The most memorable image of New England’s 24-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXIX wasn’t Tom Brady hoisting his third Lombardi Trophy or the traditional confetti drenching the field at the final gun. Rather, it was a third quarter cutaway to Bill Clinton, who was seated in a luxury box with a look of utter boredom on his ordinarily expressive mug. Forty-two has always had a clear sense of what is hip. The New England Patriots, despite their third Super Bowl win in four years, are anything but.
The metronomic, death-by-a-thousand-cuts offense. Coach Bill “Genius” Belichick’s ratty sweatshirt. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi’s 7-Eleven clerk bangs. That ridiculous mascot. The blah uniforms. The incessant “we’re the ultimate team in the ultimate team game” platitudes. Snore. Let’s face it—more people will remember this Super Bowl for Terrell Owens’ amazing performance after getting screws in his ankle than for Deion Branch’s 11-catch MVP performance. Yes, the Patriots are a great team and their fans will obviously trade compelling play for victory after victory. But I think I speak for the rest of us when I say: Bring back the Jimmy-Troy-Emmitt-Irvin-Deion-Jerry Cowboys.
Grant the Pats this—for all their supposed sportsmanship, unselfishness, and playing the game “the right way,” they bring a lot of “hey, dig me” to the ballgame. Players on both sides seemed more concerned with cracking SportsCenter’s “Ultimate Highlight” than with blocking and tackling. The Eagles mostly stuck with the breaking-the chains, fists down, head arched, primal scream perfected by Jeremiah Trotter. The Patriots, lacking any distinctive celebrations of their own, took to mimicking Owens’ patented arm flapping. Linebacker Mike Vrabel, who caught yet another TD pass in the big game, was so intent on flying like an Eagle that he did two celebratory flaps—once after his juggling grab and a second time when he realized that nobody had been watching the first celebration.
One guy who didn’t do much flapping was Donovan McNabb. The Eagles QB looked nervous—at one point Fox’s camera caught Owens telling him to relax after tossing one of his three interceptions. While his stat line—357 yards passing and three touchdowns—looks pretty, many of his 30 completions required spectacular catches, and only the second TD pass, a howitzer to Brian Westbrook, was vintage McNabb. With his tosses sailing high and wide, you’d think he would have gone to his legs, but for some reason McNabb didn’t take off downfield a single time. Sure, the Pats’ often-overlooked defensive line—Jarvis Green in particular—was in McNabb’s face much of the night. But a lot of the time, it looked like the usually shifty Eagles quarterback simply forgot that he was allowed to run past the line of scrimmage.
The broadcast team of Joe Buck, Cris Collinsworth, and Troy Aikman had a solid if unspectacular game. Buck, amazingly calling his first game involving Tom Brady, avoided the hyperbolic love-in many of his peers fall into when assigned Patriot Games. Aikman’s best moment came when he pointed out that that a new, slick football gets put into play before every Super Bowl snap. And all of the broadcasters were properly aghast at Philly’s unforgivably lackadaisical approach to the final few minutes. Down 10 with five minutes to go, the Eagles played like they were desperately trying to cover the seven-point spread rather than, you know, win the game outright. Where was the no-huddle offense? Where were the sideline routes? And wasn’t anybody thinking of the millions of fans who bet the over?
The usually graphics-worshipping Murdochs did win me over by keeping the bells and whistles to a refreshing minimum. When Fox did make with the technological flourishes, they weren’t worth the fanfare. The sky cam proved great for short passes, terrible for long ones—director Artie Kempner won the gamble of calling it up live about half the time. Pylon cam was harmless if completely unrevealing. A heavily promoted sideline camera showed nothing but a few players milling around. Most ridiculous of all was “turf cam,” a lipstick camera planted in the field. Its shining moment was a full-on, glorious close up of the Patriots’ long snapper’s groin.
As Donovan McNabb threw his final interception, I was busy sending in my text-message MVP vote. Even though I suspect that nobody counts us cell-phone voters, I’ve always wondered if these things actually work. When my call did go through, I couldn’t think of any current Eagle or Patriot that I wanted to punch the ballot for. Instead, I went for Chuck Bednarik and Gino Cappelletti. By the time I finished daydreaming about the gridders of yore, Deion Branch had already won the award. There was nothing I could do but yawn.