Heading into Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots were 18-0.
Sure, 19-0 was a lot to ask for, but realism was begging for a lapse into surrealism. The Patriots were about to paint their masterpiece with a perfect season, and destiny was on their side.
It was written in the stars, wasn't it?
In the years since, I've often wondered about that 2007 season.
What did it all mean?
Why did we come so close, only to go 18-1? How does that make sense? Why were the pieces of destiny in place at all? What was all that perfection for? What was history trying to accomplish?
These questions went unanswered for three years.
Finally, in 2011, the answers came. Well, sort of.
The Patriots and Giants won their respective conferences which set the stage for a rematch in Super Bowl XLVI. At that moment, I saw the big picture. I finally understood what 2007 was all about.
That 18-1 record was an essential piece of the story. Super Bowl XLII didn't go wrong, it went entirely according to plan. Now, finally, Super Bowl XLVI would bring the story to its ultimate climax.
It was like an old-fashioned spaghetti western for the football field. An epic tale of vengeance played out over years of waiting in silence for the right time to strike. Then, one day, a stranger rides into town pretending to be a gunslinger for hire, but secretly, he's the quarterback who was wronged long ago and has come back for revenge.
It wouldn't be the first time that Tom Brady and the Patriots tasted the sweet flavor of vengeance.
Back in 2004, the Patriots began the season with an impressive winning streak intact. With their victory over the Dolphins, they pushed their streak to 19 and entered football lore as a legendary team. They won two more games which bumped their historic streak to 21.
The Patriots then traveled to Pittsburgh with the intention of putting another link in their flawless chain. Instead, the Steelers smashed that chain.
The pain of that loss was unfamiliar and profound.
Later, in the '04 postseason, the Patriots traveled back to Pittsburgh with vengeance on their mind.
Pittsburgh fans watched as the Patriots systematically laid down a biblical wrath upon the Steelers. The revenge was so intense and so electric, the entire night seemed to be engulfed in flames.
It was the kind of revenge that only could've been born out of a loss that cut to the bone and left a ghost, like the one which ended their 21-game winning streak.
Or, like the loss that prevented them from a perfect season in 2007.
And now, we circle back to 2011.
On the night when it was decided that a rematch between the Patriots and Giants would occur, it all made sense. Super Bowl XLII wasn't some random and chaotic mess, it was the first step in a long staircase which ultimately led to order.
The story was coming full-circle. History was working itself out.
But then, the Patriots lost again.
Suddenly, all the questions came flooding back. Why 18-0? Why 18-1? Why the rematch in 2011?
What was it all for?
In the last few months, I've tried to analyze it from a different perspective. What if Super Bowl XLVI had historical significance of a different kind?
Maybe this had nothing to do with the Patriots.
What if the Giants' second victory was meant to prove that their first ring wasn't a fluke? What if the rematch was meant to prove that Eli Manning was more than a lucky helmet catch?
It's an argument that has some merit.
Eli Manning is, without a doubt, an elite quarterback who deserves the utmost respect. In fact, there are few athletes whom I hold in higher regard. You have to give the guy his proper due. Of all the quarterbacks in the NFL, he's the only one I dread playing against.
However, if we indulge the theory that this was more about Manning than Brady, then a new question emerges: What has Eli Manning's second ring done for him?
Has Manning secured a spot as one of the top three quarterbacks in the league? Well, he makes an interesting case for himself. I'm certainly flirting with the notion.
But will the rest of the football community be as open to that concept? I doubt it.
My guess is that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will continue to rule the top two spots while Drew Brees and Peyton Manning will continue to eclipse Eli Manning's stature. Some may also give the edge to Ben Roethlisberger.
Perception-wise, that would make Eli Manning the fifth or sixth best quarterback in the league, which is where he ranked before Super Bowl XLVI happened.
So, really, what's changed?
Sure, people will now openly accept Eli Manning's elite status, but they may very well continue to bury him underneath the weight of other quarterbacks.
Come 2012, I wouldn't be surprised to see the media pay a ton of attention to Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo while Eli Manning gets bumped to the backseat.
So, if this whole thing was about Manning, then what did his second ring accomplish? What former perceptions or truths did it alter?
It would seem to me that we're right back to where we started before the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. The same quarterbacks will rule the top spots, the same guys will dominate the headlines and we'll all go back to arguing over where Eli Manning stands in the big scheme of things.
Had the Patriots won Super Bowl XLVI, this would've been a great story with a satisfying conclusion. But given how it played out, I'm inclined to think that the universe has regressed back into total chaos.
All that remains are questions which may never be answered.