You think you're over something, but you're not.
You knew when I promised not to mention that other team again that it was a boldfaced lie. But it's not my fault I can't get them off my mind. They won't get off the airwaves, either.
Monday night, the Patriots were facing the Broncos in a viciously cold and windy Denver. They rode into the Mile High City with a 6-2 record, the best in their division, and marched back out again at 7-2, No. 3 overall in the NFL--light years from where anyone in their right mind thought they'd be sometime roughly last century when Buffalo took them for a ride on Opening Day. Okay, let's be honest--a far cry from where anyone has thought they would be week in and week out, as injuries mounted and marquee names were stripped from the headlines and slapped on the disabled list.
But despite Tom Brady (the AFC Offensive Player of the Week, if you please) and his two-minute heroics, there's a chill in the air of New England this fall that no Denver evening can match. It's not that nobody cares--but we just don't have much left to give a sports team at the moment.
Proof of this is no further than your car radio. Flip it, if you're in the area, to 850 on your AM dial--WEEI, Boston Sports Talk Radio. Debate rages there at all hours of the day and night, not about the Patriots' injury roster, not about the phenomenal rookies on the squad this year, not about the Bill Bowl coming after the bye week, not about whether Brady is still the MVP he was once upon a time, not even about the scandal involving Kenyaata Jones, a personal assistant and a pot of boiling water, but about Grady, and the eighth inning, and the howl still floating up into space from our little corner of the Atlantic coast: "Why?!??!?!?!?!?"
Christ Almighty, I thought, turning on ESPN while waiting for the Patriots game to come on and finding a Sox-Yankees ALCS retrospective (on ESPN! Only two weeks after the World Series! An ALCS retrospective! That has to tell you something). Will this ever be over? Flipping to ESPN2, I got my answer in the emphatic negative. "It was a rhetorical question!" I cried in protest at the sight before me-- a young, slim, dare I say nubile? Roger Clemens on the mound gunning his way to that famous 21, B-O-S T-O-N emblazoned across his chest, a B on his cap, and all is right with the world. Cut back to ESPN, and there's Roger being held back by umpires as the Game 3 melee reaches its ridiculous peak. This time he's in pinstripes, raring to take a swing at the man on the mound wearing B-O-S T-O-N, and God, that still breaks my fucking heart.
The torture isn't over. Cut back to ESPN2. There's Roger. Young Roger. Fresh-faced Roger. Skinny Roger. The wind up. The delivery. Swing and a miss--the batter falls to one knee with the force of his swing. My God, we had some good times.
Game 6, 2003. Kevin Millar is hissing, "The Sox, baby, it's the Sox, all the way" into the camera in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee stadium. Paper and wrappers and debris float around the corners of the diamond, gust up behind home plate. A strange wind is blowing. Johhny Damon runs and dives, his hat bouncing off his head, his long hair floating on the breeze. He comes up waving the ball, that single white orb seeming like the key to the world's happiness.
And then there's Game 7. It's like a train wreck...you can't look away. There's Roger. Old Roger. Grizzled Sea-Dog Roger. Fat bastard Roger. Sighing into his glove, shrugging his heavy shoulders. Swing and a home run for the man wearing B-O-S T-O-N.
Then Grady's patting Pedro on the arm and walking away. I don't remember the last time someone walking away made me want to scream like this, unless you go back to my toddler days. He's walking away. He's walking...away. He's leaving him there. He's leaving us there. He's leaving us. It is leaving us. The dream. It's over. We went to the mountaintop and then we just walked away.
Grady's still walking away. He'll be walking away forever. He never reaches that dugout, not in our memories. He's always just three steps away from the mound, still with enough time to turn and slap his right forearm with his left hand. Still enough time to turn around and save us...
Oh, yeah. There's a football game on.
The Monday Night Football Countdown has already given us a glossy overview of Denver and its football culture. The only nod to New England is a little scene before the introduction, a sketch, if you will: Fade in on the outside of a church. Text overlay: BOSTON, Mass. Inside the church a choir in robes of red, white and blue are belting out a soul anthem. A preacher dressed in gold takes the podium. It's Christopher Lloyd, ranting at a churchful of the faithful about loss and redemption. Lloyd's ad-lib eventually comes around to a mention of "Two outs in the bottom of the eighth," and the congregation moans aloud. Cut to a shot of the congregants--across their chests is B-O-S T-O-N. Grown men are crying.
"Tonight, redemption" Lloyd shouts, drawing a visual aid from behind the podium, "Will come...in the form...of a football." He holds the pigskin aloft and a suddenly jubilant congregation has changed into the deep blues of the Patriots. As the testifyin' reaches its climax, Christopher Lloyd and his backup choir shout toward the ceiling, "Are you ready!! For...some...football???"
I love the Patriots. I really do. But Monday night I was in bed by the third quarter.
I hate myself for it, but I just can't get excited. I can't--shudder--Cowboy Up. It's over. Hope's gone. Our football team winning the Super Bowl would only remind us of what we lost on the hallowed ground of the House that Ruth Built. Eventually, though, maybe if the Pats make the playoffs, we'll figure something out. But not right now.
Right now we can still see Grady just walking away. Right now I thought I had moved on, but then the goofy flashing lights of the idiot box just ripped the wound wide open. I keep telling myself that we'll be seeing the footage the rest of our lives, just the way our fathers have been continually revictimized by Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner in highlight reels, so I had better just get used to it.
But not now. Not yet.