After the four-month, 16-game slog of the 2010 NFL regular season, the Green Bay Packers finished in a six-way tie for the eighth-best record in the 32-team league.
They squeaked into the play-offs as a No 6 seed at 10-6 with a mathematical tiebreaker against two other teams and a touchdown in the last quarter of the last game against one.
After the four-month, 30-game slog of the 2010/11 men's college basketball regular season, the University of Connecticut Huskies finished ninth among the 18-team Big East Conference, which does not even factor in the hundreds of other schools playing that sport around that country.
At 9-9 in conference play entering conference and national tournaments, they lay stashed in their own league beneath Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville, St John's, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Georgetown.
After the six-month, 162-game slog of the 2011 Major League Baseball season, the St Louis Cardinals finished in a two-way tie for the eighth-best record in the 30-team sport.
They trailed by 10.5 games in late August and by three after 157 games, then wriggled into the play-offs in the 162nd game as a wild card at 90-72.
And after the four-month, 16-game slog of the 2011/12 NFL regular season, the New York Giants finished in a two-way tie for the 10th-best record in the 32-team league.
While they did win a division unlike any of the above, they not only crept into the play-offs at 9-7 as a No 4 seed only on the final night of the season, but across 16 games, their opponents outscored them 400-394.
What have all these regular-season stragglers in common?
Each wound up winning the championship in those very same seasons.
By contrast, the Dallas Mavericks spent the five-month, 82-game slog of the 2010/11 NBA season as despotically dominant.
They joined a two-way tie for the fourth-best record in the 30-team league before winning their title last June.
Does it make utmost sense to decide things with play-offs?
Play-offs do make enthralling theatre, as the Super Bowl just demonstrated on Sunday night.
They specialise in alluring storylines and breathtaking escapes (baseball Cardinals, football Giants).
But do they identify the best team, as do the play-off-less slogs of Spain's Primera Liga or the English Premier League?
And one more question: what's the point of all that regular-season duress, anyway? The misspent fossil fuel of it all!
In the evenly-balanced American sports, if you tore up the late-season and play-off box scores and played everything again four more times, you probably would get five different champions.
Titles trade increasingly on whimsy, on breaks, on tinier and tinier pivots.
In the chatter after the Super Bowl, chatterers focused on the New England receiver Wes Welker's twisting drop of an imperfect throw from Tom Brady in the fourth quarter.
Some properly extolled Mario Manningham's Herculean catch of Eli Manning's seeing-eye pass along the left sideline on the winning drive.
Some bemoaned Brady's first-quarter blunder that gave New York a safety.
Certainly many championship games through the decades have turned on minute details.
Nowadays, though, the minute details are strewn all over the months.
As the marvellous Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post wrote last week, Dallas held a 34-29 lead over the Giants with two minutes 25 seconds remaining in the 13th game of the season on the night of December 11, and had possession with a third-and-five.
Tony Romo, the quarterback, backed up to pass, and receiver Miles Austin streamed into the open.
Had the duo managed the completion they narrowly missed when Romo's pass sailed barely long, New York would have slid to 6-7 and probably missed the playoffs. Dallas would have reached 9-5 by one week later, given Tampa Bay as their ensuing assignment.
Instead, with parity wreaking a roulette, the Giants beat the Cowboys that night and again three weeks on, the Cowboys missed the play-offs and the Giants, with the second-worst record among division winners, wound up grinning through the post-Super Bowl confetti storm.
Certainly the Giants withstood hard play-off tasks in Green Bay and San Francisco, where one marginal player's fumbles on two punt returns became the by-a-whisker errors that loosed a champion.
And certainly the play-offs filled with New York grit told us something of which we never tire: a great story.
It just might be folly to crow that they told us too much else.
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