Sunday, January 24, 2010

Revisionist History

The NFL Network ran a rebroadcast of Super Bowl III last night. Sick soul that I am, I watched the first half, even though I basically know every play by heart.

Sometimes, however, the familiar can be seen with new eyes. In this viewing of the greatest upset in pro football history, and perhaps most financially important game in sports history, a new perception emerged.

It sure was a lucky thing for Don Shula that Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets victory, because had post-game commentary focused on the Colts and not Namath and his team, Shula might never gotten another head coaching job.

Simply put, the Colts blew the game in the first half to a far greater extent than the Jets won it in the second. Given every opportunity to create a tidy 14-0 lead, they kicked each and every one of them away. Three red-zone entries and no points? At least two sure interceptions either dropped or whiffed on? These are the marks of a team that just not prepared to perform its best.
Coaches tend to get blamed for stuff like that.

All in all, the 2001 New England Patriots, winners of the SECOND-biggest upset in NFL history, Super Bowl XXXVI, were the beneficiaries of few fewer enemy self-destruct mechanisms than were the Jets. The Rams made one huge blunder -- forgetting Marshall Faulk. Otherwise, the Pats whupped up on them physically for 60 minutes. Indeed, the Pats survived one mega-blunder of their own -- a penalty negating a defensive touchdown.

Conventional history isn't ALL wrong. The Jets did what underdogs must. Stay close, play percentages, and above all, maintain emotional self-control. Namath's role in that last matter is impossible to overstate. The Jets did believe they were equals going in. When they took a lead, thanks to the Colts' bungling, the Jets felt they were the superior team, and acted like it.

But when a team has five turnovers in a title game, as the Colts did, it's more proof that upsets almost always are more suicide than homicide.

PS: The other thing one takes from watching Super Bowl III is this: Boy, did placekicking stink back then.


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