My foot is just about mended so I’m in good spirits – looking forward to getting on the bike this week for sure, and stretching out the morning commute into 90 minute easy rides to try to ease my bad self back into riding after 24 days off the bike (counting tomorrow). I can’t wait.
Random thought about the upcoming pro roadracing season: comparisons between Boonen and Mark Cavendish are stupid. Boonen is a great all-around rider who has a great, great sprint. Cavendish is a very good sprinter – if he keeps it up for another couple years I’ll call him great. He has top end like nobody else does right now. But Boonen can fight in the breakaway of a long race, and if it’s flat enough – truly flat to moderately hilly – he can break away on his own or in a high work ratio group (like two other riders), stay away for a long time and win, with a sonic boom of a sprint at the end. Boonen can also launch a sprint off the wheels of one other teammate or a rival sprinter. Cavendish is a superb sprinter, but thus far he has only demonstrated the ability to sprint once he’s been carried to within 300-400 meters of the line by his teammates, or by a rival riding fairly benevolently and not making great effort to drop or squeeze him off the wheel. Granted, there are a lot of other skills to sprinting than going fast for 200 meters, like knowing how to keep it together for the first 200km of a race, and knowing how to hold wheels and fight through the bunch in the last 5k of a race. But Cavendish is a sprinter like Petacchi is a sprinter, a guy who (at least right now) seems to need a train to get him in position to win, than he is a guy like Boonen, who sometimes is his own train; and Cavendish hasn’t yet show a McEwen-like flair for stealing other teams’ leadout trains. Boonen, of course, isn’t the only great rider being subjected to silly fanboy comparisons right now. I regret the velo press is doing this to us; I like Cavendish from what I’ve seen of him but could be driven to dislike him, if I hear enough of these facile “Cavendish is the next ______ comparisons.” He isn’t the next _____, he’s the first Cavendish. Leave it at that and appreciate him for what he is, without trying to blow him up or shrink him with inapt comparisons to other racers.
It’s Superbowl Sunday. As a Giants fan and a fellow who has grown up in the Church of Football, I like the Steelers today and in general, but I like them while still being mindful of the First Commandment of the Church of Football: Thou Shalt Not Have Other Teams Before Thine Own. The Stillers are a good team, but my admiration is limited to the way a guy might (permissibly) admire his wife’s hot sister. Acknowledge the goodness, but do not, whatever you do, go there or let yourself prefer it to the home team. It would be immoral, possibly illegal, open you to civil liability, and would be comprehensively wrong in a hundred different ways.
You can’t prefer another team over your own, right? That’s the whole point about having a team. Other teams are worse or better. But your team is special because it is unique, and it's yours. You can acknowledge and discuss the comparative merits of another good team. But you do not jump onto the other team’s bandwagon. Ever.
Those preliminaries out of the way, the Steelers are a good organization that builds through the draft, and with the patience to see that coaches and players have a chance to develop fully. They seem to put a lot of emphasis on character; old school Heinz Ward has been a mainstay of the franchise, but more spectacularly dominant and goofy Plaxico “Everybody Down!” Burress was traded away to the Giants (and you know how that story ended). That's right - they keep a big hitting, quiet, unspectacular #1 receiver, and trade away a game breaker #1 receiver because they don't like the game breaker's character.
So yeah, I like the Steelers for a lot of reasons and think they should win today. The big one is that Arizona probably isn’t going to be able to run on them. With a relatively porous defense, Arizona has to be able to keep the ball out of the Steelers' hands, limit their time of possession. Otherwise, the already porous defense gets utterly worn down, and in the fourth quarter or overtime make the adequate Steelers' offense look like a scoring machine. As a guy whose bit on the side is the Buffalo Bills, I can tell you that fast scoring offenses are spectacular and rack up huge point totals, but have a lot of trouble playing against ball control offenses like the Steelers' "We'd rather take a sack than risk an interception" two receiver set.
The one thing Arizona has going for them is that in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, they have two legit superstar #1 wide receivers, and #3 Steve Breasten is no slouch. There are about 7 or 8 diva-level receivers in the league. You know the type - dangerous wide receivers who can be relied upon to break open games. Ordinarily, having a marquis wide receiver doesn’t help against the Steelers. They held the aforementioned Burress, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens to around 90 yards *total* in games against the Jints, Pats and Cowboys. But each of those teams has just one alpha dog receiver, along three or four other guys who are good role players who are coverable with decent quality single coverage. To contain Fitzgerald or Boldin would normally require double coverage, and if the Steelers did this then Breaston or some other lower profile Cardinal receiver could have a real big day. But the Steelers have very good cornerbacks who can probably handle Boldin in single coverage, and what the cornerbacks don’t get, multi-talented strong safety Troy Polomalu will probably snap up. Unlike most strong safeties, Polomalu is great in pass coverage, in addition to being as devastating against the run as anybody playing the game right now.
Final prediction? Steelers by 7.
The other highlight of the game will be the ads. As usual, I’m lovin’ on Wendell Middlebrooks, the slightly rotund Miller High Life delivery guy. I can’t help myself; I do like High Life. It’s not the same caliber, taste-wise, as a lot of the beer I drink. But if it’s a hot day, or you’re washing down a bushel of crabs steamed in Old Bay, or if you are drinking beer by the pitcher and eating hot wings by the bucket, you need something icy, refreshing, and not too potent but still beer-y. High Life is the stuff. Wendell, of course, is funny as hell. “A 13 dollar hamburger? Are you kiddin’ me?” He’s getting his own news coverage, of course, and he even shows up on YouTube. It appears to me that some of his stuff isn’t scripted; that he’s just riffing about consumerism.