ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Wall Street Journal sports writer Stefan Fatsis is with us, as he is most Fridays. And Stefan, we've been hearing about the part of football closest to your heart and foot, the kicking game. You spent part of December training to kick with the Denver Broncos, no?
Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sports Writer): I did and it turned out to be a great year for kickers other than me. There were field goals made of 62 and 60 yards. It was the best overall field goal percentage for kickers in history, more than 81 percent. So I for one think it would be appropriate if the Super Bowl ended with a successful kick and that the winning kicker then was named MVP of the game. That's never happened.
And the two kickers who were in the game have had tremendous years. If you combine the regular season with the playoffs, Adam Vinatieri has made 36 out of 39 field goals, or 92.3 percent, and Robbie Gould of the Bears is 37 for 41, 90.2 percent.
SIEGEL: And that's Robbie Gould spelled G-O-U-L-D. He says "gold."
Mr. FATSIS: Yes.
SIEGEL: Now he has not supplied the margin of victory in three of the last five Super Bowls the way Vinatieri did with New England.
Mr. FATSIS: No. And if Vinatieri does it again, I think he's a lock to become the second kicker in the Hall of Fame. The big issue in the game, though, might be the players who are alongside the kickers and the punters, the rest of the special teams.
Now the Colts are among the league's worst in kickoff and punt coverage, which means they let opponents start with the ball in pretty good field position, on average, the 31-yard line. The Bears, meanwhile, are very good at returning the ball. They've got rookie Devin Hester. He's got six touchdowns on special teams. That's tremendous.
SIEGEL: Before we get on to all the non-kicking guys who will be playing on Sunday, there's only one kicker in the football Hall of Fame?
Mr. FATSIS: Yup. Jan Stenerud of the Kansas City Chiefs, and they did win a Super Bowl in 1970.
SIEGEL: Back to Sunday's game, there are a lot of people who think that it doesn't matter where the Bears start, where they get the ball, they just won't be able to score enough points to keep pace with the Indianapolis Colts and their quarterback, Peyton Manning.
Mr. FATSIS: The funny thing, though, is on paper the Bears are the better team. They've got better special teams. They have a far better defense. They have an offense that has scored as many points as the Colts. But Manning is the story. He's that good, and he hasn't reached the Super Bowl or certainly won one.
And there's an article on the Web site coldhardfootballfacts that I've just read that shows how Manning, through the nine years he's been in the league, compares more than favorably with the full careers of some of the greatest passers ever.
It also argues that even though he's only got a six and six playoff record, Manning's post-season statistics match up very well with those of three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady of New England. The point being it's more than just individual performance that decides football games.
SIEGEL: On the other hand, Manning will go up against the Chicago Bears defense that is very good.
Mr. FATSIS: Very good. Another numbers focused Web site, FootballOutsiders, says that the Colts offense this season is the second best in the NFL in the past decade, behind only the Colts offense in 2004.
The strengths are not just Manning's arm, but things like the ability to protect Manning when he passes. And to control that, the Bears rushers are going to have to put pressure on him and that's the one thing that they're not great at.
SIEGEL: Now just a word about the other quarterback in the game, the Bears' Rex Grossman. Hardly the ideal quarterback, but he gets the job done.
Mr. FATSIS: And I don't think it matters that much. You can win a Super Bowl with an average quarterback. Trent Dilfer and the Baltimore Ravens did it in 2000. Phil Simms of the New York Giants in 1986. If you look back, he had very mediocre season statistics and then he put up the best passer rating in Super Bowl history.
Now the issue with Grossman has been that he's had some awful games and now he's being compared with Manning. But so far in the playoffs, his statistics had been on par with Manning's. So the key might be which Indianapolis defense shows up on Sunday - the one that gave up more points in the regular season than any team that's won a Super Bowl or the one that was exceptional in the first two playoff games and good enough to beat the Patriots in the third.
SIEGEL: Well, let's see what happens on Sunday. Thank you, Stefan.
Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal, who talks with us Fridays about sports and the business of sports.
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