If the Super Bowl were decided by personality and not precision, they wouldn’t even need to play Sunday’s game. Pete Carroll would beat Bill Belichick in a blowout.
Carroll, the California-cool Seahawks coach, was his normal charming self when the two coaches sat down for their joint pregame news conference Friday. So much so that Belichick, New England’s notoriously droll general, couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the one-liners.
But one question caused them both to retreat into dreaded coach-speak: What is the historical significance of a repeat champion?
Only eight teams — and six coaches — in NFL history have done it (Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll did so twice). Belichick is the last, with his Patriots winning in 2003 and 2004.
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And Carroll, with a win in the desert Sunday, could become the next.
So for all the conjecture about inflated footballs and pharmaceutically inflated players — and there has been plenty in the past two weeks — Sunday’s game is about something deeper.
It’s about history and legacy.
Sadly, neither Carroll nor Belichick wanted to hear anything about the subject some 56 hours before kickoff.
“With all due respect,” Belichick said, “for us, whatever we have or haven’t done in the past, the Super Bowls we won, we didn’t win, it’s not about that right now. This is about an opportunity for this team at this time to be special right now.”
Added Carroll: “This opportunity is rare and unique in itself,” before insisting that it is left up to others to determine any greater meaning from Sunday’s outcome.
Don’t worry, Pete. We will.
And here’s the short version: after Sunday, nothing will ever really be the same for anyone on either team.
Just ask Malcolm Smith. One moment, Smith was the most obscure player on a defense loaded with superstars.
The next, the Seahawks’ young linebacker was cruising through Magic Kingdom in the back of a cherry-red convertible, the spoils of his MVP performance in Super Bowl 48.
All it took to go from also-ran to immortal was an interception-return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and nine tackles in the most-watched TV program in United States history.
Smith is again a footnote this week; he doesn’t even start for the Seahawks. While Richard Sherman, his magnetic teammate, addressed dozens of reporters Thursday, Smith sat at a table with similarly ancillary teammates, trying not to be noticed.
And yet Smith’s place in history is secure after four hours of football, joining greats such as Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Joe Montana and Larry Csonka who have won the MVP.
“I haven’t really thought about it like that,” he said with a shrug. “Maybe one day, when I’m done playing, but not really yet.”
That’s the problem with legacies. They’re written by others; those making history are too busy doing so to worry much about the bigger picture.
But moments don’t get more defining than in the Super Bowl, and the 49th iteration — between the NFC’s Seahawks and the AFC’s Patriots in a suburb just west of here Sunday — is no different.
It pits Belichick and Carroll — arguably the greatest two coaches in the NFL today.
Carroll would become just the second coach to win a college national championship and two Super Bowls (Jimmy Johnson is the other).
Belichick is on the doorstep of joining Noll as the only NFL head coach to win four Super Bowls.
And for added intrigue, Belichick succeeded Carroll in New England when the latter was out after three nondescript years as the Patriots coach.
Under normal circumstances, Sunday’s champion might own the tiebreaker in the argument of who is the best coach in football.
But these are far from normal circumstances.
Belichick has been in the tempest ever since word spread that footballs used in New England’s AFC title-game victory had air pressure below the league’s mandated minimum. An under-inflated football, as much of the free world now knows, helps the quarterback’s grip.
Carroll’s reputation also is far from pristine. Just before the NCAA closed in on crippling sanctions against the University of Southern California for improper benefits, he jumped ship for Seattle. And since he took over in 2010, the Seahawks have been among the worst offenders of the league’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs.
None of that will probably matter Sunday, though. Super Bowl 49, for all its hype, will probably come down to — as most games do — whichever team gets the best play from its quarterback.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson grew up marveling over Tom Brady’s late-game heroics. Now to join Brady on a short list of quarterbacks to win consecutive Super Bowls, Wilson will have to beat the legend.
“I’ve definitely thought about it,” Wilson said. “To win back to back and be one of the few quarterbacks to ever do it would be awesome. … Whenever you do something in life or whenever you’re in certain circumstances, you try to make history.”
Brady grew up idolizing Montana, widely seen as the best playoff quarterback in NFL history. Montana won four titles in his Hall of Fame career.
Brady, heading into Sunday, is one ring short of his boyhood hero’s record. Former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw is the only other four-time champion at that position.
“It’s hard to think about those things,” Brady said. “Like I said, I’ve just been fortunate to be on some great teams. Those guys are unbelievable players, they were so great for this league.”
Backing it up
The Seahawks are attempting to become the eighth franchise in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls, joining a group that already includes their opponent Sunday, the Patriots: