Jan 31, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Sequels, the cliché goes, are never like the original. Whether at the movies or in the world of sports, we let our happy and pure memories of the first chapter color our feelings about any chapter (or chapters) that may follow.
Yet when it involves the Roman-numeral display of excess better known as the Super Bowl, the record is more mixed.
The second Steelers-Cowboys clash in XIII may have topped X, but no one other than Dallas fans thinks fondly of the second straight conquest of the Bills in XXVIII. Bengals-49ers in XXIII proved more dramatic than XVI, thanks to Joe Montana’s last-minute scoring drive.
We have that again this Sunday night in Indianapolis. Once the two weeks of hot air and hype are over, and once we’ve seen David Tyree make that helmet catch 25,000 times, only then will the NFC’s Giants and AFC’s Patriots commence XLVI.
Good thing that there is the shadow of what happened in Glendale four years ago. Otherwise, the sights and sounds of obnoxious New York fans and obnoxious New England fans would get really tired really fast for the rest of the country.
Essentially, the events of Feb. 3, 2008 shape this tale. Inches from a perfect season and a fourth Super Bowl title in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, the Pats got denied, and the bitterness felt by all New England partisans has never gone away.
So here is the rematch, Giants-Patriots II if you want to put it that away. And how many times, when Hollywood hypes sequels, do they say that, on this particular occasion, it’s personal?
Well, that cliché certainly applies in this case. Not only are the teams the same, so are the circumstances in which they got here.
No, the Patriots weren’t undefeated, but 13-3, with eight straight wins to close the regular season, sufficed. Brady’s numbers rivaled what he did in his 2007 rampage, and even if the defense was subpar for a while, it atoned with solid playoff efforts against the Broncos and Ravens.
One of those blemishes came against the Giants, who like ’07 flirted with irrelevance for much of its season, despite the win in Foxboro. Now, just as then, the switch got turned on in late December, leading to an easy-first round win, a conquest of the top seed and a tense overtime road victory in the NFC title game. Doesn’t all of that sound familiar?
In the search for different factors (aside from personnel), one is, of course, the fact that, for all they accomplished, both the Patriots and Giants benefited from a lot of good fortune in the championship games.
A touchdown pass broken up at the last millisecond, a hooked field goal, two fumbled punts – for the Ravens and 49ers, those defeats will hurt for a long time without anonymous idiots using social media to post inflammatory comments and death threats. With them, it’s even worse, and says more about us taking this stuff way too seriously.
Still, the focus is on the two sides that did get to Indy. There’s the Giants’ Eli Manning, in the city where his older brother has been gainfully employed for 13 years, trying to get that second ring Peyton doesn’t possess, helped by a defense just as physical and ornery as the one in XLII. Funny, no one is questioning Tom Coughlin’s job status now, are they?
With the Patriots, it’s Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski emerging as prime targets for Brady’s precise throws, proving just as dependable as Wes Welker. New England’s defense, maligned for most of the autumn, has played its best in the winter, coming up with timely turnovers or, in Sterling Moore’s case, the hand that kept Lee Evans from cradling that go-ahead TD.
As always, when it gets to this time of year the most healthy thing a football fan can do is tune out the mass quantities of nonsense that accompanies this particular event. The game is compelling enough without them, something the NFL conveniently forgets in an inane attempt to draw in casual fans who don’t watch during the year.
Forget about the ridiculous commercials. Forget about the more ridiculous ticket prices (official and otherwise), and don’t even bring up Madonna. The Super Bowl has been, and always will be, about players taking the field more nervous and excited than in their entire lives, knowing that a single play, or plays, could define them, for better or worse.
This brings us to the obligatory prediction, guaranteed not to work out. Tempting as it is to think that the Giants maintain the mojo and win it all again, my sense is that the Patriots have waited four years for this particular moment and, without the pressure of maintaining perfection, pull it out, perhaps 28-24, get revenge, and roll the credits.