The Daily Illini

A star-studded cast

By Jon Gluskin

When you tune in to watch the NFL conference title games on Sunday, there will be no Tom Brady. No Donovan McNabb. No Adam Vinatieri. No Terrell Owens. No gray-hooded, sweatshirt-wearing Bill Belichick.

The best player in either game played in one game last year, weighs 185 pounds and stands only four inches taller than me – and I’m 5’5″.

I guess it’s fair to say the ending to this season is going to be um.different.

Over the past couple of seasons, we have become accustomed to watching big-time playmakers making big-time plays. We have watched the Patriots run off three Super Bowl titles in four years. We have seen the Eagles in the NFC title game each year for the past three years.

But this year, it’s hard to even pick a favorite – all four teams have been disrespected, doubted and not given the credit they deserve.

This will make for an interesting weekend, with America being treated to a whole new cast of characters, but very few superstars.

Just look at the four quarterbacks – Ben Roethlisberger, Jake Plummer, Jake Delhomme and Matt Hasselbeck.

None are exceptionally talented. In discussions of the best quarterbacks in the league, rarely do these names appear with the Mannings, the Bradys and the Palmers. These four are good, but not great – just like their respective teams.

At the same time, these guys simply get the job done. They’ve been winning – and winning without the recognition they deserve.

Big Ben rarely throws more than 25 passes a game, but in those plays when he does drop back to pass, he makes the most of each attempt as his 98.3 career-passer rating attests to. He’s lost a total of five career games in his only two seasons.

Jake Plummer has been playing out of his mind this season. Once looking like his career was heading towards a train wreck, Plummer led the Broncos to a 13-3 season and No. 2 seed in the AFC. The anti-Brady – with his Unabomber/porn star facial hair – threw 18 touchdowns and only seven interceptions this season.

Commanding the Seahawks offense this season has been Hasselbeck, the least proven of the four starters. Hasselbeck led Seattle to a league-best 14-2 regular season record (tied with Indianapolis) and finally got his first postseason win last Saturday. Because of his stellar performance this season, he has been named the NFC Pro Bowl starter.

And then there’s Delhomme, possibly the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. Delhomme not only took the Panthers to the Super Bowl in his first year as a starting quarterback just two seasons ago, he is the all-time leader in postseason passer rating at 108.4.

That being said, a lot of Delhomme’s success must be attributed to the 5’9″ Steve Smith – the best receiver in the NFL and the man who single-handedly broke Bear fans’ hearts last Sunday.

The man simply cannot be stopped.

But as this season has taught us thus far, anything can happen and there are no guarantees. Just ask the Colts.

While all four teams are strong in certain aspects, they all have their weaknesses as well.

The Panthers are most likely forced to start third-string running back Nick Goings. Their best defensive player, defensive end Julius Peppers, is also banged up and is listed as questionable.

Shaun Alexander is coming off of a concussion, and how he will perform is a mystery.

The Steelers have not been running the ball extremely well as of late. If they can’t pound the ball, they have major problems.

One of Plummer’s nicknames is “Jake the Mistake.” While he has proven that nickname to be untrue this season, I still feel it’s not a matter of if, but when will he revert back to the old Jake.

This weekend definitely is going to be different than past years.

But as long as I don’t have to hear 12,000 times how Tom Brady has never lost a playoff game, I can live with different.

Jon Gluskin is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]

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