The best football games are won, not lost. What it comes down to, basically, is whether you prefer the pounding of a bass drum — sort of like the sound of Rob Gronkowski’s feet hitting the ground — or the melancholy of a violin.
Sunday, in the NFL’s conference championship games, we heard from the string section. Gronkowski’s New England Patriots made off with the AFC title when the Baltimore Ravens’ Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal try in the closing seconds that would have forced overtime. Later on, the New York Giants escaped with the NFC crown thanks to the generosity of San Francisco 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams, whose two turnovers handed the Giants their last 10 points, the final three in OT.
Apologies to Cundiff and Williams — we all feel your pain — but nothing takes the edge off a couple of tense, ultra-competitive football games quite like the bleating of goats. And that’s pretty much what we were left with Sunday after six-plus hours of hostilities: the Patriots and Giants beep-beep-beep backing into the Super Bowl. Where’s the glory in that?
So there’s a lot of pressure on this Giants-Patriots Super Bowl. Nobody, after all, wants to see another game that’s lost instead of won. We’d much rather see a game like the first Giants-Patriots Super Bowl five years ago, when the Pats drove 80 yards in the closing minutes to take the lead, and the Giants drove 83 — with the help of David Tyree’s magic fingers — to rip the Lombardi Trophy (and a perfect 19-0 season) out of New England’s hands. That’s the kind of resolution these marquee matchups deserve — neat, clean and 100 percent goat-free.
Or to put it another way: The agony of defeat is vastly overrated. Give me the thrill of victory every time.
It’s fascinating — and totally unforeseen — what’s happened with the Giants and Patriots. Despite being in different conferences, they’ve actually become fierce rivals. All three of their meetings in recent years have been down-to-the-last-possession classics.
There was the 2007 regular-season finale, a 38-35 fireworks show that saw Tom Brady put New England ahead to stay with his record-breaking 50th touchdown pass of the year — a 65-yard heave to Randy Moss. (That same throw, come to think of it, gave Moss 23 TD catches, which set another season mark.) Anyway, we’re talking high drama here, what with the Patriots trying to match the unbeaten 1972 Miami Dolphins that year.
A month later, the two teams reconvened in the aforementioned Super Bowl — and the Giants pulled a 17-14 upset for the ages. And earlier this season, they beat the Pats at Gillette Stadium, 24-20, with Eli Manning leading them down the field again in the final minutes.
Now the two franchises are further entwined because they’re facing off in a second Super Bowl. That’s happened only a few other times — with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers in the ‘70s (1975 and ‘78 seasons), the 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals in the ‘80s (1981 and ‘88) and the Cowboys and Buffalo Bills in the ‘90s (1992 and ‘93). (Note: The Dolphins and Washington Redskins also squared off in two Super Bowls back in the day, but they were a decade apart — 1972 and ‘82.)
It’s entirely possible the Giants and Patriots will be thought of, by future generations, the way the Cowboys and Steelers of the ‘70s are thought of now. (Granted, the Giants and Pats probably don’t have as many Hall of Famers as those Dallas and Pittsburgh powerhouses did, but they’ve been the most successful clubs in their conferences since, well, the turn of the millennium. This is the Pats’ fifth Super Bowl appearance in the past dozen years, the Giants’ third. Nobody else in the NFC, it might surprise you to learn, has more than one.)
Then there are the two quarterbacks. This is where it gets really interesting. Brady has spent his entire career being measured against Peyton Manning — and competing against Manning’s Indianapolis Colts for AFC championships; yet here he is butting helmets, on pro football’s biggest stage, with Peyton’s younger brother. And amazingly, Eli has a better record against Brady (2-1) than his more celebrated sibling does (4-8).
For Brady, one Manning or another always seems to be standing in the way. It’s one of the juicier subplots in a Super Bowl rematch no one should mind in the least — except, of course, for Billy Cundiff, Kyle Williams and down-in-the-dumps Ravens and 49ers fans.