|The prevailing storylines will sparkle like Super Bowl XLII spotlights. Or not. (Getty Images)|
No matter which two teams were paired in Super Bowl XLVI, there would have been an abundance of floggable storylines. Patriots-49ers would've been positioned as new dynasty vs. old dynasty and new shinyface wondercoach vs. old grumbly wondercoach. Ravens-Giants would've morphed into a debate over the propriety of reparations for those who watched their meeting in Super Bowl XXXV, the least artful and entertaining Super Bowl of the modern era. Ravens-49ers would've been billed as a referendum on parenting -- specifically, the superior job that Ma and Pa Harbaugh did compared to your folks. Seriously, piano lessons? At age 8, the Harbaugh boys spent weekends running their schoolchums through OTAs.
But for Patriots-Giants, the storyline possibilities, and thus the potential for remorseless bloviation, are off the charts. You've got the revenge angle. You've got the rivalry between New York and Boston, the only two cities that matter to us media folk. You've got Tom Brady telling anyone who will listen that he remains unable to watch highlights of Super Bowl XLII and Helmet Catch replays on an endless loop.
Over the course of the next 12 days, we'll get new takes on the January 2008 storylines pertaining to legacy-definition (are Brady and Bill Belichick the bestest ever in the whole wide world?) and prominence in the Manning pecking order (would an Eli win catapult him above his brother?). Hopefully we'll be treated to a handful of quirky one-offs -- about how Perry Fewell forged an unlikely bond with one of the rescued Chilean miners, say, or about how Sterling Moore's meaty forearms helped him help Lee Evans drop a pass at the end of the AFC Championship Game.
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But every other story will feature some variation on one of a handful of themes, because it's tougher to unearth virgin infonuggets than it is to restate the obvious and go grab a sandwich. As a public-service gesture, then, here's a guide to the 11 stories you'll read over and over in the hours leading up to Super Bowl XLVI. Spend the time you save with your loved ones, or the plush toys that serve as their cuddling proxy.
1. You can't spell "Elite" without "Eli" and you can't spell "Shame Linens" without "Elisha Nelson Manning": Eerie, right? He'll be the most dissected individual in this news cycle, owing to his plainspoken "of course I think I'm elite -- what, I'm supposed to say I'm 'in the upper quartile' or something?" radio retort from August.
This is ironic, because Eli Manning is less likely than any of the 120-odd players headed to Indy to say or do something remotely interesting. Coming from Eli, tripe like "If we execute in all three phases of the game and take care of the ball, hopefully we'll be in a good position to win" counts as a bombshell. Meanwhile, not to go all madcap-convergence-of-sports-and-pop-culture on y'all, but if Eli wins another Super Bowl, he'll likely be asked to host Saturday Night Live. Here's hoping that the inevitable appearance reveals a hidden talent (ventriloquism?), rather than the expected chasm between on-field ability and charisma.
2. Tom Brady continues to make our hearts thump with the wild abandon of a post-coital rhinoceros: His eyes remain glowingly, resistance-meltingly bluish-hazel. And he's sooooo self-effacing now, as witnessed by that "I sucked, dude" aside during Sunday's postgame presser! So yeah, I plan to compete later this month in the Brady-deification derby. My entry will feature stats and emoticons in equal measure.
3. The Kraft and Mara families make your warm, well-mannered brood look like the Lohans: By all accounts, Myra Kraft and Wellington Mara were as lovely, genuine and grounded as anyone in a position of wealth and power can possibly be. But it's not enough to memorialize them as such. No, we're going to hear all about their wisdom and philanthropy, colored with detail-rich anecdotes from mail carriers ("they tipped generously every Christmas") and masseurs ("not once did they pull the hey-where'd-my-robe-go? gag"). By the time you're done reading these pieces, you'll be ready to kick it Unabomber-style in the woods. Because how can you possibly compete?
4. For the Giants, everything in 2011 is totally like 2007: The 2007 and 2011 Giants both slumbered for large stretches of the regular season before kicking into gear at the end; slaughtered an NFC South foe in the first round of the playoffs before upsetting the top seed on the road and the No. 2 seed on the road, in overtime and under adverse weather conditions, courtesy of a Lawrence Tynes field goal; and wore their un-slimming road whites during the Super Bowl. This will lead to a sharp spike in Déjà Blue! headlines that make hard-working Americans hate the media even more than they already do.
4a. These same headline writers will continually refer to Lucas Oil Stadium as "Peyton's Place," which will confuse readers under the age of 35: I'm not saying that age discrimination is a good thing, just that sometimes it serves a valid purpose.
4b. That is, however, a nifty bit of harmonic quarterback convergence: Eli Manning (brother of Peyton) goes up against Tom Brady (longtime foil/future memorabilia-circuit partner of Peyton) at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of Peyton, at least for another month or two). My 7-year-old nephew pointed this out to me.
5. [Story In Which A Really Good Player Who Maybe You Don't Know Is Identified As Being Really Good At Football]: Corey Webster and Zoltan Mesko, take your bows. Watch for that one on the same dead mid-week day where we're treated to fungible commentary about Super Bowl commercials (expensive!), Media Day (tired, except when underdressed talk-show tarts ask suggestive questions about snakes and melons) and the halftime show (CBS Sports.com can exclusively confirm that, thanks to recent advances in fabric fusion, viewers are no more likely to catch a fleeting glimpse of Madonna's nipple than of Al Michaels' pocket square).
6. By being really tall and running really fast, Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski and Aaron "Hern" Hernandez have reinvented the position of tight end: They tower over defensive backs and zip right past the fleetest linebackers, Serengeti-lion-style. Bow before their supreme physicality, pathetic tweeners. Meanwhile, let's all pray for a quick Gronkowski recovery from his ankle ouchie, because otherwise Patriot Nation is going to start likening his mud-specked walking boot to Schilling's bloody sock. If that happens, somebody's gonna have to turn off the Internet.
7. Chad Ochocinco is still here: He is! Look, right over there by the exercise bikes. No, no, that's Deion Branch -- Ocho is a little further back. See the guy wearing an oversize novelty glow-in-the-dark sombrero, jumping up and down and waving his arms as if trying to flag down a crop duster? That's him. I think there's a real story to be told about his 15-catch season in New England, about how he toned down his act in the interest of appealing to a classier grade of reality-show casting director.
8. Victor Cruz went undrafted out of college: This makes his success far more notable than if he'd been a fourth-round pick, though not as notable as if he'd previously bagged groceries for a living. Those high-round receivers absorbing all the double-coverage and allowing Cruz to wander free in the center of the field? They don't know anything about sacrifice or hustle or perseverance. The moral of this story is always judge an athlete by the size of his paycheck, especially if his patented first-down celebration incorporates several subgenres of Latino dance.
9. Tim Tebow plans to watch the game at home with family and friends: There will be root beer and non-intimidatingly-overstuffed sandwiches. No, Timmy doesn't have a bead on who the Big Guy/Big Gal upstairs is rooting for, but He/She has promised to get back to him on that.
10. Tom Coughlin is like a Tootsie Pop -- hard on the outside, sweet and chewy in the middle -- and enjoys it when strangers introduce themselves via stealth tickle attack: His late-season sit-down with Justin Tuck, in which Coughlin gently suggested that Tuck should try to play in actual football games, has been identified as one of the drivers of this year's Giant surge. Last time around, he blew minds and melted hearts by taking the boys bowling during training camp. The guy has the deft personal touch of a five-star hotel concierge.
11. Bill Belichick has evolved into a different sort of genius: Sure, words like "gashed" and "gaping" are now commonly seen in recaps of New England defensive performances, but Belichick has become a utilitarian of sorts. Much like Radiohead's transition from rock band to gentle warbler of precious cloudmelodies, Belichick has redefined himself as a coach who makes do with whatever resources he has at his disposal. This means wide receivers find themselves in the dime package and tight ends cameo at running back. This personnel deployment does not reflect on the team's drafts of recent years. Not at all.
Alas, like most teams with multiple A-list players, the Pats play best when the Wilforks and Bradys, rather than the multipurpose scrubs, dominate. The versatility thing only works when the opponent is either unable or unwilling to adapt (see under: Mike Martz's insistence on throwing the ball during Super Bowl XXXVI, even as the Pats dropped back 16 men into coverage).
Super Bowl XLII was similarly a fluke; had the 2007 Pats and 2007 Giants played 20 times, the Pats would've won at least 15. This time around, it feels like a fair fight. Giants 34, Patriots 24. For whatever little it's worth, last time around I predicted Pats 42, Giants 4.