Tuesday, January 24, 2006

i like mike

Mike Lupica: Big Ben-wagon not for Giants

You know what we ultimately have in sports? The game that just got played. We're all experts on the last big thing we saw. For now, that's Ben Roethlisberger. For now. Just because he's the hottest guy going doesn't make this a cold case.

This morning, Mike Lupica again showed the world why he's among the best in his profession. Most sports columnists today fall over each other to write instant history; they feel the need to criticize for criticism's sake, as if taking a step back from hyperbole and cynicism will destroy their cred in the press box and revoke their membership in the local chapter of the Kool Kids club.

Now, it's obvious that Ben Roethlisberger is further along in his career than Eli Manning. Nolo contendere. I don't want to take anything away from Big Ben, and I don't want to give Eli props he doesn't deserve. But while Gary Myers and Shaun Powell wrote predictable "what if" columns, Lupica said something else:


You could imagine his brand of common sense coming from the typewriter of Red Smith; Powell and Myers come off looking more like the Artie Green character from 61*. Powell in particular wrote:

Would the Giants be headed to Detroit for Super Bowl XL right now if they had drafted Big Ben over Manning?

My second-guessing gut says: most definitely.

Shaun, if you're reading this, I'll give you $20 to say that to my face. If you can honestly tell me that a Big Blue Ben would have healed the Giants' linebackers with his magic, Jesus-like hands, I'll give you $20. If you can honestly tell me that he would have lined up next to Michael Strahan and kept the Giants' defensive line from getting blown off the ball by the Panthers, $20. Ditto if you can keep a straight face while saying that Ben would have been able to sneak Troy Polamalu into Giants Stadium in a duffel bag (or something) and stuck him in a blue uniform that day.

While we're at it, maybe Ben would have been able to get Mike Vanderjagt gigs with the Cowboys, Seahawks and Vikings on the days which saw the Giants lose to them all by late field goals. Then New York would have had home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, and the Giants would really be going to the Super Bowl.

My point is this: the Steelers - who came dangerously close to a 2002 Giants-esque meltdown in Indy - are a much, much better overall team than Big Blue. Big Ben deserves accolades, but it's not a quarterback alone that gets a team to a Super Bowl, just as it's usually not a quarterback alone that keeps a team from getting to one. Pittsburgh has a championship-caliber defense and a backfield that elevates the running game to an art form. Against the Panthers, the Giants had an injury-riddled, papier-mache defense. That's your main difference right there.

But as Lupica wrote, we're all experts in the last big thing we've seen.

And how do the Chargers get a pass in this eruption of second-guessing? They were arguably the most talented team in the AFC, they missed the playoffs, their "Class of 2004" quarterback has played parts of four games in two years, and they Chad Penningtoned their Pro Bowl quarterback in a meaningless season finale. But the meme is still that they're the Lyle Lanley to the Giants' brain-dead Springfielders.

Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, one of the all-time good guys in pro football, said it best.


No matter.


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