This is very strange. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared less about the outcome of a Super Bowl than I do about Super Bowl XL. I mean, don’t get me wrong here. I’m certainly excited for the game. And I care about the outcome inasmuch as I’m hoping for a really good game (and pretty much expecting to get one). But I’m just not in any way invested in one team or the other winning. Or losing. And that’s odd.
In the past four Super Bowls, I’ve been solidly behind one team or the other, and I’ve had a real emotional stake in the outcome. In three of those games, Super Bowl’s XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX, I’ve been behind the winning team, the Patriots and I’ve been elated at the result. In the other, Super Bowl XXXVII, I was flattened by the Raiders loss.
Going back before that, I’ve virtually always had a team to root for or to root against. In Super Bowl XXXV, I had both; I was rooting for the Giants and against the Ravens. (The game didn’t go my way.) The year before that, I was rooting against the Titans. For the two years before that, I was rooting against Denver. In Super Bowl XXXI, I had the Pats to root for (though it was clearly hopeless going in). I kind of rooted for Pittsburgh, and kind of against Dallas, in Super Bowl XXX, for San Francisco the year before that, for Buffalo the two years before that, and against Buffalo the two years before that. And on and on and on. I think I’d have to go all the way back to Super Bowl XVI, San Francisco’s first win over Cincinnati, to find the last game where I didn’t really care which team won, and in that case I have to say that I had a sort of vague animosity toward both contenders.
This year, I really honestly don’t care which team wins. I can come up with reasons I’d like to see each team take it. Jerome Bettis probably deserves a ring at this point. (And so does Bill Cowher, frankly, though I can’t say I care if Cowher ever gets one, whereas I’d kind of like to see the Bus get his.) No one in the league works harder than Hines Ward, so I’d be happy to see him rewarded. And you can’t not respect Ben Roethlisberger, a terrific young quarterback who deserves recognition much more than, say, Peyton Manning, though obviously not as much as Tom Brady. On the other side of the ball, I’d love to see Mike Holmgren become the first coach to win a Super Bowl with two teams (if only because if he doesn’t do it, I’m afraid Bill Parcells might). Matt Hasselbeck has certainly earned his shot at a ring and I’d love to see him get it. Lofa Tatupu is the kind of smart, grounded young player I like to see in the league, so some early success for him would be nice. So there’s that.
Thing is, I can come up with reasons I’d like to see each team lose, too. There’s a mean-spirited part of me that would love to see Roethlisberger go down the same road as Dan Marino, losing a Super Bowl early in his career and never managing to return. There are those absolutely insufferable Steelers fans (not all of them, of course, but enough to have made an impression over the years) whose hearts can’t be broken often or painfully enough for my taste. There’s the simple fact that I like knowing you can count on Cowher’s teams to choke when they get into a big game. And then there’s Shaun Alexander, who, though he’s clearly talented and he’s a lot of fun to watch, still strikes me as a whiny little baby (mostly based on how he held his breath and stomped his feet when he felt like he’d been denied a chance to play for an individual achievement, the league rushing total, at the end of the 2004 season). I just don’t like seeing guys like Alexander succeed.
In the end, again, I’m left just hoping for a good game. Make it fun for me to watch and I’ll be as happy as can be, no matter which team comes out on top. That said, here’s what I expect to see:
Pittsburgh (-4) vs. Seattle
Two weeks ago, at the conclusion of the conference championship games (both of which went almost exactly as I predicted — got the outcomes right picking straight up, and actually predicted a good bit of how the games would play out), I felt pretty confident that the Super Bowl was Pittsburgh’s game to win or lose. A day or so later, I started to take a closer look. And by Thursday of last week, I was convinced that the Seahawks were gonna win the game. Over the nine days that have followed, I’ve searched and searched for some indication that I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to find any. So me, I’m looking for a Seattle upset. The way I see it, Seattle comes out ahead in every matchup except special teams, where Pittsburgh has a slight edge.
I like Seattle’s amazing offensive line’s chances of giving Alexander the room he needs to gain major yards on the ground and of holding off the Pittsburgh defensive front long enough for Hasselbeck to find an open receiver. I like the Seattle receivers’ chances of making something happen against Pittsburgh’s talented DBs (banged up or otherwise). Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram, both of whom are underrated as a result of having missed big chunks of the regular season due to injury, are remarkably talented. And as Joe Jurivicius (who’s playing in his third Super Bowl) and Peter Warrick made clear when Jackson and Engram were out, the Seahawks are way deep at WR. Even if the Seahawks have to pass a lot, they should be able to have some good success. But with Alexander running behind that line, and with Mack Strong clearing his path, I can’t imagine there will be any situation in which Seattle has to pass unless they’re way behind late. And I just don’t see that happening.
I also like the way Seattle’s defense matches up against the Pittsburgh offense. The Seahawks were almost as tough against the run in the regular season as Pittsburgh was (giving up 3.6 yards per carry to the Steelers’ 3.4). And while they fared less well against the pass (allowing 6.8 yards per completion to Pittsburgh’s 6.3 and 222 yards per game in the air to Pittsburgh’s 198), they’re not facing one the league’s better passing offenses in this game. Seattle also has a better pass D than two of the teams Pittsburgh beat in the AFC playoffs (Cincinnati and Denver), which is significantly a result of the fact that Seattle has better DBs than any of Pittsburgh’s AFC playoff opponents (overall, that is; there’s probably no better single DB in the league than Denver’s Champ Bailey, but the Broncos’ backfield as a unit was young and prone to mistakes). The Seahawks’ DBs were a significant part of why Seattle lead the league in sacks in the regular season. Their pass rush gets extra time to get to quarterbacks because receivers simply don’t get open. Those Seahawks DBs also don’t tend to make the kind of mistakes the Colts and Broncos DBs did, which means Roethlisberger isn’t going to have a big margin of error when he throws the ball. That’s not a good situation for any quarterback, even one of Big Ben’s obviously considerable talent, to have to face.
So here’s what I figure: The game stays close until near the end of the third quarter. And then one team or the other makes a huge play that breaks it open, and the team that falls behind never manages to catch up. The game may be won on the final play, but it will be won by whichever team went ahead late in the third doing something to hold off a late comeback attempt. I kind of expect that big play either to be a big run by Alexander (one of those patented untouched 20 yards into the end zone things he does) or a pick by one of the Seattle DBs that either goes for a touchdown or sets up an easy score for the offense and sucks the wind out of Pittsburgh’s sails. But, you know, as always, I’m just guessing.