- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012


The buildup to Super Bowl XLVI — like every Super Bowl in the modern era — has been excruciating, a two-week lead-in that feels twice as long before the NFL season finale. Was it really just a couple of Sundays ago when we came oh-so-close to Baltimore and San Francisco meeting in this game?

If the Ravens’ Lee Evans didn’t drop that pass in the end zone and the 49ers’ Kyle Williams didn’t botch those two punt returns, we might not have this exquisite matchup between old-school coaches and elite quarterbacks. We might be stuck with the Harbaughs in headsets and their suspect signal-callers.

Of course, we would’ve made do with that matchup or any other pairing. That’s the beauty of the Super Bowl. Whether it’s Giants-Patriots, Ravens-49ers or even an uninspiring Buccaneers-Jaguars, it gets the same treatment. And we lap it up, planning and preparing our Sunday itineraries and counting the days.

But if we could choose the teams for SB46 (fans of Baltimore and San Francisco notwithstanding), this is just about perfect. Tom “Captain America” Brady and the New England Patriots, a team folks love to hate, in a rematch against Eli “The Other” Manning and the New York Giants, from the city folks love to hate.

The teams respect one another, but they don’t like one another. Brady and coach Bill Belichick would be 4-0 in Super Bowls if not for the Giants. Manning and coach Tom Coughlin will be 2-0 if they can repeat their performance from four years ago. The legacies of Brady and Belichick are entrenched, regardless of Sunday’s outcome. Manning and Coughlin are on the brink of joining the upper echelon with a win.

Unlike other teams that might be swayed by the Patriots‘ aura and mystique, the Giants are supremely confident when they take the field against New England. They went toe-to-toe with the undefeated Patriots in Week 17 of the 2007 season before losing 38-35. But they’ve won the past two meetings, 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII and 24-20 in a Week 9 matchup this season.

The success has led some Giants to become a bit mouthy, which always helps to spice up the waiting period. Nose tackle Chris Canty sent a message to fans Wednesday via a New York TV station: “Get ready for a great game on Super Bowl Sunday,” he said. “And get ready for a parade on Tuesday.”

Giants safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka also have expressed their belief that New York will be victorious. That’s a lot more definitive than Brady telling New England fans at a send-off pep rally that he hoped “we have a lot more people at our party next weekend.”

Brady isn’t surprised by the Giants‘ assurance. “They’re a confident team,” he told reporters Thursday. “They’ve always been a confident team. They should be confident. They’re a damn good football team that was won some pretty tough games down the stretch.”

He failed to mention that the Patriots have won 10 consecutive games, dating to their loss against New York. The streak and their 3-1 record in Super Bowls is probably why they’re the betting favorite in Sunday’s game, even though most analysts seem to be picking the Giants. Remembering that New York is the underdog has been difficult at times, but not for the coach.

“It’s still us against the world, and that’s how we play that, period,” Coughlin said Thursday. “We’re in here, and I’ve seen a lot of the stuff that’s been said in terms of where we are. We’re still the underdogs, and we still have an awful lot to prove.”

Not really. They won their final two regular-season contests — de facto playoff games — and won actual playoff games at the NFC’s top two seeds, Green Bay and San Francisco. They haven’t secured their place in history like the Patriots, but there’s no doubt about their current standing entering the game.

Unfortunately, the buildup to Super Bowl Sunday is always bittersweet, too. We enter the abyss Monday, and it will be especially painful this year. The record-setting passers and high-flying offenses have made this a particularly entertaining season, unless you’re a defensive purist or Washington Redskins fan.

Reality will start to sink in as the clock winds down Sunday, each tick bringing us closer to the offseason, where there’s nothing but combines, drafts and minicamps to sustain us. We’ll have to get by on those scraps until the onset of training camp and meaningless exhibitions revive us.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still one more game left, and it should be a good one. For what it’s worth, I like the Giants in a game that will be decided in the fourth quarter.

Shortly before withdrawal begins.

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