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Sunday, Holy Sunday in Sports

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There was something heavenly about Sunday, so much so it almost made me a believer.

The Rrrrrrre-ders

A day after owner Al Davis died, it seemed like his hands were all over the Oakland Raiders’ 25-20 win over the Houston Texans. They were clearly struggling in the first half not getting their first first-down until 1:46 left in the first half. If not for the leg of Sebastian Janikowski and his 54-yard and 55-yard field goals, it would have been a rout.

But in their two-minute drive to end the half the Raiders went on a six-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in Jason Campbell’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bay. With a failed two-point conversion, the Raiders went into the locker room down 14-12.

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And back and forth they went in the second half. Janikowski makes a 50-yard field goal. Neil Rackers answers back with a 54-yard field goal. Campbell makes an 18-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens. Janikowski makes a 42-yard chip shot (for him, at least.)

After Rackers made a 40-yard field goal to cut the Raiders’ lead to 25-20 and the Raiders went three-and-out, it came down to that final drive by the Texans. And in the safety behind the television screen, it seemed like a war between providence and Davis.

The Texans and quarterback Matt Schaub gashed the Raiders soft defense. 11 yards here for the Texans. A sack reversed because of too many men on the field. But that also reversed by a personal foul on the Texans. Roughing the passer. A fumble for a 13-yard loss. Then a 34-yard pass by Schaub to bring the Texans to the five-yard line with six seconds left.

In that final play Schaub dropped back and scrambled back to the line of scrimmage. It looked like he had an open lane to make it to the end zone, a gift from God. But Al Davis intervened.

Schaub stopped behind the line of scrimmage and saw Jacoby Jones open in the end zone. Schaub passed the ball those seven yards, and there was Davis who put safety Michael Huff in the right spot to yank the ball and the victory away from the Texans.

It has been over 16 years of ill will and jubilation of all of the Raiders’ misfortunes for me. With the death of Davis it seems like all the transgressions have been atoned. And for the first time since the Raiders lost 19-9 to the Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum on December 24, 1994 which cost them a playoff spot, it felt right for me to cheer for the Raiders again.

Touchdown Jesus

Then in Denver God’s anointed one Tim Tebow finally saw his day in the spotlight. After a listless first half by the Broncos trailing the San Diego Chargers 23-10 at home, head coach John Fox finally pulled the trigger and brought in Tebow to the joy of every evangelical parasite in the country.

So Tebow had problems with the center-to-quarterback exchange coming out from under center. So Tebow only went 4-for-10. So Tebow did use God’s will to propel the Broncos to victory illuminating a shining beacon upon the field at Mile High.

But he did pass for 79 yards and a touchdown while also rushing six times for 38 yards including a 12-yard touchdown run to cut the Chargers’ lead to 26-18 after a successful two-point conversion. He also got them to within a two-point conversion of tying the game.

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Maybe if Tebow carried the Broncos to victory instead of the 29-24 loss I would have immediately went to the nearest church seeking atonement and baptism. But he did convert me on one thing: I do think there is something about Tebow that could lead a team to victory. He doesn’t have the perfect mechanics. He won’t have the gaudy statistics. But he’ll make that run or inexplicably connect with a receiver that will keep the Broncos alive.

But I still maintain his acolytes are absolutely insufferable to the point of making Boston Red Sox fans look genteel.

Winnipeg or Bust

Meanwhile for Winnipeg hockey fans, it had been 15 years since they saw NHL hockey. While it took the loss of the Atlanta Thrashers to bring NHL hockey back to the province of Manitoba, the 15,004 that crowded MTS Centre to watch the reincarnation of their Jets it was a prayer answered.

It got the CBC Hockey Night in Canada treatment complete with the ridiculous Don Cherry that would make Craig Sager bow his head in shame and embarrassment. The roster was introduced. There was a tear-inducing tribute to Rick Rypien. There was even a brass ensemble accompaniment with the singing of “O Canada.”

It looked like a great environment with the raucous crowd screaming, “Go Jets Go,” as if 15 years hadn’t passed. And with sporting leagues hunt for bigger and bigger market shares, it seemed like NHL hockey would never return to a small Canadian town in the prairie. But miraculously there it was before everyone’s eyes.

The miracle soon turned to reality when just over three minutes into the game, former King Michael Cammalleri on a turnover in the Canadiens’ zone scored the easy goal to the dismay of the Winnipeg crowd. The Jets of last year were an 80-point Thrashers team that yet again did not make the playoffs. A sudden change of scenery will not complete a turnaround.

Center Nik Antropov finally scored a goal early in the third period becoming the answer to a trivia question to give the Jets their lone score. But even with the Canadiens dropping out like flies, they were still able to overpower the Jets 5-1.

But Winnipeggers will be patient. They know what life is like without hockey, and they’d much rather be patient than be without a team again. And even though it was one in the loss column, it looked like a win for Winnipeg especially when they panned through the crowd filled with people in the new Jets sweaters.

At the end of the day (and I’m using this dependent clause literally not figuratively like most sports figures use as a cliché) I’m still an atheist. But it was a fun day in the world of sports and to think about the role, if any, of divinity into our mundane lives.

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