I have quite the dilemma on my hands.
I’m currently working in China. Come Monday morning (for me, anyway), my New York Football Giants will be playing in the Super Bowl against the Greatest Sports Dynasty Ever Conceived by Man, the New England Patriots.
Obviously, American football isn’t a big deal, or even a moderately-sized deal, in China. The Super Bowl, however, will be played on CCTV5, which will give me the chance to actually watch the Giants play live for the first time all season. Since week one I’ve been dutifully trudging over to my laptop in the wee, wee morning hours to listen to the live radio feed on giants.com. You might think I’d be ecstatic at the idea of finally have the chance to watch a game but I’m not. I have my reasons:
- I’ve always enjoyed the quaintness of listening to a game on the radio.
- The Giants play-by-play team of Bob Papa and Carl Banks are pretty damn good.
- I can avoid listening to Joe Buck on FOX.
- Most importantly, they’ve made the Super Bowl with me listening on radio. I’m a superstitious man – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Unfortunately, the giants.com feed will be blocked out for the Super Bowl, so I’ll be forced out of my comfort zone. I’ve been approached by a fellow Giants fan with the idea of finding a sports bar and watching the game on a nice TV. The plan sounds nice in theory – I live in Beijing, where there is roughly one expat bar for every three foreigners – but I know my tendencies as a sports fan. I am beyond a sore winner or a sore loser, I’m what you might call a sore inter-actor – I simply cannot be around strangers when my team is playing.
I remember a specific encounter at a Korean youth hostel in February, 2008; a week after the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII wins. I was approached by a couple of Pats fans who spotted my Eli Manning jersey. “I bet you just bought that jersey this week,” they accused me. I nearly had to be restrained, and that was a week after my team had already won. On top of all that, the game will start at 9 am, Beijing Standard Time, and I am by no means a morning person. Watching a morning Super Bowl in a bar with Patriots fans might just mean a ticket to a Chinese prison. The only other option is staying at home with my crappy TV and a bottle of scotch, nervous pacing the room, muttering to myself and to my wife’s cats…like a boss!
So what of the game itself?
I always enjoy tracking the shifting narratives leading up to any Super Bowl, and this one has been no different. The initial knee-jerk reaction in the press (and from Vegas) was that the Patriots should be slight favorites because – well, because they are the Patriots. Upon further analysis, many writers began pointing at the Giants match up well, have equal if not superior talent, have been playing better of late, and beat the Patriots in Foxboro this year. Now it seems the pendulum of opinion has swung back toward the Patriots. Check out this SI article:
Five of six writers are picking the Patriots. Especially damning is this quote from Kerry J. Byrne of Cold Hard Football facts:
“Cold, Hard Football Facts, meanwhile, has eight stats that each predict winners in more than 60 percent of NFL games. New England was better in all eight this year.”
DOOOOOOOOOOOOM! But is 60 percent accuracy really that impressive? I can’t help but remember the last time a guy was so confident in 60 percent: the day Brian Fantana decided to musk up with Sex Panther cologne…
…and we all remember how that turned out.
Some of the other reasons for picking the Patriots seem more ephemeral. Apparently the Patriots insatiable lust for revenge trumps anything the Giants have to offer. Sure, only seven Patriots remain from the team that lost Super Bowl XLII – and you would think the Giants would be equally motivated to vindicate themselves, especially after hearing all week that they “won’t be able to sneak up on the Patriots this time” – but let’s face facts: “The Revenge Bowl” sounds much better than “The Vindication Bowl.”
Also, one should never bet against defensive mastermind Bill Belichick in a big game. Just for fun, let’s take a look at a breakdown of the points scored by Belicheck’s opponents in the fourth quarter of each of his four Super Bowls.
Super Bowl XLII (vs. NYG): 14 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.
Super Bowl XXXIX (vs. PHI): 7 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.
Super Bowl XXXVIII (vs. CAR): 19 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.
Super Bowl XXXVI (vs. STL): 14 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.
In three of four Super Bowls, the Patriots have allowed at least 14 points in the fourth quarter. And the one exception was the infamous Donovan McNabb “did-he-puke?” fiasco, where the Eagles’ coaching staff took their sweet time milking the game clock while trailing on the scoreboard, and the quarterback’s teammates accused him of being so nervous on the final drive that he tossed his cookies. Who knows what might have been accomplished by a competent clock manager and a quarterback with some balls?
It certainly seems as if Belichick-coached defenses have a problem stopping teams in the fourth quarter. Now if only the Giants employed a quarterback with a history of fourth-quarter success – maybe even someone who set some kind of a NFL record for fourth-quarter touchdown passes…
Still, I would be lying if I said I was confident in a Giant victory. It is part of what I call “The Giants Paradox”: they win when they should lose and lose when they should win. I’m holding out hope that, Monday morning at the crack of noon, the Giants will be holding the Lombardi trophy. Then I can go grab a victory lunch at the Dongzhimen branch of Nathan’s Famous.