Super Sunday is finally here.
Yes, that special day we set aside each year with great anticipation so that millions of Americans can get together with their families and friends for loads of chips and salsa, seven-layer dip, plenty of cold beverages and pretzels, perhaps some cheers and tears, a few really funny TV commercials and at least a little smack-talk has arrived at last.
Oh, yeah, and there's a football game, too. Maybe you've heard of it. It's a little somethin' called the Super Bowl.
After all, it's the reason everybody's getting together in the first place. Guys will crowd around the big-screen TV, endlessly stuff their faces with snacks, second-guess virtually every play-call as if they were Vince Lombardi's younger, smarter brother and reminisce about how good they were "back in the day."
Female football fans have no such silly illusions. Even better, they don't eat nearly as much of the goodies, either. Of course, some of them lose interest in the game shortly after the first commercial break, but at least they don't pretend to know more than the coaches do or try to impress anyone about how they might've made the big-time, too, if not for that darned knee injury they suffered in the big game.
And, speaking of big games, today's duel oughta be a dandy.
It's the AFC champion New England Patriots, the team that brought you Tom Brady, the matinee idol quarterback with the supermodel wife, vs. the NFC champion New York Giants, whose offense is guided by a guy perhaps best known as Peyton Manning's little brother.
If this matchup sounds familiar to you, it should. These same two franchises squared off for all the National Football League marbles four years ago, when the undefeated Patriots, who entered the Super Bowl as prohibitive 12-point favorites, were one win away from achieving NFL immortality.
Then came Super Sunday, and Eli Manning took the Giants downfield for an unforgettable, storybook finish. WIth time running out, Manning somehow scrambled free and threw a desperation pass to David Tyree, who made an incredible catch, pinning the ball on the side of his helmet to miraculously keep the drive alive. Manning then hooked up with Plaxico Burress — before the Giants' receiver decided to shoot himself in the thigh in a nightclub and subsequently spend a couple of years in prison — for the game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds left. It resulted in a stunning 17-14 New York victory that left the Patriots at 18-1, their quest for perfection coming up short in a shocking loss to the wild-card Giants.
Well, four years later, now they're back to do it again. But this time, Brady and the Patriots aren't unbeaten, definitely aren't a double-digit favorite, have a sub-par defense which has struggled mightily at times and must hope that star tight end Rob Gronkowski's injured ankle allows him to play, and play effectively.
Meanwhile, Manning and the Giants — who had to beat the Cowboys in the final game of the regular season just to get into the playoffs — are playing their best football of the entire season.
Their defensive front, fueled by Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Chris Canty, will keep plenty of pressure on Brady and might very well make his day downright miserable.
The Patriots certainly have their weapons — Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski (if he's healthy) and even old reliables like Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco — but if Brady doesn't have time to throw the ball, New England's hopes are dead in the water.
The Giants, with running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, definitely have the superior rushing attack of the two teams. And with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, Eli has plenty of targets to throw the ball around to as well, especially against a Patriots secondary that is highly suspect.
The two teams tangled back in early November, with New York coming away with a 24-20 win at Foxborough, Mass. But that game seems like it was played an awfully long time ago, and some things have changed since then.
Today's showdown could come down to a last-minute field goal, and both teams have solid, clutch kickers. Or it could come down to coaching strategy, and the Patriots' Bill Belichick and the Giants' Tom Coughlin have both shown they definitely know how to win in the postseason.
Belichick, Brady and Co. already have three Super Bowl rings on their fingers. Coughlin and Manning have one, but it came at the heavily favored Patriots' expense.
And wouldn't it be funny if the Giants won another one and Peyton Manning — generally regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time — wound up becoming known as Eli's big brother, instead of the other way around? So you'd probably like a prediction. Well, strictly on a hunch and against my better judgment, here goes: Patriots 30, Giants 27.
And please pass the clam chowder and shrimp dip.