Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: giants

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.

Okay, back to the game

Wright Thompson’s profile of Ernie Adams details probably all you need to know about the Patriots. (apparently not everything)

Here’s Football Outsiders’ monstrous, always-smart Super Bowl Preview. “Even if you get to pick your poison, it is still poison…” Aaron Schatz compares the Giants to the 1996 Pats, like I did — get ready for Desmond time.

Grant Joiner tackles the game in this great video

And if you missed it before, here’s my Super Bowl preview

On a non-football note, if you like Freakonomics-type stuff, I’ve started reading a blog called Marginal Revolution. It’s fairly excellent. Check it out here.

The case for the Patriots

Or, “my official Super Bowl post.”

The last two weeks have seen an intense speculation as to what’s going to happen on Sunday, and not just in the Puppy Bowl. (My money’s on Scuba. No discernible breed: cuteness from everywhere). Many of the columns I’ve read have focused on how the Giants just might win, which is understandable, given that most of the country has already been talking about the Patriots for 20 weeks. But during this entire time, I haven’t heard argument that stands up under the smallest bit of scrutiny other than the simple, effective, “The Giants could win.” They are playing, so yes, they could. The Steelers and Broncos could not, so in that sense, it’s already a wonderful football season (Growing up rooting against the Yankees leads to equations like this, but I hate those guys). However, beyond that, there’s not much you can say that stands up under even a little bit of pressure. Let’s take the arguments for the Giants one by one:

1. The Giants as road warriors

The Giants have put together one of the more impressive Super Bowl pushes in the last few years, joining the ’85 Pats, ’00 Ravens and ’05 Steelers as a team that won three straight road games to make the Super Bowl. Two of these teams won it all, the other got crushed. But the Giants’ feat is even more impressive: they’ve won 10 road games in a row all told, losing only to Dallas this year. So it would seem that they’re comfortable away from Giants Stadium. Unfortunately, the Pats are just as comfortable away from Foxboro(ugh), having gone 8-0 on the road (and 10-0 at home). It seems silly to assume that whatever factor that allows the Giants to not suck on the road will not apply to the Patriots, who don’t suck anywhere.

2. Plaxico calls it 23-17; Dr. Z calls it 24-20, both for Giants

When the Giants played the Patriots in Giants Stadium in December, it was cold, loud and inhospitable for the Pats, and they still rung up 38 points. The Giants, for their part, scored 35. However, they scored a special teams touchdown (which can’t be counted on to be duplicated) and a last-minute touchdown that that Pats basically gave to them. That’s 14 points that might not show up for them, so okay, there’s your 23/24 range. The lowest point total the Patriots have scored is 20, and that was against the Jets in ghastly conditions in Foxboro(ugh) in December. Now, in a quiet stadium, in warm weather, the Patriots are going to score lower or equal to their season minimum? That seems pretty unlikely. It’s not that I don’t respect Dr. Z’s pick of the Giants (I merely disagree), but to not even mention that this is indicative of a lack of research. For his part, he’s up front that he’s playing a hunch, but it’s not a hunch that looks realistic.

3. The Giants have only gotten better since the Pats game, while the Pats have gotten worse

People have said the Pats have looked vulnerable since the Eagles and Ravens games, and they are correct. But they’ve still won. The Giants have put together a nice run, beating the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers, but let’s look at those games: the Bucs stink, the Cowboys have floundered and were still one Patrick Crayton drop away from having the lead late in the game, and the Packers game was a toss-up in that weather (Much like the Pats/SD game could have been because of its own weather. The weather was worse in Green Bay, but it was still really bad in New England, and the Pats were pretty gritty to win it. So was Philip Rivers, for what it’s worth). Now, the Giants still won, but they could have lost those games, just as the Pats could have lost to any number of teams. So why do we only hear it about the Pats?

4. The Patriots’ defense is not very good

This one bothers me the most. The Giants led the league in sacks, so they’ve got the flash associated with them, but they gave up 351 points in the regular season. The Pats gave up 274, and even accounting for their crappy division, have a higher-rated ‘D’ than the Giants according to the number-crunchers at Football Outsiders. The Pats’ defense is not great, but they still have two starting Pro Bowlers in Mike Vrabel and Asante Samuel, and the Giants have none. Sure, they have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Strahan, Umenyiora and maybe Tuck, and having those three guys in one place could wreak some havoc; but then you have to add Seymour, Wilfork and Warren on the other side, to say nothing of the aging vets Seau, Bruschi and Harrison. The Pats may give up some big plays, but the Giants are apt to give up bigger ones and, more importantly, smaller ones with more regularity.

5. The historical precedent

Everyone loves to compare across Super Bowls. Dr. Z says this game reminds him of Jets vs. Colts, where the Colts were heavily favored, while Gregg Easterbrook sees more of a Giants/Bills Super Bowl, with this year’s Giants playing the role of… the Giants. And then you have the Steelers and Ravens connections, and the obvious Patriots/Rams role-reversal, with the Pats as the high-scoring offense and the Giants as the plucky underdogs. I can’t so much refute these hypotheses so much as I can submit my own. Notice that most of these connections led to thrilling games, while most Supes are not thrilling: people are trying to hype themselves up. The Super Bowl that I see is the Pats/Packers Super Bowl: a team, probably not even the best in its inferior conference, goes to the Super Bowl behind a strong running game and an occasionally erratic, strong-armed quarterback who’s on a roll. They give the stronger team a game for a while before attrition sets in, and then they finally start making mistakes, their first in weeks. That game score was 35-21, and I remember the details of the game like they were yesterday, because it seemed like the Patriots had a chance right up until, as my Packers fans put it, “Desmond Time.” For this year’s Giants, I see “Desmond time” hitting before the third quarter. That’s the point you know it’s probably over, and the house of cards that you’ve built your case on collapses. Eli’s accuracy. Coughlin’s great moves. Plaxico’s non-drops. Suddenly everything breaks down at once, and before you know it the game is over. That’s what I see for Sunday. The Patriots are just plain better; somehow it doesn’t seem like it now in our egalitarian two week buildup, but that’s what will become clear on Sunday.