The Super Bowl is next Monday Australian time. For many Australian sports fans this will be the one game of the season that they take an interest in and might even try to skive off work to watch.
To get the most out of your valuable work shirking viewing, wouldn’t it be handy if you had a super knowledgeable NFL fan nerd to sit next to in the pub or on your couch to answer all of your questions and generally explain the difference between a nine route and a slant route.
Luckily inside the Sportress we have such a resident fan nerd – step forward Dan. We also have a bunch of casual observers whose knowledge is best described as clutching at the straws of years of once a season watching and intermittent blog reading.
So read below your Super Bowl pre-view FAQs, happy skiving!
Ben: So Jarrod Hayne is playing in this game right?…That was a joke.
Jonesy: Brady, the dude looks like the quarter back in every high school football movie ever made. The love him or hate him thing is so unavoidable. Are you a lover or hater (or reluctant respecter)?
D: Appearances can be misleading – dude is a massive underdog. He is famous for working his absolute tail off, for obsessing about training, eating right and basically going to bed at 8pm to make sure he is properly rested. He was unheralded through high school. In college he didn’t even really start for his team and shared duties with a more highly touted prospect, Drew Henson (who amounted to nothing). He was drafted in the sixth round and even the Patriots weren’t sure about him; they famously debated taking Tim Rattay (another nobody) over him. And he only got to start because the Pats starting QB (Drew Bledsoe) got injured. He turned that into one of the greatest careers in NFL history. So let’s say I’m a lover.
Herman: Is someone checking the Patriots balls?
D: That’s not a serious question is it?
J: Still on Brady. The Brady v Manning rivalry is great, it’s like Mr America v Mr America’s more American nemesis. In the last year it seemed the consensus (over the best QB of this generation) shifted towards Manning after his heroics coming back from neck fusion and having a run with the Broncos to last year’s Super Bowl. Will this Super Bowl shift things back in favour of Brady?
D: Manning owns pretty much every passing record in existence. In fact, the only criticism of Manning is that he hasn’t quite got it done in the playoffs – only winning one Super Bowl (appearing in two others). Brady doesn’t have as impressive regular season stats as Manning, but has won 3 Super Bowls and this one will mark his 6th appearance. I think really it just fuels the debate. Each side will point to their preferred measure of greatness. Ultimately we should probably agree they’re both amazing and stop trying to separate them.
Rob Lowe: Has anyone ever done well using the Zone Read?
D: Rob Lowe do you even watch football?
J: So Patriots vs Seahawks. Am I right in thinking this will be billed as a clash between the Pats offense against the Seahawks defense? Each topped the League in scoring (Pats) and points against (Seahawks). Is that pretty much right?
D: Pretty much. Seattle’s strength is defence – it’s been the best in the league for around three years now and it is part of the conversation as one of the best defences in the modern era[i]. New England’s strength is passing – it leads the league in both passing and total yards. This is full Clash of the Titans.
H: Why isn’t the trophy bigger?
D: Herman are you taking this seriously?
J: The Seahawks won last year. The NFL has perennial contenders but few teams put together back-to-back wins. What makes the Seahawks good?
D: Repeating is hard because the salary cap makes it very difficult to keep good players on the same team. Units as good as Seattle’s defence get destroyed by free agency, as teams move in and offer the players more money than the home team can spend to keep them. But Seattle have been able to keep it mostly in Seattle because the quarterback, Russell Wilson, is still on his rookie contract. This means they are spending about $1m a year for a position which can cost up to $20m of the $130m salary cap, freeing up enough money to keep most of their defence.
H: Why is Katy Perry playing the halftime show? Was Taylor Swift busy? #tayforsuperbowlhalftimeshow
D: Taylor can’t physically be everywhere at once Herman. She’s not Jesus.
H: Are you sure she’s not Jesus?
J: I intuitively want to go for Seattle because, well, I spent my teenager’s years wishing I lived in Seattle and because going for the Pats seems like going for Man U. Am I right following my gut here or am I failing to appreciate the genius that is Belichick?
D: I’m not sure Man U works as an analogy. Apart from a few peaks[ii] the Patriots have been abjectly shit prior to the Belichick period. Things were so bad in the early 1990s they were going to be moved to St Louis. This current period is the only one of sustained excellence.
And damn they’ve been good. Since 2002, the only year they’ve failed to make the playoffs was the year he tore his ACL in the first game of the season. They’ve won 3 Super Bowls, lost 2 others, went 16-0 in 2007 – the first team to go undefeated since the 1972 Dolphins – whilst unleashing arguably the best offence in history[iii]. Belichick has been at the forefront of a ‘Moneyball’ style approach to managing the Patriots roster, routinely making people look stupid at draft time. Almost annually they’ve restructured their offence to take advantage of some area that everyone else ignored.[iv]
They’ve done all this in the salary cap era, when it has been impossible to keep superstars. I’d say you should recognize the greatness.
H: Does the NFL still have cheerleaders? If so, why?
D: Too serious Herman.
J: If the Pats win, where does it put them in the history books?
D: I would argue that their sustained excellence, as well as 6 Super Bowl appearances and 4 victories would put them up there with the best teams in NFL history[v]. Belichick would become the equal winningest Super Bowl coach in history (with Chuck Noll). Brady would become the equal winningest Super Bowl quarterback in history (with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw). Winning the 4th Super Bowl would basically confirm you’re watching greatness, not just wishing they were.
B: Will the Patriots wheel this guy out at half time?
D: No Ben. No, they won’t.
J: Apart from Brady, who am I watching and who do I need to know that backstory about?
D: Personally, my favourite on the Seattle side is Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is a running back famed for basically being impossible to tackle, not being the most friendly dude with the media, and finding new and impressive ways to get fined by the NFL. If Seattle win it will be because Lynch was amazing.
Rob Gronkowski is a specimen of a human being who, for the Pats to win, will need to perform exceptionally well. Apart from possibly being the best tight-end ever, he is a renowned party animal, and has had erotic fan fiction written about him.
Another guy to watch out for is Seattle’s Cam Chancellor because he can jump over dudes.
H: With all the stuff happening in Crimea is now the time for America to launch an offensive to retrieve Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring from Vladimir Putin?
D: Mate with the oil price being what it is, I suspect Vlad might have already pawned that ring to pay the bills.
J: That Sherman dude seems like he talks some game. What’s his deal?
D: Richard Sherman is probably one of the best cornerbacks in the game. Quarterbacks go out of their way to avoid throwing to receivers he’s guarding (only 65 targets this year) and Pro Football Prospectus ranks him at number 3 in their valuing metric.
But almost moreso than his play, Sherman is famed for talking – most notably in his infamous outburst after making the game-winning interception in last season’s conference championship.
Sherman knows exactly what he’s doing, on and off the field. This week he has been deliberately highlighting the relationship between Pats owner Robert Kraft and the NFL Commission Roger Goodell. This has helped keep the media focused on the #deflategate and the Patriots, rather than his team.
People like Sherman make sport fun. Sure heaps of people hate him. But if he played for my team? I’d love the guy.
B: The ESPN show “Sport Science” proved that Skittles improved Marshawn Lynch’s reaction time and speed with a series of tests. Will the unfair advantage the Patriots have with the underinflated balls be counteracted by Lynch’s Skittles?
D: I’m not even sure which part of that sentence to correct first.
J: Your piece last week on the flat ball caper thing seemed to summarize the ridiculousness of it well. Is it legitimately going to overshadow the game?
D: It certainly seemed it would last week. But now it seems to have died down a bit, so hopefully it goes away until the offseason when the NFL will quietly announce a fine for the Patriots and move on.
H: So who’s going to win then?
D: The Pats win by limiting the Seahawks running game and protecting Brady long enough for him to hit Gronkowski in the middle of the field. Seattle wins by running all over the Pats, controlling the clock and overwhelming the Patriots offensive line, making Brady rush his throws (or be killed).
I’ve gone back and forth on this about a billion times this week. But the latter seems marginally more likely to me.
Seattle Seahawks 24 Patriots 14
[i] With the mid-80s Bears and the early 2000s Buccaneers
[ii] They were the sacrificial lamb for the 1986 Bears, and the 1997 Packers
[iii] They lost the Super Bowl that year so ended up 18-1 for the season
[iv] Most notably in 2011 when they shifted to two tight end sets of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski that was bound to destroy the league until Hernandez was discovered to be a murderer. Yup. An actual, factual murderer.
[v] The 70s Cowboys, the ‘Steel Curtain’ era Steelers and the 1980s 49ers.