PHOENIX — A decade ago, when the Patriots raised their third banner in four years, it was impossible to think New England would ever be in a situation where people felt they needed to obtain a fourth banner to cement their so-called dynasty.
These are just talking points, of course. But talking points have a way of morphing into perception, and in this regard the Patriots enter Super Bowl XLIX at risk.
Coach Bill Belichick’s standing as one of the greatest coaches of all time will take on some corrosion if he drops his third straight Super Bowl. The same goes for quarterback Tom Brady.
And if they do fall, the Patriots are at risk of forfeiting their standing as the NFL’s most dominant team to the Seattle Seahawks, who are looking to repeat as champions — which hasn’t been accomplished since New England did it following the 2003 and ’04 seasons.
A lot is on the line. One team is looking to cement its spot in the annals, while the Seahawks are looking to ensure they receive more than a mere mention as a one-time winner.
But don’t expect anyone involved in the game to mention these things.
“With all due respect, for us, whatever we have or haven’t done in the past — the Super Bowls we’ve won, the ones we didn’t win, championships and so forth — really isn’t about that right now,” Belichick said. “This is about an opportunity for this team at this time to be special this year.”
It’s not surprising the teams involved in the game don’t care about the big-picture talking points that have been manufactured this week. Something about these games and this stage creates an atmosphere where observers want it to mean more. Winning a title isn’t enough.
The players, of course, will embrace the talking points if they come out in their favor. Brady would love nothing more than to win his first ring and eliminate the argument that he’s one short of San Francisco’s Joe Montana.
And Belichick likely would welcome it if people could no longer point out that he hasn’t won a title since the Spygate scandal.
But those things aren’t going to give the Patriots extra motivation. These talking points have lingered for years. The last time Brady was in the Super Bowl, in 2011 against the New York Giants, it was pointed out several times that his legacy was on the line. He could not afford another loss if he wanted to be mentioned alongside Montana, who won in each of this four trips to the Super Bowl.
And it was the same thing during last year’s AFC title game. If he lost that one to the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning, it was said he could no longer be considered the best quarterback of his generation.
Yet here he is, back at it again, with people saying he can cement his standing as an all-time great with a win over Seattle.
“It’s hard to think about those things,” Brady said. “Like I’ve said, I’ve just been fortunate to be on some great teams.”
The thing about trying to draw conclusions on an active process is that the goal posts can move on you. No matter which team loses, it will have opportunities to get back to this stage and change the ending.
Seattle could easily lose this one and come back next year to claim another. Or Brady could lead the Patriots to another loss, come back and win another title before he retires.
There was a 14-year stretch during John Elway’s career when he didn’t have a Super Bowl ring. He ended his career with two and is now remembered as an all-time great. But some of the pieces that will form the final conclusions can be snapped together with a win Sunday night.
For Brady, he would tie Montana and Steelers great Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl wins by a quarterback. For Belichick, he would have his first title since Spygate.
For the Seahawks, even if they never get back to this stage, they would be remembered as one of the best teams of this era, and talk of a potential dynasty would begin. You can’t be truly great with only one ring.
But the Seahawks aren’t thinking that way. Right now, they just want to complete their current mission. They can think about what it means once they’re successful.
“This might be a buzzkill for most, but I started thinking about this year as soon as I put the trophy down,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. “That’s just my mindset. Call me crazy, but that’s how I think. Throughout the summer and training camp, you think about it. How do I get prepared to get back there? How do we get ready to repeat? You don’t necessarily use the ‘repeat’ word, but how do you try to be the best in the game of football again?”
So, no, legacies aren’t on the line Sunday. But the opportunity to cement them or begin taking steps toward doing so certainly exists.
Despite these teams making it appear otherwise, those opportunities are difficult to come by.