Well, the NFL did it. They started their regular season on time; they had a full playoff schedule on time; two days from now, they will hold the Super Bowl on time. Given the state of the pandemic back in August, I was far less than certain they could pull it off – – but they did. There was a smidgen of “scheduling legerdemain” in the middle of the regular season, but they got here as planned. They deserve kudos simply for that feat.
So, this is the Final Football Friday for the season. As is my custom, I chose not to pay attention to the Super Bowl game and any of the hype leading up to it for the two weeks that intervene between the Conference Championship Games and the Super Bowl Game. This year, there has – mercifully – been less hype than usual so I was not tempted to make any comments during the last couple of weeks. I do have an observation from the last two weeks and a hypothesis for what I think I observed:
- Observation: There seemed to be even more “listicles” published this year than usual. One of them listed – and ranked – the 55 best plays in the history of the Super Bowl. [Aside: This is Super Bowl LV – – hence the numerical tie-in.]
- Hypothesis: With fewer sponsored parties, reduced numbers of media with “boots on the ground in Tampa” and fewer celebrities on hand to be sure that people notice that they are there, writers had to find other content to fill up space. Making lists is a relatively easy way to do that…
The article about the 55 best plays did get me thinking about previous Super Bowl games and moments that stand out in my memory. As I thought about them, I realized that about half of them were plays that led directly to – or assured – victory for a team and that half of the were plays that sealed the fate for the losing team. Hey, this is Curmudgeon Central here; it is not the land of milk and honey.
So, humor me for just a minute while I give you the plays that came to my mind separated into winning and losing categories:
- Winning: David Tyree’s miracle catch holding the ball to his helmet against the Patriots.
- Losing: “Wide right.” For fans of the Giants and the Bills, there is nothing more to say.
- Winning: Marcus Allen runs, and reverses field several times and runs about 80 yards for a TD against the Skins.
- Losing: The Seahawks using Marshawn Lynch as a decoy and throwing a pass at the 1 yardline.
- Winning: Julian Edelman’s miracle catch against the Falcons keeping the game-tying drive alive in the 4th quarter allowing the game to go to OT.
- Losing: Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass is incomplete on the final play in the loss to the Eagles. Why that is particularly memorable is that if it had been complete, the Pats would have won the game AND Tom Brady would have broken the all-time NFL record for most yards passing in a game – a record that has stood since 1951.
And then there is one play involving two players that won the game for one team and lost it for the other team.:
- Winning/Losing: On the final play of the game, Titans; WR, Kevin Dyson, caught a pass that would provide a victory for the Titans if he makes it to the end zone. He does not do so because he is tackled at the 1 yardline by Rams’ LB, Mike Jones.
Thanks for humoring me; you will notice I did not try to dredge up 55 memories here…
The Six-Pack from two weeks ago was a winner but did not come close to getting me to break even for the season; two weeks ago, the record was 3-1-0. So, with just this week left, here is how things went down between September and today:
- College: 20-25-1
- NFL: 35-43-2
- Combined: 55-68-3
College Football Commentary:
For the last week or so, there has been far too much coverage given to a non-event that happens with college football every year. I am referring to National Signing Day when high school recruits decide where they will play college football – – or at least where they will try to play college football. The currency in this pursuit is the number of stars that recruiting analysts put on the players in the “meat market”. I will not even pretend to understand how these gurus arrive at their rankings and I most certainly do not understand why people focus on that sort of nonsense.
Just for fun, I took a couple of the “name players” for the Chiefs and the Bucs who will be on display this Sunday and went back to find out how many stars they got from the raters when they were coming out of high school. I did not do it for every player on the two rosters; that would be far more work than it is worth. However, here is a sampling. Remember, the highest rating is 5 Stars:
- Tom Brady: Not Rated – – already you can see where this is going…
- Patrick Mahomes: 3 Stars
- Ronald Jones: 4 Stars
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 3 Stars
- Mike Evans: 3 Stars
- Tyreek Hill: Not Rated
- Ndamukong Suh: 4 Stars
- Chris Jones: 5 Stars
- Lavonte David: Not Rated
- Frank Clark: 3 Stars
The prosecution rests, Your Honor…
Bob Molinaro had this note in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week; I think he is definitely on to something here:
“New rules: It’s curious how during NFL postseason games almost nobody on the offensive line holds, pass defenders get away with grabbing receivers, and rarely is anybody detected for illegal blocks on kick returns. It appears that the refs are following orders to let ‘em play. But if a laissez-faire approach is good for the playoffs, why not just let ‘em play all season?”
I am sure that some folks would argue that playoff teams are all well-coached and that players would naturally be more focused on their “mechanics” under playoff situations and that would be the explanation for the paucity of penalties. Even if I stipulate all of that to be true, it remains curious that the officials rarely go reaching for that yellow flag…
As I said at the top here, the NFL deserved kudos for getting to this point in the schedule – – on schedule. The folks in the TV trucks who produce the shows deserve kudos for making the regular season games appear to be as normal as possible under the circumstances; however, those kudos do not carry over to the playoffs. All season long, the telecasts proved to viewers that it was completely possible to endure a full game without about 50 “crowd shots” interrupting the game. The reason there were no “crowd shots” was simple; most of the time there were no crowds in the stands. And the telecasts worked just fine…
Then came the playoffs when some games had some live fans in attendance. The producers could not resist silly “crowd shots” then – – particularly the highly sauced fans in frigid climates shedding their coats and shirts to demonstrate that they are willing to look like asses to support their team on the field. Really? Did that add to one’s enjoyment of the game? Is that the sort of behavior that the league and its “broadcast partners” wants replicated?
About a week ago, I wrote here about the advocacy campaign to get Tom Flores into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If that campaign is successful, what should that do with some other coaches who are eligible for consideration. Let me go to the stats:
- Tom Flores: Regular Season record = 97-87-0 (.527) Playoff record = 8-3 Super Bowl rings = 2.
- Coach A: Regular Season record = 170-150-0 (.531) Playoff record = 12-7 Super Bowl rings = 2
- Coach B: Regular Season record = 200-126-1 (.613) Playoff record = 5-13 Super Bowl rings = 0
- Coach C: Regular Season record = 111-83-1 (.572) Playoff record = 3-6 Super Bowl rings = 0.
Compare Tom Flores to Coach A here; their qualifications are almost identical. When comparing Tom Flores (and/or Coach A) to Coach B or Coach C, the question becomes the value put on Playoff record and Super Bowl rings as opposed to seasons upon seasons of regular season games under their leadership.
- Coach A is Tom Coughlin
- Coach B is Marty Schottenheimer
- Coach C is Don Coryell
If you gave me the swing vote and only one of these four coaches could be in the HoF, my vote would go to Marty Schottenheimer. I do not expect a lot of support for that position – – but that is how I see it. [Aside: This position is not a sympathy vote given that Schottenheimer has entered hospice care this week; I have thought for a decade that he belongs in the HoF.]
The Super Bowl Game:
I am certain that you have seen plenty of references to Super Bowl records held by Tom Brady; I know I saw them by the bushel over the past week and a half. However, Bob Molinaro provided one in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that I have not seen anywhere else:
“Tidbit: Tom Brady is only the second quarterback to start an NFL conference championship game in three decades. The other: Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts.”
As I am sure you are aware, I will be in front of my TV set ready to watch the culmination of this NFL season. There will be two anomalies regarding my viewing this year:
- I will actually glance at the halftime show this year. I have no idea who the performer is and what his claim to fame might be – – and I do not care enough about that deficiency to go to Google for information. I will be interested to see how the show can possibly go on without 500 mouth breathers crowding around the stage and gyrating out of sync with the “music”.
- I will take note that there are no Budweiser ads this year. The Clydesdales are getting a year off; for the first time in 37 years, Budweiser will not have an ad on the Super Bowl. [By the way, a 30-second slot during the game costs $5.6M this year and CBS says all the slots have been sold as of earlier this week.] Not to be maudlin or nostalgic here, but I can recall a time when Super Bowl ads were funny and entertaining. Now they are advocacy ads which are about as entertaining as political attack ads.
For the final two weeks of the NFC playoffs, THE storyline was the advanced age of the two QBs – – Brady/Brees followed by Brady/Rodgers. That will surely not work in this game; Patrick Mahomes can hardly be considered “middle aged” for an NFL QB. However, another “birthday storyline” seems to have been overlooked:
- The trendy thing to do in the NFL for the past several years is to hire head coaches who are still using their second razor blade.
- The two Super Bowl coaches this year buck that trend. Andy Reid will be 63 years old next month; Bruce Arians is 68 years old.
- Just thought I’d point that out…
KC – 3 vs Tampa Bay (56): Everyone knows that there is plenty of starpower on the two offenses here but you should not fail to recognize that both coaches are high-octane play callers for those offenses. In addition, both defensive coordinators (Todd Bowles for the Bucs and Steve Spagnuolo for the Chiefs) love to “bring pressure”. If those defensive minds hold true to form, the QBs on the field will have ample opportunities for big plays. My first selection is that the game will go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.
The injury to Chiefs’ LT, Eric Fisher, is a big deal simply because the Bucs have two excellent edge rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. I expect to see Patrick Mahomes “on the move” a lot in this game. It will be important for the Bucs to put lots of pressure on Mahomes without having to rush 6 defenders because if the Bucs have a deficiency, it is in their secondary. If the Bucs have to commit more than half the defenders to put pressure on Mahomes, I think the Bucs are cooked. In the obverse, the Chiefs are not great at stopping the run and Ronald Jones/Leonard Fournette have provided the Bucs with a solid run game in this year’s playoffs. How will that confrontation play out? The Money Line this morning has the Bucs at +145; I like the odds there; put the Bucs to win straight up in the Six-Pack.
There are almost a thousand proposition bets out there for the game this year. I will not pretend to have “studied” this list of opportunities, but just to fill out six selections in the Six-Pack here are four picks from the prop bets menu:
- Patrick Mahomes OVER 327.5 yards passing @ minus-115.
- Patrick Mahomes OVER 0.5 INTs @ +140
- Mike Evans to score a TD anytime in the game @ +120
- Bucs OVER 27.5 points for the game @ +105
Finally, since these Football Fridays have all contained selections taken from the world of gambling, let me close the season with a comment on betting offered by journalist and author, Damon Runyon:
“It may be that the race Is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but that is the way to bet.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………