In sports, nothing is greater than the championship series or game to decide who the best team of the year was. It’s hard to put up a valid case against this point because everyone, whether sports fan or not, tunes in to watch the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the World Series, etc. because it is the best teams going head-to-head. Therefore, I am going to make the dumb mistake of challenging this case with a wildcard playoff game.
I have probably already lost some readers with that introduction, but I don’t call myself the Sports Scholar for no reason. Let me be frank and say this year’s Super Bowl is unpredictable. It just is. There are so many scenarios and so many what ifs that it is impossible to really be adamant about who will represent the AFC and the NFC in the Super Bowl. However, one thing that can not be argued upon is the magnitude of the Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts game.
I compare this game to Ric Flair’s last days in the WWE. Every match he wrestled in was a career threatening match as per Vince McMahon’s orders. If Flair lost a match, he would be forced to retire. Well, the same can be said for Ray Lewis.
We all knew Shawn Michaels would defeat Flair at Wrestlemania so Flair could go out in style. But one of the greatest NFL players of all-time could very well see his career end this Sunday in Baltimore. To me, that’s not going out in style. The storybook ending would be Lewis hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy, but given the teams the Ravens must overcome to get to the Super Bowl, this story seems more like a fable. This is a career threatening football game for Ray Lewis, one that he and his team can’t let go. And you know what, that is enough motivation for the Ravens to come storming out of the tunnel and putting on hurting on Andrew Luck and the Colts so that Lewis will get to play his final game in Baltimore and go out with a win and live to play another day. The Ravens will not allow themselves to fall in support of their leader because without Lewis, the Ravens may not be in the playoffs and the Ravens may not have had the success they’ve had over the years if it were not for Lewis.
Now, let us look across the field at the Indianapolis Colts. A year ago, they were not in the playoffs and had the No. 1 draft pick locked up. Peyton Manning abandoned ship to Denver and Jim Caldwell was ousted. In comes Luck and Chuck Pagano to replace Manning and Caldwell with expectations of a playoff berth looming over their heads.
Early in the season, Pagano is diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Unable to process how it would feel like to not have their head coach by their side throughout the season, the Colts knew what they needed to do for Pagano. Win.
And boy, did they win. The Colts finished the season 11-5 and have Pagano back on the sidelines with them as the cancer is in remission. What makes this story so special is the humanism involved with sports.
Cancer has been something that has hurt many people in this world and no one is immune to it, not even those in sports. Pagano was a former football player and he looked to be in great shape for his age. Pagano’s diagnosis set off a national outburst of awareness to cancer and the NFLs support through wearing pink and the viral hashtag #ChuckStrong and with Colt’s players and cheerleaders shaving their head as a sign of support for Pagano, it has become the greatest sports story of 2012. Imagine what it would be like if Pagano, who was the defensive coordinator for the Ravens from 2008-2011, can pick up a victory in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl!?
A picture is worth a thousand words and if you can imagine Pagano lifting up the Lombardi trophy, what a testament it would be to the season he has had and a source of inspiration to cancer victims and survivors everywhere.
Like I said, it is hard to argue with saying a playoff game is bigger than a championship game. However, this is not just a regular playoff game. These two teams met earlier in the season without their biggest stars, Pagano for Indianopolis and Lewis for Baltimore. Indianapolis won the game on a fantastic game-winning drive by Luck in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Now, Lewis will be on the field. Pagano will be on the sideline. This game won’t be in Indianapolis, it will be in Baltimore this time. Aside from Lewis and Pagano, you have Luck vs, Flacco, rookie vs. veteran. Luck is trying to get his first playoff win while Flacco is attempting to silence the critics in his attempt for his first Super Bowl.
There are so many factors, so many stories, so much riding on the line for both teams aside from the Super Bowl. Excitement may not even justify how big this game is. And that, is why this game will be bigger than the Super Bowl.
All of these combustible elements are about to ignite one of the greatest football games you will ever see and in my opinion, no one will be talking about what happened in the Super Bowl, but rather what happened in Baltimore when the Ravens and Colts faced each other in the wild card playoff game.