INDIANAPOLIS – The calm, beautiful and unseasonably warm and enjoyable weather this week here in central Indiana is simply the calm before Sunday’s storm.
Like an oncoming front over the central plains, Super Bowl XLVI is rumbling toward Indianapolis and both the Giants and Patriots have begun to hunker down.
It’s the perfect football storm. It’s Bill Belichick against Tom Coughlin. It’s Tom Brady and his glamour against the terrifying and destructive force of the Giants’ defensive line. It’s Matt Light and Osi Umenyiora. It’s Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks against Julian Edelman. And, of course, it’s Rob Gronkowski’s left ankle against medical science.
For all those reasons alone, this will be the best Super Bowl ever.
Two great franchises, led by two great owners, two Super Bowl-winning head coaches and two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks.
It’s the first time it’s happened in the 46-year history of this event.
There’s no doubt in my mind the reason Belichick has looked so comfortable this week is his confidence level, something he shrugged off here Thursday when told he looks more relaxed than normal.
“That’s different than it normally is? I don’t know,” he smirked and laughed. “I’ll leave that to you and to the experts. Look, I’m just down here trying to coach a team in the biggest game of the year. It is a big challenge for us, but we’ve earned the right to be here. I’m proud of that, and I think the team is proud of that. Now, we have a big challenge ahead of us. We are going to put everything we have into it, and we will be ready to go out there Sunday. Whatever attitude that is, then that’s what it is.”
It’s ironic that question was immediately followed up by a question about the darkest moment of his 11 years as Patriots head coach. He was asked for his reaction to those who believe his three Super Bowl championships are tarnished by the “Spygate” videotape allegations of 2001 and 2002, leading up to Super Bowl XXXVI.
“We moved on from everything in the past,” Belichick said cleanly and without hesitation. “We are focused on this game. That’s it.”
The feeling around Indianapolis early on this week was that the Patriots were favored but the Giants were the better team and would win.
Funny, it feels just the opposite now.
Belichick is so comfortable because his team – despite opening as three-point favorites – is the underdog now in the minds of most, just the way he loves it.
He has had an extra week to scheme against Eli Manning and figure out ways to confuse him and cause him to throw errant passes, something to which the Giants quarterback has been susceptible in the recent past, like when he threw three picks against the Redskins in December in a 23-10 loss.
Former Patriots safety Artrell Hawkins told me this week to keep an eye out for the unexpected. Against the Chargers in the 2006 playoffs in San Diego, a game in which the Patriots’ defense was given little shot against the Chargers, Belichick had Hawkins blitz twice, coming up with one sack. Hawkins hadn’t blitzed the entire season before that game.
“It wasn’t on film for them to study,” Hawkins told me. “It’s classic Belichick to show something not on film and I’m sure he’s going to do that to Eli in this game.”
@0_LayDX offered this from the TragsBag: "I have a gut feeling Pats win cuz they will be able to chip [Victor] Cruz and will show the Giants a gameplan they have never seen."
And @DanWelch73 spoke out: "Patriots win. Offense provides enough matchup problems for Giants D. Pats D makes just enough plays to hold on."
Then there's @JonathanTouts: "@Trags I've got #Giants 37 over the #Patriots 31 tout.com/m/yw8ulf #SuperBowl #SB46 #TragsBag."
The Giants have opened their mouths, with Chris Canty talking about the “Canyon of Heroes” parade if they win and Jason Pierre-Paul saying Brady felt pressure that wasn’t there in New York’s 24-20 win at Gillette on Nov. 4.
“I think it will have much impact on his performance because if you look at Week 9, when we played them, it’s like he felt us,” Pierre-Paul said. “When we looked back on the film, we watched the film, and we didn’t really rush like we can rush as a defense. He was throwing balls on the ground and stuff, but like I said, it’s going to be a battle. We have to get there. We have to.”
But the most compelling theme has been Robert Kraft and his battle with heartbreak -- a heartbreak he admitted on Wednesday hasn’t subsided six months after losing his beloved Myra to cancer.
Kraft has spoken frequently during this playoff run about how much the team has meant to him but never as poignantly as he did Wednesday.
“(The team) saved me,” he said. “I never understood what the word heartbroken meant. It’s hard for anyone to relate to it. My wife was 19 and I was 20 when she proposed to me. We had five kids right away. Then they left and we became best pals for 25 years. She was 98 pounds, read four books a week and was healthy. I thought she would outlive me for 30 years. This horrible cancer came and it’s wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me.
“It’s been a tough year. I believe in spirituality and this team has really saved me personally. Fifty-three guys have bonded together and have been like sons to me. You think in this world, where athletes can be so narcissistic in so many ways, they planned an oil painting to be in our locker room on Sunday with my wife’s initials and the players dedicating the season to my wife. But the fact that they can relate to that and plan that six to eight weeks in advance, that had meant something to them so it had been very fulfilling.”
His second “family” is taking the field on Sunday, trying to erase a far less significant but still disappointing heartbreak of four years ago, when Myra was by his side in the University of Phoenix owner’s suite. He hasn’t been able to watch the replay of the Giants’ win in Super Bowl XLII.
So much is at stake for the Patriots: the legacy of Belichick, the legend of Brady and the chance for Kraft to close out the most emotional year of his life by once more reaching the pinnacle of the NFL mountain.
And for millions of Patriots fans worldwide, the game offers a shot at redemption after their team’s place in American sports history was tainted four years ago.
All week, the Patriots have denied that their fifth Super Bowl appearance since 2001 under Belichick has anything at all to do with avenging their 17-14 loss that prevented 19-0 and their rightful place as one of the great teams ever to compete in American sports.
Don’t, even for a second, believe that.
Of course they want revenge.
Of course, that loss has fueled the flames of desire this week. They just won’t admit it.
“I’m going to go out and say this,” Canty said. “This football game is going to come down to who’s able to execute at the highest level, who’s able to create turnovers, and who’s able to play most physical. That’s what it’s going to come down to. That’s what it’s going to be about on Sunday. There are two good football teams. It’s going to be a 60-minute ball game. It might take a little longer those 60 minutes. That’s what the football game is going to come down to.”
PREDICTION: I think Canty is onto something – as far as the “longer than 60 minutes” part is concerned. These two teams are as evenly matched as any two in recent Super Bowl history. All three Patriots wins have been decided by a field goal and this one will be no different, with one exception: It will come in overtime, the first in Super Bowl history. And it will be Stephen Gostkowski kicking it as the Patriots will seal their season dedicated to Myra Kraft with a win.
Patriots 30, Giants 27 in OT.