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In the aftermath of the Patriots historic comeuppance, New England broods. It is not a pretty sight. Perchance, may we be spoiled? It is right to wonder.
All that talk about where the Foxborough pets rank in the history of armed combat, let alone the game of football, now looks a tad presumptuous, wouldn’t you say?
Then there was that arch debate on Soupey XLII’s proper place in the annals of the regions most edifying moments. Was it greater than the Pilgrims arrival on the Rock? More meaningful than Jack Kennedy’s elevation to the White House? Columnist after columnist expounded on how superior it all was to any stuttering irrelevancies conjured over the decades by the Bruins, Celtics, or even the Red Sox?
Never have so many been so sure of so little.
Maybe the pundits learned something from the experience; something as profoundly elementary as the need to avoid counting your chickens before they are hatched, for example. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. Then there is the question of what so-called “Patriot’s Nation,” the idolatrous masses, learned.
At least a little humility, one would hope.
Boasting about our pre-eminence in sport as if it validated some deeper moral and spiritual worth has become very tiresome for the rest of the nation to have to listen to. You could tell by all the nasty things that were being written and spoken about us and “our” team in the days leading up to the climactic fiasco. Nor was this stuff coming just from the pagan capital of the foe, New York. Most of it was coming from the rest of the nation, all technically neutral. They were weary of hearing about Boston’s overwhelming invincibility and not pleased to be informed that once the Patriots finished re-writing the football record books, the Celtics were prepared to roll over the NBA. Have we handled our jock supremacy with grace hereabouts? A lot of folks apparently don’t think so.
Hence the raw and unmitigated glee that seems to have swept the land with the improbable Giants’ remarkable upset. In the end, the Giants were the overwhelming sentimental favorites up, down, and across the Republic, improbably cast as a “David” going up against an oafish and boorish “Goliath.” It could be argued that no team in the history of the event was more heavily rooted against than our gang. We had more poutish naysayers declaiming us than even those insufferable Dallas teams were obliged to endure back in the ’90s when the ‘‘Boys’’ were presuming to be “America’s Team.” And it’s also likely that no result in the history of the event has been more popular. America is charmed by the Giants mainly because they are perceived to have slain “the bully.” Since the stunning rebuke in the desert it has been open season on our town and our team. Scorn has been just oozing from the pores of the David Letterman’s of this world.
We can thank Coach Belichick for a lot of this. His defenders -- and he oddly has a lot of them -- decline to see it, but much of the antipathy he excites is most deserved. His apologists can dispute the point until the cows come home. But he has sullied his own legacy. His antics at the end of his crushing loss -- only beginning with his premature departure from the battlefield -- played right into the hands of those who are so eager to denounce him. I’m prepared to argue the poor fellow -- clearly afflicted with a profound case of tunnel vision -- simply doesn’t know any better. But if so, it’s a weak excuse.
Belichick’s best defense is the oft-stated axiom that all NFL coaches are at least a tad twisted. Only the tyrants survive, the notion holds. Maybe! But even the sternest task-masters over the years have had some redeeming social skills, or at least a safety valve that keeps them from being engulfed by their own enormous stress. Even such Georgie Patton-wannabe’s as Bill Parcells, another classic study and Belichick’s own mentor, had a devilish sense of humor and a saucy indifference to authority to keep him from going mad. How Belichick keeps from boiling over is anyone’s guess.
He would never stoop to do so. But if he were wise, Belichick might learn a valuable lesson from the experiences of his opposite number in the recent classic, Giants Coach Tom Coughlin. Only a year ago, Coughlin was getting destroyed by his own uncontrollable zeal. The pressures of the profession, which had been piling up over 40 years in the business, were threatening to devour him. If he had been employed by any NFL franchise other than the famously merciful and compassionate Mara Family, Tom Coughlin would have been ingloriously dumped. It would have been a wretched end for a man who -- his woeful excesses on the job not withstanding -- is a quality person in a lot of important ways.
Some in New York are now calling it “miraculous”; a word that it is too casually bandied about in sport. But Coughlin surely changed and he did so virtually overnight. He came to realize that there had to be more of a co-relation between means and ends in his life. He came to recognize that the man he was displaying to the public as well as his team was not the man he truly was. He changed most dramatically and in ways you could never expect from a strong-willed, narrowly defined, 61-year-old man who had been fighting the good fight entirely his way with no excuses and no apologies all his life.
There is very little doubt that had Tom Coughlin not changed his team would never have made the playoffs and he would be long gone by now and we all would have been denied the classic that Soupey XLII became while the Patriots would now be basking in the afterglow of their perfect season. Because only a team oddly touched by destiny as the Giants were could have derailed the Patriots express. The question is, can Belichick handle the bitter irony of all that? If he could derive some inspiration from Coughlin’s tale, it might help.
Meanwhile he has the lingering “Spygate” mess to aggravate him further, and it will. It’s been quiet in the days just after Soupey, but don’t expect this festering scandal to slide silently away. Congress has its back up and Arlen Specter, the venerable senator and lifelong public prosecutor who has long been suspicious of the sweetheart deals that help make the NFL so prosperous, is not one to be trifled with. The NFL moguls, led by the new boy serving as commissioner, will play ball because they don’t dare not to.
Many in Congress feel that in the interest of fairness more heat should be riveted on the NFL, given the veritable inquisition that has been visited upon Major League Baseball. Still more to the point, you may recall that Specter was much annoyed by the NFL network shenanigans that stirred a fuss last fall. That new network is very precious to the lodge brothers. It’s a bonanza potentially worth billions. They need to mollify the intensely nosey senior senator from Pennsylvania.
So, if throwing Bill Belichick to the Congressional wolves is the price they must pay to protect their precious trust exemptions and T.V. deals and other competitive ‘‘arrangements,’’ they will do it in a heartbeat and consider it a small price to have to pay. We will soon learn all about this fellow Matt Walsh and soon know precisely what he knows.
All of which should make for an interesting off-season for the coach. No doubt he will react by fastening the blinders more firmly while plotting his revenge with renewed fury, more driven than ever. Somehow, one finds that prospect quite sad.