Here’s your A-to-Z primer for Super Bowl week
College bowls? Done. Senior Bowl? Done. Pro Bowl? Done, and thank goodness for that.
That leaves one bowl game to be played this football season: the big enchilada, the Super Bowl, next Sunday night. Right’cheer in Eastern Texas, where they sell 32-gun storage lockers because for some folk, mister, a 31-gun locker ain’t big enough.
The NFL championship game pits the AFC champion New England Patriots (16-2) against the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons (13-5), in what’s shaping up as a shootout-for-the-ages between the NFL’s two most accomplished passers this season, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.
The hype kicks off Monday evening at the home of baseball’s Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park, with the interview rodeo once known as media day. Hearts be still, they’re televising the uninteresting proceedings again this year. Lucky for you.
Here’s an A-to-Z primer on the week ahead’s principal characters and storylines, before the game sneaks up on ya faster'n'a Texas flood:
Connector city has played host to more Super Bowls (two; after the 1993 and 1999 seasons) than its home NFL club has reached (one; after 1998). The Falcons lost that one, 34-19 to the Denver Broncos in quarterback John Elway’s swan song.
Cheating charges aside, the Patriots’ chief curmudgeon can coach football like few, if any, in the history of man’s-inhumanity-to-cowhide. Belichick would be as likely as any to pull off in real life the line Bum Phillips once Texas-drawled only in theoretical homage to Bama’s Bear Bryant: he not only takes his’n and beats yer’n, but could take yer’n and beat his’n.
Players get paid salaries only during the regular season. The paltry-by-comparison winner’s share for each player on this year’s Super Bowl champion is $107,000. Loser’s share: $53,000.
THOMAS DIMITROFF JR.
The Ohio-born, Ontario-raised general manager of the Falcons maxed out his own football-playing abilities at Burlington’s M.M. Robinson High School (1984-85) then at the University of Guelph (1986-89). As the namesake son of a football coach and scout long respected on both sides of the border before his death in 1996, Thomas Jr. got his big break in 1995. His first step up the NFL’s talent-evaluating ladder came when Belichick hired him as one of his famous “slappies” on the Cleveland Browns -- in Dimitroff’s case, as a go-fer and grounds-crew helper. Helluva start.
Brady’s go-to receiver, and the only pass-catcher in this game who already has snared a Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass, two years ago against Dan Quinn’s Seattle Seahawks defence.
After Ryan, this fast, powerful, under-regarded running back arguably is the key to the Falcons’ attack. And not just in lugging the ball. When he and backup Tevin Coleman have produced 200 scrimmage yards of offence this season, Atlanta is 6-0.
Schedule alert! Instead of on the usual Friday morning, the NFL commish this year will evade probing questions with slick, rehearsed answers on Wednesday morning. And on Thursday he’ll presumably do it again, at a different presser to reiterate the league is allocating another hundred-mil toward brain-injury prevention and research.
HALL OF FAME
On Saturday, veteran members of the Pro Football Writers of America will huddle for hours, listen to each other’s passionate arguments and finally decide on this year’s inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Likeliest of the finalists to get measured for a yellow blazer: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, S Brian Dawkins, QB Kurt Warner, DE Jason Taylor.
That’s the nickname of Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. Despite a couple of statistically impressive seasons, the No. 3 overall selection in 2008 had been viewed overall as something of a disappointment prior to this season. One more win would dispel such assessments forever.
Probably the most physically gifted player at his position in this game, the Falcons wide receiver appears fully healed from the toe injury that slowed him earlier this month. Watch out.
The Falcons’ standout first-year safety forced five fumbles, and finished second on Atlanta to fellow rookie Deion Jones in tackles (with 105, 72 solo). Has a tough job against the Pats, weighing run-stop responsibility with pass coverage against New England’s field-spreading attack.
Halftime performer. If you’re expecting her to come out in a simple evening gown and traditional haircut, you’re likely to be disappointed.
The league MVP, that is, and it’s likely to be Ryan, although Brady is in the running too. This and other regular-season awards will be handed out late Saturday afternoon, and aired on TV Saturday night.
As in Roman numerals. They’re back as the official Super Bowl identifier. Last year’s (Super Bowl 50) was a one-off. This year’s is Super Bowl LI -- ‘L’ for 50, ‘I’ for 1.
Arthur Blank, the retired co-founder of Home Depot, owns the Falcons and is known to bust some awkward, old-white-guy moves in post-game celebrations. Robert Kraft, one of the most influential men in the league, owns the Patriots.
Next to the Houston traffic-complaints head operator, the Patriots defensive coordinator has the toughest job of anybody here this week.
He’s the Falcons head coach, finishing up Year No. 2. Had been the defensive coordinator for Seattle from 2013-14, meaning his last game with the Seahawks was the Super Bowl loss two years ago to Brady and the Patriots. After an 8-8 start in his first season as NFL head coach, Quinn impressively coached up his mix of impact vets and youngsters to an 11-5 mark.
The Falcons’ rallying cry. Some Americans outraged on the weekend at Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration thought they’d created a new Twitter hashtag with #RiseUp, but instead inadvertently accompanied their political pontificatings with a Falcons logo.
Was there a player relocation in 2016 that impacted two teams more than when Sanu -- the big, blazing-fast wide receiver -- waved bye to Cincinnati and signed as a free agent in Atlanta? Answer: no. Sanu’s ability to stretch any defence and make breathtaking plays in his own right served to give Ryan a second killer option downfield, and made defensive coordinators think twice about blanketing Jones with two DBs.
Patriots quarterback. You may have heard of him. Trying to become the only NFLer besides Hall of Fame edge rusher Charles Haley to win five Super Bowls. It’ll be his seventh Super Bowl start, an NFL record.
That would be the Falcons, as the Patriots opened as a three-point favourite and remain as much, a bit of a surprise.
VINCE LOMBARDI TROPHY
What both teams are playing for -- the NFL championship trophy, named in honour of the famed Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins head coach shortly after his death in 1970. Lombardi’s Packers won the first two Super Bowls and three other NFL championships before that.
WE ARE ALL PATRIOTS
New England’s rallying cry. Not exactly endorsed around the rest of the league. Especially in Buffalo, Miami and New York.
XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX
Previous Super Bowls won by Kraft, Belichick and Brady.
Plenty of these have been set between the two offences this season, including: Brady is the only NFLer to pass for 300 yards 11 times in the playoffs; Ryan extended his NFL record for most consecutive games with 200 yards to 55, including 48 on the road.
That is, the game officials. Referee Carl Cheffers leads a seven-man crew with 93 years of combined NFL officiating experience, and 64 combined playoff assignments. That opens the door to the possibility these guys know what a catch is.