The Super Super Bowl

This week in North Philly Notes, Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia, discusses Super Bowl XLIX.

It is unfortunate that so much of the conversation following Sunday’s Super Bowl focused on a bizarre decision by the Seattle coaching staff. It was a bad call by the Seahawk coaches — perhaps the dumbest call in NFL history given the stakes — but to dwell on that one storyline misses a larger point, that is, Super Bowl XLIX was a great game.

It was a dramatic contest with the New England Patriots overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 28-24. It was the fourth Super Bowl victory for Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, tying him with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. It also was the fourth Super Bowl for head coach Bill Belichick which tied him with the late Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers) for that lofty honor.

It was a game between teams that were clearly the best in their respective conferences, one the defending champion (Seattle) and the other the last team to win the title in back to back years (New England) and it came down to the final minute with the ball on the one-yard line. You couldn’t script a better finish that that. And it even had a Cinderella hero in Malcolm Butler, a rookie free agent, who came out of nowhere to make the game saving interception.

It was a great football game and it continued a recent trend of highly competitive Super Bowls that keep the vast TV audience on the edge of its seat right to the very end. Nine of the last 14 Super Bowls have been decided by six points or less. The only blowout was last year’s game in which Seattle buried Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos, 43-8. Take that game out of the equation and the average margin of victory in the last eight Super Bowls is 5.4 points.

That’s what you are hoping for in a one-and-done championship scenario. Remember, the NFL isn’t like the other pro leagues where championships are decided by a best of seven series. In the NFL, it is one game with everything on the line. An entire season builds to that one winner take all contest and if its a one-sided bust it is an enormous letdown.

For many years that’s how it played out. Far too many of the early Super Bowls ended in lopsided routs. In the first ten Super Bowls, the average margin of victory was 13 points, more than two touchdowns. The margin actually went up in the next ten years to 17 points.

There was a particularly awful stretch from 1984 (Super Bowl XVIII) through 1990 (Super Bowl XXIV) when six of the seven games were decided by 19 points or more and the average margin of victory was a staggering 26.7 points. That was a time when the NFC was dominant and its champion routinely crushed the AFC representative in the big game. It felt more like an anti-climax than a true championship game. Remember the Chicago Bears pounding the Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX? Two years later, Washington demolished Denver, 42-10. Two years after that, Denver returned to the Super Bowl only to lose to San Francisco 55-10.

Those were the days when Super Bowl Sunday was more about the parties — how many chicken wings were being consumed across America? — and the commercials that aired during the telecasts than the game itself. We have been fortunate in recent years that the games were compelling enough to hold our interest. Sunday’s game certainly did.

Brady took his place among the greatest quarterbacks in football history. It was his sixth Super Bowl start, the most for any quarterback, and he walked off with his third Most Valuable Player Award tying Montana — who just happens to be his boyhood idol — for that honor. Brady set a Super Bowl record by completing 37 passes and he led two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter against a great Seattle defense to pull out the victory. It was a masterful performance under enormous pressure by Brady who at age 37 knew it could be a last shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Regarding the Seattle coaching decision: It is almost impossible to defend. The Seahawks had moved the ball inside the one yard line and they had Marshawn Lynch, a bruising 220-pound runner, who was running through the Patriots all day. With just 30 seconds to go, the obvious call to simply hand the ball to Lynch one more time and let him punch it into the end zone. But the Seattle coaches out-thought themselves. They knew the Patriots would be expecting the run so they decided to throw the ball. The result: Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted.

Game, set, match.

Since then the decision has been endlessly discussed and dissected and coach Pete Carroll has been flogged on every sports talk show in America. Hopefully that will subside in time and people will take a step back and see it for what it was — just one act in a truly wonderful drama.

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