ON THE WAY TO WISCONSIN It’s the Go Army, Beat Navy edition of my five questions for the NFL’s Week 14.
By the way, big thanks to my pal Ryan Divish for all the updates, the color and the pride from the sidelines today in Baltimore as my Cadets -- Black Knights, officially -- beat the Squids for the first time in, oh, a day or three.
This, from Ryan, as the Corps of Cadets as Army took the lead late in the 118th meeting of my alma mater and that place with sea creatures:
More on Army-Navy -- and the possibility of the game coming to Seattle in 2018 or beyond -- in my five questions:
1. How often has Russell Wilson played a game in the snow?
Zero times over his five seasons in the NFL. Zero times in his one, final college season for Wisconsin, too. Yet that is what he and the Seahawks are going to play in now at Green Bay. Saturday’s forecast from the National Weather Service for Green Bay Sunday afternoon is for a 100-percent chance of "around" four inches of snow. The Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee wrote: "From Lambeau Field in Green Bay where the Packers and Seahawks will play football in a snow globe to Candy Cane Lane in West Allis, a steady storm of powdery snow and blowing wind are forecast to impact travel until Monday morning." The Seahawks last game with snow piling on the field was a divisional playoff at Lambeau Field Jan. 12, 2008. Seattle took a 14-0 lead 4 minutes in. Then the snow came -- hard. Brett Favre looked like a winter wizard throwing three touchdown passes through the big flakes and the Seahawks lost 42-20.
Wilson says he is hoping for "a downpour of snow" to remind him of boyhood night playing with pals in Richmond, Virginia. He’s going to get his wish.
2. How can the Seahawks clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
Only through winning the division. Seattle (8-3-1) will win the NFC West with a victory over the Packers plus a loss or tie by Arizona (5-6-1) at Miami (7-5). The division championship for Seattle, its third in four seasons, is a fait accompli. The bigger Seahawks matter is securing the second seed in the conference. They have a half-game lead on North leader Detroit (8-4) and 1½ games on Atlanta (7-5) for that. The Lions host awful Chicago (3-9) on Sunday and the Falcons are at lowly Los Angeles (4-8). Dallas (11-1) is cruising toward the NFC’s top seed and home field throughout the playoffs; the Cowboys would clinch that Sunday by winning at the Giants and getting losses by the Lions and Seahawks. The top two seeds get a first-round playoff bye and host in round two. That’s what the Seahawks are playing these final four regular-season games to get.
3. Why is the NFL adding more London games?
To tap into one league cash well that hasn’t shown signs of drying up recently. The league this past week announced it will increase its games each season played in the United Kingdom from three to four. Ratings in the United States for NFL games are down this season. But in and around England they are booming. The league says Sunday viewership of NFL games in the UK has more than doubled since 2007. The TV audience for the Super Bowl has increased more than 75 percent. The league is on its way to record number of unique television viewers in the United Kingdom. That means a fertile ground on which to negotiate richer TV contracts in England, unlike in the States. The Seahawks have avoided any league efforts to play a game in London, and they don’t want to lose a roaring, sold-out home date to play there. But they could be a visiting team – 25 percent of the league will now be playing in England next season. Will the odds catch up to the Seahawks? The NFL will announce teams and venues for the four London games in 2017 on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Facebook Live, facebook.com/nfl.
4. The Army-Navy Game in Seattle?
This past week the Baltimore Business Journal, from where Saturday’s 117th Army-Navy Game was played, reported Seattle was one of 10 cities with NFL stadiums wanting to host this classic. The others: Baltimore, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. The game will be back in Philadelphia next year, but sites are still to be determined for 2018 and beyond. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told the Business Journal the Army-Navy venue must have seating capacities of at least 70,000 people. CenturyLink Field has 68,000 fixed seats but its operators say the stadium has the capability to add 4,000 seats for "special events" for a total potential capacity of 72,000. Start adding! If you are reading this then you are a sports fan. And, I’m telling you, if you haven’t been to an Army-Navy game, what the hell are you waiting for? It’s so much more than a game. A factor that may be in the favor of Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego: Army-Navy has been on the West Coast just once, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 1983. Before my junior year at West Point there was a rumor the game would be played in Hawaii in 1991 for the 50th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. We cadets were pumped; the entire Corps goes to every game. Alas, it wasn’t quite in Honolulu. It was back at cold Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Get it done, Seattle! And if it happens, get there.
5. Why is James Conner going to be the best story at the NFL combine in February?
The University of Pittsburgh redshirt junior running back declared for the draft this past week. He rushed for 1,060 yards and scored 20 touchdowns this season – after 12 chemotherapy sessions for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and wearing a surgical mask at first workouts following his battle with cancer. "I have given everything I’ve got," Conner wrote as part of his announcement on Twitter that he was leaving for the NFL. Thursday night at the national college football awards show he received the 2016 Disney Sports Spirit Award for being the sport’s most inspirational person. "I don't know if mere words can adequately express how I feel about James Conner," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi posted on Twitter. "His strength, his courage and his kindness have impacted all of us beyond measure. I'm forever grateful to be part of his life these past two years." Conner scored 56 TDs for Pitt, most in Atlantic Coast Conference history. And this just isn’t a feel-good story. Connor can play. His 3,701 career rushing yards rank second in Pitt history to Tony Dorsett. Connor was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year. Then tore his MCL in the 2015 opener and missed the rest of that season -- before his lymphoma diagnosis. One NFL team will be better for drafting him next spring.