Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Loss Generation

Sixteen Years of Mediocrity Produce Few Football Memories

(Note: In keeping with longstanding policy, We Want Marangi does not publish the last names of Buffalo Bills fans, believing that they suffer enough regret and shame without enduring public humiliation, as well.)

Tyler is 22. He grew up somewhere between Buffalo and Rochester (WWM is also keeping his precise location undisclosed, for the reasons cited above). A three-sport athlete in high school, he’s been a Bills fan as long as he can remember.

What he can’t recall, though, is much of anything his team has done right during that span. He was an infant when Buffalo reached its fourth straight Super Bowl. He has no memory of The Music City Miracle, the Bills’ last appearance in the National Football League’s post-season, which ended with Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson catching the most infamous lateral in the game’s history and delivering it to the Buffalo end zone 75 yards away.

Since that day more than 16 years ago? To be fair, there isn’t a hell of a lot to remember.

Asked for the high point of his fandom, the game he remembers most, Tyler has to think about it. And think about it. Finally, he comes up with one.

“That time they blew out New England in the season opener,” he says. “What was that, 2008?”

His team’s recent history has been so bleak, even the relatively vivid memories are vague. The only time anything like that has happened this millenium was in 2003, when the Bills, fortified by the game-week signing of banished Patriots safety Lawyer Malloy, dismantled New England 31-0.

A great day, to be sure. Drew Bledsoe led the Bills to touchdowns on their first two drives against his old team, while Malloy helped the defense batter Tom Brady into one of the worst games of his career. The then-26-year-old completed just 14 of his 28 passes for 123 yards, while the Bills picked off four of them. with 350-pound defensive tackle Sam Adams thundered 37 yards with one of them for a touchdown that put Buffalo ahead 21-0 in the third quarter, seemingly shattering the Patriots’ hex on the Bills, then just three seasons old, in the process.

Satisfying as it may have been, though, it was only the first game of a long season. The next one went pretty well, too, as Buffalo drilled Jacksonville – then a perennial AFC contender, believe it or not – 38-14 to inspire Super Bowl talk both locally and nationally.

Highly premature Super Bowl talk, as it turned out. Bledsoe and the Bills went 3-11 from there, getting obliterated by New England in the finale by a highly appropriate score – 31-0.

That Tyler’s best memory of his team stems from an ultimately meaningless game pretty well sums up his generation’s experience with the Bills. But at least it was directly football-related.

Jackie, age 24, has to go back even further for her high point as a Bills fan, to Dec. 1, 2002, when the Bills beat the Dolphins 38-21 on their way to an 8-8 finish (which, it should be noted, is the second-best record the franchise has posted during its playoff exile).

Not because Bledsoe threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns, or because Travis Henry ran for 151 yards long before embarking on a less-successful career as a drug trafficker and deadbeat dad, or even because Buffalo won despite a career-best 227-yard rushing day by Miami’s Ricky Williams. The game is indelible for Jackie (and she’s not alone – it’s the only 21st-century contest on the list of most-memorable Bills-Dolphins game compiled by because of the steady, heavy snowfall that led it to be dubbed “The Snow Globe Game.”

“I just remember the whole crowd singing, ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” she says.

Her friend Nevada, 23, cites a more recent Buffalo-Miami clash, the Bills’ 19-14 win on Nov. 15, 2012. Not that it had much significance for either franchise, but because it was the first Thursday night home game played at Ralph Wilson Stadium (for the record, the Bills were technically the home team against the Jets in a 2009 Thursday-nighter at Rogers Centre, but UFR refuses to officially acknowledge that the whole Toronto debacle ever occurred).

It’s a pretty stark contrast with their peers around the league. Take the combatants in last Sunday’s Super Bowl. You’re forgiven if you’ve already forgotten a game overshadowed by whatever that was at halftime and Peyton Manning’s post-game focus on his endorsements and business holdings, but the Wade Phillips’ defense won 24-10, with Manning and the Denver offense largely staying out of the way.

So the Broncos have made two Super Bowl appearances in the last three years, along with seven other playoff appearances since the Bills made it to the NFL tournament. The Panthers, who didn’t exist when Buffalo lost its fourth straight Super Bowl, have also gotten there twice during the Bills’ non-playoff skid.
None of which is nearly as galling to the local faithful as the Patriots and their dominant run -- six Super Bowl berths, four Lombardi Trophies and 12 playoff appearances in the last 14 seasons.

Buffalo fans over 30 can relate, if bitterly. They remember their team going to the Super Bowl four straight years and reaching the playoffs six times in a row, eight out of nine and 10 out of 12 from 1988-99, as well as the big regular-season wins that got them there.

If you fall in an older demographic, you might also recall Jim Kelly getting motorcaded to training camp in Fredonia. Or Joe Cribbs jumping to the USFL, then returning. Or the 1980-81 playoff teams who inspired an incredibly cheesy theme song. Or the years when O.J. Simpson was known solely as the best football player on the planet.

Those who sat in War Memorial Stadium have Jack Kemp, Cookie Gilchrist, Elbert Dubenion and the most dominant defense the American Football League ever produced, along with two league titles, to look back on with fond nostalgia.

Tyler’s generation, meanwhile, remembers weather and the calendar. And Bledsoe and J.P. Losman and C.J. Spiller. And, of course, the sprawling pre-game tailgate party that has kept the stadium in Orchard Park sold out through most of this bleak era, despite widespread harrumphing from some older scolds among the fan base.

“Any home game at the Ralph is awesome,” says 21-year-old Austin.

Even slightly older Buffalo fans have some memory of Bills games that mattered, even if they’re not the most pleasant.

Josh, now 28, was 12 years old and grounded, due to some infraction lost to the ages, and therefore forced to watch Buffalo’s Jan. 8, 2000 visit to Nashville on a 4x4-inch black-and-white television in his bedroom. When Steve Christie’s 41-yard field goal pushed the Bills ahead of the Titans with 16 seconds remaining, he made a break for it.

“I came running out of my bedroom, yelling, ‘Oh my God, they won!’ I got yelled at by my dad, ‘Get back in there – you’re going to jinx them!’ Before I could, the Music City Miracle happens. He’s blamed me for it ever since.”

Maybe a traumatic memory is better than none at all.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

'The Precision Jack-Hammer Attack:' A Hunter S. Thompson Super Bowl Reader

(It's Super Bowl Sunday, which means it is time for We Want Marangi's annual re-posting of our look at Hunter S. Thompson's thoughts on one of the most uniquely American institutions, first published in February 2013.)

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about a lot of things -- bikers, bluegrass, police corruption, high-powered weaponry and horse racing, to name a few.

Mostly, and most successfully, though, he wrote about politics and football. At his best, both at the same time.

In particular, presidential elections and Super Bowls were his twin inspirations, regularly scheduled events that embodied what he hated and loved about America and Americans. Even his suicide note was entitled "Football Season is Over."

I'm not going to try to write about his writing here, because doing so would be an exercise in ego and pointlessness, other than to introduce a few of my favorite passages you can enjoy while, or instead of, sitting through the four-hour pre-game show leading up to the epic struggle between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. It's got to beat getting force-fed yet another fond farewell to Ray Lewis and further exploration of the brotherly love shared by the Harbaughs.

As a recovering sportswriter, I've never read an analysis that captures the profession's spirit, or lack thereof, as this bit from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, a collection of Thompson's Rolling Stone articles on Richard M. Nixon's final run for office:

There is a dangerous kind of simple-minded Power/Precision worship at the root of the massive fascination with pro football in this country, and sportswriters are mainly responsible for it. With a few rare exceptions like Bob Lypstye of The New York Times and Tom Quinn of the (now-defunct) Washington Daily News, sportswriters are a kind of rude and brainless subculture of fascist drunks whose only real function is to publicize & sell whatever the sports editor sends them out to cover. . .

Which is a nice way to make a living, because it keeps a man busy and requires no thought at all. The two keys to success as a sportswriter are: (1) A blind willingness to believe anything you're told by the coaches, flacks, hustlers, and other "official spokesmen" for the team-owners who provide the free booze. . . and: (2) A Roget's Thesaurus, in order to avoid using the same verbs and adjectives twice in the same paragraph.

Even a sports editor, for instance, might notice something wrong with a lead that said: "The precision-jackhammer attack of the Miami Dolphins stomped the balls off the Washington Redskins today by stomping and hammering with one precise jackthrust after another up the middle, mixed with pinpoint precision passes into the flat and numerous hammer-jack stomps around both ends. . ."

Right. And there was the genius of Grantland Rice. He carried a pocket thesaurus, so that "The thundering hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen" never echoed more than once in the same paragraph, and the "Granite-grey sky" in his lead was a "cold dark dusk" in the last lonely line of his heart-rending, nerve-ripping stories. . .

There was a time, about ten years ago, when I could write like Grantland Rice. Not necessarily because I believed all that sporty bullshit, but because sportswriting was the only thing I could do that anybody was willing to pay for.

A few paragraphs earlier, Thompson served up a brutal parody of every hack who ever filed a game story (present company included):

They came together on a hot afternoon in Los Angeles, howling and clawing at each other like wild beasts in heat. Under a brown California sky, the fierceness of their struggle brought tears to the eyes of 90,000 God-fearing fans.

They were twenty-two men who were somehow more than men.

They were giants, idols, titans. . .


They stood for everything Good and True and Right in the American Spirit.

Because they had guts.

And they yearned for the Ultimate Glory, the Great Prize, the Final Fruits of a long and vicious campaign.

Victory in the Super Bowl: $15,000 each.

They were hungry for it. They were thirsty. For twenty long weeks, from August through December, they had struggled to reach this Pinnacle. . . and when dawn lit the beaches of Southern California on that fateful Sunday morning in January, they were ready.

To seize the Final Fruit.

They could almost taste it. The smell was stronger than a ton of rotten mangoes.

Their nerves burned like open sores on a dog's neck. White knuckles. Wild eyes. Strange fluid welled up in their throats, with a taste far sharper than bile.


Those who went early said the pre-game tension was almost unbearable. By noon, many fans were weeping openly, for no apparent reason. Others wrung their hands or gnawed on the necks of pop bottles, trying to stay calm. Many fist-fights were reported in the public urinals. Nervous ushers roamed up and down the aisles, confiscating alcoholic beverages and occasionally grappling with drunkards. Gangs of Seconal-crazed teenagers prowled through the parking lot outside the stadium, beating the mortal shit out of luckless stragglers. . .

A year later, Thompson referred back to the 'The precision-jackhamer attack of the Miami Dolphins ...' lede in a lengthy Rolling Stone piece entitled "Fear And Loathing At The Super Bowl: No Rest For The Wretched." Gonzo Journalism at its finest, Thompson blends his thoughts on Watergate, labor relations and fortune-telling with a mini-profile of Oakland Raiders strongman Al Davis, trademark accounts of substance abuse and a pre-dawn sermon based on Revelations 20:15 from the 20th-floor balcony of his hotel.

As in the best of Thompson's work, he cuts the psychedelia and free-form association with some remarkably precise description of the physical and psychic impact of Miami wide receiver Paul Warfield:

This was what happened in Houston with the Dolphins' Paul Warfield, widely regarded as "the most dangerous pass receiver in pro football." Warfield is a game-breaker, a man who commands double-coverage at all times because of his antelope running style, twin magnets for hands, and a weird kind of adrenaline instinct that feeds on tension and high pressure. There is no more beautiful sight in football than watching Paul Warfield float out of the backfield on a sort of angle-streak pattern right into the heart of a "perfect" zone defense and take a softly thrown pass on his hip, without even seeming to notice the arrival of the ball, and then float another 60 yards into the end zone, with none of the frustrated defensive backs ever touching him.

There is an eerie kind of certainty about Warfield's style that is far more demoralizing than just another six points on the Scoreboard. About half the time he looks bored and lazy -- but even the best pass defenders in the league know, in some nervous corner of their hearts, that when the deal goes down Warfield is capable of streaking right past them like they didn't exist. . .

Unless he's hurt; playing with some kind of injury that might or might not be serious enough to either slow him down or gimp the fiendish concentration that makes him so dangerous. . . and this was the possibility that Dolphin coach Don Shula raised on Wednesday when he announced that Warfield had pulled a leg muscle in practice that afternoon and might not play on Sunday.

This news caused instant action in gambling circles. Even big-time bookies, whose underground information on these things is usually as good as Pete Rozelle's, took Shula's announcement seriously enough to cut the spread down from seven to six-- a decision worth many millions of betting dollars if the game turned out to be close.

Even the rumor of an injury to Warfield was worth one point (and even two, with some bookies I was never able to locate). . . and if Shula had announced on Saturday that Paul was definitely not going to play, the spread would probably have dropped to four, or even three. . . Because the guaranteed absence of Warfield would have taken a great psychological load off the minds of Minnesota's defensive backs.

Without the ever-present likelihood of a game-breaking "bomb" at any moment, they could focus down much tighter on stopping Miami's brutal running game -- which eventually destroyed them, just as it had destroyed Oakland's nut-cutting defense two weeks earlier, and one of the main reasons why the Vikings failed to stop the Dolphins on the ground was the constant presence of Paul Warfield in his customary wide-receiver's spot.

He played almost the whole game, never showing any sign of injury; and although he caught only one pass, he neutralized two Minnesota defensive backs on every play. . . and two extra tacklers on the line of scrimmage might have made a hell of a difference in that embarrassingly decisive first quarter when Miami twice drove what might as well have been the whole length of the field to score 14 quick points and crack the Vikings' confidence just as harshly as they had cracked the Redskins out in Los Angeles a year earlier.

The above represents Thompson at the peak of his powers, the writer who produced Hells AngelsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved." Over the three decades before his suicide (for which I remain pissed at him), his genius unraveled, whether due to fame, wealth, drugs, the internal victory of cynicism over hope for his country, or a swirl of all four.

But the Super Bowl remained his personal Holy Day, and he could still reach back and find the groove when writing about it.

Whoops. Strike that. Leeches are not rodents. They are blood-sucking members of the Hirudinea family, a sub-species of the hermaphroditic sucker-worm that is frequently applied to headache-victims and other human wounds. Leeches used in human treatment range in size from three inches to 13 inches when fully bloated. They have two ugly mouths, one on each end, filled with tiny, razor-sharp teeth by which they attach themselves firmly to the flesh, prior to sucking. The leech has many eyes.

The Oakland Raiders are the only team in football that still routinely uses leeches for treatment of serious injuries. It is an old-timey medicine, deriving no doubt from the team's Bay Area roots, with its powerful Italian community and its many neighborhood grocery stores and exotic foreign delicacies, along with sausage, fresh fish and leeches ... I have many fond memories of hanging out in North Beach at elegant Italian restaurants with Raiders players in the good old days of yesteryear, when the silver-and-black dynasty was just getting started, long before they turned into the gigantic, high-powered winning machine that they are today.

Things were different in those years, but they were never dull. Every game was a terrifying adventure, win or lose, and the Raiders of the '70s usually won -- except in Pittsburgh, where cruel things happened and many dreams died horribly. You could see the early beginnings of what would evolve into the massive Raider Nation, which is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and whackos ever assembled in such numbers under a single "roof," so to speak, anywhere in the English-speaking world. No doubt there are other profoundly disagreeable cults that meet from time to time in most of the 50 states ...

But so what? There is nothing more to say. I have obviously made my decision about the Raiders. They are simply a better football team than the Buccaneers, and they will win. A realistic line for this game would be 10 or 11, but right now it is hovering around 5 or 6.

For all Thompson's gifts, football prognostication was not one of them. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stomped the balls off the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21.

(NOTE: If, for some reason, you do not already own The Great Shark Hunt, an anthology of the first and best two decades of Thompson's writing career which includes the full articles from which the first two passages above are lifted, you can do so here. For only $11.87, for God's sake. Or, if you are a lazy and/or cheap bastard, you can get the whole thing in .pdf form here.)

Peyton's Last Stand

It says a lot about the peculiar appeal of professional football that one of the sport’s most iconic images is that of a bald man—who looks far too old to be playing such a brutal game—on his knees, bleeding and dazed.

The concussed player in question is Yelberton Abraham Tittle, whose Hall of Fame web page and nearly every other reference abbreviates as Y.A. Appearances to the contrary, he was only 38 when the photo was taken by Morris Berman, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer known slightly less widely for a close-up of the mutilated bodies of deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress after they had been killed and dragged through the streets of Milan by the fascist ruler’s former subjects.

So Berman knew a powerful image when he saw it.
I remembered his Tittle photo (the Mussolini shot is one you would only try to forget) while thinking about Peyton Manning’s starring role in the buildup to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, when the Denver quarterback will attempt to keep his crumbled 39-year-old body upright, ambulatory and effective in the face of Carolina’s highly predatory defense.

Manning’s place in football history is already secure, even if he doesn’t catch up to brother Eli by winning a second Super Bowl ring. He has easily surpassed Little Bro, and every other quarterback ever, in every significant career statistical category, from yards to touchdowns to endorsements.

This year, though, Archie’s boy missed six games with plantar fasciitis and has admitted he has no feeling in the fingertips of his throwing hand, following neck surgery that caused him to miss the 2012 season and get bounced from Indianapolis, where he spent his first 14 NFL seasons. As a result, he produced the worst statistical regular season of any starting Super Bowl quarterback ever, according to FiveThirtyEight, the analysis site known for predicting electoral races with remarkable accuracy before transferring from the New York Times to ESPN in 2013.
Manning’s numbers—especially the 17 interceptions he threw, compared to just nine touchdown passes—and general feebleness are major reasons the Broncos are a consensus six-point underdog as of press time. In the NFC Championship game, the Panthers pressured and pummeled Arizona’s Carson Palmer into six turnovers in Carolina’s 49-15 curb-stomping of the Cardinals.

Tittle’s bludgeoning came in the second game of the 1964 season, his 17th as a professional. As a rookie with the Baltimore Colts of the old All-America Football Conference, which merged with the NFL in 1950, he was the losing quarterback in a playoff game against the original Buffalo Bills, who bear no resemblance other than name to the current edition. Except that those Bills, of course, went on to get smeared 49-7 in the AAFC title game by the Cleveland Browns.

After the merger with the NFL, Tittle wound up with the San Francisco 49ers, who he quarterbacked with little distinction until 1961, when he was traded to the New York Giants. Like Manning after his arrival in Denver, Tittle experienced a rebirth, leading the Giants of Frank Gifford and Sam Huff to three straight NFL Championship games.

Having lost all three, two of them to Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, Tittle and his Giants had just opened their campaign for a fourth when 6-foot-7, 280-pound Pittsburgh defensive end put his helmet into the ancient quarterback’s chest. The impact left Tittle without a helmet and with a concussion, cracked sternum and pulled rib muscles.

Berman’s image captured what is commonly, and incorrectly, remembered as the end of Tittle’s career, which earned him induction into the Hall of Fame. Somehow, in the days long before concussion protocols or, it seems, any other sort of medical oversight, ol’ Y.A. was taped up and sent back out to start again the next week. He wound up playing in every New York game that season, even though the Giants fell all the way from the sport’s biggest game during the pre-Super Bowl era to a 2-10-2 record. He even thought about coming back for the ’65 season before yielding to his wife’s pleading and finally hung it up.

Manning has hinted he plans to do the same after Sunday, according to multiple reports. If you’re the betting type, you can even place a wager on whether or not he will announce it during his inevitable post-game interview. Not that we encourage betting on sports, or anything, but if you bet $100 that he will, and he does, you win $500. But you have to bet $1,000 to win $100 that he won’t.

While there are also available bets on whether Manning throws at least one interception that gets returned for a touchdown or if he will be named Super Bowl MVP (he’s a distant second-favorite to his Carolina counterpart, Cam Newton, mainly because quarterbacks have won the award in 27 of the previous 49 Big Games), you can’t wager specifically on whether he finishes the game making a well-paid vow to visit a famous amusement park, on the sideline scowling under his trademark pink forehead, or under a doctor’s care.

Yes, it’s possible that—if Denver’s Wade Phillips-masterminded defense can somehow contain Newton, the game’s most dynamic quarterback—Manning can use his unquestioned mental mastery of the game, while mustering enough of his faded skills, to pull off the upset. After that dismal regular season, he has cobbled together two playoff games solid enough to keep advancing.

It would be a great story, especially if you  are the type whose heart is warmed by happy endings for famous people you'll never meet. But story lines rarely stand up to the reality of superior force, and Carolina's is the fiercest defense Manning has faced this season, and Newton the most uniquely talented quarterback Phillips and his defense have tried to throttle.

Given how Manning and his opponents look heading into Sunday, a more Tittle-like conclusion seems like a much better bet.

Wade Makes Peyton Super Again

So, as you might have heard (and certainly will approximately 2,384 times in the run-up to Super Bowl 50), Peyton Manning is going back to the Big Game one more time.

He should really buy something nice for Wade Phillips.

If not for the positively brilliant game plan designed and implemented by the former Buffalo Bills head coach last Sunday against New England, Manning’s role in the Feb. 7 telecast from Santa Clara would be limited to his trademark 30-second aw-shucks appearances endorsing insurance, colored sugar water and crappy pizza.

That Manning’s rotting corpse was even on the field against the Patriots stands as a testament to the job done all year by Phillips and the most dynamic defense fielded by the Broncos since the Orange Crush carried another feeble Denver offense to Super Bowl XIII in January 1978.

Phillips’ defense was, without any statistical dispute, the National Football League’s best in 2015. The Broncos gave up the fewest yards overall and the fewest passing yards, while finishing third against the run. They led the league with 52 quarterback sacks, without exposing themselves to the big plays that can result when the pass rush doesn’t get there. No defense gave up fewer passes of 40 yards or more than the five yielded by Denver. In case you were wondering, the Bills, as coached up by Rex Ryan, finished second-from-last with 21 sacks, while giving up 11 40-plussers to tie for 17th in the rankings.

As impressive as they were in the traditional statistical categories, which do not take into account game situation, field position or anything else besides pure counting of yards, Denver was even better by the more sophisticated analytic numbers. Rather than attempt to accurately paraphrase the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system devised by Pro Football Outsiders, the most widely cited Moneyball-For-Football metric, we’ll simply quote

“It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent…Because DVOA measures scoring defenses are better when they are negative.”

The Broncos led the league in Defensive DVOA, as well as Weighted Defense, which puts more emphasis on games played later in the season, when more is at stake. Again, as a point of comparison, Buffalo finished 24th and 29th in those two categories.

The numbers, impressive as they are, don’t come close to capturing how dominant the Broncos looked throttling Tom Brady for most of the AFC title game. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware didn’t just seem to be hurrying, flustering and/or flattening Brady on just about every pass attempt—they really were. According to Bill Barnwell of, Denver hit Brady 20 times and made him hurry at least 10 other times.

And they did it without frequently blitzing linebackers or defensive backs, a tactic long a vital part of Phillips’ defensive approach. Instead, Phillips positioned the likes of Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to jam New England’s receivers at the line and smother their short routes, denying Brady the quick options he has been using to thwart pass rushes for a decade-and-a-half.

Phillips even used a three-man rush on 14 pass attempts, according to Barnwell’s ciphering, confusing Brady to the degree that he managed just four completions for 41 yards in those situations, while getting sacked once and throwing an interception to Miller, the fearsome pass rusher who had dropped into pass coverage on the play.
Hear that, Mario Williams?

Phillips’ success with Denver comes after spending a year out of football, just the second time he was without a job for a full season since 1976, when he started his NFL coaching career running the defensive line for his father, Bum Phillips, with the Houston Oilers.

His masterpiece against New England seems to have generated more media praise than any achievement across those 40 seasons, which has to be especially gratifying for a guy who got barbecued locally during his three-year stint as head coach in Buffalo and nationally throughout three-plus seasons running the Dallas Cowboys.
Given Manning’s physical decline and Denver’s general offensive struggles (the Broncos have been outgained by their two playoff opponents), Phillips will need to produce another pièce de résistance to give his team a chance against Cam Newton and Carolina, which was a five-point favorite at press time.

That’s a far more likely route to a Denver win than a suddenly revitalized Manning. Both Phillips and Manning are scions of 1970s NFL legends, it’s the 68-year-old Son of Bum (as he self-identifies on his highly likable Twitter account @SonofBum who remains at the top of his game.