Sunday, February 3, 2008

"Kids, I know you loved the old Poochie but the new one is going to be better than ten Super Bowls! I don't want to oversell it, judge for yourselves"

Super Bowl XLII Preview (except not really....it's more like a random musings about professional football): I was going to break down the Big Game (capitalization required as per NFL rules) position by position, but that turned out to be really boring, so I've decided not to.

(But, if you're wondering: Big edge to the Pats at QB, WR, OL, special teams, and coaching; slight edge to the Pats LBs; big edge to the Giants DL and secondary; slight edge at RB. You see? Boring!)

Instead, I've decided to go with a few different things: a handful of playoff awards, a list of my favorite prop bets, and (stealing a page out of Shuk's playbook) ranking all the Super Bowls I've seen from worst to first.

Random Musings

a. Misha on Dr. Z. True story. I'm driving Carrie to her written test at the Ministry of Transportation and Misha (who, I'll pause to note, is married with a child--i.e. a real live grown-up) calls:

Misha: did you hear that Peter King picked the Giants to win the Super Bowl?
Me: well...it was actually Dr. Z that picked them to win, but yeah. Kinda surprising.
Misha: that's what I said. Peter King--"Dr. Z"--picked the Giants.
Me: [long pause] huh?
Misha: Peter King and Dr. Z...they're the same guy.
Me: [longer pause, thinking he's just kidding] huh?
Misha: same guy. Dr. Z is King's alter-ego.
Me: [bursting out laughing] No, it's not.
Misha: [silence]
Me: Dr. Z is Paul Zimmerman. He's been a writer at SI for like thirty years. Peter King is...Peter King. Did you think he was a superhero or something? And didn't you subscribe to the magazine for like fifteen years?
Misha: No, I...but.... [pause, starting to sink in] Christ.
Me: [laughing and laughing, almost having to pull over.]

b. the re-birth of Tom Coughlin. I just find this whole subplot hugely annoying. For non-football fans, Coughlin has had, up until this season, a reputation as a hardcore disciplinarian. My favorite story is that, under Couglin, if you play for the Giants and you're less than five minutes early for a scheduled meeting, you're considered late, and fined accordingly. Shit like that drives me crazy. Anyway, not surprisingly, many players bristled at being treated like nine-year olds. So, this year, Coughlin tried--and this is really shocking--not to be a dick to his players. And--even more shockingly--this worked. So now Couglin is getting lots of credit for, essentially, being less of an asshole than in the past. How does this make sense? This is very much reminiscent of the time that SI decided to put Larry Brown and Allen Iverson on the cover, merely because they were no longer at each others throats. In other words: they were celebrated for getting along. Outstanding. I'm not sure how the good citizens of Philadelphia resisted throwing a ticker-tape parade.

c. Gregg Easterbrook, proving once and for all, that he's completely lost his fucking mind. I think Shuk's the only other person I know that has ever read Easterbook (and, so far as I know, he no longer does), so you may not be familiar with his work, but, suffice to say, he's an outright hack. Despite being smacked down by ESPN.com's ombudswoman this season, he asserts in his latest article that:

-"If New England wins [the Super Bowl], the Patriots will not be the greatest team ever -- at least conditionally, until such time as the NFL reveals what was in the Patriots' cheating videos and documents that the league destroyed in September. Maybe once we know the full truth, then a 19-0 Patriots team could be considered the greatest, depending on what the full truth turns out to be."
-"But until such time when we learn what was in those files, even at 19-0, the New England Patriots should not be considered a great team because we cannot be sure whether these wins were earned or stolen. Nor can we be sure whether New England's three Super Bowl rings were earned or stolen."
-"Until we know what was on the videotapes and in the documents the NFL destroyed, there will always be a cloud of suspicion over the Patriots. How much of an advantage did they gain by cheating? Did they really hand over everything to the league? Are they still cheating now? Most important by far, have they cheated in the Super Bowl?"
-"One more thing: In recent months, I've gotten a lot mail that boils down to, "How can you criticize Belichick and the Patriots so harshly and simultaneously praise them so much?" It is not inconsistent to think some person, place or thing is really great (the 2007 Patriots, the United States) yet has significant problems (cheating, lack of universal health care insurance) and is not telling the truth to the public on some matter of consequence (was there Super Bowl cheating, the Iraq war)."
-"So far in the postseason, the Giants have been called for offensive holding three times and the Patriots have not been called for offensive holding. The Pats possess the NFL's best offensive line, but you cannot say with a straight face that the New England offensive line never holds -- Flying Elvii O-linemen got away with several blatant holds against San Diego in the AFC Championship Game. Are the officials too intimidated to make offensive holding calls again Belichick? In New England's last Super Bowl run, the Patriots went through the postseason to the Vince Lombardi Trophy without being flagged for offensive holding. Will offensive holding be treated as legal in Sunday's Super Bowl?"

Dude, if you love the Colts, just fucking say so. But nice job comparing Tom Brady and company to the Bush Adminstration--that's some responsible journalism! (And this story--the timing of which strikes me as extremely suspicious--will probably only encourage him) Read at your own peril.

Prop bets (lots of fun ones here)

1. Jordin Sparks to sing the national anthem in under 1:42, at -115. Bet: $5 (to win $9.34). Note: I lost to Misha on Billy Joel being over this number last year (he--perhaps because he was drunk--raced through it in about 90 seconds.) Jordin is also likely to plow through it, but for a completely different reason: pill addiction nerves.
2. Will there be a lead change in the Second Half? Yes at +200. Bet: $5 (to win $15). This blows up in my face if the Pats put it out of reach early (which they might do), but I'm reassured by the fact that the Pats margin of victory in their three SB wins is: 3, 3, and 3.
3. First made FG of the game: Giants at EVEN. Bet: $5 (to win $10). I'm not even sure that the Pats will attempt a FG--no, that's stupid, never mind. At any rate, the Giants are more likely to have a drive fizzle out in the red zone.
4. Who will the MVP of the Game thank first? Teammates at 2/1. Bet: $5 (to win $15). This one seems like a no-brainer to me, since it's virtually a given that Brady will win. Family is 2/1 (maybe), God is 5/2 (no way), coach is 5/1 (not first), thanking no one 6/1 (no chance). Have I mentioned how much I love prop bets?
5. Mike Vrabel to score a TD at +400. Bet: $5 (to win $20). If New England gets within the Giants 5, they will try to throw to Vrabel. Belichick loves doing this (because, I guess, it's extra humiliating when a defensive player scores a TD). My only concern is that the Giants will prepare for this and overplay Vrabel, leaving, say, Watson wide open.
6. first Patriots interception: Rodney Harrison at 6/1. Bet: $5 (to win $35). Eli--who many now seem to think is great simply because he hasn't been terrible in the playoffs--is due.
7. What Song will Tom Petty sing to end his Halftime Show at the Super Bowl? "Runnin' Down a Dream" at 7/5. Bet: $5 (to win $12). This is a tough one, since he could easily do this first and close with, say, Free Falling (2/3) or Into the Great Wide Open (9/1), but "Runnin'" rocks the most, so I'm going with that. I'm also placing a fictional $1,000 on Petty (who I actually really like) not being nearly as awesome as Prince in the rain last year (1/20).
8. Which Super Bowl commercial will have a higher rating on USA Today's annual Ad Meter? Other at 2/1. Bet: $5 (to win $15). Budweiser, McDonalds, Victoria Secret, Pepsi, and GoDaddy.com are all given odds (Bud's the favorite at 1 to 2), but I'm taking the field here. My guess? Something from Workopolis or Monster.com. Remember those "monkeys in suits" ads from a few years back? I loved those...
9. A national TV rating of over 43.5, at -110. Bet: $10 (to win $19.50). Note: Pats going for 19-0? An opponent from the biggest TV market in the country? I would bet the over here even if they set it at 53.5. This should be record-breaking.
10. The Patriots to win the game straight up on the money line, which is -430. Bet: $20 (to win $24.65). This does seem a little silly, but screw it: despite all the Giants backwaggoning, I'm nearly positive that the Pats will find a way to win. As for covering? That's a different story...
11. Who will have more points, the Patriots or Kobe Bryant? Kobe (o.5 point underdog), at -110. Bet: $5 (to win $9.50). He's been on fire lately (including dropping 46 on the Raps Friday), so I'll ride the hot hand.
12. Who will have more: Wes Welker's longest reception vs. Eric Gordon (+0.5)point total (Indiana University guard)? Gordon at -110. Bet: $5 (to win $9.50). Gordon's averaging 21.4 ppg, but has only scored 47 in last three conference games and his team is playing an awful Northwestern squad (so he may not play much in the 2nd half) but I'm going with him over Welker, who's had lots of catches in the playoffs (16), but none for longer than 12 yards.
13. What will be higher: # of goals in the Middlesbrough-Newcastle game or # of combined interceptions in the Super Bowl? Interceptions at -120. Bet: $5 (to win $9.17). I'm thinking that Manning will throw at least 2 picks and Brady probably 1 che--wait, why the hell am I analyzing this?? It's soccer! The over-under for every single soccer game has to be 1.5 (or 0.5). All kidding aside, Middlesbrough and Newcastle are both having lousy years (ranked 14th and 12th in the Premiership, respectively), so while a high scoring affair is possible, I'm guessing it'll be more like 1-0 or 1-1.
14. What will be higher: Number of catches for Moss or number of birdies for Tiger Woods in the Dubai Desert Classic? Tiger at +110. Bet: $10 (to win $21). Tiger has thirteen birdies through three rounds (4.33 per round), but he's starting the day tied for fifth and will need to make up ground on Els, so let's bump that up to 7. I'm predicting Moss will have more of an impact in this playoff game than the other two playoff games (combined: 2 catches, 32 yards, 0 TD), but probably more along the lines of 4 catches, 135 yards, and a TD. Tiger's the pick here. (Though this wager does raise a technical question: does Tiger's action include birdies or better, or just birdies? Based on the wording, I actually think it's the latter.)
15. What will be higher: Phil Mickelson's final round total (-24.5) or the longest field goal kicked by either team, in yards? Longest kick at -110. Bet: $5 (to win $9.50). Mickelson's gone 68-68-67, but he's four back going into Sunday and he's playing in Scottsdale, so you know he's mad to win. I'm predicting he goes low, maybe something like 65, which'll drive the longest kick down to something like 41 yards, which seems manageable. Of course, if Mickelson blows up and shoots 74, I'm probably screwed.

These bets are all fictitious, of course; but if I actually made them and hit on all fifteen, I could convert $100 into a cool $235 (doesn't that seem like it should be higher?).

Super Bowl Rankings

This goes back as far as 1987, the first SB I actually watched in its entirety (though I don't remember it especially well). For the record, I've been drunk for every Super Bowl dating back to 1997, so I'm not exactly the most reliable witness for many of these games. On that note, off we go...

Absolute Dogs

21. (SB37, 2003) Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21: I watched this one in Misha's old apartment across from Central. Despite being favored by 4 points, the Raiders absolutely shit the bed, with my nemesis--league MVP that year but wholly overrated--Rich Gannon throwing five interceptions, three (!) of which were returned for touchdowns. You would think that would make me happy--the misery of others, etc.--but, no. I was simply a grumpy drunk. Misha points out that this was especially bad game because both teams proceeded to stink the year after the played for the championship--combined, the two teams won only 21 games over the next two seasons, and while the Bucs have gotten better (two playoff trips in the last three years), the Raiders continue to profoundly suck---making it almost as if this Super Bowl never happened (I wish!). As an added insult, I couldn't stay over that night, so Misha had to drive me home and there was a snowstorm, so that sucked, too. All told, this is easily the worst SB that I remember.

20. (SB35, 2001) Baltimore 34, NY Giants 7: I saw this at Misha's place and vividlt remember thinking that the Giants had absolutely no chance (though it turns out that they were only three-point dogs--I would've guessed it was closer to 12). Memorable for the first use of EyeVision (aka "the Matrix cam"), which actually came in handy on a goal line review. One other fun fact: the Giants had the ball 16 times and yet never scored an offensive touchdown (their lone points came on a kickoff return TD). As an added insult, the Backstreet Boys performed the national anthem. Really? In 2001?

19. (SB24, 1990) San Francisco 55, Denver 10: I watched this one at one of my parents' Super Bowl parties. The best part was definitely the sundae bar during the 4th quarter (a Wasko family tradition! After, of course, caesar salad and chili--in a bread bowl--during the first half). Just one year after barely outlasting the Bengals to win SB23 (see #4 on this list), the Niners absolutely trounced the Broncos in what is still (and likely to remain) the most lopsided Super Bowl in history. Montana (22-29 for 297 yards, 5 TDs) and Rice (7 catches, 148 yards, 3 TDs) were both sensational. Looking back, I have to say that, aside from the sweet Orange unis and the incomparable Hank Scorpio Simpsons episode, there's not much to like about the Denver Broncos: Phase One, who managed to drop three Super Bowls in four years by an astonishing average of 32 points a game (39-20, 42-10, and 55-10)...and probably wasted a good 14 hours of my life in the process. I actually wouldn't have minded the Browns sneaking one of those years...

18. (SB27, 1993) Dallas 52, Buffalo 17: saw this one at home. Total dud. Memorable only for the state of Arizona being exposed as horribly racist and Leon Lett's gaffe (which isn't on YouTube. The hell?).

17. (SB29, 1995) San Francisco 49, San Diego 26: at home. An awful game that every knew was going to be awful (the Niners were a preposterous 18.5 point favorites). I recall everyone wanting it to be SF-Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, but the Chargers upset the Steelers in the AFC title game. I'll confess, I don't remember much at all about this game (aside from Steve Young's 6--6!--TD passes), so I'll throw it over to Wikipedia for its description of the halftime show (which sounds so ridiculous that it has to be true):

The halftime show was titled "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye" and was produced by Disney to promote their Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland that opened later that year. The show featured actors playing Indiana Jones and his girlfriend Marion who were raiding the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The show also had performances by singers Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle, jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and the Miami Sound Machine. The show ended with everybody singing "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", the song featured in Disney's (which later acquired ABC) 1994 film The Lion King.

No further comment necessary (though you have to love Disney's big "fuck you" to the NFL, with a halftime show that was essentially treated as an infomercial about the theme park.) That sounds...awesome.

16. (SB41, 2007) Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17: at mom and dad's place. Relatively amusing in the lead up to the game because Misha's then-fiancee (now wife) Jessica was absolutely irate that reporters kept making a big deal that both the head coaches (Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy) were black, think it absurd that people would even bother to dwell such a fact in 2007 (her exact words, I believe, were: "what year is this again??") I remember being excited for roughly four seconds after Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a TD, but then Indy marched down the field and score with almost-scary ease, and it was basically all over after that. Prince kicked ass at halftime, but the rest of the night was forgettable. Even the commercials sucked (remember that Snickers ad?).

15. (SB22, 1988) Washington 42, Denver 10: at home. Amusing only because Denver scored the first ten points in, like, two minutes and thought they were going to win, only to have the Skins reel off six consecutive touchdowns. Totally demoralizing. On the plus side, The Wonder Years--one of the best shows of my youth--premiered after the game.

14. (SB21, 1987) NY Giants 39, Denver 20: watched at home. Honestly, Denver, do you have no shame? This was first Super Bowl experience and, since 9 of the first 11 Super Bowls I saw were pretty much terrible, for a long time I just assumed that big game was supposed to suck (I was not especially bright).

13. (SB28, 1994) Dallas 30, Buffalo 13: watched at home. Another fairly brutal game. Apparently, the Bills--ten-point underdogs--were actually up 13-6 at the half (which I don't remember at all) before the Cowboys reeled off 24 unanswered in the second half. Thankfully, this is the last of the truly dreadful games, which leads to this question: how much would you be willing to pay to have all nine of these games in a DVD set? $9? $7? I might be willing to go as high as $5, but no more.

Bad Games That Were Still Somewhat Intriguing

12. (SB33, 1999) Denver 34, Atlanta 19: watched at Misha's. Well...um...let's put it this way, if the game itself is eclipsed by one of the participants paying $40 to be blown in the French Quarter that's...not good. It's also worthing noting that the final score isn't representative of how one-sided the game actually was, as the Broncos led 31-6 halfway through the 4th quarter. This was another year where we were robbed of the dream match-up (14-2 Denver vs. 15-1 Minnesota), as the Vikings gagged against the Falcons in the NFC Championship. The best part of this night, by far, was the series premiere of Family Guy afterwards.

11. (SB30, 1996) Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17: watched at home. My last sober Super Bowl. Highly unremarkable. There was a bit of buzz surrounding Kordell Stewart, but the Cowboys were such big favorites (13.5 points) that everyone's expectations for the game were low...which was probably good thing. The postgame Friends episode--their highest rated ever--wasn't much fun either.

10. (SB31, 1997) Green Bay 35, New Engand 21: watched it in Greg Costigan's basement. Again, kinda boring. Remind me again why I decided to do this?

9. (SB26, 1992) Washington 37, Buffalo 24: pop and chips party at Misha's. Kind of a dull game, but a terrific match-up...and nothing says "Super Bowl fever" like January in Minnesota. Good work, Super Bowl promoters! Was Alaska all booked up? I just remember being in awe of that Redskins team--they were fantastic.

8. (SB40, 2006) Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 17: watched in a pub in Australia. Since I was in Korea for the regular season and Australia for part of the playoffs, this was kind of a lost season for me. In Korea, Rob and I were able to watch Monday Night Football on Tuesday nights (but only after I begged the administrator at our school to sign me up for a pirated version of the Armed Forces Network) and Lions' games online through NFL.com, but I wasn't as in to this season as year's past. Because of the time difference, Carrie and I had to get up at 9 in the morning to watch the game and I had to ask three different people that worked in the bar to put the game on (standard staff reaction: "Sup. Er. Bowl?" Me: [increasingly impatient] YES!). On the plus side, being drunk at 11 a.m. was...interesting.

Good Games

7. (SB32, 1998) Denver 31, Green Bay 24: at home. Elway's first title. This was game was actually tied in the fourth quarter, a Super Bowl first, I believe. Memorable for me because, in classic video game fashion, Packers coach Mike Holgrem allowed the Broncos to score on second-and-goal with under two minutes to go (putting Denver up 31-24), so that the Pack would have a chance to tie it up in regulation. Though it didn't work out for Green Bay, I still think it was the right move. (Shuk might disagree.)

6. (SB39, 2005) New England 24, Philadelphia 21: in our (ok: Jon's) house on Olympic Cres. Very exciting game with a few interesting subplots--Terrell Owens coming back from a big injury, the Pats going for their third title in four year, McNabb going for his first, would Paul McCartney playing anything from Wings during his halftime show?--but ultimately fell short of classic status because I never really thought the Pats were ever in danger of losing (because I've never bought in to McNabb being sick as the reason).

5. (SB38, 2004) New England 32, Carolina 29 (almost a classic): at Misha's. Peter King calls this "the greatest Super Bowl ever," which, with all due respect, it clearly is not. That said, it was undeniably compelling (and only partly because of Nipplegate), as the fourth quarter (37 points combined points scored) was an old-fashioned shootout. However, I'm knocking it out of the top category as the rest of the game (the first half in particular) wasn't all that thrilling.

Classics

4. (SB34, 2000) St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16: at Misha's. This one started very slowly (9-0 Rams at the half), but the second half was awesome. I'd forgotten this, but the Titans were actually down 16-0 before tying it up in the fourth quarter. This was immediately followed by a Warner to Bruce bomb to make it 23-16 Rams with 2 minutes to go. Then, of course, the Titans drove it down to the Rams 10 and were stopped at the 1 as time expired. While, eight years later, I question the wisdom of throwing a pass short of the goal line on the last play of the game, it really looked like he was going to score, plus it was super-intense. This was also the year that I managed to spill beer on myself twice in two vertical strips, thus earning the nickname "Beer Suspenders" for the rest of the night (and part of the subsequent year).

3. (SB23, 1989) San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16: at home. Great, great game, capped off by Montana's 11-play, 92 yard drive for the clinching touchdown. Oddly, I started out cheering for the Bengals (who were 7 point dogs), but then got irritated that everyone in the house was cheering for Cincy, so I--in true 10 year old fashion--changed my allegiances to San Fran. On the other hand, Misha, who would later become a die hard 49ers fan, rooted for Cincy here.

2. (SB36, 2002) New England 20, St. Louis 17: at Misha's. A classic because it was so unexpected (the Pats were 14 point underdogs and it possibly could've been more--that Rams team looked unstoppable). My favorite memory from this is that when the Pats got the ball on their 20 with 1:30 left and the game tied at 17, John Madden suggested that the Pats take a knee and send it into overtime--seemingly believing that they would do better relying on a coin toss instead taking matters into their own hands. Instead, they marched it down the field and Vinateri popped a 48-yard FG to win it, which is probably the clutchest thing I've ever seen. As an added bonus: U2 played at the half. Good show all around.

1. (SB25, 1991) NY Giants 20, Buffalo 19: at home, #2, #3, and #4 are all close, but this one remains the gold standard. It had it all: stars (Jim Kelly, Lawrence Taylor, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith), clutch performances from role players (Ottis Anderson, Jeff Hostetler, and Mark Ingram), memorable plays (Ingram's 3rd and 13 catch and run, the kick), heroes (Anderson and Matt Bahr), and a goat (poor, poor Scott Norwood). Interestingly, I think if Norwood's make that kick and the Bills win, this isn't the #1 game, as there's something kind of haunting about that missed FG, especially since Norwood was out the league for good barely a year later. But, regardless of the way that final play went, this was an epic tilt.

My pick, by the way, for Sunday (if anyone is still alive/reading this): New England 38, NY Giants 28.

3 comments:

Sean said...

I started reading your post shortly before kickoff and finished moments after the first bottle off champagne had been opened. Care to revise your spread?

I thought you were giving a little too much credit to the offenses of both teams (or too little to the defenses). Christ, we haven't had a 70 point game since Bucs-Raiders in 2003 (and before that, I think, the 49ers-Chargers in '95? Sounds right).

Both QBs had respectable passing games, although once again we see that no matter what the sport, it is defenses that ultimately win championships.

Sean said...

btw, my favourite SuperBowl game remains San Fran's romp over Denver in 1990. I was deep in the throes of 49er lust at the time, and to this day I can still remember every Montana TD completion (especially Taylor's for some weird reason).

Kyle Wasko said...

In my defense, when they played in Week 17, it ended up 38-35...and I kinda thought that Belichick would come up with a game plan that would at least get the Pats to that point total again. In retrospect? Not so much.

Even though I ranked that Niners-Broncos game 19th overall, it was oddly entertaining in places. I don't think I've ever seen one team score so effortlessly (or, conversely, seen another team so clearly outmatched). Joe Montana will always--always--be the best QB of all-time in my book (though I refuse to acknowledge his stint in KC).