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Only the Super Bowl remains, and we get two weeks to fervently build up our hopes that it will be a truly memorable contest when the Denver Broncos face the Seattle Seahawks in New Jersey.
Both teams certainly deserve to be there. Denver is led by the imperturbable Peyton Manning, who is as good as there is at finding an open receiver and sending radar-like passes that only that receiver seems allowed to reach. Seattle will confront Manning and the Broncos’ No. 1 ranked offense with a herd of mean and hard-socking players assembled on the No. 1 ranked defense in the whole NFL.
The long-awaited Manning-Tom Brady match didn’t work out, because Brady was about as far off his usual game as I’ve ever seen him. He threw some great passes, but he also overthrew open targets a half-dozen times, and he and the rest of the New England Patriots came undone at the exact moment when they had to be at their best. Denver won 26-16.
In Seattle, the Seahawks defense was outplayed by Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers for much of the game. Russell Wilson, who has done an amazing job leading the Seahawks all season, won the game when he first sent Marshawn Lynch crashing through the line for a stunning 40-yard touchdown run, then he pulled a rabbit out of his helmet when he turned a fourth-and-long into a fantastic touchdown pass.
Seattle won 23-17 only when cornerback Richard Sherman leaped high in the end zone to bat away a pass headed for Michael Crabtree, and Malcolm Smith caught the tipped pass for an interception that ended the 49ers’ last chance. It also set the stage for Sherman’s blatant lack of sportsmanship and class when he ran to overtake the dejected Crabtree, ran past him to confront him and taunt him face to face. Remember when players used to celebrate and be congratulated for making a game-winning play, rather than have their first thought be to go taunt someone on the team you just beat?
I had picked Seattle to win the Super Bowl back in August, and I’m sticking with the Seahawks now. My opinion is reinforced by calculating that Manning and his receivers give Denver an edge in offense, while Seattle’s crashing, crunching, smothering defense gives it an edge of the Bronco defense. Of course, the game isn’t played offense vs. offense and defense vs. defense, and I think that the Seattle defense will reduce Manning’s thoroughly dominant effectiveness, while Russell Wilson is liable to come up with a huge game to prove that the Seahawks offense is better than the Denver defense.
UMD WOMEN MISS A CHANCE
UMD’s women’s hockey team had been sizzling, and had moved to within one point of third-place North Dakota in the WCHA. But Ohio State, which came to AMSOIL Arena in last place, thew a wrench into UMD’s rising success.
First, UMD clearly played well enough to beat the Buckeyes in Saturday’s first game, and the Bulldogs did win, but only after a power failure that lasted until they captured a 1-0 shootout edge for a 1-0 victory.
What hurt the Bulldogs was that they get only two points, instead of three, for winning by shootout. It was worse in Game 2 on Sunday, when it was the Buckeyes who won by shootout, splitting the series in which both teams needed points, but divided them up instead. Six points were available, but UMD got only three.
The first game was a study in frustration. Lisa Steffes was so strong in OSU’s goal that UMD coach Shannon Miller said: “Several times we started to cheer on the bench because we thought we’d scored, but she made the save.”
The final result was a tribute to Miller’s recruiting of European players. Lara Stalder is a freshman on defense from Switzerland, and she might be UMD’s most effective defenseman. Miller paired her with Tea Villila, a strong, physically willing defenseman from Finland for the weekend. Good move. When they go off to the Olympics, it will disrupt one UMD defensive set, not two. Both left at midweek, Villila for Finland and Stalder for Switzerland, where they will play for their nations’ Olympic teams in the women’s hockey Olympics at Sochi, Russia.
Then there is Katerina Mrazova, a talented forward from the Czech Republic. She came to UMD as a freshman, but was not allowed to play while solving an NCAA Clearinghouse issue. She became eligible with the start of second semester, and she is an outstanding player. So good, in fact, that Miller sent her out, without ever having seen her in a shootout situation, to shoot between Meghan Huertas and Jenna McParland. Sure enough, Kayla Black was superb in stopping all three Ohio State shooters, and while Huertas and McParland were unable to score, Mrazova sailed in, made a quick deke and cut to her right, beating Lisa Steffes with a backhander.
Without Mrazova, the teams might still be down there at AMSOIL, trying to figure out a way to score a goal. With her, UMD won the shootout 1-0 and captured the extra point for the 1-0 victory.
UMD heads off to Madison this weekend to take on the Wisconsin Badgers, another of those major rivals over the years. The Bulldogs will face them without Stalder and Villila, who are on their way to Sochi to play in the Olympics.