- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Watching Emmitt Smith head the class of NFL Hall of Fame inductees announced before the kickoff of Sunday’s Super Bowl was a reminder that it’s been years since a running back imposed his will on the championship game.

Smith did it in 1994, winning MVP honors in the Cowboy’s win over the Bills. Then Denver’s Terrell Davis did it again four years later in the Broncos’ defeat of the Packers.

But in the 12 Super Bowls since, quarterbacks or wide receivers have been named the MVP 10 times, including Sunday’s XLIV winner, Drew Brees, who capped the most pass-happy year in NFL history with a brilliant performance in Miami, leading New Orleans over Indianapolis, 31-17.

Brees tied Tom Brady’s Super Bowl record with 32 completions in 39 attempts — heck, his Hall-of-Fame-bound counterpart on the other sideline, Peyton Manning, was 31 of 45 and more than 300 yards himself.

Manning and Brees put on a shootout that was, perhaps, the only fitting finale for a season when the league’s air attacks threatened to make running games obsolete (Manning’s AFC-champion Colts were last in the league in rushing this year).

The leagues two best runners, the Viking’s Adrian Peterson and the Titan’s Chris Johnson, were both considered their teams’ biggest threats when the season started, but by midseason, both offenses revolved instead around the quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Vince Young.

Favre, Manning and Brees led an all-star roster of 10 NFL QBs this year who each threw for 4,000 yards. The previous record? Seven.

Watching Manning and Brees carve up the field Sunday night, there was little doubt the NFL has what it always wanted: each team’s fortunes, more than ever, rest on the shoulders — and the throwing arm — of the glamour boys. All across the league, from Tony Romo’s Cowboys to Kurt Warner’s Cardinals to Donovan McNabb’s Eagles, the narrative of an NFL team is inextricably bound up in the success or failure of the quarterback.

You can’t argue with success Sunday’s game was a winner, fun to watch and exciting down to the last few minutes. And the ratings will be sky-high, and the story of Drew Brees and his adopted hometown of New Orleans is irresistible.

But watching Emmitt Smith in the pre-game activities may have left some old-school Super Bowl fans a little nostalgic.

There was a time when mud-and-blood-stained workhorses like Smith — and John Riggins, Franco Harris and Marcus Allen — put their own teams squarely on their backs and physically broke down the will and spirit of an opposing defense on the way to a Lombardi Trophy.

In the aerial circus that is the modern NFL, it may be a long while before we see those kinds of blue-collar Super Bowl MVP performances again.

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