January 28, 2007
Two Good Guys and the Other G Word
Super Bowl XLI has lots of folks excited, and with one week to go before the big game, lots of predictable story lines about the teams, coaches, and cities are in the media.
Indianapolis has never had a team in the Super Bowl before and only once before had a team in a championship series in a major sport (the Pacers in 2001). The Bears have not been to the big game for 21 years.
Stock market enthusiasts are already grinning from one wallet pocket to the next since two original NFC teams will be playing each other, which strongly suggests an up year in the market. As some know, the year before a Presidential election is almost always a good year in the market, so with this indicator, and the Super Bowl market test, the evidence is so strong that the market will run up that you should put down your computer, call your broker, and get the buy orders in now (note: this is not real investment advice, and should not be taken as such!) .
The biggest story line is the race of the two coaches - Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Lovie Smith of Chicago. Both are African American, as are over 70% of the players in the league. No African American has ever been head coach of a Super Bowl team before this year. So as Jesse Jackson will surely point out when all the microphones are facing his way as a supposedly important spokesperson for African Americans the next week, the numbers read 0 for 80 in the first XL Super Bowls, and this year, 2 for 2, so the NFL would be well advised, Jesse will tell us, to pressure more teams to hire African American coaches.
Both coaches were immediately asked in their initial post game interviews on Sunday about the significance of their being the first African American coaches in the game. Interestingly, both coaches used the vernacular "black" rather than African American, and quickly steered the conversation to their respective teams, and how much this meant for their cities. The two coaches are good friends, and talk each Monday during the season. Smith was on Dungy's staff when his Tampa Bay team played for the NFC title against St. Louis in 2000. Dungy praised Smith and his team in a properly respectful fashion. Smith was interviewed before it was known who his team's opponent was, so any comment on Dungy or the Colts would have been premature.
But there was one part of each interview Sunday that is not likely to be pursued as a big story line the next week. Both coaches thanked God for their good fortune, and expressed a genuine humility about getting this far, traits not always visible in the winners circles in professional or college sports. Dungy in particular pointed out how Smith coached with a calm demeanor (without the four letter word tantrums so common to the sidelines). The humility and demeanor of the two coaches very likely has something to do with the religious devotion of the two men.
There have been sports writers who have been deeply troubled by all the God talk in professional, college, and high school team locker rooms. Presumably, the non-believing players were hurt, and somehow damaged by this. The writers (and the ACLU) would prefer the team prayers be more non-denominational in content with perhaps a bow to the atheist right tackle, and the agnostic punter. If the two coaches keep this God talk up, it might make some of the writers uncomfortable the next week, and spur an ACLU lawsuit demanding equal time for Bill Maher.
Both coaches have had their shares of disappointment. Smith took the Bears to the playoffs in January 2006 in his second year as head coach, only to suffer a crushing home defeat at Soldier Field to the Carolina Panthers. Dungy's teams in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis have had many disappointments in the playoffs, including several losses to the New England Patriots (they are hardly alone in this club). Last Sunday, the Colts, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, beat New England with a stunning comeback, recovering from the biggest deficit to win a game in conference championship history.
Last year, Indianapolis broke out of the gate with 13 straight wins, threatening to match the record of the 1972 Dolphins, the league's only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. They were then beaten for the first time by San Diego and days later, Dungy's 18 year old son was found dead in Florida. Dungy later returned to the team which was favored to win the Super Bowl, but was instead knocked out of the playoffs in a divisional playoff game at home by the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. There are disappointments, and then there are shattering tragedies in people's lives.
Dungy has always had a reputation for balancing family life and his coaching duties, and like Smith, has a reputation for being soft spoken, respectful, and careful with his language. Both coaches are very popular around the league (especially Dungy, who has been around longer), as well as with their players. They are, to use the vernacular, the anti-Bobby Knights (now the coach with the most victories in college basketball history). Success as a sports coach can come from various approaches to the game, obviously.
In the next week, as you watch the interviews of the two coaches, count how often the subject of their race is brought up. And also count how often the importance of their faith is raised as an issue (do not count when the coach brings it up himself). This is an easy bet. I will take race, and give the points.
And for the record, here are my picks on the big game: take the Bears and 7, and the "over" (now at 48). Straight up, I think the Bears' ground game will be the difference leading them to an upset win. Did any of you really expect me to pick the Colts?
Richard Baehr is the chief political correspondent of American Thinker and a Chicago resident.