JOY IN JACKSONVILLE A sportswriter needs angles like a football needs air. Here are my favorites as kickoff for Super Bowl XXXIX approaches.

Will Terrell Owens play, and if he does, will he dance? The EaglesÕ wideout is the most hyped player in the NFL. (HeÕs not overhyped . . . he really is a great receiver.) But star quality aside, has his broken right ankle healed enough for Owens to be a threat to the PatriotsÕ patchwork secondary? My guess is that Owens will suit up, if for no other reason than to serve as a decoy. HeÕs the kind of player who would draw a defenseÕs attention if he took the field on crutches. Which will be an advantage for quarterback Donovan McNabb and PhiladelphiaÕs multipurpose dynamo, Brian Westbrook.

Is Tom Brady the coolest quarterback since Joe Namath? The guy has started eight playoff games in his career . . . and won eight. HeÕs played in two Super Bowls . . . and been named MVP of both. Playoff interceptions from Brady are as frequent as Florida blizzards. And heÕs been on the cover of GQ. The guy is a certifiable winner, and if he beats the Eagles, heÕll join Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, and Troy Aikman as the only quarterbacks to win three Super Bowls. Much more of this and the famed Hancock Tower in Boston may get a new name.

Can Donovan McNabb become the second black quarterback to win the Super Bowl? Maybe we should ask Rush Limbaugh this question. Peyton Manning is the leagueÕs MVP, and Brady is as cool as the Fonz in his prime . . . but McNabb may be the most dangerous quarterback alive. HeÕs running less than he did earlier in his career, but heÕs still extraordinarily elusive, bowing only to Michael Vick in the scrambling category. And heÕs turned himself into a solid decision-maker behind the line of scrimmage. (It helps to have the kind of time PhillyÕs line regularly gives him.) It may not be politically correct to pay attention to a quarterbackÕs skin color, but the ÒmagnitudeÓ of McNabbÕs winning a Super Bowl is ironic, in that he will better represent todayÕs game than did Doug Williams when he won Super Bowl XXII 17 years ago. Ten years from now, there will be more quarterbacks -- black or white -- playing McNabbÕs game than that of old-school Brady. Donovan McNabb is actually more of a prototype than a pioneer.

Are the New England Patriots a dynasty? TheyÕre getting there. The Pats have to win this Sunday to become the second team to win three Super Bowls in four years. (It should be noted the one season they didnÕt raise the Lombardi Trophy during this run -- 2002 -- they didnÕt even make the playoffs.) What will stand out in historical terms when the Patriots are compared with the likes of the SixtiesÕ Packers (Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg), the SeventiesÕ Steelers (Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert), and the EightiesÕ 49ers (Montana, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig) is that New England doesnÕt have anywhere near the star quality those teams did. Tedy Bruschi? Ty Law? Deion Branch? Brady and Corey Dillon are on their way to Canton, but Dillon was a Bengal when the Pats won their first two titles. Perhaps the greatest compliment this TEAM can be given is that theyÕve achieved dynasty status in a free-agency era where keeping stars together for five to ten years is well nigh impossible. Which brings us to our next angle.

Is Bill Belichick the greatest coach since Lombardi? His playoff record (9-1) is the equal of the Packer legend. And as noted above, heÕs won championships without the cushion of superstars at five or six positions. This is, in part, a chicken-or-egg matter. Do the likes of Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour become such money players through the lessons of their sideline master . . . or does the coach benefit from a collection of players with that unique, battle-ready strain of football DNA? Like the finest marriages, itÕs a perfect combination of the two.

Who will be the biggest stud on the field come Sunday? Easy answer: New England kicker Adam Vinatieri. (Stop laughing.) When Vinatieri stepped up and drilled a 48-yard field goal to open the scoring in Pittsburgh during the frostbitten AFC Championship, it was all over but the crying for the Steelers. This guy has already won two Super Bowls with eleventh-hour field goals. Cold weather doesnÕt shake him. Wind doesnÕt bother him. Pressure? Go to Iraq and youÕll see pressure. The EaglesÕ David Akers is a fine kicker himself, but Vinatieri is on his way to the Hall of Fame.

My prediction? New England 24, Philadelphia 16.



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