Peyton Manning/John Elway/Russell Wilson/Percy Harvin; Ray Guy/ Tony La Russa; Bing Crosby/Glen Campbell/James Garner;Sonny Dykes/David Shaw
THE BAD news for the 49ers is that their window of opportunity for winning the Super Bowl has already closed. The Seattle Seahawks are the youngest team to win the big game since the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975. That Steelers team repeated as Super Bowl winners and I wouldn’t bet against the Seahawks doing the same.
The Super Bowl was supposed to be close and, if anything, more of those writing before the game thought the Broncos would win. (The betting odds, which made the Broncos favorites, meant nothing. Oddsmakers set a line that they think will give them roughly equal action on both teams, in which case, the oddsmakers win.)
There were a couple of statistics which were ignored in the pre-game blather. One was that, in 10 previous matchups between the team that had the most yardage and the team which gave up the least, the top defensive team had won nine times. It’s now 10 of 11. The other one was that this was the fifth matchup between the team that had scored the most points and the team which had given up the least. Guess what? The best defensive teams are now 5-0.
There is another point that was overlooked: The NFC was by far the stronger conference this season. Early on, I thought the NFC champion would come out of the West and that would be decided by which team had home field advantage. We know how that turned out. I also felt that the NFC champion would win the Super Bowl.
The AFC simply wasn’t very good this year. The New England Patriots weren’t close to being the dominant team they’ve been most of the time during the Bill Belichick era and yet, they played in the AFC title game because there was nobody else. Kansas City looked good for a time, with an easy schedule, but defensive injuries crippled them. The Indianapolis Colts had Andrew Luck and nobody else. The Baltimore Ravens had grown old.
So, Peyton Manning set offensive records but it was mostly against inferior teams. He and the Broncos weren’t tested until the Super Bowl, and they failed that test.
That doesn’t mean that Manning isn’t a great quarterback. I covered another even more lopsided loss by the Broncos in the Super Bowl, the fourth of the 49ers Super Bowl triumphs, in New Orleans in 1990. The 49ers had a 28-0 lead after the first quarter, en route to a 55-10 triumph. Early in the third quarter, Randy Cross walked by me and said, “If this were a prize fight, it would be a TKO.”
The Denver quarterback in that game? John Elway, a great quarterback who simply did not have much support. The quarterback is the single most important player but football is still a team game.
In the latest game, the Seattle defense was just too quick for the Broncos, swarming to the ball in the secondary while putting on pressure up front. In this instance, too, the Seahawks remind me of that 1975 Steelers team.
I was happy for Pete Carroll, a local boy (Marin) and a very good coach who got a bad rap when he coached the Jets and Patriots earlier. Those teams simply were not very good, but Carroll got the blame. I had gotten to know him when he was defensive coordinator for the 49ers and I respected his knowledge. When he got the right opportunities, at USC first and then with the Seahawks, he showed what he could do.
From the beginning, when Denver center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning’s head and into the end zone for what became a safety, this was Seattle’s game. Manning was moving up to the line because no linemen could hear the signals because of the crowd noise. Ramirez thought he was supposed to snap the ball and did. Wes Welker, who has played in three Super Bowls and should know better, said it’s always noisy at the Super Bowl. In fact, the crowd is usually much more subdued than at a normal game because relatively few fans of the competing teams can get tickets. As TV analyst Troy Aikman noted, “This is not a typical Super Bowl crowd,” because of the noise.
I only watched the first half because I knew there was no way the Broncos were going to come back from a 22-0 deficit. I was recording the game so the next morning, I watched the Percy Harvin kickoff return, right up the middle of the field as the Broncos were simply unable to react to his speed.
Harvin couldn’t play in the NFC Championship game against the Niners. If he had played, I have the feeling the game wouldn’t have come down to Colin Kaepernick’s ill-advised attempt to beat Richard Sherman.
In the first half, I admired the way Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson controlled the game, running when necessary, using his feet to get away from pressure. Wilson hit some key passes to keep drives alive, and he didn’t throw interceptions. There are many meaningless statistics in football – Manning set a record for most completions in a Super Bowl – but the turnover ratio is almost always in favor of the winning team.
The other thing Wilson does well is utilize all his receivers, unlike Kaepernick. He’s made a star of Doug Baldwin, an undrafted free agent. If he were playing for the 49ers, he’d never see the ball.
I skipped all the halftime “entertainment” but I did listen to Renee Fleming’s beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, as she soared to an even higher note at the end. What a great change from the horrible renditions from would-be singers before every baseball and football game.
RAY GUY finally was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, by the senior committee. The usual HOF voters have always been reluctant to vote for specialists but Guy was a huge factor for the Raiders because he was able to pin other teams deep in their territory with kicks so high, they couldn’t be returned.
I remember being surprised when Al Davis took him on the first round, the first punter ever drafted that high. At the time, the Raiders had a punter, Mike Eischeid, who was very adept at what were called “coffin corner” kicks, putting the ball out-of-bounds inside the 10. Other punters were just kicking into the end zone, so they wouldn’t lose yardage. Eischeid’s average wasn’t high but he was much more valuable because of his precision.
Then, I saw Guy for the first time on the practice field and realized why Davis wanted him. He was not only kicking the ball great distances but was kicking it so high, few of his punts were ever returned.
Guy was a very good athlete and he wanted to play safety on defense, claiming Ron Wolf had told him he would. John Madden, who will be introducing him at the induction ceremony in the summer, told him he was going to be strictly a punter. It would have made no sense to risk an injury.
The first time he practiced in the Superdome in New Orleans, he said the speakers above the field were too low and he was going to hit them with his punts. He did that three times in pre-game warmups. He hit the roof in other domed stadiums, too.
Guy was voted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. Often, football players are voted into a sport’s Hall of Fame before they get the BASHOF honor because only two players from one sport can be elected in every year and there has been a backlog of football candidates because of the great 49ers and Raiders teams. Willie Brown was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984 but wasn’t honored by BASHOF until 2001. But Guy’s quicker induction was probably a result of being ignored so long by NFL voters.
Born in Georgia, Guy grew up in Mississippi and still lives there, working now for Mississippi Southern, where he went to school. At his BASHOF induction, Guy said, “Every kid should have the privilege of working on a farm in Mississippi, as I did.”
That’s one life experience I missed. Darn.
SPEAKING OF honors, Tony La Russa, who will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. this summer, also will be an inductee for BASHOF, with a banquet in May. I’ll be writing the words for his plaque.
As I’ve mentioned before, my approach has always been to find people who know more than I do about a sport and listen to them. La Russa was one of those who taught me about baseball – and probably, the most important. Many writers didn’t like La Russa because they’d ask general questions and get stonewalled. “They want me to write their stories for them,” he told me. I asked specific questions and in turn, got a baseball education. When I talked to him earlier this week, he got very excited talking about the subject and paused for a moment. “You ask good questions,” he said. “You always did.”
That was a wonderful period in the ‘80s into the early ‘90s when the late Walter Haas Jr. owned the team and first Roy Eisenhardt and then Sandy Alderson, two very intelligent but very different men, headed up the front office. I had some very interesting conversations with Eisenhardt, touching on many subjects. With Alderson, it was strictly baseball but equally educational. On the field, there were colorful players like Jose Canseco, Ricky Henderson and Dennis Eckersley.
The one disappointment at the time was that, though the A’s were the best team in baseball, 1988-90, they won only one World Series – and what everybody remembers about that is the Loma Prieta earthquake. La Russa actually won two World Series with the Cardinals but he’s told the HOF people he wants his plaque to have a cap with no team designation. “It wouldn’t be fair to the people in Chicago (where he managed the White Sox) and Oakland if I had a Cardinal cap,” he said. “What happened with those teams was very important to me.”
PEBBLE BEACH is hosting the annual tournament this week which I always think of as “The Crosby” though it’s long been known by the name of its company sponsor.
I have fond memories of the tournament, going back to 1959 when I attended it for the first time, when I was working for The Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. I sat down on the hill above the 18th green when another spectator joined me – Bing himself. I was too awestruck to say anything.
There was another time during myWatsonville years when it snowed on what was supposed to be the final day. The tournament finished the next day.
I didn’t go in my early years at The Chronicle but in 1971, when the Raiders missed the playoffs in my final year of covering them, my wife said, “Now, we can go to the Crosby.” Nancy wanted to see Glen Campbell, a fellow Southerner. Fine with me because Campbell was a favorite of mine, too. We did see him and chatted with him.
For several years after that, we went to the tournament, always more to see the celebrities than the golfers. James Garner was one I remember especially for his graciousness.
But Nathaniel Crosby, in the wake of Bing’s death, wanted to turn it into a serious golf tournament. What a bore.
THE EXCITEMENT continues with the Cal football team. Sonny Dykes has switched defensive coordinators, AKA shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, but his first recruiting class is rated between seventh and ninth in the conference. I’d love to hear athletic director Sandy Barbour explain why she signed this guy to a five-year contract – and the chancellor’s explanation of why Barbour still has her job.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s incoming class is rated 17th in the nation by one scouting service and 19th by two others. Internally, it’s considered the second-best recruiting year during the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw regimes. Stanford has it all going now, good coaching, good players. And players graduate. Imagine that.
THE WARRIORS continued their inconsistent ways last night with a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats in which they scored only 75 points. One of my readers thinks they need a coach who is similar to an Army sergeant to whip them into shape. I think a psychiatrist might be a better answer. Physically, they have a team capable of being in the 4-5 spots in the playoffs, which would give them a chance to advance at least one round, but their inconsistency probably means the eighth spot – if they make it at all.
Meanwhile, it’s not good times for the Warriors owners, who have seen costs escalating for the demolition of the pier on which they hope to build a humongous structure. A petition to force it to the ballot got more than twice as many signatures as required in just three days. There will probably be some eliminated for various reasons but there’s little doubt that it will be on the ballot. I believe there are enough San Francisco voters who don’t want a huge edifice on the waterfront with 220 night time events in a year which will further exacerbate traffic problems along the Embarcadero to vote it down.
As far as basketball is concerned, the Warriors are in an ideal situation now at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, which is accessible by freeway or BART from San Francisco or Contra Costa and by freeway from San Jose. But the Warriors owners, particularly Joe Lacob, want a monument, not a basketball arena.
MY FOOTBALL education began with Al Davis when he was sane and was expanded greatly by Bill Walsh in our many conversations, including those when we were working on a book together. When Sid Gillman, considered the father of the modern passing game, retired, we had many long telephone conversations, with Gillman invariably having come from watching game film in his home. When Steve Mariucci coached the Niners, he would show me videos from previous games illustrating the different defenses being used. Later, I talked to Norv Turner and Mike Martz, who had much different offensive philosophies, in their brief spells with the 49ers.
But now, I’m learning from some of my e-mailers that I don’t know football because I’m not involved with Fantasy Football. If I’d only known.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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