible, and you want to do it as well as you can. I think there are a lot of guys who could have won this award, so it's just a tremendous honor to be the winner and to represent the Paul Hornung Award. I'm just going to keep to trying to get better, keep working on my faults and do whatever I have to do to help my team."

This was pretty much a no-brainer with Peppers starring in all three phases of the game this season for the Wolverines. He played 15 different positions and a total of 933 snaps.

Peppers ranks third on Michigan's nation-best defense with 72 total tackles. He also has 16 tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Peppers also racked up 751 all-purpose yards during the regular season: 310 via the punt return, 260 via the kick return, 167 rushing, 11 on an interception return and three receiving yards. He's scored four touchdowns: one on a punt return and three rushing. He also scored a defensive two-point conversion and can add to all of that when Michigan takes on Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

So yeah, he's pretty good.

All that pretty-goodness has resulted in tons of postseason honors for Peppers, who's expected to be one of the top picks in next year's NFL Draft. He took home three individual conference awards last week, the first player to ever do so, winning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year awards. He was an All-Big Ten First Team selection at both linebacker and return specialist. And he was named one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy earlier this week.

The Paul Hornung Award has been handed out at the end of each of the last seven seasons. Peppers is the first Big Ten player to win the award and the second from a Jim Harbaugh-coached team, joining Stanford's Owen Marecic, who won the award in its first year in 2010.