Friday, February 01, 2013

Pre-Superbowl Thoughts

As I've mentioned before, I need need need San Francisco to lose. In my ranking of Superbowl fun, in fact, the number 1 is for the Steelers to win (of course) and number 2 is for SF to lose! Seriously.* So even though on a normal Sunday I can't abide the Ravens, I will gleefully root for them to ruin the 9ers perfect record.

I should add the caveat that since I'm an old-school fan, my hatreds go to older teams: Cowboys and Raiders. I don't care about the Browns and Bengals, and the Oilers are long gone (ontologically, did they become the Titans or the Texans? I vote for the latter). There are teams I don't have any respect for, true: (1) Jets - who are pathetic from top-to-bottom, (2) Seattle - because they have an unfair home-field advantage, (c) the Broncos for the same reason, but I still like Elway, (d) the Saints since Bountygate. The only modern day team that I can't stand are the Patriots and that's actually only about Belichick. When he leaves, I may be able to tolerate my brother & son's favorite team.

But the Ravens? I respect them; I have laughed at the fact that they never made the big show while the Steelers did thrice, even if I can't say that now. There are things to like about them, which boil down to the things the Steelers do: (1) they recruit and scout well, all because of Ozzie Newsome and this is a lost message for NFL fans. Unless you have a superlative athlete (e.g. Lawrence Taylor or Troy Polamalu) success comes from coaching, team attitude, and astute bargain-hunting in the draft; (2) the Ravens are a ground-n-pound team with a solid defense. This is the Steelers DNA and it's not surprising the Ravens also hold that way. One way to understand NFL history is that rivals can either go in two directions, for these purposes I'll call them the Ravens or the Browns. When you have a great rival you can try to match them - like the Ravens do the Steelers - or you can basically just give up, like the Browns have done for decades.**

Anyway, I need the 49ers to lose, and once they beat the hapless Falcons (can that team ever sustain a lead??) I needed the Patriots to lose to the Ravens for two reasons: (1) SF has to lose and the Belichick Curse means the Patriots need to lose a SB for each one they cheated to win, and they have 1 more to go, so SF would've won! The second reason is more mystical, but since SF is coached by Jim Harbaugh, I felt that only a Harbaugh can beat a Harbaugh. And while I as a rule root for little brothers, in this case you go with the older brother, who's more used to creaming his little bro. Jus' sayin'.

So besides the above iron rule, there are two reasons I think the Ravens will win, besides the general feeling that any team that can march through Mile High and Foxboro and beat 2 of the best QBs ever - on the road - versus SF who almost lost to the pathetic Falcons in a dome. The two reasons are:
(1) While Colin Kaepernick is impressive, I don't trust rookie QBs in big games.*** Technically it's his second year, but he didn't start until November 19 2012! I think the gravity of the Superbowl, and the weight of Montana/Young, will be hard to handle for him. On the other side you have grizzled veterans, and especially Joe Flacco who is an underrated big-league QB who seems to have no fear (his eyes suggest serial killer, not as much as Schaub, who doesn't help matters with his skinhead crewcut and prominent Adam's apple). I think SF has gotten far with a good defense, good running, and a surprise QB, but I believe the Ravens are nastier, older, and even more physical.

The second reason is that (2) the 49ers kicker is basket case. If that persists, SF will have trouble, even in a dome. Special Teams is still underrated, and the Ravens have been superlative in that.

My score prediction (caveat: I suck at this): Ravens 21, 49ers 20.

And one comment about Harbaugh v. Harbaugh. I'm actually serious about that, a bit, because the advantage each brother has over others is that Harbaughz Iz Crazy! They do aggressive risky things, and this catches their opponents off guard. But these two idiots have been competing against each other for 40+ years! They know the others' temperament and tendencies. This is crucial, to me, because I desperately need the 9ers to lose.

How Can a Steeler Fan (Me) Root for Baltimore?

There are people are outraged that actual Steelers who are rooting for the Ravens. They want the good old days when you hated the rival team. What the haters don't get is that the 'team' doesn't exist in the same way after free-agency/salary cap. E.g. Rod Woodson is one of the best Steelers of all time, but he played for 3 other teams, including the hated Ravens and Raiders! After retirement he identifies as a Steeler, but the players themselves have to know it's just a business and they can move on. So I full understand why the players not only don't hate a rival team, but they can actually like 'em. I've also read that many players, when on the field and the game clock is running, would ram their own mama's if they're wearing the other jersey. This also is part of Football.

I also agree with Lamarr Woodley who said that he's hoping the Ravens win, for one reason because: "the Baltimore Raven are in our division so it makes our division look good." I agree with that wholeheartedly! I have pride in my team, my birth-city, and when it comes to Football, my division. I was proud when we had 3 teams from the AFC-N in last year's playoffs! And maybe I just think more like one of the players than the fans, but I think Woodley shows a healthy sportsmanlike attitude.

Also, if the Ravens win that means that the Steelers were able to beat that year's world champs at home with a third string Quarterback. Heh heh heh.

* = Number 3 is for Steelers to lose, because at least they've increased their appearances, Number 4-7 would be for the Browns, Lions, Vikings and Bills to be in and lose, unless its to one of the hated rivals (e.g. Patriots, Cowboys, Raiders etc). I think these guys getting in would be funny - Lions & Browns have never gone, and Vikes & Bills have gone 4 times and lost all of them. I guess I'm supposed to hate the Eagles, but I basically try not to think about Philly at all (which is tough now that I live in Central NJ).

** = This is part of my grand theory for why the NFC were dominant for the 13 year stretch of 1985 to 1997. The first point is context - most of this was during the era before free agency, which meant that once you built a superstar team you were able to keep those players and just dominate. That's why we had so many dynasties back then, and why none now (Patriots don't count because they cheated, period. But the closest way to get a dynasty now is to get a superstar QB, e.g. Colts under Manning). So the reason why the NFC was dominant comes down to two people (1) Bill Walsh and (2) Lawrence Taylor. The simple one first: (a) Walsh (like Newsome above) was able to both build up his team with an eye for talent (Montana, Rice, Young), and (b) he was an incredible coach who was able to drive this unchanging roster of people to their top performance (people say that Montana was not a superlative athlete but Walsh made him so, FWIW). So this is why SF was so dominant. The (2) Lawrence Taylor factor reflects the second point above about the Steelers/Ravens - LT was so incredible that he forced the other teams in his division - specifically the Cowboys & Redskins - to react. Joe Gibbs, another genius coach, could have given up and accepted that LT was going to destroy them every game. Instead Gibbs basically invented the "Hogs" - a superlative offensive-line. There were more innovations, but basically because of a great player, and great coaches, the NFC East reacted and had to become great. I don't think the AFC had this quality coach (Noll lost steam after '80... I blame Reagan) and the unfree-agency cuts both ways. A great team can dominate the conference - Bills, Broncos - but just not have the oomph to overcome the NFC's twin advantages.

*** = This years' rookies have been so hyped, it's nuts. There are two big reasons they've all been great and why I believe next year they'll crash to earth: (1) there's not enough tape on rookies, so defenses don't know all their tricks. One off-season of studying and look what happened to, e.g., Cam Newton. Rookies have that advantage of surprise and I don't give them credit for it until they can keep it up for more than a year. A second advantage is that these QBs - RG3 in DC, Wilson in Seattle, Kaepernick, is that their coaches are letting them run with the ball. The now acceptable "read option" (which was mocked when Tebow was doing it... mainly because Timmy doesn't throw a normal ball, but still it's ironic) - allows the QB to run. But as we saw with RG3, running is extremely dangerous for your expensive QB. In today's NFL, the QB is more important than any other player, and if you've got a top-notch QB you don't risk him flying down the field. If the coaches let these rookies keep running then they will all end up like RG3. People are fooled because Kapernick hasn't played enough to risk the injuries, and Russel Wilson got to hide behind his damned stadium. Anyway, the read option won't survive long in the NFL because of those two reasons - which the short-sighted sports reporters are ignoring - and also because Defenses catch up quick in the NFL.

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