When Nate Kaeding’s 54-yard field goal fell short just after 8 p.m. Sunday, it ended San Diego’s impressive season. And for those of us who parked ourselves on the couch for an entire weekend, it capped off a terrific set of divisional playoff games.

Scott Bell
Michigan alum Tom Brady helped make the NFL Divisional playoffs ultra exciting. (AP PHOTO)

We saw the Colts overcome Peyton Manning’s continued playoff woes with the help of kicker Adam Vinatieri – and the crossbar. We witnessed the Saints extend their miracle run for the city that needs it most. We watched an overtime field goal catapult the Bears into their first championship game since the ’80s. And we once again observed the genius that is Bill Belichick and the calmness that is Tom Brady, who compiled a miserable 57.6 QB rating but still found a way to win.

Without a vested interest in any of the teams, I enjoyed all 15 hours of TV. But still, I couldn’t help but lament that as business and sports become increasingly intertwined, the number of all-day/weekend sports affairs dwindles each year.

Sure, there’s National Water Cooler Day, as former ESPN.com columnist Brian Murphy once deemed it, which occurs on the first Monday of April, when the NCAA Tournament ends. Concurrently, baseball truly begins and, as a bonus, the Masters Tournament is on tap. In 2005, for instance, we got to see Dmitri Young belt three home runs for the Tigers on Opening Day, North Carolina edge out Illinois for the NCAA title, and less than a week later, Tiger Woods come back in thrilling fashion before winning a playoff to capture his fourth green jacket.

And there’s a few weeks earlier, when the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament give us four-straight days of nothing but basketball. And a few weeks later, when Mel Kipers across the country sit down for hours of the NFL Draft followed by the NBA and NHL playoffs.

But for every opening week of the NFL season (which coincides with college football and the finals of the U.S. Open of tennis), there’s a New Year’s Day that has been ruined by money.

Before the NCAA stood for the Nothing (but) Cash Athletic Association, a full slate of the best bowl games provided the cure for the New Year’s hangover. You might vaguely remember the time prior to the Bowl Championship Series system when all of the major bowl games were played on the same day.

On Jan. 1, 1991, you could have watched Colorado emerge with a 10-9 victory in the Orange Bowl to win the National Championship, downing a Notre Dame team fielding Rick Mirer, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail and Ricky Watters. And Mark Brunell lead his Washington Huskies in a 46-34 shootout win, despite a 20-point Iowa fourth quarter in the Rose Bowl. And the Sugar Bowl, in which Tennessee stormed back from a 16-0 halftime deficit to win 23-22. And the Cotton Bowl, in which Russell Maryland destroyed the offense of No. 3 Texas as he led his fourth-ranked Hurricanes to a 46-3 win.

All of that on the same day.

Now, we get just two of the major bowls (that don’t matter) on New Year’s, one (that also doesn’t matter) the next night and another (that still doesn’t matter) the day after that. Sure they’ve given us an extra bowl game, but this year it was a blowout played late on a Monday night, a week after I stopped caring about college football. But I’m sure it’s for the sake of the student-athletes, of course.

Whether you support a playoff or not, it’s tough to argue that the new system is in any way better than the old.

Luckily, NFL Divisional Playoff weekend probably won’t get changed, since judging from the number of Peyton Manning commercials I saw, ratings must be doing well. And that’s a good thing, since if this weekend is any indication (three games decided by a field goal), it’s one of the most exciting weeks of the season.

This year featured great plays (Did you see Roosevelt Colvin’s interception?) and gutsy playcalling (the Bears going for it on fourth down at the end of the first half). It produced heroes (Chicago kicker Robbie Gould, who was working in construction before signing with the Patriots in 2005) and zeroes (San Diego coach Marty Schottenhemier, whose undisciplined team committed too many silly penalties). And it set up a great matchup (Patriots-Colts, no need to explain) and a great story (the Saints’ possible Super Bowl run).

Even the officials, announcers and production guys provided entertainment.

One official in the Colts-Ravens game rescinded his flag after explaining there was illegal contact, but not enough to warrant a penalty. During the Patriots-Chargers game, an offensive lineman was cited for pass interference.

Greg Gumbel confounded Dan Dierdorf with his mention of Puddy from Seinfeld, played by an actor also appearing in a new CBS comedy. And it’s a good thing Joe Buck doesn’t work for NASA, because he needed to ask whether five-eighths or half an inch was longer.

But the production guys might have topped it all by showing tape from Seahawks’ 2004 overtime playoff game against the Packers. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck declared after winning the coin toss “We want the ball, and we’re going to score,” before recoiling with a look of terror etched on his face and then throwing the game-winning pass – to Packer Al Harris who returned the interception for a touchdown.

Come to think of it, maybe I can live without some of those other all-day/weekend sports adventures – but only if the rest are as good as this one.

– Have your own favorite days of the sports year? E-mail Herman at jaherman@umich.edu.

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