The sight of perfection is before us

Man, oh man, do I love the Super Bowl.

There’s just something so climactic, so final, about one solitary game deciding once and for all the ultimate champion of the NFL. Summer workouts, mindless preseason games, a grueling 16-game season and a single-elimination playoff season leave two teams standing, with only one going down in the history books, while the other slinks off to obscurity. It’s team against team, man against man — with all the marbles going to one side at the end.

Man, oh man. I do love the Super Bowl.

Granted, it would be even better if my team actually made it to the game, but my Baltimore Ravens appeared to have taken this season off — content with positioning themselves for a high draft pick this spring following a poor win-loss record. Fine, maybe the win-loss record had more to do with them stinking this year than any long-term plan they might have been hatching, but this is my fantasy, so I can sit comfortably in denial as long as I’d like.

So there.

And this year, there’s a little history potentially in the making. The New England Patriots, favored heavily to beat the upstart New York Giants, are chasing history as much as they are that championship ring. With a win on Sunday, the Patriots don’t only collect their fourth NFL championship in seven seasons, they will also cap off a historic 19-0 season. Only one team in the modern era has ever finished off a complete season in the NFL with an umblemished record — the 1972 Miami Dolphins. However, when the Dolphins enjoyed their magical ride, the NFL regular season was only 14 games, so that team finished the playoffs at 17-0.

Can the Patriots seal the perfect season? Can the Giants defy the “experts” and pull off the upset? Can I fit 17 Pringles in my mouth at one time during the game — breaking my personal best?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s why they play the games. You’re never quite sure what will happen in sports (and, indeed, bulk potato chip eating) until it happens.

Actually, I’m intrigued by the Patriots’ pursuit of perfection. There’s something about people chasing that elusive “greatness” that entrances me. In sports, greatness is easily visible. Watch Tiger Woods plow through the field in absolute dominance, and you can almost touch his greatness. Watch Roger Federer pile up victory after victory, or Michael Jordan soar through the air for the winning jumper — and just knowing he was going to make the shot from the safety of your couch. It’s immediate, and it’s certain with sports.

Oh, you can enjoy the work of a great author, but can you really watch him or her go through the painful writing process before you? Or you can enjoy the miracles of modern medicine, but it’s rare you get to watch scientists sweat and toil in the lab when they perform their greatest feats. But sports is there. You can watch it unfold before you, and you can feel as if you are part of the moment.

I’ve heard people say that sports fans are so, well, fanatical, because it’s basically watching the ultimate reality show — contestants battling it out for future glory. But I’m not so sure I buy into that.

For me, watching sports is about watching people do incredible things. It’s about the preparation and game-planning that goes on before the game, then watching games be decided by human beings that do something extraordinary. Some people call those athletes “play-makers” — the people who can take a small play and make something huge out of it.

But it takes more than playmakers for a team to have a perfect season. There is probably no bigger playmaker in the NFL (that isn’t sitting in jail for fighting dogs) than Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss. Love him or hate him, Moss is the rare athlete that makes you rise out of your seat when the ball is headed his way — the kind of athlete that can leap over two defenders to steal a pass from the heavens or simply outrun whoever is tasked with guarding him when that is needed. His addition to New England this season is a major factor in them achieving this lofty status.

However ...

During New England’s first two playoff games this year, their opponents were determined not to let Moss beat them. He collected all of two catches those first two games, yet the Patriots were still able to advance because other players came through with big performances under the bright lights of the playoffs. For a team to remain perfect, after all, there has to be a collection of playmakers on the roster, as well as a unit of solid role players.

And that’s what intrigues me about this pursuit of perfection. For all of Moss’ considerable talents, his Raiders teams went a combined 6-26 his two years before joining the Patriots. Granted, he pouted and moaned his way through those seasons before forcing a trade to the Patriots this year, but it proved once and again that the NFL is all about the composition of the team. One player, regardless of how great or exciting he might be, can not win it all by himself.

So, I’m going to eagerly watch this game between sips of black beer, and my focus will be largely spent on watching the little things the Patriots do right that have brought them to this historic point. Then I’m going to root like heck for the Giants to pull off the upset.

Hey, I like Eli Manning. What can I say?