Check-In Time at the Crist Hotel
Want another indication that I'm officially in Florida? I think I brought down the mean age of the terminal about 10 years. Waiting for my luggage is like having a Sanka on the set of "The Golden Girls." A game of canasta could break out at any minute. I feel out of place because I'm not wearing a Life Alert bracelet.
Instead of staying at one of the NFL's designated hotels in downtown Tampa for the week, and paying about $300 a night with the so-called "media rate," I'm fortunate enough to be crashing at Matt's place. He just bought his first townhouse in the trendy Hyde Park neighborhood, which is beautiful since it's only about two miles away from the Tampa Convention Center. The TCC will serve as my hub for most every event, and I can get there on Matt's bike in about 10 minutes if a cab isn't readily available.
And if any of you remember the rat-infested hole in the wall I stayed at in Miami for Super Bowl XLI – thank you, River Park Hotel – I'm in hog heaven right now.
Apparently, there isn't much going on in the Chicago sports scene. About an hour after I get to Matt's joint, Mark Carman, who is David Kaplan's producer on WGN Radio, calls me to see if I want to jump on the show for a few minutes. We talk Super Sunday, the trade market, wide receivers – typical offseason Bears stuff. I'll be on 720 AM again Friday night around 8:10 local time, so feel free to tune in and listen. Kap doesn't need any extra pub from me these days, but I did tell Carm that I would be his pseudo-Super Bowl correspondent if he needed one.
It'll be a long day tomorrow. It's Media Day at Raymond James Stadium, and this year I'm covering both teams instead of just one. My brother wakes up at 5:30 every morning to hit the gym, but we'll see how motivated I am to join him. My guess, naturally, is not very. Don't hold your breath.
I'll have morning, noon, and night blog entries Tuesday in Tampa, so be sure to visit BearReport.com for all the latest from the site of Steelers vs. Cardinals.
Pittsburgh Ground Game is the Key
Like the Bears, the Steelers are an organization built around running the football, playing tough defense, and being sound on special teams. But believe it or not, Pittsburgh finished the 2008 season ranked just 23rd in rushing offense at 105.6 yards per game on the ground. That has a lot to do with the fact that leading rusher Willie Parker, who exploded for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in the opener against Houston, has been battling injuries most of the year.
When the Steelers can run the ball well, they're just about unbeatable because that suffocating defense gets to rest on the sideline while Parker and Co. control the clock. Even veteran Mewelde Moore had a tremendous campaign filling in when Parker was out of the lineup, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and catching the ball out of the backfield beautifully as a safety valve. While Parker may have been slowed down by that dynamite Baltimore defense in the AFC championship game, he's still rushed for 193 yards and scored a pair of TDs in the postseason and appears to be the healthiest he's been all year long.
The Steelers should win if "Fast Willie" has a big day. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
As a matter of fact, when either Parker or Moore runs for at least 87 yards in a game this season, including the playoffs, the Steelers are a perfect 8-0.
If the Steel Curtain can move the chains consistently with Parker and the running game, then Kurt Warner and the high-flying Cardinals will have fewer snaps to do their thing offensively. And when they do so, they'll be doing it against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. If that top-ranked D is also fresh as a daisy, Arizona is going to have big problems on Super Sunday.
Climate Change from Chicago to Tampa
The best way for a sports writer to go to the Super Bowl is if the team he covers isn't actually playing in the game, which, fortunately for me but unfortunately for Bears fans, is the case this time. So instead of having to attend every press conference and producing four or five stories per day, as I did for Super Bowl XLI in Miami two years ago, I'll be able to attend more of the social functions and just write one or two stories per day. But my primary focus will be on this Super Bowl Blog, so please bookmark the page and check it out a few times per day because I'm going to have as much fun with it as possible.
Even better, my younger brother Matt is an attorney living and working in the Hyde Park area of Tampa, so I've got a primo place to stay in the middle of all the action.
Will I go out of my way to write about wearing shorts and reapplying sunscreen just to make all my Midwestern brethren go into fits of rage as they freeze their tails off back home? Absolutely. Will I take all kinds of photos with the D-list celebrities that always flock to highly-public events like Super Sunday – remember the long night of boozing I had with Steve-O of Jackass two Januarys ago? – to make everything more interesting? Count on it. Will I remember that the actual purpose of my trip is to cover the Steelers facing the Cardinals for the Vince Lombardi trophy? Well, we'll see about that.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find my sunglasses.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.