Against all odds, against popular opinion, the team representing the battered-but-still-standing New Orleans pulled off the seemingly impossible: they beat the juggernaut of 2009, the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. The NFL could not have scripted this any better: both teams, almost going undefeated in their respective conferences, finally meet in the biggest American sporting event of the year and the underdog triumphs. The city of New Orleans, still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, got its much needed moral victory.
It's easy to be happy for the Saints and the city they represent. It's also easy to indulge in a little schadenfreude at the expense of the Colts and their fanbase. I do not relish beating up on the fans of a losing team, but it's hard to forget the beating we took from rival fanbases, particularly the Colts faithful, after our loss to the New York Giants. The absolute invective aimed our way was unseemly. It is refreshing to see that we, as Patriots fans, have not engaged in the same. Well, at least not on THIS blog. Ok, maybe a little.
The debate about the "Team of the Decade" is over: it's unequivocally our New England Patriots. 14-4, 3-1 vs. 9-9, 1-1. If you don't recognize the numbers, those would be playoff records and Super Bowl records between the Patriots and the Colts. We are the team of the decade by the only measure that matters: Super Bowl record. Colts fans can argue all they want about our recent 1-5 record against Indy and the 2nd half of the decade failure to bring home the Lombardi, but when I go to Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium and stare at the Championship Trophies side-by-side, all of that washes away.
There's nothing like some hardware to end a debate. You can throw in my face the 4 MVP's Manning has won. You can argue stats all you want. But Patriots fans simply win the argument with the most important stat of all: 3 Super Bowl victories to Indy's 1. That would be 2 more, btw. I would be shocked if Peyton Manning wouldn't give up all the regular season records he's amassed for that same amount of hardware. Win last night and he may have had a shot at the "best team of the decade" debate. Not any more. Finished. Fin. Finito.
Now we get to the best QB of the decade. It is clear to me that Manning is an absolute stats monster. He has that, and may always have that, over Brady. What he doesn't have is hardware. Now, before you tell me SB wins are a team accomplishment, that the quarterback is just another cog in the wheel and, by virtue of the number of rings he has, can't be lofted to heavenly heights simply based on hardware, I say, "Bupkis."
Please don't tell me that you assume the quarterback's performance in a Super Bowl is at the same level of importance as, say, a special teamer. That's just ignorant. Quarterbacks make decisions, with ball in hand, more than any other player on the field. Their quality of play, or lack thereof, can drastically affect the outcome of a game (sounds like a job for our stats guru, The Hill, re: QB DVOA and rating vs. SB wins). Anyway... If you don't believe me, I give you (dun dun dun), The Interception.
Tom Brady has NEVER, I repeat, NEVER made as egregious an error as Peyton Manning did with 3:23 left in the 4th quarter. The NFL's regular season MVP put the ball in the hands of the Saints' Tracy Porter who ran it back for a 73 yard pick six, essentially sealing the fate of the Indianapolis Colts. Again, Tom Brady has NEVER made that error on the biggest stage in American sports. Never. You can debate all you want that Reggie Wayne ran a bad route, but the fact remains Manning, who many claim as the best of the best, let that ball go when he shouldn't have. (credit should also go to the Saints defense for totally befuddling the "best"). With that pick six, the debate is over. Tom Brady stands alone at the top.
I'm happy for the Saints and, as a Patriots fan, glad they bested one of our most "hated" rivals. The Colts had a terrific season and did so by beating some exceptional teams. They made it to the biggest game in town. But, in the end, they didn't measure up, especially their leader. I would be surprised if Peyton Manning didn't feel the same way.