Spike The Ball

Observations and insights for casual fans about the National Football League. A production of Thinking About Sports.

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Photo: Regal Ribbons

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, and for casual sports fans, the details of the game can be overwhelming, especially if you’re attending - or hosting - a Super Bowl party. In the spirit of arming you with the necessary resources to “survive” Super Bowl Sunday and to help you avoid feeling left out of the conversation, we have compiled a resource guide for the casual sports fan below:

The Super Bowl

Why Super Bowls Are A Game of Roman Numerals – Have you ever wondered why the Super Bowl is referred to using roman numerals? Well, here’s why.

TV Guide To Super Bowl XLVIII – Every fan, casual or not, should know which pre-game shows are the most informative and, of course, most entertaining.

Your Super Bowl Sunday Broadcast Primer – Here is another breakdown of the pre-game festivities, leading up to kick-off.

A Beginner’s Guide To The Super Bowl – A quick primer on the history of the Super Bowl.

The Matchup

The Official Super Bowl Preview – No Super Bowl resource guide would be complete without some insight from the ESPN spinoff, Grantland.

Super Bowl XLVIII Matchup – What is more telling than the hard numbers? Here is a statistical breakdown of today’s Super Bowl matchup.

A Cold Super Bowl Is A Different Kind Of Game – Some insight into the possible impact that the weather could play on the biggest game of the season.

Be The Authority On Game Day – Here are some great stats to show your friends that you know more about the Super Bowl than they think!

The Party

How To Be The Smartest Person At A Super Bowl Party – Let’s be honest, haven’t you always wanted to stump the know-it-all at your annual Super Bowl party? Well, here’s your chance.

How To Win Your Super Bowl Party – If your Super Bowl party was a board game, this is what it would look like. 

Throwing The Perfect Super Bowl Party – Is everyone coming over to your place for the big game tonight? Well, here’s how you can throw the perfect Super Bowl party.

Remember, Super Bowl Sunday is about more than what happens on the field. It is an experience - one that can be shared with good friends and family. We hope you enjoy all aspects of today - the food, the conversation, the commercials, and, of course, the game itself - whether your team wins or loses - or isn’t even in the game. Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

Photo: Marsmettn Tallahassee

The Super Bowl is one of the most hyped, some say over-hyped, events of the year. For the next week, every sports and non-sports media outlet on the planet will be focused on the big game. It can easily get overwhelming. What does a casual fan need to know, to get a good taste of the Super Bowl experience? Here is a list to get you started:

Super Bowl History

  • The Seahawks and Broncos will play in Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s #48 if your roman numeral counting skills are a little rusty). The first Super Bowl was played on January 15, 1967 at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.
  • The trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl is the Lombardi Trophy, named in honor of the legendary Green Bay Packers head coach, Vince Lombardi.
  • 14 NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl. Four teams have never even played in a Super Bowl game.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls, the most of any NFL franchise. The Dallas Cowboys & San Francisco 49ers have each won five. The New York Giants & Green Bay Packers have won four each.

The Matchup

  • The Denver Broncos are appearing in their seventh Super Bowl. They have won twice (1997 and 1998). Their quarterback during those two championship seasons was John Elway, who is now the Broncos General Manager.
  • The Seattle Seahawks are making their second Super Bowl appearance. They lost their only other appearance, in the 2005 season.
  • The Denver Broncos had the #1 rated offense in the NFL this season. The Seattle Seahawks had the #1 rated defense. This has only happened five times in the history of the Super Bowl, and not since 1990. The team with the top-ranked defense has won four out of the five previous games.
  • Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson (25 years, 66 days), in his second season in the NFL, will be the sixth youngest quarterback to start in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning (37 years, 315 days), who is playing in his 16th season in the NFL, will be the second oldest QB to start in the Super Bowl. This is the largest age gap between the two opposing QB’s in Super Bowl history.

The Weather

  • This will be the first year in NFL history that the Super Bowl is played in a cold weather city that does NOT have an indoor stadium.
  • To date, the coldest Super Bowl played outdoors was in 1972 in New Orleans, with a temperature of 43 degrees.
  • The current projected kickoff temperature is 34 degrees, with a 30% chance of snow.

What are people talking about?

  • Peyton Manning’s Legacy – Peyton Manning is considered by many to be the best quarterback of all time. However, he only has one Super Bowl victory (his brother Eli, the quarterback for the New York Giants, has two Super Bowl wins). He is the most accomplished regular season quarterback - holding 50+ individual records, most notably the single season records for passing touchdowns, passing yards and largest career TD-INT differential, and a lock for the hall-of-fame when he retires. A win in Super Bowl XLVIII would help drop the “regular season” in that honor.
  • Richard Sherman – the Seattle cornerback made one of the game-defining plays in the NFC championship game, breaking up the potential game-winning pass and securing a victory last week for the Seahawks. Minutes later, during a post-game interview on live television, he appeared to  “attack” Michael Crabtree, the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver who the pass was intended for. All week his actions have been debated, with some calling him a ‘thug’ and others celebrating his honesty.
  • The Journey of Russell Wilson – the Seattle QB has taken a non-traditional route to the NFL – playing college football first at NC State and then at Wisconsin. He was drafted to MLB three different times - first by the Baltimore Orioles, then the Colorado Rockies, and most recently, the Texas Rangers. He even Wilson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.
  • #1 Offense vs. #1 Defense – For the first time in Super Bowl history, the #1 offense (Broncos) and the #1 defense (Seahawks) will line up against each other in the biggest game of the season. Who will prevail? Denver’s offense has five players with at least 10 touchdowns each – an NFL first. The Seattle defense had an NFL best +20 turnover differential this season.
  • Peyton Manning vs. Cold Weather – Despite all of Manning’s accomplishments, it appears his kryptonite thus far has been the cold weather. For most of Manning’s career he called Indianapolis home, where he played in a Dome. He has spent the last two seasons in Denver, where they are no stranger to bad weather. With potentially the coldest Super Bowl weather in history upon us, how will he fair? 

New York City

  • This will be the first Super Bowl played in New York City (well, almost). The game will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ – home of the New York Jets and New York Giants (whose quarterback is Eli Manning, Peyton’s brother).
  • From Wednesday, January 29 until Saturday, February 1, Super Bowl Boulevard will take over NYC between the 34th and 47th street. The event is free and is open everyday from noon until 10pm.
  • The Norwegian Gateway cruise ship, docked on the west side, will be converted into the Bud Light Hotel, which is expected to host the biggest Super Bowl party in NYC.
  • Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day will be held at the Prudential Center, home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils on January 28, 2014.

Photo: Greece Trip Admin

Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. We’ve heard that before - fourteen times actually. Russell Wilson vs. Colin Kaepernick. We should start getting used to hearing that a lot as well. Championship weekend will feature two future hall-of-fame quarterbacks and two young up and comers with very bright futures. On the field, we know exactly who these guys are. But, who are they off the field? How about through media?

When you are a sports star, your on-field performance is only part of your brand. How fans get to know you is influenced by all your public activities. How you carry yourself off the field, in interviews, and when you think no one is watching.  The way you come across on social media.  And in the case of the four remaining QB’s, there is a lot to learn.

Peyton Manning has established himself as a class act, always putting his team before his own name. I don’t think he has ever botched an interview question. In fact, after the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers and he was continuously prodded about the ongoing rivalry between himself and Tom Brady (Brady has gotten the best of Manning, holding a 10-4 advantage – 2-1 in the playoffs), he maintained the belief that the upcoming AFC Championship is about the Broncos and Patriots, not Manning and Brady. Although Manning has recently become known for his sense of humor, doing commercials for DirectTV, Buick, and Papa Johns, among others, he has refused to give in to the temptations of Social Media. For all intents and purposes, Peyton Manning is a great guy.

Like Manning, Tom Brady has also refused to conform to the ways of social media and has also become known for his composure during interviews, despite the circumstances (which can also be attributed to coach Bill Belichick military mentality). Brady has been a poster boy for the NFL for over a decade now, always saying and doing the right thing. Over the years he has developed a reputation as a pretty boy off the field - with his high sense of class and fashion off the field, and his supermodel wife, Giselle Bundchen. On the field, he is the ultimate competitor, never being satisfied, and celebrating every touchdown as if it is first.

Now, that is kind of expected for two successful veteran players in the NFL. How about the kids?

Second year quarterback Russell Wilson has taken the league by storm, both on and off the field. Along with Pete Carroll, he is building a winning tradition in Seattle. Off the field, he has established himself as a role model. He is very open about his faith and what it means to him. And, as far as we can tell through social media, Wilson seems to spend the majority of his free time giving back – visiting local hospitals, conducting football camps for kids, and similar. If you watch a Russell Wilson interview, you would think he has been in the league for over 10 years. Many of his teammates have even suggested he could run for President if he wanted to. That’s right, President of the United States of America. Now, that’s saying something.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the newest kid on the block, Colin Kaepernick - the dynamic, mobile QB, with one of the tightest spirals since the great Brett Favre. On the field, there is no doubt he is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, at any position. As he becomes a bigger star, more and more “character” questions have arisen. In the 49ers victory over the Carolina Panthers, Kaepernick mocked Panther’s QB Cam Newton, “stealing” Newton’s TD celebration after a 49er score. Kaepernick then posted a picture to Instagram claiming his nickname has been “Kryptonite” – another direct shot at Newton, whose nickname is Superman. Later a comparison of Kaepernick Instagram account and Russell Wilson’s surfaced (presumably done by a Seahawks fan) portraying Kaepernick as selfish and full of himself, while painting Wilson to be a philanthropic role model. 

No matter how you to choose to view these four quarterbacks – old vs. young, good guy vs. bad guy, etc. – there is no denying that they are four of the most exciting to watch in today’s NFL. Both championship games are sure to be entertaining – due in large part to the quarterbacks playing in them. These are two games you don’t want to miss!

Photo: WCHI News

Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks will be the third time the two teams have played this year and the fifth time in the last two years. Both teams play in the NFC West, so they know each other pretty well. They also don’t like each other - trash talking is a constant between the players (and sometimes coaches too). They have also “stolen” each other’s players – frequently signing players whom the other team has recently waived. All of this contributes to the Niners and Seahawks becoming one of the NFL’s best new rivalries.  

But, does knowing the other team so well give teams an advantage in the postseason? Or, is it a disadvantage to play a division rival come playoff time.

Most teams are playing their playoff opponent for the first time that season, or occasionally a second time. This preserves some of the element of surprise. Coaches will dissect film with their teams and game plan accordingly, but the elusiveness of a Russell Wilson or the arm strength of a Colin Kaepernick cannot fully be appreciated through replays alone. Until you try to stop one of these dynamic QB’s yourself, in person, the element of surprise is still a major factor.

How about the adjustment to playing on the road against a team like the Seahawks? Century Link Field has become known as the toughest place to play in the NFL - it’s the loudest stadium in football and the Seahawks have only lost once there in the past two seasons. The combination of cold weather, a die-hard fan base, and a stadium built with the intention of funneling noise back to the field, Century Link Stadium can have an impact on a visiting team’s performance. But, the 49ers know what it’s like to play there, and can plan accordingly. The noise is still a big factor, but they won’t be surprised by what Seattle’s 12th Man does during the game. Of course, whether or not they can overcome that obstacle is an entirely different conversation.

Simply put, when two teams are as familiar with each other as the Seahawks and 49ers, the matchup is different.  

Will the 49ers be able to take advantage of their familiarity of Century Link Stadium? Will it prove an advantage to play against a division rival in the NFC Championship? Tune in Sunday at 6:30 PM EST to find out!

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Photo: Benjamin Ragheb

The four best teams in the NFL will fight it out for two spots in Super Bowl XLVIII this Sunday - exactly how it should be. Regardless of which two teams ultimate battle for the Lombardi Trophy, fans are already assured of a high-quality matchup in the big game that is sure to be entertaining as well. But, does it matter to the NFL who wins on Sunday and finds their way into the Super Bowl? It should.

This year’s Super Bowl will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ - the first time the game has been staged in the northeast. The four remaining teams in the playoffs are from Seattle, WA, San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO, and Foxboro, MA - only ONE team from the Northeast still in contention (and they have to win on the road, in Denver, to earn a Super Bowl invite). So, what does this mean for the NFL?

Well, if Denver represents the AFC, then the first Super Bowl to be played in the northeast not only won’t have a team from the northeast represented, there won’t even be a team from the eastern time zone.  

Could that prove to be an issue in terms of filling a stadium with fans whose team plays west of the Rocky Mountains? When you consider the cost of travel, lodging, food, and the tickets themselves… a fan could have to spend as much as $5k to watch their team play. And don’t forget the weather (hint: it won’t be snowing in your living room).

The NFL can’t play favorites, of course, but from an economic standpoint, don’t be surprised if they are rooting for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to be one the teams still in contention for the title after this weekend.