Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Super Bowl Cheat Sheet

I was talking to a friend from college recently, and he mentioned that he was going to a Super Bowl party and admitted that between work and his passion for politics, he wasn't that familiar with the teams and what people might be talking about surrounding the big game. This gave me an idea to create a Super Bowl cheat sheet. This is for guys who have been too busy with work, and apparently NPR, to know what the sports experts (I mean actual experts and am most certainly not including myself in this category) are discussing. Girls who want to impress that really cute guy they like or surprise their boyfriend with some sports knowledge can read this and add a couple of zingers. Maybe you're stuck going to an office Super Bowl party and have no idea what to say. Read this and you might be able to join a conversation or at least nod or shake your head and not just because it seems to be the appropriate social gesture.

The Basics
Let's start with the basics. The Super Bowl is always on Sunday, hence the name Super Bowl Sunday. It might surprise some people, but I have met people who didn't know that football, in general, took place on Sunday. (Of course, there are games on Mondays, as in Monday Night Football, and sometimes on Thursdays and Saturdays, but you don't have to know this for the Super Bowl cheat sheet.) This year the game is taking place in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium (a dome so indoor football), home of the Indianapolis Colts. Although the location of the Super Bowl is picked about a year in advance, no team has ever played in its home stadium. In other words, no team has had home field advantage, though it is a possibility. So in case you were wondering, no the Colts are not playing in the Super Bowl. And to prevent you from looking like like Anze Kopitar who picked the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, the New York Giants are playing the New England Patriots.

Big Names on the New York Giants
1. Eli Manning (#10): Eli is the quarterback of the team. Yes, he is very good, and he has already won a Super Bowl (which will be discussed in another section). This year he had a career high of throwing for 4,933 yards. This stat is impressive but a few quarterbacks have passed for over 5,000 yards this season. In fact this year, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints set NFL record for most passing yards in a single-season with 5,476 just this year. You should also know that he is the younger brother of Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts (yep, Eli is playing in Peyton's home), and their relationship will be discussed in another section as well. And just to throw this in, Eli's name is NOT Elijah, like most would assume. His first name is Elisha. That's a fact and will probably stun some people when they check it.

2. Victor Cruz (#80): Cruz is the team's top wide receiver and has had a breakout year. He's made 82 catches for 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns during the regular season. You'll probably see Manning throw to Cruz a lot, so this is a name you should know.

3. Ahmad Bradshaw (#44): Bradshaw is the number one running back. He had career high rushing touchdowns with nine and receiving touchdowns with two this season. Therefore, he had a career high in touchdowns with eleven. It should be noted that while he is expected to play, he has been battling a foot injury which forced him to miss four games during the regular season.

4. Lawrence Tynes (#9): Tynes is the kicker for the Giants. What is important to know is that Tynes kicked the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers to send the Giants to the Super Bowl. If you really want to impress, Tynes also kicked the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship game against the packers in 2008 to send the Giants to the Super Bowl in which they defeated... the New England Patriots! More on the rematch later.

Big Names on the New England Patriots
1. Tom Brady (#12): Brady is an elite quarterback with three Super Bowl rings and has had his most explosive year since his last Super Bowl appearance. He posted career highs in passing with 5,235 yards and in rushing with 109 yards and 3 touchdowns. It can be argued that Brady has more to lose in this Super Bowl contest than Eli Manning. I have to mention that I heard this argument from John Harris on the Overnight Takeover for Yahoo Sports Radio. I must say that I agree with his argument and have heard some variations of the same on other sports radio programming. If Brady loses this year, this will be his second Super Bowl loss to Eli and the argument could be made that Manning, although less accomplished, is a better quarterback than Brady. If Brady wins, then at least he has the satisfaction that the contest is now even. If Eli loses, it's not a big deal. The experts will probably chalk it up to the fact that Brady has been having such a great season, especially with the seemingly unstoppable Patriot offense. If Eli wins, it's huge, but if he loses, it won't change the perception of him as a quarterback. More is on the line for Brady to win when you think about the number of Super Bowls he will have won. Let's say Brady wins today. He will go from three Super Bowl rings to four, joining the ranks of Joe Montana. With four rings, Brady can be firmly planted into the destined-for-Hall-of-Fame greatness. If Brady loses today, the question is still there. Is he one of the greatest or just a star quarterback?

2. Wes Welker (#83): Welker is the number one wide receiver, and he has had a monster year. He had career highs in receiving yards with 1,569 and in receiving touchdowns with 9. He's a smaller receiver who has been a hot target for Brady this season.

3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (#42): Other than having a mouthful of a name, Green-Ellis leads the team in rushing with 181 carries, 667 rushing yards, and 11 touchdowns.

4. Rob Gronkowski (#87): Gronk is a tight end and has made a name for himself this year and not just for his little fling with a porn star that was tweeted all over the internet. Only in his second year, Gronk holds the record for most receiving touchdowns at 17, most total touchdowns at 18, and most receiving yards at 1,327 for a tight end in a single season. After Brady, Gronk might be the most valuable player on the team. The only question for his ability to play is a high-ankle injury sustained in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens that has kept him out of practice during the week. He is expected to play in the Super Bowl, but it is a question of what type of a role he may play. It seems most logical that he will serve as a decoy to keep the Giants occupied with covering him. If you hear a discussion about him, you can throw in that it will be interesting to see if Gronk returns during the second half and if he does to monitor the minutes he logs. Chances are with an injury like his, the ankle will swell. He might be good to go for the first half while he's running on adrenaline, but by the second half and with an extended half time, he might not be able to bounce back to play.

The Mannings
An interesting angle in this particular Super Bowl matchup is the sibling rivalry between the Mannings. First, this Super Bowl is being hosted by Indianapolis where Peyton Manning has played his entire career. This season Manning was out with a neck injury, and his team only managed to scrounge up two wins. The Colts offense was built around Manning and with him out, the team seemed to be without an identity and couldn't figure out how to win games. Here we have the dichotomy of one brother who has lead his team to the biggest game and the highest honor there is in the football world and the other brother who hasn't played all season and whose team has performed so poorly they have "won" the first pick of the draft, which to add insult to injury is Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Layer in the fact that Eli is coming to Peyton's turf to play. The brothers have already won a Super Bowl a piece, in fact in consecutive years. Right now, Peyton Manning is probably considered the better quarterback of the two when looking at each career in its entirety. However, if Eli wins, that will be two Super Bowls for him, and the conversation starts to shift to arguing that Eli is the better quarterback.

It might also be noteworthy that Peyton has been stirring up news for himself during Super Bowl week. Although actor Rob Lowe first tweeted that he had heard a rumor that Peyton would be retiring, it is interesting that Peyton chose this particular time to set the record straight. After sitting out all season, Peyton disclosed that his doctors had cleared him to play and would be returning to the NFL next season. Of course, this created a stir as analysts tried to discern what the Colts would be doing with the first pick of the draft and if Peyton would be able to return to his previous form after his injury. Then Jim Irsay, owner of the Colts, tweeted that Peyton had NOT been cleared to play or passed a physical given by the Colts doctors. This again erupted another wave of wtf is going on with the Colts. Could this be a little a sibling rivalry at play? Maybe, maybe not.

Super Bowl Rematch
This Super Bowl has the same teams as Super Bowl XLII in 2008. Eli and the Giants defeated Brady and the Patriots 17-14 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Arizona. That year the Giants were a wild-card team and the Patriots had been undefeated, so the win was huge. The Patriots aren't undefeated, but they have had a strong season with a virtually unstoppable offense. Also, these teams played during the regular season, and the Giants defeated the Patriots 24-20. Now that the stakes are higher, we'll see if the Patriots can finally beat the Giants or if the Giants will get the best of the Pats once again.

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