Saturday, February 14, 2009

What the great ones do

It really shows my age that I remember when heavyweight championship boxing matches were broadcast on network TV. Not pay-per-view, not even cable, but good old ABC.

One fight I’ll never forget was the 1976 bout between Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Young. My opinion of Ali has mellowed over the years, but back then, I found his “I Am The Greatest” schtick more annoying than charming. So I always rooted against him, to no avail.

Then came the Ali-Young fight. Young clearly outfought the champ throughout, and even Howard Cosell sensed an upset in the making. Imagine my shock when Ali won by unanimous decision.

My brother, Joe, wasn’t shocked. He said, “If you’re going to beat the champ, you have to knock him out.”

Many boxing pundits think that Young was robbed, but that’s beside the point here. In many of his fights, Ali did just what he had to do to win—and that’s why he could call himself “The Greatest.”

The same can be said about the Super Bowl XLIII Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Most of their wins weren’t pretty. Some were the source of controversy, and most left them open to criticism. But they did what they had to do to win.

Consider the two regular-season matchups between the Steelers and the hated Baltimore Ravens. The first game went into overtime and ended with three points off of Jeff Reed’s toe, 23-20. The rivalry was as intense as the score was close. Running back Rashard Mendenhall was injured by a hit from Ray Lewis, and much trash talk was heard in the media for weeks when Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs claimed that a bounty had been put out on Mendenhall and wide receiver Hines Ward.

The rematch did little to resolve those issues. It climaxed with a controversial play in which Santonio Holmes was credited with a touchdown after review for a 13-9 win. Whether the ball crossed the goal line is something that is still being argued all the way from here to Baltimore.

There was also the game against the San Diego Chargers, the first 11-10 game in NFL history. It, too, ended in controversy as a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu was negated by a questionable call.

Add to that the 20-13 come-from-behind win over the drama-ridden Dallas Cowboys on the late interception for a TD by Deshea Townsend—and, finally, the 27-23 Super Bowl victory in which Holmes kept both feet inbounds for one of the most memorable moments in Super Bowl history.

Through this season, detractors have passed these close wins off as dumb luck. Come on. I can see a blown call being worth one or two wins a season, but nobody wins the Super Bowl on luck alone. Faced with one of the toughest schedules in recent NFL seasons, the Steelers did just what they needed to do to beat most of their opponents.

The result? A sixth Super Bowl victory, and one that was more than earned—by doing just enough to win.

That’s what the great ones do.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Football-mas!

All the analysis that can be done has been done. Everyone, hopefully, is prepared. Now all that's left is to play the game.

My prediction-Steelers 35, Cardinals 14. I don't actually care about the score, though. It all depends on how well we can cover Larry Fitzgerald and scare Kurt Warner.