Patriots, Falcons chase history at Super Bowl
HOUSTON, USA – Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will be chasing history as they attempt to stop the Atlanta Falcons from claiming their first Super Bowl crown here Sunday, February 5 (Monday in Manila).
More than 100 million homes across the United States and millions more worldwide will tune in for the American football showpiece in Houston, which sees Brady aiming to become the most decorated quarterback of all time.
The 39-year-old superstar will become the first quarterback to win 5 Super Bowl crowns if he manages to guide the Patriots to victory over the Falcons before a crowd of around 72,000 spectators at the NRG Stadium.
Blanket security will be in place for the game, which takes place at a time of roiling political tensions across the United States following President Donald Trump's controversial immigration order.
Pop diva Lady Gaga, an outspoken critic of Trump, will have the eyes of the nation – including US Vice President Mike Pence inside the stadium – on her during the halftime show.
A win on Sunday would come 15 years after Brady and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's first Super Bowl triumph in 2002.
It would also represent a satisfying last laugh for Brady following his long-running battle with National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell.
Brady was forced to miss the first 4 games of the season after losing a legal battle against the NFL over the 2015 Deflategate scandal, which saw the Patriots superstar accused of cheating by attempting to alter the pressure of balls to his advantage during a key championship game.
Revenge and redemption
It has led to the prospect of Goodell having to possibly hand over the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Brady and his teammates on Sunday.
Goodell, for his part, has attempted to damp down any possibility of an awkward trophy presentation, acknowledging Brady's glittering career during the build-up.
"Tom Brady is one of the all-time greats. He has been for several years," Goodell said, adding it would be an "honor" to present the Lombardi Trophy to the quarterback.
Brady has done his talking on the field this season. He averaged just under 300 passing yards a game in the regular season, and was magnificent in a comprehensive 36-17 demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago.
But even Brady's stats pale in comparison with those of his opposite number, Matt Ryan, who received recognition for a stellar season on Saturday after being named the NFL's Most Valuable Player for 2016.
Ryan has led the most potent offense in the league, averaging more than 365 yards a game in the post-season, and just over 300 yards during the regular season.
'Matty Ice' stays cool
Ryan, 31, reached the Super Bowl after four unsuccessful previous playoff appearances.
There was not the slightest hint of nerves en route to Houston, though, when the Falcons crushed the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the Georgia Dome to clinch only the second Super Bowl appearance in the team's history.
The emphatic nature of that win has persuaded many Falcons fans that their long wait for a maiden Super Bowl title could be about to end.
Ryan – nicknamed "Matty Ice" by his teammates – said the team is comfortable with the burden of expectation.
"I'm sure everyone will be excited and anxious going into it. But as far as nerves, I feel like we've prepared ourselves for this moment," Ryan said.
Ryan also knows that he has an array of weapons at his disposal, which includes arguably the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones, ably supported by the talented Mohamed Sanu and the speedy Taylor Gabriel.
Add in the dual running back threat of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and it is easy to see why many pundits have installed the Falcons as favorites.
"As a quarterback, when you're surrounded by really good players and guys who can make plays at any time, it makes your job a lot easier," Ryan said.
Whether Belichick's Patriots are able to clip the Falcons' offensive wings may hold the key to the Super Bowl – and Brady's hopes of a place in history.
Belichick and Brady led the Patriots for a relaxed photo session on the field with family at the NRG Stadium on Saturday.
"Now it's the waiting game," Belichick said. "But I think we're ready." – Rob Woollard, Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com