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Super Bowl 2011 Redux

by Tony Medley

One of the great things about being a critic is that when you have to sit through something bad, it gives you a lot to write about. With me, it’s mostly horrible movies, but sporting events qualify, too.

Even though I have had a rewarding last three years of picking NFL playoff winners (until this year’s Super Bowl, I’ve only picked the wrong team approximately four times in three years of something like 50 games, and three of those involved teams of which I was a fan [Kurt Warner’s Arizona and the Jets], so the ability to judge without emotion was lacking).

My review of this year’s Super Bowl has nothing to do with the fact that I picked Pittsburgh. To start off, kudos have to go to Green Bay, a team riddled with injuries all year, which persevered and won all the marbles. But the Packers got a big assist from Pittsburgh, who played the most disgraceful game in the history of the Super Bowl and I’ve seen them all except the first (which was in Los Angeles and I boycotted because it was blacked out in Los Angeles, even though it was televised on two networks. The result was that the Coliseum was only half filled and it served the NFL right. I spent the day on the beach).

The 2011 Super Bowl started ignominiously with Christina Aguilera forgetting words to the National Anthem, jazzing it up with a melody of her own, and ending with the ugliest rendition of a note I’ve heard in a long time. Then Pittsburgh took the field and I was wishing Christina back.

Pittsburgh was supposed to be the experienced team, the guys who had been there, the guys who wouldn’t make mistakes. If I didn’t know better, watching that game I would have thought that Arnold Rothstein was alive and well and controlling things like he controlled the 1919 World Series.

In short, Pittsburgh’s performance deserved an immediate hook. They committed stupid, no, idiotic, penalties, like illegal procedure penalties on first down deep in their own territory. But let’s take two of the dumbest. After Green Bay scored, they kicked off and Pittsburgh got a great return out beyond its own 40. But the Steelers were penalized for a block in the back. It was a guy who clearly pushed one of the Packers from behind after the runner had passed him, right in front of the official, contact that was completely unnecessary, as any imbecile should have been able to determine. But this guy shoved the Packer in the back, gratuitously. These guys who are on Special Teams only have one job, to block on kick returns. They should know not to block in the back, especially this guy who had no reason to do so. What he did wasn’t even close. The result was that the Steelers were pinned back inside the ten and Ben Roethlisberger then threw an interception that was run back for another touchdown.

But, dumb as that was, it wasn’t the Steelers’ most ignominious penalty of the day. With 2 minutes to go down by 6, the Steelers got a fair kickoff return to their 25, an OK spot to start their two minute drill. But, wait! One of the Steelers’ special teams guys pushes a Packer in the back right in front of an official after the play is over. Another penalty, this time for unnecessary roughness, pinning them back inside their 10 yard line again! How dumb is that; an unnecessary roughness penalty after the whistle has blown with your team behind by 6 and only two minutes left in the game?

Then there were the turnovers. The first interception was just good defense. Roethlisberger was rushed and couldn’t get the pass off correctly. But the fumble by Rashard Mendenhall in the fourth quarter when Pittsburgh was deep in Packer territory ready to take the lead was inexcusable. It wasn’t even a hard hit. Champions don’t fumble on plays like that in situations like that.

Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was horrible all day long, missing open receivers all over the place, always high. Some people claim it was because he went to a piano bar the night before. Rubbish. These are people too young to remember that Joe Namath bragged that he spent the night before Super Bowl 3 with “a girl and a bottle.” In fact, he claimed he spent every night before every game he played like that. It wasn’t the night before that caused Roethlisberger’s ineptitude.

But incompetence wasn’t limited to the players. Pittsburgh has a real turkey for a field goal kicker. He barely made the first relatively short field goal and only made the first extra point by about two inches. He was choking so badly you could almost see his Adam’s Apple twitch. So when Pittsburgh was driving late in the second quarter (totally through runs, incidentally; then, although running at will through the Packers’ line, they inexplicably started to pass; two incompletions ended the drive just inside the Packers’ 35 yard line), I said to my friend, “I would punt here. The field goal kicker is terrible and they are going to be giving Green Bay the ball near midfield if he misses, which he probably will.” They didn’t punt. The field goal was missed so badly (wide by at least 15 feet) it looked like a joke, and Green Bay got the ball near midfield (the spot from which the kick was made, not the line of scrimmage).

Despite the horrible play of Pittsburgh, though, they were still in the game and almost won it, which leads us to what was the worst part of Pittsburgh’s performance. If you thought you had heard the worst of it, you haven’t.

Teams practice “two minute drills” every day of the season. They are the bread and butter of football. So Pittsburgh gets the ball with two minutes left. A touchdown wins the game. Thoughts of John Elway’s The Drive always come to mind in these situations (although Elway’s January 1987 98-yard drive to tie a playoff game against the Cleveland Browns actually consumed five minutes and two seconds). Roethlisberger beat Arizona two years ago in the Super Bowl with a two minute drill and his final pass to Santonio Holmes with 36 seconds left (one of the games I called wrong). But in this two minute drill the Steelers looked like they had never played the game before. Each time they lined up, receivers were on the wrong side and had to run back and forth to get in the right position. Backs didn’t know where they should be. It was chaos. Then when they did get the play off, Roethlisberger’s passes were horribly off target. He was throwing to the wrong spots. The receivers were running the wrong routes. Keep in mind that the team doing this wasn’t a team near the bottom of the ladder; this was a team in the Super Bowl! I take it back, it was worse than chaos.

Green Bay’s penchant for injuries continued in the game, as they lost their best receiver and best defensive player in the first half. You have to give it to them. I doubt if any team in history has ever survived so many injuries to starting players and still won the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers was clearly the best quarterback in football last year.

My NFL criticisms don’t stop here. How in the world could Bill Belichick of New England have been named NFL Coach of the Year over the Packers’ Mike McCarthy? Even though the voting only covers the regular season, Belichick was blessed with enormous talent while McCarthy lost about half of his starters to injury almost before the season began and still made the playoffs. Making it even more unbelievable, McCarthy didn’t get one vote! The voting was done by “members of the media,” so maybe that explains it. They look at Belichick’s record of 14-2 and nothing else. That’s just another reason why reading sports sections and magazines and listening to sportscasters is a complete waste of time if you want to know something about sports.

Compounding this egregious idiocy, New England quarterback Tom Brady was named offensive player of the year by the same pack of “experts.” Brady got 21 votes. Rodgers, who deserved to be named the offensive player of the year in terms of what he and his team accomplished (Rodgers was playing behind a less than All-Pro offensive line and without his best receivers), got 2 votes.

Wait, there’s more. The Black Eyed Peas were the half time ceremony. They’re going to be seen by hundreds of millions of people. So they put on a show that would be hard pressed to make it on American Idol. Their best two songs were limited to short excerpts instead of the entire songs.

I haven’t even mentioned the 400 people who paid for their tickets for seats at the game and were forced to watch the game in the basement on TV because the NFL had decreed their seats unwatchable. Who was running this Super Bowl anyway? Considering how they played the game, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was someone from the Steelers’ team or coaching staff.

February 7, 2011