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Woody: The NFL Is Set To Begin Its ‘Chase’

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 6 2012

Carl Edwards offers congratulations to Tony Stewart after the NASCAR playoff-ending Ford 400. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The National Football League fires up its version of the Chase for the Championship this week, with every team dreaming about winning the Super Bowl – pro football’s Daytona 500.

NASCAR, you might have noticed, has already completed its playoffs in what was the closest, most dramatic championship battle in the sport’s history.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards ended up tied on the scoreboard but Tony scored more touchdowns during the season so he got the trophy. Or something like that.

There are some other noticeable differences in the NFL’s playoffs as compared to NASCAR’s.

In the NFL, team owners don’t help the opposition beat their own players as they do in NASCAR. Tony Stewart used engines supplied by rival Rick Hendrick to beat Rick’s drivers. That groan you heard was the ghost of Vince Lombardi.

In the NFL, teams can’t shanghai another team’s players, as crew chief Chad Knaus did when he grabbed another team’s pit crew on the spur of the moment. If the Patriots’ offensive line is having a bad day, the coach can’t simply commandeer another team’s offensive line during a timeout.

In the NFL a chummy opponent can’t work with a buddy to help him win. In NASCAR we saw some suspiciously-timed cautions; in the NFL if a team is out of timeouts on a critical drive, a pal on another team can’t call one for it.

The NFL has something called a “rule book” that it relies on, even during the playoffs. It spells out exactly what the penalties are for specific infractions. On a holding penalty, for instance, the play is nullified and the ref walks off 10 yards. In NASCAR a committee meets to decide if a holding penalty should be assessed, and if so, how many yards.

In the NFL every team is penalized equally for the same rule violation. In NASCAR penalties at times seem to be determined by the team’s star power.

Going into its playoffs NASCAR told drivers to “have at it,” then threatened to penalize them if they hit each other too hard. During the NFL’s playoffs, roughing is roughing.

Unlike the NASCAR playoffs in which everybody keeps playing whether they’re eligible for the championship or not, NFL teams that didn’t make it go home. The eliminated Colts and Titans can’t pull off an inspiring playoff victory as the eliminated Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne did.

During the final critical games that decided who would make the NFL playoffs, TV didn’t dwell on an ineligible part-time player the way some NASCAR media drooled over Danica Patrick. (Maybe there should be a penalty for unabated drooling.)

During the NASCAR playoffs, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. never got his running game going. The boys in the booth blamed it on poor blocking, bad handoffs, dull cleats, slippery turf and moon phases. NFL commentators aren’t so kind.

Despite the differences, the NFL and NASCAR playoffs have one thing in common: toe-tingling excitement.

The smartest thing the NFL ever did was come up with the Super Bowl, and NASCAR made an equally brilliant move with its version of the playoffs. It injected some desperately-needed interest and drama into what had become a blah stretch run.

Last season’s version was a classic, with Tony Stewart driving in for the winning score with no time left on the clock. Beat that, NFL.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 6 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Russ says:

    Come on now. I cant figure out whether its more laugable, or insulting to the NFL and its fans, to say “The NFL Is Set To Begin Its “Chase”.
    The NFL surely doesn’t want it insinuated that its playoffs, surely the most watched sporting events in North America, are aping Nascar’s much maligned “Chase”. Particularly as we all know that it was an attempt by Nascar, in trying to mimic those events, to put some interest back into a sport that was losing its following.

    Why I realize that its hard to come up with a story at this time of the year, this one is a bit of a stretch.