So here’s our Super Bowl, and it’s not a worst-case scenario. We Atlantans will have to endure sharing a city with those who overrode 28-3 – the Patriots liked that partial score so much their championship rings were festooned with 283 tiny diamonds – but at least we can ask the sassy Who Dats, “Hey, where’d you go?”
The Saints aren’t coming. Brady and Belichick are. We can live with that, can’t we?
As unpalatable as an Atlanta parlay of Saints and Patriots would have been – the Falcons’ most hated rival versus the Falcons’ most excruciating memory – a Super Bowl without either would have seemed a bit of a cheat. The Rams of McVay and Goff against the Chiefs of Reid and Mahomes: Where’s the villain? This way we have our villains, who are essentially the villains for everyone fan who doesn’t pahk his/her cahr in Hahvahd Yahd. Yeah, we can live with that.
In hindsight, a Saints-against-anybody Super Bowl might have been a dud. They peaked in November. They were lucky to survive Philadelphia and Nick Foles in the divisional round, and if they were unlucky – and they were, we concede – not to be awarded a penalty that was really two penalties (pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact) here Sunday … well, them’s the breaks.
(Great A-1 headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Reffing Unbelievable.”)
Even for this fan of sourness, a Super coaching pairing of Bill Belichick and Sean Payton would have too much to bear. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal has dubbed the Patriot patriarch “Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain”; Payton, who nobody outside NOLA can abide, would make an apt first mate. Sean McVay, who turns 33 in two days, might come across as Cory to Belichick’s Mr. Feeny – I have daughters; I’ve watched the occasional episode of “Boy Meets World” – but the Marist alum will bring a dollop of sunshine.
Which, to be frank, the NFL could use. As riveting as the conference championships were, the league’s image took a double dose of hits. The non-call against the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman was so bad as to be hilarious, providing you weren’t rooting for the Saints, in which case it was tragic. Within seconds, it had become a meme. Overheard in the Airport Hilton bar while watching the end of regulation in the AFC game: “Question is, who’s going to blow an obvious interference call in this one?”
There wasn’t anything quite like that. There was, however, a phantom roughing-the-Brady flag that wouldn’t have flown for any other quarterback, and the Patriots managed to bat .500 on two did-it-hit-the-ground-or-not replay reviews in the late going. As much as the NFL tried to swat the Pats for SpyGate and especially DeflateGate, the widespread belief among its audience is that Pretty Boy Tom and the crusty skipper still get every benefit of every reffing doubt.
Not, to be fair, that they need many. There were again whispers this season that TB12’s arm isn’t what it was, but the three third-down conversions in overtime would have been the stuff of legend if Brady hadn’t attained that status in 2002 in the first Pats-Rams Super Bowl. After the second, Chiefs defensive back Charvarius Ward – he’d been trying to shadow Julian Edelman, to no avail – simply threw up his hands. How do you beat a guy like this?
Answer: Not many do, and nobody ever does by dropping and covering. Brady has completed 64 of 90 passes this postseason, the longest completion covering 35 yards. No, he’s not chucking it deep, but he’s not getting knocked down, either. Over those 90 passes, he hasn’t been sacked. The Rams of Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers and Ndamukong Suh better bring the heat or stay home.
Credit the Chiefs for getting to OT after what Belichick uncorked on them. The NFL’s best offense was held to 32 first-half yards. That’s not a misprint. And if that’s what Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain conjured up with one week to prepare, imagine what’s in store for the Rams after a whole fortnight. Lest we forget, Belichick became Belichick with his epic grounding of the Greatest Show on Turf in 2002. The Rams, then based in St. Louis, were ranked No. 1 in the NFL in both offense and defense. They were also 14-point favorites. As quarterbacked by Brady, who’d taken the job after Drew Bledsoe was hurt, the Pats won 20-17 on Adam Vinatieri’s field goal at 0:00.
They’ve since won four more Super Bowls. The widest margin in any of their triumphs, believe it or not, came in a game they trailed by 25 points and didn’t lead until the final play of overtime. (Guessing you recall the opponent.) The Pats’ Super victories have come by three, three, three, four and six points. You can love them or hate them – and really, who loves them? – but you have to admit they’re beyond belief.
The former English soccer player Gary Lineker once said, “Football (the Brit kind) is a simple game. Twenty-two players chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans always win.” As precocious as McVay and his Rams are, it’s hard not to believe Atlanta’s Super Bowl will end the way most Super Bowls do these days, with the confounded Patriots winning at the end.
They broke Atlanta’s heart two years ago. They might as well celebrate in Arthur Blank’s pleasure palace and be done with it.
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