Super LI : Seen It All

by Bert Bartlett

My generation is, lamentably, old enough to have watched all 51 Super Bowls, me having done that and been to some in Tulane Stadium back in the day and on Poydras Street. None compare to just what went down in Texas. Summary adjectives would be trite.  The late Vince Lombardi could be heard from the grave, as he was caught on a sideline in NFL Films once, barking  What the hell’s going on out there!

Supers often start not as projected by the pundits, this one by Atlanta being far the more complete and energetic team for two plus quarters, particularly quick and stingy on defense, unlike New England’s, which looked pedestrian. Falcon running backs were slicing quick hitters upfield for gobs of yards due to some sterling blocking by Hotlanta’s offensive line. Quarterback  Matty Ice  Ryan was poised and flawless.

Patriot Coach Belichick had a terrible opening game plan on offense, trying to mimic the high octane style of the Falcons, while they would have been better off trying to run the ball and pass it short to control the clock, annoy Atlanta into lulls, and control the tempo. Slow it down, make it boring. The plan failed miserably, to the tune of 28 to 3 in the third quarter. Blowout in the making.

Talk about  Captain America  Tom Brady playing five more years to his mid – forties  was laughable; he had looked sharper in plenty of meaningless pre-seasons, and was inaccurate without excess pressure in the pocket from the guys in red jerseys.  Indeed, Brady’s timing looked seconds behind and was unsure too, like he could easily be done by a year from now, and wiser to retire than suffer the axe by the head coach who will always owe him so – so much.  Beli  is just the “system” type guy to do that.

Brady threw it 62 times Sunday, while 40 to 45 is plenty, even in this Airball era.  As evidence, the Saints win loss record graphs downward whenever Drew Brees slings it 50 or more times.

Yet the air express luckily worked out for New England. Almost invisibly but immediately, the Dirty Birds got gassed on defense. And that’s when the game changed. Dramatically.

No, we’re not going to give Beli any foresight credit for a tire them out “strategy”.  One that was largely responsible for spotting a 25 point lead in the third quarter of a Super Bowl. Sorry Pat fans, no dice.

Fatigue opened the road for Atlanta to veer off road – and crash. Their sideline made bad decisions too, such as having Matty Ice fade far back vulnerably on some critical slow developing pass plays  (Once on third and 1, C’mon Man !).  This was a path to sacks and a fumble the Pats recovered that led to six points and got them back in it – while the clock ticked ominously over their heads.

And it was noted that super talented Julio Jones was targeted only 4 times, catching all, his last being a spectacular outstretch and foot dragger inside the field of play.

After that catch, a sack and holding penalty at two minutes lost the Birds about 25 yards and a likely game clinching field goal – to lead by ten. Falcon kicker Matt Bryant is old but as good and steady a kicker as there is in the league.  Bad day for the Matties. One went cold and the other stayed on ice.

Lamely, Atlanta did nothing with the ball in the final 57 seconds of regulation, and could not hold Brady and the crew to get it back in OT. More crazy could have transpired.

Fake Newz: Here comes over the top  Greatest of All Time  drone in all football media, for what will seem an eternity. Like in ancient Rome, to the victors go the spoils, owner Bob Kraft, Beli, and Brady. Patriot boosters boast that only a pair of freak Eli Manning passes denied New England 7 instead of 5 trophies, though still more than any other outfit.

Greatest of All Time  went out of comic book style when Muhammad Ali retired. It’s a silly myth that such a thing exists in team sports.  Or most anything else.

Realists will counter that any number of unlikely plays could have altered the outcome. Like Patriot receiver Julian Edelman, who dropped some earlier, raking in a long tipped ball off a defender’s calf. He resembles a Mixed Martial Artist more than football player.

The Pats could easily have two more losses than wins in Supers.  Seattle stupidly threw away their shot a few years ago in the end, right there on the goal line.

Sunday was miraculous for New England in that things fell in place precisely when they did in time to pull it off, the stars illustrated in a universe not discovered yet. It can be better to be luckier than good, though New England has cumulatively done plenty to earn their share. The pair of 2 point conversions they needed to tie  were gems in design and execution.

Besides all their fans, pity (some) about 100 souls of players, coaches, staff and front office in the south’s most cosmopolitan city. Teams on the short end of Supes have had dead beat records in ensuing seasons, as the trudge to get back to the Ultimate Game is too difficult to just put on rewind mode.

Too much changes, particularly with coaches and free agency. For example, since aforementioned losing to the Pats, Seattle’s defense has devolved from the Legion of Boom to the Legion of Whom.

Atlanta may be dealing with their own brand of Falcon GOAT to rival the century long one that the Chicago Cub community did. This will be a long, brutal, and psycho scarred pigskin hangover. If it happened in a one sport cow town like Green Bay, all the hospital wards could overflow.

Until gene splicing becomes as common as plastic surgery, the vagaries of human emotion still dramatically affect football player motivation and effort individually and en masse at any given time. If players were as mechanical as coaches – and fans – would like them to be, artificial intelligence and robotics would be buckling the chin straps.

Nick Saban in Alabama and his friend Belichick preach “the process”, one play, one game at a time, ignore the scoreboard, just do your job, yatta yatta. The clichés are cloying. But high school coaches can fresh example New England’s epic comeback to millenials the virtues of just keep playing as a cardinal rule that still resonates, in games and in life too. History buffs can chirp that Winston Churchill’s rendition of never, ever, quit … still rules. The Selfie generation demands proof that old school matters.

When will coaches have the courage to freely sub lesser talented players on defense when it is obvious first stringers are spent and soft as marsh mellows?  Alabama’s Goliath unit staggered off the field in need of oxygen tanks after losing the NCAA title to Clemson. And the Falcons waffled into pigeons Sunday. Didn’t  other guys make the roster for a reason?  Don’t fresh legs matter at crunch time?  You bet they do.

They are doing jumping jacks and cartwheels for the circus entertainment of Sunday’s game at the NFL office on Park Avenue and the Advertising types over on Madison. With viewership down an estimated 9 per cent in 2016, the game itself is under deserved scrutiny and in some choppy long term safety, desirability, and popularity waters. The league has a full tank of gas to hold onto its bombastic growth and revenue plans. For now.

The game even shed some positive light on the new President. Goaded into a prediction by Fox News, he admitted he was pulling for his buddies up east and picked the winner. More tellingly, owner Kraft interviewed he had never done business with him and, after his wife passed away several years ago, Trump called him weekly for a year to check on how he was doing, inviting him to things…

It took only 50 Supers for one to have an extra inning. The only other NFL title decided in overtime was in the late Fifties, on a foggy Saturday evening up in da Bronx, at Yankee Stadium, when the football Giants played there too.

The late great John Unitas led the Baltimore Colts on a long drive that culminated with an exhausted running back nicknamed Horse lumbering into the end zone. That one, a few books were written about. The Greatest Game Ever Played was said to incubate not only pro football (it lagged several sports in popularity), but television, unto America’s pop culture apex.

And the rest is history.


2 thoughts on “Super LI : Seen It All

  1. Dear Soul of the Saints,

    I think you nailed it in your well-crafted “Seen It All” column.

    That was one crazy Super Bowl to be sure. It will be a hard one to replicate anytime soon.

    The poor Falcons. I wanted to see the Dirty Birds bring it home, but never mind what Belichick stepped in during the first half, he and his man Brady cleaned off their shoes and they never pushed the panic button.

    You’re right. It wasn’t strategy that won the game for the Pats. It was a self-destructing Atlanta squad.

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