A re-cap from Super Bowl Sunday.
Due to technical difficulties, this blog post had been delayed in the email send. Apologies, everyone!
Two sporting events.
One, unquestionably, the biggest of this or any year.
The other, merely an early season tournament for a sport that gathers momentum as the coming months go on.
On Sunday, February 3, 2019, Super Bowl 53 was played in Atlanta.
That Sunday was also the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament.
I know, it’s a total joke to compare anything to the Super Bowl. Wouldn’t think of it.
And I’m not trying to do it.
What I am trying to say is that there was more drama in the desert Sunday afternoon than there was in the dome in Atlanta Sunday night.
A curious way, for sure, to get around to a discussion of the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl
which shockingly was the lowest scoring game in its history.
I never judge contests based solely on the excitement and thrill factor.
It’s about the achievement of a team doing what they had to do to win the championship showdown.
So before we heap praise on arguably the greatest dynasty in sports history, let’s put Super Bowl 53 in perspective.
In a season of countless spellbinding battles featuring stratospheric scoring, with thrilling last-second and overtime finishes, the Patriots-Rams collision was a dud.
Perhaps expectations were high, especially considering the last two Super Bowls, both featuring New England. The incredible come-from-behind overtime triumph over the Falcons two years ago, and the Eagles late victory over the Pats last season had us anticipating more of the same.
It never happened.
If the Patriots hadn’t made a major adjustment with 10 minutes to play utilizing bigger personnel on offense, both teams might still be playing into another day of sudden death overtime still tied 3-3.
I don’t want to hear from those who claim I don’t appreciate a defensive struggle.
Fact is I do , and always have.
My definition of a taut, low-scoring contest is one where virtually every play is magnified, where field position becomes a key barometer, where one missed tackle, or one turnover, or one great throw and catch proves to be the ultimate difference.
We didn’t have that kind of game.
Instead, we saw a Rams team play into the hands of the experienced Patriots, abandoning the very reason they were there, employing an unpredictable, let-it-all-hang-out offensive style.
The Rams beat teams this season by playing fast and loose, dazzling opponents with fancy looks and schemes, all predicated on speed.
Much of it to camouflage the key to their attack. A strong running game.
They showed none of it. You don’t have to tell their 33-year old wonder-coach Sean McVay. He quickly admitted it right after the loss. His play-calling was sub-par.
So was his quarterback, Jared Goff, who cooled off later in the season, after a hot start.
Goff, could have bailed out his coach a few times by getting rid of the ball quicker when flustered, which happened often.
It was too bad, since the old man , 71-year old defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his group did a masterful job against Tom Brady and the New England offense.
If you would have told someone the Rams would hold the Patriots to 13 points and only one touchdown you would have said “game,set,match, Rams”
The Los Angeles Rams will be back.
But so will the New England Patriots. They’re never out of the picture.
Even in a season in which they did not have the home field edge in the playoffs and had the most doubters ever.
The Pats used that role to their advantage.
There is a tremendous phenomenon to the Patriot story.
Six Super Bowl titles in 18 years, so many appearances in Conference championship games, and playoffs, all under the umbrella of the triumvirate of Owner Robert Kraft, Head Coach Bill Belichick and, of course, quarterback Tom Brady.
Owner Robert Kraft, Head Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady
This dynasty is reminiscent of the time the great Boston Celtics ruled the NBA world capturing 11 championships in 13 years. They, too, had a trio at the top, with owner Walter Brown, and icons Red Auerbach and Bill Russell.
Red Auerbach and Bill Russell
The Patriots have smart, resourceful players all over the field. They adjust, have multiple skills and perform at the highest level at the most crucial time.
That’s what they did to beat the Rams. They are not concerned with low-scoring games or unexciting play. They do what they need to do to win. End of story.
The Phoenix Open golf tournament, which wound up Sunday, is unlike any other PGA weekend. Most tournaments have galleries observing the players in relative silence.
Not Phoenix. There, double and triple-decked stadium seating is the rule of the day.
Fans, mostly on the youthful side, are enthusiastic, vocal, even raucous at times.
And the players love it.
No other tournament can touch the Phoenix Open for the number of fans who show up.
The Phoenix Thunderbirds, the 55-man civic organization that runs the event, stopped revealing attendance figures this year. The only number they care about is charity.
But last year, an overall crowd of 719,179 took in the four-day event, including a single-day throng of 216,818.
I am not hesitant to proudly point out that the father of my wonderful wife Jamie, is a major reason why the Phoenix Open is so popular and has done so much for charity.
Herb Drinkwater was the Mayor of Scottsdale for 16 years. It would be redundant to say he was extremely popular.
It was Herb Drinkwater, an Honorary Thunderbird himself, who encouraged the tournament leaders to relocate from their modest existence at the Phoenix Country Club, to the sprawling extravaganza it’s become at the TPC Scottsdale course. That was in 1987, and the rest is history.
On to the drama at this year’s event.
It’s all about Rickie Fowler. The same Rickie Fowler, who has considered the Phoenix Open so special in his career, and had lost two golden chances at winning. Last year, he led after 54 holes and wound up losing to Gary Woodland by six strokes. He was in tears afterward, with family and friends present.
Three years ago Fowler lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama after leading going into the final day, and fading down the stretch. His two stroke lead evaporated with two holes remaining helped by twice hitting into the water on the par-4 17th.
So here is Fowler, sailing along, ready to break the jinx, leading by five shots into the 11th hole. Then disaster. After a chip past the green down a hill into the water, and another ball into the water after being dropped, followed by a lengthy rules interpretation, resulted in a triple bogey seven on the par-4 hole.
In a jiff, Fowler went from five up to one down to Branden Grace.
Another meltdown. I refuse to say deja vu……………!
But this time Fowler settled down, easier than said in professional golf, and regained the lead and ultimately and finally won the Phoenix Open.
Fowler, speaking with one of the five remaining Navajo “Code Talkers”
It was important to Fowler because the Phoenix Open granted an exemption to him as a sophomore at Oklahoma State as an up-and-coming talent. He never forgot what the tournament did for him, and has been close to the Thunderbirds ever since.
To top off this story, at the Pro-Am on Wednesday, prior to Thursday’s opening round, Fowler, who is part Native American, actually spoke with one of the five remaining Navajo “Code Talkers”, as they were known.
The Code Talkers were instrumental in World War II. They were enlisted Marines, and their language could not be broken by the Japanese, working to break the code during communication across battle lines, when open microphones had to be used.
But Fowler can speak the Navajo language. And walked across the green to briefly speak with one of the five Code Talkers still living.
The Navajo Tribe let the golfer know they were behind him.
This kind of interaction and other behind-the-scenes giving of his time show that his heart is real. Upbeat and positive is Rickie Fowler.
So hail to his dramatic, long-awaited triumph. On a day, another team, in another town, in the biggest setting of them all, had yet another triumph.
Not long awaited. Not dramatic.
Two stories on a sports Sunday.