By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Now that the bulk of Super Bowl Week activities/distractions have been conducted, the Patriots and Falcons will spend the rest of their time concentrating on the real issue — the game.
The media did its job, duly noting every little detail about players big and small, from what Tom Brady puts in his body every day to Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley’s 41-11 beatdown of Pats tight end Martellus Bennett in their digital Madden game showdown.
The teams seemed to handle everything in stride. And now, barring any unforeseen incidents the next couple of evenings it comes down just playing football. One would think, anyway. But Cowboys Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said Wednesday on WFAN that even the game itself has its emotional challenges.
Irvin recounted his first experience with the big game when he and fellow future Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith walked the Rose Bowl field before they blew out the Bills, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII. Irvin and Smith went through the same ritual before every game, punching fists and confidently striding over the ground.
But the gravity of their first Super Bowl appearance weighed so heavily upon them that “Our knees buckled,” Irvin recounted.
And they didn’t unbuckle until the second quarter.
Obviously, it took a while for today’s five keys to winning a Super Bowl to sink in. But once they did, the Cowboys set off on a record-setting performance, with Troy Aikman throwing four touchdown passes and the defense turning over the Bills a record nine times.
By now, we all know what the Pats and Falcons can do. So here are some other more historic keys to winning on Super Bowl Sunday.
1. KEEP YOUR HEAD ABOUT YOU: With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, keeping one’s head while all around you are losing theirs is easier said than done. As unbelievable as it sounds, Tom Brady has had issues with this very thing as the Giants twice put immense pressure on him to win Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. They basically laid out the defensive blueprint for beating the Pats, a plan the Falcons are likely to try to duplicate. They could pull it off, too. Brady is a lot easier a target to hit than Green Bay’s always-moving Aaron Rodgers, who they tortured in the divisional round. And he hates the punishment.
2. MAKE ONE MEMORABLE PLAY: It’s always nice to win a Super Bowl. But it’s even better to have that game remembered forever. Big plays do that. Remember “The Catch” in XLII, where David Tyree pinned Eli Manning’s pass on his helmet as Rodney Harrison draped himself all over the receiver? Or in XLVI, when Mario Manningham’s sideline catch set up Ahmad Bradshaw’s winning touchdown run? Or Malcolm Butler’s pick at the goal line that sealed New England’s win over Seattle in XLIX? Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return for Green Bay’s clinching touchdown in XXXI against the Pats? Can’t beat it. A nice, 90-yard touchdown hookup between Brady and Julian Edelman or Matt Ryan and Julio Jones would make for a nice touch this year, especially if it produces the decisive score.
3. DEFENSE WINS TITLES, BUT DON’T FORGET THE OFFENSE: You have to score some points to win. There’s no way around that. Think about the Bills in XXV. They actually did a nice job against the Giants, holding them to 20 points. But despite Thurman Thomas’ 135-yard rushing effort with a touchdown, Buffalo came up a point short when Scott Norwood pushed his 47-yard field goal attempt “wide right” to seal Big Blue’s 20-19 win. Contrast that with Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard make in XXXVI that gave the Pats a 20-17 win over Kurt Warner and “The Greatest Show On Turf” Rams.
4. DON’T BE TOO HUMBLE: It’s true that playing in a Super Bowl is a privilege. It’s a hard game to get to. But don’t let the gravity of the moment erode confidence. Joe Namath set the standard for that before Super Bowl III with his poolside guarantee that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts. They did, 16-7, forcing the 1970 merger between the NFL and AFL that gave us the two-conference league we know today. Jones offered a bit of confidence this week in his matter-of-fact manner when he all but dared the Pats to cover him one-on-one. We’ll see if Bill Belichick and his defensive coordinator Matt Patricia take the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver up on it.
5. NEVER MIND THE LINE: The last thing the Pats and Falcons need to worry about is the betting line. The Pats are 3-point favorites, which shouldn’t make them too comfortable in the first place. But these lines haven’t been particularly accurate of late, anyway.
Eight of the last 14 underdogs have won the game outright. That includes the 13½-point underdog Giants’ XLII win against the heavily-favored, undefeated Pats. Seattle was underdogged against Peyton Manning’s Broncos in XLVIII and wound up running them off the field in a 43-8 destruction. The John Elway Broncos beat an 11-point line in their 31-24 win over the Packers in XXXII. The Jets? 17-point underdogs to the Colts. Let’s instead ponder the odds of commissioner/mortal enemy Roger Goodell personally handing over the Lombardi Trophy to Robert Kraft and Brady if they win.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino