Why would anyone root for the New England Patriots?

Some guy has come up with a spin on being a Patriots fan that got published in the Washington Post. He felt sorry for Atlanta fans last year, and he thinks Patriots fans have been made miserable by their success.

The typical Patriots fan, on the other hand, was miserable with success by then, our blood long since curdled and our spines crooked with the glut of good fortune. Anything less than a Super Bowl win last year, as this year, would be considered a failure.

Being a fan is an interesting psychological condition. For me, as with most people (I don’t know about the Post writer), it’s tied up with my childhood. For most of my Boston childhood, we didn’t even have a football team. We saw the Giants play on TV every Sunday, and that turned some kids into Giants fans. But what did I care about Frank Gifford and Y. A. Tittle?

Then we got a team in the American Football League, so I had to root for the Patriots, and the league. I saw them play at Fenway Park. I saw them play at B.C.’s Alumni Field. But the Patriots were no good. They were never any good. They played in the AFL championship game in 1963, and they got clobbered. After the merger with the NFL they still sucked. Finally when I was in my thirties they made it to a Super Bowl, and they got clobbered yet again. When I was in my forties they returned to the Super Bowl, and the clobbering continued.

Meanwhile coaches and owners came and went. Now it’s 2001 and I’m middle-aged, maybe beyond middle age, and my team has never accomplished anything.

Then came the Tuck Rule Game, and the football gods finally started to smile on the Patriots–40 years after I became a fan. It was about time. Seventeen years later, the gods are still smiling on the Patriots. Do I feel sorry for Atlanta fans and Philadelphia fans and Buffalo fans and all the rest? A little, I guess. Not enough to change my ways, though.

Go Pats!

A very regretful comment

Here we see Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair apologizing for his “regretful” comment about the inmates running the prison when they kneel during the national anthem:

He is, of course, regretful; his comment is regrettable. So, not only is he a rich jerk; he also doesn’t know correct usage. (I’m also not thrilled about his use of “impact” as a verb, and he needs a comma before “which”.) Also, you kids need to get off my lawn.

Thomas Becket and Deflategate

Everyone is asking me what I think about Deflategate.

Well, my wife asked me, so that’s a start.  Anyway, my theory is that Brady is King Henry, uttering “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” in frustration at the actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.  In NFL-speak, this comes out as: “I sure like my balls underinflated.”

And the ballboys interpreted this innocent remark as a royal command: Tom likes his balls underinflated.  We must make it so. So one of them takes the balls into the men’s room at Canterbury Cathedral and . . . well, you get the picture.

In this scenario, Brady is, of course, totally blameless.  When he finds out what has happened — when he sees the infamously false Chris Mortensen tweet — he is outraged.  They have gone too far!  But what can he do?  He is too noble to turn on his loyal retainers.  So he maintains his silence as to their deed, and correctly asserts his innocence when brought to trial.  Perhaps he gives the retainers some Uggs as a reward for their service.  What a guy!

Really, he’s the one who should become a saint, not Thomas Becket.

Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm; but we’ll always have memories of Malcolm Butler to keep us warm

This latest snowstorm has changed my poetical mood from A.A. Milne to Ezra Pound:

Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ’gainst the winter’s balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

The problem now is that there’s nowhere left to put the stuff you need to shovel.

On the other hand, here are some fan reactions to Malcolm Butler’s interception in the Super Bowl.  Trigger warning: lots of profanity.  Also, may not be suitable for Seahawks fans.

We saw the game in the company of these lovely young women, whose parents were at the game.  Our reaction to the interception was comparable to some of those in the video, and I’m not sure the girls made the most noise.

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Just another day in New England sports…

I love amateur videos like these.

Here is Gillette Stadium in Foxboro at around 7:30:


Here is Fenway Park in Boston about four hours later:

A guy at work has season’s tickets for both the Red Sox and the Patriots.  He went to the Saturday night game where the Red Sox managed just one hit, and he left the Patriots game before Brady’s spectacular pass. And he gave away his tickets to the now legendary Big Papi Grand Slam game.  That’s life . . .

A thought about parenthood, with an illustration from the life of DeSean Jackson

Kid number 1 has graduated from college, and kid number 2 has turned 21.  So the question naturally arises: Are we done yet?

We would really like to answer yes — this stuff is hard!  We want to relax and watch HGTV reruns!  But that’s absurd.  And whenever we’re tempted to do a victory lap, we recall the scene from the movie Parenthood where Jason Robards has just had to deal with his ne’er-do-well 20-something son, played by Tom Hulce.  Talking about it with his other son (Steve Martin), he says something like: “Parenthood isn’t football.  You never get into the end zone.  You never get to spike the ball.”

This seems like deep wisdom to me.  And nowadays we have an illustration of that wisdom.  As we all know from the movie Silver Linings Playbook, DeSean Jackson is the man:

But DeSean Jackson is not without his flaws.  And here is one of them, on display for all Monday Night Football viewers to see:

Even in football, where you can spike the ball (at least in the pros), you can’t spike it too soon, or you’ll be held up to the ridicule of two million YouTube viewers.  (Technically, I suppose what Jackson did was not a spike; Jackson is too cool to just spike the ball.  But you get my point.)  So we parents have to learn from his mistake.  Life is long (we hope) and filled with milestones, happy and sad.  We get to celebrate the happy ones, but we always have to be prepared for the next one, whatever it may be.  Because that’s the way the game is played.

About that Patriots game…

One of the advantages of being a sports fan is that you’re entitled to opinions about stuff you know nothing about.

Ont of the advantages of having a blog is that you can express those opinions to the entire world.

So I’d just like to say that I have no idea what Bill Belichick thought he was doing at the end of today’s game.  Why are you moving the ball to the center of the field when you have time to run a couple more plays and get the ball closer for the field goal?  Especially after the penalty put them five yards further back.

Also, real referees would not have called a hold on Woodhead’s touchdown run.

There, I feel better now.  Thanks for listening.

“Hope Springs” and the most exciting football game ever played

I went to watch Hope Springs the other day.  Meh.  It has three A-list stars (Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carrell) doing the best they can with a C-list script.  Maybe B-minus.  But it, and the beginning of the football season, reminded me of the most exciting football game ever played.

The game took place on November 23, 1968.  Harvard and Yale were playing for the Ivy League title at a standing-room-only Harvard Stadium.  Both teams were undefeated, but Yale, featuring players like Calvin Hill (who later played for the Dallas Cowboys) was a big favorite.  Yale raced to a 22-0 lead, and led 29-13 with 42 seconds left.  Then Harvard scored a touchdown, and of course went for the two-point conversion.  They made it — down by eight.  As expected, an on-side kick.  Harvard recovered.  Another touchdown with no time remaining.  A two-point conversion — a pass to the tight end, Pete Varney (number 80)!  Final score: Harvard 29, Yale 29.

The Harvard Crimson immortalized the game with this headline:

I was at that game along with my lovely girlfriend (now my lovely wife), standing at the top of the stadium overlooking the end zone at the closed end of the stadium, where all the action took place at the end of the game.  It doesn’t get any better than that/

Tommy Lee Jones was there too, playing on Harvard’s offensive line.

Four years ago Kevin Rafferty released a documentary about that game, fittingly titled Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.  It is fabulous (the New York Times reviewer called it “preposterously entertaining”).  When the movie first came out I it at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square with a friend who had watched the game from the Yale side of the field; that was the right place to see it, but you can, and should, stream it from Netflix.

The movie goes back and forth between the broadcast video of the game (a local production featuring the beloved Boston sportscaster Don Gillis) and interviews with players on both teams.  You start by thinking it’s just going to be an exercise in nostalgia, but by the end it has become way more than that, as all these successful men reflect, with a mixture of humor and regret and wonder, on those unforgettable hours in their lives so long ago.  Some of them (uniformly on the Yale side) turn out to have been pricks back then, and they’re still pricks now. Others seem are funny and, yeah, lovable.

Jones is interviewed, and he is terribly serious as he reflects on what it was like to be out there on the field as the tension mounted at the end of the game, and you realized how critical it was not to make a mistake.  One Yale player sheepishly reflects on his one claim to fame back then–for a while he dated a Vassar undergraduate named Meryl Streep.  (And that’s where I made the connection between Hope Springs and The Game.)

There are other connections with famous people.  A Yale player had been George W. Bush’s roommate (the filmmaker himself is Bush’s cousin).  Famously, Jones’s roommate at Harvard was Al Gore.  The Yale quarterback, Brian Dowling, was the prototype for the character B.D. in Doonesbury; Gary Trudeau started a version of the comic strip when he was at Yale.

But the connections aren’t what matter.  What matters are the people.  And The Game.

More on Weinberg on religion

Here is Jeff’s very fine comment on the Steven Weinberg quote in yesterday’s post:

Well, Weinberg did get his Nobel in physics, not psychology or sociology, so I mean no disrespect to his science when I say I think he’s wrong. What it takes for good people to do evil is any number of things, including temptation, the seduction of power, corrupt surroundings that cloud one’s moral thinking, guilt and fear that keep people from coming clean… in short, the whole panoply of human weaknesses. Religion might play into it, and sometimes does, but it\’s just scapegoating to blame religion for it in general.

Institutions, now–I think you’re on to something there. What led to the abuse coverups in the Catholic Church wasn’t the religion–and by religion, I mean not the church but the underlying faith that is the church’s reason for being–but, as you say, the belief that the institution was more important than the individuals being hurt. Even the slightest examination of the Christian faith makes clear that the faith is not about covering up wrongs, but rather shining a light into dark places. So the fear of hurting the institution (and the powerful, guilty individuals) led to wholesale abandonment of the actual tenets of the faith. It wasn’t the religion at fault, but a corrupt institution, and human weakness at its ugliest.

Jeff’s first point is obviously true.  But his second paragraph misses something that I believe is fundamental about religion and religious institutions.  Let me try a different way of stating what I think Weinberg is getting at: Religion uniquely empowers good people to ignore common conceptions of individual good in the pursuit of “higher” goals.  For a salvation-based religion like Catholicism, nothing in this world is–or could be–more important than its mission of saving souls.  It is really too facile to say that the sex abuse coverup in the Catholic Church is just about protecting an institution. The whole point of “not giving scandal” is to keep people from losing their faith and thereby risking eternal damnation.  And that’s what the bishops said they were worried about when they didn’t publicize the misdeeds of the priests in their dioceses.  Not giving scandal has to compete with other values within their faith, and sometimes the other values lose.

We can believe, I suppose, that this wasn’t the real reason for their actions, that they were really just trying to protect their own reputations and do everyday damage control.  And I suppose some of that was going on.  But I’m just taking their explanations at face value, because the concept of “giving scandal” is an essential part of their faith.  And, of course, the Catholic Church has done this sort of thing before.  The Inquisition had an iron-clad logic to it if you accepted the Church’s theological premises.  Heresy was an unmitigated evil for the individual who believed the heresy–but also for society at large, which must be protected from heresy at all costs.  If you could get the individual to recant his heresy, you were helping to save his immortal soul, and you were protecting the rest of the faithful from falling into the same error.  How could mere physical pain stack up against that?

Similarly, I’m trying to give Paterno the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t just an everyday creep who was protecting Sandusky in order to protect himself.  Probably there was some of that, but I also think that Paterno had the much the same motivation as Bernard Law. The Penn State football program was his equivalent of the Catholic Church.  Which is to say that I don’t think Weinberg has it entirely right.  Some institutions (communism also comes to mind) become like secular religions, with equally disastrous results.

By the way, all of a sudden there is a weird Red Sox angle to the discussion about Paterno.  Everything in life is ultimately about the Red Sox.