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Going for the extra point

Joe Licandro | Tuesday, January 27, 2004

It would have been the perfect story. The headline would have read “McNabb Tells Rush to Hush.” The opening lead would have begun, “If your definition of overrated is leading your team to the Super Bowl, than Donovan McNabb is guilty as charged.” But the sports world does not always have happy endings.For the third straight year, the Philadelphia Eagles and their dynamic quarterback fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl in a devastating 17-3 NFC Championship loss to the upstart Carolina Panthers. In the post-game press conference, the downtrodden signal caller – ever gracious in defeat – refused to blame a blatant late hit in the first quarter that left his ribs bruised and battered for a sub-par performance and eventual removal from the game in the fourth quarter.Not to take anything away from the Panthers’ decisive victory, but let’s play the “what if” game. What if Carolina linebacker Greg Favors had not delivered a cheap shot to McNabb that left the quarterback writhing in pain? What if McNabb had a receiver with even average speed? What if these receivers could actually catch the ball? Maybe the Eagles would be playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday instead of the Panthers. Maybe sports radio talk shows would not have been flooded with simple-minded callers this week claiming “Rush was right.” And just maybe, McNabb would have silenced all of the doubt and the controversy that will unfairly haunt the rest of his career unless he wins a Super Bowl all because of some ignorant comments conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh made on ESPN’s NFL Countdown a few months ago.”Unless” is the operative word in the previous sentence, as opposed to “until,” because there are no guarantees in sports. At age 27 and through only five years in the NFL, McNabb has a lot of football ahead of him. As far as quarterbacks go, he is just now entering the prime of his career, but he may never again reach the NFC Championship and have an opportunity to play for a berth in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, no other quarterback – not even the great Peyton Manning, who carries on his shoulders the stigma that he cannot win the big game – will have to endure the same degree of scrutiny and skepticism as McNabb on the grueling quest toward a coveted Lombardi Trophy.We all remember a few months back when Limbaugh claimed that despite having lead Philadelphia to two consecutive NFC Championship games, McNabb was highly overrated and that his sparkling reputation on the field was undeserved.The mouth that refuses to quit went on to say that the “liberal left-winged” sports media had a hidden agenda to laud McNabb and other African-American quarterbacks even if their play on the field did not merit such high praise.Sadly, Limbaugh’s co-hosts on the popular pre-game show that included ex-NFL stars Tom Jackson, Michael Irving and Steve Young – all of whom seemingly would have more expertise on the game of football – remained silent, not offering a single word of protest to dispute the absurd accusations. In response to a storm of criticism, ESPN fired Limbaugh a few days later. The network’s shameless efforts to bring in a polarizing news figure to drive up their television ratings had backfired.Whether or not one agreed with ESPN’s decision to axe Limbaugh is really beside the point. Limbaugh’s comments were unquestionably dumb and downright insensitive, but the remarks in and of themselves do not make him a racist. He is certainly entitled to his own opinions, but this does not make him above any potential backlash for expressing them. The real lesson to be learned here is that ESPN never should have hired Limbaugh in the first place. He is a political pundit, not a football analyst. When I watch football, I do not want to hear Limbaugh, Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly. I want to hear John Madden, Dan Fouts or Troy Aikman.Of all the networks, ABC, as the parent company of ESPN, should have known better. Comedian Dennis Miller’s biting wit and clever satire might be the best shtick going these days, but it has its time and its place. The broadcast booth on Monday Night Football alongside Al Michaels was not one of them. Dennis, I love ya babe. But come on now. The average football fan had no idea what the hell you were talking about. Your new show on CNBC is where you belong.Truth be told, Limbaugh had as much business being on ESPN as actor Sean Penn did traveling to Iraq a little over a year ago as a self-appointed American ambassador. When Penn returned home warning the American people if the United States went to war against Saddam Hussein that the blood would be on our hands, not the homicidal dictator’s, the actor deservedly had to suffer some consequences for his stupidity. Even some Hollywood big shots of all people found Madonna’s ex-husband a little too extreme for their taste. Penn sued producer Steven Bing claiming he lost a role in the film “Why Men Shouldn’t Marry” for his outspoken opposition against the war in Iraq. Bing countered claiming Penn was irresponsible and irrational. Really?Sean Penn is a critically acclaimed actor paid to entertain, not to make political commentaries and petty remarks about President Bush. “Mystic River” and his latest movie, “21 Grams,” are, according to movie critics, two of the best movies from 2003. Each might haul in some Academy Awards this March, and Penn might even win the category for Best Actor. Perhaps it is my loss, but I am not going to see either of these movies any time soon. Why should I put money in this guy’s pocket and hear him bash my country? For that matter, I will not be listening to Rush Limbaugh, either, after he carelessly sabotaged McNabb’s career.Any football fan with even a passing interest (no pun intended) in the game knows that Donovan McNabb is one of the premiere players at his position. At this time a year from now, the Eagles might be in the Super Bowl and McNabb might find himself seated next to the First Lady at the State of the Union Address just like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.That Tom Brady … he’s so hot right now. It was quite a shrewd political move by the Bush Administration to invite America’s No. 1 heartthrob with that cute little cleft in his chin to last Tuesday’s speech. As it just so happens, Brady plays football in the historically liberal state of Massachusetts where current Democratic frontrunner John Kerry hails from. How convenient!Brady had every right to attend the event, and he has every right to campaign for the President’s re-election. But if anyone votes for President Bush merely because Tom Brady says so, than this column fired a blank.If I were wagering, this would be my Super Bowl prediction – not that you should listen to me. Brady is just too cool under pressure, so I gotta go with the Patriots 24, Panthers 13.

Joe Licandro is a senior political science major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jlicandr@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.