When I decided to count down the 22 most important players in Sunday’s Super Bowl, I didn’t imagine it was going to be all that hard. I mean, there are 44 total starters; picking half of them should be doable. Then I actually started.
Let me first explain what this list is actually supposed to represent. These aren’t the 22 best players in the Super Bowl or the 22 players I expect to make the biggest impact. This is my best attempt at figuring out which 22 players matter most, and that proved to be more difficult than I’d planned.
Even with some cheating (a few guys at similar positions are listed together, so actually there are 27 players. I'm not sorry), there are some notable omissions that I don’t feel great about. Jonathan Goodwin has been one of the best centers in football this year, but for the purposes of this list, he’s out. Not a single Ravens cornerback is listed, which isn’t to say that Corey Graham and Cary Williams won’t play a part; it’s to say that how San Francisco uses Michael Crabtree doesn’t make one side or area of the field more important than another. Dennis Pitta has been invaluable for the Ravens’ offense since Jim Caldwell took over, but I still think he’s been Joe Flacco’s third most important receiver in the playoffs. With all that in mind, here are the guys who actually did make the final cut.
Serious life lessons were recently learned in New Orleans, and I need to talk about all of them right now.
I woke up Wednesday morning, the no-man's-land day of Super Bowl week, situated after Media Day but before the throngs arrive, without a single clue as to what to write about. An hour later, my one idea — "Whaddaya think are the chances I can get away with writing something today about how the onslaught of on-air personality ex-athlete commentators are now the most celeb-y people around New Orleans, which is creepy and weird?" — was scrapped because I'm not trying to beef with a bunch of bigger dudes with dad strength, many of whom are sharing the same workspace and wireless bandwith.
So I was back to square one. Nothing.
Slightly panicked, I did what any wise person does when they're in a tight spot:
"The running game in pro football has gotten so boring," former 49ers coach Bill Walsh remarked some years ago. "There's just four or five plays they can run. I think the whole thing is headed in the wrong direction, and it's really unfortunate." Even after his passing in 2007, Walsh’s observation had held true for some time. That is, until now. And fittingly, it's the 49ers leading the way.
The Pistol read option plays aside (we’ll get to those), the 49ers' multifarious running game uses many of the same blocking schemes Walsh taught for nearly four decades. Jim Harbaugh deserves much of the credit — the vision for these 49ers is certainly his — but the mastermind behind the 49ers' weekly game plans and the coach who deserves credit for taking Walsh’s criticism to heart is San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
After a decade of mostly familiar names, Super Bowl XLVII is set to provide some welcome new blood under center. Sunday will mark the first title game in five years to feature two quarterbacks who’ve never been here before, but that’s about where their similarities in experience end. For Colin Kaepernick, this start in New Orleans comes barely three months after the first of his NFL career. For Joe Flacco, it’s the next step in his playoff success. But even with all the pressure young Kaepernick is set to face, in my mind, and in terms of scheme, support, and circumstance, there will be more of it placed on Flacco.
Like the 49ers, previous versions of these Ravens relied on a bruising running game and great defense to buttress a young quarterback as he improved from week-to-week. This year, those areas of strength have lagged. After a long stretch of dominance, Baltimore's famed and historic defense fell to the middle of the pack in nearly every category, and although the Ray Rice–led running game is still formidable, its efficiency and production took a step back.
This means that for the first time, the Ravens have become Joe Flacco’s team, and more than ever, Baltimore has relied on its passing attack. Ray Rice has been a steady bailout option for most of Flacco’s career, but it’s Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta who will be the keys come Sunday night.
Grantland's Rembert Browne is in New Orleans for Super Bowl week, and he has some very specific goals in mind: (1) to chronicle everything seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt — emotionally, (2) to wake up first and fall asleep last, (3) to make his way into events he has no business attending, and (4) to somehow talk to Beyoncé. We don't exactly know where he'll be at any given time, but we've asked for at least two dispatches a day, if for no other reason than to know he's still alive.
Tuesday, January 29. 3:15 p.m. CST. Approximately 124 hours until Beyoncé.
The Scene: Super Bowl Media Day. Immediate Reaction: A zoo, but between the media and the athletes in attendance, it was unclear who were the spectators and who were the animals.
The Rules: Each team enters the arena for about an hour, with the more prominent players and coaches having personalized booths set up to sit and field questions, with the rest of the lot roaming the grounds, doing whatever they please, until someone stops them and asks to talk.
Grantland's Rembert Browne is in New Orleans for Super Bowl week, and he has some very specific goals in mind: (1) to chronicle everything seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt — emotionally; (2) to wake up first and fall asleep last; (3) to make his way into events he has no business attending; and (4) to somehow talk with Beyoncé. We don't exactly know where he'll be at any given time, but we've asked for at least two dispatches a day, if for no other reason, just so we know he's still alive.
Dispatch 1: "The Scene Was So Thick …"
Monday, January 28, 2013, 5:30 p.m. CST. Approximately 146 hours until Beyoncé.
As so many things do, it all started with Kevin Hart.
Just after exiting the TSA chamber where you throw your Roc-A-Fella diamond in the sky, I heard the strangest of sounds for this torturous section of the travel process: laughter. I was startled. Nothing funny had ever happened in the period between showing your boarding pass and being told to take off all your clothes. I turned around to find two young gentlemen directly behind me, cackling at a joke made by their friend. That friend was Kevin Hart.
Something strange is happening in the NFL, and it's about time someone had the courage to speak up. The results of recent playoff and Super Bowl games reveal a deep anti-animal agenda that is frankly alarming in this supposedly "enlightened" age.
Serious accusations deserve some serious facts, and I'm ready to be the Edward R. Murrow of the NFL's emerging anti-animal controversy.
This was a very odd game — with a very dramatic finish.
Early in Sunday's Super Bowl, the New York Giants — aided by New England quarterback Tom Brady's safety — looked unstoppable. The Giants had a huge advantage in both momentum and yards, but despite all this, they only scored nine points. Then Tom Brady and the Patriots became, well, Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Brady went 16-for-16 with two touchdown passes sandwiched around the halftime show, and New England looked like it might simply run away with the game. And then I'm not even sure.
The Giants kicked a couple field goals, Brady roughed his shoulder up on the turf, and then — with about four minutes left in the game — the Patriots had one of the most heartbreaking sequences in franchise history: Brady and Wes Welker, who know a thing about throwing and catching, failed to connect on a throw up the seam, where Welker was essentially uncovered. Then New York quarterback Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham on a nearly impossible throw down the sideline for a huge 38-yard gain. By now, you know the rest. The Giants scored the game-winning touchdown after Patriots coach Bill Belichick smartly let them, and Brady failed to make good on his desperation drive with a late Hail Mary. Giants win, 21-17.
Let's compare those two game-changing pass plays: the failed pass from Brady to Welker and the play of the game, Manning's fantastic throw to Manningham down the sideline.