By Art Stapleton
INDIANAPOLIS — One glance out the window quickly reminded Tom Brady this trip to an all-too-familiar city for the Patriots will be different than all the others.
As the team bus rolled past the place where Super Bowl XLVI will be played in six days, classic showdowns against Peyton Manning and the Colts came rushing back on cue.
“We drove by Lucas Oil Stadium on the way in and you see Dwight Freeney’s picture up there,” Brady said Sunday night. “To come to Indy and not play him is definitely a relief for me. He’s terrorized me for a long time.”
He paused before matter-of-factly adding: “I’ll be terrorized by some other players in some other uniforms this week.”
Those uniforms will be worn by the Giants.
And there’s no question Brady does not need a history lesson – or a photo mural of Justin Tuck hanging outside the stadium, for that matter—to vividly recall what transpired the last time these two teams faced off for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
While the pain inflicted by Big Blue four years ago has most certainly left his body, the anguish from that punishing encounter undoubtedly resonates nearly as much as the outcome — a stunning 17-14 loss for Brady that cost New England its perfect season.
No team has both beaten him on the scoreboard and beaten him up on the field the way the Giants have. It’s gotten to the point where Brady’s respect for them comes through with the ease in which he delivers a roll call of the players that will be charging at him from along the defensive front.
There was praise for Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty, even the underappreciated Dave Tollefson, with Brady making it known he was well aware of those who will have him in their sights come Super Bowl Sunday.
“I think as a quarterback you just understand that you can’t sit there and hold the ball all day,” Brady said. “You better find someone and get rid of it because they’re coming.”
Brady delivered his message with the kind of confidence you’d expect from someone already ticketed for a Hall of Fame bust in Canton, definitely not a quarterback cowering with fear in anticipation of receiving yet another beating.
If anything, Brady has the look of a star with a chip on his shoulder, as evidenced by his proclamation earlier Sunday to a crowd of 25,000 that assembled inside Gillette Stadium for a rousing send-off from Foxboro.
“We’re going down there for one reason,” Brady told the fans. “We’re going to give it our best and hopefully we’ll have a lot more people at our party next weekend.”
When asked if anything should be read into his presumptive party planning, Brady deadpanned: “Well, it was a pep rally. People are pretty excited.”
For the Giants, the challenge of stopping a Super-focused Brady again is a daunting one.
This has the makings of being a legacy-defining game for Brady and Bill Belichick and could enhance that of Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin in similar fashion, especially if the latter quarterback-coach combination is able to prevail for the second time in a Super Bowl in four years.
That being said, nothing is more difficult than finding a way to deny Brady at his best.
“The way to kill a snake is take off its head,” Tuck said Friday when the Giants met the media for the last time prior to their scheduled arrival here this afternoon. “The way to kill an offense that is as potent as that one is making sure you take care of Brady.”
With a victory, Brady would match Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for most Super Bowl rings in NFL history with four. The two-time Super Bowl MVP spoke about growing up a 49ers fan Sunday, how his parents had season tickets at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and how he spent his childhood idolizing Montana and Steve Young.
Of course, the Giants were responsible for putting plenty of hurt on Montana 21 years ago when Leonard Marshall delivered what the Hall of Fame quarterback says was the hardest hit he ever took.
Montana was knocked out of that 1990 NFC Championship Game.
Marshall and the Giants went on to win Super Bowl XXV.
Brady is hoping to avoid a similar fate against Big Blue this time around.
“Really for me, and for our team,” Brady said, “it’s really just about one game and the challenges the Giants present.”
The Giants showed just how much of a challenge that can be four seasons ago.
“That game was then. This game is now,” Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater said. “Different players. Different game. Different venue.”
What remains unchanged is the compelling showdown between the quarterback driven for excellence and the team that has already beaten him down once on the biggest stage.
The Giants are coming and Brady knows it, and in this case, yet again there can only be one winner.