Thursday, February 01, 2007

One Week Too Long: The Wait for the Super Bowl Always Dulls the Mind and Usually Throws the Players Off-Kilter

Huh? There’s a Super Bowl? Gosh, I’d almost forgotten.

Sorry, but I’m not one of those guys trolling websites for warm and fuzzy stories about second-string linebackers who are having their lifelong dream fulfilled by playing in this Sunday’s Super Bowl. I gave up on that stuff long ago. What I have time for is watching the game and drawing my own conclusions about what happened. The sidebars that the media trumps up for the interim two weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl...well, I just don’t have time for that. And so, about midway into the first week after the Bears and Colts punched their golden tickets to Miami, I relaxed, knowing that the big game was way into the future. At least that’s what it seemed like.

ESPN Radio’s Dan Patrick keeps trying to make a big deal about Bears defensive lineman Tank Johnson’s propensity for firearms. That’s known as a Super Bowl Week Media Story. According to Dan, Johnson shouldn’t even be playing ‘cause he’s kind of a thug. Ho-hum. If you banned thugs from the Super Bowl you might not be able to field a defense.

Then there is Colts linebacker Gary Brackett’s hard-luck story about losing his devoted parents and his brother in short order several years ago; those facts are piggybacked onto Brackett’s own saga of making it in the league as an undersized and undrafted free agent. Brackett’s an orphan at age 26, and that’s tough. But a lot of people have woes that Brackett doesn’t have—for example, they’re starving and can’t pay their rent, or they have a terminal disease with about a month to live, or maybe their parents beat them when they were young.

I wish Brackett well in the game—not because he’s been through some stuff, but because I’m predicting the Colts to win it. But with a two-week layoff, anything could happen.

I happened to catch Merlin Olsen being interviewed on Tim McCarver's TV show this past Sunday. It turned out to be quite interesting. Olsen had that great Hall of Fame career as a Rams defensive lineman, then had a good solid run as a TV color guy, then did that acting thing with Michael Landon, then retired to a quiet life. He's almost 67, still brawny and bearded, and very articulate about his career decisions and his knack for knowing when to get the hell out of each new thing he'd pursued. He talked about how fortunate he'd been and about how he strived to do his best at everything that came his way and about how he then beat a measured retreat to peace and family. Then he talked about the Super Bowl, and how it was dumb to have two weeks off, because football players are like racehorses: if you upset their routine they lose focus and often aren't in the groove they should be in when called upon to perform. He said football players "need to run," and the two-week formula was a recipe for unevenness.

Merlin Olsen always seemed pretty corny to me, but I have a ton of respect for him. And he’s right: the two-week layoff turns the importance of peak competition into an excuse for a media circus. Which means maybe the “best” team won’t win. Or the “best” players will be totally off their game. Or what should be a fairly close match will turn into a rout.

It’s gotten to the point where we simply hope the game will be relatively competitive. At least for a while. Meanwhile, expensive, hi-tech TV commercials and a lot of good food and drink will be counted on to sustain us through the proceedings.

In case you ‘ve been living under a rock, here are the particulars:

What: Super Bowl XLI (41, for the Roman-numeral-challenged)
Where: Miami
When: Sunday, Feb. 4, 6:25 p.m. ET
How: TV coverage on CBS, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms reporting; radio coverage on Westwood One affiliates, Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason reporting
Who: Indianapolis Colts (15-4) vs. Chicago Bears (15-3)

The potential is there for a very exciting game. Each team’s strength is the other team’s weakness. Which could mean that the defense-rich Bears better mount some kind of offense, while the offense-minded Colts better bring their D. Super Bowls don’t necessarily turn on the performances of the stars. This one’s got notables like Colts Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney and Marvin Harrison and Bears Brian Urlacher, Rex Grossman and Thomas Jones. has provided our spreads all season long. They make the Colts a 7-point favorite in the Super Bowl. That seems nuts to me. It presumes the Colts defense is going to clamp down but good on the Bears. It also indicates a belief that the Colts will move the ball fairly easily against the Bears defense. These assumptions can be argued for fairly, but it seems foolhardy to underestimate these Bears. Yes, their offense is erratic and Grossman can be listless. Yes, their defense hasn’t been dominant in the latter portion of the season. The other side of the argument holds a few other truths: The Bears play smash-mouth football on both sides of the ball. If their blue-collar offensive line shows up with Lombardi-like toughness, they can grind down any opponent for certain, with Jones and Cedric Benson picking up consistently punishing if unspectacular yardage. The D plays the same way, with physical, war-of-attrition style that punishes runners and receivers and will make life tough for Manning if they can get near him. Even if they don’t force turnovers as they did against the Saints in the NFC title game, the Bears defense is a youthful bunch that plays with abandon, with the speed to swarm to the ball play after play. The Bears also have return man Devin Hester, who’s been relatively quiet in the playoffs. Look out for him. He’s due, and Super Bowls are where surprises can happen.

I happen to believe the Colts have enough of everything to outplay the Bears. And Grossman could help matters by making errors against a Colts secondary that’s been playing hard-nosed football of late, including a critical late stop against Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC title game. Yet the Bears have magic, methinks, and if they don’t pull it off, they will at least keep it close.

The SMA swami split on the conference championship games, bringing the postseason record ATS to 4-6. It’s been a wild and gratifying year. Let’s hope the ultimate game is second-to-none in excitement.

Prediction: Colts 21, Bears 20
ATS: Bears (+7)

No comments: