It would have been a great game even without Janet Jackson's boob.
So much for the boring, who-cares defensive struggle between two teams with no marquee players. All the Panthers and Patriots did Sunday was cook up a classic Super Bowl, the Patriots winning 32-29 on an Adam Vinatieri field goal in the final seconds for the second time in three years. If there was a better Super Bowl among the first XXXVII, I must have missed it.
It started the way most people expected -- and some feared -- it was going to go. Neither team was able to do much on offense. The Patriots got the better of the field-position battle, but that advantage was offset by a pair of missed field goals. Almost 27 minutes into the game, it was scoreless.
Then the game changed. From the time Mike Vrabel of the Pats sacked Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and forced a fumble, New England recovering at the Carolina 20, the teams exchanged haymakers until time ran out. That tense first section of the game, which was scoreless but not boring, just made what came later all the more exciting.
Were you bored when the Panthers took over at their own 5 after a penalty on the kickoff, with disaster looming? To that point Carolina's offense had accounted for minus-8 net yards on six possessions, and now they were backed up to their goal line with three minutes to go and the Patriots holding all of their timeouts. Best-case scenario was getting off the field without falling further behind than 7-0.
That's when Delhomme engineered the second-longest drive in Super Bowl history, a smart 95-yard march that ended on a picture-perfect throw to Steve Smith, who had beaten Tyrone Poole in one-on-one coverage with a move at the line of scrimmage and raced down the left sideline, where Delhomme hit him right in stride. That wasn't dull.
Were you pining for Peyton Manning when the Patriots responded to that drive by going 78 yards in about a minute to take the lead again, 14-7? Or for Donovan McNabb when the Panthers took advantage of the Patriots employing one of the stupidest plays in football -- the squib kick -- and cashed in on the resulting prime field position with a 51-yard field goal by John Kasay to end the half and set the stage for Janet, Miss Jackson if you're nasty, to cause CBS and the NFL to spend the second half issuing apologies to outraged viewers who hadn't bargained to see, however briefly, her right breast, which was exposed by Justin Timberlake?
Wait, weren't we just talking about football?
In the second half, with a nation reeling from the split-second sight of a gold star pastie, these grass-stained defensive behemoths combined for 37 points, and the game was so packed with singular moments that it's going to surprise you to be reminded in 10 or 20 years that just about all of them -- and all 37 points -- came in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots scored on the second play of the period to make it 21-10, which looked insurmountable. Little did we know. A great scramble and lob pass from Delhomme to Smith. Then a leaping catch by Smith. Then DeShaun Foster's tackle-breaking 33-yard touchdown run, and it was a game again.
Much will be made of Carolina coach John Fox going for two after that score to try to pull within three. Conventional wisdom says there was too much time left to try to maneuver for a game-tying field goal, and when the Panthers missed that try, then had to go for two after their next touchdown and missed that too, they'd given away two easy points in a close contest. We'll never know if that two-point try at 21-16 doomed the Panthers, but it did hurt them.
That next touchdown, by the way, came after Brady had marched the Pats downfield again and then thrown an interception in the end zone. Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad for an 85-yard catch and run, the longest pass completion in Super Bowl history. No, nothing to see in this Super Bowl.
Back came the Patriots. Brady from the shotgun, passing to David Givens, Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk, then throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to linebacker Vrabel, who'd lined up at tight end. Faulk scored the two-point conversion after taking a direct snap, Brady pulling the old "oh no the snap's over my head!" fake -- 29-22.
Back came the Panthers, roaring 80 yards on seven plays to tie the game on a 12-yard TD catch by Ricky Proehl, who had tied Super Bowl XXXVI when, as a Ram, he caught a touchdown pass against the Patriots late in the fourth quarter. Much was made by the TV folks of the "irony" of this coincidence.
And back came the Pats one last time, thanks to a bad kickoff by Kasay, who just plain shanked his kick, which went out of bounds. That gave New England the ball on the 40, plenty close enough to field goal range for Brady. He completed four passes, the last to Givens with eight seconds left.
Vinatieri, who won Super Bowl XXXVI as time expired but who had blown two makable field goals in this game, trotted on. He was at the end of his worst season as a pro. The kick was 41 yards. If he made it, he would be a ride-on-the-shoulder hero for a second time in three years, in spite of everything. If he missed it, he would risk joining Scott Norwood of the Bills in Super Bowl ignominy should the Patriots lose in overtime.
He made it, and, with game MVP Brady, stands once again among the towering Super Bowl heroes, great men such as Montana, Namath, Bradshaw and Timberlake.
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Super ads are a dud [PERMALINK]
Those who predicted a humdrum affair on super Sunday were rewarded not by the game but by the commercials, which failed to live up to their billing as being every bit the event the football game is.
This year's crop of Super Bowl ads was the weakest one I can remember. I suspect the passing of the dot-com boom times has meant the end of the heyday of the really outrageously expensive, pointless but jaw-dropping TV commercial. Oh, to see some cats getting herded again.
There were no classics Sunday, but Budweiser and Pepsi each had a series of ads that were consistently amusing and well-written. Pepsi invoked Biz Markee and suggested that the soft drink led Jimi Hendrix to the guitar, rather than the accordion, where Coke would have taken him. It also had a bunch of kids who'd been sued by record companies for downloading music, with "I Fought the Law" playing.
Bud/Bud Light had a bunch of winners: The rocket sled, the monkey hitting on his master's date, the Clydesdale donkey and "what's your dog do?" among them. The Cedric the Entertainer ads are getting old.
An H&R Block ad featuring a Willie Nelson advice doll -- it gives really bad advice, including telling Don Zimmer he should go join a brawl -- was pretty cute, and there was one Chevrolet ad among several unamusing ones that I thought was funny. It featured a bunch of kids with soap in their mouths. You could see the joke coming, but it was still funny when the last kid looks at the car being advertised, says, "Holy --" and then has soap in his mouth in the next scene.
There were also some losers. Dodge used a monkey too -- as in, one on a guy's back, the monkey being that he can't find a car that ... oh, whatever. The Linux ad with the kid and Muhammad Ali: Can we just put a moratorium on pseudo-profundity in television ads? It usually shows up in commercials for financial firms -- you know, "What can a left-handed bacon stretcher teach us about investing?" But a particularly annoying version is the spiritual-spooky kid. That little brat in the car ad who whispers, "Zoom zoom." How do I love kids like that? Parboiled.
Gillette ran an incredibly hokey black-and-white ad that looked like one of those "Real Men of Genius" spoofs, only it was dead serious. Dudes, it's a razor. Settle down.
AOL had a series of ads with the guys who fix up motorcycles on one of those TV shows. "Trading Choppers" or whatever. A one-joke series based on an unfunny joke. A Staples ad with "Randy," the supply guy, was a long, long set-up for an unfunny joke that you saw coming five seconds into the ad.
Where have you gone, Terry Tate, office linebacker?
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Who will apologize for P. Diddy's lack of charisma? [PERMALINK]
The NFL's apology for the Jackson flash read, "We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced Halftime show. They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the show. It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime."
So we got to see naked pop star parts and there won't be any more MTV-produced halftime shows?
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