I’ve read an embarrassingly large number of articles about this Super Bowl. I mean this literally. I’ve easily read over 50 Super Bowl articles in the last two weeks, and if asked about it by somebody in real life, I would cut it down by at least a factor of 5. I’ve read articles about Deflategate, about Marshawn Lynch and the media, about Marshawn Lynch growing up in Oakland, about Doug Baldwin and Deion Sanders, about Russell Wilson‘s scrambling tendencies, about how the Seahawks will try to cover Rob Gronkowski, about prop bets, about Kam Chancellor, about the two teams’ weaknesses, about the two teams’ DVOA, about how Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick will match wits, about Bryan Stork‘s knee, about Earl Thomas and random drug testing, about Richard Sherman and his pregnant girlfriend, and many other subtopics I can’t think of right now off the top of my head. I’ve also listened to roughly 20 hours of podcast coverage on this Super Bowl. I am as informed about this Sunday’s big game as any fan could be about any football game ever. And here’s what I think is going to happen: I have no fucking clue. These teams are way too close to make a meaningful prediction of victory for either side. Instead of playing the game, the NFL might as well flip a coin, and hand out the Lombardi Trophy that way. It would be just as fair. Although, admittedly, it might upset some of the sponsors.
Anyway … in lieu of yet more Super Bowl analysis (most of which I’d just steal from Bill Barnwell and Football Outsiders, anyway), I’m going to hand out the second annual JZL Awards. Here’s how I describe the JZLs in last year’s entry.
The title Jim Zorn’s Lemma is a “before and after” of Jim Zorn and Zorn’s Lemma. It’s a simultaneous homage to two of my loves, Seahawks history and mathematics. The former is referenced frequently in posts; the latter I’ve been neglecting. For this reason, I’m giving this year’s JZLs a math theme … What? It’s creative.
Indeed. Now let’s get to it.
Blaise Pascal Spiked Belt Award: Earl Thomas
The 17th-century Frenchman Blaise Pascal was an exceptional mathematician and philosopher. His brainchild Pascal’s Triangle is one of the most amazing and elegant mathematical constructions ever. In addition to being brilliant, Pascal was also deeply religious — so much so that he would wear a belt laced on the inside with spikes, and each time he thought an impure thought, he would tighten the belt in repentance. Today we would consider this insane, but undoubtedly this type of intense focus was part of the reason Pascal was such an amazing thinker.
Similarly, reading stories about Earl Thomas and listening to interviews by him and about him and his legendary intensity makes me wonder if he is also insane and perhaps also punishes himself for thinking non-football related thoughts. But, like Pascal, the dude is great.
Graduate Assistant Award: Ricardo Lockette
Math graduate assistants do a lot of work and don’t receive a lot of credit — much like Ricardo Lockette. A maven on special teams, Lockette also contributed two big touchdowns in the regular season (versus Green Bay and Denver), despite being target just 15 total times. He also converted two third downs with receptions in the NFC Championship Game. Lockette is my deep sleeper for Super Bowl hero.
The only problem with Lockette is that he sometimes lacks self-control and gets a stupid penalty (like in the Super Bowl last year or in the Carolina playoff game this year) or gets ejected (like in the Kansas City game). So maybe he’s like a graduate assistant who is constantly in trouble with the department for making out with his students.
Last Author Award: Byron Maxwell
In many academic papers, the authors are listed in order of their contribution to the paper. Often the last author is one who deserves credit, but isn’t quite up to par with the others — like maybe he or she did a lot of formatting and writing and editing for the paper, but didn’t contribute much of the intellectual content behind it. This is like Byron Maxwell, a fine cornerback to be sure, but obviously the “fourth author” of the Legion of Boom. Justin Britt was another contender for this award, which could also be called the “Backhand Compliment Award”.
The Greatest Lower Bound Award: Bryan Walters
In mathematics, the greatest lower bound of a set of numbers is the number which is less than (or equal to) every number in the set, but larger than every other lower bound of the set. This is like Bryan Walters’ punt returning ability. He’s not a good punt returner, but he’s unlikely to make that killer mistake, like, say, Earl Thomas is. (Remember when he was doing punts?) Of all the Seahawks’ returners, he doesn’t have a high ceiling (upper bound), but he has the greatest lower bound.
Archimedes, Newton, Gauss Award: Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman
Most math historians cite the Big Three — Archimedes, Isaac Newton, and Carl Friedrich Gauss — when the question of “Who’s the greatest mathematician ever?” is asked. So in their collective honor, this is the highest of the JZLs. It’s a tri-MVP award.
Lynch is the only obvious choice. He’s been the best player on the Seahawks offense by far this year. In the era of modern analytics and the salary cap, smart football people are beginning to realize the folly in paying premium prices for a running back. However, there are exceptions. With his play this year, Beast Mode convinced me he is just such an exception, and I hope he returns somehow next year. The Seahawks cannot just replace him with guys like Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.
I’m going with Bennett because without him the Seahawks pass rush would be much, much worse and thus the defense overall would be much, much worse. His ability to rush the quarterback and stuff the run is a huge reason the ‘Hawks ranked in the top five in DVOA in both run D and pass D.
As for Sherman, well, he’s Richard Sherman. It comes down to him or Earl Thomas, and I’m going with him because I feel like he had a slightly better year than Thomas. This is based on nothing other than my own general gut feeling (informed by watching hours and hours of Seahawks this year), but when two players are this close, gut feeling is a fine tie breaker.
Now on to Super Bowl XLIX…