By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff
There’s a small scene in the John Sayles movie “Lone Star” in which an Army officer is mulling whether the family of his African-American girlfriend will accept him being white. “They think any woman over 30 who isn’t married is a lesbian,” he says to a buddy. “She figures, they’ll be so relieved that I’m a man…”
“Yeah,” responds his friend, “It’s always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.”
This is how it felt rooting for the Steelers against the Jets. Sure, we hate both teams, but there’s no question which one we hate more.
The reality of the Patriots as a yearly Super Bowl contender has given us a new dilemma: how to choose a rooting interest on the occasions the Patriots get knocked out.
Last year, the choice was easy. The Saints had no notable history with the Patriots, the franchise itself so down-and-out for so many years they were an easy underdog to root for. What’s more, they had a coach who seemed to pray at the Belichick altar. His onside kick to start the game’s second half was straight out of the fourth-and-two playbook, the distinctions being it worked and they won (and thus showing the hair’s breadth line between “genius” and “goat”).
This year, the choices were slim and none. After the inexplicable loss to the Jets, we were left with the Bears, whom we hate for Super Bowl XX; the Packers, whom we hate for Super Bowl XXXI; the Steelers, whom we hate for their whiny, Spygate-spouting players and boorish, self-entitled fans; and the Jets, whom we could hate on principle alone were it not for the multitude of other offenses committed the past few years.
So it becomes a palatability matrix, a measure designed to determine the Super Bowl winner least likely to cause a heart attack.
Chicago would have been an easy choice – Super Bowl XX 25 years in the rear-view mirror and the principals of that win long removed from the franchise – but then the Ability to Defeat a Greater Evil also factors in. If they got by the Packers, the Bears seemed like easy pickings against whomever won the AFC (like they were three years ago).
With Green Bay, we still have the burning memory of Super Bowl XXXI, but that was Brett Favre’s team. After the exhaustive measures he took to stick it to his old team, there’d be a certain karmic justice watching them win one without him. Mow that, Brett.
Pittsburgh’s a tough case, because you respect the organization and the coaching staff. But no team’s players complain more than the Steelers, from Kordell Stewart and Joey Porter to James Harrison and Hines Ward. Any defeat suffered was never their fault; they were always “cheated”.
The Jets were the nightmare scenario. Had they won the Super Bowl, we’d never hear the end of it. It would be deemed justification of the Rex Ryan “refreshing” approach to coaching. It would set off another three dozen “The dynastic Patriots are dead” stories. It would lead to more face time for Rex (and who in their right mind wants that?), more face time for Workman’s Comp Ed (Somebody should design him a hat for that), and more national commercials for Mark “Sanchize”.
When I was a kid rooting for the Patriots, the playoffs were never like this. I would feel bad the Patriots were knocked out (or eliminated long beforehand), but never could muster the blinding hate for the remaining teams that seems to come so easily today.
There was no Internet or 24-hour sports television then to examine every intimate detail, or scrutinize every wart and pimple of every player for every team. So when Pittsburgh or Dallas or Oakland or Miami were winning Super Bowls back then, I didn’t hate them. I didn’t know them well enough to hate them. It’s only years after the fact – when I learn that Mercury Morris is a whiny attention whore or Don Shula a moralizing hypocrite – that the hate flows freely.
The Super Bowl is broadcast worldwide. Think of the people tuning into the game, barely comprehending the game’s rules and certainly not privy to the endless back stories that serve to fill all the dead air time throughout the season. They get to look at this game, and this sport, with fresh eyes. I envy that.
So who to root for? Do like the media does and root for the story. Only root for the story that tweaks only the most deserving of individuals.
Root for a Troy Polamalu forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown, only to find Troy’s helmet slid up from the opponent’s chest to his helmet during the tackle, so the play gets called back on a penalty.
Root for Hines Ward to be taken out on a crackback block after an interception.
Root for Aaron Rodgers to be the beneficiary of a tuck rule call, so Charles Woodson shuts up about it now and forever.
Root for more women to come forward with charges against Ben Roethlisberger on the eve of the game, no matter if the charges have merit or not. They can be dismissed later, with Roger Goodell feeling out the right suspension time based on body language experts telling him whether Roethlisberger sincerely “looks” sorry.
Root for injuries to take out a couple starters (nothing serious, but enough to knock them out of the game) so Goodell gets a taste of what Super Bowls are going to be like with an 18-game season.
Root for three punts to hit Jerry Jones’ video screen.
Root for overtime, so Goodell and Peter King get to see their grand experiment put to the test, but root for the exception to their painstakingly planned-out rules, one that doesn’t allow for their perfect order of things. Like say Green Bay onside kicking to start the overtime, recovering the ball, and then ending their series with a field goal to win. “But Ben never got to see the ball!” they’ll protest, and they’ll enlist a new fact-finding commission (but no “football people” involved, right Jonathan Kraft?) to find a more “fair” resolution to the problem. They’ll call Bill Polian to oversee it.
Root for Fox to have a camera crew down in Mississippi for the Favre reaction shot when he realizes Rodgers matched in three years what Favre could only accomplish once in 20. Root for Fox to reflect that comparison in a nice graphic next to Favre’s dumbfounded reaction.
Root for the day when you can turn off your TV and radio during the week, ignore the stories on the Internet, and only tune in on Sundays to be able to watch the game for the game itself once again. And leave all the static bullshit back where it belongs.
As to the final paragraph: Amen. I miss football just for football’s sake.
I’m not rooting for injures. I’d like to see an 18 game season. The teams are going to get an extra bye week and IR won’t be a season-ending thing anymore (it shouldn’t be anyway). Football fans who don’t want more football games. It doesn’t make any sense.
The sport is already a game of attrition. Look at the Packers and their IR list. While they made it to the sport’s biggest game, are they really at their best? If every team has 8-12 guys on IR by the time of the Super Bowl, what’s it gonna look like when they add two more games? It’s the league sacrificing product quality for revenue.
Remember SB XXXVIII, with both Harrison and Wilson going down with injuries late in the game, leaving little at safety while Carolina tied the game with a minute to go. Imagine if those injuries occurred in the divisional rather than the Super Bowl.
You just said injuries are part of the game. It’s a fact of life. The Steelers have players on IR too. Whatever happens happens.
“Imagine if those injuries occurred in the divisional rather than the Super Bowl.”
Then the Pats would have been eliminated. The paradigm shifts. Teams adapt.
The point is the Super Bowl is no longer a showpiece for the best teams anymore. It’s the best teams after injuries have ravaged everybody’s rosters. The combination of free agency and the salary cap have created parity in the league, so rosters were already thin as is. There’s got to be a breaking point number of games you don’t want to surpass. I think that number is 16.
We’ve had a bunch of flawed Super Bowl winners. The Steelers in ’05 crawled into the playoffs and then beat a weak opponent in Seattle. The ’06 Colts with a historically bad run defense, and then beating a middling Bears team. Were these teams really the best of the best, or just the ones lucky enough not to have a crippling injury take down their season prematurely?
This year’s Steelers team will be missing four starters on the OL on Sunday (so they’ve got a built-in reason when they lose). Don’t you want to see these teams at their best?
I just think fans want the teams they see at the end of the season to somewhat resemble the ones that started the season.
“Don’t you want to see these teams at their best?”
No. That’s not what the Super Bowl is about. It’s about who survived the gauntlet. Both teams are beat up. It’s the 10th round of a heavyweight fight. That’s what it’s about.
Heck, they even give them a whole extra week to rest and prepare now.
I bet there were a ton of people back when they changed the schedule from 14 games to 16 making the same exact argument you are.
that was a great bit of writing, somethings i thought of but you put in the article
couldn’t be more correct about the j-e-t-s they will alwas be a sub-par team to me
rooting for Green bay, don’t want another ring for Pitt, but as you sort of stated hate both teams
it’s gonna be a long summer
good job pd