Superbowl XLVII is just two days away and after a two week build up the teams are nearly ready to do battle. As the biggest game of the NFL calendar special attention is paid to the game and the players and coaches involved, and this year there are more front page headlines than usual. We have brothers coaching on opposite sidelines, an all time great playing his last ever game and a kicker who can’t seem to split the uprights amongst other things.
It’s also worth noting that today was the 21st Wing Bowl, held annually in Philadelphia, and was won by James “The Bear” McDonald from Connecticut. McDonald was booed by the 20,000 Philadelphian’s in attendance at the Wells Fargo centre, where pro basketball and hockey is played, because he wasn’t a local unlike runner-up and three time champ Jonathan “Super” Squib from New Jersey. For those of you who don’t know the Wing Bowl consists of participants eating as many wings as possible over two rounds, before the final which is a two minute speed eating round. Classy females known as “Wingettes” are one of the main attractions of the event to spectators and the event is hosted by Philly radio station WIP. For those of you less interested in the chicken wings and more interested in the Wingettes here’s a link to Philly.com’s gallery of Wingette photographs. I’m not sure why, but the one Wingette who was wearing an Eagles jersey choose Nate Allen’s. These girls clearly know more about wings than they do about good safety play. Anyway, enough about chicken wings. Here are the top three story lines from this years big game:
#52’s Last Stand
Ray Lewis, he of just six tackles for a loss over the past two seasons, starts what is his final game should he retire as promised at the end of this season. Lewis was a fine player for about a decade but his play has declined as his age has risen and he’s no longer the force he once was. Darnell Ellerbe is his equal in the middle of the Ravens line backing core, yet all the media focus has been on Lewis following his long and arduous farewell tour. Amani Toomer hit the nail on the head when he said Lewis was being self-indulgent by lining up in the offensive victory formation against the Colts three weeks ago and it’s clear for all to see that he’s enjoying the spotlight being firmly on him. In some ways I feel sorry for his teammates for having to put up with Lewis’s “me first” attitude, but then again they seem happy enough to enable and embrace it. Be prepared for the camera to focus on Lewis every time he’s near the ball on Sunday; just don’t be surprised when you see Frank Gore breeze past the ageing star.
You’ve all heard by now about the Harbaugh brothers, John and Jim, and their friendly rivalry as they oppose each other in the biggest game of all. John is the head honcho of the Ravens and has had an excellent record since he was hired to replace Brian Billick five seasons ago. Whilst he inherited a stout defense he built the offense from the ground up by drafting the likes of Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, and his background as a special teams co-ordinator with the Eagles has served him well as he has rallied the entire team behind him. Jim was a successful college coach before he made the transition to the pros with the 49ers and he’s brought some of that college attack to the NFL with him. Since he installed Colin Kaepernick as his starting QB midway through the season, a gutsy call itself, Harbaugh and his offensive co-ordinator Greg Roman have introduced the “pistol” formation out of which Kaepernick operates the read option. Kaepernick can keep the ball himself or hand the ball off to either Frank Gore or LaMichael James, who are able to get up a head of steam by lining up behind the QB despite him lining up in the shotgun. When all things are considered both head coaches have done a tremendous job and they thoroughly deserve to be on the sidelines this weekend. Unfortunately they get on famously so their won’t be any sibling squabbles after the game, but you can’t have it all.
How many times has the Superbowl come down to a last minute kick? Adam Vinatieri thrice was the difference between a New England loss and a New England defeat, and had the Patriots not let Ahmad Bradshaw waltz into the end zone in last seasons Superbowl then Lawrence Tynes would have had the deciding kick with under a minute to play. Even if it isn’t the last play of the game kickers feel the pressure more than usual in the SB, and should they crumble under it then it can severely influence the result. Points are, after all, the goal of the game. Akers missed more field goals than any other kicker during the regular season this year, and he hit the upright with his only attempt in the NFC Championship game in Atlanta. It was a bad miss made worse by the fact the game was indoors, although because the Superdome is hosting Sundays game he’ll have the same advantage in this game. Not only has Akers form been lacking this season but in recent years he has also performed poorly in play-off games. In the 2008 NFC Championship game he missed an extra point for Philadelphia against Arizona (also inside), and the Eagles cut him lose after he missed two sub-40 yard tries against the Packers in 2010. One final point on Akers: he did appear in the Superbowl eight years ago, however he did not attempt a field goal in that game so his first attempt on Sunday will still be his first ever kick in a Superbowl. Should it come down to the final minutes, as it might well do, 49ers fans will have every reason to doubt Akers if their destiny rests on the accuracy of his boot.
Tomorrow I’ll be back with a more statistical/tactical look at the Superbowl, breaking down both teams offenses and defenses ahead of Sunday’s kick off.