"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Do Not Look a Gift Colt in the Mouth

Or, Appreciating What the Football Gods Have Deigned to Bestow Upon Us

I hope we appreciate what's going on here. I hope we realize how rare this is. I hope we can see the special things that are happening here and view them in context. I hope we enjoy this for all it's worth.

I'm not just talking about the winning. Sure, the winning is fun. The winning is great, transcendent, even. But it's not just about the winning. I'm talking about the team. The joy. The flat-out euphoria surrounding the New England Patriots and their fans these days. I'm talking about the love that six entire states feel for a wee little man named Robert Kraft. I'm talking about the cheers - always the cheers - that greet guys named Tedy, Tom, Corey and Adam wherever they go. I'm talking about the fact that no one minds waiting for six hours in tailgating traffic on Route One. I'm talking about clutching frozen beers and yelling "Not in our house!" at strangers for four straight hours. I'm talking about the team. It's a good time to be a Patriots fan, people. And I hope we're appreciating it.

If you're living in New England these days and you're trying to raise kids, I hope you're taking advantage of the prime example the Patriots are setting about teamwork. I hope you sit your children down in front of the television on game day and you point out Tedy Bruschi to them and you say, "See how he helped that guy wearing number 50 tackle the guy on the other team? That's called teamwork." I hope you point out Troy Brown as he plays nickel back, wide receiver, cornerback, punt returner, towel boy and groundskeeper, "See number 80 out there? See how he never complains about doing anything that's asked of him? That's unselfishness." I hope you point out Tom Brady in his post game interviews when he credits his coach and his teammates for everything and you say, "See that man behind the podium? See the way he's thanking everyone else and not taking credit? That's humility."

These are important things to teach our children. And they are important things to learn ourselves. I fear we are taking this for granted. Imagine if we lived in Minnesota, land of Randy Moss-ville. Or Philadelphia, a.k.a. T.O. land. Or even Peyton-town, Indiana, population: one. Things would be different.

It's a rare thing when you can use a professional sports franchise as a model for community building. But that's what we have here in the Patriots. We have a true team.

I'm sure the winning helps. Who knows how we'd feel if we were merely an 8-8 team, just missing the playoffs or, worse yet, languishing away at the bottom of the division. Imagine if we were like, gulp, Miami, with a running back who quits on his team, a coach who throws up his hands and an owner who forces us to wear hideous orange jerseys on Monday Night Football. Imagine if we were like Indianapolis where, as far as the rest of the country is concerned, our team is made up of Peyton Manning and some other guys. Imagine if we were the Giants where our most famous player didn't even play for half of the season and then proceeded to get the snot kicked out of him when he did. But thankfully, we have the Patriots. And those things don't happen here.

This past weekend, everyone talked about the Colts, and, I suppose, rightly so. Peyton Manning did set a league record with 49 touchdown passes. Well done him. The Colts are a high-flying offense who went into hostile territory in Denver and proceeded to chew up and spit out the Bronco's defense. And yes, they looked unstoppable. Meanwhile, the Patriots got very little ink spilled about them. Even the usually loyal Boston-based sportswriters were expressing doubt about their chances on Sunday. The names most often mentioned belonged to players who wouldn't even be on the field: Seymour, Law, Poole. It was impact by absence versus impact by presence. Guess who won?

In the end, the Patriots claimed that not getting any respect is what gets them fired up. And that's good. That's something else you can teach your children. Do not believe your own hype. Pride is fine, but arrogance goes before a fall. The Patriots simply refuse to lengthen their legend, content instead to let their play and their conduct speak for itself. And in so doing, they are a true TEAM.

Manning is a wonderful QB. Nobody can take that away from him. But there is also clearly some friction between Manning and his coach. When the QB waves off the punting team and insists on going for it on 4th and 1 from the opponents 39-yard-line (and this time, Peyton was right), and Tony Dungy overrules him from the sidelines, clearly invoking "coaching privilege" you have a problem. Have you ever seen Belichick and Brady miscommunicate, much less argue?

Do you think Troy Brown would have walked off the field during a fake field goal attempt instead of sauntering to the end zone to catch the TD pass from Vinatieri? Nope. Would never happen. Troy Brown does not live in his head like Randy Moss does in his and therefore, he knows what's going on. Troy Brown is a team player. And Troy Brown certainly wouldn't have hit the showers early before the game was even over a few weeks back while his team was losing while still backing into the playoffs. Not here. Not in Patriot country.

Do you ever hear Belichick complaining about the lack of commitment from his wide receivers or Brady badmouthing his "idiot kicker?" Nope. Do you ever hear Richard Seymour claim that "Pittsburgh is ripe for the picking?" Never. Do you ever hear Bruschi say, "Just give us the rings?" Not on your life. Teach your children that. If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all.

You will never see a Patriot player in the Bill Belichick/Bob Kraft era act unprofessionally or behave in any way that casts his team in an unflattering light. And if they do, it will be dealt with. Not in public. Not in the papers. Not on SportsCenter. But behind closed doors. Your kids should learn that one as well. Deal with your problems in person. Do not talk about people behind their backs.

And no matter how the rematch ends up on Sunday in Pittsburgh, you will hear nothing but respect coming from the mouths of the Patriots. If they win, you will not hear gloating or arrogance. If they lose, you will not hear excuses or whining. Point it out to your kids and teach them the importance of being good winners as well as good losers.

I hope we're taking advantage of this. I hope we're enjoying the ride. Because it will not always be like this. One need only harken back to the Boston Red Sox days of "25 players and 25 cabs" to realize that this behavior, this chemistry, this team is a rarity. So we best appreciate it while it's here. Because it won't be around forever.