Jim Fassel and Brian Billick go way back. Many moons ago, they used to coach together. Theres a mutual respect, for sure. Rumor has it they even like each other.
Wellington Mara and Art Modell have been good friends for what must seem like a century. Theyre no youngsters. Modell has finally made it to his first Super Bowl minus the loyal Cleveland fans who supported the Browns all those years. But he could care less. Hes on Cloud Nine, and so is Mara. Like Fassel and Billick, they have a great deal of admiration for each other. Theres plenty of love in the air down in Tampa Bay this week.
But theres something about all this love, respect and admiration thats just not going to extend beyond the owners boxes or the coaches sidelines. Even though Mara and Modell have one foot in the grave and one arm around the others shoulders, its no secret these two teams are going to kick the living crap out of each other this Sunday in Super Bowl XXXV and relish every minute of it!
These two teams are nasty! Granted, theyre not the two best teams ever to grace the Super Bowl. But theyre scrappy as hell, and very similar. So alike, in fact, that its hard to give either one of them a big edge in this game. The oddsmakers gave the edge to the Ravens, and I have no argument with the line. Baltimore opened at 2 or 2 Â½, and theyve settled in now as a solid 3-point fave for the big event.
Theres no mistaking the fact that I like underdogs. And the Giants have been an underdog all season. They relish the role. And I cant pass on a quality dog. I relish the idea of betting a super dog on Super Sunday. So heres the dog with plenty of mustard and relish!
GIANTS +3 OVER RAVENS
FINAL SCORE: 20-19
Wellington Mara said it best when he spoke to the home crowd and national TV audience after his G-men had shut out the Vikings. Basically, he told fans what the media had been trying to tell everyone, including the Giants players: the Giants were the worse team to ever win the NFC East. They were the worst team to ever make the playoffs. The G-men then became the worst team to ever win the NFC championship. And finally, he promised the media-made, hapless Giants would very soon strive to become the worst team ever to win the Super Bowl. What a sense of humor on display for an old codger. Bravo, Mara 84 and going strong!
Its only fitting that the Giants take on the role of the underdog after that tongue-in-cheek statement by their owner. The elite New York media have been telling everyone it can that the G-men have sucked the Big Apple all season long. And now they face probably the best defense in NFL history. The Ravens have given up only 16 points in three playoff games. Two opponents the Broncos and Raiders had excellent rated offenses. The third, Tennessee, was suspect but not really bad.
The results on Sunday will determine if the Ravens D will be rated with the likes of the Steelers and Bears in Super Bowls IX and XX. But theres no doubt about Baltimores defense being on fire. And nowhere does that fire burn any more intense than in the middle linebacker position. I wouldnt want to meet Ray Lewis in a dark alley. Thats what running backs venture into all game long when they take on Baltimore: a dark alley.
Everyone coming through the line meets Ray ("I beat the rap") Lewis. First, he beat the rap. Then he joined his teammates in putting the hurt and the wrap around anything moving in the middle. Lewis has an outstanding surrounding cast on D, including Siragusa, Cleary, Adams and Burnett. But make no mistake: Lewis is the heart and soul of this Ravens club.
The Ravens have won 10 straight games. Fans have almost forgotten that at one stretch they went five games in a row this season without a touchdown. But the Giants have a little seven-game winning streak of their own going into Super Bowl XXXV. And their defense, although ranked a mere fifth compared to the Ravens No. 2 spot, is also a nasty bunch of guys led by defensive end Michael Strahan. Dominating and ferocious in his pursuit of the ball, Strahan reminded me of another Giant named Lawrence Taylor with his performance against the Eagles and Vikings.
These two teams are very close to the same caliber. You have to give a little edge to Baltimores D. But you also have to give a slight advantage to New Yorks offense. It was ranked 13th while the Ravens offense was in the 16th slot. Both teams have excellent special teams, with a slight edge maybe given to Matt Stover and Richardson.
But the key to the game (as I see it) comes down to which QB has the better day. Im giving the edge to Kerry Collins over Trent Dilfer. Trent will be back on his old stomping grounds in Tampa Bay. But that might not be all good. Dilfer may be the first to blink and start talking to himself: "Hey, what am I doing here in the Super Bowl? Didnt I used to QB the Bucs? And didnt I usually look pathetic?"
On the other hand, I see Kerry Collins in a zone of all zones. He didnt blink once before, during or after the torching of the Vikings defense. The stoic, almost comatose facial expressions continued into the post-game interviews. Collins kept his emotions in check. I like that. It was like Collins was saying to himself, "Ive got more work to do. This aint over yet."
On the other hand, Dilfer was crying tears of joy to be headed to the Super Bowl. Trent might be happy enough to just be there. I think Collins is totally focused and zoned into winning the Super Bowl.
The final big key to me is the coaching. Theres no doubt that Fassels staff outcoached Denny Greens group in the NFC championship. I believe theyll find a way to outsmart Billicks boys this Sunday.