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Gridiron Inspiration

5 inspirational storylines that could emerge from the NFL playoffs this weekend.

This is the time of year Julee usually groans, “Is it over yet?” No, she’s not talking about winter. She’s talking about the National Football League’s seemingly (to Julee, at least) interminable season.

“No,” I explain, maybe rubbing it in a bit, “it goes on and on and on until the first week of February.” Which is just fine with me.

Julee claims not to have been aware of the depths of my addiction to pro football when she married me, but I think she was just in denial. She doesn’t hate all sports and was a bit of a jock herself in school. But for reasons I have never fathomed she loathes football, especially pro ball.

Unlike my equally addicted brother, Joe, who is doomed to buying season tickets to the Detroit Lions year after year, I don’t really have a home team, and maybe that is the crux of the problem—I’ll watch just about anyone and everyone. I like the New York teams but I don’t live and die by them, like a true blue (or green) fan. I have a childhood allegiance to the Eagles which has largely faded. Most fall weekends find me in Massachusetts where I’ve developed a liking for the Patriots, whose QB Tom Brady and I share an alma mater; we are fellow Wolverines. And who doesn’t love Peyton Manning and therefore the Colts?

I can already hear the booing and hissing from fans on the other side of these teams. So before it gets too ugly, I’m going to try and put a positive spin on things by identifying the 5 inspirational storylines that may emerge from this weekend’s NFL playoffs.

1. Peyton Manning, survivor.
Injuries to the defensive secondary, to their starting running back and to several key receivers left the Colts reeling by mid-season when Manning himself went into an almost incomprehensible meltdown, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in a three-game stretch. The Greatest Quarterback of All Time was humbled. He’d tried too hard to win games all by himself. The old Manning is back, though, and it would be awesome to see him lead the Colts to another title, given the adversity they have faced.

2. Danny Woodhead, reject.
The Jets unceremoniously cut the height-challenged running back from Chadron State early in the season after two unsuccessful years. He would have to go back to whatever he does when he’s not playing football. But wait. The New England Patriots made a surprise move and took a chance on Woodhead and signed him in a move many fans found strange. All the 5’7” Woodhead did to pay back their faith was give the Patriots a suddenly viable running game after starter Kevin Faulk went down with a knee injury. And he may run the team all the way to the Super Bowl. Who said you had to be big to win? Go Danny.

3. Michael Vick, prodigal.
In many people’s minds the word “inspiring” will never attach to Vick’s name no matter what he does to redeem himself in his unlikely comeback from a prison term for operating a dog fighting ring, cruelty to animals and general wretchedness of character. Still there are plenty of fans who are willing to forget and forgive as long as Vick keeps using his arm and his legs to win football games for the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick professes to have found faith and he has in fact been taken under the wing of former Indy coach Tony Dungy, who is truly one of the most decent and respected figures in all of sports. It remains to be seen, though, if playing a game, no matter how brilliantly, is enough to redeem Vick of his abominable crimes.

4. The Seattle Seahawks, losers. 
With a feeble 7-9 record the division-winning Seahawks are the first team to ever reach the playoffs with a losing record and this has football purists furious, since five teams with winning records who didn’t win their divisions because they played in tougher ones than Seattle aren’t going. Yet would it not be totally amazing for a team with a losing record to somehow rally itself and win the Big One? No way it wouldn’t be the biggest sports story all year. But first Seattle has to beat the Saints.

5. The New Orleans Saints, champs.
The Saints topped off the 2009 season with a victory over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV last February. For the city it represented the end of a long road back from the tragedy and devastation of Katrina. This year the Gulf Coast was hit with another catastrophe, one completely man-made: the BP oil spill. The final toll of this environmental disaster has not been fully determined but who would mind if the Big Easy, after all the city has been through, kept the NFL crown for one more year?

What team inspires you to root for them this weekend?

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