As you may have already heard, this Sunday’s Super Bowl is one of the most anticipated games in recent sports history. It may set a new all-time TV ratings record; both Denver and Seattle were #1 seeds and seem to be the best two teams in football; the Broncos have the best passing offense of all time and the NFL’s best total offense, and the Seahawks have the league’s #1 total defense; Manning needs one more Super Bowl win to secure his legacy, and Seattle’s young, hipster team are the underdogs trying to prove they belong.
But while this will be one of the best Super Bowls in recent history, it won’t be for any of these reasons. In fact, most of these simplistic summaries are completely inaccurate.
Super Bowl XLVIII is one of the best matchups in sports history because Denver and Seattle represent two different ways of building a team, two different ways to run an organization and two different very ways of life.
You don’t believe me? Let’s start with a little history.
It’s a little known and conveniently neglected fact that every Super Bowl traces its origins back to the Kansas City Chiefs.
In the 1950’s, Lamar Hunt, then a mid-twenties son of Texas oil tycoon H. L. Hunt, made several unsuccessful bids to buy a franchise of the National Football League. Frustrated by the NFL’s unwillingness to allow a recent college graduate to start his own team in Dallas, young Hunt took his millions and approached seven other wealthy sports fans who had similarly been turned down by the NFL. Together, they formed a massive competitor, the American Football League in 1960, with Hunt, age 27, as its president. He founded his own franchise, the Dallas Texans, and hired as its first coach Hank Stram, who would become one of the all-time greats. In 1963, Hunt moved the team to Kansas City, Mo. and renamed them the Chiefs, keeping Stram as his coach and landing future Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson. As football exploded in popularity across the country, the AFL grew from a frustrated minor league to a major threat to the NFL, and in 1966, Hunt negotiated a four-year merger between the two leagues.
In the first four years of the merger, the American Football League (later the AFC) champion would take on the National Football League (which became the NFC) champion in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. Fittingly, Hunt’s own Chiefs played in the very first AFL-NFL WCG, but as expected, lost to the heavy-weight Green Bay Packers 35-10. The second AFL-NFL WCG went to the Packers as well, and haters continued to criticize the NFL’s inclusion of the still-developing AFL.
Around this time, Hunt publicly declared that the game have a much more catchy name, and admitted that he had simply begun calling it the “Super Bowl” because of the popularity of the Super Ball toy his kids were playing with at the time. The media picked up Hunt’s phrase and by the 1968 postseason, the NFL approved the official name change.
In the first officially-named Super Bowl, the NFL champion Baltimore Colts were heavily favored against the AFL’s New York Jets. Leading up to the game, Jets QB Joe Namath famously made a poolside guarantee that he would beat the Colts. To gain a little historical perspective, this would be like the NFL today agreeing to send its Super Bowl champion to play against the winner of the BCS college football championship. It would be an entertaining game, but the NFL would eventually squash their under-matched opponents, who had only a fraction of the finances, resources and history of its world-class big brother. But shockingly, Joe Namath, that old shadester, came through on his guarantee: on January 15, 1969, the Jets beat the Colts 16-7. (As a side note, I always think it’s funny when a QB gets all the credit for a win in a defensive battle. All Namath had to do was get his team in field goal range a few times!) All in all, Hunt’s first “Super Bowl” was a major upset and a media sensation.
The following year, the AFL solidified their status in the Super Bowl era, as Hunt’s Chiefs pounded the Minnesota Vikings 23-7, with QB Len Dawson taking home the game’s MVP trophy. While the rest of the Chiefs’ history has not gone exactly to plan, Hunt’s merger of the AFL and NFL became complete by the 1970 season, as the two league’s teams began to play each other throughout the regular season. Surprisingly, Hunt’s great challenger, the AFL/AFC, would go 11-2 in Super Bowls between ’69-81, with Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers winning four times and Don Shula’s Dolphins going undefeated in ’72-73.
Lamar Hunt remained a patriarch of the NFL and the owner of the Chiefs until his death in 2006. Hunt also was a co-founder and minority owner of the Chicago Bulls and founded (and mostly funded) Major League Soccer, personally starting franchises in Kansas City, Dallas, and Columbus, Oh.
What was Hunt’s secret to success? Hunt believed, it seems, in the old secrets of doing what you love and doing things right. By every account available, Hunt simply loved sports. He could have had a much more lucrative lifestyle by staying in the Texas oil industry, but he saw his riches as an opportunity to invest his time, energy and money into his passion—primarily, football, and for some inexplicable, soccer. So much of contemporary professional and college sports is run by business executives who are simply looking for an affluent lifestyle in the sporting entertainment world. Everyone wants to be the next Jerry Jones or Mark Cuban. But how many sports execs truly love the game? It’s hard to tell—even in the top tier of NCAA football. Give it to Hunt: he loved sports.
Second, Hunt believed in doing things right. From what I can tell from my (limited) research, Hunt never set out to win quick. He set out to start leagues, build organizations, enhance growing cities, build community within and around his teams, carefully pick General Managers and Coaches, and then, if all went to plan, establish a winning team. Hunt’s teams have always done very well. It’s not that he’s never had a losing season, and he’s not the most well-known sports owner ever, but if you look at his teams’ histories, they almost always perform above average. I’m sure that every year, especially with his beloved Chiefs, he had opportunities to grab some super free agent, rising-but-untested young GM or flashy new system (the “wildcat” lasted what, six months?). But instead, he built organizations slowly and intentionally, and let sustained winning come as a result.
Keep reading: you’ll see why all this is so important.
Now, this is not a Definitive Guide in the sense that you will learn here everything you need to know about football. If you still don’t know the difference between a first down and a touchdown, then just google “football,” search around for a few minutes, and then google “American football.” This is also not a Definitive Guide in the sense that I’ll cover everything that can be covered. That’s why we get an extra week to prepare for this game and why we have the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.
Instead, you will find here the Definitive Guide that will truly help you enjoy The Big Game this weekend. There are a few things you need to know about the Super Bowl in general (chapter 3), a few things that don’t matter in this game as much as people think (ch 4) and a few things that absolutely matter for this game (ch 5), and then, finally, what will actually happen on Sunday from 6:25pm to roughly 10:30pm EST (ch 6). Ready?
Let’s begin with What You Need To Know About All Super Bowls.
First, these aren’t necessarily the two best teams. The NFL is currently using a broke playoff seeding system where every divisional winner starts at home and the top two even get an extra week off. The idea here is to reward regular season success, but instead it causes some of the best teams—who had great regular seasons—to play all of their games on the road. In some cases, the great teams still emerge on top, like the 2011-12 Packers and the 2012-13 Ravens. But in some cases, the best teams in the NFL don’t win a single playoff game, and instead collapse in the second half of their wild-card game when their star running back and several other starters get targeted and knocked out, causing the entire team to lose the will to win. A recent example of this is, I don’t know, the 2013-14 Chiefs?
So the Broncos and Seahawks aren’t necessarily the two best teams, which will explain why the Broncos’ defense is non-existent away from home (and sometimes there too) and why the Seahawks have the same caliber of passing attack as the Cleveland Browns. This year’s Super Bowl could have just as easily been the Saints vs. the Chiefs, or say, the Eagles vs. the Chiefs.
Second, a BALANCE team always outplays a NICHE team. What do I mean? A BALANCE team is one that invests significantly in all areas of their organization, while a NICHE team dumps all their money in a single gimmick, meaning just one aspect of the game. NFL teams have salary caps and pay taxes on everything, and so they have to find a way to hire an above-average General Manager, above-average scouts, an above-average Head Coach and Coordinators, and then draft, develop and maintain above-average players. Furthermore, BALANCE teams invest fairly equally in their passing and rushing offense, and similarly develop the abilities to stop both the pass and run. A NICHE team, on the other hand, and there are examples in every single professional and major college sport, tries to take a short cut to the big game. They get greedy for quick success, come across what seems to be a great opportunity (whether it’s a coach, new quarterback or high-potential draft pick) and dives in regardless of need, fit and team chemistry. In the end, the NICHE has one shiny, gleaming element that makes the average viewer (and even most sports commentators) forget that football is the quintessential team sport and a team’s greatest strength forces its greatest weakness. Some cross-sport references include: Dan Marino’s Dolphins (all passing offense), the last decade’s NY Yankees (late-career icons who don’t truly care about the game anymore) and the 90’s Cleveland Cavaliers (all short white guys named or related to Craig Ehlo that shoot a lot and don’t want to guard His Airness).
A BALANCE team will still end up with strengths and weaknesses, but they are built to last. They give up the occasional blow out win for success year after year. They rarely break any single-season or individual records, and they’re often expected to decline the following year as other teams sign high-profile free agents (notice how the Spurs and Pacers continue to draft and develop talent in the NBA—and continue to win 55+ games annually). NICHE teams are all smoke and show. They can move jerseys and sell satellite TV, but they CAN NOT WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS. More on this later.
Lastly, the Halftime Show must feature the most world’s popular musicians… from 25 years ago. This explains why the Red Hot Chili Peppers are headlining this year. Consider the previous artists: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce Knowles. In 20-25 years? Look forward to comebacks from Kanye West, Taylor Swift and songs from The Hunger Games movies. The only exceptions to this are the occasional surprise local guest, like the Florida A&M marching band during a recent Bowl held in Miami. Given that this year’s Bowl is just outside NYC, possible local guests include the Boss, Hova and the cast of Wicked!: The Musical.
There are two possible reasons why this is so. #1: halftime shows require such long-term planning that musicians are scheduled some 20+ years in advance. And #2: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who invented violence and concussions, personally picks out the music himself. Just remember this come Sunday night: Goodell can’t be trusted with anything, the music will be awful and your best bet is spending 45 minutes outside throwing around a glow-in-the-dark football with your friends.
That brings us to A Few Things About This Game That Don’t Matter As Much As People Think.
Denver’s Passing Offense vs. Seattle’s Passing Defense
To be sure, Manning’s passing attack, complete with three All-Pro type receivers, a stud tight end and a pass-catching RB, is one of the best of all time. And Seattle’s pass defense, feat. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, is also fantastic. But there’s much more to this game than when these two units are on the field, and it will only determine roughly 20% of the game’s outcome. If you’re interested in this game only while Manning is throwing the ball into Seattle’s secondary, you’ll be frustrated by the other 80% of the game.
Peyton Manning’s Comeback Story
I typically don’t keep up with Super Bowl hype in the two weeks leading up to The Big Game, because it’s just so nauseatingly repititous. If there are two things more over-promoted than the Manning vs Seattle Secondary bit, one of them is the Peyton Manning story that’s been retold non-stop for about two years. Now, I’m not a Manning hater at all; he’s probably my favorite non-Chiefs player in the League. In fact, he’s been so incredible the last two seasons that I’ve seriously considered getting three neck surgeries, taking a year off in Mississippi and seeing if I come back a better pastor. I might even get some new TV deals out of it. All’s I’m saying is: Football is completely a team sport and Peyton is only one of 106 eligible players on the field. He is the best, no doubt. But Peyton could have a great game and the Broncos could still lose, he could have a terrible game and still win, and no matter what, some freaking kicker will still have more of a chance of having a deciding impact on the most important game in all of sports and advertising. (More on this later.)
I love Manning as much as the next guy, but do I need to hear about his career in Indianapolis, the class he showed handing over the reigns to Andrew Luck, and the remarkable second life he’s experienced in the crisp Rocky Mountains? Do I really need to see Eli and Archie Manning celebrating with Mom in their luxury box every time Peyton yells “Omaha”? No. No I don’t.
Richard Sherman’s Hype
Richard Sherman is the trash-talking cornerback who’s probably been trending on Twitter all week. (By the way, is anyone else frustrated by corporate advertising’s use of “trending” to get exposure for their product THAT OBVIOUSLY ISN’T TRENDING IF THEY’RE PAYING FOR AN AD!! I was on Twitter and saw an ad by a car manufacturer saying their new vehicle was trending so click here or whatever. Come on people. We’re not stupid. Your new compact sedan is NOT trending.)
I really like Richard Sherman and wish he wasn’t the only thing more over-analyzed by talking heads than Peyton’s family/neck recovery. Sherman grew up in Compton, was a stud in track-and-field and football and earned a scholarship to play WR at Stanford before transitioning to its defense in his sophomore year. He’s 6’3” and 195—wide receiver size—but has the rare closing speed and instincts of an elite (and usually much smaller) cornerback. Plus, he absolutely wants to win. Is he a lunatic? Maybe. But maybe he’s just riding the fame and milking it for all he’s worth. Did you notice how much his rants play on ESPN? Just days later, a brand new headphones ad showed up on espn dot com. Did he seriously make time for a brand new ad between the two most important games of his life? Apparently he did. This guy is actually trending.
Is he a lunatic? I don’t think so. A raging narcissist? Yeah, but who isn’t? I mean, look at this website. (“It’s not a blog!”) I mean how self-promotional do you have to be to secure a website with your own name? And a poorly written 4000-word essay on the Super Bowl? STICK TO PASTORING, LOSER!
Now, and we’re almost done because my boys are running around like crazy, A Few Things That Absolutely Matter In This Game.
Denver’s Running Game
If Denver runs the ball 22 times or more, they will win the game. But they won’t. They’ll run it about 10-12 times in the first half, panic the moment they fall behind at all (even if it’s just 3-0), begin to fear what critics say if they don’t put the whole season in Peyton’s massive, Buick-drivin’ hands, and then run maybe 6-8 times in the whole second half—maybe less if they’re down by a touchdown or more. If Denver would run early and stick with it, they will win. They don’t even have to be successful running the ball. They could average 1.8 yards a carry (like Trent Richardson his whole career), but as long as they do it 22+ times, it will wear out Seattle’s D-line, keep their linebackers from over-committing to the blitz and give Manning far more opportunity to out-strategize Seattle’s defensive shifts. Watch Denver in the second quarter especially. If the running game isn’t going well, do they begin to throw on first and second down? Even if Denver takes a 10-point lead into the second quarter, they will be in massive trouble if they stop running. The worst thing that could happen to Denver is getting an early lead, not find success in the running game and continue to throw the ball into Seattle’s secondary. If that happens, Seattle has already won.
Russell Wilson’s Yards Per Attempt
I’m also considering Wilson’s rushing attempts here. So take Wilson’s average yardage with the ball in his hands—whether he’s passing or running and including sacks—and that will have a huge impact on the end of the game. Seattle will definitely run the ball with Lynch, aka Beast Mode, one of the dopest nicknames in sports, but how will Wilson do? If he has 25 total touches (attempts + carries + sacks) for 125 yards—a 5.0 yard average—Seattle is toast even if BM and the D are playing lights out. Denver’s too good for Wilson to not play well. If he finishes with, say, 35 touches and 280 yards—an 8.0 yard average—Seattle’s in business.
Kicking and Punting
Seriously, these two franchises have spent the last three years carefully putting together every aspect of their organization—from the GM to the draft picks to the injury recovery techniques (hint: Seattle’s PED use)—only to see their best chance of glory come down to a 23-year old retired college soccer player kicking an oblong piece of leather 45 years through some yellow poles? Seriously? Football absolutely needs to replace all kicking and punting, make every team go for it on fourth down and after a touchdown, and re-invest the $3,000,000 a year from their kickers and punters to another FOOTBALL player on each side of the ball. Think about it. Games would be far more entertaining, truly skilled teams would have a better chance of winning, and the game’s most dangerous play, the kickoff, would also be eliminated.
The only downside here? It would seriously interrupt my plans to get my boys scholarships to an elite SEC school and then become NFL punters. Of course, it would free up the four hours of punting practice we do on Saturdays, but I’d actually have to start saving for their college and my retirement. That sounds expensive! Maybe we should stick with kickers and punters after all.
Now, there’s just one caveat. 99 percent of the time, the best BALANCED team—especially if it is tougher, better at running the ball and has a better defense—will beat the NICHE team. The other one percent of the time? Someone like Peyton Manning happens. He could decide not to follow my advice to hand the ball off, he could say ‘Forget about Shermon Minton or whatever his name is, I’m going to throw at him 35 times.’ Unlike basically anyone else, P-Manny could throw for 600+ yards, and the Broncos could defy all odds to claim a lopsided victory that will have all the stupid talking heads without advanced theological degrees saying, ‘Yup, just as we expected.’
I like to call this the Miami Heat Caveat. Under no circumstances should a team win the NBA Finals with players thrown together through cataclysmically different salary packages, no real sense of team play and a totally inept coach. Especially not twice, including over the ultimate BALANCED team, the Spurs. But that’s why this is called the Heat Caveat: if you manage to break all the rules of a league and assemble the best player (The Decision), two of the top 15 players (D-Wade and The Human Dinosaur), add the best shooter of all time (Ray Allen), and if you have a greased Pat Riley pulling all the strings, then you’ll have a legit chance of winning a championship. But you’ll defile sports and America in the process.
Do you see the Broncos-Heat parallels? I will admit there’s a one percent chance of Peyton Manning happening on Sunday. And nothing will be worse for the universe!—and for my readers’ and members’ trust in my Definitive Guides.
OK, let’s wrap this up, What Will Actually Happen.
The game will move slower than expected, the first half won’t be that high-scoring and the commercials will all be four million wasted dollars. By halftime, the score will be quite unphenomenal—you know, 13-10 or whatever, and it doesn’t matter who’s ahead—and no one will actually watch the halftime show. In the third quarter, Peyday will take advantage of a rare Seattle mistake and launch a 60+ yard touchdown. Everyone will think this will be the start of a big Denver run, but it just happens once in a while against every good defense. Seattle will hang around, run the ball, then run it again, and Denver will begin to get antsy and throw the ball on first down. Seattle will put more and more pressure on Manning (able to now neglect Denver’s average ground attack) and drop more guys into coverage on short throws to Welker and J-Thomas. D-Thomas will continue to draw Richie Rich Sherman into obscurity, and Eric Decker will finish the game with the most receiving yards. But somewhere in the fourth quarter, Seattle will score in some nondescript way (a three-yard touchdown after a turnover or a long field goal to finish a six minute drive) to take the lead. All the talking heads will begin to say it’s just a setup for an epic Manning comeback—that “it’s all in his hands now.” But don’t get carried away with this foolery. Denver still won’t run the ball, Seattle won’t panic, and when they get the ball back, they will run it and then run it again and even run it after that. Why? Because that’s how you win in January. That’s how you win the One That Matters.
The whole game will be less entertaining than expected and it will fail to produce a memorable finish. Denver will run out of downs and Seattle will take a knee as the clock winds down. The talking heads will try to explain what happen—how the mighty Broncos fell from such great heights. They’ll fumble around about Manning’s legacy (there’s no shame in being a rich man’s Marino) and analyze every play—but we know better.
We know better because this game isn’t just about Manning and Sherman—it’s about two entire organizations. It’s not even just a matchup between Denver and Seattle—it’s between two ways of living, The Quick Fix and Building for the Long Haul. Denver is the epitome of the NICHE team, and Seattle epitomizes the BALANCED organization. The Broncos wanted to win quick and they did. But they won’t win this one.
There’s a Denver every year, and they always win 12-15 games—consider Joe Montana’s Chiefs (by the mid-to-late 90’s, Lamar Hunt’s son was running the team and didn’t learn every lesson as well), Kurt Warner’s Arizona Cardinals and when Bob the Builder contracted that shiny new excavator to join his crew that one episode. The talking heads will say Denver is old school and Seattle is new school. But don’t let uniforms and tattoos fool you; the exact opposite is true.
This is shaping up to be one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time, but not for the reasons people expect.
Lamar Hunt loved the game and believed in doing things right. Seattle knows Rome wasn’t built in a day. Denver thinks they can buy their way into a Super Bowl XLVIII victory. But they can’t. Manning Schmanning. This is bigger than one man, bigger than football.
This game doesn’t just begin at 6:25pm eastern on Sunday, February 2, 2014. This game started years, decades, CENTURIES ago. Don’t be fooled by the gleaming Mannings and Welkers. They’re just pawns on the fringe of the wrong way of doing things, and Sunday will prove this definitively.
This is the way it had to be, sons and daughters.
It’s the way it always had to be.
Last night, the Seahawks crushed the Broncos by a score of 43-8. By putting together one of the most dominant Super Bowl performance in history, the Seahawks affirmed the power of the Balance vs. Niche Principle—sort of. Either I underestimated it, or I was just as wrong as everyone else!
WHAT I GOT RIGHT: (1) Seattle was a far more balanced team than Denver, and the Broncos’ over-reliance on their niche cost them the championship; (2) Denver ran the ball only 14 times (for 29 yards—a 1.9 yard average), far less than the 22 carries needed to win; (3) Russell Wilson had 28 touches (passes + rushes) for 232 yards—an 8.3 yard average, the type of average yardage needed to win; (4) the halftime show was a waste of time; (5) Denver’s destiny as a very good but fatally flawed demonstration of The Quick Fix team, while Seattle—who with an average age of 26.4 tied an NFL record for the youngest Super Bowl winning team ever—solidified themselves as The Team to Beat for at least the next five years and the epitome of a Building for the Long Haul organization.
WHAT I GOT WRONG
I totally forgot and/or totally underestimated the importance of turnovers. I had this in mind with the kicking/punting factor, but had no idea that Denver would start with a safety, that two of Manning’s ducks would be picked (one returned for TD) and that four Broncos would fumble (five if you are counting the kick return fumble that was overturned and two if you’re just counting lost fumbles).
(2) Field Position
Similarly, field position was a determining factor in the game—one of the most shocking stats: Seattle only outgained Denver 341 to 306 yards! Really, Denver didn’t struggle moving the ball any less than Seattle did; in fact, Peydey set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions. Instead, they started most of their drives at or inside their own 20, and then absolutely gift-wrapped field position for the Seahawks.
If you count the defense/special teams scores and subtract garbage time (the first-half knee and the final 5 minutes of the game, with Seattle nursing a 5-touchdown lead and munching on the burnt ends of P-Manny’s legacy), Seattle had nine viable opportunities to score and started in Denver’s endzone or territory SIX of those NINE times! (They scored 5 TD’s, kicked 2 FG’s, forced a safety and punted once from those nine drives.)
(3) The Actual Outcome
Despite getting a few things right, I freely admit that missing the final score of the game BY 32 POINTS!! is just as bad as picking the wrong winner in a close game. So I’m keeping my day job.
We’ll see you again for The Definitive Guide to March Madness.