FILE - Broadcaster and former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden poses with his bust after enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, Aug. 5, 2006, in Canton, Ohio. John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach turned broadcaster whose exuberant calls combined with simple explanations provided a weekly soundtrack to NFL games for three decades, died Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, the NFL said. He was 85.(AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

So long

Man, 2021 can't leave soon enough.

Variants and violence. Outrage and out-of-this-world animosity. Death and more death, of the faceless and the world famous.

Tuesday brought news of John Madden's death. Harry Reid's too. We occasionally talk politics around these parts, and know that I view Reid through the seemingly smashed prism of a not-so-long-ago breed of politician that put country over caucus and was more focused on doing their job rather than keeping their job.

But today's remembrance has to be about Madden.

And ponder this for a second gang: Did anyone have a better, more distinguished career that reached more people in NFL history? Heck, in sports history?

Look at Madden's legacy. He could have/would have been enshrined in Canton for any of his three indelible influences on the modern NFL.

He was a Hall of Fame coach, who has the best winning percentage among head coaches who have coached at least 100 games. That's a heckuva career right there.

He was a Hall of Fame broadcaster, who in a lot of ways redefined the role and the style of the in-game analyst. And make no mistake, Mike Fratello may think he's the czar of the telestrator, and that's fine. But no one used the highlight marker and replay better than Madden, who famously once diagramed a replay on how a collection of pigeons were out of position because they were eating grass behind the defense. As Madden rightly noted, if the pigeons congregated behind the offense, there was way less of a chance of being disturbed so they could eat their grass in peace.

And that's before we even get to what he's arguably most known for, and that's the MJ of sports video games that simply turned his last name into an item that became a fixture in the console community.

So, Madden could be in Canton for any of those. And moreover, he certainly belongs in the NFL and the broadcasting halls of fame, as well as the video game hall.

Wow. Can you think of anyone who had that kind of reach in a sport? Can you think of someone else who would be in three halls that varied?

Rest easy big guy. And thanks.


Bowl mania

OK, after reviewing the feedback and weighing the options, we are going to just wipe away the games that are not being played as originally scheduled in the "Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success, Bowler Optional" contest.

We were tempted to rule the COVID-infected team as a forfeit, and one of our regulars asked about the make-up games. As for the latter, well, it would be a tall order to get those picks in and sorted in such a short window.

As for the actual games, well, if Bo Nix ever needed to feel good about himself, all he needed to do was watch TJ Finley's rotten performance Tuesday afternoon in Auburn's offensively anemic Birmingham Bowl loss. Whoa, Nelly, and not in a good way.

I shared this on social media right after Finley missed his 15th wide-open receiver, and I believe it. Coaches and QBs get too much credit for success and blame for failure.

But, if TJ Finley is the answer at QB next August, then I will seriously wonder about the coaching staff asking the questions.

And was there ever a better commercial for homeless QBs languishing in the portal than the three-hour rinse-lather-repeat of Auburn's RBs making plays, Auburn's WRs and TEs getting open and Finley believing that he was throwing a hand grenade and that close was perfectly fine.

Oy. And yes, that's two games I picked correctly before the bowl season — UCF over Florida and Houston over Auburn — only to change my mind and go with a heart pick.

And while we're here, hey DD, if you want to bag on the SEC, forget mid-major basketball teams winning inside SEC gyms and look at the listlessness the league is churning out so far in this bowl season.

Missouri lost to Army. Mississippi State got boat-raced by Texas Tech. Auburn, well, yuck. Florida, well, double yuck.

Man, it's like the SEC had two really great teams and a whole lot of meh.


Bowl picks

We went 3-3 Tuesday, going bagel-and-3 on the bowls involving the SEC and 3-0 in the others. Alas.

That said, and if you have any questions, please fire away, but the in-game betting has proven to be quite profitable in these bowl games.

It was pretty clear pretty quickly that Auburn — and Mississippi State for that matter — were not super-energized to be at their bowl outposts.

Which takes us back to the biggest unknown involved in bowl betting: Motivation. (And yes, I thought State would be motivated to the hilt, but alas, I was 100% — and $100 — off base.

Now, let's do some power picking.

Maryland minus-4 over Virginia Tech. Ah, an all-ACC Pinstripe Bowl. What? Maryland's not in the ACC anymore? When in the name of Boomer Esiason did that happen? Alas. Want to know who else is not in the ACC any more? Hokies starting QB Braxton Burmiester, who not only has a name that sounds like one of Stifler's buds in "American Pie" but also is in the transfer portal. Also not available is Va Tech back-up Knox Kadum. Hmmmmmm. Yeah, fear the turtle when the opposition is turning to a third-string dude named Connor who has 16 more college passing attempts than Spy.

Clemson minus-2 over Iowa State. Man, at the beginning of the year, these teams were among the top-eight-or-10 in Vegas' eyes to win the whole thing. Now, they go head to head in the Cheez-It Bowl. Motivation may be an issue for both in that regard, which means take the team that is further south with more talent. Deal? Deal. Now on to the important stuff: Is Cheez-It the MJ of the snack cracker genre? We need to settle this.

Oklahoma minus-6.5 an over the 60 against Oregon. Hey, another 'Underachiever Bowl' by almost every measure. Let's check the check-outs. Oregon is without its best WR and college football's best pass rusher and likely No. 1 overall pick next pressing. Edge, maroon OU. Picking Oklahoma gives me the hives because the Sooners are one of those crews who lays down when you back 'em and stands tall when you doubt 'em. Edge, green (or yellow or silver or metallic or black or whatever Nike decides) OU. Still, give me the Sooners, if for no other reason than the chance to cheer against Bo Nix's next team

Regular season: 47-46 against the spread (50.5%, hi Matt)

Bowl season: 13-10 against the spread (56.5%)

This and that

— Speaking of bowls, I will have the updated standings on Friday this week as we head into a monster weekend of football action. Deal? Deal.

— LeBron James is the BOAT — best of all-time — that I've ever seen play basketball. He's Bill Russell's size — and heavier — with a handle that rivals almost any point guard of his time and the vision and passing skills of Magic and is a better shooter from distance than MJ. His all-around skills are simply unmatched. How about this stat? LeBron has averaged at least 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the last 17 seasons. The player with the next most in that category is Oscar Robertson, who did it eight times. Last night, James became the third NBA player to top 36,000 career points. Kudos for your on-court excellence LeBron. (That said, come at Kareem in terms of integrity, soul and dignity, and King James will look like a jester.)

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the Vols getting ready for the Music City Melee. Yeah that works, right?

— You know the rules. Here's Hargis on the Best of Preps tournament heading into the championship rounds.


Today's questions

OK, which way Wednesday starts this way: Which snack cracker is the GOAT? And this one is big.

Gotta have one bucket with the title on the line, which NBA player ever do you draw the play for? (Yes, Kareem is the frontrunner, but there are others.)

Which online betting option do you use?

Which word would you use to describe John Madden?

As for today, Dec. 29, we are really getting close to the end of the year. Normally I would be reviewing a lot of lists and year-end stuff, but a lot of you have sent mailbag-quality questions on those topics, so we'll sort that out Friday.

On this day in 1989, Wayne Gretzky and Martina Navratilova were named athletes of the 1980s by the AP.

Jon Voight is 81 today. Ted Danson is 74. You will not see them agreeing on politics.

In honor of Madden, who is on the all-time Rushmore of the NFL in terms of influence and shaping the league.