Thursday, February 09, 2012

Those Who Forget to Let History Finish Are Condemned to Make Damn Fools of Themselves

An iron law of American politics is that the very moment a President, or as usually happens an anonymous staffer leaking to an especially credulous reporter of the "New York Times," says that the Commander in Chief is thinking about his "legacy" the President in question should be put out to pasture immediately. Once the sap starts pricing real estate on the side of Mount Rushmore, he's short-timing and has become a useless burden on the taxpayer.

When a sports journalist of any kind starts blatting about some athlete, coach or manager's "legacy," and it's not either a story on the subject's retirement or their obituary, it's the JOURNALIST who should be given a quiet leave of permanent absence. He or she has no ideas, so has chosen simply to trash the concept of history as a scholarly discipline.

Alas, every football season without fail ends with thousands of lazy commentators rushing to discuss the "legacies" of various people involved with the Super Bowl. Most of them comment on Monday, since they've nothing left to say about the actual game.

So it is that a 21-17 game between two extraordinarily even teams that turned on a few funny bounces and big plays has become an excuse to forecast what the 23rd century will think about the Patriots and Giants, especially what the Domesday Book of Pro Ball will record about Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick.

Coughlin, headed to the unemployment line in December according to the popular press in New York, is now on his way to Canton. Eli, too. (Just to show how Manhattan is the front-runners capital of the known cosmos, an ad exec was quoted in the trade rag "Adweek" published before the game as essentially saying that if the Giants won, then two Super Bowl rings would cause Madison Avenue to ignore how goofy-looking Manning is).

Well, that's New York. A loss to the Redskins next September, the back page of the Post will be firing Coughlin yet again. I am more concerned with the amazing and amazingly foolish idea that the historic status of Brady and Belichick was altered permanently for the worse by a tough loss in which Brady admittedly was not at his best.

This is so obvious I wouldn't mention it, but since it gets overlooked by former peers every year I guess I must. Brady and Belichick didn't retire. They're not history yet. There's pages in their stories, and those pages will be as or more significant than Chapter XLVI.

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl next season, which Las Vegas at least doesn't find an unreasonable assumption, will Brady and Belichick's legacies regain the luster Steve Burton feels is their due? If they get back and lose in 80 minutes of overtime, are they even lower on the "We know who's REALLY great" scale? Or as is obviously the fact, are all these arguments and assertions moronic wanking?

For guidance, let's look to the stories of some guys Brady and Belichick joined in the record books this year. Brady tied John Elway as the quarterback with the most Super Bowl starts with five. He passed for more yards than Dan Marino did in Marino's record year of 1984 (so did several other QBs, of course). And Belichick tied Tom Landry with HIS fifth appearance as a Super Bowl head coach.

John Elway got smoked in the first three of those Super Bowls by a combined score of 136-40. There was a joke about his Super Bowl failures in the early '90s on "The Simpsons." That was his "legacy." Then, thanks to Terrell Davis, the Broncos won a couple of Super Bowls, and Elway's "legacy" changed. History quite rightly calls him one of the NFL's all-time best at his job. It would call him that if he'd gone 0 for 5 on those midwinter Sundays.

Don't believe me? A decade and a half after his retirement, history doesn't seem to dwell on Dan Marino's inability to even get to more than one Super Bowl. It didn't keep the Hall of Fame voters from whisking him to a plaque and a yellow blazer as soon as Marino was eligible. Odd as this may seem to lazy commentators, history seems to understand that football is a team sport, and that, as in Landry's case, coaches can't do much without players.

Belichick knows football history as few men do, and Brady has all the professional pride to which he's entitled. I hope and expect their reaction to being tied with Elway and Landry in the record book is wonder and happiness they're on the same line of agate as a couple of immortals.

Winning the Super Bowl is a rush like none other in sports. Losing it is the worst experience possible. But neither changes what you did to get there in the first place.
And that, always, is just one hell of a lot. Enough to make history.

But unless you do retire, it's just a chapter. Book has a ways to go.


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