By: Bob George/
January 25, 2005

Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower returning to practice field an encouraging sign
Why was Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy doing pushups at a bowling alley?
Patriots owner Robert Kraft owns no concerns that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are missing OTAs
New NFL policy lets players who don’t want to stand for anthem stay in locker room
Former Patriots rip NFL’s new anthem policy

Drat those Rams for protecting their house three years ago.

Ah, memories of Super Bowl XXXVI. All that red, white and blue in the Superdome, much of it to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the September 11th tragedy five months prior. The theme of the day and night was the good ol' US of A. On one sideline, you had a red, white and blue team named the Patriots. How couldn't they lose that day?

Their opponent was the St. Louis Rams, a team from an all-American city but a team which really belongs in Los Angeles (and who began their existence in Cleveland). The team they beat to gain entry into that game was the Philadelphia Eagles. Patriots and Eagles. Amidst the hot dogs and apple pie theater in an area more known for all things Cajun, what could have been more appropriate than a Super Bowl featuring Patriots and Eagles. What better way to show terrorist thugs that Americans cannot be deterred from their spirit than the nation's marquee sporting event featuring the official national symbol and the heart and soul of the Revolutionary War.

The Rams spoiled that prospect, beating the Eagles at home, but paid the price for the inexcusable slight by suffering the second biggest upset loss in Super Bowl history. Three years later, lovers of George M. Cohan, John Philip Sousa and Stephen Foster will get their overdue wish, a Super Bowl with a super statement about this great nation.

Phooey on this if you root or play for these two teams. We want to win. Leave the thematic concerns to the bards and the scribes. This is about the NFL championship, not "Every heart beats true under red, white and blue!”

With two weeks ahead to absorb and be grossed out by all the expected hype, Super Bowl XXXIX figures to be a championship game which will draw in lots of non-rooters and present an awesome display of Americana to the nation. Manifestly, this is a game between New England and Philadelphia, but many news organizations and journalists will want to run with this nationalistic theme. Given the ongoing hostilities over in Iraq, and given the proximity to the second inauguration of President Bush, this game, in its own special way, will become a nice postcard for this nation as the entire world takes its annual peek at the greatest sporting event in our nation, and maybe the entire world.

The Super Bowl will pay its first visit to the city of Jacksonville, Florida, a small city with a big football reputation. For the next two weeks, pay no heed to those people who use the word "yahoo” to describe this city in northern Florida just south of the Georgia border. Yes, Jacksonville has the smallest NFL TV market in the league (number 52 in the nation). But there is nothing small about this place when it comes to football.

Just the words "Gator Bowl” should be enough. But lots of small southern cities love their college football. A better reference source would be "Jacksonville Bulls”, a former USFL team which helped pave the way for the Jaguars. The Bulls were one of the most successful teams during the 1983-85 run of the former spring football league. They showed that pro football could exist in Jacksonville, and ten years after the league folded, Wayne Weaver brought the Jaguars into being, as well as glistening AllTel Stadium. The Jaguars have no problem banging out this lovely stadium, and when the Jaguars are doing well, you won't find a more rabid fan base than Jaguar Nation.

If you are looking for Americana, look no further than the small town of the NFL. Jacksonville Landing, which might remind a few people of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, shows off the cosmopolitan side of this city. Its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean will be a nice change of scene for those Keystone and Bay State folk sick and tired of snow and blizzards. For those who go to the Super Bowl looking for parties, you might instead want to tone your act down a bit and instead enjoy a more relaxing and less frenetic pace to your Super Bowl experience.

So there you have it. Patriots and Eagles coming to a small city. It's Sousa's band playing in the town square. Instead of daily concerts with two on Sunday, it's a single performance on February 6th. You'll have two of the more distinguished maestros in their profession, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid, ready to entertain you with something you as Americans cannot get enough of.

How can't you romanticize over this whole thing?

The Patriots and Eagles don't meet that often, but they did meet recently. The Eagles hold a 6-3 advantage over the Patriots since their first ever meeting in 1973. The Patriots won two in a row in 1977-78, then did not beat the Eagles again until last year, a 31-10 win in Week 2. That game was famous for the big bounceback following the season-opening whitewash at Buffalo, as well as the game where Rosevelt Colvin was lost for the season with a hip injury that almost ended his career.

The Patriots never won at old Veterans Stadium; last season's game was at brand new Lincoln Financial Field. The last game the Patriots played at old Veterans Stadium was one of the most ignominious losses in team history, a 24-9 stinker in 1999 which spelled doom for the Pete Carroll coaching reign in New England. CBS commentator Brent Jones screamed "These guys have quit on Pete Carroll!” all throughout the final quarter of that game, and Carroll was let go at season's end.

What the Patriots will get is a team which they handled with ease last September, but a team that improved greatly with the additions of defensive end Jevon Kearse and wide receiver Terrell Owens. The latter will no doubt become the complete personification of the Eagle franchise, with his injury status being the biggest mystery since Who Shot J.R. Belichick should pay this little, if any, heed since he won't give you the straight scoop on Richard Seymour.

If Owens does not play, the Patriots will have a simple game plan: contain Donovan McNabb and don't allow Brian Westbrook to beat you with runs. The Patriots could maybe get away with seven in the box, a spy for McNabb, and cover-two to handle Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. If Owens does play, the Patriots will probably present a variation on what they used against Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in the AFC playoffs and drop extra receivers in coverage. Owens will not see single coverage all game long unless someone blows their assignment.

The worst thing Reid will have to face is that Belichick will have two weeks to concoct the right plan to attack and defeat his team. Given that Belichick has already dismantled the league's best offensive and defensive teams in successive weeks, Belichick should be able to formulate a game plan which will bring the Patriots the season's ultimate prize. Not that Reid can't do the same, but this is Reid's first trip to the big dance, as well as the first trip for this franchise in 24 years.

The story lines will unfold in the next 13 days like they always do. Someone will say something, something will be taken out of context, and many of the great tales of the next two weeks may be borne out of next to nothing. As long as the players stick to football and only football, things will be okay.

It's everyone else who will eat up the tales and formulate their own visual picture of this Super Bowl. And when it's done, here's hoping that "The Great American Race” which takes place further down I-95 from Jacksonville will be dwarfed by "The Great American Game”.

NASCAR be hanged. This Super Bowl stuff is America in one of its grandest forms.