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Originally published Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Danny O'Neil

Playoffs | Redemption in the NFL is only a postseason run away

Their reputations precede them in today's NFL conference championship games. Two men whose legacies were well known before their teams reached...

Seattle Times NFL reporter

AFC: San Diego @ New England | Noon today, Ch. 7

New England tries to make fourth Super Bowl in past seven years

NFC: N.Y. Giants @ Green Bay | 3:30 p.m. today, Ch. 13

Teams meet in playoffs for first time since 1962 NFL title game

Their reputations precede them in today's NFL conference championship games.

Two men whose legacies were well known before their teams reached this point of playing for a berth in the Super Bowl.

Brett Favre and Tom Brady? Well, they're the big names in today's games, but no, not them. We're talking about two coaches. The other two coaches, in fact: San Diego's Norv Turner and New York's Tom Coughlin.

They began this season as the butt of jokes, one considered ineffectual and the other out of touch. Turner had made the playoffs once in nine seasons as a head coach yet he was handed one of the league's most talented rosters in San Diego. Coughlin was seen as an out-of-touch grump who was criticized by a former player and his old boss.

The Giants lost their first two games while San Diego began the season 1-3. Those cold starts produced two hot seats for the coaches.

Well, how do you like them now? Each sits one win from their sport's biggest stage.

Reputations in the NFL aren't always accurate and they're seldom fair, but they're not permanent, either. All it takes is one postseason to rewrite a legacy.

Until last season, Peyton Manning's career accomplishments couldn't be discussed without the qualifier that his team had never won the Super Bowl. He was like the best golfer never to win a major. Now, there are no caveats included when he's mentioned as one of the greats of this generation.

John Elway put together an incredible career with the Broncos, but three Super Bowl losses dulled some of the shine. Even "The Simpsons" lampooned him, Homer imagining himself in a helmet and Elway's jersey, scoring a touchdown only to flash to the scoreboard, which read 56-7. Two titles in Elway's final two seasons changed all that talk that he was the quarterback who could never win the big one.

Two playoff wins will keep anyone from suggesting that Turner's arrival in San Diego this season weakened two franchises. Plenty thought exactly that back in September, though. The 49ers lost one very capable offensive coordinator when the Chargers hired Turner despite a track record that was mediocre, to put it kindly.

Turner had a winning record four times in his first nine seasons as head coach, but one of those winning records was the year he got fired from Washington when his team was 7-6. Turner's record was 9-23 with Oakland from 2004 to 2005.

Coughlin's legacy was a little more distinguished. He took the Jaguars to the conference championship game in their fifth year of existence. This is Coughlin's third consecutive postseason berth with New York, but he was considered someone on the other side of the generation gap.

Tiki Barber bluntly said the Giants were out-coached after a playoff loss to Carolina two years ago. Former general manager Ernie Accorsi was critical of Coughlin in the book "The GM" released last year.

Coughlin is the one who wears 1980s satin jackets on the sidelines, who questioned the crowd noise of Qwest Field and was considered the leader in the clubhouse for the coach whose team was most likely to quit on him this season.

And now the Giants are one of the last teams alive in the playoffs. They won their final seven regular-season road games and two more in the playoffs.

The Chargers not only won their first playoff game in 13 years, they won their second one a week later. Now they play the Patriots today for a shot at the Super Bowl.

Sports have been compared to soap operas, but that's not quite right. Sports aren't scripted, the reputations aren't permanent and there's always room for redemption.

A fair amount of anticipation already has been summoned up for a Super Bowl showdown between Brady and Favre. One is the MVP coming off what very well might be the finest season ever for a quarterback, playing for a Patriots team that has yet to lose. The other is the career record-setter playing for a history-laden franchise in Green Bay that has returned to the forefront of the league.

It's a dramatic setup, but if this season has shown anything, it's that the outcomes don't always conform to the story lines that have been drawn up. Just look at the two coaches whose teams will be trying to stop those star quarterbacks.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Danny O'Neil
Danny O'Neil will comment on issues, events and personalities in the NFL. His column will appear on Sundays during the regular season. He also posts most days on the Seahawks Blog.
doneil@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2364

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