Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part X

Top this catch

How bizarre is it that after only two last-minute championship-winning touchdown drives in 87 years of NFL history, it’s now been done in two straight Super Bowls? Both Super Bowls XLII and XLIII were won on last minute TD passes that capped desperation drives. But there the similarities between the two games end. Super Bowl XLII was probably the most anticipated Super Bowl ever. Super Bowl XLIII? Well, let’s face it. Nobody really cared if they weren’t diehard Steelers or Cardinals fans (if there is such a thing as the latter). Super Bowl XLII: Close and competitive the whole way, exciting from start to finish. Super Bowl XLIII: To be honest, I thought it was all over at halftime. In 18 unbelievable seconds the Cardinals went from about to take a halftime lead to trailing by 10 points. Coming back to win a Super Bowls after trailing by that many points is dicey anyway (it’s happened once). But coming back after that James Harrison punch in the gut INT return? No way. And the Cards did pretty much sleepwalk through the third quarter. The Steelers just needed one more TD to put the Cards away. But they couldn’t get it. They were so afraid of making the mistake that would let the Cards back into it that they only could tack on three more points…and they let the Cards back into it.

The game’s final eleven minutes made up for how incredibly boring the second half had been up until then. But if Super Bowl XLIII lacked the arc of the previous year’s Super Bowl, or some of the other great ones, it did feature something else that maybe no other Super Bowl has ever matched: the sheer number of great plays. If you were trying to make a list of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, you’ve got three from this game alone. No other Super Bowl can say that (if a Super Bowl could talk).

What are the five greatest Super Bowl plays ever? Let’s see, Manning-to-Tyree. Riggins’ run. And…well I don’t know what the other three would have been but take away two of them and substitute in Harrison’s INT return and Santonio Holmes’ game-winning TD. Now when you’re picking the greatest Super Bowl plays ever they have to be plays that were both spectacular and critical to the outcome. Marcus Allen’s amazing TD run in Super Bowl XVIII was spectacular but his team was up by 19 points at the time. That game was over. Jim O’Brien’s final field goal in Super Bowl V couldn’t have been more critical. It was the game winner. But c’mon, how spectacular can a 32-yard field goal be?

But Holmes’ catch! There’ve been four late game-winning Super Bowl TD catches. Clearly Holmes’ TD beats out John Taylor’s in Super Bowl and jailbird Burress’ in Super Bowl XLII. You could make an argument for Issac Bruce’s in Super Bowl XXXIV as the best as it was a 73-yard bomb. Holmes’ 6-yard catch had a higher degree difficulty with that while tapping the toes in bounds thing and it came a little later in the game so I’d lean toward that one as the biggest. Of course we could find room for both on our top five list.

Harrison’s TD is almost certainly the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history and one of the greatest INT returns in NFL history. The only other great defensive Super Bowl play that comes to mind is Mike Jones’ tackle to seal the Rams victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. And as great as that tackle was I don’t see how you can rate it ahead of a 100-yard TD return where the returner improbably stayed in bounds, avoided tacklers, and fell into the end zone with no time left on the last play of the half. Yeah it wasn’t a game ender but it was at least a 10-point swing as the Cardinals would have at least come out of there with a field goal. In a game decided by 4 points it was huge.

And there’s one other play we can’t forget. I can’t put it in the top five but it sure might make my top ten (I see a future post in the making). It’s Larry Fitzgerald’s 64-yard TD that gave Arizona its first lead of the game with 2:37 remaining. Without Roethlisberger’s and Holmes late heroics that would have been the game-winning TD. Besides Bruce’s TD referenced earlier the only other 4th quarter TD bomb I can remember that gave a team the lead in a Super Bowl was the 85-yarder to Muhsin Muhammad that put Carolina temporarily on top in Super Bowl XXXVIII. That was a huge play but Fitzgerald’s catch gets the edge for being more dramatic as it was later in the game and Muhammad’s catch resulted more from a blown coverage (he wasn’t covered) than a great play call. Warner–to-Fitzgerald also put the capper on the Jerry Rice-like postseason Fitzgerald was having.

So when you’re talking about Super Bowl XLIII you’re talking about three of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. Only Super Bowl XXIV can even claim two and those two aren’t quite as impressive as Super Bowl XLIII’s top two. If you like great plays and a classic finish, and who doesn’t, Super Bowl XLIII’s a contender for the greatest Super Bowl of all time.

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

Henne and Penny

It’s weird how sometimes sporting events can almost play out like a novel. And if you missed the novel that was Miami’s week two game with the Colts, then the first drive of their week three game against the Chargers served as a handy Cliff’s Notes version of the Colts game. The dominant running game. The perfect execution. And the devastating blunder negating all the hard work that came before. Against the Chargers it was Ronnie Brown’s fumble at the one that squandered the momentum and cost the team a TD. But of course that was just the prelude to the true football tragedy--Chad Pennington’s season-ending shoulder injury.

Now Sparano previously made it clear Henne would get his chance to play at some point this season. And after three straight losses the odds shot way up for Henne to be playing sooner than later. But it’s sad that it took a horrible injury to Pennington to bring about Henne’s first start. I need to write a few words here about Pennington. My first real memories of the NFL start date to about 1974. So for almost all my first 25 years of football-watching I saw great quarterbacks leading the Miami Dolphins. I expected it. First Griese. Then Marino. And then for eight solid years the Dolphins trotted out pathetic QB after pathetic QB. Jay Fiedler was probably the best of them and he barely rose to the level of mediocrity. And what came after. Ugh: Ray Lucas--high comedy. A.J. Feely---arguably the worst trade in team history. John Beck--utter waste of a high draft pick. Duante Culpeper--we could have had Drew Brees! (Nick Saban’s an idiot!). Cleo Lemon--a more aptly named player there has never been. You had to wonder if the Dolphins would ever start a quality QB again.

And then, thanks to Bret Favre not retiring for the fourth or fifth time, Chad Pennington dropped into the team’s lap. Pennington took the opportunity to post an MVP-type season, the best quarterbacking season of any Dolphin not in the Hall of Fame, and lead Miami to a division title and the playoffs. Playoffs! After a 1-15 season nobody saw that coming. Dolphin fans used to take the playoffs for granted. By 2008 it was a distant memory until Chad Pennington started taking the snaps. He gave us a minor miracle. Even if he never puts on a football uniform again Dolphin fans owe him a lot. Thanks Penny.

As for the other Chad, Chad Henne didn’t play all that well against San Diego. But I’ve seen worse (Hey Ray Lucas. How's it going A.J. Feely?) At least Henne showed flashes of potential, something we waited for in vain with John Beck and the other parade of losers I mentioned above. Against Buffalo Henne showed a lot more than flashes. He managed to play his entire first start without making one single catastrophic error, something that hasn’t been so easy to come by in this decade for Miami. Getting that first win was big. It was just two seasons ago that Miami was forced to yank Beck as the starter and reinstall Cleo Lemon at the helm (yeah, that was the sequence of events. It’s true) in a desperate attempt to get some kind of win someway somehow to avoid the stigma of an 0-16 season. And that plan actually worked. But nobody wanted a repeat of anything like that. Ever. Now without question it should be Henne’s team all year. He faces a tougher opponent this week so we shall see but so far so good.