Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Ineffable Is Hard to Find and Harder Still to Buy

As predictably as gray skies in mid-February, a commentator (it was Christopher Gasper in the Globe, but if it wasn't him, it would've been someone else, so don't take what comes next personal Chris) has urged the Patriots to throw caution and millions to the wind and do their best to make sure their 2012 roster will drip with All-Pros through the depth chart. It should be a team worthy of Tom Brady, because, horror of horrors, he might not get another chance to win a Super Bowl.

Upon reading this, I gave Gasper props for courage in the face of evidence. It took nerve advocating the Super Team personnel management strategy in 2012 after watching the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. And Miami Heat. And Boston Red Sox.

The sad truth that it's almost impossible for the team that lost the Super Bowl to get back to it the following season and closer to impossible for that team to win it (1972 Dolphins were the last) has relatively little to do with the talent of said losing team and very much to do with the following other sad truths: 1. It's hard to get to the Super Bowl for everybody every year. 2. Recapturing the past, especially the emotional past, is even harder for human beings than winning Super Bowls.

Super Bowl XLVI was a thrilling game and all week I have realized I didn't have anything to say about it that hadn't been covered to death by former peers in paid sports media. In a melodramatic victory/horribly tough loss, by definition every player on the winner contributed in some important way, and every player on the loser had something they could have done better to alter the outcome. Why pick over those bones when others did so?

As the game also proved, the Patriots and Giants were just like all the other winning teams in the NFL last season that didn't reach the finals. They had admirable strengths, and they also had glaring weaknesses. The Giants just happened to turn in the one play more that hid their weakness -- overall inconsistency -- than the Pats did to hide theirs -- pass defense or lack thereof.

Which brings me to the Pats' admirable strength. Football has a million words for it, guts, competitiveness, fight, team spirit, etc. These guys didn't quit in the face of their own failures. This was especially true on a defense that had plenty of failures even in victories. It it notable that Bill Belichick cited the Steelers game, where the Pats pretty much stunk but made a contest of their loss anyhow, as when be began think of his team as potential champions.

That's why, as opposed to Super Bowl XLII, I felt sorry for New England after this loss. Anyone with any involvement in sports is taught from the youngest age that pluck, persistence and the will to win are invaluable. When an athlete or team displays those qualities in abundance and loses anyway, it just doesn't seem right. The sports moral universe has gone off its axis.

That's me, a former professional neutral. Now, imagine how that feels for the people who put in the emotional commitment, who had the will to win and poise to keep fighting after failure. Neither their faith nor their good works done through faith were rewarded. Only a stone or maybe Colin Cowherd couldn't identify with the Patriots this week. It didn't bother me that Rob Gronkowski got up stage at the post-game party. It wouldn't have bothered me if he'd gotten up on stage naked on "American Idol." I leave the Pats to work things out in their own way because right now, it sucks to be them worse than anyone else in sports.

Let's be real. Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft can't go out and build a super team, and wouldn't if they could. They have their extremely successful business plan, and they'll likely stick to it. In 2012, the Pats will need all the emotional courage and resilience they had in 2011, maybe more, just to get to the damn playoffs, let alone the title game. Without it, they'd have have been maybe 8-8 last year. Just like the Eagles.

That's why I don't share the books' jolly confidence the Patriots are favorites to win it all in 2012. The mind and soul can't be MRI'd, but they're as vulnerable to injury as any cruciate ligament. And they take ever so much longer to heal than high ankle sprains.


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