|The 2014 NFL Season|
The writer isn't a sports fan (I follow a lot of stand up comedians, political types, etc.), so it wasn't a serious suggestion... and yet, it kind of stuck with me. And also played at the back of my head. We just saw the closest, most back and forth SB possibly ever, and while I was a bit disappointed in the outcome, having picked Seattle and with the genuine dislike for Boston Fan that, well, everyone in America feels all the time now...
Well, that usually doesn't sit for long with me. A great game is a great game, and hell, I own Tom Brady in my fantasy league. So why the butthurt?
Well, it really comes down to this. What did we learn from this NFL season?
We learned who won the games.
That, honestly, is about it.
One of the reasons that the NBA is moving ahead for me these days is that, well, when the NBA Champion is crowned, there really isn't any doubt that team was the best in the league. Like them or hate them, no one ran around saying the Spurs or Heat or Lakers or Celtics or whoever of recent vintage wasn't the best club that year. A best of seven series, in a game that has hundreds of possessions, tends to boil out the lucky bounces and bad calls, and by the end of it, the victory is more like the 15th round of a fight where the winner is well ahead on points, rather than the flip of a coin. And even when it is the flip of a coin, it's usually because one of the teams seized the coin in mid-air and slammed it down for their side. Ray Allen hits the three pointer. Et cetera. You know who the best team is. They are the people with the trophy.
In sports entertainment, which the NFL has now more or less become, there are good guys (in the lingo, baby faces) and bad guys (heels). When a heel wins the championship, an odd thing happens to the narrative, in that people are supposed to respect the accomplishment and performer, no matter what awful thing they did to get the crown. Sure, they lied and cheated and perpetrated untold crimes against decency and humanity and The Rules, but they got the job done, dammit. Eventually, heel champions develop a subset of the audience that roots for them, especially if they have any kind of ability on the mic, or work rate in the ring. Maybe they even become baby faces in some markets (the wrestler's home town, or some city with a history of cheering for heels), but for the most part, their reigns are transitory periods, moments to be corrected with force by a bigger hero, as soon as one emerges.
Even if you aren't willing to put serious wood to the fire that the Patriots derived considerable gain from tampering with the equipment -- and, honestly, there's no good reason to do that, but let's just leave the smoking turd in the corner of the room for the moment -- the point is this. They won a division where they were the only competent team, in the weaker conference. They won a playoff game, at home with the bye, against a Ravens team that completely owned the line of scrimmage, got out to a big early lead, and let them off the hook with absurd play-calling late. Then they rolled over an exposed Colts team, before playing this game... and in this game, they blew a big early advantage, came back, then made a single great play, while taking advantage of the worst play-call decision in NFL history.
(This is, of course, reductive thinking. New England could have taken a huge early lead with better work in the red zone and fewer turnovers. Seattle could have put the game away with a timely catch or third-down stop in the fourth quarter. The SB was something like five games in one, without much connecting the swings. It was as if the game was played on Adderall. But I digress.)
To sum up... is anyone outside of Boston really convinced that this is the best team in the NFL this year?
(By the way, if Seattle had won? The same doubts would have been around, except they wouldn't be as loud. Green Bay trucked them at home before they played the last five minutes to lose, with a half dozen failure moments on offense, defense, special teams and coaching. But at least they had the pedigree of being the dominant team of last year to fall back on.)
Or, and this is the deeper problem... is there such a thing as a best team any more?
Before Julian Thomas and Peyton Manning got hurt, Denver was the best team in the NFL in 2014. After early struggles, Green Bay looked like the best club. Pittsburgh had moments. Dallas and Arizona and Detroit and Philadelphia, too.The overwhelming sense is just that New England was the luckiest team, in the best position, with the best timing, and a coaching staff that kept running into dumb money on the other sideline. We'll let go the point that the rule book became a tire fire on defensive holding and pass interference and roughing the QB and taunting and hands to the face and so on, and so on.
As an NFL fan, we can put up with a lot of things, and I'll spare you the laundry list because, well, who cares.
But can we put up with the idea that what we watched isn't anything more than random chance?