Monday, February 2, 2009
Sorry Mr. Goodell, "18-1" still reigns as Super game
Posted by Mike Salerno
Let's start this entry the only appropriate way I can. I am not a Giants fan.
I repeat, I am not a Giants fan.
I'm not a Jets fan, either. In fact, I don't have a favorite NFL team. I just can't stand the NFL. To me, it's a superficial business first and a sport second. Therefore, I stick to the college game for my viewing pleasure, but I digress. That's another story for another day.
Last night, the Steelers made history, becoming the first NFL franchise to win six Super Bowls, leaving Dallas, Green Bay and San Francisco in their wake. It marked the second time in the past four years that they have hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and what a game it was.
Yes, both teams put on quite a show down the stretch. It was one that rivaled the performance of Bruce Springsteen during the Halftime Show. Apparently, I had spoken too soon when I declared Bruce the Super Bowl MVP near the end of the third quarter.
However, the fourth quarter didn't disappoint with a number of game-changing plays in the midst of a wonderous Cardinals' comeback. As Larry Fitzgerald sprinted 64 yards down the middle of the field, it seemed as if the horse had just arrived to take Kurt Warner away into the sunset, with a stop-off at the Hall of Fame.
Pittsburgh had other ideas. Ben Roethlisberger cemented his Super Bowl legacy after a horrid performance in Super Bowl XL by driving the Steelers down the field to score the game-winning touchdown with just 35 seconds remaining. But Big Ben can't be given all the credit, or even most of the credit for that matter. His main wideout on this night would prove not to be wounded warrior Hines Ward, MVP of Super Bowl XL, but the speedy Santonio Holmes. Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards, none bigger than the fingertip grab in the corner of the end zone to give the Steelers a 27-23 lead. In fact, he had four receptions for 76 yards on the final drive alone, including a 40-yard pass that got the ball to the Arizona 6-yard line.
And how could you forget the newest version of strange events dubbed "the play?" James Harrison's 100-yard interception return became the longest play in Super Bowl history by one yard. Dropping Harrison back near into zone coverage the goal line proved to be a brilliant move by veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. What transpired 100 yards later may have reshaped the landscape of Super Bowl XLIII, but it was not the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
Nor was this the greatest game in Super Bowl history, contrary to what Roger Goodell may have said at the trophy presentation.
First of all, with the exception of its' last play, the first half was painstakingly predictable. The Steelers' defense was holding its' ground, and the only time it seemed to flinch, Arizona made a huge mistake and it turned into a game-changing highlight just before halftime. The Harrison interception cannot be overlooked, but we'll explore that more in a bit. Last year, the Giants surprised everyone out of the gate by eating up nearly 10 minutes over 16 plays on the opening drive of the game to take a 3-0 lead. Steve Spagunolo's defense had Tom Brady running ragged the entire first half. In fact, Brady was on his back after nine of his first 18 pass attempts.
The biggest story of the first half a year ago wasn't that the Patriots were winning, but that they had only scored 7 points. If there was no score overlay on the screen, you would've thought New York went into the locker room with the advantage.
The third quarter of Super Bowl XLIII was even worse than the first half. The excitement of a potential scoring drive to start the half by Arizona was quelled and the audience quickly went back to rooting for commercial breaks, which were also sub-par this year, with one exception.
Last year's third quarter, believe it or not, had three less points than this year's game. However, it was all the more compelling because the Giants' defense was holding serve. Overall they sacked Brady five times, and held the Patriots to just 46 yards rushing on the night.
The fourth quarter in both games were packed with action, whether it be a safety, a scramble and a heave, or countless heroic lead-changing touchdown drives. No advantage goes to either game here, as in both years the final 15 minutes were something to behold.
Then there's the direct comparison between each game's defining play. Now, for last night's game, you could select either Harrison's interception or Holmes' game-winning catch. But for the sake of this argument let's go with the final play of the first half. Obviously, the play is compared to David Tyree's circus catch on 3rd and 5 on the Giants' final drive from last year's game.
Tyree's catch not only came at the most important time in the game up to that point, but it came in the midst of chaos. Eli Manning's desperate scramble away from Richard Seymour's clutches bought him just a few more seconds to heave the ball downfield. Tyree, who came broke off his route to come back to the ball, held it against his helmet despite all the pain Rodney Harrison's steroid-induced biceps could inflict on him in mid-air. Though it was highly entertaining to see James Harrison run 100 yards down the sideline with Larry Fitzgerald basically hanging on him for five yards, the combination of Manning's scramble and Tyree's catch is still the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
However, there is an element to Super Bowl XLII that this year's game couldn't touch.
On one hand, you had the Patriots, the NFL's untouchable villains. 18-0 heading into the big game, one game away from absolute perfection. If they could win one more, they would complete a season which would undoubtedly go down in history as the most dominant in the history of football, if not all of professional sports. Then there were the Giants, the 12-point underdogs, the road warriors, who had won three games in the playoffs away from home, including against heavily favored Dallas, who had beaten them twice already in the regular season.
It was New York vs. New England. It was good vs. evil. It was everything the NFL could've hoped for. And for the first time all year, we even got to see what kind of a sore loser Bill Belichick is.
Although the Steelers made history last night, the way the Giants prevented history from being made last year continues to take precedent over any Super Bowl in NFL history.
at 12:55 PM