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Commentary: Glory at stake in NFL conference championship games

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 In one of the most popular professional sports league in the United States, there’s a lot at stake when a win means a trip to the Super Bowl. Arguably, though, this NFL Championship Sunday is putting a little bit more on the line than just a spot in the biggest annual sports spectacle in the world.
Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Colin Kaepernick and the Harbaugh brothers will all be playing this weekend for a chance to hoist the coveted Lombardi trophy. With all of those big names involved, it’s inevitable that either history will be made, legacies will be solidified, or reputations will again be up for debate for at least another year.

Last weekend Brady passed his boyhood idol and NFL legend Joe Montana on the list for most all-time playoff wins with 17. But while playoff wins are quite a resume builder for most, with Brady’s first ballot Hall of Fame induction already locked up, it’s more likely that the Montana record that Brady really wants to associate himself with is four Super Bowl wins. With a victory against the Ravens in Foxborough on Sunday, Brady will have a chance to match Montana’s mark and solidify his place in the argument of the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Not to mention, a win would extend his and Bill Belichick’s record of most Super Bowl appearances as a quarterback-head coach duo.

On the other side of the field in Foxborough, Ray Lewis will be doing everything in his power to stop Brady from accomplishing that goal. With a win on Sunday, Lewis will give himself the chance to win a second Super Bowl and finish his historic career on top. Though Lewis is already considered the best leader and linebacker in the history of the league by most, a second ring to go along with his 13 pro-bowl selections would leave no doubt. Covering Lewis’ back on the offensive side of the ball in this game will be Flacco. If Flacco can help lead Lewis and company to New Orleans on Feb. 3, he can finally justify his self-proclamation as an “elite” quarterback. With a subpar performance and third AFC championship game loss in five years, though, Flacco will be eating his words, as well as those of the many NFL fans who think he is overrated and cocky.

While the AFC side of championship weekend features two living legends, the story on the NFC side is about legacy building. Ryan of the Falcons silenced critics last weekend with a clutch drive in the waning moments of the game, allowing his kicker to ground the Seahawks with a game-winning field goal as time expired. However, with a loss at home to San Francisco in the NFC championship game Sunday, that landmark victory for Ryan, as well as his hopes to build his legacy as an “elite” quarterback, might very well become a distant memory. Not only would a loss drop his career playoff record to a disappointing 1-4, but it would give Kaepernick twice as many crucial playoff wins as Ryan in less than half the tries. On that same note, with two playoff wins in nine career NFL starts, regular or postseason, and a Super Bowl appearance, a win in Atlanta would get Kaepernick off to a groundbreaking start to his career. He’d also be well on his way to building a legacy for himself as one of the premier running quarterbacks of all time.

On top of all the personal glory that has the potential to be achieved with any of the four possible Super Bowl matchups, perhaps the most intriguing part of NFL Championship Sunday is that it holds the power to yield an historic “Harbaugh Bowl.” The drama involved with a John Harbaugh-led Ravens team squaring off against a Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers team would be unequalled.

Everybody loves a big brother – little brother rivalry, but one that makes NFL history and results in bragging rights in the form of a Lombardi Trophy, now that is glorious.  

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