Super Bowl Karma And Me
The requests usually begin about 10 days early, then slowly build right up until kickoff. They come from gamblers mostly, but from rabid fans, as well.
When I was still a working newspaperman, they would arrive in calls to the office from all around the country. Now they are showing up in blog and e-mail requests.
It is OK. I understand. It is all about Super Bowl Karma and me.
It has to rank as the strangest phenomenon of my sports writing career, this thing I had with picking Super Bowl winners. It never happened with any other sport or major event. I was like everyone else when it came to all the others. I would win some and lose some.
But not the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl got . . .well, freaky.
It started with the very first Super Bowl I covered, it was Super 7, the Don Sula Dolphins vs. the George Allen Redskins. I picked Miami, hardly a surprising choice since the Dolphins were 16-0 at the time. They won, 14-7, despite Garo Yepremian’s infamous screw up, and I was off and running.
I picked five winners in a row, then lost one. But I was just warming up. At that point, I proceeded to rattle off an extraordinary 19 winners in a row, and the whole thing began to gain national attention. USC Today did a story on me when the streak was at 16, Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times wrote a column about me, and high rollers everywhere were calling my hotel room during Super Bowl week.
After the 19th in a row prediction, I realized I’d gone 24-1 over a 25 game stretch, and people were asking me how to explain it. I couldn’t, except to mention that, because of a late change in dates by the NFL, I ended up getting married on the day of the first Super Bowl, much to the chagrin of many of my sportswriter friends. Maybe, I tried to theorize, there was some strange karma involved in that.
Anyway, the 19-game winning streak was stopped by Mr. Belligerent himself, Bill Belichick, in the best Super Bowl coaching job I’ve seen, when his Patriots and young Tom Brady shut down the Rams and The Greatest Show on Turf.
After that, I went 7-1 up until the year I retired, finishing with an overall record of 31-3 in Super Bowl games as a working sports writer.
It wasn’t only picking winners, either. Some of my pre-game columns were almost eerie when it came to predicting the results. In Super Bowl 30, I picked the Cowboys over the Steelers, 28-17. The final score: Dallas 28, Pittsburgh 17.
In Super Bowl 25, I said the Giants would control the clock and upset the Jim Kelly, no-huddle Bills, who were touchdown favorites. I said it would be 19-17 New York. It ended up 20-19 in favor of the Giants, who had the ball for 40 of the 60 minutes.
In Super Bowl 27, the headline of my pre-game column read: “Bills history of blunders sure to tell.” Buffalo made me look good by committing nine turnovers in a 52-17 rout by Dallas.
I’d brag about all this, except I still really don’t understand how I pulled it off. Clearly, it had something to do with being at the site and getting a vibe, or something, during the week. Because since I retired, my Super Bowl record has been an undistinguished 1-3.
I relate all this to you to use however you choose as I now proceed to give Super Bowl 45 my best shot:
As someone who obviously has done this a few times, I honestly feel this is among the most difficult to predict match-ups that I can remember. You can easily make a case for either of these teams, clearly the two best in the league this year.
My No. 1 rule always has been to pick the team with the better defense. That’s fine, except in this case, I’m not really sure whether that distinction belongs to the Packers or Steelers. Pittsburgh seems to have an edge on paper, but only if Troy Polamalu, the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year, is at full strength, and from what I saw of him and his aching Achilles in the past two games, he isn’t. I also think Green Bay has a clear edge at cornerback, a position that always seems to be crucial in these games.
Next, I usually try to find the team that can run the ball better. Again, that seems to be Pittsburgh, except I don’t think it will run it nearly as well against the Pack defense, especially without injured center Maurkice Pouncey, one of its best blockers. And although Green Bay doesn’t have a dominant running game, it makes up for it with a terrific passing game that utilizes short throws in lieu of runs.
Ben Roethlisberger, despite his off-field persona, is a quarterback who knows how to win. He is 10-2 in the postseason, even though his stats are never as flashy as a Manning’s or Brady’s. He is sort of the Robert De Niro of quarterbacks. Not pretty to look at, but riveting when it matters.
Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback coming on stronger than anyone else in the league. I love his accuracy and quick release and he has a knack for escaping the rush. On a fast track under the roof in Dallas, he seems primed for a big game.
Pittsburgh’s defense scares me, even with a Polamalu at less than 100 per cent. But Green Bay’s defense is right there at the same level, with just as many big-play athletes. I simply like the Packers’ offense better, with a razor sharp Rodgers throwing to what might be the best receiving corps in the league. Some are predicting a repeat of last year’s 37-36 shootout won by the Steelers. I don’t think it will be that wild. Not with these two dominant defensive units.
Karma or no karma, call it 24-20 Packers in a game that I can semi-confidently predict should be as entertaining as it is close.
— STEVE BISHEFF