Right or wrong, reputations are often decided in the Super Bowl. Whether it’s a player establishing himself among the all-time greats with a ring, or a quarterback failing to capture that elusive championship like Dan Marino, there’s often a lot riding on the Super Bowl for many people.
This year, plenty of guys will have something to prove in Houston for Super Bowl LI. The Patriots and Falcons are polar opposites when it comes to experience in these types of games, but they both have several guys with their reputations on the line. Here are the seven players and coaches with the most to gain or lose in Houston.
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Dwight Freeney joined the Falcons this season as a situational pass rusher. He only played 37.4 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, but he now has a chance to win a second Super Bowl. For a defensive end like him, getting into the Hall of Fame is typically about numbers – not necessarily about rings like it is for quarterbacks. However, a second championship might just put Freeney over the edge in terms of being a borderline inductee.
He’s 18th all time in sacks with 122.5, trailing his long-time teammate Robert Mathis by a half-sack. Only seven players above him in career sacks haven’t been inducted into the hall of fame – Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, among others – though most of them are likely to get in in the near future. A second ring for Freeney wouldn’t punch his ticket to the hall, but it’d certainly help his case.
Kyle Shanahan is about to embark on a new journey in about two weeks as he’s reportedly expected to be named the 49ers’ new head coach at season’s end. Considering how that franchise has crumbled since Jim Harbaugh left, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever get back to the Super Bowl, or that he’ll be a successful head coach in the NFL. He could easily wind up having a stint like Josh McDaniels’ in Denver.
As a result, Shanahan has to get a ring while he has the perfect opportunity to do so. Game planning a perfect attack against the No. 1 scoring defense would put the cherry on top of a remarkable 2016 season for Shanahan, and close out a short but sweet tenure in Atlanta with the Falcons. A loss wouldn’t define him, but a victory would be a fitting end in Atlanta.
There’s definitely a difference between winning a championship as a head coach and as an assistant, but a ring is a ring. And for Josh McDaniels, a victory would mean a fifth Super Bowl. Now, he only won one of those as the official offensive coordinator, but he still has the hardware to represent his impact on the Patriots’ dynasty.
After his failed attempt at head coaching in Denver, winning a second Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator would be huge for his legacy. While he’s already said he’ll remain in New England for 2017, he’s certain to be a hot commodity next offseason. It’s possible the Colts, Bears and Jets will be looking for new head coaches, and while it’s early, McDaniels’ asking price will only increase with another ring.
Dan Quinn has already played a prominent role in winning a Super Bowl, doing so with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 when they won Super Bowl XLVIII. Of course, he won that ring as Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator, not as the head coach. In less than two weeks, he’ll have a chance to add another ring to his resume, this time as the top guy, not an assistant.
What does that mean? It means he’ll be added to the exclusive list of Super Bowl-winning head coaches, which will go a long way for his legacy as he’s in just his second season at the helm. It’s difficult to get back to the big game, and with that in mind, Quinn has to make the most of this golden opportunity – especially with his offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan likely leaving for San Francisco.
Like Tom Brady, Bill Belichick has already made history by simply reaching yet another Super Bowl – the seventh for each of them, which is the most all-time at their respective “positions.” And just like Brady, Belichick can separate himself from the best of the best in terms of NFL head coaches by winning his fifth Super Bowl ring.
Belichick has already cemented his place among the all-time greats, with many calling him the greatest coach in NFL history. Would a loss to the Falcons strip him of that title? Absolutely not, but a victory would be huge for his legacy and reputation. It would break the tie he currently holds with Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl victories by a head coach (4).
If you don’t think that’s a big deal for a coach who will surely make it seem like it’s not, then you certainly don’t understand just how great Belichick is.
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For as great as Tom Brady has been throughout his career – for all the accolades and accomplishments he’s collected – he still isn’t the unequivocal best quarterback of all time. Currently, he’s sitting at four Super Bowl rings, which is tied with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most ever for a quarterback. Brady has better numbers than both of them, but there’s still that tie at the top in terms of rings.
What would a fifth Super Bowl do for Brady? It would separate him from the pack and cement his place as the greatest quarterback to ever step foot on an NFL field. At least, it should. By the time he calls it a career, Brady will own just about every meaningful record. That’s not what he plays for, though. Those records won’t make him the so-called “G.O.A.T.”
A fifth championship will do that, and considering it’d be one more than any other quarterback, how can anyone argue with that notion? They can’t, and that’s why this game means so much to him and his legacy. There’s no chance of him hurting his reputation – it’s merely a chance for him to improve it further.
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It’s a close call between Matt Ryan and Tom Brady for the top spot, but ultimately it’s the Falcons quarterback with more riding on this game. Just this season, Ryan resurrected his name and placed it among the elite in the game after seemingly regressing the past few seasons. However, being called an elite quarterback doesn’t mean you’re one of the all-time greats.
The title of being “elite” comes and goes, just as it has with guys like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. Super Bowl rings never go away, though. If Ryan doesn’t win this game and never gets back to the Super Bowl, he’ll probably find his name among the greats who didn’t win a ring: the Dan Marinos, the Jim Kellys, the Tony Romos (maybe).
That’s not something Ryan wants to be remembered for, even if he does go on to win multiple MVPs and finish in the top 10 statistically among quarterbacks. A victory on Super Bowl Sunday will change the course of his career and the narrative that follows him forever.