Now that the holiday season is over, it's time to get back to work. Of course, that means recapping four days of sports into one neat little post, but I'll try my best...
Steelers 23, Bengals 17- If this turns out to be Bill Cowher's last game roaming the Steeler sidelines, it was a fitting exit to a great era. In what has been one of the most uninspiring NFL seasons in recent memory, this game stood out as very exciting, coming close to, if not achieving, "instant classic" status. We had big plays, lead changes, big hits, and loads of drama. And the Steelers won to boot, crawling back to a .500 season in the process.
Mr. Bill's postgame press conference sounded like a man who thought he wanted to walk away, yet truly enjoyed the game he just won. During the game, he showed the emotion that didn't seem to be there in 2006, especially in chewing out Willie Colon. He successfully played "ice the kicker" with Shayne Graham, which he greatly enjoyed. And he left that tiny window of doubt open that maybe he would stay on. But according to Ed Bouchette, that window is all but closed.
Regardless of the disappointment that was the Steelers' title defense, it was an enjoyable finale.
1. Santonio Holmes' 67-yard "walk-off" overtime TD. For a young man who had a roller coaster season, I'm glad he went into 2007 on an up note. And the play broke the Bengals' backs in the process. Even better.
2. James Harrison's upside-down slam, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Silverback is developing a rep for the December bodyslam in a rival game. He just makes things happen, period.
3. Anthony Smith's hit on T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Breathtaking.
4. Fast William Parker's 134 yards and 2 TDs, breaking Louis Lipps' team record with 16 for the season. Nice atonement for the fumble with a score on the next drive. FWP finished with 1,494 yards rushing for the season.
5. James Farrior's bone-jarring tackle of Carson Palmer, also resulting in a 15-yard penalty. Well worth it.
6. Ike Taylor starting the last game. Given all the cash the Steelers forked over for Taylor, he's a player you want to go into the offseason on a positive.
7. Jeff Reed hits a big field goal, and manages to keep his weiner in his pants in the process.
8. Shayne Graham's 39-yard miss in the last minute. Do you realize the Bengals lost in Denver on a botched PAT and then lost to the Steelers on a missed 39 yarder? If this team has competent special teams, that's a two-game swing by itself.
So Cincy will join the Steelers in watching mediocre teams like the Jets and Giants in the 2006 playoffs, and they can both look in the mirror for all the reasons they aren't participating. As much as I enjoyed the Steelers' win, this could have easily been yet another loss in typical '06 Steeler fashion. The Parker fumbled en route to the end zone and subsequent Chris Henry TD catch was the season in a nutshell. I heard some of the Mark Madden & Stan Savran postgame show, and Savran gave a stat that blew my mind: this year's Steelers had 10 red zone turnovers. Last year, how many red zone turnovers did they have? One. This was a sloppy, unfocused team, and sloppy, unfocused teams finish 8-8. I'm glad this season is over.
USC 32, Michigan 18- So much for Michigan claming they deserved a shot at the National Championship. They were thoroughly outclassed by the Trojans, who look to be the early favorites in 2007. I enjoyed Brent Musberger's analysis of the pending Lloyd Carr criticism, listing bloggers among those lining up to verbally flog the Wolverine coach. When Brent Musberger acknowledges you, you've officially arrived.
Dick Hoak retires- After 45 years with the Steelers, Dick Hoak is finally hanging it up at age 67. Upon hearing the news, Joe Paterno phoned Hoak and called him a pansy.
Bob Knight sets the record- The controversial coach won his NCAA-record 880th game, edging New Mexico, 70-68. The postgame included a playing of Frank Sinatra's My Way. He then tossed a folding chair onto the court.
Jim Mora Fired- The Coach Killer claims another victim. Now Mora can pursue Tyrone Willingham's job with all his energy.
Dennis Green Fired- The Cardinals have already assembled a list to hire their next coaching failure, including Russ Grimm, Ken Whisenhunt, Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, the Titans' Norm Chow, and Colts assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.
Pittsnogle scores 42, Xplosion fall anyway- The hated Albany Patroons were definitely Pittsnogled, but managed to steal a 132-130 victory over the Pittsburgh XPlosion. If a team is struggling to find an identity in a cluttered sports market, I don't think a 1-11 record will help too much. Of course, if they can lose on a consistent basis, year-in and year-out, they may get a free stadium built. It's called the Pittsburgh Pirates Theory.
Darrent Williams killed in a drive-by: I can't imagine worse news to open the New Year. After the shooting of Joey Porter in Denver in 2003, and Williams' shooting on New Year's Eve, Denver is quickly developing a very negative reputation. The details are limited yet gory, including blood on the shirt of Javon Walker, who was a passenger in the same limo. SI has a chilling gallery from the crime scene.