If Everyone Titles This Super Bowl Deja Vu Will That Make It So?
On Sunday, January 21, I returned home just in time to watch my hockey team lose to the Boston Bruins in the post-OT skills contest. In disgust I flipped the channel to the Ravens-Patriots game, again, just in time to watch Baltimore, down 23-20, drop a potentially game-winning touchdown pass with less than two minutes to play. No worries, I, and probably the rest of America, thought. They’ll just hit the 32-yard field goal and go into overtime. Alas, as we would all know only a few seconds later, the field goal would strike wide left, a seeming "gimme" three points frittered away with a bad kick and luck, and as shock hardened on one team and melted away on another, the New England Patriots were heading toward another Superbowl appearance. Depressed by the notion of basically losing two games in the span of five minutes to two different Boston-area teams—whose fans are widely derided by fans from other cities as the worst and most ungrateful and undeserving of such consistent success, perhaps out of envy but more likely gleaned from some small truths evinced from a gloating Boston fan on an Internet message board—I retired alone to my room to seek solace in the only thing I knew could bring a smile to my face after such a sharp 1-2 punch: my go-to get-up-in-the-morning-and-get-things-done song: "You Make My Dreams" by Hall and Oates. Three minutes and ten seconds later, I was putting on my jacket to go out and watch the Giants play the 49ers.
I was slightly conflicted by this matchup. Being a casual football viewer, I tend to form alliances with teams from towns in which I once lived, or whichever team is most likely to lose—the underdog of the day. Having lived both in San Francisco and New York for significant and important years of my life, I decided to be noncommittal and hope that whoever won would go on to beat the Patriots. I cannot place my specific dislike for the Patriots. If one asked me why I hate the Boston Bruins I could go on for an hour. I don’t care for the Celtics either, but admittedly I did cheer for them in the NBA Finals one year when they were playing the Lakers, but that was only because Rasheed Wallace was on the team (he’s from Philadelphia and would wear Flyers hats during post-game interviews—also holds the record for most technical fouls in the league) and one needs few justifications for hating the Lakers and their fans. But the Patriots, I just don’t like them. That cheating scandal years back doesn’t really faze me. I think most teams were probably more pissed off the Patriots’ carelessness exposed the same cheating every other team does. It’s probably because when it comes down to a choice between two final teams, America sides with the Patriots. The all-American boys. Tom Brady with that stupid hair and gorgeous wife. I can’t name another player on the Patriots, but I hope they continually feel the crushing, overwhelming wave of defeat and a deflated heart. It bothers me that I feel this way and that this feeling usually guarantees the Patriots will actually win, just to show that good can defeat evil*.
*Although an argument could be made that Brady is the evil one who defeated the good son Tim Tebow, crushed him actually. But it’s probably more that the Broncos were simply outclassed and rookie Tebow’s string of fortune couldn’t last forever as he reverted to the mean, throwing a mediocre 9-26. Brady himself is coming off a rather pedestrian outing versus the Ravens. There’s also this article by Charles Pierce in Grantland titled "Does God Love the Patriots?"
The Giants-49ers game was probably one of the most evenly played matches I’ve witnessed. The Niners’ started out with the strong hand on a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, but by the second half the creativity dwindled and their chances dimmed. By the time Kyle Williams muffed a kickoff return for the second time, this one in OT, it was already clear which team I would side with as my dark rider of the Apocalypse two weeks from now, though the other Giants fans in the Brooklyn bar, where I was stuffing myself with Buffalo chicken wings and booze, were nervously optimistic, careful not to jinx the field goal kick, keenly aware of how Kyle Cundiff had blown it for his own team just hours earlier (though I would argue the game was already lost when Lee Evans was stripped of the ball in the end zone). Tynes, however, struck confidently and unlike Cundiff—whom one can see upon slow motion replay was crestfallen as soon as the ball left his foot—walked off the field smiling.
We’ve been here before. Not long ago the New York Giants met the New England Patriots in the 2008 Superbowl, a game I was ostensibly disinterested in until I saw how outnumbered the Giants fans were at the Salt Lake City sports bar I was at with a group of friends. All of us were in SLC for a wedding and we’d missed the first half because we were driving back from skiing in nearby Park City (though for me "falling" is much more accurate than "skiing"). The drive back was wild enough on its own—a heavy snowstorm had moved in by evening and I was steadily nipping on a flask of whiskey throughout the day to compensate for the facefulls of snow I collected on my way tumbling down the mountain. The piece of shit rental car I was driving ran out of wiper fluid and was seriously lacking for snow tires. I drove behind a snow plow throwing sand and salt on the highway for most of the trip, which slowed our progress considerably, but all in all, probably got us there in one piece considering the terrain and the drinking. When the dozen or so of us arrived at the bar, the score was 7-3 Patriots. The main room of the place was filled with fans lounging on the many couches and tables. The bar was for some reason swimming in Patriots jerseys, huge screens played the game on every wall as official Bud Light girls in Patriots crop-tops and hats handed out free Bud Light schwag.
Although none of our group was actually born and raised in New York City––us New Yorkers actually arrived via places like Atlanta, San Francisco, New Jersey, Moscow, and SLC––we all understood the dynamic as soon as we walked in the bar. Without much question of why a place like SLC had such a boner for the Patriots (and aside from the team name, when in hell did New England suddenly become more "American" than New York Fuckin’ City? And in the post 9/11 World too…), we knew we had to represent the Giants no matter where our true loyalties might lay. There was little place for a group of New York fans in the main room with all its giant TVs. Instead, we were relegated to the 30" screens in the basement.
In case one doesn’t remember, the Patriots came into the game as heavy favorites having gone 18-0 through the regular season and the playoffs. They had beaten the Giants 38-35 in the last game of the regular season, a statistically meaningless game, but one played for respect and attrition. The Giants had an uneven season, squeaking into the playoffs through a wild card, though their most competitive game of the year was probably that losing game to the Pats at the end of the regular season.
We quickly established a base camp near the basement bar and played catch up while Tom Petty went through versions of his hit songs on the TV. We scarfed down fried food and gulped down beers and shots for a quick return to health and humor before the second half started. 7-3 was nothing, we believed, having seen none of the actual first half to make this judgement. New York was going to win this game. I remember someone, it may have been me, taking something with the Pats logo on it from the Bud Light girls, and throwing it on the floor and stepping on it. Never before did I feel such confidence and camaraderie with a team that I cared nothing about. We truly and buzz-edly believed we would turn the game around ourselves in the second half.
The third quarter passed with no change in the score, but with 11 minutes left in the fourth, David Tyree caught a short pass to put the Giants up 10-7. Cue much shouting, jumping, hugs all around, lots of glass breaking for some reason, beer sloshing over the tables and out of our glasses as we sloppily toasted our recent success. Casey started a chant of some sort. He and Jane turned their hats around backwards and started watching the TVs on the opposite wall that everyone else were focused on, to try and multiply the rally cap flip effect. We had overtaken the other half of the basement bar. I remember a couple Hispanic dudes in cowboy hats coming over and joining our group, or maybe we just absorbed them into the crew in a moment of drunken revelry. Alas, it was not to last long as the Patriots and Tom Brady battled back and found his good buddy Randy Moss in the end zone to make the game 14-10 with less than three minutes left in the game. Still, all of us being in our first hour of drunkenness, we were riding high on optimism. "Two minutes is long time, Mikey," our Russian NYPD friend said to me. He had probably the most eventful wedding weekend out of all us: getting stuck neck deep in the snow after going off-trail on a ski slope, losing his badge on the sidewalk after falling over drunk for the third time on our way to dinner (I believe a lot of people die in Moscow every winter this way), and stumbling back to the hotel and somehow, either through misunderstanding his heavy Russian accent or a plan of his own intoxicated concoction, convinced the staff he was not blackout drunk but rather, that he was blind and needed help getting to his room. Anyway, God bless him. He was right.
The Giants took over on their own 17 with three timeouts left. It was during this drive that that catch happened, the one where Manning greased up his jersey and did his best scrambling impression of someone more "athletic", someone like Michael Vick, slipping through the literal fingers of three Patriots defenders and throwing a bullet downfield to land on David Tyree’s helmet. Cue much cheering, glass breaking, high fives, et. al. Vladamir and I nearly knocked over a full table of empty bottles and glasses while we were dancing around. Four plays later, Manning lofted a ball to Plaxico Burress to put the Giants up 16-14 and more beer sloshing around and a round of shots to come with 35 seconds left. By now, all other Patriots fans unlucky enough to be around us in the basement had faded into background oblivion or shuffled upstairs. We effectively had cleared the room of New England juju as we watched the Giants’ defense give up no ground to Brady’s offense. Ordinarily it really annoys me when football teams don’t play until the end of the game and start shaking hands before time is up, but here it didn’t bother me. We were drunk and happy. A team I was rooting for actually won an important game, extremely rare in my usual halls of Philadelphia fandom. We piled out into the snowy night, victorious. Who was America’s team now?
Now we find ourselves in familiar territory. Another matchup that will be for the next week over analyzed by real sports writers with little football to write about, and will go around rehashing the usual themes in an attempt to make Superbowl Sunday come that much sooner. There’s already multiple articles up on Superbowl prop bets with regards to everything from the commercials to Kelly Clarkson’s haircut. New York is the underdog no longer, but that doesn’t mean you’ll walk into that same Salt Lake City bar and see a wash of Giants blue this time around. I’ll be watching from my Brooklyn apartment this year; I won’t have the feeling of being alone in enemy territory to sway my opinions on two teams to whom I don’t really pay much attention. If the game is as competitive and exciting as it was in 2008, I think that’ll be good enough for me. Then again, if the Giants lose, I might be surrounded by a bunch of sobbing men like this guy, which is more than enough to make me side again with New York this year.