Quite possibly it’s simply habit. After all, 43 years of repetitive behavior can be called at best a regimen and at worst insanity (especially apt, see definition*), but either way it is still habit forming. So that’s the reason I’m crediting my non-reaction to the Colts being such high favorites by so many experts and pundits.
At the end of week 11 this match-up was being touted as the most competitive of all time. The SAINTS had just thoroughly pummeled the team of the decade, with True Drew throwing for 5 TDs and 373 YDs, and maintaining an undefeated season. In the AFC, the COLTS had just grinded out another close win over their old hometown’s tough new club and were also still undefeated. Both teams were touted as the best in their divisions, and both were listed 1 and 2 in the various media power rankings published, flip flopping occasionally. In fact, at this point in time the SAINTS were the consensus number one team in pro football, with the COLTS mere fractions of a point behind. Every talking head on the tube and web were using the words ‘dream’ and ‘match-up’ in one sacred phrase, and even the odds makers were touting it as a ‘pick-em’ or even line. Two evenly matched teams going head to head in the Super Bowl, almost unheard of until the early 2000’s.
12 weeks and 7 football games later and we see the same two teams but with vastly different reactions by media, odds makers, and fans alike. The media and odds makers have polarized almost unanimously to set the COLTS 5 to 6 point favorites, with some even predicting a double-digit victory by RoboQB and his hive-minded squad of elite performers. The fans on the other hand have thrown incredible mass support for the SAINTS on global proportions (see London Times link in footnote). Everyone loves the underdog, add to that Katrina remorse and the woeful football history of the New Orleans franchise and you can understand the fans well wishing. But it is difficult to fathom the experts’ choice when you look at stats and performance, especially over the entire season and playoffs.
In those 7 games after week 11, the SAINTS went 2-3 regular season and 2-0 in the playoffs. The COLTS went 3-2 and 2-0 in the playoffs. During the bye weeks of the playoffs for both teams, the media made big stories of 3 topics; resting players, SAINTS 3 game slide, and the COLTS not going for the perfect record. The 2-0 record for both teams illustrates the amount of impact any of those topics had on the teams’ playoff performances. So do the experts know something we don’t? I don’t think so.
If you look at the stats and rankings offensively, the COLTS are in the top 10 of everything, the SAINTS in the top 6. Defensively, the SAINTS rank 20th to 26th in the important ones, the COLTS 8th to 24th. The star QBs are pretty even with both topping various stat categories, but Brees led in QB rating. Schedule-wise, the COLTS’ opponents finished with a total of 121-135 wins-losses, the SAINTS’ opponents finished 109-147, or 12 wins less. Does any of this prove that the COLTS’ decent defense has a better chance of stopping the top rated passer in one of the top 6 offenses? Does it mean that the SAINTS mediocre defense has a worse chance at stopping a top 10 offense with a top rated passer? Again, I don’t think so.
As I said at the beginning of this rant, I think it is simply habit. When the JETS were to meet the COLTS in Super Bowl III, they were heavy, double digit under dogs. This wasn’t surprising to anyone, since the consensus opinion was that the AFL was an inferior league to the NFL. Joe Willy Namanth cemented his place in history by issuing “the Guarantee,” and by leading his team to a victory and backing it up. But no one learned from this.
When Hank Stram led his CHEIFS to meet Bud Grant and his VIKINGS in Super Bowl IV, merely one year later, the CHEIFS were also a heavy, double digit underdog. Football demi-god Al Davis, then a mere mortal owner and AFL bigwig, is credited with a quote of “They’re doing it again” when he read that the CHEIFS were heavy underdogs. He knew that his AFL rivals were a better team than they were being credited with, and just like the last Super Bowl AFL representative, being over looked. But no one else seemed to realize it, even the experts. So when the talented CHEIFS man-handled the mighty 12-2 VIKINGS it was a surprising upset; but not to everyone.
That’s what’s happening at this Super Bowl. The pundits and experts are creatures of habit like the rest of us. They simply cannot break a 43 year old habit of picking against the SAINTS. It’s taken them nearly all of two weeks to just truly believe the SAINTS made it to the SUPER BOWL. I’m sure they’ll wake up sooner or later, hopefully sooner because if karma is truly repaying the SAINTS, we have the talent to be the next team of the decade. So I’m not really all that upset at the lack of respect and being such huge underdogs by the experts. After all, aren’t we used to it by now.
*Definition of Insanity: repeating the same process or action and expecting a different result