— Hype Week isn’t what it used to be. If you doubt it, keep track of the big stories coming out of Miami this week.
New Orleans really, really loves its Saints. Peyton Manning is a really, really good quarterback.
Those are the week's big themes, folks. Really gets your blood flowing. Either that, or it makes you wonder where Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco are when you need them.
But this is what it’s come to in the No Fun League. And it’s time to stop blaming the NFL for that sarcastic appellation, because Roger Goodell isn’t telling the players to be duller than a doctoral thesis. This is simply what the NFL has become — a serious business for serious people making serious amounts of money.
It’s not that there’s no hope for those of us who want a little controversy and trash talk. There’s always a remote chance that someone will say something that can be twisted into a controversy.
Maybe Jeremy Shockey will tee off on the New York Giants for not taking his injured leg to their Super Bowl in 2007 or say something else that wasn’t vetted by the Saints’ P.R. department prior to departing New Orleans. We could work with that.
Or maybe an obscure Colt will say something unflattering about the acting skills or physical attributes of Reggie Bush’s girlfriend, Kim Kardashian. That would make for a couple of days of back-and-forth insults.
But that’s not likely to come from the Colts, a.k.a. Team Family Values. No team in any American sport is more dedicated to virtue and piety than the Colts. It was a top priority of former coach Tony Dungy, and remains one for current coach Jim Caldwell. You’d no more expect a Colt to talk trash than you’d expect Congress to make you proud.
Actually, the best bet for a story with some chew to it isn’t even a player but Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He’s already got a head start on hype week by talking last week about how he wants his defense to take some shots — cheap or otherwise — at Manning.
The Saints were able to beat the stuffing out of Kurt Warner, then Brett Favre. Not all of the shots were legal, but Williams clearly doesn’t care. He’s said he’s delighted when a quarterback doesn’t get back up after a hit.
The truth is that every defender wants the great quarterback knocked silly. If you’re a Saints fan, you want Manning looking for a foxhole. You want him knocked woozy and groggy and then out of the game. You want to win.
You don’t want him out on a dirty hit. But if you’re a fan, you’ll take it.
Even though that’s the way it works, it’s bad form to say it. That’s where Williams will get eviscerated if he goes on about turning Manning into a grease stain.
Beyond these possibilities, it’s hard to see where any controversy could come from. The Colts couldn’t be baited into a trash-talking war by Jets coach Rex Ryan. They’re not going to go off the rails over anything the Saints are going to say.
And the Saints are too excited to be here and too cognizant of what a victory would mean to their beloved city to do anything to jeopardize that.
It won’t be hard for either team to behave. In case you haven’t noticed, there simply aren’t any more free spirits left in the NFL. The days when a party animal like Jim McMahon can quarterback team to the Super Bowl are 20 years past and they aren’t coming back.
In the old days, you could get by on raw talent. Today, the game is so complicated that talent isn’t enough. Manning spends his entire year working on being a better quarterback. In the offseason, he’ll work out with individual receivers, taking an entire day to work on just three pass patterns and all the variations on them. And he does this day after day.
Manning is supremely talented, but he also studies more and works harder than any quarterback ever has. Other quarterbacks have to do the same to keep up. That doesn’t leave much time for chasing redheads and brunettes, which means Joe Willie Namath wouldn’t find today’s game any fun at all.
Namath hung out at the pool in 1969, chatting with the handful of writers who covered the game. It was at a dinner that he made his famous guarantee, but it didn’t get reported until the next day when reporters asked him if he actually said what he said.
Namath never thought he was saying anything special. Most of the reporters who at first neglected to write about it didn’t think so, either.
Today, reporters gang up on a star and ask point-blank: “Who’s gonna win?” “Are you going to guarantee a win?”
Nobody’s dumb enough to take that bait. No wonder hype week isn’t what it used to be.