Originally uploaded by ConfessionalPoet.
...and a butt-ugly football game.
Of course the Patriots decided to show me up when I brought a guest--and a guest from another country, no less--to the game, expecting them to be on their best behavior.
"They are totally going to massacre the Lions," was the hubristic prediction I made to my companion. "Watch."
And then, let's see, what was it? 3 turnovers, 10 penalties, one safety, one interception for Brady, and a partridge in a freakin' pear tree.
Up in the nosebleeds, my fellow plebians weren't so much frustrated...or disappointed...as outraged.
"This is the Detroit. LIONS!!" One guy kept hollering, his voice cracking.
Fumbles, miscues, and all were met with the same phrases, over and over--"You gotta be kiddin' me," and its stronger cousin, "You gotta be shittin' me," and "What the fuck?!?"
I can't say I was immune to it. I definitely repeated all of the above, and added my own "This sucks" on more than one occasion. I have to admit right now that I was completely cocky going in that the Patriots were going to slaughter the Lions the way their namesakes had Christians in ancient Rome. I was confident that my (British--I seem to be a Brit magnet, and have also apparently been elected the unofficial head of the UK / USA sports exchange program) friend would be seeing a clean, crisp, calm, collected, all-day-long country ass-whupping administered clinically by the Patriots to the team from Detroit.
On our way home, my friend, who has lived on both sides of what Brian refers to as the "Mason-Dixon Line" with the Sox - Yankees rivalry, couldn't resist bringing up the Yankees-fan / Pats-fan comparisons. I generally point out when this conversation arises that the overall histories of the teams could not be more different, that the sports are the proverbial apples and oranges, and that as we witnessed by the third quarter of Sunday's game when the howls of despair grew louder and louder in Section 332, the assurance of victory for the Patriots fan has much less depth than that of the Yankees fan.
I will say, however, that there is a certain nebulous sense of a change in karmic direction that has occurred in the collective consciousness of the Patriots fan over the last few years. We have forgotten that the Patriots' rise to greatness didn't come from a steady stream of blowout victories but from a series of "one-game winning streaks". A series of individual, hard-fought games in which no opponent was underestimated, at least, inside the locker room.
Painful as it is, it may be fair at this point to say that the culture has weakened a bit. Maybe it's a relative lack of adversity that has brought it about...maybe it's that the underdog fuel of the team's competitive fire is missing, just by definition and not for lack of effort to replace it. It may be sad but true that the dynasty era as we know it has at the very least entered a fallow period.
Maybe they're just like habitual procrastinators, those Patriots. Maybe they can't get anything done unless they're under the gun.
Whatever the case: right now, at this juncture of the season, after watching the flat-out terrible way they played the Lions--a listless team performing in a lukewarm stadium on a lazy, unseasonably warm day in December-- I would be flat-out lying to you if I said I thought this looked like a Super Bowl team.
It's a virtual certainty at this pont that they'll make the playoffs. But I just can't picture the Pats squad I watched sleepwalk through the motions on Sunday squaring off against a hungrier team, say, a Denver or even an Indianapolis. It's not the strategies; it's not the personnel decisions; it's not the fans or injuries or the officials. I have been struggling all season to rationalize it otherwise, but right now it sure does look like the problem might be the one thing that has made or broken the Patriots in the Belichick era: the attitude.
Of course, that's easy for me to say as someone who doesn't know the whole story about injuries and politics and what's going on in the locker room. After all, last year, we didn't know just how battered and broken Tom Brady really was until after the season ended. And I will admit that I feel terrible pointing fingers at the attitude and competitive zest of a group of people whose job is to sacrifice their physical well-being to win a game. I admit I don't really know anything, which is why I'm equivocating with "looks like" and "maybe", because some other reason could come out and I'll look like an asshole. Or they could buckle down and suck it up and all those other colorful prepositional phrases and I'll look like an asshole.
But it's like I've always said about my habit of hiding in my parents' bathroom during the final minutes of every Pats Super Bowl win: I'd rather look like an asshole and have the team win than save face and watch them lose. So if I've triggered the karmic boomerang with the above pronouncements, so be it. Reverse-mojo has long been my strong suit; I can always claim it was my strategy all along.
But now I'm saying too much.
Anyway, it was a great experience to go to the game with someone who had never attended an American football game at any level. First and foremost because I love being a know-it-all, and anyone who gives me half an opportunity to pontificate on the finer points of the forward pass should have either a well-planned escape route or a pair of earplugs handy. And also because there really is nothing like bringing a visitor into a world you know well; it makes you goofy with pride over the smallest things, ridiculously solicitous of every detail they notice, giddy with the newness it brings to the experience again.
At one point, while the Pats defense was lining up for another series, the Under-Armor drums began to sound from the Jumbo-Tron, boom-ba, BOOM, boom-ba, BOOM, boom-ba, BOOM while PROTECT...THIS...HOUSE flashed on the screen. My friend turned and said incredulously, "This is the most American thing I have ever done."
She's been in the US now for seven years and just got her green card. "I thought I was over culture shock," she said. "But this is something else."
Afterward she was even more impressed when I took her around to see the tailgates. Apparently there's nothing she's seen to compare with it in Britain. She was amazed by the campfires, the lavish setups around the RVs, the television sets and tents and generators set up around pickup trucks, the fact that people pay to sit in a cold parking lot long after a game is over--or sometimes even while the game is going on.
We wandered through the rows of the vehicular encampments. The day had gone chilly very quickly just before the sun went down, and the campfires were blazing out in P10 North. The fields of parking lot around the stadium have always reminded me of a medeival fiefdom with peasants huddled in the shadows of a castle, but to my friend it suggested an even earlier era.
"It's so...primal," she said, watching two huge, very, very drunk men struggle mightily to both smoke pungent cigars and play horseshoes at the same time without falling over.
Sometimes I think I'm not more patriotic about this country because I don't know, most often, what's really particular to this country (though with the odd number of British friends I've acquired in my travels, that is changing somewhat). In fact, I know it's that; I have never felt more American than when I stepped off a plane at Heathrow Airport several years ago and suddenly missed...I don't know what, but I remember being ready to kiss the greasy sidewalk in front of the first MacDonald's I saw when I got home.
The Patriots and the lower-case-p patriots blend together in times like that. Criticisms about some of the same things--entitlement, spoiled-rottenness, excess, even pollution (my friend called the tailgate with all its idling motors "an exercise in global warming")--apply to each. But we were in the car and they were arguing about pass interference calls on the radio, and I was necking down a cold Smirnoff ice while the drowsy warmth of the postgame letdown was beginning to steal over me, and I looked at our glowing Coliseum across the road. It's true; in many ways, we are Rome. And we may yet fall--in fact, we probably must fall--but for now, we are on top of the world.