I was a bit puzzled when, on Friday at Kristen's house, Sam referred to a play by a Detroit Lion, who persevered toward the end zone with several opposing players hanging from his body, as "majestic." It seemed a strange word choice.
But now I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that yesterday I saw Doug Flutie do something the only word for which is, in fact, just that: majestic.
Following a Patriots touchdown, he lined up in a formation that resembled a shotgun, but wasn't quite. Before I could ask, "What is he--" Flutie was receiving the snap, dropping the ball, and kicking it through the uprights.
At the time, I was high above the field on the third deck, and when Flutie shocked the world with the first successful drop-kick since 1941, like everyone else, including the players on the field, I was jumping up and down and yelling with the inexplicable, unexpected joy of that ridiculous moment.
It reminded me of the portion of David Halberstam's book that I read recently, one toward the end where it discusses Matt Light having to field a punt in order to earn the team a break on a hot day, particularly this part, which was my favorite part:
The video of that day is fascinating. There is Light, surrounded by all the Patriot players who normally catch punts. The inner group of instructors includes Deion Branch, Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk. They are showing him how to hold his hands, and how to keep them soft, and how to draw the ball in. Then they are instructing him how to look up for the ball and to move under it. Everything else on the practice field has stopped.
Finally, a rookie punts the ball, and it floats ever so high before beginning its sudden descent. Light moves under it, not necessarily deftly, but more or less effectively, although his body seems oddly stiff. The ball seems to hang in the air for just an extra half second. On the sideline some of the players are using their own body language, trying to help bring the ball in. Light grabs it, nestles it into his body, and is suddenly surrounded by cheering teammates--only a Super Bowl victory might bring more in the way of congratulations. They seem, for a brief instant, not like a group of hardened professional football players, but like the little boys they once were.
Here Flutie's teammates were also around him, thumping his chest and his back, flinging him about like a beloved rag doll. Bill Belichick was roaring behind his clipboard, despite the fact that the Patriots were losing.
Following the game, the teammates were jubilant in recounting the moment:
"Doug was so nervous for three weeks because that's been in the plan," Brady said. ''I think he was probably more worried about drop kicking than he was worried about quarterbacking. He was so excited when it went in. I think everyone was. He just adds to his legend."
There was something so quintissentially Patriots about it, something Halberstam is also hinting at in his story of Matt Light fielding the punt in practice.
I think first that "something" has to do with playing outside a role, doing something not expected of you given your size, or your position, or your general habits. That shattering of roles has been what has allowed players off the "scrap heap" to flourish in the Patriots system, and what allows this to happen, as with Light (and I'm sure with Flutie as well) is the help of teammates.
In turn that help from teammates comes from the ability Bill Belichick has, as demonstrated in the story about Light, to bring out the little boy in his players--the little boy so willing to defend his companions, the little boy willing to try new things and maybe get his ass kicked, but maybe find unimagined glory...the little boy who thinks nothing of himself in moments like the Flutie drop-kick and only of being the first to congratulate, the first to share the laughter.
All I could think about, after the Halberstam excerpt, was that famous clip, little Doug Flutie leaping in the air, mobbed by his teammates in another time, the shouting announcers, "He did it...Flutie did it..." That those two moments, one so serious and the other so ridiculous, could turn out to bookend Flutie's overall football career gives me goose bumps.
And it's like I've written about the Red Sox on occasion: some wins feel like losses, and some losses feel like wins. Yesterday's game was most assuredly one of the latter.
In the end, the Patriots third-stringers came within a missed two-point conversion of tying the Miami Dolphins first-stringers, and the vocal minority seated behind us and I would like to think it was because of the tough love we showed Matt Cassel as he led the drive for the end zone.
"Come on, Cassel, you can't wear your skirt forever," hollered one of the co-hecklers, who can totally, as Kristen would say, be my friend.
"Come on, Cassel, ya jackass!" I added.
In the end, the final drive created at least a dozen conflicting emotions in my brain and heart at once. One was nostalgia--the Patriots last game of 2005, probably the last time I'd be at Gillette this year, and the few of us left in the stadium were throwing snow and that reminded me of two games at once: the famous "snow bowl" against Miami in December 2003, and the 2002 season finale, come to think of it, also against Miami, where the few people left in the stadium got to see a miraculous finish...
When Benjamin Watson came down in the end zone with Cassel's short pass, I was jumping up and down and screaming and thinking once again back to that Flutie moment, thinking we could have won handily with Brady at the helm or even if Flutie had lined up, but what was important wasn't that, it was getting Cassel to succeed in that performance he hasn't grown accustomed to. I watched Brady carefully through my binoculars on the sideline as Cassel mounted the eventual scoring drive, watching for signs of anxiety or frustration, and all I saw was intensity, intensity aimed toward Cassel, intensity remeniscent of the players in the Halberstam excerpt "using their own body language, trying to help bring the ball in..."
Several times as the team reached the red zone, Cassel would trot back toward the sideline to confer not with Belichick or his coach but with Brady, standing arms akimbo in his stadium jacket and waiting for his protege to return with questions. Most interesting about this was not that Cassel would turn to the marquis quarterback for advice but that said marquis quarterback would so willingly--so gladly, even--give it to him.
I wished, for a second, that Brady could just lay a hand on Cassel and give him even some small part of whatever he had that, had he been in the game, would have given me absolute confidence that a touchdown, two point conversion, and winning field goal in overtime were on their way. Oddly enough, it seemed like Brady wished the same thing.
But that's the Patriots. It's that little-boy sensibility coming to the fore, the one that had Brady clapping Cassel on the back after he connected with Watson for the touchdown, and kept nary a mention of the missed two-pointer from crossing anyone's lips post-game.
Indeed, most of the conversation I heard in the postgame tailgates was verging on worshipful--two men having a conversation in line for one of the Handy Houses concluded their assessment of the game with this to say about Belichick:
Guy 1: I mean, he knows stuff we don't know about or anything. He, I mean, who are we...
Guy 2: I know, who are we to really say--
Guy 1: Right, who are we to say it was wrong, you know?
And can I just say: I love this team. I love them fiercely, even blindly at times. I love them in the way that makes me want to kick someone's ass if they insult them.
Luckily, in the course of the excursion to Gillette yesterday, I was given that opportunity.
The first slightly less impressive instance came in the stands, when two fans clad in their shriekingly loud teal-and-orange Starter monstrosities stood up, turned around, and taunted the rest of their section when Ricky Williams scored an easy-looking touchdown up the middle in the second quarter. At the sight of their faces, a sea of pointing hands and shaking fists began to churn in the section immediately behind them.
Then, deliciously, the Williams touchdown was nullified on a holding penalty. There was a brief silence, in which I seized the opportunity to yell, "HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW!?!" toward the Miami fans. They heard me and stood up again, turning around to respond, but I kept quiet. They never figured out who had yelled it, and so had to turn back around and sit down in shame.
But that was just a warmup for what would happen in the parking lot during postgame tailgating. K and I sat around our card table, munching on teriyaki chicken tips, when another Miami fan in head-to-toe Miami gear (what is it they think they accomplish with this color assault, anyway?) came into our little camp.
We had the car on, the better to listen to the radio, and the Miami fan made a great show of cocking his ear to the broadcast coming out of the open window. Then he said to us, "Oh, I'm sorry, I should've told you...Miami won."
Then he stood back and grinned as if to say, "Take that."
I sized him up for a moment. K sat back as if to say, "I'll let my associate here handle this one."
"Really?" I replied after that beat had passed. "Who they playin' next week?"
It took the Miami fan a second to respond. It's hard to tell if he just wasn't expecting this from a girl, or what.
"Wow," he finally stammered. All he could come up with was: "That was low."
I shrugged. Before taking another bite of my chicken, I said, "You're the one who came over here, man."
At which point the Miami fan had no choice but to turn and do his teal and orange Walk of Shame back to his buddies at the next tailgate over. God only knows what he told them.
And little did he know, poor man, that not only would he have to do the Walk of Shame, but that his particular Walk of Shame was going to be described for the world to read on the Internet the next day.
Some wins feel like losses, and some losses like wins--and yesterday's experience was definitely the latter. In fact, I do believe I'll be gloating about that one postgame victory for at least a few days.