Super Bowl XLIV threw up a contest that showpieced just how American Football should be played, writes Ryan Mackenzie
Another Super Bowl has come and gone, and as expected it provided the flamboyant and gripping spectacle that we have come to expect from our bigger-is-better, larger-than-life neighbours to the west. From the dramatic entrances of the game’s combatants, to the fighter-jet climax of Carrie Underwood’s Star Spangled Banner rendition and the glittering extravaganza of The Who’s half-time show, viewers could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that the biggest game of the year lay somewhere in between the hysteria.
Super Bowl XLIV saw the clash of two of the league’s most explosive and exciting offenses, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints. The meeting held a number of intriguing sub-stories that boosted this already mouth-watering matchup. For the Colts, a victory could mean the crowning of Peyton Manning as the finest quarterback to have tossed the pigskin, while a Saints upset would cap off the Cinderella story of a traditionally lousy team winning the big one for a town that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina five years ago. The spoils went to the ‘Who Dat Nation’ of the Big Easy by a rather flattering scoreline of 31-17.
While the New Orleans Saints were able to close out the game from a two-touchdown lead, the contest was for the most part a seesaw battle to the end. An uncharacteristic interception thrown by Manning late in the fourth quarter enabled Saints defender Tracy Porter to race to the endzone for the deciding touchdown that all but handed Sean Payton’s team the Vince Lombardi Trophy. This, however, was merely the finishing touch to Payton’s bold and at times ingenious gameplan that saw daring fourth down attempts, and a shocking second half onside kick recovery gradually chip away at the confidence and resilience of the often over-cautious Colts. In effect, the game was won on the sidelines where the superiority of the New Orleans head coach’s tactics and play calling ability undoubtedly trumped those of Colts rookie coach Jim Caldwell.
However, this year’s Super Bowl represents more than just a great upset or the emergence of a new champion. It demonstrates a shift in the NFL from the previous belief that ‘defence wins championships’ to proving the old maxim that ‘attack is the best form of defence’. The league has become a passer’s playground, as the run game – which so often carried teams to Super Bowl success in the past – has become merely a decoy for teams to open up opposing defenses for big gains through the air. This is evident in the success of the Colts and Saints, who boast two of the best passing threats in the league, while having no shame in limiting the run game.
Moreover, the league’s number one defense and rush offense of the New York Jets failed to make it to the title game, while the Colts made the Bowl with the league’s worst rushing attack – after barely sneaking into the playoff’s as AFC East runners-up to the New England Patriots. What’s even more poignant is that the 2,006-yard rushing effort by Tennessee Titans runningback Chris Johnson this season was not enough to help his team to earn as much as a winning record.
Should this trend continue and this year’s Super Bowl proved to be a sign of things to come, we could be looking at a new generation of the NFL. Performances such as the 96-point thriller between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals in this year’s wildcard game could become more common. For the time being though, we should simply enjoy what is a truly exciting time to be a football fan.