Friday, February 01, 2008

More Super Bowl fun facts

The Super Bowl and the NCAA championship game are oddities in US sports -- one-game winner-takes-all matches that follow a tournament of one-game seasons. In the NCAA, the winner now must win six games, in the NFL the champion will win three or four games, and in each instance there is no margin for error. One bad day means season-ending defeat.

With that level of intensity and pressure, the championship game is the most tense game of the year. All sports fans watch the Super Bowl, all NCAA fans (even the most casual) watch the Final. With the stakes at their highest, the teams either play tight, close contests or one will get blown out. And the highs and lows of general regular season games tend to be minimized.

Examples: (1) Since the shot clock (designed to increase scoring and minimize stall-ball) was first implemented in the 1987 tournament, no NCAA title game has witnessed both teams scoring 80 or more points; (2) In the history of the NCAA tournament, no title game has had both teams score 90+ points; (3) only one team has ever scored 100 points in the NCAA title game; but (4) in the shot clock era, only four teams have failed to score 65 points in the NCAA title game (2002 Maryland (won), 1992 Michigan, 2002 Indiana, 2006 UCLA (all lost). In other words, the over the past 21 years, the range for both the teams is about 65-84 points -- not high scoring, not preposterously poor offense either.

NFL example: (1) In 1 of 41 Super Bowls, both teams have scored 30+ points; (2) Only two teams have scored more than 50, three others have scored more than 40 points; (3) Since the AFL-NFL merger only six teams failed to score 10 points, and four of those occurrences happened in the first five years after the merger.

The Super Bowl has had more blowouts than the NCAA title game, but it's easier to make a two-minute streak and get back into an NCAA title game than to run up three TDs in a quarter.

More remarkable is the amount of concentration and lack of game reversal -- no team has come back from more than a 10-point halftime deficit to win the NCAA title game. Similarly the largest deficit that a Super Bowl champ ever faced was 10 points -- when Denver scored the first 10 in SB XXII and the Redskins reversed that with 35 second quarter points in a 42-10 win.

So here's what to look for Sunday: (a) any team that leads by 10+ points will win . . . unless it's the Giants because they led the Pats by 12 in the Meadowlands and lost -- so just because no one has done it before does not mean it's impossible; (b) no team has come from more than 11 points down to take the lead in the Super Bowl (Carolina from 21-10 down to 22-21 up against New England); (c) only one team has trailed by more than 14 points and even achieved a tie (Tennessee -- from 16-0 down to a 16-16 tie against the Rams); (d) NO TEAM HAS EVER BEEN SHUT OUT IN THE FIRST HALF AND WON THE SUPER BOWL; just ask the Vikings -- four Super Bowl appearances, zero first half points.

Finally, remember the 1999 Rams -- they scored 526 points (nearly 33 per) and allowed 242 for a 284 point differential that rivals the Pats' 315. The Rams won the Super Bowl thanks to a last-second tackle by Mike Jones that left the Titans one yard short of a tie game. The Monk hopes Sunday's game is as good . . . but that the underdog overachieves.

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