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January 10, 2003

by Bill Hogan


There's nothing like the first round of NFL playoff games to get the blood flowing on a cold January weekend. It's also a good excuse to get the beer flowing; and, sadly for some optimistic fans, the tears flowing as well.

The games this past weekend left football fans in four cities wiping their eyes and scratching their heads in disbelief. And for some, the unenviable task of repairing or replacing the wide screen television – depending on how much damage a size 11 construction boot can deliver.


Dogs of all sizes and pedigree were running for cover. Mothers were covering the innocent ears of their offspring. And barroom kegs were being emptied at a record-setting pace. They don't call it Wildcard Weekend for nothing.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana – 132 miles northeast of Indianapolis – sat a bewildered man wondering how his beloved Colts can go the entire 60 minutes without scoring a single point against the Jets.

Kicking himself for allowing his friends to convince him that shaving his head into the shape of a giant horseshoe would bring the team good luck. Silently hoping upon hope that it doesn't take long for the rest of his hair to grow back.

And taking some solace in the notion that 41-0 is not the most lopsided loss in post-season history. (If you're curious which team holds that dubious honor, click here or ask a Redskins fan).

The Packers faithful filled Lambeau Field last Saturday night secure in the knowledge that their team has never – ever – lost a home playoff game. There was little reason to believe that Atlanta would come in to the 'frozen tundra' and tarnish that unblemished record.

As the sun went down, so did the temperature and so did the hopes of a team from the south that plays its games in a dome. Michael Vick is good, but he's no Brett Favre - this one was a lock, ask any cheesehead.

By halftime – with the Falcons up 24-0 – a guy I'll refer to as Al (because that's his name) was sitting in his seat dazed and confused. "What the…", he muttered to nobody in particular. Followed by "who the…", "why the…" and "how the…". This wasn't supposed to happen in Green Bay in January.

To add insult to injury, the television camera zoomed in on Al as time ran out on his Packers; eyes glazed, jaw dropped and wearing a wad of cheese on his head for an entire nation to see and mock.

Hey, at least the Packers weren't leading 24-7 with three minutes to go in the third quarter - like the Cleveland Browns - only to have the team fall apart in the last eighteen minutes and lose the game on a last-minute touchdown by the Steelers.

Dawgs were howling up and down the shores of Lake Erie after that debacle. Are you kidding me? A 17-point lead late in the third? I know the Cleveland Browns have a long playoff history of late-game collapses – "The Drive", "The Fumble", blowing an 18-point second half lead to Miami in 1986 – but c'mon.

I'm not sure I'll ever know – if any football fan will ever know – quite what it's like to be a Browns fan. The heartache, the disappointment. Getting so close and then having the rug pulled out from under what seemed to be a sure playoff win.

It has to be a frustrating and mind-numbing experience. A kick in the teeth that's so unsettling it wakes you up at night thinking about what might have been. It's certainly something I hope I never have to go through as a football fan.

One minute you're buying a round of celebratory drinks at a Toledo sports bar and wondering whether or not to make the trip west for the Oakland game; and the next – your heart is lying on the hardwood floor covered with sawdust. That's gotta hurt.

Of course, there was a guy in San Francisco dancing in seats behind the 49er's bench last Sunday. He was wearing a white and blue, number 80 Giants jersey and had a lot of imaginative things to say to the home crowd for about three quarters of that game.

Something tells me that he can feel a Browns fan's pain. And since they are still searching the Bay Area for his whereabouts, it may very well be that he is feeling the pain of a thousand Browns fans.


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