Category Archives: Sports

Welcome to The Dark Side


I remember waking up the Monday morning after the AFC Championship Game this past January and feeling great and going on Twitter and — Deflategate. (“Also sometimes known as Ballghazi,” notes Wikipedia, correctly, as it’s still the better name.) The Patriots had just destroyed the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, to advance to the Super Bowl, but it was immediately obvious to me that we had another Patriots Cheated narrative on our hands and that no matter what resolution came of the matter, the dominant narrative of The Patriots Cheated would be cemented, forever and ever. And ever.

The narrative started with Spygate back in 2007. What was Spygate? If you’re like most casual followers of NFL pop culture, you’ll tell me it was about the Patriots secretly videotaping the practice sessions of other teams. Not so. What Spygate was, in total, was the Patriots videotaping an assistant coach of the New York Jets on the sidelines during an actual NFL game. Why is this a problem? Again per Wikipedia: “Videotaping opposing coaches is not illegal in the NFL but there are designated areas allowed by the league to do such taping. The Patriots were videotaping the Jets’ coaches from their own sideline which is not allowed.”

So the Patriots videotaped an opposing assistant coach from the wrong place in the stadium, during a game in front of a crowd of 60,000 people, all of whom could also presumably see and/or videotape the same assistant coach. Quelle scandal.

The obvious point being: the details of Spygate itself didn’t matter, and still don’t. In the minds of everyone who’re not Patriots fans, The Patriots Cheated. So when it became clear that something had happened with the footballs on January 18, 2015, the details didn’t matter either. The Patriots Cheated.

People — friends! — throw these lines in the face of New England sports fans. Heard it for years, will be hearing it for years to come. Here’s the thing: we don’t care. I believe there is some mechanism in the part of the brain that deals with sports fandom that simply suppresses these inconvenient details. It’s only sports, we remind ourselves. And the good guys won. (At least, our good guys.)

In the wake of Deflategate, I’m willing to go further. I now fully embrace the Dark Side. If you’d told me in the 1980′s, when the Patriots were a perennial fourth-place team playing at a run-down dump in Foxboro, MA where all the seating was metal benches perfect for a 28-degree day in December — a shithole the team was still playing in during the Tuck Rule Game in 2002 — that in the next century the Patriots would morph into a team so monstrous they would win four Super Bowls while assuming the mantle of League Villain, I would have welcomed it with glee. So hey: here we are! It’s actually pretty fun here. (By the way, Tom Brady obviously cheated. I’m fine with it.)

Which brings me to the St. Louis Cardinals, a baseball team which stands accused of doing things far worse than the Patriots ever did. Will Leitch, an avid Cardinals fan, bravely confronted the topic yesterday, asking and answering questions about the burgeoning scandal. This bit really got me:

Does this, if true, devalue the past decade-plus of success the Cardinals have had? Well, remember whom you’re talking to right now … but no, obviously not.

Will, let me welcome you to the Dark Side, because that is where you now reside. Whether or not Cards fans realize it yet, in the minds of many (most!), the hacking scandal absolutely will devalue the past decade of success, or a least the past five years or so of it. And so the Cardinals and their fans — an organization and group historically bathed in sunlight and respected as the best of their kind — will have to learn a new way to be.

A darker way to be.

Welcome to the Dark Side. It really is pretty fun over here, once you get used to it.

Super Bowl XLIX

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For posterity, having recovered from spending Super Bowl Weekend in New Orleans, my assorted thoughts and observations on the New England Patriots 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

1) The memories from the nights when your team wins or loses it all tend to be blurry, sometimes because of beer, sometimes because of the moment. Sometimes both. Definitely both this past Sunday as the fourth quarter got underway and it felt like the Patriots were on the verge of getting blown out — right before the game took its third major swing and the Patriots powered back to win. From the start of the quarter to the goal-line with a minute to go, my lasting memory wasn’t the Edelman concussion play (though it was incredible) but the completion to a streaking Gronkowski across the middle for a 20-yard gain with 4:46 to go, which found me running into the adjacent bedroom, towards the kitchen, screaming and pumping my fist. That was the moment I felt sure the Patriots were going to win this game after all.

2) And yet. My realtime watch of the final minute of the game will never be reconstructed accurately. An attempt: I was standing behind a chair (?) as the clock dropped below the 1:00 mark and kept running; Jesse, somewhere to my front and right (?), screaming for Belichick to take the timeout. I can’t claim the clarity that I knew this to be Belichick’s finest moment, a belief which would by Wednesday pass into Patriots fan collective lore — but I also wasn’t screaming. I felt a certain peace, knowing that it would either happen or not happen, and all really fast. Then Wilson threw the screen pass across the middle that Malcolm Butler stepped up and picked off, my friends (all Giants fans and veterans of our horrid 2011 weekend) started congratulating me, and Jesse lost his mind over Pete Carroll’s call while I passed out (?).

3) Speaking of that Giants win in 2011, and that Giants win in 2008 — there’s something about the way sports plays out over time that’s not unlike how history itself can’t be written in the present. The bicycle catch by Kearse could have been the third in an unholy trinity. (In the moment, I tweeted this.) Instead, the way the game played out made both Giants catches fade into the distance, painful memories, sure, but all part of the path to the redemption of this past Sunday. I discovered this emotion as a Red Sox fan but never realized I’d feel it as a Patriots fan. I’m being straight up obnoxious about this because that’s really the whole reason to be a sports fan anyway.

4) When looking for the heroes of the Patriots offseason, my mind wanders back to January 10, the Divisional game between the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Early in the third quarter, when Baltimore had gone up by two touchtowns, I tweeted, “Very quiet at Rock Shop.” In patented reverse-jinx fashion, Boston scourge Mark Lisanti tweeted back at me:

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All of which is why I’m convinced this exchange won the Patriots the Super Bowl. Mark, your gift is on its way.

5) Speaking of Grantland, a shoutout to Bill Barnwell, who produces the deepest read on every NFL game every week seemingly minutes after the games end. The fact that this Super Bowl opus was online by the time I awoke on Monday is nothing short of miraculous.

6) Finally, the end of the Super Bowl settled the bet mentioned on this blog back in the fall. $100 to Harryh; kudos, sir, even though thanks to you, we’re still stuck with Goodell.

As ever, onwards. Go Pats. Is it Truck Day yet?