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Friday, February 04, 2005

Sports: Super Bowl Primer 

With the big game now just two days away, I'm no more excited than I was on Monday, though I am semi-looking forward to my friend Paul's Super Bowl party, as he'll have a bevy of beer and chicken wings, as well as a blackjack table and an assortments of gambling pools and prop bet to satisfy my Vegas craving.

Still, it's the Super Bowl, and I have fond memories of the game. Three times I've watched my Cowboys celebrate a world championship on this weekend, and in two decades of watching there have been a number of other games that enraptured the sports fanatic inside me.

So to start out, I'll present my picks for Best Super Bowls of the last twenty years:

1. SB XXV- New York 20, Buffalo 19 If WWF announcing legend Gorilla Monsoon would have called this game, I'm sure he would have tabbed it "the irresistible force meeting the immoveable object." Buffalo's high-powered, no-huddle offense against New York's smashmouth game. It was Bill Parcells v. Marv Levy, Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas against Jeff Hostetler and Otis Anderson, and with a backdrop set against the Iraqi War, the glitz and glamour was held to a minimum. This was a football game, nothing more, and an outstanding one. In the end it came down to the most famous missed kick in Super Bowl history.

2. SB XXIII- San Francisco 20, Cincinnatti Great players make things happen, and they do it on the biggest stage. This wasn't the first championship won with Joe Montana at the helm, but without his poise and leadership, the 49ers wouldn't have a perfect record in Super Bowls. Trailing in the fourth quarter, Montana directed his team down the field and won the game with a touchdown pass that stands out as one of the most memorable ever. It wasn't Montana's first game-winning drive, but it was certainly his -- and the Super Bowl's -- biggest.

3. SB XXII- Denver 31, Green Bay 24 The brief Green Bay dynasty died a dramatic death in Super Bowl XXXII, at the hands of the most unlikely of teams. Long known as Super Bowl choke-artists, John Elway's Denver Broncos shocked the NFL with their win over the golden boy, Brett Favre. As Favre led Green Bay down the field in the waning seconds, trailing by seven, I just knew the Packers would find a way to tie the score and win in overtime. But the Denver defense held. After years of futility, Elway finally got the ring he deserved.

4. SBXXXIV- St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16 Having survived the "Music City Miracle" weeks earlier, the Titans needed one more prayer answered on the final play against St. Louis. It just didn't happen. Kevin Dyson's sprawling stretch that fell inches short of the goalline replaced Leon Lett's gaffe against Buffalo as the most memorable non-scoring play in Super Bowl history. As has been the case with many recent Super Bowls, XXXIV's exciting end overshadowed a lackluster first three quarters, in which the Rams built a 16-0 lead. By the time teams traded touchdowns and started moving the ball at will in the final minutes, though, no one really cared.

5. SB XXX- allas 27, Pittsburgh 17 Call it the closest ten-point win ever. Steelers head coach Bill Cowher showed his cajones with a surprise onside kick in the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown that pulled his team within three points. Minutes later Pittsburgh got the ball back with great field position and four minutes on the clock. Enter Larry Brown. Brown alertly picked off an errant Neil O'Donnell pass to set up Emmitt Smith's game-clinching score and the Cowboys survived a scare to win their third title in four years.

You might ask, where are the Patriots' Super Bowl wins? They had exciting moments, I'll admit. But their win against St. Louis was the ugliest non-blowout Super Bowl I've ever seen, and they lose points for needing a comeback to beat Carolina last year. We'll call them honorable mentions.

It's unfortunate that so many Super Bowls do end up as runaways. For every Buffalo-New York, you have two San Francisco-Denvers. It's really probably not a bad thing. Blowouts are still kind of fun, especially if a team you hate is getting reamed. I'd rather see Tampa Bay lay the wood to Oakland than watch Green Bay handle New England just enough to know there's no way the Packers won't win, but without completely mauling them. The indecisive Super Bowl victory is like the unanimous decision in boxing. Sure it's a win, but you feel cheated because there's neither drama in the end nor a bloody knockout.

Naturally that leads me to my Favorite Super Bowl Blowouts:

1. SB XXVII- Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 My dad was convinced that Buffalo would win. No one really thought of Dallas as a titan that season; they were a good team that was probably a year away from greatness. Beating the Niners at Candlestick and then running all over the Bills changed people's minds.

2. SB XXVIII- Dallas 30, Buffalo 13 The week after Dallas-Buffalo I, The Sporting News predicted the two teams would square off again the next year, with a closer outcome. Technically this was more of a blah affair than a blowout, but Dallas outscored Buffalo 24-0 in the second half and the Bills never stood a chance. Plus it's my list and what I say goes.

3. SB XXIX- San Francisco 49, San Diego 26 This really isn't even the best San Fran blowout, but it just proves how much better the Cowboys and 49ers were than the rest of the league in those days. It also marked possibly the worst QB to ever play in the game -- Stan Humphries. If there were ever an easier blowout to predict, then... you know, it's no use. There was no easier blowout to predict.

4. SB XXII- Washington 42, Denver 10 When you give up five touchdowns in the second quarter and see a ten-point lead turn into a 25-point deficit, you should probably just stay in the locker room. Before Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson did what they did, Doug Williams had the honor of being the worst QB to lead his team to a Super Bowl title, but he did it in style.

5. SB XXIV- San Francisco 55, Denver 10 Poor John Elway. How he survived these blowouts and returned to win two titles is beyond me. You know when you get a new video game and you're still learning, so you scale the difficulty down to the easy levels and decide to take one of the best teams on the game and just bend them over? That's about what Montana and the Niners did.

What does this year's game hold? Besides boredom, I mean. I don't expect that it will crack the top five best games list when the time comes to make this post next year, but unfortunately, I don't think it'll crack the top five blowouts, either. It'll be like a Vladimir Klitschko fight on pay-per-view, except without the $44.95 price tag. The two teams will dance around for a while, land a few blows, tease us into thinking something great might happen, and in the end it'll go to the scorecards. No drama, no fun, no more NFL for eight months. Yee haw. Patriots 27, Eagles 16


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