John Niyo and Justin Rogers preview Super Bowl LIII and they take a look at the Lions heading into free agency and the draft. The Detroit News
Atlanta — Fran Tarkenton, a Southern preacher’s son, took the snap from center. As he turned to hand off the football, he noticed Mean Joe Greene barreling in on him. Tarkenton dropped the ball.
It rolled backward off L.C. Greenwood. Tarkenton pounced on the bouncing football and skidded with it into the end zone.
Here we have a real-time skit from Super Bowl IX on a grisly, chilly day in New Orleans in January 1975. It featured two eventual members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Greene and Tarkenton — plus Greenwood, who himself should have been enshrined in Canton.
Steelers 2, Vikings 0.
That was the score at halftime as America watched on television, expecting to be entertained. Three field-goal attempts had failed and an interception had prevented a touchdown.
Otherwise the football game was as gray as the weather.
TV could not present the halftime show. It featured a streaking woman. Two New Orleans cops pursued the unclad lady. She moved better than any of the Steelers or Vikings. One of the officers removed his overcoat to cover up the streaker. He tumbled to the turf in a Keystone Cops pratfall.
I mused in the press box at Tulane Stadium that Commissioner Pete Rozelle had hired the young woman to distract the crowd from what was happening in the game. NFL propagandists denied my assumption.
But what was not deniable was that this was an only slightly more laughable abstract commentary on the early Super Bowls. Expected to be colossal football games, most were duds.
Pittsburgh — loaded with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann — eventually won Super Bowl IX by the yawn-inducing score of 16-6.
“We need more scoring,” stated Rozelle, confirming what we all knew about the dreariness of the early Super Bowls.
Joe Schmidt, Alex Karras and other old-time Lions had schooled me that defense was the way to win in the NFL.
And it was.
But now with Lady Gaga and other musical noisemakers of that ilk — clad except for one famed instance — the NFL has kept tune with popular culture.
Television wants shootouts.
And a shootout must be expected for this Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII match, which features the highly productive offenses of the Rams (15-3) and the Patriots (13-5).
Jared Goff, the Rams’ young quarterback vs. the Patriots’ craggy Tom Brady.
A gunslinger, Goff, and Brady, the clock squeezer. Goff passed for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns this past regular season.
It would be inaccurate to refer to Brady as a gunslinger. But he did pass for 4,355 yards and 29 TDs in what could be considered a down season.
The preferred description for Brady would be pro football’s elder statesman, climaxing his 19th season after his college years at Michigan. He operates a balanced offense, passing to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and James White in the comeback clutch and handing off to runners Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead, plus White.
It also must be mentioned that fullback James Develin is a cog in the Patriots’ perennial Super Bowl offense. Develin came to the NFL out of Brown University, not quite a heavy producer of pro football athletes. But it was Develin’s blocking on three of the four running touchdowns the AFC championship game that lifted the Patriots to this Super Bowl.
“He’s very unselfish, and most of the time, he’s paving the way,” coach Bill Belichick said of Develin to the Boston press during the season.
(And to watch Michigan and Brown operating in the same backfield provides something of a lift for this old goat, Brown ’50.) I had to say that.
In talking offense about the Rams’ rapid unit with Goff slinging, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods catching, runner Todd Gurley exploding and C.J. Anderson pounding, the Rams should entertain Sunday.
Coach Sean McVay tries to emulate Bill Walsh, who won Super Bowls with the 49ers and his West Coast Offense.
“It’s a quick game, especially in the pass game,” McVay told the Super Bowl media here, “and that implements the run game ... to take advantage of the width and depth of the field.”
The Rams were No. 2 among the NFL 32 clubs in offense during the 2018 season. They averaged 32.9 points per game. Their passing game with Goff at the controls better than doubled the rushing game — 281.7 yards average to 139.4 — for numbers geeks.
Belichick sounds intimidated by the Rams’ offensive might.
“Great team, great players, great coaching,” Belichick said of the Rams this week.
No need to be intimidated. And Belichick is never intimidated.
Brady and his Patriots’ offense ranked fifth in the league during the season.
So the Rams were second.
No. 1 in NFL offense? The Kansas City Chiefs!
To reach Atlanta, the Patriots had to enact another football skit, in overtime: Brady to Burkhead behind Develin to Super Bowl LIII.
TV went gaga over it!
Jerry Green, a retired sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.
Super Bowl LIII
Patriots vs. Rams
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Line: Patriots by 2.5