By Rick Morris
^ The combinations of the NFL’s last four teams standing make for wild storylines with Super Bowl matchups. There’s the obvious Brothers Harbaugh Clash (which FDH Lounge Dignitary Kyle Ross, ESPN storyline fan, loves to troll me with: “I wanna hear about who the mom wants to win, what their middle-school teacher thought of them both …”) if it’s Baltimore-San Francisco. Or the Baltimore-New York Giants rematch of Super Bowl 35 (which would make the third overall Baltimore-New York clash, taking the legendary Super Bowl 3 into consideration). Or the New England-New York Giants rematch of four seasons ago in which the Pats were expelled at the last minute from Perfectville. Or San Francisco-New England, which would mark the second time in as many years that two “Team of the Decade” franchises would meet in a subsequent Super Bowl (it would be kind of fitting if they did, because New England is trying to do what San Fran did in January of 1995, win a Super Bowl on the final remaining fumes of the core of the Team of the Previous Decade). From there, consider the fact that the Super Bowl is being played in Indianapolis, considering that every team except the 49ers has a decent connection to the city. Imagine the Ravens going to the city that took their Colts. Or Eli Manning playing in the home building of his brother, who is already in the middle of a media circus about whether the Colts will cut him and his huge roster bonus loose. Or New England trying to win one more Super Bowl in the city of the team that was their fiercest rival in the previous decade. Yes, this year, the storylines will write themselves regardless of how the championship games unfold.
^ As we noted during the last Pats-Giants Super Bowl, not only are most New England fans also partisans of the Boston Red Sox, New York’s dynamic indicates that there are a ton of crossover fans between the Giants and Yankees (those are the old-line franchises, with a lot of Mets-Jets crossover due to the common 1960s origins and the fact that both played in Queens together for about two decades). So the Red Sox-Yankees feud rears its head by proxy here as well.
^ For all of the bile that Joe Flacco takes – and Eli Manning has taken on occasion throughout his career – FDH Director of Research Nate Noy notes that they are tied for the most road wins of any playoff quarterback. With both on the road today, a Super Bowl berth would be the historical separator for one or both.
^ 20 years ago, the Giants and 49ers (who along with the Redskins, had the three-way rivalry that defined the 1980s) met in the NFC Championship Game best remembered for the late field goal that gave New York a shocking victory (as well as the effective end of Joe Montana’s run in the Bay Area after being injured and the last NFC game for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick with the Giants). That game served as the cap of the era for the Giants and the beginning of the Steve Young era for the 49ers that allowed them to extend their 1980s window a few more years. But while it’s an incredible coincidence that these two teams meet tonight (as well as the irony of the offense vs. defense dynamic of those battles being completely flipped around in terms of how today’s squads are constituted), it’s actually the early game that mirrors what we saw then. Today, Belichick’s Patriots, the Team of the 2000s, hosts a Baltimore team that ranks not far behind New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh as one of the defining teams of the last decade. The dynamic is similar: neither of these two teams have a long run left in front of them as they are presently constituted.
^ 30 years ago, another Bay Area vagabond quarterback finally made it to Championship Sunday – and beyond. And while Jim Plunkett also played for the 49ers, it was the Oakland chapter of his career that defined him. Plunkett, like Alex Smith, was the first overall pick in the draft (1971) and was also regarded as a bust with that team. However, he then moved to San Francisco and then Oaktown before realizing late-career success in the form of two Super Bowls. Smith is doubtless hoping for a similar outcome. But the key difference between the QBs underlines the changing times in the league. Smith is a vagabond who never changed teams. It would be interesting to picture a time-lapse video of his career, with him standing still and an ever-shifting video background behind him with all of the press conferences announcing coaching changes since his arrival in 2005. In today’s league, you can wander an awful lot while never changing uniforms. Is Smith, drafted first overall 34 years after Plunkett, the same kind of late bloomer as the old Raider gunslinger? The next postseason game – or two – will tell us a great deal in that regard.