Bears-Colts in Super Bowl XLI, but I'm still dwelling on the "How They Got There" angle, off of last night's epic Colts win over the Pats.
Here's the intrigue: Sure, Peyton and Indy exorcised evil BeliBrady ghosts of the past decade, but does it REALLY mean anything?
Beating the Pats in the penultimate game of the season was important. Like "Red-Sox-finally-beating-the-Yankees-in-2004" important.
But if, after winning the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox went on to lose the World Series to the Cardinals, the actual value of beating the Yankees would have lost most of its significance, even if the symbolic meaning did not.
Tom Brady isn't deified for winning AFC championships; he's deified for winning three Super Bowl rings. That's the harsh reality of the NFL: You are judged on your Super Bowl titles.
(Want a great example? Donovan McNabb. The Eagles FINALLY breaking through in the NFC two seasons ago -- despite what it seemed to mean the morning after the NFC title game -- means nothing today. Because he lost -- choked, literally and metaphorically -- in the Super Bowl.)
And so here is the upshot for Peyton Manning and the Colts: It don't mean a thing if they don't win that ring.
Colts win: That said, it sure must feel nice to not just beat the Pats for the AFC title, but to do it in such an unprecedented way.
Pats lose: Whoa. The Pats... chokers? Not just chokers, but record-setting chokers? Not just record-setting chokers, but Tom Brady doing the choking? When he got the ball with a minute to go, who DIDN'T think he'd come down the field and score a game-winning TD? EVERYONE knew it was coming. That's what made his game-ending INT so startling. It was so... un-Brady.
Bears win: The rumbling this a.m. is that Reggie Bush's somersault into the end-zone on his ridiculous TD to put the Saints back into the game motivated the Bears to destroy the Saints. I'm not sure how true that is, but after that play,
Saints lose: Does losing before reaching the Super Bowl diminish the Saints' storybook season? Truthfully, yes. Fans barely remember the Super Bowl runner-up, let alone the conference title-game loser. But this Saints team WAS the story of the year in the NFL -- when the city needed it most -- and, even more important, the team's history of suckitude might actually be behind them. The true breakthrough was that they have shed the rep as a punchline.
Looking ahead to SB XLI: Here are the top 3 storylines you won't be able to escape from: (1) Peyton's redemption; (2) Two black head coaches, ensuring that for the first time, a black head coach will win the Super Bowl; (3) Memories of the Bears' 85 team.
More of today's biggest storylines:
Vick/Airport/Pot (Non-)Scandal: Uh, about that hidden water-bottle compartment? It didn't contain any pot. As you survey the over-the-top reaction from sports media last week, one word comes to mind: Oops. (ProFootballTalk correctly calls out the turnaround as suspiciously sketchy.)Steelers hire Mike Tomlin: It's nice to see the force behind the NFL's "Rooney Rule" -- attempting to give minorities a better chance to become head coaches -- put money to mouth.
Instant-history cynics might note that the Steelers are simply jumping on the NFL's hottest bandwagon of Monday morning: African-American head coaches as the new key component to getting a team to the Super Bowl.
(NFL owners and GMs are nothing if not quick to try to copy the blueprint of winning teams: I'll be curious to see whether this will spark more minority hiring at the head-coach level.)
NFL Coaching Carousel: Jim Mora DID get back to
College Hoops Parity Watch: So much for Pitt as a contender. No. 24 Marquette waltzed into Pitt's house and KO'ed the No. 6 Panthers in OT.
MLB Hot Stove: Chase Utley signs 7Y/$85M extension. Worthy of his rise to become the best fantasy 2B in the league.
NBA: Carmelo returns tonight. And NOW the grand experiment of chemistry between Melo and AI begins. This will be fascinating to watch.