Foreword and Patriots
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have decided to get back to doing what I love: writing about sports. Even if tragedy makes the concept of sport itself seem trivial and insignificant, I believe that the emotional highs and lows that go hand in hand with being invested in a team are a type of conditioning for the mind and body. Whether you find yourself celebrating a championship for a beloved team, or suffering heartbreak at the hands of an adversary, sport helps to give benign perspective to raw emotion.But, inherent to the idea of sport is the understanding that both the ecstasy of victory and the sorrow of defeat are merely precursors to the trials of life itself. So what’s my antidote? I say maintain that vested emotional interest in sport; allow the emotions, when appropriate, to be real, and unimpeded. Allow those tears of joy or disappointment to flow. Because that visceral emotion ultimately helps bring about the realization that at the end of the day, sport is not about life and death. Only life is.
Fortunately, this weekend features the premier game of the NFL season between the Patriots and Colts. This matchup has come to represent football’s greatest rivalry because it is the NFL’s most appealing dichotomy. Both teams are wildly alluring and successful–in very different ways.
The Colts are celebrity in nature, and gaudy in performance. Peyton Manning is the reason. He is the torchbearer of today’s NFL: consummate talent, ridiculously wealthy, and blatantly in the public eye. He carves up defenses for Sunday brunch, throws on a mustache and films a commercial Monday morning, and is back in time to begin meticulously reviewing tape for his next victim. He represents the new age marketing system of the NFL (and pro sports for that matter), a system that relies on an ongoing interpersonal dialogue between the athlete and the fan.
Peyton Manning is more than just a quarterback. He’s a tourist of the ESPN studio who jaws with his brother. He’s a freaking cable repair guy. He’s an icon. No matter where you’re situated as a viewer or person, long as you have one foot in this quarry that has become the media, Peyton Manning will find a way to reach you. His shtick, coupled with his ability to make such an intricate game seem easy, is what puts him on the verge of superhero status.
However, the reason we’re discussing a dichotomy and not a juggernaut is the Patriots. Across the sidelines from the extravagant Colts stand the esoteric Patriots. New England has become the “model franchise in the league” over the last five years. Thing is, that phrase is nothing more than another faux cliche. In this day of further integrating the media into the on-field action, integrating the fans into daily NFL life, and generally glamorizing the entire business, the Patriots surely are not the model franchise.
They keep to themselves. They handle all but a shred of their business behind closed doors. Their players only do television endorsements as a team. Their injury reports are suspect. Their coach is glum. Their quarterback is crafty and adept, not flashy. But because the Kraft family, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady have contributed to win three of the last five Super Bowls, they must be, in theory, the “model NFL franchise”.
Trust me, if Brady wasn’t so photogenic, the only time you’d see any of the Pats in the public eye would be during their duck-boat motorcade down Boylston Street after winning it all. Fact is, the Patriots are only the NFL bar-setters in terms of economics and personnel management. Everything else about this team screams contra-status quo. But they win, thus the powers that govern football deem it necessary to label them the “model”, when in reality, it is the team with the glamor, and not the glory, which is the league’s true model.
Either way, at least once a year, we all get to witness firsthand the NFL’s greatest dichotomy, which also happens to be its greatest rivalry. Also includes a couple of teams who suffer from being tagged with cases of mistaken identity. Deciding which “model” fits which franchise is a matter of semantics. What’s determined is this: come Sunday night you will again get to see the iconic Peyton Manning competing against the stoic Tom Brady, so relish it. And know there is more to come…