JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Friday it sat in silence, perched on a table in front of NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. But if you looked closely, the Lombardi Trophy's chrome finish had a thick, dulling, camouflage.
There was a thumb print here, an index or pinky there. From seam to seam, the marks were as plentiful as a leopard's spots. In a way, it was a proper look for the NFL's crown jewel.
Isn't this what the Super Bowl is all about? This event is polished to the hilt, but when Sunday has come and gone – when the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles have packed their seasons away – all that will be left are those fingerprints. Someone has to walk away with that trophy.
With that in mind, here are the five paramount people or things to watch when considering who will be next to lay their hands on the NFL's world championship hardware.
1. Jeremiah Trotter vs. Corey Dillon
In every conceivable scenario where Philadelphia wins Sunday, the Eagles' Trotter has to have a good game. He's become the primary focus of New England's offense this week, as the Patriots have tried to come up with ways to neutralize the Eagles' emotional leader.
Since Trotter was inserted into the starting lineup, the Eagles' run defense has improved by more than 40 yards per game. But he still takes risks, and New England will look to put him in situations where he might be tempted to guess.
The Patriots are expected to operate out of spread sets with four receivers to open up the middle of the defense. That formation would either get Trotter off the field or isolate New England running back Corey Dillon with him one-on-one.
2. Brian Westbrook's hands and Donovan McNabb's legs
While Dillon can pound and help the Patriots control a game, the Eagles likely will have to rely on Westbrook to give them big plays. The Eagles running back is used in a more consistent and versatile manner than any of the backfield threats New England has faced in the playoffs this season.
Westbrook's perfect pass-catching complement will be McNabb's scrambling ability. Paired together, they are a tough assignment for New England's linebackers, who will have to watch for Westbrook sneaking into the flats but also make sure McNabb doesn't start breaking out of the pocket for long gains.
3. Patriots defensive backs vs. Eagles receivers
The Patriots are going to jam the Eagles' wideouts as hard as ever at the line of scrimmage, trying to intimidate them with a physical style Philadelphia rarely saw in the NFC. Owens will be a factor, one way or another. Pessimists insist there's no way he can have an impact, but the fact that the Eagles are putting him in the starting lineup is significant.
New England will test Owens' injured ankle, but don't expect Patriots safety Rodney Harrison to gamble with a big hit too early. He's wary of coming up empty and surrendering a long touchdown to Owens – an event that would set the exact emotional tone Philadelphia wants. But if New England is able to take a healthy lead by halftime, expect Harrison to take a few chances teeing off on Owens and Co.
Both Belichick and Philadelphia's Andy Reid are throwing together a stew of blitz packages. Reid believes strongly that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can be rattled if he has someone in his face often enough. Reid will have designs on moving blitzes around the field and could even flip-flop defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess at times just to keep Brady guessing about where the pressure will be coming from.
Meanwhile, Belichick will have to exercise some unusual restraint against McNabb.
While Belichick seems to always find ways to unnerve opposing quarterbacks, McNabb's mobility – and his expectation that he will have to do some running in this game – will pose far more problems than past foes like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. If Belichick's blitzes miss, he will be leaving some part of the field exposed for McNabb's scrambling.
5. Final possession: Brady and Adam Vinatieri vs. McNabb and David Akers
Both teams have quarterbacks with the ability to engineer last-minute drives. While Brady has done it twice, leading to a pair of Super Bowls clinched on Vinatieri field goals, McNabb and Akers are easily capable of producing the same results.
It should be a close game and could ultimately be decided by who has the ball with two minutes left on the clock.
- New England
- the Eagles