Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl Memories Over the Years

AFC Champions

New England Patriots


NFC Champions

Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl Sunday has always been special for me, personally. It was a time of excitement, of anticipation, of gatherings between family and/or friends. A time to eat a bunch of junk, particularly Buffalo Wings with chunky blue cheese dressing (which I already got for today's game). There have been Super Bowls where I attended parties, and even Super Bowls where we were hosts to small parties. There have been Super Bowls that I have worked during, and Super Bowls where I had to leave before the game was decided, because they ran so late (last year in particular comes to mind, as dropping my son off and then getting to work had to take precedence over watching the ending of the game, although I listened to it on the radio). I even remember my brother and I going to the frigid, snow covered football field next to our high school back in 1991, before that classic Super Bowl XXV between my New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills, when we went to kick field goals, for no particular reason. Sometimes, Super Bowl memories go beyond that Sunday itself, as when I took my son to MetLife Stadium to watch the Giants celebrate their Super Bowl championship two days after beating New England for the second time. And I also took my son to see Super Bowl Media Day a few years ago, when New York/New Jersey hosted. He was too young apparently to remember the Giants celebration, although he does remember Super Bowl Media Day.

My own memories of Super Bowls dates back to the early 1980's, when I first got into the NFL. I found myself becoming a fan of the Giants, and was bitterly disappointed when they lost to the 49ers in San Francisco. I wanted anyone who played the 49ers to beat them, and figured that Dallas Cowboys would. After all, they were a famous team with considerable glamour attached to them, but they lost a heartbreaker in the game now famous for "The Catch". I liked the Cincinnati Bengals and hoped that they would then beat the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI, but they lost, too.

Turns out the 49ers were not a good team to despise in the 1980's, or in the 1990's, for that matter, as well. San Francisco would return to the Super Bowl three more times before the 1980's were out, and won each time, too, earning "Team of the Decade" honors along the way. They even went to one in the 1990's, beating out the "Team of the Decade" at that point, the Dallas Cowboys, in what turned out be a great rivalry. 

The earliest Super Bowls were fascinating to me in a distant way. It was fascinating because so much seemed to ride on the big game, that it seemed such a big deal. However, I did not care too much about the teams that qualified in those early days. Yes, I liked the 1981 Bengals, but not nearly as much as I like either of the two New York football teams. The next year, the New York Jets would win two away games in the playoffs to qualify for the AFC Championship Game, although they fell to Miami in a shutout loss. I did not care too much for Miami or Washington in XVII, nor for either Washington or the Los Angeles Raiders in XVIII. The 49ers returned the next year and played Miami, and I got the impression that some teams just seemed to get to the Super Bowl all of the time, while other teams basically never did.

Back in those early days, other than being impressed by the sunshine and the palm trees and the seeming enormity of the game, the games themselves were not all that fascinating. Remember, this was right around the time that Super Bowls began to be embarrassing blowouts, and indeed, this trend was set shortly after I got into the big game. The Raiders beat Washington, 38-9, in what was then the most lopsided Super Bowl in history. San Francisco defeated Miami the next year, 38-16. Chicago humiliated New England in Super Bowl XX, 46-10, in what then because the most lopsided Super Bowl ever. The Giants became the first team that I really, really liked to reach the Super Bowl following the 1986 season, and they whipped Denver, 39-20. Denver returned to the big game the next year, and even owned a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, but they were completely blitzed and outplayed, 35-0, in the second quarter. Washington won that one, 41-10. Two years later, San Francisco beat Denver, 55-10, in what has remained as the most lopsided Super Bowl outcome ever. Washington beat Buffalo, 37-24, in a game that was not nearly as competitive as the final score would suggest. Dallas humiliated Buffalo the next season, 52-17, and then beat them again, 30-13, the following year. 

The two exceptions to this trend of blowout big games, however, were very famous, and inspiring games! The first involved the 49ers (again) as they faced the Bengals (again) in Super Bowl XXIII. Cincinnati were pretty heavy underdogs, but they played very well in that one, and were winning, 16-13, into the final two minutes. But Joe Montana led San Francisco down the field with a spectacular drive that culminated with the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left to play. Two years later, the Giants qualified for their second ever Super Bowl, going up against the favored, red-hot Buffalo Bills. Both teams played extraordinarily well, with inspiring play from both sides. it was a game with contrasting styles of play, and it went back and forth, until the Bills took the ball in the final two minutes, trailing 20-19, and looking for a field goal to win it. They drove down to the 37-yard line, and Scott Norwood, Buffalo's placekicker, prepared for a 47-yard field goal attempt. He almost got it, but missed it by just a couple of feet, giving the Giants their second Super Bowl win in five seasons. It was the first postseason game in NFL history without a turnover, and it was extremely well played by both sides, receiving the distinction of "Greatest Super Bowl ever" by many at the time.

Since then, there have been many close, great Super Bowl games. Denver finally won a Super Bowl by beating (really shocking) Green Bay in XXXII, and it was a very exciting game! Two years later, the St. Louis Rams outlasted Tennessee in an unbelievable game! Tennessee had been slow to really get going, allowing St. Louis's record offense a lot of yards, but only a 9-0 lead at the half. The Rams finally broke through with a touchdown and a 16-0 lead, but the Titans came roaring back, mounting a furious comeback and indeed, tying the game. But star quarterback Kurt Warner connected with Isaac Bruce for a long touchdown pass, and a 23-16 lead. The Titans again mounted a strong drive to come back, but that fell just one yard shy, before time ran out.

The New England Patriots finally got involved with some of those great games two years later, shocking those same St. Louis Rams in a fascinating XXXVI game, then playing in another exceptional Super Bowl two years later, outlasting Carolina in a Super Bowl that had a bit of everything. But the Pats were on the wrong side of history in the two Super Bowls that they played against the Giants. The first one, XLII, featured an undefeated and historically dominant New England squad looking for historical perfection, but seeing this derailed (just barely) by an inspired Giants team. Eli Manning kept the final, seemingly desperate Giants drive alive by breaking out of what seemed like a sure sack, and threw the ball towards Dave Tyree, who made the famous catch for a first down, keeping the drive alive. Not much later, Manning completed the drive with a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with around 34 seconds left to essentially clinch the win. Four years later, the two teams met up again, and it was another amazing contest, again won by the Giants, who basically outlasted New England.

Pittsburgh had played in a lot of Super Bowls, but none were nearly as memorable as their win in XLIII against the Cardinals. It was a game that went back and forth, but which the Steelers won when Ben Roethlisberger completed a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to Santana Holmes with 34 seconds left, lifting the Steelers to a record sixth Super Bowl win.

The recent Super Bowls almost always seem to be close. Other than the three just mentioned with the Giants and Steelers, we were graced with close games between New Orleans and Indianapolis (which was closer than the deceptive final score of 31-17 would suggest), Green Bay and Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Francisco, and, of course, the classic one from two years ago, when New England shocked the defending champion Seattle Seahawks to win their fourth overall title.

Now, all of that segues to today's game in Houston, which will be hosting it's third Super Bowl game. The first Super Bowl played there was back in the 1970's, when Miami beat down Minnesota. But following the 2003 season, New England and Carolina met in what turned out to be a classic contest! So, there is no major trend that Houston as a host city necessarily brings to this game.

That means that we have to look at these two teams.

The Falcons have the seventh highest scoring offense in history, but will that be enough? 

History says...well, no.

The 2013 Denver Broncos are the highest scoring offense in NFL history, scoring a total of 606 points in the season. But they were humiliated by Seattle in the Super Bowl. The second highest scoring offense in history, the 2007 New England Patriots, enjoyed the perfect season and entered the Super Bowl as prohibitive favorites, but wound up losing in a classic. The 2011 Green Bay Packers were defending champions and had the third highest scoring offense in league history, but lost their first and only playoff game to the eventual champions, the New York Giants. Number four was New England again in 2012, but they lost to the Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game. The fifth highest scoring offense in history were the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings, but after building a 20-7 lead in the NFC title game, they went conservative for the first time really that season, and it cost them, as they lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 30-27, in overtime. Next were the 2011 New Orleans Saints, and they lost at San Francisco on the same weekend that the Packers on this list lost to the Giants. And the team that this year's Falcons are tied with were the 2000 St. Louis Rams, who were the defending champions, but lost in the wildcard game to New Orleans. Indeed, only one of the first thirteen highest scoring offenses in NFL history wound up winning the Super Bowl, that being the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Indeed, great offenses have not fared nearly as well as historically dominant defenses. 

Yet, each season is different, and the Atlanta Falcons are here now. I already made my prediction, that the Patriots will win. That is not to say Atlanta has no shot, but I just see New England's clearly superior experience playing a major factor. They can defend pretty well, which means Atlanta's offense will have their hands full trying to produce against New England's defense. And the Patriot's offense should have the clear advantage over Atlanta's defense, which is young and inexperienced. 

Still, you never know. The Falcons are fielding a quality football team, and if their offense gets going, it will be tough to slow them down, and almost impossible to keep up with them. As I have mentioned before, this is one of those Super Bowls where it would not be surprising no matter who wins. That makes it intriguing prior to kickoff.

Let's hope the actual game proves just as intriguing throughout!

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