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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl 40

I'm sorry but Super Bowl XL sounds silly, like I'm afraid that the Large size of the Super Bowl is going to shrink too much in the laundry.

Yes, today is the last day of the highest level of professional football for several months. (The Pro Bowl doesn't count, and neither does Arena Football, and the XFL no longer even exists, so you wiseacres can sit down.) I've been studiously avoiding the surrounding hype for the last two weeks because :
* Super Bowl media hype doesn't even interest me when my favorite team is involved in the game;
* I have no particular stake (emotional or financial) in either of these teams and am largely indifferent to who wins;
* I have a bar exam to study for.

These look to my eyes like fairly evenly matched teams; this has the potential to be as good a Super Bowl as any we've had in recent years. (Incidentally, football fans have been spoiled on that score recently as I can only recall two especially boring ones played in the last decade; most of the ones I recall from my childhood were over almost before they started.)

However, it's obvious to me that the sentimental money is on Pittsburgh.

* The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most storied frachises in NFL history. This is the 7th Super Bowl (more than any team not named the 49ers or Cowboys) and would, if they won, be their 5th title (again, third behind the Cowpokes and Niners.) There are probably some casual football fans who were, prior to last week, only vaguely aware of the existence of a franchise called the Seattle Seahawks. Though they have been performing better in recent seasons, the franchise has a remarkable history of mediocrity, usually being neither good enough to acheieve fame nor bad enough to achieve infamy.

* The game is being played in Detroit. Jerome Bettis is from Detroit. QED. (Also note that Detroit and Pittsburgh are sort of near each other on a road atlas, and the Seattle and Detroit are not near each other.)

* Steeler coach Bill Cowher, now the dean of NFL head coaches by a fairly significant margin, has never won a Super Bowl; this would be his second try at one. Seahawks coach MIke Holmgren already won one with Green Bay ten seasons ago.

* Pittsburgh is a traditionally working-class city with a rich football tradition; Seattle has a strongly white-collar rep and is mostly known for Starbucks and Microsoft, two of the most ridiculed entities on snarky blogs like this one, in addition to giving the world grunge rock, a mixed bag as far as cultural history is concerned. This list of Seattle sports legends is about as long as...ah, heck, make your own joke here.

* Pittsburgh is a great sports town, full of sports lore about the Steelers, the Pirates, and even the Penguins. When it comes to hard luck sports cities, people used to talk about Boston (not these days) or Chicago (Michael Jordan notwithstanding) and now they mention Philadelphia and Cleveland and Buffalo, but I've never heard Seattle brought up in such conversations. The Mariners have never won a pennant and were terrible for most of their history. the Seahawks are the poster boys for parity, and the Super Sonics, while they did win a title in the 1970s, aren't exactly among the best-known among NBA teams.

* There is a general sense that the AFC is better, borne out by the teams interleague records. The Steelers ran a gauntlet of road games in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Denver to get to Detroit. They kept Peyton Manning out of yet another Super Bowl and then beat the Broncos on their home field. They've played one of the toughest schedules in the league this year, so that 10-6 regular season record, among the worst ever notched by a Super Bowl team, came against unusually tough competition. I wonder how the Seahawks would have done if they had Pittsburgh's schedule.

* Seattle did go 14-2, but with one of the easiest schedules in football; six of those games were against their rivals in the NFC West, three of the absolute worst teams the NFL has to offer. The best team of the three played with a revolving cast of quarterback, outgained only a half dozen teams in rush yards, and surrendered more points than any team other than Houston and more yardage than everyone but the Texans and 49ers on their way to a 6-10 finish. The other two teams were even worse. They beat Indianapolis but the Colts, robbed of immortality one week before and with home field in hand, treated that game like it was pre-season. Even their two playoff wins, both at home, didn't convey all that much about the 'Hawks either; the Redskins showed they didn't really belong in the playoffs, and the Panthers did the 'Skins one better with their letter-perfect imitation of a first-year expansion club.

* Pittsburgh is a defense-first club of the sort that fits perfectly the profile of the kind of team that wins the Super Bowl. Hardly anyone runs against these guys with any kind of success. And yet unlike some such clubs, they can rack up the points on ocassion. Ben Rothliesburger can throw, and he's got some great targets in Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller. He's got Willie Parker to hand off to, and Jerome Bettis on the goal line. All these guys are more famous, with one obvious exception, than their counterparts in Seattle.

My gambling friends tell me, though, when you see all the sentiment and all the conventional wisdom going in one direction...look the other way. And when I do, I see a lot to like:

* Shawn Alexander. The reason I won one fantasy football league and almost won another one. If anyone can run on the Steelers, it's this guy, assuming he's healthy. I don't think I need to say any more about him so I'll move on.

* Though just how good they are is hard to discern, there's no doubt that the Seahawks are solid. They have Mosi Tatupu's son Lofa, the kind of guy who, just like Troy Polomalu on the other side, can make big, momentum shifting-type moves on defense. They've got a good secondary (they've given up an average number of passing yards but most opponents have been playing from behind) and aren't bad against the run either. They led the league in sacks too. Hasselbeck's become a pretty good quarterback, and, in addition to the aforementioned Alexander, they've got Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson and Jerramy Stevens in the offense.

* Seattle's been winning, taking care of business, over and over again. Week in, week out, constant as the Northern star. They haven't stumbled since losing to the Redskins back when I still lived in Virginia. Given their schedule, that doesn't sound like much, but plenty of very good teams have stumbled plenty of places they shouldn't have this season...and Seattle hasn't. Period. Quite reminiscent of Bill Belichek's recent championship New England teams. Not especially flashy to be sure, but always good enough to win, even against teams that might be a shade more talented than they are.

Now there are a lot of things that the Seattle Seahawks don't have. They don't have long lists of Hall of Famers to invoke. (In fact, they only have one I know of.) There aren't miles and miles of archived reel-to-reel of John Facenda singing their praises. Mike Holmgren isn't as colorful as Bill Cowher. Big Ben is a cooler nickname than anything that's ever been applied to Matt Hasselbeck. They don't have anyone who can talk trash like Joey Porter. They don't have a shiny accomplishment on their resume like beating the Colts and Broncos on the road, when it counted. They don't have a human interest story like Jerome Bettis playing in his hometown in his final career game for all the marbles.

But none of those things are prerequsites to win a Super Bowl. By the only criteria that matter, the Seahawks are more than good enough. With that in mind, Answer Guy's call:

Seattle 24, Pittsburgh 21


At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Kristin said...

Ironically, you called Pittsburgh's score perfectly.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Answer Guy said...

Yeah, that's exactly what I thought Pittsburgh's offense could do against Seattle's D.

Seattle had plenty of opportunities to score the 24 points I predicted for them but utterly failed to take advantage of them (plus they were jobbed out of one TD by the officiating crew.)

I think this is the first time in a while that the Under on total points was a winning bet in a Super Bowl.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Kristin said...

That's interesting -- Seattle had two TDs called back, right? If they had gotten those, your score would've been perfect.

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