By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 16, 2012

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You watch a Super Bowl because you love championship football. In some cases, you want your team to win if they happen to be one of the combatants.

All the stories, tales and sidebars are for the media types and the romantics. Some fans may actually care about them. Media Day at the Super Bowl is one of the most unnecessary and ill-conceived ideas on the planet which becomes the most annoying day of the sports calendar. The players themselves generally act stupid, while reporters from all over the world redefine the word "probative" in trying to find some new angle that reporters in San Francisco, Baltimore, New York and Boston could not dig up.

Here we are, on the cusp of the 2011 NFL Conference Championships, and you the football fan have three weeks of pure fun ahead. The NFL Final Four will give you some great games and great action when things are all done in early February. There are three games left in the playoff season, and all three games will be must-see, not that they aren't anyway, but in this year, a bit more than ever.

There are four possible Super Bowls out of the teams that remain, and all of them will carry a compelling story element which will make the nation stand up and take notice. Locally, any Super Bowl involving the Patriots is compelling enough, and the same goes for the other three cities. But if you like subplots and sidebars with your Super Bowl, XLVI will have a great story line no matter which two teams eventually make it to Indianapolis.

Here are the four possible combinations, in ascending order of potential story appeal.

Baltimore versus NY Giants

Giant fans would love another crack at New England. But this one would be even tastier for those fans in Gotham and Joisey.

This would be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV. One year before the Patriot dynasty took root, the Ravens and Giants met in Tampa to decide the football championship for the 2000 season. That Baltimore Ravens team was loaded with arguably the best one-season defense in league history (though Patriot fans may still insist that the 1985 Bears own that distinction). The Ravens showed the world that you can win a Super Bowl with a substandard quarterback (Trent Dilfer) and a great defense.

The MVP of that Super Bowl, Ray Lewis, is the one remaining player who would be common to both Super Bowls (Brandon Stokley played in two games for the Giants in 2011, but played in Super Bowl XXXV as a Raven and scored the first touchdown of that game). Lewis, who is an original Raven (his rookie year was 1996, the year the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens), would look on this matchup as a perfect bookend to his Hall of Fame career. Come kickoff time, Lewis himself would have that defense walking and talking, and probably playing, like his brethren from 2000.

But the Giants would be all over this angle as well. Baltimore brutalized the Giants, 34-7, and it would have been a shutout if it hadn't been for a strange exchange of interception and kickoff return touchdowns in the second quarter between both teams. Super Bowl XXXV launched the head coaching career of Marvin Lewis, who at the time was the architect of the Ravens' defense. The New York media would make sure that Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and Osi Umeniyora know full well of what revenge would need to be exacted.

New England versus San Francisco

Anytime you get Boston and San Francisco together, it's special. And it's a shame that these two cities almost never meet in anything special that is sports-related.

Both cities have a lot in common. Politics, the arts, history, visual appeal, Boston and San Francisco are the aesthetic capitals of either seaboard. But they have never been brought together on sports' biggest stage. The Red Sox and Giants met once in the World Series, but that was 100 years ago and the Giants were based in New York at the time. The Celtics and Warriors duked it out a few times at the old Cow Palace before the latter changed their first name to Golden State and moved to Oakland.

A Patriots-49ers Super Bowl would be wonderful for the two cities. The nation would get a great handle on how similar the two metropolitan areas are. If you have been to both cities, when you are in one of them you are reminded of the other. The Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge may be a little more majestic than the Tobin and Zakim Bridges, but the connection is more of an artistic and aesthetic one.

But the real compelling element of this game lies within the thoughts and psyche of the Patriot owner.

When Bob Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994, he went on record as saying that his corporate model was the 49ers. Back then, the 49ers were on the verge of their fifth and most recent Super Bowl win, over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. Steve Young finally got his day in the sun and completed the transfer of heritage from Joe Montana to himself. Kraft looked at all this and wondered if he could have the same in Foxborough.

Eighteen years later, he has better. The 49ers are now owned by John York, who married into the DeBartolo family and came into ownership only because he married well. York has taken a little while to figure out how to be a good owner; he may never be as good as his father-in-law, but at least the 49ers are back to greatness once again. York and his wife, Denise DeBartolo York, have since made their son Jed co-chairman of the board along with John. Kraft would be a great corporate model for the Yorks to follow. In 2012, the model franchise in the NFL remains the Patriots, but in the 1980s and 1990s, it was clearly the 49ers.

If the home teams win, and/or if the favorites win (Patriots are -7 ½, 49ers are -2 ½), this will be your Super Bowl. This could thus be the likely matchup based on probability and pure objective reasons.

New England versus NY Giants

Both teams would kill for this matchup.

The Giants know they can beat the Patriots, just like they knew they could beat the Packers in Lambeau. The Patriots want revenge over the team that took away their perfect season. One of the two Patriot losses in 2011 was to the Giants. This game would get hyped like no other, except maybe for the other remaining combination of teams.

In 2007, the 18-0 Patriots were outplayed and outcoached by the Giants, who played one of the more inspired games in recent memory and outlasted the Patriots, 17-14. The Patriots became like the 1934 Bears instead of a team for the ages. The Giants became local and national folk heroes. Manning is a Super Bowl MVP, like it or not.

Many of the players and coaches from that year remain with their team. A new angle would be Victor Cruz, who plays for the Giants but played his college ball at UMass. With UMass' impending move to Gillette Stadium in the fall, the Cruz story would be most interesting. Patriot safety James Ihedigbo also played his college ball up in Amherst for the Minutemen. But besides this, the focus would be on those who would be returning from that epic Super Bowl in Arizona four years ago.

Patriot Nation would want this one more than the other. A bloodthirsty fan base would love nothing better than to stick it to the Giants for sticking it to them in 2007. The Boston-New York angle would come up again and again. The Red Sox are in transition and the Yankees just retooled their starting rotation, not that that would matter on a football field. Like 2007, the game would be a rematch from the regular season. In 2007, the Patriots held on to win at the Meadowlands to get to 16-0 but lost the ensuing Super Bowl. The Giants won the regular season matchup in 2011. Good omen?

Baltimore versus San Francisco

Sorry, Patriot Nation. This is the matchup the entire USA will want to see.

All week long, you the Patriot fan are going to be subjected to national sentiment to get the Harbaugh brothers back together again for a dream Super Bowl coaching matchup. Back on Thanksgiving night, the Harbaughs made NFL history with two brothers facing each other in a game as head coaches for the first time ever. John beat Jim at M&T Bank Stadium, 16-6. It was a very good game and a national heart tug. Both their parents were there for the historic game. Unlike Archie and Olivia Manning, who seemed to be tortured when Peyton and Eli met for the first time, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh seemed to be really enjoying the moment.

That was Thanksgiving. That was special enough. But the Super Bowl? The head coaching matchup is brother versus brother? You have to be kidding.

The media circus would be have to be managed by some descendant of John Nicholas Ringling. None of the Harbaugh family members would have any moment to themselves for the two weeks. Anyone who went to Pioneer High in Ann Arbor, Michigan would be the subject of "I knew one of the Harbaughs" short stories. It would become the greatest "feel good" story in the history of pro sports. That is, until the teams play and one of the brothers has to lose.

Jim would have the most motivation as his 49ers were on the losing end of the Thanksgiving night game with the Ravens. But with Lewis driving his team towards one more title to complete his great career, Baltimore would never come up short in intensity and enthusiasm.

In the end, Lewis would have to take a back seat to his head coach. And his head coach's brother.

This wonderful three-week journey through what will be media nirvana now begins. You the fan care only about two more Patriot victories. That will do well, of course.

But the prospect of getting back at Eli and Osi and Justin and those guys? It's gonna be a fun ride, folks.


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