One play can change everything

INDIANAPOLIS -- Not to place even more pressure on the players in Super Bowl XLVI, but there is one super truth that never changes: One play can change legacies and history.

Everyone remembers the most memorable play in Super Bowl history, when Giants wide receiver David Tyree hauled in a pass that still looks on replays as if he could drop it at any moment.

But what many forget is that one play earlier, on second-and-5 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, cornerback Asante Samuel had an interception right in his hands -- and dropped it.

Had the usually sure-handed, playmaking Samuel held on to that pass -- as he had on his 16 interceptions the previous two seasons -- New England would have finished the season as the first 19-0 team in NFL history. The Giants would have headed home to the cold rather than a parade. The discussion about Super Bowl XLVI would have been entirely different.

Legacies and history would have been different. Had Samuel held on, the questions the last two weeks would have been about whether Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin finally could win the big one and whether the Patriots would go down as the greatest franchise in NFL history.

But Samuel dropped the interception. And then, according to former Patriots players, Samuel dropped coverage on the next play, inexplicably leaving Tyree alone in the middle of the field. New England safety Rodney Harrison helped out, picked Tyree up and set up the man-on-man battle that lives on in instant replays.

Without Samuel's drop, there's no physics-defying catch for Tyree, no game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, no ticker-tape parade for the Giants.

One play can change it all. There is one play in almost every NFL game that keys a victory or defeat. But the ones on Super Sunday stand out, always.

If kicker Scott Norwood had connected on his 47-yard field goal attempt in Super Bowl XXV rather than kicking it wide right, Buffalo would view its past and Super Sundays differently.

If wide receiver Kevin Dyson had gained another yard instead of being brought down on the final play of the game at the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XXXIV, Tennessee would still reflect on how it shut down the Greatest Show on Turf.

Every game has ifs, plenty of them. Sunday's will, too -- but on sports' biggest stage.

On one play, Samuel dropped the ball and the Patriots dropped the game. Soon enough, someone else will be in position to make a play and history.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Futures bets: Super Bowl XLVI has yet to be played, but Las Vegas already is taking action on Super Bowl XLVII. Sportsbook.com already has established odds for each team to win next season's Super Bowl. Guess who is the favorite?

2. Good news for Niners? San Francisco fell minutes short of making it to Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI. But based on recent trends, San Francisco or another NFC West team will advance to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. As CBS Sportsline reporter Clark Judge recently pointed out, the division that plays the AFC East during the regular season has wound up in the Super Bowl every season since 2006. In 2006, the Bears played their nondivision games against the AFC East and advanced to the Super Bowl; in 2007, the Giants did it; in 2008 the Cardinals did it; in 2009 the Saints did it; last season the Packers did it; and this season the Giants did it again.

Next season, the NFC West is slated to play its nondivision games against the AFC East, which bodes well for the 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams. If history repeats itself, one of these NFC West teams will be returning to the Super Bowl.

3. Influential owners: One year ago, fear for the future of football filled the air. Owners and players were at a financial stalemate. Everyone knew a lockout was coming and, sure enough, in March it did. It shut down the sport for 136 days. But one of the primary reasons it never threatened the Super Bowl was the efforts of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Giants owner John Mara. Each man was instrumental in producing the 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

Kraft attended the bargaining sessions, wherever they were, even as his wife, Myra, was battling ovarian cancer. He is also the only NFL owner to build a stadium with all private money and without personal-seat licenses. Mara was more active than any NFL owner in the negotiations, which helps explain why he was named chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee/Labor. The two owners grew closer than they had been. Now, fittingly, each is close to another Vince Lombardi trophy.

4. Motivation for Patriots: Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork played one of the best games of his career against Baltimore, dominating the Ravens' offensive line and compiling six tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss. Of all the Patriots players, none was closer to Myra Kraft than Wilfork, who used to kiss her before each New England game. Now, he gives Robert Kraft two kisses before each New England game, and when he gives the Pats' owner the second kiss, he says, "Momma" in memory of Myra.

Sometime before Sunday's Super Bowl, Wilfork will give Robert Kraft two more kisses, the last two kisses of this season. Myra will be on the minds of all of the Patriots. In fact, it is the reason that 49ers owner Jed York is picking the Patriots to win Sunday.

"I know how much Robert means to that team and how much his family means to that team," York told Sam Famer of the Los Angeles Times. "I don't think there's any way the Patriots lose. I know how my family reacted when my grandfather [Edward DeBartolo Sr.] passed away in 1994 before our last Super Bowl win. There's no way they were going to lose the Super Bowl that year, no matter who they played. They were going to do whatever they had to do to win. And I think we're going to see that from the Patriots this year."

5. Cause for celebration: Already Mara and his brother, Chris, New York's vice president for player evaluation, had helped lead their team into the Super Bowl. Then, less than 36 hours after the Giants beat the 49ers for the NFC Championship Game, Chris Mara's daughter, Rooney, was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." The Maras' big days are just three weeks apart -- the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 and the Oscars on Feb. 26. January already was an all-time month for the Maras. February could be even bigger.

6. The Brady connection: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has keyed many victories for New England. But he also has become proficient at outsourcing jobs. Each of his offensive coordinators in New England has landed a college or pro head-coaching job. Charlie Weis left New England for the head-coaching job at Notre Dame. Weis' successor, Josh McDaniels, left New England for the head-coaching job with the Denver Broncos. McDaniels' successor, Bill O'Brien, landed the head-coaching job at Penn State.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has done the same for his defensive coordinators. Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan and Chuck Pagano have gone from Ravens defensive coordinator to NFL head coach. Pagano landed the Colts' head-coaching job nine days ago.

More opportunities could be ahead. Now McDaniels will replace O'Brien and become the Patriots' offensive coordinator again next season, putting him in prime position to land another head-coaching gig. McDaniels already was a candidate for the Rams' head-coaching job. St. Louis had a scenario in which it was prepared to promote McDaniels from offensive coordinator to head coach. There was speculation that McDaniels could be a candidate for the head-coaching job at Kansas City, though nothing ever materialized with the Chiefs. But now that McDaniels will be working closely Brady, there's a good chance, no matter how distasteful some Denver fans might find it, he will find himself under consideration for other head-coaching jobs.

7. Winner's curse: Nobody knows a winner's curse any better than Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Back in the 2007 season, the last time the Giants and Patriots squared off in the Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders were interested in interviewing Gilbride for their vacant head-coaching position. But the Giants advanced to the Super Bowl and Oakland was unwilling to wait, so the Raiders hired Lane Kiffin.

This season, according to an NFL source, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were interested in interviewing Gilbride for their vacant head-coaching position. But like the Raiders four years ago, the Buccaneers were unwilling to wait to speak with Gilbride. They hired former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. Gilbride wouldn't trade the Giants' success for anything. But their postseason runs have cost him the chance to interview for two head-coaching jobs.

8. Buyer's market: Good news for any team in the market for veteran wide receivers, a list that could include the 49ers, Redskins, Bears and Jets: The market for free-agent wide receivers is deeper than almost any position. The list of free-agent wide receivers is expected to include New Orleans' Marques Colston and Robert Meachem; Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon; Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith; New England's Wes Welker; Buffalo's Steve Johnson; San Diego's Vincent Jackson; Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe; St. Louis' Brandon Lloyd; and the Jets' Plaxico Burress.

Some of these players, such as Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson, could be slapped with the franchise tag, limiting their options. But if some of these receivers are tagged, even more will hit the open market, trying to haul in a big payday.

9. The bill comes due: Every team aspires to win Super Bowls. Yet teams pay for them before and even more after. Twenty-one Giants are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason, many of them cornerbacks and wide receivers. The Giants' cornerbacks scheduled to be free agents are Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, Justin Tryon, Will Blackmon and Michael Coe. The Giants' wide receivers scheduled to be free agents are Mario Manningham, Devin Thomas, Domenik Hixon and Isaiah Stanback.

What will the Giants do with Manningham, who has been a force in New York's offense? Manningham will wind up commanding a contract that pays him considerably more than Victor Cruz, who has emerged as one of the top wide receivers in the game. But if the Giants lose Manningham, they could turn back to their former receiver, Steve Smith, now with the Eagles, who would be amenable to returning to New York.
These are decisions reserved for general manager Jerry Reese and his superb staff.

Other Giants players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents include quarterback David Carr; offensive tackles Kareem McKenzie and Stacy Andrews; defensive linemen Dave Tollefson and Rocky Bernard; linebacker Chase Blackburn; and punter Steve Weatherford. The players' season ends Sunday night, but the work for the Giants' front office is just beginning.

10. Sense of urgency: If New England feels urgency now, it's because of uncertainty surrounding the team next season. Of the six players in New England who have Super Bowl rings -- Brady, offensive tackle Matt Light, running back Kevin Faulk, wide receiver Deion Branch, center Dan Koppen and nose tackle Vince Wilfork -- three are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Those three are Faulk, Branch and Koppen, who could be playing their final game for the Patriots.

The Patriots are scheduled to have 17 free agents in all, including Branch, Welker and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. New England will do what it takes to keep Welker. Branch already has left New England before discovering how much he appreciates being there. Green-Ellis probably will be offered more money elsewhere. But the Patriots attempted to protect themselves at running back in last April's draft, using second- and third-round picks on Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, respectively. Other Patriots scheduled to be unrestricted free agents include Dan Connolly; defensive linemen Shaun Ellis, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter; and safety James Ihedigbo. Next year's New England team will look very different.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Giants vs. Patriots: These Giants are better than their 2007 team, and these Patriots aren't as good as their 2007 team.

Player of the week: Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker: In a matchup of the two best slot wide receivers in the game, Welker edges out Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Pick of the week: Patriots over Giants, 27-16: The Giants are the better and more complete team. But they also have to figure out a way to overcome Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the memory of Myra Kraft.