Pats-Chargers and Class
Class, like many overly thrown around terms in sports, is all relative. On this January 15th, 2007, the New England Patriots are a mean, classless crew of a**holes with an even meaner and class-lacking a**hole at their helm.
To the San Diego Chargers at least.
Back in New England, however, they are the same group of warriors (with some new working parts) that continue to rewrite football history. History, it is often said, is not without a sense of irony. It is human nature to reflect on the past, identifying moments that, for better or worse, inexorably impacted the future. Irony only enters the equation when that future is finally determined, and has been accordingly altered by some seemingly unrelated prior event.
Truly ironic instances tend to be humorous. But for those with big egos and short memories, irony also tends to be a dish best served cold, when prepared by the right chef.
Since history is the impetus of irony, travel back to October 2nd, 2005. The Patriots were two-time defending Super Bowl champions, owners of the longest home winning streak in league history, and battered. Rodney Harrison had torn all the ligaments in his left knee the week before in Pittsburgh, and Tedy Bruschi was still recovering from a stroke. Monty Beisel and Chad Brown were the starting inside linebackers.
The Chargers came into Foxborough, and beat the Patriots, 41-17. But that wasn’t all. They yapped. They disrespected the Patriots’ house. They showed very little class in victory. After the game Marty Schottenheimer made comments about the Patriots’ injuries coming full circle, and pondered how long the team could continue to be a force. It wasn’t so much a sign of disrespect than it was an observation. It was an observation that the traditionally even-tempered Tom Brady took exception to in the media the next week. Brady asserted that Schottenheimer had no right to make comments about his team, and with reason.
While Schottenheimer’s comments were not overtly disrespectful, they may have been the most concrete way for an incensed-Brady to respond to a few other occurrences at the end of that game. When the contest had concluded, with the Chargers scoring the final 24 points, the San Diego players took some time to “take in” the surroundings, and most likely had a few words for the angry and pugnacious Gillette-faithful. In addition, Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was overheard saying, “That was an ass whupping!”
These are all instances of professionals not living up to their titles. Players are paid to play; coaches to coach. For the Chargers to walk onto the hallowed ground of Foxborough and knock off the champion Patriots was impressive. They earned that victory. But for a team that had only appeared in one Super Bowl (a 49-26 thumping at the hands of the 49ers) in over thirty five years of existence, to act the way they acted following that game was simply disrespectful. Disrespectful to the stadium they were competing in, to the three banners waving over them, and to the game they represent.
The Patriots have given new meaning to the concept of team as it applies to the most inherently team game in sport. They have illustrated that MVP’s and Pro Bowls mean squat when it comes to winning football games in January. And yes, from time to time, they fall. When they do, they fall to worthy adversaries. Adversaries that are usually ecstatic for having taken advantage of the opportunity to have played sixty minutes of better football than the Patriots.
After that Week 4 game last year, the Chargers didn’t respectfully bask in their accomplishment. Rather, they did their best to throw it back in the face of the Patriots, which itself became one of the few sour pieces of history embedded in the “Razor”.
Before we get to history turning into cruel irony for the Chargers, let us look at some other history, to better illustrate why San Diego will ultimately look back at that October 2nd with biting regret.
The Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have been rivals ever since Bill Parcells was matching wits with Bill Cowher in the mid-90s. The rivalry became even more intense following the 2001 season when the Steelers were destined to meet the Rams in the Super Bowl, and Cowher made the grave mistake of overlooking the Patriots. Since that time, it seems nobody except the Steelers have had true reverence for the Patriots.
The Steelers and Pats have battled in the regular season; they’ve battled in two AFC Championships. The Patriots went into Pittsburgh in October, 2004 and had their NFL-record 21-game winning streak snapped. The Steelers, students of the past, barely acknowledged their own end of the game, opting instead to remark at the magnitude of the Patriots accomplishments. The Patriots, meanwhile, got back to business, regrouped, and marched back into the Steel City for the 2004 AFC Championship and ended the Steelers 15-game streak.
Point is, the Patriots have been respected by the Steelers, and reciprocated that respect. The tables were turned after the fateful outcome of the 2001 AFC Championship in Pittsburgh. Never again would the Steelers slight the Pats, and never again would the Patriots have that added incentive to make them eat their words.
The difference between the 2001 Steelers and the 2005/06 Chargers? History!!!!! The ’01 Steelers had no idea what they were getting into. They didn’t respect the Patriots because they had no reason to. They were the best, and the Patriots were that team kneeling in their way.
The San Diego team that came into Foxborough didn’t just disrespect a coach, a team or a fan base. They disrespected a dynasty. So with all that transpired between then and now, with the Chargers this year emerging clearly as the team to beat, I found myself chuckling after listening to everything I heard in the week leading up to this game.
Fate, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony. Another applicable phrase. From the events at Gillette last year, to Shawne Merriman going on TV last Sunday and disrespecting the Patriots, to trying to keep Pats fans out of Qualcomm, to Schottenheimer entertaining hoards of media to openly talk about his atrocious playoff record, I mean, geeez! Is it any wonder that the Chargers a) dropped passes, b) fumbled balls, and c) committed inexplicable penalties? Is it any wonder that Merriman was practically an afterthought? Or that Schottenheimer went for it on a 4th and 11 from the Patriots 30 yard line and had no general control over his players?
Who’s truly surprised that the Chargers lost this game? Was it fate? Maybe on the surface, but at its core it was just another case of a talented group of players losing to a mentally tougher, more experienced, and better coached team.
As for the whole “class” thing that LaDainian Tomlinson referenced, yep, sometimes irony is painfully blatant, especially when you don’t see it coming. But history always precipitates irony. The Chargers refused to look at the 2001 Steelers with a historical and self-evaluating perspective. They opted instead to act classless in an October matchup with New England, a giant that evidently (and within character) put its reactive mechanisms on snooze until the time was right. And as if that wasn’t enough, Merriman did that giant the service of pressing the alarm button just to make sure it woke up in time.
So while the reputable LaDainian Tomlinson wants to point to the Patriots’ lack of class in mocking Merriman’s sack-dance, maybe he should take a step back and look at that jig as an appropriate reciprocation of a winner’s bravado.
Because as we all know, fate and history are not without a sense of irony.