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With Super Bowl XVLI in the rearview window, it’s clear that the hype around this Super Bowl was not like many other championships. As much as we try to kid ourselves, they all basically follow the same repackaged story lines. Will so and so finally get that elusive ring? Can the whoevers bring glory back to (Insert your championship starved city here). However, last week’s game wasn’t like that for one big reason—the focus wasn’t on the game itself.
Fans and media alike were stoked (and rightfully so), but in truth the actual game was a sub-plot, if not irrelevant. Super Bowl XVLI was about continuing to build the dynasty and the legend of Belichick. It was about Tom Brady becoming the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. It was about revenge. And most importantly it was about continuing the Boston Sports Renaissance of the new millennium. That’s a lot riding on one football game.
The only problem was that the Patriots lost and muddled up things for everyone. While it’s important to remember that it’s just a game, it would be foolish to ignore the consequences of this loss. As terrifying as it may be to accept, when that Tom Brady hail mary pass dropped to the ground in the end zone, it effectively slammed the door shut on the Golden Age of Sports in Boston.
Tom Brady takes the biggest hit from this loss. With a Super Bowl victory he would have been in Joe Montana territory. Now, he got knocked to John Elway Status (I personally, wouldn’t mind settling for that). Here is where the not-so-slightly ambitious thinking could be seen. “Once Tom Brady wins this one he is as good as Montana, then when he wins another”….Woah, woah, woah, hold that. It was this type of thinking that made everyone lose focus. It wasn’t about winning today’s game, it was about winning today’s game and tomorrow’s game. So what happens? Tom Brady and the Patriots get neither.
What this does is make the greatest quarterback debate much more debatable. With a win, Brady would have been indisputably the best ever. Now? The argument can still be made, but people will be able to disagree. Is it better to have made the Super Bowl and lost than not at all? I don’t know. It would certainly have been a more credible stance if Brady had a 5-0 or 4-1 record in championship games, but he doesn’t. Things like this usually aren’t that easy anyways. People debate about the best NBA player of all time, with no clear cut winner. It’s looking like the NFL is the same way.
The scariest part about it all? The fact that Eli, not Peyton, Manning could be in that discussion.
On the bright side, it’s not that hard to stay positive about the Patriot’s chances next year. With around $20 MM in cap space and a boatload of draft picks, the future can still be bright. But at the same time, we’ve been saying that about the Patriots every year–with no additional championships to back it up. The fact of the matter is that even as an elite NFL team, it’s hard enough to make it to the Super Bowl. When you get those rare chances to play in the big game, you simply can’t blow it.
And then there’s this kicker: Being as unbiased as possible, the Patriots have not won a championship for a (relatively) long time. The aura of invincibility is no longer. Saying, “we have the Brady/Belichick combo” is not an automatic path to victory anymore.
As hard as it is to admit, this Renaissance of Boston sports ended when the Bruins won the Stanley cup. Each major feat had been achieved. The unsaid mission had been accomplished. Today in 2012, it’ over. The Red Sox last won in 2007. The Celtics in 2008. The Patriots last did it in 2005. That wasn’t yesterday. We can continue to kid ourselves, but to say that the present is a Golden Age simply isn’t true. And it’s only going to get worse.
Can Rondo be the best player on a championship team? I don’t think so. Can Brady continue to carry a team through the regular season as he approaches age 40? I’m skeptical. Can the Red Sox win with 3 starting pitchers and a refusal to spend any money whatsoever. Hell no.
So that’s it. It was a good run. Hopefully you bought all the commemorative DVD’s to keep you occupied through 2020. Because it’s time to move on. It hasn’t been 2008 for four years now, so lower your expectations. Instead of feeling entitled to yearly parades, maybe you should only hope for one in the next decade or so. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick explain how they approach things one game at a time. Is it out of the question for us to do the same?
We can continue to pretend this is the age of David Ortiz walk offs, Adam Vinatieri field goals, and Big Three dominance. That’s fantasy. When I think of Boston sports now, all I see is a hobbled Kevin Garnett, Carl Crawford swinging at a pitch in the dirt, and Brady-ing becoming an internet phenomenon.
Yep, that’s the professional sports capital of the world alright.