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Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011

Hey Philly, Digest This Cheese Stake

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Dec. 26, 1960: Vince Lombardi has the Packers in Philadelphia for their first NFL championship game in 16 years. Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and their pals dominate the Eagles statistically but trail, 17-13, in the final minutes. With no timeouts remaining, the Packers drive toward a winning touchdown, but their final play ends with Taylor tackled inside the 10-yard line and covered by linebacker Chuck Bednarik until the clock expires. And somewhere in Cudahy, a 10-year-old boy starts dreaming of revenge.

Fifty years and two weeks later, the Packers are back in Philly for a playoff game. They lead 21-16, but the Eagles are driving. With no timeouts left, they throw for the winning score, but Tramon Williams intercepts in the end zone, then gleefully sinks to the ground inside the 10. And somewhere in Milwaukee, the former 10-year-old beams.

Frank
: I wondered whether you'd be ecstatic or seeing bad omens in what could have been a much easier win.

Artie
: I am sky high! After a half-century, it's retribution. In your face, "Concrete Charlie"!

Frank
: Good for you. As we said last week, a guy has to be true to his inner child. I never forgot the Packers beating the Giants in 1961 and ’62, so I savored the turnaround at Lambeau three years ago. And now it’s your turn.

Artie
: Best of all, Bednarik is still above the grass to feel the Pack's payback. He was great, the last of the 60-minute players, but cripes, the guy looked like he was born with a concussion.

Frank
: You also reaped revenge for six years ago, the playoff loss in Philly that hinged on the infamous "fourth and 26" pass.

Artie
: True, but for me it's all about ’60. It came down to one last big play and ended inside the 10. Those parallels are delicious!

Frank
: Late in the third quarter Philly converted on third and 14, with Michael Vick whipping one down the middle among three Packers, and I thought, "That sure looks familiar." The Packers seemed to control things so well that they should have been winning by three TDs. But they weren't.

Artie
: A big reason was something we saw against Chicago and in Detroit—the crucial dropped pass. Inexcusable! If James Jones holds onto that perfect Aaron Rodgers peg, it's 21-3 at halftime.

Frank
: As well as the Packers played, they sure got some help from two missed field goals by David Akers and the misstep by the tight end that nullified the Eagles' two-point conversion.

Artie
: But the Packers also had the genius of Andy Reid working for them—totally out of timeouts at the most crucial time. I also think he and Vick rushed the final play, which was a first down. Instead of spiking the ball to figure out their next move, they quickly threw into the area of Tramon Williams, who's been an exceptional cornerback this year.

Frank
: They got single coverage, but with the single guy the Packers most want to be in single coverage. And the play showed that Vick just isn't a consistently good passer.

Artie
: Plus he was banged up, and not just his ankle from the previous series.

Frank
: The defense hounded him all day. Meanwhile, the Packers may have found the answer in the running game that's been missing since Ryan Grant went down in Week 1. Where has this rookie James Starks been?

Artie
: Mostly out with a bad hamstring injury from preseason. He only got into a game in early December. But he really showed something in piling up 123 yards. He's got the goods.

Frank
: Now they have a short week before playing Saturday night in Atlanta. They could easily have beaten the Falcons there in November, and there's no reason to think they can't do it this time.

Artie
: Some teams that get a playoff bye really want to keep playing to stay sharp, and live to regret their good fortune. I'd love to see the Falcons be one of them.

Frank
: In the meantime, enjoy the end of your 50 years in the wasteland of fandom.

Artie: Now I'm starting to worry. What if this is, like, a cycle of life, and now that I've come full circle I'm doomed? I could get hit by a bus this week—a charter job filled with people from Philly who are here for some convention.

Frank
: Try to hold on through what might be another three wins and a Super Bowl title.

Artie
: You know, if it would help the Pack go all the way, I'd make the sacrifice. I can watch the Super Bowl from heaven, ain'a?

Frank
: You sound like Ronnie Reagan as the Gipper telling Knute Rockne, "I don't know where I'll be then, Rock, but I'll know about it, and I'll be happy." But are you sure of your destination? I doubt they allow wide-screen HD in the alternative place.

Artie
: Good thinking. I'll have my neck on a swivel whenever I cross a street.

A Win-Win Week

Frank
: Gee, you've finished two crusades now that Bert Blyleven's been voted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Artie
: But I'm still shocked at the ignorance of some of the alleged experts. The Dutchman got past the required 75% all right, but his 463 votes equaled just 79.7% of the total. One in every five voters ignored him!

Frank
: Here's some consolation. There were a record 581 ballots, up 42 from last year, and Blyleven got 63 more votes than the year before—and a whopping 125 over his 2009 tally.

Artie
: Not good enough. Bert was still 60 votes behind Robby Alomar's 90% showing. Outrageous! One guy on CBSSports.com wrote that he voted only for Alomar and Jack Morris. Liking Morris is OK, but Morris without Blyleven?

Frank: Morris gets a big-game bonus. He's legendary for the 10-inning, 1-0 shutout of Atlanta in Game 7 of the World Series for Minnesota.

Artie
: I know from baseball-reference.com (http://baseball-reference.com) that Morris went 4-0 in that ’91 postseason, and 3-0 in ’84 with Detroit. But look at Bert's postseason stats!

Frank
: Let's see… 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in eight games. Morris was 7-4 and 3.80 in 13 games. Our pal Rick Horowitz said Blyleven's election was partly a triumph of sabermetrics, those "new wave" statistics.

Artie
: Like Seattle's Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young Award with a 13-12 record?

Frank
: Yup. I argued that Blyleven made it on his "old school" stats—287 wins, a 3.31 ERA and 60 shutouts. But Rick noted that Bert also had 250 losses; his career winning percentage was just a bit above Hernandez's last season.

Artie
: Maybe Bert has some great number for WAR—"Wins Above Replacement."

Frank
: WAR—what is it good for? I can't find a single, universally accepted definition.

Artie
: Seems to be how a guy performs above what a Triple-A replacement would be.

Frank
: But how good a Triple-A player? And why Triple-A in the first place?

Artie
: Maybe it's a Triple-A guy or an "average" bench player. But again, are we talking about a kid waiting his turn or an old journeyman?

Frank
: Anyway, now you can champion someone else. But next year's newcomers to the ballot look very weak. Here's the list...

Artie
: Wow, the top names are Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Jose Hernandez, Brian Jordan, Javy Lopez, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra and Bernie Williams. So next year might be the ideal time for Morris and Barry Larkin, the only guys between 50% and 75%. I'll bet the voters don't want a year when no one gets elected.

Frank
: The last time the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted a "shutout" was 1996. This time I skipped Morris although I'd voted for him in the past. Now I'll take another look. But the real fun will be in two years, when the ballot will include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Artie
: Now we're talkin' debate!