Confession: I’ve been terribly neglectful. This is the problem, long about September I start feeling like a harried parent being pulled in two directions. The Patriots and the Red Sox are like my children and I love them both equally. When they’re playing at the same time, I feel torn, like I can’t give either one of them the attention they deserve. And, of course, when they’re both playing out of their minds, it becomes even more difficult. (Not that I would advise any parents out there to ignore whatever child isn’t performing well but hell, what do I know? I’m not a real parent.) But now, now that the Red Sox have so richly rewarded a season of faith and, let’s be honest, more than occasional exasperation, I can turn my attention fully to Child #2, the Patriots (with an eye still tuned to the saga of re-signing our once-and-future third basemen, Theo and don’t you even think I’m not watching you).
That said, the Patriots thing isn’t nearly as simple as it might at first appear. To an outsiders’ perspective, it probably looks like we’re all yukking it up here in Pats land and reveling in our victories. If points were money, we’d all be Scrooge McDuck, going for swims in our vaults. At least, that’s what everyone else seems to think. But that’s not really the reality of it. It should be. It absolutely should be. But, as is often the case in professional sports fandom, people just cannot leave well enough alone.
Beth and I have spent the better part of a week emailing each other about this. This whole, “the Patriots are evil because they’re running up the score” thing. We are, as you would imagine, outraged and disgusted by the implication that someone should go for Tom Brady’s knees as payback. You have no idea how hard it is for me to even type that sentence without smoke coming out of my ears. Because you know what? It’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit. I wish there was a more eloquent way to put it, but I’m afraid there is not.
Beth wrote an excellent piece about this very thing over at MVN. She’s more eloquent than I am, as evidenced by the fact that the entire piece wouldn’t need a seven second delay if read aloud. But I would also like to draw your attention to Eric Wilbur’s column in yesterday’s Globe. This, as I said to Amy when she emailed it to me, is what I’ve been saying for weeks now to anyone that would listen, and probably many people that won’t. But here’s the thing, it’s worth saying. It’s worth pointing out the hypocritical double standard that exists in the NFL right now and that Eric Wilbur draws attention to. And beyond that, it’s worth asking why.
Look, I think the whole “We’re the underdogs,” “No, we’re the underdogs” showmanship crap spewing from both head coaches mouths about Sunday’s game is ridiculous. Look at it logically, the Patriots have scored twelve trillion and forty-two points this season and are running the NFL’s most potent offense, maybe ever. The Colts are the defending Super Bowl champions, playing at home with perennial MVP Peyton Manning at the helm. If both teams could be favored, they probably would. But the oddsmakers can’t have that. My point being, in a clash of the titans like this game – and it is, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – there can’t be an underdog. I understand both team’s reluctance to give anyone bulletin board material by declaring themselves the clear favorite (ignoring for a second the fact that there is no clear favorite here), and frankly, I don’t want my football team going into games overconfident.
But that, apparently, is the issue people are having with them. Look, national media and people who’ve decided they hate the Patriots because it’s the trendy thing to do, you can’t have it both ways. Either you hate them because you think they’re overconfident and running up the score to embarrass opponents, or you hate them because they pay lip service to the tired “disrespected” angle. One or the other, not both. Or, you know, you could not hate them and just appreciate the ridiculous football that’s being played right now. But no, that would require giving credence to what’s going on. That would require acknowledging that Tom Brady might very well be the best quarterback to ever play the game. That would require grudging admission of the fact that Belichick, while not the most warm and fuzzy guy on the planet surely, is one hell of a coach and deserves every single accolade he gets for being a football genius.
I understand that it must seem ridiculous for me to be defending the Patriots’ greatness right now. But you have to understand, it’s been an incredibly frustrating season for me thus far. No, stop rolling your eyes and listen for a second. I wrote a while ago that I was not going to apologize for my team’s success. Not because they’d been so bad for so long and I felt that I deserved it as there is no “deserving” in sports. But because the team is great, and I want to enjoy that without having to answer for it. But since I’ve written that piece, things have multiplied tenfold. I have been bombarded with column links and comments from people demanding I weigh in on what people like Gregg Easterbrook and Michael Wilbon are saying. And thus far, I’ve refused to do it. I’ve refused to give validity to their claims that the Patriots are “evil” or that someone should deliberately injure Brady or another player to “teach them a lesson.” But I’m mad now, and I’m tired of it.
As both Beth and Eric Wilbur point out, no one accused the Colts of running up the score the season Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown record. And the claim very clearly could have been made. No one suggested that perhaps someone should hit Peyton Manning “in the mouth” to get him to stop scoring so many points. No one claimed that, by scoring so many points and beating opponents so badly, the Colts were somehow disrespecting the game. I mean, seriously, are we really talking about this? Are we really claiming that the Patriots are bad people and bad for football because they can score 52 points on the league’s third rated defense, and, you know, probably kick puppies and steal candy from children? Are we really talking about this?
I don’t know how it happened, exactly. I don’t know how Tom Brady and the Patriots became the bad guys. Bill Belichick I kind of understand but I wasn’t aware that “baker of the best brownies in six states” was a requirement for coaching in the NFL. I honestly do not understand what everyone is so pissed off about. Personally, I just want to enjoy my football team and the clinics they seem to be putting on every Sunday. I like watching them win, no, scratch that, I LOVE watching them win. And I should damn well be able to enjoy it.
As I said to Beth, “I would understand it if they were playing dirty football, if they were getting unnecessary roughness penalties or flagrant fouls or whatever. But they’re not. They’re actually pissing people off with how good they are. They’re just flat out destroying teams on the scoreboard and making defenses look silly.
“Also,” I continued, “The way I’ve been looking at it is that eventually, in any given game, if you’re beating a team so badly that they’re clearly not coming back, you use the remaining time to fine-tune some things you want to work on. Like maybe converting fourth downs. I’m sure I’m making excuses for them up to a point, but there’s also the argument that, the second you let up, someone is going to kick you in the shins.”
Beth agreed, “Exactly. And I still think that if your team is bad enough to be down so far that the other team is using the game as a practice drill, you should be looking at your OWN problems, not playing morality police on your opponent.”
I continued, “I mean, seriously, take Sunday’s game (against the Redskins) as an example. Tom Brady ran for two touchdowns and Cassel ran for one. Now, I love him but Tommy is slow as shit. If he’s RUNNING for touchdowns and you can’t stop him or his backup, you’ve got bigger problems than complaining about the Pats running up the score.”
This conversation continued for a while. Some of it was nonsensical ranting but a lot of good points, I think, were made. Beth and I both freely admit that we are giant Patriots homers but we also like to think of ourselves as reasonable and intelligent football fans who understand the intricacies of a complex game.
So I’ll leave it at this: Why can’t it be about football? Why can’t it be about watching one team do something great? Why do people have to take that away from them? And before you point out that there are surely players and teams that I hate, I’m way ahead of you. Yes, there are, but I don’t think I’ve ever begrudged anyone their success that I felt was rightly earned. I don’t like Peyton Manning or Alex Rodriguez but I would never claim that either of them weren’t phenomenal players in their respective sports. I don’t understand why people can’t do that for the Patriots.
I can’t wait for Sunday because finally, FINALLY, this hype that swallowed the world will end and it will finally be about football. I think it’ll be a great game. And if the Pats should win, fantastic, I’ll be even more excited knowing that they beat the defending champs in their house and have proven themselves as contenders for a generations worth of hyperbole and accolades. If they should lose, it will be because they lost to a superior team. But please, please, just let it be about football.