I feel like it’s never a bad idea to start out a column with a little bit of honesty. I’ll start this week’s off with a confession.
I’ve blown off starting to write this for as long as I could. Not for your standard procrastination reasons, but because this is the last Can Connor Cover? of the season and I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.
I love writing this column every single week. I love talking about football, movies and everything in between. We’ve had some great times this season. We talked about the movie Hoosiers and how I’ve never seen the ending despite starting it over 15 times. You got to witness first hand both my euphoria thanks to the Missouri Tigers AND my depression thanks to the Chicago Bears. There were holiday themed articles. There were movie recommendations. You people rode with me as I finally won a fantasy football championship! We’ve been through it all this fall and winter, and for that, I say thank you for continuing to read.
Sadly, we’ve run into a problem. A week from now, there won’t be anymore games to pick. Four weeks from now, there still won’t be any. Believe it or not, four months from now we'll still have the same problem.
Football is saying goodbye. Unfortunately, that means I must say it too.
Of course, my time with the Times-Union is not coming to an end, and you’ll still be able to see my byline in the paper almost every night of the week with the many games we have left from now until summer. My inbox is also always open if you’d like to email me ideas for feature stories.
But even as I stay busy covering the games and teams of Kosciusko County, not having Can Connor Cover? will leave me with a void. I’ve thought of a few ways to try and fill it, but not much is jumping out at me.
I’ve debated a spinoff column in which I try to cover every college basketball game during March Madness, but I haven’t watched enough college hoops this season to do that genuinely. My private bracket is going to be busted horribly, why embarrass myself publicly as well? I guess content is content…
Last year when I said goodbye, I mentioned that I would write a column here and there throughout the offseason if something was on my mind. I didn’t write a single one. I’m going to try to remedy that this summer, but no promises. I can’t imagine I’ll be too locked into baseball this year, as I’m fully expecting my White Sox to lose 140 games. Maybe they’ll be good for a rant or two. The NBA and NHL playoffs are always a good time, so hopefully we get some storylines there.
I could get in my feelings for the next 2,000 words and talk about how sad I am to be signing off, but we have a game to talk about. Not just any game either, this is the biggest one on the planet. Coming to you live from Las Vegas, it’s Super Bowl 58.
By this point, we’ve known the two teams that will be playing on Sunday for over a week. The Chiefs will take on the 49ers in a rematch of Super Bowl LIV, also known as the last awesome event to occur before COVID ruined all of our lives in 2020. The Niners were winning that game 20-10 going into the fourth quarter before Patrick Mahomes solidified himself as the best quarterback in the league with a 21-point final quarter to come back and win it.
These two teams have a lot of the same faces on the roster as they prepare to meet once again, but there are some notable differences. The Niners now boast Christian McCaffrey, the best running back in the league, as their leader in the backfield. Jimmy G is no longer the QB, as Mr. Irrelevant himself Brock Purdy has done a great job.
The Chiefs have completely redone their defense into a younger, impressive unit that is one of the best in football. Tyreek Hill may no longer be on the roster, but the money that would have been spent on giving him a megadeal was allocated in a very smart way.
For those of you who may not be the biggest of football fans but will still be tuning in anyways, there will be a plethora of attention grabbers. The commercials will hit and miss, but hopefully we get more good than bad. Famous names like Martin Scorsese, Patrick Stewart, Carl Weathers (RIP) and Vince Vaughn will all be in ads, and I’m sure many more we don’t know will make us laugh as well. Usher will perform at halftime, and I have to be honest with you, I’m not that excited. I know one Usher song (Yeah!) so once he plays that I’m probably going to tune out.
There will also be the food! Stephanie keeps asking me what we should make for the big game and outside of buffalo chicken dip, I’m struggling to think. You know when you have a million thoughts in your head and they’re all floating around like crazy and you can’t narrow it down to a single one? That’s kind of how this is going. Burgers sound good, but then again so do wings. You can’t do a Super Bowl without chips, so what other dips can I think of. I haven’t mentioned any kind of cheese, so is it mozzarella sticks or queso? So many choices, so little time!
I feel like there’s another item of pop culture significance relating to this Super Bowl, but I can’t seem to think of what it is. I have a feeling it’s music related, but for the life of me, I can’t figure it out. I’m sure it’s not important, so let’s get into quick hitters.
Girls basketball season sadly came to an end last weekend, as all seven local teams fell in their sectional tournaments. All of our teams went down with a fight though, and I was lucky enough to cover some of the most exciting games of my career thus far over the last week. Truthfully, there has not been a moment where I have felt like a member of this community more than walking out of Warsaw’s sectional loss to Northridge last Tuesday. I had to sit in my car for a few minutes and take some deep breaths because I was so darn sad. Go get ‘em next year ladies.
The worst part about this column ending before March is that I will not be able to give you all my review of Dune 2, my most anticipated movie in I don’t know how long. The early reviews are incredible, and I’m struggling to wait these last few weeks. I can’t wait to return to my desert. My Arrakis. My Dune.
Seeing as this is the only game left on the schedule, we are going to go all out with the pick. I am going to break this game down into positions and judge where each team has the edge. Without further ado, let’s do this.
SUPER BOWL LVIII
San Francisco 49ers (-2.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
You all know where I’m going to go with this one, as I have mentioned multiple times over the past few weeks that Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league. Not a hot take by any means. Brock Purdy has done a fantastic job this season, and has been a huge factor in both of the Niners playoff wins so far this season. He’s going to need to be near perfect for them to have a chance in this one. Mahomes is going to need to be perfect too, and I like his chances a bit more than I like Brock’s. He was so good in that game against the Ravens, especially on those first two drives to set the tone. I feel like Purdy is one of the better quarterbacks in our game, but he’s going against the best.
As easy as it was for me to pick the Chiefs in the last category, it’s even easier for me to pick San Fran in this one. No disrespect to Isiah Pacheco, but the aforementioned CMC is the best running back in the league. He’s got some amazing blockers in the form of offensive tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk paving the way for him. Running the ball is what makes this Niners offense one of the most elite in the game, but we have to hope they actually use it. The Ravens boasted the best running attack in all of football but decided to make Lamar throw it 40 times. Kansas City’s defensive strength lies in its secondary. If McCaffrey gets 30 carries, KC could be in trouble.
I’m putting tight ends in this receiver category because both of these teams boast two of the best pass-catching TEs in the world. Travis Kelce had the best game of his season in the AFC Championship game. Rashee Rice has emerged as Mahomes’ number one wideout, but after that, it’s a bit of a fall off. Justin Watson has been somewhat reliable, as has Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but neither has been a game wrecker. On the other side, the Niners are loaded with weapons, with the top three of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle all being guys that can flip a game on its head. Jauan Jennings has even made some big plays throughout the playoffs. The storyline surrounding the Chiefs all season long has been the receiver room. It’s been better, but It’s not magically a top unit in the league just because it’s the playoffs.
This one is a little trickier, because while the Niners’ offensive front has made the running game so formidable, Purdy has had a hard time staying in the pocket this postseason before it collapses. On the other side, Mahomes has only been sacked once through three postseason games. In almost every single ranking that I’ve seen, these two teams are around the same spot. I don’t have much of a problem calling this one a draw.
Defensive Front Seven
Boasting names like Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, the front seven for San Francisco is arguably the most feared in the league. Despite all of those big time names, I think that Chiefs star defensive tackle Chris Jones is probably going to have the best game out of everybody. The Niners clearly have the edge in the linebacker category, but Jones is enough of a game wrecker to make it close in the trenches. Chase Young has been a nothing burger since he came over from Washington, but overall, I think if there’s any defensive front that can pressure Mahomes, it’s this one.
This is where the Kansas City defense really shines. L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie are two of the top corners in the league. Justin Reid has been a beast at the safety position. This secondary has been a saving grace for this team all season long. In games where the offense hasn’t been firing, the defense would step up. Last week against the Ravens, they made life incredibly difficult for Lamar and company. The 49ers have a solid secondary as well, highlighted by corner Charvarius Ward, but the team has not been the same since losing Talanoa Hufanga to injury earlier this year. I have to go with the Chiefs and the secondary that has been the talk of the sport.
Because special teams is just as important as offense and defense, it’s worth mentioning the kickers here. Harrison Butker has been phenomenal all year for the Chiefs, going 33-35 on his field goal attempts, including 5-5 from 50+ yards. He’s a perfect 7-7 in the playoffs, not to mention he already hit a game-winner in last year’s Super Bowl. Rookie kicker Jake Moody started off the season very strong for San Fran, but has struggled lately. He went 21-25 on the year but is 3-5 already in the playoffs, including 2-4 from 40+ yards. This is another easy one. Give me Butker all day.
Kyle Shanahan has been here before. He’s lost twice: once as the offensive coordinator for the Falcons and once as the head coach of the Niners in the previously mentioned Super Bowl 54. In both games he had a double digit lead in the fourth quarter and lost. This is Andy Reid’s fifth appearance at the big game, fourth with Kansas City. He’s going for his third win. You could probably argue that Reid is as much of a reason for the Chiefs’ success as Mahomes is. He’s an all-time coach that has proven he can win in this spot before. Shanahan is an awesome coach in his own right, but the pedigree of Reid speaks for itself.
Well, by a tally of 4-3-1, it looks like the slightest of edges goes to the Chiefs in this game. That doesn’t surprise me, as I said the moment the AFC Championship game ended that there was no way at all that I could pick against them. But then I thought about it some more. I saw everyone else with the same sentiment betting the Chiefs and the line barely moved. I thought about how they would handle a hefty dose of McCaffrey. I thought about how this could very well be the Niners’ last chance with this core and how they will be going all out. I don’t like it, I’m not confident, but I have to ride with the team I’ve picked as my Super Bowl winners all year long. Ladies and gentlemen…
The Pick: 49ers -2.5
There’s not much left for me to do except to sign off. If you see me in the wild covering a game, feel free to come say hi. I truly do believe it’s an honor to serve you all as the sports editor of your local paper, and I hope each and every one of you enjoy what I’m able to put out. Until next time…
Last Week’s Record: 1-1
Season Record: 148-128-8