LOS ANGELES — The funny thing about legacies, no matter the field, is that a conclusion usually is drawn - favorable or unsavory - before a career is complete, and often by those who don’t have any business debating such a topic in the first place.
In athletics, any player I’ve heard talk about their own legacy usually brushes off the question, saying it’s a fabricated media debate, and they’re right. What someone’s ultimate legacy is or isn’t fuels talk radio, internet columns and shouting network shows. Truthfully, a player or coach’s legacy means very little. Their numbers and impact on the game is enough (but isn’t that their legacy, you ask? Good question, I’ll say no.) Take Michael Jordan; some think less of No. 23 for playing those final two years with the Wizards. They say it “tarnished his legacy” and his perfect career-ending play and game with the Bulls in 1998, but Jordan doesn’t care. He’s a Hall of Famer and arguably the NBA’s G.O.A.T. Besides, his legacy was cemented following the first 3-Peat, everything that came after only added to his legend.
Those same fools say Dan Marino’s legacy is incomplete without a Super Bowl ring, same for Charles Barkley and Ted Williams. And debates will rage about Tiger Woods and his sex scandal, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds post-steroids, and Kobe Bryant for being, well, an asshole, too.
Show me a superstar athlete and I’ll show you some talking head who’ll find blemishes in their legacy. That’s just the way it goes now. How does Athlete X get past it, work their way through the chatter? By not caring. Only Bryant probably really cares what his legacy is, which is why he still kills himself with early-morning workouts and delivering dagger stares at incompetent teammates in meaningless regular season games.
If you pay any attention to the NFL, you’ve heard the debate in the last few days about how the result of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI as affected the legacy of Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick (let’s be real, those four are the only ones who matter for historical purposes).
The Giants’ 21-17 win, which was easier predicted than their triumph over New England in 2008, did affect those Giants players legacies by opening up the Hall of Fame debate (far too early for that, by the way), but for Brady and Belichick, theirs remains unchanged. The achievement of Super Bowl runner-up is nothing to shake a stick at. There are 30 other NFL teams who’d gladly trade places with the Patriots, who lost the big game for the third time as an organization.
I’ve had a few days to consider what a second Giants victory over the Patriots means for the chief players involved and my conclusion is that it means very little to Brady/Belichick historically except that instead of having five Super Bowl titles, or even four, they still have three, which is more than any player/coach combo in history except Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll - Joe Montana and Bill Walsh also have three. Brady/Belichick have now been to five Super Bowls. Period. With wins in the first three the bar and expectations were much too high, they could only go down. As was said this week, they’re already Hall of Famers but a win would’ve taken them to the elite of the Hall of Fame, which a debate could be made they already are. Sure, a 5-0 Super Bowl record looks better than 3-2, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be back, but the loss will serve as motivation. That’s what losses do.
That Brady is taking any kind of heat for his performance in the game is ludicrous. Did he have his best game, obviously not, but had the Patriots had won he’d have a third MVP trophy. He underthrew the mad dancer, Rob Gronkowski on the 4th quarter interception, and the safety is inexcusable, but so is making that call in that situation. As Troy Aikman pointed on on Rich Eisen’s podcast earlier this week, Jordan Rules should be in play for games like this. Also, it’s worth pointing out emphatically that Brady was making his fifth Super Bowl start in 11 full seasons (not counting the 8 minutes he played in 2008). That’s insane. Only John Elway has quarterbacked in five Super Bowls. That’s the list. Elway and Brady.
I saw an interesting Tweet on Thursday which said the result of all this unfair ripping of the Patriots is the next time they’re in the Super Bowl (if there is a next time), America will root for them. Which wasn’t the case in either game against the Giants. We’ll see if that comes true; next year’s Super Bowl is in New Orleans and in 2014, the New Meadowlands, though Super Bowl losers have a poor history of making the playoffs the following year. The 2008 Patriots finished 11-5 but were home for the tournament.
For Manning and Coughlin the legacy conversation is a little different. The list of quarterbacks with one Super Bowl title is lengthy, but two gets you into the Velvet Room of Awesome; Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Jim Plunkett, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Tom Brady and now Manning. That’s the guest list.
What Manning has done with his two Super Bowl titles and MVPs is open his discussion as a potential Hall of Famer (not to Kurt Warner, who, by the way, has one less ring now than Manning). Yes, it’s very early for such discussion, considering less than a year ago he wasn’t even included on the Top 100: Players of 2011 list, which was voted on by his peers. But what’s he’s done is shown that he’s as clutch a 4th quarter player as there is in the NFL right now. And there’s something said for being a closer. Amazing what one season can do; remember Manning led the NFL in interceptions in 2010 with 25.
My problem with Manning isn’t he doesn’t really look the part. At least not to the extent of Brady or Aaron Rodgers or even some of others with VIP access to the Velvet Room of Awesome. Manning always has that “aw shucks” disposition to go with his dopey hair and slouched shoulders. I guess I want my quarterback to look like the bad guy in a movie who you’re secretly pulling for. The guy who always has one last bullet in the holster, and even if he doesn’t, you think he does because you’re scared of him. But I’ll give Manning this: I’m scared of him, that’s a fact, and can’t say that about every quarterback in the NFL right now.
Coughlin is arguably the hardest ass coach in the league and that’s saying something. He lives his life by the military code “if you’re five minutes early you’re five minutes late” which obviously rubs a lot of his players the wrong way, but you have to give him this: his players absolutely, 100% play for him. They may not always play well or smart but they play when it counts. It’s been the Giants’ M.O. in recent years to ride the roller coaster of suckdom, find away to make the playoffs and then shock everyone en route to a deep run. The year they did win the division - 2008 - the G-Men were one-and-done in the playoffs.
And that’s where the Coughlin Hall of Fame talk gets cloudy for me. How can a coach be Hall of Fame worthy but have so many mediocre stretches? Yes, he now has the same number of Super Bowl titles as “the great” Bill Parcells (who was denied Hall entry this year) but he has 30 less wins (172-142) and is 28 games over .500 while Parcells is 42. So, clearly, he’s not on that level, yet. If he stays a few more years, racks up more wins, maybe improves his playoff win percentage, then he becomes a more compelling case for me.
Until the dust has started to accumulate on these guys let’s wait before making outlandish declarations, regardless of their eventual validity.