This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Jan. 17, 2004.

Old pals bandy about playoff matchups

By Ed Odeven

The phone usually doesn’t ring off the hook on Friday mornings. There are the occasional prank calls from my grandma (just kidding); actually, the few calls that I do get on Friday mornings are from businesses telling me to spend money on things I don’t want or need or cannot afford.

This Friday was different. I got a call from Frankie Luigi. That, in itself, meant yesterday was a good day.

I don’t hear from Frankie too often. He’s a busy fellow. But he always seems to find time to converse with his old pal before the biggest sports weekends of the year. (He talked my ear off for nearly an hour in October, pontificating about the baseball playoffs, the NFL and college football). That’s why he called me up yesterday.

Yep, football was on his mind.

And after devouring two superb slices of Sicilian pie at Old Lorenzo’s Pizzeria in Hoboken, N.J., Frankie was in as good a mood as a man can be. (Remember, it was Friday.)

“Yo, who’s gonna win tomorrow’s big game in freakin’ cold Foxboro?” Frankie asked.

“I like the Patriots,” I told him. “You don’t win 13 game in a row by accident. Bill Belichick is doing something right, OK lots of things right, right in leading the Pats to another AFC title game.”

“Well I like Peyton Manning,” Frankie offered.

“Who doesn’t?”

“Listen, wise guy,” Frankie said. “How the heck is New England gonna beat Peyton and the Colts two games in a row? This confident kid is too good for that to happen”

“You might be right. But don’t ya think the Siberia-like weather and all that miserable wind will reduce the effectiveness of the Colts’ passing attack?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “but the biggest factor might be New England’s dominating, tough-as-nails defense. Belichick knows how to concoct a game plan to stop anybody’s high-powered offense. Just ask Kurt Warner and the Rams. ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ didn’t look so great in the Super Bowl two years ago, did it?”

“Will Belichick’s boys get the job done?”

Not this time pal,” Frankie predicted, “not this time.”

“Why not?”

“Two words: Marvin Harrison,” he insisted. “Nobody can shut down the ex-Syracuse star for an entire game. Nobody.”

“I still think the Patriots will win.”

“Well, you can think what you want,” Frankie said, “but you’re wrong. The Colts are headed to the Super Bowl, baby. They’ll win this one, 31-17.”

“Yeah, right, buddy. The Pats will pick up their 14th straight victory, but it’ll be a close one. Adam Vinatieri’s last-second field goal will be the difference in a 24-21 nail-biter.”

“This debate could go on and on all day,” he declared. “So let’s discuss the other game, whattayathink?”

“I think that’s a terrific idea.”

“Well, I think people will finally wake up and realize what a damn good team the Panthers are,” Frankie announced. “John Fox’s ballclub doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. The Panthers keep it simple. They play hard-nosed defense — keep an eye on interior linemen Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner, two guys who’ll overpower their Philly counterparts in the trenches. Quarterback Jake Delhomme reminds me of Trent Dilfer’s role with Baltimore a few years ago. The Panthers don’t ask Delhomme to win games by making 45 to 50 passes a game. They ask him to manage the offense and not make mistakes, and he rarely does. And Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster run the ball confidently and productively.”

“Aren’t you forgetting that Donovan McNabb and Philly are making his third straight appearance in the NFC Championship Game?” I asked. “They keep knockin’ on the door … and you know what’ll happen next: eventually they’re going to get over the hump. It’s their turn pal, it’s their turn in 2004.”

“Nah, I’m predicting the Panthers pull off the upset,” Frankie decided. “The Eagles won’t have an answer for Panthers strong safety Mike Minter, aka ‘The Man.’ He’ll deliver bone-jarring tackles to Duce Staley and Freddie Mitchell and chase McNabb around with well-time blitzes from the outside.”

“Ahhhh, fuhgetaboutit! The Eagles are healthy right now, and they are on a roll. Earlier in the season when Rush Limbaugh’s absurd remarks were the topic du jour, Philly was decimated by injuries. Now, they are playing up to their potential.”

“Look for Steve Smith to have a career game against Philly,” Frankie insisted. “His 10 catches for 200 yards and three scores will be the difference in a 30-17 Panthers triumph.

“You’re crazy! There’s no way this game will be a blowout. It’ll be Eagles 21, Panthers 20. Here’s one final tidbit worth mentioning: Both title tilts are rematches of Week 13 games, won by New England and Philly.

“And, Frankie, gimme a call before the Final Four.”