Sunday's Super Bowl pits relentless evolution against rapid revolution.
On the one hand, we have the New England Patriots, who have evolved from Average Joes into the pre-eminent powerhouse in franchise history. This is their ninth all-time tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy (they've lifted four previously) with six of those coming since the turn of the century, in a modern era of football where the league's emphasis has been to try to preclude the age-old notion of dominant dynasties.
On the other paw, we have the Atlanta Falcons, ring-less in their 51-year history, but belatedly starting a revolution towards atonement under Matty "Ice" Ryan, a quarterback whose perennial MVP numbers always used to melt in the play-offs' crucible of competition. This year, though, Ryan has been more Lenin than lenient when it comes to putting his opponents to the sword.
Now, however, Ryan squares up to arguably history's greatest quarterback in Tom Brady. This All-American Hero is making a record seventh start in the Super Bowl, having reached this stage in a jaw-dropping 47% of his 16 NFL seasons. To give you some perspective, Ryan will be making his Super Bowl debut in his ninth season.
Yet Brady's real mastery truly lies in the brains behind his brawn. Namely, his head coach who has masterminded and accompanied him every one of those season-finale appearances, Bill Belichick. The Brady-Belichick Wonder Years have already garnered 24 postseason victories, and the Las Vegas line predicts they'll register their quarter-century this Sabbath. But are there any missing links in their progressive evolution for Atlanta to exploit?
The trouble with evolution, of course (indisputable theory though it is) is that it typically takes enormous tracts of time to distil discernable change. Time which allows the Bible Belt's crazy creationists to question how the human eye came into existence after years of our forerunners fumbling around in the dark, or counter scientific proof that the Earth has been here for billions of years with posers as myopic as: you weren't there, so how would you know? If only they had eyes to see.
Well, fortunately for New England Patriots fans, Belichick can see things other coaches can't. Indeed, if The Hooded One were an evolutionary biologist, he'd have done more to promote the Darwinian movement than Richard Dawkins. For Belichick has been losing key workers like dinosaurs in an asteroid strike for years. Yet his team remain the planet's top dogs, no matter how their species mutates. It's naturally debatable, but of the top playmakers in recent Patriot annals, only Brady takes the field this weekend. And even he was a sixth-round draft choice!
Take your pick: Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Aaron Hernandez, even Jamie Collins have all fallen by the wayside on a rocky road of missed steps and dubious trades. For most, a rainbow of possibility would've been replaced by a cloud of anxiety. Not for Belichick, though, who has managed the consistent changes to his squad with effortless ease. Gaps are always plugged, making ready strengths of alarming weakness (cue the rise of LeGarrette Blount, the ultimate transitional player).
This year's retooling of the roster has a similar fixer-upper feel, with unwanted children from around the league (Chris Hogan, Kyle, Eric Rowe, Kyle Van Noye, Dion Lewis, and Michael Floyd) more happily housed and re-educated at Fortress Foxborough. As an eloquent case in point, Hogan even reset the bar for receiving yards (180, two touchdowns) in a Pats' play-off game last time out against Pittsburgh. Not even the Hubble Telescope could've seen these comets coming.
The Falcons' revolution, however, rests on the shoulders of Atlanta's one constant son: Ryan. Okay, and his superstar wide receiver Julio Jones, now the first man with 150-plus yards for a pair of touchdowns in two Conference Championship games. Similarly, Ryan is raising both his game and record marks at the right moment (for example, he's the first QB to throw at least three TD passes in four straight postseason encounters). His strike-first offense has also posted a first-possession touchdown in eight successive matches. Take heed, Specials fans.
Quite where Ryan's new-found composure has come from is anyone's guess. However, in this Super Bowl run-up, he's cited Brady's perennial poise and precision as an inspiration. So in a game where commentators use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost (for support, not illumination), perhaps one stat does stand up between these two quarterbacks. Notably, over his past six games, Ryan is throwing on a level (133 Passer Rating) which rivals Brady in his 2007 prime (136 Passer Rating). Heck, Brady even threw two interceptions during his best-ever streak. Ryan has none. Not to mention a 73% completion-rate, 18 touchdowns, and an average of 39 points per game.
In short, then, the point of no return has arrived for Ryan's Revolution. And the revolution will be televised. As will the eternal evolution of Belichick's cast-offs into can't-lose machines. It's New England's immoveable dynasty versus Atlanta's irresistible upstart this Sunday night.
Evolution, or revolution? Amid the great debate, a great game seems assured.