Agree or disagree with Luke Russert's view of Super Bowl XLIII? Holla at us to let him know.
We're obsessed with rankings. (Heck, we do it every day!) We rank beach bodies on E!, child stars on VH1 and even the world's most horrific crashes on Spike. So what was the first thing the talking heads in Tampa pondered on Sunday: Where does this game rank all time?
Some will call this latest version the greatest Super Bowl of all time, but those are the same people buying the Barack Obama commemorative coins off of QVC right now. They get caught up in the moment and forget history, no matter how recent. In this case, did they forget last year's Super Bowl?
Let's go back a whopping 364 days ago to Super Bowl XLII. Remember that Super Bowl with that team from New England that had won 18 games without a loss; the team that essentially rewrote the NFL record book on offense? Remember how they played a New Jersey team that was decimated by injuries all year; a team that started the season 0-2? And remember how New Jersey managed to beat the 12-point favorite undefeated team from New England 17-14? You do? Well, as long as we are ranking things here are my Top 5 reasons why Super Bowl 42 was a heck of a lot better than Super Bowl 43.
5. The Rivalry Factor: Boston and New York have one. Pittsburgh and Arizona: not so much.
Anybody not from a major east coast media market stop reading here because the next line is the apotheosis of east coast media bias: New England vs New York is a match up that is a lot more compelling simply based on the geography and history of the two cities. I lived in Boston during college for four years. I was born in New York City. Quite simply the two towns just don't hate each other, they despise each other. (DISCLAIMER: Because the Giants play in New Jersey, pay taxes in New Jersey and consider half of the state of New Jersey their fan base I call them the New Jersey Giants. However for the purpose of this article I will back off on that and painfully acknowledge that a lot of Giants fans live in New York as well. Don't forget the only NFL team to play on New York soil is the Buffalo Bills.) Two towns whose animosity for each other is played out every baseball season now could see the same thing happen on the football field. If there was one city that Bostonians did not want to see take their undefeated season away, it was New York. Up until that point Boston had been dominating the rivalry. The massive comeback in the 2004 ALCS, the second World Series title in '07 and the three Patriot Super Bowls in '01, '03 and '04. All the while the Yanks, Knicks, Rangers, Mets, Jets and Giants had gone O-fer since 2000. Deep down, every Bostonian knew that if the Giants beat the Pats, the miracle of the 2004 ALCS would be washed away from the sports bar argument book. The two cancel each other out. Then there's TV. Fox got to broadcast a game between two large media markets in Boston and New York: this game had the attention of the entire media world.
No offense to Pittsburgh or Arizona, but the only history these two cities have is that some folks from Pittsburgh probably retired in Scottsdale a few years ago. The Pirates vs Diamondbacks rivalry? Nope. Pens vs Coyotes? Right. People in Pittsburgh do not wake up every morning wishing doom on people in Phoenix. In Boston every single sports fan wishes eternal damnation on the all things New York. Pretty much.
4. The Personalities
Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger are two outstanding American citizens. Warner has an amazing back story, he went from being a grocery store boy to a Super Bowl winning quarterback via the Arena Football League. Roethlisberger went 13-0 in the regular season as a rookie and won a Super Bowl in only his second year after coming out of Miami of Ohio—amazing. But in terms of media, Warner and Roethlisberger are about as colorful and interesting as Steven Seagal. Now flashback to last year, which pitted the immortal Tom Brady against the pure bloodlines of Eli Manning. Brady and the Manning brothers are the most marketed quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady markets everything from cologne to Smart Water while also doing GQ photo shoots. Eli Manning is in Toyota ads, Gatorade commercials and models expensive watches. Roethlisberger does Fathead commercials and Warner sold self help books at Wal-Mart. Quite simply, Super Bowl 42 was more compelling because the personalities were better and better personalities means a sexier match up.
Don't forget Michael Strahan, Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress and Bill Belichick. It was all just more compelling.
3. The Actual Game
Simply, the 27-23 score, a presumption by most, did not compare to the shock of the 17-14 victory by the Giants last year. Keep in mind, the 2007 Patriots averaged 36.8 points per game. They were an offensive juggernaut assembled to deplete defenses around the NFL. They had not scored less than 20 points all season. The G Men were 12 point underdogs and Manning had a history of choking in high pressure situations. So what did Manning do? He threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. What's even more amazing is that Manning threw for the winning TD after the Patriots had gone up 14-10 with 2:42 left in the game.
Going into this year's game we all knew that Warner and the Cardinals had a vibrant passing attack. We knew Pittsburgh could move the ball down the field and a score of 27-23 did not surprise many keen football minds. We knew Arizona could come from behind late in the 4th quarter (we saw it in the NFC Championship Game) and we knew Pittsburgh could score late (think Steelers vs Cowboys Week 14 and Ravens Week 15). So while Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes with 30 seconds left was pretty spectacular—was it surprising at all? Pitt got the ball back with nearly 3 minutes and a pair of timeouts. It was an eternity.
Also, this Super Bowl was without doubt the worst officiated Super Bowl in my lifetime. The Cardinals were flagged 11 times and in the 3rd quarter the Steelers went up 20-7 after a long drive that was sustained by a horrendous roughing the passer call. The Steelers never should have gotten those three points nor burned more than 8 minutes off the clock. Super Bowl 42 gave us no such leftover questions.
2.The Greatest Play in Super Bowl History
Many people are saying that Pittsburgh's James Harrison's 100 yard interception return for a touchdown to close out the first half was the greatest play in Super Bowl history. It was great. And significant; but it pales in comparison to last year's ridiculously amazing catch by journeyman receiver David Tyree after Eli Manning avoided getting sacked twice. For those of you who forgot, recall.
Don't like my opinion? Take it from Steve Sabol the Doris Kearns Goodwin of NFL history.
So why is this play better? LETS RANK THE REASONS!
4. It happened with a minute left and the Giants were down by 4 points.
3. David Tyree prior to the Super Bowl had 4 receptions during 12 games of the 2007 season and no touchdowns. He was nobody. He was Rudy.
2. If Tyree had made a normal catch the play still would have gone down as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history. Why? Because Manning eluded two tackles that 99.9% of the time lead to a sack in the NFL. If you watch the play again you will notice that Manning is sacked. He is done. Yet he escapes. Insane.
1. David Tyree made the greatest catch in the history of not only the Super Bowl but the NFL. A helmet catch, four feet up, Harrison punching at it. Impossible.
For these reasons Manning to Tyree is more impressive than the lucky rumble tumble of James Harrison.
1. The Upset Factor
If you watched ESPN from September of '07 to February of '08 you were indoctrinated with promos of "The Patriots Pursuit of Perfection." Every lead story on Sportscenter was about: Can New England go 19-0? Is Belicheck the best coach ever? Is Tom Brady the second coming of Jesus etc. Everybody had New England winning this game, the Boston Globe was even pre-selling copies of "19-0: The Historic Championship Season of New England's Unbeatable Patriots" on Amazon.com. In fact many people had the '07 Patriots ranked among the greatest teams in all of sports: The '97 Bulls, the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig and even those Celtics teams of the 1960s.
The '08 Steelers were a very good football team but they will never be mentioned amongst the best ever. The Arizona Cardinals limped into the playoffs 9-7 before embarking on a commendable run to the Super Bowl. During the NBC pre-game show, five analysts picked the Steelers and five picked the Cardinals. Many people, including myself, saw the Cardinals winning this game. And the Steelers win was an expected win.
Intangibles included, this was one wasn't close, historically. If you appreciate history and what the Giants were up against and the significance of the Patriots being the first undefeated team since the '72 Dolphins—you know Super Bowl 42 was better.
Luke Russert is a NBC News Correspondent and host co-host of 60/20 Sports on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.