FOOTBALL FOR A SONG What’s a pretzel-juggling, remote-tapping, keg-wielding fan to make of these new divisions in the National Football League? Eight divisions? What is this, boxing? The powers that be did the right thing and managed to pay homage to all four geographic directions in coming up with the NFC (and AFC) North, South, East, and West. And you know what? The new divisions actually make some sense. (No more Atlanta, New Orleans, and Carolina in the NFC West, for Pete’s sake.) With the 2002 season upon us, I’ve been inspired to attach a song to each of our eight new football quartets. Perhaps an easy way to remember just who’s zooming whom.
  • AFC East (Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins): “Light My Fire” (The Doors) Honestly, isn’t this foursome a little, well, boring? All due respect to the legacies of Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, even Tom Brady. Name the last time you HAD to see the kickoff for an AFC East matchup? This division could use some kindling.
  • AFC West (Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers): “Running With the Devil” (Van Halen) As long as Al Davis is calling the shots for the Oakland Raiders, this division has its arch-enemy, its super-villain. And its standard for win-at-all-costs football. Want to know the most fiery head coach in the NFL? It’s not Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden. It’s Mike Shanahan in Denver. The guy hates to lose. Hates Lucifer, er, Al Davis even more.
  • AFC North (Steelers, Browns, Bengals, Ravens): “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin) The only waY this division will feel any love is with a song. Let’s count the enmity. The Steelers and Browns hate each other for geographic and historic reasons. The Browns hate the Ravens for kidnapping Cleveland’s original franchise. The Bengals hate all three of their division foes because, well, it hurts getting tackled.
  • AFC South (Colts, Titans, Jaguars, Texans): “Who Are You?” (The Who) All four of these franchises are either brand new via expansion (see Houston and Jacksonville) or relocated after long runs elsewhere (see Indianapolis and Tennessee). Think Tennessee fans won’t have issues in playing Peyton Manning twice a year? Think Houston fans won’t relish the Titans’ first visit to town?
  • NFC East (Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, Eagles): “I Love It Loud” (KISS) And right between the eyes. Picture the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik hitting the Giants’ Frank Gifford so hard the poor New York quarterback wound up marrying Kathie Lee. Or how about Dallas twice -- in 1982 and 1991 -- ending a Washington run toward a perfect season? With eight NFL champions over the last 20 years, this is the best division of the Super Bowl era.
  • NFC West (49ers, Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals): “Start Me Up” (Rolling Stones) A running game is just a rumor in this divison, what with the Niners and Rams the most preeminent passing franchises in the league. (Marshall Faulk is a Hall of Fame tailback, but he gains his ground yardage as a surprise to opposing defenses.) Even the new kids on the block -- Arizona and newly adopted Seattle from the AFC -- take their nicknames from birds of flight. Keep your calculators nearby to track scores involving these clubs.
  • NFC North (Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings): “Born in the U.S.A.” (Bruce Springsteen) If pro football reflects modern America, this division reflects pro football. Four teams, four rather proud traditions. (Okay, the Lions have stunk for a long time.) Football doesn’t get any better than Green Bay vs. Chicago in December. The division of Butkus, Nitschke, Layne, Page, Payton, Sayers. Wow.
  • NFC South (Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers): “Bad to the Bone” (George Thorogood) The Super Bowl has been played 36 times and this division has exactly one appearance (the Falcons’ shellacking at the hands of Denver after the ‘98 season). This division’s so bad the most successful team historically is, yikes, Tampa Bay. If Rodney Dangerfield were a football division, he’d be the NFC South. If Vanderbilt were to join the NFL, they’d be placed in the NFC South. If each division had its own taste, the NFC South’s would be liver and onions. Oh, for the days of Steve Bartkowski.
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