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Had it all along

Sunday 1/2019

As I said a number of times in the pages of this journal--and on the radio on Tuesday--there was no slippage in the game of the Patriots or Tom Brady this season. They were, though, a better team than the one I watched last year. Does that mean everything works out? Nope. A lot can happen. But I thought this team had a better chance to win than last year's team, and after that last play in Miami, and the debacle in Pittsburgh, I felt confident in their chances to win it all. I felt they had a chance. The battening down and refocusing came at the right time. When a team of players a coach like this one obviously believed in doesn't let the media into their locker room for forty-five minutes after a loss, that tells me that guys care, and a change--not a huge change, but a needed change, a wagon-circling, a holding to a standard--is going to come at the right time.

The Patriots had never been that team--and there is one every year--that coalesces at the right time, which has health, which gets on a run, which gets collectively pissed. I'm hated. I have a lot of people who want to see me fail. I have a lot of people who hate me who try to make me fail. It stems from envy and fear. Believe me, I get it in a way far worse than what happens in sports. And when you are that person, or that entity, and you are made of different stuff than others are, you fight like no one else but you has ever truly understood the meaning of the word. That can be quite powerful. But moving back to the Patriots. I saw a defense that could stop teams, the best backfield of my lifetime of watching the Patriots, a tight end who was not nearly done despite what people said (which they didn't say because they're amazing sports scouts, but rather because enough other people were; very few people on this earth can truly evaluate very subtle nuances in an elite athlete's game) and was an absolute menacing beast as a blocker, a slot receiver rounding into form after injury, a defensive end playing for a contract and becoming a dominant rusher, with the best ever coach, and the best ever quarterback. I saw a 20% chance, in my mind, of them winning it all. I knew a bye would allow the tight end to get back some health, and if they could win the middle game, then utilize another bye, in effect, with two weeks to prep for maybe that tight end's last game, leaving everything out there, their chance was realistic. Would I have taken the field? Yep. But I also would have taken the field in 2003. Do you realize who the Patriots had to go through that year just to make the Super Bowl? I also know the Patriots could beat the field, even if I was taking the field. If that makes sense.

Given my life, given what I've learned, I put little value in sports, in terms of their outcomes. I value them as meritocracies--they are the opposite of publishing that way--and as something whose best principles can be applied elsewhere in life for more important effect. I watched people on social media tonight--friends--post about how they'll never watch the NFL again after the Saints and Rams game. Yes you will. You'll watch in two weeks. You just want to posture right now, and show that you're faux-upset. We love to posture right now and huff and puff about morals and our moral indignation as most of us become shittier than we were the year before, the month before, the week before. Carping about the results of a sporting event is another way to virtue signal. I pitched USA Today about this during the Pats game. Obviously the non-call was a terrible non-call. But it's not why the Saints lost. The Saints lost because the entire team--and especially their coach--lost their focus after something went against them. Things go against you in this world. You need to fight through it. The Saints did not, the Saints are done.

This is a text exchange with a friend, near the end of the game, when the Chiefs were about to go ahead with a little over two minutes left, having advanced inside the Patriots' five yard line. No one on the broadcast--and my goodness, Tony Romo, you don't shut up, but you can't mention this?--pointed out that the Patriots let the Chiefs score. They chopped at the ball, but they made no attempt to tackle. Intelligent strategy. And no one else noticed? Hmmm. It was more daring a move than hiking the ball through the goalposts in Denver all of those years ago, because that was the only move to make at the time. This one was more of a percentage move. An argument could have been mounted each way, and it was a case of which argument led to the better choice. I thought the best option was to let the Chiefs score the touchdown, as did Belichick, of course.

Colin: Let them score now. Ah, good, they let them score.

Friend: Pats will turn it over on their drive.

Colin: You're grim.

Friend: Watch.

Colin: A different outcome awaits, sir.

Friend: Are you nervous?

Colin: No. I am reasonably sanguine. I'll take my chances here.

Friend: I'd like to kick that smile off of Mahomes' face.

Colin: You're focusing on the wrong quarterback. Things are different when you are the best ever at something. They are for you a way that they are not for anyone else, and may never be again. Watch. Brady's at least going to give them a shot. Your larger concern might be if he does it too fast.

And so he did, leaving Mahomes 39 seconds to work with, which was what he needed. But a thought: It is far, far, far too easy to score in the NFL. Increasingly it is a league of who has the ball last. It's just too damn easy to score. One pass, two pass, you're in field goal range. Those guys don't miss. That 57-yarder by the Rams kicker was good by another 10 yards. I am tempted to call Brady's two last drives the two best drives I have ever seen a quarterback engineer. But I can't do that. There are a handful of others by him that could compete. Hell, he may have even been better in last year's AFC title game, when his receivers had zero separation, and he had to thread one needle after another, with darts and lasers, and balls lofted with touch over one defender and in front of another. What struck me tonight was how utterly calm he was. In complete control. I've seen very few athletes with that calmness in those situations. Actually, I've seen four. Ortiz, Jordan, Gretzky, Brady. Jordan and Brady had the most control, given their sports and what can be exerted over the outcome by a single player in their respective positions. Actually, that could be a book, exploring what in their psychologies and background and make-ups allowed or allow them to do what they did or do in the most massively leveraged situations. I can't think of any other athlete I've seen who comes close to those four. Not Bird. I would say James is the closest, and I don't think he's close. He's a natural highest leverage-level competitor. Those others are preternatural. Brady has done it for, by far, the longest amount of time.

A victory tune, courtesy of Hank Mobley. It's called "Ballin'".


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