Welcome to SportsAttic’s final prediction of the 2018 NFL Season. Our even-Steven, .500 performance during the course of the 2018 NFL year, played out weekly in the SixPicks columns, qualifies us for nothing, but today is a day when everybody is 0-0 with an equal chance to become an NFL Nostradamus.
And fortunately for all of you gridiron fans, there’s a roadmap already out there that if you keep an open mind will lead you directly to the outcome of today’s matchup. So here goes:
Rams (+2.5) over the Patriots — Join me if you will in our Super Bowl Time Machine, heading back to a day exactly 17 years ago, when unfathomably I found myself rooting for the underdog New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. On this day, the Greatest Show on Turf, 16-2 Rams (St. Louis version, but still…) were expected to put a whuppin’ on the upstart Patriots, led by a second-year QB who had stepped in when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and led his team to an unexpected AFC Championship, aided by an egregiously bad call in the AFC title game (sound familiar? Stick with me here).
The Pats were led by a young head coach who had earned a couple of ring’s more than a decade earlier as defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells’ Giants, but had yet to prove himself as the man in charge. However, there was a school of thought that if anyone could devise a scheme to stop Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and the rest of the Rams’ offensive juggernaut, it might be young Bill Belichick. And New England’s young head coach did indeed devise a brilliant game plan that resulted in his Pats taking a 17-3 lead into the 4th Quarter that night. Yet those of us watching in shock still felt like the favored Rams would ultimately figure things out. They were just too talented not to.
As the game neared it’s completion, the Rams started to wear down the Pats D, and finally tied things up at 17 with 1:30 remaining when Warner hit Ricky Proehl with a 26-yard TD. It appeared we’d be witnessing the first OT game in Super Bowl history. Surely, having lost all momentum, the Patriots would sit on the ball and hope for a lucky coin flip to start the extra period, and maybe sneak away with a cheap FG win. Failing that, it was obvious to all the Rams would come away with their second Super Bowl championship in three years. But Belichick bucked conventional wisdom and put the game in his young QB’s hands, and we watched NFL history begin to pivot in those final 90 seconds, as Tom Brady cooly drove his team into position for a game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Pats were champs, by a score of 20-17, taking the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy in the process, and the Rams began a slow painful decline that would ultimately lead them to relocate back west in an effort to rediscover their mojo.
Yup, exactly 17 years ago this surprising drama played out in front of all of us. Who’d have guessed that that upset win would trigger a Patriots’ run of dominance that continues today? And now, 17 years to the day later, most believe New England is poised to easily capture their sixth Lombardi Trophy over that same Rams franchise they got it all started against back when New England was the lovable underdog.
But not so fast.
Today’s upstart underdog is the Los Angeles Rams, who boast the youngest head coach in the league, broadly heralded as the future paradigm of sideline geniuses (albeit this time from the offensive side of the ball). They have a precocious, third-year QB behind center, and stand in Atlanta today as the NFC title holder having benefitted from what most would call the worst (and highest profile) officiating gaffe in the history of the league (tuck rule, anyone?).
So as Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel once said, I’m pushing all my Girl Scout cookies to the middle of the jamboree (or something like that, Fassel’s Giants got absolutely destroyed by the Ravens in the Super Bowl that year), and rooting for the Football Gods to even things out for us fans once and for all this afternoon. That’s right, the Pats dynasty officially ends today (who knows, maybe they’ll deteriorate so badly following this loss that fifteen years or so from now they’ll be forced to move to Hartford?), and the era of Sean McVay and Jared Goff begins.
As for the game itself? In the biggest games look for the biggest stars to step up. That means Aaron Donald on defense introducing himself to the casual fan as the most disruptive defensive lineman to don cleats in the last ten years (we all know that if Brady loses a Super Bowl, it is typically because the opposing team’s D-line makes his life miserable), and Todd Gurley (remember him?) rambles for north of 150 yards as he shares co-MVP honors with Donald. Yes, history is our road map here. (Rams on a FG in the final minute, 20-17)
And for those of you who share my love of NFL nostalgia, here’s hoping we are all talking about some unique moment that makes today’s game memorable for generations to come, when we reconvene at the water cooler tomorrow morning (think Sean Payton calling a game-changing onside kick to start the second half in Super Bowl XLIV, or Nick Foles sneaking out of the backfield for a TD reception a year ago).
As an announcer who always made NFL highlights more fun because of his unbridled enthusiasm once said, “that’s why they play the games!”).
So on that note, here’s five quick ones from the memory banks that I always revert to when remembering great Super Bowl moments of years past:
Garo Yepremian tries to “keek a touchdown” in Super Bowl VII: Those undefeated Dolphins were so dominant (despite the fact the Jets had them dead to rights in their second matchup that year) that this game played out exactly as 7-year-old me expected. The Redskins never had a chance, but when the Dolphins lined up for a meaningless, late FG attempt, one of my favorite memories ensued, as a blocked field goal resulted in the little Dolphins kicker trying to throw a panic-stricken pass that slipped from his grasp, before he futilely tried to bat the erratically bouncing pigskin out of bounds. Instead it ended up in the hands of Mike Bass, who took it to the house, giving the Skins a late touchdown that made the final score look closer than the game really was.
Lynn Swan’s acrobatic catches in Super Bowl X: The first one is the one I’ll always remember, as Swann corrals the batted ball while lying prone on his back. He hauled in a 64-yard bomb later in the game to seal his MVP performance, but look at that concentration!
Phil McConkey’s tip from Mark Bavaro for a TD in Super Bowl XXI: Sometimes it’s just a team’s day. And when that day arrives on Super Bowl Sunday, it creates lasting memories. Super Bowl XXI was a celebration of all things Giants, from the always quotable Jersey-guy, Bill Parcells, to LT, to MVP Phil Simms. It seemed like every feel-good supporting player from Zeke Mowatt to Raul Allegre got to take a turn down in Miami that day. The game was already in hand in the 3rd Quarter, with the Giants up 26-10, when Simms saw an open Bavaro in the end zone, but his pass was a bit high and deflected off the tight end’s finger tips into the waiting arms of the Giants’ super spark plug McConkey, who cradled the TD in his arms as he slid to the ground. Yup, it was all coming up Giants that day.
William “The Refrigerator” Perry scoring a TD in Super Bowl XX: Yeah, we were all probably a little tired of the Super Bowl Shuffle Bears by the time this anti-climactic matchup kicked off. But that Bears squad of 1985 remains the most dominant I’ve seen in my lifetime over a full season. And even though we’d seen The Frig launch his enormous self through defenses for TD’s a few times already during the ’85 season, this was the Super Bowl, and seeing the big man pound through the New England defensive line for a score was a fun memory of that all-time great team.
The Titans fall just short: One of the better played Super Bowls you never hear folks talk about pitted the Rams and Titans back in January of 2000. Kurt Warner hit his favorite target, Isaac Bruce, to put the Rams up 23-16 late in the fourth quarter, but it appeared they may have scored “too soon,” as with 1:54 left on the clock Steve McNair went to work driving his Titans down the field. With six ticks remaining, McNair had one more play to send the game to the Super Bowl’s first OT. The Titan QB connected with Kevin Dyson at the four yard line, and it appeared the game would be tied until Mike Jones (yes, the Mike Jones) made the Super Bowl victory-saving tackle for the Rams, pulling down Dyson by the ankles as the lanky wideout stretched out for all he was worth, falling a yard short.
Mike Jones. Phil McConkey. Max McGee. Larry Brown. You never know who the unexpected hero may be, but here’s hoping we have a close game in the fourth quarter today, and that something memorable happens along the way to make us smile, shake our heads, and harken back to it every year when future Super Bowls roll around.
And for today, forget the objectivity — Go Rams!