One has resisted, Lord knows. Bowing to the conventional wisdom, let alone the lunatic ravings of a crazed fan base, has never been my idea of a guiding principle for the doing of this sportswriting work.
After all, when I got into this business – well more than a half century ago – absolutely no cheering was tolerated in the press box.
So, I have held out against the Patriots. While one had no trouble recognizing they’ve been without question greatly skilled and mostly worthy and brilliantly coached and superbly managed, there remained enough suspicion about other issues – ethics, character, honor, even – for one to moderately begrudge their runaway success over the past football generation, or at least withhold sheer adoration.
But I’m here to say all that is no longer possible. One surrenders. That’s it. It is over. Settled!
The Patriots preside historically over their game, able to claim, without fear of denial or even protest, to be the truest of NFL dynasties, the most indisputable of all time. In such annals, they surpass the ancient Bears and the post-war Browns and the pre-merger Packers and the post-merger Steelers and the more contemporary Forty-Niners and such pretenders as the Giants, Cowboys, Dolphins, and whoever else reared their heads here and there.
Now there are no more mountains to climb. Clan Kraft, in all its humility, can retire the laurels and Brothers Belichick and Brady can move on to their rightful residence on Olympus itself, mingling with all the other flawless divinities, no doubt much to their amusement. One surrenders; dissent is no longer tenable. Okay? You win, Patriot Nation! Such was the stunning effect of Soupey LI.
Seemingly dead against the Falcons late in the third period, and looking old, addled, near lifeless, they essentially resurrected themselves. In that this term has a certain relevance outside the relatively tawdry realm of sport, one uses it with a certain hesitation. But no other term seems remotely reasonable; nothing short of a “resurrection” can describe what they fashioned by engineering the most magnificent comeback in the history of not only football but also all championship sport.
They had been debunked as whipped, cooked, buried, and stamped DOA. Then, like demons aroused from a deep slumber, they arose and quashed the Falcons, devouring the poor suckers. One of the enduring images of the late stages of the ensuing debacle was the sight of the shocked owner of the Atlanta team and his poor wife standing on the sidelines looking as if they had just been run over by a Mack truck.
One could quibble over the artistic merits of this astounding turnabout. During the Patriots’ miracle, much co-operation from the Falcons was essential. What the deuce were the Falcons thinking on that third-and-one pass option that resulted in the Matt Ryan fumble that turned the game around? Why did the Falcons abandon their hitherto highly effective ground game in the second half when running out the clock was vital? Why did Ryan not go to Julio Jones, best player on the field, when the game was on the line? In how many other ways did Atlanta squander a 25-point lead with 18 minutes left to play?
Yes, luck was also a factor. How else could you characterize the almost mystically curious bounce that allowed Julian Edelman to catch the fairly uncatchable ball that was so crucial in the late drive that tied the game? If he doesn’t catch the thing, the game is probably over. If it gets intercepted, as it doubtless should have been, the game is definitely over. But Edelman, high among the more remarkable Patriots, grabbed it with the game-saving-margin being but centimeters. In the end, the difference was centimeters. It always is with these guys.
Luck is always a factor on a Belichick team. However maddening to his foes and critics, he’ll invariably get that precious bounce or questionable call by an official or outrageous blunder by an opponent just when it’s most desperately needed. It is almost eerie.
But then maybe luck goes with the territory of those, who like Belichick, are so profoundly favored by the Gods. “Luck is the residue of design,” Branch Rickey liked to say. In Belichick, we have the latter-day affirmation of that precious wisdom.
This moment was extraordinary, even astounding. Mind you, this ain’t Hollywood. If it reminds you of what happened in that so nicely happy flick “The Natural,” understand that in real life teams don’t prevail like this. Not at the ultimate level; not in the championship game. But then, Tom Brady did just that, did he not?
In the second quarter, Brady looked old, weak, and beaten, and in the fourth quarter, he looked like Hannibal, stern of demeanor with sword in hand leading the elephants over the Alps. Almost makes you wonder what they slipped into his Gatorade at half-time.
But enough of this quibbling! We take nothing away from what Brady did or what Belichick authored or what their team accomplished or where they all rate in the sporting cosmos, now and forever. It was amazing. Make that “sui generis,”one of a kind. What else can you say?