The days leading up to the Super Bowl typically serve as a celebration of America’s favorite game. Everyone’s profiled in the media, from stars to scrubs to their extended families. Old heroes reminisce on radio row. Each angle of the game is dissected.
The oft-mocked routine can get tedious, but at least it’s comfortable. We all understand that it’s just what our country does.
The past seven days have been different, though. Consider the cannonade of negative stories the NFL has faced during the leadup to the big game:
-On Sunday, they played a Pro Bowl before the backdrop of the possibility that it could be the last one ever staged, given the sorry effort players expend in the showcase.
-With Junior Seau’s suicide still lingering in the news, the President of the United States questioned whether he would let his son (if he had one) play football given the inherent dangers.
-Media day was dominated by Ray Lewis – supposedly the darling of this game as he prepares for retirement after 17 seasons – denying a Sports Illustrated report that he used products that included banned performance enhancers. Good-bye, “red-dog blitz.” Hello, “deer-antler spray.”
-Commissioner Roger Goodell has been persona non grata in the host city of New Orleans, where residents still stew over his handling of the Saints’ bounty scandal.
-Midweek, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver inexplicably went on the radio and unleashed a diatribe about the potential of homosexuals in the league (though he apologized yesterday).
Wow. Given all this, are you ready for some football?
I am. And the reason I am is simple: Of all the Super Bowl traditions that have changed, the best has been the quality of the games themselves.
Does anybody expect that Sunday night? Probably not, given that four of the past five Super Bowls have been decided by six points or fewer. The Vegas spread is San Francisco by 3.5, and to lay those points, you have to believe that a rookie quarterback is going to have a big night.
At long last, the game itself becomes the story. I’ll take the Ravens and the points, counting on another close one. Who do you like?
JUST MISSED: Phil Mickelson nearly becomes the sixth player to shoot 59 in an official PGA Tour event, as his final putt in the first round of the Phoenix Open lips out. You can see video of the putt here.
DEFYING THE ODDS: As Berman notes in his story today, Erick Green has continued to shine against the top three scoring defenses in the ACC. “I thought going to Virginia Tech, he would have a very nice career. But he’s developed into the leading scorer in the country. That’s a whole ‘nother level,” says Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who recruited Green while he was at George Mason. “When everybody’s attention is on you, you’re going to get every defender’s best effort. You’re getting every team’s best defender on the perimeter. It is very, very hard to continue to produce the way he has. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.
YOUNG AND EAGER: Andy has a nice blog post on new Tech receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who, at 32, is the youngest member of the staff.
SAD NEWS: Snowmobile rider Caleb Moore, 25, dies from injuries sustained in a Jan. 24 crash in Aspen, marking the first death in the 18-year history of the X Games. I watched quite a few of those events while I was laid up; so many of them are terrifying.
THE SKINNY ON GUNS: With the gun control debate dominating the news, outdoors writer Mark Taylor offers a primer on firearms.
NICE ON ICE: San Jose beats Edmonton 3-2 in a shootout to improve to 7-0 and remain the only undefeated team in the NHL. The Caps, meanwhile, continue to struggle out of the gates, squandering a third period lead to fall at Toronto 3-2. Washington drops to 1-5-1 and is in last place in the Southeast.
OTHER STUFF: Packers receiver Donald Driver announces his retirement…Saint Louis upsets No. 9 Butler…Tomorrow’s hoops slates includes Hokies at UNC (noon, WDBJ), Duke at Florida State (2 p.m., ESPN) and Michigan at Indiana (9 p.m., ESPN).
IDENTIFY THE MOVIE
“I’ve got to concentrate…concentrate… concentrate… I’ve got to concentrate… concentrate… concentrate… Hello?… hello… hello… Echo… echo… echo… Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon… Manny Mota… Mota… Mota…”