Legacies at stake in Super Bowl XLVI matchup of New England Patriots and New York Giants

INDIANAPOLIS

Today, Tom Brady can become Joe Montana.

Today, Bill Belichick can become Chuck Noll.

Today, Jason-Pierre Paul can become Reggie White.

For the player and coach, the Super Bowl is about a lot of things. It's about rings, and it's about money, and it's about the euphoria that comes with winning a championship.

Also, it's about forever. Legacies will be decided today. Players will help shape the way they are remembered — and make sure they will be remembered — when the Patriots play the Giants. Fame, and infamy, are part of the stakes.

Today, Eli Manning can become John Elway.

Today, Tom Coughlin can become Bill Parcells.

Today, Rob Gronkowski can become Shannon Sharpe.

And so on.

Few leagues embrace the history of their championship the way the NFL does. Maybe that's why the league continues to stack Roman numerals on the games. One game is a direct link to another, and the memories fade more slowly than they do for any other title event.

Take Brady, who once sat in the stands with his father to watch Montana play. If he wins today's game, he matches Montana's record of four Super Bowl victories. (Terry Bradshaw also won four, but he didn't throw as much as Montana or Brady.)

It's odd, because the New York papers have been relentless about Brady this week, suggesting that during a Patriots regular-season loss to the Giants he flinched from a fierce pass rush early in the third quarter, leading to conjecture the New York front four is in his head. Two problems with that. One, Brady completed the pass. Two, he threw for 342 yards. Just a guess but his head is probably fine.

Across the field from him, Eli Manning is chasing his own legacy. He can take the lead in the Manning family if he gets his second ring. That would give him as many as Elway, Bart Starr and Ben Roethlisberger. It would also be two in a row Super Bowl wins over Brady. Not bad for Peyton's little brother.

The coaches, too, are trying to chase legends. Take the Patriots' Belichick, who can match Noll's four titles. Granted, unlike Belichick, Noll never lost a Super Bowl, but he never had to worry about the salary cap and free agency, either. Consider this: From Noll's first title (1974 season) to the last (1979), the Steelers had 10 starters who were the same. In Belichick's run, the Patriots have had two (Brady and tackle Matt Light).

If Belichick is chasing Noll, then the Giants' Coughlin is trying to become Bill Parcells, his old boss. A victory here would make him 2-1 in Super Bowls, the same as Parcells. No one seems to hold him in the same regard, but Coughlin would have beaten better opponents in the Super Bowl than Parcells.

There are others. If he can get three sacks, the Giants' (and ex-Bull) Pierre-Paul can tie Reggie White's Super Bowl game record. If he's healthy, the Patriots' Gronkowski should be able to match Sharpe's eight catches (in three Super Bowls) without much strain. Heck, Dan Ross' record of 11 would be possible if Gronkowski wasn't slowed by a left ankle injury. The Patriots' Wes Welker caught 11 in his last Super Bowl; another 10 and he can be — ta da — teammate Deion Branch, third with 21 career Super Bowl catches. Branch needs six to tie Andre Reed for second.

Who else? The Patriots' Robert Kraft is still chasing former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who won five Super Bowls. Kraft, who has a record six conference titles in the Super Bowl era, could get his fourth ring.

You would think that BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the little-known Patriots running back, knows all about Tim Smith, a little-known Redskins running back who gained 204 yards in the 1988 Super Bowl. You would think that Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes knows all about the way the Patriots' Adam Vinatieri knocked home winning field goals to beat the Rams and the Panthers in the final seconds. You would think Giants safety Antrele Rolle dreams about matching the Dolphins' Jake Scott's MVP performance in the 1972 Super Bowl.

That's the thing about the Super Bowl. No one ever dreams of being Jackie Smith, who dropped a touchdown pass for Dallas in Super Bowl XIII. Or the Bills' Scott Norwood, whose 47-yard field-goal attempt to beat the Giants faded to the right. Or Earl Morrall, who still hasn't found Jimmy Orr after all the years that have passed.

Every position has a standard bearer. Almost every game has had someone worth remembering. Today, two teams play for a title. Also, for a page in the history books.

Legacies at stake in Super Bowl XLVI matchup of New England Patriots and New York Giants 02/04/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 5, 2012 9:54am]

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