We’re not allowed to say it, we’re not allowed to write it – we’re probably not even allowed to think it. The National Football League has projected its power into every living room and man cave on Sunday’s for as long as I can remember. They own a day of the week, people.
It should come as no surprise that this 501(c)(3) juggernaut of a non-profit and it’s aggressive attitude towards their profit margin would find its way into how we’re even allowed to cover the game. For those who still don’t know what I’m talking about, the NFL has copyrighted the official name of the last game played in an NFL season, meaning fine media personalities such as myself must ask for permission to publish a word a sacred as … that word.
You may find yourself saying something like – “hey Kudisch, what are you yammering about now?” or “quit your fussing, K-dog, enjoy the last smell of pigskin for 7 months!”
My quarrel is not with you, outspoken dissenter, nor is it even with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. My point is simple: we should not try to conquer this beautiful game because we risk losing the very essence of what makes it beautiful. Cities and fans unite every week to support their team and leave behind the daily grind, if only for a few hours, because football takes them there. Smoked meats and simmering chilis spooned from styrofoam bowls in sub freezing weather because it takes them there. 80,000 who don’t know each other become family when Tom Brady throws a 37 yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski on 4th down in the final minute of the game because they need someone to embrace, and because it takes them there.
Football belongs to all of us, and so should the words we use to describe it.
The AFC Champion Denver Broncos squeaked out a victory by the thinnest hair on their manes to secure a spot in the big game behind a dominating 2-and-a-half sack performance by outside linebacker and Texas A&M product Von Miller. The Denver defense made golden boy Tom Brady look mortal, and the Patriots offense never really got going until midway through the 4th quarter. Expect much of the same from that Denver front seven on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers turned over Carson Palmer and the 13-3 Arizona Cardinals six times en route to a 49-15 drubbing which ended fittingly in a Luke Keuchly interception returned for a touchdown (more on him later).
STORY LINES TO WATCH FOR
Will this indeed be Sheriff Peyton Manning’s last rodeo? How will the anemic Broncos offense put up points, or even yards, against that #KeepPounding Panthers D? Will Demaryius Thomas shake his recent funk and remind us why he’s one of the best wide receivers in the league?
It’s hard to believe this will be Cam Newton’s third championship game in his football career, the others being wins with Blinn Junior College and Auburn University. This will also be the first NFL championship game featuring two Heisman-winning starting quarterbacks, so we know we’re in for a treat.
KEYS TO THE GAME
For the Broncos, look for Kubiac to try to establish Manning with short passes early, get him feeling it. If you see him twisting to Rocky Mountain High before the first timeout, it’s probably a good sign.
For the Panthers, playing with a chip on their shoulder all season landed them as a five-point favorite in the big game. Carolina will rely on their defense to set the tone for the game. Everyone and their grandmother is picking the Panthers, and Cam Newton as the game’s MVP, but I really think the impact Luke Keuchly is going to be the difference. His range as a linebacker is unheard of, and no one competes harder on every down.
As head coaching legend Herm Edwards famously said, “you play to win the game.” I expect both teams to try to win on the defensive side of the ball and to not lose it on the offensive side. That’s why I think the team that plays special teams better tomorrow night comes on top.
Panthers 27 Broncos 23
Follow me on Twitter @EJKudisch or @GULawWeekly