The Super Bowl ceased being simply a football game a long time ago, and over the years has become an ad-hoc Amercian holiday. It's a day where we not only put the biggest game in our most popular sport on display, but put a lot of what it is to be an American on display as well. It's excessive, it's gaudy, it's borderline obnoxious--a lot like most of the people that inhabit the country in which we live.
It's just as much about the game of football as it is about our culture. A lot of folks tune in less for the game and more for the spectacle and the event the game has become. The commercials between plays and the halftime show are just as popular as the athletic competition going on on-field and give non-football fans a reason to watch and enjoy. And while we're on the subject of the halftime show, I know that after old Beatle Paul, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and The Who, the NFL needed some youthful exuberance for this year's game, but the effing Black Eyed Peas? I just hope Fergie doesn't wet herself on the world's biggest stage. Actually, I take that back, I hope she does.
So, with football fans already invested and the non-fan coming along for the ride, the Super Bowl gives all of us an excuse to cut loose on a Sunday night, getting up in the morning for work and a potentially brutal hangover be damned. We plan parties around Super Bowl Sunday and gorge ourselves on fatty food. We drink, we carouse, we gamble on the outcome of the game and how long the national anthem will run (among other things...god I love prop bets!).
In short, we do our damndest to be American as fuck. While that can have all sorts of drawbacks, I have to tell you that Super Bowl Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year.
Football is king in American sports, by a long shot. It's the most lucrative and popular of our sports, even though it may not be our National Pastime just yet (keep your head up baseball, diamonds are forever!). Because of that, it attracts a boat-load of media coverage in the sporting world and beyond (there are estimates that there could be up to 5,000 members of the media at the game on Sunday). And with all that attention, you know everybody's got an opinion on what will happen this Sunday in Dallas, when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Green Bay Packers for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and a place in NFL history.
I know that for the casual or non-fan, this year's game doesn't have the cache of last year's Super Bowl match-up. There isn't a team with the hopes of a hurricane-ravaged city riding on the outcome of the game like last year's Saints or a product-hocking, commercial-starring, SNL-hosting star QB like Peyton Manning of last year's Colts, but this year's contest does feature perhaps the two most storied franchises in football history. The Steelers are the kings of the Super Bowl era, with 6 Lombardi trophies, while the Packers, led by that same Lombardi, made Green Bay the original title town, ruling the NFL's pre-Super Bowl era with nine championships before adding three more Super Bowl victories.
What we have this year is a football fan's football game. These are two teams that are very, and I do mean very evenly matched, with a toughness and historical allure born not just of their success, but also of their cities' cold weather style of play and working-class attitudes (in fact, Green Bay is the only franchise in sports still owned by the city itself). I spent last post taking a look at the two teams' quarterbacks, who are a couple of the best the NFL has to offer, including one in Big Ben Roethlisberger that is vying for his third Super Bowl title in his short but productive career. But beyond the QB position, there is still more parity to be found, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Both teams play similar brands of defense under coordinators Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh) and Dom Capers (Green Bay). They're aggressive, violent, and versatile. They can get after the passer, stuff the run, and cover the field, and it's no coincidence that the two teams have made it to the last game of the season considering how well they play on defense. Each team boasts phenomenal statistics to back up their play and both are littered with some of the league's best players on defense. In fact the two teams' two brightest stars, Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews Jr., just finished one-two in a tight race for Defensive Player of the Year honors, with Troy taking home the trophy.
The Steelers are led by that aforementioned one-man-wrecking-crew Polamalu, who for those of you who just watch the commercials is the guy with the flowing mane of curly black hair that stars in all those Head-and-Shoulders ads. Polamalu is a freestyling safety that leads a defense that also boasts a Super Bowl hero and NFL fine magnet in James Harrison, a shut-down corner in Ike Taylor, and myriad other big-time guys like James Farrior and Ryan Clark, just to name a couple.
Likewise, the Packers are led by another guy known for his long hair and the second place DPOY vote getter in Mr. Matthews, who rings more bells than a church at high noon and is joined by veteran playmakers like former Little Giant Charles Woodson, solid role players like AJ Hawk, the hip-shaking NFC Championship game hero BJ Raji (wait, AJ, BJ, I guess killin' with initials is kind of the GB M.O. Get it?), along with playoff interceptor extraordinaire Tramon Williams.
Each defense boasts the talent and schemes to give any offense nightmares, so I think it's fair to say that it's a push as far as who has the advantage. It's going to be up to the two teams' offensive units to face down these brutal defensive attacks, and it's this writer's belief that the team that does the better job of taking care of the football and making the big play when it must be made is going to be the victor in Dallas.
It's the reason I'm picking the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl, 27 - 21.
I know that Big Ben has the Super Bowl pedigree and nobody runs on the Steelers defense (take a look at that per game average, mama mia), but I believe that Aaron Rodgers will end up out-playing his competition at the quarterback position and that the Packers resurgent running game (led by the out-of-nowhere talent of James Starks) will balance their attack just enough to let one of the league's most dynamic receiving corps do it's thing on the fast track inside the new Cowboys Stadium and propel the Pack to another championship.
Rodgers is playing out of his damn mind right now and he's throwing to the likes of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson (though I could go on...), a fearsome foursome that has both big-play potential and possession-saving good hands. Just imagine if stand-out tight end Jermichael Finley were healthy right now and not bitching about not being in the team picture. The Packers' air attack would only be more lethal.
It will come down to Rodgers making big plays on O when he has to (and maybe some that don't feel that big at the time--say a field goal drive just before halftime perhaps...) and someone like Charles Woodson or Clay Matthews providing a game-changing moment on D that will seal it for Green Bay down the stretch. Hell, if Clay's little brother Casey can almost make the biggest play of the National Championship game for the Oregon Ducks, who's to say that another Matthews can't do the same, this time with a better result? He's gotta be feeling slighted by losing out to Polamalu for Defensive Player of the Year too, as if the guy needs any added motivation.
I know that the Steelers have their weapons on offense too (I see you Mike Wallace), and I do think that the superiority of their running game and Roethlisberger's knack for showing up in the big moment make a solid case for their being the better team on Sunday, but I just have to go with the Pack. I think Green Bay will end up doing more with their offensive possessions and scoring opportunities, enough to edge out the Steelers and keep Big Ben from that legend-making third ring.
So there you have it Hipsters, if you're still with me. I'm sure most of you just read up until my lead-pipe-lock pick of a 27 - 21 Packer victory and are already on the phone to your bookie, considering how on-point my argument is...
Oh, you're still here? Well, enjoy the game you ungrateful crumbsnatcher. Don't forget I told you so and save some of that buffalo chicken dip from your Super Bowl party for your boy, that stuff is too good.