Let’s Talk: Cold weather Super Bowls, Peyton’s legacy, and final predictions

Jacksonville Jaguars v Denver Broncos

FROM OUR RECLINERS, NY/NJ – In tribute to Bill Simmons, the king of writing 10,000 words about nothing, we’ll be posting semi-regular email features about trending topics. This week we’ll be talking about a Super Bowl in New York, Peyton Manning’s legacy, and who will win the big game.

Evan: Well, James, it’s finally the week of the Super Bowl. The media didn’t have to try too hard to hype this matchup. On top of these teams being the top seed of their conference and the preseason favorite, we have the best defense vs. the best offense. And I’m not just talking total yards. It seems both teams are the top ranked unit in almost every category.

Where do you see this year’s matchup ranking in the history of the game?

James: I don’t think I’m the best person to answer a question like this, mostly because I wouldn’t particularly consider myself a student of NFL history. I know about the Lombardis, Starrs, Bradshaws, Sanders, and Montanas of the game, but wasn’t around to see them play and therefore don’t think I’d be the best judge.

With that said, the two best Super Bowls I’ve experienced, at least the ones I’ve enjoyed the most, were Super Bowls XLII and XLIII. Both games, Giants vs. Patriots and Steelers vs. Cardinals, featured two heavy underdogs who made things more interesting than expected, and in the case of the Giants, won the game.

Despite not being born, let us not also forget to remember one of the greatest Super Bowl’s ever, Super Bowl III, when Joe Namath guaranteed a victory and the underdog Jets beat Johnny Unitas (a three time champion, including one SB) and the Colts.

My point being, I don’t think this game will be a guaranteed all-timer. It could be, sure, and you can call me pessimistic all you want, but I think we could be in for a letdown. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the top defense and top offense have faced off in the Super Bowl five times and only twice has the game been within five points. The other three games included two 49ers blowouts and the Buccaneers trampling over the Raiders.

So, I could easily see the Broncos going up two scores and never looking back just as easily as I could see the Seahawks slogging through a defensive struggle in which Steven Hauschka kicks four field goals. A close game maybe, but nothing special. Do you dare to disagree?

Evan: James, I live life dangerously. I do disagree. I can’t imagine the Seahawks winning this game by a wide margin, and I can’t imagine them losing by one either. If I was a betting man I would pick the Seahawks straight up for this game, even though I am strongly rooting for Peyton and the Broncos.

And even in a low-scoring field goal oriented game, I imagine it’ll be fun. One of Peyton’s strengths is dissecting defenses. On the other hand, there isn’t much to dissect with the Seahawks. They might be one of the more basic defenses, succeeding primarily off of superior talent. Still there are ways Manning can find favorable matchups for his receivers. It dictates like one hell of a chess match and I can’t wait to see it unfold.

And let’s not forget how exciting it is that this will be a cold weather affair. I know it’s not ideal for those attending, but I won’t mind watching it in my warm house with my giant television. More importantly, how awesome have some recent snowy playoff/conference championship games been? I for one can’t wait to see a cold weather Super Bowl. What do you think about a NYC Super Bowl?

James: I’m SO glad you asked that question. As a native New Yorker, I’ve been pumped about the Jets and Giants hosting the Super Bowl since the announcement was made a couple years ago. I was even more pumped after the Farmer’s Almanac predicted the snowstorm of the century on game day. Why? Because I believe football is meant to be played in any and all weather. It’s like the mailman, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow should stop it. It’s football after all!

Predictably, the backlash started almost immediately and, presumably, will continue until kickoff and beyond. I can see the Monday morning First Take debate raging already. Calm down, Stephen A, my god.

Terry Bradshaw, Don Shula, and Richard Sherman are among the many others who have voiced their opinions against a cold weather Super Bowl, so naturally I’m here to put them back in line. There’s almost nothing worse than ex-players and media types getting on their high horse about something, especially when they invoke B.S. platitudes like the integrity of the game, blah, blah, blah. (And no, I’m not doing that here! Stop it! Okay, maybe I am.)

The point is, have you ever watched a cold, snowy game and said, “Man, this is terrible?” No! It’s impossible! Snowy games are the best. Period. Football just feels more real when you can see the player’s breathe as they line up. Or as a kicker prepares for a game winning field goal in a blizzard. I defy you to tell me that a Green Bay Super Bowl wouldn’t be amazing. Or Chicago. Or Detroit. (Okay, maybe not Detroit.) Bill Simmons had a good point in his latest mailbag – a city should only be considered for a Super Bowl if it could also double as a bachelor party destination or for a season of The Real World. New York obviously passes that test. Chicago probably does. Green Bay might be a stretch (A season of Survivor, maybe?), but it’s such a great football town that I think it could work.

As for the players and fans at the game, suck it up. Do you want to play in the aggressive and manly National Football League? Do you want to be a part of history? No? Then stay home.

Thoughts?

Evan: Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ll try to keep my response short so we don’t get too repetitive.

Why should the NFL refuse to host their biggest event in some of the biggest cities in the country because of weather? And how does it ruin the integrity of the game, when a trip to the Super Bowl can be decided based on that same terrible weather. Conference championship games can be held in any NFL city in the country. How do NFL players get upset about new rules trying to limit brain damage, but call foul when they have to play a game in snow?

I love cold weather games. Maybe there’s less chance of big passing games, but that’s not the only exciting aspect of football. I love sports because I love seeing guys fight through adversity. Think about how hard it is to be a professional athlete. How much time and effort you have to put in to get where these guys are. What’s more challenging than trying to pick up that extra yard in the snow? Or trying to locate the ball in a blizzard. What’s more awe-inspiring than seeing a guy put everything he has out on the field when all he really wants to do is wrap himself in a blanket and sit by the fire?

It’s looking like we won’t get the blizzard, or the wind, or even really cold weather. That may be a bit disappointing to us, but probably not the fans going to the game, and certainly not Peyton Manning and that passing offense. Much has been made about this game being legacy defining for Manning. Do you agree?

James: Without a doubt this is a legacy game for Manning. With a win, he will have a permanent spot at the G.O.A.T. discussion table, perhaps even at the head of it. With a loss, he’s the greatest regular season quarterback ever, an all-timer with a few post-season flaws.

Whether we like it or not, playoff runs, games, and even single plays can define legacies. That’s not always fair. Carlos Beltran instantly pops into my mind. I personally can’t fault him for striking out against Adam Wainwright to end that series, but I can guarantee any Beltran montage, career retrospective, or highlight reel from now until the end of time will have that clip in it. By the numbers, he’s the best outfielder in Mets‘ history and one of the most prolific playoff hitters of all-time, but right or wrong he won’t shake that curveball.

Think about Tom Brady. If David Tyree doesn’t hold onto that ball, Brady finishes off a 19-0 season by winning his fourth Super Bowl in sevens years and could walk away the G.O.A.T. right then. Tyree pins the ball to his helmet, Plaxico Burress catches the go-ahead touchdown, and all of a sudden a legacy is altered. Is that Brady’s fault? No, but it’s the truth.

Now, Brady has two Super Bowl losses on his resume, thanks to your New York Football Giants, and all of a sudden he hasn’t won anything since SpyGate. I’m not saying I agree with that line of thinking, but I’m just trying to point out how something as small as not swinging at strike three or catching a pass against your helmet can completely change how we reflect on a professional athletes.

That is to say, whatever happens on Super Bowl Sunday, Manning will never be the same. Ultimately, all we’re doing is nitpicking. Manning is a phenomenal football player, and one of the first all-time greats I’ve gotten to see in my lifetime. Same with Brady. Both are in the G.O.A.T. discussion along with Joe Montana, John Elway, and Johnny Unitas, but Manning has to top that list (or at least be in the discussion of the discussion to top that list) if he wins on Sunday, right?       

Evan: Here’s my problem with the Beltran/Brady argument. While Beltran won’t be able to shake that curveball, that wasn’t the prevailing sentiment this postseason when he was absolutely mashing. He was one of the few Cardinals who was still hitting in the World Series too. The curveball might stick with him, but so will his postseasons with the Astros and Cardinals. I’d even argue those successes will be the bigger story when he retires and the curveball will be as little as a footnote to anyone who isn’t a Mets fan.

As for Brady, it’s true. The guy is just over .500 in postseason games since that 2004 Super Bowl. He has three AFC Championship game losses and two Super Bowl losses. In those 5 games he scored more than 20 points once. That epic collapse to the Colts in the AFC Championship game before the 2006 Super Bowl. But how many people consider Brady a choke artist in the playoffs? In fact, a recent poll shows that current players would want Brady to be their QB in the clutch. Yes, Brady isn’t alone as the G.O.A.T. but he is absolutely near the top of the discussion.

If anything I would argue Brady’s recent performance has given rise to Peyton’s legacy. Before, any debate about the two QBs began and ended with postseason success. It was easy to say Peyton underachieved and Brady was the guy with three Super Bowl rings. Even after Manning won in 2006, people downplayed the victory because Rex Grossman was the Bears starting QB. But now Manning has beaten Brady head-to-head twice in the playoffs. Both in the AFC Championship game, and they are the more recent meetings between the future Hall of Famers.

So do I think a Super Bowl loss tarnishes that? No, especially because the Seahawks have looked like the best team in the NFL this season. I know, both teams have dominated this season and were their conference’s top seed. But the NFC is clearly the better conference, and even if you just look at the postseason I think it’s easy to argue that the Seahawks have had the tougher road. A close loss to this Seattle team wouldn’t be devastating or shocking.

Granted, that’s not 100 percent what you were saying. I do agree that a win could enhance Manning’s argument for G.O.A.T. Two Super Bowls, including one which came in what could be determined as the greatest season by a quarterback in NFL history, and against a legitimate juggernaut in the Seahawks? Yeah that’s pretty impressive. But what happens next season if he loses as the favorite in Denver’s first playoff game? And would a win really definitively make him better than Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas. Would it even end the debate between Brady and Manning?

So a win doesn’t automatically make him the G.O.A.T. and a loss won’t eliminate him from the conversation. Hardly legacy defining in my book. Is it completely unimportant? No. No Super Bowl victory ever is, but I definitely think it has been hyped more than it deserves. And I say this as a big Peyton Manning fan, who truly believes he is the greatest quarterback I’ve ever watched play the game.

But anyway, do you think Manning has what it takes? Or are the Seahawks going to win their first ever Super Bowl?

James: I’m going to make this short and sweet and from the heart. Broncos 27, Seahawks 17. Seattle is a very good team, maybe even the most complete team in football, but Manning’s legacy is on the line. If I’m going to believe in something it might as well be that.

Evan: Going with your heart, huh? I want to be right there with you. I feel like I’m in a less perverted version of the chess match Jerry found himself in.

Right now my brain is winning.

The Broncos have looked vulnerable at times this season. They are also dealing with several injuries. And historically great defense has faired better than great offense in the postseason. And this Seahawks team has barely been touched all season. The defense has been dominant, and I don’t even think Peyton will inflict much damage.

I’m predicting a close 23-20 victory for the Seahawks. Now to steal a line from Bill Simmons, excuse me as I go light myself on fire.

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