When The Catch falls to the ground

Posted Feb. 28, 2012 @ 4:07 p.m.
Posted By Ron Borges

If he makes the catch, it's all different.

Everything is different for Wes Welker and for Tom Brady and probably for Eli Manning and Mario Manningham, too. Certainly it's different for Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. If Welker makes the catch, they call it "The Catch" forevermore, and everyone looks at them all differently.

When a falling football, coming at him like a bullet, slid off Welker's fingers with four minutes left in Super Bowl XLVI, even referee John Parry was overheard remarking to a fellow official, "Whoa, that's the ballgame.''

And so it will always be in New England and, to a lesser extent, in New York, although Giants fans will talk more about Manningham's remarkable catch because, unlike Welker's miss, it became The Catch that really was the ballgame.

Those are the vagaries of sport, the instantaneous moment that can change everyone's life. If Welker makes what was a decidedly difficult catch around the 20-yard line, the Patriots might still have lost Super Bowl XLVI, but you'll never convince anyone in the New England of that. If he caught it, the talk today would be that Brady ranks right there with another four-time Super Bowl winner, Joe Montana, and the same is true of Belichick, who would rank with Chuck Noll in the jewelry department of coaching.

Instead, within days after the game, some in New England were arguing that Brady was no longer a big-game performer and suggesting Welker had dropped a ball Greg Louganis would have had a hard time diving for.

Meanwhile, down the highway a piece, Eli Manning was being debated as possibly better than his brother Peyton because he's won two Super Bowls in four years while his elder brother has managed only one in 14 seasons with the Colts. Coughlin was being compared to his predecessor, Bill Parcells, because they both coached the Giants to two Super Bowl victories.

History, they say, is written by the victors. That is certainly true in sports. It is the place where winning can erase all sins. A ball slips off the fingers of one of the most reliable receivers in football, because he is falling backward as it sails by him, and one story is erased and another written.

Had Brady and Belichick become the first quarterback-coach tandem to win four Super Bowls together while jointly reaching five, all debates would have ended in their favor. One catch that didn't become The Catch changed all that because it's impossible now to say Brady at 3-2 is better than Montana at 4-0 with no interceptions in the Super Bowl.

Same is true in reverse for Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. "Much-maligned'' could have been their middle names for a goodly portion of their time together in New York. Although they have now beaten Brady-Belichick twice in football's biggest game, they struggled enough in between that many were calling for Coughlin's firing as recently as midseason of 2011.

Two months and one play that didn't become The Catch later, and one is being compared to his future Hall of Fame brother while the other is being compared to his future Hall of Fame predecessor stalking the Giants' sideline. Such is the odd way of sports.

Often unfairly, one play changes everything. Not just the outcome of a game but how you are perceived forever.