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Dave Reardon

Evening QB

By Dave Reardon

Monday, January 8, 2001

Bad boys and
good defenses
make finals

FOUND a player to hate yet among the four teams in the NFL conference finals? It's almost too easy.

It's the Year of the Bad Boys ... better make that the reformed bad boys, or the bad boys by association.

The Vikings have Randy Moss. He might be the most gifted wide receiver to ever play the game, but comes from a troubled past including various and sundry thuggish behavior that got him kicked out of Notre Dame before he could play a down for the Fighting Irish.

The Ravens have Ray Lewis. The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year is an old-fashioned inside linebacker of the Dick Butkus type, but way faster. He also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in an agreement that included the dropping of murder charges in a double homicide last year.

The Giants have Kerry Collins. You might remember him as the quarterback with the drinking problem a couple years back who also was publicly accused of racism by teammates with the Carolina Panthers.

The Raiders have ... well, they're the Raiders -- meaning they're lifetime members of anything having to do with giving renegades a second chance. But Al Davis' crew isn't living just on its decades-long reputation of being the league's halfway house: They've got Sebastian Janikowski, the kicker who double-majored in tearing up bars and bribing cops at Florida State.

OK, maybe you're the forgiving type, and none of that stuff bothers you. There are players on every team in the league with checkered pasts.

What more fans seemed to find inexcusable after the weekend's conference semifinals was the offensive lack of offense.

The Ravens were a perfect example. They won despite making only six first downs. Is America ready for a team quarterbacked by Trent Dilfer to be on the verge of the Super Bowl?

The better question might be if the nation is ready for Lewis to take center stage -- and not on Court TV.

It doesn't matter what the judge said months ago. The name Ray Lewis and the word murder will be in the same paragraph many times to come, even if he was just a victim of circumstance by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the field, the opposite is true. Lewis is always ahead of his opponents through talent and preparation that includes three hours of watching tape every day.

EVEN if it was just about football, Lewis might not be fully accepted as the game's best player -- which, right now, he is.

The problem is his position. The general public wants touchdowns. Not one touchdown from a linebacker, like Lewis got yesterday, but lots of touchdowns, preferably by air, from big-name quarterbacks to big-name wide receivers.

Whether you like it or not, yesterday's games were about the essence of championship football: the better defense carries the day.

And the finals and the Super Bowl will probably be similar.

Just like the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma's so-called boring victory for the National Championship was more about Bobby Stoops having time to prepare his defense than it was about Florida State's offense being rusty.

The NFL's marquee quarterbacks -- the Montanas, Elways, Youngs and Marinos --are all gone. The game again belongs to the defenses.

Last year the Rams won the Super Bowl largely because of Kurt Warner's arm.

But don't forget, the last play was a touchdown-saving tackle by linebacker Mike Jones.

More people would remember Jones, but he's never been involved in a murder trial.

Dave Reardon, who covered sports in Hawaii from 1977 to 1998,
moved to the the Gainesville Sun, then returned to
the Star-Bulletin in Jan. 2000.
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