Sunday, January 4, 2009

Indy at San Diego

This was one of the most exciting football games I've seen in recent years.

I tend to be sort of an insular fan: I often don't pay close attention to games where I don't have a rooting interest. (I'm a Ravens fan.) And I didn't really care which team won this game. I mildly like both teams; I was pulling slightly for the Chargers, but it wasn't a real rooting interest. Yet this game was compelling from beginning to end.

What are the elements that need to be in place, for a game to be a "classic game"? Without thinking about this (utterly subjective category) very deeply, these occur to me right off the bat:

  1. Significance: a championship or playoff game; if it's in the regular season, then a playoff spot should be on the line.
  2. At least one great individual performance.
  3. Drama: a couple lead changes, or a big comeback. Overtime automatically qualifies; an exciting finish helps.
  4. Probably, some compelling personalities should be involved. Like it or not, stars help involve non-fans in a game.
  5. Often but not always, a signature surprising play.
If you run The Greatest Game I Ever Saw thru this little checklist (that game is, of course, the 1981 AFC Divisional game, Chargers at Dolphins), you get "yes" right down the line: playoff game, an epic performance from Kellen Winslow (along with some other remarkable performances, eg Don Strock), a huge comeback and lead changes AND overtime, big personalities esp Shula, and the hook-and-lateral.

(The signature play wasn't originally on my list: but it's surprising how many such plays there are in football history. You know what the Music City Miracle is; and if you were of a certain age, you'd know the Holy Roller and the Ghost to the Post too.)

This game gets "yes" on most of the items from that list:
  1. Playoff game.
  2. Great individual performances. The one I noticed first in the game was Scifres': probably the greatest single-game display of punting ever. It was so remarkable that you noticed it: it forced itself on your attention. He had a huge impact on the game. As the game went on it became apparent that Sproles was posting an even greater individual performance. 326 all-purpose yards, 3rd-highest in the history of playoff games! Remarkable.
  3. Lead changes and overtime.
  4. Big personalities, in Manning and the ghost of Ed Hochuli, Norv and Tony Dungy. Philip Rivers is your league leader in TD passes and passer rating.
No signature play, I don't think, but otherwise it hits all the notes.

My wife was all into it, which indicates the most important criterion of the "classic game": it grabs the non-fan. She was especially wowed by Darren Sproles.

A game like that is a gift, which football gives to us every once in a while. You never know when you're going to get one.

The Chargers are only two seasons removed from having the best record in the league, and possibly the most talented roster. LDT is not what he was, nor is Gates (and of course Merriman is out); but Rivers is much better. Could this team pose a threat to the Steelers?

1 comment:

  1. The signature play was the one that wasn't. In the first half and threatening to blow the game open Manning put the ball into the mitts of a streaking Wayne. And he dropped it. It won't go down in the annals. People won't be talking about The Drop in 20 years. It happened way too early in the contest, and most likely 80% of the people who saw it have already forgotten it, but if The Drop was The Easy Catch And 60 Yard Touchdown instead this game would probably have been as forgettable as yesterday's.


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