Bill Belichick's love of history is well-known, from Sun Tzu to David Halberstam, but he'd be the last person to believe it will play any role in Super Bowl LIII.
In this case, however, he's wrong. The Patriots won't lose to the Rams on Sunday because history demands it.
The greatest dynasty in NFL annals isn't going 5-4 in the Super Bowl. It just isn't. For everything the Patriots have accomplished since 2001 -- when this unprecedented run began against the Rams -- they must prevail on Sunday to leave no doubt about their imprint on the league.
Going 6-3 in nine Super Bowls conveys irrefutable dominance, especially for one coach and quarterback. Settling for 5-4 introduces enough doubt for the Steelers (6-2) and 49ers (5-1) to claim the totality of their accomplishments trumps New England's, especially since the Patriots lost two Super Bowls in the pre-Belichick era. Can a franchise with a losing Super Bowl record really claim it's the greatest ever? Is it possible for one team to be both the 49ers and Bills when it comes to Super Bowl performance?
We're not going to have to answer that question, because the Patriots aren't going to lose on Sunday. If ever a title was meant to be, this is it, with the Patriots overcoming a tumultuous offseason, followed by a slow start, followed by an uncharacteristically mediocre finish before turning it on against the Chargers and Chiefs in the playoffs.
Now they're one step away from scaling that final mountaintop yet again, and forgive me if I'm not buying the ability of a young coach and inconsistent, unproven quarterback to dethrone them.
Had these teams met in the regular season, the Rams very well may have prevailed. But it's the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady knows his way around these better than anyone who has ever lived.
"It's almost surrealistic, I'll tell you," Brady's dad, Tom Sr., told Jon Meterparel and myself last week. "This is an odyssey that's been going on for 18 years and every year it's just even more exciting. It's a wonderful week for us.
"The first one came out of left field and we were kind of fighting for our lives through the season. Tommy didn't get a start until after Drew (Bledsoe) got hurt in the second game. After 10 games, we were 5-5 and Bill pulled the plug and said Tommy's going to be the man behind center, and then we went on to win eight in a row. That was pretty unbelievable. We were incredulous.
"This time we had some peaks and valleys throughout the season, and some stuff happened that we didn't know how it would turn out, losing a couple of games, kind of laying an egg in Tennessee and losing a couple of games in December is not something we're accustomed to. There were a lot of question marks, and then all of a sudden they kind of jump on it and get the gas going and at the end of the year, lo and behold, after beating two pretty good teams in the Chargers and obviously the Chiefs, we find ourselves here. This is one where it kind of came out of left field, unlike the others, where we won 13 or 14 or 15 games in a season and almost waltzed into the playoffs. This time we had some obstacles and some major growth we had to experience in the later part of the season."
The run is coming to a close. Maybe this year, maybe next, probably well before Brady turns 45. If this is indeed the team's last crack, there's only one way for it to end -- with Brady and Belichick hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for a sixth time and leaving absolutely no room for interpretation in the discussion of greatest NFL dynasties.