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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002
Vinatieri deserved Super Bowl MVP
The sports media blew it again last week.
With the chance to do something different, they opted to go with the conventional wisdom and take the easy way out. I'm not referring to any social or political issue, but rather the selection of the Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl XXXVI.
Over the years it has never ceased to amaze me how so-called educated members of the media will just do what is expected when it comes to selecting award winners in various sports. So quick to criticize others for even the most minute of mistakes, the media, when given the chance to be the decision makers, often end up way off the mark.
Funny thing is, people can second guess us, but the difference is it usually doesn't get into the newspaper or onto television, like when we do the criticizing. One of the privileges of membership, I guess.
The case in point is the selection by the voting members of the media at the Super Bowl last week of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the MVP. It was so predictable, it was pathetic.
Even though Brady engineered the last-minute drive that resulted in the game-winning 48-yard field goal by place kicker Adam Vinatieri as time expired, it was clear as day to me who should have been the MVP -- the guy who won the game (Vinatieri).
Having been in attendance at the Super Bowl (won by the Patriots 20-17 over the St. Louis Rams), having worked in pro football and having played quarterback and kicked in high school, I feel pretty qualified to comment on the issue.
The success of the 24-year-old Brady is no doubt an amazing tale, but when you go 16-27 for 145 yards passing and one touchdown, that does not exactly qualify as a banner day in my book. But nevertheless, Brady walked away with the MVP award.
In the 36 Super Bowls that have been played, a quarterback (19 times) or running back (seven times) have garnered the MVP award in a majority of the games. In fact, on only four occasions has a defensive player been the MVP and only once has a special teams player earned the honor (Desmond Howard as a punt and kick returner in Super Bowl XXXI for the Green Bay Packers).
It just seems to me that if ever there was an opportunity to give the honor to a kicker, this was it. I mean the guy wins the game at the gun and that's still not good enough. Give me a break.
Many media members, and for that fact, many players and coaches don't consider kickers to be players. They just think of them as specialists who serve a relatively small role in the grand scheme of the game.
The problem with that theory is, that even though they are not on the field for that many plays each game, the plays they are on for are often the most pivotal.
Just ask the Patriots, who would have been nowhere near New Orleans last week if it hadn't been for Vinatieri, who booted an incredible 45-yard field goal in a blizzard two weeks earlier to help New England force overtime against the Oakland Raiders in their AFC divisional playoff game, then won the game with a 23-yard field goal in overtime.
Many will say the final play of the Super Bowl was the play of the season, but for my money it was the 45-yarder against the Raiders. If that baby doesn't go through the uprights, the season was over for the Patriots.
I thought New England head coach Bill Belichick said it pretty succinctly after the Super Bowl when he commented on Vinatieri: "Adam won three games for us in overtime this season, so today is no surprise. He is a money player."
Even more impressive were the comments of Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely, who said, "This guy is so much more than a kicker. All year long we've seen it. He lifts weights religiously. He runs with the linebackers. He is a real football player."
I think when it comes to voting on awards, the sports media needs to do something it really doesn't like to -- look in the mirror. The fact is that a large number of these people never played the game or worked in it, but consider themselves experts nonetheless. Like the old saying goes, "ignorance is bliss."
This isn't the first time the media has been off the mark when it comes to selecting the Super Bowl MVP.
One glaring example was in Super Bowl XV when the media felt compelled to bestow the honor upon quarterback Jim Plunkett, who had shown remarkable courage throughout his life, when he led the Raiders to a 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
As happy as I was to see Plunkett, who hails from my hometown of San Jose, Calif., get the award, I was troubled by the fact that Raiders linebacker Rod Martin, who set a Super Bowl record that still stands with three interceptions in the game, was overlooked.
As a former sports PR man, I can tell you that often I dealt with writers who had not a clue about what they were covering, or in many instances didn't seem to care.
A few weeks ago, a black friend of mine asked what I thought about Kurt Warner being voted the NFL's Most Valuable Player in the balloting by the Associated Press over Marshall Faulk (his teammate on the Rams). I told him that even though both were deserving of the honor, you had to consider who was voting for the award.
I said that there were a lot more older, white guys voting that identified with Warner and his long, tough road to success, than young, black guys who related to the incredibly gifted Faulk.
The feeling of standing on the field with the game on the line and knowing it is all up to you is surreal. There are many players in the game today who don't want that responsibility. Being the hero or the goat can often come down to just a few inches.
I say it is high time that the person who steps up and meets the challenge in this situation be recognized for it, just the same way they are when they fail to.
My hat's off to Vinatieri, the real MVP of the Super Bowl and New England's Cinderella season.