This weekend will see the biggest sports night of the American calendar: Super Bowl 53. The Super Bowl is the conclusion of the NFL (National Football League) season. One final match to crown the champions, or as Americans like to call it, the world champions. This year the contenders are the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. But before we get into the big matchup, some background on American Football and the NFL.
The sport of American Football(also known as Gridiron) has its origins in Football(called soccer by Americans) and Rugby Union. Like these two sports, American Football is played on a rectangular field that is 100 yards in length (excluding the End Zone), and approximately 53 yards in width. NFL matches consist of 2 halves. Each half is divided into 2 quarters. 1 quarter is 15 minutes of playing time. According to my Maths, that’s 60 minutes total. But matches tend to last for 3 hours due to various stoppages. NFL teams are split into 3 units. Offense, Defense, and Special Teams. Offense primary objective is to score points. Defense objective is to try and stop the opposing offense from scoring. Whilst Special Teams is responsible for kicking plays.
Each team is allowed a maximum of 11 players on the field during play. Rolling subs are in effect. When a team has possession of the ball, they have 4 plays (called downs) to advance the ball 10 yards. Should they be able to advance the ball 10 yards, they are given a fresh set of downs. Failure to advance 10 yards results in a turnover of possession to the opposing team. The ball can be advanced either by throwing or running the ball.
There are several ways to score points. Advancing the ball into the opposition End Zone results in a Touchdown. A Touchdown is worth 6 points. A conversion kick, known as Point After Touchdown (PAT), is worth 1 point. Instead of a PAT, a team can rather choose to go for a 2 point conversion. Which entails 1 play to reach the End Zone. A Field Goal, kicking the ball through the opposition goal posts is worth 3 points. A Safety is worth 2 points and is awarded to the defense when the ball carrier is tackled in his own End Zone.
The NFL consists of 32 teams. It is split into 2 conferences. The National Football Conference (NFC), and the American Football Conference (AFC). Each conference is then divided into 4 divisions. North, South, East, and West. Every team plays a total of 16 regular season matches. Each Division winner automatically qualifies for the playoffs. A further 4 teams are awarded a wild card for having the best remaining overall record. If you follow Super Rugby, you get the idea. It’s a similar format. The winners of the respective conference meet in the SuperBowl.
What sets the Super Bowl apart from other traditional American sports? Of Americas 4 big sports, Baseball, Ice Hockey, Basketball, American Football is the only one in which the final is a single matchup to decide the champions. The other 3 sports use a best of 7 format.
Right, onto this year’s contenders. We begin with the favourites, the New England Patriots. The Patriots have arguably the greatest Quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, and probably the greatest Head Coach of all time in Bill Belichick. Though you’ll never convince Green Bay Packers fans, there’s ever been a better coach than Vince Lombardi. The man whom the Super Bowl trophy is named after. But, that’s a debate for another day. The Brady-Belichick combination has reached 9 SuperBowls in the last 18 years, winning on 5 occasions. Super Bowl 53 is the third consecutive year the Patriots will be involved in the big game.
In 2017 the Patriots rallied from 28-3 down to win in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons, whilst last year they suffered a shock defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles who were playing with backup Quarterback Nick Foles, leading to insane celebrations in the city of Philly, including one individual eating horse faeces. That really happened. Tom Brady is 41 years old and keeps defying predictions of his demise. Incredible to think that Brady was the 199th overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. Victory against the Rams will assure the status of coach and Quarterback as the greatest ever. Ironically the Patriots dynasty begins against this weekends opponents at Super Bowl 36. Life really does come full circle.
And now for the underdogs, the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams have predominantly bounced between two cities in their history, LA and St Louis. They are owned by Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke. They have 1 Super Bowl win which came in 2000, as the St Louis Rams. Current Rams Quarterback Jared Goff was 4 years old on that occasion and was 7 years old when Tom Brady won his first championship. Goff was the 1st overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and will be playing in his first SuperBowl. The stark contrast between the two teams doesn’t stop there. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is 66 years old, compared to Rams head coach Sean McVay who is 33 years old.
Should the Rams win, McVay will be the youngest winning coach in NFL history. But the Rams place in the Super Bowl is shrouded in controversy. A highly controversial refereeing decision in the NFC championship match against the New Orleans Saints effectively decided the match in the Rams favour. There have been calls to replay the game, which won’t happen, and some Saints fans have raised money to buy billboard space in the Super Bowl host city Atlanta. The billboards say one thing, “we were robbed”. Gotta love Americans. The Rams need to put all that aside and focus on the task at hand, which is to deliver the city of Los Angeles first Super Bowl championship since the Raiders won in 1984.
The scene is set. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia is ready. Will the Patriots juggernaut roll on, or will this be the beginning of a new dynasty.
Let us know who you think will win it in the comments section below.