Super Bowl Preview: Tom Brady And History, With Eli Manning In The Way Again

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The Super Bowl is here, and Tom Brady has a chance to write himself into NFL history on Sunday. But there’s Eli Manning and the Giants again, standing in New England’s way, one more time.

Feb 5, 2012 – “Been like this all day,” said the nice, exhausted woman at the grocery register. On Saturday afternoon this grocery store was full of customers with full shopping carts in long lines, and so were millions of others just like it. “Like it’s about to be a blizzard tomorrow,” the lady added.

This is the Super Bowl, and it’s not an entirely rational endeavor. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $11 billion to stock up for one, four-hour window on Sunday. This happens once a year, it’s completely ridiculous and unnecessary, and like fireworks on the Fourth of July, that’s what it makes great.

But it helps to have a good game. Or at least, a matchup that feels worth the hype. For some perspective, imagine if things had happened differently. The 49ers and Ravens were two great teams that might have given us a great game, but if we were 12 hours away from a 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl, think of how much less excited you’d be right now. The Giants and Patriots, though?

You have…

  • Two of the most recognizable franchises in football.
  • Two cities that have despised each other for decades.
  • A favorite that’s been obnoxiously successful for a decade, an underdog that’s been all over the map as recently as December.
  • Two quarterbacks that perfectly personify the descriptions above.
  • Two coaches who might as well be taken straight from a movie. The stereotypical grumpy, miserable, bastards that everyone pretends to hate but sorta loves by the end.
  • Two great offenses with enough question marks on defense to guarantee we’ll be entertained one way or another.

Oh, and four years ago they were on opposite ends of one of the biggest upsets in history. Even if you can’t bring yourself to root for either team, as far as the context and the characters involved, you can’t ask for a whole lot more in the Super Bowl. For once, there’s a matchup that deserves of all the insane buildup that accompanies this game every year.

(Just kidding, nothing deserves as much hype as the Super Bowl gets.)

(But still.)

(This game comes as close as anything can.)

So let’s break it down, starting with Tom Brady and ending with a Super Bowl pick.

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TOM BRADY AND HISTORY. There’s not much you can say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said about Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, or every other great player that’s ever been held up as the standard for dominance in the NFL and beyond. You know this. On Sunday, Brady has a chance to cement his legacy among those guys, and maybe surpass them. You know that, too.

But what if he loses? Brady’s already the most dominant quarterback of his generation, but if he loses Sunday, there’s a good chance we remember his entire career differently. The mystique that shrouds someone like Joe Montana won’t be all there with Brady. He’s still one of the greatest ever regardless, but a loss Sunday destroys some of that mystique for good. It’s the difference between Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

We remember Magic as one of the three or four greatest players to ever pick up a basketball; we remember Michael Jordan as THE greatest. This isn’t because they were that different as players. Magic dominated the game like nobody we’d ever seen before or since, the same way MJ did a few years later. The difference came in the NBA Finals.

Jordan never lost an NBA Finals; Magic lost four times. He won five, too, and played in an era where there was at least one other dynasty to contend with, but that doesn’t matter. With Magic, he lives on through highlights and stats as one of the greatest players in the history of basketball, but he wasn’t invincible. Jordan was every bit as electrifying as Magic, but over time we remembered him for his aura of invincibility more than any highlights or stats.

Brady probably doesn’t care what another Super Bowl means for his legacy, and he shouldn’t. But this is what’s at stake: Sunday’s the tipping point between Brady entering Jordan territory as an athlete whose winning transcends sports and stats, or becoming Magic Johnson, a superstar we’ll remember forever within his sport, but not beyond.

If he wins, then the 2008 Super Bowl becomes a fascinating aberration and we’re talking about (by far) the most dominant NFL quarterback in (by far) the most competitive era, and with a myth on par with Montana, MJ, and every other seemingly invincible icon from history. If he loses, 2008 and 2012 become the irrefutable reminders that Tom Brady was historically incredible during his time in the NFL, but still human.

Football’s even more of a team game as basketball, so obviously there’s more in play than just Tom Brady, and just like Jordan was the beneficiary of unbelievable help and lesser opponents than Magic faced, the Patriots could win or lose for a million reasons that have nothing to do with Tom Brady. In other words, the way we remember our icons doesn’t totally make sense. But then, that’s sports.

Now, on the other end of the legacy spectrum …

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THE PEYTON MANNING DRINKING GAME. It’s best to just accept that Peyton Manning is the new Brett Favre, and assume that nothing will prove this more than Sunday’s game and the rampant Peyton speculation that comes with it. Will he play in 2012? How good could he be? Should he walk away? These are the questions that will be bludgeoned into our subconscious over the next six months or so, starting on Sunday.

Given the circumstances, you could approach this one of two ways. Slam your head against whatever surface is closest — wall, coffee table, etc. — or embrace it and have fun. With that second option in mind, on Sunday, chug your drink when you see/hear any of the following:

  • An analyst gravely refers to “the situation in Indy”
  • Anyone on TV or at your Super Bowl party mentions “the big story this week”
  • Someone at your Super Bowl party asks what you think will happen.
  • Anyone mentions Andrew Luck’s name.
  • A pregame show tells viewers to tweet them about Peyton Manning’s future.
  • A fan of any team throws out a hypothetical scenario where Peyton Manning takes over their offense in 2012.
  • Chug continuously during Bob Costas’ inevitable pregame/halftime video essay about Peyton Manning and human frailty and the future and how this is all Edgerrin James‘ fault.
  • Cameras cut to Peyton Manning during the game.
  • Cameras cut to Jim Irsay during the game.
  • Cameras cut to sad Colts fan in a Peyton Manning jersey, OR a happy Colts fan in an Andrew Luck jersey.

Annnnnd … Yeah, if you play the Peyton Manning drinking game, you may still have to listen to neverending conversations about him, but you almost certainly won’t remember them!

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