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Christopher L. Gasper

Greatest ever? Or just great? Super Bowl will tell

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady can cement their places as NFL’s highest achievers

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will play in their fifth Super Bowl on Sunday.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will play in their fifth Super Bowl on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Legacy Place isn’t just a nifty shopping center in Dedham. More than 900 miles away it’s at the center of what Super Bowl XLVI means for Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

This is a game of Wilforkian proportions for everyone associated with the Patriots. But for Brady and Belichick, hoisting that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy would be a postscript to their greatest failure -- Super Bowl XLII -- and a capstone to their remarkable collective curriculum vitae.

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Regardless of the outcome of the latest Roman Numeral Rumble with the New York Giants, Brady and Belichick are going to go down as two of the best in their respective fields in the history of the game. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has already taken their measurements for Canton canary yellow blazers. Belichick’s might have a hood sewn on. Brady might ask that his be designed by Tom Ford. But they’ll be wearing them.

Between them, Belichick and Brady have three NFL Coach of the Year awards, two NFL MVPs, and one perfect 16-0 regular season (2007). No coach and quarterback pair has ever won more NFL playoff games (16) or advanced to more Super Bowls (five).

However, Super Bowl XLVI is an opportunity for Belichick and Brady to take a jack and lift their pedestals even higher. Winning a fourth Super Bowl in five tries and doing it by avenging their lone defeat in the Big Game would buttress their claims to being considered the historical gold standard at their respective positions.

Prevailing this time against this team changes the historical context of the Patriots’ shocking defeat to the Giants four years ago in Super Bowl XLII.

If Belichick and Brady are able to guide the Patriots to a win over the Giants, then history will largely judge the events of Super Bowl XLII as a fluke, a confluence of unlikely and improbable events that conspired to upset the natural order of excellence.

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But another loss to the Giants and a continuation of the Patriots’ championship “drought,” fogs up their championship window and clouds their legacy.

Going 3-2 in five Super Bowls over an 11-year period is remarkable, but it doesn’t qualify you for G.O.A.T (Greatest of all-time) status, not when Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll never lost a Super Bowl together and Joe Montana and Bill Walsh were a flawless 3-0 before Walsh handed the Lombardi Trophy on a silver platter to successor George Seifert for Joe Cool’s fourth title in four Super Bowls.

Bill Belichick hopes to join Chuck Noll as the only coaches ever to win four Super Bowls.

Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Bill Belichick hopes to join Chuck Noll as the only coaches ever to win four Super Bowls.

If TB and BB lose, then pigskin posterity will frame them as brilliant frontmen of the Patriot Way who weren’t quite able to duplicate the gridiron gestalt the Patriots’ three Super Bowl teams from 2001 through 2004 had.

The players from those teams consequently will see their share of the credit grow, years later. In hindsight, the 2001, 2003 and 2004 teams had a significant talent beyond Brady and Belichick, even if it wasn’t recognized at the time: Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison, Roman Phifer.

The narrative of Belichick as a football alchemist who coaxes and cajoles castoffs and spare parts into championship play applies more to this defense than to any of the other previous Patriot Super Bowl entrants. The 2001 Patriots were 24th in total defense, but sixth in scoring defense.

It will be pointed out that the version of Brady that was a clutch game manager was more successful winning Super Bowls than the version that puts up video game numbers. And that dirty seven-letter word -- Spygate -- will retain a last flickering ember of relevance.

Brady was loath to discuss his legacy, but he admitted that losing Super Bowl XLII sticks with him.

“Any time you lose it’s a tough thing,” said Brady. “We’ve lost one Super Bowl. I remember waking up in Arizona the next morning after an hour of sleep thinking, ‘That was a nightmare. That didn’t happen.’ “

Trust me, Tom, you weren’t alone.

“After time, you learn to move on and get over it. ... When you win, you still probably get an hour of sleep. But that feeling doesn’t go away for a long time. The winning, the things that go along with winning, those are really special memories that you have with a lot of close friends. It’s a great feeling.”

The Super Bowl XLVI storyline is that the big, bad 13-3 Patriots are taking on the peaking and piquant Giants. The Patriots are three-point favorites over New York in most places for one reason, two actually, Brady and Belichick.

Looking at it on paper, the Giants are probably the more talented, balanced team 1-53, and they already beat the Patriots in Foxborough on Nov. 6. The Giants did so without three offensive starters. New York has won five straight elimination games, and they ousted the league’s most prolific offense (the Saints) and one of its stingiest defenses (49ers) from the playoffs.

It seems only fitting that in order to cement their legacy that Brady and Belichick have to go through a Manning. If it weren’t for the progeny of Archie and Olivia Manning, the Patriots might have five Super Bowl titles by now.

In 2006, Peyton prevented the Patriots from winning a fourth title in six seasons by defeating them 38-34 in the AFC title game right here in Indianapolis. That was the most heartbreaking loss of the Brady-Belichick era until Eli did his big brother one better in Super Bowl XLII.

Now, Brady and Belichick have a chance to exorcise the demons of Super Bowl XLII at Peyton’s Place and win a fourth Super Bowl.

It’s not 19-0, but it would be perfect.

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