Jon Reed Goes Off On... February 2008
Monday, February, 04 2008
The Imperfection of the Patriots
I wanted to write about something else tonight, and now I have to write about the Patriots. Itís probably not worth it; nothing I write will change the way the Giants not only ripped the Patsí hearts out, but mine as well. To deny it because sports should never mean that much would be dishonest; to deny it because we donít want to afford Giants fans the satisfaction would be cowardly.
Yes, that one hurt. To borrow from the Bill Simmons approach to classifying these matters, in the pantheon of Boston sports losses, only the 2003 ALCS loss hurt more. Thatís because we knew we had the better team that night; Grady Little had three chances to yank Pedro and change his head-scratching legacy, and yet he sat on his hands instead. Then Tim Wakefield, of all the loyal soldiers, gets saddled with a brutal loss he never deserved.
Hereís the current predicament: the Sox more than made up for that sting the very next year, topping the Yanks after going down 0-3 and improbably winning it all. But this Pats loss is going to ache forever. Iím not sure it will hurt less when Iím 80. No amount of future championships will ever take away from the glorious precipice of that perfect 19-0 season, peering into football immortality, and then being smacked backwards by Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan.
I wonít read the papers for a while now; the only sports journalist I can read in this state is Bill Simmons; heís the only one who can possibly put something in this hollowed out center that will stick. The continued Spygate revelations are only going to twist the knife further, casting doubts, if not to the legitimacy of previous Super Bowl wins, than at least to the question of how the Patriots define sportsmanship. The wins canít be taken away, but Spygate teaches us that they can certainly be reframed in our emotional landscape.
So is it better to have made it 18-0 and then lost? Is the agony of the Pats fan worse than say, the Seahawks fan, or the Bears fan, or even the Colts fan? Perhaps only die hard Buffalo Bills fans, veterans of endurance with four Super Bowl losses in a row behind them, can answer that. Iím not sure I have the answer right now. The emotional parallel is not unlike making it to your wedding but finding yourself alone at the alter. Would it have been better to have never envisioned such a grand stage? Thatís a question better answered when the humiliation of having a ring and no finger to put it on fades a little bit.
But make no mistake: the Giants were the better team today on both sides of the ball. Iím not sure if the Giants wanted it more, though the way they seemed to come up with all the fumbles implied as much. Had the Pats managed to come back and win this game, it would have been their biggest theft of all. They have won some miraculous games in the Brady era - games that any other team would have lost, but this time, it was not to be. Iím not sure itís fair to say that Eli Manning outplayed Tom Brady, but itís certainly fair to say that today was more about the legend of Eli Manning than the legend of Tom Brady.
Brady is already amongst the top twelve quarterbacks of all time, give or take, and nothing his suddenly porous offensive line allowed by them today changes that. But the fact is that Tom Brady had a chance to crop the team picture of the best quarterbacks of all time to include him and four others max, and he didnít. The legend of Tom Brady is not done, but the next chapter will have to wait.
The loss to the Colts last year was a bitter pill as well, especially given that the Colts got to play the Bears and the outmatched Rex Grossman to get their rings. The Pats had a comparatively tougher hill to climb. They did not get there, and the loss to the Colts last year - yes, the one that took me weeks to get over - seems like a mere bee sting compared to this wallop.
The worst thing about sports is that the more you allow sports into the center of your life, the more losing hurts. Those who have insulated themselves by building a family life and a rewarding career are in much better shape than those who find their moments of redemption on Sunday afternoons. Without minimizing all I still hope to accomplish, I fall more into the latter category.
I am reeling in my mind, looking for some place untouched by this ridiculousness, and I find nothing. No, I want to withdraw, avoiding the pundits and their ďI told you sosĒ and most of all, righteous New York fans whose unexpected day of vindication gives them more barstool ammunition than any Boston fan wants them to have.
Sports has meaning on many levels. On sunnier days, I like to think that I use sports as a way to learn about life, about how to rise to the occasion when the stakes are highest, about how to lead in the face of adversity, about how to embrace my role as part of a team.
But tonight Iím thinking about sports as a failed means of escape. The Patriotsí impossible pursuit of perfection was a reminder that all things are possible. But their Super Bowl loss had an air of inevitability to it also, as if to remind us that sustained perfection is more than this life has to offer.
To see my team make it so far, only to get their hearts broken on the edge of the biggest prize, well, that hits a little too close to home. Yes, that is my reality, and sports is my escape. But tonight, there was no escape, and tomorrow morning, as usual, I will wake with a heavy heart.
Tom Bradyís heart will be a little more like mine tomorrow. Iím not sure thatís a good thing. I liked him more as the light-hearted conductor of improbable victories, preserved from the most devastating consequences of pursuing your dreams to the fullest. But sports are not about granting fantasies; you have to earn them.
The football gods are the cruelest in all of sports. When they smile in your favor, nothing feels so sweet. But that is not always the case, and on the day after, we have to get up just the same. I need another reason to wake up tomorrow. I sure hope I can find it.