INDIANAPOLIS — This is what happens when the bar is set so high, when you average nearly 13 wins over five years and you lose two Super Bowls by a hair.
It's hard to not only reach it, but it's even harder to jump over it. And you wake up the next morning — this morning — with a pit in your stomach.
New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17.
The Patriots, bastions of greatness the first half of the last decade, have ended another season in agony.
For the second time in five seasons, the Giants finished a season as the greatest football team in the world, and both of those times your Patriots left Super Bowl Central dejected.
The fact that both games were close doesn't matter. In fact, it's worse they were so close to five Lombardi Trophies rather than the three they've owned since 2005.
Patriots football CEO and head coach Bill Belichick has said it himself, so has his quarterback, Tom Brady. It's about championships.
"Making the playoffs" is for places like Oakland, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. When that's your goal, the eventual elimination game isn't as agonizing.
The Patriots are built to win championships, particularly with Brady.
History will be kinder to the 2011 Patriots, who won 10 games in a row and finished 15-4, and had a less-than-stellar defense for most of that run. Since the beginning of 2007, the Patriots are 64-16. That's not good. That's historic.
The zero Super Bowl put a big asterisk on any history.
"We want rings ... We deserve rings." At least most people really believe that.
The Giants are in a different league altogether now. Many people regarded their Super Bowl win over the Patriots in 2008 as a fluke.
This year, outraged fans were calling for coach Tom Coughlin's head. His underachieving team was just 7-7. If the Giants had lost to the archrival Jets (they share the same stadium!) in Game 15, it would have meant no playoffs and Coughlin likely would have been history.
Now he's a history maker and likely headed to the Hall of Fame.
Four years age, there were three potential interceptions dropped by the Patriots and a world-beating catch by David Tyree after an amazing escape act by Eli Manning.
And that was in the final two minutes!
Last night, it was another blown opportunity. Brady had a wide open Wes Welker for a reception inside the Giants 20-yard line with about four minutes left. The Patriots could have run out the clock (Giants had only one time out) and a touchdown would have put them up by nine (24-15).
Even a field goal would have forced Manning and Co. to score a touchdown in the final two minutes to win. Instead, the Patriots punted. Instead, we'll never know.
The difference between this game and the one four years ago was that the Giants, while 2.5-point underdogs at kickoff, were every bit as good as the Patriots. In 2008, the Pats were overwhelming 12-point favorites and were supposed to be locks to complete an unprecedented 19-0 season.
Despite the shaky start, the Giants earned this title.
They had a tougher road, needing to win their last two regular season games to make the playoffs and then beating the Super Bowl favorites, defending champion Green Bay, and then NFL's "toughest" team in the San Francisco 49ers.
The Giants earned their way in a much tougher conference.
You have to give it to Coughlin and Manning, who have won three straight over the great Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, two in come-from-behind Super Bowl thrillers.
They made one or two more plays, which means they were better than those two sure Hall of Famers with everything on the line.
Lucky is no longer part of their lexicon.
The Giants are the best team in the world. And the Patriots, as close as they've ever been, aren't. Again.