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Just Desserts for Good and Bad Turkeys - Seasonal Thanks...By Nelson Lardner

Any year it's not balefully obvious by Thanksgiving as to whom the Super Bowl winner will be - that's a pro football season for which to be grateful. The draft and the salary cap are working their magic. This century has been bountiful in this regard . . . in large part because Peyton Manning's Colts have been reliably unable to close the deal. Nothing's changed in central Indiana; neither Indianapolis' rushing game nor its ability to stop the run are of championship caliber, in any respect.

It's difficult to work up sustained enthusiasm about the Ravens' running game, either, which leaves us with a trio of truly-nifty franchises from the purest statistical standpoints. The Chargers, Bears and Cowboys are the best-looking championship prospects, by the numbers. Alas, in Philip Rivers, Rex Grossman, and Tony Romo, those three outfits are starting quarterbacks who may not be sufficiently-seasoned for big-game success. As I type this, Grossman's started but 17 games. Meanwhile, in their initial years of starterdom, Rivers has been in on the first snap in all ten Chargers' games, while Romo's started but five of the Cowboy hoedowns. Ben Roethlisberger may have been the quarterback of last season's Super Bowl winners, but only Terrible Towel addicts will claim that he was at all impressive in action last February. It remains to be seen whether any of the kids in control of some of the league's Benzes can direct their offenses to the league's ultimate victory. Interesting times, ahead.

Remain deeply grateful that the nation was spared an all-New York World Series. Such a match is great, for Gotham . . . but an eye-roller for everyone else. Perhaps more importantly, am grateful for yet another exposure of the inherent fallacy of the established wildcard system. For a team which won but 83 regular-season games to win the World Series is laughable, and believe you can point to all the younger Detroit pitchers' utter inability to pitch effectively in the prevailing raw, frigid weather to be a primary reason. First things, first . . . maintain the eight-team format? Sure. But make any series featuring a wildcard team a 4/1 home-roader (for a five-gamer), and a 5/2 format (for a seven-game series). The NFL has blazed the trail, making it tough as hell for a wildcard team to go all the way - and so it should be. Remain grateful that Bud Selig is annually embarrassed by terrible World Series weather outside the West Coast - and the playing of the games at night merely has EVERYTHING to do with it. But an embarrassed Bud - and his doing anything to relieve his embarrassment, when there's cash on the table, is another story.

Appreciate the brusque disposal of outgoing Iowa Rep. Jim Leach, who was among the originators of the notorious 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Such protectionist/intrusionist/nosy nonsense couldn't find approval in broad daylight . . . so Leach's partner in pandering, retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, attatched it to the must-pass Port Security Bill. Good work, boys . . . you galvanized copious numbers of on-line gamblers, which may have tipped the balance. Leach's 30-year ride on the congressional gravy train has come to an abrupt halt (by 5711 votes, of more than 208,000 cast in Iowa's second district). Many among Congress's long-seated Bluenose Busybody Corps got the message November 7, but Leach's fate was cause for special celebration. Hope Leach enjoyed those casino-corporation campaign contributions, along the way.

Special thanks and rejoicing go forth for the sustained good health of Barbaro, equine hero of the year. Already the focus of an enormous following, off his spectacular Kentucky Derby victory, Michael Matz's trainee fractured his right hind leg in the Preakness' opening strides. Understandably, his prognosis was doleful, but the groundswell of public sympathy was as powerful as any such wave of emotion we've seen this year in any sporting situation. With everyone involved holding their collective breaths for months, the news continues to be favorable. The cast came off his right-hind earlier this month, and the laminitis affecting Barbaro's left-hind foot has become less-threatening by the week, though progress remains excruciatingly slow. Thank Secretariat Edgar Prado who was his rider. Prado's arguably as solid a pure horseman as any jockey currently active, and he had the presence of mind to pull up Barbaro before the damage became unsurmountable. Breeder's Cup Classic winner Invasor figures to wind up Horse of the Year, but if the public had a vote, we know who would win.

Bless Barbaro . . . and everyone else who deserves it . . .

Nelson Lardner

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