An alternate history of Super Bowl matchups

16 January 2013 » Football, History, Thoughts

The NFL’s conference championship (semifinal) games always capture my imagination.

In many cases, it’s where the two best teams in the league face off, even if they still move on to face a weak opponent from the other conference in a largely ceremonial Super Bowl. Most of the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboy match ups from the early 1990s fall into this category. So these conference games represent the de facto league championship game.

In other cases, there are some teams that just can’t catch a break, like the Cleveland Browns or New York Jets, despite numerous, and often successive, championship game appearances. Without at least a Super Bowl appearance, these teams fall by the wayside of NFL history.

The forgotten championship
In all cases, the loser quickly disappears from the public’s memory – unlike the Super Bowl participants who have at least a moment’s glory on the national stage – despite an excellent season up to that point.

Do you remember how dominant the Browns were in the late 1980s? Or the Los Angeles Rams in the late 1970s?

A second chance at three hours
I often contemplate what NFL history could have looked like, had the NFC and AFC championship games gone the other way and the losers instead advanced to the Super Bowl.

See the full results below, starting with the 1970 season, with the winner shown in bold. I assume the conference that won the real Super Bowl also wins the alternate match up, though admittedly this is unlikely in several match ups. My observations follow the results.

Super Bowl        AFC team NFC team
V Oakland Raiders San Francisco 49ers
VI Baltimore Colts San Francisco 49ers
VII Pittsburgh Steelers Dallas Cowboys
VII Oakland Raiders Dallas Cowboys
IX Oakland Raiders Los Angeles Rams
X Oakland Raiders Los Angeles Rams
XI Pittsburgh Steelers Los Angeles Rams
XII Oakland Raiders Minnesota Vikings
XIII Houston Oilers Los Angeles Rams
XIV Houston Oilers Tampa Bay Buccaneers
XV San Diego Chargers Dallas Cowboys
XVI San Diego Chargers Dallas Cowboys
XVII New York Jets Dallas Cowboys
XVIII Seattle Seahawks San Francisco 49ers
XIX Pittsburgh Steelers Chicago Bears
XX Miami Dolphins Los Angeles Rams
XXI Cleveland Browns Washington Redskins
XXII Cleveland Browns Minnesota Vikings
XXIII Buffalo Bills Chicago Bears
XXIV Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Rams
XXV Los Angeles Raiders San Francisco 49ers
XXVI Denver Broncos Detroit Lions
XXVII Miami Dolphins San Francisco 49ers
XXVIII Kansas City Chiefs San Francisco 49ers
XXIX Pittsburgh Steelers Dallas Cowboys
XXX Indianapolis Colts Green Bay Packers
XXXI Jacksonville Jaguars Carolina Panthers
XXXII Pittsburgh Steelers San Francisco 49ers
XXXIII New York Jets Minnesota Vikings
XXXIV Jacksonville Jaguars Tampa Bay Buccaneers
XXXV Oakland Raiders Minnesota Vikings
XXXVI Pittsburgh Steelers Philadelphia Eagles
XXXVII Tennessee Titans Philadelphia Eagles
XXXVIII Indianapolis Colts Philadelphia Eagles
XXXIX Pittsburgh Steelers Atlanta Falcons
XL Denver Broncos Carolina Panthers
XLI New England Patriots New Orleans Saints
XLII San Diego Chargers Green Bay Packers
XLIII Baltimore Ravens Philadelphia Eagles
XLIV New York Jets Minnesota Vikings
XLV New York Jets Chicago Bears
XLVI Baltimore Ravens San Francisco 49ers

Some observations

  • The New York Giants never reach the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots appear only once (and win).
  • The Vikings, Lions, Eagles, Chargers, Oilers, Panthers and Seahawks each win at least one Super Bowl.
  • San Francisco still wins 5 Super Bowls, but also loses 3 times. Oakland wins 5 (including 3 in a row, which has never happened in Super Bowl history) and loses two.
  • The Browns make it to 3 Super Bowls but lose all of them. The Jets make 4 but win only one.
  • There is an expansion team meeting the year after both new teams joined the league, when the Carolina Panthers defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys still meet two times.
  • The Bears go 3-0, representing the best overall Super Bowl record.
  • The Buffalo Bills still don’t win a game.
  • There are lots of interesting local rivalries. Los Angeles and Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

It would also be interesting to consider alternate MVPs, though I’d limit this to quarterbacks, since defensive or special teams players reflect a strong individual performance rather than the overall team strength. Kenny Stabler and Joe Montana would probably lead the MVP tally.

Everything old is new again

05 August 2010 » Opinion, Thoughts, Writing

The New York Times has published two articles recently about the perception of a rise in plagiarism in the current school-age, digitally native generation:

In a highly technologized culture where information is cheap and easily copied, students can no longer be trusted or expected to make the effort to be creative, critical and original thinkers.

It’s far too easy nowadays to remix what’s already out there and in so doing, not to properly attribute a source.

Laziness and unoriginality
In the latter Times article, Sarah Wilensky – a college student herself – decries what she sees as both laziness and unoriginality in her peers. Institutions that don’t stridently enforce the rules only accelerate the disturbing trend.

“…Relaxing plagiarism standards “does not foster creativity, it fosters laziness… You’re not coming up with new ideas if you’re grabbing and mixing and matching,” said Ms. Wilensky… in a column in her student newspaper headlined “Generation Plagiarism.”

“It may be increasingly accepted, but there are still plenty of creative people — authors and artists and scholars — who are doing original work… It’s kind of an insult that that ideal is gone, and now we’re left only to make collages of the work of previous generations.”

Combining old elements
But it’s very interesting to contrast this urgent, modern lament against some thoughts from a 1965 book on advertising, “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young, in a chapter titled “Combining Old Elements”:

With regard to the general principles which underlie the production of ideas, it seems to me that there are two which are important.

The first of these has already been touched upon in the quotation from Pareto: namely, that an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.

This is, perhaps, the most important fact in connection with the production of ideas…

The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Here, I suspect, is where minds differ to the greatest degree when it comes to the production of ideas. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. to others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts…

The point is, of course, that when relationships… are seen they lead to the extraction of a general principle. This general principle, when grasped, suggests the key to a new application, a new combinations, and the result is an idea.

Consequently the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.

Prior art is everywhere
Young argues that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with leveraging work done by others, in fact it’s the only sensible way to make progress in a society (and run a successful ad campaign). He doesn’t ever consider attribution of these newly forged ideas in his essay.

Moving from abstract ideas to a concrete example, consider a beautiful and unique building near you. It’s largely created from well accepted architectural patterns, common construction tools, and zoning standards. You don’t see attributions on these edifices. They’re not in the blueprints or on the cranes either.

Maybe educating students and aspiring authors to properly credit their sources is the wrong approach altogether. In many ways, it’s a distraction from original thought and pure innovation.

A proposal for a read-mostly society
I believe it should no longer be the burden of the student or writer or speaker to quote his source… it should be assumed, by default, he is building on the work of others and attempting to convey a new idea built on those foundations.

Instead, it should now be up to the reader to accept that the work is derivative and take on the responsibility to vet the work.

Current plagiarism software should instead help suggest attributions… it does, in fact, rely on the same technology to check content against an existing pool of sources. With networked e-book readers and smartphones paired to efficient search algorithms, this should become ever easier.

How can you tell if a piece of work contains original research, legitimate sources or draws reasonable conclusions? Use the reader technology, find the sources and judge for yourself.

Beyond lifting the burden on authors to free them to focus on their original idea, this shift would empower readers to engage their critical thinking facilities through constant and simple source checking. This approach could also neutralize writers with an agenda who may decide to remix ideas selectively to skew a point.

In a technological society formed mostly of passive content consumers and relatively few active content producers this can only be a good thing.

Oh, and as far as the unoriginal title to this blog post. Who should I attribute it to, Duke University or the Barenaked Ladies?

I’ll let you and Google decide.

Helsinki and Tallinn

19 June 2008 » Photos, Thoughts

I spent some time with the family in Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia earlier this week. Gorgeous places, both. Especially under twenty hours of daylight in June.

We’re still in Finland, looking forward to our second wedding party on Midsummer‘s eve this coming Saturday with the family who couldn’t make it to the US last November. :)