Monday, February 8, 2010

A Super World Series

What a game, huh? The Common Man watched the game with a beer in hand, The Boy at his side, and The Uncommon Wife safely tucked away at another house watching reruns of Absolutely Fabulous. Aside from a strange call from The Uncommon Wife midway through the 2nd quarter (in which she asked The Common Man to come pick her up…yeah, that was really going to happen…then again, TCM hopes she gets home before breakfast), the manliness was in full effect. Pretzels were dipped in mustard. Hoppy beer was consumed. Pizza was made. And, of course, football was on the TV for the last time until September.

Fig. 1 The Common Man's ready for some football.

Fortunately, the game proved to be the best played Super Bowl The Common Man can remember watching. It was largely devoid of mistakes (except Peyton’s big pick) and well-executed by both squads. It was exciting and close the whole way. It was a fitting way to end the 2009-2010 NFL schedule, and the New Orleans win was the only thing soothing TCM’s bitterness over his Vikings’ horrifying loss two weeks ago. So the game went as well as could be expected.

As the game wore on, however, The Common Man began wondering whether there might be a natural parallel between today’s game and the far grander spectacle, the World Series. There have been 106 World Series thusfar, surely one would prove analogous, and put this Super Bowl in its proper perspective. First, because of how close the game was until the very end, and the back and forth nature of the contest, we need a series that went seven games (or eight or nine). That limits our pool to 38 possibilities. We also need a series where the losing team jumped out to an early lead. Certainly, the Colts’ 10 point lead doesn’t seem like much until we remember that only one other team had ever come back from that deficit in the past. Essentially, the Colts jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Saints got going. Ideally, the winning team would be an underdog, and even more ideally, they would have a similar history as New Orleans (struggles, embarrassment, and eventual triumph that everyone feels good about).

If we use that as our criteria, really, the only real answer is that Super Bowl XLIV is the 1955 World Series. Going into the ’55 series, the Dodgers had never won a World Championship. Despite recent success, they were far more recognizable as Dem Bums than as anything positive. While the Colts’ success does not rival the Yankees extended run of excellence going into ’55, their recent history has been impeccable. With Peyton Manning at the helm, the Colts won the most games of the 00s, were a perennial playoff team, and won a Super Bowl.

Like the Saints, the Dodgers quickly went down to the powerhouse Yankees, two games to nothing. In Game 1, Yankees 1B Joe Collins slugged two homers off of Don Newcombe to lead the Bombers to a one game advantage. Game Two featured a five-hitter by Tommy Byrne and a four-run rally in the 4th inning that held up. Over the final four frames, Byrne got stronger, never allowing a runner past first base. In another eerie parallel to last night’s game, one of the Yanks’ great stars was battling injuries in ’55. Mickey Mantle missed the first two games with a leg injury, but that hardly seemed to affect the club. At the end of the first quarter, the Colts led 10-0 in spite of Dwight Freeney’s limited contributions.

Fig. 2 Ow.

But things turned quickly in Game 3 for the Dodgers. In the first inning, Roy Campanella homered off of Bob Turley to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. Like Freeney ‘s sack in the 2nd quarter last night, Mickey tried to limit the damage, hitting a solo shot to lead off the 2nd. However, a single, HBP, a bunt single, and two walks chased Turley the next inning and gave the Dodgers a lead they would never relinquish. Johnny Podres pitched will for Brooklyn, tossing a complete game.

Game 4 was a slugfest, as both Carl Erskine and Don Larsen were chased early. Mantle continued to play but was clearly hobbled, going 1 for 5 with a single and moving to RF. The game turned in the 4th inning, when Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges each homered to turn a 1-3 deficit into a 4-3 lead. The next inning, Larsen walked Junior Gilliam and Pee Wee Reese singled off of Johnny Kucks to lead off the inning. Duke Snider followed with a three-run homer to break the game open. The series was tied at 2-2. Last night’s Super Bowl went into halftime with the Colts up 10-6, but given how thoroughly their offense had been shut down in the 2nd quarter, and the Saints’ last second field goal to tighten the game up, it’s hard to argue that the momentum seemed to have swung in the Saints’ favor, making it close to a draw. And given New Orleans’ brazen recovery of an onside kick to start the 3rd quarter, 2-2 seems about right.

But, of course, neither the Series nor the Super Bowl ended there. Just as the Saints would march down and score on a 16-yard strike from Brees to Pierre Thomas to take a 13-10 lead, the Dodgers also won Game 5 to take a slight edge. Duke Snider launched two solo homers off of Bob Grim, and Sandy Amoros added a two-run shot to lead Brooklyn, who got serviceable performances out of rookie Roger Craig and ace reliever Clem Labine to hold the Bombers in check. Mantle, like Freeney, stopped being a factor at this point, and was not able to play.

But like Peyton Manning, the Yankees could not be kept down for long. Game Six saw Whitey Ford absolutely handcuff the Dodgers, pitching a complete game four-hitter, with 8 strikeouts. Rookie Karl Spooner, who had battled arm trouble all year, lasted a third of an inning before being yanked, and was on the hook for 3 hits (one of which was a three-run Bill Skowron homer), two walks and five runs. Russ Meyer and Ed Roebuck held New York in check for the rest of the game, providing 8.2 innings of scoreless relief, but the damage was done. At the end of the third quarter, the game was 17-16 Indianapolis, Peyton and Joseph Addai had conspired to give the Colts momentum, and the game was anyone’s to win.

Like the Saints, the Dodgers would score twice in their fourth quarter. Gil Hodges singled with two outs off of Tommy Byrne in the top of the 4th to drive in Campanella, and then lofted a sacrifice fly in the 6th to drive in Reese. Johnny Podres made it stick, pitching a shutout over the bombers. Like Tracy Porter, Sandy Amoros made a game-saving play, turning what would have been a Yogi Berra double down the leftfield line into a double play to end a budding rally.

Fig. 3 Good defense.

Podres faced more trouble in the eighth. Like Manning driving down the field in the final two minutes, the Yankees put two on with one out, but Podres made Berra pop out to right and struck out Hank Bauer to end the threat and start the party.

Ultimately, The Common Man is sure that the celebration in Brooklyn, while just as passionate, was less wild than the pandemonium in the French Quarter last night.

Fig. 4 Alas, there was no room for the car and its lovable hooligans on Bourbon Street

However, otherwise, these two contests seem to match up well, and Super Bowl XLIV may go down as just as much a classic of its game as Brooklyn’s only World Series triumph.

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