A Colts fan and a Pats fan dissect every angle of Sunday's big game.
Posted Friday, Nov. 2, 2007, at 11:57 AM
Brendan: Eric, my psychological preparations for this weekend's game have consisted of a single activity: endlessly watching and rewatching this video of Marvin Harrison's dazzling touchdown catch in Foxborough last November. It's not the one-handed grab that impresses so much as the post-score festivities—Harrison uncharacteristically spikes the ball with authority, and the pigskin accidentally smacks Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel in the facemask. Vrabel whines to the nearest official, then starts jawing at Harrison. The normally mild-mannered Harrison doesn't appear to reply, but he shoots Vrabel a gloating stare for a microsecond before being engulfed in a celebratory swarm.
Never before had I seen Harrison so flush with rage; his usual post-TD modus operandi is to flip the ball to the ref and saunter off the field. It was at that moment that I realized the 2006 Colts were a special team, destined to exorcise the demons that had kept both Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning ringless for so many years. Loud-mouthed jerk that he might have been, erstwhile Colts place-kicker Mike Vanderjagt (aka "our idiot kicker") had a point when he popped off on Canadian radio a few years back: The Colts used to lack a certain fire in the belly, an ability to gut out victories when their offense wasn't hitting on all cylinders. Harrison's celebration signaled the end of the bad ol' days—from that point forward, the Colts were a team to be feared, not just admired. When my Colts were down 18 points in the first half of last season's AFC Championship game, I didn't despair. I just remembered The Spike and thought, It isn't meant to end like this. (Though, granted, the five Yuenglings I consumed before halftime helped boost my confidence.)
Despite our hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy last February, however, it's the Pats who are the league's showcase story this season—though not always for the most salubrious of reasons. It's one thing to be smashing fools on the gridiron, quite another to be running up the score on poor Joe Gibbs (whose forehead veins came close to bursting when the Pats' offense hit the half-century mark). Then you've got Rodney Harrison's confessed dalliance with human growth hormone, followed by the Spygate imbroglio. And what have the Colts been up to this season, aside from quietly dominating the AFC South? Nothing more scintillating than doing cheesy United Way commercials, I'm proud to say; the guys are even nice enough to leave the strip-club shenanigans to the Pacers.
Honestly, though, I don't think the Pats are at risk of angering the football gods—the spying strikes me as a second-rate offense, and judging by the number of melted skulls I see on Sundays, HGH use isn't confined to the New England locker room. If the Patriots are tempting fate, it's on account of the long-forgotten case of concussion-addled Ted Johnson. Bill Belichick comes off like a major creep in that tale, sending an obviously shaky Johnson back into the full-contact fray despite a trainer's warnings. As a result, I've come to regard him as the NFL's version of Cobra Kai sensei John "Sweep the Leg" Kreese, a heartless rogue with seriously out-of-whack priorities. While I can't quite agree with ESPN.com columnist Gregg Easterbrook that Belichick is a paragon of evil—I refuse to equate tacking on an extra score against the Dolphins with, say, the Cambodian genocide—he certainly exhibits some nasty traits. No other coach pursues victory with such robotic joylessness, nor seems less aware of how blessed he is to be earning millions of dollars doing something he supposedly loves.
Belichick's irritating ultracompetitive act would be more tolerable if it didn't rub off on his players. But, sheesh, the Sweat-Shirted Mastermind has turned even Randy Moss into a pass-catching automaton. What I wouldn't give to see Moss fake-moon a crowd once more or court even the smallest bit of controversy. But no—Moss is now just another cog in Belichick's win-at-all-costs juggernaut. Rooting for the Patriots is like rooting for the nameless bullies in Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown.
I'm assuming that you have similarly frosty feelings about my Colts, perhaps involving Manning's ubiquity as a pitchman or the air-conditioned austerity of the RCA Dome. Do your worst—having survived the dark Art Schlichter years, not to mention the midnight sneak out of Baltimore, we die-hard Colts fans are a resilient lot.
Eric: Brendan, you better hope and pray the Indianapolis Colts are doing more to prepare themselves psychologically than you are. You've been watching Marvin Harrison spike a football while Chamillionaire's "Ridin' " plays in the background? Really? That gets your football spots all tingly? Hey man, whatever gets you off.
But thanks for sending along that video. You say he's "flush with rage"? Marvin Harrison? The human dial tone? Brendan, he's not angry. This is a man with so little practice celebrating that he spazzed out and accidentally doinked the ball off a Patriot. (Watch the tape. Harrison pulls a Hideki Okajima—he has no idea where that ball is going. He could have easily hit the ref, or Dallas Clark.) But I love the narrative you've got going there: picked-on, shy nerd gets revenge. It dovetails nicely with the saturation coverage we're getting right now. For years, those nice, sweet boys from the Midwest, the ones who dress like milkmen, got killed by the cold, calculating, team-first New England Patriots. But then they finally struck back, winning the series' last three games. And this Sunday, for the future of professional football, for the sake of Gregg Easterbrook's fragile psyche, to defend the virtues of fair play and good sportsmanship and mom and apple pie and Jesus H. Christ wrapped in an American flag kicking a football through the goal posts of heaven, Peyton and co. must secure a win. I'm paraphrasing Stephen A. Smith there, but you get the point.
You are right about last year, though. That AFC Championship game matchup changed everything for the NFL, marking the beginning of the Patriots' epic "heel turn." Since then, Tom Brady has knocked up and abandoned his famous girlfriend, then fell into the arms of the world's hottest underwear model. Then the franchise "unfairly" dominated the free-agent market, leading people to compare the Patriots to the Yankees, thereby ignoring the obvious fact that NFL teams have a salary cap and baseball teams do not. And there was all that other stuff you mentioned. Rodney Harrison getting caught using HGH. Spygate. Runningupthescoregate.