Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Patriots

The Wildcat: The Patriots’ Kryptonite

The Patriots aren’t Supermen anymore, but they still have their Kryptonite, and it’s still the Dolphins. Miami has always given New England fits, but at first because they were just better and then because their home field, combined with Jason Taylor, turned Tom Brady into… well, whatever quarterback the Dolphins had at the time. The 16-0 season seemed particularly improbable because beating Miami twice has always seemed like a tall order. And all that was before the current era: with Miami as a team designed specifically to take down the Patriots.

The Dolphins of Marino were the most “warm weather” team there was; now Miami runs the most “cold weather” offense in the last 10 years, the Wildcat-heavy crux of which they unveiled last year in Foxboro. The game plan ruined the unsuspecting Patriots, who nonetheless got revenge in Miami behind a spread offense and their backup quarterback. The teams had basically become mirror images of what they’re “supposed” to be, climate-wise, but the balance is once again changing.

Tom Brady admitted this week that the 2007/08 offense is basically being scrapped for good, not because of the departure of Josh McDaniels but because Joey Galloway was a total bust and Julian Edelman injured. No extra receivers equals no spread offense, and that means more running plays, and a reversion to the playcalling of the early Brady years. More play action, less shotgun. That ought to help against a team that feeds off time of possession. Paint the Phins into situations where they think they have to pass, and good things will happen, because they’ve been built to play against the pass. The Wildcat aims to drain time from the clock, forcing you into foolish plays on offense. The prototypical Wildcat game was against the Colts, where they had the ball for 48 minutes. The game plan played right into their hands… but since they were playing Peyton Manning, they lost. You can only do so much.

The Wildcat is not easy offense to operate in the NFL. Every team runs it (or ran it) after the Dolphins unveiled it last year, with decreasing marginal returns to the point where some teams have scrapped it altogether. Not Miami: they doubled down, instilling more plays for Ronnie Brown at quarterback, and running it for entire drives and games. There is something completely awesome about this, and evocative of Chuck Klosterman’s essay on innovation in football. But it’s not all good.

The bad part is that the Dolphins are still very beatable. Can they  win this game? Absolutely. Do I think they will? No. Does their Wildcat scare the absolute piss out of me? Yes. Why? Because this team seems single-handedly devised to beat the Patriots, like a good boxer who wins the belt because they match up well with the otherwise better champ (I’m thinking Vernon Forrest*). Unfortunately for the Phins, this approach won’t win them a Super Bowl; the Steelers would absolutely ruin them. Sparano hasn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but in a league with Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and Brady, “good” isn’t going to cut it in the end. This week? It might.

As the years tick away for Belichick, games like this will show how much the Brady Patriots have left in them. The Pats were never about dominance; they were about adapting. Now that the division has adapted to them (become more defense- and run-heavy to match their firepower), the Pats have to tack back toward being an all-around team that changes styles based on opponents. As they turn the defense over to youngsters, they’re vulnerable now to targeted attacks like Miami’s Wildcat. They’ll probably win the division either way, but if they can survive this week’s broadside, the whole league needs to watch out. If the teal-and-orange Kryptonite can’t get the job done, can anything?


Football Sunday: An Odyssey

For the first time this year, I headed out to the bar to watch the Patriots. And oh, what a decision!

From the friendly confines of O’Keefe’s on Court Street in Brooklyn, and I watched the late-afternoon games over Jamesons, alternatively splashed and on the rocks. There were also beers, but not until overtime of the Jets/Bills game. Which was later. These things take time.

For the first time this season, yr. author skipped the 1 p.m. games at home. After a long day on Smith Street enjoying the college football action—and arguing the merits of our public education system—I was football’d out by the time Vikings/Ravens rolled around. I was even man enough to head over the lady’s house for some Trader Joe’s Indian food and some HGTV. DO YOU REALIZE THE TYPE OF HOUSE YOU CAN GET IN CHICAGO FOR $600,000? I bet you didn’t, because you were sucked in by Giants/Saints.

(That is not an altogether bad thing.)

I came home in the “Feels like 36 degrees” weather only to head back out to the bar at 4:15, as Joe Flacco was setting his team up to miss a game-winning field goal. Nevermore, bitches! There was no place to sit at O’Keefe’s due to the preponderance of Eagles fans. One World Series isn’t enough, their demeanor said. It’s hard not to respect that. Then the Eagles lost to the Raiders. Then the situation changed.

John Doe has the upper hand. Or maybe JaMarcus Russell.

I was throwing back whiskey-and-waters as I watched the Eagles choke, and the Patriots exert their dominance over the hapless Titans. 59-0? That’s the biggest Patriot win in history. Tom Brady threw 5 touchdowns in the second quarter alone. That’s also a team record. Also: an NFL record. My favorite part was everything. But something ringed in the back of my head. A question.

Isn’t football bad?

It’s true: after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article on the consequences of football hits, it’s hard to retain the same enthusiasm for the game that I did before. There’s basically a concussion on every play. We may not be long from a maximum age of 30.  That the NFL is underwriting studies that may torpedo the league is the height of irony, but it was inevitable. The game is simply too violent to continue unabated. I think. But I digress, because Pats/Titans didn’t involve a lot of hitting, unless the football hitting the endzone after being spiked counts. Take that, “No Fun League!”

I will admit: I partook of everything that was advertised during the NFL game. “Tailgate tested? Tailgate approved!” Really, Miller Lite? THEN BRING IT ON! It’s the best way to enjoy the Pats, according to the people on TV. Saving that money to enjoy it at home, or just kicking back with an-ice cold soda? Humbug!

In the end, I schlepped my drunk ass after the game to Trader Joe’s, where I was too glassy-eyed to find Indian food, but I managed to buy $20 worth of pizza, burritos and french onion soup. It is, I am told, good value. Enough to offset the nearly $30 I spent on booze at the bar? Probably! Let’s face it: I’m going to drink either way, so I might as well make money on the back end. The Pats’s 59 points don’t carry over, but I can make sure my buzz translates into savings. I can apply that savings to things that really matter, like real estate. Don’t you know what kind of house you can get for $600,000?

The Sox, Pats and the Moon

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.

The Reminders

The reminders are there, just off to my right. They’re on each level of the bookshelf. Red Sox Century. Patriot Reign. Now I Can Die In Peace. Faithful. Hell, even John Adams.

I am not where I belong.

The books are taunting me, like a child on a playground. What did I watch today? I watched the Jets play the Titans. The Jets.

Flying start aside, watching the Jets, for a Patriots fan, is like the varsity football team for the much smaller school across town. New York may dominate Boston in size, but the Patriots dwarf the Jets in stature. The Patriots resonate across six states, even in the lean years. The Jets can’t even make it out of the Giants Stadium parking lot.

I was walking around this morning when I considered sidling up to a bar to watch the Pats, but it’s just not the same. The three hours, drinking piss beer under cover of darkness, cheering against everybody who’s cheering for every other team? That’s not Patriots football. For me, Patriots football is the slow anticipation of gameday on my hometown soil of West Tisbury, confident that, whatever happens, it will be dissected six ways to next Sunday in the hours and days following the final snap. Of course, it only matters if they won. When the Patriots lose, I don’t want recaps — I want a re-do. All is not right in the world, and there’s no way to fix it. Either way, the only way to catch it is on my own TV, with the real or virtual accompaniment of good buddies. That is, and always has been, Patriots football.

I know how people root for other teams, but I don’t get it. I feel the Patriots in my bones in a way I don’t even feel the Red Sox. The Sox, with their connection to the soul of New England, represent something different entirely. The Patriots make me think of walking out to the car, seeing my breath in the second week of December, bundled up against a blue slate sky and the frost that radiates from the ground up.

As far as I can tell, being a football fan in this city means something different. But then again, being any type of fan in this city is different. The first question you ask isn’t, “Did you see the game?” but “What team do you like?” The fact is, the New York region is either underserved or overserved on teams, but it’s far from on the nose. The popular teams like the Yankees and Giants are so popular that you could halve their fanbase and get one to rival that of the Mets and Jets. From the beginning you’re either a bully or burning with resentment, and in the common case that your allegiances cross those lines, a mess of contradictions.

That’s not the New England way, but it’s a way I’ve come to embrace if only to survive in this sports wilderness. It’s a bit of “water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” — there will be football on all day, every Sunday, and more baseball than I can handle, but not the right football, or the right baseball. When the Pats do grace my screen, it’s a gift that I know will be gone too soon, and I’m not able to totally enjoy it.

The promise of the 21st century was that you could follow your teams wherever you lived, whether you were in New York, Newark or Nairobi. The reality is that you might just remember how far you are from home.

NFL Week 1.5 Report



Games consumed: Steelers/Titans, Jets/Texans, Pats/Bills, Giants/Redskins (partial), Bears/Packers (partial)

1. HOUSTON STINKS There was more talk this year that the Texans would be a suprise team, but they looked listless in week one against the Jets. They couldn’t do a thing against the Jets, which has been attributed largely to the Jets’ defense. I wouldn’t be so quick to put all the credit there. It takes hard work for a team to look as bad as Houston did against the Jets — it wasn’t like they were missing opportunities, they just weren’t making any. And this was in week one, where they had months to prepare. If the coaching staff can’t find a way to get a single good drive going with what is supposed to be a talented offense at the outset of the season, here’s betting they can’t scheme up much for the rest of the year. You can forget about them. Texans: written off

2. MARK SANCHEZ IS GOING TO BE GOOD My lack of love for the Texans doesn’t cast any shadow on Mark Sanchez’ performance as Jets’ QB. As has been noted elsewhere, Sanchez’ footwork already puts him far ahead of most NFL quarterbacks in that department and at near-peak Brady levels (the best I’ve ever seen, and the one skill category in which Brady is, I think, unquestionably dominant). He didn’t get a chance to read defenses yet, or deal with pocket pressure, but it appears he’s got all the tools to succeed. Sanchez’ development marks something of a barometer for the NFL-readiness of USC QBs after the Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart experiments. It’s my contention that he’s NFL-ready, but others don’t think so, as baby-buddy-of-blog “Cleveland Frowns” disagrees, and we duked it out in the comments. Will the experiment look as good in week two against a banged-up—but still Belichick-schemed—unit? Highly, highly doubtful. But we’re looking long-term and buying.

3. EITHER THE PATRIOTS LINE STINKS, BUFFALO’S D-LINE IS GREAT, OR BOTH Tom Brady got the least amount of time to throw the ball against Buffalo since, well, the last full game he played (the one were Osi Umenyiora lined up in his ass). The Bills got an amazing amount of push and shut down the Pats’ running game completely. Does this mean we’re going to see a full-fledged Brady-slinging game against the Jets? Maybe not. But maybe. We’re working toward that point, and when the offense went ballistic at the end of the game, the Bills had no answer. Ben Watson’s winning catch was bananas, by the way.

4. THE QBS? FINE Trent Edwards looked pretty damn good in the fast offense; we’ll see how much of it was Pats-D related when the Bills (blech) take on the Bucs (BLECH) this week (kill me). Brady’s a little tentative, and might never hit 2007 form again, but if he’s at 80 percent of that it’s plenty good enough. Actual exchange after the fumble with fashion-language-understanding and unhelmeted-Brady-loving girlfriend.

Her: Is that good?

Me: Yes, they’re going to get a touchdown now and win.

Her: How do you know that?

Me: It’s why Tom Brady is married to Gisele.

Verdict: Brady is a good man

5. THE GIANTS AND THE REDSKINS BLAH One of the dedicated readers of this blog is a Giants season ticket holder. I applaud his enthusiasm. Maybe I’ll share it some day. It’s unlikely. The Giants sure seem to rough teams up, but without Plaxico, it seems like they have that oh so little weakness of Eli’s habit of not quite throwing it to the right place. Osi is scary, good, though: I said after Super Bowl XLII that it might look like less of an upset once Osi and Strahan were both in the HOF, the same way the Rams/Pats Super Bowl result looks completely in retrospect. Not enough attention is paid, btw, to the similarities to those two seasons, down to the earlier, fingernail-close meeting in the season, the 14-point spread, and the miracle last drive. Verdict: I don’t want to talk about this any more, but before I go, the Redskins could compete if they had an offense. Still better than the Texans.

6. I THOUGHT THESE TEAMS WERE GOOD Watching Bears/Packers was like getting hit in the face by errant footballs. I thought these teams were supposed to be good, and maybe they are, just well-matched. But that game was shit. And I could give a crap about the “rivalry,” just like everyone in Chicago. Trust me, they don’t give a lick about beating the Packers more than any other team. They just want to win the Super Bowl. That’s no crime. But to force some East Coast-style rivalry on it just isn’t going to work. Verdict: we’ll know more after this week

7. OOPS I ALMOST FORGOT Steelers/Titans and Chargers/Raiders. That happened. I had four Simpler Times lagers. There was a lot of hitting. I was bored, but I know these teams are good. They’re annoying too.

Teams as-yet unconsumed: Dolphins, Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams.

Teams written off: Texans (Week 1)

Picks for this week: Each week, I submit to you my picks in the Cheddar Bay Invitational Picking tournament on Cleveland Frowns. Must pick six games vs. the spread, at least one of which is an NCAA game, and have a 100 word essay accompanying a pick. Here’s this week’s entry.

I had a tough time last week. I went 0-6. But look at it this way: the only way to go is up!

Toledo +20.5
Pats -3.5
Seahawks +1.5
Broncos -3
Giants +3
Colts -3

Essay: I’m not confident the Patriots are going to cover against the Jets. But this one seems a bit easy, no? The Pats are 1-9 in their last 10 games ATS, came off a miracle win (and not even near cover) against the Bills at home, and the Jets convincingly thumped the Texans, a popular pick to improve this year. As a result, the Pats/Jets line is dropping downward, but should it? I think it’s more likely that the pundits were wrong about the Texans, and the Jets exploited a bad team, than the opposite, given the results. And I think talk about the Pats’ defense’s demise, while certainly noteworthy, may not be as relevant in this game. Mark Sanchez is going to see things on Sunday he’s never seen in his life, and I think it’s more likely than not that the Pats will pull out a typical AFC East slog victory over Gang Green, but by at least six points.

That’s it for now. See you in the 2.5.

Perfect Season

I saw a commercial last night called “Perfect Season.” It goes like this:

Perfect terrible beginning
Perfect pre-season distractions
Perfect injured Plaxico
Perfect Strahan near retirement
Perfect argument with the press
Perfect in-fighting
Perfect first loss
Perfect second loss
Perfect interceptions
Perfect “Booo”s
Perfect broken Shockey
Perfect inconsistency
Perfect week 17 loss
Perfect when it counts
Perfect point spread
Perfect ending
Perfect season

And you know what? It was right for the Giants, it was a perfect season. The only result that mattered was the score in the last game, and once you’ve got that on your side — that’s perfection. A lot of Patriots fans I know were incensed at the thought of losing a mere regular season game this year, leading one to email me saying he would “drink a bottle of bleach” if they did. He’s on the rampage now for David Tyree, but he really should be angry at the Patriots. It was their failed strategy that led them to lose, and they deserve the blame.

At what point did we think we needed to be invincible to the be the best? Does it come from watching the Yankees? Does it come from the Celtics/Lakers rivalry? I’m more inclined to say the second one than the first, actually: Patriots fans have a desire to bury their closest opponent and hate everything about them, like the Lakers and Celtics did when they tore each other apart for a decade. I have never, ever understood the uniform hatred of the Colts and Peyton Manning. Outside of a three-game stretch that culminated in a loss that was arguable tougher than Sunday’s Super Bowl loss, the Patriots have owned the Colts. What’s there to be angry about?

I actually saw some highlights from this year’s Colts game recently and winced: I can’t even watch any more. That was when the undefeated talk really started, and when the Pats more or less started playing like the 2003/2004 Patriots, winning close games instead of blowing people out (notwithstanding the Buffalo game). That was fine, because those teams won it all, and one thing I have realized about the Super Bowl is how it was an expression of how good the Patriots were, not how bad they were. Let’s face it, they were getting smacked all over the f’ing field all night and still had the lead with 2:45 left. They just couldn’t put it away. They ran up against a team that, on the day of the game, was better in virtually every phase of the game and came up 35 seconds short. What can I say?

Here’s what: be careful what you wish for, as fans. We can’t control what the team does, and 16-0 is great and non-refundable: it’s ours forever. We won as many games in a season as any team ever, tying the 1985 Bears. Let’s take the positives out of this season and look back on our three Super Bowl titles as if they’re solidly in the past. There might be another one, but we’ll never expect it any more. The illusion that the Pats are unstoppable has been destroyed, but remember this: it was an illusion the whole time. They play the games for a reason. Let’s have some fun out there.

Patriots fans are no different than anyone else

As much as I wanted to keep my Obama post up today, my fingers are still wandering over the keys after the Super Bowl, and I figure it’s better to try go ahead and get it over with.

This isn’t one of those losses that hit me all at once. It’s one that will stick with me for years, because it’s been easier to repress any feelings of anger since about halfway through the game, when I figured the Patriots were going to lose. The mind plays funny tricks on people, and some day soon I’ll be torturing myself about specific plays, and how if any one of them had gone the Pats’ way, they would have won.

The problem is, I know that’s unfair. We got the breaks for years, and it was destined to come back on us, sharply. And, unlike any other NFC team, I am legitimately happy for my Giants fan friends because there are so many of them, and they have, for the most part, steered clear of me. I texted a few after the game offering congratulations, and one sent me an email yesterday asking me about the game, and I had to respond with platitudes, because my heart wasn’t in it. Will Leitch put it best in his NYT blog post:

It was sports at its absolute best: Random, unimaginable, insane. Not even a Patriots fan could deny it, though, just for the record, I’d wait a week or so to press them on the issue.

I don’t even know if a week will suffice. Everything I know about the game, intellectually, breaks my freaking heart, because my team lost the Super Bowl. And this is what people forget about Patriots fans: they’re the exact same as everyone else. I started reading the Indianapolis Colts blot this year because I was interested in hearing opposing voices to the Pats media machine. They were thrilled after the Super Bowl, because the Patrots lost, and more because Brady became de-mystified. They have long argued that to judge Peyton Manning based on the results of the games was not his fault, because there were often external factors that affected the performance. But in their latest post, they write about how Brady looked bad and he had a “mixture of frustration and confusion” on his face that will be their lasting memory of the game, gleefully. These are the EXACT same complaints that have been leveled against Manning in the past, which they have steadfastly refuted. I started reading thinking I would learn what the Patriots-infatuated media wasn’t telling me; what I learned, instead, is that the other fans are no different than Pats fans.

Everyone else can keep telling themselves that they are, but they’re not. I’ve tried to be a gracious fan in victory, but many have not, just like some Giants fans who were more concerned with “18-1” than they were with their own victories, and Giants fan who egged me in December after I did exactly nothing. Though most all Giants fans who are friends of mine have given me ample space here, like normal human beings. The point is you can’t pigeonhole a whole group of fans. I know my fair share of ignorant, say, Steelers fans, too, but I don’t classify them as a bad group: I would argue that they have the best fan base in the NFL. I like hating them, but I go to great pains to be consistent with my football analysis. It’s that consistency that has me constantly remembering the 2001 Pats Super Bowl after Sunday, and how I felt, and how the Giants feel now, and how that’s good for the game.

It’s also why I get upset at people like the unfathomable Gregg Easterbrook, who writes columns that basically tell every Patriots fan their team is f*cking dirt. Easterbrook’s no different than anyone else, and you can tell by the tenor of his column: if it was his favorite team, the Redskins or whomever, he’d be arguing on their side. Just wait 10 years, when another team starts to dominate for stretches like the Patriots, and see who defends them. It will be a select few who are consistent on the issue, but it will mostly be the fans of that team. It’s like clockwork. These things repeat themselves, but everyone lives in the present and forgets.

When the Super Bowl ended, the first thing I felt was not sadness. It was relief. This season was finally over. I was called an asshole 20x over for simply owning a Patriots jersey and wearing it to watch my incredibly good team. I didn’t care if the Patriots went undefeated; I just wanted them to win the last game. But they didn’t. When I saw Bill Belichick giving the postgame speech, he was wearing a Patriots polo, and I realized that maybe some of the fans who have colored the bad impressions of the Pats over the past few years will fall off the bandwagon because that little Patriots logo stood for “winning” to them. For me, it was the logo I failed to draw many times after it was introduced when I was in seventh grade, and indicative of the team I still love without qualifications. Some of the people there, I don’t care for, but as a franchise there isn’t one I love more.

That’s why this one will never go away, the same way the 1986 Red Sox debacle didn’t go away until 2004. I’ll be standing in line at a deli, waiting to buy a Gatorade, and it’ll hit me… faaaaaaaaahk. I’ll be reading a history book, and… faaaaaaaahk. I’ll be on a date, and I’ll think, “Faaaaaahk… but this is better.” It just sucks, at times of its own choosing. I have a friend who is a big Cleveland Indians fan, and when I asked him how often he thinks about Jose Mesa, the guy who blew the 1997 World Series, he answered “Every day.” This was five years ago, so he might not think about it that often any more, and the Patriots’ recent run of success will temper it for me. But if you see me a week from now, a month from now, even a year from now, and I’m suddenly quiet… looking off in the distance… and then shaking my head, silently, you know exactly what I’m thinking about. Just give me a second, and we’ll move on.

Going out on your back

In wrestling, the aging superstars go out their backs. It’s the sports corollary of, ‘Things don’t end well. That’s why they end.’ The Patriots went out on their backs last night, ending their chances for a fourth Super Bowl title in seven years when Tom Brady’s second 60+ yard heave to Randy Moss hit the Arizona turf. There will be no joy in Mudville, er, Boston, today.

Losing is a part of sports. In fact, it’s half of it, and before Brady and Belichick showed up, it was status quo for the Patriots. Then they shocked the Rams in 2001, and a new ethos of winning was adopted. I wrote about this after the game yesterday: last night’s game could hardly have resembled the 2001 Super Bowl any more, when the Patriots beat the monolithic Rams by outhitting them and mounting a drive as time expired to take the win. I remember my feelings when they won. I was bewildered, ecstatic, and not quite sure if it was real.

Now the Giants have that feeling. And you know what? I’m okay with that. If there weren’t games like this, the other ones wouldn’t be worth playing. This should make us appreciate the three that we won instead of making us rue the fourth that we didn’t win. Some day, the Patriots will be the underdog again, and will run up against a team that there’s almost no way they can beat, and it will be close for three quarters, and all of a sudden they’ll have a chance, and then it’ll look like it’s going to slip, and then they’ll push themselves over the top, again, through nothing but grit and hard work. And it will be your team.

That’s the greatest feeling in the world. And today, that’s what Giants fans are feeling.

That’s why they play the game

Let’s comport ourselves with dignity after this one, guys.

I can’t say it was a great game, because no Patriots fan can see the beauty in that one, because it’s too painful. I can only see the historical comparison between this year’s Giants and the 2001 Patriots. As such, I can’t get all that angry. That Tyree play reminds me of Troy Brown, flying across the middle of the field with 17 seconds left, making a 20-something yard catch, it was over. You just knew that the Patriots were going to pull it out. When Tyree caught the ball up against his head, I knew. I had the same feeling watching the 2005 Steelers against the Colts in the Divisional Round: this team is winning the Super Bowl. At halftime, I figured the Patriots weren’t likely to pull this one out. Even the last drive left too much time on the clock for the Giants, who played as if it never occurred to them that they might lose. It’s those types of teams that win, and the type that won tonight.

In the end, the 18-0 record was too much. It was as if, when things started to go south, some players started to act as if it was long overdue. The Giants defensive line played like one for the ages, and some day, when Osi and Strahan are both in the Hall of Fame, we’ll see exactly what we were up against. In 2001, no one would have told you that Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Tom Brady were going to be legends, and in time we’ll see the same things out of some of this Giants team. But, like the 2001 Pats, they’ll be remembered for their scrappiness, in joining together to beat a team that was otherwise more talented.

Once, that was us. That was more relatable than today’s team: the football behemoth. And it was better, because it won us the big one. I love the Patriots that are easy to love, not just the ones that win all the time. I don’t love the Patriots because they win, either. Which is good. I also know how good I felt in 2001, and how good Giants fans feel now. It’s the best feeling in the world. They’ll buy all the newspapers tomorrow, all the DVDs and Sports Illustrated sets they can get their hands on, and then they’ll come back for more. That’s what it’s all about.

The best day in Patriots history?

Let’s hope so, after yesterday.