By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Nothing thrills fans in these parts more than asserting that the New England Patriots, under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, are 4-2 in the Super Bowl, with both losses coming to the Giants.
New Yorkers just love the fact that they’ve been a Big Blue stain on the Pats’ legacy.
Just as winning the Super Bowl has a special gravitas, so does losing it. We keenly recall the team that wins it all, and the team that fell four quarters short.
One of the more misguided American cliches is that no one remembers the team that loses the Super Bowl. Nonsense. Who is more renowned, the 1971 Colts, who won the most sloppy and soporific Super Bowl in history, a rancid, 16-13 affair over the Cowboys that featured nearly 10 turnovers? Or the Buffalo Bills team that lost four straight Super Bowls?
We can name 10 Bills from those teams sans a Google search. Do we even know if Roger Staubach started Super Bowl V? Or was it Craig Morton? John Unitas or Earl Morrall? Or both? Super Bowl V was so sizzling it’s best known for being the first one played on artificial turf, and for the first defensive player, Chuck Howley, named the game’s MVP. And Howley wasn’t even on the winning team.
So to that end, it matters that the Pats have lost two of their six Super Bowl appearances since Y2K. We are obsessed with victory, with the optics of that “0” on the right side of the ledger. A single digit — from 19-0 to 18-1 — is the difference between the greatest ever and a heralded afterthought. There’s a reason it took New England seven years to win another Super Bowl after Eli Manning, Plaxico Burress, and David Tyree shocked the galaxy in Arizona. And there’s a reason we recall those Pats as often, if not more often, than any of their four championship teams.
It’s a silly sentiment that the Pats are less clutch because they lost those two Super Bowls. By that logic, the Giants have had a better run because they won their only two Super Bowls over the last 10 years, while the Pats are “only” 4-2 over the last 15 years. Is it more impressive that the Giants missed the playoffs so many of those years? Or that Peyton Manning and the Colts made the playoffs every year yet lost before the Super Bowl?
Joe Montana has long been regarded as the most clutch QB in NFL history. Of course, the argument still has much merit. Not only is the Niners icon 4-0 in the Super Bowl, he tossed 11 touchdowns and zero — yes, zero — interceptions in them. Terry Bradshaw is also 4-0, but we know the Steelers’ defense (AKA the “Steel Curtain”) carried the offense during Super Bowls IX and X.
But Montana also lost to the Vikings in the 1987 divisional round as a double-digit favorite. It was no small upset. The Niners were a behemoth, finishing 13-2, with Montana sporting a robust 102.1 passer rating, and Jerry Rice scored an astounding 22 touchdowns in just 12 games. The game, and that season, was celebrated as Chris Doleman’s breakout party, and it forever changed the way pro football formed offensive lines, with an extra emphasis on the left tackle.
Montana famously lost to the Giants, at Candlestick, in the 1990 NFC title game. And the locals surely remember the 49-3 playoff beating Big Blue put on the 49ers in 1986, known for Jim Burt (literally) knocking Montana unconscious and out of the game.
Is Brady worse because he lost some of his playoff games in the Super Bowl? Clearly not. Even still, a win on Sunday matters beyond this season. The optics of a 5-2 record gives the Patriots’ legacy a better sheen than a 4-3 record in Super Bowls (since they beat the Rams in 2002).
Sure it’s only sports, not world war or world affairs. Neither Brady nor Belichick will get his likeness bronzed beyond Canton, and there is no danger of finding a fifth face on Mt. Rushmore with a fifth NFL title.
But we take our legends very seriously. Even if Montana and Bradshaw lost a litany of games on those frigid Sundays just before the Super Bowl, their respective fans lean heavily on that goose egg in their respective Super Bowl marks. And, frankly, no one knows the importance of finishing first more than anyone more than Brady, Belichick and the Patriots.
So let’s just say a win on Sunday will end a lot of arguments. And perhaps start many more.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel