Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V

Not one of the greatest plays ever.

At the time I watched this game play out before my eyes, I remember thinking it might wind up being the greatest Super Bowl ever. You had a close relatively high-scoring game, the Holy Grail, the Mecca of Super Bowls, what wasn’t to love. Well, with the passage of time I can now say it wasn’t the greatest ever. Why? Three reasons: (1) No lead changes; (2) No classic finish; and (3) No great plays. What’s that you say, there was a great play? Well, it’s true one play from that game has gone down in history as one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history. The Helicopter. Let’s set the scene: Late third quarter. Denver ball. Third-and-six at the Green Bay 12. Elway scrambles. Nobody’s open. Elway decides to run for the key first down. As he nears the first-down marker he launches himself in the air where he’s met by two Packers, the resulting collision spinning him 360 degrees in the air before he landed on his ass two yards past the marker. First down at the Green Bay four-yard line and Terrell Davis takes it in two plays later. Elway’s scramble remains THE signature play of that Super Bowl. The play where Elway, denied for so long, put the game on his shoulders/legs and willed his team to victory. The play that proved to Denver they could pull off the upset and win the game. Right? WRONG!

Let me expound a little. The reason we’ve heard so much about that play is: (1) people have retrospectively invested it with a lot more significance than it actually had during the actual game; and (2) 360-degree spins in mid-air are freaking cool! Point (2) speaks for itself. As for point (1), consider the game situation. The score was tied 17-17. If Elway gets stopped then his team either tries a chip-shot field goal attempt or goes for it on 4th-and-short and with the way Davis dominated that game he almost surely makes it. Denver would very likely have taken the lead even if Elway’s leap for the first down had come up short. As for momentum, any that his run and Davis’ TD gave the Broncos lasted exactly 23 seconds. In case you forgot Green Bay fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Denver recovered at the Green Bay 22. Denver had a shot at taking complete control of the game. And what happened? On the very next play Elway threw a pick in the end zone. Momentum gone. Four Favre passes, a penalty and 1:39 later the score was tied. Luckily for Elway Favre ran out of magic for the rest of the 4th quarter and Terrell Davis took over the game late. But if Green Bay had been able to pull it out I submit to you Elway’s end-zone INT would have been the game’s signature play and probably the signature play of Elway’s personal Super Bowl highlight reel. But Denver won so we remember the helicopter and forget the interception. That’s football. But spare the paeans to Elway and his six-yard run supposedly sparking his team to victory. That’s not what happened. A tough run and a tough hit with a spin, that’s all.

Besides Elway’s potentially costly INT, the other thing people forget about this game is what a gigantic upset it was. The Packers were the defending champs. The NFC had won 13 straight Super Bowls, only two of which were decided by less than double digits. Favre had won his third-straight MVP while Elway had lost in all three of his previous Super Bowl appearances and he’d played badly in all of them. The odds makers made Green Bay a huge 12-point favorite and deservedly so. Nobody considers this much of an upset anymore since Denver repeated a year later but at the time the Broncos’ win was a real shocker.

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time

Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part I
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part III
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IV
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part V
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VIII
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X
Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Conclusion


Willian said...
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Willian said...

Agreed on the "Helicopter Play"; NFL Films, in its effort to further the Myth of Elway that they were crafting, elevated it to a status far beyond its actual significance in the game. Besides, Nat Moore's helicopter spin in the 1984 Week 10 Dolphins-Jets game was more aesthetically brilliant.

Love your blog, and would be glad to discuss Dolphins history with you any time.

Rob said...

Willian, excellent point on the Nat Moore play! I wished I'd thought of it to put that in my post somewhere.