Miami — A colossus or a resounding dud?
An ancient synopsis dredged up — from the mysteries of Super Bowl I to the current enigma of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV.
Through the years, the most common question thrown at me is, “Who’d you like?”
The last many years the response has been the same:
“Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots.”
Well, they’re not here for Super Bowl LIV.
Brady’s off shooting photographs of himself walking out of the tunnel. Perhaps a subtle hint? Perhaps not?
Belechick is someplace or other scowling and growling.
And the Patriots might be yesterday but maybe not yet.
So it is that I like both the Chiefs and the 49ers. A tossup.
This Super Bowl might be historic — lots of the previous were duds — because it is the beginning of a new era in the NFL. The young skittering, inventive quarterbacks and their offensive lightning over the plodding dropback styles of the traditional quarterbacks.
Lots to like
I like both Super Bowl LIV quarterbacks — the dashing, make-it-up-as-it goes Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Jimmy Garoppolo, perhaps a reinvention of Brady, of the 49ers.
I like both the coaches — grizzled Andy Reid from Kansas City and young, staccato-speaking Kyle Shanahan from San Francisco.
And I like two respective tight ends, one of whom could wind up as the instrumental player in this Super Bowl with no honest favorite — Travis Kelce of Kansas City, and George Kittle of San Francisco.
The tight ends, to me, could be the key to victory.
They are often unsung; they often break apart opposing defenses; they are often just in the right spot when the quarterbacks are in peril.
I have a theory.
Brady did not struggle this past season because he became stale at age 42; he struggled because Rob Gronkowski had retired. Gronk had been Brady’s salvation. In the Patriots’ Super Bowl seasons, Gronkowski seemed always to pop up when Brady was in distress.
Gronkowski was the winning edge.
That’s pretty much the way it is with the Chiefs and 49ers.
Mahomes is remarkable, wherever he goes in the field. And somehow Kelce is always available to bail out young Patrick from whatever traps in which the opposing defense has him caught — briefly.
Last month, as the Super Bowl playoffs started, the Chiefs were smashed into the memorable 24-0 deficit against the Texans. It looked all over for Mahomes and the new quarterback method in the NFL. That’s when the Chiefs rallied to their 51-31 victory.
Kelce caught three touchdown passes in the comeback.
And the Chiefs moved forward toward Super Bowl LIV.
“We both love to play the game and at the same time, we both love life,” Kelce told Super Bowl reporters the other night here when he and Kittle crossed paths. “With that comes a lot of responsibility in the tight end room, not just be a one-dimensional player, to be a utility guy in the locker room or do whatever the team needs.”
Next day, Kittle sat at a podium at one of the NFL’s limited player availability press sessions.
He rattled on as he did that December afternoon when I watched a vital victory over the Saints on TV. There was an acrobatic play. Kittle, on fourth-and-2 from the Niners’ own 33, got open. Garoppolo threw a short pass. Kittle caught it, OK. Then he busted through two New Orleans tacklers, then three. He kept going. A defender grabbed his facemask. Kittle broke away again. He pushed and shoved for more yardage.
At last he was mugged and dragged down by three tacklers. After a 39-yard gain. His refusal to go down set up the winning field goal.
And the 49ers moved forward to Super Bowl LIV.
The image of Kittle on this play recalled the power tight end performances of John Mackey, Mike Ditka and Charlie Sanders.
“My mindset: Run through people but have a good time doing it,” Kittle explained to the San Francisco media.
Here, at the Super Bowl, Kittle told how his style was adapted from wrestling.
“I think wrestling has fans, football has fans, there’s a crossover between fans, it’s beautiful,” he said. “I love wrestling fans because of how passionate they are about the wrestlers.
“I think football is similar to that.”
Kittle went on to say that this postseason is about offense and tight ends.
A colossus or a resounding dud?
This is the most confounding Super Bowl ever, it seems to me.
The head coaches who devise the strategy, rule on the sidelines — and the subjects of the focusing, closeup, repetitious shots on Fox TV — are absolute opposites in demeanor.
Reid is 61, paunchy in his red jacket — a coaching lifer who lost a Super Bowl with the Eagles to Brady/Belichick and is here a second time with a second club.
The old coach, with 21 seasons of NFL head coaching expertise, rides with Mahomes now.
“… He’s got that innate ability to lead,” Reid said to journalists at a Super Bowl press session. “So you give him a little guideline on that and he takes it and goes.
“We throw a lot of verbiage at him for these new plays we run every week and he’s able to make the other ones evaporate and put the new ones in without any flaws, so he’s special that way.”
Shanahan is 40 and grew up observing his father, Mike, coach in the league. Mike won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and John Elway. Kyle is in Super Bowl LIV as a head coach in this third season. He is an offensive specialist and was a coordinator three years ago with the Falcons when they somehow lost Super Bowl LI to Brady/Belichick.
This past week there was little of the usual Super Bowl controversy. It was all sort of vanilla, the same shade as Garoppolo.
“We’ve gotten to the point where when he’s calling plays and he’s in a rhythm, I get a sense of that and get a feel for what’s coming,” Garoppolo told Super Bowl journalists this past week. “Sometimes he’ll throw you off to keep you guessing. …
"But the relationship that we have, it’s honest and genuine.”
Okay Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV is still toss-up in my head.
A colossus or a resounding dud?
Super Bowl LIV
San Francisco vs. Kansas City
Kickoff: 6:30 Sunday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
Line: Kansas City by 1 1/2
Jerry Green, a retired Detroit News sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.