Tonight the Patriots won by the slimmest of margins, and it came down to two close-shave plays in the final minute--you read that right, the final single minute--of the game. One of the plays was on offense, the final Patriots touchdown that put them on top, 27-24, and another was a defensive stop on the one yard line made by a swarm of Patriots defenders to end what had been an utter dogfight with the Baltimore Ravens, a team that obviously came into the game with confidence and more than a little chutzpah.
Meanwhile, as it always seems to be when my teams are playing important games, I am traveling. I got score updates for a while on my cell phone, but I'm limited in the number of messages I can receive per game, so the last update I got was 24-17 while I argued with a Cowboys fan who told me that my team and specifically my coach are "the biggest a------s in the league."
I have since seen the highlights of the biggest plays; this kind of piecemeal approach is actually one of my favorite things about baseball, the way it blends into daily life and you catch games in snippets. But football--I like to sit down with it. I like to clear the decks and get the barbecue wings ready. Not so much this Monday night.
Yet still, there's already an image from this game that sticks with me. And that's Rodney Harrison, puffing himself up as he approached the Ravens sideline, exchanging pleasantries with the Ravens' head coach directly. After Rodney made his statements, Billick responded by smiling bitterly and then kissing the air suggestively a couple of times in Rodney's direction.
I really can't say I've ever seen anything like that, at least not so blatant. More to the point, I'm not sure if I like it.
Rodney has made a career out of having a chip on his shoulder about "disrespect". Billick had been outspoken before this game, but for 58 minutes and 30 seconds, he more than backed it up. If it hadn't been for a couple of calls--timeout when the Patriots should've been stopped, before they converted a crucial first down on the ensuing do-over; holding on the Ravens as the Pats went in to score--Rodney would've looked like an even bigger boob than he already did. For a man who likes to go on about respect, that sure looked like an act of disrespect to me.
I've been this team's most blindered, Kool-Aid swigging, ardent defender this season, but Rodney Harrison, for some reason, has been the exception for me all year, first with the HGH and now, when he really needs to keep his nose clean, he goes and decides to start talking junk to an opposing head coach. Probably not smart.
I might argue as I am wont to do at the suggestion that the entire Patriots team are suddenly the biggest a-holes in the league when two years ago essentially the same franchise was held up as a model, but tonight, I must admit, No. 37 wasn't doing us or our tattered reputation any favors.
Still. Maybe they are not the nicest gentlemen in the world. Maybe sometimes I'm forced to admit that. But when I finally got the news the winning streak remained unbroken--news that came as a total surprise considering Baltimore not only was leading when last I heard but had been leading for what seemed like most of the game--incredible, even surprising, relief washed over me.
It's a strange thing; it's not like I would turn up my nose at a 15-1 season or a 14-2 season. Of course not. But now that that "and oh" idea is out there...it even surprises me how attached I've grown to it, how much I'm already fetishizing it in my mind. It's kind of like when the Red Sox were going to make the playoffs either way this year, something I might have killed for in previous years, but by that point it wouldn't have been the same, to me, if they hadn't finally won the division as well. No amount of logic swayed me from attachment to that symbolic, ultimately pointless goal.
Now here we are again. I keep telling myself that it's not the end of the world if the Patriots lose one game. I keep telling myself the goal is not an undefeated season, it's a championship, always has been, always will be.
I keep telling myself these things, and then I keep not listening.