Friday, January 27, 2006

Super Bowl virgins

Somewhere along the line, the Browns ran off to join a convent. It's their fans, however, that have taken the vows of poverty and chastity.
With the NFC championship of the Seahawks, yet another Super Bowl virgin has been deflowered. That leaves six NFL franchises awaiting their first trip onto football's biggest stage.
Two of them -- the Jaguars and Texans -- are young enough to have an excuse. Even the Jaguars have made it to two AFC championship games in 10 seasons of play.
The remaining four -- the Browns, Lions, Cardinals and Saints -- are pro football's spinsters. Seldom good, almost never great, they are the barren old maids of the NFL. Youth, fertility, libido, all seem to have dried up.
The Browns would appear to be the most eligible of the four. They have been on the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance five times and fell short. But you wouldn't know that the way the replacement franchise has been run up to this point.
The Browns appear to be trying really hard to emulate the truly sorry franchises in the league. The Lions, Cardinals and Saints have been, by far, the sickest, saddest teams in the league for the past half-century. The Lions have advanced to just once NFC championship game since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, getting blown out by the Redskins in 1991.
The Cardinals have one playoff victory since World War II, and the Saints have one playoff win in their 38-year history.
I can't help it. I have to rank them. Which one of these Super Bowl virgins gets taken to bed first? Rankings go from most likely to least likely.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags have some old parts, but they also have some young, talented parts. It remains to be seen if Byron Leftwich will be as good a QB as Mark Brunell in his prime, but he is the only thing close to a franchise quarterback among our cast of six lily-white teams. The Jags also made the playoffs this year, which the remaining five can't say.

2. Detroit Lions
Sure, they suck, and have sucked for quite some time. What other team could take a talent like Barry Sanders and win only one playoff game with him?
Having said that, it's Detroit, and sooner or later, things are bound to fall into place. Sooner or later, they will stop hiring guys like Matt Millen as their GM, and will bring in real talent evaluators. It's happened before. The Lions were a league power in the 1950s.
While the Lions have been busy roaming the desert, the Tigers won a pair of World Series, the Pistons a trio of NBA titles, and the Red Wins a trio of Stanley Cups. It's Detroit, where good things eventually happen, like casinos.

3. Houston Texans
They have good talent in some key positions, like running back Domanick Davis and wide receiver Andre Johnson. Teams like the Texans could be terrible one year and swing around with a vengeance the next year. However, it remains to be seen whether new coach Gary Kubiak will be a good fit. For years, he's turned down head coaching overtures and appeared to shun the spotlight. Now that he's finally emerged from Mike Shanahan's shadow, how will he react?

4. Cleveland Browns
With the departure of John Collins, the greasy hands of Carmen Policy have now been completely removed from the organization. With GM Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel settled in, some stability might finally be present. Now, all we have to do is prevent Savage from going insane like Butch Davis, and prevent Crennel from developing a career-threatening heart murmur. And then we can worry about players getting stabbed in the back by enraged girlfriends, and other players doing gymnastics stunts over the handlebars of crotch rockets in nearly-empty parking lots.
Then, everything will be OK.

5. New Orleans Saints
Armed with some solid talent like Aaron Brooks and Joe Horn, the Saints possessed the capability of leapfrogging the Browns and Texans on this list. But, as we all know, Hurricane Katrina turned this into a vagabond franchise searching for a home and identity. Until they find a new or rebuilt foundation in New Orleans or another city, this team will be in a state of flux, and contention will be nearly impossible.

6. Arizona Cardinals
The scary part: sooner or later, Bill Bidwill will die, and this franchise could be put in far more competent -- and less tightwaddish -- hands. If Jerry Colangelo and his canyonesque pockets every get ahold of the Cardinals, look out. But that's probably a ways off. Until then, they are an annual contender for the worst franchise in pro sports.

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