CHRIS PICKS! DIVISIONAL ROUNDS AND DALLAS COWBOYS

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by Chris Corbellini

Divisional Picks: America’s Team … and some other teams that play this weekend

(SITTING HERE ON A FRIDAY NIGHT, TRYING TO ENCAPSULATE A LIFELONG SPORTS OBSESSION)

(SITTING HERE)

(SITTING HERE)

(ABANDONED A LEDE WHERE I SAY MY NAME AND ADD I AM AN ADDICT — OF A SPORTS TEAM)

(OK, I’LL USE THE GOODFELLAS OPEN)

(YOU CAN’T GO WRONG WITH THE GOODFELLAS OPEN)

(ALRIGHT, HERE GOES)

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy.

Given my upbringing in suburban New York, and the stone-cold fact that I’ve never lived within 1,500 miles of Dallas, this makes as much sense as a platypus dry-humping a volleyball. That’s quite a visual for you, I’m sure — and almost as bizarre as a kid wearing a Herschel Walker jersey down the hallways of a Big Blue Central School District. Yes, I follow and have a rooting interest in the rest of the iconic NYC sports teams – Rangers, Knicks, Yankees, St. John’s in March – and yet in pro football, where I’ve spent most of my career, I bleed Dallas Cowboy.

If I made a list of things worth living for, Amari Cooper’s sublime double moves would be on there, side by side with steaks at Peter Luger’s, the view from Diamond Head, St. Mark’s Square in the moonlight, and the Heather Thomas poster from the 1980s.  Just today, I walked through Grand Central Station and mused how it’d be great to see the Cowboys Star dead-center on the main floor, replacing the info booth. Again, my blood type is Cowboys-positive. I’ve had it checked.*

And it’s not like I’m hiding vodka in the broom closet here. My hometown and college friends know my allegiance lies with a Texas team, so whenever the franchise takes a hit (T.O. crying about Romo, the ‘07 divisional playoff, the Dez non-catch in Green Bay), I’ll inevitably get a text from someone I haven’t heard from in awhile, or receive a smarmy-as-f-ck Facebook post. Which is certainly fair, because I can be the smarmiest of all if the Cowboys beat the Giants – which, by the way, happened twice this season. And that’s a shame, Giants fans. Truly. Be careful now … you’re getting failure all over my floor before I have visitors over for the playoffs.

And yet, even had I grown up a Dallas hater, I’d still have to concede that the Cowboys have been a big part of my career, perhaps more so than any other franchise, in any sport. To wit:

-In May of 2004, during my final NFL Films job interview, the shop’s coordinating producer asked me what I thought of the Dallas Cowboys draft. Here was my first test of football knowledge, and certainly not the last over the years that followed. I told him it all hinges on the development of their second rounder, Notre Dame running back Julius Jones. It didn’t work out that way (Jones had just one 1,000-yard season), but I got the job regardless.

-For seven seasons I worked on the HBO series “Inside the NFL,” led by legendary producer Bob Ryan, who produced the Cowboys highlight films in the 1970s and actually nicknamed them “America’s Team.” Bob also reviewed my spec screenplay that was part of an application care package I sent to Films (I taped that script, a resume, and a photo of my undefeated Pop Warner team atop a picnic cooler with cold beers inside, and then FedEx’d it to their offices) — and I later discovered he awarded me a B+. The grade was circled in red with an exclamation point on the script’s front page. Considering his standards, I consider that a personal triumph.

Middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan: If that name doesn’t scream “COWBOY!”, what does?

-I was a segment producer for the Cowboys Hard Knocks season in ‘08, and my storyline was about an undrafted, undersized and lion-hearted receiver named Danny Amendola. As one former ex-player told me later: “You put that guy on the f-cking map. He should be paying you.”

-I did several NFL international spots in one five-minute burst with a young Pro Bowl QB named Tony Romo, and thought as I walked away “That dude’s gonna be a TV star someday.”

-I produced a Peyton Manning feature for the NFL Network with Michael Irvin as my talent. The former Cowboys great did a terrific job — willing to do as many takes as necessary to get it right.

-Last year I produced my first NBC Sports piece with one of my favorite NFL writers, Peter King, on Dallas tight end Jason Witten.

-A few weeks later, right after Thanksgiving, I returned to Dallas to direct a piece on Roger Staubach – fitting because he’s the one who started the entire Corbellini Cowboy Fan Club. Staubach is my father’s favorite football player, following his career at Navy and then with the Cowboys after his military service, and when I mentioned that to the former Dallas great after our interview, he then asked if we were related to a “Bill Corbellini,” who was a close business associate of his in the area. Staubach and his son both remarked the name was so unique we had to be related somehow (the real estate titan also asked me about undeveloped property near the Javits Center; the man is still hustling).

Tom Landry: Sharp-dressed man

Sports heroes often let you down when you first meet them, but my first and final impression of Staubach was he had a stately quality to him – a quiet, as he sat at his corner office and went through the tasks of his day. I’ve called my father just twice in 20 years after a meet-up with a pro athlete: post-Staubach, and post-Muhammad Ali. That’s the list.  We’re Cowboys fans. You have to be one to understand.

You get older, and you get lost in your day-to-day, and you feel the burden of life being a little unsatisfying like anklets made of stone, and so you must find the joys where you can. Not doing so is wildly irresponsible of you. And a big Dallas Cowboys game still lights me up.

And BTW, I like the Cowboys to beat the Rams in LA this weekend.

(LONG SIGH)

I can’t help myself.

If you still don’t get why, go dry-hump a platypus.

OK, here we have the divisional playoffs. The best NFL weekend of the year. As usual, I have William Hill odds listed, with the home team in caps.

CHIEFS (-5.5) beat the Colts

The Chiefs can’t stop an opponent’s run game — an oddity for a team in the second round of the playoffs — and they’re up against a very good runner-receiver this weekend in Marlon Mack. Mack has become a poor man’s Edgerrin James for the Colts — more than capable of pounding the Chiefs defense senseless. If this game is close Mack could be the difference-maker, with his 10-12 touches in the fourth quarter serving as punches to the kidneys of the Chiefs defense.

Right, right, but this game won’t be close. Both Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill feast on zone defenses – and the Colts play zone more than any other team in the NFL. Watkins, admittedly, is questionable due to injury, but how do you not play in this one at Arrowhead?

Cowboys (+7) beat the LA RAMS

Moving on.

Chargers (+4) beat the PATRIOTS

The Chargers defense definitely checked out late in the Ravens wild-card game, allowing rookie QB Lamar Jackson to throw a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes to Michael Crabtree. That can’t happen again against the Belichick-Brady Patriots. And besides the occasional defensive lapse, the Bolt’s weakness is stopping pass-catching running backs (Hello, James White), but that can be game-planned around. Plus, like I mentioned here last week, the Chargers have a rally cry to get behind: Get Philip Rivers a Ring.

Rivers hasn’t forgotten his playoff losses to the Patriots back in his 20s, and I think he’ll really grip it and rip it from his opening offensive series. Never underestimate an elite QB who’s been given a second chance late in his career. The Chiefs and maybe even the Colts would be a greater challenge athletically than the Pats, but New England in New England is the mental hurdle Rivers needs to leap over to ready himself for the Super Bowl. I think it happens.

Eagles (+8) beat the SAINTS

I know. I know. New Orleans absolutely smoked Philly during the regular season. But the Eagles have all the momentum here after that black-and-blue, double-doink victory in Chicago, and the Saints are so much weaker defensively than the Bears. New Orleans ranks 30th in the NFL against an opponent’s No. 1 receiver, 31st against the No. 2 wideout, and 29th against pass-catching running backs (stats courtesy Pro Football Focus). Nick Foles has been locking onto Alshon Jeffery, the team’s No. 1, ever since last year’s Super Bowl run, so this go-around he’ll be a decoy and it’ll be Darren Sproles’ time to shine, with Nelson Agholor also getting involved.

Last week: 2-1-1
Playoffs: 2-1-1

Total: 26-38-1

*(Editor’s Note:  I’m a little older than C.C., but we grew up in suburban New Jersey and same. For me, it was Roger Staubach. I got a Dallas Cowboys helmet for Christmas when I was six and it was like the rapture. Wrote Tom Landry a letter and got a reply.

At age nine Santa gave us an early Christmas present: four tickets to Cowboys at Jets, Shea Stadium on December 21. America’s Team vs. Joe Namath. We sat in upper deck seats in Flushing, huddled under blankets we’d brought, and froze our tushes off for three quarters  before our dad said, “Let’s go. Gotta beat the traffic.”

One week later I was in my bedroom, bawling my eyes out because the Cowboys were about to lose to the Vikings in the playoffs. The rest of my family did not abandon the TV set, and then I heard a loud roar from the den, and that’s how I missed the Immaculate Reception. That season, 1975, the year the Steelers beat Dallas in the best Super Bowl yet up to that moment, was Peak Cowboys Obsession for me.

When, at age 28, I saw Texas Stadium for the first time, I was vastly disappointed. A local who had witnessed this type of letdown from other visitors over the decades tried to explain it to me: It’s not a football stadium, it’s a TV studio. It was designed as such.)

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