The New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles will play in Super Bowl LII at 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 4) on NBC at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.A victory by the Patriots would give them six Super Bowl titles and tie them with the Pittsburgh Stelers for most Super Bowl championships. The Eagles are trying to win their first.The Patriots (13-3) captured the AFC championship with victories over the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars.The Eagles (13-3) won the NFC title with victories over the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings.
The Patriots vs. Eagles Super Bowl matchup has left plenty of fans groaning, especially in New York as the rivals of the Jets and Giants play each other in the big game.
The folks at “Saturday Night Live” seem to share the same sentiment.During the Weekend Update portion of SNL’s most recent show, Colin Jost mocked the fan bases of both teams.”The Philadelphia Eagles will face the New England Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl, making it the first Super Bowl where the fans have even worse brain damage than the players,” he said. “Yeah, yeah, go Giants. Go Giants.”
Here’s an embarrassing admission from a longtime Patriots football fan: My childhood team was the Miami Dolphins.
I grew up in Rhode Island, not far from where the Patriots played, and my other favorites, like the Red Sox, were pretty much locals. The Dolphins were different, for one reason: Dan Marino. He was the best quarterback in the world. He had an Italian name, like I do. And he was so fun to watch. As a teenager I went to Patriots versus Dolphins games in Massachusetts and, with my feet freezing in the cold, cheered for Miami despite the New England crowd. The Dolphins played well every year but never won a Super Bowl. And once Marino aged, they faded—and, as immature as it sounds, I was done with them, and for a time done with football, too.
During my college years in Evanston, Illinois, I missed home—and Patriots football was the solution. I would watch the Pats on television or read about them when I had the chance. I loved Drew Bledsoe and the way Troy Brown caught the ball, and the way Tedy Bruschi, the linebacker, could tackle. As the years passed, the Patriots got better and better, and, finally, reached the Super Bowl again in 1996. Against the Green Bay Packers, they had no chance. Every football team I ever liked, it seemed, was essentially a model of my childhood Boston Red Sox: Do well, and then lose the championship in the worst way imaginable.
If you watch football (and baseball) at all, you know that the painful Boston defeats later turned into spoiled riches, for every team, not just for the Patriots. The new Patriots era began in the 2001season, when an injury to Bledsoe forced the Patriots to turn to Tom Brady. Since then the Patriots have appeared in seven Super Bowls; Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles will be their eighth. The Patriots have won five, all with Brady in charge. He’s 40 years old now, and looks more sculpted than he did back when they won the first (look at those old pictures now and you’ll see a much puffier face and the looks of a kid). Brady works as hard—probably harder—than any other quarterback in the league, and says he’d like to keep leading the team for years to come. That seems unlikely and even a bit crazy, but with Brady, you never know. His body is different; it must be.
I used to think there was no way a quarterback would ever throw or compete better than Marino or, even more so, Joe Montana, who played 16 marvelous years, mostly for the San Francisco 49ers and then the Kansas City Chiefs (he led the 49ers to four Super Bowl titles). But now there’s Brady and there has been no one like him. And if anything, he’s a better quarterback the last few seasons than he was in the past, despite his age. The stats-driven news site FiveThirtyEight recently published an excellent column on Brady that shows that since 2014 he has been at his best in the most dire situations, like last year’s Super Bowl, in which the Patriots trailed 28-3 in the third quarter. The game looked like a blowout, and then, in astonishing fashion, Brady and the Patriots came back. The Falcons helped with mistakes—none costlier than a blown chance to kick a field goal—and, in general, nervous play, but even with all that, no one other than Brady could have brought a team back from such a brink. He did this again in the playoffs this season, after the Jacksonville Jaguars led 20-10 in the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship game. Back came Brady and his team, despite the loss of all-star tight end Rob Gronkowski to a concussion. In his career, Brady has won eight playoff games when behind in the fourth quarter. In four of those he recovered a 10-point deficit or more. Yes, four times. No other quarterback even comes close.
In all of football, there isn’t a tougher position to master than quarterback. There are only a few in the entire league seen as exceptional, and that’s despite teams spending dozens of high draft picks on players who looked like prime athletes—tall and strong with powerful arms—in college. These days you can see the real position, and all the fears that go with it, better than ever. Look, when you can, at the behind-the-back video now seen on some television shows of the games. Right after the quarterback takes the snap there’s an attack from the defense that surrounds him, and often hits him, within a few seconds. There’s little time to see receivers, and to me, from that vantage, receivers rarely look open even if they are. There’s a lot of anticipation in throwing the pass, and accuracy based on plays that count on the receivers to run the right routes. It looks like chaos, yet Brady can complete more than 60 percent of his passes, and sometimes does much better than that. He’s adept at avoiding sacks, either by throwing the ball early or moving just so in the pocket. Brady makes it seem as if there is more time to settle and throw than possible, because he’s so in control of his looks and thoughts. It’s as if he can, with rocks that shoot from his helmet, slow down the defense that’s hunting for him.
There have been down moments in Brady’s career, none worse—or more embarrassing—than his suspension for allegedly adjusting the air pressure of the balls, against the rules of the sport. Deflategate goes back to a 2015 playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, and, if true, is one of those what-are-you-thinking moments, especially because the Patriots were a far better team than the Colts, whom they beat 45-7. Brady was suspended four games the next season and the Patriots were fined and lost draft picks. Improbably, this hasn’t hurt them in the least.
There’s also controversy about whether Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft are in a power dispute, according to ESPN. It makes sense that they would be, after the Patriots let go of their talented backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo (he now plays for the 49ers). Considering Brady’s age, the Pats should be worried about the future and not say goodbye to his talented backup. To think that Belichick wanted to get rid of Garoppolo goes against everything we know about him. Belichick is smart and ruthless: Whatever player the team needs, or needs to lose, he’s ready to act, no matter the stats or the contracts.
The Patriots are given better odds than the Eagles, who have never won the Super Bowl—but I don’t buy the ratings. The Eagles have had terrible luck in losing their young and talented quarterback, Carson Wentz, for the rest of the season. When backup Nick Foles came in, everyone thought the team was done. But Foles has played excellent football before. In 2013, he once threw seven touchdowns in a single game, tied for the all-time record. (Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks ever, is one of the others to have done it.) That same year, Foles also led an injured team to the playoffs, where they lost in the wild-card round.