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Road to the Super Bowl | Dan Shaughnessy

The day of reckoning

In their trademark eerie unison, the Patriots insist on this: Today has nothing to do with 2008, when the perfect season ended with a football glued to David Tyree’s helmet. This is NOT about payback. Oh, please.

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 5, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - It’s not about revenge. There’s nothing the Patriots can do tonight that will change what happened in the desert against these same Giants four years ago. Most of the players from that game have moved on. This Super Bowl has zero connection to Super Bowl XLII, when Elisha Nelson Manning broke New England’s heart and killed dreams of perfection and immortality.

Baloney.

Rubbish.

Nonsense.

Lies, lies, lies.

This is all about revenge. It’s about driving a Rolls-Royce to your high school reunion and laughing at the cheerleader who ruined your life when she wouldn’t go out with you. It’s an opportunity to fire the boss who once fired you.

The Patriots have been working overtime to convince you all that this has nothing to do with four years ago. This is an opportunity to win a Super Bowl. It would be no different if they were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Gostkowski were all in Arizona in 2008 and they say there’s no revenge motive.If they’d been tethered to a polygraph, the machine would have exploded.

It’s the Patriot way and it makes sense. There’s no need for the stars of 2007-08 to get into a lather about how much it means to be facing the Giants. It doesn’t give the Patriots any competitive advantage. So they deny the obvious.

Winning tonight truly won’t fix what went wrong in Glendale, where David Tyree’s helmet catch led the Giants to victory. That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s gone forever. Nothing can bring it back.

But everybody knows this game is better than your average Super Bowl because it is a rematch of the disaster in the desert.

Four years after Ellis Hobbs got spanked in the corner of the end zone, we’ve got a spectacular rematch with the same owners, the same head coaches, 22 of the same players (seven Patriots, 15 Giants), the same uniforms, the same helmet logos, and most important, the same fans.

Even without the recent history, beating the Giants is much sweeter than beating the Panthers or Texans. Conversely, losing to the Giants would hurt more than any loss to the Bucs or Bengals.

Think back to the golden days of the Larry Bird Celtics. They won three championships in the 1980s. But is there a single fan in Boston who enjoyed beating the Houston Rockets (twice) more than beating the Lakers in the 1984 Finals? No. There is not.

The Boston-New York element only inflates the drama. In a week of robo-speak, Brady went off message for a moment when he said, “There is a great rivalry; there has been between Boston and New York for a long time. When I got to the team, it was always Red Sox-Yankees. We’ve had some pretty meaningful games against the Giants over the past few years, so I don’t think anyone is disappointed that it’s the Giants.’’

Amen, brother Tom.

A fundamental disconnect between ballplayers and fans is the ballplayers’ misguided notion that they share no connection with events that preceded their joining a team. The 1986 Red Sox spent five months in first place, hearing every day that they were going to blow it like the 1978 Sox, the ’74 edition, the ’48 Sox, and all the others who came close, then lost. “I don’t want to hear about choking or any of that crap,’’ manager John McNamara said - right before his team perpetrated the most colossal gag in sports history.

The fact is, fans always connect the present with the past. That’s why they are fans. It’s the uniforms. Players come and go. Teams are continuous entities.

Have you heard the comments from the ex-Patriots? The guys who are no longer living under New England’s Kremlinesque rule of spin and silence? Rodney Harrison, Heath Evans, and James Sanders are just a few who are able to tell the truth now.

Even Bill Parcells got into the act, saying, “It’s also interesting because it’s happened before.’’

Harrison told the Globe’s Chad Finn, “You’d be a fool not to feel there’s not some sense of bitterness or revenge. [The Patriots] are not going to come out and say it, but there is. Trust me.’’

“Their opinions are their opinions,’’ countered Belichick. “But I see this as this game. This game, the elements of it are what we have in front of us, not what happened two months ago, or what happened two years ago or four years ago.’’

Anything you say, Coach. That’s the best attitude. We know there’s no competitive advantage to admitting that winning would be sweeter because it’s the Giants. But we know the truth. Interest in Super Bowl XLVI is heightened because the Patriots and Giants are back in the big game four years after the Giants derailed New England’s historic season.

It creates more pressure for the Patriots to win. It would make winning most satisfying, but nobody wants to think about what it will be like if the Patriots lose to the Giants again.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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