Sunday, February 01, 2015

Super Bowl thoughts and predictions (I compare Belichick to Churchill)

I'm writing this at 4 in the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. It's not that I can't sleep, I don't want to sleep. I can't tell if I'm buzzed, or groggy, or a mellow mixture of both. But I'm sure of the mellowness, which is rare for me.

Seven years ago, as I anxiously anticipated the Patriots meeting the Giants in Super Bowl XLII and perhaps the completion a flawless season, I remember not being able to sleep, and sending texts to my older brother, quoting Shakespeare's Henry V (Roman numeral overload). In that play there's a scene of French commanders conversing on the eve of battle, excited to destroy the small number of underfed and under-equipped English soldiers that stood against them in what would be known as the Battle of Agincourt. And I felt like those eager French. "Would it were day!" In one of history's greatest upsets, the outnumbered, exhausted, and poorly equipped English utterly destroyed the French army in that battle. It was the equivalent of a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament beating a 1 by 40 points, and then continuing to win the whole damn tournament. Similarly, the underdog Giants beat the mighty Patriots.

This feels different. The Patriots are not overwhelming favorites. They face a formidable defense that will not give an inch without a fight. In terms of historical conflicts, this actually reminds me more of the D-Day landings of 1944 in Normandy (and no, I'm not comparing the Seahawks to the Nazis). Like the Allies on the eve of D-Day, I don't know how it will end, but I'm confident that the generals and the soldiers have done all they could to prepare and will do their jobs when the moment comes. We can only wait and watch how it plays out.

I'm more relaxed than I was 8 years ago. Less anxiety, less nervousness. The game starts in 14 and a half hours as I write this, and I'm more concerned about what beer to bring to the party I'm going to. Do I want just Sam Adams, or a mix of some lighter beers? And this is not because I take the opponent lightly, but because there's nothing to think about except the beer. These two teams will decide matters on the field, not in the brains of pundits and "experts,." And certainly the worries and hopes in the arena of my brain won't be able to determine the winner.

Those "experts" by the way, some of whom have been gushing over how amazing Seattle is, completely underestimated them last year against the Broncos. What kind of judge of quality or character are they? In their minds, the Broncos have won 2 of 3 Super Bowls, and the 49ers won the other. The same team they wrote off last year is an unstoppable juggernaut today. The dumbest people in the world are the ones who don't realize what they don't know. And many of those people join the media.

The Patriots have two key advantages in the upcoming game: special teams and Bill Belichick.

The Seahawks are not very good at covering punts. The Patriots have an exceptional punt returner in Julian Edelman. A big return from him could prove to be the difference in the game. A couple of solid 10+ yard returns from him could sway the field position battle in New England's favor. This area is one of the few matchups that either team has a decided advantage over the other.

The other advantage is Belichick. The D-Day invasion was meticulously planned. It involved the coordination of thousands of troops landing in dozens of places, ships and planes bombarding defensive positions, airborne troops landing behind enemy lines to cause disruption (shout out to the 101st Airborne, the unit my brother served in). That was a massive logistical undertaking. There was also a heavy dose of guile and deception, as the Allies were able to convince the Germans that the invasion would take place at the Pas-de-Calais, about 200 miles northeast of Normandy.

Hmmmm, guile and deception. Remind you of any NFL head coaches?

And in risk of hyperbole, wasn't Bill Belichick's "We're on to Cincinnati" press conference the type of simple yet stirring eloquence that Winston Churchill might employ? When the Germans forced the British to evacuate France at Dunkirk in 1940, Churchill might as well have said "We're on to the Battle of Britain," or "We're on to North Africa."

Those 4 words repeated by Belichick helped turn the tide of the season.

These teams are both so good and so tough, wouldn't it be great to see them play a best-of-5 series? Sadly, we only get to enjoy a single game between these very worth adversaries. Only 60 minutes of football. Every small edge will need to be exploited, every opportunity taken advantage of.

I think the Pats make a big special teams play. I think Brady and the offense will have trouble scoring lots of points, but will do their job in the field position game, with the occasional touchdown and field goal. And I think the Seahawks receivers against the Patriots secondary is a favorable matchup for the Pats. The Seahawks won't score many points either.

Patriots win 23-20.