LONGSHOTS: Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in ’07
by Dave Long
This week’s Super Bowl no doubt will be a bit of a downer for those in Patriot Nation, still suffering from the sting of being one stop away from going to the big game again. Instead we’ll watch Peyton Manning go for his first ring, where the only thing worse than that bitter loss in Indy will be if he spits the bit with the kind of game many expected him to have against the Patriots.
So with a less enthusiastic outlook, we’ve got to find a different way to enjoy the game. For me, I’ll enjoy it because my streak of seeing every Super Bowl played will continue. And you know what comes along with that? My annual “I’ve seen every Super Bowl ever played” column, which I promise has new information to make it a relevant exercise and not a redundant “what it was like in the olden days” offering.
One way to avoid redundancy is to flip-flop on something, like saying in my 2004 edition that Joe Montana was the greatest Super Bowl player. I’m re-thinking that one. It’s true Joe Cool has the highest quarterback rating at 127.8, most TD passes with 11 and won three MVPs. But part of that is opportunity, as he was in a lot of games. I mean if Phil Simms, who was 22-25 for 268 and three TD passes in a Giant 1987 win, or Steve Young, who threw six touchdowns passes in a rout of San Diego in 1995, had gotten more tries they might rank higher.
Then again Montana was undefeated in four chances and that’s what counts most. But,
Terry Bradshaw was a four-for-four Super Bowl quarterback too and MVP twice. And while his numbers don’t quite match Montana’s, it’s partly because they threw the ball down field a lot more back in the day. That leads to lower completion rates and more interceptions, which drive down the QB rating in a system only Steven Hawking can truly understand. Still Bradshaw’s tied with Jim Plunkett with a 122.8 rating and has nine TD passes. Both are second best. But since the Niners scored 138 points and the Steelers just 103, Joe gets the nod.
Going down field more often is also how Lynn Swann could be MVP making just four catches in a 21-17 win over Dallas in 1976, while Deion Branch gets 10 and comes up empty to Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Swann swam home with the trophy because three were big plays, with two being among the most artistic the game has seen. However, as backers of Brady (I’m a card-carrying member) say, it’s not always about the numbers, especially in football, when it’s so hard to quantify how good an offensive lineman or a safety like Rodney Harrison is.
I mean you could make a case that Ty Law was MVP when the Pats beat the Rams. His early interception and TD run juiced the 14-point underdogs, and what about Willie Mcginest? Although his holding penalty brought back a game-clinching Tebucky Jones TD, he (and Mike Martz of course) took Marshall Faulk out of that game and it was a key to the second-biggest Super Bowl upset ever. But, that’s just one game.
Who’s to say the greatest player wasn’t someone along the enormous Redskin offensive line that played in four games under Joe Gibbs? Even though Doug Williams was spectacular in 1988, it wasn’t their quarterbacks. They had a different one in each win. So maybe it was one of the hogs who helped Tim Smith run for a record 204 yards vs. Denver in 1988 and John Riggins get a third-best 168 in Super Bowl XVII. The problem is, like the Clydesdales we’ll see in a zillion Budweiser commercials Sunday, lines work in tandem and it’s impossible to quantify individual brilliance.
Maybe we’ll see the start of a challenge to Montana and my mystery choice as the best ever on Sunday. I’m guessing it won’t be Rex Grossman who brings to mind David Woodley when a great Dolphin defense carried them to a match-up with Washington when Riggins was MVP. He was so valuable Don Shula drafted a QB the next spring who was a starter by game three. That was Dan Marino, who like Peyton Manning had huge numbers and no rings. Manning will try to shed that label against a team that gets a lot of turnovers — so we’ll see.
His kindred spirit got to just one Super Bowl in year three of his record-breaking career. It was thought to be the first of many visits, but Marino never got back. That 38-16 loss was also Montana’s last year without Jerry Rice — who I‘m now thinking is the best of the best in the 40 games played.
It’s true Joe won twice before he arrived, but Rice went to two without him too, winning another. And his numbers are the best. He, the late Dan Ross and Branch hold the record for most catches in one game with 11. Along with Branch, he also caught 10 in another game. His 215 yards in XXIII is a single-game record, while his 33 receptions and eight touchdowns are career records by a lot. And finally his 608 yards are more than any player regardless of position has gained.
While I’m actually going back and forth on this, one thing is certain. Even though the Roman numerals are now up to XLI (yikes), I like being the Cal Ripken of Super Bowl watchers. And while I still miss the intensity from the very first AFL-NFL game ever in 1967 and wish the Patriots were there again, I’m still going to see my 41st Super Bowl game and that suite me finer, as I really like being a part of that history
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).