Great. Now I'm rooting against the fragile hopes and dreams of a wounded city. I thought I was just watching football.
I understand where you're coming from, Josh. The 2004 Red Sox victory was a soul-stirring, citizenry-unifying touchstone. A fourth Patriots Super Bowl in six years would just be sort of nice.
There's some irony in the fact that Patriots fans—most of whom are also Red Sox fans—now find themselves playing the role traditionally accorded to Yankees fans. Everyone's sick of our team. No one wants them to win. Sports columnists are writing things like this: "If the New England Patriots defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Sunday, it will unleash a wave of boredom and annoyance that could reach biblical proportions."
I've already made my case for why Pats fans deserve a little slack. (Before this run of excellence, the Patriots were one of a very few teams that could rival the Saints for futility.) But I think there's also a case to be made for the value of juggernaut sports dynasties.
When a different team wins every year (as has happened in baseball of late), the ingredients for victory can begin to feel random. It's too easy. Your team just gets hot at the right moment, and boom, you win.
When the same team (or the same person, like Roger Federer or Tiger Woods) wins year after year, then you know it's something special. You know you're watching greatness. And that's important to me as a sports fan. I don't want to watch a bunch of mediocrities slugging it out. I want to feel I'm watching the game played at its highest level.
Also, when Goliath finally does hit the mat, you know the new champ has earned his crown. The Diamondbacks beating the Yankees in 2001—in their final at-bat, facing Mariano Rivera, after the Yankees had won four of the previous five championships? That was drama. We could all feel how improbable and thrilling a win that was. The Yankees seemed invincible. At last, someone slayed the dragon.
Now that I'm on the other side, and you all despise my team, it's not as much fun. Likewise, I find it difficult to work up much hatred for the Colts. We've crushed their fans' hearts so many times. Now I'm supposed to be rooting for their misery yet again? How much is enough? I know the ecstasy of at last overcoming a bitter foe (thank you, Dave Roberts and the rest of the 2004 ALCS Red Sox squad), and as a kindhearted human being I'd really love to share that fulfilling joy with a Colts fan like Brendan.
Oh, who am I kidding? [Spotlight goes red. Flames rise up behind me. Evil violins begin to shriek and wail.] How dare those pathetic Colts fans believe this is their year? (Are they smoking stuff out of Michael Vick's water bottle?) Because it's never their year! Never never never!! I want to crush them again and again! I want Peyton Manning to throw nine interceptions! I want Dwight Freeney to spin so hard that he corkscrews through the RCA Dome turf as Laurence Maroney sprints by! I want Ty Law to be a special evil guest on the Patriots' sideline, pointing at his head while staring creepily at Manning! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!!
Sorry, Brendan. But that felt good. Now that I've got it off my chest, let's talk about the game.
Wednesday, I rewatched the Pats-Colts game from earlier this season (played back when the Pats were 6-1 and the Colts were 7-0). The Colts won 27-20 and were in control for much of the contest. I managed to find good and bad news for both sides.
Most evident as a Pats fan was the fact that Peyton Manning diced up the New England secondary in that game. But recall that strong safety Rodney Harrison got injured and went out early in the first half, which left the Pats disorganized and scrambling. (The same thing happened against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, leading to a slew of big passes for QB Jake Delhomme late in the game.) Harrison likely won't play this week either, but at least the Pats are prepared for that going in.
The Pats' running backs were bullying the Colts around (every team was running on the Colts at that point in the year). But the Patriots abandoned the ground game at odd times. One early, methodical drive ended when Tom Brady seemingly grew bored and took a deep shot downfield, resulting in an interception. I realize that a punishing run game can open up the play-action strike for big yardage, but the risk of a turnover hardly seems necessary when you're ripping off 8-yard carries at will. (And the Pats were doing this without TE Daniel Graham or G Stephen Neal—both key run-blockers who were out that game but are now healthy.)
I see two central questions leading up to this weekend's matchup. 1) Is Indy's recently improved run defense for real? 2) Can the Pats' shaky and depleted secondary hold Manning at bay?
I think it's quite possible the Colts' defensive rebirth is genuine. Yes, oft-injured SS Bob Sanders is back, and he has a knack for torpedoing opposing running backs. But there's more to it than that. Sometimes a unit just jells, and begins to play with confidence and fire. I've seen this happen repeatedly with Patriots defenses, which can suddenly click come playoff time. I still think the Pats will be able to move the ball on the ground (something they couldn't do at all against the Chargers), but I don't think the Colts are the historically putrid pushovers they were earlier this year.
As for the Pats' d-backs? This could get ugly. Asante Samuel might hold his own against Indy's Marvin Harrison. But on the other side of the field, Reggie Wayne will have his way with Ellis Hobbs, a young Pats cornerback with a lot of confidence but not a lot of skillz. (Philip Rivers, the Chargers quarterback, called him "the sorriest corner in the league.")
I admit I'm chest-tighteningly nervous about this game. All I ask is that it not come down to a field goal at the end. Or rather, not come down to Adam Vinatieri nailing one down Broadway, or rookie Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski shanking one wide right.
Whaddaya think, Brendan? Is this your year? [Flames rise, violins shriek.]