It certainly doesn’t seem like five months since I wept (while most of the football world cheered) about Tom Brady’s year-ending knee injury, but another season has come and gone in the NFL.
With Sunday’s victory, the Pittsburgh Steelers have now won more Super Bowls than any other franchise in the NFL. Steeler Nation is the first to require both hands to display all its glories. Wow, that was painful to write.
The Steelers certainly earned their championship, playing the league’s toughest schedule during one of the NFL’s craziest seasons.
Let’s take a look back at some of the oddities and quirks that made the 2008 season so memorable.
I would be remiss to not start with the story of the year, the runners up in the MLB and NFL. Let’s begin with a hypothetical situation: Imagine one year ago, I’m sitting in my room with some friends, talking about sports this is pretty likely so far.
I say, ‘I think the Red Sox are going to the World Series and the Pats will reach the Super Bowl” still a likely scenario for me to say something like that.
Then one of the guys says, ‘I think the Tampa Bay Rays will be in the World Series and the Arizona Cardinals will make the Super Bowl.” The room bursts into laughter. ‘The Rays and the Cards? Good one…”
But who’s laughing now? The Tampa Bay Rays finished with the worst record in the AL in six of their first 10 seasons. The Rays finished 2008 atop the AL at 97-65 and beat both colors of Sox in the playoffs on their way to the World Series.
An important year for the Arizona Cardinals was 1998. It marked the last time their franchise made the playoffs and the only time they’ve reached the postseason in my lifetime. The Super Bowl? Forget about it. Four teams hired new coaches before the 2008 season. In 2007, the Falcons, the Ravens and the Dolphins all finished in last place in their divisions, and in 2008, all three teams reached the playoffs.
And then there’s the poor Detroit Lions , who became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers an expansion team also went winless but over only a 14-game schedule.
After a 0-3 start, the Lions finally fired their GM, Matt Millen, who somehow had a job as an analyst for NBC during the playoffs. Millen was hired after the 2000 season and, ever since, Detroit had a league-worst, 31-97.
The New England Patriots became the first team to miss the playoffs with 11 wins since the field expanded to 12 teams in 1990. The 1985 Broncos also won 11 games and missed the playoffs, but then there were only 10 available spots.
And who could forget the Brett Favre saga? While Aaron Rodgers became the first player other than Favre to start as quarterback for the Packers since 1992, Favre became the new signal-caller for the New York Jets. In week 12, ‘Brett the Jet” led his team to an impressive 34-13 road-win against the then undefeated Tennessee Titans. The Jets were 8-3 and in control of the AFC East, but went 1-4 in their final five games and missed the playoffs.
The real storyline in the AFC East was the Miami Dolphins. One year ago, the ‘Fins went 1-15 and were the laughingstock of the league. This year, the unveiling of the ‘Wildcat Offense” helped Miami capture its division.
The season even had a tie game, the first since 2002. It’s a good thing for the Eagles, because even though Donovan McNabb didn’t know ties existed, it ended up being the deciding factor in Philly’s playoff appearance.
Two rookie quarterbacks led their teams to unexpected playoff berths. Matt Ryan lost to the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, but Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the AFC Championship game, becoming the first rookie QB to win two playoff games.
Speaking of the playoffs, both No. 1 seeds lost their opening game to the sixth-seeded teams. And who could forget San Diego’s thrilling overtime win against Peyton Manning and the Colts?
The 2008 NFL season is in the books, but for those fans suffering from withdrawal, here’s a consolation prize: pitchers and catchers report next week.
Starr is a member of the class of 2009.