Hey Niner Fans, Sound Familiar?

Line: Patriots (-12)

A lot seems familiar about this year’s “Big Game” (according to my buddy Francis’s blog on his KRAB radio website, even forums like this one can’t use the phrase “Super Bowl” without fear of the NFL getting their Under Armour in a bunch. Wait, KRAB is owned by ClearChannel, and this is site’s owned by Sports Girl Liz. I’ll take my chances with “Super Bowl”). From the underdogs popping off to reporters to a huge opening point spread dismissed by many as ludicrous, there’s more than a little déjà vu going around.

Pats/Giants is how the Super Bowl used to be when I was a kid. There are two particular Super Bowls that Sunday’s game brings to mind, XXIV and XXIX.

In Super Bowl XXIV the Niners were favored heavily over the Broncos (-12). However, there was still a palpable lack of respect felt towards Joe Montana from different parts of the country, even after his drive to beat the Bengals in the previous Super Bowl. Many thought that while Joe had taken some great teams to glory, rocket-arms like John Elway and Dan Marino were better pure quarterbacks. It’s hard to believe now, but I bet over half the football fans in the United States felt Marino was better than Joe in the 1980’s. Thank you, East Coast Bias.

In 1994, the 49ers won twelve of their last thirteen games, including a 21-14 loss to the Vikings in Week 17 after home field was sewn up, but it took signing Deion Sanders and a 40-8 home thrashing at the hands of the Eagles in Week 6 (this writer’s first Niner home game, thank you very much) to get the Niners to that level. That and the retro uniforms of course, we can’t forget those. As good as they were, the 1994 Niners had to fight to beat the Cowboys 38-28 in the NFC Championship Game, making some wonder at the time if they were vulnerable. Maybe that was why Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries was chirping about how the Chargers were going to win in the two weeks before losing 49-23 while giving up six touchdown passes to Steve Young.

(Side note: Did you know that the Niners won three games against Los Angeles teams in 1994? Two wins were against the L.A. Rams of course, but don’t forget a 44-14 win over the L.A. Raiders in the home opener. The ’94 Raiders backfield consisted of Jeff Hostetler, Harvey Williams and Tom Rathman)

As dominant as this year’s Pats looked through the first half of the regular season, the 1989 and 1994 Niners were equally better than the rest of the league at the end of those seasons. While all three squads could beat any team by a wide margin, it just isn’t natural for a team be in peak-mode for 19 games.

An NFL season is so long, and the entire game is built on conflict. Whether it’s with a teammate for a roster spot or fighting the other team with brute force for every second between whistles, NFL players are programmed to thrive on adversity.

But make no mistake – the Patriots are better than the Giants. When they played in Week 17, the Patriots were exhausted from trying to stave off the inevitable lull of every NFL season. Every team feels the need to take a mental nap, maybe squabble with each other a little (like Steve Young flipping out and swearing at George Seifert during the Philly game, looking more like a Lasorda than a Mormon), before regrouping. Ever since 19-0 became an actual goal and not a dream (probably about one second after beating the Colts), the Pats have looked like college students trying to get through an all-nighter of studying with just one more cup of coffee. Except Rodney Harrison, who would just take Adderall.

The Giants are getting far too much credit right now. They beat the Cowboys, but Tony Maromo, T.O. and crew are hardly the 1994 Cowboys. They barely beat the Packers; if Brett Favre didn’t decide to turn the game into his own brand of “Three Flies Up,” the Giants would have lost. The AFC was far superior to the NFC this year, just like how the NFC was better than the AFC in the late eighties/early nineties. The Giants have had a nice run, but they didn’t beat one team in the playoffs with the talent of the Jaguars or the Chargers.

While the Pats have done like always and kept their mouths shut, the Giants have been the ones predicting what score they’re going to win by. When an underdog feels the need to pump themselves up via the media, it’s a major red flag. They aren’t trying to convince us or the NFL beat writer from the Kansas City Star, they’re trying to convince themselves.

When it comes to the secondary, the Giants are in full duct-tape mode. It seems like rookie corner Aaron Ross is injured on nearly every play, but they keep throwing him back out there because New York has no other choice. Remember that play in Week 17, the one where the Patriots followed a drop by Moss by throwing that go-route to him on the next play for an easy touchdown? Not only did the Giants allow Moss to take away Jerry Rice’s single season touchdown record (which Rice set in twelve games, as I’ll be reminding people until I die) on that play, they showed the Pats that if they want to go deep, they can, even if the Giants know it’s coming. And the Super Bowl’s in Arizona, not Lambeau, meaning that passing will be just a tad easier than it was for Favre.

For all the offensive, coaching and personnel advantages the Pats have, the Giants are riding on two advantages of their own: their pass rush and New England’s mediocre run defense.

That’s where the coaching matchup comes into play. If the break was only one week between the Championship Games and Super Bowl, people expecting a replay of Week 17 might get what they expect/want. The Giants would still be riding the momentum of three straight road playoff wins, Brady’s ankle might still be hurting (if it was ever really injured), and the Pats would be tired from their quest for 19-0. But an even bigger advantage of the two-week layoff comes from three words: Belichick versus Coughlin. Sure, Michael Strahan and Osi Omenyura are good at sacking quarterbacks, but New England has the best offensive line in the game along with a coach who came from the same University of Bill Parcells that Coughlin did, so none of the stunts and formations the Giants try to pull should surprise.

The same goes for the running game. Belichick is the foremost defensive mind in football, and that extra week will not just help the Pats’ aging linebacking corps get a little bit healthier, they will have a game-plan ready to combat Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

As a kid I wondered why so many rooted for the 49ers to lose, when they obviously had the best team. Didn’t people realize the guys in the gold pants and helmets deserved to win? Couldn’t they appreciate the beauty that Bill Walsh and Joe Montana were creating? I’ve been pretty anti-Patriot for a couple months now, and now I realize that I’ve been feeling the way Niner-haters used to feel. It can get frustrating watching greatness, especially when your own team looks a good ten years away from getting anywhere close to that level of play.

Also, when a superior team wins it gets predictable. When an underdog proves the pundits (and wouldn’t it be cool if it took a certain degree of accuracy to be called a pundit? Maybe some sort of governing body could review each televised or written prediction, and only those media members who score above a certain percentage earn the title) wrong, it makes everyone happy. The fact that the things happen unexpectedly is why we all watch sports.

However, even the people who point to Pats/Giants Vol. I to convince themselves the Giants will shock the world know this in the back of their mind: The…Patriots…are…better. The Giants know it, the Patriots know it, and Super Bowl XXIX MVP Steve Young knows it too. Young predicted a 42-10 New England victory the other day on KNBR. I won’t give New England’s defense that much credit, but I’m with Steve on this one. This Super Bowl must seem familiar to him, too.

Prediction: Patriots 45, Giants 23.

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