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My Super Bowl Dilemma

by on February 06, 2018 5:00 AM

How does a lifelong, diehard Steelers fan decide which team to root for in a Super Bowl that features two teams most Pittsburgh fans would least like to see win the game? Such was the dilemma in our household.

When my kids asked me this question on Saturday, I took the easy way out and proclaimed, “I don’t care who wins, I may not even watch the game.” Yeah, well, you didn’t really think I’d not watch did you? 

So we threw out the standard “I don’t care, I just hope to see a great game” reply, and put my fellow “Yinzers” on the proverbial hot seat for a real answer. I will tell you that I personally struggled mightily.

Option 1: Root for the Patriots

Well, they do have Chris Hogan, a Penn State grad, an amazing athlete and an unsung hero, whose story is so remarkable since he played lacrosse and not football at Penn State. So much for these youth coaches trying to get kids to focus on one sport all year (much more on that in a future column).

They also have one of my favorite former Steeler greats in James Harrison. He gave his all to the Steeler Nation for years. However, some see him as a traitor for his behavior this season in which he became a distraction, ultimately leading to his release and signing with rival New England. 

Most importantly, if the Eagles would win, we would have to hear about it all year from our friends from the east.

Option 2: Root for the Eagles

Well, the Eagles are a Pennsylvania team playing a Patriot team that could win its sixth Lombardi trophy and tie my Steelers for most Super Bowl wins by a franchise.  

Then there is Eagles lineman and Penn State football alum Stefen Wisniewski, whose father is a long time acquaintance of mine.

My son’s best friend, Zach ‘Marty’ Martin, is a diehard Eagles fan and is like a third son to us. He has put up with our Steelers and Penguins ribbing with grace and dignity, so I had to factor that in as well.

In the end, I needed a fellow Steeler fan, Pastor Greg Milinovich at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, to give me spiritual guidance. In his Sunday sermon he so eloquently stated, “I just pray the Patriots don’t win”.  

That was a good solution for me. Not committing to cheering for the Birds, but on board with cheering for the Patriots to lose. Great rationalization, eh?
So there you have it. We would cheer for the Patriots to lose. Let the fun begin!

The game itself did not disappoint. This Super Bowl had a little of everything and was, well, just super.

There were great runs, great catches, trick plays, missed field goals, missed extra points, controversial replays, and very few penalties. Basically, it was fun to watch football again.

Even the Justin Timberlake halftime show was entertaining, even if it was not as epic as Lady Gaga last year. 

About the only thing I would say was sub-zero, besides the weather outside the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, were the much anticipated Super Bowl commercials. In fact, the best commercial might have been the awkwardly long blank screen that was clearly a technical glitch of Super Bowl proportions.

I wasn’t alone in my critique of the Super-less ads.  Lili Loofbourow wrote this in her column for ‘The Week’: “The majority of this year's Super Bowl ads weren't memorable, or good, or funny, or principled. Most of the ads were baffled and timid and just plain weird.”

What made this game especially memorable was that the coaches threw caution to the wind and went for it more often than not. I give Eagles coach Doug Pederson credit for one of the most courageous calls in Super Bowl history -- a direct snap to back-up running back Corey Clements, who reverses the ball to back-up tight end Trey Burton, who throws the ball to a wide-open, former backup quarterback Nick Foles. The name of the play? “The Philly Special,” of course. It will go down as one of the greatest plays and play calls of all-time.

Speaking of great stories, Nick Foles was ready to hang it up but came back to become a backup quarterback. When Eagles starter Carson Wentz was lost for the season with a knee injury, every expert essentially ruled the Eagles out. Well, Foles showed the calm and poise of a guy who had been there before.

Give Pederson kudos again for going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 45-yard line with 5:50 to play and Nick Foles for another athletic play to complete a pass to keep the drive alive. It was these aggressive calls that ultimately led to the win.

The one snag for me was the controversial catch by Zach Ertz for a touchdown with only 2:21 left that was upheld after review. It just emphasizes how absurd the current rule is that cost the Steelers a win over the Patriots in December, when an almost identical play with Penn State alum Jesse James was overturned on the game’s final play.

Back to the Super Bowl, and the reality that there was still 2:21 left and no one can score in the clutch like a Tom Brady-led Patriots offense. 

I turned to my son Ryan and said, “I got a feeling this is the year the Patriots good fortune runs out.” Two plays later it happened. Brandon Graham, ironically a Michigan grad like Tom Brady, reached out and stripped the ball from Brady to force the only turnover of the game by the Patriots.

Just when it looked like Pederson would stay aggressive to the end, he temporarily disappointed by running the ball up the middle on three straight plays. If they get a first down, the game is over. He risked a field goal attempt by his rookie kicker (who earlier had missed an extra point) getting blocked and still giving the ball back to Tom Brady with time on the clock. Eagles kicker Jake Elliot split the uprights to make it an eight-point game. Give Pederson credit for having faith in his rookie kicker.

However, New England still had life with 1:08 left.

The Patriots decided to run a reverse on the ensuing kickoff. The Eagles were on it and completely snuffed it out, which put the ball on the 9-yard line and wasted important seconds. You have Tom Brady as your QB and you decide to run a trick play on the kickoff? A rare hiccup in the Belichick brain. It all comes down to a breath-holding moment on the game’s final play. Could Brady pull off a miracle? For a brief moment it looked like his Hail Mary attempt would somehow end up in the hands of a Patriots player.

When the ball hit the ground you could feel the ground shake in Philadelphia where they had waited 58 years since their last NFL Championship and first ever Super Bowl.

Center Jason Kelce fought back tears as he described one of the team’s motivational themes from the 2006 movie “Rocky Balboa,” where Rocky is talking to his son. “It ain’t about how hard you get hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward.  That’s how winning is done!”

Speaking of Rocky, we may someday see a statue of Nick Foles holding the Lombardi trophy next to the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It was as fun and competitive a Super Bowl game as I have ever seen. An all-time offensive record for ANY game in league history with 1,151 combined yards and an all-time playoff record of 874 combined passing yards.

I will still never understand how so many people in sports downplay leadership, team chemistry, and the spirit of a winner.  Nick Foles is now a Super Bowl champion and an MVP and the only quarterback to ever pass for and catch a TD Pass in the Super Bowl 

Ertz, in praise of Pederson, said, “He changed the culture the day he arrived. He made football fun again.”

As controversial as this season has been for the NFL, this was exactly what the beleaguered Shield needed for it’s damaged brand. It took old-fashioned, school-yard, razzle-dazzle play and a “go for it” mentality from a team that few people believed could beat the mighty Patriots to upset the defending champions.

Congrats to the Eagles, their gutsy coach, their unlikely hero Nick Foles, their band-of-brothers team, their long-waiting fans, and the entire City of Brotherly Love. Oh, and for Ryan’s friend Marty, he and his fellow long suffering Eagles’ fans get bragging rights for at least 365 days.

Prayer answered, Pastor Greg.


 



From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, Joe has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. Battista was influential in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. After a 2-year stint as VP of Hockey and Business administration for the Buffalo Sabres, “JoeBa” returned home to start “PRAGMATIC Passion”, LLC Consulting. Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 &’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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