How Super Bowl XLVI plays out will have a tremendous impact on the legacies of four men: Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick.
If the Giants win, and Manning does well, perhaps even wins another Super Bowl MVP, he'll be regarded as the superior Manning. At least he should be.
While Peyton has always been highly praised, and has been putting up gaudy regular season stats for years, the game of football is about playing your best in the big game. It's about performing in the clutch, capitalizing on the big moment, making that one play. More so than any other sport because other sports have best of 7 series. In the NFL, it's win or lose, live or die, all in one game on one night.
If Eli wins, he's the better big game QB. He'd have 2 rings. One more than Peyton. He'd have an 8-3 playoff record. Peyton is 9-10.
Eli would also have a much better record against the Patriots, a team that most NFL teams have measured themselves against for the last decade. Eli would have 2 playoff wins against New England. Peyton is 1-2. Eli would have a career record of 3-1 against the Patriots. Peyton, when facing the Patriots with both Belichick and Brady, is 4-8 against New England.
So if Eli does well and helps propel the Giants to a Super Bowl win, his legacy will surpass his older brother's.
What about Tom Coughlin's legacy compared to his former boss, Bill Parcells?
If the Giants win, then Coughlin matches the Tuna in the ring category with 2. Parcells won 303 games as a head coach, Coughlin has 256 wins. Parcells' playoff record isn't staggeringly amazing. He's led teams to 3 Super Bowls, won 2 of them, and is 11-8 in the postseason. Coughlin has been two 2 Super Bowls, won 1 of them, and is 8-7 in the playoffs.
I don't see much separation there. If I told you those numbers were some mystery coach, you might say that Coughlin is just a step behind Coach X. But Parcells' name carries the weight of his reputation as a winner. So it seems like Coughlin is further behind than he really is.
Parcells gets praised for producing lots of coaching talent. Like Coughlin, and Belichick. But that also means he's had high quality assistants helping him win. Was Parcells a great teacher? Or did he have genius students? Probably both.
I'm not saying that if the Giants win on Sunday, then Coughlin is better than Parcells. But he's at least in the conversation. Looking at just their bodies of work, there wouldn't be much separating the two.
And as for former Giants assistant Bill Belichick, a win on Sunday would put even more distance between he and Parcells. Belichick would be 96 games over .500 as Patriots head coach. Think about that. Parcells had a .570 winning percentage, and .611 with the Giants. Belichick has a .643 winning percentage, .724 with the Patriots.
Belichick has 272 career wins (31 behind Parcells, 22 behind if you include playoff wins), a 21-6 playoff record, 5 Super Bowl appearances, 3 titles. A win on Sunday would be icing on the already impressive cake of Belichick's legacy.
The same goes for Brady. If the Pats lose then both Brady and Belichick will still be considered among the best at their particular jobs. If they win, they'll be among the best ever in all of sports at anything, not just their specific positions in their specific sports. They're both already great. Winning Sunday could add an -est to the end of that word.
What would make ring #4 so impressive is that this team is completely and utterly different from the previous 3 Super Bowl champions. The Patriots won those with patient passing and a playmaking defense. Now they're trying to win with a playmaking offense and a defense that tests the fans' patience.
For a coach and quarterback to grow and adjust so dramatically over a 10 year span is impressive. Brady has become the poster boy for the passing frenzy that is the NFL. I think Belichick saw Brady's potential being underutilized in 2006, as he was forced to work with Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel.
That's when Belichick went out and acquired Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth.
And for 18 games, the formula worked. It just hasn't won Game #19. Yet. But if the Patriots win on Sunday, Belichick and Brady will have 4 rings, coaching and playing for 2 very different kinds of teams. Brady would have won as a "game manager" and as a "flashy" QB. Belichick would have won as an old-school defensive mastermind, and as an offensive "guru."
It's like a great actor who can do comedy and drama, who can play the hero in one movie, then the villain in another.
That kind of success puts you in the upper upper stratosphere of sports greatness.
Those are the legacies on the line Sunday. A good quarterback and a very good coach who can emerge from some shadows. And a great quarterback and great coach who can start casting even bigger shadows of their own.