I'm not a superstitious guy. I believe in UFO's, bigfoot, telekinesis, ghosts, psychic powers and a host of other-worldly enigmas. Hell, I'm crazy enough that I think I have a valid scientific explanation for most of them. But superstitious? I'll walk under ladders, break mirrors, spill salt and ignore any black cat no matter how many times he goes by without a blink.
I don't believe in superstitions but, when it comes to sports... I do believe in signs and moments.
And I have seen the light as far as the Patriots are concerned. In a moment, in a sign, it was revealed to me that the Patriots WILL win the Superbowl this year. There's no other outcome possible.
Moments are a big thing in the world of sports. Victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat in a moment. A player is healthy one moment and his career can be over the next. Teams are often described as having the momentum at a point in a game. Everything is going their way. They're getting the close calls. Loose balls are bouncing right to them. The other team has to find a way to stop "the momentum". And more often than not they do. Momentum usually doesn't stay with you for long. You can have it for a quarter or a half but rarely does a team have it an entire game. Momentum can be stopped cold or shift from one team to the next on one play or, more likely, after one mistake.
Unexplained phenomena and superstitions are easy things to comprehend compared to understanding how the mind, heart and spirit of a devoted sports fan functions in unison and concert with his adored team. Nothing is so whacky and unexplainable as the fan who truely believes that his selfless devotion and participation as a viewer is both connected to and an influence on the events that determine his teams yearly destiny.
Indications of this kind of loyalty are seen in lots of ways. They can take the form of grand exhibitions or small, private but very serious quirks of their personality.The biggest and best examples are the fans who transform on game day into some kind of human tribute to their team. Painting their bodies in teams colors or dressing in exagerated uniforms, carrying props and signs to pronouce their loyalty. They start their day at 4:00am and make their pilgrimage to the stadium. They come prepared for a full day of tailgating and ritualized homage that ends late in the day for most A ritual, mind you, that costs the average Joe a very pretty penny to induldge in. A day can cost $1,000 easy. Season tickets ain't cheap and their price doesn't include the grub, beer, props and what nots. And they do this in weather of any kind. Hell, the players are getting millions to play in a blizzard. These grid-iron worshippers are PAYING to do it. Now thats devotion for you.
But not everyone can demonstrate their adoration in such an extravagant and all consuming fashion. They don't have the time, money or tickets. Poor people... people like me. While we do it to a lesser degree, we are supporters who are just as serious to our commitment to the home team. We treat game time with the reverence that the pope treats mass on sunday. We worship on the coach with the holy chips and dip and gestulate at all the proper times. We pray for various reasons at various times as needed or required. Some wouldn't think of sitting anywhere other than their "game seat" and heaven help any family member or guest who mistakenly puts his arse in it before the end of the game.
Favorite shirts hats and other articles of apparell play a big role as well. And if your team wins a big game the first day you put it on... its on every week until they lose. It can stink like 10 day old chicken but who cares... It's the game shirt man!!!
We do this because when "THE MOMENT" comes, we need to be ready to do our part. If you love sports and have a team that you have supported over a lifetime you know whereof I speak. You know all about "THE MOMENT". You have seen it, you have felt it, you have prayed for it and you have dreaded it. Sometimes it passes you by and other times you are caught up in it's force. It can crush you into submission or show you in absolute terms that now is the time and nothing is going to stop you.
We watch the game and our hearts race and our breathing gets ragged as the teams fortunes go up or down. We rise to the heights of joys and sink to the depths of despair, often several times a game, as we watch our gladiators defend their honor. Not just their honor either, but ours as well. For when they win, we win. When they lose we lose also. We can feel their pain as surely as if we were on the field with them. We bask in victory and shed tears in defeat as though we were a part of the team...
We feel that way because, the truth is... we are.
It's important that a team believes in it self. It's even better when their fans believe in them as well. When both situations are in sync, when that feeling between the fans and the team is one of "we are in this together" it has a very real and profound effect on the way a team performs and the fans react. Their energies combine in ways that make exceeding the sum of the parts a natural result.
In 1980 the USA Olympic hockey team won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. against overwhelming odds. Major underdogs, they beat some of the best teams on this planet to become champions. AS far as I'm concerned it wasn't the team that won the medal. I mean they played their hearts out... they gave it every ounce of effort. They played to the absolute limits of their talent. But if they had played anywhere other than Lake Placid they would have come up short.
That year, the difference wasn't in the team, it was in the crowd. It was a USA crowd... they were in the USA. It was a time when all of America was behind ONE team. The other teams weren't just playing the USA Olympic teams... they were playing the whole USA.
Believe it or not I called that win at least 3 games before it happened. I could see it coming.. I could FEEL it coming. It was a moment so unique in the consciousness of America it was incredible. No dissent, EVERYONE in the USA was a fan of that team. There was no way they could have lost.
In games between teams from different cities, while the support is more regional, the principle remains the same.
In 1969, when the Celtic finished fourth and was last seed in the playoffs they were considered old and tired. Yet somehow they fought the Lakers to a seventh game in the finals. The Lakers were so confident that the owner had ballons all ready to drop from the rafters when the celebration started. The moment Bill Russell saw those balloons the game was over. It was all the Celtics needed to know that these guys were there for the taking. The game was theirs if only they played like it wasn't over... the way the Lakers played the game.
I've followed the Patriots all year during their drive to perfection. When the weather was good they played like a team that was unstoppable and most of the media saw it that way. But unless you are a total buffoon everyone knew they would hit a bad patch. No matter how good you are circumstances just have a way of changing your plans. They almost lost against a great Colts team... no shame there.
They they had a really bad day and sheer luck came to their rescue in the way of some dumb plays by the Ravens. The kind of mistakes that a champion takes advantage of if you let them. They had a game in weather that would keep an eskimo on ice skates indoors but they got through it with a W. And they overcame an under-rated Giants team that was playing for their pride and place in history. They won by 3 points but , really it wasn't that close. The Patriots took control of the game in the 3rd quarter and never lost it.
Yet, despite finishing 16 and 0, for some strange reason the media and fans outside of NE have become almost deliberate in their collective effort to downplay the success of the regular season. It has come to the point where odd qualifiers have been added and must be met before the most retentive of those foes will acknowledge the talent that is the hallmark of this Patriots team. Even though no other team has ever gone 16 and 0 before in history, the Patriots will not be considered a great team unless they finish with a SB victory.
They point to the failure of the Patriots to decimate ALL their opponents in the later games the way they did earlier in the season as evidence. They see the close wins as signs that there are cracks in the Patriots armor. Their concensus is that the Patriots are ripe for the picking. And should the Patriots not win the SB, all their efforts, the whole 16 and 0 record, is meaningless. Doesn't count.
For a moment they almost had me thinking the same way.
It did seem to me that the Patriots looked a little tired near the end of the regular season. Injuries to Colvin had some effect, not that anyone in the media ever considered that. It seemed they sometimes lost their focus in long stretches of games. Games where the opponenet was playing the best game of their lives in their own private SB. The Patriots had to meet every teams single best effort with equal intensity... impossible. But it was what we had to do to get to the top. To go undefeated. That was our goal right?!
I was concerned and was looking for that sign... that small and intangible element that said to me don't worry... be happy. Nothing wrong here that a change of pace won't cure.
There were a couple of "moments" in that Giants game. But more importantly, at least for me, "THE MOMENT" that I had been waiting for came in the fourth quarter. The sign I was looking for. The reason to stop worrying and recognize that, barring a MAJOR catastrophe or injury to at least 2 of the stars, the Patriots were going to win the SB.
The Giants had the momentum. The Giants went up by 12 and, for a moment, it looked bad for the Pats. Randy Moss had his bell rung and, for a moment, we had to envision a playoff without our star WR. But the Patriots have been down in big games before. While the Giants
were leading on the scoreboard, the Patriots took control on the field. Suddenly the Giants couldn't do anything right. Why? They were no longer playing... they were thinking. We started getting to Manning. The running game was nowhere. Momentum had turned.
But THE MOMENT came later. And when it did, it wasn't just the game that changed. It was the Patriots destiny that did. I realized then that the Patriots have only been biding their time for the last 4 games. They hadn't lost their focus... it was us... the fans and the viewing public that had. Those times that the Patriots seemed to be looking somewhere else and not focused on the goal of going undefeated... they were. But their eyes were pointed in the right direction. It was the fans who had lost sight of the real prize.
That was the moment when I saw that the Sleeping Giant that was the Patriots wake.
Another phenomanom in sports is when the leader steps up and takes the game into his own hands and the hands of his teammates. the troops. Or when the superstar takes the ball and everyone gets out of his way. Doesn't matter if he's missed his last 15 shots or struck out 10 times in the game. When the game is on the line, they produce.
Guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Randy Moss.
Using Welker and others the Patriots went about attacking the Giants and chewing up the field and the clock. Then Brady and Moss decided that the time had come to take control of the game. Brady threw a pass to a streaking Moss down the sideline that came up short. It would have been great but Moss couldn't pull it in. Instead of doing what the entire football world expected and changing the play, on the very next play Brady went right back to Moss with the same pass. This time it was perfect. Moss caught it and the rest is history. They knew that it wasn't anything the Giants had done on the play before. They just didn't connect. There was no doubt that they would get it right the second time. How many teams would have run that play twice like that? It was the kind of fearless approach that says you believe in what you can do to the point that you can't be denied.
The Patriots hadn't gotten worse the last half of the season... They just eased up on the throttle. Saving some of their kick for the home stretch. Every time in every game where they were threatened with losing they responded. But they really weren't concerned about the 16 and 0 record. It was us, the fans and public who were looking at the wrong target.
Undefeated? That was OUR goal, not the Patriots. They weren't looking at going undefeated... they were looking at the SB ring. Their eyes have been on the prize they have been shooting for all this time. They never lost focus. They even said as much but we didn't listen. It's where they have been headed all year. For the last month, since they wrapped up the playoff picture, they have been playing football and killing time until the real season started.
They are free of the whole "undefeated" albatross that has dogged them all year. They are refreshed, loose and ready to claim their prize. It's been a long ride but they have plenty of gas for the last leg.
THEIR MOMENT has arrived... Let the games begin!