“If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, how come there is another one next year?”
— Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas (1972)
Five quick angles to make this Sunday’s football game not seem like the rerun you think it is.
• In terms of reliability, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady trails the sun, seven seas, and Betty White. And by some distance. Since Brady entered the NFL in 2000, a whopping 10 Super Bowls have been played without him. Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson quarterbacked teams to the Lombardi Trophy and a franchise younger than Brady — the Carolina Panthers — played for the championship in Super Bowl 50. Should he win three Super Bowls in four years for a second time, we’ll always wonder . . . why not four in a row, at least once?
• Much has been made locally about two former University of Memphis kickers facing one another in Super Bowl LII. Philadelphia Eagle rookie Jake Elliott broke most of the Tiger records established (between 2002 and 2005) by New England Patriot veteran Stephen Gostkowski. How unlikely is this toe tangle? Gostkowski came to the U of M initially as a pitcher for the baseball team. Elliott was a tennis star in high school. It can be said these Tiger alumni will be on American sport’s biggest stage but playing their alternative sports.
• This still-young century has been an era for drought-ending championships. The Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Houston Astros have all won World Series that ended droughts of at least 30 years. LeBron James brought Cleveland its first major championship of any kind in a half-century. Among the 32 NFL franchises, only two — the Lions and Cardinals — have played longer without claiming a title than the Eagles, who last were crowned kings when Chuck Bednarik tormented quarterbacks in 1960.
Tom Brady, of course, is the chief reason Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship in 57 years, having led the Patriots to victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX after the 2004 season. Brady has won Super Bowls over two franchises that have never won championships (Carolina and Atlanta). He pays no attention to drought sentiment, having suffered his own 10-year dry spell between wins in Super Bowl XXXIX and Super Bowl XLIX. That World War II veteran the Eagles saluted during the NFC Championship? He can wait until Brady’s finished.
• Sunday’s game will be the seventh rematch in Super Bowl history. (We have to count Steelers-Cowboys twice, as the franchises have played each other in three Super Bowls.) This will be the second-longest stretch between meetings — 13 years —among those rematches. (Pittsburgh and Dallas waited 17 years between Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XXX.) Somehow, Tom Brady remains the quarterback for the Patriots, 13 years after Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb seemed to run out of gas in the fourth quarter. McNabb was 28 years old in Super Bowl XXXIX. Brady, we all know, is now 40 years old. He’s closing the distance on Betty White, if not the sun.
• I’ll preemptively duck (twice) as I write this, but among this country’s four major team sports (excluding MLS soccer), the Super Bowl is the easiest championship to win. If you can ignore the ruined knees and damaged brain cells, of course. The NFL regular season is merely four months, two-thirds the length of Major League Baseball’s. The top two seeds in each conference can win the Super Bowl by winning just three playoff games, and after a week off to prepare for the first.
Baseball’s opening playoff round — a wild-card game, followed by a best-of-five series — is a trap door. If your ace loses Game 1, he may not pitch another inning. In the NBA (as predictable as it’s become), the champion must win 16 games in two months. Same for the winner of hockey’s Stanley Cup, as brutal a sport, in many ways, as football . . . minus the week off between games.
So take heart, NFL fans outside New England. Your team will, in fact, win a Super Bowl. You may just need to wait until Tom Brady is LII years old.