Monday, August 31, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part IX

“They have to win now! That’s what teams of destiny do.”

--Me to my wife after the Manning to Tyree play.

In rethinking Super Bowl XLII, I’ve got to say I kind of feel sorry for Patriots fans (a little anyway). Not because their team blew a championship, a perfect season, and a claim to be the greatest team of all time. That’s sports. No, I feel sorry for them because to most of us that game was one of the most thrilling, electrifying sporting events we’ve ever seen. To them it’s just a sad and bitter memory, a reminder of the immortality their team lost that night.

That game was like one of those super-vivid dreams. You know the ones that seem so real, so detailed even though they’re so bizarre they couldn’t possibly have happened. And when you wake up you go over it in your mind while simultaneously coming to grips with the fact that no matter how intense it all was it in fact was just a crazy dream. Yeah, Super Bowl XLII was a little like that, except it all actually happened. The G-Men shutting down the greatest offense ever; Brady-to-Moss seemingly shutting the door on the upset bid; Manning-to-Tyree; the Plax TD; and the exclamation point--the big hit on Brady in the final seconds. I still can’t believe all that stuff happened. But it did. Or like an old Silver-Age DC comic would put it: Not A Hoax! Not A Dream! Not An Imaginary Story!

A few points about the game:

1) The Past Interference staff likes to think of themselves as basically humble people. But I’ve got to give myself some credit being the first person anywhere to realize the historic nature of what Eli Manning pulled off on February 5, 2008. No, not the huge upset; a lot of people noticed that. I’m referring to the winning drive. Before Super Bowl LXII, exactly two quarterbacks had ever led their team on a championship game-winning touchdown drive ending in the final two minutes of play. With his TD pass to Burress, Manning joined Bart Starr (The Ice Bowl) and Joe Montana (Super Bowl XXII) as the only QB’s to ever lead a last-minute championship TD drive. That’s right. Two Hall-of-Famers with nine combined championship rings…and Eli Manning. And those other guys started their drives trailing by 3. Manning trailed by 4. So only Eli began his historic drive with the pressure of knowing it had to end in a TD. Cool huh?

2) Now I’ll point out something else that I haven’t seen anyone else note: this was the closest Super Howl of all-time. I’m not just talking about the final 3-point margin of victory. Obviously there’ve been a few other three-point games. What I’m talking about is the score at any point during the game. At no time during Super Bowl XLII did either team ever lead the other by more than 4 points. In every other Super Bowl save two, one of the teams led the other by at least 9 points at some point during the game. The only other Super Bowls where nobody ever led by more than one score were Super Bowls V and XXII. The Colts won the former game by 3 and trailed by a full 7 points earlier. The latter game’s biggest lead was also 7 points and the final margin of victory was 4. So from start to finish Super Bowl XLII was the closest, most competitive game in Super Bowl history.

3) Finally, has any Super Bowl ever had more pre-game anticipation than this one? I don’t think so. New England shooting for perfection obviously interested just about everyone. You can’t compare the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII to this one; it was just a different media world back then, before the internet and the 24 hour news cycle. They might as well have broadcast that earlier game by crystal radio when you look at the mountain of oppressive hype you get today. Further jump-starting the pre-game chatter was the opponent, a New York team(!), one that almost beat the Pats in the Week 16 finale. I can only think of one other Super Bowl that came close to this one in terms of public interest: Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers/Cowboys rematch. I previously wrote that game was the closest thing the NFL ever had to an Ali-Frazier fight. But in the post-ESPN age you have to give the edge in “buzz” to Super Bowl XLII. I know it’s hard to imagine but trust me, there was once a time you actually could turn on a TV and never be able to find a single show featuring grown men yelling at each other about sports. Radio too.

After the Giants pulled off the upset for the ages, many called it greatest Super Bowl ever. And if you were arguing for it in a court of law you’ve got a lot of evidence. Let’s see: Unparalleled pre-game anticipation. Excitement and electricity that slowly built throughout the game. Close and competitive from the opening kickoff through the final seconds. The greatest play in Super Bowl history. And maybe the biggest upset ever.

I loved that game.

But I reflexively rejected the “best ever” level, probably due to my contrarian nature. I knew I’d have to think about it for a long while before determining how it ranked with all 41 of the Super Bowls that came before. And a year later, just when I’d finally processed it all and reached a conclusion, they had to go and play another Super Bowl that might have been the best 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


J.A. Morris said...

"To them it’s just a sad and bitter memory, a reminder of the immortality their team lost that night."
Now Pats fan has some idea how we felt after the Dolphins lost the '81 Divisional Playoff to the Chargers. Whenever I hear Steve Sabol or Chris Berman say that was "the greatest game ever" it still bugs me a little bit.

Willian said...

An interesting aspect of SB 42 that one almost never hears mentioned in the press is this: it is the first time in the modern era of the NFL that the "Dynasty Team" ever lost a championship game. The Steelers of the '70s? 4 wins, no losses. The 49ers of the '80s? Again, perfect. JJ's Cowboys of the '90s (whose status as a "Dynasty" is to me quite debatable, but that's neither here nor there)? Again, no losses. All were unbeatable when in the national spotlight.

Did Joe Montana lose playoff games? You bet he did. There was the shocker against the Vikings in '87, to say nothing of his three losses against Parcells's Giants (against whom, as has been pointed out on this blog, he seemed to be powerless). But he never lost on the big stage, which is a significant portion of the mystique that the media has built up around him.

We could hear the media sharpening their pencils to christen Tom Brady king of the football universe, usurping Montana's throne after he led yet _another_ 4th-quarter Super Bowl win. But, somehow, in a development never before seen in the history of the post-merger NFL, it didn't happen, and the dynasty team choked on the big stage.

And for all of us non-Patriot fans, it was a beautiful thing.

sptrfn said...

Well, Montana never lost because his defense helped him out. That is what people forget about those Niner teams. And, Eli's defense helped him out in this game, giving him a chance to win in the end by keeping them in it and getting after Brady.