Jan 12, 2006
By: JOHN PIESEN
Just a couple of observations on week one of the NFL playoffs.
All I heard in the days leading up to week one was home-field advantage, how the NFL teams need to play three months to secure home field. So what happened? For the second year in a row, the road teams won three of the four round one games - and the lone home winner, New England, would have beaten sorry Jacksonville if they had played the game in the La Brea tar pits.
Speaking of Jacksonville, what does it say for the caliber of NFL football when this team could go 12-4 in the regular season?
At least, I hope you took this writer's suggestion and got 12-1 on the Pats.
I also found it interesting that the four losing teams combined for a grand total of seven points (a Tampa Bay TD) in the second half. Otherwise New York, Jacksonville and Cincinnati fired blanks after intermission.
Last week, it was noted in this space that two of the four underdogs were the superior teams. Obviously I was referring to Washington and Carolina. Case closed. Also I pointed out that the Giants had no one to cover Steve Smith. Case closed again.
In retrospect, the highlight of the weekend was comic Frank Caladonia's dead-on impression of DeNiro on Fox's pre-game show Sunday. It made me watch Casino again that night.
Another interesting stat: Pittsburgh is now 9-0 straight up in the first round of the playoffs (stretching back 20 years).but 1-7 straight up in round two!
I have no idea how the Pats can be plus three at Denver. Of course, the Pats would be minus five if the game was at Foxboro. I would think that 10-0 in the playoffs and three Super Bowls mean more than "home field advantage."
The New York papers and talk-show hosts s are going ballistic today about the Giants. I just wish I could read or hear one expert come right out and say that Carolina was the better team. Pure and simple.
The most glaring stat of the game was that the Giants ran 35 plays from scrimmage (35!) compared to 71 for Carolina.
I'm also hearing lots of Manning vs. Big Ben comparisons today. Maybe it's me, but I make Chris Simms better than Manning.
One final football note.
Do you think it's just possible that the Heisman voters got it all wrong?
And, once again, a reminder that the Jets - by returning that late kickoff for a TD against Buffalo in week 17 - cost themselves one of the Big Three.
Switching gears to my favorite sport.
The Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita race meets are well underway, and Oaklawn opens a week from Friday with 50 cent corned beef sandwiches and 10 cent soft drinks in the afternoon, and presumably dueling Elvises at night.
That said, here are some racing names in the news:
Funny Cide, the '03 Derby and Preakness winner, kicked off his 6-year-old campaign last Saturday with a seventh-place finish, beaten 14 lengths, in the Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream, a race in which only two pounds separated the entire field.
Trainer Tagg's post-race remarks are not what I would want to hear if I had wagered on Funny Cide.
"This wasn't what I expected," Tagg said, ".but I wanted to get a race into my horse. Funny Cide is not going to run 1:08 after two years of running mile and a quarters."
Now he tells us. Maybe 'ol Barc should be reminded that dozens of star distance horses over the years have won at six furlongs off the layoff.
Then there were jockey Prado's post-race comments.
"I was where I wanted to be, along the inside, but Funny Cide sort of fell apart turning for home. It's not that big a deal. The main goal is longer races. I still feel confident in him."
That said, unfortunately, it is obvious that Funny Cide is no longer a star. And that's too bad. Racing needs its stars. Maybe the best thing that the gutsy gelding's connections can do is retire him to a life of leisure on a Saratoga farm.
Maybe - just maybe - Funny Cide has done enough.
Incidentally, jockey Bridgmohan won all three stakes that day at Gulf - on Gaff ($13.60), On Thin Ice ($12.60), and Doctor Decherd ($31). To me, this is a greater achievement than the big-name riders getting Eclipse awards for riding five favorites a day.
As expected, it was announced that Stevie Wonderboy will do all his racing this spring at Santa Anita.
According to trainer O'Neill, Stevie, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse 2-year-old, will kick off his Derby prep campaign this Saturday in the San Rafael, and then go on to the Santa Catalina on March 4, and the Santa Anita Derby on April 8.
The best thing for racing will be for Stevie to run the table in these three races, and go to Kentucky - where he will most likely get his butt kicked.
Speaking of Eclipses, I'm glad to see that the owners of Afleet Alex will be getting a special Eclipse for their work with Alex, and, more importantly, with pediatric cancer research.
Harness racing is the venue for another well-merited award.
Harness Horsemen International has named Bob Heyden, TV host and statistician for The Meadowlands, the winner of the Clyde Hirt Memorial Media Award for his year-round body of work.
The good guys don't always finish last.
The recently-retired Gary Stevens, another good guy, probably will wind up a big-time TV star. Stevens just signed up for a starring role in a new NBC series called Wildfire. I presume Gary will get the girl.
I find it interesting that Stevens and Pat Day, who will forever be linked as the featured players in the '95 Kentucky Derby, announced their retirements from racing weeks apart, and that their futures could not be more diverse.
While Stevens will devote his life to making millions on TV and in the movies, Pat will continue to do God's work.
Bernadette Castro, a lovely lady and a long-time major player in New York Republican circles, will soon be appointed chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
I'm sure that Ms. Castro will do a fine job, despite the fact that she admits to knowing next to nothing about horse racing.
But Ms. Castro shows she's on the mark with this following thought:
"Any time that anyone thinks a race is not real, or a blackjack hand is not genuine, we are in trouble."
Finally, recommended reading:
Colleague Bill Finley's compelling piece on Gulfstream Park on ESPN.com.
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