Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl...mixed emotions...a new year.

I have mixed emotions when it comes to the Super Bowl every year. Every year, it means I will not be able to follow football until the CFL training camps start up, and my Sunday ritual is finished for the season. But, at the same time, the whole year is culminating in such a massive event that one can't possibly look away. For me, Super Bowl Hangover Monday is the actual New Years' day. Calendars may be useful to some, but to me "January 1st" is meaningless. "No more football" or "opening day" has far more meaning. But this is my feeling every year. This year, I had far more mixed emotions going into the game. My Packers had come so close, only to lose in overtime to the Giants and break my heart. So with them NOT in the Super Bowl, I found I had a hard time caring about either team. It's different if Green Bay doesn't make the playoffs, or gets knocked out early. But when they came within three points of the big game, it removed some of the lustre for me.

So I decided to cheer for the Giants. If they knocked out my Packers, I would heartily cheer for them, especially since it was a lost cause anyway. I bet on the Giants. (To cover the spread, not to win outright - I'm no idiot!) And I truly did want them to win. Imagine that story - a FIFTH place team coming into the biggest game in the world and knocking off the greatest football team ever assembled? Perhaps the greatest team in the history of sports in general? The '27 Yankees, the '71 Lakers, the '95 Bulls, the '77 Habs - none of them were unbeaten. Even the '72 undefeated Dolphins won only 17 games that year. No, this would be an amazing story were the Giants to pull off the upset. And make no mistake - it WOULD be the biggest Super Bowl upset of all time. A 5th seed knocking off an unbeaten team? Yeah. Biggest ever. Even Broadway Joe Namath wouldn't have had the balls to guarantee something like that. Although Plaxico Burress somehow did.

So as I'm watching the game, and I'm cheering my heart out for New York, and I am getting excited at the amazing defensive presence of the Giants and the pressure they are putting on Tom Brady, the Greatest Quarterback Of All Time (at least, he will be when he wins this, his fourth Super Bowl). I am impressed by Eli Manning and his refusal to buckle under pressure, his coolness and his presence, even after throwing that first half interception. At the half, it's 7-3, and I can taste a fine finish, where the Giants will at least be able to make a game of it. Tom Petty comes on. I am enjoying it. The girls with me complain, because Tom Petty is old and lame and they could have at least got the Black Eyed Peas or Kanye West or someone who's actually big in music. I say "you're wearing a Coldplay shirt. Don't talk music to me ever." and go back to enjoying Tom Petty.

Then the second half. The Giants take the lead! Wait a minute, is this thing even possible? Could this massive upset really be in the cards? Oh Tom Brady, on cue, marches the Patriots down the field and scores the go-ahead TD with two minutes left. As with the Ravens game earlier in the year, as with the San Diego game two weeks ago, as with the Giants game to close out the season, there is a sense of inevitability that one feels while watching New England. No matter what the situation, if they are within one score toward the end of the game, they will win it. And now they have taken the lead, and although Manning is playing much better in the fourth quarter, he is too inconsistent and inexperienced to lead that last-minute, two-minute-drill drive to take down a team like New England. If only Brett Favre were in this game. It's third-and-ten. Manning throws a bullet down the middle, into excellent coverage. My heart sinks, as I am certain this will be an interception that ends the game. But then...what? David Tyree pulls the ball down! That might have been the single greatest catch in the history of the Super Bowl. The single greatest play, because it led to...a touchdown. A Giants touchdown. They were back in front.

But am I the only one out there who looked at the clock and thought "uh-oh. They left too much time on there"? That was the first thought I had. 35 seconds, with three time outs left, could be an eternity for Brady and Moss. All the Pats needed to do was to get into field goal range. That's three 15-yard passes down the middle, and a final time out, and a kick. We've seen them do it every single time they had the chance this season, and I sensed, once again, the tragic inevitability that faced the Giants. Even though New York looked to be in control, the Patriots can't be beaten. Not this year. But then - I'm wrong again! The Giants sack Brady in a big, massive way, and set up fourth and twenty from deep in their own end. Now even a hail mary can't reach the end zone! It's over! And I find myself with mixed emotions again. The team I have been rooting for has won. They have pulled out the biggest upset I have seen in sports in my life. There's this, then there's Belarus beating Sweden in Olympic hockey, and there's that nine-year-old girl who beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon. And yet...I feel bad! I feel almost downcast! Why? Because I am seeing a Patriots team that didn't deserve this!

And by that I mean they don't deserve this stigma that will follow them around the rest of their lives. They did deserve to lose the game. They were outplayed. But they don't deserve to fall asleep tonight to dream about the sounds of corks popping all over Miami and Csonka revelling in their failure. They don't deserve to be known as the team that looked like the most unstoppable force in sports history, only to fall apart in that final game. The look on Randy Moss' face will stay with me for a long time. There are a few faces I remember in sports. There is Andy Van Slyke, in Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS, fielding the Francisco Cabrera line drive on two hops in centre field and firing it to the plate with that rocket arm of his, a split second too slow to catch Sid Bream, chugging his way around from second base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth for Atlanta. And Van Slyke, with the momentum of that throw, lost his balance and fell to the field. And he watched, from a seated position as the Braves celebrated in the infield. And the victors were interviewed, and champagne flowed, and the cameras went back outside. And Van Slyke was still sitting in the same spot. I was 13, and his face is etched into my brain, I will not forget it as long as I live. And I'm sure there are 13-year-olds out there right now, who just watched the Super Bowl, who will remember the face on Randy Moss as long as they live.

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