Outsports' annual guide to the big game
By Jim Buzinski
The Super Bowl is again upon us, and like death and taxes there is no escaping it. The teams were off last week and we still heard about Tom Brady and his model girlfriend in addition to a lineman who used to castrate lambs with his teeth. Mercifully, the game is almost here.
Since some of you reading this barely know who is playing, Outsports offers as a public service our annual Super Bowl for the Clueless.
WHAT: Super Bowl 42 (I am lousy with Roman numerals, so will ignore the NFL’s designation of SB XLII). The New England Patriots represent the American Football Conference and the New York Giants the National Football Conference. The game will be played Sunday with a 6:30 p.m. EST kickoff from Glendale, Ariz. Fox will broadcast the game.
|Dueling quarterbacks: Tom Brady, left, Of New England and New York's Eli Manning|
The Patriots (18-0) are seeking to become the first NFL team to finish 19-0 and join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only unbeaten teams. The Giants (13-6) have taken the hard road, becoming only the third team in history to win three consecutive road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl.
New England is a big favorite, with the Las Vegas pointspread favoring them by 12 points. They are the biggest favorite since the 2001 Patriots were 14-point underdogs to St. Louis (New England won that game in a huge upset, something that gives Giants fans hope).
WHERE: The game will be played in Glendale, Ariz., in suburban Phoenix at the University of Phoenix Stadium. There is no University of Phoenix team, but the school, which has a heavy online presence, paid $154 million for 20 years to the naming rights to the stadium. The stadium architect, Peter Eisenman, is a New York Giants fan, so he is assured great seats to the game.
The area is not used to seeing quality professional football, being home to the mediocre Arizona Cardinals, a franchise that has won one playoff game since 1948, being based in Chicago, then St. Louis and since 1988 Arizona.
FASHION NOTE: The Giants, the designated road team, will wear their white jerseys with light gray pants and maroon numbers. The Patriots will wear their home dark blue jerseys with light silver numbers.
THE CITIES: New York vs. Boston. Arrogant know-it-all fans vs. arrogant know-it-all fans; insufferable to those of us outside the Northeast corridor. Think Yankees vs. Red Sox in baseball and you get the idea of the fan base in each city. The downside? One city will get to throw a victory parade. The upside? One city won’t.
THE TEAMS, GOSSIP EDITION: The Patriots are chasing history, and trying to outrun the shame of being caught cheating in their opening day game against the Jets for illegally videotaping New York’s defensive signals. The team was fined $500,000 and stripped of a draft pick. In response, the New York Post has run an * all season besides their record in the standings.
In addition, safety Rodney Harrison – voted by his peers the dirtiest player in the league – was suspended four games for using human growth hormone. Nose tackle Vince Woolfork has been fined four times this season for dirty play, including when he poked Giants running back Brandon Jacobs in the eye during their regular season game, ala Moe of the Three Stooges.
The Pats are led by star quarterback Tom Brady, who fathered a child out of wedlock (with actress Bridget Moynahan) and now goes out with supermodel Giselle Bundchen, who dated Leonard Di Caprio for six years. Brady lives in Boston but makes the New York gossip sheets more than almost any full-time resident for his frequent forays into the city. He’s even had to deal with the nastiest rumor of all – that he is losing his hair and seeing a hair-plug specialist. Oh, the horror!
On the plus side, Brady is a fashion-plate, consistently one of the great heartthrobs for gay men and considering being a Calvin Klein model. On the field, his play is impeccable, having set a record with 50 touchdown passes this season.
Even their coach, Bill Belichick, has a colorful off-field life. A New Jersey construction worked accused Belichick of being the “other man” in a divorce proceeding against his wife, a New York Giants receptionist (Belichick was an assistant coach for the Giants until 1991). The coach has paid the women more than $150,000 in cash and gifts, including a summer rental on the Jersey shore. She has denied the accusation but is said to be attending the Super Bowl.
On the field, Belichick is brilliant, secretive, arrogant and paranoid – think Richard Nixon in a hoodie. No coach prepares his team better and is able to compartmentalize distractions.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft, meanwhile, made news in 2005 while on a visit to Russia. There he showed Russian President Vladimir V. Putin his “4.94-carat, diamond-encrusted 2005 Super Bowl ring” … which Putin promptly pocketed. This reminds me of a Russian historian, who when asked to sum up his countrymen’s national character, replied: “They steal.”
The Giants, despite being from New York, are kind of boring by comparison. Quarterback Eli Manning, of the Manning quarterback dynasty, is still going out with his college sweetheart and doesn’t give Page Six much to write about. Lineman Grey Ruegamer did give a colorful interview about his days castrating lambs, but no one outside his immediate family and lambs everywhere had ever heard of Ruegamer before this week.
The Giants do have a gay connection. Tight end Jeremy Shockey twice was slammed for uttering anti-gay comments (including calling a rival coach a “homo”), but he suffered a season-ending injury in December and has not been heard from since; karma’s a bitch.
Defensive lineman Michael Strahan, in the middle of a nasty divorce last year, denied charges by his estranged wife that he is gay. Strahan, though, is very gay-friendly, and has done work for the Men’s Health Crisis, a New York anti-AIDS group. “I have plenty of friends that are bi or homosexual,” he said. “It's fine with me. This is New York City. If you can't accept people for being people, then you have no business being here." Strahan is one of the good guys.
THE HALFTIME ENTERTAINMENT: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers! Wow, that will really draw the coveted 18-29 demo. At least the NFL won’t have to worry about Petty exposing his nipple, though my friend Jim Allen hopes he performs some of his songs that have sly drug-related references.
Alicia Keys and ‘American Idol’ winner Jordin Sparks will perform in the pregame, with Sparks signing the National Anthem. She is the daughter of former New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Phillippi Sparks.
COMMERCIALS: Face it, a lot of you will watch only for the commercials, lame as they often are (each 30-second spot sells for $2,7 million; for that money you think they'd come up with more creative spots). We all wonder if there will be controversy like last year, when a Snickers ad was blasted by some for being homophobic.
Lesbian fans will be thrilled to know that Victoria’s Secret will advertise this year. For the guys, Under Armour, the skintight, body-hugging apparel, is making its debut. We can only hope they have recruited some NFL hotties for the ads.
According to AP, Bridgestone Tire has two spots: “One ad features a car accelerating toward Richard Simmons as he dances on a road at night. In the other, a woman screams as the car she's riding in approaches a squirrel nibbling on an acorn.” In addition, several ads done by amateurs will make the cut. If you miss any ads, YouTube will be flooded with them after the game.
THE GAME: After a zillion-hour pregame show and huge buildup, a football game will be played. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001, each by three points. In addition, these two teams met in the last game of the regular season and the Patriots won a thriller, 38-35. A close game is possible, but I doubt it will happen.
New England’s toughest games, save for their comeback win in a dome at Indianapolis, have all come in cold or bad weather. The conditions in Arizona will be perfect (the stadium has a retractable roof and will be open unless bad weather threatens). A dry, fast track favors a New England offense that set a record for points and touchdowns in a season. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney – all these Pats are major offensive playmakers and stopping them all is impossible. The Giants have a gritty defense and terrific pass rush, but their secondary is banged-up and suspect. It’s hard to see them slowing the Patriots down enough to keep it close.
One caveat: The big story all week will be the condition of the right ankle ot Brady. He sprained it in the AFC Championship Gameon Jan. 20 and was seen wearing a protective boot the day after. ESPN said that Brady would not have been able to play had the Super Bowl been played one week later and not two. He insists he is fine and I suspect that's the case. However, if he reinjures himself and has to leave the game early, the edge shifts dramatically to New York. Brady's backup, Matt Casell, can match him in the looks departement but not in football talent.
On defense, teams have shown they can move the ball on New England, but the Pats stiffen when opponents get inside their 20-yard line. In the AFC Championship Game, the San Diego Chargers got inside the Patriots' 10-yard line three times and had to settle for field goals; the Giants will need touchdowns, not field goals, to have a chance.
The Giants feature a solid running game with Brandon Jacobs and rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, a key to keeping their offense on the field and Brady and company on the sideline. In addition, Eli Manning is poised and has not thrown an interception in the playoffs. The Giants will be able to move the ball but I don’t see them finishing a lot with touchdowns.
I expect a close game until halftime, when New England pulls away in the second half and caps a perfect season. Patriots 37, Giants 20.