The quarterbacks and coaches are the same: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, making a record fifth Super Bowl trip together for the Patriots, and Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin in their second appearance for the Giants. But Super Bowl XLVI has a whole new set of subplots. "There are so many emotional levels to this game," says NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who will man the booth in Indianapolis on Sunday, Feb. 5 with Al Michaels.
New England owner Robert Kraft's beloved wife, Myra, passed away in July after a long battle with cancer and the team has dedicated the season to her, even wearing patches on their uniforms with her initials, MHK. "She's an inspiration," says Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. "We want to win a Super Bowl in her name."
After New England eked out a 23-20 victory in the AFC Championship game — thanks to the Baltimore Ravens missing a field goal with 15 seconds left — Kraft said, "Someone was smiling; we had an angel." The Patriots are also motivated by that loss four years ago to the 12-point underdog Giants, denying them an unprecedented 19-0 season." The bitter taste of that defeat is still very much alive for the people that were part of it," Collinsworth says. "They want a chance to at least settle the score."
They also want payback for a 24-20 regular-season defeat at home to the Giants on Nov. 6. The Patriots haven't lost a game since. "We've won 10; hopefully we can make it 11," says Brady.
The Giants were the late bloomers of the NFC. After a loss to the Washington Redskins dropped them to 7-7, there was talk of firing Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. New York won its last two regular-season games, then went on a tear in the playoffs, defeating the Atlanta Falcons, the No. 1 seed and defending champion Green Bay Packers, and the No. 2 seed San Francisco 49ers, 20-17 in overtime. "Obviously, we don't want to take anything from the '07 team; that was a great team," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck says, "but this... seems like a team of destiny."
Although the early line favors the Pats, Collinsworth says, "I don't see where one team should be favored over the other. If anything, maybe the Giants a little bit, just because of what they did on the road this year."
Manning, the first starting quarterback to win five playoff games on the road, says New York "just kept believing that we could get hot and we could start playing our best football, and we did that at the end of the season. Hopefully we can continue that momentum." (He could become the greatest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in the Manning family, ironically on the home field of older brother Peyton, who won the 2007 Super Bowl but was sidelined this season after neck surgery.)
Brady, who has already won three Super Bowls, is chasing immortality. Another win would put him "in a very small group of people we're discussing as the greatest player of all time," Collinsworth says. "His play this season really carried his team. They didn't have the great defensive team that they had in those first three Super Bowl wins, so this was very much his signature season."
Whether it's Manning or Brady who leads his team to victory on Super Sunday, another major chapter in NFL history is sure to be written. Says Collinsworth, "Somebody's coming out of here a legend."
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