When the lights come up in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday evening, the future of the NFL will lie in the balance. More than just a battle between two teams on a 120- yard field, Super Bowl LIII will be a war between two schools and eras of football. The winner may well decide the fate of the entire league.
Ever since I have had a concept of football, the New England Patriots have been the most dominant franchise in the league. One of my first sports memories is the Tuck Rule game in the 2001 AFC Divisional Round, where Adam Vinatieri beat the Oakland Raiders in a blizzard.
When the Patriots escaped Foxboro that night, no one knew the run of dominance that was about to ensue. Nine Super Bowl appearances and five victories later, quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick have taken their place in the hallows of football lore.
But now, a young upstart coach and quarterback combo seek to disrupt the dynasty and turn the NFL on its head.
Three years ago, Sean McVay was stuck in the nation’s capital with a difficult task before him: make Kirk Cousins look like a competent quarterback.
Cousins was a fourth-year guy from Michigan State who had only started nine games over his first three years in the league. He was an afterthought. But, under new offensive coordinator McVay, Cousins developed into an elite quarterback in just two seasons.The gunslinger threw for almost 5,000 yards in 2016 and the league took notice of not only the quarterback, who would eventually sign a contract worth $84 million, but also the coach who helped him get there.
In 2017, McVay became the youngest coach in NFL history at the age of 30 when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams. His air-raid offense took the league by storm, and McVay was named the AP NFL Coach of the Year.
In a league dominated by defense and physical play, McVay’s system is a bit of an anomaly, one that is similar to the sets common to college teams like Texas Tech University and the University of Oklahoma.
His offensive style has become popular with both coaches and fans. According to the NFL, television ratings jumped five percent in 2018, largely because of a bump in offensive production.
In a press release following its recent hire,the Arizona Cardinals cited new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s friendship with McVay as a reason for his hiring.
McVay’s early success has created a lot of buzz, but he still lacks the rings to go along with his success, something Belichick and Brady have in abundance.
This weekend’s game is a battle of old and new, experience and youth and a contrast of styles that may define the future of the NFL.
Should McVay’s Rams topple the Patriots from their lofty perch, more NFL teams are likely to look for ways to adopt the high-flying approach of the new hero. Should Belichick and Brady once again leave the Super Bowl victorious and complete their infinity gauntlet, it could be a few more years before the NFL completely switches from its grit and grind brand which has dominated for decades.
More than just a ring, the future of football could lie in the balance.