ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:
Beyond the classic pizza, buffalo wings and chips, what is acceptable as proper Super Bowl chow? Can one get too fancy, and when does one know when he's gotten too fancy for football?
What I can tell you is that at the Super Bowl party I attended, pizza was not offered, and there were no wings, either. Instead, it was Italian Beef, kept warm by little fondue burners, with a vegetable platter. I am not making this up. More surprising is that this party was held at the bachelor pad of a single white male. For desert there was a huge chocolate chip cookie decorated with green and white (Eagles?) icing.
There was chips and pop too, but if this menu was not too fancy, it sure came close. If you stuck with your own menu of pizza, wings, and chips, you did just fine.
We were chowing before kick-off, which did not occur until 5:37 CST. The country gig with Gretchen Wilson and Charlie Daniels was fun, and then they brought out some hip hop. It was all very tame, inspiring confidence in the parents of young children that even half-time was going to be okay this year. The "concert crowd" down on the field looked like they had been pulled out of a studio can: Cheering Track, Just Add Water. The tribute to war veterans and singing of the National Anthem was actually done tastefully, but it made for a long pre-game field spectacle.
Memo to networks: Aim to kick-off the Super Bowl by 5:00. When it was all over I could not stay up to watch the new Simpson's episode, and I wanted too.
Most eating had to be done in the first quarter, because the rest of the game was so tight and nervous there was no appetite anymore. The leading receiver by the end of the first 15 minutes was Terrell Owens, the wounded Eagle that no one had been sure was going to play much. Both teams defenses came up big, scoring sacks and forcing punts.
The Eagles drew first blood in the second quarter on an 81-yard march that saw McNabb hit his rhythm. The Patriots answered on a short drive after a field-position exchange, with Brady cooler than any beer in Jacksonville. All locked up at 7-7, everyone in the room knew we were watching something special: A Super Bowl that actually had the two best teams in the league playing each other.
At half-time Paul McCartney provided a class act, building up to the whole stadium singing "Na na na na, Hey Jude!" and holding up red, white and blue placards, signifying something, I'm not sure what. The screaming girls on the field proved how clueless FOX was. If they wanted women who would scream for McCartney rather than just act like it, they would have had those girls' mothers (grandmothers?) on the field instead.
As usual, everyone at the party hushed up and intently watched the commercials. The busty girl appearing before a censorship committee was not as funny as its makers thought. The Diet Pepsi Truck Fad was funny, and only ran a couple times, which kept it fresh as second runner up. The Federal Express commercial with Burt Reynolds and the dancing bear was only broadcast once, I believe, and gets the silver medal. The frozen Ford convertible was funny, in that it is funny to see a guy in bermuda clothes frozen to death at an intersection in North Dakota (a reference to the the movie "Fargo"?) but its message was pretentious and the commercial was overplayed, knocking it out of medal contention. For first prize, read on.
At the end of the third quarter it was still locked up, 14 to 14. Speculation began about overtime. So much for getting home for an early evening to prepare for an early Monday.
Clearly, if the Eagles won, the MVP would be Terrell Owens, in a story that would live in Super Bowl legend. The Patriots were quietly pushing along as a team. Mike Vrabel scored another Super Bowl touchdown on a tackle eligible—a play that might itself become a Super Bowl tradition. Todd Bruschi made big plays on defense in every quarter. Tom Brady continued to be unflappable, and Deion Branch piled up catches. Then in the fourth quarter, the Patriots took control, opening a ten point lead. Corey Dillon scored on a two-yard plunge, and then, after McNabb was intercepted, the Patriots Adam Vinaterri, the hero of two previous wins, kicked a field goal with under five minutes left to play.
If everyone else in the country knew the Eagles were running out of time, no one bothered to tell their offense. They moseyed on down the field, burning up time with huddles and short catches in the middle. The two minute warning came and went before the Eagles scored on a long ball that had isolated a single coverage.
Now the game was within 3, and the threat of overtime loomed. The Eagles only had two time-outs, however, and with barely over 90 seconds, they had to kick short. They did, directly into the strength of the Patriots’ “hands” team. New England ran the ball, the Eagles stopped the clock, and the Patriots punted, pinning the Eagles within the five yard-line with under 50 seconds to go. They had to move seventy yards with no time-outs just to get into field-goal range.
McNabb, pressured in his own end-zone, dumped it off to a back in the middle at the five. Inconceivably, he made the catch rather than deliberately dropping it. I don’t know who the back was, but the play burned a good 15 seconds. Now the Eagles were gasping, having to toss up “hail Mary” long-balls just to move down the field. McNabb was intercepted with nine seconds to play.
The difference in the game was turn-overs, field position and clock management. This is the boring side of football, the kind of talking that color analysts do when casual fans tell them to shut up or talk over them at Super Bowl parties. When two great teams collide, these make the difference more than anything else.
An interception shut down an Eagles’ scoring drive toward the end of the first quarter, and another interception gave the Patriots the ball back with 6 minutes to play, allowing them to burn up some clock and open a ten-point lead with the field-goal. The 90 second edge in time of possession for New England was 90 seconds the Eagles badly needed. Yet the Eagles could have redeemed at least a minute of their own ball control by going to the quick offense with 4 minutes left, rather than waiting until after the two-minute warning.
When the Super Bowl becomes a two-possession game in the fourth quarter, it is practically over. The team that is ahead has a defense that has gotten them to the big game by shutting down one come-back effort after another. But as a Packers fan, I knew about Eagles heroics and mind-boggling defensive lapses. Fourth-and Twenty-six, anyone? If any team could have managed the come-back, it was the Eagles with McNabb. I just could not believe how they let the sand drain through the hour-glass.
Some other differences have more to do with moral and spiritual lessons than with the coaching and abilities that play out in a game. Once again, the total team effort of the Patriots snuffed out the pretensions of a marquee quarterback and his dynamite superstar receivers. Yes, if the Eagles had won, McNabb would have rung up the endorsements, and Owens would have mooned his MVP all over the league. But they didn’t win, did they? The best team in football is the New England Patriots, and at least for now I don’t see any reason why that is going to change.
Super Bowl 39 was not the best ever played, but it was a good one. I give it, and its pre-game and half-time and commercials, and the Italian Beef, 3.5 stars (out of 4).
And the Blue Ribbon for best commercial, goes to the “Want a New Job?” chimpanzee four-commercial series. The last of the four was over the top funny.