Jan 202010
 
Norv Turner and Wade Phillips

Next Year's Champs?

Before the wild card round, I wrote an article predicting Super Bowl XLIV would feature the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys. After the wild card round, with San Diego home cooling their heels and the Cowboys summarily dismissing the Philadelphia Eagles 34-14, my prognostication skills were looking quite strong.

Then came the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

It wasn’t really surprising that the Minnesota Vikings beat the Cowboys. They do, after all, have a very strong team featuring two of the best offensive players in the entire league and a defense that led the league in sacks. The game figured to be a great match up—perhaps the best of the entire playoffs. As the number three seed, The Cowboys’ road to the Super Bowl was sure to be fraught with difficulty…and nowhere would that be more apparent than in the Mall of America Dome, where the home team had been a perfect 8-0 during the regular season.

I said as much, even as I made my bold prediction.

I wasn’t surprised when I turned out to be wrong about the Cowboys beating the Vikings. I was surprised—mortified, even—when the game ceased to even be competitive somewhere in the third quarter. A 34-3 pasting I did not see coming. Did anyone whose face wasn’t painted purple last Sunday make that call?

Okay. So, my home team Cowboys didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. It would not be a Cowboys – Chargers Super Bowl. I could still be half right. Right?

Wrong. The Chargers lost in a stunning upset to a Jets’ team that features one of the league’s best defenses and one of its most predictable, vanilla, close-to-the-vest offenses, not to mention a rookie quarterback. The 17-14 setback marked the second time in three years under Turner the Chargers had plowed through the regular season (they were 14-2 in 2007 and 13-3 this year) only to lose at the first opportunity in the playoffs.

Cowboys fans and Chargers fans are left with very similar circumstances. Norv Turner is 32-16 with three division titles  in his three seasons at the helm in San Diego. His team has won three playoff games, but has been unable to climb to the top of Mount Victory and claim a Super Bowl spot. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are 33-15 during those same three years under coach Wade Phillips. They have won two division titles…and exactly one playoff game.

Norv Turner was rewarded a three-year contract extension before Chargers’ fans could even get down a bottle of Pepto Bismol to settle their stomachs. After making a questionable decision to onside kick, leaving his team with their backs against the wall and the clock tick-tocking away, Chargers’ management wasted no time rubber-stamping him.

Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, San Diego radio personality and columnist for the San Diego News Network, wrote in a column for the SDNN,

It may be as appalling a loss as there is in franchise history. Yes, Steve Young threw six touchdown passes in the 49ers Super Bowl rout in 1995.

But this may surpass that and possibly equal a horrific loss during the Dan Fouts-Air Coryell era, when Vernon Perry picked off four passes in a 1979 home playoff loss to the Houston Oilers by the same 17-14 margin.

Across the Blogosphere, San Diego fans have been incredulous over Turner’s extension. He had a year left on his contract, but ownership sent a “we are satisfied” message by inking him to a new deal.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, Jerry Jones has taken his sweet time doing the inevitable; namely, picking up the option on Phillips’ contract. Cowboys Nation is holding its collective breath, hoping it is just that and not some new, long-term deal that will keep the the Pillsbury Cowboy here into perpetuity.

Opinions vary sharply on the wisdom of keeping Phillips, but there seems to be a hefty majority in the Dallas media that takes the view that he probably gives the team the best chance to make a run next year. It is the old, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. (Of course, even if it is broken, Wade calls himself “Mr. Fix-It.)

The wisdom of keeping Turner and Phillips will not be known until we have the benefit of hindsight. Are they like the hot high school cheerleader that gave you just enough hope to keep you carrying her lunch tray? Are they Super Bowl teases? Or, are they the real thing?

Whatever they are, Turner and Phillips must each be drunk with delight over the confidence their respective owners have shown in them.

The teams’ fans, on the other hand, are just drunk. Less than a week ago, the Cowboys and Chargers were hot picks to make a run to Super Bowl XLIV. By Sunday evening, Dallas fans were stunned, having helplessly witnessed  a Little Big Horn type massacre in Minnesota. San Diego fans were stung by another unexpected upset playoff loss. In Sunny Southern California and in Big D,  Super Bowl Fever has given way to a slumped-shouldered stupor. Glazed-over eyes. Blank stares. Slack jaws. Wrenching guts.

Maybe next year.

Random addendum: How strong would a coaching staff be that featured, say, a Jimmy Johnson as head coach and Norv and Wade as the team’s coordinators? Just day-dreaming.

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