The concept of karma can be a tricky topic to tackle. (Who hasn’t seen The Matrix?) Apart from the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism (and Neo and Morpheus), karma — or the general idea of destiny — is most readily applicable to the quasi-religion of sports.
Two years and two days ago, on Feb. 3, 2008, the New York Giants beat the 18-0 New England Patriots to capture Super Bowl XLII. The events of that night led many to assert the Patriots fell because they had messed with karma. There was SpyGate. There was running up the score. There was the terse arrogance of Bill Belichick and his (bleeping) humble pie. Added up, it all made casual fans want to vomit.
The football gods, if they were out there, couldn’t allow their game to be sullied.
That’s what facilitated The Helmet Catch, The Samuel Botch and every element of the flawless performance the Giants put on that evening. Or so goes the narrative of the superstitious. Purists would say the Giants simply came out and hit the Patriots in the mouth and didn’t relent.
Either way, it’s evident in hindsight the Patriots were not meant to go 19-0. Superstitions aside, let the record show they weren’t even supposed to have gone 12-0. The Ravens had them beat in a bone-crunching Monday Night game in early December, but a holding call in the end zone against Baltimore enabled the Patriots to cap off a disputed comeback.
Now look at this season. The Colts, led by the true poster boy of the NFL (sorry, Tom Brady fans), were winning games. Peyton Manning wasn’t using imported mercenaries to blow teams out of the water by 40 points. On the contrary, he was grooming young and inexperienced players with on-the-job training, combining his excellence with their potential to eek out contests with a late-drive here and a big play there.
After a stirring 17-point fourth quarter comeback vs. the Patriots pushed Indy’s mark to 9-0, the murmurs began. Could it really be? Is this that team? Are Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon those guys?
Once the Saints fell to the Cowboys and the Colts marched on to 14-0 with yet another late rally against Jacksonville, it became apparent. No one was going to beat this team, not in the regular season at least.
Yet for some reason, the Colts staff, without the blessing of its players, opted to lay down and cast aside a chance at history, at immortality.
Until that point, they had done everything the right way. No ulterior vendettas. No disputed calls. Just some of the finest football you’ll ever see, orchestrated by one of the all-time greats.
Whereas New England decided to screw karma, the Colts actually had it on their side, and politely passed. Now they enter Super Bowl XLIV, a game that even if they win will be accompanied by a collective bittersweet taste, because of what could’ve been. That’s not good karma.
The city of New Orleans and its football team know a thing or two about not-good karma. The Saints have embodied it throughout their history and the city has endured dose after dose of it ever since the first winds of Hurricane Katrina began to blow.
But both, although improbably, are still standing. The Saints are in the Super Bowl for the first time in their 43-year history and New Orleans, while still far from a true recovery, is alive as ever.
The Saints have already booked a parade. No, it’s not a preemptive victory march. It’s a win-or-lose celebration, because win or lose, they have something to celebrate. They have the Saints. They have N’awlins.
Now that’s some good karma.