“The first rule is not to lose. The second rule is not to forget the first rule.” Warren Buffett
Ali -v- Frazier, Holyfield -v- Tyson, Balboa -v- Creed, Tom -v- Jerry; everyone loves a re-match and the eagerly anticipated game on Sunday features the next instalment to join that vaunted list; Brady -v- E Manning.
Strangely though it became clear very early on that the focus of Super Bowl XLVI was not so much on which team would emerge triumphant, but which of Brady’s or Manning’s legend would be best served by a victory on Sunday. This implies that the four quarters due to be played out in Indianapolis hold no intrinsic value in and of themselves; that the other 104 men striving and praying for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy matter not.
Of course there are some very real questions and interesting debates surrounding both Brady and Eli, and some very knowledgeable and well respected commentators have lent their weight to the same. Whilst entertaining, all the postulation and in-depth statistical and historical analysis detract from what in essence is a simple question with no simple answer - how good are they?
The NFL landscape has changed dramatically over its storied history and has always been, and will always be, home to the best players on the planet. In turn it is only natural for those players who have distinguished themselves to act as measuring sticks against whom the next generation of stars will be judged. I am however an advocate of players being evaluated in the context of their time. Jim Brown ran the ball over a 14 game season and Deacon Jones was sacking opposing quarterbacks long before he coined the term. To say Adrian Peterson is not as good a back because he has 16 games in which to amass yards, or DeMarcus Ware any less a threat because all his sacks are recorded is short-sighted to say the least.
Regardless of the era or the rules and trends that dictate play, the NFL ultimately distinguishes players in two ways. The first occurs during a player’s tenure where he is asked to compete in order to win the Super Bowl. The second occurs after a player has walked away from the game where, should he be deemed worthy, he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the Hall of Fame it does not necessarily mean that you have won the Super Bowl and similarly sporting a Super Bowl ring does not guarantee you a bronze bust. Accordingly I take from this a very simple maxim, winning the Super Bowl means you’re good, being in the Hall of Fame means you’re great.
In light of the above it is perhaps unsurprising that minds have wandered to topics beyond the simple question of who is going to win on Sunday. Both Eli and Brady have won the Superbowl so both are ‘good’ (well Brady is good3), but in truth a win on Sunday does little to further advance the case of either being ‘great’.
For the avoidance of doubt Tom Brady is guaranteed a place in the Hall of Fame; he has far surpassed the 6th round value placed on him, made his various supporting casts play better, broken records, filled the trophy cabinets at Foxborough and helped establish a New England ‘Dynasty’. Should Brady claim his fourth Super Bowl ring nothing much changes in reality. From the point he decides to walk away he will still have to wait five years to be fitted for a yellow jacket (winning four Super Bowls does get you time off for good behaviour) and it doesn’t even allow Brady to claim dominance over Peyton, the storyline of the past decade. As things stand its 3 -1 to Brady in the Super Bowl stakes, but the debate over who is better still looms large. Peyton’s impact on the NFL is not merely measured by wins and losses; let us not forget that even though the man has not put on a uniform ‘Peyton-talk’ has been in the background all season long, and his impending future is afforded almost equal column inches to the Super Bowl itself… oh and Peyton will have a yellow jacket of his own in due course.
Much has been made of Eli’s frustrations at being left out of the ‘elite conversation’ and I for one can’t blame him; in providing New York with a Lombardi Trophy Eli has lived up to his billing as the first pick in the 2004 draft and has been able to accomplish what the likes of Warren Moon, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino could not. Whether it is fair or not doubts still remain over Eli’s Hall of Fame calibre, doubts that a second Super Bowl victory will not abate. Much has been made of the potential travesty of Eli being able to laud one more ring over big brother Peyton (there he is again), but it is highly doubtful that Eli will suddenly be considered the ‘Main Man-ning’ with a win on Sunday. Though we will never know, Peyton was likely heading to Canton even if he went Super Bowl-less his entire career. At this stage, even with potentially two championships, Eli is by no means certain to claim a place amongst the NFL’s immortals.
With this in mind I am simply going to enjoy Sunday’s Super Bowl for what it is, one of the best sporting contests in the world, and suggest we all get back to the most important question – who is going to win?