Where does this Super Bowl rank? This is the kind of question that we must ask on the day after the Super Bowl, because you are asking it, and it is not sufficient to grunt in gutteral tones, “good game.”
It’s in the past, what do we mean by this? Do we mean the feelings we were feeling at the moment? Do we mean which one we would most likely watch in its entirety again, even knowing the outcome? Do we even know?
In the afterglow of yet another crazy NFL game in a season that continues a trend in the last two years of massive and amazing comebacks, we have almost become numb to it. We just about saw the largest comeback ever in a Super Bowl, and it would have more than doubled the deficit any team had ever previously overcome.
We just saw a losing team in the Super Bowl average 8.5 yards per play. That’s not passing yards, no that is what they were gaining on average on runs and passes. Amazing. To put that in some perspective, consider it is the second most by any team in the Super Bowl ever, behind only the 1987 Washington Redskins with Doug Williams and Timmy Smith. That team won going away 42-10. San Francisco came up five yards short.
How does this happen? Well, you have to come up short in the red zone, and the 49ers did. Colin Kaepernick attempted eight passes, including the two-point attempt to tie it, inside the 20 yard line. He completed one, and was sacked eight times. Other than the brilliant misdirection run to Gore for a touchdown, and Kaepernick’s 15 yard scramble run, they didn’t run much better near the goal line. For a team that has pushed the limits of creativity in the running game, the final attempt to win the game landed with a thud. It was the diminutive LaMichael James slamming an inside run on first and goal, and it would have had to have been blocked to perfection in the shortened space, because he wasn’t going to move the pile to push for three extra key yards. Then it was three passes to Michael Crabtree with a final fade that fell out of bounds, hardly the stuff of legend.
This was a fantastic game of wild swings and huge boosts. It led one to believe whatever they were pre-disposed to believe on momentum in sports. Personally, I would buy that the delay was responsible for Crabtree breaking through a tackle, and Ray Rice fumbling, if I hadn’t witnessed wild swings all year, from the Broncos’ comeback to the 49ers-Patriots game to last week’s NFC Championship Game, none of which relied on banks of lights to shift mass and velocity. Also, momentum I suppose disappears, and no one can seem to know why, because I would bet if you polled momentum proponents about who would win as San Francisco had the ball following the Ray Rice fumble, they would have to say San Francisco, right?
Did the 49ers have a chance to re-group, and perhaps think about how they were going to attack the game plan after finding themselves down even more than they expected? Yes. Beyond that, “momentum” is a dumb and mis-applied word to the sport, where it is related to bounces of the ball, conversions on third or fourth down, and one player missing an assignment or making a great play having no causal relationship to an unrelated event that did not alter their genetic material.
One of my favorite books as a young child was a Sesame Street book that involved Ernie and the other characters going to a Pet Show. Everyone had their pets–the Count had an octopus of course–and wanted to win the prize. In the end, Sherlock Hemlock had blue ribbons for everyone, because every one was unique. I don’t have ribbons for everyone, and it’s my awards, so only those I remember (sorry, Joe Namath and Jackie Smith).
So this Super Bowl wins the Lights Out Award, for its wild swings, big plays, and well, literally turning the lights out.
Super Bowl XLII wins the Greatness Denied Award, with its dramatic finish to keep the Patriots from finishing undefeated, while Super Bowl XLVI wins the Deja Vu Award, for giving us yet another close win by the Giants over the Patriots.
Super Bowl XVIII wins the Iconic Plays Award, as the first Super Bowl I vividly remember watching, giving us Jack Squirek’s interception, and Marcus Allen’s run to glory.
Super Bowl XXXIII gets the Busting Narratives Award (Honorable Mention to Super Bowl XLI), as the Broncos became the first AFC team to win since that first Super Bowl I remembered, even though they were every bit as good going in as the Packers and were huge two touchdown underdogs. It also moved John Elway from Super Bowl loser to winner, and gave us a dramatic ending where the Packers intentionally let the Broncos score to try to get the ball back.
Super Bowl XX gets the Domination Award, something it could have shared with several others, but stands out for me because at age eleven, all that Super Bowl Shuffle and the Refrigerator stuff was a big deal. Sometimes we need those butt kickings so the crazy upsets are even more special.
Super Bowl XXV gets the Gut Punch Award, as we remember the Norwood kick, but not as much how the Giants choked the Bills offense by controlling the ball and keeping Kelly and company off the field.
Super Bowl XXXVI wins the Patriotic Underdog Award. Remember back to 2001, before we knew about Belichick’s decade of regular season dominance, before the other titles, before Gisele. It was less than five months after 9/11, and a historic underdog inexplicably stuck around, and a relative unknown named Tom Brady came up with a drive for the ages.
Just two years earlier, the Rams gave us Super Bowl XXXIV, the Game of Inches Award. That game also had a wild finish with a team coming up just short, just like yesterday. First, there was Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce, and then Mike Jones’ saving tackle.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]