posted: Jan. 31, 2006  |  Feedback

I'm saving my Super Bowl thoughts for Friday, but I did want to mention the unfortunate two-week break. The NFL season has a certain rhythm: 17 weeks of the regular season, cresting with three playoff weeks and the Super Bowl. When you get snapped out of that rhythm, it's hard to bounce back into that "Are you ready for some football?!?!" mentality the following week. I don't have a problem with the matchup, just the break itself. I actually like this Steelers-Seahawks matchup. It's a good one.

• Take it from someone who's covered three Super Bowl weeks: Except for the location and the teams, it's the exact same week every year. Same events, same schedule, same people, same everything. If you're new to the column and wondering about my take on certain Super Bowl Week events, here are some relevant columns from New Orleans, Jacksonville and Houston (you need ESPN Insider access to read them).

Queasy in the Big Easy (2002) -- This one got me in deep doo-doo in New Orleans. Bad times.

Why is the Super Bowl in Jacksonville? (2005) -- This question has never been adequately answered.

Running diary of media day (2002) -- Here's what it's like to be there. A little long, but I liked how this one came out. At least it was original.

Media day photo blog (2005) -- You don't just get to see what media day was like, there's even a photo of my Jason Priestley-like beard!

Attack of the super blog (2004) -- To my knowledge, the first-ever super blog of its kind. Somehow I wrote 25,000 words in eight days without having a conniption -- it remains one of the highlights of my career. You can catch the links to each day on this page, but if you missed it the first time around, there are stories about blowing a chance to sit next to Jaclyn Smith on an airplane (Monday, 4:30); the ridiculous NFL Experience (Tuesday, 11:00); messing with John Kasay on media day (Wednesday, 5:00); and a phenomenal video game battle between Troy Brown and Steve Smith (Thursday, 12:45). Crazy city, crazy week.

• One Super Bowl related e-mail from New York reader Ben Reynolds: "It's the Monday before the Super Bowl and the number of TV analysts and sportswriters who mock the fact that 'EVERYONE is doing an angle on Jerome Bettis being from Detroit' has officially surpassed the number of sportwriters/analysts who have actually brought up the Jerome Bettis/Detroit homecoming angle. Complaining about the story's oversaturation has become even more oversaturated than the original angle. It's like in their hurry to call out the rest of the sports media for being unoriginal sheep, they all proved themselves to in fact be unoriginal sheep. Someone has to call out the sheep who were calling out the sheep. Hopefully, this isn't the 500th e-mail you've received on the subject, making me one of a group of sheep calling out sheep for calling out sheep."

Good point, Ben. It's like a merry-go-round. The problem is that Bettis is overweight and friendly and happy and cuddly, teammates and reporters love him, and this is clearly leading to at least 45 overproduced TV pieces showing Bettis walking around Detroit with Springsteen's "My Hometown" wailing in the background. And since everyone else can sense what's about to unfold here, it's easy as hell to mock. But isn't that what Super Bowl week is all about -- beating story lines into the ground, then mocking those same story lines as they're being beaten into the ground? Why even have Super Bowl week then?

One more Bettis note: Peter King wrote on yesterday, "I'm really happy for Jerome Bettis. He's a sportswriter's best friend."

With all due respect to Peter, this stuff drives me crazy. Reporters and columnists always protect the players who take care of them and stop analyzing them objectively. For instance, in Bettis' case, the dude let himself go in his farewell season -- he was clearly laboring during the second half of the Broncos game, for instance -- but has anyone dared to criticize him (because he's a good guy and all)? Well, what if the Steelers needed a first down to clinch the game, and Bettis was dry-heaving into an oxygen mask because he's roughly the same size as Hurley from "Lost" at this point? Would this have become a story? Or would everyone have made excuses for him again like they did after the Colts game, when he carried the ball with one hand on the Nick Harper play and nearly blew the season for Pittsburgh?

On the flip side, when Jim Rice's Hall of Fame merits are discussed every January, you can always count on writers and columnists to mention how Rice's résumé shouldn't be tainted by the fact that he was notoriously unfriendly to reporters during his career. Oh, really? You think so? So we should just judge the guy by how he played on the baseball field? What a novel concept! Seriously, who the hell cares how someone interacted with sportswriters when he played? How does this affect my life? If a player lacks the patience to answer uninspired questions after games and practices, and he doesn't deal with a group of complete strangers in a congenial manner, why should this affect the way we evaluate his career as a player? I don't get it.

(Note: I have nothing against Bettis, one of the most genuine guys in any sport and a mortal lock to evolve into a Barkley-type studio guy when he retires. Just playing devil's advocate here. If Brandon Jacobs was the one fumbling on that Nick Harper play, every NFL writers and talking head would have been screaming "How could this dummy not have two hands on the ball?!?!" for the next 96 hours. And you know I'm right.)

• Following up on the Crisp-Marte section in Monday's Cowbell, Dow from Chelmsford wonders, "Wait a second here, whatever happened to when you wrote in the Beckett column, 'I never get bummed out about trading prospects for established guys -- if anything, I much prefer this route over rolling the dice with could-bes and would-bes.' I've been spouting that belief for years now, and finally felt like I had a credible media ally, only to have you backtrack on that same point two months later. Have you already forgotten Kevin Morton and Brian Rose?"

Two big differences. First, Marte is a position player, a much safer bet than a pitching prospect since pitchers can break down at any point. Second, Marte wasn't just any prospect -- Baseball Prospectus ranked him the No. 1 prospect of 2005. Again, I'm not saying that the logic behind the deal was wrong. I just believe that Marte for Crisp was a fair deal in itself, that the Red Sox overpaid to fill a need position, and the only reason Sox fans weren't more upset was because they had no real history with Marte as an elite prospect. Those were my only points.

• Josh from Boston adds, "Don't worry about the Sox losing Marte. There isn't a shrewder evaluator of minor league talent than John Schuerholz, and he was willing to trade him for a d-u-n done Renteria. The Epstein-era Red Sox are also superior minor league talent evaluators, but they were willing to trade him. And the Red Sox and Braves are both in need of a long-term third base solution. If he was the second coming of Rolen, one of those two teams would have held on to him. At least, that's what I keep telling myself."

• A counterpoint from Thomas in Richmond, Va.: "After reading your Cowbell wondering if trading Andy Marte was the right thing to do, I am forced to comment. I was extremely excited when the Red Sox acquired him a few weeks ago. I've watched him play here in Richmond (Atlanta's AAA affiliate) the past couple years, and this kid is good. Not A-Rod "I'm a cheater" good, but Nomar-in-his-prime good. A great hitter, great baserunner, great range at third, someone who is going to hustle out every play. In fact, I almost wrote you when the Sox got him to simply tell you that you should be as excited as I was, something along the lines of Kirstie Alley discovering a new diet which allows her to eat an entire pound cake every day. I too fear that this trade may end up like the next Jeff Bagwell. Here's hoping our new center fielder is worth it."

• One NBA note: The best and worst of the league was on display Monday night. In Miami, "Heat 118, Clippers 114" was the best game of the 2005-2006 season. There have been more entertaining games (like Phoenix's triple-OT contests, or the 152-149 game between Seattle and Phoenix, or even Kobe's 81-point game), but I can't imagine two current teams playing at a higher level at the same time. The Clippers shot 54 percent from the field, made 17 of 18 free throws and 7 of 11 3s ... and lost. Miami shot 55 percent and made 11 of 20 3s. There were only 62 rebounds in the entire game. The talent pool was off the charts. And there was some genuine drama down the stretch. What a battle. Just two of better teams in basketball bringing the best out of one another.

Meanwhile, the Celtics and Wolves met three days after their big seven-player trade ... and an "inspired" Mark Blount exploded for a 20-10, hustling on both ends, skipping down the floor and mocking the Celtics bench after two baskets. Here's a guy they overpaid (six years, $40 million) who immediately decided to take the next 18 months off -- stopped smiling, stopped working hard, bitched behind the scenes, zoned out during timeouts, tried to undermine the coach, did everything he could to force a trade, basically ran up and down the floor and shot 18-footers and that was it -- and when they finally traded him, he gave 110 percent and did everything he could to show them up. Good guy.

Wait, that's not all! In the same trade, they also traded Marcus Banks, who stopped trying this season because (a) he was being buried by the coaching staff, (b) the team didn't pick up his 2007 option, and (c) he was coming back from a stress fracture in his leg. Knowing he had nothing to gain by trying in Boston, he mailed in the next few weeks and played at 3/4 speed so he didn't get hurt again. Then they traded him. Well, now Banks has a chance to make an imprint in Minnesota and possibly get a new contract! Last night, he was flying around like T.J. Ford, beating guys off the dribble, guarding his guy for 94 feet, driving into traffic and making plays ... he was a man possessed. In this case, the situation wasn't nearly as loathsome as Blount's situation -- after all, Boston's coaching staff buried Banks for two years and Doc Rivers turned the Delonte West/Banks situation into a "good son/bad son" thing. That's why Banks needed a new start somewhere else. I just think it's interesting that, when an NBA player was faced with the choice of ...

Option A: Busting his butt to get minutes and prove the coaching staff wrong.

Or ...

Option B: Going on cruise control, getting paid every two weeks, waiting to get traded, then busting his butt as soon as he finds a new team.

... Banks chose Option B.

(The NBA ... it's fannnnnnnnn-tastic! I love this game!)

January 2006