|Posted on February 1, 2015 at 11:20 AM|
Super Bowl Sunday is here, hype is in full swing and the front page of NFL.com reads "Legacy on the Line."
Of course, we've been down this road before. No less than 24 days ago, we read "Peyton Manning's legacy clearly on the line in 2014 playoffs."
Hyperbole is ever-popular, only to many, it's not hyperbole. This is the Super Bowl. Four quarters, 60 minutes of game-time that to many, carry enough weight to impact legacies and change the perception of history. "Perception" is the right word. Quarterbacks: Brady, Manning, those who have come before and the Andrew Luck's of the world who have come after—this is their fate. "Fair or not", the precursor to most proclamations nonsensical, prefaces the perpetuation of flawed logic, since adopted by the masses and applied to the perception of these individual legacies that hang in the balance. For these reasons, "Tom Terrific" can't afford to lose a third Super Bowl.
If he wins, the coin's flipped. A fourth ring puts him alongside Joe Montana—and Terry Bradshaw. Of course, the latter has more rings than Brady, Manning, Unitas, Elway, Staubach and others. Does that make Bradshaw greater then them? But it would make Brady greater, if not, the greatest, right? How quickly we learn that there exists no consistent criteria. That won't stop such criteria from being adopted by the masses—selectively of course—sans context, and spread like propaganda.
Whether Brady wins and ascends to the peak of "perceptive greatness" or loses and sinks to the depths of championship failure—both judgements will miss the mark.
Defeating Seattle will give Brady his fourth ring but it will have been won with the benefit of facing a defense whose three best pass-defenders (Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor) are playing injured. It would be akin to shutting down the 1998 Minnesota Vikings offense with Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed injured.
Such fortune has not been foreign to Brady around this time of year. In four of his six Super Bowl runs, Brady managed to advance through the postseason in spite of recording a game with a 74.0 or lower passer rating. A 66.4 in the 2007 AFC championship and a 57.5 in the 2011 AFC championship were enough to secure "W's.
Many will ignore Brady's postseason losses at the hands of Jake Plummer (2005), Peyton Manning (2006), Eli Manning (2007), Joe Flacco (2009), Mark Sanchez (2010), Eli Manning again (2011), Joe Flacco again (2012) and Peyton Manning again (2013).
Even though his decade-long "ringless run" actually comprised the prime of his playing career (2005-12), a win tonight vs. the Seahawks will surely lead the masses to sandwich "Game Management Brady" (2001-04) with "Performance Decline Brady" (2013-14) in their attempt to use his "four rings" as justification for G.O.A.T. candidacy.
It won't matter that the best years of Brady's career—2007, 2010, 2011, 2012—led to a total of zero rings, with quarterbacks the likes of Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez delivering the knock-out blows. Brady was favored to win all four of those games but was out-performed by the opposing, inferior quarterback every single time.
If Brady wins tonight, he will have "willed" his Patriots to the big dance by ranking 18th in the NFL in YPA before delivering the knock-out blow to a Seahawks secondary riddled with injuries. The Seahawks will mask their team's vulnerability by projecting Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor as ready to go. Healthy enough to start will leave their degree of health forgotten, much like the 2013 Denver Broncos who played Super Bowl XLVIII with 7 of their 11 defensive starters being either backups or injured.
If Brady loses, he will have then lost three Super Bowls to opposing quarterbacks who are of an inferior caliber by a considerable margin. He's been paired with his usual Top-10 scoring defense (8th in 2014), but to his credit, the Patriots have often won in spite of a running game ranked 22nd in YPC. Tom Brady may no longer be a Top-4 quarterback, but he's played better football this year than he did during 2001, 2003 and 2004. He was just never able to win a championship when he was at his best.
And that folks—is the story nobody wants to tell.