Gutman: Ravens vs. Steelers is winter wonderland

Some say sunset is the most romantic, magical time of day. Screw that, sunset sucks. I thought about this as I trekked to some godforsaken corner of Connecticut — also known as up Science Hill — in today’s arctic conditions. That good-for-nothing sun set while I was walking, and the return trip was colder and icier than Shredder’s (from The Ninja Turtles) love life. Apparently girls don’t go for dudes with claws.

As I counted the steps back to my warm room in Pierson, I felt the primal, instinctive man arise in me, triggered by my environment. It reminded me of football. Football’s about as savage as you can get. One man attempts to use his body (or a gun if you’re Ray Lewis) to bring down another. It’s the classic case of the hunter versus the hunted.

But my perception of football isn’t how football has been for the past decade or so. I enjoyed watching The Greatest Show on Turf march up and down the field for St. Louis, but there’s something about their 8-yard out-routes in a dome that bothers me. For those of you who don’t know what an 8-yard out-route is, it’s basically where the quarterback throws the ball before anyone can hit him to a receiver who steps out of bounds before a defender can tackle him. If executed well nobody really does much of anything on that play. This staple of the St. Louis Rams playbook toward the start of the 21st century was anti-football. Minimal contact, no tolerating adverse conditions … it kind of resembled badminton.

There is an antithesis to this Mike Martz-orchestrated blasphemy. Ed Reed and James Farrior fight in the name of true football. These defensive warriors have one goal: make you want to leave the game and watch the rest from the sidelines. Oh, and get the ball while they’re at it.

This weekend’s Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens game will, therefore, be football at its very best. Two teams that love attacking other humans more than the average great white shark. Two teams that hate each other more than Santa Claus hates DirecTV dishes that break up his landing pads. Two teams led by emotional leaders who show more passion than Tom Cruise on Oprah.

Best of all, this Sunday’s contest will be a smash-mouth contest played in conditions even worse than that of Science Hill during a January sunset. Pittsburgh will be snowy and in the high teens or low 20s. The Pittsburgh Zoo is bringing its entire flock of penguins to the game so they won’t miss their natural habitat.

Though I’m normally an NFC fan (NFC East represent), I’m rooting for the AFC to win the Super Bowl this year. They play football as it’s meant to be played. The era of run and gun in the sun is coming to an end: The two high-flying offenses of the Eagles and Cardinals (pun very much intended) playing in 75-degree Arizona weather will put on a good show. But neither team will win a title. Defense and the ability to play in any type of weather are keys to championships. And having leaders scarier to run into in a dark alley than Batman — like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

Great teams, like Joe Gibbs’ Redskins (take one, not take two) and Bill Belichick’s Patriots of the Super Bowl champion years, play excellent defense and raise their game in the face of adversity. They refuse to make excuses and win. Teams like Martz’ Rams and this year’s Arizona Cardinals are like supernovas — they shine brightly and then explode soon after. If the NFC wants to compete next season and beyond, they would do well to do as the Ravens and Steelers did. Build a tough defense that plays the game the way it’s meant to be played and that dominates at the same speed whether it’s 90 degrees outside or icy and miserable like the walkway outside Sterling Chemistry Lab.

In a game in which the more physical, “manly” team wins, the NFC is about to get pummeled.

Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.

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