Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part VI
How Does Dyson Not Score?
Super Bowl XXXIV ended with about as great a 4th quarter as we’ve ever seen. A great comeback from a seemingly insurmountable deficit, a go-ahead TD bomb, and the to-date unique feature of a clutch open-field Super Bowl tackle ending the contest. But all that happened in the game’s closing stages. The first half was something else altogether. There never should have been a great fourth quarter. In the first half the Rams drove deep into Titans territory five times but scored only 9 points. Why? They missed one FG attempt, botched the snap on another and Kurt Warner went 0-12 in the red zone. The score should probably have been at least 19-0 at the half, maybe more, and the game would have been over. Instead of putting them away in the first half the Rams played with fire and let the Titans hang around. But St. Louis finally appeared to have slammed the door shut after they scored the game’s first TD halfway through the third quarter to up 16-0. History sad the game was over. The 33 previous Super Bowls had seen exactly one double-digit comeback, and that was only a 10-point first quarter deficit. But somehow the seeming Ram deathblow turned instead into a wakeup call for Tennessee. Three consecutive Titan scoring drives tied the game at 16 with just over two minutes left.
What intrigues me the most about this game are the play calls on the game’s two biggest plays, the final offensive play for each team. Each team’s offensive coordinator called a play that went against all game logic. The Titans’ three scoring drives totaled 7:66, 7:39 and 6:17. These three drives were interspersed with two Rams drives totaling all of103 seconds. So when St. Louis got the ball at their own 27 with 2:12 left to play, you’d have expected them to burn some clock while attempting to advance the ball downfield for the winning score. This would at least prevent the Titans from having any time to work with regulation should they force the Rams to punt. It would also give the exhausted Rams’ defense a little extra rest should the game head to overtime. But Mike Martz rejected this logic. The Rams dominated their opponents in 1999 with their quick-strike vertical game. So why should they abandon it now during the game’s most critical moments? As for leaving Tennessee time should the deep bomb fail, the Titans previous scoring drives all consumed over six minutes of clock. They hadn’t established any ability to score quickly. And how much would a little extra rest mean when the Titans’ offense had been kicking the crap out of your defense for the last quarter-and-a-half? The Rams needed to avoid going to OT at all costs. Taking their chance with the deep pass actually made a certain kind of sense.
After Steve McNair’s brilliantly drove the Titans to the Ram’s 10 with six seconds remaining, the Titans’ options seemed clear enough. With no time outs left they’d have to pass into the end zone to maximize their chances of a second plays should their next pass attempt fall incomplete. But if you call a perfect play the first time you obviously won’t need a second one. Just ask Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr. And the Titans did call the perfect play (“Gun Spear Right Open Zag Firm Silver Right Detroit”). It should have worked. I’ve seen the replay many times over the years and I still think now what I thought as the play unfolded in real time: how did Kevin Dyson not score? McNair hit him perfectly in stride at the 5. He had a ton of momentum and most of the Ram defenders were still in the end zone (expecting the end zone pass that never came). But one person’s incredible superhuman effort trumped the perfect play call. Mike Jones deserved every bit of credit he got for his game-winning tackle. He grabbed and fell on Dyson’s left leg and got his knee down at the one to end the game. Jones never took his eyes off Dyson and so he put himself in position to make the tackle when he saw the ball go to Dyson and didn’t go for a big hit. He just made both a smart and athletic play to seal the championship.
So was it the greatest Super Bowl ever? You can make an argument. The second half provided all kinds of momentum reversals, the biggest Super Bowl comeback ever, two all-time great plays and a contest not decided until the very last second. And the first half, while far less competitive, wasn’t without interest as the Rams kept finding ways to squander scoring opportunities. Two teams of contrasting styles and a near-huge upset. This game’s a contender.
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