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FROM THIS EPISODE

Badge of Courage

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The playoffs for eight NFL teams kick off this weekend, all shooting for Super Bowl victory on February 6, and the phone lines in Vegas are buzzing 24/7. So what would you think to be the most crucial factors in placing an NFL post-season bet? There-s the spread, of course--or the line, as they say in Vegas. That-s the predetermined point differential between two teams--what one team is supposed to win by, on paper.

Then there-s the record between two teams. I can certainly understand looking at this year-s record. Maybe the last couple of seasons. If a team has dominated another, you would think they-d have a psychological edge. That point of reference has its glitches, though. Take the Green Bay Packers. The boys in green and gold are cleaning out their lockers up at Lambeau Field as we speak, after getting trounced by the Vikings last weekend, even though they beat the Vikings with ease, twice this season. So even taking recent encounters into consideration doesn-t necessarily make for a sure bet, but I-ve never understood the pundits making reference to games throughout the history of the franchise. The Colts have beaten the such-and-such 11 games out of their last 14 outings. Well, are we talking about the Baltimore Colts in that statistic, so many years ago that these current Indianapolis Colts have never even heard the name Johnny Unitas? Those historic stats are absolutely meaningless.

Then there-s weather. And turf. Some teams do perform better in the cold, or on natural grass, than others. And match-ups. A big, bully, drive-ahead running back may do well against one defense whereas a darty running back who cuts and slashes will do well against another.

So you-re sitting down to analyze all the pertinent data before you place your bet. But there-s one critical piece of information we haven-t mentioned yet. The injury report. Are those bruised ribs of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completely healed for this Saturday-s game? Will Wayne Chrebet be back in as wide receiver for the Jets? Certain franchise-type players out with injuries can radically change the physical and psychological status of a team.

The arguments for and against the long August pre-season in the NFL rage every year. And the best against pre-season argument is injury. To play four games before the season even starts is a recipe for injury at this level of contact. Linemen will tell you that every game is like exposing your body to ten head-on car crashes. Add four games that don-t count. That-s forty unnecessary car crashes that take their toll by January playoff time.

Then there-s the issue of free agency. Back in the day, you were virtually with a team for life. Roger Stauback was a Cowboy. Period. Franco Harris was a Steeler. Jim Otto was a Raider. Otto played with broken ribs, never mind bruised ribs. He played with a dislocated shoulder, a broken nose, a loose patella. Injuries used to be a badge of courage in the old days. You played through the pain, in part because you were tough and that-s football, and in part because you were a lifer with your team. Further injury wouldn-t jeopardize your spot once you healed.

This weekend the Jets may be without their Pro Bowler defensive end John Abraham. His right knee is sprained and he-s sore. Jim Otto would have laughed his way through a sprained knee, but Abraham is a free agent when this season ends and he needs to protect his value in the marketplace.

Make no mistake. An NFL player is still tough. I saw Warren Sapp take a pain killer injection directly into the bottom of his foot a couple of years ago. He bit a towel, grimaced like a mother in the throes of childbirth, and trotted out to the line. But these days injuries are babied more than ever. Come post time, you can-t be sure your horse is going to make it to the starting gate.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.

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