In the world of sports nothing means anything unless it means everything. Dan Shaugnessy calls the Sox comeback in game 5 “just a nifty footnote in 10 decades of Fenway history.” I say it still rocked. And so does Tampa’s chance at being Cinderella this time around.
I was there tonight, wringing my hands on the couch while Tom Brady took one beating after another through three quarters, then pacing and dancing across the back of the living room as he led the drive in the fourth quarter to regain the lead, then stunned and sullen after Plaxico Burress danced through the corner of the end zone to all but finish it.
Honestly – what were we playing for tonight? For utter and unchallengeable supremacy in the sporting world? The best season in history, the greatest team ever assembled? Is that what we really wanted?
We’ve tasted the glory of not just one, and not even two, but three Super Bowl titles already this decade, establishing our Pats as the reigning dynasty in football. We’ve held on through a dramatic and record-setting year that saw no losses in the regular season, plus a generous dose of major NFL records broken. We have the best quarterback, the best receiver, the best offense – we have plenty to boast about. Did we really want 19-0 and a Super Bowl title too?
Well, in a word – yes. What else is there?
Is it not enough that we also have the best team in baseball? That’s two out of the last three World Series titles, three out of four recent Super Bowls, and we could even toss in the best team currently in basketball. (Let’s steer clear of the NHL though, shall we?) No other city in history has experienced the sports glory that Boston has enjoyed these last seven years. Seriously – is this Super Bowl what we New Englanders really wanted?
Did you see Eli Manning’s face after the game? Do you remember the feeling we all had six years ago tonight when our Patriots did to the Rams what his Giants did to our Patriots? Do you remember the cars honking to each other on the streets of Boston after midnight? Can we in good faith simply impart to Eli and his gang that experience of glory? This is far from our lowest moment as Pats fans, but for Giants fans there’s been nothing sweeter, including Super Bowls XXI or XXV.
And if domination was our aim tonight, then what do we go on to hope and cheer for? Seriously, what else is there?
I had a surprising experience tonight as the Pats’ final drive ended in a flurry of Hail Marys. I wasn’t devastated. I expected the disbelief to give way to fury as Bill Belichick trotted into the tunnel and the officials cleared the field for the final play. I expected the same moroseness that set in after Champ Baileys INT in 2006, and Peyton Manning’s sudden and ferocious competency in 2007. I expected to be lying awake tonight bitterly replaying all the missed opportunities and inventing fantasy plays that saved the game.
But here’s what I felt instead – and I’m about to commit what most of us New England fans consider blasphemy of the highest order, but stay with me here – I was aware tonight that it was only a football game.
Let that sink in a minute. In the panoply of things I’ve wanted in the course of my life, this one ranks actually rather low in the area of any potential meaningful impact. Had the Pats caught the break they’ve always caught in the closing minutes of a nail biter and come out on top, what would it really have meant to me? For one, a little more pride in being a New Englander. For another, the right to tell my grandchildren I was there, I was a part of it all in the 2007-08 Patriots season. But these are things I already have in the six world titles and in the 2004 Red Sox, whose once-in-a-lifetime season was more meaningful by far than the 19-0 Pats would have been.
So I’m faced with the strange reality that this game wasn’t really that important to me. It wasn’t; yet it was – I still paced, and jumped and hollered at the TV. I actually found myself keeping my fingers on the pulse in my neck at times, as though my passion were on tap tonight. So what was it I was after then?
And as New England sports fans, what is it we’re after? To the extent that it hasn’t already come true, I know we don’t want Boston to be the new New York. And I know we don’t need another championship, or another season for the ages. Honestly, we’ve been given more sports glory than any city in modern history. But its’ true – we do want something more than just irrevocable bragging rights.
I know all that excitement and desire I had tonight was real – I didn’t fabricate it – and so at some other level there must be something in all this that I really do want, something more than just a football game: to be part of something bigger than me perhaps, or to know that everything will indeed be alright – better than alright! – in the end; to see everything bad in my life come untrue (to paraphrase Sam Gamgee); to see the things I invest myself in, that represent me, succeed – or to fight for something and see it happen. All these things I really do want with at least the same intensity I expressed tonight.
So, fellow New England sports fan, I ask you – what is it you really want?