By Tim Kelly
Bill Whiteside knows a thing or two about championship caliber football.
The South Jersey resident was a member of Notre Dame’s undefeated and untied 1949 national championship team, as well as the 1948 team that went 9-0-1 (Michigan edged out the Fighting Irish for the championship that year).
At the time Whiteside was at South Bend, pro football was still in its formative years and college ball was king. Under legendary coach Frank Leahy, Notre Dame was in the midst of its greatest run of success, going 36-0-2 in four years and winning three national titles during that span. The 1949 squad is regarded as one of the greatest college teams of all time.
Whiteside, a 5-10, 172-pounder from LaSalle High in Philadelphia, saw action at quarterback, halfback and defensive back during his Notre Dame career.
Bill shared his views on today’s Super Bowl 51 matchup with OCNJDaily, and like many fans who snoozed through more than a few Super mismatches; he is mostly rooting for a good game.
“I don’t care who wins,” the longtime Eagles fan said. “I want to see a good game and I think we will.”
Bill feels the Atlanta Falcons have a great chance to pull off the upset and have been largely underrated by the pundits.
“They have a good group,” Whiteside said. “They have a terrific quarterback (Matt Ryan), the kid from (Philadelphia’s) Penn Charter. I really like him. And Julio Jones is just an outstanding player. Their running back (Devonta Freeman) is really good, too. They have a nice, balanced offense. But people have really overlooked their defense. Nobody expected them to (shut down) Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers the way they did.”
If the Falcons pull off another upset, it wouldn’t surprise Whiteside.
But on the other hand, he said, the Patriots are still the Patriots.
“As much as you have to respect Atlanta, my thinking keeps coming back to New England. I mean, these guys just seem to find a way to win. Heck, they have taken Eagles castoffs who are being really productive for them,” he said in reference to cornerback Eric Rowe, who surrendered just two completions in nine targets in the AFC championship game, and who made a key interception on a Ben Roethlisberger pass late in the game.
“It’s coaching,” Whiteside said, “but it’s also the players buying in.”
And then of course, there is Tom Brady. “Nobody is better than Brady,” Whiteside said, “but they have a backup in Jimmy Garoppolo who would start for most NFL teams.” Garoppolo filled in admirably during Brady’s “deflategate” suspension, going 2-0 with zero interceptions before being sidelined with a shoulder injury against Miami.
OK, put Whiteside’s feet to the fire and does he think the Falcons win their first-ever Lombardi? Or will Brady get a ring for his thumb?
“New England!” Whiteside said with emphasis. “It’s just too hard to go against them.”