“SUNDAY NFL COUNTOWN” NEWS AND NOTES – AFC AND NFC CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND
ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown’s” Chris Berman, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter, Tom Jackson and Steve Young previewed the AFC and NFC Championship games, while Chris Mortensen provided the league headlines and news. Some excerpts:
Most to Gain with a Conference Championship Win: Donovan McNabb or Kurt Warner…
Young: You’d think it’d be Donovan McNabb for this one game and championship here, but Donovan McNabb has been here before. I the first four gears of his car let’s say, he is the best in the game, but that fifth gear has been a problem. Donovan needs more than just this football game to change things for him. He needs a Super Bowl victory. If he does that he’ll be changed forever.”
Jackson: “Donovan McNabb needs this on his resume, Super Bowl. I think it seals his career for him and if he doesn’t get it he’s going to feel like he’s lacking something. Just like John Elway who quarterbacked us (Denver Broncos),’my career is complete without the Super Bowl, until he won the Super Bowl and then, boy, my career would have been incomplete had I not won the Super Bowl.’ So make no mistake, it’s Donovan McNabb.”
Carter: “Make no mistake that Kurt Warner has had a great career, but I think he wants to be in that really illustrious class as far as being a Hall of Famer. If he wins this game…his third Super Bowl, I believe that he is in the class of the other great quarterbacks that we’ve seen.”
Berman: “For Kurt, the chance win two Super Bowls almost a decade apart is unbelievable. For Donovan, look, we all know it. You know that thing …the little thing that is the volume. In fourteen games, can you imagine how you can turn that volume down, of all the noise and things you talk about with Elway.Two weeks to turn the volume down the rest of your life!”
Factors in Gruden Firing:
Mortensen: “Not so much love for John Gruden in Tampa. You can’t say this enough of how badly the Glazer family that owns the Bucs, must have wanted Gruden out. Remember to get him, they fired Tony Dungy, they give up two first round picks, two second round picks, $8 million dollars in cash to the Raiders and despite owing him almost $16 million dollars right now, ironically it was that loss to the Raiders that ended the season and forced his way out. So six years after Gruden delivered a Super Bowl title, the Bucs relative mediocrity, two straight years with high hopes and bad finishes, the bizarre exits of popular coaches like Monty Kiffen, player discontent and yes the reluctance by Gruden to draft and develop a young quarterback combined with a reminder of teams this year like the Falcons with Matt Ryan and the Ravens with Joe Flacco can actually pull it off. Right or wrong it was a laundry list of negatives…The climate change from the popular Chucky to unpopular Gruden was quite remarkable.”
Reaction to Jon Gruden Firing:
Johnson: “I’m surprised when it went down. Three weeks ago, you figured he’s coming back. It should have happened a couple years ago, it’s a little late now, but that’s just me. I was deactivated by Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2003. And I hate to bring that up, but it’s funny to me. Because as you like to say Tom, vilified.”
Jackson: “Disgruntled Tampa Bay receiver.”
Johnson: “In all the craziness, Boomer, Tom Jackson, Michael Irvin, Steve Young, everything was me. When you sit around and you look at guys now, Michael Clayton, he has a problem. When you hear guys are now coming out and saying these sorts of things, I happened to be on the team and said that, so I am not surprised that he’s gone. Jon is the type of guy that will tell you one thing and then the next thing you know will say, I need to go get a guy like Tim Brown. He was a like a used car salesman in this situation. A great X’s and O’s coach but he wore out the welcome. I may have been the first to say it, but I won’t be the last. I guarantee that.”
On Tony Dungy’s Legacy….
Jackson: This is the right time. I’m going to include in that legacy, one Bill Polian because he recognized Tony Dungy for what he was and he brought him in. There was no Rudy Rule at the time. He didn’t have to bring him in, but he knew what he was going to get. And for coach Dungy it’s not about the wins. Yes it’s part of it. First black head coach to win the Super Bowl will always be part of the legacy and part of the resume, but its how he won. I’m going to steal from him here, his book in my library – “Quiet Strength” – because that’s what he offered all the time. And I think that it’s so rare that we now have an appreciation for it because it’s gone.”
Johnson: “It’s amazing when I was first acquired by Tampa Bay and Tony Dungy. I’m in a game, a dropped ball by another receiver and I’m looking and coming from Bill Parcells at the N.Y. Jets I’m expecting the same type of behavior by Tony Dungy – screaming at the player, grabbing him by the collar. Tony Dungy folded his arms and kind of just looked at guy and said, ‘We’ll be ok.” I’m saying to myself, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work.’ But after a few weeks of watching I learned to appreciate his coaching style because there are so many different ways to skin a cat and he proved that to me over the years.”
Berman: “There was a saying a long time ago in baseball that nice guys finish last, obviously not in this case.”
Greg Garber’s Countdown feature on Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb and the “City of Brotherly Love”…
McNabb has led the Eagles to a fifth NFC Championship Game and one win away from his second Super Bowl appearance. In spite of his impressive resume, there’s a lingering perception that Philadelphia and its fans have not truly embraced McNabb, Greg Garber went to find out.
Jackson: “I think that if he wins the Super Bowl they will be ecstatic. If he doesn’t they will vilify him in that city. But you can’t suffer from Tim Couch syndrome. I’m so concerned about what the fans think that I can’t play football.”
Johnson: “I think if he wins the Super Bowl, they’ll put a statue somewhere. They’re not going to ask him to do it again … whenever you play in a city for a long extended period of time, you’re going to have some ups and downs. It’s going to happen to Tom Brady one day. They’re going to start talking…’oh he’s getting old.’ It’s going to happen to Peyton Manning one day. They may not treat him the same, but it’s going to happen.”
Young: “Philly is not that different of a town. Because the truth is, it’s like most big cities that haven’t had a championship and their number one team, the Eagles, is the number one team in town. You get a championship, you get a Super Bowl, and it changes everything. Boston Red Sox, they get the World Series, that town was changed, people change. If he wins the Super Bowl, he can own the place. Anyone thinks that you don’t own the city after you’ve won the Super Bowl is kidding. I’ve never seen a city reject a Super Bowl champion.”
Ditka: “There was an old poem by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s not the critic that counts, the guy in the arena. He can’t let it bother him. He’s got to win the Super Bowl, he knows that, but it hurts not to be accepted.”
Carter: “I’m going to speak playing there, from the time I walked on the field as a rookie and people booed me for no reason and I didn’t have any history there! This is a very, very special place and I still have friends there. And they tell me unless McNabb wins the Super Bowl…check this out, he has to play well and to win for him to ever be accepted.
Young: “One thing you’re forgetting is that they have surprised the town for this year. They have shocked them a little bit and it makes them a little more humble.”
Jackson: They are not humble! You can call Philly fans a lot of things but humble is not one of them.”
Carter: “Philly is the toughest room in the country.”
Quarterback Most Likely to make the big play: Flacco or Big Ben?
Young: “When it’s in the fourth on the line, he seems to be the best outside the pocket making big plays. At 6-5, 240 you wouldn’t think that would be his game, but that’s the best part of is game.”
Johnson: In this environment and this atmosphere, and I know they say he’s not afraid to fail, but when they’re coming out and they’re waving those towels in that rain or snow and wet field it’s a totally different environment. The playoffs, each game the stakes rise. He hasn’t been in this type of environment before.”
Ditka: “Ben is a drama major. He’s the guy that does it … I stopped being a rookie the first time I went over the middle and Ray Nitschke knocked the crap out of me. I was no longer a rookie and that was the first time we played the Packers. So, this kid is not a rookie anymore. He’s played well, he’s done everything, the formula works for him. They run the ball, they play good defense, don’t screw it up, and don’t turn it over. That’s what they want him to do.”
Ball Boy to NFL Wide Receiver: Cris Carter Sits Down with Cardinals Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald …
Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings when Cris Carter was playing wide receiver for the team. Carter heads to the desert for a sit-down interview with Fitzgerald as they reflect on stories from their past and project how one win could propel the young Fitzgerald to a game Carter never played in – the Super Bowl.
On what made his experience so much different from the other ball boys…
Fitzgerald: “The interaction and relationships I was able to have with you and some of the other players. I just remember your intensity in practice and your leadership abilities. Things like that really stood out to men when I was a youngster. You guys really took me under your wing. At that young age and see how you guys worked and interacted with each other and I wanted that so bad. I wanted to be in the NFL so bad. Everything I did in life was to get me to this point.”
On his job as a ball boy/ car washer…
Fitzgerald: “I was terrible. I was trying to find the most efficient way to save the money that you guys would give me. So I just took it to the drive in. I know I had three or four hours for the quick spin. I’d take it through the wash and I would beat it out of there. So I would make $30-40 dollar profit every time I’d wash the car.”
Carter: “how much money do you have on you right now?
Fitzgerald: “I’ve got nothing on me right now.”
Carter: (Laughing) “You’re the worst ball boy. You’re the most broke multi, multi-millionaire I know. You still don’t have any money on you?”
Fitzgerald: (Laughing) “No. I was about to ask you for a $100 when I got up from here.”
On watching the Vikings lose against the Falcons in the NFC Championship in 1998 …
Fitzgerald: “I just remember being in that locker room and how deathly silent it was. The guy’s faces and how hurt everyone was. I just don’t want to make sure my team and teammates and I don’t have to experience that as well. To come this far and fall short of your goals would be devastating.”
Ed Reed: Ballhawk
Ravens Pro Bowler Ed Reed has the ability to sniff out plays before they happen and attack the ball as soon as it is launched in the air. Rachel Nichols sat down with Reed and his teammates to talk about his playmaking abilities.
Ray Lewis: Athletic ability. There’s nothing he can’t do athletically. But when he grabbed film study and took it, everything changed. To see him now is almost portrait.”
Terrell Suggs: “The man dedicates countless hours to film. Especially when we have practice and he’s telling you put a ball and the snap where it’s going to go. It’s impressive.
On how film study works into his strategy…
Reed: I’d say a good 80%…when you put the film together and your reaction to the game plan all in one. Yeah. … I got a little juke move in me. I got some moves. It ain’t easy for one person to bring me down. I believe if I have to break one tackle, I can break one tackle, at least one.”
On how a defensive player can make an over the shoulder catch…
Reed: “In college my roommate was Reggie Wayne and my suitemate was Santana Moss. Catching was something I had to work on being around those guys.”
Lewis: Some people have tendencies, it’s just how long you get fooled by the same tendencies. All great ones get to a point to where they can take true risks.”
Suggs: It’s like the matrix. It all slows down and he sees a play before it starts happening.”
Lewis: I don’t know a better safety in the game of football. That’s something we rarely see. Now the Ed Reed era is sit back and watch the show.”
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