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I thought there would be a pall over the game, because of the deflated-footballs investigation, but I didn't hear much talk about it from the teams—and the fans I encountered weren't too wound up about it. Some interesting new people emerged during the week, too, particularly with the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett and K.J. Wright, really good players who tend to get obscured by the great players around them. Bennett’s an intelligent guy who was just as comfortable talking about some reporter passing gas near his podium as he was about what makes Dan Quinn a good future head coach.
As for the game—that is why we're here, supposedly—I have gone back and forth a hundred times in the last two weeks. I liked Seattle, then I liked New England, and then ... you get it. As I wrote on Friday, I think Rob Gronkowski will be the key guy in the game, and unless Wright and Kam Chancellor can neutralize him without devoting so much defensive attention that they leave other Patriots targets open, I think New England will be able to make enough plays to win. Pats, 31-28, with some defensive and/or special-teams points (obviously) inflating the final score.
Super Bowl week always has its little surprises in store, and this time around I discovered that Seattle cornerback extraordinaire Richard Sherman is going into politics some day. I know this, because Sherman’s current Seahawks teammate, Doug Baldwin, who also attended Stanford with Sherman, said so.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Baldwin said. “I don’t know if he wants to get into politics, but somebody’s going to tick him off and he’s going to try and become a politician.’’
A political career can be launched by anger, I suppose. And Sherman has had a very good week on the NFL’s big stage here in Phoenix. First, in a display of reverse psychology, he basically dared NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to punish the Patriots over Deflategate, by predicting they’d skate due to Goodell and New England owner Robert Kraft’s close ties. And then he shrewdly called on Goodell and other league officials to meet with the media as much as the league mandates Marshawn Lynch do so.
Sherman sounded like the smartest guy in the room at Super Bowl 49, but thankfully the time for talking is almost over and a really appealing game is at hand. New England-Seattle has glamor and intrigue galore, and wouldn’t it some how be fitting if the worst NFL season in memory is capped by the best Super Bowl in history?
Making up for their devastating loss in the desert seven years ago, a defeat that cost those 2007 Patriots the moniker of Greatest Team of All Time, give me New England, 27-23.
Super Bowl week has confirmed that the game is just a storefront for bigger issues surrounding a $10 billion enterprise intent on growing that number. Here are some impressions.
- Several Seahawks used the NFL’s biggest stage possible to be agitators, criticizing Roger Goodell, Thursday night games, the media policy, etc. With the NFL vulnerable to criticism in a year of crises, they are feeling emboldened.
- Regarding Marshawn Lynch, my thought: “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” is more interesting than most players’ clichéd answers.
- NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith was teed up to pile on Goodell, but wisely resisted. Smith did give news that the union’s version of the Mueller Report, the Fulbright Report, was complete and would be presented soon.
- The NFL’s report of a 25% reduction in concussions is hopeful news if concussion reporting can be trusted, but with flimsy job security and nonguaranteed contracts, players too often “play through.”
- On deflation, my strong sense is that despite many wanting a “gotcha” moment and answers in black and white, this will end in a murky gray area.
- Finally, a personal highlight was spending time with longtime friend and former client Matt Hasselbeck. As a 1998 sixth-round pick not invited to the combine (bad agent?), he’s still going strong, and there’s no better guy in the NFL.
As for, oh yes, the game: The Packers left over 20 points on the field against the Seahawks. New England won’t. Patriots 30, Seahawks 20.
On Friday morning, I entered the hotel elevator, joining two middle-aged female Packer fans (in full gear), a reporter from a Latin American TV outlet, and a man in a nice suit whose credential revealed he worked for the NFL. It seemed like a congenial group, so as pleasantries were exchanged, one of the women opted for the go-to topic of conversation topic for such a motley crew: the weather. “I can’t believe it’s raining in the desert,” she carped. “It’s supposed to be nice and sunny!”
“Well,” the NFL employee deadpanned. “Nothing has gone right for the league this year.”
Everyone mustered an awkward chuckle. The 90-second ride felt like a perfect microcosm for Super Bowl week, which indeed culminates a taxing and, at times, uncomfortable season. As reporters and consumers obsess over the minutiae of ball inflation, while bemoaning the fact that one player refuses to play the manufactured game of “Media Availability,” we have largely danced around the biggest issue at hand: The league has not been in a good place this year. Sure, plenty of people have said that over the last few months, but the hoopla and distractions of a Super Bowl week (hello, Katy Perry press conferences! has delayed us from addressing this problem in a significant or productive way. Or even admitting there is a problem. Roger Goodell spoke for nearly 30 minutes on Friday afternoon, and with his usual stoicism performed his necessary exercise of discussing the state of the NFL, but not truly discussing anything at all. Because in the end, it’s Super Bowl week, and it’s easier for all of us to Do Your Job, and Not Get Fined.
The game? Patriots, 27-20
It’s been a quieter, very pleasant Super Bowl week than usual here in Phoenix. Now that most of the fans are here, sadly, it’s raining! Not that I’m complaining—not at all. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be at the Super Bowl. I’ve spent my working hours in the Hyatt lobby, where most of the people within the NFL are staying. Past experience has taught me that working in the media center, so close to radio row, is too distracting. Whenever I’m over there, I can’t help but look up and keep my head on a swivel. You never know who or what you’ll see.
To be honest, if you work in the media and cover the Super Bowl each year, you get a little numb to seeing players, both current and former (especially those that are on TV). That’s unfortunate, which is why I’m glad they’ve let more fans into radio row in recent years. It creates a little congestion but it also buzzes up energy, which is what this week is about. Interviewing the Seahawks and Patriots players has been stressful—all the media members scrambling around there are like hogs fighting for a place at the trough. I’ve learned to use my elbows, not as weapons, but as territory stakes when trying to get a question to a player.
As for the game: Patriots 23, Seahawks 17.
When I think back to Super Bowl XLIX years from now, I think what will stick with me was Tom Brady’s demeanor during the week. It will be notable because, as far as the Patriots go, it will represent partly why they won or lost. I’ve been around Brady a fair amount, and he wasn’t himself this week. He was obviously under the weather with a cold, and that could be the reason. I know when I’m sick the last thing I’d want to do is speak to anyone, let alone the world’s assembled football media. But going back to last week, I think the investigation into the Patriots’ footballs from the AFC Championship Game has affected Brady, especially the criticism from fellow players. Brady takes great pride in the sterling reputation of his brand (it’s certainly been well-earned) and to have people openly questioning his integrity has to be bothering him. How he responds when it comes to the game will be interesting. Will he take the field passively and under a cloud knowing that the league’s investigation will eventually impugn his established integrity? Or is Brady furious that anyone would question his integrity, knowing he did nothing wrong? Will he take to the field with an unbridled fire that we’ve seen countless other times when Brady and the Patriots have faced public criticism? That will be what I remember from this week.
Pick: Patriots 16, Seahawks 13
I sat through as much as I could. I got up and left right about five minutes in, when Roger Goodell mentioned in his State of the NFL address that concussions are down league-wide by 25% in 2014. My first thought: Really? Can we trust those numbers in a league that doesn’t guarantee contracts? But nobody blinked. Instead, there were over 30 questions about myriad topics ranging from Goodell’s job security to Marshawn Lynch’s media reluctance. By far, Deflategate led the way with eight queries from reporters. In early 2013, when more than 2,000 former players were suing the NFL over its handling of concussions, Goodell was asked six questions about player safety during his State of the NFL press conference in New Orleans. Two years later: Zero. And no mention of the words ‘concussion’ or ‘brain injury’ outside of Goodell’s 25% stat. What he should’ve said: Recorded concussions, taking into account player reluctance to reveal brain injuries given the tenuous nature of their employment in the most lucrative American pro sports league without contracts guaranteed for injury, are down 25%. But he didn’t, and we didn’t press him, because in the two years since 2013, we’ve learned that concussion stories just don’t resonate with the general public. Nobody wants to hear about their favorite running back from the 1980s who can’t walk or tie his shoes or go a day without debilitating headaches. So we wipe the mental slate clean for the Sunday spectacle.
Enjoy! Patriots, 14-10
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