When you watch Rambo or James Bond, or even Jason Bourne, you always know who will emerge victorious. So much of the New England Patriots’ unbeaten season was like that. They occasionally fell behind, but always delivered, satisfying fans of pro wrestling, Die Hard movies and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, all of which thrive on an air of inevitability. But predestination means powerlessness. And this is why I love sports: every once in a while, it demonstrates that chance–even real change–can actually happen.
Super Bowl XLII was supposed to be a coronation of the New England Patriots. They came into the game 18-0, a record never before seen in the history of the sport. From the hype of the pre-game show, you’d get the impression the Patriots weren’t even facing a carbon- based opponent: they were playing history. But on Sunday, it wasn’t history that planted them in the Arizona desert. It was the wild-card New York Giants, the double-digit underdog. They were given no chance. But in sixty minutes of play, with a last-ditch touchdown drive by quarterback Eli Manning, and a stunning thirty-two-yard catch by Giants receiver David Tyree–who used his helmet as a hand–we got an ending no screenwriter would have the sand to write. The Giants win is the sports equivalent of standing in front of a tank and willing it to stop
New England quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick were expected to treat the Giants defense like Barry Bonds treats an inside fastball. Patriots super-fan Bill Simmons compared their season to The Perfect Storm: “If this Patriots season really is a perfect storm, then the Super Bowl should end like that Clooney movie…. by the time the game ended, New York’s boat would have been smashed to smithereens,” he wrote. “That’s what the football version of a perfect storm should look like. Will we see it on Sunday? I say yes. The Big Pick: Patriots 42, Giants 17.”
Imagine The Perfect Storm, if the had boat won. That is what happened.
The half-time show was sponsored by Bridgestone Firestone, currently being sued by activist groups in the US for using child labor on its vast rubber plantations in Liberia. Other commercials gave us a creepy, vacant-eyed baby selling financial advice; James Carville and Bill Frist drinking a Coke and seemingly falling in love; and a morbidly obese man with electrodes on his nipples, which I think was an ad for Club Med Gitmo. Thirty seconds of this drivel costs $2.7 million. Only someone with seriously deep pockets could use this time to send a really serious message. That was Barack Obama. He ran local commercials in twenty critical cities during the game, promising to end the war in Iraq, save the planet and do everything short of eliminate body odor if elected President. The ads were seen by more than 100 million people, and if Obama hasn’t raised expectations by now, the bar has certainly now been set high. (And while the Senator from New York stood by her Giants, Obama predicted the Patriots to win. But just as you can’t oppose war by voting for military funding, you can’t claim to stand with the downtrodden and oppressed and pick the Patriots.)
But Hillary and Obama weren’t the leading political players on Super Bowl Sunday. That was Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. He wants answers about how the NFL and the Patriots had dealt with allegations that the Patriots have been surreptitiously videotaping other team’s practices.
The furor has been fueled by rumors that the Patriots had videotaped the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl XXXVI walk-through in 2002. The 20-17 win by the Patriots, called the greatest upset in sports history, put them on the road to dynasty status.
Specter also wants to know why, after the Patriots were caught red, white and blue-handed in 2007 taping the New York Jets signals, NFL officials had the evidence destroyed. The Senator effectively called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, just named the most powerful man in sports by Business Week, a liar. “The commissioner’s explanation as to why he destroyed the tapes does not ring true,” Specter said.
“It could go to hearings,” Inspector Specter told ESPN’s Bob Ley Sunday. “This is a matter to be considered by the [Senate Judiciary] Committee. I don’t want to make any broad assertions or elevate it beyond what I have a factual basis for doing. We’re going to follow the facts and if warranted, there could be hearings.”
A final, delicious aspect of all this is the Boston Globe‘s decision to publish a commemorative book,19-0: The Historic Championship Season of New England’s Unbeatable Patriots. It’s now been yanked from Amazon.
For Boston sports fans, this was a day that will live in infamy. For those who traffic in Boston schadenfreude it was sweeter than pie. For someone who, growing up, had a life-size poster of Lawrence Taylor on my wall, this was a very good Super Bowl. Whatever happens with Specter’s investigation–and whether the Pats may have tainted Super Bowl wins of the past–the outcome of this year’s game reveals one simple truth: there’s no point fighting for something you don’t truly love. And by the grace of David Tyree, I love me some sports.