This Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in NRG Stadium in Houston, the 13-5 Atlanta Falcons, representing the National Football Conference, will face the 16-2 New England Patriots of the American Football Conference in Super Bowl LI for the National Football League championship.
In its 51 years of existence, the Super Bowl has grown into a phenomenon, becoming one of the most viewed North American sporting events—100 million people are estimated to watch this year’s competition—generating billions of dollars of revenue across a broad array of industries, most notably television commercials, which are a major attraction for viewers, and gambling—both legal and illegal. Consider how much money will be exchanged in office pools around the country.
The Super Bowl has become one of the most, if not the most, galvanizing events on the American calendar. Some have even lobbied for the Monday after the game to be a national holiday, as statistics reveal that upward of 17 million people are expected to miss work or call in sick this upcoming Monday.
Depending on who one is rooting for, the game can be either highly exhilarating and emotionally rewarding or extremely disappointing and dejecting. Dating back to the inaugural Super Bowl Jan. 15, 1967, in Los Angeles, when Brooklyn native and Fordham University alumnus Vince Lombardi led the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers to a 35-10 victory over the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, the game has seen unlikely heroes emerge, such as the New York Giants’ wide receiver David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII or the Patriots Malcom Butler in Super Bowl XLIX.
Sunday’s game should be no exception. Undoubtedly the stars will have a profound impact on the outcome. The Falcons’ superlative duo of quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones will make several big plays, as will the Patriots’ unparalleled quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Julian Edelman. Yet the Falcons’ unheralded players, such as wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, tight end Austin Hooper and safety Keanu Neal, are candidates to be etched in Super Bowl lore, as are the Patriots’ running back Dion Lewis and safety Patrick Chung.
Both teams arrived in Houston via routs in their respective conference championship games. The Falcons, under the direction of head coach Dan Quinn, crushed the Packers by 44-21 and the Patriots abused the Steelers 36-17. The Ryan-led Falcons boast football’s highest scoring offense, and the Patriots’ defense has allowed the fewest points this season. Their contrasting strengths should produce a gripping battle as the Falcons are seeking the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory—they lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII—while Brady and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are seeking their fifth victory in what will be a record seventh appearance for a quarterback-coach tandem.
However, the Falcons defense, with outstanding linebacker Vic Beasley, whose 15.5 sacks topped the NFL in sacks this season, and the Patriots’ offense are highly capable of putting their considerable imprint on the game. But in a season in which there have been no great defensive teams in the vein of last year’s Broncos, who won the Super Bowl, it has been the year of offense in the NFL. And the league’s top unit, the Falcons, will be the difference in their team’s 27-24 victory.