By Bill Campbell
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — I’ve always believed that the most important feature of the Super Bowl was the football game itself. In the face of the scores of commercials that were run all evening during last Sunday’s game, I’ve begun to question that belief. It seemed like the game was squeezed in between the advertisements—and the ads weren’t very entertaining. Watching that game wasn’t an enjoyable experience on any level.
Whatever your feelings about the broadcast itself, any football fan has to comment upon Seattle quarterback, Russell Wilson, who became the second African American QB to win the Super Bowl. The first was Doug Williams in 1988. Wilson was so far ahead, he retired for the day with three minutes to go in the game. That was after a near-perfect performance which produced a 43-8 Seattle Seahawks victory over the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning. Wilson completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns. He rushed three times for 26 yards. He never cracked under the pressure or made a glaring error. Wilson posted a 123.1 passer rating for the night. It was a remarkable performance.
As for the storied Peyton Manning, at the start he and center Manny Ramirez appeared to be on different snap counts and Manning failed to catch the ball on the early pop from his center. The resulting 2-point safety was rapidly followed by the Seahawks with 6 more points, and the pace was set. The 8-0 deficit was not insurmountable and the Broncos might have changed their fortunes without further damage. But Seattle rapidly went up 22-0, then 29-0 at the start of the second half when Seattle’s Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 87 yards for another TD. The game was essentially over after that. All in all, Manning committed 3 turnovers – 2 picks and a fumble — and was rated a subpar 73.5. Manning lost a great opportunity on many levels last Sunday night. From the first error on the snap to the final whistle, Manning and the Broncos were just plain routed. The night must have felt like forever to them. But for the viewers, it was the commercials that went on forever, seemingly at record-breaking speed that did not allow most viewers to even note who the sponsor was or what its intended message was. I’m surprised we saw much football at all.
Considering the way that Seattle manhandled Denver when the Broncos had the ball, football fans hardly needed to remind themselves that defense usually wins championships at the end of this Super Bowl. Seahawks’ coach, Pat Carroll, said it was a title his team had won for the entire Northwest. When asked if this was the best day of his life, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch replied, “Next to being born.” I guess that’s how it feels to win the big one – even if it was played between Bud Light and AT&T ads.
Keith Pompey has been assigned by the Philadelphia Inquirer to cover the 76ers this season. After the Sixers opened the month of February with a 113-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Pompey wrote a piece for the Inquirer sports entitled “Living with Losing”. It summed up the Sixers’ dismal year pretty well. After the Detroit loss, the Sixers’ record stood at 15-33, which meant that Pompey had a lot of material. The team had just experienced a four-game winning streak before reaching Detroit, so the one-sided loss to the Pistons was a disappointment particularly since it was a blow-out. As Pompey noted, it just added to their misery. It also was their twelfth loss in their last fifteen games, and was followed by one against the Brooklyn Nets. Pompey also asked in this piece, if problems like these cause writers to pen special pieces, what effect do they have on a coach?
When questioned about the troubles his team has seen this season, Sixers’ coach Brett Brown admitted to Pompey, “It’s hard. I go back to where we started at the beginning of the season. We are trying very hard to get these guys better. We are trying to develop. We want to play the right way. We want to give them opportunities. This is not time to hang your heads. You are in the NBA.” But the 76ers are routinely over-matched. It looks as if the team was built to lose and everyone in the league knows it. As Keith Pompey put it, “On the road they often look like Christians being thrown to the lions. The Sixers are expected to stumble and, at times, the actual scene electrifies opposing crowds.” Not what the Sixers want to hear on the road. Pompey also noted that this “is a team with glaring defensive deficiencies.” Thaddeus Young told him, “When we get out team defense together we’ll be OK, we will be fine.” But the Sixers’ main problem is the pick and roll defense. They are allowing a league-worst 9.6 three pointers a game, 109.9 points per game, turning the ball over and are just plain error-prone. They also are poor foul-shooters and three-point shooters. They keep losing and show little sign of improving, suffering more than their share of blow-out losses. It’s clear that the mounting losses are wearing on the team and morale is sinking fast, according to Pompey. The loss to Brooklyn, a new NBA team, really hurt. No team should be content with living with losing. Brett Brown has his work cut out for him now and in the off-season. Keith Pompey will likely have a lot to write about.
Flyers’ coach, Craig Berube, thinks the Flyers are in the race to stay. They opened their challenging California trip with a 5-3 loss in Anaheim but Berube saw some things he liked. He remarked that his team matched Anaheim’s physical style, playing hard on the puck and had a 4-1 edge in power plays. “Even in a losing cause,” he said, “I liked our competitive spirit and overall I liked the way we played.” Berube was even more satisfied with the team’s drive last Saturday when things resulted in a win in Los Angeles. The Kings had a lot more scoring chances, a 35 to 13 edge in shots, but for the most part the Flyers kept LA on the perimeter. “The Kings are a big, strong team, so we needed to match that,” the coach commented, “and our guys did a good job.” The Flyers played with good discipline and, said Berube, “they did enough good things” to come out on top. It looks like the team has managed to right the ship. Steve Mason in goal has been particularly outstanding. Berube noted, “He got his 35 save shut-out and he has turned away some pretty solid outside shots.” The coach added, “We talk about protecting the center of the ice more than we do. That helps everybody.” In LA the Flyers did a better job of clearing the ice in front of the goal-tender. They are in a bit of a log-jam in the Metropolitan Division where the third place and seventh place teams are separated by only two points. The Flyers are fourth in the Metro, the top three make the play-odds and ninth in the East Conference with the top eight earning play-off berths. “We’ve been in a tight spot all season so this is nothing new for us,” commented goalie Mason. “It may sound like a cliché to say it, but you have to keep winning.” The Sam Jose Sharks, who snapped a three-game shut-out win over the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday, are a staggering 20-3-3 at home. Mason said, “They have one of the toughest arenas to play in. They have a good atmosphere there and we just have to make sure we’re prepared.”
Senior James Bell is emerging as the leader of a very well-balanced Villanova basketball squad. The Wildcats look like a solid candidate for a berth in the March NCAA tournament as February opens. Bell has become a 27-8 guy as he recently showed against Xavier on Monday night. Villanova is now ranked sixth in the nation. Coach Jay Wright has so many options at his disposal that he can move and substitute players without losing intensity on the floor. The box score from the 81-58 trouncing of Xavier was pretty typical. This is a team that has its players averaging double figures in scoring. Against the Musketeers, Bell had 27 points, Darrun Hilliard 17 and JayVaughn Pinkston 11. Wright has 9 players who are scoring double figures game after game, a real luxury for any coach. After the Xavier win, Hilliard said, “I never worry about going to the bench and missing shots. That’s part of the game. I’m speaking as a player but also as a member of a team that has at least 8 players who score at least double figures this season and I know they will hardly miss me.” The message here is that Coach Wright has put together a team, and one that is built around unselfishness. He said, “I never have to give great speeches at halftime.” In other words, his players already know and understand the word “team” and they play that way.
The story of the 20-2 Villanova basketball season is that no one plays alone. Everyone plays together. There is always a group of scorers available and they all can score. On the other side of the coin, they also can play defense which is paradise for a coach. Jay Wright has had teams over the last five years that have been similarly built but none has had the depth of this one at each position. This year, everything looks good for the Wildcats: if one guy can’t do it, they just go to the next and give him his chances. A lot of coaches have to figure ways to get one or two guys the chance to shoot. Says Wright, “I never have to do that. I may have to go to a third guy. But there is always a solid option.” A perfect position to be in as March Madness approaches.
Oakland University’s Travis Bader set the NCAA Division One record for the most career 3-pointers on Sunday in the first half against Milwaukee, surpassing the previous mark of 457 set by J.J. Reddick of Duke. Bader entered the game behind Reddick, missed his first 3-point attempt but broke the record as he made his next 4. He took the title with a shot from the right corner with 6 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first half to pull Oakland within one, 29-28. Milwaukee won the game, 86-64, but 6’5” center Bader finished the game with 21 points, making 6 of 11 3-pointers and giving him 460 for his career.
D.J. Newbill, Tim Frazier and Brandon Taylor combined for 52 points as Penn State’s (12-10) basketball squad beat visiting Purdue (13-9), 79-68, for the Nittany Lions’ third straight victory. Purdue was led by A.J. Hammond who scored 18. Virginia defeated Pitt 48-46; Indiana beat Michigan 63-52. Closer to home, St. Joe’s beat UMass 73-68 on February 1st though the team fell to St. Louis last night, 65-49. After a shaky start, Phil Martelli’s Hawks are 15-7.
Former Dallas Cowboys coach, Jimmy Johnson, likes Chip Kelly’s brand of football. Johnson has something in common with Kelly, having coached at Oklahoma State and the University of Miami before heading to Dallas and Miami in the NFL. Johnson is a two-time Super Bowl winning coach who made the jump to the pros in 1989, similar to Kelly’s move from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles last year. Kelly features offense with the Birds; Johnson did it with defense in Dallas. “They’re playing that college coverage,” Phil Simms told Bill Parcells, whenever the Giants were the opponents. Parcells said, “You better learn that college coverage because they’ll be doing it to you.” Johnson, who left Miami with a 52-9 record, said that Kelly’s selection of players in his first NFL draft was similar to what he did in Dallas. He predicts good things for the Eagles with Chip at the helm.
In golf, at the Phoenix Open Kevin Stadler won his 239th tour start, avoiding a playoff when playing partner Bubba Watson missed a 5-foot par putt on 18. Stadler finished at 16-under, 268 for the four days. Thanks to that victory, Stadler will be teeing up with his father, Craig, at Augusta National when both of them play in The Masters. Craig Stadler won that tournament in 1982 and said after his son’s win, “It’s going to be great for me [in Augusta] because it’s really my last one. I kept saying, ‘When he gets in, that’s my last one.” Now the duo will tee off together. The Stadlers are the ninth father-son winners in tour history but will be the first to play in the same Masters.
Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on February 13th, folks. The first full squad workout is set for February 18th. The first game is against Toronto on February 28th. After this long, cold winter, the thought of baseball has to warm us up.