Patriots & Poop

7 02 2008

Seven minutes and change after the New England Patriots were stopped, jarringly and historically, in their pursuit of perfection — which for months carried the air of predestination — by the New York Giants, we watched a cartoon about poop. And from this point of departure, I…depart.

The quick summary of this cartoon: It was, of course, South Park. The episode when Randy Marsh dispenses a colon jewel that weighs in at 8.6 Courics, as determined by the European Fecal Standards and Measure Board — a record. Randy, the Colorado workingman with a penchant for existential unrest and discomfort, feels an appropriate level of pride for having released the largest deuce in the history of deuce metrics. However, at the event in Washington commemorating the return of the EFSMB crown to America, Bono (of U2 and global crusader fame — the former record-holder) proclaims via satellite that he’s just produced a 9.5-Couric payload. Randy is devastated. Tear-swept and tattered, he resides miserably in his demise, resigning himself (at least at first) to the interminable status quo of failure.

On Sunday night, the mass of global popular culture saw the New England Patriots get out-deuced even more jarringly than Randy Marsh did. More jarringly because, unlike Marsh, they came upon the occasion with fanfare beyond any in the history of the most fanfare-smitten event of the year. Attribute their loss — the first of the season, the one that guillotined the hopes for the first 19-0 season in NFL history — to whatever you want. Better sportswriters will argue about why they lost. I want to argue that the Patriots’ loss was a dangerous thing because it perpetuates a number of rather faulty assumptions.

One of sportswriters’ darling and absolutely pulverized metaphors is the story of David and Goliath. You know the story. And over time, it’s become American to root for David. But why? We need to examine this metaphor to unlock exactly why a country that buys its Cheez-Its, its t-shirts, its meats and produce, its Tazmanian Devil mud flaps, its 24-packs of Clamato and its jars of condensed milk, its 20-gauge shotguns and its wedding rings from the same company roots compulsively for the underdog. Our is a land of skyscrapers and Ford Super-Duties, of Hungry Man Specials and wall-sized TVs, of prairies and ambition limitless.

In daily life, in short, we root for the big guy. The big guy is the big guy because he does things right and has for a long, long time. In Brewing Up a Business, Sam Calagione (of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery fame) writes that although Starbucks has become a punchline and symbol of yuppification and gentrification, it still represents quality, the same way it always has. Coffee’s still poured out if it rests too long in pots; drinks are still given for free when they’re messed up.

It seems to me that we’ve lost sight of the purpose behind what tips the underdog-favorite scale.  Given two teams, pulling for the underdog has become mandatory, like rooting for the fly in the spiderweb or a Dodge Neon versus a hill. If you root for Goliath, you’re evidently screaming toward hell.

Much of this mindset derives from the ‘nobody’s perfect’ adage. Seems pretty straightforward, given acne and body odor and US Weekly. But a team is different. A team can get there. A team achieves a more quantifiable although admittedly less version of perfection, achieved in fragments and incrementally. Through a system of checkmarks in the win column they can throw away the inherent imperfection of life. Granted, they are perfect within a certain context and to a degree, but they are, inarguably, perfect.

So, sometimes it’s better when Goliath wins. Perfection rarely shows itself in this life, so what gives? Why do we reflexively rebel against it? We need to liberate ourselves from the made-for-TV movie, feel-good-story motif of small overtaking big.

The Patriots this year played the finest version of football that this country has ever seen, Spygate notwithstanding (it really had nothing to do with anything, evidently). They won big and they won small and they won. And won and won. Records quivered and shattered like Giuliani’s campaign.

Now, the Pats will be remembered for The Choke. Eighteen chapters, all written impeccably well, condensed into one final few pages that fell short. There’s a really corny that says something to the extent of aim for the moon, because if you miss, you’ll still end up with the stars. But when a season, a great and beautiful striving, is reduced into one moment, that phrase just can’t be true. The Pats were a step away from Neil Armstrong. Now they’re Jean Van de Velde, the ’86 Sox and ’04 Yanks, ’92 Oilers and the ’02 Giants.

How can we expect people to aim high when the pressure only gains weight the higher they climb? The Pats had to feel like Frodo at the toes of Mount Doom by the time Super Bowl Week rolled around.

The lesson here: Mediocrity is forgiven, celebrated even; Greatness is maligned, as the mass of men pull down on those who aim to ascend.

But most importantly, the loss bolsters the presumption that the 1972 Dolphins were important. There are few things in the sporting world as drenched in vulgarity as the senility-driven fervor with which the 1972 Miami Dolphins have clung to the title of Only Undefeated Team. Year after year, Nick Buonicotti and Don Shula, fresh out of their baths in solutions equal part sunless tan and Epsom salt, a hazard of a human named Mercury Morris and whoever else played on that team and can still remember it pop bottles of champagne in the year’s most smug salute to the past. Morris went on ESPN and rapped about how, even if the Patriots won (and keep in mind, the Patriots scored more than 200 more points than the ’72 Dolphins did) the Super Bowl, the ’72 Dolphins would have beaten them.

It’s all a lot like a kid who used to date the prom queen in middle school when she wore braces and hadn’t shaved the moustache, telling everybody how he used to date the prom queen. Instead of gracefully standing by and opting for the class approach — let be what be — they refuse to acknowledge any progress in either simple human physiology or the game itself.

And to think, we were 83 yards away from not having our faces thrust into their poop anymore.




3 responses

7 02 2008

I love you. And this was the most interesting and original thing I have read about the Super Bowl anywhere (granted, I have been trying to avoid all Super Bowl-related news since it happened, but still).

7 02 2008

Amen. You’re a crafty craftsman, sir.

7 02 2008

I like your theory and it works well for many observers, but there is also some undertones of the bitter New Yorker (not necessarily a Giant fan coming in because we know the Jets fans hate the Pats too, and I guess we can add the Bills fans in there too) who needed to hold onto something after the Red Sox winning the World Series!

Also, as a Giants fan, I surely turned a few of the David rooters against my team throughout the course of that Sunday evening, haha, in the only way a New Yorker can.

Another great post, though, buddy!

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