Super Bowl XLVI and the Legacies of Manning, Brady, Belichick, and Coughlin

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Super Bowl XLVI and the Legacies of Manning, Brady, Belichick, and Coughlin
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During the postgame show last night, Bob Costas said the following quote that really defined how the idea of a player’s “legacy” in football is constantly fluctuating:

“With a victory tonight, Belichick and Brady would have put themselves at the top or near the top of the greatest coach and quarterback of the Super Bowl era. Instead, it’s Coughlin and Eli Manning who have put themselves in the discussion for the Hall of Fame."

Costas is exactly right when he implies that last night’s game was defining for the careers of the four gentlemen he listed. It’s peculiar for one game to matter so much (especially since all four have won championships in the past), but this is the way football is looked at, and it is the reason why you will see some people hungover from insanity wondering whether or not Eli is better than Peyton because of the discrepancy in the “Super Bowl wins” category. People will wonder if Brady is to be mentioned in the pantheon of great quarterbacks because he lost two Super Bowls as the favorite.

In no other sport is the championship win so influential in deciding how a player is judged. Dan Marino may still be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, and in spite of the fact that he may be the greatest pure passer of all-time, he still tends to be looked down upon because he never won a magical ring.

Eli Manning’s legacy will be a lot different now, just as it was after he won his first Super Bowl in 2008. After that win, he was given a pass for being somewhat awkward and being less of a quarterback than his brother. Now, he’ll be summoned to show up to the weekly SportsCenter poll of “Who Are the Top 5 NFL Quarterbacks," an invitation he was just narrowly missing out on before.

Will Eli become overrated because of this win? Absolutely. But he put up maybe the best numbers of his career this season and is still evolving as a quarterback. His hierarchical ranking will become somewhat skewed because of his two championships (he’s pretty much a lock to now be mentioned with Brady, Rodgers and Brees), but there’s no question that Eli’s merits deserve to be discussed. He’s nowhere near the upper-tier of NFL quarterbacks, but he became closer this season than ever before.

Being as I live in the New York-New Jersey area, the Giants are always on TV. Seeing most of their games, I was always amused by them, as they would regularly play poorly (as their initial 7-7 record reflected), somehow still be in the game and then win. This was a trend noticed after the Giants' fourth game, when they beat the Cardinals by four points. It wasn’t pretty, but Eli played consistently above-average enough to help the Giants win. It didn’t make sense, and it kept happening.

This is the second time now where Eli has brought a good-but-not-great team into the public consciousness, a team that didn’t deserve to even make it to the Super Bowl based on regular season merit.

That’s Eli’s legacy as of now. A quarterback who has been able to make his team better than they are, even if it is gawky and doesn’t resemble the fluidity of that of a regular Super Bowl champion.

Tom Coughlin is regularly hated on for being the walking definition of “irascible," but it’s hard to say anything negative about him directly following his second Super Bowl win. It was difficult to imagine the two of them being mentioned in the same category as Brady/Belichick five years ago, but now, they will be forever linked, as the furiously awkward combination of Coughlin/Manning has beaten them twice.

Coughlin and Manning could be in line for Canton, not just because they aren’t wide receivers, but because they have won the most important game in football twice now. It’s a game that keeps players out of the Hall of Fame, and it’s a game that solidifies their induction.

If Bob Griese didn’t win it twice with the Dolphins in the 1970s, do you think he would have made the Hall of Fame? I’m not sure, and that’s why it’s hard to say that either Coughlin or Manning won’t make it. Championships carry heavy weight with the voters in any sport, but it seems even more so in football.

As for Brady and Belichick, weren’t they already at the top of the all-time greatest quarterbacks and coaches list? I’m not sure what Costas is trying to say there. Maybe with a win, they move into “No. 1” (whatever that means), but a loss doesn’t hurt their legacy. They’ve been in five freaking Super Bowls in 11 years, and won three. That’s still remarkable, and the idea of a legacy is such a fickle thing, but it shouldn’t be in their case.

This game mattered for the legacy of Manning and Coughlin more than it did Belicheck and Brady, but just what is legacy anyway? Why do we even care in the first place? What satisfaction do we get out of deciding how a player is eternally viewed? It seems like a lot. So much that one game can decide whether or not a player is viewed as highly regarded or just regarded.

The idea of legacy in sports turns athletes into former presidents, which isn’t the best thing in the world. It’s okay to judge players, but it seems a little absurd to have so much riding on one game when it should be the whole scope of the career that should be judged.

I don’t think that will ever change, though, so congratulations to Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin on winning the most important game of their football careers, a game that will likely magically fly them into Canton to be turned into a bronze bust.

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