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No, kids, it’s not just the soundtrack to the cheesy 1960s “Batman” TV show: it’s the sound of me getting kicked around like a worn-out Nerf football in my attempts to predict this past weekend’s Conference Championship games. Ugh. The saving grace is that I went with the Raiders in two work pools, so at least I get something out of all this. Why I then sat down and wrote an article giving the nod to the Titans is a mystery to both of us. Props to Byron for avoiding the goose egg in our preview article. We’re doing another one for the Super Bowl, and I hope my Carnac hat is fixed by then.


Now that I’ve taken my lumps, welcome back, friends, Romans, and countrymen, to the best damn rasslin’ news report on the whole wide internet. Football season, not counting the meaningless Pro Bowl, is about to wrap up, so you’ll only have to indulge in a couple more weeks of me going on about America’s sport. And speaking of which...


Let’s Talk About FOOTBALL~!


Buccaneers d. Eagles: I guess the Cold Weather Curse can be officially put to bed now. After going into Chicago and winning their first game in cold weather, Tampa Bay stepped up to the frigid plate in Philadelphia and socked one out of the crumbling park. While Tony Dungy may have let the overrated cold weather stigma hang over the team’s heads, Jon Gruden had no parts of that. He had his team ready to play a great game, and play a great game they did. Their defensive execution was first-rate, with Ronde Barber having a monster game: a forced fumble, an interception returned for a TD, and three tackles without a whiff. The offense, long thought to be their Achilles heel has been on a roll of late, dropping 27 points on a good Eagles’ D. Tampa kept the Eagles honest by running the ball 35 times, and even though they didn’t gain a ton of yardage, it opened up the passing lanes for Brad Johnson. Overrated in some of his other ports of call, Johnson probably doesn’t get enough credit for the season the Bucs had. Consider this: during the regular season, he threw a total of TWO interceptions all year against teams not named the Philadelphia Eagles. He was on again Sunday, and Gruden called great passing plays to exploit Philly’s zone defenses and inexplicable lack of blitzing.


After sacking Johnson six times and intercepting him four times in their regular season contest, one would figure Andy Reid would use the same gameplan in the playoffs. Au contraire. The Eagles rarely blitzed, giving Brad Johnson plenty of time to throw the ball. After having so much success blitzing Tampa in the regular season, I fail to see why the Eagles abandoned it in the game that mattered more. Andy Reid outcoached himself as much as Jon Gruden outcoached him in this game. Donovan McNabb was clearly not having a good game, yet the Eagles abandoned the run once it became apparent the Bucs could score on them. Duce Staley was averaging over five yards per carry at that point, but the Eagles went with the pass anyway. McNabb’s bias in throwing to James Thrash and Chad Lewis was easy for the Bucs to defend; Todd Pinkston, who was A.J. Feeley’s go-to guy in McNabb’s absence, was the invisible man until the fourth quarter, when it was too late. I’ll give Reid credit for standing up and taking the blame, and it’s blame he richly deserves. The Eagles have shown they can beat the Bucs, and they’ve shown how it can be done. Reid abandoned that formula, and his team is the NFC’s bridesmaid yet again.


Raiders d. Titans: For a team with such veteran leadership, the Raiders continue to surprise me with their lack of discipline. Just like always, they take stupid penalties and get flagged for playing dirty. Eric Barton is lucky his inexcusable hit on Steve McNair didn’t get him ejected him from the game (as I thought it had when the referee threw his hat in the air). The Raiders, however, have an offense that can overcome their tendency to play like moronic teenagers. Rich Gannon played like the league MVP, leading his team down the field time and again. He ran the ball when he needed to, exploited the Titans’ lapses in coverage, and distributed the ball well to his many weapons. Late in the game, the Raiders realized their true enemy was the game clock, and they went to the run with Charlie Garner. The Raiders’ offensive gameplan was excellent, as they refused to play into the Titans’ strength (their front four) by running the ball. Who needs a running game, though, when Gannon can dissect a defense with short and medium passes? The Raiders punished the Titans for turning the ball over, and their offense led them to another convincing win.


The Titans had a period where they took a bunch of stupid, undisciplined penalties. The Raiders’ opponents almost invariably have a spell where they sink to Oakland’s level. Tennessee’s problem is that their offense can’t recover from that, nor from two turnovers back-to-back near the end of the first half. Steve McNair brought his A game, and kept the Titans in this contest by force of will. Eddie George, who has a habit of torching the Raiders, didn’t carry the ball often, though he was effective when he did. The Oakland secondary, though, was able to cover the Titans’ no-name receivers most of the time, and with Jeff Fisher hesitant to run George out there a lot, the offense turned into the Steve McNair show. A while back, I said that Michael Vick was the most exciting athlete in pro sports, and that no #2 really jumped out at me. Over the past two weekends, one has: Steve McNair. Despite spending more time this season in the trainer’s room than on the practice field, McNair stepped up and did an excellent job in the playoffs. He was his team’s leading rusher, taking off whenever he saw the chance, and scoring two touchdowns. His thumb was bothering him to the point that he had to use a different grip on the football, but it was impossible to tell by watching him throw. The Titans simply ran into a better team Sunday, though McNair’s heart and grit may have overcome a lesser opponent. They’ll have next year, even with the question marks that it brings.


The Super Bowl: For the first time ever, the league’s #1 offense is paired against its #1 defense. I have to give the early nod to the Bucs, but that could change by this weekend. We’re going to do a Super Bowl preview here at TSM on Saturday, so look for my thoughts and others’ thoughts on the big game then.


With the football content over, let’s move on to the (ostensibly) real reason we’re here.


Raw: The Cliff Notes


Thanks for the warning, JHawk, but I actually watched Raw on Monday night this week. With Monday Night Football done for the year, and with no better alternative (since “Joe Millionaire” is a total sham), I dialed up TNN. It was a mistake I hope I don’t repeat next week. Anyway, JHawk has the goods on what happened Monday night, while I give you the Cliff Notes.


RVD d. Jeff Hardy. Rob wins with the backslide out of nowhere. An inoffensive opener, even if it was just spot-spot-spot. Jeff teased a heel turn at the end; we’ll see where that goes. 2/10


Storm/Regal d. The DUD-leyz. Bubba went thru a table prior to the match being ordered by Chief Morley, so the outcome wasn’t really in doubt. When did Nick Patrick stop being a heel referee, though? DUD


Trish/Hurricane d. Victoria/Richards. Wow, Victoria’s music is really cool, and Trish’s really sucks. I never noticed the contrast until this week. The Stratusfaction (which has to be one of the worst finishers in the company) picks up the duke for the face team, in a match that was thankfully kept brief. 1/10


BookDust d. Two Fat Samoans. I’m all for longer matches, and I like Booker and Goldust, but I don’t want to see one team wrestle themselves for nine minutes. Complete filler here, made even moreso by the fact that the fat team sucks. BookDust deserves better. 2/10


Test NC Chris Jericho. Who would have thought that Stacy was so allergic to paint chips flying off the ringpost? That had to be it, since the chair never came close to hitting her. This wasn’t too bad before the SE finish, but no contest = no rating.


D’Lo Brown d. Tommy Dreamer. This was a Singapore Cane match (NOT a hardcore match, of course), for those scoring at home. Totally bland affair here, which sees D’Lo get the win with what was supposedly a cane-assisted Lo Down. Yawn. D'Lo (with new manager Teddy Long) gave a Black Power-ish promo before the match that was pretty good, though. 0.5/10


Scott Steroid d. Batista. Wow, a minute and a half for the main event, and a DQ finish on top of that. The best part of this turdburger was watching Batista, Randy Orton, HHH, and Ric Flair lay waste to Steiner after the bell. DUD, natch.


Other Developments: Randy Orton made sure to let us know his shoulder is 95% healed. That was obviously good enough to join in the beatdown of Steiner at the end of the show. Chief Morley ordered Nick Patrick to overturn the DUD-leyz tag title wins the previous night for their brass knuckles usage, but Patrick declined. Both guys did a good job in the segment, but I think I prefer Patrick as a heel referee. Eric Bischoff called Vince McMahon’s secretary to make sure he was watching the show before Easy E made his big announcement. Hell, if Vince isn’t watching the damn shows, I don’t see any reason for the rest of us to. Bischoff’s big announcement is that he has invited Steve Austin to return at No Way Out. Of course, that’s outside his window to improve the show, but I’m guessing he’ll get an extension until then. Watching it live, I said something like, “Austin’s going to show up, go to Smackdown, and Bischoff gets sacked anyway.” We’ll see.


In toto, Raw was lousy Monday night, and I might have to start looking harder for something else to watch.


There Was A PPV This Weekend


Dames has your detailed Royal Rumble report. Since I don’t actually watch these things live, you get the Cliff Notes from me.


Snowflakes in effect, since this is a PPV and all.


Brock Lesnar d. The Big Slow. Brock goes on to the Rumble, which I’m sure surprised everyone the world over. Not a bad opener, and it was short enough so that Slow’s powers of suckitude couldn’t drag it down too far. *1/2


The DUD-leyz d. The Regal Storm. Hasn’t Regal been using those brass knuckles for about eight years now? Jesus, move the guy onto something else or sack him. D’Von gets the win for the Duds by putting Regal’s dropped knucks to good use. **


Torrie Wilson d. Dawn Marie. Nobody’s chest fell out, so the fans didn’t care. Torrie wins with that lethal neckbreaker of hers. DUD


Scott Steroid d. HHH by DQ. What a brutally awful match this hunk of shit was. Steiner was gassed a few minutes in, collapsing on an exploder, and needing the ropes to pull himself up all the time. Looks like those house show reports were true. HHH bumped like mad, but it was all for naught, as Steiner just has nothing left. Cut your losses now, WWE, and send him packing. I may not be a huge HHH fan these days, but I don’t want to see him get hurt by some ‘roid monster who ends up dropping him on his head because he’s sucking wind at the three-minute mark. – **


Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit. Talk about a hard act to follow: these two had to follow a match the fans openly turned on. They warmed up to the excellent action in this one soon enough, though. Both guys tore the place down, and Angle wins after a persistent Anglelock, with a heel hook twist. First-rate stuff that only suffered a tad for the restholds in the middle. ****3/4


Royal Rumble. The intervals weren’t consistent, after JR and Fink seemed to disagree over how long they were supposed to be. Brock wins, of course, going on to face Angle at Mania. Pretty good Rumble, though it’s rather hard to have a bad one, and there was a little too much deadwood in there toward the middle-end. ***1/2


Overall: This is worth seeing for Benoit-Angle. Watch the Rumble if you like Rumble matches, but fast forward past everything up to the Smackdown title match.


Ratings, Ratings Everywhere


Thursday night, Smackdown! finished with a 3.4 rating, putting UPN in fifth place for the night. They’ve been coming in fourth pretty regularly, though I don’t follow the actual rating number enough to know if this is supposed to be a letdown or not.


Weekend ratings were not available when I wrote this. Suffer the B-shows!


(Credit: Nielsen Media Research)


Finally, Some Good Attendance News


The Royal Rumble drew a lot of fans this past Sunday. Exactly 14,712 folks walked thru the turnstiles, for a gate of almost a million dollars. Considering the attendance woes house shows and TV tapings have been facing recently, this is a good sign for the company. WrestleMania is expected to do a strong gate, as always.


(Credit: 1wrestling.com)


OLD 2003


No, not Animal and Hawk this time. At least, not yet. Hulk Hogan (remember him?) is still negotiating his return with WWE. I’d be surprised if Hogan didn’t make it back by Mania, though stranger things have certainly happened. In other old guy news, Kevin Nash worked out in the ring before the Rumble, the first time he’s done so since his quad injury of last year. Nash did not tear his quad climbing the steps, so I guess that’s an encouraging sign. He’s eyeing a Mania return, and claims to be about 40 pounds lighter than he was when injured. We’ll see, I guess.


Late Update: Hogan has signed a new contract and is expected to feud with Vince McMahon for the nonce, setting up The Workrate War at WrestleMania.


(Credit: PWTorch.com)


A Couple Other Guys Are Coming Back, Too


Namely, The Rock and Steve Austin.


Austin was invited to No Way Out by Eric Bischoff on Monday’s Raw. I’m presuming they’ll actually deliver Austin this time, and they’d better. The Rock is also expected to be at No Way Out, in the role of a heel this time. Speculation is that Stephanie McMahon’s announcement will be the Rock’s return at NWO. It’s also possible that both GMs will end up announcing both, creating the appearance of a bidding war over them. Chances are looking good right now that Austin and Rock will end up switching shows, since Austin wants no parts of Raw and its creative team. The problem with Rock being a heel on Raw is the lack of a flagship face for him to feud with, since HHH and Chris Jericho are already the top heels on that show.


Wherever they end up, it looks like the wait for both men to return – highly anticipated by some, and dreaded by others – will end next month. Personally, I’ve always liked both of them, so I’d like to see them come back. The Rock needs to stick around for a while this time, though. If he leaves in a couple months again, then he should just stay gone for good. The fans will stop caring about him, and the perception will be that he’s just jerking them around a couple times a year during breaks in his movie-star schedule. Austin would be a good fit on Smackdown, since he obviously favors wrestling over the crap Raw churns out on a weekly basis. There are plenty of good wrestlers for him to work with on SD, though I’d prefer to see Eddy Guerrero get the first crack, since they were supposed to work a program together before Austin’s walkout.


(Credit: 1wrestling.com)


Up Next On “Law And Order”


Remember when the Hart family won $18 from the then-WWF in their settlement of the Owen Hart case? Well, I didn’t, either, but this article reminded me of it. It seems that a judge in Missouri has ruled that the Harts and/or the law firm of Robb and Robb (what perfect names for lawyers) “engaged in fraud, collusion, and/or tortious conduct” in the case.


Basically, the Harts settled with Lewmar, the manufacturer of the harness Hart wore while being lowered to the ring, and dismissed them from the case. Their attorney claims the family never felt Lewmar was responsible “even 1 percent,” which fails to answer why they named them as a defendant in the first place.


What this means is that WWE can go after Lewmar for part or all of the $18 million WWE had to pay the Hart family. You know they’re going to, and that trial is set for September.


Since nothing else strikes me as being especially newsworthy, I’m going to quick hits format for the rest.


Quick Hits, Notes, And Sundry Asides


-- According to the PWTorch.com newsletter, Jeff Jarrett and Mortimer Plumtree held an in-ring talent meeting with the NWA:TNA wrestlers recently. They decided to allow fewer guest passes (after a show script was stolen), forbade cursing on the air without prior approval, and ordered heels to go to the back quicker after a match to avoid confrontations with fans.


HHH then showed up and told all of them they couldn’t work, and it was their fault his heel character wasn’t over.


-- From the Torch newsletter again: The reason there were no surprise guests at the disastrous Raw X special was that none of the major stars invited back decided to return. Once that became apparent, Vince McMahon decided to have no one at all show up, to avoid the appearance that WWE could only bring back lesser folks.


-- Matt from Tough Enough 3 is considered a shoo-in to get one of the two contracts awarded. The fallout from the Bob Holly incident continues, and Matt’s parents have made it known they were none too pleased with the way their son was abused on national television. The opinion is that Matt will get a contract to ward off a potential lawsuit stemming from the incident. Props again to the Torch newsletter.


-- Another blurb from the Torch newsletter, and this one will make all the horny teenagers in WWE’s audience happy. Torrie Wilson has agreed to pose for Playboy.


-- More from the Torch newsletter (you go, Wade Keller): WWE is reportedly not worried about the UPN contract ending soon. Talk of Smackdown going down to one hour is dead, so if the show is renewed, it will still be two hours.


-- RVD has not gotten a World title reign because management doesn’t see him as World title material. He’s not a versatile character, and his mike skills are not highly regarded. There’s also a concern that a babyface with the title loses the appeal he would have chasing the heel champion. One word comes to mind here (BULLSHIT), but hey, it’s their fake World title, not mine. Give it for the Torch boys again.


-- Raven and Justin Credible were released by WWE. Credible’s release was no surprise, but Raven had just proposed a new storyline for himself, one that was approved by management. Two days after running with it on Raw, Raven was released. My take: both guys suck these days, so who cares? Raven has a sharp mind for the business, though, so WWE would be wise to have him around in some capacity.

That’s it for the Midweek News this week. Look for Dames’ TNA report, and my Smackdown! report, both tomorrow. Ave atque vale.


Dr. Tom

Holler at me here.

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