Try for a moment to envision what our lives would be like had Indianapolis Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson dropped the football.
Hindsight being rumored to possess perfect vision, I wish he had.
Jackson’s interception of a Tom Brady pass in the AFC Championship Game wasn’t going to stop the 45-7 beatdown New England laid on Indy in the rain at Foxboro.
They were the apples, we the oranges. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The Patriots to their credit brought brass knuckles while the Colts countered by lobbing dryer softener sheets in their most important game in many seasons.
The fact Jackson clutched the pigskin started the Deflategate mess that, frankly, most of us grew weary of weeks ago.
Worse, the finger-pointing, conspiracy theories, hollow excuses and data regarding a football’s permitted weight — like anyone cares! — appear poised to linger for some time.
When it comes to the here and now, this much I’m certain:
No matter if Brady’s four-game suspension at the beginning of next season stands, is reduced or erased altogether, the mutual disdain between these franchises will never be higher.
Think Ohio State-Michigan on steroids, Ali-Frazier in the days leading up to the Thrilla in Manilla and Alabama-Auburn trading hits, insults and whatever else in the annual Iron Bowl.
Imagine Yankees-Red Sox when both were good, Don Zimmer wanting a piece of Pedro Martinez and getting face-planted to the turf for his efforts.
Think double-overtime between Duke and North Carolina in men’s basketball with an ACC Tournament title and No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed on the line.
Bitter. Nasty. A couple of ZIP codes north of intense. That’s been Colts-Patriots in the 21st century, only it’s worse now.
All parts to a rivalry that hasn’t necessarily been one on the field.
Since 2000 the Patriots have won 11 of the 16 games played against Indianapolis, including the past six. New England’s victories are by an average cushion of 16.3 points; when the Colts win it shrinks to a far-less-dominant 6.8 points.
Hopefully all the Deflategate nonsense has died down once the 2015 NFL regular season gets underway, but I doubt it.
Us tattling on the Patriots is ultimately going to go one of two directions.
An anger-fueled New England team could come here the night of Oct. 18 and pummel the daylights out of the Colts for a fifth-straight time — the previous four New England wins have been by an average spread of 29 points — while trying its darnedest to run up the score.
Or it might be that Indianapolis, a franchise with a youthful core and widening Super Bowl window, defeats the aging Pats for the first time since 2009 to signal what in my mind is the inevitable changing of the guard.
Indianapolis can smell another trip to the mountaintop. The Patriots could play tour guide, having advanced to six of the past 14 Super Bowls and winning four of them.
Maybe it doesn’t happen this season, but it’s going to happen.
Then and only then can we look back at D’Qwell Jackson’s pick as the start of something big.