Friday, December 28, 2007

Historical Perspective

I don't write much about Football here, or in general, although I am an avid fan. Perhaps it is because my particular allegiance involves some explanation.

As a child, the first football game I ever watched was Super Bowl XIX, a matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins, a matchup of a pair of legendary Quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Dan Marino.

The 49ers, behind Montana, were able to frustrate Marino and take apart the Dolphins consistently throughout the game, cruising to an easy 38-16 victory.

Despite being a native New Yorker, and never having been to San Francisco, I have been a die hard 49ers fan since that day.

I've remained loyal even though the past few seasons have been alternately trying and embarrassing, but I am able to take solace in five Super Bowl titles in 15 seasons between 1981 and 1994.

But moreso than just the victories, there was always something symphonic about watching the 49ers play in those years. Montana in particular was always a joy to watch, because it all just seemed to come so easy to him. It's easy to become spoiled by this, but with Montana, and later, Steve Young, you never really felt like you were out of a game. Working within offensive systems that played specifically to their strengths, Montana and Young were able to operate with frightening efficiency for several seasons, simply because their skills, and the superior talent around them, were always able to overwhelm the opposition.

The 49ers were 15-1 in the 1984 regular season, and ran the table to that Super Bowl XIX victory. Their only blemish a 20-17 loss to the Steelers in Week 7 of that season. They were the first team to win 15 games in an NFL season since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Other sterling seasons of 14-2 and 13-3 also led to Championships (1989, 1994), but other seasons in which the team did as well ended with playoff losses (1990, 1992, 1997).

There have been three other occurrences of 15-1 teams in the NFL. The 1985 Chicago Bears lost a notable Monday Night game to the Miami Dolphins after starting out 12-0. They would continue to romp on to a victory in Super Bowl XX.

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the season, but set scoring records and appeared poised to cruise into Super Bowl XXXIII. Until a missed Gary Anderson Field Goal late in the 4th Quarter of the NFC Championship game allowed the upstart Atlanta Falcons to tie, and eventually win in an astounding overtime upset.

The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers lost their second game of the season to the Baltimore Ravens, and lost their starting Quarterback, Tommy Maddox, in the process. In his stead, Rookie Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 14 straight victories in the Regular season and another in the Divisional Playoffs. Then, they were promptly buzzsawed by a superior New England Patriots team in the AFC Championship Game.

The point being, Regular Season success is often fleeting. And even the most successful teams can often fall short if the stars align against them.

I'll be rooting for the New England Patriots tomorrow night against the New York Giants to complete their quest for an undefeated regular season, and I'll be rooting for them in the playoffs to run the table straight through to Super Bowl XLII.

Part of my reasoning is simply to be contrary; it seems, especially here in New York, that everyone hates the Patriots, hates Brady, hates Belichick, thinks they cheated, etc, etc. I'm not particularly interested. I've always been a fan of Brady. I don't care about the off-the-field exploits. Hell, he's no more overexposed than Peyton Manning, and he's not half as overbearing. Brady, on the field, has always exuded that killer instinct. That he knows he may not possess the best skills, but he's got the best skills in his system, and he can use that to his advantage. He's always given me the feeling that the Patriots were never out of any game so long as he was on the field.

Sort of like Joe Montana.

Moreover, as I've mentioned, success is often fleeting. And who the hell remembers or even cares about the 2004 Steelers or 1998 Vikings? Who even knows about the one game the 49ers lost in '84 or the Bears in '85?

There has only been one perfect season in NFL History, of course, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. We've got a chance to see History unfold over the next month with the Patriots, in a time when the game is vastly different than it was the last time something like this happened.

The Patriots have already done something nobody's accomplished by winning their first 15 games. From a Historical perspective, I cannot help but root for them to run the table the rest of the way.

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