Archive for February, 2011

It’s the best day of the year, better than Christmas, better than any stinking birthday, yes it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and for me its a huge anniversary – my 25th Super Bowl in a row that i’ll be watching here in England.

My first Super Bowl I saw live was in 1987 as the Phil Simms led New York Giants beat the John Elway led Denver Broncos 39-20.

25 years later and I have seen some amazing Super Bowls, some amazing teams, and a few rare dynasties.

Talking of 80’s soap operas my 25th Super Bowl is taking place near to the South Fork ranch, in Dallas, Texas.

To buy a Big Ben shirt direct from Primetime Sports in the UK click here

Here goes with my breakdown of Super Bowl XLV….

The five things the Green Bay Packers need to do to win Super Bowl XLV

1) Establish the run – It seems everyone is predicting the Packers to throw on almost every down, but you don’t reach a Super Bowl without some semblance of a running game. Rookie running back James Starks only managed 101 rushing yards in the regular season, but from that cocoon he has blossomed into a post-season butterfly, carrying the ball 70 times in three wins, for a solid if unspectacular 3.8 yards a carry. The Steelers will play an aggressive defense and this could leave Starks to find some yardage on draw or delay type plays. No one really knows if Starks can catch passes if needed, as the Packers gameplan has not used Starks as a screen or short hitch type back. Maybe it happens today?

2) Shut down Mike Wallace from making big plays – Steelers WR Mike Wallace is just about the most exciting wideout in the NFL, with maybe the exception of the Eagles Desean Jackson. Wallace can go 80 yards for paydirt on any given play. The Packers cornerbacks will be well aware of Wallace’s blazing speed, and they will try to shut him down. The battle between Tramon Williams or Charles Woodson against Wallace will be huge, and one of these three could legitimately become MVP. Wallace could end the game with gaudy stats or Woodson could end up with a couple of ints and a pick six.

3) Containing Big Ben – No quarterback in the NFL is better at escaping pressure than Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, not even Michael Vick. The Packers have to be disciplined in their pressuring of Big Ben, and this means wrapping up when they get a chance to fell the double Super Bowl winner. Containing Big Ben in the pocket will be the job of the Packers defensive line and super stud Clay Matthews. I have a sneaky feeling that Packers OLB Erik Walden, if he plays, will have a big game, as he will be a little under the radar. Walden has 4 sacks in his last 4 games.

4) Packers Tight Ends showing up – The Packers lost their stud 6 ft 5 inch tight end Jermichael Finley in week 4, and have been pretty average at the position since then. Green Bay have only managed a total of 5 combined tight end catches in 180 playoff minutes this season, but here in the Super Bowl the likes of Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree will need to produce better numbers than that. Expected to do more blocking than route running, the Packers tight ends could be difference makers, and will need to be switched on in the red zone. Look for Aaron Rodgers to seek out Quarless for a td in the first half.

5) Aaron Rodgers to keep cool – This game will come down to the leadership of Aaron Rodgers, and his ability to keep cool under the constant pressure of the incredible Steelers linebacking crew. If James Harrison and Lamar Woodley start calling the shots in the first half we could be in for a long day and a 7th Lombardi Trophy winging its way to Steel Town. Rodgers will have spent the last two weeks rehearsing his ‘wrestling belt’ touchdown celebration, but he will need to avoid being grappled down by the aggressive Steelers defense, and he will need to avoid having Troy Polamalu in his head, if he is going to succeed. If Aaron starts the game with a calm drive of over five minutes then we are in for a great game.


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The five things the Pittsburgh Steelers need to do to win Super Bowl XLV

1) Keep Troy calm – The NFL Defensive Player of the Year was Steelers Safety Troy ‘hairy Tasmanian devil’ Polamalu. Troy is without doubt a difference maker who can turn a game with just one ultra-athletic play. His downfall, if you can call it one, is that he is so pumped up in a big game that he will play such an aggressive game that he could end up hurting himself. In the past 5 seasons Polamalu has only lasted the full 16 games just once. I love it when Polamalu leaps over offensive linemen on a short yardage play to try and crush the quarteback or the running back, but this can put his body in odd positions, and he becomes an injury risk. Providing Polamalu doesn’t wear himself out by the fourth quarter he can be the difference maker, but he needs to play within himself.

2) Miller Time – Big Ben will find it hard to constantly target his wide-outs in this game, so he will be looking to get tight end Heath Miller involved in a number of different ways, from planned plays, to being a checkdown target when he has to move in and out of the pocket. Miller has already got two rings and so he know what it takes to be a primetime performer. Big Ben will look for Miller in the redzone, especially because the Packers linebackers will be after him. Miller against the Packers safeties Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah will be a matchup to watch closely.

3) Keeping the ball – The longer the Steelers can keep the ball in drives the longer time that Aaron Rodgers and all his weapons will stay on the sidelines. The Steelers need Rashard Mendnhall, in my opinion the most under appreciated running back in the NFL, to grind down the clock and keep moving the chains. With Doug Legursky starting his first NFL game in the Super Bowl, for the injured Pro Bowl rookie Maurkice Pouncey, the Packers defensive line will be smelling blood, but the Steelers have one big games before with ‘on paper’ inferior offensive linemen. Mendnhall will need to be on top form both rushing and receiving, and could end up with 32 touches of the ball.

4) Disrupting the rhythm of the Packers passing game – The Steelers defense will be facing an offensive onslaught from Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, and even Brett Swain, five wide receivers that can run any secondary ragged. Pittsburgh will need to disrupt Aaron Rodgers momentum early, with a mixture of pressure and man marking. Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden will need to play the games of their lives.

5) Taking a few risks – In Super Bowl XL former college qb turned slot wide receiver and punt returner Antwan Randle El tossed a touchdown to Hines Ward. Randle El left the Steelers after that game for big bucks at the Redskins, but now he is back in the Black and Gold. What are the odds of Randle El pulling of another mesmerizing trick play? Dont put it past Coach Tomlin giving it a go. After all we could see Packers nose tackle BJ Raji playing some fullback. The Steelers will throw at least one trick play in the mix, and Randle El has already got a winners ring thanks in part to his arm.

NFL Fan In England’s Super Bowl XLV prediction

This is two outstanding defensive outfits playing against each other, and two offenses that are capable of quick strikes. Ironically it could be the third units (special teams) that decide this game, with Jeff Reed and Mason Crosby’s accuracy potentially determining the outcome of this game. We could end up with a new Vinatieri or (gulp) a new Norwood.

I am nervous about the Packers ability to get rookie James Starks 23 to 26 carries of the football, but if they do and he does, he could shock the world and help Green Bay to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Wisconsin.

Big Ben doesn’t need to have a spectacular game, he has proved that in the past.

The stadium turf will suit the Packers over the Steelers as they can use their speed as a huge weapon. Look for the likes of James Jones and Jordy Nelson to make a few humongous plays.

It comes down to turnovers and who can force their opponents into making them. I think the Packers defense will be that bit better than the Steelers offensive line can contain for 60 minutes, and for that reason I am going to call it

Green Bay Packers 31 -28 Pittsburgh Steelers – with Aaron Rodgers as MVP, despite some outstanding performances from Charles Woodson and BJ Raji.

Love to hear your thoughts people….

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Welcome to the Hall Mr Hanburger

Delighted to read that another former Washington Redskins star has made it into the house of NFL legends.

Congratulations Chris Hanburger for reaching the NFL Hall of Fame – Class of 2011.

Hanburger served 14 seasons in the NFL, playing one of the lead roles in the ‘Skins ‘Over the Hill Gang’ who reached Super Bowl VII and almost took away the perfect season from the Miami Dolphins in 1972.

Nine Pro Bowl appearances and 4 times a first team All Pro shows what a warrior the former North Carolina product was.

One little history lesson – one that is impossible for anyone to repeat in the 21st century NFL – Hanbuger was an 18th round draft pick. No this is not a typing error, Hanburger was picked up 245th in the 1965 NFL draft.

From that humble beginning to a bronze bust permanently on display in Canton is one helluva achievement. NFL Fan In England salutes you.

I also mustn’t forget  another former Redskins defender who also became a member of the exclusive HOF club, namely Deion Sanders.

Most famous for his time with the 49ers and the Cowboys, Sanders played the 2000 season as a Redskins cornerback, recording four interceptions, and 25 punt returns.

Congratulations both – it’s reassuring that Redskins fans can celebrate the past, lets home sometime soon we can celebrate the present.

Part Steeler Part wookie - Brett Kiesel is the new NFL beard god

Move over Dan Fouts, your 1970s and 1980s beard may have earned you a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but it failed to take you to a Super Bowl. Up until last week you had the most famous facial hair in NFL history.

Now you are a runner-up once again as Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel has grown the greatest beard in NFL history.

Having always chickened out after a maximum of about 5 or 6 days, after my wife tells me repeatedly that I look like a tramp, I have never grown a proper beard, so I have no idea what it takes to add the same amount of facial hair as Chewbacca the Wookie.

Keisel is a man on a mission I’m sure – I just wonder if the Steelers fail to win the Superbowl (XLV) will he keep growing it and end up with the full Wookie experience?

Could this be Brett Keisel by the time we get to 2011 OTAs?

Do you think that an NFL player past or present has grown a better beard? I’d love to hear or see evidence………..

Cheeseheads must be excited.

Coming out from under a legends shadow is hard enough, doing it against a team that has won more Super Bowls than any other team in NFL history is tougher than running a mile in a treadmill made of treacle.

Aaron Rodgers is on fire and on Sunday he has a chance to become the third Green Bay Packers quarterback to hoist up the trophy named after the Packers coach who won Super Bowl I and II.

Bart Starr and Brett Favre have both played in two Super Bowls each (winning three of four combined) and now Aaron gets to play in his first big dance.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a quarterback who already has two shiny jewel-encrusted rings, and Big Ben will be after number three.

This is going to be an epic battle, and this will be the opportunity the former Cal Quarterback will have to become a household name.

I think it is also a time to avoid comparing Favre to Rodgers. Favre was a once in a lifetime talent who, despite winning only one ring himself, has left a legacy that is just about unbeatable (with maybe the exception of Peyton Maning). Rodgers could go and get himself a ring on Sunday, but that does not mean he is suddenly the equal of Favre.

If Rodgers does lead the Pack to the W then he could go on and lead his team to two or more titles in the next five seasons.

This Packers team is pretty special, and Rodgers could be on the road to emulating the success of the best Super Bowl qb ever, Joe Montana, but there is 60 minutes of football to play first.

Rodgers will only lift the trophy if the following things happen;

  • The Pack get a running game going. If James Starks can get 100 yards it will be incredible, but he will need to get between 50 and 70 to keep the Steelers D honest.
  • The Packers TEs have a great game. Rodgers will be expected to look for the WRs Jennings, Driver and Jones, but with the loss of Jermichael Finley earlier in the season Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree and Donald Lee will be called upon to be difference makers.
  • He needs to know where the tasmanian devil Troy Polamalu is on every play. Polamalu plays extremely aggressive football and he can get frustrated if he is beat early. Polamau will want to land a knockout blow (legal hit wise) on every play, but its probably not best to test him too often.
  • If he can scramble when he wants to but not because he is running for his life every other play.

Can Rodgers give Wisconsin it’s 4th Super Bowl trophy?

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Super Bowl XLV - Can't wait for kickoff

I can’t wait for Super Bowl XLV to kickoff on Sunday night here in England. The Green Bay Packers v Pittsburgh Steelers has the ideal combination of explosive offense and bone crunching defense, along with a rich, rich history from both teams and their combined 9 previous Vince Lombardi trophy wins.

To prepare for the big game I have a number of rituals, which I will describe below. If you have any please add them in the comments section at the end of this post, as I’d love to hear what you do around the world to get ready for the biggest game on the planet.

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NFL Fan in England’s Super Bowl traditions

  • Super Bets – I like to do some MVP and some first touchdown scorer bets. This year I have money (not much of it) on three different players for MVP and three different scorers for first td. I always go for both teams quarterbacks to get a rushing td as the first score. I have Aaron Rodgers at 16-1 and Big Ben Roethlisberger at 25-1. Last time Big Ben was in a Super Bowl it looked like he had scored, only for his run to be called back and Gary Russell to punch it in.
  • Super Food – Well not exactly super food in the traditional sense, more like junk food. I have a life size plastic Redskins helmet that doubles up as a food server. I fill the middle with toffee popcorn and the two trays in the face cage with Peanut M ‘n’ M’s. I get some Doritos (cheese and fiery hot) and also a bag of beef crisps and a single Snickers bar that I cut into small slices during the pre game build up.
  • Super Drinks – I have had a can of Pepsi with me at the Super Bowl since 1987, and despite the fact I don’t drink normal Pepsi under any other condition (I have Pepsi Max nowadays) I get a can ready. I also get a pack of Budweiser (bottles) that my wife and I share.
  • Super Program – I always have a Super Bowl program with me, which this year I purchased via http://www.nfluk.com . I got an email yesterday to say it had been dispatched so I hope it arrives today or Friday. I did used to buy it from a shop in Birmingham called Great American Sports, but they shut up shop in the West Midlands. I then ordered it 2 years ago via a website called Great American Sports with its business based in Devon (which may or may not have business relations to the former shop with the exact same name that closed in Birmingham) and they failed, first time round, to send me the correct limited edition program I paid for so I refused to ever use them again. When I rung up to complain I was indeed sent the correct program second time round but I was asked not to mention this on my blog, then in an email told I could publish what I want. I kept the first one as it arrived with a damaged spine. This damage I blame on nobody as I cannot prove it was damaged before or during transit. I miss the shop in Birmingham.
  • Super Structures – Hmmm maybe at bit of an exaggeration but I do move the sofa from the side of the living room to a spot directly in front of the television. It’s important to have your drinks and snacks within touching distance so I make sure that the nest of small tables we have are displayed in front of the sofa.
  • Super Monday – One last thing – as the Super Bowl finishes in the early hours of Monday morning here in England I book the day off and so does my wife. We like to go for a swim in the morning and then a nice lunch. My way of saying thankyou for staying up until 2am to watch the game.

What do YOU do to get ready for the big game?

Bill Belicchick you truly are an idiot. Not only do you crash out of the playoffs again, you looked like a petulant child in the last minute of the 2011 Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Calling three time-outs with a 20 point deficit was simply pathetic. It did however lead to one of the most bizarre touchdowns in NFL history.

The AFC offensive line and NFC defensive line had given up and were exchanging golf course tips by the time Matt Cassel dropped back and heaved a late pass to Dwayne Bowe.

It was then that Bowe laterelled to double touchdown mega-stud full back Montell Owens (who????).  Owen in his infinite wisdom ran a few yards and rugby passed it to Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack.

Mack’s face lit up like the Grizwold’s house on Christmas Day as he ran down the left sideline, past a defender and into the endzone.

Coach Belichick that SIX point play meant you were still FOURTEEN points behind. Maybe it is time to utter the words that no Patriots fan wants to hear – maybe its time for Coach Bill to give up the clipboard as a head coach.

After all what sane man would call three time outs when you are 20 down with under a minute left in a meaningless exhibition game.