By Sterling Pingree
Two commons themes I find myself saying before the Patriots play in the Super Bowl: I don’t have a handle on this game and I can’t fathom the Patriots winning a 6th Super Bowl. I wrote this column three different times and deleted them all because none of those drafts made any sense and generally wound up with me talking about what a strange team Kansas City was this year. (Then they trade Alex Smith? Such an odd franchise.)
Instead of this column being an accidental clustermuck, it’s going to be an intentional stroll through the story lines and musings I’ve been considering through the week about Super Bowl 52. (It will probably still become a clustermuck, but it’ll be that way by design. Which I think shows consideration and maturity.)
Patriots x-Factor: Running back James White. White had a pretty anonymous season this year, only rushing for 171 yards, 0 touch downs and as a pass catcher had 56 receptions and 3 touch downs. That has all changed in the post season where he caught one touchdown and rushed for another in the divisional round against Tennessee and rushed for another against Jacksonville. Everyone is familiar with his 14-reception – 3 touchdown performance in last year’s Super Bowl and I think with Philadelphia’s struggle against pass catchers out of the back field, there is a good chance that White could find himself as the focus of McDaniels’ final game plan.
Eagles x-Factor: Quarterback Nick Foles. This seems like an obvious choice but most of my more confident opinions regarding the outcome of this game revolve around Foles’ performance. If Foles plays well, the Eagles can win. If Foles plays just okay, the Eagles probably lose and what makes this such a precarious thought is on how broad of a spectrum Foles’ performance could land on. If he has a game like he did against Minnesota (26-33, 352 yards 3 td, 0 int), the Eagles likely win and if he plays like he did against the Raiders (19-38, 163 yards, 1 td, 1 int, 1 fumble), the Patriots will put the game away by halftime. The question becomes, what if he plays like he did in the Divisional round against Atlanta? (23-30, 246 yards, 0 td, 0 int) Weirdly enough, the Patriots defense probably most closely resembles the Raiders. The Patriots have a much better defense than Oakland, but the unit doesn’t compare with either Atlanta or Minnesota. Which Foles shows up will have the biggest impact on the outcome. (Coincidentally enough, all three of those games were at home and all were Philadelphia victories.)
Depending on what happens Sunday, either the Patriots will have won 3 Super Bowls in 4 seasons, or LeGarrette Blount will. The list of running backs who have won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years will look like this:
Emmitt Smith and LeGarrette Blount
Emmitt Smith and James White
(If the Patriots win, James Develin would join Daryl “Moose” Johnston as the only fullbacks to win 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. Develin went to Brown.)
I couldn’t picture James Harrison hoisting the Lombardi trophy in a Patriots uniform; then I remembered the image of Darrelle Revis after Super Bowl 49. I can now picture James Harrison holding the Lombardi trophy in a white Pats jersey. Speaking of white jerseys…….
12 of the last 13 Super Bowl winners have worn white jerseys. The one team to win wearing something other than white? The Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl 45, but that’s probably because Aaron Rodgers has all that insurance he’s always bragging about after Clay Matthews tries to ruin his life. While we’re on the subject, how strange does it seem that Aaron Rodgers has only played in one Super Bowl? Rodgers turned 34 on December 2nd and even if he won every NFC championship until he turns 40, he’d still have one less Super Bowl appearance than Tom Brady has at age 40.
Not to dive too deeply into the cottage industry of Super Bowl prop bets, but here’s a freebie. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, is there ANY chance that Tom Brady isn’t named MVP? He won last year, in spite of the fact that James White set the game’s receptions/scoring records. If you think the Patriots are winning the game, parlay that with Brady to win MVP because one isn’t happening with the other. (Unless Brady somehow won the Super Bowl MVP in a losing effort, could that happen? It’s only happened one time and it was in Super Bowl 5 as Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley won the award despite the Cowboy losing to the Colts.) Also, if Brady won his 5th Super Bowl MVP award, he would join Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw as the only players to win the award back to back. His 5th award would also put him two ahead of second most all-time, Joe Montana, who won three Super Bowl MVP awards.
Other MVP facts:
No running back has won the award since 1998 when Terrell Davis won the award for Denver in Super Bowl 32.
Quarterbacks have won 28 of 51 Super Bowl MVP awards.
After all of these years, co-MVPs has only happened one time, Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers Harvey Martin and Randy White in Super Bowl 12.
I believe in symmetry and I started thinking after Super Bowl 51 about the chances of the Patriots winning 3 Super Bowls in 4 seasons at the beginning of Brady and Belichick’s run and then again at the end. The irony of the 3rd (potential) win coming against the Eagles with the imminent departure of both offensive and defensive coordinators (as was the case in 2005) is certainly not lost on me.
If the Patriots win their 6th Super Bowl championship, they would tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time. A 6th would break their tie with the 49ers and Cowboys. The Patriots would have one more Lombardi trophy than Dallas and San Francisco. As someone who watched a lot of NFL Films as a kid (and an adult), including an annual marathon of all the Super Bowl films, this is unimaginable. As a kid, the two weeks before the Super Bowl meant that ESPN2 would air these for 3 to 19 hours every day leading up to the game and as a Patriots fan, you hoped NOT to see one involving the Patriots. We only had two episodes, Super Bowl 20 vs Chicago or Super Bowl 31 vs Green Bay. I can only imagine trying to tell my 11-year old self that in 2018, the Patriots will have more episodes of NFL Films’ Super Bowls than any other franchise. I probably would assume that we got adopted by Green Bay in some sort of land deal.
The 30 for 30 documentary, The Two Bills was fantastic. It was so striking seeing Belichick and Parcells in the same room at the same time. My two biggest takeaways was that neither Bill wanted to go visit the Jets locker room, so they just refused to go.
The second striking moment was taken from footage of Bill Belichick’s A Football Life in 2009. In the clip, Belichick is touring the offices and locker rooms of old Giants Stadium. In the hallway, Belichick starts to become emotional as he talks about all of the hours that he spent in that facility as a young coach. His voice starts to crack as he says “I just tried to be a good coach………….. Win some games.” This is the most revealing and vulnerable moment we’ve ever seen from Belichick because it shows the modest goals that he started with as compared to the heights of now, when he is on the eve of head coaching his 8th Super Bowl.
Prediction: Patriots 27 Eagles 24
Sterling Pingree is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.