In his Heaven's Gate community, Pete Rozelle lives on a cul-de-sac called Parity Lane. And the late NFL commissioner is smiling today--nine teams this season finished at 8-8, the most at .500 in the 80-year history of the league.
Rozelle must have been looking down proudly as, last Sunday, the 8-8 Green Bay Packers and the 8-8 Carolina Panthers were involved in a cross-country shooting match to see who could score more in the waning minutes of the regular season. (I have no problem with this. This nation was built on net point differential.)
Anyway, the rush to 8-8 reminded me that the NFL could go further to ensure a feast of .500.
In 1978, the NFL--in the most artificial, shameful maneuver in American sports history--went to "parity scheduling." With good teams playing tough schedules and bad teams playing weak schedules, the NFL figured its weighted gimmick could lead everyone to 8-8. Well, the next logical step should be "parity realignment"--for instance, all last-place teams shift into the same division the next year!
If they thought of this 10 years ago, Sam Wyche would still be coaching.
Speaking of realignment, with the inclusion of the expansion Houston franchise in 2001, the league will be at 32 teams. The NFL will undergo divisional realignment at that time, and The Man would like to revive his most brilliant proposal of all time:
Realign every year.
That's right, realign every year. It's made-for-TV. Put a bunch of Ping-Pong balls in a large jar, put it on prime time every February and, in terms of viewer interest, it will make the NFL player draft look like a PBS pledge drive. Who wouldn't watch?
By scrambling the pool every year, each team gets an equal chance to make it to a division it can win, or at least to .500.
(Historical Note: Going from 3-13 to 13-3, the Colts--en route to galloping ingloriously toward Super Bowl XXXIV--executed the biggest turnaround in NFL history and the biggest turnaround in U.S. history since Julia Roberts went from Lyle Lovett to Benjamin Bratt.)
(Coaching Note: Say what you will about Bill Belichick, but during his one-day stay as Jets head coach, he streamlined a lot of administrative areas--i.e., updating the Rolodex, relocating the main water cooler--that will benefit his successor.)
(Film Note: "Any Given Sunday" was so disappointing, I thought the closing credits would read "Directed by Bruce Coslet." And if this movie was supposedly so realistic, then Willie Beamen's final touchdown would have been reviewed by instant replay.)
As always, the following picks against the point spread are for recreational purposes only:
Lions at Redskins (-6): So mercurial Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder says Norv Turner will be back next season.
Then let me get a show of hands from those of you who think Turner will return next season if either (a) the Redskins lose to the Lions 73-0 or (b) the Redskins lose on the game's last play when Turner decides to replace Brad Johnson at quarterback with punter Matt Turk and Turk throws an interception returned for a touchdown.
The prosecution rests. Pick: Lions.
Bills at Titans (-4 1/2): Recently, the Bills' head coach went to sleep one night as Wade Phillips and woke up the next morning as Niccolo Machiavelli. Not only do I disagree with the benching of Doug Flutie--he was 7-3 as a starter in 1998 and 10-5 as a starter in 1999--but I strongly disagree with the manner in which Phillips did it.
He decided to "rest" Flutie in the season finale. Rob Johnson started, and played well. Phillips then told Flutie he was making a change. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. That doesn't sit well with me, not one bit, mister. Pick: Titans.
Dolphins at Seahawks (-3 1/2): Speaking of coach-quarterback relations, I am still steamed, peeved, chafed and piqued at the long-term treatment of one Mr. Jimmy Johnson toward one Mr. Danny Marino. For time served (and served spectacularly well, mind you), Marino should be allowed to quarterback these Dolphins even if he were bound in a straitjacket, gagged and blindfolded, and could only take snaps while standing on his head. Pick: Seahawks.
Cowboys at Vikings (-7): This is the way it works in the handicapping business: You take a stand, then you've got to go make your bed and lie in it. We all know where I stand on Jeff George. So I'm shivering under my blanket, in the twin bed in the guest room, praying that Troy and Emmitt and Deion will manage to cover me on this one. Pick: Cowboys.
Last week: 9-6.
Final regular season record: 114-120-10.*
(* Alas, for the first time in the 10-year history of this column, The Man has finished below .500. I take full responsibility. For I spent more time in the offseason looking at wedding bands than depth charts. You can't fool yourself, my friends; picking winning football has become a 365-day-a-year job. If I return next season--an iffy proposition, at the moment--I will rededicate myself to the film room.)