Fine Line(Man)

February 10, 2016


tempballMy defensive line coach, sophomore year at The University of Illinois, was a man named John Nelson. The Illini were coming off a winning season (a rarity in Champaign to this day!) and much of the team’s success came from a hard-nosed defense, anchored by a future NFL All-Pro named Scott Studwell – possibly a top 3 all-time player name.

During a late-August pre-season practice, Coach Nelson said – and this is a direct quote – “Offensive linemen are a dime a dozen!” As a player I remember thinking, “Huh?” And all these years later, after watching a mundane Super Bowl 50, I can make the case that Mr. Nelson was very wrong. Which might explain our team’s fall from grace (we won a total of 10 games over the next 4 years) and Nelson’s departure after my junior year, whereabouts unknown.

This was a couple of decades before the interactive world of football as we know it today, with the research and scouting combines that extend all the way down to peewee football. The hit Hollywood movie “The Blind Side” made clear what coaches and players in football already knew: offensive line play is more important than any fan, analyst or play-by-play announcer wants to acknowledge. Simply put, football comes down to blocking and tackling. Sorry, it starts and ends there.

Denver beat Carolina because the Panthers couldn’t block the Broncos, and the Broncos tackled the Panthers relentlessly. All the attention and hype goes to Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, the respective quarterbacks. But let’s be honest. Neither one distinguished himself in this game. Newton was handcuffed because no matter what packages his team employed, including two tight ends and all sorts of “protections,” they couldn’t block. Manning looked pedestrian at best, but his linemen did enough to keep Carolina from dominating the way Denver’s defense did.

Nobody knows or cares, but those offensive linemen have names. I won’t embarrass them here. Nos. 74, 73 and 68 for Carolina got manhandled. I felt sorry for them. 74 had one of the worst games any player has ever had in a Super Bowl, and the games’ MVP – Von Miller – was responsible for 74′s historic failure. On the Denver side, nos. 61, 65, 69 and 79 did just enough. They weren’t dominant. Frankly, they were barely passable, like a C-. But they are off the hook because their defense was so good, their QB did the bare minimum to win a boring game, and they outdid the Carolina offensive line, which graded out at an F.

My take on the whole thing? Thank goodness for the entertainment. Lady Gaga nailed the National Anthem. My wife thinks she’s been taking singing lessons. BeyoncĂ© and Bruno Mars are the kind of superstars that transcend time and place, including the world’s largest TV audiences. I enjoyed Coldplay, and Chris Martin trying to wedge himself between the two afore-mentioned music superstars during the finale made me laugh out loud. So what if it wasn’t intentional? I’ll take a laugh wherever and whenever I can get it!

The headline is that Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl, and the NFL has its legend and storyline for years to come. The truth is that Super Bowl 50 was the game where nobody blocked and the music, all 15 minutes of it, outshone the game.