MINNEAPOLIS — Win or lose today in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots have already cemented themselves as the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Owners of five Super Bowl titles, the Patriots are one win away from tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most ever.
That they would have done it in the age of free agency over the last 17 years, roughly half the time it took the Steelers to amass their six, makes it even more impressive.
But as much as this is about the Patriots, its mainly a testament to coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the greatest coach and greatest quarterback in NFL history.
Both are peerless individually and other-worldly together, forming not just the greatest coach-player combo in NFL history, but the arguably the greatest duo in sports history.
Brady and Belichick are in their eighth Super Bowl, which is twice as many as any other coach-quarterback tandem.
So you have to look outside the sport.
— Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant went to seven NBA Finals together with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, winning five.
— Jackson and Michael Jordan went to six NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls, winning all six.
— San Antonio Spurs Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan went to six NBA finals, winning five.
— And then there is New York Yankees Joe Torre and Derek Jeter, who went to six World Series together, winning four.
The factors in football, such as the salary cap and free agency as well as the normal churn of players from year to year, put what Belichick and Brady are accomplishing into another stratosphere.
Just don’t ask them about it.
Their focus is on today’s game against the Eagles.
The 40-year-old Brady is the only quarterback in NFL history with five Super Bowl victories and four Super Bowl MVP awards.
He has won more regular-season (196) and playoff (27) games than any quarterback in NFL history, and it’s not even close in either category.
He is the Michael Jordan of the NFL, the GOAT, as in the Greatest Of All Time.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie puts him in that class.
“I love the almost angry focus that he brings to every single game,” Lurie said of Brady. “It reminds me of some athletes I have great respect for, like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, guys like that.”
No coach has more Super Bowl wins (five), playoff wins (28) and postseason appearances (38) than Belichick.
A victory against the Eagles would tie him with George Halas and Curly Lambeau for history’s most NFL championships. Halas and Lambeau won theirs before the Super Bowl era. Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown won seven championships but four came in the All-America Football Conference.
“It’s hard for me to really picture that,” said Belichick, about where he stands with some of the other great coaches in history. “They’re such great legendary coaches. I don’t really see myself … I don’t think of it that way. I just think of how great they were, what they meant to the game, what they accomplished and how much I respect I have for them.”
The only real question heading into Super Bowl LII is how much longer it will last.
Owner Bob Kraft said his focus is to keep the two together as long as possible.
And Brady said this week that his plan was to play until his mid-40s. And that he hasn’t even thought of retirement.
“Why does everyone want me to retire so bad?” he said chuckling. “I don’t get it. I’m having fun. The team’s doing good. I know I’m a little bit older than most of the guys, but I’m really enjoying it. Obviously, I enjoy the experience of playing in this game. This has been obviously a dream come true many times over. It takes a lot of hard work to get here, and I think our team is working hard. … We’re playing against a great football team. So I’m not thinking about retirement. I’m thinking about the Super Bowl and trying to win the most important game of the year.
“I’ve always wanted to play to my mid-40s, so we’ll see,” he said. “Football is such a physical sport. Every game could be your last game, that’s the reality of the sport.”
Belichick, 65, had even less interest in talking about the future.
“Right now my focus is on Sunday against the Eagles,” Belichick said. “That’s my window right now. Just do the best job I can for our team the next few days, be at our best Sunday afternoon against the Eagles.”
It’s that single-minded focus that has made them individual legends and the greatest championship duo ever.