In Association with
The View From the Cheap Seats

Learning An Important Lesson

By Dave Lind
It's amazing, isn't it? Every year we seem to relearn the same lesson that brutal experience has taught us over and over for as long as mankind has gathered to worship before the gridiron Gods.

Defense wins championships. We know this, we've known it since the days of the Monsters of the Midway, the Purple People Eaters, the Steel Curtain, and the Doomsday Defense. We were reminded of if by the' 85 Bears, the' 86 Giants, and the Bills and Cowboy teams of the early 90's. You think it was Stan Humphries who guided the Chargers to the Big One in '94, or do you think Junior Seau and company had more than a little to do with it? How about Mark Rypien of the Redskins, Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler of the Giants, Neil O'Donnell of the Steelers, or (gasp) Vince Ferragamo of the Rams? Or how about our prized exhibit, David Woodley, who (with an assist from Don Strock) "led" the Miami Dolphins to Superbowl XVII in 1982.

Yet every year we seem to fall under the spell of the high-powered offense. We sit back and watch week after week as strong-armed quarterbacks lob long touchdown passes to speedy wide receivers who dance and strut their way onto the highlight reels. Twenty years ago it was Dan Fouts to Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler. Ten years ago it was Dan Marino to Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Today it's Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce, Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss, and Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison. The names have changed, but the effect is the same. We become mesmerized by the glow of the rapidly changing scoreboard and we forget. We forget that without Mike Singletary and Richard Dent, Jim McMahon would be just another weirdo in cheap sunglasses, that without Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Green, Terry Bradshaw would still be that stupid hillbilly who seemed intent on getting Lynn Swann killed, and that without Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms would just be Chris Simms' dad.

And so, like jilted lovers, we spent yet another post-Conference Championship Monday kicking ourselves for yet again falling in love with the wrong girl. We again chose style over substance, and again we got burned. The Vikings, who dazzled us with their wide-open style of offense that could strike from any part of the field at any time against anybody. ..were mangled and crushed like helpless kittens under the wheels of the Giants' defensive machine. The thrashing administered to the Vikings was without a doubt as complete and thorough as has been witnessed in the NFL this century. So completely, in fact, were the Vikings dominated that they shall henceforth be known around the league as the Minnesota Vi-Queens, Bitches of the New York Giants.

Similarly was the Oakland Raiders vaunted offense raped and pillaged by the Baltimore Ravens. In fact, the only thing that prevented the AFC Championship game from following the same script as the NFC was the strength of the Oakland defense (or the weakness of the Baltimore offense, whichever you prefer). So dominant were both defenses in this game that the Raiders turned the ball over five times and STILL only surrendered a single touchdown, and that on a blown tackle in the second quarter. Sadly for the Raiders, that one play proved to be the difference in the game. The Raiders missed a single tackle, and it cost them the game. Why? Because the Ravens didn't miss any. None. Zero. They left no man uncovered, no pass unchallenged, no holes for the number one rushing team in all the land to run through.

Defense, that's why Baltimore and New York are heading to Tampa, and Oakland and Minnesota are heading home. Defense, plain and simple. Lesson learned, once again, but for how long?

So, who wins the Superbowl, you ask? Well, as good as New York's defense looked in squashing the Vi-Queens, there can be little room for doubt that the Ravens have the best defense in the entire NFL, certainly in this century, and possibly even the last. Still, the Giants have DO have the better offense.

Ravens 13 Giants 9

Lesson learned.