The Uncommon Feat
Not too long ago, another young and incredibly talented team returned to the Super Bowl as defending champions, and faced another 37-year old, all-time great quarterback in his 14th season. They were defeated 31-24.
The Green Bay Packers of 1996 & 1997 did not repeat as Super Bowl champs. They would never return to the biggest game.
They aren't counted among the 8 repeating champions of the Super Bowl era. With 2 shy of 50 Super Bowls having been played, it seems a rare feat.
Winning the Super Bowl just once is really hard, it's broadly known. Becoming just as hard may be standing out amongst a half century of champions in a culturescape preoccupied with legacy. Can a championship be comparatively enough, anymore? There's one every year, in every sport.
Should a ninth repeater join the ranks, we may be compelled to ponder where they fit in among the exclusive club. Perhaps our time & thoughtlife would be better spent wondering if sustained success is more a hallmark of greatness than achievement of the ultimate result.
The emphasized Seattle & New England trendlines clearly show current vintages of both franchises have already placed very high amongst the greatest teams ever measured. The Patriots have produced two of the 6 greatest DVOA seasons ever. Seattle, currently the 7th youngest team in the league, began their still-new run with 2 placings in the all-time top 20, and have followed that up by leading 2014 in DVOA and reaching the Super Bowl.
The three best seasons of both teams aggregate to a higher average than the three best seasons of the San Francisco and Dallas dynasties. Out of all four franchises, only Dallas has achieved two championships out of those top three seasons. Seattle has a chance to match that on Sunday.
But the 1996 Green Bay Packers, possibly 8th greatest team ever by DVOA, could not. And so their legacy struggles to be acknowledged, no similarly crowned or historical partner season with which to marry.
This quick visual study raises the question, are the championships the greater measure of success, or merely vindication of the more volume-attested achievement?
By Their Fruits
Is a team actually what their record says they are? What exactly does a record say? Do records say the best record is the best team? For 13 years the NFL determined champions simply by record. The last champion by record, the 1932 seven-win Chicago Bears, were crowned over the ten-win Green Bay Packers by merit of win percentage and the fortuity of 6 ties:
Chicago Bears: 7-1-6
Green Bay Packers: 10-3-1
The 1st championship game, in 1933, was also the first championship game won by a team with a lesser record -- depending on how you feel about ties. By win percentage again, the 10-2-1 Chicago Bears boasted the strongest record. The 11-3 New York Giants, however, suffered the same number of non-wins across a schedule one game longer.
The Giants also boasted nearly triple the Bears' point differential:
New York Giants: 143
Chicago Bears: 51
In a season when the 2nd best point differential was 63. The '33 Giants literally lapped the field. Despite the domination, the Bears defeated them and took the crown. Such is football.
When even the count of forgotten championships are legion, incredible accomplishments in lieu of the crown find glory all the more fickle a mistress. Someone's season is ending on Sunday in the most agonizing, unbefitting, and yet inevitable fashion. We'll lay their bodies amongst the others on pro-football-reference.com on our way to the Triumphus, memory already beginning to fade.
"History is written by the victor" is another way of saying the voice of the defeated is forever silenced.
Come Monday, may we not forget the accomplishments of whichever Merry Few fortune does not favor.
The Legitimacy of Applause
The last NFL franchise to win a championship that no longer exists tasted glory 87 years ago. The Providence Steam Roller, while conceding history to be written by more persistent victors, yet bears witness as exception to the truism that winning championships reaps staying power.
In the following 87 years in the NFL, the AFL, and the AAFC, a mere 24 franchises own the 97 championships. That does leave only 6 existing franchises to have never known the honor, so the haves outnumber the have-nots, but if we remove the single-timers, 16 franchises own 89 of the championships.
In allegedly unrelated news, bandwagon shaming is silly.
The broader the reach our media has become, the more convincing the impression that something heretofore unnoticed is genuinely new. The old saying in the music industry is "every overnight sensation is seven years in the making." Like a grassroots political campaign, an awful lot of goings-on has often been going on before you & I catch our first hint that something has been afoot. The fan base of all sports franchises were once a foot, before we noticed the hordes of feet marching our way.
Flagships like the 49ers, Steelers and Patriots began as hapless and friendless franchises for decades before even the metropolitan region they serve paid close attention. Success breeds popularity, a truth distasteful only to envious palettes.
Should we expect of ourselves the dues & rites of suffering the fate of investing hope in an unworthy vehicle? A lifetime of constant consumption of professional sports, in addition to films, music, books, comics, the arts & sciences, Monty Python, cat videos, fail gifs, comment threads and mock drafts would leave no room for hundreds upon hundreds of the world's finest classics. Have you reserved room to listen to the discography of This Mortal Coil before you leave this mortal coil? Perhaps turning attention to other endeavors when a team's outlook is clearly substandard is something to be admired as wise, rather than ridiculed for lesser loyalty.
Many old acquaintances of mine have come to center a large portion of their public identify on rooting for the Seahawks, in the past few years. Friends who demonstrated nearly no interest not too long ago, while my passionate interest in the game's consumption of much of my free time had already grown mature. Should I spend an ounce of concern on the legitimacy or seniority of my fan pedigree compared to theirs? I do envy their ease of securing tremendous seats to now-historic conference championships, but that's more a matter of how I've decided to allocate my finances.
Climb aboard, fellow Twelves. The more envious does other fans' vitriol become, the more obnoxiously does our Action Green glow. No institution grants you license to cheer.
Meanwhile, residents of Providence, Rhode Island, without an NFL franchise since 1931, can be heard still today, to grieve, "What Cheer?"
The Coach's Game
He was British. Charming. Incredibly bright, and seemed to possess depths of knowledge on every topic. Superb life skills came with no effort. He made for a difficult yardstick to compare and compete against. He was my closest friend.
"It's just too boring," he told me, having given valiant effort toward learning to appreciate a game held fondly by his new Cincinnati-born wife.
Enjoying two sports bearing the same name has seemed to be anathema or an insurmountable task, for many. I don't know why that is. The names of the sports are not Mammon.
But this friend tried. Liking both was not a problem. He just couldn't enjoy American
My taxonomy for collective games moving objects to destinations starts with live-action & stop-action classifications. Footie, basketball, lacrosse, ice & field hockey, horse & water polo, and so on are distinguished by the nature of the object, the logistics of moving it, the size of the pitch and the number of teammates. These factors drive tactics & strategy, shape scoring & statistics, and bring shape to the character of the sport. The object is moved in some method up & down the pitch for a score.
By contrast, with the 40/25 second play clock, and clock stoppages from plays ending out of bounds or by incomplete pass, calculations of actual play occurring -- the cumulation of around 125 four-to-six second plays -- hover at just a little over 10 minutes. About one fifth of the 60 minute game clock, and no more than 6% of broadcast time slot, is filled with actual play. I guess I can understand why this might be boring to some folks.
American Football's distinction, though, at the core, lies in Walter Camp's down-based system. Rugby variants hold some similarities, but otherwise football stands alone as a stop-action sport. For me, this has been the source of its superiority as a spectator sport.
Arguably the most exciting parts of a futbol match are the corner kicks. The tactical play as the ball is kicked up & down the field is interesting and often exciting, but the excitement and intensity spikes and vanishes comparatively quickly. The corner kick holds a high scoring potential, yields high significance of result. And it's the greatest source of excitement in a futbol match because it affords pause and time to build up the drama and ponder the implications of the imminent outcome.
Basically what you get on a given 3rd down in the NFL. We get to enjoy dozens, and dozens, of such dramatic buildups, per competitive game.
The litigious nature of American football is at times a festival of absurdity. The pervading story for Sunday's game lies in the adherence to comparatively young rules. Some digital ink has been spilt over the exploration of what constitutes a violation of integrity. Integrity of the game. Integrity that is apparently predicated on rules.
While some of that digital ink has covered rule violations of recent champions like New Orleans, Denver and New England, and some thought has been given to the realization that fans may hold a cleaner ideal of professional competition for the NFL than actually exists, we can hail all the way back to the birth of the sport to find questionable establishment of a level playing field.
That Camp authored the rulebook and went 79-5-3 as a coach should perhaps not be viewed as unrelated facts. The game's first -gate-able scandal and media sensation came as a muckraker exposed the existence of a $100,000 slush fund/recruiting tool for Yale.
Professional competitors may cross many a line in every sport. Perhaps more so in the Coach's Game. For years the mantra of my understanding of what makes success in football was "talent trumps." It's probably not untrue for any sport. Some games seem to have a job description for coach or manager as sufficiently complete with merely "someone to fire." But critical as talent obviously is to success, this is the game where the coach often makes significant impact.
That litigious nature of the game, the ambiguous boundaries of gamesmanship, bear testament to the impact the coaches make. Football without the fascinating role of scheme would be a very different sport, and produce very different revenues. It's the down-based system that Walter Camp gave us that affords room for the coaches to get involved and make their mark on the match.
Tremendous study on the matchups within this game have already been undertaken. Most recognize this as a razor-thin even matchup, a true pick 'em. Standing in curiously stark contrast from last year's championship matchup, there's little reasonable case for expecting a comfortable margin of victory for either squad. Last year, the potential for a blowout was apparent, just by the way the teams aligned. I called that article "Picks versus picks," and MVP Malcolm Smith's pick-six in the 2nd quarter put Seattle up 22-0 and solidified the wave of dominance that would not be overcome.
New England is the toughest and healthiest opponent Seattle will have faced this year, by a healthy margin. The Packers proved a very worthy and formidable opponent. Likewise, Seattle poses a challenge unlike the Patriots have faced in some time.
We know Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski pose the most difficult matchups. We know New England's run game, Seattle's secondary, the Pats' shifty receivers, Russell Wilson's running, and so on, figure to shape the narrative of this game in exciting fashion.
And the coaches, too, their styles and character, have been heavily scrutinized in matchup analysis. We expect Bill Belichick to view Lynch & Wilson's running as the biggest threat, and to scheme to take it away. We expect Pete Carroll's defense to change little to nothing in their approach to defense despite the explosive potential of the Patriots' offense.
Tom Brady was pressured on 28% of dropbacks this year, good for 5th in the league. Wilson suffered the 2nd worst pressure consistency in the league. It seems like a fair advantage for Brady, but the pressure Wilson suffered last year ranked 39th, while Brady comparatively enjoyed a 20.3% pressure rating in 2013.
All QBs suffer and perform poorly when pressured, but for New England, the pressure frequency has increased this year, which across 50 fewer pass attempts makes for more frequent pressure cumulations in a single game, and subsequently more opportunities for high-impact events. Brady's -78.1% DVOA while pressured was slightly below average last year, while Wilson's -27.6% DVOA under pressure was amongst the very best.
That Brady achieves higher highs when not pressured would bear mention here, except that it's not true. Wilson has achieved higher highs when not pressured (67.3% to 55.5%). It's just not occurred nearly as frequently.
But in the Coach's Game, when one of the most effective and under-appreciated position coaches in the game in Dante Scarnecchia retired for New England, this year, in a game where Seattle's defense pressures the QB more frequently and in more broadly varied fashion than New England, that's the matchup I'm looking at to shape the game beyond the expected "get got/get theirs" components of the game. That's the piece that I think can decide the match in what figures to be such a closely contested fight.
May grace under pressure prevail, if ever glory is found.
In Hawk Signo. Vinces.