Most of my friends aren't football fans and watch only one game a year — the Super Bowl. I've heard from several of them that the experience would be much better if they knew what the hell was going on. Well, since I'm having friends over to watch the game I thought I'd try and help out. Here is some helpful information for Sunday's game. May the best Bear win. (Note: I've also prepared a printer-friendly version for those who want a cheat sheet. It should fit on one sheet, front and back.)

Update (2/2/07): Anil just posted a Prince Primer. What a great companion piece!

What's Football?

It would take too long to cover this properly, but it looks like Mom's Guide to Sports has the basics covered. This guide assumes you have no knowledge of football whatsoever and has a good lingo section for those hoping to impress their friends.

If you've got the basics covered but would like to step it up, take a look at Wikipedia's explanation of offensive and defensive formations.

About the Super Bowl

This is Super Bowl XLI (41) and it's taking place at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida. According to SuperBowl.com, this is the ninth time the Super Bowl has been in South Florida. SuperBowl.com also has recaps of the last forty Super Bowls for those who want to talk about past years' games. You'll likely hear talk about Super Bowls V, XX, XXXV and XL (last year).

Who's playing?

The Chicago Bears are playing the Indianapolis Colts. Although they are playing on neutral ground, the Bears are considered the home team. This means they get to choose which jersey they'd like to wear (home or away) and the Colts will call the opening coin flip. In regular season play when the two teams have matched up, the Colts have won 22 games and the Bears have won 17. (The Colts smashed them 41-10 two years ago in their last meeting). The teams have never met in the playoffs. Here's some background on the two teams.

More details are after the jump.

The Chicago Bears

The Bears have been in Chicago since the team's inception in 1920. They've won championships in 1921, 1932, 1933, 1940 (73-0!), 1941, 1943, 1946, 1963 and 1986. They have historically been a team that focuses on running the football and brutal defenses. Walter Payton and Gale Sayers are their best-known running backs and are both in the Hall of Fame. On defense, there is a history of fantastic middle linebackers with Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus. Their luck with quarterbacks and the passing game has been less fortunate, as Sid Luckman is their best known and he stopped playing in 1950. You'll most certainly have heard of Mike Ditka, the coach who led the Bears to win Super Bowl XX, but don't leave out George Halas, who helped start the NFL and was the Chicago Bears coach off-and-on from 1922-1967.

The 1986 Bears (Super Bowl XX winners) are universally considered one of the top five teams of all time. Their defense was unstoppable, giving up only 10 points in the whole post-season, and the team almost went undefeated. The team is responsible for the Super Bowl Shuffle and inspired Saturday Night Live to create Da Superfans.

This year's team is led by Brian Urlacher as middle linebacker on defense and Rex Grossman as quarterback on offense. They finished with the best record in the NFC (National Football Conference) at 13-3 and won their first two playoff games against the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. They were dominant in the first six games of the season, winning them all, but began having trouble when Grossman started playing poorly. He is wildly inconsistent and fans and pundits have been suggesting coach Lovie Smith bench him for backup QB Brian Griese. The defense has been consistently strong, while slowing down a bit at the end of the season with injuries from two of their stars, safety Mike Brown and defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

Four players who have emerged this year are Bernard Berrian, Robbie Gould, Mark Anderson and Devin Hester. Berrian is a receiver and is known for his speed and ability to catch the long pass. Gould is the Bears' kicker and knocked in 26 straight field goals at one point this year. Mark Anderson is a rookie defensive end and has twelve(!) sacks this year in limited playing time. Devin Hester is a rookie and has blown people away by having six returns (punt, kickoff, etc.) for touchdowns. He's electric, people.

The Bears will try to win the game with their defense. They're known to play a Cover 2 style of defense, which focuses on gap protection (each defensive player is assigned to cover an area of the field). On offense, they'll focus heavily on the run with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson and will use the deep pass to keep Indy on their toes. Many expect Hester's return skills to play a significant role as the Colts are very poor in return coverage.

The Indianapolis Colts

I'll admit I don't know as much about the Colts, but I'll do my best. The team began as the Baltimore Colts in 1946 and moved to Indianapolis in 1984. They won championships in 1958, 1959, 1968 and 1970. The team is best known for their potent offensive attack and have had offensive stars throughout their history. Their single most famous player is Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The team was also home to fantastic players like Jim Parker, Gino Marchetti, Raymond Berry and John Mackey. Don Shula probably the best coach of all time, started his career here before moving to the Miami Dolphins.

The Colts are centered around quarterback Peyton Manning. He is the most gifted QB in the league and led the Colts to 13-0 and 9-0 starts over the last two seasons. He is complimented by two fantastic wide receivers, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and a powerful running game. Their defense, especially run defense, was criticized all year as the team narrowly squeaked by in many games. In the playoffs, the defense has stepped up and played quite well thanks to defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Cato June and safety Bob Sanders. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots to make it to the Super Bowl. Their game against the Patriots was critical as Manning has a history of cracking under pressure, especially against quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots, so the victory was especially sweet. The one player who could be a future superstar is rookie running back Joseph Addai. He runs alongside five-year veteran Dominic Rhodes.

The Colts use a hurry-up offense which is run by Manning (he's oftentimes calling the plays himself instead of the offensive coordinator). This style of play is very physically demanding on the defense and helps keep the offense on the attack. You can expect the Colts to test runs up the middle, as this has been a weakness for the Bears towards the end of the season, but it's safe to say their success rests on Manning's awe-inspiring passing skills. He hasn't played all that well in the post-season (six interceptions vs. Grossman's one), but he's likely to play incredibly tough. The teams previously soft defense has been playing well in the last month and will likely continue that trend. They also use the Cover 2 scheme (Lovie Smith, coach of the Bears, was a linebacker coach under Tony Dungy, coach of the Colts, which is why their style of play is so similar).

Interesting Points

This Super Bowl marks the first time a black coach has reached the big game and it so happens that the coaches of both teams are black. The media is also making a big deal about how nice Lovie Smith (Bears) and Tony Dungy (Colts) are. In a league where lots of coaches like to yell and make angry faces (e.g. Tom Coughlin of the Giants), these two guys play it cool.

This is a battle of the powerful offense versus the staunch defense. Las Vegas is telling us the Colts will win by 7 and most of the critics think they'll win too. Still, it isn't expected to be a lopsided game. Very few people expect either team to win in a blowout but think the skill of Peyton Manning will help Indy rise to the top. Since Peyton is just a nice guy and has had a rough go in pressure situations, the public seems to be behind him.

The key to the Bears' defensive success has been turnovers and pundits believe this will be the key to the teams' success. The Colts have given a lot of teams a tough time in the middle of the passing lane, where there are often holes in the Cover 2, but it's believed Brian Urlacher's physical prowess will make it difficult for Manning to find these spots.


If you want to read more about the game, I suggest you check out ESPN for general news and opinions, Football Outsiders for in-depth, mathematical analysis and Deadspin for all the gossip and shenanigans surrounding the game. I also highly recommend you seek out the ESPN show Pardon the Interruption with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser (they also have podcasts).