Wednesday, February 3, 2010

superbowl preview

Well it's almost that time of year again. You know the one. It's a Monday morning in late January or early February. You switch on the TV and, 'oh yeah, that Superbowl thing's on'.

And so you lounge on the couch in your pyjamas till mid afternoon, trying to work out what a first down is and hoping the half time show will feature Janet Jackson's nipples.

That kind of sums up the Australian attitude to the Superbowl and American Football in general. We're strangely compelled by the whole spectacle even if we're mostly bewildered by what's happening on the field.

This time though things are different for the antipodean gridiron tragic. Gone are the days where the Superbowl was merely an excuse to put Don Lane back on television. Firstly, through Fox Sports and more recently the arrival of One HD, American football on television is no longer the anomaly it once was and rather than having to wait until the final game of the season for some live NFL action, the Australian viewer can more or less watch the whole season from start to finish.

And so interest has risen. While this year's clash between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, lacks the Australian angel that Ben Graham's appearance with the Arizona Cardinals provided last year, anyone who's even paid partial attention to this NFL season knows this match carries with it an abundance of compelling storylines.

No one needs an intricate understanding of the American game to know why New Orleans have virtually all but the most ardent Colts fans 'rooting' for them. They're the underdogs, the sentimental favourites, everybody's second team. Having been known unlovingly as the 'Aints' (even by their own fans) for much of their dreadful history, New Orleans have risen remarkably over the last few years. Led by head coach Sean Payton, inspirational quarterback Drew Brees and livewire running back Reggie Bush, the Saints powered to a NFC best 13-3 record this season, before post season wins over Arizona and Minnesota secured them their first ever trip to the Superbowl.

But for most fans these are mere details. The real reason that sentiment is flowing so overwhelmingly in their direction is, of course, Hurricane Katrina. The most destructive storm to ever hit the U.S mainland, Katrina all but flattened the city of New Orleans, but strangely, has acted as something of a beachhead for it's much maligned football team. Since the storm struck during the 2005 season the Saints have recorded 2 of the 9 winning seasons in franchise history. A Superbowl win on Monday morning would signal the culmination of the Saints rise from mediocrity and may provide the impetus for the rest of the recovering city to follow.

Unfortunately for the Saints and their heaving bandwagon, the Indianapolis Colts don't do sentiment. In fact, the Colts don't really do emotion. A ruthless, metronomic football machine, built in the image of their superstar quarterback, Peyton Manning, the Colts advanced to the Superbowl with robot like efficiency. They racked up a league best 14-2 record during the regular season, before brushing aside the Baltimore Ravens and the plucky New York Jets in the playoffs.

There's a calmness about Indianapolis. They've seen all this before. Three years ago in the very same Miami stadium where they'll face New Orleans, The Colts outclassed the Chicago Bears to win their second ever Superbowl. While having changed coaches and some personnel since then, they have the self assured look of a team who are ready to win a third.

And why wouldn't they be self assured? Any team would fancy their chances with a genius like Manning in charge. The Colt's modus operandi is basically this: stay solid defensively and let Peyton prey on opposition mistakes.

It usually works.

New Orleans will no doubt try to belt him from pillar to post, after all, they did it pretty well a fortnight ago against Brett Farve and the Vikings. Manning however, presents an altogether different challenge. The pre-eminent player in the game at the peak of his powers, Manning is likely to be able to sustain physical pressure better than the creaking Farve.

Against the best defense in the league last time out, Manning copped a hammering early on as the New York Jets skipped out to an 11 point lead. Then, seemingly on que, he got up, dusted himself off and guided his team to 24 straight points. Game over.

So how do they stop him?

Well, Manning's father Archie was a star quarterback for The Saints back in the 70's and Peyton was born and raised in The Big Easy. A Saints fan since birth, few people would like to see them in their first title more than him. He could go easy on them? Or maybe not.

Like I said, Indianapolis don't do sentiment.

The Colts by 10.

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