January 31, 2008

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Game time!
Your guide to a super Sunday

On Sunday, Feb. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (or, for those of us in TV land, on FOX) someone will flip a coin and Super Bowl XLII will start.

The streets outdoors in New England will be quiet — indoors, people will huddle around TVs to cheer on the Patriots (or to heckle the commercials that could cost $2.6 million per 30-second spot, according to a story earlier this month on CNN). Whether you’re a die-hard sports fan or just a lover of spectacle, this Sunday offers everybody the promise of super fun.

What’s so great about the Pats
This Super Bowl is different
By Alec O’Meara • aomeara@hippopress.com

Sunday’s game is special.

Win, and the Patriots post the greatest single season of all time, the team of the decade, and enter the argument for the best team ever to take the field in history. Perhaps in all of sports, there’s never been a team able to lay so much trivia to rest with a single victory in the Super Bowl era in the NFL.

Prior to this weekend’s game, there have been 41 crowned Super Bowl champions, but only 16 different teams have managed to win even one. Of those, 10 have managed to win two championships. Seven of those 10 won a third. These seven teams, accounting for more than three quarters of all Super Bowl victories, include the true flagships of the league: The Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, and New England Patriots. There are no teams with four, but there are three teams that have managed to win five: the Steelers, who racked up four in the ’70s and tacked on a fifth two years ago in Super Bowl XL; the 49ers, who collected four in the Joe Montana era and a fifth with Steve Young in 1995, and the Dallas Cowboys, who won two in the ’70s and then three in four years in the early ’90s.

Look at the above list carefully, and a pattern emerges. Four Super Bowls over the course of a decade is the gold standard for greatness in the NFL. No quarterback or coach has ever won more than four in a career. If the Patriots win on Sunday, they would match the best 10-year span of any team ever in the history of the league with a fourth Super Bowl in seven years’ time.

In 1972, the Miami Dolphins became the only team in NFL history to go undefeated through the regular season and then cap it with a win in the Super Bowl. Back then, there were only 14 games in the regular season, so 14 wins plus three playoff wins added up to a “perfect season” of 17-0. Because theirs is the only unblemished record in the modern era (there were a couple of pro teams that went unbeaten prior to the current league structure), the ’72 Dolphins have enjoyed the warm eye of history as “the greatest team of all time.” However, the Dolphins only won two Super Bowls in the ’70s so people in Pittsburgh can argue that their Steelers of the same era were a better team, because they won more championships.

Finally, there are the individual records to consider. The Patriots set the single-season record for points scored this year. Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown passes eclipsed Peyton Manning’s record of 49 (Manning didn’t win a Super Bowl that year, by the way). Randy Moss’s 23 touchdowns passed Jerry Rice’s mark of 22 caught in a single season.

If the Patriots win on Sunday, they will become the second team ever to walk through the league undefeated. The season is two games longer now, so the final record would be 19-0, two games better than the Dolphins. Add that to the potentially mind-numbing prospect of four championships this decade, and the statistical accomplishments, and the Patriots’ perfect season would become the crown jewel of the most dominant stretch of football in NFL history. The dynasty to reign above all other dynasties.

That’s what could happen if the Patriots win. Lose, and the game will be remembered as the most crushing disappointment in New England sports history, perhaps second only to the ball squirting through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game Six of the 1986 World Series.

People watch sports for a lot of reasons, but the hope to witness greatness firsthand is one almost all fans share. If the Patriots win, they post a convincing argument to be called the greatest of all time. That’s worth tuning in for.

Taste of Super Bowl XLII
How about lobster hot dogs with cowboy bread?
by Linda A. Odum • food@hippopress.com

If you’ve got a football-watching party in the works for Feb. 3, why not celebrate with food from the three regions represented in the game — New England, New York and Arizona?

Of course, New England is most associated with seafood. On the hunt for a good fish chowder recipe? Look to cooking icon Julia Child, who resided in Cambridge, Mass.m Her chowder gets some hearty flavor from salt pork and a creamy texture from four cups of potatoes.

Jasper White, owner of the Summer Shack restaurants around Boston, is well known for his lobster creations. His recipe for lobster salad makes a great lobster roll, just ad buns. And for a taste of something sweet, try the classic Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie, first created in Whitman, Mass., in the 1930s.

Think of New York and you might picture hot dogs, from the famous Nathan’s of Coney Island to the Hebrew National and Sabrett carts that dot city streets with their dirty-water dogs. New Yorkers love their dogs with sauerkraut or an onion sauce like the recipe from the The Great American Hot Dog Book by Becky Mercuri.

New York is also known for its pastrami sandwiches. Chef Emeril Lagasse, who lives in both New York and New Orleans. For dessert, nothing’s better than a New York-style cheesecake, like the one from the Carnegie Deli. Luxuriate in the richness of a filling that includes both cream cheese and heavy cream.

Arizona, the host of this year’s game, is famous for its spicy Southwestern flare. A visit there offers diners a cuisine that melds Mexican, ranch-style cuisine and Native American influences. Reporter Karen Fernau of the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix sent Hippo along some recipes “from local chefs who know their way around a Southwestern spice rack.” They include a spicy stew, cowboy bread, and a light, refreshing shrimp salad.

Finding football fixings
Load your larder before the big day
by Linda A. Odum • food@hippopress.com

Need to stock up on the food supply before the big game?

A number of area shops and restaurants have everything necessary to keep a hungry crowd happy. In addition to the pizza and sub providers, check out area barbecue, ribs, wings and burger providers (such as Billy’s Sports Bar and Grille, 34 Tarrytown Road in Manchester, 622-3644; Markis Lobster & Steak House, 354 Sheep Davis Road in Concord, 225-7665, and Bull Run Beef and Specialty Shoppe, 1100 Hooksett Road, Suite 111, in Hooksett) for super Sunday specials. Just be sure to call ahead to order something special.

If you’re not sure where to shop, here are a few suggestions for spots offering something special.

No football party would be complete without meat — chicken wings, sausages, steak tips, etc. McKinnon’s Market and Super Butcher Shop, 236 Broadway in Salem, 894-MEAT (6328), has a number of pre-marinated steak tips and wings, plus fresh-made sausages. The store also has a huge seafood department and a complete deli section. Order ahead for deli, cheese, vegetable or fruit trays, and hot entrees, which include sausage, pepper and onion platters or hot wings platters. For a listing of the store’s products, visit www.mckinnonsmarkets.com.

The Meat House, which has locations in Salem, Bedford, Exeter, Dover, Pembroke, and Portsmouth, also offers a wide selection of meats, including marinated items, kabobs, and wild game, such as alligator, frogs’ legs, elk, ostrich, wild boar and buffalo. For customers pressed for time, the company now offers a personal shopper service. Just call in your order and the store staff will get it together. When you arrive, they will bring it to your car. They require at least one hour’s notice. For contact information and a list of products, check out www.themeathouse.com.

For sausages, SausageHaven.com, 866-879-1961, has just about any variety imaginable. Unique options include a kalamata olive and feta sausage, smoked cheddar kielbasa, and smoked duck and veal sausage. There are also hot dogs in regular, cheese, garlic and jalapeño flavors. Orders may be placed online, or you can stop by the distribution center at 21 West Auburn St. in Manchester during retail hours (Monday through Wednesday, 1 to 5:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Want some cheese to kick those nachos or fondue pots up to the next level? Cooking Matters (97 Main St. in Nashua), The Dutch Epicure Bakery (141 Route 101-A in Amherst), Angela’s Pasta and Cheese (815 Chestnut St. in Manchester) and Butter’s Fine Food and Wine (70 N. Main St. in Concord) all have extensive cheese counters with local and international offerings. Each also offers other snack items, such as sausages, pate, prepared foods, bread, crackers, nuts and olives.

Sky Market Pizza and Deli, 383 East Dunstable Road in Nashua, 888-7400, has a huge catering menu that they say can be made up at the last minute, and they can prepare up to 100 pizzas at a time. Other options include an appetizer package of fried chicken tenders with side sauces, meatballs in marinara sauce, scallops wrapped in bacon, and stuffed mushrooms; or an Italian meal of lasagna, manicotti, salad and garlic bread. View the complete menu at skymarketnh.com.

Of course, a super game calls for a super sub. Many bakeries have extra-large bread loaves to make a sandwich for a crowd, or ask a favorite sub shop make one up. German John’s Bakery, 5 W. Main St. in Hillsboro, 464-5079, will make a super-sized version of their famous pretzel. It can be sliced and filled with cold cuts or eaten German-style, spread with unsalted butter.

Maybe it’s the association of tailgating and football, but the sport seems to cry out for barbecue. KC’s Rib Shack, 837 Second St. in Manchester, 637-RIBS, offers a “Pladda” that can be made to feed from 2 to 20 people. It includes ribs, chicken breasts, pulled pork, sausage, sides and cornbread. Or pick up a quart or two of Bubba’s Firehouse Chili. The menu and prices are available at www.ribshack.net.

The Smoke Shack, 146 King St. in Boscawen, 796-2046, has pulled pork, beef brisket, and smoked chicken available by the pound, and ribs by the rack. The menu is available at smokeshacksouthernbarbecue.com.

Goody Cole’s Smokehouse, 374 Route 125 in Brentwood, 679-8898, offers a number of barbecue packs. The Pig Out pack feeds six to seven people and includes a slab of ribs, a whole chicken, one pound of either pulled pork, chopped brisket, or turkey, a pint of beans and coleslaw or potato salad, and four buns or cornbread. Prices and a menu are available at www.goodycoles.com.