Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lifelong dream #24 completed: I've been to a Superbowl

I don’t remember thinking about the Super Bowl when I first came to UF – although I can’t say the same about UF games. Fairly shortly I started thinking about saving my money because the game was only a couple of hours away in Jacksonville. I was very confident I would get in and told everyone how I was going. I brought $2,100 with me and was sure that was enough – I was expecting to pay no more than say $1,700. I had read a few years back tickets went for $1,200-1,500, but that was probably a little outdated. I’m not sure because I never got a ticket. Not only did I not get one, I never even saw one being offered despite walking around the waterfront near the stadium for close to five hours. That floored me, it never crossed my mind I would not be able to find one. I ended up watching in a sportsbar, it was a neat experience (there were several little booths set up on the river), but a disappointment and I was worried I had lost my opportunity.

This time around I did not have much faith I was going to get in. To the point I was not really getting all that excited about going down. It is a long drive, and I don’t love Miami. I had a bunch of work and was seriously debating not going. I actually went mainly because I wanted to get out of town (plus I could see Dash, an old friend from high school). I’m glad I did not realize going just one way costs $25 in tolls or that might have tipped the balance the other way (which tells you how close to not going I was). This time I brought $3,000, but I was not sure I could drop that much. It did not come to that and I honestly do not know what I would have done, but I would have certainly gone as high as $2,800 (no, I don’t know why that last $200 makes such a difference).

When I awoke game day it was raining and I tried to speculate if that would help my cause or hurt it. Rain might keep people away, but also drive the scalpers somewhere harder to find. Dash and I took our time getting up towards the stadium. We parked and took a bus for the final five miles, which took an hour and a half. Traffic was horrendous, much worse than Jacksonville (for all the talk about how Miami is a great Super Bowl city, the way they organized everything was not a slick). On the bus I sat next to a couple of big money guys going to their sixth Super Bowl – and I was a little jealous, especially since I did not think I was getting in.

My original plan was to walk around the game enjoying the experience while searching for a ticket before slipping into a sports bar. This was based on my experiences from Jacksonville and was idiotic. Alltel Stadium is downtown on a riverfront. Dolphins Stadium, similar to far too many, is in the suburbs. When we got off the bus all there was was a Walmart, a Denny’s, and a gas station – an a million ticky-tack houses. That lead to a quick change of plans, I had only given myself a 5-10% chance of getting a ticket so I told Dash we would just circle once and then split for a bar.

I don’t know for sure exactly why I was able to get in this time. My theory is that because there was nowhere to go besides the Walmart parking lot (which was opposite the stadium and where the buses let people out) all the scalpers were concentrated (along with plenty of people with Jesus placards, whom I had not seen in Jacksonville – which had Marines instead?). For whatever reason as Dash and I walked by I saw what looked to be a deal going down. I had thought I had seen one at Jacksonville, but they split as I got close so I was never sure. This time as I came in a bug-eyed guy asked me if I was looking and put a ticket into my hand. He quoted me $2,200, which was a hundred less than I ever thought I would see. He wandered away while I looked at the ticket – I was pretty sure it was real as it was raised and had a hologram on the back. The guy said I had just seen him trade for it (which Dash supported – very much to Dash’s credit he was excited and supportive of my buying even though it meant I would be ditching him. I think being there helped him get into the exciting atmosphere as while he knows nothing about football he mentioned he could see himself saving up his money to get in). The guy let me to compare it to others and then told me the guy he was apparently a runner for wanted $2,300 and I said deal. When I paid him he then asked for a tip of $100 and when I said no they looked at each other and made faces, I recognized an attempt to play me so I just walked (they did nothing, I think in part as they were worried about cops). I grabbed a poncho and started walking to the stadium I used Dash’s phone to tell some people (yes I was excited, I think a passerby laughed at me) and then went in.

There was only one entrance into the stadium that I saw – they had set up a long winding path with steel fences whose main purpose I think was to prevent a crush. I was briefly patted down and had to go through a metal detector, but security was surprisingly not tight – nowhere near an airport. I chatted with a few people in line – I was excited, no one likes to be alone with their thoughts when they are excited. Once I got in wandered around a bit through their NFL Experience set up, which was pretty empty and not particularly interesting (although by now it was only a couple of hours before kickoff, maybe there were entertainers there before). It was drizzly and pretty empty. I just hurried through as I wanted to get to my seats before kickoff. I did stop when I stumbled across the Lombardi Trophy. As it turned out I did not need to worry as I was able to get a bite to eat before the game started – I was starving as I had been planning to eat at the sportsbar – it was of course pricy; a 20oz soda was $5.

I was in the Bears’ season ticket holder section, but as it turned out I was next to a pair of Colts fans. For the most part everyone was cool with them – both cities are so close whichever team they root for the other is their #2. Plus everyone was just giddy to be there. The endless rain may have helped camaraderie to, several guys went inside to get out of the rain – unbelievable considering they might have paid $3,000 and then flown in, but it tells you how bad the rain was. The poncho kept my torso dry, but otherwise I was soaked. Because it was blue and I as sitting next to the Colts guys one prick a few rows ahead of us kept ragging on me as well as them – despite all the times I tried to clue him in by pointing to my 49ers hat. I can’t complain too much as my seats were pretty good and it was the experience of a life time, I would not hesitate to drop the $2,300 all over again. I may not go again until I am rich or San Fran is back, but I am aware the game is in Tampa (just two hours away) in 2009.

I don’t like Prince, so I went inside for halftime (the pregame circus was numb as well, and I could comment on how quickly the get the performers out there, but you can see that on TV – although you might not have seen that Billy Joel was wheeled out and back on his float, or that he had rolled his slacks up to his knees) to sign up for a creditcard with a fake social for a commemorative blanket (every seat also had a free seat cushion – “One Game. One Dream” pah), but I was in my seat the entire game. I loved every moment of it and hung around even after the Colts started leaving the field. I was one of the last handful of fans to leave in my section, one of the last few hundred in the stadium (even lots of Colts fans left before I did).

Thankfully the bus ride back was shorter (but still 45 minutes), Bear’s fans were in surprisingly good spirits – better than I might have been – and cracking jokes. However when I got to the parking lot I could not find Dash (NO! I will not get a cellphone). I didn’t mind the rain at the game – in some ways it played to machoism and since I will never be at an NFL field I can say I have been to the worst weather Super Bowl ever (and if the game was not one for the ages, it was not a 55-10 blowout either – thanks Denver!! – the Bears kept it interesting well into the fourth quarter, it was a middling game). However in the parking lot I minded. It took probably close to 15 minutes to find each other.

Surprisingly Dash as almost as pumped as I was and we related our experiences as we drove home. I had not eaten much at the game (although two sodas, a nachos, and a bag of peanuts still managed to cost me $20), so I was planning to have Dash stop at a fastfood place or a gas station. However even thought it was midnight and he had an early morning the next day he suggested we stop at Denny’s and I had something resembling (using that word lightly) a real meal.

As for the game itself my seats, as you can tell, were high and in the endzone, but I have to say I had a pretty good view (and every touchdown save the Colts' bomb was in my endzone). Dolphin Stadium is fairly basic, but for a 1980’s stadium it is pretty nice, good sight lines. My seat was a little off the center of the field, but I was basically behind the offense or defense. Probably the sharpest memory I will have of this game in years to come is watching Manning leak out of the pocket to his left, half stumble, and then noticing that a clump of guys had broken apart a la the Red Sea and Wayne was open behind the defense and watching Peyton notice the same moment I did and lob a pass up.

Anyway my analysis of the game itself is going to be pretty basic. The Bears’ offense hung their defense out to dry. Early on in the game, the Bear’s D held its own, if did not shut the Colts down – other than one blown coverage. Remember that in a game the Bears turned the ball over five times, the Colts only got a pair of offensive touchdowns. Urlacher and company just got tired. Sitting in the stands it just seemed that the Colts always had the ball. At the half I remember saying to other people in the stands that it looked that the Bears’ defense was getting tired and they would be in trouble in the second half if the offense could not get them some rest – to which I got agreeing nods (and I was in the Bears Season Ticketholder section). Then the Colts started the third quarter with a seven and half minute drive (which I would remind you the Bears managed to keep from finishing in the endzone) I knew Chi-town was in trouble (this time I had less support from those around me). I said that the Bears offense had to put something together on offense soon or they were done. I kept saying that right up to the final gun.

I imagine some of you are dismissively thinking if it wasn’t for two big plays (Hester’s return and Thomas Jones’s big run) the Bears would have been totally out of it. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve to be in the game. This argument is used more frequently against winning teams – that the other team played better and the winner just caught a few big plays. The Steelers last year are an example, as are the Packers (when they beat the Pats). Well last time I checked big plays are a part of the game – good teams make big plays and stop their opponents from having them. Some teams are designed to go for the big play (or to prevent them), it is a legitimate way to win. If the other team was so much better and “deserved” to win they would.

Anyway where does blame fall for the Bears’ anemic offense? Grossman is everyone’s favorite whipping boy and he did not have a game for the ages, but he was hardly atrocious. He completed 71% of his passes, and had sharp little TD. While he did throw two picks, they were both in the fourth quarter when he was behind and pressing. To me the jury is still out on him, he’s still very inexperienced thanks to all those injuries (8 games in three years). The offense as a whole did not run well, which I attribute in part to the Bears’ failure to try to throw deep. Before Sexy Rexy’s second pick they had only tried to stretch the field on one play. This is more of an indictment of Rex, because it implies the coaching staff’s lack of confidence in him was affecting their gameplan – it is not as though Indy’s secondary is so outstanding you can’t challenge it, nor were the Colts getting that much passrush that Rex did not have the time to go deep.

If the Bear’s D is guilty of anything it was a serious lack of passrush. Manning was rarely under pressure, even though in person it is unavoidable to notice how much he bounces around in the pocket just on his own. That leads into my thoughts on the MVP. During the game I correctly predicted that Manning would be MVP because no one had a great game – when that happens then usually the pregame face of the franchise usually wins by default. In recent years this is how Tom Brady won his first and Ray Lewis won. And, I can say it, how Joe Montana won his first. Manning also clearly started the game pretty tight – until he hit the bomb. The true MVP of the game was the Colts OL. Few people beyond me would have the balls to do it, but I will acknowledge them here: congrats to Jeff Saturday, Jake Scott, Ryan Lilja, Ryan Diem, and Tarik Glenn (three of whom I could name without consulting the internet). And for the record there have been multiple MVPs before. The fact that there was no clear winner is a reflection in part about how sloppy the game was. The rain did not help the Bears as much as I expected (for the record before the game I said I felt the Colts had a 60% chance of winning, but I was not sure about the spread), and for the record it rained a freaking lot. Still the eight turnovers were atrocious, especially the TWO times you had back to back turnovers, even for the weather.

The only other big failing of Bears’ defense was when Charles Tillman lost Reggie Wayne. There were two Colts and two Bears in a bunch and one of each cut inside toward the middle of the field. Bears’ somewhat overrated cornerback Charles Tillman broke left to the sideline, while Wayne went upfield. This looks bad for Tillman, but as I still have not seen play on TV yet so I don’t know if this is the case, but I’ll point out that there is a very real possibility that Chicago was in a zone and Tillman did what he was supposed to and the safety over the top screwed up.

I have just a few other things to throw in. Props to Dungy for not kicking to Devin Hester after that first TD. Maybe it looked a little foolish, but with the Bears’ offense paralyzed it was the right move to give up field position rather than give the ball to one of Chicago’s few real weapons. You don’t always have to follow conventional wisdom. That said Dungy made an awful decision using his replay challenges. The first one (12 men on the field) I’ll assume he got from upstairs and would have given him a first down in the redzone rather than force him to settle for a fieldgoal. The second one showed that Dungy, similarly to far too many of his NFL brethren, doesn’t understand how to use challenges. Basically because you only have two coaches need to be very careful about how you use them. You don’t want to spend them too early and not be able to challenge a bad call later because you are out. Before late in the 4th quarter they should only be used to challenge turnovers or scores, so Dungy’s decision to challenge a 12 yard completion on second on fifteen was idiotic. Sure he won, but his reward was a third and three in his own end and he was out of challenges. This has not boned any coaches in a big game yet, but sooner or later someone is going to learn a painful lesson. Imagine if the refs had ruled the DB had stepped out after his interception. Oops. Other observations was that until I saw them in person I had not realized that the Colts basically use “tight end” Dallas Clark as a slot receiver, he rarely lines up on the line (or he did not in this game). And while the Colts run defense was weak to the run (at least until the postseason anyway), there is something to be said for being light and fast. On Grossman’s second interception, you may have noticed someone running with the Bears’ fastest receiver Bernard Berrian before Bob Sanders intercepted the pass – that was the Colts linebacker Cato June.

Finally as I have been philosophizing about football generally so much in this I will also kick in on other point I feel most NFL teams botch. How many times have you seen a team with the play clock winding down take a time out to avoid a delay of game penalty? Are you sure that is the best way to spend one of the only three timeouts you get a half? Ever think maybe in certain situations it might be better to just lose the five yards – say if you only have one time out left mid-fourth quarter and it is second and two? I’ve never seen a team willing take a delay of game that way though. I don’t know, I’m just wondering...

Also Art Monk should be in the Hall of Fame. He basically invented the position of possession receiver. Maybe he wasn’t exciting, but he changed the game. Ray Guy should be in too. I am tired of this “punter’s aren’t real football players crap” (and not just because that is just about the only position I could ever play on a serious team). How many games have you watched where a team didn’t have a punter? Like it or not they are a part of the game and can win them for you, the same as big plays. And if you are going to put one in, why not the one who kicked a ball so high it hit the top of the Superdome?

The Colts won’t repeat.

Finally for my Gator followers I just want to make one note. I’ve seen several shirts on campus declaring us the 2007 national champions. We’re not – even though the game was played in January of this year, it was the culmination of the 2006 season and we are 06 champs. There is not a 07 champ yet.


Post a Comment

<< Home