Don’t you love the two weeks the NFL gives us between the conference championships and the Super Bowl? (For those of you who count Sunday’s Pro Bowl as a football game worth watching, bless you and that permanent indentation on your couch.) It’s gracious of the league bosses to allow the AFC and NFC champions to heal their wounds, to rest up for the biggest game of their lives.
Stop laughing. I know. Forget battle wounds that need healing. These two weeks are all about the two M's: Money and Media. Sell, sell, sell all and anything that can be sold with a Super Bowl logo, a Super Bowl sponsorship, even alternatives to the Super Bowl (the Puppy Bowl?). As for the media (as I stare in the mirror), find and report every angle imaginable, from the rags-to-riches reserve linebacker to the culinary exploits of the starting left guard. (All guards can cook. Look it up.) Here are the angles for Super Bowl XLVIII I’ll be pondering another few days:
• Peyton, Peyton, Peyton. The draw of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning — who will pick up his record fifth MVP award Saturday night — is undeniable. And on so many levels. Already bound for the Hall of Fame, Manning endured a divorce from his Indianapolis Colts after missing the 2011 season following neck surgery. Could one player — even a Canton-bound quarterback — make a difference for a franchise that hadn’t been to the Super Bowl since John Elway rode off into the sunset with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the 1999 season?
At age 37, three years older than Hall of Famer Troy Aikman was when he retired, Manning set records for passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns (55) that look silly even in today’s pass-happy NFL. His Broncos set a new record for scoring with 606 points (37.9 per game). One man made the difference. Now, having played in one Super Bowl against his father’s longtime team (the New Orleans Saints), he’ll play another in the stadium where his brother spends Sundays with the New York Giants. If this event seems to be sponsored by the Manning family — a son of Archie will play for the fifth time in eight years — the connection fits. Pro football has been good for the Mannings. And the Mannings have been good for the NFL.
• It’s fun when a former Memphis Tiger plays in football’s biggest game. Stephen Gostkowski has played in two for New England. Reggie Howard picked off a Tom Brady pass for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII after the 2003 season. This Sunday, we’ll see Clint McDonald — a reserve defensive tackle for Seattle — take the field at MetLife Stadium. McDonald earned first-team All-CUSA honors with the Tigers in 2008, the last season Memphis played in a bowl game. I can’t recall an athlete using the word “sir” more than McDonald did in an interview before his senior season at the U of M. He’s a gentle giant (5.5 sacks this season) worth rooting for.
• It’s a shame Richard Sherman’s WWE-inspired rant after his Seahawks’ victory in the NFC Championship has become a primary talking point. The third-year cornerback from Stanford may in fact be, just as he huffed into Erin Andrews' face, the best corner in the game. (Sherman has been first-team All-Pro each of the last two seasons.) How Sherman helps thwart the Broncos’ passing game — will he match up with Demaryius Thomas? Eric Decker? — will go a long way in deciding if Seattle’s in the game after halftime. It’s a juicy angle, particularly when you consider the alma mater of Broncos executive VP John Elway.
• Much has been made about the potential for ugly weather, the game being played in New York City. During winter. Outdoors. I happen to like the venue. Football’s premier championship should be decided in nature’s elements. I find the Super Bowl to be rather plastic when played in domes. This is a place (NYC) and an event that had to dance at some point. Remember the two M's. My pick: Denver 23, Seattle 13