The winner of Super Bowl LII—or 52, for the layman (because keeping track of Roman numerals sucks), will make NFL history. The Philadelphia Eagles, who last appeared in the Super Bowl in 2004, are seeking their first Lombardi trophy, while the New England Patriots, who appeared in and won last year’s Super Bowl, are seeking a record-tying sixth championship. This is so, so bad.
To be totally transparent, I was so rooting for a Vikings vs. Jaguars Super Bowl. The Jaguars are fun! They strike me as particularly iconoclastic and anti-establishment, constantly spitting in the face of convention—most notably, by continuing to trash-talk members of the Pittsburgh Steelers after surrendering more than 500 yards and 42 points in a playoff game—and willfully providing foes with voluminous amounts of bulletin board material. What would have made a Jaguars Super Bowl run all the more impressive would’ve been the fact that they downed both Pittsburgh and New England, two of the league’s “premier” franchises, on their way there. The Vikings, whose superstar-laden defense and volcanic collection of offensive skill players formed one of the most well-balanced outfits in the league, could have played for a championship in their home stadium. That would’ve been neat. And can you even imagine telling your grandchildren that you once saw Blake Bortles tee-off against Case Keenum with a Super Bowl on the line?
Alas, we will be treated to a Super Bowl XXXIX redux, one that features the top seeds in their respective conferences. As someone who ardently follows the Steelers, I can tell you without compunction that Patriots vs. Eagles represents a nightmare scenario. I accepted long ago that Tom Brady was the greatest quarterback of all time, and I even learned to derive some exhilaration in watching this person be a professional quarterback. Next Sunday’s game will mark Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance, which is the kind of statistic that should be all but impossible in an era in which free agency, the draft, and the salary cap ostensibly promote league-wide parity.
But this is all getting kind of ridiculous. I’m obviously biased, but an argument can be made for the Steelers being the league’s second-best franchise since the turn of the millennium; and even if this rationale does hold true, it’s a distant second place. I can’t help but wonder how great the Steelers could’ve been without the mere specter of Tom Brady, which, admittedly, is a sad, bitter thing to wonder.
Please understand that the Eagles aren’t the good guys in the story. There is an interesting duality to Eagles fans: many of them present themselves with a Boston-like sense of entitlement and accomplishment despite the fact that their favorite team is essentially the Cincinnati Bengals with better PR.
I say all this in jest, so please forgive the strident commentary. Truthfully, it appears to me that the NFL playoffs, you know, worked. I am convinced that New England and Philadelphia truly are the best teams in their respective conferences. Brady is as sharp as ever at age 40 and, aside from some rumored internal fracturing, he and Bill Belichick still form the most prolific quarterback-coach duo ever. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has calmly circumvented the loss of Carson Wentz by placing their faith in the ever-capable Nick Foles, who has proved in his two playoff appearances that his late-season struggles were a mirage. And though New England is understandably the favorite in the Super Bowl, we know full well that a goofy NFC East quarterback and a fearsome pass rush is the Patriots’ kryptonite, so perhaps the Eagles have a shot.