My birthday is in a few weeks; I'll be 37. I don't really ever ask for much for my birthday...breakfast in bed and some time with my wife and children is great. I'm a pretty simple guy.
But, I have to say, that I am thrilled that the NFL is giving me an early birthday present. This Sunday, Nov. 4, the 7-0 Indianapolis Colts will host the 8-0 New England Patriots at 4:15 PM. Typically, the Super Bowl is played in late January or early February, but, this season, the two best teams will be facing off on All Saints Sunday.
This could be a game for the ages. The Colts are the defending Super Bowl champions, having dominated the regular season in the 21st century like no other team. They are actually a better team this season than they were in their Super Bowl season, with a stronger running game and a vastly improved defense. The Patriots have, of course, three Super Bowl rings this decade, and, as dominant as the Colts have been in the regular season, so the Pats have dominated the postseason. Amazingly, the Patriots may have this season not only the best team in football, and their best team yet, but quite possibly the most dominant team of the Super Bowl era. They are unbelievably good.
We will witness a battle royale of the two greatest quarterbacks of the decade. Peyton Manning has been attacking the record books with stats to impress even the most skeptical observer. He wins games consistently, dominating almost every game he plays. Most of the time, he is the master of the field when he is on it, and few quarterbacks in NFL history have enjoyed intuitive ability to read defenses and find their flaws. He finally has the Super Bowl ring which eluded him for years, and may well be one of the Top 5 QBs ever to play the sport. He's at the top of his game right now.
Despite Manning's dominance, Tom Brady has been the most successful quarterback of the century so far. Only two QBs have won more Super Bowls (Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana), and only one more has won as many (Troy Aikman). The knock on Brady has been that he lacks Manning's stats; Brady's defenders have countered that he has lacked Manning's weapons, most notably future Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison. This season, Brady finally has weapons, most notably the ultra-talented Randy Moss. Brady has responded by becoming without question the league's MVP to this point of the season, putting up stats (especially points and touchdowns) which are on track to decimate many of the current records...many of them held by Manning. He is having possibly the best season any NFL quarterback has ever had, and is clearly at the top of his game.
We may be witnessing the two best quarterbacks in NFL history at the peak of their games. What a tremendous joy to watch! Which player is better? My money is on Brady to win this Sunday, and I would give him a slight edge in the "good, better, best" contest, because, for me, Super Bowl championships trump stats. But we may be saying that they are #1 and #1a on the all-time list; they are both phenomenal players.
We will also be witnessing the two best current coaches in the NFL. Like their quarterbacks, Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy will end up being enshrined in Canton. They could not be more different, at least in terms of their public personas.
Belichick has come to represent evil for many football fans. Short tempered, at times mean, nasty, and seemingly vindictive, he has been accused of everything from cheating to playing dirty to "needlessly" running up the score to having a lack of respect for his opponents. But...his success is indisputable. This season, he may become only the second head coach to win four Super Bowls (Chuck Noll being the only one to do so to date). His team is so good, so dominant, that he may win another ring or two or three in the years ahead. In terms of Super Bowl victories, he would then tower over every other head coach in history.
Dungy, on the other hand, seems to be one of the nicest men ever involved in sports. A real family man who loves the Lord and clearly puts his men ahead of plays or rings, he seems to be a remarkable human being, the kind of man you'd want to raise your children should something tragic occur in your own life. In his coaching career, this former Steeler has turned two perpetually losing franchises into winning teams - Tampa and Indianapolis - and, like his QB, finally has a Super Bowl ring to confirm his excellence and his success. Like Belichick, he is respected. But, whereas Belichick is feared, Dungy is beloved.
Sunday's game presents two great quarterbacks and two great coaches, as well as a tremendous supporting cast...Addai, Bruschi, Freeney, Harrison, Moss, Sanders, Seau, Seymour, Stallworth, Vinatieri, Vrabel, Wayne, Welker, et al.
So, today, in anticipation for Sunday, I'm thanking the NFL and God for this birthday present. It will be an exciting game as the league's best two teams meet in Indiana; for perhaps the first time, the Super Bowl will be played in November.