Go ahead and knock yourself out dissecting and analyzing Sunday’s conference championship games. Ravens vs. Patriots, followed by Giants vs. 49ers makes for a Sunday smorgasbord of playoff thrills and tension.
Not me. I’ve already moved on. These potentially spectacular title games are merely compulsory exercises; games that must be played in order for us to get to the game that everybody is really thinking about.
Super Bowl XLVI. At Lucas Oil (Can Boyd) Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants.
It’s the Revenge of the Hoodie.
It’s the Game That Must Not Be Named.
It’s the ’04 Red Sox getting another shot at the Yankees after Grady Little forgot to lift Pedro Martinez in 2003.
It’s the matchup that’s in the back of your mind, even if you are too superstitious to admit it.
Such thinking is folly, of course. In sports, especially in the NFL playoffs, it’s a mistake to look past the opponent standing in front of you. Here in New England, we’re well aware that the Baltimore Ravens are formidable. They have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. They have the guy from “The Blind Side’’ (Michael Oher) and the guy from ESPN’s 30 for 30 (Ricky Williams). They used to be the Cleveland Browns, which means they once fired Bill Belichick. They run the ball, and they pressure your quarterback. They went 12-4 during the regular season, which means the Patriots finally have a chance to beat a team with a winning record.
The Giants are no lock to advance, either. They are underdogs playing on the road. The 49ers are ferocious. San Francisco withstood a couple of furious rallies by the New Orleans Saints and prevailed in one of the great divisional playoff games in NFL history.
I don’t care. The Patriots have to beat the Ravens. The Giants have to beat the 49ers. It’s destiny. Four years after history was derailed in the Arizona desert, the Patriots are going to get another shot. Belichick and Tom Brady finally will have a chance for that elusive fourth ring and they get to do it against the same coach and quarterback who broke New England’s heart in February of 2008.
There aren’t that many coaches or players still on board from 2007-08, but the top dogs are still in place. Brady and Eli Manning are still the respective quarterbacks. Belichick and Tom Coughlin are still calling shots on the sideline. The Krafts and Maras are still in the owner’s boxes. Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker, Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Light, Brandon Jacobs, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora are among those who can tell stories of Super Bowl XLII. The logos on the sides of the helmets are the same. And fans in Boston and New York haven’t switched allegiances.
It would be Tom and Eli in the House of Peyton. It would be a chance for Brady to win as many Super Bowls as Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. It would be a chance for Eli to win one more then Peyton.
Belichick and Coughlin - the two oldest coaches in the NFL - could share laughs about their days working for Bill Parcells. Belichick and Coughlin each have a ring from the 1990 Giants. They were beneficiaries of the Scott Norwood “wide right’’ game.
Most recently, the Patriots and Giants played one another at Gillette in the first week of November. It’s the last time the Patriots lost. The conclusion of the game was remarkably similar to the end of Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots scored a late touchdown to take a 3-point lead, but Manning moved the Giants 80 yards in 1:21, winning the game on a touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. Like David Tyree in the desert, Ballard also made a spectacular catch over the middle on a third-down play to keep the drive alive.
Coughlin was asked if he had any Super Bowl flashes after that game and said, “No, not really. This is a whole new game. Just trying to be in the moment against a really good team and didn’t have a lot of time to think about that kind of stuff.’’
We’ll get a lot of measured response if this dream matchup is realized. No team shifts into obtuse overdrive like the Patriots. They keep their eyes straight forward and deny all the juicy peripheral issues. On his contractually-obligated radio appearance yesterday, Brady said, “It’s nothing about 10 years ago. It’s about this week.’’
Then he said, “The clock’s ticking.’’
Amen . . . as Tim Tebow would say.
The clock is indeed ticking. Opportunities such as this don’t come along very often. The Patriots have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl. They have a chance to win the championship they should have won back in the year that Rob Gronkowski was a freshman at Arizona. And they have a chance to do it against the same guys who spoiled all the fun four years ago.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.