Indiana'ês two best football teams have built-in advantages in that each gets to field an extra player. Notre Dame, a college power for the better part of a century, merely (or so it'ês said) has God on its side. The Indianapolis Colts have an even greater asset: Peyton Manning, who not only is a superb quarterback but a better offensive coordinator than most teams employ on the sidelines.
During the first weekend of October, each of the above used its idea of the deity to handle the competition from Seattle. Sure enough, the team with Manning was more impressive than the club that many N.D. partisans believe employ The Other Guy to work the wonders.
Actually, Notre Dame beat the University of Washington Huskies (37-30 in overtime) Saturday (Oct. 3) by seeming to have about 20 guys on the field at a given time. The Irish repeatedly stopped the Dawgs late in the game when Husky line plunges of a few feet would have put the game away for the visitors. Notre Dame'ês final scoring during regulation play featured a two-point conversion that looked like a rugby scrum. A swarm of the home team'ês jerseys surrounded fullback Robert Hughes and seemed to suffocate him as the cluster moved him across the goal. The result was a Notre Dame 30-27 lead, meaning the Huskies would be lucky to kick a late field goal and force the unsuccessful overtime effort.
It was the most entertaining Husky game in memory, even more so than the triumph over the University of Southern California two weeks earlier. The near-win makes it much easier to see the 2-3 Dawgs knocking off conference foes and positioning themselves for a post-season bowl bid. Freshman running back Chris Polk had another gutty effort with 136 yards, many when they were needed the most.
For the Seattle Seahawks, the prognosis isn'êt rosy. After the 34-17 Sunday drubbing by Manning, et al, the Hawks are 1-3 with an increasingly feasible projection of 1-5 before their extra week off later this month. The club was only marginally healthier than it has been during the recent two losses. Even had they been without critical injuries, the Hawks would'êve been hard pressed to win in the Eastern time zone, where jet lag has gotten the better of them for seven straight games.
If it had been a best-ever effort by Seattle, it probably would have failed. Manning and Hawk sub quarterback Seneca Wallace had nearly identical pass-completion stats but the home thrower had nearly 100 more yards. A familiar TV-ad presence, the jocular Manning occasionally seemed to be rehearsing for another funny commercial, grinning through his face mask at the spectacle of Seattle defenders about to be victimized by his play-calling.
The Colts' defense eased up late in the game, allowing the Hawks to score 14 points during the final three minutes. Next up for Seattle is Jacksonville at Qwest Field. A few weeks ago it might have been viewed as an occasion to scribble in a projected addition to the win column. But the Jaguars blew away Tennessee, 37-17, Sunday and can be expected to be competitive against a Hawks roster still a few weeks away from bringing in key bodies from the injured list. Matt Hasselbeck'ês broken rib apparently has him unable to run and breathe at the same time, which makes it a little difficult to be an effective quarterback unless you'êre playing video games.
Yet, the Hawks have gotten solid efforts from members of their recently injured corps. Deion Branch had six grabs at Indy (T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the club with eight); linebacker Lofa Tatupa returned to notch a team-high 11 tackles.
It isn'êt, of course, the sort of start Hawks coach Jim Mora was expecting. Neither is a 1-3 opening what was envisioned by many members of the fan base, the collective 'ê12th Man'ê that hasn'êt quite matched the influence of the deities called upon by the Colts and Fightin'ê Irish.