Dream Season Ends With Nightmare

1202134602Of all the scenarios that could have played out last night, here’s one you never wanted to see: Ellis Hobbs one-on-one on the outside against Plaxico Burress with the game on the line. Of course, if the Patriots had been able to intercept just one of the half-dozen floaters Eli Manning lobbed in their general direction last night, we’d be wondering how the Giants could have left Corey Webster in the same situation against Randy Moss a few minutes earlier.

It’s been a long time since we got a punch in the gut like the one that landed last night. Sure, last year’s loss to the Colts stung, but the Patriots were the underdogs in that one. Some would say last night’s Super Bowl was karmic payback for Spygate, for the poor manners of the head coach, or for the ridiculously good life the quarterback leads.

Maybe it just shows how insanely hard it is to go undefeated in the NFL. Say what you want about the Patriots, but they are the only franchise that could make the Manning brothers seem like cuddly underdogs, and make a nation root for a New York team in a championship game. Hell, even Eagles fans were pulling for the Giants.

Eli got the MVP last night because they always give the MVP to the guy with the best stats. In truth, he got lucky. Almost half of his yards came on three fluke plays—Amani Toomer’s egregious push-off against Hobbs, Kevin Boss’s 10-yard slant (where everyone fell down), and David Tyree’s amazing catch on a jump ball between four Pat defenders.

If the sportswriters were serious, they would have given the MVP to the Giants defense, which finally found a way to slow down the Patriots offense. But then, the Patriots detractors have always pointed to luck as the central reason for their success. Without the “tuck rule” none of this would have happened, etc.

So, today, Eli Manning is a rock star. He is no longer the petulant brat who whined his way out of San Diego. Instead he is the toast of New York. Also, today Bill Belichick is the goat for passing up that 48-yard field goal, and he will have to live with this loss forever.

The Giants are the champs, the Pats are the chokers, and the ’72 Dolphins live to annoy us for another year, and possibly forever.

So, what’s next for New England? They have to figure out what to do about Moss, Donte Stallworth, and Asante Samuel for starters. Then they have to see if Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau will retire. Their pick in the NFL Draft would not seem to be a good spot to get an impact linebacker or a cover corner, and they will probably have to move down. But no one has been better at manipulating the draft than Belichick and Scott Pioli, so they will almost certainly come away with at least one of those needs filled.

They will also have to deal with a disgruntled ex-employee who claims to have the goods on their videotaping system, and a grandstanding senator who seems determined to grab some of the national spotlight for himself. These are issues the coach will also have to live with forever.

Still, if they lock up Moss, the Pats will be the prohibitive favorites next year. If they win another Super Bowl, and even if they don’t, they will still go down as the defining team of their era, like the Steelers of the 70’s, the 49ers of the 80’s and the Cowboys of the 90’s. But they will never get a shot at immortality like they had this year.

At least there won’t be any problems getting to the voting booth tomorrow.