Archive for the ‘Superbowl’ Category

IMG_1124[1]I am an optimist, someone who will always see the glass half-full.

It’s the reason every few months I will do a random search on Ebay for rare NFL merchandise, especially items from the 70s or 80s.

It’s the reason I love browsing in second-hand bookshops, the reason I like going to bric-a-brac stalls at Summer Fetes and the reason I always look for an NFL treasure.

As recently as yesterday I was at work, in a new office in Birmingham, England, when I found out there was a book exchange in the ground floor foyer opposite the staff canteen.

Not sure if other companies do it, but this is where people bring second hand books for you to read, keep or give back, and then donate to.

I made a comment to my manager that it would be amazing to find any sort of sports book, hoping for something like a former Premier League football player or manager biography.

As I cast my eye over an eclectic range of second-hand books, from a text book about AIDS to the usual heavily thumbed Danielle Steele novels, I almost fell over when sitting on the bottom shelf was the book I have pictured in this post.

Yep I had willed a book about the greatest sport on the earth to be there on the metal shelf.

I snatched it up and found it to be the American Football Annual 2 by Ken Thomas. I immediately realised that the Minnesota Vikings player on the cover, number 81, was someone I actually didn’t recognise, so the book must have been published in the early 80s.

I was right, this annual was published in 1984, and to put me out of my misery I checked on page  and found out the Vikings  cover star was Joe Senser, a 5th year tight-end from West Chester State.

Having looked up Mr Senser he went to the Pro-Bowl in 1981, but it all went downhill after that. It looks like he suffered a similar fate to those NFL players who were cover stars on the Madden game.

Firstly he had only 15 more catches and zero touchdowns in his NFL career after featuring on the cover, with a career that ended at the conclusion of the 1984 season. Coming into the recent past Senser’s¬†wife is currently in jail¬† having been found guilty of killing someone in a hit and run in 2011.

Senser also owns a chain of self-named restaurants he started in 1988. For those of you who want to have a heart-attack you could try his special – The Beast – a 2.5lb burger on a 10 inch bun, served with 1.5lb of chips (yes that is what we call fries in England!).

Senser is one of only eight players from his college, the West Chester University Golden Rams, to have played in the NFL, the most recent, former two-time Pro-Bowl linebacker Lee Woodall, a Superbowl winner with the 1994 San Francisco 49ers.

Back to my recently acquired annual I browsed the full 1984 Vikings roster and perhaps the most remarkable name I came across was that of a 14 year veteran quarterback, number 4, Archie Manning. Yes the same Archie Manning who is now the father of two Superbowl winning sons.

Another standout name was another tight-end named Mike Mularkey. Yep the same Mike Mularkey that was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was sacked at the end of the 2012 NFL season.

So somehow I have managed to link an NFL book published in the UK 1984 with the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars are playing at Wembley Stadium, England in October.

On top of my fortune of finding the book I also had a much anticipated email from the NFLUK offices confirming that I have two tickets to meet five NFL stars who are visiting Birmingham (England) next week.

One of them had to be a Minnesota Vikings player, and I will have the pleasure of meeting the mullet stubble beast with the 69 on his chest – none other than defensive end Jared Allen.

Can’t wait….and it’s only July.

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Yes I do have a sweet tooth.

Yes I do have a sweet tooth.

Just about 7 hours to go until kickoff in NOLA as it is affectionately known and everything is in place.

Everyone has Super Bowl traditions I am sure, and I have to confess I am no different.

Ever since I watched my first Super Bowl (XXI Giants beating Broncos in 1987) I have always done the following:

– Bought a can of Pepsi, a bag of peanut M and Ms, a Snickers (back in the day called a Marathon) and a bag of Beef crisps. Back then in the 80’s Beef crisps were common place, nowadays they don’t exist so I have replaced them with Doritos and added some toffee popcorn.

– I will move the sofa from it’s normal position to right in front of the tv, lining up some small tables in front of me with the food and drink so I don’t miss a second.

– Most importantly I make sure I book the Monday off work. I am sure there are millions who simply report in sick to manage the late night and a potential hangover, but I don’t drink much but do need some sleep.

– I put on a few bets, see my previous blog post.

A few things have changed. With a 16 month old daughter I cannot listen to the game loud on surround sound, instead I have a wire that links my earphones to the back of the tv.

Also here in England we have two channel choices when it comes to watching the Super Bowl tonight. BBC HD with no adverts and the cult (carefully spelt) Mike Carlson, or Sky HD with former Eagles fullback Cecil Martin (who has the biggest hands I have ever seen). I think I will record both and watch the game on the BBC tonight, after all we don’t get the legendary American adverts.

Now all I have to contest with is clearing enough room on my Sky+ box to record both channels.

For all 49ers and Ravens fans I hope your team wins, as for the neutrals I hope the game is played in the spirit of many recent Super Bowls, and that we have a close game, full of twists and turns, and maybe the crowning of a new hero.

The party will begin in my household around 7pm when I put our daughter to bed. Time for the potato skins and jalapeno poppers to go in the oven, and for a chilled Bud to make its way down my parched throat.

To all NFL fans around the world enjoy Super Bowl XLVII as it is a long long time until competitive football returns to our screens.

And if you see anyone kissing their bicep on the bus or the tube tomorrow morning during the commuter rush then you can simply wink back!

 

My sneaky first touchdown bet - rookie Lamichael James

My sneaky first touchdown bet – rookie Lamichael James

I’m not normally a betting man. In fact I only venture into the bookies twice a year, once for the Grand National and once for the Super Bowl.

I have had a few big Super Bowl winning payouts, but really any gambling undertake is simply for fun and I expect to win nothing.

I’ve put on five bets this year with only four that’s can possibly reap rewards.

Most Valuable Player

Michael Crabtree (20-1) 49ers wide receiver. Crabtree is very clearly Colin Kaepernick’s number omen target and Ravens cornerbacks are good but not All Pro standard. Wide receivers have won MVP awards in recent memory, and whilst it’s all about the quarterback, Crabtree has been a true crutch for three months. I have to laugh as I got 20-1 on Friday, just checked online Saturday night and Crabtree is now 16-1 with the same firm.

Ed Reed (66-1) Ravens safety. This is my outside bet for sure. Ray Lewis already has an MVP award, so if the Ravens D pull it out the bag it could be Reed who does the biggest damage. Reed is a turnover monster, and say he gets two interceptions, one being a pick=six then this could be a reality. Unlikely, but hey if you don’t speculate you certainly won’t accumulate.

First Touchdown Scorer

Frank Gore (7-1) 49ers running back or Lamichael James (25-1) 49ers running back. Now sods law says that because I have bet on either the number one or number two San Francisco running back to score first that either the Ravens take the opening kickoff and return it for a touchdown or Colin Kaepernick scores on the ground first himself. The first td scorer really has no true science to it, as there are far too many things that could happen. I have gone 49ers ground game because I rate the 49ers offensive line as one of the top units in the NFL. If the Niners try to establish the run early they will give the rock to Gore, who is capable of 8 carries in a single drive. Rookie James, the former Oregon Duck, has chosen the right time to be injury free and has some major grease in his wheels. Fantasy football fans hate touchdown vultures, those players who come in for the score after the rest of the team has left body parts on the field in an energy sapping drive, arise sir Lamichael James flying through the air like a vulture*/duck* (*=delete as applicable).

Winning margin

Now this may offend any Ravens fans, so apologies in advance, but I have gone for the 49ers to win by 13-18 (7-1). My actual score prediction is 31-17 to the 49ers. My rationale for this score is as follows. I see the first half being cagey with both teams trying to establish the run and get the tight-ends involved to get outside linebackers a bit spooked into contemplating the virtues of prolific blitzing. I have it 17-10 to the 49ers at half-time on the back of a Gore run and something like a Delanie Walker or Bruce Miller catch.

I then have the 49ers defense coming out of the locker room having learnt how to contain the Ravens deep passing, getting an early third quarter Flacco interception. From there 24-10 behind a second Gore run. Flacco to then make it interesting with a big drive of his own ending in an Anquan Boldin score. I then see Kaepernick and the ball control offense putting the nail in the coffin mid-way through the final period with an Anthony Dixon plunge. Flacco to mount a late comeback but turn the ball over again.

OK this is all in my head and about as likely to happen as Alex Smith throwing the winning score in double overtime, but betting is no science, its a bit of fun, and win or lose it always makes my Super Bowl viewing that bit tastier, alongside my big ol’ bowl of toffee popcorn and peanut M and M’s.

Anyone else got any predictions?

 

The most underrated starting players in the Super Bowl

The most underrated starting players in the Super Bowl

The argument is that the quarterback position is the toughest in all of professional football.

You have to know an offense inside out, have to read a defense quicker than a bionic word scanner and spend time avoiding gentlemen bigger, faster (and no disrespect) uglier than you for sixty minutes a game.

Big deal – you get to front the Pepsi adverts, go home every night to a beautiful model and a pile of money higher than a busted meth cook house.

The real men have no necks, no fear and no chance of much glory, but without them their teams are simply not the same.

Ladies and gentlemen introducing Bruce Miller and Terzell Vonta Leach, the two starting fullbacks in Super Bowl XLVII.

In the combined 161 regular season games played by Miller and Leach they have ran the ball 33 times for 96 yards – an average of just under three yards a carry.

No exactly prime time production, but their primary objective is not to partake in the noble art of carrying the pigskin, they are there to clear a path, like a snow-plow lumbering through a 20ft drift.

Let’s look at the stats for the lead tailbacks production with Leach and Miller as the fullback on the field:

Leach

2004 (as a Packer) Ahman Green 1,163 rushing yards 7 touchdowns and a trip the Pro Bowl

2005 (as a Packer) Samkon Gado 582 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns

2006 (as a Packer and Texan) Ron Dayne 612 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns

2007 (as a Texan) Ron Dayne 773 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns

2008  (as a Texan) Steve Slaton 1,282 yards rushing 9 touchdowns

2009 (as a Texan) Steve Slaton 437 yards rushing (no Texan back played all 16 games)

2010 (as a Texan) Arian Foster 1,161 yards rushing 16 tds and a trip to the Pro Bowl and voted an All Pro

2011 (as a Raven) Ray Rice 1,364 yards rushing 12 tds and a trip to the Pro Bowl

2012 (as a Raven) Ray Rice 1.134 yards rushing 9 tds and a trip to the Pro Bowl

Miller

2011 (as a 49er) Frank Gore  1.211 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns and a trip to the Pro Bowl

2012 (as a 49er) Frank Gore  1.214 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns and a trip to the Pro Bowl

That’s 11 seasons sacrificing their bodies for colleagues to go to the Pro Bowl six times. Now Leach has been recognised for the outstanding man-beast that he is, with three consecutive Pro Bowl and All Pro (the real mark of talent) call-ups in the last three seasons.

Miller on the other hand has helped Frank Gore to the Pro Bowl last season and this season, but has not been given any individual recognition by voters.

When you sit down next Sunday to the biggest show on earth (on turf) pay a thought to Miller and Leach. They may not touch the ball once between them, but they will likely lay a hit that will win one of their teams the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

alexsssAlex Smith should have played football in Phoenix,  considering the amount of times he has risen from the ashes.

Since being selected as the overall number one pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith has somehow managed to stay with the same team, despite missing a whole year (2008) and failing to win more than seven games in his first five seasons.

Under the tutelage of Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary Alex Smith managed 19 regular season wins in 54 games Рwith 0 playoff games.

In a rather bizarre coincidence Smith has managed 19 regular season wins (and a tie) under his current head coach Jim Harbaugh, himself a former NFL quarterback.

These 19 wins have come in just two seasons and have been coupled with a playoff win and an appearance in the 2012 NFC Championship.

Most head coaches would have given up on a quarterback who won 35% of his games, but Harbaugh somehow helped Smith out of his slumber.

Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 record in 2011 and was looking to make his second consecutive playoff run in 2012. He was sailing along with a starting record 0f 6-2-1, completing over 70% of his passes, when Coach Harbaugh decided that simply wasn’t cutting the mustard.

The decision to drop Smith, and replace him with a raw second year quarterback by the name of Colin Kaepernick, was a move bolder than a 100 foot high brass monkey’s balls.

Turns out it was the right move, as the 49ers are in their first Super Bowl for two decades and despite suiting up for the game Alex Smith is about as likely to throw a pass next Sunday as I am.

Smith, like all former number one picks, will have dreamed of playing in the big game, not just holding a clipboard and hoping he gets a shot if the starter gets injured. I’m not saying Smith wishes any ill of Kaepernick, far from it, but he knows he is one errant Kaepernick scramble from a spot on the field in front of a global audience.

Unfortunately Smith is looking to become the second quarterback in Super Bowl history to both be drafted number one overall, suit up in a Super Bowl and not make a single pass. That honour has already been bestowed upon Drew Bledsoe, the former New England Patriots quarterback who kept the pine warm in Super Bowl XXXVI.

For Smith’s sake I hope he gets to make just one pass attempt in the Super Bowl – unlikely – but that would be a great story.

Unlike Rocky's desire I do see a rematch from the regular season

Unlike Rocky’s desire I do see a rematch from the regular season

Its one of the great Hollywood lines.

Apollo Creed the heavyweight champion has just been taken the distance by the unknown southpaw Rocky Balboa.

Just as the bell goes at the end of the 15th round Creed turns to Balboa and utters; “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.”

With one of the few breaths left Rocky retorts; “Don’t want one.”

This was of course an exchange of lines from a fictitious movie, where the heavy underdog   finally finds a purpose and emerges a hero.

With the NFC and AFC Championship games starting in less than 24 hours there are two Hollywood scripts that are waiting to grace the silver screen.

For two future Hall of Fame enshrinees it is an opportunity to match Rocky, and take a further step to becoming a World Champion.

Both the Atlanta Falcons tight-end Tony Gonzales and the Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis have huge emotional investment from their fans as Sunday ‘could’ be their last ever NFL game.

Anyone who is not a fan of the final four teams should be having their heart-strings pulled by these two living legends, as they battle through to the Super Bowl complete with teary post-game press conferences and premature confetti.

Problem is some dreams are not meant to come true, and Sunday will be where the analogy of this particular Hollywood boxing film will fade away like a reel of archived 1970’s celluloid.

I just can’t see the Baltimore Ravens stopping the New England Patriots (who will be at home) from returning to the Super Bowl, where I predict they will battle the San Francisco 49ers, fresh after defrosting from a cryogenic freezing process administered in the mid 1990’s. Saying that I must have Sylvester Stallone on the brain as the whole defrosting comparison led me to think of Demolition Man.

I am admittedly making a big hash out of my playoff predictions this season, with my only two highlights being predicting the exact correct score for the Texans v Bengals Wild-card game and the fact that the Falcons would actually advance from the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

So to my predictions – about as scientifically prepared as Bob the Builder with a bunsen burner brewing crystal meth (yes I am watching Breaking Bad – currently just started Season Tw0 in case you were wondering)…

49ers @ Falcons

49ers backs Frank Gore and Lamichael James will grind out the tough yards behind battering ram fullback Bruce Miller. The Falcons will be intent on holding Kapernick to under 75 yards rushing so Gore will want to get 20 carries. If Gore gets over 25 I can see the Niners winning by at least a touchdown. 49ers outside linebackers containing Tony Gonzales. Dialing up too many blitzes will give Tony time to get warmed up so the 49ers will need Ahmad Brooks to remain patient.

49ers to win 31-27 in a game that looks close if you just see the final score but in truth is dominated by the 49ers for the majority of the game. I don’t think Colin Kaepernick will be as dominant as he was against a¬†porous Packers defense, but I do see him passing for three touchdowns.

Ravens @ Patriots

Pats tight-end Aaron Hernandez need to have a big game. As the Boston Mayor informed the media ‘Gonk’ is out, so Hernandez will be asked to form part of the big woven safety blanket that consists of Wes Welker and any Patriots running back named Ridley, Vereen or Woodhead. The Ravens will be determined to get in the grill of Tom Brady to stop him getting into that mesmeric rhythm that has taken him to five previous Super Bowls. The Ravens gave up two special teams touchdowns last week, something that the previous Super Bowl winning Ravens team would not have allowed. I have predicted the Ravens to lose the last two weeks so I feel obliged to do the same again. This time I don’t see the result being as close as last year. I do see the Patriots offense stalling in the red-zone, but my bold prediction is Pats kicker Gotkowski connecting on five field goals.

Patriots to win 29-19 in a game where Tom Brady is rattled but not derailed.

This gives me a 49ers v Patriots Super Bowl. To end on a pugilistic note a knockout game you must agree.

Gronk wont be playing in the Super Bowl regardless if the Pats win on Sunday

Gronk wont be playing in the Super Bowl regardless if the Pats win on Sunday

Five Super Bowl performances in the last eleven seasons is pretty remarkable, all led by the same quarterback and head coach combination is mind-bending.

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots franchise stand on the verge of a sixth Super Bowl berth in the last dozen seasons, which if they do succeed means they have represented their conference in 50% of Super Bowls since 2002.

They face a Baltimore Ravens team this weekend in  a rematch of last years AFC Championship, a game the Patriots triumphed 23-20.

The Ravens are now in their third conference championship in five years, hoping that it’s third time lucky.

There are many many storylines and matchups to look out for:

– Can Ray Lewis fire up his team enough or will his final NFL game be a heartbreaking defeat?

– Can the Patriots live without the man-beast Rob Gronkowski?

– Can the Ravens pull-off a third playoff win in a row against a fresher team who will have a huge home field advantage?

– Can the Patriots secondary live with the speed of Torrey Smith – will it be Aqib Talib marking Smith to leave Anquan Boldin to have a big game?

– Will there be a Ravens player do a ‘Lee Evans’ and drop a game winning touchdown?

I have to say I love the way the Pats have taken the two tight-end set into a different stratosphere, which is why it’s such a shame that Rob Gronkowski re-broke his arm last weekend and will next suit up in anger in about six-months. I do expect a big game from the ‘other’ tight-end Aaron Hernandez.

Regardless of Hernandez’s stat-line, or the lack of the Gronk, the Patriots are 60 minutes away from their eighth Super Bowl, and for me a seventh time watching those silver helmets take on an NFC opponent.

When you are a supporter of such a dominant team then you are hoping the Super Bowl performances are never-ending, but when you are a fan of one of the other 31 NFL teams you just hope that there are some new teams losing their Super Bowl virginity.

As a neutral it has been a lot of fun seeing the likes of the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals reach (and in the first two cases win) a Super Bowl.

It’s not so much fun watching the same teams keep going back. The irony is not lost that we have the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Championship as I grew up watching Joe Montana and Steve Young win three Super Bowls over a seven year stretch.

I do have very clear memories of the Ravens winning their only previous Super Bowl appearance, and likewise the Falcons somewhat flat performance against the John Elway led Denver Broncos in 1999.

As long as the Patriots are held out of this Super Bowl I really don’t mind who wins out of the 49ers and the Falcons. You have to love the dynamism of Colin Kaepernick and then the emotional high that would be experienced if Tony Gonzales the future Hall of Fame tight-end would get if he could somehow play his last game in the Super Bowl.

Just don’t think I can stomach another two-weeks of hype led by Tom Brady’s face and the grey face of Bill ‘the Emperor’ Belichick.

Come on Ray & Ray you wouldn’t want to let down your international admirers would you?