Take it to the bank - Patriots in a squeaker

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Today's Super Bowl figures to be intriguing for a variety of reasons.

You've got two teams who at various points of the season never figured to get this far.

Sure, the Patriots were highly regarded entering the campaign. But after releasing star defender Lawyer Milloy in a controversial move before the opener and then getting drubbed at Buffalo 31-0, New England seemed like a team in turmoil.

And the Panthers, who were 1-15 two years ago before improving to 7-9 last season, were considered a playoff contender because of their rugged defense. But no way was anybody talking about Carolina getting all the way to football's ultimate game.

But the Patriots have been one of the hottest teams in NFL history, winning 14 straight. And the Panthers took the unusual wild-card route to the big show, winning three playoff games, including the last two on the road.

Then you've got the two quarterbacks.

New England's Tom Brady is efficient and steel-nerved. All the guy does is win.

As for Carolina's Jake Delhomme, probably not many people outside his small home town in Louisiana had ever even heard of him prior to the season.

The Patriots rate as well deserved favorites and they get a shaky nod from me, but I also wouldn't be surprised if the Panthers prevailed.

If you have to pin me down on a score, it's New England 17, Carolina 14. But considering my track record on predictions, don't bet the farm on it.

Central senior quarterback Mitch Craft, one of the area's premier high school football players, plans to continue his athletic and academic career at hometown Southeast.

The signing period for football begins Wednesday. Craft may or may not sign that day; if he doesn't, he will make it official some time shortly after that.

I've known Mitch and his family for some time. Not only will the Indians be getting an impressive athlete, they'll also be getting a fine young man and a solid citizen -- no matter what type of problems he recently ran into that led to his suspension from Central's basketball team.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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