Super Bowl XLIX is a game filled with intrigue, and should provide plenty of exciting moments to an already illustrious history for the big game. The Super Bowl has been likened to the Fourth of July during the winter, and with good reason. It is a time when friends and family often gather together to eat, to converse, to laugh, and to cheer on their favorite teams in the big game. It has become a mainstay tradition in the United States, regularly drawing enormous television audiences that usually ranks it as the program with the largest television audience on any given year.
There is a reason that the Super Bowl got so huge, even though it did not start out that way. The very first Super Bowl between the National Football League’s (NFL) Green Bay Packers and the American Football League’s (AFL) Kansas City Chiefs had many empty seats, and was the only such game broadcast by two different networks simultaneously. Most assumed that it was a mismatch, as the NFL was considered far and away the superior league, and the first two Super Bowls were both won in convincing fashion by Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. When Lombardi died some years later, the trophy that is presented to the winner of the big game was named after him.
The Super Bowl only really started to become a huge event a couple of years after the first one, when quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed that his New York Jets of the AFL would defeat the powerful Baltimore Colts of the NFL, a team that some considered the greatest in history. When the Jets managed to pull off the 16-7 upset, it gave respect and validity to the AFL. It also left the impression that anything could happen in that one game, and interest rose. When the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings of the NFL were thoroughly dominated in the next year’s Super Bowl by the Kansas City Chiefs, this perception was cemented. The two leagues merged after that, and the Super Bowl became the seminal sporting event in the United States during winter.
Through the years, many games have failed to live up to the billing that is systematically given to the game these days. Many of the Super Bowls in the first few decades were blowouts, although there were a couple that really stood out for excellent play from both sides. Joe Montana, the legendary quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, solidified his elite status in great part because of his calm and poise during his four Super Bowl appearances (all wins). In particular, he is most often remembered for leading the 49ers from 16-13 down in the final minutes of Super Bowl XXIII to an impressive drive that resulted in the game winning touchdown to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16.
Two years later, the underdog New York Giants faced the favored Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was dominating early but the Giants hung onto the ball and clawed their way back into the game behind Jeff Hostetler, a quarterback who had come off the bench to lead New York to the Super Bowl, and running back O.J. Anderson, a running back who’s best years, many had assumed, were well behind him. The Giants and Bills had a contrast in styles, with New York being a conservative, defensive-oriented team, and Buffalo having a high-octane, flashy offense. In the first postseason contest with no turnovers, and with excellent play from both sides, the game came down to the final seconds and, famously, was decided when Buffalo place kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal by just a couple of feet, handing the New York Giants the championship.
Since then, there have been some other memorable games, as well. In a clash of elite quarterbacks, John Elway’s Denver Broncos, a team that to that point was known only for losing Super Bowls, bested Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers in an exciting game that came down to the final minute of play. A couple of years after that, the St. Louis Rams brought their high-scoring offense, which was nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”, to the Super Bowl, and took a big lead against the Tennessee Titans, only to barely hold back a furious rally from Tennessee that ultimately fell one yard short of a game-tying touchdown on the game’s final play. Yet, two years after that, the Rams themselves were handed a stunning loss in dramatic fashion on the game’s final play, when the upstart New England Patriots, behind head coach Bill Belichick and young quarterback sensation Tom Brady, kicked a field goal by place kicker Adam Viniatieri to win in a huge upset, 20-17.
New England returned to the Super Bowl two years after that against the Carolina Panthers, and the two teams had a very memorable Super Bowl with fine play from both sides. The game was a back and forth affair, with scoring flurries in the second and fourth quarters. In the end, the Patriots would win another Super Bowl off the foot of place kicker Adam Viniatieri in the final seconds. New England would win a third title the next year to secure “Team of the Decade” honors.
However, the Patriots themselves were on the receiving end of a stunning upset on the biggest stage after a historically dominant 2007 season. New England became only the second team in history to reach the Super Bowl with an undefeated record at 18-0. But they fought a fierce battle against the prohibitive underdogs New York Giants. With the Patriots clinging to a 14-10 lead in the final minute of the game, the Giants received a huge boost from a miracle play when Eli Manning broke out of a sure sack for a loss to complete a pass to wide receiver David Tyree, who made a now famous one-handed catch off the side of his helmet for a crucial first down. Moments later, the Giants scored the winning touchdown to dash the dreams of a perfect season by the Patriots.
Those two teams would meet again in yet another tight contest a few years later, with New York once again prevailing. It was the most recent installment of some classic rivalries in Super Bowl history. But probably the best rivalry in the big game is between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. Those two teams met in three different Super Bowls, with each one being decided in the fourth quarter. The Steelers cemented their “Team of the Decade: status in the seventies by defeating the Cowboys in both of the Super Bowls they met in then, while years later, Dallas iced their “Team of the Decade” status in the nineties by holding off an impressive Pittsburgh team.
There have been some memorable teams and personalities throughout Super Bowl history as well. None perhaps were as entertaining as the 1985 Chicago Bears, the team that is generally seen as the best in NFL history. They flirted with an undefeated season, starting the year out with a 12-0 mark. But after suffering their first, and only, defeat of the season against the Miami Dolphins, the Bears decided to make a now famous video called “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” Chicago sang in a brash manner about making it to the big game, which the franchise had never done before. They were good on their word, dominating the rest of the season, including two shutout victories by their record-setting defense in the playoffs, before annihilating the New England Patriots, 46-10, to secure their first Lombardi Trophy. Most people remember “punky” quarterback Jim McMahon, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, and head coach Mike Ditka from that Super Bowl run.
This year’s Super Bowl features two of the most highly successful franchises in recent years, the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. There are notable personalities for both teams here, as well. Many have been critical of the personalities on both sides, including Bill Belichick, New England’s head coach that many feel is – and a poor sport. Some also feel that he is a cheater. Tom Brady is the star quarterback for New England, and he is disliked by many who feel that he is smug. Seattle is filled with brash talkers such as Richard Sherman, who did not shy away from the recent “deflate gate” controversy involving the Patriots. Ironically, on a team of trash talkers, Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks star running back, has generated controversy in the past by refusing to talk to the media. Facing heavy fines this time around, he showed up before the media, only to tell everyone, repeatedly, that he was just there to avoid any fines. He did not answer any questions other than to repeat this refrain.
The game itself features an intriguing match between two top team that have a contrast in styles. Seattle has a dominating defense that, many feel, can secure a historically elite status with a win later today. If they get this victory, they will have achieved back-to-back championships against two legendary quarterbacks (Peyton Manning last year and Tom Brady this year). However, the New England Patriots have a crafty style, and more than any other team, they create their game plan to best counter their opponent’s strengths. Some people have speculated that the ratings should be strong for this game, since it features two traditional, powerhouse teams of recent seasons, as well as the desirable East coast versus West coast match-up. Also, the whole “deflate gate” controversy has generated considerable publicity, and many people may be curious to see how the Patriots respond. This Super Bowl promises to be an intriguing match-up with a lot at stake, as the Seahawks look to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back titles, while both Brady and Belichick hope to make history by winning their fourth Super Bowl title ever, joining the ranks of the t elites in Super Bowl history.
Commentary By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Matt McGee – Flickr