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Preseason Game #1: The Hall of Fame Game

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This is a gameday thread. Consider this a place for the discussion of anything related to today's Saints-Steelers game. At their finest, gameday threads resemble a large, communal live-blog. Did Madden say something dumb (Madden? No!?!?)? Did Archie make a salient point about playing in the NFL (Archie? No!?!?)? Was there a sweet new Under Armor commercial (Under Armor? Yes!)? Did Reggie just make somebody look like an eighth grader? It can be hilarious, it can be infuriating, it can be glorious, it can be crushing. If it's related to the happenings on gameday, it's fodder for a gameday thread.

Part I - The Curse of the Hall of Fame Game

Although the NFL Hall of Fame didn't open until 1963, the league's first Hall of Fame Game was actually played in 1962, a 21-21 tie between the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. As was the case in 1962, the Hall of fame game features two teams of the league's choosing, facing off in the first preseason game of the year. Since 1971, the game has pitted a team from the NFC against a team from the AFC.

Today marks the fourth-time that the Saints have appeared in the league's Hall of Fame Game, their first since 1996. The team won its first appearance in the Hall of Fame Game in 1970, a 14-13 defeat of the Minnesota Vikings. Currently, however, the Saints are mired in a two-Hall of Fame Game losing streak: in 1983, the Saints lost 27-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers; in 1996, the team lost to the Indianapolis Colts 10-3. The Saints followed-up their HoF Game appearances with regular season win percentages of .143 in 1970, .500 in 1983 and .188 in 1996.

Some assorted notes about the Hall of Fame Game, based on some research:

  • Six teams have played in both the Hall of Fame Game and the NFL Championship Game (or Super Bowl). Their combined record is 0-6.
  • Of the six, Dallas (1979) and San Diego (1994) lost both the HoF Game and the Super Bowl. Hence, they had the ignominious distinction of losing both the first and last games of that NFL season.
  • The average regular season win percentage of the winners is .562. The average regular season win percentage of the losers is .484.

While it's a neat coincidence that no team has ever won the Super Bowl after playing in the HoF game, it's an exceptionally small sample size. Of all the teams in the league, it's asking quite a bit of chance to fulfill both conditions. Today's game may provide the best opportunity to buck the trend: both teams appear solid across the board and both have been deep in the playoffs recently. Time, as they say, will tell.

Perhaps the more significant statistic involved in this game is zero. As in zero Hall of Famers, the current total for the Saints. It's time for us to mobilize on Sam Mills.

Part II - The Best in Black and Gold

The all things Pittsburgh blog Mondesi's House has challenged fans of all 32 teams to write a post outlining why their team will be better than the Steelers in 2007. For some reason, I agreed.

Full Disclosure: My parents lived in Pittsburgh during the 1970s and picked up an allegiance to the Steelers. Growing up, I always watched Steelers games with my Dad, so I have a soft spot in my heart for the Steelers. I would like to see them do well. Like, say, losing in the Super Bowl to the Saints.

Five Reasons why the Saints will be Better than the Steelers in 2007
  • Process of Elimination: No team has ever won the Super Bowl after playing in the HoF Game. Since the Saints are going to do it this year, well, the Steelers can't.
  • Consistency: Bill Cowher is a sure-fire Hall of Fame coach, but even he couldn't take last year's Steelers squad to the playoffs. His staff also included Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm (who should also be a Hall of Famer), both of whom are turning the Arizona Cardinals' offense into an irresistible force. Look, nobody is saying that Mike Tomlin won't be a terrific coach, but to ask him to do something that Cowher couldn't do may be too much. To make things even more difficult, all world linebacker Joey Porter is now a Miami Dolphin and Alan Faneca is a lame-duck. The Saints, meanwhile, return most of their 2006 team, including the coaching staff. No signs of contract dissatisfaction, either.
  • Attention to Detail: Who is the last coach listed on the Official Steelers coaching staff? Ken Whisenhunt. Might want to fix that.
  • Stuff I Shoulda Graphed: In 2005, the Steelers won eight-straight games, including their four playoff games, en route to the franchise's fifth Super Bowl. For those eight games, the team was certainly on a roll. But not counting those eight games, the team has been 15-13 over the past two seasons. This is clearly a team on the decline. Meanwhile, the Saints' win total jumped from 3 to 10 over that same span. Sure, the Steelers have more aggregate wins, but they are moving in the wrong direction. Yeah, this point would have been much more powerful with the graph.
  • Schedule: The Steelers play in the AFC North, which has two teams with legitimate cases for being better than the Steelers. The Ravens were better than the Steelers in 2006 and have upgraded their offense with Willis McGahee. They may have the most dominant unit in the conference, their defense, and the best overall team. Although the Bengals finished at 8-8 last season, they were certainly distracted by the endless parade of arrests. As long as they aren't distracted by off-field issues, they should have a strong enough team to make the playoffs. It's also worth noting that the Bengals have finished above the Steelers in both of the past two seasons. Hence, the Steelers will probably play four divisional games against playoff teams. Godspeed. The Saints, on the other hand, play in the NFC South, where the opposing quarterbacks are Jake Delhomme, Joey Harrington and a three-headed hydra named Jeff Simmkowski. The Saints may not be a better team than the Steelers, but their record will be better.
  • Bonus Insult I: I think we all know who the best quarterback in Pittsburgh was last season: Terrelle Pryor, Jeannette High School. (Just kidding, it was Tyler Palko, New Orleans Saints.)
  • Bonus Insult II: The Curse of the Dump Truck: No team with Najeh Davenport has ever made it to the Super Bowl. Will this be the season that the greatest player ever to be arrested for taking a shit in someone else's closet finally drops that load (from his shoulders)?
  • Bonus Insult III: Rolling Rock. Ewwwwwwwwwwww.
  • Bonus Insult IV: As a Cardinals fan, Matt Morris is one of my absolute favorite players. Ever. As a Cardinals fan, I'm also really looking forward to having him pitching in the NL Central. (Just so you know, he has the best pre-at bat music.)

Part III - Oh Yeah, There's a Game Today

Coach Payton said that he is going to only give the starters a brisk warm-up:

"My thought is to give 15 plays to the starters and then go from there," said Payton, the 2006 NFL Coach of the Year in his first season with New Orleans. "Maybe a quarter or less, depending on the number of snaps in the first quarter. I might back off a few guys and a few of the veteran players. I might back off (starting running back) Deuce (McAllister) some."

Some things I'm looking for:

  • The battle for backup QB. Nobody seems to want to step up and seize the role. Which means that, by default, Jamie "Coach" Martin will win. C'mon Palko, show us the thunder.
  • Reggie Bush vs. Troy Polamalu. The old USC teammates may be matched up at some point during the first fifteen plays. In the regular season, this would probably be one of the key matchups. As it is, it's barely a footnote.
  • Roman Harper. Will he play? If so, is he going to be healthy and at full speed ten-months after knee reconstruction?
  • The defense. Can they stop the Steelers' grinding, power run game? Most of the free agents (and Robert Meachem) will be playing with the second-teamers, so the second quarter will probably be the most interesting quarter of the game.
  • The Special Teams. So far, Lance Moore has seized both return positions. Will he do anything to lose it? What about Olindo Mare? Which player will step up to fill Steve Gleason's role of Special Teams Demon?

Final Thought

For the first few weeks of the preseason, I'm always amazed at just how violent a game football is. It's almost as if I become re-sensitized after a summer of watching baseball. I always find it amusing that the extreme organization of football (counterintuitively) increases the risk of violence and injury. So, while I'm becoming re-de-sensitized to the violence (it's the preseason for me, too), it's worth noting that there is legitimate concern that somebody's season will be ended today.

Callous as it sounds, may he be a backup. On the Steelers.