Reporting Bill Campbell
By Bill Campbell
The Super Bowl usually gives us something to remember. Seven weeks ago the New York Giants were 7-7 and today they sit atop the National Football League. This game XLVI, except for the Manning family, didn’t provide us with many thrills. Two hundred twenty-eight countries were tuned in to see or hear about Eli Manning’s passing show that allowed him to enter the plateau previously occupied by the likes of Tom Brady, brother Peyton, Aaron Rodgers and a few others. In fact, he may have surpassed some of those.
Manning completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown without an errant pass to anyone not wearing the same jersey. It was the second Lombardi Trophy in five seasons for the Giants. Manning outperformed Brady in this his seventh come from behind game of this season. In the fourth period, “Manning Time”, in this particular game he completed 9 of 14 passes for 70 of the Giants’ total 88 yards on their march to victory, with Ahmad Bradshaw scoring a touchdown while falling into the end zone on a six-yard bolt with time about to run out. Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ 65 year old coach, could talk only about Manning in his post-game comments. “We won the Super Bowl two of the last four years and Eli has been the MVP both times,” he said. And, he continued, “Anybody who doesn’t think he’s a great quarterback doesn’t know what he’s looking at. He put this team on his shoulders the whole year.” It was just seven weeks ago that the Giants lost to the Washington Redskins 23-10. But in their last five games, including four post-season wins, Manning completed 67% of his passes and threw twelve touchdowns with just one interception in 196 throws. Only Rodgers had a better fourth quarter passing percentage.
Manning’s post-game comments were centered on Kevin Gilbride, the Giants’ offensive coordinator who called a “great game plan.” Manning also noted, “They had a couple of open blitzes and we checked to running plays and our receivers made some great catches.” If there was a sub-hero it was Mario Manningham, who got the game-winning drive underway with a spectacular catch of a 38-yard pass from Manning, managing to keep both feet in-bounds and holding on to the ball. Manning said, “The Patriots were in a Cover-2 defense on that particular play. They had good coverage to the right, the safety was cheating a bit and I just laid the pass down the left sideline to Manningham, who made a great catch.” It was the key play of the game, rivaling David Tyree’s incredible catch of four years ago, which also led to the Giants knocking off the Patriots.
Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, immediately challenged the call as did defenders Stanley Moore and Patrick Chung. Referee John Perry reviewed the play and ruled that Manningham did, indeed, have both feet in-bounds and had complete possession of the ball – which put the Giants at mid-field and gave Manning more room to operate. From six yards out the Patriots allowed Ahmad Bradshaw a clear path to the end-zone, and the Giants running back sat down just across the goal line to score. That made the ending somewhat memorable. An unusual ending, to be sure, but hardly unprecedented.
It was a sound decision by the Patriots’ coach. Had he not called a time-out, the Giants could have used the time remaining after the time-out for a cheap shot field goal, forcing Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady to go the length of the field in mere seconds in a miracle final. This tactic had been used before in the 1998 Super Bowl by Green Bay coach, Mike Holmgren, against Denver. It failed then. It failed again this time. However, it went against the grain of defensive players who never are ordered to stand aside and let the opposition score. It was a bit unusual. I guess that will remain the memory of Super Bowl XLVI: Ahmad Bradshaw sitting in the end zone, holding the decisive points.
While the Super Bowl generated most of the weekend’s attention, there was a local note that should not be overlooked. Long time Philly basketball coach, Speedy Morris, won his 900th game and he did it in unique fashion. Many of his former players were on the sidelines for the occasion, including his grandchildren, which says all one could possibly say about Speedy. The 69-year-old Morris has a record of 900-385, a 700 winning percentage that includes 17 years at LaSalle where he was 238-203 in 15 seasons with the men’s team, 43-17 with the women’s program, 347-82 in 14 seasons at Roman Catholic, including 4 league championships, and 41-14 at Penn Charter. Currently Morris is in his 11th season at St. Joseph’s Prep where he nailed down victory #900. It all started when he was 24 years old and was hired as the J.V. coach at Roman. After the varsity coach was fired, they offered Speedy the job and he’s been at it in one place or another ever since. Generations of players have come under his tutelage and benefited by so doing. Speedy’s only comment about coaching 900 victories was, “I couldn’t have done it without the kids.”
Aside from the game itself, there was another item worthy of comment from Indianapolis that really intrigued me: the word from Commissioner Roger Goodell about Los Angeles still waiting for an NFL franchise. Goodell says there has been absolutely no discussion about adding to the league’s 32 teams and he doesn’t see any in the near future. He believes in keeping the present line-up of teams where they are as healthier for the league in the long term. The puzzling thing is that Los Angeles is the second largest market in the nation and L.A. has been without an NFL team since the Rams and the Raiders both left after the 1994 season. Not that the league has suffered financially in the interim. It has become, arguably, the nation’s most popular sport, producing revenues surpassing $9 billion as of last season. Just imagine what a franchise in Los Angeles would add to that. Goodell and the owners must know what they’re doing but one would think that a possible franchise in L.A. would, at least, be on the table and worthy of serious discussion.