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Grip on Sports: Defense wins championships

When Matt Hasselbeck led Seattle to the Super Bowl in 2006, the hoopla wasn’t the same. (Associated Press)
When Matt Hasselbeck led Seattle to the Super Bowl in 2006, the hoopla wasn’t the same. (Associated Press)
A Grip On Sports

Saturday: “Offense thrills the fans, but defense wins championships.” I don’t know who said it first – Augustus Caesar, perhaps? – but it’s been in the lexicon as long as I can remember. And I can remember a long time. And I’ve lived that philosophy for as long as I can remember, whether I’ve served as a player, a coach or a writer. Which bring us to today, the day before the Seahawks’ second Super Bowl appearance. The day I must get off the fence and pick a winner. I asked for your choices earlier in the week and received a rather tepid response – though the Hawks were the choice of 80 percent of you in your picks and almost two-thirds of the about 200 poll respondents. So that didn’t help. Neither did the copious research I’ve done all week. I read more than a hundred stories. I talked with a handful of football people I respect. I watched SportsCenter for three minutes – that was enough. After that it was just reruns of the same thoughts – and the NFL Network until Deion’s suits started to repeat themselves. But all that research couldn’t get me off my first thought. “Defense wins championships.” It may not be proven empirically but I’ve believed it since I watched Vince Lombardi and John Wooden coach. And there is clearly one dominant defense this week. The Seahawks. They have quite possibly the best defense the NFL has seen since the 1985 Bears. . The Broncos’ offense is the best the league has seen in a while, with the Peyton Manning-led passing game record-setting. So is the Seattle defense. So while the Broncos are thrilling, the Seahawks should win, 30-27. If they don’t, I’ll have to come up with a new philosophy.

• We chatted a bit yesterday on the radio about why the Northwest seems so much more excited this team than it did during the last Hawk Super Bowl. I had some rather mundane thoughts on the matter but nothing really deep. So I thought about it on the ride home. And again while lying in bed last night. And I came to a conclusion. The excitement could be built on a strong foundation. By that, I mean this: Fans get it. They know a contended from a pretender. The Hawks of the mid-2000s got to the Super Bowl with a bit of smoke and mirrors. They were good, sure, but they weren’t built to last. The core was getting older, the quarterback was a journeyman who got hot and the defense had holes – mainly in the depth department. This team seems built for the long run. So the fans see a bright future, even those who are more Eeyore than Piglet. And that makes it easy to get all worked up.

Thursday: How hard is it to hit a winning shot? 

I think there are levels of difficulty, based on the circumstances. For example, if the game is tied at home, a last-second shot to win isn’t as mentally taxing because a miss doesn’t end the game. Overtime awaits. But overtime on the road is a bit more of a crapshoot, so the same shot away from home is a bit tougher.

A prayer from three-quarters court to tie isn’t pressure- packed, as no one expects to make one. But a last-second 3-pointer to tie a road game, coming at the end of a set play in which your teammates worked hard to get you open, has to be filled with 12 pounds of pressure.

The one Sam Dower Jr. connected on last night has to fall somewhere in the upper range. The Gonzaga final-shot plan, whatever it was, had seemingly fallen apart and Kyle Dranginis was dribbling up top as the clock wound down. Dower did the right thing, he screened for the ball and, as his defender stepped out to slow down Dranginis, Dower popped to the open spot. Dranginis found him.

Dower, his feet inches behind the 3-point line, buried a jumper with 1.9 seconds left to give Gonzaga a 54-52 win over Santa Clara. Miss and the Zags had lost their second WCC road game. Miss and the Broncos would have closed the game on a 13-2 run, which would have allowed naysayers to bring up the hated choke word. Miss and the questions would have begun again.

But Dower didn’t miss. And Gonzaga got out of Santa Clara with another hard-fought win.

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