The good news is summer has arrived. The better news is the start of the 2013 NFL season is less than 90 days away. While we wait, some of us are biding our time with fun little distractions like the NBA and/or Stanley Cup playoffs … but always looking to spin it forward to pro football.
However things turn out between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, you can be sure David Stern and ABC television execs are relieved the conference runners-up, the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers, aren’t still playing. Over in the NHL, the league was no doubt pleased with a final that includes 1/3 of the “Original Six,” not to mention a final four that also included the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and the star-laden Pittsburgh Penguins.
As promised, it leads us to this question: which NFL conference championship games and ensuing Super Bowl would be the most captivating to us fans in February of 2014? I’m glad I asked …
This was the most popular reply after I tweeted for suggestions (follow Dave on Twitter @Dameshek) … and it’s a tough one with which to argue. On the AFC side, it’s the last prime-time showdown (probably) between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the two guys who defined pro football’s first decade in the new millennium. The NFC title game features Round 3 of the NFL’s newest “best rivalry.”
Every Super Bowl comes with pressure, but for these teams — who’ve combined to lose the last two Super Bowls and who’ve both played two straight conference championship games — another loss in the big game would be positively devastating.
In the AFC, it’s not quite Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi or Aaron Rodgers vs. Brett Favre (seeing as how those rivals were in the same place at the same time), but Peyton Manning v. Andrew Luck — in the Dome Peyton Built, no less — would be pretty compelling stuff. In the NFC, the Jints face yet another brutal title game on the road as they pay a visit to Soldier Field to face one of 2013′s most potent offenses in snowy Chicago.
If you think two brothers coaching against each other in the big game caused a ruckus, imagine what’d happen if the Brothers Manning went head to head for all the marbles. Sure, seeing it in their hometown last year might’ve been even better, but Peyton (and his one ring) visiting Eli (and his two rings) with the Lombardi on the line wouldn’t be too bad.
Forget the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium — it’d be trumped by the events in the same joint two Sundays prior, when both the stadium’s residents host the championship games on the same day. Throughout the concourses and parking lots, potbellied guys in blue No. 56 jerseys and green No. 12 jerseys would be high fiving one another while just this once, Mike Lupica would be accurate in portraying New York as the only place that matters.
Two weeks’ worth of cracks about New York’s football teams playing each other in New Jersey notwithstanding, Eli vs. The Sanchise Geno Smith shooting it out for bragging rights would be fun for fans in the five boroughs and beyond.
Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning waging war a mile high to become king of the AFC mountain is the stuff of Shakespeare (assuming the Bard digs pigskin), while Michael Vick — the forefather to this generation’s running QBs — takes on RG3.
Fans couldn’t complain about a Broncos-Eagles Super Bowl, but we can’t miss the opportunity to see sophomore superstars Luck and Griffin go head to head.
For those fans who follow the game’s history, this would be the ultimate final four. On the AFC side, the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers and thrice-victorious Raiders resuscitate their 20th-century postseason rivalry, while in the NFC another Dallas-San Francisco title-game chapter is written for the first time since Troy Aikman and Steve Young.
A showdown between the Steelers and the five-time champion Niners, arguably the NFL’s two greatest Super Bowl-era dynasties, would be great, but better still is the fourth Super Bowl installment of Pittsburgh and Dallas (the NFL’s version of Celtics-Lakers) battling it out — again — for the Lombardi. By late Super Sunday, the Steelers would have seven rings, or the Cowboys would have a sixth.
(By the way, Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tony Romo trumps any soap opera or reality show imaginable.)
If that last final four was for the league’s “haves,” this one’s for the “have nots” — specifically, some of the longest-suffering fanbases in the NFL. (Sorry, Arizona Cardinals fans, we only have four spots.) On one side, we have Cleveland visiting Buffalo, the home to some of pro football’s most loyal fans; and in the NFC, two North foes tangle in the Vikes’ dome, which has been rendered exponentially better by the football gods on the eve of the game when a blizzard breaks the baggy roof and dumps 10 inches of fresh powder on the field.
In MetLife, it would be the Vikings (0-4 all time in the Super Bowl) against the Bills (0-4 in Super Bowls) — not exactly a legendary showdown, but the teams and their fanbases — accustomed to chilly conditions — are a perfect fit in what could be a frigid event. By NFL rules — and moral decency — someone has to win … even if the final score is 5-4.
The defending champs have to go on the road to play the AFC’s most complete team, while the Niners pay a visit to the toughest place in the NFL for a visiting team to win.
What, you didn’t enjoy the last Super Bowl? It had everything: Big plays, an exhilarating comeback attempt, and a convenient (albeit extended) bathroom break in the third quarter. In other words … Harbowl II!
The 2013 offseason (and AFC East) champion Dolphins visit Arrowhead Stadium, in the same city that on Christmas Day of 1971 Miami and Kansas City played the longest game in NFL history. The NFC title is a rematch of the teams in the 1960 NFL Championship Game, this time with the game’s best QB going against Chip Kelly’s revolutionary offense.
Andy Reid going against the Eagles about an hour away from Philly would be nice … and would extend the Christmas holiday with the green-and-red color scheme. You might have noticed we didn’t take the opportunity to match the Chiefs and Packers, which would be a rematch of the first Super Bowl … but that one’s better saved for the golden anniversary Super Bowl game in the 49ers’ new stadium, especially since it’d pit former San Francisco QB Alex Smith against Bay Area kid Aaron Rodgers.
That’s still two years away, though. We’ve still gotta figure out the best matchups for February of 2015 in suburban Phoenix.