Super Sunday Chatter
Trying to keep up with Freddie Mitchell
By Adam Hoff
It’s always hard to write a Super Bowl column. After all, anything worth saying has already been repeated ad naseum. Every storyline, prediction, opinion, joke, or observation … all overdone worse than my first attempt at cooking a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s why I usually stick to things like two-page breakdowns of Tim Duncan’s free throw percentage and running diaries of the Real World. No need to get lost in the shuffle.
Nevertheless, I feel compelled to jot down something about this particular Super Bowl. After all, I wrote a column about the awful Raiders-Bucs showdown a few years ago, so there’s really no excuse to slack off here. We’ve got two great teams, the TO saga, Freddie Mitchell’s flapping gums, both of my Super Bowl picks intact, and a host city getting ridiculed around the clock. Oh yeah, and the Patriots are vying for Dynasty status and their third title in four years. If I can’t throw together 2,000 words about this game, I don’t deserve to keep my laptop. (Kidding, of course … don’t come anywhere near my baby.)
With that out of the way, here are 10 things to watch for on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Jacksonville weather report. Does anyone else find it hilarious that it’s positively freezing down there? All of the analysts and reporters are bundled up and looking miserable and suicidal, kind of like Chris O’Donnell in “Vertical Limit.” For years the NFL has avoided having the Super Bowl in places like Chicago and Philly because of the weather, now here we are getting a deep freeze in Florida of all places. Never mind the fact that there should never be anything important hosted in Jacksonville, this – coupled with the decision to the put the 2006 game in Detroit – completely undermines the NFL’s stance. We can now feel free to demand that the Super Bowl be held in true football cities like Green Bay and Pittsburgh in the very near future. As for the impact of the weather on the actual game, it shouldn’t really matter. Both Philly and New England are cold weather teams that played in icy conditions to get to this point, so there’s no reason to think that they will be affected now. It’s just one more reason to be thankful that the Colts didn’t advance, or we’d have to hear them complain about how the whole world is against them.
Terrell Owens. I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to hear anymore about TO, but this guy has turned into THE story this week. What really gets me is that if it was Tom Brady attempting to come back from an injury, we wouldn’t see any “Brady hogs the limelight” bitterness from the media. But because it’s TO, he’s getting absolutely hammered. The last time I checked, a player is supposed to attempt to play. That’s what he gets paid to do. He’s worked his butt of rehabbing the injury, jumped ahead of his timeline, and now seems healthy enough to be a factor. And this is supposedly his fault? I’ve become downright bitter about the anti-TO sentiment in the media. Last year the mainstream media celebrated Kobe Bryant’s ability to “juggle” his courtroom appearances with his play on the court. Now they deride Owens for simply trying to bounce back from an injury. That makes sense, heap praise on the alleged rapist and pile abuse on the injured guy. It’s a mystery. The bottom line though is that if TO can play hard and play well, it gives the Eagles a very good chance of winning the game.
(It is worth noting that the Eagles aren’t the only team getting a star player back. The Pats have their best defensive player, Richard Seymour, back in the mix. He doesn’t have the flamboyant presence of Owens, but is just as valuable and can also make a huge impact on this game.)
Tom Brady. Just to clarify, my comment in the previous segment was not directed at Brady. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him. Here are just a few of them: he’s never lost a playoff game (7-0), he overcame a 103 temperature to win the AFC title game (and didn’t say a word about it), and he does it all in a very unassuming, professional manner. Oh yeah, and he was a sixth round draft pick that got put out to pasture at Michigan for Drew Freaking Henson. So yeah, I love Brady. He’s the best quarterback in the league (yeah, I said it) and the best big game quarterback since John Elway. All of that said … doesn’t it feel like he’s just due for a stinker? We saw things disintegrate for him at Pittsburgh and at Miami this year, but it’s never happened in a playoff game. He’s always been somewhere between good and incredible. But nobody is perfect forever. My gut tells me that Sunday could be the day where the law of averages finally gets the better of Brady. Of course, that could happen and the Patriots could still win thanks to …
Corey Dillon. I remember when this guy burst onto the scene at the University of Washington. He was coming in after Napoleon Kauffman and the Huskies were pretty average, so nobody noticed that he was easily the best running back in college football. He had some absolutely ridiculous games. Then he found himself in the NFL’s “no-mans land” in Cincinnati, where he managed to run for over 1,100 in each of his first six seasons, set the NFL single-game rushing record, and consistently perform as one of the best backs in the league. Yet he was always ignored and underappreciated, and constantly blamed for everything. Before you knew it, he had the “malcontent” label that so often finds its way to competitive guys stuck on losing teams. It appears that may have been undeserved, because in New England, he’s been a dream come true. Power running, big play capabilities, and a perfect attitude. He was absolutely dominant against the Colts in the divisional round and brings his NFL-leading 109 yards per game to the Super Bowl. Considering that the Eagles don’t have a fantastic rushing defense, Dillon could foreseeably have a 150-yard, 3-TD kind of game on Sunday.
(By the way, do you think Sammy Sosa is hopeful that things might turn out Dillon-like for him in Baltimore? A guy with incredible numbers for years that got absolutely stomped on and blamed for everything, and ultimately was given away for practically nothing? Sounds familiar. I, for one, am hoping that Slammin’ Sammy – free from the negativity surrounding him in What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately-Chicago – goes .290/45/120 this year for the Orioles. At the very least, they are going to have a lineup full of fun names. The middle of the order features the festive collection of Mora, Tejada, Sosa, Palmeiro, and Lopez. They should just change the team name to the Latin American Orioles.)
Brian Westbrook against Rodney Harrison. For all the talk of Freddie Mitchell and Harrison (what is the over/under on Mitchell’s number of broken bones, by the way?), it is the Westbrook/Harrison matchup the intrigues me. Brian Westbrook is the most versatile player in this game and the key to the Eagles’ chances. If Philly can use him early and often and get him into the passing game, it will put the pressure on New England to respond. They can’t cover him with a linebacker, so it will be up to the safeties to keep him in check. If Harrison can provide single-coverage on the Eagles’ playmaker, then Eugene Wilson can shift over to help on TO. However, if the Pats can’t get it done with a base defense, they will have to bring in Troy Brown to cover him. As much as I like and admire Brown, he can’t guard #36. More importantly, the Pats will have to pull one of their stud linebackers, opening the door for McNabb to dice New England up with the short passing game. If the Eagles wind up winning this game, it will most likely be because Westbrook wins this battle. Or it will be because of …
Donavon McNabb’s scrambling. I’ve watched quite a bit of professional football this year and one thing has stood out … athletic quarterbacks are rarely contained when they scramble. Michael Vick terrifies defenses, Daunte Culpepper consistently picks up huge third down conversions, and even Ben Roethlisberger became more valuable for his legs than his arm in the playoffs. Yet Donovan McNabb, one of the most skilled and athletic running quarterbacks in history, rarely leaves the pocket. If you don’t believe me, go find some game tapes from his Syracuse days – the guy annihilated defenses. As recently as 2002, he was the leading rushing QB in the league at 46 yards per. This year? 14 yards a game. That’s ridiculous. I know that he’s been brainwashed like Pavlov’s Dog to stay in the pocket, but Andy Reid and company are taking away a devastating weapon if they don’t use his wheels. Now, the one compelling argument I can think of for not letting him run is the injury risk. You don’t want him getting beat up during the season, so you keep him in the pocket and let other people take all the hits. But now it’s the Super Bowl. Now there are five months to rest up. If the Eagles want to win this game, they need to turn McNabb loose. Roll him out and give him run/throw options. Let him run two or three QB draws. Run a reverse and send him out on a pass pattern. Heck, run an option down near the goal line. Bootlegs, scrambles, QB sweeps, I don’t care! Just get him into the Patriots’ secondary. In fact, here’s a bold prediction: if McNabb carries at least eight times, Philly wins.
The kickers. Seriously. David Akers is one of the best in the game and Adam Vinatieri might be the best clutch kicker of all time. So yeah, I’m definitely going to tune in for the kickers. It doesn’t mean I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about it though.
Play-calling. Both of these teams are well coached and they execute plays. I have to say though; New England strikes me as the team most willing to do whatever it takes. The deep routes they called against the Steelers were genius. They are lethal in the red zone, where they go back to being a pass-first team, making Dillon more dangerous than ever. They really have no scheming weaknesses. The Eagles on the other hand, seem more inclined to choke. Not the players – the coaches. I can think of at least five Philly games from the past two years in which Andy Reid got way too conservative and predictable, and the result was usually a big, fat loss (including the two previous NFC title games). The only exception was a game earlier this season against the Browns (I remember it well, because my buddy Dubes, a big Eagles fan, made me stand in one place and watch the whole thing on a 14-inch TV at ESPN Zone), and the only reason they won that one is because the Browns were involved. So I guess what I’m saying is this: it would be a real shame if Philly plays well and TO toughs it out and McNabb shines in the spotlight … yet they lose because Reid called too many running plays for Dorsey Levens on second-and-nine.
(While we’re talking about coaches, I’d just like to say that the Blazers’ Mo Cheeks is officially the most miserable man on earth. He looks like he wants to take his tie off and hang himself with it. Do you think he’s openly rooting against Darius Miles yet?)
The Celtics-Timberwolves game. I know this has nothing to do with the Super Bowl, but I’ve got both KG and Pierce on one of my fantasy teams and I’m going up against a bitter rival, so I’ll be keeping a close watch on this one.
Experience. For the Eagles to win, it’s probably going to have be a fairly wide margin. Should all of the “ifs” from this column come to fruition – Westbrook shreds New England’s safeties, Owens contributes, McNabb makes plays with his legs, Philly’s play-calling is aggressive and bold, and Brady has a subpar game – the Eagles will probably take care of business in such a manner. But. We all know it’s highly unlikely that all of those things will go Philly’s way. If none of them do, then the Pats probably win easily. The most likely scenario is that some of the “keys to victory” will go the Eagles’ way, some won’t. If that is the case, we’re looking at a close game. And in close games, you have to like the Patriots.
So who am I picking? I’ve had the Pats from the very start and I think this will be a great game and a close game, so I’ve got to stick with the champs. However, I don’t agree with the pundits that claim the Eagles are just happy to be there or that New England has basically already won their third Super Bowl. I think this goes down as one of the best Super Bowl’s of all time. Patriots 31-30.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sitemail at adamo112.