Super Bowl & NFL Wrap-up

At some point in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl forty-six, the Patriots were leading by two points and on the march. There were maybe five minutes left. A touchdown would put them up by nine, exactly the amount by which I predicted them to win the ballgame. Would my prescience from last year’s big game (and last year’s NFC Championship) repeat itself? Of course, New England would probably go for two and make it a ten point game, but hey – a guy can dream.

Well, was I wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. New England never scored another point, and fell to the New York Giants, 21-17. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was simply clutch when it counted, while his counterpart Tom Brady was anything but. Brady accrued a grounding penalty that resulted in a safety on a foolish pass in the first quarter, and in the fourth he launched an underthrown bomb to Wes Welker that was picked off by Chase Blackburn for the only other turnover of the game (counting the safety as a turnover). There’s your ball game right there: Brady essentially gave the ball to the Giants twice and threw in two points for good measure. Near the end of the game, down four, the desperate Patriots needed a miracle touchdown instead of a more plausible field goal to win.

So what have we learned now that Super Bowl 46 and the NFL season is over?

1. Eli Manning is clutch. The guy has now conducted two fourth quarter, game-winning Super Bowl drives, both against the Patriots (Super Bowl 42 being the other). Manning, like his team, can be a hot mess during a game or a season, but in the big one he’s been ice cold.

2. For the umpteenth time, winning the Super Bowl is about which team is hot. The Giants were indeed that team (even though, by definition, any Super Bowl champion is). Sure, they won their division, but at 9-7 they looked like the weakest team in the field. Like the 2007 edition, the 2005 Steelers, and the 2010 Packers, these G-Men tossed their regular season record out the proverbial window and went on an impressive run. Meanwhile, teams that spent all season cultivating the appearance of dominance (the Packers, 15-1; the 49ers, 13-3; the Saints, 13-3) are at home, washing their tights. Having now been on both ends of the equation as a Packer fan – wild card Super Bowl champions one year, near-undefeated one-and-done the next – I guess all I can say is that the NFL’s competitive balance is a remarkable thing and makes for great entertainment.

3. The Belichick/Brady Patriots’ place in history is a little muddled. Sure, the franchise has been to five Super Bowls since Bill Belichick was hired, but it hasn’t won a Lombardi trophy since after the 2004 season. That seems like a long time ago now. A 3-2 record in the big game is nothing to be ashamed of, but another ring would have put this coach-quarterback tandem in the Noll-Bradshaw discussion (and Brady in the Joe Montana discussion). Now Brady is slipping into the Elway Zone, and Belichick into the Don Shula Zone. (I was shocked, however, to see the Boston Globe’s Eric Wilbur pile on Brady this hard so quickly after the game.)

4. Madonna’s halftime show was the best in recent memory. Admit it, there was a moment when she almost fell off the stage where you were thinking, “She shouldn’t be doing this.” But the 53-year-old nailed the performance, singing a medley of her hits while delegating the serious dancing to her squadron. Clearly, she doesn’t have the moves she had at 30, so she wisely left the fancy footwork to younger dancers. It was like a team with an aging but talented and wise quarterback that’s constantly turning over young talent at other positions to keep things fresh and competitive.

5. As if the parade of commercial excess weren’t enough, apparently now Super Bowl commercials must advertise for two companies at once. I saw an ad that hocked Chevy trucks as well as Twinkies, and later a spot for General Electric that turned into a Budweiser ad and then back to a GE commercial. Because God knows I’d never heard of any of these goddamn corporations before tonight.

And with that, the 2011 NFL season is in the books. Congrats to the New York Football Giants. Back to writing (mostly) about travel.

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