Monday, February 02, 2009

NOT the greatest of all time -- Super Bowl notes

Yes, The Monk watched last night's Super Bowl and, contrary to the usual idiocy that follows a close game (SI's Don Banks, most of the ESPN crew covering the game), it was NOT the greatest of all time. I've been watching Super Bowls since SB XII -- the Cowboys' thrashing of the Broncos -- and this one was a far cry from some of the best, including the two close ones the Giants won, the two times the Niners topped the Bengals, the Broncos' upset of the Packers and the two others that Kurt Warner played in.

Why? First, because for the first three quarters, the game was a choppy mess. The fourth quarter was fantastic, the Harrison TD was fantastic (although as soon as I saw his convoy and the amount of running room he had coming out of the end zone, I thought he'd go the distance), the Fitzgerald TD was a shock, and the Holmes tap-tap TD was great. The game as a whole (mistakes, bad execution, 17 penalties) . . . not as much.

Second, until the last four minutes of the game, it lacked the tremendous drama of other matchups. The Steelers dominated the game for more than three quarters and then blew it -- the 13-point lead they coughed up was the largest deficit a team had even come back from to take the lead in a Super Bowl (other teams rebounded from larger deficits to tie the game but lost: 1999 Titans [16-0], 2001 Rams [17-3]) but it never seemed they would actually give up the lead until midway through the fourth quarter when the Cards established an offensive rhythm against the Steelers' defense. Contrast that to the two Pittsburgh-Dallas four-quarter long heavyweight fights in the '70s; the underdog rising up to beat the heavy favorite aspect of the Jets', Chiefs', Broncos' (v. Packers), Giants' (v. Patriots) and Patriots' (v. Rams) wins. The Arizona offense -Pittsburgh defense matchup was also less compelling than the immovable force/irresistible object aspect of the Giants-Bills game where a dominant offense (which Arizona was not) collided with a dominant defense.

Third, it lacked overall importance. The Steelers' quest for ring #6 was far less momentous than the Patriots' attempt to cap an undefeated season, the Broncos' shocking upset of the Packers to break the NFC's 13-year winning streak, the Dolphins' successful finish to their 17-0 season, the Jets' and Chiefs' drubbing those allegedly superior NFL teams, or even the Steelers' own greatest glory when they won their fourth Super Bowl in six seasons 29 years ago.

But the fourth quarter last night was still fantastic.

More thoughts:

(1) Not counting one-win wonders (Steve Young, Phil Simms), Kurt Warner is the second-greatest Super Bowl QB ever, behind only Joe Montana. Seriously. He led a stiff 9-7 team to the Super Bowl and within 2.5 minutes of winning it. He has the THREE top passing yardage games in Super Bowl history (yesterday was #2, the SB 34 win over the Titans is still the only 400+ yard passing game by a QB in SB history). And he has been THE offense for each of his three Super Bowl teams. In 1999, the Rams ran 59 plays and called 47 passes despite probable Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk on their team and at the apex of his career (it was the second of his four-straight combined rushing/receiving 2000-yard seasons). In 2001, the Rams called 47 passes out of 69 plays. Yesterday, the Cards called 45 passes in 57 plays. Warner's teams won one Super Bowl and lost two others on end-of-game drives against his teams' subpar defenses. This season, the Steelers' defense gave up 300+ yards just once, and allowed no 300-yard passers. The Cardinals had more than 400 total yards and Warner threw for 377.

(2) Good stage-setting by John Madden before the Steelers' final drive -- he said the Steelers' defense, even though it was the best in the NFL, had the season in its hands and failed to stop the Cardinals and now the Cards' defense could show that even though it was low-rated it could prove its worth and win the game.

(3) Best stat I heard, courtesy Colin Cowherd's radio show this morning: when the Cards sent 4 or fewer pass rushers, Roethlisberger was 11-20; when they rushed five or more, he hit 10 of 10. Give Big Ben big credit, he made plays that he failed to make three years ago and showed why he has become an elite QB.

(4) Three times in the past five years the Super Bowl MVP has been a wide receiver; the two non-WR MVPs were related to Archie Manning. Before SB 39, only three wide receivers had won the MVP. This shows both the greater importance of the passing game over the years, and the ability of the voters to better determine the player who had the greatest value to his team. After all, it's a bit odd that Terry Bradshaw won his second SB MVP in a game where he threw three interceptions. Early QB MVP awards also may reflect the importance of the QB to the game plan -- Joe Namath threw for just 206 yards and 0 TDs, but he called his own plays. Ditto Len Dawson (17-22-141, 1 TD, 1 INT).

(5) ESPN's top 10 plays of all Super Bowls was ridiculous. THREE from last night's game? What about the Otis Taylor TD that iced SB 4 and proved the AFL was the NFL's equal? What about the Elway TD run in SB 32 that ultimately broke the NFC's stranglehold on the Super Bowl? What about the Mark Ingram catch on a 4-yard pattern that he turned into a 3rd-and-14 conversion by breaking four tackles against the Bills? What about the Isaac Bruce 73-yard TD that won SB 34 -- a much better play than the Fitzgerald catch-and-run last night? At last check, Jerry Rice won three SBs, and Joe Montana won four -- neither made one of the greatest plays in SB history? Kudos to Cris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson for blasting their own network and saying the David Tyree catch, which helped upset the best team to not win the Super Bowl on a drive where the Giants needed to score a TD, was a greater play than Holmes' game-winning TD last night, on a drive where Pittsburgh only needed to get a field goal to keep its season alive.

And a bonus thought: after 11 games, the Giants were 10-1 and had beaten the Cardinals, Eagles and Steelers on the road and blasted the Ravens at home. Then Plaxico Burress became a complete idiot. Thereafter, the Giants stank -- a home loss to the Eagles when the division title and a first-round bye would be clinched with a win; a no-TD 20-8 beating from the Cowboys, who would allow 77 points in their last two games and miss the playoffs (it was the Giants' first no-TD performance since their terrible 23-0 loss to the Panthers in the '05 playoffs); and another no-TD game in a desultory home playoff loss to the Eagles. With Plax, the Giants rolled 36 points on Philly; without him, they scored 25 in two games with 9 of those on defense or special teams. Brandon Jacobs said during the week that the Giants would be gunning for 18-1 and another SB title if not for Plax's idiocy. There's a lot of support for that notion.

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