That's right, I wrote it. Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Tomlin, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward ... scroll down the rosters of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals and show me one man brave enough to predict the unpredictable, one soul bold enough to step out on a ledge and bare their truth.
Where have you gone, Joe Namath? Give or take a week or two, 40 years have passed since Namath's brash declaration that his New York Jets, enormous 7-1 underdogs to the Baltimore Colts, would author the upset of the century.
"We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it," Namath told an audience at the Miami Touchdown Club, three nights before Super Bowl III. Because the hour was late, and because reporters could file by carrier pigeon and still make happy hour, Namath's prediction didn't land with much thud.
Still, Jets coach Weeb Ewbank later admitted he "could have shot (Namath) for saying it. But Joe always had a way of delivering. He didn't mind pressure. It seemed to make him play better. I figured if he said it, he would just have to back it up."
Namath famously did: the Jets beat the Colts, 16-7; Namath was the MVP. And from the Orange Bowl ashes, the world's greatest, most obscenely-covered sporting event was born. Every athlete who has ever licked his lips at the sight of a microphone owes Namath a hug and a fist bump.
This Super Bowl could use a Namath clone, more than ever. There's very little juice emanating from Tampa (hold the Mons Venus jokes), and the weak economy can't take the entire rap. If the most controversial Super Bowl story revolves around the Phoenix mayor doing mean things to Terrible Towels, then that tells us two things:
* the mayor and outraged Pittsburgh fans are idiots
* and the actual contestants in Sunday's contest really need to step up their game.
Of course, guarantees might and often will backfire. Of course, the player who dares voice an audacious declaration will be treated in most corners as an egomaniac. But aren't sports all about taking risk? And aren't all professional athletes automatically equipped with more ego than the average Joe or Josie?
Instead, we get Cardinals defensive back Antrel Rolle calling Arizona "beyond average." Not better than good, which the Cardinals surely are, and not great, which only a fool would suggest. But as long as Rolle and the rest of the Cardinals have defied reasonable expectation and haven't much to lose, why not make the adventure even more interesting by expressing bodacious proclamations? That's one way to get the folks in Kansas to sit up and take notice, long before Bruce Springsteen does his sound check.
Tony Ranze, AFP / Getty Images
Darryl Norenberg, WireImage
Phil Sandlin, AP
David J. Phillip, AP
Doug Mills, AP
Andy Hayt, Getty Images
Focus on Sport / Getty Images
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Amy Sancetta, AP
Over on the Steelers side, cornerback Ike Taylor was overheard this week saying he's going to tie together Fitzgerald's shoe laces and make the Arizona receiver play the fool. Oh, wait, that's a misquote. What Taylor really said was, "football is all about timing," and he went on to add he intends to disrupt the Cardinals' patterns, and hopefully re-route the offense to other areas of the field. It might have made the front page of every sports section in the country if it were, you know, interesting.
Nothing against Taylor, a fine player whose defense of Fitzgerald will indeed be fascinating come Sunday. But Taylor could have assured a million more eyeballs if had dared say the Steelers would hold Fitzgerald to under – and I'm just throwing out a random number -- 94.5 yards. That's not taunting, or engaging the Las Vegas bookies. It's merely taking part in a January tradition as American as Buffalo wings and half-time beer runs.
(By the way, I have the over on longest field goal (44.5 yards), Willie Parker rush (15.5 yards), food references by John Madden (1.5), length of Jennifer Hudson's national anthem (1 minute, 54 seconds) and Fitzgerald's total receiving yards; the under on the Nielsen TV rating (42.5); red on the color of Bill Bidwill's bow tie and the color of Gatorade dumped on the winning coach; God, the 1/1 favorite, as recipient of the MVP's first thanks; and "Glory Days," the 4/1 favorite, as Springsteen's final song at halftime ... All friendly bets, of course.)
There is, naturally, a downside to any player or coach who openly flirts with possibility and embraces risk. Anthony Smith, the Pittsburgh sophomore safety, sort of guaranteed a victory over the New England Patriots a year ago, saying if the Steelers did what they were trained to do, they would upset the then-undefeated Patriots. The Patriots, aided and abetted by a voracious media, spun it into a motivational ploy, and Smith still hasn't quite recovered from the burn marks.
But on the flip side, Jim Fassel, erstwhile coach of the New York Giants, used torture metaphors ("I am driving the train! This is a horse race ... this is a poker game. I'm shoving my chips to the middle of the table.") to assure a frothing fan base that the flailing team would still reach the 2000 playoffs, and indeed, the Giants made the Super Bowl.
More recently, upon arriving in Arizona last January for title game, Plaxico Burress declared the Giants would beat the Patriots, 23-17, and tabloid editors in New York rejoiced. Sadly for Burress, it wasn't the last time he inspired screaming headlines.
It's not that this week's participants lack confidence, because you know that both teams are peeling the paint from the walls in team meetings with shouts of being disrespected and cries of dominance. It's probably not that they fear their coaches' wraths, because Whisenhunt and Tomlin have no more power over a player's internal pride than Ewbank did four decades ago.
Namath was a teenage pool hustler out of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a born risk-taker who basically conned the favored Colts. He was savvy enough to know they could be beaten, and cocky enough to announce it to the world -- which, in his case, was a room full of football fans, bookies and journalists on hand to see him win an award. Without Namath, the Super Bowl as we know it wouldn't be quite as much fun.
Namath's decree tipped off a new era of bravado and became two of the most famous sentences in sports. Please, for those of us who hold dear the Super Bowl and all its glorious gaudiness, won't someone mouth off just a bit?