Jan 27, 2009

Super Bowl Commentary

by Thomas Lourdeau, Asst. Sports Editor

The phrase “Any given Sunday” is easily one of the most overused clichés in all of sports, but recent events inside the National Football League (NFL) have made it as true as ever.

The 2008 playoffs showed just how fickle the NFL can be from one season to the next. The New England Patriots, who have been the decade’s most dominant team, missed the playoffs despite posting an 11-5 record. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins completed an incredible turnaround in 2008 as they rebounded from a 1-15 record in 2007 to make the playoffs.

Meanwhile, in the National Football Conference (NFC), the Giants followed up last year’s Super Bowl run by securing the no. 1 seed in the NFC, and then fell prey to the Eagles at home, spelling doom for yet another one seed in the NFL.

However, we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg on this season’s playoff surprises until we talk about the Arizona Cardinals. Not only have they become the first 9-7 team since the 1979 Rams to reach the Super Bowl, but they are appearing in their first championship game of any kind since 1947 when they won the NFL Championship as the Chicago Cardinals.

They have since called two cities home in St. Louis and Phoenix, Ariz. and have made the playoffs just a handful of times in that span.

Never before in Super Bowl history has there been such a sharp contrast between the team’s historical records. The Steelers are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys for most Super Bowl victories with five, their most recent coming in Super Bowl XL.

History aside, the game itself boasts many intriguing storylines that are sure to develop further even before the game’s opening kickoff. It should be an interesting chess match between Head Coaches Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt, as the two are familiar with each other from their time in Pittsburgh. Whisenhunt was the tight ends coach beginning in 2001 before becoming the Offensive Coordinator in 2004.

He also interviewed for the head coaching position two seasons ago that was eventually given to current coach Mike Tomlin.

The stark contrast extends to play on the field as well. While the Steelers have been traditionally known as a smash mouth, in-your-face defensive squad dating back to the “Steel Curtain” teams of the 1970s, the Cardinals boast a potent offensive attack featuring arguably the game’s top wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald.

With one game left to play, Fitzgerald has already eclipsed Hall of Fame wide out Jerry Rice for the most playoff receiving yards with 413, while his five touchdowns is also tops in 2008.

That said, the Cardinals have yet to face a defensive squad like the Steelers this season. Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison are just two of many powerhouses on the Pittsburgh defense. Despite Fitzgerald’s success, the Steelers figure to force Arizona into a one-dimensional passing attack thanks to their second-ranked run defense which allowed just 80.2 ypg in 2008.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, they weren’t too bad against the pass either, allowing an NFL-best 156 yards-per-game through the air.
Both quarterbacks have been on football’s biggest stage before. Kurt Warner appeared in two Super Bowls in the 1999 and 2000 seasons with one victory, while Ben Roethlisberger has a lone appearance and victory as a second year quarterback in 2005.

If the Cardinals are looking for hope in facing the AFC’s top-ranked representative in this year’s postseason, they need only look to the 2005 Steelers, who won three straight road games before defeating the Seattle Seahawks, who entered Super Bowl XL with a league-best 14-2 record.

While sports fans in search of a repeat performance from last season, when New York Giants receiver David Tyree made what has been called the greatest catch in NFL history, might be a bit disappointed, this game promises to be nothing short of entertaining as we see firsthand what happens when two polar opposites meet for American sports’ biggest sporting event.

Contact Thomas Lourdeau at
tlourdeau@liberty.edu.

 


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