Another cockeyed take on a great Super Bowl
Super Bowl XXXVI. Simultaneously a replay of and the mirror image of Super Bowl XXXIV. (Just rearrange the Roman numerals). Both games featured an explosive, heavily favored Rams struggling to put points on the board and terrific game-tying comebacks trumped by game-winning plays that ended with no time left on the clock. But of course in Super Bowl XXXIV the Rams blew a big lead but won anyway while in Super Bowl XXXVI they overcame a big deficit but gave up a game-winning field goal and wasted the comeback.
Now I enjoy watching a great game (and it was a great game) and a big upset as much as anybody, but while this is certainly a candidate for the best Super Bowl ever, a few things about the game have bothered me for years. First, it’s harder to root for an upset when you have no reason to dislike the favorite. And all of the Rams’ big stars, Warner, Faulk, Holt and Bruce, seemed to be genuinely nice guys. No T.O.’s or Ocho Cinco’s to hate. But that’s a minor point. What made the Rams interesting (to non-Rams fans) was that explosive offense. In an era where more and more teams were moving towards the boring West Coast Offense the Rams defiantly stuck with the vertical passing game, executed it brilliantly, and racked up lots of wins and passing yardage. In starting their own championship run while short-circuiting a potential Rams dynasty in the process, the Patriots somewhat discredited the concept of building a championship offense around the downfield passing game (they tried to make amends in 2007 and blew it!)
That’s the aesthetic stuff. What bothered me the most about the game was the feeling that the Patriots hadn’t won the game as much as the Rams lost it. Until that final drive New England had done virtually nothing offensively. A Rams turnover set up every score: a pick six, another INT leading to FG, and fumble to set up a short TD drive. Plus, the Rams drove into NE territory a few times and came up empty. The Rams dominated all the stats: total yards; time of possession; yards per play but the three turnovers proved to be the great equalizer. Note that in the four biggest games for the Greatest Show On Turf, the Super Bowls and NFC title games of 1999 and 2001, the Rams won three of four but nearly went 0-4. All the games were close and the Rams caught some big breaks in the ones they won. For whatever reason the Rams failed to play dominating football in big games whether they played the Patriots or somebody else. Warner played particularly poorly in Super Bowl XXXVI.
I guess what I’m getting it here is that ideally the greatest Super Bowl would feature both teams playing at a very high level and in Super Bowl XXXVI we didn't really get that. I don’t want to deny the Patriots credit for slowing up the Rams offense but the Rams’ poor play in other big games and Warner’s sudden decline (it took him eight years to regain anything like the form of his MVP years) indicates to me that the Rams offense just played well below par. As I wrote previously the Rams’ offense blew lots of opportunities in Super Bowl XXXIV as well but at least they didn’t turn it over so the Titans “earned” all their scores on long drives. The Titans impressed more in a losing effort than New England did in winning. Plus, the finish of Super Bowl XXXIV was slightly more exciting. So given that the games played in oddly similar fashion and that I find the earlier game to be the greater one, Super Bowl XXXVI isn’t the greatest ever.
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