We are a day away from the Super Bowl. The two week build up to the big game is almost complete. This year we have a meeting of a great offense (Denver) and a great defense (Seattle). The question is which does the Super Bowl favor, great offense or great defense.
In the early 2000’s the answer was great defense. The Giants great offense was dominated in Super Bowl 35 by the Ravens legendary defense. Super Bowl 36 saw St. Louis’s “Greatest Show on Turf” stifled by the Patriots dominant defense. Super Bowl 37 was won by the Buccaneers bone crushing defenders and it was not even close. The Patriots won the next two Lombardi trophies. While Brady had emerged as a great quarterback, New England still had a dominating defensive unit. Pittsburgh would win Super Bowl 40 and Super Bowl 43. The Steelers were a pretty balanced team in both championship seasons. That said we know they prided themselves on their defense.
Things seemed to be changing when the Indianapolis Colts won it all in the 2006-2007 season.The Colts were a great offensive team that beat Lovie Smith’s great defense. The Colts defense was far from great but it had just enough pieces to be successful. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeny provided great pass rush; this made life difficult for teams that had to pass to keep up with Manning. Safety Bob Sanders was a dominating presence in the Colts secondary. An offensive centered team won the Super Bowl; but defense still had a strong presence in the big game.
The Patriots entered Super Bowl 42 with a historic undefeated record and a record breaking offense. The Giants entered the game on a roll after barely sneaking into the playoffs. New York’s defense frustrated New England’s offense. An offense that was used to getting what it wanted with relative ease was stifled. The Giants defensive line dominated the game. Eli Manning provided the late game dramatics with the winning score to Plaxico Burress. The Giants beat one of the greatest offenses of all time in the Super Bowl. This supported the Idea that defense wins championships.
Super Bowl 44 and 45 were won by teams with great offenses. In Super Bowl 44 we watched two great offenses as Drew Brees and the Saints beat Peyton Manning’s Colts. This Super Bowl will always be remembered by Sean Peyton’s rewarding gamble to start the 2nd half with an onside kick. It will also be remembered by Peyton Manning’s pick 6 that cost Indianapolis the game.
Super Bowl 45 was a shootout between Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. While the Steelers had a good defense it was not what it once was. Rodgers carved up the Steelers and stepped out of Brett Favre’s shadow. One of the most pivotal plays was when Cullen Jenkins busted up a run play, leading to a Clay Matthews fumble recovery. Are you noticing a trend?
Super Bowl 46 was a rematch of the Patriots and Giants. Oddly the game was almost entirely like their Super Bowl 42 meeting. The Giants defensive line was dominant. It was a tough game that Brady almost won; the problem was Eli got the last chance. Defense prevailed over an offensive juggernaut once again.
The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl 47 on one of the best days of my life. I had waited 12 years for another Super Bowl parade in Baltimore. I was only 10 and just beginning to obsess over football when we won Super Bowl 35. The 2012 Ravens did not have the dominating defense I grew up watching. The Ravens got to the Super Bowl on the throwing arm of Joe Flacco.
The Ravens defense almost gave up what seemed like an insurmountable lead. That however is when the magical unscriptable and fitting ending happened. Ray Lewis’s iconic career ended with a goal line stand in the Super Bowl. The Ravens built their lead on offense and won the game (the hard way) on defense.
In the Super Bowl you will always have two great football teams. The Super Bowl almost always has two evenly matched teams- which is shown by the close games we have been treated to. I would argue that a Super Bowl championship is won and lost with defense. It comes down to who can make the game changing turnover or defensive stand. Even in Super Bowls featuring two great offensive teams, the game has come down to defensive heroics. As we approach Super Bowl 48, let me remind you that defense wins championships.