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It was a classic David versus Goliath story line. It was an upset for the ages. During introductions, the heavily favored New England Patriots marched onto the field with a calm "been there and done that" look on their faces. Earlier that week, quarterback Tom Brady laughed at a prediction by one of the New York Giants that the Patriots would only score 17 points. They, like much of America, expected the perfect ending to the perfect season. They expected to easily dominate the Giants as they had nearly every other team that they played this season. Watching them enter the arena of battle was like watching a mighty army preparing to invade an inferior opponent.
So what was it about the New England Patriots that made most of America hope for a New York Giants win? After all, they were not always hated with such a passion. Was it simply because America hates winners? Or was it because America hates winners like the Patriots?
The hatred for New England probably spawned from a number of reasons. There was no character to this team. There was no personality. They seemed too perfect and they seemed like they knew it. It was as if they felt no one was in the same league as them. However, there were other valid reasons for disliking the Patriots. What were yours? Was it their flirtation with cheating? Was it the lack of humble players as the cocky Tom Brady and Randy Moss lead this high powered offense? Perhaps it was the team's classless actions of running up the score against opponents. Maybe it was the media's coverage of this team throughout the season -- anointing them early on as the best ever before they had won anything. Whatever the reason, this was not a very well liked team and the Giants became America's sweethearts by default.
As mentioned, America had to deal with the media's comparison of the 2007 Patriots to other historic teams. How did they compare to the 60's Green Bay Packers, the 70's Pittsburgh Steelers, the 80's San Francisco 49ers or the 90's Dallas Cowboys? Those teams were the greatest of their decades. Was this team better than any single team from any of those franchises? Even before the playoffs had started, many said yes. Then there were the comparisons of Tom Brady to the greatest players to play the same position. Was Brady the greatest quarterback to ever play the game? Was he the Joe Montana of this era or was he simply better than Montana? After all, Brady was already a very clutch player in the biggest games. Had the Patriots won on Sunday, he would have matched Montana's four wins and no losses in the sports' biggest event. Even if he had matched Montana's flawless record, the debate probably would have continued, but it would have been tougher to argue against Brady had he acquired a fourth Super Bowl ring. Don't misunderstand this. Brady still looks to be ONE OF the greatest of all-time. But is he THE greatest of all-time? Not yet.
The bottom line is that the greatest teams of all-time do not lose Super Bowls. Sure the Patriots' accomplishments this season were almost unreal. Their 18-1 record matches the records of the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears. Those are two teams that many include when discussing the best of all-time. 18 wins in a season is quite an accomplishment. However, there is one key difference between those teams and the 2007 Patriots. Those 49ers and Bears teams ended their seasons as champions. The 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears went into the Super Bowl and demolished their opponents. The Patriots can't even claim to be the best team of this season. How could they ever claim to be the best ever? With the loss on Sunday, I am not even convinced that the 18-1 Patriots are even better than the 17-2 1989 49ers.
As far as quarterbacks go, the greatest of all-time do not fail when the pressure is on. They do not lose Super Bowls. Not only was Joe Montana near perfect in his performances in the Super Bowl, but his record is flawless. He knew how to win big games. Brady does as well, but his failure to win on Sunday, especially with that talented team around him, is a serious blemish on his resume. Montana is in the top 3 when it comes to Super Bowl quarterback ratings, completions, consecutive completions, completion percentage, yards gained, touchdowns, and fewest interceptions with at least 40 pass attempts (a big fat zero). In fact, Montana is number one or tied for number one in five of those categories. How many of those categories is Brady in the top three? Two.
Well, at least there are still the comparisons between Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and the greatest coaches of all time, right? While there is no doubt that Belichick is a genius, especially in this modern salary cap era, he fails when it comes to class. First there was the "Spy-gate" controversy that consumed the sports world at the beginning of the season. Then there is his classless act of running up the score against the Redskins' head coach Joe Gibbs during week 8 of the season when Washington was already well eliminated from that win.
While NFL fans would welcome a perfect team one day, very few outside of Boston wanted it to be New England. Instead, they sided with the gutsy Giants and hoped for a miraculous upset, and they got one that will go into the history books. When Plaxico Burress hauled in that Eli Manning pass with 35 seconds left in the game, America cheered.
Perhaps the Patriots would have won had they remembered to bring their video cameras.