Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard
King Olaf Tryggvason ruled Norway from 995 to 1000 C.E. and was hailed as a master of both mountain climbing and oar-jumping. The latter art involved leaping from oar to oar on the outside of longships as they were being rowed. His majesty was also a capable knife juggler.
When the Vikings weren’t raiding, plundering and pillaging they indulged in those tests of skill and more, such as wrestling, fist fighting and stone lifting competitions. And then there was horse fighting, with two stallions pitted against each other within sight and smell of fenced-off mares. Brimming with testosterone and bloodlust, the Vikings had a taste for both sport and the expansion of empire.
The modern-day Vikings hail from Minnesota, and they’re a crew on the rise. Their forebears were known to attack by sea, but these marauders infiltrated Arizona by air for the Dec. 10 clash with the Cardinals, one of the premier matchups of that NFL week.
The contest featured big plays, fumbles, lead changes and drama. But it came down to this:
Muhammad Ali had the rope-a-dope. Allen Iverson had the killer crossover. Deacon Jones had the head slap, Kareem had the sky hook and LeBron has the talcum powder toss. Signature moves all. Recently acquired Arizona defensive tackle Dwight Freeney? He has the spin move.
With the game tied and under five minutes to play, QB Carson Palmer drove Arizona 55 yards to the Minnesota 29 and Chandler Catanzaro booted a 47-yard field goal to put the Cards up 23-20 with 1:23 remaining. Minnesota surged right back into range of a game-tying try from kicker Blair Walsh with 18 seconds left. Then Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater dropped back and looked to get Minnesota a little closer for the tie, or even pitch one deep for a winning touchdown. That’s when seven-time Pro Bowler Freeney whirled with menace around Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil and sacked Bridgewater just as he cocked his arm to throw. The ball popped loose and Calais Campbell pounced on it to preserve the narrow victory for Arizona.
Catanzaro earned NFC special teams player of the week honors, Arizona reached 11 wins and clinched a playoff spot and 35-year old Freeney earned a $200,000 bonus for reaching four sacks on the season. He will now earn $100,000 for each sack he notches for the rest of the season.
Statistical oddity: The Cardinals’ opponents have not missed a field goal this year in 22 attempts.
Sunday night, Arizona will step into the prime time spotlight again when they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.
NBC started airing Sunday night games in 2006 in a broadcast dubbed “Football Night in America”, a brazen swipe at the brand that Monday Night Football starting building Sep. 21, 1970.
The Browns defeated the Jets in that first MNF contest 31-21, clinching the win when Joe Namath threw a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. Keith Jackson handled the play by play and was joined in the booth by Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Jackson was awarded the job because neither Vin Scully nor Curt Gowdy were able to get out of their contracts with other networks.
Meredith was a former Dallas Cowboy quarterback and Cosell was plucked from the sports desk of WABC-TV in New York. Never far from controversy, Cosell infamously showed up ill and allegedly intoxicated for the November 23rd Giants-Eagles game that year and proceeded to vomit on Meredith’s cowboy boots. The incident earned Cosell a cab ride home at halftime, and he and Meredith went on to exchange mostly congenial on-air verbal barbs for years. Meredith served as a folksy foil to the bombastic Cosell, producing an unlikely but potent brew and an innovative angle on sports broadcasting.
Has NBC’s prime-time NFL experiment succeeded? No doubt. The network has poached a chunk of the MNF audience and consistently scores the higher ratings of the two, adding to the Sunday sorrows of football widows nationwide.
Arizona will take the field Sunday night in the city known for Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, the Rocky franchise, and exquisite cheesesteak sandwiches. Philadelphia fans don’t lack passion, as they famously proved at halftime of the final game of the 1968 season when they loudly booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs. Philly’s opponent that day? The Minnesota Vikings, the team the Cardinals just conquered.
And you thought I would never tie all this together.
Tonight Arizona faces an Eagles team that closed out November with three straight losses to sub-.500 teams. Already angered that the team was underperforming compared to expectations, Eagles fans were calling for coach Chip Kelly’s head. Cue the snowballs. But Philly righted the ship with a huge win at New England, garnished with another against Buffalo last week. They are tied for first in the anemic NFC East with a 6-7 record.
Calculating playoff scenarios at this point in the season is an excellent way to kill time you might have spent, say, with loved ones. Thankfully the New York Times’ NFL Playoff Simulator has saved you the trouble, and has spit out the news that Philadelphia has a 43% chance of making the playoffs. Despite a disappointing season, the brass ring is still within reach.
Coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals are seeking something more precious, and are not content with 11 wins, a ticket to the playoffs, and a chance to set a franchise record this evening with their 12th win.
“Somebody texted me, ‘Hey, you punched your ticket,” Arians noted. “I said, `Yeah, we’re trying to upgrade to first class.”
Winners of seven straight, Arizona keeps pushing toward a playoff bye and home field advantage throughout. Carson Palmer is having an MVP-type season, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdown passes. Tom Brady is the only other QB to do so this season. Larry Fitzgerald has caught 11 TD passes in his last seven games against the Eagles. The Cardinals’ defense has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game in the league.
Philadelphia is ranked 16th in offense and 26th in defense. But the Eagles are 5-1 in the last 6 games QB Sam Bradford has started and finished, and they’ve generally played well against good opponents. When in rhythm, they pass the eye test with ease.
One more number? Game time temperature is expected to be a brisk 35 degrees.
Arizona clinches the division with a win or a Seattle loss today, and secures a playoff bye if Green Bay cooperates and loses to Oakland. But don’t fritter away your time contemplating the scenarios.
Go hug your kids. Or someone else’s.
This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.