logoby Dan Snapp

It’s convention time. Time to define, redefine, and refine. Mold your message: make it, massage it, text-message it. Orate, berate, exacerbate, bring a date, don’t be late (anybody else suddenly get an INXS earworm?).

So potent the fervor even my three-year-old’s stricken, ricocheting down the hallway wielding a plastic croquet mallet. Her campaign slogan? Shriek loudly and carry a big stick.

The same process is set in motion at stadiums across the country: teams learning about and defining themselves, the media manufacturing expectations, marketeers test-driving campaigns, and fans building up their own while trashing the other guy’s.

Opening Day, at long last!

Trying to gauge the Patriots is a different story. Bill Belichick’s never been the life of the party, political or otherwise. And he’s not one to engage in conventional thinking.

Case in point? The quick demise of Fernando Bryant, on whom many of us – likely all of us – were depending to lock down one corner spot. What was the tell? Was it Bryant foxtrotting Darcy Johnson into the end zone?  Was he the example set for an underperforming team, an admonishment that nobody’s job is safe?  Coach Norman Dale willing to play with just four players, leaving Rade pining away on the bench?

Bill won’t say.

Many have the Pats ahead in the polls, again the prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl (and where else would last year’s 18-1 team reside?). But you can never get a good feel for this team. They went 0-4 in the preseason, but don’t let the record fool ya; they were terrible. Poor tackling, poor effort, poor special teams, and no offense, guys, but no offense.

Let’s face it, the only thing keeping us from hitting the panic button is Tom Brady and allegiance to the Cult of “In Bill We Trust”. And for any who took the Brady side of the riddle, “Which came first, the Belichick or the Brady?”, you’ve added cannon fodder. A post-Brady world looks downright apocalyptic.

I know, I know: it’s just the preseason, the games mean nothing, Bill was holding back players, holding back schemes, holding back giving a damn. Here’s that point where we close our eyes and fall backwards, knowing Belichick’s there to catch us.

I’m not so sure now.

Think of how you used to watch Super Bowls, back before the Patriots made regular appearances, back when the NFC was tearing through whomever was offered up in sacrifice. Think back before the NFL Ticket, when night games only happened on Monday, and when you had just two choices Sunday afternoon (one if the Pats were blacked out).

You likely saw a lot of one Super Bowl team and little of the other. Seeing a Super Bowl team with fresh eyes was a possibility back then, allowing for kneejerk reactions like “Who’s Timmy Smith?” or “Where’d this Larry Brown guy come from?”

Any fresh eyes seeing last year’s Patriots for the first time would rightfully assess the Giants the better team that game. And they’d wonder how the hell the Pats went 18-0 up to that point.

Nothing much has changed in the preseason. Like the Super Bowl, like last year’s Ravens and Eagles games, the defense gave up long, time-consuming drives, shortening games and denying the Pats offensive possessions. And the offense returned the favor, with the line getting blown up, the running game producing little, and third down chances squandered.

There were some bright spots. The kids are alright, better than alright, as seven rookies made the squad with two looking to start. With three young new linebackers, there’s finally some added speed, athleticism and explosion at an aging position.

But what then of Matt Cassel, a heartbeat away from the top spot? Did Belichick even vet him? And how much vetting should a four-year vet need? Ask yourself, is this the man you want with his finger on the laces?

Dash away those thoughts. Relax. Breathe in deep. Exhale slowly. Close your eyes. Now let yourself drift back. And keep repeating, “Bill will be there … Bill will be there … Bill will be there …