Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Lesson Plan Is to Ignore Them

My former colleague Tony Massarotti had a column in this morning's wood pulp Globe arguing that the Patriots' game with the Dolphins today would offer valuable information about how good the Pats REALLY are heading to the playoffs. At this time of year, it's especially sad to see an auld acquaintance fall victim to the simplest, hoariest fallacies in the observation of sports -- that games all have some inner significance beyond the final score, and that today's result, properly interpreted, offers a canny glimpse of the future.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a game is just that. This afternoon's tilt at Gillette Stadium sure seems to fit that bill. As near as I can make out, its indicator of the future is that after it's over, the Pats will either be 12-3 or 11-4. Either way, that's a pretty Merry Christmas in the standings. Either way, the Pats' playoff outlook will remain the same -- reasonably bright, if it weren't how their last two trips turned out.

Sports commentators are particularly susceptible to the "hidden meaning" theory of games because, after all, they have to say SOMETHING about the damn contest when it's over, and in Tony's case, he has hours of time he's required to do so. I'm embarrassed/frightened to remember how many columns I cranked out for the Herald peering into the third-level post-constructionist significance of an event whose meaning was all on the surface, as in "Sox won last night."

The easiest way to debunk the Hidden Meaning Menace is to apply it to some other team but the one you root for or cover. Let's take the Packers' loss to the Chiefs last Sunday. Is there anyone on earth who honestly thinks that game had any lesson for us besides the obvious one that it's very difficult to go undefeated in the National Football League? Anybody want to venture the opinion that Romeo Crennel has showed the world how to stop Aaron Rodgers? Yeah, I'm sure some member of the NFL Network's Insane Studio Posse did so, but that doesn't count. I'm talking actual people here.

What made Tony's "my day to work today" piece particularly odd was the calendar. It was as if he'd put a jack o'lantern outside his house. To quote an old coach, the NFL future is now. There are two games left in the year. The Pats and 31 other teams are no longer works in progress. They are for better or worse what they are, to quote another coach. The only games that have "meaning" in the sportswriter sense of the word on the card today are the ones that effect who makes the playoffs. You want "meaning" watch the Jets and Giants today, or the Eagles and Cowboys, or even the Bills and Broncos.

Want to have a good time watching the home team. Watch the Pats. If they win be happy, if they lose, cuss briefly and go about your business. Give yourself a treat and treat three hours of competition for what it is, just another mundane, glorious ball game.

Hey, you deserve it. It's Christmas Eve.


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