I know Patriots fans, bless their hearts, who have worked themselves up into a frenzy in the last 14 days. Not only are they still upset about the Giants’ 24-20 win at New England back on Nov. 6, they still haven’t gotten over David Tyree’s Helmet Catch that helped the G-Men ruin the P-Men’s shot at a 19-0 season in Super Bowl XLII.
But not all rematches turn out the way you want them to.
There have been more than a few championship rematches over the years in American sports. Most sports fans fondly remember classic battles between the Cowboys and Steelers, Lakers and Celtics, Dodgers and Yankees, Ali and Frazier, or Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik, just to name a few.
But they all pale in comparison to the biggest rematch in American sports history, which played out to millions of viewers on national television. I’m talking, of course, about the 1976 Battle of the Network Stars.
For those of you too young to remember, Battle of the Network Stars was a sports competition with teams made up of television stars and personalities from the three major networks at the time — ABC, CBS, and NBC. It was hosted by the late, great Howard Cosell, and was memorable for the athletic abilities of a young Scott Baio, plenty of gratuitous cheesecake shots of female stars, like Farrah Fawcett, Charlene Tilton, and Catherine Bach, in one-piece swimsuits, and the unforgettable drama that took place in following that year’s sprint relay race.
The controversy began after the race when CBS captain Telly Savalas, complained about a possible illegal baton exchange by NBC. Slow-motion replay confirmed the transgression and ABC was awarded the win after NBC was eventually assessed a two-second penalty.
Of course, this infuriated NBC team captain and 1970’s TV tough guy, Robert Conrad. Conrad got so mad that he challenged Mr. Kotter himself (ABC team captain, Gabe Kaplan) to a one-on-one 100-meter dash. Conrad got out of the blocks fast, but Kaplan, despite the fact that he was sporting an extremely un-aerodynamic fro, caught him by the halfway point and ended up winning the race by a full 10 meters. (By the way, all of this can still be seen today on YouTube for those of you who believe I’m just making this stuff up).
And that brings me back to the Super Bowl.
On the surface, we’ve got a New England team with a great offense and a very poor defense against a New York team with a good offense and a good defense. The Patriots and Giants both ranked in the Top 10 of the NFL in total offense in the regular season (New England second and New York eighth), while the Patriots’ defense was 31st out of 32 teams this season in yards allowed.
But numbers can be very deceiving.
New England may have given up a ton of yards, but they also recorded 40 sacks, 23 interceptions, and forced 10 fumbles. They’ve also come up with eight sacks in their two postseason games. Likewise, New York was 26th in the NFL in points allowed in the regular season, but like New England, they also did a outstanding job of getting to the quarterback. They had 48 sacks this year, nine in three playoff games, led by Jason Pierre-Paul’s 16.5.
And while both quarterbacks are in the midst of historic seasons (Tom Brady: 5,837 yards passing, 45 TD’s; Eli Manning: 5,856 yards passing, 37 TD’s), both teams’ running games are better than the numbers say. The Patriots are averaging 110.3 yards per game and have just three fumbles all season long, while the Giants have gone from 89.3 yards a game in the regular season to 117.3 yards a game in the postseason.
The Giants should have both running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks back for this game. That duo, along with starting center David Baas, missed the Nov. 6 game. And while I suspect that New England tight end Rob Gronkowski will play on Sunday, high ankle sprains don’t just heal in 14 days, so it remains to be seen how effective he can be considering what a huge role he plays in the Patriots’ passing game.
So I guess it’s finally time to make a pick on this game.
New England had a much better regular season (13-3), although they failed to beat a single team with a record better than .500. And while I left the Giants for dead after a pathetic 23-10 home loss to Washington on Dec. 18, they have completely turned things around. If you count the last two regular season games, the Giants have essentially won five straight playoff games and look far more battle-tested than the Patriots.
In this season of high-scoring offenses and video game-like passing numbers, I still think this game will come down to the basics of running the football and playing defense. And the Giants are doing both just a little better right now.
It should be a night filled with Battle of the Network Stars-type drama. Will Brady join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins? Will Eli pass brother Peyton for most Super Bowl wins by a quarterback with the last name of Manning? Will Madonna break a hip during the halftime show and delay the second half? Only time will tell.
And as for you New England fans — like Robert Conrad discovered back in 1976 — be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.
The pick: New York 27, New England 23
Scott Herpst is Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.