Bill Belichick will coach in his fifth Super Bowl, the coach and quarterback Tom Brady linked like Hall & Oates, Laurel & Hardy, like peanut butter and jelly. They both know the forty-second edition is a black mark upon what is a nearly unimpeachable legacy. Montana. Bradshaw. Brady.
A win means the 6th round QB picked behind 198 other men will be on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. Rich Cimini wrote the obligatory anti-Brady piece, accenting the mistakes in recent games. But when a guy is 16-5 in the postseason, you do have to stretch a bit.
On the other end, Rick Reilly—who’s probably the best pure sportswriter there is—saluted Brady for the wealth, fame, and pleasurable company that comes with being Tom Brady. At the risk of sanctimony, this is lunacy. Money doesn’t make you just; fame won’t get you love that matters, and pleasure won’t make you happy. Maybe even Brady knows this down deep.
Either way, both writers miss the point. The point is that Brady can walk away from this sport after the win if he wants, possessed of relative youth, having made a mockery of decades of tradition, matching the greats of the game in only 10 years. There will be no younger challenger to the legend who forces him elsewhere; there will be no messy “divorce.” At least it appears not. And the best part of it all is that as great as he is, he’s not the focal point. New England has done this The Patriot Way.
We recall how they burst on the scene against the heavily favored Rams, “The Greatest Show On Turf,” eschewing individual introductions like clergy in plain garb. They won as a team. The front office is ruthless, stockpiling draft picks and refusing to pay to keep big stars. Players are cogs in a machine. And yet, the Patriots gain those cast off by other teams, those with something to prove. The man who knocked the ball out of the hands of the Ravens wideout with scarcely 20 seconds remaining in the AFC Championship game had languished on the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad just weeks before.
They’ve made the NFL into the franchise mode of a video game. They were caught recording other teams on video years ago, and rather than apologize—beyond the obligatory mea culpa—they took it out on other teams with touchdowns in garbage time. New England is full of holes on defense, putting offensive players in pass coverage because of injuries, as they have done many times before, and yet here they are.
Reputation and intimidation.
What if Belichick isn’t really a genius, but he beats them because they think he is? By all rights, the New York should be favored. The 9-7 NFC champs have had their backs to the wall for 2 months. They can rush the passer, and they defeated Brady on this stage once before. They have two game-breaking wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Their quarterback, the younger Manning, threw 58 passes in horrid conditions in San Francisco.
The last time these two met in the Super Bowl, the question was whether New York could score enough against a record-setting offense. The Giants prevailed, 17-14, in an offensive coordinator’s nightmare. On the other hand, a miraculous helmet catch by David Tyree (still called, “The Catch”) rallied the Giants for the winning score. It was New England’s game to lose, and they did, blowing an undefeated season.
Not quite as much pressure accrues to this New England incarnation; their being here is a bit mysterious. It had appeared that the 31st-ranked defense against the pass would be dismissed. But Tim Tebow took out the mighty Steelers, and New England squeaked by Baltimore on account of mistakes. The scary offenses of New Orleans and the defending champion Packers underperformed in the other conference, so Brady can attempt to etch his legend against a club that earned its berth on the season’s final day.
The questions are these: How hurt is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski? New England is coy as always, but he is half a tandem at that position (with Aaron Hernandez) that is a safety valve for Brady when Welker (1569 YRDS, 9 TD), is covered. Can the Patriots run enough to slow down New York’s pass rush? Can the Patriots stop New York’s deadly-fast receivers mentioned above? If it becomes a shoot-out, can the Giants score 35? Can New England rattle Eli Manning?
This is a moment when I might even give the edge to the Giants at the position. It’s easier to imagine Brady playing badly. But this is history. Brady is ready. The offense proves too much. Patriots 28, Giants 10.
Jason Kettinger is assistant editor of and senior sports writer for Open for Business.