When is a big game not a big game? When you win it, apparently. As long as it's not the Super Bowl.
As you may have noticed during one of the 10,000 times CBS flashed this graphic during the past three playoff weeks, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning came into this season with a 3-6 lifetime playoff record. That record is now 6-6.
At the beginning of his career the Colts seemed like playoff visitors, but since about 2003, when the Colts went 12-4 and lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, the main thing you've needed to know about Manning is that he Can't Win the Big One.
Now, one of the big stories of Super Bowl Hype Week I is that Manning finally has a chance to prove he Can Win the Big One.
Wait a second. Wasn't this year's AFC Championship Game a Big One? Weren't those other two playoff wins, over the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, Big Ones? If the Colts had lost any of those three games, what would all the Mikes and all the other Mikes be saying all these mornings?
Peyton Manning can't win the Big One.
If Manning is just now getting a chance, for the first time, to prove that he can win the Big One, how have we all figured out in the past few years that he can't win the Big One?
If non-Super Bowl playoff games aren't Big Ones, Manning's record in Big Ones is 0-0. As the lottery people like to say, you can't win if you don't play.
Sure, there has been some monkey-off-his-back talk, but tune in to sports talk radio or sniff around Google News. There's no question that in the popular imagination, Super Bowl 41 will be a referendum on Manning's ability to win the Big One.
Never mind that quarterbacks rarely win games single-handedly, that Manning would now be 3-7 or 4-7 if the Colts defense hadn't played so well against the Chiefs and Ravens while Manning was less than stellar, 5-7 if the Colts D hadn't come up with the stop that led to the game-winning drive against the Patriots Sunday, or the interception that sealed the game.
Never mind that, we're talking about Peyton Manning's inability to win the ever-shifting Big One. Because this is it. The Super Bowl. The Big One. Really. If you lose a playoff game, you can't win the Big One. If you win a playoff game, you get a chance to prove you can win the Big One.
I think. I can't be the only one who figures somebody somewhere is going to react to a Colts win in the Super Bowl by saying, "Oh yeah? Well let's see Manning win the Rose Bowl!"
The NHL can even get getting it right wrong [PERMALINK]
Last month I gave rare props to the NHL for getting something right, contrasting that with the NBA's fumbled attempt to introduce a new ball.
Well, a month later, not so much anymore.
What I thought the NHL got right last month was not scuttling its three-year experiment with an extremely unbalanced schedule after about a year and a quarter. Hockey insiders and fans have complained that the divisional and regional rivalries the new schedule was supposed to engender haven't developed. People just don't seem to be excited about watching the Chicago Blackhawks play the Columbus Blue Jackets. Again.
Meanwhile, Western Conference teams have complained that the marquee Eastern Conference teams, and especially marquee Eastern Conference whiz-kids Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, only visit Western buildings once every three years under the current schedule.
So the Board of Governors got together this week and voted to change to a more balanced schedule. The motion for change needed a two-thirds vote and got it. Then the governors failed to pass a new schedule, two proposals failing by one vote, so the schedule stays as it is through next season.
I still think that's a good thing, but I realize I'm just about alone in thinking that. It takes longer than a year and a half for divisional rivalries to really catch fire in what's essentially a start-up league. That's why the original time period for the experiment was three years. Why set up a three-year experiment and then scuttle it when things aren't working out early in Year 2?
The real reason all those divisional games seem dull and repetitive is that the regular season is meaningless. Sixteen of the 30 teams make the playoffs, so the regular season is nothing more than an 82-game slog to decide which of a handful of mediocrities are the last few teams in.
Given how little seeding tends to mean in the NHL playoffs, exactly what can make regular-season games exciting or meaningful for Anaheim, Buffalo, Nashville or any of the other teams that would have to collapse spectacularly to miss the postseason?
But never mind what I think. Two-thirds of the league wanted a change and they couldn't get it done, mostly because the Eastern Conference teams, which like playing each other a lot because it cuts way down on travel costs, voted out of self-interest.
A little leadership by commissioner Gary Bettman, who kept the clubs firmly in hand during the disastrous lockout, would have gone a long way here. I mean, two proposals lost by one vote each. But he's Gary Bettman, and that's all you need to know about that.
This is all Titanic deck-chairs stuff anyway. Bettman's iceberg, even more than the lockout, was the decision to walk away from ESPN because the network wanted to pay less for the rights. Bettman took the NHL to OLN, the cable network to be named later as Versus. It'll also be found later, if you keep looking.
Here's a lesson for all sports leagues not big enough to swing a broadcast-network deal, and it's one the NHL already should have learned from the Pac-10, which, you'll be amazed to know, actually conducts a basketball season: If ESPN's price for showing your games is that every player, coach, executive and owner in the league has to take one shift a year cleaning the windows in Bristol with his or her tongue, take the deal.
Did you know the NHL played an All-Star Game Wednesday night? Yeah, who knew. It was on Versus.
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