I wasn't going to do this. Rant about football some more, I mean. I figured, it's getting to the point where I need to either make this a full-fledged sports blog (which I'm hardly qualified or motivated for), start an entirely independent sports blog (which, judging by the readership--read: lack thereof--of my book blog, would probably not be the best move), or do what I'd been trying to do more recently, which was try to get back to talking about un-sports-related things, despite the fact that I really have little else to talk about (as witnessed with Thursday's decadent wallow in yawn-inducing self-pity).
No, I wasn't going to put you all through another half-assed go-round at football analysis when there are plenty of other better-connected, better-staffed, and better-researched sites out there, dedicated solely to football or to the the Patriots, that would be much less of a waste of your time and mine, if you're as interested as I am in this sort of thing. Really, I wasn't going to put you or myself through this.
But, of course, when has inconsistency of content and/or half-baked opinion really stopped me from ranting before? When you really get down to the nitty-gritty, though, I wasn't going to write this rant mostly because I didn't think I would have to. I'm dismayed (and a bit apprehensive) to find that it is left to me, just another yahoo fan, after all, to state what should be obvious.
That statement (get ready for a shocker) is this: The New England Patriots are a great football team.
That this would be disputed while P.M. was on his roll through Kansas City is, I'll admit, not all that surprising. What was surprising about it, however, was the insulting way people of this opinion made it known. "We've done the New England thing," Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star wrote last week,
"...and, frankly, we're bored to tears.
Is it really fair to expose the American public to another week of Bill Belichick's wit and social insights? If he was any drier, he'd be declared a fire danger.
The whole Tom Brady thing was kind of interesting the first time, especially with Drew Bledsoe waiting in the wings. But we've been there, done that. And I'm tired of hearing the wife talk about how cute Brady is.
Nothing personal, but I don't care about Antowain Smith, or Kevin Faulk, or Mike Vrabel, and I don't think I'm alone here. What's the story? What's the hook? When's the last time Adam Vinatieri suggested his coach and quarterback lacked the fire to win a championship?"
Okay. Okay. I have to admit that article pissed me off good and proper, but realizing my own bias, I held off on full-fledged pissed-offitude, at least until the game was actually on TV. Then, I figured, the score would be settled.
But I still had to wait for that until the first kickoff actually sailed through the air, as the crack team of Deion, Boomer and Co. spent about twenty minutes of their hourlong pre-game extravaganza worshipping at the Altar of Manning, another twenty minutes covering the NFC championship between the Panthers and the Eagles--despite the fact that it was to air in a little over four hours, and the Patriots were set to kick off in just fifteen minutes--and another ten or so minutes before the top-of-the-hour commercial break asking Patriots defensive players if they were scared of Manning yet.
No, really, the sportscasters kept saying to Richard Seymour. It's okay to admit that you're terrified of the Unstoppable Quarterback. No? How about now?
If you think I'm making this up, head on over to Wilbur's blog for a little evidence that I wasn't just blinded by my fandom. In today's entry, he writes:
"[Ty Law] was tired of hearing how Peyton Manning was going to be fit for his Superman cape any day now. He was tired of hearing how dominant Peyton Manning and the Colts were in their two playoff wins against the Broncos and Chiefs. He was tired of still, even after winning 13 games in a row, his Patriots getting no respect around the country."
Then again, as we all know, especially in a region where Mother Nature kicks us repeatedly in the teeth and calls it "winter", life's just not fair. So, when some hayseed insurance-salesman-looking Golden Boy from Indiana (which I have long maintained, even pre-P.M., is the most godforsaken state in our union) throws some pretty passes against an embarrassing Kansas City defense, and when that story has some sex appeal thanks to earlier controversial remarks on his ability from his "drunken, idiot kicker", a solid, steady team that lacks any juicy stories of sex, drugs and rock n roll may not exactly hog the limelight. But that only meant that the eventual Patriots victory over the "juggernaut" of Indianapolis would be that much sweeter--the likes of Bob Kravitz would finally, finally, shut their mouths. Okay, maybe not Kravitz, but the people over at ESPN would possibly think about devoting some airtime to the Patriots before the season's end.
Right? Right? Guys...hello?
Look. Even accepting the fact that the Patriots' 14 straight wins, record-setting body counts on the injured lists, undefeated record at home, and breathtaking defense had failed to snare those who live in the cornfields, our four interceptions, four sacks and dominating time of possession and yardage compared to the "unstoppable" Colts in the AFC Championship would have to make some difference...Right?
Is this thing on?
According to Bob Kravitz:
"The Colts, and especially team president Bill Polian, were incensed by the lack of penalties against the Patriots, concentrating on the way Indy's receivers were jostled all over the field. And with some justification. This often had the look of an overtime hockey game, with the officials swallowing their whistles."
Ohhh, thaaat's right. Despite the fact that Tom Brady put on, as usual, a performance worthy of comparisons with one of the all-time Greatest, it was the referees. It was that old Patriots Luck.
Sort of like when, in the Miami game, the Patriots lost the overtime coin toss thanks to some sudden and temporary blindness on the part of the officiating team (they failed to correctly distinguish "heads" from "tails" and awarded Miami the ball despite vociferous objections from Tom Brady). Yeah, that one really went their way. Or how about when a touchdown catch for the Titans came down squarely on the white line outside the end zone, but the refs put their arms up anyway? (Ehh...it was cold that day, I mean, come on). Or, more pertinently, how about when Peyton Manning let a big, fat, one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi pass by after the play clock read double-zeros before calling for a snap, and there was nary a flash of yellow to be seen? Remember when that happened? I hope so. It was yesterday.
Yep. Things like Richard Seymour's NBA point-guard impression in blocking Olindo Mare's field goal attempt, Brady's 87-yard game-winning bomb to Troy Brown, and Brown's incomparable athleticism in catching aforementioned bomb to break the Patriots' losing streak in Miami in the early season have nothing to do with the Patriots' success this year. The way the front line of the defense hounded Co-MVP Steve McNair throughout the frigid divisional playoffs against Tennessee would all have been for naught if it hadn't been for the referees we have in our collective back pocket here in Foxboro. And you can forget about the sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and the way our defense flushed Peyton Manning out of the pocket and down the toilet yesterday--once again, apparently the Patriots just got lucky.
There's that dreaded L word again. It's still ringing in our ears from several years ago when we shut down the Greatest Show on Turf, and that was the skeptical response from around the nation. It was a fluke. Tom Brady was a flash in the pan. New England believed in an illusion.
Now here we are again. Ready to go to our second Super Bowl in three years, and what are we hearing? That same old word.
Worst of all, when people aren't resorting to cheap observations about officiating or ludicrous assertions about the Patriots' patently obvious skill and poise being nothing more than a good day at the casino, they're bringing out the unkindest cut of all: comparing the 2003 Patriots unfavorably to themselves in 2001.
"Two years ago, the Patriots were the Cinderella team and Tom Brady was the quarterback wearing the slipper. How times change. Now, the Patriots are the favorites, making their second Super Bowl trip in three years.
The Panthers are now the Patriots. Like Brady, a former sixth-round choice who garnered no respect until his first Super Bowl run, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme just wins games. Remember heading into that Super Bowl victory over the Rams how critics discounted Brady's unspectacular performances in late November and December. Well, Delhomme needed only 14 passes to beat the Eagles 14-3 in the NFC championship game to advance to the Super Bowl.
In fact, Delhomme needed only 43 completions in three games to advance the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Now, Brady goes in with the accolades. He's a perfect 5-0 in playoff games. He has ice in his veins during pressure situations.
Delhomme was the league's best fourth-quarter quarterback in 2003 and he's the new Brady."
That one comes courtesy of an ESPN columnist obviously paid, this week, to appease their booming Carolina market with cushy predictions for (as was harped upon above) their Cinderella team.
This one comes from our own backyard: "Jake Delhomme reminds you a little bit of Tom Brady," Ron Borges writes.
"The Carolina Panthers remind you a little bit of the 2001 New England Patriots.
Beware of these Cinderella stories and these Cinderella teams. The Patriots know firsthand how that works. They were it in '01. They were the team that performed magic tricks and tucks in the snow to beat Oakland in the AFC divisional game, then turned "The Greatest Show on Turf," the St. Louis Rams, into a slow-motion act to win Super Bowl XXXVI. Two years later, the Patriots are "The Greatest Show Period" and they're again headed to the Super Bowl, this time to play an upstart Carolina team with its own feel-good stories."
Et tu, Brute?
The fact that the notorious Boston sports talk radio crowd has taken to calling him "Wrong Borges" only shows how hurt we are.
But bringing up the ignominious rear of an already reprehensible media Hook Train is a flat-out ridiculous little virtual-reality display currently enjoying heavy rotation on ESPN, in which pundits are manipulating tiny, fake video-game characters around that look something remotely like they are wearing the uniforms of Carolina and New England to show how, exactly, the Panthers will win Super Bowl XXXVIII in overtime, as they predict. Despite the fact that any drooling, semi-retarded Raiders fan could tell you that what you see on Madden 2004 is not a great predictor of what will actually happen in a real-life athletic contest, ESPN has set up a dizzying, intelligence-insulting display of ignorance in which the Panthers' DeShaun Foster cuts through an inept Patriots' goal-line defense like a hot knife through rookies, punking them for 6 easy points on a two-yard run.
Apparently these same people entrusted to bring accurate and in-depth sports coverage to ESPN were busy doing keg stands the day the Patriots stopped the Unstoppable Duo of Peyton and Edgerrin James not once, not twice, not three times, but for four straight downs on the one-yard line in Indianapolis. Or perhaps they were napping when the Patriots shut out three opponents on their home turf, largely due to a defensive secondary that features four Pro-Bowlers, a front that culminates in a 360-pound stack of man in the middle, which functions as a cohesive and mature unit, and, most importantly, simply does not hand out touchdowns like T-Shirts.
It's one thing if the national talking heads don't give a hoot who Mike Vrabel is. It's one thing if they can't spell "Hochstein". It is quite another when they don't know Thing 1 about the 2003-2004 Patriots, which is that their defense is the crown jewel of an already highly accomplished team. If they were to say we'd lose Super Bowl XXXVIII on a dropped pass from Christian "Butterfingers" Fauria or a disastrous run attempt by Tom "Molasses" Brady or because Tedy Bruschi might be hurt, I could almost take it. But to say--and show, even in virtual reality--that our defense will suddenly begin to act like the antithesis of itself is disingenuous at best, and probably just plain old moronic.
To be quite honest, I don't know what to make of it. I honestly don't understand where this stubborn inability to grasp reality is coming from, and to be frank, I'm glad I don't, because if I could even begin to see how a 15-2 team headed to the Super Bowl for the second time in 36 months is largely neglected by the national press and the NFL audience, I'd probably be as stupid--and dead wrong--as they are.