Sunday, February 3, 2008

You Got Beat, Beli-Cheat! (And Ain't it Sweet!)

Don Shula, Bob Griese, Mercury Morris and the rest of the 1972 Miami Dolphins can finally pop open their bottle of champagne. They've never had to wait this long, but better late than never. The New England Patriots, heavy favorites to post the second perfect season in NFL history, tonight lost a 17-14 Super Bowl thriller to the New York Football Giants. The 1972 Dolphins remain the only team in NFL history to go through an entire season undefeated, culminating with a Super Bowl victory.

Under different circumstances, I would have been rooting for the Patriots. Had the Patriots achieved their perfect season, they would have gone down as the best team in NFL history thus far. They won more games than the 1972 Dolphins, and had been a far more dominant team. It would have been really cool to see a team achieve the historical level of excellence that New England seemed to be headed for.

I couldn't bring myself to root for the Patriots, though. They were way too arrogant, starting with their coach. I can admire confidence, cockiness, or a winner's swagger. This year's Patriots, however, repeatedly crossed the line into an offensive form of bullying.

I'm a Washington Redskins fan. The Patriots beat the Redskins, 52-7, earlier in the season. Blowouts happen, but this one left an especially bad taste in my mouth. The Patriots left their starters, including Tom Brady, in the game way after the outcome was no longer in doubt. On at least two occasions, they went for it on fourth down just so they could run up the score. They humiliated Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' recently retired Hall-of-Fame coach and one of football's most decent men. I was disgusted.

The Patriots won many of their games in similar fashion. Although I had alot of admiration for the Patriots unprecedented level of accomplishment on the field, there was much about that team that I couldn't stand. I couldn't stand Bill Beli-jerk's smugness, and how his team played the victim card after they had been caught cheating. And while the Patriots adopted "Humble Pie" as their motto, I had a hard time detecting much sincere humility. I had actually been happy for Randy Moss's comeback this season, but was pretty offended by his failure to pay proper respect to Jerry Rice after Moss broke Rice's record for touchdown receptions in a season. Since Rice had set his record in a 12-game strike-shortened season, Moss might have at least demonstrated a little "Humble Pie" after taking 16 games to break that record.

After the Redskins went on an improbable late-season run to the playoffs, fueled by the inspirational memory of murdered All-Pro safety Sean Taylor, I thought that the Redskins might be destined to go all the way to the Super Bowl, where they would avenge the Patriots' early-season bullying by ruining their perfect season. Well, that particular revenge fantasy never came to pass, but the Giants' come-from-behind shocker tonight was pretty satisfying in its own right.

As a result of tonight's Super Bowl loss, this year's Patriots have not only failed to become the best team in NFL history, they've dropped themselves clear out of the conversation. You can't be in the "greatest team ever" conversation without winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots were one score away from becoming the first team ever to win 19 games in a season. Instead, they're merely the third to win 18 games, and the first 18-game winner to fail to win the Super Bowl.

After their unprecedented streak of perfection, the Patriots' season ultimately ended up as a failure. That's harsh, but that's the way it is. Sports history isn't kind to players and teams that achieve great things but ultimately fail to "win the big one."

I must say, however, that one thing about the Patriots loss makes me very sad. I very much wanted (and still want) to see linebacker Junior Seau get a championship ring. Seau is a Samoan role model and one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game. This was his first time back in the Super Bowl since he led his overmatched Chargers against the 49'ers 14 years ago. Seau is a classy guy who deserved to go out as a champion. Maybe he still will. If he comes back next year, and if his Patriot teammates start taking this "Humble Pie" stuff seriously, maybe I'll be rooting for them this time next year.

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