PHOENIX There are guarantees, and then there are guarantees.
Muhammad Ali spent his career making them, though he had an advantage. Not only could he do them in rhyme, but he could back them up with his fists.
So when Ali was a bigger underdog against the fearsome George Foreman in Zaire in 1974 than the New York Giants are in this Super Bowl, there wasn't much doubt that he would have something to say to boost the hype.
Because Ali never disappointed with his mouth.
"If you were surprised when Nixon resigned, just watch what happens when I whup Foreman's behind," he shouted.
Ali lives in nearby Scottsdale, though he's not doing much talking these days. He did whup Foreman's behind, but the ravages of Parkinson's have since taken a terrible toll on his body and one of the greatest talkers ever is now basically mute.
Something tells me he might have smiled a bit, though, when Plaxico Burress opened his mouth this week and not only guaranteed the Giants would beat the New England Patriots but predicted the final score.
For those who weren't listening, that would be 23-17, a final that would not only make a lot of New York fans happy but some Las Vegas bookmakers, too. Even happier, though, are the hundreds of writers gathered here who, before Burress spoke, had only Tom Brady's ankle and Bill Belichick's wisdom of life to write about.
It wasn't exactly Joe Namath lounging poolside and delivering the most famous guarantee ever, but it had the desired effect. During a week in which even the smallest tidbit of news is huge news, Burress did everyone but his teammates a favor by giving an undefeated team that already had a chip on its shoulder one more reason to stay undefeated.
Who would have thought that Burress seemed to understand what both Ali and Namath always did that while the stakes are extremely high, there's nothing wrong with trying to have a little fun.
"All this is entertainment," Burress said. "It's sports, and sports are entertainment. So 23-17 is the prediction I made, but the game still has to be played."
The knee-jerk reaction, of course, is that the Patriots will remember what Burress dared say and use it as added motivation to win the big game. Bulletin board material, though in today's electronic locker rooms the bulletin boards are in short supply.
Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith dared do the same thing to the Patriots late in the regular season, and paid dearly for it. Brady passed for 399 yards and Smith was burned on two long touchdown passes as New England trounced the Steelers 34-13.
But this is the Super Bowl, and if players on both sides haven't found enough motivation to win Sunday's game, they're looking in the wrong places. That's especially true for the Patriots, who are chasing a fourth championship in seven years and a spot in history as the first undefeated team in the NFL in 35 years.
"It's human nature to get motivated by some of those comments," said Rodney Harrison, the Patriots safety who could see a lot of Burress up close and personal on Sunday. "At the same time you understand that it's just mouth service."
Mouth service, indeed, though Burress must not have gotten the memo when Tom Coughlin sat his team down before flying to Phoenix and warned them not to do anything to antagonize the Patriots. The Giants are already 12-point underdogs, and it makes some sense to keep quiet just in case the Patriots try to embarrass them the way they piled it on against the Redskins and the Bills earlier this season.
Coughlin didn't seem terribly upset Thursday when discussing his prized wide receiver's comments, which made headlines in all the New York tabloids. Maybe he realized that even the most controlling coaches can't control what is said during Super Bowl week when reporters have greater access to players than they do in the regular season, and even the notoriously tightlipped Belichick is required to talk.
Burress wasn't terribly worried about the fallout from his comments, either.
"We can still laugh about it and have fun with it," he said. "That was one of the things that made Muhammad Ali great. He made predictions and he went out and got it done. I'm not saying I'm Muhammad Ali. He added a little fuel to the fire and a little excitement to the show. We're just having fun with it."
So was Ali, though even The Greatest knew his limits. After missing the round in one of his fights, Ali admitted that maybe, just maybe, he couldn't control everything.
"If my fans think I can do everything I say I can do, then they're crazier than I am," Ali said.On Sunday we'll find out just how crazy Burress was.
Super Bowl 2 days away
New England Patriots (18-0) vs. New York Giants (13-6)
Sunday, Glendale, Ariz.
Kickoff: 4:17 p.m., Ch. 13