Sports Outside the Beltway

Conference Championship Back Stories

At this point in the playoffs there are some interesting subplots to look at.

There’s not much history between Chicago and New Orleans at this level. (While Mike Tanier agrees that the Saints are the better story, he thinks that the Bears are the better team and will win.) However New England and Indianapolis have plenty of history between them in the past six seasons. Mike Tanier writes:

The lessons of history: Ancient scrolls tell us that Peyton Manning first faced a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team in Week 6 of the 2000 season. Manning threw for 334 yards but was picked off three times, and the Patriots won 24-16. Two weeks later, the Patriots traveled to Indianapolis, and Manning threw three touchdowns in a 30-23 Colts win. At the time, any suggestion that Belichick or the Patriots “owned” the Colts would have been scoffed at. Then again, any suggestion that the 5-11 Patriots were a year away from the Super Bowl would also have been suitable for scoffing.

During that first Super Bowl run in 2001, the Patriots acquired their reputation as Manning killers. The Patriots swept the Colts and forced another three-interception effort from the normally unflappable Manning in one of the games. In 2002, the Colts moved out of the AFC East, but the two teams would find their destinies French-braided together in 2003. In Week 13 of that season, the Patriots out-dueled the Colts 38-34 in a game that ended with a goal-line tackle of Edgerrin James by Willie McGinest. When they met again in the AFC championship in New England, the contest wasn’t nearly as close: the Patriots built a 15-0 halftime lead and then coasted to a 24-14 win. Manning threw four picks and was sacked four times. The 2004 season brought another Patriots-Colts playoff battle, once again on an icy day in Foxboro. Manning had another substandard outing, and the Patriots won 20-3 en route to a third Super Bowl title.

But this isn’t just about how the two teams have played against one another. It’s also about Adam Vinatieri who left the Patriots as a free agent to play for the Colts. In his first decade as a pro, Vinatieri was an essential part of the Patriots’ dynasty. This is from his Wikipedia entry:

In the 2001 playoffs, during a blizzard against the Oakland Raiders in the final game at Foxboro Stadium, Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal to tie the game 13-13 and send it into overtime. The Patriots then won the game on another field goal of 23 yards by Vinatieri. That 45-yard kick in driving snow is regarded as one of the greatest clutch plays (and greatest kicks) in NFL history.

In Super Bowl XXXVI he kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play to give the New England Patriots their first Super Bowl victory, a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams. Two years later, and in an almost identical situation, he kicked a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII to boost the Patriots to another championship (after missing one field goal and having another attempt blocked in the first half). This time, the Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, making Vinatieri the first player ever to be the deciding factor in two Super Bowl games (Vinatieri kept the balls used on both those kicks).

While Vinatieri was instrumental in defeating the Ravens this past week, he didn’t decide a game with little time left. Will he defeat his old team this week? And if he does will it be as time runs out?

There are two compelling storylines remaining for the Super Bowl.
If the Colts and Saints play each other it will be the team whose greatest quarterback was Archie Manning playing against the team (meaning the IndianapolisJ) Colts whose greatest quarterback is his son Peyton. Archie Manning – a member of the College Football Hall of Fame – owns just about every passing record of the New Orleans Saints. His son Peyton is, arguably, the best player ever to play professional football in Indianapolis.

There’s one other interesting story here. As coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tony Dungy led that beleaguered franchise to some sustained success. For his inability to get them to the Super Bowl, though, he was fired and replaced by Jon Gruden. The Bucs won the Super Bowl the following year against (Gruden’s old team) the Raiders. That must have stung. Getting to the Super Bowl would be vindication for Dungy. The Bucs won the Super Bowl but subsequently haven’t been as good as the Colts.

The other interesting storyline for the Super Bowl would be a rematch of the Bears and Patriots from Super Bowl XX in 1986. That victory came at a time of Super Bowl dominance by the NFC in which that conference won 15 out of 16 Super Bowls. The dominance has shifted as the AFC has now won 7 out of the last 9 Super Bowls. If the Bears of Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, Jim McMahon, Walter Perry, Richard Dent and Walter Payton were prohibitive favorites 21 years ago; I’d have to think that the Bill Bellichik/Tom Brady Patriots of today would be as much of a lock this year.
The Bears – despite their dominance that year – haven’t returned to the Super Bowl since then. The Patriots are now hoping to return to the Super Bowl for the fifth time in eleven years.

UPDATE: EnnuiPundit previews the AFC and the NFC.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.

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