The Sox, Pats and the Moon

by Bryan

I’m not sure this column makes any sense.

In last night’s episode of Man Men, hotel impresario Conrad Hilton tells ad genius Don Draper that he wants a campaign so grand it would put a Hilton Hotel on the moon. When Draper returns with a clever, modern pitch that emphasizes Hilton comfort in all corners of the globe—Rio, Toyko, Paris—Hilton admonishes him. “I wanted the moon,” he said. He leaves in a snit, and it’s unclear who’s at fault: Hilton, for making such a grand request, or Draper, for failing to take it seriously.

A handful of hours earlier, the Patriots lost the Broncos in overtime in their once-and-present house of horrors in Denver. A few hours before that, the Red Sox lost in tremendous fashion to the Los Angeles Angels, giving up a two-run lead with only one strike to go in game three of their best-of-five series. The Sox are done for the year, a year in which they won 95 games and almost by acclimation just “didn’t have it” this year.

That’s quite a luxury as a sports fan, but it’s wholly understandable. Red Sox fans never asked for the moon. We just wanted them to win a World Series in our lifetime, and they did it. I’m not sure what we want from here on out, other than to have a great team that plays with passion. The adjustment from title-starved to dignified in defeat has been difficult, but I think it’s finally been achieved. We’re finally okay with losing. Insofar as things like passion, heart, and hunger actually exist for a baseball team, it always seemed like this team didn’t have it. A good team gave it a good try and came up short.

Can the same be said for the Patriots? Maybe, but it feels different. With the Patriots, we’ve asked for the moon. Any loss is unacceptable, a result of the Pats’ lapses more than their opponents’ greatness. Two years ago, a large subset of the Pats fan population would have been crushed by a regular-season loss, and Bill Belichick plunged his team into the space race. He would go for the moon. When the ship crash-landed on the surface, it was made to feel like the problem was one or two plays that could have gone either way, not that the Giants were simply the better team. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what the reason was. They lost. The lesson should have been learned.

Pats fans weren’t always this way. The first Super Bowl season, it was good enough just to make the playoffs. Then beating the Raiders was pride-inducing, and beating the Steelers was divine. By the time the Super Bowl came around, the Pats could see the Rams and their NASA-inspired gameplan, and they licked their chops. The brought the pass-happy Rams back to Earth, and won in dramatic fashion. Does anyone doubt now that the Pats were the better team? And if we don’t, what does that tell us about the 2007 Giants?

I put these pieces together, and yesterday didn’t crush me the way it would have 10 years ago. Part of it is growing up, and part of it is seeing my teams succeed, but most of it is knowing that sports can’t bring you the moon. I wish the Sox won, but if they can’t close out a game like that, they’re not champions anyway. It’s still early for the Pats, and I’m confident they’ll do well, even as Tom Brady enters his golden years. The oughts are finally starting to pass us by, and, like a traveler in a foreign country at the end of his trip, I’m only now starting to get used to them.