Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl Game Changers: Part 2

Welcome back to the second half of our series on Super Bowl “Game Changers”!  Today we look at plays by special teams and the offense, with a little bit of trickery sprinkled in.  Again, I list the links to the relevant Naptime Huddle post(s) for each Game Changer.

Game Changer #5:  Special Teams

Relevant posts:
“Special Teams and Kickoffs”:
“The Field, Scoring, Timing and Starting the Game”:
“Kickoff Nitty Gritty: Onside Kicks and Fair Catch Kicks”:

As with field goals and point-after attempts, you can never take special teams plays for granted.  Other than the starts of the game and the second half, kickoffs take place after a team scores, so any big plays during kickoffs will be significant.  In Super Bowl history, two plays in particular stand out:

Returns for 6:  The first quarter of Super Bowl XXXI set a scoring record, with the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots combining for 24 points.  After trailing by 13 points at halftime, the Patriots came within six points of the Packers with a touchdown toward the end of the third quarter.  However, the Packers’ Desmond Howard ran the ensuing kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown, a Super Bowl record that still stands.  Neither team scored again, and the Patriots never even made it back into Packers territory.  Howard won Super Bowl MVP honors, the first special teams player to do so.

Onside Kicks:  As we’ve discussed in a previous post, onside kicks are usually attempted by a team who is kicking off when they are behind in the score; and usually when time is running out and they likely won’t have another opportunity to possess the ball.  You shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, to see one in the Super Bowl if circumstances warrant.  There are times, however, when an onside kick is completely unexpected.  That’s why it can be a Game Changer.  Take, for example, Super Bowl XLIV.  Going into halftime, the New Orleans Saints, playing in their first ever Super Bowl, found themselves trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-6.  Four points was a perfectly manageable, and respectable, deficit against the high-powered offense of Peyton Manning and the Colts.  Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when the Saints executed an onside kick to start the second half.  The ball traveled fifteen yards before it hit the Colts’ Hank Baskett, who was unable to hold onto the ball.  The Saints recovered the loose ball, taking possession.  They scored a touchdown on that drive and the teams traded scores making it a one-point score at the end of the third quarter.  Though it was a close game, many believe the surprise onside kick swung momentum in the Saints’ favor and the Colts never scored in the fourth quarter, resulting in New Orleans winning its first Super Bowl.

Game Changer #6:  Quarterback Goal-Line Heroics

Relevant Posts: 
The “Making Progress” posts, particularly Part 2:
“Safety First!”:

As you may have noticed, quarterbacks are usually adverse to putting themselves in a position where they might get hurt.  NFL rules also protect quarterbacks from harm in certain circumstances.  However, all players, QBs included, are ready to lay it all out on the line when they reach the Super Bowl.  This attitude can set the scene for some physical heroics by quarterbacks, especially at the goal line.

 Elway’s “Helicopter”:  Near the end of the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXII, John Elway and his Denver Broncos found themselves with a third and 6 on the 12-yard line of the favored Green Bay Packers.  With a tie score, Elway knew that his team needed to make a first down and keep their drive alive.  When he took the snap, the 37-year-old Elway kept the ball and ran hard to his right.  At the end of his run he dove for the needed yards and was hit so hard that his body spun around in mid-air before he landed:

The Broncos finished the drive with a touchdown by Terrell Davis and went on to win the game by a score of 31-24.  Though it wasn’t a scoring play, the image of John Elway’s “helicopter” has become symbolic of his rugged, do-anything-to-win attitude.

Big Ben Tolls for TD:  Here we go again—another play from Super Bowl XL.  Regular Huddle readers know that once any part of the ball crosses any part of the goal line, it pierces the imaginary “plane” of the goal line and the result is a touchdown.  In the third quarter of Super Bowl XL, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger tested the metaphysical properties of the invisible plane by breaking it by the narrowest of margins; yet another controversial call in a memorable game:

Game Changer #7:  Trick Plays

Relevant Posts:  the “Tricks ARE Treats” series, particularly the “Reverse, Double Reverse and Reverse Option” post:; and the “Hook and Lateral” post:

Who doesn’t love trick plays?  Just the fact that they might make an appearance adds a few extra amps to the electricity of a game, particularly in close games.  They can also drastically change the course of a game, since they are often pulled out by a team in a desperate situation. 

You may remember my “Tricks ARE Treats” series on trick plays back in October.  If so, you’ll recall the famous “hook and lateral” play executed by the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the San Diego Chargers.  Down 24-10 just before halftime, Miami quarterback Don Strock threw a pass to receiver Duriel Harris, who promptly tossed the ball back to running back Tony Nathan, who scored.  This bit of trickery gave Miami some much-needed momentum and they rode that wave all the way to a 41-38 win in overtime.  Click on the link for that post for a video of this famous play.

Ok, this is the last play from Super Bowl XL.  I promise.  (Can I help it if it was a crazy game?)  Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle-El, who had a successful college career playing quarterback, lined up as a receiver in the third quarter when the Steelers were ahead 14-10.  In what first appeared to be a reverse, Randle-El stopped after receiving the handoff from running back Willie Parker and threw a long pass to receiver Hines Ward, who ran it in for a touchdown.  This was the first time a wide receiver threw a TD pass in a Super Bowl.

Game Changer #8:  Identity Crises

Relevant post:  “Down…Set…What?!?”:

Super Bowl XX:  Though defensive linemen can seem mean, vicious and prone to violence, they all hold on to the same fantasy:  to score a touchdown.  While safeties, cornerbacks and even linebackers get the occasional opportunity to score off of a turnover, fumble or even special teams play, this feat is much more elusive for defensive linemen.  That is why, when given the opportunity, any of these big men would jump at the opportunity to take one to the house.  Believe it or not, this has happened—and not how you might think…

Leading the New England Patriots by a score of 37-3, the Chicago Bears felt like they could get a bit creative with their offense (or, wanted to dig the knife in deeper).  So, when they reached the 1-yard line, they brought in rookie defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry on offense.  As he had done twice in the regular season, Perry took the handoff from QB Jim McMahon and ran it in for a touchdown.

Super Bowl XXXVIII:  In this contest, it was a linebacker’s turn to be a hero.  Mike Vrabel was in his seventh year in the league, and his third with the New England Patriots when they made it to the Super Bowl to face the Carolina Panthers.  In addition to being highly skilled in his chosen position of linebacker, he was frequently used on offense in short-yardage situations (e.g., third-and-three, goal line plays); he would check in as a tight end, making him an eligible receiver.  In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Vrabel’s number was called once again.  Quarterback Tom Brady threw him a two-yard touchdown pass, and after a two-point conversion, the Patriots led the Panthers 29-22. 

So hopefully you're well prepared to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.  While you might not see all of our Game Changers, there's a good chance you'll see at least one.  And with the Pats and the Giants you can be sure of one thing:  this Super Bowl will be Super!


1 comment:

Have a question you want answered, a correction or a comment?