Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl of All-Time, Part II

"Vince, how did you miss Waddy on that post route? I mean he was wide open."

Super Bowl XIV

The Steelers and the Cowboys. In the Seventies, they were like Ali-Frazier. Two great champions with perfectly contrasting styles. And in ’79, with both teams again the best in their respective conferences, it looked like we were all set for Ali-Frazier III. Our third Pittsburgh-Dallas Super Bowl in five years. But the L.A. Rams, a 9-7 team just one game better than mediocre, a team that scored just 14 more points than they allowed, stunned the ‘Boys in the playoffs and denied us our football Thrilla’ in Manila. After beating the Bucs 9-0 in the dullest NFC Championship game ever, L.A. advanced to their first Super Bowl ever. As the worst Super Bowl contestant ever. Just compare the Rams to the 12-4 Steelers, defending champs, +158 in point differential and looking for their fourth championship in six years. Having these Steelers play the Rams? Like Emmitt Smith described his time as an Arizona Cardinal, “a diamond among trash”. To be fair the Rams had been one of the best and most talented teams in the league for much of the decade; only the lack of a quality starting QB held them back year-after-year. But by 1979 age and attrition had taken their toll and the Rams hadn’t exactly upgraded the quarterback position with new starter Vince Ferragamo (who?). No surprise the oddsmakers made the Steelers 11-and-a-half point favorites.

Quiz time! Can you guess what the following table shows?


Look closely at Super Bowl XIV. Does that help?

Ok, time’s up. That table shows the number of lead changes in every Super Bowl (I used a strict Vegas-style definition of lead change: one team takes the lead after trailing, there can be an intervening tie). Super Bowl XIV featured SIX lead changes! That’s two more than the first 13 Super Bowls combined! Thirty years later and Super Bowl XIV still holds the record for lead changes! Only two of 42 Super Bowls have had as many as four lead changes. Only six have even had as many as three. Instead of the expected blowout, the Steelers and the Rams gave the country the most exciting back-and-forth Super Bowl yet played. And yet, when people make their list of great Super Bowls, where the hell is this one?

The Rams gave Pittsburgh everything they could handle. For three quarters, every single time Pittsburgh scored the Rams immediately answered with a score of their own to either tie the game or take back the lead. It was unbelievable. The Rams led after one quarter. The Rams led at halftime. On the opening drive of the second half Pittsburgh scored on a 47-yard TD bomb to Lynn Swann. But the Rams came right back with a 50-yard bomb of their own followed by a 24-yard halfback option TD pass to take the lead right back (they missed the extra point to add a little thrill). Pittsburgh got the ball back and Terry Bradshaw threw a pick. He got the ball back again, drove his team into field goal range, and threw another interception, his third! It was crazy. Was the Steelers dynasty really unraveling right before our eyes? That last pick did stick L.A. back at their own 4 but on the final play of the third quarter an end-around netted the Rams 13 yards, a first down and seeming momentum. To this day my number one memory of that game is this: the Rams offensive players en masse sprinting down to the other end of the field as the teams changed sides to start the fourth quarter. They were so confident they were going to pull off the biggest upset of the decade. And why not? They led 19-17. They had led at the end of each quarter. Ferragamo (who?) hadn’t turned it over once while Bradshaw was averaging one pick per quarter.

But in the final 15 minutes, either through superior talent or some sort of collective residual Super Bowl memory, the Steelers entirely erased the memory of those first three quarters. Big plays turned the game decisively in Pittsburgh’s favor. First, a sack of Ferragamo helped force a punt. Three plays later, Bradshaw hit John Stallworth deep for a 73-yard TD to put Pittsburgh back on top, 24-19. After the teams exchanged punts, the Rams took possession with perhaps one last chance for a game-winning TD drive. Ferragamo moved his squad from its own 16 into Pittsburgh territory. On third-and-thirteen he hit Billy Waddy for 15 yards to keep the drive alive, 32 yards from paydirt with under 6 minutes to play. This just wasn’t just looking like the best Super Bowl ever. For one very brief moment, everything was suddenly set up for one of the all-time most memorable games played anytime, anywhere, in any sport. The aging dynasty trying to squeeze out one last championship. The underachieving underdogs trying for an upset for the ages. The seemingly endless swings of momentum with the tension slowly building all game until maybe a classic final drive. And then pop! All the air went out of the balloon. Ferragamo (who?) didn't see a wide open Waddy on the post route and instead tried to hit Rod Smith over the middle. Jack Lambert made him pay and picked it off. Comeback killed. No more lead changes. Two plays later Bradshaw-to-Stallworth 45-yarder to set the Steelers up in scoring position and Franco Harris scored a few plays later with 1:49 left. Ballgame. Fittingly four fourth quarter plays(alliteration), two defensive, two offensive, made all the difference. The sack, the pick, and the two bombs to Stallworth.

When people think about the Steelers in the Super Bowl they inevitably remember the classic Super Bowl XIII shootout with the Cowboys. Or maybe the Super Bowl X clash with Dallas and Swann’s transcendent performance. And for longtime diehard Steelers’ fans Super Bowl IX has a special place. A horrible game but the franchise’s first title ever after over 40 years of futility. Few remember a 12-point win over a crummy Rams team. But Super Bowl XIV had more lead changes than those other three games combined. It stayed competitive until the final minutes. And it was the last hurrah for arguably the greatest team in NFL history. Maybe not the best Super Bowl ever, but a forgotten classic.

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, January 23, 2009

The Greatest Super Bowl Of All-Time, Part I

After the New York Giants shocked the world in Super Bowl XLII by knocking off the undefeated New England Patriots, sportswriters and pundits instantly debated whether the game was the greatest Super Bowl ever played. Now maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t but here at Past Interference we frown on such knee-jerk reactions. It’s too easy to get swept up in the hype and the immediacy of a big game or a great performance, especially when magnified by the non-stop fact-free bullroar too often emanating from our 24-hour sports-talk and cable stations (i.e., see this week's topic du jour: Is Fitzgerald better then Rice?). At Past Interference we prefer, no, we demand careful analysis before making any sweeping conclusions. So now that a year has passed since that historic upset, it is finally time to determine if in fact Super Bowl XLII was the greatest Super Bowl ever played. And we’ll do this by taking a look at every Super Bowl that might reasonably be nominated for that honor.

Super Bowl XIII
Pittsburgh 35 Dallas 31

No Super Bowl before or since matches this one for pre-game anticipation or expectations. Why? Because it was the one and only time a great NFL rivalry played out in a Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The Steel Curtain vs. America’s Team. Every Super Bowl features its share of pre-game hype but this one completely justified it all. Consider these factors.

--Prior to this game you could pretty much count one thing from the Super Bowl: it would suck! Super Bowl XIII wasn't only the first Super Bowl rematch, it was a rematch of the only good Super Bowl ever--Super Bowl X.

--The Steelers and the Cowboys had each won two Super Bowls in the previous six years. The Cowboys were defending champs. The Steelers owned the league's best record, 14-2. For once, without question, the two best teams in football were taking the field.

--The teams presented a fascinating contrast in styles. The Cowboys: a finesse machine designed and programmed by the computerized mind of the emotionless genius Tom Landry and led by Captain America himself, clean-cut Navy man Roger Staubach. The Steelers: Intimidating, hard-hitting defense and a big-play offense led by big-armed country boy Terry Bradshaw.

--And for a little extra juice, during Super Bowl week Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson told the press Bradshaw couldn't spell cat unless you spotted him the "a" and the "t".

All the pieces were in place for a classic football game and the teams didn't disappoint. The first half was about as great a half as one could have hoped for. Long drives, short drives, lead changes, big plays, questionable playcalling, a TD bomb and a defensive TD. When the dust settled, the Steelers took a 21-14 lead into halftime. It wasn't only the highest-scoring half in Super Bowl history, the teams had outscored the final score of 6 of the previous 12 Super Bowls.

The third quarter turned into a defensive struggle. Pittsburgh went three-and-out on its first two drives and Dallas mounted a potential game-tying drive that took them to the Steelers' ten-yard-line. And then, facing a third-and-three, Dallas' next play began a catastrophic series of events for Dallas that suddenly saw every conceivable break go Pittsburgh's way. Check it out:

a) Dallas sends in an extra tight end and shows run. The formation results in tight end Jackie Smith breaking wide open in the end zone. Instead of zipping the ball in to Smith however, Staubach throws the ball a little low and slightly behind Smith. Smith, one of the great tight ends in NFL history, slows up and either slips or goes low for the ball and he wound up dropping the less-than-perfect but still catchable pass. The Cowboys settled for a field goal.

b) On their first drive of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh advanced the ball to their own 44. On second-and-four Bradshaw threw deep to Lynn Swann who was being covered by Benny Barnes. The ball hit the turf as did Swann and Barnes as they appeared to trip over each other's feet. Then field Judge Fred Swearingen threw perhaps the worst flag in Super Bowl history. Pass interference on Barnes.

c) The 33-yard phantom penalty sets up a 22-yard TD run by Franco Harris three plays later. Franco received some extra assistance from the umpire who managed to get himself in between Franco and a Cowboys safety Charlie Waters, preventing Waters from making a tackle.

d) And then the deathblow for Dallas. Steelers' kicker Roy Gerela slipped on his ass on the subsequent kickoff, so instead of a deep kick the ball bounced down the middle of the field toward the Manster, Cowboys DE Randy White. White, not exactly sure-handed at anytime, was playing with a cast on his left thumb. Why the hell he was on the kick return team in the first place I have no idea but he wasn't able to corral or lateral the ball and Pittsburgh recovered. On the very next play Bradshaw threw to Swann who made a beautiful over the shoulder catch to put away the Cowboys with 6:51 to play.

Well, not exactly. Staubach marched the Cowboys down the field for a TD but with Pittsburgh playing prevent the drive ate up 4 minutes and 24 seconds of clock. Dallas recovered an onside kick and incredibly Staubach led his team to yet another TD. But that drive used another two minutes. Only 22 seconds remained and when Pittsburgh recovered an onside kick it was all over.

Unparalleled pre-game excitement. A fantastic game between the best teams of the era. But the game is missing one essential ingredient to be considered the greatest Super Bowl ever. It didn't really come down to the wire. The Steelers properly traded points for time at the end. The game was not as close as the final score indicated. Plus, aesthetically the game was slightly marred by two things: the horrible PI call on Barnes and the fact the game's biggest and most memorable play was a dropped pass.

Still, those two great teams played one of the most memorable football games I have ever seen. Super Bowl XIII may have featured the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in a Super Bowl. Forget the "may". Bradshaw, Staubach, Dorsett, Franco, Swann, Stallworth, Pearson, Jackie Smith, Mean Joe Greene, Randy White, Lambert, Ham, Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones, Mel Blount, Cliff Harris, Mike Webster, Rayfield Wright. What can you say? If you got to watch that game as it unfolded live you were one lucky football fan.

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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Florida Gators: 2009 BCS National Champions, Part II

Three notes about the 2009 BCS Title Game:

1) I’m one of those people who despises the tendency of far too many football analysts who really should know better to use tired and nebulous psychological reasons to explain game developments rather than noting the role of little things like talent, strategy and execution. You know what I’m talking about: “momentum”, “confidence”, “the will to win” and the timeless classic “one team wanted it more”. But I don’t think it’s crazy to say Oklahoma’s failure to take advantage of golden opportunities in the first half must have affected them on some level. Remember, Florida never trailed in that game. Even when they were playing poorly they never trailed. As we all saw, the Sooners blew two big chances to go on top in the first half--the goal-line stand and Bradford’s INT inside the five. Given Oklahoma’s recent history of losing bowl games, including BCS championship games, their inability to get in front was costly. Meanwhile, Florida had a coach and a bunch of players who’d been there before. Self-doubt may have crept into psyche of the OU players, but in the second half the Gators played like a team with a whole lot of confidence.

2) By all the available evidence Tim Tebow, like Danny Wuerffel and Chris Leak before him, is a fine young man. But even a Gator fan can’t defend the full-blown idolatry of Tebow that spewed forth before, during and after the broadcast of the game. Unfortunately, all that talk about leadership, Phillipino slums and preaching to prisoners sort of swallowed up what Tebow actually did on the field against Okalahoma. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shocked to see him throw two picks in the first half. And both were horrible throws. But he gathered himself and turned the game in Florida’s direction in the second half.

Tebow knew what the offense was doing wasn’t working and he flat-out told the coaches he was going to run it more. On his team’s second possession of the second half Tebow saw open space, took matters into his own hands and carried it five times for 49 yards to drag his team to the one where Harvin finished off the drive. Meyer admitted those runs weren’t brilliant play calls but Tebow making things happen. Then, after Bradford’s INT in the 4th quarter gave UF a chance for a game-sealing TD drive, Tebow switched up and delivered four clutch passes. First, on 3rd-and-12 scrambling to his left and finding Cooper for 17 yards. Then the 29-yard laser to Nelson to get the Gators into scoring position. Then a 9-yard pass on 3rd-and-6 to Hernandez. And finally the jump pass for the backbreaking TD to Nelson that chiseled Tebow’s legend into stone for all-time. Please note that with a championship on the line Tebow’s receivers for the biggest passes of his life were not named Harvin, or Demps or Rainey, but instead Nelson, Cooper and Hernandez (who?). Like no other Gator player before him Tebow defined clutch. I don’t know if meeting Tebow for five minutes would change my life or not, but I do know the man is one hell of a college football player.

3) I’ve watched a lot of football games in my life and after thinking it over I’m convinced that FOX’s telecast of the 2009 BCS Championship Game was the single worst broadcast of an important game I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was freaking amateur hour.

--The announcers. No need to rehash the embarrassing Tebow worship of Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis. But what happened on the goal line stand when Brennaman had no clue what down it was on three straight plays? How does that happen? Did anyone think they’d ever watch see a big-time football that made them long for Joe Buck or Brent Musberger?

--The replays. Where were they? When FOX failed to treat us to all kinds of replays of Major Wright’s huge hit on a Sooner WR on the first possession, I had a feeling we were in for some trouble. As the night ensued big play after big play would go by and we’d never know if we’d luck out with a replay of it. If we did get one it was usually long after we stopped caring about the play. My favorite moment was after Percy Harvin got hurt in the 4th quarter. As he lay hurt on the field and the announcers babbled on about something, you could suddenly heard the stadium crowd start to boo. I immediately surmised the stadium Jumbotron must have shown how Harvin got hurt--a dirty hit. But who would know? Finally, after five minutes passed FOX deigned to show us a replay and lo and behold the OU tackler did grab and pull on Harvin’s leg. At least I think he did. The replay sucked and didn’t show the whole picture and then it was on to something else. Thanks FOX.

--The stupid Oklahoma snap clock. Most football broadcasts often show viewers a little something call the play clock. You know, snap the ball in 30 seconds or its delay of game. But not FOX. Rather than show the play clock they came up with some idiotic Sooner clock to impart to us just how fast the Sooner offense was getting up to the line of scrimmage after the end of their previous play. Sounds exciting right? Now I didn’t see a single OU game all year but from what eventually put together from the lame announcers was that running up to the line after the previous play was standard operating procedure all year for OU. The advantages were: (1) the defense wouldn’t be ready; or (2) the Sooners could see what formation the defense was in and the sideline would call in the right play to take advantage. But in the BCS Championship game the Sooners faced a superbly coached team, one that was always ready at the line of scrimmage before OU was and one that gave away nothing of importance in its formations. So what we got were endless shots of Bradford standing dumbfounded at the line, bleakly looking over towards the sidelines for help. He’d take so long sometimes that FOX would switch the screen to some kind of crazy quarter split screen to show Bradford at the line in one picture with a tiny shot of his yelling coach Bob Stoops in the other. Meanwhile, FOX’s stupid snap clock would approach and pass 30 seconds leading one to wonder if the Sooners were taking too much time. But how would we know? FOX never showed the actual play clock! Morons.

--The camera work. In addition to the aforementioned lack of replays, the crowd shots were certainly unique. Normally you expect to see reaction shots of people in the crowd. You know, the ones in funny outfits, the ones holding up the stupid signs, the hotties, etc. Not this time. FOX crossed us up. They somehow thought we’d prefer quick dizzying fraction-of-a-second shots panning the crowd from so far away that you couldn’t make out a damn thing. Vertiginous I believe is the correct adjective. When Harvin went down in the 4th we finally got a normal apropos shot of a shocked-looking female fan holding her hands over her mouth. Honestly, I’d never have noticed anything this stupid if the broadcast wasn’t so supremely horrible.

Luckily nothing, not even the worst broadcast ever, could take away the thrill of a national title.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Florida Gators: 2009 BCS National Champions, Part I

The masthead of this website promises “deep thoughts about football” and to date those oh-so-deep football thoughts have only concerned the professional variety. While Past Interference’s obsession with the National Football League continues unabated, allow the humble author of this post to finally reveal himself to be an alumnus of the University of Florida and therefore a proud member of a Gator Nation currently celebrating its third national championship in the sport of college football. As one who attended UF just prior to Steve Spurrier’s resuscitation of the program I admit it’s still a little hard to believe the Gators are the most dominant football program in the country right now. While I attended we just prayed for the end of the school’s 50-plus year streak of not winning a Southeastern Conference Championship. (And even when the football gods answered our prayers in 1984, more powerful deities, the NCAA and the SEC, stepped in to place UF on probation and yank that title away from us.) The talent to compete was there--Emmitt Smith, Wilbur Marshall, Lomas Brown, John L. Williams, Louis Oliver, Jarvis Williams, Neal Anderson, Ricky Nattiel, Brad Culpepper—but competent coaching was not. Not cheating would have helped too.

The Ol’ Ballcoach finally ended UF’s rep as a program that produced great athletes but couldn’t win. Not only did Spurrier repeatedly lead the Gators to SEC titles year after year but incredibly he made that quest secondary to yearly dreams of a National Championship, something he actually brought home in 1996. Gator Nation had finally arrived. And I don’t know that Spurrier’s teams actually featured as much football talent as some of those 80’s teams. Spurrier’s strength is game planning not recruiting but, when it comes to football, brilliant coaching counts for a lot and don’t let anybody tell you differently. However, a great offensive design won’t always prevail against tremendous athletes as demonstrated by the hated Seminoles more often than not getting the better of the Gators during the Spurrier era (and how that worm has turned).

It was sad to see Spurrier leave for what proved to be (for him) the bitter pasture of FedEx Field, especially when UF tapped the overmatched Ron Zook to replace him. Once Zook inevitably exhausted the patience of Gator Nation and FireRonZook.com had done its holy work, Urban Meyer took over the reigns of the football program. And after four seasons as the head man Meyer has revealed himself to be both a bit of a genius coach in his own right and a recruiter of football talent like no Gator’s ever seen. And now, for the second time in three seasons, Florida reaps the ultimate rewards of that happy combination. For generations every UF student at his or her first Gator game quickly learns the chant “It’s Great To Be A Florida Gator” but now, when it comes to football, it’s at last a simple statement of fact.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chad Pennington: Playoff Goat

Irony, thy name is Chad. Just as I put the finishing touches on my brilliant Pennington-For-MVP post he has to go out and lay an incredible inedible egg against the Ravens. Probably the worst game of his career and the number one reason Miami loses the game. Clearly Miami needs to bring in some playmakers on offense to help Pennington out but what can you say? He flat-out sucked. Still, one bad game against a great defense can’t nullify the most fun season we Dolphins fans have had since 1984. That’s a long friggin’ time. I expected nothing from Miami this year and I got something. A lot more than something. 11 wins! An AFC East title! Kicking the Jets (and Favre’s) ass to seal the deal (and knocking the Pats out in the process)! It was like a dream. Thanks Chad. We owe you.

Chad Pennington: 2008 NFL MVP

Peyton Manning won the Associated Press Most Valuable Player award the other day. His third. Now, Manning had a fine season, but the wrong man won the award. Your true 2008 MVP was none other than James Chad Pennington. Yes, I'm a biased Dolphin fan so let me carefully lay out my logical, irrefutable argument in painstaking fashion.

1) The Numbers. Sure Manning threw for more yards and touchdowns, but Pennington surpasses Manning in all of the most important numbers.

Net Yards Per Attempt
Pennington 7.1
Manning 6.9

Interception Percentage
Pennington 1.5
Manning 2.3

Completion Percentage
Pennington 67.4
Manning 66.8

Quarterback Rating
Pennington 97.4
Manning 95.0

Manning may have posted bigger totals, but clearly Pennington was the more efficient passer. Pennington made his throws count more and, most importantly, he turned it over less.

2) The Supporting Cast. Not only did Pennington pass more efficiently, he did it with a receiving corps consisting of Ted Ginn, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano and David Martin. Now those guys played their guts out this year and surprised a lot of people but I don’t think I’m making a controversial assertion in saying the guy throwing to Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison (admittedly not what he once he was), Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez had a huge advantage. Yet Pennington surpassed Manning with far inferior targets.

Arguably Pennington was aided by a superior running game. The Colts were terrible on the ground, ranking 19th in rushing yards and dead last in yards per carry. Yet Miami wasn’t exactly spectacular here either. The Dolphins ranked 11th in rushing yards and 15th in yards per carry. So Miami ran better than Indianapolis in 2008, but Miami’s running game was only average just like it was the season before when they ranked 16th in yards per carry. The team did not improve in this area. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams sound like an all-star backfield but Brown clearly wasn’t the same electrifying runner he was prior to tearing his ACL in 2007. His YPC dropped by almost a yard in 2008. And Ricky played well at times but all the years, suspensions and bong hits have taken their toll. This isn’t the dominant 2002 Ricky Williams. No, Pennington’s the man who deserves most of the credit for the improvement of his team’s offense.

As for the defenses, Miami’s defense did step up. The team ranked 30th in points allowed in 2007 and moved all the way up to 9th in 2008. But the Colts were better, ranking 7th. And I think it’s important to note the Dolphins’ improvement in yards allowed was not as impressive; they moved from 23rd to 15th. So it’s likely Miami’s bend-but-not break defense was aided by Pennington’s superior play. By not turning it over and by his efficient passing (the team ranked 11th in first downs and 8th in net yards per attempt), Pennington gave his defense far fewer short fields than they had last year.

Plus, while some of their players had some disappointing years, remember that the Colts are a team that makes the playoffs year after year. A team that wins 12 games a year like clockwork. A team featuring many veterans of Super Bowl XLI. Meanwhile the Dolphins haven’t sniffed the playoffs for years. Pennington had no experienced vets to rely on in pressure situations. Manning did.

3) The record. Everybody wondered how well Indianapolis might have done had Manning not recovered from his knee surgery. And I suspect they may not have been a playoff team. But that’s speculation. We know for sure the Dolphins won a single game without Pennington and with him they stunned everybody with 11 wins and a division title. That’s tied for the greatest turnaround in NFL history and the best ever turnaround for a one-win team. Miami obviously upgraded in several areas (notably coaching), but other than rookie OT Jake Long (who played well but isn’t going to any Pro Bowls just yet), the offensive side wasn’t much different than a year ago. And the biggest star on defense, Joey Porter, was a Dolphin in 2007.

4) Clutch play. Manning led his team to a number of key comebacks this year and his team won their final 9 in a row after a 3-4 start. No way to criticize that. But Pennington just about matched that, leading Miami to wins in 8 of their final 9 games after a 2-4 start. And I really want to highlight something here. Even when they had good teams, the Dolphins historically have played poorly late in the season and especially in cold weather games. They’re famous for blowing those late season cold weather games. But not this year. In their last two games of the year Miami traveled to Kansas City, where they played in what turned out to be the coldest game in team history, and then to the Meadowlands in New York, the Dolphins’ personal house of horrors. In other years you could bet your house on Miami losing those games. But not this year. With the division title hanging in the balance, Pennington led Miami to come-from-behind wins with big second half TD drives. The man was clutch when it mattered most.

With a weaker supporting cast Pennington posted better stats than Manning and, by leading the Dolphins to the playoffs after a one-win season, he did the impossible. He didn’t win the award but Chad Pennington was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.