Super Bowl XXXV Preview

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KATHY WILLENS/AP, NEIL BRAKE/AFP

Trent Dilfer of the Baltimore Ravens and Kerry Collins of the New York Giants

On Sunday night, CBS will broadcast the year's most anticipated television program. It stars individuals who persevere against alienation and humiliation, who must find inner strength in order to complete a months-long quest for the ultimate prize.

And right after that, CBS will air its second season of "Survivor."

At a time in which reality TV is all the rage, it's appropriate that television's most-watched event — the Super Bowl, not that "Jerry Springer" with palm trees, "Temptation Island" — is highlighted by players whose careers have eluded the shelter from real life that's customarily granted to wealthy pro athletes (see chart below).

Few people in the world wouldn't want to change places with a Super Bowl quarterback. But convincing people to switch shoes with Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer or Giants counterpart Kerry Collins would have required Ron Popeil–like selling skills before this season. Both had spent several years regarded as highly paid busts, taking turns as a favorite punching bag for fans and the media.

Their stories don't read like Kurt Warner's, last year's Super Bowl MVP who proved to be a nobody who only needed a chance to be a somebody. These guys started at the top — the Buccaneers drafted Dilfer with the sixth pick in the '94 draft; Collins was the Panthers' first-ever draftee with the fifth selection in the '95 draft. Both were anointed as their franchise's... well, franchises... and both fell out of the spotlight the same way they entered it — by way of their arms — Dilfer by completing passes to players on other teams, Collins by working out with 12-ounce curls while sitting on bar stools.

What didn't kill them only made them stronger. The Ravens swear by Dilfer's leadership and sense of team, which is no doubt a product of no longer having the pressure of being an expected savior. The Giants can't help but be inspired by Collins, who, in the NFC Championship game against the Vikings, cashed in on a game plan that relied on him to carve through Minnesota's Swiss cheese secondary. He turned in one of the most magnificent performances in NFL playoff history by halftime.

Neither is making anyone forget recently retired NFL stars Dan Marino and Steve Young, but they'll be starting the Super Bowl while Warner, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre stay home.

Not bad for a couple of losers.

A SUPER CAST OF SURVIVORS
Kerry Collins, N.Y. QB Trent Dilfer, Bal. QB Lomas Brown, NY OL
Pulled football's version of the Triple Crown — accused of being a drunk, a racist and a quitter Lost starting job in Tampa Bay to rookie no one saw as the next Montana Sure looked like career was over after 15 years when the expansion Browns cut him last season
Glenn Parker, NY OL Ray Lewis, Bal. LB Christian Peter , NY DL
Played on four Super Bowl losers with Bills. Let's see Richard Hatch survive that. Roams the gridiron more freely than he could his prison cell Released by Patriots one day after being drafted due to tendency to depart bars with cops

 

DE-FENSE! DEFENSE! ZZ-ZZZZZ!

Defense may win championships, but a pair of suffocating defenses — along with inconsistent offenses — doesn't do much to get the nation excited about the Super Bowl. TV and radio talk show host Jim Rome has already predicted a 3-2 "blowout" victory for the Giants. Columnist Norman Chad has coined the game Super Bore XXXV. And CBS is in a perfect position to sell advertising to Sominex.

Is this pessimism warranted? Perhaps not.

Fewest Points Allowed (16-Game Season)
Year Team Pts. Allowed
2000 Ravens 165
1986 Bears 187
1978 Steelers 195
1978 Broncos 198
1985 Bears 198
1992 Saints 202
1994 Browns 204

The last time a team as boring as these Giants made the Super Bowl, it was January 1991, and the winning team was... another boring Giants team. Ah, but what a game it was, a 20-19 final in the closest — and perhaps the best — Super Bowl ever. Even in Hollywood it was a hit, as Bills kicker Scott's Norwood's missed field-goal attempt in the waning seconds was the inspiration for the suspenseful plot in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." So if it weren't for that game, we may never have seen Don Shula almost get his arm ripped off while mailing a letter.

And since when is a dominating defense boring? When reminiscing about Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain of the '70s, the words bore and snore don't come to mind. And there's no record of Super Bowl alumni Mike Singletary and Lawrence Taylor putting fans to sleep in the mid-'80s.

Any close game for the Lombardi Trophy is going to be enjoyable. It's not like last year's Rams-Titans matchup was an NFL exec's dream. But it produced a dramatic game, and we can expect a similarly tight affair Sunday.

So if defense isn't your thing, tapes are available of Super Bowls XXII (Washington 42, Denver 10), XXIV (San Francisco 55, Denver 10), XXVII (Dallas 52, Buffalo 17) and XXIX (San Francisco 46, San Diego 29). Tell us how the games were. We never caught the second half.

 

ANOTHER REASON FOR OPTIMISM

So maybe the Ravens and Giants don't enjoy a rivalry as storied as the Lakers and Celtics. (In fact, they've met just once in the regular season, a 24-23 Baltimore victory in 1997.) At least when teams from New York and Baltimore get together to decide pro football's champ, they make it count.

An argument can be made two of the top five NFL games of all-time included participants from these cities.

In 1958, the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants played in what is still the only NFL championship game to extend into overtime. The Colts won, 23-17, in what is regarded as The Greatest Game Ever Played.

And in 1969, the New York Jets entered Super Bowl III as an 18-point underdog to the Colts. (It was the third year in a row that the NFL favorite was favored by at least 13 points over its AFL opponent.) Well, we know what happened next. Jets quarterback Joe Namath promised a victory, delivered, probably celebrated with a few female fans and spawned a number of New York sports guarantees, including ones by Mark Messier and Jim Fassel that were prophetic and numerous ones by Patrick Ewing that weren't.

 

CAN YOU BEAT A PAIR?

Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins may be turning their careers around, but the quarterback matchup in Super Bowl XXXV pales in comparison to some we've seen in the past. Below is our unofficial list, in chronological order, of the 10 greatest pairings of Super Bowl signal-callers ever. (Post your thoughts below in the scribble board.)

Best All-Time Super Bowl Quarterback Matchups
SB Winner Loser
I Bart Starr, Packers Len Dawson, Chiefs
IX Terry Bradshaw, Steelers Fran Tarkenton, Vikings
X Terry Bradshaw, Steelers Roger Staubach, Cowboys
XI Ken Stabler, Raiders Fran Tarkenton, Vikings
XIII Terry Bradshaw, Steelers Roger Staubach, Cowboys
XIX Joe Montana, 49ers Dan Marino, Dolphins
XXIV Joe Montana, 49ers John Elway, Broncos
XXVII Troy Aikman, Cowboys Jim Kelly, Bills
XXVIII Troy Aikman, Cowboys Jim Kelly, Bills
XXXII John Elway, Broncos Brett Favre, Packers