Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2008

Commentary: Biggest upset? Always Namath’s Jets

January 27, 2008


If Eli Manning, a sacking defense, underdog mojo and the collective will of the 1972 Dolphins are enough to somehow carry the Giants past the Patriots next week, would it be the biggest upset in Super Bowl history?

Undoubtedly yes, but only to flabbergasted New Englanders.

Assuredly not in the bigger picture - not if we remember that there was, in fact, life before MTV and ESPN and that not everything happening now trumps all that preceded it.

Nothing that happens next week in Glendale, Ariz., will top Joe Namath's Jets stunning the Baltimore Colts to finish the 1968 season, because the circumstances can never be duplicated.

Namath's "guarantee" before that third Super Bowl is what people remember most easily, but the greater historical significance was the little, disrespected, upstart AFL defeating the entrenched and mighty NFL.

In a sports, or at least professional football, context, that was seismic. It was man landing on the moon. It was America electing its first woman or black president. It was, at the time, as stunning as if a minor-league baseball team had somehow won the World Series. It was the watershed for football taking over as America's most popular sport.

The point spread for that game - the Colts were favored by 18 and, in some circles, 20 - verifies it numerically as well as the biggest upset, and that is significant, because betting lines mirror public perceptions. (The Patriots are a 12-point pick over the Giants.)

But historic importance more than betting trends frame how we judge Super Bowl upsets.

That is why the Giants winning next week would rank No. 2, trailing only Namath's Jets, among all-time Super Bowl stunners. It would be the Patriots losing, more than the Giants winning. New England failing to finish a 19-0 Perfect Season would be the national story (not to mention the cause for much merriment in South Florida, which cheers for the '72 Dolphins' 17-0 to remain as the league's only perfect season).

Ten of the 41 previous Super Bowl results have been upsets based on the point spreads, but five of those were minor upsets, with lines of four points or fewer.

The biggest upsets, numerically, after the Jets as 18-point 'dogs, have been:

¢ The Patriots in the February 2002 game, a 14-point underdog beating St. Louis. The Rams were supposedly the unstoppable juggernaut then, remember, with MVP Kurt Warner and offensive player of the year Marshall Faulk. Tom Brady was little-known and unproven - until after that game.

¢ The Chiefs, a 12-point underdog that hadn't even won its division, beating Minnesota in 1970, in another AFL triumph, one year after Namath's guarantee.

¢ The Broncos, 0-4 in Super Bowls and an 11-point 'dog in 1998, stunning defending champion Green Bay.

By the way, it's a misconception that the '72 Dolphins were underdogs in the Super Bowl that minted 17-0. Miami began as a one-point favorite.

Weird, isn't it, how Miami played in neither game but has a chance now to have so much to do with the two biggest Super Bowl upsets ever.

Namath's Jets made history - guaranteed - at the Orange Bowl, and against a Colts team coached by Don Shula.

A victory by the Giants next week? That might rank, to plenty of Miami fans, as this franchise's biggest victory in more than 30 years.


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