Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into the Super Bowl

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Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into the Super Bowl
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1. Good versus Gab Super Bowl 

The most overrated week in all of sports—Super Bowl week—is almost here. The cliches, the dumb-ass questions, the reporters proposing marriage to Tom Brady. Nothing is more inane, useless and silly. And this year the Super Bowl is in New York, so adding to the week will be a bunch of insufferable New York writers who believe they are bigger than the game. 

So, there's that. 

But this year, I'm telling you, will be different. This year, Super Bowl week will be the best since Joe Namath's guarantee. I'm serious. This Super Bowl week will actually be genuinely entertaining because the chattiest, most fun team ever is in it.

To some, the Seahawks are insufferable. To smart people, they are a joy. The last Super Bowl team that was actually fun and interesting during the week was Buffalo in the 1990s. No team partied like the Bills. I'd see half the team out on the town every night. I'd be leaving some place, and the Bills would still be in the joint, closing it down, young women on each arm. They were lively quotes all week, loose and fun. It's too bad they got their doors blown off in most of the big games.

The Seahawks will be better. They will be the best ever because they are the loosest team I've ever seen. That won't change.

I fully expect a guarantee from a Seattle player. And more than one juicy quote. More than anything, there will be quotes of substance. The Seahawks will say intelligent, non-cliched things that matter, because not only is the team loose, it's highly intelligent. One of the smarter teams in all of sports.

They will talk and yap and talk some more, and then, like they always do, they will back it up.

The Seahawks are fearless, and this fearlessness will turn what is normally a boring week into an exciting one.

Those of you who blast the Seahawks as arrogant or thugs (the latter description is so hilariously wrong) don't know this team. They are—here's the word—fun.

They are the opposite of the Patriots. Or even the Denver Broncos, who are all business. Wouldn't be shocked if Richard Sherman showed up to media day wearing a Michael Crabtree jersey.

Good versus Gab. I love it.

You will love Richard Sherman. You will hate Richard Sherman. He will make you smile. He will make you want to punch him in the face. In fact, that's the way the entire team is.

Sherman is the 21st-century Namath, and the Seahawks are the loose Jets.

And this is a good thing. For once, the week before the Super Bowl will be fun. Terrifically fun.

 

2. "Warrior mode"

The one thing to keep in mind about Sherman's postgame rant: It happened almost immediately after the game. Sherman is an impetuous trash talker, no question, but there's a reason why the NFL mandates a cooling-off period after games and why those postgame interviews are sometimes perilous.

Sherman was in what one former New York Giants player once called "warrior mode." Most players, when the game is on, are in an uber-aggressive mindset. You have to be, or you can get seriously hurt. Then, at certain points when the game is over, they can shut off warrior mode. (A small percentage of players can never shut it off, which is an entirely different subject.)

My experience is that players shut off warrior mode after about 15 minutes or so. Sherman was clearly still in it.

If you want a glimpse into what that mentality is really like, that was it. In many ways, what players in violent sports are asked to be is primordial. They must shed the constraints of civility for the barbarism of fighting in a cage or playing football. Those constraints aren't always like suits; not so easily shed. Sometimes it takes time.

Think about what Sherman was asked to do. Literally just a few minutes after bashing other players' faces in and, at the very end, winning the game, he was standing before a microphone. So of course he was insane in the membrane.

Sherman's rant wasn't just about bad blood; it was about something bigger: warrior mode. It's why days after his outburst, Sherman apologized.

It wasn't because he was criticized. It was because he had time to calm down and take a hard look at his actions.

This exchange with former running back Priest Holmes, told by journalist Joe Posnanski, is instructive:

“Do you have any idea what kind of mental state I have to get myself into to play a game?” he would ask.

“No,” I would say.

“It’s pretty extreme,” he said. “It’s like I have to become another person. It’s like I have to become a warrior. We all do.”

Then he would smile and shake his head and say, “And then, five minutes after the game ends, y’all are asking us questions about how we feel and what did we think of this play, and what’s it like to lose, and we’re supposed to talk like none of that just happened.”

  

3. Wes Welker benefit of the doubt

Bill Belichick ripped Wes Welker as dirty, and the overall reaction is that Welker is receiving the benefit of the doubt. This is interesting on many different levels.

When I asked people around the league if they thought the play was dirty, all felt that it wasn't. I felt that it was. The argument I got in return was: Why would the Broncos risk using a guy with a concussion history as a battering ram?

My counter: Teams have used guys with concussion histories as battering rams for decades, and it still happens. Also, if you're so concerned about Welker's head, why send him on a pick play in the first place? Since pick plays are almost certain to end up in some sort of collision?

One of the things at work here is the man who made the allegations. Belichick is universally respected, even adored, for his football acumen. Yet there are equal numbers of people who wholeheartedly despise him. I had assistant coaches say they have yet to forgive him for Spygate or for how the Patriots ran up the score on teams some years ago. There is a huge outbreak of anti-Belichick sentiment pulsing through the league (including the league office). Some of it is jealousy, and some it is legitimate residual anger.

So some people in football—as well as media and fans—will automatically back Welker because they hate Belichick. Make no mistake; that is part of this equation.

 

4. Pick plays

The league will take a look at these in the offseason, I'm told. My guess: They won't change anything. These plays are extremely explosive, cause a huge amount of offense, coaches love them and they generate points. I'm not so sure the league wants to jeopardize that, even if it ostensibly makes the game safer.

 

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

5. Super Bowl experience

This, from NFL Network research, is extremely intriguing: The Seahawks are the first Super Bowl team since the 1990 Bills without a single player with previous Super Bowl experience.

I don't know if this will make a difference, but I do think it matters that the Broncos have a coach who has coached in the Super Bowl (John Fox, with Carolina in 2003) and a QB who has participated in two of them.

They know the pressure involved. They know what the week is like. They know about those intense first few minutes of the game, the breathlessness of it. They just know. 

Advantage? I don't know, but it certainly can't hurt.

 

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

6. The Book of Percy

Seattle wide receiver Percy Harvin—immensely talented, constantly injured—is going to play in the Super Bowl. That's good for the Seahawks. That's great for the Seahawks. Unless he gets hurt again.

This is an NFC West scout's take on Harvin. It likely closely mirrors what the Broncos think:

"When he's healthy, he's one of the best weapons in football … can change the game on a dime. Our DBs were terrified of him because he could embarrass them. … He's a lot tougher than people know. Will fight through pain … have to drag him off the field. Here's the thing though: All you gotta do is hit him hard and his body will break. He's porcelain."

 

7. Super Bowl traffic

The weather won't be the only thing that will be an issue for the New Jersey Super Bowl. I live just over 10 miles from MetLife Stadium and have off and on for some 15 years. I've been in and out of that stadium for even longer as a beat writer and NFL writer.

That stretch of highway is one of the more congested parts of the state. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, and the highway outside of the stadium is chaotic on a sunny and warm day; when the weather is bad, it can be a total disaster. When a recent storm hit here, the area looked like something from a Mad Max film. The only thing missing was Tina Turner. It can get absolutely crazy congested, even under the best of circumstances. Traffic leading up to the game, before it and after it, will be hideous.

What the NFL is banking on isn't just the odds that the weather won't be insane (a safe bet) but also that residents won't be on the road around that time (another safe bet). Yet a lot of this is one giant experiment. There have been Super Bowls in high-density areas before, of course, but there have been few like this one.

 

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

8. The magnificent Broncos

About three hours after the Broncos beat the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl, one of the main streets near the stadium was still packed with cars and people. It was total madness. Cars were at a standstill in one direction, backed up for a good half mile. In the other direction, traffic moved, but barely. On both sides of the street, people were blaring their horns, screaming out of their windows. Some were standing on top of cars as they slowly moved.

There was a sense of great excitement. Yet Broncos fans should be used to getting to Super Bowls because the franchise has been to so many.

Denver houses one of the most underrated franchises in all of sports. Lost in all of the Peyton Manning celebration is this fact: The Broncos are now tied with the Patriots for the second-most Super Bowl appearances in history with seven. They trail only the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. Those two franchises have eight.

The common thread for Denver's Super Bowl appearances is John Elway. More on that in the days to come.

Not many people think of the Broncos as a Super Bowl dynasty. But they are.

 

9. Fox in the history books

One last thing on the Broncos. Coach John Fox has joined some pretty remarkable company. He became only the sixth coach in history to reach Super Bowls with two different teams. Fox joins Don Shula (Colts and Dolphins), Dan Reeves (Broncos and Falcons), Bill Parcells (Giants and Patriots), Dick Vermeil (Eagles and Rams) and Mike Holmgren (Packers and Seahawks).

I covered Fox when he was defensive coordinator of the Giants. One of the best combinations of intellect and being grounded I've ever been around. He's one of the best at being able to command the respect of players while also getting them to follow his instructions.

It's no shock, in any way, that Fox has reached another Super Bowl.

 

10. The end of the extra point

I think it's almost here. It may even be gone in as soon as a few years. That's not certain, but people in the sport have told me that's a distinct possibility.

I'm not a purist. I'm not one of these baseball nuts who believes if you re-engineer any part of the game, you are traitorous jackass who should lose their BBWAA card. I also hate the phrase "slippery slope," but eliminating the extra point would be a slippery slope (damn, I hate that phrase).

My issue with the possible elimination of the extra point is that it would create even more pressure on defenses, which are already overloaded by rules favoring offenses. It would only be a matter of time before offenses adapted and the success rates of two-point conversions were extremely high. The game would become even more about offense than it is now.

We've seen how defense can still be fun. Remember defense? The Seahawks play it, 1980s style. It's cool, right? Kinda neat?

There's also the fact that elimination of the extra point puts players at greater physical risk. Players don't go all out on extra points because the kick happens so fast. Two-point conversions are a normal play. So there are going to be more bone-crunching plays, more concussions, more everything.

The extra point still feels like football to me. Maybe it's useless, maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, amid all the changes in the sport, we can keep something that remains remotely familiar. Maybe.

 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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