Finally, it’s here. Super Bowl LIII. That’s El Eye Eye Eye, or 53, folks.
We know all the story lines by now. Bill Belichick, 66, the grizzled, grumpy old coach with seven Super Bowl rings already, matching wits with Sean McVay, 33, the face of the future making his Super Bowl debut.
Tom Brady, 41, the oldest Super Bowl starting quarterback in history, making his ninth Super Bowl start in quest of his sixth Super Bowl ring, against Jared Goff, 24, a kid, for sure, but one blessed with poise and confidence, just as Brady was in 2002, when he won his first ring.
The Patriots dynasty, 10 consecutive AFC East championships and nine Super Bowls in the Belichick-Brady era; stunning comebacks – remember erasing that 25-point deficit against Atlanta in Super Bowl El Eye? – and stinging defeats -- two to the Giants on David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” and Mario Manningham’s fourth-quarter sideline grab for 38 yards, plus last year’s stinker against the Eagles and backup quarterback Nick Foles.
Rob Gronkowski, the beat-up, banged-up, best tight end in history.
Aaron Donald, the Rams one-man, quarterback-sacking, wrecking crew of a defensive tackle.
New England’s rebound from an embarrassing last-play loss at Miami.
The 2002 Super Bowl between the Patriots and the St. Louis Rams.
New England’s love affair with their Pats and the rest of the country’s fierce dislike of the Brady bunch. The halftime show. The commercials. And on and on and on.
Finally, Sunday night at 6:30, the tsunami of hype will subside, and the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will kick off, block, tackle, run and pass in the greatest sporting spectacle on the continent.
Who will win? Ha! Excellent question. Oddsmakers established the Rams as the early favorite, but bettors liked the Patriots, who became a 2½-point favorite.
The Patriots will win IF the offensive line can keep Donald out of Brady’s face, giving him time to throw; IF Sony Michel can produce a 100-yard run game; IF Gronk plays like the vintage Gronk of the AFC Championship game at Kansas City; IF Julian Edelman can catch those slants over the middle and keep getting up after being crushed by linebackers and safeties; IF James White can catch six or seven passes; IF Max Burkhead can provide relief for Michel; IF fullback James Develin can open a hole or two or three; IF Brady has time to find his receivers; IF the defense can stop the Rams’ versatile back Todd Gurley; IF the defense can pressure Goff into making a mistake or two.
The Rams will win IF Goff remains cool, calm and collected; IF Gurley stays healthy and runs hard – he has nursed a late-season knee injury; IF Donald, the NFL’s leading sack man this season, can get to Brady just enough to throw him off stride; IF the defense can stop the Patriots on third down, and IF McVay, the boy genius, can outwit Belichick.
If the Patriots play the way they played against the Chargers and the Chiefs, they win. If they don’t, the Rams win.
I think the Patriots win. Sure, both teams have had two weeks to rest and re-focus. But since that debacle in Miami, when the Dolphins won on a desperation hook-and-ladder pass and run on the last play of the game, and a loss at Pittsburgh the following week, the Patriots have played with a zeal they lacked in those games. They have been laser sharp in the playoffs. A blowout of the Chargers and an overtime thriller against the Chiefs, a finish that was classic Brady in crunch time. They are playing as if they have something to prove to all who doubted their ability, their focus, their passion.
And let’s not forget that the Rams are in Atlanta only because officials failed to call the most obvious pass interference in NFL history, affording them the opportunity to beat the Saints in overtime. The Rams are good, but also lucky.
Enjoy the game, sports fans!
New England 27, Los Angeles 24.