A chemistry forged by triumph, failure

"[Tom and I] have had a weekly meeting the entire time we've been together,'' Belichick said. "Tom is one of the toughest players I've ever had to coach, because when you walk into a meeting with Tom, he's already seen every game. Like the Colts. He's already seen every game the Colts have played defensively.

"So you can't go in there unprepared, you can't go in there saying, 'Well, I don't know if they're going to do this,' because he'll say, 'Did you see the Tennessee game? That's what they did.'

"You have to be as well-prepared as he is. And that's a good thing but it's also a hard thing. You can't throw the curveball by him. You better know what you're talking about, because he does.''

That is the crux of their relationship: holding each other accountable. They approach each game in lockstep, with precious few surprises unless Brady misses practice with an illness, as he did Wednesday.

"They know each other so well, I'm pretty sure they could finish each other's sentences,'' observed backup quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Brady doesn't have to explain to Belichick the euphoria of knocking off the Greatest Show on Turf because the coach drew up the game plan that made it possible. Belichick doesn't have to describe to his quarterback how excruciating it was when the ball slipped through Wes Welker's hands in Super Bowl XLVI because Brady threw the pass.

In their short tenure together in Denver, Manning and John Fox have their own horrific memories: Rahim Moore and the shockingly poor interception Manning threw across his body in the playoff overtime loss to Baltimore last season. Their relationship is still developing, but that hardly precludes them from winning.

Maybe this is the year Manning-Fox will be added to the Super Bowl victors list. Or maybe it's Colin Kaepernick- Jim Harbaugh, or Russell Wilson-Pete Carroll.

Obviously, it's not as simple as just the quarterback and the coach. You need an offensive line, a defense, a receiving corps that can make big catches in clutch situations.

But, in perusing the list, which coach and quarterback combination would you take in the Big Game? Give me Belichick and Brady, every time.

Legacy is a weighty word. Both Belichick and Brady have already reserved cushy digs in the NFL annals. Three rings will do that.

Will history treat them differently if they fall to Denver on Sunday? It shouldn't. The Patriots, decimated by significant injuries on both sides of the ball, are playing with house money. This may be Belichick's finest year as a coach, and even though Brady's numbers are modest, what he has accomplished with a carousel of injured and inexperienced targets has been truly gratifying.

"What they've done is remarkable,'' Holmgren said. "How important is it for them to win another one? You are probably talking to the wrong guy. They are so firmly entrenched. To get another one would be more remarkable, I suppose, but this legacy stuff is all about 'What have you done for me lately?' these days. You can't argue with the total body of work.''

As NBA coach Pat Riley is fond of saying, "There's winning, and there's misery.''

You don't have to press Belichick and Brady on what they've done lately. They ask themselves that same question, over and over again.

Tom Brady is 36 years old, and with each passing season, the opportunities dwindle. Nine seasons without a ring is a football lifetime to him. The coach and the quarterback don't want to hear their season has already been a success no matter what happens. They don't care at all right now about their place in NFL history. They are too focused on ducking the misery that has ruined every winter since the glory days of rings and parades and the undisputed claim that they were the best.

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