Monday, February 18, 2019

...so you still think Joe Montana is the GOAT?

When Tom Brady took the field for Super Bowl 53, he already had more NFL titles than any quarterback in history. He’s had that distinction for two years; what he did this past February 3rd simply added to his legacy. He’s won six, and no other QB has even played in that many.

Only two other quarterbacks in the history of the league, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman, have won three Super Bowls in five seasons or fewer. Brady’s done it twice. Draw a line down the middle of Brady’s 17 NFL seasons, and he’d have two Hall of Fame careers, complete with three championships in each. His win in Super Bowl 53 eliminated what little doubt was left as to who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He’s lapped the field. The debate is over.


But not for all of you.

More specifically, it ended the debate for everyone except those in the Joe Montana camp. Brady has put so much distance between himself and the rest of the league that it’s no longer feasible to toss out Peyton Manning (2-2 in Super bowls), John Elway (2-3), Aaron Rodgers (1-0), Dan Marino (0-1), or even Aikman (3-0). And although Bradshaw has four rings, and won them in the space of just six seasons, faster than Montana or Brady, his name is almost never mentioned with the all-time greats, because the Steeler teams of the 70s were known for their defense. Bradshaw threw for just 96 yards in his first Super Bowl, and completed fewer than 10 passes in each of his first two. During the Super Bowl 51 postgame show, Bradshaw himself referred to Brady as “The greatest quarterback”. This leaves Montana alone to contend with Brady for GOAT status.

Unlike Bradshaw, Montana overwhelmed his opponents with offense. He perfected the art of the comeback, and seemed to thrive in pressure-packed situations. What’s more, he too was a perfect 4-0 in Super Bowls.

That Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl might just be the most-repeated fact in the QB GOAT debate. And there’s a good reason for that, too—it’s the only leg you have left to stand on.

If you’re one of the people still insisting that Montana was better than Brady, you’re not basing that on stats, and that much isn’t up for debate.

 BRADY VS. MONTANA: TWO-MAN STATISTICAL JAM


Statistically, Brady destroys Montana. He’s got 30,000 more yards, 240 more TDs (almost double Montana’s total), 80 more wins, and his win percentage is 100 points higher. And while it is true that Montana’s passer rating was five points higher in the playoffs, it’s also true that the Patriots average 27.3 points per game in the playoffs with Brady at QB, vs. only 21.3 for Montana’s offenses.

“No fair,” you say. “Brady has played in almost twice as many playoff games as Montana. Of course his stats will be better.”

Do you think it’s just dumb luck that Brady has had such a long career? Have you ever read up on the insanely strict diet he maintains? His year-round training? And not just any old training, by the way, but training that’s specially designed to protect him against the extreme physical toll that football takes on the body? Tom Brady has gone above and beyond to keep himself in peak physical condition long past the age when most quarterbacks, including Joe Montana, have lost their effectiveness and retired. Why doesn’t he deserve credit for that?

This is a landslide. Brady’s numbers are off the charts, especially in the postseason. Montana doesn’t come close, nor does any other quarterback in the history of the league.

ADVANTAGE: BRADY.



SUPER BOWL RECORD

If you’re taking Montana over Brady, your argument begins and ends with his undefeated record in Super Bowls, and even that holds no water.
Try this thought experiment:

Texans QB DeShaun Watson was one-and-done in the playoffs this year. He lost a Wild Card game to the Colts, managing a total of 7 points for the entire game. Rams QB Jared Goff, on the other hand, won the Divisional Round and the Conference Championship before losing in the Super Bowl. Who had the better postseason?

Go and ask your friends. Ask 1,000 people if you want. Find me one person who can build a logical argument that Watson had a better playoff year than Goff. It’s not possible. Yet this is exactly the type of argument you make when you tell me that Montana is better than Brady.

What if Goff wins the Super Bowl next year, and Watson wins it the year after that? Would Watson have the advantage because he “never lost the big one”, even though he got crushed in an early round two seasons before, and Goff didn’t? Do you really believe that losing earlier is better than losing later?

The entire pro-Montana logic rests on the concept that he played best when the games mattered most, as evidenced by his 4-0 record in Super Bowls. But it’s a funny thing about Super Bowls: You have to win a Conference Championship to play in one—and Montana is only 4-3 in Conference Championships. And the losses weren’t pretty.

In the 1983 NFC Championship against Washington, Montana led the Niners back from a 21-0 deficit to tie the game. But then, after a late Redskins field goal, Montana inexplicably ran the ball 15 yards up the gut on 1st down, with 36 seconds left and no timeouts—a massive mistake. That play, and the subsequent throw-away to stop the clock (QBs didn't spike in those days), cost him 22 seconds and effectively ended the game.

In his last two Conference Championship games, both of which he lost, Montana’s offense failed to reach 14 points either time, and he threw only one TD pass over the two games. In the latter of the two, a 30-13 loss at Buffalo, he completed a grand total of nine passes for 125 yards.

There was a Super Bowl berth on the line in all three of these games. Why the poor performances? I thought he was unbeatable when the games mattered! Exactly what are we saying here—that the Super Bowl is important, but the game you have to win to get to the Super Bowl isn’t? This logic doesn’t pass the smell test.

Incidentally, Brady is 9-4 in Conference Championship games, meaning that he’s only lost one more than Montana, despite playing in almost twice as many.

While 4-0 might beat 6-3 when it comes to baseball games in April, we’re talking playoff football here. The mere fact that Brady played in nine Super Bowls means he won more than twice as many big games as Montana did. Failing to get to the Super Bowl isn't better than getting there and losing. In this context, 6-3 beats 4-0 the same way that 6 gold medals and 3 silver beats 4 gold and no silver.

ADVANTAGE: BRADY.


THAT STREAK

If you support Montana as the GOAT, I need you to explain something to me.

How is it that, in three straight playoff games between 1985 and 1987, Mr. Clutch had three one-and-done losses, and was held to zero touchdowns (not just zero TD passes, but zero offensive touchdowns), while being outscored 65-9?

Of course, to be fair, the three games only covered eight quarters for Montana. He left the 1986 Divisional Round game, a 49-3 loss to the Giants, with an injury around halftime. The following year, in the third quarter of the Divisional Round vs. Minnesota, trailing 20-3, Montana suffered the ultimate humiliation—being BENCHED for his backup, Steve Young, who promptly led the 49ers to three touchdowns.

“Brady had three straight playoff losses as well, from 2007 to 2010,” you say. Yes, true. But of course, the first of the three was a Super Bowl (SB 42), so we aren’t talking about three one-and-dones like we are with Montana. And while Brady was, naturally, outscored, it was by a count of 78-49, which, while not stellar, is a damn sight better than 65-9. Brady’s games were competitive, hard-fought losses; Montana was utterly destroyed three times in a row—in the prime of his career.

And of course, Brady was never benched for anyone.

I never hear Montana fans mention The Streak. They never talk about it at all. It’s as if the only playoff games that matter for Montana are Super Bowls; no other games are discussed, and all subpar performances, no matter how inept, are completely dismissed.

Explain to me how a man you say is the greatest ever to play his position gets manhandled this way in three consecutive postseasons. I’ll wait.

Brady’s never had a playoff collapse anywhere close to the one Montana had from ‘85 to ‘87.

ADVANTAGE: BRADY.


MONTANA’S NO-INTERCEPTION RECORD

Montana’s pristine Super Bowl record doesn’t just apply to wins—he’s also never thrown a pick in a Super Bowl—and Montana fans aren’t shy about reminding us.

Here’s the thing, though: Montana only attempted a total of 122 passes in his four Super Bowls, whereas Brady has attempted over three times that many, and more than half that number in one game alone (SB 51). But sometimes, a chart is worth a thousand words:


Wow. Looks like Montana has Brady beat by a whole two passing attempts! That definitely offsets Brady’s two extra Lombardis!

Oh, and by the way, that “no interceptions” thing ought to have an asterisk, after this play…

Despite the above, Brady has thrown a total of six INTs in nine Super Bowls, which is on pace for 11 in a 16-game season. While this stat isn’t nearly as much of a revelation as people pretend it is, I can’t rightly give Brady the edge on this one when Montana never threw a pick.

ADVANTAGE: MONTANA.

CONSIDER THE COMPETITION

As I always say, quarterbacks don’t play against other quarterbacks; they play against defenses. This is why I’ve always hated the Quarterback-A-outdueled-Quarterback-B hot takes that people throw around. But still, it’s a lot easier to win a Super Bowl when the opposing quarterback can’t get out of his own way.

Quarterbacks had a really bad habit of stinking up the place when they played against the 49ers in Montana’s day. Exactly one QB, Ken Anderson, had a decent game (95.2 passer rating) vs. Montana’s 49ers in a Super Bowl, and even he was down 20-0 before he scored a point, and threw an interception on his own side of the field with a little over 5:00 remaining, handing the 49ers a field goal which put his team down by two scores and effectively ended the game.

The quarterbacks got worse from there.

In Super Bowl 19, Dan Marino’s Dolphins actually led the 49ers, 10-7, in the first quarter. The lead lasted exactly 4 minutes and 11 seconds. Marino’s offense had 9 drives after that, which included:
-1 field goal;
-6 punts (5 of these drives were 3-and-out, and 3 totaled negative yardage);
-2 interceptions.

Miami also kicked a field goal with 4 seconds left in the first half, but it came immediately after a San Francisco fumble, and Marino’s offense didn’t even take the field beforehand.
Yes, Marino would go on to a Hall of Fame career, but he didn’t earn it that day. His passer rating was a 66.9, which, while abysmal, was the second best ever for an opposing QB in a Montana Super Bowl.

Super Bowl 23 was the one and only game in which Montana actually had to mount a comeback. He threw a TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left, which at the time was an unimaginable thing—that is, before Tom Brady made it as routine as the National Anthem.

Luckily for Montana, Boomer Esiason, the Bengals’ quarterback that day, put on one of the most putrid Super Bowl performances in history, completing 11 of 25 passes for 144 yards, 0 TDs and an INT, good for a 46.1 passer rating (for reference purposes, if every pass thrown is incomplete, the quarterback’s passer rating would be a 39.6). The Bengals’ one touchdown that day came on a kickoff return; beyond that, Esiason’s offense managed 3 field goals for the entire game, and Montana still needed a last-ditch drive to win it.

At this point, you’re probably reminding me about Super Bowl 53, in which the Rams were held to 3 points for the entire game, and Brady too needed a late touchdown to win. But the comparison fails for a number of reasons. First, the Patriots’ touchdown came with 7:00 remaining in the game, and the Patriots would add another field goal on the next drive to put the game away. Second, unlike Super Bowl 23, the Patriots never trailed at all, let alone in the last minute of the game. Third, Stephen Gostkowski missed a very makeable 46-yard field goal in the first quarter, which, as we found out, would’ve been the game-winning points, even had there been no 4th quarter scores.

And lastly, it says a lot that Tom Brady had to play in nine Super Bowls before you found one that even vaguely matched Montana’s fourth.

Which brings us to the granddaddy of them all, the Super Bowl performance so foul that those in attendance should’ve demanded their money back—even the 49er fans: John Elway in Super Bowl 24.

Elway’s totals: 10 completions, 108 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs. One drive of more than six plays. Ten of 13 drives ended in a punt or a turnover, and Elway lost the time of possession battle by 19 minutes.
And this might be my favorite stat of them all: a 19.4 passer rating. A man has to work to be that bad. They should’ve replaced Elway with the winner of the 10th grade punt, pass and kick competition!

Yes, Montana hung 55 points on Denver that day, but there aren’t many quarterbacks who would’ve lost that game.

All told, Montana’s competition was mainly nonexistent during his Super Bowl runs, whereas Brady faced top-notch talent nearly every time out:


Clearly, Brady was playing against professionals; Montana wasn’t.

ADVANTAGE: BRADY.


WHO WAS MORE CLUTCH?

I’ve developed a new stat called Go-ahead Percentage (GAP), which I’ll be rolling out in an article after this one (why is it that, now that the season has ended, I’ve turned into a one-man Football Weekly?) GAP measures QB performance in potential go-ahead drives in the 4th quarter and OT, and is calculated like a batting average (# of times successfully taking the lead / total opportunities). It’s expressed in three decimal places (.xxx).

Joe Montana had a total of nine such go-ahead opportunities in the playoffs, and converted five of them, for an incredible .556 average (interestingly, both Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson both have an identical 5-for-9 playoff figure). Exactly one of Montana’s go-ahead playoff scores was in the Super Bowl. The only QBs other than Brady who have topped Montana’s 5 are Eli Manning (6) and Drew Brees (8).

Brady’s got 8 in Super Bowls alone.

That’s 8 out of 10, by the way, for an insane .800 Super Bowl GAP. I suppose you could argue that Montana’s 1-for-1 amounts to a 1.000 average, and that he’s therefore better, but that would kind of be like your wide receiver throwing one pass for a TD, then bragging about his 158.3 passer rating. Do better.

In the playoffs overall, Brady is 18-for-26 in GAP opportunities, for a ridiculous .692 average, over 130 points ahead of Montana. 

Montana is well-known for his late-game heroics, but the numbers are clear: Brady’s had far more clutch opportunities, and he’s converted them at a far better rate than Montana. It’s not close.

ADVANTAGE: BRADY.


CARRIED BY THE DEFENSE

In the Brady vs. Montana battle, one man benefitted greatly from a dominant defense. But it wasn’t the one you think.

It’s a common gripe for Patriot haters to say, “Brady only wins because of his defense”. They know that Belichick has a reputation as a defensive mastermind, and, well, they just assume that that’s why the Patriots win. But they’re wrong.

Yet again, the conventional wisdom is way off base. The truth is the exact opposite of what you’ve been saying. Prepare to have your mind blown:

Yeah, you read right. The 49er Super Bowl defense allowed fewer points than Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and the rest of those guys who, oh, I don’t know, might be the greatest defense in the history of the National Football League or something.

And the Patriots? Why, even when we average in their stellar, three-point performance from Super Bowl 53, they still allow almost seven more points per game than the 49ers did.

As if the 22+ points per game wasn’t enough, the Patriot defense also has a nasty habit of allowing late scores in Super Bowls. Have you ever wondered why Brady has needed so many Super Bowl comebacks in the first place? Perhaps this will clear it up:


Yes, Montana was a great quarterback, and maybe he would have won some or all of those Super Bowls without that dominant defense. The point is, Brady won more Super Bowls than Montana, even as the Patriot defense allowed one gut-wrenching 4th quarter TD after another, including in every one of the three Super Bowls that Brady lost.

Notice that those 4th quarter scores were all touchdowns, too—not a field goal in the bunch. When the Patriots cave, they cave big.

The evidence is clear. Montana was carried by a lights-out defense; Brady wasn’t.

ADVANTAGE: BRADY.


WHY DO WE CALL THEM “BRADY LOSSES”, ANYWAY?

You can learn a lot from studying people’s word choices.

Read the angry tweets after Tom Brady hoists a Lombardi Trophy. Inevitably, it’s referred to as a “Patriot win”. But let the Patriots lose one, and it’s a “Tom Brady loss”. It doesn’t matter how it happened. Brady could throw for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns, and lose 105-104, and all the blame would be heaped on him. Similarly, when Brady’s offense came storming back from 25 points down against Atlanta in SB 51, in one of the biggest comebacks, not just in Super Bowl history, but in NFL history overall, yep, you guessed it: Another “Patriot win”.

Let’s look at these “Brady losses” that some people say prove that he’s inferior to Joe Montana:

Super Bowl 42:
Brady was under duress for the entire game, as the Giants defensive line was able to get home rushing 4, allowing them to drop 7 men into coverage. Brady said it was like throwing into a forest.

Despite the relentless pressure, Brady hit Moss for a touchdown with 2:42 left in the game, then turned to his defense for a stop, ONE stop, to preserve an undefeated season. Instead, they allowed a go-ahead touchdown with :35 seconds left to play, leaving Brady with insufficient time to answer.

Super Bowl 46:
Another Giants game, and almost a carbon copy of the one four seasons before. Again, Brady’s offense found a way to carve out a lead, and needed one stop from the defense. And once again, they allowed a go-ahead TD pass with under a minute to play.

Super Bowl 52:
Despite breaking his own Super Bowl record, throwing for over 500 yards, and racking up 33 points, the Patriot defense allowed score after score, leaving Brady struggling to catch up. The Patriots did not make one single stop in the 2nd half, allowing five straight scoring drives stretching back to the second quarter. In fact, the Eagles scored on eight of ten drives overall for the game, amassing 41 points.

Despite the onslaught, Brady actually took a 33-32 lead before, you guessed it, the defense allowed a go-ahead TD with 2:21 left in the game, and Brady was strip-sacked on the ensuing drive while in the act of throwing. Not surprisingly, the strip-sack became a rallying point for every Brady hater with a smartphone and a Twitter account. The 500 passing yards didn’t count. The Foxboro High School-level defense didn’t count. It was a Brady Loss. Except it wasn’t.

IN CONCLUSION

It’s time for you to accept the truth: Tom Brady is the GOAT. The fact that you root for another team, or that Brady looks like the guy who gave you atomic wedgies in gym class, or that your girlfriend won’t stop commenting about how handsome he is, has no bearing on the facts. It’s over.

You really need to learn to live with this, because we’ll probably be having this conversation again.

Just about a year from now.

Monday, January 29, 2018

SOURCE: Brady, Belichick conspired to rig games

A well-placed source within the New England Patriots organization has revealed a plot in which Tom Brady and Bill Belichick conspired to rig the outcomes of games in which the Patriots participated.

The source described a complex scheme in which Brady and Belichick designed plays that they felt their opponents would be unable to defend effectively, in an effort to maximize their scoring chances. They also reportedly used numerous forms of misdirection and disruption to minimize the number of points their opponents could score.

In some cases, the Patriots' offense ran so-called "trick plays", in which they intentionally caused their opponents to expect a certain type of play, only to switch to a completely different type at the very last moment. Several on-air personalities from a local Boston sports radio station conducted an informal analysis of last Sunday's narrow Patriot victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the results seem to bear this out.

On numerous plays, Brady would take the snap and imply that it was a running play, in some cases going so far as to pantomime a handoff to his running back. The defense, taking note of this "handoff", immediately pursued the "ball carrier" with the intention of tackling him, not realizing that Brady had never actually let go of the ball. Having thoroughly hoodwinked the defense, Brady was then able to complete forward passes to open receivers, sometimes for a touchdown - and six points.

A Patriots media spokesman contacted for this story angrily insisted that this type of play is "100% legal" and trotted out the tired excuse that "every team does it!"

We contacted NFL headquarters in New York City, and were told that "play action passes" are in fact legal, and have been around for about 55 years or so, since the early days of the AFL - but this only ratcheted up the suspicion for some.

"Of COURSE the league is going to say that," said John, a sportswriter who refused to give his last name. "The NFL is in cahoots with the Patriots. The entire system is rigged to help New England win Super Bowls! Did you think they were just going to fess up to the whole thing? Duh!"

John's friend Ron, who was standing next to him at the Golden Corral all-you-can-eat crab leg bar, agreed. "It's so obvious," he said. "The Patriots do illegal things - okay, fine, they're technically legal, but deceptive - same exact thing. The point is, it's clear what the intention is. Go back and look at the stats over the last 15 years! Look how much they've outscored their opponents over that time! You think that's just a coincidence?"

Sure enough, it turns out that the Patriots have outscored their opponents by well over 1,000 points since Belichick and Brady arrived in town. For a growing number of gridiron experts, this is more than a little fishy. Some in the Boston sports journalism community were shocked to see the numbers.

"The possibilty that the Patriots would outscore their opponents this much simply by chance is, like, 18 kajillion to 1," says Michael, a local broadcaster. "Clearly this is by design! Although I'm sure the cowardly NFL won't do anything about it. The Patriots are the NFL's cash cow, and the league won't bite the hand that feeds them. That's why the Patriots never get investigated for anything!"

Indeed it is strange that the NFL, which is so singularly concerned with parity and fairness, would not launch a multi-million-dollar, six-month-long probe into the affair, and have their marketing arm concoct a catchy *-gate* nickname for it.

Scoring hits right at the very heart of football, and the Patriots willfully trying to score points raises all sorts of ethical questions, especially since they're trying to keep the other team from doing the same.

"It's just totally unfair," says Gary, another broadcaster. "We all know exactly what they're trying to do, and it makes me want to puke. I mean literally lean out my window and heave up $9 worth of potato skins!

"Look, I know the homers aren't gonna want to hear this, but rules are rules. And whether or not this is actually *against* the rules is totally not the point."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Drew Magary is a little bitch



Does it hurt, Drew?

Does it feel like you’re chewing on broken glass every time you turn on the TV and see the Edelman Catch? Or White’s OT touchdown? The victorious Patriot players storming the field, again? Another champagne-soaked locker room celebration? Another glorious duck boat parade, attended by a MILLION delirious fans? Another 365 days of reminders that this is, by far, the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever seen? Does it seem like your torture will never end? Does it hurt so bad that it makes you want to cry?

Go ahead, buddy. Have a good sobbing session. Let it all out, because, for all of your cursing, insults, and tough talk, it’s clearer than ever that you’re nothing but a little BITCH who can’t cope.

It’s a game. A GAME, Drew, and you’re so incapable of controlling your impulses that you published, for the world to see, a 750-word temper tantrum, and not just a regular one, but a throw-yourself-on-the floor-of-Toys-R-US, flail-like-an-epileptic-for-17-minutes-straight tantrum, complete with Tourette-like cursing binges and third grade “everybody hates you” insults—and all because… wait for it…

…your team didn’t win the game.

And let’s be honest: The Falcons aren’t even your team. You would’ve rooted for Idi Amin and Pol Pot if they were playing against Belichick and Brady. Basically, you exploded into a major hissy fit because you didn’t get to see the Patriots suffer.

And we’re the ones with the problem. Got it.

This almost goes without saying, but we’re not “sore winners”. Nor are we “greedy”, “insufferable”, or “bandwagon fans”. Did these judgments arise from some sort of deep statistical analysis? Social media research? Several thousand fan interviews? Or did you just spit out the meanest thing you could think of at the height of your vein-popping rage? Yeah, thought so.

You want to do some research? Go to Boston the next time one of our teams wins a title. Look at the mix of ages and backgrounds. Drink in the camaraderie, the euphoria, the pure joy, that seems to get bigger, not smaller, with each successive trip to the mountaintop. We’re the exact opposite of sore winners. But you already knew that.

I’m not angered by your venomous diatribe. I pity you. You’re a sad, angry man. In all seriousness, Drew, you should try to accept the things you can’t change and make your peace with them. You can’t erase Brady and Belichick’s historic dominance over the league. You can’t take away the mountain of hardware this team has won. You’ll never detract from their monumental accomplishments, so why try to?

Nothing you do or say is going to change what’s happened in the NFL since 2001, or anything that’s going to happen in the future. Believe me when I tell you, you’ve also failed miserably in your quest to somehow piss on our (fifth) parade. We’re on cloud nine up here in New England, and things don’t look likely to change any time soon.
Bottom line: Whether you were rooting for the Patriots or against them, you saw something historic last week. You make your living writing about a sport that people enjoy and have a great passion for. Be proud of that!


But you’re still a little bitch.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Thriller in the Blizzard

At Foxboro Stadium in the winter, Patriot fans didn't even consider sitting down during a game.

Instead, we stood resolute, pelted by the frigid winds, our faces frozen, our knees creaking in protest, losing sensation in our fingers and toes. The only thing more tortuous, in fact, would have been to take our seats.

They weren't "seats" at all, really--just long aluminum benches with numbers stamped on them every couple of feet--and when you left to use the restroom, you returned to find that the other bodies in your row had somehow expanded, swallowing up your little chunk of cold metal real estate, and leaving you to shoehorn your way back into place, as you vowed never to urinate at a football game again.

Those benches couldn't possibly have been any colder. I'm convinced they were designed for maximum pain by some sadistic nerd who lost his girlfriend to the high school quarterback, and then, bent on vengeance, swore that he would make football as agonizing for everyone else as it was for him. We might as well have been sitting on cast-iron commodes.

Somehow, it didn't help at all that the following season would bring us a brand new stadium right next to this one, and that, as soon as the final game was over, Foxboro Stadium would be torn down with all the violence it deserved. The fans weren't going to miss this old relic after it was gone; it would have been like feeling nostalgic for your toenail clippings. We were eager to leave this place behind and move on to our new home. But there was an important game to play first.

So it was for my brother and me as we passed through the gates of Foxboro Stadium on January 19, 2002, when the New England Patriots took on the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff, in what has come to be known as The Snow Bowl.

The storm that Sunday was the only major snowfall of the season, starting a few hours before kickoff and ending a few hours after the final play. I always picture the game having taken place inside a snow globe, a perfectly encapsulated, snowy moment in an otherwise mild winter.

I couldn't help but lick my chops at the prospect of playing a warm-weather team, from clear across the country, right here in our New England backyard. Surely those California dudes would be no match for us as they flopped around on our frozen mess of a field. I figured we'd get a win, extending our improbable season for another week before coming back down to Earth. But that was the most I could ask for.

Fans all over the stadium were holding up "Back to the Bayou" signs (the Super Bowl would be held in New Orleans that year). All I could do was laugh. The Super Bowl was for powerhouses, strong teams with wily veterans who knew how to win big games--not for a bunch of scrappy young kids like the Patriots. We'd never make it that far. Why did people insist on setting themselves up for heartbreak?

We would never win a Super Bowl up here in Massachusetts. It just seemed wrong. Our team's home was a geographical region, as if our city and state were too small and insignificant to qualify on their own. Yes, we'd made it to the big game a couple of times before, first getting massacred by the Chicago Bears in the Foregone Conclusion Bowl of 1986, a game in which the Bears could've started kneeling down at the end of the first quarter and still won by 27, and then dropping another championship game 11 years later, a 35-21 loss to Brett Favre and the Packers. And it seemed that this 2001 team wouldn't even make it that far.

I had always thought that if the Pats had a chance, it was with Drew Bledsoe. Yes, they had gone a dismal 5-11 under Bledsoe the season before, and then lost the first two games of 2001 before Moe Lewis clobbered Bledsoe (and, as it turns out, nearly killed him) with a vicious sideline hit in week 2. By the time Bledsoe recovered and was cleared to play, Brady had carpe diem'd his way to the top QB spot in New England, a role he maintains to this very day, over 14 years later.

But of course, this was 2001, and no one yet had any idea of the historic future that lay before him. He was just some untested whodat from the University of Michigan, barely old enough to buy a beer. How could this kid handle playoff pressure? Yes, I felt Brady was the guy for the job, but he hadn't even played a full season yet. He wasn't ready! Alas, at least we had this game against the Raiders, and this game was a sure win.

No, it wasn't.

On their first possession, the Patriots gained 49 yards before the drive stalled; it took almost the rest of the first half for them to gain another 49. And forget about scoring--the Patriots only picked up two first downs in the half after their initial drive. Meanwhile, the Raiders managed to eke out a TD in the second quarter, and had a 7-0 lead at the break.

I don't know what Coach Belichick said to his troops at halftime, but whatever it was, it worked. The Pats took the second half kickoff and charged down the field, all the way to the Raider 5 yard line. But the drive stalled, and the Patriots were forced to settle for a 23-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal.

No, it wasn't a touchdown. But it finally, mercifully, erased that ugly "0" from the Patriots' side of the scoreboard.

Field goals aren't the worst thing in the world; all you have to do is follow them with a strong defensive stand, and you have a chance to build on your momentum. The one thing you don't want to do is allow points in return.

Sadly, that's exactly what they did.

On the ensuing possession, Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 38-yard field goal, and after a quick New England three-and-out, he added a 45-yarder.

13-3, Oakland.

Under normal conditions, a 10-point lead is nothing in the NFL. But these were far from normal conditions. Men with leafblowers cleared the yard markers at every stoppage of play, but their work was getting more impossible by the minute. Players slipped and fell. Passes were dropped. Every tackle kicked up a plume of snow. They may as well have been playing on Mount Wachusett.

It was the fourth quarter now, and given the field conditions, and the short time remaining, field goals alone would not do. New England needed a touchdown.

What happened next is the stuff of Patriot Legend.

They began the drive at their own 33. On first down, Brady hit David Patten for 14 yards. Then Kevin Faulk for 7. Then Jermaine Wiggins for 3. Then Troy Brown for 8.

Wiggins for 4.

Patten for 11.

Wiggins for 4.

Patten for 6.

Wiggins for 4.

It was a prizefight now. The Patriots were Muhammed Ali and the Raiders were Joe Frazier. Wiggins was the jab and Patten was the right hook, and, like Frazier, Oakland had no answer.

Second and goal, Patriots, on the Oakland 6. See the results for yourself.

Brady was a perfect 9-for-9 on the drive, for 61 yards, and capped it off with the first rushing touchdown of his career.

There was 7:52 left in the game, and the Patriots owned the momentum. The whole stadium knew it. The whole planet knew it!

I wasn't cold anymore. I didn't care that I had been standing up for hours. It no longer mattered that my gloves had soaked through, or that every stitch of clothing on my body was saturated with melted snow, as if I had been dunked into an icy swimming pool. We were going to win the game after all! 

It took eight plays, and four minutes, but the defense held, and Oakland punted. The Patriots started on their own 20. First down: 12 yards to Wiggins. Here we go again! Paydirt, here we come!

...and then, three straight incompletions and a punt. 

But how? Brady was on fire just a few minutes ago! 

And, just like that, a tiny bit of dread began to creep in.

2:41 left. Now, the clock game. Three runs up the middle by Oakland, three timeouts by New England, and then a punt. 

2:06 left. The Patriots were out of timeouts. There wouldn't be time for another drive after this one. This was it.

New England started on their own 46. After a 7-yard pass to Faulk, and a 5-yard run by Brady, I witnessed something that will live in Patriots lore forever: The Tuck Rule Play.

Brady went back to throw, and was hit on his blindside by Charles Woodson. The ball popped out, and was recovered by Oakland. Game over.

How could this happen? Tom Brady was supposed to lead the Patriots to victory! It couldn't be. It just couldn't! And yet, the fans were heading dejectedly for the exits.

Suddenly, the full force of the cold hit me again, the howling wind, the furiously-falling snow, and the prospect of a long, frigid walk back to our car, followed by miles of gridlock on the drive home.

But then, a glimmer of hope.

I had brought a radio with me to the game that day. Gino Cappeletti announced that the play was under booth review, and then, ominously, that Brady's arm appeared to have been going forward when the ball came out. 

"Guys, guys!" I shouted to the fans around me. "They're saying his arm was going forward!"

And then this... 

As it turns out, Woodson hit Brady in the head on that play, which should've been a roughing the passer penalty, but it wasn't called. I wrote an article about it, in case you're interested. 

Feel free to share my article with anyone who says the Patriots "got lucky". Funny--seems to me that if you rough the passer and get away with it, you're the lucky one. But I digress.

Infused with new life, Brady immediately hit David Patten for 13 yards. Two incompletions followed, and then a field goal attempt from 45 yards out to tie it. 

It was a line drive kick, barely visible through the falling snow. It wasn't nearly high enough. Was it?

Yes! 13-13, and we were headed to overtime.

The Patriots won the toss and elected to receive, taking over on their own 34. And the heavyweight bout started again:

Brady to J.R. Redmond for 1.

Redmond for 20.

Wiggins for 2.

Redmond for 3. 

Wiggins for 6.

Wiggins for 4.

And then, for some odd reason, the Patriots attempted a run up the middle and lost a yard. On 3rd-and-7, Brady hit Troy Brown. For 3 yards.

Yep, 4th-and-3 from the Oakland 28. It would have been a 46-yard field goal, into the wind. Much too far. The Patriots had to go for it.

Brady to Patten for 6. First down!

Yet again, Brady was perfect on the drive, going 8-for-8 for 45 yards. But they weren't done yet.

Time for some body blows.

Antowain Smith up the middle for 4 yards.

Smith up the middle for 1.

Smith off right tackle for 8.

Smith up the middle for 2.

That put the Patriots inside the Raider 10, well within Vinatieri's range.

I believe you know the rest...

...and, I Believe You Know The Rest.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Your Nine-Year-Old Boy

YOUR NINE-YEAR OLD BOY
What would you do if your nine-year-old boy called little Suzy a "fat pig"? Would you buy him an XBox? Or would you tell him that nine-year-olds should know better?

What if he walked up to a girl on a playground and called her "ugly"? Would you laugh? Would you high-five him and buy him a a Snow Cone from the ice cream truck? Or would you teach him to respect women?

What if your fourth-grader mocked a disabled boy in his class? What if, in front of everyone, he flopped his hand around and sputtered loudly in a crude imitation of the boy's disability, and what if he lied about it afterwards? Would you cover for him and say he wasn't actually making fun of his handicap? Or would you take him aside and tell him that all people deserve respect?

What if 11 girls in your son's school accused him of touching them inappropriately? Would you ask him if it was true? Would you allow the school to look into the girls' claims? Or would you categorically state that all 11 of them were lying and conspiring against your little boy?

What if your son stood up in front of the whole class and bragged about the size of his genitals? Would you be shocked? Appalled? Would you consider a full psychiatric evaluation? Or would you just tell everyone to stop being so sensitive, and that all boys talk like that?

DO all boys talk like that?

What if your nine-year-old told all the other kids that students from Mexico were criminals, and that we should build a wall to keep them out? What if, when you asked him about it, he said, "Oh, I was only talking about the bad ones"? Would you remind him that that isn't what he said, that, whether he was trying to or not, he convinced a lot of people that all Mexicans were bad, that words are important, and that he should watch what he says and how he says it? And would you remind him that we are a nation of immigrants, and that the people who were here first had their land taken away from them, so we need to be accepting of everyone? Or would you proudly state that your son is simply saying what everyone else is thinking?

IS that what everyone else is thinking?

What if, after doing all of the above, your son refused to apologize, denied that he was wrong, and instead blamed others for what he had done? Would you punish him? Would you try everything you could to get him to learn empathy and respect? Would you apologize to his victims? Ground him? Take away his iPhone?

...or, would you vote for him for President of the United States?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

If you're pro-Patriots, then you're also pro-Hillary. Deal.

Maybe you support Trump, or maybe you're undecided, but don't feel right about Hillary. Ask yourself why.

More likely than not, you'll give me an earful about emails. Or Benghazi. Or the Clinton Foundation. Or--my personal favorite--that Bill and Hillary Clinton are mass murderers.


We've heard of these scandals for so long--and so often--that our reaction has become conditioned: "Benghazi", "email" and "Clinton Foundation" are trigger words, shorthand utterances thrown out in place of an actual argument, the same way Jets fans shout "cheaters!" and then run away before you can respond. 


Hillary's detractors don't want to discuss the email "scandal" for the same reason Patriot haters avoid the details about Spygate: The more you dig, the less you find.


Despite well over a year of hysterical screaming, only one claim against Hillary has even a hint of validity: That classified information was potentially mishandled. Much has been made, for example, of the fact that Hillary used a personal address for office email, but this is perfectly legal and has been done frequently in the past, including by Republicans such as Colin Powell, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin, and others. Almost reminds you of how scouting opponents' defensive signals is legal and quite common, and how Roger Goodell himself admits it, but somehow--maddeningly--it doesn't seem to matter.


It's illegal to discuss classified information without taking proper safeguards, the same way it's illegal for a doctor to discuss a patient's private health information in an open area where others might hear. A doctor can be punished for doing this, but of course, there is a huge difference between absentmindedly forgetting to close a door and selling Kim Kardashian's patient file to the National Enquirer. The former is simple carelessness; the latter is a deliberate criminal act.


Even Hillary's harshest detractors don't claim she was intentionally leaking / sharing / selling confidential information; once you cut through the hair-on-fire rhetoric, all they're really claiming is that she was careless. In fact, the FBI report uses that exact word.


"But what about the deleted emails?" you ask. Yes, Hillary's attorneys delivered over 30,000 emails to the State Department and deleted about the same number of "personal" emails that they claimed were not relevant to the investigation. 


"AHA!" you scream. "Why would she delete emails? Why would she do that? She must be hiding something! Guilty! GUILTY!" and, of course, I am instantly reminded of the Gary Tanguays of the world, who screamed just as loudly that, if Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone, that he must be hiding something. But you defended Brady, didn't you?


Yep, you did.


The truth is, you're reaching. You have less on Hillary than Goodell had on Brady. At least in Brady's case, there was an allegation, albeit a flimsy one, that there was a scheme to let little puffs of air out of game balls, so there was a possible motive for Brady to destroy evidence. In this case, neither Hillary, nor anyone else at the State Department, is even accused of anything specific. You're implying that she destroyed evidence without claiming that a crime was even committed!


At most, Hillary is guilty of being less careful than she should have been. And now, I'm sure you'll put on your most somber face and tell me that nothing is more important than protecting our nation's confidential data, and that we need presidents who are going to take that seriously, but all I'll see is Roger Goodell's face, his forehead wrinkled with concern, saying that nothing is more important than the integrity of the game we all love, and I'll reject your argument the same way you rejected Goodell's.


Are you sensing a pattern yet?


Benghazi? Take a deep breath and do some reading. Wash away the toxic discourse, and you'll find that the only charge of any validity against Hillary is that the embassy requested funding for extra security prior to the attack, and their request was denied. Of course, Hillary herself never saw the request, the same way the chairman of JP Morgan Chase does not see every loan application, and the State Department does not have a limitless supply of money to grant every single request it receives. But assume just for a moment that it was granted: The embassy was stormed by 150 men armed with RPGs and assault rifles. Unless the embassy requested a fleet of Humvees and an Apache helicopter, the extra security wouldn't have made a difference--as tragic as that is.


Yes, it was beyond horrible that four people died in those attacks. And the situation was rightly looked into. But the Senate took this to an extreme, forming a "Select Committee" in May, 2014, which then took two years and $3.3 million to complete its investigation. I can't help but be reminded of the outrage all of Patriot Nation felt when we saw that Roger Goodell formed a kind of Select Committee of his own, which took four months and $5 million to complete its work. We lamented the colossal waste of money, the ridiculously long investigation, and the obviously biased way in which it was conducted. I level the same allegations against those conducting the Benghazi inquest, while you seem to have embraced them with open arms.


And lastly, we have the Clinton Foundation. The main allegation here is that there is a conflict of interest, that the Clintons accepted donations to their foundation from individuals who had business before the State Department while Hillary was Secretary of State. While this is true, it is absolutely false that the Clintons derive any personal benefit from the Foundation. They do not collect a salary or any other form of payment, and it ought to be patently obvious that there can't be a pay for play scheme when there is no pay!


Now, it is true that the Clintons set up a a strict set of rules with the Obama administration that governed how the Foundation would communicate with donors, and how those communications would be reported, and after a thorough review, it is clear that those rules were not adhered to 100% of the time. But why do we insist that this automatically proves something sinister is going on? Again, if the Clintons do not personally benefit from the Foundation, what possible motive could they have for skirting their own rules? In fact, if they were up to no good, why would they have set the rules up in the first place?


That reminds me of a story.


On October 16, 2014, the Patriots played the Jets at Gillette Stadium. Jim McNally, the "Deflator", as he called himself, delivered the footballs to the field. During the game, Tom Brady complained angrily that the balls felt like "f*cking bricks," and sure enough, after the game, John Jastremski, the equipment manager, measured the balls and found them to be 16 PSI--almost 3 pounds OVER the allowable limit. The obvious question here is, if the Patriots were deflating their footballs, then how did they get so far over the limit? Did McNally inflate them by accident?


But, more importantly, after the game, Brady instructed Jastremski to remind the officials about what the rules were. He went so far as to request that Jastremski show the rulebook to the officials with the PSI section highlighted. 


Assume for a moment that Brady was guilty of illegally deflating footballs. Why on Earth would he call the referee's attention to the PSI rules if he was doing such a thing? Brady's own actions seem to exonerate him, as Hillary's exonerate her. 



The parallels just keep coming, as recently as last week’s debate. Trump was humiliated—were it a football game, the score would have been 63-6—but of course, Trump has never admitted to losing at anything; it must have been someone else’s fault, and so the blamestorming began. He had a faulty microphone. Lester Holt was biased. Hillary was mean to him. Some Trump supporters even suggested—get this—that Hillary was having answers fed to her over an earpiece!

Never mind that such a risky, elaborate scheme was totally unnecessary. The questions could’ve been predicted by an astute middle school student. Forget all that, and just realize that it’s a conspiracy theory regarding communication equipment.

Sound familiar?

Mike Tomlin’s Steelers lost to the Patriots in Foxboro in week 1, 2015, and after the game, Tomlin hinted darkly that the Patriots had knocked out the Steelers’ headsets. I, along with you, and anyone else with half a brain, immediately reminded the haters that the teams don’t control the headsets, the NFL does, and that anyone who believes otherwise is a tinfoil hat-wearing, moon-landing-was-a-hoax, grassy-knoll-dwelling conspiracy loon. And yet there you go, posting memes about Hillary’s earpiece.


Looks like you stopped thinking at halftime.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Kap Trap

Let me make sure I understand.

You can't stand how people are so easily offended nowadays. It troubles you that you can't speak your mind anymore without facing a torrent of outrage from oversensitive whiners.

By now, it probably seems to you that some people are just itching to snap into attack mode, to jump down your throat, haranguing you for your insensitivity.

You can't mention a man's race. You can't mention where he came from. You can't mention his religion. You can't mention his beer belly or his hernia. Just open your mouth, and someone is lecturing you about your failure to understand other people's feelings. 

We can't just speak off the cuff anymore. We have to carefully examine every word before we say it, in order to avoid damage to anyone's eggshell egos. Whatever happened to the easy days of yesterday, when we could say exactly what we were thinking, without fear of being hassled? The whole situation is absolutely maddening.

Right?

It's really a foolproof position. Mention any of the above at the next party you go to, and heads are sure to nod all around. People identify with this stuff! 

There's just one tiny problem. His name is Colin Kaepernick.

You didn't even think when you saw what Kaepernick did, did you? You just reacted. You swallowed your gum, or spit out your beer, or cursed at the TV before the national anthem was even over.

Of course, Kaepernick wasn't firing a gun, or driving drunk, or beating up his girlfriend. He wasn't even talking. He was making a statement, though: A statement that really, really pissed you off.

So YOU unleashed a torrent of outrage at Mr. Kaepernick, and YOU snapped into attack mode, and YOU jumped down Kaepernick's throat, and the throats of anyone who dared to defend that un-American piece of filth, and YOU harangued him for his insensitivity, and YOU angrily judged him for his disrespect for the brave souls who fought and died for the flag that he was now desecrating. 

In other words, you reacted exactly like the people you hate.

Now, of course, we'll begin the dissembling phase, in which you'll assure me that this is completely different, that we all just need to shut up about Donald Trump mocking a man's disability or Leslie Jones being compared to a gorilla, but that Colin Kaepernick should have his tattoos removed with a cheese grater for sitting instead of standing during the National Anthem. Spare me.

No one ever admits their hypocrisy, so I don't expect that from you. But I'd appreciate it if you'd at least be honest with yourself. Try it sometime.