Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Breaking News: The Pats Are Still Good.

Yesterday I attempted to give some context to Eli Manning's quarterbacking status in the wake of his second Super Bowl win and SB MVP award. Today, I was planning on delving into Tom Coughlin's legacy and coaching acumen, but David Roth at The Classical and Will Leitch in New York already beat me to the metaphorical punch with a pair of well-crafted and insightful studies of the man and his place in the coaching hierarchy. So, not much of a point in going into that.

Instead, let's talk about the team that lost. I don't see a lot of upside in parsing Brady and Hoodie's legacies or what have you but, unfortunately, a great deal of media types disagree. Apparently we're now free to gleefully deride what has been the most successful QB/coach pairing since Montana/Walsh. On my local (and presumably neutral since I live in Atlanta) sports talk station this morning, they were absolutely killing the Pats. The general sentiment was that this most recent Super Bowl defeat somehow tarnished the past decade's version of the 90's Cowboys; that a patina of failure or inadequacy or plain human error had settled upon the formerly flawless, metallic gleam of uniform excellence. Disclaimer: I really, really dislike the Pats from a "no one likes smug, pretty winners unless they're your smug, pretty winners" standpoint. I was, in fact, rooting very hard for the Giants. But denying or belittling New England's feats based on the very recent past is just plain silly. Because, Spygate and Bridget Moynahan jokes aside, they're still Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at their core, and that's a helluva a thing. The former is one of the greatest surgeons ever to play the quarterback position, and is an on-field extension of the latter, who must be counted as one of the most sublime tacticians in NFL history. They have been the twin constants of a dynasty always in flux. And the crazy thing is, that flux has not dimmed their brilliance. Except against the Giants, of course, but every mythic-quality heavyweight needs an Achilles Heel, right? (Philosophical consolation for Patriots fans: One team having your number does not render five Super Bowl appearances and three Lombardi Trophies any less awe-inspiring, just as the Yankees being Pedro Martinez's "Daddy" did not diminish the heights of artistry and dominance he achieved on the mound.)

My point is: it's unfair, myopic, and downright stupid to take a consistently great team to the cleaners because they apparently have a hoodoo on them as regards a certain opponent. Saying they "haven't won since Sypgate" is speaking only of championships and willfully ignoring a passel of 10-to-13 win seasons. I fully realize that hoisting the hardware is the reason the game is played, but the Pats are not an organizational failure because they have failed in that endeavor these past few seasons. Saying Tom Brady can't beat Eli Manning discounts everyone else Brady has assassinated over the years. Saying Bill Belichick is not quite the impervious, Machiavellian figure we thought does not make his resume less impressive. It may in fact make him a tad more likeable, or at least slightly more human.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that we tend to be reactionary in the sports world, and that leads us to hop on the bandwagons of success and flee those we perceive to be stalled with undue haste. This is not news, but it comes into stark relief when our impulses propel us towards evaluations that, were cooler heads prevailing, we would know were bunk. The Giants won their second Super Bowl in four years on Sunday. The Pats lost their second straight to the same team. No one should confuse either of those facts with immortality or a lack thereof.

That's why I can hate the Pats and resent the Giants, and still stay glued to a television.

We should always recognize greatness. At its apex and in its wax and wane. Right now(ish), the Giants and Patriots are (maybe) flip-sides of that coin (kinda-sorta.) That's what made Sunday so compelling, and that's why we keep watching. We want to see if the current can measure up to the canonized past. Or why it fails if it doesn't. Our personal proclivities aside, our rooting interests on the back burner, we can invest in that.

And those unanswerable (for now) questions, they make the whole thing tick. That's what we should be enjoying. Football is gone until next August. The interval is ours. Do with it what you will, but let's not eviscerate great teams based on truncated analysis. That just cheapens the awesomness that is the NFL. Love the Players, hate the Media-Driven Game.

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