Whether you’re in agony or ecstasy after last night’s triumph by the Baltimore Ravens over the dogged San Francisco 49ers, one point is undeniable: we’re in a golden age of Super Bowls.
I grew up during the 70s, so loved watching the Dolphins, Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders and even Vikings have their moments on the game’s biggest stage.
But the games in recent years have been better.
As compared with the blowouts that were commonplace during much of the 80s-the average margin of victory for the Super Bowls from 1984 to 1988 was nearly 30 points-five of the last six games have come down to the final minutes, if not the last play of the game.
The one exception to this rule, the New Orleans Saints’ victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, was actually close for most of the fourth quarter until Tracy Porter intercepted a Manning pass for a touchdown, breaking the game open.
The others have all gone down to the proverbial wire.
I want to be clear that I’m making my case as an observer of the game, rather than a partisan fan.
As a lifelong Patriots fan who came of age during the Jim Plunkett era and suffered through the 46-10 debacle in Super Bowl XX that is evoked endlessly here in Chicago, the pair of upsets by the New York Giants rank among my more painful sports memories. (Nothing could ever top the Red Sox’s blowing a 13-game lead in 1978 or Bill Buckner letting the ball roll through his legs, but these two are in the general vicinity.)
In addition to having close games, these contests have had the additional following elements:
The Saints, the Giants (twice) and the Ravens all beat favored opponents, creating an additional level of drama to the game.
II. Spectacular plays at key moments:
I’m going to swallow hard here, and each of the Giants’ victories had one of the most memorable catches in Super Bowl history. David Tyree’s helmet catch and Mario Manningham’s over-the-shoulder grab were athletically impressive and low-percentage long passes. Santonio Holmes’ ability to catch Ben Roethlisberger’s dart of a pass over three Cardinals in the corner of the end zone and manage to keep his toes in bounds was equally astonishing.
III. Critical contributions by the defense.
Ed Reed’s pick six against the 49ers last night set the tone for the evening, while Tracy Porter’s interception was the proverbial straw that broke the Colts’ back three years ago. And who could forget James Harrison’s rumbling 100-yard touchdown after intercepting a Kurt Warner pass in the final play of the first half.
IV. A valiant performance in defeat.
Kurt Warner’s Cardinals lost to the Steelers, but not because he had let his team down. The veteran quarterback completed 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Young Colin Kaepernick had less gaudy numbers, but nearly brought his team back from a 22-point deficit.
V. A sense of history at stake.
The first Giants’ triumph derailed the Patriots’ quest for football immortality by being the first team to complete a 16-game season and playoffs undefeated. Aaron Rodgers’ leading the Green Bay Packers to victory over the Steelers brought a championship back to Title Town. The Steelers’ triumph over the Cardinals put the team alone in football history with six Super Bowl trophies.
VI. An individual or group narrative.
Much of the country rooted for the Saints to defeat the Colts and give comfort to a region that still bore the scars of its devastation more than five years after Hurricane Katrina. Legendary and controversial linebacker Ray Lewis’ riding off into retirement as a champion received a lot of attention this time.
VII. No halftime drama
The Patriots’ third Super Bowl victory was completely obscured by “Nipplegate,” when Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunctioned. No comparable excitement has compromised the title match since then.
It’s important to note that not every one of the games had all of these elements.
But arguably each of the last six contests has had many of them.
Next year’s Super Bowl will be held in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
As a Patriots fan, I’m hoping that Brady and Company can make it over the hump and win their fourth Super Bowl.
As a fan of the game, I’m hoping that this Golden Age of Super Bowls continues.