Super Bowl XLIII has tough act to follow

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Have you ever had to step into the limelight to deliver a speech or make a presentation immediately following one which was so good that you knew yours would pale in comparison?

I was faced with that at least twice in my life, once in high school and once in college while taking public speaking courses. Both of my teachers asked for volunteers before calling on people at random. Fearing the chance that I might have to follow a great speech and face unrealistic expectations, I typically waited for a modest presentation filled with stumbles and poor eye contact before raising my hand and volunteering.

Fortunately for the Steelers and Cardinals, they’ll be too consumed with actually winning the championship to be concerned about following what is widely considered one of, if not the greatest Super Bowl of all time. Indeed, Super Bowl XLII, which featured an 18-0 team attempting to complete the perfect season, had to be my favorite championship ever and my odds-on favorite to claim the top prize. Our country is based upon the underdog story and it was a fitting story line that the heavily favored Patriots were upset by the underdog Giants.

In perhaps the most parity-driven NFL season ever — or, at least, in recent memory — I’d be shocked if either of this year’s participants were to blow out the other one. But, from a fan perspective, don’t be surprised if the entertainment value of Super Bowl XLIII falls short of your expectations. In fact, for added dramatic effect, I would purposely lower your expectations so that you may be pleasantly surprised by its outcome.

As the teams arrive in Tampa Bay today and prepare for Media Day and the ensuing circus that will follow, you’ll be bombarded by the tired story lines that have already grown thin on substance.

You’ll hear how Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm are former Steelers coaches looking to triumph over their former employer on the grandest stage.

Or, how Grimm was actually promised the Steelers job after Bill Cowher stepped down, only to have the offer reneged and the job given to Mike Tomlin.

Speaking of Tomlin, you might hear how he has a chance to become the second black head coach to win a Super Bowl, for whatever that’s worth.

You’ll surely hear about the ageless wonder, Kurt Warner, and his roller coaster career that saw him go from Arena Football to the MVP award and Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams, followed by a poor stint with the Giants and backup duty with the Cardinals, before finally culminating in an MVP-like season and a Super Bowl berth with the most unlikely of franchises. You’ll undoubtedly hear Warner’s name and “Hall of Fame” in the same sentence about two dozen times over the next six days.

Although Warner’s story is quite compelling, we’ve heard it before. It was the same basic plot in 1999 when he took the Rams to the championship. Only now, he went from obscurity to prominence not once, but twice.

The other story lines just aren’t attractive enough to hold the attention of football laymen, which is likely to cause a dip in ratings from last year’s Super Bowl. Taking nothing away from the biggest sports spectacle in the world and one of the greatest non-religious, non-official holidays of the year, Super Bowl Sunday may seem nothing more than a glamorized playoff game this year.

However, I’ll still be pinned to the TV because it’s the last meaningful football game of the 2008 season, and once it’s over, perhaps the most uninteresting time of the year — in sports, and in life — will officially begin, and won’t end until spring blooms and March Madness kicks in.

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