LONGSHOTS: Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
by Dave Long
The big game comes our way this Sunday when the Steelers and surprising Arizona Cardinals meet at some time after 6 p.m. — which always has me thinking about Super Bowls past and present. And since my streak is intact of having seen every one of the 42 games to date, here are some random thoughts on this week’s game and those from the past that relate to the present.
Super Bowl 101: Who is the only Super Bowl-winning coach to once be a part-time assistant basketball coach working for Bobby Knight?
The biggest question for me about the Super Bowl is how in the name of Bobby Joe Conrad did that team the Patriots annihilated 47-7 two weeks before the playoffs started make it all the way to the big game? I mean those Cardinals looked like they were in the fetal position over a little snow in that one.
Having said that, while I’d like their chances against Arizona if they somehow made it to the game, I wouldn’t against any of the top three teams on the AFC side. After seeing the Titans, Ravens and Steelers in the playoffs it’s clear to me the Patriots are not one but two notches below those teams defensively. And since you win in the playoffs with defense, it would have been one and done.
If you don’t agree with me, then answer this. Why did the entire Patriots defense get only one vote cast their way in the All-Pro voting? I don’t mean one vote for the team. I mean while DeMarcus Ware got 28 votes at linebacker by himself, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel et al. combined to get just one insignificant vote! And that went to rookie Jerod Mayo. I’ll have more on how to fix this group in the coming weeks.
So even though Arizona has a little of that same mystic feel the Pats had in 2001 and I’ve been wrong about them in their last two wins, since defense does win in the playoffs I’m still taking the Steelers.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for Arizona. The Kurt Warner story is one of the more remarkable comebacks from the scrap heap ever and that Larry Fitzgerald has been something to see and will be MVP if the Cards somehow do win.
I thought I had a pretty cool “nice to know but you don’t need to know” piece of info when I was going to say Mike Tomlin is the first guy to coach a Super Bowl team having never played in the NFL himself. But then I started to think about it and I was, as they used to tell Rodney Dangerfield when he asked strangers for directions, way off!
It’s quite the opposite in fact, as starting with the guy the trophy is named after, Vince Lombardi, (who won the first two Super Bowls), 28 of the 42 titles came from coaches who never played in the league, including Bill Walsh, Bill Belichick, Joe Gibbs and Jimmy Johnson, who won three apiece; Bill Parcells, George Seifert and Mike Shanahan, who won twice; and Brian Billick, Jon Gruden, Tom Coughlin, Hank Stram, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren, John Madden and Weeb Ewbank, who all won once.
So if I went with my first impulse, I’d have gotten the mother of all “What A Stupid I Yam” Awards.
Of all the sidebars in the game, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhut may be second best after Warner. Because, while he’ll never admit it, I’ve got to think playing Pittsburgh makes it an even bigger game for him since he was on the staff when he finished second to the outsider Tomlin when the Steelers were looking for a new coach after Bill Cowher stepped down.
I’m pretty much on an island of one about the Patriots considering a Herschel Walker godfather offer for Tom Brady if one comes along. But I’ll tell you, the Cardinals had one of those deals back in the day when they traded star running back Ollie Matson to the L.A. Rams for 11 guys! Of course they did it while they were still the Chicago Cardinals in 1959, but it’s still nice to see it finally paid off.
It says here the dumbest move ever by a team after winning the Super Bowl was the Rams pushing Dick Vermeil out following XXXIV in favor of “rising” coaching star Mike (K) Martz. Vermiel went to KC and turned the Chiefs around while it was all downhill for the Rams after Martz was thoroughly undressed by Bill Belichick two years later when the Pats shocked the football world by winning Super Bowl XXXVI over the 14-point favorite Greatest Show on Turf.
While some may dicker over my selection of which team actually had the better defense since some are pretty close to each other, by my count the team with the best defense had won 29 of the 42 Super Bowls. The better offense triumphed over the better defense only five times and in eight of the games the defenses have been a toss-up, which means the better offense of the two came out on top.
The team that defied the odds was the 49ers, who had the better offense in all five of their wins and never had the clearly better defense.
No matter if the Cardinals shock us for another time this week by winning, it can’t go higher than the fourth-biggest upset in history. It would be behind the Pats over the Rams at number three in 2001, the (gulp) Giants over the undefeated Patriots last year at number two and the AFL Jets beating the all mighty NFL Colts in Super Bowl III in the top spot. And contrary to Jints fans in New York thinking otherwise, the lead between the Jets and last year is like Jerry Rice’s lead in most TD ever over Emmit Smith — unapproachable.
Super Bowl 101 Answer: None other than the Big Tuna was a part-time assistant coach under Bobby Knight at Army when he also was a coach on the football staff.
The key stat in this game will be pressures, not necessarily sacks by the Steelers on Kurt Warner because the more they make him check down or hurry his throw the less likely he’ll be able to get the ball to Fitzgerald and the dangerous Anquan Boldin.
The key stat for the Cardinals? What their average gain is on first down, as they better they do on first down the more they will be able to stay out of third and long and thus away from all-out Pittsburgh pressure in that situation.
I know the Steelers are favored by just seven on Sunday (I give the points), but does anyone know the over-under on when Boldin will get into it with one of the coaches on the sideline?
Enjoy the game, everyone.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.