Be No. 1 when it counts

By Dan Falloon, Sports reporter
The phrases “top team” and “championship team” often come together, like in the case of the defending World Series champion N.Y. Yankees and Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes.
The Bronx Bombers pounded on Major League Baseball for much of last season, and were able to carry that steam to a 27th title in November while the Alouettes eked out a Grey Cup victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders later in the month.
But sometimes those terms don’t link up, with Sunday’s Super Bowl arguably an example of that.
While the New Orleans Saints were no slouches this past season, the Indianapolis Colts entered the game as favourites after being the top all-around squad for the better part of the year. But the Saints pulled off a 31-17 comeback win for their first title, which will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Colts’ fans as well as those who like to see the top team finish the job.
The Colts had been so dominant from start to finish, recording a 14-2 regular-season record while resting their starters in those two losses. Some will argue it just wouldn’t be fitting to see the ultimate trophy go to someone else.
And I can see where they’re coming from. With so many non-sporting awards, consistency is valued—and so it should be.
In an ideal world, the Oscar for best picture should go to the movie that was best throughout, not a mediocre one with an extremely touching five-minute scene sandwiched in there somewhere (“Crash,” anyone?).
But athletics are a different beast, at least when it comes to championships.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy is awarded to the best team in the Super Bowl, and this year the team that wasn’t necessarily the best team all season went home with it.
In one sense, it’s a little tough to swallow because the Super Bowl is just one game. In the NHL, NBA, or MLB playoffs, the lower-seeded team is likely going to pull out one win in any given series.
In the 2002 Stanley Cup final, the Carolina Hurricanes drew first blood before the Detroit Red Wings juggernaut booted the ’Canes in the next four.
Would the Saints have won in a three-game series? I’m not so sure.
New Orleans’ risky business, especially the recovered on-side kick to start the second half Sunday night, combined with a couple of key timely plays, won them the game.
It was just the one game for all the marbles. And the Saints seemed to leave everything out on the field, not worrying about saving tricks or surprises for later.
After recovering from some nervousness early on, they played extremely well, but I’m not convinced Manning wouldn’t have adjusted after being given a chance to see video and go back to the drawing board.
If the Saints and Colts were matched up again in three, five, or any number of games, it’s just hard for me to imagine the Colts losing—barring some sort of catastrophic injury.
Instead, everything came down to the final game, and the Saints’ gutsy attitude towards the winner-take-all scenario was better suited to the match-up this time around.
And out of the four major North American sports, the do-or-die game is exclusive to football, which makes up a major part of its appeal. Every game means so much.
However, the series set-up is what makes upsets in baseball, basketball, and hockey that much more incredible. After all, it takes four wins to conquer the big dog, not just one.
And if that big dog, after dominating for 82 games or for 162 games, can’t win four out of seven when the chips are down, it lends more credence to an argument that perhaps it wasn’t a legitimate beast to begin with.
Timing is everything.
In hockey, the San Jose Sharks have proved they’re a great regular-season team, but for all their warm-up success only have made it to the conference final once in their history. By all accounts, the Sharks should have at least a Stanley Cup or two under their belts, but they haven’t been able to pull it off.
And for as good as the San Diego Chargers have been for so many years, it’s difficult to believe they haven’t seen a Super Bowl game in the last decade.
Meanwhile, the fact that the Florida Marlins or Arizona Diamondbacks have any championships at all is mind-blowing, considering they both climbed into the ring with the vaunted Yankees and emerged as the victors.
Going back to a personal sting, the 2001 Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders didn’t even finish above .500 during the regular season, but got hot in the playoffs and quieted the 14-4 Winnipeg Blue Bombers to snag the title.
They weren’t the best teams that year, but they were the best team when it counted.
Another Alberta team came within one win of the improbable as the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers thrashed their way to the Stanley Cup final in 2006, falling to the Carolina Hurricanes—favourites this time around—in seven games.
Even so, the Oilers proved the only significance of the regular season for playoff teams is that they were good enough to advance. After that, a President’s Trophy and six bucks will get you a soft drink at the concession stand.

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