Belief is a strong thing. It unites conviction, brings together religions and drives people into voting for someone to run their country. Belief can be blind, incorrect and stupid. When fully realized, belief can be exalting, exhausting and rewarding – often all in one big emotional swoop.
For the better part of six months, New England Patriots fans had belief. We believed that we had a great team, the resolve of which strengthened week after week after week. We believed that our team was destined to end an emotionally ravaging season with a perfect record, shutting up all of the critics across the country. Most importantly, we thought our beliefs would come to fruition on a beautifully green 100-yard patch of turf in Phoenix, Arizona.
All weekend long, you could feel the emotion and the sense of hope and anticipation for the Super Bowl and what Patriots fans were fully expecting to be the final piece to this season-long puzzle. It was to be a night of destiny, a night of celebration and a night where a team and a fanbase put their stamp on sports history.
Around 10:30 pm, the party was over and the emotional hangover started. It’s funny how beliefs work sometimes.
The instant comparison that comes to mind on the heartbreak meter is the Aaron Boone 11th inning blast off Tim Wakefield in the 2003 ALCS. But there is something different about this loss, something more stinging and something more damning (even though World Series wins in 2004 and 2007 certainly erased the Boone memory quite quickly). You can feel it though: this one is going to last – in some form or fashion – for the rest of our lives.
Last night was terrible and today, that feeling of sadness, frustration and anger just stuck around, that punch you in the gut while someone is robbing your house feeling. You don’t know where to turn, what to say and what to do. There were no jovial emails today, no calls and very little dissecting of the game. No one wanted to talk about it or relieve any part of the experience, save for a few hearty souls on sports radio. Within a few minutes after the game ended, myself and eight others quietly filed out of my friend Luke’s house. Despite having a great time with food, drinks and festivities, we could barely say “Thanks” and all did our best zombie impressions walking out the door. In homes across New England at that same point, the feeling was mutual. I felt it walking through Luke’s condo complex, looking around at other zombies heading to their cars, all just wanting to wake up and pretend Sunday night never happened.
One of the reasons this loss burns so much is that unlike the Red Sox’ loss in 2003, there’s no one to be angry at. The Giants simply played better and that’s ultimately what beat the Patriots. Tom Brady was knocked down way too much, the offensive line was overmatched and Eli Manning evaded that oh-so-close sack to keep that final dagger-plunging drive alive. As a whole, the Giants are actually (gulp) likable in a way in that they lack the overexposure their fellow NFC counterparts (Packers, Cowboys and even the Eagles to an extent) have experienced the past few years. There is nothing else to say: the Giants won and the Pats lost.
But I can’t accept it. I am probably reverting back into Red Sox mode, but there’s always someone to blame, right? There’s no explanation as to why the best offense in NFL history was held to 14 points. There’s no explanation why David Tyree made that insane catch. There’s no explanation why both Asante Samuel and Brandon Meriwether let game-ending interceptions float through their hands. We need answers, but I don’t think we’ll ever get them and that’s what the hardest part truly is.
I will never understand what seemingly turned the country against the Patriots. I don’t understand why this team that turned coming out of the locker room as a team back in 2001’s Super Bowl suddenly became hated. Is it because of the absurd overplaying of the Spygate angle? Perhaps the low-key Bill Belichick press conferences? Was it the wins? Is that it? I will never understand why a team that doesn’t blow through the salary cap, stays out of trouble and converts bad guys into good guys is suddenly unlikable. Similar to the San Antonio Spurs, perhaps we are now just too stupid as sports fans to understand and appreciate greatness.
As I laid wide-awake in bed last night, a lot of thoughts ran through my head. Here’s a few:
-I should probably change my sheets.
-I thought of how awesome this Patriots team was until last night and how unique a collection of talent they had. When we look back at this group years from now, I think the consistent question that will arise is ‘How did they not win?’ I feel terrible for guys like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Junior Seau and Donte Stallworth. I feel even worse for those that were going to most likely retire after last night following a win (Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Seau) that were robbed of their just due.
-While picking the Giants became a fashionable selection, how tough was it to really pick them? If they win, you look like a genius. If they lose, you have the excuse of them going against an undefeated team on the brink of destiny. In the court of public opinion, someone is always going to pick the underdog to win if there’s nothing on the line. What’s the worst that could happen to Merrill Hodge, Frank Caliendo or anyone else if they were wrong? No choice is ever 100% unanimous, so those certain people today that are touting their football acumen are just plain moronic.
-I think that there was no more despicable person throughout the last few months than ’72 Dolphins running back Mercury Morris. I understand his character is one that is a bit more T.O. than Marvin Harrison, but he proved he is a truly classless individual, treating the Patriots’ ride toward a 19-0 record as his own forum for nonsense. If there was one person to truly shut up last night, it was Morris who has become an A-Rod and Posada level villain in these parts. Someday, I am convinced that ol’ Mercury will get his – it just wasn’t Sunday. Congratulations Mercury. You are officially a jackass.
-The Spygate stories have almost become comical in their timing and their subject matter. It’s perhaps the most overblown non-story in sports history…seriously.
-I find it very tough to hate Eli Manning, but I understand the vitriol against him because of the Peyton relation. The whole brothers winning back-to-back Super Bowl MVPs was beat to death last night and we’re in for another solid decade of it. Lucky us. I find myself longing for LaDainian Tomlinson’s post-game whining the more I see the Mannings’ faces on TV.
-In the eternally-long two weeks of Super Bowl coverage, Pats fans ran the gamut from overconfident to elated to worried to concerned to overconfident again. Everyone thought that 19-0 was going to happen and as a result, we had stories of the Boston Globe taking orders for a commemorative 19-0 edition, the Patriots trademarking “19-0” and a New Hampshire couple purchasing a vanity plate with the 19-0 record last week. There was not a single Pats fan alive (yours included) that thought they were going to lose this game. We were all so very, very wrong.
As I drove back from flag football tonight (a 5-point loss that was eerily like the end of Sunday’s game), Pat Benetar’s “Invincible” came on the radio. The last few lines of the song brought me back to last night and what we were truly looking for:
We can’t afford to be innocent/Stand up and face the enemy/It’s a do or die situation/We will be invincible/And with the power of conviction/There is no sacrifice/It’s a do or die situation/ We will be invincible
Like I said, belief is a strange thing. I’m not quite ready to accept Sunday night’s loss, because it seemed that the situation was too perfect for that thought to even enter my mind.
I guess I’m not sure what to believe in now.
Photo credits: New York Times, AP