Sports is the ultimate theater. Broadway and Hollywood offer us pretend heroes and villains and predetermined outcomes. Sports offer us real drama in all its raw, naked glory and agony.
For every sports legacy that suffers a quick, savage death in the space of a few hours, another legacy is elevated, polished and celebrated.
Few legacies were savaged more than ruthlessly than New England's was in Super Bowl XLII, a shocking 17-14 defeat at the hands of the New York Giants. Conversely, few legacies were elevated more than those who stood to gain everything from New England's defeat.
Here are the legacies that are thriving and dying in the wake of a few hours on an Arizona football field last night.
Thriving: The 1972 Dolphins
More than 1,500 teams in NFL history have attempted to win every single game in a season. Only the 1972 Dolphins have succeeded.
The Patriots, meanwhile, join a group of three teams so hideous they should form their own leper colony. They 1934 Bears, 1942 Bears and 2007 Patriots each won all their regular-season games, only to fall in the game that mattered most.
So let the old men from Miami gloat. They earned the right.
Dying: Belichick's defense
New England coach Bill Belichick earned his chops as a defensive whiz – a guy who could fabricate steely, impenetrable bulwarks from castoffs and pixie dust. He's 5-2 in Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator or head coach. His gameplan from Super Bowl XXV, the Giants' 20-19 win over the Bills, sits in the Hall of Fame. His no-name defense in New England shut down the "Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI.
But over the last two seasons, his prized defense suffered unimaginable fourth-quarter collapses. Last year, in the AFC title game, the Colts shredded New England for 17 fourth-quarter points in a 38-34 victory that propelled Indy to Super Bowl XLI.
And Sunday night, the Giants ripped off two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the forth quarter against a defense that had gone nine straight quarters without surrendering a touchdown. The game-winning drive covered 83 yards in 12 plays with less than 3 minutes to play.
Since the 1980s, Belichick's defenses have almost always made the key defensive stops when they needed them most.
Over the last two years, Belichick's defenses have failed miserably in the biggest moments of the season.
Thriving: Giants history
The Giants have long been one of the NFL's marquee franchises. But they had a rather rocky postseason legacy, appearing in more championship games (17), but also losing more championship games (12), than any team in history.
Sunday night they earned the greatest win in franchise history, toppling the undefeated Patriots, shutting down the most prolific offense the NFL has ever seen and putting a tarnish New England's Golden Boy.
The Giants have now orchestrated the two biggest upsets in league history. It was the 8-5 Giants who shocked the 13-0 Bears in the 1934 NFL championship game. And it was the 10-6 Giants who shocked the 16-0 Patriots in the 2007-08 Super Bowl.
Dying: Passing yards
There is no stat in all of sports more that draws more attention but is more utterly meaningless than passing yards. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have harped on the meaninglessness of passing yards for three years now.
The 2007 Patriots provided further evidence. Tom Brady led the league in passing yards (4,806) in 2007. In fact, he passed for the third highest yards total in NFL history.
He has nothing to show for it.
Brady passed for 2,843 in 2001; 3,620 in 2003; and 3,692 yards in 2004. His team won Super Bowls all three seasons.
Brady led the league in passing yards in 2005 (4,110) and 2007 (4,806). Both of those teams failed in the playoffs.
As the Cold, Hard Football Facts have noted many times, Johnny Unitas in 1959 is the last quarterback to lead the league in passing yards and win a championship.
He remains the last one today.
Gaudy passing yardage makes for great headlines, folks. But it rarely leads you to championships.
Thriving: the First Family of Football
Has there ever been a football family like the Mannings?
Between dad Archie and brothers Peyton and Eli, they count among themselves two No. 1 overall NFL draft picks and a No. 2 (Archie).
And now they count something we'll never see again: brothers who quarterbacked their teams to back-to-back championships and who won back-to-back Super Bowl MVP awards.
It's literally unfathomable to imagine all this talent came out of a single family.
If there's someone out there smarter than us – like a third-grade special needs student or something – we'd love to know the statistical odds of brothers pulling off this remarkable feat.
We do know this: they could play football for another 1,000 years and we'll never see brothers win consecutive Super Bowl MVP awards again.
Or maybe we just need to wait 25 years to see Eli and Peyton Jr. battle each other in Super Bowl LXVII.
Dying: Brady vs. Montana comparisons
There have been plenty of reasons to compare New England's Tom Brady to the legendary Joe Montana, not the least of which are their eerily similar statistics (Brady is No. 4 in NFL history with a 92.9 passer rating; Montana is No. 5 at 92.3).
But Montana never laid an egg in the Super Bowl – as evidenced by his Super Bowl-record 127.8 passer rating and perfect 4-0 mark.
Brady, meanwhile, laid an egg so big Sunday in Super Bowl XLII that we fear it's going to hatch a family of giant mutant ostriches.
Brady certainly played nobly in a game in which he was under incessant pressure. He was sacked five times and pressured on nearly half of his 53 dropbacks.
But playing nobly is not the same as playing well, playing clutch ... or playing like Montana.
The bottom line is that the New England offense suffered one of the biggest choke jobs in NFL history: the second-highest scoring offense in NFL history (36.8 PPG) generated just 14 in the Super Bowl.
We, and you, can point to many other factors for New England's failure to put points on the board. But at the end of the day it's a quarterback's league. And when an offense fails the blame falls on the shoulders of the quarterback.