Countdown to 42: This One Is Different

1200929040To the eternal frustration of the press corps, the Patriots steadfastly refuse to analyze anything. Ever. The famous line that now defines this franchise—”It is what it is”—is served up as boilerplate whenever anyone dares try to engage them. Whether they’re playing the Colts or the Dolphins, the Patriots will never concede. Every game is important and no game is ever bigger than the one in front of them.

They are machine-like in this regard, and that has played no small part in the rest of the country’s disdain for them. The people want to see emotion. They want tears and agony. They want a story. The Patriots provide none of this. Even if Spygate had never happened, the team would still have inspired almost universal hatred. Spygate did not create people’s anger; it only serves as a reference point.

But as we wind down the excruciating Super Bowl Week, something has changed: The Patriots are actually admitting the importance of this game.

In Super Bowl years past, both the Panthers and the Eagles tried to be the bullies. They came in with a swagger, as if they were trying to convince themselves that they were meaner and badder than the Patriots. Each time, the Pats brushed them aside and went about their business.

This year, however, when Plaxico Burress made his prediction, Tom Brady let it be known he was duly unimpressed. This is different.

There are two scenarios at play this week.

If the Giants win, they will be celebrated as the team that pulled off a momentous upset and became the most improbable Super Bowl champs since the New York Jets beat the Colts, just shy of four decades ago. Don’t forget: With two weeks left in the season, the speculation was that Tom Coughlin was toast and Eli Manning would forever be a goofy bust. If they win on Sunday, they will go down in history along with the other great Giant teams of Gifford, Tittle, Parcells, and Taylor.

In other words: It would be nice, but they don’t have to win. The Patriots have to win.

This is what Brady said today (via Mike Reissblog):

“I think it’s the biggest game in all of our lives,” Brady said. “The entire team, and coaches, we’re going to be remembering this game for as long as we live. We’re either going to have great memories of this experience, or it’s going to be a missed opportunity. There aren’t too many teams in the history of the NFL — none as a matter of fact — that are 18-0 going into this game.”

Go back and read that quote again. Has a Patriot player, let alone Brady, ever been that direct? That introspective?

The Patriots admitted nerves only one time this year, and that was when they played the Giants during the last game of the season. They weren’t nervous because of Eli or Plaxico or Michael Strahan. They were nervous because they knew the stakes.

The playoffs, by comparison, were a breeze. They no longer had to worry about The Undefeated Season. They could just go play, and they even seemed to enjoy the relatively tight games. “Patriot football,” is what Tedy Bruschi called the hard-fought win over the Chargers. That’s their comfort zone.

There is nothing left after this game. Just history. Brady is right. For all their wins, all their Super Bowls, no game has ever been bigger for the players or the franchise as this one.