Mets fans from the early ’70’s might remember the old joke about the difference between managers Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra.
As it went, the difference was said to be six innings. When Hodges managed the Mets, he would be thinking during the third inning about what strategy he would employ in the sixth. When Yogi was manager, he would spend the sixth inning thinking about what he should have done back in the third.
I keep coming back to that one when I compare the lead men for this Sunday’s Super Bowl extravaganza. On the one hand, we’ve got the grizzled, overweight, throwback coaching lifer, who has never been able to get over the top in the big game. On the other sideline will be the futuristic head coaching prototype. A guy with youth, smarts and good looks on his side, and who fits in perfectly among the venture capitalists and private equity boys and girls of Silicon Valley.
In a matchup where the odds makers have installed a razor-thin, one-point spread, shouldn’t the difference in tacticians at the helm be the ultimate difference maker? Well, maybe…
But then I remember that this latest model of “cool head coach who is changing the future of football before our very eyes” was last seen on this stage play-calling the Atlanta Falcons to the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history. Not only that, but Kyle Shanahan arrives in Miami this year on the heels of another in this assembly line of super-cool, metrics-driven NFL communicators. You remember Sean McVay, don’t you? The poor guy was so badly overmatched against Bill Belichick in this game a year ago that no one even mentions his name anymore outside the greater Los Angeles area.
Meanwhile, can we get a couple of huzzahs for the big man leading the Chiefs? I have had a field day at Andy Reid’s expense on these pages over the past two seasons, and he’s earned all of our skepticism with his early departures from the playoffs in so many years past, despite often lining up with the far more talented roster. But have you been watching these Chiefs throughout the playoffs? They are one scary team.
Kind of like the San Francisco 49ers, who are pretty much every bit as scary, just for different reasons. What it all adds up to from this vantage point is the two best teams in the NFL facing off in this year’s Super Bowl. And it should be a helluva game. But somewhere there’s a rule that states we have to make a pick here, so the key factor in handicapping this Sunday’s Roman Numeral Fete is short and to the point: we’re going old school.
And by “old school” I don’t mean this is a Niners pick either, even if they do have the tougher defense, the superior ground game and the do-everything tight end at their disposal. Classic old school attributes, for sure, but that’s not where AtticBro is heading with this one. Nope, this old school pick is all about The Walrus, Mahomes and Buck. Let me explain:
The Walrus: Can any of us say with certainty that the photo above isn’t actually Andy Reid following two weeks in the Maui sun? Just sayin’. Could be though, right? The reality here is that despite the fun we poke at the Chiefs head man, all the guy does is win. He won in Philly (advancing to Super Bowl XXXIX), and he’s won in K.C. Big. That whole “winningest active coach never to win a Super Bowl” graphic will be shown more than a few times this weekend, but it says here that this is the big man’s year. He’s got the better QB, and an explosive enough offense to come back from any deficit, as we’ve witnessed throughout the Chiefs’ postseason run this season. And the defense, historically an Achilles heel of Reid’s Chiefs squads, is actually tough. Tough enough, anyway, to occasionally get the Niners ball control system off the field. Which gives Patrick Mahomes a high likelihood of driving it all the way downfield in the other direction for a score. Shanahan? He may be the game’s next great tactician and leader, but we really don’t know anything about him just yet. I’ve felt all year long San Francisco was a year away, and I still feel that way. Those spoiled Bay Area fans will have to take solace in the fact that the stacked Niners are set to contend for years to come. But 2020 is the year of The Walrus.
Mahomes: Okay, let’s do a quick inventory — rifle arm, smarts, running ability, leader, dangerous weapons at the skill positions. That is a pretty solid baseline for Patrick Mahomes to work from, and apart from his egregious lapse in judgement choosing to appear in those overplayed State Farm commercials with Aaron Rodgers, its hard to find much wrong with the kid. Heck, he even likes the Mets, with his dad having worn the blue and orange toward the end of his career as a major league pitcher. And let’s stay on the diamond for another minute. It turns out Patrick was also a tremendous baseball talent back in the day, so let’s give some props to parents who let their kids grow up enjoying multiple sports in the name of having fun, rather than being slotted into some youth-QB, sausage-making process starting at the age of eight. Jimmy G. on the other side? Hard to quarrel with him either, but Mahomes is the best QB in football right now. Enormous edge to K.C. And if we needed more to turn this needle in the direction of K.C., let’s take a minute to send a hearty Bronx Cheer in the direction of Mr. Garoppolo, simply for his ties to Brady and Belicheat up in New England (anyone sad the Patriots aren’t a part of things this weekend? Didn’t think so). Guilt by association? You betcha.
Buck: Yeah, here comes the old school angle. Growing up in the ’70’s, the Chiefs were a damn entertaining team. Lenny Dawson to Otis Taylor was Mahomes to Tyreek Hill long before either of those guys were born. And Kansas City had so many other heroes that were so much fun to watch on any given Sunday — Willie Lanier, Mike Garrett, Bobby Bell, and especially Buck Buchanan. Big number 86 was the gold standard of my Chiefs football card pile every year growing up. Not only did he have the ultimate football badass name, but he happened to be one enormous human being. He stood 6’7, and weighed 287 pounds, back when that was impossibly huge for an NFL-er. He’d been the Chiefs first overall pick in the AFL Draft back in 1963, when he became the first player ever from an historically black college to be taken in the first round. He was strong and fast, and when the Chiefs blew out the Vikings in Super Bowl IV fifty years ago, Buchanan was part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Mount Rushmore. When I think back on my favorite 49ers from those impressionable, good ole days of the ’70’s? I only make it as far as Woody Peoples. Also a great player in possession of an incredibly catchy football name, but Peoples just wasn’t Buck Buchanan.
And that’s where we land for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV. Two great teams, well-deserving of representing their respective conferences in the NFL-AFL Championship Game. But somebody’s gotta win, and it says here that having 50 years of Buck Buchanan karma on your side, along with an overdue and sentimental-favorite in Head Coach Andy Reid, and the best QB on the planet, will be enough for the Chiefs to win and cover on Super Bowl Sunday.
CHIEFS 34, 49ERS 31