Football

Seahawks or Patriots? Legendary status awaits Super Bowl champ

The New England Patriots have returned to the Super Bowl for the sixth time since the 2001 season. The Seattle Seahawks are back for a second consecutive season.

It’s old money vs. new money as both teams are proving dynasties are alive and well in the NFL.

“It’s pretty damn impressive,” said Brian Billick, a Super Bowl-winning coach now with NFL Network. “If Seattle can get back-to-back Super Bowl wins, that’s a dynasty in today’s game just because the transitory nature of the players nowadays. The sustained excellence of the New England Patriots is stunning at the least.”

The Patriots’ championship run began when they drafted Tom Brady in 2000, though they didn’t realize it at the time since they made him a sixth-round pick. Brady, 37, sports a 180-55 record, including 20 postseason victories, since he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in the 2001 season.

“It always helps when you have Tom Brady,” said Rodney Harrison, an NBC analyst who spent six seasons in New England. “Now, they wouldn’t do it with Matt Cassel. They wouldn’t have sustained success, even though they were 11-5 with Matt Cassel. But … it’s not like Brady has had Peyton Manning weapons. Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] is probably the biggest all-star offensively he’s ever had. He’s always had to play with Deion Branch and David Givens and guys like that. Good, solid players, but not all-stars. It’s pretty remarkable what he’s been to accomplish with the talent he’s had.”

New England has claimed 12 AFC East titles in the 14 seasons since 2001, with 13 double-digit winning seasons. It has not had a losing record since 2000.

Bill Belichick claimed an NFL-record 21st postseason victory in the AFC Championship Game.

The Patriots’ sustained success has turned them into one of the all-time great teams, along with the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s and the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s.

“A dynasty is what New England has done, to return as their division champs for so many years,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I mean, it’s ridiculous the numbers that they’ve put up, and to be a first-round bye team for 10 times or something in the last 12 years or whatever the heck it is — those are ridiculous numbers. I don’t know if anybody has done that so consistently.”

Yet, 10 years have passed since the Patriots’ last title. Only Brady and Vince Wilfork remain from New England’s last Super Bowl title team, and the Patriots count only 17 players on their roster with Super Bowl experience.

“I think over the years we’ve taken some tough losses, and obviously we made it in ’07 and ’11, those were challenging games,” Brady said of Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants. “They came down to the wire, and we lost. I don’t think those things discouraged me at all. They just re-emphasized how hard and challenging it is to get to this point, and how challenging it is to win this game. I have such an appreciation for it now. That’s why I’m hoping we can accomplish and finally finish it off with a great win on Sunday. It would mean an awful lot.”

The Seahawks have somehow managed to make it back. That hardly seemed likely when they began the season 3-3 and 6-4. But eight victories later, it’s same time, next year for Seattle.

“It’s hard to hold a team together, because of the money and free agency,” Billick said. “I’ve never bought into it’s hard to win back-to-back because people are gunning for you. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl, period. The things that stack up in order for you do so are almost prohibitive. To do it two years in a row is unconscionable and makes it even that much more impressive, not in the sense that it’s back-to-back, it’s just hard to do one time.”

The Seahawks feature a roster of 33 players who played in Super Bowl XLVIII. They can earn a unique place in history, as only eight other defending Super Bowl champions have repeated, with the Patriots in 2003-04 the last team to accomplish that.

“We’re working at it,” Carroll said. “There’s an opportunity here that is really exciting, to see if we can play another good championship ballgame here and keep something going. I think to talk about that when you’re playing games and in the middle of all this is really — there’s kind of no place for it. It’s just something that you look back at, and you see after the fact.

When the confetti flies Sunday night, the Patriots will raise a fourth Lombardi Trophy since 2001, or the Seahawks will win their second in a row. History will remember the winner fondly.

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @NFLCharean

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